The Good News
Biodiversity and Food Security
Food and Climate
Another Big Bad Trade Agreement Looms
Genetic Engineering (GE) News
The Good News
More than a third of Americans say organic is important, four out of five shoppers want to buy more local food, and 58 percent of consumers want to purchase natural food, according to a white paper entitled "A Fresh Look at Organic and Local” by Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS) FoodThink. The paper is based on research involving nearly 1,500 U.S. consumers from diverse demographic backgrounds. The three groups – organic, local and natural – “each have different drivers and deal breakers," says Erika Chance, senior FoodThink researcher, who adds that many consumers are confused by the different labels. Among those differences are these:
• Among organic consumers, 65 percent try to eat organic whenever possible.
• 53 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for local food.
• Three-fourths of natural food consumers claim to be good or excellent cooks.
The 16-page paper is available at shsfoodthink.com. (“Organic, Local and Natural Go Mainstream,” by Sullivan Higdon & Sink, PR Newswire, July 31, 2013; www.sacbee.com/2013/07/31/5611562/organic-local-and-natural-go-mainstream.html)
The State of Maine Cheese Company celebrated its 30th anniversary in August. The Route 1 store in Rockport sells cheeses and other Maine-made goods. When the company started, no one in Maine was making hard cheeses. Now Maine has 71 cheese makers who produce almost 1 million pounds of cheese. Maine Cheese Guild president Eric Rector told the Bangor Daily News that a University of Vermont study says Maine is the fastest growing artisan cheese producing state and is second only to New York state in the number of licensed artisan cheese makers. The State of Maine Cheese Company sells 75,000 pounds of cheese per year. (“Maine’s cheese making industry on the rise,” by Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, Aug. 3, 2013;
The Portland Food Co-op launched a “Let’s Open the Doors” campaign in October to recruit the 1,000 new member-owners it needs to open a new storefront, community-owned market in Portland. The Co-op’s market will be member-owned but open to the public. Building on existing relationships with Maine producers, the co-op will carry local natural and organic products. As we went to press, the co-op was in lease negotiations for a possible location on the Portland Peninsula.
“The Portland Food Co-op came out of a community conversation in 2006 about the lack of locally owned grocery stores in Portland,” says startup project manager Rachelle Curran Apse. “In the years since then, we have built a co-op with just over 400 member-owners that has contributed to Portland’s local food scene not only by providing local food and products at a fair price, but also bringing together a community of people who care about what they buy and where it comes from.”
The co-op needs just over $1 million to open a storefront. A major part of reaching that goal is increasing its member-ownership to 1,400. Member-owners make a one-time $100 equity investment in the co-op. They can sign up at www.portlandfood.coop.
Currently member-owners order food online through the volunteer-run co-op operations, and all ordering member-owners have a work shift. The new storefront will be a full-service grocery, open seven days a week. Member-owners will have special discounts, rebates when the co-op earns surplus income, and a voice in the co-op’s decision making. Once the storefront is open, employees will staff it; member-owners will no longer be required to do a work shift.
A recent “Report of Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Workgroup” encourages raw-milk consumption as part of state economic development. The report says, “Milk is not inherently hazardous” and that responsibility for raw-milk safety rests with everyone who handles the product – farmers, handlers and consumers. It suggests that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk and can counter some chronic diseases. (“A Model for Reconciliation Over Raw Milk?” by David Gumpert,
Modern Farmer, Aug. 1, 2013; http://modernfarmer.com/2013/08/a-model-for-reconciliation-over-raw-milk/ ; report at http://cdn.modernfarmer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/MI-FUWmilk.pdf)
According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report, increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables could save more than 100,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs from heart disease each year. And better farm policies, designed to encourage production of healthy food instead of processed junk foods, will help us reap those benefits. The report says that if Americans ate just one more serving of fruits or vegetables per day, this would save more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in medical costs each year. If Americans followed current USDA recommendations for daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, those numbers would go up to more than 127,000 lives and $17 billion saved. According to methods commonly used by economists, the increased longevity that would result if Americans ate the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is worth over $11 trillion. The report recommends policy changes to increase produce growth and consumption. (“The $11 Trillion Reward – How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There,” by Jeffrey K. O’Hara, Union of Concerned Scientists, August 2013; www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/expand-healthy-food-access/11-trillion-reward.html)
If farm policies helped Americans choose healthier foods, U.S. farmers would grow those foods, bringing a host of benefits to farm country, says a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “The Healthy Farmland Diet: How Growing Less Corn Would Improve Our Health and Help America’s Heartland” uses economic modeling to estimate the impacts of dietary shifts on farm production.
“The reality of American agriculture is that we’re not growing what we should be eating,” said Kranti Mulik, senior economist with UCS. “Only about 2 percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables, while 59 percent is devoted to commodity crops. But this situation isn’t just bad for our waistlines – it’s also holding back farmers and rural economies, and hurting the quality of life in farm communities and beyond.”
The report finds that if Americans ate fruits and vegetables at USDA-recommended levels – increasing consumption by 173 percent over current levels – U.S. farmers would grow 88 percent more of these foods. Conversely, if meat and dairy consumption fell to levels recommended by the Harvard University School of Public Health, farmers would grow 8 million fewer acres of corn and other grains used as livestock feed.
This in turn would drive changes in farming practices that would build healthier soil, improve air and water quality, and increase access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods in farm communities. It would also be good for farmers, as recent studies have shown that more diverse, local food systems create jobs and increase farm profits.
Outdated and expensive farm policies have incentivized monocultures of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, which rely on heavy application of fertilizers and pesticides. These subsidy programs also have encouraged large-scale livestock production in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), which produce gross quantities of manure waste that cannot be cost-effectively used on faraway cropland. All these policy choices lead to poor soil quality, polluted air and water, and even reduced property values in some farm communities.
Even worse, some federal subsidy programs actually restrict farmers from growing fruits and vegetables, preventing these farmers from growing a diversified array of crops.
The UCS calls for Congress to invest in low-cost programs that can help align healthy eating with agricultural production, by funding and implementing, for example, such programs as the Farmers Market Promotion Program, and by reducing commodity subsidies and removing planting restrictions and other policy obstacles that prevent farmers from diversifying their production. (“Less Corn, More Fruits and Vegetables Would Benefit U.S. Farmers, Consumers and Rural Communities,” Union of Concerned Scientists, Oct. 23, 2013; www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/less-corn-more-fruits-and-vegetables-0378.html)
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) discusses four key areas in which food system change needs to begin: in food education, food and health, schools, and college campuses. The article talks about ways to use art to explore food system issues (mentioning Belfast’s Troy Howard Middle School seed packet prints as an example); how to increase the average four hours of food education that U.S. students receive yearly; ways that college students are changing food systems on campuses; and efforts to get more young people involved in farming, as The Greenhorns do. (“How Do We Change the Food System? Start Early!” Food Tank, Oct. 21, 2013; http://foodtank.org/news/2013/10/how-do-we-change-the-food-system-start-early)
Based on data from 56 certified organic farms, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota's Center for Farm Financial Management show a median net income of just over $85,000 last year, more than double the $38,000 organic farms earned the year before. Conventional farm average profit was nearly $200,000 – largely because the conventional farms studied averaged 838 crop acres versus 322 for organic. Minnesota's organic corn producers averaged about 127 bushels per acre, compared with 165 for conventional corn – but organic corn brought nearly $13 per bushel, almost double conventional. Organic milk earned $30 per hundredweight, versus just over $19 for conventional. (“Profits at Minnesota organic farms take big jump,” Wisconsin State Farmer, Sept. 19, 2013; http://www.wisfarmer.com/features/profits-at-minnesota-organic-farms-take-big-jump-----jcpg-335250-224420781.html; Organic Farm Performance in Minnesota 2012;
www.mda.state.mn.us/~/media/Files/food/organicgrowing/2012orgfarmperf.ashx ; “Organic Farm Profits Jump,” by Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio, 9/3/2013; http://blogs.mprnews.org/statewide/2013/09/organic-farm-profits-jump/)
The 2013 National Food Hub Survey, conducted by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the Wallace Center at Winrock International, shows that, across the country, food hubs are growing to meet the need for local food distribution infrastructure. Food hubs are businesses or organizations that manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products. Survey results from more than 100 food hubs demonstrate that U.S. hubs continue to develop as financially viable businesses providing locally produced food to restaurants, schools, grocery stores and other wholesale customers. Food hubs may also provide much needed size-appropriate infrastructure and marketing opportunities for local food produced by small and midsized farms and ranches.
Key findings from the survey indicate that food hubs are
• financially viable. Sixty-six percent of food hubs operate independently from outside funding sources.
• contributing significantly to the growth of their local economies. The average food hub’s sales in 2012 exceeded $3.7 million.
• creating jobs. The average food hub houses 19 paid positions.
• supporting regional producers. The average food hub worked with 80 producers (i.e., farms and ranches), the majority of which are small or midsized.
• contributing to food access. Nearly half of all food hubs have operational commitments to equity, increasing food access and/or community development.
“Food hubs are pivotal for meeting the growing demand for regionally produced, healthy food because they offer farmers a profitable channel for reaching wholesale markets, provide valuable aggregation and distribution services otherwise often missing, and efficiently manage relationships and transactions with buyers,” said John Fisk, director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. (“Food Hubs Seen as Profitable Businesses, National Survey Shows,” Michigan State Univ., Sept. 17, 2013; http://foodsystems.msu.edu/news/stories/read/2013-food-hub-survey; Full report at www.foodsystems.msu.edu/activities/food-hub-survey and at www.ngfn.org/2013foodhubsurvey.)
Chipotle Mexican Grill is the largest U.S. restaurant buyer of local produce, naturally raised pork and the largest restaurant seller of naturally raised meat. It supports organic foods and GE labeling and promotes “Food With Integrity.” Its short film “The Scarecrow,” viewed more than 7 million times and depicting industrial agriculture and then a sustainable farm, plus a linked video game, has drawn considerable attention – positive and, from the industrial food players, predictably negative.
(The Scarecrow, www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUtnas5ScSE ; “Chipotle Doubles Down on Organic,” by Jeremy Bowman, The Motley Fool, Daily Finance, Sept. 21, 2013; www.dailyfinance.com/2013/09/21/chipotle-doubles-down-on-organic/)
A University of Vermont-Cornell study conducted over the last three years found that growing shiitake mushrooms outdoors can be profitable to farmers with at least 500 logs, grossing $11,190 at $16 a pound, and that demand is outstripping supply. The universities are working on a guide for producing shiitakes in the Northeast. Each 3-foot-long hardwood log produces about half a pound twice per season. (“Demand grows for shiitake mushrooms from Northeast,” by Lisa Rathke, Charlotte Observer, Sept. 22, 2013; www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/09/22/4333820/demand-grows-for-shiitake-mushrooms.html)
At the New England Plant, Soil, and Water Research Laboratory in Orono, Maine, plant pathologist Bob Larkin and his colleagues are studying ways to reduce disease and increase yields of potatoes. “In general, 3-year crop rotations, as opposed to the 2-year rotations typically used, help break the host-pathogen cycle,” says Larkin. “We found that 3-year rotations provide better disease control and higher crop yields. These rotations also help support beneficial soil microbes that improve soil quality by increasing soil organic matter or by inhibiting plant pathogens.”
In general, using mustard as a green manure reduced the incidence of powdery scab, common scab and Verticillium wilt most consistently. Brassica cover crops planted in the fall before spring potato planting reduced the incidence and severity of black scurf on tubers by 30 to 80 percent and reduced the incidence of common scab up to 50 percent. Rapeseed provided the highest reductions in black scurf.
“Given these results, we think that farmers can inhibit pathogens that cause soilborne potato diseases by planting a Brassica green manure crop like mustard or rapeseed,” Larkin says. “In Maine, this would be a late summer or early fall crop that is plowed under while it was still green, and then potatoes could be planted the following spring. A fall cover crop can also help conserve the soil.”
Larkin also observed that organic amendments, such as a compost blend, boosted yields almost as much as irrigation because the amendments improved retention of soil water that maturing potatoes could use.
Larkin concluded that using a combination of Brassica and sudangrass green manures, fall cover crops and crop rotations can reduce soilborne diseases by up to 58 percent – and adding compost to the mix increases tuber yields up to 42 percent.
“We also know it’s important to be able to offer different options to Maine farmers,” Larkin says. “Potato is the main cash crop, but farmers using a 3-year rotation need another cash crop as well—maybe corn or beans or canola. The second crop may not be as profitable as potato, but it does provide some income.”
Larkin’s data indicated that farmers are shifting to longer crop rotations that intersperse small grains with potato. This in turn can help restore soil quality, which has been decreasing over the years because of continuous potato production. (“Multiple Prospects for Maine’s Potato Producers,” by Ann Perry, Agricultural Research Magazine, Sept. 2013; www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep13/potato0913.htm)
A report from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, “Wake up Before It Is Too Late,” calls for greater sustainability in food and farming to ensure food security in a changing climate. The report says that “feeding the world” requires not just growing more food but recognizing that hunger and malnutrition “are mainly related to lack of purchasing power and/or inability of rural poor to be self-sufficient.” In reviewing the report, Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet, quotes her mother, Frances Moore Lappé: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy.”
The report calls for more ecologically intense food production by land stewards rather than input-intensive monocultures; and biodiverse, ecological agriculture that is more resilient during major climatic events. After Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America, farmer research teams found that farms where sustainable agriculture practices had been used retained greater soil moisture and 20 to 40 percent more topsoil and experienced less economic loss than those not using sustainable practices.
The report also highlights how agribusiness and chemical corporations have slowed the spread of agroecology by influencing policy, regulation and research. (“Wake Up and Smell the Soil! Groundbreaking UN Report on the Paradigm Shift Needed to Feed the Future,” by Anna Lappé, Civil Eats, Sept. 18, 2013; http://civileats.com/2013/09/18/wake-up-and-smell-the-soil-a-groundbreaking-unctad-report-on-the-paradigm-shift-needed-to-feed-the-future/)
Biochar is an end product of pyrolyzing organic matter (heating biomass at relatively low temperatures and low-oxygen conditions) to produce a charcoal-like substance. It is touted for its potential to sequester carbon, boost soil fertility, generate energy during its production and mitigate pollution. In her excellent review article, Nancy Maddox cites other potential benefits of biochar: suppressing nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from soils; having a high cation exchange capacity and, for some unknown reason, adsorbing phosphate; increasing soil water-holding capacity; decreasing levels of bioavailable heavy metals; supporting soil microbial communities and more. She also discusses variations in biochar, depending on the feedstock and heating techniques; variable effects of biochar on crop yields; definition and product standardization programs; cost effectiveness under specific conditions; and the fact that biochar is not a silver bullet for solving soil fertility and greenhouse gas issues but may be a partial solution for various environmental issues. (“The promise [and uncertainties] of Biochar,” by Nancy Maddox, Crops, Soils, Agronomy News Magazine, Aug. 26, 2013; https://www.agronomy.org/publications/csa/articles/58/9/4)
The Austin, Texas-based Ground to Ground program, a nonprofit, volunteer-based program, diverts more than 8 tons of spent coffee grounds from landfills each month by making them available to the community for compost. The City of Austin is trying to eliminate waste entirely by 2040. (“Austin-based coffee recycling program keeps community well grounded,” by Paul Schattenberg, AgriLife Today, Oct. 22, 2013; http://today.agrilife.org/2013/10/22/austinground2ground/)
Five innovative grassroots groups working for democratic access to land, seeds, water and food have been honored with the 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize, says the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance. Winners were chosen from among more than 40 inspiring projects creating on-the-ground solutions to hunger and poverty, said the alliance, a network of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer advocacy organizations. Top honors went to the Haitian Group of 4 (G4) and the South American Dessalines Brigade, an international peasant-to-peasant collaboration working to rebuild Haiti’s seed, soil and agricultural systems. Honorable mentions were garnered by Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective of India; National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali; and Basque Country Farmer’s Union of the Basque Country in Europe.
"The Food Sovereignty Prize symbolizes the fight for safe and healthy food for all peoples of the earth,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, G4 Executive Committee member. “It’s a fight that must be waged both locally and globally, and requires deep solidarity among all organizations fighting for food sovereignty."
Flavio Barbosa, of the South American Dessalines Brigade, added: "Receiving this prize for the partnership between the Group of 4 and the Dessalines Brigade is an incentive for others to participate in long exchanges such as the one we are experiencing in Haiti. And it charges us with even greater responsibility to continue our defense of peasant agriculture and agroecology as a way to produce sustainable, healthy chemical-free foods accessible for all." (“Food Sovereignty Prize Honors Grassroots Initiatives in Haiti, Brazil, Basque Country, Mali and India,” Aug. 13, 2013; http://foodsovereigntyprize.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Food-Sov-Prize-Honorees-2013-Press-Release-8-13.pdf)
In California’s strawberry-growing region, carbon compounds, such as rice bran or molasses, are mixed with the soil; the soil is then irrigated and covered with a plastic tarp. The resulting anaerobic conditions deprive soilborne pests of oxygen. This could be one alternative to use of toxic fumigants. (“Results point to safer pest control,” by D. L. Taylor, The Californian, Sept. 19, 2013; www.thecalifornian.com/article/20130919/BUSINESS/309190016/Results-point-safer-pest-control)
California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB 551) allows cities and counties to designate “incentive zones” in urban areas (250,000+ people) where landowners can get a substantial property tax break in exchange for dedicating their vacant land to commercial or noncommercial agricultural use for at least five years. (“New Law Breaks Ground for Urban Ag,” Cultivating a Healthy Food System, Oct. 4, 2013; www.cuesa.org/article/new-law-breaks-ground-urban-ag)
The FDA has responded to a nearly four-year-old petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of the vast majority of arsenic-containing compounds used as feed additives for chickens, turkeys and hogs. A lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) on behalf of CFS, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and seven other U.S. food safety, agriculture, public health and environmental groups compelled the FDA to respond. The FDA will withdraw three of four arsenicals and all drug approvals associated with them; so of 101 approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn. Arsenic is added to poultry feed to induce faster weight gain on less feed and to create the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs, says CFS. A 2006 IATP report estimated that more than 70 percent of U.S. chickens raised for meat are fed arsenic, and testing of supermarket-bought and fast-food chicken found that much of it contained some level of arsenic. (“FDA to Withdraw Approvals of Arsenic in Animal Feed,” Center for Food Safety, Oct. 1, 2013;
Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), formed when fossil fuels, tobacco, foods and other organic materials are incompletely combusted, has been associated with higher incidence of depression, anxiety and attention problems among highly exposed children, and epidemiological studies have associated PAH exposure with adverse effects on fetal growth. Now a study has found that some European mothers’ fruit and vegetable intake during pregnancy can offer some protection against the reduced birth weight effects associated prenatal PAH exposure. (“Prenatal Protection: Maternal Diet May Modify Impact of PAHs,” by Julia R. Barrett, Environmental Health Perspectives, Oct. 1, 2013; http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/121-a311/)
To promote workplace safety, the Maine AgrAbility Program of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, in partnership with Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and Alpha One, developed a brightly colored decal to be applied to tractor fenders, dashboards and windshields. The decal reminds operators to work safely. UMaine Cooperative Extension's AgrAbility Program will give as many as five free safety stickers to each farm in Maine. To order, contact Maine AgrAbility coordinator Lani Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207.944.1533.
Biodiversity and Food Security
In “Putting the Cartel before the Horse ... and Farm, Seeds, Soil, Peasants, etc. – Who Will Control Agricultural Inputs, 2013?” the ETC Group identifies the major corporate players that control industrial farm inputs. Together with a companion poster, “Who will feed us? The industrial food chain or the peasant food web?” ETC Group aims to de-construct the myths surrounding the effectiveness of the industrial food system. The report notes, for example, that
• the world’s top three corporations control 53 percent of the world’s commercial seed market, and the top 10 control 76 percent;
• six firms hold 76 percent of the global agrochemical market, and the top 10 pesticide companies control almost 95 percent of the global market;
• the top 10 firms control 41 percent of the global fertilizer market;
• three companies account for 46 percent of the global animal pharmaceutical market, and the top seven firms – all subsidiaries of multinational drug companies – control 72 percent of the market;
• four global firms account for 97 percent of poultry genetics R&D, and four companies account for two-thirds of industry R&D of swine genetics worldwide.
In “Who Will Feed Us?” ETC Group says that the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30 percent of our global food supply, while the peasant food web provides 70 percent of the global food supply while using only 30 percent of agricultural resources. ETC Group defines peasants as “all those who produce food mostly for themselves and their communities, whether they are rural, urban, or peri-urban farmers, ocean or freshwater fishers, pastoralists, or hunters and gatherers.” (“Putting the Cartel before the Horse...and Farm, Seeds, Soil, Peasants, etc. – Who Will Control Agricultural Inputs, 2013?” ETC Group, Sept. 2013. http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/CartelBeforeHorse11Sep2013.pdf; “With Climate Change, Who Will Feed Us?” ETC Group, Sept. 2013; http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/Food%20Poster_Design-Sept042013.pdf)
On February 8, Amy Meyer, standing on public property, filmed cows being slaughtered at the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Company in Draper, Utah. Meyer was later charged with “agricultural operation interference,” becoming the agricultural industry’s first “Ag Gag” criminal – a victim of industrial agriculture’s response to other videos depicting inhumane treatment of livestock. Ag Gag laws, based on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) draft legislation called The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, have passed in Iowa, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina. In his Nation article, Leighton Akio Woodhouse describes how such laws can extend to prohibiting filming of unsafe or illegal working conditions, human trafficking and exposure of other illegalities by whistleblowers. After journalist Will Potter publicized Meyer’s experience, the charges were dropped – and Meyer, Potter and others sued, challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s Ag Gag law. (“Charged With the Crime of Filming a Slaughterhouse,” by Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Nation, July 31, 2013. http://www.thenation.com/article/175506/charged-crime-filming-slaughterhouse)
Five years after the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) released its landmark recommendations to remedy the public health, environment, animal welfare and rural community problems caused by industrial food animal production, a new analysis by Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future (CLF) finds that the Administration and Congress have acted “regressively” in policymaking on industrial food animal system issues. The original 2008 report, “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” detailed myriad problems caused by the present industrial food animal production model. CLF began its analysis, “Industrial Food Animal Production in America: Examining the Impact of the Pew Commission’s Priority Recommendations,” late last year.
The Commission’s key recommendations were:
• Ban non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics and other antimicrobials.
• Define non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
• Treat industrial farm animal production (IFAP) as an industrial operation and implement a new system to deal with farm waste, especially liquid waste systems, to replace the existing inflexible and broken system and to require permitting of more operations.
• Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce the risk of IFAP to public health and improve animal wellbeing (i.e., gestation crates, restrictive veal crates and battery cages).
• Aggressively enforce the existing anti-trust laws applicable to food animal production and, where needed, pass additional laws to provide a level playing field for producers.
• Increase funding for, expand and reform animal agriculture research.
(“Analysis of Impact of Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production Finds Administration and Congress Have Exacerbated Problems in the Food System,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Oct. 22, 2013;
At least 2 million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and at least 23,000 die from those infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC did not count, among those 23,000, those who had a drug-resistant infection but apparently died from a different cause; so, the number is lower than that of previous reports, and the CDC admits it is an underestimate. More than 70 percent of U.S. antibiotic use is for animals, the government estimates; antibiotics are used in animal agriculture to fight infection under crowded conditions and to speed growth. Another report says that MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections in hospitals decreased by more than half between 2005 and 2011 but remained little changed in other settings. Yet another recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that patients living near intensive hog farms and near fields where those hogs’ manure was spread were 38 percent more likely to get MRSA. Shortly after these reports came out, many people affected by a salmonella outbreak traced to three Foster Farms chicken plants in California were found to have a form of the disease that resists multiple antibiotics. Also in California in October, Costco recalled 40,000 pounds of rotisserie chicken due to salmonella contamination. (“Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds,” by Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times, Sept. 16, 2013; www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/health/cdc-report-finds-23000-deaths-a-year-from-antibiotic-resistant-infections.html; http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/; “Living near hog waste linked to drug-resistant infections,” by Tim Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 16, 2013; www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bal-bmg-living-near-hog-waste-linked-to-drugresistant-infections-20130916,0,6730313.story; “Warnings as salmonella strains resist antibiotics,” by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 15, 2013; www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Warnings-as-salmonella-strain-resists-antibiotics-4898712.php)
The USDA found that of more than 20,000 food import shipments, nearly 7 percent of spice lots were contaminated with salmonella – including15 percent of coriander, 12 percent of oregano and basil, and 4 percent of black pepper. Sesame seeds, curry powder and cumin also had high levels of contamination. Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and even death. About 14 percent of spices sampled from Mexico and 9 percent from India were contaminated. (“Salmonella in Spices Prompts Changes in Farming,” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, Aug. 27, 2013; www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/world/asia/farmers-change-over-spices-link-to-food-ills.html?_r=0)
In 2011, cantaloupes shipped from a Colorado farm and contaminated with listeria bacteria killed 33 people and hospitalized 147. The farmers, Eric and Ryan Jensen, have been accused of not properly cleaning the cantaloupe. Their case goes to trial on December 2. The Jensens have pleaded not guilty. (“Cantaloupe Farmers Arrested – Will There Be Others?” Las Vegas Guardian Express – 9/27/2013. By Lisa Nance; http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/cantaloupe-farmers-arrested-will-there-be-others/)
Prions – the infectious, deformed proteins that cause chronic wasting disease in deer – can be taken up by plants such as alfalfa, corn and tomatoes, according to research from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc.; and stems and leaves from those plants caused infections when injected into lab mice. Exposure via plants was previously unknown, although animal-to-animal and soil-to-animal transmission was known. Chronic wasting disease in deer has been identified in 17 states. Prion diseases are not thought to spread from deer (or cows, as in mad cow disease; or sheep or goats, as in scrapie) to humans, although some research suggests otherwise. (“Prions in plants? New concern for chronic wasting disease,” by Ron Seely, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, www.wisconsinwatch.org/2013/09/27/prions-in-plants-new-concern-for-chronic-wasting-disease/)
Food manufacturers are allowed to determine themselves whether additives they use are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) according to FDA guidelines and can then use the GRAS additive(s) with or without notifying the FDA – much like the system for genetically engineered crops. Researchers who looked at 451 GRAS notifications to the FDA found that “financial conflicts of interest were ubiquitous” among those who determined that the additives were GRAS. Manufacturers’ employees did 22.4 percent of the safety assessments, employees of a consulting firm chosen by the manufacturer did 13.3 percent, and a panel chosen by the manufacturer or the consulting firm did 64.3 percent. In no case was an independent review done. (“Conflicts of Interest in Approvals of Additives to Food Determined to Be Generally Recognized as Safe,” by Thomas G. Neltner, J.D., et al., JAMA Intern Med., Aug. 7, 2013; https://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1725123).
The USDA has changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances (such as synthetics) in food that carries the “organic” or “made with organic” label.
Under the federal organic law and before the September 13 announcement, a controlled process allowed use of substances not normally permitted in organic production because of extenuating circumstances – e.g., they were not available in organic form. These exemptions were supposed to last for five years, in order to encourage development of natural or organic alternatives. The exemptions were required by law to expire unless they were reinstated by a two-thirds majority vote of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and had a public review. Now an exempt material could be permitted indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB votes to remove it from the list rather than reinstate it. The new policy allows USDA to relist exemptions for synthetic materials without NOSB recommendation or public view. Consumer groups are campaigning to have USDA reverse this change. (“U.S. Department of Agriculture Guts National Organic Law; Circumvents Public Process,” joint statement from Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety, Sept. 17, 2013; www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/u-s-department-of-agriculture-guts-national-organic-law-circumvents-public-process/)
Maine writer Jennifer Lunden writes eloquently and in depth about links between pesticides (including the increased use of Roundup since the introduction of genetically engineered crops), radiation (including from mammograms), toxic chemicals in makeup (including that sold by companies funding pink-ribbon campaigns) and breast cancer. A sidebar recommends ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer through exercise and diet (promoting organic foods) and ways to stay truly informed – rather than simply pink-ribbon-aware. We’re already aware, argues Lunden. (“Exposed – The mammogram myth and the pinkwashing of America,” Orion Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2013; www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7693)
A review study has found that 90 percent of neonicotinoid insecticides persist in soils, where they accumulate and leach into waterways. Highly neurotoxic to most insects, neonicotinoids are among the most commonly used insecticides in the world. Residue levels often found in soils and waterways are high enough to be lethal to most insects, including beneficial organisms such as pollinators. Neonicotinoid-treated seeds may also be toxic when consumed by birds and mammals. Some neonicotinoids were banned by the European Commission because of fears that they are killing bees, birds, mammals and soil organisms, but they are still commonly used in the United States. (“The environmental risks of neonicotinoid insecticides,” The Organic Center, Sept. 25, 2013; http://organic-center.org/hot-science/the-environmental-risks-of-neonicotinoid-insecticides/ ; REVIEW: An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides, by Dave Goulson, Journal of Applied Ecology, 50(4) 977-987, August 2013; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12111/abstract)
This summer Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency found neonicotinoid insecticides in 75 percent of 102 dead bees. This is the second year in a row that neonicotinoids, used to coat corn and soy seeds, have been found in large numbers of dead bees in Canada. The seed coating releases neonicotinoid-contaminated dust during planting. Health Canada has “concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable … For the 2014 planting season, we intend to implement additional protective measures for corn and soybean production, including:
• Requiring the use of safer dust-reducing seed flow lubricants;
• Requiring adherence to safer seed planting practices;
• Requiring new pesticide and seed package labels with enhanced warnings; and,
• Requiring updated value information be provided to support the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on up to 100% of the corn seed and 50% of the soybean seed.”
(“Notice of Intent, NOI2013-01, Action to Protect Bees from Exposure to Neonicotinoid Pesticides,” Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency, 9/13/2013; www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/part/consultations/_noi2013-01/noi2013-01-eng.php)
When researchers in New Zealand exposed invading Argentine ants to sublethal doses of neonicotinoid insecticides, the ants’ brood size was cut in half. The exposed Argentine ants did not display any behavioral changes until they encountered the native southern ant. Then the Argentine ants became much more aggressive and the southern ants became less aggressive. When neonicotinoid-exposed Argentine ants encountered unexposed southern ants, the Argentine ants became so aggressive that they risked their lives to attack the latter, so the unexposed native ants were able to eradicate the exposed Argentines. (“Pesticide makes invading ants suicidally aggressive,” by Brian Owens, Nature, Oct. 23, 2013; www.nature.com/news/pesticide-makes-invading-ants-suicidally-aggressive-1.14003)
Monarch butterflies normally begin migrating in spring from remote mountains in Mexico to the United States and Canada. Adults leave Mexico, reproduce and die along the way, so three or more generations are required to reach northern areas. The return trip is made by the final generation that came north. While their populations have been harmed in the past by illegal logging in Mexico and more recently by habitat destruction in the North (including use of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops grown in systems that eliminate the milkweed that monarch larvae need to survive), they have faced even worse conditions the past two years due to extreme weather in the United States and Canada. Last year, fewer monarchs returned to Mexico than ever before. (“The monarchs were missing this summer ... and we and weather were to blame,” by Dave Sherwood, PRI's The World, Sept. 30, 2013; www.pri.org/stories/2013-09-30/monarchs-were-missing-summer-and-we-and-weather-were-blame)
University of S. Florida researchers exposed Cuban tree frogs in the tadpole stage and after metamorphosis to the herbicide atrazine at typical environmental concentrations. Exposure early in life did not significantly affect survival of the frogs – unless they were also exposed to the chytrid fungus linked to amphibian deaths worldwide. Frogs never recovered from early exposure to atrazine, and their tolerance to infection was halved. (“Common herbicide raises frogs' risk of fungal disease, study finds,” by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 2013; www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-frog-herbicide-20131025,0,3823014.story)
Exposure to the pesticide DDT could play a role in high rates of obesity three generations later. Washington State University researchers injected pregnant rats with DDT. The first generation offspring had no change in levels of obesity, but more than half the third-generation rats had dramatically higher levels of fat and weight gain, even though they were never exposed to DDT themselves. Many chemicals can turn genes on or off, and the on or off status can be passed to descendants. (“Ancestors' exposure to DDT may contribute to obesity, study says,” by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 2013;
Food and Climate
A meta-analysis of 19 studies by researchers at FiBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture based in Switzerland) and the University of Hohenheim and published in Science of the Total Environment shows that organically farmed lands emit less nitrous oxide and take up more atmospheric methane than conventional farmlands, helping combat climate change. (“Organic farming contributes to climate change mitigation,” FarmingUK, Oct. 7, 2013; www.farminguk.com/News/Organic-farming-contributes-to-climate-change-mitigation_26569.html)
From 2001 to 2010, the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) paid an average of $4.1 billion per year to cover crop losses; in 2012, it paid $17.3 billion, and 80 percent of this was for losses due to drought, heat and hot wind. These losses could have been prevented by building soil health and improving water management, says the Natural Resources Defense Council in its report, “Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program should be reformed” (www.nrdc.org/water/soil-matters/). NRDC says a pilot program could offer reduced crop insurance premium rates to farmers who manage their soil to sustain yields, absorb water and reduce runoff and flooding. Management techniques could include cover cropping (which resulted in greater average yields for farmers who used them in 2012), conservation tillage and improved irrigation scheduling.
In 2012, irrigation supply failures accounted for more than $14.7 million in indemnity payments, says NRDC. Over 282 million acres of cropland – at least 70 percent of the nation’s total cropland – are insured under the public-private partnership Federal Crop Insurance Program – the most expensive farm subsidy program and the primary risk management tool for farmers to prepare for potential crop loss. (“Record-Breaking $17.3 Billion in Crop Losses Last Year; Significant Portion Potentially Avoidable,” Natural Resources Defense Council, Aug. 27, 2013; www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130827.asp)
About one-third of all food for human consumption is wasted every year, as is the energy, water and chemicals used to produce and dispose of that food, according to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report, "The Food Wastage Footprint.” If world food waste were a country, it would be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually) than any country except the United States and China – so minimizing food waste can help cut greenhouse gas emissions while helping feed more people. Food waste occurs when consumers throw out excess food that they bought (in industrialized countries) and when inefficient farming methods and improper storage are used (more common in developing countries). The report offers ideas for reducing food waste, including serving smaller portions and using leftovers, giving excess food to charities, and not taking organic waste to landfills. It notes that the cost of wasted food (other than fish and seafood) amounts to about $750 billion per year.
Another recent report says that U.S. consumers and businesses needlessly trash billions of pounds of food every year due to nonstandard and unclear food expiration date labeling practices. “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America” (www.nrdc.org/food/expiration-dates.asp) was co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The NRDC’s 2012 report, “Wasted” (www.nrdc.org/food/wasted-food.asp), revealed that Americans trash up to 40 percent of our food supply every year, equivalent to $165 billion.
“Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety,” says Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist.
For most food products, manufacturers can determine a shelf life date according to their own methods. The poorly regulated and inconsistent labels undermine the intent of the labeling. For example, 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat; some $900 million worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year; and some 160 billion pounds of food are trashed in the United States every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
Manufacturers use two types of labels – one to communicate with businesses and one with consumers. They are not easily distinguished, and neither indicates food safety. “Sell by” dates, a tool for stock control, suggest when the grocer should no longer sell products in order to ensure the products still have shelf life after consumers purchase them. They do not indicate the food is bad on that date. “Best before” and “use by” dates, intended for consumers, are often manufacturers’ estimates of a date after which food will no longer be at peak quality; they do not indicate that food is unsafe.
The review recommends making “sell by” dates invisible to consumers; establishing a more uniform, easily understandable date label system that communicates clearly with consumers by differentiating between safety- and quality-based dates; and increasing the use of safe handling instructions and “smart labels” that use technology to provide additional information on product safety. (“Global Food Waste Accounts For More Emissions Than Any Country Except U.S. And China, UN Reveals,” by Catherine Hornby, Reuters, Huffington Post, Sept. 11, 2013; www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/global-food-waste-emissions_n_3904687.html; “New Report: Food Expiration Date Confusion Causing up to 90% of Americans to Waste Food,” Sept. 18, 2013; www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130918.asp)
Another Big Bad Trade Agreement Looms
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement ("TPP") is a free trade agreement being negotiated by the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The largest free trade agreement ever, it would create new guidelines for food safety, fracking, drug prices, patents and copyright rules, government procurement, telecommunications and more. Jim Hightower says the TPP would, for example, “transform Internet service providers into a private, Big Brother police force, empowered to monitor our ‘user activity,’ arbitrarily take down our content and cut off our access to the Internet.” It would also, says Hightower, eliminate the right to promote local, green or other labeled products to be purchased with tax dollars; would ban food labeling laws for organic, GE-free and other standards if they are stricter than international standards; and would require that U.S. regulations on pesticide residues, microbial contamination and other food safety standards not be more stringent than certain international standards.
The TPP has been criticized also for its secret negotiations – from the public and the U.S. Congress, which has not seen any drafts of the agreement. Big industry, however – Monsanto, Dupont, Cargill, Syngenta, Halliburton, Chevron and some 600 others – have been party to the agreement. The White House wants fast track approval by Congress within 90 days after President Obama signs the TPP, and without amendments. Flush the TPP! has action tools to fight this proposed trade agreement. (“Jim Hightower: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is a Corporate Coup in Disguise,” by Jim Hightower, TruthOut, Oct. 2, 2013; www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18231-jim-hightower-the-trans-pacific-partnership-is-a-corporate-coup-in-disguise; “Obama Secretly Signing Away U.S. Sovereignty,” by Aaron Klein, WND news, Oct. 15, 2013; www.wnd.com/2013/10/obama-secretly-signing-away-u-s-sovereignty/; “What You Need To Know About The Biggest Free Trade Agreement Ever And How It Affects Climate Change,” by Air Phillips, Think Progress, Oct. 3, 2013; http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/03/2712961/biggest-free-trade-agreement-climate/; Flush the TPP! www.flushthetpp.org/)
Genetic Engineering (GE) News
MOFGA is part of a group of 73 American organic and conventional family farmers, seed businesses and public advocacy groups that asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 5, 2013, to hear its case against Monsanto, challenging the corporation’s patents on GE seed.
In Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al. v. Monsanto, the plaintiffs have been forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their fields ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s GE seed.
“MOFGA is proud to be part of this effort to bring justice to farmers who struggle to protect the integrity of their crops and to save their own seeds,” said Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s interim executive director at the time (now deputy director). “With genetically engineered seed, industry has unleashed on agriculture worldwide a dangerous technology that knows no bounds. Corporations must not poison, corrupt and claim for themselves through patents what farmers have been cultivating for more than 14,000 years.”
In a June 10, 2013, ruling, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that a group of organic and otherwise non-GE farmer and seed company plaintiffs are not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto's transgenic seed patents "because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not 'take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower's land).'"
"While the Court of Appeals correctly found that the farmers and seed sellers had standing to challenge Monsanto's invalid patents, it incorrectly found that statements made by Monsanto's lawyers during the lawsuit mooted the case," said Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto. "As a result, we have asked the Supreme Court to take the case and reinstate the right of the plaintiffs to seek full protection from Monsanto's invalid transgenic seed patents."
“We have been farming for almost 40 years and we have never wanted anything to do with Monsanto,” said Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer in Maine and president of lead plaintiff OSGATA. “We believe we have the right to farm and grow good food the way we choose. We don’t think it’s fair that Monsanto can trespass onto our farm, contaminate and ruin our crops and then sue us for infringing on their patent rights. We don’t want one penny from Monsanto. American farmers deserve their day in Court so we can prove to the world Monsanto’s genetically engineered patents are invalid and that farmers deserve protection from Monsanto’s abuse.”
The plaintiffs are asking the courts to declare that if Monsanto’s GE seed ever contaminates organic farms, farmers need not fear being accused of patent infringement. One reason justifying this result is that Monsanto's patents on GE seed are invalid because they don't meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law, says Ravicher. Evidence cited in the plaintiffs' court filings proves that GE seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of GE seed – increased production and decreased herbicide use – are false.
As Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote in 1817, to be patentable, an invention must not be “injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society,” and “a new invention to poison people ... is not a patentable invention.” Because transgenic seed, and in particular Monsanto's transgenic seed, is “injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society” and threatens to “poison people,” Monsanto's transgenic seed patents are all invalid, according to the Public Patent Foundation.
With the rapid adoption of Monsanto’s GE seed technology, America’s farmers have faced a rampant rise in superweeds, with more than 49 percent of U.S. farmers reporting glyphosate-resistant weeds on their farms in 2012, up from 34 percent reported in 2011. In addition, scientists report the growing failures of Monsanto’s GE insecticide-containing corn, with insects in the Midwestern corn belt becoming resistant to the GE Bt toxin, leaving crops vulnerable to the corn rootworm. (“American Farmers Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court to Seek Protection from Genetic Contamination and Invalidate Monsanto's Patents on Genetically Engineered Crops,” Public Patent Foundation, Sept. 5, 2013; www.pubpat.org/osgatasctpetition.htm)
More than 90 scientists, academics and physicians have signed a statement saying that no scientific consensus exists on the safety of GE foods and crops. The statement counters claims by the GE industry and others that these foods and crops are safe. Says Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, chairperson of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and one of the signatories, “The statement draws attention to the diversity of opinion over GMOs in the scientific community and the often contradictory or inconclusive findings of studies on GMO safety. These include toxic effects on laboratory animals fed GM foods, increased pesticide use from GM crop cultivation, and the unexpected impacts of Bt insecticidal crops on beneficial and non-target organisms.” (“Global Scientists Issue Stunning GMO Safety Warning – Breaking News,” Sustainable Pulse, Oct. 21, 2013; http://sustainablepulse.com/2013/10/21/global-scientists-issue-gmo-safety-warning-breaking-news/)
According to La Coperacha, a federal judge has ordered that Mexican agricultural and environmental officials immediately suspend new plantings of transgenic corn in the country to allow for resolution of several pending lawsuits involving the crops. Since 2001, studies have shown that GE corn has contaminated Mexico’s native corn varieties. (“Judge rules that GMOs are imminent threat” and “GEO Watch: Mexican judge suspends transgenic corn plantings,” Environment and Food Justice, by Devon G. Peña, Oct. 11, 2013, with update on Oct. 17, 2013; http://ejfood.blogspot.com/2013/10/geo-watch-mexico-bans-transgenic-corn.html)
“Africa is a high value target for the biotech industry,” reports Jonathan Matthews, adding that USDA and USAID are backing “the latest wave of corporate colonialism in Africa.” GE proponent Mark Lynas has been speaking widely about the alleged value of GE crops there and elsewhere, says Matthews, but without revealing his sources of funding. Matthews critiques Lynas’ statements about GE crops. (“Biotech ambassadors in Africa,” by Jonathan Matthews, Spinwatch, Aug. 6, 2013; http://spinwatch.org/index.php/issues/science/item/5522-biotech-ambassadors-in-africa)
In August, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law HB 2427, banning commercial production of canola (rapeseed) until 2019 inside the 3 million-acre Willamette Valley Protected District, one of the world’s pre-eminent vegetable seed producing regions. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) had sued the Oregon Department of Agriculture after seed and organic vegetable farmers objected to a controversial decision to permit canola production in the Willamette Valley. CFS argued that canola readily cross-pollinates with brassica specialty seed crops such as broccoli, kale and cabbage; spreads plant diseases and pests to brassica vegetable and seed crops; and can contaminate pure lots of vegetable and clover seed, rendering them unsalable in international and local markets.
The vast majority of canola is genetically engineered, which contaminates organic and conventional varieties, and cross-pollinates with weeds, creating new invasive species problems, as herbicide-resistant traits spread to native weed populations. The new law overturns an unlawful rule adopted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) in February 2013 that would have allowed thousands of acres of industrial canola to be planted over the next decade in a region where production of the plant for its seed has long been banned. The ODA attempted in August 2012 to open the valley to widespread canola planting despite overwhelming public opposition.
Friends of Family Farmers and CFS, on behalf of individual growers, challenged ODA’s original temporary rule, which would have allowed canola planting in the fall of 2012. The Oregon Court of appeals halted that rule-making as unlawful. Because of this successful challenge, no planting of canola has been allowed in the Willamette Valley. But ODA again proposed planting in spring 2013, so on April 25, 2013, CFS filed another lawsuit to halt ODA’s rule to allow canola in the Willamette Valley on behalf of Friends of Family Farmers, CFS, Universal Seed and Wild Garden Seed. (“Victory for Willamette Valley Farmers and Public as Oregon Governor Signs Moratorium on Canola Production,” Center for Food Safety, Aug. 15, 2013; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/2446/victory-for-willamette-valley-farmers-and-public-as-oregon-governor-signs-moratorium-on-canola-production)
In October, Oregon passed a state budget that included an amendment that prevents local communities from making decisions about food and agriculture, such as regulating GE crops. The budget bill, SB 863, was pushed by out-of-state chemical companies and is a model bill from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), previously introduced in other states. George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety says the Center is exploring legal options to restore local rights. “This is about protecting all farmers’ fundamental right to choose what they grow, free from transgenic contamination, and about ensuring that valuable conventional and organic crops are not threatened,” says Kimbrell. After the vote, Gov. John Kitzhaber said he has asked state officials to map locations of GE crops and he pledged to introduce legislation in 2015 to address GE agriculture and labeling requirements. (“Local Food and Agriculture Rights Stifled by Oregon Dirty Politics,” Center for Food Safety, Oct. 3, 2013; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/2626/local-food-and-agriculture-rights-stifled-by-oregon-dirty-politics; “Gov. John Kitzhaber requests mapping of GMO crops, pledges to bring legislation in 2015,” by Yuxing Zheng, Oregon Live, Oct. 3, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/10/john_kitzhaber_requests_mappin.html)
A GE technique used to make rice resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) also benefitted a wild form of rice, even in the absence of the herbicide, when the GE and wild rice were crossed. Scientists from Ohio State and Fudan University, Shanghai, attached a promoter gene to a native gene in rice so that the plant produced an extra copy of one of its own genes and so that the gene was active continuously. That rice was crossed with a weedy rice relative, and those progeny were crossed with one another to produce the next generation. Those weedy hybrid rice plants containing the engineered genes produced more of the amino acid tryptophan, had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced more seeds than non-GE hybrids. Glyphosate kills plants by blocking the enzyme EPSP synthase, interfering partially with plant production of certain amino acids and other molecules. Glyphosate-resistant plants usually are engineered to overexpress EPSP synthase, making the plants strong enough to resist glyphosate applications – and in this case, to grow and reproduce more. (“Genetically modified crops pass benefits to weeds,” by Jane Qui, Nature, Aug. 16, 2013; www.nature.com/news/genetically-modified-crops-pass-benefits-to-weeds-1.13517; Wang, W. et al., New Phytol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.12428 (2013); (“Rice research sheds new light on GM traits in 'superweeds',” Farming Online, Sept. 24, 2013; www.farming.co.uk/news/article/8944)
In Livingston and Kankakee counties in Illinois, Western corn rootworms appear to be increasingly resistant to control by crop rotation with soy and use of Monsanto’s corn engineered to express the toxic Bt protein Cry3Bb1, according to University of Illinois research. The GE corn has been grown in the Midwest since 2003. (“GMO corn failing to protect fields from pests: report,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Aug. 28 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/28/us-usa-gmo-corn-rootworm-idUSBRE97R12R20130828; “Monsanto-developed corn foiled by pests,” by Georgina Gustin, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 28, 2013; www.stltoday.com/business/local/monsanto-developed-corn-foiled-by-pests/article_5243e458-5c97-56fb-80e3-0c7f12a8c98a.html)
A GE corn variety from Syngenta, Enogen, is engineered with high levels of an enzyme that converts starches to sugars for easier ethanol production. If the trait contaminated corn grown for food, the milling and baking qualities of food corn could be ruined. The European Union rejected Syngenta’s application to market Enogen corn there, but it is being grown in the United States. (“Is ethanol GM corn a disaster waiting to happen?,” by Ken Roseboro, The Organic & Non-GMO Report, Oct. 3, 2013; http://nongmoreport.com/articles/october2013/ethanol-gm-corn-disaster.php)
Environmental groups have sued to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop planting GE crops in wildlife refuges in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, alleging that the Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully entered into farming contracts on the refuges and used blanket pesticide applications without a federally required environmental analysis. (“Groups sue to stop use of GMO crops in wildlife refuges,” Globe Gazette, Aug. 27, 2013; http://globegazette.com/news/iowa/groups-sue-to-stop-use-of-gmo-crops-in-wildlife/article_21c23c24-0f68-11e3-a69f-001a4bcf887a.html)
Scientists generally believe that large macromolecules that we eat with our food cannot pass directly to our circulatory system – that digestion breaks down proteins and DNA into smaller amino acids and nucleic acids, and these are then circulated throughout the body. But researchers analyzing more than 1,000 human plasma samples found that fragments of DNA that came from consumed meals were large enough to carry complete genes that were not degraded and that entered the human circulation system. One blood sample had a greater relative concentration of plant DNA than human DNA. The analysis shows that the presence of foreign DNA in human plasma is not unusual, say the researchers. The highest concentration occurred in patients with the inflammatory diseases, Kawasaki disease and inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers note that foreign DNA fragments have been detected in the digestive tract and leukocytes of rainbow trout, pigs, goats and mice fed GE grains. (“Complete Genes May Pass from Food to Human Blood,” by Sandor Spisak et al., PLoS ONE 8(7): e69805, July 30, 2013; http://gmoevidence.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/journal.pone_.0069805.pdf)
An article in The New York Times this summer claimed that finding resistance to citrus greening disease, which is threatening the U.S. citrus industry, would be a good use of genetic engineering, since genes are not available within citrus to use traditional crop breeding for resistance. Other reports have claimed the same regarding papaya ringspot virus resistance.
Agricultural scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists argues otherwise, saying “breeders have found promising genes that may turn out to be as (or more) effective than the engineered gene used in Hawaii to combat papaya ringspot virus. Even the possibility of breeding for resistance to citrus greening (or, at least the insect that transmits it) has recently been demonstrated.” However, lack of public research funding for traditional crop breeding limits such efforts.
Gurian-Sherman uses the example of the soybean aphid to show the value of breeding combined with agroecological principles, such as diverse landscapes that support aphid enemies, but notes that “the big ag companies are sabotaging this kind of smart, scientifically sophisticated agriculture … where farms are situated near uncultivated areas, natural enemies that consume soybean aphids, like ladybird beetles … reduce the need for insecticides by about 25 to 43 percent, based on 2005 and 2006 data, compared to areas where monoculture is extensive and uncultivated areas scarce.”
Cover crops, long rotations and reduced pesticide use can also support this ecological system. Instead, “the big seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta make matters worse by supporting the current industrial monoculture system, which reduces the number of natural pest enemies” and coats most corn and soy seed with pesticides that harm natural enemies of aphids.
We need public policies, says Gurian-Sherman, that encourage agroecology and public sector crop breeding. “The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides agriculture research grants, and needs to put in place a dedicated program to develop public crop varieties to complement agroecologically-sound farming systems.” We also need a Farm Bill that builds the Conservation Stewardship Program and other programs that support agroecological practices by partnering with farmers, he says. (“Small Insect’s Big Lessons for the Farm Bill: Agroecology and Breeding Top Monsanto’s Industrial Agriculture,” by Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, Aug. 26, 2013; http://blog.ucsusa.org/small-insects-big-lessons-for-the-farm-bill-agroecology-and-breeding-tops-monsantos-industrial-agriculture-218)
Agriculture officials in Washington state tested alfalfa seed and plants from a farm owned by Joseph and Michelle Peila after Joseph said his hay was rejected for export because it tested positive for a Monsanto GE Roundup resistance trait. Joseph reported that he did not intend to grow a GE variety. GE alfalfa is approved for commercial growing in the United States, but many buyers do not want it. USDA officials said the small amount of GE material detected in Peila’s non-GE crop constitutes a "commercial issue" only and does not warrant government action. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a formal legal petition demanding action from USDA on behalf of Washington State farmers and CFS members. Washington State University is now warning farmers to test every bag of alfalfa seed before planting. A December 2011 report by USDA geneticist Stephanie Greene said that after Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated in 2005, industry testing found contamination as high as 2 percent in conventional seed lots. (“Genetically modified alfalfa confirmed in Washington test sample,” Oregon Live, AP, Sept. 13, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/09/genetically_modified_alfalfa_c.html; “USDA weighing what to do in case of GMO alfalfa contamination,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Sept. 16, 2013; http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/09/16/us-usa-alfalfa-gmo-idUKBRE98F0GE20130916; “USDA will not take action in case of GMO alfalfa contamination,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Sept. 17, 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/17/usa-alfalfa-gmo-idUSL2N0HD1SQ20130917; “USDA Refuses to Investigate Illegal GMO Contamination,” Center for Food Safety, Sept. 27, 2013; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/2608/usda-refuses-to-investigate-illegal-gmo-contamination)
Researchers have found that pigs fed GE corn and soy had a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation than pigs fed non-GE diets. The study, led by Dr. Judy Carman, showed that GE-fed female pigs also had on average a 25 percent heavier uterus than non-GE-fed females – a possible indicator of disease. Carmen and her colleagues were examining health effects of GE crops, because many GE crops are released into the food supply with multiple GE genes. For example, some crops commonly contain both the GE Bt proteins that are toxic to insects and GE herbicide tolerant (Ht) genes. Most food regulators do not require studies showing the health effects of these “stacked” genes, even though more than 37 percent of GE corn varieties currently planted in the United States have stacked Ht and Bt genes. The study concludes that GE crop safety is uncertain; that the use of stacked genes in GE crops may have unintended health consequences; and because pigs and people have similar digestive systems, studies should investigate whether people are also getting digestive problems from eating GE crops. (“Genetically Modified feed has negative effects on pig health,” The Organic Center, Sept. 22, 2013; http://organic-center.org/hot-science/genetically-modified-feed-has-negative-effects-on-pig-health/; “A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet,” by Judy A. Carman et al., Journal of Organic Systems, 8(1)2013; www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf)
The EPA says it needs to better understand risk assessment for new RNAi (RNA interference, or post-transcriptional gene silencing) technologies – even though the agency has reportedly already approved two RNAi products, virus-resistant plums and potatoes. In the RNAi process, RNA molecules inhibit gene expression, usually by destroying specific messenger RNA molecules. Monsanto wants to add RNA molecules to its Roundup herbicide to kill weeds that have become Roundup-resistant. RNAi technology is also being considered to kill larvae and other insects that are resistant to the Bt toxin in GE corn. Scientists don’t know how long RNAi pesticides would persist in the environment or what their other impacts might be. (“Safety of New Pesticide Technology Is Under Review,” by Philip Brashe, Roll Call, Sept. 27, 2013; www.rollcall.com/news/safety_of_new_pesticide_technology_is_under_review-227953-1.html)
The World Food Prize, according to itself (http://www.worldfoodprize.org), “is the foremost international award recognizing – without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs – the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” This year the prize went to two people enmeshed in the crop biotechnology industry – Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton of Syngenta and Dr. Robert Fraley of Monsanto; and to Dr. Marc Van Montagu of Ghent University in Belgium, a GE researcher. The choices may not be surprising, as, according to Mother Jones, “many of the World Food Prize's major donors are among the biggest names in agribusiness today” including ADM, Cargill, Monsanto and General Mills. Others include policy-driven charities, such as the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation; and the U.S. government has hosted the World Food Prize announcements for the past 10 years – as it has promoted industrial farming worldwide. (“The World Food Prize, Brought to You by Monsanto,” by Alex Park, Mother Jones, June 19, 2013; www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/06/why-did-john-kerry-announce-world-food-prize)
The Hawaiian Kauai County Council has passed a bill that could lead to prison time or fines for employees of agricultural companies if they don’t divulge specifics about pesticide use, abide by strict setback rules for spraying chemicals or disclose when they grow GE crops. (“Kauai County Crosses the Rubicon, Council Passes Pesticide and GMO Bill,” by Sophie Cocke, Honolulu Civil Beat, Oct. 16, 2013; www.civilbeat.com/articles/2013/10/16/20164-kauai-county-crosses-the-rubicon-council-passes-pesticide-and-gmo-bill/)
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson in October filed a lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), alleging it illegally collected from its members and spent more than $7 million to oppose Initiative 522, which would require labeling of GE foods. The association illegally concealed the donors’ identities, claims the suit. Shortly after, GMA yielded to the lawsuit and listed donors, including Pepsico, Coca-Cola and NestleUSA, each of which spent more than $1 million to defeat the right-to-know initiative. (“Attorney General sues grocery association, alleging campaign-finance violations,” by Jim Brunner, The Seattle Times, Oct. 16, 2013; http://blogs.seattletimes.com/politicsnorthwest/2013/10/16/attorney-general-sues-grocery-association-alleging-campaign-finance-violations/; “Pepsi, Coke, Nestle top multi-million-dollar campaign against I-522,” by Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Oct. 18,2013; http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2013/10/18/pepsi-coke-nestle-top-multi-million-dollar-campaign-against-i-522/)