Thursday, April 04, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food News Roundup

ToniHydraulic fracturing, more commonly called “fracking,” is a practice that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from rocks deep underground. While energy companies have been buying rural land across the country, environmentalists have been warning of the dangers behind fracking. Now energy companies are vying for the 1,750-square-mile Monterey Shale region of California, a crucial area of America’s largest farming state, highlighting the threat of the fracking boom on the sanctity of the US domestic food supply. Energy companies already dominate 17,000 acres of land in the state to which they own the water and oil rights. Though the toxic remnants from fracking are typically contained, food and farm activists caution that this liquid could seep into the soil and water necessary to cultivate food. Grazing livestock have already died after drinking water polluted with fracking liquids in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. Though the full impact of fracking on America’s farmland is still in question, it seems clear that the practice deserves more scrutiny.

A new bill passed by Congress to fund the federal government until September 30 protects Monsanto through a measure that allows farmers to grow the company’s genetically engineered seeds during legal appeals. In other words, farmers will be able to grow Monsanto crops even if USDA approval is temporarily overturned in court, placing unapproved food into the food system. The new bill, dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” is under heavy criticism, as it permits Monsanto to avoid due process. Roy Blunt, a senator from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri, supported the measure, which was kept in the dark until just before the bill was voted on. Monsanto has been under fire recently, dealing with a number of court cases and public reproach. It’s hoped that the bill’s impact will be limited, unless it is extended after September 30.

In 2011 the Food Safety and Modernization Act seemed to be a major victory for food safety regulations as the first big update to food laws in about 80 years. The law addressed food recalls, inspections and food contamination; however, the White House Office of Management and Budget neglected to include many of these provisions in a revision to an outline created by the Food and Drug Administration that summarized methods to apply the new safety regulations. Under the new laws created by the Office of Management and Budget, the food safety protocols in the 2011 bill are now essentially voluntary practices. When the law was published earlier this year, food advocates celebrated its long-delayed release. That being said, the revisions were not discovered until someone from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed documents detailing the modifications to the law. There is a comment period on the new bill that will allow the public to weigh in that runs through the middle of May.

Nothing spells health like food and exercise, but who would have thought that exercise could make the food supply unhealthy? Some workout clothes now include microscopic silver particles that kill bacteria and prevent odor. Sounds great, right? Not if these invisible particles will destroy farmland, which could be the case as the Environmental Protection Agency is working to determine the ecological impact of the nano silver. Being that a purpose of the substance is to kill bacteria, it is considered to be a pesticide. The environmental effect of nanotechnology has been under scrutiny for the past decade, but continues to sneak past the EPA’s radar under a “conditional registration” clause. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council recently released a report explaining that 65 percent of all pesticides legally used in the US have not been fully inspected and registered by the EPA, which is required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. When “conditional registration” was originally created, it was intended only to be implemented in extreme situations, such as a health emergency requiring fast pesticide action. When workout clothes containing the nano silver are washed, the particles enter the wastewater system that eventually reaches farmland. What this means to US agriculture is still a mystery.

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