Showing posts with label GMOs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GMOs. Show all posts

Friday, July 11, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

AmandaA growing number of Americans are making the switch to unpasteurized, or raw, milk, despite warnings from regulatory agencies. As more consumers seek raw milk for the its beneficial bacteria, many still worry about the possibility of contamination and the lack of national standards or guidelines. Now, the Raw Milk Institute is trying to change the negative view of unpasteurized milk, making it more accessible to the public. By setting high standards and monitoring every step of the process, the Raw Milk Institute aims to produce safe products with the benefits the pasteurized milk lacks. Still, regulatory agencies don’t plan on backing raw milk anytime soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that raw milk isn’t entirely safe under any circumstances. State by state, legal treatment of raw milk varies, but overall national regulatory agencies don’t feel comfortable putting the products on everyone’s grocery shelf.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, legislators have approved the sale of raw milk at farmers markets in the state.

Global warming may have met its match in the form of a tiny yet powerful aquatic fern that turns excess nitrogen in the air into valuable plant food. Azolla, commonly known as duckweed, has caught the eye of researchers at Duke University, who want to sequence the plant’s genome to better understand and harness its power. Citing evidence of the plant’s presence on earth nearly 49 million years ago when the amount of carbon in the atmosphere dropped by 80 percent and temperatures in the Arctic dropped to 8 degrees, researchers believe that Azolla could have the potential to combat rising temperatures. While some say this might be coincidental, researchers are pushing for further study of the plant with the belief that it could allow farmers to abandon the use of artificial fertilizers and reduce the negative impact on the environment.

In the fight to make GMO labeling mandatory, the opposition has adopted an unexpected tactic: producing non-GMO foods. Cargill, a privately owned manufacturer, has taken an avid stance against GMO labeling, yet recently started to produce non-GMO soybean oil, corn and beans. The company maintains its anti-labeling stance on the ground that the label could be misleading, leading consumers to believe that GMO foods are not “substantially equivalent” to other foods. However, they also see a strong market potential in offering non-GMO products. In the face of fierce competition and an increased demand for non-GMO foods, other companies may follow Cargill’s lead and benefit from selling both GMO and non-GMO products.

Starting this summer, a total of 19 farmers markets in Utah will accept food stamps. The initiative, supported by Utahns Against Hunger, aims to put healthier food on the table of low-income households by encouraging food stamp recipients to shop at their local farmers market. This program will also benefit the community by bringing more costumers to local family farmers – for each dollar spent in food stamps, $1.70 is generated back into the community.

Recent research from the Netherlands revealed controversial findings about neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide that makes up 40 percent of the global market. Neonicotinoids are used to coat seeds, affecting the entire plant as it grows rather than just selected sections. Unfortunately, this includes the plant’s pollen and nectar, killing helpful bees and dwindling the food supply of birds, Dutch researchers say. Pesticide manufactures are calling the study invalid, reminding researchers that correlation does not mean causation, yet scientists can find no other way to explain the decline in bird population. The pesticides can also remain present in the dirt after the affected plant has died, allowing new plants to absorb the poisons. Researchers believe that continued use of the pesticides could cause “a wide range of negative biological and environmental impacts.” European countries have already banned certain neonticotinoids due to their harmful effects on bees, but no similar protections exist in the United States.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Populist Victory in Vermont on GMO Labeling

JenWe're thrilled to have a guest blog by Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg of Cedar Circle Farm in Vermont. Will and Kate were instrumental in the recent win for GMO labeling in Vermont. We asked Will and Kate to tell us how Vermonters came together to get it done.

Public opinion polls across the country continually show overwhelming support for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms or GMOs. US citizens, increasingly aware of the fact that 90% of processed foods contain GMOs, want to emulate the 64 other countries around the world that label these products. The vehemence with which Vermonters showed their concerns regarding this issue initially surprised the legislators. But, over time, Vermonters convinced their elected representatives that knowing what was in their food, particularly something that was possibly harmful to the health of their families and had the potential to cause considerable environmental damage, was very important to them.

After a three-year populist effort to enact a GMO labeling bill, the Vermont House bill H-112 passed the senate by an overwhelming vote of 28-2, and when it returned to the House, that body voted 114-30 to send it to the Governor for his signature. On May 8, 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law.

It is often difficult to get non-profit groups to work together amicably, but we felt that creating a coalition of NGOs to address the issue of GMO labeling would have the greatest chance of success. Several organizations agreed to work together to organize the legislative campaign. The Vermont Right-to-Know Coalition was made up of three non-profits, NOFA/VT (Northeast Organic Farming Association); Rural Vermont, and VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group) and one community-based farm, Cedar Circle Farm. The Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic provided valuable advice (beginning in 2013) on the legalities of the language in the bill. Each group had its own grassroots constituency.

The coalition was aided by the fact that the anti-GMO battle had been going on in Vermont for many years, and activists, no matter what their affiliation, came out for this effort. Unlike previous GMO struggles in the state, this campaign was greatly enhanced by the extensive use of social media. Funding for the coalition was obtained from both state and national funders.

The current legislative battle started in 2012 with a bill introduced in the House Ag Committee. That year, grassroots outreach was conducted all over the state to educate people about what was in the bill and to convince folks to contact their legislators and the Governor. As a result, the most powerful force in moving the bill along were grassroots Vermonters who showed up at meetings, did their own outreach to businesses and other consumers, created school programs, wrote thousands of letters and e-mails to legislators, posted yard signs, and made countless phone calls to House and Senate members and the Governor. The coalition made outreach to the Vermont citizenry a priority—and they responded every time, often in the worst weather imaginable (the Vermont legislative session runs primarily through the winter months).

While the bill passed the Agriculture Committee in 2012, it was stalled and passed too late in the final session of the biennium to go any further. Significantly, however, the Agriculture committee called for a public hearing on the bill and more than 400 Vermonters showed up. Over one hundred people testified, all in favor of the bill. This unanimous outpouring of support for the bill greatly impacted the legislators and ultimately the Governor.

In 2013, the current bill (slightly different than the 2012 version) was introduced. The coalition organized with even more vigor by hosting seven regional teach-ins all around the state. Finally, after considerable delay by the Judiciary committee the bill arrived on the House floor for a vote. It was approved by a vote of 99-42. Unfortunately, because of the delays, the House passed the bill too late in the session to cross over to the Senate (Vermont's legislative session is only four months long). So, the bill had to await consideration by the Senate until 2014. During the summer of 2013, VPIRG conducted a statewide canvas on GMO labeling. They collected 30,000 signatures on the petition to label GMO foods. This canvas added more grassroots volunteers to our already significant base.

In 2014 the Senate Agriculture committee took up the bill on the first day of work in January. After considerable testimony from experts and advocates on both sides, the Senate Agriculture and Judiciary committees called for a second public hearing. Again, the statehouse was packed with hundreds of Vermonters. Once more, every one of the more than 100 people who testified supported passage of the bill. At that point, the coalition began an advertising campaign to counteract anti-labeling ads by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in New Hampshire, our neighboring state. We were able to continue advertising effectively throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Following the hearing, the bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee by a 4-1 vote. The Judiciary Committee then took up the bill and ultimately passed it by a 5-0 vote. The bill then proceeded to the Appropriations Committee and passed out of that committee 7-0. Appropriation committee deliberations centered on the need to create a fund that could support the state's legal efforts in the event of a suit by the GMO corporations and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. A provision for that fund was added to the bill. After those astounding victories, where three Senate committees supported the bill with just one no vote, it moved to the Senate floor where it passed 28-2. Many of the Senators said that the deciding factor in their "yes" vote was the pressure from their constituents. Some Senators testified that they had received more than 1500 constituent letters, phone calls, or e-mails.

The bill then returned to the House Agriculture and Judiciary Committees for consideration of the Senate revisions to the bill. After positive reviews by both committees, the entire house voted on the bill. That 114-30 vote exceeded the original House vote in 2013, which was 99-42. Finally, on May 8, 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill. This is the first time that a GMO labeling bill in the US has been passed in the legislature and signed by the Governor, and does not have a trigger that depends on other states passing a similar bill before the law goes into effect.

As Jim Hightower says, there is a new populist fervor emerging all over this country. Vermont's successful campaign to finally label GMO foods is just one example of that trend. All the supporters involved in the Vermont labeling campaign realized that because of their united struggle, "this time, democracy worked." The people spoke, shouted, campaigned, educated, agitated… and the legislators and the Governor listened.

This populist victory took three years and was energized instead of intimidated by the threat of a lawsuit from the gene giants and the GMA. Vermonters don't take kindly to bullying by multinational corporations or anyone else. Vermont is also not afraid to be first, despite its tiny size, as it showed in being the first state to ban slavery, the first to legalize civil unions, the first to vote in gay marriage, the first to pass a single payer health bill, and the first to require labeling for GMO foods. Let's hope it spurs similar actions in many other states. Our food system is broken and we the people have to take back control and create a food system that is actually healthy for people and the planet.

Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg are farmers, rural community organizers, and occasional authors. They currently co-manage Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, Vermont. Their website is www.cedarcirclefarm.org

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Farmers can’t "Coexist" with GMO Pollution

AliciaOne of the problems with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they're difficult to contain. When pollen containing altered genes travels in the wind or on the bodies of pollinators like birds and bees, there's little we can do to stop it from spreading. What's worse, the companies who "own" those genes take no responsibility for the damage caused by their contamination.

The contamination of crops by neighboring GMO crop fields presents a huge problem for farmers, eaters and our environment:

  • For organic farmers, who have made expensive investments to grow without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, GMO contamination can undermine their farming practices and cost them the premium price they receive for their crops.
  • Conventional non-GMO farmers, meanwhile, have seen their crops rejected in global export markets as a result of GMO contamination.
  • For eaters, GMO contamination is a critical concern for the integrity of our food supply and our right to know and choose what we feed ourselves and our families.
  • For our environment, GMO contamination threatens biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Farmers whose crops have been contaminated not only stand to lose income, they're at risk of being sued for patent infringement by biotech companies. 145 farmers have been sued by Monsanto, for instance, for patent infringement.

Barn Field Photo

We have an historic opportunity to fundamentally change how our government regulates GMO technology and to hold biotech companies accountable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting public comments on recommendations concerning agricultural "coexistence" — or how GMO and non-GMO crops can grow side by side, without threatening the other. But make no mistake, until the USDA protects non-GMO farmers and concerned consumers from contamination, there can be no "coexistence."

Tell Secretary Vilsack to use his authority to:

  • Fully investigate the state of contamination in our seed and food supply.
  • Regulate GMOs based on their potential for economic harm as well as safety — as existing law allows — reform USDA's weak framework for regulating GMOs.
  • Prevent GMO contamination now by issuing mandatory contamination prevention measures.
  • Make biotech pay for contamination: Non-GMO farmers deserve fair compensation when contamination occurs and should not be forced to purchase additional crop insurance to protect themselves.
  • Address the broader economic and environmental costs related to "coexistence"

We have until March 4th to raise our voices for farmers, eaters and a better food system. Take action now!

Friday, February 21, 2014

One More Day* to Reject "Agent Orange" Corn & Soy!

Alicia* The USDA has extended the comment period until March 11. Please take action today!

The chemical 2,4-D is better known for making up half of the infamous Vietnam-era chemical weapon known as Agent Orange. A potent defoliant, 2,4-D is associated with a number of human health and environmental problems. It's also poised to replace Monsanto's Roundup as the herbicide of choice for GMO agriculture, as superweeds and pests that have developed resistance to Roundup spread across the countryside.

As I type, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in its final set of deliberations for approval of Dow's controversial 2,4-D resistant corn and soy, new genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties that are designed to resist heightened applications of Dow's 2,4-D.

What will it mean if more of this Agent Orange chemical is out in the fields? It's bad news for farmers, eaters and our environment and would open a new chapter of the seemingly endless chemical war against pests.

The good news is we still have time to act. USDA's comment period on this matter closes this Monday. Hundreds of thousands of farmers, eaters and public health officials are writing to USDA and voicing strong concern because:

  • 2,4-D is a very toxic herbicide. It's a reproductive toxicant, suspected endocrine disruptor and probable carcinogen.
  • 2,4-D will drift. 2,4-D is known to drift to non-target crops, and broadleaf plants like tomatoes, grapes, beans, cotton and non-GE soy are particularly at risk. Conventional and organic farmers alike could lose crops and income as a result.

  • 2,4-D-resistant "superweeds" will spread, just as Roundup-resistant weeds have taken over farms and countryside across the U.S.
  • 2,4-D corn will contaminate non-GE corn. Corn is wind-pollinated, which means contamination is inevitable. You cannot put a GE genie back in the bottle.

Join farmers and eaters in telling the USDA to reject 2,4-D corn and soy. You can submit your comments here on Regulations.gov. Here are some tips for submitting comments:

  • Not sure what to say? Use the sample letter below and personalize it.
  • Write your comment ahead of time — there is a time limit and you may get timed out if you write your comment from scratch.
  • If your comment is less than one page, you can copy and paste it into the comment box. Otherwise, write "See Attached" and upload a separate document with your comments.
  • Remember to click "Submit comment" at the end of the process. You should be taken to a new screen with a confirmation number — if you don't see one, then your comment has not been submitted to the USDA.

As always, we encourage you to read up and learn more about this issue! Check out HuffPo's recent article detailing more about Dow Chemical and its new GE crop varieties. And visit the National Organic Coalition and Pesticide Action Network for more ways to get involved.

Sample Letter:

Secretary Thomas Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250

Re: Docket #APHIS-2013-0042

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I am writing to urge you to reject applications for Dow's new genetically engineered "Enlist" crops designed to survive repeated spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D. Your agency's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) indicates USDA's "preferred" determination that 2,4-D-resistant corn and soy need not be regulated under the Plant Pest Act.

Simply put, deregulating these crops is a very bad idea. Allowing them on the market will drive up use of 2,4-D, an antiquated and dangerous herbicide known to drift off target crops and linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption.

[Add your personal comments about why this issue is important to you. Are you a farmer whose crops would be put at risk by 2,4-D drift? An eater concerned about 2,4-D residues on your food? Just a few sentences make a difference!]

Farmers are deeply concerned that Dow's Enlist corn will threaten their crops. 2,4-D is known to drift — directly and through volatilization — which poses a very real threat to rural economies and farmers growing crops not engineered to withstand application of these potent chemicals. 2,4-D drift is already responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide, and its vastly increased use promises still more damage to crops like soybeans, cotton, vegetables and fruit.

Dow's 2,4-D-resistant crops follow the same short-sighted approach to farming taken by Monsanto's RoundUp Ready seed line — which is responsible for a dramatic rise in glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" that have afflicted millions of acres of farmland across the Midwest and South.

At a time when farmers, citizens and government have worked hard to limit our use of, and exposure to, toxic chemicals like 2,4-D and dioxins, approving this crop would take us dramatically backwards, endangering human health and the environment. I urge you to heed the warnings of the scientific and environmental communities and deny approval of 2,4-D resistant GE soy.

At the very least, USDA must conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that carefully examines the human health, environmental and agricultural harms that will be triggered by 2,4-D soy, including a cumulative assessment that considers the compounded harms from additional deregulation of Dow's 2,4-D resistant corn.

Thank you,

Your Name

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Farm and Food Roundup

JenHappy Valentine's Day all!

With California facing its worst drought in modern history, President Obama visits Fresno today with the state's two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who are promoting legislation that would offer $300 million in aid.

After a fire at one of only two USDA certified slaughterhouses in Massachusetts, area livestock farmers face bottlenecks and increased costs.

Investors and corporations are buying up American farmland at astronomical prices per acre, turning the farmers into their tenants or repurposing the land altogether.

A new study finds that organic farms support 50% more wildlife than conventional farms, including pollinators like bees that are so threatened right now!

At the Olympics, farmers are going for gold! Katie Uhlaender, who raises cattle in Kansas, goes for gold in the skeleton tonight! And snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, who won gold in the women's halfpipe, has cows to thank for her Olympic glory. Her parents sold off their cattle herd to finance Kaitlyn's ambition.

And, in honor of more snow on the ground, here's a story about a new terrain park at Mt. Snow ski resort in Vermont. The Farm is full of features that you see on a daily basis when driving through the Green Mountain State. A sugar shack, a barn, a re-purposed horse trailer and split rail fencing make for a fun and scenic time on skis or board!

In GMO news:

After 13 years, six scientific opinions and two legal challenges, an insect-resistant type of corn is on the verge of being approved by the European Union. It would be only the third genetically modified crop to be authorized for cultivation in the 28-nation bloc.

The County of Kauai in Hawaii has authorized spending $75,000 to fight a lawsuit brought by GMO seed company Sygenta Seeds and other GMO seed companies. The suit attempts to block implementation of a new law regulating pesticide use and the farming of genetically modified crops.

The Vermont Senate Agriculture Committee voted to approve a bill that would make Vermont the first state to require mandatory labeling of GMOs without a requirement that other states also pass a bill (Connecticut and Maine have passed similar bills but they have requirements that other states also require labeling before the legislation takes effect.).

In Australia, a landmark case is moving forward as an organic farmer sues his neighbor for contaminating his fields with GMOs.

And just for fun:

Find your heirloom tomato name! Mine: Auntie Fahy's Jolly Traveler.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What you need to know about food and farms this week

jenHello and happy new year! Welcome back from the holidays. Much has happened over the past couple weeks, including many bits of news that we can celebrate as proof that we are indeed gaining wins in the movement to change our food system!

Over the past few months, we’ve asked you to comment on the proposed FDA rules around food safety that would harm family farmers, local and regional food systems, and sustainable farm practices. The FDA heard our voices and they have announced that they will go back to the drawing board! New rules will be proposed in the first half of 2014, with a new public comment period. This is as a direct result of farmers and eaters making their concerns heard—democracy in action!

There are also signs that the big guys in industrial agriculture and food continue to hear, and heed, calls for change. Here are a few examples from this past week:

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork buyer, has asked its producers to stop using gestation crates for pregnant sows by 2022. The change is requested, not required, but the company says that contract extensions "will be less likely" for farmers who keep gestation crates.

McDonald’s, which purchases 1 billion pounds of beef each year, announced a commitment to sustainable beef by 2016. McDonald's will begin purchasing "verified sustainable beef" during 2016 following a two-year ramp up during which it will "listen, learn, and collaborate with stakeholders from farm to the front counter to develop sustainable beef solutions."

General Mills announced that Cheerios will be marketed as GMO free, but what does it mean? The product, made mostly of oats, is already nearly non-GMO because there are no genetically altered oats (yet). The only changes to be made will be sourcing non-GMO products for the little sugar and soy added to the recipe. And the company has said they won’t go through the process of having the product certified by a third party. They also will only be going non-GMO for original Cheerios, not for their flavored Cheerio varieties. So, is this a publicity ploy or does it signify a commitment by General Mills to continue down the non-GMO road for the rest of its products? Only time will tell, but if other manufacturers start following suit, we may be in for some major change!

Yesterday Maine became the second state to pass a law requiring labeling of food products containing genetically engineered ingredients. Maine joins Connecticut, but both states’ laws require other states to also pass their own bills before the provision goes into effect. This is a protective measure to ensure that no state has to stand alone in any battle with the pro-GE lobby, which has proven to have very deep pockets. With the Vermont legislature debating a similar measure right now, and New Hampshire taking one up later this year, New England is a hotspot for GE labeling progress!

A new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that one way to solve the issue of what to do with immense mountains of chicken waste that are produced by our industrial poultry production system might be to make the poultry contractors responsible for it. The theory goes that “if the companies owned the manure, they would have strong incentives to build processing plants to convert it to fertilizer, electricity, or other productive uses.” That certainly makes better sense to us than expecting contract growers to take on all the risk of producing poultry in this way. They simply can’t afford it – a 2001 study found that 71 percent of growers whose sole source of income was chicken farming were living below the poverty line!

Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says the Farm Bill is getting close to completion. But other reports say the new stumbling block (now that the House and Senate have compromised on cuts to the food stamp program) is dairy policy. The debate now centers on a program that limits dairy supplies to help bolster the price of milk paid to farmers.

Meanwhile, ranchers in South Dakota who have up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses are still in limbo without a Farm Bill that reinstates disaster programs for livestock producers.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Genevieve’s Farm and Food Roundup

GenevieveBeginning in early 2014, Whole Foods will stop carrying the number one selling Greek yogurt brand, Chobani, in all of its locations. Chobani’s products use milk from cows whose feed contains GMO’s, and therefore the popular grocery chain has chosen to make room on its shelves for smaller, exclusive brands that are organic and GMO free.

Since it first appeared in 2005, a disease called “citrus greening,” has devastated Florida’s orange production year after year. The bacterium makes oranges, lemons and grapefruits unmarketable, and could potentially wipe out America’s production of these fruits. As a result, the USDA is stepping up to save the industry by coordinating more research, and donating millions to find a solution.

Last week, Connecticut became the first to sign a state law mandating the labeling of foods with GMO’s. However, the legislation won’t take effect until at least four other states do the same, due to the inevitable corporate legal battles the small state would face.

Nothing says going green during the holidays quite like eating your Christmas tree. While replanting a live tree is one popular method of sustainability, keep in mind that pine needles are actually edible. Bonus points if you get a stone pine tree—you’ll eventually get pine nuts!

The latest suburban trend is not golf courses, not swimming pools, and not matching lawns, but rather farms! Inspired by the local food movement, developers are using a new model called “development-supported agriculture” to draw in new buyers with some form of food production.

Do fresh fruits and vegetables just make you want to go out and buy a new car? Evidently there’s a connection, as several car companies have recently integrated farmers markets and local food products into their commercials, drawing a parallel between quality food and quality cars.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Genevieve’s Farm and Food Roundup

GenevieveNew research finds that organic milk is more nutritious than regular milk. According to the study, organic milk contains 62 percent more omega-3’s, or healthy fats that can reduce your risk of heart disease, and less of the omega-6 fatty acids that aren’t so good for you. The increased omega-3s are likely due to the increased grazing that organic cows tend to do.

Many farmers who have chosen to opt out of the use of genetically modified seeds find that they are making more money in non-GMO markets. Smaller companies that specialize in non-GMO seed have grown 30-50 percent in the past five years.

The FDA has just issued two rules preventing farmers from using antibiotics to boost the growth and weight of their animals. This will restrict the use of antibiotics in agriculture to its original purpose of treating of infections only and hopefully help keep antibiotics working for the purpose they were intended, in animals and humans.

Inspired by her autistic son, Jan Pilarski of South Bend, Indiana has started an organic greenhouse run by farmers with autism. Her project was an immediate entrepreneurial success, allowing her to operate on a commercial-scale with each greenhouse employing five people with autism per year, and producing 45,000 pounds of vegetables.

In the spirit of giving, Montana is helping out ranchers in South Dakota tremendously, as they continue to recover from the winter storm earlier this fall. Heifers for South Dakota, a Montana-based group, recently donated hundreds of bred heifers and cows, as well as money for the Rancher Relief Fund, which has raised more than $1.5 million.

And of course, here’s the latest on the farm bill. The House and Senate admit that it is unlikely that they will come to an agreement by the end of the year, but are confident that the farm bill will pass in January. The fear of a “dairy cliff” and soaring milk prices has put pressure on a decision by the end of the year; however, Congress insists that waiting until January won’t lead to any immediate negative effects.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Genevieve’s Farm and Food Roundup

Genevieve“NASA's latest mission is one small step for turnips, one giant leap for plant-kind.” The agency just announced its plan for 2015 to cultivate cress, turnips, and basil on the moon, a test to see whether or not humans could live and farm on the moon one day.

The pecan took a hit this Thanksgiving as production dropped 35 percent from last year, and store prices rose 30 percent. Poorly timed rain and drought in the South, hungry pigs and squirrels, and a huge demand for the crop in China, all contributed to the lack of pecan pies on dessert tables this year.

An agreement is still yet to be made on the farm bill after the House and Senate last week. If they fail to work out their differences before the end of the year, farm policy would be legally required to revert back to permanent law, with policy governing dairy going back to the 1949 farm bill. Price supports back then were WAY higher than now , which means the price of milk could rise to $7 per gallon, creating a potential “dairy cliff.”

The makers of Geo-Wiki have created a new smartphone game called Cropland Capture that allows players to be their own scientist by identifying cropland through satellite images. The purpose of the game is to educate players on Earth’s natural vegetation and where humanity grows its food.

Hawaii is bringing more transparency to one island's GMOs after the Kauai County Council recently overrode the mayor’s veto of a law requiring farmers and large agribusinesses to disclose their use of pesticides and GMOs.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Note from Neil Young & Dave Matthews to Washington State Voters About Genetic Engineering

JenNeil Young and Dave Matthews sent this email to voters in Washington State today:

Dear Washington voter:

Vote YES on 522 for Freedom of Choice at the grocery store. No on 522 takes your Freedom of Choice away. It’s that simple.

You should have the right to know and choose what's in your food. You feed it to your kids. The big multinational food, chemical, and pesticide companies would rather keep you in the dark. They have paid millions to convince you to vote NO on 522.

That's why we support our right to know if the food we buy for our kids has been genetically engineered. Then we can decide for ourselves, armed with knowledge. That is real freedom. We want Freedom of Choice in our markets.

Raise your voice for transparency in our food system by voting YES on I-522, an initiative that would require mandatory labeling of food made with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in the state of Washington.

Join us and Farm Aid and raise your voice for Freedom of Choice in our farm and food system. Vote YES on I-522 and mail your ballot today! Thanks for reading this.

Signed,

Neil Young & Dave Matthews
Farm Aid board members

While nearly 60 countries mandate GE labeling, there are no federal or state regulations that require labeling here in the U.S. You should have the right to know and choose what's in your food—in fact, in polls 90% of us agree on this. As Neil and Dave point out, the big multinational food, chemical, and pesticide companies would rather keep you in the dark.

Washington can change all that. And with GE labeling efforts kicked off in a dozen states, change is definitely coming. If you’re in Washington, be sure to vote yes on 522 and mail your ballot by November 5th. Stay tuned to FarmAid.org for updates on efforts in other states.

Labeling GE food is good for family farmers and all of us who eat. Labeling GE foods will help family farmers who do not plant GE seeds to have a stronger market for selling their goods. It will make finding non-GE seeds easier and more affordable. It will help ensure organic farmers can stay organic. And labeling GE foods will let all of us decide what kind of food we eat and feed our families.

For more info, go to farmaid.org/ge.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Genevieve’s Farm and Food Roundup

GenevieveQuite literally, a "fresh" take on the average food truck has hit the streets of Boston with the creation of Fresh Truck, a "farmers market on wheels." Unlike the traditional vendors that draw people in with the convenience of fast fried chicken, falafel balls, and sugary treats, Fresh Truck aims to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to Boston neighborhoods that don’t necessarily have a grocery store nearby. Daniel Clarke and Josh Trautwein, two recent graduates of Northeastern University (woohoo!), hatched the idea of Fresh Truck last year, and finally launched it last Thursday. Now, the two founders work full-time in an effort to offer the people of Boston affordable and healthier food, while still attending to the allure of a fast and convenient food truck meal.

The Amish culture, one that revolves around plainness, simplicity, and reluctance to accept modern technology, has certainly stayed true to its roots in steering away from what we call "mainstream," by milking camels. Yes, you heard correctly, apparently you can milk a camel. Miller's Organic Farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, operates an organic camel dairy, along with about six other camel dairies in the country. About 100 loyal customers in the US and Canada regularly buy camels milk from Miller's, along with other camel dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and even soap. The process involves a herd of six camels that are milked twice a day. It can be extremely difficult and limiting, as this often temperamental animal will only allow milk to be extracted from its utters for a mere 90 seconds at most. Nevertheless, the Amish have found success in this unconventional dairy product that has yet to hit the shelves of grocery stores. If you're curious, camel's milk is said to have a taste similar to skim milk, just a bit sweeter.

Eight months ago, the hearts of millions of nostalgic Americans were crushed when Hostess declared bankruptcy, officially ending the production of Twinkies. But as of Monday, these hearts can be lifted and fulfilled again because Twinkies are back! In the midst of an anti-processed food movement, the legendary crème-filled, spongy cakes have found their way back onto the shelves of our grocery stores—now with a 45-day shelf life! There are some concerns that under new the management of Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co, the beloved Twinkie might not taste the same, or heaven-forbid, the actual size of each cake might be smaller. Concerned over the artificial ingredients or not, Twinkies are here to make a comeback (success to be determined...).

Lately, it seems that something hazardous to our health is found in the food and drinks we consume everyday, from cancer-causing carcinogens in soda, to now potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in apple juice. A recent study by Consumer Reports found dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic, the carcinogenic form that is not a result of nature, in 10 percent of the apple juice tested. Alarmed parents began to think twice about the childhood staple that's landing in sippy cups across the nation. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule last Friday, setting a maximum of 10 ppb (parts-per-billion) for levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, the same level administered for arsenic found in drinking water.

The presence of genetically modified wheat found in an eastern Oregon farm remains the most puzzling mystery in the farming world right now. Two months ago, an Oregon farmer cleared his field with use of the weedkiller Roundup. As planned, his crops died with the exception of a patch of wheat that continued to grow and thrive. Immediately, this raised the question of possible GMOs in the wheat. Carol Mallory-Smith, a skeptical weed scientist at Oregon State University, sent samples of the wheat to be tested for GMOs, and they came back positive. Unapproved by the government and thus illegal, the GMO wheat left the USDA wondering how it got into this particular farmer's field, where else could it be found, and what this could mean for wheat exports. Thousands of wheat samples from farms across the country have been tested before going on the market, all of which have come back negative for the modified gene. Investigators have had no luck in tracing back the origins of how this GMO wheat appeared in an Oregon farm in the first place, and the incident remains unsolved.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniFarmland is selling at a record high in the US as crop prices rise, particularly corn. Additionally, banks have recently been offering very low-interest loans for those buying farmland. This may seem like a victory for farmers, but economists and bankers predict that this trend won’t last. If crop prices start to fall, the price of land will also drop. This means that if farmers overexpand or do not take necessary precautions, they may face sudden debt. Since 2007 overall farmers’ debt in the nation has risen almost 30 percent, expected to hit an astounding $277.4 billion in 2013. This debt sprouts from outlets such as loans from banks, Farm Credit and the Farm Service Agency. Still, that figure is thought to be an underestimate, since debt to private companies such as John Deere is largely unknown. The cost to rent farmland is also increasing, a matter that will also become troublesome if crop prices fall.

As the cattle herd in the US diminishes, outside producers will have the opportunity to take over American exporting markets. At 89.3 million head, the herd in the nation right now is the smallest it has been in 60 years. The numbers are reflective of new technology and genetic developments that allow farmers to produce the same yield of beef with fewer cattle. The drought last year resulted in many farmers reducing the number of animals they raised, since the cost of feed rose dramatically. If environmental conditions stabilize, it is likely that many farmers will avoid culling animals, reducing the amount of overall beef produced. This tactic would help compensate for losses from the drought. If the drought continues, however, the US beef supply for consumers will probably shrink as  Canada has faced an outbreak of mad cow disease and Mexico is dealing with its own drought. Right now the US is the biggest importer of meats while being the fourth largest exporter. The condition of the domestic cattle herd will likely boost Australia’s beef exports, which has risen 3.5 percent in the past year.

Kathleen Merrigan, known as an advocate to local and regional food systems, stepped down from her position as the Deputy Agriculture Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture. Merrigan served for the entirety of President Obama’s first term where she created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Merrigan’s position was the second highest rank in the department under Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA. Merrigan championed farming through countless trips to schools and colleges as well as aiding in the expansion of farmers markets across the country. Merrigan has also been a supporter of the organic movement, helping to draft the country’s laws for organic food in 1990. In 2010, she was honored in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. More recently, she was also awarded the Sustainable Leadership Award by the James Beard Foundation in 2012.

farmers market

A new NPR report shows that while the local food movement is growing dramatically, farmers do not necessarily get to reap the benefits. Even though there are more farmers markets, small farms are still facing the challenge of making a decent living wage. Some farmers have needed to resort to sacrificing benefits such as insurance in order to live with the profits made through agriculture. David Swenson, an economist at Iowa Sate told NPR that if a small farmer grew enough produce to feed 5,000 people, the total income would only reach about $35,000, disregarding any wages for labor to help on the farm and require about 25 acres of farmland. As a result, many farmers must sell to corporations such as Wal-Mart in order to sustain themselves.

Whole Foods Market has taken a stand against for transparency when it comes to food produced with genetically modified organisms. They recently announced that by 2018, all of the GMO products in its stores in the US and Canada will be clearly labeled. As of now there are no laws regarding labeling a product that contains GMOs, but Whole Foods feels the consumer has the right to more information when making a purchase. Further, the grocery chain has vowed to increase support of certified organic products. The Huffington Post teamed up with YouGov for a poll that found 82 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling. This week Whole Foods also joined over 2,000 other retail stores in vowing to keep a new breed of genetically engineered salmon out of its stores. The salmon, which is still under review by the FDA, will be the first GE animal product to be commercially sold.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released projections last week that U.S. net farm income will reach $128.2 billion, the highest in 40 years after inflation adjustments. That is almost a 14 percent increase compared to 2012, which was plagued by massive drought. 2013 would mark only the fourth year since 1973 that net farm income exceeded $100 billion after inflation adjustments. The USDA said this development would mean a significant increase in crop production, resulting in a greater year-end crop inventory. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “I am heartened that our farmers’ keen business sense is continuing the recent trend of strong farm finances, with farm equity set to reach another record high in 2013.” Farmers still have a long haul ahead, however; net cash income is expected to drop 9 percent from 2012. In other words, the cost of farm production is anticipated to be at a record high this year with an anticipated $19.2 billion increase.

Grist’s Philip Bump took a look at the reality behind the USDA claims about farm income. The drought in 2012 led to $15 billion in crop insurance payouts from the government in addition to rising food prices, which lent no added yields to farmers. Also, he notes, the USDA disclosed that the forecasted net income does not take weather conditions into account and some states are still facing the same drought that troubled the agricultural industry last year.

A recent study shows that China, already the world’s largest producer and consumer of antibiotics, is heavily using the drugs in animals as a way to enhance growth and prevent disease in crowded conditions, giving rise to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This could lead to serious problems for people who depend on those drugs to fight infections and researchers are questioning if this is directly correlated to the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of viruses in humans. But China is not alone in their reliance on antibiotics; in 2011 in the U.S., nearly four times the amount of antibiotics administered to treat humans was used for livestock. Further, producers aren’t required to disclose what the drugs are being used for or how much is given to each animal. The lack of regulations makes it difficult for researchers to study the direct impact of the high level of antibiotics in commercial meat production.

Monsanto has used U.S. patent law to control the use of seeds by farmers, filing infringement claims against anyone that uses its patented seeds without a license, even if they were unknowingly harboring Monsanto traits via contamination. A new report finds that by the end of 2012, Monsanto had received over $23.5 million from patent infringement lawsuits against farmers and farm businesses. Now a conventional farmer is getting a chance to fight back in Supreme Court. Hugh Bowman, a 75-year old soybean farmer from Indiana, is at the center of the case after purchasing commodity grain from the local elevator, which is usually used for feed, and plant it. But that grain was mostly progeny of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beans because that’s what most Indiana soybean farmers grow. Those soybeans are genetically modified to survive the weedkiller Roundup, and Monsanto claims that Bowman’s planting violated the company’s restrictions. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this month in the brief that asks the court to end the practice of allowing corporations to place conditions on the sale of its seed and to reject an “end-run around patent exhaustion” for regeneration. “Farming is using seeds, not constructing or manufacturing seeds,” the brief states. Bowman was open with Monsanto about the use of the Roundup Ready seeds, but he was sued for $85,000 when he did not adhere to their order to stop. Mark P. Walters of a Seattle intellectual property law firm is representing Bowman pro bono in the case.

In related news, Mother Jones released an article explaining there is a massive spread of “superweeds” throughout the Midwest at the hands of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide. An estimated 70 percent of all U.S. corn, soy and cotton crops are now resistant to the glyphosate that makes up Roundup Ready. In 2012 there was a 34 percent increase in glyphosate-resistant crops in the U.S. from the previous year, meaning 49 percent of all surveyed farms revealed they had superweeds. Additionally, 27 percent of farms said they faced more than one strand of herbicide-resistant weeds. There seems to be no clear solution to this problem as Monsanto prepares to release stronger herbicides and new genetically engineered seeds, but that would likely lead to even more resilient weeds. So far the USDA has not approved any of Monsanto’s new products for the market, meaning new pesticides or seeds cannot be sold until 2014 at the earliest. Penn State released a study estimating that approximately $1 billion was spent in 2011 coping with the resistant-weeds. An Iowa State University explained that diversifying and rotating crops reduces weeds with less herbicides.