Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Thu, 21 May 2015 20:50:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Neonicotinoid Pesticide Implicated in Monarch Butterfly Declineshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/neonicotinoid-pesticide-implicated-in-monarch-butterfly-declines/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/neonicotinoid-pesticide-implicated-in-monarch-butterfly-declines/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 20:50:24 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16547 by Jérôme Rigot, PhD Source: Susannah Rogers, USDA Forest Service USDA researchers have identified the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin as a likely contributor to monarch butterfly declines in North America. The USDA research was published online April 3rd, 2015 in the journal Science of Nature. Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated in pollinator declines worldwide; they are neurotoxins that are partially banned in the European Union. A recent report indicates (see references at the end of full article)

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by Jérôme Rigot, PhD

CatwillowMonarchArea_Susannah Rogers USDA Forest Service
Source: Susannah Rogers,
USDA Forest Service

USDA researchers have identified the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin as a likely contributor to monarch butterfly declines in North America. The USDA research was published online April 3rd, 2015 in the journal Science of Nature.

Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated in pollinator declines worldwide; they are neurotoxins that are partially banned in the European Union. A recent report indicates (see references at the end of full article) that neonicotinoids, such as clothianidin (Bayer), are a particular hazard because, unlike most pesticides, they are soluble molecules. From soil or seed treatments they can reach nectar and are found in pollen.

Neonicotinoids are now the most widely used pesticides in the world. Up until now there has been negligible research on the effects of neonicotinoids on butterflies.  This new report is therefore the first to link neonicotinoids to monarch butterfly survival and reproduction.

In their experiments the USDA researchers showed that clothianidin can impact monarch caterpillars at doses as low as 1 part per billion (ppb). The effects seen were on caterpillar size, caterpillar weight, and caterpillar survival. The lethal concentration (LC50) was found to be 15 ppb.

In this research project, the caterpillars were exposed to clothianidin-treated food for only 36 hours. However, the researchers noted that in agricultural environments caterpillar exposure would likely be greater than in the experimental conditions set for this project; furthermore, in nature butterfly caterpillars would also be exposed to other pesticides, including other neonicotinoids.

In sampling experiments from corn-growing areas in South Dakota the researchers found on average over 1 ppb clothianidin in milkweed plants.

Based on this study’s results, the USDA researchers concluded that “neonicotinoids could negatively affect larval monarch populations.” They added, “Although preliminary, this study clearly shows that monarch larvae are exposed to clothianidin in the field at potentially harmful doses of the toxin.”

More on this from Independentsciencenews.org at:
http://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/new-research-links-neonicotinoid-pesticides-to-monarch-butterfly-declines/

Full article: http://www.bioscienceresource.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Pecenka-and-Lundgren-2015-Early-On-line.pd

Comment from Cornucopia scientist Jérôme Rigot, PhD, Farm and Food Policy Analyst:
The study states: “The lethal concentration (LC50) was found to be 15 parts per billion.”: This is a very low level; however, the implications are that much lower levels of neonicotinoids as well as synergistic effects with other pesticides at very low levels (1 ppb or less), as suggested in the text, would significantly and negatively affect caterpillars’ health.

Extrapolating from the study results, the synergistic action of pesticides, even at levels below 1 ppb (levels that may not be detected by the EPA’s current analytical equipment), can significantly and detrimentally impact the health of organisms (including humans) that come in contact (e.g., ingest) with a vegetable or fruit that has been sprayed from seed to harvest by a variety of pesticides and likely is covered by and/or contains a number of pesticide residues at trace levels.

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New Data Confirms Second-Worst Year on Record for Honey Beeshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/new-data-confirms-second-worst-year-on-record-for-honey-bees/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/new-data-confirms-second-worst-year-on-record-for-honey-bees/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 18:28:44 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16542 Pesticide Action Network North America by Lex Horan Source: Light Brigading This morning, federal officials released new survey data on honey bee losses from 2014-2015. The annual survey, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, US Department of Agriculture, and the Apiary Inspectors of America, found that 2014-2015 was the second-worst year on record for honey bees, with total losses spiking to 42.1%. Summer losses in 2014 were especially high at 27.4%, a marked increase from 2013 summer

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Pesticide Action Network North America
by Lex Horan

Source: Light Brigading

This morning, federal officials released new survey data on honey bee losses from 2014-2015. The annual survey, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, US Department of Agriculture, and the Apiary Inspectors of America, found that 2014-2015 was the second-worst year on record for honey bees, with total losses spiking to 42.1%. Summer losses in 2014 were especially high at 27.4%, a marked increase from 2013 summer losses of 19.8%.

Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network, released the following statement:

“Pesticide corporations can’t spin their way out of the threats to our food system. The new survey released today continues to point to the real world challenges bees and beekeepers face and the unsustainable use of bee-harming pesticides, especially the widespread use of pesticide-coated seeds.

In the decade since unprecedented bee die-offs began, honey bee decline has not slowed. The science is in: pesticide exposure plays a significant role in these declines. Our food and farming system can’t sustain this level of pollinator loss year after year.

The continued decline of bee populations are the writing on the wall for EPA and the White House. Policymakers must take swift action to phase out the use of harmful bee-harming pesticides like neonicotinoids, restrict unnecessary and harmful practices like seed coatings, and invest in cutting-edge and green farming systems that ensure the continued prosperity of the nation’s farmers.”

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Latest USDA Scandal: Organic Program Dismisses Legal Complaints Targeting Factory Farms — Without Investigatinghttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/latest-usda-scandal-organic-program-dismisses-legal-complaints-targeting-factory-farms-without-investigating/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/latest-usda-scandal-organic-program-dismisses-legal-complaints-targeting-factory-farms-without-investigating/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 20:59:11 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16529 Watchdog Asks OIG to Investigate “Unholy Alliance” Between Industry Lobbyists and Regulators The Cornucopia Institute harshly criticized the USDA for its failure to conduct an investigation of 14 legal complaints filed by the Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog group last December.  The complaints allege a systemic pattern of livestock management violations occurring on some of the nation’s biggest certified organic “factory farm” poultry and dairy operations. In their brief letter to Cornucopia, the National Organic Program‘s (NOP)

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Watchdog Asks OIG to Investigate “Unholy Alliance” Between Industry Lobbyists and Regulators

The Cornucopia Institute harshly criticized the USDA for its failure to conduct an investigation of 14 legal complaints filed by the Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog group last December.  The complaints allege a systemic pattern of livestock management violations occurring on some of the nation’s biggest certified organic “factory farm” poultry and dairy operations.

In their brief letter to Cornucopia, the National Organic Program‘s (NOP) director of Compliance and Enforcement stated that the agency “has determined that an investigation is unwarranted.”  Last December, after an investment of seven months and tens of thousands of dollars, Cornucopia filed 14 complaints with the NOP utilizing evidence primarily gathered through high resolution aerial photographic examinations of industrial-scale certified organic dairies and poultry operations.  The hundreds of images taken documented an overwhelming absence of dairy cows on pasture, and the exclusive confinement of hundreds of thousands of egg laying hens and meat birds inside buildings.

A related article was produced, today, by the Washington Post, as a follow-up to an exclusive story the paper ran outlining the allegations against the industrial-scale, organic livestock operations, when they were initially filed in December 2014.

The massive Herbrucks egg laying operation in Saranac, Michigan,
according to state regulatory filings licensed for 1.15 million birds.

“The organic regulations are clear,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.  “With minor and allowable ‘temporary’ exceptions, dairy cows should be out grazing on pasture and poultry should have access to the outdoors.  These operations appear to have miserably failed to meet the criteria.”

Among its justifications for refusing to investigate the complaints, indicated the NOP’s Matthew Michael, was that the photographic evidence was “insufficient” and depicted only a “single moment in time.”  He also said that the various operations indicated were “in good standing” with their organic certifiers.

“It must simply be an incredible and amazing coincidence that no birds – zero – were outdoors, and only a fraction of the tens of thousands of cows on the industrial-scale dairies were observed on grass.  Most were confined to giant feedlots,” noted Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director.

“This simply does not pass the smell test,” Fantle added.  “Who are you going to believe, the paperwork from the NOP and certifiers, or your own eyes?”

The photos assembled by Cornucopia were gathered by a professional contractor that made the flyovers in the course of its general work ranging from West Texas to the Northeast states, last summer and fall.  Cornucopia provided the USDA with hundreds of highly detailed 64 megabyte images that allow for a panoramic view of each operation with the ability to magnify down for ground level detail. One hundred percent (100%) of the images were shared with the NOP.

The detail was so fine that anyone interested in a careful examination could see, for example, that the vast preponderance of the areas set aside, as outdoor runs, for poultry flocks was essentially undisturbed.  Whether birds were outside or not at the exact moment of the photos, the grounds would clearly show evidence of being foraged and used by thousands of birds if that were occurring.

“When we flew over MBA Poultry, marketing their products under the Smart Chicken brand, at their 40 barns in Nebraska not a single chicken was visible,” added Fantle.  The perfectly manicured, undisturbed lawn was observed being mowed at the time.

Overview of some of the 40 barns at MBA Poultry (dba Smart Chicken) in Tecumseh, Nebraska. On the day of the flyover no chickens were observed outdoors and the meticulously maintained lawn between the buildings was being mowed. The condition of the grass indicated no chickens had been out at any time.

Besides the photographs contracted for, Cornucopia submitted satellite imagery from additional days all consistently illustrating lack of outdoor access for poultry and gross overstocking on the industrial dairies.

According to Cornucopia’s Kastel, an expert with 25 years of commercial and policy experience related to organic dairy production, “We also submitted copies of state regulatory filings, required for manure/nutrient management on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  Based on the extraordinarily crowded conditions, the documents clearly illustrate the fantasy that certifiers could be adequately assuring compliance with grazing requirements.”

Dairies profiled in Cornucopia’s complaints had as many as nine cows per acre designated for grazing.  Past national polling indicated that the average certified organic dairy producer maintained about 1 acre of pasture for each cow.

Aurora Dairy in Stratford, Texas. On the randomly selected day of The Cornucopia Institute’s flyover approximately 98% of their cattle were confined to massive feedlots.

“In technical terms, nine cows per acre is a real joke,” Kastel added.  “The joke gets funnier when the photographs clearly illustrate these farms were cutting hay on the same ground designated as ‘pasture.’”

Noting that he lacked the documents to pinpoint the percentage of annual growth split between hay production and grazing, Kastel went on to surmise that “if 50% of the annual growth was baled that would equate to an effective stocking rate of 18 cows per acre.  We’ve gone from humor to science fiction here. What makes this a tragedy is the USDA, having this evidence, is not even willing to investigate the propriety of these operations.”

According to the NOP’s own procedures for handling complaints that it receives, the agency typically asks an operation’s organic certifier to investigate.  This is another problem that Cornucopia contends can influence a full and fair investigation.

“In those instances where it may be possible that the certifier is incompetent, negligent, or even in collusion with the factory farm operator,” suggests Fantle, “we think the USDA has a responsibility to independently investigate when such a broad pattern of abuse is brought to their attention.”

Although the USDA could see no clear violations of the law illustrated in the scores of photographs The Cornucopia Institute submitted, other experts with long-term experience in organic dairying clearly do.

“As someone who actually grazes and manages my dairy herd in accordance with both the spirit and letter of the law, I am outraged by the NOP’s failure to investigate the clear evidence shown in these photographs,” said Kevin Engelbert.  Mr. Engelbert and his family manage the nation’s first certified organic dairy farm, located in New York State, and he is also a former member of the National Organic Standards Board.

Added Englebert:  “To anyone with any knowledge of agriculture, the aerial photos prove beyond any shadow of a doubt the poultry operations do not provide outdoor access to their birds and the dairy operations are not legitimately grazing their cows.  For the NOP to not even investigate these facilities means one of three things: 1) the personnel who made that decision are inept, 2) they are too close and friendly with corporate lobbyists and multi-million-dollar certifiers that are involved in the process, or 3) the most likely scenario, corrupt politicians are preventing them from enforcing the law.”

Consumers have enthusiastically made organics a rapidly growing market sector by supporting farmers and processors that were willing to produce food to a different standard in terms of environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and economic fairness for farmers.  Last year $39.1 billion was spent in the organic sector.

One influential observer, the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, recently downgraded their rating of the USDA’s organic seal and label.  Dr. Urvashi Rangan told the National Organic Standards Board late last year, “Organic is slipping.  And as a result, we have downgraded its rating from highly meaningful to meaningful.”  Dr. Rangan explained that the role of Consumer Reports “is to help educate people about what organic means as well as what it doesn’t mean.”  Rangan is the director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Center for Consumer Reports.

“Engaged consumers, who passionately support the ideals and values represented by the organic label, understandably feel betrayed when they see photos of these massive CAFOs masquerading as organic,” Kastel added.  “And now the USDA is refusing to even investigate the fraud that appears to be taking place at these giant livestock facilities.  How can they be so out of step and tone deaf with regard to consumer expectations?”

Last month, before the current allegations that the USDA is deferring to the interests of corporate organics, Cornucopia asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to remove NOP Staff Director Miles McEvoy due to ethical concerns regarding alleged bending or breaking of the law.  This latest action is one more disappointment.

The Cornucopia Institute, thought to have more certified organic farmer members than any similar group, is preparing today an appeal of the complaints dismissal as well as calling for an internal investigation of USDA’s oversight of the organic industry, by the NOP, in a formal request to the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

MORE:

Copies of The Cornucopia Institute’s formal appeal of the NOP’s dismissal of their flyover complaints, and the organization’s letter to the Office of Inspector General at the USDA are both available upon request.

In addition to the USDA’s National Organic Program dismissal of Cornucopia’s photographic evidence, consistent messaging has come from the Organic Trade Association and two of its members that own operations targeted in Cornucopia’s complaints, Chino Valley Ranchers and Organic Valley.

All of OTA’s damage-control statements either stated they saw nothing illegal illustrated in the photographs, or referenced that the images merely represented “a single moment in time.”

“There is a profound disconnect between this rhetoric and reality,” Kastel stated. “Cornucopia’s members contributed tens of thousands of dollars to document the activities on these factory livestock facilities and the USDA, and industry lobbyists, are suggesting that paperwork and annual inspections by certifiers trump this compelling evidence.”

Organic certification primarily depends on annual inspections by independent certifiers operating under the authority of the USDA. In almost all cases inspectors make an appointment with farm operators so they can have their paperwork in order, for auditing. Obviously, this also gives livestock operations the opportunity to make sure their animals appear to be managed, correctly, under the regulations.

Cornucopia contends these annual inspections also represent “a single moment in time” although that moment has been prearranged with plenty of forewarning.

“The days when the flyovers occurred were determined by our aerial photography contractor,” Kastel clarified. “We had no control over their schedule.  Furthermore, all of the aerial photography was done in good weather leaving no doubt that the animals should have been outdoors as the law requires.”

Kastel made this statement to eliminate one of the justifications that farm operators might use to legally and legitimately “temporarily” confine their livestock. The organic standards provide for temporary exemptions related to healthcare concerns or environmental factors.

“When these exemptions do not apply, farm operators are obligated to have their animals outdoors, and ruminants on pasture,” Kastel said.  “It is clear that we have widespread, systemic problems in this industry. These abuses are competitively damaging ethical family-scale farmers and defrauding consumers of the nutrient rich food, produced by animals being treated respectfully, that they think they are purchasing.”

Consumers looking for brands that procure their milk and eggs from ethical family farmers rather than “factory farms” can consult the scorecards on The Cornucopia Institute website by clicking on the scorecard tab: www.cornucopia.org

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OSGATA Membership Overwhelmingly Votes To Oppose Industry’s Organic Check-offhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/osgata-membership-overwhelmingly-votes-to-oppose-industrys-organic-check-off/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/osgata-membership-overwhelmingly-votes-to-oppose-industrys-organic-check-off/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:59:55 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16525 OSGATA Organic Farmers and Seed Companies Make Clear They Reject Proposed Mandatory Tax on Organic Producers Washington, ME, May 19, 2015 – A just-concluded major referendum by the membership of the organic seed industry leader, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), was unanimously opposed to the “Organic Check-off” proposed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Significantly, not a single vote was cast in favor of the Organic Check-off and America’s organic farmers and seed growers reject the OTA’s mandatory

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OSGATA

Organic Farmers and Seed Companies Make Clear They Reject Proposed Mandatory Tax on Organic Producers

OSGATA logoWashington, ME, May 19, 2015 – A just-concluded major referendum by the membership of the organic seed industry leader, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), was unanimously opposed to the “Organic Check-off” proposed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Significantly, not a single vote was cast in favor of the Organic Check-off and America’s organic farmers and seed growers reject the OTA’s mandatory tax on organics.

The OSGATA membership, comprised of certified organic farmers, seed companies, seed professionals, and affiliate organizations, is concerned that the proposed Organic Check-off will follow suit of other check-off programs in favoring large corporate businesses instead of small-scale family farmers and ranchers.

“The OSGATA membership has spoken loud and clear,” said Maine certified organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA. “Organic farmers and seed growers resoundingly reject the OTA’s Organic Check-off proposal and our membership believes it’s important that organic farmers work together to defeat the industry’s mandatory tax on our livelihoods.”

Last week, the OTA, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, formally petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to initiate a vote and requisite steps for implementing a proposed Organic Check-off program. The petition was made possible by a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill, but is still pending review by USDA for compliance with the Generic Research and Promotion Act. The Organic Check-off’s stated purpose, as lobbied by the OTA, is to promote the organic industry while also funding gaps in organic research.

Many in the organic community, including OSGATA members, are concerned that this mandatory national tax on organic producers and its resulting marketing strategy will favor the interests of large-scale producers, processors and retailers in the organic industry and make it more difficult for family-scale farmers to compete.

Other USDA Check-off mandatory tax programs have a history of restrictive promotion guidelines, further burdened by heavy bureaucracy, collections harassment, and a lack of financial accountability. There is little confidence that the proposed Organic Check-off will operate differently than other generic commodity check-off programs.

“The proposed Organic Check-off will not serve the interests of organic family farmers,” said fourth-generation Kansas farmer and certified organic seed grower Bryce Stephens, OSGATA Vice-President. “Our family has had experience with Wheat, Beef and Dairy Check-off programs. I encourage organic farmers to educate yourselves on the issue and reject the OTA proposal.”

Organic farmers or organizations opposed to the Organic Check-off proposal may add their names to the No Organic Check-off website.

OSGATA has a strong commitment to protecting the interests of organic farmers, as is demonstrated by its role as lead plaintiff in the landmark OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto lawsuit which sought to protect family farmers who, through no fault of their own, may have become contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered seed and find themselves accused of patent infringement.
Additionally, in 2014, in an effort to further defend organic farmers from unwanted transgenic (GE) trespass, OSGATA published and distributed 5,000 hard copies of the scientifically peer-reviewed guide, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity – The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing to organic farmers across the country. Free downloads are available here.

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Chemical Reactions: Glyphosate and the Politics of Chemical Safetyhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/chemical-reactions-glyphosate-and-the-politics-of-chemical-safety/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/chemical-reactions-glyphosate-and-the-politics-of-chemical-safety/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 20:41:41 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16520 The Guardian by Patrick van Zwanenberg Source: UGA College of Ag and Environmental Sciences Controversy over a new evaluation of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, lifts the lid on aspects of chemical safety regulation that often remain hidden from public view. Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, hit the headlines in March after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it is a “probable human carcinogen”. The IARC, which

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The Guardian
by Patrick van Zwanenberg

Source: UGA College of Ag and
Environmental Sciences

Controversy over a new evaluation of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, lifts the lid on aspects of chemical safety regulation that often remain hidden from public view.

Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, hit the headlines in March after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it is a “probable human carcinogen”.

The IARC, which is responsible for providing an evidence base for the cancer control policies of the World Health Organisation and its members, had completed a year long review of the scientific literature on the herbicide. It found “convincing evidence” that glyphosate causes cancer in laboratory animals, “limited evidence” that it does so in agricultural workers, and evidence that it causes DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

The IARC’s evaluation is hugely important because it is sharply at odds with the views of the world’s major regulatory agencies. Last year, an evaluation by German government regulators, on behalf of the European Commission, concluded that there was no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic or mutagenic, or that the herbicide posed any other serious hazard to health. All other regulatory agencies have reached similar conclusions.

The IARC did not have access to new evidence. So why has it reached totally different conclusions about the hazards posed by glyphosate?

First, this kind of disagreement is not unprecedented, or entirely surprising. Evidence about chemical safety is often incomplete, uncertain and ambiguous, such that assessments of safety cannot always be resolved on the basis of evidence alone. What, for example, constitutes a reliable and relevant study? How should conflicting evidence be weighed? How much of what kinds of evidence are necessary to support a judgement about hazard, or its absence? Subjective judgements and assumptions, as well as evidence, are typically required to settle such questions, so it is no wonder that institutions sometimes disagree.

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We do not know exactly why institutional evaluations of glyphosate differed so markedly in this case because the IARC has yet to publish its full evaluation (that is promised for later in the year). But, from the IARC’s summary, it appears likely that it used different criteria for choosing which evidence to evaluate; made different judgements about the reliability of some of the evidence; and interpreted the results of some of the experimental studies in different ways.

Most regulatory agencies are reluctant to acknowledge that there are choice-laden aspects to chemical safety assessment. This is partly because science is a powerful source of legitimacy, and regulators often want to portray their assessments as far more objective, reliable and consensual than is actually the case. But it is also because to do so would be an open invitation to scrutinise regulators’ technical assessments. We might reasonably want to ask how have the choice-laden aspects of those assessments been exercised: in ways that resolve ambiguities and uncertainties in favour of public health, or in favour of agribusiness?

The IARC’s evaluation presents a dilemma for regulatory institutions. If they explicitly accept the validity of the IARC’s findings (and therefore acknowledge the choice-laden nature of safety evaluation) this might invite scrutiny and criticism of their own assessments, and regulatory decisions. The only alternative is to insist that the IARC’s review is scientifically flawed or politically biased.

This latter tactic has often been adopted when individual scientists criticize a sensitive regulatory consensus, but the IARC is a rather formidable dissenter. It is about as scientifically rigorous and independent an institution as they come. Its evaluations are conducted by senior academic and regulatory scientists, drawn from around the world, and subject to a strict conflict of interest policy. IARC insists that its evaluations are transparent and so all evidence used to support its evaluations must be publicly available. The evaluation process is guided by published scientific principles and assessment criteria, and is explained in considerable detail in IARC’s monographs.

We don’t yet know how regulators will handle this dilemma, but the agrochemical industry’s strategy is already clear: “[IARCs] result was reached by selective ‘cherry picking’ of data and is a clear example of agenda-driven bias” was Monsanto’s reported response. The American Council on Science and Health, an industry-funded “consumer” organization, opined in similar style: “… [IARC] started out with the conclusion they aimed at reaching, and then they evaluated the data they wanted to utilize to get to that conclusion and ignored or manipulated the rest.”

This strategy is curious because it is bound to invite comparison between the IARC and those regulatory institutions that have supposedly produced a more impartial evaluation of glyphosate. And such comparisons are unlikely to be favourable.

Readers might be astonished, for example, to learn that much of the German government’s recent evaluation of glyphosate – favourably compared to the IARC’s evaluation by the agrochemical industry – was not actually written by scientists working for the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), but rather by the European Glyphosate Task Force, a consortium of agrochemical firms.

BfR officials explained that due to the quantity of evidence they did not have the time to prepare the toxicological evaluation themselves. So the agrochemical industry wrote the descriptions, and evaluated the reliability of each piece of evidence. These are exactly the kinds of choice-laden decisions described earlier. BfR regulators commented, in italics, on the industry text, but this falls well short of what most people would understand as an independent review.

We do not know if the BfR evaluation is unusual in having been drafted by the firms whose products were being evaluated, or unusual because German regulators were honest enough to make that practice explicit. But if one of the world’s wealthiest nations does not have sufficient resources to conduct its own independent evaluations of toxicological evidence we might well ask what are the practices in regulatory institutions elsewhere?

Patrick van Zwanenberg is a researcher in science and technology policy at STEPS América Latina and the Centro de Investigaciones para la Transformación in Buenos Aires.

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Monsanto, in Bid for Syngenta, Reaches for a Business It Left Behindhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/monsanto-in-bid-for-syngenta-reaches-for-a-business-it-left-behind/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/monsanto-in-bid-for-syngenta-reaches-for-a-business-it-left-behind/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 11:41:08 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16516 The New York Times by Andrew Pollack and Chad Bray Source: UGA College of Ag and Environmental Studies Over the last two decades Monsanto has cast off its century-long history as a chemical company and refashioned itself as an agricultural life sciences company, led by its genetically engineered seeds. But with its $45 billion bid to acquire the agricultural chemical giant Syngenta — a bid Syngenta rejected on Friday as inadequate — Monsanto appears to be trying

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The New York Times
by Andrew Pollack and Chad Bray

Source: UGA College of Ag and
Environmental Studies

Over the last two decades Monsanto has cast off its century-long history as a chemical company and refashioned itself as an agricultural life sciences company, led by its genetically engineered seeds.

But with its $45 billion bid to acquire the agricultural chemical giant Syngenta — a bid Syngenta rejected on Friday as inadequate — Monsanto appears to be trying to get back into a business it largely abandoned. That is a possible acknowledgment, some analysts say, that the biotech seeds might not be the engine to carry the company forward much longer.

“If you go back 10 years, they put all their marbles on biotechnology and they’ve done fantastically well there,” said William R. Young, managing director of ChemSpeak, a consulting firm following the chemical industry. “But going forward, maybe the growth is limited,” he said. Buying Syngenta“allows for some diversification in product line.”

Syngenta both announced and rejected Monsanto’s unsolicited bid on Friday, saying the offer undervalued Syngenta’s prospects and underestimated “the significant execution risks, including regulatory and public scrutiny at multiple levels in many countries.”

Monsanto offered to pay 449 Swiss francs, or about $490, for each share of Syngenta; 45 percent of the payment would be in cash. The offer represented a 35 percent premium to Syngenta’s closing price on Thursday.

Monsanto, in its own statement, said it believed combining the two companies would create “an integrated global leader in agriculture with comprehensive and complementary product portfolios.” It said it was confident in its ability to obtain all necessary regulatory approvals.

The deal would create an agricultural behemoth, combining Monsanto, the world leader in seeds and genetically engineered traits (like herbicide resistance), with Syngenta, the largest producer of agricultural chemicals.

The two companies are in some sense mirror images of each other. They are similar in size, each with over $15 billion in annual revenue. But Monsanto gets most of its revenue from seeds and biotech traits; the rest comes mainly from the herbicide Roundup. Syngenta gets most of its revenue from chemicals, like weed control products, and less from seeds.

So far, investors have seen more potential in the seed business. Monsanto has had a market valuation more than 60 percent greater than Syngenta’s.

So why would it want to move back into chemicals? Perhaps it is because agricultural chemicals are still a bigger market than seeds. While certain biotech crops that incorporate their own pesticides have reduced the need for spraying chemicals, that has not been the case over all.

Moreover, the bulk of revenue from biotech seed sales come from two crops — corn and soybean — and two continents — North America and South America. There is resistance to planting such seeds in other places, particularly Europe.

In a recent conference call, Mike Mack, the chief executive of Syngenta, said the global seed markets was worth $40 billion, compared to $63 billion for agricultural chemicals.

“With the pace of G.M. growth having considerably slowed, this is unlikely to change,” he said, using the initials for genetically modified. “It reinforces our view that crop protection will continue to play a paramount role in raising agricultural yields globally.”

Monsanto executives, who would not comment on Friday, have said in the past that they are still enthusiastic about the potential for biotechnology. But the company has been diversifying, emphasizing more conventional breeding and moving into new businesses, such as using microbes to control pests and offering digital data to help farmers manage their fields. That latter effort has been off to a somewhat slow start.

Analysts expect the deal would raise antitrust concerns since Syngenta is still the world’s No. 3 seed company, with about 11 percent market share compared with 34 percent for Monsanto, according to estimates by Jefferies, the global investment banking firm. In agricultural chemicals, Syngenta has 19 percent share and Monsanto 8 percent. But Monsanto’s sales are almost all from Roundup, the herbicide, while Syngenta has a broader range of products, including a new fungicide called Elatus that is said to have bright prospects.

Ben Scarlett, an analyst for J.P. Morgan, said Syngenta’s corn and soybean seed businesses in North American and South America might have to be sold to satisfy regulators, and possibly some chemicals in certain markets. The combined company would also have high market share in nonselective herbicides, combining Roundup with Syngenta’s leading market share for paraquat.

Both the seed and agricultural chemical businesses have already been undergoing a rapid consolidation. According to one study from the Agriculture Department, the top four seed companies controlled 54 percent of the global market in 2009, up from 21 percent in 1994. For agricultural chemicals, the figures were 53 percent in 2009 and 28.5 percent in 1994. Consolidation is believed to have continued since 2009.

The Justice Department and some states undertook antitrust investigations of Monsanto’s seed practices a few years ago but the investigations were closed and no findings were ever released.

Both Monsanto and Syngenta are suffering from a decline in corn prices and the strength of the dollar. Also, the World Health Organization has said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is a probable carcinogen. Syngenta’s seed treatments containing chemicals known as neonicotinoids are suspected by some researchers of being harmful to bees.

Laurence Alexander, an analyst at Jefferies, said a deal would be “strategically logical” for Monsanto, given the tough times in the agriculture business right now and the “increasing acknowledgment that biotech traits are not ‘silver bullets.’” But he said that for Syngenta, this “would be a sale at almost the worst possible time.”

One benefit of the deal for Monsanto could be relocating its official headquarters to Switzerland and getting a lower tax rate. The federal government has been trying to clamp down on such so-called inversions, however, making them less financially attractive.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, urged Monsanto not to undertake an inversion. In a letter he sent on Thursday to Monsanto’s chief executive, Hugh Grant, Senator Durbin said that Monsanto benefited from federally funded research and the patent system. “You and your board must recognize that your company’s continued commitment to America would be good, not only for the country, but also for Monsanto Company’s bottom line,” he wrote.

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U.S. Will Start Importing Fresh Apples From Chinahttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/u-s-will-start-importing-fresh-apples-from-china/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/u-s-will-start-importing-fresh-apples-from-china/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 22:28:19 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16512 Rodale News by Leah Zerbe Source: Eakav Some food-safety groups warn of potential toxic contamination. The U.S. Department of Agricluture (USDA) has given the green light for the U.S. to import fresh apples from China, a move that has triggered worry among some food-safety watchdog groups. “[The USDA’s] approval of imported fresh apples from China could threaten American consumers and apple growers. Thanks to China’s widespread pollution and food-safety problems, we could see apples with

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Rodale News
by Leah Zerbe

Source: Eakav

Some food-safety groups warn of potential toxic contamination.

The U.S. Department of Agricluture (USDA) has given the green light for the U.S. to import fresh apples from China, a move that has triggered worry among some food-safety watchdog groups.

“[The USDA’s] approval of imported fresh apples from China could threaten American consumers and apple growers. Thanks to China’s widespread pollution and food-safety problems, we could see apples with dangerous chemical residues imported into the United States,” says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “A 2014 survey by the Chinese government found that one-fifth of the country’s farmland was polluted with inorganic chemicals and heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, and nickel.” (Health concerns around these pollutants is huge. The heavy metal cadmium, for instance, is linked to breast cancer and has been shown to trigger accelerated aging.)

According to MyCentralOregon.com, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspects less than 1 percent of imported fruit. All apples imported from China, however, will be required to meet U.S.-approved standards, arrive with a “phytosanitary certificate,” and be declared inspected and free of quarantine pests.

Still, the decision to allow imports from a country plagued with food-safety problems is not a good one, declares Food & Water Watch. “China’s lax food-safety oversight has exposed people in China and worldwide to dangerous foods,” Hauter says. “The Food and Drug Administration is already unable to monitor the growing flood of imported food, and [Thursday’s] approval of even more imports will make it difficult for border inspectors to stop apples and apple products from China with residues of pesticides and contaminants, such as arsenic.”

The decision also opens up threats to domestic apple growers and the environment, opponents of the decision note. Allowing Chinese apple imports could also pose a risk to American apple orchards because the imports could harbor hidden invasive pests, including the destructive oriental fruit fly and other nonnative insects our fruit is vulnerable to, Hauter notes.

According to Hauter, the USDA-approved Chinese apple imports will be in exchange for China opening its market to U.S. fresh apple exports. It’s in China’s hands to make sure these commercially destructive invasive insects would not hitch a ride to America.

The good news is these imported apples feature a sticker that IDs China as the source, so with a little detective work, you can avoid them. But bear in mind, just because an apple is from America doesn’t mean it’s free of contaminants. In fact, Environmental Working Group recently named apples to the #1 spot on its 2015 Dirty Dozen produce list. Nonorganic apples tend to have the most pesticide residues because the chemicals are applied to the crop before and after harvest to preserve the fruit longer. In fact, 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, so your best choice is organic apples grown in the U.S.

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Got Organic?http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/got-organic/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/got-organic/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 13:59:12 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16507 Slate by Leah Douglas Is a national fund to promote organic produce a good idea? Organic farmers don’t think so. Source: TaxRebate.org.UK “Got Milk?” “Pork: The Other White Meat.” “The Incredible Edible Egg.” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” For years, these familiar slogans have highlighted the importance of American kitchen staples. What better represents the American way of eating than a glass of milk with your cookies or a hamburger on the grill? On billboards

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Slate
by Leah Douglas

Is a national fund to promote organic produce a good idea? Organic farmers don’t think so.

Source: TaxRebate.org.UK

“Got Milk?” “Pork: The Other White Meat.” “The Incredible Edible Egg.” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.”

For years, these familiar slogans have highlighted the importance of American kitchen staples. What better represents the American way of eating than a glass of milk with your cookies or a hamburger on the grill? On billboards and television, these ubiquitous marketing campaigns have long shaped public perception of which foods constitute a wholesome diet. But consumers are often unaware of who, exactly, writes, produces, and pays for these ads.

Such marketing campaigns are funded by what is known in the food business as “checkoff” programs. These are in essence taxes that farmers pay to a national fund, the revenue from which is used to promote the consumption of commodities like pork, beef, eggs, and milk. The current beef checkoff, for instance, requires ranchers to pay $1 per head of cattle into the national fund. Checkoff programs’ activities can take the form of generic advertising campaigns, or they can look more like political lobbying.

Soon, this tax may extend to the organic industry. The Organic Trade Association, the largest trade group for organic agriculture, petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday to begin the process of establishing an organic checkoff.

While the OTA believes that a checkoff program could help grow organic’s share of the grocery market, many producers and advocates are concerned that the tax will further entrench the interests and control of large-scale organic producers and retailers and will make it harder for smaller farmers and organic producers to compete.

As organic products have moved from niche to mainstream, the politics surrounding organic farming have also changed. Some farmers believe the organic label doesn’t go far enough to ensure that organic producers actually uphold environmentally sustainable growing practices. These concerns have intensified as larger-scale, corporate growers have begun to dominate the organic industry, outpacing small, independent growers in market power. Companies like General Mills, Dean Foods, Kellogg, and Kraft have become leading voices in the organic industry. Now, organic farmers are facing questions that have long caused rifts in the wider agricultural community—among them, whether to implement a checkoff tax program.

The first checkoff program, for cotton, was established in 1966, and in the following decades several more emerged. The process of establishing such assessments was formalized in the Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996, also called the Generic Act. This law allowed for “generic promotion, research, and information activities for agricultural commodities, paid [for] by the producers and others in the industry who reap the benefits of such activities.” The act also established guidelines for the boards that would oversee the use and allocation of checkoff revenue.

There have long been concerns in many farming sectors about how checkoff tax funds are spent and about who decides how to spend them. The beef tax in particular has raised the ire of many independent cattle producers who assert that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the overseer of checkoff funds, uses those funds to promote the interests of large-scale producers. Among other efforts, the NCBA has used checkoff money to lobby against an antitrust review of big meatpackers, to train farmers to use social media to attack sustainable food advocates, and to scold USDA staffers for encouraging their co-workers to participate in Meatless Monday. But ranchers’ attempts to overturn the beef checkoff have failed. In a 2004 challenge to the constitutionality of the beef assessment, the Supreme Court ruled that checkoff campaigns amount to “government speech” and that farmers must pay the checkoff tax regardless of their opposition to how checkoff funds are allocated.

An organic checkoff became possible with the passage of the 2014 farm bill, which allowed for the creation of a research and promotion program that extended beyond a specific commodity. Under that bill, the organic checkoff tax would apply to all certified organic producers and retailers. However, OTA’s checkoff tax proposal would require producers and “handlers” (retailers and distributors) with gross revenue greater than $250,000 to pay one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic sales into the checkoff fund. The OTA estimates that the program would bring in about $30 million to $40 million in revenue annually for organic promotion, research, and education.

Laura Batcha, the CEO and executive director of OTA, emphasizes that a key aspect of the checkoff program is “[dispelling] confusion amongst consumers about organic versus unregulated claims like ‘natural’ or ‘non-GMO.’ ” OTA believes that educational promotions funded by the checkoff tax would help consumers understand what the organic designation means and what kinds of products are sold under the organic label. Regardless of size, farmers “would benefit from an educated public that understands the value of an organic product,” Batcha says.

The question of who will pay into, and be represented by, the organic checkoff fund has become especially contentious. OTA’s current proposed cutoff of $250,000 excludes many producers. In 2010, around 90 percent of all farms—including conventional and organic—grossed less than $250,000 annually. Assessment exemptions would save farmers money but would also exclude them from the process of deciding whether the checkoff program should be implemented and how the tax revenue should be allocated. “Do you put everyone in the pool so they can all vote?” Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, an environmental nonprofit, asks. “Or do you carve more people out, who don’t have to pay in, but don’t get to vote?” According to the OTA proposal, growers with less than $250,000 in revenue could choose to pay into the checkoff fund and thereby have a say in how funds are allocated. But by virtue of its current income cutoff, the proposal “[allows] voting rights to the large farms,” Ed Maltby, the executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and a retired dairy farmer, says. “So, it’ll be the large conglomerates that dominate discussion.”

Even if they opt into the fund, small-scale growers control a disproportionately small portion of the organic market, and that lack of market power could translate to less of a voice in the checkoff tax program. As with many agricultural sectors, the organic industry is run by a few corporate players at the top: In 2012, the top 10 percent of organic producers controlled about 75 percent of the market. And there’s also the question of whether this checkoff tax program would be more accountable than others that have historically caused friction in the farming community. Maltby worries that the organic checkoff would follow the same blueprint as existing checkoff taxes. “The beef checkoff really shows how there’s no transparency” in those programs, Maltby says. “[Checkoff] money goes to corporate interests in the end and supports corporate policy.”

The OTA already has a negative reputation with some producers and advocates because of its connection to agribusiness. Notable members of OTA include Dean Foods, General Mills, Smuckers, and Whole Foods. These heavyweights would necessarily have a higher stake in the checkoff fund, given the progressive nature of the checkoff assessment. Similarly, these companies are already highly invested in OTA’s activities. Based on the trade group’s tiered membership dues structure, Whole Foods alone likely pays more than $50,000 annually for its OTA membership.

There’s also the question of whether an organic checkoff would actually help American organic farmers—even the big ones. Consumer demand for organic products has grown over the past few years, but domestic production of organic foods hasn’t matched that growth. The amount of farmland used for organic crops has hovered around 1 percent, while organic products now comprise about 4 percent of food consumed in the U.S. “How you’re meeting that demand for organics is a very important structural question,” Lovera says, and the checkoff “is a marketing approach to a structural problem.” We already import about half of our organic soybeans from abroad, primarily from China and India, and a checkoff marketing program could inadvertently end up spurring the sales of foreign products, not domestic ones.

Given all the potential downsides, it’s not surprising that many organic farmers would rather skip the checkoff. In addition to Food & Water Watch and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, several other farmer advocacy groups have come out against the checkoff, including the Cornucopia Institute, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Family Farm Defenders. Once the USDA reviews OTA’s petition, an official proposal will be available for public comment. Then a majority of “eligible voters,” defined as producers or handlers who would eventually be required to pay into the checkoff fund, would need to approve it.

While the heightened popularity of organic foods could be positive for small-scale organic growers, an organic checkoff tax would likely carry disproportionate benefit for industrial, corporate growers. Paying into a national tax fund is a far cry from the type of regional economic development that will best serve small farmers as they struggle to maintain a hold in an increasingly monopolized, corporate-controlled industry. Lovera puts it bluntly: “There’s bigger problems in organic,” she concludes. “And glossy photoshoots with celebrities won’t solve them.”

Leah Douglas is a reporter and policy analyst with the Open Markets Program at New America. She covers food and agriculture policy. Follow her on Twitter.

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The Beauty of Composthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/the-beauty-of-compost/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/the-beauty-of-compost/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 00:04:59 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16502 Rodale News by Matthew Benson Source: Joy Ito Healthy dirt forms the building blocks of a beautiful garden. The garden soil you begin with will most likely need to be amended before you plant out your precious seedlings. Even if your future garden site supports a lawn, it may not have the nutritional strength necessary for fruiting plants and hungry vegetable crops. If you’ve had your soil tested, you know what to add and—hopefully—when to

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Rodale News
by Matthew Benson

Source: Joy Ito

Healthy dirt forms the building blocks of a beautiful garden.

The garden soil you begin with will most likely need to be amended before you plant out your precious seedlings. Even if your future garden site supports a lawn, it may not have the nutritional strength necessary for fruiting plants and hungry vegetable crops. If you’ve had your soil tested, you know what to add and—hopefully—when to add it for the best results. But if you’re flying without a net, as gardeners often do, you really can’t go wrong by applying compost.

Incorporating ½ to 1 inch of compost into the soil each growing season is a reasonably sound soil-care program that will add modest amounts of nutrients along with organic matter to support both good drainage and moisture retention. For a new garden bed, cover the surface with 1 to 2 inches of compost or composted manure and dig or till it into the top 4 to 6 inches of the soil. Incorporate compost in fall and then mulch the bed with straw or wood chips to protect the soil from weathering during winter. In spring, pull back the mulch to let the bed warm for early crops then plant into the compost-enriched soil. Or leave compost atop the garden as a protective winter mulch and incorporate it in spring as you prepare beds for planting.

For the most part, your garden will thrive as you build the soil and nourish the plants according to their specific needs. Your soil will need amendments, fertilization, and remineralization to restore the nutrients that hungry fruit and vegetable crops require. Remineralizing, in particular, is as essential as composting when it comes to soil health, fertility, and the nutrient density of what you grow: The healthier the soil, the more nutrient-packed and healthful the food it produces.

My Compost Philosophy
Think of this as a patient, steady process—a way of providing a healthy, balanced diet for both soil and plants—rather than as some super-supplement pill that top-loads plants with a megadose of nutrients while doing nothing to contribute to the long-term health and fertility of the soil that supports them.

I’ve been amending my beds and soil for years with composted horse manure from a friend’s stables. He lets me load the previous year’s piles into my pickup each spring, and it’s become something of a ritual. His horses look on, seemingly amused by my compulsive shoveling of their waste. Once, his 10-year-old chestnut gelding stood curiously by as I shoveled composted manure into the truck, then slowly approached and brushed his long, warm muzzle against my shoulder as if to ask, “What are you doing with my poop?” I love this horse, with his sweet and massive tenderness.

My compost is a mix of last year’s greens and carbons and manures left to cold compost in a large contained pile along the edge of the orchard. I think that not rushing compost and allowing all of its richness to form into complex soils, as nature does (over time), is the best for all the bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms—and human energy—involved.

Quick-and-hot composting can kill a lot of the beneficial life you’re trying to preserve. Besides the organic vegetable waste from the farm’s harvests, we add fall leaves and straw and have a small electric chipper to shred plant stalks and stems into biodegradable, manageable pieces. I’ll also add richly soiled straw bedding from the chicken coop in fall and early spring, along with aged horse manure, and turn it into the pile. The mound gets worked and turned only occasionally and produces a healthy, friable soil every season.

There’s a lot of blather about the do’s and don’ts of composting, and some folks seem to get so caught up in the conversation that they lose track of why they’re composting in the first place. Some composting methods can seem daunting, full of arcane references to organic chemistry that will remind you of why you dropped out of pre-med. Composting does feel like a kind of alchemy, turning waste into something rich and viable, and it appeals to our resourceful, enterprising spirit as growers, but it’s not the end-all. Make it a part of what you do, not the whole point.

The compost you make should resemble the one nature makes on her own: deep brown, crumbly, full of organic matter. With the right mix of carbon and nitrogen-rich materials, water, and air, plant material will decompose, worked on by millions of tireless microorganisms, and regenerate itself as soil.

What to Compost
While you may need to forage locally for ingredients for compost making, there should be little need to buy materials to put in the pile or bin. Our gardens, lawns, landscapes, and kitchens typically provide plenty of raw materials for the composting process, with the exception of animal manures, which you may need to seek out if you don’t have a few critters of your own.

The more diverse the materials that go into the compost pile, the more nutritionally varied the outcome. With the exception of meat scraps, dairy products, and greasy foods and quantities of oil (they’ll put up a stink and attract pests), put all the organic wastes from the kitchen and garden into the compost pile: eggshells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, fruit peels, vegetable trimmings, cooked pasta, crumbs from the bottom of the cereal or cracker bag, bread scraps, and more. Almost everything you eat can be converted to compost.

From the garden and landscape, collect weeds, fading plants and plant parts, grass clippings, fall leaves, twigs and branches, stems of perennials cut back for winter, cornstalks, and ornamental grasses. We use a small electric mulcher, or shredder, to break down thicker plant stalks, and you can also use a mulching mower to break down small twigs and leaves.

Don’t despair if you lack a lawn or trees to yield clippings and leaves. Often these can be picked up from local curbsides during municipal yard waste collections. Or your local government agency may have a central collection point where it produces “compost” or wood chips that are free to residents. Not surprisingly, municipal products can be highly variable—not everyone is scrupulous about what they toss into the leaf pile or drop off at the collection facility. To be safe, you can get your yard waste from a friend or neighbors you know are tending their landscape without a chemical soup of weedkillers or toxic pesticides.

Green grass clippings are known as the “manure of suburbia” and can boost microbial activity in a compost pile with their high-octane shot of nitrogen. A combination of chopped dry leaves and fresh grass clippings makes a fine compost mix without anything else added.

To the rich mix of plant wastes from home and garden, add manure if it is available. Skip the wastes of carnivores—no dog or cat droppings in the compost—because they can carry disease organisms that can affect humans. The bedding from a chicken coop, the material from beneath a rabbit hutch, and straw and manure from stables or barns that house horses, cows, sheep, goats, and llamas are all nutritionally potent additions to the compost.

How Compost Happens
While it might seem like you are doing most of the work of transforming all this organic waste into compost, your contribution actually pales in comparison to the labors of countless microorganisms (and there are billions of them in a gram of compost, including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa) that munch their way through the heap.

Launching a successful compost project is quite simple, but what happens to the assembled materials is remarkably complex. Compost ingredients can be generally classified as either “browns” (carbon) or “greens” (nitrogen), and they represent the two main nutrients required. While each material contains its own ratio of these nutrients, and complex algorithms can be devised to perfectly balance the amounts of each that go into a compost pile, there’s really little need for that level of scrutiny.

As a general rule, a compost pile should be constructed of two or three parts of carbon/brown materials to one part of nitrogen/green materials by volume, typically expressed as a 3:1 ratio. Think of two or three bags of dry leaves mixed with one bag of fresh, moist grass clippings or a similar amount of manure.

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Meet Will Allen, The Urban Farmer Starting His Own Revolutionhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/meet-will-allen-the-urban-farmer-starting-his-own-revolution/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/meet-will-allen-the-urban-farmer-starting-his-own-revolution/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 13:53:08 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16499 Huffington Post   When you think of farming towns, Milwaukee-proper might not be the first to come to mind. The large Wisconsin city is perhaps better known for its famed breweries and picturesque location along Lake Michigan, but one resident there has been on a mission to make farming more accessible even within the city limits. Will Allen is a former professional athlete who played basketball throughout college at the University of Miami and post-college

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Huffington Post

 

When you think of farming towns, Milwaukee-proper might not be the first to come to mind. The large Wisconsin city is perhaps better known for its famed breweries and picturesque location along Lake Michigan, but one resident there has been on a mission to make farming more accessible even within the city limits.

Will Allen is a former professional athlete who played basketball throughout college at the University of Miami and post-college in Belgium. Though he has also held jobs in corporate America, Allen has spent the last 21 years in a completely different profession: urban farmer.

As the founder of Growing Power, Allen oversees his urban farms and teaches people in urban Milwaukee how to grow not just food, but good food. The organization’s sustainable farm features multiple greenhouses, indoor and outdoor gardens, crops and animals such as goats and chickens. Growing Power also hosts workshops and outreach programs, and distributes its produce, meats and products throughout the city, making a big impact the lives of many.

“We’re only six blocks away from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project,” Allen says. “When people drive by the street and they see the greenhouses on the front, they have no idea that we feed about 10,000 people just from this farm alone.”

In particular, Allen enjoys working with area youth. The work that he and the children do, he explains, isn’t just about farming; it’s about life.

“It’s way more than just putting a plant in the ground,” Allen says. “It’s about learning some life skills in terms of how to take care of yourself, how to take care of your body, how to be able to work in this environment. It’s about learning how to eat healthy, to be able to build things by doing something hands-on.”

And for many of the children, these urban farms have become a haven of sorts from the chaos of their everyday lives. It’s a place where they feel safe, and are encouraged to learn, grow and even find a sense of inner peace.

“Kids that come in here, they’re wired and they’re bouncing off the walls. But as soon as I put some soil in their hands, they just calm down,” Allen says. “There’s something very spiritual about touching the soil.”

The nourishment of working with soil, which Growing Power grows itself through vermicomposting, is something that feeds Allen’s soul as well. “When I touch the soil, I actually feel good. I feel something,” he says. “If you have fertile soil, then your food is going to taste good, and that’s one of the joys of life.”

By far, being an urban farmer is the most challenging and rewarding job Allen says he’s ever had.

“I was meant to do this,” he says. “To be a farmer, you definitely have to have tremendous faith and trust that something good is going to come.”

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