Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Sat, 25 Oct 2014 11:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 EPA Approves Enlist Duo®, Opens Gate to New Wave of GE Woeshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/epa-approves-enlist-duo-opens-gate-new-wave-ge-woes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=epa-approves-enlist-duo-opens-gate-new-wave-ge-woes http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/epa-approves-enlist-duo-opens-gate-new-wave-ge-woes/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 19:49:04 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13797 Beyond Pesticides Despite a massive outpouring of public opposition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it has registered Enlist Duo®, officially putting the rubber stamp of approval on the sale and use of a new wave of genetically-engineered (GE) 2,4-D tolerant crops. Developed by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo® is an herbicide that incorporates a mix of glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D, intended for use on GE Enlist-Duo®-tolerant corn and soybean crops. While registration

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Beyond Pesticides

enlist logoDespite a massive outpouring of public opposition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it has registered Enlist Duo®, officially putting the rubber stamp of approval on the sale and use of a new wave of genetically-engineered (GE) 2,4-D tolerant crops.

Developed by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo® is an herbicide that incorporates a mix of glyphosate and a new formulation of 2,4-D, intended for use on GE Enlist-Duo®-tolerant corn and soybean crops. While registration of the herbicide was anticipated by most of the public since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s approval of the Enlist Duo®-tolerant crops in mid-September, the announcement still comes as a disappointing shock, demonstrating the failings of the U.S. pesticide and agricultural regulatory system to put people and the environment before economic incentives and industry bottom lines.

“EPA approval of this herbicide sets a dangerous precedent,” says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Instead of looking to alternatives, regulators are signaling that the answer to widespread weed resistance is more toxic products that endanger farmworkers and farming communities.”

As Beyond Pesticides noted in its comments submitted to EPA in June of this year, the documented adverse effects of 2,4-D, a chlorophenoxy herbicide, are plentiful and include human health risks of soft tissue sarcomanon-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, and harm to the reproductive system. EPA’s own research suggests that babies born in counties where high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicides are applied to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits, and extra digits. These birth defects are 60-90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.

And it doesn’t stop with human risks. Environmental adverse effects also abound, stemming from EPA-acknowledged risk of increased-weed resistance.

There are concerning safety gaps in the human health risk assessment that Dow AgroSciences provided to EPA for Enlist-Duo®’s registration. These issues are compounded by EPA’s decision to waive the tenfold safety standards under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), as noted in a letter from U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to EPA, as well as dismiss the need for new tolerance assessments from aggregate exposures based on outdated data.

For these and other reasons, public opposition to both the clearance of Enlist-Duo®-tolerant seeds and registration of Enlist Duo® has been loud and clear. Over the 60-day public comment period for the Enlist Duo® seeds, which ended back in March, USDA received over 10,000 comments on its draft environmental impact statement and plant pest risk assessments. Of these comments, over 88%, including Beyond Pesticides, were opposed to the non-regulated status of the Enlist varieties. During a recent 30-day “review period” in August for the final environmental impact statement, the agency received 969 submissions. Again the majority did not support deregulation. Additionally the agency received over 240,000 signatures from three non-government organizations opposing the deregulation of the Enlist crops.

Regardless of public opposition and the science to back it, EPA insisted in its announcement yesterday that, “EPA scientists used highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks for the new uses of 2,4-D in Enlist Duo. The assessments confirm that these uses meet the safety standards for pesticide registration and, as approved, will be protective of the public, agricultural workers, and non-target species, including endangered species.”

Registration only applies to the use of the pesticide six states, (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) and further comments are solicited until November 14, 2014 for expansion of the registration to use of the herbicide in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota.

Beyond Pesticides has argued to EPA and USDA that the weed resistance in herbicide-tolerant cropping systems is escalating and not sustainable, contributing to a chemical-dependency treadmill. A 2011 study in the journal Weed Science found at least 21 different species of weeds to be resistant to applications of Monsanto’s Roundup.

Although touted to address this problem of resistance, research reveals weed resistance to 2,4-D is already developing in areas of the western U.S., even without the presence of herbicide-ready crops. Additionally, despite assertions to the contrary, a 2012 report shows that GE crops are responsible for an increase of 404 million pounds of pesticides, or about 7%, in the U.S. over the first 16 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2011). USDA’s own analysis finds that approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to an unprecedented 2- to 7-fold increase in agricultural use of the herbicide by 2020, from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year.  Even at current use levels, 2,4-D drift is responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide. These alarming and ongoing problems point to systematic deficiencies in the current regulatory system and pesticide-use paradigm —new GE crops will not “solve” resistance issues, but merely push the problems of weed management further down the road.

Join Beyond Pesticides in continuing to fight against the dangerous wave of GE crops and chemicals! Visit our website to learn more about GE crops and how to keep them out of our environment and food!

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EPA

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COOL Updatehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/cool-update/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cool-update http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/cool-update/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 14:23:50 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13792 Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) On October 20, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling of meat violated international trade rules. WTO found that the goal of the labeling program was not illegal, but its implementation presented a trade barrier by treating Canadian and Mexican livestock less favorably than U.S. livestock. The United States has 60 days to appeal. In response, Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) has called on the

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Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC)

WORC-logoOn October 20, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling of meat violated international trade rules. WTO found that the goal of the labeling program was not illegal, but its implementation presented a trade barrier by treating Canadian and Mexican livestock less favorably than U.S. livestock. The United States has 60 days to appeal.

In response, Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) has called on the Obama administration to appeal the decision and urged Congress to resist efforts by labeling opponents to cripple or kill the labeling program and let this trade dispute run its course through the WTO’s appeal process. You can read WORC’s statement by Mabel Dobbs, a Weiser, Idaho rancher, here.

WORC continues to work with allies to keep — and even strengthen — the meat labeling program.

WTO’s decision muddies the water for the Obama administration’s push for “Fast Track” trade authority and two major trade pacts, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both of these treaties would open the United States to similar attacks on our consumer, health, land use, regulatory permits, environmental and other policies.

Our trade policy should strengthen, not weaken, the health, environment, food sovereignty, working conditions, labor rights, and transparent, competitive market principles of this country and all countries.

There’s more information on trade and WORC’s Trade Bill of Rights on our website.

It’s likely that Fast Track and attacks on country-of-origin labeling will come up in Congress after the November elections. WORC will work to provide the latest news and opportunities to voice public opinion on these issues.

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Biotech and Agribusinesses Spending Heavily to Defeat State GMO Food Labeling Voteshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/biotech-agribusinesses-spending-heavily-defeat-state-gmo-food-labeling-votes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biotech-agribusinesses-spending-heavily-defeat-state-gmo-food-labeling-votes http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/biotech-agribusinesses-spending-heavily-defeat-state-gmo-food-labeling-votes/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 21:20:49 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13414 The Cornucopia Institute releases shopper’s guide red-flagging pro/con food brands involved with Colorado and Oregon Initiatives    [Contribution data will be updated on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until election day, and a final poster will be published in early December.] INFOGRAPHIC UPDATED 10-23-14: New money for the NO side comes from Big Food and Biotech interests as DuPont/Pioneer throws in $3 million, Monsanto adds another $2.5 million and Coca Cola spends another $+1 million fighting

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The Cornucopia Institute releases shopper’s guide red-flagging pro/con food brands involved with Colorado and Oregon Initiatives    [Contribution data will be updated on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until election day, and a final poster will be published in early December.]

INFOGRAPHIC UPDATED 10-23-14: New money for the NO side comes from Big Food and Biotech interests as DuPont/Pioneer throws in $3 million, Monsanto adds another $2.5 million and Coca Cola spends another $+1 million fighting the consumers right to know what is in their food.  New money supporting the YES vote comes from Clif Bar ($35K) and Hain Celestial ($35K).  The NO forces have raked in nearly $26 million while supporters of GMO food labeling have raised a little more than $8 million. Full details on corporate spending in the updated infographic below.

INFOGRAPHIC UPDATED 10-16-14: More new money from Big Food and Biotech interests flows into fight against GMO food labeling votes in Oregon and Colorado. Coca Cola drops $1.168 million, Pepsi puts up another $1 million, Kraft adds another $870K, with Land O’Lakes putting in an additional $900K. Supporting the consumer’s right to know, the Center for Food Safety adds $1 million, Dr. Bronner’s puts in another $285K, Presence Marketing adds $175K and the Organic Consumers Association spends another $100K. The NO vote forces are outspending supporters by more than 3 to 1. Full details on the updated infographic below.  

UPDATED AGAIN  10-8-14:  Kellogg drops $250K against GMO food labeling + other contribution updates to the YES and NO positions.

UPDATE 10-2-14:  Cornucopia’s GMO food labeling infographic has been updated and now includes the contributions made to the Oregon Right to Know committee, which was organized to help get Measure 92 on the ballot. (Information on contributions for petition gathering are listed separately by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office and were not previously included.)  This update also includes significant additional contributions reported over the last couple days to both the Vote Yes on Measure 92 committee in Oregon, and the Right to Know Colorado committee.  Stay tuned for additional revisions of this infographic based on campaign finance reporting deadlines in Oregon and Colorado!

For a larger, easier to view version of the infographic please click on the image. Once downloaded (please be patient) you can click a second time to enlarge that further. A high-resolution file, suitable for enlargement and printing, can be found at the linked pdf below the graphic image.

Cornucopia, WI: Citizen initiatives on the November 4 ballots in both Colorado and Oregon would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients on food packages. The pending votes have sparked a high-priced battleground pitting consumer and farmer advocates against multi-billion-dollar agribusiness corporations.

Opposition to the state food labeling measures is coming from giant biotech companies (DuPont, Dow and Monsanto), that sell genetically engineered crops, and the well-heeled Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a national business lobbying organization. Millions of dollars are being spent on the two campaigns with advertising blitzes underway.

Now The Cornucopia Institute has released a detailed infographic that reveals which food companies are supporting or opposing the food labeling initiatives (with many of the major manufacturers opposing passage owning leading brands in the natural/organic marketplace).

Measure 92 Prop 105

(click on the image above to view a quick loading larger version,
and then click on it again for an even larger version
)

Download High Resolution PDF for printing purposes by clicking here

“Many consumers will likely be surprised to learn that owners and management of some of their favorite organic and natural brands are fighting against the right of consumers to know what is in their food,” says Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group. “We want to spotlight this issue so that consumers can vote in the marketplace for manufacturers and brands that reflect their personal values.”

Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food ingredients (commonly called GMOs — standing for genetically modified organisms) at the state level is viewed as a watershed event by many industry observers, given the prolonged inaction at the federal level. Earlier this year Vermont passed a state law requiring GMO food ingredient labeling, and the states of Connecticut and Maine have adopted similar legislation that will take effect when other neighboring states pass such laws.

Last year a state GMO food labeling initiative was narrowly defeated in Washington by a 51-49 percent margin. In California in 2012, a GMO food labeling initiative lost by a similarly slim margin. Biotech interests spent close to $50 million opposing the initiatives in California and Washington. And the GMA and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), another trade-lobby group, are now suing Vermont over its legislatively adopted food labeling law.

At the national level, Monsanto, its biotech allies, and the GMA in particular, have been credited for bottlenecking action on a federal law although they have recently rallied behind a new proposal that would outlaw state GMO food labeling laws while permitting “voluntary” labeling by companies of such ingredients (voluntary labeling is already being allowed by the FDA).

More than 60 countries around the world require the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients. “Interestingly, in Europe where GMO labeling is required, consumers overwhelming choose to buy organic and non-GMO products,” said Kastel. “The industrial food lobby is fully cognizant of the European experience and what’s at stake — that’s why they’re fighting like hell against these grassroots efforts in states like Colorado and Oregon.”

North America’s largest independent organic breakfast foods manufacturer, Nature’s Path, has been actively promoting and funding a “yes” vote. “Nature’s Path USA has supported citizens’ fundamental right to know if their food contains GMOs, with a simple label declaration. Then they can choose whether or not they want to buy it,” says Arran Stephens, the company’s CEO and cofounder.

“One of many great qualities of organic agriculture is in the superior taste and higher nutrient profile — the natural result of a farming system that emphasizes long term soil fertility, farm family security and non-toxic ecological balance,” Stephens added.

Other prominent commercial backers of state citizen initiatives, viewed as heroes in the organic movement, include Dr. Bronner’s and Bob’s Red Mill.

“As a lover of science and as an activist, it’s clear to me that labeling genetically engineered food just makes sense. Consumers have a right to know whether the food they’re eating has been genetically engineered to withstand huge amounts of pesticide that contaminates our food, wreaks havoc in the environment and ends up on our dinner plates,” says the company’s CEO David Bronner, describing why the company has donated $715,500 to the state initiative campaigns.

Additional organizations throwing their financial weight behind the consumer’s right to know include the Organic Consumer’s Fund, Food Democracy Action and Mercola.com and Presence Marketing.

The biggest single donor to the “NO” vote is biotech giant Monsanto, having poured more than $6.3 million into the state campaigns. Pepsi has donated $2 million and General Mills has donated more than $1.5 million. Other heavyweight opponents include Kraft, Dow AgroSciences, J.M. Smucker, Land O’ Lakes and ConAgra.

All told, opponents of the consumers’ right-to-know what is in their food have already raised more than $15.1 million, while supporters of the state initiatives have gathered nearly $3.3 million.

“We doubt if loyal customers of Naked Juice (PepsiCo), Dagoba chocolate (Hershey’s) RW Knutson or Santa Cruz juices (Smuckers) realize that their corporate parents are taking the profits from their patronage and stabbing them in the back by investing to defeat GMO labeling on food packages,” the Cornucopia’s Kastel lamented.

“Consumers are increasingly interested in ‘voting with their forks,’ and many want to support companies that share their values,” notes Jason Cole, a researcher for Cornucopia who compiled the data for the infographic. “We hope the information we are providing on corporate involvement with the upcoming votes on food labeling will help consumers make informed choices in grocery store aisles.”

Supporters of Measure 92, the GMO food labeling initiative in Oregon, have raised $2.96 million with opponents of the initiative collecting $5.41 million according to state records.

In Colorado, supporters of Proposition 105, the GMO food labeling initiative, have raised $320,000 while opponents of the initiative have collected $9.7 million.

Data for the campaign contributions was gathered from appropriate state regulatory agencies.

The Cornucopia Institute’s board of directors has formally endorsed the Oregon state initiative (they have yet to meet and take action regarding the Colorado initiative).

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10 Best: Places to Dine Down on the Farmhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/10-best-places-dine-farm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=10-best-places-dine-farm http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/10-best-places-dine-farm/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 20:29:24 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13782 USA Today by Larry Bleiberg Source: Ralph Daily With farm-to-table restaurants booming in popularity, farms themselves are now getting in on the act, offering meals to diners craving super-fresh cuisine that’s often raised on site. “The producers are honoring the ground, presenting the fruits of their labor in a fun and delicious fashion,” says Matt Jones of Slow Food USA, an organization dedicated to sustainable, local agriculture. He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY. Many of these

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USA Today
by Larry Bleiberg

Source: Ralph Daily

With farm-to-table restaurants booming in popularity, farms themselves are now getting in on the act, offering meals to diners craving super-fresh cuisine that’s often raised on site. “The producers are honoring the ground, presenting the fruits of their labor in a fun and delicious fashion,” says Matt Jones of Slow Food USA, an organization dedicated to sustainable, local agriculture. He shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY. Many of these meals are offered seasonally and often support food-based charities.

Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse Inn and Garden
Paonia, Colo.
On Friday nights from May through Thanksgiving, this inn sets a table replete with fresh ingredients, many grown on the farm or produced in the area. “It’s all organic and all local. It’s the epitome of a farm dinner,” Jones says. “It’s a very engaged agricultural community. This is our Shangri-La, our gem on the western slope of Colorado.” 970 527-4374, freshandwyld.com

Our Table in the Field
Sherwood, Ore.
This Portland-area farm regularly hosts meals built around food raised right in the area. “Typically the dinners showcase local culinary talent and raise money for non-profits,” Jones says. A recent dinner featured Pinot Noirs from the nearby Willamette Valley wine region. “It’s a shining example of the vast variety and biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest.” 503-217-4304; ourtable.us

Suzie’s Farm
San Diego
This farm near the Mexico border takes a playful approach to its dinners. “They have really fun parties. They’ll have music. As opposed to the formal sit-down dinners, it’s more of a celebration,” Jones says. In the past, organizers have themed events to the Day of the Dead, and have brought in food trucks to serve produce from the region. “There’s a lot of acknowledgment of the local cultural diversity.” 619-662-1780;suziesfarm.com

New Town Farms
Waxhaw, N.C.
Expect an elaborate and tasty meal at this Charlotte-area farm, which raises heritage and heirloom vegetables and livestock, including poultry and hogs. “Their dinners are spectacular. They’re loaded up and they’re exquisite,” Jones says. “They’re able to put together a full meal from the farm.” Proceeds benefit local charities. 704-843-5182;newtownfarms.com

White Oak Pastures
Bluffton, Ga.
This 150-year-old family farm located near the Florida border has adapted with the times, and focuses on the humane treatment of its grass-fed livestock. It runs a restaurant and offers seasonal Friday and Saturday night dinners served in the same farm kitchen used to feed employees. “They’re opening it up to the public and sharing the bounty of the farm,” Jones says. 229-317-0203; whiteoakpastures.com

Shelburne Farms
Shelburne, Vt.
Throughout the growing season, this famous New England farm and restaurant hosts upscale outdoor family-style dinners by its vineyard on the shores of Lake Champlain. The meal, which include cheeses, vegetables and other products from Vermont farm partners, benefits a charity that educates children about healthy eating and sustainable agriculture, Jones says. “The backdrop is fairly spectacular.” 802-985-8686;shelburnefarms.org

Spence Farm
Fairbury, Ill.
This multi-generation Midwest farm dates to 1830, but in the last decade has focused on increasing crop diversity and raising rare livestock breeds. “They’ve taken on rejuvenating the farm, raising a vast variety of heirloom products,” Jones says. “The lesser-known vegetables and breeds in their dinners set them apart.” The farm often collaborates with top chefs from nearby Chicago. 815-692-3336; thespencefarm.com

Glynwood Farm Dinners
Cold Spring, N.Y.
Monthly dinners showcase sometimes surprising seasonal products from New York’s Hudson Valley. Dinners are often topical, and have highlighted ingredients from goat meat to hard ciders. “They have wonderful stuff going on all the time up there,” Jones says. “I would fly there just to go to that cider dinner.” Often meals welcome a guest farmer as a speaker. 845-265-3338; glynwood.org

Fox Hollow Farm
Crestwood, Ky.
There’s no doubting the origin of the ingredients at a “Wheelbarrow to Table” dinner offered by this Louisville area cattle and vegetable farm, which brings in top chefs from the region. “It’s in an old Kentucky farmhouse, a simple expression of locality and freshness,” Jones says. 502-241-9674; foxhollow.com

Harley Farms
Pescadero, Calif.
This restored 1910 dairy farm produces award-winning goat cheeses and holds dinners year-round. A November five-course dinner in a restored Victorian hayloft offers barbecued Cornish game hens, lamb or skewers of fresh vegetables. 650-879-0480; harleyfarms.com

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New Report Finds Ocean-based Fish Farming at Odds with Organic Standardhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/new-report-finds-ocean-based-fish-farming-odds-organic-standard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-report-finds-ocean-based-fish-farming-odds-organic-standard http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/new-report-finds-ocean-based-fish-farming-odds-organic-standard/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:37:58 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13762 Center for Food Safety Source: Joseph Azzopardi October 21, 2014 (Washington, DC)—Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) released a comprehensive, scientific report detailing why ocean-based aquaculture (fish farming) can never be certified organic.  In advance of USDA’s publication of regulations to govern organic aquaculture, CFS’s report, Like Water and Oil:  Ocean-Based Fish Farming and Organic Don’t Mix, warns that permitting “organic” aquaculture at sea would put the entire U.S. organic industry in jeopardy by weakening

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Center for Food Safety

Source: Joseph Azzopardi

October 21, 2014 (Washington, DC)Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) released a comprehensive, scientific report detailing why ocean-based aquaculture (fish farming) can never be certified organic.  In advance of USDA’s publication of regulations to govern organic aquaculture, CFS’s report, Like Water and Oil:  Ocean-Based Fish Farming and Organic Don’t Mix, warns that permitting “organic” aquaculture at sea would put the entire U.S. organic industry in jeopardy by weakening the integrity of the USDA organic label.  Fifty-three fishers, organic farmers, organic consumers, and animal welfare and environmental advocacy organizations endorsed the major findings of the Report in an Organic Aquaculture Position Statement.

“It’s mind-boggling to think that USDA would seriously consider allowing fish farms at sea to be organic,” said Dr. Lisa J. Bunin, Center for Food Safety’s Organic Policy Director and the report’s co-author.  “It’s absolutely impossible to control or monitor the wide range of substances, including toxic pollutants, that flow into and out of sea-based farms.”

Twenty-four million fish escapes have been reported worldwide in just over two decades (see report), based upon data compiled by CFS from available public records.  Escaped farmed fish can carry pathogens and diseases, restructure food webs through the introduction of non-native species competing for resources, and could lead to extinction of wild fish of the same species in certain areas.  This disruption of marine ecosystems violates one of the basic tenets of organic, which is to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.

Based upon the Report findings, CFS has determined that:

Open-ocean fish farms can never be organic. Inputs and outputs to the system cannot be monitored or controlled and neither can a farmed fish’s exposure to toxic synthetic chemicals, which are prohibited under Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and present in the marine environment.

Farming migratory fish can never be organic. This statement holds true regardless of the type of system in which they are reared. That is because their confinement in fish farms would curtail their biological need to swim far distances, creating undue stress. Some migratory species are also anadromous, such as salmon, migrating between freshwater and the ocean during various life stages, a behavior not possible while in containment. The organic standards dictate that organic production systems must not the natural behaviors of farmed animals.

Farmed fish fed wild fish, meal or oil can never be organic. That is because OFPA requires that all certified organic species are fed an organic diet. Feeding farmed fish wild-caught fish and related by-products—fish meal and fish oil—would increase pressure on already over-exploited and recovering fisheries that form the basis of the marine food web. It would also decrease the food supply of a wide range of native, aquatic species, including seabirds and sea mammals, contravening the USDA organic biological diversity conservation requirements.

 “We believe that the strong findings contained in this Report warrant USDA’s withdrawal of plans to allow organic ocean-based fish farming,” Dr. Bunin said.  “To do less would be irresponsible organic policy-making, and it would do a disservice to the entire organic industry.”

Download the Executive Summary
Download the Report
Download the Position Statement and Endorsements

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EPA Analysis Evidence Notorious Neonics Should be Suspended, Watchdog Groups Sayhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/epa-analysis-evidence-notorious-neonics-suspended-watchdog-groups-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=epa-analysis-evidence-notorious-neonics-suspended-watchdog-groups-say http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/epa-analysis-evidence-notorious-neonics-suspended-watchdog-groups-say/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:48:21 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13758 Analysis ‘has confirmed what farmers, beekeepers and scientists have been saying all along: neonicotinoids do more harm than good’ Common Dreams by Andrea Germanos Source: Carol Von Canon A new U.S Environmental Protection Agency analysis of neonicotinoid pesticides on soybean production offers further proof that they should be suspended, environmental watchdog groups say. This class of pesticides, often referred to as neonics, has been linked to the decline of bees and other environmental harm. The

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Analysis ‘has confirmed what farmers, beekeepers and scientists have been saying all along: neonicotinoids do more harm than good’

Common Dreams
by Andrea Germanos

Source: Carol Von Canon

A new U.S Environmental Protection Agency analysis of neonicotinoid pesticides on soybean production offers further proof that they should be suspended, environmental watchdog groups say.

This class of pesticides, often referred to as neonics, has been linked to the decline of bees and other environmental harm.

The agency’s analysis, released Thursday, found that there was little to no benefit to using neonicotinoid seed treatments on soybean yields. Such neonic-treated seeds, first registered for use in soybeans in 2004, were applied on an average of 30% of soybean acres between 2008 and 2012, EPA states. The analysis notes that some growers report having difficulties in obtaining non-treated seed.

It also states that “much of the observed use is preventative and may not be currently providing any actual pest management benefits.”

“In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, U.S. soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments,”a Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a media statement.

Environmental groups welcomed the analysis, and said it provided more proof that the agency should take the ecological-protective approach and suspend the use of neonics.

“Neonicotinoid pesticides are one of the leading drivers of global bee declines,” stated Friends of the Earth food futures campaigner Tiffany Finck-Haynes. “By confirming that they offer no benefit to U.S. soybean production, the Environmental Protection Agency has no course of action except to suspend all agricultural uses—including seed treatments—to protect pollinators and the planet.”

Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist for Pesticide Action Network, adds that the analysis “has confirmed what farmers, beekeepers and scientists have been saying all along: neonicotinoids do more harm than good.”

“EPA’s findings are further evidence that the Agency should follow Europe’s lead by restricting and suspending the use of neonicotinoids,” whose use poses “serious threats to bees and other pollinators that support the food system,” Marquez stated.

The analysis, howerver, was no ringing endorsement of organic agriculture, as it compared neonic-treated seeds with other chemical-dependent methods, including the use of foliar spraying of neonics on soybean plants.

Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director at Center for Food Safety, told Common Dreams that it’s a shame that the analysis goes back to foliar sprays, and that the agency appears to be looking not at systemic contamination from neonics but at best management of them.

“That’s not enough,” she said, adding that her organization has long said that neonics should not be used at all in agricultural or ornamental applications, as their harm to pollinators and ecosystems is “beyond overwhelming.”

In June, for example, an international team of scientists published an analysis based on 800 peer-reviewed reports that found that neonics pose a threat to global biodiversity, while a study by the U.S. Geological Survey published in July found widespread contamination in Midwest waterways from neonics.

As that global analysis and Walker point out, neonics’ “mode of action is systemic. They’re going to build up in soil and water.” Whether it’s through seed coating, foliar sprays or soil drenching, it’s the same chemicals, she said.

“It’s still persistent, still poses environmental problems, harm to pollinators, ecosystems, and potentally human health.”

We know that there are better approaches, like using agro-ecological methods that don’t rely on systemic pesticides, Walker said.

“The bottom line is we’ve been asking the EPA to suspend all use of neonics,” Walker said. The new analysis is a small step, but there’s much more to do, she said.

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Why I’m Voting Yes on 105 to Label GMO Foodshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/im-voting-yes-105-label-gmo-foods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=im-voting-yes-105-label-gmo-foods http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/im-voting-yes-105-label-gmo-foods/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:16:35 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13754 Dining Out by Bradford Heap | Chef and Owner, Colterra, Niwot, CO; and SALT, Boulder, CO Source: Martin Cathrae As a Coloradan, chef, and restaurateur committed to farm-to-table quality, integrity, taste, health, and the environment, I join organizations like the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Moms Across America, Conservation Colorado, and others in my support of GMO labeling, and encourage Coloradans to vote yes on Proposition 105 this November to require the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in

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Dining Out
by Bradford Heap | Chef and Owner, Colterra, Niwot, CO; and SALT, Boulder, CO

Source: Martin Cathrae

As a Coloradan, chef, and restaurateur committed to farm-to-table quality, integrity, taste, health, and the environment, I join organizations like the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Moms Across America, Conservation Colorado, and others in my support of GMO labeling, and encourage Coloradans to vote yes on Proposition 105 this November to require the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods sold in Colorado.

As a father, I choose non-GMO foods for my kids when I can, but since an estimated 85-percent of grocery products sold in the U.S. contain genetically engineered ingredients without having to be labeled as such, it’s hard to make informed choices at the supermarket for my family. While pro-biotech interests claim that GMOs are safe, a growing body of scientific research suggests that there may indeed be enough risks to warrant the need for consumer transparency and justify the call for mandatory GMO labeling.

Colorado’s Proposition 105 calls for the mandatory labeling of foods containing ingredients from transgenic crops derived in the laboratory through recombinant DNA technology—a technology that splices genes from bacteria, viruses, or other foreign species into major food crops—pairings that would never occur in nature—to create genetically engineered crops that make their own toxic pesticides, or that can withstand ever increasing amounts of toxic, synthetic herbicides. The primary GMO crops include genetically engineered corn, soy, canola, cotton, and sugar beets, which make their way into just about all grocery products sold in the U.S.

Yet, according to a July 2013 New York Times survey, Americans overwhelmingly support GMO labeling, with 93-percent of respondents saying that foods containing genetically modified or GMO ingredients should be identified. According to a recent survey conducted by RBI Strategies in Denver, 71-percent of Coloradans favor GMO labeling.

In fact, more than 64 other countries, including the entire EU, China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and elsewhere, require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered or GMO foods. Colorado joins more than two dozen other states, including Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, in calling for GMO labeling legislation.

In Colorado, anti-labeling forces have pumped nearly $10 million into the state to try to defeat a grassroots initiative with less than $1 million in funding. These corporations trying to kill Prop. 105 include just a handful of out-of-state, multinational pesticide and junk food companies pumping millions into Colorado to control the election in our state—companies including Monsanto, Pepsico, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Smuckers, Dow, Conagra, Welch’s, Pioneer/Dupont, and others that are hooked on the GMO treadmill and don’t want to get off.

These companies are more concerned with protecting their profits over consumers. In fact, this coalition has spent more than $100 million over the past three years to defeat state campaigns and to keep consumers in the dark about how their food is made when it comes to genetic engineering.

In my restaurants, Colterra and SALT, I have taken extra steps to ensure my menu is non-GMO. It’s what my customers, my staff, and my family wants. And we’d like all Coloradans to have the ability to choose GMO or non-GMO by requiring mandatory GMO labels.

This Halloween, I promised my kids I’ll pay them a dollar for every pound of GMO-laden candy they bring home so that we can instead buy them non-GMO chocolates and treats. It’s one step one family is making. But together, all Colorado families can make a big change—one that can affect truth in labeling across the country—by voting Yes on 105. It’s time for all of us to take responsibility for our broken food system and make a change with every purchase, and it starts November 4th.

For more information, visit righttoknowcolorado.org.

This article was written with assistance from Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural Marketing, Boulder, CO.

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Powerful Organic Trade/Lobby Group Recruiting Family Farmershttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/powerful-organic-tradelobby-group-recruiting-family-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=powerful-organic-tradelobby-group-recruiting-family-farmers http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/powerful-organic-tradelobby-group-recruiting-family-farmers/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:05:52 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13747 OTA/Corporate Interests Creating “Trojan Horse” to Soften Image, Increase Influence In a move that would look just as cynical as if General Motors decided to create their own workers-union, the powerful Organic Trade Association (OTA) has created their own Farmer Advisory Council and is now discounting memberships to smaller family farmers in an attempt to soften their current image as a hard-knuckled corporate lobby group. Over the past few years the OTA has received increasing

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OTA/Corporate Interests Creating “Trojan Horse” to Soften Image,
Increase Influence

OTAIn a move that would look just as cynical as if General Motors decided to create their own workers-union, the powerful Organic Trade Association (OTA) has created their own Farmer Advisory Council and is now discounting memberships to smaller family farmers in an attempt to soften their current image as a hard-knuckled corporate lobby group.

Over the past few years the OTA has received increasing criticism for their lobby efforts that have allegedly helped water down the federal standards governing organic farming and food production.  The latest dustup in Washington surrounding OTA activities concerns their attempt to sell Congress, and the organic farming community, on a scheme that will tax farmers and other industry participants to do research and promotional work.

“Trying to recruit farmers is an attempt by the OTA to redeem their damaged credibility and sell their agenda on Capitol Hill,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute.  “The agribusiness lobby is also attempting to dilute the influence of nonprofit groups and cooperatives that legitimately represent the interests of family-scale farmers — and frequently differ with the OTA on regulatory policy.”

Over the past two years the OTA has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from farmers, and the groups that represent them, after proposing a commodity checkoff that would create an estimated $40 million per year.  “Farmers are understandably skeptical about being forced to pay into such a fund because of a long history of corruption, mismanagement and lack of effectiveness in existing checkoff programs showcasing milk mustaches, ‘incredible edible eggs,’ and ‘the other white meat’ (pork),” Kastel said.

The OTA is held in low esteem by many farmers and organic food advocates because of their past history and alleged duplicity in dealing with other interests in the organic food movement.

“This move is consistent with a long pattern of agribusiness executives treating family farmers as ignorant and naïve,” said Richard Parrott, a Buhl, Idaho organic beef and crop producer who has been certified since 1992.  “Why should farmers trust corporations that buy organic commodities from factory farms, and have pitted U.S. farmers, like me, against Chinese exports, when they tell us they are looking out for our interests?”

One of the crops Parrott produces is dried beans, an organic commodity that has been dominated by imports for a number of years.

The trade-lobby group is also looked at as a major political force behind recent highly controversial moves at the USDA that significantly water down the independent power of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert advisory panel Congress set up to protect organic rulemaking from undue corporate influence.

When the OTA started out, during the 1980s as the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA), the organization was widely recognized as an umbrella group with many farmers, organic certifiers, nonprofits and processors (all of which, at the time, were independently owned).  Since then, the OTA has morphed into what The Cornucopia Institute calls “just another powerful, trade-lobby group funded and controlled by multibillion-dollar, multinational food corporations.”

The OTA is now controlled and funded by large corporate agribusinesses such as Smucker’s, General Mills, Hershey and Kellogg’s.  Unlike the majority of organic farmers, many of the most active and influential members of the OTA earn the majority of their revenue selling non-organic food.

In recent years, there have been virtually no working farmers as OTA members (other than a few that are affiliated with the corporate participants), and a large percentage of the nonprofits were given, unsolicited, free memberships.

“When they doubled their dues a few years ago they lost most of their farmers and other individual members,” added Kastel.  OTA membership now costs between hundreds of dollars a year to $35,000 per year, on a sliding scale (and many corporate members make additional contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars).

The OTA just created a new class of membership, with $50 a year dues, for small farmers with gross annual revenue of under $250,000.  The farmers also have to be members of one of the organizations represented on the OTA’s Farmer Advisory Council.

Smaller farmers as OTA members would be in stark contrast to existing members such as Aurora Organic Dairy, a giant vertically-integrated operation with a number of facilities in Texas and Colorado milking thousands of cows each.  Aurora was found by USDA investigators to have been “willfully” violating organic standards, one of the largest scandals in the industry’s history, but they continued as OTA members and Aurora executives even subsequently served as spokespersons for the group.

“It’s a bit Orwellian, to say the least, that their Advisory Council is made up of not only farmers, most of whom are board members or have some direct relationship with organic businesses, but also includes executives of vertically integrated agricultural operations owning hundreds of thousands of animals,” said Darin Von Ruden, a Westby, Wisconsin organic dairyman and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, an organization that has spent the better part of the last century fighting consolidation and the corporate takeover of our nation’s farming sector.

Cornucopia, a 10,000-member, nonprofit, farm policy research group characterized the lobby group’s recent public relations push as “a not-so-veiled attempt by the OTA to greenwash their corporate approach to organics.”

“OTA’s job is to represent business; it pays lip service to respecting and supporting family farmers. But when it comes down to truly respecting our opinions, on issues of organic integrity or ones that affect our livelihood as farmers, they obviously intend to push their agenda by creating what smells like a Trojan Horse of a grassroots group ,” Parrott lamented.

MORE:

“So we have corporate executives, corporate lawyers and corporate lobbyists (with companies that buy agricultural commodities from farmers) now representing producers? Or are they just having a problem convincing rank-and-file farmers that their $40 million a year checkoff (tax) is legitimate?” Cornucopia’s Kastel cynically asked.

After the Arthur Harvey federal lawsuit ruling, the organic community negotiated amongst different organic organizations with the goal of approaching Congress in a unified manner to request legislation that would “dial back to pre-Harvey.”

The Harvey decision made all synthetics illegal in organic farming and food production (and most of us in the community, at the time, felt comfortable with the NOSB process of carefully reviewing non-organic substances to assure they were safe and appropriate for use in organics).  If the Harvey ruling had stood, a high percentage of certified organic, processed food would leave the market.

“The OTA participated in these discussions, said they would collaborate, and then, behind everyone’s back, went to Congress and sold their own deal — which was adopted by Congress and weakened the law rather than simply restoring the way the NOP/NOSB had been operating,” said Kastel.

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Tune In to Food Sleuth Radiohttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/tune-food-sleuth-radio/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tune-food-sleuth-radio http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/tune-food-sleuth-radio/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:26:48 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13740 Join Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian and investigative nutritionist, for 28-minute, weekly interviews with national experts in food, health and agriculture. From physicians to film makers, writers, farmers, scientists and chefs, Food Sleuth Radio navigates our complicated food system. You’ll discover how farm and food policies impact our environment and public health, and learn the secrets to eating well. Provocative, practical and personal, Food Sleuth Radio helps us think beyond our plates to find “food

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CI_SleuthRadio

Join Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian and investigative nutritionist, for 28-minute, weekly interviews with national experts in food, health and agriculture. From physicians to film makers, writers, farmers, scientists and chefs, Food Sleuth Radio navigates our complicated food system. You’ll discover how farm and food policies impact our environment and public health, and learn the secrets to eating well. Provocative, practical and personal, Food Sleuth Radio helps us think beyond our plates to find “food truth.”  Award-winning Food Sleuth Radio ranks among the top national “green food radio shows.” If you care about what you eat, tune in.

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When It Comes to Food Packaging, What We Don’t Know Could Hurt Ushttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/comes-food-packaging-dont-know-hurt-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comes-food-packaging-dont-know-hurt-us http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/10/comes-food-packaging-dont-know-hurt-us/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 21:12:53 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13732 Ensia by Elizabeth Grossman Credit: dvs It’s almost impossible to imagine life without flexible, transparent and water-resistant food packaging, without plastic sandwich bags, cling film or shelves filled with plastic jars, tubs and tubes, and durable bags and boxes. While storing food in containers dates back thousands of years, and food has been sold in bottles since the 1700s and cans since the 1800s, what might be considered the modern age of food packaging began

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Ensia
by Elizabeth Grossman

Credit: dvs

It’s almost impossible to imagine life without flexible, transparent and water-resistant food packaging, without plastic sandwich bags, cling film or shelves filled with plastic jars, tubs and tubes, and durable bags and boxes.

While storing food in containers dates back thousands of years, and food has been sold in bottles since the 1700s and cans since the 1800s, what might be considered the modern age of food packaging began in the 1890s when crackers were first sold in sealed waxed paper bags inside a paperboard box. Plastics and other synthetics began to appear in the 1920s and ’30s, shortly after chemical companies started experimenting with petroleum-based compounds and pioneering new materials that could be used for household as well as industrial applications.

Fast forward to 2014: Upwards of 6,000 different manufactured substances are now listed by various government agencies as approved for use in food contact materials in the U.S. and Europe — materials that can legally go into consumer food packaging, household and commercial food containers, food processing equipment, and other products.

Recent analyses have revealed substantial gaps in what is known about the health and environmental effects of many of these materials and raised questions about the safety of others. A study published this past July found that 175 chemicals used in food contact materials are also recognized by scientists and government agencies as chemicals of concern — chemicals known to have adverse health effects. Another published in December 2013 found that more than 50 percent of food contact materials in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration database of such substances lacked accompanying toxicology informationfiled with the FDA about the amount people can safely eat. This database is publicly available and searchable, but the database itself doesn’t include toxicology information about these substances or any details of the products in which the listed chemicals are used.

Presumably, the primary goal of food packaging is to keep food safe to eat. But what do we actually know about the stuff that surrounds our food? What do we know about how these materials may interact with the food they touch, or their potential effects on human health and the environment?

Plastics, Coatings, Colors, Glues

In the U.S., the FDA regulates food contact materials, classifying them as “indirect food additives.” These materials, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, include not only the polymers that make up plastics but also resins and coatings used in can linings and jar lids, pigments, adhesives, biocides and what the FDA charmingly calls “slimicides.” The FDA distinguishes these substances from those added to food itself by explaining that food contact materials are “not intended to have a technical effect in such food,” meaning that these substances are not supposed to change the food they touch.

This categorization makes such substances exempt from food ingredient labeling requirements, explains Dennis Keefe, director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety. In other words, food packaging need not carry any information about what it’s made of. Any such information is voluntary, often geared toward facilitating recycling and sometimes part of marketing campaigns declaring a product “free of” a substance of concern.

“Food packaging chemicals are not disclosed, and in many cases we don’t have toxicology or exposure data,” explains Maricel Maffini, an independent scientist and consultant who specializes in food additives research. Yet a core component of the FDA’s regulation of food contact materials is based on the assumption that these substances may migrate into and be present in food.

In fact the FDA’s system for approving food contact materials — which it does on an individual basis, with approval granted to a specific company for a particular intended use — depends on how much of a substance is expected to migrate into food. This is assessed based on information a company submits to the FDA; the FDA may come back to a company with questions and do its own literature search, but it doesn’t send the substances to a lab for testing as part of the approval process. The higher the level of migration, the more extensive toxicological testing the FDA requires.

“We’re talking parts per billion,” explains George Misko, partner at Keller & Heckman, a Washington, D.C.–based law firm that specializes in regulation. But that’s a level at which some chemicals used in food packaging have been found to be biologically active.

Beyond the Container

But there’s “more than the threshold of migration” that needs to be considered when assessing food contact material safety, says Jane Muncke, managing director and chief scientific officer of the Zurich-based nonprofit Food Packaging Forum. In addition to the materials themselves, Muncke explains, these substances’ chemical breakdown and by-products need to be considered. This means that there are lots more individual chemicals that may be touching food — and therefore be detectable in food — than those present in the packaging as formulated. For polymers — the large molecules that typically make up plastics — these breakdown and by-products “can be significant,” says Muncke.

These additional breakdown and by-product chemicals also contribute to issues of chemical safety assessment, explains Maffini. Chemical regulations typically consider chemicals one at a time, when in reality we’re exposed to multiple chemicals concurrently, including those present in food. So the individual chemical assessments that determine food contact material approvals may not capture all the ways in which a single substance may interact with food, human bodies or the environment. The list of chemicals measured by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination survey offers a snapshot of this issue. It includes in its biomonitoring (testing for chemicals in the human body) not only whole chemicals to which people may be exposed, but also numerous compounds that occur only after these chemicals enter and are metabolized by the human body.

As Muncke and other scientists have pointed out, while food contact materials are not intended to alter food, they are not necessarily inert or biologically inactive. This is where the parts-per-billion levels that trigger the FDA’s testing levels for food contact materials quickly gets complicated.

Back in the 1950s when the U.S. government laid the groundwork for current food additive regulations, the scientific assumption was that the higher the level of exposure, the greater a chemical’s biological effect. The focus of concern then was acute effects: birth defects, genetic mutations and cancers. Since the mid-1980s, however, and especially in the last 10 to 15 years, scientific evidence indicating that low levels of exposure — particularly to chemicals that can affect hormone function — can have significant biological effects has been accumulating rapidly. So has evidence that such exposures can lead to chronic effects on metabolic, reproductive, neurological, cardiovascular and other body systems and can set the stage for health disorders that may take years to become apparent. Yet from an FDA regulatory perspective, such low dose effects are very much still under review as they are, for example, for bisphenol A, a building block of polycarbonate plastic that is used widely in food contact products and — as an endocrine disrupter — has become a focal point in the public debate over safety of food contact materials.

Chemicals of Concern

“The last 20 years has seen more innovation in packaging than almost anything else,” says Misko. So where are the scientists who scrutinize food packaging and contact materials looking to better understand potential exposure effects, given the large universe of these materials?

They are looking both at materials used widely in consumer packaging and at materials used commercially to store and process food. While extensive research into health effects of BPA continues, phthalates, another long-used category of chemicals that has also been identified as having hormonal effects, is receiving additional research attention. One use of phthalates — of which there are many different types — is as plasticizers, often with polyvinyl chloride. Numerous studies, including those conducted by scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency, to name but a very few of those published, have now linked various phthalates to adverse male reproductive hormone effects and have found associations between phthalate exposure and childhood asthma. While the American Chemistry Council says that “phthalates do not easily migrate,” the final report of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel on Phthalates released in July (the panel was convened under the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that also restricted use of certain phthalates in children’s products but doesn’t affect food packaging), found food to be a significant source of phthalate exposure. Recent studies, including those by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, New York University, University of Texas, University of Washington and U.S. EPA, have also found food to be a consistent source of phthalates.

“Food packaging is a big issue,” says Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Whyatt’s most recent research looks at the potential association between prenatal phthalate exposure and childhood asthma. The positive links found in her first-of-a-kind human epidemiological study will have to be replicated to be confirmed, but when considered in conjunction with other research, particularly that points to food as an ongoing source of phthalate exposure, Whyatt says this indicates a “need for FDA to conduct a total dietary study” for at least one phthalate. Muncke notes that phthalates are often part of plastics used in food processing and other commercial or industrial rather than household applications.

Tip of the Iceberg

Yet BPA and phthalates — chemicals that have found their way into public consciousness — are just the tip of the iceberg. Other materials coming under scrutiny, says Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Tom Neltner, include greaseproof papers that use what are called perfluorinated compounds, chemicals known to be environmentally persistent and associated in both animal and human studies with various adverse health effects. While some of these compounds have been phased out of use in the U.S. and EU, Neltner says they appear to be in ongoing — even increasing — use in Asia.

Among the substances the Food Packaging Forum is looking at are printing inks that can become mixed into recycled papers used in food packaging. “This is a big issue in Europe,” says Muncke, pointing out that thousands of different chemicals can be used in these inks. Other substances that are in FDA-listed food contact materials as part of chemical formulations — or that can be released from those materials — include formaldehyde and a category of chemicals known as organotins that have been found in studies to have adverse hormonal effects. Again, because FDA grants approval for food contact materials on a use-by-use basis, the database of these substances doesn’t indicate for which products the FDA has okayed their use.

Environmental impacts

Some forms of packaging pose environmental hazards as well. Plastic bags (or parts thereof) can clog drains, become entangled with aquatic organisms or disrupt the digestive tracts of birds and other animals. Polystyrene — often used for take-out food and beverage containers — can similarly pose physical hazards for marine and aquatic life if it ends up in rivers or ocean environments. Such materials are slow to degrade and so can persist in the environment, including in landfills. Both plastic bags and polystyrene can be recycled for reuse but convenient recycling options are often not widely available.

Virtually any plastic packaging, whether a plastic water bottle or “clamshell” container will persist in the environment to some degree if not put into recycling. Large quantities of this long-lasting debris ends up being washed out to sea where its impacts are now well documented as creating physical and potential chemical hazards in the world’s oceans.

Meanwhile, PVC plastics can release dioxins and furans — both persistent carcinogens — if subjected to incomplete combustion as can happen in environmentally substandard landfills, particularly in places where garbage dumps are routinely burned to reduce volume as they often are in cities in Africa and Asia, for example. Other additives used in plastics — such as plasticizers, stabilizers and flame retardants — can also be released to the environment during disposal as has been documented innumerous studies conducted worldwide. Many of these chemicals, among them phthalates, halogenated flame retardants and organotins, have adverse effects.

The Knottiest Issue

Given the vast number of chemicals that may be used in food contact materials, what’s a consumer to do, particularly since so little information is readily available about these substances? “We don’t want to scare consumers,” says Muncke. At the same time, she says, consumers who want to play it safe can follow some basic practices. Don’t microwave plastic. Minimize purchase of processed food. In general, reduce home contact of food and beverages — including water — with plastic.

Meanwhile, at least one company is working to commercialize food packaging that is safe enough to eat. WikiPearl, an invention of Cambridge, Mass.–based WikiFoods and Harvard University bioengineering professor David Edwards, makes it possible to package ice cream, yogurt and cheese in edible shells durable enough to protect the food from contaminants and moisture loss. Inspired by fruit skins, the packaging is designed in part to reduce plastic packaging, says WikiFoods senior vice president for marketing and sales Eric Freedman. But exactly what the edible shell is made of is proprietary information.

Which points to perhaps the knottiest issue of all: How to provide the information transparency needed to fully inform the public about the health and environmental impacts of the materials they’re exposed to, while providing companies with information protection they need to succeed in a competitive market.

In its 2013 assessment of food additive chemicals — including those used in food packaging — the Pew Charitable Trusts foundthat the FDA’s method of assessing the safety of these materials is “fraught with systemic problems,” largely because it lacks adequate information. In the absence of labeling requirements and accessible health, safety and life cycle information, what consumers need to know about food contact materials will likely continue to be anything but transparent.

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