Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:34:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Follow the National Organic Standards Board Meeting in La Jolla, CA #NOSBhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/follow-the-national-organic-standards-board-meeting-in-la-jolla-ca-nosb/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/follow-the-national-organic-standards-board-meeting-in-la-jolla-ca-nosb/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:28:27 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16170 Last Updated: 4-28-15, 3:19 p.m. ET Join The Cornucopia Institute as we live tweet from the National Organic Standards Board meeting in La Jolla, California. We will be sharing the play by play with our Twitter followers under #NOSB or simply follow our stream. If you’re not already following us on Twitter, please do so here. Read The Cornucopia Institute’s written comments to the NOSB here. You can also stay updated throughout the meeting right

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CI_NOSBTwitterGeneric_1Last Updated: 4-28-15, 3:19 p.m. ET

Join The Cornucopia Institute as we live tweet from the National Organic Standards Board meeting in La Jolla, California. We will be sharing the play by play with our Twitter followers under #NOSB or simply follow our stream.

If you’re not already following us on Twitter, please do so here.

Read The Cornucopia Institute’s written comments to the NOSB here.

You can also stay updated throughout the meeting right here:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Elizabeth Wolf

3:19 p.m. ET: Elizabeth Wolf of The Cornucopia Institute calls on the NOSB to take a strong stand against nanotechnology. Notes that Cornucopia’s role as a watchdog is critical, and speaking truth to power. Draws parallels to watchdogs of the past that spoke out against use of sewage sludge and irradiation in organics, a fight fought 20 years ago.

2:43 p.m. ET: Mark Squire, a retailer, calls on the NOSB to keep GMOs out of organics, particularly in ingredients and additives – including the processing of the product’s ingredients.

2:35 p.m. ET: Pam Larry, California mom and organic consumer, tells the NOSB that they need to hold the line to keep organic integrity and trust for consumers.

2:34 p.m. ET: Melody Meyer of food distributor UNFI is critical that proactive steps are taken to keep GMOs out of organics. New form of genetic engineering, synthetic biology, must be precluded from organics.

2:22 p.m. ET: Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth tells that board that products made from synthetic biology – including mutagenesis computer generated DNA – are coming onto the market, and the NOSB needs to make a declaration against them. She also says the USDA needs to declare a full prohibition on nanotechnology.

2:07 p.m. ET: Cindy Elder of accredited certifier OCIA tells the NOSB that they have refused to certify hydroponic operations as there are no clear regulations. Hydroponics should not be eligible for organic certification. Also tells the board that the changes to Sunset are wrong.

12:52 p.m. ET: Hain Celestial representative opposes removal of non-organic lecithin (de-oiled) from the national list, as not all their products can use the organic version of lecithin de-oiled.

12:26 p.m. ET: Representative of maker of non-organic lecithin (de-oiled) opposes removal of material from National List. Her company, a subsidiary of DuPont, argues that new sources of the organic lecithin will not meet demand or perform properly. Cornucopia supports removal of this non-organic material from use in organics.

12:22 p.m. ET: Beth Unger of Organic Valley: We can’t use organic celery powder, must keep non-organic on the list.

12:13 p.m. ET: Alexis Randolph of certifier QAI reached out to clients soliciting comments, and did not receive too many comments to explain the necessity to keep materials on the list.

12:08 p.m. ET: Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA: Move seed purity discussion document forward. Organic gylceryin is ready to go, remove synthetic version.

Charlotte Vallaeys

11:53 a.m. ET: Charlotte Vallaeys of Consumers Reports/Union: All materials on the National List must be fully reviewed. Reject Whole Algal Flour, as an addition to the list. Only synthetic nutrients required by FDA to be in food should be allowed. Calls on board to differentiate between useful marketing tools (ingredients) and what is essential.

11:47 a.m. ET: First two presenters testify in favor of a new teat dip for infection control in dairy cattle, acidified sodium chlorite. The treatment appears promising. Cornucopia is nuetral at this time on adding it to the National List.

Monday, April 27, 2015

9:37 p.m. ET: Cornucopia states: Past recommendations by the NOSB have not taken into account the impact of chemical intensive agriculture from which colors are derived.

Real possibility that high levels of pesticide residues may exist in concentrated fruit or vegetable extracts, which are used to make natural colors.

8:41 p.m. ET: Cornucopia volunteer Sue Ostling says there are outstanding questions that need to be researched before organic aquaculture standards for land-based systems can be considered. Open-water organic aquaculture systems should be banned.

Sue Ostling
Keith Schildt
Cheryl Leutjen

8:38 p.m. ET: Keith Schildt for Cornucopia: Peracetic acid is an effective sanitizer with low toxicity and does not leave residues. Cornucopia supports relisting of Peracetic acid.

8:25 p.m. ET: Cheryl Leutjen for Cornucopia: Coated produce should be labeled, and the components of the coating listed.

Only ancillary substances either from organic sources or approved for organic use be allowed in non-synthetic waxes or shellac-based coatings.

8:21 p.m. ET: Cornucopia member Victoria Wexley questions the essentiality of the 2017 sunset material egg white lysozyme.

James Isaacs

8:06 p.m. ET: Dr. James Issacs, a vetrinarian and Cornucopia citizen lobbyist, tells the NOSB that copper and zinc sulfate, should not be allowed, in his personal opinion. Notes that Cornucopia is neutral on the materials.

7:52 p.m. ET: Elyse Batkis, a consumer and Cornucopia citizen lobbyist: Remove L-Malic acid. Bacteriophages need to be separated from the use of microorganisms, they pose unknown health programs.

7:45 p.m. ET: Bill Wolf of Wolf, DiMatteo & Associates, a consulting company for organic operations, says we shouldn’t think in terms of limiting the National List.

7:40 p.m. ET: Jim Gerritsen, Cornucopia policy advisor and OSGATA president states that Integrity demands that there be independence between the NOSB and USDA.

7:23 p.m. ET: Former NOSB board member Jay Feldman testifies that for this meeting, NOSB members need to make sure that all stakeholders are heard. Sunset is important, and sets a high bar for entry into Organic.

Anne Mossness

7:05 p.m. ET: Commercial fisherman Ann Mossness states openwater aquaculture netpens are incapable of confining fish, disease, and waste.

6:56 p.m. ET: Aimee Simpson, Consumers Union: 71% of consumers want no artificial substances in organics, according to their national polling data.

Requested the NOSB keep legal standards in mind. They don’t mention commercial availability as one of criteria for use of synthetics or artificial substances.

6:38 p.m. ET: Jackie Sleeper of certifier Oregon Tilth expresses concerns about contamination of organic farms by GMO crops and contamination of seedstock.

Dennis Holz
SteveSprinkel2 NOSBSpring2015
Steve Sprinkel
Phil McGrath
Abby Youngblood

6:21 p.m. ET: Judy Frankel, California author, organic consumer and grower of her own fresh veggies:
We live in a soup. Proof of this is the huge deadzone at the end of the Mississippi. Shares her concern that we are not doing a great job of protecting consumers from the creep of synthetic materials into organics.

6:09 p.m. ET: Cornucopia member Dennis Holz questions whether starch coated cotton seed could replace HCl delinted cotton seed for mechanical planting.

6:04 p.m. ET: Steve Sprinkel, former board chair of Cornucopia, organic farmer and organic restaurant owner: We need to listen to the words of Consumers Union and PCC on consumer concerns about organic. I see young farmers that skoff at organic certification. I ran to certification when I was in my 30’s. This is very concerning, these young farmers are on the cutting edge.

5:58 p.m. ET: Cornucopia member Kanta Masters testifies that ferric phosphate is not effective without the use of chelating agents that do not meet OFPA criteria.

5:34 p.m. ET: 5th generation Ventura County, California farmer and Cornucopia member Phil McGrath states copper products are not needed under proper cultural management

5:21 p.m. ET: Jo Ann Baumgartner of the Wild Farm Alliance says to remove copper sulfate from organic agriculture for wildlife health.

5:17 p.m. ET: Abby Youngblood of the National Organic Coalition expresses deep concerns over allowing nanotechnology in organics. Nano materials must be permanently prohibited.
We must also move to abandon synthetic and non-organic materials.

5:04 p.m. ET: Lisa Bunin of the Center for Food Safety recommends the NOSB go back to nanotechnolgy and seek a prohibition in organics.

3:25 p.m. ET: Urvashi Rangen of the Consumers Union: The organic label is out of line with what consumers expect, and has led Consumer’s Union/Reports to downgrade the label. Supportive of lawsuit on Sunset filed by 15 stakeholders (including Cornucopia).

3:20 p.m. ET: Steve Etka of NOC: Close commercial availability loophole created by 606. 606 materials should be reviewed using full OFPA criteria.

3:10 p.m. ET: Terry Shistar comments on hot topics including chlorine materials, copper, fermentation, aquaculture, excipients, and contaminated inputs.

3:05 p.m. ET: Curtis Bennett from Clarkson Soy Products calls on the NOSB to remove conventional lecithin de-oiled from use in organics. Indicates they have developed organic alternatives. This is how the sunset process was intended to work, driving innovation.

Cornucopia’s Linley Dixon, PhD
PCC’s Trudy Bialic

2:56 p.m. ET: Cornucopia’s Linley Dixon urges the NOSB to annotate copper materials to specific uses and work with the EPA to ban persistent herbicides.

2:53 p.m. ET: Trudy Bialic, of PCC Natural markets, calls for organic standards to catch up to consumer expectations on animal welfare (not pasturing animals).
Says organic brand may lose consumer trust, consumer attitudes are frequently belittled by some on the board.
When asked a question by NOSB member Calvin Walker on how to improve consumer confidence, says texturizers and animal standard failures have hurt consumer confidence.

2:35 p.m. ET: Organic winemaker Phil LaRocca says he has a hard time finding a source for organic yeast.

Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel

2:30 p.m. ET: Cornucopia Codirector Mark Kastel testifies that sunset materials deserve a thorough examination, not a cursory examination. Who owns the organic label. We all do, he says.

2:20 p.m. ET: Comment from Colehour Bondera asks how inerts’ interaction with active ingredients causes more powerful product and how that is evaluated.

2:05 p.m. ET: Representative Clive Davies from EPA shares information on their Safer Choice program.

1:50 p.m. ET: Inerts review has been underway since 2010. EPA has a Safer Choice list that is being explored for inerts work review.

1:46 p.m. ET:  NOP staff member Emily Brown Rosen updates on inerts, substances found in allowed pesticides that are not active ingredients. Inerts are known to have their own impacts.

1:14 p.m. ET:  NOP staff member Dr. Lisa Brines outlines the 200+ materials and several petitions up for review by the NOSB this year. See Cornucopia comments.

1:04 p.m. ET:  Richardson adds that she thinks, in the last year, the relationship between the National Organic Program and NOSB has improved.

12:59 p.m. ET:  NOSB chair Jean Richards urging all to seek common ground, notes lawsuits will be decided outside of the process. Calls on Cornucopia to withdraw recent letter calling for new management at NOSB.

12:50 p.m. ET:  Plan for an open docket, between meetings for ongoing public input, still on hold.

12:43 p.m. ET:  Biodegradable biobased mulch film is allowed if 1) Compostable 2) Biodegradable 3) Biobased
Certifiers must verify that all biomulch is biobased, not synthetic.

12:42 p.m. ET:  NOP’s Miles McEvoy says “engineered nanomaterials” are prohibited in organic production…yet recent policy memo allows their use to be petitioned on a case by case basis.

12:33 p.m. ET:  An Aquaculture Task Force will be assigned to survey current organic aquaculture production practices and their alignment with OFPA provisions. This task force will report to the NOSB by the Spring of 2016.

12:20 p.m. ET:  Miles McEvoy describes the strategic plan that has just been released and is online here.

NOSB Factoid: The budget for the NOSB is $190K. There are four new openings on the NOSB, including two farmer slots. Deadline May 15.

12:13 p.m. ET:  Miles McEvoy continues his remarks and indicates that organic aquaculture and pet food standards are expected this summer.

12:11 p.m. ET:  The organic animal welfare standards are being readied for release.

12:09 p.m. ET:  Miles McEvoy, in his opening remarks at the NOSB meeting, announces that the long awaited origin of livestock rules has been released today.

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Sparks Fly on Day One of NOSB Meeting in San Diego – Reporthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/sparks-fly-on-day-one-of-nosb-meeting-in-san-diego-report/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/sparks-fly-on-day-one-of-nosb-meeting-in-san-diego-report/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:00:20 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16264 Miles McEvoy Source: USDA Instead of looking at the legal and ethical concerns articulated by The Cornucopia Institute’s call on the Obama/Vilsack administration for a change of leadership at the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), numerous speakers yesterday, most of them financially benefiting from the status quo in Washington, praised Miles McEvoy, the current head of the NOP. The praise for the USDA’s organic program and leadership was far from universal as a number of

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Miles McEvoy
Source: USDA

Instead of looking at the legal and ethical concerns articulated by The Cornucopia Institute’s call on the Obama/Vilsack administration for a change of leadership at the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), numerous speakers yesterday, most of them financially benefiting from the status quo in Washington, praised Miles McEvoy, the current head of the NOP.

The praise for the USDA’s organic program and leadership was far from universal as a number of working farmers, public interest groups and consumers expressed grave reservations in how the program is undercutting the authority of the NOSB and undermining the integrity and reputation of organics.

A Question of Fairness

The meeting usually opens with reports from the head of the NOP (Mr. McEvoy) and a brief reading/opening statement by the chair of the NOSB (Jean Richardson).

The most newsworthy aspect of the NOP report was the release, yesterday, of the long-awaited draft “origin of livestock rule.” Mr. McEvoy identified this as a top priority in 2010. Many of us believe that the USDA has historically misread the regulations allowing conventional cattle, mostly on factory dairy farms, to be brought into organic operations. Factory farms have operated with a competitive advantage. Cornucopia will be out soon with an analysis and there will be a 90-day opportunity for public comment.

Although Dr. Richardson, in her opening remarks, specifically praised Cornucopia’s research work she was critical of our organization’s call to remove current leadership at the NOP.

We find it troublesome that the current chair would choose to politicize her position, which should be one of neutrality. The NOSB is split, as is the organic community/industry, on whether the actions of the current NOP represent violations of the intent of Congress in terms of running the program and in terms of the ethics and performance of its current management.

Basing Organic Decision-Making on Science — Conflicts of Interest

My opening remarks focused on the “Organic Regulatory Theater” with around 200 different synthetic and non-organic materials needing to be reviewed along with some other policy issues. It has not been humanly possible for this volunteer board and stakeholder groups, like Cornucopia, to perform proper, in-depth analysis of these substances.

One of the problems is we lack current Technical Reviews. The USDA has either decided they aren’t needed (Congress gave this power to the NOSB, not the USDA staff), or they are woefully late, and in some cases they’ve contracted with organizations that have an appearance of a conflict of interest (and they have allowed the scientists performing the analysis to remain anonymous).

I blasted the secrecy and the conflicts of interest and used as an example The Organic Center, which is part of the Organic Trade Association. I said it was “the fox guarding the organic henhouse.”

NOSB Chair Richardson later read, verbatim, an email from an OTA staff person claiming my testimony was inaccurate with The Organic Center/OTA no longer doing technical reviews and trying to distance themselves from responsibility, inferring that was old history and the OTA had nothing to do with the formation of TOC.

Although we have verified that they are no longer doing reviews, the TOC has done reviews as recently as the last 2-3 years and, like much of what is secretive at the NOP, the current list of contractors was never publicly updated. In its last technical review, The Organic Center/OTA did disclose the identity of the author of their studies (an individual with a PhD in agricultural economics rather than the biological sciences that would perhaps better qualify him for such a position).

Furthermore, the OTA had not just recently become involved with The Organic Center as their spin, read by Dr. Richardson, inferred. In reality, OTA leadership founded the TOC as a nonprofit arm so they could raise money for organic research. They’ve always had interrelated Board of Directors and, currently, the OTA appoints the board of TOC and it is housed in the OTA’s offices.

But the OTA didn’t say that, and Dr. Richardson was unwilling to give us the same opportunity for a brief rebuttal as she gave the powerful industry lobby group.  We take great exception when our organization, and its 10,000 members (working organic farmers being our primary constituency), are treated as second class citizens at a meeting sponsored by the federal government.

We hope Dr. Richardson will reconsider giving us equal time and read our brief statement to the board and audience today.

It should be noted that at least one more “nonprofit,” that gets the vast majority of their funding from corporate agribusiness and government, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), that is also doing technical reviews for the NOSB, praised Mr. McEvoy in testimony —the government official who is responsible for underwriting part of their paychecks.

There are more conflicts of interest in this process than Carter’s got pills.

Certifiers Acting as Industry Trade Groups Rather than Independent Arbiters

We have been concerned for some time about the propriety of the accredited certifying organizations, who are acting as agents of the federal government, lobbying the NOSB regarding materials or practices. A number of them have directly rejected our concerns.

It has the appearance of a conflict of interest when certifiers represent the interest of their paying clients. The claim that they are just doing survey work doesn’t negate the concerns.

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether 200 or 2,000 farmers or handlers are using a particular synthetic material. This is not a popularity contest. The law requires the NOSB to judge synthetic materials by three criteria: safety to the environment, safety in terms of human health and the essentiality/necessity of the products. They need to meet all three.

Just because the clients of the certifier want a product (maybe it’s the cheapest alternative) doesn’t mean it passes muster for use in organics. Furthermore, these are not scientific surveys. There might be an equal or greater number of farmers/handlers that have never used the product or find it unnecessary because of their superior management skill and commitment to organic philosophy — like California farmer Phil McGrath testifying on behalf of The Cornucopia Institute.

Who’s a farmer?

Just like some of the vertically integrated industrial livestock companies that sit on the phony-baloney “Farmer Advisory Council” at the OTA and touted in their testimony yesterday (this would be like General Motors having their own hand-picked worker council representatives and calling it a “union”), at least one individual testified in front of the board for the continued use of synthetic methionine and represented himself as a “Farmer.”

What does an organic farm look like? And what does it mean to be a farmer? Here is a photo of the operation owned by the Kreher family.

KreherFacility

This is just one of the facilities operated by this split operation (organic and conventional). They are currently under investigation by the USDA after a formal legal complaint was filed by The Cornucopia Institute, along with 13 other “factory farms,” that aerial photography indicated were not allowing their chickens and cattle legal access to the outdoors for pasture:

http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-factory-farm-investigation/

Subterfuge

Consultants to corporate agribusiness continued to testify in front of the NOSB without being asked to disclose their clients/who they are working for.

One such consultant stated he used to serve on boards in Washington with Mr. McEvoy, and denigrated Cornucopia by saying we were encouraging the NOSB to vote against “all” materials. And then he said he was going to be canceling his Cornucopia Institute membership in making no further financial contributions.

Well, as we like to say, “You are welcome to your own opinion but you are not welcome to your own facts.”

This gentleman has never been a member of The Cornucopia Institute and it’s ironic that he was testifying in favor of retaining copper and sulfur (to materials that can cause pollution even though they are naturally-based) as organic compliant crop materials. Both of these materials are supported by The Cornucopia Institute to be retained on the National List (with restrictions to protect the environment).

Is Hydroponics Organic?

Again, the question is, what does an organic farm look like? Some of the hydroponic installations are now investing tens of millions of dollars in giant industrial complexes, in urban areas, growing food and water and a nutrient solution, under artificial lighting, and suggesting they have the same nutritional value as food grown in healthy organic soil with a complex microbiota that converts organic matter in the soil into vitamins, antioxidants and other diverse, immune-enhancing and flavorful compounds.

HydroponicFarm

hydroponicfarm2

This is somewhat controversial because one of the issues the NOP is charged with is disrespecting the will of the NOSB and unilaterally allowing hydroponic farms to proliferate.

More news from the organic circus in San Diego later. In the interim, please see updates, in real-time, at www.cornucopia.org or on Cornucopia’s Twitter feed which you can sign up for on our website.

Mark A. Kastel
Codirector
The Cornucopia Institute

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The Existential Crisis Facing GMOs – They Don’t Work and We Don’t Want Themhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/the-existential-crisis-facing-gmos-they-dont-work-and-we-dont-want-them/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/the-existential-crisis-facing-gmos-they-dont-work-and-we-dont-want-them/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:24:22 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16172 Ecologist by Colin Todhunter Source: Vida Dimovska The GMO industry has legitimised itself via a vast network of lobbyists and the assiduous capture of the politicians, regulators and scientists that should be holding it to account, writes Colin Todhunter. But as the failure of the GM revolution and its disastrous impacts become ever more evident, the industry’s legitimacy is fast eroding away. Author of ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth‘ Steven Druker recently talked of how back in

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Ecologist
by Colin Todhunter

Source: Vida Dimovska

The GMO industry has legitimised itself via a vast network of lobbyists and the assiduous capture of the politicians, regulators and scientists that should be holding it to account, writes Colin Todhunter. But as the failure of the GM revolution and its disastrous impacts become ever more evident, the industry’s legitimacy is fast eroding away.

Author of ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth‘ Steven Druker recently talked of how back in the 1970s a group of molecular biologists formed part of a scientific elite that sought to allay fears about genetic engineering by putting a positive spin on it.

At the same time, critics of this emerging technology were increasingly depicted as being little more than non-scientists who expressed ignorant but well-meaning concerns about science and genetic engineering.

This continues today, but the attacks on critics are becoming more vicious. Former British Environment Minister Owen Paterson recently attacked critics of GMOs with a scathing speech that described them as a self-serving, elitist “green blob” that was condemning“billions” to misery.

Professor Anthony Trewavas has continued this theme by stating:

“Greenpeace notably decides its opinions must prevail regardless of others, so it arrogates to itself the right to tear up and destroy things it doesn’t like. That is absolutely typical of people who are unable to convince others by debate and discussion and in the last century such attitudes, amplified obviously, ended up killing people that others did not like. But the same personality type – the authoritarian, ‘do as I tell you’, was at the root of it all. Such groups therefore sit uneasily with countries that are democracies.”

According to this, critics of GMOs possess authoritarian personality types, are ignorant of science and unable to convince people of their arguments and thus resort to violence.

All voices against GMOs are ‘biased’

Part of the pro-GMO narrative also involves a good deal of glib talk about democracy. In an open letter to me, Anthony Trewavas says:

“It would be nice if you could say you are a democrat and believe that argument is better than destruction but argument that deals with all the facts and does not select out of those to construct a misleading programme.

“Misleading selection of limited information is causing considerable problems in various parts of the world that leads some into very violent behaviour, particularly in religious belief. I am sure you agree that this is not a good way forward … Whatever their[farmers’] choice is … they must be allowed to make that decision … That is the nature of every democracy that I hope all will finally live under?”

Pro-GMO scientists have every right to speak on psychology, politics and democracy. However, let a non-scientist criticise GMOs and they are accused of self-serving elitism or ignorance. Indeed, let even a scientist produce scientific evidence that runs counter to the industry-led science and he or she is smeared and attacked.

Let a respected academically qualified political scientist, trade policy analyst or social scientist whose views are in some way critical of GMOs and the corporations promoting them express a coherent viewpoint supported by evidence from their specific discipline, and they are attacked for being little more than ideologues with an agenda, or their evidence or sources are described as ‘biased’.

Any analysis of the role of the IMF, World Bank and WTO and their part in restructuring agriculture in poor nations or devising policies to favour Western agribusiness is suddenly to be side lined in favour of a narrow focus on ‘science’, which the masses and ideologues could not possibly comprehend.

By implication, they should therefore defer to (pro-GMO) scientists for the necessary information.

‘Science’, ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ are what we say they are

The pro-GMO lobby talks about choice, democracy and the alleged violence of certain environmental groups – but says nothing about the structural violence waged on rural communities resulting from IMF / World Bank strings-attached loans, the undermining of global food security as a result of Wall Street commodity and land speculators, the crushing effects of trade rules on poorer regions or the devastating impacts of GMOs in regions like South America.

To discuss such things is political and thus ‘ideological’ and is therefore not up for discussion it seems.

Much easier to try to focus on ‘the science’ and simply mouth platitudes about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of choice’ while saying nothing about how both been captured or debased by powerful interests, including agribusiness.

By attempting not to appear to be ideological or political, such people are attempting to depoliticise and thus disguise the highly political status quo whereby powerful corporations (and some bogus notion of a ‘free market’) are left unchallenged to shape agriculture as they see fit, says Kevin Carson of Center for a Stateless Society:

“Anyone who’s seen the recent virally circulated Venn diagrams of the personnel overlap between Monsanto and USDA personnel, or Pfizer and FDA, will immediately know what I’m talking about … A model of capitalism in which the commanding heights of the economy are an interlocking directorate of large corporations and government agencies, a major share of the total operating costs of the dominant firms are socialized (and profits privatized, of course), and ‘intellectual property’ protectionism and other regulatory cartels allow bureaucratic corporate dinosaurs … to operate profitably without fear of competition.”

The ‘free market’ as an engine of hunger and poverty

If certain politicians or scientists and the companies they support really do want to ‘feed the world’ and are concerned with poverty and hunger, they should forget about GMOs and focus their attention elsewhere: not least on how the ‘free market’ system that they cherish so much causes hunger and poverty – whether for example through food commodity speculation by powerful banking interests or a US foreign policy that has for decades used agriculture to trap nations into subservience.

Rather than have the public focus on such things, such people try to mislead and divert attention away from these things with puerile notions of authoritarian personality types who reject some illusory notion of open debate, free choice and democracy.

But even with this power and political influence at its disposal, the GMO agritech industry is far from being a success. Much of its profits actually derive from failure: for example, Andrew Kimbrell notes that after having chosen to ignore science, the industry’s failing inputs are now to be replaced with more destined-to-fail and ever-stronger poisonous inputs.

The legacy of poisoned environments and ecological devastation is for someone else to deal with. In his book, Steven Druker has shown that from very early on the US government has colluded with the GMO agritech sector to set a ‘technical fix-failure-technical fix‘ merry-go-round in motion.

This system is designed to stumble from one crisis to the next, all the while hiding behind the banners of ‘innovation’ or ‘research and development’. But it’s all good business. And that’s all that really matters to the industry.

If you’re going to tell a lie, make sure it’s a whopper!

There’s always good PR ground to be made from blaming critics for being ‘anti-science’, and money to be made from a continuous state of crisis management (‘innovation’ and bombarding farmers with a never-ending stream of new technologies and inputs). Part of the great con-trick is that it attempts to pass off its endless crises and failures as brilliant successes.

For many promoters of the GMO cause, it is a case of not even wanting to understand alternative approaches or the devastating impacts of GMOs when their lavish salary or consultancy fees depend on them not wanting to understand any of it.

When it comes to labelling unsafe and untested GM food in the US, the pro-GMO lobby grasps at straws by saying too much information confuses the public or sends out the wrong message.

When it says sound science should underpin the GMO issue, it does everything it can to circumvent any science that threatens its interests.

When it says its critics have a political agenda, it side lines debates on how it hijacks international and national policy making bodies and regulatory agencies.

When it talks about elite, affluent environmentalists robbing food from the bellies of the poor, its private companies are owned by people who form part of a privileged class that seek to turn their vested interests into policy proscriptions for the rest of us.

The fraudulent ‘concensus’ is breaking down

The pro-GMO lobby engages in the fraudulent notion that it knows what is best for humanity. Co-opting public institutions and using science as an ideology, it indulges in an arrogant form of exceptionalism.

The world does not need GMO food or crops, especially those which have not been proven safe or whose benefits are questionable to say the least. There are alternative ways to boost food production if or when there is a need to. There are other (existing) ways to tackle the impacts of volatile climates.

However, the alternatives are being squeezed out as big agritech and its captured policy / regulatory bodies place emphasis on proprietary products, not least GMOs and chemical inputs.

The pro-GMO lobby has a crisis of legitimation. No amount of twisted truths or altered genes, expensive PR or attacks on its critics can disguise this.

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There’s a Raging Debate Over Whether These Types of Lettuce and Tomato Are Really Organichttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/theres-a-raging-debate-over-whether-these-types-of-lettuce-and-tomato-are-really-organic/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/theres-a-raging-debate-over-whether-these-types-of-lettuce-and-tomato-are-really-organic/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 11:23:59 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16161 Washington Post by Peter Whoriskey Source: Scott Miller Consumers associate the word “organic” with healthy and safe, and that sounds simple enough. But exactly what kind of food should get the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “organic” label has been the subject of repeated controversies, and some of the fiercest divisions have opened recently over the eerily beautiful, scar-free produce that is grown in controlled water-based environments – that is, with the roots of the plants resting

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Washington Post
by Peter Whoriskey

Source: Scott Miller

Consumers associate the word “organic” with healthy and safe, and that sounds simple enough.

But exactly what kind of food should get the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “organic” label has been the subject of repeated controversies, and some of the fiercest divisions have opened recently over the eerily beautiful, scar-free produce that is grown in controlled water-based environments – that is, with the roots of the plants resting in covered water tanks rather than soil.

These methods, valued for their efficiency and reliability, have produced sometimes flawless lettuce and tomatoes that are sold in supermarkets.

But critics say that because these so-called aquaponic and hydroponic systems depend entirely on what humans put into the water, the produce they generate offers less nutritional value than the produce generated by plants grown in rich soil.

“Those heads of lettuce that are grown indoors? Yes, they’re beautiful. But its just a green leaf with water in it,” said Jeff Moyer, long-time farm director of the Rodale Institute, an organic research outfit. “They can’t possibly have the vitamins and minerals that lettuce grown in soil would have.”

So far, despite the objections of its organic advisory board, the USDA has decided that the produce generated by such systems is worthy of the valuable organic label, as long as the other organic guidelines are followed. The designation allows the farmers to charge a premium of as much as 30 percent or more.

The debate over aquaponics and hydroponics is one front in much broader war over what may be sold as “organic.”

On Friday, the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit group representing some farmers and other interests, called for the resignation of the chief of the USDA’s National Organic Program, citing the aquaponics decision and other issues. The focus of Cornucopia’s discontent is the way in which the USDA has, in their view, ignored the recommendations of the organic advisory board, a 15-member panel created by Congress to help shape the organic rules. Board members and USDA officials have also differed on an array of topics including how animals should be treated and what kinds of synthetic materials may be added to organic products.

The contest has often split the organic world into multiples camps, sometimes pitting smaller outfits against larger, more corporate entities. “Although the USDA ignored some of the [board] recommendations in the past, until recently they never went 180 degrees in the opposite direction in deference to the preferences of powerful corporate interests,” Kevin Engelbert, a former board member from Nichols, New York said in a statement.

A spokesman for the USDA noted that the government is convening a special task force to reconsider the water-based systems. “Emerging technologies in hydroponic and aquaponic production have prompted [the USDA] to seek the most current information and opinions of industry experts,” the department said.

Hydroponics, or growing plants in a nutrient solution root medium, is a growing area of commercial food production, with more than $500 million in annual revenues, with the best-sellers being tomatoes and lettuce, according to market analysis by IBISWorld. Since 2002, a few dozen such operations have obtained the USDA organic certification, according to government figures.

Defenders of the aquaponics contend that  the produce they generate is nutritionally equivalent and moreover, cleaner.

Al Eisler, owner of an aquaponic farm in Cocoa, Florida grows lettuce, spices and tomatoes in water tanks inhabited by tilapia. The only things he adds to the water, he says, are organic fish food and, occasionally, some minerals.

The plants mainly feed off of the wastes generated by the fish.

“It’s a natural cycle,” Eisler said. “It’s what happens in rivers and ponds.”

Besides, he said, he has an incentive not to cheat by adding chemicals, as some other farmers may.

“The fish don’t lie – if we cheat, they die,” he said. “That’s our motto.”


Peter Whoriskey is a staff writer for The Washington Post handling investigations of financial and economic topics. You can email him at peter.whoriskey@washpost.com

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Coalition Challenges Expansion of Hazardous Herbicidehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/coalition-challenges-expansion-of-hazardous-herbicide/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/coalition-challenges-expansion-of-hazardous-herbicide/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:00:49 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16165 PAN North America Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, ptowers@panna.org, 916-216-1082 Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436 Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359 Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, 847-567-4052 Source: Lite-Trac EPA allows nine additional states to use toxic 2,4-D on GE corn and soy crops San Francisco, CA – A coalition of conservation, food safety and public health groups filed a motion today (April 20, 2015) challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s decision to

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PAN North America
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, ptowers@panna.org, 916-216-1082
Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436
Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359
Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, 847-567-4052

Source: Lite-Trac

EPA allows nine additional states to use toxic 2,4-D on GE corn and soy crops

San Francisco, CA – A coalition of conservation, food safety and public health groups filed a motion today (April 20, 2015) challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s decision to expand the use of “Enlist Duo” on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy crops to nine additional states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety filed the motion in the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, the National Family Farm Coalition and Pesticide Action Network North America. This motion builds on the coalition’s earlier challenge of Enlist Duo, which already includes six Midwestern states where EPA previously approved the herbicide’s use on GE corn and soy crops.

The groups are challenging EPA’s decision to allow the use of Enlist Duo in 15 Midwestern states because of the serious impacts the powerful new herbicide cocktail, which combines glyphosate and 2,4-D, will have on farmworkers, neighboring farms, and ground and surface water, as well as endangered species. For instance, 2,4-D has been linked to serious illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and reproductive problems. EPA’s analyses also plainly demonstrate that the herbicide may affect endangered species like the whooping crane, Louisiana black bear and Indiana bat through consumption of prey contaminated with the toxic chemical.

“Big chemical is profiting by dumping more and more toxins in our air, water and bodies — and killing our endangered wildlife,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff.  “Instead of being an environmental watchdog, EPA is playing lapdog and allowing this deadly herbicide to be sprayed on millions of acres without adequate impact assessment. We filed our motion so we can finally stop the cycle of more and more pesticides with less and less oversight.”

“Our federal regulators have again unlawfully bowed to the chemical industry, rather than protect our communities, land and farms,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety senior attorney, counsel in the case. “We will continue to defend them vigorously.”

“In expanding its approval for this super-toxic chemical cocktail, EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water, and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA has left us with no choice but to go to court.”

“Rural communities rely on EPA to take its job seriously. But in approving Dow’s proposed use of 2,4-D, EPA has failed to protect their health, their vulnerable crops and their livelihoods,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America.  “Communities across the Midwest are furious, knowing that they now face unprecedented levels of 2,4-D drift each summer.”

EPA approved Enlist Duo to address the epidemic of glyphosate-resistant superweeds that now infest tens of millions of acres of U.S. farmland as a result of overuse of glyphosate on crops genetically engineered to resist the herbicide’s effects. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp and was recently designated a probable carcinogen. Dow Chemical has introduced 2,4-D resistant crops as a quick fix to the problem, allowing farmers to douse their fields with both 2,4-D and glyphosate to kill resistant weeds.

Independent and USDA scientists, however, predict that the Enlist Duo “crop system” will only foster resistance to 2,4-D in addition to glyphosate, continuing the GE crop pesticide treadmill.

States that are now approved to use Enlist Duo on GE corn and soy crops:

  • Arkansas – NEW
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas – NEW
  • Louisiana – NEW
  • Minnesota – NEW
  • Missouri – NEW
  • Mississippi – NEW
  • Nebraska – NEW
  • North Dakota – NEW
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma – NEW
  • South Dakota
  • Wisconsin

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Prominent Government Watchdog Asks Obama Administration to Remove Organic Leadership at USDAhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/prominent-government-watchdog-asks-obama-administration-to-remove-organic-leadership-at-usda/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/prominent-government-watchdog-asks-obama-administration-to-remove-organic-leadership-at-usda/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:05:59 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16149 National Organic Program Divisive and in Crisis NOP Deputy Director Miles McEvoy tours a hydroponic farm Source: USDA The nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, sent a letter today to the White House, and to USDA Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, requesting a change in leadership at the regulator’s National Organic Program (NOP).  A radical shift in the unique public-private governance in the organic sector, established by Congress in 1990, has created deep fissures

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National Organic Program Divisive and in Crisis

NOP Deputy Director Miles McEvoy
tours a hydroponic farm
Source: USDA

The nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, sent a letter today to the White House, and to USDA Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, requesting a change in leadership at the regulator’s National Organic Program (NOP).  A radical shift in the unique public-private governance in the organic sector, established by Congress in 1990, has created deep fissures within the organic community and, more recently, resulted in 15 organic stakeholders, including Cornucopia, suing the USDA.

Previous administrations faced plenty of criticism from organic advocates.  However, during the Clinton and Bush years, USDA officials were universally viewed as respecting the purview of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).  This 15-member, multi-stakeholder body was established by Congress to review all synthetic/non-organic ingredients and materials used in organic farming and food production.  Congress also mandated that the USDA Secretary seek the counsel of the NOSB on all aspects of implementing the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).

“Although the USDA ignored some of the NOSB recommendations in the past, until recently they never went 180 degrees in the opposite direction in deference to the preferences of powerful corporate interests,” said Kevin Engelbert, a former NOSB member from Nichols, New York.  “And they never reversed the 23-year tradition of allowing the NOSB the autonomy to create their own procedure manual, set their own agenda and create their own workplan.”

cornucopia logo125The Cornucopia Institute, established in 2004, with 10,000 members, is thought to represent more certified organic farmers than any other organization in the nation.  Mr. Engelbert and his family were the first certified organic dairy farmers in the United States.

In 2009, President Obama and Mr. Vilsack were universally praised for their choice of appointing Miles McEvoy, a former organic official with the state of Washington, to lead the NOP.  Yet, after an extended honeymoon, public sentiment has taken a decisive turn toward disappointment and controversy in recent years, brought to a head by several unilateral decisions made by the USDA without collaborating, as had been the custom, with the NOSB.

Although many organic industry observers were already becoming disillusioned with the approach during the Obama/Vilsack administration, Mr. McEvoy threw gasoline on the fire, in the fall of 2013, when he unilaterally reversed the “Sunset” procedure. Mandated by Congress, this procedure required the NOSB to review every synthetic material/ingredient approved for use in organics every five years.

Dr. Barry Flamm, a conservation expert and former chairman of the NOSB later lamented, “I thought we had improved the Sunset process during my tenure on the Board.  Besides taking the teeth out of the Sunset provisions, the reversal is a real affront to all of us who believed in the public governance process that Congress built into the organic law.”

Under the old procedure, synthetics were reviewed every five years and then sunsetted off the National List unless voted to be relisted if appropriate. Under the new USDA procedures, these materials will instead stay on the list in perpetuity unless the NOSB takes action to remove them (and in a complete reversal, the removal of a material will require a two-thirds super-majority to remove a material).

Although the change in the Sunset provisions, bypassing the NOSB, was supported by many of the corporate agribusinesses that have invested in organics, by a number of the major certifiers who oversee their operations, and by industry lobbyists, it was universally viewed as a stick in the eye by farmers, consumers and public interest groups that have been able to collaborate on the process in the past.

In addition to “gutting the Sunset procedure,” as The Cornucopia Institute referred to it, a diverse subset of organic stakeholders have also expressed grave concern about several other positions the USDA has taken in direct conflict with the direction of the NOSB.  These include:

Nanotechnology
In 2010, the NOSB made clear, in a resolution, that inadequate science currently existed enabling it to conclude that food, or food packaging, manufactured through nanotechnology, was safe for human consumption or appropriate for inclusion in certified organic food products.  They recommended a more thorough examination and asked the USDA for technical assistance to conduct a more thorough examination, including convening a symposium on the subject. Instead, five years later the NOP unilaterally decided against any moratorium on organic food containing nanoparticles and instead ruled to allow them to be petitioned for use on a case-by-case basis, like any other synthetic or non-organic substance.

Hydroponics
Also in 2010, the NOSB clearly stated that U.S. organic law required organic plants to be grown in soil with federal regulations focusing on enhancing soil fertility, thus positively impacting the nutritional content of organic food. Growing plants in water, or air, using a narrow mixture of natural and synthetic nutrients, in the opinion of the Board, does not meet the letter or spirit of OFPA.  However, the NOP, and some major U.S. certifiers, are allowing giant, multimillion-dollar installations to grow plants indoors, under artificial lighting, and labeling the products organic without even identifying their origin as hydroponic.

Aquaculture
At the bequest of economically powerful agribusiness lobbyists, the USDA has charged ahead pushing the NOSB to approve a myriad of synthetic inputs, without even having in place a regulatory framework for how organic aquaculture would be managed.  Many advocacy groups have challenged whether or not open net fish farming in the oceans could be done without environmental degradation.

Organic Regulatory Theater
At the next NOSB meeting, beginning April 27, the volunteer panel faces the unrealistic task of carefully reviewing approximately 200 synthetics and materials that will Sunset in 2016 and 2017, in addition to a number of broader policy issues.  In the past when the workload has exceeded the NOSB’s capacity, the USDA has scheduled a third meeting during the year and/or added extra days to NOSB gatherings.  This has not happened despite this year’s workload grossly exceeding what the NOSB, and oversight groups like The Cornucopia Institute, can realistically examine.

Enforcement
When Miles McEvoy took over as staff director of the NOP, the new Deputy Administrator publicly stated that the organic industry was now entering “the age of enforcement.”  Yet major fraud investigations have languished and some perpetrators have even received favorable treatment and anonymity during his tenure.  “We have giant factory farms, like Shamrock Dairy in Arizona, which the USDA has found to have violated the law, still operating more than six years after legal complaints were originally filed,” said Mark A. Kastel, the Institute’s Codirector. “If it weren’t for the work of The Cornucopia Institute, this ‘pending’ enforcement action would still be secret.”

Despite the potential deterrent effect, the USDA has systematically refused to publicize the full background, nature of violations, and names of any companies or farms under investigation – even after these entities were found to have broken the law and were fined or otherwise penalized.

In what appears to be a serious ethical lapse, at a recent USDA training for accredited organic certifiers, Mr. McEvoy appeared to coach attendees on damage control tactics concerning organic livestock factory farms that have been the target of recent outside investigations and accused of violating organic law.  The take-away message by certification officials from what Mr. McEvoy said was that industry watchdogs were “bashing your operations.” [emphasis added]

“Since the NOP is responsible for not only investigating the alleged improprieties at these factory farms, but also overseeing the performance of the certifiers that inspect those operations, the apparent bias is extremely troubling,” added Kastel.

This is not the first time The Cornucopia Institute has called upon the USDA Secretary to change management at the NOP for what appears to be inappropriate favoritism and collaboration with the corporate sector.

Cornucopia, in 2009, collaborated with a Washington Post investigation exposing a sweetheart deal between a powerful industry lobbyist and Dr. Barbara Robinson, then head of the USDA’s organic program.  She allegedly illegally approved materials for use in organics, overruling her staff and bypassing the NOSB.  Cornucopia subsequently called upon both President Obama and USDA Secretary Vilsack to remove Dr. Robinson, which ultimately occurred later that year.

“For those of us who were practicing organic agriculture prior to Congress authorizing the USDA to oversee this industry, the behavior of current management at the NOP is a big disappointment,” said Helen Kees, Cornucopia’s Board President and an organic beef and vegetable producer from Wisconsin.  “The authority of the NOSB has been undermined, and it doesn’t really matter whether Miles McEvoy is the chief architect or just willingly carrying out orders.  The organic community needs an independent voice that can be universally respected to head this important regulatory body,” Kees asserted.

MORE:

In the past, the process by which the NOSB operated was developed by the Board itself, in collaboration with organic stakeholders, after being officially noticed in the Federal Register.

“The Policy Procedure Manual (PPM) was developed by the Board, after extensive public input, and approved by the USDA during the Bush administration,” according to former NOSB Chairman Dr. Flamm.

During his five years on the NOSB, Dr. Flamm also served for four years as the chairman of the Policy Subcommittee, which developed the NOSB’s PPM.

“You don’t need to take The Cornucopia Institute’s word alone in supporting the thesis that the USDA has overstepped their legal authority and undermined the unique process Congress set up to assure organic stakeholders that corporations would not wield undue influence in promulgating organic law,” Cornucopia’s Kastel added.

Last year, in a blunt letter, the two primary authors of the enabling legislation, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, Representative Peter DeFazio and the Senate’s longest-serving member, Patrick Leahy, both clearly expressed that, in their unique position to judge, the edict reversing the Sunset procedures clearly violated the will of Congress.

The two congressional leaders were echoed,  in another letter to Secretary Vilsack, by three prominent past chairman of the NOSB: James Riddle, founder of Independent Organic Inspectors Association; Jeff Moyer, a longtime organic farming educator/leader with the Rodale Institute; and Dr. Barry Flamm, a natural resource and environmental consultant, the first certified organic cherry producer in Montana, and board secretary of The Cornucopia Institute.

More Organic Regulatory Theater
Since the NOSB was designed to have broad industry representation, and is not a scientific panel, Congress gave the body the authority to engage scientific experts to do Technical Reviews of synthetics and other materials up for consideration. This part of the law has never been respected. Instead, the USDA has hand-picked the contractors. In the earlier history of the organic program, they chose agribusiness executives and consultants to review materials petitioned by corporate agribusiness. This was a clear conflict of interest, thoroughly outlined in Cornucopia’s white paper, The Organic Watergate.

Currently, the USDA is contracting nonprofit organizations funded by corporate agribusiness to conduct the materials reviews. In one case, the nonprofit wing of the powerful industry lobby group, the Organic Trade Association, is preparing Technical Reviews for the NOSB.

“This is a clear conflict of interest and the proverbial fox watching the organic chicken coop,” stated Cornucopia’s Kastel.  “A further cloak of secrecy the USDA has donned, regarding the conflicts exposed in The Organic Watergate report, is that the agency is now refusing to disclose the names of the scientists writing the Technical Reviews for this public body —this makes critiquing potential conflicts of interest impossible.”

Along with the nearly insurmountable workload imposed on the NOSB by the USDA, the agency has refused to spend adequate dollars to pay for Technical Reviews the NOSB has requested.  Instead, NOP officials are touring the country in what some have charged is an expensive public relations campaign selling organics. “This leaves the NOSB ill-equipped to rigorously review many of the synthetic and non-organic materials that are up for review and that were not properly scrutinized when they were added to the National List in the first place,” stated Kastel.

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Restoring Our Soils by Learning from Historyhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/restoring-our-soils-by-learning-from-history/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/restoring-our-soils-by-learning-from-history/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 21:25:49 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16144 AgriCultures Network by Roland Bunch Source: NRCS Most of our ideas about soils ignore the millions of years before mankind started farming. But what happened during the 99.9% of a soil’s history contains very important lessons. So let us celebrate the International Year of Soils by looking at what that history can tell us – and build on those lessons for the future. In the tropical world, fallowing kept farmers’ soils fertile for thousands of

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AgriCultures Network
by Roland Bunch

Source: NRCS

Most of our ideas about soils ignore the millions of years before mankind started farming. But what happened during the 99.9% of a soil’s history contains very important lessons. So let us celebrate the International Year of Soils by looking at what that history can tell us – and build on those lessons for the future.

In the tropical world, fallowing kept farmers’ soils fertile for thousands of years by providing 70 to 95% of their soil organic matter. But today, since most smallholder farmers possess less than 2 hectares of land, in a large part because of population growth, fallowing is in its death throes. As a result, the developing world is experiencing a severe soil organic matter crisis.

The soil organic matter crisis is critical because soils are being so rapidly damaged and depleted, because soil fertility has become the primary limiting factor for the world’s smallholder farmers, and because restoring the soil is a ‘foundational technology’. If a farmer adopts a new cassava variety, it may improve his or her cassava production, but it will do almost nothing for the farmer’s maize, bean, vegetable or animal production. But if the farmer successfully improves her or his soil, it will have a major impact on everything else, too. Foundational technologies, such as soil restoration, can therefore provide the basis for the sustainable, long-term development of an entire farm.

Three myths

Looking at soil history will debunk three commonly held myths about soil restoration. The first myth is that productive soils will inevitably deteriorate over time. For instance, in all long-term experiments carried out in Africa, even those including chemical fertilizer, decreasing fertility was found. This loss of fertility correlated with decreasing soil organic matter levels and the resulting availability of nutrients. But humid tropical forests the world over, by maintaining the soil organic matter content, have maintained impressively high levels of biomass productivity for millions of years, with no fertilizers and often on very infertile soils.

The second common belief to go out the window is that soils need to be ploughed to stay friable and productive. Tropical forest soils were never ploughed, yet after millions of years they are far more friable and naturally productive than most agricultural soils. In fact, family farmers who convert forest land rarely plough it during the first year. Doing so would be ‘like ploughing the sea’, as Simón Bolívar once remarked. Rarely do we need to plough land unless we have previously degraded it.

The third myth is that good modern farmers must use monocrops. But tropical forests maintain biodiversity and thereby increase soil quality and productivity. And the oft-repeated claim that phosphorus will limit productivity because of the phosphorus lost in grain harvests is based on seriously faulty nutrient assessment studies. Furthermore, crops grown with a biodiverse mulch will feed directly from the mulch, just as tropical forests do. In this situation, most phosphorus in annual crops spends 1-8 months in the mulch before being taken up by the crop, and after less than a year, will once again return to the mulch. In contrast, only 10% of chemical phosphorus applied to soils is used the first year, about 5% the second year, and less each year thereafter. Therefore, with a biodiverse mulch, each atom of phosphorus can produce about 15 times more biomass than it can from fertilizer.

A movement that transformed agriculture

Interestingly, and not at all by chance, three of these lessons from history coincide with the three principles of the Conservation Agriculture movement that began in Brazil in the early 1980s. These are (1) plough the soil as little as possible, (2) keep the soil covered, and (3) maintain biodiversity.

In 35 years, this movement has transformed the agriculture of 3 million farmers on 30 million hectares in Brazil and Paraguay, and has spread to some 30 other nations. Farmers’ yields have doubled or tripled, reaching up to eight tonnes per hectare of maize. Between 1992 and 2012, the same one litre of diesel came to produce seven times more grain. Over a 22-year period, Conservation Agriculture has resulted in soils with higher levels of organic matter and available nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and with lower acidity. In the meantime, the per-hectare use of nitrogenous chemical fertilizer has fallen. In long term experiments, Conservation Agriculture produced a 64% increase in organic carbon in the top 10 cm of the soil. Needless to say, the world desperately needs more such successes.

Conservation Agriculture’s increasing yields also show that we do not need to resort to subsidised chemical fertilizer – subsidies that are tremendously expensive. The current President of Zambia told me that with what the government spent on fertilizer subsidies in the last few years, they could have built a school in every village across the country. Furthermore, cheap fertilizer reduces the incentives of farmers to produce the biomass that will improve their soil in the longterm. That is, all this wasted money not only cannot solve the basic, underlying problem of soil depletion, instead, it makes it worse.

The three principles of Conservation Agriculture

Plough the soil as little as possible. This is also known as no-till, zero tillage or minimum tillage. This practice maintains soil structure, reduces damage to soil organisms, reduces soil losses to erosion, reduces loss of organic matter and nitrogen and saves labor and expenses. On the other hand, weed control will suffer without ploughing, and farmers using animal traction may need to start using new equipment.

Keep the soil covered. Mulching prevents erosion, provides a constant, well-balanced source of nutrients, protects the soil from the hot sun, greatly reduces soil moisture losses, and helps control weeds. The main problem in maintaining year-round soil cover is that crop residues are seldom sufficient.

Maintain biodiversity and use green manure/ cover crops. In Conservation Agriculture, farmers use rotations and intercropping to maintain biodiversity. These practices reduce the risk of pests and diseases, support soil micro-organisms and use water and nutrients in the whole soil profile more effectively. An essential component of such a system are green manure/cover crops. These are defined as any plant, whether a tree, bush, vine or crawler, that fertilizes the soil or controls weeds. They include multi-purpose grain legumes and can often provide high-protein food for sale or consumption. Unlike traditional green manures, they are rarely cut down in the flowering stage and are rarely ploughed into the soil. They can thereby control the increased weed problem caused by lack of tillage and produce plenty of in situ biomass to keep the soil covered.

Legumes as green manure/ cover crops

Green manure/cover crops are crucial. It is often said that nature can only produce a few centimetres of topsoil in 100 years, but experience in country after country has shown that farmers using green manure/cover crops can produce a centimetre of topsoil every three to four years. In fact, when using edible legume species, the value of the grain often exceeds the costs of production, so the net cost of restoring soil fertility over decades is actually negative. Chemical fertilizer will never compete with that price! But fertilizer can supplement green manure/cover crops. When smallholder soils reach a productivity of about 3 tonnes per hectare, fertilizers can be profitably used. At this level of soil productivity, the fertilizer will produce a greater yield response with lower risks.

Experience around the world shows that it takes about 20 to 25 tonnes per hectare per year (green weight) of leguminous biomass to maintain soil fertility over time. Never in 40 years have I heard of a smallholder farmer using 20 tonnes of fresh compost or animal manure each year. Most smallholder farmers don’t have enough animals to produce this amount of manure, and composting requires too much labour to be cost effective for most subsistence crops. But dozens of legumes can produce double or triple this amount of biomass. Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and mucuna (Mucuna spp.) can easily produce 70 tonnes per hectare per year, lablab beans (Dolichos lablab) and jackbeans (Canavalia ensiformis) 50 to 60 tonnes per hectare per year, and pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), densely planted, can produce about 30 tonnes.

Dispersed shade

Some farmers are adding trees as ‘dispersed shade’ to their Conservation Agriculture. The trees’ light shade reduces the excessive midday heat that decreases crop productivity in the lowland tropics. Trees are also extremely drought resistant because of their deep root systems; the fertilizing leaves are out of reach of free-grazing animals; trees preserve moisture in the soil through lowered soil surface temperatures and reduced wind velocity; and they can provide firewood and fodder. Furthermore, as climate change occurs, farmers can merely cut fewer branches off their trees, so the crops underneath will continue to enjoy optimum ambient temperatures. Two important species from tropical America and dryland Africa, respectively, are Gliricidia sepium and Faidherbia albida.

Interestingly, Conservation Agriculture with trees is ecologically about as close as one can get to producing food in a forest. In 35 years of intensive learning, we’ve travelled right back to where mankind started thousands of years ago.


Roland Bunch

Roland Bunch is an independent consultant and the author of Restoring the Soil, A Guide for Using Green Manure/Cover Crops to Improve the Food Security of Smallholder Farmers (Winnipeg: Canadian Foodgrains Bank, 2012).
Email: rbunchw@gmail.com

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Back to Basics: Breeding Plants for Organic Agriculturehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/back-to-basics-breeding-plants-for-organic-agriculture/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/back-to-basics-breeding-plants-for-organic-agriculture/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:59:15 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16135 CSA News by Nancy Maddox Source: USDA Around 10,000 BC, the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution, human societies began domesticating wild plants. For the next 12,000 years, farming relied exclusively on natural inputs, such as animal manure and compost. The first synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were developed only about 100 years ago but quickly became mainstays of “conventional” farming. In 1992, virtually all of the 460 million acres of U.S. cropland—all but 0.001%—were conventionally managed.

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CSA News
by Nancy Maddox

Source: USDA

Around 10,000 BC, the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution, human societies began domesticating wild plants. For the next 12,000 years, farming relied exclusively on natural inputs, such as animal manure and compost.

The first synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were developed only about 100 years ago but quickly became mainstays of “conventional” farming. In 1992, virtually all of the 460 million acres of U.S. cropland—all but 0.001%—were conventionally managed.

About this same time, however, a new trend emerged, marked by growing interest in traditional and innovative farming practices that invigorate the soil, without resorting to most synthetic chemicals. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 laid out the principles of this new “organic” farming and authorized the USDA to establish a program that would identify acceptable organic production inputs and certify farms meeting the agency’s standards. In 2000, the USDA published its final rule for the National Organic Program, which became operational in 2002.

Now, with increased momentum from the farm-to-fork movement and environmentally aware consumers, the organic food industry is going mainstream. Three out of four conventional grocery stores today offer organic products, according to the USDA. And the amount of cropland devoted to organic agriculture rose from just 403,400 acres in 1992 to roughly 3.1 million acres in 2011. In 2014, organic food sales reached an estimated $35 billion.

In fact, organic foods constitute the fastest-growing agricultural sector.Read full article here.

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Conflict Over Soil and Water Quality Puts ‘Iowa Nice’ to a Testhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/conflict-over-soil-and-water-quality-puts-iowa-nice-to-a-test/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/conflict-over-soil-and-water-quality-puts-iowa-nice-to-a-test/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:47:20 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16130 The New York Times by Mitch Smith Source: Jason Mrachina MANSON, Iowa — The flat, endless acres of black dirt here in northern Iowa will soon be filled with corn and soybean seeds. But as farmers tuned up their tractors and waited for the perfect moment to plant, another topic weighed on their minds: a lawsuit filed in federal court by the state’s largest water utility. After years of mounting frustration, the utility, Des Moines

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The New York Times
by Mitch Smith

DesMoinesRaccoon JasonMrachinaSource: Jason Mrachina

MANSON, Iowa — The flat, endless acres of black dirt here in northern Iowa will soon be filled with corn and soybean seeds. But as farmers tuned up their tractors and waited for the perfect moment to plant, another topic weighed on their minds: a lawsuit filed in federal court by the state’s largest water utility.

After years of mounting frustration, the utility, Des Moines Water Works, sued the leaders of three rural Iowa counties last month. Too little has been done, the lawsuit says, to prevent nitrates from flowing out of farm fields into the Raccoon River and, eventually, into the drinking water supply for roughly 500,000 Iowans. The suit seeks to make farmers comply with federal clean-water standards for nitrates that apply to factories and commercial users, and requests unspecified damages.

“It’s very clear to me that traditional, industrial agriculture has no real interest in taking the steps that are necessary to radically change their operations in a way that will protect our drinking water,” said Bill Stowe, the chief executive of Des Moines Water Works. High nitrate runoff, which can result from nitrogen-rich soil and applied fertilizer, places Des Moines’s drinking water in danger of violating federal quality standards, Mr. Stowe said, and increases costs and poses health risks for customers.

The lawsuit raises not only the legal question of whether the government should regulate the water that drains off farmers’ land, but also the existential issue of whether rural and urban Iowans can collaborate to solve vexing problems. In a state where agriculture drives the economy, grain silos are featured on license plates and people pride themselves on a certain brand of “Iowa nice,” farmers like Brent Johnson have criticized the litigation as an antagonistic overreach that comes at the expense of cooperation and neighborliness.

“It’s a confrontational approach,” said Mr. Johnson, who farms corn and soybeans here in Calhoun County, one of three counties whose boards of supervisors were named as defendants in the lawsuit. “I think there’s been a lot of progress made. I don’t know any farmer who wants to increase nitrates in the river.”

The nitrate issue is, in many ways, an unfortunate side effect of one of Iowa’s great assets: the nutrient-rich dirt that makes for some of the world’s most productive cropland. Though that nitrogen-filled soil helps Mr. Johnson and others grow prodigious amounts of corn and soybeans, a significant rainstorm can wash many of those nutrients, along with nitrates applied as fertilizer, into tributaries of the Raccoon River. The Raccoon is one of two rivers that provide drinking water for Des Moines, the state’s capital and urban center.

Notably, most everyone involved agrees that the nitrates in the water supply are a problem, and that farmers can play a role in solving it. But while Mr. Stowe and the utility want to hold farmers to strict federal water quality standards, Mr. Johnson and the state’s powerful agricultural groups favor a voluntary system.

Last year, months before the lawsuit was filed, the state associations for corn, soybean and pork producers formed the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, which bills itself as a farmer-led effort to improve water quality. The group’s executive director, Sean McMahon, said that many farmers were eager to employ conservation practices, but that education and time were needed to see more results. Money, he said, would be better spent on outreach and cost-sharing programs than on lawyers for the lawsuit.

eaders of other agricultural associations expressed similar sentiments, while saying they still appreciated the urgency of the problem.

“We need to scale it up,” said Roger Wolf, director of environmental programs and services for the Iowa Soybean Association. “We know that.”

Mr. Johnson, whose family has worked these fields for more than 100 years, says he and his neighbors care deeply about the land and understand the concerns raised in the lawsuit. On his property, Mr. Johnson uses a limited-tilling method, and he has planted rows of switch grass on the edge of one field and has filled wetlands with native grasses. Experts say those tactics can help keep nutrients in the field and out of the water system.

Mr. Johnson, who serves on the county soil and water conservation commission, made those changes on his own. He said he feared that the lawsuit, if successful, would add a regulatory burden just as many farmers were making voluntary changes. “That’s not healthy for agriculture, I don’t think, to take the voluntary out,” he said.

In Des Moines, Mr. Stowe said years of encouraging changes through voluntary programs had simply not brought about significant results. Nitrate levels in the Raccoon River remain stubbornly high, which required the utility to run its nitrate removal facilities for three months last winter, a rarity. In 2013, he said, Des Moines was barely able to remove nitrates quickly enough to keep up with demand, and nearly violated federal regulations. Just last Thursday, the utility turned its nitrate removal tanks back on, citing high levels of runoff upstream.

However the issue is addressed, there are costs. Mr. Johnson’s conservation practices required taking land out of production, potentially reducing profits at harvest time. For Des Moines Water Works, operating the tanks that remove nitrates is expensive.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court for the Northern District of Iowa, names the boards of supervisors in Buena Vista and Sac Counties, along with the board in Calhoun County, as defendants, saying they are responsible for overseeing drainage districts that have allowed nitrate-heavy water to make its way into rivers.

Water with excessive nitrates can cause serious health problems, especially in infants, and some environmental groups, including the Iowa Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of voluntary reductions.

Individual farmers’ efforts and anecdotal reports of success, Mr. Stowe said, have not been enough to counter others’ reluctance to make major changes. At this point, he said, collaboration with agricultural groups would have to come in addition to regulation, not instead of it.

“Talking the game and walking the game were two very different issues,” Mr. Stowe said. “This is not ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ This is Iowa. Our water’s getting worse, and we’re going to fight forward to protect it.”

That fight, however, has drawn the ire of many politicians. State Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican, wrote in a recent blog post that the lawsuit was proof of an “arrogant mentality against rural Iowa.” He called for rural Iowans to start an economic boycott of Des Moines.

Iowa’s elected agriculture secretary, Bill Northey, has also criticized the lawsuit, though with less pointed language. Mr. Northey, a Republican who farms corn and soybeans, said the effects of the lawsuit could resound far beyond the three counties named as defendants if the water utility succeeded. The state has recently invested in programs to limit nitrate runoff, he said, and more time should be allowed for those programs to work.

Several farmers agreed, and many said they had seen significant progress in just the past few years. On his farm in Greene County, in central Iowa, David Ausberger planted cover crops last fall, which can help keep dirt in place between the harvest and planting seasons. In Ida and Sac Counties, Jolene Riessen said her family was reducing tilling and using other methods to limit runoff.

“Farmers want to do the right thing,” said Ms. Riessen, a farmer and seed dealer. “But sometimes, it’s learning what is the right thing, or the combination of right things, and having the finances to do it.”

In the meantime, as planting season begins, farmers say they are discussing the lawsuit, figuring out what it could mean for them and bracing for a contentious court battle that could last years.

“Some guys are mad; some guys are sad,” Mr. Johnson said. “Everybody’s concerned.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 19, 2015, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Conflict Over Soil and Water Quality Puts ‘Iowa Nice’ to a Test.

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Kraft Dumps Artificial Food Dyes After Massive Petition!http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/kraft-dumps-artificial-food-dyes-after-massive-petition/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/04/kraft-dumps-artificial-food-dyes-after-massive-petition/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:18:39 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16123 Food Babe Source: FoodBabe.com Vani Hari: The thousands of letters I have received from parents whose children have benefited from the removal of artificial food dyes are ringing in my ear this morning. We finally did it. More than 365,0000 health advocates, consumers, and concerned families are celebrating the success of a popular petition led by activist and New York Times Best Selling Author Vani Hari. Faced with intense public scrutiny, Kraft Foods has just announced

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Food Babe

Source: FoodBabe.com

Vani Hari: The thousands of letters I have received from parents whose children have benefited from the removal of artificial food dyes are ringing in my ear this morning. We finally did it.

More than 365,0000 health advocates, consumers, and concerned families are celebrating the success of a popular petition led by activist and New York Times Best Selling Author Vani Hari. Faced with intense public scrutiny, Kraft Foods has just announced plans to remove artificial yellow dyes from all Macaroni & Cheese products by 2016.

Vani Hari, petition author and founder of FoodBabe.com, celebrated Kraft’s announcement. “This is a revolution – consumers voices are finally being heard.”

“This is a crucial first step on removing an unnecessary but potentially harmful additive from the food supply, millions of children could be affected by these artificial food dyes,” said Hari. In Europe, artificial food dyes require a warning that states; “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” This is required because of scientific studies conducted by European Safety Officials.

The Center for Science in The Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to ban these artificial food dyes because risks include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animals studies) and allergic reactions. The British government and European Union have taken actions that are virtually ending the use of dyes throughout Europe.

“Consumers have been telling us, and parents in particular, that they want to feel good about the foods that they eat and that they serve their families,” Triona Schmelter, Kraft’s vice president of marketing for meals, told the Chicago Tribune.

Kraft’s announcement comes as many companies are removing artificial food dyes, including Hershey’s and Nestle.

“To be part of such a monumental turning point in the removal of artificial food dyes from the food system and to help raise up the voices of over 365,000 people is an incredible honor,”

“I hope Kraft’s decision to remove these artificial food dyes from Mac & Cheese continues throughout their entire product line including JELLO, Kool Aid and across the industry,” commented Ms. Hari.

“This is a real turning point for the food system – I thank the hundreds of thousands who joined the petition and the researchers and activists who have been pushing for this across the world for many years.”

The food industry, of course, is not too happy about this kind of activism. After Ms. Hari’s book The Food Babe Way hit best selling status (which included several chapters on the risks associated with consuming food industry additives and the introduction dedicated to her activism at Kraft), they have started a campaign to attempt to discredit Ms. Hari and her followers. Some recent articles about her have failed to report that many other consumer, environmental and health groups, plus eminent scientists and doctors, are also targeting these the same synthetic ingredients. These stories also fail to report that these same substances have been tightly regulated or banned in Europe and other nations based on science.

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