Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Wed, 23 Apr 2014 17:01:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cornucopia’s Formal Comments for the National Organic Standards Board Spring Meeting Now Availablehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/cornucopias-formal-comments-national-organic-standards-board-spring-meeting-now-available/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cornucopias-formal-comments-national-organic-standards-board-spring-meeting-now-available http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/cornucopias-formal-comments-national-organic-standards-board-spring-meeting-now-available/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:42:48 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11877 The Cornucopia Institute has submitted its formal comments to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for consideration at the Spring meeting of the NOSB.  This diverse 15-member body was established by Congress to review policy and materials used in organic agriculture and food.  They meet twice a year, and the next meeting begins April 29 in San Antonio, TX. Ever since Cornucopia’s investigation culminated in the publication of The Organic Watergate (outlining corruption between

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The Cornucopia Institute has submitted its formal comments to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for consideration at the Spring meeting of the NOSB.  This diverse 15-member body was established by Congress to review policy and materials used in organic agriculture and food.  They meet twice a year, and the next meeting begins April 29 in San Antonio, TX.

NOSBSpring2014cover_final_small

Ever since Cornucopia’s investigation culminated in the publication of The Organic Watergate (outlining corruption between the corporate organic sector and the USDA) The Cornucopia Institute has committed to thoroughly review all materials and policies presented for approval to the NOSB.

In the past many in the organic community trusted that the technical reviewers the USDA was hiring were independent and unbiased. The Organic Watergate report illustrated that many of these reviews were performed by corporate agribusiness executives or consultants (in some cases facilitating inappropriate synthetic ingredients for use in organic food processing).

To make matters worse, today, after Cornucopia’s criticism, the USDA now refuses to even share with the public the qualifications or identity of the consultants they are hiring to perform technical research. The NOSB is not a scientific panel. It includes farmers, retailers, certifiers, public interest/consumer representatives and conservationists. They need good objective help in making their important decisions.

Since the USDA seems unwilling to follow the law The Cornucopia Institute has stepped up, adding to our team of agricultural policy and scientific experts, in providing objective analysis to NOSB members and the public.

Our comments for the upcoming meeting concerning materials considered for use in organics and organic policy can be viewed here.

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Corporate Definitions of ‘Natural’: How Consumers are Being Deceivedhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/corporate-definitions-natural-consumers-deceived/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corporate-definitions-natural-consumers-deceived http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/corporate-definitions-natural-consumers-deceived/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 20:35:18 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11865 Corporate “natural” definitions vary widely. Generally, “natural” means the absence of artificial ingredients, commonly referencing preservatives.  However “natural” does not signify that the ingredients are grown and processed in ways that avoid such “unnatural” inputs as synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered organisms. Various companies’ definitions of “natural” highlight its inferiority to the organic label. Companies also can blur the line between “natural” and organic with promotional materials for their “natural” labels. They fail to mention

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MothersGrahamBumpers

Corporate “natural” definitions vary widely. Generally, “natural” means the absence of artificial ingredients, commonly referencing preservatives.  However “natural” does not signify that the ingredients are grown and processed in ways that avoid such “unnatural” inputs as synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered organisms. Various companies’ definitions of “natural” highlight its inferiority to the organic label.

Companies also can blur the line between “natural” and organic with promotional materials for their “natural” labels. They fail to mention that ingredients excluded from the “natural” foods—such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors—are prohibited in organic foods. Consumers may believe, therefore, that “natural” foods offer something special, when in truth organic foods offer all those benefits and much more.

One thing is clear, however: Consumers are extremely confused about organic and “natural” labels on foods, too often believing that “natural” claims imply the absence of pesticides and genetically engineered organisms. Recent public opinion poll results, conducted by various research firms, confirm this growing problem.

According to a 2009 report by Mintel, a leading market research company, one-third (33%) of survey respondents trust the term “natural”
on labels, and nearly half (45%) trust the term “organic.” However, roughly 30% of respondents say they did
 not know if they could trust either term.  Too many consumers are putting too much trust in the unregulated “natural” term while too many consumers are unnecessarily wary of the trustworthy organic label.

A survey of 1006 consumers conducted by the Shelton Group, a Tennessee-based research firm, 31% of respondents said “100% natural” is the most desirable eco-friendly product label claim, compared to 14% who chose “100% organic.”

Two consumer polls conducted by san Francisco-based research firm Context Marketing, released in 2009 and 2010, showed that more consumers value the term “natural” than “organic.” While 50% of polled consumers said the “natural” label on food was either important or very important to them, only 35% believed “organic” carried the same value.

A 2010 poll by the Hartman Group, a Washington-based research firm, found a majority of respondents erroneously believed the term “natural” implied “absence of pesticides,” “absence of herbicides,” and “absence of genetically modified foods.”

peace-cerealMaking matters even more confusing is the fact that some companies start out organic, and build consumer loyalty as organic brands, but later switch to non-organic “natural” ingredients and labeling. Peace Cereal® is an example of “bait-and- switch.” In 2008, the company that owned the Peace Cereal® brand, Golden Temple, switched from organic to cheaper conventional ingredients, without lowering its prices.

At the time of the switch, the company also did not change its package design, other than eliminating the USDA Organic seal and the word “organic” from its cereal boxes. Most egregiously, it did not change the barcode on the cereal boxes. Many retailers and shoppers were unaware of the switch until The Cornucopia Institute conducted an investigation in late 2010.

WhiteWave made a similar move with its Silk soymilk and nondairy products in 2009 when organic soybeans disappeared from its products, while the product packaging also went unchanged.

Horizon Dairy has also recently made a similar move, launching a line of boxed macaroni and cheese products, some of which are not organic, even though it uses the same packaging and logo found on its popular organic dairy products.

Another common practice by companies that sell both organic and natural products is confusing “natural” and “organic” by associating the word “natural” with clean products. For instance, the Hain Celestial Group, the corporation that owns brands such as Arrowhead Mills® and Health Valley®, promotes the natural label and stresses that “natural” means the absence of artificial ingredients. However, by not promoting organic along with “natural,” Hain Celestial’s educational materials easily could leave consumers with the impression that only “natural” products will ensure avoidance of synthetic ingredients, unaware that choosing organic is a more honest option delivering as much and more.

mallow-oatsAnother clever tactic used doesn’t involve language at all. But rather, a simple impression made by using “natural” looking colors such as green. For example, Kellogg’s® brand granola does not use the term “natural” but states “WHOLE GRAIN” in green letters on an earth-colored box, with a green leaf prominently displayed, which gives it a “natural” look.

Kellogg’s® granola’s ingredients are anything but wholesome and natural: “whole oats, brown sugar, whole grain wheat, corn syrup, rice, almonds, modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil, high-fructose corn syrup, cinnamon, salt, nonfat dry milk, natural and artificial flavors, polyglycerol esters of mono- and diglycerides, malt flavor, niacinamide, zinc oxide, guar gum, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), reduced iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), BHT (preservative), vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”

But perhaps the most common tactic to confuse consumers is using the phrase “natural and organic”─ instead of “natural or organic”─ to describe a brand’s ingredients. Saying “natural and organic” suggests that the two terms are equally meaningful and valid, and that all such products contain organic ingredients. For example, Annie’s Homegrown states on its website that “Annie’s® uses only simple natural and organic ingredients,” as if the term “organic” is just another way to describe “natural” and vice versa.

Most important, this language creates the impression that all products contain organic ingredients.

This type of misuse of the term “natural” contrasts sharply with certified organic products, labeled according to transparent, federally regulated standards. Organic standards are developed with public input, and all foods that carry the word “organic” on packaging or labels must conform to the same standards.

Meanwhile, companies that are committed to organics, such as Nature’s Path and Grandy Oats, do not tout the term “natural” in marketing materials, nor do they use the terms “natural” and “organic” inter- changeably. They promote the one and only term that has true meaning from an ecological, sustainability and environmental health standpoint: organic.

This is an excerpt from our report: “Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label—A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle.” To read the full report, click here.

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New Prague Farmers to Face Off with Power Line Builders in Courthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/new-prague-farmers-face-power-line-builders-court/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-prague-farmers-face-power-line-builders-court http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/new-prague-farmers-face-power-line-builders-court/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:41:57 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11868 This trial will determine the fate of the organic dairy operation. Star Tribune by David Peterson For decades, County Road 2 has represented a tranquil rural existence on the edge of the metro area to Dave and Florence Minar. Not anymore. Today, a row of steel towers 15 stories tall marches down that road and across the land near New Prague that has been in Dave’s family since 1926, casting a shadow the Minars contend clouds the

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This trial will determine the fate of the organic dairy operation.

Star Tribune
by David Peterson

For decades, County Road 2 has represented a tranquil rural existence on the edge of the metro area to Dave and Florence Minar.

Not anymore.

Today, a row of steel towers 15 stories tall marches down that road and across the land near New Prague that has been in Dave’s family since 1926, casting a shadow the Minars contend clouds the future of one of the state’s leading organic dairy farms.

The 450-acre Cedar Summit Farm has been organic since 1974, and in addition to the herd of about 130 cows, includes a retail store and a commercial dairy that ships nostalgic cream-on-top milk bottles all across the Midwest.

In Scott County District Court this week, the Minars, who are both in their 70s, will describe their fears that the high-voltage power lines could cause health problems for their cows and scare customers away from visiting the bucolic and pastoral patch of the county.

What they want is for the 11-utility consortium that built the 800-mile line from South Dakota to pay not just for an easement to cross a 132-acre parcel of the farm, but to buy the whole operation — an acquisition that could cost up to $1 million for the land alone.

Although the Legislature has approved “Buy the Farm” laws to require such purchases when a use such as a power line or a pipeline threatens the viability of a family farm, the utilities behind the $2 billion CapX2020 line argue that Cedar Summit Farm doesn’t qualify.

In a written statement e-mailed on Friday, the power-line builders said that they “have challenged the reasonableness [of the buyout] because it involves only one transmission structure that occupies less than one acre on a 132-acre property that includes a commercial dairy operation and retail store.”

Citing what they called Minnesota’s “unique law” forcing buyouts, the utilities argued that “commercial land is not eligible” and that “the Supreme Court has held that a reasonableness requirement” — that is, how much of a person’s land is really affected — “must be read into the statute.”

The 345,000-volt line itself will not be complete and transmitting energy until next year, said Mary Sandok, spokeswoman for Xcel Energy, one of the firms behind it.

The case is going to court, the utilities said in a written statement, because if landowners and utilities cannot agree on a farmer’s decision to seek a buyout, “they seek guidance from the district court.”

Farm fairness

The Minars, however, are particularly frustrated to find themselves forced into court just a year after they thought they had scored a legislative victory supporting their stand.

Clarifying language passed at the State Capitol last year was aimed in part at ensuring the decades-old law — a product of the bitter power-line disputes that roiled Minnesota in the 1970s — covered the Minars.

“This is a regular family farmer who is not litigious and did not ask for this,” said one of their attorneys, Paula Maccabee. “It’s an industrial use on an organic farm, yet they have been climbing hurdle after hurdle just to get what the Legislature says they’re entitled to. This is not the way the law is supposed to work.”

The fundamental point, the Minars and Maccabee say, is that legislators clearly believed that if a corporation makes a dramatic change to one’s land, it’s up to them to buy it and then suffer whatever loss of value by placing it on the market for buyers who don’t care that the line is there.

Key legislators who pushed last year’s action agree.

“I don’t question the need for the line, but I’m on the side of people looking at these towers in their back yard,” said state Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield. “Whatever studies may show about dairy cattle weight loss [from the voltage], I just feel a need for fairness for a century-old farm and how it’s treated in terms of someone stepping on their lawn.”

Widespread interest

The case is drawing huge interest statewide, said Thom Petersen, lobbyist for the Minnesota Farmers Union.

In a period when all manner of new pipelines and power lines are snaking across Minnesota, “this is a very high-priority issue for us,” he said. “I would love to be able to sit in on it myself. A lot of farmers are watching this case and it will have a big impact on others.”

The Minars’ case also raises issues way beyond those of some farms. It’s close enough to growing New Prague to be lucrative someday for subdivisions.

And it poses a real conundrum in being organic. An organic farmer can’t just vacate and set up anywhere else; it takes years to purify the land to make it qualify as organic.

The Minars’ saga follows by just a few years a parallel narrative at the celebrated Gardens of Eagan, in next-door Dakota County.

Atina Diffley has since written a book published by the University of Minnesota Press detailing the battle to fight off an oil pipeline that threatened the purity of that organic land.

Faced with the mounting pressures capped off by the looming power lines, the owners of Cedar Summit Farm, reluctantly, want out.

“It’s a desecration,” Florence Minar said.

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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How New Legislation in Boston Gave Fresh Life to Urban Farmshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/new-legislation-boston-gave-fresh-life-urban-farms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-legislation-boston-gave-fresh-life-urban-farms http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/new-legislation-boston-gave-fresh-life-urban-farms/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 19:42:47 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11861 Modern Farmer by Heather Hansman Locally grown will soon take on new meaning in Boston, especially in predominantly low-income neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester. As in, grown on your very block. This spring, the city is starting the most comprehensive transactional urban agriculture system in the country. In December, as one of his last tasks in office, former mayor Thomas M. Menino signed Article 89 into law. The new ordinance means farmers will be able to grow

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Modern Farmer
by Heather Hansman

Locally grown will soon take on new meaning in Boston, especially in predominantly low-income neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester. As in, grown on your very block. This spring, the city is starting the most comprehensive transactional urban agriculture system in the country.

Boston_skyline_at_earlymorningby Y.Sawa
In December, as one of his last tasks in office, former mayor Thomas M. Menino signed Article 89 into law. The new ordinance means farmers will be able to grow – and, importantly, sell for profit — within the city limits.

Beantown, because of its climate and density, might not seem like the most obvious place for an urban farming firestorm, but the city’s combination of start-up culture and academia means that a lot of people are trying to think innovatively about food — and that they’re not shy about gunning for it. “Boston is a really civic-minded place,” says Edith Murnane, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives and one of Article 89’s biggest proponents.

The city already had zoning code in place for community gardens. In fact, says Murname, the city has spent nearly $10 million to support community gardens. But farmers weren’t allowed to sell the community gardens’ goods, and restaurants couldn’t grow or buy from farms within the city limits.

Article 89 changes all that.

It’s the most comprehensive piece of legislature of its kind, but to make it sustainable and actually useable, the team from the city made sure it went deeper than just regulations. The article details all of the steps and loopholes farmers need to consider when they’re building a farm in between apartment buildings — or on top of them.

“It’s not a very intuitive process,” Murnane says. “We had to break down those barriers to give agency to the farmers. We wanted to lay out for them every department that could possibly impact a parcel of land.”

The city is now finding creative way to make sure farming takes root. For instance, city planners have identified city-owned pieces of farmable land. They’re taking requests for proposals from potential farmers, picking the best proposals, and then selling those farmers 3,000 to 6,000 square-foot parcels for $100 apiece, with a caveat that the land be specifically used for farming for 50 years. The Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives, which double-teamed the implementation of Article 89, tried to create a long-term way to provide both food access and economic opportunities.

Shani Fletcher runs Victory Programs, which grows vegetables for homeless shelters, and started farming one of the parcels of land in Dorchester in 2012 as a pilot study for the legislation. She says that Article 89 will make things much easier and more organized for her program. While Victory Programs had been selling some produce before, now they are able to sell from two farm stands, plus at farmers markets and at a local Boys and Girls Club. “Before, it had to be that you were doing it undercover,” she says. “This has made it easier. Now we can get local food into the hands and mouths of a lot of people in need.”

Article 89 has been in the works since September of 2009, when the city formed a council to talk about potential food projects. Because of Boston’s deep history of community gardening — and the most public gardens per capita of any city in the country, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Tad Read — farming for profit came to the forefront pretty quickly. “In the spring of 2010 one of our food entrepreneurs mentioned that they had been trying to get their hands on a publicly owned parcel through the Department of Neighborhood Development,” Edith Murnane says. “They were having trouble, because they wanted to farm and farming was implicitly forbidden.”

Over the course of the next year and a half they held 17 public meetings to gauge how the community felt about farms in their neighborhoods. Not everyone immediately supported the idea. “It wasn’t seen through rose-colored glasses,” she says. “There were many points of debate. For instance, if we bring urban ag to the city is it going to create a livable wage? Or if you have compost, how does that impact your neighbors?”

The result was a piece of legislation that details everything from how to deal with rooftop compost bins, to space allowances for hydroponic gardening, to when you have to get clearance to grow from the parks department. (You’ll need to get clearance if you’re within 100 feet of a park, in case you were wondering.) No other city has anything like it.

Read says it’s also exceptional because they’re allowing for farm stands right at the farms. He hopes that will help to promote the economic viability of the farms, and to close the loop on local food. “The public really wanted to see farm stands, so we pushed hard for that,” he says.

This spring, there are five urban farms going in, predominantly in lower income neighborhoods, and each one is at least a quarter of an acre. Read says he thinks the next steps will be an increase in rooftop farms and greenhouses, because that’s where space is available, and in growing hydroponically, because of Boston’s climate and lack of space.

Murnane hopes that Article 89 will give farmers a sustainable way to make a living.

“Do I think Boston is going to return to a rural economy?” she asks. “No. But do I think it’s going to create some interesting options.”

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Syngenta’s Next Target: Jackson County, Oregonhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/syngentas-next-target-jackson-county-oregon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syngentas-next-target-jackson-county-oregon http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/syngentas-next-target-jackson-county-oregon/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 14:15:14 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11841 PAN North America by Paul Towers Last week, Swiss-based pesticide corporation Syngenta dumped tens of thousands of dollars into a county election in Southern Oregon. Sound familiar? It should. Still reeling from their recent defeat in Kaua’i, Syngenta and the rest of the “Big 6″ don’t want to lose any more fights around pesticides and GMOs. But Oregononians are holding their ground. Led by a group of farmers dubbed Our Family Farms Coalition, these residents put an initiative on the

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PAN North America
by Paul Towers

stop-poison-childLast week, Swiss-based pesticide corporation Syngenta dumped tens of thousands of dollars into a county election in Southern Oregon. Sound familiar? It should. Still reeling from their recent defeat in Kaua’i, Syngenta and the rest of the “Big 6″ don’t want to lose any more fights around pesticides and GMOs.

But Oregononians are holding their ground. Led by a group of farmers dubbed Our Family Farms Coalition, these residents put an initiative on the ballot that would restrict the planting of genetically engineered crops. The vote will be on May 20.

While Syngenta may try to paint them as “out of touch,” this organized group of family farmers notes that the law would provide protections for them and other farmers. The initiative would ensure farmers in Oregon aren’t exposed to increased pesticides use; don’t lose business — including potential losses of market exports — from contamination of their crops; and aren’t vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits brought by the likes of Syngenta and Monsanto for so-called “patent infringement.”

The problems are very real for Oregon. No one has yet to figure out how Monsanto’s “rogue” GE wheat was growing in a farmer’s fields over the summer, even though that strain of wheat hasn’t been grown in experimental plots for over a decade. And that contamination had serious financial repercussions, effectively shutting down exports to countries like Japan and Korea.

I’ve learned a lot about genetically engineered crops and this will be the last year I grow them.
- Jared Walters, Oregon farmer

So now, Oregon farmers are doing their best to stand up to the powerful pesticide and genetically engineered seed corporations so they can keep farming and sustain their livelihoods. As farmer Jared Walters said, “I’ve learned a lot about genetically engineered crops and this will be the last year I grow them.”

Pesticide bullies

It’s no suprise that Syngenta & Co. are putting vast resources into the campaign to defeat the Oregon ballot measure. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, these corporations invest heavily in shutting down opposition to their products at local levels. Most recently, they launched an aggressive public relations effort to defeat a bill in Kaua’i County, Hawai’i that created disclosure of their products and no-spray buffer zones around sensitive sites like schools. And while it was an inredibly tough fight, Kaua’i residents were able to get the bill passed.

When they can’t get what they want at the local level, Syngenta and the rest of the “Big 6″ global pesticide corporations try to push things through at the state level. With only a few weeks of the current Hawai’i legislative session left, it seems unlikely that industry will rush something through this session. But, as I noted before, they’ve done it before in an effort to preempt local rights.

Fight continues in Hawai’i

While the Kaua’i County bill passed late last year, pesticide corporations are still fighting it. While their pushing for state legislation to undermine the authority of local govenernments, Syngenta & Co. also filed suit against Kaua’i County. And earlier this week a judge granted PAN, our members and partners on Kaua’i the chance to help defend Kaua’i from the lawsuit.

Andrew Kimbrell at Center for Food Safety — one of our close partners — noted that, “The judge said specifically he wanted to include the perspective and voices of the people on Kauai who were being affected.”

The ruckus on Kaua’i hasn’t deterred others in the state from taking up the same fight. Maui County residents have collected well over the 8,500 signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that would prohibit growing GE crops. And, we expect, the pesticide corporations will soon turn their attention and money to focus on Maui. But money will only go so far.

Tides turning?

It hasn’t been a good few months for Syngenta. In two high-profile pieces — one in The New Yorker and one on Global News’ “16×9” (the Canadian equivalent of “60 Minutes”) — the company was implicated in attacks on independent scientists. These scientists’ research exposed links between the company’s flagship product, atrazine, and its effects on endocrine systems, or hormones.

Syngenta & Co. continue to put their considerable resources behind discrediting scientists that shine a light on their products, and defeating local efforts around the country to protect farmers from GE contamination and pesticide exposure. But the effort to expose their practices and the problems with their products is even stronger. Farmers and residents of Jackson County and Maui County will prevail, one way or another.

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Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/plant-breeders-release-first-open-source-seeds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-breeders-release-first-open-source-seeds http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/plant-breeders-release-first-open-source-seeds/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:09:43 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11835 The Salt – NPR by Dan Charles A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely. It’s inspired by the example of open source software, which is freely available for anyone to use but cannot legally be

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The Salt – NPR
by Dan Charles

1000x300xossi_header.png.pagespeed.ic.nA5aiDXWtlA group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely.

It’s inspired by the example of open source software, which is freely available for anyone to use but cannot legally be converted into anyone’s proprietary product.

At an event on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, backers of the new Open Source Seed Initiative will pass out 29 new varieties of 14 different crops, including carrots, kale, broccoli and quinoa. Anyone receiving the seeds must pledge not to restrict their use by means of patents, licenses or any other kind of intellectual property. In fact, any future plant that’s derived from these open source seeds also has to remain freely available as well.

Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, helped organize the campaign. It’s an attempt to restore the practice of open sharing that was the rule among plant breeders when he entered the profession more than 20 years ago.

“If other breeders asked for our materials, we would send them a packet of seed, and they would do the same for us,” he says. “That was a wonderful way to work, and that way of working is no longer with us.”

These days, seeds are intellectual property. Some are patented as inventions. You need permission from the patent holder to use them, and you’re not supposed to harvest seeds for replanting the next year.

Baquieu-LettuceEven university breeders operate under these rules. When Goldwin creates a new variety of onions, carrots or table beets, a technology-transfer arm of the university licenses it to seed companies.

This brings in money that helps pay for Goldman’s work, but he still doesn’t like the consequences of restricting access to plant genes — what he calls germplasm. “If we don’t share germplasm and freely exchange it, then we will limit our ability to improve the crop,” he says.

Sociologist Jack Kloppenburg, also at the University of Wisconsin, has been campaigning against seed patents for 30 years. His reasons go beyond Goldman’s.

He says turning seeds into private property has contributed to the rise of big seed companies that in turn promote ever-bigger, more specialized farms. “The problem is concentration, and the narrow set of uses to which the technology and the breeding are being put,” he says.

Kloppenburg says one important goal for this initiative is simply to get people thinking and talking about how seeds are controlled. “It’s to open people’s minds,” he says. “It’s kind of a biological meme, you might say: Free seed! Seed that can be used by anyone!”

The practical impact of the Open Source Seed Initiative on farmers and gardeners, however, may be limited. Even though anyone can use such seed, most people probably won’t be able to find it.

The companies that dominate the seed business probably will keep selling their own proprietary varieties or hybrids. There’s more money to be made with those seeds.

Most commercial vegetable seeds are hybrids, which come with a kind of built-in security lock; if you replant seed from a hybrid, you won’t get exactly the same kind of plant. (For this reason, some seed companies don’t bother getting patents on their hybrids.)

John Shoenecker, director of intellectual property for the seed company HM Clause and the incoming president of the American Seed Trade Association, says his company may avoid using open source seed to breed new commercial varieties “because then we’d … have limited potential to recoup the investment.” That’s because the offspring of open source seeds would have to be shared as well, and any other seed company could immediately sell the same variety.

The initiative is probably more significant for plant breeders, especially at universities. Goldman says he expects many plant breeders at universities to join the open source effort.

Meanwhile, two small seed companies that specialize in selling to organic farmers — High Mowing Organic Seeds in Hardwick, Vt., and Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Ore., are adding some open source seeds to their catalogs this year.

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Scientists Frustrated by Factory Farms: Scientific Evidence of their Non-Sustainability Mountshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/scientists-frustrated-factory-farms-scientific-evidence-non-sustainability-mounts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scientists-frustrated-factory-farms-scientific-evidence-non-sustainability-mounts http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/scientists-frustrated-factory-farms-scientific-evidence-non-sustainability-mounts/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:59:56 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11832 Pulse by Jim Lundstrom A factory dairy near Phoenix, AZ Professor Robert Lawrence is in a select company of researchers. “I think the only other group of scientists who probably are more frustrated than we are are the climate scientists,” Lawrence said in a recent telephone call. Lawrence is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Md., where he also holds the title of the Center for a Livable Future

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Pulse
by Jim Lundstrom

A factory dairy near Phoenix, AZ

Professor Robert Lawrence is in a select company of researchers.

“I think the only other group of scientists who probably are more frustrated than we are are the climate scientists,” Lawrence said in a recent telephone call.

Lawrence is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Md., where he also holds the title of the Center for a Livable Future Professor in Environmental Health Sciences Professor, Departments of Environmental Health Sciences, Health Policy and Management, and International Health Director. The Center’s mission is to engage “in research, policy analysis, education, advocacy and other activities guided by an ecologic perspective that diet, food production, the environment, and public health are interwoven elements of a single complex system.”

The reason for the phone call was a March 27 letter Lawrence and five colleagues sent to the group Kewaunee Cares regarding health and environmental concerns of manure from intensive livestock operations.

The letter began:  “We are writing to present some of the concerns associated with the generation and management of manure from intensive livestock operations, particularly regarding the health of Wisconsin’s rural citizens. These health and environmental concerns include:

• The spread of infectious disease, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to nearby communities.

• Groundwater and surface water pollution, and associated health and ecological impacts.

• Air pollution, odors, and associated health and social impacts.

The letter included 67 citations of peer-reviewed scientific literature.

The reason for Lawrence’s scientific frustration is that despite a growing body of evidence that shows the environmental and health consequences of intensive livestock operations, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) continue to pop up on the landscape.

In Kewaunee County, where cows outnumber humans by more than three to one, and where the porous karst topography cannot possibly support the massive amounts of animal waste that the industrial farms produce, citizens have been fighting an uphill battle to have their concerns heard.

“Yes, it is frustrating,” Lawrence said. “You go up against very politically powerful, influential groups whose vested interests are in discrediting the data or offering counter arguments of economic necessity, or it will kill jobs if you abide by the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Acts, dozens of different arguments that I’ve seen.

“The argument that is embedded in almost every state law in every agricultural state in the country, odors and smells are just part of the reality of producing food,” Lawrence continued. “Many of those laws were passed way, way back before we had the intense concentration that we now see. Yes, indeed, if you had a dairy farmer pulling his manure spreader over 40 or 50 acres of cropland, getting ready for spring plowing, and for a day or two there was an odor of manure in the air, people understood that went with the territory. But that argument no longer applies in my view when you have the intensity of air and water and soil pollution hat leads to a real precipitous decline in quality of life.”

With so many people removed from the rural landscape, Lawrence said it’s hard to generate interest in rural issues.

“That’s one of the things people find difficult to understand if they haven’t been involved in agriculture, how something in appropriate doses is an important and often pivotal part of maintaining soil health and productivity but in high concentration can became a toxin and a dangerous substance,” he said.

Lawrence has seen these industrial farms, be they cows, chickens or pigs, cause the same kinds of problems throughout the country, and the pattern repeats itself time and again – rural areas with little political clout find themselves knee deep in manure and other problems associated with hundreds or thousands of animals in close quarters.

“We have increasing evidence of the intense concentrations of poultry operations on the eastern shores of Maryland and Delaware and Virginia, and the unhealthy nature of the Chesapeake Bay with large dead zones every summer and the decline of the oyster and crabbing industry,” Lawrence said. “People are beginning to put it all together.

“The most notorious is probably Duplin County in Eastern North Carolina, which is historically predominantly a black community with little political power,” he said. “It has the highest ratio of hogs to people of anywhere in the country, beating even Iowa. We saw abuses that include violating state laws prohibiting spraying down the open cesspit waste onto fields during rain. I was there five years ago with the PEW Commission on Industrial Animal Food Production. It was raining and, lo and behold, this big pump sprayer was shooting out streams of waste on the cornfields. When the wind blows, that liquid waste hits the cars of people living next to the spray field and splatters on the walls of their houses.”

But all is not gloom and doom, Lawrence points out, for there have been some major victories for opponents of factory farms, particularly by the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), which last year assisted in a campaign to close a nearly constructed factory dairy farm in Illinois and a Colorado egg factory farm that had been making residents ill.

Lawrence mentions that some of his colleagues at John Hopkins did a study at the request of a cherry orchard owner in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

“The cherry orchard has been in her family for several generations,” he said.

Then a factory dairy farm opened nearby.

“Dried manure was blowing as dust. The cherries and leaves of the tree had a fine brown dust coat,” Lawrence said. “She asked for some help and we sent a team out there. They did very specific testing for the incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as collecting dust samples and using GIS maps to pinpoint people and kids suffering from asthma. They found very, very persuasive evidence that the closer you live to one of these dairies, the higher the incidence of asthma and the more likely the dust in your house would contain fomites of dried manure that include animal dander from the animals themselves – skin and hair and so forth. That was a pretty damning set of data that was presented, but it was not until several years later high levels of nitrates were found in the drinking water and people began to pay attention.”

NASA Maps Ammonia Pollution 

The day after the March 27 letter on industrial farming from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, a NASA-funded study was released saying, “ammonia pollution from agricultural sources poses larger health costs than previously estimated.”

Harvard University researchers Fabien Paulot and Daniel Jacob used computer models including a NASA model of chemical reactions in the atmosphere to better represent how ammonia interacts in the atmosphere to form harmful particulate matter.

Manure from livestock and fertilizer for crops release ammonia to the atmosphere. In the air, ammonia mixes with other emissions to form microscopic airborne particles, or particulates. The particulates that pose the greatest health risk are those that measure no more than 2.5 micrometers across, or about 1/30 the width of a human hair, which when inhaled can become lodged deep within the lungs. Long-term exposure has been linked to heart and lung diseases and even death. As such, the particles are on the list of six common air pollutants regulated by EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

An increase in ammonia, however, does not translate to an equal increase in particulates. The relationship depends on meteorology as well as the concentration of other precursors to particulate formation, such as sulfate and nitric acid.

The impact is not equal everywhere. Areas downwind of large agricultural regions often set the stage for more mixing of ammonia with man-made emissions from combustion, such as from traffic and power plants. More mixing means the formation of more fine particulate matter. For this reason, the largest health costs are most often carried by the more populated states in the Northeast and Great Lakes region.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns.

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What Walmart’s Big Organic Announcement Means for Organic Veteranshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/walmarts-big-organic-announcement-means-organic-veterans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=walmarts-big-organic-announcement-means-organic-veterans http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/walmarts-big-organic-announcement-means-organic-veterans/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:46:28 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11827 Could the chain’s entrée into private-label organics cheapen the gold standard in food production? Rodale News by Emily Main Walmart has just announced that it’s going to throw its massive size and influence behind the organic food movement. By relaunching a historic brand, Wild Oats, which used to be Whole Foods’ biggest rival, the chain is pledging to make organic affordable to all and sell the Wild Oats brand of packaged foods at 25 percent

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Could the chain’s entrée into private-label organics cheapen the gold standard in food production?

Rodale News
by Emily Main

wild-oats-marketplace-logoWalmart has just announced that it’s going to throw its massive size and influence behind the organic food movement. By relaunching a historic brand, Wild Oats, which used to be Whole Foods’ biggest rival, the chain is pledging to make organic affordable to all and sell the Wild Oats brand of packaged foods at 25 percent less than its organic competitors.

More organic options at a cheaper price is hardly a bad thing, and the organic industry seems to be taking the huge retailer’s announcement with a grain of cautious optimism. But there are also a lot of potential downfalls: Where will a chain of 3,800 stores get enough organic ingredients to satisfy the 91 percent of shoppers who Walmart claims want organic food? Will organic farms have to compromise on their standards to meet the demand?

We asked two organic-industry veterans for their thoughts on the announcement: Mark Kastel, codirector and senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, a pro-organic watchdog group whose goal is to maintain integrity of the organic movement, and Todd J. Kluger, vice president of marketing for Lundberg Family Farms, one of the oldest organic brands in the U.S., whose rice products are sold throughout Walmart stores. Here’s what they think:

Do you think Walmart’s move is a good or bad thing?
Mark Kastel: If Walmart lends their logistical prowess to organic food, that probably is a good thing. It will provide a lot more availability to consumers. Walmart is the largest grocery chain in the U.S., and that could increase demand, which is a good thing for the organic farming sector.

Todd Kluger: If more consumers have access to organic products, that’s the most important thing.

We’ve heard reports that organic ingredients are already in short supply. How can a behemoth like Walmart meet its goals without cutting into an already strapped supply chain?
MK: People have been claiming shortages of organic ingredients for years, but we haven’t really seen any except with eggs and dairy. There are a myriad of reasons for that, and one is the lack of incentives for family farmers to produce organics. They’ve seen their profit margins erode. Because of Walmart’s scale, we could see an impact on the market—but that could mean higher prices for farmers and consumers.

TK: We have experienced shortages, mainly of things like chipotle powder and tomato powder for some of our ready-to-eat rice meals, but also non-GMO and organic dairy powder and powdered cheese. There’s just not enough demand. So to me that’s a dog whistle. Wild Oats and Walmart will have to get involved and create the ingredient supply chain. This will show that there is demand.

Do you foresee Walmart trying to influence the USDA to water down organic standards so that more big food companies can get into the organics game?
MK: I doubt that they will do that directly. There are already corporate entities that are trying to do that, so it would surprise me if Walmart themselves became overtly involved. However, if the company “Walmart-ed” organics and approached the industry sector as they do in many business lines, this would be quite destructive. One of the ways they lower price and maximize profits is by focusing on imports and relying on giant, industrial organic factory farms. It’s not compatible with organics, which is a values-based and ethics-based industry. One of the reasons people are willing to pay more is that they think they’re supporting a different ethic, a different animal husbandry model, and that family farmers are being fairly compensated. Walmart’s methods have the potential to undermine all those values. When Walmart tells an organic company they don’t want to sell products above a certain price, the company either has to pay its farmers less or pull out of Walmart.

TK: When Walmart introduced organic milk into their stores, there was no watering down of industry standards to get that delivered. They said they wanted milk with no growth hormones, and that shifted the industry away from growth hormones almost entirely. Ideas may begin in natural and organic retailers like Whole Foods, but by the time it reaches a retailer like Walmart, the idea has fully been accepted by mainstream.

 

Is there any concern that the Wild Oats brand could undermine the success of established organic brands?
MK: I’ve said for a long time that “private-label and organics” is an oxymoron. The very nature of a private-label brand like Wild Oats, which isn’t a manufacturer in and of itself, is to keep the sourcing secretive. They don’t really want customers to know who’s manufacturing their products and where they come from because they wouldn’t want customers to develop loyalty to suppliers. The nature of organic consumers is that we want to know where our food comes from, how it’s produced, and what the story behind the label is. That’s not going to be possible with any private label.

TK: Our consumers are very brand oriented. Every retailer already sells private labels at a lesser cost, so organic and natural brands already have to compete with those. We connect with our consumer because we’re able to have transparency. We’re able to deliver a different value to our consumer. Somewhere the cost to sell organic has to be cut, so the brand will have to cut the transparency of it, the traceability to where the ingredients come from. When someone buys our product, they can trace it all the way back to our farms.

Will Walmart live up to its promise of keeping organics at 25 percent below its competitors?
MK: I think it’s a bit dubious, because there are many organic products in the marketplace that only enjoy a 25 percent premium over conventional food. Are they going to say that they’re now selling organic at the same prices as conventional? The only way to achieve that is to cheapen the quality of things—putting products in a smaller size, using poorer-quality ingredients (like replacing olive oil with cheaper oils). I don’t want to condemn them before this stuff hits the market—maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. But their claims don’t seem reasonable.

TK: Being able to deliver organics at what they’re suggesting? That is fantasy. There isn’t much you can do to cut the cost of organic ingredients. Just certification and organic farming practices cost you more. That’s already a 15 to 20 percent difference from conventional.

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Cornucopia Institute Elects New Leadershiphttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/cornucopia-institute-elects-new-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cornucopia-institute-elects-new-leadership http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/cornucopia-institute-elects-new-leadership/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:56:55 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11812 The Cornucopia Institute has elected new leadership following the annual meeting of the organization’s board of directors.  The Cornucopia Institute, a tax-exempt nonprofit, is a national organization focused on agricultural research and education.  The organization acts as a governmental and corporate watchdog on organic food and farming issues. Cornucopia board members Dave Minar, Kevin Engelbert, Helen Kees and Roger Featherstone weigh issues at the 2014 annual meeting. Wisconsin organic beef and fresh-market produce farmer Helen

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The Cornucopia Institute has elected new leadership following the annual meeting of the organization’s board of directors.  The Cornucopia Institute, a tax-exempt nonprofit, is a national organization focused on agricultural research and education.  The organization acts as a governmental and corporate watchdog on organic food and farming issues.

Cornucopia board members Dave Minar, Kevin
Engelbert, Helen Kees and Roger Featherstone
weigh issues at the 2014 annual meeting.

Wisconsin organic beef and fresh-market produce farmer Helen Kees was elected board president at Cornucopia’s March 22 meeting in St. Paul, MN.  Kees, a third generation farmer, with her husband Bob and daughter Chris, holds the distinction of being Wisconsin’s first certified organic beef producer.  She and her family direct market vegetables and beef (to retailers and at local farmers markets) as well as wholesale to the Organic Valley Cooperative.

New York organic dairy farmer Kevin Engelbert was elected Cornucopia board vice president.  Engelbert, along with his wife Lisa and family, was the nation’s first certified organic dairy farmer.  Their family farm additionally produces a wide variety of organic cheeses, veal, beef, pork, pasture, hay, corn, soybeans, and vegetables.  Engelbert, a fifth generation farmer, is a former member of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the 15-member panel that determines what materials are allowed for use in organic food and farming and advises the USDA Secretary of Agriculture on organic policy matters.

In addition, Dr. Barry Flamm was elected to Cornucopia’s board of directors.  Flamm, who had been a member of Cornucopia’s policy advisory panel, is the immediate past chair of the NOSB with his term concluding in 2012.  He operates a certified organic sweet cherry orchard in Montana.  Flamm previously served on the Montana Governor’s Council helping develop the Montana Department of Agriculture Organic Certification Program, and he was a founder and vice chair of the Montana Organic Association.

Roger Featherstone was re-elected as treasurer of the Cornucopia board.  The long-time environmental activist grew up on a small family dairy farm in Wisconsin that has been continuously operated by his family since 1847.  He currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is the director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition.

Replacing Dr. Flamm, The Cornucopia Institute has added a new member to its policy advisory panel, Mitch Blumenthal, the President and Founder of Global Organic/Specialty Source, Inc.  A resident of Sarasota, Florida, Blumenthal purchased ten acres of organic farmland in 1995 and continues to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, and specialty items at Blumenberry Farms.  In 1999, he launched Global Organic/Specialty Source, now one of the most significant organic distributorships in the Southeast United States.

The board formally recognized long-time board member and past president Steven Sprinkel, recently retired from the board.  The Ojai, California, resident continues to operate an organic vegetable farm and runs an organic grocery and restaurant with his wife Olivia.

With approximately 10,000 members, The Cornucopia Institute is believed to have more organic farmer members than any other similar organization in the U.S.  In 2014, Cornucopia is commemorating its 10th anniversary.

cornucopia-logo-MAKsig

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Vermont Senate Votes 26-2 for GMO Labelinghttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/vermont-senate-votes-26-2-gmo-labeling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vermont-senate-votes-26-2-gmo-labeling http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/vermont-senate-votes-26-2-gmo-labeling/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:14:34 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11808 Vermont one step closer to becoming first state to enact such a law Burlington Free Press by Terri Hallenbeck MONTPELIER — The Senate gave a decisive 26-2 vote Tuesday for a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a strong indication that Vermont could become the first state in the nation to enact such a law. “We are saying people have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Senate President Pro

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Vermont one step closer to becoming first state to enact such a law

Burlington Free Press
by Terri Hallenbeck

gmo.protest.smMONTPELIER — The Senate gave a decisive 26-2 vote Tuesday for a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a strong indication that Vermont could become the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

“We are saying people have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor.

Campbell and other supporters argued that they believe they have written a bill that is legally defensible. They nonetheless created a fund in the legislation to help pay the state’s legal bills, as many assume that food manufacturers will sue.

The bill would require food sold in Vermont stores that contain genetically modified ingredients to be labeled starting July 2016. The legislation is up for another vote in the Senate Wednesday before it goes back to the House, which passed a slightly different version last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated he’s likely to sign the bill.

Two other states — Connecticut and Maine — have passed labeling laws, but both delayed implementation until neighboring states join them, a strategy designed to insulate them from being sued. Voters in Washington and California defeated labeling measures there.

Supporters said they hoped Vermont would lead the way on the issue. “Vermont’s always first,” said Will Allen, an organic farmer from Fairlee, citing the state’s ban on slavery, passage of civil unions and same-sex marriage as other firsts.

Many foods, including an estimated 88 percent of the corn crop in the United States, contain ingredients that have plants or animals that were genetically modified, typically to increase disease resistance or extend shelf life. Opponents argue that the process may be harmful to humans. Supporters contend there is no evidence of that. Sixty countries, including the European Union, require labeling.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, noted as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday that questions remain about the safety of the genetically modified foods because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relies on testing done by the food producers rather than independent sources.

Sens. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, and Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, were the only votes of dissent Tuesday.

Flory, a lawyer, noted that Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said the state is likely to be sued. Senate Judiciary Committe Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, conceded under questioning from Flory that if Vermont loses the case, as it did with a similar law that sought to require labeling of milk containing bovine growth hormones, the legal bills are estimated to be as high as $8 million.

McAllister, a farmer, argued that labeling will do nothing but mislead consumers into believing there must be something bad about GMOs, which he believes is untrue. “This labeling bill will not tell them anything other than ‘GMO something’,” McAllister said. “This does not educate them about what they’re eating. The nutritional value is exactly the same.”

Some senators who had been skeptical of GMO labeling said they were persuaded that their constituents want the information clarified on the food they buy. Senators said they were flooded with emails and calls from people urging them to pass the bill.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he came to view labeling of GMOs as akin to the label that tells him how many carbohydrates are in a bottle of tea. That label gives him information without declaring that carbohydrates are evil, he said. “I know what carbohydrates can do to my body,” he said. “Some people in this room that’s exactly how they feel about GMOs.”

Under the bill, Benning said, the wording declaring that a product contains GMOs could be as small as the carbohydrate listing typically found on food packages.

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he, too, had been unenthusiastic about GMO labeling, but at every public meeting he heard from Vermonters who wanted a labeling law. “Lo and behold, GMOs would float to the top of the debate within those meetings,” he said.

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