Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:09:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Bad News about Pesticides – The Leonard Lopate Showhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/bad-news-pesticides-leonard-lopate-show/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bad-news-pesticides-leonard-lopate-show http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/bad-news-pesticides-leonard-lopate-show/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:52:14 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11799 The Leonard Lopate Show Credit: NRCS Reporter Susan Freinkel talks about what happens to brains of children who have been exposed at a young age to pesticides. She’s joined by Lee Fang, who reports on how the pesticide companies have influenced regulations in Washington and at the local level. Both Freinkel and Fang are contributors to The Nation magazine. Freinkel is the author of the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and her article Warning Signs: How Pesticides Harm the Young Brain and Fang’s

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Credit: NRCS

Reporter Susan Freinkel talks about what happens to brains of children who have been exposed at a young age to pesticides. She’s joined by Lee Fang, who reports on how the pesticide companies have influenced regulations in Washington and at the local level. Both Freinkel and Fang are contributors to The Nation magazine. Freinkel is the author of the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and her article Warning Signs: How Pesticides Harm the Young Brain and Fang’s article The Pesticide Industry vs. Consumers: Not a Fair Fight appear in the March 31, 2014, issue of The Nation magazine.

Play Audio:

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Leaving a Sour Taste: Conventional “Yogurt” Masquerades as Health Food While Organic Keeps It Realhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/leaving-sour-taste-conventional-yogurt-masquerades-health-food-organic-keeps-real/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaving-sour-taste-conventional-yogurt-masquerades-health-food-organic-keeps-real http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/leaving-sour-taste-conventional-yogurt-masquerades-health-food-organic-keeps-real/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:22:18 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11793 This article is based on Cornucopia’s forthcoming yogurt report and scorecard. Find both later this spring on our website. Yogurt, made the traditional way, is one of nature’s many health foods. Milk from organic grass-fed cows, rich in calcium, protein, beneficial fats and other healthy nutrients, is fermented using live cultures, resulting in a wholesome, live food teeming with beneficial microorganisms. Yet giant food corporations, led by General Mills (Yoplait) and Groupe Danone (Dannon), and

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This article is based on Cornucopia’s forthcoming yogurt report and scorecard. Find both later this spring on our website.

yogurt-spoon-iStock_000013610937smYogurt, made the traditional way, is one of nature’s many health foods. Milk from organic grass-fed cows, rich in calcium, protein, beneficial fats and other healthy nutrients, is fermented using live cultures, resulting in a wholesome, live food teeming with beneficial microorganisms.

Yet giant food corporations, led by General Mills (Yoplait) and Groupe Danone (Dannon), and now joined by others including Walmart and PepsiCo, have managed to turn this health food into junk food.

Many yogurt products on store shelves today are marketed as healthy, but a close inspection of the ingredients list and a look behind the scenes at how the ingredients are produced—the food’s “fine print”—paint a very different picture.  

Conventional yogurt is produced with milk from cows that are nearly always confined and unable to graze on pasture, and given a feed containing genetically engineered grains. During the making of yogurt, chemical defoamers can legally be added to conventional milk. And with the addition of artificial sweeteners or high doses of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, synthetic preservatives and the gut-wrenching thickener carrageenan, many yogurt products are essentially junk food masquerading as health food.

These products are marketed as healthy in part by displaying the “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which supposedly assures a high level of beneficial microorganisms, also known as probiotics.

The seal is found on nearly all conventional yogurt by popular brands owned by corporations such as General Mills and Groupe Danone. No organic yogurt uses the seal. However, testing by The Cornucopia Institute, performed by a food-processing center at a land grant university, revealed that many organic farmstead yogurt products without the Live and Active Cultures seal actually contained higher levels of probiotics than conventional yogurt with the seal.

Consumers tempted to choose products that display the Live and Active Cultures seal over products without it would be wise to reconsider that option.

Cornucopia’s analysis of yogurt also found that many conventional yogurt products on store shelves are not really yogurt at all. The FDA has a “standard of identity” for yogurt that specifies which types of ingredients can and cannot be added to a product labeled and sold as “yogurt.” Artificial sweeteners, preservatives and artificial nutrients other than vitamins A and D do not appear on this FDA list. It is puzzling how any product containing these ingredients can be marketed and sold as “yogurt.” This includes most of the Yoplait, Dannon and other conventional brands, as well as most store label brands, including Walmart’s Great Value.

The addition of these ingredients is not simply a question of legality; it also raises an important question about the healthfulness of the food. Many ingredients found in yogurt may cause adverse health impacts.

For example, research has linked the artificial sweetener aspartame to brain tumors and neurological disease in laboratory animals. Carrageenan, a food thickener, has been shown to promote colon tumors and cause inflammation and digestive disease in laboratory animals. Artificial colors have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. These ingredients and others commonly found in yogurt have no place in a food marketed as healthy.

girl eating yogurt iStock_000017575748Large

Because it costs more to produce, organic yogurt must be pricier at the check-out, right? Not always. General Mills’ Yoplait Go-Gurt costs more per ounce than many organic brands, despite containing milk from conventional, confined cows fed GE corn and soybeans, rather than milk from grass-fed cows. Go-Gurt, a “fruity” drinkable yogurt in a tube marketed to children, has no actual fruit but tastes and looks like it does due to artificial flavors and colors that require a warning label in other countries. The sweet snack also contains carrageenan, a known gastrointestinal irritant, along with artificial preservatives and synthetic nutrients.

In another example, Chobani, a conventional “Greek” yogurt, was priced higher than five different organic brands at a Boston-area Whole Foods Market. (This was before Whole Foods dropped the brand reportedly for using milk from GE-grain-fed cows while marketing itself as “natural.”)

Yogurt is big business. Consumers spend $73 billion on this food staple globally and $6 billion in the U.S., where individuals eat an average of 13 pounds of the creamy stuff each year. No wonder Big Food dominates this market; corporate players include General Mills (Yoplait), Group Danone (Dannon, Brown Cow, 85% of Stonyfield Farm), PepsiCo (Muller), Dean Foods (Alta Dena, Berkeley Farms, Meadow Gold), WhiteWave (Horizon, Silk), and the Hain Celestial Group (The Greek Gods, Healthy Valley, Earth’s Best).Consult Cornucopia’s forthcoming Yogurt Scorecard to see how these corporate brands stack up against independents such as Nancy’s, Organic Valley, Kalona, Wallaby Organic and Clover Stornetta, and regional brands such as Butterworks Farm, Seven Stars, Straus, Hawthorne Valley Farm and Cedar Summit. (Teaser: Cedar Summit Farm, a 100% grass-fed dairy in Minnesota, produces yogurt with more omega-3 fatty acids and 20 times as much of the healthy fat CLA as Chobani, according to independent lab tests.)

Cornucopia’s forthcoming report outlines the various reasons why people should choose organic yogurt over conventional. The USDA Organic seal on a yogurt product is much more important, in terms of healthfulness, than the Live and Active Cultures seal, the “Greek” label or any other marketing claim or label. In essence, all that is required for making healthy yogurt is organic milk and live cultures.

The Cornucopia Institute encourages eaters and food retailers who buy yogurt to purchase minimally processed, organic brands. By doing so you will be supporting organic farmers, sound environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and good health for our families and communities.

This story originally appeared in The Cultivator, The Cornucopia Institute’s quarterly print publication available to members and online.

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‘Made In Rural America’ But Not For Americanshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/made-rural-america-americans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=made-rural-america-americans http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/made-rural-america-americans/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 20:12:01 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11789 Honey Colony by Brett Barth, Buzzworthy Blogs Credit: NRCS The steady creep of prices at your grocery checkout might have you wondering about frosts and droughts and the many other challenges confronting agribusiness. That’s kind of you, really, but stop. Truth be told, these are roaring times in the U.S. Farming industry. According to a recent report from The Council of Economic Advisors, net farm income in 2013 (a function of the handful of industrials that control

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Honey Colony
by Brett Barth, Buzzworthy Blogs

Credit: NRCS

The steady creep of prices at your grocery checkout might have you wondering about frosts and droughts and the many other challenges confronting agribusiness. That’s kind of you, really, but stop. Truth be told, these are roaring times in the U.S. Farming industry.

According to a recent report from The Council of Economic Advisors, net farm income in 2013 (a function of the handful of industrials that control most American farmland) hit a 40-year high and marked a 46 percent increase in growth since 2008. As President Obama noted in a recent speech, “agriculture is thriving.”

In the wake of such growth, it would seem the opportunity is ripe to scale down the damage created by our global food system. The system as it currently exists is an inefficient, wasteful commodity trade that enriches the private multinationals dominating global agriculture, while also devastating regional economies, degrading the environment, and diminishing the quality of the food we eat.

Not so long ago, there was a hint that the government agreed. In 2009, the USDA launched the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign to promote small food producers and the virtues of “locavoring.” There were solid economic reasons to do so: The agency’s Economic Research Service found that farms focused on selling locally or regionally not only boosted their revenue, they created more jobs.

Well, the Government is promoting the small farmer again, but this time its sights are set well beyond farm-to-fork economies. A new initiative called “Made in Rural America” has been announced to aid “rural” and “regional” farms in the expansion and sales of product. Not in surrounding communities, mind you, or for that matter, in the U.S. market at all. Instead, “Made in Rural America” proposes a massive education and counseling effort to bring rural farmers into the world trade game.

“I’ve seen how hard it can be to be a farmer,” President Obama explains. “Big corporate farms are doing well, but there are even more small farms, family farms, where folks are just scratching out a living.”

That’s probably true, but will “Made in Rural America” really help small farms? A couple of red flags are immediately apparent: First, the legislation fails to clearly define what it means to be “rural”; second, and more importantly, it fails to divulge “the game” it aims to promote.

The prime beneficiaries of global trade aren’t farmers but corporate middlemen, the distributors, transporters, and traders who take a combined profit of over 90 percent of every food dollar. With such a large combined profit at stake, trade-for-the-sake-of-trade has become an economic engine that drives worldwide agribusiness to needless and illogical ends.

Take, for example, the U.S. importation and exportation of the very same goods. Rice imported from Asia has grown from 4 percent of our domestic market to nearly 20 percent in the last 30 years. Meanwhile, the exportation of rice from the United States is also higher than ever before. We ship off nearly half our rice to Central America, Europe, and yes, right back at you, Asia.

And then there’s corn. The United States is King Corn, the world’s largest exporter, by far. Yet, curiously, the U.S. also imports corn. In fact, we buy more corn than Canada, Russia, Argentina, South Africa, India, and Ukraine combined than we export to foreign markets.

“We’ve had the strongest stretch of farm exports in our history,” Mr. Obama recently announced. “We are selling more stuff to more people than ever before. What we grow here and what we sell is a huge boost to the entire economy, but particularly the rural economy.”

Yes, but local food systems offer more direct economic benefits to the small farmer and not to corporate middlemen eager to crisscross goods wherever they’ll command the best price.

This global import-export mania creates myriad other problems, too. Imported food supplies drive indigenous farmers abroad out of business, which in turn deprives whole communities of fresh, nutritious food. Food trade promotes the destructive ‘monoculture’ farming of ‘cheap’ grains that will sell in the global market rather than healthful, natural foods that will provide nourishment. It creates hunger dependencies, which are too easily exploitable (the U.S. has the most expensive “food aid” in the world [source: Frederic Mousseau, “Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? Ending World Hunger in Our Time,” The Oakland Institute, October 2005.]) And global food transport results in soaring CO2 emissions.

All of this is necessary because the United States, as the saying goes, is the “breadbasket of the world.” Another axiom maintains that if the U.S. didn’t feed the world, 100 countries might go hungry. But that’s a shortsighted claim that assumes the current political, economic dysfunction that drives food distribution is natural. That’s hardly the case in places like Mexico, where the current hunger crisis coincides with massive reserves of locally farmed food held for trade rather than supplied to those at home who need it.

So could regional, or even purely organic, farming feed the planet? Not surprisingly, trade lobbyists insist the answer is no. But according to longstanding research from the Rodale Institute, the answer is yes.  Recent studies from the Union of Concerned Scientists and The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology suggest the marginal difference between the yields of small, organic farming and large-scale, chemical farming wouldn’t matter if food were properly distributed and not scattered around the world.

“‘Can organic farming feed the world?’ is indeed a bogus question,” says Gene Kahn, a longtimeorganic farmer who is now vice president of sustainable development for General Mills. The real question is, can we feed the world? Period.

In other words, can we end the entrenched political and economic barriers to a sensible and sustainable food system?

Brett Barth is a cultural reporter who has covered everything from large-scale environmental disasters in the Gulf Coast to small inspirations like “Precycling” (that’s doing recycling one better by eliminating packaging altogether). He’s currently at work on a novel involving the use of land art to protect wildlife. He lives in Venice, California and in his spare time he makes mixed attempts to repurpose things.

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Funding Restored for Beginning Farmer Training Programshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/funding-restored-beginning-farmer-training-programs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-restored-beginning-farmer-training-programs http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/funding-restored-beginning-farmer-training-programs/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:15:00 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11785 NSAC’s Blog FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist, 202-547-5754 Credit: USDA-NIFA April 11, 2014, Washington, DC – Today USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $19 million in funding for beginning farmer training grants through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).  This highly successful initiative, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, provides competitively awarded grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations

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NSAC’s Blog

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist, 202-547-5754

Credit: USDA-NIFA

April 11, 2014, Washington, DC – Today USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $19 million in funding for beginning farmer training grants through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).  This highly successful initiative, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, provides competitively awarded grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations to support and train new producers across the country.

“BFRDP is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “Although the program has only been around for a few years, young farming communities around the country are already seeing real impacts on the ground.”

Since 2009, BFRDP has invested over $70 million to develop and strengthen innovative new farmer training programs and resources across the country, and has funded 145 projects in 46 states.  BFRDP was authorized as part of the 2002 Farm Bill and was provided farm bill funding starting with the 2008 Farm Bill.  The new 2014 Farm Bill has renewed funding for the program, providing $100 million over the next five years.  The program was originally conceptualized by NSAC, which has championed it since the beginning.

“New farmers that are entering agriculture today have different needs and face new challenges compared with farmers who started farming decades ago and are now facing retirement.” Obudzinski continues.  “Beginning farmers are younger on average, and less likely to farm full-time than more established farmers.  They also tend to operate smaller farms, have more diversified operations, and an increasing number come from non-farm backgrounds with little access to farmland, which has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation.”

BFRDP addresses the barriers new farmers face — like access to credit and affordable farmland — by supporting increased technical assistance, innovative farm training and mentoring programs, and land-linking resources to help ensure the success of the next generation of farmers, a generation that faces unprecedented challenges when pursuing a career in agriculture.

It’s been two and half years since the last Request for Applications (RFA) was published for the 2011 Fiscal Year.  The program has been stranded without funding since October 2012 when the 2008 Farm Bill expired, and USDA could not issue an RFA or make any new grants last year.

“We’re excited to see this program up and running again, especially in light of the new Census figures which continue to show the aging of our farm population and a decrease in the number of farmers entering agriculture.” Obudzinski continues. “This important resource has helped thousands of farmers start their careers in farming throughout the country, and will be a crucial piece in growing the next generation of farmers in the years to come.”

The FY2014 Request for Applications announced today includes several changes to reflect new provisions adopted in the 2014 Farm Bill.  Among those changes are:

  • a new focus on agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training programs for veterans who wish to pursue a career in farming;
  • a dedicated funding stream for projects serving military veterans;
  • streamlining of grant procedures for project administrative expenses; and
  • the inclusion of projects led by school based agricultural educational organizations with expertise in agricultural production and outreach.

NSAC is pleased that the program retains a strong focus on partnerships with community-based organizations, consistent with previous RFAs and a core element of the program’s success over the years.   Applications are due June 12th, and awards are likely to be announced later this year.

NIFA is hosting two webinars for interested applicants on April 30 and May 6 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. The first webinar will focus on general guidelines for the program, while the second webinar will focus on the funding allocations for socially-disadvantaged and military veteran farmers and ranchers.

For more information, click here to read USDA’s press release.

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Monsanto’s Being a Jerk Again, This Time in Oregonhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/monsantos-jerk-time-oregon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monsantos-jerk-time-oregon http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/04/monsantos-jerk-time-oregon/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 20:15:09 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=11780 Rodale News by Leah Zerbe A potential GMO ban in Oregon’s Jackson County has drawn a slew of corporate money into the state, another sign that international chemical and GMO manufacturers will dump massive bucks into an attempt to restrict local and state government’s and communities’ right to govern themselves. These companies have a lot to lose if consumers and governments start requiring labeling or implanting GMO planting bans. Companies like Monsanto make billions selling farmers genetically

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Rodale News
by Leah Zerbe

I have a right- parentsA potential GMO ban in Oregon’s Jackson County has drawn a slew of corporate money into the state, another sign that international chemical and GMO manufacturers will dump massive bucks into an attempt to restrict local and state government’s and communities’ right to govern themselves.

These companies have a lot to lose if consumers and governments start requiring labeling or implanting GMO planting bans. Companies like Monsanto make billions selling farmers genetically modified seeds and the chemicals required to be used with those seeds.

Trying to defeat grassroots movements away from GMOs using tons of money is nothing new to farming chemical companies. They’ve already successful outspent GMO labeling initiatives in Washington and California.

Here are the companies forking over cash to defeat the proposed GMO on planting GMO seeds in Jackson County. According to Center for Food Safety, these companies spent the following in just one day to defeat the Oregon GMO ban initiative:

• Monsanto, $183,294

• DuPont Pioneer, $129,647

• Syngenta, $75,000

• Bayer, $22,353

• BASF, $22,353

• Dow AgroSciences, $22,353

Opponents of the Oregon county’s attempted GMO ban have outspent local advocates eight-to-one, spending nearly $800,000 to beat the initiative compared for every $100,000 supporting the GMO ban.

“These chemical companies are willing to spend whatever it takes, because they know the truth: Genetically engineered crops offer zero public benefits,” says George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “They only offer risk of genetically engineered contamination to farmers and lost markets, as well as massively increased pesticides and environmental harm. All they do is generate billions of dollars for chemical companies.”

For specific reasons to join the anti-GMO movement, read The Biggest GMO Myths, Busted.

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