Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The War on Organics: Who’s Fighting It and How to Protect Your Familyhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/war-organics-whos-fighting-protect-family/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-organics-whos-fighting-protect-family http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/war-organics-whos-fighting-protect-family/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:41:17 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13122 Mamavation by Gina Badalaty There’s a war going on in this country, and while it’s not being fought with weapons, it is being waged with marketing, misdirection and outright lies. “Big AG,” America’s top agricultural and biochemistry firms are leading an assault on organics, non-GMO foods, proper labeling and healthy choices. They are seeking to protect their profits as consumers move away from these toxic food choices. To help you protect your family from these deceptive practices,

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Mamavation
by Gina Badalaty

MonsantosyngentadupontThere’s a war going on in this country, and while it’s not being fought with weapons, it is being waged with marketing, misdirection and outright lies. “Big AG,” America’s top agricultural and biochemistry firms are leading an assault on organics, non-GMO foods, proper labeling and healthy choices. They are seeking to protect their profits as consumers move away from these toxic food choices. To help you protect your family from these deceptive practices, I’ve listed the top tactics that firms like Monsanto use to influence your buying choices.

OPEN PRESS INITIATIVES

Some of the attacks coming from Big AG are not openly deceitful. Corporations are revealing their identities and offering workshops, luncheons and other events aimed at promoting charities, global hunger solutions, the impact of food and more allegedly “positive” topics. Earlier this month, Aljazeera America reported that at last month’s BlogHer conference, an annual event that attracts thousands of bloggers, the Monsanto Corporation sponsored an invitation-only brunch to share discuss the impact of food on the environment. Bloggers were paid $150 each to attend a panel that featured two female farmers as well as a team from Monsanto.  In fact, Monsanto has a history of damaging the environment, unleashing everything from Agent Orange to a list of banned pesticides.

One wonders how a discussion on food and the environment from a panel packed with Monsanto representatives could be either fair or balanced, but they are not alone in marketing themselves as pro-environment. Friends of Earth reports on how Bayer and other pesticide manufacturers are putting a positive spin on their role in bee decimation in their article, “Pesticide Pushers Spin the Bee Crisis to Protect Profits.” Consumers should be wary of organizations claiming to care for bees that have any connection with Big AG or pesticide companies.

FRONT GROUPS

While these aboveboard PR tactics are growing, there is also a growing movement of deception in the form of “front groups.” Front groups are organizations that seem to represent one thing, but actually have an agenda for another group or organization that is hidden. The BlogHer luncheon was not the first – or last – time that Monsanto has reached out to the public to position itself as a company supporting farmers and the environment. That time, Monsanto was upfront about their operations, but in the past, they have engaged bloggers while hiding behind front groups. Typically, these groups have misleading names that sound beneficial to the public.<

Paige Wolf’s article, “Bloggers Beware: Industry Front Groups Are Lobbying For Your Endorsement,” covers some of those groups. American Farmers.com, for example, actually represents Monsanto, but some of the bloggers who have written for them do not support Monsanto. They thought they were supporting what the name implies – American farmers – and did not read the fine print. Here is extensive list of more food front groups:

  • Illinois Farm Families (WatchUsGrow.org)
  • SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com
  • Alliance for Food and Farming
  • Together Counts
  • CommonGround
  • Farmers & Ranchers Alliance
  • Center for Food Integrity
  • American Council on Science & Health
  • Obesity Myths
  • EPA Facts
  • Center for Consumer Freedom
  • Alliance to Feed the Future
  • International Food Information Council
  • Global Harvest
  • Protect the Harvest

“These front groups prey on digital moms with hopes to make them feel gullible for supporting organic,” says Leah Segedie. “In reality, straw man arguments like the ones they use are a common persuasion tactic created by multi-billion dollar companies who are threatened by the very existence of organic food and moms making healthier decisions for their families. This generation of moms is far more confident in their research abilities because most have college or graduate degrees. The days of moms relying on paid industry ‘experts’ are over. These moms like to think for themselves and that is cutting into their bottom line. Thus, you have all these front groups popping up hoping to confuse them, but changes at the grocery store have proven that moms are smarter than they thought.”

The Center for Food Safety, a legitimate organization, disclosed the names of many of these groups in a May, 2013 report (PDF). While these organizations are all in existence as of this writing, don’t underestimate the groups behind them. New organizations are forming all the time and name changes are bound to occur too.

BACKLASH FROM TRADITIONAL PRESS

A concerted backlash against the organics movement has been started in the traditional press, no doubt supported by Big AG. According to Fair.org’s article, “The Assault on Organics,” it’s not just blogger commentary and food webinars peddling bad information. In traditional press articles like “The Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” in the NY Post, the Washington Post’s “Is Organic Better for Your Health?” and Slate’s “Organic Schmorganic,” writers cherry-pick information, avoid selected topics and rely on discredited studies. These articles may be the result of poor journalism, however, “Assault on Organics” claims the main source of the “Organic Mafia” article is Julie Gunlock, Director of the Culture of Alarmism Project, part of the Independent Women’s Forum. They write that this group is funded by the Koch Brothers. SourceWatch.org reports that the actual group, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, is a Koch Family Foundation, funded by the brothers from 1998 through its closure in 2013. The Koch Brothers are co-owners of Koch AG & Energy Solutions and other biotech firms. It’s difficult to trust traditional media when sources may be influenced like this. It’s important to look at the sources behind an article and know where there the reporter’s loyalty lies.

ORGANIZED EFFORTS

In addition to being out in front on positive marketing and spin, Big AG is also taking an aggressive stand in other ways as well. Just this February, Democracy Now! reported that scientist Tyrone Hayes has been targeted by the herbicide company Syngenta after speaking out against it. Read his interview at their site. Discrediting scientists is nothing new. The film “Genetic Roulette” has an entire section documenting how independent scientists have systematically been discredited for going up against Monsanto and questioning the safety of GMOs.

Discrediting opposing opinions and creating positive spin are just two tools up the sleeve of this multibillion corporation. Monsanto recently acquired Climate Corporation, which gives them access to “detailed information on every tillable field in the Unites States,” according to a report in The Irish Times. Farmers are concerned that the data can be used, sold or leaked to their competitors, compromising their businesses. In addition, will Monsanto use this data for nefarious purposes? Considering their patent on soybean seeds and how they have sued farmers all over the country for accidentally contaminated fields, the idea of this data in their hands should be a concern for everyone.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

While this is all challenging, the fact is that organics and non-GMO foods are becoming more popular and are in bigger demand from the American public. That means that you, the consumer, have some input into how the future of America’s food pans out. Here’s what you can do to help shift the paradigm to a healthier future for all our families:

  •  Keep yourself educated but don’t trust everything you read.
    Essentially, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you hear a report emphasizing that less costly non-organic produce is just as healthy as organic, it may be published by a front group or underwritten by a corporation like Monsanto. Always read the fine print and look at who is funding a study, event or organization.
  • Use common sense.
    We already know that studies show organics are better, but it’s common sense that produce and food free of chemicals and artificial ingredients is healthier to eat than ingesting pesticides, chemicals and toxins.
  • Vote.
    Know where your elected officials stand on the GMO labeling movement and tell them you support it.Remember that president hopefuls like Hillary Clinton need to be on the same page too!
  • Buy organic and non-GMO.
    You vote with your dollar just as much as you do with a ballot. Make the switch to all organic and Non-GMO Project verified foods. Stop buying from brands that sink thousands of dollars into anti-GMO movements. Don’t think your food choices matter? Earlier this month, GMO-free fast food company Chipotle’s stock hit an all-time high. Panera recently announced they are removing artificial ingredients from foods. Cheerios is now non-GMO. Consumer voices are being heard all over the food industry and yours matters too!
  • Get involved.
    Write your Congress people. Contact your favorite foods and tell them to go GMO-free. Sign petitions. Attend rallies. Follow Mamavation and Robyn O’Brien for the best information on this fight.

The war on organics in this country is on, but Monsanto and Big AG have hardly won the fight. GMO labeling initiatives around the country are on the rise. Consumers are putting more money into organic and non-GMO brands. Fast food chains are reconsidering their menus. It’s up to you, Moms and Dads, to move this fight forward with your voice and your dollars.

Disclosure: Together Counts was a Mamavation client over three years ago before Leah joined the food movement.

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Food Additives on the Rise as FDA Scrutiny Waneshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/food-additives-rise-fda-scrutiny-wanes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-additives-rise-fda-scrutiny-wanes http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/food-additives-rise-fda-scrutiny-wanes/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 15:43:27 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13118 Washington Post by Kimberly Kindy The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply. And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show. Michael

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Washington Post
by Kimberly Kindy

The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply.

And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show.

Michael Taylor
Credit: FDA

“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.

The FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about additives in recent years, saying certain substances seem to trigger asthmatic attacks, serious bouts of vomiting, intestinal-tract disorders and other health problems.

At a pace far faster than in previous years, companies are adding secret ingredients to everything from energy drinks to granola bars. But the more widespread concern among food-safety advocates and some federal regulators is the quickening trend of companies opting for an expedited certification process to a degree never intended when it was established 17 years ago to, in part, help businesses.

A voluntary certification system has nearly replaced one that relied on a more formal, time-consuming review — where the FDA, rather than companies, made the final determination on what is safe. The result is that consumers have little way of being certain that the food products they buy won’t harm them.

“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor said. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”

In the five decades since Congress gave the FDA responsibility for ensuring the safety of additives in the food supply, the number has spiked from 800 to more than 9,000, ranging from common substances such as salt to new green-tea extracts. This increase has been driven largely by demand from busy Americans, who get more than half their daily meals from processed foods, according to government and industry records.

Within the past six months, top officials at the FDA and in the food industry have acknowledged that new steps must be taken to better account for the additives proliferating in the food supply. The Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group, has responded more aggressively; it sued the FDA this year, saying the agency has abdicated its oversight of the additives approval process. The Grocery Manufacturers Association also provided seed money this spring to create a research center at Michigan State University to deal with the rising concerns over additives.

For new, novel ingredients — or when approved additives are used in new ways — the law says companies should seek formal FDA approval, which must be based on rigorous research proving the additive is safe. The agency uses the phrase “food additive,” in a narrow legal sense, to apply to substances that get this approval.

But many other additives are common food ingredients — vinegar is considered a classic example. The law allows manufacturers to certify, based on research, that such ingredients are already Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS.

For both types of additives, FDA scientists initially conducted detailed reviews of the company’s research. The agency also published its own evaluation of that research in the Federal Register.

This oversight system shifted dramatically in 1997. In response to a shortage of staff members and complaints from industry that the process was too cumbersome and did not improve food safety, the FDA proposed new rules. The agency told companies that were going the GRAS route — which turned a years-long process into one of months — that they no longer would have to submit their research and raw data. The companies can share just a summary of their findings with the agency.

In part, FDA officials hoped that by streamlining the GRAS notification process, companies that previously avoided informing the agency of new additives would be encouraged to keep the government in the loop, current and former agency officials said.

The changes didn’t work out as planned.

For starters, most additives continued to debut without the FDA being notified.

Moreover, companies that did choose to go through the FDA oversight process largely abandoned the formal approval route, opting instead for the new, cursory GRAS process, even for additives that could be considered new and novel, according to agency documents and an analysis of those records by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“They created a side door,” said Tom Neltner, a chemical engineer with the NRDC who has co-authored six academic articles about the FDA additives process over the past four years.

An average of only two additive petitions seeking formal approval are filed annually by food and chemical companies, while the agency receives dozens of GRAS notifications, according to an NRDC analysis of FDA data. Hundreds of other food chemicals and ingredients have been introduced without notifying the FDA at all, according to agency officials, trade journals and food safety groups.

FDA officials, food safety advocates and the food industry all agree there are problems. There are too many cases in which the agency is not notified of new additives or the science remains secret. But there’s no consensus about how to fix the system.

Industry trade groups say that the additives in today’s foods do not pose a public safety risk, but most agree improvements for better tracking and oversight are needed.

“It’s the right time to take a step back,” said Leon Bruner, the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s chief science officer. “There are problems with transparency. How can we be sure that the FDA is aware of ingredients?”

Safety claims not evaluated

When the manufacturer of a vegetarian line of foods called Quorn first approached the FDA in 1986, the company asked that the agency give formal additive approval for a protein-rich fungus the company makes in large fermentation vats.

Marlow Foods dubbed its new fungal ingredient “mycoprotein.”

Fifteen years passed without the FDA moving on the petition. Internal FDA documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show no sign of the agency evaluating the safety claims made in the petition. Because the FDA declined interview requests about Quorn products, it is unclear why the petition sat for so long.

After the long delay and without withdrawing the original petition, Marlow filed a GRAS notification with the FDA in 2001, saying the firm had hired a group of experts who had determined that mycoprotein was safe. Under the rules, the notification did not — nor did it have to — cite every study the company had conducted.

A study that was not mentioned was an unpublished “large scale volunteer trial” from the late 1970s. During the trial, nearly 5 percent of the 200 participants reported feeling ill after eating several “test meals,” according to the study, which was obtained by The Washington Post. Four had “more severe reactions,” including two who started to “vomit violently,” another who became “violently sick” and another who “experienced nausea and vomiting” after eating Quorn products that contain mycoprotein. The study says that the “reactions” could have been caused by a response to mycoprotein.

In a prepared statement, Quorn said the study had been shared with the FDA but was not cited in the GRAS submission because “it was a small study and at that time nearly 25 years old and more recent data was relevant and important to the submission.” The statement also said “many research studies” had been undertaken, and all were shared with the FDA and other regulators.

Once Marlow filed its GRAS notification, the FDA acted quickly. Within six weeks, the FDA signed off on it, using its standard language, noting it was not vouching for the safety of mycoprotein and that it was the “continuing responsibility of Marlow to ensure that food ingredients that the firm markets are safe.”

Within months, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) began alerting the FDA to complaints from consumers in the United States and Britain, where the products have been sold since 1985.

“They said they broke out in hives and had breathing difficulties — anaphylactic reactions,” said Michael Jacobson, the group’s executive director. “The GI episodes they described were violent. They would vomit so hard it could break the blood vessels in their eyes.”

Independent researchers also published three papers in academic journals, between 2003 and 2009, describing severe and even life-threatening allergic reactions to mycoprotein.

The FDA ultimately contacted hundreds of people that the advocacy center sent their way. In 2012, the agency wrote to the group agreeing that “individuals may experience adverse reactions” to Quorn products and that a “food allergy cannot be ruled out.” However, FDA officials said they believed “most of these reactions are due to non-life threatening food intolerance.”

The FDA said it would not challenge Marlow’s GRAS findings.

The CSPI said the FDA treated the concerns as an inconvenience more than a safety concern. It said the agency, at a minimum, should have issued a public warning to people who could be allergic or intolerant, or mandate warning labels. FDA officials strongly disagreed with this characterization, documents show.

In a statement to The Post, Marlow Foods said the fungal-based ingredient in its products is a “natural protein” that is “harvested and fermented in a similar way to beer, yeast or yogurt,” adding that claims that Quorn is unsafe “have been proven inaccurate and lack scientific credibility.” However, the company acknowledges on its Web site that some consumers may have a “true allergic reaction” to its products.

Bypassing the FDA

Companies often bypass the FDA altogether. Under the rules, companies may make their own GRAS determination. Sharing it with the agency and getting it to sign off is voluntary.

In 2007, Japan-based Kao Corp. tried to get the FDA to sign off on its GRAS determination for its extract containing the chemical Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). The company planned to promote its qualities as an antioxidant and possible fat-burner in a line of diet and sports drinks, according to FDA e-mails obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council through a Freedom of Information Act request.

But the FDA toxicologists first asked Kao to address the findings of more than a dozen scientific studies, including one that showed it could induce “toxicity in the liver, kidneys and intestine.” Another showed it could produce “defects in the brain and heart.” And still another said it may “contribute to infant leukemia,” the FDA e-mails show.

FDA told Kao Corp. to go back to the drawing board. Instead, in 2008, it withdrew its notification. Kao spokeswoman Billie Cole said the company believes its products, which are marketed in Japan, are healthy and safe.

Three years later, another company, Iowa-based Kemin, took out advertisements in trade publications, announcing its green-tea powder containing EGCG was Generally Recognized as Safe. Kemin did not share its GRAS findings with the agency.

The company began marketing the substance to the food and beverage industry for use in “cereal, nutrition and energy bars, soft drinks, sports and isotonic drinks, energy beverages, fruit and vegetable juices, meal replacement and soft candies.”

In a prepared statement, Anita Norian, president of Kemin’s human nutrition and health division, said the product is safe and that the company chose “not to participate in the FDA’s voluntary GRAS determination notification process.” Norian said to do so would potentially undermine the company’s work, allowing other firms to discover “proprietary” information about its product.

This is the opposite of what the overight law intended, the FDA’s Taylor said. Although informing the FDA is voluntary, he said, the law was meant to increase public scrutiny of additive safety by encouraging companies to publish their science in academic journals.

“The assessments need to be based on publicly available information where there is agreement among scientists,” he said. “It has got to be more than three employees in a room looking at information that is only available to them.”

Proliferation taking a toll?

Even when the FDA approves a new additive or signs off on a company’s GRAS determination, a safe ingredient can turn dangerous if its use becomes more widespread than the agency envisioned. And under the rules, the agency has little way of monitoring this threat after the initial introduction of the additive, called “post-market.”

“We do not know the volume of particular chemicals that are going into the food supply so we can diagnose trends,” Taylor said. “We do not know what is going on post-market.”

During the initial review, the FDA sets limits for how much of a chemical or ingredient can be used in a particular product. But the cumulative consumption can soar as the additive is used in more and more types of food and beverages.

This is what happened with caffeine. In 1959, the FDA approved it as GRAS, allowing soft drink manufacturers to add it to their products. But now food manufacturers are loading caffeine into energy drinks, maple syrup, jelly beans and marshmallows.

And what happened with caffeine is now taking place with lesser-known additives.

Carrageenan, extracted from red seaweed, was one of the first substances that the agency recognized as GRAS. The additive is a stabilizer that can help preserve the structure of foods and beverages and is used in products such as evaporated milk.

But as processed foods began to take off, and a demand for low-fat and tasty vegan processed foods became more popular, so did the use of carrageenan. A drop of it in a package of reduced-fat deli meat, a bundle of vegan cheese, a bottle of kefir or a carton of almond milk can keep ingredients blended together and give products a pleasant texture.

Companies sought and secured the FDA’s approval for its use as a food additive for a wider variety of functions — including as a thickener and an emulsifier, which keeps ingredients bound together. That approval further restricted the type of red seaweed that could be used as the source.

Scientists working for the carrageenan industry say the additive is safe.

“When it’s bound to food protein, it cannot interact with the cells; it can’t interact with the intestinal wall,” said James McKim, president of the toxicological research firm CeeTox, who was recently hired as a consultant to the carrageenan trade group, Marinalg. “It runs right through the animals.”

But doctors say the proliferation of carrageenan in the food supply is taking a mounting toll on health. As its uses have multiplied, so have gastrointestinal disorders such as diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, according to some doctors who specialize in treating patients with gastrointestinal tract problems.

Joanne Tobacman, a University of Chicago physician and professor, asked the FDA in 2008 to examine the additive’s safety, submitting five of her own studies concluding that carrageenan can cause inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. The studies were financed with grants from the federal government.

The FDA denied her petition, citing several other industry-funded studies that contradicted her findings.

Melvyn Grovit, a clinical nutritionist who treats children with Crohn’s disease, said he started advising his clients to remove carregeenan from their diets with great success after reading Tobacman’s research.

“I’ve given up on the FDA protecting the public; they are protecting businesses,” said Grovit, who also has Crohn’s disease. “The only reason for its presence in so many food products today is that it’s cheap and it makes food processing easy.”

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NOSB Voting Scorecard Released – Lobbyists/Influence Peddlers Eroding Organic Standardshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/nosb-voting-scorecard-released-lobbyistsinfluence-peddlers-eroding-organic-standards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nosb-voting-scorecard-released-lobbyistsinfluence-peddlers-eroding-organic-standards http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/nosb-voting-scorecard-released-lobbyistsinfluence-peddlers-eroding-organic-standards/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 15:01:06 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13112 Analysis Illustrates USDA/Agribusiness Collusion CORNUCOPIA, WIS: A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent. The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member

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Analysis Illustrates USDA/Agribusiness Collusion

CORNUCOPIA, WIS: A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.

GoToScorecardbutton The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.

CI_NOSB_Scorecard_1“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”

Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.

“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.

Of the four seats reserved for farmers on the current board, one is held by an employee of the giant California berry marketing firm, Driscoll’s (which does not grow organic strawberries but rather relies on contract farmers), and one by an individual who, when appointed, worked for the country’s largest organic marketing cooperative, CROPP ($928 million in annual revenue).  The voting records of these two agribusiness employees are significantly lower than those of the actual farmer members of the NOSB.

Voting records for the current 15-member NOSB board members include three independent members with a history of voting over 90% of the time to block practices eroding organic integrity.  These board members are Jennifer Taylor, public interest/consumer representative and academic; Jay Feldman, environmentalist and executive director of Beyond Pesticides; and Colehour Bondera, a certified organic farmer from Hawaii.

Voting scores of NOSB agribusiness representatives include those of Harold Austin (10% — handler with Zirkle Fruit), John Foster (16% — handler with WhiteWave/Earthbound Farms), Carmela Beck (17% — “farmer” with Driscoll’s) and Wendy Fulwider (34% — “farmer” with Organic Valley/Whole Foods-GAP).

The study’s analysis was based on Cornucopia’s policy positions over the past five years, prepared by experienced organic farmers, policy experts, former certification officials, and staff scientists with doctorates in related agricultural disciplines.

“The policy positions Cornucopia has publicly taken (and used for the scoring criteria) are clearly in the mainstream of thought within the organic community and are consistent with those taken by the vast majority of other consumer, environmental and farmer-supported organizations,” Kastel affirmed.

Kastel noted that a separate analysis by Cornucopia compared the industry watchdog’s official written and oral public testimony on issues before the NOSB with that of other nonprofit groups.

That analysis showed that Cornucopia’s policy positions were 100% compatible with that of 10 of the 12 nonprofit groups actively involved in lobbying at the NOSB over the past two years, including the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides, and Consumers Union. Cornucopia scored an 86% compatibility with the policy positions of the National Organic Coalition, an umbrella group made up of farm organizations, retailers, and organic businesses.

Dominic Marchese, a long-time certified organic beef producer from Farmdale, Ohio, observed: “If the USDA had complied with the law, and appointed somebody like myself, a working organic farmer who met the qualifications to serve on the NOSB set up by Congress, instead of corporate imposters, many of the close votes over the last five years would have gone the other way.”

Marchese had applied for the NOSB three times in past years.  One of those years saw USDA Secretary Vilsack choosing Driscoll’s Carmela Beck for the farmer seat

In addition to the well-defined “independent” and “corporate” voting blocs, Cornucopia found that about a quarter of the board qualified as true swing voters.

“After the publication of The Organic Watergate, a number of board members and other organic industry stakeholders, including myself, were surprised by the degree that the NOSB system of vetting synthetics and non-organic materials allowed for temporary use in organics was just plain not working,” said Cornucopia’s Kastel.

In addition to corporate members being illegally appointed to the board, Cornucopia’s Organic Watergate report also uncovered that agribusiness executives and consultants had been hired by the USDA to do “independent” technical reviews of materials brought before the board. The apparent conflict of interest and bias of these contractors is highly disturbing since the NOSB is not a scientific panel and Congress provided for access to independent scientists to advise the body.

“I think the more recent record of some swing voters indicates that the NOSB is now taking a much more critical view of what is presented to the board by the corporate lobbyists that claim the materials are essential to organic production,” Kastel added.

The law governing organic production, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, calls for the NOSB to vet all non-organic materials to assure they are not a danger to human health or the environment and are actually necessary for the production of organic food.

Cornucopia’s analysis shows that some swing voters have seen their voting scores materially change over the past two years. As an example, the voting record of newly elected board chairperson Jean Richardson, a respected academic and an organic inspector, has moved up to 67%.

Cornucopia has stated that one of their goals in performing this research is to illustrate to the Secretary of Agriculture that his appointments will be closely scrutinized in terms of legality and as to whether he has sold out the organic movement through undermining the will of Congress and the majority of industry participants in favor of corporate profit and expansion.

“We also want to make sure we hold the corporations accountable that have employees on the board, corporations like Whole Foods, WhiteWave (Earthbound Farms/Horizon/Silk), General Mills (Cascadian Farms/Muir Glen), and Driscoll’s,” said Kastel. “If you want our patronage the performance of your employees on this board has to be consistent with your marketing rhetoric in support of organics.”

Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.

Observed Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”

MORE:

The Cornucopia Institute’s analysis includes all contested NOSB votes in the prior five years (for both current and past board members).  It can be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-scorecard/

Cornucopia’s analysis of the policy positions of other nonprofit organizations, corporate participants (processors, marketers, retailers, trade organizations), and certifiers can be found at: 
http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-NGO-postions.pdf

Cornucopia said that they modeled their voting scorecard after similar guides produced by other groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and the National Farmers Union. The farm policy research group’s Kastel observed, “I’m sure if you used the POV (point of view) of a group on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum in terms of organics, such as the Organic Trade Association, the results of the analysis of NOSB voting records would turn out markedly different. This study reflects the positions held by the vast majority of public interest groups monitoring organic governance at the USDA.”

After the publication of The Organic Watergate, the NOSB began to take a more judicious approach, becoming more skeptical of corporate lobbyists’ safety and essentiality claims about synthetic and non-organic materials.  In response, last fall the USDA’s National Organic Program unilaterally changed the rules on removing these materials from the National List of ingredients approved in organics. The new rules make it demonstrably harder to remove these substances every five years as they “sunset.”

A broad section of the organic community has vigorously protested these moves, which were made, in conflict with the law, with no input from either the NOSB or the organic community at large.  Protesters have included the two key congressional authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

Examples of hypocrisies by corporate representatives on the board include:

1. Representatives of Whole Foods and Organic Valley voting for, at sunset, continued use of the coagulant and thickening agent carrageenan, when their respective companies utilize the ingredient in their products.

Carrageenan has been controversial for years, with all industry-funded studies declaring it perfectly safe while independent medical researchers (mostly funded by the National Institutes of Health) find it to be a potent intestinal inflammatory agent causing serious disease and even cancer.

Many industry observers contend that representatives of companies like Whole Foods and Organic Valley, due to conflict of interest, should not be permitted to participate on NOSB votes that economically benefit their employers.

2. When the NOSB debated tighter standards, in an effort to force industrial-scale livestock producers to provide outdoor access for laying hens and other poultry, the Organic Valley employee on the NOSB voted in favor of providing a minimum of 2 ft.², outdoors, for each laying hen.

Organic Valley sets standards for their own farmers requiring a minimum of 5 ft.². In the European Union chickens are required to have a minimum of 43 ft.² of pasture and no more than 3,000 birds per building. Currently in the U.S., factory farms producing the majority of all “organic” eggs are providing no legitimate outdoor access, in buildings that hold as many as 100,000 birds.

Agricultural policy experts at Cornucopia have stated that a 2 ft.² requirement would be woefully inadequate in terms of meeting the intent of the organic standards, promoting the humane treatment of animals, environmental protection and producing eggs with superior taste and nutritional profiles.

The Cornucopia Institute has also warned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that it would be viewed as “hostile and cynical” if he made a new appointment to the NOSB of someone who technically qualified as a farmer but has acted as a spokesperson for a major corporate player in the organic arena.

As an example, Dean Foods/WhiteWave has paid thousands to fly farmers around the country representing the company, including in front of the NOSB.

“Although these farmers might legally be qualified as ‘owning or operating an organic farm,’ they would surely be viewed as carrying the water for their corporate benefactors, once again undermining the collaborative framework that Congress had intended,” said Kastel.

A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-all-votes.pdf

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Stop Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” Cropshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/stop-dow-chemicals-agent-orange-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-dow-chemicals-agent-orange-crops http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/stop-dow-chemicals-agent-orange-crops/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 16:45:35 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13093 Over a hundred million additional pounds of toxic pesticides associated with cancers and birth defects are coming to a field near you. UNLESS YOU STOP IT! “Agent Orange” crops are genetically engineered by Dow Chemical to promote the use of 2,4-D, one of the herbicides in the toxic mixture Vietnam veteran’s know as Agent Orange. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on the cusp of approval, even though they acknowledge the use of this

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Pesticide.NRCSOver a hundred million additional pounds of toxic pesticides associated with cancers and birth defects are coming to a field near you. UNLESS YOU STOP IT!

“Agent Orange” crops are genetically engineered by Dow Chemical to promote the use of 2,4-D, one of the herbicides in the toxic mixture Vietnam veteran’s know as Agent Orange. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on the cusp of approval, even though they acknowledge the use of this toxic pesticide will skyrocket.  The USDA has opened one last comment period before its final approval of corn and soybeans genetically engineered with resistance to Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo™herbicide combo of 2,4-D and glyphosate.

There is a 30-day public comment period and it MIGHT BE OUR LAST CHANCE to stop this chemical assault – Sign the petition today!  We’ve posted a link to the USDA’s comment page from the Center for Food Safety.

The comment period closes Sept. 8, 2014.

And here’s a link to the formal comments filed with the USDA earlier by Cornucopia.

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Invader Batters Rural America, Shrugging Off Herbicideshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/invader-batters-rural-america-shrugging-herbicides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=invader-batters-rural-america-shrugging-herbicides http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/invader-batters-rural-america-shrugging-herbicides/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:18:42 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13087 New York Times By Michael Wines WHEATFIELD, Ind. — The Terminator — that relentless, seemingly indestructible villain of the 1980s action movie — is back. And he is living amid the soybeans at Harper Brothers Farms. About 100 miles northwest of Indianapolis, amid 8,000 lush acres farmed by Dave Harper, his brother Mike and their sons, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of weeds refuses to die. Three growing seasons after surfacing in a single field, it is

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New York Times
By Michael Wines

WHEATFIELD, Ind. — The Terminator — that relentless, seemingly indestructible villain of the 1980s action movie — is back. And he is living amid the soybeans at Harper Brothers Farms.

legleiter-amaranth

Image Source: Travis Legleiter, Purdue University

About 100 miles northwest of Indianapolis, amid 8,000 lush acres farmed by Dave Harper, his brother Mike and their sons, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of weeds refuses to die. Three growing seasons after surfacing in a single field, it is a daily presence in a quarter of the Harper spread and has a foothold in a third more. Its oval leaves and spindly seed heads blanket roadsides and jut above orderly soybean rows like skyscrapers poking through cloud banks. It shrugs off extreme drought and heat. At up to six inches in diameter, its stalk is thick enough to damage farm equipment.

“You swear that you killed it,” said Scott Harper, Dave Harper’s son and the farm’s 28-year-old resident weed expert. “And then it gets a little green on it, and it comes right back.”

Botanists call the weed palmer amaranth. But perhaps the most fitting, if less known, name is carelessweed. In barely a decade, it has devastated Southern cotton farms and is poised to wreak havoc in the Midwest — all because farmers got careless.

Palmer, as farmers nicknamed it, is the most notorious of a growing number of weeds that are immune to the gold standard of herbicides, glyphosate. Cheap, comparatively safe and deadly to many weeds, glyphosate has been a favorite ever since the Monsanto Company introduced it under the name Roundup in the mid-1970s.

After Monsanto began selling crops genetically engineered to resist glyphosate in the 1990s, the herbicide’s use soared. Farmers who once juggled an array of herbicides — what killed weeds in a cotton field might kill cornstalks in a cornfield — suddenly had a single herbicide that could be applied to almost all major crops without harming them.

There were even environmental benefits: Farmers relied less on other, more dangerous weed killers. And they abandoned techniques like tilling that discouraged weed growth, but hastened erosion and moisture loss.

But constantly dousing crops in glyphosate exacted a price. Weeds with glyphosate-resisting genetic mutations appeared faster and more often — 16 types of weed so far in the United States. A 2012 survey concluded that glyphosate-resistant weeds had infested enough acreage of American farmland to cover a plot nearly as big as Oregon, and that the total infestation had grown 51 percent in one year. Glyphosate-resistant palmers first surfaced in 2005, in a field in Macon County, Ga. Nine years later, they are in at least 24 states.

“There’s no substantive argument about whether the problem’s gotten far worse in this era of genetically resistant crops,” said Charles Benbrook, a professor and pesticide expert at Washington State University. “The advent of herbicide-tolerant crops made it possible for farmers to load up so much herbicide on one crop that it was inevitable that it would develop resistance.”

Now farmers are going back to older techniques to control weeds, using more varieties of herbicides, resuming tilling — and worse.

Palmer amaranth is the prime example. Consider the cotton fields that blanket many Southern farms: Without glyphosate, almost no herbicides can kill the weed without also damaging cotton plants. Some farmers have mowed their crops to keep palmer seeds from maturing. In 2009, Georgia spent $11 million to send laborers into a million acres of cotton fields to pull palmers out by hand.

For many farmers, including the Harpers, manual labor has become a last resort in the battle against carelessweed.

“I consider myself a Roundup baby, and it was great,” Scott Harper said. “You didn’t have to think about anything. And now we get this weed that flips everything on its head.”

The Harpers’ 2,500-acre soybean crop is an object lesson in palmer’s adaptability and how far farmers must go just to keep it in check.

Palmer amaranths seem as if they were designed by nature to outwit herbicides and farmers. Unlike many weeds, it has male and female versions, increasing genetic diversity — and the chances of a herbicide-resistant mutation — in each new seed. And each plant is astonishingly prolific, producing up to 200,000 seeds in an average field, said Dave Mortensen, a professor of weed and plant ecology at Pennsylvania State University.

“If one out of millions or billions of seeds contains a unique trait that confers resistance to herbicide,” he said, “it doesn’t take long when a plant is that fecund for it to become the dominant gene.”

William G. Johnson, a Purdue University professor of botany and plant pathology, said the weed probably arrived at the Harpers’ farm in typical fashion: in manure, purchased as fertilizer, from cows that ate cottonseed — and, inadvertently, palmer seeds.

The Harpers initially mistook the weed for waterhemp, a close relative. Before they learned otherwise, combines had already harvested fields containing mature palmer seed pods and had spread the seed far and wide.

A glyphosate-resistant palmer is a mighty beast indeed. Its seeds can germinate any time during the growing season, so herbicide sprayed in April is useless against a palmer that appears in July. Once sprouted, palmer amaranth can grow more than two inches a day. Once it exceeds four inches, even herbicides for which it lacks resistance begin to lose their effectiveness.

The Harpers have kept palmers at bay in their 5,500 acres of corn by spraying dicamba, a weed killer that is benign to corn. Soybeans are a different matter.

Last year, the Harpers sprayed palmer-infested fields several times with glyphosate and two other herbicides, pushing herbicide costs to $80 an acre from $15. About eight in 10 palmers died. The rest wilted for a couple of weeks, then resumed growing.

This year, they are trying a different chemical cocktail that raises herbicide costs only to $45 an acre. Their big gun, a herbicide that blocks palmers from synthesizing amino acids, was sprayed on July 3, the first of two applications allowed each summer.

“I came back from the Fourth of July weekend, and they looked dead,” Mr. Harper said. “I said, ‘I think we smoked ’em.’ My dad says, ‘Awesome.’ ” He paused. “Ten days later, there’s green coming all over them again.”

Should the second herbicide application fail, Mr. Harper said, he is unsure what to do next.

More broadly, experts in glyphosate’s travails — farmers, scientists, regulators, the herbicide industry, environmentalists — feel much the same way.

The industry has readied a new barrage of genetically engineered crops that tolerate other weed killers. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to approve plans by Dow AgroSciences to sell soybean seeds that tolerate not only glyphosate, but a much older herbicide, 2,4-D, and a third widely used herbicide, glufosinate. Monsanto hopes to market soybeans and cotton next year that resist dicamba.

Dr. Mortensen and others say the companies are simply repeating the history that made palmers resistant to glyphosate. He says natural solutions, like planting what are known as cover crops that keep light from reaching germinating palmers, may cost more but are also effective.

Mr. Harper said he believes Dr. Mortensen is right. He also said he cannot wait for Monsanto and Dow to begin hawking their new soybeans anyway.

“I’m not stupid. I know you can only ride a pony so far,” he said. “It’ll probably take another 10 years before palmer becomes a real big problem again. But that just brought me 10 years I didn’t have.”

A version of this article appears in print on August 12, 2014, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Invader Batters Rural America, Shrugging Off Herbicides. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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USDA Clips Wings of Misleading Organic Marketershttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/usda-clips-wings-misleading-organic-marketers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=usda-clips-wings-misleading-organic-marketers http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/usda-clips-wings-misleading-organic-marketers/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:56:29 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13081 CORNUCOPIA, WIS: The USDA, today, announced to industry stakeholders that it would rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers. Specifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name. “Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia

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CORNUCOPIA, WIS: The USDA, today, announced to industry stakeholders that it would rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers.

usda logoSpecifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name.

“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.

Some companies, such as Newman’s Own Organics, have been selling products that do not qualify for the use of the word organic on the front panel and are getting away with misleading messaging to consumers because they have used the word organic in their trade name.

In 2010 Cornucopia filed a formal legal complaint against Newman’s for selling such products as ginger cookies, using a lesser labeling category regulated by the USDA: Made with Organic Ingredients. The USDA dismissed this complaint without explanation.

At that time staff from Cornucopia also briefed USDA Deputy Administrator, Miles McEvoy, who heads the National Organic Program (NOP) on the organization’s concerns, in this matter, and also briefed members of the National Organic Standards Board.

Alphabet2“Nothing happens too swiftly in Washington but we want to sincerely express our appreciation to the leadership and staff at the National Organic Program,” added Kastel, who said that Cornucopia would be refiling their legal complaint against Newman’s Own Organics, which appears not to be operating within the new labeling instructions issued by the USDA today.

As an example, when Cornucopia filed its original complaint Newman’s ginger cookies, and other products the company markets, had labels such as “made with organic wheat and sugar,” but many of the more expensive ingredients were not in fact organic.

“When products qualify for the made with organic label, it means they have a minimum of 70% organic content,” stated Kastel. “Newman’s Own Organics ginger cookies didn’t even contain organic ginger when we did our initial investigation in 2010. That’s what I call misleading!”

A small percentage of products under the Newman’s Own Organics name actually are certified organic. Most are manufactured with 70% organic ingredients and qualify for the “made with organic” labeling category.

“Other brands of organic cookies that have to compete on store shelves with Newman’s, such as Country Choice, go to the effort and expense to procure organic ginger and all other available organic ingredients, and present a product of true integrity to the consuming public,” said Kastel.

In an e-mail to the organic industry, the USDA’s National Organic Program explained the basis of their new approach, “The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”

“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.

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In the Whole World There’s Only Two Kinds of Power….http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/whole-world-theres-two-kinds-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whole-world-theres-two-kinds-power http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/whole-world-theres-two-kinds-power/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 15:25:20 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13072 In the whole world there’s only two kinds of power … Money and People. And we have the People! Please help Cornucopia crack the coveted 100,000 milestone by becoming a friend on Facebook and sharing our Facebook page with your friends, family and colleagues. Together, farmers and consumers are the only antidote to corporate greed when it comes to protecting the organic label, organic food and organic agriculture. Although the New York Times, Washington Post,

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In the whole world there’s only two kinds of power … Money and People.

And we have the People!

CI_100kFacebookLikes_1aPlease help Cornucopia crack the coveted 100,000 milestone by becoming a friend on Facebook and sharing our Facebook page with your friends, family and colleagues.

Together, farmers and consumers are the only antidote to corporate greed when it comes to protecting the organic label, organic food and organic agriculture.

Although the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and other prominent news outlets have all carried the work of The Cornucopia Institute, people power (social media) is so important.

Of our almost 100,000 Facebook friends, our collaborators are consistently sharing information from Cornucopia’s Facebook page with 50,000 to 150,000 of their friends each week.

And they, in turn, share our information with other friends. Last week we had a “reach” of 1.4 million Facebook users. Meaning, 1.4 million citizens had something from the Cornucopia Institute on their Facebook pages that week!

As important as it is appearing in the pages of the more liberal New York Times, or the more conservative Wall Street Journal, farmers and consumers are deciding on their own what information is of value — and we are all connected!

The Cornucopia Institute, like the organic farming movement itself, has supporters from all sides of the political spectrum. What we all agree upon is that organic food pays tremendous dividends to society and that authentic, nutrient-dense food protects and nurtures our families — and that’s worth protecting!

Would you please join with thousands of others in amplifying the voice of The Cornucopia Institute by connecting with us and promoting our Facebook page? Together, we can keep the organic label from being hijacked by giant corporations, and a complacent USDA, that seek to exploit its true meaning in pursuit of greater profit.

Sincerely yours,

Will Fantle, Codirector

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SF Approves California’s First Tax Incentive for Urban Aghttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/sf-approves-californias-first-tax-incentive-urban-ag/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sf-approves-californias-first-tax-incentive-urban-ag http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/sf-approves-californias-first-tax-incentive-urban-ag/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 23:24:09 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13065 SPUR By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager On July 29, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that created California’s first urban agriculture incentive zone. The new law allows a tax break for SF property owners who dedicate their land to agricultural use for at least five years. For more background on the legislation, see our earlier blog post. The final legislation included a few important amendments and changes:

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SPUR
By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager

Image Source:  John Sullivan

Image Source: John Sullivan

On July 29, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that created California’s first urban agriculture incentive zone. The new law allows a tax break for SF property owners who dedicate their land to agricultural use for at least five years. For more background on the legislation, see our earlier blog post.

The final legislation included a few important amendments and changes:

A threshold for revenue loss 
To ensure that the program doesn’t lead to large revenue losses for the city, the Board of Supervisors created a new threshold for review.  If a proposed contract would push the combined annual revenue loss from all incentive zone contracts over $250,000, the contract must go to the Board of Supervisors for review. This threshold is in addition to a $25,000 per parcel maximum revenue loss threshold and a 5-acre contiguous land threshold that existed in the first version of the ordinance.

Supervisor review for any proposed contract
To provide an additional check and balance for the program, the Board of Supervisors adopted an amendment that allows them to review any contract that has been recommended for approval by the agricultural commissioner.  The board has a 10-day window after receiving the list of recommended contracts to request a hearing to review any contract. If the board does not request a hearing, a recommended contract can be approved administratively.

Application cycles rather than a rolling application process
To help reduce the administrative burden of the application process, the administrative review will happen in three cycles rather than on a rolling basis.  For 2014, applications will be due October 1.  In subsequent years, applications will be due by March 1, June 1 and August 1.  The timelines for agency review outlined in the ordinance will begin after those deadlines.

The law will go into effect by early September, and city agencies are already beginning to work on drafting the application materials.  Anyone interested in applying for an urban agriculture incentive zone contract should contact the city’s Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator.

Watch a KPIX news piece about the ordinance 

Read the final version of the ordinance

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The GMO Fight Ripples Down the Food Chainhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/gmo-fight-ripples-food-chain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gmo-fight-ripples-food-chain http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/gmo-fight-ripples-food-chain/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:21:00 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13061 Facing Consumer Pressure, More Firms Are Jettisoning GMOs From Their Foods The Wall Street Journal by Annie Gasparro Two years ago, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. initiated a plan to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from its ice cream, an effort to address a nascent consumer backlash and to fulfill its own environmental goals. This fall, nearly a year behind schedule, it expects to finish phase one, affecting its flavorful “chunks and swirls” like cookie dough and caramel.

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Facing Consumer Pressure, More Firms Are Jettisoning GMOs From Their Foods

The Wall Street Journal
by Annie Gasparro

ben and jerrys logoTwo years ago, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. initiated a plan to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from its ice cream, an effort to address a nascent consumer backlash and to fulfill its own environmental goals.

This fall, nearly a year behind schedule, it expects to finish phase one, affecting its flavorful “chunks and swirls” like cookie dough and caramel. The only part left to convert: the milk that makes ice cream itself. Thanks to the complexities of sourcing milk deemed free of genetically modified material, that could take five to 10 more years.

“There’s a lot more that goes into it than people realize,” said Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s director of social mission.

Two decades after the first genetically engineered seeds were sold commercially in the U.S., genetically modified organisms—the crops grown from such seeds—are the norm in the American diet, used to make ingredients in about 80% of packaged food, according to industry estimates. (Take a quiz about GMOs.)

Now an intensifying campaign, spearheaded by consumer and environmental advocacy groups like Green America, is causing a small but growing number of mainstream food makers to jettison genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. In addition to Ben & Jerry’s, a subsidiary of Unilever PLC, General Mills Inc. this year started selling its original flavor Cheerios without GMOs. Post Holdings Inc. took the GMOs out of Grape-Nuts. Boulder Brands Inc.’s Smart Balance has converted to non-GMO for its line of margarine and other spreads. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is switching to non-GMO corn tortillas.

“Non-GMO” is one of the fastest-growing label trends on U.S. food packages, with sales of such items growing 28% last year to about $3 billion, according to market-research firm Nielsen. In a poll of nearly 1,200 U.S. consumers for The Wall Street Journal, Nielsen found that 61% of consumers had heard of GMOs and nearly half of those people said they avoid eating them. The biggest reason was because it “doesn’t sound like something I should eat.”

Grass roots campaigns in several states are pushing for mandatory labeling of foods with GMOs—something most food companies staunchly oppose. In May, Vermont adopted the first state lawrequiring companies to label GMO foods, starting in 2016.

The anti-GMO backlash reflects the deep skepticism that has taken root among many U.S. consumers toward the food industry and, in particular, its use of technology. Similar criticism has roiled other food ingredients including artificial sweeteners and finely textured beef, the treated meat product that critics dubbed “pink slime.” The Web and social media have enabled consumer suspicions in such matters to coalesce into powerful movements that are forcing companies to respond.

Critics of GMOs—which have combined genes from different organisms to make some staple crops more durable—say there haven’t been enough independent studies on the long-term health and environmental consequences of what they dub as “Frankenfood.” They cite a handful of studies outside the U.S. that found toxic effects on animals fed genetically modified crops, and point out that 64 nations, including the European Union countries and China, require labeling of GMO products.

“If it turns out that after doing the studies, the scientific evidence shows GMOs are OK, I will change my mind,” said Alisa Gravitz, a board member of the Non-GMO Project and chief executive of Green America. “But until then, why infect our entire food supply with this, when the early studies, the bona fide, peer-reviewed ones, throw up some red flags?”

For its part, the food industry says those studies are inconclusive and that none has shown any link to harm to humans. Proponents also point out that GMO crops used in the U.S.—which also include alfalfa, cotton, papaya and squash—have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t mandate labeling food that contains them. And even though the European Union requires labeling in member countries, it has approved many GMO foods as safe for consumption.

The debate aside, how companies like General Mills and Ben & Jerry’s fare in dropping GMOs will offer a guide to others that are considering it. So far, the process has proved expensive, complex and politically dicey. For Ben & Jerry’s, the premium for non-GMO ingredients ranged from 5% to 20%, reflecting how deeply rooted the technology is in the U.S. food chain. Ben & Jerry’s says it plans to eat the costs rather than pass them on to customers.

But the forerunners are also encouraging farmers and ingredient manufacturers to increase the supply of non-GMO items, which could make it easier for food makers to follow.

Certainly, the stakes are large for companies like Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., which sell genetically engineered seeds to give crops traits like the ability to repel insects or resist weed killers. Today, more than 90% of corn, canola, soybean and sugar beet crops in the U.S. are genetically modified. Most of the produce Americans consume directly isn’t GMO, but the crops are used to produce common ingredients like corn syrup, soy lecithin and more than half of the sugar consumed in the U.S.—plus the feed consumed by most of the nation’s livestock.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Monsanto said the company was confident about the safety of its seeds based on an “extensive body of rigorous testing” by company and independent researchers. DuPont pointed out the technology was backed by “regulatory agencies and scientific organizations around the world.” The switch to GMO, proponents say, has led to higher crop yields and lower food costs.

When a big brand announces plans to drop GMOs, it stirs the debate further. GMO backers criticized General Mills for its change to Cheerios, saying it gave credence to misperceptions of the technology. Anti-GMO groups quickly started calling on General Mills to drop them from its Honey Nut Cheerios, too. The company said that changing the ingredients of its other cereals would be too difficult, but that GMO products are safe, adding that it offered the non-GMO variety to give consumers more options.

Ben & Jerry’s, which ranks fifth among U.S. ice cream brands by sales, says it doesn’t consider GMOs unsafe to humans either, but has always positioned itself as an environmentally friendly, socially progressive brand. Executives long wanted to drop GMOs, which they feel are part of industrialized, chemical-intensive agriculture that the company opposes, said Mr. Michalak, the social mission director. But the company didn’t start discussing converting its flavors with suppliers until 2012.

That year, anti-GMO advocates got on the California ballot Proposition 37, a measure requiring GMO labeling similar to the one that later passed in Vermont. Food and agriculture companies poured more than $46 million into advertising to fight the measure, saying it would confuse consumers and raise food costs. The measure narrowly failed to pass, but it galvanized GMO opponents and put the industry on notice.

Ben & Jerry’s didn’t get directly involved in the California fight. But the battle “catalyzed the movement for us,” said Cheryl Pinto, Ben & Jerry’s ingredient sourcing manager. “When all the non-GMO hoopla hit the fan, we realized we better accelerate our conversion.”

Aside from the milk, Ben & Jerry’s said most ice cream ingredients were already non-GMO. Still, the company needed to check with suppliers and rigorously investigate all 110 ingredients it uses to make ice cream. Among the surprises: finding out a product couldn’t be considered non-GMO if the supplier dusted the pan with cornstarch before baking. The supplier had to switch to rice starch.

“Our suppliers generally had to negotiate all the way down the supply chain to get to the farmer,” Ms. Pinto said.

At the farm level, companies confront a chicken-or-egg-type conundrum. Food makers are hesitant to commit to dropping GMOs until they are sure they can find sufficient sources of non-GMO crops. But farmers are reluctant to switch seeds unless they know there will be guaranteed demand for non-GMO crops at a premium price.

Mercaris, a market data researcher, said prices last year for non-GMO corn averaged 51 cents per bushel higher than those for regular, GMO corn. That is a significant difference for farmers when the national average corn price was between $4 to $4.50. But some farmers also worry that dropping GMO seeds could lower their yields, meaning fewer bushels per acre.

Ben & Jerry’s paid an average of 11% more for each ingredient that changed to a non-GMO version. In some cases that also included the higher cost of sourcing ingredients from Fair Trade suppliers—those certified as paying fair prices to producers in developing countries—which it did simultaneously.

The company says it can’t quantify how much it spent on the non-GMO conversion in total. “It was really expensive,” Ms. Pinto said. “Surcharges came in from transportation. Instead of buying beet sugar from down the road, you’re buying cane sugar from much farther away.” The conversion also required time and money to design new labeling and marketing and carry out legal reviews, she said.

For its Chubby Hubby ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s had to change peanut butter pretzel suppliers because ConAgra Foods Inc., which bought the company that supplied the pretzels, was unwilling or unable to adhere to the non-GMO and Fair Trade requirements, according to people familiar with the situation. The change in suppliers also caused a shift from peanut butter-filled pretzels to peanut butter-coated ones, prompting some consumers to complain. ConAgra declined to comment.

To some degree, Ben & Jerry’s process was simple relative to what some companies put themselves through. Unlike with organic foods—which also can’t contain GMOs but must follow additional restrictions—the government sets no standard for what qualifies as “non-GMO.” Companies seeking some authoritative imprimatur must go to third-party certifiers, usually the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit group founded by natural foods retailers. It vets applicants with an almost religious exactitude.

To gain its certification, Enjoy Life Foods LLC, a small Schiller Park, Ill.-based company that makes gluten- and allergen-free snacks, traced its honey to the hive. “We had to go to our honey suppliers, who went to the bee keepers, who had to actually determine how far the bees could fly to make sure they weren’t cross-pollinating at any GMO fields,” said Joel Warady, its chief sales and marketing officer.

He said the company thought it was done a year before it actually was, because Non-GMO Project kept coming with questions, including how far their bees flew. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? I don’t know,’ ” said Mr. Warady. ” ‘I didn’t talk to the bees.’ ”

The Non-GMO Project, which has verified more than 17,000 products, says such lengths are necessary to ensure the bees aren’t feeding on nectar or pollen from GMO crops. Thus, the organization requires a four-mile radius from the bee hives be clear of GMO fields.

“Consumers don’t know how difficult it is, but they also don’t care how difficult it is,” said Mr. Warady. “They say, ‘I want the food all natural. I want it to be non-GMO. I want it to taste great. And by the way, I don’t want to pay any more for that. Figure it out.’ ” Enjoy Life Foods doesn’t explicitly pass on the added costs, but its food is already priced at a premium to mainstream brands. For its part, Ben & Jerry’s didn’t seek Non-GMO Project certification, citing the complexity, but does use an auditor. “For us, our size and our scale, we had to be” realistic about where to start, Ms. Pinto said.

The number of big companies that have announced plans to drop GMOs is still small. Big industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association say the trend is baseless, but they admit it is growing. They continue to lobby against GMO labeling and tout the benefits of the technology.

Still, industry executives say many of those companies are asking suppliers to develop non-GMO options so that they can be ready in case label mandates spread, which the companies fear could hurt products containing GMOs. Brian Sethness, senior account executive at Sethness Products Co., which supplies caramel coloring to major food and beverage companies, said the company is receiving more inquiries about non-GMO products than ever before. “Most haven’t pulled the trigger yet though, they just want to know what’s out there,” he said.

For Ben & Jerry’s, the biggest hurdle is milk. The vast majority of the feed given to dairy cows in the U.S. is made with GMO corn, soybeans and alfalfa. That makes it difficult to find non-GMO milk in quantities large enough for Ben & Jerry’s, so the company hasn’t committed to doing it. Labeling laws like the one passed in Vermont don’t apply to meat or dairy derived from animals that consumed GMO animal feed, buying Ben & Jerry’s more time. “We are having conversations with multiple stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain,” Mr. Michalak said. “It’s a slow process.”

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Cornucopia Elects New Policy Officers and Advisorhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/cornucopia-elects-new-policy-officers-advisor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cornucopia-elects-new-policy-officers-advisor http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/08/cornucopia-elects-new-policy-officers-advisor/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:36:34 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=13045 Wisconsin organic beef and produce farmer Helen Kees was elected board president at Cornucopia’s March 22 annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. Kees, a third generation farmer, with her husband Bob and daughter Chris, holds the distinction of being one of Wisconsin’s first certified organic beef producers. The family direct markets vegetables and beef as well as wholesales to Organic Valley Cooperative. New York organic dairy farmer Kevin Engelbert was elected board vice president. Engelbert,

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Helen Kees, Board President

Helen Kees, Board President

Wisconsin organic beef and produce farmer Helen Kees was elected board president at Cornucopia’s March 22 annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. Kees, a third generation farmer, with her husband Bob and daughter Chris, holds the distinction of being one of Wisconsin’s first certified organic beef producers. The family direct markets vegetables and beef as well as wholesales to Organic Valley Cooperative.

New York organic dairy farmer Kevin Engelbert was elected board vice president. Engelbert, along with his wife Lisa and family, was the nation’s first certified organic dairy farmer. Their family farm 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).

In addition, Barry Flamm, PhD, previously on Cornucopia’s policy advisory panel, was elected to the board. A past NOSB chairman, Flamm operates a certified organic sweet cherry orchard in Montana. He also 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 board treasurer. 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 lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is the director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition.

Mitch Blumenthal, Policy Advisor

Mitch Blumenthal, Policy Advisor

Replacing Dr. Flamm, Cornucopia added a new member to the 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 Southeastern U.S.

The board formally recognized long-time board member and past president Steven Sprinkel, who recently retired from the board. The Ojai, California, resident operates an organic vegetable farm and runs an organic grocery and restaurant with his wife Olivia. His longtime contribution to Cornucopia is greatly appreciated.

—WILL FANTLE

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