Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Wed, 27 May 2015 15:26:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due to US Pressure Over TTIP, Documents Revealhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-to-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-to-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 15:26:06 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16580 The Guardian by Arthur Neslen, Brussels Source: Reyner Media US trade officials pushed EU to shelve action on endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility to facilitate TTIP free trade deal EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show. Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides

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The Guardian
by Arthur Neslen, Brussels

Source: Reyner Media

US trade officials pushed EU to shelve action on endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility to facilitate TTIP free trade deal

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show.

Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.

On 26 June 2013, a high-level delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favour of a new impact study.

Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”.

The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and US to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade.

Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show.

The US trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasised the need for an impact assessment” instead.

On 2 July 2013, officials from the US Mission to Europe visited the EU to reinforce the message. Later that day, the secretary-general of the commission, Catherine Day, sent a letter to the environment department’s director Karl Falkenberg, telling him to stand down the draft criteria.

“We suggest that as other DGs [directorate-generals] have done, you consider making a joint single impact assessment to cover all the proposals,” Day wrote. “We do not think it is necessary to prepare a commission recommendation on the criteria to identify endocrine disrupting substances.”

The result was that legislation planned for 2014 was kicked back until at least 2016, despite estimated health costs of €150bn per year in Europe from endocrine-related illnesses such as IQ loss, obesity and cryptorchidism – a condition affecting the genitals of baby boys.

A month before the meeting, AmCham had warned the EU of “wide-reaching implications” if the draft criteria were approved. The trade body wanted an EU impact study to set looser thresholds for acceptable exposure to endocrines, based on a substance’s potency.

“We are worried to see that this decision, which is the source of many scientific debates, might be taken on political grounds, without first assessing what its impacts will be on the European market,” the chair of AmCham’s environment committee wrote in a letter to the commission.

These could be “dramatic” the letter said.

In a high-level internal note sent to the health commissioner, Tonio Borg, shortly afterwards, his departmental director-general warned that the EU’s endocrines policy “will have substantial impacts for the economy, agriculture and trade”.

The heavily redacted letter, sent a week before the EU’s plans were scrapped continued: “The US, Canada, and Brazil [have] already voiced concerns on the criteria which might lead to important repercussions on trade.”

The series of events was described as “incredible” by the the Green MEP Bas Eickhout. “These documents offer convincing evidence that TTIP not only presents a danger for the future lowering of European standards, but that this is happening as we speak,” he told the Guardian.

Earlier this year, 64 MEP’s submitted questions to the commission about the delay to EDC classifications, following revelations by the Guardian about the scale of industry lobbying in the run up to their abandonment. Sweden, the European Parliament and European Council have brought court proceedings against the commission for the legislative logjam.

Just weeks before the regulations were dropped there had been a barrage of lobbying from big European firms such as Dupont, Bayer and BASF over EDCs. The chemical industry association Cefic warned that the endocrines issue “could become an issue that impairs the forthcoming EU-US trade negotiations”.

The German chemicals giant BASF also complained that bans on pesticide substances “will restrict the free trade with agricultural products on the global level”.

Around this time, the commission’s more industry-friendly agriculture department weighed into the internal EU debate after being “informed by representatives of the US chemical industry” about it.

A common theme in the lobby missives was the need to set thresholds for safe exposure to endocrines, even though a growing body of scientific results suggests that linear threshold models – in which higher doses create greater effects – do not apply to endocrine disruptors.

“The human endocrine system is regulated by hormones and the hormone receptors are sensitive to low doses,” said Hans Muilerman, PAN Europe’s chemicals coordinator. “In animal toxicity studies, effects are seen from low doses [of endocrines] that disappear with higher ones. But in the regulatory arena, lower doses are not tested for.”

A commission spokesperson insisted that health and environmental concerns would be fully addressed, despite pressure from industry or trade groups.

“The ongoing EU impact assessment procedure is not linked in any way to the TTIP negotiations,” the official said. “The EU will proceed to the adoption of definitive criteria to identify endocrine disruptors, independently from the further course of our TTIP negotiations with the US.”

An EU-TTIP position paper on chemicals published last May, cited endocrine disruptors as as one of the “new and emerging scientific issues” which the EU and the US could consider for “enhanced regulatory cooperations” in a future TTIP deal.

“However, given the fact that a possible future TTIP Agreement will most likely not enter into force before the adoption of definitive EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors, it is clear that the EU’s ongoing impact assessment and adoption of definitive criteria will not be dealt with in the TTIP negotiations,” the spokesperson said.

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Dairy Grazing Management Can Restore Soils, Reduce Carbon Footprinthttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/dairy-grazing-management-can-restore-soils-reduce-carbon-footprint/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/dairy-grazing-management-can-restore-soils-reduce-carbon-footprint/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 00:29:31 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16576 Dairy Herd Management by Merritt Melancon Source: Dalusa Organic Ranch, Point, TX Well-maintained pastures prevent erosion, protect water and, as it turns out, can restore the soil’s organic matter much more quickly than previously thought, according to a team of researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of Florida. Soil contains the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon. Tilling fields every year to plant crops releases soil carbon into the atmosphere. It’s been known

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Dairy Herd Management
by Merritt Melancon

Source: Dalusa Organic Ranch, Point, TX

Well-maintained pastures prevent erosion, protect water and, as it turns out, can restore the soil’s organic matter much more quickly than previously thought, according to a team of researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

Soil contains the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon. Tilling fields every year to plant crops releases soil carbon into the atmosphere. It’s been known for a long time that transitioning cropland to pastureland where livestock grazes replenishes the soil’s carbon, but their study showed that the process can be much more rapid than scientists previously thought.

“What is really striking is just how fast these farms gain soil organic matter,” said Aaron Thompson, associate professor of environmental soil chemistry at UGA and senior author on the study. “In less than a decade, management-intensive grazing restores these soils to levels of organic matter they had as native forests. These farms accumulate soil carbon at rates as fast as ever measured globally.”

The rate of carbon increase was so high in the first six years that by capturing the carbon in the soil, this could help offset the planet’s rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Converting to pastures managed using intensive grazing principles can capture up to 8 metric tons of carbon per hectare, or 3.6 tons per acre, per year in the soil. This makes the soils more nutrient-rich and allows them to hold more water.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and published in the May edition of the journal Nature Communications, tracked changes in soil organic matter on Georgia farms that had changed within the last six years from growing row crops to producing milk as grass-fed dairies.

On most North American dairies, hay and silage crops are cultivated in fields separated from the cows’ pasture and then fed to the herd as needed. But in management-intensive grazing, the cows spend 90 percent of their time out on pasture.

“We found that converting cropland to rotational grazing systems can increase soil organic matter and improve soil quality at rates much faster than previously thought possible in a system that sustains food production,” said the study’s lead author, Megan Machmuller, who worked on the three-year project as a doctoral student in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University.

Management-intensive grazing, a practice growing in popularity among Southeastern dairy farmers and pasture-based beef cattle farmers, allows producers to efficiently use the nutrition provided in their pastures. In addition to emphasizing pasture quality and quantity for the cattle, these management-intensive grazing practices also feed the biological activity within the soil. This fosters the development of organic matter, thus capturing larger quantities of carbon that would be otherwise released into the atmosphere.

“These systems are proliferating throughout sub-tropical regions that allow year-round grazing—which increases their profitability. They could offer a rare win-win in land management—providing profitable food production with rapid soil restoration and short-term climate mitigation,” said study co-author Nick Hill, a professor of crop physiology at UGA.

“In Georgia, the number of pasture-based dairies has expanded rapidly since 2005. Many of these farmers are using pastureland that was once devoted to row crops,” said study co-author Dennis Hancock, an associate professor and UGA Extension forage specialist. “Once their pasture-based operations were up and running, they began reporting that they were seeing less need for fertilizer and irrigation in order to maintain their forage crops.

“The carbon accumulation in soils under pasture-based dairy production in Georgia has major implications in the Southeast, as it shows the ‘carbon footprint’ of these dairy systems is far more positive than previously thought.”

The team made additional soil quality measurements after hearing the farmers’ anecdotal evidence. They also found that after six years of management intensive grazing, the soil could retain 95 percent more nutrients and 34 percent more water. The impacts of this system on soil fertility and quality is potentially greatest for heavily degraded soils, like those in the Southeast.

Dairymen who farm sandy soils like we have in the coastal plain of the southeastern U.S. need all the help that they can get with these soil properties, according to Hancock. Often, having good soil organic matter and the benefits that come from it can be the difference between losing and making money.

Most future land use change is expected to take place in existing agricultural and pastoral lands, said study co-author Marc Kramer, an associate professor in the soil and water science department at the University of Florida.

“Emerging land use activities such as intensive grazing show what is achievable in terms of profitable farming with clear carbon cycle and soil fertility benefits,” he said. “It is the tip of the iceberg really.”

The study is available online at t.co/e0p4XUKw1e. Taylor Cyle, a master’s student in crop and soil science at UGA, was also a co-author.

To learn more about sustainable agriculture research at UGA, visit www.caes.uga.edu/topics/sustainag. For more on the Odum School of Ecology, visit ecology.uga.edu.

(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

 

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Organic Certification Cost Share Program Now Fully Funded!http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/organic-certification-cost-share-program-now-fully-funded/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/organic-certification-cost-share-program-now-fully-funded/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 16:43:54 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16572 National Organic Coalition Certified Farmers And Handlers in the United States and some Territories are eligible for 75% of direct certification costs (maximum $750) for each scope. This program is available for certified entities EACH YEAR. You must apply for a refund every year. There is plenty of money to fund this – if you are turned away or limited to 1 scope, ask again, or contact NOC Watch for application deadlines in your state –

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National Organic Coalition

Certified Farmers And Handlers in the United States and some Territories are eligible for 75% of direct certification costs (maximum $750) for each scope. This program is available for certified entities EACH YEAR.

  • You must apply for a refund every year.
  • There is plenty of money to fund this – if you are turned away or limited to 1 scope, ask again, or contact NOC
  • Watch for application deadlines in your state – but rules are now more flexible, so if you think you have missed the deadline, ask for help or contact NOC
For more information:  

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Research: Bisphenol A (BPA) Causes 100x More Harm Than Previously Imaginedhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/research-bisphenol-a-bpa-causes-100x-more-harm-than-previously-imagined/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/research-bisphenol-a-bpa-causes-100x-more-harm-than-previously-imagined/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 21:11:59 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16563 Health Impact News by Sayer Ji Source: Steven Depolo A recent study reveals just how profoundly misled we are about Bisphenol A and its analogs: they are at least 100x more toxic than we previously imagined. An alarming new study establishes that the commonly used chemical bisphenol A used in tens of thousands of consumer products, and its lesser known but increasingly prevalent analogs, bisphenol S and F, are several orders of magnitude more disruptive to the endocrine

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Health Impact News
by Sayer Ji

Source: Steven Depolo

A recent study reveals just how profoundly misled we are about Bisphenol A and its analogs: they are at least 100x more toxic than we previously imagined.

An alarming new study establishes that the commonly used chemical bisphenol A used in tens of thousands of consumer products, and its lesser known but increasingly prevalent analogs, bisphenol S and F, are several orders of magnitude more disruptive to the endocrine systems of the developing male human fetus than previous toxicological risk assessments were capable of determining.

The new study was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility and titled, “A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound.”

As we have documented extensively in the past, the authors of the new study raise concerns that as awareness of bisphenol A’s clearly demonstrated toxicity grows and it loses favor within the marketplace, manufacturers are increasingly substituting it with chemically similar bisphenol compounds whose toxicities are less well characterized. As a result, consumers who conscientiously buy ostensibly ‘BPA-free’ products are being mislead into thinking they are bisphenol free and therefore safe.

The new study employed an innovative ‘organotypic culture’ system that took tissue samples from mouse, rat and human fetal testis, in order to create an experimental model that would accurately reproduce some of the dynamics observable within in vivo (living organism-based) systems that are not ascertainable within conventional in vitro (cell-based) models. They termed this experimental environment the fetal testis assay (FeTA) system.

Disturbingly, they found:

“With the use of a culture system that we developed (fetal testis assay [FeTA]), we previously showed that 10 nmol/L BPA reduces basal testosterone secretion of human fetal testis explants and that the susceptibility to BPA is at least 100-fold lower in rat and mouse fetal testes.” [emphasis added]

In other word, the endocrine-disruptive effect of bisphenol A – particularly its ability to suppress the testosterone-mediated mascularization process during embryogenesis — may be at least 100 times more toxic than previously believed.

How so?

Conventional toxicological risk assessments of novel new chemicals like bisphenol A are invariably performed on rodents, with effects (lethal dose 50%/LD50) extrapolated to humans based merely on body weight differences. What these do not account for is the contrasting ontological differences between cells of different species. Nor do these acute lethal response studies (LD50) account for the non-linear response between dose and effect (i.e. monotonicity).

An accumulating body of scientific evidence has forced an acknowledgment today that the low-dose effects of chemicals on hormonal systems include the following counterintuitive response: a lower dose may have more profoundly disruptive effects on our hormonal system than higher doses.

This concept may be so counterintuitive, that it begs for deeper explanation. For instance, if chemical compound X at 1 milligram induces programmed cell death within an exposed cell, and .01 milligram of compound X induces a phenotypal change in the cell consistent with cancer, it will be the latter effect (the lower dose) that may be more detrimental in the long term, as cell death follows with stem-cell mediated replacement of the damaged differentiated cell; whereas chemically-induced carcinogenesis may result in the death of the entire organism).

Case in point:

“Using the FeTA system, we previously reported that basal testosterone secretion by human testes was not affected by 10,000 nmol/L DES, but it was reduced by concentrations as low as 10 nmol/L of BPA. Conversely, 10 nmol/L and 100 nmol/L BPA did not affect testosterone secretion by both mouse and rat testes, and 10,000 nmol/L BPA was needed to observe a significant reduction (58).”

The researchers also noted that during the development of the nascent male human in embryogenesis exposure to bisphenols in the 6.5th and 14th gestational weeks – the window known to be critical for what is known as the ”masculinization programming window’ – these chemicals are likely contributing to the alarming worldwide increase in male reproductive disorders, such as such as “hypospadias [abnormally placed urinary hole], cryptorchidism [the absence of one or both of the testicles], incomplete development or agenesis of prostate and seminal vesicles, and reduction of the anogenital distance (AGD) [ the distance from the anus to the genitalia] and penis length.”

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Five Vacancies Open for Nominations on the National Organic Standards Boardhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/five-vacancies-open-for-nominations-on-the-national-organic-standards-board/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/five-vacancies-open-for-nominations-on-the-national-organic-standards-board/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 15:55:34 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16550 The 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is seeking to fill five pending vacancies.  The vacancies include two organic farmers/producers, two public or consumer interest representatives, and one USDA accredited certifying agent.  The terms for the volunteer board are five years and would begin in January 2016. Information on how to apply, if you are interested, can be found here. The NOSB plays a key role in determining the use of synthetic and non-organic materials

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The 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is seeking to fill five pending vacancies.  The vacancies include two organic farmers/producers, two public or consumer interest representatives, and one USDA accredited certifying agent.  The terms for the volunteer board are five years and would begin in January 2016.

Information on how to apply, if you are interested, can be found here.

The NOSB plays a key role in determining the use of synthetic and non-organic materials allowed for use in organic food and agriculture, and in advising the USDA Secretary on all aspects of organic policy.  The five retiring members of the NOSB include several of the staunchest advocates for organic integrity.

Cornucopia has been strongly critical of several recent appointments, especially those made for the four seats reserved for farmers on the NOSB.  Recent appointees include individuals who appear to not “own or operate” an organic farm as required by federal law.  Instead, the appointees have been corporate employees of agribusinesses, and have more faithfully represented the wishes of their employees during votes on issues before the NOSB rather than the interests of real farmers.

The Cornucopia Institute will again send a FOIA to the USDA’s National Organic Program seeking the names of all applicants, so that we can shine a light on the nomination process and hopefully allow for the full organic community to weigh in on the selection process and encourage the appointment of the best and brightest to this important federal board.  The USDA in recent years has been resolute in opposing this level of transparency.

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Neonicotinoid Pesticide Implicated in Monarch Butterfly Declineshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/neonicotinoid-pesticide-implicated-in-monarch-butterfly-declines/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/neonicotinoid-pesticide-implicated-in-monarch-butterfly-declines/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 20:50:24 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16547 by Jérôme Rigot, PhD Source: Susannah Rogers, USDA Forest Service USDA researchers have identified the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin as a likely contributor to monarch butterfly declines in North America. The USDA research was published online April 3rd, 2015 in the journal Science of Nature. Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated in pollinator declines worldwide; they are neurotoxins that are partially banned in the European Union. A recent report indicates (see references at the end of full article)

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by Jérôme Rigot, PhD

CatwillowMonarchArea_Susannah Rogers USDA Forest Service
Source: Susannah Rogers,
USDA Forest Service

USDA researchers have identified the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin as a likely contributor to monarch butterfly declines in North America. The USDA research was published online April 3rd, 2015 in the journal Science of Nature.

Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated in pollinator declines worldwide; they are neurotoxins that are partially banned in the European Union. A recent report indicates (see references at the end of full article) that neonicotinoids, such as clothianidin (Bayer), are a particular hazard because, unlike most pesticides, they are soluble molecules. From soil or seed treatments they can reach nectar and are found in pollen.

Neonicotinoids are now the most widely used pesticides in the world. Up until now there has been negligible research on the effects of neonicotinoids on butterflies.  This new report is therefore the first to link neonicotinoids to monarch butterfly survival and reproduction.

In their experiments the USDA researchers showed that clothianidin can impact monarch caterpillars at doses as low as 1 part per billion (ppb). The effects seen were on caterpillar size, caterpillar weight, and caterpillar survival. The lethal concentration (LC50) was found to be 15 ppb.

In this research project, the caterpillars were exposed to clothianidin-treated food for only 36 hours. However, the researchers noted that in agricultural environments caterpillar exposure would likely be greater than in the experimental conditions set for this project; furthermore, in nature butterfly caterpillars would also be exposed to other pesticides, including other neonicotinoids.

In sampling experiments from corn-growing areas in South Dakota the researchers found on average over 1 ppb clothianidin in milkweed plants.

Based on this study’s results, the USDA researchers concluded that “neonicotinoids could negatively affect larval monarch populations.” They added, “Although preliminary, this study clearly shows that monarch larvae are exposed to clothianidin in the field at potentially harmful doses of the toxin.”

More on this from Independentsciencenews.org at:
http://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/new-research-links-neonicotinoid-pesticides-to-monarch-butterfly-declines/

Full article: http://www.bioscienceresource.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Pecenka-and-Lundgren-2015-Early-On-line.pd

Comment from Cornucopia scientist Jérôme Rigot, PhD, Farm and Food Policy Analyst:
The study states: “The lethal concentration (LC50) was found to be 15 parts per billion.”: This is a very low level; however, the implications are that much lower levels of neonicotinoids as well as synergistic effects with other pesticides at very low levels (1 ppb or less), as suggested in the text, would significantly and negatively affect caterpillars’ health.

Extrapolating from the study results, the synergistic action of pesticides, even at levels below 1 ppb (levels that may not be detected by the EPA’s current analytical equipment), can significantly and detrimentally impact the health of organisms (including humans) that come in contact (e.g., ingest) with a vegetable or fruit that has been sprayed from seed to harvest by a variety of pesticides and likely is covered by and/or contains a number of pesticide residues at trace levels.

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New Data Confirms Second-Worst Year on Record for Honey Beeshttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/new-data-confirms-second-worst-year-on-record-for-honey-bees/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/new-data-confirms-second-worst-year-on-record-for-honey-bees/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 18:28:44 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16542 Pesticide Action Network North America by Lex Horan Source: Light Brigading This morning, federal officials released new survey data on honey bee losses from 2014-2015. The annual survey, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, US Department of Agriculture, and the Apiary Inspectors of America, found that 2014-2015 was the second-worst year on record for honey bees, with total losses spiking to 42.1%. Summer losses in 2014 were especially high at 27.4%, a marked increase from 2013 summer

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Pesticide Action Network North America
by Lex Horan

Source: Light Brigading

This morning, federal officials released new survey data on honey bee losses from 2014-2015. The annual survey, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, US Department of Agriculture, and the Apiary Inspectors of America, found that 2014-2015 was the second-worst year on record for honey bees, with total losses spiking to 42.1%. Summer losses in 2014 were especially high at 27.4%, a marked increase from 2013 summer losses of 19.8%.

Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network, released the following statement:

“Pesticide corporations can’t spin their way out of the threats to our food system. The new survey released today continues to point to the real world challenges bees and beekeepers face and the unsustainable use of bee-harming pesticides, especially the widespread use of pesticide-coated seeds.

In the decade since unprecedented bee die-offs began, honey bee decline has not slowed. The science is in: pesticide exposure plays a significant role in these declines. Our food and farming system can’t sustain this level of pollinator loss year after year.

The continued decline of bee populations are the writing on the wall for EPA and the White House. Policymakers must take swift action to phase out the use of harmful bee-harming pesticides like neonicotinoids, restrict unnecessary and harmful practices like seed coatings, and invest in cutting-edge and green farming systems that ensure the continued prosperity of the nation’s farmers.”

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Latest USDA Scandal: Organic Program Dismisses Legal Complaints Targeting Factory Farms — Without Investigatinghttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/latest-usda-scandal-organic-program-dismisses-legal-complaints-targeting-factory-farms-without-investigating/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/latest-usda-scandal-organic-program-dismisses-legal-complaints-targeting-factory-farms-without-investigating/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 20:59:11 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16529 Watchdog Asks OIG to Investigate “Unholy Alliance” Between Industry Lobbyists and Regulators The Cornucopia Institute harshly criticized the USDA for its failure to conduct an investigation of 14 legal complaints filed by the Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog group last December.  The complaints allege a systemic pattern of livestock management violations occurring on some of the nation’s biggest certified organic “factory farm” poultry and dairy operations. In their brief letter to Cornucopia, the National Organic Program‘s (NOP)

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Watchdog Asks OIG to Investigate “Unholy Alliance” Between Industry Lobbyists and Regulators

The Cornucopia Institute harshly criticized the USDA for its failure to conduct an investigation of 14 legal complaints filed by the Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog group last December.  The complaints allege a systemic pattern of livestock management violations occurring on some of the nation’s biggest certified organic “factory farm” poultry and dairy operations.

In their brief letter to Cornucopia, the National Organic Program‘s (NOP) director of Compliance and Enforcement stated that the agency “has determined that an investigation is unwarranted.”  Last December, after an investment of seven months and tens of thousands of dollars, Cornucopia filed 14 complaints with the NOP utilizing evidence primarily gathered through high resolution aerial photographic examinations of industrial-scale certified organic dairies and poultry operations.  The hundreds of images taken documented an overwhelming absence of dairy cows on pasture, and the exclusive confinement of hundreds of thousands of egg laying hens and meat birds inside buildings.

A related article was produced, today, by the Washington Post, as a follow-up to an exclusive story the paper ran outlining the allegations against the industrial-scale, organic livestock operations, when they were initially filed in December 2014.

The massive Herbrucks egg laying operation in Saranac, Michigan,
according to state regulatory filings licensed for 1.15 million birds.

“The organic regulations are clear,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.  “With minor and allowable ‘temporary’ exceptions, dairy cows should be out grazing on pasture and poultry should have access to the outdoors.  These operations appear to have miserably failed to meet the criteria.”

Among its justifications for refusing to investigate the complaints, indicated the NOP’s Matthew Michael, was that the photographic evidence was “insufficient” and depicted only a “single moment in time.”  He also said that the various operations indicated were “in good standing” with their organic certifiers.

“It must simply be an incredible and amazing coincidence that no birds – zero – were outdoors, and only a fraction of the tens of thousands of cows on the industrial-scale dairies were observed on grass.  Most were confined to giant feedlots,” noted Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director.

“This simply does not pass the smell test,” Fantle added.  “Who are you going to believe, the paperwork from the NOP and certifiers, or your own eyes?”

The photos assembled by Cornucopia were gathered by a professional contractor that made the flyovers in the course of its general work ranging from West Texas to the Northeast states, last summer and fall.  Cornucopia provided the USDA with hundreds of highly detailed 64 megabyte images that allow for a panoramic view of each operation with the ability to magnify down for ground level detail. One hundred percent (100%) of the images were shared with the NOP.

The detail was so fine that anyone interested in a careful examination could see, for example, that the vast preponderance of the areas set aside, as outdoor runs, for poultry flocks was essentially undisturbed.  Whether birds were outside or not at the exact moment of the photos, the grounds would clearly show evidence of being foraged and used by thousands of birds if that were occurring.

“When we flew over MBA Poultry, marketing their products under the Smart Chicken brand, at their 40 barns in Nebraska not a single chicken was visible,” added Fantle.  The perfectly manicured, undisturbed lawn was observed being mowed at the time.

Overview of some of the 40 barns at MBA Poultry (dba Smart Chicken) in Tecumseh, Nebraska. On the day of the flyover no chickens were observed outdoors and the meticulously maintained lawn between the buildings was being mowed. The condition of the grass indicated no chickens had been out at any time.

Besides the photographs contracted for, Cornucopia submitted satellite imagery from additional days all consistently illustrating lack of outdoor access for poultry and gross overstocking on the industrial dairies.

According to Cornucopia’s Kastel, an expert with 25 years of commercial and policy experience related to organic dairy production, “We also submitted copies of state regulatory filings, required for manure/nutrient management on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  Based on the extraordinarily crowded conditions, the documents clearly illustrate the fantasy that certifiers could be adequately assuring compliance with grazing requirements.”

Dairies profiled in Cornucopia’s complaints had as many as nine cows per acre designated for grazing.  Past national polling indicated that the average certified organic dairy producer maintained about 1 acre of pasture for each cow.

Aurora Dairy in Stratford, Texas. On the randomly selected day of The Cornucopia Institute’s flyover approximately 98% of their cattle were confined to massive feedlots.

“In technical terms, nine cows per acre is a real joke,” Kastel added.  “The joke gets funnier when the photographs clearly illustrate these farms were cutting hay on the same ground designated as ‘pasture.’”

Noting that he lacked the documents to pinpoint the percentage of annual growth split between hay production and grazing, Kastel went on to surmise that “if 50% of the annual growth was baled that would equate to an effective stocking rate of 18 cows per acre.  We’ve gone from humor to science fiction here. What makes this a tragedy is the USDA, having this evidence, is not even willing to investigate the propriety of these operations.”

According to the NOP’s own procedures for handling complaints that it receives, the agency typically asks an operation’s organic certifier to investigate.  This is another problem that Cornucopia contends can influence a full and fair investigation.

“In those instances where it may be possible that the certifier is incompetent, negligent, or even in collusion with the factory farm operator,” suggests Fantle, “we think the USDA has a responsibility to independently investigate when such a broad pattern of abuse is brought to their attention.”

Although the USDA could see no clear violations of the law illustrated in the scores of photographs The Cornucopia Institute submitted, other experts with long-term experience in organic dairying clearly do.

“As someone who actually grazes and manages my dairy herd in accordance with both the spirit and letter of the law, I am outraged by the NOP’s failure to investigate the clear evidence shown in these photographs,” said Kevin Engelbert.  Mr. Engelbert and his family manage the nation’s first certified organic dairy farm, located in New York State, and he is also a former member of the National Organic Standards Board.

Added Englebert:  “To anyone with any knowledge of agriculture, the aerial photos prove beyond any shadow of a doubt the poultry operations do not provide outdoor access to their birds and the dairy operations are not legitimately grazing their cows.  For the NOP to not even investigate these facilities means one of three things: 1) the personnel who made that decision are inept, 2) they are too close and friendly with corporate lobbyists and multi-million-dollar certifiers that are involved in the process, or 3) the most likely scenario, corrupt politicians are preventing them from enforcing the law.”

Consumers have enthusiastically made organics a rapidly growing market sector by supporting farmers and processors that were willing to produce food to a different standard in terms of environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and economic fairness for farmers.  Last year $39.1 billion was spent in the organic sector.

One influential observer, the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, recently downgraded their rating of the USDA’s organic seal and label.  Dr. Urvashi Rangan told the National Organic Standards Board late last year, “Organic is slipping.  And as a result, we have downgraded its rating from highly meaningful to meaningful.”  Dr. Rangan explained that the role of Consumer Reports “is to help educate people about what organic means as well as what it doesn’t mean.”  Rangan is the director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Center for Consumer Reports.

“Engaged consumers, who passionately support the ideals and values represented by the organic label, understandably feel betrayed when they see photos of these massive CAFOs masquerading as organic,” Kastel added.  “And now the USDA is refusing to even investigate the fraud that appears to be taking place at these giant livestock facilities.  How can they be so out of step and tone deaf with regard to consumer expectations?”

Last month, before the current allegations that the USDA is deferring to the interests of corporate organics, Cornucopia asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to remove NOP Staff Director Miles McEvoy due to ethical concerns regarding alleged bending or breaking of the law.  This latest action is one more disappointment.

The Cornucopia Institute, thought to have more certified organic farmer members than any similar group, is preparing today an appeal of the complaints dismissal as well as calling for an internal investigation of USDA’s oversight of the organic industry, by the NOP, in a formal request to the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

MORE:

Copies of The Cornucopia Institute’s formal appeal of the NOP’s dismissal of their flyover complaints, and the organization’s letter to the Office of Inspector General at the USDA are both available upon request.

In addition to the USDA’s National Organic Program dismissal of Cornucopia’s photographic evidence, consistent messaging has come from the Organic Trade Association and two of its members that own operations targeted in Cornucopia’s complaints, Chino Valley Ranchers and Organic Valley.

All of OTA’s damage-control statements either stated they saw nothing illegal illustrated in the photographs, or referenced that the images merely represented “a single moment in time.”

“There is a profound disconnect between this rhetoric and reality,” Kastel stated. “Cornucopia’s members contributed tens of thousands of dollars to document the activities on these factory livestock facilities and the USDA, and industry lobbyists, are suggesting that paperwork and annual inspections by certifiers trump this compelling evidence.”

Organic certification primarily depends on annual inspections by independent certifiers operating under the authority of the USDA. In almost all cases inspectors make an appointment with farm operators so they can have their paperwork in order, for auditing. Obviously, this also gives livestock operations the opportunity to make sure their animals appear to be managed, correctly, under the regulations.

Cornucopia contends these annual inspections also represent “a single moment in time” although that moment has been prearranged with plenty of forewarning.

“The days when the flyovers occurred were determined by our aerial photography contractor,” Kastel clarified. “We had no control over their schedule.  Furthermore, all of the aerial photography was done in good weather leaving no doubt that the animals should have been outdoors as the law requires.”

Kastel made this statement to eliminate one of the justifications that farm operators might use to legally and legitimately “temporarily” confine their livestock. The organic standards provide for temporary exemptions related to healthcare concerns or environmental factors.

“When these exemptions do not apply, farm operators are obligated to have their animals outdoors, and ruminants on pasture,” Kastel said.  “It is clear that we have widespread, systemic problems in this industry. These abuses are competitively damaging ethical family-scale farmers and defrauding consumers of the nutrient rich food, produced by animals being treated respectfully, that they think they are purchasing.”

Consumers looking for brands that procure their milk and eggs from ethical family farmers rather than “factory farms” can consult the scorecards on The Cornucopia Institute website by clicking on the scorecard tab: www.cornucopia.org

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OSGATA Membership Overwhelmingly Votes To Oppose Industry’s Organic Check-offhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/osgata-membership-overwhelmingly-votes-to-oppose-industrys-organic-check-off/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/osgata-membership-overwhelmingly-votes-to-oppose-industrys-organic-check-off/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:59:55 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16525 OSGATA Organic Farmers and Seed Companies Make Clear They Reject Proposed Mandatory Tax on Organic Producers Washington, ME, May 19, 2015 – A just-concluded major referendum by the membership of the organic seed industry leader, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), was unanimously opposed to the “Organic Check-off” proposed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Significantly, not a single vote was cast in favor of the Organic Check-off and America’s organic farmers and seed growers reject the OTA’s mandatory

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OSGATA

Organic Farmers and Seed Companies Make Clear They Reject Proposed Mandatory Tax on Organic Producers

OSGATA logoWashington, ME, May 19, 2015 – A just-concluded major referendum by the membership of the organic seed industry leader, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), was unanimously opposed to the “Organic Check-off” proposed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Significantly, not a single vote was cast in favor of the Organic Check-off and America’s organic farmers and seed growers reject the OTA’s mandatory tax on organics.

The OSGATA membership, comprised of certified organic farmers, seed companies, seed professionals, and affiliate organizations, is concerned that the proposed Organic Check-off will follow suit of other check-off programs in favoring large corporate businesses instead of small-scale family farmers and ranchers.

“The OSGATA membership has spoken loud and clear,” said Maine certified organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA. “Organic farmers and seed growers resoundingly reject the OTA’s Organic Check-off proposal and our membership believes it’s important that organic farmers work together to defeat the industry’s mandatory tax on our livelihoods.”

Last week, the OTA, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, formally petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to initiate a vote and requisite steps for implementing a proposed Organic Check-off program. The petition was made possible by a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill, but is still pending review by USDA for compliance with the Generic Research and Promotion Act. The Organic Check-off’s stated purpose, as lobbied by the OTA, is to promote the organic industry while also funding gaps in organic research.

Many in the organic community, including OSGATA members, are concerned that this mandatory national tax on organic producers and its resulting marketing strategy will favor the interests of large-scale producers, processors and retailers in the organic industry and make it more difficult for family-scale farmers to compete.

Other USDA Check-off mandatory tax programs have a history of restrictive promotion guidelines, further burdened by heavy bureaucracy, collections harassment, and a lack of financial accountability. There is little confidence that the proposed Organic Check-off will operate differently than other generic commodity check-off programs.

“The proposed Organic Check-off will not serve the interests of organic family farmers,” said fourth-generation Kansas farmer and certified organic seed grower Bryce Stephens, OSGATA Vice-President. “Our family has had experience with Wheat, Beef and Dairy Check-off programs. I encourage organic farmers to educate yourselves on the issue and reject the OTA proposal.”

Organic farmers or organizations opposed to the Organic Check-off proposal may add their names to the No Organic Check-off website.

OSGATA has a strong commitment to protecting the interests of organic farmers, as is demonstrated by its role as lead plaintiff in the landmark OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto lawsuit which sought to protect family farmers who, through no fault of their own, may have become contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered seed and find themselves accused of patent infringement.
Additionally, in 2014, in an effort to further defend organic farmers from unwanted transgenic (GE) trespass, OSGATA published and distributed 5,000 hard copies of the scientifically peer-reviewed guide, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity – The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing to organic farmers across the country. Free downloads are available here.

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Chemical Reactions: Glyphosate and the Politics of Chemical Safetyhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/chemical-reactions-glyphosate-and-the-politics-of-chemical-safety/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2015/05/chemical-reactions-glyphosate-and-the-politics-of-chemical-safety/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 20:41:41 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=16520 The Guardian by Patrick van Zwanenberg Source: UGA College of Ag and Environmental Sciences Controversy over a new evaluation of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, lifts the lid on aspects of chemical safety regulation that often remain hidden from public view. Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, hit the headlines in March after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it is a “probable human carcinogen”. The IARC, which

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The Guardian
by Patrick van Zwanenberg

Source: UGA College of Ag and
Environmental Sciences

Controversy over a new evaluation of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, lifts the lid on aspects of chemical safety regulation that often remain hidden from public view.

Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, hit the headlines in March after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it is a “probable human carcinogen”.

The IARC, which is responsible for providing an evidence base for the cancer control policies of the World Health Organisation and its members, had completed a year long review of the scientific literature on the herbicide. It found “convincing evidence” that glyphosate causes cancer in laboratory animals, “limited evidence” that it does so in agricultural workers, and evidence that it causes DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

The IARC’s evaluation is hugely important because it is sharply at odds with the views of the world’s major regulatory agencies. Last year, an evaluation by German government regulators, on behalf of the European Commission, concluded that there was no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic or mutagenic, or that the herbicide posed any other serious hazard to health. All other regulatory agencies have reached similar conclusions.

The IARC did not have access to new evidence. So why has it reached totally different conclusions about the hazards posed by glyphosate?

First, this kind of disagreement is not unprecedented, or entirely surprising. Evidence about chemical safety is often incomplete, uncertain and ambiguous, such that assessments of safety cannot always be resolved on the basis of evidence alone. What, for example, constitutes a reliable and relevant study? How should conflicting evidence be weighed? How much of what kinds of evidence are necessary to support a judgement about hazard, or its absence? Subjective judgements and assumptions, as well as evidence, are typically required to settle such questions, so it is no wonder that institutions sometimes disagree.

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We do not know exactly why institutional evaluations of glyphosate differed so markedly in this case because the IARC has yet to publish its full evaluation (that is promised for later in the year). But, from the IARC’s summary, it appears likely that it used different criteria for choosing which evidence to evaluate; made different judgements about the reliability of some of the evidence; and interpreted the results of some of the experimental studies in different ways.

Most regulatory agencies are reluctant to acknowledge that there are choice-laden aspects to chemical safety assessment. This is partly because science is a powerful source of legitimacy, and regulators often want to portray their assessments as far more objective, reliable and consensual than is actually the case. But it is also because to do so would be an open invitation to scrutinise regulators’ technical assessments. We might reasonably want to ask how have the choice-laden aspects of those assessments been exercised: in ways that resolve ambiguities and uncertainties in favour of public health, or in favour of agribusiness?

The IARC’s evaluation presents a dilemma for regulatory institutions. If they explicitly accept the validity of the IARC’s findings (and therefore acknowledge the choice-laden nature of safety evaluation) this might invite scrutiny and criticism of their own assessments, and regulatory decisions. The only alternative is to insist that the IARC’s review is scientifically flawed or politically biased.

This latter tactic has often been adopted when individual scientists criticize a sensitive regulatory consensus, but the IARC is a rather formidable dissenter. It is about as scientifically rigorous and independent an institution as they come. Its evaluations are conducted by senior academic and regulatory scientists, drawn from around the world, and subject to a strict conflict of interest policy. IARC insists that its evaluations are transparent and so all evidence used to support its evaluations must be publicly available. The evaluation process is guided by published scientific principles and assessment criteria, and is explained in considerable detail in IARC’s monographs.

We don’t yet know how regulators will handle this dilemma, but the agrochemical industry’s strategy is already clear: “[IARCs] result was reached by selective ‘cherry picking’ of data and is a clear example of agenda-driven bias” was Monsanto’s reported response. The American Council on Science and Health, an industry-funded “consumer” organization, opined in similar style: “… [IARC] started out with the conclusion they aimed at reaching, and then they evaluated the data they wanted to utilize to get to that conclusion and ignored or manipulated the rest.”

This strategy is curious because it is bound to invite comparison between the IARC and those regulatory institutions that have supposedly produced a more impartial evaluation of glyphosate. And such comparisons are unlikely to be favourable.

Readers might be astonished, for example, to learn that much of the German government’s recent evaluation of glyphosate – favourably compared to the IARC’s evaluation by the agrochemical industry – was not actually written by scientists working for the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), but rather by the European Glyphosate Task Force, a consortium of agrochemical firms.

BfR officials explained that due to the quantity of evidence they did not have the time to prepare the toxicological evaluation themselves. So the agrochemical industry wrote the descriptions, and evaluated the reliability of each piece of evidence. These are exactly the kinds of choice-laden decisions described earlier. BfR regulators commented, in italics, on the industry text, but this falls well short of what most people would understand as an independent review.

We do not know if the BfR evaluation is unusual in having been drafted by the firms whose products were being evaluated, or unusual because German regulators were honest enough to make that practice explicit. But if one of the world’s wealthiest nations does not have sufficient resources to conduct its own independent evaluations of toxicological evidence we might well ask what are the practices in regulatory institutions elsewhere?

Patrick van Zwanenberg is a researcher in science and technology policy at STEPS América Latina and the Centro de Investigaciones para la Transformación in Buenos Aires.

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