The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute, through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, provides needed information to family farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the good food movement and to the media. We support economic justice for the family-scale farming community – partnered with consumers – backing ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.

Authentic Organic Farms Are Good for Birds

June 25th, 2019

Wild birds can be extremely beneficial to farms, as many of them feed on pest species and support a vibrant on-farm ecosystem. Unfortunately, agriculture is the leading threat to bird species facing extinction.

Source: Emilie Chen, Flickr

Real organic farmers encourage on-farm biodiversity, including habitat for birds. These kinds of cultural practices have wide-ranging benefits, such as providing habitat for other insect predators and pollinators and even acting as a carbon sink in some instances.

Supporting family-scale organic farmers is a vote for these kinds of holistic practices. Interested eaters can also ask their local farmers what practices they employ to support wild species—including birds—on their farms.


Farming With Wild Birds: Practicing Co-Existence
Rewilding Earth
by Jo Ann Baumgartner

Farming is one of those pursuits that requires creative thinking. So many factors are juggled for a good harvest and a healthy farm, including considerations that support or exclude wild nature. The challenge is balancing the farm’s future sustainability with growing and selling products that do not push the landscape beyond its limits. As Aldo Leopold said, “A good farm must be one where the wild fauna and flora has lost acreage without losing its existence.” Read Full Article »

Genetically Engineered Chestnut Forests Proposed

June 24th, 2019

After the American chestnut was essentially wiped out by a fungus and other diseases, researchers have created a genetically engineered (GE) chestnut that they claim is resistant to the fungus in question. They hope to release this GE tree into the wild to restore “native” chestnut populations to help the forests, wildlife, and local economies that utilized seasonal nut harvests for sale and food.

Source: Rachid H, Flickr

Unlike the familiar crops genetically modified to survive the overuse of pesticides, such as Roundup Ready corn, this work is intended to restore a lost species. But concerns abound about a GE tree being released into the wild. First, chestnut trees can live up to 200 years and there is no way to test the environmental effects of GE trees on that kind of time scale. Releasing the tree into the wild will make it very difficult to control if there are negative effects, and there is a high likelihood that the offending fungus may mutate to overcome genetically engineered resistance.

Traditional breeding also works to help plants be resistant to diseases like the fungus that plague the chestnut tree. The American Chestnut Foundation is already working on selective breeding of chestnut trees for the same fungus the GE tree has been developed for. Though slower, these traditional breeding techniques offer consistent results and do not pose the same risks inherent in splicing together genes from dissimilar species.

Some experts wonder whether this apparently well-intentioned GE creation is a public relations stunt to sway public opinion of GMOs.


The GE American Chestnut – Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Independent Science News
by by Rachel Smolker, Ph.D. (Biofuelwatch) and Anne Petermann (Global Justice Ecology Project)

About a century ago the American chestnut tree was attacked by the introduced fungal pathogen (Cryphonectria parasitica). This fungus drove the chestnut to functional extinction. Now, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have created, through biotechnology, a resistant American chestnut variety. They aim to petition the required regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) for deregulation of their genetically engineered chestnut in the near future, with the stated goal of “restoring” the species to nature.

If it is deregulated, the GE chestnut would be the first GE forest tree species to be planted out in forests with the deliberate intention of spreading freely. Monitoring or reversing their spread, once released, would likely be impossible. Performing valid risk assessments of the potential impacts of GE American chestnut on forests, wildlife, water, soils, pollinators or people, is hampered by our lack of knowledge about both the ecology of the American chestnut and forest ecosystems. Furthermore, since American chestnuts can live for more than 200 years, risk factors may change over the tree’s lifetime in unpredictable ways. Read Full Article »

Makers of GMOs May Be Asked to Regulate Themselves

June 21st, 2019

In agriculture, genetic engineering has primarily been used to make crops resistant to pests and disease or able to survive the application of toxins, such as glyphosate. These traits do not occur naturally in the species in question. In practice, these genetically modified (GM) crops are poorly tested for safety, especially with respect to long term effects on the environment and human health. Safety studies are often conducted primarily by the same companies that manufacture and sell the GMOs in question.

Source: Dean Clama, IAEA

Proponents of plant genetic engineering often point out that selective breeding also alters a plant’s genes. While true, the comparison is misleading. All of our domesticated crop species were developed from their wild counterparts via selective breeding.

Selective breeding is a process in which a breeder collects the seed from plants with desired traits and sows them in a future growing season. For example, northern gardeners may save seed from the very first tomato that ripens on the vine. After several years of propagating these plants, the gardener will have a strain of the desired tomato variety that ripens early.

In contrast, common technologies to create GM crops splice genes from unrelated organisms into crop plants. In the case of Roundup Ready Corn, glyphosate-resistant bacterial genes are spliced into corn DNA. Unfortunately, the herbicide-resistant genes have crossed with weeds in the field, unintentionally breeding “super weeds” that can withstand glyphosate application.

Although this Roundup Ready technology was billed as a way to lessen the amount of herbicide sprayed on fields, GMO farmers are instead spraying more herbicides than ever.

Other countries use a precautionary principle with respect to GMOs, requiring them to be proved safe before being allowed in the marketplace. The U.S. has historically preferred a hands-off approach, allowing chemical and biotech companies to essentially regulate themselves.

The Trump administration is pushing to further de-regulate how GMOs get into the marketplace. A proposed rule would allow companies to determine for themselves whether their GMO poses a risk to plants. If they decide it does not, the USDA will opt not to regulate it. You can submit your own comments to the USDA on or before August 5, 2019.

GMOs are prohibited in organic agriculture. Choose organic food and fibers to support farmers and farming methods that care for the health of humans, wildlife, land, and water.


The Recently Proposed GMO Rule Change at the USDA is of Grave and Immediate Concern, Not President Trump’s Executive Order
Organic Insider
by Max Goldberg

Last week, President Trump received a tremendous amount of attention for signing an executive order directing the USDA, FDA and EPA to make it easier for genetically-engineering plants and animals to enter the food supply. Read Full Article »

Why Don’t You See Organically Labeled Fish?

June 19th, 2019

The Complicated Industry May Be Incompatible with Organic Principles

[This article was previously published in the spring issue of  The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Marie Burcham, JD
Director of Domestic Policy at The Cornucopia Institute

Consumers often note that they do not see fish with the USDA organic seal at their grocery store or fishmonger. It is a topic that has come up many times within the National Organic Program (NOP) and its advisory board, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

In 2003, Congress amended the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to allow wild-caught fish to be certified organic as long as regulations were developed first. However, despite this change, regulators decided that wild fish should not be labeled organic because hunting wild animals is not “agriculture.”

In 2005, the NOP created an Aquaculture Working Group (AWG), which generated a report to inform the NOSB on the issues. The NOSB’s Livestock Committee then developed standards for farmed fish and other aquatic species, releasing several recommendations between 2007 and 2009.

It is far more difficult to create standards for aquaculture
than for produce or livestock.
Source: Adobestock

However, there are questions as to whether a proposed organic rule on fish farming, also called aquaculture, is even viable. Both wild catch and most fish farming are associated with environmental problems that may make them incompatible with fundamental organic tenets. Read Full Article »

How Committed Is Your State to Local Food?

June 18th, 2019

Supporting local farms not only supports your local economy, it also allows you to know how your food was produced.

Cornucopia encourages consumers to buy local and organic food whenever possible. Fresh food has a higher nutrient value, tastes better, and can be stored in the refrigerator longer. Our support of the best small farms also helps them remain in business and benefits the local economy.

The 2019 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index was recently released. Find out how your state stacks up!


Agriculture census data shakes up the Locavore Index; Vermont still on top; California jumps to second place
Strolling of the Heifers
Vermont still ranks at the top of the Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index, meaning that it has the strongest producers and consumers of local food of any of the 50 states. But the rest of the Index has been considerably shaken up by new data derived from the recent Census of Agriculture conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The Index has been published annually since 2012 by Strolling of the Heifers, a non-profit food advocacy organization based in Brattleboro, Vermont. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute
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