Friday, March 25, 2011


Farmworkers Take to the Streets for New GainsFarmworkers Take to the Streets for New Gains

by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization fighting for the rights of farmworkers in the large agricultural community of Southern Florida, has launched its first major mobilization in the Northeast to pressure the food retailers Ahold and Publix to address human rights violations in their production supply chain.
On March 5, 2011, supporters marched and protested in Tampa, Florida in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers “Do the Right Thing” campaign. (Photo: National Farm Worker Ministry)
A bus full of farmworkers, students, religious leaders and consumers held their first rally in Boston in late February and continued their corporate accountability actions aimed at the large supermarkets with a week-long tour of the East Coast.
Santiago Perez, 49, a farmworker in Immokalee who took part in the week-long action kicking off the campaign, told Truthout in an email interview: "We hope this tour will help us achieve our goal of reaching agreements with the supermarket chains such as Publix, Stop & Shop, and others."
"The changes that we're seeking are very important for farmworkers and their families," said Perez, who is originally from Guatemala.
The campaign is pushing for Publix and Ahold to join a partnership of farmworkers, tomato growers and retail food stores and agree to CIW's Fair Food principles, which include a wage increase of one penny per pound on tomatoes picked by workers, a cooperative system to resolve complaints, a comprehensive health and safety program, a worker-to-worker education process and a strict code of conduct for the industry.
Stores and companies including Whole Foods, Taco Bell's parent company Yum! Brands Inc., McDonald's and Burger King Holdings Inc., most after years of targeted protests by CIW, are already on board with the Fair Food principles, which CIW says make a significant difference to the earning power and standard of living of farmworkers.
Farmworkers are among the lowest-paid workers in the US. They currently earn 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes; CIW argues that a penny per pound increase for a worker who carries two tons or more of tomatoes a day could raise that worker's yearly income from $10,000 to $17,000 a year.
The adoption of Fair Food principles marks the first time that many workers - an estimated 33,000 will benefit from the changes in working conditions - will have their working hours regulated and a system of redress set up.
The majority of the workers are Central American or Mexican migrants, though homeless US citizens have also been recruited to work in South Florida's tomato fields, which export more than 90 percent of the fresh tomatoes grown in the US. Since 1997, seven Justice Department investigations into farmworker exploitation have found abuses ranging from the withholding of pay to beatings and workers being locked into farm trucks - conditions that federal investigators have likened to slavery.
Publix, one of the largest US grocery chains, and Ahold, a Dutch-based international supermarket chain that owns stores including Stop & Shop, Giant of Landover and the online grocery delivery service Peapod, have refused to sign on to CIW's principles, saying that they source many of their tomatoes from growers who cooperate with the CIW; Ahold also declined to condition its purchase of tomatoes on growers' compliance with the Fair Food principles.
But CIW argues that without the retailers that set the prices of tomatoes on board, the penny-per-pound wage raise will be undercut and the push to improve working conditions will be undermined.
"We know that these companies can help improve our wages and working conditions," said Florida farmworker Perez, "so it's time for them to do the right thing."


Farmers Sue USDA Over Monsanto Alfalfa - Again

by: Mike Ludwig, t r u t h o u t | Report
Farmers Sue USDA Over Monsanto Alfalfa - Again
A flowering Alfalfa plant. (Photo: Jenn Forman Orth / Flickr)
A coalition of farmers and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on March 18 to challenge the agency's recent decision to fully deregulate Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa.
This is the second time the USDA has been sued over its approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa, which is genetically engineered (GE) to tolerate glyphosate, a popular herbicide commonly sold under the Monsanto brand name Roundup. The latest lawsuit, filed by groups like the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the National Family Farm Coalition, opens a new chapter in the five-year battle over the GE alfalfa seed developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics.
Industry watchdogs and farmers say that Roundup Ready alfalfa will increase reliance on already overused herbicides like Roundup, encourage the spread of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" and contaminate organic and conventional alfalfa with Monsanto transgenes through cross-pollination.
About 93 percent of the alfalfa planted in the US is grown without herbicides, but up to 23 million more pounds of herbicide could be sprayed annually following the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa into America's fields, according to USDA estimates.
Alfalfa is not just grown for human consumption. Alfalfa seed and hay feed dairy cows and other livestock, and the growing organic food industry is concerned that cross-contamination of transgenes could threaten the production of organic meat and milk. The USDA, however, recently concluded that Roundup Ready alfalfa does not pose a significant "plant pest risk" despite evidence that transgenes from the alfalfa have contaminated conventional alfalfa in the past.
The USDA first deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005. Internal emails recently obtained by Truthout show that Monsanto worked closely with regulators to edit its original petition to deregulate the alfalfa. One regulator accepted Monsanto's help in conducting the USDA's original environmental assessment of the alfalfa.
Farmers and biotech opponents soon filed a lawsuit against the USDA to challenge the initial deregulation. In 2007, a federal court ruled that the USDA did not consider the full environmental impacts of Roundup Ready alfalfa and vacated the agency's decision to deregulate the alfalfa. Monsanto and its allies appealed the decision, and last year, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling, but ordered the USDA to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the alfalfa before allowing it back into America's fields.
The USDA released a final EIS on Roundup Ready alfalfa in late 2010, and the GE alfalfa was fully deregulated  on January 27. The USDA went on to approve two more GE seeds within weeks of the alfalfa decision.
Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated just weeks after USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (ex-MONSANTO MAN -Clean Food Earth Woman)  was pressed by Republican Congressmen, some of whom recently received campaign contributions from Monsanto and the biotech industry, to dump a proposal to geographically isolate Roundup Ready alfalfa from organic and conventional alfalfa and, instead, legalize the GE seed without any government oversight.
The latest lawsuit filed by CFS and its allies argues that the final EIS ignores or downplays the threats Roundup Ready alfalfa poses to conventional alfalfa farms and the environment.
"USDA's review is inaccurate and completely failed to consider critical issues," said plaintiff farmer Phil Geertson of the family-owned Geertson Seed Farms company. "The decision to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa opens the door to widespread transgenic contamination, costing farmers their markets, reputation and ability to grow natural varieties."
The USDA, however, contends that Monsanto's transgenic alfalfa is just as safe as the alfalfa that the Geertson family has grown for decades. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


March 23, 2011
9:46 AM
CONTACT: Worldwatch Institute
For interviews and review copies: Janeen Madan,, (+1) 202-452-1999 x514
For copies outside of USA, Canada & India: Gudrun Freese,, (+44) 207 841 1930

A "Revolution of Greens" and Innovations in Local, Diversified Food Production Needed to Curb Food Price Crisis

Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet team highlights need for innovations in indigenous vegetable production to improve food security and raise incomes in the long term

WASHINGTON - March 23 - Food prices have soared to record highs and are projected to increase further in the coming decade, pushing millions of people into hunger and fueling political unrest around the world. The Worldwatch Institute's recently released report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, shows that diversifying food production to include local and indigenous vegetables can help communities boost their self-sufficiency and protect vulnerable populations from price shocks.
"The solutions to the price crisis won't necessarily come from producing more food, but from listening to farmers, investing in indigenous vegetables, and changing how foods are processed and marketed," said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project (
Over a 15-month period, researchers with Nourishing the Planet traveled to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa highlighting stories of hope and success in agriculture. The project's on-the-ground research unearthed hundreds of environmentally sustainable solutions for reducing hunger and poverty. "The project aims to create a roadmap for the funding and donor community to ensure that agricultural funding is directed to projects that really work," said Brian Halweil, Nourishing the Planet co-director.
Mainstream agricultural approaches have tended to focus on a handful of staple crops, such as rice, wheat, and maize, and to promote the use of expensive, high-tech inputs, creating an unsustainable and vulnerable food system. Last year's drought in Russia that damaged a third of the country's wheat harvest, together with widespread flooding in Pakistan and Australia, caused price shocks around the world. Skyrocketing food prices are especially destabilizing in poor, import-dependent countries such as those in Africa, where households spend up to 80 percent of their income on food. In Egypt, the world's leading wheat importer, a 70 percent rise in wheat prices helped trigger the recent wave of protests that swept the country. Subsequent unrest across the region is raising fears about global instability.
Investing in agricultural development, especially indigenous vegetable crops, could help feed communities in Africa and worldwide, boosting their resilience to price shocks while helping farmers protect biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. "There is no other single sector of the global economy that is so central to meeting the needs of the nearly 7 billion people on the planet, while also protecting the health of the environment," said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin.
Food security is not only about the quantity of food we eat, but also about the quality and diversity of food sources. In contrast to the staple grains that receive disproportionate attention from development aid, vegetables can offer a sustainable solution for a diverse and balanced diet. Growing vegetables can help address the "hidden hunger" of micronutrient deficiencies that affects some 1 billion people worldwide, and also brings multiple benefits for farmers."Vegetables have shorter cycles, are faster-growing than cereal crops, and require little space," says Abdou Tenkouano, director of AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center's Regional Center for Africa and State of the World 2011 contributing author.
The small-scale "revolution of greens" that is currently underway in Africa deserves greater attention from the global funding and donor communities. Researchers, nongovernmental organizations, and farmers across the continent are rediscovering traditional diets, improving the availability of nutritious indigenous vegetables (such as moringa and lablab), and reigniting interest in traditional vegetable dishes.
Nourishing the Planet's on-the-ground research offers three major policy recommendations to boost worldwide interest in and availability of indigenous vegetable varieties:
Listen to farmers. Organizations like AVRDC and the International Development Research Centre hold periodic workshops and field days, bringing together farmers, consumers, businesses, and communities to identify varieties of onion, tomato, eggplant, and okra that grow the best, taste the best, and perform best at local markets. This helps researchers develop more nutritious and locally adapted varieties that enhance and complement specific food preparations.
Get seeds to farmers. The seeds of preferred vegetable varieties are being made more widely available in Africa and elsewhere. Better seeds mean more vitamins in the food, better-tasting food, and ultimately less hunger and malnutrition. After scientists at AVRDC developed two higher-yielding tomato varieties with thicker skins-making them less vulnerable to pests and damage-farmers growing these varieties raised their incomes by 40 percent.
Take advantage of what's local. As the impacts of climate change become more evident, indigenous vegetables that have been neglected for decades are regaining attention because of their tolerance to drought and resistance to pests. Researchers have developed improved varieties of amaranth, African eggplant, African nightshade, and cowpea that are now widely available in many parts of Africa. In Uganda, Project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation), supported by Slow Food International, is reigniting an interest in these foods by teaching students how to grow and cook indigenous vegetables.
State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet is accompanied by informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos, and podcasts, all available at The project's findings are being disseminated to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, and farmer and community networks, as well as the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities
The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Its mission is to generate and promote insights and ideas that empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs.

“There is no safe level of exposure to radiation, in food or in water. We should be doing our best to prevent such exposures in the first place.”

March 23, 2011
2:00 PM
CONTACT: Food & Water Watch
Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; drakestraw(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

FDA Should Issue Import Alert for All Japanese Food Imports; Food and Water Protections Must Remain Priority in Washington

Statement from Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

WASHINGTON - March 23 - “We’ve been receiving many calls from concerned citizens, activists and media about the nuclear crisis in Japan and how it is affecting food and water supplies, particularly imports into the United States.
“This accident in Japan and concerns about its food supply and possible imports from there highlights inadequacies in FDA's everyday program for imports. Cutting the budget for food safety protections isn't going to help.
“Last night the FDA announced it is blocking imports from the region in Japan where the nuclear accident occurred. This is a good start, but we believe they should go further and block imports from the whole country.
“Foods imported from Japan made up less than 4% of all foods imported by the U.S. last year, according to the FDA. But the majority of the foods that we do import from there—fish and processed foods—could be affected by this disaster.
“On a good day, less than 2 percent of seafood imported into the U.S. is inspected.
“Radioactive water in processed foods would also be a potential concern.
“There is no safe level of exposure to radiation, in food or in water. We should be doing our best to prevent such exposures in the first place.”
Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Industry Watchdog "Dumbfounded" by USDA’s Failure to Enforce Organic Law

USDA Continues Bush-era Policy of Allowing Unapproved Synthetic Additives

CORNUCOPIA, Wis. - March 21 - The Cornucopia Institute, one of the nation’s leading organic industry watchdogs, condemned the position of the United States Department of Agriculture that it will allow products containing unapproved synthetic additives to be labeled “organic” for an indefinite grace period.
The Cornucopia Institute had filed legal complaints against infant formula manufacturers and Dean Foods, manufacturer of Horizon dairy products, for adding unapproved additives: Martek Biosciences Corporation’s omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (DHA/ARA), derived chemically from fermented algae and fungus, to foods with the organic label.
The Cornucopia Institute maintains, and the USDA reiterated in a compliance letter issued March 16, that these additives are illegal in organics.  But the USDA also stated it would not take enforcement action at this time.  The USDA’s compliance letter suggested that it would allow companies to continue adding the additives to organic foods during a phase-out period of unspecified length, despite its clear statement, in the same letter, that the additives were being used in organics due to an “incorrect” interpretation of the federal standards.
“Essentially, the USDA admitted once again in its letter that the DHA additives should never have been allowed in organics, and then goes on to state that they have chosen not to take enforcement action at this time,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst with The Cornucopia Institute.
The Wisconsin-based Institute stated that it is meeting with its legal team to determine its next course of action in its efforts to ensure that foods bearing the “USDA Organic” label are produced in accordance with the federal organic standards.
"We hope the current NOP management moves quickly to implement their position, that adding unapproved additives to infant formula constitutes a violation of the organic standards," said attorney Gary Cox who has long represented The Cornucopia Institute in its oversight of the USDA.
Cornucopia states that it is likely to file a lawsuit against the USDA for its failure to carry out its congressionally-mandated duties in protecting the purity and safety of organic food.
“Federal law clearly states that synthetic additives must be approved by the USDA, through a formal petition process, assuring their safety before they can legally be added to foods with the organic label,” stated Vallaeys.  “Martek’s Crypthecodinium cohnii and Schizochytrium oils (sources of DHA) and Mortierella alpina oil (a source of ARA) have never been approved, and the USDA has once again caved to industry lobbyists.”
The Cornucopia Institute is concerned with the USDA’s failure to enforce the organic standards regarding unapproved accessory nutrients, because the synthetic additives have been linked to many serious reported gastrointestinal problems in infants and young children.
Megan Golden of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, watched her newborn son suffer from serious vomiting and gastrointestinal illness from the day he was born and given formula with DHA and ARA.  At age 9 weeks, she switched to formula without these additives, and his symptoms disappeared.  “By the next day, no lie, my son was a completely different infant.  He was comfortable, was not as agitated, and the throwing up had stopped.  His gas pains went away.  His stools became normal. And he could finally relax enough to sleep.  I am thankful for that,” said Golden.
As of January 2009, more than a hundred similar adverse reaction reports have been filed with the Food and Drug Administration (a more recent open records request by The Cornucopia Institute is pending).  Since few parents and healthcare professionals historically report the link between over-the-counter drugs or nutritional additives and adverse reactions to the FDA, scientists believe these reports constitute only the tip of the iceberg.
When USDA enforcement officials first became aware, in 2006, that infant formula manufacturers were adding unapproved additives to formula bearing the “USDA Organic” label, they recognized its illegality and sent an enforcement letter ordering them to take the unapproved additives out of organic infant formula.
Subsequently, discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Cornucopia Institute, and reported in an investigative report by the Washington Post, corporate lobbyists convinced the former director of the USDA’s National Organic Program, Dr. Barbara Robinson, to overrule her staff's decision, and allow companies to market products with Martek’s unapproved algal-based and fungal-based additives. 
The Cornucopia Institute has complained for years that this was an improper and illegal action by the agency.  In 2010, the USDA, under the Obama administration, concurred with Cornucopia, stating in a public memorandum that this was an improper decision.
Unlike some essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals), unapproved additives like Martek’s DHA and ARA are not required by the FDA in foods, but are popular with food manufacturers because they are useful in trying to create a competitive marketing advantage.
The Food and Drug Administration just announced that it will conduct a study to determine if marketing claims by infant formula manufacturers, such as claims that DHA and ARA “support brain and eye development,” influence mothers’ feeding decisions and discourage breast-feeding.
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Food Politics, states about DHA and ARA in infant formula:  “Competition for market share explains why formula companies want to put distinctive nutrients in their formulas–especially nutrients considered ‘conditional.’  Even if the health benefits are minimal or questionable, they can be used in advertising.”
While they advertise these nutrients with questionable claims of benefits, companies do not share with consumers the process by which these nutrients are manufactured.
“Getting omega-3 fatty acids from natural sources like breast milk, or salmon, or flaxseed, and getting omega-3’s from a synthetic additive in infant formula or milk are two completely different things,” explains Vallaeys.  “Companies like Martek don’t like consumers to know that these additives are often chemically extracted, fermented in genetically engineered feedstock, treated with harsh chemicals, deodorized and bleached.  There’s a reason why so many consumers are turning to organic foods—to avoid these kinds of novel substances that masquerade as food,” she adds.
Additives like DHA and ARA are not required by the FDA in foods, including infant formula, because scientific data fails to document benefits to human health or development.  Dr. Katherine Kennedy of the University College of London’s Institute of Child Health, along with several colleagues, wrote: “We contend this field of research has been driven to an extent by enthusiasm and vested interest.”
The British scientific panel also stated, “Although the vast majority of infant formulas now contain long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids [manufactured by Martek], the scientific evidence base for their addition is recognized by most investigators and key opinion leaders in the field to be weak.”
“After the USDA determined these materials were being illegally added to certified organic food, it's unconscionable that they would continue to drag their feet on enforcement even as more reports flow into the FDA on adverse health impacts,” says Kastel.
Consumers exhibit marketplace loyalty in the organic label, because it represents a rigorous third-party certification system of strict federal standards that prohibit synthetic inputs unless they have gone through a rigorous approval process.  Organic activists are concerned that if the USDA fails to rigorously enforce the standards, allowing big business to make up their own rules, that consumer confidence in the label will be eroded.
Industry observers speculate that the USDA has dragged its feet on forcing the removal of these unapproved additives in order to allow time for the powerful pharmaceutical companies manufacturing infant formula (Abbott Laboratories and PBM Nutritionals, the private-label manufacturer for Wal-Mart and Hain-Celestial’s Earth’s Best brand) and the nation's largest milk bottler (Dean Foods) to petition the National Organic Standards Board, the expert citizen's body created by Congress, to approve the Martek materials, after the fact.
"This is more than just a question of whether a particular additive is risky and inappropriate for inclusion in organics," Kastel lamented.  "The question is whether or not organics will remain a trusted last refuge for families who don't want to experiment with the long-term health of their children."
On March 14, the National Organic Standards Board released a controversial committee proposal that would allow any synthetic nutrient additive that comes on the market to be added freely to organic foods—without review. 
Already, citizens are lining up to voice their disapproval of this industry-friendly committee decision, which will be debated and voted on by the full Board during its next meeting in Seattle, April 26-29.
“It’s unfortunate that the committee, stacked during the Bush Administration with corporate representatives, has voted to open the door to just about any novel synthetic, chemically produced, additive to be added to organic foods—without the congressionally-mandated review,” stated Kastel.
“While the split vote by the 7-person committee was in favor of potentially marketing gimmicky and risky synthetic additives, the organic community as a whole is going to fight like hell against this,” Kastel stated.  “There is no way that ethical organic companies, organic farmers, and organic consumers are going to allow a handful of pro-corporate board members to indiscriminately weaken the meaning of the organic label.”
Cornucopia encourages consumers to submit written comments, to voice their opposition to the committee proposal allowing all synthetic “nutrient” additives in organic foods.  An action alert with detailed information is available on Cornucopia’s website,

A brief summary of the overwhelming scientific literature questioning the efficacy of Martek’s nutritional oils, and questioning their safety, can be found at:
Since the USDA is failing its mandate to ensure that all products bearing the “USDA Organic” seal are in fact complying with the federal standards that prohibit unapproved additives, the Cornucopia Institute has developed a list of products containing Martek’s unapproved additives.  The list is available on the Cornucopia website (viewable at, and will be updated on an ongoing basis.  The products are also listed below:
For children and adults

Wegman’s Organic Yogurt (Fruit on the Bottom Super Yogurt)
Horizon Organic Milk
Stremicks Heritage Foods Organic Milk
ZenSoy Soy on the Go

Baby Food (select products contain Martek’s DHA)
Happy Bellies
Plum Organics
Tasty Baby Organic Infant Cereal
Infant Formula (all organic infant formula products contain Martek’s DHA, with the exception of Baby’s Only Organic Toddler Formula)
Bright Beginnings Organic
Earth’s Best Organic
Parent’s Choice Organic
Similac Organic
Vermont Organics

March 21, 2011
12:54 PM
CONTACT: Cornucopia Institute
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
Charlotte Vallaeys, 978-369-6409
The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at