Saturday, June 30, 2012


Raw deal: Maine residents’ fight for unregulated food draws crackdown

Farmer Dan Brown has been sued by the Maine Dept. of Agriculture for selling raw milk, despite the passage of a food sovereignty ordinance in his town.
New England town meetings typically include dozens and dozens of proposals for citizens to vote up or down, on quickly forgotten matters like new stop lights and bridge repairs.
But this year, things have been different. The residents in eight small Maine towns have all voted to declare “food sovereignty” — and they won’t be forgetting the issue any time soon. In other words, they’ve passed ordinances that explicitly allow local farmers and ranchers to sell their food — meat, eggs, unpasteurized milk, honey, veggies — directly to consumers within town borders, without state or federal licenses, permits, or regulations.
Towns in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California have all replicated these experiments, which in Vermont have all been based on a single template [PDF]. And while the mainstream media is referring to the ordinances as “symbolic,” it is yet to be seen how the courts will rule.
These votes are the result of work by activists in the food sovereignty moment, who see the ordinances as a response to an ever more intensely regulated food system. On the federal level, the recent Food Safety Modernization Act could require small food producers to complete a sophisticated hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) plan, which would be both costly and tedious. Meanwhile there has also been an increase in local health department enforcement around the country, in places like school bake sales and kids’ lemonade stands.
Activists see food sovereignty ordinances as a compromise of sorts over the thorny issue of private food distribution. And although many food safety measures and regulations were developed alongside industrial food production — and have a place in protecting consumers — many activists now believe they’ve been used to target small businesses. Food sovereignty activists feel that people have a right to acquire food — such as raw dairy products — privately through membership-based food clubs, outside the parameters of long-standing regulations that require retail, dairy, and other permits.
In a recent AP article, Maine’s state agriculture officials said the ordinances “don’t hold legal muster.” But the state’s so-called “local rule” laws could contradict this view. Via its constitution and legislation, Maine confers significant power on municipalities to enact ordinances that are local in nature, and aren’t denied by state law, like controlling town growth or banning herbicide spraying. “Maine has long been considered a strong ‘home rule’ state,” says the Maine Municipal Association. (Here’s a list of these hyper-local laws.)
While everyone who voted to pass Maine’s food sovereignty ordinances knew they were risking conflict with state and federal authorities, they hadn’t imagined the objections would be as swift, or intense, as they have turned out to be.
“Farmers know whether the milk is bad”
Just months after the first six towns passed the ordinances, the state filed a lawsuit [PDF] against a farmer named Dan Brown of Blue Hill, Maine, for selling unpasteurized milk without a state permit. Brown says losing the suit could put him out of business, since complying with state permit requirements would be so costly as to not justify operating his two-cow dairy. He owns the cows primarily so that he can provide milk for his family, and he sells what’s left. (Activists set up a Facebook page in support of Brown called We Are All Farmer Brown.)
“I have never had any questions from customers saying there was any problem with my milk,” Brown told the Bangor Daily News. “This has been done this way for hundreds of years. Farmers, when they milk a cow, know whether the milk is bad or not.”
Brown says the state has devoted significant investigative resources to making the case against him, and he has led several demonstrations, including one at the capital in Augusta, demanding that the state drop the suit.
While there’s no mention of the food sovereignty ordinances in the suit, and state officials have denied a connection, Brown’s defense lawyers obtained email correspondence that suggest otherwise. For instance, a Maine Dept. of Agriculture program manager sent an email in June 2011 — two months after Blue Hill’s food sovereignty ordinance was enacted — about Brown allegedly selling food at a local farmer’s market without a license. “Sounds like we have our first test case,” he wrote.
The email was one of nearly 700 pages of emails, memos, and other documents obtained by the lawyers under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, and they provide a window into the intensity of the food sovereignty battle. Activists also found written warnings to a second farmer, Heather Retberg of Quill’s End Farm, who has been active in organizing the residents of several towns in favor of the food sovereignty ordinances. One warning reads: “If you refuse to bring your business into compliance and continue to operate in violation of the laws of the State of Maine we will refer this matter to the Attorney General for enforcement action.”
Regulation or retaliation?
The controversy has extended to the top levels of Maine’s government, including Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Last September, after hearing feedback from constituents in support of the food sovereignty ordinances, LePage wrote a memo [PDF] to the head of the Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Walt Whitcomb, that read:
I am particularly concerned about over-regulating the small farms with large capital investments and costly licensing. In recent weeks I have received letters, emails and constituent visits concerning regulations involving intrastate commerce.
Attached to LePage’s memo was a proposed bill in the Maine legislature that would have allowed the sale of raw milk without a state permit. On the proposed legislation was a note that appears to be from the governor or an aide: “This statute sounds reasonable. Please advise the problem you see with it?”
Also attached was a letter from a Maine farmer, John O’Donnell, who wanted to let the governor know what was behind the food sovereignty movement. In the letter, O’Donnell wrote:
As you may know, several Maine towns passed food sovereignty resolutions last year. This was mainly driven by small farmers experiencing unfair regulations that are barriers to entry, and restraint of trade. Many of these farmers fought for the same Maine bills I did, and saw how the Subcommittee on Agriculture was mainly under the control of the large farm and dairy interests and would never let small farm bills out of committee favorably. We also saw how the Department of Agriculture testified in these hearings that there would be repercussions from the USDA or FDA if we relaxed the standards for selling poultry, milk, and other products in our local communities and state.
Under this paragraph was a hand-written note, presumably also from the governor or an aide. It read: “Why would this concern us, if the products are sold intrastate.”
There is no direct response from the Maine Dept. of Agriculture in all the documents. But the department made its opinions known this February in a form letter from Agriculture Commissioner Whitcomb. The letter was addressed to everyone who “shared … thoughts with the administration regarding local food sovereignty ordinances.” Here’s an excerpt:
Local food sovereignty ordinances leave the false impression that residence in certain towns exempt individuals from food licensure and inspection requirements. … Persons who fail to comply (with state laws) will be subject to the Department’s statutory responsibility to enforce state law, including the removal from sale of products from unlicensed sources and/or the imposition of fines.
The cache of emails show the Dept. of Agriculture having reversed a long-standing agency policy of ignoring unlicensed sellers of raw milk who don’t advertise. It also shows the department deciding to intensively investigate any illnesses reported from people who consumed raw milk, even if the illness were known to be highly unlikely to have originated from raw milk consumption.
As early as the summer of 2010 — just when food sovereignty organizers like Retberg were beginning to discuss their plans to push for local ordinances — agriculture investigators began visiting any farm that sold milk to people who contracted a nasty parasite known as cryptosporidium, or “crypto.” According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, crypto spreads most often from “drinking water and recreational water” and “is one of the most frequent causes of water-borne disease among humans in the United States.”
Depositions are now being taken and arguments made in the state’s case against Brown and the trial could begin next fall. The state of Maine is hoping to end quickly and absolutely any notions people might have that they can distribute food privately, outside regulatory constraints.
While food sovereignty may stem from local efforts, however, it has arisen in response to a much larger problem — one that’s far from localized.
As Bob St. Peter, farmer and food sovereignty, organizer said to WABI, a local Maine TV news channel, recently, “Seventy-six million people a year get sick from foodborne illness. These are systemic problems … When people come to my farm or they come to Dan Brown’s farm they’re looking for a way out. They’re looking for an alternative to that system.”
David Gumpert is the author of The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (Chelsea Green, 2009). He is also a journalist who specializes in covering the intersection of health and business. Read more on his blog.


WTO Not So COOL: Rules Against Popular U.S. Meat Labeling Law

The World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a final ruling today against the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. This popular pro-consumer policy, which informs shoppers where meat and other foods were raised or grown, enjoys the support of 93% of Americans, according to a 2010 Consumers Union poll. Now Congress must gut or change the law to avoid the application of punitive trade sanctions.
WTO vs. Consumers
The original meat labeling law passed as part of the 2002 farm bill and was expanded in the 2008 farm bill to apply to other foods like fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Canada, Mexico, and several other countries filed a complaint regarding the policy with the WTO in December 2008 calling the popular consumer measure a "disguised" barrier to trade. The organization initially ruled in their favor in November 2011, but the U.S. filed an appeal in March 2012. Today, a WTO  tribunal made up of three trade officials ruled that the U.S. law is a violation of the WTO's legally binding "Technical Barrier to Trade" agreement. The ruling is final. If the United States does not gut or change the law, the WTO can apply punitive sanctions, usually in the form of tariffs on U.S. exports. The ruling also casts into doubt the WT0-legality of other popular labeling laws.
Last week, the Obama administration invited Canada and Mexico to join the latest trade pact under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), without an agreement to drop their attack on the popular U.S. consumer labeling. Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, commented: "The American public is desperately waiting for President Barack Obama to show some negotiating savvy, and to start fulfilling his campaign pledges and reconsider the so-called 'trade' model that his administration is pushing with the TPP."
The ruling is the WTO's third this year against U.S. consumer protection laws. In May, it ruled against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labels, again, in a case that has been dragging on for over a decade. In April, it ruled against a U.S. ban on clove, candy, and cola-flavored cigarettes. "These three rulings -- with the WTO slapping down safe hamburgers, Flipper and children's smoking prevention policy -- make it increasingly clear to the public that the WTO is leading a race to the bottom in consumer protection," said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.
ALEC Supports Foreign Trade Tribunals Operating Outside the Constraints of U.S. Law
The TPP is one of many free trade agreements pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill, which approved a resolution supporting the TPP in 2010. ALEC has supported every free trade agreement for decades, including Most Favored Nation Trading Status for China. This free trade agenda has not only weakened U.S. consumer protection but cost the country millions of jobs as factories closed and moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. These agreements also allow public health, environmental, and worker safety rules to be challenged as "barriers to trade" in trade tribunals that operate outside the constraints of U.S. law and outside of the democratic process.
Rebekah Wilce
Rebekah Wilce is a farmer with a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She researches and reports for CMD and milks cows at a local farm. She is the lead writer for CMD's Food Rights Network.


War on weeds loses ground

The rise of herbicide-resistant varieties drives a search for fresh methods of control.
Standing tall: glyphosate-resistant pigweed growing in Roundup Ready cotton.
Bill Barksdale/AgStock Images/Corbis
With its jumble of leaves and pointy, green, flower spikes, the plant known as pigweed or palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) isn’t much to look at. But to farmers in the southeastern United States, it is a formidable foe. Having evolved the ability to withstand glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup, it now flourishes unchecked alongside crops such as cotton and soya bean that are genetically modified to be glyphosate tolerant.
And it is not unique, says agronomist Harold Coble at the Office of Pest Management Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina, part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), who notes that 383 known weed varieties have the genetic defences to survive one or more herbicides. “Weed resistance is a game changer for agriculture in the same way that drug resistance has been a game changer for the health-care industry,” says Coble, who spoke on 10 May at a Weed Summit in Washington DC convened by the National Academies. The problem has escalated since the widespread introduction of Roundup Ready and similar crops over the past decade allowed farmers to apply glyphosate more liberally. At the summit, distinctly different responses to the challenge were up for discussion.
The conventional approach is to switch to a different herbicide and engineer crops to withstand it. This has produced a wave of genetically modified crops under review by the USDA, which earlier this year made changes to speed up its approval process. Next to receive a green light could be maize (corn) that is tolerant to glyphosphate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). Created by Dow AgroScience in Indianapolis, Indiana, the plants can break down both of the chemicals in Dow’s newly formulated herbicide Enlist. “You’re applying two different ways of killing the weed at the same time,” says Mark Peterson, global biology team leader at Dow. “The odds that you’re going to have a weed that’s resistant to both are very low.”
Environmental groups oppose Dow’s application, which drew more 365,000 public comments last month. News reports have drawn attention to the fact that 2,4-D was one of the ingredients (although not the most toxic) in the defoliant Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War.
Researchers are also wary of engaging in a continuing arms race with nature. “A number of analysts feel that such an approach is short sighted and doomed to fail,” says agronomist Matt Liebman of Iowa State University in Ames. The chief worry is that new herbicide blends will accelerate the emergence of resistance to multiple chemicals. In a paper published in January, weed ecologist David Mortensen of Pennsylvania State University in University Park and his colleagues argue that the growing number of multiresistant weed varieties proves that “weeds can defy the probabilities” (D. A. Mortensen et al. BioScience 62, 75–84; 2012). Mortensen expects that increased reliance on two herbicides will favour plants with multiple mutations for resistance to each, as well as the emergence of plants with more general survival strategies, such as the ability to break up certain molecular structures or to confine herbicides in cell vacuoles. “These are traits that could overcome more than one chemical mode of action and see an increase in selection pressure,” says Mortensen.
How much of an increase depends on how widely the multitolerant crops are planted and how frequently the herbicide combinations are used. Although Dow will include a set of recommended management practices with its products, “there are no enforcement regulations”, says Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The threat of multiresistance has prompted a return to older methods of weed control. Stanley Culpepper, a weed scientist at the University of Georgia in Tifton, has shown that planting a cover crop of rye blocks sunlight and reduces the number of pigweed seeds that germinate by 75%. In Georgia and elsewhere, Culpepper says, herbicide resistance is already forcing farmers to combine such techniques with conventional herbicide use.
New machinery could also help. At the weed summit, agronomist Michael Walsh of the University of Western Australia in Crawley described the Harrington Seed Destructor, a harvester that collects weed seeds along with the crop, smashes up about 95% of them, and sprinkles the harmless remains in its wake.
“The weeds that have survived the crop season are the ones that are the most likely to have stacked resistance because they’ve survived herbicide applications, so that’s why we’re pushing these harvesting techniques,” says Walsh.
And then there are biocides. The USDA and the agrochemical industry are looking into the use of the natural chemical defences of plants and microbes to control weeds. On 17 May, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved a bioherbicide from Marrone Bio Innovations in Davis, California. Its primary component is derived from the soil bacterium Streptomyces and disrupts weed-cell division. Such solutions may be easier on the environment but if overused could still breed resistance.
Most agree that farming in a post-Roundup era will be more complicated. “The reality of weed management without the silver bullet of glyphosate is that we need to revert to a many-hammers approach — crop rotations, cultivations, tillage, appropriate herbicide application,” says agronomist Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Puyallup. “It’s going to take more time, it will take more management care, and it will probably cost more money.”
Nature 485, 430 ()


Monsanto may lose GM soya royalties throughout Brazil

Farmers notch up another victory in legal fight.
Brazilian farmers grow millions of hectares of genetically-modified soya.
Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg/Getty
The biotechnology giant Monsanto is one step closer to losing billions of dollars in revenues from its genetically-modified (GM) Roundup Ready soya beans, following a ruling this week by the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice.
The decision marks the latest chapter of an epic legal battle, in which millions of Brazilian farmers are trying to recover payments made to the company over the past decade. It could also have important implications for research in the country, some scientists say.
Brazil is the second-largest producer of genetically-modified (GM) crops, after the United States. Last year, it farmed 30.3 million hectares of the crops, mostly soya beans, but also corn and cotton. It legalized the growing of GM crops in 2005, after it became clear that about three-quarters of the soya crops produced in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul were already being grown from Roundup Ready seeds that had been smuggled in from Argentina. Because the crop is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as Roundup, farmers can spray they fields with the chemical to control weeds without risking damage to their crops.
Since the legalization, Monsanto has charged Brazilian farmers 2% of their sales of Roundup Ready soya beans, which now account for an estimated 85% of the nation’s soya-bean crop. The company also tests Brazilian soya beans that are sold as non-GM — if they turn out to be Roundup Ready, the company charges the farmers responsible for the crops some 3% of their sales.

Battles begin

In 2009, a consortium of farming syndicates from Rio Grande do Sul mounted a legal challenge to the levy, arguing that it is effectively an unjust tax on their businesses, and that it has proved impossible to keep Roundup Ready soya beans separate from conventional varieties. “The issue is that segregating GM and conventional soya is difficult, since the GM soya is highly contaminating,” says João Batista da Silveira, president of the Rural Syndicate of Passo Fundo, one of the leaders of the legal action.
Monsanto argues that most Brazilian farmers still use smuggled seeds, and that the company is consequently being deprived of revenue and must recoup its costs through the levy. But the Brazilian Association of Seeds and Seedlings, a trade body, says that 70% of soya-bean farmers now buy their Roundup Ready seeds legally.
In April, Giovanni Conti, a judge in Rio Grande do Sul, decided that Monsanto’s levy was illegal, noting that the patents relating to Roundup Ready soya beans have already expired in Brazil. He ordered Monsanto to stop collecting royalties, and return those collected since 2004 — or pay back a minimum of US$2 billion. Monsanto appealed, and Conti's decision has been suspended for now, pending consideration by the Justice Tribune of Rio Grande do Sul.
But in 2011, Monsanto had also made a parallel legal bid to the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice, the country's highest federal court. The company argued that the syndicates had no legal status to bring their case, and also that any final ruling should be limited to Rio Grande do Sul, fearing that its losses would be even greater if it applied to the whole country.
On 12 June, the judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice ruled against Monsanto, deciding unanimously that the ruling by the Justice Tribune of Rio Grande do Sul, once it is made, should apply nationwide. Monsanto has declined to comment on the case.
Some scientists fear that if the company is forced to repay royalties, it could trigger cuts in funding for biotech research. For example, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, has a research partnership with Monsanto. “Although Embrapa has other financial sources, if the collection of royalties is interrupted then $5 million to $10 million dollars will be cut from our budget, which would stop some research projects,” says Elibio Rech, an Embrapa researcher. Rech points out that royalties for intellectual property are crucial to enabling new technologies that can help sustainable development.
Carlos Fávaro, president of the Mato Grosso association of soya-bean and corn producers, agrees that intellectual property is important, and that ceasing royalty payments could impact research. But he insists that the current system is untenable: “The way of collecting royalties is unfair, [Monsanto] charges us in double: when we buy the seeds and then when we sell the soy.”



Report: Global Beef Demand Leading to Deforestation, Global Warming

- Common Dreams staff
The global beef demand has been leading to further deforestation and is contributing to global warming, according to a report released Thursday from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report, Grade A Choice? Solutions for deforestation-free meat, highlights the inefficiency of producing beef: it uses 60 percent of the world's agricultural land yet provides less than two percent of the global calories consumed.
The raising of beef requires large areas of land, often coming at the expense of large-scale clear cutting such as in Brazil. The report notes that though this clear-cut land is poor in crop productivity, it's bought for little money.
The group underscores that this clearing of forests has real impacts for global warming. "Tropical deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions," UCS states.
Further contributing to global warming, cows release methane, which has "23 times the warming effect of carbon."
“We have a big beef with beef,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Because of the way it is produced, the more beef we eat, the worse global warming gets.”
(photo: By jai Mansson's photography)


Farmer spraying his crops. (photo: Pesticide Action Network)

How Brazil Stopped Monsanto's Bullying

By Pesticide Action Network                                          Farmer spraying his crops. (photo: Pesticide Action Network)
29 June 12

razil, the world’s second largest user of genetically engineered (GE) seeds, just took Monsanto down a notch. The court focused on Monsanto’s harassment and exploitation of farmers — potentially causing huge financial losses to the company, and keeping their army of lawyers busy for a while. Meanwhile, we celebrate a rare commonsense legal decision.
Monsanto's RoundUp Ready soy seeds comprise 85% of all soy grown in Brazil, and the corporation has been making a tidy profit charging farmers a levy of 2% on top of the cost of seed. In April, a Brazilian court ruled this levy illegal.

Monsanto appealed the court’s decision, which has been suspended for now and is being reviewed by a judicial tribunal in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Monsanto also appealed to the Brazilian Supreme Court to limit the tribunal’s ruling to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, but this appeal was denied. Whatever the Rio Grande do Sul tribunal rules could be applied to the whole country, potentially increasing Monsanto’s liabilities to pay farmers back.
Banditry, Bullying & Highway Robbery
This is a first step in what we hope will be a victory for Brazilian farmers against harassment by Monsanto, a corporate giant that makes a sport out of threatening farmers’ livelihoods in the U.S. and around the world.
Monsanto’s overzealous protection of its "intellectual property" for GE seeds includes testing of non-GE farms to see if any traces of GE seeds are present on the farm. This policing exposes farmers to levies by Monsanto claiming intellectual property infringement, even in cases where farmers' crops were contaminated against their will and without their knowledge.
"Genetic drift" is an established reality for farmers who say it is almost impossible to prevent contamination of their fields by GE seeds from neighboring farms. This was one of the main arguments made by farmers against Monsanto in Brazil, where the company charged a levy of 3% of their crop sales on farmers on whose farms they found "illegal" GE soy seeds.
Previous to this ruling, if Brazilian farmers planted GE seeds "illegally," but admitted this to their local trader at point of sale, they were charged a penalty fee of 2.3% of their crop's value. If, however, they denied using Monsanto's seeds but on-site testing revealed genetic contamination of as little as 1% of their crop, they were then required to pay a higher penalty fee of 3% of their entire crop's value.
Contamination at the 1% level is virtually inevitable, because in Brazil most farmers must rent harvesting equipment and that equipment often has traces of GE seed from previous uses. Brazilian farmers we spoke with on a visit last fall reported that they felt trapped into falsely "admitting" illegally planting GE seed in order to pay the lower of the two fines.
In the U.S. we call this highway robbery. Nice to see Brazil take the bandits down a notch.

"Farmer Assurance Provision” (Section 733) BILL WILL STRIP LEGAL ACTION AGAINST GMO PLANTING

Stop the Monsanto Protection Act!

This week the House of Representatives will consider a provision to House Agricultural Appropriations Bill that will fundamentally undermine the concept of judicial review. Hidden under the guise of a “Farmer Assurance Provision” (Section 733), the provision strips the rights of federal courts to halt the sale and planting of genetically engineered crops during the legal appeals process.
In the past, legal advocates have successfully won in court the right to halt the sale and planting of unapproved GMO crops while the approval of those crops is under review by a federal judge. This dangerous new House provision, which we're calling the Monsanto Protection Act, would strip judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer rights and the environment, while opening up a floodgate of planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, consumers and the environment.
Once again, Monsanto and the biotech industry are working behind closed doors to undermine your basic rights. This time they’ve gone too far! Join us in putting a stop to the Monsanto Protection Act!
Take Action Click here.

A copy of your letter of support will be delivered to your Representative:
Dear Representative,
I am writing to urge your support of the DeFazio amendment to strike the “farmer assurance provision” currently included in the FY2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill.

Though wrapped in a “farmer-friendly” package, this provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered (GE) seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by USDA illegally. It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies.

The judicial review process is an essential element of U.S law and serves as a vital check on any Federal Agency decision that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Yet this provision seeks an end-run around such judicial review by preemptively deciding that industry can set its own conditions to continue to sell biotech seeds, even if a court may find them to have been wrongfully approved.

The provision further forces USDA to immediately approve any permits for continued planting the industry requests, putting industry completely in charge by allowing for a “back door approval” mechanism. USDA’s duty is to protect the interests of all farmers and the environment, a duty that would be eliminated by this provision.

The provision is also completely unnecessary. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed. Every court to decide these issues has carefully weighed the interests of farmers, as is already required by law.

I urge you to support the DeFazio amendment to H.R. 5973 the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 to strike this dangerous and misleading provision.
[Your Name]

Friday, June 29, 2012


Monsanto's Sneak Attack on Organic and Non-GMO Farmers

Monsanto is using its money and influence to push Congress to attach a rider to the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would effectively end judicial review of approvals of new genetically engineered crops.
If this rider (Sec. 733) isn't removed, organic and non-GMO farmers will lose their access to the court system and they'll have no recourse when the U.S. Department of Agriculture illegally approves new genetically engineered crops that threaten to contaminate their fields and seed supplies.
Monsanto's sneak attack is a response to successful lawsuits brought by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of organic and non-GMO farmers and seed growers that have attempted to block planting of genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa while the USDA conducted a court-ordered review of the dangers of contamination.
A vote to remove Monsanto's rider from the Agriculture Appropriations bill was expected this week, but now has been delayed until after Congress returns from their July 4th recess. Let's use this time to spread the word and send tens of thousands of letters to Congress!


Obama Betrays Campaign Promise to Label Genetically Engineered Food

In 2007, Senator Obama, campaigning for the presidency in the Democratic primary, promised to label genetically engineered food.
Now, if you write the Obama for America campaign about GMO labels, you get this response:
"Genetically modified crops hold out the promise of benefits like increased production and reduced reliance on pesticides. At the same time, some Americans want more information to help them choose their food. President Obama understands these concerns and is considering additional steps in this area."
What? How can he flip his position like that? What makes him believe Monsanto's lies? Why isn't he listening to the 9 out of 10 voters who want GMOs labeled? Is there anything we can do to get him back on our side before November?
The first step is to give Barack Obama a piece of our minds! Bill Maher did on his show last week, when he called the President out for breaking his campaign promise on GMO labels and putting Monsanto's Michael Taylor in charge of food safety. Please tell the Obama for America campaign what you think about broken promises.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

URGENT: Stop the Monsanto Protection Act today!
Dear Foodies & Eaters in General,

Last week the Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill by a vote of 64 to 35. Despite the hard won battles by Food Democracy Now! and our allies, the bill’s passage is another sad reminder that our elected officials in Washington, DC are continuing to place the interests of corporate lobbyists over the wellbeing of the American people.
Nowhere was that more evident than the vote against the Sanders’ “Consumers Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food Act” (amendment S. 2310) that would have clarified state’s rights to label genetically engineered foods. Rather than stand up for the rights of Americans, 73 U.S. Senators chose to vote against your basic Right to Know what’s in your food.
Today the assault on our rights continues in the House of Representatives, where a provision was added to the House Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would strip federal courts of their authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal and potentially hazardous GMO crop. This new provision, called a “rider”, would allow biotech companies to continue to sell their unapproved seeds to farmers, who could plant them while important legal appeals are taking place, instead of halting the planting of the unapproved crop until the court settled the appeal as has been done up until now.

In classic form, the biotech industry has cleverly hidden their toxic plan under the deceptive title of a “Farmer Assurance Provision” (Sec. 733). In truth, the language in this provision is nothing short of a “Monsanto Protection Act” that would allow this company to continue to flout American legal precedence and violate the constitutional separation of powers set forth by our Founding Fathers.
In short, the “Farm Assurance Provision” is the greatest threat to farmers’ and citizens’ rights that Monsanto and the biotech industry has ever devised and it must be stopped - today!

This provision is being debated this week in the House of Representatives and we need your help today. Click here to stop the Monsanto Protection Act and tell your member of Congress to stand up for your rights and the Constitution!
According to legal advocates at the Center for Food Safety, this provision “would create a precedent-setting limitation on judicial review” and is a “dangerous assault on fundamental federal and judicial safeguards”.
This current rider is a response to the successful lawsuits that farmers and groups like Center for Food Safety have filed on preventing the sale, distribution and cultivation of GMO sugarbeets and GMO alfalfa, both of which were forced to stop from being planted while the USDA finalized full environment reviews. But once again, Monsanto and the biotech industry are working behind the scenes to shred vital legal rights simply so they can make endless profits.
If allowed to pass, the Monsanto Protection Act would:
Violate the constitutional precedent of separation of powers by interfering with the process of judicial review.
Eliminate federal agency oversight to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from potential harms caused by unapproved biotech crops.
Allow Monsanto and biotech seed and chemical companies to profit by overriding the rule of law and plant their untested GMO crops despite no proof of their safety for the public and environment.

Click here to stop the Monsanto Protection Act and tell your member of Congress to stand up for your rights and the Constitution!
No matter what you believe about GMOs, the fact is that corporations should not have the right to fundamentally undermine our basic rights and constitutional freedoms in their relentless pursuit of profits. Even the consideration of this dangerous provision is a sign of just how much power Monsanto has over our federal government and how far the biotech industry will go to force its genetically engineered food on to the American public.
If allowed to pass, the Monsanto Protection Act will only open farmers and the agricultural economy to very real and significant harm from cross-contamination events. Currently, the Plant Protection Act requires the USDA to regulate GMO crops to protect “the agriculture, environment and economy of the United States”. As a result of previous lawsuits, the USDA is required to complete court-mandated environmental impact statements (EIS) prior to the sale and planting of GMO crops, but even the USDA has shown little regard for this law.

Now, the new provision set forth in the FY 2013 House Agricultural Appropriations Bill will allow biotech seed and chemical companies to openly skirt even minimal protections of human health and environmental concerns.
Fortunately, Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR-D) will introduce an amendment this week that will strike the “farmer assurance provision” currently included in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill and we need your help to make sure your member of Congress supports this important amendment to stop the Monsanto Protection Act.
Join Food Democracy Now! and our allies to help stop the Monsanto Protection Act. It’s time that our elected officials start putting our rights over the profits of Monsanto and biotech companies.
Thanks for participating in food democracy,
Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! Team


cropfield 235x147 Genetically Modified Grass Kills Cattle By Producing Warfare Chemical CyanideGenetically Modified Grass Kills Cattle By Producing Warfare Chemical Cyanide

Anthony Gucciardi
June 24, 2012

Another report of genetically modified creations taking the lives of livestock has hit the media, and this time genetically modified grass has been identified as the culprit according to CBS News. Shockingly (and quite disturbingly), the GM grass actually produced toxic cyanide and sent the cattle into a life-ending fit that included painful bellowing and convulsions. The deaths have led to a federal investigation centered in Central Texas, where the cattle had resided.
Just east of Austin, the cows lived on an 80-acre ranch owned by Jerry Abel. Abel says that the fields were used for over 15 years for cattle grazing and hay, and that the genetically modified grass was ‘tested’ previously and should have been ‘perfect’. The GM grass however, known as Tifton 85, appears have been producing toxic cyanide. Used as a genocidal agent in World War 2 by the Germans and considered to be an extremely dangerous substance internationally, it is extremely concerning that cyanide is now being produced by once harmless grass thanks to the modification process.
The 18 cattle went off to enjoy some ‘fresh’ new genetically modified grass, when Abel says they went into a fit of convulsions and shrieks. He explains:
“When our trainer first heard the bellowing, he thought our pregnant heifer may be having a calf or something,” said Abel. “But when he got down here, virtually all of the steers and heifers were on the ground. Some were already dead, and the others were already in convulsions.”
Within 15 hours of this incident, all of the cattle had died as a result of the grass ‘suddenly’ producing cyanide and therefore throwing them into a lethal fit. According to USDA scientists, it may be the result of a mutation — the same kind of mutation that has been seen in many of Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready crops.
What’s more is the fact that many other farmers are now testing their grounds and also finding the presence of cyanide. While there is not yet a large number of reports concerning cattle deaths from cyanide, it was recently revealed that one large biotech company Syngenta had been covering up further animal deaths from genetically modified corn.

Read more:

Monday, June 25, 2012


cleaningbluebottle1 235x147 The Top 5 Toxic Home Cleaning Products and their Natural AlternativesThe Top 5 Toxic Home Cleaning Products and their Natural Alternatives

Anthony Gucciardi
June 21, 2012
Home cleaning products are often overlooked when it comes to examining the toxic substances that may be currently present in your lifestyle. While food and water are more ‘obvious’ factors, toxic home cleaning products may also be taking a toll on your health. The EPA has even stated on record that indoor air pollution (with a shocking 12 different chemicals with irritant properties in the air at all times) is contributing to sickness and ill health.
Thankfully, natural solutions do exist. As for identifying the most toxic cleaning supplies that may currently occupy your home or office, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a list of the ‘most’ toxic products to help you remove these concoctions from your living space. Even ‘green’ and ‘nontoxic’ products have been targeted, which often contain hazardous ingredients that can be affecting your biology.
Here are the top 5 most toxic home cleaning products and the natural alternative you can use in your home:
1. Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner: Despite being labeled as ‘green’ and toted as an ‘environmental’ cleaning product, this product is quite toxic. It contains a solvent known as 2-butoxyethanol, which the EWG states can actually soak through the skin and damage red blood cells. In the fine print it even calls for the cleaner to be diluted, which many people miss.
Natural alternative: Mix a combination of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle (about nine parts water and one part white vinegar) and spray the surface that needs cleaning. This potent germ-killing natural cleaner beats the other health-damaging options and is perfectly safe.
2. Citra-Solv Cleaner & Degreaser: Just as Simple Green sports the ‘green’ label for brand association reasons, Citra-Solv uses ‘citrus’ and ‘orange’ buzzwords to push for a more natural image. The product, however, contains d-limonene — a chemical that can react with the ozone in the air to form concerning particles that can penetrate the lungs and form formaldehyde — a known carcinogen.
Natural alternative: Spray hydrogen peroxide followed by the previously mentioned vinegar solution in order to fight germs and maintain cleanliness. You can even use alcohol, particularly grain alcohol for this cleaning purpose.
3. Whink Rust Stain Remover: This harmful ‘cleaning’ product is used to simply brighten up porcelain toilets and sinks. In the fine print, however, the product plainly indicates that it may “be fatal or cause permanent damage” to your body. If that’s not enough, it is known that the produce can penetrate the skin and go as far as to attack the underlying tissues and bone.
Natural alternative: Use a half bottle of white vinegar and pour it into the toilet. Afterwards, shut the lid, let it sit overnight, and then scrub and flush come morning. You’ll have a much cleaner and whiter toilet without the bodily damage.
4. Spic and Span Multi-Surface and Floor Cleaner: There’s a reason that California has placed a ban on an ingredient in this product. Known as onylphenol ethoxylate, the chemical is known to be toxic to not only the human hormonal system but the environment as a whole.
Natural alternative: Utilizing the same vinegar solution or grain alcohol will work more efficiently and be much safer. Lemon is also very practical.
5. Mop & Glo Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner: This product contains rather large concentrations of a substance that even the United Nations states is ‘suspected of damaging the unborn child’.
Natural alternative: Baking soda can clean, deodorize, and clean floors without toxic ingredients. You can also use lemon for a fresh scent and a thorough clean.

Read more:

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Food Safety Up Against Biotech Giants

by Charlotte Silver
SAN FRANCISCO - As the 2012 Farm Bill continues to take shape in the halls of the United States Congress, the immense influence of corporate interests is on display.
On Jun. 21 the United States’ Senate voted overwhelmingly against the Sanders Amendment that would have allowed states to pass legislation that required food and beverage products to label whether or not they contain genetically engineered ingredients.
The amendment, proposed by Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is particularly relevant as many states prepare to vote on a ballot initiatives that would require such labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Lobbyists from the biotech industry have ardently opposed GMO labeling. These opponents argue that because food labeling has historically been handled by the Food and Drug Association (FDA), it is a federal issue and, therefore, individual states do not have the right to implement such legislation. Indeed, in the case of Vermont, Sander’s home state, Monsanto successfully intimidated the state legislature from voting on a bill that would have required GMO labeling.
Patty Lovera, the assistant director of Food and Water Watch, explained that states planning to vote on GM labeling in November could face a legal fight to defend their right to enact such laws.
“However, this amendment would have taken this threat away,” Lovera told IPS.
In a move heralded by food advocates, Sanders introduced amendment 2310 on Jun. 14 this year, after his own state legislature backed out of voting on the popular bill, H.722, also known as the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.
Vermont lawmakers allowed the bill to stall – and ultimately die – in the Vermont House Agriculture Committee in April, after a representative from biotech giant, Monsanto, threatened to sue the state if the bill passed.
Significantly, the Senate vote, 73-26, did not fall along partisan lines, with 28 Democrats voting against the Sanders Amendment.
Lovera emphasized that the powerful biotech lobby informs how politicians vote. “This doesn’t happen overnight, this is a result of years and years of lobbying and pressure from the biotech industry,” she said.
In a report published in November 2010, Food and Water Watch revealed that the largest food and agricultural biotechnology firms and trade associations spent a total of 572 million dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying over the course of ten years.
Importance of labeling
The Senate vote comes amidst near global agreement that there is a need for GMO labeling.
Codex Alimentarius, the food safety arm of the United Nations, concluded last year after nearly 18 years of debate, that countries were free to label goods as containing genetically engineered ingredients and that labeling of genetically-modified organisms would indeed help inform consumers’ choices.
“GMO labels are a risk management measure to deal with any scientific uncertainty,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with the Consumers Union, who has been a long-time advocate for mandatory testing and labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
“Labeling is the only way to track unintended effects,” Hansen said. “How can you know what you are allergic to if you do not know you are eating GMO’s?”
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Association’s hands-off approach to regulating genetically engineered foodstuffs runs contrary to international standards. Currently the U.S. is the only developed country that does not require safety testing for GE plants. However, the Codex Alimentarius instructs countries to conduct safety assessments of all GE plants.
According to testimony written by Dr. Hansen, “This means the U.S. cannot meet the global standards for safety assessment of GE foods. Consequently, countries that require food safety assessments for GE foods could block shipment of such GE foods from the U.S.”
Recent polls conducted by MSNBC and Thompson Reuters found that between 93 and 96 percent of the American public believe genetically engineered foods should be labeled as such.
California’s GMO labeling initiative collected close to one million signatures, doubling over the requisite 500,000 signatures to secure a place on the November ballot, and the FDA received over 850,000 letters in support of labeling GE food.
Voting as they did, the U.S. Senate did not in any way reflect the desires of their constituents or reflect the guidance of food experts.