Saturday, July 7, 2012


The 'Monsanto Rider': Are Biotech Companies About to Gain Immunity from Federal Law?

The Secretary of Agriculture would be required to grant a permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, regardless of environmental impact.
Photo Credit: Bogdan Wankowicz/
While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.
A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require - the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.
Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now.
In a statement issued last month, the Center For Food Safety had this to say about the biotech industry’s latest attempt to circumvent legal and regulatory safeguards:
Ceding broad and unprecedented powers to industry, the rider poses a direct threat to the authority of U.S. courts, jettisons the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) established oversight powers on key agriculture issues and puts the nation’s farmers and food supply at risk.
In other words, if this single line in the 90-page Agricultural Appropriations bill slips through, it’s Independence Day for the biotech industry.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has sponsored an amendment to kill the rider, whose official name is “the farmers assurance” provision. But even if DeFazio’s amendment makes it through the House vote, it still has to survive the Senate. Meanwhile, organizations like the Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, FoodDemocracyNow!, the Alliance for Natural Health USA and many others are gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures in protest of the rider, and in support of DeFazio’s amendment.
Will Congress do the right thing and keep what are arguably already-weak safeguards in place, to protect farmers and the environment? Or will industry win yet another fight in the battle to exert total control over our farms and food supply?
Biotech’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ behind the latest sneak attack
Whom do we have to thank for this sneak attack on USDA safeguards? The agricultural sub-committee chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) – who not coincidentally was voted "legislator of the year for 2011-2012" by none other than the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto and DuPont.  As reported by Mother Jones, the Biotechnology Industry Organization declared Kingston a "champion of America's biotechnology industry" who has "helped to protect funding for programs essential to the survival of biotechnology companies across the United States."
Kingston clearly isn’t interested in the survival of America’s farmers.
Aiding and abetting Kingston is John C. Greenwood, former US Congressman from Pennsylvania and now president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. No stranger to the inner workings of Congress, Greenwood lobbied for the “farmers assurance provision” in a June 13 letter to Congress, according to Mother Jones and Bloomberg, claiming that “a stream of lawsuits” have slowed approvals and “created uncertainties” for companies developing GE crops.
Greenwood was no doubt referring to several past lawsuits, including one brought in 2007 by the Center for Food safety challenging the legality of the USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa. In that case, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GMO alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of Roundup.  The USDA was forced to undertake a four-year study of GMO alfalfa’s impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). During the four-year study, farmers were banned from planting or selling the crop – creating that ‘uncertainty” that Greenwood is so worried about.
The USDA study slowed down the release of GMO alfalfa, but ultimately couldn’t stop it. As Mother Jones reports, in 2011, the USDA deregulated the crop, even though according to its own study, the USDA said that “gene flow” between GM and non-GM alfalfa is "probable," and threatens organic dairy producers and other users of non-GMO alfalfa, and that there is strong potential for the creation of Roundup-resistant "superweeds" that require ever-higher doses of Roundup and application of ever-more toxic herbicides. The report noted that two million acres of US farmland already harbor Roundup-resistant weeds caused by other Roundup Ready crops. 
In another case – which perhaps paved the way for this latest provision now before the House - the USDA in 2011 outright defied a federal judge’s order to halt the planting of Monsanto’s controversial Roundup-Ready GMO sugar beets until it completed an Environmental Impact Statement. The USDA allowed farmers to continue planting the crop even while it was being assessed for safety on the grounds that there were no longer enough non-GMO seeds available to plant.
Who loses if Monsanto wins this one?
Among the biggest losers if Congress ignores the DeFazio amendment and passes the “farmers assurance provision” are thousands of farmers of conventional and organic crops, including those who rely on the export market for their livelihoods. An increasing number of global markets are requiring GMO-free agricultural products or, at the very least, enforcing strict GMO labeling laws. If this provision passes, it will allow unrestricted planting of potentially dangerous crops, exposing other safe and non-GMO crops to risk of contamination.
As we’ve seen in the past, farmers who grow crops that have been inadequately tested and later found dangerous, or whose safe crops become contaminated by nearby unsafe crops, risk huge losses and potentially, lawsuits from their customers. Ultimately, the entire US agriculture market and US economy suffers.
We have only to look back to the StarLink corn and LibertyLink rice contamination episodes for evidence of how misguided this provision is. In October 2000, traces of an Aventis GM corn called StarLink showed up in taco shells in the U.S. even though the corn had not been approved for human consumption because leading allergists were concerned it would cause food allergies. The contamination led to a massive billion dollar recall of over 300 food brands. The 'StarLink' gene also turned up unexpectedly in a second company's corn and in US corn exports, causing a costly disruption to the nation’s grain-handling system, and spurring lawsuits by farmers whose crops were damaged.
A similar disaster occurred for US rice farmers in 2006. In august of that year the USDA announced that mutant DNA of Liberty Link, a genetically modified variety of rice developed by Bayer CropScience, a then-German agri-business giant, were found in commercially-grown long-grain rice in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri. LibertyLink rice, named for Bayer’s broad-spectrum herbicide glufosinate-ammonium, was never intended for human consumption. Following the announcement of contamination, Japan banned all long-grain rice imports from the U.S., and U.S. trade with the EU and other countries ground to a halt.  Rice farmers and cooperatives were forced to engage in five long years of litigation against Bayer
CropScience in an attempt to recoup some of their losses.
All the other ways this provision is just plain bad
There’s a reason we have laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Plant Protection Act of 2000, which was specifically designed “to strengthen the safety net for agricultural producers by providing greater access to more affordable risk management tools and improved protection from production and income loss . . .”. The ‘farmers assurance provision” is a thinly disguised attempt by the biotech industry to undermine these protections. Worse yet, it’s an affront to everyone who believes the US judicial system exists to protect US citizens and public health.
Why should you be outraged about this provision? For all these reasons:
·      The Monsanto Rider is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judicial review is an essential element of U.S. law, providing a critical and impartial check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Maintaining the clear-cut boundary of a Constitutionally-guaranteed separation of powers is essential to our government. This provision will blur that line.
·      Judicial review is a gateway, not a roadblock. Congress should be fully supportive of our nation’s independent judiciary. The ability of courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness, of our system. The loss of this fundamental safeguard could leave public health, the environment and livelihoods at risk.
·      It removes the “legal brakes” that prevent fraud and abuse. In recent years, federal courts have ruled that several USDA GE crop approvals violated the law and required further study of their health and environmental impact. These judgments indicated that continued planting would cause harm to the environment and/or farmers and ordered interim planting restrictions pending further USDA analysis and consideration. The Monsanto rider would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.
·      It’s unnecessary and duplicative. Every court dealing with these issues is supposed to carefully weigh the interests of all affected farmers and consumers, as is already required by law. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed as a result. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.
·      It shuts out the USDA. The rider would not merely allow, it would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop. With this provision in place, USDA may not be able to prevent costly contamination episodes like Starlink or Liberty Link rice, which have already cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The rider would also make a mockery of USDA’s legally mandated review, transforming it into a ‘rubber stamp’ approval process.
·      It’s a back-door amendment of a statute. This rider, quietly tacked onto an appropriations bill, is in effect a substantial amendment to USDA’s governing statute for GE crops, the Plant Protection Act. If Congress feels the law needs to be changed, it should be done in a transparent manner by holding hearings, soliciting expert testimony and including full opportunity for public debate.
If we allow this “Monsanto Rider” to be slipped into the FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, consumers and farmers will lose what little control we have now over what we plant and what we eat.
If you would like to join the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who have already written to Congress in support of the DeFazio amendment, please sign our petition here.
Alexis Baden-Mayer is Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including "Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers" (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004).


Shocking Health Effects of Commonly Used Pesticide: Brain Problems, Sexual Deformities and Paralysis

Dow's pesticide Dursban was banned for home use, but continues to be sprayed on our food despite horrific health threats.
Endocrine disruptors, synthetic chemicals that mimic and interfere with natural hormones, lurk everywhere from canned foods and microwave popcorn bags to cosmetics and carpet-cleaning solutions. The chemicals, which include pesticides, fire retardants and plastics, are in thermal store receipts, antibacterial detergents and toothpaste (like Colgate's Total with triclosan) and the plastic BPA which Washington state banned in baby bottles. Endocrine disruptors are linked to breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early puberty and diabetes in humans and alarming mutations in wildlife. They are also suspected in the epidemic of behavior and learning problems in children which has coincided, many say, with wide endocrine disruptor use.
Like Big Pharma, Big Chem holds tremendous sway at the FDA, which gave the endocrine disruptor BPA a pass in March, citing "serious questions"about the applicability of damning animal studies to humans. But in April, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presented new evidence of the ability of endocrine disruptors--in this case the pesticide, chlorpyrifos--to harm developing fetuses. Janette Sherman, a pesticide expert and toxicologist, has studied the effects of chlorpyrifos (found in Dow's pesticide Dursban) for many years and spoke with AlterNet about what her research has revealed.
Martha Rosenberg: Published studies, including your own, signaled safety problems with Dursban years ago. The EPA's own data found eight out of 10 adults and nine of 10 children had "measurable concentrations." Dow paid a $2 million penalty for hiding Dursban's risks from 1995 and 2003 in New York. But the pesticide was not banned for residential use until 2000, and after it was banned, people were allowed to use remaining quantities. Why did the cases that you and others uncovered seem to have little effect?
Janette Sherman: Dow attorneys took my deposition for four eight-hour days in the mid-1990s and I supplied over 10,000 pages of medical records, depositions, EPA documents, patent information and toxicology studies on which I based my opinion. Even though genetic analyses were conducted for the paper and genetic causes for the defects were ruled out--siblings who were not exposed to chlorpyrifos, for example, were normal--Dow termed the cases genetic and was able to stop most, if not all, chlorpyrifos birth-defect suits.
Dow has almost unlimited money and personnel to fight families and small-town attorneys and they send multiple personnel to the EPA to argue their side. There is also no penalty for withholding information.
MR: Dow claimed there was insufficient proof of chlorpyrifos exposure.
JS: Yes and one of the ironies, that I have cited in several papers, is that monitoring data for pesticide levels, either at the time of application or at the time of birth, is simply not done. People have no records and no way of collecting records of pesticides they have been exposed to.
MR: Lorsban, the agricultural version of Dursban, is still widely in use in crops like applescorn, soybeans, wheat, nuts, grapes, citrus and other fruit and vegetables. Virginia Rauh, the author of the recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper cautioned pregnant women to seek organic produce to avoid chlorpyrifos.
JS: I believe farm workers and pregnant women are at risk and obviously, a pesticide that is used widely in crops will also get in the drinking water. I don't know how widespread chlorpyrifos use is overseas and in poor countries but the same risks apply.
MR: You published a paper in the European Journal of Oncology in 1999 which is eerily predictive of recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research about children exposed in the womb to the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This research found actual structural changes in exposed children's brains, especially related to emotion, attention and behavior control.
JS: Dursban (chlorpyrifos) is a pesticide manufactured by Dow Chemical Co. and Eli Lilly that has both organophosphate and tri-chlorinated pesticide characteristics and toxicities. Working as a legal consultant, I evaluated eight children with profound abnormalities whose families had proof of their child’s exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb. I was stunned by how much the children resembled one another--they looked so similar they could have been siblings or cousins. The children were all severely retarded and needed feeding and diapering. One had quadriplegia and another died soon after I examined him.
MR: In your 1999 paper you refer to the brain problems cited in the Proceedings research as possibly pesticide-related.
JS: Yes. The children also had corpus callosum defects, which means there was no connection between their right and left side of their brains.
MR: Where were the children located and where did you examine them?
JS: The children were in Arkansas, on Long Island and in California. The use of Dursban occurred in the homes. Since Dursban has been restricted from home use [in 2000] of concern are agricultural use of chlorpyrifos that continues and questions of birth defects in women agricultural workers. I examined some of the children in their homes. In other cases, the parents brought them to be examined, if they had vans equipped to move the children.
MR: In addition to the mental retardation, paralysis and structural brain problems you found deafness, cleft palate, eye cysts and low vision, nose, brain, heart, tooth and feet abnormalities and many sexual deformities.
JS: Yes, the sexual and reproductive defects included undescended testes, microphallus [tiny penis], fused labias [vaginal lips] and widespread nipples. I also report in the paper, 13 adverse reproductive cases linked to chlorpyrifos from Dow's own research database (European Journal of Oncology, Vol. 4, n.6, pp 653-659 1999).
MR:  Anyone who is aware of the effects of endocrine-disrupting pesticides on wildlife can't help but think of the frogs reported with no penises in so many U.S. streams or the sexual abnormalities reported in both male and female birds and other animals.
JS: Yes, the children's defects mirrored effects of endocrine disrupters seen in wildlife. They also mirrored Dow's own rat studies which showed testicular and urogenital deformities, skull and sternebrae (part of breast bone) abnormalities and cleft palate in exposed animals, especially from in utero exposure to chlorpyrifos (European Journal of Oncology, Vol. 4, n.6, pp 653-659 1999).
MR: You have not been one to shirk from doing battle with Dow and other giant chemical companies. You write in one paper, "Dow has been reluctant to accept that exposure to a chlorinated organophosphate chemical designed to kill insects by interfering with neurological function could harm the developing human." That's pretty direct.
JS: Dow works powerfully against criticism. During one legal proceeding, I overheard a Dow attorney say, "This is the last deposition Sherman will appear at." It takes nerve to go up against them.
MR: Before medical school you worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and at the U. S. Navy Radiological Laboratory. But now you publish outspoken books and papers about radiation poisoning related to Chernobyl, Fukushima and other sources. What shaped your medical career?
JS: In the 1970s, I began doing worker compensation cases involving people working in foundries and I began to see a high incidence of lung disease. When the occupational medicine department at my university told me the information was anecdotal and there were not enough cases to be statistically significant, I sent the information to former Senator Phil Hart, D-Mich, who was working with the consumer advocate Ralph Nader at the time. Soon, the information I had uncovered was on the front page of the New York Times and I began to be flooded with information and requests from people who had knowledge of other apparent environment toxicity cases. I became specialized in toxicology and continue to cover environmental hazards presented by radiation, chemicals and pesticides like Dursban.
MR: Since Dursban's ban, there have been calls for a Lorsban ban because of its effects on farmworkers. In India, Dow's offices were raided by Indian authorities for allegedly bribing officials to allow chlorpyrifos to be sold in the country. (Dow bought the Union Carbide plant in India where the 1984 Bhopal gas leak occurred.) And In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service sought chlorpyrifos restrictions because of dangerous levels seen in Pacific salmon and steelhead. Yet, like DDT, there have been calls to bring Dursban back into wider use--especially when bedbug infestations hit major cities.
JS: Well, with many of these harmful chemicals, you need to follow the money. In some cases, companies making harmful chemicals are even making drugs to treat their effects, like anti-cancer drugs. But consumers are not off the hook either, because we fail to ask questions, pay attention and read the fine print.
Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. Her first book, Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. Watch an interview about her book on C-SOAN2 Book TV's After Words.


6 Bogus Economic Arguments Used to Trash Local Food

A critique of local food proves that the models used in neoliberal economics do not accurately apply to food and agriculture.
                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Baloncici/
A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Let's smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let's build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let's assume that we have a can-opener...”
Economists all know this joke, which “comes from the stereotype that many economic models require unrealistic or absurd assumptions in order to obtain results.” And yet, how many heed its warning?
A new book, The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet by Pierre Desroches and Hiroku Shimizu, uses arguments from neoliberal economics to explain why those who advocate eating local food are wrong. Often, their arguments require assumptions as silly as the one in the joke. For example, in making the case that the world moved from a diet of local food to a global food system for a good reason (and therefore we should not return to eating local), they assume that modern locavores will face the same technological limitations as our ancestors, who were also locavores. But aside from the numerous strawman arguments found throughout the book, there are several points where economics are properly applied to food and agriculture and – the authors charge – prove that local food is a bad idea.
But perhaps the opposite is true instead; that the models used in neoliberal economics do not accurately apply here. Here are six economic principles that do not fit when it comes to food and agriculture:
1. Assume the Players are Rational: In economics, one assumes all of the players are rational. When it comes to food, we are far from it. For example, frozen dinners had been introduced to supermarkets unsuccessfully before the TV dinner came along. The TV dinner succeeded because Americans were excited about TVs. When the Pepsi Challenge showed that Americans prefer the flavor of Pepsi to Coke, Coca-Cola took the bait and introduced New Coke, which tested better than Coke and Pepsi in taste tests. Turned out, consumers don't drink Coke because of the flavor. They drink it because it's “American” and “fun.” Coke learned its lesson, and its slogans have reflected it ever since (“Open happiness”).
2. Standardization of Food: Much of economic theory rests on the assumption that the goods in question are commodities. Our food is standardized so that it can be treated as a commodity. One Granny Smith apple is the same as any other Granny Smith apple, no matter where it’s from or how it was produced. But many foods are not so interchangeable, and indeed, when they are standardized, they often become standardly bad.
Take the strawberry. There’s nothing like the flavor of a fresh-picked, juicy strawberry. But if you pay $3.99 a pint for strawberries in your supermarket in January, the berries you buy will hardly even give a hint of flavor. They’ll be big and red, but who cares if the berry is perfectly red if it doesn’t deliver on strawberry flavor?
The market can deliver on the idea of year-round strawberries, but it cannot deliver on the delectable flavor one associates with those berries. Truly ripe strawberries are highly perishable, so they can’t be too ripe when picked. And strawberry flavor deteriorates when the berry goes in the fridge, but there’s no way to transport perishable berries across the country without refrigeration. Even in California, where nature provides fresh, local berries for about half the year, the flavor changes throughout the season. Early season berries aren’t very sweet or flavorful, unfortunately. It takes until May or June to get perfect, sweet, juicy strawberries. That goodness is fleeting and ephemeral, and it only comes once a year.
In addition to flavor, foods are not identical in terms of nutrition. It’s likely that supermarket eggs are standardized, all with roughly the same nutrition content. They were all produced in nearly identical conditions from genetically identical birds who were fed exactly the same feed. But when chickens can roam freely, eating grass and bugs in addition to chicken feed, their eggs become more nutritious. It would be extremely difficult to produce eggs this way on a large scale and do so profitably. But it’s easy and fun to do for homeowners with small backyard flocks.
Another factor is genetics. It’s certainly convenient to produce genetically identical food for the market, especially if you find the perfect combination of genetics to give you a high yield and great taste with disease and pest resistance. But what happens when Mother Nature throws a curveball at you and a disease comes along that your crop has no resistance to? You need new genes. Sure, scientists can keep a supply of biodiversity in a seed vault and that might provide the new genes you’re looking for. But for genes that really keep up with the current challenges of nature, you need genetic diversity grown in nature, under conditions that change over time.
When governments signed NAFTA, they assumed that corn is corn is corn, and the U.S. produces corn cheaper than Mexican peasants are able to produce it. But those Mexican peasants are the guardians of the world’s most valuable supply of corn genetics. And in that sense, they can hardly be compared to an Iowa corn farmer who buys seeds each year from DuPont or Monsanto.
3. Creative Destruction: Economist Joseph Schumpeter spoke of creative destruction, explaining how new inventions will disrupt old, established businesses. When automobiles were introduced, carmakers and their employees succeeded as horse-drawn buggy makers went out of business and their employees lost their jobs. Therefore, under this line of thinking, it makes perfect sense for Florida to grow oranges until the global market some day decides to source oranges from Brazil instead. There's no need for Florida to diversify its crops, not while Florida oranges are in demand. They can worry about switching to a more profitable crop (or perhaps, switch from farming to tourism) when the time comes, just like cassette tape makers in the 1980s did not stop making cassette tapes because some day CDs would become popular and put them out of business.
The devil here is in the details. Desroches and Shimizu specifically say that “profitable monocultures should be pursued as long as they remain viable in a particular location.” So California should provide all of the nation's almonds and strawberries, while the entire midwestern United States is blanketed in corn and soybeans. But it is nearly impossible to grow monocultures year after year in the same field without running into pest and fertility problems.
Right now some experts predict the downfall of the Cavendish banana, the variety of banana sold in U.S. supermarkets, due to a fungal disease. Enormous fields of genetically identical bananas make easy prey for pests and diseases. Accepting large scale monoculture means accepting lots of pesticide use. When one crunches the numbers, the costs might add up because revenues outweigh the extra money spent on pesticides, but the equation leaves out the impact those pesticides have on farmworkers, eaters and the environment.
4. Comparative Advantage: The idea expressed above goes hand in hand with the principle of comparative advantage. The idea is simple. If Idaho can produce potatoes cheaper than California can, and California can produce strawberries cheaper than Idaho can, then Idaho should grow all of the potatoes and California should grow all of the strawberries, and they should trade. To some extent, this makes sense. No one is suggesting that Mexico attempt to produce its own maple syrup or that Vermont should try to grow its own pineapple. But relying on large-scale monoculture as suggested by the notion that California should supply the nation with strawberries runs into the need for toxic agrochemicals.
Until recently, California was set to approve a potent carcinogen to fumigate strawberry fields. This chemical, methyl iodide, was to replace its predecessor, methyl bromide, which was phased out globally because it harmed the ozone layer. Should Californians be exposed to a carcinogen just so a few strawberry growers can get rich and the rest of the country can eat cheap (but flavorless) strawberries year-round? Or should midwesterners drink tapwater laced with the herbicide atrazine? When confronted with this question, Desroches dismissed the idea that agrochemicals are harmful, pointing to the increasing human lifespan in recent times.
5. Legal System: In a recent case Nicaraguan farmworkers brought against Dole, the workers sued over health problems caused by a pesticide called Nemagon used on the Dole Plantations. Nemagon has been banned in the U.S. since 1979. Initially, the farmworkers won their case, but it was overturned in an appeal after Dole found 27 secret witnesses who testified that the plaintiffs were fraudulent. After Dole's victory, several of the secret witnesses came forward and recanted their testimony, saying they testified because Dole offered them bribe money -- and then never even paid them the bribe money.
Most recently, Dole settled out of court with the farmworkers. Economists might assume we can create a perfect legal system that passes laws protecting workers' rights and enforces them as much as they assume they have can-openers -- but it doesn't make either one true.
In our global food system, human rights abuses abound. Most are invisible to us when we shop at the grocery store. A recent WTO ruling challenged even the basic principle that we should be allowed to know what country our beef comes from. Pesticide standards only require that residue on food in our stores is limited, but nobody checks to find out what farmworkers were exposed to. Did the company that grew your food drive an indigenous community of their ancestral land with bulldozers, or did they irrigate their crops so heavily that an entire river the community relied on now runs dry? Did somebody’s property value plummet after a factory farm moved in next door, forcing them to smell manure night and day while simultaneously killing their chances to sell their home and move? These are not made-up scenarios -- all of them have happened. But in the grocery store, you don't know.
6. GDP Meets Human Health: From the perspective of maximizing GDP, our current food system cannot be beat. We have found ways to make people eat more than ever (and more processed foods than ever), and then they spend more money on diet books, weight loss programs, gyms, and health care for diet-related illnesses. This boosts the GDP much more than if people just ate the right amounts of a diverse mix of whole foods and then skipped the weight loss programs and the diabetes meds. But is it what we want?
For an economist, our current food system is highly efficient, producing, distributing, and selling the maximum amount of cheap food. A large amount of food is “value-added” (i.e. highly processed), which means that more companies and employees will earn money from each food. Instead of wheat or even wheat flour, a consumer buys a loaf of bread, giving jobs to the bakery and requiring dough conditioners, preservatives and a plastic bag that would not have been necessary if they just baked a loaf of bread at home.
Unfortunately, economics only quantifies dollars, not human health. According to those looking for GDP growth, it’s better if you buy a bottle of Heinz ketchup than if you grow tomatoes from seed in your garden, and it’s better if you buy a Snapple made with 10 percent juice than if you eat a piece of fruit. Maybe we would be better off if economists start assuming that we don’t have can-openers, so we have to cook healthy whole foods from scratch. 
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..


New Report on the Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods

Soy bean field (Image:
“Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?”
These questions are posed by Earth Open Source, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assuring the sustainability, security, and safety of the global food system. They answer their own questions in a new study “GMO Myths and Truths.” The myth, they say, is that GM foods have been proven safe. The truth is that there are hidden dangers which corporate-funded research has not yet adequately investigated.
What makes this report unusual is that it was authored not by the usual food activists and environmentalists, but by two well known genetic engineers with help from an investigative reporter. The team conducted an exhaustive survey of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and concluded not only that GM food crops pose significant, if largely under-evaluated, health risks, but that they have so far failed to deliver on their promise to increase crop yields and lower herbicide and pesticide use.
The authors argue, moreover, that there are already safer environmentally friendly ways to grow more food for the planet’s exploding population. By focusing on the false panacea of genetic modification as a way to feed the world’s hungry, vital research dollars have been siphoned away from more promising lower-tech approaches to increasing the efficiency of the global food system.
The report’s authors include Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London School of Medicine in the UK, who helped to develop genetic engineering for medical applications, and John Fagan, a biomedical researcher and expert in food system sustainability and GMO testing, who returned $614,000 in grant money to the National Institutes of Health in 1994 because of his concerns about the safety and ethics of genetic modification.
The paper, produced together with Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, comes out at a critical moment as California voters are considering a referendum which will appear on their ballot in November calling for the labeling of genetically modified foods in the state. Such labeling is already mandatory in Europe, China, India and many other nations.
Seventy percent of the foods that Americans purchase in the supermarket contain ingredients (mostly corn, soy and canola oil) that are genetically modified. The food industry, and often the media, assure us that there is a scientific consensus that GM foods are equivalent nutritionally to foods that have not been modified and not a danger to those who consume them. But it is just not true that all scientists agree. Given the uncertainties in the field and the lack of long-term health studies, some groups like the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the Union of Concerned Scientists have called for labeling of GM foods.
If Californians agrees, it could have a big impact on the rest of us. Some believe that if the labeling referendum there passes, other states may follow suit. Furthermore, as I reported in the Guardian last month, if food companies are made to label GM foods in California, the nation’s most populous state, they may well do so all over the country, rather than maintain a costly two-tier packaging and distribution system.
The food and biotech industries are expected to fight the labeling initiative with a multi-million dollar statewide PR blitz, like the one which helped to defeat a similar measure in Oregon in 2002. But nearly 90% of Americans-- Republicans and Democrats equally according to a recent survey-- want to see GMOs labeled. This latest report on the dangers of genetically engineered foods will give the referendum’s advocates valuable ammunition in the upcoming California debate.
Here are some of the conclusions of the report:
*Genetically modifying crops, which involves the transfer of genes between biologically unrelated species, is not an extension of traditional plant hybridization, but a radical departure which can produce new toxins or allergens in food that are unlikely to be spotted in current regulatory checks.
*GM foods have not been adequately safety tested. There has been no long term research, and the few short term studies have been inadequate. In many cases proprietary restrictions put in place by biotech companies like Monsanto have prevented independent research by scientists not connected to the corporations which are making claims about their safety.
*Animal studies of the effects of GM foods have disclosed clear signs of toxicity– notably disturbances in liver and kidney function and immune responses.
*Over 75% of genetical modification are to to increase crop tolerance of herbicides. Where these crops are grown there has been a massive increases in herbicide use.
*Over half of GM crops are engineered to withstand application of Monsanto’s best selling Roundup. Contrary to the company’s claims Roundup is not safe at the levels it is being use, but has been found to be associated with miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer. A public health crisis has occurred in GM soy-producing regions of South America, where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.
*There is insufficient evidence that the BT toxin engineered into the plant structure of corn and cotton (whose seeds are used in food oil production) is safe for human consumption. Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials. These toxins have also been found circulating in the blood of pregnant women in Canada and in the blood supply to their foetuses.
*GM crops have not been shown to offer higher crop yields, enhanced nutritional value or greater drought tolerance, as they have been hyped to do. The products of conventional breeding continue to outstrip GM in all of these arenas.
*Conventionally bred, locally adapted crops, used in combination with environmentally sustainable farming practices, offer a safer, cheaper and more efficient way to ensure global food security than genetic modification.
“Crop genetic engineering as practiced today is a crude, imprecise, and outmoded technology,” says the report's coauthor John Fagan. “Recent advances point to better ways of using our knowledge of genomics to improve food crops, that do not involve GM."
Selling patented genetically modified seeds, and the agro-chemicals designed to be used with them, has earned biotech giants like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta untold billions of dollars in the past two decades. But what is good for these corporate bottom lines may not be good for human health, or the integrity of the environment.
Richard Schiffman
Richard Schiffman is the author of two books and a former journalist whose work has appeared in, amongst other outlets, the New York Times and on a variety of National Public Radio shows including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.



Stop Monsanto's Sneak Attack!

As we reported last week, a controversial rider has been attached to the U.S. House of Representative's 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would make it impossible for organic and non-GMO consumers and farmers to fight Monsanto in court (as we did on GMO alfalfa and sugar beets) when the US Department of Agriculture illegally approves new genetically engineered crops that could, as the courts have ruled, eliminate "a farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer's choice to eat non-genetically engineered food."
The vote we expected last week has been delayed until after the July 4th recess. Already, more than 15,000 of you have taken action, along with over 50,000 of our allies in other organizations. Please join together as we raise our voices loud and clear.

There's still time to stop Monsanto's sneak attack!
Take Action via Email
Call Your Member of Congress

Who's Monsanto's Best Friend in Congress?

Tom Philpott reported this week in Mother Jones that Jack Kingston (R-GA) is the Congressman responsible for inserting this "pro-industry provision that that has nothing to do with agriculture appropriations."
Kingston had already established himself as a friend of the industry. In April, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include ag-biotech giants Monsanto and DuPont, named him its "legislator of the year for 2011-2012." BIO declared Kingston a "champion of America's biotechnology industry" who has "helped to protect funding for programs essential to the survival of biotechnology companies across the United States."
Are there any Members of Congress tough enough to stand up to Monsanto?
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will sponsor an amendment to the ag appropriations bill that would nullify Kingston's Monsanto-friendly provision.
Ask your Member of Congress to support the DeFazio amendment!
Take Action via Email
Call Your Member of Congress



New Dust Bowl?

Extreme heat, drought leave parched fields, desperate farmers in Midwest

- Common Dreams staff
As record temperatures and drought leave corn fields parched in the Midwest, some farmers fear a new Dust Bowl is lurking, the New York Times reports.
The Times notes that that acreage of corn planted this year was the highest in 75 years, and warm spring temperatures had allowed earlier planting and had risen farmers' hopes of high returns.
But Illinois farmer Don Duvall told the Times, “It all quickly went from ideal to tragic.”
The ongoing heat and lack of rainfall have left corn crops in some midwestern states far smaller than usual for this time of year, if not clinging to life.  And with the pollination time for the crop soon approaching, the viability of much of the corn to survive is chancy, as stressed crops may not pollinate. 
The Times ends with an eerie image of a farmer picking up his soil which turns to "a dusty powder."
The Dust Bowl that struck the Plains in the 1930s as a result of heat, drought and ecologically devastating agricultural practices left highly eroded lands and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. With the ongoing extreme temperatures as well as a lack of widespread agroecological approaches, a new dust bowl may indeed be upon us.
Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas on April 18, 1935. (photo: NOAA George E. Marsh Album)
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Farmers Continue Fight Against Monsanto

Appeal filed to reverse Feb. 2012 decision allowing "Monsanto’s scorched earth legal campaign of threats and intimidation against America’s farmers" to continue

- Common Dreams staff
Organic farmers' fight against Monsanto continues as they filed an appeal against the agricultural giant on Thursday hoping to reverse a February decision dismissing their protective legal action against the company.
Seventy-five family farmers, seed businesses, and agricultural organizations originally filed suit in March 2011 in an act of self-protection against what Food Democracy Now!'s founder and executive director Dave Murphy calls "Monsanto's scorched earth legal campaign of threats and intimidation against America’s farmers." In this campaign, Monsanto has threatened and filed suit against farmers for patent infringement when its genetically modified seeds reach unsuspecting farmers' fields.
But in February 2012 a district court sided with Monsanto, dismissing farmers' unwanted genetic contamination of their crops and documented threats against the farmers by Monsanto.
Attorney Dan Ravicher of Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), which is representing the plaintiffs, says that Monsanto's bullying practices are known. “They’ve sued and harassed many other farmers who wanted nothing to do with their genetically modified seed and now that organic and conventional farmers are fighting back, they claim they would never do such a thing without backing up their words with an enforceable promise.”
“We have a right to farm the way we choose,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA). “Yet Monsanto is unwilling to control their GMO pollution and they refuse to sign a binding covenant not-to-sue our family farmers for patent infringement should their seed contaminate our crops. Monsanto’s publicized ‘Commitment’ promising that they would not sue farmers was described by Monsanto’s own lawyers as being ‘vague.’"
"The law says we deserve protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act. We will continue to pursue our right to farm, and the right of our customers to have access to good clean food and seed,” says Gerritsen.
Urging the rights of farmers, Food Democracy Now!'s Murphy adds, “No company should be allowed to violate the property rights of America’s farmers or threaten their livelihoods through the use of frivolous patent infringement lawsuits designed to control farmers and the food supply, while protecting Monsanto’s flawed seed technology and corporate profits.”

Friday, July 6, 2012


cowface 235x147 Monsantos Cloned Growth Hormone rBST Still Contaminates US MilkMonsanto’s Cloned Growth Hormone rBST Still Contaminates US Milk

Elizabeth Renter
July 2, 2012
Breast-feeding mothers are often cautioned against eating and drinking certain things; it’s because some of these things can find their way into their breast milk and then their baby. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that some of the hormones and antibiotics given to dairy cattle would make their way into your milk carton? One hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, is given to about 20% of dairy cattle in the United States, having unknown effects on individuals who consume their milk.

Is rBST safe?

IS rBST safe? That depends on who you ask. Companies like Monsanto, the original producer of Posilac (an rBST) product had to reluctantly put safety warnings on the sides of their packages—admitting that it has about 20 “toxic effects” on the cows.
It’s a hormone that forces cows to produce more milk. More milk = more money, but the hormone makes the cows sick. Among other things, it causes mastitis which is an infection of the udder. This infection causes pus to be released into the milk. Yes, pus is in your milk.
In turn, large scale dairy operations that use rBST must use more antibiotics in the cows to counter the infection causing effects of the hormones.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Samuel S. Epstein of the Cancer Prevention Coalition warns:
  • rBST milk is chemically and nutritionally different than natural milk.
  • Milk from cows injected with rBST is contaminated with the hormone, traces of which are absorbed through the gut into the blood of people who consume this milk or products made from it.
  • rBST milk is supercharged with high levels of the natural growth factor (IGF-1), which is readily absorbed through the gut.
  • Excess levels of IGF-1 have been incriminated in well-documented scientific publications as causes of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Additionally, IGF-1 blocks natural defense mechanisms against early submicroscopic cancers.
Interestingly, numerous large and wealthy countries have banned the use of hormones in milk including all countries of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and New Zealand. The United States, obviously has not.
What does this mean for you?
It simply gives you another reason to buy organic, hormone-free dairy products (if you must consume dairy). And if you think you can do without dairy—it’s just another reason to go vegan or simply avoid dairy.


Thursday, July 5, 2012


Organic Consumers Association

In 2007, Sen. 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 genetically modified organism (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 President 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. Tell the Obama for America campaign what you think about broken promises. 



Beyond Pesticides

A protestor sums it up for Monsanto outside its corporate headquarters in Oahu on June 28.
Several organizations, including Occupy Wall Street Maui and GMO-Free Maui, as well as more than 100 concerned citizens, held a protest on June 28 in front of the Monsanto Corporation headquarters in Kunia on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. According to the organizers, the protesters met in Kunia and marched more than half a mile to the Monsanto compound for two hours of roadside sign-waving and chanting, demanding that Monsanto leave Hawaii and saying they need real food, not exported GMO seeds and chemical contamination. The group also demands that genetically engineered (GE) food be labeled.
The protesters wore masks to protect themselves from pesticide drift and GE spores, received lots of support from many in passing cars that honked their horns and waved in support. A nearby resident came to find out what was going on and soon donned a mask himself as he was unaware of the dangers so close to his house. The resident expressed concern about the large trucks and equipment operating at night at Monsanto’s fields.
Monsanto operates about 8,000 acres in Hawaii for GE seed production. According to organizers, these operations use the most valuable agricultural lands and water in food production, as well as large amounts of chemicals and pesticides that are required to grow these crops. Hawaii is a global center for the open-air field testing of experimental GE crops, but no impact studies have been conducted.
Food security is a growing concern in Hawaii as the majority of the food is imported while the biotech industry grows GE seeds for export. The need for locally grown, wholesome, natural, non-toxic food is high on everyone’s priority list. Walter Ritte of “Label It Hawaii” offers a strong message for Monsanto: “Get out of Hawaii, grow food, stop growing seeds and chemicals, grow food, we need food security over here.”
Monsanto stopped operations for the afternoon because of the protest and allowed most workers to leave early. Monsanto erected a barrier and manned a security station at the entrance to their compound. There were several Monsanto employees filming the protesters throughout the event.
This protest follows similar protests recently held on the islands of Maui and Kauai against Monsanto. Activist organizations on the other islands vowed solidarity and stated that they are planning more protests until Monsanto leaves the islands.
Recently, the U.S. has moved to deregulate several varieties of GE crops. However, these decisions fail to take into account several scientifically-validated environmental concerns, such as the indiscriminate nature of genetically modified gene flow in crops, a heavy reliance on faulty data and a high degree of uncertainty in making safety determinations. They also overlook the problem of pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, as well as the widespread corruption of conventional seed varieties by GE strains and documented severe economic injury to farmers and markets. Overlooked as well are possible health consequences from eating GE food, still largely unstudied and unknown.
Fortunately, GE crops are not permitted in organic food production. For more information about why organic is the right choice, see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience Guide and visit the Organic Program page. For more information on the failure of genetically engineered food, read Genetically Engineered Food Failed promises and hazardous outcomes, from the Summer 2011 issue of Pesticides and You, or go to our Genetic Engineering Web page.
For more photos and videos of the event, follow the links below:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


US Agriculture Industry in Trouble as Migrant Labor Dwindles

Common Dreams staff
Harsh anti-immigration policies in the US and more job opportunities in Mexico are factors which have begun to affect the US agricultural industry in negative ways -- less migrant labor to exploit.
According to McClatchy news today, migrant workers traveling from Mexico previously consisted of more than 60 percent of US farm-workers -- jobs which unemployed people in the US are increasingly less willing to do. As less workers are willing to cross the border, farmers in the US are beginning to feel the pinch.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates a $5 billion to $9 billion annual loss in the produce-industry due to a recent labor shortage, as growers cannot keep up with the harvest.
According to McClatchy, many say a solution could include an overhaul of what is know as the 'H-2A federal guest worker program' which allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers to fill seasonal labor shortages. An overhaul would mean allowing visiting farm-workers in the US to work towards legal immigration status and thus a more promising opportunity.
However, currently growers already largely avoid the program, claiming the process is too time consuming, according to a recent survey by the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
Additionally, the growing labor shortage has also begun to negatively affect surrounding communities, as convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants that cater to farm-workers have begun to lose business and are increasingly forced to to close or fire local employees.
Last year, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia publicly requested Georgia residents to start taking jobs in the fields but the initiative fell flat when many rejected the 'grueling nature of the work', according to the McClatchy report.
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