Saturday, August 4, 2012


What your hamburger really costs
By Grist staff  2012

The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, the latest animated short from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) — the folks who brought you last summer’s The Price of Gas — takes a big-picture look at the web of problems associated with industrial beef production. The video hits all the most important points, but what’s most noteworthy is the actual number the reporters arrived at when calculating the hidden — or externalized — costs of the average burger: $1.51 (or $72 billion for the 48 billion burgers Americans eat every year).

On the CIR website the video’s co-reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo explains how she and co-reporter/producer Carrie Ching arrived at this number with an environmental consulting firm called Route2 Sustainability. The annotation reads:

We looked at a range of ways beef is produced and came up with an average that is close to how a cow would be raised in Fresno, Calif.: about 1 pound of greenhouse gases per ounce of beef, or about 6½ pounds of greenhouse gases per quarter-pounder. We looked at studies that showed the health costs of treating overweight people and associated illnesses, such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes — that’s about 75 cents per burger. Then we looked at how much water it takes to produce a pound of beef — that’s about 50 cents per burger. We also looked at the price of a ton of carbon — that’s remarkably small for the U.S., less than one-hundredth of a penny. But in the European Union, because it has a functioning carbon market, the price would be about a nickel per burger. Daniel Lopez Dias, the lead economist on the calculations, notes that these figures are conservative and don’t include effects from air and water pollution, effects of low wages that slaughterhouse workers receive and the high risk of injury they face, or general effects of urban sprawl.



Corn plants struggle to survive on a drought-stricken field in Oakland City, Indiana

Drought-stricken American corn should feed people, not cars

It is wrong to use scarce corn crops in the US for ethanol, but at least higher food and gas prices may boost sustainable farming
Corn plants struggle to survive in Indiana during the worst US drought in more than 50 years. Photograph: John Sommers Ii/Reuters
The drought that has been parching the American midwest has brought growers to their knees. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has officially stated that half of the nation's corn crop is in poor or very poor condition. The cable news reports, with their panning scenes of acre upon acre of dead corn, are even worse. It looks like the setting of a post-apocalypse movie, not the breadbasket of a nation created by farmers. The few corn crops that are actually surviving are so rare that on Monday, prices sky rocketed to an all-time high of $8.20 a bushel, and counting.
There's a US government mandate that our unleaded fuel going into vehicles has to be approximately 13% ethanol. Regardless of supply, that currently remains the law. Which means if you are feeding hogs or steers, you'd better start stepping up to the bidding war for what remains – because the factories turning that same field corn into ethanol are not only buying it up, they are legally required to do so. And now a country lousy with corn is debating where to direct this year's humble harvest: should the corn go into the SUV, or the burgers its passengers are waiting for?
Livestock farmers and ranchers are fervently urging President Obama to stop allowing what little corn there is this season to be diverted into ethanol. I could not agree with them more. Not because I am worried about the availability or even the price of food, but because I find it inherently immoral to be turning edible calories poor people can't afford into energy calories the wealthy can use to drive to the movies. Cars shouldn't be eating better than your neighbours.
It's easy to get jaded when it comes to talking about food and farming in America. Corn and soy are the staples of modern conventional agriculture. They are a part of nearly every processed food (or the food's packaging) in our fluorescent-lit aisles. But since corn is the ghostwriter behind the novel, prices will soar in places the public may not expect. Meat and milk, for example. If you are wondering why animals that eat grass are jumping up in price, you probably aren't aware of how much corn is in your coffee creamer. A lot.
At its heart and on paper, ethanol isn't a horrible idea. But we all know that cheap oil is a thing of the past. There's no doubt that alternative fuels should be utilised – but using food for fuel is an impossible idea for a sustainable future. It's the acme of decadence and arrogance to think you can use the same crop that runs the food economy to run the motorised one as well.
There is a silver lining: the chance for your local, sustainable farmers to step up to the plate and finally have a chance to compete with King Corn. If factory-farmed meat and dairy become significantly more expensive, farmers working with rotational grazing and other non-commercial methods of production might not only have the greener alternative, but the cheaper one. After all, a farm 30 minutes outside your city only has to deliver a handful of miles and used little inputs, if any, in their product. Will people start reaching out to sustainable farms as a financial choice instead of a value-based choice? I think they will. And when they taste their first bite of hand-kneaded hamburger on the grill, they may never go back. For the sake of our societal sanity – and for the animals whose welfare is far better on pasture than in a feedlot – I hope so.
Perhaps the law will change, or even be revoked if the outcry is loud enough. If not, expect higher prices and a lot more veg stir fry than stroganoff. Perhaps then people will understand what the sustainable part in "sustainable farming" actually means. In the meantime, fill the ice box with T-bones and pray for rain.


Outcry as Walmart OK's Monsanto GM Corn
- Common Dreams staff 
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that despite protests from environment and food-safety advocates, it will not restrict sales of genetically modified corn in its stores.
The corn will not be labelled and consumers will not be notified that the sweet corn they are buying are engineered by agro-giant Monsanto and genetically-altered (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) to resist the toxic impact of being sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“A lot of people who were their customers explicitly said we don’t want you to carry this product, and I think it’s unfortunate that they chose not listen to that feedback,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. The consumer group had submitted a petition to Wal-Mart with 463,000 signatures, she said.
Consumer advocates argue that too little research has been done on to be certain of the effects such products can have on those who eat or them, but say certain troubling health trends correspond to the rise of GMO foods in the marketplace.  At the least, they argue, such products should be labeled so consumers are aware of what they're purchasing.
“How would you ever know if there are adverse health effects?” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. “There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996. Is it connected to genetically engineered foods? Who knows, when you have no labeling? That is a problem.”
Earlier this year, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills said they would not carry or use the genetically modified sweet corn.
In California this year, a state referendum is up for a vote that would require all GMO products to be labelled so that consumers are aware if modified ingredients are contained in the products they buy.  The chemical pesticide companies and companies like Monsanto are fighting hard against the measure, fearing that if California, the country's most populous state, passes such a sweeping consumer protection laws other states will likely follow. The initiative, Proposition 37, will be voted on in November.
#  #  #

Friday, August 3, 2012


Executive Summary  
Genetically modified (GM) crops are promoted on the basis of a
range of far-reaching claims from the GM crop industry and its
supporters. They say that GM crops:

  • Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • Are strictly regulated for safety
  • Increase crop yields
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • Bring economic benefits
  • Benefit the environment
  • Can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • Reduce energy use
  • Will help feed the world.
However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:
  • Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • Do not increase yield potential
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • Have mixed economic effects
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.
Download a PDF of the full GMO Myths and Truths report


Open Letter to the Organic Community: The California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs

After 45 years of hard work and grassroots struggle, the organic community has built up a $30-billion organic food and farming industry and community. This consumer and small farmer-driven movement, under steady attack by biotech and Big Food lobbyists, with little or no help from the federal government, has managed to create a healthy and sustainable alternative to America’s disastrous, chemical and energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture. Consumer demand is behind strong organic sales. Conscious of the health hazards of genetic engineering and chemical agriculture, and the mortal threat of global warming and climate change, millions of Americans are demanding food and other products that are certified organic.

It’s a hopeful sign that, in spite of economic recession, organic foods now make up 4.2% of all grocery store sales. However given the magnitude of the country’s public health, environmental, and climate crisis, 10% annual growth in the organic sector is simply not enough to reach the proverbial “tipping point” before our current crisis metastasizes into what can only be described as a catastrophe.

In the food sector, we cannot continue to hand over 90% of our consumer dollars to out-of-control, biotech, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, greenhouse gas polluting corporations  and "profit at any cost" retail chains. The growth of the Organic Alternative is literally a matter of survival. After two decades of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered foods to animals and humans, it's time to move beyond defensive measures - such as petitioning the FDA - and go on the offensive.  With organic farming, climate stability, and public health under the gun of the gene engineers and their partners in crime, it's time to do more than complain. With over 1/3 of U.S. cropland already contaminated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), with mounting scientific evidence that GMOs cause cancer, birth defects, and serious food allergies,  and with new biotech mutants like alfalfa, lawn grass, ethanol-ready corn, 2,4 D-resistant crops, and genetically engineered trees and animals being fast-tracked for approval by the government, with absolutely no pre-market safety-testing required, time is running out.

The burning question for us all then becomes how - and how quickly - can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?

The first step is to change our labeling laws. Nearly 80% of non-organic processed foods, including so-called “natural” foods, contain genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and foreign DNA. Yet none of these foods are labeled. No wonder only 30% of Americans realize they’re probably eating GMOs on a regular basis. Health-minded and environmentally conscious consumers actually buy more products marketed or labeled as “natural” ($50 billion a year) than they do organic ($30 billion), either because they don’t understand the difference between organic and “natural”, and/or because so-called “natural” foods are typically cheaper than certified organic. For instance, two-thirds of the foods sold in Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s are not organic, but rather “natural.” Polls indicate that consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between organic and natural products, with a near-majority believing that “natural” means “almost organic.”

It’s time to put an end to this massive fraud, and take back our right to know what’s in our food. Since the federal government and the White House seem to listen more to Monsanto and Big Ag than the 90% of Americans who support mandatory labeling of GMOs, OCA and allied activists have decided to bypass Washington politicians and take matters into our own hands.

What is likely the most important food fight in a generation is unfolding in California. The grassroots-powered Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37) to require labels on genetically engineered foods and to ban the routine industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural” is approaching a decisive moment. The outcome of this ballot initiative will determine whether GMO foods are labeled, not only in California but across the entire United States and Canada as well. It’s time for all of us who care about an organic and sustainable future to close ranks and support the Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37). Over 650 organizations, organic companies and retail stores have already endorsed the campaign. But we need thousands more.

We need volunteers to help out -  in California and nationwide. Please sign up here if you are willing to approach the managers of the retail stores, CSA, restaurants, or farmers market where you regularly buy your organic food and ask them to join the more than 100 retail stores that have already publicly endorsed Prop 37. Once your neighborhood health food store or co-op has endorsed the campaign, you can get them further involved in distributing campaign information and raising money. CA and our allies in this campaign to pass Prop 37 have raised almost $4 million dollars so far, but Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau will spend $20-40 million to defeat Prop 37. Thank you  to the 15,000 people who have already made donations to OCA or the OCF for this campaign, but we need to raise even more.

Restoring consumers' right to know, banning the industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural,” and starting to drive genetically engineered foods off supermarket shelves will not solve all of the life and death issues that are currently staring us in the face: the climate crisis, endless wars, economic depression, corporate control over government, and the health crisis. But cutting Monsanto and the biotechnocrats down to size and restoring consumer choice are good first steps toward sustainability and a healthy food and farming system. Just as important, in political terms, by defeating the Biotech Bullies and indentured politicians, we can begin to restore the tattered self-confidence of the American body politic. A resounding victory by the organic community in the California Prop 37 campaign will prove to ourselves and the currently demoralized body politic that we can indeed take back control over the institutions and public policies that determine our daily lives. Now is the time to move forward. Support Prop 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act. This is the food fight of our lives. Please join and support us in this historic struggle.
Ronnie Cummins
Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.;


Food Disaster Worries Mount as US Drought Worsens

- Common Dreams staff 
The worst US drought in 56 years has intensified over the past week as scorching temperatures continued and too little rainfall parched corn and soybean crops across the Midwest and central Plains, a report from climate experts said on Thursday.
Drought-damaged corn in Lawrence, Mich. (AP) Nearly two-thirds of the contiguous United States was under some level of drought as of July 31, more than a fifth of it classified as extreme drought or worse, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly report compiled by U.S. climate experts.
Reporting by The Guardian highlighted how the latest drought map, released on Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center, showed the drought intensifying across the grain belt in the midwestern and plains states.
"It's hard to believe that it's getting worse, but it is, even with some rain in the region," Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and drought monitor author at the National Drought Mitigation Center, which is based at the University of Nebraska, said in a release. "Drought continues to intensify through the midwest and plains states."
As the drought continues to ravage the nation's corn, wheat and soybean fields, crop insurance losses are expected to break records, CNN reports.
"It will be a major loss situation," said Thomas Zacharias, president of the National Crop Insurance Services, a lobbying group representing private crop insurers. "The companies are in the field adjusting claims as we speak."
An economist with the group roughly estimated that losses could top $20 billion, said CNN, noting that sixty cents of every dollar of crop insurance is backed by the federal government which will leave US taxpayers picking up the tab, while at the same time facing increasing prices at the grocery store.
The crop failures, according to The Guardian report,  have already raised fears of price rises later in the year. The department of agriculture said dairy, poultry and meat prices would go up by about 4%.
#  #  #

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology

The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology ("Coordinated Framework") is the basis for U.S. regulation of agricultural biotechnology. It was originally proposed in the Federal Register in 1986 (51 Fed. Reg. 23, 302, proposed June 26, 1986) and was ultimately finalized in 1992 during the Presidency of George H.W. Bush.
"Since its early iteration in the 1980s, U.S. policy with regard to GMO regulation has been based on three tenets: First, regulation focuses on the characteristics of the end product of the genetic modification; the procedure of genetic modification is not viewed as being significant enough to justify regulatory scrutiny. Second, in contrast with the “precautionary principle” often incorporated in international agreements, the U.S. has taken the view that verifiable “scientific risk” is needed to bar a technology from being introduced and integrated.18 Third, the U.S. has viewed the risks associated with GE food as the same as risks associated with “traditionally” produced foods, such that the existing regulatory oversight is sufficient to safeguard the public.
"This policy developed from the initial regulatory policy regarding the emerging technology of genetic modification in the 1980s and early 1990s. Early in the process of commercialization of biotech products, the Reagan Administration charged the White
House Office of Science and Technology Policy (“OSTP”) with drafting a federal framework for food biotechnology. The OSTP, in its 1984 Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology (“Coordinated Framework”), announced a policy that products created by biotechnology were no different than other products, and that existing statutes were sufficient to regulate biotechnology. The Coordinated Framework also generally outlined that biotechnology regulation would be divided among existing federal agencies. The FDA would be responsible for regulating food, feed, food additives, and veterinary drugs, the USDA would be responsible for plant pests, plants, and veterinary biologic, and the EPA for microbial/plant-pesticides, new uses of existing pesticides, novel microorganisms.
"U.S. biotech policy was developed with the goal of promoting the biotech industry. After publication of the Coordinated Framework, the White House initially convened the Biotechnology Science Coordinating Committee (“BSCC”), an inter-agency committee responsible for coordination of science policy. However, when the BSCC was unable to come to agreement, its working materials were forwarded to the President’s Council on Competitiveness, a council formed under the first Bush Administration. The Council on Competitiveness established an Ad Hoc Committee on Scope, which, together with the
OSTP, established the scope of agency jurisdiction over biotechnology.
"During its deliberation process the OSTP proposed draft policy statements that indicated a goal to “minimize regulatory burden while assuring protection of public health and welfare,” and to “accommodate the rapid advances in biotechnology.” These goals were facilitated by the OSTP’s perspective on risk: “Products developed through biotechnology processes do not per se pose risks to human health and the environment; risk depends instead on the characteristics of use of the individual products.”
"The OSTP published its Final Statement of Scope in 1992. The Final Statement of Scope includes five policy principles underlying the Administration’s tenets regarding GE foods:
  • 1. The same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods;
  • 2. Information about the process used to produce a GM organism is... not a useful criterion for determining whether the product requires less or more oversight;
  • 3. No conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques...;
  • 4. Crops modified by molecular and cellular methods should pose risks no different from those modified by classical methods for similar traits...; and
  • 5. In many respects, molecular methods resemble the classical methods for modifying particular strains for microorganisms, but [are even more useful than the classical methods.]"[1]



Resources and Articles

Related Sourcewatch Articles


  1. Alison E. Peck, "Plant Biotechnology Law After Geertson Seed Farms: Potential Impacts on Regulation, Liability, and Coexistence Measures," National Agricultural Law Center, September 2008.



Monsanto skullMonsanto’s Quiet Coup: Will Congress Limit Scope and Time for GMO Reviews?

Share/Save Share this After a series of court defeats over the past few years, Monsanto and friends are trying to use Congress to make an end-run around the courts and current law. Lawsuits brought by opponents of genetically engineered (GE) crops resulted in the temporary removal of two products -- Roundup Ready Alfalfa and Roundup Ready Sugarbeets -- from the market. If the biotechnology industry and the legislators they support have their way, future GE crops will not suffer the same fate.
Genetically engineered crops are plants that have had genes from other species inserted into their DNA. "Roundup Ready"crops like alfalfa and sugarbeets fall in a class of GE crops called "herbicide tolerant" crops, which are engineered to survive exposure to Monsanto's bestselling herbicide Roundup. Farmers spray their entire fields with Roundup, killing only the weeds. Monsanto profits by selling both the seeds and increased quantities of Roundup herbicide.
The "Big 6" pesticide and genetic engineering corporations -- BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow, Syngenta, and Monsanto -- have made millions while providing everyone else with questionable benefits and enormous risks. The riskiness of genetically engineered crops comes in part from their ability to cross-pollinate crops in other fields, spreading their genes far and wide. Once a new genetically engineered crop is introduced, the genie is out of the bottle, and those genes are in our food supply for good. Therefore, it's in everyone's interest (except for the biotech companies that stand to profit) to thoroughly examine any new crop before allowing it on the market.

GMOs Roll on Wheels Reagan Greased

The scene was initially set before the first genetically engineered crops existed, when the pro-industry Reagan administration crafted a lax regulatory framework (known as the "Coordinated Framework") requiring no new laws to regulate genetically engineered crops and animals, thus avoiding any public national debate on the issue. Instead, newly created GE plants would be treated as potential "pests" to other plants and reviewed by government agencies under stilted standards about whether the GE plants hurt other plants or protected animals like endangered species.
With the Coordinated Framework in place, the biotech industry had little to worry about. It had plenty of friends inside the USDA and the bar for "proving" its products were "not a pest" was not set terribly high. One after another, each genetically engineered crop was deregulated, allowing farmers to grow them commercially. Once they reached consumers, the products were not even labeled as "Genetically Modified Organisms" (GMOs), and many Americans had no idea their food had even changed.

Farmers and Consumer Groups Call a Halt in Court

Farmers vs MonsantoFarmers vs Monsanto (Source: Food Democracy Now!)Everything was going along fine for industry, in fact, until the matter went to court. At issue was the deregulation of two crops, Roundup Ready alfalfa and Roundup Ready sugarbeets. Instead of completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to deregulating the crops, the USDA had only performed a more limited Environmental Assessment (EA). Performing an EA limits the level of public involvement in the assessment process as compared with an EIS, which can provide significant time for citizens to submit comments and concerns. For example, the USDA recently received 365,000 comments from citizens opposing the deregulation of Dow's GE "2,4-D corn" (2,4-D is an herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange).
In both cases, Geertson Seed Farms v. Johanns and Center for Food Safety v. Vilsack, the courts ruled that the respective crops could not be deregulated until a full EIS was completed. Furthermore, the crops in question could not be planted until then -- even during the appeals process.
The USDA completed the required EIS's for both crops and, despite thousands of comments expressing concerns, approved the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa in January 2011 and Roundup Ready sugarbeets in July 2012.

2012 "Ag Approps" Gives Props to the "Big 6"

This regulatory victory was not good enough for industry, however. Quietly, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) wrote a gift to biotech companies into the 2013 agriculture appropriations ("Ag Approps") bill. Opponents of GMOs refer to this as the "Monsanto Protection Act." Beneficiaries of Kingston's "rider" to the bill (Section 733) -- such as Monsanto, which lobbied for it in the second quarter of 2012 -- refer to it as the "farmer assurance provision."
If the Ag Approps bill passes as written, if a court removes a GMO from the market after the USDA has deregulated it, the USDA will be required to grant a permit to plant that crop to any farmer who requests one, even if that crop's safety is in question or under review.

Buried Biotech Treasure in the 2012 Farm Bill

Genetically ModifiedAt the same time, another far-reaching provision favoring the biotech industry is in the works. Buried in the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill, sponsored by House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), is an enormous gift to the biotech industry. The bill changes the Plant Protection Act (PPA) to limit the time and scope of future environmental assessments of GE crops.
The House farm bill as changed by Congressman Lucas alters the legal rules to cut corners on the environmental review by requiring only the more limited EA and by requiring the USDA to complete that review in a maximum period of a year and a half -- or else the GE crop is automatically approved. It also restricts the scope of that limited environmental review and forbids the spending of any money on any broader environmental analysis of the effect of the GMO.
The time limits set by Lucas make haste the official policy of the USDA. For details, see Biotech Riders in the 2012 Farm Bill on SourceWatch. As Dave Murphy, Executive Director of Food Democracy Now!, put it, the pro-biotech language hidden in the bill "will take the U.S. regulatory scheme on GMOs from farce to corporate fascism in one fell swoop."
How did this language find its way into the bill? Monsanto and others have been lobbying Congress on the "regulation of products of agricultural biotechnology under [the] Plant Protection Act and National Environmental Policy Act." Dow Chemical joined Monsanto, lobbying specifically on "deregulation of genetically modified organisms under the Plant Protection Act."
The public lobbying reports do not tell the full story of what Monsanto and Dow wanted specifically and how much money they have spent in the multitude of ways they seek to influence and pressure Congress, but -- as they say -- the proof is in the pudding. Which companies have submitted petitions to the USDA for deregulation of GMOs that would benefit most from the 90-day time limit written into the bill? Monsanto and Dow.

With the Future of Food on the Table, "Big 6" Play with "Weighty" Dice

With these measures buried in enormous bills that are considered "must pass" in order to fund government agencies and determine farm subsidies, the industry and its allies are continuing to avoid an open, honest, full national debate about the safety and risks of GMOs. Congress must pass bills to fund U.S. agriculture policy unless it decides to temporarily extend the terms of the Bush era farm bill.
Even though the USDA approved Monsanto's GMO beets and alfalfa over objections from organic farmers and other concerned citizens, the courts required a full EIS review that allowed the public to weigh in with an array of concerns that exist or are emerging about GE crops. But if the law is changed, as sought by Monsanto-friendly Congressmen like Kingston and Lucas and their buddies, the USDA -- already extremely favorable to biotech -- will lose the ability to do much more than rubberstamp GMO industry requests. More importantly, the courts will not be able to require more thorough environmental review, further opening the door to the haphazard introduction of new GE crops into our food supply, our farms, and our environment.
In response to this, the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), an organization which promotes alternatives to pesticides that are safe for workers and the environment, is asking concerned citizens to email their representatives and urge them to stand up to "Big 6" pressure and reject the biotech riders in the farm bill.

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. She is a PRWatch guest contributor.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


GMOWill Those Sneaky GMO Amendments Pass Because of an Underhanded Maneuver?

July 31, 2012
Not if we stop them!
As we reported a few weeks ago, these amendments represent a sneaky, behind-closed-doors attempt to make GMO foods immune from court review. Now we have learned of an even sneakier, even more questionable legislative maneuver that might get them passed.
The usual procedure for passing bills in Congress is for the House to pass its version and the Senate to pass its version. The two bills are reconciled by a joint conference committee, and then both chambers pass the final bill.
The Senate has already passed its version of the Farm Bill, the comprehensive omnibus bill that is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government for the next four or five years. The House version, which includes the sneaky pro-GMO amendments, has run into trouble. We have learned that the House Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing today (Tuesday, July 31) on a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill—a Continuing Resolution, or CR. If passed in the House (it will very likely fail in the Senate), this will trigger a conference committee.
But here’s the dirty trick: the conference committee won’t be reconciling the Senate bill with the House’s CR. Instead, it will reconcile the Senate bill that passed, with the House bill (including the bad amendments) that was never brought before the full House, much less passed by the House! If this illegitimate procedure is followed, the terrible GMO amendments could get into the final bill. Once this bill is final, it will be too late to strip out the amendments. The bill will pass.
There are a few pieces of legislation that are considered “must pass,” usually appropriations bills. Riders are often tacked onto these often unrelated bills in the hopes they’ll be approved without any fuss, since the main bill is essentially assured to pass.
This year, the powerful (and exceedingly well-funded) biotechnology industry inserted three pro-GMO amendments—two into the Farm Bill, and one into the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. These riders are wide-ranging and could change the face of the federal regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms. Only a large and powerful grassroots effort can compete against these riders.
This is the first time the GMO industry has ever asked Congress for everything it wanted. (We like to joke that they came just shy of asking for a magical unicorn!) The good news is that they showed their hand, so we now know exactly what they want and our allies in Congress know exactly what to watch out for.
The aforementioned Farm Bill riders would outlaw any EPA review of a genetically engineered crop under the Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. This terrible legislation would ensure that no agency other than the USDA (which is decidedly pro-GMOs) will be allowed to provide analysis of the impacts of GMO crops. Further, the riders also establish extremely short deadlines for approval of GMOs. If the crops are not reviewed and approved within the extremely short timeline, they would default to immediate approval and commercialization.
Here’s where we stand now:
  • The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30. However, as of this writing, the bill has not been scheduled for a floor vote.
  • Our sense from our work on Capitol Hill is that the House leadership doesn’t want to bring the bill to the House floor because it won’t pass. This is mostly because of Republican infighting over the level of spending cuts in the bill.
  • If the House passes the Continuing Resolution on the current (2008) Farm Bill—a CR in the Senate is likely to fail—a joint conference committee will be convened to reconcile the Senate’s version with these un-passed, un-debated, and most likely unnoticed GMO riders. It may be just another procedural bending of the rules for Congress, but we consider it to be an example of illegitimate legislative sleight-of-hand.
  • Through this very tricky strategy the House bill won’t actually go on the floor for a vote, so our allies in the House won’t have any opportunity to strike the biotech riders by amendment. We are preparing for this eventuality—and we’re lobbying members of the conference committee.
Don’t let these riders sneak in through the back door without being debated and passed by the House! Please contact your representatives immediately and voice your objection to this rider. Take Action Now!
Take Action!
In addition, a third rider—the one attached to the Agricultural Appropriations bill—would, as we noted earlier this month, strip federal courts of the authority to halt the planting of genetically engineered crops while the USDA is still assessing their environmental hazards. If this language stands, it will completely undermine the judicial review process, and will encourage the unchecked deregulation of GE crops despite terrible environmental and health effects.
Here’s where we stand now:
  • The bill has already been passed out of the House Agriculture Committee with the GMO language still intact.
  • Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has agreed to offer an amendment to strike the GMO rider from the bill entirely—assuming the bill is actually heard on the floor.
  • ANH-USA is lobbying members of the Agricultural Appropriations Committee, and so far Rep. DeLauro has committed her support for DeFazio’s amendment.
  • We are also targeting the Blue Dog Coalition, especially Reps. Shuler and Barrow, who are leaders in the caucus. At the same time, we are approaching members of the Judiciary Committee to oppose the rider because it’s piggybacking on an appropriations bill rather than offering it as a separate bill on its own right, subject to open debate.
Urgent action is still needed—it’s possible they’ll consider the appropriations bill this week before they recess, so please send your messages today! However, after our meetings on Capitol Hill it appears that the Agriculture Appropriations bill will likely be dropped into a new omnibus spending bill to be considered after the recess, in which case it is unlikely the GMO rider language will be included. Unlikely, but not impossible—so please contact your congressional representative right away.
Take Action!


Food cannot be grown without water. In Africa, one in three people endure water scarcity and climate change will make things worse. Building on Africa’s highly sophisticated indigenous water management systems could help resolve this growing crisis, but these very systems are being destroyed by large-scale land grabs amidst claims that Africa's water is abundant, under-utilised and ready to be harnessed for export-oriented agriculture. GRAIN looks behind the current scramble for land in Africa to reveal a global struggle for what is increasingly seen as a commodity more precious than gold or oil - water.
The Alwero river in Ethiopia’s Gambela region provides both sustenance and identity for the indigenous Anuak people who have fished its waters and farmed its banks and surrounding lands for centuries. Some Anuak are pastoralists, but most are farmers who move to drier areas in the rainy season before returning to the river banks. This seasonal agricultural cycle helps nurture and maintain soil fertility. It also helps structure the culture around the collective repetition of traditional cultivation practices related to rainfall and rising rivers as each community looks after its own territory and the waters and farmlands within it.
One new plantation in Gambela, owned by Saudi-based billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi, is irrigated with water diverted from the Alwero River. Thousands of people depend on Alwero's water for their survival and Al-Moudi's industrial irrigation plans could undermine their access to it. In April 2012, tensions over the project spilled over, when an armed group ambushed Al-Amoudi's Saudi Star Development Company operations, leaving five people dead.
The tensions in south western Ethiopia illustrate the central importance of access to water in the global land rush. Hidden behind the current scramble for land is a world-wide struggle for control over water. Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.
In recent years, Saudi Arabian companies have been acquiring millions of hectares of lands overseas to produce food to ship back home. Saudi Arabia does not lack land for food production. What’s missing in the Kingdom is water, and its companies are seeking it in countries like Ethiopia.
Indian companies like Bangalore-based Karuturi Global are doing the same. Aquifers across the sub-continent have been depleted by decades of unsustainable irrigation. The only way to feed India's growing population, the claim is made, is by sourcing food production overseas, where water is more available.
"The value is not in the land," says Neil Crowder of UK-based Chayton Capital which has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. "The real value is in water.” [1]
And companies like Chayton Capital think that Africa is the best place to find that water. The message repeated at farmland investor conferences around the globe is that water is abundant in Africa. It is said that Africa’s water resources are vastly under utilised, and ready to be harnessed for export oriented agriculture projects.
The reality is that a third of Africans already live in water-scarce environments and climate change is likely to increase these numbers significantly. Massive land deals could rob millions of people of their access to water and risk the depletion of the continent's most precious fresh water sources. 
All of the land deals in Africa involve large-scale, industrial agriculture operations that will consume massive amounts of water. Nearly all of them are located in major river basins with access to irrigation. They occupy fertile and fragile wetlands, or are located in more arid areas that can draw water from major rivers. In some cases the farms directly access ground water by pumping it up. These water resources are lifelines for local farmers, pastoralists and other rural communities. Many already lack sufficient access to water for their livelihoods. If there is anything to be learnt from the past, it is that such mega-irrigation schemes can not only put the livelihoods of millions of rural communities at risk, they can threaten the freshwater sources of entire regions. (See Water mining, the wrong type of farming and Death of the Aral Sea)