Friday, May 10, 2013



Frankenfoods: Good for Big Business, bad for the rest of us

Thirty years ago, scientists figured out how to directly modify the genes in our food crops. No more of that inefficient and slow breeding! Farmers would grab plant genes by the horns nucleotides and bend them to their will!
Now, the preeminent science journal Nature has devoted an entire issue to the question (to paraphrase that legendary IBM ad), where are the magic seeds? We were going to get seeds that would grow faster, yield more, save the environment, and be more nutritious. What we got were seeds for a few commodity crops such as corn, soy, and cotton that made their own pesticide or resisted herbicides, but otherwise provided little, if any, benefit to consumers.
Nonetheless, Nature assures us that the magic seeds are on the way. What the journal doesn’t say explicitly, however, is that there’s evidence that for existing GMO seeds, the best days are already over — and the next generation of seeds may be doomed even before they’re in the ground.
Of course, you’ll have to forgive the large biotechnology companies like Monsanto and Syngenta for thinking that they did in fact supply magic seeds. After all, as Nature observes, every year, farmers worldwide plant $15 billion worth of GMO seeds, covering about 420 million acres — an area larger than Texas and California combined — much of it on U.S. land. And those biotech companies earned tens of billions in profits off of them.
It’s an undeniably impressive feat. Just look at these charts of GMO adoption by farmers:
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
But popularity ≠ sustainability. What about charts that demonstrate GMOs’ vaunted yield increases and environmental benefits? Not to be found. That’s probably because, for all their marketplace success, it’s very difficult to measure exactly how much GMOs have increased crop productivity. One recent USDA study even found that yields for some GMOs were lower than for their conventional counterparts, though they did decrease the overall risk of crop failure.
In fact, if you look at charts of corn yields over time, what you see amid the volatility is a pretty consistent, modest trend that began in the 1930s with the introduction of conventionally bred hybrid seeds.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
You can’t look at the chart and guess when GMO seeds were introduced (hint: 1996) by some huge increase in the yield curve. Certainly, it’s not the way you could glance at a graph of, say, the tuberculosis death rate in the 20th century and instantly identify the date antibiotics were introduced.
The commercialization of GMO seeds starting in 1996 didn’t lead to any agricultural great leap forward. It’s a far cry from what biotech advocates declare: that we need GMOs in order to feed a growing world population or face mass starvation.
As for environmental benefits, Nature was unable to cite any independent assessment. One article [sub req'd] quotes a single industry-funded study which determined that between 1996 and 2011, GMOs drove a 6 percent drop in pesticide on cotton crops, while overall the technology offered about a 9 percent improvement to the “environmental impact quotient” — a measure that takes into account impacts on wildlife and so on.
And the price for this very modest “progress”? We’ve handed over the seed industry — and in a meaningful sense, the agricultural system — to a handful of large companies. In 2010, 85 percent of all corn and 92 percent of soy planted in the U.S. contained Monsanto’s patented genetically modified traits. It doesn’t quite seem worth it.
But even that modest formulation of GMOs’ benefit may be overstating the case. As author Sam Fromartz put it in an essay on the Atlantic, GMOs have actually accelerated agriculture’s decline into unsustainability because:
… we’ve used them bring down the cost of industrial meat production and incentivize a transition to a meat-centric diet. The loss of calories that result from feeding grains to animals instead of humans represents the annual calorie needs of more than 3.5 billion people, according to the UN Environmental Program. In short, GMOs arguably are making matters worse by fueling the production of more animal feed and food-competing biofuels.
And, yes, agrees Nature, they’ve also driven the rise of superweeds that are immune to the effects of common herbicides central to GMO agriculture. It’s this now-established fact that threatens GMOs’ meager benefits. While farmers enjoyed a 15-year window of reduced pesticide use thanks to seeds that make their own or resisted the effects of others, superweeds and superbugs are now causing farmers to increase pesticide use.
In an op-ed in Food Safety News, agricultural scientist Charles Benbrook makes this very point, often overlooked by writers who cover the subject. He notes that compared to the early years of GMOs, farmers now must use twice as much herbicide, and seeds that emit multiple pesticides, to get the same amount of growth as GMOs used to achieve.
Benbrook observes that the growing pest and weed problems for GMOs have caused farmers to turn to seeds that are coated with a different pesticide — a neonicotinoid. If that name rings a bell, it’s because these pesticides that have been implicated in the increasing epidemic of bee deaths. He also reveals something that I have not previously heard — that there has recently been what he calls a “historically unprecedented” 10-fold increase in fungicide use on U.S. crop acres, most of which are planted with GMO corn and soy. So much for those GMO environmental benefits.
And that’s aside from the evidence that biotech’s “next big thing” — seeds that emit multiple pesticides — may be doomed to fail. An international team of researchers, including USDA and biotech scientists, found what they termed “cross-resistance” to these pesticides in bugs exposed to the next-generation GMO seeds. Evidence, in other words, that GMO seeds are hitting a bug-covered wall.
But never mind all that! Nature wants to assure us that we need to remain committed to genetically modified food because the long-promised “jetpack era” — the one we’ve supposedly all been waiting for — is almost upon us. It’s a familiar refrain: Don’t mind the paltry benefits so far; the genetically modified best is yet to come! If only the public is willing to eat it, that is.
And it’s the public that Nature identifies as a big part of the problem, as those pesky humans constantly throw up roadblocks to the latest engineered foods. (Witness yet another state referendum on GMO labeling, this time in Washington state.) Consumers, with what the Nature editors declare are their “fears of the unfamiliar,” truly loom as the bad-guy in this debate.
Nature’s exploration of GMOs, which, given the journal’s — heh — “nature,” understandably restricts its focus to the science, ends up misinterpreting pubic distrust in GMOs. You can’t understand the GMO debate without factoring in the political and corporate system in which it takes place. It’s like considering the causes of obesity without addressing the role of food marketing — obesity is not just about people on their own making bad choices.
GMOs didn’t come to dominate our agricultural system simply because they’re awesome, and they’re not struggling for acceptance because the public is fearful and/or misinformed. Corporations made billions on GMOs and all we got was ethanol and an unsustainable diet. Is it so surprising that we’re skeptical that the next time around will be any different?


Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, commended the Vermont House of Representatives for today’s historic vote passing H-112, requiring the labeling of all genetically engineered (GE) food sold in that state, by an overwhelming margin of 99 to 42. The bill now moves to the Vermont Senate, which will take it up when the legislature returns January 2014. If the Senate passes the bill, Vermont will be the first in the nation to mandate GE labeling.
“Vermont’s historic vote today is a major victory for consumer demand for the labeling of genetically engineered food," said Michael Hansen, PhD, a biologist and Senior Scientist at Consumers Union. “We commend the members of the Vermont House who voted for this bill, despite an onslaught of industry lobbying against it.”
The Vermont House is the first state legislative body to pass a bill to label GE food, although the state of Alaska passed legislation requiring labeling of GE fish. GE food is required to be labeled in 62 foreign countries, including all of the European Union, Japan, Korea, Australia, and India.  
The Vermont bill will go into effect when two other states have passed similar legislation, or within two years from the date of signing. Labeling bills are also pending in Maine, Connecticut, and several other states. “All these states will be hard fought,” said Hansen.  
A ballot initiative in California lost in November 2012 by a small margin, 51 to 49 percent. Industry opponents outspent supporters by roughly five to one. A similar GE labeling initiative will be on the ballot in Washington State in November 2013. A federal bill to require GE food labeling was recently introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  
Interest in labeling bills has increased since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed the final steps of its approval process for GE salmon this year. If approved, the salmon would be the first GE animal on the U.S. market and the FDA has said that it does not intend to require labeling of it. Nearly 2 million people recently told the FDA that they oppose approval of GE salmon. H-112 would also require the labeling of GE salmon.
Consumers Union has long supported labeling of GE food and stricter regulatory oversight of GE crops.
# # #
Contact: Naomi Starkman,, 917.539.3924

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Del Monte gets GM pineapple green light

USDA approves imports of pink pineapple variety as it does not have the ability to 'propagate and persist' once harvested

Del Monte has reportedly received the thumbs up from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a new genetically engineered pineapple variety into the US.
According to Capital Press, the fresh produce multinational has developed a pineapple boasting rose-coloured flesh, altered to overexpress a gene derived from the tangerine while suppressing other genes, with flowering also altered to offer more uniform growth and quality.
The USDA's Plant Health Inspection Service found the cultivar to be a regulated transgenic crop, but said it would not require a biotechnology permit as it did not have the ability to propagate and persist once it had been harvested.
Del Monte noted that the fruit is grown in a monoculture that prevents seed production, and, in the unlikely event that a seed did form, it would be unable to germinate and grow without human intervention.
The group's submission to the USDA revealed that was still awaiting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and the government of Costa Rica, where the crop is grown.



Media contact:

Nancy Brown
Spokesperson, Right to Know Minnesota

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (May 3, 2013 – Minneapolis, MN)  As citizen-led efforts nationwide call for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, Minnesota’s labeling advocates are rebuking General Mills CEO Kendall Powell for comments made at the “Brainstorm Green” conference earlier this week in Laguna Niguel, California.

In an interview, Powell said that genetically modified foods, also known as GMOs, are safe to eat and increase the food supply. He also said that current labeling requirements meet consumers’ expectations and that there’s no room on packaging for additional information.

“Considering the serious health and environmental concerns raised by genetically modified foods, it’s irresponsible of Kendall Powell to continue to defend the widespread use of this technology and to aid the biotech industry in its campaign to misinform the public about GMOs,” said Right to Know Minnesota spokesperson Nancy Brown in a statement released today.

Regarding safety, Brown points to a University of Minnesota research review concluding that about half of the safety studies have found “some risk” linked to GMO consumption. She also notes that the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine all support labeling.

Powell also suggested that General Mills’ supply chains would need changing if GMOs were labeled in some states.

But Brown says the disclosure itself has no effect on General Mills’ supply chains. Powell is making the case for labeling, she says, by acknowledging that informed consumers would reject GM foods, thereby forcing manufacturers to switch to non-GM ingredients.

“If General Mills views GM ingredients as a positive attribute, they should proudly label them. Instead, they’ve worked to defeat labeling efforts by funding opposition to citizen-led initiatives. The simple disclosure, ‘Produced With Genetic Engineering,’ would provide consumers with the information they want and need to make informed decisions,” Brown says.

“Powell is, at best, uninformed, or, at worst, is deliberately misinforming the public on these critical issues concerning our health, our land, and the food that sustains us,” Brown says.

“Right to Know Minnesota calls on Kendall Powell to become fully informed about the dangers posed by GMOs; to stop defending the biotech industry; to retract his statements; and to endorse the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients so that consumers can make informed choices.”


Right to Know Minnesota is a campaign started in 2011 by concerned citizens to make the labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods the law in Minnesota. We are a coalition of farmers, health advocates, families, and others who support healthy foods.

Additional interview:
Jim Riddle
Spokesperson, Right to Know Minnesota


Today VT Right To Know GMOs labeling bill, H.112 was passed by the judiciary committee 7-4. It will now go to the floor of representatives for a full vote. Please share the good news and thank you everyone for your support!


Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide Linked to Parkinson’s, Autism and Birth Defects

Roundup is the world’s most popular herbicide, but research suggests that this weed killer may not be worth the health risks it poses. Environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists are worried that glyphosate, Roundup's main component, is capable of causing serious health issues for people, animals and plants alike. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. farmers used about 185 million pounds of glyphosate in 2007; double the amount used six years ago. Roundup herbicide is manufactured by Monsanto Co. 

Roundup Weed Killer (herbicide) is Most Likely Dangerous Because its Active Ingredient is the Chemical Glyphosate

Roundup is sprayed on millions of acres of crops. Scientists are worried about Roundup's health effects because glyphosate residue can enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins. These substances may interfere with normal bodily functions, potentially leading to conditions such as Parkinson ’s disease, infertility and cancer, according to one study published in the journal Entropy in April 2013. The authors of the study are Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant and former private government contractor. Samsel is also a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In their study, the authors state: “[Glyphosate's]  negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body." 
Other related injuries include inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease), multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia (wasting syndrome), infertility, and developmental malformations.

Entropy Journal: Anthony Samsel & Stephanie Seneff are Working to Limit/Ban Roundup's Use Over  Health Issues

Seneff highlighted the importance of further investigating these health issues, stating that the study has " hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated." But their study is only one of many pieces of evidence to be submitted to the EPA, which is conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate to determine whether or not it's use should be restricted.

Legal Help for Roundup Consumers

If you or someone you know has used Roundup, you may have valuable legal rights. To find out more about joining a class action lawsuit, please fill out our online form or call us at 1-800-LAW-INFO (800-529-4636) to speak with our attorneys today.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Starved of Democracy and the Fight Against Corporate 'Foodopoly'

Only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat.

My new book is called Foodopoly. It’s about the corporate control of every aspect of our food system, from how what we eat is labeled to the pesticides we’re exposed to.
We, the people, must reclaim our democracy. We must reestablish strong antitrust laws to begin the work of fixing our broken, corporate-controlled food system. Our food system should work for consumers and farmers, not big agricultural, processing, retail, and chemical conglomerates.
How has consolidation enabled Monsanto, Tyson, Nestle, Kraft, Cargill, McDonalds and other giant companies to write our food policy, and why is it about to get worse? For starters, consider the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in the landmark Citizens United case. It allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to buy the political system. This practice comes at the expense of citizens and democracy itself.
Foodopoly delves into the history of food and farm policy to explain how the food supply became so consolidated. For example, only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat, and only four retailers sell 50 percent of the groceries. Today, one out of every three dollars spent on groceries in the United States goes to Walmart.
The top 10 fast-food companies control 47 percent of all fast food sales. Together, these industries have commandeered local economies, and now it is clear that the era of family farmers and mom and pop stores has ended. What’s not as clear is the effect this has on our political system.
Make no mistake: When those companies enjoy near monopolies and vast market power — both domestically and globally thanks to crooked free trade agreements — their profits enable them to contribute large sums of money to groups that lobby Washington very effectively.
The food industry spent $40 million lobbying the federal government in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the biotech industry has spent over half a billion dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures since 1999. Additionally, special interests spent $173.5 million lobbying on the 2008 Farm Bill.
Food & Water Watch, the non-profit organization I run, tries to fight back against the corporate control of our food system. Our organizational budget is about $12 million a year.
This summer, President Barack Obama will attempt to fast-track two trade deals — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both favor the interests of corporations and their financers over consumers.
These trade deals would increase export-oriented natural gas fracking, boost our food imports, undermine yet more domestic laws, and increase the corporate control of our natural resources. They will forever enshrine the very economic system that has led to an ever greater imbalance in income and wealth and increasingly frequent economic crises.
The changes needed to reform our food system and strengthen our democracy can only happen when the people demand better leadership. We need to address the political reasons our food system is so broken.
And we can’t just shop our way out of this problem.
Wenonah Hauter
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans. 


All about the new EU seed law  

All About The New EU Seed Law
as laid before EU Commissioners on May 6th

Updated Monday May 6th ...

Well, what a hectic week. Everyone we know has been lobbying hard, and thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been emailing and writing about this, there were some important last-minute changes to the proposed law, even as late as Sunday night.

While it is still a bad law, it is much less bad than the first, second, or even third draft. This is only because so much pressure was brought to bear on them! We must remain vigilant to be sure it is not changed for the worse as it goes through the EU, and then is translated into UK laws. For now, here is a summary of the current situation. The law itself is linked at the bottom.


On Monday May 6th a draconian new law was put before the European Commission, which creates new powers to classify and regulate all plant life anywhere in Europe.

The "Plant Reproductive Material Law" regulates all plants. It contains immediate restrictions on vegetables and woodland trees, while creating powers to restrict all other plants of any other species at a later date.

Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new "EU Plant Variety Agency, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency to keep them on the list, and if not paid, they cannot be grown.

Following a huge outcry and intense lobbying from consumer groups, small-scale farmers, genebanks, and even some member-state governements, a few last-minute alterations were made, which while not perfect, have reduced the impact quite a lot.

The key last minute concessions that were made - and this really was only due to public pressure, because they were not in the draft just 3 days previously - are as follows:

*Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.
*Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed - as long as they have less than 10 employees.
*Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.
*There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation - maybe.

But the rest of the law is still overly restrictive, and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home. There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.

We are checking out what the next step is. It appears that next it must go to Parliament for modification or approval, so there is still the chance of changes for better or worse. We must all campaign to make sure only improvements are made!

Ben Gabel, vegetable breeder and director of The Real Seed Catalogue, says:

"The draft law was truly awful, and it is good to see that the Commission have responded to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who raised their voices against it. They have made important concessions for home growers and small farmers, though it is a shame they did not think of them in the first place."

"However, it will still have negative consequences. It will halt the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers.

This is because the main registration system is no good for home gardeners - varieties suitable for home use don't meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.

Because of this, seed companies used to be able to register and sell "Amateur" varieties that didn't pass the tests, for home growers. Under the new system, they are now called "Niche" varieties and there is no testing or registration at all, but there is a big catch: any company with more than 10 employees is now banned from producing them.

So new varieties for home growers can only be developed by tiny organisations, and they may not have the resources to do it well. There will be very little professional development of varieties for home gardeners or small-scale sustainable agriculture."

"The law will reduce the choice available to large farmers too. In some cases it will only allow new varieties of vegetable if they are tested and proven to be better than ones currently on the list. This is foolish, often you don't discover the benefits of a new variety until you've been growing it for several years, for example when a new disease comes along that it turns out to be resistant to. In a free market, it should be up to farmers to try out any new crop they like and decide what variety is best based on their own experience."

"There's no real need for this complex new regulation. We already had very strong consumer-protection laws that cover all this - seeds must be fit for the purpose sold, match their description, and perform as advertised. The old seed laws already covered health, traceability and safety. Anyone who produces seed is already inspected and certified by the Secretary of State."

"This is an instance of bureaucracy out of control. All this new law does is create a whole new raft of EU civil servants being paid to move mountains of papers round all day, while interfering with the right of people to grow what they want, and charging fees for the use of plants that were domesticated and bred by the public over thousands of years of small-scale agriculture.

It is also very worrying that they have given themselves the power to regulate and licence any plant species of any sort at all in the future - not just agricultural plants, but grasses, mosses, flowers, anything at all - without having to bring it back to the Council for a vote."

"This law was written for the needs of the globalised farm-seed industry, who supply seed by the ton to industrial farmers. It should not apply at all to seed used by home gardeners and small market growers, who have very different needs."

"We call for a total exemption from the law for seed supplied in small packets directly to individual consumers."


*Plant Reproductive Material Law was before the EU commissioners on May 6th 2013
*Law drafted by DG SANCO (consumer affairs), internally opposed by DG AGRI & ENVI (agriculture & environment)
*Executive Summary of Law does not reflect stricter reality of the actual articles in the law
*Law will effectively kills off professional development of home-garden seeds in the EU
*Huge public opposition: over 200,000 signatures to the Arche Noah petition
*Media contact: Ben Gabel, The Real Seed Catalogue:

The Real Seed Catalogue ( is a well-known DEFRA-registered seed supplier, based in Wales, that specialises in breeding and supplying vegetable seed specially suited to the needs of home gardeners. As a not-for-profit company dedicated to the needs of home gardeners, it is also one of the UK's premier seed-saving organisations, educating the public about seed saving and how to preserve their own heritage varieties of vegetables at home.

1) SIGN the petition(s)

There are several petitions organised for this. The biggest is the Arche Noah petition which you should sign here. 200,000 signatures so far!

Another one is the English-language version of the Seed Sovereignty petition (there is one for each EU language, so the total numbers are lower for each.)|en)
Please sign both and share these links.


We will post updates on our Facebook Page as we get more information.

The law itself is linked below if you want to wade through it. But before you start, a very important warning:

You cannot just read the first 5 pages or so that are an "executive summary", and think you know what this law is about. The executive summary is NOT what will become the law. It is the actual Articles themselves that become law, the Summary has no legal standing and is just tacked on as an aid to the public and legislators, it is supposed to give background information and set the proposed legislation in context so people know what is going on and why.

The problem with this law has always been that the Summary says lots of nice fluffy things about preserving biodiversity, simplifying legislation, making things easier etc etc - things we all would love - but the Articles of the law actually do completely the opposite. And the Summary is not what becomes the law.

For example, the Summary of drafts 1,2, & 3 talked about making things easier for "Amateur" varieties. But the entire class of Amateur vegetables - which we have spent 5 yearsworking with DEFRA to register - was actually abolished entirely in the Articles right from the start. Yet the Summary , and press releases based on it, still talked about how it will help preserve Amateur varieties! The Summary is completely bogus. Do not base your views of the law on it!

So, be warned. By all means, read it yourself. But you have to ignore the Summary as that is not the Law, and does not reflect what is in the Law.

Official version of the Law as of May 6th is Here



Buzz! Buzz! Silence  

New survey shows almost a third of bee colonies in the US died last winter

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

(Photo: Ana Triana/flickr) Results of a new survey released Tuesday paint another dire picture of the population of bees in the United States.
Nearly a third of managed honey bee colonies were lost this past winter, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) found, a 42% increase in loss over the previous winter.
But USDA bee expert Dr. Jeff Pettis, who worked on the study, also noted that "the 31 percent figure likely under-represents the losses, as we saw many weak colonies that were not actually dead."
Rather than showing evidence of colony collapse disorder (CCD), Pettis said most colonies "dwindled away rather than suffering from the sudden onset of CCD."
70% of the survey respondents reported a loss over 15% — a loss percentage deemed "acceptable."
The 6 year average total loss is also far above that "acceptable" level, averaging 30.5%.
The analysis was done by a team of 11 researchers led by Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and director of the Bee Informed Partnership.
“We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster.”
- Dr. Jeff Pettis
VanEngelsdorp pointed to the Midwest's drought as being one of the possible factors, as the bees may have been forced to look to flowering crops for nectar rather than wildflowers, and those crops may have had "unusually high" levels of pesticides.

Also a potential factor, stated vanEngelsdorp, is the fact that high corn prices lead to cornfields replacing some prairie and shrubs.
In a separate report released last week by the USDA and EPA on honey bee health, multiple factors were cited as responsible for the declining bee population, including pesticides.
The study highlighted the need for bees for the nation's food security.  With bee populations declining year after year, Pettis said, “We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster.”
Following the study, Paul Towers, media director with the Pesticide Action Network, told IPS that the EPA/USDA study shows that action does need to happen, and fast:
“The report makes a compelling case that multiple factors are at play and that we do need to take action, but this needs to be done far more quickly,” Paul Towers, media director with the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy group, told IPS.
“The five-to-ten-year timeframe these agencies are now saying they will follow is not fast enough. In fact, there is great imperative here: bees are a clear indicator of the overall health of our agricultural system, so if we’re unable to protect the pollinators we’ll put our entire agricultural system at risk.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Wisconsin Bill Would Treat Organic Milk, Sharp Cheddar, Brown Eggs as "Junk Food"

by Rebekah Wilce
Junk food? (Photo: sgrace/flickr)Wisconsin ranks 44th in the nation for new job creation. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and finding new and innovative ways to help create jobs, the Wisconsin legislature is spending its time telling people needing food assistance what they should be eating. AB 110, which will be up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, May 7, is geared toward limiting "the amount of food stamp benefits that could be spent on junk food." But some of the fine print of the bill, bizarrely, would ban people from choosing more healthy and less expensive options for their families. The bill is one of many being considered that are unduly punitive of the poor.
As of March 2013, 858,000 Wisconsinites receive FoodShare benefits. The bill, AB 110, would limit FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program funded through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, Governor Scott Walker has already proposed to require all "able-bodied adults" who receive food stamps (and don't have dependent children) to train or search for work in order to continue receiving those benefits. This even though Walker has failed to create the 250,000 jobs he promised when running for office in 2010.
Now Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is sponsoring another bill to further limit FoodShare. Kaufert told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the bill would make it so that a benefit recipient "can't buy six bags of nachos and four cases of soda."
Specifically, the amended program would allow only a third of an individual's FoodShare benefits to be spent on a full range of food as they currently can be. The remaining two-thirds would be subject to the same restrictions as the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program, with some small modifications. (Both programs, of course, bar restaurant food, cigarettes, alcohol, and pet foods.)
WIC is a federal program intended to supplement food stamp benefits for a particularly vulnerable population of women and young children. As such, it has strict -- and at times very odd -- guidelines to focus these supplemental food dollars on nutritionally dense staple foods.
Wisconsin's AB 110 would mandate that two-thirds of a person's FoodShare benefits could be spent only on foods on the WIC-approved list. Exemptions have been added so recipients can also purchase fish, beef, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Strangely, exemptions were not added so that the "healthy" two-thirds could also be spent on a full range of healthy Wisconsin farm products and fresh food.
The result is that the bulk of your FoodShare dollars can be spent on milk, but not organic milk; on eggs, but only on white eggs by the dozen, not on brown, free-range, or organic eggs; on 100 percent whole wheat bread, but not on gluten-free bread for those with Celiac disease; on slices of American cheese, but not sharp cheddar. FoodShare dollars can be spent on dry beans, but not if they come from a money-saving bulk bin at your local food coop. You can get juice boxes for your children, but only Juicy Juice brand juice boxes.
In order for the state Department of Health Services to implement changes to FoodShare purchasing guidelines, it would need to attain a federal waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But when Minnesota tried to prohibit purchase of candy or soda in 2004, and New York City tried to ban purchase of certain sugary drinks in 2010, both waiver requests were denied. The USDA points out the lack of clear standards to define foods as healthy or unhealthy.

As Bill Approaches Vote, Public Input Needed

According to the Associated Press, the Assembly committee heard input from food companies, grocery stores, and food banks. They told Wisconsin lawmakers that restrictions "would shame recipients and burden businesses with enforcement." Democrats on the committee -- who voted against the measure -- said it "would stigmatize poor people who already have limited options in buying food."
In addition to Rep. Kaufert, AB 110's supporters include Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette), Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg), Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay), Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake), Scott Krug (R-Wisconsin Rapids), Pat Strachota (R-West Bend), Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Alvin Ott (R-Forest Junction), Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan), Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). In the Senate, the bill's supporters include Senators Robert Cowles (R-Shawano), Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), Frank Lasee (R-Casco), and Glenn Grothman (R-Fond du Lac).
As Wisconsin Assemblymembers gather to vote on this bill May 7, these elected officials should to hear from those whose lives and food choices would be directly affected by the bill.