Saturday, March 8, 2014


Hawaii modified food bills battered but alive

Published: Thursday, Mar. 6, 2014 - 5:12 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 6, 2014 - 7:37 pm
The chairwoman of the Hawaii House Agriculture Committee said Thursday she intends to fight for a bill that would establish a task force to study genetically modified foods.
But Democratic Rep. Jessica Wooley said she thinks SB 2454 doesn't include enough meaningful regulation. She says she would like to see labeling of genetically modified foods because many people want to know whether their groceries include those ingredients.
"What is a task force going to tell us?" said Wooley, who represents Koolaupoko. "Whether it's safe or not safe? I've seen all sides, and it's clear we shouldn't be telling people you can't grow GMO (genetically modified organisms).
"But we have a current problem, which is, the consumers don't have a right to know," she said.
As contentious as its debate in Hawaii has been, Wooley said, simply labeling genetically modified foods as such would deflate tension around the issue.
The task force measure has already passed the Senate. Wooley said her House committee will take it up. The committee can offer changes to the bill.
A bill (HB 174) that would require labeling of genetically modified foods passed the House last year but has since been ignored in the Senate. A Senate measure (SB 2521) that would require labeling of genetically modified food and seeds made its way only partway through committee. It then languished, and was never sent to the Senate floor for a vote.
One major Senate obstacle to genetically modified food labeling is Wooley's counterpart there: Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the Agriculture Committee chairman. His committee this year declined to consider a Senate measure (SB 3084) that would have required retailers to label genetically modified food.
Nishihara, who represents Ewa, said he opposes state measures to label genetically modified foods because they could jack up the price of imported food and run afoul of federal regulations, exposing the state to potential lawsuits.
"If you had food that were to come from the mainland, you'd have to say that they make a special label just for Hawaii," he said. "We didn't think that was going to be workable. If it raised the cost of food because of labeling, then the consumer would pay it."
The result, Nishihara said, would be higher prices and fewer choices at grocery stores in a state already pinched by high food prices.
Any move to require labeling would also have to withstand the strong possibility of a lawsuit. In testimony last year on HB 174, Wade Hargrove III, the deputy in the state attorney general office who handles food and drug regulation, identified three areas in which that bill as written would be vulnerable to litigation.
He said the measure risked overstepping existing federal regulations on genetically modified foods, running afoul of interstate commerce law by requiring labels only on imported foods, and inviting a challenge on First Amendment grounds by requiring labels for a feature of foods that the federal government deems safe for consumption without consumer warnings such as those on, for example, alcohol.
His role is merely one of a legal adviser to lawmakers, Wade said, and predicting possible constitutional law conflicts is an inexact science. "We are readers of tea leaves," he said Thursday. He has offered no testimony yet on 2014 bills, but said those areas should still be considered likely avenues by which a company or individual could challenge any future labeling proposals.

Sam Eifling can be reached on Twitter at

Read more here:


Key Vote in Albany Tomorrow on Genetically Engineered Food Labels

Groups Call on Assemblyman Blumenthal to Support GMO Labeling

YONKERS, N.Y.March 7, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, headquartered in Yonkers, today called on Assemblyman David Buchwald of White Plains and Mt Kisco to vote yes for Right To Know Bill A. 3525 when it comes before the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee tomorrow. This bill would require labeling of genetically engineered foods (also known as GMOs) sold in New York State and ensure New Yorker's right to know what is in their food.
A broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups, including the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Sierra Club, Consumers Union, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Northeast Organic Farming Association NY, Food and Water Watch, and GMO Free NY  support the bill. The committee vote scheduled for Tuesday, March 10 is critical to passage.
"Consumers have a basic right to know what they are eating," stated Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist at Consumers Union. "Unlike most other developed countries, the US FDA does not require either safety testing or labeling before genetically engineered foods go on the market.  New York's GE labeling bill can change that, and Assemblyman Buchwald has a chance to move this important bill on to the next step of the legislative process," Hansen said.
Currently 64 countries require genetically modified foods to be labeled, including all European countries, Australia, and Japan. Polls have shown that US consumers overwhelmingly support their right to know what is in their food.
Dr Hansen states, "GE food is fundamentally different from non-GE foods. Labeling is important because it allows the consumer to report allergic or other adverse reactions to regulators or to simply exercise their consumer choice when at the checkout. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports is calling on Assemblyman Buchwald to vote yes on A. 3525."
MARCH 2014Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. 
SOURCE Consumers Union


GMOs: Ban Them or Label Them?

  • By Ronnie Cummins 
    Organic Consumers Association, March 6, 2014 
For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page, and our Millions Against Monsanto Page.

Since the controversial introduction in the mid-nineties of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops, and the subsequent fast-tracking of those crops by the federal government—with no independent safety-testing or labeling required—there has been a lively debate among activists, both inside and outside the U.S., about how to drive these unhealthy and environmentally destructive “Frankenfoods” off the market. 

Some campaigners have called for an outright ban of GE crops. In fact, several dozen nations, thousands of local governments in the EU, and six counties in the U.S. (in California, Washington and Hawaii) have created GMO-free zones by passing bans.

Other activists argue that strict mandatory labeling laws, similar to those in the EU, are all we need in order to rid the world of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Activists in this camp point out that very few products in countries that have mandatory GMO labeling laws contain GMOs, because once companies are required to label GMO ingredients, they reformulate their products to be GMO-free, rather than risk rejection by consumers. 

Who’s right? 

A review of two decades of anti-GMO campaigning in North America and Europe suggests that mandatory labeling and bans, or GMO-free zones, should be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory. And recent news about increased contamination of non-GMO crops by the growing number of USDA-approved GMO crops suggests that if we don’t implement labeling laws and bans sooner rather than later, we may run out of time to preserve organic and non-GMO farmers and their fields. 

Bans and Mandatory Labeling Laws: Lessons from the EU

In the EU in the late-1990s, in what was the largest agricultural market in the world, anti-GMO campaigners, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, at first tried to establish a sweeping production and import ban on all GMOs. They were unsuccessful, largely because politicians and bureaucrats argued that an outright ban of GMOs in the EU would violate World Trade Organization agreements and bring on serious economic retaliation from the U.S. government. 

Leading consumer, environmental and farm groups pushing for a ban were successful, however, in forcing EU authorities to adopt significant GMO safety-testing regulations.  All GMOs, under EU law, are considered "novel foods" and are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by European regulatory officials. These regulations, much to the chagrin of Monsanto and the Gene Giants, have kept most GMOs, with the exception of animal feeds, out of the country. 
EU regulations also permit member nations to establish GMO-free zones.  As of 2012 there are 169 regions and 4,713 municipalities that have declared themselves GMO-free zones in the EU. In addition to these GMO-free zones in the EU, at least 26 nations, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico, and Russia have banned GMOs entirely. Significant labeling and safety-testing procedures on GMOs have been put in place in approximately 60 countries

Mandatory Labeling in the EU: The Crucial Blow to GMOs 

Although EU grassroots forces failed to gain a continent-wide ban on the cultivation or import of GMOs, they were successful in pushing authorities to impose mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods, feeds and food ingredients in 1997. This, combined with strict pre-market safety-testing regulations, has marginalized or eliminated GMOs throughout the EU.

EU foods derived from animals raised on GMO feed, however—meat, eggs, and dairy products—do not have to be labeled in the EU. As a consequence, billions of dollars of GMO-tainted animal feeds, including corn, soybeans and canola, continue to be imported every year into the EU from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina. EU activists, in Germany and elsewhere, have now begun campaigning to eliminate this strategic loophole.

As the EU’s GMO food labeling law came into effect in 1997-98, activists switched gears, successfully pressuring many large supermarket chains, including Carrefour, Co-Op, Tesco, Waitrose  and Marks & Spencer, and food manufacturers, including Unilever and NestlĂ©, to pledge to remain GMO-free. Feeling the heat from grassroots campaigners and realizing that mandatory GMO labeling would be the “kiss of death” for their brand-name products and their reputations, every major EU supermarket, food manufacturing and restaurant chain, including U.S.-based multinationals such as General Mills, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart, eliminated GMOs from their supply chains. As a consequence almost no GMO-derived foods, with the exception of meat and animal products, have been sold in EU retail stores or restaurants from 1997 until now.

With no real market for GMOs, EU farmers have refused to grow them. EU activists point out that if meat, eggs and dairy products derived from animals fed GMO grains had to be labeled, there would be no GMOs in Europe. Period. 

Frankenfoods Fight Heats Up in the U.S.  

In the U.S., the battle against GE foods and crops has been markedly more difficult. Since 1994, government regulatory agencies have refused to require labels on GMOs, or to require independent safety testing beyond the obviously biased research carried out by Monsanto and other genetic engineering companies themselves.

Despite government and industry opposition, and limited funding, a growing number of pro-organic and anti-GMO campaigners carried out a variety of public education, marketplace pressure and boycotts between 1994 and 2012 designed to either ban or label GMOs. Although GMO labeling bills, which according to numerous polls are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, were introduced in Congress over and over again during the past two decades, none have gathered more than nominal support from lawmakers And media coverage, at least until the California GMO labeling ballot initiative in 2012 (Proposition 37) and the Washington State ballot initiative in 2013 (I-522), has been generally sparse, with reporters routinely spouting industry propaganda that GMOs are safe, environmentally sustainable and necessary to feed a growing global population. 

But the tide is beginning to turn. More farmers are rejecting GMO seeds, more consumers are demanding non-GMO foods, or at the least, labels on GMO foods. And the media is beginning to give the anti-GMO movement if not its fair share, at least substantially more ink than we’ve seen in decades.

Farmers Sound the Alarm about GMO Contamination

Between 1994-2012, the number of acres in the U.S. planted in GMO crops has grown significantly. Today, 169 million acres—almost half of all cultivated U.S. farmlands—are now growing GMO crops. 

But despite the proliferation of GMO crops, we’re now seeing increased demand for non-GMO seeds. This is partly because farmers are growing frustrated with having to buy more and more pesticides and herbicides for GMO crops, as weeds and pests grow increasingly resistant to products like Monsanto’s Roundup.

But it’s also because organic and non-GMO farmers are speaking out about contamination of their crops by nearby GMO crops. Just this week, a new survey published by Food & Water Watch revealed that a third of U.S. organic farmers report problems with contamination from nearby GMO crops, and over half of the farmers surveyed said they’ve had grain shipments rejected because of contamination. 

Consumers Demand non-GMO

Increasing demand for non-GMO crops also stems from consumers’ heightened concerns about health, which in turn is increasing demand for non-GMO and organic crops and foods. The turning point in the anti-GMO Movement in the U.S. came in 2012-13 when organic and anti-GE organizations, led by the Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now, Center for Food Safety, Alliance for Natural Health and others, joined by a number of organic and natural health companies including, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Natural News, and Nutiva, decided to bypass the federal government and launch high-profile, multi-million dollar state ballot initiative campaigns for mandatory labeling of GMOs in California and Washington State. 

Although anti-GMO campaigners narrowly lost 51%-49% in both states, large genetic engineering and food corporations were forced to spend over $70 million ($12 million of which was illegally laundered by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington). In addition GMA members, most of whom are high-profile food manufacturers, seriously damaged their brands and reputations by carrying out a misleading, dirty tricks advertising campaign that flooded the airwaves in California and Washington and antagonized millions of consumers—many of whom began boycotting their products and assailing their Facebook pages.  

By 2012, thanks to the massive media coverage of the California GMO labeling initiative, organic foods and products reached $35 billion in sales, representing almost 5 percent of all grocery store sales, with non-GMO “natural” food sales reaching another $15 billion.

This growth in sales has not gone unnoticed by food manufacturers and retailers. Although 75-80 percent of all non-organic processed foods contain GMOs, General Mills, Kraft General Foods, Chipotle, Ben and Jerry’s and Whole Foods Market, responding to public concern and marketplace pressure, are now moving to eliminate GMOs from some or all of their brand name products.

Push for GMO Labeling Laws Continues

In the meantime, grassroots activists continue to push for mandatory labeling laws. In 2012-13, they lobbied legislators in 30 states, achieving partial success in Maine and Connecticut. In 2014 Vermont, Oregon and several others states appear poised to pass GMO labeling laws, while voters in five Oregon and California counties will attempt to pass GMO bans.

Frantically trying to head off the inevitable, the GMA and a powerful coalition of genetic engineering, industrial agriculture, restaurant, supermarket and junk food manufacturers have begun lobbying Congress to take away states’ rights to pass laws requiring GMO food labels. The GMA has also lobbied the FDA and Congress to allow the obviously fraudulent, though routine, industry practice of labeling or marketing GE-tainted foods as “natural.”

At the state level the GE Lobby, Big Food and the Farm Bureau are sponsoring bills to take away the right of counties and municipalities to pass laws banning GMOs or restricting hazardous industrial agriculture practices. 

On the international front, genetic engineering, pharmaceutical and Big Food companies are attempting to subvert GMO labels or bans by “fast-tracking,” with no public input or discussion, transnational trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). These so-called Free Trade agreements would allow multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont to sue local, state or even national governments that interfere with their profits, by passing laws regulating or banning GMOs or other controversial agricultural practices.

Although these profoundly pro-corporate and anti-consumer and anti-environmental trade agreements in theory can stop GMO labeling laws and bans from coming into effect, in political terms they are perceived by the majority of the body politic and even many state and local officials as highly authoritarian and anti-democratic. Similarly TPP and TAFTA are correctly perceived by many national political, environmental and labor leaders as undermining national sovereignty, sustainability and economic justice.

Why Both Labeling and Bans Are Necessary

Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products. However as the EU experience shows, labeling must eventually be comprehensive, with a requirement for meat, eggs and dairy products to be labeled if the animals have been fed GMO feed.

But food labeling alone cannot protect the environment, or non-GMO and organic farmers from GE drift and seed contamination. This is why county and regional bans on GMO cultivation and the creation of regional GMO-free zones are important. More than 80 percent of farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch said they were “concerned” about contamination, while 60 percent said they were “very concerned.” Farmers said a lax U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been excessively influenced by the biotech industry. 

The Food & Water Watch report comes just as the USDA has extended its public comment period on “coexistence”between GMO and non-GMO agriculture.

In the U.S. the largest food fight in history will soon intensify. Throwing gasoline on the fire, GE companies are arrogantly and foolhardily attempting to introduce genetically engineered fish, apples and “Agent Orange” (2,4 D) herbicide-resistant corn and soy on the market, just at the time when human health and environmental concerns are escalating. These new Frankenfoods and crops will survive in the marketplace only if there are no mandatory labeling laws and no legitimate safety testing. 

But this “no labels” scenario is unlikely to continue. State legislative battles in Vermont, Oregon, and other states will likely reach critical mass in 2014, forcing industry and the federal government to finally adopt EU-type regulations and practices on GMOs. Once labeling is in place (including labels on meat, fish dairy, and eggs) genetic engineering companies, led by Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF will have no choice but to abandon GMOs and gene-splicing, in favor of less controversial hybrid seed/cross-breeding practices (which do not require labels) such as “marker assisted breeding.”

If industry and government on the other hand dig in their heels, stomping on consumer, state, municipal and community rights, telling us to “shut up and eat your Frankenfoods,” America’s food revolution may turn into a full-scale rebellion. 

America’s organic consumers and natural health advocates invite you to join us in this decisive battle to drive GMOs off the market and make the great transition to healthy and sustainable food and farming. Click here to 
make a donation to this cause, the Food Fight of Our Lives.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.


GMOs in Kauai: Not Just Another Day in Paradise

Posted: Updated: 
Each year 1.3 million people reluctantly leave the small and spectacularly beautiful island of Kauai after vacations and visits. But there are 68,000 people on this planet who don't have to leave because they are lucky enough to call Kauai home.
Many Kauai locals have been outraged to discover that their island paradise is also home to a proliferating genetically engineered crop industry that is dousing the Garden Isle with extremely toxic chemical pesticides.
When students at Waimea Canyon Middle School complained of headaches, nausea, disorientation, itchy eyes, and dizziness, their families knew something was very wrong, and that the State wasn't doing much to help. They may not have realized a chemical pesticide, which was developed during World War II as a nerve gas, had drifted into the school from nearby crop fields. Between 2010 and 2012, the University of Hawaii tested air samples in and around the school and found this chemical -- chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient of many pesticides -- every time.
What's not surprising is that these pesticides are remarkably efficient at killing insects. On humans, they act by disrupting the body's transmission of nerve impulses, essentially driving the nervous system haywire. In addition to acute poisonings, peer-reviewed studies have linked low-level exposures of this chemical to birth defects such as small head circumference, stunted brain growth, autism, lower IQs, and memory problems in children. About a week ago, the peer-reviewed journal Lancet Neurologypublished a study that adds chlorpyrifos to a list of known developmental neurotoxins. Earthjustice went to court to force the Environmental Protection Agency to assess chlorpyrifos' health risks, and EPA has promised to respond imminently to our plea to ban this pesticide to protect kids from brain impairments and communities from poisonous drift.
According to the latest figures for pesticide use supplied by the chemical companies themselves as a part of their "Good Neighbor" policy, chlorpyrifos is the chemical that they use the most on their genetically engineered crops on Kauai. In the short period from mid-December 2013 to mid-January 2014 alone, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, and BASF Plant Science used a total of over 341 pounds of a chlorpyrifos pesticide, and Dow AgroSciences applied another 174 pounds of another pesticide containing chlorpyrifos. Data previously obtained from DuPont Pioneer showed that from 2007 to 2013, it applied chlorpyrifos pesticides to its fields on Kauai alone over 2,400 times -- on average, about once every single day. The frequency with which these companies spray their experimental and seed-production crops exceeds typical conventional farming pesticide use to an extraordinary degree.
The EPA is well aware of the dangers of chlorpyrifos to children. Because of the documented dangers, beginning in 2000, chlorpyrifos was cancelled for homeowner use inside the home and on lawns and gardens due to risks to children. But the EPA did not address the risks posed to children who live or go to school nearby fields where the chemical is sprayed. And chlorpyrifos is prone to drift, meaning Kaua'i's breezes easily carry this toxic, nasty stuff into the classrooms and homes of the island's children and their families. When that perfect Kaua'i sun warms the island air, thechemical evaporates off the genetically engineered crops and blows into the wind, wafting into schoolyards, playgrounds, and backyards, further increasing children's exposure.
For many on the island, this is an unacceptable reality that must not be tolerated. They knew they wanted to protect their island from this chemical warfare, even without hearing stories about schoolchildren being poisoned in Ventura, California or kids breathing in this pesticide's fumes in schoolyards in Washington's apple and grape growing regions. That's why the Kauai County Council last year passed an ordinance requiring modest buffer zones around schools, hospitals and homes, and disclosure so people can try to avoid exposure.
These chemical companies are now suing Kauai County for the right not only to keep spraying this and other pesticides near these sensitive areas, but to do so in secrecy. The law specifically requires the disclosure of pesticide and GE crops used on the island and establishes buffer zones around sensitive locations like schools and hospitals. The chemical industry's challenge to these common-sense safeguards is beyond shameful.
Speaking of shame, in 2003, Dow agreed to pay $2 million -- reportedly the largest penalty ever in a pesticide case -- to the state of New York, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General to end Dow's illegal advertising of one of its chlorpyrifos-containing pesticides as "safe."
To defend the interests of Kauai's residents who are at risk from the likes of these chemical corporate powers, Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, on behalf of community groups, have moved to intervene to defend the lawsuit. If we prevail in defending and upholding Kauai law, the island's children will be safer and healthier. And for many island parents -- like parents everywhere -- a healthy family is all the paradise they need.
This post originally appeared on Honolulu Civil Beat.

Friday, March 7, 2014



March 05, 2014

Community Passes Resolution Banning Neonicotinoids

(Beyond Pesticides, March 5, 2014) The City of Eugene, Oregon became the first community in the nation to specifically ban from city property the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have scientifically linked to the decline of honey bee colonies. The passage of the resolution came just one week after the Oregon state legislature passed a pollinator protection bill that removed language requiring the restriction of neonicotinoid pesticides, and includes instead a weaker requirement to set up a task force that will examine the possibility of future restrictions. In addition to neonicotinoid restrictions, the City’s resolution also expands Eugene’s pesticide-free parks program and now requires all departments to adopt integrated pest management (IPM) standards.

The Eugene City Council action was taken unanimously on February 26 with the passage of Council Resolution,  “Enhancing Current Integrated Pest Management in Parks,” Resolution 5101. The resolution also includes clear goals on children’s health, expands the current Parks and Open Space Division’s Pesticide-Free Parks program from 10 to potentially 40 parks, and requires IPM on all city property.

The resolution notes that “children and infants may be especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for several reasons: (a) their internal organs are still developing and maturing; (b) in relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water; and (c) certain behaviors, such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths, increase a child’s exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.” On neonicotinoids, the resolution refers to recent research suggesting a possible link between pesticides that contain neonicotinoids and the die-off of plant pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects.
In 2003, the City of Eugene adopted and implemented an ‘environmental policy’ cementing the City’s commitment to protecting, preserving, and restoring the natural environment. To that end, the City’s decision-making is to be guided by the goals of increasing environmental benefits and reducing or eliminating negative environmental impacts in all aspects of the City’s activities, while maintaining the City’s fiscal integrity and the community’s economic vitality.  Soon after in 2006, the City initiated a Pesticide-Free Parks Program to maintain City parks without the use of registered pesticides unless there is a threat to public health or safety. Currently, there are nine parks in the Pesticide-Free Parks Program, which include Awbrey Park, Berkeley Park, Brewer Park, Friendly Park, Gilbert Park, Rosetta Park, Scobert Gardens Park, Shadow Wood Park, and Washington Park.

One week before the new resolution was passed in Eugene, the Oregon Legislature passed a new law, HB 4139, requiring anyone applying for a pesticide license to take a course on pollinators and pesticides and pass the exam. HB 4139 also requires the Governor to establish a Task Force directed to continue the research on bee health and pesticides for legislative action in 2015. While the legislation fell short of the original bill that would have restricted the neonicotinoids; dinotefuranimidaclopridclothianidin andthiamethoxam, many advocates in Oregon see this as a step forward for bee protection considering the lack of action by the EPA and other states.
Several bee-kill incidents occurred in Oregon last summer, including one that killed more than 50,000 bumblebees after a licensed pesticide applicator sprayed blooming linden trees, a violation of the pesticide label. After a preliminary investigation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture confirmed that the massive bee die-off was caused by the use of the neonicotinoid insecticide, dinotefuran. But the incident only resulted in a small fine of under $3,000, just 6 cents per bee, infuriating beekeepers, environmentalists, and advocates, but spurring legislative action.

Like Eugene, there are other states and communities that have been trying to pass local policies relating specifically to neonicotinoids, bees and other pollinators. In California, beekeepers and local advocates are supporting a bill that would force the state of California to complete its evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides, years ahead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) review which is not scheduled to be completed before 2018. In Maryland, a bill containing language to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides was unfortunately recently withdrawn, after an “unfavorable report” by the environmental committee. In New York and New Jersey language has been drafted in the state legislature to restrict neonicotinoids in various ways.
Meanwhile in Congress, The Saving America’s Pollinator Act, H.R 2692, introduced by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D- OR), is gaining bipartisan support in the House. The bill seeks to suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until a full review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators. The bill has been endorsed by several environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and others.

Join us in Portland, Oregon to hear Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Portland), who introduced HB 4139, the Save Oregon Pollinators Act, discuss the future of legislative efforts in the state surrounding pollinators, at Beyond Pesticides’ 32nd National Pesticide Forum, Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, pollinators and practices, April 11-12, 2013, Portland State University, Portland, OR. This years’ forum will focus on solutions to the decline of pollinators and other beneficials; strengthening the organic food production system; regulating and right-to-know genetically engineered food; improving farmworker protection and agricultural justice; and creating healthy buildings, schools and homes.

Source: Beyond Toxics
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


USDA is 'Endangering the Lives of Millions of Americans'

US plans to speed poultry slaughtering, cut inspections

by Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is in the final stages of weighing approval for an overhaul of regulations governing the country’s poultry industry that would see processing speeds increase substantially even while responsibility for oversight would be largely given over to plant employees.
The proposed rule would see top chicken-processing speeds increased from the current 140 per minute to as high as 175. The rule would also decrease the number of federal inspectors assigned to processing plants by 75 percent, leaving the slack to be picked up by company employees. In addition, chemicals like chlorine and others will now be used with more frequency as a way to "cleanse" the birds of pathogens. (Credit: Food Safety News)The plan, which was originally floated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) two years ago, is currently slated to be finalised by regulators next month. Yet opposition has been heating up from lawmakers as well as labour, public health and consumer advocacy groups.
On Thursday, over 100 such groups and businesses delivered a letter, along with nearly 220,000 petitions, to President Barack Obama, asking that the proposal be withdrawn.
“The proposed rule puts company employees in the role of protecting consumer safety, but does not require them to receive any training before performing duties normally performed by government inspectors,” the letter states.
“And lack of training is not the only impact this rule will have on workers. Increased [production] speeds will put worker safety in jeopardy … This proposed rule would let the fox guard the hen house, at the expense of worker safety and consumer protection.”
The proposed rule would see top chicken-processing speeds increased from the current 140 per minute to as high as 175. The rule would also decrease the number of federal inspectors assigned to processing plants by 75 percent, leaving the slack to be picked up by company employees.
The poultry industry has reportedly been pushing for these changes for decades. In return, the government would require that processors bathe each chicken carcass in chlorine and other chemicals, aimed at killing any pathogens that remain on the bird.
Last week, Bennie G. Thompson, a member of Congress, warned that the USDA is “unnecessarily endangering the lives of millions of Americans”.
Weak data
Federal pilot projects have been testing the new approach since the late 1990s. Yet critics warn that the results have been far less clear-cut than either the government or the industry has suggested.
“We did a snapshot analysis of how many defects employees were missing at these pilot plants, and found there was no consistency,” Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group, told IPS.
“In one turkey plant, for instance, there was a 99 percent error rate for one inspection category. We became concerned that the USDA was moving forward too fast with this change.”
The federal government’s official watchdog agency has formally corroborated this conclusion.
“The industry says there’s no safety problem, but they’re in denial." —Tom Fritzsche
The USDA “has not thoroughly evaluated the performance of each of the pilot projects over time,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in a report published in August, the second time it had come out with such findings.
“GAO identified weaknesses including that training of plant personnel assuming sorting responsibilities on the slaughter line is not required or standardized and that faster line speeds allowed under the pilot projects raise concerns about food safety and worker safety.”
In response to the report, the poultry industry noted that the USDA had already updated its analyses in support of the new rule, and that the sector’s safety record is not linked to processing speeds.
“Over the past 14 years of this pilot program there has been no evidence to substantiate the assertion that increased line speeds will increase injuries,” Ashley Peterson, a vice-president with the National Chicken Council (NCC), a trade group, said in a statement.
“It is not in a poultry company’s best interests to operate at speeds that would harm its workers, and common sense tells you it is not in a company’s best interest to operate at speeds that cannot produce safe and high quality poultry products.”
(The NCC has published responses to criticisms of the proposed regulatory changeshere.)
For the moment, the Obama administration appears set on pushing through the new rule, characterising it as a cost-cutting measure.
Under the president’s new budget proposal, released earlier this week, the USDA’s inspections funding would be cut by nearly 10 million dollars, despite the fact that no rule has yet been finalised. Earlier, the federal savings have been estimated even higher – some 90 million dollars over three years.
“The 2015 budget recognises fiscal realities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday. “Our leaner workforce continues to find ways to implement increasingly complex programs with fewer resources.”
For major poultry companies, meanwhile, speeding up processing speeds would save more than 250 million dollars a year.
“Most vulnerable” workers
Beyond public health, there are significant civil rights concerns surrounding the new poultry regulations proposal, as well. Last week, a national coalition of groups representing minority and poor workers briefed lawmakers here on concerns that the new rules would exacerbate existing labour problems.
“This proposal has us very concerned, as there are already pending requests with the regulators to require a reduction in these work speeds,” Tom Fritzsche, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog group, told IPS.
“The health consequences for workers are already very severe, and the concern is that those injury rates are going to go way up. We’re joining other groups in asking whether the same hazards would be so prevalent if the poultry workforce were not made up mostly of women of colour."
Last year, Fritzsche authored a study on poultry workers in the state of Alabama, three-fourths of whom said they had experienced injury or illness due to their work. Three-quarters also said that the speed of the processing line made their job more dangerous, in addition to broader allegations of egregious safeguards.
Workers “describe what one called a climate of fear within these plants,” the report states. “[E]mployees are fired for work-related injuries or even for seeking medical treatment from someone other than the company nurse or doctor … they describe being discouraged from reporting work-related injuries.”
The report calls poultry workers “among the most vulnerable” in the United States.
“The industry says there’s no safety problem, but they’re in denial. There is a huge and well-documented undercounting in employer-reported data,” Fritzsche says.
“Workers are repeating the exact same motion between 22,000 and 100,000 times per shift, and can develop some permanent disabilities from these repetitive motions. One study out of South Carolina found that 42 percent of workers had carpal tunnel syndrome – that’s astronomically high, and far higher than the industry ever likes to quote.”