Full list: Agriculture in the News

Burlington Free Press: Sorrell argues GMO lawsuit should be dismissed

November 17, 2014
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Attorney General William Sorrell is bolstering his argument in federal court to dismiss a lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law by offering testimony from experts including Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s.

Greenfield says Vermont’s labeling law would not be overly burdensome on industry, as plaintiff the Grocery Manufacturers Association has claimed.

Sorrell originally filed a motion to dismiss in August after the association filed its lawsuit in June together with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. The industry trade group argues that Act 120, as the Vermont law is known, violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling manufacturers to “convey messages they do not want to convey,” among other arguments.

The state’s filing, made Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, augments Vermont’s original arguments in the motion to dismiss, including that states have “traditionally acted to protect consumers by regulating foods produced and/or marketed within their borders.”

“We have this opportunity to respond again, so we respond now with the perspectives of experts on different issues that are important, and addressing the fact that it’s not too burdensome,” Sorrell said.

The law requiring labeling of genetically engineered food sold in Vermont goes into effect July 1, 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Association called that deadline “difficult, if not impossible” to meet, saying its members must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages.

Vermont would become the first state to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, a fact noted by singer Neil Young in a widely read blog post calling for a boycott against coffee company Starbucks.

Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which Young refers to as a “shadowy” group that Starbucks is hiding behind to support the lawsuit.

Starbucks denied Young’s charges, made over the weekend, in a terse statement, saying the company “is not part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign.”

“Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling,” the company said. “As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.”

Companies much closer to home also are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, including Keurig Green Mountain (formerly Green Mountain Coffee) and Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s.

Ben & Jerry’s supports mandatory GMO labeling and began removing GMOs from its ice cream last summer. The company did not respond to a request late Monday afternoon to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit.

Keurig spokeswoman Sandy Yusen said: “We won’t speak specifically to pending legal matters except to clarify that Green Mountain Coffee is not directly funding or involved in the lawsuit, despite what some have said or implied.”

Yusen said that like many organizations, Keurig is working to understand the complexities associated with the role of GMOs in global food systems, “including challenges related to labeling, the heart of the situation in Vermont.”

She said Green Mountain Coffee beans are GMO-free.

Attorney General Sorrell said Monday he expects U.S. District Court to schedule oral arguments concerning the state’s motion to dismiss sometime in December, or no later than the beginning of the new year.

“Let’s get on with the litigation, make a decision on the motion to dismiss, then we’ll see where we stand,” Sorrell said.

VT Digger: State rejects petition for new agricultural regulations

John Herrick
Nov. 18 2014
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The Vermont Agency of Agriculture will not require certain farms in the Missisquoi Bay basin to implement agricultural practices designed to improve water quality in Lake Champlain.

Chuck Ross, the secretary of the agency, rejected a petition from an environmental law firm calling on the state to enforce new best management practices to curb manure runoff from farms in the region.

Manure and fertilizer runoff from farms is the leading cause of phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain, according to the state. The nutrients cause toxic algae blooms that have become more frequent during the summer months in St. Albans Bay and Missisquoi Bay, and were blamed for a fish die-off in 2012.

The Conservation Law Foundation petitioned the state to enforce agricultural best management practices, or BMPs, that require farmers to plant cover crops and buffer areas, keep livestock away from waterways and contain manure on farms.

Many farmers support taking responsibility to improve water quality, but they fear the regulations would be too onerous without state financial assistance.

The new BMPs could reduce phosphorus runoff in Missisquoi Bay, but he said the petition may be premature because the state is adopting new agricultural standards as part of its plan to restore Lake Champlain’s water quality.

Under the lake cleanup program, the state will adopt new Accepted Agricultural Practices, which are designed to prevent water pollution from farms. The updates include creating minimum 25-foot vegetated buffers along streams, 10-foot buffers along ditches, additional livestock exclusion requirements in areas where erosion is frequent and a small-farm certification process.

Ross said the state does not have the resources to help farmers comply with the new BMPs. State law requires the agency to provide farmers with financial assistance.

The Agency of Agriculture will continue to accelerate compliance and enforcement activities in the Missisquoi Bay basin, he said. The state hired a small-farm inspector in November of last year who has already inspected 175 small farms in Franklin County, according to the agency.

The agencies of Agriculture and Natural Resources teamed up to begin inspecting farms in Franklin County this fall. The state has inspected 247 farms in the region, up from 211 in 2013, according to a report by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

Democracy Now: Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder on Knowing Your GMOs: Changing a Label Costs “Essentially Nothing”

Full Transcript

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, discusses the company’s campaign for a successful genetically modified food labeling measure in its home state of Vermont, as well as one in Oregon that ultimately failed to pass on Tuesday. “We are really proud of the ingredients we use,” Greenfield says. “It is just so hard to imagine that other food companies wouldn’t want to tell consumers what is in their food.” Ben & Jerry’s plans to complete its transition to all non-GMO ingredients by the end of the year. “That transition to all non-GMO ingredients is not going to raise the cost of a pint at all to a consumer. So it can be done.”

Times Argus: Real local control

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Every spring as town meeting rolls around, we hear renewed talk about “local control” — usually related to schools, roads, or mandates from Montpelier.

But so many of us don’t give a second thought to the one area where we can and should exercise far more local control: our food. In recent years we have seen a burgeoning of farmers markets, community-supported agriculture groups (CSAs), and local co-ops. Several towns now have year-round farmers markets.

This is a huge step toward real local control — building local food systems through awareness and knowledge about the food we eat everyday. It seems logical that we would want to know what we can about our food and have free access to local, fresh, healthy food. But it ain’t necessarily so. We have unfettered access to Cheez Whiz, even unaccompanied minors can buy it, but wait — we were talking about food.

The other day I bought a box of Wheat Chex, a reliable, unassuming little cereal. The nutrition label gives me quite a lot of information, including the ingredients, but what do I really know? Wheat Chex contains whole grain wheat. Good, but where was it grown? In the United States? Canada? China? Is it genetically modified? Probably. What about the sugar? Where was that grown and produced?

By contrast I can go to the farmers market and talk to the farmer who will tell me more than I ever wanted to know about that bunch of carrots or the life and death of the pork sausage I’m eying. I can pick up a gallon of raw (unpasteurized) milk from the farm down the road. But they tell me to put it back down; I can’t buy it after all.

It turns out that not all fresh local food is created equal, and raw milk is one such product. Only in recent years has it been legal to sell raw milk at all, largely thanks to the efforts of Rural Vermont (www.ruralvermont.org), and then only under tight constraints including a limit of 25 quarts per day, and only on the farm.

This year regulations were relaxed somewhat but are still onerous. Farmers can now bring milk to market, but I still can’t buy it until I have actually visited the farm in person, no virtual tours allowed, presumably so I can inspect the milking parlor myself. I can’t recall the last time that Price Chopper offered me that opportunity, or demanded it, or could even tell me what farm its milk came from. It also turns out that Tier II raw milk producers are required to have their milk tested twice as often as commercial dairies.

These rules, hurdles really, have their origin in some valid but outdated concerns, carried over from the days when small hill farms didn’t even have electricity, let alone hot water, sanitizers, and effective test kits. One hundred years ago bad milk was not uncommon. Things have changed since then, including that farmers are now very knowledgeable about microbes and sanitation.

The bottom line is that our farms are struggling. A Vermont farm with 60 milkers, or even 200, just cannot compete on a cost-per-hundredweight basis with a Midwestern farm milking 5,000 head. We should support healthy new products from our farms, even if that new product is actually a reiteration of what our Vermont farms have been producing for over 200 years.

So this winter check out the work of Rural Vermont, visit your local raw milk producer (inspect the milk parlor if you want to), and raise a cold glass of fresh raw milk to local control.

Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is an educator and is representative-elect to the Vermont House for the Rutland-Bennington district. He can be reached at talisman@vermontel.net.

VT Digger: Vermont food producers prepare for GMO labeling

John Herrick
Nov. 9 2014
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Ed and Lea Arnold of Lyndonville started giving peanut brittle to family and friends as a Christmas presents four years ago. Now, they sell a range of Vermont Peanut Brittle products at farmers markets, festivals and several stores.

Under a new Vermont law, the Arnolds will likely be required to place a label on their old-fashioned confection that says, “Produced With Genetic Engineering.”
Some products contain a voluntary label indicating they were produced without GMOs.

That’s because the family company uses Karo Light corn syrup to make the candy. Processed ingredients like corn syrup are often made with genetically engineered crops, and under a new Vermont law that fact must be disclosed.

“It seems like corn is the problem child of all of it. There’s barely any corn now that is not GMO,” Lea Arnold said.

Vermont is the first state in the nation to make GMO labeling mandatory for food manufacturers and retailers. The state is now seeking comments on a set of proposed rules that are to be finalized by July 2015. Food purveyors must label certain products containing genetically engineered ingredients sold after July 1, 2016.

The Arnolds and other specialty food manufacturers gathered at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier on Thursday to hear a presentation by the Vermont Attorney General’s office on the proposed GMO labeling rules.

If manufacturers choose not to label their products, they will have to prove their products are GMO-free by either obtaining sworn statements from suppliers or by hiring a third party to verify the supply chain, under the proposed rules.

Some manufacturers already verify that ingredients are not genetically engineered so they can label their products as non-GMO.

“It’s another way of having product differentiation,” said Jack Gilbert, founder of Manchester-based Southwestern Bar and Grill, who also attended the presentation.

Five years ago, Gilbert launched an “all natural” chip, salsa and hot sauce company called Gringo Jack’s. He is in the process of certifying the products as non-GMO certified. It will cost the company about $4,000 to verify that the 23 products in his lineup do not contain GMO ingredients.

“You have to go though ingredient by ingredient,” Gilbert said. “You need to go back not only to the distributor of it to you, but sometimes further back to the main source, which on some things can be daunting. Where did your pepper come from? Where does you cinnamon come from?”

Some producers say the law should have gone further to require dairy and meat products to be labeled if the animal consumes genetically engineered feed. Dairy and meat products are exempt under the law.

“I don’t know enough about the health issues of the whole thing, but it is an environmental issue for a lot of people,” said Cheryl DeVos, co-owner of Kimball Brook Farm in North Ferrisburgh.

DeVos said her 200-cow dairy farm is certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. She said consumers who oppose genetic engineering would like to know that their dairy products did not come from animals who consumed feed containing GMOs.

She said NOFA-VT checks her feed records at least once per year.

“They’re checking our records, seeing where we’re buying out feed from, then they are going to those companies and checking where they are buying their feed from,” she said.

The Arnolds are not concerned that the labeling law will affect their business.

“A real health nut isn’t going to buy our product anyways,” Ed Arnold said. “I mean, it’s made with sugar. It’s more of a treat.”

WCAX: Debate continues over safety of drinking raw milk

Nov 10, 2014
By Judy Simpson
Full Article & Video


The latest warning about the health risks associated with drinking raw milk comes from a somewhat surprising source, The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association.

“We have some concerns for a number of reasons,” said Eileen Wolfe, Orleans Veterinary Service, Inc.

Wolfe is a Veterinarian from the Northeast Kingdom. She thinks drinking raw milk, milk that is not pasteurized, is taking an unnecessary risk.

According to state law, the retail sale of raw milk is not allowed. But sales on farms, or through delivery direct from farm to consumer for personal consumption is allowed.

“It’s interesting because I have a farm stand with lots of other products, but people are really interested in the raw milk,” said Kalyn Campbell, Family Cow Farmstand.

Campbell bought this farm about a year ago from a farmer who had produced raw milk for about four years.

The Family Cow Farmstand produces small amounts of raw milk. They have about 200 customers and one of the customers told me the reason why she buys raw milk is because of her personal relationship with the farmer.

Maggie Donin, a raw milk drinker for years, says it has never made her sick, and she is not worried about the safety of that milk.

“I think for me the most important thing is to be able to come to the farm and know the farmer a friend of mine or a family member of mine something like that and be able to just see the cows producing the milk and see the land they are grazing on and the barn that they are milked in that makes me…that makes me feel a lot more comfortable than the milk I would buy in the store where I have no clue where it has been,” said Maggie Donin, raw milk drinker.

All milk producers are required to have their milk tested in a USDA approved lab, twice a month.

“And you know every dairy farm tests their milk because nobody wants milk that is not safe, so every dairy farm tests their milk. Ours is tested at a stronger, a higher standard than most milk and there is more penalties if you have a bad test…no I have never had a bad test,” said Campbell.

Still the VVMA says, why risk it?

It is state law that farms doing direct milk sales post signage informing the public of potential health risks, which the state says allows consumers to make the choice on whether or not to drink raw milk.

Rutland Herald: Harvest Watch: Milk is now available at winter farmers markets

November 04, 2014
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For years people living in Rutland have had to drive as far as Castleton or Tinmouth to buy their milk. Why? If a person wanted to follow family tradition and/or had a preference for farm fresh (raw and unpasteurized) milk — the only legal way they could get that milk was to go to a farm that sold it.

Over the past decade, the state of Vermont has undergone a major shift in how it regulates the sale of raw milk. Previous to now, sales have been hampered in part by rules that were outdated and restricted of farm sales and deliveries. But thanks to advocacy groups such as Rural Vermont, things have started to change.

New legislation that went into effect on July 1, 2014, now allows people to get farm fresh milk at farmers markets. There are a few tricks/small hoops to jump through along the way. But the convenience provided by this service will be a big improvement for those who once trekked out to a farm to pick it up directly.

Here’s how it works. A person interested in purchasing milk for pickup at a farmers market will need to pay a visit to the farm from which they intend to purchase. Customers then need to pre-order the milk for pickup at the market — no buying on the spot. These two requirements satisfy the state’s intent that a purchaser of raw milk be fully informed about the conditions of the farm from which they are purchasing the milk. The reason for this “precaution” is that for every person who swears by the high nutrition content and quality of farm fresh milk, another person is convinced that unpasteurized milk is potentially harmful. The legislation has strived to find a balance between these opposing viewpoints.

Currently, thanks to Larson Farm in Wells, customers can get their milk at Rutland’s Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays or Dorset’s Winter Farmers Market on Sundays. Larson Farm, run by Cynthia and Rich Larson, is a family- operated farm with a small herd of Jersey dairy cows. A visitor will find a well-kept barn powered by solar panels and a clear concern for keeping the milk clean and delicious. Aside from the stunning views on their property, customers will also find a variety of other farm fresh products such as eggs and meat available.

“The new law pushed forward by Rural Vermont is a major move toward more consumer choice,” Rich Larson said. “Our raw milk is nutritious and delicious with all the good enzymes that assist in digestion. Informed, health-conscious people are catching on to the benefits of unpasteurized milk, and now it is much more convenient to pick it up at the local farmers market.”

The couple, as well as their daughter Mercy, are passionate about bringing a high-quality product to customers. They will be personally attending the markets, meeting their customers, and sharing information about their farm.

Our family lives within a 15-minute drive of this farm, so we’ve been enjoying their milk for years. Our kids drink it regularly (and that of Thomas Dairy, which we also buy, and I enjoy it in my morning coffee on a daily basis.

I already buy 2 gallons a week, but I may need to start getting more. After attending the Fermentation Festival that Rutland Area Farm and Food Link co-sponsored this past weekend, I now have a simple recipe for making yogurt that was shared by Leslie Silver and Michael Beattie who have been making yogurt at their home for years. They made it seem so easy. I can’t wait to give it a try!

CBS St. Louis: Process to Produce Hemp Oil in Mo. for Medicinal Purposes has Begun

Fred Bodimer
November 3, 2014
Full Article

UIS (KMOX) – Today kicks off a 30-day period when the Missouri Department of Agriculture will accept applications to produce hemp extract in the state.

Only two contracts will be awarded.

“Non-profit organizations are the applicants that are eligible to receive one of up to two licenses for production of hemp,” says Sarah Alsager with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

“The only use that this new rule will allow use of hemp for is for the purpose of producing cannabis oil for the treatment of intractable epilepsy,” she says, or those with severe, persistent seizures.

The state health department estimates about 1,000 people will eventually apply to use the treatment.

Beef Magazine: USDA Eases Into Enforcement Of Animal Disease Traceability Rule

Burt Rutherford
Full Article

While the long and often controversial effort to develop a national animal identification (ID) system may not be completely finalized yet, complying with animal ID and movement regulations is now the law of the land.

And it has been for a while. U.S. cattle producers and their veterinarians have been working under USDA’s Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) rule for the past 18 months. However, USDA and state animal health officials have been emphasizing education and cooperation rather than enforcement in an effort to achieve compliance with the ADT rule, according to Chelsea Good, Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) vice president of government and industry affairs.

Speaking during a webinar sponsored by GlobalVetLINK, Good says the ADT rule became effective on March 11, 2013. For the first year the rule was in place, USDA and state animal health officials concentrated on education, explaining the requirements and nuances of the rule to cattle producers. In March 2014, USDA announced it would begin phase 2 of implementing the rule, which includes enforcement.

However, Good says USDA doesn’t intend to take a heavy-handed approach to enforcing the rule. “But they are going to pursue penalties in situations where an individual is repeatedly failing to comply with ADT requirements, despite receiving education and opportunities to come into compliance.”

Good says quite a few letters of information have been sent to producers regarding compliance with the ADT rule and LMA is beginning to hear about some investigations as the first cases of enforcement come to light. “But in terms of actual case numbers, we’re pretty low at this point,” she adds.

For cattle producers, the biggest area of compliance is moving sexually intact cattle 18 months of age or older across state lines. The rule does not apply to cattle moved in-state, she says, nor does it apply to feeder cattle. USDA plans to address rules for feeder cattle movement in a separate regulation to be published later, she says.

Cattle that fall under the rule must be identified and have an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI), commonly called a health certificate. However, the ADT rule gives states quite a bit of flexibility on what can be considered an official ID and official paperwork, so check with your local veterinarian and your state veterinarian’s office for specifics.

According to Good, USDA has outlined three enforcement priorities. “First, the cattle that are required to be officially identified are, in fact, identified; second, that ICVIs or health certificates are properly administered; and third, that the collection of ID is happening at packing houses.”

Given the flexibility that states have in implementing the ADT rule, Good says developing a resource, such as a smartphone app, as a one-stop information source for all state and federal requirements is important. The United States Animal Health Association and the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, along with state animal health officials, are pursuing such a resource, she says.

In addition, at least one private company, GlobalVetLINK, has a beta version of an electronic certificate of veterinary inspection in the works, along with state-by-state information regarding cattle movement and import regulations. Kaylen Henry with GlobalVetLINK hopes a final version will be available to veterinarians by the end of the year.

NPR: Colorado, Oregon Reject GMO Labeling

November 05, 2014
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An effort to label genetically modified foods in Colorado failed to garner enough support Tuesday. It’s the latest of several state-based GMO labeling ballot measures to fail. UPDATE: A similar measure in Oregon was also defeated by a narrow margin.

Voters in Colorado resoundingly rejected the labeling of foods that contain the derivatives of genetically modified – or GMO – crops, with 66 percent voting against, versus 34 percent in favor.

In Oregon the outcome was closer, with fewer than 51 percent voting against the measure. Political ad spending in Oregon was more competitive than in Colorado, where labeling opponents outspent proponents by millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a proposal in Maui County, Hawaii, skipped the labeling debate altogether. Voters there narrowly approved a moratorium on GMO crop cultivation. The state has been a battleground between biotech firms and food activists. Some Hawaiian farmers grow a variety of papaya genetically engineered to resist a plant virus.

Colorado’s Proposition 105 would’ve required food companies to label packaged foods with the text “produced with genetic engineering.” Oregon’s Measure 92 says food labels would need to include the words “genetically engineered.” Many processed foods contain soybean oil, corn syrup, refined sugar and cottonseed oil. Those oils and syrups are often derived from GMO crops that farmers have adopted over the last 18 years. Few whole foods, like the ones you see in the produce aisle, are genetically engineered, though some GE varieties of sweet corn, squash and papaya are approved for sale in the U.S.

The failed measures in Colorado and Oregon follow a nationwide trend. Similar ballot questions in California and Washington state were rejected in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This summer, Vermont’s governor signed the nation’s first GMO labeling requirement into law. It’s supposed to take effect in 2016, but a coalition of biotech firms and farmer groups have filed suit to prevent that from happening.

Groups opposed to GMO labeling poured big money into efforts to quash the ballot measures, spending more than $15 million in Colorado alone. In Oregon, opponents of labeling raised more than $18 million, making the ballot measure the most expensive issue campaign in the state’s history. Most of that money came from large seed corporations like Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, and from processed food companies like Pepsi, Land O’ Lakes and Smucker’s. All of that outside money opened labeling opponents up to criticism of being tied to corporate interests.

Supporters of GMO labeling efforts took issue with opponents’ claims that the measure would result in the cost of food going up and increase the burden on farmers. Despite Tuesday’s loss at the ballot box, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the national Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling efforts, saw a silver lining in the outcome.

“Despite an aggressive and deceptive anti-consumer campaign, hundreds of thousands of Colorado voters spoke up in favor of GE food labeling,” Kimbrell said in a statement.

Even with a down vote in Colorado, don’t expect a dramatic shift in the debate around genetically modified crops.

Labeling proponents say the elections have been bought, not just in Colorado but in California and Washington state as well, and vow to keep trying. Earlier this year, the Grocery Manufacturers Association – which includes members like Kraft and Pepsi — proposed its own voluntary national labeling standard, but that effort has yet to gain any significant traction at the federal level.