Author Archives: Mollie

New York Times: Strong Support for Labeling Modified Foods

By ALLISON KOPICKI
July 27, 2013
Full Article

Americans overwhelmingly support labeling foods that have been genetically modified or engineered, according to a New York Times poll conducted this year, with 93 percent of respondents saying that foods containing such ingredients should be identified.

Three-quarters of Americans expressed concern about genetically modified organisms in their food, with most of them worried about the effects on people’s health.

Thirty-seven percent of those worried about G.M.O.’s said they feared that such foods cause cancer or allergies, although scientific studies continue to show that there is no added risk.

Among those with concerns, 26 percent said these foods are not safe to eat, or are toxic, while 13 percent were worried about environmental problems that they fear might be caused by genetic engineering.

Nearly half of Americans said they were aware that a large amount of the processed or packaged foods they now buy at the grocery store contains genetically modified ingredients. And although just a handful of G.M.O. crops are on the market, about 4 in 10 respondents said they thought that most or a lot of their fruits and vegetables were genetically modified.

Americans were almost equally divided about eating genetically modified vegetables, fruits and grains, with about half saying they would not eat them.

They were even less comfortable about eating meat from genetically engineered animals: three-quarters said they would not eat G.M.O. fish, and about two-thirds said they would not eat meat that had been modified.

The national telephone poll was conducted from Jan. 24 to 27 with 1,052 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.


Capital Ag Press: Money pours into GMO labeling initiative

7/29/13
By STEVE BROWN
Full Article

With a little more than three months remaining before Election Day, supporters of a law requiring the labeling of some genetically modified foods have raised $2.3 million for their campaign.

Opponents of Initiative 522 have raised almost $1 million to defeat the measure.

“I know that ultimately we will be outspent,” Elizabeth Larter, communications director of Yes on 522, said. “In California, money on the ‘no’ side came in later.”

In California’s Proposition 37, which voters rejected in 2012, opponents raised about $44 million while proponents of GMO labeling raised $7.3 million.

The biggest contribution to Washington’s Yes on 522 campaign, $700,000, came from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a California-based manufacturer of certified organic soaps and personal care products.

Washington-based contributors include the Organic Consumer Fund, Nature’s Path Foods and PCC Natural Markets.

“As of the end of July, 80 percent of our donors are from Washington state,” Larter said. “There are lots of $5, $10 and $20 donations. It shows that Washingtonians really care about this issue. They’re really embracing the message of more transparency.”

Contributors to Yes on 522 number in the hundreds, she said.

Nearly all the support for No on 522 has come from five major contributors, all of them from out of state. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has given $472,500, followed by Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Bayer Cropscience and Dow Agrosciences.

Brad Harwood, media coordinator for No on 522, said some people have criticized the out-of-state contributions, but the Washington coalition welcomes all the resources that become available.

“We’re about as grass-roots as they come,” he said. “The coalition includes the Washington State Farm Bureau, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Association of Washington Business and the Northwest Grocery Association.”

On the ballot

The official ballot text reads:

Initiative Measure No. 522 concerns labeling of genetically-engineered foods. This measure would require most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale.

If voters approve the initiative, the law will go into effect July 1, 2015.


Iowa Farmer Today: Proposed regs threaten local food

By Wes King

Agriculture in the United States faces a significant and potentially devastating threat from sweeping new federal food-safety regulations.

As consumer demand for locally grown produce grows and the economic and public health benefits of local food systems stack up around the country, these new proposed food-safety regulations could bring all that to a screeching halt.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that, by the agency’s own analysis, could reverse the trend of new and beginning farmers entering the industry and force many existing farms and food businesses out of operation.

Consequently, these rules could reduce the supply of fresh, nutritious, local produce and increase our nation’s dependence on imported food.

The proposed produce rule establishes new burdensome regulatory standards that govern production practices on farms that produce fresh food for people, such as how they manage things like water and recordkeeping.

In the analysis accompanying the proposed rule, the new rules are estimated to cost the domestic produce industry about $460 million annually.

The rules, available for public comment in the Federal Register until Sept. 16, are estimated to cost farmers:

=Very small farm, $25,000-$250,000 in sales, about $4,700 per year

=Small farm, $250,000-$500,000 in sales, about $13,000 per year

=Large farm, more than $500,000 in sales, about $30,500 per year

For many farmers who are currently growing produce and for beginning farmers who are interested in growing produce for local direct or wholesale markets, the cost of compliance will be too steep.

The FDA’s analysis says “the rate of entry of very small and small [farm] businesses will decrease” as a result of the produce rules.

Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a recent speech the FSMA rules have the potential to “destroy some operations.”

A bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators, in a May 28 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, noted rising consumer demand for organic and locally produced farm goods has led to increased economic opportunity, often aided by substantial public investments in infrastructure.

The letter noted “the proposed FSMA rules threaten to undermine those investments.”

In passing the FSMA, Congress included many provisions intended to protect local food production and distribution from inappropriate and costly regulations.

Congress included directives for modified risk and scale appropriate requirements for farms and entrepreneurs with short supply chains and sales below $500,000.

The $500,000 sales threshold, however, applies to all food produced by the farm, not just the fresh produce that is regulated by FSMA. Corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs and eggs sold by a farm all count towards this threshold.

This means if a farm with 500 acres of field corn and around $500,000 in annual sales also has a few acres planted in mixed vegetables to sell at a local farmers market or plants a field of pumpkins for an October farm stand, those few acres would be covered by the full produce rule even if their total sales only amounted to $50,000 or less.

This would subject farmers to thousands of dollars in annual compliance costs — even if the majority of their crop (field corn) isn’t subject to the new rules.

Please submit your comments by Sept. 16 at www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/04/26/2013-09761/standards-for-the-growing-harvesting-packing-and-holding-of-produce-for-human-consumption-extension.

To learn more about the FSMA and the potential effects of the proposed produce rule, the federal comment period and what you can do to protect diversified family farms and local food visit: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/.


Miami New Times: How Monsanto Is Terrifying the Farming World

By Chris Parker
Thursday, Jul 25 2013
Full Article

Percy Schmeiser was a farmer. Shortly after the Monsanto company introduced genetically modified (GM) canola plants to Canada, Percy Schmeiser was a farmer facing a lawsuit.

After hearing that GM crops could potentially increase yields, three farmers in Schmeiser’s region planted fields of Monsanto’s seed. Winds pushed pollen from GM canola into Schmeiser’s fields, and the plants cross-pollinated. The breed he had been cultivating for 50 years was now contaminated by Monsanto’s GM canola.

Did Monsanto apologize? No. It sued Schmeiser for patent infringement — first charging the farmer per acre of contamination, then slapping him with another suit for $1 million and attempting to seize his land and farming equipment. After a seven-year battle, the Canadian Supreme Court eventually ruled against him but let him keep his farm and his $1 million. He was one of the lucky ones.

Schmeiser’s case illustrates how Monsanto is dominating — and terrifying — the agricultural world with secretive technologies, strong-arm tactics, and government approval. According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has filed at least 142 similar lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its patents or abuse of its technology agreement. The company has won 72 judgments totaling almost $24 million.

Agriculture is a big industry in Florida. About $130 billion-per-year big, the second-largest industry behind tourism. Statewide, 9 million acres of farmland are divided into more than 47,500 commercial farms. In fact, Palm Beach County is the largest agricultural county east of the Mississippi River.

According to the USDA, 95,000 acres of corn, 125,000 acres of upland cotton, and 25,000 acres of soybeans have been planted in the state in 2013. With Food and Water Watch warning that nationally, 90 to 93 percent of such crops are genetically modified, Floridians have cause to know what’s lurking up the food chain.


A Biotech Revolution

When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto’s specialty is killing stuff.

In the early years, the St. Louis biotech giant helped pioneer such leading chemicals as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs had a tendency to harm humans too.

When lawsuits piled up, putting a crimp in long-term profitability, Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. It would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.

This mission started in the mid-’90s, when the company began developing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat (much of it used for livestock feed). Monsanto bred crops that were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their fields with chemicals. The weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Problem solved.

Monsanto put a wonderful spin on this development: The so-called “No-Till Revolution” promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world.

But there was a dark side. First, farmers grew dependent on Monsanto, having to buy new seed every year, along with Monsanto’s pesticides. The effects on human health were largely unknown — would it harm people to consume foods whose genetic profile had suddenly changed after millions of years? Or to eat the animals that had consumed those plants? What about ripple effects on ecosystems?

But agriculture had placed the belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.

Monsanto squeezed out competitors by buying the biggest seed companies, spending $12 billion on the splurge. The company bought up the best shelf space and distribution channels. Its braying of global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.

Seed prices began to soar. Since 1996, the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.

Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto drove prices through the roof — taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Dr. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers’ income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.

Still, Monsanto was doing its best to make them play along. It offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to selling mostly Monsanto products. These same contracts brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival. U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto’s expanding power.

“They’re a pesticide company that’s bought up seed firms,” says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety. “Businesswise, it’s a beautiful, really smart strategy. It’s just awful for agriculture and the environment.”

Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America’s crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide. The company makes nearly $8 billion per year.

“If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector… and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society’s real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them,” says Benbrook.


Seeds of Destruction

It didn’t used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way at public universities. The results were shared publicly.

“It was done in a completely open-sourced way,” says Benbrook. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sort of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.”

The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains — with the exception that farmers could replant the seeds if they chose and patented varieties must be provided to researchers.

But that wasn’t enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 that allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it did the opposite, encouraging market concentration.

Monsanto, which declined an interview request for this article, would soon gobble up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as non-GM brands.

Syngenta and DuPont both sued, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a “scorched earth campaign.” But instead of bringing reform, the chemical giants reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products. (Some DuPont suits still drag on today.)

It wasn’t until 2009 that the Justice Department, working in concert with several state attorneys general, began investigating the company for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case. (They also ignored interview requests for this article.)

Dr. Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said some states were interested in pursuing the case and “some of the staff in the antitrust division wanted to do something, but top management — you say the word ‘patent’ and they panic.”


Set the Lawyers to Stun

Historically, farmers were able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year’s crops for the coming year’s planting. But because Monsanto owns patents on its genetically modified strains, it forces farmers to buy new seeds every year.

Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.

Farmers call them the “seed police,” using words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe Monsanto’s tactics. The company’s agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records.

In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of using its soybean seeds, despite documented fact that he’d bought nonpatented seed from local universities for years. While attempting to pressure Runyon, Monsanto’s lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.

One problem: Indiana didn’t have a Department of Agriculture at the time. Like most Monsanto investigations, the case never went to trial and would appear to be more about intimidation than anything. Runyon incurred substantial costs defending himself without having done anything wrong. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.

Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.

Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, which critics derisively dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”

There have been some indications of adverse health effects, but Monsanto has largely kept its products from researchers. Long-term studies have been limited, but scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed. Those who have published studies critical of GM have been besieged by industry-funded critics disputing their finding, assailing their professional reputations, and effectively muddying the water. The feds have never bothered to extensively study GM foods. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming too little study had been done on Monsanto’s GM sugar beets.

A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.

The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.

Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto’s spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions during the past decade — plus another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly, Congress has become tone-deaf.

In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto’s de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.

Other wires from State Department diplomats ask for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto’s GM corn.

These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, and the company’s former and current employees are in high-level posts at the USDA and FDA.

But the real coup came in 2010, when President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.


Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?

At the same time Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products — GM crops — were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.

Monsanto understood early on the best way to stave off bad publicity was to suppress independent research. Until recently, when negotiating an agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds by requiring researchers to apply for a license and get approval from the company about any proposed research. The documentary Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.

Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.

Meet Michael Taylor. He’s gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it’s not a revolving door; it’s a Bat-pole. During an early-’90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and wrote the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto’s GM crop business.

Known as “substantial equivalence,” this policy declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling, food safety, or toxicity tests. Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.

“It’s simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policymakers to resist labeling,” says Jim Gerritsen, a Maine farmer. “You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people’s interest isn’t being served.”

The FDA approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own but by simply taking Monsanto’s word for their safety. Amusingly, Monsanto agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety, says spokesman Phil Angell. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”

So if neither Monsanto nor the feds is ensuring that the food supply is safe, who is?

The answer: No one.


We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now

So far, it appears the GM movement has done little more than raise the cost of food.

A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. And since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefits are questionable at best.

“It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches,” says Gurian-Sherman. “It’s a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage that goes with it, like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply.”

Meanwhile, the use of pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to these death sprays. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto’s pesticides.

Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it’s better to rotate the crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result’s been soil degradation, relatively static yields, and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.

Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law — the law of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.

Nature, as it’s proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.

Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon fields that have been infested with it. Pigweed has infested Florida cotton fields, and farmers are now using old pesticides on top of Roundup to combat it.

To kill these adaptive pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides. It’s producing an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.

“It’s not about stewardship of the land,” says Thomas Earnshaw, sustainable farmer, educator, and founder of Outlaw Farmers in the Florida Panhandle. “The north Panhandle is probably the most contaminated land in the state — because of the monoculture farming with all the cotton and soy, both are “Roundup Ready” [GM crops]. They’re just spraying chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers into the soil, it’s getting into the water table, and farmers aren’t even making any more money — biotech is.”


Next Stop… the World!

The biggest problem for Monsanto’s global growth: It doesn’t have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That’s why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.

Yet that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Other nations aren’t as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can’t afford them (or don’t trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don’t really want them (or don’t trust Monsanto).

Though the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it’s approved only two GM crops for human consumption. Although Brazil is poised to become the world’s largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed, thousands of farmers there are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent. Ecuador and Peru have shied away from GM crops. And even in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti mistrusted Monsanto so much that it declined its offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn’t GM.

In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — AKA “neo-nics” — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It’s a derivative of nicotine that’s quite poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stage. In America, 90 percent of America’s corn crop comes with the coating.

The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they’re picked up by bees like a morning cup of Starbucks. Last year, a study linked neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.

The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations, especially at corn planting time.

Last year’s study indicates a link to Monsanto’s GM corn, which has been widely treated with neo-nics since 2005.

But while other countries run from the problem, the U.S. government is content to let its citizens serve as guinea pigs. Beekeepers, though, are starting to fight back. This year, two separate lawsuits have been filed against the EPA demanding a more stringent risk assessment process and labeling laws for pesticides.


What’s Mine Is Yours

The same worries apply to contamination from GM crops. Ask Frank Morton, who grows organic sugar beet seeds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is among the few non-GM holdouts.

In 2010, a federal judge demanded farmers stop planting GM sugar beets. Farmers were surprised to find there was very little non-GM sugar-beet seed to be had. Since being introduced in 2005, Monsanto had driven just about everyone out of the market.

Morton’s farm is just two miles from a GM sugar beet farm. Unfortunately, beet pollen can travel as much as five miles, cross-pollinating other farmers’ fields and, in the case of an organic farmer, threatening his ability to sell his crop as organic and GM-free.

Morton has to worry about his fields because GM crops have perverted long-standing property law. Organic farmers are responsible for protecting their farms from contamination, since courts have consistently refused to hold GM growers liable.

Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination and has 30-foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat. (Wheat pollen doesn’t travel far.)

“Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence,” says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen. “If it was anything but agriculture, nobody would question it. If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn’t a court in the nation that wouldn’t in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned.”

Contamination isn’t just about boutique organic brands. It maims U.S. exports too.

Take Bayer, which grew experimental, GM rice — that was unapproved for cultivation and for human consumption — at test plots around Louisiana State University for just one year. Within five years, these test plots had contaminated 30 percent of U.S. rice acreage. No one’s certain how it happened, but Bayer’s rice was found as far away as Central America and Africa.

Within days of the USDA announcement that this untested GM rice had gotten loose, rice futures lost $150 million in value, while U.S. rice exports dropped by 20 percent during the next year. And Bayer ended up paying farmers $750 million in damages.

Last month brought another hit. A Monsanto test of GM wheat mysteriously contaminated an Oregon farm eight years after the test was shut down. Japan and South Korea immediately halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat — a particularly harsh pill for the Japanese, who have used our white wheat in almost all cakes and confectionary since the 1960s.

Monsanto’s response? It’s blaming the whole mess on eco-terrorists.


Just Label It

Trish Sheldon moved to Florida in 2001, but the bubbly blond still exudes a cool, friendly California air. In 2010, she started a state chapter of Millions Against Monsanto, then in 2011 founded a group called GMO-Free Florida to raise awareness of the risks of GMOs and push for mandatory labeling initiatives.

With Monsanto seeds covering more than 40 percent of America’s crop acres (a March study found that 86 percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of soybeans grown here are of a GM variety) and the agri-giant making an expected $7.65 billion profit this year, it’s doubtful the company will go away anytime soon. But as consumers become more aware of the sinister problems lurking in the food chain, activists in many states are pushing for laws that would require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled, much as foods with trans fats are.

More than 23 right-to-know groups have since popped up throughout Florida especially after California’s push for mandatory labeling legislation, called Proposition 37, failed last year. Chemical companies defeated the initiative, thanks to a $46 million publicity campaign full of deceptive statements.

“Even though there were lies and deceit by the biotech industry, that was the catalyst,” Sheldon says. “People were so pissed off that it failed [and] we started gaining steam.” This May, during a global day of action, more than 2 million protesters attended rallies in more than 400 cities across 52 countries. In Miami, organizers lost count when protesters topped 1,300.

“If they’re going to allow the American people to be lab rats in an experiment, could they at least know where it is from so they can decide whether they want to participate or not?” asks Lance Harvell, a Republican state representative from Maine who sponsored a GM labeling law this year. “If the FDA isn’t going to do their job, it’s time we stepped in.”

Maine is just the second state (nine days after Connecticut) to pass such a law. When Vermont raised the issue a year ago, a Monsanto official indicated the company might sue. So the new laws in both Maine and Connecticut won’t take effect until other states pass similar legislation so they can share defense costs.

In Florida, state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs and House Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda have sponsored similar bills — but neither version made it to committee. Both intend to revise and resubmit bills in the next legislative session, in January 2014.

As more information comes out, it’s increasingly clear that GM seed isn’t the home run it’s portrayed to be. It encourages greater pesticide use, which has a negative impact on the environment and our bodies. Whether or not GM food is safe to eat, it poses a real threat to biodiversity through monopolization of the seed industry and the kind of industrial farming monoculture this inspires.

Meanwhile, a study by the University of Canterbury in England found that non-GM crops in America and Europe are increasing their yields faster than GM crops.

“All this talk about feeding the world, it’s really PR,” explains Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The hope is to get into these new markets, force farmers to pay for seed, then start changing the food and eating habits of the developing world.”


Empowered Sustinance Blog: Why is Raw Milk So Special?

July 6, 2013
By Lauren
Full Post

What makes raw milk so special?

Perhaps you’ve heard me or other bloggers profess our love for raw milk. “What’s the big deal with raw milk? What makes it so special?” you may wonder. Well, when it comes to comparing raw milk and regular (a.k.a. pasteurized milk), they are two entirely different substances. Raw milk is a living food, full of digestion-enhancing enzymes. Pasteurized milk, on the other hand, is a dead food that is highly allergenic and difficult to tolerate.

Here are 6 reasons why raw milk beats pasteurized milk:

1. Enzymes

Heating wet foods above 118 degrees F destroys the naturally occurring, beneficial enzymes. As a living food, raw milk contains enzymes that assist in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Fermenting the milk into yogurt further activates beneficial enzymes, rendering the product even more digestible.

In particular, raw milk contains the enzyme lactase which helps breakdown lactose. Additionally, an enzyme in the butterfat called lipase aids in fat digestion and assimilation of the fat-soluble vitamins.

Pasteurized milk is heated to 170 degrees and ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 280 degrees. This prolongs the shelf-life of the milk at the cost of destroying the health-giving qualities of the milk. There are no live enzymes left in pasteurized milk… it is a dead food. As a result, the digestive system must furnish all the enzymes required to digest it. Often, if the diet consists of all cooked foods, the body’s enzymes stores are depleted and digestion is impaired.

2. Fat

The butterfat in raw milk separates to the top… just like butterfat should. The butterfat is primarily saturated–the most healthiest and most stable fat to consume (if you are still stuck in the utterly false mindset that saturated fat is bad for you, then get thee a copy of Nourishing Traditions immediately!). If the raw milk is from cows in pasture, this butterfat boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

The practice of homogenization further mutilates the chemical integrity of milk. The fat globules are pressurized so that they become small enough to be in suspension throughout the milk, without separating into cream. This makes the fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and destroys the colloidal structure of the milk.

3. Vitamins

The vitamins in raw milk are fully intact and bioavailable. If the cows are in pasture, the milk is significantly higher in the extremely beneficial vitamin K.

It’s another story for pasteurized milk, however. During pasteurization, more than 50% of vitamin C is lost. The primary cofactors, enzymes and proteins that assist in the absorption of folate, B12, B6, and iron are also destroyed with pasteurization (source). Further, one protein destroyed by pasteurization is beta lactoglobulin, which plays an important role in the absorption of vitamin A (source).

4. Digestibility

One survey revealed that 80% of people who were described as “lactose intolerant” by a healthcare practitioner can consume raw milk without a problem. Raw milk is heralded as a cure for asthma, thyroid disorders, constipation, allergies and more.

Pasteurization and homogenization makes milk allergenic and difficult to digest. In particular, pasteurization destroys the naturally-occuring lactase enzyme. This often leads to undigested milk sugar (lactose), which can can cause digestive distress. Further, the heat of pasteurization denatures and destroys some proteins. I think that one reason people find raw milk so much easier to digest is because the proteins are complete and bioavailable.

5. Allergies

Raw milk consumption has been correlated to lower rates of allergies. Although correlation doesn’t mean causation in that study, many folks who have switched to raw milk will tell you that it drastically reduced their seasonal allergies, hayfever and asthma. Pasteurized milk, though, is a very common allergen. It can actually precipitate food allergies, because pasteurization alters some of the milk proteins and makes it irritating to the gut.

6. Animal Health

Generally, raw milk is obtained from smaller-scale local farms. Chat with the milk producer and support the farmers who let the cows graze in pasture. Pastured, rather than grain and soy fed cows, boast drastically more nutrient-dense milk. Additionally, pastured cows and cattle restore the top soil and play a vital role in the ecosystem.

“Is raw milk safe?”

One common concern regards the safety of raw milk. “Is raw milk safe?” is the first question I’m asked when I explain that I happily drink raw milk. Any food can be contaminated with a dangerous bacteria or pathogen… that is the risk of eating anything. The “dangers” of raw milk are exceptionally exaggerated, however. For example, it is 10 times more likely to get sick from eating deli meat than consuming raw milk (on a per-serving basis!). Source.

Last year, Chris Kresser wrote a comprehensive and flawlessly executed article on the safety of raw milk. In response to the cherry-picked CDC press release that claimed “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk,” Chris brought the risks of raw milk into perspective:

  • When it comes to food-borne illnesses, dairy products are at the bottom of the list of offenders. Dairy products only account for about 1.3% of foodborne illnesses each year.
  • The CDC’s report used an outdated, smaller estimate of raw milk drinkers, most likely in an effort to exaggerate the risks. The report also used the statistics of illnesses related to illegally-made raw milk queso fresco, which carries significantly more risk than fluid raw milk
  • During 2000 – 2007,  you had roughly 1 in 94,000 chance in getting sick from drinking raw milk. Does that sound risky to you? Let’s examine what this really means. Food poisoning means anything from a little diarrhea to a hospital visit. There is an average of 1.5 people per year getting hospitalized for raw milk consumption. That means the risk of hospitalization from drinking raw milk is 1 in 6 million.
  • Chris further threw things into perspective by explaining that we are 750 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be hospitalized for drinking raw milk!

“Where do I get raw milk? What if I can’t get it?”

Many states restrict the sale of raw milk in grocery stores. Other states allow herdshares or the sale of raw milk if it is labeled as pet foods. Even in the few states that completely outlaw raw milk sales, it is almost always possible to find raw milk on the “black market.” To find raw milk in your area, contact your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter or the Real Milk website.

If you cannot find raw milk, the second best option is low temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized milk. Seek out sources of milk from pastured cows, since this will be higher in nutrients. Try to avoid Ultra High Temperature (UTH) pasteurized milk, a highly denatured product. Interestingly, the major Certified Organic dairies like Organic Valley use this type of processing.


VT Digger: What’s in a label? Possibly the source of your food

by Kate Robinson
July 22, 2013
Full Article

In May, the Vermont House passed a controversial bill that would mandate labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms. The easy passage of House Bill 112 — the vote was 99-42 — shows that, as in 27 other states, there is broad interest in Vermont in labeling GMOs.

But when the legislation is taken up by the Senate in January, passage out of committee, let alone the full body, could be an issue. Three of five senators on the Senate Agriculture committee either oppose labeling or question its usefulness.

Meanwhile, experts say, labeling key ingredients in processed foods — such as vegetable oils, corn, soy and sugar — could have unintended implications that have not been adequately considered.

The idea, as pitched by advocates, is simple: Consumers ought to have the right to know what they are eating, and to that end, any food that contains genetically modified organisms from another plant or animal should be identified. The House bill addresses the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition’s concerns about genetic changes to foodstuffs and cites “multiple health, personal, cultural, religious, environmental and economic” reasons for the label. And many of those who question the law agree on the right-to-know aspect.

Advocates say scientists don’t understand the long-term impact of genetically engineered foods on the human body and the environment and therefore consumers should have a warning when food contains GMOs.

A straightforward right-to-know issue, however, quickly grows complicated. The trouble is that genetically modified foods are ubiquitous, experts say, which could make labeling a challenge.

And even if the new rule went into effect, a Vermont food shopper looking for GMO-free food would be barraged by potentially confusing labeling. That’s because the bill does not draw a bright line between GMO foods and non-GMO foods. Instead, it broadly requires labeling of any food that “contains GMOs.”

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, is on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which heard testimony about S.89, the Senate version of H.112 last session. Bray decided to evaluate the practicality of the labeling bill by doing a little shopping. He says he’s learned that at least 16 of 20 common processed foods contain GMOs, and under H.112 would be so labeled. To add to the confusion, some products are already voluntarily labeled “non-GMO.”

GMO-free items can have a variety of labels, including the plain and simple “Organic.” Or a package could be marked “Non-GMO project verified,” which is the identifier on foods that have been voluntarily labeled by the Non-GMO Project, “an initiative of independent natural foods retailers” that offers a third party verification program, largely for processed foods. Soon, under a recently passed federal law, meat from animals whose feed did not contain GMOs will have an FDA-approved “non-GMO” label. (Since 95 percent of feed corn grown in Vermont is from GE seed, that may become a difficulty for Vermont meat producers.)

Bray says that adding to the confusion is the fact that unless organic food is “100 percent organic,” there is no guarantee it doesn’t contain GMOs. Organic foods without the “100 percent organic” certification are allowed to contain up to 5 percent “non-organic” ingredients.

“The question is how you best inform consumers,” Bray said. “I’m coming to the conclusion that informing consumers is becoming a bit of a mess. However well-intentioned, this labeling law could have the effect of discouraging consumers, not making them happier and more well-informed.” While he says GMOs are “a gamble,” he doesn’t feel the bill addresses the labeling issue adequately.

Advocates see the labeling of food containing GMOs as the “common sense” answer to the consumers’ “right to know what’s in their food.” This is the push by Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Rural Vermont and NOFA-VT, under the umbrella of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition. They have gathered 8,000 signatures on a petition in support of labeling all products containing GMOs and the coalition began a statewide campaign this summer to gather more and raise money to support advocacy for the bill.

Dan Barlow, a lobbyist for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility who has advocated for H.112, said GMOs are a threat to the Vermont brand. “I think this move can only strengthen the Vermont brand going forward,” he said.

Even though the legislation does not require that products be labeled non-GMO, as Ben & Jerry’s will be doing by the end of 2013, founder Jerry Greenfield came to testify in support of the bill this year. Bray asked him what the bill would do for Ben & Jerry’s that they couldn’t do on their own. “Greenfield’s reply was ‘nothing,’” Bray reports.

The argument for “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” labels is that certification, with guidelines and standards, by the North American Non-GMO Project is already in place.

But non-GMO certification comes at a cost for producers say supporters of H.112 like Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden. He runs a small organic vegetable operation and wants large food producers to pay those costs because they can more easily absorb them. Supporters of “non-GMO” labeling counter that producers’ costs would be offset by higher sales.

There are adamant opponents of any mandatory labeling who have also had an impact on legislators. Margaret Laggis, a lobbyist for the two largest dairy groups in the state, testified against H.112, saying the bill is “deceptive” since it includes a number of exemptions that would be difficult for the consumer to detect.

The bill exempts restaurant food, GE foods made with “processing aids or enzymes,” such as cheese, and food prepared for immediate consumption.

The future of the GMO-labeling bill

The House bill is likely to be significantly amended in the Senate, and it could well be completely rewritten. Zuckerman, the lead sponsor of S.89 and a member of the Agriculture committee, said that while the Senate version started out as a mirror of H.112, [but] it is now significantly different. “I have no doubt it will go to both the Judiciary and Agriculture committees,” he says, “and it will have difficulty, I’m sure, on both counts.” Still, he says, “the precedent they (the House) set with their language is a good foundation.”

Some describe the governor’s support as lukewarm. He has cited a bovine growth hormone case the state lost 17 years ago as a reason to go slow on the legislation, though he told VPR on March 28 he wants to “see the bill happen” and that “it just makes sense to let consumers know what they are buying.”

Legislators are also mindful of the 1996 federal court ruling against mandatory labels for milk from cows treated with rBGH. The court determined the state did not show the label was supported by an interest “other than gratification of consumer curiosity.”

Legal challenges

Another possible roadblock in the Senate, if proponents stick to required labeling, is the worry that there will be a legal challenge. The House Agriculture Committee was acutely aware of this threat and carefully considered the language of H.112.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, announces the result of the 8-3 vote in favor of the GE labeling bill that she supported. Sitting next to her is Vice Chair Rep. Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndonville, who opposed the legislation. Photo by Andrew Stein

Carolyn Partridge, chair of the House Ag panel, is convinced the bill can withstand three potential federal legal challenges. The vulnerability most often mentioned is the “dormant Commerce Clause” of the Constitution—which gives the federal government the right to limit the commerce powers of the states. There are also First Amendment issues and possible federal preemption under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The House Agriculture Committee worked with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic to develop the final language of the bill.

“We feel we addressed all three of those issues, so that our legislation will stand up to any court challenge,” Partridge said. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office, she said, might have a “more nuanced response.”

Bridget Asay, an assistant attorney general, who lost a 2011 landmark prescription drug case at the U.S. Supreme Court, said she advised House Agriculture that “there is significant risk of litigation and expenses associated with it (H.112).”

Inconclusive science

Scientific research has not conclusively shown either the safety or danger of GMO foods. Len Bull, recently retired chair of the Vermont Agricultural and Forestry Products Board and a UVM research scientist in dairy and animal science testified before the Legislature. He asks why, “if these are really safe foods, the seed companies didn’t think it would be good to bring them to the marketplace with that information?”

But the seed companies didn’t make the studies public, and that means there must be more reliable, independent research that is made available to consumers, he says.

“If there are compounds or triggers in GMOs of foods that can cause any kind of reaction, then research needs to be done to clarify what causes the effects,” Bull said. “Then they should be corrected or taken off the market.”

Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, who supported H.112, concluded that it is better to highlight uncertainty than ignore it. “As I’ve said, significant disagreement remains among scientific experts about the safety of GE foods. There are unanswered health questions because the studies have not been done, but that is why labeling is needed – so we can potentially detect any adverse health effects from GE products. Labeling can serve as a risk management measure to deal with scientific uncertainty.”

The European Union has funded $200 million in research on GMOs, according to a 2010 report on 50 recent projects involving 400 research groups. The research was conducted by independent scientists as well as interested parties — the corporations that produce the seeds.

The report concluded that it is not possible to determine the safety or danger of GMO foods at this juncture. Even so, the World Health Organization says the effect of genetic modification on health and the environment have not been fully explored. WHO has called for case-by-case “risk assessments” of GM seeds. Meanwhile, the EU adopted mandatory labeling regulations in 2004 but has not yet uniformly applied the rules. And labeling is not required on food with less than 1 percent DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification.


Seedstock: A Fresh Start on Second-Generation Applecheek Farm with Focus on Pasture Raised Livestock

July 15, 2013
By Hana Lurie
Full Article

John Clark grew up on his father’s dairy farm – Applecheek Farm of Hyde Park, Vermont – and began working on the farm full-time in 2005. Clark purchased the farm from his father three months ago, and is already diversifying and reengineering the operation. Applecheek Farm raises all kinds of livestock, from hogs to cows, while providing education and agricultural tourism. Clark focuses on sustainability and simplicity on the farm with big dreams for the future of his local food community.

I recently spoke with Clark about how the farm began, the sustainable practices that he uses and his future goals for a food hub on the farm.

Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?

A: Well I’m a second-generation farmer. My father started the farm – in 1965 he moved here and started dairy farming, and shortly after started maple sugaring as well. In the 90s we diversified in agricultural tourism and educational stuff as well as other animals and meats. We are now moving out of dairy and have poultry, beef, and pork – a little bit of everything. My wife and I are the sole proprietors, and then we have two full-time employees and a couple of part-time employees. The farm is a little over 300 acres – 120 of open land. We live on the farm with our two children – Sophia who is nine, and Forest who is seven. Sometimes they don’t know it, but they enjoy being on the farm. They don’t realize how small other kid’s playground are.

My dad started with a few cows that he had purchased at an auction from the farm he had formerly managed. That’s how the farm got it’s name, actually. He went to an auction in his twenties to get some cows and moved up here to Vermont. The place he was managing down in Beverly, Massachusetts went out of business and the Boston Globe and other newspapers were covering it because it was kind of a tourist farm. Him and his friend were sitting up in the front and the newspaper took the picture [with a caption that read] “Applecheek Boys Bidding at Cherry Hill Auction”. That’s where they got the name “Applecheek”, from their rosy-cheeked twenties.

Q: What do you grow and raise on the farm?

A: We do beef, veal, pork, chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl. Then we have a few touristy type animals – emus and llamas – but not very many. The llamas are for ag tours and treks, and the emus for their fat which is used in oils that are healing. You also get meat from them. My father started the emus and the llamas. There was a big boom of emus in Vermont at one point, so he actually had quite a few at one time and was wholesaling the fat. Then we cut back – a lot of the slaughterhouses closed down and we have to take them 3 hours away to get butchered. Now we’re just keeping one breeding pair and raise young stock out of them sometimes. Our main focus is on meats, which are all pasture-raised and rotationally grazed.

Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable practices?

A: For me, it was primarily food. My wife and I had our first child and we were thinking of growing our own food. A friend of ours was in the Weston A. Price foundation and I went to a talk that he was putting on about nutrition. It started really directing me towards the importance of animals eating grass and being on pasture, not only for the humaneness of the animal but for the nutrition that goes into the person. We wanted to grow healthy food for ourselves, and now it’s at a scale where we’re growing it for everybody else, too.

Q: Can you describe some unique, sustainable practices that you employ on the farm?

A: We do grass-fed beef, so they’re rotationally grazed – we usually move cattle two to three times a day on pasture. They’re always moving off of old pasture and onto fresh grass which promotes healthy regrowth of the grass, and carbon sequestration as well as nutrient density. This creates amazingly healthy pastures – we don’t get any weeds and all of the legumes and grasses grow back exactly as the cattle need. We also follow the cattle with egg layers, about 1,000. They’ll come out, scratch out the cow pass and destroy the parasites that bother the cattle. They do this while cleaning up behind them and producing eggs.

Q: How does the farm make money?

A: We do a little combination of everything. We have a CSA, and we’re hoping to expand it more. Right now we have 30 CSA members, and we’re hoping this year to go up to 100. We really enjoy how it works. We do two farmers markets a week, and we do have a couple restaurant accounts for wholesale. The direction we’re heading is not as much farmers markets but doing more CSA and wholesale. The two days we go to farmers markets is a lot of work. We might start some buyers clubs and have guaranteed pre-orders where we just deliver the product.

Q: Would you consider the farm profitable, or self-sustaining?

A: It’s self-sustaining at this point. I just bought the farm three months ago, so there’s a lot of experimentation. We’re expanding a lot of the meat and trying out new marketing stuff, so it’s the early stages for us.

Q: Is the farm certified organic?

A: We are certified organic in everything except for pork. For our pork we do organic grains a little bit, but we mostly feed them barley from a local brewery as well as crushed apples from an apple cider novice nearby. Neither is certified organic, so we don’t certify the pork. Otherwise, they’re on organic pastures and all that, but we utilize the local waste stream to raise the pigs.

Q: What are some challenges that the farm faces?

A: For us, even though we use minimal grain, the costs are really challenging because they are all certified organic. One of our biggest challenges is butchering. There’s a limited amount of butchering and slaughterhouses [here], but I hired someone full-time this year who is doing our butchering. We rent space in a food hub nearby where we can actually do our butchering under inspection. The slaughter has to be done at a slaughterhouse, though. So we have to bring it to one place to be slaughtered, then bring the whole carcass to a food hub where we break it down into various cuts.

Q: What are your future goals for the farm?

One thing that we would like to do is build our own slaughter and butcher facility here on the farm. This year, we’re trying to put the funds together for a butcher facility for red meats and inspected slaughter and butcher facility for poultry. The cost of all of the trucking gets expensive while being on a very small scale, in addition to slaughter and butcher fees.

Our future goals are to expand in our meats, so we will expand in pork, veal and duck production. We also want to create a food hub type situation where we will have spaces that people can use on the farm, including land. We’ve already had some unique housing situations where people have built yurts, and I had a guy build a teepee here last year. I had someone that rented six acres of land and did a vegetable farm here. This year I have a guy that’s renting an acre and a half. I’d like to have someone who does fruit, and we have good land for doing hops – I wouldn’t mind a brewer. I want to create a space where people can do agriculture, and we could have all of the inspected facilities and everything for processing fruits, vegetables and meats, right from the land. This way we could deliver food to the community all from one sustainable farm.


07/25 Raw Milk Kitchen Table Conversation

Thursday, July 25th – Wells
To RSVP and get all the details, email shelby@ruralvermont.org or call (802) 223-7222.

* Dates TBD – Lamoille County, Northeast Kingdom, and more!


Carroll County News: Raw milk now legal in Arkansas, but buyers assume risk

Thursday, July 18, 2013
By Kathryn Lucariello
Full Article

CARROLL COUNTY — As of Monday, July 15, it has become legal to purchase raw milk in Arkansas, but you won’t find it at the farmers’ market or grocery store. You can only get it directly from a farm.

The basics of the new law provide that Arkansas farms can sell up to 500 gallons of whole raw cow’s milk and up to 500 gallons of raw goat’s milk per month, directly to consumers for personal use and not for resale. It will still be illegal to sell it at farmers markets or retail outlets. Customers must go directly to the farm to purchase these raw milk products.


Burlington Free Press: Legality of growing hemp in Vermont remains up in the air

Jul. 22, 2013
By LISA RATHKE
Full Article

WAITSFIELD — Some Vermont farmers want to plant hemp now that the state has a law setting up rules to grow the plant, a cousin of marijuana that’s more suitable for making sandals than getting high.

But federal law forbids growing hemp without a permit, so farmers could be risking the farm if they decide to grow the plant that the Drug Enforcement Agency basically considers marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana share the same species — cannabis sativa — but hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Under federal law, all cannabis plants fall under the marijuana label, regardless of THC content.

To grow marijuana for industrial purposes or research, a grower must register with the DEA and meet specific security requirements, such as installing costly fencing for a field of hemp.

A national nonprofit group is pushing to change current law and move regulation of hemp farming from the DEA to the state. In the meantime, the group, Vote Hemp, does not recommend growing hemp while state and federal laws conflict.

“It’s literally betting the farm,” said Tom Murphy, national outreach coordinator for the group. Farmers who grow it, or even conspire to grow it and import the seeds face jail time and the forfeiture of their land, he said. But it’s unclear how seriously the DEA will enforce it.

Murphy said he’s heard that people have planted hemp on leased land in Colorado.

“Now if somebody chooses to do it as civil disobedience, knowing full well what’s going to happen, then that’s on them,” he said.

So far, 19 states have passed hemp legislation, including nine that allow its production. Eight states have passed bills calling for the study of hemp, while three states passed bills setting up commissions or authorizing the study of it, according to Vote Hemp.

The states hope to nudge the federal government to change its law.

John Vitko would like to grow hemp on his Vermont farm to use as feed for his chickens now that Vermont has passed a law setting up rules to grow it. He doesn’t know where to find any seed and knows he would be breaking federal law if he finds some and grows a small amount of the plant.

With the cost of feed continually rising, he said hemp provides an economical way to feed and provide bedding for his 100 birds, whose eggs are used in the custard-based ice cream he sells to restaurants and in a dessert shop in Waitsfield.

“It’s one of the few things that are manageable for a small farmer to handle,” he said of hemp, which doesn’t require large equipment to plant and harvest like corn does.

“It’s complete protein,” he said. “It has all their amino acids. It’s a seed which birds like.”

Hemp has been grown in the U.S. in the past to make rope, fabric and even the paper that used to draft the Declaration of Independence. The country even launched a “Hemp for Victory” campaign during World War II as supplies for other overseas fibers dwindled.

Now most hemp products in the U.S. are imported from Canada, China and Europe and some farmers think the U.S. is missing out on a lucrative crop.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado was granted a request to fly an American flag made of hemp over the capitol in Washington on the Fourth of July. He held the flag during the U.S. House debate in over a hemp amendment to the farm bill that he introduced with Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. The measure would have allowed colleges and universities to grow hemp for research in states where its cultivation is permitted. The amendment passed but the farm bill failed.

“Support for our recent farm bill amendment demonstrated that there is growing consensus to revisit the antiquated drug laws that now keep U.S. farmers from participating in the $300 million hemp retail market,” Blumenauer said. “A hemp flag flown over the Capitol on the Fourth of July is a powerful symbol of this reform movement.”

The figure Blumenauer referenced comes from a Congressional Research Service report that says the industry estimates that U.S. retail sales of hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.

The bill that Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law last month is intended to push the federal government to change its law after Canada reintroduced industrial hemp in the late 1990s.

“The reason we want to push for a change is that hemp is potentially a valuable crop,” said Democratic Rep. Caroline Partridge, chairwoman of the Vermont House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products. “People want to grow it. Hemp oil is a valuable product, and there’s so much of the hemp plant that can be used for very, very productive purposes,”

The Vermont law sets up procedures and policies for growing hemp. A grower must register with the state agriculture secretary and provide a statement that seeds used do not exceed a certain concentration of THC.

The grower also must allow the hemp crops to be inspected and tested at the discretion of the Agriculture Agency, which warns growers that cultivating and possessing hemp in Vermont is a violation of federal law.