Author Archives: Mollie

CT Post: House, Senate reach deal on GMO bill

Ken Dixon
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Full Article

Following attempts by both chambers to pass their own versions of legislation regarding the labeling of genetically modified foods, the Senate voted unanimously Saturday to approve a compromise bill supported by House leadership and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Advocates have pushed throughout the session to see Connecticut enact first-in-the-nation legislation requiring the labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. But they rebuffed a bill passed last week by the House, which scaled back considerably legislation approved earlier by the Senate.

The agreement passed Saturday by the Senate was endorsed by Tara Littman-Cook of GMO [genetically modified organism] Free Connecticut, a group which lobbied against the version of the bill passed by the House. In a press release from Senate Democrats, she called Saturday’s compromised legislation “historic.”

“Today’s GMO labeling agreement is historic and Connecticut will now set the standard for states around the country to follow,” Littman-Cook said.

The legislation does not require companies to label foods containing GMOs outright, rather it requires that four other states pass similar legislation in order to “trigger” Connecticut’s labeling requirement. One of the states must share a border with Connecticut and their combined population must equal at least 20 million people.

The trigger provisions are a compromise between the original Senate bill and the version passed by House, which would have required more states and a higher population total as a trigger. Unlike the Senate’s first attempt, the bill approved Saturday does not include a “stand-alone” clause, which would have triggered Connecticut’s requirement in a few years even if no other state had acted.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said leaders in both chambers were unwilling to drop the issue because of differences between the House and Senate. He said he and Senate President Donald Williams talked about it after the House changed the bill.

Williams said there is strong public support for requiring the labels. He said advocates helped the bill’s success by lobbying at the Capitol in greater numbers this year than in previous sessions.

“People want to know what they’re eating. Parents want to know what they’re feeding their children. They want to know what the health issues [are] and be able to ask questions,” Williams said.

The bill will still need to be approved in the House. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he supported the compromise. He said he felt it was important that the bill did not allow Connecticut’s requirement to go into effect without other states passing similar laws. If it did, Sharkey said it would have driven up the price of food in the state.

Although advocates unhappy with the House’s version of the GMO bill have been critical of Sharkey, he stood by the legislation he passed before the compromise.

“If they stepped back, the notion that we would be the first state in the entire country to adopt a GMO labeling bill was an achievement, I’m not sure [the advocates] fully appreciated,” he said. “That was a monumental achievement, which was the most difficult to cross.”


VT Digger: New slaughtering rules are a way forward from Vermont’s ‘black market’ in meat

by Kate Robinson
May 27, 2013
Full Article

John Winn’s growing market providing farm-raised lambs to Muslim families for halal slaughter, as well as to other Vermonters, will be capped by new regulations in a miscellaneous agriculture bill, H.515, that passed at the end of the legislative session.

The provisions were a response to a clash between the mostly careful traditional outdoor on-farm slaughter convenient for small livestock raisers who sell animals directly to the public and USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) standards that govern federal and state meat inspections.

Some use the term “black market” for the direct sale of animals that are not slaughtered to FSIS standards on the farm or not taken to a commercial slaughterhouse.

Under the new regulations, the Franklin County farmer must build a custom slaughter facility if he slaughters more than 25 sheep per year. But his customers for on-farm slaughter have been increasing steadily over the past few years, especially in the Muslim community. This season he has 85 lambs in the pipeline.

Winn had offered an outdoor space on his Georgia farm for halal slaughter because he was comfortable with occasionally providing customers a patch of his land to use along with some help, including cleanup and disposal of the offal. Like more and more farmers around Vermont, he has been responding to the rising demand for local meat raised in healthy, humane conditions. He also wanted to expand sales of his Clun Forest sheep.

As a compromise for farmers who want to raise and sell no more than “10 swine, three cattle, 25 sheep or goats; or any combination … [but] no more than 3,500 pounds of live weight of livestock … per year,” the new law permits on-farm outdoor slaughter — that is, without a custom facility — but under more tightly regulated conditions.

Winn ran afoul of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, when a rival farmer, who had built a custom slaughter facility, filed a complaint about Winn’s outdoor operation. Winn was served with a cease and desist order and the state levied a $2,000 fine, since reduced to $500, but requiring him to build a facility if wants to expand his business beyond the 25-sheep maximum. Building a custom facility is estimated to cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

As a compromise for farmers who want to raise and sell no more than “10 swine, three cattle, 25 sheep or goats; or any combination … [but] no more than 3,500 pounds of live weight of livestock … per year,” the new law permits on-farm outdoor slaughter — that is, without a custom facility — but under more tightly regulated conditions. The farmer cannot “assist” in any way and the site must meet more stringent sanitary conditions that include being free of contaminants and designed to prevent water pollution and livestock or meat adulteration. The slaughter must be done by the buyer or an itinerant slaughterer hired by the buyer.

Rob and Tamara Martin of Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock are among the younger farmers who have been expanding into whole-animal sales, in their case pork and poultry. In her testimony before the House Agriculture Committee, Tamara Martin spoke to the “high cost of infrastructure for farmers just starting out.” With the limits imposed by the new regulations, expanding the meat-animal side of their business would mean facing the added costs of either building a custom facility on-site or taking her animals to a commercial slaughterhouse.

Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, advocates for the growing number of small farms around the state. Stander sees on-farm, outdoor slaughter as an intermediate step for a farmer, particularly a young farmer, to figure out whether it is a viable part of their business. “These are farmers who are not on a trajectory to become part of a commercial stream,” she said. “They intend to remain hyper-local.”

During hearings on H.515, there was some ardent opposition to the bill, both in House and Senate agriculture committee testimony. It focused on the number of animals allowed before the requirement for building a facility kicks in, but also on worries about the “case-by-case” basis on which the state Agency of Agriculture inspectors would evaluate the permitted on-farm slaughter.

For the agriculture agency, the rock and a hard place is that USDA-FSIS regulations require states with their own inspection service to do meat inspection for food safety at least “equal to” the FSIS requirements. Federal requirements are at odds with traditional on-farm slaughter, so much so that the term “black market” is now used for those who have been selling animals slaughtered on the farm under conditions that might not have passed state inspection, which are governed by federal regulations.

H.515 language was an attempt at compromise

Under H.515, any farmer slaughtering for his or her household or “nonpaying guests or employees” is still free to do so in the manner they see fit and without applying for a license. But when selling animals to others, a licensed custom slaughter facility is required at the farm with the following exception: the buyer of the farm-raised animal does the slaughter themselves — or hires an itinerant slaughterer to do it — on a site approved by the farmer, conducts the slaughter in a way that meets specific “sanitary conditions,” and does not get assistance from the farmer except by being provided with a site and some “implements” and relying on the farmer for “disposal of the carcass and offal from slaughter.”

Among other requirements: The farmer must keep a record of livestock sales and file it with the state. The farm can be inspected at any time and whether the farm’s methods pass muster is up to the individual inspector.

To its supporters — the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and a good number of the small farmers affected — the custom slaughter clauses of H.515 are an acceptable compromise because the exemptions allow small-farm enterprises that sell a few animals to do so without building a facility or going to the expense of taking the animals to a commercial slaughter facility. At the same time, they provide oversight of the Vermont brand. The agriculture agency sets conditions for building a custom slaughter facility, something that meets FSIS standards, and sets sanitary conditions for any on-farm slaughter which their inspectors will rule on if a verifiable complaint is filed.

Prior rules to help propel the new market weren’t working

Rising demand among Vermonters for locally raised, high-quality, humanely slaughtered meat prompted the Legislature to passed Act 207 in 2008, with the expectation that it would help farmers expand the in-state market for whole or half animals.

Act 207 was passed “to help small farmers to raise beef to sell to neighbors,” as Sen. Bobby Starr, head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, puts it.

That legislation did not end “black market” meat sales, as traditional non-FSIS-compliant on-farm slaughter continued. It left gaping holes in the regulations, even though it laid out rules for legal sales.

Andrea Stander

Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, at the Statehouse in 2012. Photo by Alan Panebaker/VTDigger.

Starr says that the new regulations in H.515 respond to the fact that “the USDA had severe problems with the way [on-farm slaughter] was being handled” even after Act 207 was passed. The committees worked very closely with the USDA and the agriculture agency in crafting the language in H.515, he said.

Stander advocated for some leeway for small meat producers. From Rural Vermont’s point of view, economic viability for small farmers is of primary concern and the cost of custom facilities is too great for many.

When funding was discussed in the Senate Agriculture Committee and Starr asked whether funds might be made available to help someone like John Winn, he was told that meeting the demand for such facilities all over the state is beyond the capacity of the ag agency’s budget.

H.515 regulations come into being at a time of change. But there is unanimity across the board — small livestock producers, the Agency of Agriculture, and an array of nonprofits and quasi-governmental organizations such as the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and its Farm to Plate Initiative, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, Rural Vermont and NOFA-VT — on the desirability of promoting the sale of animals direct from the farm to Vermont consumers. More and more, Vermonters want to know where their meat comes from and how it was raised and slaughtered.

Enthusiasm for buying farm-fresh food has grown exponentially in the last decade, according to the latest Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. That includes those raised for the buyer on a farm where they are, in due time, slaughtered. Vermont is, in fact, part of a livestock renaissance in New England. In March, New England livestock producers celebrated the new market for high-end meat with its first annual “Meat Ball.”

A report from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Farm to Table in February confirmed that, if the supply grows, demand will continue to grow. But among the “pinch points” that are retarding growth of this market, according to the report, are convenient, year-round, USDA-FSIS facilities.

Commercial slaughter facilities are becoming more available — there is a new state-inspected slaughter facility coming on line in Lyndonville, commercial facilities in New Haven and Wilmington and a mobile slaughter facility in Middlebury — but they are still few and far between. And it is really only larger or specialized meat operations that find commercial facilities convenient.

Some operations, such as Sugar Mountain Farms in West Topsham, owned by Walter Jeffries, and Rep. Chip Conquest’s Full Circle Farm in Wells River, are investing in slaughter and processing facilities of their own. Last fall, Conquest hosted a tour and discussion about the “opportunities and challenges a custom slaughter facility might provide for your farm or region” for NOFA-VT.

The state and sustainable farming nonprofits are eager to encourage on-farm slaughter. Rural Vermont backs local facilities for “neighbor-to-neighbor” sales because they revive the old tradition of a local source for food.

Will H.515 put an end to the tension between farmers and the Agency of Agriculture? That may depend on the availability of funding for custom slaughter facilities and whether the limits on the number of animals permitted are enforced.

Stander has been in touch with the Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross to initiate a conversation leading to a clearer definition of “sanitary conditions,” the next battleground for the small-scale lifestock producers Rural Vermont represents.

This is needed, she says, “so that farmers can go ahead with on-farm slaughter without fearing they will not pass inspection if a state inspector comes to the farm. Knowing how to meet the intent of the regulations will protect the Vermont brand while enlarging the market for small producers.”

For Stander, the overriding issue is that with more and more Vermonters wanting to buy safe meat and local food, “we are going to have to rely on small farmers. So let’s find a way to make this work.”


AgWeek: Senate rejects GMO labeling farm bill amendment

May 23, 2013
By: Mary Clare Jalonick
The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
Full Article

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, said his amendment was an attempt to clarify that states can require the labels, as several legislatures have moved toward putting such laws into place. Both the Vermont House and Connecticut Senate voted this month to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages.

The Senate rejected the amendment on a 71-27 vote during debate on a wide-ranging, five-year farm bill that includes generous supports for crops like corn and soybeans that often are genetically modified varieties. Senators from farm states that use a lot of genetically modified crops strongly opposed the amendment, saying the issue should be left up to the federal government and that labels could raise costs for consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration does not require the labeling, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have stepped up their efforts to lobby for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating pure crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.

Agribusiness and seed companies say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries. The FDA and Agriculture Department say the engineered foods they have approved are safe — so safe, they do not even need to be labeled as such — and cannot be significantly distinguished from conventional varieties.

Sanders said he is going to continue to push the issue in Congress. He said he offered the amendment to protect states that approve labeling laws from lawsuits by major biotech companies like Monsanto that engineer the seeds.

“The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat,” Sanders said.

The Senate may consider more amendments to the farm bill this week, including others dealing with genetically modified foods. The legislation sets policy for farm subsidies, other rural programs and domestic food aid.

The Senate passed a similar farm bill last year, but the House did not consider it. The House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the farm bill last week, and the full House is expected to vote on the bill this summer.


Valley News Op-Ed by Dave Rogers: Valid Concerns About Genetically Altered Food Justify Labeling

May 25, 2013
By Dave Rogers
Full Article

Richmond, Vt.

The Vermont House voted earlier this month to approve H112, a bill that requires the labeling of foods sold in Vermont that have been produced using genetic engineering technology. The 99-42 vote came after weeks of wide-ranging committee testimony by legal experts, scientists, farmers, state and federal officials, and diverse industry and public interest organizations. The committees reviewed legal briefs, scientific studies and federal regulations.

Legislators concluded that because the risks posed by genetically engineered foods to human health and the environment are poorly understood and poorly regulated that the state “should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled.”

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and Bloomberg View columnist, comes to a different conclusion in an op-ed published in the May 14 Valley News (“Don’t Mandate Labels for Foods with Gene-Altered Ingredients”). Sunstein believes that mandatory labeling is unwise because it would “mislead and alarm” consumers about the safety of genetically engineered foods and cause “economic damage.” He accepts the conclusions of those “official organizations” who say that genetically engineered foods are as safe as any other foods. “Unless science can identify a legitimate concern about risks to health or the environment, the argument for compulsory (genetically modified) labels rests on weak foundations,” Sunstein writes.

Apparently, he is unaware of the facts and the growing number of international scientific studies that raised such legitimate concerns among Vermont lawmakers.

Just one example: About 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. has been genetically engineered to produce its own insecticidal toxin (Bt toxin). These toxins are found in every bite of hundreds of foods on our market shelves that contain ingredients derived from corn. And yet, in field and laboratory studies, Bt toxins have been shown to be allergenic. (The Food and Drug Administration and EPA approved Bt corn in 1996 without adequate health and environmental safety testing.) In 2011, researchers in Quebec found Bt toxins in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women tested and in 80 percent of fetal cord blood. “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed,” the researchers concluded.

And just last month, in another peer-reviewed paper, Brazilian researchers reported that the Bt toxin is toxic to bone marrow and blood of laboratory mice, and that “taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet … further studies are required … before concluding that (Bt toxins) are safe for mammals.”

So, is there scientific uncertainty and reason for “legitimate concern” about the safety of Bt corn and foods that are made from it? You bet. And you don’t have to be a scientist to connect the dots. There are many other examples in the scientific literature — more of them all the time — that raise serious questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods and the adequacy of government regulation of related health and environmental risks.

And it turns out that even some of the “official organizations” that Sunstein states are firmly convinced of the safety of genetically engineered foods now seem to be not so sure. In June 2012, the American Medical Association, after reviewing recent studies concerning the safety of genetically engineered foods, called for mandatory FDA premarket safety assessments of such foods “as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public.” (Most people don’t realize that the FDA does not conduct such tests, but instead relies on voluntary reporting of tests and studies conducted or funded by the companies that develop and sell the foods.) The AMA also urged the FDA “to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods.”

The case for requiring labeling is strong and getting stronger all the time. This is evident to those who make the effort to objectively examine the facts. That’s what Vermont House members did and, we hope, the state Senate will do when the bill is considered there next year. Sunstein and others who uncritically oppose genetically engineered labeling owe it to the public to do the same.

Dave Rogers is policy adviser with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. NOFA is a member of the Vermont Right To Know GMOs coalition (vtrighttoknow.org) with Rural Vermont, VPIRG and Cedar Circle Farm.


On Pasture: Vermont Goat Collaborative “Meats” New American Needs

By Kathy Voth
May 20, 2013
Full Article
This collaboration between goat dairy farms, recently arrived refugees, and a coalition of supporters is a win-win example of how to provide fresh local meat for immigrant communities, build bridges between old and new Americans, and improve land stewardship.

A new meat goat operation was born in Vermont this spring after several years of gestation and labor.  Located in Colchester, Vermont it will provide affordable goat meat to families who were forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war, or violence.  The farm was the vision of Karen Freudenberger, a volunteer then working with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, who realized that “comfort food” is more than an indulgence, it’s a way of finding home in an unfamiliar country.  Working with a coalition of supporters including The Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the Vermont Land Trust, and the Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Vermont Goat Collaborative was born.

The Seed of the New Farm

Every Monday when Karen went to volunteer, people would tell her about wishing they could find affordable goat meat.  They just couldn’t cover the $8 to $10 a pound for locally raised goat meat and so were buying imported frozen meat that they viewed as substantially inferior  She realized how important this taste of home was to the refugees from the stories they told about their former lives.  An older man, Mohamed, was sad and withdrawn until Karen asked him if he’d ever had animals.  As he started telling her about his camels, cows and goats, “His eyes just lit up, and he was a different person.  It hit me harder than any day since…what a hugely important piece of people’s lives is missing when they come here,” she said.

In response she visited markets serving immigrant populations to figure out the demand for goat meat, and where the meat was coming from.  When I met Karen by email in June of 2011, she wrote, “What we’re trying to do is figure out a way to help refugees here in the Burlington (VT) area produce goat meat for the ethnic market. We estimate that approximately 3000 goats are being imported frozen from Australia to meet the demands of our local refugee populations….just here in greater Burlington.  This seems a bit crazy as we struggle to maintain a working landscape, promote local foodstuffs and so on. However, as always in these ventures, the economics are sobering.  (Someday I need to figure out how the Australians can ship goat to the US for less than $3/lb!!!!)”

Finding Fertile Ground for the Farm

From there Karen began to put together the pieces of a puzzle that would create a new picture of home for these new Americans.  Vermont goat dairies needed a place to send the bucklings born on their farms every year, making them a good source for goats for a new farm venture.  To find land in proximity to where the recently resettled refugees live, she turned to the  the Vermont Land Trust.

The Vermont Pasture Program at the Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture is also providing support to the young collaborative.  Jenn Colby has been a tireless supporter of the project, advising on grazing issues and all things livestock.  Both Karen and Jenn continue to gain inspiration from the All Cows Eat Weeds workshop they attended last year especially since, as Karen says, “if all cows grudgingly eat weeds, all goats LOVE them.”   They are currently working on a farm management plan that will over time transform old hay fields that had been treated with enormous amounts of fertilizer (on land that is in the floodplain of the Winooski River) into a more diverse and natural woody browse that will be “as full of weeds as possible.”  They hope that this will reduce parasite problems, provide a more balanced diet for the goats, and be good to the land and river they steward.

The farm is now stocked with 77 baby goats from Steve Reid’s Fat Toad Farm and two other dairy operations.  The project, with funding patched together from  Green Mountain Coffee Roaster, the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and many individual donations is helping the new farmers purchase their capital equipment and subsidizing operating costs until the first animals can be sold.  The farmers will then reinvest the proceeds so as to expand their operation next year. The project also has lots of volunteers to thank for help with everything from cleaning out the detritus from a century old barn to building pens and painting signs at the farm entrance.  Volunteers from University of Vermont fraternities, City Market co-op, and the Bhutanese community have worked side by side to get the farm off the ground, often sharing a delectable Bhutanese meal at the end of a hard work day.

The project was recently awarded one of Vermont’s prized Working Lands Grants that will enable them to build a small custom exempt slaughter facility at the farm.  Rather than eating meat imported frozen from 16,000 miles away, Vermont’s New Americans will by this fall be able to ride their bikes to the Collaborative Farm, choose a goat that has been raised on wholesome Vermont weeds, slaughter it according to their own cultural traditions, and bring the meat home for dinner.


International Business Times: GMO Labeling Laws Move To Forefront In Battle Over Food Policy

By Connor Adams Sheets
May 21 2013
Full Article

Across the globe, 61 countries, including China, the European Union’s 27 members and even Syria, label genetically modified foods.

But in America, consumers are left in the dark about which foods and products contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

That may change soon, though, as nearly half of the nation’s state legislatures, according to the Center for Food Safety, have introduced bills to require manufacturers to label foods containing genetically modified or genetically engineered products.

The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, is headed in the other direction, as an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee last week would revoke the rights of states to pass such GMO-labeling laws, food advocates warn.

The labeling of genetically modified food is ground zero in the controversy over GMOs made by companies like Monsanto (NYSE:MON) and Dupont (NYSE:DD), and the issue is likely to grow even more divisive as food safety groups butt heads with Congress and Big Ag over the right to know what’s on our plates.

Among the states making major strides toward passing GMO-labeling legislation are Oregon, Connecticut and Vermont, whose House of Representatives passed such a bill earlier this year. Vermont’s legislature has two-year sessions, so if the state Senate passes it next year, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signs it, it will become state law.

The lead sponsor of the bill, known as H 112, is state Rep. Kate Webb, a Democrat who argues that the public should have access to as much information as possible about the food they eat.

“What the bill would do is require, generally speaking, that products that contain items that have been produced through genetic engineering would need to be so labeled,” Webb said. “The groundswell has just gotten large enough that people are concerned. It’s the right to know; it’s the right to make decisions about the food that you eat.”

The science is still inconclusive on whether genetically modified and genetically engineered foods are harmful to humans, but supporters of GMO labeling point to studies showing a range of potential risks, from kidney and liver damage to reproductive system issues.

Webb said she is aware that GMO-producing companies will certainly challenge any such bill in court — she said a lobbyist representing the biotech industry said last year to “expect litigation if it passes” — but that she believes H 112 has been crafted in such a manner that it would have a good chance of being upheld before a federal court or the U.S. Supreme Court if passed.

“We have three legal hurdles: These are federal pre-emption, First Amendment rights and the Interstate Commerce Clause, and we have worked with expert testimony that indicates we have a reasonable chance to prevail,” she explained. “We can’t say what the courts will do, but the way the bill is crafted, we believe that we have demonstrated that the state has a legitimate interest in this labeling.”

Still, efforts by states to enact their own GMO-labeling requirements may be for naught if the 2013 Farm Bill passes as it currently stands.

The bill was passed by the House Agriculture Committee last week with an amendment dubbed the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) that would likely put an end to state-level efforts to require GMO labeling.

Here’s how Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, described the amendment in a Wednesday statement:

“The first King amendment prohibits states from enacting laws that place conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders, but are produced in other states,” he wrote.

That description may make the amendment sound like an innocuous attempt to prevent states from infringing on one another’s rights. But critics of the amendment warn that the bill is actually a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the ability of states to enact GMO-labeling regimes.

The Organic Consumers Association on Wednesday put out a strongly worded statement calling on Congress to reject PICA.

“The biotech industry knows that it’s only a matter of time before Washington State, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and other states pass GMO labeling laws,” the group wrote. “Rather than fight this battle in every state, Monsanto is trying to manipulate Congress to pass a Farm Bill that will wipe out citizens’ rights to state laws intended to protect their health and safety.”

It remains to be seen whether PICA will remain a part of the 2013 Farm Bill and move on to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. But the provision has become a flashpoint in the continuing debate over the use of GMOs in American food and crops.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has taken the opposite tack, introducing a bill in April dubbed the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, aimed at requiring the Food and Drug Administration to label such foods.

“Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Boxer said in a statement announcing the bill, known as S.809. “This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they buy.”

The bill has gained the support of 10 co-sponsors, including a couple of Republicans, and a version has been introduced in the House, but both bills have remained in committee since they were introduced.

As the controversy over GMOs grows ever more heated, many Americans will be watching closely as legislators hash out the best way to address the issue. It remains to be seen whether GMO labels will ever appear on grocery store shelves in America.


New York Times: Seeking Food Ingredients That Aren’t Gene-Altered

By STEPHANIE STROMMay 26, 2013
Full Article
Food companies big and small are struggling to replace genetically modified ingredients with conventional ones.

Pressure is growing to label products made from genetically modified organisms, or “G.M.O.” In Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has approved bills that would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, and similar legislation is pending in more than two dozen other states. This weekend, rallies were held around the globe against producers of genetically altered ingredients, and consumers are threatening to boycott products that are not labeled.

And so, for many businesses, the pressing concern is just what it will take to gain certification as non-G.M.O.

Lizanne Falsetto knew two years ago that she had to change how her company, thinkThin, made Crunch snack bars. Her largest buyer, Whole Foods Market, wanted more products without genetically engineered ingredients — and her bars had them. Ms. Falsetto did not know how difficult it would be to acquire non-G.M.O. ingredients.

ThinkThin spent 18 months just trying to find suppliers. “And then we had to work to achieve the same taste and texture we had with the old ingredients,” Ms. Falsetto said. Finally, last month, the company began selling Crunch bars certified as non-G.M.O.

The Non-GMO Project was until recently the only group offering certification, and demand for its services has soared. Roughly 180 companies inquired about how to gain certification last October, when California tried to require labeling (the initiative was later voted down), according to Megan Westgate, co-founder and executive director of the Non-GMO Project.

Nearly 300 more signed up in March, after Whole Foods announced that all products sold in its stores would have to be labeled to describe genetically engineered contents, and about 300 more inquiries followed in April, she said.

“We have seen an exponential increase in the number of enrollments,” Ms. Westgate said.

The shift is evident in prices of nongenetically modified crops, which have been rising as more companies seek them out. Two years ago, a bushel of non-G.M.O. soybeans cost $1 to $1.25 more than a bushel of genetically modified soybeans. Now, that premium is $2. For corn, the premium has jumped from 10 cents to as high as 75 cents.

“We’ve had more calls from food processors wanting to know if we can arrange for non-G.M.O. supplies,” said Lynn Clarkson, founder and president of Clarkson Grain, which sells such conventional grains.

In this country, roughly 90 percent or more of four major crops — corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets — are grown from genetically engineered seeds, creating a challenge for companies seeking to swap to ingredients sourced from conventional varieties. A portion of the conventional varieties of those crops is exported, and much of the rest of those crops is already spoken for by organic and other companies here.

Additionally, the livestock industry is increasing its demand for non-G.M.O. crops to meet growing demand among consumers for eggs and meats sourced from animals that have never eaten genetically modified feeds.

On Saturday, at least two million people in 436 cities in 52 countries rallied in protests against the seed giant Monsanto and genetically modified food, according to the organizers of the “March Against Monsanto.” The company, based in St. Louis, is the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds and the pesticides used to protect them.

Farmers have long crossbred plants to improve genetics in an effort to increase productivity and resistance to pests and diseases, and decrease the need for water, among other things.

The type of genetic engineering done by Monsanto and its competitors, however, involves inserting genetic materials, sometimes from wholly different plant species and bacteria, directly into the DNA plants like corn or soybeans.

Regulators and some scientists say this poses no threat to human health, but a growing number of consumers are demanding increased information about what is in their food, whether it is gluten or genetically engineered ingredients.

Errol Schweizer, national grocery buyer at Whole Foods, said he was already seeing shortages in organic and conventional seeds, as well as in commodity ingredients sourced from conventional crops.

“Suppliers are going overseas to get what they need,” he said. “We know farmers need to feel secure that there’s a market for what they grow, and I’m saying, please plant these crops, there is a demand.”

Dealers in conventional crops say more farmers will switch to them if the demand is there, but it will take time. Most food-processing companies have an 18-month supply chain for crops like corn and soy, which means that if they begin making a switch today, the earliest they might get certification would be in 2015.

And farmers cannot simply replace genetically engineered seeds with conventional ones, because soil in which genetically modified crops have been grown may not be immediately suitable for conventional crops.

“There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, which sells meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments. “You don’t just stop growing G.M.O. seed and then start growing non-G.M.O. seed.”

Nor can companies simply replace, say, corn flour from genetically engineered corn with its non-G.M.O. cousin without wreaking havoc on things like taste, consistency and mouth feel.

Every ingredient in a product must be verified by affidavit, and storage and processing facilities, as well as transportation equipment, must be scrubbed of all traces of genetically modified supplies.

Those requirements may be too high a hurdle for some food processors. Big makers of pivotal ingredients like corn and soy oil, for instance, cannot easily switch back and forth between genetically engineered and conventional sources.

Even companies that use conventional crops in production have to work hard to get certified. Silk, a large maker of soy and nut “milks,” has used soy beans from plants that are not genetically modified since its founding.

But it took the company some eight months to gather and compile lists of all its ingredients, affidavits from suppliers, test records and other information, then go through independent testing for confirmation, before its products gained non-G.M.O. certification — and it helps underwrite the Non-GMO Project.

“It’s a pretty significant undertaking,” said Craig Shiesley, senior vice president for plant-based beverages at WhiteWave Foods, the parent company of Silk. “We make 100 million gallons of soy milk using one million bushels of soy beans, and this affects not only all those bushels of soy beans and other ingredients like vitamins and flavorings, but also all of our manufacturing and distribution.”

While Whole Foods tries to help suppliers procure non-G.M.O. ingredients, its labeling initiative is causing headaches.

“Whole Foods has come in the back door and inadvertently created something of a crisis,” said Reuven Flamer, the founder of Natural Food Certifiers, which certifies foods as organic or kosher and is now adding non-G.M.O. certification to its list of services. “People who make organic products support non-G.M.O. standards, but they are already paying a premium for their supplies and certification.”

Based on the demand he is seeing for non-G.M.O. certification, Mr. Flamer says it is almost certain the supply of conventional seeds and crops, and derivatives of those crops, is going to become an issue.

That worries Manuel Lopez, whose family owns El Milagro, a tortilla and tortilla products company in Chicago. “We’ve always used non-G.M.O. corn,” he said, “and our concern is about our supply.”

The cost of the corn El Milagro uses is roughly 1.7 times the cost of genetically engineered corn, he said, and the company cannot pass on all the additional cost to customers.

Mr. Lopez is hopeful, though. “I believe there are a lot of farmers who want to get away from G.M.O.,” he said. “If they see more demand, I think they will respond.”


Mt. Mansfield Media Documentary: Could Your Backyard Be a Farm?

5/8/13

A 6 minute documentary on the Backyard Farming renaissance in Vermont. View the video here.


Rural Vermont and Vote Hemp to Hold Hemp Victory Celebration During National Hemp History Week

 Rural Vermont and Vote Hemp to Hold Hemp Victory Celebration

During National Hemp History Week

Event in Brattleboro will celebrate passage of Vermont’s new Hemp law

and include a screening of the classic film “Hemp for Victory”

Montpelier – Rural Vermont, in conjunction with the national hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp, will be hosting a Hemp Victory Celebration on June 5, 2013 from 5:30pm – 9:00pm at the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery located at 139 Main Street, #407 in Brattleboro, Vermont.

The event will include two special viewings of the short 1942 USDA propaganda film “Hemp for Victory” at 5:45pm and again at 8:30pm.  In addition to the film presentations, we will feature Vermont legislative updates by Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd and national legislative updates by Vermont resident and Vote Hemp Co-Founder/Board Member Eric Lineback.  Guest appearances by Vermont farmers and policy leaders, as well as free samples of hemp product samples, are also planned for the evening.

The Hemp Victory Celebration is part of the National Hemp History Week campaign, and this year we will be highlighting the positive work that Vermonters have done to contribute to this widespread effort to restore hemp as an agricultural crop for Vermont.  At this time we are optimistic that Governor Shumlin will sign the recently-passed hemp bill (S.157) which provides a simple, commonsense regulatory structure for growing hemp in Vermont.  “With Senator Leahy’s recent pledge of support for a hemp amendment to the federal Farm Bill, Vermont is cultivating a ‘hemp renaissance’ with its strong leadership on the issue,” states Robb Kidd of Rural Vermont.

“In this currently tough and challenging economic climate, allowing our farmers to once again produce hemp is a smart move for Vermont.  We have the opportunity to be leaders in this exciting and promising emerging ‘green’ industry,” adds Eric Lineback of Vote Hemp.

Will Allen, farm manager of Cedar Circle Farms in East Thetford, already has plans to purchase a nearby tract of land and begin growing hemp as soon as the law is enacted.  “Hemp gives farmers another quality crop to grow in rotation, producing renewable raw materials both to sell and process in the field,” Allen says.

Rural Vermont is a non-profit advocacy group founded by farmers in 1985 that advocates, activates and educates for living soils, thriving farms and healthy communities.  Learn more at www.RuralVermont.org.

Vote Hemp is a national, single-issue, non-profit organization founded in 2000 by members of the hemp industry to remove barriers to hemp farming in the U.S. through education, legislation and advocacy.  More information about hemp history and the crop’s many uses may be found at www.VoteHemp.org.


NPR: Supreme Court Rules For Monsanto In Case Against Farmer

By Mark Memmott
May 13, 2013
Full Article

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that an Indiana farmer infringed on Monsanto’s patent when he planted soybeans that had been genetically modified by Monsanto without buying them from the agribusiness giant.

In the decision, written by Justice Elena Kagan, the nine justices ruled that “patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.”

Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” soybeans can survive sprayings of the nation’s most popular weedkiller.

As NPR’s Dan Charles :

Farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman had been using — and paying Monsanto for — the company’s when he planted his main crop in the spring. He also signed “standard agreement not to save any of his harvest and replant it the next year. Monsanto demands exclusive rights to supply that seed.”

The farmer got into trouble when he planted a second crop of soybeans later in the same year, when the yield would likely be much lower. As Dan wrote, “Bowman decided that for this crop, he didn’t want to pay top dollar for Monsanto’s seed. ‘What I wanted was a cheap source of seed,’ he says. Starting in 1999, he bought some ordinary soybeans from a small grain elevator where local farmers drop off their harvest. … He knew that these beans probably had Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene in them, because that’s mainly what farmers plant these days. But Bowman didn’t think Monsanto controlled these soybeans anymore, and in any case, he was getting a motley collection of different varieties, hardly a threat to Monsanto’s seed business. ‘I couldn’t imagine that they’d give a rat’s behind,’ ” he said.

Monsanto did care. It took Bowman to court. The farmer, as Dan reported, was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000 for infringing on the company’s patent.

Monday, the Supreme Court upheld that decision. Kagan wrote:

“In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article. Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct.