Full list: Agriculture in the News

VT Digger: GMO labeling would begin in July 2016, according to Senate version

By Hilary Niles
4/3/14
Full Article

Vermont lawmakers are poised to “boldly go where no other state has gone before,” Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said Thursday before casting his vote for an unprecedented food-labeling law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave H.112 unanimous approval Thursday. The bill would require the labeling of food made with genetically modified ingredients sold in Vermont.

Vermont will not wait for more states to adopt similar laws before it moves ahead with GMO labeling.

Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that included a trigger based on other states’ adoption of labeling provisions. Vermont lawmakers emulated Connecticut’s and Maine’s legislation, but did not include a trigger in H.112.

GMO label SLIDERVoter referendums for GMO labeling mandates failed in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Other states, including New Hampshire and New York, are considering their own standards.

As drafted, Vermont’s bill would apply to all food and drink sold in the state, except meat, milk and food sold in restaurants. After much discussion, committee members agreed it should also apply to chewing gum — but not chewing tobacco.

Lawmakers also agreed to establish a fund to cover the costs of implementing the law, including any legal challenge it might face.

Sears said he absolutely expects a lawsuit — which is why establishing a funding mechanism to pay for litigation is so important in his view.

Benning also anticipates a lawsuit.

“I want to make it very clear I’m not voting for this bill because I have some passionate desire to slap Monsanto,” Benning said. “This is, in my eyes, a simple request that I have the right to know what’s in my product when I buy it. No more, no less.”

The legislation previously won the support of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. It heads next to Appropriations before it goes to the Senate floor. Should it pass there, a conference committee would be needed to reconcile the bill with the version that passed the House in 2013.

If it becomes law, the Attorney General’s Office would begin rule-making immediately. Labeling requirements would take effect July 2016.

Vermont food producers

Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, thinks the delayed effective date will give food producers and retailers time to comply.

Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Grocers’ Association, said the law would pose a problem for the state’s food producers regardless of timing. He said the fundamental challenge is a lack of uniformity with national standards.

Harrison said his organization does not hold a position on labeling. Grocers want to see a unified national approach that will be easier for U.S. producers to implement that would level the field of competition.

The dairy exemption

Sears and Benning both expressed serious reservations about the exemption for milk.

Often referred to as a “dairy” exemption, the provision is narrowly written. Only fluid milk would be exempt; dairy products such as yogurt or ice cream would have to be labeled if any of their non-milk ingredients contain GMOs.

The exemption is based on a lack of traceable GMO material in milk produced from cows that have consumed GMO corn, according to recent testimony by representatives from the Vermont Law School.

“Unless you’re changing the definition of genetically engineered, this bill won’t reach milk,” said Dave Rogers, policy adviser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. He said the bottom line concern for GMO labeling advocates is genetically modified products.

Still, Sears and Benning worry about equal treatment under the law.

Food producers who are subject to the labeling law may cry foul if others are exempt, Benning said. Sears has worried out loud about a perception of favorable treatment for dairy producers in a state dominated by dairy agriculture.

They agreed to a study of the dairy exemption by the attorney general.

If the state law is litigated before Jan. 15, 2015, when the report is due, lawmakers said they would grant an indefinite extension for the study.

Special fund for litigation

Some committee members expressed reservations about the special fund for litigation, but none were concerned enough to let it affect their votes.

While no longer technically called a legal defense fund, that terminology has been used recently in the bill’s debate. Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, says it sets a precedent.

She worried that it sends a signal that Vermont state government is willing to go out on a limb for monied interests.

Ashe tried in vain to establish a more general litigation fund, unattached to any particular issue such as GMO labeling.

“Isn’t that the attorney general’s budget?” White responded. She said the potential for litigation from the GMO labeling law should be handled like any other state law the attorney general steps up to defend.

Sears was adamant about setting the money aside, however.

The special fund, which is designed to cover administrative costs, will receive money from any court settlements beyond what is already forecast for fiscal year 2015.

Tobacco, Medicaid and other settlement money that is earmarked will not be touched. But if more money than expected is to flow to the General Fund, it would go to the new GMO labeling special fund, instead.

Vermonters and supporters outside the state will be allowed to contribute to the cause. Sears said he has heard from many of the bill’s supporters who have said they would be happy to donate to the litigation fund.


WPTZ: Vermont program recycles farm plastics for free

Farmers generate 500 tons of plastic annually
Mar 23, 2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. —A new pilot program in Vermont will allow farmers to recycle the plastics they accumulate for free.

Vermont dairy farms generate about 500 tons of plastic annually from the wrap around their hay bales, feed bunk covers and other uses, but much of it ends up at the landfill, at a cost to farmers. The program will let farmers recycle that plastic, along with greenhouse film, nursery pots and trays, and tubing used by maple syrup producers.

The clean, dry material can be recycled through April in Middlebury, Montpelier, Highgate, Bennington and Hyde Park.

The program was started by Casella Resource Solutions, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Agrimark/Cabot Creamery Cooperative.


Independent Science News: How “Extreme Levels” of Roundup in Food Became the Industry Norm

March 24, 2014
By Thomas Bøhn and Marek Cuhra
Full Article

Food and feed quality are crucial to human and animal health. Quality can be defined as sufficiency of appropriate minerals, vitamins and fats, etc. but it also includes the absence of toxins, whether man-made or from other sources. Surprisingly, almost no data exist in the scientific literature on herbicide residues in herbicide tolerant genetically modified (GM) plants, even after nearly 20 years on the market.

In research recently published by our laboratory (Bøhn et al. 2014) we collected soybean samples grown under three typical agricultural conditions: organic, GM, and conventional (but non-GM). The GM soybeans were resistant to the herbicide Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.

We tested these samples for nutrients and other compounds as well as relevant pesticides, including glyphosate and its principal breakdown product, Aminomethylphosponic acid (AMPA). All of the individual samples of GM-soy contained residues of both glyphosate and AMPA, on average 9.0 mg/kg. This amount is greater than is typical for many vitamins. In contrast, no sample from the conventional or the organic soybeans showed residues of these chemicals.

This demonstrates that Roundup Ready GM-soybeans sprayed during the growing season take up and accumulate glyphosate and AMPA. Further, what has been considered a working hypothesis for herbicide tolerant crops, i.e. that, as resistant weeds have spread:

“there is a theoretical possibility that also the level of residues of the herbicide and its metabolites may have increased” (Kleter et al. 2011)

is now shown to be actually happening.

Monsanto (manufacturer of glyphosate) has claimed that residues of glyphosate in GM soy are lower than in conventional soybeans, where glyphosate residues have been measured up to 16-17 mg/kg (Monsanto 1999). These residues, found in non-GM plants, likely must have been due to the practice of spraying before harvest (for desiccation). Another claim of Monsanto’s has been that residue levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg in GM-soy represent

“…extreme levels, and far higher than those typically found” (Monsanto 1999).

Seven out of the 10 GM-soy samples we tested, however, surpassed this “extreme level” (of glyphosate + AMPA), indicating a trend towards higher residue levels. The increasing use of glyphosate on US Roundup Ready soybeans has been documented (Benbrook 2012). The explanation for this increase is the appearance of glyphosate-tolerant weeds (Shaner et al. 2012) to which farmers are responding with increased doses and more applications.

Maximum residue levels (MRLs) of glyphosate in food and feed
Globally, glyphosate-tolerant GM soy is the number one GM crop plant and glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, with a global production of 620 000 tons in 2008 (Pollak 2011).

In 2011-2012, soybeans were planted on about 30 million hectares in the USA, with Roundup Ready GM soy contributing 93-94 % of the production (USDA 2013). Globally, Roundup Ready GM soybeans contributed to 75 % of the production in 2011 (James 2012).

The legally acceptable level of glyphosate contamination in food and feed, i.e. the maximum residue level (MRL) has been increased by authorities in countries where Roundup-Ready GM crops are produced, or where such commodities are imported. In Brazil, the MRL in soybean was increased from 0.2 mg/kg to 10 mg/kg in 2004: a 50-fold increase, but only for GM-soy. The MRL for glyphosate in soybeans has been increased also in the US and Europe. In Europe, it was raised from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg (a 200-fold increase) in 1999, and the same MRL of 20 mg/kg was adopted by the US. In all of these cases, MRL values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new scientific evidence, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in glyphosate-tolerant GM soybeans.

Has the toxicity of Roundup been greatly underestimated?
When regulatory agencies assess pesticides for safety they invariably test only the claimed active ingredient.

Nevertheless, these do not necessarily represent realistic conditions since in practice it is the full, formulated herbicide (there are many Roundup formulations) that is used in the field. Thus, it is relevant to consider, not only the active ingredient, in this case glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA, but also the other compounds present in the herbicide formulation since these enhance toxicity. For example, formulations of glyphosate commonly contain adjuvants and surfactants to stabilize and facilitate penetration into the plant tissue. Polyoxyethylene amine (POEA) and polyethoxylated tallowamine (POE-15) are common ingredients in Roundup formulations and have been shown to contribute significantly to toxicity (Moore et al. 2012).

Our own recent study in the model organism Daphnia magna demonstrated that chronic exposure to glyphosate and a commercial formulation of Roundup resulted in negative effects on several life-history traits, in particular reproductive aberrations like reduced fecundity and increased abortion rate, at environmental concentrations of 0.45-1.35 mg/liter (active ingredient), i.e. below accepted environmental tolerance limits set in the US (0.7 mg/liter) (Cuhra et al. 2013). A reduced body size of juveniles was even observed at an exposure to Roundup at 0.05 mg/liter.

This is in sharp contrast to world-wide regulatory assumptions in general, which we have found to be strongly influenced by early industry studies and in the case of aquatic ecotoxicity assessment, to be based on 1978 and 1981 studies presented by Monsanto claiming that glyphosate is virtually non-toxic in D. magna (McAllister & Forbis, 1978; Forbis & Boudreau, 1981).

Thus a worrisome outlook for health and the environment can be found in the combination of i) the vast increase in use of glyphosate-based herbicides, in particular due to glyphosate-tolerant GM plants, and ii) new findings of higher toxicity of both glyphosate as an active ingredient (Cuhra et al., 2013) and increased toxicity due to contributions from chemical adjuvants in commercial formulations (Annett et al. 2014).

A similar situation can be found for other pesticides. Mesnage et al. (2014) found that 8 out of 9 tested pesticides were more toxic than their declared active principles.

This means that the Accepted Daily Intake (ADI) for humans, i.e. what society finds “admissible” regarding pesticide residues may have been set too high, even before potential combinatorial effects of different chemical exposures are taken into account.

For glyphosate formulations (Roundup), realistic exposure scenarios in the aquatic environment may harm non-target biodiversity from microorganisms, invertebrates, amphibians and fish, (reviewed in Annett et al. 2014) indicating that the environmental consequences of these agrochemicals need to be re-assessed.

Other compositional differences between GM, non-GM, and organic
Our research also demonstrated that different agricultural practices lead to markedly different end products. Data on other measured compositional characteristics could be used to discriminate statistically all individual soy samples (without exception) into their respective agricultural practice background.

Organic soybeans showed the healthiest nutritional profile with more glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose, significantly more total protein, zinc and less fiber, compared with both conventional and GM-soy. Organic soybeans contained less total saturated fat and total omega-6 fatty acids than both conventional and GM-soy.

Conclusion
Roundup Ready GM-soy accumulates residues of glyphosate and AMPA, and also differs markedly in nutritional composition compared to soybeans from other agricultural practices. Organic soybean samples also showed a more healthy nutritional profile (e.g. higher in protein and lower in saturated fatty acids) than both industrial conventional and GM soybeans.

Lack of data on pesticide residues in major crop plants is a serious gap of knowledge with potential consequences for human and animal health. How is the public to trust a risk assessment system that has overlooked the most obvious risk factor for herbicide tolerant GM crops, i.e. high residue levels of herbicides, for nearly 20 years? If it has been due to lack of understanding, it would be bad. If it is the result of the producer’s power to influence the risk assessment system, it would be worse.


VT Digger: Senators preview legal challenges to GMO labeling law

By Hilary Niles
Mar. 19, 2014
Full Article

State lawmakers got a sneak preview Wednesday of the court battle that likely awaits if they pass a law requiring genetically modified foods sold in Vermont to be labeled.

Industry representatives both for and against a labeling law gave heated testimony at the Statehouse to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where a bill that already passed the House now awaits action.

H.112 would mandate that most packaged foods be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms. As currently written, dairy products, alcohol and meat, plus restaurant food, would be exempted from the law.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chair of Senate Judiciary, said he supports the bill, but his biggest concerns are the potential cost of litigation and the dairy exemption.

Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay testified that the state may spend about $1 million defending the law in court. Even if it is successful, she said it would be hard to recover legal fees. If the state lost, the legal challenge could cost $5 million or more. The estimate includes the state’s costs and potential reimbursement for a victorious plaintiff.

Given the size of the potential price tag, Sears says, he wants to make sure the law is failsafe.

To that end, the hearing Wednesday served as a preview of what challenges opponents may lodge against the pending legislation. Sears said the expert testimony opposing a labeling law comprised the first negative comments his committee had heard, though the Senate Agriculture Committee previously gathered opposing views in their deliberations.

Potential amendments

As senators finalize the bill for a committee vote by the end of March, two major amendments emerge as possibilities: One to require a legal defense fund to cover the costs of litigation, and another to eliminate the dairy exemption for fear it may undermine the bill’s viability in court.

Asay conveyed Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s concerns about a proposal to pass the bill only if a privately funded legal defense fund would be established to cover the expense of legal challenges.

“If the Legislature concludes that a proposed law serves the public interest and should be adopted notwithstanding the possibility of a legal challenge, it should pass the law and assume the cost of its defense,” Sorrell wrote in a letter to Sears.

“Quite frankly that boxes us in,” Sears told Asay at the hearing. He said he thinks it would be irresponsible to set the state up for a potentially costly lawsuit without setting aside the money to pay for it.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, said she’s troubled by the prospect of setting a precedent for only supporting what can be backed by wealthy interests.

The legal defense fund idea was not part of the Senate Agriculture bill, Sears acknowledged after the hearing, but he said that doesn’t mean the idea can’t be revisited.

Leaving dairy out of the bill was a strategic move on the part of VPIRG.

“We wanted to make the law about genetically modified foods,” said Falko Schilling, a lobbyist for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “Milk itself is not genetically modified,” Schilling said, even though milk-producing animals may consume GMO grains.

VPIRG’s pro bono legal counsel, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Vermont Law School, testified that case law also supports the exemption. Andrew Homan cited the failed regulation of the growth hormone rBST as a lesson that any object of labeling regulation must be provably different from the products that don’t require labels.

Milk samples from animals that have and have not consumed GMO grains have not been proven compositionally distinct, he said. Therefore, they should be treated the same. Genetically modified ingredients in food products, however, can be detected.

Still, Sears wants assurance.

“Do we have a reason, that can be defended in court, that exempts dairy and not corn chips,” he asked. “Or is it because Vermont is a big dairy state?”

The issue of milk’s composition presages a deeper legal argument behind GMO product labeling.

A potential lawsuit would hinge on several legal arguments: First Amendment rights and protections against compelled speech, “equal protection” laws, rules prohibiting conflict between state and federal laws, and the so-called “dormant commerce” clause saying states can’t make laws that will have adverse impact on interstate commerce.

Beneath these legal questions brews a morass of conflicting opinions, contradictory scientific reports and varying interpretations about federal policy on GMOs — or lack thereof.

The differences are critical because many legal arguments — especially that of compelled speech — revolve around whether or not GMO products are different, and whether the information contained in a label is “fact.”

Wednesday morning, labeling supporters said the federal Food and Drug Administration had not determined whether or not GMO foods are safe. But labeling opponents said the FDA had clearly determined that they are.

Stanley Abramson, an attorney with Arent Fox PLLC who represents the Biotechnology Industry Organization, as well as global agricultural firm Monsanto, is a former lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency and a principal drafter of the federal government’s Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. Abramson testified by phone from Washington, D.C., to caution against the labeling law.

He said the FDA’s position is that GMO food should be held to the same safety standards as anything raised through traditional breeding techniques. This implies the two groups of food are “substantially similar” and therefore should be treated equally under the law. Any labeling requirement to distinguish GMO food would be misleading, Abramson testified.

Abramson’s position was echoed by Dr. Val Giddings, a geneticist by training who now works as a private consultant and who testified as senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Silver Springs, Md. Giddings and Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with the Consumers Union, differed emphatically on bodies of science surrounding GMO foods.

Giddings testified at length about a lack of credible scientific evidence that GMO foods pose any risks.

The flip side of federal law and policy treating GMO and non-GMO food equally is that there is no mention of GMO products in the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. When it comes to the interplay between federal and state laws, federal statutes hold sway. No state law can preempt a law of the nation.

“The state requirement to label does not conflict with any federal law because there is none,” said Hanses, of the Consumers Union.

The other member of VPIRG’s counsel at the hearing, Laura Murphy, said similar labeling laws bolster the state’s defense on the grounds of interstate commerce.

Should it pass, H.112 would not take effect for one or two years, to allow time for rule making by the state and compliance among food producers. Asay noted, however, that if any parties intend to sue over the law, they likely would file suit very quickly after passage, not waiting for the effective date to roll around.


Seven Days LTE: Freedom to Slaughter

By Ben Hewitt
3/19/14
Full LTE

I enjoyed Kathryn Flagg’s article about her experience with Green Pasture Meats’ mobile slaughter unit ["A Gentler Exit," March 5]. However, Vermonters have humanely and safely slaughtered animals on-farm for generations without the benefit of fuel-guzzling, $225,000 mobile facilities that must sit idle waiting for lost federal inspectors. While I wish Mark Smith nothing but the best with his ambitious endeavor, let us not forget that the very assumption of the necessity for such infrastructure is emblematic of our severely eroded rights with regard to how we feed ourselves. According to Flagg’s article, many Agency of Agriculture officials acknowledge the existence of a so-called “black market” in farm-slaughtered meat. To those consciously participating in that market, either as producer or consumer, I encourage you to remember that you’re dealing in something far more important than meat and money. You’re dealing in your freedom.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont lawmakers consider labels on modified food

March 19, 2014
By Dave Gram
Full Article

MONTPELIER — A Senate panel heard forecasts Wednesday on how well a bill requiring labels on genetically modified foods would hold up in court if the measure becomes law.

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the threat of a lawsuit by the food or biotech industries looms large in the minds of lawmakers as they consider the bill.

In an interview afterward, Sears said lawmakers have been told it would cost the state attorney general’s office $5 million to $10 million to defend such a law in court. Sears said he would like a provision in the bill ensuring the attorney general has the funds to mount a legal defense. He said the funds could come from public and private sources.

But Laura Murphy, a professor at Vermont Law School’s environmental law clinic, said she believes if the bill becomes law, it would have a good chance of withstanding a challenge in federal court.

Murphy, who said she represents the Vermont Public Interest Research Group on the issue, described various arguments when federal law supersedes state law and how each could be defeated. She said a GMO labeling law could withstand a challenge, for instance, based on the argument that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar on restricting interstate commerce.

“The dormant commerce clause is something that sometimes comes up. That’s a doctrine that basically says states can’t pass laws that would unduly interfere with interstate commerce,” Murphy said in an interview. “Basically it comes down to a balancing test. And the question is whether the state’s interest outweighs any potential burden on interstate commerce.”

She said the state has a strong interest in preventing consumer confusion and deception and reducing any potential health risks from genetically modified food. She said a similar balancing test could be used to defeat First Amendment concerns about labeling requirements constituting compelled speech.


Randolph Herald LTE: Why Many People Now Choose To Drink Raw Milk

By Robert Luby
Full Article

Dear Editor:

I am writing in respectful rebuttal to Dr. M. Kathleen Shaw’s and the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association’s position on raw milk. I believe a more complete picture of this issue is in order.  What is critically missing from the VVMA’s opinion is a balanced assessment of:  the reasons why consumers choose raw milk and the short term and long term health risks of milk consumption, as well as a relative risk assessment of the consumption of raw milk versus the consumption of other animal products.

The VVMA focused only on the consumer perception that raw milk has health benefits.  It is true that scientific studies have demonstrated that raw milk is protective against the development of asthma and allergic diseases.1, 2   In addition, raw milk from properly raised animals is also full of beneficial bacteria.  Literature in the field of human nutrition is increasingly recognizing the value of eating foods with such beneficial probiotic species.

But there is also a negative reason why people are deciding not to consume conventional pasteurized milk, and this has to do with long term health effects.  While it is relatively straightforward to measure rates of acute food-borne illness which occur shortly after consumption of a particular food, it is not such a simple matter to measure the long term harms of slowly acting substances.  Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that “You are what you eat”.  In the case of conventional milk from conventionally raised animals, it is also the case that “You are what you eat eats”, and “You are what has been sprayed on what you eat eats”, and “You are what has been injected into what you eat”.

The point is that the short-term safety of any animal product depends upon how it is handled and processed.  But the safety of any animal product with regards to long term effects on human health depends upon practices of animal husbandry, an issue truly worthy of championing by an organization such as the VVMA.  Consumers of raw milk are choosing it in large part because of informed decisions based upon the superior animal husbandry practices of the farmers who produce raw milk for human consumption.

Finally, if the VVMA or any organization is concerned about the risks of acute food-borne illness due to the consumption of animal products, it must adequately explain why raw milk has been singled out.  Based on quantitative microbial risk assessment, on a per-serving basis, the risk of food borne illness from chicken is 57 to 1,181 times more likely to cause food-borne illness than unpasteurized milk.3  The consumption of hamburger is 7 to 34 times more likely to cause food-borne illness than unpasteurized milk.4

With the precarious status of the safety of our food supply in mind, (even spinach is 6 to 28 times more likely than raw milk to cause food-borne illness5,6,7), consumers must make difficult choices regarding the short term and long term health consequences of their dietary choices.  Informed professionals such as veterinarians and physicians have an obligation to represent a balanced viewpoint to assist the consumer in this endeavor.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Luby, MD
43 Brookes Avenue
Burlington, VT 05401
802-881-1796

1. O. S. von Ehrenstein, E. et al., Clin. Exp. Allergy 30, 187 (2000).
2. A. H. Wijga, et al., Thorax 58, 567 (2003).3. Uyttendaele, et al., Int J Food Microbiol, 2006, 11(1); 149-163.
4. Cassin, M. et al., Int J Food Microbiol 1998, 4(1); 21-44.
5. Tromp, S.O. et al., J Food Prot 2010, 73(10); 1830-1840.
6. Franz, E. et al., 2010, 73(2); 274-285.                                                                                                       7. Giacommetti, F. et al., 2012, J Food Prot, 75(7); 2363-2369.

Robert Luby, MD, ABHM

Doctor Robert Luby grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and completed his undergraduate education at Dartmouth College in 1985. Columbia University was the site of his MD degree in 1989. Postgraduate training in a family medicine residency program in Seattle, Washington was completed in 1992. Dr. Luby has been board certified in family medicine since 1992, and became board certified in holistic medicine in 2002. He is among the first cohort of physicians to qualify to be certification-eligible in Functional Medicine.  His medical training has included time spent on Native American reservations and in war-torn Guatemala.

For 24 years Dr. Luby has practiced the full scope of family medicine in Latino community health centers in Massachusetts and Washington. Additionally, he has practiced in integrative health centers in Vermont and Massachusetts for over a decade.

Dr. Luby also maintains an active presence in the academic medical community. He is the Director of Outpatient Medicine, the Integrative Medicine area of concentration, and the Associate Director of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the Lawrence, Ma. Family Medicine Residency. He holds faculty teaching appointments at Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Vermont schools of medicine.


The State: Vermont lawmaker and farmer pushes for GMO labels

By Chris Adams
March 12, 2014
Full Article

HINESBURG, Vt. — David Zuckerman, an organic farmer and state senator, is a key advocate for ensuring that foods containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled as such.

To him, it’s a basic right-to-know issue: Polls show that consumers want to see such labeling, so there’s no reason to deny them.

“It’s up to the consumer to decide – and they want the choice,” Zuckerman said. Right now, a GMO-labeling bill Zuckerman co-sponsored is in a Vermont Senate committee, and it represents one of the pivotal battlegrounds in the labeling issue.

After ballot defeats in California and Washington state, and nebulous legislative victories in Maine and Connecticut, Vermont represents one of the best chances for pro-labeling advocates to get a clean win. And Zuckerman would be key in helping them get it.

But even if the labeling is eventually mandated, he’s not sure how consumers will respond.

Some will use the labels and choose other products. Some might shrug, once they realize that about 70 percent of processed food contains genetically modified ingredients. Some companies might change the way they source their ingredients so they can say their products are GMO-free.

Zuckerman pointed to General Mills, one of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, which said earlier this year that there was a broad consensus among scientists that “genetically modified foods are safe” but that it still planned to change the way it sources cornstarch and sugar so it can say original Cheerios are GMO-free.

“It was partly a marketing strategy, but it shows that food manufacturers recognize there’s a reasonable percentage of the population that wants that,” Zuckerman said.

The GMO-labeling bill he introduced with several co-sponsors passed out of the Senate’s agriculture committee but still needs to make it through a second Senate committee as well as the full Senate. It faces a host of issues, including whether it would violate companies’ First Amendment rights (he says no) and whether the state would be willing to withstand any expensive legal challenge should the bill pass.

Zuckerman said he thought it could withstand the scrutiny, and he hopes it won’t contain the same kind the trigger that has bottled up legislation in other states. In Maine, for example, a labeling bill passed but goes into effect only if nearby states pass similar legislation.

“The vast majority of people support the idea,” Zuckerman said of the labeling initiative. “Not all people want to consume those foods, at least until we know more.”


Nation of Change: Europe installs raw milk vending machines, while US rules unpasteurized dairy illegal

As the U.S. government continues to issue warnings regarding raw dairy products, several European countries have done just the opposite by expanding access through unpasteurized milk vending machines, according to Wake Up World.

Compared with pasteurized and homogenized dairy, the news source argues that raw milk offers a wealth of nutrition—all without the drawbacks of oxidized fats, denatured proteins, antibiotics or growth hormones typically found in pasteurized and processed milk products.

Given the purported benefits of raw milk, multiple European nations have installed self-service vending machines that provide 24-hour access. Michel Cantaloube, who helped introduce the machines in France, the UK and Spain, hopes to expand the venture into a similar vending machine for raw yogurt.

Other countries like Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have begun to install their own raw milk vending machines as well.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tells a different story.

The FDA has listed raw milk’s potential mild to severe effects and issued the following warning:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Flulike symptoms, such as fever, headache and body ache

In response, Wake Up World questioned the FDA’s stance and pointed to a recent study that indicated children who drank raw milk were 40 percent less likely to come down with asthma or allergies.

A Campaign for Real Milk, an advocacy group associated with the Weston A. Price Foundation and Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, agrees, stating raw milk:

  • Protects against infections, diarrhea, rickets, scurvy, tooth decay and tuberculosis
  • Demonstrates better child growth profiles with longer and denser bones
  • Improves vitamin A, B6 and D absorption
  • Enhances mineral assimilation through the presence of lactobacilli
  • Individuals diagnosed with lactose intolerance are often able to consume raw milk products without issue

Moreover, hundreds of testimonials support the value of raw milk in helping childhood behavioral problems, digestive disorders, failure to thrive in infants, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer.


Organic Connections: A GMO Scientist Becomes a GMO Skeptic

Guest article by Ken Roseboro
Full Article

Belinda Martineau, Ph.D. was a genetic engineer who helped develop the world’s first commercially available genetically engineered whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato. But during the development of that tomato, she says she “was transformed from a devout believer in the promise of agricultural biotechnology into a skeptic wary of its uncertainties.”

Belinda now works in academic research. She wrote a book about the Flavr Savr and her personal transformation, First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Food, and occasionally gives talks to promote discussion of the technology, “warts and all,” as she puts it. She also publishes a blog, Biotech Salon (www.biotechsalon.com), where she aims to “clear the entire situation” about the science supporting genetic engineering.

Ken Roseboro: Tell me about your involvement in developing the Flavr Savr genetically modified tomato.

Belinda Martineau: I carried out experiments and library research and coordinated outside researchers the company hired to carry out additional studies, and helped write the documents Calgene, Inc. submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration to demonstrate the safety of the Flavr Savr tomato.

KR: What led the Flavr Savr team to promote and label the tomato as GM?

Martineau: I give credit for Calgene’s transparency, and the decision to label Flavr Savr tomatoes as “Grown from Genetically Modified Seeds” specifically to the company’s CEO at the time, Roger Salquist. We had nothing to hide, and Roger thought consumers would be more accepting of the product if we were completely above board about it.

KR: What caused the failure of the Flavr Savr tomato in the marketplace?

Martineau: The GM trait, meant to keep tomatoes firmer while they ripened naturally on the vine, didn’t keep them sufficiently firm to allow trucking them to market on a large scale; Calgene spent more money getting the tomatoes to market in good shape than it charged for them in the grocery store.

KR: What led you to become skeptical about GM foods?

Martineau: The major incident was when the FDA asked us whether we were sure that only the DNA we intended to insert into the tomato’s DNA was actually inserted. After we answered “yes” they asked us to carry out the experiments that would demonstrate that that was indeed the case. In fact, the experiments showed that in 30% of the tomato plants, sometimes more, much more DNA—DNA that was not well characterized and usually contained an additional antibiotic resistance gene—was inserted into our plants.

KR: The Calgene scientists weren’t aware how this added DNA got into the tomatoes?

Martineau: We did not expect the additional DNA to be inserted and, as far as I know, scientists still haven’t figured out how to avoid this from happening.

There has been one case of a GM crop plant, called Bt10, which contained such extra DNA, including a gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin. Fortunately, the crop developer pulled the product from the market.

KR: What are other risks do you see with genetic engineering of foods?

Martineau: There can be risks associated with the genes being inserted. For example, the gene inserted into StarLink corn failed multiple tests designed to determine whether it could be a human allergen. The FDA and Center for Disease Control were worried enough about StarLink corn’s possible allergenicity that the US corn crop was monitored for the presence of that GM corn for seven years after it was taken off the market. The gene in another GM corn crop, Bt176, was found to present a much higher risk to Monarch butterfly larvae than other Bt corn crops.

There are also risks associated with the fact that genetic engineers have no control over where in a plant’s DNA their gene will land and they often land in another gene, mutating that gene. Unexpected changes can occur in GM plants as a result of such unintended insertions–and other possible mutations.

KR: John Vandermeer, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, has said that genetic engineering is based on “dramatically incomplete knowledge of the genome,” which he compares to a complex ecosystem. Do you agree with that perspective?

Martineau: I agree with Dr. Vandermeer. Genetic engineering is based on the reductionist belief that taking a gene out of its context in one organism and inserting it—essentially randomly—into another organism’s genome comprises a “precise” process that requires minimal regulatory oversight before being sold in grocery stores for human food.

I heard a plant scientist claim that “we know exactly what we’re doing” with genetic engineering and then ask audience members to support grants for plant science because “there’s a lot we still don’t know about plant genomes.” It might be laughable if this situation wasn’t affecting the food system in the US and worldwide.

There are many imprecise aspects of genetic engineering, many related to our very incomplete knowledge about genetics and genomics. That is why regulation of every product of this technology should be required and why they should be labeled.

KR: What are your thoughts about labeling GM foods?

Martineau: This is America. In this capitalist society we have a right to know what we’re buying in grocery stores to feed our families. And in this democracy we have a right to vote for or against a technology with our pocketbooks. These products are labeled in some 60 other countries; they should be labeled in the United States as well.

Calgene’s tomato, the only example of a GM food that has been labeled in this country, was well received by consumers. This may have been because the company was transparent and up front with consumers.

KR: The Grocery Manufacturers Association recently formed a “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” comprising food and agriculture industry groups to lobby the government for voluntary labeling standards and to pre-empt state labeling laws. What are your thoughts about this?

Martineau: This is just a move to undermine the labeling laws being put in place in individual states around the United States. There is no need for a federal volunteer labeling law; developers of GM foods can already voluntarily label their products just as we did at Calgene. Most Americans want GM foods labeled, they’ve indicated as much for decades now, and the FDA has failed us in this regard.

Shame on our government if it gives in to the GMA, especially after what they did (to defeat GMO labeling) in the recent Washington state election.

KR: With the polarized debate over GMO foods do you think there is room for middle ground?

Martineau: I feel I’m on the middle ground. I’m not against the use of the technology; but when science moves out of the lab and onto the plates of consumers we must be more cautious about it. We scientists must explain what is imprecise and could pose potential problems as well as what is precise about the technology so that society as a whole can make informed decisions about how to use and regulate such a technology.

There is not enough transparency about genetic engineering technology right now and that contributes to consumer wariness about it.