Full list: Agriculture in the News

Seven Days LTE: Raw Deal

8/20/14
By Andrea Stander
Full Letter to the Editor

[Re “The Rise of Micro-Dairy: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — By Going Small” and “Milk Test,” August 6]: I appreciate Seven Days‘ coverage of raw milk and other food issues, but there are a couple of points I’d like to clear up:First, the author’s use of the word “trafficking” in reference to farmers who are selling raw milk perpetuates the idea that raw milk is some kind of radical, under-the-table commodity. The regulations are complex, but it is legal to sell raw milk in Vermont. In fact, generations of Vermonters were and continue to be raised on raw milk. Before milk became an industrial commodity rather than a food, most people in rural areas purchased their milk from their local farmer.

Second, if Vermont truly wants to have viable farms, there has to be room for small, grass-based, raw dairy operations, and the regulations that govern them must be reasonable and fair. As the potential customer quoted in the article said, “If all products were sold that way, I’d never buy anything.” What would happen to Vermont’s celebrated local food economy if everyone had to visit the farm before purchasing products at a farmers’ market? Or, what if all farmers had to waste precious time and fuel running around delivering their products to customers’ homes?

If you want to learn more about raw milk as a farm-fresh product or as an agricultural policy issue, please contact Rural Vermont. Visit ruralvermont.org or call 223-7222 for details.

Andrea Stander
Montpelier

Stander is executive director of Rural Vermont.


Fort Worth Weekly: Got Raw Milk? (Texas)

Fort Worth puts greater distance between producers and consumers of unpasteurized milk.
August 20, 2014
By EDWARD BROWN
Full Article

One hour south of Fort Worth, the serene setting of Rosey Ridge Farms fits the often-romanticized image of agrarian life. The roads are unpaved, and there’s barely a trace of modernity among the lush, seemingly endless fields of sunflowers and other crops. Proprietor Eldon Hooley has been working the land for eight years with his wife Lisa and their six children.

Two months ago, the Fort Worth City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits individuals from distributing raw milk from their homes. Although some doctors believe the substance has certain medical benefits, health officials see serious risks, including the spread of infectious diseases. Retailers have been prohibited from selling raw milk for decades, prompting many local raw milk lovers to drive to farms like Rosey Ridge, pick up containers, and take them home to distribute.

To Kay Singleton, a longtime resident of the Arlington Heights area, the ordinance is an affront. She became interested in unprocessed foods several years ago out of concern for her grandson’s health. After discovering raw milk, she decided to volunteer her porch as a drop point for individuals to pick up containers. She purchased an expensive cooler to keep the milk cooler than 50 degrees Fahrenheit –– unpasteurized milk does not have as long a shelf life as the pasteurized version.

Then the problems with the city started. At first, Singleton said, city code compliance officials began regularly “intimidating the driver who was unloading the milk” and would tell her that what she was doing was illegal.However, with no state law or city ordinance restricting raw milk distribution, she was convinced she wasn’t violating the law.

In May, four state health inspectors, two code compliance officers, and a police officer came to her house.

“They came and scared the bejesus out of my grandson by saying in front of him that I could go to jail,” she said. “Their tone was aggressive, as if I was a criminal.”

Singleton is so dedicated to remaining a part of the raw-milk community that she believes she has no option now but to move out of Fort Worth. Her home is for sale.

The ordinance, Hooley said, is “simply saying, ‘We’re going to take your rights away.’ ”

He said inspectors from the TexasDepartment of State Health Services have unfairly targeted his farm and, on at least one occasion, suspended his license (a Grade A raw for-retail milk permit) without due process. After Hooley filed a complaint, he said, one of the department’s directors called him, apologized, and reinstated his permit.

“If consumers do their research, and they decide what food they want, then they have a personal interest in it,” he said. “Now people want to buy direct from people they trust to provide whole foods.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn of Hunt County has been working on the topic for years: “The state law says raw milk is legal. Why can’t a legal product be sold at a farmers’ market?”

Raw milk has been verboten at farmers’ markets since 2000. Flynn said that if they can begin selling raw milk, individuals would have no need to take matters into their own hands. He recently sponsored a bill to allow the sale of raw milk in farmers’ markets, but it never made it to a floor vote. “It was late in the session, and time ran out” he said.

At committee hearings, more than 250 people testified, including numerous doctors who spoke about the medical benefits of raw milk in treating psoriasis and respiratory problems. “It would be disappointing if Fort Worth’s city council didn’t want the innumerable medical benefits from raw milk,” Flynn said.

Fort Worth spokesperson Bill Begley said the ordinance places “reasonable limitations” on the distribution of unpasteurized milk without prohibiting local residents from purchasing or consuming it –– only directly from farmers.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund that works to protect American farmers’ right to engage consumers directly, said the consumer health division of Fort Worth’s code compliance department is one of the most intrusive agencies he’s ever seen. Texas, he added, is one of the few places where state law allows the sale of raw milk while many cities ban it.

Despite the concerns of the Texas Medical Association and State Health Services, among others, Flynn plans to keep fighting.

“We have every intention of filing the bill again,” he said.


Washington Post: GMO labeling measure makes Colorado’s November ballot


August 20, 2014
Full Article

A proposal to require the labeling of genetically modified food qualified for Colorado’s November ballot, the secretary of state’s office announced Wednesday.

Backers of the measure, Proposition 105, submitted nearly 40,000 more valid signatures than the required 86,105.

The placement of the measure on the ballot could bring a huge wave of corporate spending, as was seen last fall in Washington state last year. D Groups opposed were funded in large part by food giants, such as Pepsico, Nestle, Coca-Cola, General Mills, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and Dupont. Two groups opposed to the measure spent $33 million, while $10 million was spent by groups in support of it.

Colorado won’t be alone this year. A similar measure has already qualified for the ballot in Oregon. And Vermont earlier this year became the first state in the nation to enact labeling requirements. When legislators crafted the law, they were so sure of corporate pushback that they simultaneously created a $1.5 million legal defense fund. A month after the law was enacted in May, the state was sued by the associations representing grocery manufacturers, the snack food industry, dairy industry and manufacturing industry.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of the parties suing Vermont. It is the dairy industry.


Food Navigator USA: First Amendment challenge to Vermont GMO labeling law does not stand up, claims state AG

By Elaine Watson
12-Aug-2014
Full Article

Vermont’s new GMO labeling law (Act 120) does not violate the First Amendment because the disclosures it mandates are “purely factual” and the law “does not require manufacturers to state a particular viewpoint, such as whether GE foods are good or bad”, claims the state attorney general (AG).


Right to Know Colorado: Colorado GMO Labeling Initiative Makes November Ballot

Contact: Tammi DeVille Merrell, Right to Know Colorado, tel 720.467.0189, tammi@r2kcolorado.org
8/20/14

Colorado GMO Labeling Initiative Makes November Ballot

Backers of the Right to Know Colorado initiative to label GMO foods, Proposition 105, submitted nearly 125,000 valid signatures to
the Colorado Secretary of State – nearly 40,000 more than the 86,105 required – to qualify for the November statewide ballot.

DENVER (Aug. 21, 2014) – Right to Know Colorado proudly reports the GMO labeling initiative, which helps Coloradans make informed
decisions about the foods they choose for their families, will be on the ballot this November 4. The voter initiative requires the
labeling of genetically modified or GMO foods, and will appear on the Colorado statewide ballot as Proposition 105.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced on August 20 that nearly 125,000 valid signatures were received, giving the
Right to Know Colorado campaign 145% of the number of signatures required for placement on the ballot. Right to Know Colorado
submitted a total of 171,370 signatures by the August 4 deadline, with a 73% validity rate.

“This historic achievement is only possible because of the thousands of hours volunteers contributed to this effort,” said Right
to Know Colorado campaign Chair Larry Cooper. “We had more than 500 people collect signatures throughout the state with signatures
from every county in the state. The people of Colorado made this happen.”

“Thank you again to the hundreds of volunteers and the 171,370 people who signed in support of labeling GMOs,” said campaign issue
committee Co-chair Tryna Cooper. “Now we look toward to November and need your support. Go to our website at
RighttoKnowColorado.org, donate, volunteer, get involved, and vote YES on 105!”

Reflecting a July 2013 New York Times poll showing that a great majority (93%) of Americans are in favor of mandatory GMO
labeling, a recent independent survey in the state of Colorado shows that 75% of Colorado registered voters would vote yes to
require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients sold in the state.

Proposition 105 asks voters if foods modified or treated with genetically modified materials should be labeled “Produced With
Genetic Engineering” starting July 1, 2016. To view the official ballot language, visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org.

“If GMOs are safe, as companies say, then why not label them on food?” said Larry Cooper. “Coloradans should not be left in the
dark about what they are feeding their families.”

About GMO Labeling

With no federal GMO labeling requirements in place in the U.S., it is estimated that more than 80% of conventional processed foods
contain genetically engineered ingredients, primarily from GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GMO crops.
However, according to a July 2013 New York Times poll, 93% of Americans are in favor of mandatory GMO labeling. More than 64 other
countries require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Colorado joins more than two dozen other states, including
Oregon, Arizona, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, in calling for GMO labeling legislation. Mandatory GMO
labeling laws were recently passed in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut.

About Right to Know Colorado

Right to Know Colorado GMO is a grassroots campaign to achieve mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods or GMOs across
the state. Right to Know Colorado is built on the foundation that we have the basic right to know what is in our food and what we
are feeding our families. The campaign gives Coloradans the opportunity to make informed decisions about their diet, health, and
general lifestyle.

Food labels list and describe nearly every detailed component of the food product, from the caloric values and processing
information, to the fat and protein content and the known allergens. Adding a simple label for GMO ingredients would fulfill
Colorado consumers’ right to know, enabling them to make educated food purchases and dietary choices for themselves and their
families.

For more information visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RighttoKnowColorado.


NBC: Far Out! Hemp Could Power Better Super-Batteries

8/12/14
Full Article & Video

Industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, can play a role in manufacturing super-powerful supercapacitors for energy storage at a cost that’s far cheaper than graphene, researchers report. The hemp-based technology took center stage Tuesday at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in San Francisco. A team led by David Mitlin, an engineering professor at Clarkson University, heated up hemp fibers to create carbon nanosheets that can be used as electrodes for supercapacitors. Compared with graphene, the hemp-derived carbon is “a little bit better, but it’s 1,000 times cheaper,” Mitlin told NBC News.

He has started up a spin-off venture, currently called Alta Supercaps, in hopes of commercializing high-temperature energy storage systems for oil and gas exploration. (Mitlin conducted the research while at the University of Alberta.) “We’re looking for partners,” he said. One challenge: In the United States, growing industrial hemp is legal only for limited research purposes, and even that’s been a struggle.


WUKY: Ky., Feds Reach Agreement Over Hemp Seed Imports

By Associated Press
8/16/14
Full Article

Ky. agriculture officials and the federal government have finalized an agreement on how industrial hemp seeds may be imported into the state.

After reaching the deal Friday, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has agreed to drop a lawsuit filed in May over acquiring the seeds.

Under the agreement, the department will file an application with the federal government for a permit to import hemp seeds, and the federal government will process the Kentucky’s application quickly. The federal government also agrees that the process established by the state will control the cultivation and marketing of hemp.

The department filed suit in May against several government agencies after seeds ticketed for Kentucky were held by customs in Louisville.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont defends GMO labeling law

By Terri Hallenbeck
August 8, 2014
Full Article

Vermont has the right to require that genetically modified foods sold within the state be labeled, the state attorney general argued in papers filed Friday in federal court.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell defended Vermont’s new labeling law with a 51-page court filing. He asked the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association.

Sorrell also asked that several state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, be removed from the lawsuit and contended that the National Association of Manufacturers should be tossed from the case because it had failed to allege harm.

Legislators passed and Shumlin signed the first-in-the-nation law this year knowing that food manufacturers were likely to sue. Sorrell has estimated it could cost the state up to $8 million to defend the law, with no guarantee the state will prevail. The law establishes a defense fund for the public to help pay legal bills.

Supporters of the labeling law argued that consumers want to know whether the food they buy contains genetically modified organisms. Genetic modification commonly is used for corn and soy to increase resistance to herbicides or enhance other traits in seeds.

The lawsuit, filed in June, argues that the law is misguided, exceeds the state’s authority and confuses consumers by suggesting that GMOs are unsafe with no evidence to support that. The lawsuit alleges the law violates food manufacturers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to label a product in a way they find unnecessary and misleading while also prohibiting them from using the word “natural” on genetically modified foods.

Sorrell and a team of lawyers he has appointed to work on the case argued the state may make labeling restrictions to promote “informed decision-making on matters of public health and the environment.”

The state also argues that the law steers clear of violating interstate commerce, as the labeling adds no burden that outweighs the benefits.

Pointing to two court cases, Sorrell argues that federal courts have upheld New York City’s law requiring the posting of calories on menus and a federal law requiring country-of-origin labels on meat on the premise that the laws allow consumers to make more informed choices.

Vermont’s labeling law is slated to take effect in July 2016 pending the outcome of the lawsuit.


New York Times Op-Ed: Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers

NEW HAVEN — AT a farm-to-table dinner recently, I sat huddled in a corner with some other farmers, out of earshot of the foodies happily eating kale and freshly shucked oysters. We were comparing business models and profit margins, and it quickly became clear that all of us were working in the red.

The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income. Health care, paying for our kids’ college, preparing for retirement? Not happening. With the overwhelming majority of American farmers operating at a loss — the median farm income was negative $1,453 in 2012 — farmers can barely keep the chickens fed and the lights on.

Others of us rely almost entirely on Department of Agriculture or foundation grants, not retail sales, to generate farm income. And young farmers, unable to afford land, are increasingly forced into neo-feudal relationships, working the fields of wealthy landowners. Little wonder the median age for farmers and ranchers is now 56.

My experience proves the trend. To make ends meet as a farmer over the last decade, I’ve hustled wooden crafts to tourists on the streets of New York, driven lumber trucks, and worked part time for any nonprofit that could stomach the stink of mud on my boots. Laden with college debt and only intermittently able to afford health care, my partner and I have acquired a favorite pastime in our house: dreaming about having kids. It’s cheaper than the real thing.

But what about the thousands of high-priced community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets that have sprouted up around the country? Nope. These new venues were promising when they proliferated over a decade ago, but now, with so many programs to choose from, there is increasing pressure for farmers to reduce prices in cities like my hometown, New Haven. And while weekend farmers’ markets remain precious community spaces, sales volumes are often too low to translate into living wages for your much-loved small-scale farmer.

Especially in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax breaks than tomatoes.

On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free market. Growing Power alone received over $6.8 million in grants over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to compete with that?

And then there are the chefs. Restaurants bait their menus with homages to local food, attracting flocks of customers willing to pay 30 bucks a plate. But running a restaurant is a low-margin, cutthroat business, and chefs have to pay the bills, too. To do so, chefs often use a rule of thumb: Keep food costs to 30 percent of the price of the meal. But organic farming is an even higher-risk, higher-cost venture, so capping the farmer’s take to a small sliver of the plate ensures that working the land remains a beggar’s game.

The food movement — led by celebrity chefs, advocacy journalists, students and NGOs — is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system.

Unlike our current small-bore campaigns, previous food movements of the 1880s, 1930s and 1970s were led by highly organized farmers’ organizations — like the American Agricultural Movement, National Farmers Union and Colored Farmers’ National Alliance — trailblazing new paths for the economy.

They went toe to toe with Big Ag: crashing shareholder meetings; building co-ops and political parties; and lobbying for price stabilization. In the late 1970s, for example, small-scale family farmers organized a series of protests under the slogan “Parity Not Charity,” demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, as well as the stabilization of crop prices to ensure that farmers could make a living wage. They mobilized thousands of fellow farmers to direct action, including the 1979 Tractorcade, where 900 tractors — some driven thousands of miles — descended on Washington to shut down the nation’s capital.

It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. We need to take the lead in shaping a new food economy by building our own production hubs and distribution systems. And we need to support workers up and down the supply chain who are fighting for better wages so that their families can afford to buy the food we grow.

But none of these demands will be met until we start our own organizations — as in generations past — and shape a vision of a new food economy that ensures that growing good food also means making a good living.


Bloomberg: Ben & Jerry’s Throws Fudge Brownie Into GMO Food Fight

By Matthew Boyle
Aug 1, 2014
Full Article

In early May, Unilever (UNA) Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman paid a visit to the headquarters of its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s in South Burlington, Vermont, meeting with about 100 employees to share his views on deforestation, farming, and food made with ingredients from genetically modified organisms.

That night, Polman had dinner and ice cream with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. Two days later, with Solheim at his side, Shumlin signed the nation’s first law requiring labeling of foods made with GMO ingredients.

Ben & Jerry’s support of the law — a swirl of savvy public relations, financial backing, and grass-roots activism — pits the ice cream maker against the world’s biggest food companies, including its own corporate parent. Unilever has openly opposed state efforts to legislate GMO labeling, throwing money into campaigns to defeat an initiative in California. But it has quietly allowed Ben & Jerry’s to assert itself as a vocal proponent of such laws, especially in Vermont.

At the GMO Battle Front

The GMO labeling battle is heating up nationwide, with more than a dozen states considering legislation, including Oregon, which has a ballot initiative in November. A month after the Vermont law was signed, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) — a food-industry trade group representing more than 300 companies, including Coca-Cola Co. (KO), Nestle SA (NESN), and Unilever — sued Governor Shumlin and other state officials to block the labeling requirements, which take effect in July 2016.

‘Traitor’ Brands

In response to the lawsuit, the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota-based advocacy group, has renewed an earlier boycott of the “traitor” brands, as it calls them, whose parent companies are GMA members. Ben & Jerry’s, along with Kellogg Co. (K)’s Kashi cereal and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP)’s Naked Juice, is on OCA’s list of traitors. So far that hasn’t hurt Ben & Jerry’s sales, which rose 6.2 percent to $594 million in the U.S. for the 52 weeks ended June 15, according to data tracker IRI.

Rather than downplay the conflict with its British-Dutch corporate owner, Ben & Jerry’s has basked in it, donating about $5,000 to the state’s legal defense fund and pledging on its website to fight what it calls the “powerful corporate interests” who oppose “honesty in food.” Unilever says state labeling laws are costly and complex, echoing food-industry lobbyists who call GMO labeling a fad that violates free speech.

“If it’s a fad, then why have over 60 countries around the world adopted it?” Solheim asked. “I don’t think it’s a fad that people want to know what’s in their food. If you believe in a consumer’s right to know, you have to promote that belief. You can’t not take a stand.”

Ben & Jerry’s has never shied away from speaking out on social issues, and Unilever, since acquiring the company in 2000, has not interfered. Since 1985, Ben & Jerry’s has donated a portion of its profits to community projects across the U.S. In 1996, the company sued the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois for the right to label its products as free of recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is given to cows to boost milk production. A condition of Unilever’s acquisition was that Ben & Jerry’s would have a separate board of directors not chosen by its owner.

‘Label It’

The maker of Chunky Monkey and Phish Food is not the only feel-good brand whose outspoken views might make its parent nervous. Organic beverage maker Honest Tea, owned by Coca-Cola, is, along with Ben & Jerry’s, a member of the “Just Label It” campaign, which advocates for mandatory GMO labeling nationwide. Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, who declined to comment for this story, said in a 2012 blog post that “there are bound to be moments when our enterprise does not share all of the same ideas as our parent company. But there’s never been any pressure to compromise.”

‘Food Fight!’

Solheim, a Norwegian who joined Unilever in 1991 and became Ben & Jerry’s CEO in 2010, said Unilever respects the brand’s GMO labeling push, which included temporarily changing the name of one of its flavors to “Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.” He added, “Obviously, there have been some bumps in the road, but our relationship is very productive.”

One out of three consumers intentionally avoids genetically modified ingredients, up from 15 percent in 2007, according to the Hartman Group, a trend tracker. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rejected calls to mandate GMO labeling but allows foodmakers to volunteer on packaging whether foods don’t contain GMOs. More than five dozen countries require such labels.

Avoiding GMOs isn’t easy. More than 80 percent of the soybeans and corn grown in the U.S. in 2013 came from genetically engineered crops, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 75 percent of the foods Americans eat contain GMOs in some form.