Full list: Agriculture in the News

VPR: GMO Bill Signed, Lawsuit Expected; Shumlin Asks For Help With ‘Food Fight’ Fund

May 8, 2014Full Article and Slideshow

Vermont has become the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

At a bill signing ceremony on the steps of the state capital, a few hundred supporters cheered Thursday as Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation he says will empower Vermont consumers.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear, they want to know what’s in their food,”  Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

The majority of the corn, soybeans and canola grown in the United States are genetically engineered, mostly to resist certain pests or herbicides. That means most packaged food sold in this country contains products that were grown with genetic engineering.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he doesn’t yet know what the label will look like, but he is sure of one thing: “I’ll be very surprised if we are not sued,” he says, by companies like Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Monsanto hasn’t commented on Vermont’s law yet, but Sorrell says he wouldn’t be surprised if there are constitutional claims, claims that the law would compel speech or claims the law poses a burden on interstate commerce.

Many Vermonters say they’re worried about potential health risks and just want to know what’s in their food.

“There’s no requirement that you have to show that these foods are actually harmful to health in order to require a company to disclose that genetic engineering was used,” says Laura Murphy, who works in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

But according to Keith Matthews, that isn’t a valid argument. Matthews is an attorney who often represents private sector clients in environmental and regulatory matters. He thinks the court would require proof that people were harmed by eating food containing GMOs.

Matthews used to work for the Environmental Protection Agency and ran the unit that registers and regulates genetically engineered crops.

“You’ve got three federal agencies that engage in rigorous review of these products and determine that there is no risk, that they don’t cause any adverse effects in the environmental context when they’re being grown,” he says. “Nor do they pose any risk to humans when they’re consumed.”

Debate over the potential risks of genetically engineered food is heated. Most scientists say there’s no evidence of harm in eating foods made with genetic engineering.

But anti-GMO advocates say the long-term effects aren’t yet known. Some countries have taken a more cautious approach, and Vermont seeks to emulate the European Union, where labeling rules have been in place for more than a decade. U.S. law, however, is different.

Without a change to federal regulations, Vermont’s statute is likely to face major challenges. But the state lawmakers who wrote the law say they’re ready for that. The legislation includes a $1.5 million legal fund to help cover costs if the state loses in court.

And at the signing ceremony, Shumlin announced the formation of a legal defense fund, called the Food Fight Fund, and asked people from across the country to contribute.


Burlington Free Press/USA Today: Got (raw) milk? Advocates want you to get the choice

By Mary Bowerman
May 5, 2014
Full Article

Public health officials will tell you that drinking raw milk is not worth the risk of suffering a food-borne illness. But advocates — who contend raw or unpasteurized milk can battle everything from autism to allergies — are behind bills in a number of states to open the door to raw milk sales. Further, Congress is entertaining two bills to make it easier to buy and transport raw milk across state lines.

While 30 states in the U.S. allow consumer sale of raw milk in some form, a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unpasteurized products are 150 times more likely to cause food-borne illnesses than pasteurized versions. But advocates say the health benefits outweigh the negatives, and people should have the right to choose what they want to eat or drink.

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to kill microorganisms. Typically milk is held at 161 degrees for 15 seconds, a process called flash pasteurization. Under a 1987 federal law, products made from unpasteurized milk may not be sold or traded across state borders.

Currently states are divided into areas where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal to states that allow some form of sale, whether for pet food, retail sale, farm sales or herd shares (where consumers purchase a share of a farmer’s herd in exchange for raw milk).

Rep. Thomas Massie, R- Ky., recently introduced two bills: The first would end the interstate ban on raw milk sales, and the second would allow interstate transport between states where raw milk is currently legal.

According to The Conference of State Legislatures at the state level, 40 bills to allow raw milk sales or ease current restrictions have been introduced in 23 states.

Sally Fallon Morell, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit education foundation and advocate of raw milk, said if consumers want to drink raw milk they will find a way, many times going to states where it is legal.

“It’s grossly unfair for farmers in states where it is illegal to sell raw milk,” Fallon Morell said. “It doesn’t mean people will stop drinking it. It just means those farmers cannot profit from the enthusiasm for raw milk.”

The foundation fights for the legal sale of unpasteurized milk and a ban on soy-based formulas for infants, based on the theories of Weston Price, a 20th-century Cleveland dentist, believing that pasteurizing milk destroys vitamins and damages health-giving enzymes in milk.

Much of the information on raw milk is based on anecdotal accounts of its benefits. RealMilk.com, a website by the Weston A. Price Foundation, says that in addition to helping grow children’s nervous systems, raw milk produces bacteria that help break down lactose, making it easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance.

“We have thousands of testimonies from people who can’t drink pasteurized milk but have no problem with raw milk,” Fallon Morell said.


VT Digger: Glenn Gilchrist: Vermont identified as a hotbed of science denial

May 7, 2014
By Glenn Gilchrist
Full Article

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Glenn Gilchrist, an environmentalist who has worked with both national and grassroots organizations. He is also a nature photographer and freelance writer. His blog is at www.glenngilchrist.com.

Can you imagine a circumstance that would prompt serious journalists with national exposure to equate Vermonters in general and their lawmakers specifically with “climate change skeptics” and “science denying creationists”? Well, Vermonter, it seems that your insistence on being informed about the contents of the food you eat has just relegated you to the scrap heap of scientific ignorance and denial. At least that is how some journalists are telling it.

Our critics, who include writers for Forbes and Discover Magazine, state that the evidence supporting GMO food safety is so convincing that no further debate is required and that GMO skeptics are no more credible than any other science denier. Not only do they discount all arguments that question GMO food safety, they also ignore the many other important and related issues addressed in Vermont H.112.

Trevor Butterworth, writing for Forbes, states in his post “Science Free News Coverage of Vermont GMO Labeling” that reporters should be characterizing Vermont’s legislation as a misrepresentation of scientific expertise. He writes that media coverage of the legislation is biased, and with the exception of a Reuters news article, completely lacks scientific comment by geneticists or biologists.

The Reuters article references a statement made last October by a “Group of 93” international scientists who said there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support false claims by the bio-tech industry about a “consensus” on safety. So while Butterworth is pleased to hear from science, he dismisses this particular group as unqualified.

In other words, Butterworth asserts that Vermont lawmakers ignored, or were ignorant of science when they crafted GMO labeling legislation, and the media as a whole is guilty of the same.

Note however, that Vermont H.112 does not exactly ignore the issue of science as noted here in Section 1 (D):

“… the FDA regulates genetically engineered foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant breeding, but, according to Dr. James Maryanski, FDA biotechnology coordinator (1985−2008), the decision to regulate genetically engineered food in this manner was a political decision not based in science” (emphasis added).

Butterworth refers us to an “excellent” discussion of GMO science by Keith Kloor, a distinguished, generally progressive journalist writing on Discovery Magazine’s blog (“GMOs, Journalism and False Balance”) where he characterizes the “Group of 93 “ as a “fringy, science denying group (on the issue of GMO safety, anyway).”

The group, by the way, has grown to 297 scientists and professionals associated with the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER).

ENSSER responds in “297 scientists and experts agree GMOs not proven safe” with comments by Dr. Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University that:

“Adverse consequences of GMO crops are not restricted to keeling over dead after eating genetically adulterated unlabeled food (GAUF). My concerns include subtle changes in nutritional quality or mycotoxins, increasing food allergens, unsustainable farming practices, dependency on chemical inputs, lack of transparency in evaluating food quality and safety, and the transformation of farming practices into a modern form of serfdom, where the seed is intellectual property leased by the farmer” (emphasis added).

Note that the ENSSER statement extends the argument well beyond just food safety, as does Vermont in Section 1 (G) of H.112:

“The result is public uncertainty about the nutrition, health, safety, environmental impacts, and the proliferation of genetic engineering technology …”

Butterworth and Kloor discount the opinions of the group because not all of the scientists who signed the statement are geneticists, and because one of them, Gilles-Eric Séralin, authored a study that was subsequently denounced by critics – about which the Economist reported “that the journal’s publisher said there was no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.”

If we look at the facts, we find that the group of 297 signatories (as of Oct. 31, 2013) may not all be geneticists, but the majority are engaged in some area of science or agriculture. It is safe to assume that most are familiar with the concept of the scientific method and can read a scientific paper beyond the abstract. But the point is moot – focusing on and then discounting the work of one group of scientists does not discount their entire field of study.

The reality is that the scientific literature is rife with examples of animal studies that support GMO product safety. It is also rife with studies that shed doubt on GMO product safety. It is also true that there are far more scientists than the Group of 297 voicing serious concerns. For example, Dr. Don Huber, a leading GMO expert, award-winning, internationally recognized scientist, and professor of plant pathology at Purdue University for the past 35 years, has stated clearly that there are no peer-reviewed scientific papers establishing the safety of GMO crops.

It seems obvious that what we have here does not constitute a consensus, yet Kloor states that by giving these scientists a voice, the media is guilty of “false balance” and has created a “false equivalence.” He compares GMO label proponents with climate change deniers as if the weight of evidence purported by the different sides of these differing subjects was identical.

Butterworth and Kloor suggest we be guided by the statements of medical and scientific institutions, such as the American Medical Association (whose expertise in both nutrition and agriculture is questionable) and the National Academy of Sciences.

While prestigious institutions, one must be cautious about embracing them as The Ultimate Authority and realize that in today’s business climate, even they are capable of commercial bias and mistakes. It is quite dangerous to defer our own conclusions to those of entrenched institutions based on assumed authority, especially when the stakes are this high. It is even more difficult when one considers that over 60 countries, including those of the European Union, have banned or seriously restricted the sale of GMO foods. And more difficult yet when one realizes the complete lack of any human trials.

If this seems a bit harsh one need only recall a time when the AMA and many physicians advised patients that there were no ill effects attributable to smoking tobacco and, in fact, saw a proliferation of advertising such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” Furthermore, the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association hosted and profited from many tobacco advertisements for a very, very long time.

As mentioned above, there are many published animal studies – and some claim to prove the safety of GMO food products. Many authors cite a 2011 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology titled “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review,” for example. The lead author was Chelsea Snell, a student at the University of Nottingham at the time of the study. Full text here.

The authors examined “12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations)” and concluded that “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.”

Snell et al. summarized each of the 24 animal studies they reviewed, included the original researchers’ main findings and interpretations, and then added their own opinions about how the study designs may have affected the validity of the findings.

Of the 24 studies they reviewed, many reported differences between animals fed GMO foods compared to controls who ate non-GMO varieties. Differences such as elevated metabolic rates and changes in pancreatic, liver and other organ function were common.

Snell et al. respond by reporting experimental design problems with each of the studies that showed differences between GMO and non-GMO fed animals and even with studies that showed no difference between GMO and non-GMO groups. This would suggest the possibility that current (or their chosen) research models are weak and that more and better research need be done. Instead Snell et al. suggest that their review somehow proves the safety of GMO foods. Once again, what we have here can hardly be considered a consensus.

Furthermore, the studies described in the review span only 90 days to two years, were conducted mostly on rats and mice, and do not dispute the position stated in Vermont H.112 Section 1 G that: “There have been no long-term studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.”

On the contrary their findings do support the concerns of Vermonter’s expressed in Section 1B:

“(A) Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, immune system interference, and allergic responses.”

Butterworth diminishes and derides the Vermont legislation and subsequent media attention by reducing the issue simply to our desire to be seen as fighting “a battle between brave, concerned citizens and bad big business.”

Yet we know that much of the research done on GMO safety is funded directly or indirectly by agribusinesses who have a vested interest in the outcomes. We know that trade organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association have spent millions of dollars combating state and federal GMO labeling laws and indoctrinating the public with the idea that GMO labeling will create an undue hardship on businesses. That changing labels will cost millions of dollars – costs that will be passed on to consumers. Give it some time, and we’ll even hear that labeling will cost jobs!

Another possible interpretation is that agribusiness stakeholders are worried that once products are labeled as containing GMOs, people may choose not to buy them. Because really, are label changes on consumer products all that uncommon? And expensive? Of course not. But allowing GMO products to be put at a competitive disadvantage by simply telling us what they are – that is just unacceptable to their business interests. So labels be damned.

This, like most debates, is ultimately a question of values; values relevant not just to foods, but to many areas, such as pharmaceuticals, toxic effects of resource extraction and so many more.

Do we ingest (or otherwise consume) things until they are proven dangerous, or do we avoid those things we perceive to be dangerous until it is proven that they are safe.

… and …

In matters of health and nutrition (to name just a few), do we have the right to know?


The Complete Patient: Why the Food Oligarchs Hate GMO Labeling

by: David Gumpert
04/24/2014
Full Post

Don’t underestimate the importance of Vermont’s passage of a GMO-labeling law. 

Tiny Vermont (population 626,000) is the first of what will likely be a number of states to confront America’s food oligarchy and try to force these cartels to actually do something their customers want. How will the oligarchs respond? 

Almost certainly not the way they should, which would be to adjust their food labels to include information about which ingredients are genetically modified. More likely, they will respond with legal maneuvering, possibly including a suit against Vermont, and heavy lobbying of their political pals in Washington to put a hold on the Vermont law, which is due to go into effect July 1, 2016, more than two years out. 

The oligarchs have been dodging and weaving like crazy to avoid having to disclose their heavy use of genetically-modified ingredients, for fear of losing business to foods without the stuff that makes people nervous (and likely sick). They spent heavily to defeat citizen initiatives requiring labeling in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013. Several states that passed labeling laws, like Maine and Connecticut, made them contingent on neighboring states passing them. 

The oligarchs say the GMO labeling requirement is too cumbersome, too costly, etc., etc. They say that, all while Coca Cola, one of the oligarchs, in a recent legal case maintained its Minute Maid subsidiary should be allowed to continue deceptive labeling that enables it to call its apple-grape juice (99 per cent of the ingredients) a “Pomegranate blueberry blend” to “support brain and body,” even though those ingredients are less than one per cent. (The fact that “support brain and body” is a health claim gets completely ignored in the legal arguments.)

We see the same behavior in the dairy arena, where the cartel stands in the way of any American research into the health benefits of raw milk, and opposes in states around the country any expansion of access to raw milk. The idea is to force-feed people the processed stuff, much the same as the idea is to force-feed Americans GMO-tainted food. 

Aside: why do I call these corporations and their executives “oligarchs”? Because much of our food system is controlled by a few large corporations. One example of this expanding oligopoly control is in America’s huge meat industry.  Here is how journalist Christopher Leonard describes the producers of chicken, pork, and beef in a new book, The Meat Racket: “Just a handful of companies produce nearly all the meat consumed in the United States…..a powerful oligarchy of corporations that determines how animals are raised, how much farmers get paid, and how meat is processed, all while reaping massive profits and remaining almost opaque to the consumer.” 

(The companies are Smithfield, Tyson Foods, JBS, and Cargill.) 

Our media have fun with the notion of the Russian “oligarchs” who run that country, but have difficulty coming to grips with the reality that the U.S. is run similarly. 

Bottom line, the food oligarchy is afraid of the competition inherent in the labeling requirement, just as they are afraid of the competition inherent in widening access to raw milk. These corporations know that consumers will avoid products with GMO ingredients. The corporations will be forced to lower prices, and squeeze their profit margins, to convince people to buy these genetically altered products.

Oligarchs don’t compete. They beat up the competition, ignore their customers, anything to avoid being honest and forthright. Congrats to Vermont’s politicians for deciding to part company with the oligarchs. 


Huffington Post: Vermont Stands on the Cusp of History With Right-to-Know GE Labeling Law

By Andrew Kimbrell
04/24/2014
Governor Expected to Sign First No-Strings-Attached Law to Require Labeling for Foods produced with Genetic Engineering (GE)
Full Article

Vermont is on the cusp of history after the legislature just passed the nation’s first no-strings-attached bill to require labeling for foods produced with genetic engineering (GE). It now heads to Governor Shumlin, who is expected to sign the bill. The law would go into effect July 1, 2016.

This is a historic day for the people’s right to know. Vermont is leading the country and opening the door for a mandatory national labeling program. We congratulate the Vermont activists and the legislatures who have fought long and hard for this historic day.

Many national groups helped in this important victory. The Center for Food Safety helped draft the legislation in consultation with state representatives, and provided legal testimony before the Vermont Legislature. CFS has maintained an active presence in the state, providing resources and expert legal and scientific advice to the citizens and lawmakers of Vermont.

According to The New York Times, 93 percent of Americans want GE foods to be labeled. Consumers want this information, but giant chemical corporations have spent tens of millions of dollars on misleading campaigns to keep consumers in the dark. Now, thanks to Vermont, the people will start learning the extent of the chemical companies’ involvement in our food production.

It is now very clear that federal labeling of GE foods is going to happen in the foreseeable future. Should the industry try to challenge the law in the courts, the CFS legal team will be there to help defend it and we are confident that it would survive any such challenge.

Vermont is leading the way, but they are not alone. States like California, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Maine are following. This year, legislatures in 30 states across the country will consider GE labeling laws. They are following the 64 nations, including the European Union, Russia, China, and Brazil, which require labeling.

Monsanto and pals can see the writing on the wall. The American people are willing to fight for our right to know what is in our food. The agrichemical industry can’t win in the states so they will try to steal away our right to know at the national level. They have already gone to Congress and picked Koch brothers-backed Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to champion legislation which would deny states right to pass locally appropriate laws. CFS will fight them every step of the way.

On the side of consumer rights, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently introduced federal legislation that would require nationwide labeling of GE products. That bill has 65 cosponsors and the support of the food movement across the country. A million and a half people endorsed a 2011 legal petition filed by the Center for Food Safety with FDA which created a blueprint for a federal labeling of genetically engineered foods.


The Courier Journal: Kentucky hemp to be planted in May

Bruce Schreiner
April 29, 2014
Full Article

Kentucky’s first industrial hemp crop in decades will start going into the ground next month now that the pipeline for shipping seeds into the state is opening up to allow the experimental plantings, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Tuesday.

Comer said he expects the first batches of hemp seeds to arrive soon at the state Agriculture Department at Frankfort.

“We’re rapidly approaching a crucial time for the seeds to be put in the ground,” he said.

So far, eight pilot projects are planned statewide as part of a small-scale reintroduction to gauge the crop’s potential in the marketplace and as a moneymaker for farmers. The first planting is scheduled May 16 in Rockcastle County, said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, Comer’s chief of staff.

“Hopefully we can get enough seeds to have credible research data gathered by this fall,” Comer said. “And next year, hopefully we’ll have enough seeds to have several processors in the state and several farmers under contract growing it.”

Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. But hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

The crop’s comeback gained a foothold with passage of the new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states that already allow the growing of hemp.

Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year that allowed hemp to be reintroduced, if the federal government allowed its production.

Once the farm bill allowed the experimental plantings, the next challenge was getting hemp seed.

Comer said Tuesday his staff has “gone through every level of federal bureaucracy you can go through to get those seeds in.”

The initial seeds are coming from Canada and Italy, Comer said.

One pilot project in Fayette County will focus on hemp’s potential in medicine, she said.

Hemp many uses, including rope, clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions.


Washington Post: How Vermont plans to defend the nation’s first GMO law

By Niraj Chokshi
April 29
Full Article

Expect two things to happen now that Vermont’s legislature has passed H.112.

Any day now, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to make history by signing that bill into law as he has suggested, making his the first state to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such. Then, maybe not too long after that, expect the state to be sued over it.

There’s no guarantee of legal action, but legislators, officials and advocates are preparing for it. Earlier this month, state Attorney General Bill Sorrell told Vermont Public Radio that he would be “very surprised” if the state isn’t sued over the law. And officials were so sure of a challenge that the measure itself creates a $1.5 million legal defense fund, to be paid for with settlements won by the state. They think it’s coming, but they also say they’re ready.

“The threat of a lawsuit worked for a while, but now it doesn’t work anymore,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, whose organization has for years worked with activists and lawmakers in Vermont on the issue. “I think they may go ahead and sue and do it rather quickly in the hopes that it may gather momentum,” he added, referring to biotech industry groups.

Other states have pursued similar measures, but Vermont’s law will be the first of its kind. Connecticut and Maine passed labeling requirements, but with trigger clauses requiring multiple other states to pass labeling requirements before their own go into effect. At least 25 states have considered such legislation, according to a Monday report on labeling requirements from the nonprofit Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. And advocates are hopeful they will get a measure on the Oregon ballot this year.

Industry groups argue that such laws are costly and bad for consumers.

Proponents argue that the science behind genetically modified food is far from conclusive and ask why consumers should take risks without knowing what they’re eating. If companies truly stand behind the safety of GMO foods, they shouldn’t worry about having to identify them, advocates for labeling argue.

Whatever the wisdom of labeling policies, though, Vermont is set to move forward with its requirement. Cummins and others are relatively calm about the prospect of lawsuits, though, because they’re prepared. Advocates expect industry will challenge the law on three constitutional grounds, none of which they expect to be successful (of course). Here’s how the food industry may fight back and why labeling proponents think they can win, according to their legal analyses.
1. The First Amendment argument

The first argument that industry is expected to make in challenging Vermont’s GMO law is that it violates commercial free speech rights under the First Amendment. (Businesses have limited free speech protections based on the benefit of free-flowing information to an open society.) The Supreme Court has established two tests for reviewing whether such rights have been violated, according to two legal analyses of Vermont’s law.

Under one test — from Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio — the U.S. Supreme Court found that requiring commercial speech is considered constitutional if the required speech conveys “purely factual information in support of a legitimate government interest,” according to a memo from Emord & Associates, a food and drug law firm. In other words, government can require businesses to make factual statements if it’s in the service of the public good in some way.

The other First Amendment test revolves around whether a state can restrict commercial speech. It stems from New York’s attempt, in the interest of conserving energy, to ban utilities from promoting use of electricity. The Supreme Court overturned the ban, challenged by Central Hudson Gas & Electric.

In so doing, the court set up a four-part test, according to another memo from the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, which represents the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. A limit on commercial speech must meet four requirements, the court found:

First, the court has to decide that the speech is protected, meaning it must be about legal activity and not be misleading.
Second, the government has to claim a substantial interest in limiting the speech.
Third, the policy in question has to “directly advance” that interest.
Fourth, that policy must not overreach in achieving its goal.

Both legal memos and labeling advocates come to the same conclusion: a labeling law will likely pass either test.
2. Does federal law trump state law?

Another argument that proponents of GMO labeling expect to hear is that Vermont’s new law stomps on territory covered by the federal government. There are three conditions under which federal law trumps state law, a process known as preemption, according to the Law Clinic memo. They are known as express preemption, field preemption and conflict preemption.

Express preemption is when Congress explicitly says a federal law trumps state laws. Both memos conclude that it has not done so with such labeling requirements, which don’t explicitly govern genetically modified foods.

A conflict preemption exists when it’s impossible to comply with both federal and state law. Again, federal regulations don’t touch on the use of “genetically enginereed,” “natural” or similar terms, so it’s possible for a business or individual to comply with federal and state labeling requirements, both memos find.

Finally, federal law trumps state law when it’s clear that the federal interest in a field is so great that it’s assumed to be the one in charge. In that instance, “congressional intent to supersede state laws must be ‘clear and manifest,’” which neither memo finds it is.
In this April 16, 2014 photo, a tassel of corn grows in a field on Pioneer Hi-Bred International land in Waialua, Hawaii. The nation’s leading corn seed companies have farms in Hawaii, but their fields have become a flash point in a spreading debate over genetic engineering in agriculture.

3. Does it interfere with interstate commerce?

The third challenge labeling proponents expect to hear is that the GMO law unconstitutionally interferes with interstate commerce. While the Constitution’s Commerce Clause grants Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, it is also understood to implicitly limit state powers to do the same.

The Supreme Court has in the past applied two tests in assessing whether a policy violates the clause.

The first is whether a law discriminates against interstate commerce — in other words, does it explicitly favor commerce within the state over commerce between states. Vermont’s GMO law treats Vermont companies the same as companies based in other states, so advocates are confident it would survive that first test.

The second test would ensure that any burden on interstate commerce — e.g. increased costs of labeling GMO foods — are fairly balanced with the local benefits the law provides, such as protecting public health and the environment. Again, advocates conclude the law is balanced.


A Tale of Two Milks: A Farmer’s Perspective: Op-ed by Lindsay Harris

Art Credit: Phil Herbison

Art Credit: Phil Herbison

A Tale of Two Milks: A Farmer’s Perspective
Ran in the Rutland Herald 5/4/14 (view post)
By Lindsay Harris
4/28/14

As the Vermont Legislature considers S.70, a bill that would allow the delivery of raw (unpasteurized) milk to farmers’ markets, there has been a spirited discussion on the value of raw milk sales as part of Vermont’s agricultural economy. As the founder and former operator of Family Cow Farmstand, a raw milk micro-dairy in Hinesburg, I’d like to share a farmer’s perspective. We Vermonters are blessed to have an abundance of local foods; however we are at a crossroads in building a local food system that is truly sustainable. Raw dairy production can be a part of the solution, if Vermont has the courage to move forward and not stay stuck retelling a story that dates to the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Raw milk and raw dairy products have sustained many cultures across the globe for thousands of years. Raw milk in its various forms is mentioned in the bible over 50 times. Pasteurization is a recently developed technique only becoming a widespread practice within the last 60 years. Despite this, we often hear how pasteurization is essential for food safety. This disparity has everything to do with modern production methods.

In the early 1900’s the rise of industrial milk production was the cause of a terrible public health crisis. Confinement dairies started popping up next to whiskey refineries so the waste grain mash, called “swill”, could be force-fed to cows, producing low-cost milk for poor city dwellers who no longer had access to fresh milk from farms. These early industrial dairies were terrible places where both the cows and the workers were filthy and often sick. Illness spread to people who drank the raw “swill milk” and something had to be done. Instead of requiring cows be healthy and milked on small, clean farms, regulators allowed low-cost, low-quality swill milk to remain on the market, and required that it be “cooked” (pasteurized) before sale so it wouldn’t spread infectious disease. For a long time there were two milks in America: “Certified” raw milk that came from clean rural farms, and low-cost, cooked swill milk produced in the cities. With the gradual industrialization of most dairy production, milk became a commodity and pasteurization became the norm and the law.

Dairy regulation has come a long way since then, but it still allows for: large, confinement housing systems; feeding cows with concentrates, industrial food wastes and GMO’s; co-mingled milk from many thousands of cows; regular use of hormones and antibiotics; and milk from unhealthy cows to enter the food supply. The feasibility of industrial milk production depends on pasteurization. But there is another way to farm where pasteurization has never been necessary. It is the way humans have been successfully raising dairy animals for many thousands of years, in small herds fed on grass.

Cows with a grass-based diet are much less likely to harbor pathogens.1, 2 A recent UVM study tested over a hundred milk samples from 30 small-scale, Vermont farms. 3 The results consistently showed outstanding milk quality and zero pathogenic cells in any of the samples. Recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control show a person is many times more likely to get sick from consuming seafood, chicken, beef, spinach and many other common perishable foods than from drinking raw milk.4 Furthermore, recent studies show significant health benefits to drinking milk that has not been pasteurized. 5

Current regulations surrounding raw milk production and sale in Vermont reflect a fear and bias that is not supported by scientific evidence. This fear and bias is evident in the Vermont dairy industry’s vehement opposition to allowing sales of high-quality raw milk from small farms. Currently, Vermont’s raw milk producers are held to a higher standard of testing and inspection than conventional dairies and they are unfairly restricted from selling their product even when they meet these regulations. Let’s follow other states’ lead in allowing farmers who produce excellent, high quality food to sell it and return control over food choices to informed consumers.

Please contact Governor Shumlin and ask him to support greater economic opportunity for raw dairy farmers by signing S.70, and by directing his Agency of Agriculture to develop policies that encourage and support the development of micro-dairies and regulates them fairly.

1. Russell, J.B., F. Diez-Gonzalez, and G.N. Jarvis, Microbes Infect 2, no, 1 (2000) 45-53.

2. Bailey, G.D., B.A. Vantelow et al. (2003) Commun Dis Intell 2003; 27(2): 249-57.

3. D’Amico, D.J., and C.W. Donnelly. J. Dairy Sci.93:134-147 (2010)

4. Centers for Disease Control. (2007). “FOIA 06-0819 Line list of foodborne illness reported to CDC’s National Foodborne Outbreak Surveillance System from 1973 to 2005” Available online at http://www.davidgumpert.com/files/Cdc-foodborne-i.pdf (accessed April 27, 2010)

5. Waser, M., et al. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 37.5 (2007): 661-670.

Lindsay Harris
Mountain Home Farm
213 Bicknell Hill Rd
Tunbridge, VT 05077
(802) 989-2813 or lindsayjharris@yahoo.com

Lindsay Harris is a dairy farmer who founded and ran Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg for the past five years. She now farms in Tunbridge where she is producing artisanal butter, buttermilk and ricotta cheese.


Politico: Food Freedom movement grows with help from left

By TARINI PARTI and HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH
4/22/14
Full Article
Farmers should have the right to milk a cow and sell a gallon of that milk to their neighbors, argue libertarian supporters of the “food freedom” movement. They should be able to slaughter and sell the meat of the livestock they raised directly to consumers.

Consumer advocates and Big Ag have fought successfully for years to keep strong federal and state regulations on the books to block such allowances, citing serious food safety concerns. But as buying local has become all the rage and concerns about industrialized agriculture more widespread, the right-leaning food freedom cause is gaining steam and increasingly finding allies on the left.

In another example of food freedom bipartisanship, Democratic Reps. Pingree and Peter Welch of Vermont teamed up with Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado to take on a regulation the FDA proposed under a 2011 food safety law that would impose new safety standards on spent grain, which brewers often donate or sell to livestock farms.

Small-scale producers have also had the support of Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who gained major exemptions for them when the sweeping food safety overhaul was being considered in the Senate.

However, as the movement gains support inside and outside the Beltway, consumer advocates hope the trend to support small producers doesn’t outweigh efforts to make food safer.

But supporters of the movement, including Rep. Thomas Massie, the Kentucky Republican who sponsored the two raw milk-related bills and is looking to take a leadership role in the food freedom movement, insist the food safety argument is moot because industrialized agriculture is causing more problems.

“The food or farm freedom movement is really bipartisan,” Massie said. “Many consumers care not only about the safety of their food but also how it was raised. Neither party has a monopoly on healthiness, if you will, and in general this food is healthier.”

The freshman congressman, who manages his own farm where he and his wife produce grass-fed beef, grow and can fruits and vegetables and raise chickens and ducks, plans to introduce more food freedom bills in the coming months. He hopes Democrats are willing to go along for the ride.

“I sit two or three seats from the aisle in the House of Representatives because I’m always looking for Democratic co-sponsors,” he quipped.

Massie and one of his Kentucky Republican compadres, Sen. Rand Paul — an especially popular figure within the food freedom movement — have expressed interest in introducing legislation to allow all meat producers the same exemption from USDA inspections provided to poultry farmers who raise less than 20,000 birds a year.

Just before Massie was elected to office in 2012, he and Paul visited the Virginia farm of Joel Salatin where they discussed potential bills that could ease regulatory burdens on small farmers.

Salatin, who runs a diverse farming operation that includes raising chickens for slaughter, is a celebrity in the food freedom movement, having been prominently featured in Michael Pollan’s bestseller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals,” and the Oscar-nominated film “Food, Inc.” Salatin’s own 2007 book, one of nine he’s written, “Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front,” has helped galvanize support for the cause.

Salatin said he first discovered the impact regulations had on small farms when he graduated from high school and decided to become a farmer himself.

“I realized that any time the government tries to get in between your lips and throat — that was a pretty drastic invasion of privacy and freedom,” he said.


Salon: Why America’s fired up about hemp

The once-maligned cannabis plant could herald an agricultural revolution, author Doug Fine tells Salon
By

Hemp: It’s not just for health food smoothies and hippie clothing. The unintended victim of the United States’ prohibition on cannabis — it got swept up in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and is now blacklisted by the DEA under the Controlled Substances Act — the plant is beginning to be seen by many as the solution to any number of the country’s problems, with implications ranging from energy to agriculture. Newly liberated (to an extent) by the recently passed Farm Bill, it could be the country’s next billion-dollar industry, journalist Doug Fine told Salon.

It’s one of the few areas on which Fine, who’s previously written books about marijuana legalization and an experiment in off-grid living, can find common ground with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution” is part manifesto, part documentation of the ways in which hemp is being put to use within the U.S. and around the world, and part how-to for would-be cultivators. Fine spoke with Salon about hemp’s former role in U.S. history, the declining stigma against all kinds of cannabis and the people leading the new hemp movement. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Just so everyone’s on the same page, I thought it would be good to start with a working definition of hemp. What are you talking about in the book, and what’s its relationship to marijuana?

Most of the world cultivates hemp today, and the general definition is any variety of the cannabis plant with less than .1 percent THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can be cultivated for industrial reasons. There is no other similarity between hemp, otherwise known as industrial cannabis, and the psychoactive varieties of the plant, other than the fact that their leaves are shaped similarly. Canada has a 15-year modern hemp industry worth a billion dollars a year, by the way, and growing. And there have been zero cases of confusion between hemp and psychoactive cannabis.

Also, a hemp crop would immediately ruin a psychoactive cannabis crop because for psychoactive cannabis, only females are cultivated, and they’re prima donnas — they’re lovingly manicured over their life cycle. If hemp pollen were to get into those female plants, it would destabilize the psychoactivity, it would dilute it. So that’s why for instance in California, which recently passed hemp cultivation registration, the regions where they’re allowing hemp are totally separate from the famous outdoor cannabis cultivating regions of the Emerald Triangle and the Redwood northern part of the state.

So the U.S. prohibition of industrial cannabis, then, is really all about this perceived connection it has with marijuana?

Yes. The 77 years of hemp prohibition were essentially caused by a typo. When cannabis was effectively criminalized in 1937, under the federal Marijuana Tax Act – another terrible policy which I’ve written about before — hemp was included. Very quickly, the federal government realized what a mistake that was. Already the drug war was shipping jobs offshore. In 1942, just a few years after hemp prohibition began, World War II was breaking out. And the Navy needed something like 40 tons of hemp rigging for each vessel.

And by the way, the cord in the parachute that saved George Bush Sr.’s life in World War II was made of hemp.

So we’d been getting the hemp from the Philippines. But the Japanese captured the Philippines. So in 1942, you can see this on Youtube, the Department of Agriculture made this propaganda film that sounds as though it were produced by your roommate with the lava lamp. It’s called “Hemp for Victory,” and it just sings all the true applications of hemp, it’s a song of praise to it. And it’s just proof of the ridiculousness of cannabis prohibition. This 77-year break that we tried to impose on humanity’s relationship with the plant obviously must come to an end. And when it comes to hemp, it’s really, really good for the economy and the planet that it’s coming to an end.

In your last book, “Too High to Fail,” you make a strong economic case for ending marijuana prohibition, which is still coming up against opposition. Is legalizing hemp any easier, or is stigma still an issue here, too?

Well, it’s even easier with hemp. In February, Congress passed and the president signed the Farm Bill, which included a provision that legalized hemp on the federal level. It’s only for university research to start, but that’s okay. Before they got their hugely growing and very profitable hemp industry going in 1998, the Canadians also did two years of research on the cultivars (which is what you call the strains when you’re talking about hemp — the varieties, essentially). So yeah, it’s a done deal with hemp.

The really interesting thing, so far as hemp is concerned, is that there seems to be a very strong Republican case for it. [Kentucky Senator] Mitch McConnell was a major backer of the provision for hemp cultivation.

Definitely. Kentucky was the traditional leader in a hemp industry that was hugely important to the American economy. The U.S. hemp crop was the pride of the world. Our cultivars were prized. They’re gone now. We have to rebuild them. And it wasn’t just Kentucky. Places like Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois — they all had big hemp industries. Today, North Dakota is one of the leaders in fighting to get hemp back — a very politically conservative state. It’s because they’re looking one inch over the border, and seeing farmers make $300 per acre, which is as much as ten times what they’re making for GMO wheat, corn and soy.

So it’s really a bottom-line thing. In “Hemp Bound,” I talk about the climate change mitigation that’s going to result when hemp is really adopted. But it wouldn’t be adopted on a large scale if it weren’t for the profit that farmers can make today from seed oil. That, in the end, is why Colorado is ahead of federal law. I was at a meeting in Boulder a few weeks ago, on the first day that the Colorado Agriculture Department started issuing permits to farmers for unlimited commercial cultivation of hemp. That’s more than federal law currently allows for, although there are some pending bills in Congress this year to allow federal law to catch up with Colorado. But there’s one very simple reason why Colorado is moving ahead, and that is profits to farmers and money in the tax base.

If the U.S. could re-grow its hemp industry, how much of an economic impact do you see it having, both immediately and maybe in the long term?

I see it having a massive economic impact. Predictions are free, of course. But first of all, let’s talk about on the ground today, in straight dollar figures, just on the hempseed oil. Canadian farmers have built an industry in 15 years that’s going to break a billion dollars this year in earnings. Just for this year. From the seed oil. So it’s already having a huge impact. Long-term, I believe that hemp is going to be a bigger economic boon worldwide than psychoactive cannabis, which is already one of the world’s leading cash crops. And my shorthand explanation for that is: Coors is big, but Exxon Mobil is bigger. And the hemp application that I write about in “Hemp Bound,” that I’m most excited about, and that I preach and pray for at every live event, especially when there’s going to be potential cultivators, processors and investors at the event, is the energy application.

In Europe today, entire communities in places like Austria and Germany are becoming energy independent and fossil fuel independent through a biomass combustion technique called gasification. It’s an anaerobic, high-heat process, and it’s being used on farm waste. You can get the gasification combustion units in the size of an outhouse. They’re affordable. The U.S. Army’s buying a lot of these units too. And farms are selling back to the grid, or in some places like Bellheim, Germany, they’re creating their own community-based grid and putting unemployed people to work running it. So they’re becoming independent of larger grids and becoming independent of petroleum.

I’m urging farmers to make this energy producing application part of their first-generation processing facilities for hemp in the U.S. I think of it as the upside of prohibition. We can now look around the world and see. The Canadians are making tons of money, $300 an acre profit. So if you’re growing 1,000 acres in the prairies of Manitoba or Alberta, that’s $300,000 profit per year. That’s good money. So seed oil. Then there’s fiber applications — we could start building carbon-negative homes using “hempcrete,” which is hemp fiber mixed with lime. And the third asset that really has me excited, as a father, about our climate future, is this fossil-free energy from hemp. If we’re growing these millions of acres in North Dakota, Colorado, Vermont, Kentucky, I think we can really have an impact on worldwide climate change.

How is hemp, used as fuel, different from other forms of biomass?

That’s a great question. So, hemp can be made into ethanol and biodiesel. In fact, in one part of “Hemp Bound,” I actually took a hemp-powered limo ride in this fun, safe limo. So that can be done. But today there aren’t cultivars that are grown specifically for that. I think the first applications we’re going to see for energy are going to be at the power plant rather than in the tank.

To give one example, there is a utility in Kentucky called Patriot Biofuels which is explicitly part of the effort to get hemp back into the soil in Kentucky. As you mentioned, Mitch McConnell, who’s a very conservative key senator, supports it. And what they want to do is plant on marginal soil that has been damaged by tobacco monoculture and/or coal mining. Because hemp has these really incredible phytoremediation, or soil-restoring qualities. It’s even been used to help clean up irradiated soil in Ukraine after the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy. It also has foot-long taproots, which really helps with aeration in the soil and creating that microclimate that soil needs for restorative soil health, and for drought-ravaged places like sub-Saharan Africa, it’s not a very thirsty crop. The first Colorado farmer that planted it last year, Ryan Loflin, said it requires about half the water he’d been using on wheat in previous years. Which means a lot, because his fellow Coloradons are dealing with the Dust Bowl out there, and if they can dryland crop hemp, that’s going to be a big deal. So what the Kentucky utilities want to do is grow this hemp, and use the biomass — through gasification, as we were discussing — to create fossil-fuel-free, carbon friendly energy.

And the second part of your question was how does it compare to other biomass. That’s a really good question. First of all, it produces so much more biomass per acre than corn or soy. So there’s so much available. But I’ve heard some European hemp consultants say that when combusted, it’s close, but it doesn’t necessarily have the total energy capacity producing per unit of some other farm waste. But you don’t produce any other crop in such high volume as you do hemp. And today, the Canadians are just burning it in the field, they’re not doing anything with it. So better to use it for energy, and the sheer volume of it makes it worthwhile as an energy crop.

You also argue that it’s a good alternative because it can disrupt this whole GMO monoculture — is that where that argument is coming from, that it would be something else we could be planting that would have more uses, as opposed to, say, corn?

Yeah. Last July 4th, I watched a fifth-generation Colorado farmer named Michael Bowman displacing a sick cornfield in the conservative part of Colorado with hemp. If it’s going to bring more profits, and be healthier for the soil, we may really see a complete about-face in the way that our food structure is going. And that’s the goal of a lot of hemp producers. John Roulac is a founder of the very profitable and fast-growing hempseed oil company Nutiva. Today he has to only deal with Canadian hemp, and he would really like to see domestic hemp. But his goal is to completely, like you said, reverse the trend of moving toward GMO and change the food structure, because it’s a healthier product; it’s actually more profitable for farmers to cultivate and for business people to invest in.

My own hope for the business model would be that we can not just localize and regionalize the energy grid as we were discussing earlier, but also the business model. I would love to see farmers in a region in the community, let’s say a section of Nebraska, or an area in Indiana (Indiana, by the way, and Tennessee are two more states that have recently legalized hemp). So a huge section of, let’s say Indiana, three counties or whatever, getting together and jointly investing in a processor that renders the seed oil, that renders fiber applications and that third energy component, so that the profits are staying in the region, the food is provided regionally, and the energy spurs an independent grid that frees us from utilities and fossil fuels.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the people you profile in the book: these early adopters of hemp? Were they mostly driven by idealism or by profits?

Another good question. I’d say it’s a combination of those. So I believe Ryan Loflin of Springfield, Colorado — there’ll be statues of him one day in Colorado because he did a very brave thing on his family’s muti-generational, very vast farm. He planted hemp when his family gets federal subsidies on alfalfa and these other kinds of crops. And he did it intentionally; he was trying to show his neighbors there is an alternative to the dust bowl that is out there. I mean really, it looks like “The Grapes of Wrath” out there in the soil. There is an alternative that will make farmers money and be good for the soil, and good for the earth, and for his kids — he has kids, too. It was brave because he could have been raided at any time, as this was before the Farm Bill passed. But also, he did another great thing which is, his point in planting those 50 acres last year was to rebuild seed stock. And there are a number of people in Colorado doing this, so that there will be seed. As I mentioned, there’s a germ problem, the great hemp genetics that we had here in the U.S. are gone. So there’s the bottom-line effort of wanting to make those big profits that Canadians make. Ryan says his father, who’s no liberal, supported his effort because they read the journals, they know what the Canadians are making on their crop.

That said, there is an activism component to hemp. There’s no question hemp is not just a plant and not just an industry, but also a movement. And the hemp brand is kind of healthy righteousness. Now, that may seem like neither here nor there, but it actually has great value. There’s a study that came out that said people’s enthusiasm about hemp, and about what hemp represents, is going to cause them to go out of their way to support it in the marketplace once American-grown hemp starts appearing in your food store, in your clothing store, in your automobile parts.

The analogy that I think of is baking soda that people use as an air freshener and the non-toxic cleaning of their kitchen and whatnot. The fact that there’s this orange box that’s inexpensive, and there’s nothing added to it, just this natural product: that’s key to the baking soda brand. We’re never going to see New Neon Super Anti-Bacterial Baking Soda because that’s off-brand. And that’s why the Canadians have banned genetically modified hemp, even though there is no genetically modified hemp. And the U.S. should do it too. The reason is that “Frankenhemp” is going turn consumers away. I have no problem with the “McHemp” sandwich at a fast-food joint. That’d be great. Just not genetically modified.

One other point on this hemp brand, and hemp being a movement: The people that have been involved in selling hemp have been really brave over the years. One of them is David Bronner, who runs Dr. Bronner’s, that multi-generational soap company that many people first discovered late at night at a party in a friend’s bathroom, with the prophetic prayers and things all over the label. He pulled one ingredient in his grandfather’s recipe, caramel coloring, took it out, and added hemp. And he sued the DEA in the ’90s to be allowed to import hemp. He only pays himself five times more than his lowest-paid employee. Puts olive oil in the soap that comes from orchards that are tended jointly by Israelis and Palestinians. Everything’s organic and fair-traded. Last year he chained himself in a cage in front of the White House with a hemp plant, demanding that American farmers be allowed to cultivate. Which, incidentally, a few months later they were. This is a $54 million, rapidly growing company. This isn’t a dude selling burritos at a Phish show. So that brand, that message of righteousness, is valuable. It actually has big bottom-dollar value. I read a couple university studies that talked about this. People are fired up about hemp, and they’re going help kickstart this industry.

So just one more question: What are the next steps that need to happen to make domestic cultivation viable in the U.S.?

Three things. First off, the U.S. needs to allow full commercial cultivation of hemp. Right now we have the university studies allowed. So what I hope people will do, what I urge people to do, is call their senators and congresspeople and support S359 on the Senate side and HR 525 on the House side, both of which will allow full commercial hemp cultivation. Which Colorado is doing anyway, but let’s get federal law on board. The second thing is, federal regulators must allow the importation of and interstate shipping of hemp seeds. Right now there’s a little bit of foot dragging going on about that. And ideally, the third thing is, for the first few years, encourage farmers via subsidies to cultivate hemp. Europe does this. We need to make our hemp crop competitive right from day one. To be honest, it doesn’t really need that, those subsidies, because it’s so profitable. But the fact that there are $300-per-acre profits by Canadian hemp today doesn’t guarantee that there will be such profits in the future. For that reason the federal government should make it very clear we want farmers to grow this crop. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the soil, it’s good for national security, it makes us a healthier nation via the seed oil and it frees us from fossil fuels. That’s really what I’d like to see five years from now. Energy, seed oil and fibers all happening with hemp around the nation.