Full list: Agriculture in the News

Capital Press: Idaho raw milk production rising with demand

Raw milk sales are increasing steadily throughout Idaho, where the product was legalized for commercial sale and acquisition in 2010.
10/14/13
By John O’Connell
Full Article

POCATELLO, Idaho — When he first started selling raw milk in May of 2012, Michael Busselberg feared he’d routinely dump his product for lack of customers.

Instead, he typically sells out within the first hour at the Portneuf Valley Farmers’ Market and has a waiting list for weekly raw milk pick-ups. He said he’s already outgrown the old dairy he rents, located 16 miles west of Blackfoot, for his Desert Wind Farms.

Demand for raw milk — unpasteurized milk straight from the cow — has steadily increased throughout Idaho since the state Legislature legalized its sale in 2010.

According to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, there are now five cow and two goat facilities in Idaho that have the infrastructure to qualify as Grade A raw milk producers.

Another 60 cow and 70 goat operations sell raw milk under the state’s small herd exemption, which allows commercial sales by producers milking no more than three cows or seven goats or sheep per day without meeting Grade A standards. Routine testing of small herds is required.

Raw milk sales have also made steady gains at the Pocatello Co-op, where customers special order 20-30 gallons per week at $9.39 per gallon.

“Every month, we’ll get a couple of more customers when they know that we have it,” said general manager Destiny Lynch, whose store buys the product from Fall River Farms in Chester, Idaho.

Busselberg’s full-time job is overseeing hay acquisition for a Utah exporting company, but he anticipates eventually making his farm a full-time job. His quarterly sales, which were no more than $2,000 last year, have grown to $15,000, and he anticipates topping $25,000 next quarter. His milk brings in a whopping $81 per hundredweight. His customers insist it tastes better and contains natural cultures and nutrients that help with everything from asthma to autism.

“We have one lady who had brain cancer. She drinks raw milk and feels that helps to build her immune system,” Busselberg said.

Officials with the mainstream milk industry refute such health claims and believe raw milk poses an increased risk of spreading food-borne illness.

Chris Galen, a spokesman with the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Va., argues producers of raw milk expose themselves to liability by selling it.

“It’s a form of Russian roulette, and if you pull the trigger and nothing happens, it’s all fine and good,” Galen said.

Busselberg, who also sells pork, beef, chickens and eggs touted as naturally produced, said raw milk represents 60 percent of his revenue. He said conventional milk producers also shoulder risk, and he takes precautions to ensure a safe product.

“People need to be able to have freedom to make that choice,” said Busselberg, who graduated from a dairy program at Utah State University.

Commercial raw milk sales are legal in Idaho, Washington and California. Licensed Oregon producers with a bottling plant on site can sell raw goat or sheep milk commercially, but raw cow milk sales are limited to on the farm where the farmer has no more than three producing cows.

“It’s growing at 25 percent per year,” said raw milk activist Sally Fallon Morrell. “It’s a niche market that’s poised to become mainstream.”

- See more at: http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131014/ARTICLE/131019962/1187#sthash.3nw156qw.dpuf


Reuters: Washington state sues lobbyists over campaign against GMO labeling

By Carey Gillam
Oct 16, 2013
Full Article

A lobbying group for major U.S. food manufacturers has violated campaign finance laws in its attempt to block a measure that would require labeling of genetically modified foods in Washington state, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the state’s attorney general.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson alleges that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.

GMA, which represents some of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, has been heavily lobbying against ballot initiative 522, set for a public vote in Washington state on November 5. The measure requires labels of goods containing ingredients made from genetically engineered crops as well as labeling of genetically engineered seeds and seed products sold in the state.

“Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views,” Ferguson said in a statement.

GMA is the largest donor to a “No on I-522″ campaign, and the Attorney General’s office said that the group set up a “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose the GMO labeling initiative. GMA then funded opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure, the attorney general alleges.

More than 300 companies are listed as members on GMA’s website.

The attorney general’s office said it would seek a temporary restraining order asking the court to order the GMA to immediately comply with state disclosure laws. The attorney general’s office also said it would request civil penalties.

The group said in a statement that it was surprised by the lawsuit.

“GMA takes great care to understand and comply with all state election and campaign finance laws,” the group said. “GMA will review its actions in Washington state and relevant statutes and continue to cooperate with state authorities to fully resolve the issue as promptly as possible.”

The latest campaign finance data reported to the state shows opponents raising more than $17 million and spending more than $13 million, compared to the proponents of labeling, who have raised about $5.5 million and spent about $5.4 million.

“It’s clear that they broke the law,” said Elizabeth Larter, spokeswoman for the Yes campaign. “They don’t want to tell us who is funding the No on 522 campaign just like they don’t want Washington consumers to know what is in their food.”


Earth OpenSource: No scientific consensus on GMO safety

Monday 21 October 2013
By Claire Robinson
Full Article

There is no scientific consensus that genetically modified foods and crops are safe, according to a statement released today by an international group of over 85 scientists, academics and physicians.[1]

The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops are safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls such claims “misleading” and states, “The claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”

Commenting on the statement, one of the signatories, Professor Brian Wynne, associate director and co-principal investigator from 2002-2012 of the UK ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Cesagen, Lancaster University, said: “There is no consensus amongst scientific researchers over the health or environmental safety of GM crops and foods, and it is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim that there is. Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists in the international scientific literature. Indeed some key public interest questions revealed by such research have been left neglected for years by the huge imbalance in research funding, against thorough biosafety research and in favour of the commercial-scientific promotion of this technology.”

Another signatory, Professor C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster, said: “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic, and that they can have adverse impacts on beneficial and non-target organisms. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the US has no GMO labelling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”

A third signatory to the statement, Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex University and member of the UK government’s GM Science Review Panel, said: “The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.”


WATT AgNet: Grant funds available for poultry processing projects in Vermont

October 16, 2013
Working Lands Enterprise Board offers $40,000 in funds for constructing poultry facilities
Full Article

The Working Lands Enterprise Board of Vermont is offering $40,000 in grant funds for investment in poultry processing projects in Vermont. Grant money must be used for the construction of a mobile or fixed, state or federally inspected poultry slaughter and/or processing facility.

The poultry processing grant funds are administered by the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, and is the first of four grant areas to be released in fiscal year 2014. An additional $1.215 million in available funds for other areas will be announced later in October.


DesMoines Register: Critics of genetically modified crops protest World Food Prize, Monsanto

By Sharyn Jackson
Oct. 12, 2013
Full Article

Critics of genetically modified crops marched Saturday in front of the World Food Prize building to protest the controversial awarding of this year’s prize to laureates who have devised ways to put foreign genes into a plant’s DNA.

The March Against Monsanto was the kick-off to a week of Occupy World Food Prize events coinciding with the annual Iowa award, often called the Nobel Prize of Agriculture, founded by Dr. Normal Borlaug.

One of this year’s three laureates is the chief technology officer at Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company. Monsanto, which produces genetically modified corn, soybean and other seeds, is at the center of the controversy over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

“We think that the World Food Prize should not be given to people who basically invented GMOs,” said Jess Mazour, the farming and environment organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the rally’s coordinators.

By awarding the prize to a Monsanto executive, “it says to the world that we value corporations over people,” Mazour said.

The protest began across from Des Moines City Hall, where marchers held signs that said, “GMO OMG WTF R we eating?”; “Stop factory farms”; and “Label it”—a plea for food producers to indicate on product packaging whether GMOs are among the ingredients.

“We don’t think we should be putting the genetically modified crap that they’re feeding us into our bodies,” said Carolyn Danielson, 67, a protestor. “If we know what’s in the food, we can avoid it.”

Advocates believe GMOs are a critical tool to feed a world population expected to swell from 7 billion to an estimated 9 billion by 2050. Opponents believe GMOs pose threats to human health and the environment that are real or not yet understood.

“We’re not lab rats,” said Linda Ladd, 68, of Des Moines.

One speaker at the rally, Howard Vlieger, is a farmer in Northwest Iowa who said he has seen first-hand the impact of GMOs on his 500-acre farm. He grew genetically modified corn in the 1990s, but found that his livestock rejected it. This past spring, he saw how neighboring farms that continued to use modified seeds suffered from erosion during the heavy rains; his farm was less affected, he said.

The group of more than 50 marched across the Des Moines River to the World Food Prize building, chanting “Hey, ho, GMOs have got to go.”

Among them, Julie Jeffries and her husband Art rolled a yellow shopping cart filled with fresh produce from their home garden. They tore out their Highland Park neighborhood lawn and turned it into a garden a few years ago when their son, John, was suffering from food allergies. Eating homegrown vegetables, including eggs from their chickens, they have seen John, now 6, improve.

The protestors quieted for a moment of silence in front of the former Des Moines Public Library, home of next week’s World Food Prize events.

The objective for the World Food Prize, said spokeswoman Megan Forgrave, is “to gather world leaders and stakeholders to discuss the greatest challenge in human history: feeding our burgeoning population.” The task of choosing this year’s laureates went to an independent selection committee of experts.

“We are glad people in the community care about our food system and are engaging in the issues,” Forgrave said, in response to the march. “The best way to learn about them is to be part of the discussion.”


Denver Post: Colorado farmer harvests first U.S. commercial hemp crop in 56 years Read more: Colorado farmer harvests first U.S. commercial hemp crop in 56 years

By Steve Raabe
10/7/13
Full Article

Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin made history last weekend by harvesting the nation’s first commercial hemp crop in 56 years.

Hemp advocates said Loflin’s harvest is a landmark event that could one day lead to larger-scale domestic farming of hemp for industrial uses such as food additives, cosmetics and building materials.

Hemp is genetically related to marijuana but contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive substance that gets marijuana users high.

Loflin’s 55-acre crop in southeastern Colorado’s Baca County won’t yield large amounts of hemp-seed oil and other by-products but is “quite significant symbolically,” said Tom Murphy, national outreach coordinator for advocacy group Vote Hemp.

The sale of hemp products in the U.S. reached an estimated $500 million last year, according to the Hemp Industries Association. Yet all of the hemp used for the products was imported because federal law prohibits its cultivation in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The last known commercial crop was harvested in Wisconsin in 1957.

Colorado’s passage of Amendment 64 paved the way for legal cultivation of hemp, but Loflin chose to plant his crop earlier this year before implementation of the state’s hemp-growing regulations, which are scheduled to take effect next year.

Loflin said some of his hemp seed will be pressed for oil and subsequently purchased by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a major user of hemp oil.

“We’re very excited that Ryan has done this,” said David Bronner, president of the company. “Ryan has kind of busted it open and taken this necessary step to make hemp a viable crop.”


USA Today: Washington state battles over genetically modified food

Washington state is the next battleground in an ongoing effort by food activists to get products containing genetically engineered ingredients labeled.
10/8/13
By Elizabeth Weise
Full Article

Washington state is the next battleground in an ongoing effort by food activists to get products containing genetically engineered ingredients labeled. California voters rejected a similar initiative 51.4% to 48.6% in a bruising and expensive election in 2012.

Initiative 522 goes before voters Nov. 5. It would require that foods containing ingredients from genetically engineered plants be labeled as such. Some opponents believe these foods are dangerous to humans, though there is little scientific evidence of that. Others feel large agribusinesses such as Monsanto, which sell these seeds, have too much control over the food supply.

“We believe that we have a right to know what’s in our food,” said Elizabeth Larter, the Seattle-based communications director for the Yes on 522 campaign. “This campaign is not about whether GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are good or bad; this is really just providing more information for consumers.”

The labeling effort is being funded by grass-roots donations and a large contribution from Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One, a California soap company founded in the 1960s. It is known for labels featuring fine print advocating world peace and admonitions to dilute the liquid soap for multiple uses.

“This is about chemical companies buying up the seed companies,” said David Bronner, president of the company, on a video prominently placed on its website. Opponents to labeling “understand that if they lose in Washington state, game over,” he said of why the company is supporting the initiative and encouraging others to do so.

The Washington state effort is part of an ongoing fight by those opposed to genetically engineered crops to push for labeling.

“In 2013 alone there have been 26 states that have introduced labeling legislation,” says Katey Parker with the Just Label It coalition, a pro-labeling group based in Washington, D.C.

According to The Seattle Times, Washington’s Yes on 522 campaign so far has raised $4.8 million.

Squaring off on the other side is a coalition of food manufacturers and seed producers that thus far has raised a war chest of $17.2 million. That’s a state record. The top five contributors were the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience, according to the No on 522 Coalition.

Those opposed to labeling say it will falsely mislead consumers into thinking that products that contain genetically engineered ingredients are “somehow different, unsafe or unhealthy,” said Brian Kennedy of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry group based in Washington, D.C.

Genetically engineered crops have a gene from another plant inserted into them to give them some ability they didn’t have before.

There are two common genetic modifications. One is for herbicide tolerance: Plants are given a gene that protects them from harm when a farmer sprays them with herbicides to kill weeds. The other is a gene from a soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis that allows plants to produce their own insecticide.

In the United States a huge proportion of commodity crops are genetically engineered: 97% of the nation’s sugar beets, 93% of the soybeans, 90% of the cotton and 90% of the feed corn, according to the 2013 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About 60% of the papaya grown in the United States, all in Hawaii, has been genetically engineered to allow it to withstand the ringspot virus, which virtually wiped out papaya production in the islands in the 1980s, according to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Very small amounts of genetically engineered zucchini, yellow squash and sweet corn are also sold in the United States.

Connecticut passed GMO labeling legislation in June, but it doesn’t go into effect until four other New England states pass labeling laws. Maine has passed a bill that won’t go into effect “until five other states, or any amount of states with a total population of 20 million, enact” a similar one. Maine’s governor has said he will sign it in January.

“Basically, they don’t want to go it alone,” says Rebecca Spector with the Center for Food Safety, which supports labeling. “They want other states in their region to pass it, so if there is a legal challenge, they can pool resources to support each other.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled because it considers them “functionally equivalent” to conventionally grown crops.

That’s somewhat disingenuous, said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. “There is plenty of precedent for FDA requiring process labeling. Think of ‘made from concentrate’ or ‘previously frozen.’”

Gregory Jaffe, who directs the biotechnology program of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., says the real answer would be to give FDA mandatory authority to ensure that these crops are safe to eat before they get to market. Currently FDA oversight is voluntary.

In September 66% of Washington voters said they would vote for labeling, says Stuart Elway, whose Seattle firm conducts polls in the state.

Those numbers may change as both sides roll out their ad campaigns, he said. “I was watching TV the other night and saw a couple different ones on the anti-side. They’ve got the former secretary of agriculture for the state and a farmer. They’re well produced so they’re rolling out the heavy guns,” Elway said.

Caitlin Carter of Maple Valley, Wash., says she wants labeling. “I feel I have a right to know the source of my food.”

Many who study the food industry believe that were labeling to be required, companies would stop using genetically engineered ingredients because of fears consumers would reject them. “It’s just like with transfats, when you had to label them they stopped using them,” said Nestle, author of Eat, Drink, Vote: An illustrated guide to food politics.

“There is a segment of the anti-GMO population who thinks that GMOs are really bad, and this is their way of getting rid of them,” Nestle says. “Well, we live in a democratic society. If they want to control the way the game is played, they have to be willing to let other players try to control it as well.”


Farming Magazine: FSMA: One Last Chance to Comment, by Vern Grubinger

By Vern Grubinger
October 2013 Issue
Full Article

For many years, foods that pose significant safety risks if not properly handled have been highly regulated, including dairy, meat and seafood. Fruits and vegetables don’t pose nearly as much risk, so growers haven’t had to deal with food safety regulations aimed at fresh produce. Some growers voluntarily complied with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in order to satisfy their markets, but for the most part, the industry was left to take common-sense precautions to keep produce safe.

With Congress passing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), that situation has changed. Once implemented, this federal law will require many growers to spend a lot of time and resources on risk prevention. Even growers exempted from the law are likely to be affected, because over time food buyers will want documentation of similar food safety practices from all the farms they deal with.
Rationale

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 48 million Americans get sick and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. However, little of this is due to fresh produce. For example, from 1996 to 2010, there were 131 produce-related outbreaks resulting in 14,350 illnesses and 34 deaths. Thus, fresh produce accounts for about 1 percent of all foodborne disease-related deaths. While this is tragic and growers agree that more can be done to reduce food safety risks on their farms, it should be recognized that millions of pounds of fresh produce are consumed every day with hardly any problems. That said, FSMA is now the law, and growers will have to deal with its requirements, aimed at making a small risk even smaller.
The law and the rules

The FSMA law provides the framework for new food safety regulations, called rules. These are written after a law is passed, and they provide the specifics of how it will work. FSMA put the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of regulating food safety on produce farms, rather than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has typically regulated farm practices.

There are a variety of rules associated with FSMA, but two in particular specify what will be required of growers: the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (produce safety rule); and Preventive Controls for Human Food (preventive controls rule).

The draft rules are long, complicated documents, but there are many summaries available online. A good place to start is the FDA’s website: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA. For summaries of the different sections of the rule online, visit:

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: http://extension.unh.edu/Food-Safety-Modernization-Act-FSMA

New England Farmers Union: http://www.newenglandfarmersunion.org/food-safety-modernization-act
Don’t miss the deadline

The deadline to submit comments to the FDA on the draft FSMA rules has been extended twice, to November 15, 2013. After that the FDA will finalize the rules, though it will be a few years before they’re implemented. Take the time to learn how the rules will affect your farm, and then submit your comments online.

Below are some key concepts about the proposed rule, and I have listed some specific concerns and suggestions. These are my personal opinions, not those of any organization I work for. Take time to develop your own views on these issues.
Farm versus facility

The produce safety rule applies to farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold what is termed “covered” produce. The preventive controls rule applies to facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold human food, and those that buy and resell products grown on other farms. These facilities must register with the federal government. If you only grow, wash and trim off outer leaves, and if you only sell products you grow, then you run a farm and the preventive controls rule does not apply to you. However, if you peel, chop, combine ingredients, or buy and resell products from another farm, you run a facility or a mixed farm facility and you may be subject to this rule.

Facilities have to keep a written food safety plan, including a hazard analysis, and they will be required to keep records of preventive controls, monitoring, corrective actions and verification. There is still some confusion about what activities make a farm into a facility. Further, the scale of production that triggers designation as a facility and associated requirements is not yet set; exemptions up to $25,000 or even $500,000 have been suggested.

Many farms buy and resell products from other farms. Quite a few farms lightly process vegetables or do on-farm value-added processing. Even a minimal amount of additional paperwork will deter farms from engaging in these activities, which have been encouraged as ways to strengthen local food systems. Only farms that conduct these activities with large volumes of produce – over $1 million of sales to wholesale markets – should be regulated as facilities. Buying fresh produce in clearly labeled containers from other farms that have their own food safety plan does not increase food safety risks enough to warrant the buying farm coming under the preventive controls rule.
Covered produce

Covered produce is generally eaten raw, such as leafy greens, melons, tomatoes, etc. The produce safety rule does not apply to produce that is usually cooked, such as asparagus, beets, potatoes, pumpkins and sweet corn. It also does not apply to produce grown for personal consumption or consumption on the farm.

Buyers are not likely to distinguish between covered and noncovered produce and will want to see evidence of food safety risk management on all farms they purchase from. Further, since most farms grow, harvest and pack a mixture of covered and noncovered produce, these categories complicate the rule without providing significant regulatory relief to most farms. The rule requires careful separation of covered and noncovered produce. It would be simpler for the marketplace and diversified farms if FSMA simply applied to fresh produce.
Cost to growers

The FDA developed estimates for the cost of FSMA implementation. For farms with total food sales between $25,000 and $250,000, the cost is approximately $5,000 per year; farms with sales between $250,000 and $500,000 could spend about $13,000 per year; and for farms with sales over $500,000, the cost is estimated at $30,000 per year.

These are large expenses for small and medium-sized farms, especially when you consider that food sales include all types of food, while the costs are incurred only for covered produce, which may be a fraction of a farm’s total food sales. For example, many farms in my area gross just over $500,000 in food sales, and their covered produce accounts for perhaps half of that. A $30,000 hit will take a large part of their net revenues.

These high costs, in combination with the management burden of compliance, are likely to drive many small and medium growers out of the fresh produce business. It will be simpler to not grow fruits or vegetables and just have a store that sells other farms’ products. Even though many farms that sell retail or directly to retailers will be exempt from FSMA, they are likely to have similar costs if their customers or insurance agents demand analogous food safety documentation. These costs will hinder the development of local food systems that provide economic development, food security and access to fresh food for communities across the nation.
To submit comments online:

Produce safety rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199

Preventive controls rule: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0920-0188

If submitting online, write your comments ahead of time and save them on your computer. There is a time limit when using the Federal Register system, and you don’t want to lose what you’ve written. If your comment is less than one page, you can copy and paste it into the comment box. If it is longer, write “see attached” in the box and upload a separate Word or PDF file with your comments. Be sure to click the “submit” button! You should then see a new screen with a confirmation number.

To submit comments by mail, send them to: Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. Include the docket number in your comments; the produce safety rule is FDA-2011-N-0921, and the preventive controls rule is FDA-2011-N-0920. Mailed comments must arrive by the deadline, so send them a week ahead just to be sure.

The author is a vegetable and berry specialist with University of Vermont Extension based at the Brattleboro office.


Politico: Senate CR to strip Monsanto rider

By DAVID ROGERS
9/24/13
Full Article

A controversial legislative rider added by Monsanto to the Agriculture Department budget last spring will no longer be effective after Sept. 30 under a draft stopgap government funding bill being drafted by Senate Democrats.

The provision touched off a storm last spring as critics accused Monsanto of “court-stripping” to protect its sales of the genetically modified seeds for which the St. Louis-based giant is a pioneer in commercializing.

The continuing resolution approved by the House last week would extend the rider without comment for the first months of the new fiscal year. But the Senate substitute, to be unveiled Wednesday, will explicitly go back and make clear that that Monsanto-backed provision will end this month.

“That provision will be gone,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), confirming the change to POLITICO. The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based non-profit, welcomed the decision as “a major victory for the food movement” and “sea change in a political climate that all too often allows corporate earmarks to slide through must-pass legislation.”

The whole dispute has been overshadowed by the larger fight over Republican efforts to use the same CR to cut off funding needed by President Barack Obama to implement his health care reforms. But for many environmental and food safety groups, the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” —as the rider was called—became a major cause last spring, generating a huge amount of Internet traffic and calls on Obama to veto the agriculture budget.

Caught in the middle was Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who had inherited legislative agreements made under her predecessor, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). Mikulski promised then that she would do everything she could to terminate the provision with the new fiscal year. But the CR posed its own challenges since typically the leadership simply extends current spending and related provisions for the life of the resolution.

This is essentially what would happen under the House CR running through Dec. 15. Mikulski wants a shorter end date, Nov. 15. And given the Monsanto controversy, she and Pryor, chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, chose to act and take it out after Sept. 30.

Their decision was helped along by the fact that even early proponents in the House Appropriations Committee appear to have backed away. Indeed the fiscal 2014 agriculture appropriations bill reported by the House panel but never voted upon on the floor, did not extend the rider.

Monsanto and its allies have argued that what the company sought was no more than what some federal courts have done themselves in the past: Allow farmers to continue to use GMO seed –under environmental guidelines—while the court review continues.

Monsanto successfully expanded support among farm groups also interested in some such stewardship program. But the language itself was unusually strong in that it directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in no uncertain terms about how he should respond in future court cases impacting GMO seeds.

The secretary “shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law… immediately grant” temporary permits to continue using the seed at the request of a farmer or producer wanting such a stewardship program, the provision reads. And while Vilsack has been a big champion of the biotech industry, he was uncomfortable with what he saw as an effort to “pre-empt judicial review.”

“We have all known this rider’s days were numbered,” O’Neil told POLITICO. “But given the recent GMO contamination episodes of wheat and alfalfa in Oregon and Washington it is clear that our nation’s safeguards, in particular those of the federal courts, should not be under attack from policy riders like this.”


Washington Post: At Farm Aid concert, wholesome food helps augment the music and the fundraising

By Michelle Singletary, Associated Press
September 21, 2013
Full Article

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Farm Aid is more than a family of musicians banding together to help the small farmer. It’s also a family meal.

A key component of Farm Aid concerts — this year’s is taking place Saturday in Saratoga Springs — is the food, which comes through Farm Aid’s Homegrown Concessions. It was started six years ago to create new markets for family farmers.

Vendors, which include local food-service outlets, as well as national brands such as Chipotle and Amy’s Organic, must meet Farm Aid’s criteria for sourcing the ingredients in their food, from organic flour in the panini to free-ranging, antibiotic-free hogs on the barbecue grill.

Even the cotton candy has a family farm origin, made from maple syrup produced in the Catskills.

“Farm Aid’s mission is about family farmers, and economic opportunity for family farmers is a really big priority of ours,” said Glenda Yoder, associate director of Farm Aid. “We also support good farming practices and rewarding farmers for those practices. So our Homegrown criteria call for food that is sourced from family farms that meet an ecological standard, and that returns a fair price to the farmer.”

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp lead the star-studded lineup this year, along with Jack Johnson, Carlene Carter, Toad the Wet Sprocket and about 10 other artists.

The annual concert is the chief moneymaker for the Farm Aid organization Nelson co-founded in 1985 and leads as president. The beneficiaries of the organization’s year-round efforts are always featured prominently at the shows, with a Homegrown Village providing concert-goers a chance to meet local farmers, learn agrarian skills, and eat food from vendors who meet strict criteria set by Farm Aid.

“We talk about saving the family farmer, but the fact is, it’s the family farmer who will save us all,” Nelson said at a media event before the gates opened at noon Saturday.

This year the village was set up on the expansive lawns of the state park surrounding the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The action there got going before the 10-hour concert.

The village offered plenty of activities to help people get in touch with their inner farmer. There’s a daylong group potato-stamp art project; workshops on making butter, bacon, cheese, lemon vinegar and llama wool bracelets; and a demonstration of how to grow shiitake mushrooms on logs in your own backyard.

Joshua Cummings of Hartford, N.Y., was biting into a snappy grilled bratwurst as he walked among the vendors’ tents. “I want to know where my food came from and what went into it,” he said, adding that farm-fresh food also tastes better.

Will Pouch, owner of the Esperanto restaurant in Saratoga Springs, had to modify his menu for his Farm Aid booth to meet the organization’s requirements for all organic and humane-raised food.

“They have very exacting standards that made me look at my menu and sources,” Pouch said. He used organic chicken and farm-ground flour in his doughboys for the event, which increased his ingredient cost by two- or threefold, he said.

“I won’t change all my restaurant menu items, though, because many of my customers can’t afford the higher prices,” Pouch said. “But I’ll be adding more locally sourced items to the specials board.”

The Farm Aid organization has raised more than $43 million since 1985 to support programs that help small family farms, expand the Good Food Movement and promote locally grown food. Farm Aid has made grants of more than $2.5 million in the Northeast during the past 28 years, according to the organization.

Roger Allison, who started Patchwork Family Farms in Columbia, Mo., with a Farm Aid grant 20 years ago, said Farm Aid has been a lifesaver for the family farmers in his organization who raise hogs in a natural way, unconfined, without antibiotics.

“Thank god for Willie Nelson and Farm Aid,” Allison said at Saratoga after driving 23 hours to bring his truckload of savory meats. “It has really instilled hope in independent family farms all across the United States. We love Willie. Willie has helped us out.”