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Capital Press: Organic industry confused by GMO vaccines

A lack of clarity about which livestock vaccines are made with genetically modified organisms is creating confusion in the organic industry.

Mateusz Perkowski
Full Article

Genetically modified livestock vaccines are causing consternation in the organic industry, which is having a hard time deciphering which vaccines are made with prohibited methods.

The conundrum of keeping genetically engineered vaccines out of organic production will be considered during the Oct. 28-30 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA on organic policy.

“The challenge is we need a new definition of ‘excluded method,’” said Jean Richardson, a retired environmental studies professor and an NOSB member who is studying the issue.

Vaccines produced with genetic engineering are officially banned from organic livestock production but in reality most certifiers don’t require farmers to document they’re using non-GE vaccines, according to an NOSB document that will be reviewed at the upcoming meeting.

Farmers and certifiers lack an easy way to identify vaccines that have been manufactured with genetic engineering, the document said.

“The problem is you really can’t tell them apart,” said Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog group. “Even though a problem exists, there’s no way to currently enforce the prohibition.”

It’s known that vaccines for certain livestock diseases are made with genetically modified organisms — such as pathogens that have been altered not to cause illness but still trigger an immune response — but the brands are not readily discernible, according to the NOSB document.

The USDA has been reluctant to create a list of vaccines that specifies which ones rely on GMOs because it may inaccurately “imply a deficiency” in such products, the document said.

Vaccines produced with some biotech methods do contain certain words on their labels — subunit, vector and chimera — that could assist organic farmers and certifiers, the NOSB document said.

However, it’s possible that other vaccines not flagged with those terms may also be produced with methods that should be excluded from organic production, said Richardson. That’s because the organic definition of biotechnology doesn’t neatly align with the USDA’s definition.

For example, some vaccine manufacturers use naturally occurring strands of DNA or bacterial viruses to reconfigure the genetic sequences of pathogens, the NOSB found. An NOSB working group that analyzed such methods was unable to agree whether they are excluded from organic production.

The USDA, which regulates organic standards, may ultimately need to set a cut-off date for new technologies, Richardson said. Techniques developed before that date would be considered “traditional breeding” and techniques developer afterward would be excluded from organics.

Another concern is that some information about how livestock vaccines are produced is submitted confidentially to the USDA, the NOSB document said.

Kastel said the USDA needs to determine which vaccines cannot be used on organic livestock but the agency has been hesitant to do so.

Callyn Kircher, farm program manager for the organic certifier Oregon Tilth, said her agency is compiling a database of inputs used by farmers to see what vaccines are common in organic production.

The organization could then try to figure out if any are made with GMOs, she said.

While Oregon Tilth wants to prevent the introduction of genetically engineered vaccines into organic livestock, it’s waiting on guidance from the USDA’s National Organic Program on enforcing the prohibition, Kircher said. “We really don’t have clarity on that yet.”


Oregon Live: GMO labeling in Oregon: Measure 92 turns state into ‘battleground for food culture’

By Dana Tims
October 16, 2014
Full Article
Forces for and against mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Oregon agree on almost nothing.

Proponents say labeling is akin to a Freedom of Information Act when it comes to food choices. How, they ask, can the relatively inexpensive labeling of important food choices be bad for consumers and society?

If there is one slender thread on which both sides concur, it’s that the Nov. 4 fate of Measure 92 could play a pivotal role in how the contentious and politically costly issue plays out elsewhere across the United States.

David Bronner, whose Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps company is a major donor to the Yes on 92 campaign, agreed. “Oregon,” he said, “is absolutely a battle ground for food culture right now.”

If Measure 92 passes, it would make Oregon the first state in the U.S. to pass a labeling measure at the ballot box. The Vermont Legislature approved a labeling bill, set to take effect in 2016, but it’s being challenged in court.

Money for and against the measure is pouring into the state, just as it did for narrowly defeated initiatives in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013. Measure 92 remains on track to go down as the costliest ballot measure in state history.

Measure 92:
A yes vote: Would require food manufacturers to label genetically engineered packaged foods as “Produced With Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced With Genetic Engineering.” Retailers of genetically engineered raw foods would be required to include “Genetically Engineered” on packages, bins and shelves. Suppliers would be required to label shipping containers. Animal feed and food served in restaurants would be exempt.
A no vote: Would retain existing law, which does not require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The opposition comes from large food and grocery manufacturers and chemical companies such as Monsanto. A new, $2.5 million contribution from the company, reported Thursday morning, put the No on 92 Coalition past the $10 million mark in total money raised.

Supporters, drawn from organic food producers, food-safety nonprofits and small independent contributors, have contributed more than $5.4 million to the Yes on 92 campaign.

Ad campaigns from both sides will increasingly fill the airwaves from now until Election Day.

On its face, the issue seems straightforward: Should foods that are genetically engineered – a process of joining genetic material from one or more species of organism to change one or more of its characteristics – be labeled to reflect that?

Opponents, framing their arguments much as they did in California and Washington, call the measure hopelessly flawed. It’s rife with loopholes and exemptions, they say, and riddled with hidden costs that will harm consumers and producers alike in the long run.

Food sold in restaurants, for instance, would not require labeling. Neither would meat or milk from cows, even if they’d been fed GMO corn or alfalfa. The same goes for other meat and dairy. The same goes for other meat and dairy.

George Kimbrell, the senior attorney running the Center for Food Safety‘s Northwest regional office in Portland, co-authored the measure.

More than 60 countries already require GMO labeling, he said. This measure relies heavily on labeling language used elsewhere to decide what’s covered and what’s not, Kimbrell said.

Restaurants are left out, for instance, because federal standards for them are different from those for packaged foods. Meat and dairy products are exempt because labeling laws elsewhere don’t cover them, he said.

As for backroom segregation requirements, Kimbrell added, they are no different from current store practices of keeping foods labeled organic apart from non-organic offerings.

“They know that opposing this measure outright is a loser politically because 90 percent of the American public supports mandatory labeling,” Kimbrell said. “Knowing that, they are left to poke niggling holes in the wording about how poorly written it is. It’s a façade.”

Oregon farmers have their own differences when it comes to GMOs.

Kevin Richards works on his family’s 600-acre farm near Madras, where they raise hybrid carrot seed, wheat, peppermint and herbicide-tolerant GMO alfalfa.

Richards worries that Measure 92 would require him to label the alfalfa, making it harder to market out-of-state. He’s also concerned that the need to keep alfalfa separate from the farm’s non-GMO crops would require purchase of additional transportation equipment.

“And for farmers growing GMOs next to those who don’t, there will be significant costs of maintaining buffers, which will reduce the total amount of available land,” Richards said. “All of the burden is going to fall directly onto smaller farmers.”

Not so, Kimbrell said.

“The only thing a farmer growing GMO crops has to do,” he said, “is tell their supplier they are selling them GMOs so it can be labeled that way.”

In addition, a farmer’s sworn affidavit saying the farm does not intentionally mingle GMO and non-GMO crops is enough to let a supplier then take both to market.

While both sides debate the measure, others note that Oregon has experience with GMOs and related laws.

Steve Fry owns Fry Family Farm, a 90-acre certified organic operation in the Rogue Valley. He lives in Jackson County, where voters last year passed Oregon’s first ban on raising GMO crops. After a bumpy first few months, he said, farmers are figuring out how to live with it.

“Before, if you were growing GMO sugar beets next to my chard seed, that wasn’t being a good neighbor,” Fry said. “Now you have to care.”

Ervin chaired an ad-hoc committee of 11 scientists brought together in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences to study GMO food safety. The group concluded that genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods.

Although he’s trying to remain neutral on Measure 92, Ervin said, “My feeling is that, in general, if you can give consumers information to help them make their decisions, that’s beneficial.”

Given his training as an economist, he questions opposition claims that Measure 92 could drive up food prices by $500 per year for a family of four.

“The estimate I’m most comfortable with puts the figure at around $2 to $3 per year per consumer,” he said, noting a recent Consumers Union report that set the median increase at $2.30 per person annually. “To me, that sounds like it’s in the ballpark.”

Strauss, the Oregon State University forestry scientist who opposes Measure 92, ceded some ground of his own by acknowledging that development of herbicide-resistant crops has led some farmers to vastly increase their use of herbicides. That, in turn, has led to an explosion of “superweeds,” primarily in the Midwest, that are impervious to sprays.

“However,” Strauss said, “GMO crops may have accelerated this, but the real issue is overuse of herbicides, not GMO crops. The whole notion of whether GMOs are safe or not is a ludicrous way to frame the discussion.”

Soon, he said, new GMO foods will be introduced that should make people rethink any blind opposition. They include soybeans containing healthier oils, soy with higher levels of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and potatoes that, when fried at high temperatures, produce half the amount of the carcinogen acrylamide.

When it comes to Measure 92, that level of discussion may take voters too far into the weeds. Some will brush up on the genetics involved, while others will simply insist on having more information about what’s in that package of food they are buying.

“However this is resolved,” said PSU’s Ervin, “it will be very interesting to watch it play out.”


Washington Times: Vermont releases draft GMO labeling rules

October 15, 2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The Vermont attorney general’s office on Wednesday released a draft of the rules it is writing to govern the state’s first-in-the-nation law to require the labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms.

The nine pages of rules lay out everything from definitions of “food” and “genetic engineering” to the required disclosures that will read “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Three public hearings have been scheduled for next week so people can offer their opinions on the law. Comments can also be submitted by email.

Attorney General William Sorrell said his office was moving to write the rules as quickly as possible so the industry would be prepared before the law takes effect in 2016.

“We’re on track to have this rule in a proposed final form by the end of this year or very, very early next year so that we have gotten it all done by sometime, hopefully, next spring,” Sorrell said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the law in May. Proponents say it’s needed so consumers will know what’s in the food they eat.

The law calls for the labeling of processed GMO foods and for retailers to post signs on displays of unpackaged genetically engineered foods. Violations could be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 per day. Restaurants would be exempt from the requirements.

The public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday in Burlington, Wednesday in Montpelier and Friday in Brattleboro.


Burlington Free Press: VPIRG to help in GMO labeling defense

Free Press Staff
October 8, 2014
Full Article

Two consumer groups — Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety — will be allowed to file legal briefs in the GMO labeling case, a federal judge has ruled.

Christian Reiss, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Vermont, said the two groups could participate in the case as friends of the court.

She rejected their request to intervene in the case, saying their interests would be represented by the state, which is defending the 2014 law.

“We’ve very pleased to be granted the opportunity to help defend the GMO labeling law from attack by giant corporate interests,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “We helped more than 32,000 Vermonters share their concerns over GMOs with their legislators as the law was being debated in Montpelier. We know how much this issue matters to the State and to consumers, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure that Vermonters’ right to make informed decisions is upheld.”

Supporters of Vermont’s law, which takes effect in 2016, say labeling would bring transparency to the information consumers would have about their food.


CBS: VT to Hold Hearings on GMO Labeling Rules

October 13 2014
Full Article
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell is planning three public meetings on proposed rules to implement the new state law requiring the labeling of food produced through genetic engineering.
The meetings will be held the week of Oct. 20 in Burlington, Montpelier and Brattleboro.
Sorrell, whose office is responsible for promulgating the rules of the law, says the rules will provide clarity on the scope and reach of the law and its goal of providing information while minimizing burdens on the regulated community.
The meetings are designed to get feedback from producers, retailers and consumers. Last spring, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a first-in-the-nation law requiring the labeling of food made with GMOs.

Grist: Ben & Jerry’s is fighting GMOs with fudge brownie ice cream


Brattleboro Reformer: VPIRG denied intervener status in GMO lawsuit

By BOB AUDETTE
10/10/14
Full Article

BRATTLEBORO — A federal judge has denied a motion to allow two groups to become interveners in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

However, wrote Judge Christina Reiss, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety will be allowed to file friend of the court briefs in support of the state’s new law concerning the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered products.

In June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont a lawsuit to overturn Act 120, which requires manufacturers and retailers to identify whether raw and processed food sold in Vermont was produced in while or in part through genetic engineering.

The law is intended to go into effect on July 1, 2016, unless Reiss issues an injunction, which the plaintiffs have requested. In August, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing for oral arguments in support and opposed to the motions has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18 or 19.

In denying intervener status to VPIRG and CFS, Reiss noted that the two organizations have demonstrated “a significant interest” in the passage of Act 120 and would be “impaired” if it was held unconstitutional

She noted that the court need not resolve the question of necessity “because intervention is warranted only if (VPIRG and CFS) can also demonstrate that their interest in this case is not ‘protected adequately by the parties to the action.'”

In this case, wrote Reiss, the state’s interests in defending Act 120 are so similar to those of VPIRG and CFS that “adequacy of representation (is) assured.”

VPIRG and CFS had argued that the financial resources required to fight a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs with “sizable income and resources” raises fiscal concerns about the state’s ability to defend Act 120. However, wrote Reiss, if at any point the state indicates its financial resources are strained, the parties can renew their request for intervention.

The state’s strategy in defending Act 120 and VPIRG’s and CFS’ motive for litigation also are not a cause for intervention, wrote Reiss.

“Professed differences in trial strategy are insufficient to entitle a party to intervene …”

Because VPIRG and CFS intend to add to, rather than duplicate the state’s defense, wrote Reiss, they will be allowed to file memoranda as friends of the court.

In their motion for an injunction, the plaintiffs wrote Vermont’s law rests on philosophical or religious beliefs, concerns about large-scale agricultural operations, or biases against certain companies, which have nothing to do with the food itself.

They contend Act 120 is meant “to pacify a vocal segment of the population that opposes genetic engineering.”

 


ABC: Consumer Reports: Food labeling for GMOs

Full Article & Video

The controversy is growing over whether foods should be labeled if they contain GMOs, “genetically modified organisms.” Vermont recently passed legislation requiring GMO labeling. Dozens of other states are considering similar actions. And labeling requirements are on the ballot in Oregon and Colorado this fall. Consumer Reports tested more than 80 processed foods to see just how widespread GMOs are and whether you can trust food labels.

About 90 percent of corn produced in the U.S. is now genetically modified, as with ssoybeans. Consumer Reports’ tests show GMOs can be in many foods, including these cereals, these snack bars and these soy-based infant formulas.

Since labeling is not required, you can’t tell by looking at the package, although some may say “No GMO,” “Non GMO” or “Non-GMO Project Verified.”

Consumer Reports tested a variety of products containing soy or corn for GMOs, at least 2 samples of each, each from a different lot.

“Unless they were labeled organic, the vast majority of products without a specific claim regarding GMOs actually did contain a substantial amount,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H of Consumer Reports.

What about foods labeled “natural?” A Consumer Reports’ survey of one thousand people found that more than 60 percent believe “natural” means “no GMOs.” That’s not what the tests found.

“There is no legal definition for the claim ‘natural’ on processed foods,” says Crupain. “Virtually all the samples we tested that said “natural” but didn’t make claims about being organic or non GMO in fact contained a high percentage of GMOs.”

Then there are unverified claims, like “Non GMO.” Though not independently certified, they mostly proved accurate in Consumer Reports’ tests.

The one exception: these Xochitl corn chips, They’re labeled “no GMO,” but contained a high proportion of GMO corn in all six samples tested. Its “Organic” white corn chips did meet Consumer Reports’ standards for non-GMO.
“Our findings confirmed that the most reliable labels for avoiding GMOs are ‘Non-GMO Project Verified,’ or organic – both independently certified,” Crupain says.

A spokesperson for Xochitl chips told Consumer Reports that the company and its supplier “are both baffled” by Consumer Reports’ test results.


Seven Days: Fair Game: Truth in Labeling

By Paul Heintz
10/8/14
Full Article

Truth in Labeling

Shumlin’s reelection campaign dropped another $80,000 on television advertising last Thursday, bringing his TV total in the last month to $295,000. That’s more than the $285,000 he spent on the tube throughout his 2012 reelection campaign — and he’s still got a month to go before Election Day.

Is somebody a little nervous?

While the gov’s first two ads touched on pretty predictable themes — the minimum wage, college affordability and a whole lot of Tropical Storm Irene — his latest focuses on a surprising subject: GMO labeling.

Surprising because, well, Shumlin spent years arguing it was a risky proposition.

That ain’t how it plays on TV.

The ad features a Montpelier mother and daughter putting away groceries and inspecting the nutritional facts on a box of Cheerios. The mother tells the viewer she wants to “make good choices about what we eat,” so she’s “always checking the labels on our food.”

“That’s why I appreciate Gov. Shumlin’s work to make it the law that genetically modified foods be labeled, so we know what’s in them. That’s important to me,” the mom says. “It says a lot about Vermont that we’re the first state to require that. And it says a lot about Peter Shumlin that he made it happen.”

Made it happen?

Tell that to the folks at Rural Vermont, the Northeast Organic Farming Association and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group who spent years fighting for GMO labeling while the governor resisted it.

“I would just say there were a lot of people working on it for a very long time,” says Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden), who introduced the first such bill in the late 1990s. “It was good Gov. Shumlin joined us in the end to support a strong bill.”

For years, Shumlin said he backed GMO labeling in concept, but believed that mandating it was legally perilous. He argued that any such attempt would suffer the same fate as Vermont’s 1994 law requiring dairy products produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone to be labeled as such. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down in 1996 and awarded damages.

“It cost us a lot of money,” Shumlin said during an April 2012 press conference as he urged the House to shelve the bill.

“I believe that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating,” he continued. “I also know this is almost identical to the case that we lost in the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was a better court than we have now on these issues.”

Shumlin made much the same point in March 2013, telling an audience in Rutland, “The food industry took us to the Second Circuit. It was not only called unconstitutional for some very good reasons, but we had to pay the legal fees.”

Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen reads the record differently, saying, “I can’t remember or find a time in print when Gov. Shumlin opposed GMO labeling.”

Opposed it? That’d be a stretch. “Made it happen?” Also a stretch.

By the time advocates pushed the bill through the Senate last April, the governor had embraced it. In May, he held the biggest signing ceremony of the year on the Statehouse steps, comparing GMO labeling to other Vermont firsts, such as banning slavery and legalizing same-sex marriage.

These days, he brings it up at every campaign stop. Guess it polls well!

VPIRG executive director Paul Burns, who stood beside Shumlin at the signing ceremony, is diplomatic in his assessment of the governor’s position. Calling it “an evolutionary process,” Burns says that what’s important is that Shumlin eventually got to “yes.”

“It was an example of democracy working,” he says.

But really? Shumlin “made it happen?”

“Well, clearly he signed it,” Burns says. “So he made it happen!”


Agri-Pulse: USDA stumped in probe into unauthorized GE wheat found in Oregon

By Sarah Gonzalez
Sept. 26, 2014
Full Article

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2014 – After a 16-month investigation, USDA says it’s been unable to determine how unapproved genetically-engineered wheat made its way into a farm field in Oregon last year.

The 12,842-page report, released today by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), offers no conclusions as to how the plants, which contained a trait developed by Monsanto that makes them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, came to grow in the field.

“We were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened,” Bernadette Juarez, the director of investigation and enforcement services at APHIS and the chief investigator for the Oregon incident, said in a conference call with reporters.

The report, however, said the detection, which came to USDA’s attention in May 2013, appears to have been an isolated incident and there is no evidence GE wheat found its way into commercial channels.

Juarez said the theory that the wheat was planted intentionally — to undermine the acceptance of GE products — was explored, but could not be ruled out or confirmed.

She said the investigation was “one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations ever conducted” through APHIS. She said her team closed the investigation that began on May 3, 2013, after exhausting all leads.

APHIS said it conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers. Investigators also collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold or purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.

“After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field,” the agency concluded.

Juarez also discussed a new investigation of GE wheat found growing in July at a Montana State University research center. Authorized field trials of GE wheat had been conducted at the site from 2000 to 2003.

Juarez said genetic testing shows that the GE wheat recently found at this research facility was similar to the wheat tested more than a decade earlier. It contains the same Monsanto trait that makes it resistant to glyphosate, and but she said the variety of the plant is “significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.”

The Montana incident affected between 1-3 acres in total. About 125 acres were investigated in the Oregon GE wheat discovery. APHIS said the investigation into the Montana incident is continuing, and emphasized that this event is not related to the event in Oregon.