Archive for April, 2013

Bill in Congress would help grow sustainable, local farms

Friday, April 12th, 2013
By Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
April 12, 2013

Advocates of sustainable farming and regional food systems are applauding the Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act, a federal bill they say has the potential to expand markets for farmers and get more healthy food in the hands of consumers.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, introduced the twin bills in the Senate and House early this week, hoping their provisions will make it into a five-year farm bill later this year.

The lawmakers originally introduced their act in 2011. However, Congress failed to agree on a new farm bill last year, extending the previous bill instead.

“Sen. Brown’s bill will boost income and market opportunities for Ohio farmers, secure funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, and invest in the local agriculture economy,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, in a written statement.

The act has 33 co-sponsors — all Democrats — including Sen. Jon Tester from Montana, the Senate’s sole working farmer. More than 280 organizations have endorsed the bill, including Local Matters, Ohio Environmental Council, Slow Food Columbus and OEFFA.

“Local and regional agriculture is a major driver in the farm economy, yet producers face significant infrastructure, marketing and information barriers,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a statement.

“The bill addresses those barriers and makes smart investments that expand economic opportunities for farmers, increase jobs, and improve healthy food access in rural and urban America,” Hoefner said.

The act offers something for each of the seven titles in the farm bill, including proposals addressing crop insurance, farm credit, nutrition, rural development, research and extension, horticulture, and livestock, the sustainable-agriculture coalition said.

It would create an insurance program for diversified and organic farmers who grow crops that are not covered by traditional crop insurance. It also would enable schools to purchase local food, and food-stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets more easily, Local Matters said.

In addition, the act invests in sustainable agriculture programs, such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program, that were stranded without funding when the 2008 farm bill was extended, the sustainable agriculture coalition said.

“For an investment of just over $100 million a year, the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act can help a growing sector of the food system flourish,” Hoefner said. That figure compares with $40 million for local food systems in the 2008 farm bill, he said.

Sen. Brown Introduces Bill to Spur Growth in Ohio’s Local Food Systems

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
 
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Contact: MacKenzie Bailey, Policy Program Coordinator(614) 421-2022 Ext. 208, mackenzie@oeffa.org

COLUMBUS, OH – Today Senator Sherrod Brown re-introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (LFFJA) for inclusion in the Farm Bill this year. This bill promotes growth in local and regional food systems by expanding market access for farmers and ranchers and providing research and training in areas that support farm entrepreneur success.

“Sen. Brown’s bill will boost income and market opportunities for Ohio farmers, secure funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, and invest in the local agriculture economy,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Representative Chellie Pingree re-introduced the bill in the House. Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Marcia Fudge from Ohio have co-sponsored the bill.

The bill makes investments and reforms to low-cost programs that have a proven record of supporting Ohio’s organic farmers, farmers’ markets, and small food businesses.

In recent years, farmers’ markets in Ohio and across the nation have grown in popularity, benefiting communities by bolstering the local economy, creating jobs, and providing increased access to fresh, nutritious food. In 2011, Ohio had more than 260 farmers’ markets, which provide low-cost entry points for small-scale and beginning farmers to direct market their products.

The Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) provides grants to community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and farmers’ markets to develop marketing information and business plans, support innovative market ideas, and educate consumers. LFFJA invests in and expands the FMPP to include food marketing and changes the name of the program to the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

In 2012, six Ohio markets received FMPP funding. One such market is the Toledo Farmers’ Market, which used FMPP funding to recruit new vendors, help establish and promote an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients, and build relationships with community partners to leverage additional funding and support. As a result, SNAP sales increased from $500 in 2008 to $50,000 in 2011, the market added 1,000 new EBT customers, overall market sales increased by 20 percent, and the number of vendors at the market grew by 38 percent.

“Thanks to the FMPP funding, we’ve attracted thousands of new customers, increased sales, and built more economically sustainable businesses,” said Liz Bergman, a Toledo Farmers’ Market Manager. “This year has been the best year yet for the EBT program. Word has spread in the community and we now feed more Lucas County residents in need of healthy food.”

The funding for FMPP expired last October and a new round of grantmaking for this competitive program cannot move forward unless funding is reinstated. The LFFJA would authorize $20 million in mandatory funding for the program.

The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP) is vital to Ohio’s growing sustainable agriculture sector. It reimburses participating organic producers and handlers for 75 percent (up to $750) of their certification fees, making organic certification affordable, and enabling farmers and processors to meet the growing demand for organic food. In 2011, 251 Ohioans utilized NOCCSP funds, or about 40 percent of the state’s organic operations. NOCCSP, too, has been without funding since last October.

Under Senator Brown’s proposed bill, the NOCCSP’s funding would be reinstated and streamlined under the Agriculture Marketing Agency, making the program operate more efficiently and effectively.

“As a farmer previously enrolled in this program, I have found it quite valuable,” said Ron Meyer of Strawberry Hill Farm in Coshocton County. “Organic certification fees are high. The cost-share program helps me continue to provide fresh and safe food, building the health of humans and the environment.”

The bill makes other important investments in research, training, and information collection, including a national program within the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative for local and regional farm and food systems research and for conventional plant and animal breeding research.

It also addresses challenges that diversified and organic farms have in obtaining adequate insurance coverage by authorizing the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop a whole farm risk management insurance product. It also directs RMA to complete the development of an organic price series to allow organic insurance policies to more fairly reflect organic price premiums.

“Sen. Brown’s bill makes smart investments and reforms, provides necessary tools to help address the growing demand for local and sustainable food, and helps to create local agricultural jobs,” said Bailey.

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The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a statewide, grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters working together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org. For more information about the Farm Bill or about OEFFA’s policy work, go to http://policy.oeffa.org/farmbill2012.

A ‘climate’ of ecological farmers meet in Granville

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Farm and Dairy
February 19, 2013
By Chris Kick

GRANVILLE, Ohio — More than 1,100 people filled the Granville Middle School Feb. 16-17 to hear about the latest climate in organics and local foods production.

Climate was a literal part of the discussion, as multiple speakers spoke about the ways that cover crops and crop rotation can help reduce global climate change. They gathered for the 34th annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference — a statewide event.

Jim Hoorman, OSU assistant professor and extension educator, gave a compelling talk about all the different ways climate change could affect agriculture at all levels.

On the plus side, he sees a longer growing season. But it will likely come with increased precipitation events, more insects, heat and heat damage.

More time

A longer growing season means farmers can plant and harvest later. But a better solution, he explained, is to plant and harvest as they’re doing now, while adding more cover crops during the off-season.

Cover crops are a proven way to keep soil and nutrients in place, loosen soil and reduce compaction, and they also are known to absorb and sequester a substantial amount of greenhouse gases — one of the causes of climate change.“We have a tremendous ability to help moderate some of these climate events,” he said.

Hoorman said rain events are going to be more intense. Instead of 1-inch rains, he said to expect 2- to 3-inch rains.He also predicted a continuous shrinking of the planting window, which means farmers will have fewer suitable days to get in and out of fields. He expects advanced tractor technology will help get things done quicker, including robotically operated tractors.

More organic

Hoorman said organic agriculture and cover crops has shown a “tremendous decrease in the amount of fertilizer and herbicides needed,” and predicted the nation will become “more and more organic as time goes on.”

In the afternoon, keynote speaker and Organic Valley CEO George Siemon discussed the success of CROPP — one of the nation’s largest organic farming cooperatives — which he helped to found in 1988.He also talked about the challenges he still sees in the food industry.

“The world needs changed very badly,” he said. “If you don’t acknowledge something, you can never fix it.  We’ve got lots of problems in the food world and we need to address them.”

Siemon said he and his partners started the parent company — Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools — to provide some market security for organic producers.

“We really felt that if we were going to have organic food, we needed to have a fair price for farmers,” he said, so they could “know” what they were getting paid, and avoid the ups and downs of the market.

Under attack

He said he’s concerned that genetically modified organisms — GMOs — have gone too far and pose a threat to organic interests.

Siemon also challenged what he called were “measured attacks” on the organic industry, including the claim that conventional farming feeds the world.

According to Siemon, more people are fed by peasants and gardeners than modern, conventional agriculture.

“The peasants of the world and the gardeners of the world feed us,” he said.

He also questioned whether conventional food can really be considered safe, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration approve chemicals based on risk level — not safety.

“It’s not ‘safe,’” he said. “They never will use the word ‘safe.’”

Siemon said he’s seeing more and more land go into large agribusiness use, which he also criticized.“They’re (industrial farmers) pushing people off the land in bringing in 12-row corn planters,” he said.

From a health perspective, Siemon reminded the audience of the rising rate of obesity and life-threatening diseases — and the potential for good eating to lead to good health.

Healthy living

In a separate talk, Jay and Annie Warmke talked about the health and life benefits they experience from sustainable living, at their Blue Rock Station — a sustainable living center that encourages participants to experience a month of living without energy and money.

Participants cook their own meals in wood ovens, learn to reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as possible.The Warmkes also store up food during good times, so they can be prepared during difficult times.“It’s just amazing what a sense of security it gives you,” Annie Warmke said.

(Read about the service and stewardship award recipients.)

Innovation, cooperation on display at OEFFA conference

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Buckeye Farm News
February 19, 2013
By Seth Teter

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s recent annual conference highlighted dozens of innovative ways to grow food and bring products to market. Many of these efforts emphasized the value of increased coordination among both farmers and consumers.

I talked with a few of this year’s presenters and attendees.

Here’s what they had to say:  

Organic Valley CEO George Siemon described how farmers have found success working together through the producer-owned cooperative.

“The dream of every family farm is to have it to go to the next generation.  And so we know who we want to be, we want to serve the next generation of family farms.  And that’s the beauty of a cooperative, is that it does represent or serve the community.”

Hear more from Siemon about Organic Valley’s approach.

Bob Cohen of the Cooperative Development Center at Kent State University shared his thoughts on the feasibility of the cooperative model in today’s business climate.

“Particularly small and medium scale farmers often can’t compete in the marketplace on their own and so they’re finding that by banding together they’re able to negotiate a better price and sometimes create the mechanisms and infrastructure that enable them to be competitive and more profitable.”

Hear more Cohen.

Another example of farmers cultivating unique business models came from Marissa Kruthaup of Kruthaup Family Farm. The farm has a Community Supported Agriculture program where each year customers buy a share of the farm’s products.

“People who are especially concerned about how their food is being grown, they can come to the farm and see where it’s grown and see how it’s grown and interact with us.”

Hear Kruthaup explain how the program works.

No matter the model, Richard Stewart of Carriage House Farm showed how farmers are always pursuing new opportunities. In addition to growing a wide variety of crops, Stewart is working to convert a former gravel mine into productive farmland.

Hear more about Stewart’s unique farm and his progress on this project.

Local, Fresh, Organic Foods in Central Ohio

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Food Rap
February 21, 2013
By Paul Andrews

An interview with OEFFA Communications Coordinator, Lauren Ketcham. Click here to listen.

Organic Valley’s George Siemon — a Living Legend in Sustainable Agriculture

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
The Huffington Post
February 26, 2013
By Stefanie Penn Spear

While attending Ohio’s largest food and farming conference last weekend, I had the opportunity to sit down with Organic Valley CEO George Siemon. Siemon was the featured keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association‘s (OEFFA) 34th annual conference in Granville, Ohio.

I’m inspired by Siemon’s ability to engage in food advocacy and policy while at the helm of this highly successful business. Organic Valley is an exemplary nearly billion dollar company that shows prioritizing human health and the environment is not only smart business, but vital to creating a sustainable planet for future generations.

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SS: How did you get involved in farming and what did you do prior to the formation of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP) in 1988?

GS: I was your classic back-to-the-lander. I moved to the country and lived close to the land. I got pulled into being a farmer and really enjoyed the traditional wisdom of the older farmers. Then I discovered organic farming. I wasn’t raised on a farm, so I was very excited for something new. I milked cows for about 10 years, but then got increasingly frustrated by the marketing system. It wasn’t rewarding, it wasn’t reasonable and commodity prices didn’t make any sense, so the economic part of it wasn’t satisfying.

At the same time, the 1985 Farm Bill was the last hurrah of what you call a populous farm movement. There was the unloading of manure on the steps of the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the different American radical ag groups, and there was a group in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Farm Unity. After the 1985 Farm Bill had very disappointing results, they felt that they would not get the kind of help they needed from the government. They needed to find ways to help themselves, and the Wisconsin Farm Unity had the idea of starting value-added co-ops which was very pioneering at that time. It just so happened that one of the board members was in our region and he wanted to start an organic produce co-op, vegetable co-op. So, it was really a political activist group that had the idea to start a co-op that would help do what the government was unwilling to do, which was trying to provide farmers with a viable market.

It was a do-gooder concept that started taking root. We started our co-op in 1988. We had tremendous community support from the beggining.

SS: You were a big part of designing the original organic standards. What can you share on how and why they were formed?

GS: Organics is a unique industry in that they actually want more regulations. There were starting to be state laws on the definition of organic and they were conflicting and it was getting to be a mess, so in 1989 we started the process of a national bill. We passed an organic labeling law in 1990 and right away we noticed that organics was a fairly neutral political issue and crosses many stakeholder groups. It was a unique law in that it has the only congressional empowered advisory group in the whole United States government called the National Organic Standards Board. That took a while to get going. Between 1990 and 2002 there was a long period of time to get the standard up and out. It was very challenging to have a program that covered all the commodities.

We have the strictest standard in the world and we should be proud of that.

SS: Local vs. organic, what do you think?

GS: First off, organics is part of the movement of people reconnecting to their food and that’s the good news. Seeing how it affects their lives and so naturally local is part of that same reconnecting to your food. I could never comprehend the local vs. organic because it would seem that if you’re reconnecting with your food and concerned about your food and your local community that you would be concerned about farming organically in your local community and not polluting your watershed. To me it’s a way over played conversation.

There are farmers that farm organically that don’t get certified. That’s a different story. They are still organic, they just can’t use the USDA seal. So to me supporting local chemical farmers vs. an organic farmer, I’m pretty sure that if you look for a local organic farmer you’d find one. You should always support your local people because that’s your local community.

Local is a value that needs to be built on top of organics, not a value instead of organics. It should be organics plus other values because organics only go so far on its value model. It tells you how food is produced. It doesn’t tell you that it was produced locally. It doesn’t tell you if it was produced on a small farm or a big farm, or all the things that you as a consumer may choose to think is important. It’s a consumer choice issue.

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SS: What are your hopes for the next five years?

GS: My hope is always about educating the consumer. I’m all for everything we do in Congress and politics but its been a little disillusioning to say the least. Educating consumers and getting them to make choices is to me still our biggest hope going forward. Unfortunately, the economy, the recession or whatever you want to call it, just drove us to this numbing conversation about jobs, jobs, jobs and it has really set us back. I am very excited about the web and how it educates people. I’m very excited about educating young mothers, which is really what drives our business. You can really see a very positive movement out there that keeps going despite all the challenges.

SS: What about the connection between human health and the environment?

GS: Part of my talk today is to at least acknowledge that we have some very serious health issues and we are not connecting it to food enough or the environment, and they are obviously connected. Health has got to take on a preventative basis. We have to start preventing health [problems] versus coming up with these health crisises and part of that is through food. We are not addressing food related health issues near enough.

SS: What are your thoughts on genetically engineered (GE) food?

GS: GE foods have never been regulated. There’s a lack of regulation and there’s a grip of control by the GE community in D.C. that’s pushing bills through. They tried to get a bill passed recently to make it faster yet to get these products through. They are basically being railroaded through. There’s a lot of investment money on the line that hasn’t come to bear yet, so there’s a lot of pressure to get these products out there.

I don’t have much confidence in the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] doing good due process. First thing they should have real regulation and they don’t. Second, we should at least label it. Number one, organic farms need to know they are buying input that is not GE. Number two consumers should know as well.

We started the labeling effort and it has been a very good educational tool. We’ve gone from ground zero to a very impressive position. We are going to have a hard time ever getting through in D.C. But the state label initiatives started up. I don’t think that California was necessarily the best state to start with, but we had a good fight in California and we did really well. The truth is now that one of these states is going to pass a law and it’s going to be disruptive. We’ve actually made big strides, very big strides. I’m very pleased. It looks like Washington state will pass and that will rock the boat because no food processor, me or otherwise, supports state by state laws, because it’s a nightmare for packaging. So we’ve actually gone from no hope to a pretty amazing position in just two years. It’s really exciting seeing us reverse the trend.

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SS: So you’re close to becoming a billion dollar company. Where do you see Organic Valley in 10 years?

GS: What’s nice about working for a family farm cooperative is you’ll know where you’ll be in 50 years, which hopefully will be an honest marketing vehicle for their children’s children. It’s kind of neat to know who you want to be in 50 years. Not many businesses can actually say that, but we can. As far as in 10 years, we’ve always been very thrifty and modest but we have to now face the reality that we might have a 19 percent growth rate this year, and that if we were to grow 10 percent starting in 2014, by 2020 we’ll be a $2 billion company. So we’re having to put a different set of glasses on now and look at our reality which has been a fantastic success.

Thanks to Siemon for his hard work and dedication in the sustainable agriculture industry and to OEFFA for their long-standing mission to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, meets the growing consumer demand for local food, creates economic opportunities for our rural communities and safeguards the environment.

Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
The New York Times
March 8, 2013
By Stephanie Strom

Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, on Friday became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some experts said could radically alter the food industry.

A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. “Fantastic,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.

Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.

The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.

The shift by Whole Foods is the latest in a series of events that has intensified the debate over genetically modified foods. Voters defeated a hard-fought ballot initiative in California late last year after the biotech industry, and major corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort. Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while consumers across the country have been waging a sort of guerrilla movement in supermarkets, pasting warning stickers on products suspected of having G.M.O. ingredients from food companies that oppose labeling. Proponents of labeling insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat, and they contend that some studies in rats show that bioengineered food can be harmful.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.”

“We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet.”

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.

Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines,” Ms. Batra said. “The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”

She contended, however, that without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.

Nonetheless, companies have shown a growing willingness to consider labeling. Some 20 major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart, met recently in Washington to discuss genetically modified labeling.

Coincidentally, the American Halal Company, a food company whose Saffron Road products are sold in Whole Foods stores, on Friday introduced the first frozen food, a chickpea and spinach entree, that has been certified not to contain genetically modified ingredients.

More than 90 percent of respondents to a poll of potential voters in the 2012 elections, conducted by the Mellman Group in February last year, were in favor of labeling genetically modified foods. Some 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, favored it.

But in the fight over the California initiative, Proposition 37, the opponents succeeded in persuading voters that labeling would have a negative effect on food prices and the livelihood of farmers.

That fight, however, has cost food companies in other ways. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are pondering labeling on their own, and consumers have been aggressive in criticizing some of the companies that fought the initiative, using Twitter and Facebook to make their views known.

Buoyed by what they see as some momentum in the labeling war, consumers, organic farmers and food activists plan to hold an “eat-in” outside the F.D.A.’s offices next month to protest government policies on genetically modified crops and foods. Whole Foods, which specializes in organic products, tends to be favored by those types of consumers, and it enjoys strong sales of its private-label products, whose composition it controls. The company thus risks less than some more traditional food retailers in taking a stance on labeling.

In 2009, Whole Foods began submitting products in its 365 Everyday Value private-label line to verification by the Non GMO Project.

But even Whole Foods has not been immune to criticism on the G.M.O. front. A report by Cornucopia, “Cereal Crimes,” revealed that its 365 Corn Flakes line contained genetically modified corn. By the time the report came out in October 2011, the product had been reformulated and certified as organic.

Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.

Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods did not consult with its suppliers about its decision and informed them of it only shortly before making its announcement Friday. He said Whole Foods looked forward to working with suppliers on the labeling.

Modified crops get boost from budget deal

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
The Columbus Dispatch
March 31, 2013
By Mary Vanac

Food and small-farming activists are decrying an addition to the stopgap spending deal that was signed last week by President Barack Obama to keep the federal government operating.

The measure, which had been added to the House version of the continuing resolution, pre-empts federal courts from blocking farmers from planting, harvesting and selling genetically modified crops while their approval status is reviewed.

Monsanto, one of the global companies that produces genetically modified seeds, said in an emailed statement that the point of the addition appears to be “to strike a careful balance allowing farmers to continue to plant and cultivate their crops subject to appropriate environmental safeguards, while USDA conducts any necessary further environmental reviews.”

But activists are derisively calling the rider the “Monsanto Protection Provision” because they believe it gives companies that make genetically modified seeds the ability to keep selling their products in spite of questions about the effects on human health and the environment.

The addition goes back to August 2010, when a federal judge blocked the use of Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets after finding the U.S. Department of Agriculture “had not adequately assessed the environmental consequences before approving them for commercial cultivation,” according to The New York Times.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association “is extremely disappointed that the continuing resolution passed including the dangerous biotech rider,” said MacKenzie Bailey, policy coordinator for the group.

“This unprecedented and egregious effort guts the necessary review process put in place for public safety and leaves consumers unprotected from potential health consequences by introducing untested crops into our food system,” Bailey said in an emailed statement.

“It also leaves organic and GMO-free farmers vulnerable to contamination from understudied and under-regulated genetically engineered crops.”GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” The term applies to seeds that produce genetically different crops, such as those that are immune to a common weed-killer or certain diseases.

Biotechnology company Monsanto says the genetic modifications improve crop quality and yields. GMO opponents say the crops have not been thoroughly tested to rule out health and environmental dangers.

Genetically modified crops also pose problems for organic farmers. Pollen from modified crops can contaminate organic crops, making them unsalable.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments by Monsanto, which claims an Indiana farmer who used second-generation soybean seeds infringed on the company’s patent on first-generation seeds.

Until now, federal courts could halt the production of genetically modified crops until they were properly approved by the Department of Agriculture.

The recent legislative measure requires Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to issue temporary permits to farmers so they can continue to produce genetically modified crops “even when a court of law has found they were approved illegally,” according to Food & Water Watch, a food-policy watchdog.

Vilsack questions the enforceability of the measure.

“Secretary Vilsack has asked the Office of General Council to review this provision, as it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable,” a USDA spokesman said in an email on Thursday.

The measure surfaced last summer during congressional debate about a new farm bill. It drew support from the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council and others.

However, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, slammed what he called “corporate giveaways,” including the biotechnology rider, in the recent government-funding bill.

Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, said the rider was slipped into the bill with no debate amid urgency to pass a law to keep the government working.

He introduced amendments to remove the measure and restore a rider that would have helped poultry farmers in their dealings with a handful of large meatpacking companies. However, the amendments weren’t considered.

The activist outcry comes as the national debate about mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is heating up.

A California proposition to require the identification of genetically engineered ingredients on food labels was defeated by voters last fall. However, labeling campaigns are gearing up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, according to Food & Water Watch.

Early this month, the natural and organic grocery company Whole Foods Market committed to labeling GMOs in the food it sells by 2018. A few days later, Hain Celestial Group, maker of organic foods and teas, confirmed its support of increased transparency in the labeling of genetically modified organisms.

“People have the right to know what is in their food,” Whole Foods founder and co-CEO John Mackey told a gathering of customers at his company’s Pasadena, Calif., store, according to Zester Daily, an online news site for food, wine and travel enthusiasts.

 

Ohio’s organic farmers opt for biology over chemistry

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
WKSU Quick Bites
Friday, March 15, 2013
By Vivian Goodman

Having a bite to eat could get scary… very soon.

Among potential impacts of the sequester: reduced food safety when federal inspectors are sent home.

But food worries are nothing new.  Consumers learning about the harmful effects of pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms have long been demanding healthier, seasonal and local food. To meet that demand, many of our region’s small farmers use biological rather than chemical methods to keep crops healthy and bug-free. For today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman looks at the future for organic farming.

When the federal government first set national standards for organic farms in 1990, there wasn’t all that much consumer demand for fruits, vegetables and grains grown without synthetic fertilizers and insecticides, and meat from animals that don’t do hormones.

Finding new non-chemical methods
Today organic farmers are rotating crops, composting, finding new ways to make pesticides passé, and doing about $55 billion in annual business.

But big agribusiness still rules. Only 1 percent of America’s cropland is organically farmed.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference drew about 1,100 participants last month, about 100 more than last year’s event. They came on a snowy mid- February weekend from all over Ohio and neighboring states and included farmers, research scientists, food producers, distributors, backyard gardeners and foodies of all kinds.

The root of the matter

Kitty Leathem led a workshop on root vegetables.“I’m known around here as the green chef.”

That’s what they call her at Granville’s farmers market, where it’s easy to find her. Just follow the bee-line to her turnip and rutabaga pies.

The Green Chef calls her workshop “Out of the Dirt and On to Your Plate”

“Because where do root vegetables live?”

In the dirt.

“And of course if you put chemicals on, where’s it going to go?”

Into the plants.

“Right into the plants. Try and eat organic root vegetables.”

There are 90 workshops at the conference; 10 have the word “organic” in the title.

Willing to pay for healthier choices
On average, eating organic costs about 20 percent more. But consumers who have read the works of Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin and seen the movie Food, Inc. don’t mind paying the difference.

“There’s a better environment for organic foods, which is a big part of it,” says George Siemon. He runs the largest organic farm cooperative in the nation. Organic Valley represents farmers in 31 states including 174 in Ohio.

A food system that needs organics

Siemon’s keynote speech at the ecological food conference is titled, “Organic: Changing a Broken System.”

“Part of the broken food system is the amount of control that certain parties have in D.C. So I don’t feel the farm bill is really an honest process that serves our bigger community. … Organics just got hurt badly in the recent farm bill. Anything that was extra, like research on organic farming and other things. got cut to zero.

“Of course we get very little anyway, but that’s the beauty of organics. It’s been very self-starting. … It’s a grass-roots movement, and we’ve done well without the government’s help.”

Siemon’s organic cooperative is in its 25th year. It recently reached $1 billion in annual sales.

Improving but still needs fixing
But he says the system remains broken.

“We have a lot of food-related illnesses and environmental issues and cultural issues that are related to our agricultural practices, and I think it needs to have a better conversation than we have. Organic farming is a wonderful answer for financial viability and care for the land and producing healthy food, … so it’s a real solution.”

But Stanford University came out in September with a report that said organic doesn’t make a real health difference.

“I could challenge that study all day long,” says Siemon. “And of course, we have people who are opposed to us.”

More funding in the pipeline for organic farmers
He believes more financial organizations are willing now to fund organic farms, because of demand from consumers.

“And one of the things our coop has taken great pride in is trying to  provide a stable price to farmers and a stable marketplace and bankers recognize that there’s a future here.”

Mike Storer of Columbus-based DNO Distributors couldn’t agree more. He’s in the food conference’s exhibit hall because the grocers and restaurants he serves want more organic food.

In search of Ohio organic farmers
 “At this show, what we’re trying to do … is we’re trying to locate some more farmers, specifically Ohio organic farmers. We have a lot more demand than supply right now. It’s really picked up in the last three years.”

Three years ago, he says, “We would … get maybe one or two calls. Last year we started to get dozens and dozens, and this year (there’s) so much demand for organic that we’ve exhausted almost everybody who currently grows for us.”

Another hopeful sign for the future of organic farming: OEFFA last year launched a “farmer’s bank” to provide capital for sustainable agriculture in Ohio. It now has $500,000 going to build the supply of farm-fresh local food for our tables.

And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next Friday, we’ll learn the business secrets of a veteran quality grocer.

Monsanto: A Corporate Profile

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

New report sheds light on the GE seed giant that is major force behind keeping GE food unlabeled

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cincinnati, Ohio—Today, as consumer demand and grassroots efforts grow in support of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered (GE) foods, the consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch released Monsanto: A Corporate Profile.

Food & Water Watch released the report in Ohio in conjunction with their campaign to ask regulators and lawmakers to mandate GE labeling nationally. Food & Water Watch is working to pass a resolution in the Cleveland calling on Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give consumers the right to know if their foods have been genetically engineered. The resolution is similar to one passed in Cincinnati last November.

The new report provides a thorough overview of the biotechnology giant that now holds 1,676 patents on seeds, plants and other agricultural applications. Monsanto’s products are grown on over 282 million acres worldwide, including 40 percent of all U.S. crop acreage. The report outlines Monsanto’s history and its undue influence over lawmakers, regulators, academic research and consumers.

“Even though you won’t find the Monsanto brand on a food or beverage container at your local grocery store, the company holds vast power over our food supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book Foodopoly. “This power is largely responsible for something else we cannot find on our grocery store shelves – labels on genetically engineered food. Not only has Monsanto’s and other agribusinesses’ efforts prevented the labeling of GE foods, but they spend millions to block grassroots efforts like California’s Prop 37 in order to keep consumers in the dark.”

Monsanto: A Corporate Profile provides a deep-dive into Monsanto’s history as a heavy industrial chemical manufacturer; a reality at odds with the environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image that the company spends millions trying to convey. The report offers a timeline of milestones in the company’s history including chemical disasters, mergers and acquisitions, and the first genetically engineered plant cell.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture, applauds the new report.

“This report exposes the tremendous influence companies like Monsanto have over our food system and the need for independent research on the impacts genetically engineered crops’ have on the environment, farmland, and consumer health,” said MacKenzie Bailey, OEFFA’s policy program coordinator. “Additionally, policy makers need to respond to overwhelming public demand and require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, which will give consumers the ability to know what’s in their food.”

The report concludes with recommended actions for the federal government to take to rein in Monsanto’s anticompetitive practices and control over agricultural research and government policies. It also suggests steps that regulators should take to better protect consumers and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of GE crops.

Monsanto: A Corporate Profile can be downloaded here: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/MonsantoReport.pdf

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Contact: Alison Auciello, Food & Water Watch, aauciello@fwwatch.org, (513) 394-6257

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