Monday, 29 October 2012


Stanford Scientists Shockingly Reckless on Health Risk And Organics

Published on Thursday, September 6, 2012 by Common Dreams
I first heard about a new Stanford "study" downplaying the value of organics when this blog headline cried out from my inbox: "Expensive organic food isn't healthier and no safer than produce grown with pesticides, finds biggest study of its kind."
Does the actual study say this?
No, but authors of the study -- "Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review" -- surely are responsible for its misinterpretation and more. Their study actually reports that ¨Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
The authors' tentative wording -- "may reduce" -- belies their own data: The report's opening statement says the tested organic produce carried a 30 percent lower risk of exposure to pesticide residues. And, the report itself also says that "detectable pesticide residues were found in 7% of organic produce samples...and 38% of conventional produce samples." Isn't that's a greater than 80% exposure reduction?
In any case, the Stanford report's unorthodox measure "makes little practical or clinical sense," notes Charles Benbrook -- formerly Executive Director, Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences: What people "should be concerned about [is]... not just the number of [pesticide] residues they are exposed to" but the "health risk they face." Benbrook notes "a 94% reduction in health risk" from pesticides when eating organic foods.
Assessing pesticide-driven health risks weighs the toxicity of the particular pesticide. For example the widely-used pesticide atrazine, banned in Europe, is known to be "a risk factor in endocrine disruption in wildlife and reproductive cancers in laboratory rodents and humans."
"Very few studies" included by the Stanford researchers, notes Benbrook, "are designed or conducted in a way that could isolate the impact or contribution of a switch to organic food from the many other factors that influence a given individual's health." They "would be very expensive, and to date, none have been carried out in the U.S." [emphasis added].
In other words, simple prudence should have prevented these scientists from using "evidence" not designed to capture what they wanted to know.
Moreover, buried in the Stanford study is this all-critical fact: It includes no long-term studies of people consuming organic compared to chemically produced food: The studies included ranged from just two days to two years. Yet, it is well established that chemical exposure often takes decades to show up, for example, in cancer or neurological disorders.
Consider these studies not included: The New York Times notes three 2011 studies by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan that studied pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of an organophosphate pesticide. Once their children reached elementary school they "had, on average, I.Q.'s several points lower than those of their peers."
Thus, it is reprehensible for the authors of this overview to even leave open to possible interpretation that their compilation of short-term studies can determine anything about the human-health impact of pesticides.
What also disturbs me is that neither in their journal article nor in media interviews do the Stanford authors suggest that concern about "safer and healthier" might extend beyond consumers to the people who grow our food. They have health concerns, too!
Many choose organic to decrease chemicals in food production because of the horrific consequences farm workers and farmers suffer from pesticide exposure. U.S. farming communities are shown to be afflicted with, for example, higher rates of: "leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma" -- in addition to skin, lip, stomach, brain and prostate cancers," reports the National Cancer Institute. And, at a global level, "an estimated 3 million acute pesticide poisonings occur worldwide each year," reports the World Health Organization. Another health hazard of pesticides, not hinted at in the report, comes from water contamination by pesticides. They have made the water supply for 4.3 million Americans unsafe for drinking.
Finally, are organic foods more nutritious?
In their report, Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, and co-authors say only that "published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods." Yet, the most comprehensive meta-analysis comparing organic and non-organic, led by scientist Kirsten
Brandt, a Scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center at the UK's Newcastle University found organic fruits and vegetables, to have on "
average 12% higher nutrient levels."
Bottom line for me? What we do know is that the rates of critical illnesses, many food-related --from allergies to Crohn's Disease -- are spiking and no one knows why. What we do know is that pesticide poisoning is real and lethal -- and not just for humans. In such a world is it not the height of irresponsibility to downplay the risks of exposure to known toxins?
Rachel Carson would be crying. Or, I hope, shouting until -- finally -- we all listen. "Simple precaution! Is that not commonsense?"

Choices Magazine: What happens when the well goes dry?

The special theme for the current issue of Choices Magazine is: "What happens when the well goes dry?  And other agricultural disasters."

The theme's overview, by Dave Shideler, puts the 2012 drought into context:
[T]he increasing probability of drought conditions across the U.S. due to increasing climate variability should cause decision makers to think beyond the immediate crisis.
Other contributors include K. Bradley Watkins, David P. Anderson, J. Mark Welch, John Robinson, Kurt M. Guidry, J. Ross Pruitt, Kurt A. Schwabe, and Jeffery D. Connor.  Choices Magazine is an outreach publication of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA)

Monday, 22 October 2012


India Parliament Recommends a Ban on Genetically Engineered Crops

    Third World Network Biosafety Information Service, Posted Sept 5, 2012


Item 1
GM crops are no way forward
Satyarat Chaturvedi
The Hindu, August 24 2012

Food security is not about production alone; it is also about bio-safety, and access to food for the poorest We are predominantly an agricultural economy, with the agricultural sector providing employment and subsistence to almost 70 per cent of the workforce. There have been some remarkable contributions from the agriculture sector to food grain production in the last six decades, when from a meagre 50 million tonnes in the 1950s, the country has been able to produce a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-2011. Despite these achievements, the condition of the farming community is pitiable considering that 70 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal, and there is a complete absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies which has led us to an environment of very severe agrarian distress.

Pros and cons

In this situation, food security has been one of the main agendas of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and also one that the government has been struggling with. There is a strong opinion among policymakers that biotechnology holds a lot of promise in achieving food security and that transgenic crops, especially, are a sustainable way forward. But given the opposition and controversies surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the differences of opinion among stakeholders, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture decided to take on the mammoth task of an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introducing GM crops.

We expect the observations in our report to answer the big question on the role of GM crops in achieving food security. We hope the recommendations will be acted upon at the earliest. The committee felt this was all the more necessary in the light of the Prime Minister's exhortation at the Indian Science Congress about the full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising on safety and regulatory aspects.

The lessons

In India, the only commercialised GM crop is Bt cotton. Industry and the Central government have painted a picture of success about it - saying it has led to an increase in production and that the costs of cultivation have gone down. But the ground reality is starkly different. This was evident during the extensive interactions of the committee with farmers in different cotton growing regions around the country during study visits in March 2012.

Besides analysing the facts and figures provided by government agencies and listening to eminent cotton scientists, the committee's consultation with farmers in Vidharbha helped us conclude that the Bt cotton saga is not as rosy as made out to be. In Vidharbha, the per-acre investment in cultivating traditional varieties, or even pre-Bt hybrids, could be less than Rs. 10,000. That was certainly the case until the first half of the previous decade. But for Bt cotton, even the un-irrigated farmer is spending upwards of Rs. 15,000-18,000 or even more per acre. And irrigated farmers complain of input costs exceeding Rs. 45,000 per acre. While the investment and acreage rose dramatically, the per acre yield and income did not increase in equal measure and actually fell after initial years. Indeed, the Union Agriculture Minister spoke of Vidharbha's dismal yields on December 19, 2011 in the Rajya Sabha.

It was clear that at least for the rain-fed cotton farmers of our country, the introduction of Bt cotton offered no socio-economic benefits. On the contrary, it being a capital intensive practice, the investment of farmers increased manifold thus exposing them to greater risks due to massive indebtedness. It needs to be remembered that rain-fed farmers constitute 85 per cent of all cotton growing farmers.

Added to this, there is desperation among farmers as the introduction of Bt cotton has slowly led to the non-availability of traditional varieties of cotton. The cultivation of GM crops also leads to monoculture and the committee has witnessed its clear disadvantages. The decade of experience has shown that Bt cotton has benefited the seed industry hands down and not benefited the poorest of farmers. It has actually aggravated the agrarian distress and farmer suicides. This should be a clear message to policymakers on the impact of GM crops on farming and livelihoods associated with it.

The risks

From the various deliberations to which the committee was privy, it is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment, that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this. While there are many in this community who feel that the benefits outweigh the risks, others point to the irreversibility of this technology and uncontrollability of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) once introduced in the ecosystem. Hence, they advocate a precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs.

One of the concerns raised strongly by those opposing GM crops in India is that many important crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, originated here, and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops. In fact, globally, there is a clear view that GM crops must not be introduced in centres of origin and diversity. India also has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it will only be prudent for us to be careful before we jump on to the bandwagon of any technology.

The committee's findings on the GEAC-led regulatory system for GM crops show that it has a pro-Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and pro-industry tilt. It has also come under the scanner due to its inefficiency at the time of Bt Brinjal approval and for behaving like a promoter of GM crops rather than a regulatory body mandated to protect human health and environment from the risks of biotechnology. The DBT, whose mandate is to promote GM crops and fund various transgenics research, has a nominee as the co-chair of the GEAC, who gives the final approval for environmental and commercial release of GM crops.

The current regulatory system is shameful and calls for a complete makeover. While the government has been toying recently with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, the committee dismisses this and instead recommends an all-encompassing Biosafety Authority. While the committee has also evaluated international regulatory systems on GM crops, it recommends the Norwegian Gene Technology Act whose primary focus is bio-safety and sustainable development without adverse effects on health and environment, as a piece of legislation in the right direction for regulating GM crops in India.

The committee strongly believes that the problem today is in no measure comparable to the ship-to-mouth situation of the early 1960s. Policy and decision-makers must note that the total food grain production rose from 197 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. A major argument by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation before the committee in favour of GM crops was their potential to ensure the country's food security. But the issue of food security is not about production alone; it also means access to food for the poorest. Moreover, there is no evidence as yet that GM crops can actually increase yields.

The committee, therefore, recommended the government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in the coming years without jeopardising the vast biodiversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human and livestock health.

The committee unanimously feels that the government should take decisive action on the recommendations of this report and rethink its decision of introducing transgenics in agriculture as a sustainable way forward. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Item 2
Bar GM Food Crops, Says Parliamentary Panel
By Gargi Parsai, The Hindu, India

10 August 2012

In a major setback to the proponents of genetically modified technology in farm crops, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on Thursday asked the government to stop all field trials and sought a bar on GM food crops (such as Bt. brinjal).

The committee report, tabled in the Lok Sabha, demanded a "thorough probe" into how permission was given to commercialise Bt. brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not carried out.

It said there were indications of a "collusion of the worst kind from the beginning till the imposition of a moratorium on its commercialisation in February, 2010, by the then Minister for Environment and Forests."

The report came a day after Maharashtra cancelled Mahyco's licence to sell its Bt. cotton seeds.

It flayed the government for not discussing the issue in Parliament and observed that the Ministry failed in its responsibility by introducing such a policy, ignoring the interests of the 70 per cent small and marginal farmers.

The report criticised the composition and regulatory role of the Genetic Engineering Approval (Appraisal) Committee and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM).

According to Committee chairman Basudeb Acharia, there is not a single note of dissent in the report of the 31-member panel, including nine from the Congress and six from the BJP. Observing that GM crops (such as Bt. cotton) benefited the (seed) industry without a "trickle-down" gain to farmers, it recommended that till all concerns were addressed, further research and development should be done only in contained conditions.

Citing instances of conflict of interest of various stakeholders, the panel said the government must put in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight and surveillance systems.

Raising the "ethical dimensions" of transgenics in agricultural crops, as well as studies of a long-term environmental and chronic toxicology impact, the panel noted that there were no significant socio-economic benefits to farmers. On the contrary, farmers have incurred huge debts because of this capital-intensive practice. "Today, 93 per cent of the area is under Bt. cotton because no alternative seeds are available," Mr. Acharia said.


Item 3
GM Panel Recommends Halting All Field Trials
By Jacob P. Koshy, Livemint, India

9 September 2012

A parliamentary committee has recommended halting all field trials of genetically modified (GM) seeds and sought an independent probe into how the government had accorded approval to Bt brinjal, a seed that was developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd (Mahyco).

Though it's not mandatory for the government to accept the parliamentary standing committee's recommendations, the suggestions of several such panels have significantly influenced government policy. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010 imposed a moratorium on the sale of Bt brinjal seeds in India.

The recommendations of the panel comes a day after the Maharashtra government cancelled Mahyco's licence to sell Bt cotton seed in the state. This was after allegations that the company had misinformed state agricultural officials on the availability of Bt cotton seeds for farmers.

Mahyco said in a statement that it will wait to hear from the government before addressing issues around the ban.

"In India, where 82% of the agriculture industry is of small farmers and where there is huge biodiversity, we should not go for GM foods. Even if we take the argument that we have to increase our food production according to the demands, we should look into indigenous ways to enhance it," said Basudeb Acharya, chairman of the standing committee on agriculture and a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Pointing out that the introduction of Bt cotton was not discussed in Parliament before it was introduced in the country, Acharya said there was neither a study on its impact on cattlefeed made out of the cotton seeds, nor was any specific regulatory body to ensure food safety and standards.

The parliamentary panel, which met around 1,500 farmers in Goregaon in Maharashtra, also found they were left with no other alternatives to Bt cotton seeds in the market.

"The production cost, which was reduced due to less usage of pesticides, has been increasing," Acharya said. "And we found largest number of suicides were reported from the areas where Bt Cotton is grown."

The committee also pointed out that Ayurvedic medical practitioners have complained it had an adverse impact on the medicinal plants grown in the area.

The panel's study on Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects is among the most extensive studies conducted by a parliamentary standing committee. The panel received 467 memorandums, 14,862 documents and reviewed evidences given by 50 organizations during its 27 sittings on the subject.

While Bt cotton is the only GM plant that,s allowed to be cultivated, several private companies have been looking at introducing different kinds of GM seeds, including rice, tomato and wheat.

Following protests from civil society groups and farmers, several state government,s have banned trials of GM crops.

To bring greater transparency in the way crops are tested, the government has proposed an independent regulator, called the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India. Legislation to set up the authority has been pending for two years.

Earlier this year, the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution ruled that all packaged food that was sourced from GM ingredients had to be labelled so.

The "report vindicates the concerns and positions taken by many state governments in India, such as Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, etc., which have disallowed GM crops, including field trials. It also vindicates the larger public demand not to allow GM crops into our food and farming systems," Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convener of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, a group that is opposed to the introduction of GM crops, said in a statement.


Item 4
Proper Tests Not Done Before Giving Nod To Bt Brinjal: Parliamentary Panel
The Economic Times, India

10 August 2012

NEW DELHI: A parliamentary panel has recommended a thorough probe into the controversy surrounding Bt Brinjal and indicated the approval committee was under tremendous pressure from the "industry and a minister" and did not conduct requisite tests properly before granting approval for introduction.

The 31-member parliamentary standing committee on agriculture tabled its report in Parliament on "Cultivation of genetically modified food crops - prospects and effects", on Thursday. The 492-page exhaustive report on the issue has rejected the idea of genetically modified food crops for India, punching holes in the theory of an urgent need to increase food production through bio-technology. The committee had taken up the issue suo moto in 2010, when a debate over Bt Brinjal and Bt Cotton was raging. It has now observed it was convinced that the government did not carry out significant tests properly before giving a go-ahead for commercial production of Bt Brinjal.

The committee said it was indicative of "collusion of a worst kind". Standing committee chairman Basudeb Acharia said the observation was made after testimony of Dr PM Bhargava, the Supreme Court nominee on Genetic Engineering Appraisal committee (GEAC), before the parliamentary panel. Bhargava said co-chairman of GEAC Prof Arjula Reddy confessed that the tests asked by Bhargava for assessing Bt Brinjal had not been carried out and even the tests undertaken were performed badly as Reddy was under pressure with calls from industry, GEAC and the minister to approve Bt Brinjal. Speaking to reporters Acharia refused to divulge the name of the minister. When asked whether the committee was told the name, Acharia replied in the negative. The committee found that GM crops have an impact on health and the environment and these aspects were overlooked while approving Bt Brinjal trials in India.

After examining the issue for two-and-a-half years, the committee felt there was no need to introduce genetically modified food crops in India. Acharia said, "in a country like India, where 82% of farmers are small and marginal we should not go for genetically modified food crops. But if at all the government decides to - because of the argument that the demand for food will increase abnormally by 2020 and existing technology would not be sufficient - then there should be enough safeguards in place. Even then we feel that the government should go for indigenous alternatives. If you see in the past we have been able to increase our food production from 56 million tonnes to 254 million tones, then why do we think in future we won,t be able to achieve such growth in food production?"

The committee has strongly criticised the present regulatory system for genetically modified crops, calling it antiquated and inadequate. It has pointed out serious conflict of interest of various stakeholders involved in the regulatory mechanism as well. Making sharp observations on the issue, the committee has recommended that the government bring an all-encompassing umbrella legislation on bio-safety, which is focused on ensuring the bio-safety, biodiversity, human and livestock health, environmental protection and which specifically describes the extent to which bio-technology, including modern bio-technology, fits in the scheme of things. Acharia said the committee as recommended that the government bring such a legislation "after due consultation with all stakeholders and bring it before Parliament without any further delay."

The panel has also recommended proper labelling of genetically modified food. Acharia said the consumer had the right to know and make an informed choice. He pointed out that other countries which allow GM food, such labeling laws are in place.

"The committee recommends that the government should immediately issue regulation for making labeling of all GM products, including food, feed and food products, so as to ensure the consumer is able to make an informed choice in the matter of what he/she wants to consume," the report says.

The report is significant as it comes at a time when the Centre, especially the Ministry of Science and Technology, is trying hard to introduce a new regulatory system for GM crops by the name Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India.

The committee is dominated by UPA with 11 Congress MPs, two from DMK and one Trinamool Congress member. With one member from Samajwadi Party and two from BSP, the total strength of UPA and supporting parties is 17 on the panel. Left Front has two members, including Acharia and one Forward Bloc MP and NDA has 12 MPs.

Ironically, the stand taken by Acharia-led committee is divergent from the view of CPM, Acharia's party. CPM polit bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai had kicked up a storm in Kerala last year when he had nuanced his party,s view by saying complete opposition to genetically modified crops was superstitious. Pillai also appeared before the standing committee as the president of the All India Kisan Sabha and said: "I am for making use of the achievements of science and technology in agriculture as in the case of other areas... There are possibilities for increasing productivity and production in agriculture by making use of genetically modified crops... Very rigorous bio-diversity tests should be conducted to ensure that the genetically modified crops should not cause any ill effects on human life, other plant and animal life and also on the overall environment."


Friday, 19 October 2012

Conservation Crossroads from C-FARE

The Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics (C-FARE) in July released a nice accessible report series entitled Conservation Crossroads.  The reports review important conservation policies at a time when U.S. agricultural programs are in flux, so it is unclear whether new farm programs will have the same connections to conservation objectives that older programs had.  I serve on C-FARE's board of directors.  Through outreach publications and webinars, C-FARE seeks to share the excellent work of food and agricultural economists with a wider audience.

Top 10 Design Elements to Achieve More Efficient Conservation Programs
Prof. David Zilberman, University of California at Berkeley and Prof. Kathleen Segerson, University of Connecticut
Top 10 Design Elements to Achieve More Efficient Conservation Programs
This paper examines how conservation programs for agriculture provide significant social and environmental benefits. However, given budget constraints and pressures to increase production, Conservation programs must further evolve to maximize effectiveness at the lowest possible cost to the American taxpayer. This paper provides a "Top 10" list of improvements that could be made to Conservation programs in order to get the biggest bang for the buck, both for taxpayers and the environment.
[ Click to download PDF ]

Economic and Environmental Effects of Agricultural Insurance Programs
Prof. Daniel A. Sumner, University of California at Davis and Prof. Carl Zulauf, Ohio State University
Economic and Environmental Effects of Agricultural Insurance Programs
This paper observes that over the past decade crop insurance has evolved into the largest subsidy among U.S. farm programs. With the impending elimination of direct payments, crop and revenue insurance and the related "shallow loss programs" will be even more important, especially for program commodities. However, agricultural insurance programs stimulate production of the more subsidized crops and likely result in less diversification of crops, expanded planting on marginal land, and increased potential for adverse environmental effects of farming.
[ Click to download PDF ]

Examining the Relationship of Conservation Compliance & Farm Program Incentives
Prof. Otto Doering, Purdue University and Katherine Smith, American Farmland Trust
Examining the Relationship of Conservation Compliance & Farm Program Incentives
This paper reviews the historical context of the Conservation Compliance farm program, and its impact on both farmers and civil society. The paper discusses the incentive structure of the modern Conservation Compliance system and highlights the risks and dynamics associated with changing this structure.
[ Click to download PDF ]

Implications of a Reduced Conservation Reserve Program
Prof. JunJie Wu and Prof. Bruce Weber of Oregon State University
Implications of a Reduced Conservation Reserve Program
This paper provides an analysis of the economic and environmental impacts of a reduced Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The current context of federal budget constraints coupled with historically high commodity prices has led to scrutiny of the program. However, the paper points out that there should be an equally robust discussion of the macro-economic relationships between strong conservation reserve programs and economic well-being. Furthermore, the authors examine the historical relationship between the CRP and the conditions of rural communities, recreation and the environment. [ Click to download PDF ]

State-level data on children's poverty and nutrition programs

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center this week released new resources about breakfast and lunch participation in Massachusetts schools.  A chart pack (.pdf) illustrates data describing the extent of take-up of nutrition benefits, and a summary graphic (.pdf) traces a wide variety of nutrition assistance programs from the federal funding sources to the state and local implementation level.

More generally, the Kids Count data center from the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a wide variety of state-level data resources for all states.  For example, here is an interactive map showing children's poverty levels by regions within Massachusetts (you can mouse over selected counties to see specific statistics).

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


All Together Now: World Food Day 2012
by Jezra Thompson
Published on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Civil Eats
One in seven people around the world will feel hunger today. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) brings global awareness to this issue every year on October 16th, and have done so since 1981. Today, there are more than 100 countries that will celebrate World Food Day. Over 450 national and private organizations in the U.S., such as Oxfam America and Ending Hunger, will host events around this year’s theme, “Agricultural cooperatives–key to feeding the world,” to bring better understanding around what cooperatives are and how they help relieve food insecurity and improve community self-sufficiency.
Agricultural cooperatives are enterprises owned and democratically operated by the employees that work there. They range from farming to retail coops that pool together resources and share in the costs and benefits of running a business. “There are many examples of co-ops and they take away the hierarchies that make it difficult to create a quality of life,” says Madeleine Van Engel, a baker-owner at Arizmendi, a cooperative bakery in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many examples of agricultural cooperatives in the U.S. not only feed their community, but also create economic and social sustainability in places often deemed unlikely.
Mandela Marketplace, a West Oakland non-profit, worked within their predominantly African-American and Latino community to identify ways to improve livelihoods and to create neighborhood investment. Together, they wanted to address the poor health statistics, where obesity rates are three times higher than the national average and where forty-eight liquor stores and zero grocery stores attempt to feed around 25,000 people. As a result, theMandela Foods Cooperative opened its doors in 2009 as a worker-owned community market selling healthy food at an affordable price.
Mariela Cedeno, Senior Manager at Mandela Marketplace, describes the cooperative as community driven. More than forty percent of the produce sold at the cooperative comes from small farmers within a 200-mile radius, most of them minority farmers. They also employ community members, like Leroy Musgraves, a retired African-American farmer who hosts nutrition education sessions in front of the cooperative twice a week.
Three years later, Mandela Foods Cooperative is improving food security and the community marketplace in West Oakland. Ms. Cedeno says that, “being a cooperative means that everyone gets value out of the business and everyone is engaged in its mission to increase access to healthy food and increase the community’s wealth, they are equally invested in economic development and food.” Since the success of Mandela Foods Cooperative, the community of West Oakland and Mandela Marketplace has organized a produce delivery service that works with community youth to stock the shelves of corner stores with fresh produce.

The Toolbox for Education and Social Action lists 10 reasons why cooperatives work, starting with democracy and ending with viability. The FAO estimates that one billion people are members of cooperatives worldwide and they are generating more than 100 million jobs. The way we think about agriculture and food businesses is moving away from the trailblazing farmer tasked with feeding the world and moving closer towards business models that share resources, ideas, and finances. The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives found that“cooperatives account for nearly $654 billion in revenue, over two million jobs, $75 billion in wages and benefits paid, and a total of $133.5 billion in value-added income.”

World Food Day invites us all to take action and join the conversations. Many community-based organizations, agricultural cooperatives, and community leaders will host dinners, organize food packaging events, arrange food drives, plan community gardening events, and engage schools and institutions. There are also several national and international conferences and workshops taking place around the world that you can tune into. This year’s World Food Day conference will be hosted by Gorta in Dublin and will stream live on today at 9am here. You can find out more about agricultural cooperatives and how you can get involved in your community to end world hunger one dinner at a time here.
© 2012 Civil Eats
Jezra Thompson
Jezra Thompson is a food system planner in California’s Bay Area. She writes about food justice on a national and local level for Civil Eats. She has spent time talking about food access within government, non-profit and academia. Her portfolio can be found here. Follow her on Twitter:@JezraThompson.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


BBC Profile: Big Tobacco Lawyers Target Big Food
Attorney Don Barrett demands mislabelled food be "taken off the shelves"
- Common Dreams staff
Published on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Common Dreams
More than a dozen lawyers who took on big tobacco in the 1990's have turned their attention to the food industry and the criminal mislabeling of food products. BBC Newsnight spoke with Don Barrett, one of the attorney's who's career capstone was the decade-long battle that forced tobacco companies to admit they knew cigarettes were addictive.
Attorney Don Barrett, made famous by the 1998 Big Tobacco settlement, is going after the food industry. (Photo by James Patterson for the New York Times)"Nobody's trying to tell the American people what they have to eat or what they cannot eat, the American people can make those decisions for themselves," the Mississippi attorney told BBC. "It's all about free choice. To have free choice you have to have accurate information. That means Big Food, the food companies, have to start telling the truth about what's in their product. The law requires it."
The tobacco attorneys are taking an aggressive tack, claiming that companies are "misrepresenting their products, promoting them as 'natural' or 'healthy', when […] they are no such thing."
Barrett's team is focusing on the mislabeling of food and the prevailing practice of ingredient euphemisms. “It’s a crime—and that makes it a crime to sell it,” Barrett told The New York Times. “That means these products should be taken off the shelves.”
One example he gives is hidden sugars in processed food. Barrett cites the example of greek yogurt maker, Chobani Inc—one of their targets—which lists "evaporated cane juice" as an ingredient in their pomegranate-flavored yogurt, rather than sugar. According to the suit filed earlier this year, the FDA has repeatedly warned companies not to use the term because it is “false and misleading.” In total, the attorneys filed 25 cases against food industry players that also include ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz and General Mills.
Barrett draws a parallel between his infamous tobacco lawsuits and this latest round:
"The American people assume that if a product is legal to sell, then these people are telling the truth about this product. If it's legal to sell, it must be ok, otherwise the government would have done something about it. And that's what they thought about cigarettes."
Another similarity is the money at stake. Big Tobacco ended up settling for more than $200 billion in 1998. The suits against Big Food are class actions, where the class is defined as every person who purchased one of the misbranded products in the previous four years. For most of the food companies targeted, that could also amount to billions.
"I'm 68 years old, frankly I don't need the cash, the law's been good to me." According to BBC, what gets Barrett fired up is the epidemic of obesity among young people; the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports around two thirds of Americans over the age of 20 are now obese or overweight.
"This is my job, but here we have an opportunity to really help people."

Monday, 15 October 2012


Organic Consumers Association

12 New GM Crops Up For USDA Approval

    USDA Fast-Tracks GMO Crop Approval Process
    By Melinda Suelflow, Campaigns
    Organic Consumers Association, August 15, 2012 Straight to the Source

Take Action!

Stop the New "Birth-Defect Ready" GMOs!
Stop Bayer's New GMO Herbicide-Addicted Soy!

Stop Syngenta's New Bt Corn!

Stop Dow's Agent Orange Soy!

Stop GMO Apples!

Stop Monsanto's Dicamba Tolerant Soybean!

Earlier this summer, the USDA posted twelve new GE crops for public comment with a September 11 deadline, and nine are under the new fast-tracked process. That's twelve new GMOs to review and issue comments on in two months!

Here's the lowdown. Three of the new crops are under the old petition process. Under the old process there is only one 60-day public comment period. Here are the three crops under the old process:

--- Dow 2,4-D and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0019)

Since the introduction of GM crops, the US has seen herbicide use increase by over 300 million pounds. Big Biotech originally claimed that weeds would not develop resistance to glyphosate (RoundUp), but they have and these new "superweeds" have become the driving force behind new crops engineered for stacked, or multiple, herbicide tolerances. Adoption of these new crops will lead to dramatic increases in the use of higher risk herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba, perpetuating the herbicide treadmill that is already in place.

2,4-D is already the third-most-used US herbicide, after glyphosate and atrazine, and as a leading source of dioxin pollution, it's one of the most deadly. As of yet, however, it's hardly used on soy at all. Just 3 percent of total US soybean acres were treated with 2,4-D in 2006. Not only will this percentage skyrocket once Agent Orange Soy hits the market, the amount used per acre may triple, according to the USDA.

Take Action!

---Bayer Glyphosate and Isoxaflutole Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0029)
Bayer's petition to force its new controversial herbicide (isoxaflutole) tolerant soy on the market conceals crucial information on potential allergenicity and toxicity that came to light when EU experts examined the GMO soybean.
Take Action!

---Syngenta Corn Rootworm Resistant Corn (APHIS-2012-0024)

Syngenta's genetically engineered Bt crops have been banned in many countries because of the documented harm they cause to people, animals and insects. Bt corn produces its own insecticide that kills bad bugs and good bugs alike, Bt corn pollen has reportedly killed peasants in the Philippines, Bt livestock feed harms animals, and the Bt toxin is now found in the blood of over 80% of women and their unborn children.
Take Action!

Under the new process, USDA has also opened nine additional new crops for public comment. This initial comment period applies to the petitions for nonregulated status which include information submitted by the petitioning company. Once USDA has the completed their environmental analyses they will open a final 30-day comment period for the decision-making documents.

Here are the 9 crops under the new process with the same September 11 deadline:
---Okanagan Non-Browning Apple (APHIS-2012-0025)
Take Action!

Okanagan's "Arctic" apple would be the first genetically engineered version of a food that people directly bite into. According to the latest study by the Environmental Working Group, conventionally grown apples are the most pesticide contaminated fruit or vegetable on the market. Conventional apples are dangerous, and GMO apples are just a dumb idea - one not even supported by many in the apple industry itself!
---Monsanto Dicamba Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0047) Take Action!

According to the Institute for Science in Society (ISIS), "dicamba is actually an old herbicide that served alongside "agent orange" in Vietnam, and has been resurrected as an environmentally friendly chemical through the magic of public relations."

---BASF Imidazolinone Tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0028)

---Monsanto High Yield Soybean (APHIS-2012-0020)

---Monsanto Hybrid Corn (APHIS-2012-0027)

Four of the nine are genetically engineered with a soil bacteria that keeps them alive even when they're sprayed with massive doses of the herbicide glyphosate (Monsanto's RoundUp). More of these so-called "RoundUp Ready" crops mean more RoundUp sprayed on our food. This is horrible because Monsanto's RoundUp causes birth defects. Instead of "RoundUp Ready" we should call these GMOs "Birth-Defect Ready"!

According to a report published by Earth Open Source, industry's own studies -- including one commissioned by Monsanto -- showed as long ago as the 1980's that RoundUp's active ingredient, glyphosate, causes birth defects in laboratory animals.
---Dow 2,4-D, Glyphosate and Glufosinate tolerant Soybean (APHIS-2012-0032)Take Action!

---Monsanto Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (APHIS-2012-0035)

---Pioneer Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (APHIS-2012-0031)

---Genective Glyphosate Tolerant Corn (APHIS-2012-0046)

USDA Fast-Tracks GMO Crop Approval Process

Despite massive public opposition, last year the USDA announced plans to streamline its genetically engineered petition process under the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Earlier this year these controversial changes were implemented, speeding up the approval process for new genetically engineered seeds and crops. The new process will cut in half the time it takes for new GE seeds and crops to enter the market.

USDA claims that the new fast-track process allows for earlier input from the public to improve the quality of its environmental analyses. But according to a USDA press release, the new process is a part of efforts by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to "transform USDA into a high-performing organization that focuses on its customers." The customers that USDA is so keen on assisting are none other than Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, BASF, Syngenta, and the rest of the Biotech bullies!



Vermont Leads Way for "Farm to Plate" Planning
10 year plan seeks path to more sustainable local food system
- Common Dreams staffPublished on Monday, October 15, 2012 by Common Dreams
Big ideas can come from small states and when it comes to implementing innovation approaches its sometimes takes small pockets of dedicated individuals and organizations to show more populated areas exactly what's possible.
Dylan Zeitlyn of Diggers' Mirth Collective Farm sells produce at the Old North End Farmers Market. It's estimated that Vermonters consume about 5 percent local food. (Free Press File)This seems to be the lesson from Vermont, at least, where a state-funded initiative to foster the growth of local food systems has taken bold strides in less than two years.
And, as the Associated Press reports Monday, organizers of the program —called the 'Farm to Plate Strategic Plan,' and designed to boost the state's sustainable food system —"are celebrating its progress."
Open to all farms, food system-related entrerprises and trade associations, coops, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, private funders, and community groups, the state program carves a ten year path to a more sustainable food system within the state and region.  According to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which oversees the project, the program is designed to "catalyze and accelerate the development of markets for sustainably produced goods and services."
‘Local food is exploding in this state, and it’s because of consumer demand and consumer interest. It’s also really being led by entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and are finding new ways of accessing markets,’’ Ellen Kehler, executive director of the VSJF, told the AP.
Estimates cited by AP say that Vermonters consume about 5 percent local food on average—a national high—but that the state program's goal is to boost that to 10 percent by 2021. A state conference last week saw the gathering of nearly 200 experts and food system stakeholders for a conference to reflect on the progress of the intitiative.
Writing for, Jeff Gangemi, who attended Vermont's Farm to Plate Network Conference last week, highlights some of the key elements of the state's booming local food infrastructure:
• The Burlington (VT) Intervale Center operates one of the most successful food hub models around. Though it’s part of a 25-year-old non-profit organization, the five-year-old hub operation runs slightly over break-even with over $500,000 in sales and 25% growth per year. The hub distributes products from two dozen farms to 40 drop locations with the twin goals of returning as much money as possible to farmers, and delivering the best possible food to eaters.
• Sodexo, one of the largest food service companies in the country, has doubled down on its commitment to local. The company, which already operates the UVM dining halls and has passed the Real Food Challenge, now operates 18 locations in Vermont and is working with local farmers to develop tactics forgetting more local product into its cafeterias.
•, a really cool website developed by the Vermont Agriculture and Culinary Tourism Council, offers in- and out-of-staters 12 different food “trails” and 316 listings to explore Vermont’s rural food and culinary experiences.
• The Windham Farm and Food Network offers buying clubs for low-income residents to pool small amounts of money to buy affordable local food.
• The Green Mountain Farm to School program has launched a mobile farmers' market that is delivering fresh food to four food deserts around the state.
• Salvation Farms delivers food “gleaning” programs to help harvest and quickly distribute extra food to folks that need it around the state.
• The Grand Isle Farm Fresh Fuel Project out of UVM encourages farmers to grow sunflower seeds for fuel and food. So far, they’ve succeeded in planting 87 acres of sunflowers that produced 65 tons of seeds, 5800 gallons of oil, and 44 tons of meal (food).
• The Vermont Sheep and Goat Association enabled a “wool pool” that combined, sold and delivered 20,000 pounds of wood to a mill in Ohio. Instead of making waste, they made money for producers.
• Vermont Technical College just got a $3.4 million grant to develop anInstitute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems.
• The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has preserved 144,000 acres of farmland in the last 24 years.
• The Organic Valley Cooperative, which supplies Stonyfield Farm with all of its dairy, has shown that Vermont’s grass contributes to milk with twice the Omega 3 acids as conventional milk.
• After Tropical Storm Irene, the Vermont Community Foundation raised $2.4 million to support the state’s farmers, making grants to 225 farms. And perhaps most triumphant of all, none of the 470 farms affected by the storm ended up closing because of losses they incurred.
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Published on Monday, October 15, 2012 by The Asian Age
Giant Walmart vs. the Small Farmer
India is a land of small farmers. According to the United Nations, the smaller the farm, the higher the productivity.  Left party activists are herded into a bus as they are detained by police, during an anti Wal-mart protest in New Delhi. (AP)
Small farms grow biodiversity. They are falsely described as unproductive because productivity in agriculture has been manipulated to exclude diversity and exclude costs of high chemical and capital inputs in chemical industrial agriculture. When biodiversity is taken into account, small farms produce more food and higher incomes.
In the heated debate on FDI in retail, those promoting it repeatedly claim that the entry of corporations like Walmart will benefit the Indian farmer. Reference is made to getting rid of the middleman.
Any trader who mediates in the distribution of goods between producers and consumers is a middleman. Walmart is neither a producer nor a consumer. Therefore, it is also a middleman; it is a giant middleman with global muscle. That is how it has become the world’s biggest retailer, carrying out business of nearly $480 billion. So the issue is not getting rid of the middleman but replacing the small arthi with a giant one. The Walton Family is the global arthi located in the US, not in the local community. And this new kind of arthi combines the functions of all small traders everywhere from wholesale to retail. Instead of millions of small traders taking a two per cent commission at different levels, Walmart gets all profits. If three small traders mediate at two per cent between the producer and consumer, the difference between the farm price and consumer price is just six per cent. When Walmart enters the picture, the difference jumps with the farmer getting only two per cent of the consumer price and Walmart and its supply chain harvesting the 98 per cent. So the issue is not the number of middlemen but their size and their share of profits. It was to avoid this concentration of power over the agricultural produce market that India created the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act.
Our mandis are governed by cooperatives, which include farmers. No trader can buy more than a certain amount. This prevents monopolies. It creates a decentralised, democratic distribution system from wholesale to retail.
The government, especially the Planning Commission, has been trying very hard to dismantle the APMCs and mandis to facilitate the entry of big business in agriculture. The announcement of FDI in retail will radically change Indian agriculture. It threatens the survival of the small Indian farmer and the diversity of our farming systems.
Given the size of Walmart, it creates a monopsony through its buying power. It does not go to each small farmer and buys the five sacks of extra produce. It works through giant supply chains and giant suppliers which have no place for the small. Walmart and the small, independent farmer cannot coexist. When Walmart dominates, agribusiness dominates. Industry and corporations start to control agriculture.
We can already see early attempts at the industry takeover of agriculture to match centralised and giant production systems with centralised and giant retail. On March 5 this year, the government announced a new policy for the corporate control of agriculture called Public-Private Partnership for Integrated Agricultural Development (PPP-IAD) — a scheme for facilitating large-scale integrated projects, led by private-sector players in the agriculture and allied sectors, with a view to aggregating farmers, creating critical rural infrastructure, introducing new technologies, adding value and integrating the agricultural supply chain.
The department of agriculture and cooperation has launched the PPP-IAD, which is proposed to cover 10 lakh farmers across India during the period 2012-17. Each of the integrated agricultural projects would involve engaging a minimum of 10,000 farmers. The scheme would accept proposals from private corporate entities on integrated agricultural development projects with the proviso that intervention must cover all aspects from production to marketing.
Subsidies will now go to corporations, not the farmers. In effect, 10,000 farmers will no longer be independent producers, but bonded to the corporation. These corporations will be Walmart’s partners, not the small farmer.
This scheme , and the policy framework of which it is a part, is in effect a subversion of both land reforms and our food security. Land reforms in India got rid of zamindari and put land in the hands of the tiller. Land ceiling was introduced to ensure there would be no concentration of ownership over land. What the government is calling “reforms” are, in effect, anti-reform reforms, aimed at undoing every policy and law that we have put in place in independent and democratic India to ensure the rozi roti of the last person.
Walmart will harm and wipe out small farmers and businesses in India the way it has harmed farmers and retailers in the US. And because the density of small farmers and small retailers is higher in India than anywhere else in the world, the destructive impact will be magnified manifold.
The argument that we need FDI in retail was made when the government allowed Walmart to enter wholesale business in 2007. No infrastructure has been built, even though five years have passed. In any case, the government has given away crores in subsidies for warehouses and cold storages since it introduced “reforms”. We need a black paper to assess all the public money that has already been spent on what the government says only Walmart can do.
And the more the government pushes policies towards monopolies and monocultures, the more committed I become to defend our economic democracy and diversity as a saner, more sustainable, more just alternative to the disease of giganticism.
© 2012 The Asian Age
Vandana Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis;Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food SupplyEarth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.