Archive for July, 2009

Boulder Council Says ‘No’ to Biotech Crops

Photo by Mark Leffingwell:  Meredith Frantz leans forward to look through the glass doors of the 3rd floor hearing room to watch the hearing on Roundup Ready Sugar Beets from the hallway with dozens of others who couldnt fit into the room at the Boulder County Courthouse in Boulder

Photo by Mark Leffingwell: Meredith Frantz leans forward to look through the glass doors of the 3rd floor hearing room to watch the hearing on Roundup Ready Sugar Beets from the hallway with dozens of others who couldn't fit into the room at the Boulder County Courthouse in Boulder

After 7 hours of testimony and debate, members of the Boulder County Food and Ag Policy Council recommended against allowing the cultivation of Roundup Ready sugarbeets on county open space land by a vote of 10-3

With dozens of citizens present for the hearing, public testimony began at 5:30 and stretched well into the 11 o’clock hour. 45 members of the community were present to oppose a request by 6 farmers to allow the cultivation of the beets. 11 farmers and other community members supported the farmer’s request.

The six farmers have argued that they need to plant GMO beets to remain competitive, since the modified seeds increase yield and decrease pesticide and labor costs. Proponents of GMO sugar beets also say that the crop requires both less herbicides and less plowing than conventionally-grown crops, ultimately protecting soil fertility.

In the end, the majority of council members were not swayed by those arguments, at least not in the face of vigorous public opposition. But even council members who voted against the beets seemed to agree with council member Matt Pierce on one point: the public doesn’t seem to know much about farming.

The county commissioners will make the final decision at their meeting Aug. 25, taking into account the conflicting opinions of the council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee, which voted to recommend the genetically modified sugar beets at a meeting last week.

Tune into the Pulse on Monday to hear audio of some public comments both for and against the proposal. We will also have clips of State Women’s Committee member Amber Clay’s testimony before the Council.

House Passes Food Safety Bill

The House passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) Thursday on a mostly party line vote of 283-142. The Senate must now act on the House bill or take up a food safety bill of its own; the American Farm Bureau Federation expects the Senate will use S. 510 introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as its legislative vehicle rather than the House bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was successful in obtaining exemptions from most of the bill’s provisions for farms. The Agriculture Department will continue to regulate feed grain farms and livestock and poultry operations, rather than FDA.

AFBF continues to remain neutral on the House bill. While improvements have been made, AFBF believes some outstanding issues remain to be resolved. For example, AFBF is still concerned about the impact of the legislation on growers of fruits and vegetables.

“There are problems at the FDA that need to be fixed, but we don’t need to create a whole new system,” said Kelli Ludlum, AFBF director of congressional relations, in an interview with the Des Moines Register.

There is no timeline for Senate action, but both Durbin and the bipartisan leadership of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have indicated they intend to complete healthcare reform before beginning consideration of any food safety measure.

Michigan Livestock Care Measure Passes Hurdle

Comprehensive standards for farm animal care are one step closer to state law in Michigan. Redrafted House Bills 5127 and 5128 were passed by the Michigan House Agriculture Committee Thursday.

The bills, supported by Michigan Farm Bureau and thirteen other ag groups, provide a solid framework to assure consumers that Michigan livestock have been raised with the highest safety and accountability standards. The re-drafted bills address previous objections raised by opponents. These measures closely mirror the proposed November ballot question in Ohio.

Jim Spink testifies in support of the legislation, refuting claims that the bills are designed for "industrial farms." Spink raises about 50 head of dairy steers and heifers and considers himself a "small farmer."

H.B. 5128 would put into law voluntary industry guidelines for farm animals’ care — ranging from how much living space they need to slaughter practices — and require audits of livestock farms. A 12-member council would review and possibly recommend updated animal care standards at least every five years.

H.B. 5127 Introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (D) on June 23, 2009, will impose and enforce farm animal care regulations on agricultural producers, and impose fees on farms sufficient to pay for this new regulatory regime. At first the regulations would be those created by producer organizations, but the Michigan Department of Agriculture would have the power to create and enforce its own. The department would be empowered to impose “a progressive enforcement mechanism” on violators to bring about compliance.

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Farmers See Prices Tank For Carbon Credits

One of the biggest fronts in the battle against Cap and Trade legislation has been the debate over just how much money in carbon credits the ag community stands to make under the proposal. The USDA analysis seems to think that the estimated $50 million in carbon credit payments the industry stands to receive under the program will offset the estimated increase in energy costs. Without going into an extended analysis about the false assumptions built into the EPA and USDA calculations, Colorado Farm Bureau has held from the start that the exact opposite is true.

In fact, any payments that the industry stands to receive will be far outstripped by the skyrocketing energy costs and reduction in GDP that the country will experience under the Cap and Trade scheme. Not only will many producers have difficulty in implementing carbon capture technology and strategies (planting trees, no-till, fallow, methane digesters, etc.) but the price of the carbon credits that farmers will be able to trade is grossly overestimated. Farmers are already seening the value of carbon offset credits drop to near worthless levels.

According to the AP

Farmers enrolled in a program that rewards them for reducing greenhouse gasses are finding the market for their carbon credits has shrunk amid the recession and uncertainty about climate legislation being crafted by Congress.

Carbon dioxide credits are fetching about 60 cents a metric ton, down from a high of about $7 a year ago, according to the National Farmers Union, which runs the program.

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Colorado Ag Seeks to Increase Trade with Cuba

The Denver Post reports that officials at the Colorado Department of Agriculture are looking for ways to open up more agricultural trade with the nation of Cuba, a practice banned by the Owens administration. Cuba’s demand for American foodstuffs has grown from $6 million in 2001 to $700 million in 2008 and Colorado can no longer afford to ignore such a market. The Colorado Department of Agriculture is seeking partner organizations who can help with the logistics of coordinating a trade delegation to the island.

The Post writes that…

Tim Larsen, the state Agriculture Department’s senior international marketing specialist, is leading Colorado’s exploration of the Cuban market with the support of many farm and business interests across the state.

“We’re complying with U.S. regulations in a growth market,” Larsen said. “The mood is changing about Cuba. Do we position ourselves to take advantage of it now, or do we wait?”

Colorado companies already sell some products to Cuba — about $1 million worth in 2008 — all of them exempt from the long-standing U.S. trade embargo.

Since 2000, when Congress exempted agricultural and medical products from the embargo, at least 21 states have led trade missions to the island nation with varying degrees of success.

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Study: ‘Organic Has No Health Benefits’

The BBC writes…

Organic food is no healthier than ordinary food, a large independent review has concluded.

There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.

The Food Standards Agency who commissioned the report said the findings would help people make an “informed choice”.

“Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.”

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said they were disappointed with the conclusions.

“The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.

Of particular interest are the audio clips accompanying the story. The BBC did short-takes on what people thought of the results of the study and their answers were very interesting. 

Activists Step Up Opposition to Roundup Ready Sugarbeets

Anti-Agriculture activists in Boulder County have stepped up their efforts in the media to slander and malign sugarbeet production on open space land. Activists are lining up to attack the Roundup Ready Sugarbeets that local farmers have requested permission to produce on county-owned open space land.

The Boulder Daily Camera has a story on sweeteners in their Food section that examines the environmental impact of sugar production from various sources. It focuses heavily on the energy required to produce and refine each type of sugar; as if no other food crop requires energy to grow and refine.

The Boulder Daily Camera also reports this morning about 40 people protested genetically modified sugar beets Wednesday morning, waving “No GMO” signs as cars sped through the intersection of Broadway and Canyon in Boulder.

The Denver Post also reports on a group called Transition Colorado who is sponsoring a screening of the radical French-made documentary film “The World According to Monsanto” at the Nomad Theater in Boulder.

In the film, Monsanto is portrayed as an international conglomerate bent on controlling the world’s food production.

“The film is pretty strong,” said Michael Brownlee of Transition Colorado in Boulder. “It’s the kind of film that, like many have said, can inspire a whole new generation of farmers.”

A spokesman for Monsanto said the film is so biased that the company prefers to not even legitimize it with a formal response.

It should be noted that Michael Brownlee is also a member of the Boulder County Food and Ag Policy Council. The Council will rule on the Boulder farmers request tomorrow, Friday July 30th.

Cynthia Torres, another member of the Council has written a blog post about her experience so far in dealing with the controversy.

The ruling from both the Food and Ag Policy Council and the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee will be taken into consideration by the Boulder County Comissioners who will issues a final ruling on the request on August 25th.

The Open Space Committee has already issued a favorable recommendation to the Commissioners.

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