Archive for the ‘Organic/Sustainable/Local’ Category

USDA U-Turn on Roundup Ready Alfalfa

Despite a previous committment to full deregulation of biotech alfalfa, Sec. Tom Vilsack (right) is now entertaining the idea of releasing the crop with various restrictions.

Despite the USDA’s own proposal from last year, Sec. Vilsack’s department is now reversing course on deregulating Roundup Ready Alfalfa. According to the Department’s environmental review, the alfalfa was judged substantially equivalent to other varieties without red flags for regulators. But instead of taking the news as a green light to let the alfalfa on the market, as they have with other biotech plants like corn, USDA is waffling.

Now, the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa could be accompanied by restrictions on seed production and, in some cases, cultivation of the hay itself, should USDA decide on implementing one of two preferred alternatives presented in a court-ordered environmental review of the crop.

The Wall Street Journal has strong words about the decision to “invite representatives from the biotech and organic industries to USDA in the coming days to discuss how the two farming methods may coexist.”

By suggesting that industry and activist groups negotiate compromises in advance of the final ruling on whether to deregulate, Mr. Vilsack is using the Department’s regulatory authority as leverage against businesses whose products are overwhelmingly regulated by USDA.

It gets worse. Mr. Vilsack’s authority in the regulatory decision-making process is based on the assumption of sound scientific data. But according to people who attended the meeting last Monday, the USDA Secretary told the assembled groups that science itself is subjective, and that he could have three different groups bring him three different supposedly scientific opinions.

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Justices Skeptical of Lower Court’s Biotech Alfalfa Decision

Supreme Court justices on Tuesday sharply questioned a lower court’s decision that has prohibited Monsanto Co. from selling biotech alfalfa seeds, possibly paving the way for the company to distribute the seeds for the first time since 2007.

Several justices appeared skeptical that the lower court had the authority to fully ban the sale of the product because of a pending environmental review. Chief Justice John Roberts questioned why the court issued the injunction instead of simply sending the matter back to USDA.

Justice Antonin Scalia appeared even more wary, questioning the idea that genetically modified crops could contaminate other crops. “This isn’t the contamination of the New York City water supply,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the world, it really isn’t.”

Monsanto argues that the ban was too broad and was based on the assumption that their products were harmful. Opponents of the use of genetically engineered seeds say they can contaminate conventional crops, but Monsanto says such cross-pollination is unlikely.

(Image: Bruce (bioflyer))

Supreme Court Hears Biotech Alfalfa Case on Tuesday

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday involving a federal judge’s temporary ban on Roundup Ready Alfalfa, setting the stage for the court’s first-ever ruling on biotech crops.

Legal experts do not expect a blockbuster decision on the merits of regulating biotech crops, but the case, Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, has drawn widespread interest because the justices could issue a ruling that would raise or lower the threshold for challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Monsanto appealed to the Supreme Court last year after the 9th Circuit Court upheld the ban for the second time. The American Farm Bureau Federation disagreed with the ruling by the 9th Circuit, arguing with its conclusion that the mere fact that a product is genetically engineered constitutes harm to the environment. AFBF believes this is contrary to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence.

Administration Seeks Funding for Ag in Developing Nations

The Obama administration wants to add $408 million to a global fund to boost food production and encourage good farming practices in the developing world, the Treasury Department announced on Thursday.

The fund, created after the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh last year, will begin with contributions from the governments of Canada ($230 million), Spain ($95 million) and South Korea ($50 million) and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($30 million). It is meant to provide money to poorer countries, particularly in Africa, that invest in local farming programs and agricultural development that is meant to increase crop yields, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates and Secretary Geithner have made their case for this new initiative in the pages of today’s Wall Street Journal.

Bill Gates is an advocate of biotech seeds and crops and supports their use to help alleviate global hunger.

Organic Food Poised for Comeback

While sales of organic food have taken a hit in recent months, new research shows that consumers will be purchasing more of the product in the next few years. The natural and organic food and beverage category saw rapid growth of more than 24 percent from 2006 to 2008 but stalled during the recession in 2009, with sales up just 1.8 percent.

Sales are now forecast to grow nearly 20 percent from 2010 to 2012, indicating that going organic has become a way of life for some.

Nutritionists: No Need to Eat Organic to be Healthy

USDA, which runs the National Organic Program, considers organic agriculture a “production philosophy” and has stated that an organic label does not imply that a product is superior to conventionally produced foods. Nutritionists are saying there is no need to eat organic to be healthy, and it is more important to choose less processed food and more fruits and vegetables.

Last summer, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a comprehensive systemic review that concluded organic and conventional food have comparable nutrient levels.

The Primitive Food Movement

The New York Times economics blog, Freakonomics, (which follows the methodology of the best selling book by the same name) has outlined what it calls the ‘Primitive Food Movement’ in a recent post.

Americans are currently embracing a strange sort of primitivism… This trend appears to be a unique response to a declension narrative that goes something like this: Americans once lived on small farms, ate locally produced food, did not poison the soil with chemicals, and always knew from whence their food came…

Current calls for dietary simplicity might have a revolutionary ring to them. But what’s overlooked in all the enthusiasm is this: Americans have always idealized, or at least harkened back to, an agricultural era when production was supposedly simpler, closer to the land, and unadulterated by the complexities of modernization.

According to the author, calls for ‘simple food’ were taking place during the Civil war and earlier.

After years of approximating the increasingly luxuriant habits of Empire, early Americans reacted to independence by playing up their status as rough-hewn frontiersmen and self-sufficient survivalists. In terms of food, this self-identification meant rejecting luxury for—you got it—the primitive simplicity of the first European settlers.

Consider taking a minute to read the post in its entirety. And don’t forget to take a look a the comments to the article at the bottom of the page.

(Image: windy_sydney)

EAT – Like a Caveman

The Wall Street Journal outlines yet another odd amateur dietitian, a la Michael Pollan.

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USDA Releases Survey Results on 2008 Organic Production

With organic production on the rise across the United States, the USDA has released survey results about the state of Colorado’s Organic Production farms.  According to Bill Meyer, director of the Colorado Field Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, “This (survey) was an opportunity for organic producers to share their voices and help ensure the continued growth and sustainability of organic farming in the United States.”  Some interesting facts about Colorado’s 2008 Organic Production include:

  • In 2008, there were 220 certified organic farms (including those exempt from certification) with thirty-four percent being new within the last 10 years.
  • Twenty-eight percent of first point sales were down within 100 miles of the farm, while 47% were done nationally
  • 41,830 tons of organic dry hay was harvested from 13,711 acres while 553,443 bushels of organic winter wheat were harvested from 23,179 acres
  • Organic beef cows peaked at 973 head for 2008, while all other organic cattle and calves peaked at 4,630 head
  • The total value of sales from organic farms in 2008 Colorado was $70.2 million, with crops making up 54% of this value. 
  • Total expenses reached $61.7 million, with the average cost to each farm being $283, 040

Forbes Writer Goes After Critics of ‘Corporate Agriculture’

No sector in America is better positioned for the future than agriculture, if it is allowed to reach its potential, according to a column penned by Joel Kotkin, a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University.

“Like manufacturers and homebuilders before them, farmers have found themselves in the crosshairs of urban aesthetes and green activists who hope to impose their own Utopian vision of agriculture. This vision includes shutting down large-scale scientifically run farms and replacing them with small organic homesteads and urban gardens,” Kotkin wrote.

“Troublingly, the assault on mainstream farmers is moving into the policy arena. It extends to cut-offs on water, stricter rules on the use of pesticides, prohibitions on the caging of chickens and a growing movement to ban the use of genetic engineering in crops. And it could undermine a sector that has performed well over the past decade and has excellent long-term prospects.”

Kotkin strongly lashes out at the critics of “corporate agriculture.” Kotkin’s column does an excellent job of articulating the green movement’s assault on modern agriculture.

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Michael Pollan is at it Again

Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, local food advocate Michael Pollan questioned why Americans would have any problem with the government regulating what they can and can’t eat.

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Investors See Farming as a Way to Grow Detroit

A community garden project in Drtroit

Reporting from Detroit – On the city’s east side, where auto workers once assembled cars by the millions, nature is taking back the land.

There’s so much land available and it’s begging to be used,” said Michael Score, president of the Hantz Farms, which is buying up abandoned sections of the city’s 139-square-mile landscape and plans to transform them into a large-scale commercial farm enterprise.

It is the size and scope of Hantz Farms that makes the project unique. Although company officials declined to pinpoint how many acres they might use, they have been quoted as saying that they plan to farm up to 5,000 acres within the Motor City’s limits in the coming years, raising organic lettuces, trees for biofuel and a variety of other things.

The project was launched two years ago by Michigan native and financier John Hantz, who has invested an initial $30 million of his own money toward purchasing equipment and land.

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New Cell Phone Made From Corn

The Samsung Reclaim is made from corn bioplastic.

The Samsung 'Reclaim' is made from corn bioplastic.

Sprint and Samsung have teamed up to create the first phone made with corn bio-plastic the ‘Reclaim’

The phone also has a 2 megapixel camera, stereo Bluetooth, can accept microSD cards (we assume) up to 32GB, and has Sprint Navigation onboard. The packaging will be eco-friendly as well, as it’s constructed from 70 percent recycled materials and printed with soy-based ink. The carrier will be selling the Reclaim in “Earth Green” or “Ocean Blue” come August 16th for $50 (after a $30 instant rebate and $50 mail-in rebate) with a two-year contract.

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. 

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