Future of Organic Food and Agriculture at Risk

Action alert from The Cornucopia Institute

Dear Secretary Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Merrigan and NOSB members,

As an organic industry stakeholder, I respectfully request that you consider the following:

1.    I object to the NOSB and USDA leadership accommodating corporate interests that want to enhance their profits by including gimmicky synthetics and novel, patented ingredients in certified organic food.

 Martek Biosciences Corporation’s DHA/ARA oils are inappropriate for use in certified organic foods.  Some Martek oils are extracted with the neurotoxic petrochemical hexane, posing questions about human health and environmental impacts.

These supplements, from fermented algae and soil fungus, have never been part of the human diet.  In the late 1990s, Monsanto Corporation’s scientists genetically modified strains of algae for high DHA production (now marketed by Martek and added to some organic products).

Martek’s oils also contain various synthetic ingredients that have never been petitioned and approved for use in organics.  These include ingredients like mannitol, sodium polyphosphate, sodium ascorbate, glucose syrup solids and modified starch.

Adverse reaction reports filed with the FDA indicate at least a subset of infants suffer serious health complications after consuming formula supplemented with Martek oils.  Serious and prolonged gastrointestinal illnesses have resulted in hospitalizations and dangerous invasive diagnostic testing.  Many of the reports indicate that these babies recovered as soon as the Martek oils were removed from their diets.

Martek creates the impression that scientific consensus supports its DHA and ARA oils as beneficial supplements.  But Martek leaves out the preponderance of key studies which point to a single conclusion in independent scientific analysis: Martek DHA in infant formula does not benefit infant development.

2.    I object to the NOSB allowing factory farming practices in the production of chickens (both for egg and meat production) and hog production.

The livestock subcommittee’s proposal for requiring 2 square feet per laying hen, outside, is woefully inadequate, as are some of the other recommendations for poultry production (including turkeys) and the miserable amount of space proposed for hogs. These standards would literally make the US the laughingstock in international organic production and marketing.  Welfare benchmarks need to be mandated in the regulations, not merely in unenforceable “guidance.”

I support a minimum of 5 square feet per laying hen and enhanced space for pullets, turkey, other fowl and hogs.

3.    Enforce the organic standards on factory dairies masquerading as “organic.”

After the organic community has invested almost 11 years of policy debate, attempting to rein-in “factory farms,” milking thousands of cows each and masquerading as organic, it is entirely unacceptable that the USDA has been unwilling to expend the resources necessary to carefully verify whether these dairies, and their certifiers, are complying with the new regulatory benchmarks set in the “pasture rule.”

I respectfully ask USDA leadership to immediately verify that the largest producers of certified organic milk are not economically disadvantaging smaller ethical competitors or continuing to defraud consumers and that new rules immediately be promulgated to prevent conventional cattle from being brought on to organic dairy farms as replacements for expansion.

4.    And finally, I want to clearly go on record that I want the Obama administration to appoint the best and brightest representatives in the organic community to sit on the NOSB board, truly upholding the will of Congress.  No more corporate-backed imposters!

As a consumer, I buy food with the USDA Organic seal precisely to avoid unproven, questionably safe products like Martek’s oils—genetically novel and synthetic—in my diet and to support humane animal husbandry practices resulting in superior nutrition.

The NOSB should improve animal husbandry standards and reject the Martek petition for “DHA Algal Oil” and “ARA Single-Cell Oil.”  I call on the USDA to immediately remove these materials from the marketplace.

Thank you for listening to my concerns.

Sincerely yours,

Rally For Real Food

The much-anticipated Rally For Real Food was held on the steps of the Capitol in Austin, Texas earlier today.  The energetic crowd cheered a raft of passionate speakers including Ronda Rutledge (Executive Director, Sustainable Food Center), Eric Herm (Farmer, author of Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth), Neil Carman, PH.D. (Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter), Judith McGeary (Executive Director, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance) and Mike “The Health Ranger” Adams (Editor, Natural News) about the right to know what’s in our food.

Many thanks to Mike LaRocca of Beanitos for organizing this important event!  Thanks also to the sponsors, vendors, volunteers and attendees who helped make today’s rally a success.

Rally For Real Food

Rally For Real Food

(Click to see the photostream from today’s event. You are welcome to reuse these pictures, but please credit ediblearia.com for the original)


USDA Caves on GE Alfalfa




The Center for Food Safety criticized the announcement today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it will once again allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic and conventional farmers USDA acknowledged in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  On a call today with stakeholders, Secretary Vilsack reiterated the concerns surrounding purity and access to non-GE seed, yet the Agency’s decision still places the entire burden for preventing contamination on non-GE farmers, with no protections for food producers, consumers and exporters.

“We’re disappointed with USDA’s decision and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety. “USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”

On Monday, the Center sent an open letter to Secretary Vilsack calling on USDA to base its decision on sound science and the interests of farmers, and to avoid rushing the process to meet the marketing timelines or sales targets of Monsanto, Forage Genetics or other entities.

CFS also addressed several key points that were not properly assessed in the FEIS, among them were:

  • Liability, Implementation and Oversight — Citing over 200 past contamination episodes that have cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales, CFS demands that liability for financial losses incurred by farmers due to transgenic contamination be assigned to the crop developers.  CFS also calls on USDA to take a more active oversight role to ensure that any stewardship plans are properly implemented and enforced.
  • Roundup Ready alfalfa will substantially increase herbicide use – USDA’s assessment misrepresented conventional alfalfa as utilizing more herbicides than it does, which in turn provided a false rationale for introducing herbicide-promoting Roundup Ready alfalfa.  In fact, USDA’s own data shows that just 7% of alfalfa hay acres are treated with herbicides.  USDA’s projections in the FEIS show that substantial adoption of Roundup Ready alfalfa would trigger large increases in herbicide use of up to 23 million lbs. per year.
  • Harms from glyphosate-resistant weeds – USDA’s sloppy and unscientific treatment of glyphosate-resistant (GR) weeds ignored the significant contribution that RR alfalfa could make to their rapid evolution.  USDA failed to analyze how GR weeds fostered by currently grown RR crops are increasing herbicide use; spurring more use of soil-eroding tillage; and reducing farmer income through increased weed control costs, an essential baseline analysis.

“We in the farm sector are dissatisfied but not surprised at the lack of courage from USDA to stop Roundup Ready alfalfa and defend family farmers,” said Pat Trask, conventional alfalfa grower and plaintiff in the alfalfa litigation.

The FEIS comes in response to a 2007 lawsuit brought by CFS, in which a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GE alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of glyphosate herbicide, sold by Monsanto as Roundup.  The Court banned new plantings of GE alfalfa until USDA completed a more comprehensive assessment of these impacts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed the national ban on GE alfalfa planting.  In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs.

“Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its Draft EIS on GE Alfalfa,” said Kimbrell.  “Clearly the USDA was not listening to the public or farmers but rather to just a handful of corporations.”




Farmageddon the Documentary

“How much longer should we defer to a governmental agency that has consistently failed to perform its duties?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with protecting the American food supply, yet not a week goes by without another food-related health scare seizing headlines across the nation:  listeria in pasteurized milk;  spinach contaminated with E. coli; and potentially unsafe meat from “downer” cattle (animals which are sick or injured and unable to stand).”

“These outbreaks are the results of decades of USDA policy decisions which favor corporations and industrial agriculture over small family farms and local production.  Intensive animal and crop operations can lead to sick animals and tainted vegetables entering the food chain, and regulations which would prevent these incidents are often overlooked when corporate interests are at stake.” –Linda Faillace

[Vimeo 16513455]


A film by by Kristin Canty

Featuring Joel Salatin, Jackie Stowers, Mark McAfee, Linda Faillace and Eric Wagoner

123 Street Ave.
Somerville, MA 02144