Food fight in America (28/3/2008)

1.Labels should tell the truth about hormones

2.Creamery pushes for tougher GMO rules

3.Groups trying to stop biotechnology are dangerous for America

4.Taro at heart of hearing

5.'It's a rebellion of sorts'

EXTRACT: Hansen and the IATP's David Wallinga say 'it's simply common sense to avoid a higher risk of getting cancer when the source of that risk is completely unnecessary.' (item 1)

Pollen from genetically modified plants has been contaminating organic crops. It had been turning up in milk and eggs used at the Straus Creamery and feed used at the Straus Dairy. (item 2)

...these groups have used this time of uncertainty to prey on our emotions with accusations and mistruths to erode our trust in our superior food supply and our product approval process. (item 3)

'The way the issue has been handled is ripping the community apart.' (item 4)

'What they (GMO companies) are doing is permanent. We can't roll back and undo it.' (item 5)


1.FOOD SLEUTH: Labels should tell the truth about hormones

Pennsylvania said no. Indiana followed. Now it's Missouri's turn to reject legislation that would place restrictions on dairy labels and limit a consumer’s right to know whether our milk was produced without artificial hormones.

Several months ago I reported on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s attempts to make it illegal for dairy farmers to label their milk as produced without the synthetic [ie genetically engineered] hormones rbST or rbGH. Both the governor and agriculture secretary said such 'absence claims' confused consumers.

Hogwash. We consumers consistently say we want more transparency in the food system, not less. And we’re not confused by dairy labels that say 'from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones.' In fact, according to a poll conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center last June, 88 percent of consumers surveyed 'thought that milk from cows not treated with rbGH should be allowed to be labeled as such.'

Thanks to public outcry from consumers, farmers and processors, Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture decided against labeling restrictions. The Midwest and International Dairy Foods Associations also submitted letters opposing legislation in Indiana, the second state to reject label constraints.

Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, calls these decisions 'a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming and the consumer’s right to know.'

St. Louis-based Monsanto produces the injectable synthetic hormone sold under the brand name Posilac. The corporate giant uses political strategies and public relations campaigns to restrict 'absence' labels and protect profits.

But Jerry Slominski, senior vice president of IDFA, says he’s concerned about milk producers’ rights to market and sell a product consumers clearly want.

The FDA and Monsanto both say milk from treated cows is not significantly different from untreated cows. But that statement’s validity depends on what you’re measuring.

For example, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, there is evidence that milk from treated cows contains higher levels of insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health, believes IGF-1 increases the risk of certain cancers.

Hansen and the IATP's David Wallinga say 'it's simply common sense to avoid a higher risk of getting cancer when the source of that risk is completely unnecessary.'

Before rbGH received FDA approval, the U.S. General Accounting Office expressed concerns about the drug causing increased infection of cows’ teats. The condition requires treatment with antibiotics, which contributes to the growing crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

The Posilac package insert says the drug's use is associated with 'increases in cystic ovaries,' 'increased risk for clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk),' 'digestive disorders,' 'lesions of the knee' and 'disorders of the foot region.'

Mark Winne, a Santa Fe-based food systems analyst, followed the horrific story of the 'downer cattle' beef recall in California. He noticed the crippled cows appeared to be Holsteins, dairy cows. Winne researched factory dairy farms in New Mexico and says when cows are 'pumped up on growth hormones' their productive years are shortened, after which they’re sent off 'to the industrial-scale hamburger grinder.'

Japan, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Canada ban the use of the synthetic hormone because of concerns about the health and welfare of cows and humans.

If you want the freedom to purchase milk from cows not treated with synthetic hormones, speak up. Contact your legislators in Jefferson City and let them know how you feel about House Bill 2283, which would restrict consumers’ rights to make informed decisions in the marketplace. Better yet, attend Family Farm Lobby Day at the Capitol, from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. March 31 and learn about a variety of issues affecting Missouri’s family farmers, our landscape, economy and food. Call the Missouri Rural Crisis Center for more information at 449-1336.


2.Creamery pushes for tougher GMO rules
By Terry McSweeney
ABC, March 27 2008

WEST MARIN, CA (KGO) -- A Bay Area creamery is about to become the first in the United States to certify its products to be free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. It may give organic consumers peace of mind, but there's no chance it will end the fierce battle over the safety of food containing GMOs.

The Straus family creamery in West Marin went organic in 1995 and wants to keep that certification. That's why it was so disturbing to find genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, contaminating its organic ingredients.

'GMOs are not natural, they are not allowed by organic law and it's a huge issue for us,' said Albert Straus, Straus Creamery owner.

Pollen from genetically modified plants has been contaminating organic crops. It had been turning up in milk and eggs used at the Straus Creamery and feed used at the Straus Dairy. About 75 percent of America's corn and soy are genetically modified. That means scientists have transferred genetic information from one plant to another. Making the recipient plant more like the donor plant; more drought resistant for example, or more tolerant to herbicide. But Straus doesn't think anyone knows what GMOs do to humans.

'I feel that not only am I a guinea pig for their research but all consumers are that we're supplying food for,' said Albert Straus.

Which is why, in the next month, you will begin to see a 'No-GMO' certification on Straus yogurt and by September, on the side of all Straus products.

'All organic ingredients and products have a paper trail and a certification that goes along with them. We get a copy of all that, we get a copy of their tests as well as we do verification on our end,' said Albert Straus.

Although it's a case of Straus certifying its own products and suppliers, it is still approved by the West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety, Rebecca Spector.

'At least Straus is taking the effort through the rigorous process to actually go to levels to make sure feed has been tested for GMOs. And what they are saying is that they won't accept shipments that are above a certain threshold,' said Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety.

Peggy Lemaux is with the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at U.C. Berkeley. She says, yes, GMOs have only been in the human food chain for 13 years, but they were tested on animals for years before that.

'I've looked at all the safety tests that have been done on the products, that are in the commercial marketplace now, and there is nothing that has been confirmed as being an adverse effect in any of these animal tests that have been done,' said Peggy Lemaux, U.C. Berkeley biologist. [Lemaux is a well-known GM proponent and a GM scientist. Her expertise is not in nutritional science.]

Back at the Straus Creamery and Dairy, they're not convinced.

'We're encouraging the rest of the industry to step up and move forward as quickly as possible to get a verification program in place,' said Albert Straus.

The GMO controversy in the United States pales in comparison with what's going on in Europe. Thousands of municipalities and tens of thousands of farmers and food producers in Europe have declared themselves GMO free and refuse to allow the use of genetically modified organisms in the agriculture and food in their territories.


3.Groups trying to stop biotechnology are dangerous for America
The Prairie Star, March 27 2008

To the editor:

As a farmer, I was concerned when anti technology activists convinced the liberal leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California to stop the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa in the U.S.

This technology had been long awaited by alfalfa producers and others since the Roundup technology was first discovered. Roundup Ready varieties had the potential to enhance weed control while reducing cost and crop injury while increasing yield, and benefiting soil conservation and the environment.

Now, these same misguided activists have attempted a similar stunt, aimed at obstructing the introduction of Roundup Ready sugarbeet seed. This technology has the potential to truly revolutionize sugarbeet production, again reducing cost, simplifying management, and greatly increasing production, efficiency and competitiveness of our nation's sugarbeet producers in a highly competitive global market.

Who are these people anyway? They hide behind misleading names such as The Center for Food Safety, The Sierra Club, The Organic Seed Alliance, and not to be forgotten, the Northern Plains Resource Council and its affiliates such as the Dakota Resource Council. Many of these are closely aligned with the radical European based activist organization, Greenpeace, whose claims include successfully obstructing perfectly safe shipments of biotech crops from being delivered to starving nations.

In my opinion, these are all radical fringe groups driven by a misguided bias against a progressive American agriculture production system and its science based regulatory process, which, by the way, is the best designed and most effective in the world. They defy progress and have a very slanted and dishonest agenda that appears to serve a very selfish purpose.

It is so important, with the concerns of global terrorism and food scares, that we understand the value and can have confidence in our outstanding food production system in this great country. Unfortunately, these groups have used this time of uncertainty to prey on our emotions with accusations and mistruths to erode our trust in our superior food supply and our product approval process.

We do not need our consumers unjustly confused about the safety and quality of our food chain.

It's time that we thank individuals, both in the corporate and public research arena, that, safely and efficiently identify, develop, and market new technologies that enhance our food production capability. And hats off to our regulatory system for being extremely thorough and sticking to science based decision making.

My family and I farm in the southern Red River Valley. We have personally seen what biotech has meant to corn and soybean production. It has meant solutions to pesky problems like rootworm, corn borer and other devastating insects while increasing income.

Many of these valuable traits already have unquestionably proven their value, all the way to the consumer. These benefits include fewer herbicide and insecticide applications, less fuel consumption, increased soil conservation and higher quality grain due to less stress.

Sugarbeets have been considered a minor crop (although we in the Red River Valley know better) due to smaller acreage than corn, soybeans, and other crops. Therefore, it has been unattractive for companies to develop new crop protection products for this crop. Weed control is critical to good yields and production efficiency and Roundup Ready, a long awaited breakthrough for this industry, is a real blessing.

Wyoming farmers, who were lucky enough to plant the seeds last year in a test program, were able to cut trips across their fields by more than half. Chemical costs dropped from $62 per acre down to less than $20.

When all of the costs were totaled they ranged from an average of $177 for the conventional sugarbeets, compared to $87 for the Roundup Ready. This lowers food costs, makes American farmers highly competitive and positively impacts the environment.

My hope for the future, is that misguided, fraudulent activist groups wake up and decide to be truly part of progress for a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly system instead of the doomsday obstructionists who only prolong adoption of valuable technology advancements in this great country, for their own personal agenda.

Noel Kjesbo
Wendell, Minn.


4.KAUAI News: Taro at heart of hearing
Most residents back county resolutions for cultural reasons

More than a dozen residents opposed to genetically modified taro hoisted the culturally important plant and flaunted 'protect your roots' shirts behind farmers who testified before the Kaua'i County Council, yesterday, at the Historic County Building.

The council has proposed resolutions supporting three bills pending at the state Legislature that would impose a 10-year moratorium on developing or growing genetically engineered taro, create a taro security and purity task force and fund statewide research on the apple snail, an invasive pest threatening the crop.

Supporters, representing the vast majority of speakers who addressed the council during the hours-long hearing, said messing with the genetic make-up of taro disrespects Native Hawaiians who consider the edible plant sacred. They also argued that a lack of information on the effects of genetically altered food, specifically taro, presents real risks to consumers.

Opponents claim genetic engineering research could produce disease-resistant taro, securing its future. They also said there is little chance of cross-contamination between varieties because of the nature of the species.

The council did not take action by press time. Testimony for the hearing, which started at 2:15 p.m., was still flowing hours later.

'Don't fool around with the taro,' said John A'ana, a Westside farmer for the past 30 years, who held up a taro plant as he addressed council. 'The bottom line is you need to show respect for the Hawaiian culture.'

Wendell Rich, the site manager for Monsanto in Hanapepe, opposed the council resolutions but said that the multi-national biotechnology company and leading producer of genetically engineered seeds and herbicides has no plans to do anything with taro.

'The disease argument to me is a fear factor,' Anahola resident Hale Mawae said. 'GMO represents control and manipulation of our food crops. Do we give that to these corporate companies?'

A Maui County Council committee and the Big Island County Council have passed similar resolutions supporting the state’s effort to temporarily ban work related to genetically modified taro.

Roy Oyama, representing the Kauai Farm Bureau, voiced opposition to a moratorium on testing genetically engineered taro.

'I don’t care what you tell me, research is needed,' he said, noting concerns over viral threats.

He acknowledged that the bureau did not poll its 360-plus members, saying the decision was based on a policy statement adopted at the group's annual state convention.

'Many of them don’t know what’s going on,' he said, referring to local members. 'Agriculture is burning in my heart. I want to see it progress and feed every one of you.'

Senate Bill 958, which would impose the 10-year moratorium, was deferred after a seven-hour hearing March 19 before the House Agriculture Committee. An overwhelming majority of testimony delivered at the Capitol reportedly supported the resolution.

The House referred Senate Bill 2518, which would provide $500,000 in grant funding for taro research, to the Ways and Means Committee.

The House Finance Committee held a hearing yesterday at the Capitol on Senate Bill 2915, which would create the taro task force.

Taro and taro markets are in a state of decline, according to the state legislation. The threats that taro farming families and communities face in cultivating taro are numerous and growing.

Taro lands in Hawai'i represent less than 1 percent of all agricultural lands in cultivation in the state, yet it remains the most important traditional cultural crop in Hawai'i, the state legislation says.

'The way the issue has been handled is ripping the community apart,' Kapa'a resident Adam Asquith said, supporting council's proposed resolutions.

County Council members Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Mel Rapozo authored the resolutions.

'This bill does not prohibit continued dialogue,' Iseri-Carvalho said. 'Why not be safe before we proceed?'

See a future edition of The Garden Island for follow-up on yesterday's meeting.

Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or [email protected]


5.KAUAI News: 'It's a rebellion of sorts'
Organic corn 'outbreak' reported
by Rachel Gehrlein

In an attempt to make a statement about genetically modified corn on Kaua‘i, a loose conglomeration of community members has started to distribute organic corn seeds and corn seedlings island-wide.

According to Lauren Shaw-Meek, a manager at Vim & Vigor in Lihu‘e, the idea of the organic corn 'outbreak' is to bring attention to what the group sees as the perils of GMO corn. By poking fun at the possibility of an organic corn 'outbreak' the message is a little lighter and may reach a wider audience.

'It’s a rebellion of sorts,' Shaw-Meek said.

The idea that the organic corn can cross-pollinate with GMO corn puts those at risk who do not want to eat the GMO corn, Shaw-Meek added.

'The GMO companies do open-air testing with pesticides and herbicides,' Westside resident Diana LaBedz said. 'The ground becomes sterile, destroying the land for future generations.'

LaBedz, a member of the Kaua‘i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said she is participating in the corn outbreak to help educate people on what is going on around the world on the GMO front.

'World citizens have lost the right to know if corn bought to feed families has been chemically modified (contains the pesticide in the corn),' LaBedz said in a e-mail. 'There is a concern that our corn will be contaminated by the GMO crops that pepper Kaua‘i island, next to schools, rivers and in our neighborhoods. Kaua‘i’s citizens reject the philosophy that we must poison our environment and use the radical genetic engineering of plants and animals to produce enough food for everyone.'

Because of this belief, organic seeds, plants and even organic popcorn have been given out around the island.

During Monday night’s movie night at Small Town Coffee in Kapa‘a, organic popcorn was handed out to moviegoers. The Storybook Theatre in Hanapepe plans to distribute the organic popcorn during their family movie night on April 4.

Free organic corn seeds were given out at the Lotus Root in Kapa‘a, Farsyde Tattoo in Hanapepe, Koloa Natural Foods, Papaya’s in Kapa‘a and Vim & Vigor in Lihu‘e.

Shaw-Meek said the free organic corn seeds 'went like hotcakes' at Vim & Vigor.

'They went over amazingly well,' Shaw-Meek said. 'I’m not surprised the seeds flew out of here because people are excited about the planting season.'

According to LaBedz, most locations are already 'sold out' of seeds.

'We have more seeds, we just need to distribute them,' she said.

Agreeing that the group is within its rights to express its message, one research scientist would like to work with them. According to Sarah Styan, a research scientist with Pioneer Seeds and president of the Hawai‘i Crop Improvement Association, farmers around the world are demanding biotec agriculture.

'The whole basis of our business is selling seeds of genetic purity and maintaining the genetic integrity of agriculture,' Styan said. 'And just like any business, we are getting product out as fast as possible.'

Styan added that all types of agriculture, including organic, biotec and conventional, are needed to maintain sustainability.

'We need everybody working together,' Styan said. 'If we work together, we can make agriculture stronger and improve sustainability.'

LaBedz said Kaua‘i can’t be sustainable with GMO crops.

'If you can't protect your air, water and land we can't be sustainable,' LaBedz said. 'What they (GMO companies) are doing is permanent. We can’t roll back and undo it.'

Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or [email protected]

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