Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Court rules GE alfalfa can result in irreversible harm to crops

In an exciting ruling to protect the environment from GE crops, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the planting of GE alfalfa can cause potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional crops. Monsanto’s petition to Rehear was denied in full.

From the Center for Food Safety:
“This ruling affirms a major victory for consumers, ranchers, organicfarmers, and most conventional farmers across the country,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “Roundup Ready Alfalfa represents a very real threat to farmers’ livelihoods and the environment; the court rightly dismissed Monsanto’s claims that their bottom line should come before the rights of the public and America’s farmers. This ruling is a turning point in the regulation of biotech crops in this country.”

Today’s decision again upholds District Court Judge Charles Breyer’s earlier ruling of May 2007, in which he found that the USDA failed to address concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa. The Ninth Circuit decision affirms that USDA violated national environmental laws by approving GE alfalfa without a full Environmental Impact Statement.

You can read the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals publication here.

Michelle Obama in the garden on health and nutrition

First Lady Michelle Obama hosts an event focused on health and nutrition, including the harvesting of vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. She is joined by students from Bancroft Elementary who will also assist in the preparation of a meal. Bancroft Elementary students have also been involved in the gardens groundbreaking and planting events.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Processed food

Good thing we support honest/accurate labeling. As Jill Richardson pointed out, somebody on DailyKos suggested they save text on this label by just saying "Contains Globalization." Brilliant.

Friday, June 12, 2009

John Ikerd on cheap food

I am doing research on the economic benefits of family farms. I have come across agriculture economist John Ikerd a bunch. He's my new favorite.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

US dairy crisis, message from Willie Nelson & Farm Aid

The drastic drop in milk prices paid to farmers over the past year has led to an unprecedented crisis for dairy farmers who, on average, are being paid less than half the cost of production. Low prices and high production costs threaten to push nearly one-third of dairy farmers off their land over the next couple of months, strengthening corporate control of the dairy industry and severely impacting the health of local and regional economies nationwide.

“Setting a fair price for milk won’t fix all the problems that led to the current crisis, but it may be the only way to keep thousands of dairy farmers on their farms this year,” said Farm Aid board member Willie Nelson. “Unless Secretary Vilsack takes immediate action, huge areas of the United States may be left without any local dairy farms at all.”

Dairy farmers have been hit with a catastrophic combination of factors beyond their control. Farmers are struggling to pay bills from record high feed and fuel costs; adequate credit is increasingly impossible to come by; and the price of milk paid to farmers by processors collapsed a record 30 percent in January alone, and is currently down 50 percent since July 2008. In the meantime, the top dairy processors have recently announced 2009 first quarter earnings that are up from the same period last year. The top processor, Dean Foods, reported their first quarter earnings are more than double that of last year thanks in part to the plunging price Dean pays to its milk producers.

Under Section 608c (18) of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, the Secretary of Agriculture is required to adjust the price of milk paid to farmers to “reflect the price of feeds, the available supplies of feeds, and other economic conditions which affect market supply and demand for milk and its products.” Farm Aid urges Secretary Vilsack to use this power to immediately institute a set price for milk that reflects the cost of production, keeping dairy farmers on their land.

“The U.S. has a tradition of local and regional milk distribution, making dairy farmers a base for strong local and regional economies. The loss of these farms will reduce spending in small businesses, investments in banks and shrink the community tax base. If we lose a third of our dairy farms in the next few months alone, imagine the impact on these economies by year’s end.” said Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid. “As our independent family dairy farmers go out of business, our milk supply gets more consolidated by giant confinement dairies that do not contribute to our local economies or act of stewards of the land like our family farmers do.”

The petition can be accessed by going to this link.

I would like to disclose that I am (proud to be) interning at Farm Aid.

Vicotry Garden of Tomorrow- 2009 Collection

I love this artist Joe Wirtheim and posted about his 2008 Collection of New Age Victory Garden posters back in February. Joe combines two things I love: art and propaganda to propel my favorite cause: independence through sustainability! His new 2009 Collection promotes planting and growing organic food, remembering that reducing and reusing come BEFORE curb recycling, and the importance of protecting and contributing to our forests and trees for the sinking of carbon.

I think they make awesome kitchen or office art. You can buy them at the ETSY store, an online artisan bizarre where you can support other people in their skills and sport on of a kind items.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Some news on GM crops

One of the main concerns for advocates against Genetically Modified (GM) crops is the growing number of pesticide tolerant or resistant weeds and their affect on crop yield. According to an article published in Geoforum by Binimelis et al, in 2009 a glyphosate-resistant biotype of johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense (L.)) appeared in Argentina and now covers at least 10,000 ha. They explain that no preventive strategies are deployed against the invasion. The reactive measures are based on "gene-stacking" that allows the use of still more glyphosate or new combinations of herbicides. A new phenomenon called the "transgenic treadmill" is identified. A colleague of mine pointed out that since the EU is the largest importer of soybeans, European awareness of the local impacts of imported soybeans (as feedstuffs and/or agro-fuels) should not focus only on deforestation, but also consider the socio-environmental consequences apart from the loss of productivity.

Bonnie Azab Powell at the Ethicurean recently posted “The Failure of Science”: New paper makes a damning case against genetically modified food crops" where she mentions the new book “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet" by technology reporter Denise Caruso and recent articles published in the International Journal of Society of Agriculture and Food. The two part series Part 1: The Development of a Flawed Enterprise and Part 2: Academic Capitalism and the Loss of Scientific Integrity highlight the conflict between science and society through a historical perspective, tactics used, and regulatory flaws and failures.

This year's Global Food Security Act of 2009 introduced by Senator Richard Lugar, "would authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to provide assistance to foreign countries to promote food security, to stimulate rural economies, and to improve emergency response to food crises, to amend the Foreign Assistance Act(FAA) of 1961." Sounds like a great bill for the US to help alleviate world hunger except that it creatively amends the FAA of 1961 by makinging the first sentence include "research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology." Consequently, the bill specifies that the U.S. MUST fund GMOs and biotechnology, a change in policy up to this point.

The bill was nicknamed "the REAL Monsanto bill" by the Organic Consumers Association. According to Monsanto's first quarter lobbying reports, the company spent $2,094,000 in the first quarter 2009. Their specific lobbying issues were Biotechnology acceptance, S. 384- Global Food Security Act of 2009, Sustainable Yield Initiative, Crop insurance/Biotech yield endorsement and USDA Rulemaking - 7CFR Part 340. (thanks to La Vida Locavore who was contacted by Monsanto who denied involvement in the bill).

In the waning months of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposal to completely overhaul its regulation of genetically engineered crops, significantly weakening its oversight. USDA also published the rules before publishing the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by law, and in the absence of public review of the data needed to make regulatory recommendations. A comment period for USDA's Docket No. APHIS-2008-0023, Importation, Interstate Movement, and Release into the Environment of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms has been extended until June 29th.

If you wish to submit a comment using the Internet, go to the Federal eRulemaking portal. Then click on “Add Comments.” This will also allow you to view public comments and related materials available electronically. Using the Federal eRulemaking portal is the best way to ensure that your comments will be associated with the right docket and reviewed by the right people. Consideration will be given to all comments received on or before June 29th.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Merrigan speaks on organics across USDA

USDA Deputy Secretary Pledges Full Organic Integration Across Department

Attendees at the third annual Organic Summit in Stevenson, Wash. in early June heard USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan pledge that organic agriculture will be integrated across all agencies in the department. View Merrigan's full video statement. (Length 11:22)

Raw Foods Reviewed

An interest in raw food diets is sprouting up across the country (pun intended). Raw milk and almonds have been the topic of debate for regulators on the basis of food safety and freedom of choice on the part of 'raw foodists'. My interest in raw foods began in college and is fueled by health conscious friends who have embraced the diet. My recent review of Dr. Colin Campbell's China Study has me reexamining cultural diets.

Raw food diets are based on the principle that the cooking process strips vital nutrients from natural foods and that eating your food raw not only retains all the minerals and nutrients of fresh foods, but it makes it easier to digest and can help detoxify your system.

According to Cathy Wong at AltMedicine, the diet typically consists of unprocessed, preferably organic, whole foods such as: fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, legumes, dried fruit, seaweed, unprocessed organic or natural foods, freshly juiced fruit and vegetables, purified water, and young coconut milk. At least 75% of food consumed should not be heated over 116 degrees F.

Specific preparation techniques aimed at making food more digestible and to add variety are: sprouting seeds, grains, and beans, juicing fruit and vegetables, soaking nuts and dried fruit, blending, and dehydrating food. Raw foodists have kitchen equipment consisting of a food dehydrator in place the microwave, a juicer, a blender or food processor, and seed sprouting containers.

Critics of the diet warn of nutrient deficiencies, specifically in calcium, iron, B12, protein and calories. They also say that the body produces the enzymes it needs to digest foods. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham recently released his provocative new book, CATCHING FIRE: How Cooking Made Us Human, which was recently reviewed by the New York Times.

As an RD, I thought I'd hop over to to see what the American Dietetic Association Public Relations Team had to say:
The premise of the raw food diet is to cook foods below 160 degrees Fahrenheit to keep food enzymes intact so that the body can better absorb nutrients in the food. The problem with this theory is that the body already makes the enzymes needed to digest and absorb foods.

The raw foods diet encourages you to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, which is a definite nutritional plus. But there are real food safety risks. The diet calls for eating a variety of sprouts, many of which grow in environments that can promote harmful bacterial growth. And cooking foods below 160 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to foodborne illness.

As with any diet, when evaluating the “raw foods” approach, ask questions. If you think “This sounds too good to be true,” it probably is.
The diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fat than the typical Western diet. It is also low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber and health-promoting plant chemicals called phytochemicals.

These properties are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, a study by Koebnick et. al. published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations; however, they also found increased levels of homocysteine and lowered HDL cholesterol. An observational study by Donaldson et. al.. published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2001 found fibromyalgia syndrome improved using a mostly raw vegetarian diet. Since the literature is sparse, I recommend a some peer reviewed studies like this:

Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days is an independent documentary film that chronicles six Americans with 'incurable' diabetes switching their diet and getting off insulin.

Maybe a complete raw food diet isn't ideal, but neither is the Standard American Diet (SAD) where "everything fits." A recent trip to the first raw food restaurant in Portland, Maine furthered my interest in the cuisine. GRO (Grassroots Organic) Juicebar/Cafe/Chocolatier was a rewarding meal that left me awestruck. The food was moderately priced, packed with flavor, and left me with a strange food high. We feasted on:
  • Sea Veggie Shitake Collard Rolls- Wilde Main sea-veggies, marinated shitakes, sprouts and choice veggies wrapped in a live collard green with almond-lime sauce and served with sesame-ginger dipping sauce
  • Nori Dumplings- A creamy blend of cashew, pine nut, garlic and seasoning with shitake and spinach folded with love into a nori triangle and served with Tamari (glueten free) and Nama Shoyu (raw soy with gluten)
  • Sesame Spicy Cold Noodles- Fresh Zucchini noodles tossed with crunchy vegetables and an awesome almond lime sauce
  • Sin-Free Apple 3.14- A fresh and crisp apple pie with a cashew and brasil nut crust and topped with macademia sauce.
Our guide and owner Igor Rakuz fed us tons of raw chocolate made in house with raw cocao butter, coconut oil, maca, and agave nectar. We sipped on Kava tea, known for its ability to promote relaxation and talked about his vision for the restaurant, which has come to be a community epicenter based on food sovereignty and health. The days following city council members were meeting to discuss the removal of fluoride from the city's water.

The restaurant also impressed me in its sustainability methods. The back room was sprouting much of its own food and an in house humidifier where they grew their own mushrooms. They were also composting, recycling, reusing and reducing their impact in a variety of ways. The only use local spring water that the employees must fetch daily. The restaurant was donned with literature and books for customers to educate themselves on wondrous super foods as they waited for the friendly crew to loving prepare the meal. On the wall was the quote: "Food Sovereignty: the ability of any group of people to define, create and distribute their food and water independently."