Tuesday, June 19, 2007

News Bites

Farm Bill Could Hamstring State Food Safety Agencies

Forty consumer, environmental, farmer and animal welfare groups today announced their opposition to a sweeping provision in the 2007 Farm Bill that wipes out critical state and local authority to protect food safety, the environment, and humane animal treatment. The provision, Section 123 of Title I, was quietly inserted in the House bill several weeks ago by the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Subcommittee.
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Despite massive contamination and loss of markets, Bayer planting more genetically engineered rice in Arkansas
A story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reveals that this spring, Bayer Crop-Science planted four 0. 2-acre plots of LLRICE 62 near Proctor, Newport, Stuttgart and Tillar, according to the state Plant Board. Since USDA's announcement in August that long grain rice had been contaminated with another Bayer rice variety, and a second contamination episode announced in March, according to the Democrat Gazette "sales in nearly half of all U. S. rice export markets have been harmed, resulting in everything from required testing to the complete cessation of trade, according to the USA Rice Federation".

The Arkansas Plant Board reportedly found out about the planting by filing a Freedom of Information Act request after rumors about the planting began to circulate. Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst for the Center for Food Safety was quoted as saying “After all that’s happened, it’s unbelievable that the state would give Bayer another chance to contaminate Arkansas rice."

Whole Foods goes to court
In what is becoming a rather ridiculous display of government inconsistency, Whole Foods is going to court next month to object to the FTC's block of the merger between the company and rival Wild Oats. The FTC filed a lawsuit on June 5 to block Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats, saying the combination will cause "significant harm to the consumer." The suit argues that Wild Oats and Whole Foods are "one another's closest competitor" in 21 markets. This merger challenge comes despite there being NO challenge to the mergers between Monsanto and Delta Pine Land approved earlier this month (giving Monsanto a near complete monopoly on the cotton market), or the Smithfield-Premium Standard Farms merger last month (giving Smithfield control of 30% of the pork market).

Whole Foods argues that the FTC did not take mainstream supermarkets, most of which are quickly becoming competitors in the organic and natural foods market, into consideration. Aimee Witteman had a great post on the merger hullabaloo last week at Gristmill, where she lays out the inconsistencies in anti-trust cases in US food and agricultural companies, the integration of these industries, and how it might be addressed.

Our friend Sam Fromartz (author of Organic, Inc.) also has an interesting post at his blog Chews Wise, breaking down the arguments for and against - and the commentary surrounding - the embattled merger (if you have not yet added Sam's Chews Wise blog to your list of favorites or RSS feeds, we highly recommend that you do!).

Comment Period on Labeling for Irradiated Foods Set to Close July 3rd
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, please take a moment to send your comment to FDA on their proposal to weaken labeling requirements, and in some cases remove labeling entirely, on irradiated foods! The last comment period FDA had on this subject generated 5,000 comments in opposition according to some reports - so many that they backed off at the time. We have already generated more than twice that many for this comment period, and we need more to ensure this risky proposal is rejected!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New book from CFS! Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food

Are you shopping in the dark? Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food provides a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute guide on the very real dangers genetically engineered foods present to our health, the environment, and farm communities. Written by Andrew Kimbrell with a foreword by Nell Newman, this book provides you with all the necessary tools to understand this critical food issue, to choose to avoid GE foods and to become an active participant in the fight for an organic, environmentally sustainable and socially just food future. The book also contains a pull-out “Pocket Shopper’s Guide to GE Foods” that lists what products to buy in order to avoid GE ingredients. The special hard cover edition includes a DVD of the award-winning documentary film The Future of Food.

Here’s what people are saying about Your Right to Know:

“Andrew Kimbrell, America’s leading critic of genetically modified crops, has written a lively and comprehensive field guide to this treacherous new landscape that both citizens and consumers will find indispensable.” - Michael Pollan

“In this important primer, Kimbrell explains the threats that GE foods pose to our health, our environment, and our farming communities. He reminds us that the everyday decisions we make about the food we eat have the power to change the world.” – Alice Waters

“The genetic manipulators are not merely messing with your food — they’re messing with you, your children, and your environment. Kimbrell’s book and handy shopping guide gives you what you need to fight back. Digest this book... And go forth!” - Jim Hightower

“This book will be an invaluable resource to the American public in understanding the hazards of GE foods. Their informed choice to avoid these foods will have a positive impact on our farms, communities, and biodiversity worldwide.” – Vandana Shiva

“..This new book by Andrew Kimbrell is wise, sane, and reliable. It will enable you to make informed and healthy choices. It’s the answer we’ve been needing.” – John Robbins

Get your copy today!

From Port to Plate: Who's Checking for Safety?

By now, few of us haven’t heard about the recent pet food recalls, and the tragic deaths of over 4,000 pets due to contaminated wheat products imported from China. But what many of us haven’t heard is that these contaminated ingredients have also made their way into the human food supply. We also haven’t heard much about how these contaminated ingredients slipped into the U.S., what this says about the safety and security of our food supply, or the efficacy of continuing to put the politics of international trade and its ensuing corporate profits before the health and safety of the American public.

First we were told that none of the adulterated wheat gluten or rice protein had made its way into the human food supply, and then we were informed that more than 6,000 hogs had eaten contaminated “salvaged” pet food, and were to be quarantined and kept off the market. Next it was chickens - 3 million of them, slaughtered, butchered and presumably eaten by unsuspecting consumers. Then 20 million more chickens, and then another 50,000 hogs. Then we found out that melamine-contaminated feed was also used at dozens of fish farms and hatcheries in the U.S. and Canada. U.S. officials then announced that the purported Chinese wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, were actually just wheat flour.

Food causes an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. While imports of food soared to more than 9 million shipments last year, the frightening truth is that FDA inspects less than 1% of these imports. If pets hadn’t started falling ill and dying, chances are they never would have caught the adulterated food. In a typical look-only-where-the-light-is reaction, the agency is now focusing almost entirely on inspecting imports of ingredients like wheat gluten, but the import of processed foods, meat and farmed seafood products from China has continued virtually unchecked, despite the fact that China is a major U.S. supplier of farm-raised shrimp, tilapia, catfish and other fish that more than likely received the same contaminated feed.

So why don’t we simply ban imports of food from China and other countries with food safety standards more lax than ours? And why does the U.S., the world’s largest exporter of wheat, need to import wheat products from China anyway? Importing products from countries like China, where food safety standards, employee wages, and other production costs are lower than those in the U.S. translates into massive profits for corporations. Stopping imports from an important international trade partner like China would spell disaster for big agribusiness in the U.S. In the end, it is American consumers, farmers and ranchers, and “outsourced” workers who pay the price.

With the amount of food coming into, and produced in, the country one would think FDA would be inspecting, testing and recalling contaminated products routinely, but the agency is woefully understaffed and underfunded, and often lacks the authority to do their job effectively. Even former FDA Commissioner Kessler warned at a recent Congressional hearing, "Our food-safety system in this country is broken." FDA actually developed an import-safety plan five years ago that went nowhere, and has asked for the authority to block imports from countries connected to contamination incidents until they put standards comparable to our own in place. But lawmakers wouldn’t pass it, likely because US food companies spend over a billion dollars a year lobbying against such regulations. But with food contamination incidents steadily rising, the tide seems to be turning in the halls of Congress.

This year the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent, investigative arm of Congress, added the country’s food safety system to its list of “high risk” operations, and recommended that all food safety matters be regulated by one agency. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), recently introduced a bill in the House to do just that, and Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Schumer (D-NY) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The “Food Safety Act” would create an independent “Food Safety Administration” to oversee the nation’s food supply by combining portions of the 12 agencies that now oversee some part of food system. While talks of an independent, single food safety agency have gone on for nearly ten years, it seems at long last it may finally get some traction. Now if we could only ensure that said "Food Safety Administration" would not be in the pocket of Corporate America, we might have something.

News Bites

Monsanto pressures FDA to restrict rBGH-free labeling
Several large dairy producers and food companies have made news recently by getting rid of recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST, from their milk supply. This is great news for consumers, since this genetically engineered growth hormone is known to cause harm to cows and may pose health risks to humans.

In yet another attack on consumers' right to know, Monsanto, the company that makes rBGH under the trade name Posilac, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of labels identifying “rBGH-free” or “rBST-free” dairy products. Monsanto claims such labels are "misleading" to consumers, and infer that dairy products without such a label are inferior. FDA approved the use of voluntary labels more than 12 years ago at the request of dairy companies seeking to respond to customer concerns over the use of the genetically engineered hormone. Since FDA refused to require mandatory labeling of dairy products from cows treated with rBGH, voluntary labeling by non-adopters is the only label consumers can count on to make informed decisions. If Monsanto succeeds in convincing FDA to restrict rBGH-free labeling, consumers will lose valuable information about how their food is produced. Protect your right to know - Send an email to the FDA today

Florida bans non-native and genetically altered fish in open water aquaculture
The Southern Shrimp Alliance and the Center for Food Safety praised the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FL DACS) for new rules governing farm-raising of fish in Florida's ocean waters. FL DACS created the task force in April 2005 in response to calls for stringent guidelines governing the growing open water aquaculture industry. Their draft standards, completed in April 2006, underwent rigorous review by Florida agencies for eight months. The resulting "Best Management Practices Manual" was released to the public in December 2006 for comments, and was officially finalized in May.

The Center for Food Safety strongly urged FL DACS to ban use of non-native and altered fish in open ocean aquaculture during development of the Best Practices, as Florida is already experiencing the effects from fish farm escapes. Spotted tilapia, Orinoco sailfin catfish, and the oscar are just a few of the non-native fish that have escaped from fish farms and established themselves in Florida waters. Federal regulations governing aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico are currently in the process of being drafted. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, an advisory body, is working on an open water aquaculture plan that would apply outside Florida waters.

Genetically Engineered Pharmaceutical Rice Is Not the Solution to Diarrhea
Drugs in Rice Not Approved by FDA, Will Likely Contaminate Foods

Genetically engineered, pharmaceutical rice is not a safe or cost-effective solution for infants suffering from diarrhea, concludes an exhaustive report by the Center for Food Safety, as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) considered whether to allow planting of up to 3,200 acres of the rice in Junction City, Kansas this spring. The report discusses potential adverse health impacts of the rice-grown drugs, which have not been approved by the FDA.

Developed by California-based Ventria Bioscience, the rice is engineered with modified human genes to serve as a “biofactory” for production of synthetic human milk proteins that have antimicrobial and other drug-like properties. Ventria has proposed using the rice-extracted protein drugs to treat infants with diarrhea, and as additives in infant formulas, yogurt, granola bars and sports drinks, among other uses.

The report details Ventria’s failed attempts to gain FDA approval of its rice-grown drugs dating back to November 2003. Despite more than 20,000 comments objecting, USDA approved the planting last month.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

House Agriculture Committee to Consider Language in the Farm Bill that Would Deny State’s Rights to Protect Citizens from Risky Foods

Last week the U.S. House subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry passed new language added to the 2007 Farm Bill that would bar states or localities from prohibiting any food or agricultural product that the USDA has deregulated. The new language reads:

SEC. 123. EFFECT OF USDA INSPECTION AND DETERMINATION OF NON-REGULATED STATUS.Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has—(1) inspected and passed; or(2) determined to be of non-regulated status.

The primary intent of this passage is to deny local or state rights to regulate genetically engineered crops or food (only GE crops are given "non-regulated status"). This would wipe out the restrictions passed by voters in four California counties and two cities, and could limit the powers of the California Rice Certification Act and its ability to prohibit the introduction of GE rice varieties. Local and state laws pertaining to GE crops have also been passed in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. All of these democratically enacted laws are threatened by this language.

The biotech industry and big agribusiness have been trying to push similar bills in dozens of states across the country, and also at the Federal level with last year’s so-called “Food Uniformity” bill. Now they want to sneak it into a committee hearing and hide it in the Farm Bill.

Take Action! Contact the House Agriculture Committee