It's a tradition of mine to write a note of sincere gratitude to Big Ag for the many "gifts" they've bestowed upon us all over the past 12 months relating to food animal production. Gifts that we didn't really want, need, or—in some cases—didn't even know about. Here's my top 10 for 2014.
While the GRSB states that it has deliberately avoided outlining indicators, metrics or practices on the basis they are “only applicable in a narrow range of environments and systems and therefore need to be developed at the local level,” we believe that in order to be credible, any further local and international work in this area must properly tackle the following fundamental limitations of the GRSB’s Principles and Criteria report—and the industrial beef production model itself.
Despite claims from the likes of Monsanto and the biotech industry that GE crops are an environmental panacea and will feed the world, two decades after they first went on sale the evidence suggests that GE’s key golden promises are beginning to look more like epic failures…
Unapproved, unwanted, and now out of control: the news that an unlicensed genetically modified (GM) wheat has been found growing on a field in Oregon – almost 10 years after it was supposed to have completely destroyed – sent shivers down my spine. I've been blogging about the known and unknown risks of GM crops for a while. But we are now witnessing a real ‘escape-from-the-laboratory’ nightmare and, in a worst-case scenario, the impacts on U.S. agriculture could be truly devastating.
It’s the kind of farfetched plot you’d expect to see in a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. You know, where the bad guys are found to be secretly coercing governments – and even entire countries – to aid corporate global domination, and where good old Felix from the CIA saves the day and helps Mr. Bond defeat the evildoers. But in a bizarre twist to the plot, it now looks like the real-life U.S. Government officials have actually been working for the likes of Monsanto and the Big Ag lobby all along. A devastating new report by Food & Water Watch – entitled Biotech Ambassadors: How the US State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda – reveals that the U.S. State Department has been aggressively pursuing foreign food and agricultural policies that seek to benefit the vested interests of the largest biotech seed corporations – often collaborating directly with representatives from Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Dow Agrochemical.
It’s a well-known PR tactic to release bad or potentially unpopular news during the Holiday Season. So I always keep my eyes peeled to catch any news releases that might otherwise slip the net. I didn’t have to wait long. On December 21, when most people were focusing on their upcoming festivities, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly released its draft environmental assessment on the highly controversial genetically engineered (GE) salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc.
We know that most of the world’s hungry live in the developing nations in the South. They are hungry because they cannot afford to buy food or grow it themselves, usually because of poverty, but also due to conflict, poor infrastructure, poor agricultural practices, and the over-exploitation of the environment, among other things. They are also hungry because much of their agricultural production is focused on generating food and livestock feed to supply Western markets. Recent price rises caused by harvest failures, commodity speculation, and the diversion of grain to produce biofuels over recent years have hardly helped matters (see for example Tom Philpott’s excellent blog on the horrendous impact U.S. biofuels policy is having on global food prices – and hunger).
As the year comes to an end it’s become a tradition of mine to write a note of gratitude to Big Ag for the many ‘gifts’ they’ve given us throughout the year that we didn’t really want, need or – in some cases – didn’t even know about. Here’s my top 10 for 2012... #10 – Undermining Organic With Industrial Practices Many people are putting their faith in the “certified organic” label as an easy way to support farming systems that care about animal welfare, our health and the health of the planet. But the popularity of organic food is attracting industrial-scale operators who are exploiting the organic regulations for their own short-term gains. In October, news broke that a large-scale “organic” egg producer was being sued for making misleading marketing claims about the welfare of its chickens. Judy's Family Farm Organic Eggs’ cartons feature images of hens roaming on green fields, while the carton explains the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” Yet it’s alleged that the birds are kept in covered sheds with no outdoor access, misleading consumers. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident...
Last week, the “No on 37” campaign was called out for allegedly misusing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s logo on a campaign flyer opposing the labeling of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in food. The “No on 37” campaign flyer includes the FDA logo next to a quote (allegedly) from the FDA which states that a GM labeling policy like Prop 37 would be “inherently misleading.” The clear implication from this flyer is that the FDA stands with the “No on 37” campaign and opposes the labeling of GM ingredients in food. Yet according to a Reuters report, FDA spokeswoman Morgan Liscinsky has clearly stated that the agency had made no such statement and had no position on the initiative.
Two separate but very much related events that could radically change the way America farms and feeds itself are big in the news right now. Both concern a matter dear to my heart: Food labeling. As leading food and ag writer, Tom Philpott, recently wrote, the upcoming vote in California on Proposition 37 “could spur a revolution in the way our food is made.” If adopted, Prop 37 would simply require the labeling of food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community. And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG's new report, "Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program - Organic Milk," exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
Have we just witnessed Big Ag’s first legislative strike against labeling of genetically modified foods in one of Big Ag’s home states? North Carolina Rep. Glen Bradley, an advocate for consumer rights introduced a bill earlier this year to require labeling of genetically modified foods. House Bill 446 sought to require “labeling of food and milk products sold in this state that are or that contain genetically modified food and or milk and milk products from animals that have received recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).” First introduced on March 23, 2011 it was passed the very next day to the Agriculture Committee where it promptly withered and died. A representative from the office of House Bill 446 co-sponsor Rep. Bill Faison told us that it was highly unlikely to be revived this year. If I were a cynical person, I would speculate that we have Big Ag to thank for this bill’s death. Why? Because industrial agricultural companies are the only entities that profit from our ignorance of what is in our food.