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Organic Welfare Standards Proposals: (Yet Another) Missed Opportunity

After years of delays, the U.S. National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has finally agreed the organic standards should encompass the treatment and welfare of animals. The big question is: will the proposed welfare standards actually change anything?

As detailed in the National Organic Program’s (NOP) Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices, the proposed welfare standards would introduce a range of new requirements on the living conditions of organic animals, including transportation, slaughter and minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements. The proposals are intended to address what many see as a long-standing—and gaping—hole in the U.S. organic standards concerning the welfare of animals on organic farms, not to mention the huge shortcoming in consumer expectations of what the “organic” label actually stands for.

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Third-Party Grassfed Certification More Important Than Ever

On January 11, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its Grassfed Standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it.

At A Greener World, we have long highlighted the major deficiencies in the USDA grassfed label claim (see The Grassfed Primer, page 5). For example, under this standard farmers could confine cattle on dirt feedlots for long periods outside the grass growing season, or use growth hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics, and still market their beef under the USDA grassfed label claim–just as long as they fed the animals ‘cut grass or forage.’ Yet despite these clear limitations, we recognize the USDA grassfed standard at least provided a minimum baseline in the market.

We therefore believe the removal of the USDA grassfed standard will lead to significant confusion in the marketplace about grassfed label claims, and could allow unscrupulous operations to market meat or dairy products as “grassfed” when their production methods do not even meet the previous low requirements of the USDA standards, potentially eroding consumer trust in all grassfed label claims.

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Third-Party Grassfed Certification More Important Than Ever

On January 12, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it. While these changes at the USDA are largely procedural, this development could result in a proliferation of “grassfed” claims that do not meet consumer expectations. In light of the USDA’s announcement, transparent third-party certifications that clearly define 100 percent grassfed production (like Certified Grassfed by AWA) become more important than ever for protecting the interests of “true” grassfed farmers and conscientious consumers alike.
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North Carolina Pastured Pork Farmer Makes Sustainable Food Accessible and Affordable

Dixon Family Farms is now accepting EBT benefits though the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly the Food Stamp Program) in order to meet the needs of the Greene County community. EBT provides assistance to individuals at the poverty level and EBT cards can be used to make food purchases at participating vendors, which now includes Dixon Family Farms. The farm was recently AWA-certified for pigs, meaning the animals are raised according to the highest animal welfare standards. Dixon Family Farms accepting EBT benefits enables community members of all income levels to enjoy high-welfare pork and provides the community with sustainable food choices.
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Calling BLBT Ground Beef Amounts to “Fraudulent Mislabeling”

Last week, The Daily broke the news that the USDA planned to buy 7 million pounds of Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) – otherwise known as “pink slime” – for school lunches. Some reports state that 70% of prepackaged grind on retailers' shelves contain it. The resulting backlash has had more effect than anyone expected. Following a public outcry and hundreds of thousands of signatories to petitions to try to get the product out of schools, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the world’s leading producer of BLBT, has launched a new counteroffensive website “pink slime is a myth.” So where does the truth lie? Obviously, Boneless Lean Meat Trimmings sounds a lot more appetizing than “pink slime.” But whatever you call it, what is it? And how is it produced? The “pink slime is a myth” website says that BLBT is the meat and fat that is trimmed away when beef is cut. This is true as far as it goes. But BLBT isn’t quite the same as the bits of meat that you or your butcher might cut off the edge of a steak or other piece of meat. BLBT is the fatty trimmings that even BPI agrees couldn’t be separated with the knife. In the past, these trimmings were used for pet food or converted into oil rather than being served as hamburgers to people.
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Cargill’s Turkey is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

How many more lives must be lost or irreversibly damaged before we finally accept the fact that industrialized farming is killing us? So far, the contamination from a new strain of Salmonella (Salmonella Heidelberg) has resulted in one death in California and at least 79 illnesses across 26 states. According to reports, it appears the outbreak “officially” began in March 2011, when a growing number of cases of Salmonella Heidelberg were noted. However, the FSIS didn’t issue a public warning until July 29, and even then this was a broad statement about potential links with ground turkey. Questions are already being asked about the significant time lag between the March detection of the spike in cases, the FSIS announcement in late July, and Cargill’s voluntary withdrawal in early August. But I have far graver concerns about this outbreak. While any outbreak of food poisoning is horrific, and the immediate focus must be to treat those affected and identify the source, few people seem to be discussing the larger public health issue: this particular strain of Salmonella is resistant to multiple antibiotics. Scientists around the world link this resistance to years of misuse of medicinally important antibiotics by the intensive farming industry. Virtually all intensively farmed animals in the U.S. receive low levels of antibiotics throughout their lives as growth promoters to help maximize production. While this lowers the price tag on industrial protein, the practice encourages bacteria to quickly become resistant to antibiotics – the same antibiotics we use to treat ourselves. In fact, some dangerous bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics. This means that when we get infected, there are fewer and fewer options for treatment. And we are fast running out of options altogether.
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The Grass is Not Always Greener

In a press statement conveniently released just before the busy holiday weekend, the USDA stated that Scotts Miracle Gro's introduction of a new GM Kentucky bluegrass seed did not require any regulation. Despite ongoing protests and legal challenges from environmental groups, land managers, federal agencies and other organizations, the USDA's decision paves the way for the unregulated use of GM lawn seed in U.S. neighborhoods - and a potentially dramatic increase in the use of a toxic herbicide that is increasingly being linked to adverse impacts on human health and the wider environment. The introduction of GM glyphosate-resistant Kentucky bluegrass will force us all to become subjects of an experiment that should have happened in the USDA’s laboratories - not in our lawns, backyards, in our local neighborhoods, and in parks where our kids play. This experiment will further increase the use of this toxic herbicide, and will inevitably lead to the cross-pollination with wild relatives and the many environmental problems this will entail. The potential human health impacts have yet to be discovered, but I know I would plow my lawn up if I thought this seed was in it. For the sake of a few weeds, are the potential risks of GM lawns really worth it?
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Salmon: The First GM Farmed Animal?

News that an “efficient and environmentally sustainable” genetically modified (GM) salmon may be a step closer to commercial release had me reaching for a large pinch of salt—and not, I might add, to help season the dish. As some of you will know from my previous blogs, I am extremely skeptical about the real benefits that GM technology offers us all. Indeed, I have grave concerns about GM—not only about the potential environmental and health risks associated with the technology, but also the potential control that GM gives “Big Ag” over global food production. These concerns are just as relevant to GM fish production as they are to GM soy, cotton or corn. The difference, of course, is that, with fish, we are dealing with a living creature, where welfare is also an issue. On June 15, 2010, Massachusetts-based biotech company AquaBounty announced that it had moved a step closer to gaining formal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of its AquAdvantage® Salmon. According to the AquaBounty website, the AquaAdvantage Salmon is genetically modified to “include a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that provides the fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon.” This enables “shorter production cycles and increased efficiency of production.”
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DOJ, USDA Investigate Big Ag for Antitrust Violations: It’s About Time

In a major move for the Obama administration, the US Department of Justice (Antitrust Division) and the US Department of Agriculture have opened an investigation into whether any illegal monopolies exist among the dominant agricultural companies. The focus is primarily on three sectors: seed companies, beef packing and dairy. With a history of exemption from antitrust regulation the industry as a whole has become extremely concentrated. For instance, the the top four beefpacking companies currently control 83.5% of the market. As part of this investigation, a series of public workshops will be held across the country. Read on for dates and locations, as well as information about submitting comments online or by mail.
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