Organic dairy farmers mobilizing to prevent industry and USDA from allowing factory farms to label feedlot milk as ‘organic’

Organic dairy farmers, who for several years have been trying to get a tougher organic grazing regulation, recently formed a group to get this measure passed. Organic dairy farmers from Maine to California met in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on February 23rd and formed FOOD Farmers (Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers).

Why is this an issue? Because some larger-scale dairies have been loosely interpreting the requirement that livestock have “access to pasture.” The regulation is so vague it allows some operations to feed their cows primarily on feedlots—not on pasture.

The group is pushing for a regulation for organic dairy animals to consume at least 30% of their food needs (dry matter intake) from pasture for the entire growing season, but for no less than 120 days. The USDA’s National Organic Program is currently in the process of more clearly defining the current standard that requires all ruminant animals, which includes dairy cows, to have access to pasture. “The addition of feed and time requirements will result in a verifiable nationwide standard unlike any other organic standard in the world,” the group said.

The proposed regulation has been around since 2005, but the USDA has so far dragged its heels on implementing it. The vast majority of organic dairy farmers want it. Consumers support it. The only thing standing in the way is the regulatory machinery of the government. So expect a FOOD fight to make it happen. -Organic Consumers Association

Sugar industry trying once again to introduce Round-Up ready sugar beets

After abandoning genetically modified sugar beets in the late 1990s, the US sugar beet industry is set to re-introduce GM Round-Up Ready sugar beets. Duane Grant, sugar beet biotech council grower spokesman from Idaho, told Capital Press Agriculture Weekly that sugar beet growers believe they need access to biotechnology in order to survive as an industry. Sugar beet production has depended on hand weeding, and Grant said that’s not only expensive but results in labor legality issues. He also claims that after processing, it is impossible to tell whether the sugar is from GMO or non-GMO beets.

However, the USA’s largest sugar company, the American Crystal Sugar Company, has no plans to grow GM sugar beets. In a statement the company said, “Herbicide resistant varieties developed using biotechnology (GMO) will not be allowed to be sold, given away, distributed, or planted in year 2007.” Sugar beets are grown on 1.4 million acres in the US. (SOURCE: Capital Press Agriculture Weekly). -Organic Consumers Association

U.S. federal judge bans sales, planting of genetically modified alfalfa

A first-of-its-kind ruling in the U.S. will stop Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa in its tracks—for now. Citing the USDA’s failure to conduct an environmental impact statement before approving the crop in 2005 and its “cavalier” response to concerns that the franken-falfa could contaminate nearby fields, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer banned sales of the seeds and barred planting after March 30. Monsanto-whipped farmers protested, saying they’ve already bought seeds for late-spring sowing and will lose money. This year was the second that the Roundup Ready crop, engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s potent herbicide, was to be used in the U.S.; it already fills 200,000 of the country’s 23 million acres of alfalfa. “I hope this is just a bump in the road,” said California farmer Phillip Bowles. But others—including organic farmers, traditional seed companies, and green groups—hope that bump becomes a roadblock in April, when Breyer will consider making the ban permanent. -Grist Magazine, Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association

Proposed fish farming bill could hurt oceans, fishing communities, and consumers

A proposed bill on open water aquaculture was introduced to the general public in mid-March by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a Washington DC briefing. If finalized, the bill would permit millions of fish to be raised in large commercial cages off our nation’s coasts. This could be detrimental to oceans, wild fish, and people, according to a coalition of fishing, environmental, and consumer groups.
“For the past several years, scientists, fishermen and conservation groups have been focused on healthy oceans and the need for strong leadership in developing sustainable marine conservation policies,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Unfortunately, NOAA is putting all this at risk by promoting industrial fish farming off our coasts.”

NOAA’s goal is to grow the U.S. aquaculture industry from $900 million to $6 billion. “The new bill is a minuscule step up from the previous bill, but it still leaves too many specifics to regulators whose purpose is to promote an industry that can dump untreated sewage equivalent to that of 17 million people into our oceans,” said Mitchell Shapson of the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

NOAA expects the majority of industry growth to be from raising carnivorous finfish, like tuna or halibut, which rely on a steady diet including wild fish in some form. Depending on the species, it can take from 1 to 20 pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed fish. Authors of the recently released Marine Aquaculture Task Force Report have warned that the practice is not environmentally sustainable.

Many questions exist regarding the large-scale release of chemicals, antibiotics, and alternative feeds, and genetically modified organisms into the ocean environment. Commercial fish farms can attract and concentrate parasites and disease, which may then spread to wild fish populations. Salmon farms in British Columbia have been tied to sea lice outbreaks in wild populations. Non-indigenous Atlantic salmon from existing fish farms have been found in the ocean and rivers from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, which has serious implications for wild stocks.

The Bush Administration’s plan promotes the construction of large-scale fish farms in deep waters from 3 to 200 miles off the U.S. coast. Among the reasons that the groups object to the plan are that it: lacks substantial environmental provisions, including a prohibition on the farming of genetically engineered fish; lacks consumer protection initiatives; contains weak provisions for protecting traditional fisheries-dependent communities; and ignores regional jurisdiction over the planning, regulation, and monitoring of open ocean fish farms. -Center for Food Safety