Update on Simple Soyman’s bean shortage

Simple Soyman’s dilemma of how to make tofu and tempeh without a source of local, sustainable soybeans seems to be resolved—at least for now. RJ and Barb Gruenwald, owners of Simple Soyman, have located non-GMO soybeans in Minnesota that will be transformed into their signature products for the next several months. A Wisconsin farmer has said he will grow 80 acres of organic soybeans for the Gruenwalds this year; that crop will most likely come from a different seed than Simple Soyman normally buys, but they are optimistic that the quality of their tofu will remain excellent.

Barb Gruenwald points out, “With the dollar continuing to fall on the world market, this issue of soybean (and other commodities) shortages will likely continue.”

Landmark chemical reform introduced in Congress

Amid rising concern over toxic chemicals in consumer products and the bodies of Americans, some members of Congress introduced legislation in late May to make sure chemicals are safe before they are allowed on the market.

Under current law known as the Toxic Substances Control Act, unchanged since 1976, most new chemicals are approved with little or no safety testing, and more than 62,000 existing chemicals have remained on the market for three decades despite evidence that some pose serious health risks. The Kid Safe Chemicals Act, by Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Reps. Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) would place the burden of proof on the chemical industry to show that chemicals are safe for children before they are added to consumer products.

“When babies come into this world pre-polluted with hundreds of dangerous industrial chemicals already in their blood, it’s clear that the regulatory system is broken,” said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group (EWG). “The Kid Safe Chemicals Act will change a lax, outdated system that presumes chemicals are safe into one that requires makers of toxic chemicals to prove their safety before they’re allowed on the market.”

“This bill is a long-overdue move to put public health ahead of chemical industry profits,” Cook added. “We thank Sen. Lautenberg, Chairman Boxer, Rep. Solis and Chairman Waxman for their leadership.”

A coalition of grassroots, state and national organizations led by EWG sent a letter to the lawmakers applauding their action and pledging support as the work begins to make this legislation law. -Environmental Working Group

U.S.: No funds to keep up pesticide survey

Consumers and farmers will soon be on their own when it comes to finding out which pesticides are being sprayed on everything from corn to apples.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in May that it plans to do away with publishing its national survey tracking pesticide use, despite opposition from prominent scientists, the nation’s largest farming organizations and environmental groups.

“If you don’t know what’s being used, then you don’t know what to look for,” said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center, a nonprofit in Enterprise, Oregon. “In the absence of information, people can be lulled into thinking that there are no problems with the use of pesticides on food in this country.”

Since 1990, farmers and consumer advocates have relied on the agency’s detailed annual report to learn which states apply the most pesticides and where bug and weed killers are most heavily sprayed to help cotton, grapes and oranges grow.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also uses the fine-grained data when figuring out how chemicals should be regulated, and which pesticides pose the greatest risk to public health.

Joe Reilly, an acting administrator at the National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the program was cut because the agency could no longer afford to spend the $8 million the survey sapped from its $160 million annual budget.

“Unless new funds are made available there’s not much that we can do,” Reilly said.

While the agency “hates eliminating any report that is actually needed out in the American public,” he said consumers could find similar data from private sources.

Still, only a handful of the major agricultural chemical companies spend the approximately $500,000 it costs to buy a full set of the privately collected data each year, according to a letter written by an advisory committee to the agency. -Organic Consumers Association

Ottawa prepared to slap toxic label on widely used chemicals

The Canadian federal government announced in mid-May that it intends to slap a toxic label on a bunch of chemicals used in everyday products from chewing gum to cosmetics as well as in controversial devices like silicone breast implants because they are either harmful to human health or the environment.

The 11 chemicals include Vinyl acetate, a carcinogen used as a base in chewing gum, and Cyclohexasiloxane, used as building blocks of silicone used in breast implants.

If industry fails to offer new information within 60 days (mid-July) to reverse course, Ottawa will classify these chemicals as toxic and kick start a process that could lead to a ban in certain products, as with bisphenol A in baby bottles.

In the case of the synthetic chemicals belonging to the Cyclohexasiloxane family—D4, D5 and D6—the government is proposing an additional step to ensure their virtual elimination from the environment.

In addition to being found in silicone fluids, these synthetic chemicals are found in cleaning compounds, cosmetics and personal care products, including shampoos, creams, lotions, and antiperspirants. D5, in particular, is a common ingredient to give products a silky texture.

The government concludes these synthetic chemicals do not pose a risk to human health, but rather should be declared toxic to the environment.

“Canadians expect their government to protect the environment from harmful chemicals, and that’s why we are taking action,” said Environmental Minister John Baird.

Six of the 11 chemicals are flagged as toxic to human health; the government said it will work with industry to reduce exposures to two of these substances.

The health toxins are: Vinyl acetate, used in food additives, paints, sealants and plastics; C.I. Pigment Yellow 34 and Red 103, a colourant used in paints, dyes, inks, and plastics; Thiourea, used in electronic products, insecticides and textiles; isoprene, used in rubber and plastic manufacturing; and Oxirane, used in paints, coatings and adhesives. -Organic Consumers Association

Organic coffee market in USA reaches one billion in annual sales

The North American organic coffee market reached one billion dollars in 2007, according to new data released recently during a sampling event featuring new organic coffees. The event was hosted by the Organic Coffee Collaboration, a project of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), at New York City’s popular Union Square Cafe.

Participants in the Collaboration are: Dallis Coffee (New York City, NY), Elan Organic Coffees (San Diego, CA), Equal Exchange (West Bridgewater, MA), Fresh Harvest Products (New York City, NY), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Waterbury, VT), and Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company (Vancouver, Canada).

The amount of organic coffee imported into the U.S. and Canada increased 29 percent from 2006 to 2007 from approximately 65 million pounds to approximately 84 million pounds, according to Daniele Giovannucci, author of the upcoming North American Organic Coffee Industry Survey, who presented the data at the event. Most of the coffee was sold in the United States. The survey will soon be available from the Organic Trade Association.

“By purchasing any of the delicious and high quality organic coffees available today, consumers are helping protect the environment around the world,” said Caren Wilcox, OTA executive director.

Giovannucci estimates the organic coffee sector now represents 3 percent of the total U.S. green coffee imports in 2007, growing an average of 32 percent annually between 2000 and 2007. This growth dwarfs the estimated 2 percent annual growth rate of the conventional coffee industry. Organic coffee is grown in 40 countries worldwide, including the United States (Hawaii).

According to Giovannucci, factors driving the increase in organic coffee production and consumption include: growth in values-based purchasing (including the desire to support organic production practices) and personal health or food safety concerns.

Organic coffee is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, avoid the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. -Organic Consumers Association