Giant organic livestock operation decertified by USDA
In an investigation and legal case that lasted almost four years, one of the largest organic cattle producers in the U.S., Promiseland Livestock, LLC, was suspended from organic commerce, along with its owner and key employees, for four years. The penalty was part of an order issued by administrative law judge Peter Davenport in Washington, DC on November 25th, 2009.
Promiseland, a multi-million-dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, including over 13,000 acres of crop land, and managing 22,000 head of beef and dairy cattle, had been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and “laundering” conventional cattle as organic.
Promiseland sold dairy cows to factory dairy farms owned by Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), Natural Prairie Dairy in Texas and Aurora Dairy based in Colorado. Aurora and Natural Prairie supply private-label, store-brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco, Target and major supermarket chains such as HEB, Safeway and Harris Teeter.
“It appears that it was the investigation into improprieties by Aurora that finally led to the hammer coming down on Promiseland,” Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute observed. Aurora operates five dairies in Texas and Colorado and was found by USDA investigators to have “willfully” violated 14 tenets of federal organic regulations in 2007. However, Bush administration officials let the $100 million corporate dairy continue in operation under a one-year probation.
“However grim it sounds, this investigation and the legal proceeding illustrate that if organic stakeholders are persistent, the system works,” Kastel said.
At a recent industry meeting in Washington, D.C., Miles McEvoy, USDA Deputy Administrator and the new director of the National Organic Program, stated emphatically that we were now entering the “age of enforcement” at the NOP.
Cornucopia has formally asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reopen the Aurora matter, alleging that the consent agreement allowing their probation included illegally favorable provisions. The farm policy group also asked that complaints involving Dean Foods and its Horizon label, which had languished under the Bush administration since early 2005, now also be actively investigated by the new administration.
“We think that organic consumers and the family farmers who have built this industry have good reason to be optimistic and confident that from this point forward, when they see the organic seal on a product, they know that the public servants in Washington share their steadfast desire to maintain the integrity of the organic label,” stated Will Fantle, Research Director for The Cornucopia Institute. -The Cornucopia Institute
USDA to launch high tunnel pilot study to increase availability of locally grown foods
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a new pilot project under the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels, also known as hoop houses, to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way.
“There is great potential for high tunnels to expand the availability of healthy, locally grown crops—a win for producers and consumers,” said Merrigan. “This pilot project is going to give us real-world information that farmers all over the country can use to decide if they want to add high tunnels to their operations. We know that these fixtures can help producers extend their growing season and hopefully add to their bottom line.”
The 3-year, 38-state study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers.
Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. High tunnels are used year-round in parts of the country, providing steady incomes to farmers—a significant advantage to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers. -usda.gov
Groups applaud APHA for opposition to hormone use in beef and dairy production
Public health and consumer groups applauded the decision of the American Public Health Association (APHA) to oppose the use of growth hormones in beef and dairy production by calling for a ban on the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in dairy cows and a slate of growth hormones in beef cattle.
APHA is the oldest and largest association of public health professionals in the world, representing 50,000 professionals nationwide. APHA’s resolution follows an official position statement released last year by the American Nurses Association opposing rBGH. The past president of the American Medical Association (AMA) last year asked all AMA members to serve only rBGH-free milk in hospitals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that over 42 percent of large dairy operations in the United States inject their cows with rBGH, a synthetic hormone that induces cows to produce more milk. Six steroid hormones are in widespread use in U.S. and Canadian beef cattle to speed weight gain.
“Americans are now awash in environmental hormones, while the science reveals that hormone-related diseases are on the rise,” said David Wallinga, M.D., physician/director of Food and Health at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “The most prudent step—and the one called for by APHA—is to reduce the needless and risky addition of hormones to the food chain wherever possible.”
APHA’s resolution asks the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of rBGH and growth-promoting beef hormones, and recommends that hospitals, schools and other institutions—especially those serving children—serve food produced without these hormones. The resolution also supports product labeling for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.
“For too long, regulators have looked the other way while industrial beef and dairy operations use hormones recklessly,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “APHA’s resolution against this practice sends a clear signal that public health, not industry convenience, should guide U.S. food policy.”
The use of rBGH has well-known negative impacts on the health of dairy cows. Human consumption of dairy products produced using the hormone also may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 members of the European Union have disallowed the use of rBGH. Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations’ main food safety body, twice determined that there was no consensus on the safety of rBGH for human health.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of hormones in beef production leaves hormone residues in meat, putting consumers at risk for prolonged exposure. While European Union authorities have never approved the use of hormones in beef production, the U.S. government has relied on very limited and now out-of-date research to back its claim that it is safe for producers to use growth hormones on their animals.
“In the marketplace, consumers are demanding meat and dairy produced without these hormones,” said Martin Donohoe, MD of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. “But access to safe food should not depend on the whims of the market. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all consumers are protected.”
The APHA resolution can be viewed at: www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=1379 -Food &
Water Watch Study finds food waste increasing in the U.S.
An estimated 40 percent of all food produced in America is discarded, a figure that has increased by half over the past 25 years, according to a new federal report. Each day, every American puts about 1,400 calories worth of food in the garbage, according to researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), who published their findings in the November 25, 2009, issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
Food waste has increased 50 percent since previous estimates were made in 1974 and now totals some 150 trillion calories per year. The NIDDK figures are also about 25 percent higher than other food waste calculations made in recent years. Food waste occurs at the manufacturing level and during distribution, but researchers note that more than half of the waste results from inefficient use and spoilage at the household level.
Following up on recent reports that millions of Americans experience “food insecurity,” the NIDDKD findings again emphasize that there is plenty of food available to feed hungry people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, but the problem is that it is not distributed where it is needed most.
There are huge implications for tackling the food waste problem. “Addressing the oversupply of food energy in the U.S. may help curb the obesity epidemic as well as decrease food waste, which has profound environmental consequences,” claim the NIDDK researchers, since “Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change.”
For further information, go to: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007940. -Foodlinks America