USDA AND AGRIBUSINESS CONTINUE TO PUSH ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to issue its new proposed rule for mandatory animal traceability. While the USDA already has traceability requirements as part of existing animal disease control programs, the proposed framework goes much further to require animal tagging and tracing even absent any active disease threat.

“Factory farms can easily absorb the added economic burdens, and the meatpacking industry stands to benefit from a marketing standpoint,” asserted Judith McGeary, a livestock farmer and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “However, the extra expenses and labor will fall disproportionately on family farmers and ranchers, accelerating the loss of independent businesses to corporate industrial-scale producers.”

“Consumers need the USDA to start focusing on the animal health and food safety risks posed by industrialized meat production,” said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch. “If USDA devoted as much energy to preventing animal diseases as it has to promoting animal tracking, our food system would be in much better shape.”

For more on the story, see www.cornucopia.org.

 


PERENNIAL PRAIRIE STRIPS OFFER NEW CONSERVATION TOOL
Perennial prairie strips can help improve ecosystem health on Midwest farms without compromising the benefits of agriculture, according to a multi-year project led by researchers at Iowa State University. By restoring deep-reaching perennial roots of prairie plants to row-cropped fields, farmers and landowners can reduce erosion and nutrient loss, keep waterways free of agricultural runoff and improve biodiversity.
Reduced erosion and runoff aren’t the only benefits that prairie strips offer. “With 10 percent of the watershed in prairie strips, you get these enormous increases in biological diversity,” Matt Liebman, project team member and agronomy professor at Iowa State University, said. Researchers track the abundance of plant, bird and insect species in each experimental watershed. In 2010, watersheds with prairie buffers contained an average of 61 plant species, compared to just 19 in cropland. Increased biodiversity provides useful services to farmers: Native birds and insects help control pests, pollinators visit both prairie and crop flowers, and wildlife offers opportunities for recreation.

For more from the Leopold Center, see www.leopold.iastate.edu.


NON-FARMERS, URBANITES STILL RECEIVING FARM SUBSIDIES
The EWG released the latest update of its widely referenced farm subsidy database after months of reviewing millions of new government records. The 2011 database tracks $222.8 billion in subsidies paid from 1995 to 2010.

Introduced after the Great Depression to help struggling small family farms, the subsidy programs have been co-opted to support plantation-scale production of corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat, according to EWG. The new data reaffirm that one need not be a farmer to collect federal farm subsidies despite reforms cited by subsidy backers that were supposed to prevent absentee landowners and investors from receiving payments intended for struggling family farmers. The “actively engaged” rule adopted in the 2008 bill was designed to ensure that federal payments go only to those who are truly working the land. Despite this rule, absentee landowners and investors living in every major American city receive subsidies.

For more information on this topic and to view EWG’s database, see www.ewg.org.


U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES AMENDMENT TO PROHIBIT APPROVAL OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SALMON
During full floor debate of the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture and FDA appropriations bill, members of the House passed an amendment to prohibit the use of FDA funds to approve any application for approval of genetically engineered salmon.

In September 2010, more than 40 members of Congress sent letters requesting FDA halt the approval of the long-shelved AquaBounty transgenic salmon, the first genetically engineered (GE) animal intended for human consumption.

In February, Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced complimentary legislation that would ban genetically engineered (GE) fish and require mandatory labeling if approved. The two pieces of legislation were endorsed by 67 consumer, worker, religious and environmental groups, along with commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries associations, and food businesses and retailers.

For the full story from the Center for Food Safety, see www.centerforfoodsafety.org.


“WHERE THE LOCAVORES GO” COUPON BOOK DELIVERS DISCOUNTS ON LOCAL FOOD FAVORITES
Purchase a “Where the Locavores Go” coupon book today and enjoy discounts right away at farmers’ market stands, restaurants and retail stores. Back for a second year, the local food coupon book was launched in 2010 to give farmers, restaurants and local food businesses the opportunity to reach new customers and to encourage shoppers to try new places.

“Where the Locavores Go” offers deals that aren’t available anywhere else, including savings on items like locally-raised meat, dairy and produce and on meals at restaurants that specialize in serving locally-grown dishes.

“We’re hoping to help folks expand their local food horizons while giving these great farmers and businesses a chance to reach out to a new group of customers,” says Maria Davis of REAP Food Group, the organization that publishes the coupon book. “Plus at just $10 for over $250 in savings it is a great deal!”

Coupon books can be purchased online at www.reapfoodgroup.org, at the REAP office (306 E. Wilson Street, Madison) or at either Willy Street Co-op location. Proceeds from sales of “Where the Locavores Go” help raise funds for REAP Food Group’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program (BFBL).

For information on where the coupons are accepted, see www.reapfoodgroup.org.


BAYER TO PAY U.S. FARMERS $750 MILLION OVER GENETICALLY MODIFIED RICE
Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay $750 million to settle claims by U.S. rice farmers that the company’s genetically modified (GM) rice has contaminated their crops.

In July 2006, Bayer’s Liberty Link Rice 601, a genetically modified variety that was not approved for commercial distribution or human consumption anywhere in the world, appeared in the harvest of the farmers. While the GM proteins were found in a 2006 investigation by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (AHPIS), APHIS decided not to pursue enforcement action against Bayer CropScience. Bayer CropScience has since reached a settlement with farmers.

“From the outset of this litigation, we made it clear to Bayer that the company needed to step up and take responsibility for damaging American rice farmers with its unapproved rice seeds,” a lawyer for the farmers, Adam Levitt, said in a statement. “This excellent settlement goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”

Liberty Link Rice has been modified with a gene that makes the plant tolerant to glufosinate, a weed-killer produced by Bayer under the brands Basta and Liberty.

Glufosinate is to be phased out in Europe due to its hazardous nature. Glufosinate was included in a biocide ban proposed by the Swedish Chemicals Agency and approved by the European Parliament on January 13, 2009. The herbicide is classified as toxic for reproduction and can also cause birth defects.