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Archive for February, 2011

After nearly five years of legal and regulatory battles, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has fully deregulated Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa that is genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Roundup herbicide.

The decision squashed a proposed compromise between the biotech industry and its opponents that would have placed geographic restrictions on Roundup Ready alfalfa to prevent organic and traditional alfalfa from being contaminated by herbicide sprays and transgenes spread by cross-pollination and other factors.

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USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for 100,000 new farmers — a recognition that the U.S. farm population is aging rapidly. To create a revitalized, sustainable, and socially-just food system, we need to cultivate a new generation of farmers — and quickly.

But starting a business takes cash, and a farm is no exception. For beginning farmers, the ability to come up with enough money for things like rent, tools, fencing, animals, and feed is likely to determine whether they’ll be in business at all.

In an ongoing survey of young farmers conducted by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, 53 percent of respondents cited lack of capital as the biggest obstacle to starting a farm. A 2008 survey of 706 New York and New England farmers found that 25 percent of farmers were denied financing.

In the last farm bill, a new Individual Development Accountprogram was created to help beginning farmers save money, but it has yet to receive any funding of its own. And assuming that the new penny-pinching House won’t be of any help, it’s probably time to think about alternatives.

The best opportunity may lie in the USDA’s 40-year-old Rural Youth Loan program. With a few changes in the 2012 farm bill, this program could be the microcredit that the next generation needs.

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Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

Population growth is as old as agriculture itself. But the world is now adding close to 80 million people per year. Even worse, the overwhelming majority of these people are being added in countries where cropland is scarce, soils are eroding, and irrigation wells are going dry.

Even as we are multiplying in number, some 3 billion of us are trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. As incomes rise, annual grain consumption per person climbs from less than 400 pounds, as in India today, to roughly 1,600 pounds, as among those living high on the food chain in the United States, where diets tend to be heavy with meat and dairy products.

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ROGUE AGENCY CHOOSES “BUSINESS AS USUAL” OVER SOUND SCIENCE

CENTER ANNOUNCES IMMEDIATE LEGAL CHALLENGE TO USDA’S FLAWED ASSESSMENT
The Center for Food Safety criticized the announcement today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it will once again allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic and conventional farmers USDA acknowledged in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  On a call today with stakeholders, Secretary Vilsack reiterated the concerns surrounding purity and access to non-GE seed, yet the Agency’s decision still places the entire burden for preventing contamination on non-GE farmers, with no protections for food producers, consumers and exporters.

“We’re disappointed with USDA’s decision and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety. “USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”

On Monday, the Center sent an open letter to Secretary Vilsack calling on USDA to base its decision on sound science and the interests of farmers, and to avoid rushing the process to meet the marketing timelines or sales targets of Monsanto, Forage Genetics or other entities.

CFS also addressed several key points that were not properly assessed in the FEIS, among them were:

  • Liability, Implementation and Oversight — Citing over 200 past contamination episodes that have cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales, CFS demands that liability for financial losses incurred by farmers due to transgenic contamination be assigned to the crop developers.  CFS also calls on USDA to take a more active oversight role to ensure that any stewardship plans are properly implemented and enforced.
  • Roundup Ready alfalfa will substantially increase herbicide use – USDA’s assessment misrepresented conventional alfalfa as utilizing more herbicides than it does, which in turn provided a false rationale for introducing herbicide-promoting Roundup Ready alfalfa.  In fact, USDA’s own data shows that just 7% of alfalfa hay acres are treated with herbicides.  USDA’s projections in the FEIS show that substantial adoption of Roundup Ready alfalfa would trigger large increases in herbicide use of up to 23 million lbs. per year.
  • Harms from glyphosate-resistant weeds – USDA’s sloppy and unscientific treatment of glyphosate-resistant (GR) weeds ignored the significant contribution that RR alfalfa could make to their rapid evolution.  USDA failed to analyze how GR weeds fostered by currently grown RR crops are increasing herbicide use; spurring more use of soil-eroding tillage; and reducing farmer income through increased weed control costs, an essential baseline analysis.

“We in the farm sector are dissatisfied but not surprised at the lack of courage from USDA to stop Roundup Ready alfalfa and defend family farmers,” said Pat Trask, conventional alfalfa grower and plaintiff in the alfalfa litigation.

The FEIS comes in response to a 2007 lawsuit brought by CFS, in which a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GE alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of glyphosate herbicide, sold by Monsanto as Roundup.  The Court banned new plantings of GE alfalfa until USDA completed a more comprehensive assessment of these impacts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed the national ban on GE alfalfa planting.  In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs.

“Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its Draft EIS on GE Alfalfa,” said Kimbrell.  “Clearly the USDA was not listening to the public or farmers but rather to just a handful of corporations.”


 

 

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