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Posted in Activism, Climate Change, Environment, Farm Issues, Genetic Engineering, Geoengineering, Government, Health Issues, Herbicides, Nanotechnology, Organic Foods, Pesticides, Sustainable Agriculture, Video on February 20, 2013| Leave a Comment »
Carolyn Anderson likes to chat up the growers at her local farmers market in Missouri, at times hanging out behind the beds of pickup trucks brimming with ears of corn.
For Anderson, 29, it’s all about keeping it “local.” And there’s fresh evidence of just how big of a deal that word can mean for farmers’ finances.
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of “local foods,” whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That’s a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.
While there’s plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local. The USDA report included sales to intermediaries, such as local grocers and restaurants, as well as directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and the like.
It found that farm sales to people like Anderson have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. The much bigger, $4.8 billion figure came when sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors were added in.
“Think of it as expanding what the picture looks like,” said Stephen Vogel, who helped do the study for the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. “What this report does is say, ‘Look, this market is bigger than you thought.'”
But the report also puts the local food movement in context. It’s dominated by fruit and vegetable growers. While only 5 percent of U.S. farms sell their products in local and regional markets, 40 percent of vegetable, fruit and nut farms do.
Consumers tend to assume that the produce they are buying at these markets are fresher, made with fewer chemicals and grown by smaller, less corporate farms. That may be true in some cases and not in others.
“Local” also doesn’t necessarily mean “organic,” a label that carries strict requirements for growers and is overseen by the Agriculture Department. But the word still carries plenty of cache with consumers like Anderson, a farmer’s granddaughter who sees shopping at the farmers market in Kansas City, Mo., as a ripe opportunity to get to know the growers and what went into the stuff they’re selling.
“Especially on a beautiful day, you’re chatting with them about their livelihood — I enjoy that experience as well as the food that comes out of it,” she said.
The number of farms selling directly to consumers has grown, from an estimated 86,000 in the early 1990s to about 136,000 now, according to the USDA. And the number of farmers markets has about doubled, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.
Paul Gnaedinger has raised everything from organic corn and soybeans to wheat and rye on his organic farm near Pocahontas, Ill. Lately, he’s turned to grass-fed beef.
He sells regionally and wasn’t surprised in the growth in local food sales, chalking it up to consumers becoming more savvy in their purchases — and perhaps a bit greener, knowing that shorter shipping distances may lower the carbon footprint and the chances of contamination in transport.
“I don’t want to say they’re not trusting of other food sources,” said Gnaedinger, 53, who also works as a nurse. “They do tell me they don’t want to buy something in Colorado one day, then see it shipped to California before it’s shipped here.
“There’s real demand in the market for people wanting to know where their food is coming from, that it’s going through local channels.”
On his 1,800 acres near Friesland, Wis., Larry Alsum, 58, grows several varieties of potatoes that he sells mostly to grocers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He also handles wholesale distribution for farmers who grow everything from cabbage to sweet corn, squash, cucumbers and peppers.
He says his operation has blossomed into a $50 million business — roughly double what it was a decade or so ago — with a focus on locally grown food. Perhaps only one in five consumers actually cares what that means, he said, but it’s more than did just a few years ago.
“As the cost of oil and gasoline continue to rise, there are going to me more opportunities for locally grown,” he predicted. “And that just gives us a built-in advantage in marketing.”
Last week the Center for Food Safety filed a formal legal petition with FDA demanding that the agency require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The petition was the result of many months of legal work and raises several arguments showing why FDA must change its current policy and require labeling. Now, we are spearheading a drive with over 350 other organizations and businesses in the Just Label It! Campaign, to direct one million comments to the FDA in support of our petition.
Unsuspecting consumers by the tens of millions are being allowed to purchase and consume unlabeled genetically engineered foods, despite the fact that FDA undertakes no testing of its own, instead relying only on a voluntary consultation with industry and confidential industry data to assure safety. Internal FDA documents discovered in prior CFS litigation actually indicated the foods could pose serious risks, but those views were overruled.
Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95% of sugar beets are now GE, although the decision to commercialize GE sugar is currently under legal challenge by CFS. It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Genetically engineered foods are required to be labeled in the 15 European Union nations, Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require labeling of GE food!
In America, we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. Under current FDA regulations, we don’t have that choice when it comes to GE ingredients in the foods we purchase and feed our families. In fact, a recent poll released by ABC News found that 93 percent of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. As ABC News stated, “Such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare.”
Americans have been asking Congress to pass a labeling law for more than 10 years, to no avail. It’s time to take the fight back to FDA—bigger and louder than ever before.
Please send your comment to FDA in support of CFS’s petition and to President Obama in support of mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods!
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by Clare Leschin-Hoar
29 Sep 2011 7:45 AM
Isaac WedinAquaBounty Technology’s genetically modified salmon just got a hefty financial boost from the USDA: On Monday, the agency awarded the Massachusetts-based company $494,000 to study technologies that would render the genetically tweaked fish sterile. This would reduce the likelihood they could reproduce with wild salmon, should any escape into the wild — a scenario that has many environmentalists concerned.
The Atlantic salmon, which is branded with the name AquAdvantage, has been genetically altered with a growth-hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and a “genetic on-switch” gene from an ocean pout that will allow the fish to grow all year round, reaching market size much faster than traditional salmon.
In mid-2010, AquaBounty’s salmon appeared to be on the fast-track for approval by the FDA, which would have made it the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption. But the process has since been stalled. Lawmakers in states like California and Alaska have been actively introducing legislation that requires the fish to be labeled as a GMO product or to prohibit its production entirely. Then, this June, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit the FDA from using funds for approval of the salmon.
The same bill the House voted on (an Agriculture Appropriations amendment) is currently stalled in the Senate. Now the USDA grant is raising eyebrows. Upon FDA approval, the company would sell salmon eggs to aquaculture operations looking to farm the fish. The majority of farmed salmon are raised in open-net ocean pens, a practice environmentalists have condemned for years because of escapement, pollution, and disease. So it’s no surprise that the issue of reproductive ability is being closely scrutinized.
The FDA released a Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee report in September 2010 saying, “we have reason to believe that the population of triploid, all-female AquAdvantage Salmon will be effectively sterile,” and AquaBounty’s own website promotes the sterility of the fish. In an email to Grist, however, Ronald L. Stotish, CEO and president of AquaBounty acknowledged that their technology is not yet 100-percent effective — thus the need for the FDA funding.
Stotish says AquAdvantage Salmon are currently rendered sterile by a “pressure treatment process that has been validated to 99.8-percent effectiveness.” The fish are also all female, and will be raised in physical containment. “Because the company realizes that our detractors do not respond to reason and science,” added Stotish, “we are developing a genetics-based process that will allow us to breed 100 percent sterile offspring. That is 100 percent sterile, guaranteed.”
That certainly sounds responsible, but GMO salmon fact sheet released in June by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch suggests that the numbers may not be so airtight. According to their research, which cites an environmental assessment from the FDA briefing packet on AquAdvantage salmon, “up to 5 percent of these fish may be fertile.”
But even Stotish’s .2 percent number worries Ocean Conservancy director George Leonard, as a handful of escaped fish every year could make a big difference over time. “If AquaBounty hasn’t yet figured out how to make the salmon fully sterile, then they shouldn’t be applying to the FDA to deploy the fish,” he says. “Let’s fix the problem first, not after the salmon get out.”
Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group focused on genetic engineering, says this is the first time they’ve heard of the USDA being involved with the genetically engineered fish.
“If the FDA was so assured of the scientific merits of this application, they would have approved it by now,” he says. “The mere fact that it has taken this long tells me that the jury is still out.”
The grant comes on the heels of the company’s interim report released on Friday, which announced a net loss of $2.8 million, and a reduction of three board members. In other words, it’s clear that AquaBounty is under the gun to roll out their business and begin “literally own[ing] salmon farming,” as Paul Greenburg put it in a recent article.
Stotish says the delays in approval are because of groups who have “intimidated regulators with threats of lawsuits” and “misled the public ” He adds that the company remains optimistic that congress will will not shrink from what he calls “their commitment to science-based regulation,” and that it will “stand up to the pressure from the anti-technology groups.”
According to O’Neil, however, a great deal of the scientific community is actually weighing in on the side of caution. “It would be reckless for the FDA to approve genetically engineered salmon given the large number of environmental, human health, animal welfare and economic risks that have been raised by scientists, members of Congress and members of the FDA’s own Advisory Committee,” he says.
Clare Leschin-Hoar covers fishing and sustainable seafood. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, Eating Well, and many more. In May, she was selected as a 2011 Seafood Champion by the Monterey Bay Aquarium
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2011–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded eight research grants to study the agricultural effects of genetic engineering. The projects support the development of science for regulatory decisions and other USDA policies and programs related to biotechnology. USDA awarded the grants through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
“All types of agriculture – conventional, organic and genetically-engineered – play important roles in our agricultural system,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting NIFA director. “These grants will help inform sound, science-based decisions.”
USDA awarded the grants through the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program, which was established in 1992. In addition to supporting research that assists federal regulatory decision-making, the BRAG program also supports conferences that bring together scientists, regulators and other stakeholders to review assessment data.
BRAG funding supports research in the following areas: identifying and developing practices to minimize risks associated with genetically engineered organisms; developing methods to monitor the dispersal of genetically engineered organisms; increasing knowledge about the characteristics, rates and methods of gene transfer that may occur between genetically engineered organisms and related wild and domesticated organisms; and providing analysis which compares impacts of organisms modified through genetic engineering to other types of production systems.
NIFA awarded $4 million for projects in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington. Project highlights include:
A project in Washington to examine the flow of pollen between “Roundup Ready” genetically-engineered alfalfa and conventional and organic varieties
A project in North Carolina to investigate the potential risks of releasing the transgenic New World screwworm fly Cochliomyia hominivorax in the United States, Mexico and South America
A project in Connecticut to study pollen flow in perennial grasses intended for biofuel use, such as switchgrass and miscanthus
A full list of awardees can be found online at:www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/brag_awards.html
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov.
Media Contact: Scott Elliott, (202) 720-7185
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).