Archive for the ‘Reports’ Category

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) released an extensive report last weekend at the Organicology conference in Portland, Oregon, that serves as the first comprehensive analysis of the challenges and opportunities in building the organic seed sector.

The report, titled State of Organic Seed: Advancing the Viability and Integrity of Organic Seed Systems, is an ongoing project to monitor the status of organic seed systems in the United States. The USDA National Organic Program requires the use of organically produced seed when commercially available. However, the organic seed sector was almost nonexistent when the organic program began, and has not caught up to meet the demand for organic seed. This gap could expand given the continued growth of the organic industry.State of Organic Seed provides evidence that organic seed systems are developing. Farmers report increased attempts to source organic seed and more pressure from certifiers to do so. Public research in organic plant breeding has increased slightly, with investments from both the public and private sector.

Still, challenges and needs loom large for expanding organic seed systems.

“The lack of organically bred and produced seed is a barrier to the growth and ongoing success of organic farming,” says lead author Matthew Dillon. “Seed is the critical first link in organic production, and provides farmers the genetic tools to confront day-to-day challenges in the field.”

The report is available for free download at www.seedalliance.org.

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From:   THE SCOOP – January 2011 Organic Center Newsletter


The long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa was released by USDA on Thursday, December 16, 2010. The 2,300 page document identifies and analyzes three options – disapproval, approval without restrictions, and approval with restrictions to prevent gene flow from RR alfalfa to non-GM seed production fields. The first option was ruled out as unacceptable.

Potential impacts on the organic farming sector, and especially seed producers and organic dairy farmers, are evaluated in some detail in the EIS and its technical appendices, and were found to be modest and/or manageable.

In discussing the RR alfalfa EIS in a press call on December 16th, Secretary Vilsack said that “we don’t want to have judges say who can farm and who cannot…” In other press comments, the Secretary has emphasized the need to address and resolve the issues leading to litigation over emerging GE crops.

Earlier in the week, USDA officials invited a number of leaders in the organic community, including the CEOs of Organic Valley, Whole Foods, Stonyfield, UNFI, and OTA, to attend an “important” meeting December 20th in Washington, D.C. with representatives of the alfalfa and biotechnology industries.

The purpose of the meeting, attended by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and several other senior USDA officials, was to explore “common ground” on how to provide for the peaceful co-existence of farmers planting GE alfalfa seeds, farmers growing conventional alfalfa, and organic farmers and food companies.

Coming just four days after the release of the RR alfalfa EIS, there was intense interest, and a degree of concern over this meeting among all stakeholder groups.

About 45 individuals attended the three-hour meeting. Secretary Vilsack explained that the USDA needed help from the alfalfa, biotech, and organic communities in identifying practical ways to achieve and sustain peaceful co-existence after approval of RR alfalfa. He said that in the absence of concrete ideas regarding how to move forward, all constituencies would have to accept what the Department decides upon when USDA issues its final decision later this winter.

The meeting included many remarkable comments and exchanges. Secretary Vilsack stated that the science case in support of RR alfalfa was not as strong and clear-cut as the biotech industry believes. He also stated that the legal foundation for USDA approval was not as solid as proponents claim, given the scope and nature of the possible adverse impacts and outcomes documented in the EIS.

In making this point, the Secretary was acknowledging USDA’s view that a decision to approve RR alfalfa, even with conditions, would likely be challenged in a new round of litigation, and that it would be a mistake to assume that the Department would win on the merits.

One representative of the biotech industry asked what the co-existence problem was and expressed the view that biotech, conventional, and organic farmers were getting along just fine now. He asked for evidence of real harm. Fred Kirschenmann participated in the meeting via speaker phone, and replied with a concrete example.

His farm in Windsor, North Dakota had made about $60,000 in net returns from the sale of organic canola annually for many years. When Roundup Ready canola was first introduced in North Dakota in the mid-1990s, Fred consulted with extension specialists, who said a two-mile buffer area should be sufficient to prevent gene flow from RR canola into his certified organic canola fields. He worked successfully with neighbours for a few years, and maintained such separation distances, but as RR canola became more popular, it became impossible to sustain such separation distances.

About the same time, buyers of Kirschenmann’s crop started asking for annual assurances that his canola crop was not contaminated with the RR gene. Without resorting to costly testing, the only way that a farmer can provide such assurance is to get a certificate or affidavit from his or her seed supplier stating that the company’s organic seed is free from GE contamination.

Once RR canola had gained significant market share and was widely grown in all parts of North America where canola is raised and seed produced, Kirschenmann was no longer able to find a seed dealer willing or able to make such a claim. And so, this market was lost.

The last part of the meeting focused on setting up a series of task forces to address the core issues – alfalfa hay and organic dairy, assuring purity of the organic alfalfa seed supply, and the true “hot potato,” how to cover the costs of ongoing monitoring and contamination episodes, i.e. a compensation mechanism.

Representatives of the organic community pledged to work with the Secretary in getting these task forces up and running, and expressed hope that some progress could be made.

A few of the alfalfa industry represents agreed to participate in the task forces, although no biotech industry participants did so during the meeting. After the meeting, one representative of the biotech industry said that he was “stunned” by what he had just heard and experienced. While most biotech industry representatives had little to say during the meeting, many were observed taking copious notes.



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It’s win-win-win: A new report finds that an organic dairy is better for 1) you, 2) the planet, 3) the cows.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In 2006, a United Nations report raised some eyebrows when it found that cow flatulence accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the tailpipe emissions from the transportation sector combined. A 2009 study out of the University of California–Davis put the number closer to 3 percent, but no matter which way you look at it, your cup of milk could be a significant source of pollution. To figure out which farming systems are more sustainable than others, a new report looking at four scenarios finds that grass-based, organic dairy farmers operate much more lightly on the planet, while often producing milk that’s healthier for people. It’s better for cows, too: They live significantly longer and under better conditions than chemical-based dairy operations.

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A recent Citizen’s Jury, comprised of West African farmers, has called for agricultural research based on ecological practices, notgenetically modified organisms. The Citizen’s Jury is an innovative approach to problem solving that allows ordinary farmers to have a voice in the policy process. Adopted in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the approach works to democratize food systems throughout the world. The latest Citizen’s Jury was the continuation of a 2006 deliberation in Mali in which participants rejected the use of GMOs. It was comprised of forty jurors from four different West African countries selected to represent a wide range of interests and views. After weighing the evidence from all sides of the debate, the verdict was clear: Participants called for increased research on ecological farming practices that incorporated local seed varieties. They asked that research objectives both serve farmers and be set by farmers. Most importantly, jurors wanted to be better informed about the changing legislative landscape so they could ensure that policies reflected their needs. This citizen’s jury was a resounding rejection of the idea that African farmers want, or need, GMOs. To learn more about citizen’s juries and the latest decisions from West Africa, check out the IIED report Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Soveriegnty in West Africa.


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A raging debate is underway on why and to what extent excessive nitrogen fertilizer use is degraded soil quality around the world. The problem is unmistakable in many countries as average crop yield levels plateau or even start of decline.

Three University of Illinois scientists explain why in a compelling commentary. The two published papers by this team from 2007 and 2009 are the first and second most read papers in the prestigious “Journal of Environmental Quality.”

Thanks to the team for permission to post this important piece.

Read the report.

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The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition in Parma, Italy has proposed a “double pyramid” to help guide food choices in an increasingly interconnected world where the impacts of culture, tradition, and family on food consumption patterns are waning.

One pyramid is driven by the nutrient content of foods relative to human needs, and reflects the contemporary USDA food pyramid.  The second pyramid reflects life-cycle environmental impacts in terms of land, water, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Barilla Center concludes that:

“…those foods with higher recommended consumption levels, are also those with lower environmental impact.  Contrarily, those foods with lower recommended consumption levels are also those with higher environmental impacts.” (Page 8).

Foods that should be consumed the most for nutritional and environmental reasons include fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, and rice, legumes, and olive oil.  Those that should be consumed less because of low nutritional value and high environmental impacts include sweets, red meat, cheese, and white meat.

The free, 150-page report by the Barilla Center entitled “Double Pyramid: healthy food for people,
sustainable food for the planet” is beautifully laid out and contains full details on the methodology and data sources used to construct the two pyramids.

See the report.


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Last June the Argentinian newspaper Página 12 carried a report (see article in Spanish, below) regarding a publication prepared by a commission opened by the Chaco State Government (in the north of the country) analyzing health statistics in intensive agrochemical use zones.  In one decade, the rates of childhood cancer tripled and babies with birth defects increased fourfold.

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From Farm Aid: “Seeds of hope lie in America’s family farmers and ranchers despite the grim economic conditions facing the nation. Our new report seeks to underscore what we at Farm Aid know as a simple truth: supporting family farmers and family farm centered food systems is a powerful strategy for jumpstarting our fragile economy and revitalizing communities across America.”

Click here to download the full report.

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Union of Concerned Scientists April 2009

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Friends of the Earth International
February 2009, Issue 116

Feeding the biotech giants, not the world’s poor

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