On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law an Act amending the Agricultural Marketing at of 1946 which provides for a national bioengineered food di
Click on the link below to see the letter.
A European court has a chance to weigh whether biased science can justify a costly chemical ban.
Feb. 15, 2017 2:37 p.m. ET
A pesticides ban in Europe could soon be overturned on the grounds that it was based on unreliable data. Meanwhile, revelations that one of the scientists behind the ban was also involved with a nongovernmental organization that campaigns against pesticides continue to undermine the ban’s integrity.
Two European chemical companies, Bayer and Syngenta, appeared before the European Court of Justice this week to argue that the European Union should revoke a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. “Neonics,” as these sprays are known, were introduced in the 1990s as a safer, greener alternative.
One of the advantages of neonics is that they can be used as a seed “dressing,” so that crop plants are protected from birth and need less or no spraying later. They only affect those insects that eat the crop, not innocent bystanders.
Though green activist groups claim neonics devastate bee populations, there remains much debate over how much neonic residue gets into the pollen that bees consume. But the fact remains that there has been no “bee-pocalypse.” In Europe and North America, honeybee numbers are higher today than they were two decades ago when neonics were first introduced.
As for wild bees, a 2015 study in Nature found that only a tiny fraction of wild-bee species pollinate crops. These bees, which come into the most-direct contact with neonics, are thriving.
The real danger lurks elsewhere. The French Ministry of Agriculture recently concluded that diseases, bad beekeeping and famine are the main causes of bee mortality. Pesticides play only a minor part. France’s final court of appeals in civil and criminal matters would agree. In a ruling last month, the Court of Cassation found that no causal connection has been established between the neonic Imidacloprid and bee mortality.
Such findings are in stark contrast to the recommendations in the draft Bee Guidance Document (BGD), a paper prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the scientific basis of the 2013 neonic ban. But the BGD’s methodology also raises many questions. It ruled out large-scale field studies and forced regulators to rely on lab studies mostly using unrealistically high doses of neonics. Acceptable field studies had to demonstrate with 95% statistical confidence that a neonic would have no more than a 7% effect on the number of bees within a hive, even though bee numbers can fluctuate by twice as much just from cold weather. Field studies were also required to cover 448 square kilometers to meet the BGD’s conditions. Each test field had to be 2 kilometers from every other test field, other crops, orchards and even wildflowers.
No one has figured out how to meet these specifications. Meanwhile, some 18 major field studies and nine review articles published over the past 10 years have overwhelmingly showed that under realistic conditions, neonics have no effect on bees at the hive level.
It’s as if the EFSA’s standard of evidence was purposely set so high as to preclude evidence of neonic safety.
David Zaruk, an investigative journalist who blogs as the Risk Monger, may have discovered how this happened. He noticed that although the EFSA working group that prepared the BGD had removed all scientists affiliated with industry-funded research during the preparatory work, it retained several activists among its five final members. One of them was Gérard Arnold, at the time also listed as the scientific coordinator at Apimondia, a beekeeper lobbying group.
When Mr. Zaruk asked the EFSA about this, he writes that the head of EFSA’s legal department agreed that if Mr. Arnold had been working with Apimondia at the same time, this would have been a serious breach of ethics. But Mr. Arnold had assured them that he was not, so the EFSA was willing to overlook an accusation that he was chairing an antipesticide working group for an NGO.
What this doesn’t explain, however, is why, after Mr. Zaruk started making his inquiries, every reference to Mr. Arnold’s work with Apimondia during his EFSA years started disappearing from the internet. When I asked Mr. Arnold about this, he said his work with Apimondia had ended before he started working with EFSA and the Apimondia website had simply been out of date. But given Mr. Arnold’s known antipesticide activism, there was still at best a conflict of interest.
Brussels entrusted a known antipesticide activist with the task of preparing what was supposed to be an objective report on the testing procedures of pesticides. Instead, the EFSA working group, which included Mr. Arnold, resulted in a ban that contradicts scientific evidence and has devastated European farmers. The total cost of the neonic ban has been estimated at some €900 million ($954.1 million) a year for oilseed rape alone. It would seem incumbent on the EFSA to at least perform a thorough investigation.
The EFSA has so far resisted calls for a review and re-examination of the deeply flawed process that resulted in the ban, but the exclusion of evidence under the BGD is one of the central arguments presented to the European Court of Justice this week. The judges there may well take a more objective and science-based view.
Mr. Ridley is a columnist for the Times (U.K.), a member of the House of Lords and the author of “The Evolution of Everything.”
SHELDON — One Vermont dairy farm is taking a novel approach to reducing polluted runoff in Lake Champlain by spinning its manure in a centrifuge to remove some of the phosphorus that has contributed to toxic algae blooms.
Machia and Sons Dairy LLC is believed to be the first farm in Vermont to use the technology for phosphorus removal after having it installed last year in a pilot project with Burlington-based Native Energy.
A screw press removes the solids from the manure that are then decomposed into bedding for the cows. The manure liquid is put through the centrifuge that rapidly spins it in a large canister to remove half of the phosphorus that then can be sold as a soil additive.
Phosphorus is a nutrient that comes from a number of sources including fertilizer and manure. An excess amount of it — in runoff from rain, snowmelt or erosion — feeds toxic algae blooms in the lake. The state says 40 percent of the phosphorus flowing into the lake comes from farms; the rest comes from roads, parking lots and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final phosphorus reduction goals for the lake, calling for a decrease of 33.7 percent in the entire lake and 64.3 percent in Missisquoi Bay in the northern end of the lake, an area known in the state for its dairy farms.
Machia and Sons is one of the larger farms in Vermont, where 725 cows are milked. Like some other local farms, it has taken steps to reduce phosphorus runoff such as planting cover crops and expanding or adding vegetative buffer strips between fields and ditches. The effort is to help clean up the lake and to “keep us in farming, keep the community happy. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” said Dustin Machia, one of the farmers.
The family business invested about $100,000 in the screw press and centrifuge project. The rest of the $525,000 cost is being covered by Native Energy, a seed grant from Green Mountain Power and the purchase of the expected reduction in greenhouse gases from the project by Ben & Jerry’s, according to Native Energy.
Now the Machias are seeking a market for the phosphorus.
We have discussed CRISPR in terms of what it can do about agriculture, but to fully understand the impact of this amazing technology here a wonderful article about how CRISPR might be able to literally cure hearing loss.
This is an article from the MIT Technology Review.
By Joanna Lidback
The worst thing we can do for people who struggle to feed their families is to make food more expensive. We can all agree on this, right?
Here in Vermont, nearly one in every five children lives in a home that suffers from “food insecurity,” according to the Kids Count Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The figure is even higher where I live, on a dairy farm close to the border with Canada in Orleans County.
If food prices go up, these stressed families will hurt the most. That’s why I’m so puzzled by proposals to require cautionary labels on food with genetically modified ingredients—but also hopeful that Congress will provide the leadership we need to keep grocery store prices in check.
The problem erupted in my state two years ago, when our governor signed legislation that mandates GMO (genetically modified organism) warning labels. The law takes effect in July.
On first glance, GMO labeling doesn’t sound like a big deal. Yet it involves a lot more than slapping statements in fine print on packages of food. It will force food companies to reformulate their products, driving up the cost of production all the way back to the farm gate. Prices will jump and consumers will pay the difference.
Some estimates have suggested that mandatory GMO labels will push the ordinary American grocery bill over $400 to $500 per year in additional food costs. A new report from the Corn Refiners Association says the amount may even exceed $1,000 per year.
A burden for families
Whatever the precise costs—I’ll let the number crunchers debate amongst themselves—this is a big burden for everyone, and especially for the thousands of people who live in Vermont’s food-insecure homes. Some of them are my neighbors. Their kids go to school with my kids. They’re already having trouble putting food on the table. Let’s not make it harder.
The elitists who insist on mandatory labels either fail to understand the economic consequences of their proposals—or they don’t care, perhaps because they’re wealthy enough to absorb the new costs.
This campaign to stigmatize GMOs makes no sense. Over the last two decades, GMOs have become a part of conventional agriculture, allowing us to grow more food on less land in a more sustainable way. They are perfectly compatible with human health, as every scientific and regulatory agency that has studied them has proclaimed, from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization.
Just last month, the American Society of Plant Biologists issued a resounding endorsement of GMOs, hailing them as “an effective tool for advancing food security, and reducing the negative environmental impacts of agriculture.”
Flying in face of science
Yet the professional protestors still demand labels, without regard to how it flies in the face of scientific consensus—or what it means for the budgets of ordinary people. They tout a “right-to-know” via a label when the reality is you already have the right to know: a label does not give a right nor does the lack of one take a right away. Besides, given the level of attention that biotech crops have received over the past few years, there are more and more resources available for those who want to execute their right to know.
The shame of this dispute is that it’s unnecessary. People who want to avoid food with GMO ingredients, for whatever reason, already have that power. They can purchase organic food, which may not contain GMOs. They also can look for non-organic products that market themselves as non-GMO.
Patchwork of regulations
With Vermont’s labeling law on the horizon, however, we face the vexing possibility of a patchwork of regulations in which 50 states come up with 50 different standards for labeling food. Instead of an efficient system that promotes public health, food safety, environmental protection and commerce of our most basic need, we’ll confront a confusing and costly mess.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has called for federal legislation “so that we avoid any potential chaos that occurs when one state decides to go one way, different states do a different thing, and then companies decide for themselves. We just can’t have that.”
A bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives already has passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which promises to stop this worst-case scenario from becoming a reality. But last week the Senate failed to move forward a similar bill that would establish national standards for food made with genetically modified ingredients.
As the senators continue to deliberate, let’s hope they remember the neediest among us by rejecting pointless labels and needlessly adding costs to a safe, diverse food supply.
Lidback is a Vermont Farm Bureau member.
She and her husband operate a diversified dairy farm in Vermont.
This article was reprinted from Global Farmer Network website at http://globalfarmernetwork.org
The US House of Representatives has passed the industry-backed voluntary GMO labeling bill – The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015 – by 275 votes to 150, and rejected all four amendments it was asked to consider.
H.R. 1599 – which anti-GMO activists have dubbed the DARK Act (‘Denying Americans the Right-to-Know’) – would pre-empt state laws that mandate GMO labeling (such as Act 120 in Vermont) and set up a federal voluntary ‘non-GMO’ labeling system run by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
Under the proposed federal legislation, which was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-KS), firms would also be allowed to make ‘natural’ claims on foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) crops – which supporters hope will stop civil litigation over this issue from clogging up the court system.
Labeling of a food made with GE ingredients would only be required if two conditions are met:
1. There is “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food”;
2. The labeling is “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading”.
Meanwhile, food manufacturers will be permitted to claim that a food is non-GMO if the ingredients are subject to certain supply chain process controls, and cannot state or imply that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods.
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The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the issue of labeling foods that have been genetically altered, or modified. These foods are known as GE or GMO foods. The idea of GMOs in our food isn’t a new one. They’ve been in our foods for several decades. What is new is the attention they are getting and perhaps a strong consumer interest in the use of the biotechnology in our nation’s major crops.
But whether GMO foods should be labeled or not, it is not something individual states should mandate. Our organization does not endorse or oppose the issue of GMO labeling, but if done, it should be on a federal level. A state-by-state approach becomes costly to food producers and consumers, causes confusion, and is impractical. If any labeling is necessary, requirements should be done on a national uniform level. It simply doesn’t make sense to have one set of rules just for Vermont, which could put many of our businesses at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the country.
Andrew Kimbrell makes many misstatements in his letter “Our GM Food Fears Aren’t Irrational” (Nov. 9): “The vast majority of GE crops are developed to resist and therefore promote pesticides, sharply increasing the amount of pesticides used in agriculture.” In fact, a significant fraction of GE crops have been specifically, and successfully, crafted to supplant the spraying of chemical pesticides. According to an analysis by PG Economics, the cultivation of pest-resistant genetically engineered crops reduced pesticide spraying by 474 million kilograms (9%) between 1996 and 2011.
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But there is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration says it has no basis for concluding that foods developed by bioengineering techniques present different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Nevertheless, bills are pending in several states to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients (a referendum to compel such labeling was narrowly defeated in California last November). For now, there seems little reason to make labeling compulsory.
Consumers can already find products free of genetically engineered ingredients, with labels voluntarily placed by the manufacturers.