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On the Hill

Senate, House Bills Aim to Improve Access to Local Foods
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, have reintroduced Senate and House versions of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, legislation that aims to increase access to healthier foods for consumers in underserved communities by expanding economic opportunities for local and regional farmers. The bill would provide funding to help farmers process and sell their food locally, which incentivizes schools and low-income residents to purchase it.

Senate, House Bills Aim to Cut SNAP
Sen John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., introduced legislation last week that would cut $30 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next 10 years, including the elimination of categorical eligibility, employment and training programs, and state performance bonuses. The bill would also curtail funding for SNAP-ED, a program that provides grants to states for nutrition education and obesity prevention programs.

Retired Marine Officer Offers Support for Healthy School Snacks
In a letter to the editor published by The Washington Post on Sunday, retired Marine general officer Ronald Beckwith offered support for USDA’s recent efforts to update nutrition standards for “competitive foods” sold in school vending machines and cafeteria snack lines. Major General Beckwith, a member of the executive advisory council for Mission: Readiness, noted that “obesity is now the leading medical disqualifier for military service, with one in four young Americans too overweight to serve.”

Upcoming Events 

The Long-Term Economics of Obesity Prevention Policies
April 24, 2013
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
430 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.

The briefing will present the findings of the Campaign to End Obesity’s The Long-Term Returns of Obesity Prevention Programs. Among the featured speakers will be Jim Marks, Senior Vice President and Director, Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To RSVP, emailjessa@obesitycampaign.org.

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

 

From Saccharin to GE Seed, Report Profiles Monsanto’s History Peddling Chemicals for Food, Agriculture, War

 

SAN FRANCISCO—From its beginnings as a small chemical company in 1901, Monsanto has grown into the largest biotechnology seed company in the world with net sales of $11.8 billion, 404 facilities in 66 countries across six continents and products grown on over 282 million acres worldwide. Today, the consumer advocacy nonprofit Food & Water Watch released its report, Monsanto: A Corporate Profile.  

“There is a growing movement of people around the country who want to take on Monsanto’s undue influence over lawmakers, regulators and the food supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book Foodopoly. “People need to know about Monsanto’s history as a heavy industrial chemical manufacturer; a reality at odds with the environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image that the company spends millions trying to convey.”

“At the end of March, the American public saw first hand the unjustifiable power that Monsanto holds over our elected officials when an unprecedented rider, dubbed the ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ was tacked onto the spending bill to fund the federal government,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “This is an outrageous interference with our courts and separation of powers and we cannot sit back and allow our elected officials to continue to take orders from Monsanto at the expense of family farmers and consumers.” 

The report offers a timeline of milestones in the company’s history including chemical disasters, mergers and acquisitions, and the first genetically modified plant cell.

“Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and, in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of Organic Consumers Association. “Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.”

The report concludes with recommended actions for the federal government to take to temper Monsanto’s anticompetitive practices and control over agricultural research and government policies. It also suggests steps that regulators should take to better protect consumers and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of GE crops.

“Even though you won’t find the Monsanto brand on a food or beverage container at your local grocery store, the company holds vast power over our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director, Center for Food Safety. “This power is largely responsible for something else we cannot find on our grocery store shelves — labels on genetically engineered food. Not only has Monsanto’s and other agribusinesses’ efforts prevented the labeling of GE foods, but they spend millions to block grassroots efforts like California’s Prop 37 in order to keep consumers in the dark.”

“Last November, Monsanto alone spent more than $8 million to drown out the voices of Californians who wanted the right to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered,” said Pamm Larry, a leader of the national grassroots movement to label GE foods and Proposition 37’s initial instigator. “Now Washington is bracing for the industry’s deluge of misleading advertising to defeat I-522. The best way to combat this confusion and doubt is through telling the truth and educating consumers on how labeling will empower them to make informed choices about the food they feed their families and loosen the stranglehold that corporations like Monsanto have over our food supply.”

“The chemical pesticide industry, with Monsanto leading the way, took over U.S. seed industry and engineered bacterial genes into food crops with the primary purpose of selling more weed killer that contaminates our food, water and bodies,” said David Bronner, the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and leader in GE food labeling campaigns across the country. “Just like the citizens of Europe, Japan and China, Americans deserve the right to opt out of the genetically engineered food science experiment.”  

Monsanto: A Corporate Profile can be downloaded here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/monsanto-a-corporate-profile/

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Contact: Anna Ghosh, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 415-293-9905

 

 

GMO labeling due to popular demand

NYTIMES

March 8, 2013

Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content

By STEPHANIE STROM

Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, on Friday became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some experts said could radically alter the food industry.

A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. “Fantastic,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.

Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.

The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.

The shift by Whole Foods is the latest in a series of events that has intensified the debate over genetically modified foods. Voters defeated a hard-fought ballot initiative in California late last year after the biotech industry, and major corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort. Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while consumers across the country have been waging a sort of guerrilla movement in supermarkets, pasting warning stickers on products suspected of having G.M.O. ingredients from food companies that oppose labeling. Proponents of labeling insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat, and they contend that some studies in rats show that bioengineered food can be harmful.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.”

“We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet.”

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.

Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines,” Ms. Batra said. “The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”

She contended, however, that without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.

Nonetheless, companies have shown a growing willingness to consider labeling. Some 20 major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart, met recently in Washington to discuss genetically modified labeling.

Coincidentally, the American Halal Company, a food company whose Saffron Road products are sold in Whole Foods stores, on Friday introduced the first frozen food, a chickpea and spinach entree, that has been certified not to contain genetically modified ingredients.

More than 90 percent of respondents to a poll of potential voters in the 2012 elections, conducted by the Mellman Group in February last year, were in favor of labeling genetically modified foods. Some 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, favored it.

But in the fight over the California initiative, Proposition 37, the opponents succeeded in persuading voters that labeling would have a negative effect on food prices and the livelihood of farmers.

That fight, however, has cost food companies in other ways. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are pondering labeling on their own, and consumers have been aggressive in criticizing some of the companies that fought the initiative, using Twitter and Facebook to make their views known.

Buoyed by what they see as some momentum in the labeling war, consumers, organic farmers and food activists plan to hold an “eat-in” outside the F.D.A.’s offices next month to protest government policies on genetically modified crops and foods. Whole Foods, which specializes in organic products, tends to be favored by those types of consumers, and it enjoys strong sales of its private-label products, whose composition it controls. The company thus risks less than some more traditional food retailers in taking a stance on labeling.

In 2009, Whole Foods began submitting products in its 365 Everyday Value private-label line to verification by the Non GMO Project.

But even Whole Foods has not been immune to criticism on the G.M.O. front. A report by Cornucopia, “Cereal Crimes,” revealed that its 365 Corn Flakes line contained genetically modified corn. By the time the report came out in October 2011, the product had been reformulated and certified as organic.

Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.

Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods did not consult with its suppliers about its decision and informed them of it only shortly before making its announcement Friday. He said Whole Foods looked forward to working with suppliers on the labeling.

 

 

 

 

Fixing Our Food Problem By MARK BITTMAN

January 1, 2013, 7:52 pm79 Comments

Fixing Our Food Problem

By MARK BITTMAN
Mark Bittman

Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.

And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.

We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.

How do we do that?

This seems like a good day to step back a bit and suggest something that’s sometimes difficult to accept.

Patience.

We can only dismantle this system little by little, and slowly. Change takes time. Often — usually — that time exceeds the life span of its pioneers. And when it comes to sustainable food for billions, we’re the pioneers of a food movement that’s just beginning to take shape. The abolition movement began at least a century before the Civil War, 200 years before the civil rights movement. The struggle to gain the right to vote for women in the United States was active for 75 years before an amendment was passed. The gay rights struggle has made tremendous strides over the last 40 years, but equal treatment under the law is hardly established.

Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win. 

Activists who took on these issues had in common a clear series of demands and a sense that the work was ongoing. They had a large and ever-growing public following and a willingness to sacrifice time, energy and even life for the benefit not only of contemporaries but for subsequent generations.

They were also aware that there is no success without a willingness to fail; that failure is a part of progress. A single defeat was seen as a temporary setback. The same vision should be applied to every issue the nascent food movement is tackling.

Yet before we can assess our progress, we must state our goals. There is no consensus behind a program for achieving sustainable production of food that promotes rather than attacks health. We can’t ask for “better food for all”; we must be specific. In the very near term, for example, we must fight to protect and improve programs that make food available to lower-income Americans. We must also support the increasingly assertive battles of workers in food-related industries; nothing reflects our moral core more accurately than the abuses we overlook in the names of convenience and economy.

Beyond that, I believe that the two issues that will have the greatest reverberations in agriculture, health and the environment are reducing the consumption of sugar-laden beverages and improving the living conditions of livestock.

About the first I have written plenty, and can summarize: when we begin treating sugar-sweetened beverages as we do tobacco, we will make a huge stride in improving our diet.

The second is even more powerful, and progress was made in that arena in 2012 as one food company after another resolved to (eventually) reject pork produced with gestation crates. So over the next few years, some animals will be treated somewhat better. This is absolutely, unquestionably thanks to public pressure, which should now set its sights higher and insist that all animals grown for food production be treated not just better but well.

Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win. They’ll use fewer antibiotics, they’ll be produced by more farmers in more places, and they’ll eat less commodity grain, which will both reduce environmental damage and allow for more land to be used for high-quality human food like fruits and vegetables.

Allies may argue that I miss the mark with either or both of these, and that’s fine: it’s a discussion. The point is that no major food issue will be resolved in the next 10 years. As pioneers, we must build upon incremental progress and not be disheartened, because often there isn’t quick resolution for complex issues.

An association between tobacco and cancer was discovered more 200 years ago. The surgeon general’s report that identified smoking as a public health issue appeared in 1964. The food movement has not yet reached its 1964; there’s isn’t even a general acknowledgment of a problem in need of fixing.

So, in 2013, let’s call for energy, action — and patience.

A version

Michael Pollan on Prop 37 and “The Food Movement”

BRAVO! Michael Pollan!! -Farmer Allan

from the New York Times

One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.

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