Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Word on 875 from the OCA

I've read a lot of scare mail from people who are upset about a proposed Ag bill, reminiscent of the way the internet rumor mill was abuzz with het-up herbalists back in the mid-90s when the DSHEA bill was in Congress.
Does anybody beside me remember the tempest in a teapot that DSHEA was, and what was the result of that ginned up "populist" anger?
Back then the fear (much of it was being fed by Anti-Clinton fever) was that the government was going to raid your garage if you were hanging your homegrown sage to dry and arrest you if you received basil seeds in the mail.
I am not kidding.

The result of that hysteria was a weakening of the FDA (read this link)... and now we have adulterated peanut butter and wonder why.
But that's the free market for you.

I confess I haven't read this bill. (Don't get me started on that... most bills don't get read even by our Representatives, under any president, yours or mine.)

My opinion? I think the current fear mongering is another case of manipulation by a certain political mindset who are masters of the art of suggestion, and who repeatedly have convinced average citizens to work and vote against their own best interests. There is a great book about this by Thomas Frank titled "What's the Matter With Kansas", a phrase that emerges in my mind whenever I read some of these email FWDs that I get in the old inbox.

I have read a lot of chatter about this bill, and since I trust the Organic Consumers Association, I thought I'd post their thoughts on the issue.
The OCA sends a free email newsletter that you can sign up for, if such things are important to you.

One more thought. Most people don't know their farmer. Most people can't afford to know their farmer.
You should know, though, that good certified organic farmers already do "keep records" for purposes of their certification.

There is always a way to do things dirtier and cheaper. We need to think in terms of the health of our nation in our rule making. The "free market" is not going to protect our food supply.

HR 875 Update: The Biotech Companies are Destroying Traditional Farming (Just Not in this Bill)

* By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq.
Organic Consumers Association, March 25, 2009

The following note is typical of the calls and e-mails Organic Consumers Association has been receiving this week:
"Do you know anything about HR 875, a 'food safety' bill that was written by Monsanto, Cargill and ADM? I've heard a few individual activists scream about this as the death of farmers markets, CSAs and local organic food, yet have seen no alerts from any of the reliable groups, including OCA. Any idea what's up with this?"

HR 875 is a food safety bill that, as it is currently drafted, could be applied to all farms, including certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations. The bill would require farms to have a food safety plan, allow their records to be inspected, and comply with food safety regulations.

For the record, Organic Consumers Association does have an alert on HR875. As OCA points out in our Action Alert, we cannot support a "food safety" bill unless it provides protection or exemptions for organic and farm-to-consumer producers and cracks down on the real corporate criminals who are tampering with and polluting our nation's food supply.

Having said that, OCA supports aspects of HR875 that call for mandatory recalls of tainted food, increased scrutiny of large slaughterhouses and food manufacturers, and hefty fines against companies that send poisonous food to market.

The now discredited ultra-libertarian notion that companies or the "market" will regulate themselves is not only ludicrous, but dangerous, whether we are talking about the banking system or the food and farming sector.

When researching this issue, Organic Consumers Association turned to trusted sources within the organic farming community. We suggest the following resource for further reading:

An Integrated Approach to Food Safety
Russell Libby, Executive Director
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Letter from the Farmers Market Coalition on HR 875

Organic food healthier and more intensively inspected—but not magically protected from humans or pathogens
Rodale Institute

To get a sense of the food safety issues that Congress is trying to deal with, read Jill Richardson's (La Vida Locovore) write-up of a March 19, 2009, hearing in the House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations on the salmonella peanut butter outbreak :

Of course, Monsanto and large corporate agribusiness are out to destroy traditional farming. Unfortunately, while many people have been distracted by HR 875, the biotech companies have been hard at work pushing their agenda (see below). We need to keep working together to work towards positive alternatives, such as organic agriculture and the green economy.

A ban on rBGH-free labeling from Monsanto's successor Eli Lilly
A bill that is working its way through the Kansas legislature would prevent farmers from labeling any dairy products sold in Kansas as being "free" of genetically modified bovine growth hormone (rbST or rBGH). Farmers could say that the product comes from cows that haven't received injections of the artificial bovine growth hormone, which stimulates milk production (and increases the use of antibiotics and the presence of pus in milk). However, such products would also be forced to include disclaimers saying that the federal government has found no significant difference between milk from cows injected with rbST and milk from those that have not received the hormone. While there is an exemption for certified organic milk, OCA opposes this law. It has Monsanto's fingerprints all over it. The revolving door that brought Monsanto executives through the FDA is the reason the federal government took the position that there's no difference between milk produced with or without rbST. Monsanto sold rbST to Eli Lilly in August 2008, but the pro-rbST strategy hasn't changed much.

Monsanto uses closed-door lobbying to block Montana bill that would protect farmers
Montana Senators sidelined a seed bill that sought standards for how biotech companies test crops for patent infringement, burying the bill after getting a private dinner with Monsanto representatives.

Epitopix's E. coli vaccine
A vaccine for E. coli has been conditionally approved by the USDA. Now the USDA can force this new animal drug on all beef and dairy producers rather than focus on the cause of E. coli and its spread, feeding cows grain instead of grass, confining cows in pens where they wade in manure their whole lives right up to slaughter, and the manure lagoons that leak into the water and onto nearby vegetable farms.

Monsanto's gene-altered drought-resistant corn
The chemical companies have yoked farmers with increasingly expensive and ineffective fossil-fuel-based inputs that contribute to global warming. Now they propose another techno-fix: gene-altered drought-tolerant crops. Trouble is, the crops don't do well under non-drought conditions. Monsanto invests $2.6 million daily in its research. Think how many people could be eat healthy food on long-term, sustainable basis if Monsanto and its partner the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $2.6 each day in organic agriculture!

Indian farmers protest Monsanto seed experiments that threaten their farms
One farmer said, "Monsanto is a criminal corporation known to have sued or sent to jail scores of farmers elsewhere for doing what farmers around the world have done for millennia -- saving their seeds."

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