‘COOL’ Ruling Chills Transparency

Transparency is not high on the agendas of global trade regulators. As if to prove the point, the World Trade Organization this month rejected a final effort by the U.S. government to save red meat country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements first mandated by Congress more than a decade ago.

COOL added a meaningful layer of transparency, beyond the cellophane wrapper, to beef and pork products sold in the American market. Since 2002, producers have been required to disclose not just an animal’s citizenship status, but also other biographical details, including where the story ended. The original idea was to help ensure that a “100% U.S. beef” label was applied only to livestock whose papers might satisfy the Constitution’s presidential eligibility clause.

Yet as much as consumers may have loved COOL’s transparency, powerful interests opposed it from the start. Mexico and Canada, along with large domestic meat producers who didn’t want to spend time segregating herds and tracing life stories, worked hard for repeal and celebrated the WTO’s determination that COOL was essentially a barrier to free trade.

The rules don’t immediately evaporate with the WTO decision, however. Congress must either repeal the law or brace for retaliatory tariffs from competing nations. Predictably, politicians who love pork, and don’t particularly care where it comes from, are already clamoring for a return to the age of mystery meats.

Although the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has been defending the law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been laying the groundwork for its repeal. Last year the USDA commissioned a study onCOOL’s economic consequences. According to Food Safety News, the final report, drafted by academics from Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, concluded that “country-of-origin labeling does not provide much in the way of ‘measurable economic benefits’ for American consumers and costs producers, packers, and retailers in the United States $2.6 billion a year for all covered commodities.”

The report added: “While there is evidence of consumer interest in COOL information, [there is] little evidence that consumers are likely to increase their purchases of food items bearing U.S.-origin labels.”

Food Safety News notes that the USDA-sponsored researchers did acknowledge that transparency may be a legitimate goal, albeit a concept the academics find maddeningly hard to quantify: “While the chances of finding consumer economic benefits from COOL were slim, they did recognize the ‘substantial interest’ inCOOL by some based on a so-called ‘consumer’s right to know.’”

Discover more here: http://bit.ly/1F3KLYV

Peach War: Last Stand at Suncrest Grove

Deep inside orchard country in California’s Central Valley, a small peach grove marks the spot where one man made a brave stand against the forces of monoculture farming, and the uninspired fare they produce for the mass market.

When fruit brokers told farmer Mas Masumoto that there was no longer any retail demand for his heirloom peaches, he thought briefly about uprooting the trees, but instead sat down to write “Epitaph for a Peach,” a love letter to a flavor and way of life that were both worth saving.

In a profile this month in National Public Radio’s The Salt blog, Dan Charles describes how the essay, which argued the Suncrest variety “tasted great like a peach is supposed to,” became a manifesto for consumers who knew it was important to preserve original varieties and to fight the industrialization of American agriculture.

The Suncrest “was an old heirloom variety that didn’t have the right cosmetics for the marketplace,” Masumoto told NPR. “It didn’t get lipstick-red when it was ripe. It didn’t have the shelf life that the market was demanding. So it had become blacklisted. We had 2,000 20-pound boxes of it in cold storage with no buyers.”

The essay changed all that. When it was published in the Los Angeles Times, readers rallied to save the peach, and to sample it. As reporter Charles describes it, that was the start of great things for the modest family farmer: “He started farming organically. He got in touch with farmers markets in places like San Francisco and Berkeley — places that are far away, in every sense, from the big farm operations of the Central Valley. Through those contacts, he met the chef and food activist Alice Waters. …

“Waters started serving those peaches at her landmark restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, and she sang the praises of the farmer who saved his heirloom orchard. ‘I have always wanted to support the people who are taking care of the land, and it’s that personal story that connects the food to the people who come and eat here,’ she says.”

Today the inspiring story continues with a new generation, as Mas Masumoto’s daughter Nikiko begins to take over farm operations. She returned to what she once thought was a backwater after studying environmental issues at Berkeley and gaining new respect for the principled stand her father took years ago.

“One day, in class, a visiting speaker laid out the environmental impact of food production, how farming defeated nature with plows and pesticides,” writes Charles. “And it dawned on her that her parents, planting cover crops and wildflowers in their organic orchard, were actually doing something important. That thought was followed by another one: The most radical thing that she could possibly do would be to go home.”

Read the full story here: http://n.pr/1EhbXSh

Produce Prices Soar as Ice Cream Costs Melt

The global green revolution is falling behind a lumbering counterrevolution led by manufacturers of processed foods.

The result, according to a new report by the Overseas Development Institute, is substantially more expensive produce, cheaper high-calorie confections, and obesity rates that continue to rise in virtually every nation.

The British think tank studied price trends in several emerging countries, along with the U.S. and U.K. “Fruit and vegetables have almost doubled in price in parts of the developing world over the past 20 years, calling into question the idea that modern farming methods lower basic food prices for the poor,” wrote Harriet Alexander in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, summarizing the key findings.

“The report’s authors found that fruit and vegetables had risen in price by up to 91 per cent in real terms between 1990 and 2012, a bigger increase than for other any other food group. … Paradoxically, the cost of some processed foods has fallen by a fifth over the same time, prompting fears over increasing obesity.”

Putting the inexorable trends in context, report co-author Steve Wiggins revealed: “In Brazil, the consumption of ‘ultra-processed’ ready-to-eat food [rose] from 80 kg per person per year in 1999 to around 110 kg per person per year by 2013. Using the weight of the food as a measure, this is equivalent to each person eating an extra 140 Big Macs a year.”

Other emerging countries are on a similar path, according to the report: “In Mexico, where almost 70% of adults are overweight and obese, ready meals have become cheaper and the cost of green vegetables has increased since 1990. In China green vegetables have become twice as expensive over the last 20 years. In Korea, the price of cabbage — a common ingredient of traditional dishes such as kimchi — has risen by 60%.”

Meanwhile, in Britain, where obesity rates are closing in on parity with American percentages, ice cream products cost half what they did in 1980, while prices for fruits and vegetables have jumped 199%.

Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/1Fa8SYc

Teflon 2: A Nonstick History

Smoking a pack of Teflons never caught on in the culture, but the idea ignited quite a bit of excitement at DuPont labs a half century ago. The odd experiment, involving dozens of participants inhaling toxic clouds from tobacco-Teflon blends, ultimately explains a lot about the commercial history of Teflon, including how much — and how early — DuPont knew of its dangers.

After years of pressure from the EPA and court challenges by class-action attorneys, DuPont agreed to pull Teflon from the market. Yet even as the nonstick sealant slides into history later this year, a proliferation of substitute compounds are raising concerns among scientists. In some cases the chemical formulas of the new substances are remarkably similar to Teflon’s. And, unsurprisingly, not much wide-scale testing has been done. Writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this month, a group of influential scientists noted: “Little information is publicly available on their chemical structures, properties, uses, and toxicological profiles.”

A scarcity of public information and awareness is what gave Teflon its high-velocity start. Transparency wasn’t a core principle as DuPont lab technicians measured the risks of the new substance. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) describes one of the early tests:

“In 1962, DuPont scientists conducted two controlled experiments on human ‘volunteers’ to study the Teflon-related illness called polymer fume fever, or simply ‘the shakes.’ The company laced cigarettes with Teflon and had the volunteers inhale the fumes to the point of illness.

“In DuPont’s first cigarette experiment, each of up to 40 volunteers in four dosing groups smoked a cigarette laced with between 0.05 and 0.4 milligrams of Teflon. Nine of 10 people in the highest dose group were noticeably ill for an average of nine hours with flu-like symptoms that included chills, backache, fever, and coughing.

“DuPont then designed a second experiment to learn how many cigarettes a single worker would need to smoke, each laced with a lower dose of Teflon, to elicit the same illness. Company scientists found that by smoking approximately the same total dose of Teflon over six to 10 cigarettes, study volunteers developed polymer fume fever.”

Employees working in the manufacturing facility soon realized that handling Teflon involved certain risks. According to EWG: “A DuPont scientist reported that workers themselves first deduced how to avoid the illness prior to controls instituted by the government in 1977: ‘Workers carrying the hot sintered [Teflon] shapes from the ovens to cooling benches found that if they carried them close to their chest, they developed a condition which came to be known as the ‘shakes’… If they carried them at arm’s length, they developed no symptoms.’”

It wasn’t until 2005 that the company paid a price for hiding Teflon’s risks. The amount was comparatively small — a fine of $16.5 million levied by the EPA for marketing a substance that the agency would later describe as “a likely human carcinogen.”

Discover more here: http://bit.ly/1cMATff

Recipe: Flax Hemp Berry Smoothie

We love stocking up on organic berries throughout the summer when they are in season and then using the frozen berries during the rest of the year in smoothies, crisps, pies, and sauces.

This is a great drink and has so many variation possibilities by adding your favorite superfoods and different berries. A perfect post-workout treat!

FLAX & HEMP BERRY SMOOTHIE

Ingredients
1 1/2 almond milk
2 tablespoons nut butter
1 tablespoon One Degree Organics Hemp Seeds
1 tablespoon One Degree Organics Flax Seeds
1 cup organic berries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons maple syrup

DIRECTIONS

Place all ingredients in a blender and process on high until combined and smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed.

Sun Sets on the Age of Teflon

This year Teflon, the “miracle of modern chemistry” first brightly marketed to Baby Boom moms on crackling black and white TVs, will quietly exit the American marketplace. The nonstick lifestyle, it turns out, came with a price to health and the environment. Once that became apparent to government regulators and class-action attorneys, Teflon’s fate was sealed.

For DuPont, creator of the slippery substance, the passing has been bittersweet. As the company said goodbye to its long-reigning profit king, it joined other chemical multinationals in celebrating the coronation of a new generation of alternatives.

Yet influential scientists are already raising the alarm about some of these new compounds. This month, more than a dozen scientific opinion leaders joined to warn in an article published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that the risks of these replacement substances could be significant. Using the term PFASs to refer to Teflon and related products, the group noted:

“Although some of the long-chain PFASs are being regulated or phased out, the most common replacements are short-chain PFASs with similar structures, or compounds with fluorinated segments joined by ether linkages. While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances … Thus, a switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance. While many fluorinated alternatives are being marketed, little information is publicly available on their chemical structures, properties, uses, and toxicological profiles.”

Anything mirroring the toxic properties of Teflon would represent an extreme danger to public health and the environment, agrees the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit that recently summarized the track record of DuPont’s nonstick miracle compound:

“Internal documents revealed DuPont had long known that C8, also known as PFOA [a key component of Teflon], caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But the company never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators or the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). After the truth came out, research by federal officials and public interest groups, including EWG, found that the blood of almost all Americans was contaminated with PFCs, which passed readily from mothers to unborn babies in the womb.”

In 2005 the EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million for hiding Teflon’s risks. The next year, says EWG, the agency “confirmed that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen.”

Much more in our next report.

Tobacco Consultants Oversee Food Safety

Conflicts of interest are so widespread in the U.S. food safety system that consultants for Big Tobacco routinely sit in judgment on the risks of new ingredients.

That’s the conclusion of investigative journalists from The Center for Public Integrity who researched the web of professional and financial connections among experts serving on so-called GRAS panels.

The task of such panels is to determine whether new ingredients will be classified as “generally recognized as safe.” Once branded with the coveted term, an ingredient may be used in an unlimited number of products without any future review.

“The world of GRAS panelists is a small one,” the reporters discovered. “A Center for Public Integrity analysis found that the top 10 most frequently hired panelists have each sat on two dozen or more panels.”

Of these, four have done paid work for tobacco companies. “The Center for Public Integrity identified 10 GRAS panelists who have in the past had ties to the tobacco industry, including two who were once full-time employees of big tobacco companies, according to a review of tobacco industry documents archived by the University of California, San Francisco.

“In interviews, some of these panelists said that their work for the tobacco industry was limited to evaluating the safety of cigarette additives or newly developed cigarette products that tobacco companies thought would be less dangerous. They stressed that they did not defend the safety of cigarettes in general.”

One of these panelists, who was once an executive at RJ Reynolds, told the journalists that he could understand the arrangement may present the appearance of conflict, “But it’s all in the eyes of the beholder.”

The Center report notes: “The expert panels that review a new food additive to determine if it’s ‘generally recognized as safe’ have great power because they can have the final word on that ingredient and its use. Once the group deems a new additive GRAS, it can go into an array of foods that end up on supermarket shelves, with no notice to or review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That gives food companies an incentive to turn to experts they believe will look kindly upon their ingredients, and gives scientists incentive to do so, critics say.”

Yet these conflicts may actually be one of the least sinister aspects of the system. Far more troubling is a parallel approval mechanism that operates in total darkness:

“The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis likely captures only a fraction of all expert panels convened to establish the GRAS status of additives. That’s because companies can make safety evaluations in secret, without ever telling the FDA. So it’s unclear in those cases whether an expert panel made the determinations. [In addition] companies are allowed to hire a single consultant to sign off on safety determinations or rely on the judgment of their own experts — and did so about a third of the time, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis.”

Discover more here: http://bit.ly/1b2SsGQ

Bees Drawn to Pesticide Buzz, Study Says

A study published in the journal Nature this month suggests that bees may not be able to protect themselves from a powerful insecticide in their environment for one simple and surprising reason: They often prefer pollen laced with neonicotinoids, and may even develop a mild addiction to it.

The widely-used neonicotinoid pesticides are distilled from nicotine, which is toxic in high concentrations to people and pollinators alike. It was once thought bees could sense the danger of plants coated with this potent insecticide and float onward to greener pastures. But the study by British and Irish scientists shows that far from avoiding the chemical, bees may be drawn to neonicotinoid-layered fields in the way a smoker is drawn to nicotine-laced Chesterfields.

In the study bees were presented with two food sources: a sucrose solution spiked with neonicotinoids and one without. The bees crowded around the chemical alternative.

“I think it’s a surprising result, because the data suggest that they can’t taste the [pesticides], but they are still preferring them,” scientist Nigel Raine told National Public Radio. “It might be a similar pathway [to nicotine addiction]. They’re getting some kind of positive reinforcement.”

The study found that this change in behavior “presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees” and may be contributing to colony collapse:

“The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on insect pollinators is highly controversial. Sublethal concentrations alter the behaviour of social bees and reduce survival of entire colonies. However, critics argue that the reported negative effects only arise from neonicotinoid concentrations that are greater than those found in the nectar and pollen of pesticide-treated plants. Furthermore, it has been suggested that bees could choose to forage on other available flowers and hence avoid or dilute exposure. Here, using a two-choice feeding assay, we show that the honeybee, Apis mellifera, and the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, do not avoid nectar-relevant concentrations of three of the most commonly used neonicotinoids, imidacloprid (IMD), thiamethoxam (TMX), and clothianidin (CLO), in food. Moreover, bees of both species prefer to eat more of sucrose solutions laced with IMD or TMX than sucrose alone. … Our data indicate that bees cannot taste neonicotinoids and are not repelled by them. Instead, bees preferred solutions containing IMD orTMX, even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall. This work shows that bees cannot control their exposure to neonicotinoids in food and implies that treating flowering crops with IMD and TMXpresents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees.”

Nature’s Corn Returns to the Heartland

In a place that has become the global capital of GMO monoculture — with 97 percent of soybeans and 95 percent of corn grown from genetically modified seeds — farmers are rediscovering the virtues of a plant variety whose most compelling “trait” is its natural purity.

Across the American heartland, “the burgeoning interest in non-GMO foods has increased how much [farmers] get paid to grow crops in fields once populated exclusively with genetically modified corns and soybeans,” reports the Des Moines Register. “The revenue hike is a welcome benefit at a time when lower commodity prices are pushing farm income down to what’s expected to be the lowest level in six years. …

“Tim Daley, an agronomist at Stonebridge Ltd., said the Cedar Falls company is getting flooded with calls from income-hungry farmers all over the Midwest looking for crops such as non-GMOs that could pay them a premium for their corn and soybeans.

“Recently, a farmer growing a non-GMO soybean crop could get as much as $2 a bushel for soybeans and $0.35 a bushel for corn over the market price. Daley estimated growers could save $150 for each bag of corn seed they buy that lacks the traits embedded in genetically modified crops, a difference that could help a farmer reach profitability.”

As one Iowa farmer told the paper: “We never really thought we would go back to [non-GMO corn]. But the consumer, in my opinion, has sent a clear message that a certain percentage of our customers are willing to pay more for the non-GMO lines. This non-GMO thing has seemed to take hold and gain a lot of traction.”

Despite greater interest among farmers, demand is outstripping supply. Earlier this month Bloomberg News reported: “A growing demand for organics, and the near-total reliance by U.S. farmers on genetically modified corn and soybeans, is driving a surge in imports from other nations where crops largely are free of bioengineering.

“Imports such as corn from Romania and soybeans from India are booming, according to an analysis of U.S. trade data released Wednesday by the Organic Trade Association and Penn State University.”

Coffee is the number one imported organic food item. “Soybeans are the second-biggest U.S. organic import, with $184 million shipped last year. India is the No. 1 source, followed by China. For corn, with overall sales of $35.7 million in 2014, Romania is the biggest seller to the U.S., followed by Turkey, the Netherlands and Canada.”

Discover more here: http://dmreg.co/1cIIH1b

Next: Generic GMOs

Global agriculture is about to be transformed by a new type of GMO — generic varieties that are no longer owned by the conglomerates that created them.

Over the next few years, patent protection will end for some of the earliest GMO seed inventions. The first GMO emancipation happened just last month, as genetically modified soy exited the Monsanto corporate dungeon, where scientists and doctors of jurisprudence had kept it under jealous guard for two decades.

Just as generic medicines ultimately drive down costs and ignite greater consumption in the market, generic GMOs can be expected to proliferate across agricultural landscapes, putting new pressure on organic farms.

In a piece for the Global Literacy Project, journalist Rebecca Randall notes that biotech giants have “gone to great lengths to assert their intellectual property right, earning them a notorious reputation. Monsanto has sued 140 farmers for saving Round-Up Ready soybeans. … It is this kind of the concentration of corporate power in the food system that activists decry. So, now that the first GM seed is off patent, what does that indicate for the future? …

“Ramez Naam, a computer scientists and futurist, wrote rather positively about the potential for open source biotechnology as GM traits go off-patent: ‘I believe this is the beginning of a new era in genetically modified crops, one of much more diversity as the cost of research drops, as more work is done by non-profits, and as more and more patents expire.’ He predicts a biotechnology revolution that hinges not on monopoly but on open competition that will help spur more and more GM foods.”

Although the dawn of generic GMO seeds is stirring talk of new open-source varieties that could be replanted at will by farmers, a more likely outcome is the growth of mini-Monsantos, smaller R&D operations that use the expiring patent technology to market cheaper GMO seeds that are coated with their own hardened legal protections.

“Open source still has a chance with vegetables, but our window is only as long as the bottleneck at the patent office,” University of Wisconsin geneticist Irwin Goldman told the author. “It could be a matter of less than a decade before what has happened with corn happens with crops like carrots and onions.”

Discover more here: http://bit.ly/1OaUyG7