By Andrew Gunther
| June 29, 2010
Over the past few weeks I have been busy commenting on pretty negative news— genetically modified salmon is a step closer to being on the market; the Supreme Court overturned an injunction that would stop the USDA from allowing a partial deregulation of Monsanto genetically modified alfalfa; a study was released, based on highly questionable science, that grassfed beef isn’t any healthier than grainfed beef; GMs are being driven to market even though 53 percent of Americans object; and Smithfield is being given control of environmental comities —but rays of light are shining through the darkness.
What a welcome to the beginning of the week when I can read a report that focuses on a real solution. Big Ag isn’t going to like the recent report issued by the United Nations one bit because it threatens its very existence. Big Ag wants you to believe that unsustainable farming practices that lock animals in barren cages and feedlots are the only way to provide enough meat, dairy and eggs. That arable systems only work if you spray the fields three or four times with poisons. That fruit farms require nerve gas linked to autism to produce a crop. That leaving mountains of poisonous manure and contaminated water that sickens our children is just the cost of doing business. That this abhorrent failing system that takes profit from farms and diverts it to corporate monoliths with no conscience or morality is just the way it has to be.
Yes, Big Ag really needs you to believe that this massive failed experiment called modern mono-agriculture is our only chance to stave off worldwide hunger. But, it turns out, it’s not.
The new U.N. report, “Dead Planet, Living Planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development,” made me smile. The report documents over 30 successful reforestation case studies and proudly proclaims, “Restoration is not only possible, but can prove highly profitable …” In one region alone, known as the “Desert of Tanzania,” agroforestry (planting trees and crops on the same parcel) increased household income by up to $500 U.S. a year. The average yearly household income for Tanzania is under $500 U.S. per year.
By Andrew Gunther
| June 28, 2010
News that an “efficient and environmentally sustainable” genetically modified (GM) salmon may be a step closer to commercial release had me reaching for a large pinch of salt—and not, I might add, to help season the dish.
As some of you will know from my previous blogs, I am extremely skeptical about the real benefits that GM technology offers us all. Indeed, I have grave concerns about GM—not only about the potential environmental and health risks associated with the technology, but also the potential control that GM gives “Big Ag” over global food production. These concerns are just as relevant to GM fish production as they are to GM soy, cotton or corn. The difference, of course, is that, with fish, we are dealing with a living creature, where welfare is also an issue.
On June 15, 2010, Massachusetts-based biotech company AquaBounty announced that it had moved a step closer to gaining formal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of its AquAdvantage® Salmon. According to the AquaBounty website, the AquaAdvantage Salmon is genetically modified to “include a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that provides the fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon.” This enables “shorter production cycles and increased efficiency of production.”
By Andrew Gunther
| June 24, 2010
So who really won the Supreme Court case Monsanto Company v. Geertson Seed Farms? Both sides are claiming victory, but the reality is that while the Supreme Court may have ruled, the jury is still out and there’s still a good chance to stop a genetically modified (GM) alfalfa seed from overtaking the nation’s fields.
The trouble began when Monsanto did an end run around the law by convincing the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with regulating genetically modified plants amongst other things) to approve its GM Roundup Ready™ alfalfa without the mandatory environmental review. Consumer groups and farmers hauled them to court, which completely banned the sale and planting of Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready™ alfalfa until APHIS completed the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a process that could take years.
On the surface, the Supreme Court ruling may seem like a victory for Monsanto. The Court lifted two injunctions issued by the Ninth Circuit Court: one stopped farmers from planting any Monsanto GM Roundup Ready™ alfalfa seed. The other banned APHIS from performing a “partial deregulation” of the seed, allowing restricted or limited planting during the time an EIS is being prepared. However, the Supreme Court upheld the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that APHIS illegally approved Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready™ alfalfa seed to begin with. In short, despite the furious spin from Monsanto and agri-business, GM Roundup Ready™ alfalfa seed remains illegal
By Andrew Gunther
| June 21, 2010
At the recent Council for Agricultural Science and Technology symposium there seemed to be a consensus that folks didn’t trust science. Now, as some of you might know from my previous blogs (see “Beware of Bad Science”), one of my pet peeves is deceit and spin being masqueraded as real science. I believe that this practice is helping to undermine the vital role that science has to play in our lives, and is a key reason why more and more people don’t trust scientists.
On May 27, 2010, AgriLife Communications posted a press release which appears to refute claims that grassfed beef is healthier than grainfed beef. But the shocking lack of academic rigor behind this seemingly important press release demonstrates to me exactly why people are losing their faith in science.
This press release, entitled “Study shows ground beef from grainfed cattle healthier than grassfed,” claims to highlight new research by Dr. Stephen Smith, a Professor of Meat Science at AgriLife Research, a member of the Texas A&M University System. The background is that Dr. Smith was paid by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to look at the potential effects of eating grassfed or grainfed beef on cholesterol levels.
This week, Animal Welfare Approved and Wild Turkey Farms hosted a poultry processing workshop to train potential users of the new mobile processing unit (MPU). Funded by a Good Husbandry Grant and built by Wild Turkey Farms, this plant-on-wheels can travel to area farms for on-farm processing – minimizing transport stress on the animals and providing farmers an economical processing alternative (rental rates start at $45/day). Techniques on humane slaughter were demonstrated as well as cervical dislocation for emergency euthanasia. Attendees learned the importance of humane handling and catching to ensuring product quality and took home some good tips on effective product presentation.
Many farmers raising birds for meat operate under the 1,000 bird exemption, meaning that they are not required to have an inspector on-site at the time of processing. However food safety is even more important for the small farmer than it is for a large plant and sanitation, biosecurity and recordkeeping were emphasized as important tools to ensure a safe product for the consumer. A very knowledgeable and gracious staff from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, including Don Delozier, State Director for the NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Inspection Division and Compliance Officer Melanie Pollard, presented on the relevant regulations for on-farm processing, how to comply and where to go for more information.
The James family raises Animal Welfare Approved Jersey-cross cattle that produce raw milk and artisan cheese. The James Ranch is committed to “going beyond organic” and does not use any pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, or unnecessary antibiotics on the dairy cows. Their cattle are 100% grassfed through rotational grazing, the healthiest and most natural practice for the cows and the grass.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has recently released a thirty-nine page summary of the various USDA grant programs relating to local and regional food systems. The new Guide to USDA Funding for Local and Regional Food Systems is a comprehensive, digestible and highly relevant piece that outlines the major funding programs available to farmers, nonprofits, associations, individuals, schools and others working towards successful local and regional food systems. The handy “quick guide” chart on page 4 details each program’s eligibility requirements, grant amounts and any matching funds needed. Eligibility is further explained in each program description, including helpful hints about who the programs are really targeting. When applying for a grant it can be tempting to try to fit a square peg into a round hole in terms of eligibility – this guide is a great resource to make sure you are barking up the right tree. Other features include a resource section (regional and national), a how-to-guide for the application process (Appendix 1: Preparing to Apply to USDA Grant Programs using Grants.gov) and case studies of successful applications. Contact information for each program is listed along with sources for more information.
For ethical eaters attending this year’s Big Apple BBQ in New York City June 12-13, a visit to legendary pitmaster Ed Mitchell and The Pit restaurant booth will be an exceptional opportunity to satisfy a hunger for ‘cue while supporting family farmers raising their animals with the highest humane standards. The Pit, of Raleigh, North Carolina, will be serving its signature whole-hog barbecue made exclusively from Animal Welfare Approved pastured pork supplied by the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association (NCNHGA). Pastured pork means the pork comes from pigs raised outdoors, on pasture, where they enjoy sunlight and mud baths in natural surroundings. For eaters, AWA pastured pork means there is no conflict between what your taste buds savor and what your conscience demands.
Animal Welfare Approved staff will be on-hand to run contest giveaways of limited edition AWA “I (HEART) Pastured Pork” T-shirts and backpacks, apply temporary tattoos, and answer questions about farm animal welfare and the Animal Welfare Approved program. “We’re proud of our farmers and proud of our program,” says Animal Welfare Approved Program Director Andrew Gunther. “Since we can’t really shout it from the rooftops, we thought t-shirts would be fun.” All visitors who sign up for the Animal Welfare Approved e-mail list will receive a free drawstring backpack.
By Andrew Gunther
| June 8, 2010
Britain has spurned the American model of intensive livestock farming for many years. More recently the so-called science-based CAFO models have traveled the globe, leaving trails of toxic poison behind them. Who would have thought that Britain, with a rich tradition of being one of the first countries to embrace organic, humane farming systems, would be contemplating intensive dairy farming as the way of the future? Thankfully, a much-lauded report issued by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is being used to support the groups opposed to the feedlot dairies. The local residents in the U.K. town of Lincolnshire are vehemently opposing plans just submitted for a 3,000 cow intensive dairy farm, only weeks after scuttling the first attempts for an 8,000 cow intensive dairy farm in the same area.
The Pew Commission’s 2008 report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, has been one of our most potent weapons in up-ending a loathsome business where profits depend on the inhumane treatment of animals, and where unsustainable, unsafe health and environmental practices are the norm.
By Andrew Gunther
| June 2, 2010
Coincidence or the tip of an iceberg? Following my blog last week on the unintended consequences of GMOs, you may forgive me for a being little smug as I follow the news that eminent scientists are bailing from a steering group formed to allay fears in Britain about GM food. You see, my blog stepped on a few toes and raised a few hackles among those who think people like me should just shut up and let agri-business decide what’s good for us. But I balk at a whitewashing of the truth and I’m glad to see others do, too. Since the food fight about GMOs is being fought on a global scale, I pay attention to what’s going on in other countries as well as my adopted homeland of the U.S. So I was happy to see that an agri-business effort in the U.K. to promote GM food under the guise of the public good is falling to pieces, thanks to scientists unwilling to be corporate pawns.
Professor Bryan Wynne, vice-chairman of a U.K. steering group set up to gauge public opinion of GM food in Britain, has stepped down from the committee in protest, telling the London Telegraph that the committee was rigged in favor of GM food. Professor Wynne’s resignation comes on the heels of the resignation of Dr. Helen Wallace, another member of the committee, who stepped down a week or so earlier because of the cozy relationship between GM manufacturers and the agency overseeing the group.