Alternative Agriculture News
For October '99, from the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture.
Consumers Union Calls for Labeling of Modified Foods
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Consumers Union Calls for Labeling of Modified Foods
Consumers Union, in Consumer Reports magazine (September, 1999), has recommended that "all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such, including milk with recombinant bovine growth hormone," and that the USDA "set a single, national standard for certified-organic food that excludes genetically engineered food from the definition."
The Consumer Reports article examined genetically modified foods, tested "everyday groceries," and revealed that "genetically engineered foods are already on supermarket shelves." Although "U.S. consumers are largely unaware of the issue," its effects on them include the U.S.'s "collision course" with the European Union over genetically modified foods, and "environmental questions over genetically engineered crops [that] have taken on a new urgency....What happens if a hybrid 'superweed' emerges that withstands herbicides?"
Genetically engineered foods "should be subject to a mandatory federal human-safety review before they hit the market," according to the story. It also calls for "thorough, mandatory safety reviews of genetically engineered plants and animals before they are released into the environment," and recommends that EPA require "more rigorous resistance-management plans."
Innovations like 'terminator' technology, which produces sterile seeds, should not be used until society has found a way to carefully consider their profound environmental and societal implications." For now, the magazine says, consumers who want to avoid genetically modified foods "have little choice but to buy organic."
USDA Dedicates New Henry A. Wallace Room
With an agency ceremony and keynote lecture by former Senator George McGovern, the USDA on September 29 dedicated the Henry A. Wallace Room in the USDA's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
At the dedication, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman said in praise of Wallace, the 11th Secretary of Agriculture, "Nearly every challenge we face is one that he envisioned. Practically everything we do and care about at USDA is an outgrowth of something first begun or first imagined by Henry Wallace. Long before sustainability was a buzzword, he understood that agricultural productivity had to be balanced by a responsibility to the land."
Even as Wallace championed science and technology, Glickman said, "he also understood their pitfalls. He understood that increased efficiency could render farmers increasingly obsolete. He understood the dangers of agricultural consolidation, the trend toward fewer and larger farm operations."
In his keynote speech, Senator McGovern called Wallace "a remarkable thinker and 'doer,' a Renaissance man whose broad talents and significant accomplishments covered the realms of art, science, economics, politics, and the human spirit." When he became Secretary of Agriculture, Wallace "put his keen mind to work on crafting the most innovative package of government farm programs ever....His ingenious approach worked. It is a prime reason that Henry A. Wallace is acknowledged as among the most important agricultural leaders of this century."
If Wallace were here today, the Senator suggested he might want to relay these messages: "Do not blame science....Seek policy solutions that target the plight of farmers under stress....Be flexible; seek adaptations; embrace change....Integrate natural resource conservation with agricultural adjustment....Pursue technological advance for the public good."
Glickman ended the ceremony by saying, "Here's to hoping that his genius is with us every time we set foot in that room....and in everything we do at the Department of Agriculture."
Agriculture Could "Make or Break" Trade Talks -- Glickman
Agriculture could "make or break" the upcoming world trade negotiations which begin in Seattle on November 30, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman told the President's Export Council last month, according to Reuters.
Protectionist feelings "are so high" in the agricultural sector that they could "thwart progress in other areas," Glickman said of the World Trade Organization talks, which cover trade in several service areas and are expected to last three years.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the group that the United States' main agenda will be to increase foreign market access for U.S. goods and services. According to Reuters, "In the agriculture sector, that means pushing for the elimination of export subsidies, reductions in trade-distorting domestic subsidies and strengthening rules for 'state-trading enterprises'....The United States also wants to reduce tariffs and regulatory barriers that impede U.S. farm exports and ensure that science-based rules govern trade in genetically modified crops and other products of biotechnology, Barshefsky said....U.S. trade negotiators will face strong opposition from the European Union on issues such a sgenetically modified crops, which have sparked European consumer concerns."
OMRI Develops List of Allowed Organic Products, Seal for Farmers
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) has developed a catalog of allowed and regulated products in organic agriculture, and a new seal for organic farmers and processors that identifies the OMRI-approved products that they use in their organic operations.
Manufacturers of organic inputs may also use the seal to identify products that have gone through the OMRI review process.
OMRI provides professional and independent review of materials and compatible processes allowed to produce, process, and handle organic food and fiber. After a comprehensive review by OMRI technical staff, a review panel of experts from the organic industry votes on a product's status.
The "OMRI Brand Name Products List" lists the allowed and regulated products; the "OMRI Generic Materials List" offers recommendations regarding the acceptability of generic materials used inorganic production, processing, and handling. For more information, contact OMRI, P.O. Box 11558 Eugene, OR 97440-3758; (541) 343-7600; firstname.lastname@example.org.
ADM Recommends Separating Traditional, Modified Crops
Archer Daniels Midland last month sparked controversy by recommending that its grain suppliers "begin segregating genetically modified crops from conventional crops," according to The Wall Street Journal (September 2,1999).
The move, which "could dent farmer interest in biotechnology," is "the clearest sign yet that the consumer backlash over genetically modified crops in Europe and Asia is rattling American exporters....But farmer groups reacted angrily yesterday because they fear the move could lead to an industry-wide two-tier pricing system that would penalize their members for growing the new crops."
According to Newsweek (September 13, 1999), "It didn't matter that GM [genetically modified] crops are widely grown by U.S. farmers, and that there's no evidence that the taco chips and soda you're enjoying right now are anything worse than fattening. ADM had noticed something new sprouting under the bright, warm sun of economic interdependence: a strange hybrid of cultural and economic fears. So it decided to act before the problem got any bigger."
The announcement, made because of heightened demand for conventional varieties both domestically and abroad, "left many farmers feeling angry and betrayed," according to The Washington Post (September12, 1999). Though consumer protests against genetically modified crops have been most prevalent in Europe, the announcement from Archer Daniels Midland "really brought the debate home to the American farmer."
Plant Extinctions Threaten Future Food Supplies, Says New Report
Widespread plant extinctions are "eroding the foundations of agricultural productivity and threatening other plant-based products used by billions of people worldwide," according to a new Worldwatch report, "Nature's Cornucopia: Our Stake in Plant Diversity."
Loss of habitat, pressure from non-native species, and over harvesting have put one out of every eight plant species at risk of extinction, the report says. "With changes in agriculture," the genetic diversity of cultivated plants, which is essential to breeding more productive and disease-resistant crop varieties, "is slipping away."
According to the Associated Press, more than 30,000 plant species are threatened worldwide; more plant species are threatened in the United States than any other country -- 4,669, or 29 percent of all varieties.
Less than 20 percent of vegetable seed varieties listed in a1904 U.S. national inventory are available commercially today," the AP story said. More information about the report is available on the Internet at www.worldwatch.org.
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