Alternative Agriculture News
For December '99, from the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture.
International Organic Certification Groups Sign Agreement
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International Organic Certification Groups Sign Agreement
Fourteen of the world's most recognized and reputable organic certification organizations last month signed a multilateral agreement that will allow certified organic products to "flow easily worldwide," according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, which has accredited all 14 organizations.
By using IFOAM as a third party and agreeing upon mutual certification procedures, each certification organization can accept the work of another organization, knowing that certification of all stages and ingredients has been properly performed.
"With this new multilateral recognition agreement, consumers can rest assured that all the ingredients in a product certified by an IFOAM-accredited body meet the same high standard, no matter where in the world the certification was carried out," said Linda Bullard, IFOAM President. "With the IFOAM seal soon to be seen on products, that assurance will have a visual identification."
The 14 organizations are AIAB (Italy), Argencert (Argentina), Bioagricoop (Italy), Bio- Gro (New Zealand), Bolicert (Bolivia), California Certified Organic Farmers (USA), Farm Verified Organic (USA), Instituto Biodinamico (Brazil), KRAV (Sweden), National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, Naturland-Verband (Germany), Oregon Tilth (USA), Organic Growers and Buyers Association (USA), and Soil Association Certification Ltd. (United Kingdom).
Farm Groups Warn Members About Planting Engineered Crops
More than 30 farm groups held a teleconference last month to warn their members "about the dangers of planting genetically engineered crops, saying the practice had become so unpopular with consumers that farmers were risking their livelihoods if they cultivated them again this year," according to The Washington Post (November 24, 1999).
The groups, which included the National Family Farm Coalition and the American Corn Growers Association, also warned that "inadequate testing of gene-altered seeds could make farmers vulnerable to 'massive liability' from damage caused by genetic drift--the spreading of biologically modified pollens-- and other environmental effects.
"The farmers called on chemical companies engaged in bioengineering to promote the sale of traditional seed varieties for the coming crop year until an independent assessment of the environmental, health and economic impacts of gene-altered seeds is available," the article said.
The groups, which represent tens of thousands of producers, said that their main concern was the marketability of foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Many of the groups represented "have been active in the fight to preserve family farming and curtail the growth of corporate agribusinesses."
According to a story in The Wall Street Journal (November 19, 1999), "As farmers this month place their orders for spring planting, there is growing evidence that a boom is fading. . . . Many farmers remain fans of the seeds and don't share consumers' anxiety over the safety of genetically modified crops. But they can't afford to ignore those concerns."
Sales of genetically modified seeds had jumped to $1 billion by last spring, and "some biotechnology executives foresaw a leap next spring to $2 billion. None do now."
The question now most on farmers' minds, the article said, is: "At harvest time next year, will a strong market exist for genetically modified crops?
"Some local seed dealers expect sales of their bioengineered varieties to drop 20% or more," according to the article. "The retreat is so big that seed executives are worried about a possible shortage of conventional, unmodified seed."
Can Farmers Survive the "New Agriculture"?
The "new agriculture," which includes genetically modified seeds
Net farm income has fallen more than 38 percent since 1997, according to the USDA; farmers are producing more food on fewer acres in less time, putting independents in peril. "A growing number of economists, regulators and lawmakers are worried about the shifting balance of power that favors a handful of agricultural giants over a shrinking number of independent farmers, confused and bedeviled by all the changes," the article continued.
"Farms have grown bigger and bigger, swallowing many small operations, and huge agricultural business conglomerates have emerged. In the last two years, however, mergers in the agricultural industry have resulted in such huge companies that the nation's largest farm groups are warning that the dwindling competition among suppliers will doom the family farm."
Federal officials, though, are taking notice: "The Agriculture and Justice Departments say they are looking into whether the agriculture market is too heavily concentrated, and therefore anti-competitive."
Farmers are also worried about "whether to plant seeds that have been bio-engineered to ward off pests," now that bioengineering faces growing opposition. "Farmers who have been planting genetically modified seeds, meanwhile, have begun wondering whether they are worth the trouble," according to the article.
"Because some modified foods have not been approved for export and may be unwelcome in Europe and even at home, many farmers say they may cut back their acreage."
Trade Group Adopts American Organic Standards
The Organic Trade Association has adopted American Organic Standards as guidelines for the organic industry. The standards are "an alternative set of organic standards that would set a baseboard for organic certification in the U.S." as the industry awaits USDA's next round of proposed national organic standards, according to Organic View, a publication of the Organic Consumers Association.
OTA has had industry guidelines since 1988, and developed the new standards with its Certifiers Council and Quality Assurance Committee, to "build consensus in preparation for the anticipated release of federal organic regulations."
OTA's standards "offer an alternative if the USDA's next proposed rules are not up to current strong standards," Organic View wrote. "The AOS standards could be implemented immediately, an important advantage given the USDA's glacial pace at developing national standards."
The standards are available on the Internet at www.ota.com.
Biotech Companies Launch PR Campaign
Some of the world's biggest biotechnology companies are "mounting a huge lobbying and marketing campaign to counter their critics and combat what they call a rising wave of anti- biotech hysteria," according to The New York Times (November 12, 1999).
"Some biotech executives now say that there is a sense that the tide may be turning against genetically modified foods and that urgent action is needed. And so in recent months, the Monsanto Company, DuPont, Novartis A.G., and other biotech companies have formed a series of industrywide alliances and have set aside tens of millions of dollars to fight what they view as an ugly campaign that has vilified the companies . . . and misrepresented their products."
The companies are financing research and educational forums, and lobbying legislators, regulators, and farmers, according to the article. "If farmers turn against them, the big biotechnology companies could face huge losses," it said.
EPA Reports on Progress of Food Quality Protection Act
EPA has published a report on its progress in implementing the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, detailing EPA actions to eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides on foods commonly eaten by children, and register new, safer pesticides.
Chapter titles in the report include The Basics; Lowering the Risks; Ensuring the Safety of Existing Pesticides; Public Participation and Transparency; Special Protection for Vulnerable Populations; On the Forefront of Sound Science; and Partners and Other Stakeholders.
Copies of "Implementing the Food Quality Protection Act: Progress Report" are available on the Internet at www.epa.gov/oppfead1/fqpa/fqpareport.pdf, or from (703) 305-5017.
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