Posts filed under ‘Food Safety’
Believe it or not, the feds have given the go-ahead to genetically modified salmon that will be grown in tanks in Panama from fish eggs produced on Prince Edwards Island. Expect to find these first GMO salmon — indeed the first GMO food critters of any kind — in supermarkets in about two years or so. The only problem is, you may not be able to tell the GMO fillets from the others, because the Food and Drug Administration is not requiring salmon grower Aqua Bounty to slap a GMO label on their AquAdvantage fish.
That could be because there is no apparent consumer demand for genetically engineered salmon, and there’s plenty of consumer concern that it could be bad for our health, the environment or both.
Consumer and environmental groups, which are already challenging the FDA ruling, argue that the safety studies are inadequate and that the health and quality of wild salmon could be threatened if the GMO fish escape into oceans and streams.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said the FDA ruling “disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world who have voiced strong opposition.”
Aqua Bounty is apparently motivated by the profit potential of being the first to grow salmon bigger and faster through genetic engineering than their non-GMO competitors. But they may not wish to highlight the GMO status on their label.
Consumers who wish to avoid consuming GMO salmon should therefore steer clear of the “AquAdvantage- Aqua Bounty” label. With luck, the best wild salmon producers will be smart enough to slap a “non-GMO” label on their fish, to point out the difference.
To find the best information about wild salmon, or any other sustainable seafood, your most convenient source is Seafood Watch, whose website (seafoodwatch.org) and phone app will help you choose from what’s available at your fish market. Now that I have the app on my phone, I don’t have to guess which seafood is best for me. When I reach the fish counter, I just reach in my pocket, click on the Seafood Watch app, type in “salmon” or any other possibility available, and follow their advice, which is color coded: green (go), yellow (maybe OK) and red (no way).
Believe it or not, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the go-ahead to grow the first genetically modified apples. And they will not be labeled GMO.
Never mind that 175,000 consumers who commented on the proposal were overwhelmingly opposed. And that industry executives are not exactly salivating for Arctic Apples, the GM brand developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a Canadian company.
Developers say their GM apples will not turn brown as quickly as other apples when sliced or bruised. Consumer groups say that’s not exactly compelling. They argue that genetically modified crops are not thoroughly tested for safety, and there could be unintended consequences associated with growing or consuming them.
“This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food.” Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations, she explained.
Environmentalists have been urging Big Food companies to reject the GMO apples. So far McDonald’s and Gerber have said they have no plans to use them.
Arctic Apples eventually will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties. The only way consumers will be aware that they are genetically modified is if they know enough to look for the Arctic brand on the label.
A major concern of apple industry leaders is that Americans who love fresh apples for taste and health reasons may reject the bio-tech fruit, or all apples if they are unsure about their GM status. The news about the new GM apples could also hurt exports to countries that do not like or allow genetically modified foods.
“In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn’t seem to be room for genetically modified apples now,” said John Rice in a story on the New York Times business page. He is co-owner of Rice Fruit Company, in Gardners, Pa., which calls itself the largest apple packer in the East.
The USDA approval says that growing the GMO apples does not pose any harm to other plants or pests. The apples won’t be in grocery stores immediately, however, as the company awaits a voluntary safety review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The U.S. Senate has finally released a new and improved draft of S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, including many new changes to ensure that small farmers and food businesses aren’t plowed under by onerous and unnecessary regulations. But, according to Roland McReynolds, executive director of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, one giant task remains: getting a key amendment added to the bill.
Consumer groups, sustainable farm advocates, and the bill sponsors have worked with Sen. John Tester of Montana, an organic farmer, to develop language that prohibits FDA from imposing:
(1) additional produce regulations on small farms, and
(2) industrial-sized safety plans on small food businesses.
NC Senator Kay Hagan has endorsed the Tester amendment and NC Senator Richard Burr is a co-sponsor of S.510, and has worked to improve it to protect small farms and businesses.
If you care about the future of sustainable agriculture, please contact them today to thank them and tell them that the Tester amendment is essential to protect sustainable farms and food enterprises. Also contact SC Senators Lindsay Graham and Jim DeMint, and ask them to put the Tester/Hagan language in the bill before it goes to the full Senate for a vote.
The links below have contact info for each Senators’ offices, both in DC and in their local offices in the Carolinas, as well as link to the current text of the bill.
Sen. Richard Burr, NC, http://burr.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home
Sen. Kay Hagan, NC, http://hagan.senate.gov/?p=contact (phone and fax numbers are in small print over on the left)
Sen. Jim DeMint, SC, http://demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Offices
Sen. Lindsay Graham, SC, http://lgraham.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.OfficeLocations
Many thanks to Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and all the grassroots activists who have worked on this, for looking out for sustainable farming and food enterprises. www.carolinafarmstewards.org
Congress could act soon on S510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. If it passes without reforms to address the needs of small-scale farming and food processing, it could kill sustainable agriculture. Now is the time to call your Senators and ask them to add important changes to the bill.
Here’s what Roland McReynolds of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association suggests you tell your Senators to do:
- Require FDA to write new, flexible rules for small businesses. Small food producers are already subject to state and federal rules. S 510’s on-farm and HARPC rules should not be applied to these small businesses. Support the Sanders and Tester amendments.
- Establish USDA training programs for small farms and food entrepreneurs. The Senate should include S 2758, the Growing Safe Food Act, in S 510, and fund programs to get critical food safety information into the hands of small food producers. This is the best way to ensure the safety of local food.
- Eliminate pointless traceability rules for farmer-marketed products. Farm-identity preserved products should be exempt from bar-coding or other schemes meant for tracking products through the “Food Inc.” supply chain.
- Focus on real animal risks, not wildlife and farm dogs. FDA should use proven science to identify animal sources of pathogens and appropriate controls, instead of the current approach of treating all animals on farms as a food safety threat.
Here are the numbers to call:
Sen. Richard Burr, NC, (202) 224-3154
Sen. Kay Hagan, NC (202)-224-6342
By Roland McReynolds
Congress is debating legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wide-ranging new authority over farming practices and food production. In its current form, the bill’s requirements would be impossible for many small-scale farmers and food processors to fulfill.
In other words, small farms committed to producing healthy food are the ones that could be driven out of business by initiatives designed to ensure food “safety.”
The House has already passed a bill, HR 2749, and in April the Senate will take up its version, S 510, which is co-sponsored by NC Sen. Richard Burr. With or without a new law, FDA is moving forward with rules on produce safety on the farm, and already has authority to require food producers to register with the federal government. Unfortunately, the FDA’s initiatives treat small farms, organic agriculture and local food businesses as if they are giant corporate food processing companies, an approach that will crush the community food movement that so many of us hold dear.
As documented in films like. Food Inc., large corporations dominate our food supply, and there is little doubt that industrial supply chains need to be cleaned up. Pathogen contamination in food has been making regular headlines for four years now, beginning with the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in California spinach, and right up to today.
These incidents have made a substantial impact on agribusiness. Sales of California spinach have yet to recover to their 2005 levels. Seeking to win back trust, large food processors and retailers have allied with consumer groups and FDA to promote a framework for pathogen control that relies heavily on paperwork, inspections, and limited knowledge about where pathogens come from in the first place. That approach is embodied in S 510.
Sustainable ag advocates have been working behind the scenes to win protections for local food systems in S510, and there have been improvements. For instance, the latest version of the bill (scroll down to p. 140), requires FDA to make sure that on-farm food safety rules are consistent with organic farming practices and soil and water conservation programs.
Fundamentally, though, the bill still puts local, sustainable food systems in a straight jacket: While some existing farmers and businesses could survive the S510 regime, it would effectively prevent them from expanding, and it would block new farmers and entrepreneurs from getting in the business to begin with.
The way to bring true food security and economic vitality to all of us who eat is to allow the sustainable farming movement to grow beyond farmers markets and direct sales. This bill doesn’t give them a chance.
Federal and state programs have been working for a decade to spur small farms to get into value-added agricultural enterprises, for the good of those farms and for regional economic development. The result has been growth of small farms and small businesses that now count as “food facilities” under existing law, and so would be subject to S510’s one-size-fits-all regulations. These are businesses that are growing to meet wholesale demand and so moving outside the narrow direct marketing exemptions that FDA and consumer groups site when they claim that the bill won’t hurt local foods.
That’s why small farmers and the customers who support them want to see this bill improved.
We need your help.
Please see Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s action alert on S510 and the key changes that need to be made to protect small farms and businesses. Check in with us to stay tuned on what you can do, or join our e-News list (scroll down to lower left), and help make food safety safe for healthy food.
— Roland McReynolds is Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and serves on the North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council. There is a new CFSA-powered iPhone app that helps foodies find sustainable farms in the Carolinas, check it out here.
“More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America. It concluded that antibiotics in livestock feed were ‘a major component’ in the rise of antibiotic resistance.”
— Nicholas Kristof, The Spread of Superbugs, NY Times, March 7, 2010.
Antibiotic resistance threatens our health and is escalating healthcare costs. Learn more here.
Kudos to the Raleigh News and Observer for noting that it’s time for Congress to regulate against the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. Here’s an excerpt from their Sunday editorial entitled Drug Fiends:
“[Medical scientists] say that heavy reliance on antibiotics, especially in the mass production of farm animals, could result in those drugs losing their potency to combat infections among people.
“The Associated Press quoted Duke University’s Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist, on the threat from antibiotics overuse: ‘This is a living, breeathing problem; it’s the big bad wolf, and it’s knocking at our door.’ Precautions it seems, are much in order….
“Yet widespread use of the medicines has given rise to drug-resistant bacteria strains as the organisms adapt to their environment. Agricultural use accounts for 70 percent of the country’s antibiotic consumption, and drug-resistant germs that have evolved in response to the prevalence of antibiotics in all settings were blamed in 2008 for 65,000 deaths….
“Perhaps as the toll rises from infections that no medicine can halt, some of our food consumption habits might change for the better.
“But a surer path toward addressing this problem would be through regulation. Antiobiotics should be available to treat animals that are sick, but the kind of dosing that’s routine on many farms could be limited or barred. Congress needs to pay close attention to this issue, lest the country slip into what the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, warns could become a ‘post-antibiotic era.'”
Read the whole editorial here.