Monday, July 18, 2011 5:28 PM
More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields.
Consumers are powerful. For more than a decade, a cultural shift has seen shoppers renounce the faster-fatter-bigger-cheaper mindset of factory farms, exposéd in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. From heirloom tomatoes to heritage chickens, we want our food slow, sustainable, and local—healthy for the earth, healthy for animals, and healthy for our bodies.
But with patented seeds infiltrating the environment so fully, organic itself is at risk. Monsanto’s widely used Genuity® Roundup Ready® canola seed has already turned heirloom canola oil into an extinct species. The suing farmers are seeking to prevent similar contamination of organic corn, soybeans, and a host of other crops. What’s more, they’re seeking to prevent Monsanto from accusing them of unlawfully using the very seeds they’re trying to avoid.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement,” says Public Patent Foundation director Dan Ravicher in a Cornucopia Institutearticle about the farmers’ lawsuit (May 30, 2011), “but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”
Even as the megacorporation enjoys soaring stock, the U.S. justice department continues to look into allegations of its fraudulent antitrust practices (The Street, June 29, 2011):
Monsanto, which has acquired more than 20 of the nation’s biggest seed producers and sellers over the last decade, has long pursued a strict policy with its customers, obligating them to buy its bioengineered seeds every year rather than use them in multiple planting seasons. Farmers who disobey are blacklisted forever.
It’s a wide net Monsanto has cast over the agricultural landscape. As Ravicher points out, “it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.” Imagine a world devoid of naturally vigorous traditional crops and controlled by a single business with a appetite for intellectual property. Did anyone else feel a cold wind pass through them? Now imagine a world where thousands of family farmers fight the good fight to continue giving consumers a choice in their food—and win.
Source: Cornucopia Institute, The Street
Image by NatalieMaynor,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010 12:40 PM
Trader Joe’s is widely viewed as a “green” company, attracting droves of eco-minded consumers who view its cozy, Hawaiian-themed stores as a cheaper alternative to Whole Foods or the neighborhood co-op. But as Sustainable Industries points out, it’s difficult to know how sustainable its operations really are—the company is “notoriously tight-lipped” about where its store-brand products come from.
A report on organic dairies from the Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-agriculture watchdog group, warns consumers to be vigilant about the explosive growth in these sorts of “organic” store brands. Private-label organics like those in Trader Joe’s “seem to contradict what many thought the organic movement was all about: consumers understanding where their food comes from and how it is produced,” the report states. The Trader Joe’s brand of milk, for example, claims to be organic—but it won’t disclose which dairies it buys from. Ditto for the soybeans it uses in its brands of soy milk, tofu, and other products. And a recent report found that its store brand of veggie burgers are made using hexane-extracted soy protein.
“It’s a delicate balance for Trader Joes’s,” notes Sustainable Industries, “because while its customers want low prices for ‘natural’ grub, typically part of the value customers get out of Trader Joe’s is not just that its prices are low, but that they’re low for products that are perceived to be of high value.”
On a few occasions, customers have demanded certain standards: Widespread requests for cage-free eggs and GMO-free foods have been met throughout the company’s stores—according to Trader Joe’s, at least. “Neither claim is backed by a third-party auditing mechanism,” according to Sustainable Industries.
The company did recently agree to revamp its seafood policies, after a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace to get red-list fish out of its stores (“Traitor Joe’s”). Trader Joe’s has already removed the highly endangered orange roughy and red snapper from its shelves, and promises to “phase out” other frowned-upon fish by the end of 2012.
That’s a solid sustainable step—but if Trader Joe’s is going to live up to its reputation, it’s got a lot of fancy frozen meals and bags of trail mix to account for. For now, “customers are accepting that ignorance is bliss,” writes Sustainable Industries. “After all, it’s what keeps the prices low and the Two-Buck Chuck flowing.”
Source: Sustainable Industries
Thursday, April 15, 2010 5:27 PM
Many veggie burgers are made using hexane, a pollutant and neurotoxin also found in gasoline, Mother Jones reports, citing a recent study by the Cornucopia Institute. Writes Kiera Butler:
In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate the oil from the protein. Says Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys, “If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane.”
These veggie burgers are made with hexane:
Boca Burger (conventional)
It’s All Good Lightlife
Yves Veggie Cuisin
While these veggie burgers are hexane-free:
Boca Burgers “made with organic soy”
Morningstar “made with organic”
Superburgers by Turtle Island
The Mother Jones blog post kicked up a lot of comments and questions and led Butler to do a follow-up interview with Vallaeys. The researcher points out that the hexane process is used to make many cooking oils, margarines, and other products. A key question of course, is whether residues from the hexane remain in the food—and Vallaeys concedes that more testing is needed in this realm.
But personally, I don’t need any more testing to convince me that using a gasoline ingredient to soak the fat out of vegetables is a bad idea, and to cut foods that use this process from my diet.
See the full report (pdf) on the Cornucopia website.
While the rest of us are freaking out about our veggie burgers, we might do well to get outraged on behalf of babies, too. Writes Butler:
More worrisome still: According to the report, “Nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted.”
Sources: Mother Jones, Cornucopia Institute
Thursday, April 15, 2010 1:47 PM
According to the USDA’s new organic standards (released in February), organic dairy cows must get at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake from pasture. No exceptions. Producers of organic beef cattle, however, can put their animals in feedlots for the last four months of their lives. You know, standing on concrete, eating grain, packing on the pounds. I have a word for this, and it is lame.
Luckily, the Cornucopia Institute is on the case and in their signature thorough style, the nonprofit has done far more than just point out the fuzzy logic in the USDA’s organic regulations: It surveyed organic beef cattle producers across the United States. The organization found that 80 percent of organic beef producers never confine their animals to feedlots. (Most never give their cattle any grain at all; only a quarter supplement with small amounts.) The remaining 20 percent of farmers and ranchers that are finishing animals in feedlots, however, “likely produce a majority of the nation’s organic meet supply.”
Here’s the good news: The USDA is accepting comments on the pasture exemption for beef cattle until April 19th. The Cornucopia Institute provides instructions toward the bottom of the page I linked to above. It is proposing a three-tiered labeling system:
1. “Organic – Grain Finished” – For meat from animals that needed the exemption from pasture during the last 120 days (might include finishing in feedlots).
2. “Organic – Pasture/Grain Finished” – For meat from animals that were maintained on pasture until slaughter, obtained at least 30% of their feed intake from pasture during the grazing season but received small amounts of grain supplementation at some point.
3. “Organic – 100% Grass Fed” – For meat from animals that were 100% grass-fed, never receiving any grain in their diet.
Food for thought, as they say.
Source: Cornucopia Institute
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 3:31 PM
Mark Kastel and the Cornucopia Institute are at it again, standing up for the organic food label and going after corporations who play loose with it. The organization co-founded by Kastel, who was recently named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” just fired a volley at Target, accusing the megaretailer of deceiving customers about soymilk.
In a press release, Cornucopia says Target advertised Silk soymilk as organic in newspaper ads by showing the carton with “organic” on its label, even though the soymilk was not organic. Cornucopia has filed formal complaints with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s organic program and with Minnesota and Wisconsin officials.
Cornucopia has previously criticized Dean Foods, the maker of Silk, for quietly switching to conventional soybeans in the core products of its White Wave soy division.
Was the image of the organic carton an honest mistake by a graphic designer, or an attempt to capitalize on the cachet of the organic label by implying that Silk is organic? Target isn’t saying much at this point. Spokeswoman Jana O’Leary tells Utne Reader that Target is investigating the matter and that the retailer sells both organic and nonorganic Silk at its SuperTarget stores.
Cornucopia has called foul on Target before, most notably in 2007 when it accused Target’s private-label food line, Archer Farms, of using milk that was produced in violation of federal organic livestock standards by the Colorado-based Aurora Dairy. Despite that the USDA found Aurora had willfully violated 14 federal organic regulations, the dairy was allowed to stay in business and Target stuck with Aurora as its Archer Farms milk supplier.
Source: Cornucopia Institute, City Pages
Image by GenGlo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 09, 2009 5:42 PM
The U.S. dairy system has shifted westward, and often it doesn’t look pretty: Instead of bucolic heartland pastures dotted with grazing cows, picture huge pens or sprawling open-air sheds where the animals are fed a high-protein, shipped-in diet and milked through metal crossbars. Conditions for workers in these big dairies are often little better than they are for the cows, as Rebecca Clarren makes chillingly clear in “The Dark Side of Dairies” in the August 31, 2009, High Country News.
Eighteen Western dairy workers died from 2003 to 2009, Clarren writes, “killed in tractor accidents, suffocated by falling hay bales, crushed by charging cows and bulls and asphyxiated by gases from manure lagoons and corn silage. Others survived but lost limbs or received concussions and spent days in the hospital.”
The majority of the West’s 50,000 dairy workers are immigrants, many of them living illegally in the United States. Dairy labor laws are lax to start with, and the workers’ tenuous status makes them especially vulnerable to egregious labor abuses, which Clarren vividly documents.
The story is enough to make you want to go organic and local, buying dairy products that come from a family-scale farm instead of a distant megadairy. If you do, check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Report and Scorecard to find one that treats its cows, its workers, and its land with respect.
Sources: High Country News, The Cornucopia Institute
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