Wisconsin Beekeeper: Why our bees are disappearingMay 2013
MOSES Organic Specialist Harriet Behar explains some of the causes behind the decline of the bee population. "Part of it has to do with pesticides in the environment; loss of habitat,” she said. “There's also a bee disease called Nosema; we seem to be getting stronger variations of that disease, and that has been infecting our bumblebees."
Peru says no to GMOMay 2013
Peru is the first country in the Americas to ban genetically modified foods, putting its food policy closer to that of Europe, than the United States. The Christian Science Monitor explains how Peru's law, which went into effect at the end of 2012, is an effort to create biosecurity in this nation with an ancient culture rooted in farming naturally.
Bhutan set to plough lone furrow as world's first wholly organic countryMay 2013
The small Himalayan country of Bhutan has announced plans to become the first country in the world to ban pesiticides and herbicides and grow completely organic. This decision was spurred both by the recognition of the impact of chemicals on the food supply and the environment, and by the fact that this nation of Buddhists believes in living in harmony with nature. The country has no deadline to reach its organic goal; policymakers said they'll be working "region by region and crop by crop."
Why Do GMOs Need Protection?April 2013
NY Times writer Mark Bittman questions passage of the biotech rider that prevents the USDA from pulling a genetically engineered crop once it’s planted, even if it is shown to be harmful. Bittman says genetic engineering has had disappointing results in agriculture. He points to problems with Monsanto’s Roundup-ready corn and its resistant “superweeds,” as well as Bt-toxin resistant insects. He calls the rider a step in the wrong direction. “Many steps could be taken right now to improve yields while diminishing the need for herbicides and pesticides, including sophisticated rotational systems, targeted applications of chemicals and other methods tested and demonstrated in the U.S.D.A./Iowa State University Marsden Farm study.”
Public Participation in Government Decision-Making: An Organic TraditionApril 2013
Lisa J. Bunin, Ph.D., Organic Policy Director at the Center for Food Safety writes about the long tradition of public input in shaping organic standards, adding, "organic is one of the most transparent sectors of our food system, largely because of its strong reliance on public participation." She goes on to describe the process for getting a substance on the National List of approved substances.
Is Organic Better? Ask a Fruit Fly April 2013
The New York Times reports on research done by a middle school student on the value of oganic foods -- research that just earned Ria Chhabra top honors in a national science competition and publication in a scientific journal. "The research, titled 'Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,' tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce." The end result for Ria's family: they only purchase organic."
Fertilized World April 2013
The National Geographic looks at the effects of overfertilizing, especially as it's being done in China. "Runaway nitrogen is suffocating wildlife in lakes and estuaries, contaminating groundwater, and even warming the globe’s climate. As a hungry world looks ahead to billions more mouths needing nitrogen-rich protein, how much clean water and air will survive our demand for fertile fields?" The article offers a "glimpse of a solution" on the farm of Ron and Maria Rosmann of Harlan, Iowa. The Rosmanns have a diversied organic farm with cattle, pigs, poultry and crops.
Organic-Food Champion’s Departure From USDA Sows Seeds of Concern March 2013 Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is leaving the administration May 3, 2013. This story in the National Journal looks at the impact she has made during her tenure. "There is no question that Merrigan is the most prominent Agriculture deputy secretary in memory and that she will be remembered as a singular figure with her own reputation. At her urging, USDA has instituted tough standards to protect the integrity of the organic seal, signed equivalency agreements with Canada and Europe, increased crop insurance and conservation support for organic producers, created a grant program that provides locally produced foods for school meals, used government programs to build hoop houses to extend the growing season for vegetables in cold climates, and even made the foods sold in USDA’s cafeterias healthier."
MIracle grow: Indian farmers smash crop yield records without GMOsMarch 2013
With use of a technique called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI), farmers located in the poorest state in India were able to grow record-breaking amounts of rice and wheat production last summer. The SRI technique involves no use of herbicides or advanced seed hybrids; simply manure for fertilizer and more strategic watering and planting practices. The method has shown great success and is receiving more financial backing from India as it promotes small-scale sustenance farmers who do not have readily access to the multinational organizations whom supply seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals. Recent success aside, skepticism remains from major world leaders and agricultural scientists as they claim there is insufficient science and verified yields. Though SRI will likely not become a large-scale farming practice worldwide, it may be what the small-scale farmers can rely on.
Plight of the American bumblebee: Disappearing?March 2013
In addition to the concerns over honey bee population losses, there is now research that wild bees, particularly the American bumblebee, are also experiencing a decline. Though wild bees are more difficult to track, a team of researchers from the Montana State University were able to use a study done in the 1890’s by naturalist Charles Robertson to compare the populations then to now. After 447 hours of searching in southern Illinois, the Montana researchers found only half of the diversification, 54 of 109 wild bee species. In addition is this, research has been concluded by University of Illinois entomologist Sydney Cameron that shows a 23 percent decrease in the American bumblebee range. Once was the most dominate bumblebee in the Midwest can now largely be found in Texas and the West. Though it is unknown what is exactly leading to these declines, the most likely perpetrator is disease and parasites.
Food Alliance ceases operationsMarch 2013
organization that has been providing sustainable food certification for the past 18 years issued a notice that it is no longer able "to endure financially under its current business model." The organization has closed operations, but will continue as "intellectual property."
Antibiotics: Miracle Drugs Too Precious to Squander February 2013
Food Sleuth Melinda Hemmelgarn explains how large industrial farms with crowded livestock pens have contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more likely to be found on conventionally raised meat and poultry, compared to organic meat and poultry, which by law must be raised without antibiotics. "Take this dietitian’s advice: Buy organic meat, poultry and dairy products. You’ll be protecting your family’s health today and generations that follow. And while you’re out and about, thank your organic farmer, too. They’re the real heroes in our food system. Doctors may treat illness, but organic farmers prevent it."
Cornucopia president receives awardFebruary 2013
Organic farmer and restaurateur Steve Sprinkel and his wife Olivia Chase were named Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture at the 33rd annual ECOFARM conference in January in California. Sprinkel, a long-time policy advisor and director, has served as the president of The Cornucopia Institute Board of Directors since 2010.
With her husband, Olivia Chase owns The Farmer and The Cook, an all-organic restaurant, bakery and grocery store located in Ojai, California.
The couple operate a 12-acre certified organic farm and employ 26 people at The Farmer and The Cook.
Managed Grazing's Effects on Soil Quality and StructureFebruary 2013
A long-term southern Wisconsin cropping systems study shows that soils under managed grazing have a number of positive characteristics compared to soils under other cropping systems. The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) provided data on three cash grain cropping systems and three forage systems. The study found some interesting differences between the systems in terms of erosion potential, earthworm counts, water stable aggregates, soil carbon, and the Soil Quality Index.
Eco Farm Award Recipients
Eco Farm awards long-time MOSES supporters Joyce Ford and Jim Riddle 2013 Sustie Award. Read the press release, view photo.
Farm bill extension not sitting well with many organic farmers
Nebraska Public Radio featured a Harvest Public Media story on how organic farmers are affected by lack of certification cost share, funding for research on organic agriculture and data collection. "There are more than 17,200 certified organic operations in the U.S., up from just 7,300 a decade ago. But with the number of total farms expected to decline 8 percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growing organic sector represents a bright spot for rural America. But for now at least, the cuts will make it harder for organic farms to stay in business."
What if the World's Soil Runs Out?January 2013 Time and the World Economic Forum talked to University of Sydney progessor John Crawford about soil erosion and degradation. His comments are a treatise on the value of organic and sustainable farming practices. Crawford said, "A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished." He goes on to explain how water washes right through degraded soil. "Given the enormous potential for conflict over water in the next 20-30 years, you don’t want to exacerbate things by continuing to damage the soil, which is exactly what’s happening now."
Agriculture must become a national priorityJanuary 2013
The Bismark Tribune quotes Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as being absolutely amazed by the last-minute extension to the 2008 farm bill, which ignored a bipartisan extension she had helped negotiate with the Senate and House leaders. Both Stabenow and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have been quoted recently saying that agriculture needs to become a national priority. The editorial encourages passing of a bill that "controls spending and provides smart support for the nation’s farmers and ranchers."
Future Food Trends January 2013
Greg Lawless, University of Wisconsin-Extension, asked nine Wisconsinites in the food business to share what they see as future food trends. He has posted these interviews on YouTube. The videos are intended to stimulate discussion and promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the food and agriculture industry. Two dominant themes running through the nine video interviews are consumers’ growing interest in healthy food options, and the impact of the millennial generation.
Year in Review: 10 Things You Should Know about Food and Agriculture in 2012January 2013
Worldwatch Institute researched the top issues in food and ag in 2012:
1. Farm Bill Deadlock 2. EnduringDrought
3. Acceleration of Both the Food Sovereignty Movement and Agribusiness Lobbying
4. Failed GM Labeling Bill in California
5. Corn Ethanol Found to Be Environmentally Unfriendly
6. Red Meat Production Increases
7. Stanford Study on Organics Leads to Emotional Debate
8. World Food Prize Recognizes Water-Saving Potential of Drip Irrigation
9. Rio+20 Affirms Commitment to Sustainable Development in Agriculture
10. White House Calls for More Investment in Agricultural Research and Innovation
Nation's Pediatricians Warn Against Pesticides in FoodDecember 2012
Environmental Working Group’s Dec. 4 blog explains the unprecedented step taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics when it issued a policy sounding the alarm about the dangers of pesticides in food especially for children. “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." The academy issued a long list of recommendations, which include advocating “for the least toxic methods of pest control, and to inform communities when pesticides are being used in the area."
What’s at Stake: Data on Organic FarmingDecember 2012
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s latest blog about the impact created by the lack of a farm bill features MOSES Organic Specialist Harriet Behar explaining why we need to fund collection of data about organic operations. “Behar stresses how critical these data are to not only to identify potential opportunities for organic and transitioning farmers, but also to help identify infrastructure needs to support growing organic sectors.”
Fracking Our Food SupplyDecember 2012 The Nation reports that farmers and livestock are getting sick from nearby fracking, the process of drilling thousands of feet into ancient seabeds, then repeatedly fracturing (“fracking”) these wells with millions of gallons of highly pressurized, chemically laced water, which shatters the surrounding shale and releases fossil fuels. The story cites a peer-reviewed report from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine that found neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems in livestock in six states where fracking is common. "In Louisiana, 17 cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid. (Most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.) In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately 70 cows died; the remainder produced 11 calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead."
The National Wildlife Federation has released a new report from a June 2012 meeting that brought together 36 of the leading experts in cover crops in the Midwest and Great Plains. These farmers, scientists, extension specialists, and policy experts met for two days to discuss what they saw as the biggest barriers to expanded cover crop adoption. The “Roadmap” they developed for addressing these barriers is the first step toward achieving the goal of 100 million acres of cover crops by 2025.
US House, White House aim for $32-35 billion in farm bill cutsDecember 2012
Reuters says White House and Republicans in House of Representatives hold surprisingly similar goals about how much money to cut from the farm bill, but the sticking point is food stamps, which the White House doesn't want to cut. "Both sides would eliminate the $5 billion-a-year direct-payment subsidy, also a top target of reformers. And they would reduce funds for conservation," the Dec. 3 article said.
Organic Dairy Farms Benefit Farmers and Local Economies, Report Finds November 2012
A report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that the organic dairy sector provides more economic opportunity and generates more jobs in rural communities than conventional dairies. “Cream of the Crop: The Economic Benefits of Organic Dairy Farms” looked at dairies in Minnesota and Vermont. In Minnesota, 114 organic farms add $78 million to Minnesota’s economy annually and have created 660 jobs since 2008. “Over the past 30 years, dairy farmers have had a choice: either get big or get out,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, agricultural economist for the Food and Environment Program at UCS and author of the report. “However, organic dairy production offers farmers another option – one that is better for the environment, produces a healthier product, and leads to greater levels of economic activity.”
Lame duck or bad luck? The farm bill hangs in the balanceNovember 2012 Grist recaps what has happened with the farm bill, and highlights work done recently by the National Sustainable Ag Coalition (which includes MOSES). Writer Twilight Greenaway concludes, "the longer we go without a farm bill, the closer we come to putting the most promising things going on in the world of sustainable food and farming in jeopardy."
Seven Things to Tell Your Friends About GMOs October 2012
In the Huffington Post, the Lappes share seven points to consider and share with friends: "1) GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety. 2) But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies. 3) And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious reproductive problems and disease. 4)
The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable. 5) GMO markers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists. 6) GMOs undermine our food security. 7) GMOs aren't needed in the first place, so why would we take the risks and harms?"
Choose Organic Food To Reduce Kids' Exposure To Pesticides October 2012
NPR's The Salt article by Nancy Schute summarizes a report released by American Academy of Pediatrics. "For the first time, the nation's pediatricians are wading into the controversy over whether organic food is better for you – and they're coming down on the side of parents who say it is, at least in part."
New York Times: A Simple Fix for FarmingOctober 2012 Mark Bittman says the recent Marsden Farm study by Iowa State University shows, "Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use -- if it wants to." This is the study that showed that a four-year rotation that integrated livestock and manure fertilizer outperformed conventional corn-soybean-chemical rotation and didn't reduce profits. Bittman adds, "In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations."
A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children's health & intelligence October 2012
Pesticide Action Network reviewed dozens of recent scientific studies to analyze the impact of pesticides on kids' health. The analysis reveals:
• Compelling evidence now links pesticide exposures with harms to the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous system. Neurotoxic pesticides are clearly implicated as contributors to the rising rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, widespread declines in IQ and other measures of cognitive function.
• Pesticide exposure contributes to a number of increasingly common health outcomes for children, including cancer, birth defects and early puberty. Evidence of links to certain childhood cancers is particularly strong.
• Emerging science suggests that pesticides may be important contributors to the current epidemic of childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes.
• Extremely low levels of pesticide exposure can cause significant health harms, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood.
Farm bill stuck in election-year mud September 2012
The Journal Sentinel interviewed U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the lack of a new farm bill as the current legislation expires Sept. 30. Vilsack said farmers won't have as much of a government safety net if Congress fails to pass a bill this month. Congress passed a stopgap measure to protect food stamps after the expiration of the current farm bill, but it probably won't vote on a new bill until after the elections. Dairy farmers could feel the effect this fall because of the loss of the price subsidies aimed at boosting the income for small and midsize operations.
French study finds tumors in rats fed GM corn September 2012 Reuters covers results of a just-released French study showing "rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto's genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller Roundup suffered tumours and multiple organ damage." The study is the first long-term look at the effects of GM corn and Roundup. Previous studies by Monsanto to gain approval for its GM seed and pesticide were only conducted for 90 days. The study appears in the Sept. 19, 2012 Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.
New safety concerns raised by GMO corn study September 2012
Dr. David Wallinga reviews the French study (see above) for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "The findings reinforce recent calls by the American Medical Association that GE crops be safety tested for possible health impacts before they enter the marketplace. No such premarket testing is currently required in the United States." Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn varieties comprise approximately 70 percent of the U.S. corn crop. He states that there haven't been long-term studies on the health effects of GM corn partly because scientists must get permission from the chemical company to do the research, a barrier scientists have been pushing to remove. "If physicians or researchers wanted to track whether a patient with breast cancer or liver damage had been consuming a diet high in GM corn, it would be nearly impossible to do so," he adds, explaining why labeling is needed.
5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells Organics Short September 2012
Tom Philpott writes for Mother Jones: "the study in some places makes a strong case for organic—though you'd barely know it from the language the authors use. And in places where it finds organic wanting, key information gets left out." He adds "By their method, if 5 percent of organic vegetables contain at least one pesticide trace and 35 percent of conventional vegetables contain at least one trace, then the 'risk difference' is 30 percent (35 minus 5). But that's a silly way of thinking about it, because there's a much greater difference between those numbers than "30 percent" suggests." Read similar stories.
Pesticide-resistant insects add insult to drought injury August 2012
Tom Laskawy writes for Grist about how poorly Monsanto's Bt corn is faring this season. "Historically, farmers managed corn rootworms through traditional crop rotations. These rootworms eat corn exclusively, so by alternating a corn crop with soy or another alternative, farmers would deprive the insects of food and the rootworm larvae would die off. This...generates profits only for the farmer — not for seed companies."
Organic production, market continuing to growAugust 2012
The Country Today interviewed MOSES Executive Director Faye Jones and MOSES Organic Specialist Harriet Behar at Farm Technology Days about how organic farming works even in a drought year.
An even bigger challenge for organic producersAugust 2012 Brownfield Ag News reporter Bob Meyer interviews MOSES Organic Specialist Harriet Behar on the challenges organic dairy and livestock producers face in trying to find feed during this drought.