April 20, 2014

Big Agriculture Takes Control of Congress – Gets Immunity from GMO Lawsuits

Washington Capitol Night Big Agriculture Takes Control of Congress   Gets Immunity from GMO Lawsuits

Health Impact News Editor Comments:

Since the Alliance for Natural Health published this report below, more information has been uncovered about the GMO protection rider that Food Democracy Now had labeled “The Monsanto Protection Act.” The law containing the rider was signed by President Obama late last night (March 26th). David Rogers of Politico has done some good investigative reporting to find out who introduced this rider, and it was Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri, the state where the headquarters for Monsanto is located. The other rider in this bill that removed certain basic safeguards for poultry farmers is linked to the new chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Ag budget, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, home of the headquarters of Tyson foods, the largest poultry producer in the U.S. The former head of the same committee who used to resist these types of riders was Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, the state with the second largest production of organic foods, many consisting of small family farmers. Senator Kohl retired from the Senate after the last session.

Here are some excerpts from the Politico article:

Big Agriculture flexes its muscle

Congress holds the purse strings, but who holds Congress these days when it comes to farm policy: the meatpackers and Monsanto? So it seemed last week as lawmakers sent the White House an updated budget for the Agriculture Department complete with industry-backed orders on how Secretary Tom Vilsack should run the place.

Even the typically conservative American Farm Bureau opposed this last action. And proponents would argue that the doomed poultry rules were never more than minimal protections for growers, such as requiring 90-day notice before a contract is canceled by a packer. “It’s almost as if the poultry companies are sending the signal through Congress: ”’you can’t touch us,’” said Steve Etka, who represents a coalition of growers. “It doesn’t get much lower than that,” said Mike Weaver, a 61-year-old West Virginia chicken farmer. “They should all be ashamed. Anyone who could do that doesn’t have much integrity or soul.”

The orders to Vilsack on genetically modified seeds are more subtle but potentially far reaching. In no uncertain terms, the amendment tells the secretary how he must respond the next time a court order challenges one of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds for which the St. Louis-based giant is a pioneer in commercializing. The language is unusually strong: the secretary “shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law… immediately grant” temporary permits to continue using the seed at the request of a farmer or producer wanting such a stewardship program.

The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based nonprofit which has been waging its own guerrilla war with the biotech industry, denounced the Monsanto measure as “corporate welfare” and a backroom deal. “Monsanto flexed its muscle and won,” said attorney Bill Snapes, who serves as counsel to the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Vilsack’s own reaction suggests he has doubts about the amendment’s legal standing. “Secretary Vilsack has asked the Office of General Council to review this provision,” the department told POLITICO, “As it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action which may make the provision unenforceable.”

All this happened with little or no floor debate and in a period of turmoil for the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who had resisted such House-riders in the past as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Ag budget, retired from the Senate at the end of last year.

On balance, these changes tipped the balance even more toward the National Chicken Council, representing the big poultry processors. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who took over the Ag spot from Kohl, hails from the home state of Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale. Perdue Farms, a second big council member, has deep roots on Maryland’s Eastern Shore represents by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who succeeded Inouye as chairman.

But the biggest player may have been Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a battle-scarred veteran of the House GOP leadership who is now rebuilding his power base in the Senate. Coming from Missouri, Blunt is a strong ally for both the poultry companies and Monsanto, and as the ranking Republican on the Ag appropriations subcommittee, he was a consistent and determined presence.

Watching the bill with dismay was Sen. Jon Tester, a 56-year-old Montana Democrat and one of the few farmers in Congress. In his lifetime, Tester has witnessed firsthand the immense consolidation of power at the top of the meat industry and was one of those in Congress who urged the Ag Department to be more aggressive with its regulatory power under the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act. At the same time, as an organic farmer himself, Tester is leery of the power enjoyed by Monsanto and the introduction of new GMO (genetically modified organism) products tailored to work better with herbicides. Tester’s background and Western roots encapsulate many of the tensions today in agriculture itself.

Tester waited too long to be a major force, and critics would argue that as a member of the Appropriations panel, he should have seen the train coming at him sooner. But he did file amendments — which were never allowed votes — to strip out both the riders. In private, he made his displeasure known to top Appropriations Committee staff, and he delivered a strongly worded floor speech likening the provisions to essentially earmarks for industry.

Read the Full Story Here: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/big-agriculture-tom-vilsack-monsanto-89268.htm

The Latest on the GMO Rider

by Alliance for Natural Health

Where do we go from here?

The Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government passed both the Senate and the House last week—and despite all our mutual efforts, it still contained the dangerous GMO rider we’ve been telling you about. The Senate, and in particular, the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, let us down, despite earlier signals they would stand up to Monsanto on this one. Senate Democrats were unwilling to remove the biotech rider, despite the efforts of hundreds of organizations and businesses and tens of thousands of phone calls and Action Alert messages sent.

As you’ll recall, the newly passed rider will strip federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of illegal, potentially hazardous genetically engineered crops while USDA is performing an environmental impact statement. It will not only affect future judicial orders—it will also invalidate several recent orders that found the approval of GMO crops were unlawful, and will allow the planting of those GMO crops even while the USDA assesses environmental hazards.

Since the USDA is totally behind GMO crops, removing court restraints really means that there are no controls on GMO planting at all. No safety reviews (USDA can’t even do them, only FDA, which refuses), and not even any real environmental assessments. This is one of the most blatant examples of money talking in politics that we have seen, and we have seen plenty of them in recent years.

There is also a real question whether the rider is constitutional—how can Congress contravene judicial actions? That would seem to contradict the separation of powers doctrine. We will be reviewing this and other questions with legal counsel.

Unfortunately, the Democrats were the ones who pushed this rider and allowed it to go through unhindered. What did they receive in return? This is the big unanswered question, as no one is willing to “take credit” for the rider (Editor’s note: see update above). We spoke to the office of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and asked our lobbyists to see what they could find out, but we still did not get any answers. Barbara Mikulski, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman, is not a big recipient of biotech funds, and she’s usually our ally on this issue—so it is even stranger that the rider’s language would arise out of her committee. Procedurally, it is irregular for a rider to become law that was not passed through the committee of jurisdiction first—in this case, the Judiciary or Agriculture Committee. In fact, Congress held no hearings on the biotech rider, and many Democrats on the committee were initially unaware of its presence in the CR in the first place.

We do know that Monsanto and other biotech companies give a great deal of money to politicians. Opensecrets.org has not collated the information for 2013 as yet, but their figures reveal that contributions to both parties have increased dramatically in recent years. From 2011 to 2012, the agribusiness industry contributed $89,675,179 to political campaigns—65.9% to Republicans, 22.3% to Democrats—with Monsanto topping the list of contributors. The biggest recipients? In the Senate, it was Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with $739,926 in agribusiness donations, and in the House, Frank Lucas (R-OK) with $720,590. However, neither of these individuals serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the rider language was inserted.

Technically, this CR will be in effect only for six months—its purpose is to fund the government just through September 30—and the GMO provision will expire when the CR expires. In practice, however, this will happen only when Congress enacts a 2014 Appropriations Bill, and it’s not likely they’ll have one written, debated, and enacted by September 30, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. If they don’t have a new bill by then, they will simply change the date on the CR and extend it once again—and everything will remain as it is, including the GMO rider.

In other words, it’s extremely unlikely that the GMO rider will simply go away. Our only chance to end this provision is to make sure it doesn’t get included in the 2014 Appropriations Bill. This will require a huge and sustained grassroots effort—and a strong message to Congress to stop trying to sneak biotech riders by us. We as concerned citizens shouldn’t stand for it! ANH-USA will continue to work on lobbying, strategizing with various grassroots partners, and doing outreach. And we will, as always, keep you posted every step along the way.

Read the Full Article Here: http://www.anh-usa.org/the-latest-on-the-gmo-rider/

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Russian Family Gardens Produce 40% of Russian Food

Russian Family Gardens Produce 40% of Russian Food

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia will not import GMO products because Russia has enough space and resources to produce organic food.

This was not a political statement of posturing, given the current cool relations between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine. As it turns out, Russia’s food security is light years ahead of the U.S.

As you will read below, a significant portion of the Russian population own “dachas,” or seasonal garden homes, where they can grow their own food. At the height of the communist era, it is reported that these dachas produced 90% of the nation’s food. Today, with the land now privatized, they still comprise about 40% of the nation’s food.

Compare that with the United States, where less than 1% of the population controls the food, and small-scale family farms have for the most part been bought out by huge Biotech corporations.

Russia Bans Import of GMO Products – Promotes Organic Food

Russia Bans Import of GMO Products – Promotes Organic Food

Russia will not import GMO products, the country’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, adding that the nation has enough space and resources to produce organic food.

Moscow has no reason to encourage the production of genetically modified products or import them into the country, Medvedev told a congress of deputies from rural settlements on Saturday.

“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,” he said.

Study: Roundup Herbicide 125 Times More Toxic Than Regulators Say

Study: Roundup Herbicide 125 Times More Toxic Than Regulators Say

A highly concerning new study published in the journal Biomedical Research International reveals that despite the still relatively benign reputation of agrochemicals such as Roundup herbicide, many chemical formulations upon which the modern agricultural system depend are far more toxic than present regulatory tests performed on them reveal. Roundup herbicide, for instance, was found to be 125 times more toxic than its active ingredient glyphosate studied in isolation.

Food Security: Why Congress Should Care About the Beepocalypse

Food Security: Why Congress Should Care About the Beepocalypse

This year, food security is set to suffer another big setback, and the culprit could not be cuter: honeybees. Last winter, America’s beekeeping industry lost nearly half of all its bee colonies. And the numbers keep falling. Last summer, in the largest bee kill on record, more than 50,000 bumblebees were killed in Oregon as a direct result of exposure to an insecticide applied to trees for cosmetic purposes.

The killing has gotten so bad that people are calling it a beepocalypse. This is a serious situation. One-third of the food produced in North America depends on pollination by our honeybees. Nearly 100 varieties of fruits depend on honeybee pollination, from almonds (which are California’s third-largest export) to avocados to apples to cranberries.

America, then, must act fast if we want to save our bees, our food and our economic productivity.

U.S. GMO Policy Hurting Exports, Costing Jobs, As China Rejects US GMO Corn

U.S. GMO Policy Hurting Exports, Costing Jobs, As China Rejects US GMO Corn

Health concerns aside, U.S. GMO policy is damaging the U.S. economy and costing jobs. China just announced they were rejecting U.S. GMO corn in favor of Brazilian corn, draining hundreds of millions of dollars out of the U.S. economy.

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