SMALL FARMERS, HOMESTEADERS, PET OWNERS, ETC. ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO WILL BE BADLY AFFECTED BY THE NAIS - THOSE INVOLVED IN RAISING ORGANIC AND GRASSFED ANIMALS AND PLANTS WILL ALSO BE IN DANGER OF GOING UNDER AND THEY KNOW IT.
AGRIBUSINESS Organic Erosion
Will the term organic still mean anything when it's adopted whole hog by behemoths such as Wal-Mart?
by Jake Whitney
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Marin Sun Farms, in Point Reyes, is a collection of ranches on more than 2,000 acres of rolling, certified organic pasture. All year long, cattle and chickens speckle the hills, free to roam and graze at their leisure.
The Hereford and Angus cows, in fact, are never confined. They are grass-fed, except during winter, when they also eat hay and silage. The chickens' typical diet of plants and insects is supplemented with organic grains, which they eat at night, in the winter and in otherwise foul weather when kept in their portable coops. When you imagine an organic cattle ranch, Marin Sun Farms is probably pretty close to what you picture -- though maybe not exactly.
No synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides are used on the pasture, and the animals are hormone- and antibiotic-free. But even though most of the land is certified organic, the cows and chickens raised there are not.
One reason is because the owner, David Evans, obtains cows from partner ranchers who use synthetic "wormers" to control parasites -- a violation of organic standards. But Evans has been slowly accumulating a base herd with an eye toward becoming entirely organic.
Lately, however, Evans has begun to wonder if the USDA "Certified Organic" stamp will be worth the annual fee, which could run more than $1,000. His pastures -- the largest certified organic acreage in Marin County -- may seem large, but they are dwarfed by their corporate counterparts.
As Evans knows, organic food has become big business. According to the Organic Consumer's Association, sales could hit $18 billion this year, with half coming from conventional supermarkets. Though still only about 2.5 percent of the agricultural market, demand for organic has grown 20 percent annually in recent years, and most of the top-selling brands are now owned by agribusiness behemoths.
Dean Foods, for example, owns White Wave (maker of Silk soymilk) and Horizon Organic, the No. 1-selling organic brand across the country. Unilever owns Ben & Jerry's Organic. Groupe Danone, a French corporation, recently bought Stonyfield Farm. Even Wal-Mart is plunging deeper into the market, announcing it would dramatically increase its organic offerings.
And if you think Evans' 2,000-plus organic acres is a lot, take a look at Earthbound Farm, which grew from a 2 1/2 acre raspberry and lettuce farm to the largest organic produce operation in North America, with $350 million in annual sales and more than 150 growers on 30,000 organic acres under its control.
Evans worries that the influx of these big companies -- with their industrial production methods, profit obsession and political muscle -- will dilute organic standards and, potentially, render the USDA stamp irrelevant. "If big business kills the name," Evans said, "why go organic?"
He's not alone. Many critics foresee an erosion not only of organic standards but also of the movement's true ideals -- which include localism and sustainability as much as eschewing chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Indeed, a battle is raging in organic food production, and it has already split the industry: between those willing to sacrifice ideals for
growth and those who think organic should remain small, local and transparent.
The 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill hacked the split between these groups into a chasm. A rider on the bill legalized, for the first time, the use of synthetic substances in the processing and post-harvest handling of organic foods.
What particularly worries purists is that the rider was sponsored by the Organic Trade Association, a lobbying group that represents the interests of big corporations. And, though virtually all of the 38 synthetics are considered harmless -- and in fact were already being widely used -- some believe that codifying their use may pave the way for others that may not
be so harmless.
Jim Riddle, former chairman of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA in setting organic standards, said that what was most alarming about the rider was the secretive method used to attach it. According to Riddle, the rider (which is an amendment to the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act) was snuck into the bill -- inserted after an
appropriation's conference committee had adjourned, in order for the corporations pushing the amendment (Kraft Foods was a leader) to avoid debate. This way, Riddle said, "There's no author, no one to be held accountable."
Brian Baker, research director for the Organic Materials Review Institute, described the rider issue as a "volatile situation" because of organic consumers' dedication to purity. He pointed out that after the first set of organic standards were set in 1997, allowing for sewage sludge, irradiation and genetically modified organisms, the USDA received more than 300,000 letters of protest from furious consumers.
When asked about the long-term ramifications of the rider, Baker said he wouldn't "take sides," though he acknowledged it "could open the door" to other synthetics.
The very existence of any synthetics in organic food remains unfathomable to some -- perhaps no one more so than Arthur Harvey, a 74-year-old blueberry farmer from Maine. A purist, Harvey believed that the organic standards of 2002, and their inclusion of a national list of allowable
synthetics, violated the original 1990 law, which he believed banned all synthetics. In January 2005, a federal appellate court agreed with him. The court's ruling would have banned all synthetics had it not been for the OTA rider. But Harvey didn't give up; he found fault with the rider, too, and is back in court.
Though a Maine district court dismissed his latest case in November, Harvey is appealing the decision. At issue is a category of synthetics known as "food contact substances." The USDA is currently allowing more than 600 of these in the processing of organic foods -- in addition to the 38 synthetics legalized by the rider.
Not only would these FCSs be exempt from listing on ingredient labels, they would not be required to be on the national list -- thus they'd be exempt from review or approval by the NOSB. And, according to Riddle, some are toxins, such as dimethyl dicarbonate, an antimicrobial added to fruit juices (even those that say "100 percent juice"); and a substance containing methyl chloride, a flammable gas once used as a refrigerant.
"There's no language in the Organic Foods Production Act, the regulation or the court ruling to empower this invisible allowance of substances that don't even appear on the national list," said Riddle, "which never have been reviewed by the NOSB, and have never gone through a rule-making process or even a public comment period."
Caren Wilcox, executive director of the OTA, would not comment on the rider because she was not with the organization when it was attached. She also declined to comment on the issue of "food contact substances" because of Harvey's suit. She asserted, however, that "there has always been a place for synthetics" in organic foods. She added that it would "be impossible to produce" organics without synthetics such as ozone, to resist bacteria; chlorine, a disinfectant; and bleached lecithin and ascorbic acid.
Harvey disagrees. A producer of his own blueberry jams, Harvey was motivated (during the brief period when it appeared synthetics would be banned) to find an organic alternative to a synthetic pectin he'd been using as a thickening agent. It took some experimentation, but eventually he discovered that apple pomace would do the trick.
"I think any manufacturer of organic products is terrified they won't be able to use synthetics," he said. "Because they are cheaper, and easier to handle. If you're using pomace, as we are, well, every batch is a little bit different. So it can be a headache. But it is a natural, organic product, and I feel much better about making jam this way."
Wal-Mart's burgeoning market presence is another divisive issue. At a shareholder's meeting in early 2006, Chief Executive Officer Lee Scott declared that Wal-Mart would significantly increase its organic offerings. (These already make up a wide array, from milk and produce to breakfast cereal and salsa.) The announcement panicked critics who feared that Wal-Mart's business model of low prices -- Wal-Mart has said its goal is to sell organics for only 10 percent above conventional prices -- would pressure organic suppliers to cut corners, thereby diluting the label.
In September, the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin watchdog group, published an analysis of Wal-Mart's early influence on the organic market. The study found that not only was Wal-Mart "cheapening the value of the organic label" by sourcing most of its products from "industrial-scale factory farms and Third World countries," but also -- on multiple occasions and in multiple stores -- labeling non-organic food as organic with misleading in-store signs.
The study even discovered Wal-Mart selling "organic" baby formulas containing synthetic ingredients prohibited by U.S. organic standards.
"This is disturbing and a serious problem," Mark Kastel, co-founder of the institute, said in a November news release accompanying a legal complaint to the USDA. "Consumers, who are paying premium prices in the marketplace for organic food, deserve to get what they are paying for."
In a recent interview, Kastel speculated that the labeling problems, which he and his staff photographed, probably stemmed more from detachment and a lack of dedication to organics than from purposeful deception.
(Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, replied to the charges by saying, "we believe it to be an isolated incident should a green organic identifying tag be inadvertently placed by or accidentally shift in front of the wrong item." She did not comment on the infant formula.)
The study also found that because of its stringent price demands, Wal-Mart obtained little organic food from U.S. family-scale farms, but most from major agribusiness companies, industrial-scale farms and foreign countries.
Kastel illustrated how Wal-Mart's low-price-only policy has hurt small farmers and "cheapened" the organic label.
After one of Wal-Mart's original organic milk suppliers, Organic Valley -- a co-operative of small organic dairy farmers -- refused to acquiesce to Wal-Mart's demands, the giant retailer turned to Horizon Organic (owned by Dean Foods) and Aurora Dairy, both of which have been accused of exploiting ambiguities in the organic standards to confine thousands of cows in feedlot-like conditions with little time spent grazing on pasture. (The law says cows must have "access to pasture," but doesn't say how much or how often.)
"Wal-Mart's dependence on factory farms," the study concluded, is a typical example of its "philosophy of sourcing products from the least expensive supplier regardless of the impact on product quality, the environment or our nation's workers."
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumer's Association, echoed these criticisms.
"When you get into bed with Wal-Mart, you forget your ethics because of the money involved," Cummins said. "But you simply cannot act in organic the same way you did in conventional because consumers are looking for more than just low prices."
Cummins added that even if the aforementioned practices by Wal-Mart, Horizon and Aurora technically fulfilled organic standards, they nevertheless violated organic ideals like animal rights and the preservation of fossil fuels. "How organic can food really be that is shipped halfway
around the world?" he said.
Which brings up another concern: how to insure that organic products grown outside U.S. borders are actually organic.
The USDA's National Organic Program is ultimately responsible for the integrity of all organic food sold in the United States, but it does not conduct inspections. Instead, it accredits third-party agencies to inspect the farms, processors and retailers that seek certification.
Currently, there are 40 accredited foreign certifying agents (and 55 domestic). But serious questions remain about the integrity of the process in some countries -- especially China. The USDA, in fact, has yet to make an inspection tour of what Kastel described as China's "government-controlled certification system," even though the United States is already importing huge amounts of Chinese organic products.
(When asked for comment, Joan Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the USDA, said that the associate deputy administrator of the NOP, Mark Bradley, would be flying to China later this year to conduct reviews.) Proponents of small-scale organic say foreign sourcing is a key factor in the dilution of the label, because transparency, another important organic ideal, is lost. Knowing your farmer, visiting his ranch and seeing how the food is grown -- gathering any kind of story behind the food -- becomes virtually impossible when organics are obtained from overseas.
"I'd rather spend $5 on some locally grown, organic strawberries than $2.50 for some Chilean farmer's strawberries at Wal-Mart," David Evans said. "Why would I want to save $2.50 on those Chilean strawberries when I don't really know how they were grown, under what conditions or if they were really grown organically?"
But, as even the most vehement critics of industrial organic concede, there are benefits to Wal-Mart's -- and other big corporations' -- market presence. Perhaps the most significant is the removal of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers from the ecosystem: As demand rises and huge retailers like Wal-Mart seek to meet it, conventional acres will transition to organic, and whether those are in the United States, Chile or China, it will be good for the environment.
Drew and Myra Goodman, the owners of Earthbound Farm (one of Wal-Mart's top suppliers), estimate that their business alone has been responsible for eliminating almost 10 million pounds of synthetic fertilizer and 313,000 pounds of chemical pesticides. This is a significant boon to the environment and to national health, not only for the removal of pesticide residues from food, but also by preserving petroleum, which is used to create synthetic fertilizer.
A study by the Rodale Institute found that organic farms fight global warming by removing carbon from the atmosphere by sequestering it in the earth at a rate of 3,670 pounds per acre. With the Goodmans' 30,000 acres, that would mean Earthbound Farm alone has removed the equivalent of more than 7,500 cars from the road.
Peggy Miars, executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers in Santa Cruz, one of the nation's largest organic certifiers, believes the benefits of big businesses' market presence outweigh the potential negatives.
Miars said the USDA standards are strict enough (though she acknowledged ambiguities existed) that the label would remain strong, and, in addition to the environmental benefits, she said big corporations would create greater awareness, boost demand and create more markets. "If
consumers who never thought much about organic foods see them at their local Wal-Mart," she said, "they may investigate more, maybe even stop by a farmers' market. This would increase demand and the end result is it would be good for organic."
But others maintain that even in the best industrial organic models, there are aspects that mirror conventional agriculture and conflict with organic ideals -- such as the use of migrant farmworkers, aggressive business practices designed to crush competition, reliance on monocrop at the expense of diversity and mass expenditures of fossil fuels in distribution and production.
"There's a long list of benefits of small-scale organic that you don't get with industrial," said Helge Hellberg, the executive director of Marin Organic, an association of organic producers dedicated to "creating the first all-organic county in the nation."
Like Hellberg, most of Marin's organic community does not view Big Organic as a direct threat to their own farms or way of life -- "we're far removed from the Wal-Marts of the world," is how Evans put it -- but they remain an advocate for the preservation of the nation's small farms, yet another ideal not addressed by the industrial model.
"We're still losing 400 family farms in the U.S. every week to development," Hellberg said. "The industrial model, even if it's organic, will not stop that. We're still shipping food an average of about 2,000 miles from where it's grown to where it's consumed. The industrial organic model will not address that."
But will the local model address skyrocketing demand? While much of agribusiness's market presence can be chalked up to profit seeking, even some proponents of small-scale organics think the industrial model may have its place -- for supplying populations in less agriculturally sustainable areas, such as Las Vegas or Albuquerque, for example.
Hellberg, however, believes local, small-scale organics should be the aim. He said he's seen "the most arid and horrible soils turned around," and he pointed to Marin's movement as an example he believed could be replicated in other places -- if not practically, than at least the "mind-set." He said Prince Charles' November 2005 visit was due to the innovation, tradition and dedication to ideals of the area's organic farmers.
The biodiversity of Peter Martinelli's Fresh Run Farm in Bolinas, where more than 40 crops are grown on 5 acres; Dennis and Sandy Dierks' Paradise Valley Produce, where unique fertilization methods such as fermenting seaweed and other microbes to enhance soil fertility are used,
and where the coho salmon are making a comeback because of a healthier watershed; and Warren Weber's Star Route Farms, the longest continuously certified organic farm in California, are all examples of the sustainable model -- and were all "certainly a draw" for His Royal Highness.
When asked if he thought some ideals needed to be sacrificed to meet rising demand, Hellberg said: "No, I think the opposite is true. Smaller scale agriculture, artisan food production, true relationships, integrating agriculture in your local region and building upon it: That is the model that shows the most benefits. It is the closest to the heart and there's no place on earth where you can't apply it."
Evans agrees. "The most conscious way to buy food is straight from the farmer," he said. "There's a lot of room for growth in this country for that kind of relationship. Even better than organic is local organic, and that's a niche that the big guy just can't get in on."
Jake Whitney is a freelance writer in New York. His work has appeared in the New Republic, Editor & Publisher and New York Magazine.
©2007 San Francisco Chronicle
On another topic, the federal law governing organic foods was recently amended by lobbyists hired by some manufacturers. This will allow synthetic ingredients to be added to organic-labeled foods.
If this is important to you, please visit my website, www.RestoreOrganicLaw.org
Big Brother in the Barnyard: Government Food Safety System a Sham
Located south of the tiny town of Tarpley, Texas, Debbie Davis's Seco Valley Ranch is something of a model farm. On her 1,800-acre spread, Davis grazes 225 longhorn cattle, every one of which she closely monitors so that she can better manage the herd and its health. Davis' meat is prized in the supermarkets of Austin and San Antonio, where her grass-fed, pastured beef sells for a premium. In many ways, Davis is the very ideal of a local entrepreneur -- profitable and secure, succeeding on her own terms.
Which is why it angers Davis so much when she considers the government's plans to institute a "National Animal Identification System" that will give a 15-digit tracking number to every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep and horse in the United States to trace animals' every move from birth until slaughter. The federal government and large meat producers are promoting the ID system -- usually referred to by its acronym, "NAIS" -- as a way to better control animal disease outbreaks. But the plan has small and organic ranchers in an uproar. They complain that the animal tracking system will place an undue burden on their operations, giving the biggest meat producers additional economic advantages in an already highly consolidated industry.
"It really does feel like Big Brother," rancher Davis said in a recent interview. "The proposal is that I report every animal I have, every time an animal is born, every time an animal dies, and every time I move an animal from my property. ... There's a lot of expense for everyone. The ones who are going to get impacted are the little guys."
If you're a typical American consumer -- for whom meat usually means supermarket "pink in plastic wrap," not animals out on the range -- then why should you care? Because, say critics of the government's plan, the national livestock tracking system will do nothing to actually prevent animal sicknesses such as mad cow disease or avian flu. According to smaller farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates, the complicated and expensive government proposal is mostly a marketing gimmick. They say the program is simply a way for the largest food corporations to sell more products overseas without addressing some of the key weaknesses in the U.S. food system.
Since the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in 2003, U.S. beef producers have struggled to sell their products abroad. Pork producers fear that a similar market closure could one day hit them if there were an outbreak of, say, swine fever or hoof and mouth disease. The creation of an animal tracking ID system is largely intended, then, to give foreign importers some piece of mind by establishing a way to quickly trace back diseased animals to their source and quarantine that specific herd, while letting the rest of the industry go about business as usual. But the program conspicuously does nothing to address the root causes of livestock disease -- improper diet and a confinement system that encourages epidemics. Instead, say small producers, the proposed plan will simply drop unnecessary costs onto those farmers who are already using best practices.
"I believe big business is behind it," Davis said. "It's a way for the giant, monopoly beef industry to export more meat. The whole thing about tracking disease is a bunch of BS to brainwash the general public."
Essentially, taxpayers, ordinary meat-consumers and ranchers are poised to spend tens of millions of dollars on a scheme that will improve the bottom line of the meat packing corporations without improving the health of the animals from which they profit.
To date, much of the controversy surrounding the national animal tracking system has hinged on whether the program will be mandatory or voluntary for farmers. At first, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that the program would be compulsory for all livestock. A year ago the USDA announced that it wanted all farmers and ranchers to register their premises. The next step was to implant radio tracking devices in all cattle and to assign tracking numbers to groups of hogs and chickens, which are usually raised by lot. By 2009, according to the plan, all livestock in the United States would be tagged, and a tracking database would be in place.
Then farmers and ranchers pushed back. They complained that the system was too complicated, too costly, and, essentially, unnecessary. Websites and email listserves opposing the ID system proliferated. Protest letters flooded the USDA offices. In Acres USA -- one of the most influential newsletters for the organic farming community -- one Texas rancher wrote: "It appears that the ... unstated reason behind [the program] is to get rid of those independent farmers, ranchers and homesteaders."
Confronted with this grassroots opposition, the USDA backpedaled. The agency now says that the animal tracking program will be voluntary.
"People can decide whether they want to participate and whether it fits their needs," Ben Kaczmarski, a spokesman for the USDA, told AlterNet. "We have decided to make the system voluntary at the federal level because of responses we were getting from producers and farmers."
Many farmers, however, remain worried. They point out that three states -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana -- are mandating some or all elements of the animal tracking system; a fourth, Texas, is on the verge of making similar legal requirements. Farmers opposed to the program say that the USDA is quietly -- but firmly -- urging states to make the plan mandatory by dangling extra federal funding as an incentive.
"The USDA is trying to get states to make it mandatory at the state level," Walter Jeffries, a Vermont hog farmer who is a leading anti-NAIS activist, wrote in a recent email. "Thus it is still aimed to be mandatory. Not good. ... NAIS is fundamentally designed to favor the large producers and burden the small producers. This is probably primarily by accident, but the effect will kill small producers and homesteaders off. Our country will lose the ability to produce food other than in the large factory farms."
Missouri farmer Doreen Hannes agrees. She says that while large producers can use their economies of scale to absorb the new regulations, the extra time demanded by the tracking will be unworkable for small farmers. She also worries that the cost of ID tags -- at least $3 per unit -- and scanners to read the tags will be prohibitively expensive for smaller operations.
"It's just going to add overhead, and add overhead, and add paperwork," Hannes said. "It will be like doing your taxes every week. They [small ranchers] aren't going to put up with this. They will just get out."
The result, Hannes says, will be more concentration in an industry already dominated by giant agribusiness corporations. For example, just four companies control 83 percent of the beef packing industry and 64 percent of the pork packing business, according to a William Heffernan, a researcher at the University of Missouri.
"If you eat, you need to be concerned about this program," Hannes said. "NAIS will bring about absolute consolidation of our meat supply. And these big corporations are pushing for it."
Indeed. The National Beef Cattlemen's Association and the National Pork Producers Council have been among the primary drivers of an animal tracking system. They say a livestock ID database is necessary to maintain access to profitable international markets that doubt the safety of the U.S. meat supply. The loss of several overseas markets after an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in 2003 still looms over the U.S. meat industry. When it comes to small farmers' complaints that the NAIS is all about maintaining a globalized food system that prioritizes exports over local food production, industry representatives and government officials essentially agree.
"Our trading partners will feel more confident if we have a system of rapid trace back, then we can keep our markets open," Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said. "You've seen what happened with the cattle industry with BSE. That happened in one cow, and Japan and South Korea closed their markets. It took them forever to deal with that."
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has been even more explicit about how the program is driven by international trade concerns. "You don't ever want to put this massive economic system at risk," he told a gathering of meat industry executives in a speech last August. "I've been asked why we've been putting so much effort into the animal ID system. At its core, the system is a critical tool in safeguarding the health of agricultural animals from disease. When it comes to an outbreak, time is money."
But opponents of the plan point out that the tracking system does nothing to prevent animal disease. Rather, it's about controlling disease outbreaks after they've already occurred -- identifying and quarantining certain areas, while keeping the rest of the meat industry running. The tracking system, then, is a way for meat corporations to sell more beef, pork and chicken abroad, without really addressing the root causes of animal disease -- confinement, massive overcrowding, improper feeding, and poor care.
"ID systems only solve sort of the marketing problem," Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation said. "An ID system does not address the causes. What are the fundamental issues we need to address to solve the disease problems? They are feed, confinement, overuse of antibiotics."
As farmer and agrarian essayist Wendell Berry has said: In trying to solve one problem, the industrial food system often creates another. In this case, building a complex and costly system that will only add to farmers' burdens.
So what would be a simpler solution? Veterinarians agree that the best way to avoid animal diseases is to raise animals in ways that mimic their natural predilections -- give them fresh air and sunlight, plenty of space to roam, and food sources (like grass instead of corn, in the case of cattle) that the animals evolved to eat. That is, adopt the kinds of practices currently used by precisely those farmers who say they will be hurt most by the NAIS.
Consumers can help out by supporting local farmers and ranchers. When you go to the farmers market or locally owned butcher and buy meat raised by someone like Walter Jeffries or Doreen Hannes, you are helping promote a food system that is less prone to disease and disruption, and therefore more sustainable and secure. Not only does that allow shoppers to get closer to their farmers, but also to the animal they are about to eat.
"This can be market driven by the consumer," Texas rancher Debbie Davis said. "The consumer, by how he spends his dollars, can dictate that confined animal feeding practices are not sound. If you want to buy free range chicken and pay a dollar more a pound, you are voting with your dollars that this is a more sustainable way of agriculture, instead of putting a chicken in a cage."
Jason Mark co-manages San Francisco's Alemany Farm. He is the co-author, with Kevin Danaher, of "Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power." He is researching a book about the future of food. © 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. View this story online at: www.alternet.org/story/46876/
Organic Consumers Association
Campaigning for Food Safety, Organic Agriculture, Fair Trade & Sustainability
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has been gaining support in the corporate agribusiness world, supposedly as a method for sourcing the origins of Mad Cow disease or possible terrorist biological attacks on the nation's livestock.
Opponents point out the plan was drawn up by corporate behemoths like Monsanto and would require every owner of even a single animal to register their home with a national tracking system, including Global Positing Coordinates (for satellite tracking) and implant or tag every animal with a radio frequency device (RFID). Large-scale livestock producers say NAIS would help them control an outbreak of disease by allowing individual animals to be tracked to their origins.
Small-scale farmers say the registration fees, RFID expenses and administrative bureaucracy of the system would drive them out of business. The USDA announced a delay in the launch of the program last week, based on disputes in the cattle industry over who gets control of the overall database.
WHAT IS ANIMAL TRACKING?
Animal tracking is an information management system that would enable a central authority to monitor the whereabouts of virtually all the animals in the country. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed implementing such a system in the US by 2008 or 2009. Although initially proposed for livestock, the USDA has specifically refused to rule out eventually including pets and companion animals such as dogs and cats. Called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), it has three components.
1) Premises registration would require all farms, factories, slaughterhouses, or homes where even a single livestock animal (cow, horse, pig, chicken, sheep, goat or several dozen other species) lives or is processed to be identified by name of owner, address, phone number, Global Positioning Satellite coordinates and a 7-digit premises ID number in a central registry.
2) Each animal would be assigned a unique 15 digit federal ID number and a tag most likely an implanted radio-frequency identification device (RFID) which can be read at a distance. In cases where livestock are kept and moved as a group throughout their entire life cycle, producers would be allowed to assign an ID number to the group rather than to each individual animal. The idea of using DNA or retinal scans as sources of unique identification has also been discussed.
3) Data on each animals birth, movements on or off any premises, tagging events (application, loss, replacement) and slaughter would be compiled and regularly updated in a database which could tell where and when each animal was born, who bought it, where they took it, when it saw a vet, and where it went for slaughter.
Third parties, such as veterinarians, would be required to report sightings of animals without RFID tags or otherwise in violation of the NAIS.
What Problems is Tracking Supposed to Solve?
In recent years a number of animal diseases have become human health concerns. Such diseases include avian influenza, mad cow (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE) and food borne illnesses. The USDA and some industry organizations are saying that they need animal tracking to contain animal diseases.
Avian Influenza (AI) has been endemic for centuries but only rarely poses any serious health consequences for birds, and less still for humans. Only since 1997 has the H5N1 subtype of the virus mutated into a form that can, with difficulty, infect humans. The worst outbreaks of this subtype occurred in Southeast Asia in 2003. So far it has killed 111 people mostly agricultural workers and people who live near infected poultry. By some estimates it has killed or prompted the culling of over 200 million chickens. According to the UNs Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the spread of AI may have been facilitated by the rapid scale-up and concentration of poultry and pig operations in China and Southeast Asia. Currently AI is not very infectious to humans (one has to be exposed to infected poultry for long periods) but, like any virus, it can mutate to a more infectious form given the proper conditions.
Mad Cow (BSE) appears to have emerged in the 1980s in the feed processing plants of England. As a way of getting cheap protein for rapid weight gain, some feedlots added to their cattle feed small bits and pieces of animal tissue which were discarded during processing. Scientists suspect that BSE emerged when sheep infected with scrapie, a disease similar to mad cow, were fed to cattle that were in turn rendered and fed back to other cattle. Scrapie in sheep, BSE in cattle, and chronic wasting disease in elk and deer are all caused by prions, rogue proteins that make their way into the brain and poke it with holes, destroying normal cells and causing animals to stumble, show aggression, and eventually die. The prions stay active after slaughter and can spread to humans who eat affected meat. BSE has been found in cattle in at least 30 countries. Officials estimate that the related disease transmitted to humans has killed at least 150 people in Great Britain.
Food Borne Illness, such as Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7, is spread by contaminated meat or animal products. Salmonella may result in deaths from acute Salmonellosis in around 600 people a year, whereas E. coli O157:H7 is implicated in about 60 deaths per year in the U.S. One can avoid harm from these diseases by reasonable home sanitation and thoroughly cooking food.
Where Do These Emerging Diseases Come From?
Humans and animals have evolved (and continue to evolve) along with bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing agents. Animals have developed complicated immune systems that identify, isolate, and attack disease agents. If new forms of a disease develop for which our immune systems are not prepared, there is a period during which we are susceptible to serious illness and even death. But eventually immune systems learn how to identify and counter the new agent, neutralizing it as serious threat. The primary public health challenge, therefore, is to minimize the chances of new diseases evolving.
Fortunately, we know a lot about what conditions encourage rapid transmission and evolution of disease agents environments that are warm and moist, crowded with many genetically similar hosts, and devoid of sunlight and fresh air. Unfortunately, massive meat conglomerates have been creating these very conditions at breakneck speed all around the globe. In the last 50 years, in the name of cheaper food, these factory farms have industrialized and concentrated the worlds livestock, taking them from millions of backyards and small farms and enclosing them in giant facilities operated for maximum production. Oklahomas Texas County, for instance, in 1990 had 11,000 hogs. Today it has more than a million. Five percent of our farms now raise the majority of our beef. Corporations produce 98% of all U.S. poultry. Some Chinese factory farms raise 5 million chickens at a time.
The blowback from these historically unprecedented developments in animal husbandry is now becoming clear. In low-density, dispersed populations, such as flocks of wild birds or backyard chickens, the viruses that tend to survive are the ones that remain low-pathogenic. If a virus mutates into a highly pathogenic form in these circumstances, it quickly kills all available hosts and then dies out. Following up on reports of a die-off of wild birds due to H5N1 at Erkhel Lake in Mongolia, veterinarians found that only one sample turned out positive for the virus. Researcher Dr. William Karesh commented that the virus had a very low impact The disease is self-limiting in wild birds. The highly concentrated environment of factory farms, however, provides perfect conditions for a virus to mutate from a low pathogenic to a high pathogenic form. Thousands of hosts (chickens) with near identical genetic makeup, all the same age and size, crowded in close conditions, allow a virus to kill its host and move onto the next victim with great speed and ease.
A consensus is emerging among scientists, ecologists and human health experts that H5N1 avian flu, as well as diseases such as monkey pox, HIV/Aids, West Nile virus, Ebola, Sars, BSE and Lyme disease may be emerging in animals and crossing more easily to humans because of environmental changes taking place and a global trade in confined livestock animals and their products. We have created ideal conditions for breeding new diseases and placed the host animals under conditions of such overcrowding and stress that their own immune systems cant adequately protect them. As Gerhard Wagner, an officer of the FAO based in Thailand, puts it: Intensive industrial farming of livestock is now an opportunity for emerging diseases. Canadian virologist Earl Brown, a specialist in the evolution of influenza viruses, agrees: You have to say that high intensity chicken rearing is a perfect environment for generating virulent avian flu virus.
Are Factory Animal Farms Here to Stay?
This dangerous state of affairs is not only creating major health and environmental problems, it is also threatening its own continued existence. The factory farms that industry has thrown up around the globe are now facing their own lack of sustainability.
Manure Disposal - Factory farms could not exist without chemical fertilizer, which has allowed for a previously unimaginable uncoupling of livestock and crops. Millions of animals in one place can produce tens of millions of pounds of manure a day. Moving that manure promptly to where it might usefully fertilize fields is difficult and prohibitively expensive. Instead, it is contained for months in lagoons and some is volatilized into the air. A 1995 hog manure spill in North Carolina killed 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal shellfish beds. Children in the San Joachim Valleys factory dairy belt have asthma rates three times the national average. The American Public Health Association has urged a moratorium on all new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) until a comprehensive health assessment can be conducted of them. North Carolina State University professor C. M. Williams, an expert on treating hog manure, says simply: I do not feel that system [factory hog production] is long-term sustainable.
Water Consumption - To produce a pound of beef under factory conditions can require an astonishing 1350 gallons of water. In many cases this water comes from underground reservoirs (like the Midwests Ogallala aquifer) which are rapidly dropping to levels that make pumping costs exorbitant. Former National Academy of Sciences director Dr. Charles Benbrook says that further expansion of factory dairy farms "doesn't make sense and is patently unsustainable because water will become too costly..."
Antibiotic Use - Factory animal operations routinely administer low levels of antibiotics in the animals feed to promote growth. Over two-thirds of the antibiotics used in the US each year are for non-therapeutic use in animal feed. This is unsustainable because such overuse is rapidly leading to antibiotic resistance in livestock. Worse, many in the medical profession have become alarmed over the explosion of antibiotic resistance in humans that results from this practice. When we eat such meat the resistant bacteria are transferred to our own digestive tracts and pass that resistance along, making many antibiotics useless in fighting human infections.
Genetic Uniformity - As animals are bred for maximum weight gain under factory conditions, competitive economic pressures force the abandonment of traditional, slower growing breeds. But genetic diversity has long been a component of true food security. When conditions change, old breeds may have the needed traits to survive that have been bred out of newer varieties. There are reports, for instance, of native Asian chickens surviving the H5N1 virus that has been so fatal to Western breeds. Over the last 100 years some 1000 breeds of livestock have gone extinct. The problem is greatest in industrial countries, but is accelerating in developing countries as they adopt western production systems.
Energy Use Animal confinement systems rely upon fossil fuel energy to provide feed, water, ventilation, manure removal, animal movement, and other essential services. A pastured setting, however, provides these to animals through its own ecological networks rather than by energy inputs from afar. Considering the energy used to produce and run machinery, to produce inorganic fertilizer, to dry crops, and to ventilate and heat buildings, a ton of pasture fodder requires less than 2% of the fossil fuel energy used to produce a ton of feed concentrate. As fossil fuel energy becomes more and more expensive, confinement systems will find it harder to stay competitive.
Anita Poole, of Oklahomas Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, puts it this way: The factory system of food production will simply implode.
Why Wont Tracking Work to Solve Disease Threats?
Tracking is a false solution to a real problem. Like food irradiation or routine use of antibiotics in animal feed, it is an attempt to paper-over the need for a fundamental change in the way factory farms raise and process livestock animals. So long as we try to address the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem, we will prolong its life.
In the case of avian flu, factory farmed poultry live in flocks that are maintained together for the life of the birds. If an outbreak of avian flu occurs, the whole flock is killed and burned and the poultry house sterilized. Nearby flocks are also typically culled. The locations of these flocks are well known and it is not clear what new information a tracking system would add.
In the case of mad cow, the disease is not discovered until the animal is slaughtered and tissue samples sent to a lab. The modest usefulness of a tracking system to identify possible herd mates who might have been similarly exposed to tainted feed years ago pales in comparison to the far simpler alternative of testing every cow for BSE upon slaughter, before the meat reaches the market, as is done in Europe and Japan. The test is easy, reliable, and cheap. Why our government has not adopted such routine testing of beef mystifies our foreign customers.
In the case of food-borne illnesses, meat contamination usually occurs during high speed processing at a slaughterhouse. This is after the animal is dead and tracking has ceased. Current food safety measures identifying meat by lot number as it moves to market, and normal care in sanitation and food preparation, are more useful than identifying where the affected animal came from.
NAIS Would Hurt Small Farmers
The most immediate impact of mandating NAIS would be to put some small farmers out of business.
Cost: No one knows how much such a tracking system will cost, but the purchase of tags, reporting software, and the time involved in setting up and maintaining a 24/7 reporting system for small farmers with only a few animals would likely be significant. Moreover, models proposed to date indicate that farmers eventually will be charged fees for registrations and for reporting events to databases. For many it will simply be the last straw.
Pressure to confine animals: The FAO and various foreign governments have reacted prematurely and somewhat hysterically to outbreaks of avian flu by concluding that migratory birds are spreading the virus. Unfortunately, some governments have gone so far as to outlaw backyard poultry. Animal tracking would identify and record premises where animals are still raised on pasture, and would give nervous public health officials an obvious, although misplaced, target. The evidence that wild birds play a primary role in the transmission of avian flu is scant at best, and far better evidence suggests that the spread is connected to shipments of live birds and poultry manure from factory farms via rail and truck routes. In Southeast Asia the country least affected by bird flu is Laos, where 90% of poultry is still produced by peasants in small, pastured flocks. Nevertheless, numerous countries have outlawed the outdoor raising of poultry, making it impossible for many small farmers in developing countries to have backyard birds for meat, eggs, and fertilizer. Backyard poultry provide both food security and farming income for hundreds of millions of rural poor in developing countries, as well as a third of the protein intake for the average rural household.
Religious Objections: Many religious groups in this country believe in raising animals for their own food as well as for manure, farm traction and transportation. Yet their beliefs forbid them to register or comply with an electronic, technology-dependent monitoring system.
Bureaucracy and Privacy Objections: Many people keep animals as a lifestyle choice rather than a business. For some of these, registering and monitoring requirements seem intrusive and out of keeping with the traditional life style they are seeking.
NAIS Would Hurt Consumers
Animal tracking would hurt consumers by limiting alternatives and further monopolizing the food economy.
Loss of Alternatives: Many consumers now seek out local, small scale, and organic food because they believe it is raised in a more healthy fashion. To the extent that suppliers of this food are driven from business by the costs of mandatory animal tracking or the accompanying pressure to abandon pastured flocks, consumers will have only the mass-produced factory-farmed food left to buy. Samuel Jutzi, director of Animal Production and Health for the UNs Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) puts it this way: This [more natural] type of production will become very marginal. High quality poultry, raised in the open air and grain-fed, will become a niche product.
Further Concentration of Food Industry: Big poultry companies are actively using fear about avian flu to further their efforts to restructure the poultry industry and do away with small-scale producers. Margaret Say, Southeast Asian director of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council openly admits it is her goal to close down as many backyard farms as possible. With fewer producers, those companies remaining are closer to monopoly control which is always a bad thing for consumers.
NAIS Would Hurt Organic Farmers
Organic farmers believe that the presence of soil, with its millions of competing microbes, plus sunlight, fresh air and water are vital to raising healthy animals. National Organic Standards call for all animals to be raised with access to the out-of-doors. If animal tracking were to be implemented and farmers pressured into confining their animals, it would make organic livestock production impossible.
What Can I Do to Help?
As a livestock owner, you should not participate in any so-called voluntary state or federal program to register farms or animals. The USDA is using farmers supposed willingness to enter such voluntary programs as a justification for making the program mandatory. If a state or extension official urges registration of your premises or livestock you should request to see the persons ID, ask whether registration is mandatory, about any deadline, and ask for a copy of the legislation or other rule authorizing such a requirement. Let NOFA/Mass know about the visit so we can alert others.
Also, contact your breed association, organic or sustainable or other farming interest group and ask them to oppose NAIS. Also ask them to write to officials commenting on the program. Many livestock industry groups have been supporting the program, but that could diminish as opposition builds and the programs many flaws become more apparent.
Finally, if the time comes when the program is going into effect and you feel your rights are being violated, you can contact groups which may provide legal representation without cost. Some sources of information to try are: (1) Farmers Legal Action Group, www.flaginc.org, 651-223-5400; (2) the American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org; for the ACLU in your state, see the pull-down menu on the bottom of that page, under your local ACLU; (3) Organizations defending religious freedom, such as The Becket Fund, www.becketfund.org, 202-955-0095, and The Rutherford Institute, www.rutherford.org, 434-978-3888; and (4) www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm, the American Bar Associations guide to legal services.
As an individual, you can educate your neighbors by asking NOFA/Mass for a speaker on NAIS to your group or by writing a letter to your local paper and contacting state and federal legislators to express your opinion on this program. You can find contact information for officials through www.vote-smart.org or through the federal governments site www.firstgov.gov. Personal letters, Emails and phone calls all work. Stay tuned to our website www.nofamass.org for updates on how the program is developing and other ways to get involved.
As a consumer you can patronize farmers who raise meat, milk and eggs in a way you support. Talk to the farmer, ask questions, tell him or her what you like and dont like about those practices. The strength of local farming is that such feedback is possible and can be acted upon immediately. For those seeking organic sources, NOFA/Mass publishes an Organic Food Guide and lists organic producers on our website at www.nofamass.org.
Donate to help us print more literature, and distribute literature to your farm or garden store or library.
Join NOFA/Mass to learn more about organic growing in the Northeast and to help the cause! Membership information is below:
Annual Dues: Individual $30, Family $40. Supporting $100, Low-Income $20
Contact: Membership, 411 Sheldon Road, Barre, MA 01005, (978) 355-2853, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOFA/Mass NAIS Response Coordinator, Ben Grosscup, 413-658-5374, or email: email@example.com
NAIS - News from NOFA/Massachusetts
National Animal ID Program Backstops Agribusiness
While Small-Farm System Offers Real Disease Answers
NOFA NAIS Response Coordinator
The USDA is starting to implement an animal and premises surveillance system called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The program would put a radio frequency identification [RFID] tracking tag on all domestic livestock animals and record their movements in a centralized database. The USDAs justification for this system is to protect the public from what it calls foreign animal disease threats like mad cow, hoof and mouth, and bird flu. (www.usda.gov/nais)
These are real threats, but NAIS promoters are manipulating legitimate concerns to scare farmers and homesteaders into complying with a misguided system. This new program would make small farming less economic and reinforce the very industrial agriculture whose factory farms most exacerbate harmful disease mutations and outbreaks. Worst of all, the ones that will be hit hardest are not the cause of these new disease threats: small and sustainable farms are the most hopeful solution to the very problems NAIS claims to solve.
On April 25, 2005 the USDA released its NAIS Draft Program Standards (hereafter Standards), specifying a phased-in implementation that starts voluntary and then becomes mandatory. In that draft, premises registration would be mandatory by January 2008 and tagging all livestock animals would be mandatory by January 2009. The catchwordsvoluntary and mandatorytake sorting out.
New Rhetoric of Voluntary
The Standards quickly attracted a storm of opposition (http://nonais.org/). Nine months after their publication, the USDA backpedaled, proving that opposition can be effective. On Jan. 20, 2006, Neil Hammerschmidt, the USDAs NAIS coordinator, addressed a meeting of R-CALF USA, which represents cattle producers and opposes the Standards: Today there is no one working on rules to implement a mandatory program. We want to see what we can accomplish [on a voluntary basis] through market incentives, and we want to see what the market desires (USDA backs off on centralized database and mandatory ID, Tam Moore, Capital Press Agriculture Weekly 27 Jan 2006). Hammerschmidt downplayed the draconian provisions as merely a draft.
The rhetorical change, however, has not stopped the USDA from quickly inaugurating the NAIS at the state level. As environmental reporter for Grist Magazine, Amanda Griscom Little, reports, The USDAwill likely leave to state officials decisions about whether to make the program voluntary or mandatory Neil Hammerschmidt, said [to R-CALF] USDA isnt sure whether it has the authority to impose a federally mandated program that requires producers to report to a private entity.
In the meantime, states are moving on their own to put the animal-tracking system in place. Minnesota and Wisconsin have approved measures that make stage one [animal premises registration] of the NAIS program mandatoryand Maine, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Washington are considering similar legislation. (Old Big Brother Had a Farm 10 Mar 2006, http://www.grist.org/news/muck/2006/03/10/griscom-little/). So, voluntary at the federal level means that state ag. departments will be charged with implementing the NAIS, and as Griscom reports, the USDA has already allocated over $60 million to them to do it.
Market Wont Necessarily Be Kind
But even if the system were to remain voluntary, many concerns would remain. NAIS could encroach on farmers rights without necessarily commandeering their animals and enforcing fines. When Hammerschmidt suggests following what the market desires, we must ask who are the most powerful actors in the market, and what agricultural models do they promote?
Even if NAIS remains officially voluntary, strong trends throughout the livestock industry to adopt it could drastically change the farm economy. Distributors could start requiring animals to be RFID-tagged. Consider the influence the retail giant, Wal-Mart, exerts over entire industries when they exact new product qualifications. At the same time the USDA and meat industry are pushing animal-RFID tagging, Wal-Mart is starting to require its biggest suppliers to tag shipments to some of its distribution centers with [RFID tags] that would eventually let Wal-Mart track every item that it sells. (What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers Habits, Constance Hays, New York Times 14 Nov 2004, New York Times Article). Not only governments but corporations too have enormous power to change entire industries.
These animal diseases should not be thought of as necessarily foreign. This idea plays on outmoded national prejudices, but it shapes federal policy. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Conner, described the USDAs strategy to deal with the global threat of bird flu: Attacking the disease at its source overseas is a main focusWe also have strict importation restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus in our country and an elaborate surveillance system in place to monitor our bird populations. (Measures to counter avian flu issued by USDA, Agrinews 26 Nov 2005, http://www.agrinewspubs.com/Main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=207&ArticleID=9400).
But you cant attack animal diseases somewhere else, build a wall around your own country, and expect to be safe. Viruses know no borders; they replicate, mutate, and spread based on immediate conditions. The most conducive places for viral pestilence are factory farms, which are spreading worldwide, devouring landscapes from Arkansas to Vietnams Mekong River Delta.
Various influenza strains have been endemic in bird populations for thousands of years, but they typically remain benign unless they have an easy opportunity to mutate into pathogenic forms. As the Canada-based Beyond Factory Farming Coalition summarizes: In a low-density, dispersed population, such as flocks of wild birds or backyard chickens, a virus can only survive as a low pathogenic agent. If a virus happens to mutate into a highly pathogenic form in these circumstances, it quickly dies out, as it kills all available hosts.
However in a factory farm situation, perfect conditions exist for a virus to mutate from a low pathogenic to a high pathogenic form. Thousands of hosts (chickens) with near identical genetic makeup, all the same age and size, crowded in close conditions, allow a virus to kill its host, and move onto the next victim with great speed and ease. And as public health experts warn, these viral mutations can confer not only greater pathogenicity, but also human transmissibility, posing dangers of a deadly pandemic.
As the reputable farmers rights organization, GRAIN, concludes in its February 2006 report, Fowl play: If bird flu is as serious as the [World Health Organization] says it is, if millions of people could potentially die from an H5N1 pandemic, then how is it that [the poultry] industry continues to operate with so little oversight and so much impunity and support from governments? What people really need is adequate and enforced protection from the transnational poultry industry. This will take strong and concerted pressure from civil society, to cut through the hype and hysteria, stand up for small-scale farmers and backyard poultry and start building food systems that put people before profits (see link under "Resources").
Why They Want NAIS
The NAIS is designed to prop up a fundamentally unsustainable industrial agriculture system and increase global dependence on it even as it fails farmers and consumers the world over. Meat-importing countries quickly halt purchases from countries where mad-cow or bird flu are widely reported. Far from rethinking its disease-prone production model, the meat industry mainly tries to protect its export markets. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not alone in implementing animal tracking regimes. Similarly invested in foreign markets, Australia, Brazil, and Canada are clamoring to implement animal ID.
Reflecting the meat industrys urgent desire for NAIS, Mark Dopp, counsel to the American Meat Institute, called the USDAs recent backpedaling on mandatory national animal ID disturbing: Our position is that mandatory is needed, and its up to USDA to figure out how to get there All it takes is one incident involving an animal thats not identified to disrupt meat exports (USDA remarks on animal ID trigger confusion, anger, Food Traceability Report, March 2006). But the meat industry talk about protecting its export markets means putting profits ahead of small farmers and public health.
Farmers Should Not Volunteer for This
If the USDAs Standards are any indication of whats to come, there will be a two-tiered implementation of NAIS that encourages massive-scale to the detriment of human-scale farming. Large industrial operations will more easily incorporate a tracking system by making just one ID tag for each group of animals kept together for all stages of the mechanized production process. By contrast, small farmers would be required to tag each individual animal, a financial burden the USDA says will befall the farmer. Furthermore, NAIS traces animals back to their farm of origin, not forward to the consumers. Thus, NAIS increases farmer liability risk and cost without providing consumer benefits or dealing with the main culprit of these new disease threats: factory farming.
The USDA wants farmers to volunteer for the new NAIS program, but that means volunteering away the right to raise animals without government interference. If we stand up together and say no to the NAIS and the industrial system it serves, we can protect small farms and affirm the potential of sustainable agriculture to help transform the ecology of rural and urban communities for the better.
To get involved with the ongoing work of NOFA/Mass on NAIS, contact Ben Grosscup, firstname.lastname@example.org, 413 658-5374.
Resources on NAIS
APHIS (USDA) NAIS Homepage
(Find the infamous "Draft Program Standards" that gained the ire of many farmers.) www.usda.gov/nais
Comments on NAIS "Draft Program Standards" and "Draft Strategic Plan"
Mary Zanoni, Feb 6, 2006 (A leading voice for a sustainable agriculture message on NAIS)
NoNAIS.org: Protect Traditional Rights to Farm
(A blog that tracks opposition to NAIS) http://nonais.org/
Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
(Leading the fight against NAIS in TX) www.tofga.org
Fowl play: The Poultry Industry's Central Role in the Bird Flu Crisis'. GRAIN, February 2006.
(Puts recent bird flu events globally in political, economic, and scientific context) www.grain.org
Fact Sheet: Control Bird Flu by Controlling Intensive Poultry Operations
(A Canadian farmers' rights group's leaflet on factory farm hazards) www.beyondfactoryfarming.org
The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu by Mike Davis. September 15, 2005.
(A book on the imminent public health danger of bird flu, which has arisen from factory farms)
This page was last modified on July 13, 2006 at 5:39:08 PM.
Download: Article from From June-July-August NOFA Massachusetts News:
[MDAR Moves on Premises ID, Suggests Bird Flu Threat from Backyard Flocks]
[Get Involved! Meetings in Massachusetts about NAIS] Updated! July 14
[Why Many Massachusetts Organic Farmers and Consumers Oppose Mandatory Animal Tracking]
[References on Avian Influenza, The NAIS, and Sustainable Agriculture]
[Transmission of Avian Influenza and the Survival of Free-Range Poultry Operations NOFA/Mass, June, 2006]
Article from From April-May NOFA Massachusetts News:
[National Animal ID Program Backstops Agribusiness While Small-Farm System Offers Real Disease Answers]
[Organic Farmers Say National Animal ID is a False Solution for Real Animal Disease Problems]
[Contacting Officials in Massachusetts about NAIS]
GRASSFED MOVEMENT ALSO ENDANGERED!
August 9, 2006
[Promoted from a comment. The USDA is now trying to destroy the term Grass-fed just as they co-opted and destroyed the term Organic. We raise our produce and livestock organically at Sugar Mountain Farm but are now banned from using the term organic because of the greed of big corporations and actions of the USDA. Each year they continue to water down the term organic to the point where factory farms can now get away with deceiving consumers into believing they are producing organically. By the way, also check out Certified Naturally Grown which is an alternative to Organic Certification that does not involve the USDA. Support alternatives to government. -WJ]
The USDA has published for comment grass fed standards to define what the term Grass Fed means. This claim defines grass fed to mean animals who receive 99% of their lifetime energy supply from grass and forage. However, it falls short of defining where this forage diet can be fed.
To most consumers the term grass fed means cattle humanely raised in grass pastures from birth to harvest, the way nature intended. The USDA proposal would allow animals to be kept in confinement, fed harvested forage, corn silage and other grains that have not been separated from their stalks. If this proposed claim passes into regulation you could see feedlot beef fed antibiotics, hormones and legally be labeled grass fed Beef.
We feel so strongly about this we are asking for your help in responding to the USDA. We are quite sure you don’t want grass fed cattle standing in confinement for 160 to 220 days, without shade, eating corn silage and being fed antibiotics and growth hormones. We ask you to please take the time to insure the term Grass Fed Beef means range or pasture raised not Factory Farmed, confinement raised.
As a producer we strongly feel that any grass fed standard must address and restrict confinement feeding as an integral part of that standard, otherwise the label will lose its integrity. As a consumer, we believe you will agree with us and ask that you please E-Mail the USDA at email@example.com to allow your opinion to be known. Refer to Docket No. LS-05-09.
The deadline for accepting comment is August 10. Simply comment that you as a consumer believe that the standard for grass fed must include reference to being raised on pasture and a restriction of confinement feeding systems.
American Grassfed Association Owner
American Grass Fed Beef
Aerial photo of Aurora "organic" dairy factory farm courtesy of Cornucopia Institute
ALERT OF THE WEEK:
AURORA THREATENS ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION WITH LAWSUIT
Just when we thought it couldn't get any hotter (or any more mind-boggling), the "organic" dairy factory farm controversy reached a new level of intensity over the past week. The USDA announced, to the disappointment of the organic community, that they were not going to take further disciplinary measures against Aurora Organic Dairy, a company that just a few weeks ago had a portion of its organic certification suspended by the USDA for "willfully" violating National Organic Standards since 2003 by failing to pasture its animals and by bringing conventional calves onto its feedlots and then declaring them organic. But caving in to pressure from Aurora and other big corporate players in the organic sector , the USDA now says the #1 organic private label dairy processor in the U.S. can continue selling milk produced on its factory farms as "organic" to its longstanding customers including Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, and Woodstock Farms.
In a mind-twisting manipulation of logic, the new acting Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Connors, a notorious cheerleader for biotech and corporate agribusiness, announced last week that this issue, regarding Aurora's violation of the USDA National Organic Standards, falls outside the scope of the USDA National Organic Standards. "I know there is controversy out there on a number of issues that really fall outside the bounds, if you will, of what constitutes that organic standard that is necessary in order for the product to have our seal," said Connors.
Now that they have the USDA in their pocket, Aurora is threatening to sue the Organic Consumers Association and Cornucopia Institute for educating and mobilizing consumers to oppose Aurora's blatant violations of organic integrity. In related news, the recent issue of Fortune Magazine reports Aurora's factory farms generated a record 100 million dollars in "organic" dairy sales to consumers this year. In other words, when it comes to suing the OCA, Aurora has plenty of money, from selling its cheap "organic" factory farm milk to Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and Safeway . So given this David versus Goliath situation, OCA needs your financial support today, more than ever, to defend ourselves from this attack by Aurora and to expose the ongoing negligence of the USDA.