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From across the web, some interesting things we’ve read this month

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 March Issue Newsletter

By Amie Lindenboim

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the USDA, Dr. Joe Leonard

We’ve compiled this list of stories to help keep you up to date on issues impacting food and farming.

ECONOMICS

Cheap and Easy Food? Think About the True Cost

Reviewing EasyJet founder Stelios Haji-Iannou’s new “easyFoodstore” in north-west London, the author concludes, “no society on earth can ultimately afford food this cheap.”

 

FOOD JUSTICE

The Man Working Behind the Scenes to Bring Racial Equality to the Food System

As the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the USDA, Dr. Joe Leonard has spent the last 7 years doing what many thought was impossible: Working for equality within a government agency that was built on institutional racism.

 

FARMING TRENDS

Farming the Subdivision

A new “agrihood” in California’s Central Valley reworks a former tomato-canning plant into an aspirational suburb.  For planners and land conservationists, agrihoods can be a useful tool for preserving existing farmland.

 

FOOD LABELING

Washington State Seeks Judgment Against Food Trade Group

The Washington Attorney General has asked a state court for a summary judgment against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), as well as imposition of civil penalties, stemming from a lawsuit over the 2013 ballot initiative that attempted to label GMOs.  The bill failed by a 51% to 49% margin.  The AG asserts that the GMA intentionally shielded from public scrutiny the true identity of the companies that donated millions of dollars to this campaign, in flagrant violation of state law.

 

GENETIC ENGINEERING

Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Roundup Ready Alfalfa Has Gone Wild

This feral GE alfalfa may help explain a number of transgenic contamination episodes over the past few years that have cost American alfalfa growers and exporters millions of dollars in lost revenue.  It also exposes the failure of USDA’s “coexistence” policy for GE and traditional crops.

CRISPR is Coming to Agriculture With Big Implications for Food Farmers, Consumers, and Nature

Essential reading for those interested in the “next frontier” of gene editing.  Marketers of products of “CRISPR” technology are trying to avoid having these creations regulated as “GMOs.” At the retail level, this technology has been promoted by focusing on products where no foreign genetic material was introduced.  However, it is important to understand that the use of CRISPR does not preclude using gene sequences from a range of donors: microbes or fungi or fish.

 

Local News

Gloucester Chosen for Federal Food Initiative

The White House's Rural Council has chosen Gloucester as one of 27 communities nationwide to participate in the Local Foods, Local Places initiative designed to help transform locally harvested food into local economic development.

 

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

ChemChina Agrees to Acquisition of Swiss Pesticide Giant Syngenta

A Chinese state-owned chemical maker has agreed to acquire Swiss pesticide giant Syngenta for $43 billion in what would be the biggest-ever foreign acquisition by a Chinese company. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson criticized the deal, citing the “alarming trend of Chinese government-owned entities purchasing U.S. and other agricultural companies.” A merger with Syngenta would turn ChemChina into the country’s top pesticide company.  China is the world’s third largest pesticide market, after the US and Brazil.

 

ORGANICS

Colorado Will Soon Be Home to Certified Organic Cannabis

CBDRx, a Longmont, Colorado cannabis farm, has secured certification to market its products with the organic seal from the USDA, a major coup for the plant’s enthusiasts.  Apparently the USDA can certify industrial hemp as organic, but not its more psychoactive siblings. Meanwhile, some Colorado growers of psychoactive cannabis have been investigated for claiming to be “organic;” others for misusing pesticides (there are no pesticides federally registered for use on the crop).

 

PESTICIDES

Review Reveals Problems Protecting Workers From Pesticides

An Associated Press review of federal and state enforcement data and other records revealed that the pesticide-safety system is riddled with problems

Glyphosate Now the Most-Used Agricultural Chemical Ever

A study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe reveals that Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974. Worldwide, 9.4 million tons of the chemical have been sprayed onto fields. For comparison, that’s equivalent to the weight of water in more than 2,300 Olympic-size swimming pools. It’s also enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world.

Bayer Rejects EPA Request to Pull Insecticide from U.S. Market

Bayer AG said on Friday it will fight an EPA request to pull one of its insecticides (flubendiamide, the active ingredient in Bayer's Belt pesticide) from the marketplace amid concerns that it could harm organisms in streams and ponds.

Flubendiamide products are used to control yield-damaging moths and worms in more than 200 crops including almonds, oranges and soybeans.

The EPA's move follows the agency's unsuccessful attempt to withdraw its registration for Dow Chemical Co's Enlist Duo weed killer.

EPA Tosses Aside Safety Data, Says 2,4-D Won't Harm People

A Chicago Tribune investigation finds that the EPA discounted safety data for a World War II-era chemical called 2,4-D that has been linked to cancer and other health problems. Dow Chemical wants to use it as a weed killer on the company's new genetically modified crops.  20 years after Monsanto introduced corn and soybeans genetically engineered to be immune to glyphosate, “superweeds” resistant to the herbicide have become a major issue.

EPA Mulls Ban on Nation’s Most Heavily Used Insecticide

Triggered by a lawsuit filed by environmental and farmworker organizations, the EPA is proposing to “revoke all tolerances” for Chlorpyrifos, the nation’s most heavily used insecticide.  This would mean that no residue of the insecticide would be allowed in food. In a health assessment released in December 2014, the EPA cited three “strong” studies that showed that prenatal exposure to Chlorpyrifos “likely played a role” in adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in children up to seven years old.

 

POLLINATORS

Cuba's Organic Honey Exports Create Buzz as Bees Die Off Elsewhere

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the government embraced organic agriculture by necessity, and the policies have largely stuck. While most of Cuba’s honey goes to the EU, the market could expand with the US easing its embargo following the restoration 

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