Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Global Grain Production Falls Behind Demand

  • Press Release
    Lowest Food Supplies in 50 or 100 Years: Global Food Crisis Emerging
    National Farmers Union of Canada, May 11, 2007
    Straight to the Source

National Farmers Union of Canada
National Office
2717 Wentz Ave.
Saskatoon, Sask., S7K 4B6
Tel (306) 652-9465
Fax (306) 664-6226

SASKATOON, Sask.-Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its first projections of world grain supply and demand for the coming crop year: 2007/08. USDA predicts supplies will plunge to a 53-day equivalent-their lowest level in the 47-year period for which data exists.

"The USDA projects global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record. Further, it is likely that, outside of wartime, global grain supplies have not been this low in a century, perhaps longer," said NFU Director of Research Darrin Qualman.

Most important, 2007/08 will mark the seventh year out of the past eight in which global grain production has fallen short of demand. This consistent shortfall has cut supplies in half-down from a 115-day supply in 1999/00 to the current level of 53 days. "The world is consistently failing to produce as much grain as it uses," said Qualman. He continued: "The current low supply levels are not the result of a transient weather event or an isolated production problem: low supplies are the result of a persistent drawdown trend."

In addition to falling grain supplies, global fisheries are faltering. Reports in respected journals Science and Nature state that 1/3 of ocean fisheries are in collapse, 2/3 will be in collapse by 2025, and our ocean fisheries may be virtually gone by 2048. "Aquatic food systems are collapsing, and terrestrial food systems are under tremendous stress," said Qualman.

Demand for food is rising rapidly. There is a worldwide push to proliferate a North American-style meat-based diet based on intensive livestock production-turning feedgrains into meat in this way means exchanging 3 to 7 kilos of grain protein for one kilo of meat protein. Population is rising-2.5 billion people will join the global population in the coming decades.

"Every six years, we're adding to the world the equivalent of a North American population. We're trying to feed those extra people, feed a growing livestock herd, and now, feed our cars, all from a static farmland base. No one should be surprised that food production can't keep up," said Qualman.

Qualman said that the converging problems of natural gas and fertilizer constraints, intensifying water shortages, climate change, farmland loss and degradation, population increases, the proliferation of livestock feeding, and an increasing push to divert food supplies into biofuels means that we are in the opening phase of an intensifying food shortage.

Qualman cautioned, however, that there are no easy fixes. "If we try to do more of the same, if we try to produce, consume, and export more food while using more fertilizer, water, and chemicals, we will only intensify our problems. Instead, we need to rethink our relation to food, farmers, production, processing, and distribution. We need to create a system focused on feeding people and creating health. We need to strengthen the food production systems around the world. Diversity, resilience, and sustainability are key," concluded Qualman.

For More Information: Darrin Qualman, Director of Research: 652-9465 Stewart Wells, NFU President: 773-6852

Backgrounder to the NFU's May 11, 2007 news release

The United States Department of Agriculture reports recent grain supply and demand numbers on its World Agriculture Sup ply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) website at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo...

The longer-term data on world grains supply and demand is at Production, Supply, and Demand Online (PSD) at http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdhome.aspx

China Sentences Former Drug Regulator to Death


SHANGHAI, May 29 — The former head of China’s top food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death today after pleading guilty to corruption and accepting bribes, according to the state-controlled news media.

Zheng Xiaoyu, who served as director of China’s Food & Drug Administration from its founding in 1998 until mid 2005, was detained in February as part of a government investigation into the agency that is supposed to be the nation’s food and drug watchdog.

Two other top agency officials were also detained in February.

The unusually harsh sentence for the former director comes at a time of heightened concerns about the quality and safety of China’s food and drug system after a series of scandals involving tainted food and phony drugs.

China is also under mounting pressure to overhaul its food export controls after two Chinese companies were accused this year of shipping contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States, triggering one of the largest pet food recalls in United States history.

The nation’s regulators are also coming under scrutiny after diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical sometimes used in antifreeze, ended up in cough syrup and toothpaste in Latin America.

In Panama, more than 100 people died last year after consuming cough medicine laced with diethylene glycol that was shipped from China mislabeled as a harmless syrup.

The incidents pose a huge threat to China’s growing food and drug exports and have already led to international calls for new testing and screening methods for Chinese-made goods.

The problems are more serious in China because tens of thousands of people are sickened or killed every year because of rampant counterfeiting and phony food and drugs.

For instance, last year 11 people died in China after being treated with an injection tainted by a fake chemical. And 6 people died and 80 others fell ill after taking an antibiotic that was produced with a “substandard disinfectant.”

Small Chinese drug makers have long been accused of manufacturing phony or substandard drugs and marketing them to the nation’s hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. And mass food poisonings involving tainted food products are common.

The Chinese government, however, has stepped up its patrols in recent weeks, announcing a series of measures aimed at strengthening food and drug safety and cracking down on counterfeiting operations.

Today, the government said it was preparing to release its first regulation on nationwide food recalls.

The government also said it would crack down on food products that are being illegally exported, bypassing food inspections.

As for Mr. Zheng, the former head of the food and drug agency, the government said that while serving the agency he took bribes worth about $800,000 in exchange for approving drug production licenses.

Worried that many of those drugs may be substandard, China is now reviewing over 170,000 production licenses issued by his agency over the past decade.

The New York Times Company

Friday, May 25, 2007

Center For Food Safety Opposes Proposal in Farm Bill to Bar State Prohibitions on Gene-Altered Foods

Contact: Joe Mendelson, Center for Food Safety, 703-244-1724; John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212-576-2700

House Subcommittee Today Approves Language Slipped into Farm Bill that Prevents States from Protecting their Citizens

Center for Food Safety Recognizes that Proposal Ties States' Hands, Weakening Food Safety Protections at a Time When they Need to be Strengthened

Washington May 24, 2007 - Earlier today, the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry approved new language slipped into the 2007 Farm Bill that pre-empts any state prohibitions against any foods or agricultural goods that have been deregulated by the USDA. The passage appears to be aimed at several recently enacted state laws that restrict the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops, but could also prohibit states from taking action when food contamination cases occur.

"Given the recent spate of food scares, it's shocking to see this attempt to derail safeguards for our food and farms," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "We need a Farm Bill that will promote stronger food safety standards, not one that attacks these vital state-level protections."

The passage approved by the House Subcommittee today states that "no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed; or determined to be of non-regulated status."

State legislatures, local governments, and citizens of many states and localities have adopted prohibitions on the planting of certain genetically altered products. Some of the state-level laws that may be pre-empted or compromised if the proposed Farm Bill language were adopted include:

* Legislation in California and Arkansas that gives these states the power to prohibit the introduction of GE rice. The major rice growing states are particularly concerned after last falls revelations that several unapproved varieties of GE rice had contaminated natural rice, resulting in massive losses for US farmers when export customers in Asian and Europe closed their markets to US rice.

* Legislation adopted this year in the state of Washington, which prohibits planting of GE canola in areas near the State's large non-GE seed production. Brassica (cabbage, broccoli, and other such crops) seed producers pushed for this legislation, since GE canola can cross-pollinate with and contaminate natural cabbage seed. The Skagit Valley area in Washington produces $20 million in vegetable seed annually and is home to half of the world's cabbage seed production;

* County bans on planting of GE crops in four California counties. To protect their organic and natural food producers, four California counties have adopted bans or moratoriums on planting of GE crops;

An overview of these and other state- level regulations of GE crops and foods is available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/US_Ag_Report.pdf.

In addition, the vague language of the proposal raises concerns that states would be barred from taking action when food safety threats arise. For example, states could be barred from prohibiting the sale of e. coli-tainted ground beef if the meat has passed USDA inspection, as was the case in last week's massive 15-state beef recall.

The biotechnology industry has sponsored language akin to the text approved this morning in the House subcommittee in dozens of state-level attempts to pre-empt state regulations on GE crops. They also joined the food and agribusiness industries last year in pushing for a federal "Food Uniformity" law, which would have gutted numerous state-level food safety laws.

The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tell FDA Not to Weaken Labeling for Irradiated Foods!

What if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule that would intentionally hide information you rely on to make decisions about what to feed yourself and your family?

Or if FDA proposed changing food labeling information to something the agency knows to be misleading to consumers?

Well, FDA has announced just such a rule to weaken labeling of irradiated foods.

Currently, irradiated food must be labeled as “Treated with irradiation” or “Treated by radiation” and have on them the irradiated symbol. But now, in yet another attempt to appease industry at the expense of the public, the FDA has proposed a new rule that would allow irradiated food to be marketed in some cases without any labeling at all. In other cases, the rule would allow the terms “electronically pasteurized” or “cold pasteurized” to replace the use of “irradiated” on labels. These terms are not used by scientists, but rather are designed to fool consumers about what’s been done to their food.

Pasteurization involves heating liquids for the purpose of destroying harmful bacteria and other pathogens, and has been used safely for decades. Irradiation is a completely different process, using high-energy gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays on meat, grains, and other foods.

Labeling irradiated foods as “pasteurized” is simply untruthful and misleading. Allowing the marketing of irradiated food without any labeling is equally misleading. Consumers have demanded irradiation labeling because they know that irradiation can create potentially dangerous chemical byproducts and reduce their foods' nutritional value. In fact, FDA’s own research found that the proposed change would confuse consumers, stating "Research indicates that many consumers regard substitute terms for irradiation to be misleading."

What is the FDA hiding? A lot.

Consumers have a right to truthful labeling in order to make informed choices for themselves and their families. A public comment period is open until July 3, 2007.

Protect Your Right to Know: Tell the FDA Not to Weaken the Rules for Labeling Irradiated Food!

Tell me more

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Another Sneak Attack on Organic Standards:

WASHINGTON, DC- The USDA has announced a controversial proposal, with absolutely no input from consumers, to allow 38 new non-organic ingredients in products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal. Most of the ingredients are food colorings derived from plants that are supposedly not "commercially available" in organic form. But at least three of the proposed ingredients, apparently backed by beer companies, including Anheuser-Busch, and pork and food processors, represent a serious threat to organic standards, and have raised the concerns of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), as well as a number of smaller organic companies and organic certifiers.

Specifically, OCA disagrees with what we are calling the "Budweiser exemption," allowing conventionally grown hops produced with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, to be used in beers labeled as "USDA Organic". Also, OCA strenuously objects to the USDA's proposal to allow the use of conventionally raised factory-farmed animals' intestines as casing for sausages labeled as "organic." OCA is also disturbed that the USDA public comment period on this proposal is only seven days, leaving concerned consumers little time to mobilize. “We are outraged about this latest sneak attack from the USDA. This proposal is blatant catering to powerful industry players who want the benefits of labeling their products ‘USDA organic’ without doing the work to source organic materials. If passed, this proposal will weaken the organic seal and show the public that the USDA represents the interests of industry and not consumers," says Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of OCA.

In response to the USDA proposal, OCA has written a petition that will be presented to the USDA towards the end of the public comment period. The petition reads:

Speaking from the perspective of organic consumers, we support the NOP for clarifying to producers that if an item is not on the National List, it cannot be used in conventional form. However, we do not support a number of the NOSB's 38 recommended additions to the National List. Notably, we are opposed to the addition of casings from processed intestines, hops (without specific listings), fish oil, beet juice, lemongrass, rice starch and whey protein.

AMS-TM-07-0062 claims that these exceptions must be added to the list to offer concessions to countless companies who have violated the National Organic Standards in the past by using conventional ingredients that were not on the National List. These same companies have been given months to petition the NOSB for inclusion of desired conventional ingredients on the
National List. In contrast, the general public has only been allocated 7 days to comment.

The full petition text is available online at: http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizationsORG/oca...


Telephone: 218-226-4164
Fax: 218-353-7652
email: adam@organicconsumers.org;

Friday, May 18, 2007

Review of Genetic Roulette

Review of Jeffrey M. Smith's Genetic Roulette: The documented health risks of genetically modified foods

Yes! Books, May 2007
Available from
www.amazon.com / www.amazon.co.uk www.geneticroulette.com * and from Green Books:

* special case price available for 16 books

Reviewer: Claire Robinson

What's your response when someone comes out with a fatuous statement they've picked up from somewhere to the effect that "There's no evidence that GM food is harmful"?

If you have time and energy enough, perhaps you manage to scrabble together some bits and pieces from your memory, the web, a book or an article. But considering the number of calls that the business of living places on your time and energy, maybe you just shrug your shoulders and muse that the world is going to hell in a handbasket of Bush, Blair, and Monsanto's making and there's nothing you can do about it.

Well, now there is. Just point them in the direction of the latest book from Jeffrey Smith, Genetic Roulette: The documented health risks of genetically modified foods.

A must-read for every policy-maker, educator, and journalist, it's also invaluable for anyone who wants to sharpen up their weaponry in the battle against the imposition of GM foods. And judging by the steady stream of emails I've received over the years from students in schools, colleges, and universities asking me to explain the risks of GM food, every educational institution and public library needs to buy a copy.

Of course, those who enjoyed Smith's previous book, Seeds of Deception, should be warned that this isn't the same sort of read. 'Seeds' laid out the fraud of GM through its stories: the honest scientists who were gagged, threatened, and persecuted; the revolving door between industry and regulators that led to untested GMOs being unleashed into the food supply; the consumers who got sick and died from eating a supplement produced with GM bacteria, only to have their suffering covered up by a government that cared only to protect the interests of the industry.

While Smith's last book uncompromisingly presented the science challenging the claimed safety of GMOs, the focus was on the human. The salesmen-scientists and the whistle-blowers of the GM world were shown doing what they have to do - in the case of the first, to protect their careers, and in the case of the second, to protect public health, the planet, and their ability to sleep at night. Genetic Roulette is not a book of stories, but rather an easy-to-use reference book of scientific fact and documented findings on the risks of GM foods.

It will come as no surprise to GM Watch subscribers that contrary to what the industry would have us believe, there are a considerable number of findings that show GM causes harm. Smith uses much previously unavailable material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and has trawled through piles of industry submissions and government documents. He extracts the scientific meat and methodically lays it out for our examination, with one finding per chapter section. One section, for example, is headed, "Mice fed Roundup Ready soy had liver cell problems". The finding is described in full, followed by possible interpretations and comments, either by the researchers themselves or other experts.

Given the worrying lack of substantial published research, Smith also draws upon unpublished studies, case studies, medical reports, media reports, and eyewitness accounts. Unlike the notorious pronouncements of supporters of the biotech industry, interpretations and statements of opinion are never misrepresented as scientific fact. Readers will always know the status of what they are reading and the basis for it. The author has gone to great lengths to maintain accuracy of reporting, having each section of the book checked by at least three scientists.

Other sections of the book highlight serious flaws and gaps in the industry's case for GM food safety. Again, each chapter section is devoted to a particular topic, such as the ability of GM disease-resistant crops to promote dangerous new viruses. Scientific evidence for this is laid out with explanations. All points are referenced in unobtrusive footnotes.

Even those who know quite a bit about the GM issue will learn lots from this book. Perhaps this is partly due to Smith's status as a non-scientist: he does not assume specialist knowledge on the part of the reader, and explains things that many of us have become used to skimming over because of our lack of such knowledge.

For example, ever wondered why a certain batch of GM crops is called an "event"? Smith explains that each batch is produced by inserting the transgene into the host plant cells either by the gene gun method or by infection with a bacterium. So random and disruptive is this process to the host cells that the results are different with each insertion. The process is neither repeatable nor reproducible. Scientists tell me, however, that repeatability and reproducibility are generally viewed as prerequisites to any process that claims to be scientific. In this light, the GM process as it is currently practiced is not scientific. Nor does it even qualify as engineering, as the engineering equivalent would be to try to build the Forth Bridge by tossing an assortment of girders, nuts and bolts in the general region of the Firth of Forth and letting a bunch of monkeys fiddle with them: an intelligence of a sort is at work, but the result is utterly unpredictable. Thus, even if government regulators had a road-to-Damascus conversion and actually started policing GM technology as they are supposed to, any safety tests performed on one "event" of a GM crop would have to be repeated on all other events before the crop could be pronounced safe. Cheap GM crops for the third world, anyone?

Another interesting snippet concerns allergies to GM Roundup Ready soy. The one comforting factor when dealing with allergies to conventional foods is that once you know your poison, you can generally avoid it, and your allergic reaction ceases. But not with Roundup Ready soy. Research has shown that a portion of the transgene from the GM soy is transferred into human gut bacteria. In addition, the gut bacteria survive doses of Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate. This indicates that the transgene continues to produce its Roundup Ready protein from within the gut bacteria. If this is so, then long after you stop eating GM soy, you may be constantly exposed to the potentially allergenic protein. The medical consequences of ongoing allergic reactions to an ingredient widely used in processed foods have not been addressed.

Conspicuous by their absence are follow-up studies to those that show harm from GM foods. The book details the tactics that industry uses to shut down or bury inconvenient research, including ignoring it, attempting to discredit the research or its authors, and funding competing studies so poorly designed that no meaningful findings can possibly be extracted. If all else fails, industry-aligned researchers discount deaths of experimental animals or claim that statistically significant results have, magically, no significance at all.

The layout of the book is an exemplar of clarity and should serve as the model for any reference book (authors of science books, please note: fewer people would give up on science if it were this easy to digest). It is designed to make the material accessible to three levels of reader: the scanner, the casual reader, and the reader who wants all the detail. Each double-page spread is devoted to a particular problem with GM foods, with the left-hand page having the topic heading, a featured quote by a scientist or expert, and a few short bullet points, and the right-hand page giving the technical detail. Scanners can take in the left-hand page at a glance; casual readers can read the main narrative on the right-hand page; and for those who need detail, there are paragraphs of indented text giving figures and examples. You don't need a science background to understand it. While the book is not bedtime reading, all terms are defined and the boggle factor is kept low. The excellent table of contents gives a one-sentence summary of each of the risks of GM foods and enables the reader quickly to access the evidence.

Smith has to be the best science communicator alive today, and this book stands as the final word on GM health risks. It's the definitive answer to those who don't know, those who don't want to know, and those who know but don't want anyone else to know.

Ventria's pharma rice threatens food supply

Center for Food Safety
Kansas Rural Center
Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering

USDA Approval of Drug-Producing Rice in Kansas Poses Threat to Food Safety, Say Food Safety & Farming Groups

Tornadoes, Floods Could Contaminate Foods With Drugs Not Approved By FDA

20,000 Citizens, Scientists, Farming and Rice Organizations In Opposition

WASHINGTON - The Center for Food Safety, Kansas Rural Center and Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering object to USDA's May 16th approval of drug-producing rice cultivation in Kansas, charging that it poses needless risks to the safety of the American food supply. USDA's approval permits cultivation in the Junction City area of up to 3,200 acres of rice genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical compounds that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to approve. FDA approval is not required for planting to proceed.

The groups note that the decision comes just a week after tornadoes in the Kansas River Valley and heavy rains caused severe flooding in east-central Kansas, including floodwaters on the Smoky Hill River, which passes just a mile from one of the proposed planting sites. USDA had earlier dismissed concerns raised by the groups that floodwaters could carry the pharmaceutical rice into surrounding cropland and contaminate farmers' crops with drugs unapproved by the FDA. USDA concluded in its environmental assessment that: "Extreme weather events are rare and unlikely to occur in the area of the field trial."

"About two weeks ago, I was huddled with other travelers in a rest stop on Interstate 70 as tornadoes were reported on the ground in the very area where Ventria proposes to expand their production between Junction City and Topeka," said Dan Nagengast, Executive Director of the Kansas Rural Center.

"I also question whether the company has adequately engineered their water control systems to deal with the amounts of torrential rainfall that are quite common here. This just represents an unconscionable food safety complication in a food-producing region. Why grow these crops in wide open nature, when other companies have found it possible to use genetic engineering techniques to produce biotech drugs in confined settings where food contamination is not an issue?"

USDA approved the "pharma rice" plantings despite receiving 20,000 comments in opposition from citizens, scientists, farming and rice groups. Groups opposing the scheme include the USA Rice Federation, U.S. Rice Producers Association, Riceland Foods, Mississippi Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council, and Rice Producers of California. In addition, fourteen independent scientists signed a joint scientific assessment warning of potential adverse health impacts from even trace-level exposure to one of the rice-produced drugs.

"These rice-grown drugs are unapproved by FDA, may be hazardous, and whether hazardous or not could cause huge economic losses to Kansas farmers whose wheat, soy or other crops become contaminated with drug rice," said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst with Center for Food Safety.

"In 2002, corn containing an experimental swine vaccine got mixed into soybeans and regular corn, which then had to be destroyed at a cost of several millions dollars," said Nagengast. "Over the past year, rice farmers have lost millions of dollars from contamination of their crop with unapproved genetically engineered rice grown under USDA's watch," he added.

"The USDA needs to stop rubber-stamping schemes like drug-producing crops that put farmers and the rural economies they support at great risk," said Bill Wenzel, National Director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering. "The USDA should be focused on representing farmers rather than carrying water for the biotech industry," he added.

Developed by California-based Ventria Bioscience, the rice is engineered with modified human genes to serve as a "biofactory" for production of synthetic human milk proteins that have antimicrobial and other drug-like properties. Ventria has proposed using the rice-extracted protein drugs to treat infants with diarrhea, and as additives in infant formulas, yogurt, granola bars and sports drinks, among other uses.

Last month, the Center for Food Safety released a report detailing the potential human health impacts of Ventria’s pharmaceutical rice and the FDA's refusal to approve Ventria's rice-grown drugs. The report, "A Grain of Caution," also disputes the need for Ventria's pharmaceutical rice, discussing cheap and effective solutions for prevention and treatment of diarrhea recommended by the World Health Organization and other public health experts. The report notes that these existing solutions have cut deaths due to diarrhea from 4.6 million a year in 1980 to 2 million today, and could save many more lives if adequate funding were provided.

Center for Food Safety's "A Grain of Caution" is available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/Pharmaceutical%20Rice-FINAL.pdf

For Center for Food Safety's comments to USDA warning of contamination and other risks, see: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/Biopharm%20Rice%20Kansas%20comments_final.pdf


Dan Nagengast, Kansas Rural Center, 785-748-0959 Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359 x14 Bill Wenzel, Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, 608-444-0292 __________

Center for Food Safety is a national non-profit membership organization working to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and promoting sustainable agriculture. In 2000/2001, CFS was part of a coalition that discovered widespread contamination of the food supply with genetically engineered StarLink corn, which had not been approved for human consumption due to concerns it could cause food allergies. In the past year, CFS has won three cases against USDA for the Agriculture Department’s reckless and illegal approval of genetically engineered crops. See www.centerforfoodsafety.org.

The Kansas Rural Center is a non-profit research, education and advocacy organization that promotes environmentally sound farming practices and a safe and healthy food system, benefiting both farmers and consumers. See www.kansasruralcenter.org.

The Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering was formed in 1999 to provide a national voice for farmers on agriculture biotechnology. The Campaign provides education, training and support to farmers and farm groups on agricultural biotechnology issues.