Pages tagged "USDA"
Groups demand USDA require on-package labeling, not QR codes; Demand high-processed foods be labeled
Consumer, Environmental, Farmer Groups Demand Strong GMO Food Labeling Standards
July 3, 2018
Groups demand USDA require on-package labeling, not QR codes; Demand high-processed foods be labeled
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and dozens of consumer, environmental, and farming organizations and companies submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the agency’s long-awaited proposed regulations for the mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO). Collectively, the organizations submitted more than one hundred thousand comments from the general public. The law requires that USDA issue the final rules by July 29, 2018.
One of the major issues with the proposed rules is the allowance of digital QR codes instead of mandatory on-package text or symbol labeling. USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to choose to use QR codes, which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned and are intended to substitute for clear, on-package labeling. Real-time access to the information behind the QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology. Last fall, CFS forced the public disclosure of USDA’s study on the efficacy of this labeling, which showed it would not provide adequate disclosure to millions of Americans.
“USDA should not allow QR codes as they are discriminatory and unreasonably burdensome on consumers,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “USDA’s own study found that QR codes are inherently discriminatory against one-third of Americans who do not own smartphones, and even more so against rural, low-income, and elderly populations or those without access to the internet. USDA should mandate on-package text or symbol labeling as the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods.”
When it comes to on-package text or symbols, USDA proposes to disallow the terms “genetic engineering or GMO,” and use only the term “bioengineered,” or “BE,” despite the fact that genetic engineering and GMO have been the terms used for 30-plus years by consumers, companies, and regulators. Many food companies have long used the terms genetically engineered, GE, or GMO, and thousands of products are currently labeled as such (e.g., Non-GMO).
“USDA’s exclusion of the well-established terms GE and GMO as options will confuse and mislead consumers, and the agency must instead allow the use of those terms,” added Kimbrell.
The groups also demand that “highly refined” GE foods be covered, such as cooking oils, candies, or sodas that have ingredients derived from GE crops, but are in processed form such that in the final product, the GE content may or may not be detectable. The groups also demand that foods developed using newer forms of genetic engineering – which often go by different names such as synthetic biology, gene-editing, or CRISPR – also be labeled.
“USDA’s proposed rule is filled with loopholes that will keep consumers in the dark,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Instead of requiring clear, straightforward labels on food packages to allow consumers to make an informed choice, USDA wants to let companies use the deceptive term ‘bioengineered’ and biased, promotional symbols to promote this technology.”
“If GMO labeling is going to be meaningful, it must include all genetic engineering, including CRISPR,” said Dana Perls, Senior Food and Technology Campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “New GMOs should not be sneaking into food and consumer products ahead of health or environmental assessments, regulations and real transparent labeling.”
The signatories to the letter include: Abundance Food Co-op, Alliance for Natural Health USA, Beyond Pesticides, Canada Organic Trade Association, Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center, Center for Food Safety, Cultivate Oregon, Dr. Bronner’s, Equal Exchange Inc, Food & Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of Family Farmers, Friends of the Earth, Genesis Farm, GMO Free USA, Good Food Brigade, Green America, International Organic Inspectors Association, Lundberg Family Farms, National Organic Coalition, Nature’s Path Foods Inc, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Mass. Chapter (NOFA/Mass), Oregonians for Safe Farms and Families, Organic Advocacy, Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, Inc. (OFARM), Organic Seed Alliance, Our Family Farms, Pesticide Action Network North America, Sierra Club, Soil Not Oil Coalition, Straus Family Creamery, The Organic & Non-GMO Report.
The USDA is seeking public comments on proposed GE Labeling rules (National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard). There are several proposals in this document, and it's a lot to read, but it is important that we take the time to let our voices be heard and make this labeling law be the best that it can be. Please take the time to read this document to be able to comment most effectively. The comment period is open for 60 days (until July 3rd) and there will not be an extension as the USDA is required by law to issue final rules by July 29th, 2018.
We'll also continue to post about some of the specific proposals that we find problematic, in order to help you hone your comment requests, in the coming days, so stay tuned.
Center for Food Safety has released a succinct write-up of the NBFDS and what the concerns are with it. Read it here.
Organic Advocates and Farmers Sue over Trump Withdrawal of Widely-Supported Organic Livestock Welfare Rule
"Organic consumers and producers believe that Organic means providing animals with sufficient space, meaningful outdoor access, proper lighting, appropriate diets, and clean conditions. If not reversed, the new Trump decision will shatter confidence in the standard's integrity and trust that all products carrying the organic seal were produced with care for animals and the environment. It will allow honest and well-intended organic farmers that have always raised their livestock under a high standard of care to be undercut by fake organic production that is little more than animal factories." - Cameron Harsh, CFS senior manager for organic and animal policy.
Today marks the close of three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public comment periods on proposed changes to the oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals. Nearly 100,000 individuals, along with 65 leading environmental, food safety, consumer, and farm groups, are calling on USDA and FDA to substantially strengthen their proposed rules to better protect farmers, the general public and the environment from harmful GE plants and risky GE animals.
USDA is revising its three decade-old rules governing GE plants and other GE organisms. While USDA today has more authority to strengthen oversight, its proposed new rules would weaken it. Many GE organisms would be exempted from regulation altogether. Ongoing harms caused by pesticide-promoting GE crops would remain unaddressed. USDA would stop regulating risky GE plants engineered as “biofactories” to produce experimental pharmaceutical and industrial compounds. Definitional loopholes would permit many novel GE crops to escape all but superficial review. Overall, the USDA’s proposed new rules abandon sound science in favor of promoting the interests of the biotechnology industry.
"The haphazard and negligent regulation of agricultural biotechnology has been nothing short of a disaster for the public and the environment. While USDA should be protecting farmers and the environment, it has instead turned a blind eye to the harms that GE crops cause," said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety (CFS). "Unfortunately, the proposed rules would make things worse, not better, with less oversight, not more. Today Americans are demanding that USDA reverse this dangerous proposal and enact responsible regulation, not continue doing Monsanto’s bidding."
USDA’s proposed rules would continue to permit large increases in the use of harmful chemicals with new herbicide-resistant GE crops, and do nothing to stop the epidemic of resistant superweeds or crop-damaging herbicide drift that plagues farmers. Transgenic contamination would continue unchecked, harming conventional and organic growers. Newer GE crops like grasses and trees will create even greater novel risks.
“USDA’s proposal discounts well-established scientific evidence showing that GE crops increase overall pesticide use, endangering public health and the environment,” added Bill Freese, CFS’s science policy analyst.
In addition to the USDA comment period, FDA has requested comments on how to regulate GE animals and GE plants developed with new genetic engineering techniques. Surprisingly, FDA has never issued rules for assessing genetically engineered animals. Instead, GE animals are reviewed under entirely inappropriate regulations designed for new animal drugs. Last year, the FDA approved genetically engineered salmon using its outdated animal drug rules—an approval Center for Food Safety is currently challenging in court.
“This approval could set a dangerous precedent for other genetically engineered animals in the pipeline, from genetically engineered fish, to cows, chickens, and pigs,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S. “Some of these genetically engineered animals are being designed to better fit into and perpetuate the current broken factory farm model and are virtually unregulated and inadequately assessed.”
The groups contend that the lack of regulations specific to GE animals allows the FDA to overlook a host of serious risks posed by the genetic manipulation of animals. These concerns are shared by many scientists, and include environmental contamination, harm to endangered species, unpredictable genetic responses, and potential generation of surprise toxins and allergens in GE animal-derived foods, among other unintended consequences.
Signatures and organizational comments were collected and submitted to the docket by Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S.
An internal USDA memo shows a glut of funds remains available to reimburse farmers for organic certification
Like many organic farmers, Laura Davis would rather not pay hundreds of dollars to certify her farm every year. But in recent years she hasn’t had to pay the full cost. That’s because Davis, who runs Long Life Farm in Massachusetts, learned about a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that helps producers recoup some of the costs of organic certification. Through its cost-share program, the agency has reimbursed Davis for up to 75 percent of her annual recertification fees—about $900—during most of her farm’s seven-year tenure.
“It’s probably the easiest step in the whole certification process,” said Davis, who grows 100 varieties of vegetables and melons on more than two acres in Massachusetts. “It’s one page, and I think we have about a month from the time they send the form out until you have to send it in.”
But, unlike Davis, only about half of the nation’s organic operations participate in the USDA’s organic certification cost-share program. Since the program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill, approximately $60 million has been allocated to it. Not all of the allocated funds have been spent, and due to a series of recent hiccups that have kept that money from reaching farmers, a great deal of money allocated in the 2014 Farm Bill remains available.
Last year, the agency shifted the program from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) after USDA officials determined that the program hadn’t been marketed effectively.
According to an internal USDA memo obtained by Civil Eats, by the end of fiscal year 2015, $4.6 million of the $11.5 million allocated annually from the Farm Bill for the cost share program and Agricultural Management Assistance program went unspent. “Despite significant outreach, AMS and the states have not attracted enough demand from organic entities to expend the available funds,” the memo reads.
When the program was under the purview of the AMS, the USDA worked through state agriculture departments to provide cost sharing. Now the FSA, which works on a county level to build rapport with producers, will administer the program, though farmers in some areas may still apply for funds through state governments.