Consumer Power

We Owe It to This Brave, Determined Victim.

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-06-21 16:58
June 21, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie CumminsGenetic Engineering logo bayer and monsanto 1000x523.jpg

Early this week, a California court appointed the judge who will oversee the trial of DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company.

DeWayne “Lee” Johnson was a school groundskeeper, a job that required him to use Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller on school properties.

The 46-year-old father of two is now terminally ill, with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). And he’s suing Monsanto.

Johnson is just one of thousands of NHL sufferers suing Monsanto for not only causing their cancer, but for knowingly exposing them to risk by concealing Monsanto's own internal evidence linking Roundup to NHL and other health problems.

Johnson is the first to go to trial, because California expedites trials for the terminally ill.

Wayne Johnson could have chosen to live out the rest of his life in peace. Instead, he chose to use the time he has left to face down one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Johnson is committed to holding Monsanto accountable.

We owe it to him to be just as unwavering in our determination to hold Monsanto accountable.

Please help us fund more litigation, more investigative journalism, and the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on Roundup weedkiller’s devastating impact on human health. Click here to donate online or for details on how to donate by phone or mail.

OCA sued Monsanto last year for its deceitful labeling on Roundup sold to consumers in stores like Costco and Home Depot. Monsanto tried to get the case dismissed, and failed. We're now working with our attorneys to build a bullet-proof case.

We've also committed at least $25,000 to help fund the largest, most comprehensive global study ever undertaken of Roundup and glyphosate. Depending on the outcome, this could be the study that leads to a global ban on Roundup and all glyphosate-based herbicides.

And we're the largest financial supporter of U.S. Right to Know, a consumer watchdog organization whose investigations have exposed widespread corruption within the Monsanto organization.

I would have a hard time choosing which of these projects we would drop, if we couldn’t continue to fund them all. Because all of this work is more critical now than ever.

Let me explain.

Last week Bayer, the new owner of Monsanto, announced that the newly merged poison-peddling behemoth of a company will drop the Monsanto name.

The obvious reason? The name Monsanto is synonymous with evil.

But could the name change also be part of a more sinister strategy? To avoid liability for Monsanto’s crimes? Will Bayer try to argue that because “Monsanto” no longer exists, its victims no longer exist, either?

We owe it to Wayne Johnson and the millions of Monsanto victims around the world, including babies born with birth defects, to keep this fight alive.

Monsanto can run. But as long as we don’t give up, it can’t hide.

We are all victims. But together, we will all become “prevailers.”

Please help us fund more litigation, more investigative journalism, and the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on Roundup weedkiller’s devastating impact on human health. Click here to donate online or for details on how to donate by phone or mail.

P.S. We rely on individual donors like you for nearly 80% of our total budget. We simply can’t do this work without you. Please consider a generous donation today, details here.

Man vs. Monsanto: First Trial Over Roundup Cancer Claims Set to Begin

Organic consumers - Tue, 2018-06-19 18:00
June 19, 2018U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamHealth Issues johnson 1000x523.jpg

Dewayne "Lee" Johnson has led what many might call an unremarkable life. The 46-year-old father and husband spent several years working as a school groundskeeper and spending free time teaching his two young sons to play football. But this week he takes center stage in a global debate over the safety of one of the world's most widely used pesticides as he takes Monsanto to court on claims that repeated exposure to the company's popular Roundup herbicide left him with terminal cancer.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos was assigned Monday to oversee the trial, and jury selection is tentatively expected to begin Thursday, June 21, with opening statements possible by June 27. The courtroom showdown could last three to four weeks, lawyers involved estimate, and will shine a spotlight on decades of scientific research and internal Monsanto documents that relate to the testing and marketing of Monsanto's flagship herbicide and the active ingredient, a chemical called glyphosate.

Though Johnson is the lone plaintiff in the lawsuit, his case is considered a bellwether for roughly 4,000 other plaintiffs also suing Monsanto over allegations that exposure to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled to go to trial in October in St. Louis, Missouri.

The lawsuits, which have been piling up in court dockets around the U.S., not only challenge Monsanto's position that its widely used herbicides are proven safe, but they also assert that the company has intentionally suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products, misleading both regulators and consumers in a dangerous deception.

The litigation, proceeding both in federal and state courts, began after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The IARC classification was based on years of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies analyzing glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.

Monsanto and allies in the agrochemical industry have blasted the litigation and the IARC classification as lacking in validity, countering that decades of safety studies prove that glyphosate does not cause cancer when used as designed. Monsanto has cited findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory authorities as backing its defense. The company can also point to an EPA draft risk assessment of glyphosate on its side, which concluded that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic.

"Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product," Monsanto states on its website. "Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide."

Glyphosate represents billions of dollars in annual revenues for Monsanto, which became a subsidiary of German-based Bayer AG on June 8, and several other companies selling glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto brought the pesticide to market in 1974 and the weed killer has been used prominently for decades by farmers in food production and by municipalities to eradicate weeds in public parks and playgrounds, and by homeowners on residential lawns.

Monsanto had sought to delay the Johnson case, just as it has sought to delay and/or dismiss the others brought against it. But the trial was expedited because he is not expected to live much longer after being diagnosed in 2014 with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mycosis fungoides.

A death sentence

According to court records, Johnson worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District for many years and applied multiple treatments of Monsanto's herbicides to the San Francisco-area school properties from 2012 until at least late 2015, including after he was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014. His job entailed mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of glyphosate-based herbicides around school properties. He used various Roundup products, but mostly Roundup PRO, a highly concentrated version of the weed killer. After developing a skin rash in the summer of 2014 he reported to doctors that it seemed to worsen after he sprayed the herbicide. In August of that year he was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma but continued his work until 2015 when he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy only to learn in September 2015 that he likely had but 18 months to live.

In a deposition taken in January of this year, Johnson's treating physician testified that more than 80 percent of his body was covered by lesions and his diagnosis continued to be terminal. Still, Johnson has improved since starting a new drug treatment and plans to attend some of the trial if possible, his attorneys said.

Johnson has not led an unblemished life; Monsanto uncovered an aggravated assault charge against him from the early 1990s, along with a misdemeanor weapons charge and a domestic abuse complaint against the mother of his oldest child. The company elicited deposition testimony from Johnson that he failed tests for pesticide applicators three times, and sprayed the pesticide without a certified applicator license. Johnson wore proper protective gear over his clothing but was accidentally drenched in the pesticide at least once when mixing it.

Monsanto's lawyers will argue other factors could be to blame for Johnson's cancer, and that its weed killer played no role.

Johnson's attorneys have shrugged off any issues regarding Johnson's personal behavior or other potential causes for his disease, and say in court filings they will offer evidence at trial that Monsanto "for decades, engaged in a shocking degree of scientific fraud and manipulation of the scientific literature with respect to Roundup" to cover up the evidence that it does cause cancer.

The trial evidence will include information that Monsanto ghostwrote articles relied on by the EPA, IARC and California's environmental regulators; rewarded employees for ghostwriting; and actively suppressed the publication of information that revealed the harm associated with glyphosate and Roundup. Johnson's attorneys say internal Monsanto documents show extensive "manipulation" of the scientific record, and clearly improper and fraudulent interactions with regulators.

Johnson's attorneys intend to call 10 current and former Monsanto employees to the stand.

"We're going to get them here. We have the goods," said Brent Wisner, who is one of three attorneys representing Johnson at trial. "If the evidence we have is allowed in, Monsanto is in trouble."

Lead lawyer out

Wisner was only brought in to help try to case within the last few weeks after lead attorney Mike Miller suffered a near-fatal accident while kite surfing and remains too severely injured to try the case. Wisner's role is key as he is set to deliver both the opening and closing statements for Johnson's case in Miller's absence.

Monsanto filed a motion on June 18 seeking to exclude Wisner from trying the case, however, claiming he has been acting as a "PR man," and lobbyist against glyphosate, particularly in Europe, where glyphosate has been under intense regulatory scrutiny. Monsanto also cited Wisner's release in August 2017 of hundreds of pages of internal Monsanto documents turned over in discovery that the company had wanted to keep sealed, a tactic that earned Wisner a rebuke from the judge in the federal multidistrict litigation pending against Monsanto. Monsanto's lawyers argue that the internal corporate communications have been intentionally presented out of context by Wisner and other plaintiff's attorneys to make it appear as though the company engaged in deceptive practices when it did not.

Wisner's activities put him in violation of a California "advocate-witness" rule, Monsanto contended in its filing.

In addition to trying to exclude the lawyer, Monsanto is seeking to exclude reams of evidence, including internal emails written by its scientists, arguments that it deceived the EPA, evidence of fraud committed by laboratories, and testimony from Johnson's expert witnesses.

Judge Bolanos will hear arguments on Wednesday regarding that motion and more than a dozen others regarding what evidence will and will not be allowed at trial.

Both sides say the case and the outcome are important in a larger sense. If the jury finds in favor of Johnson it could encourage additional litigation and damage claims some of the lawyers involved estimate could run into hundreds of millions of dollars. If the jury sides with Monsanto, other cases could be in jeopardy. Additionally, a victory for Monsanto in this first case could ease regulatory questions dogging the company.

As for Johnson, he will try to attend some of the trial, and will testify, but will not likely be there for it all, said Wisner. Johnson's wife, Araceli Johnson, will be called to testify, as will two of his co-workers and his doctors.

"Right now he's on borrowed time. He's not going to come to most of the trial," said Wisner. "The guy is going to die and there is nothing he can do about it. It's unbelievably horrible."

Reposted with Permission by EcoWatch.

Tell Congress: Don't Weaken Organic Standards!

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-06-14 20:43
Belong to campaign: USDA WatchSafeguard Organic StandardsCategory: All About Organics, Health Issues, Politics & GlobalizationArea: USA

Every five years, Congress is tasked with reauthorizing the Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation that determines how $90 billion/year will be spent.

This is one of those years.

Unfortunately, both the House and Senate versions of a proposed 2018 Farm Bill include changes to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that would make it much easier for industry to use synthetic chemicals in organic food and farming.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Tell Congress: Keep organics strong! Read more

Tell Whole Foods: The Time for Labels on GMOs is NOW!

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-06-14 20:00
Belong to campaign: Millions Against MonsantoCategory: Genetic EngineeringArea: USA

Five years ago, under mounting pressure from consumers, Whole Foods Market (WFM) announced that by the end of 2018, the then-largest retailer of organic foods would require all of its suppliers to clearly label GMO ingredients and foods.

Last week, the company reneged on that commitment, or at least the timeline part of it.

SIGN HERE! Tell Whole Foods: The Time for Labels on GMOs is NOW! Read more

What the Heck, Ben & Jerry's? How about Cleaning Up Your Own Act?

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-06-14 14:04
June 14, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulAll About Organics boy child eat ice cream cone sweet cc 1000x523.jpg

A number of our supporters wrote recently to complain about the cozy deal between and Ben & Jerry’s. It’s a deal that lets the ice cream maker polish its image (and boost sales) by aligning its brand with progressive causes—even though the Unilever-owned company is responsible for the use of massive amounts of toxic chemicals that have all but ruined Vermont’s water.

One supporter wrote:

In case no-one else brought this to your attention, I received a solicitation over the weekend from MoveOn sponsored by Ben and Jerry's. When I got around to reading it just now I responded by attempting to notify MoveOn's administrators that they were being used by Ben and Jerry to once again present themselves as "socially responsible" citizens when in fact they among the worst of the worst offenders of the public health and contamination of the commons through their actions. 

Another emailed this:

Maybe someone from OCA can politely tell MoveOn and their members to ditch Ben and Jerry’s BS . . . Once again, Ben and Jerry’s is pretending to be all for the grassroots, Democratic values… even though they serve Glyphosate Ice Cream to their customers and refuse to go Organic!”

These supporters (and others) were referring to emails to MoveOn members from "Ben & Jerry" with subject lines like “We're worried” and “Stop Trump. Eat Ice Cream.”  One of those emails starts out with:

Hi, fellow MoveOn member!

It's Ben and Jerry, the ice cream guys.

We aren't experts on elections the way that MoveOn's team is, but we've been activists and MoveOn members for a long time

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s who later sold the company to Unilever, may in fact oppose the Trump administration. We’re fine with that. 

But let’s be clear. This is free advertising for Ben & Jerry’s, a brand that masquerades as “socially responsible” when it isn’t. And it’s a great example of subliminal advertising, designed to convey this message: “Hey, we’re just like you. We care.”

The marketing gurus at Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s know full well that many consumers are willing to spend more for products sold by “socially responsible” companies. According to a recent report, Unilever's “Sustainable Living” brands are growing 46 percent faster than rest of business.

What better way to spread the message that you’re one of the “good guys” than by promoting your brand via a 6-million-plus email list targeting people who care about social justice and the environment?

Partnering with MoveOn is just one of several publicity efforts launched in recent months, all aimed at bolstering Ben & Jerry’s brand image.

In March, Ben & Jerry’s hit the media circuit with the announcement that the brand is partnering with nonprofits and other food companies “to address climate change and healthy soils by creating a new standard focused on regenerative agriculture.”

Sounds great. Except that there’s nothing the least bit regenerative about supporting the growing of more than 90,000 acres of GMO crops in Vermont. Unless Ben & Jerry’s starts sourcing 100-percent organic milk and cream, the company can put out all the press releases it wants. But it can’t call itself “regenerative,” much less position itself as a leader involved in creating “a new standard” for regenerative agriculture.

Healthy soil, the kind of soil that contains a wealth of biodiverse organisms, the kind of soil that is rich in organic matter capable of absorbing and retaining moisture, that can draw down and sequester carbon, that grows nutrient-dense plants and food—that kind of soil doesn’t exist in a landscape saturated in glyphosate, atrazine and metolachlor. 

And yet, Ben & Jerry’s steadfastly maintains that the company cares about the climate. In another recent big media splash, the brand announced it is partnering with the London-based Poseidon Foundation on the “world’s first retail platform that connects consumers to their own carbon footprint.”

What the heck? Connecting consumers to their carbon footprint? What about Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever’s giant carbon footprints? How about cleaning up their own house, before asking consumers to clean up theirs?

One reporter asserted that the Poseidon-Unilever joint project isn’t a “half-baked idea.” Then he went on to write:

After each purchase, the [London Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop] will pay one penny to offset the carbon of the sale, and customers will then be asked if they want to double the impact by donating an additional penny.

The meager payments will help fund carbon offset projects around the world, such as building renewable energy infrastructure or planting trees, Forbes reports.

As a reminder, last year, Organic Consumers Association testing found traces of glyphosate in samples of Ben & Jerry’s purchased in London. Maybe Londoners in search of a treat should seek an organic alternative? Rather than support a brand that supports a supply chain that supports Monsanto?

Bottom line: Anything aimed at cleaning up our food and environment and cooling off the planet belongs in the plus column of corporate behavior. But shameless tricks designed to divert consumers’ attention from “pollute-for-profit” corporate practices shouldn’t be condoned.

Ben & Jerry’s can do better. But so far, it hasn’t. It’s up to consumers to boycott the brand until Ben & Jerry’s does the one thing that could save its image: trade in its dirty dairy practices and go organic.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Trails of Regeneration Episode One: 'Spirit of Sadhana'

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-06-13 18:18
June 13, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationAll About Organics, Environment & Climate spirit_of_sadhana_1000x523.jpg

Thanks to Regeneration International’s roving reporter Oliver Gardiner for producing “The Spirit of Sadhana,” the first episode of “Trails of Regeneration,” a video series featuring stories from around the world about people who love and care for nature’s ecosystems and human well-being.

Gardiner takes us to Auroville, India, where we meet Velvizhi V, a regeneration steward from Chennai, South India. As she walks through her city, Velvizhi reminds us about the heavy monsoon rains and severe flooding that hit southern Asia in August of 2017, killing more than 1,200 people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Against a backdrop of video footage from the 2017 floods, Velvizhi explains that even though the city experienced record rainfall, none of that rain managed to replenish the aquifer. 

The water was lost to sea, “wasted again,” as she puts it:

“Imagine the underground as a tank. You keep on filling it but you have a hole at the bottom, in which the water is leaking. So what’s the point in filling it if it’s wasted?” 

Why did all that rain run off into the sea? Instead of soaking into the soil? Deforestation, says Velvizhi. A problem that can be fixed only by reforesting the land.
Velvizhi works with Sadhana Forest, a volunteer-led project that trains communities in agroforestry and water conservation to restore degraded lands by planting trees.

As of today, Sadhana Forest has recruited 7,000 volunteers to regenerate degraded lands, live in symbiosis with nature and reverse deforestation naturally in Haiti, India and Kenya.

In India, the organization works to retain water and fill the aquifer so villagers can cultivate their own food. Without food, Velvizhi says, villagers flock to nearby city slums. 

Crucial to the Sadhana Forest mission is planting native trees, so young people can experience the original forest of their forebears. The tree-planting process includes preparing the ground by laying a blanket of mulch. According to Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest: 

“Mulching is very important because this is a very arid area and the sun is very very strong here. If we mulch the tree we protect it from the sun and we also enable the tree to benefit from the leaves breaking down and having more nutrients.”

You can’t have too much mulch, Rozin says. If you can see the soil, then so can the sun—which means it’s time to add more mulch.

In Haiti, Sadhana Forest  has helped the community plant 80,000 food-bearing trees, with the potential to feed  70,000 people.

In Kenya, the organization helps grow food forests with the Samburu people to promote food security in their community, a region characterized by droughts and malnutrition.

“The Spirit of Sadhana” clearly defines the importance of agroforestry in helping regenerate the land to create environmental, economic and social benefits.

To watch future episodes of “Trails of Regeneration,” be sure to “like” Regeneration International (RI) on Facebook and “follow” RI  on Twitter. Sign up here for updates from RI.

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

Can Playing in the Dirt Help Prevent Childhood Leukemia?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-06-13 18:04
June 13, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationJulie WilsonAll About Organics, Health Issues girl garden child water plants green cc 1000x523.jpg

Good news for kids who like to play outside. According to new research, a healthy and diverse microbiome may be key to preventing childhood leukemia. And one of the best ways to encourage “gut” health is to get plenty of exposure to dirt—preferably “healthy” dirt, not dirt whose microbial activity has been killed or compromised by toxic agricultural chemicals.

Leading cancer researcher Professor Mel Greaves of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research in London theorizes that the onset of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—the most common form of childhood leukemia—may be prevented if a child is exposed to common bacteria and viruses very early in life. Also known as microbes, these bacteria and viruses can be found in most natural environments, including in healthy soil and in human breastmilk. 

Most cases of childhood leukemia have high remission rates—up to 90 percent. But conventional treatments for the disease include chemotherapy, radiation and other cancer drugs. And those can create life-long negative side effects. 

In a paper recently published in the scientific journal Nature Reviews Cancer, Greaves dismisses the idea that electromagnetic radiation or environmental chemical exposure is the cause of childhood leukemia. Instead, he provides compelling evidence that sterile, ultra-clean environments, which are common in industrialized countries, may be linked to the disease.

Greaves suggests that a complex genetic predisposition already present in the unborn fetus may be activated by a founding event, such as an infection caused by the common flu virus. This event is believed to trigger further mutations that lead to the development of white blood cell cancer. 

However, exposure to beneficial microbes found in healthy soil, human interaction (including contact with other children), breastfeeding and being born via a natural, vaginal birth as opposed to Cesarean, may offer protection against childhood leukemia in those with a predisposition to the disease. 

In other words, childhood leukemia, the cause of which has baffled scientists, could actually be preventable

This so-called “priming” of the immune system may explain why 99 out of every 100 kids who are genetically predisposed to childhood leukemia don’t actually contract the disease—and why rates of ALL are higher in technologically advanced developed countries compared to undeveloped countries, which tend to have less effective sanitation systems and therefore a higher (and arguably healthier) rate of microbial exposure.

Understanding the microbiome 

Modern-day science is just beginning to understand the complexity and various functions of the human microbiome, an individualized microbial cloud consisting of trillions of microbes such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa. 

Often referred to as our “second brain,” the microbiome is responsible for regulating many processes including mood, digestion and both immune system function and brain function. A growing body of research reveals the role of the microbiome in preventing chronic and life-threatening diseases. 

For example, a study published by the American Association for Cancer Research found that a less diverse microbiome is linked to multiple diseases, including allergies, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and neuropsychiatric disorders. 

A more recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that babies who were breastfed had a more diverse microbiome and lower risk of developing obesity later in life compared to infants primarily fed formula. 

Exposure to important microbes early in life “train the immune system to prevent allergies,” as well as “help us digest and extract energy from food, which can influence weight gain,” according to the study’s authors.

Monsanto’s Roundup shown to disrupt the microbiome

As science continues to unravel the mysteries of the microbiome, we also gain a better understanding of what happens when that intricate microbial cloud is disrupted by exposure to pesticides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller. 

Studies show that glyphosate damages the gut microbiome of rats, as well as beneficial microbes found in soil.

A recent animal study published by the Ramazzini Institute found that glyphosate can have adverse effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut microbes at doses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims are “safe.”

While the long-term health effects of glyphosate on the human microbiome remain unknown, scientists warn of cancer risks that could affect a vast number of people due to the massive amounts of the weedkiller being sprayed on agricultural crops and food. 

Want to help get Monsanto’s Roundup banned for good? Learn more here.

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

How the Largest Army in the World Can Solve Climate Change

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-06-07 12:26
June 7, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationAll About Organics, Environment & Climate grassroots1000x523.jpg

When you have a huge problem, you send your biggest army. You’re probably thinking that army belongs to China, India or the U.S., right?

Wrong. The Chinese army is around 1.3 million people—a fraction of the size of the 2.3-billion global “army of agriculturalists,” says agronomist Guy Webb, in the new 20-minute documentary “Grassroots.”

According to Webb, more than any other group of people, farmers have the ability to solve one of the most challenging issues facing mankind—climate change.

“Barring the ocean, soil is the biggest carbon sink we have on planet Earth,” Webb says. He believes the people growing our food are the ones we need on the front lines of the battle to reduce carbon in our atmosphere.

How do Webb and others think farmers can achieve this Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

Fungi. Specifically, melanised endophytic fungi. Tony Bellette, who narrates “Grassroots,” explains:

Now, what’s interesting about this fungus is that it lives nestled within the roots of a plant and spends its time storing away carbon in the soil that will stay there for hundreds or even thousands of years. But what I didn’t mention, and perhaps more importantly, it does so by drawing that carbon out of the atmosphere in amounts so great, it could potentially hold a solution to climate change.

Microbiologist Chandra Iyer, also featured in the film, explains that there’s a lot happening underneath the soil:

“There is more diversity of microbes than there are human beings or animals in the entire planet put together. Because we can’t see it, we can not actually perceive it. It’s very hard for us to comprehend the whole idea. But in an actual world, plants depend on microbes.”

If these curious little fungi are the solution to climate change, how do farmers get the fungi into the soil, to make the planet’s life-giving layer of earth healthier and more fertile?

That’s where Soil C Quest comes in, an agricultural research and development task force with an agenda to fast track the development of a type of soil carbon sequestration biotechnology.

Soil C Quest creates a seed inoculum that “fixes” carbon using the “carbon capturing fungi.” This process, called “fungal mediated soil carbon sequestration,” captures and concentrates atmospheric carbon (C02) into plant sugar (C6H1206) and in turn converts some of that carbohydrate flow into fungal melanin (C18H10N204), depositing this stable form of carbon safely inside soil microaggregates.

Thanks to filmmaker Frank Oly and producer Tegan Nock, viewers get a front row seat on Webb’s journey from an Aussie just trying to find a way to improve the health of Australia’s farming soil, to pitching his game-changing technology at the TEDxSydney 2017 Fast Ideas (he won), to working long hours in a greenhouse with local farmers who all become unlikely heroes on a quest to bring a breakthrough climate change solution to the world.

“Through the history of agriculture, we’ve had practices and techniques that have allowed us to take big leaps in productivity and sustainability,” Nock says. “The knowledge that we’re building around endophytes, will allow us to take the next step forward.”

Now, you might be thinking what narrator Bellette asks at the end of the film:

“Could a fungus really save the world? Webb and his friends are slowly getting closer to finding out. Let’s hope they succeed, because I think you’ll agree with me, the way things are going, we might be running out of time.”

Want to see the film? It’s now being shown at the SCINEMA International Science Film Festival in Australia. If you don’t live Down Under, you can host a screening at your festival, conference or event.

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

Consumer Group Sues EPA for Documents Related to FDA's Testing of Food for Herbicide Residues

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-06-06 16:44
June 5, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine Paul and Ronnie CumminsGenetic Engineering, Health Issues glyphosate_spray1000x523.jpg

Thanks to internal emails uncovered by Carey Gillam, writing for The Guardian, the public knows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found glyphosate residues in a variety of foods. In fact, the agency had trouble finding any foods that didn’t test positive for traces of the chemical, best-known as the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

It’s the FDA’s job to conduct residue testing on food. It’s the responsibility of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pesticide residues on food. It stands to reason then that the two taxpayer-funded agencies would communicate closely with each other on any food testing involving glyphosate or any other pesticide.

That’s why U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with both agencies, and shared the findings in a series of stories by Gillam, a former Reuters reporter who now directs research for the consumer advocacy group.

The FDA has produced at least some of the documents requested by USRTK. But the EPA has dodged group’s effort to learn more about this matter of public policy and public health.

The EPA has failed to produce documents requested in a July 2016 FOIA request, and also had failed to respond to a February 2017 request for related industry communications. That failure led Gillam and USRTK to sue the EPA last month.

If the public already knows that FDA tests found glyphosate, and USRTK already has related FDA documents, why bother suing the EPA for that agency’s related communications?

“When you use FOIA, it’s like getting pieces of a puzzle,” said Gillam, explaining that the FDA and other federal agencies routinely redact, or black out, large sections of the documents they turn over. “To put that puzzle together, to get the whole picture, often  requires requesting records from multiple sources. We still may not get everything, as it seems the agencies are increasingly embracing secrecy, but it’s our responsibility to try to get to the truth.”

Gillam, author of the award winning book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science,” told Organic Consumers Association that USRTK isn’t seeking the EPA documents because the group has a preconceived notion that the EPA has done something wrong or illegal. But she said she finds it curious that the FDA communications USRTK has received so far contain emails from the FDA to the EPA, but gaps where one would expect to see responses from the EPA back to the FDA.

Gillam said she is particularly interested in any communications with or regarding industry influence, and communications that pertain to any FDA testing that finds samples with residue levels that exceed the EPA’s maximum residue limits (MRLs). (A recent study suggests there are no “safe” limits of glyphosate for human consumption, but for now, the EPA maintains such limits exist).

"The EPA is supposed to be working on behalf of the public interest, and the public has a right to transparency on issues relevant to public health and our food supply," Gillam said. "The presence of pesticide residues in our food is of growing concern to many health experts. And the fact that our regulators have had to reverse themselves on assurances of safety for certain pesticides—telling us they are safe in our food and then later admitting they were wrong—only underscores that concern. We hope to hold the EPA accountable on this and other matters so we can do our small part to keep the public informed."

Did the FDA ever intend to reveal test results?

It was early 2016 when Gillam first discovered and reported that the FDA was starting to test food samples for traces of glyphosate.

To learn more, Gillam and USRTK filed FOIAs with the FDA and in July 2016 with the EPA, seeking any documents and any communications the agency had with FDA, Monsanto and certain other parties related to glyphosate residue testing. In February 2017, USRTK filed a second FOIA request, seeking communications between the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and representatives of CropLife America, a trade association representing pesticide and herbicide manufacturers and distributors.

The EPA initially acknowledged the request, but has so far failed to provide any update or any records on the test results or related communications outlined in the FOIA request.

Meanwhile, even though the FDA hasn’t gone public with its residue testing results, internal documents obtained by Gillam, writing for The Guardian in April show that the FDA has had difficulty finding any food that doesn’t have some trace of the most widely used herbicide in the world. Glyphosate-based herbicides have been used in food production for more than 40 years.

Earlier articles by Gillam revealed that the FDA had found glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal products.

The Guardian article features an email, one of many FDA communications about the pervasiveness of glyphosate in America’s food, written by FDA chemist Richard Thompson to his colleagues. The email says that he has “brought wheat crackers, granola cereal and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount [of glyphosate] in all of them.”

Thompson also wrote that broccoli is the only thing that he has “on hand that does not have glyphosate in it.” The internal FDA email thread is dated January 2017.

When asked about the internal email, the FDA spokesperson reportedly didn’t address the issue, claiming only that the agency did not detect illegal levels of glyphosate in corn, soy, milk or eggs.

California Congressman wants answers, too

Three days before USRTK filed its lawsuit, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) sent a letter to the FDA, saying that he is “concerned by recent public reporting revealing that scientists at the FDA have communicated that they found glyphosate traces in commonplace food items.”

Rep. Lieu wrote:

The differences between levels of glyphosates referenced in The Guardian article and the FDA’s preliminary test results coupled with the EPA IG’s inquire into its own agency’s review of glyphosate indicate to me that the public deserves additional information on the safety of glyphosate in food. As such, I respectfully request answers to the following questions:

• How did the FDA determine which food items to include in its glyphosate testing?

• How would any potential changes to the EPA’s regulations for glyphosate affect the FDA’s testing?

• Do you collaborate with the National Institutes of Health on matters related to glyphosate?

• Does the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s finding that glyphosate may be carcinogenic affect your testing of the pesticide?

• Will you release, or provide to Congress, the preliminary results of the FDA’s glyphosate testing?

• When will the final results for the FDA’s glyphosate testing be completed and made public?

• Do you disagree with any element of The Guardian article reference in this letter? If so, please explain.

With no end to glyphosate in sight, humans remain at risk

It’s unclear how soon Lieu and the American public will get answers to their questions. In the meantime glyphosate continues to wreak havoc on human health.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “cancer is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg” when it comes to the dangers caused by glyphosate exposure. He explains that glyphosate not only causes Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, but it also compromises the shikimate pathway and disrupts the microbiome by acting as an antibiotic.

Moreover, the “gly” in glyphosate refers to glycine, a common amino acid used to make proteins—this confuses your body into substituting glyphosate for glycine and ends up producing damaged proteins. Glyphosate can also cause systemic and metabolic damage.

Unfortunately, it seems that consumers will continue to be left in the dark regarding these harmful effects, as long as biotech giants like Monsanto have a stranglehold on the food system, spoon-feeding scientists, journalists, academics and even the media with questionable studies that support their point of view.

You can reduce your exposure to glyphosate by eating organic food grown without the use of pesticides. Be sure to purchase Grade A organics and not food from "Big Organic" factory farms. Be wary of retail grocery chains that sell organics under their own label, including Aldi’s Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe’s, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco and Walmart. Most of these store-brand products are produced by industrial-scale organic producers. Instead, shop at your local natural health food stores or co-op. These businesses make sure they only sell the best-quality organic and regenerative foods.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Ronnie Cummins is OCA’s  international director. OCA is a  major funder of U.S. Right to Know. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

Whole Foods Fails Consumers Again, 'Delays' GMO Labeling

Organic consumers - Tue, 2018-06-05 13:51
June 4, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulAll About Organics, Genetic Engineering wholefoodsmarket1000x523.png

Photo Credit: Photo YourSpace, cc

Five years ago, under mounting pressure from consumers, Whole Foods Market (WFM) announced that by the end of 2018, the then-largest retailer of organic foods would require all of its suppliers to clearly label GMO ingredients and foods.

Last week, the company reneged on that commitment, or at least the timeline part of it.

This time, there was no flashy press release, no media fanfare. Instead, the news was circulated quietly in an email to the company’s suppliers.

In the email,  WFM Chief Operations Officer A.C. Gallo claimed the company, now owned by Amazon, is merely “pausing” the plan, until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalizes labeling requirements under the federal mandatory labeling law passed in July 2016—a law that (intentionally) has no teeth. 

WFM claims it doesn’t want to burden suppliers by making them follow one set of labeling requirements for WFM, and another to satisfy the federal law. That statement suggests that the company will simply go along with the federal labeling requirements—a far weaker plan than what WFM originally promised consumers—and drop its own plan.

If there were ever any doubt about WFM’s intentions, those intentions are clear now: The company’s GMO labeling promise, too little too late from the get-go, was always more about saving face and scamming consumers than it was about real transparency and forcing Big Food to change its ways. 

Dragged kicking and screaming into the GMO labeling battle

In 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported on a protest organized by Organic Consumers Association against WFM. At issue? The retailer’s intentionally misleading statements about its commitment to carrying only healthy, “natural,” organic foods—when in fact the store’s shelves were full of products containing unlabeled GMO ingredients.

A year later, as public sentiment around GMO labeling heated up after California citizens launched a mandatory GMO labeling ballot initiative (Proposition 37), WFM market became a target for critics, OCA included, who accused the retailer of “sitting out” the fight for labels.

Under pressure, WFM did eventually officially endorse California’s Proposition 37. But the endorsement was tainted by then-CEO John Mackey’s claim that the “jury is still out” on the health and safety of GMOs.

To make matters worse, WFM didn’t contribute a dime to the pro-labeling campaign, even though other organic retailers, including Dr. Bronner’s, and Nature’s Path, pitched in millions. The retail chain wouldn’t even allow signature-gathering outside its stores.

Labeling promise—an act of marketing desperation?

After Prop 37 was (narrowly) defeated, WFM tried to win back disgruntled consumers by announcing that it would become the first major retailer to require labels on  GMO foods or ingredients sold in its stores. "We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer's right to know," Walter Robb, then-CEO said during his March 14 [2013] presentation at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California.

Was it a genuine commitment? Or just PR stunt to help diffuse some of the bad press resulting from its lack of support for California’s labeling initiative?

We tried to give the company the benefit of the doubt, though we questioned the five-year goal. If WFM in the UK was already labeling GMOs, why wait five years to provide U.S. consumers with the same level of transparency?

Still, we thought, if WFM, one of the largest buyers of organic products in the U.S., required suppliers to label GMOs, this would be a giant win for consumers.

But any glimmer of hope that WFM might do the right thing was extinguished when CEO Robb threw his support behind the DARK Act—the federal GMO labeling law that effectively ended the fight for meaningful GMO labeling by including a raft of exclusions and allowing companies to use electronic barcodes and other obfuscatory means of “disclosing” GMO ingredients. (The USDA is now considering using these silly images to “warn” consumers about GMOs).

Where does that leave consumers? Without labels, for sure. But today’s increasingly savvy consumers aren’t without options. Many will turn to more reliable, and more loyal, retailers and brands as they seek out organic and regenerative products, many of them from local (and reliable) sources.

WFM may have only recently sold out to Amazon. But it sold out consumers long ago.

Want to give WFM a piece of your mind? Take action here.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.


Monsanto Relied on These 'Partners' to Attack Top Cancer Scientists

Organic consumers - Fri, 2018-06-01 19:46
Genetic Engineering, Health IssuesUS Right to KnowMay 31, 2018 monsanto sign 1000x523

This fact sheet describes the contents of Monsanto’s confidential public relations plan to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research unit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weedkiller. In March 2015, the international group of experts on the IARC panel judged glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, to be probably carcinogenic to humans.

The Monsanto plan names more than a dozen “industry partner” groups that company executives planned to “inform / inoculate / engage” in their efforts to protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent the “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies.” Partners included academics as well as chemical and food industry front groups, trade groups and lobby groups — follow the link to fact sheets that provide more information about the partner groups.

Together these fact sheets provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the corporate attack on the IARC cancer experts in defense of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide.


Will Congress Use the Farm Bill to Undermine Organics?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-05-30 21:14
May 30, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie CumminsAll About Organics, Politics & Globalization sheep livestock field farm fence sunset cc 1000x523.jpg

It remains to be seen if Congress will get its act together to pass a Farm Bill before year’s end. But here’s what we do know. If Congress succeeds in passing a 2018 Farm Bill, it will almost certainly be bad news for the organic industry.

We already know that the House version, H.R.2, includes potentially devastating attacks on organic and regenerative food and farming. Fortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down H.R. 2 last week. But we’re not out of the danger zone yet—the House is scheduled to vote on its bill again on June 22.

The Senate is about to drop its Farm Bill as early as June 6, according to Politico. We haven't seen that bill yet. But we do know that the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee—Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)—aren’t great friends of organic. We also know that the Senate Farm Bill will be bipartisan—which means it’s sure to pass.

The Organic Trade Association, which should be committed to protecting organic standards from any sneak attacks in the Farm Bill, has indicated that it will stand with consumers. But we're skeptical, given the group’s track record. 

In the meantime, we’re urging supporters of organic to ask their Senators to protect organic and regenerative food and farming.

House Farm Bill contains direct attacks on organic

H.R. 2, the House Farm Bill, would severely erode the power of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is an independent standards-setting body which, under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, has the authority to determine which non-organic substances are allowed in organic.

If the House Farm Bill were to become law, the NOSB’s authority would be undermined in two significant ways:

1. The NOSB would be required to “convene a task force to consult with” the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when considering whether to allow a pesticide or any other non-organic substance approved by those agencies in organic. This is clearly an attempt to put pressure on the NOSB to allow pesticides and other non-organic substances in organic.

2. The Agriculture Secretary would be given the power to force the NOSB to “expedite” its review of a petition from industry to allow a non-organic post-harvest handling substance in organic, when that substance is “related to food safety.” (Sounds like somebody’s got a new disinfectant they want to use in organic. Currently, chlorine is allowed for washing organic foods like baby carrots, eggs and chicken. This is controversial and has led to consumer preference for "air chilled".)

Senate leaders hint at using Farm Bill to ‘reform’ organic

We’d like to think that the Senate would take a different path than the House, and refrain from making any changes to organic standards in the Farm Bill. But as you may recall from our battles over organic animal welfare rules and GMO labels, the Repubican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee—Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)—aren’t great friends of organic.

Roberts has been particularly hostile to organic. He’s even threatened to use the Farm Bill for “reforming” the NOSB. At a hearing titled “Opportunities in Global and Local Markets, Specialty Crops, and Organics: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill,” Roberts said:

“[I]t seems that uncertainty and dysfunction have overtaken the National Organic Standards Board and the regulations associated with the National Organic Program.

These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organics from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their businesses in an efficient and effective manner. Simply put, this hurts producers and economies in rural America.”

Theo Crisantes of Wholesum Harvest, a vegetable producer who uses hydroponic growing methods, was a witness at the same hearing. He represented the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, which last year led a successful campaign to convince the NOSB, after a hotly contested debate and by a narrow vote, to allow soilless systems to be certified USDA Organic. (The hearing took place before the NOSB decision, so Crisantes spoke as if the NOSB would block hydroponics—it didn’t). Crisantes used his time at the hearing to echo Robert’s talk of “uncertainty:”

“[O]ver the last few years, the NOSB has drafted and considered proposals to eliminate containerized and hydroponic growing methods from organic certification. … While this issue may be the one in the hot seat currently, other issues and topics may be coming down the pipe. I am concerned that—without some change to the status quo—the organic industry will continue to face unnecessary regulatory uncertainties that will prevent it from meeting rising consumer demand.”

Then Crisantes made the case for “reforming” the NOSB:

“Of those 15 seats on the NOSB, four of them are filled by small operators who grow on a combined acreage of less than 120 acres. Likewise, the only seat allocated to retailers is currently occupied by a 17-store chain. Stated another way, NOSB’s current composition fails to reflect the breadth and diversity of the industry.”

After the hearing, an editorial appeared in The Packer, a pro-agribusiness, pro-GMO, pro-pesticide publication. Titled “Organic Board Should Grow Up,” the editorial complained that the NOSB included “too many niche players.” It also ridiculed “MOM’s Organic Market a 16-store natural food retail chain in four eastern states” and “Clif Bar Co., which ran a sleazy anti-GMO, anti-conventional agriculture campaign.”

Wow! Since when does opposition to GMOs and conventional agriculture disqualify someone from serving on the NOSB? Shouldn’t those positions be required of board members?

Don’t count on the Organic Trade Association to defend organics

Fear over what Roberts and Stabenow might do to organic in the Senate Farm Bill is so intense that even the Organic Trade Association (OTA)—the group that helped Roberts and Stabenow pass a GMO “labeling” bill that definitely won’t label GMOs—is concerned.

In March, the OTA, whose members include the biggest multinational food companies that sell organic but also GMO food, sent a letter to Roberts and Stabenow, signed by 138 companies that sell organic food. The signers included most of the biggest food companies, either by name or under the names of their organic brands. For example, Mars, Nestlé and DanoneWave signed the letter, while General Mills was represented by its natural and organic subsidiaries, Annie’s, Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen, and Hormel was represented by its natural and organic subsidiary, Applegate. These companies sell some organic food. But the bulk of their profits come from sales of GMO, pesticide-drenched and factory farm food.

Still, these companies were troubled enough by what Roberts and Stabenow might do to organic to write:

We support the underlying law that governs the authorities and composition of the board and believe that it plays an essential role in the public’s trust in organic agriculture. Making significant changes to NOSB [the National Organic Standards Board] in the Farm Bill could harm the integrity of the organic program, undermine consumer trust in the organic label, and severely damage the reputation of the industry as a whole.

The Farm Bill should not contain controversial provisions that impact the organic sector that do not have broad support among those within the organic industry. As you are leaders in our nation’s agriculture policy, we respectfully request that you consider this perspective as you review policies in the Farm Bill related to NOSB.

That’s a first. Is the OTA truly committed to protecting organics from attempts to undermine organic standards in the next Farm Bill? After all, historically, the OTA hasn’t opposed sneak attacks on organic. In fact, the trade group has orchestrated some of those attacks. And when the public found out, it was front-page news.

From the Washington Post (2009):

The Organic Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole and Dean Foods, lobbied for and received language in a 2006 appropriations bill allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing and packaging of organic foods, creating conditions for a flood of processed organic foods.

And from the New York Times (2005):

But last week, Senate and House Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee inserted a last-minute provision into the department's fiscal 2006 budget specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food.

The Organic Trade Association, an industry lobbying group that proposed the amendment and spent several months pushing for its adoption, says that the measure will encourage the continued growth of organic food.

Some advocacy groups, however, say the amendment will weaken federal organic food standards, first established under a 1990 law. Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, calls the initiative a "sneak attack engineered by the likes of Kraft, Dean Foods and Smucker's."

One of the lobbyists for Altria, Kraft's majority owner, Abigail Blunt—the wife of Representative Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, who recently became interim House majority leader after Tom DeLay of Texas resigned from the post—has been working on the issue, the company says.

Dean Foods' subsidiary Horizon Organic and the J. M. Smucker Company, the owner of Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic juices, said they supported the work by the Organic Trade Association, which represents both large and small companies in the business, but did no lobbying on their own.

Can we trust the companies that launched the sneak attack on organic more than a decade ago, earning it the nickname "Organic Traitors Association," to protect our interests now? We think not.

The OTA and the companies it represents have worked to seriously erode organic standards at NOSB. There isn’t a non-organic substance that the group hasn’t championed for inclusion on the National List of Allowed Substances. OTA was also behind the Obama Administration’s “sunset rule” changes that made it harder for the NOSB to remove non-organic substances from the National List.

Most significantly, while the OTA claims to be working to prevent the Senate from making changes to the NOSB, it has praised the House Farm Bill, and downplayed the impact any changes contained in the bill would have on organics. OTA’s press release on the House Farm Bill stated:

We applaud the amendment offered and passed by Congressman Rodney Davis that reverses provisions in the underlying draft bill that were not supported by the organic industry and keeps decision-making on inputs allowed for use in organic squarely within the purview of the National Organic Standards Board.

The Davis amendment referred to in OTA’s press release makes it clear that the final decision on non-organic substances in organic still rests with the NOSB. But the amendment doesn’t address or change the fact that the bill would give the Agriculture Secretary new power to force the NOSB to “expedite” its decision-making process. And it doesn’t even attempt to change the fact that the bill also would force the NOSB to consider the EPA and FDA’s arguments for why pesticides and other non-organic substances should be allowed in organic.

Giving new powers to the Agriculture Secretary to mess with organic is especially dangerous given how the Trump Administration has treated other decisions made by the NOSB. The Organic Foods Production Act gives the NOSB the exclusive authority to make decisions on non-organic substances. Yet Trump’s USDA recently overruled the NOSB’s decision to end the use of carrageenan. And the OTA wasn’t troubled by that in the least.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) got its start defending organic standards, back in 1998, when we lobbied successfully against the USDA’s controversial proposal to allow genetic engineering, irradiation and toxic sewage sludge in organic production and products. For consumers looking to reduce their exposure to pesticides and eliminate GMOs from their diets, we still believe certified organic is the right choice. While we also support recent efforts by groups looking to set even higher, “beyond organic” standards, we are committed to protecting organic standards from any sneak attacks, including those that are part of the House and Senate Farm Bills.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Ronnie Cummins is OCA's international director. Sign up here for news and alerts from OCA.


How did your member of Congress vote on raw milk? Find out, then take action!

Organic consumers - Tue, 2018-05-29 16:26
Belong to campaign: Healthy Raw MilkCategory: All About Organics, Politics & GlobalizationArea: USA

Exciting news! The first ever Congressional debate and vote on raw milk happened in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

Unfortunately, Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky)’s amendment to the Farm Bill, intended to overturn a 1987 ban on interstate sales of raw milk, was defeated. 

So what’s next? We push the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to exempt raw milk farmers from regulatory enforcement if they provided a clear warning label and instructions for milk pasteurization.

TAKE ACTION: If your member of Congress voted against Massie’s amendment to allow interstate sales of unpasteurized milk, send him or her a letter that provides more information on why consumers should have the freedom to buy raw milk.

If your Member of Congress voted to respect your right to drink raw milk, send him or her a letter to say “thank you, now please take the next step.” Read more

This Farm Is Medicine

Organic consumers - Fri, 2018-05-25 14:05
May 25, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationEnvironment & Climate, Farm Issues this farm is medicine 1000x523.jpg

Meet Murray Provine. He used to be a steak-and-potatoes type of guy living a no-exercise, traveling-executive lifestyle.

All that changed after Provine was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Luckily, radiation destroyed Provine’s tumor. He got a second chance.

That’s when Provine decided it was time for him to eat right and take control of his own health. He knew his body was full of toxins. It needed to heal itself. One way to do that, he decided, was to start growing his own food.

Under the tutelage of rancher and consultant Allen Williams, Provine converted his 110-acre horse property in Clarksville, Georgia, into an Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing farm.

Three years later, Provine and his land are in much better health. Both transformations are well-documented in Peter Byck’s most recent film, “This Farm is Medicine.”

“The pursuit of better health made this land healthy,” Provine says in the film. “A lot of good things happened as I began to eat better. I lost weight. My blood sugar is down. I have more energy. And I plan to live long enough to be a problem for my children.”

Provine credits Williams with helping him turn his property into a biodiverse wonderland.

“What we’re seeing here is a fairly rapid transformation,” says Williams as he walks through the pastures at Provine’s farm:

“In a three-year time period being able to go from a farm that had a lot of bare ground, fairly low water infiltration rates at the time, a lot of weeds to a farm today that is actively thriving. So he has created, in essence, a thriving total ecosystem that not only supports the livestock but also supports an array of other life. From many different species of birds and songbirds to mammals, deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrel, you name it, to pollinator insects and the wildlife below the ground in the soil, the soil microorganisms, everything.”

Other benefits? Provine doesn’t need to use commercial fertilizers because he raises heritage chickens, using regenerative practices. The birds defecate on the ground, which provides the inputs he needs to create healthy soil.

Provine also raises market gardens and pastured pork and cattle, thus creating biodiversity on his farm, by what he calls “stacking enterprises.”

Provine’s cattle are grassfed and on a 30-day cycle moving from pasture to pasture. Williams describes this grazing method:

“What we’re looking at here is a very well-planned and executed rotation of the cattle. Nature has this incredible ability that when subjected to disruption it actually regenerates itself a degree or two higher than where it was before … We want to make darn sure that in our pastures we have that three classifications of forage species represented which creates that salad bar … [The cows] have the opportunity here versus a monoculture to every single day balance their own diets.”

Williams believes we can medicate ourselves through our food as long as we eat good food. Identifying “good” food includes knowing how the food was raised, where it came from and how it was produced. He says: “So you are creating multiple levels of diversity, everything basically from life in the soil all the way up to the different types of animals and produce and that’s what we’ve gotten away from in agriculture.”

Provine sums it up this way:

“It’s just like investing in the stock market. You know if I had invested all my money in Enron years ago, I’d be in deep trouble today. But if I invested in a diverse portfolio, some were up, some were down, but they were all good companies, overall the mix is profitable and it gives me the return that I want.”

Want to join Provine and others who are regenerating their land, growing their own food and using food as medicine? Become a partner of Regeneration International.

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

New Study to Investigate the Dangers of Glyphosate Exposure in Pets

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-05-24 21:13
May 24, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationJulie WilsonGenetic Engineering dog puppy brown grass lawn cc 1000x523.jpg

We know that humans increasingly test positive for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller. For example, in tests conducted by a University of California San Francisco lab, 93 percent of the participants tested positive for glyphosate residues.

In the European Union, when 48 members of Parliament volunteered for glyphosate testing, every one of them tested positive.

In October 2017, Time magazine reported on a study involving 50 Californians who were tested between 1993-1996 and again between 2014-2016.. Scientists found that not only did the number of people who tested positive for glyphosate residues increase, but so did the amounts of the residues detected. 

Humans are exposed to glyphosate via the food they eat, the air they breathe, the water they drink and the lawns, gardens, parks and other environments they frequent. If humans are contaminated with glyphosate, it stands to reason that their pets are, too.

In fact, a recent pilot study shows that animals are likely to have even higher levels—up to 5000 percent higher—of glyphosate in their bodies.

“In a pilot study, we noticed that dogs’ glyphosate levels were, on average, 50 times higher than people’s,” said Dr. John Fagan, chief scientist at HRI Labs and former researcher at the National Institutes of Health. “Recent biomedical research suggests harm to health at these levels, and even lower,” he added.

To follow up on the pilot study, HRI Labs has launched a citizen science research project whereby the lab will work with pet owners to determine why animals have such a high exposure to glyphosate.

The project, launched on Tuesday, May 8, aims to identify the primary route by which pets are exposed to the weedkiller. The outcome is expected to give pet owners the information they need to protect their loved ones from a potentially deadly toxin—one that has already been found in disturbingly high levels in dogs.

Pets may be more vulnerable to toxins because they are lower to the ground, have unprotected paws and may eat foods laced with glyphosate, says Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian known for her Healthy Pets blog.

Pet owners throughout North America can participate in the study by requesting a collection kit, sending a sample of their pet’s urine to HRI Labs and completing an online survey about their pet’s diet, health and lifestyle. Learn more about the study, here.

Studies link lawn chemicals to canine cancer

New research suggests that exposure to pesticides may affect canines similarly to that of humans. Scientists have increasingly been able to link lawn chemicals, particularly 2,4-D, to canine cancer.

“Studies found that lawn chemicals travel to neighboring yards and inside homes, and chemicals have been found in the urine of dogs whose owners did not spray their lawns,” reports Think About Now.

“Chemicals were detected in the urine of dogs in 14 of 25 households before lawn treatment, in 19 of 25 households after lawn treatment, and in 4 of 8 untreated households. Chemicals were commonly detected in grass residues from treated lawns, and from untreated lawns suggesting chemical drift from nearby treated areas.”

A six-year study by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine reported a 70-percent higher risk of canine malignant lymphoma (CML) in dogs exposed to professionally applied pesticides.

Other studies have also linked herbicides containing 2,4-D to CML, which is reported to have “a similar histology and epidemiology” as non-Hodgkin lymphoma—also linked to 2,4-D exposure.

Even at low concentrations, the Roundup and glyphosate are linked to myriad health problems including everything from kidney disease to birth defects to cancer.

Recent reports say glyphosate may alter the human microbiome—a complex ecosystem made up of microorganisms that control a range of important processes including immune system function and brain health—and at levels considered “safe” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If glyphosate is capable of wreaking this much havoc on human health, then what impact is it having on the health of our pets?

The scientists at HRI Labs aim to find out.

‘’The citizen science movement makes it possible to carry out rigorous scientific research on topics that are not necessarily of interest to corporations and government agencies that typically fund most research,” HRI Labs stated in a recent press release.

To learn more about the study or to participate, click here.

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Do You Know Where Your Meat Comes From?

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-05-24 16:06
May 24, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie CumminsAll About Organics meat ground beef label counter cooler cc 1000x523.jpg

Consumers know if the tomatoes they buy in the supermarket were imported from Mexico. They know if the sweater they purchased was made in Vietnam.

They also know if the chicken they toss in their grocery cart was imported from another country. Under Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws, these products are required to carry labels that tell you if the product was imported from another country.

But beef and pork? Those products are exempt from COOL laws. That means consumers have no idea where their steak and bacon came from, unless the producer chooses to label it.

U.S. cattle ranchers say the failure to require COOL labels on beef is hurting their industry. That’s especially true for ranchers serving the fast-growing grassfed segment of the beef industry says Will Harris, president of the board of directors of the American Grassfed Association (AGA) and a fourth-generation cattleman.

The grassfed industry suffers the most because, as Harris told us:

“The U.S. leads the world in the production of grain-fed beef. This production advantage primarily exists because grains and soy are so heavily subsidized under the USDA federal farm program. Grassfed beef producers in America are unsubsidized.

“The subsidies on grain permits our domestic grain-fed beef products to be marketed below the pricing thresholds that would allow stiff competition from imported product. The big winners in the repeal of COOL are the multinational meat companies. This has allowed them to shop for meat in the cheapest markets in the world, and bring it into the best market in the world, and sell it to consumers as ‘Product of the USA,’ even though the animal had never drawn a single breath of air in the United States.”

Harris, who estimates at least 75 percent of the grassfed beef consumed in America comes from Australia, New Zealand or Uruguay, says American consumers are being intentionally misled. Millions of pounds of beef, imported from other countries, are being wrongly labeled as “Product of the USA,” Harris said.

Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct agrees. He told us that:

“U.S. grassfed producers can’t come close to competing with cost of production of South American, Australian and New Zealand imports, especially considering producers in the exporting countries are similarly being exploited, forced to produce below cost, by the same multinational packers.

“The loss of COOL was a huge hit on the cattle price, especially grassfed prices due to extremely low cost of supposedly ‘grassfed’ imports, which allow importers and retailers to make ridiculous margins.

“I just returned from a ranch tour in Argentina. They think it’s funny that most South American beef is considered ‘grassfed.’ They said that may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Their highest-quality cattle prices were 30 percent below the U.S. at the time of my visit. South American beef has also been falsely considered organic by default.”

Ranchers and other advocates of COOL are hoping a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will help them restore COOL labels on beef—but time may be running out.

Why are beef and pork exempt from COOL labeling laws?

COOL was first established under the Tariff Act of 1930 which required that, “unless excepted, every article of foreign origin (or its container) imported into the U.S. shall be marked with its country of origin.” 

Over the years, COOL, as applied to meat, has evolved with a convoluted history.

Things dramatically changed in December 2008 when Canada and Mexico filed suit against America’s COOL requirements for beef and pork. After much back and forth with rulings and appeals, in May 2015, the WTO determined that the U.S. COOL requirements violated international trade law by discriminating against Canadian and Mexican livestock. The WTO also said the countries could impose $1.01 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.

Soon after the WTO’s ruling, in December 2015, Congress repealed COOL and Agricultural Sec. Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA will no longer enforce the labeling law on beef and pork products. The repeal was a part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama.

The USDA justified its decision by arguing that imported beef is a product of the U.S. even if it comes from a different country, as long as the country of origin has food safety standards similar to that in America.

U.S. ranchers rise up in defense of COOL

Ever since COOL was repealed in 2015, U.S. cattle ranchers, including those in the grassfed beef industry, have been vocal on the need to reestablish the labeling law.

According to a lawsuit filed in June 2017, by American ranchers and cattle producers against the USDA and Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, millions of pounds of beef are now being imported from various countries and labeled as “Product of the U.S.A,” despite only undergoing repackaging in the U.S. The lawsuit alleges that this practice violates the Tariff Act of 1930.

While the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, Kenny Graner, president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association (USCA), is looking for an opening in the recent NAFTA negotiations to strike a deal with Canada and Mexico that restore the labels on beef. (The WTO governs global trade, while NAFTA resolves trade disputes that erupt between only Canada, Mexico and the U.S.).

In a written statement, Graner said:

As talks continue on a modernized NAFTA, U.S. cattle producers remain disappointed in the lack of discussion on a WTO-compliant country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program. Country-of-origin labeling remains an important issue for cattle producers across the U.S. and consensus must be reached on how to best respond to consumer demand for accurate information. USCA continues to work toward truth in labeling on all fronts, and we hope the administration will do the same.

Graner cited industry figures showing that the combined cattle and beef trade deficit with Canada and Mexico tripled over the life of the agreement, from $752.1 million in 1994 to $2.259 billion in 2016.

Political commentator Tomi Lahren expressed similar concerns in a Fox News Insider report, saying that U.S. ranchers and cattle producers have been “squeezed, poked and prodded by the meat packing industry.” She went on to say:

They [the foreign beef producers and the big meat packers lobbyists] control the market. They control the price. They buy this cheap foreign beef, and your American ranchers are going under—and not because they can’t compete in quality, but because that can’t compete with mystery meat brought in from who knows where.

If the repeal of COOL is hurting the beef industry, it’s even worse for grassfed producers, Harris told us. In an email he wrote:

“I was among the earliest of the American cattle producers who embraced the grassfed protocol. I have seen steady increases for demand of this product for the last 25 years. In the last few months, I have seen most of the necessary-for-production margin premiums eroded by imported grassfed beef."

U.S. cattle producers continue to lobby to get COOL reinstated, as they believe it will help create competition in the beef market, put a stop to consumer deception, reduce market manipulation, enable price discovery and support America’s rural economy.

As Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association, says:

“Consumers want to know when they go to the market that the grassfed meats they are buying are from these farms and farmers. Farmers that are restoring and regenerating their farms. Farmers and farms that are preserving and restoring their rural economies. Farmers and farms that are saving a way of life by allowing these farms to survive so the next generation can be supported.

“Feeding Americans with American products without the worry of whether or not other countries will or will not provide us with food. COOL provides these consumers with the knowledge that they are helping with these efforts. We cannot allow marketing and food conglomerates to decide what goes on a label.”

If you want to support American-grown grassfed meat and dairy, buy directly from a trusted farmer near you or look for products that bear the American Grassfed Association logo to ensure that your food is truly a “Product of the U.S.A.”

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up for our newsletter.

The Peril on Your Plate

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-05-23 16:15
Genetic EngineeringRTMay 22, 2018

The biotech giants are promising cutting-edge traits in GMO seeds and weed-killing chemicals, to feed the hungry and bring farmers bigger harvests of pest-resistant crops. From India to the UK and across the Atlantic, people question the safety of GMOs to both the environment and human health. RTD looks at the hidden dangers of the GM industry and agricultural chemicals.

New Study: EPA's 'Safe' Levels of this Chemical in Your Food Aren't So Safe After All

Organic consumers - Thu, 2018-05-17 13:43
May 16, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulGenetic Engineering, Health Issues pesticide_herbicide_chemical_toxic_mask_usda_1000x523.jpg

Last summer, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) announced that our testing of Ben & Jerry’s popular ice cream flavors for glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller) turned up positive results in 10 of 11 samples we tested.

Our critics fired back that the glyphosate levels we found were “well below” the levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us are “safe.”

In other words, relax! A little bit of Monsanto Roundup weedkiller in your ice cream is nothing to fret over.

Now a new pilot study, soon to be published in the prestigious scientific journal Environmental Health, suggests that EPA “safe” levels aren’t safe at all—especially for kids.

The Global Glyphosate Study pilot experimental phase, the first study of its kind, suggests that exposure to glyphosate at levels the EPA wants us to believe are “safe” can in fact lead to “certain important biological parameters, mainly relating to sexual development, genotoxicity and the alteration of the intestinal microbiome.”

We were especially intrigued by the study’s mention of how glyphosate alters the intestinal microbiome. OCA, along with Beyond Pesticides, is involved in a lawsuit against Monsanto for falsely for misleading consumers who buy Roundup for their lawns about the product's safety. Monsanto tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, but a federal judge recently ruled in favor of allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

This new study follows on the heels of last week’s news that when glyphosate is combined with other chemicals to create the final weedkiller formulation, the herbicide is more toxic to human cells than glyphosate alone.

Will this new evidence lead to a ban on glyphosate? Hard to tell, given what we know about possible collusion in the past between Monsanto and the EPA to keep consumers in the dark about how toxic Roundup and glyphosate are to human health. Plus we’re now dealing with an EPA that favors hiding the truth about toxic chemicals from the public, over protecting the chemical industry’s image.

Why this study is different

There have been many studies conducted on the potential health hazards of glyphosate, including the Seralini study which linked glyphosate to cancer in rats.

But until now, there have been no long-term, peer-reviewed studies of the potential health impact of glyphosate exposure at levels lower than the EPA’s guidelines.

Why is that critical? Because it tells us that the EPA set its “allowable safe limits” without having any scientific evidence to back up the “safety” claim—because glyphosate had never been tested for potential human health effects at levels below those so-called safe limits.

The Ramazzini Institute’s Global Glyphosate Pilot, which is the first phase of a longer study to come, differs from previous studies in that it is the only comprehensive study of glyphosate. Previous studies have looked at toxicity, and omics (genomics, proteomics or metabolomics). But the Ramazzini multi-generational study covers toxicity, carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, prenatal developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, and impact on the microbiome.

No other glyphosate studies have incorporated all of those elements.

Why is this study critical for consumers?

Glyphosate contamination is widespread in the U.S. It’s in many foods, even those labeled “natural,” including foods we feed our kids.

As long as the EPA sticks to its claim that there are “safe” levels of glyphosate contamination, nothing will change. If we want glyphosate banned, we need a comprehensive, long-term study of glyphosate’s adverse effect on human health, even at low levels.

According to the Ramazzini Institute, there are still “many large gaps in our knowledge regarding the health effects of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, especially at real-life exposure levels of the chemical. The main reasons for these gaps in our knowledge are, according to the Global Glyphosate website, are:

• Independent scientists have never had the funding available to create and carry out a comprehensive study

• Glyphosate industry safety studies on glyphosate have never concentrated on real-life exposure levels
of the chemical

• Glyphosate industry safety studies on glyphosate are often ‘commercially confidential’ and kept hidden from the public and independent scientists, so cannot be independently evaluated

• Independent researchers have never before been able to call on the expert advice of a wide range of scientific experts during the creation of the protocol for the study

Can the scientists at the Ramazzini Institute fill in these gaps? The Institute has an impressive history of exposing the dangers—and reducing allowed limits—of multiple chemicals, including vinyl chloride, benzene and formaldehyde.

On glyphosate, the Institute claims that is “one of the only independent scientific bodies in the world that has the ability to create and carry out a comprehensive long-term study that will have the backing of a large number of global scientific experts as well as the general public.”

Monsanto wasted no time in attacking the pilot study, and will no doubt ramp up a well-funded campaign to discredit the Ramazzini scientists—just as it did when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research Cancer classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”

But the chemical giant will have to work extra hard to discredit this study because the Ramazzini Institute has built up a network of authoritative partners which includes the University of Bologna (Faculty of Agriculture, Veterinary Science and Biostatistics), the Genoa Hospital San Martino, the Italian National Institute of Health, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and the George Washington University. That means Monsanto's attack dogs won't be able to focus exclusively on one institution, especially when talking to regulators and the media.

For now, at least, this new study is our best hope for ridding the world of glyphosate, once and for all.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

How Seeds from War-Torn Syria Could Help Save American Wheat

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-05-16 18:57
All About Organics, Environment & ClimateMark SchapiroYaleEnvironment360May 14, 2018 wheat 1000x523

As temperatures rise, pests and diseases are moving north into the U.S. heartland, killing crops and diminishing yields. To combat this, researchers are turning to a wild grass variety whose seeds were smuggled out of Syria as the bombs fell. 

When a team of researchers set loose a buzzing horde of Hessian flies on 20,000 seedlings in a Kansas greenhouse, they made a discovery that continues to ripple from Midwestern wheat fields to the rolling hills that surround the battered Syrian city of Aleppo. The seeds once stored in a seed bank outside of that now largely destroyed city could end up saving United States wheat from the disruptions triggered by climate change — and look likely to, soon enough, make their way into the foods that Americans eat.  

According to the National Climatic Data Center, from 2000 to 2015, average temperatures in the Midwest rose from 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit above what had been the 20th-century average. Periods of time between rainfalls are lengthening, according to a 2016 assessment by the EPA. In other words, conditions in some areas of the Midwest are starting to resemble conditions in the Mideast. 

Look & See: Words of Wisdom, and Hope, From Wendell Berry

Organic consumers - Wed, 2018-05-16 17:16
May 16, 2018Organic Consumers AssociationEnvironment & Climate, Farm Issues blog_farmer_3.png

“I think when the traditional people disappear, the traditional values will disappear.”

So says Wendell Berry in a recent film that portrays the changing landscape and shifting values of rural America and describes the lives of farmers who have been deeply affected by the industrial agricultural era.

“Look & See: Wendell Berry’s Kentucky” features observations by this prominent writer, farmer and activist on how the agrarian way of life has been lost.

Berry is one of the most ardent defenders of rural America and traditional farming techniques that use nature as the model. In the last 83 years this poet, novelist and essayist has published more than 40 books. He’s widely revered and celebrated by people eager for his words of wisdom.

Video of Independent Lens | Look & See: Wendell Berry's Kentucky | Trailer | PBS


And words of wisdom are just what viewers of “Look & See: Wendell Berry’s Kentucky” get.

Berry doesn’t appear in the present in the film. Instead, we hear his voice in the background as still images from the early days on his Kentucky farm scroll across the screen, juxtaposed with scenes of destruction.

The film begins with a montage of images of machines chopping down trees, mountaintop removal coal mining, polluted rivers and fast-paced city life as you hear Berry reading his poem “A Timbered Choir:”

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies
I saw the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

Berry’s daughter Mary, executive director of The Berry Center, is interviewed in the film.

“It’s the lack of imagination that my father talks about,” she says. About today’s industrial farming system, she says:

“It’s not really looking at what’s happening. It’s not really counting the cost. It’s some kind of dream or ideal that is false. It serves an economy that is false and it works against nature so it’s not in any way sustainable and it’s made slaves out of a lot of people.”

Mary’s words resonate throughout the film, especially during interviews with Kentucky farmers who are struggling to stay afloat.

Mary also shares the story of the notorious debate in the late 1970s between her father and then U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Earl Butz. Butz, who served under Nixon and Ford, and was a major proponent of the industrialization of farming. Mary Berry thinks her father at that time felt that “we were losing precious things so quickly and he was scared himself and scared for the people he loved, and I can remember that I thought he was lonely.”

During the debate, Wendell Berry said:

“Now, Mr. Butz has given you a lot of quantitative arguments, but let me just take a few of them. We may never meet because he’s arguing from quantities and I’m arguing from values. As I see it, the farmer is standing in his field is not isolated as simply a component of a production machine. He stands where lots of lines cross—cultural lines. The traditional farmer, that is the farmer who was first independent, who first fed himself off his farm and then fed other people, who farmed with his family and who passed the land on down to people who knew it and had the best reasons to take care of it. That farmer stood at the convergence of traditional values. Our values. Independence, thrift, stewardship, private property, political liberty, family, marriage, parenthood, neighborhood. Values that declined as that farmer is replaced by technologies whose only standard is profit.”

Though the film focuses on the many challenges farmers face in the Big Ag era, it drives home the urgent message that we must transition away from industrial farming and back to an agrarian way of life.

As Wendell Berry writes in “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays:”

...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.

That hope that Berry clings to can be found in regenerative agriculture, a farming model that regenerates and revitalizes the soil and the environment. Regenerative farming leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high-quality, nutrient-dense food while simultaneously improving the land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies.

Regenerative farming and ranching are dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, and leading to increased food production, more income for farmers, and more high-quality organic soil.

Want to join the regenerative movement and be a part of the community that’s dedicated to fixing the world’s climate, hunger and environmental crises through regenerative and organic food, farming and land management? If so, learn more here.

Want to watch “Look & See: Wendell Berry’s Kentucky?” You can download it via Netflix, order the film online or host a screening.

Organic Consumers Association is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization. Keep up-to-date with OCA’s news and alerts by signing up
for our newsletter.