On August 1, 2016, then-President Obama signed a meaningless so-called mandatory GMO labeling law that, for all practical purposes, ended an intense four-year grassroots-led campaign for consumers' right to know if their food is genetically engineered, or contains genetically engineered ingredients.
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has unveiled its proposed version of GMO labels. Wait until you see them. All bright and cheery, with sunburst and smiley-faced images—but without "GMO" appearing anywhere on the labels. (You can see all of the proposed images here.)
According to Politico, the USDA's long-awaited 106-page proposal for how companies must disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients in their products includes eliminating the words "genetically modified" or "genetically engineered” and replacing them with "bioengineered."
That means no more "GMO"—instead, consumers will see “BE” on the environmentally friendly looking green and yellow images.
The images are just as insulting to consumers as the law, which the chemical and junk food industry lobbyists spent $400 million to pass—under the specious name of the "Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act."
Opponents renamed the loophole-ridden bill the "Dark (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act" because its intent is clear: Keep consumers in the dark, by creating a long list of exemptions and/or by allowing companies to opt for electronic "smart labels" instead of clear, plain language that anyone can easily read.
The Dark Act preempted states from requiring labels on GMO foods, including Vermont, which had previously passed a GMO labeling law that took effect one month before Obama signed the Dark Act. Vermont's law required far more foods and ingredients to be identified than the federal law that preempted it, and also required on-package labels stating "produced with genetic engineering."
The USDA has until the July 29, 2018, deadline for completing the rulemaking process for the law that industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress claim will establish a "mandatory national standard" for GMO labeling—but will, in reality, do little or nothing to help consumers identify GMO foods.
If you live in the U.S., you're far more likely to get hit with salmonella or some other foodborne illness, than if you live in the U.K. You can thank the factory farm industry for that.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian found "shockingly high" levels of foodborne illness in the U.S. The Guardian reports that "annually, around 14.7 percent (48 million people) of the U.S. population is estimated to suffer from an illness, compared to around 1.5 percent (1 million) in the U.K. In the U.S., 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year of foodborne diseases."
Driving these grim statistics is the multibillion-dollar industrial factory farm industry that not only makes us sick, but pollutes our water and air, exploits workers, is causing an antibiotic resistance crisis and is unconscionably inhumane—all in the name of "cheap food."
TBIJ and the Guardian conducted the investigation based on U.S. government documents containing data on 47 meat plants across the U.S. According to the Guardian:
Some of the documents relate to certain companies, including Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the US’s biggest poultry producers, and Swift Pork. Although not a comprehensive portrait of the sector—there are around 6,000 US plants regularly inspected by Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—the documents provide a snapshot of issues rarely detailed in public which has rung alarm bells with campaigners in both the US and UK.
Those rarely detailed issues include meat contaminated with fecal matter; meat processing equipment contaminated with grease and blood; and chicken dropped on the floor then rinsed with chlorine and put back in the production line.
It's enough to turn anyone's stomach. It's also enough to make consumers and entire neighborhoods revolt, and motivate citizens to get more politically active.
Last year, the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, (population 5,000) stood up to Tyson and successfully scuttled the meat giant’s planned $320 million chicken factory farm.
In Nebraska, citizens are trying to keep out a $180 million factory farm poultry operation Costco wants to build in the small town of Fremont. (Please sign the petition asking Costco to stop raising and selling factory farm chicken.)
People aren't just getting active; they're getting political. Civil Eats recently reported on candidates running in Iowa, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania who all have one thing in common: They want better food and farming policies in their states.
One of those candidates is Brandy Brooks, who's running for Montgomery County (Maryland) city council. Brooks told Civil Eats, "Food is this amazing lens for talking about justice. You could be talking about land use justice, racial justice, economic justice, immigration, health justice, housing—you can talk about everything through the lens of food."
Food is at the center of so many of the issues facing communities large and small, across the globe. That's why Organic Consumers Association (OCA) partners closely with Regeneration International as we look to transition from our industrial, degenerative food system to a regenerative alternative.
It's also why we’re inviting consumers to get more politically active through our Citizens Regeneration Lobby.
The factory farm industry tells us there's no other way to produce meat. But farmers like Ron Rosmann in Harlan, Iowa, are proof that alternatives exist. The Main Street Project is proof that those alternatives can be scaled up to meet the growing demand for regeneratively produced meat.
We just need to take a stand against Big Meat. Our health depends on it.
Henry Miller is at it again.
Miller is the well-known Monsanto mouthpiece who earlier this year was discredited by the New York Times for getting Forbes magazine to publish an “opinion” piece under his name—a piece that was ghostwritten by Monsanto.
Miller has just written a new hit piece on the organic industry.
That doesn’t surprise us. What does surprise us is that Newsweek published the piece—despite knowing all about Miller’s shady ties to Monsanto.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that Miller, described by the Times as “an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops,” had asked Monsanto to draft an opinion piece for him—a piece he then persuaded Forbes magazine to publish under his own name.
On January 19, an op-ed titled “The Campaign for Organic Food is a Deceitful, Expensive Scam,” showed up on the pages of Newsweek magazine, under Miller’s name.
Stacy Malkan, co-director of US Right to Know fired back in her piece, “Monsanto’s Fingerprints All Over Newsweek’s Hit on Organic Food.”
In her in-depth exposÃ© of Miller, Malkan reports that she complained to Newsweek’s opinion editor, Nicholas Wapshott, pointing out that Miller has been widely discredited for trying to pass of Monsanto’s propaganda as his own work.
Here’s what Wapshott wrote in an email to Malkan: "I understand that you and Miller have a long history of dispute on this topic. He flatly denies your assertions."
Wow. Really? Newsweek is going to bat for a Monsanto shill, regardless of his murky reputation?
Truth be told, Monsanto was the master of fake news long before fake news was a thing. For decades, the St. Louis-based biotech company has enlisted the services of expensive (and slick) PR firms to feed the public and the media lies about everything from how the company improves farmers’ lives, to how its Roundup weedkiller is “safe,” to how GMO crops increase yields and reduce the need for pesticides.
As consumers wised up, as credible independent scientists dug deeper into the risks associated with glyphosate and Roundup, and as the media started asking tougher questions, Monsanto was forced to up its smoke-and-mirrors game in order to counter the negative PR.
One of Monsanto’s most effective propaganda strategies has been to identify people who on the surface appear to have the right scientific credentials, then collaborate with them behind the scenes to promote Monsanto’s script as their own, independently researched opinions.
Miller is one of those people. And his latest “scientific opinion” is that organic food is a scam.
There’s so much wrong with Miller’s hit piece on organics, and Newsweek’s willingness to publish it, that we hardly know where to begin.
Thankfully, Malkan details all the reasons Newsweek should have rejected Miller’s piece, even if Miller’s scandalous past hadn’t already been exposed. Here are just a few:
- Miller cited pesticide industry sources, not independent science, to claim that organic farming is “actually more harmful to the environment” than conventional agriculture.
- Those same pesticide industry sources included an inaccurate claim by Jay Byrne, former director of corporate communications for Monsanto, that organic allies spent $2.5 billion in one year campaigning against genetically engineered foods in North America. Miller included that figure in his op-ed, without revealing Byrne’s ties to Monsanto.
- Miller tries to discredit the work of New York Times’ reporter Danny Hakim, without disclosing that it was Hakim who exposed Miller’s Monsanto ghostwriting scandal.
Wapshott has an impressive resumÃ©. We could understand if he slipped up when it came to doing his due diligence on Miller before agreeing to run his op-ed.
But we don’t understand how, given all the evidence, Wapshott is still defending Miller.
A recent survey revealed that the top three reasons consumers choose organic—to avoid pesticides, to avoid GMOs and for better nutrition—are health-related. Consumers form their opinions about organic vs. industrial chemical food by doing their own research—relying on credible, independent science and news reports.
Smart consumers have long distrusted Miller and his ilk. Now Newsweek has given them a reason to distrust its editorial judgment.
If you want to give Newsweek opinion editor Nicholas Wapshott a piece of your mind, join in the fun.
If nutritional quality and animal welfare issues factor into your egg-buying decisions, get ready for more bad news out of the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA plans to ditch rules, finalized under the Obama administration, that would have required organic egg producers to provide hens with more space and more outdoor access.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Rule was the result of a 14-year effort by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to tighten up animal welfare rules for organic egg producers. The OLPP was set to be enacted in January 2017. But under the incoming Trump administration’s regulatory freeze, the rule was delayed multiple times. Now the USDA wants to throw it out completely.
If the OLPP is thrown out, “fake organic” egg producers will get to keep their production costs low. This will allow them to continue underselling smaller organic producers who follow the rules. At the same time, they capture a big share of the organic egg market by selling their eggs under the USDA Organic seal.
In other words, it’s a great way to feather their nests.
These practices not only make it more difficult for smaller organic egg farmers to compete, they also cheat consumers who believe certified organic means higher animal welfare standards. Instead, consumers are unknowingly buying eggs from producers who run nothing more than industrial-scale operations indistinguishable from factory farms apart from the type of feed they use. The result is eggs of inferior nutritional quality. (Studies show that authentic certified organic eggs have a deeper yoke color which translates into higher the levels of Vitamin A, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and beta-carotene.)
Better nutrition and better animal welfare standards aren’t the only benefits for consumers who buy authentic certified organic eggs. Organic eggs produced by ethical farms where hens have real access to pasture, including organic regenerative poultry systems, have far less impact on the environment than those that come from factory farm-type egg operations that pollute with impunity.
Who are the Big Organic egg producers? Cal-Maine Foods and Herbruck’s, which was the subject of a Washington Post exposÃ© last year. Herbruck’s sells some of its eggs under the Eggland’s Best brand. But the bulk of the eggs sold by these producers end up on store shelves under private label (store brand) names.
In fact, most retail grocery chains that sell "organic" eggs under their own label (think Aldi’s Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe’s, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco, Walmart, etc.) get their eggs from huge factory farm-type operations that routinely violate USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules.
Lobbyists for the Cal-Maine and Herbruck’s claim they’ll have to get out of the organic market if the new OLPP rule is allowed to stand. Christopher Nichols, a third-generation egg farmer in California told the Los Angeles Times that’s bunk:
Don’t let them fool you. They knew darn well that they were building these buildings out of compliance. And they knew that when this day came, that they were going to have to face this decision. But they probably figured that they had the money and the political muscle to overrule it.
Smaller producers, Nichols told the LA Times, “just don’t have that.”
Is there still time to keep the USDA from scuttling the new rule? Maybe. The USDA reopened a 30-day comment period. Consumers and others have until January 17 to tell the USDA to enact the OLPP. Please comment or take action.
Costco Wants to Build the Largest Chicken Factory Farm in America - and Local Residents Are Fighting Back
A mighty band of citizen activists, along with the Nebraska Farmers Union, are taking on a city council and a corporate giant. And they need your help.
Retail giant Costco wants to build the largest chicken factory farm in the U.S., in Fremont, Nebraska. The city’s elected officials have approved the project. But the people and farmers in surrounding cities, whose lives will suffer the most, are fighting back.
Costco and the Fremont City Council are singing the same old tired tune, that a giant factory farm will bring jobs to the city. What they don’t want Fremont residents to know is that those jobs will be low-paid and dangerous, that the water pollution generated from another huge factory farm will be devastating for Nebraskans (whose water is already badly compromised by agricultural runoff), and that local farmers will get ripped off under contracts stacked in favor of the retail giant.
We’re so impressed with what Nebraska Communities United is doing to stop this project—including organizing workshops to help local farmers farm profitably, sustainably and independent of corporate control—that we’re asking you to do two things.
Second, please contribute if you can to help Nebraska Communities United and the Nebraska Farmers Union fund an important water impact study and workshops for local farmers.
Call Costco’s customer service line at 1-800-774-2678. If you’re a member, tell them you’ll cancel your membership unless Costco halts its factory farm project.
At the height of the GMO labeling battle, we not so fondly referred to the Grocery Manufacturers Association as “Monsanto’s Evil Twin."
Last month, a former GMA executive told Politico that to him, the food industry lobbying group seems like “the dinosaur waiting to die.”
For consumers who blame the GMA for engineering the defeat of four state ballot initiatives that would have required labels on genetically engineered foods, then teaming up with Monsanto and some Big Organic brands to ram through federal legislation that stripped states of the right to pass GMO labeling laws, visions of the GMA drawing its last bullying breath are accompanied by the sweet taste of karma.
Consumers can take satisfaction in the fact that they’ve played a role in what some say is the diminishing power of the GMA over Washington policy.
For many, gratification—even the delayed variety—is worth stirring up trouble in the marketplace if it results in brands cleaning up their acts on issues of health, transparency and accountability.
#GMAExit—a ‘burgeoning trend’?
On Friday, Dec. 1, Mars, Inc., the sixth largest privately held food company in the U.S., confirmed reports it will exit the GMA.
Mars is the fourth Big Food company to exit GMA this year. The first was Campbell Soup Co., which said in July that it wouldn’t renew its membership. Campbell CEO Denise Morrison said at the time that Campbell’s had found itself “at odds with some of [GMA’s] positions.”
One of those positions was GMO labeling. Campbell was the first company to publicly break with Monsanto and the GMA by announcing it would label GMO ingredients, even though not required to do so.
NestlÃ©, the world’s largest food company, followed Campbell out the GMA door, announcing in October its own plans to quit the GMA at the end of 2017.
Last week Dean Foods “quietly” exited the trade group.
GMA executives interviewed by Politico downplayed the loss of some of the group’s big-name members. But Politico was quick to point out that as one of the GMA’s top dues-paying members, NestlÃ©’s exit could deal “a tough blow” to the GMA’s operating budget. Campbell’s doled out about $317,000/year to belong to the trade association Politico said, citing the company’s financial disclosures.
It remains to be seen how many more companies will join the #GMAExit, or what the financial consequences may be for the GMA. But Politico calls the recent announcements “part of a burgeoning trend” as opposed to just a few “one-offs.”
GMO labeling at the heart of consumer demand for transparency
What’s behind the “splintering” of the food lobby?
Politico reports that “complacency and a lack of leadership” are factors. But it also blamed “an upheaval at the grocery store, where iconic brands are stagnating as millennials and moms seek healthier and more transparent products.”
Nowhere was the issue of “transparency” more apparent than during the four-plus-year battle for labels on GMO foods. More than 90 percent of consumers consistently supported laws requiring labels on GMO foods. Consumers felt so strongly that many were willing to boycott their favorite organic and natural brands, if those brands were owned by members of the GMA which poured $46 million into defeating GMO labeling in California alone.
Shortly after the narrow defeat of California’s Prop 37 in May 2012, the Organic Consumer Association (OCA) launched its “Traitor Boycott.” Initially, Campbell’s (Plum Organics, Wolfgang Puck), Dean Foods (Horizon Organic, Silk) and NestlÃ© (Gerber Organic, Sweet Leaf Tea)—which combined had dumped almost $4 million into the campaign to defeat labeling in California—made OCA’s boycott list.
Campbell’s, which like many other companies subsequently contributed to defeat labeling in Washington State (2013), was eventually dropped from the list when the company decided not to financially support campaigns to thwart GMO labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado (2014).
Unilever, which remains a GMA member, stopped throwing money at subsequent efforts to defeat GMO labeling initiatives, presumably because the multinational food giant didn’t like that its poster child for social responsibility, Ben & Jerry’s, was taking heat from consumers unhappy with Unilever’s unholy alliance with the GMA. (Ben & Jerry’s told consumers the Vermont-based brand supported labeling, yet never contributed financially to the cause. OCA launched a new boycott of Ben & Jerry’s in July, demanding that the ice cream brand go 100% organic.)
After the Traitor Boycott was launched in May 2012, food companies were more skittish about ponying up donations to defeat labeling in Washington—so much so, that the GMA broke the law by collecting donations from companies like Pepsi, NestlÃ©, Coke, General Mills, ConAgra, Campbell and others, and hiding the source of those donations from the public. In a win for consumers, Washington fined the GMA $18 million last year for violating state campaign finance laws.
Today, the GMA says it has about 250 members, down from the 300 it claimed in 2012. According to Politico, "The membership used to be listed on GMA’s website, but it was taken down after a nasty battle over GMO labeling in California, during which a handful of GMA member companies were boycotted for spending millions to defeat a ballot initiative there."
OCA archived the list in 2012—here it is.
Out with the old, in with the truth
GMO labeling isn’t the only reason consumers have lost their taste for Big Food brands. Consumers have become increasingly wary of labels like “natural,” “all-natural” and “100% natural.” Absent any regulatory or industry definition for the term “natural,” those labels are used by food companies (some of which have been sued by OCA) on products containing everything from Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller to drugs like ketamine.
According to a recent report in Food Dive:
Almost half of consumers don't feel like they know enough about a product despite reading the label, and two-thirds of them think the manufacturer or brand should be communicating important information to help them make an educated purchasing decision, . . .
Only 12 percent of consumers trust brands to tell them what’s in their food. Most consumers do their own independent research, via phones and personal computers.
Other consumer trends according to Food Dive?
Nearly 60 percent of consumers think brands need to advocate for them and their interests, and 24 percent said they have refused to buy a company's produce when its actions didn't align with their values. The most important issue area was the environment, where 71 percent said produce brands should be active.
By those standards Big Food, represented by the GMA, isn’t doing too well—and it shows. From Politico: "The top 20 U.S. food and beverage companies lost roughly $18 billion in market share between 2011 and 2017, according to a recent analysis by Credit Suisse."
Is it any wonder Big Food is also experiencing a mass exodus of CEOs?
The #GMAExit, plummeting market shares and CEOs jumping ship (or being pushed overboard) are signs that consumers are having a big impact. And advances like the proposed Regenerative Organic Certification, which intends to help consumers identify products produced to “beyond organic” standards, signal that more consumers are willing to reward producers whose methods promote soil health, animal welfare and social fairness, in addition to truthfully labeled, nutritious food.
We can’t do much about the current state of affairs in Washington, DC these days, but as consumers, we can exercise our power over food corporations, and the lobbying groups that represent them.
Clearly, we’re succeeding.
Editor's note: On Dec. 14, 2017, 10 days after this article was originally published, two more companies—Tyson Foods and Unilever—announced they are dropping out of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its “animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants.”
But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?
According to testing conducted under the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program, samples of Diestel Turkey products tested positive for numerous drug and antibiotic residues.
One of those drugs, Chloramphenicol, is strictly prohibited by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in food production because it’s known to have “severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia in susceptible individuals.”
According to an amended complaint filed November 13, against Diestel Turkey Ranch, the FSIS inspected Diestel turkeys on four dates in 2015 and 2016, and reported, in addition to Chloramphenicol, residues of antibiotics important for human use, veterinary antibiotics, a hormone and other pharmaceuticals.
Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere brought the action against the privately held Sonora, Calif., turkey producer in the Superior Court of California. DxE is suing Diestel for falsely advertising its turkey products as hormone- and antibiotic-free, and for deceiving consumers about how the company's birds are raised and treated.
According to the lawsuit, Diestel turkey products tested by the USDA were positive for residues of ketamine, a narcotic. The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ketamine as “a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects.” Ketamine’s street names include Special K, Cat Tranquilizer, and Cat Valium, the latter two referencing its veterinary uses, and it is commonly referred to as a club drug because it is used illegally at dance clubs and raves. The FDA has not approved the use of ketamine in poultry.
- Amikacin, an antibiotic for human use that the FDA considers important for humans.
- Spectinomycin, also an antibiotic for human use
- Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use
- Ipronidazole, also a veterinary pharmaceutical
- Melengestrol acetate, also known as MGA, a synthetic hormone
- Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive
Kim Richman of Richman Law Group, which represents DxE, said that to the best of his knowledge, the USDA did not test any certified organic Diestel Turkey samples. “Since organic meat goes through a certification process, the end product is not tested. It appears that the National Residue Program samples only non-organic meat and poultry,” Richman said.
This isn’t the first time some of these drugs, including chloramphenicol and Ketamine, have been found in poultry. As reported by Bloomberg on June 22, the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety sued Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., for advertising its chicken as “100% natural” even though USDA testing reported finding drug residues in Sanderson chicken samples.
Consumers aren’t pleased to learn that factory farm poultry brands mislead them. But they aren’t necessarily surprised either.
But it’s a whole different story when the brands they thought they could trust, turn out to be making false claims, too.
Are Diestel and Whole Foods misleading consumers?
Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards.
But what happens when companies make claims that don’t live up to consumer expectations?
Diestel Turkey claims its birds live idyllic lives. On its website, the company says:
All of our whole-body Diestel turkeys are raised under our strict standards. We support our turkeys with a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and the clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Our feed never contains fillers, our birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics, and we never make compromises when it comes to the quality of the feed.
Whole Foods gives Diestel Turkey its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating standard, a rating intended to differentiate factory farm meat from pasture-raised. The rating not only sets high standards for “the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals,” but also prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics.
The USDA testing suggests that Diestel is deceiving consumers about the use of antibiotics and other drugs on its farms. A nine-month investigation of Diestel Turkey Ranch by DxE suggests Diestel also deceives consumers not only about the use of antibiotics and hormones, but also about how the turkeys it sells are treated before being slaughtered for meat.
On its website, Diestel says:
We pay close attention to the health of our birds by spending time with them in the fields, observing their behaviors, and making sure they have the best environment possible.
But according to the complaint DxE filed against Diestel, the turkey producer bases those claims on one “picture-perfect” farm as its “poster child” farm—but raises most of its turkeys elsewhere, under industrial factory farm conditions.
And that picture-perfect farm is rated Step 5, even though most turkeys do not enjoy those Step 5 conditions.
In reality, DxE’s investigation found that the vast majority of the turkeys sold by Diestel are raised under very different conditions than those portrayed by the Diestel website. According to the complaint, the DxE investigation found:
- turkeys raised in over-crowded barns
- turkeys found languishing or dead
- turkeys suffering from excessive confinement
- turkeys trapped in feces that covered much of the barn floor, up to one-half foot deep
- turkeys suffering from swollen-shut eyes, swollen nostrils, open wounds, and/or bruises
- turkeys missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another and/or de-feathering from extreme stress
- turkeys routinely subject to debeaking and/or beak-trimming
- turkeys laboring to breathe in an enclosed barn environment dense with ammonia and particles of dried feces and feathers
- as many as 7 percent of birds in a barn dying in a single week.
What’s a consumer to do? We’ve put together this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide that steers consumers in the direction of reliable sources of honestly marketed turkeys.
And as always, we recommend consumers take advertising and marketing claims with a grain of salt, until those claims can be verified by a third party.
In the meantime, we’re asking consumers to ask Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel Turkey products.
A Vermont organic dairy farmer recently wrote an op-ed in which he defended conventional (non-organic) dairy farmers.
Vermonter Jacques Couture wrote in the Burlington Free Press that he was “a little perplexed” by the “current demand by some vocal Vermonters” that “all dairy farmers” convert to organic. There’s room for both organic and non-organic, he wrote.
Couture didn’t specifically mention the ongoing consumer campaign asking Ben & Jerry’s to source 100% organic dairy. Nor did he name the nonprofits—Regeneration Vermont and the Organic Consumers Association—behind the campaign.
Did Ben & Jerry’s put Couture up to writing the op-ed? Is the Unilever-owned ice cream maker paving the way for a future announcement that its conventional dairy suppliers will soon start using better farming practices (but not go organic)? We can only speculate.
But we don’t have to speculate about this: Couture’s opinion piece was missing more than just the details behind the story. It missed the point. Which is this: Conventional dairy, which relies on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO crops, is poisoning Vermont’s water, degrading Vermont’s soil and contributing to global warming.
And yes, the glyphosate we found in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is a health problem.
Some dubious claims
Couture’s defense of Vermont’s conventional dairy farmers included the claim that non-organic dairy farmers work just as hard, and are just dedicated to their communities, as organic farmers.
We take no issue with that. But we do take issue with Couture's claim that all Vermont conventional milk is free of antibiotics, and that none of Vermont dairy farmers use the bovine growth hormone (rBST, or rGBH), which is prohibited in organic. Informed sources in Vermont tell a different story, based on their in-depth research into antibiotic use in Vermont dairies
That said, the above arguments are only marginally related to our demand that Ben & Jerry’s go organic. Ben & Jerry’s knows that, even if Couture doesn’t.
Our Ben & Jerry's campaign focuses on the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and the many disastrous consequences associated with those practices. On that issue, we are totally at odds with Couture.
The facts speak—conventional dairies pollute Vermont's waterways
Couture writes that conventional dairy farms use pesticides “judiciously and work to avoid impacting local water sources and nearby lands.” He also claims that they use the "safest ones.”
That’s not the picture Regeneration Vermont paints in its latest report, “A Failure to Regulate: Big Dairy & Water Pollution in Vermont.” The report says that Lake Champlain is one of more than 100 other bodies of water in Vermont that are classified as “impaired:”
And, in many cases, “impaired” means filled with the green slime that is cyanobacteria, smelling so badly that summer camps have become uninhabitable, and beaches are posted with signs that warn, “no swimming.”
According to the EPA, more than 138,900 acres (80 percent) of the Vermont portion of Lake Champlain weren’t even swimmable during the summers of 2015 and 2016.
Here are a few more not-so-fun facts from the Regeneration Vermont report:
- Public and private sources estimate that from 40 percent to 79 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen pollution in Vermont’s waterways comes from dairy farms. And, almost all the pesticide pollution comes from these dairies.
- In 2016, the EPA classified 15 of Vermont’s lakes and 86 of the state’s rivers and streams as “impaired.”
- According to Julie Moore of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, roughly half—48.5 percent—of the pollution in Lake Champlain comes from agricultural sources.
As for using “safe” pesticides? Regeneration Vermont analyzed the state’s pesticide data. Here’s what Vermont farmers used on corn (most of which was used to feed dairy cows), between 1999-2013:
- 1,432,650 pounds of the weedkiller metolachlor, an endocrine disruptor known to cause cancer and birth defects.
- 1,037,575 pounds of the weedkiller atrazine, banned in Europe because it’s carcinogenic, causes birth defects, is an endocrine disruptor and pollutes drinking water.
- 224,628 pounds of simazine, also banned in Europe, for the same reasons listed above.
Pesticides are ‘one of the greatest public health challenges’
We need to get pesticides out of our food system. That’s not just our opinion, it’s the opinion of a growing number of scientists. (And no, we don’t need pesticides to “scale to meet the planet’s needs,” as Couture suggests.)
A recent report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) says that exposure to harmful chemicals in existing food systems poses “one of the greatest challenges for public health, as the risks of long-term exposure to pesticides clearly extend beyond the farm.”
Reporting on the IPES-Food story, the Ecologist noted the “damning assessment” by a key scientific advisor to the UK Government on the failure of global regulatory agencies to acknowledge the “impacts of dosing whole landscapes" with pesticides.
But “dosing whole landscapes” is exactly what Vermont farmers, who spray a toxic cocktail of pesticides on the more than 90,000 acres of GMO crops in their state, are doing.
It’s great (not to mention clever marketing) for Ben & Jerry’s to announce plans to start making "glyphosate-free" ce cream. (Though wouldn’t consumers who’ve been on the receiving end of Ben & Jerry’s "good guy” marketing all these years have already assumed as much)?
But getting glyphosate out of its ice cream does little to get glyphosate (and atrazine and metolachlor) out of Vermont’s waterways. Or its soils. To do that, Ben & Jerry’s needs to go organic—and not just 6 percent.
‘Farmers know that’
In his defense of conventional dairy farmers, Couture writes that when “it comes to the land, you won’t find an organic or conventional dairy farmer who doesn’t focus on soil health and production.”
We beg to differ. Here’s how the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization defines soil health:
Soil health is the capacity of soil to function as a living system, with ecosystem and land use boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health. Healthy soils maintain a diverse community of soil organisms that help to control plant disease, insect and weed pests, form beneficial symbiotic associations with plant roots; recycle essential plant nutrients; improve soil structure with positive repercussions for soil water and nutrient holding capacity, and ultimately improve crop production (FAO, 2008).
By using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Vermont’s conventional dairy farmers are degrading soil health—not contributing to it.
Sure, as Couture writes, some of Vermont’s conventional farmers are (selectively) adopting regenerative agricultural practices like no-till and cover crops. But Couture’s claim—that “the end goals, conventional or organic, are very similar: healthy, content animals to produce the best milk while safeguarding the land”—doesn’t hold water any better than eroded, degraded soils do.
Unless Vermont farmers ditch the chemicals, they can’t claim to be “focusing on soil health.” And that’s a problem. Because healthy soil, not conventional agriculture, is what’s needed to feed a growing global population. And as historians have long noted, the nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.
In a recent news report revealing that the UK is 30-40 years away from “eradication of soil fertility,” UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove warned:
If you have heavy machines churning the soil and impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals that improve yields but in the long term undercut the future fertility of that soil, you can increase yields year on year, but ultimately you really are cutting the ground away from beneath your own feet. Farmers know that.
The time is now
What’s keeping Ben & Jerry’s, the company that feigns deep concern for environmental and social progress, from transitioning to organic?
Couture would have us believe that Vermont dairy farmers can’t go organic because it’s “impractical.”
That’s no excuse, say the authors of the IPES-Food study:
The report points out that the complexity of health impacts in food systems is real and challenging, but "cannot be an excuse for inaction," and that a truly healthy food system will take as its starting point a preventative, precautionary approach, triggering a shift from a system that results in harm to a system that is based on prevention and health promotion.
The Regeneration Vermont team says the state has the technical expertise to help Vermont dairy farmers convert. They point out that those farmers who have already converted are making a living, without polluting the land or waterways.
In its “Failure to Regulate” report, the nonprofit says many of the state’s conventional farmers who are on the verge of bankruptcy would survive if they could convert to organic. All they need are buyers:
Big dairy buyers like Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, or Green Mountain Greek Yogurt could, with a decision to buy organic ingredients, almost immediately turn around the problems of Vermont’s dairy economy, poor working conditions on farms, polluted waterways, and unhealthy cows.
We’ve got a health crisis, a soil crisis, a water crisis, a worsening global hunger crisis and a climate crisis—not just in Vermont, but on a global scale. Business-as-usual industrial factory farming is a big part of the problem.
Organic, regenerative farming is the solution.
Until Ben & Jerry’s transitions to 100% organic, no amount of touchy-feely public relations—including cutesy new flavors like One Sweet World—will fool conscious consumers, much less fix the world.
That’s the case we need to be making.
On Thursday, the World Food Prize will be ceremoniously bestowed on yet another cheerleader for degenerative agriculture.
This year’s award goes to Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina of Nigeria, president of the African Development Bank, and a proud supporter of Big Ag and Biotech. In his words, Adesina says he works to "help farmers rise to the top of the value chain by industrializing agriculture."
In the lead-up to World Food Day (October 16) and Thursday's ceremony, I’ve received a series of emails with the subject line, “How Iowa is feeding the world.” The email invitations contain glowing praise for industrial, degenerative agriculture—the type that kills healthy soil life, has ruined Iowa’s water and produces pesticide-contaminated food.
One email boasts:
"...in Iowa, solving global hunger is business as usual, from being the #1 producer of pork, soybeans and eggs, to the cutting-edge bioscience research being conducted at the state’s universities, to groundbreaking technological innovations applied in the farms and fields—Iowa has a long legacy of feeding the world."
Iowa is in fact home to many good farmers. Farmers who work with nature, not against it. Farmers who steward their lands, and grow nutrient-rich, uncontaminated food—without benefit of the huge taxpayer-funded subsidies granted to their GMO monoculture counterparts.
But those aren’t the farmers who are ever awarded a $250,000 World Food Prize. Because those farmers aren’t generating big profits for corporations like Monsanto.
No, the farmers and “thinkers, scientists and advocates of global food security” who are gathered in Des Moines this week aren’t so interested in regenerative agriculture. And, as one new report after another reveal, the only thing they’re feeding the world is a slick PR campaign, founded in lies.
The truth about who’s really feeding the world (spoiler alert: it’s not industrial ag) was published this week by the nonprofit ETC Group in its latest edition of "Who will Feed Us?" But before we get to that, it’s worth pointing out, again, that lack of food isn’t the root cause of world hunger.
According to multiple sources, including Mercy Corps: "There is now 17 percent more food available per person than there was 30 years ago. If all the world's food were evenly distributed, there would be enough for everyone to get 2,700 calories per day—even more than the minimum 2,100 requirement for proper health."
So why do 795 million people (one in nine) go to bed hungry every night? Because the food being produced doesn’t get distributed to them—and even if it did, they couldn’t afford it.
Poverty and distribution are the root causes of hunger. And as Pope Francis said this week, the link between climate change (of which industrial agriculture is a major contributor) and hunger is “undeniable."
What exactly is the World Food Prize?
In 1986, U.S. packaged food conglomerate General Foods Corporation launched the “General Foods World Food Prize” to celebrate advances in industrial food production.
Today, the “World Food Prize” is a public-private partnership between the state of Iowa and numerous multinational agrichemical corporations, including Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta. World Food Prize events happen on or around October 16, to coincide with World Food Day, the annual celebration of the founding in 1945 of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO uses World Food Day as a call-to-action for countries to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #2: Achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.
According to its official website, the World Food Day Prize is “the most significant observance of World Food Day anywhere around the globe.” Yet interestingly, there’s no mention of the prize on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website, where you think something so “significant” would bear mention by the originators of World Food Day?
Who really feeds the world?
At a recent dinner party, the subject of Monsanto and GMOs came up. Several of the well-educated and well-read guests asked: But without GMOs, how will we feed the world?
Clearly, Monsanto has excelled at getting its (false) message out. Which means that we have to work harder at getting out the facts—many of which are laid out, and meticulously researched and documented, in ETC Group’s latest publication.
In honor of the real World Food Day, please share some of the facts, brought to you by ETC Group:
- Peasants are the main or sole food providers to more than 70 percent of the world’s people, and peasants produce this food with less (often much less) than 25 percent of the resources—including land, water, fossil fuels—used to get all of the world’s food to the table.
- The Industrial Food Chain uses at least 75 percent of the world’s agricultural resources and is a major source of GHG emissions, but provides food to less than 30 percent of the world’s people.
- For every $1 consumers pay to Chain retailers, society pays another $2 for the Chain’s health and environmental damages. The total bill for the Chain’s direct and indirect cost is five times governments’ annual military expenditure.
- The Chain lacks the agility to respond to climate change. Its R&D is not only distorted but also declining as it concentrates the global food market.
- The Peasant Food Web nurtures nine -100 times the biodiversity used by the Chain, across plants, livestock, fish and forests. Peasants have the knowledge, innovative energy and networks needed to respond to climate change; they have the operational scope and scale; they are closest to the hungry and malnourished.
- There is still much about our food systems that we don’t know we don’t know. Sometimes, the Chain knows but isn’t telling. Other times, policymakers aren’t looking. Most often, we fail to consider the diverse knowledge systems in the Peasant Food Web.
The bottom line? According to ETC Group, at least 3.9 billion people are either hungry or malnourished because the industrial food chain is too distorted, vastly too expensive, and—after 70 years of trying—just can’t scale up to feed the world.
Monsanto Tried to Bury the Truth About the Toxicity of Roundup, Which Was Recently Detected in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
Sometimes the stars align. This is one of those times.
Not long after the Organic Consumers Association announced that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tested positive for glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, another story broke—one that validates the importance of finding glyphosate, even at low doses, in any food.
According to internal Monsanto documents (and as reported by GM Watch, Sustainable Pulse and other news outlets), Monsanto forced the retraction of a critical long-term study, first published in 2012, showing that very low doses of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—lower than those detected in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—caused serious liver and kidney damage in rats.
Shortly before the study was retracted, the editor of the journal began working for Monsanto, under a consulting contract. (The study, led by G.E. SÃ©ralini, was republished in 2014, by the Environmental Sciences Europe.)
Since the New York Times first reported on OCA’s test findings, the news about Ben & Jerry’s has been picked by thousands of media outlets and TV stations in the U.S. and internationally, including in Germany, the U.K., France, Mexico, Portugal and Japan.
No surprise, it didn’t take long for critics to come out of the woodwork—mostly the usual suspects who defend Monsanto. Their criticisms focused largely on the amounts of glyphosate detected in the ice cream, and how they fall below the U.S. Food & Drug Administration “allowable safe levels”—levels that don’t take into account the latest research.
That latest research, in addition to the SÃ©ralini study, includes a peer-reviewed study published in January 2017, in Scientific Reports. Led by Dr. Michael Antoniou at King’s College London, that study found that low doses (thousands of times below those declared “safe” by U.S. and international regulators) of Roundup weedkiller, administered to rats over a two-year period, caused non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD, which is now reaching epidemic proportions, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, a life-threatening condition.
OCA’s news, and the latest revelations about Monsanto’s efforts to bury the truth about Roundup’s true toxicity have Ben & Jerry’s (and parent company Unilever) sweating. As for Monsanto, company officials weren’t too pleased when their internal emails went public. The New York Times reported that one Monsanto scientist wrote this in an internal email in 2001: "If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react—with serious concern."
The email was uncovered in what the Huffington Post reported are more than 75 documents, including intriguing text messages and discussions about payments to scientists, which were posted for public viewing on August 1 by attorneys suing Monsanto on behalf of people alleging Roundup caused them or their family members to become ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Monsanto told the New York Times it was "outraged" by the documents’ release.
But we are the ones who should be outraged: Monsanto is knowingly selling a toxic product and covering up that fact by attacking credible independent scientists. Government agencies allowed, and possibly even colluded in the coverups and attacks. And companies like Ben & Jerry’s, that profess great concern for the environment, the climate and “social responsibility,” excuse themselves from having to live up to those promises.
Ben & Jerry’s responds
In response to our finding glyphosate in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, the company told the New York Times it “was working to ensure that all the ingredients in its supply chain come from sources that do not include genetically modified organisms, known as G.M.O.s.”
Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s, told the Times:
We’re working to transition away from G.M.O., as far away as we can get. But then these tests come along, and we need to better understand where the glyphosate they’re finding is coming from. Maybe it’s from something that’s not even in our supply chain, and so we’re missing it.
Not even in their supply chain? Seriously? Ben & Jerry’s is one of the biggest buyers of non-organic milk in Vermont. And the cows that make that milk? They’re fed GMO animal feed.
More than 92,000 acres of Vermont farmland is planted in corn grown for animal feed, reports Regeneration Vermont. Ninety-six percent of that corn is GMO—corn grown using massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, and toxic weedkillers like glyphosate, atrazine and metolachlor.
But that’s not something Ben & Jerry’s, the darling brand of the progressive movement, likes to talk about—even though activists have been begging the company for more than two decades to clean up its act and go organic. And not just because of the glyphosate in its ice cream, though that’s reason enough, but because, as OCA director Ronnie Cummins recently explained, because Ben & Jerry’s support of conventional and GMO dairy is ruining Vermont’s waterways, throwing dairy farmers into bankruptcy, hurting migrant workers, and perpetuating animal abuse.
We stand by our test results
Criticisms of the New York Times story on OCA’s test results, and on the testing itself, don’t hold up. Our tests were conducted by Health Research Institute Laboratories, an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit analytical chemistry laboratory, using the latest methodology. We provide a full explanation of that methodology here.
As for the significance of the amounts of weedkiller detected in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, we point to the latest research that says these amounts are actually higher than doses known to cause serious health issues in rats, based on long-term peer-reviewed studies. You can read more about the relevance of our findings here.
Ben & Jerry’s has been hiding behind its do-gooder image for far too long. We intend to keep the pressure on, until the company commits to a three-year transition to 100% organic, immediately.