Chipotle recently shook the world — well, OK, not the whole world, but the fast-food one — by announcing that pork would be off the menu in 600 restaurants for an unspecified time because they weren’t able to source sustainably-raised pork.
Chipotle is trying to live within their motto “Food with Integrity.” According to their website, they buy from “farmers whose pigs are raised outside or in deeply bedded pens, are never given antibiotics and are fed a vegetarian diet. It’s the way animals were raised before huge factory farms changed the industry. We believe pigs that are cared for in this way enjoy happier, healthier lives and produce the best pork we’ve ever tasted.”
Yeah, I know that the “deeply bedded pens” is a troubling phrase. It means that the animals can be kept inside, but not on metal floors with no bedding. That “slatted floor” system is usual in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The mama pigs are kept in pens—gestation crates—for their pregnancy where they barely have room to move from a standing position to lying down. From the top, the mamas look like hot dog buns in a package, almost attached side to side. Then they are supposed to move to a birthing crate—called a farrowing crate. The movement, after three months of immobility, involves a lot of abuse from handlers, according to Ten Genoways’ new book The Chain: Farm, Factory and the Fate of our Food. In fact, if you get that book, you might want to skip the part where the mamas (called sows) have to move from one crate to another.
The Chipotle move is a strong idea for a food sector usually known for unhealthy recipes, exploited workers and cheap ingredients.
Rumors had been flying around the sustainable ag community for about a year that Chipotle wasn’t living up to its mission, but I don’t eat fast food, so I didn’t pay much attention. And, now that the word is out, I haven’t been able to find out exactly how the boycott, which is truly revolutionary, came about. Chipotle has been tightlipped about which growers, exactly, broke the rules.
So where did the discovery begin? Did consumers appear at outlets with signs to protest? Or did the action come from stockholders, threatening to sell and drive the price of stock into the cellar? Or did a conscientious manager figure out that Chipotle should put their policies into action?
Whatever the reason, the announcement gave Chipotle stock a nice little pop after years of steady growth. And other fast food chains should take note. They say it’s too hard to find good meats, but that’s changing fast.
Here in Missouri, consumers are really catching on and our farmers are also! One of the factoids I picked up at a recent conference was that in our state there has been a huge increase in the amount of meat butchered locally for the local market. Three years ago, there were 9 slaughterhouses with state inspection. Today there are 39 ... an increase of more than 400%.
It’s easy these days to find locally-raised meats in good restaurants and grocery stores. Fast food chains should take note.
At that same conference were a whole lot of row-croppers, the big guys with the huge combines and lots of debt, who want to get into something new. Biotech crops are not working as advertised, especially when it comes to failures in weed control. The resistant weeds are truly becoming a problem to ordinary corn-belt farmers. This year, they may adopt crops with different resistance—2,4D and dicamba have been approved. But row-croppers can see that 2,4D and dicamba, besides being dangerous, will quickly have resistance issues.
Also, commodity crop prices are unstable and the farmers have realized they don’t have diversity of markets. They’re stuck with the ups and downs, can’t set their own prices like we little guys can, selling directly to consumers that want what we raise.
I’ve had row-croppers tell me they want to sell food instead of fuel. They WANT the connection with consumers. The majority of our neighbors are afraid to speak out but they pull me aside and thank me for what we’re doing. I have always gone to all the ladies’ club meetings, so I see the wives a lot. Very sad they won’t speak out.
All this might be difficult for small farms like mine, as the big guys flex their muscles. They have the potential of raising lots and lots of local foods, consolidating the market so that little farms can’t compete. And the big guys have the muscle to change the rules so that standards like the organic standards are changed to confuse consumers.
It all remains to be seen, but the Chipotle move shows that consumers can benefit if restaurants and grocers decide to develop a conscience.
As a result, according to the release, scientists found glyphosate at “760 to 1600 times higher than the European Drinking Water Directive allows for individual pesticides.” These levels are less than allowable levels set by America’s Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has been led to believe that glyphosate exits the body and does not accumulate. How could they think that?
The answer is that, in an atmosphere of austerity and trade secrets, the government listens to industry scientists. Senior Monsanto scientist Dan Goldstein recently stated “If ingested, glyphosate is excreted rapidly, does not accumulate in body fat or tissues, and does not undergo metabolism in humans.”
The website Sustainable Pulse, directed by Henry Rowlands, broke the breast-milk news. Rowlands has been a longtime critic of the biotech industry. Immediately, big ag released criticisms of the study’s small sample numbers, but the assertion that America is drowning in Roundup should be investigated. And the story, co-released by Moms Across America, continued that urine from American consumers had also been tested and researchers found 10 times the glyphosate as urine in European consumers.
America’s favorite herbicide, Roundup, has been sprayed on an estimated 90% of American farmland, and we don’t know how to go back to normal. In fact, American regulators are set to approve even more chemicals for even more genetically modified crops. Next summer, dicamba and 2,4D will certainly be approved, making it legal and even recommended for farmers to spray their fields with these elements that were part of Agent Orange, the defoliant used to clear jungles in the Vietnam war.
While this story might seem to only affect farmers, who continue to plant genetically modified organism (GMO) crops, it should be the major story for American citizens. Not only is this chemical going into future Americans at an alarming rate, denying its regulation is a major part of American international policy.
Internationally, consumers have rejected GMOs while US trade agreements insist that GMOs be allowed. Russia allows import of GMOs, but insists on labeling if foods contain over 0.9% of the stuff.
In contrast, the US has insisted, under the sway of Monsanto and other US firms that produce GMOs and chemicals, that it is America’s mission to “feed the world” and that GMOs are the only way to do it. We have, they remind us, nine billion hungry mouths to feed in the future.
Russia has not been persuaded. In response to US insistence that GMO crops are just like any other, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that Russia has the space and clean soils to produce organic food. So, American farmers and consumers have been guinea pigs to a giant agribusiness experiment that has gone terribly wrong.
“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,” Medvedev told Russian farmers. Producing non-GMO foods on healthy soils will become a matter of Russia’s national pride. And it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the subject will be a matter of friction for future American administrations.
So what should American consumers do?
Unfortunately, the easiest path, eating organic foods, has also been corrupted by agribusiness. Our rural communities are not owned and run by the same citizens that founded them. Instead, animals are owned by the giant corporations and raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These CAFOs have become producers of meat to export, yes, and they also produce tons of manure. Due to organic rules, this crap goes onto organic crops. The crops are used to make organic foods under a label that consumers trust. In other words, organics have become enablers of the bad system.
Last May, a group of consumers tried to make a month without biotech. Calling it “Nonsanto month,” we gave up industrial food and chose clothing from rayon, silks and linen rather than cotton, which has been GMO since the late 90s.
Since I’m old, the clothing part of the challenge was easier for me than for my young friends. I have a lot of clothes that go back to the ’90s. One of the youngsters pointed out that she had to wear a uniform on some work days and her boss didn’t care to buy organic cotton uniforms. So there you go—trapped!
For me, avoiding GMO foods was impossible as I confronted a schedule that had me eating off my farm almost every day. I packed a lunch once in a while and found some snacks made from wheat, which is still non-GMO, but I failed almost every day to eat 100% non-GMO.
So I’m extending the personal challenge—non-GMO June. Give it a try and find out if you, American consumer, can go a month, a week, a day ... an hour? ... without GMOs. Let me know how you do!
Every year for the last six or eight, family farmers and small-town residents in Missouri have had to fight off legislations designed to take away our local control and put all the lawmaking privileges in the hands of state lawmakers. Taken to the extreme, this would mean that county, city and township ordinances and laws would be void. No more city zoning, no health ordinances guaranteeing special treatment such as special regulations against noise, air pollution, water pollution and so forth, for county residents that demanded it.
The beneficiaries of these laws would be corporate do-badders who want to export costs like cleanups or health care for employees. Without regulations, they could get taxpayers to pay for pollution and social justice atrocities. It would be business as usual for them, only better!
This year, we have been dealing with bills introduced simultaneously in the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate to ensure “modern farming practices” forever. The resolutions on the House side said, “No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly.”
Never mind that “agricultural technology,” “modern livestock production,” “ranching practices” are not defined. And never mind that they would seem to suggest methods of production like Confined Animal Feeding Operations and genetically altered crops. If these resolutions passed, citizens would be asked to vote this dangerous language into our state constitution. Where it would reside forever.
As I write this, just a few days after tax day, it looks like we’ve beaten back this particular monster. It is possible, of course, that all we’ve done is cut off one head to reveal two or three more, but the citizens have been calling lawmakers, pointing out the errors of the bills, and gaining support as the session moves forward.
But here’s the larger question: Where the heck did this idea of changing the constitution come from? We know who it benefits — the industrial agriculture system — and we know who it hurts — ordinary citizens. But who wrote this bill, now called “right to farm,” and who financed the possibility that it would get traction?
Thanks to the magic of Google, I quickly found three states with efforts for constitutional amendments similar to Missouri’s proposals. Another few keystrokes and I found the source of the language. It came from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. And on the ALEC website, a few more clicks took me to the list of legislative members from Missouri.
In November 2012, North Dakota, a state besieged with fracking (and, yes, ALEC has policies and sample legislation favoring that subject also) passed a “right to farm” amendment into the constitution. Its language is eerily like the proposal in Missouri: The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.
While you might think this guarantees farmers against the frackers, please note the seriously vague and troubling words “modern,” “technology,” and the confusing phrase “no law shall be enacted …” So, in North Dakota, no county, township, parish, city or any governmental body will be able to pass a law or ordinance to protect themselves from chemicals, GMOs, CAFOs or any other kind of industrial farming scheme.
Not only will farmers be affected. This amendment can have serious repercussions for consumers: North Dakota, one of our chief wheat-raising states, will not be able to refuse to plant untested (and untrusted) GMO wheat under this Constitutional clause.
The same sort of language is being considered in Montana, another primary wheat-raising state, and in Indiana, one of the buckles on the corn belt. The Hoosier experience, summed up by Indiana’s TribStar.com, sounds just like Missouri. They say:
“House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 27, identical pieces of legislation making their way through the two chambers, seek to amend the Indiana Constitution to prevent any legislative body from adopting any rules regulating farming ...
“The amendment, apparently, would prevent any rules regulating large industrial agricultural businesses such as confined animal feeding operations. It would also prevent any laws that protect public health and private property rights for Hoosiers who are not farmers. Even zoning laws could be challenged.”
These dangerous laws could spell the end of rural life and the endorsement of fields farmed with robot tractors, sprayed by drones carrying Agent Orange and growing untested GMO crops with serious health consequences.
State by state, beginning in Indiana this fall, voters will confront this amendment and industry will spend the big bucks to get it passed. Find out if it’s active in your state, and who supports it.
Then call your friends and neighbors and work to defeat it.
A couple of weeks ago, I was crowing about the amazing progress of the national media in following the home gardening story. No doubt about it, stories about gardening appear in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and countless smaller newspapers. Since I believe that home gardening is one of the answers to hunger in this nation, not to mention obesity, poverty and boredom, I was thrilled. If people become gardeners, I’ve reasoned, they’ll feed themselves and re-learn some of the self-sufficiency and memories of culture that they must re-learn to gain power over their lives. The gifts of neighborhood and democracy will flower again.
Boy. I’m a real dork.
It turns out that home gardening is just a growth industry for the corporates. In fact, they’re finding a pernicious new way to close the commons even more tightly. I wonder if Michelle knows about this.
For many of us, the high point of the gardening year is the moment we bite into that first juicy, ripe tomato. On our farm, for years, we’ve been raising open-pollinated heirloom tomatoes. These are interestingly shaped, colored and flavored tomatoes raised from seeds collected in the gardens of grandmothers. Open-pollinated seeds are fertilized naturally by the wind or traveling insects. Unlike hybrids, which are pollinated by humans carrying one blossom to another in the effort to create a specific seed that will yield a specific plant, the open-pollinated seeds are somewhat unpredictable. For that reason, they aren’t much loved by the professional seed companies that value uniformity.
Heirloom tomatoes are red, sometimes, but also purple, yellow, orange, apricot, green, striped — you name it. The flavors are similarly unusual, varying from extremely sweet to extremely acid to fruity or even wine-like.
And, for the most part, a plant bearing Cherokee Purple tomatoes will yield fruit with seeds that come up as Cherokee Purple next year, but sometimes the daughter plants will be different than the mothers. Cherokee Purple ripen bulbous and bruised, with green blotches and a taste that’s often called “smoky.” Heirloom growers still save the seeds, put up with the variations and even enjoy it.
Every year, I meet a new favorite, but I’m pretty loyal to the green zebra, a green egg-sized tomato striped with gold that really seems to sparkle in the sunlight, and the yellow pear, a cherry-sized tomato that you pick by the handful and pop into your mouth warm from the sun. I was banned from the yellow pear plants last summer because I could never get them into the van to go to market.
The most important point is that the heirlooms are different than the Big Boys and Better Boys developed and patented by breeders. At least, that was the point when we started.
Now it turns out that the seed geniuses, many housed at a university in your state, are hybridizing heirloom-like plants and, you guessed it, patenting the seeds. They have, in their minds, “improved” the plants. In the minds of the rest of us, we should recognize that they have patented and captured the plants that once were common property of gardeners who saved seeds.
Reading a glowing review of these heirlooms in the Wall Street Journal, I’m bummed to see that the first “innovation” was based on the “classic Brandywine tomato.” A breeder in California has developed the “Brandymaster.” She says it has “more uniformly-shaped fruits and better resistance to diseases.”
One of my neighbors raises brandywines, saving the seeds from year to year. I look forward to seeing her at the market, her boxes full of oddly-shaped tomatoes. I never thought the lack of uniformity was a problem. In fact, it lets me choose the shape I’ll use — big sloppy burger bun tomato? Wedges for a salad?
That first hybrid came out three years ago. This year, almost all the good ones have been hybridized for (according the the Journal) “longer shelf life and making shapes more uniform for ease of packing, and creating more compact plants that are easier to maneuver.”
And here’s the really bad part, for all you that love the idea of gardening and farming as an independent gesture of self-sufficiency: 11,000 of the seed patents are owned by Monsanto. They now have an estimated 85-90% of the seed market in the US.
Besides buying parts or all of the major seed companies, Monsanto is a supplier to many of the independents. Those folks may raise a portion of their own seeds, but they also buy in bulk and re-package because, it turns out, consumers are accustomed to such a huge selection that the independents, in order to compete, cannot grow all they need to satisfy buyers.
So, while the hybrids are probably not genetically modified or in need of certain chemicals to survive, the door is open for that kind of manipulation by the mad scientists in the St. Louis suburbs.