Sunday, July 16, 2006

U.S. Organic Food Demand Booming, U.S. Corporate Agriculture Refuses to Fill it; Instead, Wants the First GE-Trees

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"Brave New Organic World"? Greenwashed Corporate Factory Farms and Factory Forests, or Something Different in the Offing?

Several events recently are discussed below, all related to the ongoing story of the perversity of the U.S. agricultural corporate monolith. One aspect is the U.S. consumer's internationalization of its sourcing for organic food. The story is spun that producers "can't keep up." However, the story is they "don't want to keep up."

They've had years to adapt. They simply refuse. You should look to understanding why, instead of expecting them to listen. The suggestion still is to adopt different more political institutional strategies of watershed specific user/producer relationships than intermittent boycotts. The latter expects that their captive markets alone are going to help you. The former helps you to help yourselves on the local level to maintain sustainability.

Furthermore, instead of adapting to the expanding organic consumer desires, they want to have authorized the first GM-tree, the GM-plum tree, "C5". Ominous sounding "C5" is the first ever temperate climate GM-tree that has made it this far to be released, even though it claims to "solve" things which are without a problem and will generate well known difficulties for all. You can still contact the USDA about that, at the link. Deadline for comments is July 17th, 2006:

"The US Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments between now and July 17, 2006 on a petition that would allow commercial growing and marketing of the first genetically engineered (GE) plum trees. If approved, this would remove all regulatory oversight of this GE variety, a virus-resistant plum tree known as the Honey Sweet Pox Potyvirus Resistant plum. This would open the door to GE varieties of many other related stone fruits, such as peaches, apricots, cherries and almonds, that are susceptible to the same virus. Ironically, this virus is not even found in the US today according to the USDA, and is certainly not a significant agricultural problem here.

"The USDA admits that this GE plum will contaminate both organic and conventional non-genetically engineered plum orchards if it is approved. Since all commercial plum trees are cultivars that are relatively cross compatible within the same species, Prunus domestica, contamination via GE plum pollen carried by bees and other insects will infiltrate the plum orchards of organic and conventional growers. The proposed buffer zones between GE plums and other plums will not prevent genetic contamination from being spread by pollinating insects.

"Because this GE plum tree is also the first genetically engineered temperate tree proposed for commercial planting, it also opens the door to the commercialization of GE varieties of other temperate trees such as poplars, pines, and walnuts.

"The one GE fruit tree that has previously been approved, a virus resistant Hawaiian papaya, has caused extensive contamination of organic, conventional and wild papaya orchards on most of the Hawaiian Islands in just a few years. This contamination has spread far more quickly than the USDA predicted in its initial assessment.
Once native and cultivated plum varieties are contaminated with transgenic pollen [and thus owned by the genetic buccaneers who will take you to court over pollen drift damage caused by them, for "using their trees"--shades of Percy Smelcher once more, can you see it?], there is no calling it back. [So they will simply start jailing organic growers instead.]

"This petition has implications for all other GE tree species, as the USDA and the industry want to gauge what the public's reaction will be. It is critical that all concerned about the threat of GE foods and GE trees respond to this USDA petition.

[Comments to submit below. Please add any additional comments of your own.]
The following comments are in reference to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0084 [*]

This direction, plus claims made through more GM tinkering of a "non-contaminate pollen" from GM "terminator style" plants, basically is a recipie for a "clean factory GM tree farm" monocrop, with drastic reduction in biological diversity security in the offing after that assuredly.

"Researchers in Wageningen have developed a new method in which a genetically modified plant destroys its transgenes once it has manufactured its pollen. This makes it possible to avoid the spread of transgenes, and to use plants as molecular factories in a cleaner way. Nap does not think that the development will silence criticism from organisations such as Greenpeace. 'It is a very 'clean' process by which the transgenes are removed, but there still are 22 base pairs left over. This is not enough for a plant to manufacture transgenic proteins, but if activists are looking for a target, they will find one in this. After all, it's still genetic modification.'" [*]

Consumers worldwide fail to want factory GM-farms, or factory GM-forests either. Recently an anti-GMO fair was held in 40 countries worldwide, simultaneously on April 6, 2006, in conjunction with the First World Action Day Against GMOs. Celebrated in 40 countries, the food fair offered a sampling of mostly organic and traditional agricultural alternatives for producers and consumers in all those different localities. [*]

The same crookedly weaving story of corporate anti-health and agricultural sadism can be seen threading through U.S. consumer desires to escape such punishment. This could be for failed attempts to get competitively cheaper drugs or treatment options from elsewhere when the U.S. medical system--instead of medical conditions--has become the leading cause of death in the United States; the previous story about the cattle rancher being punished for wanting to test meat for more rigorous Mad Cow/organic standards to satisfy the (less U.S. corporate meat politics captive) Japanese--and being denied that access to his private property of cattle to do so [!]; and previous stories about the declining nutritional value of U.S. agri-corporate food.

All this shows large food producers are your active enemies. They even admit it. Some quotes from a previous post may help it sink in:

"...Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, which bills itself as "supermarket to the world," had its wholesome image tarnished in 1998 when a federal trial in Chicago found two of its top executives guilty of fixing prices with the firm's competitors; each got two years in prison. The FBI informant who put them there, Mark Whitacre, former president of ADM's bioproducts division, secretly made audio and video tapes of ADM meetings. According to Whitacre, ADM's bizarre unofficial motto was: "The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy." What occurred only several years later in 2001 is merely par for the course. It seems that Monsanto attempted to "hijack" Italy. 'Genetic buccaneering' as a theme here reminded me of a 2001 article below concerning the corporate raiding attempt to "contaminate Italy" with GMOs. Italy has banned all GMOs. However, once you pollute a country, it feasibly would be 'open'. After all, remember "the consumer is the enemy" according to their supply-sided mindset. Monsanto representatives on the illegal Italian shipment of their GMOs there: "It is not accidental. It is normal." Another Monsanto quote: "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job.'' Phil Angell, Monsanto's Director of Corporate Communications, New York Times 10/25/98 [*]

He is being intellectually dishonest because the U.S. government relies exclusively on private corporate science for such information, a true conflict of interest. Second, he is being even more intellectually dishonest when Monsanto's own studies about its GM food show health risks--though they keep that secret from the consumer:

"[A] secret Monsanto study shows unquestionable health effects as a result of rats being fed genetically modified food. The study if fully released could vindicate an earlier study by a Dr Pusztai who's career was a effectively destroyed by an orchestrated plan to discredit Dr Pusztai hatched in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet...Rats fed on a diet rich in genetically modified corn developed abnormalities to internal organs and changes to their blood, raising fears that human health could be affected by eating GM food. The Independent on Sunday can today reveal details of secret research carried out by Monsanto, the GM food giant, which shows that rats fed the modified corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood. According to the confidential 1,139-page report, these health problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research project." [*]

If they are this psychopathic about what they are pumping into you, you should learn to act as if they are you enemy in self-defense--because they are treating you as the enemy. They admit it themselves.

So, in this continuing story about the perverse and even sadistic organization of U.S. corporate agriculture, one theme is typically left unsaid: the ongoing rejection of U.S. corporate agriculture to listen to its consumers in the first place--whether they want sourced organics or otherwise. So why do people still think a temporary boycott is the answer? Completely different watershed user/producer arrangements would be a more permanent answer.

This story fits well with the contentious supply versus demand dynamic replaying across several posts, whether plant or animal, U.S. agriculture attempts to demote or even legally outflank consumer desires. The purpose is to assure that their supply-side 'consumer management' frameworks are unchallenged instead of the consumer satisfied.

Data below shows that U.S. consumers are literally "climbing the walls" attempting to get organic food, to get out of a corporate monolithic poison factory. Though while sourcing it from closer to home would be much cheaper and would be a source of secure and instant profit, few corporations make that route available to U.S. consumers--or make it available to themselves as producers--by conscious strategic choice.

Instead of building ladders to aid the consumer to scale these walls, and to arrange these organic user/producer relationships, large corporate interests are kicking the ladders off the wall by either practicing "market denial" (a form of triage, hoping for the issue to go away), or they are practicing active repressive legal action against those attempting to aid the consumer, as has historically been seen with the aspartame issue or the desire to test for organic meat getting state repression.

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[larger version]

Brave New Organic World?

Despite the "corporate organic sector" (see map above, additionally the corporate non-organic sector) increasingly being encouraged by consumers to adopt "local organic" standards, they balk at the act.

Dean Foods/Horizon is the U.S.'s largest corporate organic dairy operation. It started to institute scaled feed lots. However, their consumers organized a boycott, perhaps the first boycott seen in which the aim is agricultural reconstruction instead of simply individual organic health concerns. However, both these issues come full circle because consumers are getting more interested in supporting only certain styles of agricultural organization as much as organic standards because they understand the relationship.

"A nationwide boycott has begun....One month ago, after a poll of our members, the Organic Consumers Association called on consumers to boycott dairy companies like Horizon and Aurora for their practice of raising "organic" cattle on intensive confinement feedlots. Alberta Coop took Horizon products off the shelves about a year ago. A number of natural food stores and co-ops across the U.S. are also beginning to respond to concerned consumers and removing suspect dairy products from their stores. The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the second largest co-op in the U.S., no longer carries Horizon products. In Colorado, the Boulder Co-op Market, has also discontinued stocking Horizon products. Amy Wyatt, Assistant General Manager for the Co-op, says, "Based on our concerns regarding Horizon's practices, we didn't feel that continuing to carry this company's products was consistent with our mission and values." Dean Foods, Horizon's parent company, is also starting to come under fire for abandoning U.S. organic soybean farmers and importing cheap soybeans from China, where organic standards are dubious, and farm labor wages and conditions are abysmal." [*]

The local watershed jurisdictional priority of the bioregional state definitely fits with the whole motif of this increasing desire to go beyond "organic standards" to "local organic" standards. And consumers are fighting for it because they see the relationships between local and organic--instead of simply organic--are required for actual sustainabilty--when "Brave New Organic World" groups like Dean/Horizon could feasibly have a factory cow organic farm, could source internationally their own "organic" feed for the cattle from dubious locations that are far away an unmonitorable by the local consumer. Moreover, we could feasily have the "clean dystopia" of a "clean GM-forest"--that would still destroy ecological diversity and promote monocrop and economic shakeout and destruction of small scale business practices.

There is a consumer and small scale producer politics out there is that only waiting to be organized on the local level. Simply organizing economically with temporary boycotts--without additional institutions to support and create the world or consumer relationships you want--will always play in the hands of the unsustainable interests once the boycott peters off, and the same institutional factors take up their supply versus demand interests with renewed vigor.

One solution to this is the user/producer institution mentioned previously. It would be an ONGOING check and balance against "rogue producer" attitudes that shorn themselves from local consumer concerns which turn cannibal in attitudes toward those that support them, instead of depending on boycotts. The expanding desire to turn organic standards into "local organic" standards would be benefited by such a user/producer institution.

Playing devil's advocate for a moment, surely this political issue of self-interest is just the same that watersheds would perform in the bioregional state? Yes, it is. However, in the bioregional state, these decisions would be taken locally, democratically, and collectively for public interests of health, local ecological durability, and local economic sustainability, instead of in all the examples above, taken for private, secretive, and collusionary interests against consumers and the public and with only one long term goal: expanding unsustainable behavior directly by removing consumer choices or by indirectly doing so by subsidizing degraders--which market-warps sustainable and small operations out of economic durability despite the fact that the latter is what the consumers want!

Thus, in the bioregional state, the question of consumer (economic-only instead of full political autarky) watershed autarky comes up--as it should--since those locally should have priority over tailoring their local watershed economy to their benefit. With the bioregional state's watershed user/producer institutions, instead of having oneself externally manipulated by another's private attempts to buccaneer and foist something on you or into you that you dislike, or being forced to purchase something because private groups have been successful in removing other choices leaving them the master of (agricultural) field over the captive consumers, one would have an institutional venue of user/producer locality to fulfill ones local and organic concerns simultaneously.

It is much cheaper for a large consolidated organic corporations, as Dean Foods/Horizon is doing, to turn their organic feed lots into a "organic brave new world" of organic factory farms, which will most certainly lead once more to antibiotic-laden factory farms. A "sun-shiny" organic factory farm is certainly a biological contradiction in terms since it is going to set up a context of increasing cattle crowd diseases which will lead to illegal antibiotics used on the side (of the cow), and then into the mouth of the consumer. Consumers called a boycott.

Circling back to the bioregional state motif, it should be clear that only when the formal political frameworks change in an ongoing way, will consumers and their local user/producer local economic desires have fuller public input into deciding what they want locally, instead of what someone else wants to feed them who lives far off.

Additional local institutions are required to reflect and bring out these desires. As has been mentioned in other posts, user/producer watershed institutions should be institutionalized instead of expecting economic exchange alone as something to bring anyone to sustainability.

In conclusion, it seems that the chemical-laden and hugely consolidated agriculture of the U.S. is ignoring its self-proclaimed god of "market forces." It always has, if you follow the history of its consolidation which has had more to do with political cronyism that market response.

The caveat is that I see nothing the matter with international trade in organics per se, as long as it is decided on by the local watershed themselves and avoids generating externalities in the location in question. For instance, in the Vermont case, I will let someone who is personally touched by this booming internationalization of organics speak on that:

The issue causes mixed feelings for Travis Forgues, an organic dairy farmer in Vermont. "I don't like the idea of it coming in from out of this country, but I don't want them to stop growing organic because of that," Forgues said. "I want people to say, `Let's do that here, give a farmer another avenue to make a livable wage.'"

Within the user/producer watershed institution, he would have a better chance finding consumers to help him.

Here's the article:

Published on Friday, July 7, 2006 by the Associated Press
Demand for Organic Food Outstrips Supply
by Libby Quaid

America's appetite for organic food is [gosh darn it!] so strong that supply just can't keep up with demand. [though consumers can keep up with the spin...] Organic products still have only a tiny slice, about 2.5 percent, of the nation's food market. But the slice is expanding at a feverish pace.

Growth in sales of organic food has been 15 percent to 21 percent each year, compared with 2 percent to 4 percent for total food sales.

Organic means food is grown without bug killer, fertilizer, hormones, antibiotics or biotechnology.

Mainstream supermarkets, eyeing the success of organic retailers such as Whole Foods, have rushed to meet demand. The Kroger Co., Safeway Inc. and SuperValu Inc., which owns Albertson's LLC, are among those selling their own organic brands.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said earlier this year it would double its organic offerings.

The number of organic farms--an estimated 10,000--is also increasing, but not fast enough. As a result, organic manufacturers are looking for ingredients outside the United States in places like Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa.

That is no surprise, said Barbara Robinson, head of the Agriculture Department's National Organic Program. The program provides the round, green "USDA Organic" seal for certified products.

Her agency is just now starting to track organic data, but Robinson believes the United States is importing far more organic food than it exports. That's true of conventional food, too.

"That is how you stimulate growth, is imports generally," she said. "Your own industry says we're tired of importing this; why should I pay for imports when I could start producing myself?"

"We're doing a lot of scrambling," said Sheryl O'Loughlin, CEO of Clif Bar Inc. "We have gotten to the point now where we know we can get a call for any ingredient."

The makers of the high-energy, eat-and-run Clif Bar needed 85,000 pounds of almonds, and they had to be organic. But the nation's organic almond crop was spoken for. Eventually, Clif Bar found the almonds — in Spain. But more shortages have popped up: apricots and blueberries, cashews and hazelnuts, brown rice syrup and oats.

Even Stonyfield Farm, an organic pioneer in the United States, is pursuing a foreign supplier; Stonyfield is working on a deal to import milk powder from New Zealand.

"I'm not suggesting we would be importing from all these places," said Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm Inc. "But for transition purposes, to help organic supply to keep up with the nation's growing hunger, these countries have to be considered."

The dilemma of how to fill the gap between organic supply and demand is part of a long-running debate within America's booming organic industry. For many enthusiasts, organic is about more than the food on their plates; it's a way to improve the environment where they live and help keep small-scale farmers in business.

"If organic is something created in the image of sustainable agriculture, we certainly haven't accomplished that yet," said Urvashi Rangan, a scientist for Consumers Union. "What people do have to understand is if that stuff comes in from overseas, and it's got an organic label on it, it had to meet USDA standards in order to get here."

The issue causes mixed feelings for Travis Forgues, an organic dairy farmer in Vermont.

"I don't like the idea of it coming in from out of this country, but I don't want them to stop growing organic because of that," Forgues said. "I want people to say, `Let's do that here, give a farmer another avenue to make a livable wage.'"

A member of the farmer-owned Organic Valley cooperative, Forgues got his dairy farm certified nearly 10 years ago. Organic Valley supplies milk to Stonyfield.

Switching to organic is a difficult proposition. Vegetable grower Scott Woodard is learning through trial and error on his Putnam Valley, N.Y., farm. One costly mistake: Conventional farmers can plant seeds when they want and use pesticides to kill hungry insect larvae. If Woodard had waited three weeks to plant, the bugs that ate his seeds would have hatched and left. Organic seeds can be double the price of conventional.

"There's not a lot of information out there," Woodard said. "We try to do the best we can. Sometimes it's too late, but then we learn for next time."

Stonyfield and Organic Valley are working to increase the number of organic farms, paying farmers to help them switch or boost production. Stonyfield, together with farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, expects to spend around $2 million on incentives and technical help in 2006, Hirshberg said.

Other companies offer similar help. And the industry's Organic Trade Association is trying to become more of a resource for individual farmers.

Caren Wilcox, the group's executive director, described how an Illinois farmer showed up in May at an industry show in Chicago.

"He said, `I want to get certified. Help me,'" Wilcox said. "It was a smart thing to do, but the fact that he had to get into his car and go down to McCormick Center says something about the availability of information."

In the meantime, manufacturers like Clif Bar and Stonyfield still prefer to buy organic ingredients, wherever they come from, instead of conventional crops in the U.S.

"Anybody who's helping to take toxins out of the biosphere and use less poisonous chemicals in agriculture is a hero of mine," Hirshberg said. "There's enormous opportunity here for everybody to win, large and small."


Blogger knappster said...

Factory farms are definitely being greenwashed down the road from the Wedge Co-op.  If you thought that "Green" necessarily means "opposition to factory farms" ... well, guess again.

The only elected Green on the County Commission of Winona, Minnesota has been supporting large-scale livestock confinement operations -- even casting the deciding vote on two permits less than a year apart.

The party that endorsed Dwayne Voegeli for office has said nothing about his votes, but the President of the local Chamber of Commerce applauded him in the newspaper: "Good call Commissioner!"

Background and details: Gang Green
On Blogger: Green Party Gone Bad

Voegeli is up for reelection in six weeks.

9/26/2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

That's almost a classic example of why informal party change alone will keep us away from sustainability, instead of getting to it.

Another example is the cosmetic greencoated party in Germany that has actually started to support wartime operations, etc., a true open corruption of the self-desired Green values.

And that is why I would argue that only additional institutions--instead of merely additional parties--will bring us to sustainability, described in the bioregional state.

Of course parties are important, and I would fully support more party competition as the route to sustainability to check against corrupt parties in power. Though it is formal institutional changes that will get us more competitive party contexts, so it's an issue though a lateral issue.

Token parties thrown into an uncompetitive and corrupting formal institutional framework like the Democratic/Republican collusion of parties are going to do very little, unless all parties are in danger of being unseated by other parties in a particular area.

This would get into examples of the formal institutional suggestions that would provide a basic four party system as the minimum. Some routes to get there:

- proportional representation in the Electoral College (and its party competitive effects, described in the first chapter of Toward A Bioregional State, which you can read at, I believe).

- and for voting laws, proportional representation with a majoritarian allottment (which means a dynamic where smaller parties are guaranteed of some form of representation if they pull more people to the polls and get a plurality outcome (no one party gets more than 49%, without a clear majority winner). In that situation of plurality, elections go proportional representation based on the exact discrete percentage of the vote. Each party gets to represent that discrete percentage, up to three parties. That is actually the will of the voter, you see. If the electorate is split, that should be represented accurately. On the other hand, if parties actually get more than 50% of the vote, they get the full vote or seat. The dynamic of this is that all the smaller parties will be strategizing to take as much as possible, and all the majority parties will strategize to take as much as possible, and they will fight themselves to integrate the full 100% of the electorate, because regardless of who wins, the smaller parties will be rewarded if they take it to a plurality win. And this leaves open majority appeals as well. Other voting law solutions typically will only freeze in unoptimal low totals of the electorate: 'raw' proportional representation freezes in place only micro-parties, without the potential for larger parties checking against their gridlock or small specialized appeals; what the United States has, winner take all or 'first past the post', regardless of the vote totals or percentages of electorate participating, locks in place two major parties that have more in common keeping people away from the polls instead of integrating them--leading to their collusion with each other to avoid competition. "PRMA" (proportional representation with a majoritarian allottment) is described in much more detail in the book for these dynamics.

- watershed districting (to remove the gerrymandering that is increasingly at root in keeping environmental issues out of the public party context)

Those would be the basic three, though they are all dependent upon change within the watershed first--toward a more effective manner of people on the ground discovering what their priorities are instead of depending innately on any informal party that decides to appeal to certain things in the area.

First, get clear what the watershed requires, then this will protect an area from any gatekeeping in a party, however green it looks.

- I suggest that through a non-governmental Civil Democratic Society (mentioned in Chapter 21), that would then connect with setting up something like the watershed commodity ecology along with it.

Though I support the Greens, I of course support them like I would any competitive party. In other words, when they are corrupt as well, no one should fear to call them on it, similar to calling the Democrats or the Republicans on their corruptions.

I am skeptical that the change is going to come from a single party taking over everything, since that is basically what is so horridly like what the United States has already... I think that the voter in a particular watershed area only has their vote valued

- under competitive party situtions and

- under unrigged disticts.

- where there is "no special legislation" marginalizing competitive parties

- and where the vote is clean and transparent

The U.S. lacks these four basic requirements of a democracy (discussed in Chapter 10)

Any sitution toward these goals would then force all or any parties to represent the more geographical concerns (instead of party demographics they pick and choose) of the area: typically, health, ecology, economy, as well as a form of bioregional/watershed priority in developmental concern.

9/27/2006 12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the post. Food for health and brains.

3/27/2008 3:01 AM  
Blogger Junexpress said...

Organic foods must be given also a value because we consumer really needs fresh but easily accessible. Like me Im pro organic because Im using it always. I have an organic food delivered to my house every Saturday morning from our nearest favorite store. And its really nice to have fresh fruits and vegetables especially on weekends.

9/21/2010 5:27 AM  

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