Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maryland HB 1261, Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act

Delegate Afzali

Delegate Schulz

Maryland House of Delegates

March 31, 2011

Dear Delegate,

I run a small organic farming operation in Frederick County and I am

writing to ask your support and co-sponsorship of H.B. 1261, Maryland's

Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act.

This bill simply requires that foods containing more than 1% genetically

engineered ingredients be labeled as such. I think the last study I looked

at showed that 88% of Americans support this kind of labeling.

We label foods containing all kinds of things like MSG, aspartame, and

corn syrup but not so for GMO products.

Recently, experiences in Pennsylvania regarding the use of growth hormone

in cows showed strong public support of labeling of milk produced using


Unfortunately, the federal government has refused to require this kind of

labeling. The U.S.D.A. and the F.D.A. continue to approve new G.M.O.'s

like alfalfa even with inadequate long-term health studies and the risks

of contamination of non-GMO seed banks.

Please co-sponsor this bill and let consumers decide whether they want to

eat GMO-containing products using their pocketbook.


Kent Ozkum

Whitmore Farm

10720 Dern Road

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are the USDA & Monsanto the same organization?

I would argue 'yes'.

For many years, there has been a very cozy relationship between industrial agriculture and the management of the USDA. The most obvious example of this has been the movement of executives between industrial-farming corporations like Monsanto and the USDA.

Back in 2008, when Tom Vilsack was nominated as the new Secretary of Agriculture, he came with a resume that spoke volumes as to what the USDA might look like under his watch:

1. Former governor of Iowa with a track record of supporting genetically-modified crops.

2. Awarded the 'governor of the year' award by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industrial-farming lobbying group.

3. Founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

4. Supporter of cloning of dairy cows as a vehicle for economic development.

5. Originated House Bill 671 and Senate Bill 631 in 2005 whose purpose was aim to prevent towns, counties or cities from passing any ordinance, regulation or resolution to control any kind of plant or plant pest (including invasive plant species).

These bills became known as the 'Monsanto Bills' because they usurped local government's right to try and regulate GMO products if the USDA did not. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged that Vilsack had put her up to writing this bill shortly after he was elected governor.

6. Vilsack has always been a strong supporter of Monsanto and commonly traveled on Monsanto jets during his 2006 presidential bid.

7. Vilsack strongly supports the use of corn and soy to produce biofuels, even though their production uses as much fossil fuel as they generate. This is a huge money-maker for factory farming in the U.S. and also drives up food prices unnecessarily. Former chair of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition.

On Thursday of last week, the USDA announced approval for unrestricted planting of GMO alfalfa produced by Monsanto and Forge Genetics throughout the United States. As one of the leading feed crops produced, if you eat meat or dairy, you will indirectly consume alfalfa.

Aside from being the fourth largest feed crop in the U.S., alfalfa is notoriously promiscuous with pollen being carried for up to 5 miles by pollinating insects. This means there will be no functional way to prevent GMO genetics from spreading to non-GMO products, the genetic leak that I have discussed in previous postings.

USDA-certified organic products do not allow the intentional or unintentional use of GMO products in their production.

Recently, Sharon Bomer, an executive vice president with the Biotechnology Industry Organization, stated that while there was a 'deep appreciation' within the industry to minimize the spread of genetic material, 'the burden is on them' (organic producers) to protect their crops.

Previous experience with copyright-protected crops have shown that when genetics leak into adjacent fields thru wind and other natural processes, companies like Monsanto do not hesitate to sue for copyright-infringement and theft of genetic materials.

For two years, Vilsak has been promising a way for organics and GMO plants to coexist.

Earlier, the USDA had said that it was considering one of three options:
(1) complete deregulation of GM alfalfa
(2) allowing its planting but requiring five-mile buffer strips between it and non-GMO alfalfa
(3) allowing unrestricted planting except in seed-growing regions to prevent contamination.

When news of Vilsack's considerations made their way to the halls of Congress, Republican lawmakers and conservative organizations were highly critical. On Jan. 19, congressional Republicans told Vilsack that the idea of restricting GE alfalfa was “troubling" and on Jan. 20, there was more of the same from the House Agriculture Committee.

During the 3 weeks that followed, the USDA approved the use of GMO alfalfa, beets, and corn.

GMO alfalfa has been designed to resist the effects of the herbicide Roundup. Previous experience with this overuse of herbicide has been the proliferation of superweeds, or weeds similarly-resistant to the effects of Roundup, in a relatively short period of time. With the release of GMO alfalfa, it is estimated that an additional 23 million pounds of Roundup will be applied to the environment per annum.

Consumer protection, environmental, organic producer, and food safety organizations have filed suit to prevent the release of these products. However, given the certainty and speed of genetic leak, once GMO-alfalfa is released, there is no way to take back what we have put into the genetic swimming pool of our environment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The season of mud

One thing you learn quickly when living and working on the farm is to not only to read the weather but also the soil. The weather, aside from affecting your personal comfort and what you should wear, also affects the soil.

You spend a lot of time deciding what your soil will be doing on any particular day based on the weather and what you are hoping to do.

We are currently entering what we call the 'season of mud'.

The red clay of Frederick County, while rich in micronutrients and minerals, has all the negatives of most clay soils. When wet, the small molecules lay flat and hold water between these layers. This slippery, gooey mess is what most people refer to as mud.

Later in the summer, when the heat and droughts that have plagued us for the past 5 years have removed all the moisture in the soil, we have what most people would refer to as a brick.

We learned this lesson the hard way a few years back when we were trying to drive fence posts in the summer. ' You can't build fences this time of year' said one of our neighbors, 'It's not fence season.'

Fence season !? Huh? Did we need a permit?

Not sure what they were talking about, we merrily went on with our plans to knock off a large section of fencing using an auger and some really nice black locust posts we had to order to West Virginia.

[As an aside, in olden times, posts were commonly made out of local rot resistant woods like black locust, osage orange, and eastern red cedar prior to the advent of pressure treated pine. Pressure-treated lumber has been on the market for about 60 years and for most of that time, was treated with arsenic to preserve the wood, obviously unacceptable to us as organic, all-natural producers. In 2002, to address the dangers of arsenic leaching into soils and exposure from direct contact, pressure treatment was converted to a highly-concentrated copper or ACQ compound. These compounds address the dangers of arsenic poisoning but have other issues related to corrosion of metals coming in direct contact with them]

Two auger bits and about an hour later, we had successfully placed one post - only 2000 more to go! Clearly, this was not going to work!

So we waited, and in the fall, after a few good rainfalls, when the air was crisp and the ground had softened but was dry enough to take heavy machinery on it, we rented a fence post driver and tried again. The pounder, a beautiful piece of machinery, held the post in position behind our tractor and then slammed down onto the top of the post over and over again.

We watched with amazement as the post slid gently and smoothly into place in a matter of about 15 or 20 seconds! A day later and we had placed hundreds of posts without so much as breaking a sweat (or an auger bit).

A few years later, I was talking with one of my sheep customers on a hot August day. 'Anything interesting planned for the weekend?' I asked. 'Oh, I plan on doing some fence posts', he replied.