Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Environmental, Health & Agricultural News

It's mostly good news this month, so I'll start with the bad...

Factory farms - which I oppose on principle - are trying to get Congress to allow them to be exempt from compliance with The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). If exempted, factory farms would no longer have to ensure that they did not pollute the public water supply with chemical or animal waste or post warnings to the public that there is toxic air over their facilities. At present, over 140 Representatives are supporting H.R. 4341 which would give factory farms this deal. It may soon be attached to a spending bill which has been labeled "must-pass" to get it through Congress with little to no opposition. This would be a very, very bad thing! H.R. 4341 would endanger the public health and give factory farms a break where they do not need to be given one. See FEED's May issue to find out more about this potential problem for everyone, and be sure to call or write to your Congressional representative and let them know how you feel.

On to the good news...

The USDA is considering a tougher standard for labeling meat products "grass-fed." Instead of the animals being fed on grass for only 80% of their total lifetime diet, the new standard would require them to be fed almost entirely on forage and grass. To read about the new standard, go here. The USDA is accepting public feedback through August 10, 2006 and instructions for how to submit comments are provided at the above link.

In a similar move, the National Organic Program (NOP), under the Department of Agriculture, is proposing a new standard of what "access to pasture" means. Current regulations state that animals used in the production of organic products should receive access to "pasture" but the term is left vague, allowing many organic dairies (such as "Horizon" from what I understand - they are not on my happy list anymore because of this...) to use "dry lots" - small, fenced-in areas with very little to no grasses. Current laws also exempt animals in particular stages of production, such as lactating cows, from the pasture access requirement, which is ridiculous if you ask me... The NOP is looking for "data on the definition, feasibility, and market impact of pasture systems to help formulate its new rules." They are taking public comments through June 12. To read the abstract and make comments, go here.

In other organic news, over 2000 hospitals nationwide are now committing to buying organic or sustainably grown foods. Recently, a deal was made between MedAssets, a purchasing organization for the health care industry, and United Natural Food Incorporated, an organic food distributor. In addition dozens of U.S. hospitals, including the entire Catholic Healthcare West system, have pledged to buy food that is sustainably raised, according to Health Care Without Harm. Read the press release here.

Proof that Tyson's got it wrong... A new study has been published which states that Australia has fewer strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria because the feeding of a certain type of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, to poultry has been banned there for many years. Last September, after a drawn out battle with Bayer (as in, the manufacturer of Bayer Aspirin), who manufactures these types of antibiotics, the FDA banned the use of these same antibiotics in U.S. poultry for the good of the public health. Yay!!!

At the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in March, the international ban on "terminator technology" was upheld. What is "terminator technology" you may ask? Does this mean a ban on Arnold Schwarzenegger films? Unfortunately, no... But this ban is still something very good. "Terminator technology" is the genetic engineering of plants to be sterile. It forces farmers to buy seed every year, since there is no seed to save from their harvests. It has been internationally banned every year for the past 6 years, but Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have recently proposed changing the ban to a case-by-case risk assessment (Bad countries, no biscuit!). Small-scale farmers campaigned against terminator technology around the world for months before the meeting and held daily protests outside the building where the meeting was being held. "Hooray" for them! And a thumbs up for the UN in doing something right... They might not be good at the CNN-attention-getting things, like getting countries to voluntarily disarm themselves, but in this kind of thing, apparently, they are rather effective.

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