Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Consumer activists unite to demand labeling of genetically modified foods

Washington, DC March 14, 2011. A growing number of consumer activists are staging demonstrations all over the US, with the largest so far at the White House on March 26, 2011.

They demand labeling of genetically modified foods and they're urging activists around the country to "Rally for the Right to Know" locally. The idea has spread like wildfire with other grassroots rallies already being planned in Colorado, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida and Oregon to coincide with the rally in Washington DC.

Their demands are:
1. We have the right to know and want genetically modified foods labeled.
2. We want factory farmed animal and genetically modified animal products labeled.
3. We want independent, transparent, long-term studies done on the safety of GMO's for animals, plants and humans.
4. We want the organic industry protected from cross-contamination and law suits to organic farmers.

The FDA currently considers GM foods "substantially equivalent" and therefore doesn't require labeling. There is a growing body of evidence that show:

* Health and environmental concerns.
* Corporate control of world food and seed supplies, and monopolization through patents, government lobbying and corporate interest over human interest in all levels of government.
* Monsanto is the leader in GM patents.

Rally Organizer, Trish Wright "We will not stop in our efforts to accomplish our goals. If the FDA won't tell people, we will. Our freedom of choice is being violated by the FDA not requiring these products to be labeled."

To date, the majority of commodity crops are genetically engineered. (Soy, corn, canola, cotton). Many deregulated crops such as GE Alfalfa and GE Sugar Beet, being planted in 2011, have the ability to destroy the organic industry.

People are asked to participate in, or organize a rally in their area.

Contact: TrishWright, Organizer: 540-915-3677
(Rally for the Right to Know)
April Reeves, Media Contact 604-233-0781,

Visit: for more information.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Elizabeth Harris

It was the irrepressible Elizabeth Harris who gave me my big break as a certified organic grower all those years ago. Then as Vice President of Quinte Organic Farmers Co-operative, I approached Elizabeth to apply for the co-op to be a vendor at her flagship organic farmers market at Riverdale Farm in Cabbagetown, Toronto. She sized up what we offered – 12 small certified organic family farms pooling their produce to market direct to the customer – and had her doubts. She was used to allowing only single farms to join her family of vendors. But she sized me up too and found something she liked or trusted, so she said “OK but as long as you bring all the farmers in to sell at your stand through the season”. “Sure”, I promised, one foot in the door. It wasn’t to be, of course; only one or two farmers bothered to come in, but the first season was a roaring success for the co-op as a fledgling sales organization. I made sure we stayed otherwise on Elizabeth’s good side – as one had to – and, over several years, Elizabeth and I developed a wonderful mutual respect. I was awed by her tight control of the market, her fairness, discipline with slack vendors, her amazing vision in holding it all together and bringing people together. “Peter, I’d like you to meet Jamie Kennedy”; “Peter, can any of your farmers supply three bushels of romano beans for a dinner for 75 this Friday?”

She would often call up, tell me about the latest new vendors that she was excited to have visited. She had such respect for farmers and for food produced honestly and in a fresh way. And she would ask my opinion and advice.

Early on at market, I incurred her wrath. She had strong rules and enforced them. Vendors were not allowed to sell before the bell rang, right on 3pm. As I tried to sneak in a sale for a customer who was running off to work, a booming voice bellowed from the other side of the park: “Mr. Finch, the market opens at 3 o’clock, and not before!” Last year, running late in setting up, I upheld her rule, when an impending storm told her to ring the bell early. “No, that’s not fair; I’m not ready”, I pleaded. She agreed to wait, and for weeks after, she deferred to me to see if I was ready before ringing the bell. A softening maybe? I feel deep down that she truly respected her senior farmers, and I was lucky enough to have been in that number.

Elizabeth slipped away from us this week, succumbing to cancer, but her amazing energy, drive and spirit will remain with us as we try to honour her legacy and continue to provide for the table she set for us so passionately.  

It has been an honour and a privilege to know Elizabeth; hard to believe that she won’t be overseeing the action on a sunny opening day of market this Spring and that her voice won’t be greeting me across the park: “ Hi Peter, who do you have helping you today? I’d like to introduce you to… ”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Pathogen found in Roundup Ready GMO Crops

Photo Credit: Royalty Free Images via Flickr Creative Commons

Here's another reason the recent approval of GMO alfalfa and sugar beets was a bad idea: researchers claim that Roundup Ready GE crops contain an organism, completely unknown until now, that has been shown to cause miscarriages in farm animals.

The new organism was detected only after researchers observed it using a 36,000x microscope. It is about the size of a virus. The scary part: it can reproduce, and possesses the rare ability to cause disease in both plants and animals.

The research was performed by Professor Don M. Huber of Purdue University. Huber is also a co-ordinator for the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System. Prior to the recent approval of GM alfalfa, he penned the following open letter to United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlining the dangers of this organism, how it was discovered, and his recommendation that a moratorium on the sale and planting of Roundup Ready crops be put in place immediately.

Dear Secretary Vilsack:
A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn - suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science!

This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen's source, prevalence, implications, and remedies.

We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does.

For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and man-made biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks. Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman's terms, it should be treated as an emergency.

A diverse set of researchers working on this problem have contributed various pieces of the puzzle, which together presents the following disturbing scenario:

Unique Physical Properties
This previously unknown organism is only visible under an electron microscope (36,000x), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare.

Pathogen Location and Concentration
It is found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.

Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease
The organism is prolific in plants infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer income-sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss' wilt in corn. The pathogen is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp glycines).

Implicated in Animal Reproductive Failure
Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of this organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility. Preliminary results from ongoing research have also been able to reproduce abortions in a clinical setting.

The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.

For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlege experienced spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlege, which likely had been under weed management using glyphosate.

In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA's participation in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human health.

It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bio-availability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders. To properly evaluate these factors, we request access to the relevant USDA data.

I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.


COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber
Emeritus Professor, Purdue University
APS Coordinator, USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS)