A Call for Food Transparency

Mike Tabor of Licking Creek Bend Farm, asks Marylanders to contact their legislators to support bills SB0778 and HB1191, before March  2014 in support of GMO labeling.
MOFFA Member, Mike Tabor of Licking Creek Bend Farm, asks Marylanders to contact their legislators to support bills SB0778 and HB1191. Please call or email before March 11, 2014 in support of GMO labeling.

Regarding the March 11th hearings on GMO labeling legislation, Marylanders should contact their legislators to support bills SB0778 and HB1191.  As a farmer and consumer, I believe we should have the right to know if genetically modified organisms are in our food, just as we do with the amount of calories, preservatives and food coloring that consumers fought to have on food labels.  We’re intelligent enough to read, research and choose, if we have the information. Thus, we need to have GMO foods labeled.

Regarding the FDA’S role in protection of the public, FDA does no independent testing of GMOs.  They rely on short term tests conducted by the bio-tech industry!  And FDA’s Chief of Food Safety, Michael Taylor, has been a Monsanto Vice President.  Are these tests and individuals impartial?  You can’t blame the public for being skeptical.

On the argument of selective breeding of seeds, I do want the most disease and pest resistant varieties of seeds when I farm.  But, genetic engineering is a hit or miss, new and risky process of splicing genes from one species (usually animal) into the DNA of another (vegetable).  This is not “natural” and not what is meant by the age old practice of “selective breeding” within the same species.  GMOs are not an extension of “natural breeding”, but rather ultimately meant for company profit because bio-tech companies have received patents on these new life forms.

Monsanto, Syngenta and other bio-tech companies want control of what seeds farmers use.  They have bought up the majority of the smaller seed companies in this country.  The purchase of their GMO seeds mandates the use of their exclusive chemicals such as Roundup (glyphosate) and Atrazine, which have created super weeds that their chemicals can no longer kill.  These chemicals flow into our drinking water.  Syngenta recently lost a $100 million class action suit against many states and municipalities to clean the Atrazine out of the drinking water. Maryland has one of the nation’s highest amounts of Atrazine in its drinking water, but for some unknown reason it was not part of the suit and did not receive any money for the cleanup.

The issues of GMO health dangers have raised enough questions that 64 countries, including the European Union, require labeling.  The bio-tech industry cannot prove to them that GM foods are safe. In fact, we, the American public, never had that choice – and in the end we are really the bio-tech industry’s guinea pigs.

I am always saddened by the fact our governor, and our senate president, and most members of the
General Assembly turn to the MD Dept of Ag for guidance on these issues.  Its head, Buddy Hance, was the former president of the MD Farm Bureau.  The farming sector, which represents only 2% of the Maryland GNP, controls public policy when it comes to the health and safety of 100% of its citizenry, the environment, and health of the Chesapeake Bay.  The Farm Bureau, although composed of family farmers like myself, mostly represents the interests of large corporate farming including the multi-billion dollar profits of the biotechnology chemical companies.  They pour millions of dollars into state campaigns against the labeling of GMO foods because they believe it will cut down on company profits.  Our health and well-being are not a concern of theirs.

So, we, the citizens of Maryland, have the right to know, so we can make informed choices, which is the backbone of a democratic society.  We need to pass a GMO labeling law for ourselves, our children and the future.  Call your state delegates and let them know that!

Michael Tabor is a farmer, consumer and Maryland resident. For more information, visit needtoknowmaryland.org.

 Mike Tabor

Takoma Park, MD
esiegel2@igc.org
240-505-6282 cell

Who Is Making Our Farming Choices?

need to knowMany farmers in Maryland and across the country are using genetically modified organisms—also know as GMOs.  Most of the corn and soybeans, growth hormones and vaccines sold by Monsanto, Elanco, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, Bayer and BASF are produced with gene altering biotechnology.

This technology allows the creation of life forms that would never occur in nature because genes from one species are being transferred into a totally different species.  In addition, these new life forms are patented so farmers cannot legally save and reproduce them.

In the mid-1990’s the promise from the bio-tech companies was that these novel products would help cows produce more milk, control or eliminate weeds, repel insects and diseases, and create heat and drought tolerance.

The idea was that us farmers would make more money, our yields would go up, our pesticide use would go down (good for sustaining the environment), and we would be on our way to ending world hunger.  Sounded pretty good.  So how do these promises stack up after 20 years?

Well, I do not know if you are feeling any richer, but most farmers I know have not noticed the difference.  On the other hand, the bio-tech companies have done pretty well for themselves, and they had enough money to buy up most of the small regional seed companies.  Genetically engineered seeds are more expensive, and now it is hard to even find locally adapted non-GMO seeds.  Interestingly, some mid-West farmers are returning to older corn varieties because they feel they are losing yield and profits with the bio-tech seeds.

Dairy farmers found cows treated with rBST hormone get more udder infections.  Most dairies have abandoned rBST, and consumers welcomed that change.  We ignored the predictions from some university weed scientists, and our fields are now plagued with about two dozen superweeds that can’t be killed by RoundUp.

But don’t worry, the bio-tech companies are trying to license new seed that resists other stronger herbicides such as 2,4D.  Without the benefit of sophisticated technology, nature’s weeds began to out smart bio-tech in a mere half a dozen years.

And pesticide use has not gone down.  And insects? You guessed it, they are attacking the Bt crops that are supposed to repel them. Drought and heat resistance, well they are still working on that one.  And world hunger?  Don’t ask.

If bio-tech were a “silver bullet,” we would all know it by now.  Instead, consumers across the nation are demanding GMO labeling laws.  They want to know what they are eating.  They want a choice.  Just as farmers want a choice to buy non-GMO seeds and vaccines.

Our rights as farmers and consumers to know and chose is in danger of being lost.  As federal Judge Jeffrey White warned in a recent case involving RoundUp ready sugar beets, genetic engineering could mean the “potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food.”

Who is making the choice of how you farm or what you eat?  If you want the right to choose, support bills HB1191/SB0778 now in the Maryland legislature that would require GMO labeling for produce and most packaged food.

Once consumers know what they’re eating, their choices will expand and so will ours.  Get involved, go to NeedToKnowMaryland.org.

Nick Maravell,
organic farmer, Montgomery and Frederick Counties, MD
member, National Organic Standards Board

Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association to Hold Conference in Annapolis

Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association to Hold Conference in Annapolis

MOFFA, the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association, announces its 23rd Annual Winter Meeting, on Saturday February 15, 2014, from 8 am to 5:00 pm, at the Maryland Department of Agriculture Building, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis.

There will be Information for farmers and gardeners in search of new ideas, techniques, & inspiration, as well as networking opportunities for consumers and distributors looking for good sources of local, organic food.

MOFFA Chairperson Holly Budd says, “I am looking forward to the Panel Discussion on GMO and Food Safety Issues, Organic Food Justice Discussion, an update cow share and raw milk legislation in Maryland, and learning more about farming techniques and research from other organic farmers and researchers.”

Presentations, Panels and Workshops Include: 

  • Panel Discussion GMO/Food Safety Issues Exciting News in State politics moderated by Sophia Maravell, Brickyard Educational Farm.  Panelists include: Alexis Baden-Mayer Organic Consumer’s Association, Darla Eaton, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, MD Delegate Ariana Kelly, Montgomery County, MD Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery, Colin O’Neil, Center for Food Safety.
  • Panel Discussion:  Organic Food Justice Panelists: Carrie Vaughn, Claggett Farm, Lavette Sims, Capitol Area Food Bank. Greg Bowen, Hub and Spoke Program for SMADC

Erroll Mattox from UMES – MD Cooperative Extension will be talking about ethnic vegetable production

Tanya Tolchin: Exploring Low Tech Food Dehydration to Increase Profits on Small Farms.

Mike Haigwood, PA Bowen Farm, “Grassfed and Beyond” – Mike recently returned from Australia where he was studying permaculture and he will include some of that in his presentation.

Maryland Green Registry A good program to share and improve green practices for your farm and great tool for consumers too

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Update on the Organic/GAP University research and GAP training session

Maryland Department of Agriculture Organic Program presentation

Tyler Brown Real Food Farm. Urban farming collective The Farm Alliance of Baltimore

Research Talks by Extension and UMD Researchers:

  • Buchanan, A., G. Chen, L. Hunt and C.R.R Hooks. 2014. Using cover crops for pest suppression in crookneck squash.  Presented by Amanda Buchana
  • Chen, G., A. Buchanan, R. Weil and C.R.R. Hooks. 2014.  Integrating reduced or no tillage systems with cover cropping for organic vegetable productions.  Presented by Guihua Chen.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a dish to share for the potluck lunch, one of the highlights of the meeting.

Attendees can bring seeds to exchange with the other participants in the MOFFA Seed Swap.

There will be a silent auction.  Members may bring display materials; table space is available in exchange for silent auction item donations.

Registration is $20 for non-members and $5 for members. Membership is $25 for one year or $45 for two years. Registration is at the door. For more information, go to http://www.marylandorganic.org or contact Holly Heintz Budd at 443-975-4181

Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association (MOFFA) was established in 1991 as a non-profit organization. MOFFA strives to build a sustainable network of individuals and organizations that support small farms, family gardens and ecologically sound businesses

MOFFA WINTER MEETING 2014 SCHEDULE

TIME

Room  A

Room B

8:00-8:30

Registration

8:30 -8:45

Welcome and Announcements/Holly Budd MOFFA Chair

8:45-9:00

Laura Armstrong of MDE, Julie Oberg MDA Maryland Green Registry A good program to share and improve green practices for your farm and great tool for consumers too.

9:00-9:30

 Shirley Micallef: update on GAP research and organic by Shirley Micallef, University of MD

9:30-9:45

Coffee Break, Silent Auction, Seed Swap Break into separate rooms

9:45-10:30 Buchanan, A., G. Chen, L. Hunt and C.R.R Hooks. 2014. Using cover crops for pest suppression in crookneck squash.
Presented by Amanda Buchana
Shirley Micallef, Donna Pahl:  Pre harvest organic production and GAP
10:30-11:15 Chen, G., A. Buchanan, R. Weil and C.R.R. Hooks. 2014.  Integrating reduced or no tillage systems with cover cropping for organic vegetable productions.
Presented by Guihua Chen.
Shirley Micallef, Donna Pahl:  Post harvest organic and GAP
11:15-12:00 Mike Haigwood, PA Bowen Farm, “Grassfed and Beyond” – Mike recently returned from Australia where he was studying permaculture and he will include some of that in his presentation! Deanna Baldwin, MDA Organic Certification FAQ.  Certified Organic or considering certification? Deanna Balwin will update you and answer questions about NOP interpretations, and compliance with all of the rules.
12:00-1:20

Potluck Lunch, Silent Auction, Seed Swap, Networking

1:20- 1:30

Board Elections and Announcements

1:30-2:30

Panel Discussion: GMO/Food Safety Issues Exciting News in State politics  

Moderated by Sophia Maravell, Brickyard Educational Farm

Alexis Baden-Mayer Organic Consumer’s Association
Darla Eaton, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
MD Delegate Ariana Kelly, Montgomery County
MD Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery      Colin O’Neil, Center for Food Safety

2:30-2:45

Last Chance for Silent Auction, Seed Swap, Grab Some Coffee, Break into separate rooms

2:45-3:30 Tanya Tolchin: Exploring Low Tech Food Dehydration to Increase Profits on Small Farms. Liz Retzig Update cow share and raw milk legislation in Maryland
3:30-4:15 Erroll Mattox from UMES – MD Cooperative Extension will be talking about ethnic vegetable production Panel Discussion:  Organic Food Justice Panelists: Carrie Vaughn, Claggett Farm, Lavette Sims, Capitol Area Food Bank. Greg Bowen, Hub and Spoke Program for SMADC
4:15-5:00 Tyler Brown Real Food Farm. Urban farming collective The Farm Alliance of Baltimore

MOFFA Members on the New Federal Regulations that could Threaten Local Farms

Bees love the sunflowers in my Maryland Garden
Bees love the sunflowers in my Maryland garden

Maryland Organic Food and Farming Members Mike Tabor and Nick Maravell speak out about how new federal regulations could threaten local farms.

“Each week at farm stands in the Maryland area, we try to explain a peculiar situation to our customers. On the one hand, they want to buy our fresh fruit and vegetables. However, I tell them, that in a few years, these will all be illegal to sell!

Why?

Because they have some degree of dirt and bacteria on them. The strawberries for instance, have some trace amount of straw and soil on them. As do the tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. We do rinse them before leaving the farm — but we won’t put them through a disinfectant bath nor pack them in antiseptic plastic containers and put “PLU” labels on them. That’s not what consumers want at a farm market — nor is it something we’ll ever be able to do.

Regulations for a new food law — FSMA, the Food Safety Modernization Act — administered by the FDA are currently in the process of being finalized. Although the act originally had protections for family farmers like myself, we see those being ignored or phased out over time.

Common sense and following the data of recent food safety scares lead us to a very strong conclusion: the further the food travels from the farm to the consumer, the more opportunities it has to become a food safety problem. The current cyclospora food poisoning problem in bagged salads is a good example.

This is one reason why 20 million consumers come to farmers markets like ours and want fresh produce from our fields — preferably grown without pesticides, herbicides or GMO seeds. And sadly, protecting consumers from these synthetic perils is not addressed by FSMA.”

Read the entire article in the Gazette.

MOFFA – Lets Get Out the Organic Vote

Tom Harbold at a draft-horse driving workshop Carroll County Farm Museum, in Westminster, Maryland
Tom Harbold at a draft-horse driving workshop Carroll County Farm Museum, in Westminster, Maryland

Listen. Hear that? Nope, me neither. It’s the deafening silence, from both sides of the political aisle, on issues of agriculture and the environment. Yes, I know that “it’s the economy, stupid.” As someone who is badly under-employed, and searching – so far unsuccessfully – for a position which will enable me to make a living by doing some good in the world, I am all too personally aware of the miserable state of our economy, as the year 2012 limps to a close, and of the need to find a way to recover.

That said, ignoring the environment in favor of the economy is a prescription for disaster, long-term. Please excuse me for a brief diversion into linguistics: “economy” is based on the Greek words “oikos,” meaning “household,” plus “nomos,” meaning “rule” or “management.” “Ecology” combines “household” with “logos,” meaning (in this context), “knowledge.” It makes not just linguistic but also practical sense to place knowledge of one’s household before management of it. Yet politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to try to manage the economy while remaining woefully, and willfully, ignorant of the ecology.

Furthermore, we live in a closed, finite system. Except for solar energy – sunlight, without which, so far as we know, no life could exist (except, perhaps, for some weird types near thermal vents in the deep ocean) – and occasional meteors, the only resources we possess are the ones contained on and within this planet. We have no other options. The bottom line is that the Earth is the bottom line. Yet   the Obama administration is strangely silent on issues of the environment – or perhaps not so strangely, considering the number of individuals with ties to Monsanto that riddle it – while candidate Mitt Romney has openly mocked environmental concerns.

Referencing Obama’s assertion in his 2008 nomination acceptance speech that “We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment … when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” – words which, in retrospect, look more than a trifle optimistic – Romney declared that “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” pausing for the obligatory moment of laughter, “and to heal the planet. My promise … is to help you and your family.” While he may simply have meant that his ambitions were less grandiose, his comment left the clear implication that these are alternatives, between which we must choose.

The reality is that we are at a point in the history of humankind on Planet Earth where any attempt to help people and families must take into account the health and well-being of the local and planetary environment, or be doomed to failure. While economic stability is an important component of the sustainability equation (see this or other discussions of the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, and profits: http://www.ibrc.indiana.edu/ibr/2011/spring/article2.html), we are past the point where economics can safely be considered as something apart from, and mutually irrelevant to, ecology.

In a recent essay for the Scripps Howard News Service, columnist Bonnie Erbe has written about the economic consequences of several current and pending environmental issues, especially global climate change. These include a European study which indicates that climate change is already contributing to 400,000 deaths each year, worldwide, and costing the world’s economy more than $1.2 trillion, and the fact that in 2010, the International Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more that 42 million people were forced to flee their homes due to disasters triggered by sudden-onset natural hazards.

Furthermore, a University of British Columbia study found that ocean fish could soon lose as much as 25% of their body weight, because they cannot maintain their weight in warming waters. The potential consequences to our food supply need no elaboration from me. MOFFA members are already well aware of the challenges to farming posed by climate change, including new and different insect pests – notably the marmorated stinkbug – as well as weather extremes ranging from droughts to flooding.

Regardless of whether one believes these events, and the climate change that causes them, are primarily anthropogenic (human-generated), primarily natural and cyclical, or something somewhere in between, they exist, and we have to deal with their consequences. Organic growers also have the deal with the consequences of the widespread use of GMOs, and the tremendous financial weight that can be brought to bear on the political process by their manufacturers, most notably Monsanto.

This election year we are electing not only a President, but one-third of our Senators and all of our Congressional Representatives. An article in Yes! Magazine (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/a-farm-bill-only-monsanto-could-love) notes that

“the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill contains three industry-friendly provisions, numbered 10011, 10013, and 10014. Collectively, they have come to be known as the “Monsanto Rider,” and the name is entirely appropriate. If passed, this bill would make it more difficult to stem the tide of GMO foods hitting store shelves.

These three provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill would grant regulatory powers solely to the United States Department of Agriculture, preventing other federal agencies from reviewing GMO applications and preventing the USDA from accepting outside money for further study. The bill would also shorten the deadline for approval [from three years] to one year, with an optional 180-day extension. And here’s the kicker: the approval time bomb. If the USDA misses the truncated review deadline, the GMO in question is granted automatic approval.”

Yes, you read correctly. If the USDA does not have time to test and approve a proposed GMO in half the time it has now, that genetically-modified product is automatically approved as safe without any testing at all. Our Representatives need to hear from us – all of us – that this is not acceptable, and that a “yes” vote on a Bill containing these measures will carry consequences.

There is much to think about, as we move toward the 2012 elections. While the hands of the current administration are far from clean, when it comes to agriculture and the environment, its history and possible future actions must be weighed against the likely even greater deference shown to corporate interests should Obama’s opponent be elected to the Presidency. There are pluses and minuses to every choice, political and otherwise, of course; it is unlikely that anyone will agree with any candidate on every issue. But at least the elections do give us a chance to make our voices heard, and so far, at least, big-money interests have not managed to totally silence the voices of “we the people.”

Let’s get out there and exercise our franchise!

Tom Harbold writes from Hampstead, MD. Contact him at neodruid1@gmail.com.