Friday, August 10, 2012

Is The Organic Farming Industry In Idaho Thriving Despite Economic Challenges?

Despite fears that the economic downturn would starve organic production, the industry continues to thrive in Idaho. Idaho’s total organic sales have been growing at 8 percent annually despite anemic growth in the general economy. That shows consumers continued to want organic food even as their disposable income shrank.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 254 certified organic farms in Idaho that produce sales valued at $71.3 million on 148,000 acres. That was up significantly from 2002 when 152 organic farms on 22,500 acres had $25 million in total sales.

The 2012 Ag Census data won’t be released until next year, but Brandon Lamb expects the numbers will be higher. He is the manager of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s organic certification program.
Although organic producers come and go, he says the total number has remained fairly static even through the economic tough times. “People come and apply for certification all the time,” he said. “Some are as small as one plot in their backyard all the way to the larger, more commercial farms and everything in between,” he said.

Idaho grows a wide variety of organic farm commodities and ranks in the top 10 nationally in the production of several organic crops, including barley for grain seed and hay, cattle and calves, dry edible beans, potatoes, spring wheat, milk cows, beef cows, milk from cows, and onions. The list isn’t surprising as it mirrors commercial production. Farmers are already familiar with the commodity and have the equipment to produce it. But recently

Lamb has seen more handlers or shippers that deal with finished products apply for organic certification. ISDA certifies cheese plants, chocolate makers and even coffee grinders.
That trend may reflect changes some long-time organic producers have already noticed in the industry. As the organic market has grown, organic producers are getting larger and larger companies are becoming players in the market. While that may help keep organic food costs lower for consumers, it’s not necessarily good news for smaller growers who truly believe in the organic ethic.

Organic production is more about the process of producing food rather than the final product. Some consumers think of organic food as being free of both pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, but farmers must also carefully weigh crop rotations and cover crops to control pests and improve soil health. It’s a lot of work just to produce the product let alone meet stringent government standards for production practices and paperwork requirements. A typical crop inspection, Lamb said, lasts about five hours and includes examining the farm’s bookwork for traceability and food safety issues as well.
“They definitely earn that organic certification,” he said.

Another trend Lamb has noticed since taking over the ISDA organic certification program three years is the number of jobs being created by the organic industry. People are needed to make sure products meet organic label requirements, people are needed to ensure the farm or product meets quality assurance standards, researchers are needed to develop new varieties or identify new management practices.
“It’s been surprising and neat to see how many specific jobs for the organic industry are being created,” Lamb said. - Cindy Snyder, Prairie Star

Could An "Organic and Beyond" Approach Improve The Worlds Food System?

Two recent speakers at the Organic Valley annual Kickapoo Country Fair said the "organic and beyond" movement could help fix a broken food system in the world.  Raj Patel, a visiting scholar in the Center for African Studies at UC-Berkeley, and Andrew Kimbrell, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety and the International Center for Technology Assessment, said the current food system leads to global markets that exploit farmers and the poor and can compromise the safety of food. 

"The current system leads to a stuffed or starved population," said Patel, who has authored a book by that "Stuffed or Starved" title. "Around 2 billion people in the world are overweight, while almost a billion people are going hungry." 

Patel said the global food system leads to the marketing of food that often contains a great deal of sugar and other ingredients that make people who can afford it fat. Meanwhile, many of those who produce the food, including more and more farmers in the United States, have difficulty affording the food to feed themselves and their families. Kimbrell concurred with Patel's opinion and added pesticides and fertilizers used to increase yields of crops, as well as genetically-modified products, often compromise the safety of food. 

"Many have been linked to cancer and other illnesses around the world," said Kimbrell, who has represented clients who have sued Monsanto and other large chemical companies. One of his cases helped lead to the labeling of BGH in milk. 

Kimbrell said there are two visions of how people in the world should eat. One he called the "Jetsons' vision," referring to a TV cartoon program, in which, "we eat pills using a knife and fork and Tang." An alternative vision includes local food, produced and provided at an appropriate scale, by a system that is fair for all and bio-diverse. 

"These are the two competing visions of food in the world," Kimbrell said. "We participate in a decision on those two every time we buy food." 

Both Kimbrell and Patel said the organic food movement offers an alternative to that "Jetsons' vision." 

"I call it organic and beyond," Kimbrell said. "Organic is at the floor level of what we are building. We are going beyond to add other elements to it." 

Regulations on what is certified as organic must be maintained, and must resist watering-down pressure from large corporations. 

"Walmart can join, but not change the rules. Instead, change its production system," Kimbrell said. 

Patel said that while big agribusiness companies control much of the world food system there are pockets of alternatives developing all over the world, including India, Cuba, Africa and elsewhere. 

"We should look at what is happening outside this country, as well as within it," Patel said. 

Organic Valley is an example of an alternative within the United States, Patel said. "It was started in response to the prices being paid to farmers in the 1980s," he said. "People took power into their own hands." 

Patel said, "There is an abundance of organizations and companies that have built alternatives. All we need to do is look at our own history." 

Kimbrell said change starts with a change in thinking, "We are not consumers; we're creators," he said. "We can create systems that work better. 

"When somebody says, 'we have to progress' as an argument against organic and beyond, ask 'progress toward what?' We determine what is progress." 

Both speakers said the 2012 drought and other factors will make the debate over food systems even more important in upcoming months. Now an activist, Patel has worked for the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, as well as protested against them. His most recent book, "The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy," has been hailed as a "deeply thought-provoking guide to the way economics works, exploring the recent economic collapse and painting a clear picture of how to achieve a fairer, more sustainable economy and society. He is also the author of the book "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System." 

Kimbrell was named by the Utne Reader as one of the world's leading 100 visionaries in 1994. In 2007, he was named one of the 50 people most likely to save the planet by The Guardian-UK. His books include 101 Ways to Help Save the Earth, The Human Body Shop: The Engineering and Marketing of Life, Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food and general editor of Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. - Greg Hoffman, Green Biz

Does A Major Organic Fertilizer Producer In California Face 20 Years In Prison For Organic Fraud?

A major fertilizer producer from California who pleaded guilty to fraud charges this week ran into what appears to be a newly aggressive federal effort to crack down on organic-farming cheaters.
Once one of the largest organic-fertilizer operators in the Western United States, Kenneth Noel Nelson Jr., of Bakersfield, faces prison time and a big fine after his guilty plea to four counts of mail fraud. The 59-year-old businessman will be sentenced in early November.

Nelson is the latest fake-organic-farming businessman to be caught by U.S. Department of Agriculture enforcement efforts. Once blasted for inaction, USDA investigators are embarking on what officials describe as an "age of enforcement" in a climate where the organic label can bring a big price premium.
"I think anything that will increase the integrity of organic fertilizer and organic agriculture is very important," Steve Beckley, the president of the Organic Fertilizer Association of California, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Investigators, moreover, are having to cover more turf as the organic sector grows. Some 16,000 certified organic operations have sprouted nationwide, with organic agriculture production pegged at about $29 billion a year. Operating through his company Port Organic Products Ltd., as well as a number of affiliates, Nelson sold an estimated $40 million worth of purportedly organic fertilizer from 2003 to 2009, according to the Department of Justice.

He didn't tell his customers he was using chemicals that included aqueous ammonia and ammonium sulfate. This cost less than using true organic materials such as fish meal or bird guano. He secured his valuable organic certification with false applications. Nelson could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the four mail-fraud counts to which he pleaded guilty, though his plea agreement and cooperation mean it's almost certain that Fresno-based U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii will be less severe at the sentencing Nov. 5.

Nelson's attorney couldn't be reached Thursday. Nelson's guilty plea follows the April sentencing of an Oregon man to 27 months in prison for selling millions of pounds of corn falsely labeled as organic. In February, ending a two-year investigation, the proprietor of a company called California Liquid Fertilizer likewise pleaded guilty to fraud for using banned chemicals in the "Biolizer XN" fertilizer he sold as organic. Businessman Peter Townsley awaits sentencing as officials figure out what his scheme cost customers.
"Growers likely would not have bought (Townsley's) fertilizer at all if they had known it was simply a conventional, synthetic fertilizer," San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer noted Aug. 1, court records show, adding that "this put the customers at a great financial risk if discovery of the fraud had led to a decertification of their status as organic farms." - Mercury News

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vegetable Of The Week - Radish

Vegetable History: 
The descriptive Greek name of the genus Raphanus means "quickly appearing" and refers to the rapid germination of these plants. Raphanistrum, from the same Greek root, is an old name once used for this genus. The common name "radish" is derived from Latin radix (root).

Although the radish was a well-established crop in Hellenistic and Roman times, which leads to the assumption that it was brought into cultivation at an earlier time, Zohary and Hopf note that "there are almost no archeological records available "to help determine its earlier history and domestication. Wild forms of the radish and its relatives the mustards and turnip can be found over west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However Zohary and Hopf conclude, "Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations. - Domestication of plants in the Old World

Vegetable Benefits: 
Fresh Radishes are rich in vitamin C which provide about 15 mg or 25% of DRI of vitamin C per 100 g.  Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble anti-oxidant required by the body for synthesis of collagen. Vitamin C helps body scavenge harmful free radicals, prevention from cancers, inflammation and helps boost immunity. - Nutrition & You 

Radishes are a low calorie vegetable that have no fat or cholesterol. With very little sodium and no protein, radish nutrition facts reveal that the major nutrient contained in ½ cup of radishes is dietary fiber. With 2 grams of carbohydrates. - Fat Burning Furnace

While the fiber in the radish helps fight colon cancer, the vegetable also contains a group of compounds called isothiocyanates, which are shown to be effective against other cancer cell lines. Researchers at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in India tested various parts of the radish plant against human cancer cells. The results of their study, published in the September 2010 issue of "Plant Foods For Human Nutrition," show that the compounds in the radish bulb, or root, affect genetic pathways in the cancer cells, inducing cancer cell death. - Livestrong

They contain many phytochemicals like indoles which are detoxifying agents and zeaxanthin, lutein and beta carotene which are flavonoid antioxidants. - Nutrition & You

Radishes are very filling, i.e. fills your stomach and satisfies your hunger easily without giving you many calories, as they are low in digestible carbohydrates, high in roughage and contain a lot of water. It is a very good dietary option for those determined to lose weight. - Organic Facts

Radish helps to relieve congestion within the respiratory system, making it an excellent food for asthmatics and those who suffer from bronchial infections and sinus problems. It is beneficial for both the gallbladder and liver functions, as it acts as a cleanser. - Natural News

Radishes also offer a very good source of the trace mineral molybdenum and are a good source of potassium and folic acid. - Every Nutrient

Being diurectic, cleanser and disinfectant, it helps cure many kidney disorders. Its diurectic properties help wash away the toxins accumulated in the kidneys. Cleansing properties clean kidneys up and lessens accumulation of toxins in the blood, thereby decreasing their concentration in the kidneys. Its disinfectant properties protect the kidneys from any infections too. Thus it is good for overall health of the kidneys. - Organic Facts

Fruit Of The Week - Persimmon

Fruit History: 
Japanese persimmons, ‘Diospyros kaki L.,’ were introduced into the United States from Japan by Admiral Perry who discovered the fruit growing on the coast of Southern Japan in 1851.

In William Bartram's book, Travels, page 38 he wrote: “I observed in the ancient fields....Persimmon....diospyros....(the Indians) inform us, that these trees were grown by the ancients on account of their fruit, as being wholesome and nourishing food. Though these are natives of the forests, yet they thrive better, and are more fruitful in cultivated plantations and the fruit is in great estimation with the present generations of Indians.” William Bartram wrote on page 286, that in Pennsylvania he had observed the crown bird or cedar bird, “Ampelis garrulus,” feeding on the American Persimmon fruit “(Dyospyros Virginiana)”, “in November and December they appear in smaller flights, feeding on the fruit of the Persimmon.”

Most of the early Japanese persimmon introductions in 1828 were sprouted from seed in Washington, DC, but were unsuccessful, because of the unusually cold winters experienced during that period. The USDA introduced grafted cultivars of Japanese persimmon into California and Georgia beginning in 1870, and many of these experimental persimmon tree trials were begun in Central Florida in the early 1900’s at the University located in Gainesville, Florida.

One thousand cultivars of Japanese persimmon are available from Japan, but from the hundreds of tree cultivars tested in the United States during the past years, only a handful of commercial trees should be considered by the home gardener for reliable fruit production. The cultivars of Japanese persimmon trees recommended for home gardeners are Fuyu, Fuyugaki, Giant Fuyu, Chocolate, Eureka, Hachiya, Jiro, Tam-o-pan, and Tanenashi.

Many cultivars were planted in Florida by Professor Hume of the University of Florida at Gainesville, Florida during the early 1900’s. The trees were a sensation because of the prolific early bearing and the observation that the trees ripened into large crops of colorful, juicy fruit in late fall when very few fresh delicacies are available. Reports of early Japanese persimmon tree orchards show that in excess of 22,000 trees were being grown commercially in Florida alone. The Japanese persimmon trees are classifieds into two categories using two terms that confuse most people. The use of the term “non” is interpreted by most people as a negative, meaning a tree that demonstrates a less desirable quality. Japanese persimmon trees produce fruit that is non-astringent or astringent. The non-astringent term in this case is more desirable for eating to the prevailing garden public, because it contains a “non” bitter taste in the green or hard fruit state. Eventually the astringent Japanese persimmon fruit will develop a juicy, flavorful, very desirable, taste when it ripens to the point of being soft. The peak flavor of a Japanese persimmon never really climaxes until both the non-astringent and the astringent persimmon both ripen completely on the tree to the point of softness. The use of these terms in recommending the purchase of Japanese persimmon trees has been unfortunate, to the point of discouraging many gardeners from planting trees of the astringent persimmon cultivars. Plum trees, for instance, are not classified into two categories of sour and sweet, even though a hard green plum before fully ripening is sour to taste, yet it becomes pleasantly sweet and juicy in the soft colored stage.

Some botanist historians argue that the Japanese persimmon tree documented as growing there one thousand years ago actually originated in China. This argument is often repeated by academics, when national origins of plants are debated about many other plants, but the argument is meaningless. It is realized by geologists that the land boundary of Japan was united to the continent of Asia at some past period of ancient history.

Japanese persimmon fruits are produced in great numbers by California orchardists and the fruit begins showing up on grocery shelves around Thanksgiving. South American persimmon fruit production matures at different seasons than persimmons, ripening period in America, so that many grocery stores can stock this delicious tasty fruit year round. Japanese oriental fruits can be stored for two months for future consumption at a refrigerator temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Japanese persimmons grown from seed can grow to 40 feet tall; however, modern grafted cultivars rarely grow very tall. Fruit shapes vary wildly from plum, tomato, and heart-shaped to square, oval, tear drop, and lobed or many combinations in between.

The small yellow wax-like flowers fill the air with a sweet pleasant aroma. The flowers may or may not require cross pollination, and will mature into a various array of sizes, up to one pound each and the color ranges from yellow to dark-reddish orange.

The wood is among the hardest known to man, being highly prized and desirable for wood carving by Japanese artists. The Japanese persimmon tree is a very important landscape specimen tree because of the deep green waxy leaves that turn such brilliant colors in the fall, often appearing like a brightly lit Christmas tree in the landscape.

The American persimmon, ‘Diospyros virginiana,’ was found growing in Virginia by the early American Captain John Smith in 1609, who described the tree and the persimmon fruit in great detail and as tasting like an apricot. William Bartram, the famous early American botanist encountered the native American persimmon trees, ‘Diospyros virginiana,’ as documented in his book, Travels, of 1773. The native American persimmon was also brought to the attention of early American Presidents and plant collectors, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

American persimmons contain a few seeds in the juicy, pinkish-orange fruit which often ripens in September. These delicious fruits have a natural juicy, sweet, fruity taste when overripe in the pinkish-orange stage and should never be picked from the tree until plump, soft to the touch, and completely ripe.

The American persimmon grows in almost every forest habitat of the United States, and the hard wood of the trees is valued by mountain wood carvers for its decorative grain. The wood is also in high demand for the manufacture of golf clubs prized for the durability and bounce projectability of golf balls coming in contact with the golf club wood. - History Of Persimmon Trees

Fruit Benefits:
Persimmons contain many health benefiting phyto-nutrients flavonoid poly-phenolic anti-oxidants like catechins and gallocatechins as well as important anti-tumor compound betulinic acid. Catechins are known to have anti-infective, anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhagic (prevents bleeding from small blood vessels) properties. - Nutrition & You

Persimmons have an abundance of exotic and rare-occurring chemicals like B-complex vitamins, mineral components like potassium, manganese, copper, and phosphorus. - Fruit Health Benefits

A study conducted in Japan showed that the peel of the persimmon contains phytochemicals known as proanthocyanidins which may protect cells against oxidative damage associated with aging. - Health Mad

Some people eat raw persimmons for other health benefits, such as treating constipation, hemorrhoids and diarrhea. Persimmons are even used to slow or stop bleeding. Persimmons are cooked in dishes to treat lung disease and asthma, and they are part of a traditional cure for hiccups in China. - Yahoo, Health Benefits

Persimmons are a very good source of vitamin-C, another powerful antioxidant (especially native Chinese and American persimmons; provide 80% of DRI). Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals. - Nutrition & You

Persimmons are rich in dietary fiber which relieves constipation, improves digestive system, ease diarrhea and enhances intestinal muscle contractions. - Discovery Health

The shibuol found in persimmons is helpful in small quantities. If it is eaten in large amounts, however, a sticky or gummy substance can form in the stomach. - Yahoo, Health Benefits

Fresh Persimmon fruits also contain healthy amounts of minerals like potassium, manganese (15% of DRI), copper (12% of DRI), and phosphorus. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which is a very powerful free radical scavenger. Copper is a co-factor for many vital enzymes, including cytochrome c-oxidase and superoxide dismutase (other minerals function as cofactors for this enzyme are manganese and zinc). Copper is also required for the production of red blood cells. - Nutrition & You

Will There Be An iPhone Peripheral That Can Test If Organic Foods Are Really Organic?

Most iPhone peripherals aim low. They make the case a bit more durable or add a better speaker. They marginally improve a pretty darn good product. But is something totally different. It’s an appcessory billed as a “personal environment monitor,” and through its collection of four peripherals, Lapka gathers analog measures of humidity/temperature, radiation, electromagnetic frequencies (EMF), and organicity (whether or not a food is truly organic). And it does so beautifully, with a mix of plastic and wood components--aesthetics that were considered down to the circuit boards, which will also match in white. 
“Since this is a healthcare and environmental product, we used organic materials like wood and ivory-like plastic, it will look better with time … it’ll become your very own, personal talisman,” says Creative Director Vadik Marmeladov. “Our aim was to build an native iPhone accessory--not a design copy attempt. All our designs, usage simplicity, attention to detail and quality are based on Apple philosophy and mood, so we don’t have to copy iPhone’s shiny body to fit its aesthetics.”

Each peripheral obviously works a bit differently. The most compelling--the organicity device--uses a steel probe to check for nitrate concentration, which are commonly used in non-organic fertilizers. But the cleverness comes in how Lapka shares this information with the user. A parts per million measurement would make no sense to the average person, just like few of us have any understanding of acceptable radiation levels. 

In turn, the UI (which we’re currently unable to test) approaches each measurement at two levels. The first is a simple “is this acceptable” style measurement screen, which can contextualize worries like EMF based upon your predicted environmental exposure, or weather by typical temperatures in your area that time of year.

“For example, you can measure radiation on the plane and little bit higher level will be okay, because app knows that you won’t stay there for 24 hours and that higher radiation is common for the planes,” Marmeladov writes. “But with the same level of radiation in your kid’s bedroom it will alarm you and give you explanation to motivate your further actions. So, people don’t have to rely on their knowledge about radiation anymore to protect their family and themselves.”

The second way Lapka visualizes information is entirely abstract. Marmeladov likens the experience to an Ambilight television, as onscreen particles accelerate in a red pool as the environment becomes less safe. This environmental snapshot can then be sent to friends, who can view it without purchasing the system. Of course, not having seen the effect in person, it certainly sounds a bit strange. But then again, how else but abstraction are we going to visualize these absurdly tiny details like radiation and nitrates? 
As of now, Lapka is in prototype stage, ramping up for mass production soon. (We’ll see if these sensors can really do what they promise.) The collection of four peripherals should be available this December for roughly $220. And following that, Lapka’s team will likely chase all other peripherals, like an allergen sensor, glucometer, blood pressure monitor, oscilloscope, vehicle diagnostics device, and fitness tracker. Your iPhone may soon resemble a centipede. - Mark Wilson, Fast Co Designs

Are GMO Crops Headed To Zambia?

Zambia, like any other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) country, has been grappling with the need to increase productivity for most of its crops and develop crop resistance to drought and diseases. In the livestock sub-sector, the need for animals which can survive the worst of the conditions has been a cry of many cattle farmers who have suffered losses after their animals were wiped out because of deadly diseases like denkete.

Factors and figures point to biotechnology as part of the panacea to the current quagmire which calls for need to produce more food at a reduced cost and ensure reduced risks of losing the crops or animals through diseases and harsh climatic conditions. The drought of 2001/2 farming season brought Zambia face-to-face with the reality of biotechnology and made it imperative to explore it willy-nilly.

The drought had resulted in food deficit which led to the World Food Programme (WFP) offering the late president Levy Mwanawasa’s led government a humanitarian aid – maize donated by the American government – which was, however, genetically modified.

For the period that followed the Zambians were treated to a heated debate on whether the country should accept the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or not. Despite the food shortages and widespread starvation, the government chose to reject 35,000 tonnes of food which included the GMO maize.

The Government applied the precautionary principle in rejecting the genetically modified maize and received mixed reactions from Zambians, some of who were ready to consume it while others vowed never to. The move was criticised by the WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the American government who argued that it endangered lives of starving people.
The precautionary principle states that: “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.”

As challenging as the situation was, it gave the leaders then a chance to fully explore the issue of biotechnology as a way of ensuring biosafety. They realised that whether they liked it or not, they would have to confront the issue, anyway, as they could not wish it away.

This led to the Government developing interest in the issue where as in 2004, it ratified the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is an international agreement that aims at ensuring the safe handling, transportation and use of living modified organisms (LMOs).

These LMOs result from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on September 11 2003.

Zambia’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) acting registrar Alfred Sumani says, in 2003 Zambia developed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy with assistance from cooperating partners.

Dr Sumani says the policy’s main objective was to guide the judicious use and regulation of modern biotechnology with minimum risks to humans, animal health and the environment. It was aimed at supporting the development of research and industrial capacity to safely apply biotechnology techniques for the enhancement of Zambia’s socio-economic and environmental wellbeing.

Further, works on the issue led to the enactment of the Biosafety Act in 2007 which resulted in the creation of the NBA two years later. The NBA is tasked to handle all biotechnology-related issues. The NBA is there to regulate the safe handling, use and transfer of GMO materials in the country.

Dr Sumani, however, notes that since inception in 2009, he has been the only employee for the NBA Zambia. The authority has not handled any application in terms of regulating the safe handling, use and transfer of the GMO materials.

It is for this reason the NBA Zambia decided that it could be wise to learn from another country where the authority has advanced on the issue. About a fortnight ago, therefore, Dr Sumani led an eight-man team of fellow scientists and two journalists to Kenya on a familiarisation visit to NBA Kenya and other scientific organisations.
Despite having come from behind, NBA Kenya has scored more successes than Zambia’s. Kenya’s Biosafety Act was passed in 2009 while Zambia’s was enacted two years before. According to NBA Kenya director, technical services, Dorington Ogoyi, the authority is now fully fledged with a good number of employees.

Professor Ogoyi said in his presentation that NBA Kenya had received 29 applications for conducting research on or importing GMO materials out of which 26 were approved and three are still pending. The researches which are underway include on drought resistant maize, bio-fortified sorghum, cassava, cotton and others.
Professor Ogoyi says the environmental release which is the final stage of the research is expected to take place in 2014 when the commercialisation of the research is supposed to be done. A researcher at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Douglas Miano says the GMO research on cassava was aimed at controlling the diseases and improving on the crop’s nutritional value.

Dr Miano says the work would lead to an increase in the after-harvest shelf life of the cassava, with increased post value addition and in the yields. The two main diseases targeted are the cassava mosaic disease and the cassava brown streak disease which can reduce yields to zero.

To improve on the cassava nutritional value, the scientists would increase the level of protein, iron, zinc as well as vitamins A and E through the use of GMOs. For sorghum which is the fifth most important grain for food use, Dr Miano says it would be nutritionally enhanced for arid and semi-arid tropical areas in Africa.

Sorghum is a staple food for about 300 million people in Africa and has high energy value. It has, however, low levels of protein, quality, iron, zinc and other important food elements which the GMO research aims at improving.

According to Dr Miano, the success of the project would greatly help in improving the dietary requirements for many Africans. For cotton, the project involves the production of what is known as Bacillus thuringiensis or bt cotton, which is a pest resistant crop attained through GMO.

Dr Miano says the commercialisation taskforce for the release of the bt cotton has already been set up. The BT has been extended to maize for the development of insect resistant ones particularly against stem borers.

A strait would be incorporated to drought resistant maize to improve it further. The most important of them all for Zambia and other countries where maize is mainly grown by the small- scale farmers is another one on maize, aimed at increasing maize productivity.

Currently, Dr Miano observes, farmers  in developed countries produced about 8.3 tonnes of maize per hectare while SSA small scale farmers record 1.3 tonnes per hectares.

He says researches have shown that among small- scale farmers in SSA, 17 per cent of the maize is lost to drought, another 20 per cent to infertile soils, another 10-20 per cent to insects, 10 per cent to stem boring, 15 per cent to parasitic weeds, and another 10 per cent to leaf and ear diseases.

The research, therefore, is aimed at increasing the maize yield per hectare and Dr Miano says that would help: “Improve the lives of subsistence and smallholder farmers on nutritionally deprived soils in Sub- Saharan African by developing and deploying improved varieties with nitrogen use efficiency.”

Kenyan Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister, Margaret Kamar says Africa would not record meaningful economic growth which would help to drastically reduce poverty if countries do not embrace biotechnology.

Professor Kamar says African scientists, however, have the duty to help demystify the biotechnology, especially issues related to GMOs which invoke fears among people on the continent. Therefore, as African countries like Zambia wish to tap in to the benefits of biotechnology particularly GMOs, they “must be extremely cautious on these issues”, as Prof Kamar says.

For Zambia the challenge is to grow the NBA so that it could be in a position to advise the nation on what aspect of biotechnology is safe for the people and what is not, otherwise the country may end up denying itself chance to leap to national development. - James Muyanwa, Time Of Zambia 

Are GMO Foods Headed To US Supermarket Shelves?

Genetically engineered sweet corn from Monsanto is headed for Walmart store shelves, the first GE product to travel from farms directly to consumer plates. Other Monsanto GE foods have first been processed into animal feed, sugars, oils, fibers and other ingredients found in a wide variety of conventional food, says Beyond Pesticides.  

And you won't even know it, since there is no federal labeling requirement for GMO foods in the US. The most recent attempt at labeling was removed from the Farm Bill in late June when  Congress succumbed to corporate lobbyists. 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) quietly approved Monsanto's corn at the end of 2011. The "drought tolerant" corn is designed to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide and to produce a Bt toxin that kills insects that try to feed on the plants. The corn is being grown in the Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Texas.

Despite an onslaught of consumer pressure (500,000 signatures), Walmart confirmed that it has no objection to selling the corn in a statement to The Chicago Tribune. "After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product," the company told the Tribune.

While Whole Foods and Trader Joes have vowed not to sell the corn, and food company General Mills has come out against it, Safeway, Kroger and other grocery chains are silent on the issue. Monsanto's corn is touted as a safer, less toxic alternative to Dow Chemical's, which uses the 2,4-D (the key ingredient in Agent Orange!), and which is also going through the approval process. Scientists say those claims are false, reports Beyond Pesticides.

For one thing, there is growing concern over increasing rates of insect resistance to Bt crops. GE corn with Bt also negatively impacts soil life, reducing the presence of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that are important for nutrient and water uptake. GE crops also present cross-pollination risks for organic farms, and are increasingly being connected as one of the causes of collapse of polliinator populations, such as honey bees.

And GE crops are the subject of an ongoing dispute over patents between Monsanto and local farmers. More than 300,000 people including farmers, seed growers and agricultural organizations participated in a recent lawsuit against Monsanto. A federal judge dismissed the case in February, and the organics community has appealed.

Scientists Sour on GMOs
Meanwhile, scientific evidence on the danger of GMOs is building.
"GMO Myths and Truths" concludes GMOs create toxins and allergens in foods, and encourage new strains of herbicide-resistant superweeds as more farm and communities are exposed to these chemicals.

Epidemiological studies have also demonstrated a link between herbicide use, and birth defects and cancer, the report finds. Taken together, the data offers more evidence why policymakers should be leery of using GMO for animal or human food, according to the report's authors.

"Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation," says one author, Dr. Michael Antoniou, an expert in genetic engineering from Kings College London School of Medicine. "They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world's food needs."
The "GMO Myths and Truths" report seeks to counter the "PR machine" used by biotech companies to discredit independent research into the effects of GMOs.

"The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially dangerous ways," says Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source. "We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we -- not biotechnology companies -- keep control of our food system and crop seeds."

Farmers Renew Legal Offensive Against Monsanto
Speaking of control, The Organic Seeds Growers and Trade Association (OSGTA) filed a brief in early July asking a US Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., to reverse a decision that dismissed their 2011 lawsuit seeking to invalidate Monsanto's GMO seed patents and to prevent the company from suing farmers whose crops became genetically contaminated by air-borne seeds.

11 prominent law professors and 14 renowned organic food safety and consumer nonprofit organizations quickly came out in support of the farmers' appeal.

"Monsanto continues to claim that plaintiffs' concerns about being accused of patent infringement after being contaminated by Monsanto's transgenic seed are unsubstantiated and unjustified," says Dan Ravicher, attorney for the nonprofit Publlic Patent Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs in the suit. "But now two impeccable groups have joined with plaintiffs in explaining to the Court of Appeals how real and legitimate their concerns really are, especially since Monsanto continues to refuse to simply promise never to sue contaminated farmers for patent infringement."

Dozens of farmers have been driven into bankruptcy and many organic and non-GMO farmers are now afraid to plant seeds. Every year Monsanto investigates more than 500 farmers with “seed police,” says OGSTA. To date, the company has brought suits against 144 farmers; 700 farmers have been forced to settle out of court for undisclosed sums.

“We have a right to farm the way we choose,” says Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of OSGTA. “Yet Monsanto is unwilling to control their GMO pollution and they refuse to sign a binding covenant not-to-sue our family farmers for patent infringement should their seed contaminate our crops. Monsanto’s publicized ‘Commitment’ promising that they would not sue farmers was described by Monsanto’s own lawyers as being ‘vague." - Sustainable Business

An Open Letter To Organic Consumers To Vote On California's Label GMOs Act

After 45 years of hard work and grassroots struggle, the organic community has built up a $30-billion organic food and farming industry and community. This consumer and small farmer-driven movement, under steady attack by biotech and Big Food lobbyists, with little or no help from the federal government, has managed to create a healthy and sustainable alternative to America’s disastrous, chemical and energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture. Consumer demand is behind strong organic sales. Conscious of the health hazards of genetic engineering and chemical agriculture, and the mortal threat of global warming and climate change, millions of Americans are demanding food and other products that are certified organic.

It’s a hopeful sign that, in spite of economic recession, organic foods now make up 4.2% of all grocery store sales. However given the magnitude of the country’s public health, environmental, and climate crisis, 10% annual growth in the organic sector is simply not enough to reach the proverbial “tipping point” before our current crisis metastasizes into what can only be described as a catastrophe.

In the food sector, we cannot continue to hand over 90% of our consumer dollars to out-of-control, biotech, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, greenhouse gas polluting corporations  and "profit at any cost" retail chains. The growth of the Organic Alternative is literally a matter of survival. After two decades of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered foods to animals and humans, it's time to move beyond defensive measures - such as petitioning the FDA - and go on the offensive.  With organic farming, climate stability, and public health under the gun of the gene engineers and their partners in crime, it's time to do more than complain. With over 1/3 of U.S. cropland already contaminated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), with mounting scientific evidence that GMOs cause cancer, birth defects, and serious food allergies,  and with new biotech mutants like alfalfa, lawn grass, ethanol-ready corn, 2,4 D-resistant crops, and genetically engineered trees and animals being fast-tracked for approval by the government, with absolutely no pre-market safety-testing required, time is running out.

The burning question for us all then becomes how - and how quickly - can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?

The first step is to change our labeling laws. Nearly 80% of non-organic processed foods, including so-called “natural” foods, contain genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and foreign DNA. Yet none of these foods are labeled. No wonder only 30% of Americans realize they’re probably eating GMOs on a regular basis. Health-minded and environmentally conscious consumers actually buy more products marketed or labeled as “natural” ($50 billion a year) than they do organic ($30 billion), either because they don’t understand the difference between organic and “natural”, and/or because so-called “natural” foods are typically cheaper than certified organic. For instance, two-thirds of the foods sold in Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s are not organic, but rather “natural.” Polls indicate that consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between organic and natural products, with a near-majority believing that “natural” means “almost organic.”
 It’s time to put an end to this massive fraud, and take back our right to know what’s in our food. Since the federal government and the White House seem to listen more to Monsanto and Big Ag than the 90% of Americans who support mandatory labeling of GMOs, OCA and allied activists have decided to bypass Washington politicians and take matters into our own hands.

What is likely the most important food fight in a generation is unfolding in California. The grassroots-powered Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37) to require labels on genetically engineered foods and to ban the routine industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural” is approaching a decisive moment. The outcome of this ballot initiative will determine whether GMO foods are labeled, not only in California but across the entire United States and Canada as well. It’s time for all of us who care about an organic and sustainable future to close ranks and support the Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37). Over 650 organizations, organic companies and retail stores have already endorsed the campaign. But we need thousands more.

We need volunteers to help out -  in California and nationwide. Please sign up here if you are willing to approach the managers of the retail stores, CSA, restaurants, or farmers market where you regularly buy your organic food and ask them to join the more than 100 retail stores that have already publicly endorsed Prop 37. Once your neighborhood health food store or co-op has endorsed the campaign, you can get them further involved in distributing campaign information and raising money. CA and our allies in this campaign to pass Prop 37 have raised almost $4 million dollars so far, but Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau will spend $20-40 million to defeat Prop 37. Thank you  to the 15,000 people who have already made donations to OCA or the OCF for this campaign, but we need to raise even more.

Restoring consumers' right to know, banning the industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural,” and starting to drive genetically engineered foods off supermarket shelves will not solve all of the life and death issues that are currently staring us in the face: the climate crisis, endless wars, economic depression, corporate control over government, and the health crisis. But cutting Monsanto and the biotechnocrats down to size and restoring consumer choice are good first steps toward sustainability and a healthy food and farming system. Just as important, in political terms, by defeating the Biotech Bullies and indentured politicians, we can begin to restore the tattered self-confidence of the American body politic. A resounding victory by the organic community in the California Prop 37 campaign will prove to ourselves and the currently demoralized body politic that we can indeed take back control over the institutions and public policies that determine our daily lives. Now is the time to move forward. Support Prop 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act. This is the food fight of our lives. Please join and support us in this historic struggle. - Ronnie Cummins, Common Dreams