Organic community split over synthetics—and who holds the power • Ag cuts imminent • Conservation programs cut even as subsidy programs offered to world trade • Cotton yields hold priority over worker health in Turkmenistan • The potato finds its home in Peru

By Cara Hungerford

Organic community split over synthetics—and who holds the power

The debate on synthetics in organic production quickly became the topic of the moment for organic producers and consumers after a worried industry rushed in language to the agriculture appropriations bill that keeps dozens of synthetics in organic production. The rider, prompted by the Harvey decision, has come under attack from consumer groups. Critics, worried less about the synthetics on the list and more about the shift in power from the organic community to the “politically-appointed Secretary of Agriculture,” say the rider opens the door to the erosion of the standards by profit-driven corporations. The Organic Trade Association, the sponsor of the rider, stands behind the precedent of their action arguing that synthetics have been safely used in organics for decades. For now Senators are listening to the people. After receiving nearly 70,000 letters against the action they have decided to postpone a vote on the rider even after passing the rest of the appropriations bill.

Ag cuts imminent

The Senate Agriculture Committee has rescheduled the final vote on Chairman Saxby Chambliss plan for $3 billion in cuts from the appropriations budget for next Wednesday. Despite including major cuts to conservation and food aid it seems like the only major opposition to the plan will come over the dairy subsidy.

Conservation programs chopped even as subsidy programs offered to world trade

In the name of world trade, the U.S. has offered to cut farm subsidies by 60 percent and tariffs by 90 percent before 2010. The offer was made on the condition the European Union and Japan follow suit with cuts of their own. The E.U. quickly countered by throwing 50 percent cuts on their highest farm import tariffs on the table. No word yet from Japan. The current round of World Trade Organization talks are scheduled to resume in December.

Cotton yields hold priority over worker health in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan, a small former-soviet republic on the Northern border of Iran, is sacrificing its citizenry in the name of higher cotton yields. Each year woman, children and even competing small farmers are forced to harvest the crop on big collective farms. Under presidential mandate to show a yearly increase in cotton yields government officials have reportedly threatened to end the livelihood of small-scale growers who refuse to help. A recent Environmental New Service story reports threats to withhold next year’s seeds, give the arid land to those that followed orders or to cut off an absent farmer’s water. Of even greater concern is the health risks caused to those in the fields. In order to increase efficiency and yields farmers are relying on a whole array of chemical products and are often unwilling to stop harvesting to let workers out of the fields while the crop is being sprayed. Pregnant woman, who are not exempt from harvest labor and children are at greatest risk. One health ministry employee was quoted by ENS as saying, “One thing is certain. The number of people suffering from disease of the upper respiratory tract during the harvest and ripening of cotton increases by dozens of times.”

The potato finds its home in Peru

Scientists have pin-pointed the origin of the potato to a single region in southern Peru. The broad distribution of the potato across many region and habitats had led some to hypothesize that the potato in fact had multiple origins but after studying over 350 DNA markers scientists are confident in their single origin conclusion. “Our DNA data shows in fact all cultivated potatoes can be traces back to a single origin in southern Peru,” David Spooner, USDA research scientist who led the study was quoted by the Environmental New Service as saying.

The discovery has agricultural potential to plant breeders and researchers who will now be able to use the information to pinpoint and select for desirable traits, such as disease resistance.

And elsewhere around the web... Grass farming and the environment... Hurricane-Struck Farmers to Receive $29 Million... Minnesota Implements Statewide Biodiesel Requirement... Bird Flu spreads to Turkey, EU bans imports of live Turkish birds

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