UPDATED January 17, 2008

Proposed rBST label ban scrapped in PA

Food giants increase rBGH-free dairy lines

Sweeter edamames sought for organics

Report shows NAFTA’s farmworker impact

Michigan State to launch grazing center

Organic seed group announces new efforts

Brochure: farmer success in direct-selling


Proposed rBST label ban scrapped in Pennsylvania

In a closely watched decision with national implications for food labeling and production-process disclosures, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has decided that milk from cows not injected with rBST may be labeled to communicate this fact to consumers. The synthetic product—produced by the Monsanto Company—increases milk production by extending the natural lactation period of dairy cows.

The action amounts to a virtual about-face for the department, which had suddenly issued an order in late 2007 aimed for January 1 of this year to eliminate any reference to rBST on milk and dairy product labels by Pennsylvania-based operators. Justifications included claims that consumers were “confused” by the wording of some “rBST-free” statements, and may have taken the “absence claims” to mean that milk from treated cows was somehow inferior or not as safe.

Allowed is this statement of fact paired with a mandatory disclaimer: “From cows not treated with rBST. No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows” or a substantial equivalent. Alternatively, a beginning statement could be “Produced without the use of rBST.” Not allowed are statements stating that milk is hormone-free or rBST-free, the latter because no test exists to detect its presence or absence.

To use this claim, which is regulated as to type size and prominence, a producer must maintain a paper trail of an on-farm verification procedure for the non-use of rBST and document how the farm or handler prevents co-mingling with other milk and dairy products. Organic certification itself satisfies these regulations, the new standard says.

“This is a decision that will resonate nationally. It was the first attempt to roll back open labeling and it is critical that in the first attempt it was stopped,” said Tim LaSalle, CEO of The Rodale Institute. “The Rodale Institute is extremely pleased that the State of Pennsylvania is looking out for the welfare of consumers and their right to know.”

News account

New PDA standard

Kraft joins other food giants in announcing rBST-free line of cheeses

Kraft Foods Inc. plans to offer cheese free of the synthetic hormone rBST, a strategic move that pressures competitors to follow.

Kraft aims to capitalize on consumer worries about food safety with a specialty product that will fetch a higher price than its mass-market cheeses. The new cheese, due on the market by June, reflects CEO Irene Rosenfeld's plan to rekindle growth with premium brands.

"This is a big development and shows that food companies acknowledge consumers are taking a much more active interest in what is in their food," says Bill Bishop, chairman of Barrington-based consultancy Willard Bishop. "This used to be a niche interest, but as it becomes more mainstream the big food companies . . . have to respond or they will find themselves in an
unfortunate position."

Dean Foods Co., the Kroger Co. and Starbucks Corp. have all introduced rBST-free products or banned them from their inventories, even as defenders of the milk-production enhancing injected product maintain milk from treated cows is no different than milk from non-treated animals. This claim is disputed by those who counsel the need for a closer look at several aspects of its use, in cows and in humans.

Full story

USDA researchers seek sweeter edamames for organic growers

Sweeter edamame soybean varieties for organic farmers are being developed by Virginia State University (VSU) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. The researchers have identified five types of vegetable soybeans with higher-than-usual levels of sugar, and are working on plant breeding to retain the taste appeal.

Edamame have large beans that are harvested when still green. They are boiled and slipped out of their pods and added to everything from salads to succotash, including mixed and stir-fried vegetables, soups, and casseroles. They are an increasingly popular health food in this country and standard fare in Asian countries.

Full story

Stories, photos document Mexican workers’ role in NAFTA food chain

Deborah Barndt shares her experience of returning to the community where she conducted research on women workers in the NAFTA food chain 10 years ago in the town of Sayula in Jalisco, Mexico.

“Tangled Routes (Rutas Enmarañadas)” explores the gender, race and class dimensions of working the North American tomato chain. Barndt's approach to the study of social science and popular education to include personal stories and photograghs has encouraged the broadening of research methodology among her collaborators.

The book itself has become a tool which the community can use—helping those whose stories the book is based on to see their own positions and helping them organize to challenge working and environmental conditions enmeshed in their work in export agriculture.

More from Deborah Barndt

Michigan State to establish farmer-focused grazing research center

Michigan State University will establish a pasture-based dairy facility at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners and develop supply chains and markets for pasture-based dairy products. The effort is funded by a $3.5 million development grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The dairy facility will be a focal point for research, education and outreach programs that provide farmers with information on dairy management options for moderate to smaller-sized operations centered on sustainability from production through consumption.

The program will support productive food and farming systems by engaging diverse food system participants—from those who produce, process and market foods to those who consume them. The initiative will help determine best practices for raising animals on pasture and also work to develop an improved supply chain—processing, distribution and marketing programs—for pasture-raised animals.

Research areas will include pasture production; nutrient management/cycling in grazed pastures; animal health and welfare; and assessments of food quality and ecosystem services of grazing-based systems.

Full story

Organic Seed Alliance announces new efforts, changes leaders

The Organic Seed Alliance is launching two new organizations at its fifth Organic Seed Growers Conference, set for Feb. 14-15 in Salem, Ore. The Organic Seed Trade Association and the Growers Organic Seed Cooperative will promote the commercial viability of the sector and bolster policy development related to policies favoring organic seed, respectively.

Local seed systems provide varieties that are best suited to local needs and place ownership of seed production and distribution squarely in the hands of regional rural communities as opposed to the giant gene companies–the seed/chemical/pharmaceutical behemoths that control seed in conventional agriculture, the OSA says.

Matthew Dillon, founding executive director, said that OSA recognizes that seed skills—breeding, seed saving, commercial production—are in fact more endangered than the seed varieties themselves. In response, the alliance has developed workshops, field days, conferences and publications that provide farmers with these skills. The new OSA executive director is Dan Hobbs, as Dillion pursues other ventures.

Full story

Brochure aids farmers in direct-selling success

“Selling strategies for local food producers” is an eight-page guide created to help small-scale producers who are excellent growers and marketers to also be excellent sellers of their products.

The writers explain: “Marketing describes a range of activities that include deciding what to produce and how to price, distribute and promote a product. Selling, on the other hand, describes the techniques used to entice buyers to exchange their cash for the seller's products.”

Sections include: “Checklist: Are you ready to sell?”; “Understanding nonverbal communication.”; and “Top five annoyances for farmers' market customers.”

The guide is published by the University of Missouri. Authors include professor Mary Hendrickson, Ph.D., director of the Food Circles Networking Project, and associate director of the Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program.

Brochure to view or download

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