Dirty Feed, Done Dirt Cheap: Are Consumers Who Shell Out for Organic Meat Eating a Bunch of Bull?
By Brian Barth
Many Americans assume that anything labeled "USDA Organic" hails from the U.S.. And for produce, at least, the assumption typically holds true, with the exception of obvious imports like mangoes or coffee beans or tomatoes in January. But the farther an item is removed from the soil, the greater the possibility it harbors ingredients farmed abroad. One needn't reach the tail end of the supply chain, where the frozen breakfast burritos dwell, to find foreign inputs. Just consider the steak in your butcher's case. A cow must jump through multiple hoops before earning USDA certification. While the animal may have grazed on chemical-free Iowa pasture all summer, what did it eat during the off-season and where were the feed's ingredients grown?
Chances are, not here. Although the U.S. remains the world's largest exporter of conventional grain, we now import a hefty chunk of the organic stuff. Roughly 70 percent of our organic soybean supply, and some 40 percent of the organic corn consumed domestically, originates overseas. Between 2013 and 2016 alone, the amount America spent on imported organic soy leapt from $110 million to $250 million, and on imported organic corn from $36 million to $160 million. As a result, the bottom fell out of the U.S. market: Prices for organic soy plummeted from $26 to $18 per bushel, and organic corn from $14 to $7.50 a bushel—less than what it costs most American farmers to produce the crops.
A number of these growers found the sudden spike in imports suspicious. Beyond questions regarding food security and food miles, the glut of foreign grain raised regulatory concerns, especially given the three-year transition period required for organic certification. How could the USDA possibly enforce its strict standards on a rapidly expanding global playing field?
"I knew something was up," said John Bobbe, executive director of OFARM, a marketing co-op that represents several hundred organic grain growers across 19 states. In May 2016, Bobbe needed to move corn from Illinois farms to an Indiana feed mill, and had a tough time finding anybody to haul the load. Turns out, a much bigger gig was drawing Midwestern truckers: A cargo ship called the Federal Nakagawa had just docked in Burns Harbor, Indiana, with 25 million pounds of feed corn in its hold. "That's as much as 50 of our farms produce in a year," explained Bobbe, who doubted the corn was organic when he discovered its country of origin.
Turkey lacks the flat, fertile plains needed to support export-scale corn and soy production. The politically volatile nation also has a history of attempting to export fraudulent organic goods to the European Union, according to a 2016 report from the USDA's own Foreign Agricultural Service. Yet, that year, we imported $118 million worth of organic corn from Turkey, more than twice the amount the United States purchased from all other countries combined. The amount we spent on organic Turkish soybeans rose 268-fold between 2013 and 2016.
Bobbe soon heard of other ships delivering purportedly organic grain from Turkey to our ports. In September 2016, he turned over the names of the vessels, and one particularly suspicious importer, to the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP), which is charged with ensuring the integrity of the organic seal. "The NOP told me it was too late to investigate," he said. "I think it was more like, 'We don't want to bother.'"
Then, in February of last year, Peter Whoriskey, a reporter at The Washington Post, got in touch. Plying industry informants and Freedom of Information Act requests, Whoriskey managed to unearth shipping documents and other paperwork that laid bare a lucrative laundering scheme. His May 2017 article detailed three shipments of conventional grain that magically turned "organic" as they crossed the sea. All three came through Turkey, but at least two originated in other countries. "Lo and behold, the NOP started looking into it," recalled Bobbe.
So just how, exactly, does the USDA go about certifying crops grown overseas? In the case of some countries (Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Korea and the 28 European Union nations), the agency basically takes their word for it, via "equivalency arrangements" that acknowledge a foreign government's organic standards as equivalent to ours. America has also signed "recognition agreements" with Israel, India and New Zealand, recognizing certifiers accredited by those governments. Everywhere else, a USDA-accredited certifier must perform the inspection.
You might be surprised to learn that, of the 80 third-party, organic-certification agencies accredited by the USDA, 32 are based in foreign countries. Bobbe believes that's part of the problem. "There is no way the NOP has the manpower to monitor them," he insisted, pointing out that only six or so auditors, none stationed abroad, are tasked with overseeing all the paperwork submitted by organic certifiers worldwide. He also faults the NOP for failing to inspect inbound cargo. U.S. Customs and Border Protection might, but those agents aren't trained to scrutinize organic-certification documents. "Your chances of getting caught with a shipload of fake organic grain are next to nil," Bobbe said. And should you get caught, the maximum fine per violation is $11,000—not much of a deterrent when millions can be made off a single shipment of fake organic corn.
Kelly Damewood, director of policy and government affairs at one of the largest certification agencies in this country, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), agrees that the NOP needs more funding, though she warns against overstating the lapses. "In the rare cases of fraud, it can often be traced back to an uncertified handler," said Damewood. "Technically, if you are not repacking it, processing it, relabeling it, or turning it into anything else—if you are just a pass-through entity—then you are not required to have certification." Last September, CCOF started requiring the companies it certifies to complete a new form, verifying that every handler is complying with organic standards.
That same month, following a strongly worded directive from the USDA Office of Inspector General, the NOP issued new guidelines for certifiers aimed at closing loopholes along the supply chain. The agency also stopped a freighter named the Diana Bolten as it arrived in Bellingham, Washington, loaded with "organic" corn for the same importer associated with the Federal Nakagawa. Sources with knowledge of the incident told Bobbe that a portion of the shipment was rejected by the USDA as fraudulent. The USDA declined Modern Farmer's request for comment on the matter.
Another sign of progress: Last September, Representatives John Faso (R-NY) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) introduced the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act, which would authorize $5 million for the NOP to upgrade its enforcement systems and technologies, and mandate ongoing budget increases at a rate that matches the growth of the organic sector. The bill has garnered broad bipartisan support, with a mix of co-sponsors from both parties, including celebrated food-movement champions like Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME).
"This is the system working more or less as it's supposed to," said Mark Lipson, a former organic and sustainable agriculture policy advisor at the USDA. Lipson worries that extrapolating a few specific, if glaring, fraudulent incidents into a systemic indictment of the NOP risks undermining public confidence in the organic label—and would be unjustified. "The Washington Post report demonstrated that the enforcement structure needed to catch up with the growth in the market, but the National Organic Program still works better than a lot of other regulatory divisions," said Lipson.
Bobbe isn't so sure. While the amount of certified organic grain flowing in from Turkey has decreased since 2016, to approximately $80 million apiece for soy and corn last year, his network of farmers continues to suffer. One of them, Bob Stuczynski of Amherst, Wisconsin, said, "Organic farmers in America can hardly move their corn unless they want to fire-sale it." Stuczynski estimates that he's lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue over the past couple years. And an OFARM analysis found that imported organic grain cost U.S. farmers a total of $300 million to $400 million from 2015 through 2017.
Bobbe recently attended a conference convened by the European Organic Certifiers Council and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in Odessa, Ukraine, across the Black Sea from Turkey—an apropos location. Some of Bobbe's E.U. counterparts are convinced the Turkish mafia is barging in conventional corn from Ukraine and other Black Sea countries, then shipping it out as organic to Europe and North America. "It's an international crime syndicate," he said.
A final piece of the puzzle has even more of a conspiracy-theory ring to it. The nations surrounding the Black Sea, like Kazakhstan and Armenia, generally do not produce corn and soybeans on a significant scale. But there is one giant exception, and its grain exports are booming of late. "Russia!" said Bobbe, his voice dropping to a whisper. "It's the elephant in the room."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
- Potato Company Simplot Licenses DowDuPont's Gene Editing Tech ›
- Why Non-GMO Plant Based Proteins Are One Solution to Factory ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
- Trump's 2020 Budget Would Cut EPA Funding by 31% - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Budget Plan: A Push for Even Greater Environmental ... ›
- 4 Former EPA Chiefs Speak Out Against Trump Administration ... ›
- The World's Happiest and Greenest Countries - EcoWatch ›
New Jersey has invested in the future health of the planet by making sure the next generation of adults knows how human activity has had a deleterious effect on the planet. The state will be the first in the nation to make the climate crisis as part of its curriculum for all students, from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, as NorthJersey.com reported.
- Majority of Americans Want Climate Education in Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Study: Educating Children on Climate Change Teaches Parents Too ... ›
- Fox & Friends Attacks Public Schools for Teaching Climate Change ... ›
- Teacher to Heartland Institute: 'We Don't Do Alternative Facts in My ... ›
By Lindsey Schneider, Joshua Sbicca and Stephanie Malin
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is novel, but pandemic threats to indigenous peoples are anything but new. Diseases like measles, smallpox and the Spanish flu have decimated Native American communities ever since the arrival of the first European colonizers.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="63731ca7097bffc9347667697aea3206"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_TUc0iDWzfE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
History Reverberates on Native Lands<p>Native communities in North America have been disrupted and displaced for centuries. Many face long-standing food and water <a href="http://www.nativepartnership.org/site/DocServer/2017-PWNA-NPRA-Food-Insecurity-Project-Grow.pdf?docID=7106" target="_blank">inequities</a> that are further complicated by this pandemic.</p><p>On the Navajo reservation, which covers more than 27,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, 76% of households already <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235390130_High_levels_of_household_food_insecurity_on_the_Navajo_Nation" target="_blank">have trouble affording enough healthy food</a>, and the nearest grocery store is often hours away. COVID-related restrictions have further curtailed access to food supplies.</p><p>Clean water for basic sanitary measures like hand-washing is also scarce. Native Americans are <a href="http://uswateralliance.org/sites/uswateralliance.org/files/Closing%20the%20Water%20Access%20Gap%20in%20the%20United%20States_DIGITAL.pdf" target="_blank">19 times more likely</a> to lack indoor plumbing than whites in the U.S. Nearly one-third of Navajo households <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/coronavirus-hits-indian-country-hard-exposing-infrastructure-disparities-n1186976" target="_blank">lack access to running water</a>.</p><p>Many <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm" target="_blank">health issues</a> that can increase COVID-19 mortality rates occur at high levels among Native Americans. These <a href="http://www.ncai.org/news/articles/2020/03/18/the-national-congress-of-american-indians-calls-for-more-attention-to-covid-19-impacts-to-indian-country" target="_blank">underlying</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30893-X" target="_blank">preexisting</a> conditions – things like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease – are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e2.htm" target="_blank">linked to diet</a> and stem from <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank">disruption and replacement</a> of Indigenous food systems.</p>
High Exposure Rates<p>These factors have clear health impacts. On the Navajo reservation, for instance, through May 27, 2020, <a href="https://www.navajo-nsn.gov/News%20Releases/OPVP/2020/May/FOR%20IMMEDIATE%20RELEASE%20-%201620%20recoveries_102%20new%20cases%20of%20COVID-19_and%20one%20more%20death%20reported.pdf" target="_blank">4,944 people</a> out of a population of 173,000 had tested positive for COVID-19, and 159 had died.</p><p>This infection rate per capita exceeds those in hot spots such as <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/05/19/navajo-nation-has-most-coronavirus-infections-per-capita-in-us-beating-new-york-new-jersey/#11a4fac08b10" target="_blank">New York and New Jersey</a>. Importantly, however, it may also reflect a much <a href="https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/04/19/navajo-nation-has-higher/" target="_blank">more proactive approach to testing</a> on reservations than in many other jurisdictions.</p><p>The fact that elderly people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 could worsen the pandemic's effects in Indian Country. Elders are the <a href="https://ais.washington.edu/research/publications/spirits-our-whaling-ancestors" target="_blank">keepers of traditional knowledge, tribal languages and culture</a> – legacies whose loss already threatens the persistence of indigenous communities.</p><p>Elders also play key roles in preserving traditional plant and medicine knowledge. In the absence of COVID-19 interventions from Western medicine, many elders have been called on to perform healing practices, which increases their exposure risk.</p>
Little Help From Federal and State Governments<p>Many tribal members rely on the federal government's <a href="https://www.ihs.gov/" target="_blank">Indian Health Service</a> for health care. But <a href="https://theconversation.com/tribal-leaders-face-great-need-and-dont-have-enough-resources-to-respond-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic-134372" target="_blank">lack of capacity</a> at the agency has hampered its response. Budget shortfalls, <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/report-grossly-inaccurate-data-used-to-divvy-up-relief-funds-for-tribes-9qkkHmeXj0uhRC42mXYqCA" target="_blank">inaccurate data</a>, the challenges of providing <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/coronavirus-risk-is-compounded-by-the-rural-DC-rMTUzzE6WDGee8jbENQ" target="_blank">rural health care</a> and ongoing personnel shortages in IHS clinics are compounded by staff being <a href="https://navajotimes.com/reznews/dikos-ntsaaigii-doodaa-nation-musters-defense-against-covid-19/" target="_blank">pulled away</a> to fight the virus in large cities.</p><p>And while many states have raised frustrations with the Trump administration's unwillingness to distribute protective supplies from the <a href="https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/3/21206170/us-emergency-stockpile-jared-kushner-almost-empty-coronavirus-medical-supplies-ventilators" target="_blank">dwindling national stockpile</a>, IHS and tribal health care authorities <a href="https://www.azpm.org/p/home-articles-news/2020/3/17/167874-bill-calls-for-more-tribal-community-access-to-federal-stockpile-of-medical-supplies/" target="_blank">never had access</a> to the stockpile at all.</p><p>Although the federal government has begun <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/05/22/hhs-announces-500-million-distribution-to-tribal-hospitals-clinics-and-urban-health-centers.html" target="_blank">distributing relief funds</a> to IHS agencies, there have been serious problems with the accompanying supplies. The Navajo Nation has received <a href="https://www.indianz.com/News/2020/05/22/propublica-former-trump-aide-provided-fa.asp" target="_blank">faulty masks</a>, and a Seattle Native health center asked for tests but <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/native-american-health-center-asked-covid-19-supplies-they-got-n1200246" target="_blank">received body bags instead</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, federally imposed limits on tribal sovereignty have obstructed tribal governments' efforts to deal with the pandemic themselves. Federal and state governments are <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/makah-tribe-fights-coronavirus-with-self-reliance-and-extreme-isolation/" target="_blank">challenging tribes' jurisdictional authority</a> to <a href="https://www.azfamily.com/news/mayor-of-page-accused-of-racist-social-media-comment-toward-navajo-nation-president/article_e2e6efd6-8db4-11ea-a8a2-7f6976d702f6.html" target="_blank">close borders to tourists</a> who may carry the virus. South Dakota's governor has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/14/sioux-coronavirus-roadblocks-south-dakota-governor" target="_blank">threatened legal action</a> against two tribes who set up checkpoints to monitor incoming traffic on their reservations.</p>
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1263623015209725952" id="twitter-embed-1263623015209725952" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1263623015209725952&created_ts=1590106178.0&screen_name=WestRiverEagle1&text=%23CheyenneRiverSiouxTribe+Chairman+Harold+Frazier%3A+Our+checkpoints+are+saving+lives+and+no+one%E2%80%99s+going+to+do+it+but%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FbAzHmY1CN6&id=1263623015209725952&name=West+River+Eagle+Official" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="7f93e7825d266dabf962ece41883a742"></iframe>
Environmental Injustices on Native Land<p>Energy development and resource extraction have had <a href="https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/898-all-our-relations" target="_blank">disproportionate impacts</a> on tribes for many years. Today, many Native American leaders worry that ongoing energy production – <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-essential-workers-in-the-states.aspx" target="_blank">an "essential" activity under federal guidelines</a> will bring outsiders into close contact with reservation communities, worsening COVID risks.</p><p>The owners of the Keystone XL oil pipeline have announced that they intend to continue construction, which will bring an influx of workers along the proposed route through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and Fort Belknap Indian community in Montana have filed for a <a href="https://www.narf.org/keystone-xl/" target="_blank">temporary restraining order</a>, and a key permit for the pipeline was <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/16/headlines/us_judge_revokes_crucial_permit_for_keystone_xl_pipeline" target="_blank">revoked in April 2020</a>, but work continues at the U.S.-Canada border.</p><p>Construction is accelerating on the <a href="https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2020/03/17/border-patrol-waives-laws-border-wall-construction-southern-arizona/5063618002/" target="_blank">southern border wall</a>, which bisects the <a href="http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/" target="_blank">Tohono O'odham reservation</a> in Arizona and Mexico. The Trump administration has <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/border-coronavirus-military-immigration/" target="_blank">increased patrols at the border</a>, despite the tribe's concern that the patrols' presence is <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/06/coronavirus-cbp-160-cases-covid-19-officers-agents/2958736001/" target="_blank">spreading coronavirus</a> on the reservation.</p><p>And in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a salmon fishing season that brings in thousands of temporary workers is <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/it-s-hard-when-you-love-something-xlS49l2N20KZjqumwfzZfQ" target="_blank">set to open in June</a> because the federal government has also deemed commercial fishing "<a href="https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf" target="_blank">essential critical infrastructure</a>." Many local Native villages depend on the fishery for income, but have nonetheless pleaded with state regulators to <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/urgent-calls-to-close-the-massive-bristol-bay-fishery-8lYsGkUeDUyCBW7FMwpSfA?fbclid=IwAR1710u4rQnriq_MgH2ueQxOFtfGiGiH8I2ZdJRCZS9f28Zl-JNkPLpnzZo" target="_blank">cancel the season</a>. The regional hospital has just four beds for possible COVID-19 patients.</p>
Bold Action in Native Communities<p>Native communities are taking decisive action to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They're imposing aggressive <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/us/coronavirus-navajo-nation.html" target="_blank">quarantine</a> measures like lockdowns, curfews and border closures. Communities are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/18/covidcoronavirus-native-american-lummi-nation-trailblazing-steps" target="_blank">ramping up health care capacity</a> and elder support services, and banishing nontribal members who <a href="https://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/oglala-sioux-council-banishes-non-member-with-covid-19-from-reservation/article_60b665c3-9d1b-5d48-a576-51774e4fb41a.html" target="_blank">violate travel restrictions</a>.</p><p>Other strategies include helping hunters <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/ammo-fuel-for-hunters-to-feed-others-Ki3zK6du-ky-UogoB9-aNQ" target="_blank">provide traditional foods</a> to their communities, <a href="https://ndncollective.org/indigenizing-and-decolonizing-community-care-in-response-to-covid-19/" target="_blank">mobilizing to support tribal health care workers</a>, and <a href="https://www.ehn.org/coronavirus-native-americans-2645923635.html" target="_blank">linking the pandemic and the climate crisis</a>. Looking ahead to a post-COVID future, we believe one priority should be attending to <a href="http://www.beacon.org/As-Long-as-Grass-Grows-P1445.aspx" target="_blank">front-line environmental justice struggles</a> that center tribes' sovereignty to act on their own behalf at all times, not just during national crises.</p>
- Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Forge Ahead During ... ›
- 2 Million Americans Lack Clean Water Access, Especially Native ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
By Kaya Bulbul
The ocean is our lifeline - we rely on it for the food we eat, the air we breathe, as well as for millions for jobs worldwide.
As we continue to grapple with the issues of overfishing, plastic pollution, and climate change, there exists an opportunity to address these existential threats with new innovations, many of which unidentified or insufficiently supported.
<iframe src="https://livestream.com/accounts/1909571/events/9146673/videos/206855962/player?mute=false&width=640&height=360" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e3e028fc3bb47f2a1bba1a20b830e724"></iframe>
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›
- Adidas Unveils 3D-Printed Shoe Made From Plastic Ocean Waste ... ›
- 5 Solar Innovations That Are Revolutionizing the World - EcoWatch ›
By Jeremy Deaton
Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is cutting a 400-mile line across the middle of Texas, digging up vast swaths of private land for its planned Permian Highway Pipeline. The project is ceaseless, continuing through the coronavirus pandemic. Landowner Heath Frantzen said that dozens of workers have showed up to his ranch in Fredericksburg, even as public health officials urged people to stay at home.
- Alberta Energy Minister Calls Pandemic 'a Great Time' to Build ... ›
- Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Forge Ahead During ... ›
- Bayer and BASF Ordered to Pay $265 Million to U.S. Peach Farmer ... ›
- Trump's EPA Backs Bayer's Appeal in Roundup Verdict Appeal ... ›
- 'Dangerous Drift-Prone Pesticide' Threatens Millions of Acres ... ›
Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.
- CO2 Levels Top 415 PPM for First Time in Human History - EcoWatch ›
- 415 PPM: We Are All Part of Exxon's Unchartered Climate ... ›