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Proposed FDA Food Safety Rules Support Factory Farming, Threaten Family Farms
After years of deliberation in Congress, interagency meetings, lobbyist activity and a never-ending stream of food poisoning outbreaks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finally poised to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
However, according to a just released white paper by The Cornucopia Institute, the FDA’s draft rules are so off the mark that they might economically crush the country’s safest farmers while ignoring the root threats to human health: manure contaminated with deadly infectious pathogens generated on “factory” livestock farms and high-risk produce-processing practices.
“In response to deadly outbreaks involving spinach, peanut butter and eggs, Congress acted decisively three years ago to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Mark A. Kastel, codirector at The Cornucopia Institute. “Better oversight is needed but it looks like regulators and corporate agribusiness lobbyists are simultaneously using the FSMA to crush competition from the organic and local farming movement.”
Cornucopia’s report closely examines the FDA’s draft regulations for implementing the new food safety law, and a new FDA guidance designed to control Salmonella in eggs produced by outdoor flocks. The report concludes that the new proposals would ensnare some of the country’s safest family farmers in costly and burdensome regulations in a misdirected attempt to rein in abuses that are mostly emanating from industrial-scale farms and giant agribusiness food-processing facilities.
Family farm advocates, and groups representing consumers interested in high-quality food, thought they had won a victory when the Tester/Hagan amendment was adopted by Congress exempting farmers doing less than $500,000 in business from the new rules. But Cornucopia’s report suggests the FDA seems more interested in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to food safety regulation.
In reality, the report suggests that small farms are not really exempt. The FDA is proposing that the agency can, without any due process, almost immediately force small farms to comply with the same expensive testing and record-keeping requirements as factory farms.
“In practical terms,” explains Judith McGeary, a member of The Cornucopia Institute’s policy advisory panel and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, “the FDA will be able to target small farms one-by-one and put them out of business, with little to no recourse for the farmers.”
The FDA’s economic analysis also shows that farms over $500,000 (still small in the produce industry) will be significantly impacted with some being driven out of business.
“The added expense and record-keeping time will potentially force many small and medium-sized local farms—owner-operated, selling at farmers markets directly to consumers or to local grocers and natural food co-ops—out of business,” Kastel added.
The Cornucopia Institute is encouraging concerned farmers and consumers to visit its website and download a proxy letter to be sent to the FDA encouraging the agency to reconsider some of the key deficiencies in the proposed regulations.
The Institute’s analysis points out that the FDA has wildly inflated the number of foodborne illnesses that originate from farm production (seed to harvest rather than contamination that occurs later in processing and distribution).
It also alleges that the FDA has failed to recognize that specific processed crops such as fresh-cut, or produce grown in certain regions are the genesis of 90 percent of dangerous outbreaks in fruits and vegetables. In addition to imports from countries like Mexico, where the most recent Taylor Farms Cyclospora outbreak originated, the evidence indicates that fresh-cut bagged/boxed salad mix and greens, other pre-cut vegetables and sprouts are much more prone to contamination.
“The proposed rule is a mess,” said Daniel Cohen, owner of Maccabee Seed Company, a longtime industry observer. “The FDA has much greater expertise on food safety issues from harvest to the consumer, but focused instead on farming issues from planting to harvest. Limited, modest and more focused steps to improve on-farm food-safety could have produced simple, affordable, effective and enforceable regulation.”
According to Cornucopia, the most important lost opportunity in the collaborative process between Congress, the FDA and the USDA is the lack of attention directed at the giant concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs (factory farms) raising livestock. The massive amount of manure stored at these factory farms is commonly tainted by highly infectious bacteria that have been polluting America’s air, water and farmlands.
“Federal regulators propose nothing to address sick livestock in animal factories and their pathogen-laden manure that is contaminating surrounding rural communities, nearby produce farms and our food supply,” Kastel lamented.
No More Organic Eggs?
The 2010 salmonella outbreak in eggs, centered in Iowa, shone a spotlight on industrial-scale egg houses confining thousands of hens in filthy and dangerous conditions.
The salmonella outbreak led to comprehensive regulation and new guidance for organic farmers. Organic farmers are required by federal law to provide outdoor access to their hens and the new FDA guidance, according to Cornucopia, materially undermines this management practice. And they are doing this despite scientific evidence tying higher rates of pathogenetic contamination to older, massive factory farms with cages and forced molting (practices banned in organics) rather than raising birds outside.
“Their new guidance, on one hand, will make it difficult, expensive and maybe even impossible to have medium-sized flocks of birds outside,” Kastel stated. “At the same time, the FDA has colluded with the USDA’s National Organic Program to say that tiny ‘porches’, which hold only a minute fraction of the flock, will now legally constitute ‘outdoor access.’ This is a giveaway to conventional egg companies that are confining as many as 100,000 birds in a building and calling these ‘organic.’”
The Cornucopia Institute has publicly stated that they are investigating legal action against regulators if enforcement action is not taken, under the Organic Foods Production Act, against the large industrial operations confining laying hens and broilers indoors.
The issue of food safety in Washington has been a contentious one, causing rifts even between nonprofits representing the interest of consumers and family farm organizations that have been historically aligned in support of organic and local food. Some consumer advocates pressed for no exemptions, even as farm policy experts have supplied evidence indicating smaller, family-operated farms are inherently safer.
“Only an idiot would not be concerned with food safety,” said Tom Willey, a Madera, California, organic vegetable producer and longtime organic advocate.
“The antibiotic resistant and increasingly virulent organisms contaminating produce, from time to time, are mutant creatures introduced into the larger environment from confined industrial animal operations across the American countryside," added Willey. "The FDA’s misguided approach could derail achievements in biological agriculture and a greater promise of food made safe through respect for and cooperation with the microbial community which owns and operates this planet upon which we are merely guests.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
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