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On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a final rule that will allow the Republic of Korea to begin exporting poultry products to the U.S. 

Food & Water Watch questions President Obama's motivation behind allowing potentially diseased South Korean chickens to be sold in America's supermarkets. Photo credit: Demotix

Most alarming is that Korean poultry flocks have become infected with various strains of avian influenza, prompting the Korean government to cull more than 11 million chickens and ducks in January in order to prevent the disease from spreading further. Recent reports have the disease afflicting other species and sickening dogs.

The rule becomes effective on May 27.

Food & Water Watch filed comments opposed to the rule when it was first proposed last January. In the comments, the environmental watchdog cited violations of U.S. food safety and inspection standards written by FSIS auditors who visited Korean poultry slaughter and processing facilities in 2008 and 2010.

In those audits, FSIS auditors found the following:

2008

  • Inspection activities were performed by company employees with no government oversight
  • Failure to implement and verify sanitation programs
  • Failure to implement and verify Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points requirements within the food safety regulatory system
  • FSIS staff was unable to visit Korean government laboratory facilities that conducted chemical and microbiological analyses of poultry products

2010

The Republic of Korea food safety authority did not provide adequate control ...

  • for post-mortem inspection in the facilities that would be eligible to export to the U.S.
  • over the implementation of laboratory quality systems within its residue program.
  • over the implementation of laboratory control quality systems for its microbiological testing program for products destined for export to the U.S.

While the Republic of Korea acknowledged the deficiencies in the 2010 audit, there was no follow-up on-site verification conducted by FSIS to determine whether those issues had been properly addressed or not. Instead, FSIS relied on written assurances.

“We find the decision by FSIS to be irresponsible and surmise that it is trade related,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This final rule may by a little goodie that the U.S. is using to entice South Korea to join Trans Pacific Partnership talks. Once again, it may yet be another instance of the Obama Administration allowing trade to trump food safety.”

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Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) and Bunge Ltd., two of the world’s largest grain traders, are intent on increasing corn exports to China, however, U.S. farmers have plans of their own. 

The wide-scale planting of GMOs that aren’t approved by key importing countries will chip away at the competitiveness of U.S. grain and feed exports.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Six months after China started rejecting shipments of corn made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Bunge stated it wouldn't accept deliveries of the variety developed by Switzerland’s Syngenta AG, reports Bloomberg.

ADM plans on testing the GMO corn, and may end up rejecting it as well. Regardless, farmers will soon begin planting the crop this spring due to its high yield for the U.S. market. 

Bloomberg reports:

Exporters and farmers going in two different directions on GMO corn underscores a new set of challenges faced by international agricultural commodity traders. Even as demand continues to grow in line with the global population, China and other countries have been slower than the U.S. to approve new types of crops amid concerns about food safety and threats to biodiversity from [GMOs]. China’s curbs on some modified corn threaten to block millions of tons of imports and in so doing cut into the profits of international trading houses.

“It’s a significant issue for major North American traders,” said Andrew Russell, a New York-based analyst for Macquarie Group who recommends buying ADM and Bunge shares. “Anything that puts Chinese growth potential at risk is a significant issue.”

Traders rerouting shipments originally destined for China to other markets may lose $30 to $50 a ton, said Tim Burrack, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer who’s also the former chairman of the U.S. Grains Council’s trade committee.

Bunge isn’t buying the Syngenta GMO corn, an insect-repelling variety known as Agrisure Viptera, or another modified variety from the Swiss company called Agrisure Duracade. On Feb. 21, ADM executives said they wouldn't accept Duracade until the GMO is approved by China and other major importers. The company also hasn't committed to Viptera.

The wide-scale planting of GMOs that aren’t approved by key importing countries will chip away at the competitiveness of U.S. grain and feed exports. 

Corn containing Duracade will be planted on 250,000 to 300,000 acres this spring, which will be harvested in the autumn, according to Reuters

ADM shares have dropped 1.9 percent this year in New York while Bunge has fallen by 4.2 percent. Syngenta has seen a 4.6 percent decline in Zurich.

As China cuts back on GMO imports, U.S. growers are seeking to boost yields to counter a 34 percent plunge in corn prices over the last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected farm income will fall 27 percent over the course of 2014—a four-year low.

Since January, Syngenta has sold out of its Duracade variety, part of a broader trend toward modified crops.

However, that brings up another problem for farmers and traders. If different types of grain are not separated, then traders risk cross-contamination of non-GMO crops with crops containing modified organisms.

Even if farmers carefully separate their grain, such contamination can still occur in several ways, including inadvertent mixing and cross-pollination by bees or wind.

Ultimately, that’s a risk many farmers have come to accept as they plant Viptera and other strains in hopes of increasing their yield for the U.S. market. 

"While American farmers search for imaginary yield gains from GMOs, they need to be mindful of the fact that contamination of their neighbor's organic and non-GMO fields will not be tolerated by our nation’s trading partners or the American public," said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!.

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In new estimates released Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported about 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure in 2012.

Low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk as 1 in every 8 deaths is linked to it.

In particular, the new research reveals a stronger connection between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and heart disease, as well as cancer. The report also found air pollution plays a role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new estimates used improved measurements and technology, enabling scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes both urban and rural areas.

Low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director of General Family, Women and Children’s Health. “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”

Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, which shows the vast majority of air pollution deaths are tied to cardiovascular diseases.

Outdoor Air Pollution-Caused Deaths—Breakdown by Disease:

  • 40 percent: Ischaemic heart disease
  • 40 percent: Stroke
  • 11 percent: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • 6 percent: Lung cancer
  • 3 percent: Acute lower respiratory infections in children

Indoor Air Pollution-caused deaths—Breakdown by Disease:

  • 34 percent: Stroke
  • 26 percent: Ischaemic heart disease
  • 22 percent: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • 12 percent: Acute lower respiratory infections in children
  • 6 percent: Lung cancer

The estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were tabulated using a new global data mapping system, which incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modeling of how pollution drifts in the air.

Risk Factors Are Greater Than Expected

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves.

Regarding outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.

“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry," said Dr Carlos Dora, WHO coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to healthcare cost savings as well as climate gains. WHO and health sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements that will save lives.” 

Later this year, WHO will release indoor air quality guidelines on household fuel combustion, as well as country data on outdoor and indoor air pollution exposures and related mortality, plus an update of air quality measurements in 1,600 cities from all regions of the world.

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Due to California's historic drought, a variance was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February that enables applicable organic livestock farmers in the Golden State to temporarily disregard the feeding standards that allow them to stamp their product as organic.

Organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock's grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Farmers, whose grazing season include February and March, are not required to have their livestock grass-fed during those months given the absence of grass. Essentially, scores of cows will graze for only two months instead of four, which is the amount of time typically required to label livestock as organic.

During that time, “organic ruminant livestock producers … are not required to graze or provide dry matter intake from pasture during this time period,” the variance states. “Producers may reduce their 2014 grazing season by the number of days that correspond to this time period in their grazing plan.”

The USDA variance was approved after the federal agency received several requests from the California Certified Organic Farmers and Marin Organic Certified Agriculture, and it will only apply to farmers operating within the 53 out of 58 counties that have been deemed primary natural disaster areas, according to the The Huffington Post

“It’s huge because we still don’t have pasture for cows to graze on,” Albert Straus of the Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma told The Guardian. “We lost at least a month to a month-and-a-half of pasture,” he said, adding that the grass died out last December.

President Obama recently visited California to provide a $183 million aid package, but Straus said the government funding (which has topped $1.2 billion overall) will do little to fix the widespread problem. “As far as I know it’s not fast enough or enough money to help the farmers,” he added. “I don’t think it will touch the losses that farmers will have."

According to the California Certified Organic Farmers, organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock's grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards.

“It’s a necessary evil,” Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, told The Huffington Post. “We’ll support this variance if that’s the only alternative."

“Grass-fed dairy or beef has higher levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, which is extremely important in human health,” said Cummins. “There’s no doubt that feeding grain to animals that aren’t supposed to be eating grain is not good for them, not good for the environment and not good for consumers."

According to the USDA, the variance is temporary, but the timeline could be extended if the drought continues to devastate California's farming communities.

In January, after the state of California formally declared a drought emergency, Juliet Christian-Smith, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained, “The current historically dry weather is a bellwether of what is to come in California, with increasing periods of drought expected with climate change.”

The record breaking drought has taken a tremendous toll on the state of California. Below is a stunning photo essay compiled by Earthjustice,

[blackoutgallery id="322448"]

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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