By Ronnie Cummins
Consumers know if the tomatoes they buy in the supermarket were imported from Mexico. They know if the sweater they purchased was made in Vietnam.
They also know if the chicken they toss in their grocery cart was imported from another country. Under Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws, these products are required to carry labels that tell you if the product was imported from another country.
But beef and pork? Those products are exempt from COOL laws. That means consumers have no idea where their steak and bacon came from, unless the producer chooses to label it.
U.S. cattle ranchers say the failure to require COOL labels on beef is hurting their industry. That's especially true for ranchers serving the fast-growing grassfed segment of the beef industry said Will Harris, president of the board of directors of the American Grassfed Association (AGA) and a fourth-generation cattleman.
The grassfed industry suffers the most because, as Harris told us:
"The U.S. leads the world in the production of grain-fed beef. This production advantage primarily exists because grains and soy are so heavily subsidized under the USDA federal farm program. Grassfed beef producers in America are unsubsidized.
"The subsidies on grain permits our domestic grain-fed beef products to be marketed below the pricing thresholds that would allow stiff competition from imported product. The big winners in the repeal of COOL are the multinational meat companies. This has allowed them to shop for meat in the cheapest markets in the world, and bring it into the best market in the world, and sell it to consumers as 'Product of the USA,' even though the animal had never drawn a single breath of air in the United States."
Harris, who estimates at least 75 percent of the grassfed beef consumed in America comes from Australia, New Zealand or Uruguay, said American consumers are being intentionally misled. Millions of pounds of beef, imported from other countries, are being wrongly labeled as "Product of the USA," Harris said.
Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct agreed. He told us that:
"U.S. grassfed producers can't come close to competing with cost of production of South American, Australian and New Zealand imports, especially considering producers in the exporting countries are similarly being exploited, forced to produce below cost, by the same multinational packers.
"The loss of COOL was a huge hit on the cattle price, especially grassfed prices due to extremely low cost of supposedly 'grassfed' imports, which allow importers and retailers to make ridiculous margins.
"I just returned from a ranch tour in Argentina. They think it's funny that most South American beef is considered 'grassfed.' They said that may have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Their highest-quality cattle prices were 30 percent below the U.S. at the time of my visit. South American beef has also been falsely considered organic by default."
Ranchers and other advocates of COOL are hoping a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will help them restore COOL labels on beef—but time may be running out.
Why Are Beef and Pork Exempt From COOL Labeling Laws?
COOL was first established under the Tariff Act of 1930 which required that, "unless excepted, every article of foreign origin (or its container) imported into the U.S. shall be marked with its country of origin."
Over the years, COOL, as applied to meat, has evolved with a convoluted history.
Under COOL, imported beef and pork were required "to bear a label denoting the foreign country-of-origin of the beef all the way to the consumer, unless the beef undergoes a substantial transformation in the United States."
That sounds clear enough, but the "undergoes substantial transformation" in the U.S., along with exemptions under the law for some agricultural commodities, led to a series of changes in the law. According to the National Agricultural Law Center:
The requirements for listing the country of origin for beef and pork specifically were outlined in the COOL law, but were altered through the evolution of the proposed regulations and litigation with the World Trade Organization. In the original regulations, if the product had not undergone a substantial transformation in the United States, its country of origin was the one that was declared to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 7 C.F.R. § 60.200(f). However, if the product underwent a substantial transformation in the United States, the product must have been labeled as "product from [the country it was imported from], and processed in the U.S." 7 C.F.R. § 60.200(g)(2). If commodities were sold together, with only a part of it undergoing a substantial transformation in the United States, all the countries of origin must have been disclosed. 7 C.F.R. § 60.200(h). Similarly, commodities that had different countries of origin and/or methods of production could still be sold together, as long as all the countries and methods were listed, pursuant to 7 C.F.R. § 60.300(d).
That's more or less how the law worked, with some tweaks here and there, until December 2008. That's when Canada and Mexico sued to overturn COOL requirements for beef and pork, arguing that the law violated international trade law because it discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock.
After much back and forth with rulings and appeals, in May 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) determined that the U.S. COOL requirements did in fact violate international trade law. The WTO also said the countries could impose $1.01 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.
Soon after the WTO's ruling, in December 2015, Congress repealed COOL and Agricultural Sec. Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would no longer enforce the labeling law on beef and pork products. The repeal was a part of the $1.4-trillion omnibus spending bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama.
The USDA justified its decision by arguing that imported beef is a product of the U.S. even if it comes from a different country, as long as the country of origin has food safety standards similar to that in America.
U.S. ranchers rise up in defense of COOL
Ever since COOL was repealed in 2015, U.S. cattle ranchers, including those in the grassfed beef industry, have been vocal on the need to reestablish the labeling law.
According to a lawsuit filed in June 2017, by American ranchers and cattle producers against the USDA and Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, millions of pounds of beef are now being imported from various countries and labeled as "Product of the U.S.A," despite only undergoing repackaging in the U.S. The lawsuit alleges that this practice violates the Tariff Act of 1930.
While the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, Kenny Graner, president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, is looking for an opening in the recent NAFTA negotiations to strike a deal with Canada and Mexico that restore the labels on beef. (The WTO governs global trade, while NAFTA resolves trade disputes that erupt between only Canada, Mexico and the U.S.)
In a written statement, Graner said:
As talks continue on a modernized NAFTA, U.S. cattle producers remain disappointed in the lack of discussion on a WTO-compliant country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program. Country-of-origin labeling remains an important issue for cattle producers across the U.S. and consensus must be reached on how to best respond to consumer demand for accurate information. USCA continues to work toward truth in labeling on all fronts, and we hope the administration will do the same.
Graner cited industry figures showing that in 1994, the year NAFTA was implemented, the U.S. ran a surplus of $226.7 million in beef and a deficit of $978.8 million with Canada and Mexico combined. By 2016, the surplus in beef had become a deficit of $710.4 million, and the combined deficit in cattle had grown to $1.55 billion.
Political commentator Tomi Lahren expressed similar concerns in a Fox News Insider report, saying that U.S. ranchers and cattle producers have been "squeezed, poked and prodded by the meat packing industry." She went on to say:
They [the foreign beef producers and the big meat packers lobbyists] control the market. They control the price. They buy this cheap foreign beef, and your American ranchers are going under—and not because they can't compete in quality, but because that can't compete with mystery meat brought in from who knows where.
If the repeal of COOL is hurting the beef industry, it's even worse for grassfed producers, Harris told us. In an email he wrote:
"I was among the earliest of the American cattle producers who embraced the grassfed protocol. I have seen steady increases for demand of this product for the last 25 years. In the last few months, I have seen most of the necessary-for-production margin premiums eroded by imported grassfed beef."
U.S. cattle producers continue to lobby to get COOL reinstated, as they believe it will help create competition in the beef market, put a stop to consumer deception, reduce market manipulation, enable price discovery and support America's rural economy.
As Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association, said:
"Consumers want to know when they go to the market that the grassfed meats they are buying are from these farms and farmers. Farmers that are restoring and regenerating their farms. Farmers and farms that are preserving and restoring their rural economies. Farmers and farms that are saving a way of life by allowing these farms to survive so the next generation can be supported.
"Feeding Americans with American products without the worry of whether or not other countries will or will not provide us with food. COOL provides these consumers with the knowledge that they are helping with these efforts. We cannot allow marketing and food conglomerates to decide what goes on a label."
If you want to support American-grown grassfed meat and dairy, buy directly from a trusted farmer near you or look for products that bear the American Grassfed Association logo to ensure that your food is truly a "Product of the U.S.A."
"They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn." — Bob Dylan, 1975, Blood on the Tracks
The Darkest Hour: Degeneration
Welcome to Degeneration Nation 2018. The frightening truth is that our "profit-at-any-cost" economy and global empire, run by and for the one percent and multi-national corporations, aided and abetted by an out-of-control Congress and White House, is threatening our very survival.
Our system of democracy, global co-existence, our physical and mental health, and the health of the living Earth—our climate, soils, forests, wetlands, watersheds and oceans—is rapidly degenerating. The rhythms of nature—the atmosphere, the soil carbon cycle, the water cycle and the climate—are unraveling.
Which is more frightening? The destruction of the environment and the climate that sustain human civilization as we have known it? Or the collapse of democracy and the rise of endless war and fascism?
Even though many are still either in denial or preoccupied by the daily struggle for survival, the most serious threat that humans have ever encountered in our 150,000-year evolution is global warming and severe climate change.
A growing corps of climate experts have warned us repeatedly that we must stop burning fossil fuels. We must eliminate destructive food, farming and land-use practices. And we must draw down enough carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Earth's atmosphere through enhanced natural photosynthesis (regenerative food, farming and land use), to return us to 350 parts-per-million (ppm), or better yet to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm.
According to the majority of climate scientists we are fast approaching the point of no return, whereby global warming and climate change will morph into runaway global warming, melting of the polar ice-caps, catastrophic sea rise, evermore deadly forest fires, climate chaos, global crop failures, famine and societal disintegration. This point of no return could arrive as soon as 25 years from now—that is if we don't stop releasing greenhouse gases and start drawing down "legacy" CO2 from the atmosphere into our soils through regenerative food, farming and land use.
As world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen wrote:
"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current levels to at most 350 ppm…"
Global warming you ask? But what about the threat of nuclear war with North Korea or Iran? What about Trump's recently reported statement that a strategic terrorist attack in the U.S would likely enable the Republicans to maintain control of Congress in 2018?
What about the fact that 62 million Americans actually voted for Donald Trump in November 2016 (65 million voted for Hillary and 92 million were too disgusted or demoralized to vote at all), and that most of these 62 million people still support him?
Or how about the Harvard-University of Melbourne study that found "the share of Americans who think that rule by the armed forces would be a 'good' or 'very good' thing rose from one in 16 in 1995 to one in six in 2014?"
What about increasing police brutality, misogyny, homophobia, racism, threats against immigrants, mass deportations, drug addiction, a crumbling infrastructure and rampant unemployment and poverty?
And what about public health? A recent Rand Corporation study that found that 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic health condition such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis; 42 percent have two or more of these illnesses; and that these chronic diseases now account for more than 40 percent of the $3.5 trillion that people are handing over to Big Pharma and the medical industrial complex?
What about the U.S.'s endless, now trillion-dollar wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and a dozen other countries?
It's not just the U.S. and North America that have degenerated to unprecedented levels.
Up until now most of global civil society, rather than united in a common global campaign to reverse climate change, deteriorating public health, poverty, forced migration and war, remains divided by national borders, ethnic identities, single- or limited-issue organizing, and class and gender divisions.
The rise of authoritarian and fascist regimes, and the weakening of a common sense of purpose, cooperation and solidarity have brought us to a dangerous precipice.
Will global civil society wake up in time, break down the walls and issue silos that divide us, connect the dots between all of our burning issues, and unite across borders in a common global campaign for survival and regeneration?
Beyond the Darkest Hour: Regeneration
The good news is that there are a number of positive signs that people in the Americas, and all over the world, especially the youth, are waking up. These signs include:
- An emerging world view or ideology is replacing the traditional paradigms of "unlimited growth" or "sustainability." It's called "Regeneration." This new paradigm, unlike the outdated ideologies of corporate capitalism or state socialism, has the power to unite the global grassroots—farmers, consumers, businesses and policymakers—in a joint campaign to reverse climate change and restore the environment. Regenerative food, farming and land use, coupled with 100-percent renewable energy, scaled up globally on the Earth's 22 billion acres of farmland, rangeland, wetlands and forests, has the potential to not only mitigate, but to actually reverse global warming. Regenerative farming and land use can do this by drawing down through enhanced photosynthesis the 200 billion tons of excess carbon lodged in the atmosphere and sequestering it in our living soils and biota. At the same time, this global regeneration can dramatically reduce conflict and rural poverty among the world's 3.5 billion small farmers and rural villagers. Regenerative food and farming, focused on revitalizing soil and plant health, and on improving the economic situation of the world's small farmers and rural villagers, also has the power to clean up the environment and qualitatively improve the nutritional density and quality of our foods, thereby eliminating the major causes of malnutrition, chronic disease and toxic exposure.
- Every nation in the world, except for the Trump administration in Washington, DC, has signed onto the Paris climate agreement to move to zero fossil fuel emissions by 2050. Many nations have also signed on to the "4 for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate Initiative, a bold international policy initiative to draw down enough excess atmospheric carbon through regenerative food, farming and lan- use practices to not only mitigate, but actually reverse, global warming.
- Renewable energy has begun to replace fossil fuels. It is now cheaper to invest in wind and solar than to build new coal plants. Soon it will be more profitable to install solar and wind power than to keep existing fossil fuel plants running. Electric cars and trucks will likely replace gas-powered vehicles within the next few decades. Investors and public institutions are starting to divest billions, and eventually trillions, of dollars from the fossil fuel industry.
- A critical mass of the global grassroots is starting to wake up and resist—North, South, East and West—organizing politically, slowly but surely developing climate-friendly and equitable solutions to our most pressing problems: climate, poverty, war, deteriorating public health, forced migration, unemployment and political corruption. In the U.S., progressive and radical forces, led by youth, women and minorities, will likely soon sweep the majority of corrupt politicians from office, not only in the nation's 40,000 cities, towns and counties, but at the federal level as well. Similar trends are emerging in dozens of other countries as well, even in repressive dictatorships such as China, Russia and Iran. The bottom line is that people all over the world are fed up with corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen. There is no future for the youth, nor for any of us without fundamental change and regeneration.
- Polls now indicate that the most popular national politician in the U.S. today is democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who will likely run and be elected President of the U.S. in 2020. Similarly polls indicate that Lopez Obrador, with politics similar to Sanders, will be elected President of Mexico in July 2018. Similar progressive leaders are emerging in many countries, many of them youth, women and minorities.
The darkest hour is indeed before the dawn. We've hit bottom here in the U.S., and in most of the countries of the world. The situation is dire. Time is short. But there's still time to turn things around. For information on the emerging Regeneration International movement click here.
Join the growing U.S. network of citizen lobbyists pushing for regenerative policies—Citizens Regeneration Lobby.
Embracing solar power means reducing both your reliance on traditional utility companies and your environmental footprint, but the high upfront cost of solar panels can be a big deterrent for some homeowners.
If you're considering solar, you may have questions like: How much does it cost to install a solar energy system? What are some of the factors that can impact pricing? What else should home- and business owners know about going solar? In this article, we'll touch on each of these important topics, with the goal of helping you make a fully informed, financially responsible decision about solar energy.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost to Install?
To begin with, let's take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installation. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average price of a residential solar system was $2.94 per watt, which would mean a 5 kWh system would cost $14,700 and a 10 kWh system would cost $29,400.
The exact price you'll pay for solar panels will depend on a number of factors, including your geographic location, the size of your home and more.
Now, you might rightly wonder: What exactly are you paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total cost. Remaining expenses include labor, maintenance and additional parts and components (such as inverters).
What Factors Determine Solar Pricing?
As mentioned, there are a few key things that can lead to variation in solar system installation costs. Analyzing these can help you determine whether solar panels are worth it for your home. Let's take a look at them in greater detail.
Your Electrical Needs
The solar panels themselves will be rated for a particular wattage, which reflects the amount of energy they can absorb for storage and ultimately for power generation. You will actually pay according to wattage, which means that the greater your household energy needs, the more you'll have to spend to get the correct number of solar panels.
So, how do you determine how much energy you need for your home? The best way to figure this out is through a consultation with a solar installer. (We recommend shopping smart by requesting free consultations with two or three top solar companies in your area.)
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on total square footage, the number of people who live in your home, the number of appliances and power-draining devices that you have connected and more. It can then recommend the ideal solar panel system size to accommodate your energy usage.
Type of Panels and Other Components
Variation in manufacturing can also affect the cost of solar panels. There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Of these two, monocrystalline options tend to be more energy-efficient and thus may provide you with greater savings in the long run. They are also a bit pricier on the front end. With that said, homeowners with a smaller roof surface area may benefit from getting the most efficient solar panels, even if the initial cost is a bit steeper.
Other components you'll need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts and more. The quality of these materials can affect your total solar system cost. For example, if you spring for the best solar batteries, they may add a few thousand dollars to your investment.
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Your geographic area. Solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and thus a lot of photovoltaic light. This basically means that solar panels can operate more efficiently, and in many cases means that fewer total panels are needed. Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems.
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 26% federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels between 2020 and 2022. It is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023 and may not be extended thereafter.
Local incentives vary by state, but most of the best solar panel installers will help you identify and apply for these programs so you don't miss out on savings.
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. Different vendors are going to offer different levels of customization, expertise and consumer protections (including guarantees and warranties). The bottom line? It is wise to shop around a bit, determine the average cost of solar panels in your area and evaluate the value of services offered by a few solar installation companies.
Solar Panel Price Vs. Return on Investment
Clearly, your upfront solar panel installation cost may be a little steep. Now, let's look at the flipside: How much money will you actually save? And will your energy savings be enough to offset the initial cost of your solar energy system?
It is not unreasonable to think that you can cut your monthly utility bills by as much as 75% or more by switching to solar energy. Of course, the specific dollar amount will depend on where you live, the size of your home and the number of people in your household.
One way to look at it: The average household energy bill is somewhere between $100 and $200 monthly. It would probably take about 15 years for your energy savings to cancel out the cost of solar panel installation. In other words, within a decade and a half or so, your solar system might pay for itself. Factor in savings from tax rebates and other incentives, and most solar systems pay for themselves in closer to seven or eight years.
Note that most solar energy companies offer free solar calculators, which help you arrive at a ballpark for monthly energy savings. While these calculators are imprecise, they can certainly give you a general sense of the financial benefits you will experience when you convert to solar energy.
Free Quote: See How Much You Can Save on Solar Panels
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could save up to $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive tax rebates.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Solar Panels
As you continue to weigh the pros and cons of solar energy, it's natural to have a few questions. The best way to resolve these is really to set up a solar consultation with a local expert, but in the meantime, here are a few general answers to some of the most common solar inquiries.
How much will it cost to maintain my solar energy system?
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring any maintenance or upkeep. As such, you should not really need to factor maintenance into the equation for the first 20 years or so after you install your system. (And most solar companies will offer you warranties and guarantees to give peace of mind on this front.)
How will solar energy impact my property values?
Many homeowners want to know how going solar will impact the value of their homes. Going solar increases property values. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported buyers are willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar panel system. With that said, you are only going to see your property values go up if you own your solar system outright, as opposed to leasing it.
How can I finance the cost of solar panels?
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing consumers some flexibility. With that said, there are three basic options for paying for your solar energy system:
- Purchase your solar energy system outright (that is, pay in cash).
- Take out a solar loan to purchase the system, then pay it back with interest.
- Lease your system; you will pay less month-to-month but won't actually own the system yourself.
Which is better, buying or leasing my solar system?
It all depends on your motivation for going solar. If you want to maximize long-term savings and increase the value of your home, then purchasing your solar system is usually best. However, if you just want a low-maintenance way to reduce monthly energy costs and practice environmental stewardship, then leasing might be a better option. Also note that leasing can be a good option for those who do not plan on being in their home for exceptionally long.
How can I be sure my roof will accommodate a solar system?
If your roof faces south, has ample space and has little to no shade cover, it should work just fine. Even roofs that are not optimal can still be utilized with a few tweaks and adjustments. Your solar energy consultant will advise you on whether your home is a good fit for solar energy.
How long will my solar energy system last?
Solar systems are designed to be exceptionally durable. With just the most basic upkeep, most solar energy systems should continue to work and produce power for anywhere from 25 to 35 years.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the initial cost of solar panels is more than offset by the long-term, recurring energy savings. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to embrace solar power.
"...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope." — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.
It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don't need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.
Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?
Or will we destroy Earth's ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?
We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.
We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.
Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.
We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.
The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.
A Movement By Any Other Name
When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word "regeneration." It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.
In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.
The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.
Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.
Many aren't just talking, they're doing.
In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.
In Maine, Wolfe's Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who's developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.
Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.
Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson's project.
An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho "ag-gag" law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.
At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.
In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture's impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.
Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.
On the policy level, the Organic Consumers Association has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.
But we'll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.
Consumers Will Drive the Transition to Regeneration
Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.
Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they're taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.
Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don't. Skepticism about "Big Organic" has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.
Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.
As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald's starts talking "regenerative" it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers' changing preferences.
Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.
But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth's health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both Organic Consumer Association and Regeneration International will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).
The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?
Last week the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rejected the pleas of organic activists, farmers and many businesses to "keep the soil in organic" by voting to allow growers of hydroponic vegetables to label their produce "organic."
The NOSB's vote did little to shore up consumer faith in the USDA Organic label, especially after well-publicized news reports earlier this year that accused a few high-profile organic brands of giving "organic" a bad name by skirting the rules. And it had some industry pioneers so angry and disheartened, that according to the Washington Post they were even "threatening to leave the program they helped create."
The Organic Consumers Association supported the "Keep the Soil in Organic" campaign. We're disappointed in the NOSB's decision, another sign of Big Organic's (negative) influence over organic standards.
But rather than mourn the demise of organic standards, or fruitlessly complain about how the USDA Organic label is being undermined by corrupt corporations, we've joined the growing number of organic advocates, both in the U.S. and abroad, who understand that the future of organic—and labels—is regenerative.
A New Food Label Is Coming Soon and It Goes 'Beyond Organic' https://t.co/UR3LZfVOCW— carey gillam (@carey gillam)1506981225.0
When finalized, the RO Certification will go "beyond USDA Organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health, land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness. The RO label will appear on certified regenerative products, next to the "USDA Organic" label, alerting consumers to the fact that the RO-labeled product not only meets USDA organic standards, but exceeds them.
The NOSB's vote to allow hydroponic foods to be labeled as "USDA Organic" has proven once again that big corporations and federal bureaucrats have greater control over organic standards than organic consumers and small organic farmers. "Big Organic" is now dictating the policies of the USDA's National Organic Program.
Over the past 15 years the organic community, led by consumer watchdog groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute, has been forced to mobilize over and over again to defend and maintain credible organic standards. We've exposed organic imposters like Aurora, White Wave/Horizon, Driscoll's, Herbruck, Cal-Maine and Walmart for undermining the organic label by selling factory farm dairy and poultry products that are "organic" in name only.
We've helped shine the light on importers of fake "organic" grains or ingredients from overseas.
We've taken the deceptive marketers of "natural" and "GMO-free" brands to court.
Despite the proliferation of what can only be described as "Grade B" organic products, especially in the organic sections of the large grocery store chains, millions of consumers who care about personal health, the environment, global warming, animal welfare and social and economic justice are still willing to pay a premium price for food, bodycare, clothing and other products they believe are genuinely organic. This is why organics (and 100 percent grass-fed beef and dairy) now represent more than 5 percent, or $55 billion dollars in grocery store sales in the U.S. It's also why new organic and "farm-to-table" restaurants are popping up all over the country.
A critical mass of health-minded consumers, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, genetically engineered industrial food is hazardous. Chemical- and energy-intensive, GMO agriculture and factory farming destabilize the climate, destroy the environment, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals and contaminate the water.
To top it off, this degenerative agriculture model produces end products that are inevitably contaminated.
Routinely contained in nearly every bite or swallow of non-organic industrial food are genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, antibiotics and other animal drug residues, pathogens, feces, hormone-disrupting chemicals, toxic sludge, slaughterhouse waste, chemical additives, preservatives, irradiation-derived radiolytic particles and a host of other hazardous allergens and toxins.
If the poisons invisibly laced into non-organic food, clothing and bodycare products haven't yet driven you personally to the organic aisle on a regular basis, scientists warn that a public health Doomsday Clock is ticking—and not just for you, but for everyone.
The biotech bullies, animal drug companies, Big Ag and the junk food industry are already the root cause of 50 million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., as well as an epidemic of allergies, reproductive disorders, food-related cancers, learning disabilities, heart attacks and obesity. Within a decade, these diet- and environment-related diseases, heavily subsidized under our Big Pharma/chemical/genetically-engineered/factory farm system, will likely bankrupt Medicare and the entire $3.5 trillion (and rising) U.S. healthcare system.
Likewise, millions of green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture and factory farms pose a terminal threat to the environment, biodiversity and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population is beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, non-genetically engineered, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic farming practices—what we call regenerative agriculture—and drastically reducing food miles by re-localizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for future food, health, energy and resource crises.
Millions of us—consumers, farmers, activists—now realize that increasing levels of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere (44-57 percent of which come from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices) threaten to push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps, burn down remaining forests, kill most fish and marine life and flood the coastal cities of the world, forcing a billion people to move to higher ground.
Despite its flaws, the USDA Organic system of food and fiber production is a step in the right direction. It's far better than chemical-and energy-intensive agriculture, and can serve in many cases as a baseline or starting point for genuine regenerative food and farming. USDA Organic, unlike most non-organic "local" or so-called "natural" food, has legal definitions, a handbook of rules, permitted and prohibited substances, acceptable practices, an inspection process and labels to guide consumers.
So let's stop obsessing over the fact that the Trump administration, the Republican party and in fact most farm state Democrats, are nothing more than cheerleaders for corporate agribusiness, Big Pharma, Monsanto, Dow and the junk food and beverage cartel.
Let's swing into action and build a mass movement that can put an end to "business as usual" and "politics as usual." Let's try to unite everyone who cares about health, food, climate, justice, peace and democracy into a new movement that can regenerate the Earth and revitalize the global grassroots.
We need to educate a critical mass of consumers, especially youth, to understand that organic food is qualitatively superior to chemical and GMO food. But let's also be honest in saying that a bunch of corporate lobbyists and USDA bureaucrats do not represent the future of organic food and farming. We need to educate Americans, and indeed people all over the world, that now is the time to move to the next stage of organic: regenerative organic.
Regenerative food, farming and land use practices, in conjunction with 100 percent renewable energy, are our best and indeed perhaps our last hope to reverse global warming, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health and what can only be described as corporate fascism.
So let's move today and everyday, beyond gloom and doom. Let's vote with our consumer dollars, our voices, our communications tools, and our community and political activism for a regenerative future. The hour is late, but there is still time to turn things around.
To review or comment on the new proposed Regenerative Organic standards, click here.
One of the most politically charged debates today, especially in the U.S. and Europe, is the so-called "immigration crisis." There are approximately 250 million (3 percent of the world's 7.6 billion people) migrants in the world today. About 20 percent or 47 million of those, live in the U.S. Another 35 million live in Europe.
Inter Press News Service reported:
Recent elections around the world have clearly shown growing public support for candidates and political parties advocating the deportation of migrants and stricter restrictions on immigration, including halting it altogether. At the same time, opposition, challenges and resistance to deportations and immigration restrictions have become more widespread, visible and vocal.
In the U.S., Donald Trump has consolidated a mass base of support among white racists and conservatives by repeatedly vilifying the nation's 10 million undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants as "criminals and rapists." Trump has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deport all "illegal aliens" including 800,000 "dreamers"—Latin American immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and don't have citizenship papers.
Trump and proponents of mass deportation fail to acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy—specifically the failed War on Drugs; longstanding support for corrupt regimes, police and military forces in Mexico and Central America; and the so-called Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA and CAFTA)—have brought about the systematic impoverishment of small farmers and rural inhabitants South of the Border, inflaming gang and drug cartel violence, forcing millions to cross into the U.S. illegally.
Meanwhile hard-working immigrants lacking citizenship or working papers in the U.S. pay billions of dollars in taxes, strengthen immigrant and low-income communities, send back billions of dollars in "remesas" (remittances) to their families and home communities every year. They often work several jobs, providing a major boost for the U.S. economy, especially in the farm, food processing, restaurant, health care and construction sectors, where work is hard and pay is low.
At the recent regional Summit on Migrants and Returnees in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, Oct. 20-21, a new and promising solution to the global "immigration crisis" emerged: the creation of local, grassroots-powered economic development projects based on regenerative food, farming and land-use practices.
Regenerative food and farming is the new gold standard for climate and environmentally friendly agriculture and land use across the world. An increasing number of food and farming leaders have described regenerative agriculture as the "next stage" of organic food and farming.
Regenerative practices are essentially enhanced organic and permaculture production methods that exclude pesticides, GMO seeds and factory farm techniques. Regenerative practices focus on improving soil health, water retention and rainfall conservation, and on using crop rotation, agro-forestry and planned rotational grazing—with the intention of sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere.
A growing number of regenerative farms and ranches worldwide are demonstrating how farmers and herders can restore soil health, improve food nutrition and increase yields, while at the same time strengthening local food systems and traditional practices (such as seed saving and small-scale animal husbandry), empowering women and youth, and restoring or enhancing community food security.
Participants at the Migrant Summit in Guatemala discussed how a "three-for-one" grassroots-powered matching grant or loan program of cross-border financing, supported by immigrants, returnees, citizens and local municipalities could potentially provide the resources for a major transformation of the region's food, farming and land-use practices.
Leaders of the newly formed alliance, Regeneration Guatemala, explained that the restoration of soil carbon and fertility, water conservation, rainfall catchment, and the utilization of organic and "beyond organic" grain production, agro-forestry and regenerative livestock (especially poultry) practices, could make Guatemala an agricultural leader in the region. By regenerating Guatemala's agricultural system, the country could eventually supply its 16 million people with affordable, high-quality, nutrient-dense food, and also provide employment and much-needed economic development in the countryside and adjoining urban areas, where poverty and crime are the major drivers of forced migration.
Guatemala is a predominately rural, indigenous and agricultural nation, similar to other nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where forced migration has become a critical issue. A full 67 percent of Guatemala's citizens, as well as the majority of the over two million Guatemalan immigrants in the U.S. (75 percent of whom are potentially subject to deportation by the Trump administration) come from rural communities where poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation are the norm. A similar situation throughout the region has driven millions of Mexicans, Salvadorans and Hondurans over the past few decades into forced exile in the U.S. and Canada.
As participants at the Xela Summit stressed over and over again, many of their compatriots in forced exile in El Norte (the North) would be happy to return to their families and home communities, if only there were jobs and social stability.
The more than 1,500 assembled delegates in Quetzaltenango applauded enthusiastically when speakers pointed out that Guatemala's so-called Green Revolution, which includes the heavy use of toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, monocrop production, GMOs and the agro-export model, has had a disastrous effect on their home communities and nations. The reaction was the same when speakers talked about the junk food/fast food model, represented by Coca-Cola, McDonald's, KFC and Burger King, and the so-called Free Trade Agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreements.
Conference attendees, representing a broad cross section of indigenous communities, small farmers, agricultural co-ops, students, church activists, migrant rights advocates, and "retornados" (immigrants who have returned or been deported from the U.S), enthusiastically endorsed the idea of using traditional and regenerative agriculture practices to restore food security, public health, climate stability and rural prosperity in the impoverished zones of Mexico and Central America where forced migration has become the norm.
As native Guatemalan Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin of the Minnesota-based Main Street Project and Regeneration International put it, by developing pilot regenerative agriculture systems, such as the Regenerative Poultry Project throughout the U.S. and Mexico "can bring about a revolution of ideas and a flow of capital" into impoverished rural communities where so-called Green Revolution chemical- and energy-intensive farming practices have failed. (La Hora newspaper Oct. 21).
Beyond the discussion of Trump's wall, mass deportations and the racist discrimination faced by millions of undocumented Latinos in the U.S., the Migrant Summit attendees responded enthusiastically to the idea that communities "aquí y allá," ("here and there") could join together and raise the "seed money" for a new healthy, climate-friendly and economically viable system of food and farming.
I learned at the Summit that Guatemalan migrants in the U.S. already send back close to $7 billion a year in money transfers to their families and home communities—twice the amount of money that Guatemalan agro-exporters receive for all of their exports of products such as coffee and bananas. Salvadoran migrants send back a similar amount, while Mexican migrants will send back more than $70 billion dollars to their home communities this year. Channeling a strategic percentage of these remittances into community-based regenerative agriculture projects, along with pressuring local and federal governments to match these migrant "remesas," could not only restore hope and vitality to these rural communities, but also dramatically reduce the number of forced migrants. Even Donald Trump's fans of mass deportation might have trouble rejecting this type of cross-border "bootstrap" financing for local economic development.
As I explained to the conference attendees during the final plenary session, regenerative agriculture is not some new invention by organic farmers and ranchers in the Global North. It's the adaptation of ancient farming practices, such as the traditional Mayan system of agro-forestry, multi-crop "milpa" farming (corn, beans, squash and other vegetables), natural compost and holistic poultry and livestock management.
A form of what is now called regenerative agriculture, or regenerative organic agriculture, was practiced over thousands of years ago by Mayan and indigenous people throughout the Americas. The Mayans survived and thrived in harmony with the Earth—without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, GMOs or concentrated animal confinement. They fed themselves while also maintaining a proper carbon cycle (a balance between CO2 in the atmosphere and carbon in the soil and forests) and a biologically healthy and diverse environment.
Our mission today as "regenerators" throughout the Americas and the world is to recapture, reestablish and scale up these traditional practices. We must modify them to match the specific ecological and marketplace conditions in our local areas and regions. In this manner we can regenerate the soil, dramatically improve yields and food quality, restore public health, eliminate the pressures that cause forced migration, and last but certainly not least, draw down and sequester enough excess carbon from the atmosphere through enhanced plant photosynthesis and reforestation to reverse global warming and climate disruption.
Beyond the still-utopian dream of open borders, Guatemalans and indigenous communities have begun discussing in practical terms what we can do right now to mitigate and eventually put a halt to forced migration. We owe it to them and to ourselves to change the discussion on the "immigration crisis" from walls and deportation to one of cross-border solidarity and regeneration.
The New York Times cited a new report by the notoriously conservative Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said "climate change is costing taxpayers billions."
Government Accountability Office Urges Trump to Act on #ClimateChange https://t.co/nnKtxEJuMI @billmckibben @climatehawk1 @350 @SierraClub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508852626.0
CNN also reported on the GAO study, which calls on Trump to "craft appropriate responses."
The CNN coverage noted several initiatives to combat climate change undertaken under the Obama administration, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which sought to lower carbon emissions on a state-by-state basis, and the Paris climate agreement, which saw almost every country agree to voluntary limits on future carbon emissions.
#Nicaragua Joins #ParisAgreement, Leaving Only U.S. and Syria Behind https://t.co/oEBq3PwLGb @greenpeaceusa @ClimateNexus @climatehawk1— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508862593.0
The current climate-denying Trump administration wants to scrap those, and other climate initiatives, in favor of prioritizing corporate profits.
But that's not why I'm writing today. I'm writing because once again, a major report on the costs—financial, social, environmental, political—of doing nothing to slow runaway global warming focuses exclusively on reducing carbon emissions. As usual, this new report fails to mention that even if we achieved zero emissions tomorrow, we're still in big trouble—unless we draw down and sequester the billions of tons of carbon already in the atmosphere.
And once again, a major report on global warming fails to acknowledge that we have the tools readily at our disposal to draw down that carbon, and we know how to use them. They are regenerative agriculture and land-use practices outlined in a recent Stanford Woods Institute report, which says:
If you want to do something about global warming, look under your feet. Managed well, soil's ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated, according to Stanford researchers who claim the resource could "significantly" offset increasing global emissions. They call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about this valuable resource.
But Congress has no problem cutting back research on how to improve soil health as a means of combatting global warming?
Fortunately, other governments are incorporating "the soil solution" into their policies and plans to combat global warming. The most significant is France's "Four for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate" Initiative launched by the French government at the Paris climate summit in December 2015.
If your state isn't on the list, maybe it's time you start building a Regeneration Movement in your own community?
It's time to stop ignoring our best hope of cooling the planet. If federal lawmakers won't help, we need to make sure our local and state officials get on board.
When finalized, the certification will go "beyond organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health and land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.
Organic Consumer Association and our Regeneration International project, fully embrace this new venture to make organic more climate friendly, humane, just and environmentally positive. As we've said before, when it comes to food and farming—and as we veer toward climate catastrophe—"sustainable" doesn't cut it anymore. And certified USDA organic, though far better than GMO, chemical and energy-intensive agriculture, doesn't go quite far enough.
The standard will be administered by NSF International, an Ann Arbor, Michigan based product testing, inspection and certification organization, and will be open to multiple certification partners, according to Rodale.
When companies like Monsanto and Bayer claim to be "sustainable" and "climate-smart," those terms lose all meaning. When companies like Ben & Jerry's, which relies on an industrial dairy system fueled by GMO crops, claim to be "sustainable," we know that word has been co-opted—and corrupted.
Glyphosate in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream + 'Monsanto Papers' = Very Interesting Times https://t.co/SbucvfmGLZ @NonGMOProject @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501881312.0
We've always supported USDA organic certification—even though the standards are sometimes flawed and sometimes exploited by a few bad actors—because we believe them to be the best way for consumers to avoid pesticides and synthetic ingredients. We'll continue to fight for stronger, better organic standards, and we'll hold fast against allowing corporations to weaken or exploit them.
But we also believe it's time to do better. It's time to acknowledge the role organic regenerative agriculture plays reversing global warming, by restoring the soil's capacity to draw down and sequester excess CO2 from the atmosphere. It's time to acknowledge that organic, regenerative agriculture increases crop resiliency by restoring soil health and biodiversity.
It's time to recognize that regeneration is the next stage of organic food and farming—and civilization.
This new Organic Regenerative Certification will help consumers identify those products that not only nourish their bodies, but also heal the planet.
The most important thing we can do today as conscious consumers, farmers and food workers is to regenerate public health, the environment and climate stability. We can do this most readily by moving away from industrial, GMO and factory-farm food toward an organic, pasture-based, soil-regenerative, humane, carbon-sequestering and climate-friendly agriculture system.
What's standing in the way of this life-or-death transformation? Rampant greenwashing. The proliferation of $90 billion worth of fraudulently labeled or advertised "natural" and "socially responsible" food products in the U.S. confuses even the most well-intentioned of consumers and lures them away from purchasing genuine organic or grass-fed products.
Perhaps no company personifies greenwashing more than Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's. Ben & Jerry's history—a start-up launched by two affable hippies, from a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont—is legendary. Despite selling out to Unilever in April 2000, the brand's handlers have preserved its quirky, homespun image and masterfully convinced consumers that Ben & Jerry's has never strayed from its mission: "to make the world a better place."
As the New York Times reported, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recently sent samples of Ben and Jerry's top-selling ice cream brands to an independent testing lab for analysis. Ten out of 11 samples tested positive for Roundup (glyphosate and AMPA) herbicide contamination
So much for making the world a better place.
Compare the Ben & Jerry's test results with the results of our testing of organic brands, brands that use organic milk from farms that are actually making the world a better place. Three out of four nationally distributed organic ice cream brands tested negative for Roundup contamination (only Whole Foods "365" brand was contaminated).
A History of Stalling on Organic
Twenty-four years ago, anti-GMO food activists, including the Pure Food Campaign (OCA's predecessor), successfully pressured Ben & Jerry's and a number of other leading dairies to prohibit the use of America's first genetically engineered food product, Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Now marketed by drug giant Elanco (Eli Lilly), rBGH is linked to increased risk of human breast and colon cancer, a greater use of antibiotics in animal feed, and damage to cow's health.
Several groups, including the OCA, subsequently asked Ben & Jerry's to move beyond just prohibiting their dairy cows from being injected with rBGH. We asked them to go 100 percent organic, which would have required the company to ban its dairy suppliers from feeding their cows GMO corn and grain, and to use only organic ingredients in its flavors. But even before Ben & Jerry's was bought out by Unilever, company founder Ben Cohen told Vermont Food activist Michael Colby "that Ben & Jerry's was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn't allow them to 'maximize profits.' "
Since 1994, Ben & Jerry's, the $1.5-billion-per-year flagship brand of the second-largest multinational food corporation in the world, Unilever (annual sales $60 billion), has cashed in big time on its "rBGH-free" policy, advertising its brand, over and over again, as "all natural," "GMO-free," "fair trade," "climate-just" and "socially responsible."
Despite repeated calls from consumer groups to stop advertising its ice-cream as "natural" or "all natural," given that it is derived from cows raised almost exclusively on GMO corn forage (grown with Roundup Ready, neonic- and BT-spliced seeds), laced with non-organic ingredients, sprayed heavily with Roundup and other pesticides, Ben & Jerry's continues to greenwash and lie. The company recently described its mission as:
To make, distribute and sell the finest quality and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.
After more than a decade of dodging consumer, farmer, animal welfare, environmental and farmworker pleas to stop greenwashing and to equitably source its milk from cows grazing on organic pasture, Ben & Jerry's continues to stall. Instead, Ben & Jerry's sources its milk from St. Alban's, a 400-farmer dairy co-op that is increasingly dominated by large factory farm-type dairy operations. To feed their cows, farmers routinely spray tons of pesticides, including Roundup, atrazine and metolachlor, on fields of GMO corn grown from neonic-coated and BT toxin seeds. They also apply tons of soil-killing, climate-disrupting nitrogen fertilizers that pollute Vermont's streams, rivers and lakes.
Petitions and protests calling for Ben & Jerry's to stop its suppliers from exploiting farmworkers, confining dairy cows and driving small dairy farmers into bankruptcy, have produced nothing more than vague promises of "respecting the Earth" and supporting rural economic justice.
Enough is enough. Vermont and national public interest organizations have lost our patience. It's time for Unilever and Ben & Jerry's to move beyond greenwashing to decisive action. It's time for Ben & Jerry's to announce it will immediately begin transitioning to 100-percent organic. Otherwise conscious consumers have no choice but to launch a national and, if necessary, international protest campaign and boycott.
Vermont Activists Demand Major Changes From Ben and Jerry's
Regeneration Vermont, a broad-based coalition of consumers and farmers, has repeatedly asked Ben & Jerry's and Unilever to sign a six-point pledge to go 100-percent organic over a three-year transition period. Here's what the groups want Ben & Jerry's to pledge:
1. A transition away from GMO crops and toxic pesticides/fertilizers and toward regenerative organic agricultural methods.
2. Fair wages for farmers, including premiums based on regeneration benchmarks and assistance in the transition toward regenerative methods.
3. Economic justice for farm workers, fair and livable wages, decent housing and social and cultural dignity.
4. Adoption of climate remediation techniques, beginning with an emphasis on healthy soils and cover-cropping for carbon sequestration and erosion control.
5. Humane treatment of farm animals, a phase-out of confinement dairies and a transition back to grassland grazing and grass-based feed for ruminants.
6. Cleaning up and protecting our watersheds, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and groundwater.
A Trail of Toxins
Recent reports published by Regeneration Vermont reveal that Ben & Jerry's suppliers, and Vermont and U.S. (non-organic) dairy farmers in general, have gone backward, rather than forward over the past 15 years in terms of environmental sustainability, food safety, nutrition, greenhouse gas pollution, water pollution, animal welfare, farmworker justice and preservation of family farms.
Chemical fertilizer use has also almost doubled in Vermont since GMOs began to dominate the market 15 years ago.
So much for Monsanto's claims that GMO crops would reduce the use of toxic pesticides and water-polluting and climate-destabilizing nitrogen fertilizers. Not to mention Ben & Jerry's claim that it is "non-GMO" and "environmentally responsible."
Among Regeneration Vermont's finding are the following:
- An astounding 97 percent of Vermont's field corn, the major component of a non-organic dairy cow's diet, is now GMO (Roundup Ready, Bt-spliced, neonic seeds). This is the highest percentage of any state in the U.S.
- Herbicide use has increased more than 100 percent-per-acre in Vermont since Monsanto's GMO corn came on the market, with recent heavy use of atrazine, metholachlor, simazine, pendimethlin, glyphosate (Roundup), acetochlor, dicamba and alachlor.
As Regeneration Vermont states in its report:
Regulators have determined that five of these eight most used herbicides [in Vermont] are possible or probable human carcinogens, the remaining three are suspected carcinogens. Seven of the eight are possible or probable endocrine disruptors (the other one is a suspected to be an endocrine disruptor). All eight have been determined by regulators and academics to cause birth or developmental defects and contaminate drinking water and public waters with dangerous chemicals that have long-term persistence. Atrazine, simazine, acetachlor and alachlor have lost their registration in the EU, and are effectively banned.
The Threat of #DirtyDairy and Factory Farms
Millions of health-minded Americans, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, genetically engineered, industrial and factory farm food is hazardous. Not only does chemical- and energy-intensive factory farming destroy the environment, destabilize the climate, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals, and contaminate the water supply, but the end product itself is inevitably contaminated and inferior in nutritional terms, in this case in comparison to 100 percent grass-fed and organic milk and dairy.
America's green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture poses a terminal threat to the environment and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population is beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, non-genetically engineered, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic/regenerative farming practices and drastically reducing food miles by re-localizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for future energy and resource shortages.
A critical mass of the global grassroots—consumers, farmers, activists—now realize that unless we act quickly, global warming and climate chaos will soon severely disrupt industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation, leading to massive crop failures, food shortages, famine, war and pestilence. Even more alarming, accelerating levels of greenhouse gases will soon push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps and possibly unleash a cataclysmic discharge of climate-destabilizing methane, now sequestered in the fragile arctic tundra.
Thanks to this growing consumer awareness—and four decades of hard work—the organic community has built up a $50-billion "certified organic" and $5-billion 100 percent grass-fed food and products sector that prohibits the use of genetic engineering and pesticides. The rapidly expanding organic products sector now constitutes more than 5 percent of total retail grocery sales (and 15 percent of fruits and vegetables), with an annual growth rate of 10-15 percent. Even taking into account a sluggish economy, the organic market, if we eliminate greenwashing and labeling fraud, could conceivably reach a "tipping point" of 20 percent of grocery sales in 2020.
The Myth of "Natural" Remains a Threat
As impressive as this $55 billion Organic and Grass-fed Alternative is, it remains overshadowed by an additional $90 billion in annual spending by consumers on products, such as B&J's, fraudulently marketed as "natural," "gmo-free," "free range" or "sustainable."
Consumer surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that "natural" products are "almost organic," yet at the same time, much cheaper; the majority believes that "all natural" actually means that it is better than organics. Ben & Jerry's is not the only brand greenwashing its products and impeding the growth of organic, 100 percent grass-fed and regenerative foods. But it is certainly among the most shameless.
In fact, all these "natural," "all-natural" and "sustainable" products are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a third-party certifier. Most "natural" or conventional products—whether produce, dairy or canned or frozen goods—are produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical-intensive and energy-intensive.
Perhaps fraudulently labeled "natural" foods such as Ben & Jerry's wouldn't matter so much if we were living in normal times, with a relatively healthy population, environment and climate. Conventional products sold as "natural" or "nearly organic" would be just one more example of chicanery or unethical business practices.
But we are not living in normal times.
Demanding that fake natural brands and producers, such as Ben & Jerry's, make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. We're tired of pleading and politely asking Ben & Jerry's, Unilever and other greenwashers to please change their ways. It's time to step up the pressure. Please join the growing boycott of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream by signing this petition and by volunteering to join a local campaign team in your local community.
Ronnie Cummins is the international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
A growing corps of organic, climate, environmental, social justice and peace activists are promoting a new world-changing paradigm that can potentially save us from global catastrophe. The name of this new paradigm and movement is regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land use.
Regenerative agriculture and land use incorporates the traditional and indigenous best practices of organic farming, animal husbandry and environmental conservation. Regeneration puts a central focus on improving soil health and fertility (recarbonizing the soil), increasing biodiversity, and qualitatively enhancing forest health, animal welfare, food nutrition and rural (especially small farmer) prosperity.
The basic menu for a regeneration revolution is to unite the world's 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn "business as usual" and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.
So how can regenerative agriculture do all these things: increase soil fertility; maximize crop yields; draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soils, plants and trees to re-stabilize the climate and restore normal rainfall; increase soil water retention; make food more nutritious; reduce rural poverty; and begin to pacify the world's hotspots of violence?
First, let's look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.'s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about the miraculous regenerative power of Mother Nature and enhanced photosynthesis:
Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant ... Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.
Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands [or cropland] are properly managed ... that process at the same time adds to the land's fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us...
This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its "root-shoot ratio," sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil, in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up ... For thousands of years we grew food by depleting soil carbon and, in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well. But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil.
A 2015 article in The Guardian summarizes some of the most important practices of regenerative agriculture:
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.
If you want to understand the basic science and biology of how regenerative agriculture can draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and forests (in combination with a 100-percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions) to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming, read this article by one of North America's leading organic farmers, Jack Kittridge.
If you want a general overview of news and articles on regenerative food, farming and land use, you can follow the newsfeed "Cook Organic Not the Planet" by the Organic Consumers Association and/or sign up for Organic Consumers Association's weekly online newsletter (you can subscribe online or text "Bytes" to 97779).
Solving the Soil, Health, Environmental and Climate Crises
Without going into extensive detail here (you can read the references above), we need to connect the dots between our soil, public health, environment and climate crisis. As the widely-read Mercola newsletter puts it:
Virtually every growing environmental and health problem can be traced back to modern food production. This includes but is not limited to:
• Food insecurity and malnutrition amid mounting food waste
• Rising obesity and chronic disease rates despite growing health care outlays
• Diminishing fresh water supplies
• Toxic agricultural chemicals polluting air, soil and waterways, thereby threatening the entire food chain from top to bottom
• Disruption of normal climate and rainfall patterns
Connecting the Dots Between Climate and Food
We can't really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis. We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100-percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.
Regenerative food and farming has the potential to draw down a critical mass of carbon (200-250 billion tons) from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and living plants, where it will increase soil fertility, food production and food quality (nutritional density), while re-stabilizing the climate.
The heavy use of pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers and factory-farming by 50 million industrial farmers (mainly in the Global North) is not just poisoning our health and engendering a global epidemic of chronic disease and malnutrition. It's also destroying our soil, wetlands' and forests' natural ability to sequester excess atmospheric carbon into the Earth.
The good news is that solar and wind power, and energy conservation are now cheaper than fossil fuels. And most people are starting to understand that organic, grass-fed and freshly-prepared foods are safer and more nutritious than chemical and GMO foods.
The food movement and climate movements must break through our single-issue silos and start to work together. Either we stop Big Coal, Big Oil, fracking and the mega-pipelines, or climate change will soon morph into climate catastrophe, making it impossible to grow enough food to feed the planet. Every food activist needs to become a climate activist.
On the other hand, every climate activist needs to become a food activist. Our current system of industrial food, farming and land use, now degenerating 75 percent of all global farmland, is "mining" and decarbonizing the soil, destroying our forests and releasing 44-57 percent of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and black soot) into our already supersaturated atmosphere, while at the same time undermining our health with commoditized, overly processed food.
Solving the Crisis of Rural Poverty, Democracy and Endless War
Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion dollars a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing. These farmers routinely over-till, over-graze (or under-graze), monocrop and pollute the soil and the environment with chemicals and GMOs to produce cheap commodities (corn, soy, wheat, rice, cotton) and cash crops, low-grade processed food and factory-farmed meat and animal products. Meanwhile 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world's food on just 25 percent of the world's acreage, struggle to make ends meet.
If governments can be convinced or forced by the power of the global grassroots to reduce and eventually cut off these $500 billion in annual subsidies to industrial agriculture and Big Food and instead encourage and reward family farmers and ranchers who improve soil health, biodiversity, animal health and food quality, we can simultaneously reduce global poverty, improve public health, and restore climate stability.
As even the Pentagon now admits, climate change, land degradation (erosion and desertification) and rural poverty are now primary driving forces of sectarian strife and war (and massive waves of refugees) in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. U.S. military intervention in these regions, under the guise of "regime change" or democratization, has only made things worse. This is why every peace activist needs to become a climate and food activist and vice-versa.
Similarly corrupt, out-of-control governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.3 trillion dollars a year, while spending more than $3 trillion dollars annually on weapons, mainly to prop up our global fossil fuel system and overseas empires. If the global grassroots can reach out to one another, bypassing our corrupt governments, and break down the geographic, linguistic and cultural walls that separate us, we can launch a global regeneration revolution—on the scale of the global campaign in World War II against the Nazis.
One thing we the grassroots share in all of the 200 nations of the world is this: We are sick and tired of corrupt governments and out-of-control corporations degenerating our lives and threatening our future. The Russian people are not our enemies, nor the Chinese, nor the Iranians. The hour is late. The crisis is dire. But we still have time to regenerate our soils, climate, health, economy, foreign policy and democracy. We still have time to turn things around.
The global regeneration movement we need will likely take several decades to reach critical mass and effectiveness. In spreading the regeneration message, and building this new movement at the global grassroots, we must take into account the fact that most regions, nations and people (and in fact many people who are still ignorant of the facts or climate change deniers) will respond more quickly or positively to different aspects or dimensions of our message (i.e. providing jobs; reducing rural and urban poverty and inequality, restoring soil fertility, saving the ocean and marine life, preserving forests, improving nutrition and public health, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, saving biodiversity, restoring animal health and food quality, preserving water, safeguarding Mother Nature or God's Creation, creating a foundation for peace, democracy and reconciliation, etc.) rather than to the central life or death message: reversing global warming.
What is important is not that everyone, everywhere immediately agrees 100 percent on all of the specifics of regenerative food, farming and land use—for this is not practical—but rather that we build upon our shared concerns in each community, region, nation and continent. Through a diversity of messages, frames and campaigns, through connecting the dots between all the burning issues, we will find the strength, numbers, courage and compassion to build the largest grassroots coalition in history—to safeguard our common home, our survival and the survival of the future generations.
On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi and a small band of supporters set off on a 241-mile march across western India. Gandhi had devised the walk as an act of nonviolent protest against the British colonial government's salt monopoly, which placed tariffs on the mineral and forbid Indians from producing it. Upon arriving at the coastal city of Dandi in early April, he illegally collected salt from the seaside as a symbolic act of defiance against the British Raj. His actions sent shockwaves across the subcontinent, inspiring scores of Indians to flout the salt tax and launch strikes and boycotts against colonial institutions. Gandhi and some 80,000 others were soon arrested, but not before their peaceful protest had captured the world's attention and demonstrated the power of mass resistance to British rule. — Remembering Gandhi's Salt March, by Evan Andrews
The deed is done. On July 29, President Obama signed a bill that was written by corporations, paid for by corporations and that serves no one in this country—except corporations.
Join 500,000 consumers who are boycotting brands owned by companies that refuse to label. https://t.co/jRMur2lJLh https://t.co/IuwKOyLyue— Organic Consumers (@Organic Consumers)1470261911.0
S.764, known by its opponents as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, preempts Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law and substitutes in its place a federal bill that, no matter how Obama and his Congress try to spin it, is not mandatory and does not require labels—at least not labels that anyone can read. Not to mention that most GMO ingredients will be exempt under this fake "law."
I could, once again, list all the reasons this bill fails consumers. But I and others have already done that countless times, to no avail. The bill is a sham, a slap in the face to the 90 percent of Americans who support labeling. It's an attack on states' rights. It's another "gift" to Monsanto and Big Food.
And, for anyone who still harbored any doubt, S.764 is proof that our Democracy is broken, that our lawmakers answer to Corporate America, not to us, the people who elect them.
It would be easy, after four-and-a-half years of non-stop fighting for labels, to cave in to despair. But let's not give Monsanto the satisfaction. Because the truth is, while we may not always be able to win in a policy arena awash in corporate money, we, as consumers, still have tremendous power to influence the marketplace.
It's time to wield that power. Against poison-peddling biotech corporations. Against food companies that hide the truth about what's in their products. Against those "leaders" in the organic industry who sold us down the river on GMO labeling.
It's time to launch a Gandhi-style boycott.
If Vermont mounts a legal challenge to the DARK Act, we will endorse that effort. But in the meantime, we will channel our anger, our disappointment and above all, our energy, into the marketplace. Because that's where we as consumers will have last word.
Retweet if you agree with Jane Goodall. #ThursdayThoughts https://t.co/tvXKAeNWX8— Organic Consumers (@Organic Consumers)1470356423.0
What We've Accomplished So Far
Before we get on to what's next, let's look at what the GMO labeling movement accomplished, despite passage of the DARK Act.
We educated a critical mass of American consumers about the health and environmental hazards of GMOs and the toxic chemicals that accompany them. When we started this battle, public awareness of genetically engineered food and crops and the damage they inflict on the environment and human health, was marginal at best. Today "GMO," "Monsanto" and "glyphosate" are household words.
We've doubled demand for organic and grass-fed food in the U.S. over the past six years. Organic food and grass-fed meat and animal products are now a $50-billion-a-year powerhouse, the fastest-growing segment of the food system. The market for non-GMO labeled products has grown to $25 billion. Organic, grass-fed and non-GMO foods now constitute approximately 10 percent of all grocery store sales and represent a growing segment of restaurant sales as well.
We forced multi-billion-dollar junk food conglomerates, including General Mills, Kellogg's, Campbell's, Mars, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Dannon, Con-Agra and others to start labeling their products as GMO or else remove GMO ingredients, ahead of the July 1 date for the (short-lived) enactment of Vermont's GMO labeling law. Now that Vermont's law has been preempted, we need to pressure these companies to keep labeling—or we'll call for a boycott of all of their organic products, including their organic brands.
We've alerted millions of consumers that they can't trust the mass media, regulatory agencies or the scientific establishment. If consumers or farmers want truthful information about food and farming they need to tune in to the alternative and social media. This alternative media includes the mass circulation newsletters, websites and Facebook pages of groups like Mercola.com, the Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network, Moms Across America, Regeneration International, Seed Freedom and hundreds of others that refuse to regurgitate industry propaganda. We need to keep supporting the truth-seekers, like U.S. Right to Know, as they continue to expose Big Food's dark secrets.
Where We Go From Here
It was worth fighting for labels on GMO foods. But we've always known that labels were just one tool in the toolbox. And that the GMOs in the food in our grocery stores are just one piece of a big, bad, dangerous puzzle.
Only about 20 percent of GMOs go into the food we buy. The other 80 percent of all GMO crops go into either animal feed or ethanol fuels. The growing of those crops, which requires millions of tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, exacts a terrible toll on our soils, our waters, our health, our future.
It's time to mobilize public consciousness and market pressure and transform our entire degenerate chemical- and energy-intensive industrial food and farming system into a system that regenerates—a system that can restore biodiversity and revitalize public health, animal health, the environment, rural communities and the body politic, while drawing down billions of tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and safely sequestering this carbon in the soil and forests, where it belongs.
It's time to drive GMOs off the market, for good.
In the coming weeks and months, we will launch critical new campaigns, some of them international in scope, designed to pressure the bad actors in the food industry to clean up their acts—or risk plummeting sales.
In the meantime, consumers can join the 500,000 people who have already begun exercising their marketplace clout by choosing to boycott brands, including organic brands owned by junk food giants who helped defeat labeling laws. You can download our Boycott/Buycott app here.
As we look to the future of this movement, let's not forget the past. Now would be a good time to take a page out of Gandhi's playbook.
What do you know about the worldwide chemical fertilizer industry? If you're like most people, not much.
There's plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it's the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales) and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate and damaging public health.
Learning the facts about chemical fertilizers and the companies who produce them will give you yet another reason to boycott chemical/GMO/factory farmed foods and choose organic and grassfed animal products instead. Remember, organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs or animal drugs.
Here's a list of underreported facts that raise disturbing environmental and regulatory questions about Monsanto's Evil Twin—the chemical fertilizer industry:
1. Chemical Fertilizer is the Largest Industry in Global Agribusiness
According to the ETC group, a watchdog organization that researches the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of industrial agriculture and GMOs, the world's seven dominant pesticide, GM and seed companies (including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer and Syngenta) represent a $93 billion market. The global, energy-intensive chemical fertilizer industry is almost twice as large, at $175 billion.
Like most of the other multinational players in Big Food Inc., the fertilizer industry has secretive, vertical or “cartel" like qualities that obscure operations and make regulation difficult. Increasingly, seed and GMO companies, farm equipment producers, pesticide/herbicide makers and crop and soil data producers work in each others' interest seamlessly and behind the scenes, according to ETC.
As ETC points out: “With combined annual revenue of over $385 billion, these companies call the shots. Who will dominate the industrial food chain? And what does it mean for farmers, food sovereignty and climate chaos?"
Industrially mined phosphorus and potash, along with synthetic nitrogen, are major components of the fertilizer industry. Up to 85 percent of the world's known phosphate rock reserves are located in Morocco. About 70 percent of potash comes from former Soviet states and Canada.
2. Fracking has Made U.S. a Huge Nitrogen Fertilizer Producer
In recent years, U.S. production of nitrogen fertilizer has boomed thanks to the falling price of natural gas used in its production. The reason for the cheap gas of course is fracking—the process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with pressurized water spiked with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of climate disrupting methane and toxic chemical laden fracking liquids which can permanently pollute underground aquifers.
That's bad for the environment—but good for fertilizer companies. Thanks to low natural gas prices, after decades of importing nitrogen fertilizer from the Middle East, the number of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer plants is growing. The three leading domestic producers—Koch Industries, Orascom Construction Industries and CF Industries—are reaping the benefits.
Who's driving demand for all this nitrogen fertilizer? Monsanto.
Between 2005 and 2010, U.S. growers of genetically engineered corn, largely for GMO animal feed and ethanol, increased their nitrogen fertilizer use by one billion pounds. New nitrogen fertilizer plants are being situated close to the corn and soybean growers to feed demand more efficiently. “It is a highly concentrated and oligopolistic-type industry," said Glen Buckley, a fertilizer industry consultant who spent 30 years working at CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Ill.
3. Koch Industries is a Fertilizer Leader
In 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world's third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer," according to the Wichita Eagle. Koch, which along with Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the U.S., is infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers. Koch Industries is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide." It controls more than 65 terminals “where it wholesales nitrogen fertilizer to co-ops and grain elevators for sale to farmers, as well as selling to the chemical industry," reported the Eagle.
Not surprisingly, Koch's fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists. Pollution is “strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments," Steve Packebush, president of Koch Fertilizer and vice president for nitrogen for Koch Industries told the Eagle. But how strict are those guidelines, really?
4. Chemical Fertilizer "Enforcement" is Often Self-Monitoring
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans. Yet the agency's “enforcement" of harmful excessive farm runoff sounds a lot like an honor system.
Asked how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which allow farming operations to discharge nitrogen, are “enforced," the EPA says, “The permit will require the facility to sample its discharges and notify EPA and the state regulatory agency of these results. In addition, the permit will require the facility to notify EPA and the state regulatory agency when the facility determines it is not in compliance with the requirements of a permit. EPA and state regulatory agencies also will send inspectors to companies in order to determine if they are in compliance with the conditions imposed under their permits."
Self-monitoring by private industry is of course a government trend across the board. In the late 1990's the government rolled out the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program which took away the majority of those “pesky" federal meat inspectors' duties and allowed Big Meat to self-police its own slaughterhouses. Sometimes U.S. meat inspectors were openly defied and laughed at. HACCP was quickly dubbed Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray. Meat inspectors identified greater amounts of feces and contamination in meat soon after the program was instituted. Since then, self-policing by food producers has only been expanded.
5. Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollutes the Environment and Drinking Water
As most people know, nitrogen runoff from non-organic farms and feedlots into waterways causes hypoxic conditions—lack of oxygen—which regularly kill fish in shocking quantities.
Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.
Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
Excessive nitrates in drinking water, common in the corn-growing areas of the U.S, are known to cause deadly "blue baby" syndrome in infants and have been linked to cancer in adults. In combination with herbicide residues such as Syngenta's atrazine, nitrates become even more toxic, potentially causing brain damage and hormone disruption.
In some rural areas, fertilizer pollution levels are 10 times beyond so-called “allowable levels," although golf courses and homeowner fertilizer and pesticide use in urban areas also contribute to the problem. Last fall, the Des Moines Water Works sued three neighboring farming counties over their nitrate discharges but, reported the Associated Press, "the litigation has provoked intense criticism from Iowa's powerful agricultural industry, which argues that farmers are already taking voluntary measures to control them."
6. Nitrogen Fertilizers Harm Workers and Communities
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen compound compressed into a clear, colorless liquid for easy application, is extremely dangerous to workers and neighboring communities. It poses explosion and fire hazards as well as respiratory risks.
"It [Anhydrous ammonia] must be stored and handled under high pressure, requiring specially designed and well-maintained equipment," says the University of Minnesota's extension site. "In addition, to ensure their safety, workers must be adequately educated about the procedures and personal protective equipment required to safely handle this product."
In 2013, an anhydrous ammonia explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage near Waco, Texas, killed 15 and injured 160 and caused 150 buildings to be razed. (At the time, Gov. Rick Perry was in Chicago recruiting businesses to relocate in Texas, where safety regulations were more lax and would not cut into their profits).
In 2006, railroads asked to be relieved of their common carrier obligation to haul fertilizer products like anhydrous ammonia or to be protected by a liability cap. Accidents like last year's in South Carolina, where people within a 1.5- mile radius of a derailed train carrying ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonium were evacuated, occur regularly.
Yet the Fertilizer Institute trade group said, “The historically high safety record of anhydrous ammonia transport by rail has been achieved over the years by the fertilizer industry, the railroads and tank car manufacturing and leasing companies working in a close cooperative effort."
7. Chemical Fertilizers Destroy the Soils' Natural Ability to Sequester Excess Atmospheric CO2
According to GMO no-till advocates, adding nitrogen fertilizer to soil, is supposedly “climate friendly" because it allegedly helps crops draw CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil as organic carbon. But University of Illinois soil scientists disputed this view in The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration, a research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality:
"…excessive [fertilizer] application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem."
Not surprisingly, much of the organic carbon decline the researchers identified occurred in the fertilized soil found in corn belts.
The ETC group agrees with the University of Illinois researchers.
There is growing recognition that synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHG). The estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone."
8. Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Chemical Fertilizers Are a Major and Persistent Greenhouse Gas Pollutant
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is responsible for approximate 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's nitrogen cycle and has a variety of natural sources. However, human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere.
The primary cause of N2O contamination of the atmosphere are the nitrogen fertilizers used in industrial (non-organic) agriculture.
Nitrous oxide molecules, in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, an average of 114 years. NO2 also has much more potent heat-trapping characteristics. The impact of one pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide.
Although transportation, industry and energy producers are significant and well-recognized GHG polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated," industrial food and farming. Industrial food and farming accounts for a huge portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA's ridiculously low estimates range from 7 percent to 12 percent, but some climate scientists believe the figure could be as high as 50 percent or more. Industrial food and farming also destroys the natural capacity of plants and soils to sequester atmospheric carbon.
Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including nitrous oxide, which are responsible (along with methane) for at least 20 percent of global warming.
Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed or produce ethanol. Given that about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing factory-farmed meat, dairy and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the over-production and over-consumption of factory-farmed meat and animal products.
The most climate-damaging greenhouse gas poison used by industrial farmers is synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems, which generate their own large share of GHGs during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms.
German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5 percent of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today.
During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, both the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb-making capacity have soared. By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic.
According to the USDA, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen, the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of GHG for every pound produced. That's 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.
Regenerative Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions
The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, greenhouse gas damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will require wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of millions of chemical farms, feedlots and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.
If we carried out a full environmental impact statement on industrial and factory farming synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, we would never give these practices a permit for agricultural use. Ironically, although factory farming is responsible for more GHGs than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit GHGs, unless citizens demand it. We must demand that methane pollution from factory farms and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer pollution on chemical farms be highly taxed and regulated in the short term and phased out, as soon as possible. We must substitute instead cover crops, compost and compost tea, as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching.
In the meantime, consumers should boycott all foods and products emanating from Monsanto and its Evil Twin: the chemical fertilizer industry.