What Does the FDA Know about Farming? “Jack Manure,” Apparently

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Sprout for planting at the farmThe agency’s fumbling around on farm safety rules might seem comic—if the livelihood of small farmers and brewers weren’t at stake.

In January 2011, after one of the most underhanded legislative maneuvers we’ve ever seen, the disastrous Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. It wasn’t a complete rout for us. ANH-USA and its allies won some important amendments (for example, we removed draconian ten-year jail sentences for food and supplement manufacturers). But FSMA gave the FDA unprecedented power over American farms. And as we pointed out at the time, the FDA knows absolutely nothing about farming.

FSMA is now in the regulatory phase, which means the FDA is drafting rules that interpret the law’s intent. However, it seems that quite a bit has gotten lost in translation, particularly when it comes to organic and traditional farming practices.

The rules proposed so far have created such a deafening roar of outcry from small farmers, prominent members of Congress, consumers, and even big business, that the FDA has been forced to backtrack considerably.

Soil and Manure Provisions Threaten Organic Farmers

What the FDA Proposed:In January 2013, the FDA issued draft rules for produce, decreeing that farmers would have to wait nine months between applying manure and harvesting. This will take many organic fields out of production for an entire growing season, economically crippling small farmers.

Since, in place of synthetic chemicals, many organic and traditional farmers use biological soil enhancements (e.g., manure, agricultural tea, and yard refuse) to grow produce, these rules favor industrial farming over traditional practices, and incentivize the use of synthetic chemicals.

These rules are also in direct conflict with the National Organic Program (NOP), run by the USDA: according to NOP standards, there is only a 90- to 120-day waiting period. So now the FDA is trying to grab authority from another government agency that happens to know a lot more about farming!

The Backlash: In February we told you about the FDA’s “visit” to celebrated organic farmer Jim Crawford. They threatened him over these proposed rules—even though his use of manure was in compliance with existing NOP standards, and the FDA is not supposed to enforce regulations before they’re final.

Even before the FDA’s chilling threats to Crawford, Congress and small farmers were increasingly concerned: after all, Congress had directed the FDA not to issue regulations that would replicate or conflict with NOP standards. The backlash was so severe that Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, issued a mea culpa on the FDA’s The Voice blog that started with, “You spoke. We heard you.”

Because of the input we received from farmers and the concerns they expressed about the impact of these rules on their lives and livelihood, we realized that significant changes must be made.…For that reason, we are planning to revise language in the proposed rules affecting farmers.

According to the post, this epiphany came after the FDA actually consulted farmers about the rules. Perhaps next time the FDA drafts rules about farms, the agency might want to talk to farmers first.

What’s Next?The FDA has finished revising its produce safety rule (including the section on manure) and has sent it on to the White House Office of Management and Budget (this is its last stop before it’s reissued for public comment). It’s important to remember that just because the FDA has revised the manure rule doesn’t mean they’ve changed it for the better—it could even be worse than before.

Separately, the FDA is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to see how the new rules will affect the environment.

All of this spells real trouble for our agriculture. Before an organic farmer can spread some chicken manure, he has to be sure he is compliant with instructions emanating from an agency that knows nothing about farming, which have been further approved by the White House. And everyone knows that the food safety problems we have experienced came from big industrial farms, not from small organic farms.

Spent Grain Rules Could Raise Beer Prices

The Proposed Rule: For centuries, small breweries have been giving their spent grains—free of charge—to local farmers, who then feed it to their cattle. But as part of FSMA rulemaking, the FDA will place spent grain under the same regulations as pet food. Brewers will be forced to spend thousands of dollars a year on grain disposal (which will still be cheaper than implementing the FDA’s “safety” regulations); farmers will be forced to pay an additional $300 to $400 per day for feed. It’s likely that both the prices for beer and grain will go up, and many small businesses will be forced to close.

According to the FDA, these rules are necessary because there could be direct human contact with the spent grain, which could contaminate it—despite the fact that there is no recordof any animal or human being harmed or made ill by spent grain.

The Backlash: As soon as the spent grain provision was discovered, there was a huge backlash from brewers, industry, and members of Congress in both chambers—so much so that Mr. Taylor was forced to publish another post on the FDA’s blog, though this one was hardly conciliatory, implying that it’s not the rules that are the problem, but the public’s reading comprehension skills. Mr. Taylor claims that the rules wouldn’t require spent grain to be regulated as pet food, and that “it was never FDA’s intent” to imply that. Instead, it was the brewers’ fault for misinterpreting the rules.

Despite Mr. Taylor’s reassurances, we find it difficult to believe that hundreds of farmers, breweries, members of Congress, and consumer watchdogs all happened to “misread” the FDA’s rules in exactly the same way—it seems more likely that the FDA is backtracking on a foolish and damaging rule.

What’s Next?FDA hasn’t promised to revise the rules, exactly—just to “clarify” their intent in their next draft, “so there can be no confusion.” While the FDA seems to imply that this will result in very few restrictions on spent grains beyond “common sense” food safety, we will be tracking these regulations carefully.

In the coming weeks, the FDA will issue revised rules that touch on both the manure and spent grain issues. We’ll notify you when these new rules are issued, as there will be a new opportunity for public comment—although only on those portions that the FDA has revised.

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  • William R Sprow

    S all the a-s associated with the FDA/USDA. They are totally useless.

  • Christy Dunn

    Sirs: Please stop putting unrealistic demands on small farmers. Why are you not putting more control over corporate farming with the use of dangerous pesticides and GMOs? It would appear that you are just trying to run the small farmer out of business, particularly if he is trying to grow organic foods. This is outrageous and in total detriment to the American people.

  • Suzanne

    The FDA doesn’t seem to know much about anything in my opinion. Why isn’t this an Action Alert that would go to reps as well?

  • margret head

    IMO: the FDA is been stacked with Bio-Engineering Industry – including all of Bill Gates people…

    I doubt that any of them has ever BEEN on a farm…much less has any farm EXPERIENCE.

    Here’s the list I have of the top ‘food agency’ people – I think THEY are the problem here:

    who’s in the Obama Administration?

    Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary

    As Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack was a leading advocate for Monsanto, genetic engineering, and factory farming. President Obama proudly lauded his new Agriculture Secretary for “promoting biotech.”

    Vilsack has, in fact, promoted the most controversial and dangerous forms of agricultural biotechnology, including pharma crops, plants genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals. When grown outdoors on farmland, where most pharma crop trials have occurred, pharma crops can easily contaminate conventional and organic varieties.

    In one chilling example from 2002, a corn crop engineered by ProdiGene to produce a vaccine for pigs contaminated 500,000 bushels of soybeans that were grown in the Nebraska field the next season. Before this incident, a similar thing had happened in Iowa where the USDA ordered ProdiGene to pay for the burning of 155 acres of conventional corn that may have been contaminated by the firm’s biotech plants.

    ProdiGene eventually went out of business, but not before it received a $6 million investment from the Governors Biotechnology Partnership, chaired by Iowa Governor Vilsack. Vilsack didn’t want any restrictions placed on experimental pharma crops. In reaction to suggestions that pharma crops should be kept away from food crops, Vilsack argued that “we should not overreact and hamstring this industry.”

    Michael Taylor, Senior Adviser to the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner on Food Safety

    The Organic Consumers Association generated nearly 40,000 letters opposing former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor’s appointment as a senior adviser to the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner on food safety.

    Michael Taylor should not be a senior FDA food safety adviser. The Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto Corp. from 1998 until 2001, Taylor exemplifies the revolving door between the food industry and the government agencies that regulate it.

    Roger Beachy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture

    On October 5, 2009, Roger Beachy, long-time president of the Danforth Plant Science Center (Monsanto’s…

    • margret head

      Who’s in the Obama Administration – Con’t
      (Monsanto’s nonprofit arm), became the chief of the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (a nomination that doesn’t require congressional approval).

      Roger Beachy should not be steering the direction of US agricultural research. Beachy is a long time Monsanto collaborator who heads an institute which was established by Monsanto and academic partners with a $70-million pledge from the corporation. It’s effectively a Monsanto front.

      Beachy left the post in April 2011.

      Rajiv Shah, USAID Director

      Rajiv Shah, a medical doctor in his 30s with a business degree and no previous government experience, was the agricultural programs director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is on the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

      The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Danforth Plant Science Center, is one of Monsanto’s key non-profit partners, forcing hazardous Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on farmers and consumers worldwide.

      The multi-billion dollar Gates Foundation is helping Monsanto infiltrate markets in poor African countries by fraudulently claiming that GMOs can feed the world and reduce rural poverty with high-priced genetically modified seed varieties that supposedly, but in fact do not, increase yields, resist drought, and improve nutrition.

      Links and collaborations between Gates, Monsanto and Danforth include project partnerships, hiring one another’s employees and making donations to one another’s projects.

      At the Gates Foundation, Shah supervised Lawrence Kent, who had been the director of international programs at the Danforth Center, and Monsanto vice president Robert Horsch, a scientist who led genetic engineering of plants at the seed giant.

      Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck, writing for the Nation (Ending Africa’s Hunger, September 2, 2009) report that:
      •The Gates foundation’s $1.3 billion in agricultural development grants have been invested in science and technology, with almost 30 percent of the 2008 grants promoting and developing seed biotechnologies.
      •AGRA used funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to write twenty-three grants for projects in Kenya. Twelve of those recipients are involved in research in genetically modified agriculture, development or advocacy. About 79 percent of funding in Kenya involves biotech in one way or another. Over $100 million…

      • margret head

        Who’s in the Obama Administration – Con’t

        Over $100 million in grants went to organizations connected to Monsanto.

        In his short tenure at the USDA, Shah used connections made at the Gates Foundation to fill the USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area with biotech scientists and advocates. These include Roger Beachy of the Danforth Center, Maura O’Neill who ran a public-private venture dedicated to drawing biotech companies to the Seattle area where the Gates Foundation is based, and Rachel Goldfarb, another former Gates employee.

        Shah used his USDA post to champion genetic engineering and other controversial technologies. In a 2009 report to Congress on programs delivered by his mission area, Shah emphasized technology over ecology, saying, “We can build on tremendous recent scientific discoveries – incredible advances in sequencing plant and animal genomes, and the beginnings of being able to understand what those sequences actually mean. We have new and powerful tools in biotechnology and nanotechnology.”

        He also directed millions of dollars toward GMO research.

        This included $46 million through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. (This money may not go exclusively to GMO research projects, but “science-based tools,” “genetics and genomics,” and “innovations and technologies,” describe the initiative, while there is no mention of organic practices, conventional breeding or integrated pest management.)

        Another $7 million went to several universities for research to develop stress-resistant crops, a research topic that Monsanto promotes as their raison d’etre, despite the fact that they have never commercialized a single stress-resistant GMO plant. (Hundreds of thousands of stress-resistant varieties are utilized by traditional farmers around the world who have saved seed and bred their plants conventionally for centuries.)

        The GMO research grants also include $11 million in Coordinated Agricultural Project grants to four research universities to study “plant genomics and ways to improve the nutrition and health values of important crops.” Expect more GMO tomatoes, potatoes, barley, soybean, and trees. And be on the lookout for new, GMO legumes embedded with cholesterol and diabetes drugs.

        According to a USDA press release on the awards, “Because humans consume more legumes than any other crop, this research has the potential to reduce cholesterol and sugar levels, which in turn can prevent or…

        • margret head

          Who’s in the Obama Administration – con’t

          which in turn can prevent or alleviate certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”

          The irony is that there’s a GMO legume already on the market, soy, that has found its way into just about all processed and fried foods in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a.k.a. trans fat). Will the result of this research be a new GMO legume that treats diet-related diseases caused by other GMO legumes?

          It would certainly be a first for the field of genetic engineering. In fact, any new GMO crop that actually improved the nutrition, health value, or stress-resistance of any crop would be a first. Contrary to popular belief, to date, there is not one consumer benefit associated with any GMO crop. They’re all genetically modified to either withstand or produce pesticides (usually manufactured by the chemical company that genetically engineered the crop).

          Last year, Shah, with only six months of government experience, was appointed by Obama and confirmed by the Senate to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID), where he has already begun to funnel millions of dollars in taxpayer money to Food Inc., Monsanto, and the biotech bullies.

          • margret head

            Who’s in the Obama Administration – con’t:

            Islam Siddiqui, Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

            Islam Siddiqui, currently the US Trade Representative’s Chief Agriculture Negotiator, [Me: these are the guys doing the TPP treaty] was Vice President of CropLife America, the notorious lobbying group that represents pesticide and genetic engineering companies, including the six multinational corporations that control 75% of the global agrichemical market: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow and DuPont.

            CropLife is the group that infamously chided the First Lady for planting a pesticide-free organic garden at the White House.

            Before CropLife, Siddiqui was a chemical farming and biotech booster in Clinton’s USDA. It was his bright idea in 1997-98 — rejected by the organic community — to allow GMOs, sewage sludge and irradiation in organic production. (The Organic Consumers Association spearheaded the successful campaign to save organic standards from Siddiqui.)

            And, oh yes, we should also mention that Siddiqui was an Obama campaign donor and fundraiser.

          • Myrna Jordan

            Dear Margret,
            Thank you for taking for the informative response. You really have done your research. I have often wondered how we got into such a state, I read a lot about sustainable farming and would never have been able to connect all these dots as you have. Do you write or work for any organization?
            Obama admin has been such a disappointment, though much better than any one else up for the position. The very least we can keep getting the information out there and exposing it.

  • margret head

    Who’s in the Obama Administration – con’t

    Elena Kagan, Supreme Court Justice

    As President Obama’s Solicitor General, Kagan took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case.

    In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, Monsanto tried to get the Supreme Court to force genetically engineered alfalfa onto the market without an evaluation of the crop’s environmental impact. Geertson Seed Farms made the case that the USDA should have considered the fact that GE alfalfa would permanently contaminate their GE-free alfalfa seed.

    As Solicitor General, Kagan was supposed to represent the interests of the American people in matters that came before the Supreme Court. Instead, she went to bat for Monsanto.

    Kagan joined a Supreme Court that includes a former Monsanto lawyer, Clarence Thomas.

    Agriculture policy has never been used as a litmus test by Senators vetting Supreme Court nominees, but, given recent evidence that genetically engineered food causes sterility and infant mortality, and the damage Monsanto’s RoundUp is doing, creating herbicide-resistant super weeds and ravaging the root systems of “Roundup Ready” plants, Kagan’s position on agriculture policy has never been more important. President Obama’s pick is even more troubling in light of a White House panel’s warning that consumers should go organic to avoid the carcinogenic pesticides that lace conventional and genetically engineered food.

    • GrizzlyBearDancer

      The US food industry has been hijacked by by poison producing/GMO producing CRIMINALS. Obama appointed toxic Monsanto’s LAWYER (and former VICE PRESIDENT) to the highest position position of the FDA. Monsanto of Agent Orange fame is DEATH. These food criminals need to be put into prison for their food experiment they force fed the AMERICAN PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. These dangerous GMO / Agent Orange herbicidal poison corporation must be permanently banned off US food. BEWARE – these careless dangerous CRIMINALS are trying to diminish ORGANIC FARMING using their big money and paid for politicians in their back pocket FOR A COMPLETE TAKEOVER.

  • George Duster

    What have you got against organic farmers. Quit supporting GMO foods.
    You are killing us

  • Nathan Knowles

    F.D.A. start out respond way Meds list their Ingerds past 1905, F.D.A. creater toforce that law.

  • Penny Zahler

    The FDA was started to protect the consumer. It is now becoming a threat to the people. The FDA is nothing more than corporate corruption at its worst. America is one huge corrupt vile country.

    • Tobysgirl

      You are so right, Penny. Joe Bageant put it best: Everything in this country is a d–d racket.

      It’s not just the FDA which knows zilch about farming. Twenty years ago I read an editorial in the New York Times (what in the world does the editorial board at the NYT know about farming?!?!?) praising the use of bovine growth hormone. I think one could put together a very funny book of nothing but editorials from so-called elite newspapers.

  • rob rod

    get real organic farmers to help make rules for farming – OBAMA has hired a bunch of college school kids to control this MANURE

  • ANH Reader

    Where is the Department of Agriculture? This smacks of the usual political power grabbing side-step. From what I see, the purpose of each government department is to secure more employees and sub-departments to acquire more power. I saw a Japanese movie long ago that left a profound impact on me. Ichiru. Then I read the Peter Principle, Games People Play, Sun Tsu, and some of the other great leaders of the power takeover. Those who wish to survive with moral and ethical values can’t wait until we are almost dead, as the protagonist in Ichiru was, or the game is lost. To them, it is just a game. Don’t be a pawn.
    The dept of Agriculture actually assists communities to survive. It provides services to rural areas that are unavailable anywhere close. I don’t know about their politics, but it can’t be as bad as the FDA. They are not constantly out there tearing down civil rights.
    To the individual who observed that the FDA seems to wish to kill us off, I would not be surprised. If they can fill this country with poor people who can be controlled, support corporate takeover of the U.S., and kill off the insubordinate American Citizen, they can increase and stabilize their empire. Who was it once said, “To find the real instigator, follow the power and the money.” They are better than we are at playing the shell game with shell corporations and diversions, but it ends up the same. Money and power.

  • dr david arneson

    I remember in the 1950’s and 60’s…having that chore of shoveling out the barn stalls and the chicken coops…loaded lit up in the manure spreader and hit our orchards and garden plots…where it was plowed in…never remember once every getting sick from the vegetables that we grew…or anyone else that obtained them from us…so what will be do now with mountains of unusable chicken poop laying around…you know you just have to wonder about the absolute lack of logic or knowledge of the people that run this country…as it is the United states is now a net importer of food…and in the 50’s and 60’s we used to feed the world…as far as commercial fertilizer goes in 20 years or so the phosphate mine in Tampa Florida will probably run out of the only available source of phosphate on this continent…leaving us at the mercy of the chinese or morocco to supply it for us…what insanity

  • Michelle Obama was supposed to be pro-organic but instead she became pro-Monsanto . Until we get an administration who represents the people, we will continue to move backwards. Everyone should read The Shock Doctrine, so that they can understand how extreme Capitalism is destroying our planet.

  • Is there any way to influence this or comment on it — to the FDA, our congressional reps, our senators? Or are we completely helpless?