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Organic Bytes #131: 3/28/2008

Health, Justice and Sustainability News Tidbits with an Edge!
Written and edited by Craig Minowa and Ronnie Cummins
Alert of the Week:

End Modern-Day Slavery in U.S. Fields

ciw2The Organic Consumers Association (OCA)-- representing over 850,000 consumers across the U.S. -- has joined a growing alliance in support of the Florida-based Coalition for Immokalee Workers' campaign to “End Slavery and Sweatshops in the Fields.” 

While the organic and sustainable agricultural movement has traditionally focused primarily on health and environmental issues, the time is long overdue to integrate Fair Trade and worker justice issues into our alternative food and farming system. Consumers need to understand that much of the so-called “natural” food and produce, such as tomatoes, sold in natural food stores like Whole Foods are actually coming from chemical-intensive farms where low wages and labor exploitation are the norm.

Please join this growing campaign. Click here to sign the petition:
Alert Update

OCA Threatens to Sue Body Care Companies Falsely Labeling Their Products As Organic


Look for the USDA Organic Seal when shopping for organic personal care products

As reported in the last issue of Organic Bytes, OCA's new expose on carcinogens found in various products misleadingly labeled as "organic" and "natural" is sending shockwaves through the personal care industry.

The OCA and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap Company have now filed Cease and Desist letters with the various companies who are labeling their products as “organic,” despite the fact that a number of their products tested positive for the cancer-causing synthetic ingredient 1,4-Dioxane, including Jason’s, Nature's Gate, and Kiss My Face, among others.

The OCA is demanding that these companies reformulate their products to remove petrochemicals and 1,4-Dioxane or else remove "organic" label claims from their packaging. Offending companies who do not contractually agree by Earth Day 2008 to clean up their act will be sued by the OCA. To avoid tainted products, OCA recommends that consumers look for the “USDA Organic” seal on body care products and cosmetics. If you don't see the seal, it may not be truly organic.

To see a list of body care and home cleaning products tainted with 1,4-Dioxane, as well as a consumer guide for finding safe personal care products, visit
wal-martGood News of the Week

Wal-Mart Goes rBGH-Free

Last week, Wal-Mart announced its so-called “Great Value” store brand of milk will no longer come from cows injected with Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered hormone, rBGH/rBST.

As OCA's Director, Ronnie Cummins, stated in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, Wal-Mart’s announcement will likely serve as a tipping point for driving Monsanto's controversial bovine drug off the market. Since its inception, the OCA has campaigned aggressively against rBGH , which is banned in Europe, Canada, and most of the industrialized world. Wal-Mart’s move, according to industry experts, will likely dramatically expand market demand for rBGH-free and organic dairy products. According to Cummins, “After 14 years of bullying consumers and buying off FDA and USDA bureaucrats, this is the beginning of the end for this cruel and dangerous drug.”

Learn more:

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U.S. Government Plunder of the Week:

Feds Slaughter of Wild Bison Beats 20th Century Records

buffaloOver 1,000 wild buffalo have been slaughtered in the Yellowstone National Park area since November of 2007, representing the largest kill since the 1800s. "It would seem as though history was not learned the first time, for here we are today, watching these same government entities enacting the same policy," said Nez Perce tribal member James Holt.

According to those monitoring the situation, namely the Buffalo Field Campaign, the total kill-off number will likely exceed 2,000 for the year. While the government's official reason for the slaughter is to prevent the spread of brucellosis from wild bison to cattle, no such transmission has ever been documented, and the bison being sent to slaughter are not being tested for the disease.

Learn more and get involved:

batQuote of the Week:

“We've never seen anything like this before with our bats, much less any other mammals, with a very large regional die-off...It’s very scary and a little overwhelming from a biologist’s perspective. If we can’t contain it, we’re going to see extinctions of listed species, and some of species that are not even listed.”

-Susi von Oettingen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service speaking to the New York Times this week about as many as a half million bats mysteriously dying in the U.S. Northeast. Experts have no idea what the cause is.

Learn more:

Take Action on Pesticides and Farm Bill

farm billFarm Bill conferees will be considering an amendment that would prohibit the USDA from exercising its authority to restrict specific pesticides in its conservation programs. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program could not be used for organic transition, and USDA would not be allowed to prohibit the use of a specific pesticide, like methyl bromide, in a conservation program.

Click the following link to send a letter to your members of Congress to ask them to convince the Farm Bill conference committee to reject the pesticide amendment and allow USDA to advance conservation practices as needed:
Web Program of the Week

Percy SchmeiserInterview With Canadian Family Farmer
Who Defeated Goliath Monsanto

Saskatchewan Farmer, Percy Schmeiser, has spent the last decade bogged down in court battles with the Monsanto Corporation. Monsanto originally sued Schmeiser for unintentionally growing the company's patented canola seeds, even though the biotech plants that were growing in Schmeiser's field were there due to drift and contamination.

The courts originally ruled in favor of Monsanto, saying that regardless of contamination, a farmer cannot grow patented seeds. But Schmeiser recently counter-sued Monsanto, claiming the company should be liable for the damages that their property causes others. Last week, Monsanto settled out of court and paid Schmeiser what it cost to have the invading biotech plants removed.

Listen to this radio interview with Percy Schmeiser shortly after the landmark settlement:

Quick Facts of the Week

A Nation Built on Unsustainability - Fuel, Food, and Debt

  • fuelWith trucking diesel fuel prices now over $4 per gallon in many locations, food prices are reaching an all time high, since the average grocery store item has traveled 1500-3500 miles.
  • Over the past year, alone, consumers have been forced to pay significantly more for staples like eggs (25%), milk (17%), cheese (15%), bread (12%), and rice (13%). This is partially due to increased costs of transportation and partially due to massive amounts of cropland being converted to biofuel production. As a result, consumers are paying more for their food and paying $15 billion in increased taxes per year for biofuel subsidies.
  • Fuel prices have nearly doubled the expenses of commuters over the last year. Recent polls show a strong majority of U.S. citizens are in favor of allocating a larger portion of the federal budget for mass transportation.
  • In contrast, the amount of federal money earmarked for mass transit projects (example: rail and bus) has been reduced by nearly 70% since the Bush Administration took over in 2001.
  • A record number of consumers are using credit cards to pay for increased fuel costs. Although the recession has negatively impacted employment, the New York Times reports one of the few booming occupations in the current job market is as a Debt Collector.
  • Since 2001, the top five oil companies have increased their annual profits by an average of 500%.

oil profits

Sustainability Tips of the Week:

On the Eve of Peak Oil - How to Cut Fuel Costs

cat-driveObviously driving less, using mass transit, biking, walking or purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle are the best ways to cut your fuel consumption. But for those times where driving a car is a necessity, here are some tips:

  • Don't be a jerky driver: Jumpy starts and fast getaways can burn over 50 percent more gasoline than normal acceleration. Use cruise control once accelerated.
  • Drive slower: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, most automobiles get about 20 percent more miles per gallon on the highway at 55 miles per hour than they do at 70 miles per hour.
  • A well maintained car (oil change, fuel filters, tire pressure, alignment) gets an average of 10 percent better fuel efficiency.
  • Turn off your engine if you stop for more than one minute. (This does not apply if you are in traffic.) Restarting the automobile will use less gasoline than idling for more than one minute.
  • Decrease the number of short trips you make. Short trips drastically reduce gas mileage. If an automobile gets 20 miles per gallon in general, it may get only 4 miles per gallon on a short trip of 5 miles or less.
Book of the Week:

Farewell, My Subaru

doug fineWhat happens when a Domino’s pizza loving suburbanite from New Jersey decides it's time to leave behind the urban world to start his own off-the-grid sustainable farm in New Mexico? Find out in Farewell, My Subaru, a new nonfiction book chronicling the carbon-neutral misadventures of Doug Fine.

Whether its nearly getting electrocuted setting up his own solar panels, buying goats and hens for the first time, or getting the munchies from the smell of his newly converted veggie-oil truck, Doug comically shows that even through the struggles and lack of know-how, with the right mindset an everyday American can take massive successful steps towards sustainability.

Watch this short video about Doug's journey and order the book here:

State Events and Alerts

minnesotaMinnesota Alert:

New Government Incentive Requires
Farmers Plant Monsanto GE Corn

The federal government has struck a deal with the Monsanto Corporation, and for the first time in history, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is endorsing a specific company's seeds. In fact, U.S. farmers in four states, including Minnesota, will be given taxpayer subsidized price breaks on insurance premiums if they buy Monsanto's genetically engineered corn this year as opposed to other biotech, conventional, or organic seeds. According to Monsanto's New Business Development Manager, Tim Hennessy, the federal government's new openness to promoting and advertising Monsanto "opens the door for a lot of future opportunity".

Learn more and take action:
Minnesota Event:

factory farmLecture April 9 at 7pm (Minneapolis):

Did you know that animal farming is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation?

Please join us for a multimedia presentation by Gowri Koneswaran, Esq., Director of Animal Agricultural Impacts at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). She will reveal the true impact of factory farming on the environment, our rural communities, and the animals that live in the farms. Through this eye-opening exploration, Gowri will share positive, practical ways for regular people to make a difference for our planet and its inhabitants.

Bell Museum of Natural History, Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN - Click Here to Learn More

rbghWe Won! Indiana Fails to Ban rBGH Milk Labels!

Up until recently the Indiana House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development was trying to ban dairy labels that tell consumers whether the cows were injected with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (Monsanto's Posilac, also known as rBGH). If Bill 1300 had become law, rBGH dairy labels would have been banned.

Due to overwhelming opposition from consumers and rBGH-free dairies, Rep. Friend passed on the opportunity to hold a House vote on Bill 1300, and now the Indiana legislature is adjourned and HB 1300 is dead. However, the overall rBGH labeling issue is not. OH, PA, UT & MO still have pending legislation or regulatory action to ban or restrict rBGH milk labels and Monsanto is still working hard on this. We’ll keep you posted if a similar bill is introduced in Indiana again.

Learn More about rBGH by visiting the Keep up to date on Indiana Food and Farming news by visiting
Maine Alert:
Protect Maine Farmers from Genetically Engineered Crop Contamination!

ge cropLD 1650, An Act to Amend the Laws Concerning Genetically Engineered Plant and Seeds would protect Maine farmers from biotech bullies. It would prevent farmers from being sued for patent violation if they have only a minimal presence of genetically engineered material in their corps, or if they didn't intend for it to be there, and it would establish the right of Maine farmers to take their case to a Maine court if they are successfully sued by a seed manufacturer for patent violation.

The bill also takes steps to protect Maine farmers from the risk of contamination, by directing the Maine Department of Agriculture to establish Best Management Practices for the use of Genetically Engineered Crops. But, LD 1650 doesn't go far enough. It doesn't require genetically engineered seed manufacturers to report on the genetically engineered crops they're growing in the state. If farmers don't know what the risks are, how can they protect themselves from contamination?

Take action now to tell your legislators to support LD 1650, with the inclusion of a reporting requirement:
Missouri Alert:

Missouri Rural Crisis Center Family Farm Lobby Day
First Floor Rotunda, State Capitol, Jefferson City
March 31st, 2008, 1:30-4PM

family farmIf you oppose your tax-payer dollars subsidizing corporate factory farms…
If you care about preserving the right to know how your food is produced…
If you want to stop the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)…

Then We Need You on Monday, March 31st!

Join Family Farmers, Rural Citizens & Consumers in Support of Missouri’s Family Farms, Healthy Food and Rural Values!

Please let us know if you can attend by contacting Alexis Baden-Mayer at or 202-744-0853. For more information, go to OCA's Missouri page:
Delaware Alert:

Take Action to Support Delaware Wind Power Production

wind powerFrom the Delaware Audubon Society: Bringing wind power production to Delaware would create economic benefits of $750 million over 25 years by eliminating the following greenhouse gas emissions:

  • 1.35 billion pounds of carbon dioxide
    (the primary cause of global warming)
  • 14.4 million pounds of sulfur oxides
    (the primary cause of acid rain)
  • 5.17 million pounds of nitrogen oxides
    (the key ingredient in smog pollution)
Tell the governor and your state legislators to support the Bluewater Wind project!
Washington DC Event:

DC AlertDC Event 3-29-08:
Student Farmworker Alliance Art Show

Corporate farms growing tomatoes for Burger King keep getting in trouble for slave labor. Even the "legit" farms practice a type of modern day slavery: to make the minimum wage farmers must pick two tons of tomatoes a day. Students and farmworkers stood together in solidarity to pressure McDonalds and Taco Bell to give in to our demands. They now pay tomato farmworkers a livable wage. Burger King does not.

Come enjoy community, buy art, fight corporate greed and stand in solidarity with farm workers in their struggle against Burger King for dignity and a livable wage.

Click here for details and to RSVP:
dc alert2Washington DC Alert:

Take Action to Save Public Property!

Public property is a limited and valuable public asset meant to serve public needs. For far too long the city has disposed of public property to private developers and failed to use our public property to serve the many needs of our residents like recreation, job training, affordable housing and more. Enough is enough! We can't wait any longer. Let's fix DC law and save public property. Urge your city council members to work for a hearing on Bill 17-0527 within the next month. Public property is for public use, not private profit!

Click here to Take Action!

Save DC's Neighborhood Schools

schoolTwenty-three DC schools are slated to close by August 2008. More than 5,000 students will be in different schools by September 2008. The school closings were first publicly announced in the Washington Post on November, 2007. Neither parents, teachers, administrators nor the D.C. City Council were aware of the 23 proposed closings. In addition to the 23 schools, 27 more District public schools are slated for restructuring. This could mean more school closings.

Please click here to send letters to Mayor Fenty and your city council members.

Support Our Supporters

National Geographic GREEN GUIDE
The Resource for Consuming Wisely

Go green with National Geographic's ALL NEW Green Guide. Make small changes that add up to big benefits for your wallet, your health & the planet. The Green Guide gives you simple, useful ideas that make going green a gradual & affordable process rather than an all-or-nothing plunge.

Order National Geographic's Green Guide magazine today!

Eden FoodsEden Foods Offers OCA Customers 15% Discount

Eden Foods is one of the few national organic food producers who goes beyond the USDA Organic Standards.

Although Eden Foods is USDA certified, their products do not bear the USDA seal, because they say the USDA standard really represents a "minimum standard" that Eden Foods goes far beyond.

As a subscriber to Organic Bytes, you can enjoy a discount rate
on any Eden Foods products by clicking here

Please forward this publication to family and friends, place it on websites, print it, duplicate it and post it freely.
Knowledge is power!

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