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May 21, 2009

Organic Bytes #174

Health, Justice and Sustainability News
from the Organic Consumers Association

In This Issue

  • Alert of the Week: Healthy, Local & Organic School Food Now
  • Alert Update of the Week: Former Monsanto Lawyer Michael Taylor & the White House Food Safety Working Group
  • Quote and Consumer Tip of the Week: New Survey Finds a Number of 'Organic' Soy Food Brands Importing Beans from China
  • Sustainability Tip of the Week: When Local Goes Industrial
  • Web Video of the Week: Food Inc.
  • Health Tip of the Week: Fructose Truly is Worse Than Glucose
  • Labor Unions in America: Pro or Con?
  • Headlines and Articles of the Week

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Alert of the Week

Healthy, Local & Organic School Food Now

School food: It's never had a reputation for being good, but these days, it's downright unhealthy. Obesity and a host of diet-related diseases are linked to the school lunch menu, which is loaded with over-processed starches, fats, genetically modified ingredients, and meats laced with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Squeezed into buying on the cheap, school districts buy milk that has been produced with the use of genetically-modified bovine growth hormone and beef that gets recalled for the E. coli contamination that is inevitable in factory farm operations where corn-fed cattle wade in their own waste all the way to the slaughterhouse. Very few vitamin-rich fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the lunch menu, even though it's universally understood this is the key to improving childhood and long-term health. The 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is an opportunity to change what kids eat at school and raise a generation of kids who understand good nutrition and value locally produced, fresh, organic food.

Take Action: Ask Congress for Healthy Local & Organic School Food

Alert Update of the Week

Former Monsanto Lawyer Michael Taylor & the White House Food Safety Working Group

In a recent issue of Bytes, we alerted you that former Monsanto lawyer Michael Taylor, who has been serving on President Obama's Department of Agriculture Transition Team, was "the leading candidate to staff the White House food safety working group." Michael Taylor, who now promotes himself as a food safety expert, is a lawyer whose accomplishments include shepherding Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone rBGH through Clinton's FDA as the Deputy Administrator for Policy.

Alexis Baden-Mayer, OCA's Political Director, attended the Food Safety Working Group's Listening Session in Washington, DC, on May 13th, 2009. Here's her report: If Michael Taylor was in the room, I didn't see him, but it's too soon to declare victory. We should keep reminding Secretary Vilsack, who chairs the working group, that we don't want Michael Taylor or any other former corporate lobbyists to be involved in crafting the government response to food safety.

I had an interesting conversation with Bryce Quick, Deputy Administrator for the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service since 2005, who greeted me by saying, "Organic, oh we're going to have problems with you!" He claimed to have visited an organic farm in Latin America several years ago that had major food safety issues although he wasn't sure if it was actually certified.

When the meeting broke into small groups to craft policy "themes" it was clear that the conversation wasn't going to get too deep, I was placed in a group tasked with developing ways to "Allocate Resources Efficiently." I managed to get the group to find consensus around the idea that food safety solutions need to be scale appropriate, as regulations created for factory farms aren't going to be appropriate for small and micro producers who sell direct to consumers.

What would you like Secretary Vilsack to know about food safety?

Tell him

Quote and Consumer Tip of the Week

New Survey Finds a Number of 'Organic' Soy Food Brands Importing Beans from China --- "Silk" Soy Milk Abandons Organic Ingredients Altogether

"Health conscious shoppers should no longer associate Silk with organic, and should seek the green USDA Certified Organic seal when purchasing soy products... The good news in this report is that consumers can easily find, normally without paying any premium, organic soy foods that truly meet their expectations."

Source: Charlotte Vallaeys, a researcher at Cornucopia Institute and the primary author of a new report that ranks mainstream soy brands based on how much they source their beans from U.S. Farmers.

Learn More

Sustainability Tip of the Week

When Local Goes Industrial

The local food movement is gaining enough popularity to capture the interest of big business. Some of the biggest corporate food companies are looking for ways to greenwash their products. Although it sure beats sourcing their crops from overseas and is a step in the right direction, the following marketing claims can be misleading since the actual processing of these often factory-farm grown products may be anything but local:

--Frito-Lay North America owned by PepsiCo is trying to portray Lay's potato chips as a local food in the regions where the potatoes are grown.

--ConAgra is trying to say that because Hunt's canned tomatoes are mostly grown within 120 miles of its processing plant in Oakdale, California, that makes them "local" for Oakdale, and maybe even Californians.

--Kraft is trying to figure out whether people in Wisconsin will buy more pickles if they know the cucumbers that go into a jar of Claussen's are grown there.

Learn More

Web Video of the Week

Food Inc.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising-and often shocking truths-about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.


Health Tip of the Week

Don't Believe the Hype -- Fructose Truly is Worse Than Glucose

The average American is in the form of added sugars - the majority of which comes from high fructose corn syrup HFCS. As scientists learn more about the problems associated with HFCS, more consumers are seeking products with traditional fruit sugars or sucrose table sugar. The ever powerful corn lobby and its associated industry trade groups have responded by launching an aggressive advertising campaign claiming HFCS is as safe as its natural competitors. But new studies confirm previous studies and indicate a diet high in fructose, as compared to glucose, gained more of the dangerous belly fat that has been linked to a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

Learn More

Social Justice Web Forum Posting of the Week

Labor Unions in America: Pro or Con?

Email from Organic Bytes Reader to OCA: "While I normally appreciate many of your articles that focus on food safety, and keep us abreast of what sort of mischief may be coming out of government departments, I really wish you would stop pushing unions so rabidly. I've worked much of my life in non-unionized companies, often as a very ordinary worker at wages that were not very large at all, and I STILL would never ever go to work for a company where I had to be a union member, or could be dictated to by one. There are plenty of petty bureaucracies already foisted on people these days, from town hall, to the state, feds, and even HOA's dictating what color your curtains should be. We the people, don't need another layer on top of that. In fact, we could do with a few less..."

Read More

The OCA = A Half Million People Working Together Towards One Goal

We know times are tough for everyone right now. That's why the OCA continues to work to organize its more than 500,000 supporters to fight for consumers, family farmers, our environment, and our most precious assets, our children. We want to continue fighting the good fight, as well as bringing you Organic Bytes, but we need your donations to survive these financially difficult times. If you enjoy Organic Bytes and believe the world is a better place with OCA's nonprofit work, please consider donating today. Any size donation is helpful and appreciated.


Headlines and Articles of the Week

1) Victory of the Week: EPA Has Revoked Approval of Two Moth Pesticides Used for Aerial Spraying in California
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revoked approval of two moth pesticides pulled from aerial spraying over a dozen California counties last year when residents argued in a Santa Cruz court that the government failed to adequately assess health and environmental risks..."
Learn more

2) Appetite for a Change News of the Week: The Truth Behind WIC-- Organic is NOT an Option
"In February 2009, Washington State decided to remove organic milk from its list of 'approved foods' reimbursable by the Women, Infant and Children Program WIC. Though this decision led to serious backlash from organic consumers and supporters nationwide, what may be a little known fact to many is that slashing organic produce from WIC approved food lists for 'reasons related to cost' is currently being practiced in almost every single state."
Learn more

3) Community Solution of the Week: Smart Jitney Transportation in the Coming Era of Peak Oil & Fuel Scarcity
"The Smart Jitney is a system of efficient and convenient ride sharing that addresses the problem of transportation in a post-peak oil world. The system utilizes the existing infrastructure of private automobiles and roads. The goal of the system is to insure that each private car always carries more than one person per car trip, optimally 4-6. This would cut auto gasoline usage by an estimated 80 percent and commute time by an average of 50 percent within two years..."
Learn more

4) Organic Transitions News of the Week: 'Farm in a Barrel': Raise Fish and Grow Your Own Organic Vegetables
A Georgia company is selling 'Farm in a Barrel.' It's a self-contained eco-system that allows homeowners to raise organic fish and vegetables at the same time. The method, called aquaponics, combines aquaculture fish farming and hydroponics growing plants in a soil-less system. The fish produce the nutrients to feed the plants, while the plants and bacteria clean the water for the fish..."
Learn more

5) Website of the Week: Challenging Corporate Abuse of Our Food
"Corporate abuse of our food begins with the seeds and in the soil that nurtures all life. The fast food industry demands enormous quantities of cheap, low-nutrition and uniform crops, encouraging the widespread use of toxic pesticides, industrial fertilizers and genetically modified seeds. These practices deplete our environment and threaten both our health and the livelihoods of family farmers."
Learn more:


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Message from our Sponsors

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Living Tree Community Foods