News bites, October 2005

This article was originally published in October 2005

USDA reverses ban on organic bodycare

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reversed its decision to prohibit use of the “USDA Organic” seal on beauty care products, pet food and other nonfood items. The announcement came just hours before a deadline to respond to a lawsuit brought by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Organic Consumers Association. The lawsuit argued that USDA had previously approved use of the seal on nonfood products and that businesses had invested heavily to conform with organic standards. (Organic Consumers Association)

Saving farmland

A grassroots group in Clallam County on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has successfully brought a measure to save farmland up for a vote. The Clallam Citizens for Food Security collected enough signatures to put a proposal for a Buyer’s Excise Tax (BET) on the November ballot. The one-half percent BET would be collected from property buyers at the time of sale and the funds used by the county to buy development rights on farmland. A simple majority vote would enact the measure. Nash Huber, an organic farmer who provides PCC with produce, is a member of the grassroots group. (Clallam Citizens for Food Security)

Chocolate and children

A human rights group is suing three U.S. companies to end child labor on African cocoa plantations. The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) is charging the Nestle company, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill with the trafficking, torture and forced labor of children enslaved to work on Ivory Coast farms. The ILRF filed suit after the companies failed to meet a deadline set by federal law meant to eliminate child labor in the chocolate industry. (Agribusiness Examiner)

Anti-trust in agribusiness

More than 200 organizations representing farmer, consumer, labor, religious, environmental and wildlife concerns sent a letter to the U.S. Congress denouncing unfair competition and consolidation in agriculture. The letter says a handful of corporations dominate the food supply, hurting farmers, ranchers, consumers, the environment, food quality and safety. It asks Congress to enforce existing anti-trust laws as a matter of national interest.

Some recommendations in the letter will be introduced as legislation later this year, while others already are before Congress. One proposed bill for instance would make meat packers bid for livestock in a public market subject to supply and demand. (National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture)

Farm Aid rescue

The Farm Aid organization is channeling emergency assistance to farm families devastated by Hurricane Katrina to help them recover and continue farming. It has sent an initial $30,000 to several family farm organizations in the southeast. Farm Aid President Willie Nelson says losses in crops, livestock and farm buildings will be massive and could be a breaking point for many family farms. Seattle musician Dave Matthews is on the Farm Aid Board of Directors. (Farm Aid)

Excess packaging campaign

The British government is funding a new program to reduce waste from packaging of organic products. It has provided the Soil Association, the U.K.’s leading organic organization, with $325,500 to develop standards for the environmental impact of packaging. Producers seeking organic certification will have to meet stringent packaging waste standards. (

Genetic drift liability?

A coalition of more than a thousand Canadian farmers has taken the Monsanto and Bayer corporations to court. The group is demanding compensation for financial losses due to contamination of organic fields by genetically engineered pollen drift. (Organic Consumers Association)

Fluoride warning

Unions representing more than 7,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees, most of them scientists and public health professionals, are calling on Congress to pass a national moratorium on adding fluoride to drinking water. The group has sent letters to key Congressional committees and the EPA secretary asking EPA to classify fluoride as a human carcinogen. The EPA staffers cite a series of new studies, including one from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, linking fluoride with a seven-fold increase in the risk of bone cancer for young boys especially. (Environmental News Service)

Shareholders vote at ADM

Shareholders at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) have proposed an initiative, asking board members to review the company policy on foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The initiative asks for a report on the extent of GE ingredients in ADM products; the environmental impacts; a contingency plan for sourcing non-GE ingredients; and issues of competitive advantage and/or brand name loyalty from use or non-use of GE ingredients. Shareholders vote on the initiative November 3. (Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility,

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