Laws have an enormous impact on how your food is produced and what you are allowed to know about it. 2012 saw some important legislation (or lack, thereof) that will effect the food you eat.
Prop 37—California’s attempt to require GMO labeling
On November 6, 2012 California voters were offered the option to require genetically engineered (GE) foods or processed foods that contain GE ingredients to be labeled as such under Proposition 37, the first mandatory labeling of GE foods of its kind in the US. This proposition would see that terms listed on GE foods such as “natural” and “all natural” be used with some sense of truth behind them, replaced instead with labels such as “Genetically Engineered” for raw foods and “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” for processed foods containing GE ingredients.
In an official summary prepared by the US Attorney General, an estimated 40 to 70 percent of food products sold in California contain GE ingredients. Most often, the presence of GE ingredients in processed foods comes from the most common additives such as canola, corn, soy, cottonseed, and sugar beets, all of which come in various forms and names.
Unfortunately, California voters decided not to pass Prop 37, and numerous articles are currently circulating proposing the reasoning behind this result, ranging from being out-bid by Big Ag corporations in campaign funding to the lack of solidarity amongst those participating in, or affected by, the “food movement” which has been slowly but steadily growing over the past several decades.
However, in lieu of government intervention and regulation of GE foods, there are grassroots groups taking on the goal themselves. Such is the Label It Yourself (LIY) campaign which encourages consumers to put GE labels on foods which most commonly contain GE ingredients. The LIY campaign stresses that advocates be thoughtful and respectful of their labeling and to focus on an individual’s immediate community. The LIY’s website offers an instructional manual for deciphering which foods to label, including the following partial list of ingredients which have a high risk of originating from GE seeds.
· Corn syrup
· Corn starch
· Corn oil
· Soy meal
· Soy Protein Isolate
· TVP (textured vegetable protein)
· Vitamin E
· Xanthan gum
· Vitamin B-12
· Baking powder
· Yeast extract
· Modified food starch
· Vegetable Oil
· Cottonseed Oil
· Canola Oil
· Food Colorings
The LIY campaign asks the question which many advocates for GE labeling have campaigned under—if there is nothing to hide, then why hide it?
Other grassroots organizations such as Occupy Monsanto, a worldwide collection of autonomous anti-GE groups, have decided to promote public awareness of the prevalence of GE foods in our grocery stores as well as the extent of Monsanto’s control over our food system by staging public demonstrations. Occupy Monsanto provides an international map of Monsanto facilities, whose numbers reach the hundreds, as well as maps of what are called “genetic crime units”—which include the contact information, time and location of the nearest anti-Monsanto demonstration.
Occupy Monsanto’s website offers information about GE foods and why people should avoid them, including their negative impact on the environment and consumer health. The homepage is also a great resource for the latest news and publications on Monsanto and GE seeds as well as videos and pictures of protesters all over the world wearing full hazmat suits and carrying signs with Monsanto written under a skull and cross bones.
The Farm Bill
Despite the current buzz about the failure of Prop 37 to pass, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act 2012, commonly known as the “Farm Bill”, has been on the minds of everyone in the food community, as its expiration on October, 1st of this year went by without the passing of a new bill.
Drafted every 5 years, the Farm Bill is a bundle of food and agriculture policies which dictate production subsidies, rural economic development, food aid programs, ecosystem conservation, and so forth. Of the Farm Bill’s budget, around three quarters is usually spent on SNAP, the nation’s food stamp program.
A proposed bill was passed by the Senate over the summer, however the House has yet to accept this version of the bill or the similar one drafted by the House Agriculture Committee. The greatest barrier to a majority agreement are squabbles over which areas of agriculture and nutritional programs will receive budget cuts, as the current version of the bill would cost $500 billion.
To literally buy more time, before going to recess in August, the House issued a $383 million short term package of loans and grants to a small selection of farmers, primarily those who raise livestock.
Although SNAP, crop insurance and commodity support programs will continue to receive funding even past the bill’s expiration, financial aid programs for agricultural conservation, beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and research on alternative food systems will be hit hard by Congress’ failure to act. In September, the USDA calculated that if the bill did not pass on time, it would have to drop at least 34 programs from its agenda.
According to an article published in the New York Times in November, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commented that all efforts would be taken to try and get the bill passed in time for the 2013 harvest next fall.
The Egg Bill
In a surprising collaboration between United Egg Producers (UEP), which represents 88% of the US egg industry, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a long time opponent of animal caging, proposed amendments to the Egg Products Inspection Act (a.k.a. the Egg Bill) in the upcoming Farm Bill would see that “enriched cages” become a national standard for egg producing farms. This new standard would supersede any state or local laws that ban cages on egg farms, such as California’s Standards for Confining Farm Animals Initiative (Proposition 2), and would prohibit this standard from being changed by state law or by public vote.
Right now, you have a situation where people can work through the polls or work through their state legislature and pass a law that either says that hens have to be raised in cage free conditions or that say they have to be given x amount of space. With the passage of the rotten egg bill, that right that we all have right now, would be taken away.
—Bradley Miller, National Director of the Humane Farming Association (HFA)
In no definitive wording, the UEP describes the “enrichments” of this multiple-bird housing system in an attempt to distinguish it from the run-of-the-mill battery cage:
An enriched cage has “enrichments” such as perches, a curtained off area for hens to lay their eggs, and a scratch area. These enrichments allow hens to perform some of their natural behaviors. Enriched cages also typically provide each hen with nearly twice the amount of space than a conventional cage.
Surely these hens will be pleased to be allowed to exhibit some of their natural behaviors as well as have the assurance that they will typically be allotted more space than before.
Mr Miller commented that there is little in the bill which actually specifies what these required “enrichments” must be. “All it says is that some future USDA secretary, all of whom have been controlled by the industry itself, will determine what constitutes the so called ‘adequate, environmental enrichments.’ ”
The Egg Bill allows for an 18 year phase-in period for the enriched cages, meaning that many farmers will be exempt from changing to the new caging system for almost two decades. Mr Miller was concerned that even after 18 years, amendments could be made to the bill that would extend this period even further.
The alliance between the HSUS and the UEP is unexpected, not just because the HSUS has a long history of advocating against the caging of any animal and has urged consumers not to buy from farms who cage their birds, but because the HSUS has previously filed a legal petition asking for civil and criminal penalties to be brought down on the UEP and other major egg producing corporations for alleged price fixing.
A statement made by the HSUS on its web page regarding the petition, reads: “The United Egg Producers (UEP), the industry trade group responsible for the certification program, has a history of misleading consumers about the treatment of laying hens.”
And it seems that this trend of misleading consumers will continue under the guise of words such as “enriched”, “enhanced”, “furnished” or “modified” cages. Most deceptive of all is the allowance of enriched caging systems to qualify for “humane” labeling such as the American Humane Association’s “American Humane® Certified” label.
The popularity of enriched cages has already won over the EU, which precedes the US in making this caging system its standard. Even renowned animal behavior expert, Temple Grandin, has given support to the enriched cage system. However, this popularity did not win over the US Senate, which denied their addition to the 2012 Farm Bill, and now the bill is up for debate in the House of Representatives.
Often we are told to “vote with our dollar” in order to generate demand for food raised or grown through humane, environmentally responsible practices. Through this demand the market is supposed to respond by switching to these consumer desired cultivating techniques. However, Mr Miller pointed out that it may be near impossible to vote for better eggs with your dollar if this bill gets passed, as egg producers are known for selling both caged and cage-free eggs.
Indeed, this is the case with many Big-Ag corporations which produce both organic and non-organic products, a fact which was pronounced greatly in the number of organic brands which astonishingly financed the campaign against Prop 37. As with many such products, by buying cage-free eggs you may very well be supporting inhumane farming practices nonetheless.
Organizations like the HFA and other advocates against the Egg Bill suggest that those who wish to retain their right to vote on how egg producing hens are raised sign an opposing petition as well as send an email to your local representative. Both of these actions can easily be done from the HFA’s website campaigning against the bill. Read more about enriched cages