Archives – November, 2011

Sewage Sludge in the News

  • “Dark Soil: Ending the Land Application of Biosolids In America”: A great article that stands for itself (Jason Fowler, Sustainable Traditions, 11/30). Please read!
  • “Montreal’s storm drains ‘widely contaminated’ with sewage, researchers conclude after finding caffeine traces”: According to the National Post (11/28), “After testing 120 brooks, collectors and outfalls in Montreal, researchers discovered that samples containing human urine and feces were also lightly caffeinated. Their conclusion: If there’s an abundance of caffeine in the water, ‘it means you have a leaky sewage pipe somewhere,’ lead researcher Sébastien Sauvé told the Post on Monday.” (Thank you to Maureen Reilly of Sludgewatch for highlighting this article.)
  • At Sludge Corporations’ Request, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) Allows “Land Application” of “Biosolids” “Within 100 Feet of Streams”: According to the ANRC, it has incorporated comments made by Thomas Rose, President of Poinsett Fertilizer, Inc. and George Crook on behalf of American Composting, Inc. in its “Premium Biosolids Incentives Cost Share Program” so that “land application” of “eligible premium biosolids” will no longer be restricted “within 100 feet” of “drainage ditch[es] located outside a Nutrient Surplus Area lying on or contiguous to row crop farmland or pasture land that receives only intermittent surface water runoff from natural precipitation and crop irrigation, and . . . wells and manmade water reservoirs that serve as a water source solely for the irrigation of row crops and pastures.” (more…)

Leave a Comment November 30, 2011

Food News You Can Use

  • Tom Philpott Exposes Sara Lee Marketing Professionals’ Attempt to Put Lipstick on Pigs: (Mother Jones, 11/28)
  • Rep. Pingree (D-ME) Questions the FDA’s Commitment of Scarce Resources to Small Farm Raids: Read her 11/18 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, posted by Local Food, Local Rules, here.
  • Fair Trade USA Drops Commitment to Small Coffee Farmers: According to the New York Times (11/23), the group said it would “make far-reaching changes in the sorts of products that get its seal of approval. The changes include giving the fair trade designation to coffee from large plantations, which were previously barred in favor of small farms.”
  • “Research Proves Equal Yields, Higher Profits from Organic Farming”: According to Fresh Plaza (11/21), “Organic crop systems can provide similar yields and much higher economic returns than a conventional corn-soybean rotation, according to thirteen years of data from a side-by-side comparison at Iowa State University’s Neely-Kinyon Research and Demonstration Farm.” As Barbara Damrosch writes for the Washington Post, other studies have offered similar results, including, perhaps most persuasively, the World Bank’s “International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development.” (more…)

Leave a Comment November 29, 2011

Raw Milk in the News

  • UPDATE! Michael Schmidt Fined $9,150, Placed on Probation: According to the Montreal Gazette, Canadian farmer Michael Schmidt’s day in court today resulted in a $9,150 fine and a year’s probation “for making and providing raw milk and cheese through a cow-share business. . . . Ontario Justice Peter Tetley acknowledged the more than 60 people in the courtroom Friday were a testament to Schmidt’s character. . . . Despite this, Tetley said he had no choice but to hand down the sentence. He also acknowledged there are many people in the province, the country and even in his own family who consume unpasteurized milk to no ill health effect, but said there was still a ‘public health component’ to the case. . . . Schmidt’s lawyer says she plans to appeal the sentence.”
  • Raw Milk Freedom Riders to Ride Again: On Thursday, December 8th, the “Raw Milk Freedom Riders” will ride again– this time into Chicago. The caravan of parents will deliver 100 gallons of Wisconsin raw milk and cookies to Independence Park (3850 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL. 60618), to be distributed in support of food freedom. There they will be joined by food freedom advocates from around the country, local and national press, and possibly the FDA and law enforcement. After the first freedom ride on November 1st in Maryland, the FDA issued a statement saying, in part, that they do not “intend” to target individuals transporting raw milk across state lines for their own, individual use.  This subsequent ride intends to expand the challenge and assert the right to ask a friend or neighbor to obtain food from a farm just over state lines in the same way that someone may ask a friend to pick up an extra gallon of milk for her from the grocery store down the street. The Food Rights Network will be in attendance, filming and reporting as events unfold. (more…)

1 Comment November 25, 2011

Sewage Sludge in the News

  • Sewage Plant Closed for Violations Sparks Local Conflict: The sewage composting facility in Lamont, California that was recently closed by unanimous vote of the County Board of Supervisors after two brothers working at the plant died from inhaling a fatal concentration of hydrogen sulfide, is the subject of conflict in Kern County. The plant employed more than 130 people, who now expect to be laid off within weeks. Some 60 of them protested in front of the County of Kern Administrative Center on Tuesday. County Supervisor Karen Goh helped organize a job fair for the workers that took place at the same time as the protest. Organizers estimate that more than 100 people came to that event, which featured 18 agencies offering employment, housing and food. Meanwhile, a hearing to stay the closure of the plant, operated by the Lamont Public Utility District, was postponed to next Tuesday (Bakersfield Californian, 11/22).
  • Two Indiana Towns Fined for Spreading Too Much Arsenic-Heavy Sludge: Albany, Indiana has already paid a civil penalty, and Union City is facing one, both for problems with their methods of dealing with sewage sludge. Union City has allegedly been spreading so much sludge on soil that it exceeded the towns’ arsenic concentration limits of 75 milligrams per kilogram. Albany allegedly failed to submit monthly reports about how much treated wastewater it was releasing into the Mississinewa River (a tributary of the Wabash River in the Mississippi River watershed) (Muncie Star Press, 11/20). (more…)

Leave a Comment November 23, 2011

Food News You Can Use

  • Secret Farm Bill Fails! According to Bloomberg (11/21), “the plan, which was never publicly released, would have done away with about $5 billion in annual payments to farmers made regardless of crop prices. The subsidy would have been replaced partially with insurance against ‘shallow losses’ created by drops in revenue, according to lawmakers including Representative Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat. Some lawmakers said the budget-cutting proposal may form the foundation of the next farm bill, due in 2012.”
  • Blue Hill, Maine, Rallies Around Farmer Brown: On Friday, November 18, Blue Hill residents and neighbors from surrounding towns rallied in support of Farmer Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Hancock County (Bangor Daily News, 11/18). Brown is being sued by the State of Maine and Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb for selling food without state licenses. Blue Hill was the first of five Maine towns to have passed a “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance.” These ordinances permit the kind of sales Brown has been engaged in.

    Speakers at the rally included Dan Brown, Penobscot farmer Heather Retberg of Quill’s End Farm, and Jeff Beyea, who was was Walter Whitcomb’s herdsman for over a year before he became Agriculture Commissioner. Beyea said that Whitcomb himself was in the practice of selling raw milk from his herd on his farm without a license.

  • USDA Proposes “Organic” Use of Tetracycline, Formic Acid and AttapulgitePesticide & Toxic Chemical News reports (11/15) that “USDA‘s National Organic Program on Nov. 8 proposed allowing the use in organic agriculture of tetracycline, formic acid and attapulgite.” What’s next? Will sewage sludge from industrial and human waste be allowed to be spread on organic farms as well? Tetracycline is one of many toxic contaminants found in sludge.

Leave a Comment November 22, 2011

Raw Milk in the News

  • Mark McAfee’s Organic Pastures Raw Milk Recalled and Quarantined: On Tuesday, 11/15, Mark McAfee got word that his California dairy’s raw milk, which is drunk by about 75,000 people each day, is being recalled and quarantined (see McAfee’s second 11/16 comment on the above-linked page of David Gumpert’s The Complete Patient blog).
    Gumpert points out in an 11/17 update that “raw dairy, in particular, is often singled out for special attention, and special punishment” as compared to the sources of other outbreaks of foodborne illness, such as the recent cantaloupe outbreak.
    Organic Pastures (OPDC) is licensed for the sale of raw milk by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The milk is being recalled because five California children have been sickened by E. coli 0157:H7 over an eight week period, three of whom were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (The Complete Patient blog, 11/15). According to the CDFA, “the only common reported food exposure is unpasteurized (raw) milk from Organic Pastures dairy.”
    According to a The Complete Patient blog interview with McAfee, “all pathogen tests completed on the dairy’s products by the public health authorities and a private lab commissioned by OPDC have been negative. In addition[, McAfee says], ‘It has been reported to us by the California Department of Public Health that as of today all products collected from the ill patients have been negative for E. Coli O157:H7.’”
    On Wednesday, 11/16, OPDC filed an appeal with the CDFA “to lift the recall and quarantine for ten days ‘while samples of dairy products, and environmental testing is completed.’” The appeal implicates the “at least 140 cow share programs” in California that do not have CDFA licenses.
    The implication from a comment posted by McAfee today is that the appeal did not succeed. His comment explains, “CDFA handed us a Notice of Violation today with 14 things we need to correct prior to reinstatement…last week we were operating just fine.”
    In an update posted today (11/17) on The Complete Patient, Gumpert calls McAfee’s “inference that herdshare operations could be the source of the current E.coli O157:H7 outbreak… ill advised, inappropriate, and almost certainly wrong,” but adds that McAfee has “never avoided even the toughest questions” and that “he’s shown a genuine commitment to truly serious food safety standards.” See The Complete Patient for more news as it breaks. (more…)

Leave a Comment November 17, 2011

Breaking Secret Farm Bill News

  • “‘Secret Farm Bill’ Primed for Passage in Debt Deal”: According to The Hill (11/15), “Lawmakers on the House and Senate Agriculture committees are trying to write a new five-year farm bill through the supercommittee process.
    “The legislators are using the supercommittee to avoid what would be a more public, election-year debate in 2012, when the current farm bill expires and new legislation would be scheduled for writing, according to critics of the effort. . . . [T]he secrecy of the process has even some farm lobbyists raising questions. . . .
    “Environmental and international poverty advocates are against the whole process.
    “The groups believe higher price-based payments promote overproduction and distort world trade, hurting farmers in the Third World and causing them to cut down rainforest in search of more income.” For more details, see the original article here.

Leave a Comment November 16, 2011

Sewage Sludge in the News

  • Sludge Trade Group Hosts Poster Contest: As every year, the US Composting Council is hosting a poster contest for its annual PR campaign, “International Compost Awareness Week” (2012′s is May 7-May 12). Entries are due by November 30. Read about the 2011 PR campaign on PRWatch here: ”USCC’s members include Synagro, the largest processor of sewage sludge in the United States with revenues of over $300 million annually. The ‘International Compost Awareness Week’ is coordinated by Jeff Ziegenbein of the giant Inland Empire Utility Agency (IEAU) in Southern California. IEUA supplies the sewage sludge ‘compost’ that is resold by companies like Kellogg Garden Products, which supplies the sewage sludge-based products to local Home Depot and Lowe’s garden centers.”
  • Brattleboro, Vermont Sewage Plant to Install Digester and Spread Sludge on Soil: According to a BioCycle article (subscription only) reprinted on InsuranceNewsNet (11/10), “To meet the town’s sustainability commitments, the project is designed to reuse existing facilities and structures to the extent possible and upgrade the biosolids treatment operation to produce Class A biosolids that can be land applied. The three existing digesters will be converted into a twophase anaerobic process.”

Leave a Comment November 16, 2011

Food News You Can Use

  • First Local Food and Self Governance Ordinance Violated: According to Food for Maine’s Future (11/14), “On Wednesday, November 9, Dan Brown, owner of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Maine, was served notice that he is being sued by the State of Maine for selling food and milk without State licenses. Blue Hill is one of five Maine towns to have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, a local law that permits the types of sales Brown was engaged in. By filing the lawsuit, the State of Maine and Walter Whitcomb, Maine Agricultural Commissioner, are disregarding the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance passed nearly unanimously by the citizens of Blue Hill at their town meeting on April 4. . . . A rally and press conference will take place Friday at the Blue Hill Town Hall.” Food for Maine’s Future requests public support by following the Facebook page, “We Are Farmer Brown.” Ordinances and resolutions based on the original four passed in Maine towns have passed in other towns and counties across the country.

  • “Marketing to Kids: Collateral Damage in Big Food’s Profit Hunt”: Whistleblower Bruce Bradley, who has been called the “Wendell Potter of Big Food, Inc.,” exposes (11/14) how sweetened breakfast cereals are marketed to kids using characters that “tell a brand’s story through imagery vs. facts,” just like Joe Camel.
  • Young Farmers Find Huge Obstacles to Getting Started: Sunday’s New York Times (11/13) published Isolde Raftery’s article on beginning farmers’ obstacles. The article quotes Lindsey Lusher Shute, wife of Benjamin Shute of Hearty Roots Farm in Red Hook, NY. “Everyone wants young farmers to succeed — we all know that,” Shute says, “But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.” Agriculture secretary and Monsanto buddy Tom Vilsack “appears to have championed their cause,” and “[l]ast spring, his deputy, Kathleen A. Merrigan, toured colleges and cities to encourage young people to farm,” but neither the “2008 Farm Bill. . . program for beginning farmers and ranchers, . . . [which] allotted $18 million to universities and extension programs to educate beginning farmers,” nor the PR tour have done much to address these barriers. (more…)

Leave a Comment November 15, 2011

Introducing the Food Rights Network and Our Lead Writer

On behalf of the Center for Media and Democracy, I want to thank you for joining the new Food Rights Network. We appreciate you for taking a stand against hoodwinking school children and people of all ages into using “organic” “compost” that is really industrial and human sewage sludge to grow fruits and vegetables without any fair notice.

We believe such practices violate both common sense and your rights.

But, at the Food Rights Network, we need your help not just to fight toxic sewage sludge but also to support safe, healthy, and sustainable agriculture. For farmers and eaters.

Photo Credit: Grassway Organics

And, to us, that means supporting real family farms. It means standing up for the rights of farmers to care for animals with enough pasture to graze and ensure good quality milk. It means opposing efforts to indenture farmers to corporations whose drive for profits forces herds and flocks to be so large that farming is industrialized, antibiotics are ubiquitous, and waste is concentrated into massive lagoons that threaten neighbors and our water supplies. It also means standing up for the rights of people to know what they are eating, how it was farmed, where it was processed, and what it contains.

That’s why I am also honored to introduce you to our new lead writer for the Food Rights Network, Rebekah Wilce. Let me let Bekah tell you her own journey here.

- Lisa Graves
Editor, Food Rights Network
Executive Director, Center for Media and Democracy

What’s Milk Got to Do With It?

I’ve worked on eight small farms since 2007. Six of them are certified organic. The other two are not, only because their tiny size and the directness of their markets negate the need for an outside certification. All follow organic practices.

Even if they did not, however, none of them would consider spreading sewage sludge on their fields. They eat food from their fields; their children eat from their fields; their parents eat from their fields; their best friends and neighbors all eat from their fields. Healthy soil is the most important asset of an organic farm. None of them would allow their soil or their food to be contaminated with the heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and flame retardants in industrial sewage sludge.

These farms don’t avoid sludge because using it would get them in trouble with regulators; they avoid it because it’s the right thing to do.

A couple of them, in fact, claim that the regulators are trying to put them out of business. Why? Of the farms where I’ve worked, two produce small amounts of milk in addition to other produce (being small, diverse farms). The FDA and some state agriculture departments have not only told them that they cannot sell their milk directly to their friends and neighbors without having it first trucked to an outside processor to be pasteurized and homogenized. They have also told them that they don’t even have a right to drink the milk from their own cows, goats, or sheep.

The government has taken away these farms’ dairy licenses based on the suspicion that they might try to sell unpasteurized milk, milk that comes from healthy cows, without being cooked or adulterated. In one case, bureaucrats even took away an unrelated beef license to punish a family farmer they suspected of sharing raw milk with farm visitors.

All of the farms where I’ve worked are small and clean, with their dairy livestock on pasture, eating grass and hay. These farmers are paragons of organic farming, true stewards of the land, and faithful friends who care for their customers. None of them would risk getting those customers sick.

These aren’t the dangerous dairies attached to distilleries that proliferated as industrial farming took hold in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in New York City. In those early days of the industrial revolution, cows on the forerunners of factory farms were kept in disgusting conditions and fed distillery swill.

It is exactly that sort of commingling of industry and agriculture that the Food Rights Network is opposed to. It is exactly those kinds of practices that we believe eaters should be informed of and be able to choose to avoid. That is why we work to expose the practice of spreading toxic sludge on land used to grow our food. That is why we work to protect the right to choose and obtain clean, healthy food.

Stay tuned in the coming months as we not only continue to expose corporate products and practices that endanger our health and welfare; but also focus on incredible farmers who bring us healthy food, makers of real compost for us to use in our gardens, and activists who fight for the right to continue to choose these healthy alternatives.

In October, the Food Rights Network focused on the first in a series of Food and Farm Heroes, Wisconsin dairy farmer and food rights activist John Kinsman. This month, we interviewed the intrepid raw milk activist, Max Kane. Look for that interview in the coming weeks.

- Rebekah Wilce
Lead Writer, Food Rights Network

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Leave a Comment November 14, 2011

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