New York State’s own GMO Labeling Bill is Gaining Ground

Liz at April 28 GMO rallyAs the NYS legislature ends its session, it is clear that although we didn’t win this year and despite interruptions in the legislative process from corruption scandals, the GMO Labeling bill did better this year than last.  The bill to label GMOs in NYS, A 617-S 485, was a top priority for NOFA-NY policy action this year, and we were active participants in the NYS GMO Labeling Coalition, along with Food and Water Watch, GMOFree NY, Hunger Action, Consumers Union, NYPIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, Catskill Mountaineer, Fire Dog Lake, Good Boy Organics, Green Party of New York, the Brooklyn Food Coalition and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.  All our groups worked well together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

We started out the legislative session of 2015 with a lobby day in Albany in late January, the day after our annual Winter Conference and participated in the organization and execution of a second rally and lobby day in April, which brought out more than 300 people from across the state. There were also dozens of smaller actions in critical districts and a big noise from the March against Monsanto, May 23. The coalition collected 43,000 signatures on petitions to the legislature in support of the bill.

By June, the Coalition was sure that there were enough Assembly members and Senators signed on to the bill to pass it in both houses if the leadership could only be persuaded to take it to the floor for a vote. The bill advanced through the Consumer Protection committees in both houses, then as far as Rules in the Senate and Codes in the Assembly. Our guess is that behind the scenes, legislators were saying “let’s not have to go on record for or against that one.”

As Stacie Orell, staffer for GMOFreeNY, noted:

“Nonetheless, onward we march. We will continue to work hard during the so-called “off season” to spread public awareness about GMOs and labeling, educate legislators on the issue and combat the misinformation spread by the incredibly well-funded oppo$ition campaign, and ramp up for next year’s fight. It’s only a matter of time before we join the rest of the world and get the right to know, it’s just gonna take longer than we’d like!”

It’s worthy to note that bills in all other states that have moved through legislatures have also taken years, and Vermont’s successful bill took 3-4 years to win.  NOFA-NY will be back at it in the next session, and asking more of all NOFA members to convince their state legislators.  Thanks for your hard work this year!


In the Field With the Iroquois White Corn Project

Iroquois White Corn

Iroquois White Corn

On June 11th, the day after a rare tornado touched down just a few miles away, about a dozen farmers participated in a unique field day to learn about the history of Iroquois White Corn (IWC) and efforts to restore this staple of the Haudenosaunee people’s diet at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York.  Peter Jemison (Knowledge Keeper and Heron Clan member of the Seneca Nation of Indians) and manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, along with Kim Morf (Mohawk), manager of the Iroquois White Corn Project led this event along with NOFA-NY staff Paul Loomis and Sondra Gjersoe.   After a brief introduction Peter lead the group down a trail to the field where the corn is planted.  The fields were still very well saturated from the rains that occurred the night before.

Peter gave the history of the corn and its importance to the Haudenosaunee people.  The heirloom seed they are using dates back to at least 1,400 years ago.  Iroquois White Corn (IWC)  was a staple food of the Haudenosaunee, supporting a Ganondagan town of up 4,500 people in the 17th century.  Over a trade disagreement the French destroyed 500,000 bushels of corn, forcing the Haudenosaunee from their lands.

Dried white corn (00000003)

Impressive ears of dried corn!

The IWC has deep symbolic meaning for the Haudenosaunee people and it is a healthy non GMO, low glycemic, gluten free food that has been consumed by the Haudenosaunee people for thousands of years.  Revitalizing the white corn production revitalizes tradition and health for the community.  The finished dried ears of corn are impressive, with kernels twice the size of today’s corn.

Peter explained although they use some more modern implements, the deep culture and traditions still remain. Three ceremonies must occur before the corn is planted, thunder, sun, and rain.  Peter went over the traditional Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and squash. The stalks of the white corn are very robust, easily supporting a crop of pole beans, which also feed the earth nitrogen.  The squash subdue the weeds and act as a living mulch, keeping the ground moist for the corn and beans. The spiny nature of the squash leaves also act as a deterrent to deer trying to nibble on the corn. All the seeds used on the project are open pollinated heirloom seeds.

We opened up a discussion for the different types of cover crops, and the purpose of each one. Clover and legumes for nitrogen fixing, buck wheat for weed suppression, tillage radishes for deep soil aeration. The group discussed possible cover/forage crops to keep the deer from off the corn. Deer eating the corn has been somewhat of a trying issue. The group discussed many ways to possibly alleviate the issue through electric fencing, and hunting, nuisance permits, dog hair, dogs, etc.  Many of the attendees were very helpful with many great suggestions.

The group then made its way back to the farmhouse where we were able to try this wonderful corn in a cold salad and in cookies with the roasted corn flour. The group sat in the kitchen as Kim began to move into the processing portion of day. Like the plantings, many of the deep rooted traditions are very important part of the processing. Kim explained the importance of bringing a “good mind” and that people are not to process the corn with negative energy for that will be passed on to who consumes it.

The corn is dried on the stalks, then husked and braided for long term storage. The hulls of the corn kernel are indigestible, so each kernel must be removed from the hull. Kim went over the several methods including using wood ash and pickling lime.  Within the dining area lies a large roasting machine which they use in the making in their roasted corn flour.  Conversations continued as Kim answered many questions from the interested attendees.

There is a great energy surrounding the IWC project and the people involved in the project. It is amazing project for a very healthy, traditional food.  IWC can be found in many local grocery and specialty stores, at area farmer’s markets and even on-line!

News Update on Genetically Engineered Diamondback Moth Trials

In response to our letter and emails last week, Cornell’s vice president of University Relations informed us that Cornell has restricted the trials of genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moths at Cornell University’s Agricultural Research Station in Geneva to contained trials this summer.  We are pleased with this news, however we remain concerned about the lack of transparency and public information and that the focus of the trials is on evaluating efficacy, rather than evaluating safety.

We continue to request full disclosure of information to allow public scrutiny and debate as well as a more complete description of the enclosures they are planning to use to contain the moths.  In addition, we have asked for a copy of Cornell’s proposals in relation to improving the evaluation of biosafety prior to any open release, and specifically regarding the following:

  • Toxicity testing of the GE moths in relation to impacts of consumption by humans or animals;
  • Testing of the strain for undesirable properties such as pesticide resistance;
  • Laboratory studies of potential impacts of tetracycline in relation to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the insects’ guts and the inadvertent survival of GE females (for all strains proposed for release);
  • Monitoring of potential dispersal routes from proposed open sites, including wind dispersal to nearby farms (raising the risk of contamination, including of organic crops), and the potential for overwintering and encountering tetracycline contamination (e.g. in slurry) which could lead to inadvertent increases in survival of the offspring;
  • Modeling of other biosafety issues, including potential impacts of releases on other species (including the potential for increases in other types of pest in response to population suppression of the moths).

We continue to work with our colleagues at Food and Water Watch, the Center For Food Safety, the Friends of the Earth, and GeneWatch UK on this issue.  Thank you for your support.

What’s the Beef?

Beefers in grass fed Nirvana!  Thank you Fred Griffen of High Lonesome Farm!

Beefers in grass fed Nirvana! Thank you Fred Griffen of High Lonesome Farm in Cincinnatus, NY (Cortland County)

The minute people hear that I work for NOFA-NY, I start getting a lot of questions about food and farming. One of the most common questions I get is about beef – is grass fed beef and certified organic beef the same thing? To find the answer, I talked with Lisa Engelbert, a certification program administrator for NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC—and also an experienced farmer at Englebert Certified Organic Farm.

Lisa explained that it’s important to remember that Certified Grass Fed and Certified Organic are two separate certification programs, although there is some overlap in their standards.  In fact, beef may be certified grass fed, certified organic, or both!

What does “Grass Fed” mean?  

To qualify as “grass-fed”, beef cattle must be raised and finished on a diet of 100% grass and grass-based feed over the animal’s lifetime, except for mother’s milk prior to weaning. All grain feed is prohibited, as is the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones.  However, grass-fed cattle may be raised on pastures and hay fields where chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have been applied. Forages—specifically alfalfa—may be genetically modified. Currently, the American Grass-fed Association maintains standards for larger producers, while the USDA Grass-Fed Program has standards for farms processing up to 50 animals per year. Verification under these programs is still evolving, and is not yet as stringent as procedures for certified organic beef.

What does “Certified Organic” mean?

To qualify as certified organic, the beef must come from animals that meet the USDA National Organic Program standards. Certified organic beef must be free of hormones and antibiotics, and come from cattle that are raised on certified organic land. They must be fed only organically grown grass, hay or grain.  Among other requirements, certified organic grass, hay or grain may not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They must also feed on managed pasture for the entire grazing season, and may not be confined 100 percent of the time in a barn or feedlot. Daily outdoor access is required during the non-grazing season. To qualify as organic beef, a calf must be managed organically from the last third of the mother cow’s pregnancy.  Certified organic beef may also be fed organic grain and is not required to be on a 100% grass and forage diet.

An organic beef farmer must meet rigid requirements for farm management and record keeping, and annual farm inspections are required. The verification process enforces strong standards established by the USDA National Organic Program, with financial penalties for farmers using fraudulent practices to market “certified organic” beef.

What if I want both 100% grass fed AND certified organic?

Certified organic, grass-fed beef will be labeled as both “certified organic” and “grass-fed,” having met the standards for both programs. Starting this year, NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC is offering grass-fed certification to its certified organic beef and dairy farmers.

Remember, buy locally and know your farmer!

When you buy locally and know your farmer, you can ask the farmer how their beef is raised. In many cases you can arrange a visit to see the farm in operation.  Knowing your farmer, where your meat comes from and how it’s raised, are an important part of making the right choice for you and your family. And when you buy from a local farmer, you’re supporting an important contributor to your local economy!  To find a farmer near you, check out the NOFA-NY Food and Farm Guide.