Agriculture

US dairy industry running off the rails again?

Submitted: May 16, 2007
The latest milk production figures for March 2007 show that 13 out of 23 top dairy states produced less milk in 2007 than they did in March of 2006. Most of the states producing additional milk are Western states. That additional milk from Western states is not the result of efficiency or market forces. Milk production in Western states is driven by California real estate values and the IRS tax code 1031.

The 1031 tax provision enables people selling their land to forgo paying any capital gains taxes if they reinvest in a like business. With land values in California ranging from $400,000 to $500,000 per acre, these dairy farmers can sell out to developers, then relocate and build new cow factories 5,10, or 20 times their original size with the money they save on taxes. Small to medium sized family farms in other parts of the country are forced to compete with the outcomes of this expansion.

The reality we face today tells us that milk is now located where the International Panel on Climate Change predicts will soon become a permanent dustbowl. Two dairy plants, one located in Clovis, New Mexico and the other in the Texas Panhandle, about 100 miles away, will soon be producing 40% of the nation’s Cheddar cheese. Both the plants and the farms supplying those plants draw irreplaceable water from the Ogallala aquifer.

Testimony of Randy Jasper, National Family Farm Coalition, before US Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
April 24, 2007

Tom Harkin (D-IA) is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Foresty Committee. Neither senators Diane Feinstein or Barbara Boxer serve on the committee, although California is the largest agricultural producing state in the nation and, by this report at least, is playing a major role in distorting the national milk market. -- Bill

TESTIMONY PRESENTED BY RANDY JASPER Wisconsin Farmer National Family Farm Coalition Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing on: Economic Challenges and Opportunities Facing American Agriculture Producers Today
106 Dirksen Senate Office Building April 24, 2007

My name is Randy Jasper. Along with my son Kevin, I milk 100 cows and raise 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans along with 200 acres of hay in Muscoda, Wisconsin.

We are members of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association, who is a member of the National Family Farm Coalition. I am pleased to submit this statement for consideration by the Senate Agriculture Committee on behalf of the Dairy Subcommittee of the National Family Farm Coalition.

As the 2007 Farm Bill is being written, please keep in mind dairy farmers are not looking to Washington for handouts. We simply want to be paid, from the market, a price which yields a return on our investment greater than our cost of producing raw milk.

The policy recommendations I present today have been crafted over the years by real dairy farmers, the voice rarely heard on Capitol Hill. We do not have the lobbying money of corporate agribusiness or the dairy industry which contributed over $3 million in campaign contributions in 2006.

Our nation needs a fair and effective system that will ensure a regional, dispersed, safe and resilient milk supply serving as the backbone of our nation’s food security and rural economy.

Dairy producers throughout the country need:

• Public policy that results in dairy farmers receiving cost of production plus a return on investment; • Access to affordable credit with fair terms; • Competition restored to a non-competitive dairy market; • Protection from predatory practices of the largest corporations including the largest co-ops; • Protection of the integrity of dairy products meaning no support for domestic Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) or for any MPC used in our food supply; • Prohibition on forward contracting; • Promotion of smaller co-ops and increase oversight of co-op management to ensure interests of producers are met.

My milk goes to a co-op, Scenic Central Milk Producers. There are 250 farmers in the co-op that market 19 million pounds of milk a month with a 98% return to farmers on gross sales of milk. ARMPPA gets one penny per cwt for services rendered. This co-op is independent and it works.

A crisis has befallen dairy farmers, large and small, throughout America in the past year as dairy farmers saw a steep rise in fuel and fuel surcharges, feed grain prices and costs to produce our own feeds. When these rising costs of production are combined with weather related disasters and continued low milk prices, how do you expect us to stay in business? I literally can not work any longer hours.

In real dollars, it was the worst year ever for dairy farmers, including the years encompassing the Great Depression. We sit on conference calls late into the night after 16 hour work days, talking with fellow dairy farmers across 20 plus states, sorting out what changes we need in dairy policy.

We have developed a milk pricing proposal entitled the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2007 that includes:

1) All milk produced in the United States will be priced based on the national average cost of production.

2) All milk used for manufacturing purposes will be classified as Class II milk.

3) The value of Class I milk will be the same across the United States.

4) The Class II price will be the Basic Formula Price for all markets in the United States.

5) Dairy farmers’ prices will be adjusted four (4) times a year.

6) All federal and state orders will determine the amount of adjustments for pricing butterfat, etc.

7) The proposal allows the USDA to implement a supply management program. This can be implemented only when the value of exported dairy products equals the value of imported dairy products.

8) This proposal does not allow any hauling costs to be charged to dairy farmers

9) This proposal does not allow any make allowance cost to be charged to dairy farmers.

The proposal, if in place today, would provide a Blend Price of $18.65 in Federal Order 1. (see Appendix I)

The National Family Farm Coalition has also proposed changes to the Class III and IV pricing system through recent Federal Order Hearings. We were disappointed to learn the U.S. Department of Agriculture had decided to remove our proposal from consideration along with many others that raised the issue of cost of production.

On February 20, 2007, NFFC delivered a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong identifying problems with inaccurate price reporting in the NASS Survey. This situation is costing dairy farmers millions of dollars a month. Our understanding is that the Inspector General is currently involved in an investigation of the situation.

America’s dairy farmers are suffering a perfect storm. However, no action has been taken to alleviate their dire straits, despite the fact they are the ones who lack the ability to achieve any recourse from the marketplace. The root cause of the problem is not the increased grain prices, but the inability of the current dairy pricing system to reflect the cost of production and receive market signals from producer to consumer and vice versa.

We will continue to demand a pricing system that allows family dairy farmers the dignity of a fair price through the current Class III and IV hearings and with our legislative proposals for the 2007 Farm Bill, the Food from Family Farms Act. The solution is a fair price; a fair price for dairy farmers and for farmers who raise program crops based on a non-recourse loan program with a price floor that reflects a farmers’ cost of production, farmer-owned, humanitarian and strategic reserves, incentives for participation in conservation programs, and international cooperation on supply management. Years of depressed grain prices have fueled the expansion of mega-dairies and forced thousands of dairy farmers and other diversified family farm operations out of business.

The problems associated with achieving a price for raw milk that dairy farmers can function with are threefold:

• Pricing system • Production expansion • Imports

Problem #1 Pricing:

Congress, cooperatives, producers and private firms share the blame on this one, as massive consolidations of milk cooperatives and private enterprises have left the dairy industry’s marketing and pricing strategies in the hands of a few entities. Larger co-ops have vested interests with private firms causing collusion, corruption and manipulation of our pricing system, beginning at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Farmer members are so removed from the inner workings of the management of our co-ops that they do not have the means or the will to demand accountability of their co-ops’ leaders. With market consolidation and antitrust violations gone way too far, competition has been nearly eliminated. Near-monopoly structures leave farmers in many parts of the country without an alternative place to sell their milk.

The price of milk that farmers receive and the cash trading for cheese at the CME has had an almost perfect correlation. (See Chart 1). Daily trading of cheese at the CME happens most of the time with only two traders, one buyer and one seller, while butter trading lasts only a few minutes each day. Often there is no actual trade involved to change the price. All of this occurs with virtually no government oversight—that is not a functioning marketplace!

Farm milk price bears no relationship to U.S. milk production. Arguments about the market sorting out supply and demand are pure fiction. (See Chart 2).

It’s not that federal policy can’t have an effect on those structural changes that force out smaller farmers. It’s not a given that the federal government has to stand by while agribusiness consolidates and consume larger and larger shares of the dairy market, by destroying competition. Under this administration, policy won’t have a proper effect unless Congress demands enforcement of antitrust regulations that the USDA and the Department of Justice have failed to enforce. Without antitrust action we will continue to wonder why programs like MILC aren’t working while ignoring the structural impacts of market consolidation. The status quo ultimately costs tax payers and farmers money because of lack of political will to address the problem.

Problem #2 Production Expansion:

Milk production has doubled since 1975. However, it is not an overproduction. For the last ten years, milk production in the US has not kept pace with consumption in the US. (See Chart 3).

The latest milk production figures for March 2007 show that 13 out of 23 top dairy states produced less milk in 2007 than they did in March of 2006. Most of the states producing additional milk are Western states. That additional milk from Western states is not the result of efficiency or market forces. Milk production in Western states is driven by California real estate values and the IRS tax code 1031.

The 1031 tax provision enables people selling their land to forgo paying any capital gains taxes if they reinvest in a like business. With land values in California ranging from $400,000 to $500,000 per acre, these dairy farmers can sell out to developers, then relocate and build new cow factories 5,10, or 20 times their original size with the money they save on taxes. Small to medium sized family farms in other parts of the country are forced to compete with the outcomes of this expansion.

The reality we face today tells us that milk is now located where the International Panel on Climate Change predicts will soon become a permanent dustbowl. Two dairy plants, one located in Clovis, New Mexico and the other in the Texas Panhandle, about 100 miles away, will soon be producing 40% of the nation’s Cheddar cheese. Both the plants and the farms supplying those plants draw irreplaceable water from the Ogallala aquifer.

NFFC believes that the low price of milk tends to increase expansion more than a high price for milk. Farm milk price that is below the cost of production forces a decision by the farmer to change one’s farming practice (a switch to organics or grazing for example), sell out, or expand to achieve the multiplier effect.

Family farmers are constantly told by processors, bankers, government, suppliers, and retailers, “If you want to make more money, you have to get bigger,” or “Get bigger or get out.” The truth is, getting bigger does not mean being more efficient. Smaller family farms are far more efficient in the long run than larger factory farms when factors such as culling percentage, death loss rates, breeding efficiencies, number of lactations and number of purchased replacements are weighed, as they must be.

Problem #3 Imports:

America imports dairy products from well over 100 countries, many of which have questionable sanitation. Most dairy imports drive the farm milk price down without any savings passed on to the public. Imports of milk protein concentrates should also be of great concern to Congress. MPCs are still untested and illegal by law to be used as a food ingredient in any capacity in the United States. Since when does a free market rule apply to illegal food ingredients with no scientific, safety, or nutritional tests? Virtually no other country in the world feeds this garbage to its people. The use of MPCs in cheese products creates poor quality and possibly unsafe products with short shelf life. These items are sold to unsuspecting consumers who think they are buying real dairy products, but they are really victims of uninformed consent. When this happens, we cheat the citizens of this country and insult American dairy farmers who strive to produce the highest quality milk in the world. (See Chart 4).

In conclusion, we ask the Senate Agriculture Committee to keep in mind that the original intent of the farm bill is to provide the nation with a safe and resilient food supply. We are not greedy people; we only want to provide a living for our families and a chance to improve our farming practices so that we can pass our farms down to the next generation. The MILC payment program has helped to supplement the loss of family income but is insignificant in paying monthly operating bills.

Agribusiness marketing and processing giants want to monopolize all the profits from every sector, wholesale and retail. Even government payments are merely subsidies passed to agribusiness through farmers. Of course, the dairy farmer has absolutely no means by which he can provide an income other than taking whatever milk procurers decide to pay. Today’s price support at $9.90 is of little benefit to dairy farmers given the fact that the average cost of production (according to the USDA Economic Research Service) for 100 lbs. of milk for Wisconsin in February 2007 was $23.68. We need a realistic price support or floor price that reflects the true cost of production. Today we are receiving $14 to $15/cwt, which can keep no dairy farmer in business.

I appreciate this opportunity to submit a prepared statement. Dairy farmers need a fair price for their production. Our country deserves a program that will work for all family dairy farmers regardless of region and one that works for all of us in our role as farmers, consumers, and taxpayers.
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Hilmar Cheese Co. website
http://www.hilmarcheese.com/dalhartfacility.cms
Dalhart, Texas Facility

Construction of Hilmar Cheese Company’s new cheese and whey protein plant in Dalhart, Texas is proceeding on schedule. The facility will be able to process an additional 5 million pounds of milk each day... Dalhart was selected for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to:

• Proximity to existing and new East Coast and Midwest customers;
• Access to a growing and reliable local milk supply;
• Excellent local infrastructure, including ground and rail transportation;
• Positive local business climate including state support for economic development; and
• A stable regulatory environment.

The new processing facility is being constructed in two phases. Phase I is well underway and expected to be completed on time and on budget in the Fall of 2007. The new plant will initially employ 120 people.

We will begin hiring for the new facility 2007. Please check the Hilmar Cheese Company employment page for updates. Visit Work in Texas to learn more.
Articles about the new facility:

Hoard's Dairyman West February 2007

Amarillo Newschannel 10 February 2007

Hoard's Dairyman West April 26, 2006

Amarillo Economic Development Corporation

Learn more about Dalhart, Texas with these links:
High Plains Dairy Council
“Official” Home Page for Dalhart
Texas High Ground

For information about supplying milk for the new facility, please contact David Ahlem 806-244-8801.

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A socially responsible approach to GMOs

Submitted: May 03, 2007

Today, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that there will be no more cultivation of genetically modified crops in his country. Although full details are not out, Chavez terminated a 500,000-acre Monsanto project to grow GMO soybeans.

Brazil and Argentina are still involved in GMO soybean production.

Chavez said that a policy of food sovereignty and security established by the Venezuelan constitution was the basis of his decision.

He also announced the establishment of a "large seed bank facility to maintain
indigenous seeds for peasants' movements around the world."

Rafael Alegria, secretary of the international peasants' organisation Via Campesina, which brough the problem to the attention of Chavez, said, "The people of the United States, of Latin America, and of the world need to follow the example of a Venezuela free of transgenics", he said.

"If we want to achieve food sovereignty, we cannot rely on
transnationals like Monsanto", said Maximilien Arvelaiz, an adviser to
Chavez. "We need to strengthen local production, respecting our heritage
and diversity."

Meanwhile, last month in the US, a federal judge in Kansas City temporarily banned a genetically engineered variety of alfalfa and ruled that the US Department of Agriculture must complete an environmental impact study before releasing GMO alfalfa. He said that government and corporate lawyers presented no credible evidence that gene drift from the GMO crop would not contaminate other crops. This is the first time a GMO crop has been successfully challenged in the US. On May 4, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer permanently banned the genetically engineered alfalfa.

Yet, the University of California, Berkeley, recently signed a $500,000 deal with BP, an oil company, for biotechnology research into biofuels.

Chavez has been nationalizing Venezuelan oil reserves (seventh largest in the world) by edging BP and other transnational oil companies out of its oil fields, while at the same time providing cheap petroleum products to poor communities in the US through its subsidiary, Citgo.

Bill Hatch
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Notes

VENEZUELA: Chavez dumps Monsanto
From: owner-GE_NEWS@eco-farm.org
Sent: Thu 5/03/07 7:37 PM
To: GE_NEWS@eco-farm.org
Sunday, April 29, 2007 1:34 PM

The next genetic revolution?
We didn't want GM on our table, but the crucial question now is, will we allow it in our tanks? Robin Maynard and Pat Thomas report
GM WATCH daily list
http://www.gmwatch.org
The Ecologist, 29 March 2007
http://www.theecologist.org/archive_detail.asp?content_id=831

Court Halt on GMO Alfalfa Shows USDA Failure
By Carey Gillam
Reuters
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/031507O.shtml
Thursday 15 March 2007

5-4-07
Inside Bay Area
Court ruling bans genetically altered alfalfa...Paul Elias, AP
http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_5816665
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Thursday barred the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa nationwide, ruling that the government didn't adequately study the biotechnology crop's potential to mix with organic and conventional varieties. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer made permanent a temporary ban he ordered in March on alfalfa with genetic material from bacteria that makes the crop resistant to a popular weed killer. The ruling is a major victory for anti-biotech crusaders, who have been fighting the proliferation of genetically engineered crops. It is the first ban placed on such crops since the first variety — the Flavr Savr tomato — was approved in 1994. Breyer said the U.S. Department of Agriculture must conduct a detailed scientific study of the crop's effect on the environment and other alfalfa varieties before deciding whether to approve it. Alfalfa is grown on about 21 million acres nationwide. California is the nation's largest alfalfa producer, growing the crop on about 1 million acres, primarily in the San Joaquin Valley. Breyer sided with organic farmers and conventional growers who fear lost sales if their crops are contaminated by genetically engineered plants. "The harm to these farmers and consumers who do not want to purchase genetically engineered alfalfa or animals fed with such alfalfa outweighs the economic harm to Monsanto, Forage Genetics and those farmers who desire to switch to Roundup Ready alfalfa," Breyer wrote Thursday. About 136.5 million acres of the nation's 445 million acres of farmland were used to grow biotech crops last year, an increase of 10 percent over 2005 plantings, according to the industry-backed nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

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Ethanol biotech bubble

Submitted: May 01, 2007

The ethanol bubble reveals the pathological side of the political economic system as well as the housing bubble did, and no doubt the same few people involved in ethanol were involved in housing speculation not long ago. The housing bubble pushed our air quality over the edge: the San Joaquin Valley now has as bad or worse air than the Los Angeles basin. Ethanol is shaping up to be nothing but a huge water grab. The ethanol bubble will end about the time a new housing bubble begins.

There is a reason why corn is primarily a Midwest crop. The reason is called rain, as in what Central California doesn't have, being a desert.

As the GMO boys and girls get busy on engineering just the perfect corn for ethanol, gene drift will occur, as it has occurred wherever corn is grown. The ethanol-making genes will drift into corn grown for dairy sillage and get into the milk supply, here in the land free of GMO regulation, perhaps causing gases of another sort. Then UC can study the contribution milk-drinking San Joaquin Valley citizens make to air pollution, along with the bovine flatulence (adding insult to the injury of doubled corn prices and continuing low milk prices to dairymen in the largest dairy state in the nation).

But, that's OK because the honey bees are dying, so the almond growers can convert to ethanol corn and make a real killing before selling for real estate. We know nothing is going to be done about the honey bee collapse because the House subcommittee in charge is chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a man who doesn't like any non-human species that shows signs of weakening. Dairies could follow behind the almonds and everybody could grow ethanol corn with the latest chemical fertilizers and diesel farm equipment.

Federal and state government doesn't solve ag insect problems anymore,it funds them:

Medfly: $150 million since 1980, now proposal for permanent program at $16 million/year; the government cannot control its entry through ports like Long Beach;

Pierce's Disease, Glassy-winged sharpshooter: now spread to 28 counties, control programs in 51 counties, population of GWSS growing, two new infestations last year, 80 research projects, $20 million a year.

No wonder UC Merced wants to start a medical school. It's following a hallowed tradition of colonization of diseases as each generation of government/corporate/university technologists goes to work on the plagues caused by the last generation of the great win-win, public-private funded technologists, and government/corporate/university propagandists keep promising us that famous Black Box. The latest is a UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory biowarfare lab on a site where it also tests depleted uranium bombs near Tracy. So, the UC Board of Regents, under the guidance of Chairman Richard Blum, Sen. Feinstein's husband, dangle the promise of a medical school for the Valley (first conceived for Fresno in the mid-60s) and give you depleted uranium dust and a lab full of the most dangerous pathogens to local agriculture in existence, and hope nothing bad happens because Pentagon biowarfare pork it prime.

Actually, there is a black box. It is called Boomdoggle. It's not a solution for you and me, but it works for people speculating on the next Valley bubble, and who can afford to live outside the worst air pollution area in the nation. But they are the same speculators from finance, insurance and real estate special interests that control the dumbest, most corrupt air quality board in the nation.

Corporate domination of political institutions has meant economy-by-bubble, and each step of the way, working people get poorer, our common environment gets worse, and fewer people get richer. While corn growers yawp about their high prices, the subsidies are going to investors in the ethanol plants. We're a long way from biomass tax breaks now. We've entered the era of high finance in Green Pork.

Way back in 1981, Grass Valley-based folk singer, Utah Phillips, defined the problem in a song called "All Used Up."

I spent my whole life making somebody rich;
I busted my ass for that son-of-a-bitch.
And he left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I'm all used up ...

They use up the oil and they use up the trees,
They use up the air and they use up the sea;
Well, how about you, friend, and how about me?
What's left when we're all used up?" -- Utah Phillips, (c) 1981, On Strike Music.

1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons = 130 gallons ethanol/acre foot (if, as Sacramento Bee editorialists wonder, the USDA figures are right).

Badlands editorial board
-----------------

4-29-07
Sacramento Bee
Can't drink ethanol...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/162586.html

Businesses in California are racing to build plants to make ethanol...But it will take the state's most fought-over resource -- water -- to grow the crops used to produce ethanol. Many crops can be used for that purpose, but at the moment ethanol plants are picking corn -- the most water-intensive ethanol crop there is. How much water? How much corn? The answer is startling. According to a study of California agriculture by the respected Water Education Foundation, it takes about 118 gallons of water to grow a pound of corn. And how many pounds of corn does it take to produce a gallon of ethanol? About 21 pounds of corn, according to one publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If these numbers are accurate, the answer is about 2,500 gallons of water. For one gallon of ethanol. There is a goal to produce about a billion gallons of ethanol in California a year. That's about 2.5 trillion gallons of water for 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Take all the water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that now goes to Southern California and Valley farms, use it to grow corn -- and it still wouldn't be enough water. First, a water-intensive crop such as corn in the Central Valley is a bad choice. Second, since there is only so much water for agriculture in California, some other existing crops won't be grown. Third, it behooves the state to grow ethanol crops in the most water-efficient manner possible and set up laws and policies that guide industry in that direction. It is downright scary to see such a rush to ethanol without a better look at the consequences.

4-28-07
Modesto Bee
Flat land
Prices stagnant despite demand for dairy acreage
By JOHN HOLLAND

Farmland in the Northern San Joaquin Valley is pretty flat — at least as property appraisers saw it last year.
Land prices leveled off despite the continuing strength of the almond industry and the demand for dairy acreage and rural homesites, said an annual report from the state chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

"It was a pretty dull year following a huge increase that took place between 2003 and 2005," chapter president Randy Edwards, an appraiser based in Hilmar, said Friday.

The report, released Wednesday in Sacramento, tracked land values around the state for dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, rangeland and other acreage that produces California's bounty.

The per-acre values ranged from $150 for dry rangeland in the state's northeast corner to $600,000 for dairy land in the path of Los Angeles-area growth.

The values varied even for a single crop in a single region, depending on soil quality, water supply and other factors.

An acre of Stanislaus County almond trees, for example, could cost as little as $10,000 if watered from a well or as much as $25,000 if supplied by the Modesto or Turlock irrigation districts.

Dairy, the top farm sector by gross value in the northern valley and statewide, continued to be a major force in land values. These farmers have been adding land for feed crops and for disposing of manure under increasingly strict rules.

The dairy industry has struggled recently, however, with low milk prices, high costs for feed and other factors, as well as the lingering effects of last summer's severe heat wave.

"It appears the market is poised for a downward correction, unless a recovery in milk prices and reduction in feed costs (primarily corn) ensues in the near future," the report said.

Almonds, the region's No. 2 farm product, continue to thrive because of efforts to market the increasing harvests. Nut growers are even moving onto less-than-ideal soil, thanks to advances in tree breeding and irrigation, the report said.

Walnut orchard values continued to be strong. The report noted that this crop has not been as vulnerable as almonds to periods of low commodity prices.

Peach orchards ticked up in value. The report said it was too early to tell whether this was because of an ongoing industry effort to trim the acreage to deal with an oversupply of the fruit.

The report said farmland prices continued to be pushed up by the demand for rural homesites — parcels much larger than city lots but often too small for commercial agriculture. This trend includes grazing land on the west and east sides of the valley, up into Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

Edwards said the report overall shows that agriculture remains a key part of the valley economy.

"It's not the 800-pound gorilla, but it's stable, with the low spot being the dairy industry and the high spot being the almonds," he said.

The report, "2007 Trends in Agricultural Land and Lease Values," is available for $15 from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. For more information, call 368-3672 or e-mail secretary@calasfmra.com.

4-30-07
Inside Bay Area
Tracy should ponder benefits from Site 300...Tim Hunt, former editor and associate publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald. He is the principal with Hunt Enterprises, a communications and government affairs consulting firm.
(In other words, one more journalist who has become a flak and a lobbyist -- Badlands)
http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_5779417
LETTERS of support abound as the University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory seek to bring the nations premier agriculture and animal research facility to the labs Site 300 facility near Tracy. The missing letter, unfortunately, is from the nearest municipality to Site 300, the city of Tracy. The University of California is seeking what the Department of Homeland Security calls the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. There are 18 sites across the nation being considered with selection of three to five finalists scheduled in June...new site is scheduled to open in 2013 or 2014 and replace the governments current site at Plum Island off the coast of New York...homeland security department plans to build the lab to research human, zoonotic (animal to human) and animal diseases to counteract the potential terrorist threat of a weapons-grade animal diseases that have both human health effects as well as huge potential to disrupt the food supply. To conduct the research, the facility would contain secure biosafety labs at the level 3 and level 4 (most secure) levels. Forty University of California sites have BSL-3 labs, while there are seven BSL-4 labs operational in the United States. The UC effort has received a strong letter of support from Gov. Schwarznegger, as well as support from Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and former Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews from the Tracy area, as well as a number of agriculture and animal trade groups, such as the Farm Bureau. The San Joaquin Board of Supervisors is on record favoring the facility. The sticking point is Tracy... The lab and Site 300 management have a good safety record and have significantly upgraded security since the terrorist attacks of 9/11... Theres no BSL-4 further west than Montana despite the Bay Areas growing focus on the biosciences. Agriculture and ranching are huge economic engines in California, and there also are the potential dangers that come with being the container gateway to Asia through ports in Long Beach/Los Angeles and Oakland. The only question should be whether the facility can operate safety at Site 300, because once thats determined, the lab has nothing but upside for the region and the state.

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Valley hydraulic brotherhood coocaloo as usual

Submitted: Apr 25, 2007

There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation. -- Mike Whitney, Counterpunch.com, April 24, 2007

To effect the San Joaquin River settlement agreement between environmental groups and the Friant Water Users Authority, a congressional bill was required. The amount specified in the December bill was $250 million. McClatchy Washington Bureau reported yesterday that a "long-awaited study" put funding at $500 million to restore water flow through a 50-mile stretch of the river in the middle of Fresno County. Fresno Bee reports today, "Cost to restore river set at $1b," according to the executive director of the west San Joaquin Valley water district, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority. Yesterday a state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee (known to McClatchy as a "Senate panel," not even a legitimate committee), voted against funding two reservoirs in Northern California, one of them the Temperance Flats dam proposal, above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River.

Hello, world, we are the San Joaquin Valley. We are going through one of our periodic water-madness periods in which it is revealed to the discerning eye that the San Joaquin Valley is nothing but a gigantic public works project for agribusiness and finance, insurance and real estate. We talk like we own it. We don't. The American public paid for most of it.

Consider the official voice of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, for example. The exchange contractors sued the federal government about 50 years ago for building the Friant Dam where the San Joaquin River leaves the Sierra foothills, sending about 90 percent of its water down the east side of the Valley in the Friant-Kern Canal. The federal government thoughtfully built the exchange contractors the Delta-Mendota Canal, which sent San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta water south to the contractors, because cattle baron Henry Miller had good riparian rights to the San Joaquin on the west side and because the Bureau of Reclamation had stolen all the water for the City of Fresno and eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties' growers. Now that federally subsidized water is worth a mint in Los Angeles and Valley cities at municipal retail rates. But, so too the Delta Mendota water, worth municipal millions in fast-growing Los Banos, Patterson, and the "new towns" planned all up and down Interstate Highway 5, the magnificent achievement of Chuck Erreca of Los Banos, chairman of the state Department of Transportation when I-5 was approved in the days of Gov. Pat Brown.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Water Resources is reporting the snow pack hasn't been so low in 30 years, reminding old farmers of the drought of 1976-77, worse than the early 1990s. It serves to remind us that modern California, built on the boundless exploitation of limited natural resources, has never been rationally managed, and this year will be no different.

Consider how $250 million becomes $500 million becomes a billion dollars in a matter of days in McClatchy. Here we haven't even gotten to the next level of congressional debate on the dirty secret of west-side irrigation, that it produces extremely toxic levels of heavy metals and salts to grow its subsidized cotton, the almond orchards of finance, insurance and real estate speculators and federally subsidized ethanol corn -- and it has no place to put the toxic waste from this destructive form of agriculture.

A very powerful political coalition is forming to stop the San Joaquin Valley settlement agreement between farmers and environmentalists. It will probably force the case back into court for a ruling, negating years bargaining work between the farmers and environmentalists. Federal judge Lawrence Karlton has said no one will like how he will rule and it would be far, far better if a good settlement was put into effect. But the lobby of what the great former generation of San Joaquin journalists dubbed "the hydraulic brotherhood" won't let that happen and their little terriers like Rep. Devin Nunes, Water Agency Mouthpiece-Visalia, are yapping. Behind the yappers are other Valley congressmen, Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for example, quiet in the press but working behind the scenes to derail the settlement agreement. To the hydraulic brotherhood and its minions in public office, there is something obscene about farmers and environmentalists agreeing on anything and, besides, they don't pay the big bucks developers do to fund the magnificent political campaigns among turkeys chosen in advance by the largest landowners and developers in the districts.

The price of letting water flow in the second longest river in California is a pittance compared to the hinky mortgages speculators assumed in the mad home construction boom-and-bust in the San Joaquin Valley as politicians, finance, insurance and real estate special interests seek to convert farms to subdivisions upstream from LA.

Bill Hatch
--------------------

4-25-07
Fresno Bee
Cost to restore river set at $1b...Mark Grossi
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43792.html

The price tag of restoring the San Joaquin River might be $1 billion or more, according to an analysis announced Tuesday night. An official from a west San Joaquin Valley irrigation authority quoted the figure, which differs from other estimates that place the cost closer to $600 million. Environmentalists and east Valley farmers last year ended a long-running lawsuit and agreed to revive the seasonally dry river. The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, the west-side irrigation group, represents owners of 240,000 farmland acres next to the river. Officials fear their land might be flooded if the restoration isn't done well. "I know the numbers are going to cause controversy," said Steve Chedester, executive director of the authority. "The river basically hasn't existed in one stretch since the 1960s." The restoration project probably is among the biggest in the country, said Bill Loudermilk, regional manager in this area for the state Department of Fish and Game. The restored river will either run through a rebuilt section of the river or the bypass, said Monty Schmitt, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed the lawsuit over the river in 1988. He said no decision has been made yet.

Sacramento Bee
Defeated dams still supported; Governor isn't backing away from $4 billion in bonds after negative vote by Senate panel, By Judy Lin, http://by135w.bay135.mail.live.com/mail/ReadMessageLight.aspx?Aux=4%2c0%2c633131105411770000&FolderID=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&InboxSortAscending=False&InboxSortBy=Date&ReadMessageId=d7772f79-fc83-4424-948d-5ba938593446&n=659198169

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he has no plans to scale down his $4 billion proposal for building two new dams in the state despite watching Democrats reject his bill earlier in the day.
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee killed the governor's plan to put bonds for two dams -- one on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and one east of Fresno -- on the 2008 ballot. Senate Bill 59 by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, had Republican support, but couldn't muster the necessary five votes to pass out of the Democrat-led committee...SB 59 called for voters to approve a $3.95 billion plan to build one dam at Temperance Flat just above Friant Dam near Fresno, and the other on Sites reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. Together the dams would yield up to 3.1 million acre-feet of water. By comparison, Folsom Dam holds about 1 million acre-feet...Opponents led by environmental groups argue that the dams aren't needed as long as Californians continue to conserve. They say the projected cost of constructing the two dams has already increased by 10 percent, from $4 billion to $4.4 billion, and noted that some of the water would be lost due to evaporation.Republicans from the Central Valley counter that there hasn't been new dam construction in the last 25 years while the state's population has grown by 15 million...

4-24-07
Fresno Bee
River price tag put at $500mLawmaker says the restoration cost creates a problem.By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau -- http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43412.html

A long-awaited study puts the federal government's cost of restoring the San Joaquin River at $500 million -- raising questions about how to pay for the painstakingly negotiated plan.
One legislator is using the new Congressional Budget Office study in his attempts to derail the proposal to send more water down the river. The additional water would allow the return of long-depleted salmon populations.
"I think the costs are a lot higher than have been advertised, and that's a considerable problem for the bill," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. He has been critical of the restoration plan's possible effect on farmers if less water is available for irrigation.
The plan's supporters retort that the costs aren't unexpected. As they prepare for a May 2 Senate hearing, they will try to shave the cost estimates and identify the necessary offsetting savings.
"We've known for some time that we had a [budget] issue," Dan Dooley, an attorney for the Friant Water Users Authority, said Friday. "Until this report, we didn't have the specifics, but I'm confident we'll work through it."
The bill language itself only specifies $250 million in spending. The new cost estimate adds other required environmental spending, as well as the loss of federal tax revenue from California bonds that would be sold to help pay for the project as part of the state's share of funding.
Farmers and environmentalists differ over what the final total cost will be, with estimates ranging from between $600 million and $1.2 billion.
New rules in place under Democratic leadership require congressional spending to be balanced with additional revenues or with new savings. The San Joaquin River bill is one of the first natural resources bills to confront the new pay-as-you-go budget requirements.
In coming weeks, river restoration supporters will confront the political challenge of identifying other programs to trim so that the San Joaquin River might live.
"Good luck," Nunes said. "Who are they going to cut?" ...

April 24, 2007
Counterpunch.com
"Is It Too Late to Get Out?"
Housing Bubble Boondoggle
By MIKE WHITNEY

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson delivered an upbeat assessment of the slumping real estate market on Friday saying, "All the signs I look at" show "the housing market is at or near the bottom."
Baloney.
Paulson added that the meltdown in subprime mortages was not a "serious problem. I think it's going to be largely contained."
Wrong again.
Paulson knows full well that the housing market is headed for a crash and probably won't bounce back for the next 4 or 5 years. That's why Congress is slapping together a bailout package that will keep struggling homeowners out of foreclosure. If defaults keep skyrocketing at the present rate they are liable to bring the whole economy down in a heap.
Last week, the Senate convened the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer. The committee's job is to develop a strategy to keep delinquent subprime mortgage holders in their homes. It may look like the congress is looking out for the little guy, but that's not the case. As Schumer noted, "The subprime mortgage meltdown has economic consequences that will ripple through our communities unless we act."
Schumer's right. The repercussions of millions of homeowners defaulting on their loans could be a major hit for Wall Street and the banking sector. That's what Schumer is worried about---not the plight of over-leveraged homeowners.
Every day now, another major lending institution unveils its plan for bailing out the housing market. Citigroup and Bank of America have joined forces to create the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America which will provide $1 billion for the rescue of subprime loans. This will allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages and keep them out of foreclosure. The new "30- year loans will carry a fixed interest rate one point below the prime rate, putting it currently at 5.5 percent. There are no fees, and the banks pay all the closing costs."
But why are the banks being so generous if, as Paulson says, "the housing market is at or near the bottom." This proves that the Treasury Secretary is full of malarkey and that the problem is much bigger than he's letting on.
Last week, Washington Mutual announced a $2 billion program to slow foreclosures (Washington Mutual's subprime segment lost $164 million in the first quarter) while Freddie Mac committed a whopping $20 billion to the same goal. In fact, Freddie Mac announced that it "would stretch the loan term to a maximum of 40 years from the current 30-year limit."
40 years!?! How about a 60 or 80 year mortgage?
Can you sense the desperation? And yet, Paulson says he doesn't see the subprime meltdown as a "serious problem"!
Paulson's comments have had no effect on the Federal Reserve. The Fed has been frantically searching for a strategy that will deal with the rising foreclosures. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that "Federal bank regulators called on lenders to work with distressed borrowers unable to meet payments on high-risk mortgages to help them keep their homes".
Huh?
When was the last time the feds ordered the privately-owned banks to rewrite loans?
Never--that's when.
That gives us some idea of how bad things really are. The details of the meltdown are being downplayed in the media to prevent panic-selling among the public. But the Fed knows what's going on. They know that "U.S. mortgage default rates hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2007" and that "the percentage of mortgages in default rose to a record 2.87%". In fact, the Federal Reserve and the five other federal agencies that regulate banks issued this statement just last week:
"Prudent workout arrangements that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices are generally in the long-term best interest of both the financial institution and the borrowerInstitutions will not face regulatory penalties if they pursue reasonable workout arrangements with borrowers."
Translation: "Rewrite the loans! Promise them anything! Just make sure they remain shackled to their houses!"
Unfortunately, the problem won't be "fixed" with a $30 or $40 billion bailout scheme. The problem is much bigger than that. There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation.
Kenneth Heebner, manager of CGM Realty Fund (Capital Growth Management), provided a realistic forecast of what we can expect in the near future as defaults increase.
Heebner: "The Greatest Price Decline in Housing since the Great Depression" (Bloomberg News interview)
"The real wave of pain and foreclosures is just beginning.subprimes and Alt-A are both in trouble. A lot of these will go into default. The reason is, that the people who took these out never really intended to fully service the mortgage---they were counting on rising home prices so they could sign on the dotted line without showing what their income was and then 2 years later flip into another junk mortgage and get a big profit out of the house with putting anything down
"There's a $1.5 trillion in subprimes and $1 trillion in Alt-A the catalyst will be declining house prices which is already underway. But as we get a large amount of these $2.5 trillion mortgages go into default, we'll see foreclosed houses dumped on an already weak market where homebuilders are already struggling to sell there houses. The price declines which have started will continue and may even accelerate in some of the hotter markets. I would expect that housing prices in "2007 will decline 20% in a lot of markets".
"What you are going to see is the greatest price decline in housing since the Great Depression..The one thing that people should not do, is go near a CDO or a residential mortgage backed security rated Triple A by Moody's and S&P because these are going to get down-graded by the hundreds of millions---because they are secured by subprime and Alt-A mortgages where there'll be massive defaults".
Question: "Will the losses in the mortgage market exceed those in the S&L crisis?"
Heebner: "They're going to dwarf those losses because the losses could easily approach $1 trillion---that dwarfs anything that has ever happened. Enron was $100 billion---this will be far greater than that..The good news is that most of these loans are owned by Hedge FundsYou hedge funds buying these subprime and Alt-A loans and leveraging them at 10 to 1. They buy a pool of mortgages at 8% and they borrow against it in yen for 3% and then lever it at 10 to 1so you have a lucrative profit And the hedge fund you are running, the manager is going to get 20% of the gain---so even if it's a year before you go broke; you get rich until the fund is shut down".
Heebner added this instructive comment: "The brokerage firms created "securitization" they know the products are toxic. I don't think they are going to suffer losses; they simply passed them on to everyone else. The only impact this will have is the profits that flow from it will get less.But it is less than 3% of revenues in even the most exposed brokerage firm so THEY'RE NOT GOING TO GET CAUGHT" ...

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Biotech companies in the field

Submitted: Apr 23, 2007

Sale of modified seed corn stopped
GE_NEWS@eco-farm.org
Associated Press -- April 23, 2007

Minnesota has stopped the distribution and sale of a certain genetically modified variety of Syngenta seed corn because it doesn't comply with state regulations. Farmers were told not to plant the root-worm resistant seed.

Syngenta officials told the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on Friday that 7,480 units of "Agrisure RW MIR 604" seed were distributed to 99 seed dealers in Minnesota.

Mary Hanks, a biotechnology specialist with the department, said officials still didn't know Friday how much of the seed might have been delivered to farmers or if any had been planted. She said it apparently went to dealers across the corn-growing areas of Minnesota.

While the seed in question has federal approval, Minnesota requires companies to receive a commercial use exemption before they can sell genetically modified, or GMO, seed.

Syngenta neglected to get the required state approval, Hanks said.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said he wants aggressive action by Syngenta to retrieve all the unapproved seed shipped to and sold in Minnesota, including any that might have been purchased from a dealer in another state.

Last December, Golden Valley-based Syngenta Seeds, Inc., which is part of Swiss-based Syngenta AG, agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for selling and distributing a seed corn containing an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide.

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UC, Inc.

Submitted: Mar 25, 2007

The price of academic integrity

Jennifer Washburn lays out the case against the British Petroleum/UC,Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of Illinois-Urbana deal: $500 million from BP to set up an Energy Biosciences Institute to do BP-directed science for BP profits, using public facilities and publicly paid university sciences.

"Big Oil buys Berkeley" lays out a completely compelling case against the deal. The one thing I thought she missed was consideration of how much $500 million in industry funds could suppress science tending to suggest that biofuels are not the silver bullet for our energy woes.

She touches on another theme, which I would have liked to see her explore further. I guess I'll have to buy her book, University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education.

This is shameful. The core mission of Berkeley is education, open knowledge exchange and objective research, not making money or furthering the interests of a private firm. In the last two decades, however, Cal and other universities — increasingly desperate for research dollars — have signed agreements that fail to protect their essential independence, allowing corporations excessive control over their research.

I agree it is a shameful, probably dangerous corruption of academic independence and the public mission of UC. It is as ethically indefensible as the salaries UC administrators get "so that they will be competitive with private industry standards." I also believe it will have the effect of suppressing ethical concerns at Cal, worsening an already blighted history in that area.

But, is the economic concern accurate? Are universities "increasingly desperate for research dollars"? And, if so, why? I am sure that the answer to that question is extremely complicated, involving the privatization of many formerly government functions, particularly in institutions like the Pentagon and the Department of Agriculture. Bear in mind that UC is a land grant university, whose Cooperative Extension has been working at the county level in California agriculture for many decades, with varied results depending in recent years on what agribusiness lobby is dominating the USDA at the moment.

Public funds, at least in California, account for roughly 25-percent of the UC operating budget. I don't know what the percentage is in New Mexico, where the UC/Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the state's top employers. While it is safe to say that without that 25 percent, a great many things at UC could not happen. On the other hand, this percentage, shrinking through the years, is not in the commanding position it once was to enforce, economically, the mission of the university -- "education, open knowledge exchange and objective research." State funding of UC has suffered erosion, and is now seen as "local matching funds" somewhat similar to a local sweetener to attract federal highway funds for road projects. UC is funded, overwhelmingly, by private corporations and the federal government (the latter being in some instances pretty much like the former).

Passage in 1980 of the Bayh-Dole Act didn't help. This law enabled universities to

Public confidence in the objectivity of research may be eroded

Academia's relationship with private industry changed in the United States when Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980.1 This law enabled universities to patent their discoveries and license them to private corporations. This policy fostered collaboration between academia and industry, which created jobs and products of immediate commercial value. But the delicate balance between academic and corporate expectations has swung too far toward private profit at the expense of public trust. Universities are threatened by a growing public concern that industry funding distorts research and undermines its traditions of objectivity, independence, and free exchange of ideas. -- The unhealthy alliance between academia and corporate America

--Spyros Andreopoulos, Director emeritus, Western Journal Med. 2001 October; 175(4): 225–226.

Furthermore, the process is well-established and champions of academic independence are not found either on the UC Regents or among UC administrators, who together comprise a committee that must rank among the premier grant whores in the world.

But, what if the public has doubts about ethanol and the genetic engineering that this oil company-funded scientific institute will be doing? How can the public compete against $500 million? What state legislator, during committee meetings on the UC budget (that little 25-percent matching fund) is going to stand up against a half a billion bucks? One can almost hear the sneer of UC lobbyists.

In short, the state's "public research university" has been hijacked by an oil company in what top UC officials are calling another win-win, public-private partnership. This is certainly not the first time this has happened -- consider the land boondoggle of UC Merced as a recent example, and UCM's proposed University Community as another. Novartis paid a mere $25 million to Cal for genetic research a few years ago. Conflict took place, involving Cal environmental scientist, Ignacio Chapela, indigenous cultivars of corn in Oaxaca, GMO gene drift, Nature Magazine and the awesome flak machine of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Novartis chose to duck the heat and leave town. Chapela eventually got his tenure, blocked until he brought a lawsuit, by UC administration.

Let us, for a moment, consider another way of framing the issue, different from the win-win, public-private flak. We do this with apologies to another Cal professor, George Lakoff, one of the nation's leading sophists, who appears to be trying to patent the breath-takingly new idea of teaching liberals rhetoric.

UC depends on prestige for its grants. A one-tune pony, it must constantly employ legions of flaks to sing its song: "UC is the greatest public research university in the universe." In fact, it makes much more sense, producing a much richer sense of reality, to consider UC a public front for corporate and federal government research (much of which is guided by corporate lobbies).

What happens if you take the "public" out of the win-win, private partnership between UC and the oil company? If the public, with its mere 25-percent ante on the table, is unable to guide UC research to something of importance to the public, why not remove the ante and take its money off the table? UC isn't committed to educating the youth of California. UC is about UC prestige in some of the most lethal science and technology known to man. Arnold the Hun and the Legislature remain in the game of matching funds strictly to be seen as Big Shots in the glowing reflection of UC "public" research, which isn't public and may not even be research so much as it is flak-money spent to suppress science suggesting that the corporate sponsor du jour is researching things of actual danger to the public.

Badlands Journal
---------------------

3-24-07
Los Angeles Times
Big oil buys Berkeley...Jennifer Washburn
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-washburn24mar24,1,2582704.story

ON FEB.1, the oil giant BP announced that it had chosen UC Berkeley, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to lead the largest academic-industrial research alliance in U.S. history. If the deal is approved, BP will give $500 million over 10 years to fund a new multidisciplinary Energy Biosciences Institute devoted principally to biofuels research. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC administrators and BP executives immediately proclaimed the alliance — which is not yet a done deal — a victory for higher education and for the environment. But here's another way to see it. For a mere $50 million a year, an oil company worth $250 billion would buy a chunk of America's premier public research institutions, all but turning them into its own profit-making subsidiary. This is shameful. The core mission of Berkeley is education, open knowledge exchange and objective research, not making money or furthering the interests of a private firm. In the last two decades, however, Cal and other universities — increasingly desperate for research dollars — have signed agreements that fail to protect their essential independence, allowing corporations excessive control over their research. Most corporations sponsor university research one study and one lab at a time. With the Energy Biosciences Institute, BP would exert influence over an entire academic research center (spanning 25 labs at its three public partners), bankrolling and setting the agenda for projects that cut across many departments. What's more, BP would set up shop on campus:... BP also would set up private labs on these campuses, where all the research would be proprietary and confidential. The fine print of the plan, which UC made public only after it was leaked, doesn't create much confidence. Californians need to know that their public university is dedicated to pursuing the best science, not just science that generates profits for BP. Five hundred million dollars is a nice chunk of change, but does any amount of money justify "reinventing" UC Berkeley's academic integrity?

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Cardoza did the right thing

Submitted: Mar 23, 2007

I received a note from the MoveOn.org political action team today, urging me to personally thank Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for voting for the Iraq Accountability Act, which was passed today, 218-212, two Republicans voting in favor, and 14 Democrats joining the Republican opposition. Tallying up the Democrat opponents, I found six members of the Progressive Caucus and seven members of the 43-member Blue Dog Caucus, of which Cardoza is the communications director. Strange bedfellows, but these are fractious times.

Reading through the press reports on the bill, I noticed that some critics of it made allusions to pork.

"The sweeteners in this bill are political bribery," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and who delivered an emotional speech to conclude the Republican side of the debate. -- LA Times, March 23, 2007

I thought, before I rushed into the arms of MoveOn's conveniently available website to send our members of Congress our thanks (when I write Cardoza, the messages bounce back unopened), I might check out the pork a little first.

There may be some reason these agricultural appropriations are included in a bill on Iraq War appropriations. Maybe the old Contract-on-America crowd are just griping because they have not gotten used to two-party rule in the House yet. There could be a reasonable explanation why $252 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract Program is included in this bill beyond what Johnson calls "political bribery." But, the most reasonable explanation is that the communications director of the Blue Dog Coalition, representing the second largest dairy district in the nation, got a "sweetner." All but the handful of the remaining 34 Blue Dogs who aren't from agricultural districts, got their sweetners, too.

So, Speaker Pelosi lost progressive representatives Kucinich, Lee, Waters, Waston and Woolsey on principle, but picked up less-than-progressive Cardoza and the 34 Blue Dog Democrats, for a price.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, a long-term opponent of the Iraq War, is in a special category. The spinach growers in his district, "the Salad Bowl of the Nation,"economically harmed last fall by an outbreak of E. Coli traced to his district, got $25 million in relief. But Farr sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and on three subcommittees:

* Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
* Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
* Subcommittee on Homeland Security

which puts him in a position to both know what he wants and to get it. However, in this instance, where his vote seemed in little doubt, it appears the Speaker may have rewarded with some honey-cured ham.

More than 650,000 Iraqis have died in this war, now longer than WWII. This war was begun and maintained by one-party, rightwing Republican rule in the White House and Congress, during a period when, it is said, pork was also distributed to friends of the Republican administration like Halliburton. Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton before he reentered "public service." After billions in no-bid contracts in Iraq, Halliburton has expressed its loyalty to the nation by moving its corporate headquarters to Dubai.

So there is pork and there is pork, Mr. Sam.

We are by no means beyond the trauma of authoritarian one-party rule. In that shadow a middle-aged Northern Californian does a little dance at the pure normalcy of the pork deals. Farr plays the game like his father, former state Sen. Fred Farr did. Cardoza plays as his predecessors did. Pelosi deals with the rurales as San Francisco politicians have always dealt with them, when they needed them. But, don't you tell Cardoza that his bio-region has anything to do with the politics; Not necessarily judging by what he says, but by what he does, in his view, his farming district is a metropolis-in-waiting.

Therefore, I am going to resist the request of MoveOn.org to thank Cardoza for doing the right thing. The way it looks now, if the Senate doesn't take the timetable out, Bush will veto it. Neither House or Senate Democrats have the votes to override. So, maybe the pork stays in, the timetable goes out, and even the almond growers -- in case the bees didn't work this year -- will get bailed out with Crop Disaster Assistance.

But business-as-usual is preferable to recently deceased Contract on America.

Bill Hatch
---------------

Nita Chaudhary, MoveOn.org Political Action (moveon-help@list.moveon.org) +Add contact
To: Bill Hatch (billhatch@hotmail.com)
Subject: Rep. Cardoza does the right thing on Iraq

Dear MoveOn member,
We're one step closer in the fight to end the war. Today the Iraq Accountability Act passed Congress. For the first time, Congress passed a real deadline to end the war—by fall of 2008. Your representative, Congressman Dennis Cardoza voted right and helped make that happen.

This was a very hard vote for members of Congress. But Rep. Cardoza supported Speaker Pelosi in her strategy to wind down this war. Can you write him a quick note to say 'thanks' for bringing us one step closer and to keep up the fight until all our troops are home?

http://pol.moveon.org/endwar?id=10080-5558129-WDXVEY&t=1

There's no question that this bill was not as strong as most of us would have wanted—-and we're going to keep fighting together to bring the troops home sooner than next year. But it's an important step forward, and at today's vote 63 of the 71 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus voted for the bill. All but 2 Republicans voted against it.

Now the fight moves to the Senate. If Senators also pass a hard timeline to end the war then this plan goes to the President.

If he makes good on his promise to veto it, he'll be forced to stand up in front of the American people—a strong majority of whom want to set a date to end the war—and argue for a war with no end. And he'll have to veto funds for the war along with the timeline and send the whole thing back to Congress.

We've taken one big step in the right direction and together, we are going to keep fighting until we bring all our troops home safely.

This is just the beginning. Please write Rep. Cardoza and thank him for making this victory possible.

http://pol.moveon.org/endwar?id=10080-5558129-WDXVEY&t=2

Thanks for all you do,

–Nita, Eli, Justin, Karin and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Friday, March 23rd, 2007
-------------------

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR01591:@@@D&summ2=m&
H.R.1591
Title: Making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes.

Sponsor: Rep Obey, David R. [WI-7] (introduced 3/20/2007) Cosponsors (None)
Related Bills: H.RES.261
Latest Major Action: 3/22/2007 House floor actions. Status: Considered under the provisions of rule H. Res. 261.
House Reports: 110-60
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SUMMARY AS OF:
3/20/2007--Introduced.

U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007 - Makes emergency supplemental FY2007 appropriations for specified activities related to the global war on terror to the Departments of Agriculture (including food aid to Africa and Afghanistan), of Justice, of Defense (Military, including funds for Iraqi and Afghan security forces), of Defense (military construction and base closure), of Energy, of Homeland Security, of Veterans Affairs (particularly veterans' health programs), and of State (including international peacekeeping operations), and related agencies as well as the House of Representatives.

Provides funds to enable military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements.

Specifies conditions for assistance to Lebanon.

Prohibits the use of funds under this Act to deploy any unit of the Armed Forces to Iraq unless the chief of the military department concerned has certified to the congressional appropriations committees in advance that the unit is fully mission capable. Sets a maximum number of days for deployment in Iraq for military units. Authorizes the President to waive such prohibition and deployment limits on a unit-by-unit basis for reasons of national security.

Directs the President to transmit to Congress by specified dates certain determinations and certifications with respect to conditions to be met by the Government of Iraq. Requires redeployment of the armed forces from Iraq if any of such conditions is not met.

Directs the President to appoint a Coordinator for Iraq Assistance, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Declares that Congress will fully support the needs of members of the Armed Forces who the Commander in Chief has deployed in harm's way in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and their families.

Declares the sense of Congress that the U.S. Constitution grants: (1) the President the sole role of Commander in Chief; and (2) Congress the sole power to declare war.

Declares the sense of Congress that: (1) the commanders of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq should be allowed to conduct the war and manage the movements of the troops; and (2) Congress should remain focused on executing its oversight role.

Makes additional appropriations for disaster relief and recovery related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the Departments of Agriculture, of Commerce, of Defense (Civil), of Homeland Security, of Health and Human Services, of Education, and of Housing and Urban Development.

Makes appropriations to the Secretary of Agriculture for emergency crop and livestock disaster assistance.

Makes additional appropriations for specified purposes to the Legislative Branch and to the Departments of Agriculture, of Commerce, of State, of the Interior and of Agriculture (for wildfire suppression), and of Health and Human Services (for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and for response to an influenza pandemic).

Rescinds specified unobligated balances of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Prescribes requirements for DHS contracts, subcontracts, and task orders.

Requires each federal agency that has awarded at least $1 billion in the preceding fiscal year to develop and implement a plan to minimize the use of no-bid and cost-reimbursement type contracts.

Makes appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to eliminate the FY2007 shortfall in funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 - Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to increase the federal minimum wage to: (1) $5.85 an hour, beginning on the 60th day after enactment of this Act; (2) $6.55 an hour, beginning 12 months after that 60th day; and (3) $7.25 an hour, beginning 24 months after that 60th day. Applies federal minimum wage requirements to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and to American Samoa.

Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2007 - Amends the Internal Revenue Code to extend and revise: (1) the work opportunity tax credit; (2) expensing for small businesses; and (3) the credit for certain taxes paid with respect to employee cash tips.

Waives alternative minimum tax limits on the work opportunity credit and the credit for taxes paid with respect to employee cash tips.

Defines qualified joint venture with respect to family business taxes.

Makes certain dependents ineligible for the lowest capital gains rate.

Lengthens the period of failure to notify a taxpayer of liability before interest and certain penalties must be suspended.

Increases the amount of any required installment of estimated tax otherwise due in 2012 from a corporation with assets of at least $1 billion.

------

SEC. 3107. MILK INCOME LOSS CONTRACT PROGRAM.

Notwithstanding subsections (c)(3), (f), and (g) of section 1502 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (7 U.S.C. 7982), there is hereby appropriated $283,000,000, to remain available until expended, for payments under such section, using the payment rate specified in subsection (c)(3)(B) of such section, from September 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008. Of such amount, $252,000,000 shall be available only on or after September 30, 2007, and only so long as an Act to provide for the continuation of agricultural programs for fiscal years after 2007, including such section 1502, is not enacted.

H.R.1591
U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007 (Reported in House)

-----------------------

SEC. 3101. CROP DISASTER ASSISTANCE.

(a) Assistance Available- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to make emergency financial assistance available to producers on a farm that incurred qualifying quantity or quality losses for the 2005 or 2006 crop, or for the 2007 crop before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to damaging weather or any related condition (including losses due to crop diseases, insects, and delayed harvest), as determined by the Secretary. However, to be eligible for assistance, the crop subject to the loss must have been harvested before the date of the enactment of this Act or, in the case of prevented planting or other total loss, would have been harvested before the date of the enactment of this Act in the absence of the damaging weather or any related condition.

(b) Election of Crop Year- If a producer incurred qualifying crop losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 crop years, the producer shall elect to receive assistance under this section for losses incurred in only one of such crop years. The producer may not receive assistance under this section for more than one crop year.

(c) Administration-

(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary of Agriculture shall make assistance available under this section in the same manner as provided under section 815 of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001 (Public Law 106-387; 114 Stat. 1549A-55), including using the same loss thresholds for quantity and economic losses as were used in administering that section, except that the payment rate shall be 50 percent of the established price, instead of 65 percent.

(2) LOSS THRESHOLDS FOR QUALITY LOSSES- In the case of a payment for quality loss for a crop under subsection (a), the loss thresholds for quality loss for the crop shall be determined under subsection (d).

(d) Quality Losses-

(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to paragraph (3), the amount of a payment made to producers on a farm for a quality loss for a crop under subsection (a) shall be equal to the amount obtained by multiplying--

(A) 65 percent of the payment quantity determined under paragraph (2); by

(B) 50 percent of the payment rate determined under paragraph (3).

(2) PAYMENT QUANTITY- For the purpose of paragraph (1)(A), the payment quantity for quality losses for a crop of a commodity on a farm shall equal the lesser of--

(A) the actual production of the crop affected by a quality loss of the commodity on the farm; or

(B) the quantity of expected production of the crop affected by a quality loss of the commodity on the farm, using the formula used by the Secretary of Agriculture to determine quantity losses for the crop of the commodity under subsection (a).

(3) PAYMENT RATE- For the purpose of paragraph (1)(B) and in accordance with paragraphs (5) and (6), the payment rate for quality losses for a crop of a commodity on a farm shall be equal to the difference between--

(A) the per unit market value that the units of the crop affected by the quality loss would have had if the crop had not suffered a quality loss; and

(B) the per unit market value of the units of the crop affected by the quality loss.

(4) ELIGIBILITY- For producers on a farm to be eligible to obtain a payment for a quality loss for a crop under subsection (a), the amount obtained by multiplying the per unit loss determined under paragraph (1) by the number of units affected by the quality loss shall be at least 25 percent of the value that all affected production of the crop would have had if the crop had not suffered a quality loss.

(5) MARKETING CONTRACTS- In the case of any production of a commodity that is sold pursuant to 1 or more marketing contracts (regardless of whether the contract is entered into by the producers on the farm before or after harvest) and for which appropriate documentation exists, the quantity designated in the contracts shall be eligible for quality loss assistance based on the 1 or more prices specified in the contracts.

(6) OTHER PRODUCTION- For any additional production of a commodity for which a marketing contract does not exist or for which production continues to be owned by the producer, quality losses shall be based on the average local market discounts for reduced quality, as determined by the appropriate State committee of the Farm Service Agency.

(7) QUALITY ADJUSTMENTS AND DISCOUNTS- The appropriate State committee of the Farm Service Agency shall identify the appropriate quality adjustment and discount factors to be considered in carrying out this subsection, including--

(A) the average local discounts actually applied to a crop; and

(B) the discount schedules applied to loans made by the Farm Service Agency or crop insurance coverage under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.).

(8) ELIGIBLE PRODUCTION- The Secretary of Agriculture shall carry out this subsection in a fair and equitable manner for all eligible production, including the production of fruits and vegetables, other specialty crops, and field crops.

(e) Payment Limitations-

(1) LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF ASSISTANCE- Assistance provided under this section to a producer for losses to a crop, together with the amounts specified in paragraph (2) applicable to the same crop, may not exceed 95 percent of what the value of the crop would have been in the absence of the losses, as estimated by the Secretary of Agriculture.

(2) OTHER PAYMENTS- In applying the limitation in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall include the following:

(A) Any crop insurance payment made under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.) or payment under section 196 of the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333) that the producer receives for losses to the same crop.

(B) The value of the crop that was not lost (if any), as estimated by the Secretary.

(3) DUPLICATIVE PAYMENTS- The Secretary of Agriculture shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this section and any other Federal program for the same loss.

(f) Eligibility Requirements and Limitations- The producers on a farm shall not be eligible for assistance under this section with respect to losses to an insurable commodity or noninsurable commodity if the producers on the farm--

(1) in the case of an insurable commodity, did not obtain a policy or plan of insurance for the insurable commodity under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.) for the crop incurring the losses;

(2) in the case of a noninsurable commodity, did not file the required paperwork, and pay the administrative fee by the applicable State filing deadline, for the noninsurable commodity under section 196 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333) for the crop incurring the losses; or

(3) were not in compliance with highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation provisions.

(g) Timing-

(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to paragraph (2), the Secretary of Agriculture shall make payments to producers on a farm for a crop under this section not later than 60 days after the date the producers on the farm submit to the Secretary a completed application for the payments.

(2) INTEREST- If the Secretary does not make payments to the producers on a farm by the date described in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall pay to the producers on a farm interest on the payments at a rate equal to the current (as of the sign-up deadline established by the Secretary) market yield on outstanding, marketable obligations of the United States with maturities of 30 years.

(h) Definitions- In this section:

(1) INSURABLE COMMODITY- The term `insurable commodity' means an agricultural commodity (excluding livestock) for which the producers on a farm are eligible to obtain a policy or plan of insurance under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.).

(2) NONINSURABLE COMMODITY- The term `noninsurable commodity' means a crop for which the producers on a farm are eligible to obtain assistance under section 196 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333).

SEC. 3102. LIVESTOCK ASSISTANCE.

(a) Livestock Compensation Program-

(1) AVAILABILITY OF ASSISTANCE- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to carry out the livestock compensation program established under subpart B of part 1416 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, as announced by the Secretary on February 12, 2007 (72 Fed. Reg. 6443), to provide compensation for livestock losses during calendar years 2005 and 2006, and during calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to a disaster, as determined by the Secretary, including wildfire in the State of Texas and other States and blizzards in the States of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. However, the payment rate for compensation under this subsection shall be 75 percent of the payment rate otherwise applicable under such program.

(2) ELIGIBLE APPLICANTS- In carrying out the program described in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall provide assistance to any applicant that--

(A) conducts a livestock operation that is located in a disaster county with eligible livestock specified in paragraph (1) of section 1416.102(a) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (72 Fed. Reg. 6444), an animal described in section 10806(a)(1) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (21 U.S.C. 321d(a)(1)), or other animals designated by the Secretary as livestock for purposes of this subsection; and

(B) meets the requirements of paragraphs (3) and (4) of section 1416.102(a) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, and all other eligibility requirements established by the Secretary for the program.

(3) ELECTION OF LOSSES- If a producer incurred eligible livestock losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 calendar years, the producer shall elect to receive payments under this subsection for losses incurred in only one of such calendar years, and such losses must have been incurred in a county declared or designated as a disaster county in that same calendar year.

(4) MITIGATION- In determining the eligibility for or amount of payments for which a producer is eligible under the livestock compensation program, the Secretary shall not penalize a producer that takes actions (recognizing disaster conditions) that reduce the average number of livestock the producer owned for grazing during the production year for which assistance is being provided.

(5) LIMITATION- The Secretary shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this subsection and another Federal program with respect to any loss.

(6) DEFINITIONS- In this subsection:

(A) DISASTER COUNTY- The term `disaster county' means--

(i) a county included in the geographic area covered by a natural disaster declaration; and

(ii) each county contiguous to a county described in clause (i).

(B) NATURAL DISASTER DECLARATION- The term `natural disaster declaration' means--

(i) a natural disaster declared by the Secretary during calendar year 2005 or 2006, or calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, under section 321(a) of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (7 U.S.C. 1961(a)); or

(ii) a major disaster or emergency designated by the President during calendar year 2005 or 2006, or calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.).

(b) Livestock Indemnity Payments-

(1) AVAILABILITY OF ASSISTANCE- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to make livestock indemnity payments to producers on farms that have incurred livestock losses during calendar years 2005 and 2006, and during calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to a disaster, as determined by the Secretary, including hurricanes, floods, anthrax, wildfires in the State of Texas and other States, and blizzards in the States of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

(2) ELECTION OF LOSSES- If a producer incurred eligible livestock losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 calendar years, the producer shall elect to receive payments under this subsection for losses incurred in only one of such calendar years. The producer may not receive payments under this subsection for more than one calendar year.

(3) PAYMENT RATES- Indemnity payments to a producer on a farm under paragraph (1) shall be made at a rate of not less than 30 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock on the day before the date of death of the livestock, as determined by the Secretary.

(4) LIVESTOCK DEFINED- In this subsection, the term `livestock' means an animal that--

(A) is specified in clause (i) of section 1416.203(a)(2) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (72 Fed. Reg. 6445), or is designated by the Secretary as livestock for purposes of this subsection; and

(B) meets the requirements of clauses (iii) and (iv) of such section.

(c) Limit on Amount of Assistance- The Secretary of Agriculture shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this section and any other Federal program for the same loss.

SEC. 3103. SPINACH.

There is hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture $25,000,000, to remain available until expended, to make payments to growers and first handlers, as defined by the Secretary, of fresh spinach that were unable to market spinach crops as a result of the Food and Drug Administration Public Health Advisory issued on September 14, 2006. The payment made to a grower or first handler under this section shall not exceed 75 percent of the value of the unmarketed spinach crops.

| »

Bees and GMOs

Submitted: Mar 23, 2007

Some say the media is just jumping on it. Others say it's a coming disaster. Reliable sources say we won't be able the judge the true situation of America's Honey Bee population until about June, when San Joaquin Valley almond growers -- the largest employers of pollinating bees in the nation -- check the set in their orchards for nuts and mummies.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club is following a line of scientific inquiry, nearly as old as the massive plantings of genetically engineered corn, which asks the question: is bee-hive collapse related to GMOs? Whether this will prove a fruitful line of inquiry or not, apparently it is one that has been neglected by regulators and most land-grant university scientists. The bee crisis, if there is one, may be related to a crisis of funding in land-grant universities, which have become publicly subsidized labs for rent by biotechnology corporations for lack of adequate government funding and adequate public consideration of the products of the research.

Another factor may simply be the "sorcerer's apprentice" syndrome of some biologists excited about cracking this genome and that genome and seeing what they can create, without terribly close attention to the famous "unintended consequences."

The pesticide companies that bought the seed companies and exploited the new genetic science never cared much about the consequences of pesticides, from DDT forward, except when government regulation intruded on the bottom line, causing the companies to expend enormous sums for lobbying, public relations and campaign contributions.

If, in fact, convincing scientific research appears that GMOs are the cause of a serious collapse of bee hives in America, the suppression of the science and scientists who have discovered this, the propaganda campaign from the biotechnology industry, the search for members of Congress amenable to biotech industry cash, and the controversies on campus are going to be huge events in the culture, because the stakes are so high.

It would be helpful to know if the same phenomenon is also occurring in Canada and Argentina, at least, where huge GMO plantings are present.

The connection between GMOs and bee-hive collapse would seem to have some bearing on the massive, subsidized commitment to ethanol production, which uses GMO corn varieties, raising the question of unintended -- because unresearched -- consequences of "clean" ethanol emissions. Are potentially dangerous genes incinerated in the internal combustion process? Probably just a dumb question.

Results of research showing the connection between bee-hive collapse and GMOs is going to be about as popular in the corporocracy as Rachel Carson was.

Badlands editorial staff
-----------------------------

3-13-07
Despite buzz on bees, experts disagree on seriousness of problem
By Jim Downing
McClatchy Newspapers
http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/nation/16893200.htm
(MCT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Bees are dying by the billions. Nobody knows why. And the crops they pollinate - California almonds especially - are at risk.

Or at least that's been the buzz.

In the past month, the new and mysterious honeybee ailment known as "colony collapse disorder," which seems to cause entire hives of bees to leave home and never return, has made the front page of newspapers from Sacramento to New York. Fox News and National Public Radio aired reports. A "CBS Evening News" crew spent weeks following a bee-disease investigator around the nation. Even Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert took up the issue, urging investors to hoard bees.

"The fewer there are, the more they're worth," Colbert said.

Yet despite all the attention, there's little solid data on the severity of the problem.

"I'm not convinced that it's so much worse than what we saw in 2004 and 2005," said Eric Mussen, a bee specialist with the University of California, Davis.

While bees are undoubtedly in trouble this year, Mussen said, there's little evidence so far that it's anything other than the continuation of their long struggle with disease, environmental stress and the hardship of being hauled cross-country in midwinter to pollinate crops in California.

"This time the media just became much more involved in it," he said.

News accounts have cited dramatic losses of 70 percent or more reported by some commercial beekeepers from coast to coast. But because no comprehensive survey of the industry exists, it's hard to say just how many hives have been hit.

"About all we've got is anecdotes," said Troy Fore, executive director of the American Beekeeping Federation.

A clearer picture should emerge in June. That's when the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys the developing almond crop. If the billions of bees now laboring in the almond orchards in California's Central Valley are sufficiently strong and numerous to do their work - and the weather is favorable - the trees will be laden with nuts this summer.

Bees have become big business in recent years. Each hive rents for $140 or so, and California's almond growers alone will spend roughly $200 million hiring beekeepers to let their bees loose in the orchards this year. A good chunk of the bees also are essential to the production of about $12 billion in other crops nationwide, according to a Cornell University study.

But while bees have been growing in importance as pollinators, no state or federal agency monitors them. The agencies do track honey production, but that's tied only loosely to the size of the bee labor pool, since many beehives are now managed mainly as pollinators rather than honey-makers.

What information there is on bee vigor comes mostly word-of-mouth and, lately, through the media. With the spotlight on both beekeepers and almond growers - and millions of dollars at stake - rumors have been flying.

Some beekeepers accuse others of playing down the crisis out of pride, or in hopes that their clients, the almond farmers, won't start to question the health or the value of their rented bees. Other beekeepers trumpet the die-off, calling for government relief and higher rental fees from almond growers.

The California Almond Board, on the other hand, surveyed almond farmers and issued a statement last month. While bee supplies may be fairly tight, the board said, there are enough to go around.

Years ago, Mussen said, many Central Valley counties employed a bee inspector to check the health of rented hives. That person helped resolve disputes between beekeepers and farmers and served as an informal census-taker.

Today, those inspectors are scarce. One of the few remaining is Clifton Piper, who has checked hives for the Merced County (Calif.) Department of Agriculture since 1973. He isn't sure about the big picture, either.

"It's difficult to see just how short the shortage is," he said. Beekeepers often bolster weak hives with imported packages of bees from Australia, he said. And in cold and rainy weather, it's hard to tell whether sluggish bees in a hive are sick or simply chilly.

Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a Pennsylvania bee expert participating in a nationwide research effort that hopes to better characterize colony collapse disorder, said the investigation has been somewhat hampered by beekeepers unwilling to admit that their bees are dying.

"Sometimes beekeepers are ashamed that they have a problem, so they may not be as transparent as they might be," he said.

That's not the case for Placerville, Calif., beekeeper Rich Starets. He's lost 225 of his 300 hives since November. But he places the blame squarely on his own beekeeping missteps, such as poor timing of feeding and medication. And, based on conversations with fellow beekeepers, he's convinced that the much-discussed colony collapse disorder is chiefly the result of imperfect beekeeping.

"There's plenty of guys that didn't lose two-thirds of their hives this year," he said.

While the price that a hive commands in an almond orchard has nearly tripled in just the past four years, beekeepers' costs have risen, as well. Much of the money goes to treat bees against an ever-growing variety of pests and pathogens, to feed them corn syrup and protein supplements and to pay breeders for replacement bees when hives die off.

That's a lot to keep track of, especially for a part-time beekeeper like Starets, 40, who makes most of his living fixing cell-phone towers for AT&T.

But, he said, "It's up to me ... to learn how to keep bees in a changing world."

Dozens of his now-barren hive boxes are stacked in a meadow along Green Valley Road near Shingle Springs. On a recent morning, Starets cracked one lid open, revealing a cluster of a few dozen dead bees huddled together as if for comfort. They had started to mold. A healthy hive would have 20,000 or more bees at this time of year.

Online bee discussions on sites like beesource.com and honeybeeworld.com have been brimming with speculation on the cause and extent of the die-off. There are rumors of desperate almond growers offering $300 a hive for healthy bees, and theories blaming the die-off on everything from cell-phone signals to genetically modified crops.

Researchers like vanEngelsdorp are hoping to put the speculation to rest by finding a cause or a collection of causes - aside from beekeeper error - for the reported die-off. They're currently analyzing samples from healthy and sick colonies around the country.

For his role in the race to solve the mystery of colony collapse, vanEngelsdorp has become a minor media star. He's lately been spending 70 percent of his time talking to reporters and giving radio and television interviews, he said.

"You realize that this is an opportunity to help explain how important bees are," he said.

He knew the story had reached critical mass, he said, after what he overheard during lunch at an International House of Pancakes in Florida last week.

"Across the way there were these two old ladies," he said. "And one was saying, `Did you hear all the bees are dying?'

"And I'm thinking, Wow. It made IHOP conversation."
---------------------

3-22-07
GM WATCH daily
http://www.gmwatch.org

1.Bee demise - Are GMOs the missing link?
Sierra Club press release, March 22 2007

Are honey bees the canary in the coal mine? What are honey bees trying to tell us that we should pay attention to?

One out of every three bites of food that we consume is due to the work of honeybees, serving as crucial pollinators. Yet food production may be severely impacted by the recently reported Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Beekeepers are reporting estimates as high as 80% loss of their honey bee colonies.

There's a link that's not being investigated. Highly respected scientists believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of CCD.

Laurel Hopwood, Sierra Club's Chair of the Genetic Engineering Committee states, "In searching for the cause of massive honey bee losses nationwide, we must leave no stone unturned to find the answer. Is the release of genetically engineered organisms the smoking gun?"

This past decade we are seeing releases into the environment that we have never before seen on this planet. Genetic engineering involves the artificial transfer of genes from one organism into another, bypassing the protective barrier between species. Scientists admit that unintended consequences may occur due to the lack of precision and specificity in the DNA sites on different plant chromosomes where the inserted genes randomly end up. According to the prominent biologist Dr. Barry Commoner, "Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."

Regulators don't look, so they don't find. The USDA and EPA have failed to adequately assess the potential for lethal and sublethal impacts of engineered crop pesticides on pollinators like honey bees and wild bees, including the larvae brood and young bees. They have failed to study the effects of the practice of feeding honeybee colonies genetically engineered (GE) corn syrup and parts of recycled hives containing additional GE food residues.

Considering that loss of honeybee pollinators can leave a huge void in the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of 14 billion dollars to farmers, it would be prudent to use caution. If genetically engineered crops are killing honeybees, a moratorium on their planting should be strongly considered.

In a letter sent to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees sent yesterday, Sierra Club urges our elected officials to initiate investigations to determine if exposure to genetically engineered crops or corn syrup is the missing link.
-----------------------

2.GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder -- science needed!
http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/whatsnew/whatsnew_2007-03-21.asp

Contact: Sierra Club
Laurel Hopwood
216-371-9779
lhopwood@adelphia.net

Dear Senator Thomas Harkin,

We share similar concerns. The viability of a robust food supply is paramount to the American people.

One out of every three bites of food that we consume is due to the work of honeybees, serving as crucial pollinators in agriculture and farming communities. Yet agriculture and food production may be severely impacted by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a trend documented in honey bee colonies and prominently featured in a New York Times story(1). Beekeepers are reporting estimates as high as 80% loss of their honey bee colonies. Such a huge loss of the services of bees is extremely serious and beekeepers report it's a growing trend.

The cause of CCD is unknown. Although factors being considered include pesticides, mites, microbial disease and habitat decline, there's a possible link that's not being investigated. Highly respected scientists believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of CCD.(2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10) In searching for the cause of massive honey bee losses nationwide, we must leave no stone unturned to find the answer.

This past decade we are seeing releases into the environment that we have never before seen on this planet. Genetic engineering involves the artificial transfer of genes from one organism into another, bypassing the protective barrier between species. Scientists admit that "unintended consequences" may occur due to the lack of precision and specificity in the DNA sites on different plant chromosomes where the inserted genes randomly end up. According to the prominent biologist Dr. Barry Commoner and pioneer in ecology, "Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results could be catastrophic."(11) Dr. David Schubert has expressed similar concerns in pointing out some of the significant holes existing in current genetic engineering technology that raise serious questions about how well we understand it and how to apply such a new emerging science.(12) An issue Dr. Schubert raises is the "unpredictability" in the artificial gene splicing technology that is routinely performed in genetic engineering because it may lead to unpredictable consequences. Are the honey bees trying to tell us about the "unintended consequences" from large-scale genetic engineering in agriculture?

Investigators have raised the possibility that honey bees are experiencing a sublethal effect such as a "suppressed immune system" from an unknown toxin. However, sublethal effects have not been fully investigated. Dennis van Engelsdorp, a bee specialist with the state of Pennsylvania who is part of the team studying the bee colony collapses, said the "strong immune suppression" investigators have observed "could be the AIDS of the bee industry," making bees more susceptible to other diseases that eventually kill them off.(1) Nonetheless, a concern is that genetically engineered crops are being ignored as a possible culprit, especially with tens of millions of acres now being planted each year of cultivars producing large concentrations of pesticides that did not exist on such a scale just a decade ago.

Currently regulators fail to require adequate analysis of transgene insertion sites. This omission results from the failure to appreciate the magnitude of genetic damage sustained by transgenic plants.(11,12) Regulators have also failed to adequately assess the potential for lethal and sublethal impacts of engineered crop pesticides on pollinators like honey bees and wild bees, including the larvae brood and young bees. Studies are needed to evaluate the impact of GE crops on sublethal effects such as learning and feeding behavior. In addition, honey bee colonies are being fed GE corn syrups and parts of recycled hives containing additional GE food residues. The effect of these feeding practices on bees needs study.

Considering that loss of honeybee pollinators can leave a huge void in the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of 14 billion dollars to farmers, it would beprudent to use caution. If genetically engineered crops are killing honeybees, a moratorium on their planting should be considered.

Senator Harkin, as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, you are in a key position to initiate investigations to determine if exposure to genetically engineered crops is the missing link. Emergency funding for research on the pollinator decline needs to be available to researchers and the USDA.

Most sincerely,
Laurel Hopwood, Chair
Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee

References:
1. Alexei Barrioneuva, "Honeybees, Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and Keepers in Peril," The New York Times, February 27, 2007:
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B1FF8355A0C748EDDAB0894DF404482

2. Malone,L and Pham-Delegue,M. "Effects of transgene products on honey bees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus sp.)" Apidologie 2001,32,287-304.

3. Obrycki,J, Losey, J, Taylor,O, Jesee,L. "Transgenic insecticidal corn: Beyond insecticidal toxicity to ecological complexity." Bioscience May 2001/Vol 51 No. 5

4. Pham-Delegue, M.H., et. al. 2002. "Direct and Indirect Effects of Genetically Modified Plants on the Honey Bee," Honey Bees: Estimating the Environmental Impact of Chemicals, pp. 312-326.

5. Picard-Nioi, A.L,.et al. Pham-Delegue, M.H. "Impact of proteins used in plant genetic engineering: Toxicity and behavioral study in the honeybee." J. Econ. Entomol.997,90,1710-1716.

6. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher, "Risks associated with ingestion of Chardon LL maize, The reversal of N-acetyl-L- glufosinate to the active herbicide L-glufosinate in the gut of animals," Chardon LL Hearing, May 2002, London.

7. Mohr KI and Tebbe CC. "Field study results on the probability and risk of a horizontal gene transfer from transgenic herbicide-resistant oilseed rape pollen to gut bacteria of bees." Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2007 in press,DOI 10.1007/s00253, 007-0846-7.

8. Ramirez-Romero,R,Chaufaux,J and Pham-Delegue,M. "Effects of Cry1Ab protoxin, deltamethrin and imidacloprid on the foraging activity and the learning performances of the honeybee Apis mellifera, a comparative approach" Apidologie 36 (2005) 601-11.

9. Hilbeck,A and Schmid,J. "Another view of Bt proteins-How specific are they and what else might they do" Biopestic. Int. 2006,2,1-50.

10. Morandin,L and Winston,M. "Wild bee abundance and seed production in conventional, organic and genetically modified canola" Ecological Applications 2004,15,871-81.

11. Commoner, B. "Unraveling the DNA Myth: The spurious foundation of genetic engineering." Harper's Magazine, February 2002, 39-47.

12. Schubert, D. "Regulatory regimes for transgenic crops." Nature Biotechnology 23,785 - 787 (2005).

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GE corn and alfalfa

Submitted: Feb 15, 2007
"First you killed your own Indians and now you want to kill us!" the farmer shouted angrily ... Now the Zapatistas are freezing their seed corn to preserve pure Mayan germ plasma so that there will never be a world without it. -- John Ross, CounterPunch, Feb. 14, 2007

A pair of recent reports about the career of the infamous genetic engineering racket, spreading weird genes in our food wherever it goes. They come from that great GE watchdog in California, Thomas Wittman (GE_NEWS@eco-farm.org). Tom has born steady, daily witness for a decade to the evolving corporate business of patenting the staffs of life.

Badlands

Big Biotech is Forcing Farmers to Buy GMO Seeds
The Plot Against Mexican Corn
By JOHN ROSS
CounterPunch, February 14 2007
http://www.counterpunch.org/ross02142007.html

The "diableros" (hand truck hostlers) from Lagunilla market clustered around La Lupita's Ricos Tacos in the rough and tumble barrio of Tepito were not smiling. "Yesterday these cost me six pesos. Today, it's eight. Tomorrow, who knows, ten?" complained Rodrigo Aldama, 28, pointing at the three greasy tacos on his paper plate, "Vitamin T is rich man's food now." Vitamin T, a staple of urban diet here, includes tacos, tostadas, tamales, tortillas, and most any kind of street food concocted from corn.

The steep jump of tortilla prices here this January to as high as 18 pesos a kilo (they were six in November) have unleashed a storm of protest and suspicion. "Someone's getting rich on my 'ricos tacos' but it isn't me" lamented Lupita Perez. Many point fingers at the corn distribution system, which is run by transnationals.

Rodrigo had another theory: "the tortilla is Mexico but now they want us to eat white bread like the gringos." Others see even more sinister motives behind the sudden spike in tortilla prices which the government of freshman president Felipe Calderon blames on short supply and high prices for white and yellow corn - the opening of the Mexican milpa or corn patch to genetically modified corn.

World corn prices are currently at an all-time high due to burgeoning interest in ethanol production as a petroleum substitute. In Mexico the price of corn has been pushed upwards by the cost of diesel and petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides despite the fact that Mexico is a major oil producer. Crop failures due to drought, flooding, and even ice storms have contributed to the price surge. But whatever the immediate causes, the dismantlement of government agricultural programs and the brutal impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement have deepened the crisis in Mexican corn production.

Competing with highly subsidized U.S. farmers is driving their Mexican counterparts into bankruptcy. Whereas south of the border, guaranteed prices for farmers' crops is a thing of the past, corporate corn growers north of the Rio Bravo can receive up to $21,000 an acre in subsidies from their government, enabling them to dump their corn over the border at 80% of cost. The impact of this inundation has been to force 6,000,000 farmers and their families here to abandon their plots and leap into the migration stream, according to a 2004 Carnegie Endowment study.

This assault on poor farmers down at the bottom of the food chain will be exacerbated at the end of 2007 when all tariffs on U.S. corn are abolished. Meanwhile President Calderon seeks to tamp down tortilla prices by importing up to 2,000,000 duty-free tons to augment what Mexican farmers can or cannot produce. Such a solution is guaranteed to drive more farmers off the land. Even worse is that much of the new influx of NAFTA corn will be transgenic.

A great deal of the 36,000,000 tons of corn Mexico has imported from the U.S. in the past six years is genetically modified - 40% to 60% estimates the environmental group Greenpeace, reasoning that U.S. producers, barred from dealing GMO corn in Europe and Japan are using Mexico as a dumping ground for the grain.

GMO corn began pouring into Mexico in 1998 and by 2001 was being detected in the remote sierras of Oaxaca and Puebla, a region in which maize was first domesticated seven millenniums ago - both BT and Starlink strains (Monsanto and Novartis brands) were found in Oaxaca's Sierra de Juarez in 2001 and 2002. 11 out of 22 corn-growing regions in the two states registered readings of contamination as high as 60% in a 2002 government study that was suppressed by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Although Mexico imports millions of tons of transgenic corn, it remains a crime here to plant genetically modified seed. In 1998, the National Biosecurity Commission, an interdisciplinary body that involves the health and agricultural secretariats, declared a moratorium on planting genetically modified corn until its impacts could be determined, and the ban remains in place although under heavy attack from big biotech and agribiz and transnational grain purveyors like the Cargill Corporation which now controls much of Mexican corn distribution.

To keep the industry at bay, the Biosecurity commission now grants permits for "experimental" stations where the grain can be grown under government supervision - the Monsanto corporation is now testing its "YieldGuard" brand corn on hundreds of hectares in Sinaloa state, the most prolific corn-producing state in Mexico. A spillover of YieldGuard in Sinaloa could contaminate a big chunk of the existing corn supply.

Despite the prohibitions on planting, there is plenty of transgenic corn tassling up in the Mexican milpas these days. Some of it is accidental. Massive imports of NAFTA corn distributed in rural regions through state-owned Diconsa warehouses threaten vast swatches of the Mexican "campo." Diconsa trucks are old and the roads rough and the GMO corn blows off into the wind contaminating cornfields for miles around.

Although more and more licenses are issued every year for experimental planting, producers groups are now threatening to plant GMO corn without government permission - "If the moratorium is not relaxed, we will start planting the transgenic corn in the spring cycle" warns Perfecto Solis, director of the U.S.-Mexican agribusiness giant Corn Products Systems.

Despite the prohibitions, big corn growers have been sewing transgenic maize without government permission for years. Roberto Gonzalez Barrera, "El Rey de la Tortilla", whose Maseca-Gruma, now a third owned by the Archer Daniels Midlands conglomerate, rules the corn flour and tortilla market (between 60 and 80%), once boasted that he had thousands of hectares under transgenic corn.

Maseca-Gruma is indeed a major player in the "transgenization" of the tortilla industry. During the administration of the now-reviled Carlos Salinas (1988-94), Gonzalez Barrera began marketing an instant corn flour mix milled from both genetically modified and natural corn. Taco shells milled and confected by Gruma and marketed by Kraft were found to contain Starlink corn, then not yet authorized for human consumption, resulting in the largest call-back of any transgenically contaminated product in U.S. history.

The Maseca mix has largely supplanted the traditional Indian way of preparing corn for tortillas - the "nixtamal" in which the "granos" or kernels are put to soak overnight in a brew whose main ingredient is quicklime. As payback for market domination, the King of the Tortillas flew Salinas into self-exile in his private jet in 1995 after the ex-president's brother was arrested for murder.

Barrera and his ADM partners and their transnational associates at Cargill-Consolidated Mexico and Mimsa-Corn Products now control the Mexican maize market. It is that monopoly, which has caused the current panic, considers Luis Hernandez Navarro, op-ed editor at La Jornada, the national left daily, and a writer intimately familiar with agricultural issues. When ex-president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) closed down CONASUPO, the state grain distribution system in 1997, the transnationals moved in and have taken control, says Hernandez. "When Mexican corn is in danger so is Mexico" he cautions, echoing the old refrain "no hay pais sin maiz" - there is no country without corn.

Hernandez and other veteran observers of the Mexican "campo" strongly suspect that the current corn crisis is being manipulated to end the moratorium on planting transgenic corn in Mexico. "The transnationals want to end the moratorium and are using this made-up crisis to pressure the SAGARPA (Agricultural Secretariat) to do away with it" figures investigator Antonio Serratos at the prestigious College of Mexico think tank. "It is part of their strategy for taking control of the entire agricultural sector."

As if to confirm Serratos' hunch, Big Agro is already petitioning the Biosecurity Commission to permit widespread planting in 2007. "Bio-tech is the only solution to growing more corn and keeping the tortilla affordable" advises Jaime Yesaki, director of the National Agriculture and Livestock Council or C.N.A, the principal agri-business federation in the country.

The C.N.A. was joined in its petition to the Secretary of Agriculture to vacate the ban on growing GMO corn by the National Association of Supermarkets and Retail Stores which is controlled by the U.S. transnational Wal-Mart - Wal-Mart is now Mexico's number one retailer of tortillas and other foodstuffs and, with 700 mega-stores, the nation's largest employer.

The subtext of the corn conflict is control of the seed market. "We have been patiently waiting to end the moratorium for ten years now" complained Eduardo Perez Pico, director of Monsanto-Mexico, the St. Louis-based conglomerate that dominates world seed markets. "Meanwhile Mexico is falling behind the rest of the world in applying new seed technologies that can better feed its people" the magnate recently told La Jornada.

The Mexican geography produces hundreds of varieties of corn that have adapted to the country's myriad bioregions over millenniums. The introduction of transgenic seed will work to homogenize these strains, reasons Dr. Ignacio Chapela, the University of California-Berkeley biologist who was the first to locate GMO contamination here while doing fieldwork in the tiny Oaxaca sierra town of Calpulapan in 2001. "Millions of years of biological history will be lost if transgenic seeds are allowed to be planted in the Mexican milpa" Chapela affirms.

Big Biotech with Monsanto leading the pack wants to replace those millions of years with seeds like the Terminator (named for the action hero governor of California) which goes sterile after one growing cycle and obligates farmers (they sign binding contracts with Monsanto) to buy more, a process Mexican investigator Silvia Ribiero tags "bio-slavery".

Corn is not just nutrition and livelihood in Mexico but also culture and religion. Maiz came from the gods and the Aztecs and Mayas nourished those gods with sacrificial victims to keep it coming. The transnational attack on corn stirs passions and paranoias amongst the descendants of Mexico's first peoples. At a meeting of NAFTA scientists a few years back, some with deep ties to Big Biotech, and charged with investigating allegations brought by 17 Mexican NGOs that GMO corn was a threat to the nation's 57 distinct indigenous peoples, an Indian farmer from Oaxaca seized the mic and accused the scientists of practicing genocide by pushing transgenics. "First you killed your own Indians and now you want to kill us!" the farmer shouted angrily.

The Zapatistas are Mayans and the Mayans are the People of the Corn. According to their sacred books, the Popul Vuh and the Chilam Balaam, they are actually made from maiz. Manuel, a member of the ecology-agricultural commission at Oventik, the most accessible Zapatista "caracol" or public center in the mountains above San Cristobal de las Casas, venerates these roots. "We are the corn - if it is poisoned so are we" he insisted during this New Year's "Encounter Between the Peoples of the World and the Peoples of the Zapatista Communities" up at the Caracol "Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity." Now the Zapatistas are freezing their seed corn to preserve pure Mayan germ plasma so that there will never be a world without it. You can even purchase the seeds on the World Wide Web. Check out www.schoolsforchiapas.com.

U.S. Agency Violated Law in Seed Case, Judge Rules
Andrew Pollack
New York Times, February 14 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/business/14crop.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Agriculture Department violated the
law by failing to adequately assess possible environmental impacts before
approving Monsanto<'s genetically engineered alfalfa.

Judge Charles R. Breyer of Federal District Court in San Francisco said the
agency had been "cavalier" in deciding that a full environmental impact
statement was not needed because the potential environmental and economic
effects of the crop were not significant.

Plaintiffs in the case  some alfalfa seed companies and environmental and
farm advocacy groups — said they would push to stop the sales and planting of
the alfalfa, which is resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington
advocacy group that organized the lawsuit, said the decision by itself could
block commercial sales of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds but that the
plaintiffs would ask for an injunction to make sure. Judge Breyer asked the
parties to meet and propose remedies to him by Feb. 26.

Christopher R. Horner, a spokesman for Monsanto, said the company had not
seen the decision but thought it would not affect its business. Monsanto was not
named in the suit, which was filed against the Agriculture Department.

Calls to several spokesmen for the Agriculture Department were not returned.
A recording in the department’s communications office said the government
closed early yesterday because of expected bad weather in Washington.

A federal judge in Washington said last week that the Agriculture Department
had not done adequate assessments before approving field trials of genetically
engineered grass. And last August a federal judge in Hawaii, in a case
involving field trials of crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, ruled
that the Agriculture Department had not adequately assessed the possible impact on
endangered species.

Mr. Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety said yesterday’s decision could
set a precedent that would require the Agriculture Department to do full impact
statements for other biotech crops before they are approved.

The Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated by the Agriculture Department in
June 2005, meaning it could be grown outside of field trials. It was the first
approval in years of a new genetically engineered crop. Because alfalfa is the
fourth most widely planted crop in the United States, the action presented a
big opportunity for Monsanto.

The Agriculture Department had first done an environmental assessment, which
concluded that a longer and more detailed environmental impact statement was
not needed. This was in part, the agency said, because the implanted gene
conferring herbicide resistance was harmless to people and livestock.

But Judge Breyer, in his 20-page opinion, said that the agency had not
adequately considered the possibility that the gene could be transferred by
pollen
to organic or conventional alfalfa, hurting sales of organic farmers or exports
to countries like Japan that did not want the genetically engineered variety.

"An action which potentially eliminates or at least greatly reduces the
availability of a particular plant — here, nonengineered alfalfa — has a
significant effect on the human environment," he wrote.

The judge also said that the Agriculture Department had too easily dismissed
the possibility that planting Roundup-resistant alfalfa would lead to wider
use of Roundup, which in turn would contribute to the development of weeds
resistant to the popular herbicide. That is particularly a risk, he said,
because many other crops like soybeans and corn are also resistant to Roundup, which is
known generically as glyphosate.

"One would expect that some federal agency is considering whether there is
some risk to engineering all of America’s crops to include the gene that
confers resistance to glyphosate," he wrote.

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Some evolutionary considerations

Submitted: Feb 03, 2007
1-24-07
Tracy Press
Supes vote to back bio-lab...John Upton

http://tracypress.com/content/view/7317/2/
Acting on the advice of its agricultural committee, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to support an anti-biological terrorism laboratory that could be built southwest of Tracy to research incurable fatal diseases that affect both animals and people. Superintendent Steven Gutierrez voted against his colleagues, saying it was too early to determine whether the research activities would help safeguard and support the general public. “What research activity” Gutierrez said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do.” The Department of Homeland Security and Lawrence Livermore have not yet announced what types of diseases will be studied at the bio-lab, how the pathogens will be shipped in and out of the bio-lab, or whether accidents will be publicly reported. The Tracy City Council is expected to vote on whether it supports the bio-lab proposal at its meeting Feb. 6. Lawrence Livermore is managed by the University of California. The university’s agricultural division’s government and external relations director, Steve Nation, said after the meeting that the agricultural industry strongly supports the proposed bio-lab. He said the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms support the bio-lab …

Let us return to ground recently covered. Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, was defeated by a coalition of state and national environmental groups because he and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, collectively known as the Pomboza, tried to gut the Endangered Species Act, one of the most popular laws in America.

Cardoza’s membership in the Pomboza stemmed from his support of the University of California’s attempts to destroy the richest fields of vernal pools, containing 15 endangered plants and animals, in the nation.

UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to win the contract to put a level-4 biowarfare laboratory on Site 300, the Livermore lab’s bomb-testing site, near Tracy. This lab would test the most dangerous biological toxins known to man. And it would get lots of defense grants for UC.

Congressional hearings are currently being held that raise the question: is UC, even with Bechtel at its side, incapable of running Los Alamos National Laboratory competently, or is it just impossible to run a weapons of mass destruction lab securely?

The ordinary person in Northern California has read a number of articles in recent years pointing out that UC security at the Livermore lab is not too hot either.

Maybe, that ordinary citizen, especially if he or she lives downwind from Tracy, does one more step of reasoning. You have to coat a bomb with plutonium and detonate it for its dust to spread around too much and pollute the groundwater, as it has near Tracy. It would seem that all you would have to do with a killer virus would be to drop a bottle of it on the floor and it could be all over the region rather quickly. Isn’t that what they do in a state of nature?

When that sort of thought goes through Joe Sixpack’s head, he rolls his eyes, groans, grabs another beer, turns on the TV and hopes he can really, really get into the football game.

An environmentally oriented person will protest this lab, as hundreds of people who have signed petitions against it have done.

Now, here comes the California Farm Bureau, the California Cattlemen’s Association, a woolgrowers association and Foster Farms. They support the lab, they told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ agricultural committee to support it, and they did, leaving it up to the Tracy City Council to hold the line on Feb. 6.

Given the nature of the full-court flak press by UC, the federal government is not interested in putting such an incredibly dangerous laboratory near a place where there is real controversy about it. UC tried several years ago to site this same laboratory at UC Davis, the Davis City Council opposed it adamantly, and the biowarfare lab did not go to Davis. So far, UC has had better luck with the Pomboza.

The decision by agribusiness to support the project was made apparently based on some sort of promises by UC Livermore lab to do some work on animal diseases. This will be done by bringing the animal diseases in concentrated form to the bio lab to research them, right in the middle of the densest populations of cattle and poultry in the state. It is not that these industries lack the benefits of modern agricultural science through the UC Cooperative Extension, the USDA and numerous other scientific entities.

Let’s bring Avian Flu here to the Valley to study it. UC has a proven record of security lapses, but agribusiness knows that UC can do no wrong. If the Avian Flu gets out and wipes out the poultry industry, the migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway and some people, agribusiness and UC can blame it on terrorists. Terrorists are an extremely important part of biowarfare research, because without terrorists, there would be no reason for the research because the terrorists are the ones who are going to introduce the deadly toxins into our environment for which the biowarfare lab is going to create antidotes. The terrorists are going to do this because they hate freedom. If they hate freedom enough to sneak past UC’s porous security and liberate a few deadly cattle and poultry viruses from the Tracy level-4 biowarfare lab, who are you going to blame for that? Osama. Boy, will we be mad at Osama then. We’ll get him for sure if that happens. You bet. But, we’ll have all the antidote we need to inoculate millions of cows, chickens, turkeys, migrating ducks and humans by that time. You bet. UC and the federal government together cannot go wrong.

The only possible explanation for this political decision on the part of agribusiness is that it is anti-environmental. By golly, we’re going to stick it to them damn environmentalists this time! However, one lone San Joaquin County supervisor wisely said that nobody really knew what UC would be studying at the level-4 biowarfare lab. It reminded us in Merced of where UC Merced is going to get its water.

What the proposed biowarfare lab will study will depend on the grants it gets. It will depend overwhelmingly on federal government priorities, which returns us in a dismal circle to the terrorists again. I wonder if there is any other way of getting the terrorists not to unleash deadly plagues upon our livestock, migrating ducks and ourselves other than importing them to the neighborhood to experiment on in another leaky UC weapons of mass destruction lab that would seem to be an attraction for freedom-hating terrorists. But it’s never so simple. Because, in addition to your freedom-hating terrorists, you’ve got those terrorists who just hate Americans because Americans killed their relatives. But that gets into the metaphysics of the imperial defense industry, distracting us from the evolutionary facts on the ground.

Looking at agribusiness from an environmental point of view puts us in mind of what happens to endangered species when they lose too much of their habitat.

Scientific advisory c ommittee to Badlands editorial board
----------------------

Notes:

1-24-07
Stockton Record
Pombo in talks to join Oregon-based lobbying firm...Hank Shaw

http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070124/A_NEWS/701240320
The Washington insider paper Roll Call reported Tuesday: "The former House Resources chairman is in talks with Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based PR and lobbying firm that has a roster of timber and energy clients." ...the company already has signed a deal with Pombo's former staff director, Steve Ding, to open a California office in Sacramento. Pombo, who, despite reports to the contrary, isn't rolling in dough, might very well need the added income - especially now that he'll probably keep his town house in Virginia.

1-31-07
Contra Costa Times
Nuclear security agency at risk...AP, MedialNews staff writer Ian Hoffman contributed to this story
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/16586727.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Fed-up lawmakers on a House oversight committee said Tuesday that they want to strip a federal nuclear-weapons agency of its security responsibilities, and they threatened to shut down Los Alamos National Laboratory, now under new managers from the Bay Area. The lawmakers criticized the lab for its most recent security breach, in which a contract worker walked out with more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that if problems cannot be solved this time, he will ask that Los Alamos lab, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, be shut down. After more than 60 years of operation by the University of California, the lab now is run by former Lawrence Livermore lab director Michael Anastasio and a consortium led by UC and San Francisco-based Bechtel National. Barton, Dingell and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a measure Tuesday to strip the National Nuclear Security Administration of its primary security responsibilities and turn them back to the Energy Department...expressed concerns that NNSA has not fixed Los Alamos security problems despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on improvements. A new management team was installed at Los Alamos less than a year ago, in part to reverse years of security and safety problems. The embarrassing October incident involving the classified documents resulted in a shake-up in the agency that oversees the lab. Linton Brooks, already reprimanded for an earlier incident, resigned this month as NNSA chief. Tuesday's four-hour hearing, lawmakers asked repeatedly why the lab needs to exist and whether it simply has too much responsibility for too many secret materials. Deputy energy secretary Clay Sell said Los Alamos probably could not be replaced or duplicated...is the only place where plutonium fission cores for weapons can be made...much of what happens at Los Alamos is secret because the lab is responsible for the bulk of the strategic nuclear weapons stockpile. "It has been suggested that we shoot the dog," Sell responded. "I have to reject that suggestion.”

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