Identity may be the fastest growing segment of agriculture. Merchandisers, processors and consumers are all demanding to know more about the commodities that pass into their hands. They demand the information from one another and from the farmers who produce it. There are any number of organizations today which certify whether food is grown utilizing specific methods or produced with approved bloodlines.
Currently, the focus of one of the hottest debates is "Country of Origin Labeling". Initially the concept was greeted as warmly as the flag. Initially Country of Origin labeling or COOL was considered patriotic and good for the local farm economy. More recently though skeptics have emerged, and are now resisting its implementation.
The House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee voted this week to deny funding for Country of Origin Labeling or COOL. Members cited the need to consider the ramifications of the measure to everyone in the supply chain from producer to retailer.
COOL detractors supported the move stating the rule will create cumbersome record keeping schemes for producers as well as costly consumer label redesign.
Supporters of the measure feel there has been enough time to review the law and committee members caved-in to the pressure from powerful lobby groups.
The final rule, which USDA estimates will cost the entire food chain $2-billion annually, is scheduled to go into effect September 30, 2004.
The USDA estimates that 38% of the 79 million corn acres planted this year are planted with seed genetically modified to kill corn borers with the bacterium Bacillus Thurengiensis, or Bt. In early 2000, the US Environmental Protection Agency required any farmer planting Bt corn to create a refuge of 20% non-GMO corn.
This week the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a study on refuge creation that was compiled from USDA data. The work showed 81% compliance by farmers in the Midwest corn producing states of Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. CSPI feels the non-compliance will increase the chance of corn borers become resistant sooner rather than later.
And on the west coast, the Environment California Research and Policy Center, an industry watch-dog group, released its own study of the biotech industry. ECRPC officials are concerned that the nearly 40-thousand field tests conducted from 1987 through 2002 were performed without adequately studying threats to human health and the environment.
The group wants a moratorium on testing unless the U.S. Government begins independent safety testing, the labeling of any product developed from that testing, and begins holding biotech companies accountable for any harm they may cause.