The US Department of Agriculture says consumers will
see tougher policing of the organic food market. That’s after the
USDA recently revoked the accreditation of a company that certified organic products. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The US Department of Agriculture says consumers will
see tougher policing of the organic food market. That’s after the
USDA recently revoked the accreditation of a company that certified
organic products. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The Ag Department kicked a Wisconsin certifier out of the
National Organic Program for apparent conflicts of interest. That marks the first time
the department has revoked an organic certifier, but the agency says
other investigations into rule-breaking have been done and some
certifiers have left voluntarily when they knew the government was
Barbara Robinson oversees the USDA’s Organic
Program. She says the learning curve of the four-year old effort is
over and tougher enforcement is on the way:
“Ignorance is no longer a good excuse. Now, enough time has passed to
say, okay, we can get a little tougher.”
People who break the organic certification rules can be booted out for up to
five years and face fines.
You might not be getting what you pay for when you
buy food with the USDA organic label. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams explains:
You might not be getting what you pay for when you buy food with the USDA
organic label. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams explains:
The USDA organic label is supposed to guarantee that shoppers are buying
food that’s free of most chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, but that label might not
always be trustworthy.
Staff at the Dallas Morning News analyzed USDA’s own internal audits. They
found that the USDA does not know how often organic rules are broken. The
agency has not yet fined any producer for violating the rules, but some
producers have been ordered to remove the organic label.
USDA auditors found that some food producers got approval even though there
was evidence that banned chemicals were used on their products.
The Dallas Morning News analysis found that about 40 percent of organic food
is grown overseas, with even less oversight.
Two gourmet chefs managing the kitchen at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth are adding organic vegetables to the menu. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Sharon McKeever takes a pot of soup off the stove in the kitchen at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. Food managers are adding hormone-free milk and organic fruits and vegetables to the menu. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
St. Luke's Hospital recycles food service items like large cans and jars. The kitchen also saves unused meals for the local food bank, and sends food waste to the compost pile. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Some hospitals are trying to heal the food that they serve. The GLRC’s Stephanie Hemphill takes us to one hospital that’s making efforts to spice up their menu:
Some hospitals are trying to heal the food that they serve. The GLRC’s
Stephanie Hemphill takes us to one hospital that making efforts to spice
up their menu:
(Sound of elevator)
St. Luke’s is the smaller of Duluth’s two hospitals. Their motto could be
“we try harder.” Several years ago, the hospital put two chefs in charge
of the housekeeping, laundry, and food.
In the kitchen, there’s the usual industrial stoves and dishwashers, and a
long assembly line where workers fill the trays for patients, based on
what they’ve ordered.
“The patient fills out the menu, I’ll have this entrée and that salad and this
beverage; then as the tray moves down the conveyor belt, they look at the
menu and put on the appropriate products.”
Mark Branovan was a gourmet chef at restaurants in California’s wine
country. In that part of the world, they take their fresh fruits and
vegetables very seriously.
“We did very little of our produce buying from the big distributors; we
had local guys that would grow lettuce for us, and herbs for us, and tomatoes…
anything we wanted. So that just kind of rolled over for us into, if
we can do it for a restaurant, why can’t we do it for a hospital?”
It’s harder to do in this part of the country, where you can grow lettuce
for about half the year and you’re lucky to get a tomato at all. But
Branovan and his colleague, LeeAnn Tomczyk, decided not to let that
Tomczyk was a chef in a trendy restaurant in Wisconsin before she took
the job at the hospital. She says when she first came here, she was
appalled at some of the things on the menu.
“YOu know the patient was able to pick a jell-o salad and a piece of cake.
Well, to me jell-o is a dessert but to them it was their salad and that
was their vegetable, and that wasn’t right.”
Tomczyk and Branovan started to add more fruits and vegetables,
including organic items, to the menu, but they learned to pick their
“When I tried to change some of the casserole dishes, and some of the
traditional northern Minnesota fare, I was met with some serious
resistance from our customers and our patients who said, ‘Yeah, we have
tater tot hot dish on our menu because we like it.'”
One of the first items to change was the milk. Now the hospital serves
hormone-free milk to patients in the rooms and workers in the cafeteria.
Tomczyk says she’s convinced hormone-free milk and organic food are
healthier. She says an organization devoted to helping people heal, like a
hospital, needs to think about healing in broad terms, even globally. She
says buying local food avoids long-distance transportation, with its heavy
reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
“And the introduction of pesticides and herbicides, and that getting into
our water systems, it’s that whole cycle, and we’re using more and more
these days, and I think it’s just got out of hand.”
The hospital is also committed to reducing waste. It freezes unused
portions and gives them to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It sends
its food waste to the city compost pile.
St. Luke’s is a member of a hospital buying group that negotiates prices
with big producers like Pillsbury. Each hospital is supposed to buy a
certain percentage of its food through the buying group. When Branovan
and Tomczyk asked the distributor for hormone-free milk, the distributor
didn’t carry it.
“We had to actually get a waiver that says they will allow us to buy off-
Branovan got a similar waiver to buy organic fresh fruit, and greens for
the cafeteria salad bar. He hopes to add more organic and locally-grown
Branovan says St. Luke’s is the first hospital in the region to ask the
buying group to supply hormone-free milk and organic vegetables, but
hospitals and schools on the west coast and east coast are doing it on a larger
James Pond is editor of Food Service Director, a trade magazine.
He says the movement will grow.
“The pricing advantages will in some ways level out, where if it becomes
important enough to the clientele, the food service operators will respond
by providing products in this manner.”
Some hospitals organize a farmer’s market to serve their workers, as a
way to introduce them to organic and local foods. Then they add those
foods to the cafeteria and patient meals. At St. Luke’s, they feature
organic food at company parties.
Several biotech companies have agreed not to grow genetically modified crops in Corn Belt states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, parts of Kentucky, parts of Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
Several biotech companies have agreed not to grow genetically modified crops in Corn
Belt states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, parts of Kentucky, parts of
Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
Twelve biotech companies including Monsanto and Dow agreed to the moratorium. In
states where the corn might contaminate nearby fields planted with crops for human
Lisa dry is with the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.
She says the companies won’t grow corn and safflower used for medicines.
“This is pharmaceutical production, it is not agricultural or food production. We are
taking every single possible precaution to make sure that it stays in its intended use
channel and does not end up in the food or feed.”
Dry says commercial grocers, exporters, and food processors have been concerned about
the Starlink scandal of 2000, when genetically modified corn approved for animal feed
turned up in 300 varieties of taco shells, tostadas and chips. The biotech companies say
they will grow crops in non-traditional areas such as Hawaii, Arizona, and Puerto Rico.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.
Most of the cattle raised in the Great Lakes region spend their lives in a feedlot, fattening up on corn and other grains before becoming dinner themselves… but there’s a growing number of organic farmers looking at putting their cows in the pasture. They say grass-fed beef is a healthy alternative. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder has more:
Most of the cattle raised in the Great Lakes region spend their lives in a feedlot, fattening up on
corn and other grains before becoming dinner themselves. But there’s a growing number of
organic farmers looking at putting their cows in the pasture. They say grass-fed beef is a healthy
alternative. Brad Linder has more:
(Sound of cows mooing)
Here on Natural Acres Farm in Millersburg, in Central Pennsylvania, 120 cows have their heads
to the ground. They’re chewing on tender shoots of grass instead of ground corn or some mixture
of grain feed.
Steve Shelley is in charge of marketing beef for Natural Acres. He says cows are designed to eat
grass, but most farmers today find it cheaper and easier to buy commercial feed made from grains
“You know farmers nowadays. Well that’s the way their dads did it, so they’re doing the same
thing. It’s much easier to go out and dump a bucket of feed into a pen for that animal to eat than
it is for that animal to be out, to get the best benefit from the soil.”
And Shelley says another reason most farmers use grain feed is that it takes longer to raise cattle
on grass. Grain-fed cows are ready for slaughter within a year, but Natural Acres cows can take
six months to a year longer to reach the same size.
But Shelley says that convenience for the farmer comes at a cost to the cattle. Shelley says cows
raised on corn get sick more often than grass-fed cattle. As preventative measures, cows
traditionally have antibiotics mixed in with their feed and require frequent visits from the
Cows on organic farms are naturally healthier. And since Shelley’s marketing his product to
consumers interested in “healthier meat,” the animals also don’t receive growth hormones or other
chemicals often found in commercial beef.
Natural Acres runs an organic foods shop on-site. But Shelley says the market for such products
is pretty small in rural Central Pennsylvania. Most of the beef isn’t sold here. Instead, much of it
is shipped to restaurants and stores, where people are willing to pay premium prices.
“In a grocery store, you may pay anywhere from a $1.75/pound to $2.00 for a pound of beef.
Retail, we get $4.09.”
Being able to charge more for beef is only one of the perks to raising cattle on grass. The farmers
who raise grass-fed beef don’t have to pay as much to the veterinarian.
“The animals rarely get sick. And I have talked to hundreds of people who raise animals on
Jo Robinson is author of the book, “Why Grass Fed is Best.” She also runs the website
‘eatwild.com,’ which compiles research on grass-fed cattle.
“The big surprise, I think – and this wasn’t known until about 1998 – is that an animal raised on
pasture has five times the amount of cancer fighting fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA.”
Robinson says CLA helps prevent cows from developing tumors. There is some evidence
suggesting CLA has the same effect on humans, but it’s not yet clear if eating grass-fed beef is a
way for people to fight off cancer.
Robinson does point out that CLA is just one of the reasons there’s a growing demand for grass-
“Some people gravitate towards pasture finished meat because it’s free of hormones and
antibiotics. Some people are aware of the nutritional benefits. They like the fact that it’s lower in
saturated fat, higher in omega 3 fatty acids, higher in vitamin E, and a number of other
substances. It’s simply a healthier product all around.”
Robinson says she first started looking for American grass-farmers in 1997, and only found about
sixty. Now, she says, the market has grown to include at least ten times that number, which still
only represents a small portion of the American Beef Industry.
Paul Slayton is director of the Pennsylvania Beef Council, the non-profit organization charged
with promoting the state’s beef industry. Slayton says less than 1% of the state’s beef production
comes from grass farms. But he says those farms do fill an important role.
“I see it being a very viable part of our production in this part of the country, because we have
such an eclectic consumer group. And there are some consumers that just won’t eat anything else
but organic. And somebody’s going to be providing their food.”
As the beef industry is recovering from public concern over mad cow disease and e. coli bacteria,
Slayton says anything that convinces people meat is safe is fine by him.
And as for the taste of grass-fed beef, Steve Shelley from Natural Acres Farm says it might be
more familiar than many people think.
“Many times when I go and do a taste test at a store or something, a lot of the older people, when
they try it, make the comment: ‘This tastes like beef used to taste.'”
Shelley says the meat is leaner and can be tougher if cows aren’t fed a little grain before slaughter.
But Natural Acres is experimenting with different types of grass that might lend a more
consumer-friendly texture to the beef.
Shelley says it’s a combination of taste and nutrition that gets most people interested, even some
people who had given up on commercial beef altogether. Shelley tells one story about a man
who’s wife had banned meat from their house for five years.
“So he bought a hamburger and finally got her to try it, and at the end of the day, he gave me a high five, and he said, ‘I can eat beef
again! She’s given me permission to bring beef into the house!’ Well, that really makes you feel
So grass-fed beef is entering households that hadn’t seen any beef in a while for environmental
reasons or because of health concerns. While the beef might be a taste of days gone by, organic
farmers are getting better prices for their meat than even in the best of days past.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brad Linder.
People have been eating genetically modified vegetables and grains for several years. Now a genetically altered salmon might be headed for the market. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports that a few hundred seafood retailers are planning to boycott the new fish:
People have been eating genetically-modified vegetables and grains for several years. Now, a
genetically-altered salmon might be headed for the market. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Rebecca Williams reports that a few hundred seafood retailers are planning to boycott the new
The genetically-altered salmon grow twice as fast as other farm-raised salmon. The Food and
Drug Administration is deciding if it will approve the fish for human consumption.
If it gets to market, it might be tough to find buyers. That’s because of a boycott organized by
Julie Francis is a restaurant owner in Cincinnati. She’s joining more than 340 chefs, seafood
distributors and grocers in the boycott. Francis is concerned that not enough is known about the
effect on humans and wild salmon.
“I really, being a chef owner, come from the background of, you know, ‘I want the best fish, I
want the best vegetables,’ and I just, it’s just, in my personality, to be concerned about things like
chemicals, and additives, and different things that we just don’t know, I don’t know that much
The seafood retailers plan to boycott genetically-altered fish until they feel it’s safe to eat. They
also want the FDA to insure that wild fish stocks won’t be harmed.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.
A new study claims the U.S. government is losing billions of dollars by allowing farmers to grow genetically modified crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
A new study claims the U.S. Government is losing billions of dollars by allowing farmers to grow
genetically-modified crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
The study from the British Soil Association reports the U.S. has increased farm subsidies by 12
billion dollars over the past three years to make up for lower exports. Many European countries
will not allow the import of genetically-modified food. They say it hasn’t been proven to be safe
for human consumption. But U.S. farmers refute the report.
Leon Corzine is a Central Illinois corn and soybean farmer. He says a report criticizing the economics of genetically-modified
crops is nothing more than propaganda.
“If bio-tech crops – just like any other item – if it is not economically viable, they don’t last and
we don’t use them. That’s how I operate on my farm.”
Corzine says there are so many variables in the agriculture industry that it’s impossible to blame
one thing for higher subsidies. He also says while some European countries are turning away
U.S. grain, other countries are increasing their import levels.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.
Cuban growers examine their crops. Farmers in Cuba have been successful in
growing their own crops after the Soviet Union collapsed ten years ago.
Photo by Mary Stucky
Cuba is in the midst of an unprecedented experiment in alternative agriculture… an experiment that’s attracting the attention of farmers in the Great Lakes. When the Soviet Union collapsed ten years ago, so did Cuba’s economy. Lacking money to import food or the chemicals to grow it, the Cuban government made a bold move — embracing organic farming and natural pest control. In the second of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky takes a look at the lessons farmers may learn from Cuba’s organic experiment:
Cuba is in the midst of an unprecedented experiment in alternative agriculture… an experiment that’s attracting the attention of farmers in the Great Lakes. When the Soviet Union collapsed ten years ago, so did Cuba’s economy. Lacking money to import food and the chemicals to grow it, the Cuban government made a bold move – embracing organic farming and natural pest control. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky takes a look at the lessons Great Lakes farmers may learn from Cuba’s organic experiment.
The agricultural transformation in Cuba is striking. In a land only recently dependent on imported chemicals, much of the farmland is now cultivated without chemical fertilizer or chemical pest controls. In a land where people were once starving, a vast system of urban gardens are producing more than half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in Cuba, completely without the use of chemicals. So while certain foods like meat and milk are in short supply, the United Nations reports that most Cubans are now consuming enough calories for a healthy life.
There’s a pride in proving alternative agricultural methods can feed a country’s people. Fernando Funes made that point in the busy lunchroom at the agricultural research facility he runs near Havana.
“In the whole world we are a handful of people trying to go ahead with this struggle and we have to show that we are producing more healthy products that is healthy for nature. I don’t know what will happen in the future but I guess in my opinion, we are not going to come back because we have been proving very well that this paradigm is going to substitute the other one.”
Funes is out to spread the message that even the most chemical fertilizer and pesticide dependent farming can be transformed. Folks like the University of Minnesota’s Bill Wilcke are listening. Wilcke was recently in Cuba studying its agricultural innovations.
“Their solution is ‘what do we have to fix the problem,’ trying to make use of their natural resources and their own human resources to make this work.”
It’s not that they don’t use any fertilizer, or pest controls – they do. It’s just that they involve far less chemicals. For instance, Cuba’s approach to fertilizer involves the production of worm humus in so-called vermiculture facilities – where staff regularly invites curious American farmers to visit.
“We use commonly just manure, but also the kitchen residues and many other organic matters. They eat double their size.”
This Cuban farmer explains how they feed manure or garbage to the worms, which then transform it into a richer, more potent fertilizer. That fertilizer has been used to dramatically improve yields for some crops in Cuba.
(Ambient sound from lab)
Throughout rural Cuba there are more than 200 centers for the production of natural pest controls – including bacteria that devour insect larvae. That’s an inexpensive – and largely effective – alternative to chemical pesticides. Alternatives such as these are well known in the United States. But because of the ready availability of chemicals and because alternatives don’t work well on some big cash crops, they’re little used in the U.S. right now. Still, developing alternatives makes good sense to the University of Minnesota’s Bill Willcke.
“I don’t know if we need to advocate abandoning technology, but I think we need to think about what some of our options are and we have to think about the scale of our agriculture, the kinds of technology that we use.’
Some economists say it’s foolish for countries like the U.S. to imitate Cuba. They say, why go back to what some call medieval farming methods, why use valuable urban land to grow food. But Minor Sinclair disagrees. Sinclair lived in Havana in the 1990’s, representing Oxfam America, a charity working on food policy. Sinclair says Cuba may be sitting on a gold mine, with the increasing demand for organic food.
“Will Cuba’s agriculture be able to be a lighthouse for other developing countries in the region, and in some way even for farmers here in the United States. I hope so.”
Maybe someday, but most experts do not expect to see a system of organic farming and urban gardens widely embraced in the U.S. any time soon, at least not without a food crisis of Cuban proportions.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky.
For the past few years, environmentalists have been warning consumers that pesticides applied to fruits and vegetables could be extremely dangerous to children. Soon, the Environmental Protection Agency will tackle the issue. Armed with a new federal law, the EPA is taking a fresh look to see if pesticides applied to produce carry health hazards. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Edelson Halpert has more:
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is proposing national rulesfor organic food production. The new rules are an attempt tostandardize labeling and quality. But as they are now written, theywill still allow irradiation, genetically altered food and syntheticfertilizers…And that has Great Lakes Radio Consortium Commentator JuliaKing worried: