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Organics Boosts Local Economies

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Washington, DC (PRNewswire, May 25, 2016):  The Organic Trade Association today released conclusive research that for the first time links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture, and shows that organic food and crop production — and the business activities accompanying organic agriculture — create real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities.

The recently completed White Paper, entitled "U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies," was prepared for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke. It finds organic hotspots—counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity—boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points.

Organic activity was found to have a greater beneficial economic effect than that of general agriculture activity, and even more of a positive impact than some major anti-poverty programs at the county level.

"We know that organic agriculture benefits our health and our environment," said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. "This significant research shows organic can also benefit our livelihoods and help secure our financial future."

"Organic agriculture can be used as an effective economic development tool, especially in our rural areas," said Batcha. "The findings of this research show organic certifiers and the transfer of knowledge and information play a critical role in developing organic. And it provides policymakers with an economic and sound reason to support organic agriculture and to create more economy-stimulating organic hotspots throughout the country."

Organic is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. food industry. Organic food sales in 2015 jumped by 11 percent to almost $40 billion, far outstripping the 3 percent growth rate for the overall food market. Organic crops command a significant price premium over conventionally grown crops. As a result, interest in organic at the production level has grown as the demand for organic has risen. More farmers are transitioning to organic production, and more organic businesses are sprouting.

GE Food at the Crossroads?

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, May 24, 2016):  A heated debate continues over whether genetically engineered (GE) foods should be labeled for sale and distribution. Proponents insist that consumers have a "right to know" what is in the foods that are being offered for sale in the marketplace. Opponents of such labeling argue that it provides no useful information, and is actually misleading to most consumers. This debate is being conducted at the ballot box, in State and Federal legislatures, and in the courts. This article provides a summary of the issues involved and an update of the current status.

First, it should be clear that the debate over whether to label genetically engineered foods is not an argument over the safety of such foods or whether they pose risks different than conventionally bred and produced food products. This question has been answered conclusively. A recent meta analysis of more than 1700 scientific studies worldwide addressing the safety of GE foods concluded that "scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected to the use of GMOs."[1] (I recently gave a talk on regulation of genetically engineered plants at the 2016 Biotechnology Industry Organization World Congress of Industrial Technology and I noted that, while I don't presume to opine on what is the exact number of peer reviewed published studies demonstrating the safety of GE foods is sufficient to lay this issue to rest, I do know that it is far less than the more than 2000 studies that have been conducted so far that have demonstrated the safety of such products.) Moreover, some of the most august scientific bodies in the world have similarly conclusively declared that the GE foods produced to date bear no greater risk than conventionally produced foods. These include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and the World Health Organization.[2]

FSMA Major Concern

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, May 18, 2016):  Even before the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law January 2011, food safety has been a major concern for the food industry and consumers.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was established in May 2000 to establish a safer supply chain and regain consumer trust following a number of high-profile food recalls. Since then, several major food retailers have required their suppliers (food manufacturers) to comply with GFSI standards, including Food Safety certification from a list of approved standards. Many food manufacturing companies decided to obtain certifications, while others have chosen not to obtain GFSI certifications at all. It wasn't a matter of being less concerned about food safety; it was simply not a business requirement. These companies continued to produce quality products with safety procedures in place, just without the documentation that a certification body would require.

Fast forward to the last quarter of 2015, and FSMA rules have been finalized. The compliance date for many companies is a looming deadline in 2016. What steps are those companies taking to comply with the regulations, and how much of an impact is it having on their organization? Here are three hypothetical examples:

Getting Certified

A regional grocery chain offers prepared foods, meats, bakery and other prepared foods that they produce in their own factories. This chain is self-reliant, only distributing and selling the products that it manufactures in its own stores, controlling its entire distribution process. By having a contained process, the grocery chain has not needed to maintain a GFSI certification. The company employs a downstream strategy, such as buying from trusted suppliers that have food safety and recall procedures in place. In order to be on target with FSMA regulations, the process to comply with regulations will be more strenuous, and extensive effort will be required in a short period of time because they have not gone through food safety certifications in the past. Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification would be a starting point, as the main areas of SQF certification are largely comparable to what is required under FSMA.

Agritourists Eager to Visit

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Albany, GA (Growing America, May 20, 2016):  Livestock producers take note – "agritourists" are more eager than ever to visit your operation, but you may want to polish up your pitch.

The results of a survey by conducted by market research firm, Lightspeed GMI, in conjunction with Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics, revealed that out of a pool of 857 U.S. households (representative of the overall adult population for age, gender, pre-tax income and region of residency) nearly 70% had visited a livestock operation.

That figure alone is impressive in a time when so much negative press surrounds meat production. But the most interesting finding is this: While these respondents were more likely to agree with the statement, "I am supportive of the growth of livestock agriculture in my county," they were also more likely to agree with this statement, "I am concerned about impacts on water quality from livestock operations in my county."

Nicole Olynk Widmar, associate professor of agricultural economics at Purdue and co-author of the study says the finding suggests that even ardent supporters still ask critical questions.

Rather than discouraging livestock farmers from opening their operations to agritourists, Widmar says the survey should serve as motivation for producers to welcome visitors with open arms—just be more prepared to answer the tough questions that people may ask about environmental impact.

GMOs Safe

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Albany, GA (Growing America, May 18, 2016):  An extensive 388-page report just released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes that genetically engineered crops are safe for humans and animals to eat.

The report utilized evidence accumulated over the past two decades, which included almost 900 research and other publications on the development, use, and effects of genetically engineered characteristics in maize (corn), soybean, and cotton.

The committee of more than 50 scientists involved in developing the report found no evidence that food made from GE crops caused any increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies.

They also found that "the use of insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant crops did not reduce the overall diversity of plant and insect life on farms," and that "GE soybean, cotton, and maize have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers who have adopted these crops."

"We dug deeply into the literature to take a fresh look at the data on GE and conventionally bred crops," said committee chair Fred Gould, University Distinguished Professor of Entomology and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University.

Switch to Soybeans?

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W. Lafayette, IN (Purdue University, May 16, 2016):  Farmers who have been delayed in planting corn could take advantage of a market rally in soybeans and switch to that crop, Purdue agricultural economist Chris Hurt says.

Soybean prices surged Tuesday (May 10) after a U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed a sharp reduction in global soybean inventories and stronger-than-anticipated demand for U.S. exports.

"Delayed planting this spring may actually turn out to be a financial blessing if farmers end up planting more soybean acres," Hurt said. "Soybean prices have been rising rapidly this spring while corn prices have increased much more slowly."

Financial incentive

Since March 1, soybean prices have risen 25 percent, or $2.20 per bushel, while corn prices are up only 4 percent, or about 14 cents per bushel.

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