FDA Approves GM Salmon!

AquAdvantage salmonOn Thursday November 19, 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored major concerns voiced by a wide range of environmental, consumer advocacy, scientific and other organizations, and thousands of public comments to approve the first ever genetically modified (GM) animal for human consumption – a reportedly “fast growing” salmon.

RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released a statement about the approval.

Some of the major concerns with the salmon are that:

  • There are no meaningful long-term studies done on health effects from eating this fish, or the real risks involved if these salmon were to escape into the wild;
  • The main stated reason for approval is to strengthen farmed fish’s economic viability — but the FDA has not done due diligence in exploring alternative options;
  • While the FDA echoes the company’s contention that the engineered fish are sterile, and thus supposedly unable to reproduce, 100 percent sterility is highly unlikely. ‎There is still risk the fish could unintentionally end up in the wild and intermix with wild salmon; these risks have not been well evaluated;
  • The salmon contains compounds that may cause increased allergic reactions;
  • FDA failed to adequately explore safer methods for fish production. For example, aquaponics – raising fish in tanks connected to plant grow beds in a closed-loop recirculating system – can naturally achieve fast growth rates for fish, making genetic modification to artificially enhance growth unnecessary. These systems are also space, energy and water efficient – an all around win for our planet; and
  • The company that created and will sell the salmon supplied the data FDA used to evaluate the fish’s safety. That is in no way objective or rigorous.

Surprisingly, FDA also decided that the new salmon will not be labeled as GM in stores because the agency says ‘ it is nutritionally equivalent to conventional farm-raised Atlantic salmon’. This is problematic for consumers – they deserve to know that the fish they may be buying and eating is genetically modified, so they can make informed decisions.

Over 9,000 stores owned by 60 chains across the nation have already rejected genetically engineered salmon, including Kroger, Target, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and others. Seventy-five percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said they would not eat genetically engineered salmon, and 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing approval of the so-called “frankenfish.”

With this first approval of a GM animal for human consumption, there is widespread concerns that other GM animals will be approved soon.


Food Security Panel Discussion

WPC networking 2 10515On Monday October 5th, the Recirculating Farms Coalition hosted a dinner for the Women’s Professional Council of New Orleans, and a panel discussion on food security and access. The setting for the meal and topic was perfect – it was all held at RFC’s Growing Local NOLA community garden in Central City, New Orleans.

Historically, Central City is an under-served, lower income neighborhood, without any full service grocery store. The area is also considered a “food desert”, as there is very limited access to fresh food there. These are among the reasons Growing Local NOLA made a home in Central City, to offer a place for residents to grow their own fresh food and so they could also purchase it straight from the garden at a reasonable cost. The garden grows fruits, vegetables and herbs, and houses free range happy chickens that provide fresh eggs; all of this is available at affordable prices to the community.  There are also free weekly exercise classes on Wednesdays, health supportive cooking classes every 1st Thursday of the month and gardening/farming classes every 2nd Saturday of the month.

Panelists included representatives from: Grow Dat Youth Farm, Broad Community Connections, Circle Food WPC Discussion panel 10515Store and Recirculating Farms Coalition. Interestingly, there was a consensus among the speakers that New Orleans is aware of inadequacies regarding access to healthy, fresh food based on socio-economics, race, and location and many people are working toward solutions – but there are still many hurdles to overcome.

The women enjoyed a garden fresh menu, crafted from just-picked items, or from local businesses. Cocktail hour included: pickled peppers, okra and watermelon rinds; herbed roasted nuts and pumpkin spice cider (BIG THANKS to Cathead Vodka for donating the pumpkin spice vodka!). This was followed by a watermelon, feta, mint salad over mixed spicy greens in a lemon pecan vinaigrette; ratatouille over Cajun rice and NOLA style BBQ shrimp and grits; and finished with an amazing sweet potato bread pudding with a burnt sugar cane drizzle. Yum! Kudos to Ica Crawford of Growing Local NOLA and Katy Jane Tull and Leah Fishbein of Cake By The Pound for a delicious and beautiful local meal.

WPC networking 10515WPC table set up 10515

RFC Joins USDA in Online Chat Re: Veterans and Farming

On Thursday, September 17, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden led a panel of veteran farmers and veteran training organizations, including Marianne Cufone on behalf of Recirculating Farms Coalition. The group discussed, via an online chat through Google+ Hangout, opportunities available for returning service members who are looking for long-term careers in farming and ranching.

Many veterans show interest in agriculture because they feel that working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life and provides them with a way to continue serving their community. As part of the beginning farmer and rancher community, many veterans are eligible for a wide variety of USDA programs and resources.

Recirculating Farms Coalition, through a grant from USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, has been hosting market (commercial) farmer trainings in New Orleans, Louisiana throughout this year, especially focused on veterans, women, and socially disadvantaged communities.

The event allowed RFC to highlight the assorted benefits of water-based growing methods for veterans. During the talk, Marianne Cufone noted, “[w]e learned these growing methods are especially useful for more senior or disabled vets – they are very versatile in design and so inspire creativity, they can be inside or outdoors and so offer flexibility, growing food often leads to healthier eating, and socializing, and in terms of physical requirements these systems are usually vertical – in towers, or elevated in beds – so they don’t require much bending and there is no weeding!”

To read Marianne’s entire remarks, click here:

To watch the full Google Hangout, click here.

See the USDA’s blog at for more information.

Long Time Fish/Fishing Advocate Zeke Grader

givegraderA tireless advocate for fisheries and fishing families, Zeke Grader, died the night of September 7th.  And we all – no matter whether you loved, or loved to hate his messages – will miss him, his passion and genuine concern for the world we share. Learn more about Zeke, in an article from the party where he was honored for his life long advocacy, earlier this year.

I first met Zeke when an unusual coalition of people from all around the U.S. involved in fisheries – both commercial and recreational fishing groups, environmental advocates, scientists, lawyers and more (normally most of these people wouldn’t even speak to each other) – came together to jointly promote changes to the nation’s main fisheries law, the Magnuson Stevens Act. It was no small feat, getting all these opinionated, notoriously adversarial people in a room to work on a common project.

Zeke was one of the group, and right away, I noticed he was serious about these issues, straightforward in his manner, and given the temperature in the room, brave about speaking up. He didn’t care what people thought of him – he cared that people thought about his issues and his position on them. His constant energy and famously entertaining quotes got him spots on big time TV like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Sean Hannity Show, and also in many newspapers nationwide for years and years, raising awareness about important fisheries issues that likely otherwise would have been passed over.

I then learned Zeke was also a lawyer. Some people (mainly those he outsmarted in some political arena) would snarkily say “He’s a lawyer who thinks he’s a fisherman.” Turns out, he was really a fisherman who went to law school and was therefore better able to advocate for his friends, neighbors and fellow fishing families – oh, and the fish too. He was all about making sure our floppy friends went on living and reproducing for many years to come. I genuinely believe there would be no Pacific salmon today, but for the many efforts of Zeke Grader and friends.

His positive impacts were felt far and wide – in fact, Zeke helped create the Recirculating Farms Coalition.

One hot issue during the years that our unlikely coalition continued working together was development of fish farms in the ocean around the U.S. These would be giant floating cages filled with fish. There are a number of concerns with such an industry, including pollution from fish waste and excess fish feed falling through the cages, escapes of captive fish into the wild, intermixing with and perhaps causing illness or altering genetics of wild fish, the actual space these huge farms take up – making navigation and other problems for shipping, fishing and other ocean industries. And, notably, that these massive industrial farms can produce cheap fish – undercutting prices of seafood and hurting fishing families. Needless to say, Zeke was no fan.

We worked together to stop efforts to allow ocean fish farms in U.S. waters. Zeke had a lot of experience in the political arena and was happy to share and teach. He was an amazing mentor. When we were asked about what could be an acceptable alternative to ocean fish farms – we put forth recirculating fish farms (also called recirculating aquaculture) – the idea that fish could be produced on land in tanks in an eco-friendly way that didn’t hurt the ocean, or our fishing families.

Because recirculating farms are entirely closed loop – they recirculate waste and water within their own system, so a wide range of fish could be raised – especially those that do not conflict with what local fishermen catch. There is no pollution of the surrounding environment and no possibility of escapes. Additionally, turns out you can combine recirculating fish farming with hydroponics – raising plants in water – to create an amazing, innovative farming system, known as aquaponics. Support for this concept as an alternative to ocean fish farms grew – and Recirculating Farms Coalition was born.

Of course there is much more to this story all around – both relative to Zeke as an advocate and to the creation of RFC, but it would take pages and pages more to go through all the details. Rather than drag on, I’ll follow Zeke’s advice to me long ago – “keep it simple, so people understand.”

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Zeke when he was waxing poetic about the proposed ocean aquaculture bill that we ultimately killed in Congress many years ago. He told a reporter that he could sum up the bill in two words, “It sucks”. Couldn’t be any simpler, and that’s exactly what was printed in the paper the next morning.

That’s exactly how I feel about Zeke’s far-too-early departure too.

Marianne Cufone

We did it: Urban Ag and Farm to School Laws!

Serving School Lunch 2Two new bills in Louisiana that support bringing more good food to communities through local agriculture are now law!! The first creates a “farm-to-school” program, which allows Louisiana public schools to communicate directly with local farmers to buy food. Previously, for any food item over $25,000, schools had to go through a complicated and difficult public bidding process, which often left out local farmers because they could not participate, be it due to lack of time or technology. Now, schools can connect with farms for any items under the federal minimum purchasing threshold, which is currently $150,000! This will bring more fresh local food to Louisiana schools. As over 65% of students in Louisiana public schools qualify for free or reduced price meals, the new law will promote providing children with fresh food who may get their primary meal, or even most or all of their meals at school.

Pepper Sarah EbonyThe second new law is an urban agriculture incentive, which allows Louisiana cities to reduce taxes on land usedRooftop hydro towers with herbs smaller for farming. The hope is that more landowners will be motivated to allow use of their properties for urban agriculture and share the tax savings with farmers by leasing at more affordable rates. The intent is to increase access to affordable land in cities for farming and thus also increase availability of local fresh food.

Marianne Sen Thompson and Katie cropRecirculating Farms Coalition, working with students from Loyola New Orleans Law, various farmers, food advocates and especially the National Farm to School Network and Louisiana Farm to School Alliance successfully moved these 2 very important concepts through the Louisiana Legislature with Rep. Ebony Woodruff and Sen. Francis Thompson. On August 1st, with unanimous approval of the House and Senate, they both became law. Hooray for local food and farming and CONGRATS to all involved.