Each year on Earth Day we here at Recirculating Farms think about all the dedicated groups and individuals we work with to make our world a cleaner, greener place for us all to enjoy now and in the future. So, we are taking this opportunity to say a big THANKS to some of our long time and newer national and regional friends and partners today – check out how they hope to make our planet a better place:
Center for Food Safety
Center for Progressive Reform
National Farm to School Network (and locally, Louisiana Farm to School)
Food and Water Watch
Gulf Restoration Network
New Economy Coalition
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
On Friday afternoon, February 12th, twelve fishing and public interest groups jointly sued the federal government, challenging new regulations allowing industrial fish farming in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), under the Department of Commerce are agencies charged with protecting and managing ocean resources. The groups allege the agencies overextended their authority in creating a permitting scheme for ocean fish farming.
The questionable federal permitting scheme, more than ten years in the making, is an attempt to do an end-run around the United States Congress: multiple national bills that would have allowed and regulated industrial aquaculture never made it into law in the past decade. In an effort to push offshore aquaculture forward without a new law permitting it, NOAA and NMFS decided they would try to regulate fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the main federal law that controls fishing, and now plan to permit offshore aquaculture as a “fishing” activity.
Finalized in January 2016, the regulations will allow up to 20 industrial facilities and collectively 64 million pounds of fish to be produced each year in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the same amount of wild fish currently caught from the Gulf of Mexico annually (excluding menhaden, a fish used mainly in pharmaceuticals, and pet and fish feed, not for direct human consumption), so farmed fish would essentially double offerings and flood the market.
Fishing communities, conservation organizations, consumer groups, scientists and many others are very concerned about the regulations to allow this new industry. The global experience with open water aquaculture has been riddled with serious problems – water pollution, fish escaping, habitat damage, spread of disease and parasites and more.
With the Gulf of Mexico still recovering from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and existing issues like a large dead zone and run-off pollution, allowing development of aquaculture in the Gulf to many seems irresponsible and unnecessary. Especially given that there are other more sustainable ways to increase availability of domestic seafood without risking harm to the natural environment or competing with commercial fishermen.
Recirculating farms raise fish in aquarium like tanks, located on land. They reuse waste and water, and are closed loop, so they avoid many of the problems associated with open water farms – escapes are very difficult and there is no pollution of the surrounding environment, as everything in system is recycled. Further, because they are not attached to natural waters, a wide range of fish can be raised, to avoid competition with local fishermen.
The groups are challenging the new regulations allowing industrial aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
Read the entire press release here.
On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed a bill reauthorization the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act that expired at the end of September 2015. The legislation, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, is being updated to change food served in schools and expand farm-to-school activities. The Recirculating Farms Coalition, the National Farm to School Network, Louisiana Farm to School and other local and national groups pushed for various important items in the bill. If passed, the new law will reauthorize child nutrition programs through 2020, and double the funding for the federal Farm to School grant program from $5 million to $10 million annually! The individual grants, allowing eligible schools to partner with local farms and develop their own gardens too, will see an increase from $100,000 to $200,000. The scope of the Farm to School program will be widened to include pre-schools, summer food services and after-school programs.
The farm-to-school movement promotes healthy eating and a connection with fresh food – where it comes from, how it is grown and even how to cook healthy dishes. In addition to expanding farm-to-school, the bill includes nutrition standards for free or reduced school food programs, moving meals served through these programs to include healthier items. Some nutrition goals are sodium reduction, more fruits and vegetables and an increase in whole grains. Especially for kids who eat most or even all of their meals a day at school, it’s critical that school food programs offer healthy options and help shape long term good eating habits.
The increase in funding, and expanded farm-to-school programs will inspire nutritious eating, and connect kids and their families with where good food comes from. Farm to School is also an important way to support our farmers. Making new markets – schools – for local farms, keeps our farmers employed doing what they do best – growing good food! The new bill is a huge win for farmers, school children and their families. Next the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 will go to the full Senate for a vote.
We here at RFC send out a BIG THANKS to all our supporters, collaborators, volunteers, partners and friends. All the things you do – from writing letters asking policy and lawmakers to make important changes to weeding in our community gardens – support our many projects and programs nationwide! Check out our national and local newsletters highlighting the many recent exciting accomplishments and events this year!
So here’s to you and yours this holiday season – we are thankful and grateful, and look forward to an exciting 2016!!
On 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 over 2 million public comments (the most the agency has ever received on a topic) 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.