Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Los Angeles Times
EPA bans a pesticide often used on almonds and other California crops
Federal regulators said Tuesday they will ban a pesticide widely used on California crops such as almonds and alfalfa, saying it imperils aquatic insects that are the food source of fish.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday filed an intent to cancel registration of all products containing flubendiamide, most commonly used in Belt, manufactured by Bayer CropScience, based in Germany. The chemical is also used in products made by Nichino America.
Canceling the registration would prohibit any further sales of products that include the ingredient.
The EPA said it found that the compound breaks down into a more toxic chemical that is harmful to insects that are an important element of the aquatic food chain.
California growers have used the chemical since 2008, and they applied 42,495 pounds of it to 521,140 acres in 2013, the last year for which complete data were available, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
More than a third of that was applied to almonds: 14,693 pounds on 125,557 acres, according to the department. Growers applied 6,002 pounds of it to 91,828 acres of alfalfa, and 3,684 pounds to 78,348 acres of processing tomatoes, which are used in paste and other products.
Other top crops that used more than 1,000 pounds of the chemical included corn, walnuts, cotton, sunflowers, wine grapes, pistachios and table grapes, according to the department.
A spokesman for Bayer was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Last month, Bayer refused a request by the EPA to voluntarily cancel use of the product, saying it strongly disagreed with methods the agency used to study the chemical’s effects.
“Denying a product’s registration and ignoring its safe use history based on unrealistic theoretical calculations calls into question the EPA’s commitment to innovation and sustainable agriculture,” Dana Sargent, Bayer vice president of regulatory affairs, said at the time.
The California Almond Board said it hoped Bayer and EPA could find “a fair and science-based process” to assess the chemical’s safety.
Environmental groups praised the EPA’s decision even as they warned that many chemicals receive conditional approvals before their safety can be fully vetted.
“I’d love to see the EPA build on this decision and seriously consider halting the conditional registration of pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.
Peixoto puts up $2M to build organic ag learning center
By Tom Leyde
WATSONVILLE – A $2 million donation by a Watsonville organic farming company will plant the seeds for development of an organic and sustainable agriculture learning center in the Pajaro Valley.
The donation was made by Lakeside Organic Gardens, a family-owned organic grower-shipper operation that switched from conventional to organic farming in 1996.
An educational facility to showcase organic farming has been a dream of Dick Peixoto, owner and founder of Lakeside Organic Gardens for many years. It will be a resource for people interested in starting an organic farm, learning about organic farming and those who just want to know how organic produce is grown.
“I’m a really big supporter of small organic farms,” Peixoto said, “and there’s a definite need in the area. I’d like to inspire them (farmers and new farmers) to step up to the plate and be part of the (organic) farming community.”
It hasn’t been decided exactly where in the Watsonville area the education center will be built. But Peixoto said it will take about two years before it will be established.
The center will be associated with Agri-Culture, Inc., a wing of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. The award-winning education program serves growers and the public.
“I think it’s been a great program to give light to the agriculture industry,” Peixoto said.
His reasons for donating the $2 million are three-fold. The first is to educate the public about agriculture.
“A lot more people are getting away from agriculture and don’t know where their food comes from,” Peixoto said.
At the same time, he said, there are people who have a burning desire to know about their food, where it comes from, how it’s produced and food safety.
“I though it (the center) would give the public a way to pit the sustainable and organic movement against the standard (farming methods).”
Secondly, Peixoto said, he is frustrated that young people are turning away from careers in agriculture in favor of high-tech industry jobs. There are many opportunities for young people in agriculture and the center will highlight them and hopefully convince them to choose an ag career.
He is hopeful that universities with organic ag programs will become a part of the center as well.
The third reason for the center is to help new farmers get into the industry. It will educate them about ag tools, how to set up a farm, and about leases and financing.
“If we don’t start a next generation of farmers,” Peixoto said, “there will be just corporate farms.”
In a news release about the Lakeside Organic donation, Steve Bontadelli, president of Agri-Culture, Inc., said, “We are honored to be chosen to help Dick Peixoto and his family fulfill their dream of providing educational programs focused on organic and sutainable agriculture.
“Our area has been the leader in organic and sustainable agriculture. It’s wonderful that the program Dick Peixoto envisions will benefit the public, the industry and our local area.”
Other individuals, corporations and foundations that share Peixoto’s vision are encouraged to donate to the education center fund.
Lakeside Organic Gardens produces more than 45 varieties of 100 percent organic vegetables on more than 2,000 acres spread across about 50 farms in the Pajaro Valley. It also partners with growers in Ventura County and the Imperial Valley.
The company’s produce is sold nationwide and into western Canada to distributors, national chain grocers and processors. In addition, Peixoto and his daughter own and operate the California Grill restaurant in Watsonville.
Labels on genetically modified foods? Not so fast
By Mary Clare Jalonick
WASHINGTON – States could no longer require labeling of genetically modified foods under legislation approved by a Senate panel.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 14-6 Tuesday to prevent the labeling on packages of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Vermont is set to require such labels this summer, and other states are considering similar laws.
Senators have said they want to find a compromise on the labeling issue before Vermont’s law kicks in. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the panel, said a patchwork of state laws would be a “wrecking ball” that could be costly for agriculture, food companies and ultimately consumers.
“Now is not the time for Congress to make food more expensive for anybody,” Roberts said.
The bill would block Vermont’s law and create new voluntary labels for companies that want to use them on food packages that contain genetically modified ingredients.
The legislation is similar to a bill the House passed last year. The food industry has strongly backed both bills, saying GMOs are safe and a patchwork of state laws isn’t practical. Labeling advocates have been fighting state-by-state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.
Passage won’t be as easy in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome a certain filibuster. Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders have both strongly opposed efforts to block their state’s law.
Roberts and Stabenow have worked to find a compromise that can pass the Senate. But those negotiations broke down before the committee vote, and Roberts said the panel needed to move quickly ahead of the Vermont law. Both said they are still negotiating and hope to find agreement.
Stabenow said that for the legislation to receive broad enough support to pass the Senate, “it must contain a pathway to a national system of mandatory disclosure that provides consumers the information they need and want to make informed choices.”
Three Democrats voted for Roberts’ bill: North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.
The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.
While the Food and Drug Administration says they are safe and there is little scientific concern about the safety of those GMOs on the market, advocates for labeling say not enough is known about their risks. Among supporters of labeling are many organic companies that are barred by law from using modified ingredients in their foods.
Those groups said they are holding out hope for a compromise on the Senate floor.
“We remain hopeful that the Senate will craft a national, mandatory GMO labeling system that provides consumers with basic factual information about their food,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group.
San Francisco Chronicle
Snowpack falls to 83 percent of normal, but storms are heading in
By Peter Fimrite
The weather gods in California are about to pull back the beach blanket and unleash a soggy salvo — the kind of angry El Niño outpouring that the state’s water managers hope will make up for a confounding lack of rain and snow over the past month.
The storms forecast to start rolling in later this week are expected to boost the meager snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which California Department of Water Resources surveyors warily measured Tuesday during their monthly tromp through the precious powder.
The statewide water content of the snow was found to be only 83 percent of the historical average for this time of year, a big drop from a month ago, when the “frozen water supply,” as it is called by hydrologists, was 114 percent of normal.
“Clearly a decline from last month’s really good start, but when you have basically only one storm in February, this is where you end up,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of cooperative snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources, after taking measurements under a gleaming blue sky at Phillips Station, off Highway 50 in El Dorado County.
The Phillips snow course is one of 250 locations where surveyors use hollow metal tubes to calculate the depth and water content of the Sierra snow. The measurements are taken during a 10-day window around the first of every month from January to May and are combined with electronic measurements from as many as 130 locations to gauge California’s drinking water supply for the year.
1 site above normal
Gehrke said the water content at Phillips was 27.1 inches, or 5 percent above normal, but added, “Unfortunately, that above average is not reflected virtually at any other location.”
He blamed “remarkably very clear, sunny weather” for melting the snowpack a month earlier than normal. It is, said Gehrke, an indication that the weather pattern known as El Niño cannot be counted on to lift the Golden State out of its four-year drought.
“Obviously El Niño is not living up to expectations,” Gehrke said. “One thing that’s unique or typical of El Niños is that the southern part of the state tends to be wetter than the north. That is not happening this year.”
Southern Sierra suffering
The southern Sierra, in fact, is suffering the most, with a snowpack that has shrunk to 73 percent of average.
But relief is on the way, said Bob Benjamin, a National Weather Service forecaster. He said a series of potent weather systems are expected to roll in starting Thursday and continue for seven to 10 days. The storms will pick up steam Friday with heavy rain in the Bay Area, significant snow in the Sierra and strong winds everywhere.
“People ask, ‘Where’s El Niño?’ Well, here he is,” Benjamin said. “There will be periods of heavy rain and wind, with three or four systems, and they will run into each other. If this comes to fruition it will put us well above normal for the year in rainfall and could put a dent in the drought.”
A healthy snowpack is crucial because snow makes up 60 percent of the water captured in California’s reservoirs when it melts in the spring — and one-third of the state’s overall water supply in a normal year.
April 1 is key day
The benchmark level is April 1, when the snowpack normally begins to melt and flow into reservoirs. State water officials estimate that the snowpack would have to be at least 150 percent of normal on April 1 for the drought to be considered over.
Last year’s measurement on April 1 was the lowest in the Sierra since records began almost a century ago — not a flake was found at Phillips Station.
“Any time we go through a January, or in this case a February, that is pretty much a dud, it is hard to recover from that,” said David Rizzardo, the chief of water supply forecasting for the hydrology branch of the Department of Water Resources. “We are still in that period where March could be a wet month. … I don’t think all hope is lost, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that you had one of your wetter months go by with barely any precipitation.”
Reservoirs all low
The problem is reflected in the levels of the state’s reservoirs, which are almost all significantly below normal for this time of year. The largest one, Shasta Lake, is at 83 percent, while Lake Oroville, the second largest, is carrying 76 percent of what it normally holds in March.
Shasta and Oroville carry 80 percent of the state’s reservoir supply, which is used to irrigate 8 million acres of farmland and provide water to close to 30 million people. Most of the other reservoirs, including ones that primarily serve farming communities, are doing worse.
Californians can expect more water rationing this year regardless of how much rain and snow falls in the coming storms. Gov. Jerry Brown extended statewide water restrictions last month through October, meaning cities and towns from the Oregon border to San Diego will face another summer of mandatory cutbacks.
“Obviously we’re better than last year,” Gehrke said, “but still way below adequate for what would be considered any reasonable level of recovery.”
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @pfimrite
Albertsons makes commitment to cage-free eggs in stores
By Mark Glover
Albertsons Cos. announced Tuesday that it will work with its suppliers to source only cage-free eggs for its stores by 2025, a move that will affect hundreds of stores in the Sacramento region and throughout California.
The company’s 18 store brands include Safeway, a major presence in Sacramento. The grocer also has Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme and Tom Thumb. Albertsons said it operates nearly 600 stores in California under the Albertsons, Safeway, Vons and Pavilions brands alone.
Albertsons said it was making the move “not only as part of its ongoing commitment to animal welfare but also in response to customer buying habits.”
The grocer also stressed that implementing the program will be based on available supply.
Overall, Boise-based Albertsons is the nation’s second-largest supermarket chain – behind Cincinnati-based Kroger – operating more than 2,200 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Albertsons employs more than 250,000 chainwide.
“We take our commitment to providing responsibly sourced products seriously, and that responsibility extends naturally into ensuring our suppliers uphold humane animal welfare practices,” Shane Sampson, Albertsons’ chief marketing and merchandising officer, said in a statement. “The transition to cage-free eggs will help us continue to provide a great, humane product to our customers while ensuring that our suppliers have ample time to prepare their operations to meet increased demand from retailers.”
Albertsons’ move was applauded by Mercy For Animals, the Los Angeles-based animal-protection organization, which has organized protests, produced advertising campaigns and gathered signatures for petitions advocating widespread adoption of cage-free egg practices in the supermarket/food industries.
In a statement, MFA President Nathan Runkle said: “Albertsons has taken a significant step forward in improving the lives of farmed animals. Albertsons’ cage-free egg commitment will reduce the suffering of countless hens, and we’re hopeful it will inspire other food companies to do the same.”
Supermarket operators based in the Sacramento region said Monday that they currently offer cage-free eggs in their stores.
Chelsea Minor, spokeswoman for West Sacramento-based Raley’s, said in an email that the grocer offers “several varieties of both cage-free and organic eggs. It is our priority to provide options for our customers, so they can make a personal decision on both cost and quality.”
In another email, Kate Stille, marketing director for Woodland-based Nugget Markets, said: “We hope to be offering 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2017. At this point in time, supply for only cage-free is limited. Once the supply is sufficient enough to ensure that we can fully stock cage-free eggs, we will make the transition.”
MFA said that previous commitments to cage-free eggs have been made by Costco, Target, CVS, Trader Joe’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club. The organization said its pressing for commitments from other grocers, including Kroger.
MFA and other animal welfare groups contend that putting hens in small cages where they cannot walk or spread their wings is cruel. Many birds have been injured in cages over the years, advocates said.
Cage-free eggs and confinement of laying hens have been hot-button issues in California for years. In 2008, Golden State voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2, which included language prohibiting farmers from putting laying hens in small cages.
However, debate rages on to this day, with animal welfare advocates saying farmers have sidestepped voter intent by investing in new cages or modifying old ones. Farmers counter that they have followed the language of Proposition 2, implementing changes at great expense to their operations.
Egg producers added that meeting Proposition 2 requirements in January last year resulted in a statewide reduction in the number of laying hens. They said that, along with drought, prompted a steep increase in egg prices in the spring of 2015.
Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover, email@example.com
Snyder’s-Lance takes over Diamond Foods
Diamond Foods Inc., the publicly held snack foods company that grew out of the former Diamond Walnut growers’ cooperative, has been acquired by Snyder’s-Lance Inc., the nation’s second-largest salty snacks company.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Snyder’s acquired all outstanding shares of Diamond Foods in closing Monday. For each share, Diamond stockholders received 0.775 Snyder’s-Lance share and $12.50 in cash.
Snyder’s-Lance said it would continue to operate the walnut processing and related snack-foods production plant in Stockton.
“Snyder’s-Lance will continue to utilize existing manufacturing facilities and will begin to leverage capacity and geographical advantages to improve access and service to our customers and ultimately, consumers,” the company said in a statement.
The merger announced in October combines Snyder’s-Lance brands, including Snyder’s of Hanover, Cape Cod and Pretzel Crisps, with Diamond’s Kettle Brand potato chips, Pop Secret, Emerald snack nuts and Diamond of California culinary nuts.
Diamond has been delisted from the Nasdaq exchange. Snyder’s-Lance shares, which trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbiol LNCE, closed Tuesday at $33.60, down $2.11, for the day.