Ag Today Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ag Today

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

 

Bloomberg News

California Needs Snow to Start Falling Now for Drought Relief

By Brian K Sullivan

The drought relief for California widely expected from El Nino in early 2016 will be far more effective if a chill descends soon — ideally with a bit of snow.

“If we can get some snow on the ground and some cold nights, it will set up the snowpack and get cool air pooling,” said California State Climatologist Mike Anderson.

Cool air, especially at high altitudes, will help ensure snow falls and stays on the ground in the mountains through the winter, as needed to supply the state’s reservoirs. While that may seem like a non-issue given the height of the mountains and the tradition of heavy snows there, recent years have seen some worrisome trends.

During the winter of 2014-15, the three-month average temperature in the Sierra region topped the freezing mark of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius) for the first time in records dating to 1950, data compiled by Anderson show.

California as a whole posted its warmest February on record and both December and January came in among the top 10, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.

Here is why all of this is important: If El Nino delivers the promised increase in big, wet storms off the Pacific from January to March, California needs a lot of what falls from those systems to be snow.

Snow in the mountains stays there until spring, when it melts, runs off and replenishes the state’s reservoirs. If the storms come in as rain, or the mountain snow can’t pile up high enough, a lot of water will be lost.

So far, the snow in the mountains hasn’t exactly been impressive, and perceptions may have outstripped reality.

“Since it has been dry for so long, people get excited,” said Rob Hartman, hydrologist in charge of the California Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento. “We have had some small storms that left a sprinkle of snow in the mountains. We are still waiting for winter to arrive. We are not ahead of schedule by any means.”

Fourth Year

California is in its fourth year of drought and almost the entire state is abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Improvement is possible. However, the drought will certainly go into a fifth year, according to the forecast from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The notion of fully recovering from the drought is extremely unlikely,” Hartman said. “But you have to start somewhere.”

That start begins with a little cool air coming in with the next storm. Checking a forecast last week, Anderson said some outlooks were calling for temperatures to reach freezing and below as far down the mountains as 3,000 feet.

“Those are good signs,” he said.

 

Santa Maria Times

Farmers prepare land for El Nino

By Ivette Peralta

Farmers in Santa Maria are preparing their lands in an effort to prevent big damage from a storm system that is predicted to deliver strong winds, heavy rains, mudslides and floods this winter.

Meteorologists are predicting the already powerful El Nino has a 95-percent chance of lasting through the winter before weakening in the spring.

“El Nino could be our savior,” said Bill Patzert, a meteorologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But if floods and mudslides occur, there will be serious problems”

According to the National Climatic Data Center, 17 people were killed and a total of $550 million was reported in damage during the winter of 1997-98, when major storms were attributed to El Nino.

Part of the damage total came from strawberry and artichoke fields that were wiped out, which proved to be a serious hit to the state’s agricultural production.

Now, farmers in Santa Barbara County are preparing to protect their agricultural resources from an El Nino that has been likened to the winter of 1997-98.

The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Production Report listed the county’s revenue for 2014 at just under $1.5 billion.

Strawberry production totaled $464.7 million, while wine grapes brought in nearly $155.3 million and broccoli totaled just under $137.4 million.

The California Strawberry Commission reported that 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries are produced in California, and Manzanita Berry Farms is one of the biggest strawberry companies in Santa Maria.

In the past eight years, owner David Peck has prepared his land with more caution.

“You really never know how much it can rain,” Peck said. “We always make sure that the drain ditches are clean and straight.”

Peck said El Nino damaged his strawberry fields in 1998. But as a result of the scarcity of strawberries, the market price increased. That allowed him to recover some of his revenue losses, because he was able to sell his crop for more money.

“This year, what I’m looking into very seriously is to pay for flood insurance,” Peck said. “I’ve never paid for one in the past. But this year, it’s something I’m considering.”

For his employees, Peck said, moving to a nearby city to work in the fields is not an option.

“If it rains here, it will be raining in much of California, and even indoor business could be affected when it rains a lot,” Peck said. “In 1998, many of my employees applied for unemployment benefits; that’s possibly what they are thinking of doing this year, too, if it rains frequently.”

Brenda Farias, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, said big companies have more resources and are less at risk for flooding.

“They have it all figured out and planned to prevent as much damage possible,” Farias explained. “The owners of small farm companies are more affected.”

Agronomist Sergio Medrano, owner of Medrano Farms, started his company 10 years ago. He harvests mainly strawberries but also carrots, peppers and peas, among other crops, on 54 acres.

With more than $60,000 invested in his plantation, he is concerned about the possible loss of revenue and soil erosion.

“We have to act now and reinstall the irrigation system,” Medrano said. “We need to bury our drip irrigation system about one inch deeper than last year, because if the wind is strong, it will misplace them.”

Medrano is planting barley, a high-fiber plant, as a way to prevent erosion.

“With the first inches of rain, this plant will grow between the rows, and up to three feet on the edge,” Medrano said. “With this, I’m trying to prevent soil erosion, because the roots of the plant will keep the soil tight.

“It is important to prevent soil erosion, because Santa Maria is a place of farmlands,” he added. “We use pesticides, germicides and other chemicals. If there is soil erosion, groundwater will be polluted, causing damage to our community’s flora and fauna.”

For the first time, Medrano made a study of the property he rents to grow his crops to identify where the strongest water currents could come and build drain ditches three to four feet deep in key points.

Every 10 crop rows, Medrano is building a dirt bump to prevent flooding.

“I will dig small ditches around the plantations, too, so the water can be diverted, preventing an overflow,” said Medrano.

“I worry about soil erosion and mudslides, but at the same time, we need water,” he added. “We have been in a drought for too long.”

Despite his proactivity, for the second year Medrano is purchasing a $700 insurance to cover potential damage.

dperalta@leecentralcoastnews.com

 

 

Wall Street Journal

Video Shows Abuse at Whole Foods Turkey Supplier, Activists Say

By Kelsey Gee

An animal-rights group said an undercover video it plans to release Tuesday shows inhumane treatment of turkeys at a supplier to Whole Foods Market Inc.—an allegation the farm and the grocery chain dispute.

The group, Direct Action Everywhere, said its video shows abuses that run counter to the animal-welfare claims by the company, Diestel Turkey Ranch, and the standards championed by Whole Foods.

A copy of the video viewed by The Wall Street Journal shows birds with dirty, matted feathers and others with visibly swollen eyes and other body parts. It also shows a turkey carcass decomposing among other birds.

Diestel Turkey Ranch, based in Sonora, Calif., said the video is misleading because it focuses on a narrow snapshot in time.

“We don’t know exactly where these pictures were taken or where the information is coming from for their report,” said Heidi Diestel, a fourth-generation member of the family business.

Ms. Diestel said the majority of its flock is healthy. It is “very possible” some birds shown in the video were sick or dead, but sick birds are treated and animal deaths occur on every farm.

A spokesman for Whole Foods said it sent a team last week to evaluate conditions on the farm within hours of learning of Direct Action Everywhere’s investigation. “Our team found that the conditions were not as they were portrayed in the video,” he said. “We go to great lengths to rigorously evaluate all of our suppliers and we maintain the most stringent standards in the industry.”

Wayne Hsiung, a founder of Direct Action Everywhere, said he and a team of investigators secretly recorded two of Diestel Turkey Ranch’s six farms over a nine-month period.

The group chose to investigate Diestel because Whole Foods, which offers many organic or naturally raised meats, promoted the company on its website as “the best of the best,” Mr. Hsiung said, referring to the top score one of the Diestel farms received in an independent audit.

Whole Foods works with a nonprofit, Global Animal Partnership, that sends independent, third-party firms to rate the animal-welfare practices of farms using scores from one to five, with five reflecting the highest standard of care. Farms and ranches are audited by third-party certifiers every 15 months to ensure compliance. One of Diestel’s farms in Sonora has a perfect “Step 5+” rating, while its other locations are certified as “Step 3.”

Mr. Hsiung, a former Northwestern University law professor, said the animal-rights group thinks the Whole Foods animal-welfare program is misleading and its system for enforcing welfare protocols is flawed.

“Consumers want to believe there are farms where something better is happening,” said Mr. Hsiung. “They are twisting the compassion that so many of us feel for animals.”

Earlier this year, Direct Action Everywhere released an undercover video and criticized practices at a California farm that supplies eggs to Whole Foods and other retailers and distributors. Direct Action Everywhere, which urges liberation for animals from conditions it says are violent, such as farming, has protested hundreds of the Whole Foods stores throughout the country.

A Whole Foods executive told the New York Times at the time that it had toured the egg farm in question and hadn’t seen anything like what was shown in the video.

The latest video is part of a string of undercover probes alleging misconduct or abuse at farms or meatpacking plants. Tyson Foods Inc. last month fired two employees at a Mississippi plant after animal-welfare group Mercy For Animals released footage showing workers improperly shackling and slaughtering chickens.

Ms. Diestel of Diestel Turkey Ranch said certifiers at Global Animal Partnership have reviewed its practices for five years. She said she can’t recall a time when one of the partnership’s third-party certifiers asked it to change a farming practice.

“We take a lot of pride in how we care for and raise our turkeys, and got audited as a way to ensure to our consumers that we both say we care and truly do,” she said.

Two third-party certifiers that conduct audits for Global Animal Partnership visited Diestel Turkey Ranch and evaluated its farms this past weekend, according to a GAP official. The group plans to report findings Tuesday from their visits.

Write to Kelsey Gee at kelsey.gee@wsj.com

 

 

New York Times

Putting the Chicken Before the Egg

By Stephanie Strom

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — A decade ago, a couple running a dairy business in Northern California visited a Mennonite farm where the owner had used a flock of laying hens to teach his children business principles and instill values like responsibility and care for nature.

They returned home and bought 150 hens for their boys, Christian and Joseph. “My parents told us, you and Joseph are in charge of keeping these 150 birds alive,” recalled Christian Alexandre, who now heads the family’s egg business.

What started as a parental effort to instill solid values has become the mainstay of Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms. Within five years, Christian and Joseph were tending 1,500 hens and had a deal in place to supply eggs to Whole Foods stores in Northern California. Christian remembers Walter Robb, co-chief executive of the grocery retailer, showing up at one of his football games.

The rusty red chickens foraging in the fields outnumber the cows 10 to 1 — and the roughly five million eggs they will produce this year command prices that make organic milk look cheap. “The egg business has kept the dairy going for several years,” Blake Alexandre, Christian’s father, said.

Alexandre Kids Eggs produces pastured eggs, which on their farm means that the hens live in housing that allows them to spend much of the day in open pasture. While still a minuscule portion of the roughly 75 billion eggs produced in the United States each year, pastured eggs like theirs are one of the fastest-growing category of eggs in America today.

Consumers have grown more aware of the conditions under which many of the nation’s laying hens live, thanks to undercover videos from animal welfare advocates and, more recently, photos of hundreds of thousands of dead birds being tossed out of hangar-size barns after outbreaks of avian flu.

Pastured eggs from hens allowed to roam about help to address some of those concerns about how foods are produced and the impact such systems have on the environment, animal welfare and health and nutrition.

“The egg market for probably the last 30 years has been a very sleepy category,” said Betsy Babcock, a proprietor of Handsome Brook Farm, a pastured egg business with operations in 41 states. “What we’ve seen over the last year or so, though, is a revolution, with pastured eggs going from being a niche-y segment in the natural food market and Whole Foods to being a thriving business in places like Kroger.”

Not all eggs labeled “pastured” are the same — there are no federal regulations governing use of the terms “pastured,” “free range” or “cage-free” on egg cartons.

Thus, the Babcocks’ production regimen for eggs labeled “pastured” is somewhat different from the Alexandres’, which in turn is different from the operations of Vital Farms, another large pastured-egg supplier.

Hens producing pastured eggs may indeed live in lush pastures — or they may merely have access to a patch of dirt outside their barn. Eggs labeled “cage-free” typically means the hens that laid them were free to move about inside a barn kitted out with an aviary system of roosts, nests and feeding stations — but with no outdoor access at all.

“There’s quite a range of operations among businesses that label their eggs pastured,” said Mark Kastel, co-founder and senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, which publishes the Organic Egg Scorecard, a ratings system.

Cornucopia is updating its egg report, thus Mr. Kastel and his team have recently visited egg farms around the country, hoping to clarify the terminology used on egg cartons. Its highest rating will go to egg businesses like the Alexandres’, where most of the hens are outside in mobile housing during the day with access to fresh pasture.

“To get the very best eggs, consumers need to do their homework,” Mr. Kastel said. “Despite federal organic law that requires access to the outdoors, many of the leading organic brands come from giant henhouses with as many as 180,000 birds, offering nothing more than a tiny screened porch.”

In 2008, California voters passed a ballot measure requiring egg producers to provide more spacious living conditions for laying hens. Eggs imported to California from other states also must come from hens housed to the same standard.

In the meantime, major food businesses like Taco Bell and Panera Bread have made commitments to require the eggs they use to come from cage-free environments, which are a step beyond the colony cages that are the minimum needed to meet the California regulations.

Finally, after the avian flu epidemic that killed tens of millions of laying hens this year, some major egg producers decided to replace at least some of their conventional housing with cage-free systems.

Costco began reducing its sales of conventional eggs in 2007, according to Craig Wilson, its vice president for food safety and quality assurance. “It just seemed to us at the time that battery cages were going to go away, and anyway, they’re not a good thing,” Mr. Wilson said.

In August and September of this year, which are not particularly big months for egg sales at Costco, the grocery chain sold 516 million eggs, he said.

Just 39 percent of those eggs came from birds housed in conventional systems. About 30 percent came from hens housed in colony cages, and the rest were from birds in cage-free systems or raised organically, free range or pastured.

Only 1.5 million eggs sold in August and September were from pastured operations like the Alexandres’, who have been Costco suppliers since 2014. “Could we rely on that kind of production for the nation’s egg supply?” Mr. Wilson said. “No. But our members just love them and so we do our best to support their desires.”

Costco, in fact, has inspired the Alexandres to double the number of laying hens they have over the next year.

Their egg production system lives side-by-side with the milk business that Blake and Stephanie Alexandre started with when they bought the first 572 acres here, just eight miles south of the Oregon border and about a mile from the Pacific Ocean on land where giant redwood trees once grew.

The mild climate — the temperature fluctuates by only 11 degrees throughout the year — is ideal for outdoor hens, and rotating chickens and cows in pastures has a number of benefits for livestock and soil. Chickens, which are natural foragers, peck at cow patties to extract fly larvae and in the process help distribute manure around a field (as well as keep the fly population to a minimum). “They’re our best manure spreaders,” Christian Alexandre said.

That helps fertilize grass for the family’s 3,500 dairy cows, which are managed organically, to graze on. Vanessa Alexandre, who graduated last summer from California Polytechnic University, is immersing herself in the dairy business and recently struck a deal to provide milk from the family’s herd of 100 percent grass-fed cows to a large grocery business for its private label yogurt, which is made from milk from grass-fed cows. She plans to increase the number of cows raised solely on grass, rather than on grass and feed, as well.

The farm has nine chicken flocks, each typically numbering about 3,500 birds. The flocks are somewhat smaller now after a bout of cholera wiped out about a third of the hens last spring.

The flocks are rotated to new pastures every Tuesday and Friday, leaving behind a section of field shaved as close as a chin in the morning. The pasture then is left alone for a month or so to allow grass to regrow before cows are returned to it.

The hen barns, made from tin reclaimed from the farm in Southern California where Mrs. Alexandre grew up, and heated by solar panels on the roofs, move around on wheels. Christian Alexandre designed the barns, basing the design on the picturesque caravanlike coops he first saw as a boy on the Mennonite farm.

The barns are split in the middle and separated, to give the birds ample room to walk in and out. Nesting boxes hover over a wide canvas belt that catches the eggs as they are laid. Some of the farm’s 85 employees turn hand cranks each morning to move the belt, collecting the eggs at one end and delivering them to a facility where they are washed, inspected and packed.

Roosts for the birds slope up to the rafters of a barn. Very few birds were inside the barns on a recent visit, but they all return at night. “The best thing about chickens is you don’t have to herd them,” Blake Alexandre said.

The eggs sell for as much as 53 cents each — Christian Alexandre declined to reveal the profit margin. Costco sells 18 of them for $9.49 and is working with the family to reduce the price.

Handsome Brook, which grew out of a bed-and-breakfast farm that the Babcocks opened after they retired from the health care business, contracts for eggs with about 50 farms in 41 states that have some 250,000 hens in total. Its production, about 82 million eggs this year, dwarfs the Alexandres’ — and it plans to have 120 farms under contract next year, more than doubling its production.

Each farm houses an average of 5,000 birds in a barn on a 12.5-acre pasture, Ms. Babcock said. The chickens are fenced off in a section of that pasture until they have pecked the grass down to dirt; then they are moved to another section.

“We’re seeing 100 percent year-over-year growth in sales in the stores where our eggs are sold,” Ms. Babcock said. “We think we’re just at the beginning of what’s going to be a very big business.”

 

 

Sacramento Bee

Strapped for doctors: California’s rural clinics backlogged with Medi-Cal influx

By Sammy Caiola

CAMPTONVILLE – Once a month, a sleek white bus outfitted with supplies from Western Sierra Medical Clinic rolls into Camptonville, a former miners’ town on the outskirts of Plumas National Forest. It passes a cluster of red barns that house every school classroom in town, as well as Burgee Dave’s at the Mayo, the only restaurant.

The bus pulls into the driveway of the Camptonville Community Center, a squat concrete building where typically several people already are waiting. For many, the bus is their only chance to receive prescriptions, have a nagging cough checked or receive other medical care. The next closest option is a small clinic in North San Juan, a town 13 miles down slow and windy Highway 49.

The rapid expansion since 2013 of Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance plan for low-income residents, has ushered in a bittersweet new reality for rural areas such as Camptonville, where many residents are older and sicker than their urban counterparts. The changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act mean thousands of rural residents who never had insurance are connecting with health care for the first time. But that newfound demand has only added to the wait times for urgent and routine care in rural communities that already were short of physicians and clinics.

Patients have tried to get around the practitioner shortages by seeking out mobile clinics and accessing care across state lines, while rural health care providers are scrambling to recruit more doctors. Some are experimenting with alternatives such as telemedicine, which connects patients to care miles away via video conference.

“There’s much more demand than there is supply,” said Doreen Bradshaw, executive director of the Health Alliance of Northern California, a consortium of 10 clinics and health centers, mostly in rural areas in the state’s far north. “When you look at the overall health status of Northern California residents, it’s much poorer than the state. … We don’t want them to be in the emergency room. And we don’t want them to wait.”

The Western Sierra Medical Clinic bus rolls in with basic services: a doctor, medical assistant, small exam room, and needles and other supplies.

On a recent morning in Camptonville, Jois Marbut, 69, was waiting her turn at the bus with her charred feet resting on a folding table. A serious childhood burn left them scarred and sore, a problem that has worsened with age and scoliosis. With her primary care physician 27 miles away in Grass Valley often booked, she counts on the monthly bus visit to get her ailments checked out.

Marbut has been on Medi-Cal most of her life, but getting seen by a doctor has become more difficult in the past two years as the Affordable Care Act has brought more people into the program, said Lisa Case, a friend waiting with her for the mobile clinic. When Marbut moved to North San Juan two years ago for peace and quiet, it took her 18 months to find a primary care physician who was accepting new patients, she said. Marbut still hasn’t found a nearby chiropractor or rheumatologist who takes her insurance.

“I feel like I’m dying on my bed – I don’t like it at all,” Marbut said. “I’ve kept in shape as much as possible, but this is keeping me down.”

State data show about 2.7 million patients have enrolled in Medi-Cal since 2014, and that influx has shrunk the ranks of the state’s uninsured and slowed the rise of insurance premiums. Yet it’s also exacerbated problems in 214 “doctor deserts” statewide – places with only one physician for every 3,500 people. That compares with one physician for every 1,000 people, on average, statewide, and one for every 1,500 in the Sacramento area. Approximately three-quarters of the so-called deserts are in rural areas of California.

Rural living, with all its charms, is also associated with some troubling health patterns. The suicide rate in California’s rural counties is rising twice as fast as the rate in its urban centers, according to California Department of Public Health data. The trend has been tied to isolation, substance abuse and access to firearms, and is more pronounced among older, white adults.

“Boredom sometimes leads kids to pick up cigarettes, have a drink, have excessive behavior – and sometimes that never stops,” said Cathy LeBlanc, a longtime Camptonville resident. “That’s just the sad part.”

For specialized medical care – or even a trip to a major retail or grocery store – Camptonville residents trek through the foothills to Grass Valley or Nevada City. Without any public transit, seniors who don’t drive or have someone to give them a ride have difficulty making the trip.

“Patients have to travel quite a few hours just for basic services,” Bradshaw said. “When that travel is difficult, sometimes they just don’t go.”

Those same isolating conditions also make it harder for health officials to lure doctors to practice in small towns, where they typically earn less than what major urban medical centers pay.

Shasta Community Health Center farther north in Redding just completed a $10 million, 20,000-square-foot expansion to accommodate new patients brought in by health care reform, with a sleek new third floor and 30 additional exam rooms.

All it needs, said CEO Dean Germano, are enough doctors to treat the swarms of new patients who have started coming to the center in the past three years. In particular, it needs primary care clinicians, and more specialists in services such as radiology and mental health counseling guaranteed under new insurance plans.

The center’s employees earn on average $70,000 compared with, for example, $95,000 at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, according to the job website Indeed. Many medical residencies are also based in urban areas, and graduating physicians tend to practice near where they train.

“The (Affordable Care Act) was kind of the shock factor that drove up the demand, but these individuals have always been in our community,” Germano said. “It’s not like they were dropped from Mars with an insurance card. It’s up to us to make the changes.”

In 2014, Germano began turning away new adult Medi-Cal patients at his main facility as waiting lists grew and physicians became overloaded. “We just couldn’t keep bringing in new patients and not do a disservice to the patients we already have,” he said.

With many rural physicians reaching retirement age, the quest for “new blood” has become increasingly dire.

“There’s a lot more competition than there ever was before,” Germano said. “You combine that with all these new people with coverage and it’s like the Wild West of medicine out here, in terms of recruitment.”

In North San Juan, south of the Yuba River, Dr. Peter Van Houten is finding creative ways to navigate the patient-physician imbalance in his small family clinic. He has taken some of the load off his three primary care physicians by giving more responsibilities to physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other support staff.

He’s also hired a case manager to work with patients on housing and employment needs so they can stabilize their lives and get healthier. And he’s been relying more heavily on telemedicine for mental health services, which frees up his psychologist and two clinical social workers to see more patients in-house.

Still, wait times for an appointment with a doctor at Van Houten’s clinic run about three months. And Germano and Van Houten come up empty-handed when it comes to critical specialties such as neurology, oncology and nephrology – a problem that isn’t likely to be resolved until the state and federal governments allocate more funding to rural residency programs.

“Everyone’s kind of running as fast as they can,” Van Houten said. “I just wish we had more places to put every single patient we’d like to get in.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola, scaiola@sacbee.com

 

 

Editorial

San Jose Mercury News

Genetically altered salmon is safe, but label it

There’s nothing fishy about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve genetically engineered salmon as the first genetically modified animal for public consumption.

The FDA conducted nearly 20 years of tests before concluding that after studying “rigorously evaluated data submitted by the manufacturer, AquaBounty Technologies,” the product “is safe to eat by humans and animals.” It confirms what the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association and World Health Organization have already proclaimed: They can find no proven health risk from foods or animals whose DNA has been modified.

The only regret about the FDA ruling is that the agency did not require food producers to label their product as genetically engineered when it’s sold in stores and supermarkets.

While the products have been proven time and again to be safe for consumption, the field of study remains young enough that consumers not wanting to eat genetically modified products should have the right to know what they are putting on their families’ tables.

Polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans have supported truth in labeling for genetically engineered products, and Whole Foods announced two years ago that it would make that requirement in all of its stores beginning in 2018. AquaBounty plans to start selling its product in stores in two years.

Advertisement

California Sen. Barbara Boxer,Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon earlier this year re-introduced a bill in Congress that would force the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered food. Congress should pass the bill, and President Obama should sign it.

AquaBounty has gone to great lengths to ensure that its genetically engineered salmon do not contaminate wild salmon. It raises the fish in inland tanks far from the ocean and only uses female fish that are sterile. Even if the fish made their way into rivers or oceans, it would be extremely unlikely and probably impossible for them to breed in the wild.

The advantage of these salmon is that they reach full maturity far sooner than wild salmon. AquaBounty uses a gene from an eel-like creature that causes chinook salmon to grow continuously until adulthood.

Most Americans are unaware that 40 percent of U.S. produce comes from genetically engineered seeds and nearly 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically engineered. If food processors were required to label items that include genetically engineered products, whole aisles would be filled with the stuff. That’s why the industry resists labels.

But genetically engineered food is labeled in practically every European Union nation, as well as Australia, China and Japan. The United States should provide its consumers with the same information.