Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles

Mark Makela for The New York Times
Discarded televisions and computers in Philadelphia.

By IAN URBINA
NY Times Published: March 18

Last year, two inspectors from California’s hazardous waste agency were visiting an electronics recycling company near Fresno for a routine review of paperwork when they came across a warehouse the size of a football field, packed with tens of thousands of old computer monitors and televisions.

The crumbling cardboard boxes, stacked in teetering rows, 9 feet high and 14 feet deep, were so sprawling that the inspectors needed cellphones to keep track of each other. The layer of broken glass on the floor and the lead-laden dust in the air was so thick that the inspectors soon left over safety concerns. Weeks later, the owner of the recycling company disappeared, abandoning the waste, and leaving behind a toxic hazard and a costly cleanup for the state and the warehouse’s owner.

As recently as a few years ago, broken monitors and televisions like those piled in the warehouse were being recycled profitably. The big, glassy funnels inside these machines — known as cathode ray tubes, or CRTs — were melted down and turned into new ones.

But flat-screen technology has made those monitors and televisions obsolete, decimating the demand for the recycled tube glass used in them and creating what industry experts call a “glass tsunami” as stockpiles of the useless material accumulate across the country.

The predicament has highlighted how small changes in the marketplace can suddenly transform a product into a liability and demonstrates the difficulties that federal and state environmental regulators face in keeping up with these rapid shifts.

“Lots of smaller recyclers are in over their heads, and the risk that they might abandon their stockpiles is very real,” said Jason Linnell of the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse, an organization that represents state environmental regulators, electronics manufacturers and recyclers. In February, the group sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency asking for immediate help dealing with the rapidly growing stockpiles of the glass, much of which contains lead.

With so few buyers of the leaded glass from the old monitors and televisions, recyclers have collected payments from states and electronics companies to get rid of the old machines. A small number of recyclers have developed new technology for cleaning the lead from the tube glass, but the bulk of this waste is being stored, sent to landfills or smelters, or disposed of in other ways that experts say are environmentally destructive.

In 2004, recyclers were paid more than $200 a ton to provide glass from these monitors for use in new cathode ray tubes. The same companies now have to pay more than $200 a ton to get anyone to take the glass off their hands.

So instead of recycling the waste, many recyclers have been storing millions of the monitors in warehouses, according to industry officials and experts. The practice is sometimes illegal since there are federal limits on how long a company can house the tubes, which are environmentally dangerous. Each one can include up to eight pounds of lead.

The scrap metal industry estimates that the amount of electronic waste has more than doubled in the past five years.

A little over a decade ago, there were at least 12 plants in the United States and 13 more worldwide that were taking these old televisions and monitors and using the cathode ray tube glass to produce new tubes. But now, there are only two plants in India doing this work.

In 2009, after television broadcasters turned off their analog signals nationwide in favor of digital, millions of people threw away their old televisions and replaced them with sleeker flat-screen models. Since then, thousands of pounds of old televisions and other electronic waste have been surreptitiously unloaded at landfills in Nevada and Ohio and on roadsides in California and Maine.

Most experts say that the larger solution to the growing electronic waste problem is for technology companies to design products that last longer, use fewer toxic components and are more easily recycled. Much of the industry, however, seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

Cathode ray tubes have been largely replaced by flat panels that use fluorescent lights with highly toxic mercury in them, said Jim Puckett, director of Basel Action Network, an environmental advocacy group. Used panel screens from LCD televisions and monitors, for example, do not have much recycling value, so many recyclers are sending them to landfills.

State and federal environmental policies have also become victims of their own success. Over the past decade, environmental regulators have promoted “take-back” programs to persuade people to hand in the more than 200 million old televisions and broken computer monitors that Americans are thought to have stored away in closets, garages and basements.

The same programs have courted businesses to divert their electronic waste away from landfills to avoid the hazardous chemicals in this toxic trash from leaching into groundwater. More than 290,000 tons of the high-tech castoffs are now directed away from landfills and toward recyclers each year.

“The problem now is that the collection of this waste has never been higher, but demand for the glass that comes from it has never been lower,” said Neil Peters-Michaud, the chief executive of Cascade Asset Management, a recycling company.

Roughly 660 million pounds of the glass is being stored in warehouses across the country, and it will cost $85 million to $360 million to responsibly recycle it, according to a report released in December by TransparentPlanet, an organization focused on electronic waste research.

The stockpiling problem is especially worrisome to electronics companies and to state and federal officials since they might have to pick up part of the tab if the stockpiles were abandoned and declared federal Superfund sites.

At least 22 states have laws that make electronics manufacturers like Sony, Toshiba and Apple financially responsible for recycling their old products. But lack of oversight of these programs has led to rampant fraud. In one tactic, quietly known in the industry as “paper transactions,” recyclers buy paperwork to indicate that they collected a certain amount of electronic waste that they never actually collected.

The Obama administration, more than any of its predecessors, has strengthened oversight of electronic waste. In 2012, the General Services Administration enacted rules discouraging all agencies and federal contractors from disposing of it in landfills. The federal government, which is among the world’s largest producer of electronic waste, disposes more than 10,000 computers a week on average.

Federal agencies are failing to sufficiently track their electronic waste, and large amounts of it are still being disposed of through public or online auctions, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year. In these auctions, the waste is often sold to a first layer of contractors who promise to handle it appropriately, only to have the most toxic portion subsequently sold to subcontractors who move it around as they wish.

Some of this waste is dumped illegally in developing countries, the G.A.O. found. Congress is considering legislation to ban certain types of unprocessed and nonworking electronics and electronic waste from being exported to developing countries from the United States.

Recyclers say there is still money to be made on processing the old monitors and televisions if companies charge a price that more genuinely reflects the expense of disposing of the glass properly. But practices like “greenwashing,” whereby companies pretend to engage in environmentally responsible disposal practices, hinder such progress.

“They’re skimming off the computers, cellphones and printers that can be recycled profitably because they have more precious metals,” said Karrie Gibson, the chief executive of Vintage Tech Recyclers. “Then they stockpile the CRTs, or dump it in landfills or abroad.”

The sheer quantity of the glass accumulating at some recycling plants has contributed to environmental and workplace safety problems. In Yuma, Ariz., for example, Dlubak Glass, one of the country’s largest recyclers of glass from televisions and monitors, found itself overwhelmed.

When state regulators visited the site in 2009, they found a mountain of the lead-rich glass, several stories tall. Dust from the shimmering mound of recycled glass had contaminated the surrounding soil, including a nearby orchard, with lead at 75 times the federal limit, according to state documents.

“We have it entirely under control now,” said Herb Schall, a Dlubak plant manager.

In September, California passed an emergency measure allowing companies to send monitors and televisions to hazardous landfills for the next two years.

Charlotte Fadipe, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, said her office’s investigation of the abandoned warehouse near Fresno is continuing, and investigators are still trying to locate Charles Li, the owner of the company, TRI Products.

Over the past four years, TRI has been paid more than $1 million by the state to recycle electronic waste from local schools, hospitals and federal agencies, including the F.B.I., the I.R.S. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to state and company documents.

After a reporter found him to be running another electronic waste disposal company, Mr. Li did not respond. But when he was contacted online by another recycler and asked whether he was still looking to buy electronic waste, he immediately replied yes, with one caveat.

“Right now, we can take PC, server, telephone, printer and household e-waste,” he wrote. “I cannot take your CRT/TV as e-waste because we don’t have equipment to recycle the tubes.”

March 19th, 2013
Marches of Folly

By PAUL KRUGMAN
NY Times Published: March 17, 2013

Ten years ago, America invaded Iraq; somehow, our political class decided that we should respond to a terrorist attack by making war on a regime that, however vile, had nothing to do with that attack.

Some voices warned that we were making a terrible mistake — that the case for war was weak and possibly fraudulent, and that far from yielding the promised easy victory, the venture was all too likely to end in costly grief. And those warnings were, of course, right.

There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. And the war — having cost thousands of American lives and scores of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher than the war’s boosters predicted — left America weaker, not stronger, and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is to Washington.

So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience? It sure doesn’t look like it.

The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.

The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took sides and joined the war party.

CNN’s Howard Kurtz, who was at The Washington Post at the time, recently wrote about how this process worked, how skeptical reporting, no matter how solid, was discouraged and rejected. “Pieces questioning the evidence or rationale for war,” he wrote, “were frequently buried, minimized or spiked.”

Closely associated with this taking of sides was an exaggerated and inappropriate reverence for authority. Only people in positions of power were considered worthy of respect. Mr. Kurtz tells us, for example, that The Post killed a piece on war doubts by its own senior defense reporter on the grounds that it relied on retired military officials and outside experts — “in other words, those with sufficient independence to question the rationale for war.”

All in all, it was an object lesson in the dangers of groupthink, a demonstration of how important it is to listen to skeptical voices and separate reporting from advocacy. But as I said, it’s a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned. Consider, as evidence, the deficit obsession that has dominated our political scene for the past three years.

Now, I don’t want to push the analogy too far. Bad economic policy isn’t the moral equivalent of a war fought on false pretenses, and while the predictions of deficit scolds have been wrong time and again, there hasn’t been any development either as decisive or as shocking as the complete failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Best of all, these days dissenters don’t operate in the atmosphere of menace, the sense that raising doubts could have devastating personal and career consequences, that was so pervasive in 2002 and 2003. (Remember the hate campaign against the Dixie Chicks?)

But now as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. It has been especially striking how often questionable assertions are reported as fact. How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?

In fact, in some ways the line between news and opinion has been even more blurred on fiscal issues than it was in the march to war. As The Post’s Ezra Klein noted last month, it seems that “the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit.”

What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that “everyone” supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether “everyone” has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion. And policy arguments should be evaluated on the merits, not by who expresses them; remember when Colin Powell assured us about those Iraqi W.M.D.’s?

Unfortunately, as I said, we don’t seem to have learned those lessons. Will we ever?

March 18th, 2013
Toyo Ito Wins Pritzker Prize


The Sendai Mediatheque, designed by Toyo Ito, survived Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake. Photograph by Tomio Ohashi

By ROBIN POGREBIN
NY Times Published: March 17, 2013

Toyo Ito, a Japanese architect who broke from Modernism and designed a library that survived his country’s catastrophic 2011 earthquake, was awarded his profession’s top honor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize, on Sunday.

“Toyo Ito is a creator of timeless buildings, who at the same time boldly charts new paths,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation. “His architecture projects an air of optimism, lightness and joy and is infused with both a sense of uniqueness and universality.”

In a telephone interview Mr. Ito, 71, said he was gratified by the honor, especially because it represents an acceptance of his position as an iconoclast who has challenged the past 100 years of Modernism.

“I’ve been thinking that Modernism has already reached to the limit or a dead end,” Mr. Ito said through an interpreter. “I didn’t expect this surprising news, and I’m very happy about it.”

Nicolai Ouroussoff, then the architecture critic of The New York Times, remarked in 2009 that Mr. Ito had repeatedly been passed over for the Pritzker “in favor of designers with much thinner résumés.”

Mr. Ito will receive the award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on May 29.

Looking back over his career Mr. Ito said he is particularly proud of the Sendai Mediatheque, his library completed in Sendai, Japan, in 2001. The building’s design is dominated by structural tubes that support the floor plates and provide circulation, tubes which the Pritzker jury said “permitted new interior spatial qualities.”

But Mr. Ito is also proud of the building’s significance as a project that was meant to withstand an earthquake. (It won a Golden Lion Award at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale.) A video of the inside of the building taken by someone under a table during the earthquake in 2011 went viral.

“The building shook and swayed violently; everything cascaded from shelves and desks onto the floor,” the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Ceiling panels appeared to swing drunkenly overhead. But the Mediatheque did not collapse. It stood firm against the massive seismic forces that were tearing other buildings apart; the basic structure did not fail.”

Mr. Ito has been active in the recovery effort. He recruited three young architects to help him develop the concept of Home-for-All, communal space for survivors. In his book “Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature,” edited by Jesse Turnbull and published last year by Princeton Architectural Press, Mr. Ito writes, “An architect is someone who can make such places for meager meals show a little more humanity, make them a little more beautiful, a little more comfortable.”

The citation said Mr. Ito consistently couples his personal creative agenda with a sense of public responsibility. “It is far more complex and riskier to innovate while working on buildings where the public is concerned,” the jury said, “but this has not deterred him.”

Though perhaps not as well known as architects like Rem Koolhaas or Frank Gehry, Mr. Ito rose to great prominence with the completion of his stadium in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, built for the World Games in 2009.

And he has received his share of awards, including, in 2010, the Praemium Imperiale, which recognizes lifetime achievement in areas of the arts not covered by the Nobel Prizes.

But Mr. Ito said he doesn’t worry about status or architecture competitions. “We cannot predict what we will win or we won’t win,” he said.

He said he just needs to be able to do the work he wants to do. These days that includes flatware, called Mu, introduced in Paris by the Italian company Alessi. Mu means hexagon in Japanese and refers to the six-sided shape of the handles, which resembles chopsticks. The pattern complements Ku, the porcelain service Mr. Ito created for Alessi in 2006.

He has also been drawn to practical retail projects like a building for Tod’s, the Italian shoe and handbag company, and the facade of the Mikimoto Ginza 2 flagship store — both in Tokyo. And he continues to design ambitious public projects like the Taichung opera house, whose porous exterior has been likened to a gigantic sponge, and the Tama Art University Library, an irregular grid of concrete arches.

Born to Japanese parents in Keijo — now Seoul — in 1941, Mr. Ito moved to Tokyo in junior high school and then attended the University of Tokyo, where architecture became his main interest. He went on to graduate in 1965 and began working at the firm of Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates. In 1971 he left to start his own studio, calling it Urban Robot (Urbot), which in 1979 became Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.

Many of his early works were residences — including one in a Tokyo suburb called “Aluminum House,” which consisted of a wooden frame completely covered in aluminum, and a home for his sister called “White U,” which generated considerable interest in his work.

Throughout his career, Mr. Ito said, he has tried to establish a connection between inside and the outside conditions, an effort evident in his lightweight structures that use materials like mesh, perforated aluminum and permeable fabrics.

That fluidity pervades projects like his World Games stadium, critics said, which do not conform to conventional definitions of modern architecture.

“It reflects his longstanding belief that architecture, to be human, must somehow embrace seemingly contradictory values,” Mr. Ouroussoff wrote in his review of the building. “Instead of a self-contained utopia, he offers us multiple worlds, drifting in and out of focus like a dream.”

March 17th, 2013
when cold cases stay cold


NATCHEZ, MISS., FEB. 28, 1967 The scene at a car bombing that killed Wharlest Jackson, one of many racially motivated and unsolved crimes from the era.

By DAN BARRY, CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and ROBBIE BROWN
NY Times Published: March 16, 2013

FERRIDAY, La. — In the spring of 1965, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington received a letter from Concordia Parish in northeastern Louisiana. Addressed to the bureau’s director, J. Edgar Hoover, the letter pleaded for justice in the killing of a well-respected black merchant.

A few months earlier, the businessman, Frank Morris, had come upon two white men early one morning at the front of his shoe-repair shop, one pointing a shotgun at him, the other holding a canister of gas. A match was ignited, a conflagration begun, and Morris died four days later of his burns without naming the men, perhaps fearing retribution against his family.

The letter expressed grave concern that the crime would go unpunished because the local police were probably complicit. “Your office is our only hope so don’t fail us,” it concluded. It was signed:

“Yours truly, The Colored People of Concordia Parish.”

Nearly five decades later, the Justice Department has written back — not directly to the family of Mr. Morris or to the black community of Concordia Parish, but to dozens of other families who lost loved ones during this country’s tumultuous and violent civil rights era.

Several years ago, the F.B.I. began reopening cold cases from that era — 112 at last count — raising hopes among some for justice. In all but about 20, though, the families of the long dead have received letters, often hand-delivered by F.B.I. agents, that say their cases have been closed, there is nothing more to be done — and please accept our condolences.

Simultaneously intimate and bureaucratic, these letters serve as epistolary echoes of an increasingly distant time. To some, they reflect the elusiveness of resolution in cases decades old; to others, they represent another missed opportunity for a full accounting of what happened, and why.

Grace Hall Miller, a retired school board member in Newton, Ga., received one of these letters two years ago. It recounted a day in March 1965 that she hardly could have forgotten, when a man named Cal Hall Jr. fatally shot her husband, Hosie Miller, a farmer and church deacon, in a dispute over cows. Mr. Hall, who was white, shot Mr. Miller, who was black, in the back.

The letter recalled the notorious travel of the case, from repeated failures by grand juries to indict Mr. Hall to a “disproportionately white” jury’s finding against the Miller family in a wrongful-death lawsuit. It also summed up what the F.B.I. had done after reopening the case: interviews with Ms. Miller and a family friend, a check with the local sheriff’s office, and a search of county death records.

“After careful review of this incident, we have concluded that the now deceased Cal Hall Jr. acted alone when he shot and killed your husband, and therefore, we have no choice but to close our investigation,” the letter said. “We regret that we cannot be of further assistance to you. Again, please accept our sincere condolences for the loss of your husband” — a man who had died nearly a half-century earlier.

Ms. Miller, now 80, said that she had placed judgment in God’s hands long ago, and could not understand why the F.B.I. had reopened the case to give it only a cursory review. “I guess they were just trying to make a show,” she said.

One of Ms. Miller’s daughters is Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign from her job with the federal Agriculture Department in 2010 after a conservative blogger edited a video of a public appearance to make her appear racist. The White House later apologized, and she was offered a new job.

“It’s very unsatisfying,” said Ms. Sherrod, one of six children. “Even after all these years, the system wouldn’t do anything. We didn’t get justice.”

Adam S. Lee, the chief of the F.B.I. section overseeing civil rights, said that the bureau had been rigorous in pursuing these cold cases, following any evidence that might lead to prosecutions. But, he added, “That doesn’t bring the emotional closure that the public wants, or needs, in cases like this.”

Unsolved Crimes

In 2006, the F.B.I. began a cold-case initiative that it described as a comprehensive effort to investigate racially motivated murders from the civil rights era. That effort became a mandate two years later when Congress passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named after the 14-year-old black boy who was tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955, for supposedly flirting with a white woman.

From the outset, the government cited the formidable challenges it faced: the limited federal jurisdiction in some cases, the statute of limitations in others, and, of course, time’s passage. Suspects and witnesses die. Evidence is lost. Memories dull.

Champions of the cold-case initiative debated its primary purpose. Was it justice, which would mean chasing those few cases with the highest likelihood of prosecution? Or was it truth, which would mean pursuing the facts in scores of cases, no matter that the principal players might be dead?

“Truth was the more realistic goal,” said Alvin Sykes, a human rights worker and an early champion of what became the Till Act, who envisioned a broad, aggressive effort to identify and investigate old civil rights cases. But he lowered his expectations, he said, once the narrower scope of the initiative became clear.

The law authorized tens of millions of dollars for the project, but so far only $2.8 million has come through. In addition, some critics say that the expansive list of cases compiled by the F.B.I. — ranging from the well known to the more obscure, culled from old news clippings — resulted in the quick closing of most cases and the draining of resources from the few cases in which a prosecution might have been achieved.

Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which provided the F.B.I. with some possible cases, recalled some unease at the time about publicizing so many cases with very low chances of resolution. “I was worried about giving people false hope,” he said.

Limited Results

Families who held out hope for prosecution have been disappointed. In a report to Congress in October, the Justice Department acknowledged the low yield from what it always considered to be long-shot efforts to develop cases worthy of prosecution.

The report said the F.B.I.’s cold-case initiative had resulted in one successful federal prosecution, of James Ford Seale, who was convicted in 2007 in connection with the deaths of two young black men in 1964. It also said the F.B.I. had assisted in the 2010 state prosecution of a former Alabama trooper, James Bonard Fowler, in the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old civil rights marcher who died after a confrontation with the police in 1965.

Left unsaid in the report was that these prosecutions were prompted in large part by the work of investigative journalists like Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., John Fleming of the The Anniston Star in Alabama, and David Ridgen, a Canadian documentary filmmaker.

Also left unsaid was how the Justice Department’s approach and commitment to the endeavor have been questioned by some of those who have been toiling in the same troubled fields of history.

“That’s what we’ve been struggling with for the last six years,” said Janis L. McDonald, a law professor at Syracuse University and a co-director of the law school’s Cold Case Justice Initiative. “We’ve been asking for a regional task force, or for them to go out and say how many people really were killed. Neither has been the focus of the Justice Department.”

But F.B.I. officials said that in many cases people were interviewed, often repeatedly, during the original murder investigations. With memories fading as the decades pass, they said, those initial interviews often determine whom to interview or reinterview in the current investigation.

“I have not seen a perfunctory approach in any of these cases,” said Mr. Lee, the F.B.I. section chief.

Retellings, and Condolences

Then there are the letters.

As the Justice Department closed cases, F.B.I. agents were sent to hand-deliver letters of explanation to the next of kin. Sometimes, relatives could not be found or simply “didn’t want to hear from us,” Mr. Lee said.

Copies of dozens of these letters were given to The New York Times by James Shelledy, a journalist in residence at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and a team of journalism students who have been working on a project involving unsolved killings from the civil rights era. They obtained the letters through the Freedom of Information Act.

Here is the case of Clinton Melton, a gas station attendant in Glendora, Miss., who found himself in a dispute with a customer, Elmer Otis Kimbell, over the amount of gas he had just pumped. Mr. Kimbell vowed to kill Mr. Melton, and did just that, shooting the unarmed Mr. Melton three times with a shotgun.

“On March 13, 1956, an all-white, all-male jury acquitted Mr. Kimbell, despite the weight of the testimonial and physical evidence contradicting Mr. Kimbell’s claim that he acted in self-defense,” the government wrote in a letter to Mr. Melton’s family. “Mr. Kimbell died in February 1985.”

Here is the case of Jasper Greenwood, whose decomposed body was found next to his car in Vicksburg, Miss. According to the F.B.I., it turned out that Mr. Greenwood was with a married woman in a “lover’s lane” when he suffered a fatal heart attack — and she fled the scene.

Here is the case of John Earl Reese, who was dancing with friends in a cafe in Longview, Tex., when gunfire sprayed from a passing car killed him and injured two cousins. Two young white men, Perry Dean Ross and Joe Simpson, were eventually indicted, although charges against Mr. Simpson were dropped when he agreed to testify against Mr. Ross — who was given a suspended sentence on a murder conviction.

The F.B.I. closed its resurrected investigation because it concluded that Mr. Ross and Mr. Simpson, both long dead, had acted alone. Still, Joyce Nelson Crockett, one of the cousins wounded that night, expressed gratitude for the government’s interest.

“It did more good than no good,” Ms. Crockett, who is 70 and in poor health, said of the letter. “To know it was important enough to look into, because what they did was wrong. They had no reason to do it. They were youngsters, just as I was.”

Here, too, is the case of Herbert Orsby, a New Orleans boy of 14 whose body was found in 1964 in the Big Black River near rural Pickens, Miss., where he had been visiting his grandmother. Some civil rights workers said they had seen a young man matching Herbert’s description being forced into a pickup truck at gunpoint, and there were rumors that Herbert had been wearing a T-shirt bearing the acronym for the Congress of Racial Equality: C.O.R.E.

But an F.B.I. investigation at the time found no evidence of foul play and concluded that the boy had drowned. For years afterward, lingering suspicions were rarely discussed within the Orsby family.

“Back in those days in Mississippi, you didn’t stir up stuff,” said Roy Orsby, one of Herbert’s brothers, now 60 years old.

After 46 years of not stirring up stuff, Mr. Orsby received a visit from an F.B.I. agent who said the bureau was looking into the case. A few weeks later, Mr. Orsby said, he received a letter.

It said agents had retrieved the files from the original 1964 investigation, contacted Mississippi officials and two civil rights organizations, conducted searches of historical records at libraries and on the Internet, and “solicited information about the case via a press release.”

The conclusion: “After careful review of this incident, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that your brother’s death constitutes a racially motivated homicide.”

The experience was both brief and strange. “I figure, well there it goes again, back under the bridge,” Mr. Orsby said. “Never did find out what happened.”

Still, Margaret A. Burnham, a law professor and the founder of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program at the Northeastern University School of Law, said these letters mattered, even if devoid of resolution.

“Setting aside whether the F.B.I. could have done more, I respect the dignity with which they are accepting responsibility for letting families know how justice failed them,” Ms. Burnham said. “Whether it’s a sufficient thing, I don’t know. But it’s a necessary thing.”

Still Unresolved

As difficult as it might be to receive a letter saying that the investigation into your loved one’s death is being closed without a satisfying conclusion, there is the different pain of having no resolution at all, as in the 20 or so cold cases that remain open.

Three of them concern killings that took place on or near a 12-mile stretch of Highway 84, from here in Ferriday to the Mississippi city of Natchez, across the Mississippi River. All three have been extensively investigated by Stanley Nelson, a reporter for a local weekly newspaper, The Concordia Sentinel, who said the F.B.I. had failed to give the cold cases the proper commitment because it had not assigned agents to investigate them full time.

“There’s no way they can devote the time that’s really necessary to resolve these cases,” said Mr. Nelson, who believes that the cases are open in part because he has kept publicizing them. “They’re not out in the communities canvassing, talking to people, knocking on doors, running people down.”

This part of the South is haunted by unanswered questions.

In Ferriday, all that remains of the shoe store that was burned down in 1964 — with its black owner, Frank Morris, held inside at gunpoint — is a concrete slab in an empty lot. No one has ever been arrested, but in recent years there have been grand jury investigations, most likely prompted by Mr. Nelson’s reports that a suspect is still alive.

A few miles southeast on Highway 84, in a place called Vidalia, is the Budget Inn motel. A half-century ago, it was called the Shamrock Inn, where the Silver Dollar Group — an extreme faction of the Ku Klux Klan — used to meet in the coffee shop, and where, in 1964, a black porter named Joe Ed Edwards was said to have kissed the motel’s night clerk, a white woman.

Two days later, Mr. Edwards disappeared, for good.

And a few miles farther on, across the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge in Mississippi, a plaque marks the spot where, in 1967, a Chevy pickup driven by Wharlest Jackson, a Korean War veteran, blew up. He had just accepted a promotion to a supervisory — that is, white — position at a tire plant.

F.B.I. agents soon swarmed the area, infiltrating the Silver Dollar Group and forcing an end to its campaign of terror, though without any arrests. The children of Mr. Jackson do not expect the cold-case initiative to change the cold absence of resolution, and have come to see the government’s initiative as worse than nothing.

“Why they open it and why they open up wounds, I don’t know,” said Debra Sylvester, one of Mr. Jackson’s daughters. “My mama always said all you can do is pray. One day they’re going to have to give an account. One day they’re going to have to give an account to their maker.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Lee, of the F.B.I., said the bureau would probably close more cases by June. When asked whether criminal charges might be filed, he said, “Likely not.”

March 17th, 2013
Shannon Ebner


“Instrumentals,” 2013, Epson print, 75 x 42.5 inches

Opens March 16, 2013

Wallspace

Thanks to RS

March 16th, 2013
MOCA-National Gallery of Art deal is an empty prospect

By Christopher Knight
The Los Angeles Times
March 16, 2013

A proposed five-year collaboration deal between the troubled Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is, to use a critically astute technical term, a big, fat nothing-burger.

The plan sidesteps the most pressing needs facing MOCA, which are financial health and managerial competence, while needlessly embarrassing both museums.

It’s a symptom of, not a solution to, MOCA’s problems.

A possible relationship between the two — located on opposite coasts and with vastly different missions, structures and reputations — had been talked about in museum circles for weeks. But when the news finally broke Wednesday, the vacuousness of the idea was there for all to see.

The fantasy is that the federal museum will be lending its expertise in exhibitions, research and programming to MOCA. The reality is the reverse. When it comes to the art of the recent past, MOCA is a bona fide star and the Washington institution a bit player. MOCA would be lending its prestige to the National Gallery, not the other way around.

The collaborative idea, which includes zero financial support, apparently means to stick a Good Housekeeping seal of approval on the struggling contemporary museum. Donors are always hesitant to commit to an institution about whose future they are uncertain, which applies to MOCA in the wake of its lingering fiscal woes but not to a federally funded museum.

But rather than bolstering confidence in MOCA’s leadership, a foolish plan like this actually lessens it. If MOCA’s leaders are so confused about the relative merits of the two institutions and what is needed to move forward, no wonder its troubles have dragged on for the last five years.

The partnership idea was initiated by MOCA board member Eli Broad, the billionaire collector who is opening his own art museum downtown in 2014, across the street from MOCA. His National Gallery counterpart, board chairman John Wilmerding told The Times, “The hope is that our name, our programming, our expertise gives [MOCA] a sense of backbone and stability.”

Backbone? With all due respect to Wilmerding, it is probably a poor idea to begin a partnership by publicly dissing the other party as effectively spineless. Especially since it’s absurd to imagine that the National Gallery has any useful expertise in contemporary art to offer.

The National Gallery is a wonderful museum — if Old Master European, 19th century American or classic Modern painting and sculpture of the early 20th century are what you want. But the last substantial show of contemporary art I felt compelled to travel there to see was a Willem de Kooning painting survey — in 1994. Art of the last half-century is a minor diversion at the NGA.

Partly that’s because the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden stands right across the National Mall, and international contemporary art is the Hirshhorn’s chief concern. The NGA does next to nothing with recent art, except for photographs and the occasional retrospective of an established, blue-chip American painter or sculptor from the 1950s or 1960s.

Take a look at the museum’s online tour of its Modern and contemporary collection, which features one 1971 sculpture but nothing else from after 1962. Like that De Kooning show, mounted just before the artist’s death, the tour follows the museum’s Old Master profile.

Frankly, I can’t think of a single contemporary thematic or group exhibition of any consequence to have come from there. The National Gallery has a department of Modern art, which begins in the 19th century, but nothing remotely close to a staff specializing in the diversity of global art in our time. Perhaps it’s appropriate for the federal institution to hold back in that area, but it doesn’t mean the museum has any capacity for leadership in a field about which it has virtually no demonstrable expertise.

MOCA, meanwhile, has built an international reputation on a savvy post-1945 exhibition program that uncovers forgotten histories or revises established ones with fresh scholarship and surprising insights. That was a specialty of former chief curator Paul Schimmel, deposed last summer. It’s also the reason two of Europe’s leading contemporary museums — the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and the Ludwig in Cologne — are now directed by former MOCA curators, who left as the institutional problems mounted.

The arrangement with the National Gallery, which might be formally announced next week, is actually rather sad — a throwback to the early 1980s, when MOCA was just a novel idea still being birthed. (Broad was chairman from 1979 to 1984.) The scheme tries to borrow gravitas by association.

Back then, Pontus Hulten was hired away from Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou as inaugural director, and a major chunk of the coveted collection of Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, Europe’s first great collector of contemporary American art, was acquired. Now, America’s National Gallery is signing on as a partner.

But who cares? Perhaps to a general audience the partnership looks like a big deal, but to the engaged art public it’s just embarrassing — a desperation move, grasping at straws. In the process, MOCA’s real achievements get misunderstood.

And remember: Hulten soon quit, frustrated with program meddling by MOCA’s board, while Panza went ballistic when moves were made to try to sell off part of his incomparable collection. That MOCA overcame those ’80s blunders is a testament to its growth — to its own hard-earned artistic gravitas.

In order to begin rebuilding the stature it lost through fiscal mismanagement in the run-up to 2008, MOCA needs just two essential things: smart nonprofit museum leadership at the top, in both the boardroom and the director’s office, and substantial endowment funds — at least triple its $38-million peak a dozen years ago.

A Good Housekeeping Seal from an august but indifferent partner in Washington is just a distraction, unlikely to do anything to fix either gaping deficiency.

March 16th, 2013
Eli Broad and LACMA’s proposed takeover of MOCA

By Mike Boehm
The Los Angeles Times
March 15, 2013

Michael Govan came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art seven years ago with a mission to make it one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, one worth mentioning alongside New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art.

Now he’s trying to seize an opportunity to gain ground on them in a single stroke. Govan and LACMA’s trustees have proposed a takeover of L.A.’s financially adrift Museum of Contemporary Art and its crown jewels: a 6,000-piece collection that’s one of the world’s most admired troves of post-World War II art.

But Govan has an imposing rival in billionaire Eli Broad, L.A.’s eminence grise of art philanthropy. And Broad has cards of his own to play.

Broad is brokering a possible MOCA partnership with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., whose board chairman, John Wilmerding, said this week that the federally funded museum is eager to provide curatorial expertise but not money.

Broad has repeatedly declined comment on the possible LACMA-MOCA combination, and so have MOCA leaders who ultimately will have to decide the question.

But art world experts speculate that Broad could be motivated by rivalry with Govan and a desire to ensure a successful launch of his namesake Broad Collection museum, which is set to open across the street from MOCA’s Grand Avenue base next year.

“It strikes me as purely personal,” said Bruce Robertson, a former curator of American art at LACMA who teaches art history at UC Santa Barbara. “Eli has worked very hard to have the position as most important philanthropist in town,” while “Michael Govan has demonstrated emphatically that he doesn’t need Eli Broad to be successful.”

But that theory is discounted by Thomas Lawson, dean of the School of Art at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

“That’s an easy way of explaining things, to find a slightly dark personal angle,” he said.

Lawson believes Broad’s resistance to a LACMA takeover could be motivated more by concerns that LACMA control could make operations at MOCA more distant and bureaucratic, less collaborative with the Broad Collection and less likely to generate the diverse and dynamic programming vital for its success.

If MOCA, whose holdings are more extensive, doesn’t offer frequently changing exhibitions that can generate repeat visits, the Broad Collection could also stagnate, Lawson said. He thinks Broad may be banking on symbiotic programming between the two museums to generate a vibrant Grand Avenue cultural scene; the concern would be that LACMA control might prevent effective teamwork.

Robertson and Lawson agreed that the best scenario would be for MOCA to remain independent and capable of asserting its own distinctive approach.

“It’s not because Michael wouldn’t do a great job, but because L.A. as an art capital needs as much diversity as it can get,” Robertson said. “MOCA’s vision has always been different from LACMA’s.”

For his part, Govan said that LACMA has promised to keep the MOCA name and its downtown locations, and would raise $100 million to ensure that it thrives. He envisions strength in unity.

“If you put the two collections together … it’s not too shabby,” Govan said this week. What’s more, he said the combined collection could be a magnet for even more strong art, since collectors who want their holdings to wind up in museums often seek out the most prestigious destinations.

“If you put this whole thing together, it’s potentially more attractive to collectors,” he said.

When he saw Broad recently at a trustee’s party, “I gave him a hug,” Govan said. “I said we should work together.”

Broad’s response? “He smiled,” Govan said, “and Edye [Broad’s wife] and I talked about something else.”

For those laying odds on who will prevail, it’s worth noting that Broad has already frustrated LACMA twice.

The 79-year-old billionaire announced in 2008 that he would not give his own impressive collection of contemporary art to the county museum, even though he gave it $56-million for a building named for him that was about to open on its campus. Later that year, he thwarted LACMA and Govan’s bid to acquire MOCA at a time when the downtown museum was all but destitute. The museum board accepted a Broad bailout of MOCA instead.

It is because that bailout didn’t really work that Govan and LACMA have a second chance.

Despite Broad’s infusion of $3 million a year in exhibition support — a pledge that will run out at the end of this year — and an additional $6.25 million for its endowment, MOCA has not achieved a stable fiscal footing. In fact, its capacity for generating art exhibitions and other important museum programming appears to have fallen considerably the last few years, the curatorial staff dwindling since last spring from five to two.

But LACMA’s second chance to absorb MOCA could be an even longer shot than the first. That’s because Broad’s 2008 deal to keep MOCA independent includes a provision expressly designed to make it harder for Govan to successfully come calling again.

Broad doesn’t have absolute veto power over a LACMA takeover, but he can make such an acquisition much more complicated while buying time for other suitors to emerge who might be more to his liking.

The 16-page bailout agreement, obtained by The Times, includes a four-page section concerning “significant actions” that MOCA trustees can’t take with a simple vote. One of them is agreeing to be subsumed under another local museum — such as LACMA — before 2019.

The review process would begin with the appointment of an independent three-member “special committee” that could overrule Broad’s opposition and allow LACMA and MOCA to consummate a union — but not before the Broad Foundation had a chance to make a counteroffer.

The committee’s first task would be to determine whether “exigent circumstances” exist that would justify breaking the prohibition against merging with a nearby museum. The agreement defines “exigent circumstances” as “the inability of the museum … to operate without a … deficit for a period of two consecutive fiscal years,” or a situation in which it was at risk of “bankruptcy, dissolution … or violations of law or contractual obligations.”

MOCA has declined requests for up-to-date financial information, so it’s unclear whether it ran a deficit in the 2011-12 fiscal year or whether deficits are projected for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

If at least two of the three special committee members reviewing a possible merger decided that such circumstances existed, it would then have to decide whether LACMA’s offer “would be in the best interests of [MOCA] in light of all of the then-current facts and circumstances.”

If the committee gave the deal its greenlight, MOCA trustees could accept LACMA’s offer “without any consent or approval of the Broad Foundation.”

But once the review process began, it could take unexpected turns. The special committee can propose — but not impose — its own alternate solutions to a MOCA emergency, after reaching out to “any person or entity” who might be able to help.

The Broad Foundation would have a right to submit a counterproposal, but the agreement says it “is not entitled to any special privileges or priorities” as to how that proposal is considered. Broad conceivably could even make a bid to subsume MOCA under his Broad Collection museum.

Last summer, as MOCA made headlines with the forced resignation of longtime chief curator Paul Schimmel and the layoff of seven other staff members, fears arose — including from some MOCA trustees — that Broad might be angling for the museum’s art collection. He firmly denied it.

The MOCA board would have the final vote on whether to adopt any proposal OKd by the special committee. But if board members tried to circumvent the process and strike a union with LACMA without the special committee’s approval, the agreement says that the Broad Foundation would be “entitled to seek … remedies such as injunctive relief” — a court order stopping the deal from going through.

March 16th, 2013
Art is new art


Mathias Poledna
Schoenberg cabinet, 2013
Courtesy Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna

Rodney Graham (CAN), Paweł Książek (PL), Marcel Odenbach (D), Silke Otto-Knapp (D), Mathias Poledna (A), Stephen Prina (US), Florian Pumhösl (A), Marina Rosenfeld (US), Simon Starling (GB), Hong-Kai Wang (TW)

Through Jun 30, 2013

Schönberg Center

March 15th, 2013
How Beer Gave Us Civilization


Anders Nilsen
By JEFFREY P. KAHN
NY Times Published: March 15, 2013

HUMAN beings are social animals. But just as important, we are socially constrained as well.

We can probably thank the latter trait for keeping our fledgling species alive at the dawn of man. Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources.

Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply — and pass along their DNA to later generations.

But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.

To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.

We needed beer.

Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago.

Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread.

Brian Hayden and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada provide new support for this theory in an article published this month (and online last year) in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory. Examining potential beer-brewing tools in archaeological remains from the Natufian culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, the team concludes that “brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic” era.

Anthropological studies in Mexico suggest a similar conclusion: there, the ancestral grass of modern maize, teosinte, was well suited for making beer — but was much less so for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. It took generations for Mexican farmers to domesticate this grass into maize, which then became a staple of the local diet.

Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds.

But the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative. A night of modest tippling may have ushered in these feelings of freedom — though, the morning after, instincts to conform and submit would have kicked back in to restore the social order.

Some evidence suggests that these early brews (or wines) were also considered aids in deliberation. In long ago Germany and Persia, collective decisions of state were made after a few warm ones, then double-checked when sober. Elsewhere, they did it the other way around.

Beer was thought to be so important in many bygone civilizations that the Code of Urukagina, often cited as the first legal code, even prescribed it as a central unit of payment and penance.

Part of beer’s virtue in ancient times was that its alcohol content would have been sharply limited. As far as the research has shown, distillation of alcohol to higher concentrations began only about 2,000 years ago.

Today, many people drink too much because they have more than average social anxiety or panic anxiety to quell — disorders that may result, in fact, from those primeval herd instincts kicking into overdrive. But getting drunk, unfortunately, only compounds the problem: it can lead to decivilizing behaviors and encounters, and harm the body over time. For those with anxiety and depressive disorders, indeed, there are much safer and more effective drugs than alcohol — and together with psychotherapy, these newfangled improvements on beer can ease the angst.

But beer’s place in the development of civilization deserves at least a raising of the glass. As the ever rational Ben Franklin supposedly said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Several thousand years before Franklin, I’m guessing, some Neolithic fellow probably made the same toast.

March 15th, 2013
richard aldrich

The Words of Tuck Tuck Tuck
March 14 – April 15, 2013

Tuck Tuck Tuck was the name of artist Richard Aldrich’s solo music project done between the years 1999 and 2001, with records released in 2002 and 2003 on his own Skul record label. The words of Tuck Tuck Tuck compiles exactly that: all use of printed language surrounding Tuck Tuck Tuck. What is ostensibly a lyric book contains press releases, insert texts and record reviews in addition to the lyrics proper. In this way the book mimics the concerns of Aldrich’s painting practice, objects that contain different tones, purposes and functions collected together to create a larger and multi-faceted understanding of a body.

This exhibition will inaugurate KARMA’s new space at 39 Great Jones St.

Karma

March 13th, 2013
nate hylden


Untitled (1) – 2013 –
acrylic on aluminium
196.85 x 144.78 cm

Through Sat 13. Apr 2013

Johann Koenig

March 13th, 2013
Trisha Donnelly


Untitled, 2007-08
Digital print
78-3/4 x 57-3/4”

Though June 2, 2013

SFMOMA

March 12th, 2013
Susumu Koshimizu


From Surface to Surface (Wooden Logs Placed in a Radial Pattern on the Ground), 1972/2004
Thirty parts; 4 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 157 1/2 inches each

Through March 30, 2013

Blum and Poe

March 11th, 2013
GUIDO VAN DER WERVE


Nummer veertien, home
2012
4K video
54 mintues

Through April 20, 2013
Shown every hour on the hour

Marc Foxx

March 10th, 2013
Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content

By STEPHANIE STROM
NY Times Published: March 8, 2013

Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, on Friday became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some experts said could radically alter the food industry.

A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. “Fantastic,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.

Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.

The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.

The shift by Whole Foods is the latest in a series of events that has intensified the debate over genetically modified foods. Voters defeated a hard-fought ballot initiative in California late last year after the biotech industry, and major corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort. Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while consumers across the country have been waging a sort of guerrilla movement in supermarkets, pasting warning stickers on products suspected of having G.M.O. ingredients from food companies that oppose labeling. Proponents of labeling insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat, and they contend that some studies in rats show that bioengineered food can be harmful.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.”

“We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet.”

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.

Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines,” Ms. Batra said. “The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”

She contended, however, that without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.

Nonetheless, companies have shown a growing willingness to consider labeling. Some 20 major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart, met recently in Washington to discuss genetically modified labeling.

Coincidentally, the American Halal Company, a food company whose Saffron Road products are sold in Whole Foods stores, on Friday introduced the first frozen food, a chickpea and spinach entree, that has been certified not to contain genetically modified ingredients.

More than 90 percent of respondents to a poll of potential voters in the 2012 elections, conducted by the Mellman Group in February last year, were in favor of labeling genetically modified foods. Some 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, favored it.

But in the fight over the California initiative, Proposition 37, the opponents succeeded in persuading voters that labeling would have a negative effect on food prices and the livelihood of farmers.

That fight, however, has cost food companies in other ways. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are pondering labeling on their own, and consumers have been aggressive in criticizing some of the companies that fought the initiative, using Twitter and Facebook to make their views known.

Buoyed by what they see as some momentum in the labeling war, consumers, organic farmers and food activists plan to hold an “eat-in” outside the F.D.A.’s offices next month to protest government policies on genetically modified crops and foods. Whole Foods, which specializes in organic products, tends to be favored by those types of consumers, and it enjoys strong sales of its private-label products, whose composition it controls. The company thus risks less than some more traditional food retailers in taking a stance on labeling.

In 2009, Whole Foods began submitting products in its 365 Everyday Value private-label line to verification by the Non GMO Project.

But even Whole Foods has not been immune to criticism on the G.M.O. front. A report by Cornucopia, “Cereal Crimes,” revealed that its 365 Corn Flakes line contained genetically modified corn. By the time the report came out in October 2011, the product had been reformulated and certified as organic.

Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.

Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods did not consult with its suppliers about its decision and informed them of it only shortly before making its announcement Friday. He said Whole Foods looked forward to working with suppliers on the labeling.

March 9th, 2013
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