"At either end of any food chain you find a biological system -- a patch of soil, a human body -- health of one is connected, literally, to the health of the other."
- Michael Pollan
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|| News & Events – Fall 2009
The Good News
The Good Life Center at Forest Farm, the historic homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing on Cape Rosier, Maine, welcomed hundreds of visitors again this summer, and the Nearing tradition of Monday Night Meetings continued, with programs held at the Reversing Falls Sanctuary in Brooksville.
A long-time Nearing friend, with volunteers and an intern, planted the stone-walled vegetable garden and donated the produce to food pantries. Visitors were able to tour the grounds, garden and greenhouse with volunteer guides.
The house is now closed for renovations, and the Center’s board of directors and a building committee are developing plans to stabilize, restore and preserve the buildings, books, grounds and garden to reflect their appearance when the Nearings lived there.
The organization is raising funds, seeking grants and planning a capital campaign for building maintenance and to protect the valuable book collection. Following Scott Nearing’s precept, “Pay as you go,” work will proceed as funds are available.
To learn more, contact The Good Life Center, 372 Harborside Rd., Harborside, ME 04642; 207-326-8211; firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.goodlife.org.
Volunteers have planted more than 400 native plants in the YardScaping demonstration garden at Portland's Back Cove. A low-maintenance lawn will go in this fall. The plantings show that yards can be beautiful without polluting waters with fertilizers and pesticides. The demonstration gardens depict urban, urban/suburban, rural and rural/suburban designs, as well as a wildflower meadow. For a site map and plant list, see www.yardscaping.org. ("The plot thickens as demonstration garden fills up with plants," by Tom Atwell, Portland Press Herald, June 28, 2009; http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=263977&ac=Home)
Seventy-three percent of U.S. families buy organic products at least occasionally, chiefly for health reasons, according to the 2009 U.S. Families' Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, sponsored by the Organic Trade Association and KIWI Magazine. Also, 31 percent of U.S. families are buying more organic foods than they did a year ago, with many parents preferring to reduce their spending in other areas before targeting organic product cuts. In fact, 17 percent of U.S. families said their largest increases in spending in the past year were for organic products. (Organic Trade Assoc. press release, June 16, 2009; www.ota.com)
U.S. sales of organic food and non-food products reached $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, growing 17.1 percent over 2007, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic food sales grew by 15.8 percent to reach $22.9 billion, while organic non-food sales grew by 39.4 percent to reach $1.648 billion. Organic food sales now account for approximately 3.5 percent of all U.S. food product sales. (Organic Trade Assoc. press release, May 4, 2009; www.ota.com)
As Canadian organic standards took effect on June 30, an equivalency agreement between the USDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was implemented to ensure continued smooth flow of certified organic products between the two countries. It is the first such equivalency agreement worldwide for the organic industry. Some 70 to 80 percent of organic products sold in Canada come from the United States. (Organic Trade Assoc. press release, June 17, 2009; "New national standards for organic food take effect," CBC News, June 30, 2009; www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/06/30/organic-certification-canada536.html)
Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin says that "innovations in agriculture provide the best opportunity to remove carbon from the atmosphere. We cannot reach 350 ppm without changing the way we grow our food and use our land." Innovations in food production and land use that are ready to be scaled-up today could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to roughly 25 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and present the best opportunity to remove greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, according to Worldwatch Institute and Ecoagriculture Partners. More than 30 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are linked to agriculture and land use. In a new report, "Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use," the two organizations outline major strategies for reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions through farming and land use:
- Soil, the third largest carbon pool on Earth's surface, can be managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing tillage, cutting use of nitrogen fertilizers and preventing erosion. Soils can store a vast amount of additional carbon as organic matter and biochar (biomass burned in a low-oxygen environment).
- Two-thirds of all arable land grows annual grains, but perennial plants can produce food, livestock feed, and fuel while storing carbon in the vegetation and soil.
- Livestock accounts for nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use. Rotational grazing, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives can reduce these emissions.
- Deforestation, land clearing, and forest and grassland fires are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives are needed to encourage farmers, ranchers and foresters to maintain natural habitats through product certification, payments for climate services, securing tenure rights and community fire control.
- Restoring vegetation on vast areas of degraded land can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while making land productive again, protecting watersheds and alleviating rural poverty. ("Farmers Poised to Offset One-Quarter of Global Fossil Fuel Emissions Annually," Worldwatch Institute, June 2, 2009; www.worldwatch.org/node/6124)
A report by the University of Reading in Great Britain, funded by the Soil Association and an independent trust, shows that organic farming has "much to offer" and "is, perhaps, mainstream agriculture in waiting." Key findings show that switching to organic farming would:
("Organic 'mainstream agriculture in waiting,'" Soil Association press release, June 24, 2009. The findings are summarized at www.apd.reading.ac.uk/AgriStrat/projects/org_exec.html)
- cut greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution
- cut fertilizer inputs by 95 percent and sprays by 98 percent
- support more wildlife
- increase farm employment by 73 percent
- supply similar volumes of food as at present, or even more
- reduce chicken, egg and pig meat production (by eliminating factory farms) by about a quarter of current levels, making large quantities of grain available for human consumption
- decrease dairy production by around 30 to 40 percent, unless herds were re-established and dairies re-opened in areas that have lost them
- increase beef production by 68 percent and lamb by 55 percent.
A study initiated by Stonyfield Farm has cows at 15 Vermont farms eating more grass, alfalfa and flax, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, rather than corn and soy in order to emit less methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cows give off methane primarily through burping. The test cows appear to be healthier, and one herd is emitting 18 percent less methane while the mean reduction is 12 percent. Groupe Danone, part owner of Stonyfield, found that higher omega-3 fatty acids in spring grasses in France seemed to improve cows' digestion and health; enable them to produce less methane; increase milk production about 10 percent; enable cows to live and produce milk longer; and result in milk with 29 percent more omega-3 fatty acid content and less saturated fat. Most people consume too much omega-6 (from eating foods made with corn, palm or soy oil; or from eating products of livestock that feed on corn and soy) and insufficient omega-3, making them vulnerable to heart disease, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, allergies, diabetes and depression. While the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 used to be about 1 to 1 or 2 to 1 – it is now about 20 to 1. Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield V.P. of Natural Resources and director of the Stonyfield Greener Cow Project, notes the environmental costs of this imbalance: "Clearing forests for palm and soy has caused ecological devastation. For every piece of rainforest or prairie that is destroyed to grow soybean or palm, our bodies pay the price with an imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. If every U.S. dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road!" ("Greening the Herds: A New Diet to Cap Gas," by Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times, June 5, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/us/05cows.html?_r=1; Stonyfield Farm press release, June 8, 2009; www.stonyfield.com)
The American Medical Association has approved a policy resolution supporting a healthy and ecologically sustainable food system. The resolution calls on the AMA to help educate about the importance of healthy and ecologically sustainable systems that provide nutritious food. "[T]he role of health care providers and facilities in providing education and leadership to help the population understand the link between the way we produce food and individual health is significant and cannot be overstated," said Jamie Harvie, director of the Health Care Without Harm Sustainable Food Work Group. The AMA's Council on Science and Public Health (www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/475/refcomd.pdf) says that locally produced and organic foods "reduce the use of fuel, decrease the need for packaging and resultant waste disposal, preserve farmland ... [and] the related reduced fuel emissions contribute to cleaner air and in turn, lower the incidence of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems," while industrial agriculture contributes significantly to antibiotic resistance, climate change, and air and water pollution. ("American Medical Association Passes Resolution Supporting Sustainable Food System," PRNewswire-USNewswire, June 17, 2009)
The mainstream business magazine Forbes says eating low- or no-sugar, minimally processed, whole, "real" foods, including nuts, berries, beans, raw milk and grass-fed meat, is "almost always healthy, regardless of how many grams of carbs, protein or fat it contains." An article in the magazine notes the fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and other properties of such foods, as well as their healthful fats, as contributing to a long, healthy life. It promotes grass-fed meat, raw milk, wild salmon, vegetables, eggs, teas and more. ("The Healthiest Foods On Earth," by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, Forbes, July 7, 2009;
A fascinating article in Growing magazine tells how a Wisconsin couple is reclaiming 106 acres of worn out pasture by creating a permaculture farm. Mark and Jen Shepard sell hazelnuts, chestnuts and apples; fruit tree scions; cut flowers, asparagus, raspberries, grapes, morels, dried comfrey leaves, hard cider and more instead of the typical Midwest crops of corn and soy. They are grazing cattle and pigs among some woody plants. The farm has inspired research at Cornell on hazelnut-based polycultures. ("The Power of Nuts," by Tina Wright, Growing, May 2009; www.growingmagazine.com/article.php?id=3438)
The Knox County Farmer's Alliance meets monthly at the Union Town Office to share information and ideas. The group planned to start a new farmers' market at the Union Fair and is encouraging regular local newspaper features on farms and farmers. For more information, contact Ron Howard, general manager, Aldermere Farm, 70 Russell Ave., Rockport, ME 04856; 207-236-2739; RHoward@MCHT.org. (Aldermere Farm Bulletin, Spring 2009; www.aldermere.org)
Urban fruit foraging is taking off. A neighborhood fruit exchange in Oakland, California, has 200 people sharing fruit from their home trees. The Portland [Oregon] Fruit Tree Project lists more than 300 trees available for picking. Elsewhere, the Web sites neighborhoodfruit.com, veggietrader.com and fallenfruit.org, as well as Facebook pages, list people who have fruit to share. Sometimes pickers share a percentage of their foraged fruit with low-income people or food banks. ("Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?" by Kim Severson, The New York Times, June 10, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/dining/10Fruit.html)
York County Cooperative Extension's "Kids Can Grow" program, started by extension educator Frank Wertheim, links 7- to 12-year-old children with mentors from Extension's master gardener program. The children's families pay $20 to participate; in return, they get wood for a raised bed, soil, plants and help. The mentors meet with children monthly at a garden in Sanford run by Extension, giving advice and caring for vegetables that will be donated to needy residents; and mentors visit the children's home gardens about once a week. ("Way to Grow," by Ray Routhier, Portland Press Herald, June 7, 2009; http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=260365&ac=Home)
Middle Eastern farmers, with help from the Israeli government, Jordanian and Palestinian scientists and conservation charities, are putting up nesting boxes to encourage owls and kestrels to hunt rodents on farms in the Middle East. Participants hope to stop the poisoning of hundreds of birds of prey that consume rodents that have eaten rodenticides applied to crop fields by using the birds themselves to control pest populations. Encouraging kestrels, which hunt by day, and barn owls, which hunt by night, gives 24-hour protection and less crop damage from rodents. ("Owls replace pesticides in Israel, BBC News, May 20, 2009;
Rob Evans of Hugo's restaurant in Portland is the 2009 James Beard Foundation's best chef in the Northeast; and Sam Hayward's Fore Street was one of five restaurants nominated for the national Outstanding Restaurant Award by the Foundation. Hayward (who serves on MOFGA's board of directors) received the Best Chef award for the Northeast in 1994. Chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit were also nominated for Best Chef: Northeast this year. ("James Beard 2009 Awards: Congratulations Maine!" Maine Food and Lifestyle, May 5, 2009; mainefoodandlifestyle.com)
When a company tested the effects of irradiated foods on cats, some developed severe neurological problems, including movement disorders, vision loss and paralysis, after three to four months on the diet. Returned to a normal diet, the cats slowly recovered. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the myelin sheath around nerves of the central nervous system of affected cats was degraded; the normal diet restored the sheath somewhat. In humans, a degraded myelin sheath is associated with multiple sclerosis and other central nervous system disorders. The researchers do not know why cats fed irradiated foods suffered from demyelination. ("Nine Lives: Cats' Central Nervous System Can Repair Itself And Restore Function," ScienceDaily, March 31, 2009; www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090330200722.htm; original study, "Extensive remyelination of the CNS leads to functional recovery," by Duncan I,D,, Brower A,, Kondo Y., Curlee J.F. Jr., Schultz R.D., published in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., April 2, 2009)
Feeding 9 Billion
A June 2009 National Geographic report, "The Global Food Crisis, The End of Plenty," by Joel K. Bourne Jr., describes how hunger is hitting people worldwide, despite attempts by multinational food conglomerates, pesticide corporations, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations and others to promote a "new green revolution" with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and genetically engineered seeds. "Last year a massive study called the 'International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development' concluded that the immense production increases brought about by science and technology in the past 30 years have failed to improve food access for many of the world's poor. The six-year study, initiated by the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and involving some 400 agricultural experts from around the globe, called for a paradigm shift in agriculture toward more sustainable and ecologically friendly practices that would benefit the world's 900 million small farmers, not just agribusiness." Along those lines, Bourne's article describes the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project in Malawi, which distributes seeds, recipes and advice for growing nutritious, leguminous food crops, which add nitrogen to the soil while enriching diets. By rotating corn with legumes, farmers there have increased corn yields while reducing fertilizer inputs; improved their homes; and been able to buy livestock. Children in the project, who were languishing on the corn monoculture diet, had significant weight gains. The benefits of such systems are discussed in the article, which also notes that neither "green revolution"-type solutions nor the more ecological methods may be sufficient to feed 9 billion people by 2050 – especially if climate-change predictions of increased heat and drought in populous areas occur. Bourne quotes Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics: "Ultimately there has to be a balance between population and resources. And this notion that we can continue to grow forever, well it's ridiculous." Bourne points out that delaying marriage reduces fertility rates and was "the basic mechanism that regulated population growth in western Europe for some 300 years before the industrial revolution." (Pesticide Action Network North America news update, May 21, 2009; www.panna.org; and National Geographic, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/06/cheap-food/bourne-text)
In August, the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) released a study claiming that organic and conventional foods essentially have the same nutritional benefits. The Soil Association (U.K.; www.soilassociation.org) noted, however, that the FSA rejected almost all existing studies comparing nutrition in organic and non-organic foods; and that environmental and human health problems associated with synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers and with antibiotics were not compared. The FSA study even contradicted itself, as it found the following higher percentages of nutrients in organic foods:
The researchers also found 2.1 to 27.8 percent more beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids in organic than in non-organic meat and dairy products.
- protein – 12.7
- beta-carotene – 53.6
- flavonoids – 38.4
- copper – 8.3
- magnesium – 7.1
- phosphorus – 6
- potassium – 2.5
- sodium – 8.7
- sulfur – 10.5
- zinc – 11.3
- phenolic compounds – 13.2
The FSA failed to include results of a major European Union-funded study that found more nutritionally desirable compounds (e.g. antioxidants, vitamins, glycosinolates) and lower levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds (e.g. mycotoxins, glycoalkaloids, cadmium and nickel) in organic crops; more beneficial fatty acids in organic dairy products; and up to 90 percent more vitamin C in organic fruits and leafy vegetables.
Dr. Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center (www.organic-center.org) states that the FSA downplayed its own positive findings in favor of organic food; and that The Organic Center's own study found greater concentrations of several nutrients, concluding "that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day."
Dr. Margaret Reeves of the Pesticide Action Network North America (www.panna.org) says, "Organic agriculture not only delivers better nutrition, but also an array of indirect benefits for farmers, farmworkers, and the planet. Any comprehensive – or as FSA claims, 'systematic' – evaluation must account for organic's indirect benefits as well."
A Cornucopia Institute report, Beyond the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry, rates brands according to company ownership structure, percentage of organic soybeans purchased, disclosure of sourcing information, whether the company tests for contamination of soybeans by genetically engineered soy, and more. Cornucopia notes, for example, that Dean owns the Silk brand of soy milk – much of which is no longer made from organic soybeans. Companies that do work with North American organic farmers include Eden Foods, Small Planet Tofu and Vermont Soy. Behind the Bean also exposes the "natural" (nonorganic) soy industry's widespread use of the chemical solvent hexane to process conventional soy protein ingredients and edible oils. Hexane is prohibited when processing organic foods. Hexane, says Cornucopia, is a neurotoxin that poses serious occupational hazards to workers, is an environmental air pollutant, and can contaminate food. (Cornucopia Institute press release, May 18, 2009; full report at www.cornucopia.org)
Manufacturers of liquid fertilizers with more than 3 percent nitrogen for use on organic farms must submit their products for third-party review in order to meet an October 1 approval deadline set by the USDA National Organic Program in a directive issued to USDA NOP Accredited Certifiers on February 20, 2009. (Organic Trade Assoc. press release, July 17, 2009; www.ota.com)
Genetic Engineering in the News
In June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its previous decision upholding a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa pending a full Environmental Impact Statement. The Court determined that planting GE alfalfa could result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers. ("Federal Court Upholds Ban on Genetically-Engineered Alfalfa," press release, June 24, 2009; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/)
Monsanto Co. is collaborating with Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., because of its marketing expertise, to develop new vegetables – initially broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach. ("Monsanto Teams With Dole," Fresh Cut, June 23, 2009; www.freshcut.com/pages/news.php?ns=2621)
A USDA survey says that 40 percent of Maine's 2008 field corn acreage (29,000 acres, total) was genetically engineered – half the national rate. This corn is used primarily to feed livestock. ("40 percent of Maine field corn called modified," by The Associated Press, Bangor Daily News, June 8, 2009; www.bangordailynews.com/detail/107889.html)
Scientists have long been perplexed by intergenic DNA – DNA that is located between genes. Some intergenic DNA physically protects and links chromosomes, but leftover or "junk" DNA seemed to have no purpose. Now, using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers have found short, repeating segments within this junk DNA, and 50 percent of Arabidopsis genes have the same molecular patterns as the junk DNA. These linked patterns shared by "junk" DNA and coding DNA are called pyknons, and they may be evidence of something that drives genome expansion in plants. Pyknons are also the same in sequence and size as small segments of RNA that regulate gene expression through a method known as gene silencing. This suggests that these RNA segments are converted back into DNA and are integrated into the intergenic space. Over time, these sequences repeatedly accumulate. Previously, pyknons were known to exist only in the human genome. Discovering them in plants suggests a universal genetic mechanism that is not yet fully understood. Scientists may be able to use this information to determine which genes are regulated by gene silencing. ("'Junk' DNA Proves to be Highly Valuable," by Alfredo Flores, USDA Agricultural Research Service News Service, June 2, 2009; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)
In May, Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugarbeets were found in a soil mix being sold to gardeners by a Corvallis, Oregon, business near organic plant breeder Frank Morton's fields. Morton, who owns Wild Garden Seeds of Philomath, worries that beets that escaped may flower and introduce windborne pollen to his organic chard seed crop, ruining his market for the seed and destroying years of breeding for his very cold-hardy line. They may also contaminate crops of other local chard growers who sell to bagged-salad distributors in California. A lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety, now before a federal judge in California, argues that the USDA violated federal law when it deregulated GE sugarbeets; the lawsuit seeks to stop their planting, sale or distribution. ("Battle over beets," by Bennett Hall, Corvallis Gazette-Times, May 30, 2009; www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2009/05/31/news/top_story/1aaa01_beets053109.txt)
More than 70 companies, listed at www.seedsofdeception.com/includes/services/nongm_sugar_beet_registry_display.cfm, have pledged to avoid using sugar from GE sugar beets "wherever possible." The first crop of GE Roundup Ready (herbicide-tolerant) beets was harvested in the fall of 2008, so sugar from those beets is now on the market. ("More Than 70 Companies Vow to Avoid Genetically Modified Sugar Beets," by David Gutierrez, May 27, 2009; NaturalNews.com)
In the late 1990s, molecular biologist Arpad Pusztai found that potatoes engineered to produce lectins, natural insecticides that combat aphids, damaged rats' organs and immune system. In an interview with The Non-GMO Report, he says that the damage was not from the transgene and its expressed product but from the damage – "probably due to insertional mutagenesis" – caused by inserting the transgene in the potato genome. Because genes cannot be inserted into known locations, Pusztai says they can cause the plant's own genes to become more active or silent, sometimes damaging the genome irreparably. Pusztai also mentioned Australian and Italian studies in which GE peas and corn, respectively, damaged the immune system of mice, and Austrian and Russian studies in which mice fed GE corn had reduced fertility. He says that GE foods should be independently tested for nutritional/ toxicological, metabolic, cancer, immunological and reproductive effects. ("Arpad Pusztai and the Risks of Genetic Engineering," by Ken Roseboro, The Organic and Non-GMO Report, June 2009; www.non-gmoreport.com/; posted at Organic Bytes, Organic Consumers Assoc., June 3, 2009; www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18101.cfm)
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) is calling for a moratorium on genetically engineered foods. Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM [genetically modified] foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health." The AAEM urges physicians to consider the role of GE foods in patients' disease processes and calls for more independent, longterm scientific research on the role of GE foods on human health. The most common GE foods consumed in North America are corn, soy, canola and cottonseed oil. ("The American Academy Of Environmental Medicine Calls For Immediate Moratorium On Genetically Modified Foods," AAEM press release, May 19, 2009; www.aaemonline.org/gmopressrelease.html)
Of the 114.3 million hectares (282.4 acres) growing GE crops worldwide in 2007, 70 percent grew Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans – much of the crop grown in South America for biodiesel production and for animal feed exported to China and Europe. These large-scale monocultures are heavily sprayed with herbicides, displace forests and small farmers, mine soil fertility, and lead to food insecurity. Transporting the crop requires additional roads, rail lines and industrial waterways, which destroy natural habitats. Soy cultivation has deforested 21 million hectares in Brazil, 14 million in Argentina, 2 million in Paraguay and 600,000 in Bolivia. Argentina lost 60,000 dairy, corn, wheat, fruit and other farms while its GE soy land almost tripled. For every kilogram of non-glyphosate herbicide that was not used in southern Brazil as GE soy cultivation expanded, 7.5 kilograms of glyphosate (including Roundup) were used - often sprayed aerially. This herbicide can harm other organisms (some beneficial), including spiders, mites, carabid and coccinellid beetles; detritivores such as earthworms; mycorrhizae and other microfauna; and aquatic organisms including microbes, frogs and fish. Impaired nitrogen fixation has also occurred when glyphosate was used. Thirteen Brazilian weed species are now resistant to glyphosate and are being treated with other herbicides, such as 2,4-D, a carcinogen. ("Poisoning The Planet," by Miguel A. Altieri, Resurgence, May/June 2009; http://resurgence.org/magazine/article2803-Poisoning-The-Planet.html)
Whole Foods Market Inc., working with the nonprofit Non-GMO Project, says it will have its private label products tested for GE ingredients and will begin labeling its compliant products by the end of this year. Other grocers working with the Non-GMO Project include The Natural Grocery Co., The Big Carrot Natural Food Market and Good Earth Natural Foods. ("Whole Foods adopts new verification standard for private label products,"
Austin Business Journal, July 7, 2009; www.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2009/07/06/daily16.html)
Pesticides in the News
On-the-job exposure to insecticides, fungicides and herbicides – especially to organochlorine insecticides – was linked with Parkinson's disease in a French study of nearly 800 adults. The longer workers were exposed to pesticides, the greater the likelihood of having Parkinson's. ("More evidence links pesticides to Parkinson's," by Amy Norton, Reuters Health, June 19, 2009; www.reutershealth.com/archive/2009/06/19/eline/links/20090619elin001.html – registration required. Original study in Annals of Neurology, June 4, 2009) A U.S. study also found that exposure to common agricultural pesticides may increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, particularly among people with certain gene types. ("Dopamine Transporter Genetic Variants and Pesticides in Parkinson's Disease," by Beate R. Ritz et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, June 2009)
In June, Congress wrote to Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris and Dow's Board of Directors, urging the company to face its criminal and civil liabilities for the explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984. The letter endorsed survivors' demands for remediation – chiefly that Dow provide medical and economic rehabilitation and clean up the factory and groundwater contamination. Nearly a quarter-century after the initial disaster, the factory sits in ruins, with toxic chemicals strewn about the grounds, just yards from the homes of thousands of Bhopali families. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, June 18, 2009; www.panna.org)
Children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides at work while pregnant have double the risk of developing childhood leukemia, according to a recent study. ("Mom's pesticide exposure at work increases her child's leukemia risk," by Negin P. Martin, Ph. D., and Kim Harley, Ph.D., Environmental Health News, June 17, 2009; original report: Wigle, D.T., M.C. Turner and D. Krewski, 2009. A systematic review and meta-analysis of childhood leukemia and parental occupational pesticide exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.0900582)
A May 2009 teleconference organized by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment suggested that environmental stressors can affect metabolism, leading to inflammation, oxidative stress and changes in insulin signaling, which can then cause diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and lipid abnormalities. Dr. Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine, and coworkers have suggested an "obesogen hypothesis." Obesogens are "chemicals that inappropriately stimulate adipogenesis and fat storage … and contribute to the obesity epidemic." Examples may include chemicals in pesticides, plastics and flame retardants. Exposing rats to chronic, low amounts (similar to amounts people commonly encounter) of the common herbicide atrazine, for example, decreases their metabolism, adds fat and weight, and increases their insulin resistance. A high-fat diet amplifies these effects. Likewise, tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that people with high amounts of persistent organic pollutants in their blood suffered from diabetes more frequently than those with low levels of these chemicals. Teleconference participants suggested adopting the Mediterranean diet (eating mostly plant foods, with whole grains, fish and olive oil, and minimizing processed food and red meat); avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals; and exercising. ("Is the Environment Making Us Fat and Sick?" by Shelby Gonzalez; www.healthandenvironment.org/articles/doc/6145)
New Brunswick is banning the use and sale of 200 lawn-care pesticides representing some 70 percent of retail cosmetic pesticides that are available to homeowners and are commonly overused. Some exemptions will exist for agriculture, forestry and golf courses. The ban will take effect this fall and will include products for domestic lawns containing 2,4-D; combination fertilizer and pesticide products; granular spreadable weed killers; hose-end spray products; and lawn care pesticides that homeowner must measure, mix or dilute. ("Sale and use of 200 pesticides to be banned in N.B.," CBC News, June 18, 2009; www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/06/18/nb-pesticide-ban-210.html)
According to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, more than 6 million pounds of lawn care pesticides were used in Maine in 2007, nearly eight times more than in 1995. The use of pesticides threatens the health of children and pets - and pollutes waters, as storm water carries these chemicals downstream. Friends of Casco Bay sampled 19 storm water sites in neighborhoods from Cape Elizabeth to Harpswell and detected six toxic pesticides in local waters:
- 2, 4-D: Banned in five countries, this herbicide is toxic to aquatic invertebrates and may be linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma in humans,
- Clopyralid: an herbicide linked to birth defects in animals
- Diazinon: Banned from being sold to U.S. consumers but still legal for use, this insecticide has a high aquatic toxicity and is linked to reproductive problems.
- Dicamba: Found in groundwater throughout the United States, this herbicide is toxic to fish and zooplankton.
- MCPP: This herbicide is highly toxic to bay shrimp.
- Propiconazole: This fungicide is a possible carcinogen.
To learn about alternatives, such as using beneficial nematodes against grubs, visit http://friendsofcascobay.org/bayscaping.aspx. (Friends of Casco Bay, email, June 5, 2009)
Seventy-one of 94 samples of infant formula bought in Canada were contaminated with traces of melamine, a kidney toxin – possibly a breakdown product of the insecticide cyromazine. Concentrations were below the 0.5 micrograms per gram set by Health Canada for infant formula. Melamine was also in most of the 19 samples of soy-based formula that Health Canada tested. ("Pesticide may seed American infant formulas with melamine," by Janet Raloff, June 3, 2009, Science News)
Studies have reported excess risks of pancreatic cancer related to exposure to organochlorines such as DDT. Now the National Cancer Institute, in studying 57,000 private, licensed pesticide applicators and some 32,000 wives of applicators, all living in Iowa or North Carolina, has linked the disease to the weed killers pendimethalin and EPTC – possibly because both weed killers can form N-nitroso compounds, which are suspected human carcinogens affecting tissues, including the pancreas. Pendimethalin is sold in "weed and feed" products such as Scott's Hyponex and under brand names including Accotab, Go-Go-San, Herbadox, Magic Carpet, Penoxalin, Prowl, Sipaxol, Stomp and Way-Up. EPTC is sold under brand names including Eptam, Powerplay, Doubleplay and Eradicane. (Pesticide Action Network North America news update, June 11, 2009; www.panna.org; "Pancreatic cancer linked to herbicides; Some weed killers may need to be treated with more respect," by Janet Raloff, Science News, May 28, 2009; www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/44163/title/Pancreatic_cancer_linked_to_herbicides_)
California beekeeper Gene Brandi has seen up to 40 percent of his bees vanish each year, apparently due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but his bees that did not work a watermelon field treated with Bayer CropScience's insecticide imidacloprid didn't succumb to the disorder. The National Honeybee Advisory Board has asked the EPA to ban imidacloprid, after hearing many similar stories about bee deaths after exposure to the insecticide (and the related Bayer product, clothianidin). Bayer scientists themselves found enough imidacloprid in the nectar and pollen of treated flowering trees and shrubs to kill a honeybee in minutes, yet Bayer denies that its pesticides cause CCD. Imidacloprid (sold under such trade names as Gaucho, Confidor and Admire) and clothianidin contain nicotine and chlorine, which attack insects' nervous systems. Imidacloprid can persist in plants for more than a year. It is used on more than 140 crop varieties worldwide and against termites, in flea collars, in home landscaping and on golf courses. Its patent has expired, so smaller companies can now sell it as a generic insecticide. Entomologists believe that while these pesticides may play a role in CCD, other factors are probably involved as well. Meanwhile, the European beekeeping group Apimondia said in April that its industry could be eliminated in less than a decade due to disease, insecticides and intensive farming. Last year, about 30 percent of European hives died, and losses reached 80 percent in southwest Germany. Insecticides and the parasitic Varroa mites are thought to weaken hives there, which then become susceptible to other diseases. ("Pesticides indicted in bee deaths," by Julia Scott, May 18, 2009; www.salon.com/env/feature/2009/05/18/bees_pesticides/; "Group Sounds Alarm on European Bee Industry," Reuters, April 28, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/world/europe/28bees.html)
On May 12, the U.S. EPA confirmed its 2008 ruling that carbofuran residues will no longer be allowed on domestic or imported food. Infamous for killing millions of birds worldwide, the acutely toxic insecticide is also contributing to the decline of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It is highly toxic to mammals, including people. A "60 Minutes" program reported on March 29 that Furadan, FMC's brand of the pesticide, is used illegally by Kenyan herders to kill lions. Carbofuran's active ingredient, also called furadan, can still be produced at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, West Virginia. Carbofuran is a classic example of the "Circle of Poison," wherein products banned or restricted for use in their country of origin are still exported and may return on imported foods. Carbofuran is commonly used in coffee production in Costa Rica and on bananas, rice and sugar cane in many developing countries. (Pesticide Action Network North America News, May 14, 2009; www.panna.org)
Herbicides can drift as far as a mile on a calm morning, according to Eric Webster, Louisiana State University AgCenter weed specialist. While wind may not be detected at ground level, it may exist a few feet above ground. "The worst times are when the wind is zero to 2 miles an hour," Webster said. "That's when you get those inversion layers built up." A field surrounded by tall vegetation increases the variation of wind direction. Using a ground sprayer can help avoid drift, but it is not a guarantee. Last year, he said, drift from an airplane was evident on rice 150 yards away, but the highest concentration was a mile away. ("Herbicide drift can occur in calm weather," by Bruce Schultz, winter 2009, Louisiana Agriculture)
Research by Argentinean embryology professor Dr. Andres Carrasco shows that low concentrations of the pure herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) may cause brain, intestinal and heart defects in fetuses. Carrasco exposed amphibian embryos to the herbicide and said the results are comparable to what would happen in developing human embryos. He said the herbicide "could be interfering in some normal embryonic development mechanism having to do with the way in which cells divide and die." An article in the Argentine press says that after Carrasco discussed his study, four men arrived at his laboratory and aggressively demanded to see his work. Carrasco also said he received offensive phone calls and that his research has been disparaged in newspapers linked to agribusiness. (Organic Bytes, Organic Consumers Assoc., April 29, 2009; www.organicconsumers.org; "Herbicide Used in Argentina Could Cause Birth Defects," Latin American Herald Tribune, April 13, 2009; www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=14093&ArticleId=331718; "Scientist Warning of Health Hazards of Monsanto's Herbicide Receives Threats," GM Watch, April 27, 2009)
"Inert" ingredients found in Roundup can kill human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, even at concentrations much lower than those used on farms and lawns. The ingredient polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA) was deadlier to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself, say scientists from France's University of Caen. The research suggests that Roundup may affect hormones, and thus possibly cause pregnancy problems and problems with fetuses. Used as a surfactant, POEA comes from animal fat and is allowed in some certified organic products. The EPA says it is not dangerous to human health. In the French study, glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), POEA and four Roundup formulations all harmed three cell types, and umbilical cord cells were especially sensitive to POEA. POEA was more harmful than glyphosate alone, and it increased the effects of glyphosate when the two were combined. Monsanto debates the validity of the study. ("Weed killer kills human cells. Study intensifies debate over 'inert' ingredients," by Crystal Gammon, Environmental Health News, June 22, 2009; original report in Chemical Research in Toxicology, January 2009.)
Korean researchers, noting an overlap in U.S. locations where the herbicide atrazine is heavily used and locations where obesity is prevalent, studied the effects of chronic exposure to low concentrations of atrazine on rats. Treated rats had decreased basal metabolism and greater body weight, intra-abdominal fat and insulin resistance than control rats. A high-fat diet exacerbated insulin resistance and obesity. Mitochondria were affected, causing decreased oxygen consumption. Previous studies using higher doses of atrazine did not find these effects – possibly because acute exposure to the herbicide at high concentrations is toxic and prevents weight gain, say the authors. They believe that humans may be exposed to atrazine or its metabolites through air, water and and/or corn products (e.g., high fructose corn syrup or corn oil), and the contaminants can accumulate in tissues. (Lim S., et al., 2009, "Chronic Exposure to the Herbicide, Atrazine, Causes Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Insulin Resistance," PLoS ONE 4(4): e5186. www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0005186)
Food safety czar Michael Taylor has gone through the revolving door again. A lawyer and former Monsanto executive, Taylor has been named "senior advisor to the commissioner" of the FDA, charged with implementing new food safety legislation. Taylor was, among other positions, deputy commissioner for policy at FDA when Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone was approved for dairy cows; and vice president for public policy at Monsanto. ("Monsanto's man Taylor returns to FDA in food-czar role," by Tom Philpott, Grist, July 8, 2009; www.grist.org/article/2009-07-08-monsanto-FDA-taylor/)