The Good News
Great Maine Outdoor Weekend will be held September 28 to 30, 2012, offering dozens of free and low-cost opportunities to enjoy the natural world. Search the statewide list of activities at www.greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org.
Americans strongly support efforts to produce a healthier, more affordable, green and fair food system – including support for a nationwide program to double the value of SNAP benefits (formerly called food stamps) at farmers’ markets, according to a poll of 800 adults commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The survey found that
• 93 percent of respondents believe that it is very important or somewhat important for all Americans to have equal access to fresh produce.
• 80 percent strongly or partly agree that the federal government needs to do more to increase access to locally grown, fresh food.
• More than 85 percent strongly or partly agree that state and local officials should help ensure such access.
• Almost 90 percent would pay $1.50 more monthly for produce to ensure fair wages for those harvesting produce.
• More than 80 percent strongly or partly agree that the federal government should shift its support toward smaller, local produce growers and away from large farm businesses.
• Almost 90 percent strongly or partly agree they would pay more for produce if their money stayed in the community. (“Poll: Americans overwhelmingly support doubling food stamp value at farmers markets,” W. K. Kellogg Foundation press release, May 22, 2012; www.wkkf.org/news/Articles/2012/05/Poll-Americans-support-doubling-food-stamp-value-at-farmers-markets.aspx; full report at www.foodandcommunity.org/conference)
Investors who want to support environmental and social goals and earn money are increasingly putting their money in sustainable agriculture enterprises. A report by the Springcreek Foundation, “Promoting Sustainable Food Systems Through Impact Investing,” describes 40 such investment funds. Profiled from the Northeast are The Carrot Project, Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, PV Grows, Cooperative Fund of New England and Green Mountain Organic Creamery. (“Sustainable agriculture heats up,” by Christina Williams, Sustainable Business Oregon, May 4, 2012;
www.sustainablebusinessoregon.com/articles/2012/05/sustainable-agriculture-heats-up.html; report at http://thespringcreekfoundation.org/index.html)
Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Albion, Maine, a MOFGA business member, is now owned by its employees. Rob Johnston started the company almost 40 years ago. In 2006, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was put in place, with the goal of the ESOP Trust owning all shares of the company by 2016. Johnny’s has 130 full-time employees.
The Good Life Center and Helen and Scott Nearing Homestead at Forest Farm hired its summer 2012 resident stewards, Rev. Charles and Alison Stephens, in July. Charles is a retired Unitarian minister and champion of social justice; Alison comes from a Quaker background and has also been active in peace and social justice work. The stewards live on site, have access to the Nearings’ library and annotated books, and work on the gardens with Forest Farm managers Nancy and Warren Berkowitz. Meet the Stephenses at the Good Life Center table in the Social and Political Action Area of the Common Ground Fair.
The FDA has rejected a petition by the Corn Refiners Association to change the name high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar” on nutritional labels. Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., of Consumers Union said, “The FDA did the right thing. High fructose corn syrup is not ‘corn sugar.’ The term ‘corn sugar’ simply doesn’t reflect the chemical changes that take place in production. Consumers know the term high fructose corn syrup, and they should be able to easily differentiate among products that use it.” (“FDA Rejects ‘Corn Sugar’ Petition,” Consumers Union news release, May 31, 2012; www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/018420.html)
Some 16,000 women began answering food consumption questionnaires when they were middle aged. Those responses plus cognitive assessments at age 70 or older suggest that higher intake of strawberries and blueberries was linked to slower cognitive decline. Women who ate at least one serving of blueberries or at least two servings of strawberries per week had a delay in cognitive aging of up to 2.5 years. (“High Intake of Some Berries Linked to Slower Cognitive Decline,” JournalWatch, April 26, 2012; http://firstwatch.jwatch.org/cgi/content/full/2012/426/2; Elizabeth E. Devore et al., Annals of Neurology, April 25, 2012; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.23594/full)
Ladybugs and other predatory insects eat crop pests, saving farmers about $4.6 billion a year on insecticides, says Michigan State University. Non-crop plants provide predatory insects with food and shelter, helping them survive where they are needed, so researchers have often planted strips of flowers along the edges of crop fields. But MSU doctoral student Megan Woltz says, “Creating predator-attracting habitats next to crops is only a partial solution. Ladybugs and many other pest-eating insects travel long distances throughout the growing season, sometimes flying or crawling over many miles as they search for food and shelter. So we also have to consider what resources are available to these predators at larger scales.”
Ladybugs feed on soybean aphids, the most destructive northern U.S. soybean pest. When Woltz and coworkers planted buckwheat strips next to soybean fields, they always found more ladybugs in the buckwheat than are usually in field edges, says Woltz. But “the ladybugs in the buckwheat did little to change their populations in the soybean fields.” However, the amount of natural grasslands and forests within 1.5 miles of soybean fields did determine how many ladybugs were in the soybeans, suggesting that rural neighbors might work together to leave such habitat. In other studies, landscapes with at least 20 percent non-crop habitat showed good pest control. (“Increasing predator-friendly land can help farmers reduce costs,” Michigan State University News, May 11, 2012; http://news.msu.edu/story/increasing-predator-friendly-land-can-help-farmers-reduce-costs/)
Ladybugs fed aphids that had fed on plants grown with organic amendments, such as chicken manure and green manure crops, were 10 percent more likely to survive to adulthood than ladybugs fed on aphids that had fed on plants fertilized with synthetic ammonium nitrate. Researchers say of their preliminary findings, “The efficacy of predators as biological control agents may thus differ between conventional and sustainable farming systems.” (“Predator mortality depends on whether its prey feeds on organic or conventionally fertilised plants,” by J. A. Banfield-Zanin et al. Biological Control, 2012; www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1049964412001120)
Research commissioned by the UK National Trust and conducted on 10 of its farms found that feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef. Livestock such as cattle and sheep produce methane when they consume grass, leading to the suggestion that cattle be fed largely on cereals. The Trust’s report shows that while carbon footprints of cows from grass-fed and conventional farms were comparable, the carbon sequestration contributed by well-managed grass pasture on the less intensive systems reduced net emissions by up to 94 percent, even resulting in a carbon net gain in upland areas. Farms that recently converted to organic showed even greater gains.
Rob Macklin, national agriculture and food adviser at the National Trust, said, “Many less intensive livestock systems would be classed ‘inefficient’ on the carbon emission scale, yet are much less reliant on artificial inputs and tend to have less impacts on water quality, loss of soil organic matter and reduced biodiversity. We believe that optimised beef production – deliberately accommodating less than maximum output in order to secure stronger and broader ecosystem protection – is the best sustainable use for the grasslands in our care.
“The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping. Grasslands support a range of ecosystems services including water resources, biodiversity and carbon capture and storage.”
Other research has shown greater health benefits to humans of eating grass-fed beef and lamb, because the meat contains higher concentrations of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef and one-third the levels of saturated fat. (“Grass-fed beef is best,” National Trust, May 16, 2012; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/what-we-do/news/view-page/item842690/)
Scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, have found that vitamin D may offer an alternative treatment to antibiotics for mastitis in dairy cattle. Mastitis decreases milk production and quality and causes an estimated $2 billion a year in economic losses. Molecular biologist John Lippolis studied a natural form of vitamin D – prehormone 25-hydroxyvitamin D – in altering the response of the cow’s immune system to a mastitis pathogen, Streptococcus uberis. Research indicates that precise levels of vitamin D need to be in the bloodstream to prevent conditions such as rickets, or softening of the bones. Higher levels are required for proper immune function. Prehormone 25-hydroxyvitamin D is found in the blood, but very little is found in milk.
In the study, cows with vitamin D infused directly into the infected quarter of the mammary gland had significantly lower bacterial counts and fewer clinical signs of severe infection than untreated cows. In the early stage of the infection, as vitamin D reduced bacterial counts, milk production was also greater in the treated animals.
These results suggest that vitamin D might help reduce antibiotic use in treating mastitis, says Lippolis. Vitamin D may also decrease other bacterial and viral diseases, such as respiratory tract infections. (“Treating Mastitis in Dairy Cattle with Vitamin D,” by Sandra Avant, Agricultural Research, June 18, 2012; http://ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2012/120618.htm)
A study conducted at the University of Barcelona in Spain shows that organic ‘Daniela’ tomatoes contain significantly higher levels of phenolic compounds than conventional tomatoes. The UB’s Natural Antioxidant Group had previously shown that organic tomato juice and ketchup had higher polyphenol content than juice and ketchup made from conventionally grown tomatoes. The current study verifies that those differences originated in the tomatoes and not in the production technology. Consumption of polyphenols – natural antioxidants of plant origin – is associated with prevention of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases and of some forms of cancer. (“Organic tomatoes contain higher levels of antioxidants than conventional tomatoes,” press release, Universidad de Barcelona, July 3, 2012; www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=122117&CultureCode=en; Anna Vallverdú-Queralt et al., “Evaluation of a Method To Characterize the Phenolic Profile of Organic and Conventional Tomatoes,” J. Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2012; 60 (13): 3373; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf204702f)
Representatives from the Cape Neddick River Association, York Rivers Association, York Land Trust, York Water District and the Conservation Commission have started a “Lawns to Lobsters” initiative to counter pesticide runoff from residential lawns that ends up in local waters and can harm organisms, including lobsters. The group suggests not fertilizing during rainy periods, not applying more fertilizer or water than necessary, keeping lawns at least 3 inches long, cleaning up after pets and not spreading herbicides. (“Linking lawns to lobsters,” by Ron McAllister, June 20, 2012; www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20120620-OPINION-206200343)
John Chapman of Athens, Maine, is Johnny Appleseed’s great-great-great-great grandnephew and a graduate of Unity College. In April he planted at the college a ‘Rimbaud’ sapling – an apple his ancestor planted while traveling west. (“Johnny Appleseed tree planted at Unity College,” by Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, April 26, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/26/news/midcoast/johnny-appleseed-tree-planted-at-unity-college/)
The Walker School in Liberty, Maine, an elementary school, will host FoodCorps associate Katie Morabito of Michigan for the 2012-13 school year. The school’s greenhouse is a hands-on lab for student learning and provides food for school snacks and lunches. Morabito will focus on designing, planning, building, planting and harvesting raised beds next to the greenhouse. Students will be able to tend the gardens, even in summer, and decide how to best use the produce. Walker School’s commitment to being part of the program requires that it contribute $5,000 to help support FoodCorps. The school is raising funds for that purpose. (E-mail, principal Glen Widmer, email@example.com)
A partnership of Northeastern marine institutions, including the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), has secured more than $2 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help provide information to those who use the water. GMRI will synthesize data from buoys, weather stations, forecasts and satellites and make it accessible and useful to mariners, fishermen, scientists and others in the region, including emergency managers issuing storm warnings and fishermen determining if conditions are safe. For more information, visit www.gmri.org.
Seventy-five family farmers, seed businesses (including Fedco Seeds) and agricultural organizations (including MOFGA) representing more than 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms filed a brief in July 2012 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington D.C. The brief asks the appellate court to reverse a lower court’s February decision dismissing their protective legal action against Monsanto’s patents on GE seed. The plaintiffs seek to defend themselves from Monsanto lawsuits for patent infringement if the company’s GE seed contaminates their property despite their efforts to prevent contamination.
“The law says we deserve protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act,” says Maine organic farmer Jim Gerritsen. “We will continue to pursue our right to farm, and the right of our customers to have access to good clean food and seed.”
In February 2012, Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District Court of New York dismissed the case, saying “it is clear that these circumstances do not amount to a substantial controversy and that there has been no injury traceable to defendants.” The brief filed in July notes errors in the district court decision.
Monsanto investigates more than 500 farmers annually for patent infringement, say plaintiffs. To date, 144 farmers have had lawsuits brought against them by Monsanto without a binding contract with the corporation; another 700 have been forced to settle out of court for undisclosed sums.
Some plaintiffs have stopped growing certain crops due to the threat of contamination. Bryce Stephens, a certified organic farmer from Kansas, stopped growing organic corn and soy once his neighbors started using Monsanto’s GE seed because it could easily contaminate his organic crops, which would put him at risk of being sued for patent infringement by Monsanto.
In July, 11 prominent law professors and 14 nonprofit organizations filed two separate amicus briefs with the Court of Appeals arguing that farmers have the right to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement by agricultural giant Monsanto. The nonprofits’ brief says, “Plaintiffs’ uncontroverted allegations show that, for the first time in history, they can be sued for something as natural as pollen drift, while simultaneously being forced to take expensive and burdensome steps in order to continue their normal businesses.” It adds, “The district court noted that ‘unlicensed – and unintended – use of transgenic seeds is inevitable…’ but then failed to address the fact that such unlicensed use is actionable and places Plaintiffs at risk of enforcement actions by Defendants.” (“Organic Farmers File Appeal Against Monsanto!” Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter, July 6, 2012; www.woodprairie.com; brief posted at http://woodprairiefarm.commercev3.com/downloads/OrganicSeedCAFCBrief.pdf; Wood Prairie Farm press release, July 17, 2012)
The National Organic Standards Board unanimously endorsed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that organic crops be better protected from GE crops. “Unsolicited public comments at many NOSB meetings... have illustrated the extreme concern about the impact that continued deregulation of new genetically engineered crops has had on our community of organic farmers, handlers and consumers,” the NOSB letter said, adding, “We feel the developers of the GMO technology should share the burden that organic farmers now assume in mitigating the gene flow between farms and should compensate organic farmers for genetic drift.” The board also formed an ad hoc committee to look at threats from GE crops to organic crops. (“NOSB wants more action on GMOs,” by Steve Brown, Capital Press, May 24, 2012; http://capitalpress.com/content/SB-NOSB-GMOs-052312)
The Right to Know initiative to label GE foods will be on California’s November ballot after almost a million people signed a petition for the initiative in 10 weeks. If passed, it will be the first U.S. law requiring that GE foods be labeled. All raw agricultural commodities produced with GE crops, such as corn and soybeans, and retail processed foods with more than 0.5 percent GE ingredients would have to be labeled. Such foods could not be labeled “natural.” Certified organic foods, alcohol and foods sold in restaurants would not have to be labeled, nor would foods made from animals fed or injected with GE material but not engineered themselves. Polls show that about 90 percent of U.S. voters support such labeling. The United States is one of the few developed nations that does not use simple labels to let consumers know whether their food has been engineered. In March, more than one million people petitioned the FDA for mandatory labeling of GE foods – a record number of petitioners for the FDA. Tom Hiltachk heads the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, which is fighting the bill on behalf of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta and several big food processors and supermarket chains. Hiltachk, with help from Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, helped organize Californians for Smokers’ Rights to fight anti-smoking initiatives in the ‘80s and ‘90s. California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, funded by the tobacco industry and other corporations, is also fighting the GE labeling bill. (“California voters to decide on GMO labeling,” June 12, 2012; www.carighttoknow.org/california_voters_to_decide_on_gmo_labeling; “GMO food label measure heads to California ballot,” by Rod Smith, Feedstuffs, May 24, 2012; www.feedstuffs.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=F4D1A9DFCD974EAD8CD5205E15C1CB42&nm=Breaking%20News&type=news&mod=News&mid=A3D60400B4204079A76C4B1B129CB433&tier=3&nid=2898191C450D4AFD8E7593D2BAE1553E; “Fight over genetically engineered crops on Calif. ballot,” by Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY, June 12, 2012; www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-06-12/genetically-engineered-food-california/55558352/1; “How California’s GM food referendum may change what America eats,” by Richard Schiffman, The Guardian, June 13, 2012; www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/13/california-gm-referendum-change-america-food)
Connecticut’s GE Foods bill turned into a bill that would not require labeling of GE foods, due to fear that the state might be sued by Monsanto. (“Connecticut’s GE Foods Bill Eviscerated by Lawyers,” by Analiese Paik, Fairfield Green Food Guide, May 5, 2012; http://fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com/2012/05/05/connecticuts-ge-foods-bill/)
The American Medical Association in June called for mandatory pre-market safety testing of GE foods rather than the voluntary safety consultation that biotech companies are encouraged to do with the FDA now. (“GMOs should be safety tested before they hit the market says AMA,” by Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, June 19, 2012; www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/stew/chi-gmos-should-be-safety-tested-before-they-hit-the-market-says-ama-20120619,0,4405082.story)
“GMO Myths and Truths,” a report by Michael Antoniou, Ph.D., Claire Robinson, M. Phil., and John Fagan, Ph.D., says that GE crops “are promoted on the basis of a range of far-reaching claims from the GM crop industry and its supporters” while “a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true.” Among the myths the report addresses are “Genetic engineering is just an extension of natural breeding”; “Genetic engineering is precise and the results are predictable”; “Cisgenics/intragenics [using genes from the species to be engineered, or a related species] is a safe form of GM because no foreign genes are involved”; and “GM foods are safe to eat.” (“Why genetically engineered food is dangerous: New report by genetic engineers,” Earth Open Source press release, June 17, 2012; http://earthopensource.org/index.php/news/60-why-genetically-engineered-food-is-dangerous-new-report-by-genetic-engineers)
By injecting genes from archaea (bacteria-like organisms) into cow embryos, researchers at Inner Mongolia University created a GE calf that breaks down lactose in milk to other sugars that are easier to digest, with the idea that lactose-intolerant people could drink the low- or no-lactose milk. Other scientists at IMU introduced a gene from a roundworm into a cow embryo to create a GE cow with an improved omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio in its milk. (“Cows genetically modified to produce healthier milk,” by Richard Gray, The Telegraph, June 17, 2012; www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9335762/Cows-genetically-modified-to-produce-healthier-milk.html)
In July 2012, Iowa agronomist Dr. Michael McNeill spoke in three Maine sites on the effects of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) on crops and animals. His talks were co-sponsored by the Maine Alternative Agriculture Assoc., Dr. Timothy Howe and Omega Wellness of Brunswick, MOFGA, Wood Prairie Farm Education Fund and Slow Food Aroostook.
Roundup is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States, said McNeill. In 2007 the EPA estimated that slightly over 200 million pounds of Roundup or generic versions of it were applied. Glyphosate has long been hailed as a “safe” herbicide as it breaks down in the soil quickly and does not seem to cause many applicator safety issues.
McNeill cited numerous studies showing that glyphosate’s chelating effect has created micronutrient imbalances and deficiencies in soils where it is repeatedly applied. These imbalances have led to such crop diseases as fusarium head blight in wheat and sudden death syndrome in soybeans.
McNeill is a part of a group of scientists, including Dr. Don Huber, looking at a new microscopic “thing” that they believe is linked to glyphosate and the sickened crops produced from it. This yet-to-be-identified “thing” has been implicated in causing health issues in livestock ingesting feed from affected crops. McNeill said that finding scientists to research these issues is difficult. He and his co-investigators have had to find private funding to do so. (Report by John Chartier, MOFGA’s agricultural specialist for Aroostook County)
Danish farmer lb Borup Pedersen believed that GE soy was harming his pigs and his farm economics. Some of his pigs suffered from diarrhea, some died of bloat, ulcers or lack of appetite. When he replaced GE feed with non-GE soy and fish meal, he says he immediately saw their health improve, reports GMWatch. “We are still not certain about cause and effect,” Pedersen told GMWatch, “but medicine usage already appears to have fallen to near half of what it was… Just the savings I have accomplished in medicine expenses have paid for the extra cost of the GMO-free soy.” The farmer thinks that glyphosate residues in GE crops may be responsible for dead and deformed piglets. Danish officials say they’ll study the potential connection between GE soy and health problems in pigs – but GMWatch says that study, which will begin feeding GE soy to pigs when they weigh about 66 pounds rather than at weaning, may mask potential harm from GE soy. (“GM soy linked to health damage in pigs - a Danish Dossier,” GMWatch, April 27, 2012; http://gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/13882)
A 2008-2009 study showed that the Bt toxins Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb were toxic to the two-spotted ladybird beetle, an important biological control organism. This and more than 30 other studies led to the ban of GE Mon810 corn cultivation in Germany. The 2008-2009 study was later critiqued in Transgenic Research, and a study published there by Alvarez-Alfageme et al. allegedly disproved harm from the Bt toxins to ladybeetles. Subsequently, Swiss researchers Angelika Hilbeck et al. showed that the design of the follow-up study differed from the original enough to confound results. The original study exposed and fed ladybeetle larvae to Bt continuously for nine to 10 days, while the follow-up used 24-hour exposure periods followed by recovery periods on non-Bt material until the larvae reached the next instar, when the 24-hour exposure was repeated, apparently at all four instar stages. When Hilbeck et al. used the same exposure/recovery periods on the highly sensitive European corn borer, lethality was either significantly reduced or nonexistent, showing that Alvarez-Alfageme’s study design was faulty. Hilbeck et al. found that longer exposure to the Bt toxin Cry1Ab did in fact have a lethal effect on ladybeetle larvae. (A controversy re-visited: Is the coccinellid Adalia bipunctata adversely affected by Bt toxins? Angelika Hilbeck et al., Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:10; www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/10)
Last year, the western corn rootworm survived GE Bt corn in six Midwestern states, even though Monsanto engineered the corn to produce the Cry3Bb1 protein to resist the insects. This year some growers saw rootworm damage a month earlier than normal, even on GE corn. (“Pests damaging biotech corn, getting an early start,” by Georgina Gustin, June 15, 2012; www.stltoday.com/business/local/pests-damaging-biotech-corn-getting-an-early-start/article_300d8916-b66b-11e1-b824-0019bb30f31a.html#ixzz1y4Cr6uyO)
A study published in Nature says that in China, fields growing GE Bt cotton or non-GE but unsprayed cotton enabled ladybugs, lacewings and spiders to survive and help control aphid pests better than fields growing non-GE cotton and treated with insecticides. However, other studies have shown that with Bt cotton, other, minor pests flourish, triggering more pesticide use. These secondary pests have also infested crops other than cotton. (“Modified crops benefit predators, but resistance looms – study,” by Paul Voosen, Greenwire, June 13, 2012; www.eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/06/13/4; “Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services,” by Yanhui Lu et al., Nature, June 13, 2012; www.nature.com; “Bt cotton and pests in Chinese fields,” GMWatch, June 14, 2012; www.gmwatch.eu/latest-listing/1-news-items/13992-bt-cotton-and-pests-in-chinese-fields)
Okanagan Specialty Fruits of British Columbia has developed GE ‘Golden Delicious’ and ‘Granny Smith’ apples that will not turn brown for 15 to 18 days after being cut. The company is seeking Canadian and U.S. government approval of the apple, despite BC apple growers’ former rejection of the crop. Okanagan plans to engineer the nonbrowning trait into ‘Gala’ and ‘Fuji’ apples and into cherries and pears as well. (“Taking the bite out of GM apples,” by Lucy Sharratt, Common Ground, July 2012; http://commonground.ca/2012/07/bite-out-of-gm-apples/)
The FDA has approved a drug called Elelyso (the enzyme taliglucerase alfa) that is produced in GE carrot cells. The drug soothes symptoms of the rare Gaucher disease in most patients. A similar drug is produced in mammalian cells, but with greater expense and chance of contamination by pathogens. (“First plant-made drug on the market,” by Amy Maxmen, Nature News Blog, May 2, 2012; http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/05/first-plant-made-drug-on-the-market.html)
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has renewed several listings that were scheduled to expire in 2012 for substances allowed or prohibited in organic agriculture. Most of the substances renewed have been on the National List since its inception in 2000. The NOP has also changed the following substances on the National List, effective June 27, 2012, unless otherwise noted:
• Only non-amidated forms of non-organic pectin, typically added to thicken jams and jellies, will be allowed when organic pectin is not commercial available.
• The listing for iodine, used to fortify organic foods, has been clarified.
• The allowed use of chlorine materials and lignin sulfonate in organic crop production has been clarified.
• The allowed use of non-organic colors in organic processed products has been clarified. Organic colors must be used if they are commercially available.
• The allowance for streptomycin to control infections in organic apple and pear orchards has been extended until October 21, 2014.
• Effective October 21, 2012, yeast used in baked goods and other processed organic products must be organic, if commercially available and intended for human consumption.
• Effective October 21, 2012, sulfur dioxide (smoke bombs) will no longer be allowed for rodent control in organic crop production.
• Effective January 1, 2013, hops, typically used in organic beer production, must be organic.
Sodium nitrate, currently allowed under restricted conditions in organic crop production, will undergo a separate rulemaking that considers the National Organic Standard Board’s recommendation to prohibit its use altogether in organic crop production. Additionally, the NOP will clarify the listing for vitamins and minerals after the assessment of public comments is complete.
Meanwhile, the Cornucopia Institute has criticized the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory board to the NOP, for approving in June 2012 a number of synthetic ingredients for use in organics. Those ingredients include carrageenan, a stabilizer and thickener synthesized from seaweed. Carrageenan, says Cornucopia, “has been shown to trigger gastrointestinal inflammation, which is known to cause serious intestinal disease, including cancer.” The NOSB also approved synthetic inositol and choline, two nutraceuticals, for use in infant formula. And last fall, the NOSB approved use of synthetic DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid) for use in formula and other organic foods.
Cornucopia says materials for use in organic products were being evaluated by food scientists working directly for corporate agribusiness and then approved by the NOSB, which, says the watchdog group, is illegally stacked with agribusiness representatives. The institute has filed a formal complaint with the USDA Office of Inspector General, asking for an investigation.
Cornucopia has published at www.cornucopia.org studies and scorecards rating organic brands, to address shortcuts some corporations apply to organic production. (“USDA Renews Listing for Specific Substances in Organic Agriculture,” June 1, 2012; www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.printData.do?template=printPage&navID=&page=printPage&dDocId=STELPRDC5098619&dID=170061&wf=false&docTitle=USDA+Renews+Listing+for+Specific+Substances+in+Organic+Agriculture; “Wildfires Rage at New Mexican Organic Meetings,” Cornucopia Institute press release, June 1, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/05/wildfires-rage-at-new-mexican-organic-meetings/)
Congresswoman Lois Capps (Calif.) and Congressman Richard Hanna (N.Y.) introduced the Organic Standards Protection Act in June 2012 to ensure that products bearing the USDA organic seal comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The USDA Office of Inspector General recently reported that the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the USDA National Organic Program’s (NOP’s) ability to protect the integrity of the organic label. Currently, the NOP does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products that have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic. The bill would grant USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process; streamline recordkeeping requirements by requiring all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts; and impose a civil penalty of $10,000 on those who violate the USDA’s revocation of their certification. (“Capps, Hanna Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect and Promote Organic Farming,” press release, Congresswoman Lois Capps, June 21, 2012; http://capps.house.gov/press-release/capps-hanna-introduce-bipartisan-legislation-protect-and-promote-organic-farming)
California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth are merging if members ratify the merger before Oct. 31. The new CCOF Tilth will be the largest U.S. organic certifying agency, with nearly 4,000 certified farmers, ranchers and processors. (“Two organic certifying agencies plan merger to become nation’s largest,” by Anne Gonzales, The Modesto Bee, May 29, 2012; www.modbee.com/; http://ccoftilthmerger.org/media-room/)
Agriculture is the biggest factor in global warming but is also necessary to feed a growing world, reported Samuel Fromartz from the Sustainable Foods Institute, hosted in May by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Jonathan Foley, professor of ecology at the University of Minnesota, said at the Institute that focusing on yield is misleading, since crops such as corn and soybeans that are fed to livestock or cars are such an inefficient use of land. Producing a pound of filet mignon from a cow not raised on pasture takes 32 pounds of corn, said Foley. Also, burning forests to grow crops, as in Brazil and Indonesia, is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture – and agriculture accounts for 30 to 40 percent of greenhouse gases. “Transport of food doesn’t even come close,” wrote Fromartz. Dairy, eggs and poultry are more efficient uses of resources than feeding grain to cows and cars. And potatoes, said Charles Mann in an Institute talk, produce more food calories per acre than wheat and corn. Fromartz recommended Mann’s books 1491 and its sequel, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. (“Is American agriculture really efficient?” by Samuel Fromartz, May 22, 2012; www.chewswise.com/chews/)
The Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, approved in May, prohibits use of antibiotics, herbicides and GE organisms in aquaculture, severely restricts the use of parasiticides, and requires humane harvesting methods. It also defines stocking rates, cleaning procedures and materials, and feed materials in order to minimize waste impact. Opponents believe that net-pen aquaculture should be incompatible with organic practices. Also, the standard prohibits wild salmon from being certified organic as their food source cannot be confirmed, yet salmon raised in net pens, fed processed fish meal and possibly treated with parasiticides (only under veterinary supervision as a last course of treatment) can be labeled organic. (“Organic certifications for Canadian fish farms unveiled,” by Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News, May 9, 2012; “New organic seafood standard muddies the water,” by Mark Hume, Globe and Mail, May 15, 2012; www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/trends/trends-features/new-organic-seafood-standard-muddies-the-water/article2433759/)
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) released its first Organic Land Grant Assessment Report in May, measuring research, education and outreach in the federally funded Land Grant system, which includes universities, research stations and Cooperative Extension.
The assessment scores each institution on eight points, including maintaining organic research land, cultivating a student organic farm, offering an organic minor, major or certificate, and employing a dedicated organic faculty or staff member.
Campuses scoring a perfect 8 are Colorado State University, University of Florida, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Tennessee and Washington State University. Eight Land Grant Universities offer a major in organic agriculture.
Maureen Wilmot, executive director of OFRF, said that “public universities must do a great deal more in order to meet the growing needs of organic demand.” (“Organic Growth Puts America’s Universities to the Test,” Organic Farming Research Foundation press release, May 1, 2012; full report at http://ofrf.org/publications/2012-LGU-Assess.pdf)
A survey of 2,212 adults by Harris Interactive for CouponCabin.com, an online source of coupons, found that
- 72 percent of respondents would be more likely to buy organic foods if they were less expensive than regular grocery items.
- 52 percent seek organic food items when food shopping at least sometimes.
- 45 percent never or rarely seek organic foods.
- 31 percent aren’t sure if organic food is better for you than non-organic.
Among those who never or rarely seek organic items when food shopping
- 65 percent said they’re too expensive.
- 38 percent said the issue doesn’t matter to them or they don’t see the purpose.
- 9 percent prefer non-organic food items.
- 8 percent don’t understand what organic food items are.
- 7 percent say organic food items are not available where they shop.
- 6 percent had other reasons.
To save on organic foods, CouponCabin suggested shopping at local farmers’ markets, joining a co-op, buying in bulk and freezing excess, or using coupons. (“Nearly Three-in-Four U.S. Adults Would Be More Likely to Buy Organic Food if it Were Less Expensive, Reveals New CouponCabin.com Grocery Survey,” CouponCabin press release, June 13, 2012; www.couponcabin.com/blog/press-releases/)
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) wants to increase U.S. certified organic operations by 20 percent by the end of 2015 – but without extra funding for that goal. The NOP listed 17,281 organic operations – about 10,400 growing crops – in January 2012, 717 more than in 2009 when USDA announced the goal. The NOP plans to meet its goal by increasing consumer confidence by protecting the integrity of the organic industry with inspections and enforcement of standards; by training and certifying more organic certifiers, producers and processors; and by publicizing market opportunities through USDA’s Organic Literacy Project. (“USDA has uphill road to organic goal,” The Packer, June 14, 2012; www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/USDA-has-uphill-road-to-organic-goal-159112035.html)
Washington, D.C., has passed the nation’s most comprehensive municipal law to restrict pesticides. Representative Mary Cheh’s Pesticide Education and Control Amendment Act of 2012 awaited the signature of Mayor Vincent C. Gray as we went to press. The law restricts non-essential pesticides from government-owned D.C. property and calls for further education of businesses and private homeowners, who can apply synthetic chemical products on their properties that are not within 25 feet of a waterway or a privately owned school or daycare facility where children congregate. The bill does not address pesticides used on public health problems, such as mosquitoes, ticks and bedbugs. (“Pesticide Foes Win the Day in DC: Cheh’s Bill Goes to Mayor,” by Paul Tukey, July 10, 2012; www.safelawns.org/blog/index.php/2012/07/pesticide-foes-win-the-day-in-dc-chehs-bill-goes-to-mayor/)
Citizens for a Green Gorham (http://citizensforagreengorham.org/) began as Friends of Rail to Trails in 2010 – a group of neighbors concerned about Maine Department of Transportation spraying of toxic chemicals on the abandoned rail next to the Mountain Division Trail in Gorham. The group continues to work to reduce or eliminate the use of harmful chemical sprays in Gorham. Similar groups include Citizens for a Green Camden and Citizens for a Green Scarborough.
France plans to ban the use of Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR, a neonicotinoid pesticide, to coat canola seeds, after a study suggested its active ingredient, thiamethoxam, made bees more likely to lose their way and die. Syngenta disputed the finding. (“France to ban a Syngenta pesticide to protect bees,” by Gus Trompiz, Reuters, June 1, 2012; www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/01/us-france-cruiser-idUSBRE8500LO20120601)
A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a $105 million settlement between Syngenta and community water systems in six Midwestern states over the presence of Syngenta’s atrazine herbicide in drinking water. Almost 2,000 community water systems in at least six states have had to filter atrazine from drinking water or pay to test for it. On Oct. 22, the judge will make his final determination on the settlement. Syngenta says it wanted to end the matter and avoid further legal costs. It will still be able to sell atrazine to U.S. corn growers and denies any liability linked to the chemical. Pesticide Action Network North America says atrazine is linked to infertility, birth defects and certain cancers in humans, as well as feminization of male gonads across different vertebrate classes. (“Judge gives preliminary OK to herbicide settlement,” by Jim Suhr, Businessweek, May 31, 2012; www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-05/D9V3PI9O3.htm; “Syngenta settles, but atrazine Kool-Aid still strong,” by Kathryn Gilje, Ground Truth, Pesticide Action Network North America, May 31, 2012; www.panna.org/blog/syngenta-settles-atrazine-kool-aid-still-strong)
An aquatic ecosystem exposed to the organochlorine fungicide chlorothalonil, sold as Bravo, Echo and Daconil, was fundamentally changed, say Jason Rohr and Taegan McMahon of the University of South Florida. The fungicide is used on lawns, golf courses and farms. The researchers tested it in 300-gallon tanks that mimic pond ecosystems, with concentrations that would be expected to run off farm fields during rains. After treatment, most amphibians, snails, crayfish, water plants and other organisms died, and then algae proliferated. Some species rebuilt their populations, but enough were killed to alter the function and services the ecosystem. Syngenta, which makes chlorothalonil, says the fungicide is safe. (“USF researchers question safety of widespread lawn spray,” by Lindsay Peterson, The Tampa Tribune, May 22, 2012; www2.tbo.com/news/education-news/2012/may/22/namaino1-study-uncovers-a-chemical-killer-ar-406427/)
The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) latest Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists the number of pesticides detected on 45 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. The EWG highlights the worst with its Dirty Dozen Plus™ list and the cleanest Clean Fifteen™, using 2010 data on washed or peeled produce from the USDA and FDA Pesticide Data Project (PDP).
The Dirty Dozen Plus™ include apples (with the largest number of pesticides detected), followed by, in decreasing order, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, domestic blueberries and potatoes. About 98 percent of conventional apple samples had detectable levels of pesticides; domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues, lettuce for 78; every nectarine had measurable pesticide residues.
Green beans, kale and collard greens did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides, which are toxic to the nervous system, have been largely removed from agriculture but are not banned. Hence, the EWG added them to the Dirty Dozen Plus™ list as foods to avoid or to buy organic.
“Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton.
The Clean Fifteen™ include onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, domestic cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and mushrooms. Crops with the fewest pesticide residues are listed first.
More than 90 percent of cabbage, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant and sweet potato samples had one or fewer pesticides detected. Of the Clean Fifteen™, no single produce sample had more than five different chemicals detected.
“Many of the crops on the Clean 15 list,” writes Twilight Greenaway in Grist, “still require a hefty dose of toxic chemicals, which still have an impact on the soil, groundwater, and wildlife around them – not to mention the people who work on farms and live in the surrounding communities. Those chemicals just don’t make it to your plate as readily, for a variety of reasons.”
Dr. Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center noted that “nicotinyl insecticide residues are extremely common because they are widely used and are systemic – they work by moving into the plant, including the harvested portion.” (Nicotinyls, also know as neonicotinoids, are implicated in honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder.) Benbrook said about 1 in 10 samples tested for the PDP had residues of imidacloprid (Admire), and many fresh produce samples contained residues of two nicotinyls.
The USDA data on 190 samples of prepared baby food (green beans, pears and sweet potatoes) showed five pesticides in green beans, including the organophosphates methamidiphos in 9.4 percent of samples and acephate in 7.8 percent. Of pear samples, 92 percent tested positive for at least one residue, 26 percent had five or more pesticides, and overall 15 different pesticides occurred. The pesticide iprodione, which EPA calls a probable human carcinogen and which is not registered for use on pears, was detected on three baby food pear samples. Sweet potatoes sold as baby food, a Clean Fifteen™ crop, had virtually no detectable pesticide residues.
Organically grown food tested by PDP in 2010 had substantially fewer residues than conventionally grown; when they were detected, they were usually 10- to 100-fold lower in concentration than in conventional samples, said Benbrook.
The 284 samples of drinking water had a total of 65 pesticides or their metabolites. The herbicide atrazine or its metabolites were found in every sample. The herbicides 2,4-D and metolachlor were detected in more than 70 percent of samples. Six other pesticides were found in at least half the samples.
Benbrook said that “most people living in heavily farmed regions are ingesting three, four or more herbicides daily via finished drinking water.” He said 2,4-D is “known to be a significant risk factor for a host of reproductive problems, birth defects, and cancers.” The USDA and EPA are reviewing a new 2,4-D-tolerant GE corn variety. Its approval would likely lead to increased use of 2,4-D. (“EWG Releases 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” Environmental Working Group press release, June 19, 2012; www.ewg.org/foodnews/press/; “Shopper’s delight: Here’s what to buy organic,” by Twilight Greenaway, Grist, June 19, 2012; http://grist.org/food/shoppers-delight-heres-what-to-buy-organic/; “The USDA’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) 2010 Data is Out!,” by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., accessed July 2, 2012; www.generationsoforganic.org/news/latest-news/2010pdpdatablog/)
In analyzing pesticide use on GE and non-GE equivalent crops from 1996 to 2011, Dr. Charles Benbrook found that herbicide-tolerant crops have increased herbicide use in U.S. crops by 527 million pounds and increased overall pesticide use by 403 million pounds. While insecticide spray applications have decreased by 124 million pounds in Bt corn and cotton, those crops contain the Bt toxin in all their cells. So, for example, fields planted to GE SmartStax corn express 3.73 pounds per acre of Bt proteins, 12-fold more than the 0.31 pounds of active ingredient of spray insecticide displaced. Benbrook notes that the growing problem of resistance of weeds to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) due to its overuse has the industry seeking to market crops tolerant of other herbicides, such as 2,4-D, dicamba, and paraquat; 2,4-D exposure, says Benbrook, has been linked to reproduction problems, spontaneous abortions, birth defects and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (“New Benbrook data blow away claims of pesticide reduction due to GM crops,” GMWatch, July 4, 2012; www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/14041-new-benbrook-data-blow-away-claims-of-pesticide-reduction-due-to-gm-crops)
After reviewing 142 studies of pesticide effects on health, the Ontario College of Family Physicians says that pesticides contribute to neurological, respiratory and reproductive problems, and children are especially susceptible to their effects. Exposure to pesticides in utero was correlated with lower birth weight, abnormal reflexes, problems with attention, and increased irritability. Older children with greater exposure to pesticides were more likely to exhibit ADHD and lower IQ. Adults were more likely to have asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The researchers say home lawn and garden pesticides and hair lice treatments are the most common sources of pesticides exposure; golf courses are another important source, as are occupational exposures and food. The report suggests that Ontario doctors tell patients to limit their exposure to pesticides. (“Review links pesticides to range of illnesses,” by Elliot Ferguson, Kingston Whig-Standard, June 20, 2012; www.thewhig.com/2012/06/20/review-links-pesticides-to-range-of-illnesses; “2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects,” Ontario College of Family Physicians, www.ocfp.on.ca/committees/env-health/pesticides)
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, measured concentrations of the chlorinated organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos (the active ingredient in Lorsban) in umbilical cord blood. Five to 10 years after exposure, MRIs of brains of 20 children of mothers with the highest concentrations and of 20 with the lowest concentrations showed abnormal structural changes to the brains of the high-exposure children. Toxicologist Janette Sherman found similar effects, along with severe mental and physical problems in some children. Chlorpyrifos is used on corn, many fruits, leafy greens and cotton, on golf courses, road medians and Christmas tree farms, said lead California researcher Virginia Rauh. It was banned for residential uses in 2000. (Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide, Virginia A. Rauh et al., Proceedings National Academy of Science, April 30, 2012; www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/04/25/1203396109.short; “Shocking Health Effects of Commonly Used Pesticide: Brain Problems, Sexual Deformities and Paralysis,” by Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet, July 5, 2012; www.alternet.org/environment/156174/shocking_health_effects_of_commonly_used_pesticide%3A_brain_problems%2C_sexual_deformities_and_paralysis/)
|Bhopal protest. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BHOPAL_(231583728).jpg
U.S. District Judge John Keena has ruled that Union Carbide India Ltd. and not its parent company, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), or UCC’s former chairman and CEO, Warren Anderson, was responsible for the 1984 explosion of the Bhopal, India, pesticide plant that killed thousands there. Keena dismissed the lawsuit accusing UCC of causing pollution around the plant and ruled that UCC and Anderson were not liable for remediation or pollution-related claims. The liability rests, instead, with the state government of Madhya Pradesh. (“US court absolves Union Carbide of liability in Bhopal tragedy,” Press Trust of India, June 28, 2012; www.ndtv.com/article/world/us-court-absolves-union-carbide-of-liability-in-bhopal-tragedy-237294)
University of Washington researchers exposed pregnant rats to a fungicide (vinclozolin), an insecticide mixture (permethrin and DEET), a plastic mixture (bisphenol A, or BPA, and two phthalates, DEHP and DBP); a dioxin; and a hydrocarbon mixture called jet fuel, used to control dust on roads. Exposure occurred when fetuses’ eggs were developing.
Later, the daughters of those rats mated with males whose mothers had been exposed to the same chemicals; and their pups later mated. While only the first generation of pregnant rats was exposed to the chemicals, the adult daughters and great granddaughters from all treatments had fewer ovarian egg follicles than controls, indicating fewer available eggs; and more ovarian cysts. Also, 523 genes were expressed differently in ovarian cells of great granddaughters of rats exposed to the fungicide – 30 of those genes related to ovarian disease. The research suggests that exposure to a common fungicide may affect genes three generations later. Concentrations of chemicals were higher than normal exposures in people. (“How your great grandmother’s chemical exposures may affect you,” by Glenys Webster, Environmental Health News, July 16, 2012; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2012/05/2012-0713-chemicals-ovary-epigenetic-mice/; Nilsson, E. et al., 2012. Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of ovarian disease. PLoS ONE, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0036129.)
A Colorado judge has ruled that a farmer spraying to control mosquitoes must not let the insecticide drift to a neighbor’s organic farm. The lawyer representing the organic farmers believes this is the first ruling in Colorado to treat pesticides as a form of trespass. (“Boulder lawyer wins case for farmer with leukemia,” AP, Daily Camera, July 6, 2012; www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-news/ci_21024907/boulder-lawyer-wins-case-farmer-leukemia)
Chemicals of Concern
Maine law requires that the Maine DEP publish a list of no more than 70 chemicals of high concern (CHC) – chemicals with credible scientific evidence showing they are reproductive or developmental toxicants, endocrine disruptors or human carcinogens, and that meet one or more of these criteria: The chemical has been found through biomonitoring in human bodily tissues or fluids; it has been found in household dust, indoor air or drinking water or elsewhere in the home environment; or it has been added to or is present in a consumer product used or present in the home. Maine’s list, now with 49 CHCs, is posted at www.maine.gov/dep/safechem/highconcern/index.html. It includes phthalates, found in soft vinyl plastic; parabens, in shampoos and lotions; flame retardants; some sunscreen chemicals; perfluorinated chemicals found in treated fabrics; and siloxanes in personal care products. Mike Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center says that science supports a longer list. (“Stronger action urged after Maine DEP releases list of 49 chemicals dangerous to children,” by Alex Barber, Bangor Daily News, July 5, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/07/05/news/state/stronger-action-urged-after-maine-dep-releases-list-of-49-chemicals-dangerous-to-children/)
The amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has risen by 20 percent since the Industrial Revolution, compared with 40 percent for CO2. But N2O is about 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 and is a major ozone-depleting chemical. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the increase in atmospheric N2O in the last few decades is due to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use. Their new measurement technique should enable farmers to use synthetic N fertilizers more efficiently and should enable measurement of the climate impact of biofuels. (“New science reveals agriculture’s true climate impact,” by Tom Laskawy, Grist, April 10, 2012; grist.org/climate-change/new-science-reveals-agricultures-true-climate-impact/1/3)
The USDA’s proposal to largely outsource poultry inspections and drastically speed visual inspections violates federal law, says the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents thousands of federal meat and poultry inspectors. The proposal would allow poultry companies to inspect their own chickens and turkeys, leaving a single federal inspector responsible for examining more than 80,000 chickens per workday. Matthew Milledge, assistant general counsel for AFGE, says the proposal violates the 1957 federal law that established the current poultry inspections process, which requires federal inspectors to perform a “careful examination” of the carcass of every bird processed to determine its fitness for purchase. The proposal also eliminates the current requirement that federal inspectors examine the internal organs of each bird. AFGE and concerned consumer groups have organized petition drives collecting several thousand signatures urging the Obama administration to withdraw the proposed rule. (“USDA Poultry Plan Violates Federal Law, Union Contends,” May 30, 2012; http://letthemeatchicken.com/)
A Cornell University study found that 58 crops pollinated by insects contributed $29 billion to 2010 farm income. The crops depended on insects directly to produce fruit ($16.35 billion) or indirectly to produce seed ($12.65 billion). Honeybees pollinated $19.2 billion worth of crops; others, including alfalfa leaf cutter bees, bumblebees, horn-faced bees and orchard bees, pollinated $9.9 billion worth of crops. (“Insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to U.S. farm income,” by Krishna Ramanujan, Chronicle Online, May 22, 2012; www.news.cornell.edu/stories/May12/Pollinators.html)
Researchers studying honeybees in Hawaii found that varroa mites incubate and then inject a lethal form of deformed wing virus into bees’ blood, where the virus reproduces and invades bees’ cells, taking over their metabolism and killing the bees. Beekeepers must keep varroa levels low, say the researchers, to minimize the virus, thought to be a major factor in honeybee decline worldwide. (“Honeybee virus: Varroa mite spreads lethal disease,” by Victoria Gill, BBC Nature, June 7, 2012; www.bbc.co.uk/nature/18339797; “Honeybee decline linked to killer virus,” by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, June 7, 2012; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/07/honey-bees-virus-varrora-destructor-mites)
The FDA and most world food safety agencies require that a product sold as honey must contain pollen, because pollen enables regulators to verify the source of the honey. But the FDA doesn’t check for pollen, says Food Safety News, so ultra-filtered honey – honey that is heated, possibly watered down and then forced through small filters – is common in stores. When Food Safety News had more than 60 containers of honey from 10 state and D.C. stores tested, results showed no pollen in 76 percent of samples from grocery stores, 100 percent from chain drug stores and fast food restaurants and 77 percent from big box stores. Every sample from farmers’ markets, co-ops and natural food stores had the expected amount of pollen. Of seven samples labeled as organic and sold in grocery stores, five had good amounts of pollen. Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News, “In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law.” Food Safety News says ultra-pasteurization is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years. (“Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey,” by Andrew Schneider, Food Safety News, Nov. 7, 2011; www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/)
This spring the Maine legislature passed LD 16055 to limit the liability for farmers engaging in agritourism, such as pick-your-own activities and other attractions related to farming, provided participants are informed about inherent risks of these activities on a farm. For purposes of this law, a notice of the inherent risks of agritourism activities may be satisfied either by a statement signed by the participant or a sign or signs prominently displayed at the place or places where the agritourism activities take place. The statement or sign must contain the following information:
Under Maine law, there is no liability for injury to a participant in an agri-tourism activity conducted at this agri-tourism location if such injury results from the inherent risks of the agri-tourism activity. Inherent risks of agri-tourism activities include, among others, risks of injury inherent to land, equipment and animals, as well as the potential for injury if you act in a negligent manner. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agri-tourism activity.
The message on the sign must be in black letters at least 1 inch high, and the sign or signs must be placed in a clearly visible location on or near places where the agritourism professional conducts agritourism activities. (Farm Scoop, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Androscoggin & Sagadahoc Counties, June 2012)
Silvopasturing – managed grazing of livestock in forests – may help woodland management, say Cornell University educators. Forests offer increased feed options and shade for animals – and possibly tax benefits if silvopasturing is included in agricultural assessment programs. Livestock feeding on underbrush can also create more productive timber stands. One New York farmer is experimenting with pasturing ducks in a sugar maple woodlot and in a shiitake mushroom farm; ducks control pests and produce eggs and meat. Livestock in agroforestry settings must be rotated to avoid damaging trees, and the forest canopy must be thinned so that grasses grow. (“Experts suggest grazing cows, sheep, ducks in forests,” by Aaron Munzer, Chronicle Online, April 9, 2012; www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April12/Silvopasture.html)
Maine Department of Agriculture
A new law created the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry as of Aug. 30, 2012 – a merger of the former departments of agriculture and conservation. The new department will have 732 full-time and seasonal employees in seven divisions, a budget of $96.5 million and will be led by Walter Whitcomb, who was commissioner of agriculture, and two deputy commissioners. Gov. Paul LePage proposed the merger last fall with the goal of serving the farming and forestry industries better and driving more economic development. Specific proposals to achieve these goals were not included in the merger. The new department will develop plans for its operation and propose them to the Maine Legislature in August 2013. If the proposal doesn’t pass by December 2014, the legislation will be reversed. (“Maine’s Agriculture and Conservation departments to merge Aug. 30, but little will change,” by Matthew Stone, Bangor Daily News, June 27, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/27/politics/agriculture-conservation-departments-merge-aug-30-many-details-yet-to-be-worked-out/; Press release, June 6, 2012; www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=Portal+News&id=389945&v=article-2011)
Local Food Ordinances
The Maine towns of Appleton and Livermore have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, joining Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill, Trenton, Hope and Plymouth. All ordinances were passed by voters at town meetings. The town of Fayette voted down the ordinance at its 2012 town meeting. The ordinance is intended to exempt farmers who sell directly to local individuals from state and federal licensing and inspection requirements, but Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, says state and federal laws take precedence over local ordinances. States that endorse local ordinances can lose their inspection authority to the USDA. (Food for Maine’s Future press release, June 14, 2012. The ordinance is posted at http://savingseeds.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/localfoodlocalrules-ordinance-template.pdf; “Support for food ordinance on the upswing in Maine,” by Avery Yale Kamila, Portland Press Herald, June 20, 2012; www.pressherald.com/life/foodanddining/support-for-food-ordinance-on-the-upswing_2012-06-20.html)
Country of Origin Labeling
The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in June that the U.S. law allowing labeling of foods regarding their country of origin violates the WTO Technical Barrier to Trade agreement. A 2010 Consumers Union poll showed that 93 percent of Americans want to know where their food comes from. Several countries, including Canada and Mexico, said labeling was a disguised trade barrier. Similarly, in May 2012 the WTO ruled against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labels, and in April 2012 against a U.S. ban on clove, candy and cola-flavored cigarettes. (“WTO Not So COOL: Rules Against Popular U.S. Meat Labeling Law,” by Rebekah Wilce, PR Watch, The Center for Media and Democracy, June 29, 2012; www.prwatch.org/news/2012/06/11625/wto-not-so-cool-rules-against-popular-us-meat-labeling-law)
On June 21, the Senate passed its version of a nearly $500 billion Farm Bill to replace the law that expires on September 30.
The Senate version
- shifts many crops from government commodity programs to crop insurance and enables diversified farmers to get crop insurance
- includes an organic farming cost share program that would help fund growers transitioning from conventional to organic farming
- has a pilot program to enable schools to use some federal money to buy locally raised food, and another to let farmers’ markets use smart phones to scan EBT cards
- has price supports that would help New England’s small-scale dairy farmers
- has an amendment that restores $150 million in funding for rural economic development and new farmer programs, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Value-Added Producer Grants program, and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
- does not include proposed amendments to encourage more USDA-funded research on plant and animal breeding to improve health, nutrition, farm income and food security; to allow direct sale of raw milk and raw milk products across state lines; to legalize production of industrial hemp; or to codify an agreement between egg producers and the Humane Society of the United States to increase the size of hen cages and to end the practice of depriving hens of food and water to increase egg production
- cuts $3.7 billion from conservation programs on working farms and ranches
The House Agriculture Committee addressed the bill in July. Its draft bill
- improves crop insurance for organic farmers
- maintains mandatory funding of $16 million per year for USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
- adds $5 million for technology upgrades to enable the National Organic Program to improve service to organic farmers
- maintains current funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives program
- gives the secretary of agriculture greater authority to enforce organic standards and protect the organic brand
- maintains outreach and technical assistance for organic producers and coordination on organic certification through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- authorizes microloans for beginning, young and small farmers and restores important aspects of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
- supports enhanced farm-to-school food procurement, farmers’ market and local food promotion programs, and allows food stamps to be used for Community Supported Agriculture shares
However, the House draft also
- shortens the time allowed and the range of review topics covered when USDA considers approving GE crops, and allows a level of contamination of conventional crops by GE crops without recourse
- cuts $16.1 billion in food assistance and $6 billion from programs to protect natural resources, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies, and promote health and food security
- includes tens of billions for the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses
- repeals the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and reduces by 10 percent the Agricultural Marketing Assistance cost share program in 16 states
- gives the NOP just $11 million per year instead of the $15 million in the Senate draft bill
- does not address the unfair payment limit that applies only to organic farmers using EQIP
- reduces the Conservation Stewardship Program by 30 percent
- cuts annual funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program nearly in half
- cuts conservation programs by $6 billion and funds the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program only at current levels, which will shorten the lifespan of the program
- cuts nutrition assistance by $16 billion
- gives big subsidized growers higher price guarantees for their crops
- expands crop insurance by $9.5 billion rather than placing reasonable limits on crop insurance
- lacks protections for prairies
- guts rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides
- has few incentives for healthy diets
- exempts GE crops from environmental reviews and sets deadlines on regulators that will further weaken oversight over GE crops
- prevents states from setting their own standards for farm and food production
The House Agriculture Committee has also proposed that the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill known as Section 733 would allow GE crops to be planted even while legal challenges concerning safety of the crops are pending. Activists call this the “Monsanto Rider.”
The bill should now go to the House floor for a full vote. If passed, it will go to House-Senate conference where the two drafts will be reconciled before being sent to the president for his signature. (“Senate Passes Farm Bill,” by Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch, June 21, 2012; www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/senate-passes-farm-bill/; “Farm Bill Provisions Could Help Maine’s Small Family Farms,” by Jay Field, June 22, 2012; www.mpbn.net/; Organic Bytes, Organic Consumers Assoc., June 21 and July 19, 2012; www.organicconsumers.org; “A Farm Bill Postmortem: The End of Food Politics as Usual,” by Marion Nestle, The Atlantic, June 25, 2012; www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/a-farm-bill-postmortem-the-end-of-food-politics-as-usual/258907/; “How Monsanto Is Sabotaging Efforts to Label Genetically Modified Food,” by Charlotte Silver, AlterNet, June 26, 2012; www.alternet.org/food/156032/how_monsanto_is_sabotaging_efforts_to_label_genetically_modified_food/; “Stand-off looms over U.S. plans to cut GMO crop oversight,” by Charles Abbott and Carey Gillam, Reuters, July 18, 2012; http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/17/us-usa-agriculture-biotech-idINBRE86G0XF20120717; “GOP leaders may squash farm bill,” by Jake Sherman, July 12, 2012; www.politico.com/news/stories/0712/78460.html; Organic Farming Research Foundation email, July 15, 2012; “Top Ten Reasons to Reject the House Farm Bill,” Environmental Working Group, July 12, 2012; www.ewg.org/agmag/2012/07/top-ten-reason-to-reject-the-house-farm-bill/)
“A Northeast Farm Bill Agenda: Priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill” (at www.nefood.org) is a collaboration of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, New England Farmers Union Educational Foundation, Wholesome Wave and others. The resource notes specific needs of New England, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and W. Virginia. It includes policy and funding priorities and summarizes the current regional farm and food system. Policy and funding priorities include
- investing in local and regional food systems and market development
- increasing farming opportunities for beginning, minority, women, immigrant and socially disadvantaged farmers
- providing adequate safety net and risk management tools for Northeast farmers
- supporting key Northeast agriculture industries, including dairy, organic, specialty crops, livestock and fisheries
- restoring competition and contract reform
- promoting access to fresh, locally and culturally appropriate foods
- supporting programs that reflect national health goals and nutrition guidelines
- strengthening nutrition incentive programs
- promoting farm to school (and other institutions) initiatives
- expanding community food security programs
- continuing mandatory funding for farm conservation programs, especially those aimed at working lands
- continuing funding for on-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy production
- ensuring farm conservation program flexibility to address regional, state and local resource concerns and priorities
- ensuring adequate conservation technical assistance
- supporting research, extension and education programs that strengthen local, regional, sustainable and organic agriculture
The report summarized Northeast agriculture with the following statistics:
- more than 175,000 farms
- 26 million acres of working land
- sales of more than $14 billion in agricultural products in 2007
- diverse in size, scale and environment
- flourishing in the organic sector
- producing a variety of products, from dairy to value-added foods to fruits, vegetables and livestock
- having nearly 18,000 dairies producing more than 28 billion pounds of milk in 2011
- having direct-to-consumer sales of more than twice the national average
- having specialty crops constituting nearly one-third of the region’s total farm sales
- receiving, on most farms, $25 per acre or less in commodity payments, while some other states receive as much as $100 per acre
- leading the nation in community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets and organic sales
- having the highest agricultural land values and percentage of farmland land lost to development
A coalition of U.S. agriculture and consumer organizations is challenging USDA’s push toward an Animal ID program. The organizations wrote to the Congressional Office of Management and Budget in June arguing that the rule should be sent back to USDA because of its impacts, including costs, on family farmers, ranchers, related businesses and other citizens who own animals. (“Farmers, Ranchers and Consumers Fight USDA Animal ID Scheme,” Cornucopia Institute, June 7, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/06/farmers-ranchers-and-consumers-fight-usda-animal-id-scheme/)
Toxic Garden Tools
Seventy percent of 179 garden products tested (gloves, knee pads, hand tools and hoses) contained lead, cadmium, phthalates, flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride or bisphenol A at concentrations of “high concern,” say researchers at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The chemicals are linked to birth defects, hormone imbalance, impaired learning and other health problems. Thirty percent of the products contained more than 100 ppm lead – the Consumer Product Safety Commission Standard for lead in children’s products – in one or more components. All garden hoses sampled for phthalates contained those plasticizers, which are banned in children’s products. Lead and phthalates can leach into water sitting in the hose, especially when hoses sit in the sun. Water coming from one hose contained 0.28 ppm lead – 18 times higher than the federal drinking water standard. Gardeners are advised to use products free of the above contaminants, such as polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses (listed at www.HealthyStuff.org); not to drink water from hoses with those contaminants; to store hoses in the shade; and to flush hoses before watering edible plants. Avoid hoses with a California Prop 65 warning that says “this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” Buy hoses labeled “drinking water safe” and “lead-free.” (“Study: Many gardening products have high levels of toxic chemicals,” by Connie Thompson, May 3, 2012; www.komonews.com/news/consumer/Study-Many-gardening-products-have-high-levels-of-toxic-chemicals-150110525.html; “New Study Finds Lead, Cadmium, BPA, Phthalates & Hazardous Flame Retardants in Gardening Products,” May 3, 2012; www.healthystuff.org/release.050312.garden.php)
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found potentially harmful concentrations of contaminants in many New England wells. Arsenic exceeded federal safety standards for public drinking water in 13 percent of tested wells; manganese in more than 7 percent; and radon exceeded EPA’s proposed standards in 33 percent of wells. Joseph Ayotte of the Geological Survey in New Hampshire said everyone should have wells tested. Problems that may be related to long-term consumption of contaminated water include cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, kidney and blood diseases, diabetes and a weakened immune system. Andrew Smith, toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Maine, said 1 in 10 Maine wells have arsenic concentrations above federal standards and 1 in 20 have unsafe uranium concentrations. The contaminants found in this study can be reduced or eliminated by filtration. (“Study finds tainted private wells around New England,” by David Abel, Boston Globe, June 29, 2012; http://bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2012/06/27/federal-study-finds-arsenic-and-other-contaminants-pervade-new-england-groundwater/ejjA0j6v5R6opWkkEegIGI/story.html)
The global adult human biomass in 2005 was about 287 million tons. Overweight people accounted for 15 million tons; obese people for 3.5 million tons. North America has 6 percent of the world population but 34 percent of biomass due to obesity; Asia has 61 percent of the population and 13 percent of biomass due to obesity. One ton of human biomass equals about 12 adults in North America and 17 in Asia. The authors of this study say that the increasing weight of the world population could put the same demands on world food energy as an extra half billion people. (“The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass,” by Sarah C. Walpole et al., BMC Public Health 2012, 12:439 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-439, June 18, 2012; www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/439/abstract)