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MOF&G Cover Spring 1998

  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSpring 1998News - Spring 1998   
 News & Events - Spring 1998 Minimize


Reactions to Proposed National Standards for Organic Production
Organic Inspector Trainings Planned
Learn the Art of Grafting and Get Free Scionwood
MOFGA Exhibit at the Portland Flower Show: “In the Heart of a Seed”
Spring Conference on Pesticide Drift
School for Beekeepers
Exploring Healthy Buildings – School, Work, Home: Teach-In Planned
Maine Grazing Conference
NOFA-NY Conference in March
Maine Herbalist in National Green Pages
Pesticide Use Reduction Efforts in Europe
Neem Patent Challenged
FDA Approves Irradiation
More Pesticide Resistant Crops Coming
Biotech Update
Engineered Potatoes Reduce Ladybug Fecundity


Reactions to Proposed National Standards for Organic Production

The proposed national standards for organic production “take a step in the right direction, but several deal breaker issues remain,” says Kathleen Merrigan, senior analyst at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture. “We need to tell USDA how to fix the proposal.” Merrigan praised the USDA for ending its historic opposition to organic agriculture, saying that “the willingness of this Administration to embrace organic agriculture indicates real progress. Strict national standards and qualified inspectors will bolster consumer confidence and lead to market growth. The likely outcome is that more farmers will go organic, and our soil, water and wildlife will be better off.”

“Organic growers will soon see their market get a jump start,” predicted the Kiplinger Agriculture Letter. “New standards will boost demand by raising consumer confidence in the organic label and creating a wider selection of organic products.” A recent poll by the Food Marketing Institute found that 54% of consumers would be more likely to purchase organic produce if it carried a national organic certification seal; 51% would buy certified organic meat and poultry; and 43% would buy certified processed foods.

The proposed standards, which took seven years to develop and release, define “organic” as agricultural products produced through a natural versus synthetic process. They also address the methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and their processed products, including producing and handling organic agricultural products; labeling of organic products; certification of organic operations; accreditation of state and private certifying agents; compliance testing; equivalency of foreign organic certification programs; approval of state organic programs; and user fees.

The proposal drew criticism from environmentalists and organic farmers who “worried that the rules could permit use of germ-killing irradiation, growth of genetically altered crops and spreading of sewage sludge as fertilizer,” according to the Associated Press.

The National Organic Standards Board rejected all three practices, about which the USDA put off a final decision, calling for public comment on them. An editorial in The New York Times referred to this USDA action as one of several “troubling signs of vacillation and, perhaps, of industry or political pressure... Whatever the value of these technologies and practices may be, none are part of accepted organic practice, and each offers a beachhead within the program for major nonorganic agricultural corporations.”

According to Merrigan, “Our major concern with the USDA program is the attempt by the Secretary to usurp the role of the National Organic Standards Board in determining which synthetic substances may be used in organic production. It is appalling to see synthetic materials in the proposed rule that the Board rejected for environmental and health reasons. Hopefully, USDA will listen carefully to public comment and make important changes before the rule becomes final.”

Source: Alternative Agriculture News, Jan. 1998; See Eric Sideman’s article in this issue of The MOF&G to find out how to respond to the proposed standards.

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Organic Inspector Trainings Planned

The Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) will hold a Basic and Advanced Organic Farm/Process Inspector Training from March 27 to April 1, 1998, focusing on organic dairy and processing inspections. IOIA is working with sponsors, NOFA-NJ, NOFA-NY and Pennsylvania Certified Organic on this training, which will take place at Mountain Dale Farm, McClure, Pennsylvania. Nearby Walnut Acres Farm will be used for field trips.

A Basic Organic Farm/Process Inspector Training is also being planned for the summer of 1998 in Argentina. Dates and locations have not been set yet.

Attendance at Basic trainings is limited. Participants must meet the following criteria:

• Submission of complete application, resume and fees;

• Training and/or experience in agriculture, food processing, accounting;

• Fluency in English;

• Demonstration of good communication skills;

• Commitment to enforcement of organic certification standards;

• Demonstration of continuing education;

• Appropriate physical and mental health.

Participants in the Advanced Organic Inspector Training must meet the above criteria and must have completed at least one organic inspector training course and have two years of experience with at least 20 inspections, or one year of experience with at least 30 inspections. Exceptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis. For exceptions, letters from certifiers are required to ensure competency.

Certificates of Completion are awarded to attendees who pass the grading requirements. Auditors and those who do not pass receive Certificates of Attendance.

IOIA Organic Inspector Training courses are recommended for inspector trainees, certification agency personnel/certification committee members, regulatory agency staff, organic processors and industry activists who want to understand the inspection and certification processes better.

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Learn the Art of Grafting and Get Free Scionwood

Did you know that if you plant a McIntosh seed, you won’t get a McIntosh tree? It’s true. Every seed in every apple will produce a distinct fruit, and every one of those Macs out there was grafted, taking a small Bit of a McIntosh twig (“scion,” pronounced sigh-on) and splicing (“grafting”) it onto a small, rooted apple tree (“rootstock”). From the point of the graft onward, you’ve got a McIntosh. All apple varieties, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, apricots and many nut trees are grafted.

Grafting is not hard to do, and it’s an excellent way to create your own fruit trees. You can graft yourself a McIntosh, or a Northern Spy, or a Black Oxford, or that old tree down the road that has terrific fruit but no name anyone can recall. You can graft new “varieties” you discover wild in the woods. You can save ancient varieties from old farms by starting new trees. You can graft two, three, four, 20 or even more different varieties onto a single tree. Anywhere you’ve got a spare branch you can do another graft. A whole orchard on one tree.

The Maine Tree Crop Alliance will hold its annual scion wood exchange at Unity College from noon to 4 PM on Sunday, March 29, 1998. You are encouraged to come. There will be workshops on grafting and pruning, lots of scions free for the taking, and much interesting conversation. The pruning workshop may be of particular interest this year in light of all the trees that suffered ice damage in January. Please bring any scions, cuttings or seeds that you would like to share with other enthusiasts. Books and accessories including grafting suppies and, we hope, some rootstock will be for sale. There is no admission charge.

For information, contact the Maine Tree Crop Alliance, 167 Turner Mill Rd., Palermo ME 03454, Tel. 993-2837.

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MOFGA Exhibit at the Portland Flower Show: “In the Heart of a Seed”

You won’t find ‘Run of the Mill’ marigolds or petunia ‘Lackluster’ at MOFGA’s booth at the Portland Flower Show this March. Instead, your spirit will be lifted by a design conceived and constructed by MOFGA volunteer Sue Belding of Old Stage Farm in Lovell.

In accord with the theme of the show – Poetry in the Garden – Sue calls MOFGA’s exhibit “In the Heart of a Seed.” It is, she says, “a poetic balance of flowers, herbs, bulbs and trees” that imparts the ideas of diversity and naturalizing and that is planted completely with certified-organic plants, many coming from seeds that Sue has saved.

The 10- by 14-foot space is divided into two triangular beds with a diagonal walkway. A split-rail fence (courtesy of Maine Line Fence) walls the garden, while edges are functionally ornamented with PVC drain pipes with a slit cut in the top and parsley, violas, petunias, rosemary and pansies planted in them. These low plants along the edges set off the taller plants, giving the garden depth. Among them are Viola nigra ‘Bowles Black,’ a “small, sweet, black viola – as dark as they get,” says Sue; Asarina chickabiddy ‘Scandens Mix,’ which vines up a birdhouse; Abutilon (flowering maple); pink touch-me-not; Linaria ‘Northern Lights,’ a tall cultivar of toadflax; Campanula ‘Persicifolia,’ peach-leafed bellflower; Adlumnia fungosa, a vining bleeding heart; the peony flowering tulip ‘Angelique’ and the triumph tulip ‘Apricot Beauty’ – all planted among vegetables and herbs. A birdbath, a flowering tree from Entwood Farm and Nursery, and handcarved birds from Matthew Burke complete the design. MOFGA volunteer Steve Plumb helped with the electrical setup.

Sue grew the flowers in her greenhouse and forced the bulbs in her basement over the winter, with little setback from the ice storm because “we’re pretty low tech here,” she said. Her biggest challenge has been keeping the plants in the greenhouse bug-free, even though she did “cook” the greenhouse between her previous crops and the flowers. She is excited about the display because it will show that such gardens can be made using organic methods and saved seeds.

In addition to the exhibit garden, Sue will be at MOFGA’s booth at the Show, where she will be selling some of the plants seen in the exhibit as well as seeds of those plants. General information about MOFGA will be available, too.

The Show runs from Wednesday night, March 11 (a gala opening night), to Sunday, March 15, opening at 10 each day and closing at 6 on Thursday, 8 on Friday and Saturday, and 5 on Sunday. It is held at the Portland Company Complex at 58 Fore St., Portland 04101; this is the home of the Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Maine Boatbuilding Show. Parking is available on Commercial Street and on the Eastern Promenade, and shuttle buses will be running to the show from those places. The show, which includes more than 20 exhibits and several speakers, is put on by the Maine Landscape and Nursery Assoc. and the Maine Florists and Growers Association. Tickets are $9, $6 for seniors and youths ages 12 to 18, free for children under 12; discounts are available for tickets purchased in advance and for two- or three-day passes. A gala opening on Wednesday night, which includes a ticket good for one day, costs $35. For more information, and to order tickets, call (207) 775-4403 or 774-1067.

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Spring Conference on Pesticide Drift

The latest research on pesticide spray drift will be featured at the North American Conference on Pesticide Spray Drift Management from March 29 to April 1 in Portland. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

The Pest Management Office of University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Board of Pesticides Control are organizing the event.

Spray drift is associated with agriculture, pest control for public health and maintenance of utility lines, railroads and roadways. Participants will address the legal, social and environmental implications of spray drift. “For these industries, pesticides are viewed as an important tool – one that protects crops and reduces costs when compared to hand or mechanized control of many pest problems. But for many citizens who abut farms, rights-of-way, forests and other application sites, spray drift is a cost of business they would rather not pay,” says Jim Dill of UMaine Extension.

Recent research addresses techniques to reduce drift through minimized applications, proper equipment operation and consideration of environmental factors. “Technology is not the only answer; applicators must better understand the concerns of their neighbor while the public needs to become better educated in the real and perceived risks associated with pesticide use,” says Dill.

Registration is $125 prior to February 28, 1998 and $175 after that date or at the door (includes lunches and breakfasts as well as a copy of the proceedings). More information is available from Dill, 207-581-3880, or at the conference site on the Internet at www.state.me.us/agriculture/pesticides/drift/.

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School for Beekeepers

A school for beginning and intermediate beekeepers will be held by the Tri-County Beekeepers Association. All-day classes will be held in the Prospect Community Building on three Saturdays: April 11, 18 and 25. Enrollment will be limited to thirty-five.

All requirements for successfully raising vigorous and productive first year colonies will be discussed and demonstrated. Equipment will be assembled in the classroom and costs will be analyzed.

An experienced group of beekeepers has been organized to lead the school, including Anthony Jadczak, Maine State Apiarist; Rick Cooper, Maine’s only certified Master Beekeeper; and Robert Egan, commercial beekeeper and state bee colony inspector. Jadczak will define and explain the control of diseases and pests that are now taking a toll on unmanaged bees, while Cooper will discuss management practices. Egan will discuss the merits of bee varieties, suitable for Maine, and other practical issues.

Study and reference materials will be available. For further information, including the special family rate, call Rene Dubois, 207-567-3890 or E-mail: jamy@pamx.com.

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Exploring Healthy Buildings – School, Work, Home: Teach-In Planned for May 2 in Camden

Are you building a new house and looking for nontoxic building materials? Have you ever had to leave the office because the chemicals in the carpeting were making you sick? Are you wondering if the new school in your community will be dangerously offgasing the first year it’s open?

These and many other issues relating to healthy (or sick) buildings will be addressed at a Saturday morning Teach-In on May 2 at the Camden Congregational Church on Elm Street in Camden. The event, organized by the Earth Day Teach-In Committee of Midcoast Maine, will begin with an inspiring keynote talk by Bill Turner of H.L. Turner Group. Turner received his B.S. in mechanical engineering and M.S. in air pollution control from Northeastern University, then researched low-level indoor air pollution for 10 years at the Harvard School of Public Health. After 10 more years of private consulting with engineering firms, he joined H.L. Turner Group, Inc., five years ago. He runs the Harrison, Maine, office of this architecture and engineering group, where his staff designs heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems for healthy buildings. “We do a lot of forensic work, figuring out why systems don’t work,” says Turner. H.L Turner has other offices in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Turner’s interests and expertise range from home to school to business environments. He lives in a superinsulated, retrofitted house, so he knows the concerns homeowners have about air quality and economics; and he and his wife have two school-age children. One of H.L. Turner’s “big niches” now, he says, is building schools that will have “clean” air. In fact, Turner is slated to speak at a conference in San Francisco about “Model Indoor Air Quality Schools.” At the teach-in, Turner will talk about the design of healthy buildings, with concerns for sustainability and affordability in their construction. “I have a good time getting technical information across to the lay public,” he says.

Following a break, during which teach-in participants can socialize, snack and pick up handouts, a panel of physicians, public health officials, architects – including Sarah Holland and David Foley, architects for MOFGA’s permanent site buildings, and a representative from the Community School District (of Camden and surrounding towns) will speak and answer questions. What plans are being made to ensure that the new CSD school won’t make students sick? Whom do you contact if some chemical in a building does make you sick? Where can you buy paints and cleaners that won’t disturb your metabolism? Who is building healthy buildings in Maine? Come and find out. To be put on a mailing list to receive further information and registration materials for the Teach-In, send a postcard to Beedy Parker, 68 Washington St., Camden, ME 04843.

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Maine Grazing Conference

Managed Intensive Grazing has become one of the most successful ways that livestock producers in the Northeast have improved profitability. This conference at the Augusta Civic Center, April 11, 1998, will offer grazing information for novice to experienced farmers across multiple livestock species.

Dr. E. Ann Clark will be the keynote speaker at this year’s inaugural conference. A much sought after speaker and Associate Professor in Crop Science at the University of Guelph for over 10 years, Dr. Clark will open the program with a talk entitled “Grazing – Any Shape, Any Size.” She will focus on factors affecting the success of grazing operations, regardless of animal species. A grazing consultant and beef producer herself, Dr. Clark will present a session on Finishing Beef on Pasture, one of the multiple topics being offered.

Additional conference topics include Controlling Parasites of Grazing Animals, Seasonal Dairy Production, Watering Systems for Pasture; Fencing Them In; Supplementing Dairy on Grass; Plants in Pastures: Good, Bad and Ugly; and Getting Started in Grazing. Each session will run twice.

Sponsors of the grazing conference are Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

For more information contact Dr. Tim Griffin, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, at 1-800-870-7270 within Maine or (207) 581-2942 outside Maine.

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NOFA-NY Conference in March

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) will hold its 19th Annual Conference on March 14 and 15, 1998, at Tompkins-Cortland Community College in Dryden, New York. With the theme “Biological Balance: Growing Healthy Farms, Folks, and Foods,” over 40 workshops will look at the overall health of the farm, the eco-system in which it resides, the people who work on it, and its relationship to the community. Farmers can learn and share their own experiences about integrated plant disease management, biological controls, and pheromones. The basics of organic gardening, soil and bugs will be presented for beginning growers. Along with a holistic look at farm management, this year’s conference explores the “whole farmer,” too, with workshops on health and safety, and a work/playshop for the poets of the field.

Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, will address the conference with his perspective on “food systems,” the regional web of growers, food processors, distributors, markets and consumers. Building connections between farmers and their communities has been at the heart of Libby’s work for the past 15 years, which included a decade as Research Director at the Maine Department of Agriculture. He is trained as an economist, focusing on community economic development and small farm economies. Acting on his belief that anyone who advocates should also be doing, Libby and his wife, along with their three daughters, live on Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon, Maine, a small vegetable and livestock operation.

The conference also offers a program of learning and fun activities for children ages 5 and up, and child care for 2 to 4 year olds. Children must be pre-registered by 2/13/98, the same deadline for an “early bird discount” on the registration fee.

For more information or a registration form, contact NOFA-NY, P.O. Box 21, South Butler, NY 13154; Tel. (315) 365-2299; fax (315) 365-3299.

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Maine Herbalist in National Green Pages

Blessed Maine Herb Company of West Athens, Maine, is listed on Co-op America’s National Green Pages, an honor roll of companies providing innovative solutions to today’s social and environmental problems. Blessed Maine is owned by Gail Edwards and has long been a MOFGA-certified organic farm.

“Few Americans realize the extent to which concerned companies are creating practical solutions to today’s social problems,” says Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America’s Executive Director. “Companies like Blessed Maine Herb Company are meeting the bottom line as well as playing a key role in creating a better world.”

Blessed Maine Herb Company is a member of the Co-op America Business Network, the largest association of socially responsible businesses in the world. Descriptions of these businesses are found in the National Green Pages, which contains over 100 categories and almost 2000 companies, including Tom’s of Maine and Ben & Jerry’s. Copies of the directory are available for $7.95 (including shipping and handling) by sending a check to: Co-op America, 1612 K St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006; or call (800)584-7336.

This is not the only honor Blessed Maine has received lately. In September, it was awarded two ribbons at the Common Ground Country Fair: one for the Most Educational Booth in the Agricultural Products Area; and another for Special Friend from the Common Kitchen, in recognition of the herb teas the company provided. In addition, Gail was invited to speak about her work with schoolchildren and preserving herbs that are in danger of being overharvested at the Herb Growing and Marketing Network Conference in San Antonio, Texas, this winter.

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Pesticide Use Reduction Efforts in Europe

Government and public pressure in Europe has supermarkets there demanding reduced pesticide concentrations in the produce that they sell. Retailers can now obtain improved residue testing for trace chemicals, and some chains are providing growers and brokers with tolerance recommendations.

Denmark has banned 20 active ingredients in pesticides and allows for banning other compounds without lengthy procedures. Another Danish law increased the taxation of pesticides from 3% to nearly 37% of the purchase price for insecticides and 15% for fungicides. This increased tax was expected to reduce pesticide use immediately by 8 to 12 percent.

Source: Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Sept. 10, 1997; originally in Greenhouse Management.

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Neem Patent Challenged

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), along with Vandana Shiva’s research organization in India, the Third World Network, Edmonds Institute (USA) and other non-governmental organizations, filed a legal opposition with the European Patent Office (EPO) against a patent that had been granted to the USDA and the agribusiness multinational W.R. Grace for a neem-based fungicide. In demanding that the neem patent be revoked, the Legal Opposition spotlighted the way that the intellectual property rights system is being used to appropriate the biological wealth of the South. The monopoly property right on the neem fungicide would have secured major financial gain for USDA and W.R. Grace, while the Indian farming communities, which first understood and developed the uses of neem, would not be compensated at all. In a preliminary assessment of the case, the EPO has unexpectedly concurred that the neem fungicide was not novel and that the alleged “invention” failed to show a sufficiently inventive step. It concluded that the patentee would probably not be able to maintain the patent in the form claimed. The case will continue into 1998.

Source: IFOAM press release.

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FDA Approves Irradiation

In December, the FDA approved the use of irradiation to kill E. coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria on beef and other red meats, such as lamb, and changed the dosage for pork. Its action resulted from increased interest in the process after 25 million pounds of Hudson Food Co. hamburger that may have been contaminated with E. coli were recalled last summer. The original petition for the process came three years ago from Isomedix Inc., a New Jersey company involved in medical sterilization that also wants to offer meat processors irradiation with cobalt-60 gamma rays.

The meat industry lobbied heavily for irradiation, while the Clinton administration wanted greater government authority to recall contaminated products and punish violators. Consumer groups claimed that the large-scale, “efficient,” worldwide system of raising, processing and distributing foods is at fault and is responsible for much of the food poisoning that occurs. Diseases spread more easily among animals that are housed in food factories. In 1945, for example, houses contained about 500 birds each, while in 1995, a henhouse might contain as many as 100,000 birds. Food that is tainted during processing in huge food factories is widely distributed before people begin to get sick. “It isn’t the right approach to take a filthy product and irradiate it to make it sterile,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We need to make sure that the filth is removed earlier in the process.”

Sources: “Food poisoning cases increase,” Curt Anderson, AP report, Bangor Daily News, Dec. 10, 1997; “FDA allows low-dose irradiation of beef,” Curt Anderson, AP report, Bangor Daily News, Dec. 3, 1997; “FDA Approves Meat Irradiation,” Julie Vorman, Reuters, Dec. 2, 1997.

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More Pesticide Resistant Crops Coming

For the typical farm supply retailer in the Northern United States, pesticides represent 25% of the crop input business and seeds 5 percent. However, pesticides are predicted to represent only 15% within three years and seeds will jump to 25 percent. By the year 2000, 75% of the major crops in the United States will be genetically engineered.

This helps explain the decision of DuPont Agricultural Products to purchase 20% of Pioneer Hi-Bred stock for a whopping $1.7 billion. The relationship has nothing to do with pesticides, which will continue to be marketed by DuPont, and everything to do with crop genetics and value-added grains.

DeKalb Genetics will be the first kid on the block with Roundup Ready corn. Other seed companies are expected to have hybrids resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup Ultra by 1999. It is no coincidence that Monsanto owns a piece of DeKalb.

Source: Ev Thomas, Miner Institute, reported in Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Oct. 22, 1997.

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Biotech Update

The movement to release living organisms that have been altered by genetic engineering seems as if it’s about to overtake us like an ice storm in January – but with longer lasting and potentially more devastating effects.

Last fall, Monsanto split into two firms, one for “applied chemistry,” another for “life sciences,” both “to provide better food, better nutrition, and better health for all people,” according to company advertisements.

Just as Monsanto’s patent on the world’s widest-selling herbicide, Roundup, is about to run out in the year 2000, Monsanto has come on line with several Roundup-resistant crops. About 15% of the 1997 U.S. soybean crop, for example, consisted of Roundup Ready soybeans. This percentage is expected to grow quickly so that, as George Monbiot warns (“Watch those beans,” Guardian Weekly, Sept. 26, 1997), “the chances are that nearly all of us will soon be consuming manipulated soya beans every week.” (Soy is used in about 60% of processed foods.)

In conjunction with developing these herbicide-resistant crops, Monsanto has bought shares in seed and biotech companies. It now owns the company that produces the Falvr-Savr tomato, owns the U.S. patent on all genetic manipulations of cotton, and controls about 35% of the germlines of American maize, according to Monbiot. The company is engineering most other major crops; requires that farmers who grow its varieties must sign away any rights to the seed and must let Monsanto inspect their fields anytime.

In Europe, Monsanto and other big biotech companies have been able to commercialize their crops, despite public opposition, by joining Europe’s most powerful biotech trade lobby, EuropaBio; mastering the legal climate of target countries; and effecting legislative change. In July, EuropaBio “managed to persuade the European Parliament to adopt a new directive, allowing companies to patent manipulated plants and animals,” says Monbiot. It has also gotten the European Commission to force Austria, Italy and Luxembourg to repeal laws banning import of genetically engineered maize. In the United States, Monsanto has been able to get top researchers and lawyers into important jobs in the FDA, so that they can influence the movement of engineered products into agriculture. The FDA, says Monbiot, “has approved some of the company’s most controversial products, including the artificial sweetener aspartame, and recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.”

Monsanto is also working through multinational bodies. The World Trade Organization said in August, 1997, for instance, that the European Union cannot exclude meat and milk from cattle treated with rBGH, even though farmers, retailers and consumers in Europe expressed widespread concern about the hormone.

Biotech firms are now trying to persuade the WTO to forbid labeling of genetically engineered foods. “With astonishing rapidity,” says Monbiot, “a tiny handful of companies is coming to govern the global development, production, processing and marketing of our most fundamental commodity – food.”

Public relations plays a big role in this dangerous game of genetic roulette, and in Europe, EuropaBio has hired the U.S. public relations agency of Burson Marsteller to tell consumers how good engineered foods will be for them, according to Earth Island Journal (Fall 1997). Burson Marsteller is the company that handled media strategy for the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Union Carbide explosion on Bhopal. It has also represented oppressive regimes in Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea. Burson Marsteller’s strategy regarding engineered foods, leaked to Greenpeace and reviewed in Earth Island Journal, is to: a) stay off the ‘killing field’ – i.e. instead of biotech companies refuting stories about possible environmental and human health risks from engineered foods, the industry should leave that job to politicians and regulators; b) put out “good,” personified stories about benefits of biotech that elicit the emotions of hope, satisfaction, caring and self-esteem; and c) enable EuropaBio to become “the journalist’s best and most reliable continuing source” of “inspiration and information” about biotech, a place where journalists can get “editor pleasing, deadline-beating” stories.

Burson Marsteller has some formidable foes. In one action, Greenpeace, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, which includes MOFGA), and many other organizations in the organic movement filed a petition against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to challenge the way the government authorizes genetically engineered plants that contain the toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). The petition charges that the transgenic B.t. plants will result in the development of insect resistance to B.t. within a very short period, thus robbing organic farmers of an important biological pest control tool. It also explains how the B.t. plants could harm nontarget beneficial species of insects as well as transfer the toxin gene to wild relatives, creating new superweeds. Finally, very little is known about the impact on human health of eating food from plants that are themselves pesticides. The petitioners are demanding that all registrations for B.t. plants be cancelled and no new ones granted, and that the EPA conduct a programmatic impact analysis of the consequences of the agency’s B.t. policy. A copy of this petition can be found at IFOAM’s website, www.ifoam.org/.

Activists also continue to bring media attention to genetically engineered crops. Last August, for instance, they destroyed an experimental crop of engineered oilseed rape (canola oil) in England, and in April, they occupied four fields in Germany to prevent the planting of Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant sugar beets.

If Burson Marsteller is doing its job, The Guardian doesn’t know it. On Dec. 15, John Vidal and Mark Milner published a critical article, “Food: the 250 billion pound gamble,” on the front page of this mainstream European newspaper. They reported, “The scale and speed of the food revolution gathering pace in the United States is surprising governments, industry and analysts. The companies claim that more than 30 million acres of genetically engineered crops have been planted this year, more than three times as many as in 1996 and 10 times the acreage of 1995.” A Monsanto spokesman told the reporters, “The market is expected to double again next year ”

Vidal and Milner go on to say that Monsanto’s $8 million investment (with five other international conglomerates – Novartis, AgroEvo, Dupont, Zeneca and Dow – following suit) “raises questions of corporate influences on governments,” as the companies have engaged in heavy lobbying of trade organizations, regulators, legislators, the media and consumers, with almost no public debate or consideration for long-term consequences. Consequently, “resistance to genetically modified foods is growing in Europe and the developing countries, uniting consumer and environment groups,” report Vidal and Milner.

While genetically engineered crops are being planted on more and more acreage in the United States, they are showing more and more problems. A New York Times article (“Seeds of Discontent: Cotton Growers Say Strain Cuts Yields,” by Allen R. Myerson, Nov. 18, 1997) reported that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton, developed in cooperation with Delta and Pine Land Co., has performed poorly in Mississippi, where about 46 of 200 farmers who planted it are asking that the companies cover their losses, which amount to as much of 40% of their crop. The engineered plants failed to resist spraying with Roundup. Some 25 Texas farmers, meanwhile, are suing the companies for losses from cotton bollworm damage after the genetically engineered Bollgard cotton did not resist bollworms to the extent that Monsanto had promised. Monsanto blames unusually heavy infestations of the insect and lack of spraying by farmers – even though company pamphlets promoting the variety told farmers not to spray.

Government cotton experts in Mississippi say that the companies hurried Roundup Ready cotton to production without letting them test it; usually they test new varieties for three years before recommending them to farmers. “The result has been a rare breakdown in the usually cordial relations between agribusiness and government,” reports the New York Times. USDA geneticist Bill Meredith told the reporters, “These new varieties and new technologies are going out with less evaluation than they had in the past with traditional varieties.” Despite such setbacks, Monsanto says it expects that by 1999 more than half of the 14 million acres of cotton in the United States will be planted to Roundup Ready cotton. It is developing a stronger variety of insect-resistant cotton and cotton that is naturally colored and doesn’t need chemical dyes.

Closer to home, on Dec. 12, Maine became the first state in the nation to refuse to permit use of a genetically altered field corn (see Sharon Tisher’s report on the Board of Pesticides Control in this issue) because a need for the pesticide-containing crop was not shown by its developers, and developers did not show that its use would not cause “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” Indeed, the opposite may be true. The Miner Institute reported (Weekly Market Bulletin, Dec. 3, 1997, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture): “Bt resistance in corn has concerned entomologists ever since cotton bollworm resistance was discovered in Bt cotton. It now appears that this concern is well-founded. Two corn borers were found in Illinois this summer happily munching away in Bt corn, apparently unaffected by the toxin. Uncooperative to the end, both borers died before the entomologists could determine the mode of resistance.”

Right now, the only way you can know you are not consuming genetically engineered foods is to grow your own food from seed known not to be engineered (time to start saving those favorite varieties) or buy foods that are certified organic, since governments have failed to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. The purity if organic foods is under threat, however, as the USDA has suggested that genetically engineered foods might be certified as organic. For more information and to refute that suggestion, read Eric Sideman’s article about national organic standards in this issue of The MOF&G.

– Jean English

Thanks to Jim Gerritsen and Beedy Parker for providing some of the references noted in this article.

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Engineered Potatoes Reduce Ladybug Fecundity

The effects of insect resistance gene products that are engineered into crop plants on the fitness of ladybird beetles over several generations should be studied, say researchers from the Scottish Crop Research Institute. These researchers fed ladybugs aphids that had fed on potatoes that had been engineered to produce lectin, which suppresses aphid feeding. The fecundity of laydbugs suffered: almost three times as many fertilized eggs failed to hatch, compared with egg hatching in ladybugs fed on aphids raised on nonengineered potatoes; when male ladybugs fed on aphids from the engineered potatoes, four times the number of eggs were unfertilized compared with fertilization of eggs via males that were fed on aphids raised on nonengineered potatoes; and female ladybugs that fed for 14 days on aphids that had fed on engineered potatoes lived only half as long as ladybugs that fed on aphids raised on nonengineered potatoes. “Strategies for the safe release of transgenic crops must be devised and validated under field or closely simulated conditions,” say the researchers.

Source: A.N.E. Birch, I.E. Geoghegen, M.E.N. Majerus, C. Hackett and J. Allen, Interactions between plant resistance genes, pest aphid populations and beneficial aphid predators,” Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, Scotland. Thanks to Nancy Allen for sending this article to The MOF&G.

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