"The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass."
- Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947
|| News & Events – Spring 2007
Maine Highlands Community Organic Forest-Garden Forming
The Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Sangerville and Dover-Foxcroft is organizing a multi-faceted volunteer organization based on the principles of social justice, deep ecology and sustainable living for the benefit of all our citizenry.
We are establishing on one site:
– a community garden following the tenets of organic gardening;
– a demonstration garden that teaches the practices of permaculture, vegan farming and natural farming;
– a public park amid these gardens;
– extensive nature trails in surrounding meadows, woods and wetlands for self-guided tours and nature-study classes on paths (for non-motorized travel) that eventually will lead into the center of town.
We are asking for ideas, expertise, labor, enthusiasm, donations or simply your curiosity. For more information, visit mainehighlandsforestgarden.blogspot.com or contact Sidney Mitchell, 207-564-8687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pen Bay Commercial Kitchen Planned
The Down East Business Alliance and the town of Bucksport are creating the Penobscot Bay Commercial Kitchen (PBCK), a 12,000-square-foot facility that will provide a commercial kitchen, as well as dry, cold and freezer space for food processing entrepreneurs. This project is still in the planning and development stages and is seeking input from potential users. To learn more, contact Joe Perkins, Enterprise Development Specialist, email@example.com, or visit www.whcacap.org and click on “Small Business Assistance” on the left.
Maine Tree Club Offers Outings and Education
Maine citizens and visitors can learn more about one of our state’s greatest resources by joining the Maine Tree Club, an educational project designed for people of all ages to learn about trees, offered by University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Maine Forest Service and the Pine Tree State Arboretum.
The annual registration fee for the Club is $20 per person, $30 per couple, $35 per family and $65 per group of up to 15. A limited number of Maine Tree Club scholarships are available for those in need. There is no deadline for registration. Request a free brochure from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 800-287-1471, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://extension.umaine.edu/mainetreeclub/MTC.htm.
The Club is planning at least three outings around Maine in 2007 to get people into the woods for hands-on learning and enjoyment. Through outings and twice-monthly fact sheets featuring Maine tree species, members will learn to recognize 50 types of trees over two years and gain skills that can be applied in their own yards and communities.
Participants receive a 10X hand lens for viewing tree parts, an attractive notebook for fact sheets, a pocket guide to Maine trees, and several practical guides related to tree growth and care.
Tanglewood 4H Camp Receives ACA Accreditation
University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Tanglewood 4-H Camp and Learning Center in Lincolnville has been accredited by the American Camp Association. Accredited camps meet more than 300 ACA standards and safety guidelines, going beyond local and state requirements. Staff qualifications, training, emergency management, building conditions, and hundreds of other aspects of Tanglewood passed an extensive inspection last August.
Tanglewood, a 4-H youth development program of University of Maine Cooperative Extension, is one of the most affordable camps in Maine and has been teaching youth and adults to live harmoniously with the earth for 25 years.
“This accreditation made us take stock of what we do and how we do it,” said camp director and Tanglewood co-founder Cindy Dunham. “These kids mean the world to us. Knowing that what we have been doing for the last 25 years is worthy of this accreditation makes it that much better, both for us and the kids who come here.”
Tanglewood offers day and residential camps for younger children, and discovery trips and leadership training for older children and teens. Adults over age 55 may participate in Elderhostel college-level courses on topics such as natural history and discovering the Maine woods and coast.
For more information, visit www.tanglewood4h.org.
National Campaign for Natural Lawn Care
Organic gardening pioneer Shepherd Ogden has been named executive director for SafeLawns.org, a new national effort to help Americans learn to grow lawns using natural products and techniques.
Ogden founded The Cooks Garden, a premier seed and supply companies, in 1983. He has been an author, lecturer, consultant and organic market gardener for 30 years.
At SafeLawns.org, Ogden will champion the health, social and economic advantages of organic lawn care. “The chemical solutions that have been sold to homeowners over the last 50 years are clearly antithetical to the health needs of Americans and are no longer the best way to achieve a beautiful green lawn … we want to let American families know they have been sold a poisoned bill of goods. Even more importantly, we want to show them a better solution. The newest science-based generation of products and techniques will allow them to have the lawn of their dreams without endangering their families and pets, without poisoning the environment and without further contributing to global warming.”
SafeLawns.org founder Paul Tukey, creator of People, Places & Plants magazine and TV show, says, “Our goals are huge and revolutionary. We are small and grassroots and taking on a multi-billion dollar industry. Having Shep Ogden, who is known and trusted around the world, is an enormous boost to the campaign.”
Lawns cover 40 to 50 million acres in the United States, and most are grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which can pollute soil and water and cause health problems for humans and animals. The resources and short informational videos available at www.safelawns.org will promote natural alternatives.
Ogden and Tukey also plan to work with the landscaping industry, which still relies primarily on chemicals. Not only are those workers particularly at risk, but the consumer market is moving quickly toward a more natural approach. In the gardening industry, natural products now make up 10% of products sold but are growing by 25% per year.
New Potato Makes Organic Growing Easier
Wood Prairie Farm, a family-run, organic farm in Bridgewater, Maine, known for its potatoes, grains and other crops, has been awarded The Mailorder Gardening Association’s Green Thumb Award for offering a potato variety suited for organic growing.
Developed by Cornell University and field tested by Wood Prairie Farm’s owners Jim and Megan Gerritsen, the new ‘King Harry’ is resistant to Colorado potato beetles and potato leafhoppers, which dislike its hairy leaves. ‘King Harry’ is a robust, upright plant with pale purple blossoms that yields a heavy crop of bright-skinned tubers with pearly white flesh. The variety stores well.
For more information, contact Wood Prairie Farm at 1-800-829-9765 or www.woodprairie.com.
Source: Press release, Jan. 30, 2007, Kim Huard, Huard Marketing; 207-347-5264; Don Flannery, Maine Potato Board, 207-769-5061.
Common Weed Hosts Potato Blight
Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Orono, Maine, discovered that Phytophthora infestans – the microorganism that causes late blight of potatoes – finds refuge in an alternate host plant: hairy nightshade.
Best known as one cause of widespread hunger, illness, death and emigration in 1840s Ireland, P. infestans still threatens global potato and tomato production. Worldwide, growers spend more than $3 billion each year for fungicides and other control measures.
Modesto Olanya, a plant pathologist at the ARS New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Orono, learned of the possible alternate host in 2004 from colleagues at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Presque Isle. Extension agents there discovered hairy nightshade plants speckled with dark, oily spots. Olanya analyzed the microorganisms on the plants and verified that hairy nightshade is an alternate host of P. infestans in Maine. Olanya and University of Maine collaborators found that 55% of fields assessed in the state contained the plant. P. infestans has also been reported on hairy nightshade in California, Michigan and Washington, and in controlled experiments in North Dakota.
Growers are now learning the importance of controlling hairy nightshade as part of their late blight management program.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Erin Peabody, (301) 504-1624, email@example.com, Dec. 12, 2006; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
Maine Ag Dept. Surveys Exotic Pests
The Maine Department of Agriculture surveyed 12 farms in eight Maine counties for eight exotic pests last year. Fortunately, none are known to be established in Maine yet. Because many exotic pests are easily transported on vehicles (for example, the brown marmorated stink bug was found on four RVs in Maine this fall), the department continues to watch for these pests, which include the Swede midge, leek moth, two species of wireworms, two species of root knot nematodes, Old World bollworm and the brown marmorated stink bug. If you are interested in participating in the 2007 survey (which includes free visits from friendly entomologists during the growing season), contact Kathy Murray at 287-7616 or Karen Coluzzi at 287-7551.
Variance from Winter Manure Spreading Ban Possible
Maine’s Nutrient Management Act of 1997 prohibits spreading manure on fields between Dec. 1 and March 15 of the following year except by variance from the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food & Rural Resources. The variance provision was included to accommodate economic hardship and/or circumstances beyond a farmer’s control, such as excessive rainfall preventing access to fields.
The Department evaluates requests on a site-specific basis. Variances are not approved until the applicant has clearly demonstrated that winter spreading is necessary and has outlined steps to minimize the need for winter spreading in the future. Certain farms operating under Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP) may not be allowed to spread on snow-covered or frozen ground even with a variance; these farmers should contact appropriate agency personnel for guidance.
A variance request application and a guideline sheet, “Variance Criteria for Winter Spreading of Manure on Frozen and/or Snow-Covered Soil,” are available from Mark F. Hedrich, Nutrient Management Coordinator, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health & Industry, State House Station # 28, Augusta, Maine 04333-0028; (207) 287-7608; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Maine Agriculture Today, Dec. 6, 2006, Maine Dept. of Ag.
Floating Plant Mats Help Clean Manure Lagoons, Produce Biomass
Studies have shown that plants growing on floating mats can remove excess nutrients from manure lagoons. Scientists in Georgia have been studying how to most efficiently use this method to extract excess nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater so that it won’t become an environmental problem.
Lagoons are commonly used to store wastewater from confined-feeding dairy and swine operations. The nutrient-laden water is generally applied to land as fertilizer, but applied improperly, excess nitrogen and phosphorus may contaminate drinking water, impair soil quality and cause “dead zones” in surface waters.
The Georgia scientists floated mats in small tanks of full-strength wastewater, half-strength wastewater, or an inorganic solution. Vegetation was grown atop floating rafts constructed of PVC pipe and chicken wire that was covered with jute erosion-control matting. Cattail grew best on full-strength wastewater, produced the most biomass, and removed the most nutrients. Harvesting cattail from floating rafts could remove an average of 493 grams of nitrogen and 73 grams of phosphorus per square meter per year.
A new type of floating mat, consisting of plastic foam covered with braided coir (coconut shell fibers) and various plants species that could be used for biofuel, is now being tested.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, August 2006, Agricultural Research, www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug06/lagoon0806.htm.
Genetics Research Helps Scuttle Scrapie
New genetic tests for diagnosing scrapie disease in sheep have been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. Contagious, incurable and fatal, scrapie is the sheep industry’s chief disease priority, costing U.S. producers some $20 million per year. Scrapie’s name reflects its most distinctive symptom: uncontrollable itching that makes afflicted sheep compulsively scrape their bodies against nearby objects.
In a diseased animal, abnormally folded prions – proteins that occur in all mammals – cause naturally produced prions to fold abnormally as well. Misfolded prions cause neurological problems and death. Most sheep die one to six months after symptoms appear, although they may be infected but asymptomatic for years.
Geneticist Michael P. Heaton and his colleagues have identified and stored DNA from 15 common sheep breeds. This information is free to researchers and testing labs to quickly and accurately diagnose susceptibility to scrapie, enabling breeders to breed more scrapie-resistant flocks.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA. Laura McGinnis, (301) 504-1654, email@example.com, Nov. 7, 2006. For more information, see the Nov./Dec. 2006 Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov06/scrapie1106.htm
Probiotics Boost Immunity in Pigs
Trillions of friendly bacteria normally live in the intestinal tracts of humans where they change the intestinal environment and keep harmful bacteria from gaining a foothold that could lead to disease. Scientists are now using the pig as an experimental model to study potential benefits of adding helpful bacteria, or probiotics, to the diet.
Microbiologist Gloria Solano-Aguilar, with the Agricultural Research Service Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, tested the effect of the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis (Bb 12; from Chr. Hansen, Denmark) on maturation and stimulation of the immune systems of piglets. Bb 12 is common in probiotic products.
A treatment containing Bb 12 was first fed to three pregnant sows, and a placebo was fed to three controls. The same treatments were then fed to half of each sow’s litters, resulting in four experimental groups.
Tissue samples showed that the probiotic induced innate immune activity in the colon, where it was most concentrated. Animals that received Bb 12 through their mother and directly had the best immune response.
In a separate study, Bb 12 was administered to pigs that had a worm-induced infection. Preliminary results show a better response to the infection because of improved nutrient absorption in piglets that were fed Bb 12.
Source: “Boosting Immunity Using Beneficial Bacteria,” by Rosalie Marion Bliss, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff. For more information, see the Nov./Dec. 2006 Agricultural Research magazine at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
FDA Warns About Fumonisins in Horse Feed
Each year, a number of horses die from eating corn or corn byproducts containing fumonisins – toxins produced by an endophytic mold within some corn kernels. Typically, fumonisins are produced while corn plants grow in the field, but levels can also increase with improper storage after harvest.
More than 10 types of fumonisins have been isolated and characterized, but the most prevalent in contaminated corn is fumonisin B1 (FB1), which is believed to be the most toxic. The dangers from fumonisins are dose-related, and horses and rabbits are the most susceptible of the domestic species.
Fumonisins can produce the serious neurological disease known as leukoencephalomalacia in horses. Most of the investigated cases of fumonisin poisoning in horses have involved corn screenings. For this reason, FDA recommends that corn screenings NOT be used in horse feed. Corn and feed containing corn also must be kept dry and protected from moisture when stored to prevent levels of fumonisins and other mold toxins from increasing. FDA recommends that corn and corn by-products used in horse feed should contain less than 5 parts per million of fumonisins and comprise no more than 20% of the dry weight of the total ration.
Source: CVM Update, U.S. FDA, Nov. 29, 2006, www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm048167.htm
National Animal ID: No for Now
The USDA, with the publication of the “NAIS User Guide,” is now emphasizing its National Animal Identification System as a voluntary rather than mandatory program and is letting states determine their own rules. To date, only Michigan requires that all cattle have Radio Frequency ID tags. However, in January 2007, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said that he may renew the push for a mandatory program of tracking livestock from birth through slaughter.
Sources: Beef Stocker Trends, Nov. 30, 2006; http://beef-mag.com; “Farmers Fear Livestock ID Mandate,” by Marc L. Songini, Computerworld, Jan. 15, 2007. http://computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=279030&intsrc=news_list
FDA Moves to Allow Products from Cloned Animals
The FDA has announced that milk, eggs and meat from cloned animals will soon be allowed on the market. Consumer, food safety, and animal welfare groups have condemned the announcement, saying that animal cloning is unpredictable and hazardous and has led to cruel and painful deformities in experimental animals’ offspring. The FDA said that foods containing ingredients from cloned animals probably will not have to be labeled as such. The FDA is taking public comments. See www.organicconsumers.org/rd/clones.htm and www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/AnimalCloning/ucm055491.htm
Bill Seeks to Protect All Maine Farmers from Genetic Trespass
Protect Maine Farmers, a campaign of Food For Maine’s Future, has introduced legislation this session aimed at protecting all Maine farmers from negative effects of genetic trespass. Genetic trespass occurs when a patent-protected Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) pollinates or otherwise contaminates a non-GMO. Farmers whose non-GM crops are contaminated with GM traits may lose markets and consumer confidence; and their herd and soil health may be harmed, as may beneficial insects. As GM lines contaminate more seed varieties, farmers have fewer varieties from which to select.
LR 1873, An Act to Ensure the Longterm Viability of Traditional Farming in Maine, would help protect all Maine farmers from this contamination by placing liability for contamination with the patent-holder of the technology. With GM seeds, the patent-holder of the GM technology in the seeds leases the right to use that technology to a farmer for one growing season. Farmers are not allowed to save or reuse that seed. This bill says that the patent-holder who retains ownership over that technology should also retain liability for negative impacts caused by the spread of that technology. This provision would prevent one farmer from suing another.
The bill would also require legal disputes involving GM technology to be heard in Maine courts, under Maine law – thus protecting farmers who face or file lawsuits from or against a seed company from having to travel to distant courts.
Seed companies testing for use of GM crops without a contract would, under this bill, need to obtain a court order before entering a farmer’s property to take samples. The seed company would have to notify the farmer five days before sampling, and the farmer could request that split samples be taken to ensure accurate results.
The bill would require all GM seeds sold in Maine to be clearly labeled and to indicate what traits are patented and who holds that patent. It also would require the seed company to provide separate written instructions, in at least size 12 font, telling purchasers how to reduce contamination.
Seed companies with patents on GM technologies should be responsible for damages caused by the technology, and farmers’ basic property rights and fair trial rights should be ensured when dealing with these technologies.
The MOFGA board voted to support the proposed legislation at its February meeting. The bill expands on many issues that have been raised by MOFGA in legislative and regulatory hearings on genetically engineered foods over the past decade.
For more information, contact Logan Perkins through at 207-615-5158.
U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated by Unapproved GE Rice
After testing commissioned by Greenpeace and then by various European government agencies found rice contaminated with an unapproved, genetically-engineered (GE) rice, Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns announced in August that domestic and export stocks of long grain rice were contaminated. Johanns said Bayer CropScience admitted its contamination problem to USDA. Johanns added that the biotech rice – LLRICE 601, containing bacterial DNA making the plants resistant to Liberty Link herbicide made by Aventis – poses no health risks, but could damage the U.S. $1 billion rice export market, since many nations refuse to import GE rice.
As a result of the contamination, Japan banned long grain rice imports from the United States; Germany found the illegal rice in products on shelves in its major supermarket chain Aldi Nord; the European Union required that all rice imports from the United States be tested for contamination; and the world’s largest rice processing company, Ebro Puleva, stopped all imports of U.S. rice, resulting in a loss of at least $33 million to the U.S. long grain rice market. German supermarket chain Edeka said it would cease selling all U.S. long grain rice, as did other European retailers, millers and processors.
U.S. rice farmers filed at least three multi-million-dollar class action lawsuits against Bayer CropScience, and Ebro Puleva expects to bring legal actions against Bayer as well.
The USDA admits it has no idea how extensive the contamination is. Rice farmers say they don’t feel the USDA is adequately monitoring the biotech industry. “They can’t tell you where anything is even though they get permits for it,” said Arkansas Rice Growers Association executive director Greg Yielding.
“The US government should be doing all it can to protect our farmers and food processors from the costly economic impact of GE contamination of U.S. export crops,” said Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace GE Campaigner. “Unfortunately, the government has done as little as possible to regulate the genetic engineering industry, and the high cost of that policy choice is now clear to all in the U.S. rice industry.”
“We know from experience in the Starlink [contaminated corn] case that the initial contamination finding is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jeremy Tager, GE rice campaigner with Greenpeace International. “Once illegal GE crops are in the food chain, removing them takes enormous effort and cost. It is easier to prevent contamination in the first place and stop any plans to commercialize GE rice.”
Bayer stopped field testing the variety in 2001, but contamination occurred in the 2005 harvest. The company hopes to alleviate the contamination issue by getting its rice approved after-the-fact.
Greenpeace International also said in September that a different, illegal GE rice variety from China has contaminated food products in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Sources: Organic Bytes, Aug. 24, 2006, www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_1584.cfm; and www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_1865.cfm ; “U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated, Genetically Altered Variety Is Found in Long-Grain Rice,” by Rick Weiss, The Washington Post, Aug. 19, 2006, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/18/AR2006081801043.html; “Bayer’s Illegal Genetically Engineered Rice Found in Major German Supermarket,” Sept. 11, 2006, Greenpeace press release, www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/IllegalChinaGErice; “World’s Largest Rice Company Halts All Imports from U.S.,” Greenpeace press release, Sept. 29, 2006.
Genetically Engineered Grass Escapes
An experimental variety of genetically engineered (GE) bentgrass developed by Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Monsanto to resist the herbicide Roundup has escaped from its test plot in Oregon and has been found growing in the wild as far as 3 miles away, according to scientists from the U.S. EPA. The biotech plant, designed for golf courses, has not been approved by the USDA, but has already been found dispersing among native grasses in six locations.
Scientists don’t know how the engineered grass will behave in the wild but admit it may have a strong advantage over native grasses and could irreversibly damage the ecosystem as it spreads. According to Tom Stohlgren, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Institute of Invasive Species Science, the experimental bentgrass “can tend to outcompete other species … It doesn’t need to sexually reproduce – it’s like The Blob. It could potentially hit rare species or national parks.”
The USDA is doing a full environmental impact assessment – its first on a GE crop – on the grass before determining whether to permit it, because of the potential for spread to the wild. Previous EPA testing found the grass pollen 13 miles from a test plot.
Sources: Organic Bytes, Aug. 24, 2006, www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_1575.cfm; “Grass Created in Lab is Found in the Wild,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2006.
USDA Violates Law with GMO Field Tests
According to federal judge J. Michael Seabright, the USDA violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to conduct even preliminary impact studies before issuing permits to ProdiGene, Monsanto, Garst Seed and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center that allowed them to grow genetically modified, drug-producing corn and sugarcane in Hawaii. The plaintiffs in the case – Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Friends of the Earth, and the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance KAHEA – sued USDA in November 2003, represented by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety. Plaintiffs also challenged USDA’s practice of concealing locations of trials from the public, and in most cases not disclosing the substances being grown in the plants. The Aug. 10 ruling is the first federal court decision involving ‘bio-pharm’ crops, and an important step toward prohibiting hazards and irresponsible field testing of these crops.
“This decision shows that regulatory oversight of this out-of-control industry has been woefully inadequate. The agency entrusted with protecting human health and the environment from the impacts of genetic engineering experiments has been asleep at the wheel,” said Paul Achitoff, attorney with Earthjustice.
Sources: Pesticide Action News Updates Service, Aug. 24, 2006, www.panna.org; “Court Rules Federal Government Acted Illegally in Permitting Field Trials of Biopharm Experiments in Hawai’I,” Center for Food Safety press release, Aug. 14, 2006. The ruling is available at www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/hawaii-biopharm-order-81096.pdf
For background on biopharming, see: www.foe.org/.
UN Questions Biotech
Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations warned in November of the potential from accidental or intentional harm relating to the biotechnology industry. He urged more safeguards. “Even novices working in small laboratories will be able to carry out gene manipulation,” he noted.
He previously called for a global forum on biological terrorism, to help compensate for weak governmental and commercial initiatives.
Source: “U.N. Leader Urges Biotech Safeguards,” Reuters, The New York Times, Nov.19, 2006.
New Technology May Make Genetically Modified Crops Obsolete
A new agricultural technology, Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), may dramatically improve traditional plant breeding and make genetically engineered crops obsolete.
“Instead of using molecular splicing techniques to transfer a gene from an unrelated species into the genome of a food crop to increase yield, resist pests, or improve nutrition, scientists are now using MAS to locate desired traits in other varieties or, wild relatives of a particular food crop, then cross-breeding those plants with the existing commercial varieties to improve the crop,” writes Jeremy Rifkin.
Rifkin notes that using MAS may reduce by 50% or more the time needed to develop new plant varieties while greatly reducing environmental risks and potential adverse health effects associated with GE crops.
Source: The Cultivator, Aug. 6, 2006, The Cornucopia Institute, www.cornucopia.org.
In South America: Soy Kills – Yet Another Reason to Eat Local Foods
Dr. Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley reports that massive parts of the Amazon basin are being converted to soy monocultures, specifically herbicide resistant GE varieties. The social costs of establishing the Soy Republic, comprising the eastern watersheds of Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, are staggering.
Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) is publicizing this transformation, which, it says, includes murder, mass evictions, land-grabbing and bloody confrontation. For example, says GRR:
Serapio Villasboa Cabrera was a member of the Paraguay Campesino Movement and the brother of a prominent member of CONAMURI, an indigenous and campesino women’s organization. He was brutally killed near his home by a death squad from the Citizens’ Brigades, believed to include over 13,000 armed and trained operators who perform evictions, detentions, torture and murder upon those who do not accept a new, illegal order in the Paraguayan countryside. Just in Villasboa’s region of San Pedro, brigades are responsible for the death of at least 10 campesinos.
Citizens’ Brigades operate on behalf of large landowners and soy industrialists, who refer to them as “Garrote Commision.” They work with the tacit approval of the interior ministry, and pretend to eliminate all indigenous and campesino organizations, which, however, continue to emerge in response to growing unrest due to rapid consolidation of land holdings by monopolistic soy producers. Soy plantations are advancing at an estimated rate of 600,000 acres/year, associated with some 90,000 campesino transfers to urban poverty yearly.
Paraguay already devotes 64% of its arable land to soy cultivation and is the world’s fourth largest soy exporter. The government, influenced by international interests, plans to expand soy cultivation.
Promotion of soy monoculture is at the root of the violence against and impoverishment of rural communities throughout South America. Resistance against this monoculture has become a human rights struggle.
This soy is exported mostly to produce cheap meat for Europeans and industrial foods for Northern populations.
Source: GMWatch #177, 2/6/2006, at www.gmwatch.org/
New Soybean Pulls Nitrogen from Soil
Growers may soon be able to plant a non-transgenically modified soybean variety that improves recovery of nitrogen from land-applied animal waste, thanks to a newly released soybean germplasm that removes large amounts of nitrogen applied to soil. If developed into a new cultivar, it could help animal producers manage waste generated by their operations.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) released the soybean germplasm, called Nitrasoy, in conjunction with the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Today’s commercial soybean varieties live symbiotically with rhizobial bacteria that thrive in the plants’ root nodules in soil. The bacteria turn nitrogen gas – which makes up about 80% of the atmosphere – into nitrogen fertilizer that the plant can use to make proteins.
Nitrasoy is a unique, non-nodulating soybean that requires a large amount of soil-applied nitrogen to obtain excellent seed yield. Its capacity to recover applied nitrogen from soil reduces the risk of nitrate pollution of groundwater.
In field tests, Nitrasoy accumulated up to 17% more soil-applied nitrogen in its seed than did its parent, D68-0099. In other tests, Nitrasoy had greater seed yield than three other genotypes after each had been fertilized with swine-lagoon effluent.
Nitrasoy seed has been deposited in the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation and the National Plant Germplasm System. Nitrasoy seeds are available for research purposes from the ARS lab in Raleigh.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA; Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dec. 4, 2006; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr.
Aerial Spraying Addressed
The environmental group CROPS (Citizens for Reform of Pesticide Spraying) is asking three Hancock County blueberry processors – Merrill Blueberry Farm, G.M. Allen’s and Allen’s Blueberry Freezer – to stop aerial spraying of pesticides on fields they manage. The citizens are concerned about drift and its health effects, and about reportedly diminished populations of pollinators and birds.
Two Washington County blueberry processors, Cherryfield Foods and Jasper Wyman & Son, no longer use aerial spraying, and the Maine Board of Pesticides Control is addressing aerial spraying as a top priority.
Source: “Group pushes to stop aerial pesticide spraying,” Aug. 17, 2006, Bangor Daily News, www.bangordailynews.com.
Michigan Pesticide Activist’s Lawn Dosed with Pesticides
Tess Karwoski, nurse and health policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, was at home, talking on the phone with a colleague about pesticides in schools last September, when a truck pulled up in front of her home. She looked out to see the Tru-Green Chem-Lawn truck with a long hose winding its way through her yard and organic garden. By the time she got outside and demanded that the pesticide applicator stop, her lawn and garden had been sprayed with MCPA, methyl prop and dicamba pesticides – applications she hadn’t requested.
In fact, a prominent “pesticide-free lawn” sign was posted on her lawn – just feet away from a newly placed Chem Lawn flag warning people to stay off the lawn. Karwoski was devastated to have her organic garden and lawn ruined by the pesticide, but was much more worried about the health and safety of the applicator, who wore no mask. She talked with him about the risks of his job, including impacts on sperm count, reproductive capacity and increased likelihood of nerve-system disorders and cancers. She commented, “If anything, I want to get him out of that line of work. He shouldn’t set himself or his children up for problems in the future. He’s young; he can find a safer job.”
Source: “Michigan Nurse and Activist Lawn Receives an Unwelcome Dosing of Pesticides,” by Kathryn Gile, Pesticide Action Network News Update, Sept. 22, 2006, www.panna.org/legacy/panups/panup_20060921.dv.html
EPA to Phase Out Guthion – Slowly
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will phase out the use of azinphos-methyl (AZM or guthion), a deadly pesticide, developed from World War II-era nerve toxins, that poisons farmworkers and injures their children. The phase-out will take six years for the most widespread uses of the pesticide.
Erik Nicholson of the United Farm Workers of America says that the phase out is welcome, “but it is inexcusable for EPA to allow this pesticide to continue poisoning workers for 6 more years.”
Azinphos-methyl is a highly neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide. Organophosphate insecticides attack the human brain and nervous system. Exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, numbness in the limbs, loss of intellectual function, and death. Farmworker families and communities are exposed to organophosphates through exposures on clothing, contamination of cars, and drift onto outdoor play areas.
Under federal law, EPA decides which pesticides may be used throughout the United States. In 2001, EPA found that AZM poses unacceptable risks to workers, but it allowed the pesticide to continue to be used for four more years because less toxic alternatives might cost a bit more to use. Farmworker advocates challenged that decision in federal court in Seattle, because EPA failed to account for the costs of poisoning workers, exposing children, and polluting rivers and streams. In the lawsuit, EPA committed to reconsider whether to ban AZM, which led to the phase-out decision.
EPA will phase out all uses of AZM by 2012 with some uses phased out by 2007. The decision would also eliminate aerial spraying, require 100-foot buffers around water bodies, reduce application rates, require buffers around buildings and occupied dwellings, and require medical monitoring of workers entering fields sprayed by AZM.
AZM is used primarily to kill insects on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, preaches and nectarines. Greatest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Source: Earth Justice press release, Nov. 16, 2006; for more information, see www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/op/azm/phaseout_fs.htm, http://earthjustice.org/, and www.fwjustice.org/
EPA Bans Carbofuran, Approves 32 Organophosphates
In August, the EPA banned carbofuran after 21 years of review, citing risks to birds and pesticide applicators. But in a controversial ruling, the Agency also approved the use of 32 organophosphate pesticides over the objections of EPA staff scientists and many other public health advocates, who are concerned about the neurotoxicity of these pesticides.
Source: Pesticide Action Network News Updates Service, Aug. 10, 2006, www.panna.org.
Historic Chemical Regulation Policy in Europe
The European Union took historic action in December 2006 by adopting REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals) – the world’s toughest policy for dealing with dangerous chemicals. Under REACH, companies that produce or import some 1500 chemicals in Europe must provide health and safety data and substitute safer alternatives for the worst toxics. Special authorization will be required to continue use of some of the most dangerous chemicals. REACH is not comprehensive; for example, pesticides are not addressed; and European public health and environment groups protested a change just before the final vote that they claim weakens the key “substitution principle.” Still, REACH has put the global chemical industry on notice that nations are insisting on more health-protective regulation, and U.S. chemical industry representatives worked hard to defeat the legislation. The views of many U.S. advocates were reflected by Daryl Ditz of the U.S. Center for International Environmental Law, who told the Los Angeles Times, “To protect the health of Americans and the competitiveness of U.S. companies, we must now overhaul our own laws on toxic chemicals.”
Source: Pesticide Action Network News Update, Dec. 21, 2006; www.panna.org.
Music Video about Bhopal
Terry Allan, a MOFGA member who recently returned from spending three years creating a medicinal herb garden in Bhopal, India, has written, directed and produced a five-minute music video about the human costs of the disastrous pesticide plant explosion in Bhopal 20 years ago. Flames Not Flowers is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewe4CJJRVrY. The beautiful spirit of those who are helping survivors (including many survivors themselves) is contrasted with the horror of the results of the explosion, in graphic images.
Adjusting Fertilizer to Create Low-Phytate Crops
Giving too much phosphorus to wheat and barley plants increases the amount stored as phytate, rather than as more digestible forms of phosphorus. Livestock that are fed high-phytate grains excrete more phosphorus in their manure, which can pollute water.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) geneticist Edward J. Souza and colleagues found that soil phosphorus levels may affect grain phytate levels as much as plant breeding can, offering complementary solutions to the nutritional and environmental problems caused by high phytate levels in grains. Besides being more environmentally sound, getting the application rate for phosphorus fertilizers just right might improve the nutrients delivered by grain crops such as wheat and barley.
Not only is the phosphorus in low-phytate grain crops more digestible by people, but low-phytate grains free up minerals essential to human nutrition: zinc, manganese and iron.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, email@example.com; Nov. 29, 2006. For more information, see www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
Energy Efficiency of Organic
Organic farms use about 30% less energy to produce a bushel of corn than conventional farms.
Source: “Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture,” The Organic Center, www.organic-center.org.
More Cancer Protection from Organic Strawberries
Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp and Lund University found that extracts from organically grown strawberries inhibited the proliferation of human colon and breast cancer cells more effectively than extracts from conventionally grown strawberries.
Source: What’s News in Organic, Dec. 2006, The Organic Trade Assoc., www.ota.com; citing an article by Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho on the member site of the Institute of Science in Society, www.i-sis.org.uk/osscc/php.
Wal-Mart Charged with Selling Non-organic Food as Organic
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic farming watchdog, has filed a formal legal complaint asking the USDA to investigate allegations of illegal “organic” food distribution by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Cornucopia has documented cases of non-organic food products being sold as organic in Wal-Mart’s grocery departments.
“We first noticed that Wal-Mart was using in-store signage to misidentify conventional, nonorganic food as organic in their upscale-market test store in Plano, Texas,” said Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia staff visited other Wal-Mart stores in the Midwest and documented similar improprieties in the produce and dairy sections.
Cornucopia notified Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott about the problem in a letter on September 13, 2006, but the same misrepresentations were observed weeks later at Wal-Mart stores in multiple states; and Cornucopia noted in January 2007 that two months after filing its formal legal complaint with the USDA, many of the deceptive signs at Wal-Mart stores were still in place.
Fines of up to $10,000 per violation for proven incidents of organic food misrepresentation are provided for in federal organic regulations.
The Cornucopia Institute has also accused Wal-Mart of cheapening the value of the organic label by sourcing products from industrial-scale factory-farms and Third World countries, such as China.
For more information, see “Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products – Market Expansion or Market Delusion?” at www.cornucopia.org.
Who Owns Organics?
The latest iteration of the Who Owns Organics graphic is posted at www.cornucopia.org, thanks to Phil Howard of Michigan State University. The graphic illustrates the major organic name-brands and which corporations own and control them.
Howard has also prepared a chart highlighting the major independent companies still operating in the organic industry and a chart showing who owns the private labels in the marketplace.
USDA Stacks Organic Panel with Industry Reps
The USDA has appointed four new representatives with ties to corporate agribusiness to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) – the organic community’s traditional watchdog over organic standards. Two representatives come from General Mills and Campbell’s, companies whose profits are almost entirely based on non-organic crops grown with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. For more information, see www.organicconsumers.org/rd/nosb.cfm.
The Butz Stops Here
In 1971, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz said that if the U.S. adopted organic farming methods, “someone must decide which 50 million of our people will starve!” The U.S. population at the time was a little over 200 million. (Butz later resigned after allegedly making racist statements; and even later was found guilty of tax evasion.)
Recent reports show how wrong Butz was. University of Michigan researchers looked at 293 studies comparing yields on organic vs. non-organic farms and found that yields of major crops in the developed world were lower on organic than conventional farms, but were higher in developing countries. Using a conservative model, they found that the world’s current production of 2,786 kilocalories per person per day would be reduced to 2,641 if crops were grown organically worldwide; under an optimistic model, organic yielded 4,381 kcal per person per day. Healthy people require an average of 2,200 to 2,500 kcal/day.
A Danish study also found that models predicted lower total food production in Europe and North America under organic systems but increased yields in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the world food system causes hunger, not the amount of food produced. Knowing, however, that organic agriculture can feed all, its other benefits should prompt further conversion: Soil erosion, chemical pollution and harm to wildlife are estimated to be one-third those of conventional farming. Organic foods carry much lower concentrations of pesticide residues than non-organic; and some studies show more health promoting antioxidants in organic foods. The increased labor requirements on organic farms may help redistribute resources where unemployment is high, helping stabilize rural areas, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Source: “Can organic farming feed us all?” by Brian Halwell, What’s News in Organic, Dec. 2006, The Organic Trade Association, www.ota.com. Originally published in WorldWatch Magazine, May-June 2006.
Canada Releases Final Organic Products Regulations
In December 2006, Canada released its final publication of the Organic Products Regulations to protect consumers against false organic claims and govern the use of a new Canada Organic logo.
Phased in over the next two years, the Canada Organic logo will be permitted for use only on food products certified as meeting the revised Canadian standard for organic production and containing at least 95% organic ingredients. Following the phase-in, all organic products must be certified for interprovincial and international trade. Canada now joins more than 40 other countries with organic regulations.
Source: January ACORN Organic E-News, Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network, www.acornorganic.org
Counties Spur Conversion to Organic
The Cherokee County Board of Supervisors in Cherokee, Iowa, has voted to provide up to 100% county tax relief per year for up to five years for growers who convert from conventional to certified-organic farming. Woodbury County, Iowa, has a similar policy.
Source: What’s News in Organic, Dec. 2006, The Organic Trade Assoc., www.ota.com
Organic Victory: Oil Pipeline to be Re-routed Around Minnesota Organic Farms
In September 2006, The Gardens of Eagan, represented by Paula Maccabee, Esq., of Just Change Consulting in St. Paul Minn., reached an agreement with the Minnesota Pipe Line Company to prevent a proposed 300-mile crude oil pipeline from crossing its certified organic farm. The pipeline is planned to bring crude oil from Canada to the Twin Cities.
This may be the first legal agreement of its type in the country. Minnesota Pipe Line Company also agreed to take precautions during construction to mitigate damage to organic farms, protect organic soils and reduce the risk of organic decertification.
The community of organic consumers, farmers and businesses (Organic Consumers Association, Wedge Co-op, Mississippi Market, MOSES, Land Stewardship Project) helped spread the word, resulting in more than 3,000 letters to the administrative law judge and other officials. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Organic Advisory Task Force helped define differences between organic and conventional agriculture. Expert witnesses Dr. Deborah Allan, Jim Riddle and Craig Minowa submitted vital testimony, and both Allan and Riddle served as advisors as well.
Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association says the case may set a legal precedent for U.S. organic farms threatened by development.
Sources: Paula Maccabee, Esq., Just Change Consulting, 1961 Selby Ave., St. Paul MN 55104; http://justchangelaw.com/ (via Jon Hinck); “Pipeline to circumvent organic farm,” by Frederick Melo, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sept. 6, 2006, www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/local/15447; Organic Bytes, Sept. 8, 2006, Organic Consumers Association, www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_1972.cfm
Better Tools Needed to Build Organic Soils
Building better soils is one of the most important benefits of organic farming systems. A report by The Organic Center proposes a new method to quickly and cost-effectively track changes in soil quality brought about by the transition to organic farming.
Alan Franzluebbers, Ph.D. and Richard Haney, Ph.D., two leading USDA Agricultural Research Service soil scientists, wrote The Organic Center’s Critical Issue Report (CIR 2006.2), “Assessing Soil Quality in Organic Agriculture,” available free at www.organic-center.org/science.environment.php. The report explains why better tools are needed to manage the transition of soils when farming methods change from chemical-based to organic.
“How we manage soil and how the soil responds to this management are critical issues facing the long-term success of our society,” says Alan Franzluebbers, ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Watkinsville, Georgia and co-author of the report. The proposed minimum-data-set (MDS) approach for assessing soil quality is composed of routine chemical and biological assays that can be carried out in most soil testing laboratories for a collective cost of less than $100 per sample.
In 2007, The Organic Center plans to begin a national survey of soil quality on conventional, transitional and organic acreage. The Center’s project will apply, test and refine the MDS approach, and integrate the measures into an index of soil quality.
Soil microbial activity, for example, can be a benchmark for transitioning from conventional to organic farming systems.
For example, microorganisms are very sensitive to changes in the soil, so farmers might track the impact of management practices on soil microbes.
The nonprofit Organic Center was founded in 2002 to present and provide peer-reviewed scientific evidence on how organic products benefit human and environmental health.
Source: Agriculture Today, Dec 6, 2006, Maine Dept. of Ag, www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=AgTODAYNewsletter&id=26009&v=ArticleNational. For information about The Organic Center, see www.organic-center.org.