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"Sooner or later, we sit down to a banquet of consequences."
- Robert Louis Stevenson
MOF&G Cover Spring 2009
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 Organic Matter – Spring 2009 Minimize


New Report Shows Toxic Chemicals Harm Maine Health and Economy

Children are exposed daily to toxic chemicals that their developing bodies are ill-equipped to manage. Little is known about the health effects of most chemicals in the environment, and even less is known about children’s unique susceptibility to them. However, the pattern of childhood illnesses is shifting from infectious diseases and genetic abnormalities to those of potentially preventable origin. Childhood diseases now more often result from a combination of environmental triggers and genetic susceptibility.

Maine children, no exception to the “new pediatric morbidity,” suffer from comparatively high rates of asthma and cancer and are at increased risk for lead poisoning due to the aging housing stock and historical industrial activities here.

To understand the economic impact of environmentally-related childhood diseases in Maine, a study released in February by the University of Maine and written Mary Davis, Ph.D., of Tufts University and the University of Maine, estimates the number of Maine children with and the annual cost of lead poisoning, asthma, childhood cancer and neurobehavioral disorders. Overall, the aggregate annual cost of environmentally attributable illnesses in Maine children is conservatively estimated to be $350.9 million per year – over 13% of Maine’s total health and human services budget. The economic costs outlined in this report represent preventable childhood illnesses that could be fully avoided if environmental exposures in children were eliminated.

“An Economic Cost Assessment of Environmentally-Related Childhood Diseases in Maine” is available at
www.umaine.edu/soe/publications/SOE579.pdf .

The Good News

Maine organic gardener Roger Doiron’s "Eat the View” (EatTheView.org) campaign, urging President Obama to plant a Victory Garden at the White House, won first prize in the Better World Campaign’s OnDayOne.org contest.

Author Michael Pollan also asked "Farmer-in-Chief" Obama for a nationwide return to sun-based farming to help address "the health care crisis, energy independence, and climate change." In an Oct. 23 interview in Time Obama agreed. "Our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation," Obama told Time, noting also that the U.S. diet is fueling diabetes, stroke, obesity and heart disease. Pollan suggested that Obama appoint a "slow-food" activist as White House Chef; turn 3 acres of White House lawn into an organic produce garden; and encourage Americans to forgo meat once a week. (“Farmer in Chief,” by Michael Pollan, The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 12, 2008;

The White House has offered local, organic foods and “grown its own,” according to The New York Times (“What’s Cooking at the White House? Who’s Asking?” by Marian Burros, Jan. 21, 2009). In the Clinton years, a rooftop garden on the White House supplied the first family with some fresh produce; and the White House bought from local co-ops and growers, but could not reveal this for security reasons. Also, former White House chef Walter Scheib said, “Mrs. Bush was adamant about organic foods.”

Gary Fish received the 2008 Friend of Casco Bay Award. The award citation read: "For more than a decade, Gary Fish of Wayne, Maine, has worked to make Casco Bay a healthier place for marine life and the people who live around it by teaching homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers how to 'grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.' Fish, who is the manager of pesticide certification and reduction programs for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, helped launch the BayScaping program to reduce dependence on fertilizers and pesticides."
Ken Cleaves
Ken Cleaves of Lincolnville, Maine. Photo by H.B. Garrold.

Ken Cleaves of Lincolnville, Maine, received the 2008 Kathryn S. Taylor Award for Private Gardens for his "Shleppinghurst" garden and its significant use of wildflowers and other native plants. Over 27 years, Cleaves has transformed his 33-acre former quarry into a picturesque, lovingly maintained sanctuary using hardy native plants in traditional and unusual ways that artfully blend into the surroundings. Three acres of year-round gardens feature many hardy plants, while preserving the topographic features and extensive biodiversity of the rest of the site.

The United Nations has declared 2009 the International Year of Natural Fiber, and many Maine organizations are celebrating the importance of plant and animal fibers in our state’s history and culture, and exploring the place of fiber in our agricultural and creative economies. For a list of workshops, shows, fiber sales and more, contact Mary Bird, mary.bird@umit.maine.edu, or visit www.extension.maine.edu/fibermaine-ia.

We have reported previously in The MOF&G about growers’ efforts to “colonize” urban and suburban back yards to grow food. One MOFGA gardener has done this for decades in Camden. The idea of colonizing unused plots sprouted again in a Nov. 3, 2008, article in USA Today (“A bounty sprouts in the city with MyFarm enterprise,” by Elizabeth Weise), Weise reports on Trevor Paque’s “decentralized urban farm” enterprise, MyFarm, which turns vacant back yards into plots growing organic food for San Francisco residents. Last year, MyFarm’s 55 gardens totaled half an acre. Paque and his crew evaluate yards for suitable sun and space and for contaminant-free soil, bring in compost and drip irrigation and grow food for a fee for yard owners. Yardless neighbors can buy shares in nearby gardens. The “farmers” visit each plot about once a week, leaving harvested crops for customers, who pay $800 to $1,200 plus a weekly fee depending, in part, on the size of the garden. Excess produce will be sold through a CSA. MyFarm is creating a manual for others who want to start such a business. City Garden Farms in Portland, Oregon, a similar enterprise, fed 30 CSA customers from 12 backyard farms last year. FMI: www.myfarmsf.com and www.citygardenfarms.com.

Organic farming may be the best route to global food security. A Rodale Institute paper, “The Organic Green Revolution,” reviews replicated research showing that organic agriculture offers affordable, immediately usable and universally accessible ways to improve yields; gives access to nutritional food in developing countries; and protects and restores soil and environmental health by sequestering CO2, cleaning waterways, increasing drought and flood resistance (often associated with climate change). In contrast, the commodity-oriented Green Revolution has left some 923 million people seriously undernourished and 25,000 dying daily from starvation. (“Organic Farming May Be the Best Route to Global Food Security,” Rodale Institute press release, Dec. 11, 2008; www.rodaleinstitute.org/files/GreenRevUP.pdf)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD)-United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) also concluded in "Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa" that a transition to organic farming is the best way to secure food stability in Africa. An analysis of 114 projects in 24 African countries showed that yields increased 128% when growers used organic rather than synthetic-chemical-intensive methods. Organic practices improved soil fertility, soil water retention and resistance to drought (partly because plants root deeper in improved soils). Many studies have shown that yields remain stable and often rise after conversion to organic agriculture and that farm incomes and rural economic activity increase. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Nov. 20, 2008; www.panna.org; “Organic farming 'could feed Africa,'” by Daniel Howden, The Independent, Oct. 22, 2008)

Economists and UN leaders are working on a "Green New Deal" to create jobs while helping economies and addressing environmental issues. The plan will ask world leaders to promote redirection of investment away from speculation and into job-creating programs to restore natural systems. The initiative arose after 2006 G8 summit leaders commissioned a study of the economic value of ecosystems. The study says the world’s food, fuel and financial crises are linked and that green growth can address all three. Model projects include Mexico’s hiring of 1.5 million people to plant and manage forests; China’s rapid development of the world's biggest solar energy industry; and Germany’s incentives for homeowners to install energy-saving measures. (“A 'Green New Deal' can save the world's economy, says UN,” by Geoffrey Lean, The Independent, Oct. 12, 2008; www.Independent.co.uk)

The Organic Center and Rodale Institute have launched the Organic Solution campaign to increase awareness about how organic food and farming can resolve health, environmental and hunger issues. While organic food sales account for $20 billion, or nearly 3% of U.S. food sales, only 0.25% of U.S. farmland is farmed organically. Consumer demand for organic products has been growing 15% to 20% annually for the last 14 years. Studies from The Organic Center and Rodale show that organic produce is a mean of 25% more nutritious in 11 key nutrients than conventional counterparts; and a bushel of organic corn harvested uses 30% less energy than a bushel of conventional corn. “Changing the way consumers shop and eat can actually help change the world for the better,” said Tim LaSalle, Rodale Institute CEO. (Rodale and The Organic Center press release, Oct. 28, 2008; www.rodaleinstitute.org; www.organic-center.org)

Steve DeMaio, Peter Sexton, Doug Callnan and John Cancelarich of Aroostook County have developed cold-pressed “Maine Natural Oils” (canola and mustard) processed by a mobile press from Aroostook-grown crops. The canola oil is pressed from crops that were not genetically engineered. Leftover canola meal can be fed to animals, and mustard meal can be used as a soil amendment.. (“Unusual partnership strikes oil in the County,” by Meredith Goad, Portland Press Herald, Jan. 7, 2009; and www.mainenaturaloils.com)

Food for Maine’s Future (foodformainesfuture.org) has moved its offices from Unity to Sedgwick. The five-year-old organization has been working in Maine to build a more just, secure, sustainable and democratic food system. Executive director Bob St. Peter said, “We have always had a lot of support in the Midcoast and Down East
areas. There is a great deal of support here for family farms and small-scale producers. We’re looking forward to working with the food and farming community on local projects and statewide food policy.” In 2006, the Independent Food Project joined with GE Free Maine to become Food for Maine’s Future, an organization addressing
sustainable production, fair and equitable distribution, and sound public policy. The new organization sponsored the Local and Sustainable Food Conference in Unity, which drew more than 200 people in 2006 and more than 500
in 2007 and 2008. Another conference is planned for March 2009 in Unity.


The Questionable News

Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa, is the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture – despite a flood of comments from activists. Vilsack is a proponent of the agricultural biotech and agrofuel industries and he presided over a large expansion of Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs; factory farms). The Biotechnology Industry Organization named him governor of the year in 2001. The New York Times reports that Vilsack strongly advocates combating global warming and developing alternative energy sources; and that he co-chaired a task force on climate change that recommended phasing out subsidies for biofuels such as corn-based ethanol and reducing tariffs on imported biofuels such as Brazilian sugar ethanol. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Dec. 18, 2008; www.panna.org; “Iowa Ex-Governor Picked for Agriculture Secretary,” by Jeff Zeleny and David N. Herszenhorn, The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2008)

Nutrition and Health

For three years, pediatrician Alan Greene of Danville, Calif., ate only organic foods after a dairy farmer told him that his animals were healthier after he converted to organic practices. Greene reported having more energy, waking up earlier and rarely being ill after three years on the diet – despite being in contact with sick children on his job. Greene continues to eat an organic diet. (“For Three Years, Every Bite Organic,” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com, Dec. 2, 2008; Greene’s Web site is www.drgreene.com.)

Eating more apples, bananas and oranges may help stave off such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, says a Cornell study published in the Journal of Food Science. When Chang Y. Lee of Cornell’s N.Y. State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, and South Korean colleagues exposed nerve cells to apple, banana and orange extracts, the fruits' phenolic compounds prevented oxidative stress-induced toxicity in the neurons. "Many studies indicate that the brains of Alzheimer's patients are subjected to increased oxidative stress ... and the resulting cellular dysfunctions are widely believed to be responsible for the nerve degeneration in these patients," said Lee. Lee had reported in 2004 that similar chemicals in apples could protect rat brain cells from oxidative stress, so apples might help prevent the type of damage that triggers Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. His recent work showed that unpeeled apples have the highest content of protective antioxidants, followed by bananas, then oranges; that plums, grapes and cherries have strong antioxidant activity; and that apple phenolics inhibit proliferation of colon-cancer and liver-tumor cells in the lab. (“A fruit a day may keep Alzheimer's at bay, suggests new Cornell study,” by Susan Lang, Cornell Chronicle Online, Feb. 6, 2008)

When aged lab rats ate a diet rich in the berry and grape compound pterostilbene, the compound reversed cognitive decline and improved working memory, report scientists with the Agricultural Research Service. The authors note that additional berry compounds show similar potential. (“Berry Compound Reduces Aging Effect,” by Rosalie Marion Bliss, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Dec. 11, 2008; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

The FDA has approved two patented zero-calorie sweeteners: Coca-Cola’s Truvia and PepsiCo’s PureVia. Both include Rebiana ™ (rebaudioside A), an extract from the stevia plant. Dr. Joseph Mercola says that although whole-plant stevia has been used as a natural sweetener for over 1,500 years, the FDA calls the whole plant an “unsafe food additive” and has seized and embargoed natural stevia products. Yet, “Stevia contains a number of agents, including various stevioside compounds, rebaudiosides, and glycoside,” says Mercola. “No one has consumed just the active ingredient rebaudioside A for any length of time to be able to tell what might happen.” Whole-plant stevia has antimicrobial and antifungal properties; reduces blood levels of glucose, triglycerides and triiodothyronine; and may be a source of natural antioxidants. Mercola believes that stevia, used in moderation, is safer than sugar and artificial sweeteners. (The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2008; and http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/01/10/fda-approves-two-new-stevia-based-sweeteners.aspx)

USDA researchers tracked changes in bone mineral density in volunteers with a mean age of 75. Over the four-year study, carotenoids were associated with some protection against losses in bone mineral density at the hip in men and at the lumbar spine in women. No significant associations were observed at the other bone sites. The results suggest that carotenoids, particularly lycopene, protect against bone loss in older adults, and carotenoids may help explain previously observed protective effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on bone mineral density. Levels of individual carotenoids in selected foods are shown in "Reports By Single Nutrients" at www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=15869 (“Nutrient Supports Bone Health Over Time,” by Rosalie Marion Bliss, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Jan. 14, 2009; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

Drinking hibiscus tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa, one of the most common ingredients in commercial blended teas sold in the United States) lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults, according to nutrition scientist Diane McKay of Tufts University. McKay's research was funded by the USDA and Celestial Seasonings. McKay tested 65 volunteers with high blood pressure. For six weeks, about half the group drank three cups of hibiscus tea daily; others drank a placebo beverage. Those who drank hibiscus tea had a 7.2-point drop in systolic blood pressure, compared with a 1.3-point drop in those who drank the placebo. Also, 30 volunteers with the highest systolic blood pressure at the start of the study (129 or above) had a greater response to hibiscus tea (a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 13.2 points) than those who drank the placebo (a decrease of 6.4 points). (“Study Shows Consuming Hibiscus Tea Lowers Blood Pressure,” by Rosalie Marion Bliss, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Nov. 10, 2008; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

Ag Antibiotics in the News

Almost 70% of antibiotics and related drugs made in the United States are fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, says the Union of Concerned Scientists – and those antibiotics may move into vegetables grown in manure-amended soil. Six weeks after Univ. of Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manured soil in a greenhouse study, the plants had absorbed small amounts of chlortetracycline. In another study, corn, lettuce and potatoes grown in soil amended with hog manure accumulated the antibiotic Sulfamethazine. As concentrations of antibiotics in soils increased, so did concentrations in plants. The antibiotics may be broken down in processed crops, but not in those consumed raw. Consuming foods with antibiotic residues may promote resistant strains of bacteria, and wildlife exposed to manure-amended soils may become vectors of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Composting manure at high temperatures may break down some but not all antibiotics. (“Crops Absorb Livestock Antibiotics, Science Shows,” By Matthew Cimitile, Environmental Health News, Jan. 6, 2009)

A mutant strain of antibiotic-resistant E. coli has emerged on a British dairy farm. The organism causes life-threatening food poisoning, including hemorrhagic colitis and haemolytic uraemic syndrome. The strain, E. coli O26, is a vera-toxin-producing E. coli (VTEC), similar to E. coli O157. This is the first time in the UK, and the third time in the world, that VTEC E. coli has been found with an enhanced type of antibiotic resistance known as extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), which makes it resistant to almost all antibiotics. ESBL resistance has previously been found on 57 UK farms, but until now only in strains of E. coli that cause urinary tract infections and blood poisoning. (“Mutant strain of antibiotic-resistant E. coli found in the UK,” Soil Association press release, Nov. 17, 2008; www.soilassociation.org)

The USDA ordered Tyson Foods to stop using the “raised without antibiotics” label, initially because Tyson treated feed with bacteria-killing ionophores. USDA said that the labeling was not truthful, but that Tyson could label chickens as "raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans." Tyson continued its "antibiotic-free" ad campaign until competitors Perdue, Sanderson and Foster Farms sued. In May 2008, a federal judged ordered Tyson to stop using the label. On June 3, USDA inspectors discovered that Tyson was also injecting chicken eggs with the antibiotic gentamicin. Tyson agreed to suspend its "raised without antibiotics" labels in July, but filed suit seeking to have USDA regulations changed to exclude antibiotic use prior to hatching. (Pesticide Action Network news update, Nov. 13, 2008; www.panna.org.)

Fertilizers Follies, Costs and Solutions

Jim Downing of The Sacramento Bee reported in Dec. 2008 that supposedly organic fertilizer made from chicken feathers and fish and sold widely in California by California Liquid Fertilizer was made with ammonium sulfate, a synthetic nitrogen source prohibited on organic farms. The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture was alerted to the problem in 2004 by a former employee of the fertilizer company but did not order the company to stop selling the product until January 2007, and then kept its records confidential until 2008. The employee said that ammonium sulfate had been used for five years before his complaint. California Certified Organic Farmers, which certifies most California organic acreage, did not withdraw certification from farms that used the product, believing that growers had been unaware of the problem with the OMRI-approved (Organic Materials Review Institute) product. Earthbound Farm and Driscoll's were among the large companies using the fertilizer.

Downing reported that in January 2008, the California Liquid Fertilizer factory was sold to Converted Organics, Inc., of Boston, and that Peter Townsley, former president of California Liquid Fertilizer, was working there. On Jan. 12, 2009, Converted Organics reported that Townsley had resigned. (“Organic farms unknowingly used a synthetic fertilizer,” by Jim Downing, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 28, 2008, www.sacbee.com/topstories/v-print/story/1501772.html; “Converted Organics Executive Officer Steps Down,” press release, Jan. 12, 2009, Converted Organics, http://ir.convertedorganics.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=358796)

Synthetic chemical fertilizer nutrients can pollute bodies of water – at great economic cost, says biology professor Walter Dodds of Kansas State University. Dodds and fellow researchers looked at EPA data on nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) levels in bodies of water throughout the country. Most comes from nonpoint sources, such as runoff from row crop agriculture. They calculated the money lost from that pollution through such factors as decreasing lakefront property values, the cost of treating drinking water and the revenue lost when fewer people take part in aquatic recreation. The result: Freshwater pollution by N and P costs government agencies, drinking water facilities and individual Americans at least $4.3 billion annually. Of that, $44 million a year is spent protecting aquatic species from nutrient pollution. These costs probably are underestimates, Dodds said. (“K-State Researchers Find That Pollution of Freshwater by Nitrogen and Phosphorus Costs the United States at Least $4.3 Billion Annually,” by Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, Nov. 12, 2008; www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/green/index.html; Dobbs’ work was published in Environmental Science and Technology, Nov. 12, 2008.)

A tool developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists addresses nutrient pollution by applying poultry litter to fields in shallow bands. Poultry litter (poultry manure and bedding material) is a natural fertilizer that is normally surface-broadcast on fields, where it is vulnerable to runoff in heavy rains. USDA personnel developed a tool that digs 2- to 3-inch-deep trenches in the soil, places poultry litter in the trenches and covers it with soil – significantly reducing the risk of runoff. When researchers in Arkansas used the tool on bermudagrass forage plots and then watered the field with a rainfall simulator, N and P runoff were 80 to 95% lower than when litter was broadcast. Trials in other states show similar results. (“New Tool Fertilizes Fields and Reduces Runoff Nutrients,” by Laura McGinnis, USDA Agricultural Research Service News Service, Dec. 23, 2008; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

Genetic Engineering in the News

Honeybees fed the active form of purified Cry1Ab protein, the genetically engineered (GE) protein in engineered Bt corn, continued to respond positively to a learned odor even without a food reward. Normally bees that are not rewarded with food from one source seek other food sources. (“Bee Learning Behavior Affected by Eating Toxin from GE Corn,” by Ken Roseboro, ed., The Organic and Non-GMO Report, Dec. 2008; www.non-gmoreport.com/)

Consuming the GE corn MON 810 disturbed the gut and peripheral immune systems of very young or old mice, reported Italy's National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. (“Study Finds GM Corn Disturbs Immune System of Mice,” by Ken Roseboro, ed., The Organic and Non-GMO Report, Dec. 2008; www.non-gmoreport.com/)

An Austrian study shows that the GE corn hybrid NK603 x MON810, which has two copies of the RR (Roundup Ready) gene, each with a different promoter sequence, as well as the MON810 gene, damaged the reproductive system of mice that ate the corn for 20 weeks. The mice had fewer third- and fourth-generation offspring, and those offspring weighed less than those fed non-GE corn. Similarly, Russian researcher Irina Ermakova found in 2005 that rats fed GE soy produced weaker offspring with a higher mortality rate than rats fed a non-GE diet. A Monsanto press release said that the Austrian study was preliminary and had inconsistent results. (“New Study Confirms Genetically Engineered Food Damages Fertility,” GM Watch (EU), Nov. 12, 2008;  http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=658; Organic Bytes, Nov. 19, 2008, www.organicconsumers.org)

Western growers harvested their first GE Roundup Ready sugar beets last fall. Sugar now joins other unlabeled GE commodities sold widely to consumers, including corn, cotton, soy and canola. (“First harvest of genetically modified beets to market,” by Steve Porter, Northern Colorado Business Report, Dec. 4, 2008; www.ncbr.com/article.asp?id=97493)

Research published in Nature by Elena Alvarez-Buylla of Mexico's National Autonomous University confirms a 2001 report in the same journal: Transgenes from GE maize (banned in Mexico since 1998) are contaminating traditional "landrace" maize in the Mexican heartland. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Nov. 20, 2008; www.panna.org)

French researchers found that very dilute concentrations of four Roundup herbicide formulations – comparable to residue levels found in food or feed – damage or kill human cells. The researchers concluded that Roundup adjuvants change human cell permeability and amplify glyphosate-induced toxicity and that “proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R[oundup] formulation-treated crops.” (“Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells,” by Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Séralini, Chem. Res. Toxicol., Article DOI: 10.1021/tx800218n, Dec. 23, 2008, American Chemical Society; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx800218n)

Monsanto says: "We are now well on our way toward developing more than 16,000 markers across 12 crops by the end of 2009, with more than 7,700 markers for tomato, pepper and melon alone. We view the long-term outlook for our vegetable platform much the same way we see our soybean business today, with the potential for reaching $1 billion in revenue in 2012."
(www.monsanto.com/investors/financial_reports/annual_report/2008/vegetable_seeds.asp)

Labeling Issues

On Nov. 19, 2008, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) accepted recommendations for organic fish production that allow fish to be fed food other than 100% organic feed and fishmeal from wild-caught fish; and
to be raised in open net cages. The recommendations were transmitted to USDA, which issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Consumers Union opposes the recommendations because meal from wild fish may contain contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, and open net cages may discharge pollutants into oceans. (Consumers Union press release, Nov. 19, 2008)

The USDA has issued a voluntary standard for “naturally raised” livestock and meat. Consumers Union (CU) and Food & Water Watch (FWW) say the labeling is misleading. The naturally raised standard states that livestock used for meat production have been raised without growth promotants and without antibiotics, except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control, and have not been fed animal byproducts. CU and FWW said that specific labels should say that animals are raised without antibiotics, animal byproducts or growth promotants rather than couching these practices under a term that does not address how animals were raised, their main diet (including GE feed), treatment of animals, space requirements, access to pasture and other concerns. (Consumers Union press release)

On Jan. 15, 2009, the FDA announced that it will not require labeling on meat or fish from GE animals. Such animals will have to go through a mandatory safety approval process. Genetically engineered animals may contain genetic material from entirely different species, even humans, says Consumers Union. (Consumers Union press release, Jan. 15, 2009)

Two-thirds of Americans want the FDA to inspect the domestic and foreign food supply monthly, says a Consumer Reports poll, and most consumers want Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) loopholes closed so that food from cloned and genetically engineered animals is labeled. Currently, the FDA inspects domestic food production facilities once every five to 10 years, and foreign facilities less often – but USDA must inspect meat plants daily. More than 8 in 10 consumers want the FDA to disclose locations of retailers who sold potentially harmful food, as the USDA must do for meat. Mandatory COOL for meats, fish, produce and peanuts was implemented in Sept. 2008 – but with loopholes. Meat and poultry sold in butcher shops and fish sold in fish markets – some 11% percent of all meat and fish – are exempt, as are processed (i.e., roasted, salted, smoked) and mixed ingredient foods. CU has a guide to the rules at www.consumersunion.org/pdf/CU-Cool-Tool.pdf. Most Americans – 93% – polled say that fish labeled “organic” should be fed 100% organic feed, and that “organic” fish farms should be required to recover waste and not pollute the environment. Nearly 70% believe that cloning of food animals should be prohibited, and nearly 60% are concerned about products from cloned or genetically engineered animals. FDA recently said these foods could be sold without labels. (Consumers Union press release, Nov. 12, 2008; www.GreenerChoices.org/foodpoll2008)

Pesticide Updates

The European Parliament voted to create a list of hazardous pesticides to be eliminated from use in food production. "After nearly three years of discussions the EU is just a heartbeat from eliminating dietary and occupational exposure to the worst carcinogenic and mutagenic pesticides,” said Elliott Cannell of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe. New rules would also ban or severely restrict pesticide use near schools, parks and hospitals; would ban wholesale aerial crop-spraying; and would require buffer zones to protect aquatic environments and drinking water from pesticides. Brian Hill of PAN North America says, "The approach that the EU is taking of eliminating groups of pesticides in entire hazard categories rather than analyzing pesticides one at a time is a great step. The main flaw is simply that not enough hazard categories were simultaneously addressed." (Pesticide Action Network North America, Jan. 15, 2009; www.panna.org)

The province of Alberta will ban, as of Jan. 1, 2010, the sale of granular “weed and feed” lawn-care products that combine herbicide and fertilizer. Some chemicals in these products, such as the mobile herbicide 2,4-D, are showing up in waters downstream from urban areas. (“Alberta to ban weed-and-feed for lawns,” by Sarah O'Donnell, Edmonton Journal, Nov. 13, 2008; www.edmontonjournal.com; “Popular weed killer pulled,” by Jamie Hall and Keith Gerein, The Edmonton Journal, Nov. 14, 2008; www.edmontonjournal.com)

Thirteen Maryland hospitals, retirement centers and health care facilities are working to stop using toxic pesticides to control pests. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Nov. 6, 2008; www.panna.org)

Almost half the produce and cereals sold throughout the European Union have pesticide residues – a substantial increase over the level seen five years ago. Five of the pesticides most common in the food chain are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or hormone disruptive. In total, 4.7% of fruits, vegetables and cereals contain pesticides at concentrations above maximum legal limits, while over 10% contain four or more different pesticide residues. Twenty-three pesticide substances were detected at levels high enough to present an acute risk to public health. Imidacloprid – banned in France due to links with mass bee deaths – is among the most common pesticide residues in foods. Worst affected foods include grapes (71% contaminated), bananas (56%) and peppers (46%). (Pesticide Action Network Europe, Oct. 15, 2008; www.pan-europe.info/)

University of Pittsburgh researchers have shown that sublethal concentrations of malathion can hurt frog populations. Rick Relyea and Nicole Diecks created pond ecosystems in 300-gallon tanks stocked with phytoplankton, zooplankton, and periphyton (a bottom-dwelling alga). When wood frogs and leopard frogs were placed in the ponds and exposed to small concentrations of malathion for 80 days, "nearly 40% of the leopard frog tadpoles… failed to mature… and died." Environmental Science and Technology reports "although the concentrations did not kill the tadpoles directly, they killed most of the zooplankton." This caused a phytoplankton bloom that blocked sunlight, so the number of periphyton, on which tadpoles feed, fell. Reylea said the results show "how seemingly harmless levels of a widely used pesticide can kill organisms by affecting interactions within food chains." (Pesticide Action Network North America, Oct. 30, 2008; www.panna.org; and Environ. Sci. Technol., Oct. 15, 2008; ACSPesticideTriggersFoodchainCascade20081015.pdf)

Double-headed fish embryos have developed at a Queensland, Australia, fish hatchery, where the foreman has bowel cancer and all households abutting the same creek as the hatchery and a macadamia plantation have had at least one cancer diagnosis or death since fish deformities were first reported four years ago. A resident reports that spray drift from the macadamia plantation washes from his roof into his drinking water. Dr. Robert Chong of Queensland's Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory reports that the fish deaths and deformities are consistent with exposure to pesticides such as organophosphate insecticides and Carbendazim (a benzimidazole fungicide).

On January 7, 2009, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a U.S. EPA rule that has allowed pesticides to be applied to U.S. waters without a Clean Water Act permit. The rule issued by EPA in Nov. 2007 stated that pesticides are exempt from the Clean Water Act permitting requirements. Appeals Court Judge Cole said that EPA had overstepped its authority. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Jan. 15, 2009; www.panna.org)



    

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