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 Letters – Spring 2011 Minimize


In Praise of Icelandic Sheep

Address the Drug Problem
More on Synthetic Scents
Chlorine Question

In Praise of Icelandic Sheep


To the Editor:

I was thrilled as usual to see my latest copy of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener arrive in my mailbox today, and settled in to read the front-page article about Treble Ridge Farm in Whitefield. However, I was immediately saddened to read the third paragraph, where Alice Percy describes a bad experience with Icelandic sheep. “We hated them, they were brainless, skittish, they weren’t really friendly and they got out all the time.”

As vice president of the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America, I would offer folks a little more information to counteract such disparaging words! I am positive that they had an experience that was not typical to the breed.

We have a flock of 12 breeding ewes, four rams and 20 to 24 lambs each spring. I am also in contact with Icelandic breeders all over the country on a daily basis, and they are a group devoted to the breed for many reasons, not the least being the breed’s innate intelligence, friendly nature and ease of management. Being a primitive breed, they are typically much more intelligent than crossbreeds; in fact, a strain of Icelandic sheep known as Leadersheep is not just the subject of old Icelandic legends, but is still actively bred today. See www.isbona.com/vol4no1win00.html.

As for friendliness, I own quite a few sheep that will come up to me in the field just looking for a scratch under the chin, and have had one or two that will walk away from a feeder full of hay just to get some special attention. They also are not particularly hard to contain, no more than any other breed.

Icelandics are a perfect breed for a small, diversified farm. A defining quality of the Icelandic breed is the ability to survive on pasture and browse. The meat is indeed very tender with a mild flavor, and is generally described as a gourmet meat.

The Icelandic sheep produces a premium fleece. The versatility of the wool, the ease of spinning and the wide variation of tones and colors are a true delight to handspinners. It is also known as one of the best fleeces for felting. In North America, they are used for personal milk production by many shepherds for cheese, yogurt and soap.

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about this great breed of sheep to visit the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America website: www.isbona.com; or our farm website: www.pondviewmaine.com.

I really enjoyed the article in the MOFGA paper and have nothing but respect and admiration for the folks at Treble Ridge Farm, but did want to make sure the comment concerning the Icelandic sheep was clarified as one particular farm’s unfortunate experience.

Sincerely,

Susan Faunce
Pondview Farm
Limington, Maine

Alice Percy Responds:

Far be it for me to disparage sheep in general or Icelandic sheep in particular. What Ms. Faunce says is all perfectly true and exactly what interested us in the breed to begin with. As she also said, our personal experience with them was unpleasant. I think we are just not sheep people. (We're not really chicken people, either.) We love our pigs, but plenty of people out there can't stand handling pigs. As my mother has always said, "different strokes for different folks." That's partly what makes the Maine small-farm landscape so interesting! 

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Address the Drug Problem

To the Editor:

“Just say no” gained no ground in the war on drugs. If anything, it showed how. Some believe in astrology, perhaps most believe in cause and effect like myself.

At the playground, push the teeter-totter down, the other end goes up. Cause and effect.

Illegal drugs stem from chemicals in the food chain. The culprit is agribusiness. Their mass produced foods are grown with the use of chemicals: artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, hormone laced feeds, etc. How easily they are ingested into the warm moist tissues of the body. Learn of the research of Sir Albert Howard (father of the organic farm method).

For those of us of the older generation, the increase in the craving for drugs in our successors is apparent. We for the most part were nourished from the kitchen gardens of our immigrant parents and grandparents. You know, when families were intact with mother’s guidance.

Like Prohibition of the 1920s, illegal drugs are a haven for the criminal element. From growers to gun slinging providers; what a wonderful cash crop for them. It’s even free of taxes. The downside is the victim. Addiction, loss of productivity, driven to theft, broken health and family ties.

Thus children, now that you may understand the source of the problem, what to do about it? Just as Prohibition led to the collapse of the economy (Great Depression), you can’t just say no to avoid another imminent crash. Cause and effect, remember?

First, illegal drugs must be made legal to shed light on the trade as was Prohibition finally repealed. This will give some scope of the size of the problem and quell much of the violence. Taxes collected will be a welcome turning point.

Second, public opinion must pressure the FDA and AMA to investigate agribusiness. The FDA has government funding, and the AMA has global access to research labs. There is a need to place on a factual basis the link between chemicals in the food chain and the drug abuses. Custom and vested interests will make this an enormous undertaking.

We Americans have a way of mulling through a problem. It’s a consequence of the divided authority of a free nation. I am confident, however, that the future will see a healthier generation altogether free of the present drug plague.

Russell Vesecky
Harmony, Maine

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More on Synthetic Scents

The greatest misconceptions about chemical sensitivity are generated by misdefining terms – calling "MCS" an allergy (mediated by the immune system) rather than a disorder of the central nervous system – and the error is compounded several times in the story called "Fume and Fragrance" (The MOF&G, Dec. 2010-Feb. 2011). That the brain is dysregulated by chemical triggers detected by smell is shown by excess electrical activity (on brain scans), and Diana Prizio mentions that fact; however, she does not say how she knows it to be true and does not follow up the implications. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are harmful, unquestionably, but the mechanism by which they disturb hormonal balance is not the same as the kindling mechanism that leads to neurological symptoms of sensitization for a certain subpopulation exposed to various industrial toxicants. 
 
Given the focus of this article – widespread industrial synthetic scents – I'd have thought phthalates would be mentioned, as they are used to fix chemical fragrances in consumer products and to soften plastics, contributing to, for example, the "new-car" smell. Instead, the author brings up other examples of endocrine-disrupting chemicals – bisphenol A, triclosan, parabens – substances that pose harm to everyone but for reasons that have less to do with olfactory pathways than with ingestion and absorption through skin. 
 
Chemical sensitivity is a symptom – often the first symptom to manifest – in disabling disorders of multiple organ systems that are known to be caused by toxic chemical exposure. The best hope of validating hypersensitivity, in the face of chemical-industry disinformation, is connecting the dots between chemicals of highest concern in consumer products (for example, phthalates and other plasticizers) and specific health problems on the rise in humans. A large coalition of advocacy groups is pursuing this strategy through the Maine legislature, with BPA and nonylphenols the first designated to be taken off the market. (See www.cleanandhealthyme.org.) The stated purpose is to protect children, but benefits will accrue to all.
 
Jody Spear
Harborside 

Diana Prizio responds:

If I may attempt to clarify: Since even casual exposure to scents and odors can trigger severe and varied physical reaction in some people, I would consider Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Toxicity to be an allergic reaction. Not specific to the endocrine system by any means, such exposure can and will affect the central nervous system, the skeleto-muscular, immune and pulmonary systems, just for starters.

My point is to alert the reader to the speed with which these seemingly benign substances enter the body and directly influence hormone production; to remind that the sense of smell is a vital warning system for attendant toxins, and that sense is often ignored, overloaded, and becomes jaded.

Whether the symptoms are subtle, chronic, hormonal or severe, acute, neurological does not change the fact that the triggers are toxic to some, irritant to others, and we spend money to have them included in our consumables. Certainly phthalates are pervasive, insidious and abusive. I mention skin-absorptive chemical compounds here because, along with fragrance, they are likely to be found in body care products, a prime target in my personal health experience.

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Chlorine Question

Editor, MOF&G:

In the Winter 2010-2011 MOF&G, Diane Schivera suggests washing eggs with chlorine in water, which she describes as “approved for use in organic production” at a rate of 1/2 ounce to 1 gallon of water. This would be against federal law.

Presumably, 1/2 ounce per gallon of water refers not to chlorine (as stated) but rather to standard bleach, which is around 5 percent chlorine. The resulting wash would contain about 200 parts per million (ppm) of chlorine. This wash is used in the poultry industry on chicken carcasses, both externally and internally. As a result, frozen and bagged chickens are labeled “up to 10% water.” Organic chickens are rinsed externally with potable water, but internal water remains. (I have no idea if this happens in Maine, but it is standard practice in large organic slaughter facilities elsewhere, according to organic inspectors who cannot be identified because of confidentiality rules in the National Organic Program regulation.)

Getting back to eggs – the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) says, at 7USC6510(a)(7), {Handling}: [that no person shall] “use, in such product water that does not meet all Safe Drinking Water Act Requirements.” The wash water under discussion would contain 40 or 50 times the allowed chlorine.

The OFPA says, at 6502(8): “the term ‘handle’ means to sell, process or package agricultural products.” 6502(17) says: “the term ‘processing’ means cooking, baking, heating, drying, mixing, grinding, churning, separating, extracting, cutting, fermenting, eviscerating, preserving, dehydrating, freezing or otherwise manufacturing, and includes packaging, canning, jarring or otherwise enclosing food in a container.” This definition is expanded in the NOP regulation to include “chilling,” at 7CFR205.2, and also at 205.270, which says the above methods “may be used to process an organically produced agricultural product for the purpose of retarding spoilage or otherwise preparing the agricultural product for market.”

According to these provisions, heating eggs, then washing with water at 200 ppm, then cooling them as a way to extend shelf life, and packaging them for sale – all constitute processing under the law. So, on what basis can anyone say the use of chlorine water at 200 ppm is “approved for use in organic production”? I suspect I know.

I assume Diane Schivera’s advice is based on 205.270(b) {Handling}, which says: “Nonagricultural substances allowed under 205.605 and nonorganically produced agricultural products allowed under 205.606 may be used: (1) In or on a processed agricultural product intended to be sold, labeled or represented as ‘organic’, pursuant to 205.301(b), if not commercially available in organic form.”

So if we consider water and chlorine at 200 ppm to be “not commercially available in organic form,” then it might appear OK under the regulation. But 205.605 says: “Chlorine materials – disinfectants and sanitizing food contact surfaces, Except, That, residual chlorine levels in the water shall not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act…” So the eggshell would have to be considered a “food contact surface.”

Even if the organic Rule can be interpreted this way, which I dispute, such water violates OFPA 6510(a)(7). That is enough to invalidate the Rule if so construed. This actually happened to three sections of the Rule when my lawsuit was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston. Had I known at the time what was going on with “organic” poultry products, I would have included that in my lawsuit.

A similar problem exists with salad greens from California, which are sealed in bags containing water with elevated chlorine levels. When Harvey v. Veneman was originally decided in my favor, including a ban on synthetic ingredients, an organic inspector in California wrote that it would mean the end of that industry. Which helps to explain the gush of money, used behind closed doors, to slip into law an amendment allowing synthetic ingredients in organic processing.

Another article in The MOF&G reports on the Cornucopia Institute campaign to alert consumers about large “organic” egg farms that evade the pasturing requirement.

My experience inspecting organic poultry in Maine has been that smaller farms, with a few dozen or a few hundred hens, fulfill the letter and spirit of the organic rules. But where I have seen 10,000 or more chickens in one building, access to the outdoors is purely theoretical and amounts to a fraud on the consumer. This also creates unfair competition against the legitimate smaller organic egg producers. Let me describe how it happens.

First, the mega poultry operation ignores this part of the NOP Rule at 205.238(a): “The producer must establish and maintain preventive livestock health care practices, including (1) Selection of species and types of livestock with regard to suitability for site-specific conditions and resistance to prevalent diseases and parasites;” Instead, he chooses breeds for maximum production.

Since his chosen breeds are also more susceptible to disease, he then proceeds to administer a series of six or seven immunizations to young chickens, all the while confining them inside. When they are finally ready to lay eggs, they are habituated to staying indoors, even if the doors are opened. Which is what the farmer wants, since they are still vulnerable to infection by a passing flock of wild birds. Eggs can be produced this way more cheaply, and they are nevertheless labeled “USDA Organic,” in competition with truly organic eggs.

I don’t want to give the impression that the NOP is a lost cause. The new director, Miles McEvoy, is turning the NOP toward a consumer-oriented standard, away from a mostly dollar-driven system dominated by the Organic Trade Association. During my lawsuit the NOP stonewalled all my FOIA requests for Quality System Audit Reports on organic certifiers. Now those reports are routinely posted on the NOP website. Also, detailed information on all certified operations. And plans are afoot to conduct periodic residue tests on organic products in the marketplace.

Arthur Harvey
Hartford, Maine

Diane Schivera Responds

The article should have read 6 to 7 drops of Ultra Chlorox to 1 gallon of water. For more information about the use of chlorine in certified organic products, the National Organic Program will soon publish a new Chlorine Guidance document.

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