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"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
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MOF&G Cover Spring 2011

  

  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSpring 2011News – Spring 2011   
 Organic Matter – Spring 2011 Minimize


A Compendium of Food and Agricultural News


The Good News
Maine School Garden Network News
Factory Farms
Organic Issues
H1N1 Scandal?
The Food Bubble
Fertilizers
Pesticides
Bumble Bees
Genetic Engineering (GE) News



The Good News

On January 12, 2011, MOFGA released an economic study indicating that Maine organic producers generate at least $36.6 million in sales, support 1,600 jobs and keep 41,000 acres of farmland in organic production. “Maine's Organic Farms – An Impact Report,” written by Jed Beach and available at www.dnnmaine.com/mofga/files/Organic%20Impact%20Report.pdf, analyzes the current state of organic agriculture in Maine using U.S. Census data. Key findings of the report about Maine organic agriculture include:

Farm level sales of organic products are $36.6 million. Indirect impacts of those sales take that figure to $91.6 million.

Organic farm numbers continue to increase rapidly. MOFGA certified 339 organic farms in 2008, and 582 farms reported selling organically in the census report. (This figure includes small farms not requiring certification under federal law.)

Organic farms create more jobs per farm than do conventional farms. The average number of positions on organic farms in 2007 was 2.7 per farm, compared with 2.3 for other farms. Organic dairy farms support an average of 4 jobs per farm.

Organic farmers are younger than conventional, and a higher percentage of organic farmers are women.

Maine's organic farmers manage 38,767 acres with organic production – a doubling since 2002.

"Organic agriculture represents a real opportunity for Maine's economic future," said Russell Libby, MOFGA's executive director. "Young people are choosing to farm here, and they're creating jobs and businesses that support their local communities."

MOFGA's new farmer training programs support more than 200 people each year, with 50 enrolled in the organization's Journeyperson Program. Almost all of MOFGA’s Journeypersons go on to farm in Maine, contributing substantially to the growth of Maine's organic farming community. MOFGA also operates the USDA-accredited MOFGA Certification Services LLC, which certified almost 400 Maine farms in 2010.


Maine Farmland Trust announced in January 2011 an estimated $50 million fundraising campaign to preserve 100,000 acres of Maine farmland by 2014. (“Maine Farmland Trust Working To Preserve Maine's Farmland,” by Rob Poindexter, WABI TV, Jan. 12, 2011; www.wabi.tv/news/17045/maine-farmland-trust-working-to-preserve-maines-farmland)


Food for Maine’s Future, representing a coalition of family farm, labor and trade organizations, delivered an open letter to Governor Paul LePage and the 125th Maine Legislature in January 2011 calling for immediate action to protect Maine's family farms and small-scale food processors. The letter identifies failed rural development policies and consolidation of the food supply chain into the hands of a very small number of powerful multinational corporations as responsible for the disappearance of millions of farms and farm families from the rural U.S. landscape. Low prices, increased debt, and fewer markets are cited as outcomes of the last 70 years of U.S. agricultural policy. The letter recommends that Maine enact an immediate moratorium on farm foreclosures, to last at least a year from release of USDA/Department of Justice findings on the impacts of corporate consolidation in agriculture; conduct an inquiry into how corporate concentration and free trade have impacted Maine farmers; and ensure that Maine farms, cottage-scale food processors and cooperative food buying clubs not be subjected to the harsh law enforcement tactics being used elsewhere in the United States. In addition, Food for Maine's Future and Food AND Medicine of Brewer have a confidential worker rights hotline (866-933-9236) to field calls from Maine farmers at risk of foreclosure. (“Coalition Announces Hotline for Farmers at Risk of Foreclosure,” Press Release, Food for Maine’s Future, Jan. 11, 2011; www.savingseeds.wordpress.com)

NEFU logo

New England Farmers Union (NEFU) is New England’s voice in Washington, D.C., when policymakers and regulators discuss issues regarding food and agriculture. NEFU is a chapter of the National Farmers Union, one of the largest and most influential general agriculture organizations in the country, which represents the collective voice of farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Its Washington, D.C., staff meets and works with members of Congress and administration officials to address issues on food, forestry, fishery, conservation and agriculture. In New England, NEFU educates communities about these issues and brings people together to ensure that their collective voice is heard.

“If New England agriculture is to thrive, we need a progressive ally that effectively supports farmers on the local and the national level,” says Jim Gerritsen, owner of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine. “That's why we’re members of NEFU.”

With the recent high turnover in Congress, NEFU is working hard to educate elected officials and to make the case that New England agriculture and fisheries are creating jobs, growing the economy and deserve laws and regulations that support and foster new growth in the industry.

Needs and concerns of the NEFU membership – New England farmers, consumers and organizations – drive NEFU’s policy positions and work. For more information, see www.NewEnglandFarmersUnion.org.

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Despite the sluggish economic recovery, U.S. families continue to buy more organic products than ever before and from a wider variety of categories, according to a study sponsored by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and KIWI magazine. In fact, 41 percent of parents report buying more organic foods today than a year ago, up significantly from 31 percent reporting organic purchases in 2009, according to the “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2010” tracking study. Three-quarters of U.S. families purchase some organic products.
“Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced. With organic, they have that transparency,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s executive director and CEO, adding, “It is exciting to see parents recognize the importance of organic products to their families.”

The survey also found that parents buy organic because they see organic products as generally healthier, as addressing their concern about the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics on children, or as providing a way to avoid highly processed foods and/or artificial ingredients. Demographically, consumers’ education level appears to be more significant than income level in predicting organic purchase behaviors. (Organic Trade Assoc. press release, Dec. 8, 2010; www.ota.com)


The National Institute for Food and Agriculture, through the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, is funding a one-year pilot NOFA-NY project entitled “Growing Beginning Farmers in the Northeast through Regional Programming, Tools and Community.” The program will increase the capacity of NOFA-NY to provide extensive training and support to on-farm apprentices and interns, to beginning farmers and to experienced farmers who mentor them. The improved programming will attract beginning farmers to the Northeast to learn to farm. The project includes workshops, scholarships to qualified beginning farmer applicants, new Web-based tools to facilitate on-farm learning, and opportunities for new farmers to network. NOFA-NY will work closely with NOFA-VT and MOFGA, two organizations with highly successful beginning farmer programs. Other state NOFAs will participate in the training and program development. FMI: www.nofa.org

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AgMatters LLC is administering three USDA Specialty Crop grants. Specialty crops include vegetables, fruits and nuts. One grant helps develop farm food safety plans and helps incorporate good agricultural practices and good handling practices that might lead to attaining GAP/GHP certification. Another helps write nutrient management plans. A third provides up to $300 in reimbursement to farms that successfully complete a GAP audit to help defray the cost of the audit. Specialty crop farmers can access and use these services free. AgMatters LLC, operated by Lauchlin, Linda and Miah Titus, wrote these grants and will help farmers clarify what they need to do to improve safe food handling practices on their farms, especially if they are going to obtain USDA-GAP/GHP certification. Certified organic growers are generally well prepared to create a food safety plan for the farm. For example, GAP recommendations regarding manure use are much like National Organic Program rules on this issue. Presently, USDA GAP/GHP audits are not mandated by law but are by some markets. For more information, contact AgMatters at 207-873-2108, 207-314-2655, or ltitus1@myfairpoint.net.


An EU-funded study by Newcastle University of 22 brands of milk found 30 to 50 percent lower concentrations of harmful saturated fats and more beneficial fatty acids in organic than conventional milk. These benefits occurred in milk year round. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Dairy Science. The Nafferton Ecological Farming Group suggested that conventional milk rated lower than organic in these measures because conventionally raised cows rely less on grazing, and synthetic chemical fertilizer suppresses clover. (“Organic milk is better for you, say scientists,” by Martin Hickman, The Independent, Jan. 17, 2011; www.independent.co.uk/news/science/organic-milk-is-better-for-you-say-scientists-2186302.html)


Organic dairy farming systems promote cow health and longevity by placing less stress on cows and feeding them healthier forage-based diets, while also improving the nutritional quality of milk, according to a November 2010 report by The Organic Center (TOC). "A Dairy Farm's Footprint: Evaluating the Impacts of Conventional and Organic Farming Systems" compares milk and meat production and revenue earned, feed intakes, the land and agricultural chemicals needed to produce feed, and the volume of wastes generated by representative, well-managed conventional dairy farms and representative, well-managed organic farms. The report says that the average cow on organic dairy farms provides milk through twice as many, markedly shorter lactations and lives 1.5 to 2 years longer than cows on high-production conventional dairies. Because cows live and produce milk longer on organic farms, milking cow replacement rates are 30 to 46 percent lower, reducing the feed required and wastes generated by heifers raised as replacement animals. Cows on organic farms require 1.8 to 2.3 breeding attempts per calf carried to term, compared with 3.5 attempts on conventional farms. The enhanced nutritional quality of milk from cows on forage-based diets, particularly Jersey cows, significantly reduces the volume of wastes generated on organic dairy farms. Manure management systems common on most organic farms reduce manure methane emissions by 60 to 80 percent, and manure plus enteric methane emissions by 25 to 45 percent. The report also notes that gross milk and meat sales revenues are about 50 percent higher per year of a cow's life on organic dairy farms, largely because of significantly greater milk revenue. Over the last five years, organic dairy farmers have received, on average, a premium of $10.98 per hundredweight of milk. Dairy specialists worked with TOC to create a "Shades of Green" dairy farm calculator to make these projections. The report, the calculator and a manual for using the calculator are available free at www.organic-center.org/sog.html.


The world has 25 percent more food calories available (after losses) for consumption than it needs, and it’s expected to produce 70 percent more food by 2050, yet one billion people are hungry or starving. The challenge is to provide access to food for the poor. Organic agriculture can feed the world while empowering the poor and mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss, writes Anne Engllish of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). She quotes Markus Arbenz, IFOAM executive director, who said that small farmers already produce 70 percent of the world’s food and form the backbone of food security throughout the developing world: “Organic agriculture currently has similar yields to conventional agriculture and often much higher yields in regions of the world where production environments are tough.” Meanwhile, “Conventional practices deplete soils and thereby undermine long term food security… conventional, green revolution-based or industrial agriculture fails to feed 15% of the world’s population” and at the same time pushes out small farmers “through international investments, through land-grabbing and through bad governance.” On the other hand, enhanced biological activity on organic farms creates affordable production systems. The article says that the Ethiopian government has “put organic practices at the heart of their national agriculture development policies,” and agricultural pesticide use was dramatically reduced in Egypt after consultation with local organic farmers. Supporting small farmers, said Arbenz, requires good policy, corporate responsibility, and research and education in ecological intensification.” (“Powered by Nature,” by Anne Engllish, IFOAM, in The Financial Times Food Security Briefing, www.feedingthefuture.eu/FS/foodsecurity.pdf). 


In January 2011, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law. Congress still has to approve $1.4 billion in funding. The bill includes the Tester-Hagan amendment, which exempts producers with less than $500,000 in annual sales who sell most of their food locally. The legislation gives the FDA added power to inspect food, to enact mandatory recalls and to track tainted foods. It requires that FDA conduct more inspections of food processing plants – especially of those processing foods at highest risk for contamination; and large processing plants must write food manufacturing plans and routinely test foods for safety. The law also provides for stricter standards on imported foods, which make up almost one-fifth of the U.S. food supply and up to three-quarters of our seafood, says The New York Times. The bill gives small farms and food processors and direct-market farms selling locally the option of complying with state or modified federal regulations; gives FDA authority to exempt or modify requirements for low- or no-risk processing or co-mingling; to exempt farmers who sell directly to consumers or grocery stores from extensive traceability and recordkeeping requirements; to enable farms to satisfy traceability requirements via labels that preserves the identity of the farm through to the consumer; and in most cases to limit farm recordkeeping to the first point of sale. The New York Times reports that the bill would not “consolidate overlapping functions at the Department of Agriculture and nearly a dozen other federal agencies that oversee various aspects of food safety, leaving coordination among the agencies a continuing challenge.”

(“Obama signs food safety bill,” by Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 6, 2011; www.suntimes.com/news/sweet/3158575-452/durbin-bill-safety-president-battle.html?print=true; “Congress Sends Food Safety Bill to President’s Desk,” Dec. 21, 2010, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-passes-food-safety-act/; “Fixing Error, Senate Passes Food Bill Again,” AP, The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/us/politics/20food.html?hpw; “Senate Passes Sweeping Law on Food Safety,” by Gardiner Harris and William Neuman, The New York Times, Nov. 30, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/health/policy/01food.html?hpw)

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Maine School Garden Network News

The Maine School Garden Network (MSGN) and Maine Ag in the Classroom have scheduled the 2011 Maine School Garden Day for Saturday, April 9, at Medomak Valley High School. Teachers will be able to tour the school’s renowned seed-saving program and earn continuing education credits for attending workshops on cooking in the classroom, using integrated pest management, helping students plan profit-making activities around their garden harvest, and more.

The MSGN’s education-focused tent appeared for the first time at the 2010 Common Ground Country Fair. Feedback from participants will fuel improvements to the 2011 School Zone Tent. MSGN hopes to increase the number of school garden projects represented by encouraging artwork, demonstrations and more by student gardeners. The Network is also considering finding a sponsor or sponsors for the tent; maximizing limited table space to allow for greater participation; and lining up presenters before May 1.

MSGN’s Kids’ Art Contest will be publicized earlier this year to give young artists plenty of time to create garden-focused works before the late-summer submission deadline.

A new program this year, the School Garden Open House will raise awareness of school gardens across Maine, promote garden curricula within participating schools, and give students a chance to share their projects with the public by encouraging people to visit school gardens in their area on a predetermined day – similar to the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Open Farm Day. The MSGN will provide publicity, guidance and suggestions; participating schools will organize and facilitate their own activities to highlight their garden programs.

Another new program, Bean Fest 2011, will be hosted by Medomak Valley High School this fall. The network hopes this will become an annual celebration. Beans, part of Maine’s culinary tradition, lend themselves to investigations across disciplines and beyond kitchens. From plant physiology and the “three sisters” garden to the history behind each bean variety and the possibilities for bean-inspired art, beans are packed with possibilities!

For more information, watch for updates in the June-August issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, visit www.msgn.org, email info@msgn.org or call MSGN’s chair, Kat Coriell, at 207-926-3047.

Students in the PeaceJam group at Mount View High School in Thorndike, Maine, grew $1,700 worth of vegetables in their organic garden in 2010. Because of this and other activities promoting local foods and healthful meals in a low-income area, the school won PeaceJam’s 2010 Global Call to Action Challenge Award. PeaceJam is a national foundation with the mission of creating young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills and wisdom they embody, according to www.peacejam.org. Mount View Peacejam faculty advisor Janet Caldwell and three students traveled to Colorado to accept the award. The Mount View students started with an organic garden at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center, donating that harvest to local food pantries. As their harvests increased from their gardens at Mount View, they gave produce to their school nutrition program and worked with school officials to improve food quality there while supporting the local economy and reducing school food costs. By raising produce for school meals, they freed funds that enabled the school to buy more food from local farmers. Participation in the school lunch program subsequently increased by more than 20 percent. (“Maine Student Project Wins Global Call to Action Challenge,” by Georgeanne Davis, Nov. 11, 2010; www.freepressonline.com/main.asp?SectionID=52&SubSectionID=78&ArticleID=9937)

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Factory Farms

Food & Water Watch has updated its Factory Farm Map (www.factoryfarmmap.org) charting the concentration of U.S. factory farms and their impacts on human health, communities and the environment. USDA Census data show that:

In five years, total animals on factory farms grew by 5 million – more than 20 percent.

The number of cows on factory dairy farms nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007, shifting the dairy industry from traditional states, such as Wisconsin, New York and Michigan, to western states, including Idaho, California, New Mexico and Texas.

Beef cattle numbers on industrial feedlots rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2007.

About 5,000 hogs were added to U.S. factory farms daily for the past decade.

Industrial broiler chicken production added 5,800 chickens per hour over the past decade.

The number of laying hens on factory farms increased by one-quarter over the decade.

The average size of factory farms increased by 9 percent in five years, cramming more animals into each operation.

In 2007, the average factory-farmed dairy held nearly 1,500 cows and the average beef feedlot held 3,800 beef cattle.

The average size of hog factory farms increased by 42 percent over a decade.

Five states with the largest broiler chicken operations average more than 200,000 birds per factory farm.

Average-sized layer chicken operations grew by 53.7 percent between 1997 and 2007.

The Food & Water Watch report “Factory Farm Nation” explains the forces driving factory farms and the environmental, public health and economic consequences of these farms. (“Factory Farm Nation: Map Charts Unprecedented Growth in Factory Farming,” Food & Water Watch press release, Nov. 30, 2010)

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Organic Issues

Several prominent food companies, including Amy’s Kitchen, Nature’s Path and Turtle Island Foods, have stopped using ingredients made with the toxic solvent hexane since consumers began responding to Cornucopia Institute’s 2009 expose of hexane use. Cornucopia’s new report, “Toxic Chemicals: Banned In Organics But Common in Natural Food Production,” and its guide at www.cornucopia.org/2010/11/hexane-soy/, identify brands that use hexane-extracted soy protein ingredients from those using cleaner sources. “Many soy foods, thought of as ‘healthy options’ on grocery store shelves, contain ingredients that were processed with a neurotoxic and highly-polluting petrochemical compound called hexane,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst for Wisconsin-based Cornucopia. Buying foods with the USDA Organic seal assures consumers that the soybeans in their food were not immersed in petrochemical solvents, an almost universal practice in conventional food processing. Hexane is a common processing agent for soy oil, soy meal (fed to livestock) and other soy food ingredients, and is an inexpensive tool for high protein extraction. Because it is a processing agent, not an ingredient, companies need not disclose its use to consumers. The FDA does not require that food companies test for hexane residues. (“Dirty Little Secret in the Natural Foods Industry: Toxic Chemical Use,” Cornucopia Institute press release, November 28th, 2010; www.cornucopia.org/2010/11/dirty-little-secret-in-the-natural-foods-industry-toxic-chemical-use/)


Nebraska-based Promiseland, with 22,000 head of cattle, will lose its organic certification for five years for feeding its cattle non-organic grain, selling fraudulent feed and selling conventional cattle as organic – violations of the Organic Foods Production Act. (“USDA Strips Rancher of Organic Certification,” EIN Presswire, Oct. 28, 2010; www.caymanmama.com/2010/10/30/USDA-Strips-Rancher-of-Organic-Certification_201010307866.html)

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H1N1 Scandal?

German epidemiologist and head of health at the World Health Organization Wolfgang Wodarg has called the widely predicted H1N1 outbreak “one of the largest medical scandals of this century,” reports the agricultural site allaboutfeed.net. “The so-called pandemic is a setup of a few giant drug companies and the World Health Organisation,” he said, adding that WHO softened the definition of a pandemic at scientists’ requests, and giant drug companies could then cash in on sealed contracts for vaccines. Millions of Euros were spent on vaccination campaigns, and thousands of animals were destroyed, although fewer deaths occurred due to H1N1 than would be expected with classic seasonal flu, reports allaboutfeed.net. (“H1N1 outbreak ‘largest medical scandal of 21st century,’” AllAboutFeed.net, Jan. 13, 2010; www.allaboutfeed.net/news/h1n1-outbreak-%E2%80%9Clargest-medical-scandal-of-21st-century%E2%80%9D-4007.html)

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The Food Bubble

Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute president and author of the new book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, says the current food bubble economy is like the recent U.S. housing bubble, except that the food bubble is global, so its bursting could have further reaching impacts. The food bubble has been created by overpumping aquifers, overplowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, notes Brown, adding that if we cannot reverse these trends, economic decline is inevitable. Record high temperatures and drought in Russia last summer, for example, caused thousands of fires and smoke everywhere and cut Russia’s grain harvest from roughly 100 million to 60 million tons, which drove up bread prices worldwide. Brown says that “if the July temperature in Chicago were to average 14 degrees above the norm, as it did in Moscow, there would be chaos in world grain markets.”

Depleted aquifers are another threat to world food security. In Saudi Arabia, aquifer depletion has reduced the wheat harvest by two-thirds in three years. In the Middle East as a whole, peak irrigation water is now history, and the grain harvest has started to shrink as aquifers are depleted and as irrigation wells go dry. India and China depend on overpumping their aquifers to feed their populations. As China replaces cropland with roads and cars, it will have to import massive quantities of grain – for which it will turn to the United States, the world’s largest grain exporter.

“The new reality,” says Brown, “is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos. It is time to redefine security. The principal threats to our future are no longer armed aggression but instead climate change, population growth, water shortages, spreading hunger, and failing states. What we now need is a mobilization to reverse these trends on the scale and urgency of the U.S. mobilization for World War II. The challenge is to quickly reduce carbon emissions, stabilize population, and restore the economy’s soils, aquifers, forests, and other natural support systems. This requires not only a redefining of security but a corresponding reallocation of fiscal resources from military budgets to budgets that address the new threats to security.” (“World on the Edge,” Press release, Earth Policy Institute, Jan. 12, 2011; www.earth-policy.org)

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Fertilizers

A Soil Association report called “A rock and a hard place: Peak phosphorus and the threat to our food security” says declining supplies and higher prices of phosphate rock threaten global food security. The report highlights the urgent need for farming to become less reliant on phosphate rock-based fertilizer, since we may hit peak phosphate as early as 2033. Most rock phosphate is mined in China (35 percent), the United States (17 percent) and Morocco and Western Sahara (15 percent). China has restricted and the United States has stopped exports of phosphate. The Association notes that organic farms are more resilient to the declining supply, as rock phosphate can be used only to supplement nutrient recycling (including crop rotations, green manures and composting). Organic crops generally have lower fertilizer requirements than non-organic, with a greater capacity to scavenge for nutrients through denser and deeper root systems. Eating less meat can reduce the demand for mined phosphate, since vegetable-based production uses P more efficiently then livestock production. Grazing livestock on grass that has not had artificial fertilizers applied can also conserve P. The report also recommends changing EU organic regulations to allow the use of P-rich human excreta on agricultural land. Globally only 10 percent of human excreta are returned to agricultural soils. Urine alone contains more than 50 percent of the P excreted by humans. Likewise, an article in the Energy Bulletin shows that recycling human and livestock manure can more than meet the P needs of agricultural crops worldwide. (“New threat to global food security as phosphate supplies become increasingly scarce,” Soil Association press release, Nov. 29, 2010; complete report at www.soilassociation.org/peakphosphate.aspx ; “Recycling animal and human dung is the key to sustainable farming,” by Kris De Decker, Energy Bulletin, Sept. 16, 2010; www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-16/recycling-animal-and-human-dung-key-sustainable-farming)

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Pesticides

Larry Jacobs of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo in California was mystified when Whole Foods rejected his organic dill because it tested positive for pesticides. Then he learned that pesticides applied as a liquid to Brussels sprouts near his farm had evaporated and moved in vapor to his dill. In December 2010, California's 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose said Jacobs can sue the pesticide applicator, Western Farm Service, and the court upheld an earlier $1 million jury award. The decision strengthens the case for those harmed by pesticides to seek legal recourse, even when the pesticide was applied legally. (“Appellate court: Santa Cruz organic dill grower has right to sue neighboring farm for 'pesticide drift,’” by Kurtis Alexander, Dec. 23, 2010, San Jose Mercury News, www.mercurynews.com/central-coast/ci_16923749?nclick_check=1)


Dr. Jeffrey Pettis, the U.S. government’s leading bee researcher, says that bees may be more vulnerable to infection by the bee disease nosema when exposed to minute concentrations of imidacloprid, a neurotoxic neonicotinoid pesticide, and that vulnerability may be related to the colony collapse disorder (CCD) affecting bees worldwide. He has submitted his work for publication. Imidacloprid was Bayer CropScience’s top-selling insecticide in 2009. Bayer says it is safe for bees when used properly. Neonicotinoids are systemic – i.e., they are absorbed into all parts of treated plants, even pollen and nectar, so bees can carry them back to their hives. Pettis and fellow bee researcher Dennis van Engelsdorp of Penn State University spoke about the issue in a new film by Mark Daniels called “The Strange Disappearance of The Bees.” French researchers subsequently also found that the combination of nosema and imidacloprid significantly weakened honeybees. They published their results in Environmental Microbiology. Also, a leaked memo from the U.S. EPA says that a newer neonicotinoid, clothianidin, may put bees and other non-target invertebrates at risk, and that tests in the U.S. approval process for the pesticide are inadequate. Clothianidin, sold as Poncho, has been widely used as a seed treatment on many major U.S. crops for eight growing seasons under an EPA “conditional registration” granted while EPA waited for Bayer to assess the insecticide’s toxicity to bees in the field – a study that now appears to be flawed. Neonicotinoids have been banned or partially banned in several countries, but not yet in the United States or Great Britain. Britain’s Soil Association lists household pesticides that contain neonicotinoids at www.soilassociation.org/Takeaction/Savethehoneybee/Householdpesticides/tabid/690/Default.aspx and urges consumers not to buy them, while in the United Satiates, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and beekeepers countrywide have asked the EPA to pull clothianidin from the market. (“Exclusive: Bees facing a poisoned spring,” by Michael McCarthy, The Independent, Jan. 20, 2011; www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/exclusive-bees-facing-a-poisoned-spring-2189267.html; “Call to ban pesticides linked to bee deaths,” by Michael McCarthy, The Independent, Jan. 21, 2011; www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/call-to-ban-pesticides-linked-to-bee-deaths-2190321.html; “Beekeepers call for immediate ban on CCD-linked pesticide,” Pesticide Action Network, Dec. 9, 2010; www.panna.org/blog/beekeepers-call-immediate-ban-ccd-linked-pesticide)


Dr. Brenda Eskenazi and her colleagues at the University of California measured pesticide concentrations in the bodies of nearly 600 pregnant women in California’s Salinas Valley. The women’s children were also studied, first through cord blood samples immediately after birth and then as they grew. At age 2, children of mothers with the highest levels of breakdown products from organophosphate pesticides in their urine had the greatest risk of pervasive developmental disorder. Symptoms include behavioral effects such as being afraid to try new things, inability to tolerate anything out of place, and avoiding looking others in the eye – all signs consistent with autism spectrum behavior. By age 5, children who had been exposed to the most pesticides in the womb were at greater risk of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The researchers are now studying whether the greatest prenatal exposures are linked to learning disabilities, behavior problems, asthma, diabetes and obesity. Children in urban settings may face similar risks. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that the level of pesticide contamination of kids around the country, regardless of proximity to agriculture, is high enough to raise questions about the impact of those pesticides on their development. This means routine exposures to pesticides from the food we eat may not be as safe as we are led to believe. Pesticide Action Network’s “What’s on my Food” website and iPhone app can help identify produce with the highest risk of carrying pesticide residues, and health effects associated with those residues. (“More evidence that pesticides impact kids' health,” by Margaret Reeves, Pesticide Action Network, Jan. 12, 2011, www.panna.org/blog/more-evidence-pesticides-impact-kids-health)

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Bumble Bees

University of Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron and her colleagues have found declines of up to 96 percent in populations of four of eight bumble bee species studied across the country, and declines in their geographic range since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. The declining populations have lower genetic diversity than bumble bee species with healthy populations and are more likely to be infected with the parasite Nosema bombi. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Cameron said that North America has 50 species of bumble bees. Hypotheses about causes of the declines include climate change, habitat loss, low genetic diversity and high infection rates. (Diana Yates, Illinois News Bureau, Jan. 2, 2011; www.news.illinois.edu/news/11/0103bee_cameron.html)

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Genetic Engineering (GE) News

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) board has approved a Policy on GMO Contamination of Organic Seed: “GMO contamination of organic seed constitutes irreparable harm to the organic seed industry and undermines the integrity of organic seed. Any detectable level is unacceptable.” (http://osgata.org/osgata-policy.html)


The Organic Farming Research Foundation board of directors made the following statement of principles on preventing contamination of organic agricultural systems by GE organisms and crops.

Whereas:

• The use of genetically engineered organisms is prohibited in organic agriculture;

• There is widespread planting of GE crops in the U.S.;

• Organically grown crops risk contamination from GE crops;

• GE contamination can occur through biological or marketplace channels;

• GE contamination results in product rejection and loss of markets for farmers, leading to the destruction of rural family businesses and farms;

• The costs of preventing and testing for GE contamination are borne primarily by organic farmers and processors;

• Consumers are demanding GE free products and the ability to distinguish between GE and non-GE products through labeling;

• GE contamination of organic crops domestically will result in overseas sourcing for organic products;

• GE contamination creates barriers for farmers who export to Europe and other countries who reject GE crops;

• GE organisms threaten contamination of our seed stock, undermining our ability to ensure global food security; and

• Organic agriculture provides multiple benefits to society and economic opportunity for family farmers.

The following principles must be applied when creating a policy framework to ensure the viability and continued growth of organic agriculture in the U.S. with respect to the persistence of GE crops and contamination risks:

1. Freedom of Enterprise: Farmers have the freedom to grow non-GE crops without the undue barriers, burdens, and risks caused by GE contamination.

2. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Barriers to farmer innovation and entrepreneurship such as GE contamination should be removed so that farmers are free to access new and lucrative markets without additional costs.

3. Fairness: Organic farmers should not have to bear the costs for damages to their crops and products caused by the actions of other farmers and companies.

4. Corporate Responsibility: Patent-holders of technologies must be responsible for mitigation of damages to organic operations caused by the use of their GE products, as well as for the cost of preventing contamination.

5. Scientific Soundness: Policy decisions must be based on sound scientific assessments based on thorough, comprehensive, and independent research trials.

6. Appropriate Technology: The acceptance of new technologies must be based on an assessment of the net risks and benefits of those technologies to society as a whole.

7. Transparency: Information about the production and movement of GE organisms through the supply chain must be made available clearly and readily through labeling so that farmers and consumers who choose to avoid GE organisms can do so with ease.

8. Consumer Right to Know: Consumers have the right to choose what they are eating, and to know how their food is grown and where it comes from.

9. Biodiversity: Society must support biologically diverse agricultural systems through the provision of equal opportunity and resources.

(“OFRF Policy Statement on Preventing GE Contamination Approved by the OFRF Board of Directors, Dec. 15, 2010; http://ofrf.org/policy/policy_statements/preventing_ge_contamination.html?source=olink_1101)


Jeffrey Smith’s Institute for Social Responsibility has started a Non-GMO Tipping Point Network of local and national Non-GMO Action Groups, support groups of experts and helpers. The network will reach out to parents, schools, communities and others, providing electronic infrastructure, listserves, forums, educational materials, webinars, trainings and more, so that each group can benefit from the whole. See http://action.responsibletechnology.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=2925. And the Organic Consumers Association has a grassroots campaign for grocery stores to label foods that contain GMOs (including food from GMO-fueled factory farms), and for local, state and federal laws that would make GMO-labels mandatory. See www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/index.cfm.


National wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades, but in recent years the majority of refuge farming has been converted to GE crops – reportedly the only seed farmers can obtain. Now, however, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has agreed to stop planting GE crops on all its refuges in a dozen Northeastern states, according to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by conservation and food safety groups. "Planting genetically engineered crops on wildlife refuges is resource management malpractice," said Paula Dinerstein, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), adding that Fish & Wildlife Service policy explicitly forbids "genetically modified agricultural crops in refuge management unless [they] determine their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s)." Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety, said, "These pesticide-resistant crops pose significant risks to the very wildlife those refuges serve to protect, including massively increasing pesticide use and creating of pesticide-resistant superweeds." Because the federal government would not agree to end illegal GE agriculture in refuges nationally, new litigation is being prepared in other regions where national wildlife refuges grow GE crops. The lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, filed by the Widener Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of the Delaware Audubon Society, PEER and the Center for Food Safety, charged that the Fish & Wildlife Service had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with private parties, allowing hundreds of acres on its Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware to be plowed without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act. (“Feds Yank GE Crops From All Northeast Refuges,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Jan. 10, 2011; www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1443)


For an excellent article about GE crops that tolerate the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides) and their effects on N-fixing and other beneficial soil bacteria, harmful plant fungi, nutrient availability, plant diseases and more, see “Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death,” by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report, May 26, 2010; www.i-sis.org.uk/glyphosateTolerantCrops.php .


Biotech firm Okanagan Specialty Fruits of British Columbia has asked the USDA to approve a GE apple that resists browning when sliced or bruised due to a silenced gene.

Andrew Kimball of the Center for Food Safety said, “Scientists have been saying they're only turning one thing off, but that switch is connected to another switch and another switch. You just can't do one thing to nature.” (“Canadian firm seeks US approval for non-browning GM apple,” by Caroline Scott-Thomas, FoodNavigator, Nov. 30, 2010; www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Legislation/Canadian-firm-seeks-US-approval-for-non-browning-GM-apple/?c=9b2VLtgxW7Wa66qoSL%2Frtg%3D%3D&utm_source=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%2BWeekly)


In its final, court-ordered, Dec. 16, 2010, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on planting Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa, the USDA acknowledged for the first time the problem of GE contamination of organic and conventionally grown crops. Despite that finding, USDA announced on Jan. 27, 2011, that it will fully deregulated GE alfalfa allowing its planting everywhere without restrictions.

Alfalfa, a perennial crop that is open-pollinated by bees and other insects, has a pollination radius as large as 5 miles. It is the fourth largest U.S. crop (in planted acres). A federal court in California previously forced USDA to reverse deregulation decisions on GE alfalfa and sugar beets, because USDA did not consider problems the crops may create for organic growers. USDA standards allow organic crops to have trace amounts of GE materials, but such contamination limits export of those crops.

In response to the GE alfalfa deregulation, the New England Farmers Union (NEFU) said, “This decision threatens farmers' rights to grow the crops they choose and consumers' rights to choose the foods they eat, as there is no scientific evidence of any way to control the resultant contamination of non-genetically engineered crops.” GE alfalfa will affect not only alfalfa farmers but also livestock farmers who “use alfalfa for mulch or bedding, beekeepers who keep hives near fields planted with the new crop, and consumers who enjoy raw alfalfa sprouts in their salad greens,” added NEFU. “In addition, the emergence of glyphosate-tolerant crops has resulted in a dramatic rise in the use of toxic herbicides that contribute to air and water contamination, and the emergence of 'superweeds,’” said NEFU.

Andrew Kimball of the Center for Food Safety said, “We’re disappointed with USDA’s decision and we will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice. USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.” (Center for Food Safety Action Alert, Jan. 13, 2011, www.centerforfoodsafety.org; Cornucopia Institute action alert, Jan. 14, 2011; www.cornucopia.org; “USDA Reverses Course, Weighs Restrictions on Biotech Alfalfa,” by Paul Voosen, The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2010; www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/12/16/16greenwire-usda-reverses-course-weighs-restrictions-on-bi-12637.html ; New England Farmers Union press release, Jan. 28, 2011; www.newenglandfarmersunion.org; Center for Food Safety press release, Jan. 28, 2011; www.foodsafetynews.com)


On Nov. 30, 2010, Federal District Judge Jeffrey S. White issued a preliminary injunction ordering the immediate destruction of hundreds of acres of GE Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beet seedlings planted in September after finding the seedlings had been planted in violation of federal law. The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety on behalf of a coalition of farmers and conservation groups. The lawsuit was filed on September 9, shortly after USDA revealed it had allowed the seedlings to be planted. The court noted that containment efforts were insufficient and past contamination incidents were “too numerous” to allow the illegal crop to remain in the ground. In his court order, Judge White noted, “farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination” between GE sugar beets and non-GE crops. He continued, “The legality of Defendants’ conduct does not even appear to be a close question,” noting that the government and Monsanto had tried to circumvent his prior ruling that made GE sugar beets illegal. In an earlier case the court ruled that USDA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing the crop to be commercialized without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In August the court made any future planting and sale unlawful until USDA complies with federal law. (USDA has said it expects to complete an EIS in spring 2012.) But almost immediately after the ruling, USDA issued permits allowing companies to plant seedlings to produce seed for future RR sugar beet crops. The USDA and corporations filed an emergency appeal, expected to be decided by March 2011. (“Federal Court Orders First-Ever Destruction of a GMO Crop,” Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety press release, Nov. 30, 2010; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/SBII-ORDER-granting-preliminary-inj.pdf; “With Modified Seeds, the USDA Breaks the Rules Yet Again,” by Barry Estabrook, The Atlantic, Jan. 11, 2011; www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2011/01/with-modified-seeds-the-usda-breaks-the-rules-yet-again/69284/)


In March 2010, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that patents on genes isolated from the body are invalid. Subsequently, despite a decades-long practice of awarding patents on thousands of genes, the U.S. government said that human and other genes that are simply isolated and are not altered are part of nature and should not be patentable. This position was taken in a Department of Justice friend-of-the-court brief regarding the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. The government’s change of sentiment came after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation organized interested parties to challenge patents held by Myriad Genetics, which charges more than $3,000 to test for the genes that predispose women to breast and ovarian cancer, and the University of Utah Research Foundation. The patent holders have appealed. The manipulated DNA found in GE crops and gene therapies could still be patented. (“U.S. Says Genes Should Not Be Eligible for Patents,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/10/30/business/30drug.html?hp; “Death of Gene Patents?” by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report, Nov. 11, 2010; www.i-sis.org.uk/deathOfGenePatents.php?printing=yes)


Genetically engineered canola has contaminated about 220 hectares (about 540 acres – almost two-thirds of the arable land) on an Australian organic farm. Australian organic standards have zero tolerance for GE contamination, so farmer Steve Marsh, who thinks the contamination may have come from a neighboring canola farm, says he may sue for financial loss – the first such suit in that country. (“GM canola contaminates organic farm, Dec. 8, 2010; www.geneethics.org/resource/display/162)


In October 2010, Oregon State University weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith received GE Roundup-resistant bentgrass, being developed by The Scott’s Co. and tested in plots in Idaho, from Oregon residents who found it in their irrigation ditches. The GE grass is not approved for unrestricted commercial production. When Mallory-Smith asked the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the USDA to publicize the problem so that farmers could watch for it, they declined. Mallory-Smith then notified people involved in the GE sugar beet lawsuit (see above), and an Earthjustice attorney introduced the information during that case. Mallory-Smith surveyed the Oregon area near the Idaho border where the grass had been found and noted well-established plants throughout a 9-mile by 2- to 3-mile area. (“Agencies refused to publicize spread of biotech bentgrass,” by Mitch Lies, Capital Press, Nov. 12, 2010; www.capitalpress.com/idaho/ml-bentgrass-111910 registration required).

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