"Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."
- from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington
MOF&G Cover Summer 2011


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 Organic Matter – Summer 2011 Minimize

The Good News
Climate Change
Soil Erosion
Factory Farms
Organic Issues
Farm Safety
Seeking Control of Local Food
Food Safety
Genetic Engineering
Maine Legislative News

The Good News

Under The Law of Mother Earth, heavily influenced by the indigenous Andean view of the world, Bolivia is expected to establish 11 new rights for nature, including the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right not to be polluted; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered; and the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities. A ministry of mother earth and an ombudsman are expected to oversee the rights. The proposed law will also give communities legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries, such as mining for metals. Ecuador has also given nature the constitutional “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” (“Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, April 10, 2011; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights)

Small-scale farmers using ecological methods can double food production within 10 years in critical regions, says the UN report “Agroecology and the Right to Food.” Based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature, the study calls for a fundamental shift toward agroecology to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. Agroecology designs agricultural systems based on ecological science. It enhances soil productivity and protects crops against pests by relying on the natural environment, such as beneficial plants and animals.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavorable environments,” says report author Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

“To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80 percent in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116 percent for all African projects,” De Schutter says. “Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields over a period of 3-10 years. Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today,” De Schutter stresses. “Malawi, a country that launched a massive chemical fertilizer subsidy program a few years ago, is now implementing agroecology, benefiting more than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton/ha to 2-3 tons/ha.”

Likewise, projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh reduced insecticide use in rice by up to 92 percent, leading to important savings for poor farmers. “Knowledge came to replace pesticides and fertilizers,” says De Schutter.

The report says a lack of ambitious public policies promoting work in the knowledge-intensive field of agroecology stifles its adoption in developed countries. “States and donors have a key role to play here. Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds,” says De Schutter. He urges states to support small-scale farmers’ organizations, which demonstrated a great ability to disseminate the best agroecological practices among their members. “Strengthening social organization proves to be as impactful as distributing fertilizers. We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. If key stakeholders support the measures identified in the report, we can see a doubling of food production within 5 to 10 years in some regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter says. (“Eco-Farming Can Double Food Production in 10 Years, says new UN report,” United Nations press release, March 8, 2011; full report at www.srfood.org/index.php/en/component/content/article/1-latest-news/1174-report-agroecology-and-the-right-to-food)

The Rodale Institute’s 27-year-old Farming Systems Trial (FST) in Pennsylvania – the longest running side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture in the United States – compares two organic and one conventional system for growing corn and soy. One organic system rotates feed crops with perennial forage crops for cows and is fertilized with manure; another rotates grains with cover crops, and nitrogen-fixing legumes supply fertility. The conventional system relies on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The three systems have produced equivalent corn yields over the years, while manure and conventional systems produced equivalent soybean yields, and the legume system yielded slightly less soy. In four out of five years of moderate drought, the organic systems yielded significantly (31 percent) more corn than conventional – an important difference, as climate change may increase drought. Corn and soybean crops in the organic systems also tolerated more weed competition than in the conventional system, while producing equivalent yields – and while not contaminating water with herbicides, as conventional plots did. And organic systems built more organic matter and retained more soil nitrogen. (“Organic farming just as productive as conventional, and better at building soil, Rodale finds,” by Tom Philpott, Grist, March 25, 2011;

A 12-year study has shown that organic farming systems in the Canadian Prairies are energy winners in two out of three farming goals. If the main focus of producers is to reduce non-renewable energy inputs, organic systems are far ahead. By not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, energy savings of about 50 percent were reported.

If the primary goal of producers is to increase energy use efficiency (energy produced per unit of energy consumed), organic systems with a mix of annual grains and perennial forages would be favored. Only when the primary focus is to increase net food production per unit of land did conventional systems beat organic. Research in the United States has shown that under certain conditions and in some farming areas, organic yields can approach conventional. More research into organic systems may lead to increased yields. (“Organic systems energy winners in 2 out of 3 farming goals,” by Steve Harder, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, April 2011; www.organicagcentre.ca/NewspaperArticles/na_energy_use_efficiency_sh.asp)

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCC) says that although U.S. beef cattle are responsible for 160 million metric tons of global warming emissions every year – equivalent to the annual emissions from 24 million cars and light trucks – farmers who raise beef on pasture can reduce global warming emissions by storing, or sequestering, carbon in pasture soils. A new UCC report discusses pasture plants and grazing systems that reduce the climate change impact of pasture-raised beef. (Union of Concerned Scientists, “Raising the Steaks: Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States,” Feb. 2, 2011; www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/new-beef-and-climate-report.html)

Researchers at the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in Kutztown, Penn., have been studying the efficacy of National Organic Program (NOP)-approved cutworm controls in an organic no-till corn system, using a grant from the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The system relies on leguminous cover crops rolled at corn planting to form a nitrogen-rich, weed-suppressive mat that also prevents erosion and saves time and energy – but supports large cutworm populations and subsequent corn population losses. Treatments included Dipel-DF, diatomaceous earth, Entrust, Ecomask, Steinernema riobrave, Scanmask, Mycotrol, and none (water only). The applied treatments appeared to be less effective than a native soil fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, in overcoming cutworm larva. The researchers say the most interesting observation was the greater proportion of cutworm moths caught in traps on unprotected hilltop sites compared to lower elevation sites bordered by buffer habitat. Since this pest moves in on storm fronts, land managed to physically protect production fields, as with tree lines, may provide cutworm management by blocking pest influxes and providing important habitat for birds that were frequently seen catching insects or eating insect larvae from the ground. “These large communities of natural pest managers, while frustrating to the objectives of this project, may provide greater promise to organic producers considering this production system rather than the economically prohibitive biocontrol treatments tested,” say the researchers. (“Managing Farm Habitat Shows Promise in Cutworm Control,” http://ofrf.org/funded/highlights/moyer_08f19.html)

Want to promote local food production and consumption in your town? Consider holding a “Food Fair,” as Lincolnville, Maine, did in March 2011. The Lincolnville Food Fair, “A Celebration of What’s Live and Local!” was co-sponsored by the Lincolnville Conservation Commission (LCC), the Lincolnville Transition Initiative (LTI) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT). Growers and food producers from the town set up in the local school cafeteria and showed (and sold) their goods to visitors from 1 to 2:30 on a Saturday. A touch tank with local sea creatures and a small outdoor petting zoo with farm animals entertained children. Then the “Meet Your Farmer” video was shown and discussed. Jim Dunham, a member of the LCC and the LTI, said, “We are trying to promote agricultural endeavors in our town. With this fair, we’re striving to support the efforts of local food producers and educate the public about all that is grown and produced here locally.” The LCC wants to identify and help MFT preserve existing farmland in the community. The LTI is also developing a community garden, a tool exchange program, and a green and community-focused proposal for two vacant buildings in the town center. Paul Russo, principal of Lincolnville Central School, noted the interest in the local school garden and the increase in local food served in the school. “We’ve brought in whole grains instead of white flour, and we’ve gone to locally raised beef for our hamburgers,” said Russo. For more information, contact Jim Dunham, jdunham@tidewater.net, or Anna Abaldo, anna@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Portland, Maine, ranked No. 4 on Sperlings Best Places list of Top 10 Foodie Cities. Ranking factors included the ratio of locally owned restaurants to chains, the number of wineries and breweries and the number of nearby CSA farms and farmers’ markets. The top three cities were Santa Rosa, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Burlington, Vermont. (“America’s Top Foodie Cities,” CNBC.com, Jan. 28, 2011; www.cnbc.com/id/41315888?slide=1)

The University of New Hampshire has a new Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major (http://sustainableag.unh.edu/) that combines plant, animal and environmental sciences with related topics such as nutrition, forestry, aquaculture, entrepreneurship and marketing. With flexibility to address students’ unique goals and needs, the major offers both BA and BS degrees. It aims to prepare students for employment related to New England’s diversified and relatively small agricultural operations, and to provide them with the knowledge and experiences to pursue other careers or advanced education.

Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., now offers a distance-learning masters degree in Sustainable Food Systems (http://msfs.greenmtn.edu/). The program, accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, is expected to launch its first cohort in January 2012.

Three sixth graders – Liv Berez, Jade Hazzard and Molly Mann – started “Kids for a Greener Camden” to help keep dangerous chemicals from Camden lawns. Citizens for a Green Camden began this effort, including posting the Camden property map in the town office window to show in green which yards receive only safe lawn products, as pledged by landowners. The three students, with help from middle school classmates, hope to green the entire map. Each student will try to get all homeowners on a particular street to pledge to use only safe lawn products – e.g., no weed and feed products, which contain herbicides; no Roundup herbicide. A Camden ordinance already prohibits using lawn chemicals for cosmetic purposes on town-owned land. For more information, visit www.citizensforagreencamden.org. (“‘Kids for Greener Camden’ campaign for toxin-free lawns,” Village Soup, Feb. 18, 2011; http://knox.villagesoup.com/place/story/kids-for-greener-camden-campaign-for-toxin-free-lawns/381272)

A Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) program enables shoppers to easily identify responsibly harvested seafood from the Gulf of Maine region. Scientists, environmental organizations, fishermen, processors, retailers and restaurants helped develop requirements for using the seal. The seal signifies that the product came from the clean, productive waters of the Gulf of Maine; that the fishery is managed in a way that contributes to the long-term health of the resource; and that some proceeds help GMRI’s efforts to motivate and reward progress throughout the supply chain toward increased sustainability of Gulf of Maine fisheries. The seal will initially appear on cod, haddock, lobster and northern shrimp products from the Gulf of Maine region at Hannaford and other retail stores. GMRI is assessing additional fisheries, with the goal of adding more products to the program later this year. North Atlantic, Inc., Bristol Seafood, Slade Gorton, Cozy Harbor Seafood and New Meadows Lobster will be among the first companies to use the seal, as will local restaurants and fish markets throughout New England. (“Seafood You Can Feel Good About,” press release, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Feb. 24, 2011; www.gmri.org/seafood)

Diane McKay and Jeffrey Blumberg of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston have reviewed science-based evidence of health benefits of drinking three popular herbal teas. Regarding chamomile tea, they found no human clinical trials that examined its reputed calming effect, but test-tube evidence showed moderate antioxidant and antimicrobial activities and significant antiplatelet-clumping activity from the tea. Also, animal feeding studies have shown its potent anti-inflammatory action and some cholesterol-lowering activity. Peppermint tea, in test tube studies, had significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities, strong antioxidant and anti-tumor actions, and some antiallergenic potential. When animals were fed either moderate amounts of ground peppermint leaves or leaf extracts, researchers also noted a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue and an analgesic and anesthetic effect in the nervous system. In her work with human volunteers who drank 3 cups of hibiscus tea daily for six weeks, McKay found that those drinking the tea had a 7.2-point drop in their systolic blood pressure, while those who drank a placebo beverage had a 1.3-point drop. Among those with the highest systolic blood pressure, those who drank hibiscus tea showed a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 13.2 points, in diastolic blood pressure of 6.4 points, and in mean arterial pressure of 8.7 points. (“Reading Herbal Tea Leaves: Benefits and Lore,” Agricultural Research, March 2011; www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/2011/mar11/tea0311.htm)

Better Homes and Gardens’ 2010 Food Factor Survey, conducted among more than 3,600 U.S. women, showed the primary reasons why they buy organic food are health (73 percent) and safety (66 percent). Women in the survey also were willing to pay 27 percent more for an organic product; and women age 50 and over were especially driven by socio-political benefits of eating organic products: 74 percent buy organic products to support animal rights, and 63 percent for the environmental benefits of organic agriculture. (What’s New in Organic, The Organic Trade Assoc., March 2011; www.ota.com)

The organic industry grew at a rate of nearly 8 percent in 2010, to more than $28.6 billion, and some sectors grew more than 30 percent, says the Organic Trade Association in its 2011 Organic Industry Survey. Total U.S. food sales grew by less than 1 percent in 2010, and the organic food industry grew by 7.7 percent. Experiencing the most growth, organic fruits and vegetables, which represent 39.7 percent of total organic food value and nearly 12 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales, reached nearly $10.6 billion in 2010, up 11.8 percent from 2009. Organic dairy grew 9 percent, to a $3.9 billion value, and captured nearly 6 percent of the total U.S. market for dairy products.  Organic supplement sales grew by 7.4 percent; organic fiber (linen and clothing) by 16 percent; and personal care products by 6.6 percent. (Press release, Organic Trade Assoc., April 21, 2011; www.ota.com)


Climate Change

A Maine Phenology Project invites the public to help scientists document local effects of climate change by observing and recording the phenology (seasonal changes) of common plants and animals in their backyards and communities. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant coordinate the program with the USA National Phenology Network, Acadia National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Audubon and climate scientists and educators at the University of Maine. To participate, contact Pamela R. Doherty, administrative assistant, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Knox-Lincoln Counties Office, 377 Manktown Road, Waldoboro, ME 04572; pamela.doherty@maine.edu; (207) 832-0343 or 1-800-244-2104 (in Maine); http://umaine.edu/signs-of-the-seasons/.


Soil Erosion

Iowa farms are losing topsoil up to 12 times faster than government estimates, says the Environmental Working Group’s new report “Losing Ground,” based on research by scientists at Iowa State University. Moreover, aerial surveys by EWG and interviews with experts across the Corn Belt indicate that soil erosion and polluted runoff are likely far worse than even the disturbing ISU numbers suggest. The aerial photography showed that many Corn Belt fields are scarred by gullies that funnel soil and toxic farm chemicals into streams – damage that is not accounted for in official or even ISU estimates of soil erosion and runoff. Farmers are planting fencerow-to-fencerow in response to high crop prices and misguided mandates for corn ethanol production, says the EWG, noting that between 1997 and 2009, the government paid Corn Belt farmers $51.2 billion in subsidies to spur production, but just $7 billion to implement conservation practices. “USDA should resume full and aggressive enforcement of provisions in the 1985 farm bill that require farmers who accept subsidies to apply soil conservation measures on the most vulnerable cropland,” says the EWG, adding that Congress must strengthen the conservation compliance provisions when it reauthorizes the farm bill in 2012. (“Soil Erosion In Corn Belt Is Much Worse Than Official Estimates,” Environmental Working Group press release, April 13, 2011; www.ewg.org)


Factory Farms

Air at some U.S. factory farm test sites is dirtier than in America’s most polluted cities and exposes workers to concentrations of pollutants far above occupational safety guidelines, according to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The pollutants include fine particles, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Pollution levels onsite at factory farms studied were high enough to suggest that those living near these livestock operations also may be at risk. The EIP says a 2008 Bush administration “backroom deal” that gave concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) amnesty from federal pollution reporting rules should be overturned. (Press release, March 9, 2011, The Environmental Integrity Project, www.environmentalintegrity.org)

Organic Issues

On Feb. 11, 2011, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) made public a fraudulent organic certificate produced by an uncertified supplier in China.  The Chinese firm used the counterfeit certificate to represent non-organic crops, including soybeans, millet and buckwheat, as certified organic. The Cornucopia Institute, at www.cornucopia.org, rates organic soy foods, giving higher ratings to companies that exclusively source organic soybeans from North American family-scale farms. (Cornucopia Institute press release, Feb. 11, 2011; www.cornucopia.org/2011/02/usda-uncovers-plot-to-import-fake-chinese-organic-food/
The Cornucopia Institute filed a formal legal complaint on Feb. 23, 2011, alleging that Dean Foods’ newly introduced Horizon Fat-Free Milk Plus DHA Omega-3 includes a synthetic nutritional oil that is prohibited in organics – even though the milk bears the USDA organic seal. In 2010, the USDA ruled that the proprietary DHA oil, derived from algae and manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, is not legal in organic production. Martek has petitioned for approval of the oil in organic foods, but the USDA National Organic Program has not yet ruled on the petition.  Cornucopia says that Martek produces its patented DHA additives from microalgae species that have never been part of the human diet and that are fermented in a medium including corn syrup.

According to Martek’s petition, adds Cornucopia, its algal DHA processing includes hydrolysis with enzymes, extraction with petrochemical solvents, and other “non-organic processing aids” such as “food acids.” (Cornucopia Institute press release, Feb. 23, 2011; www.cornucopia.org/2011/02/3655/#more-3655)


Farm Safety

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agricultural industry has the highest rate of occupational fatalities, about 32 per 100,000 employed people or eight times the national average. And tractor rollovers are the deadliest type of injury incident on farms. In the Northeast, tractor incidents account for 55 to 60 percent of farm fatalities, and up to two-thirds of those are due to overturns. Half of the 4.7 million U.S. tractors lack rollover protection for the operator.  A tractor can turn over suddenly, and if it is not equipped with a Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS – usually cabs or frames) and a seatbelt, there is a good chance the tractor could crush the driver. Older tractors without ROPS can be retrofitted, at a cost of about $800. National Ag Safety Database figures show that using ROPS and a seat belt is estimated to be 99 percent effective in preventing death or serious injury in the event of a tractor rollover. For more information, see www.asse.org/newsroom/safetytips/farmsafetytips.php and www.asse.org/practicespecialties/ag-safety. (“Tractor Safety,” press release, American Society of Safety Engineers’ Agricultural Branch administrator Michael Wolf, Jan. 31, 2011; www.asse.org)


Seeking Control of Local Food

As of April 2011, Blue Hill, Penobscot and Sedgwick, Maine, had adopted “The Ordinance to Protect the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System,” asserting that towns can determine their own food and farming policies and exempting direct food
sales from state and federal license and inspection requirements when the food is sold directly to consumers for consumption in the home. The ordinance, posted at www.localfoodlocalrules.wordpress.com, failed in Brooksville by 161 to 152, but supporters question the validity of that vote because an ordinance review committee’s opposition to it preceded the proposed ordinance. In Mount Vernon, selectmen referred the proposal to an ordinance review committee, while Monmouth selectmen defeated it by 4 to 1, saying it was too broad, unnecessary and unenforceable.

Some farmers have complained of rule changes and inconsistencies in Maine’s inspection program leading to uncertainty regarding whether they could continue to operate, and of expensive, stringent regulations – especially denial of a request from farms slaughtering fewer than 1,000 poultry to do so without an indoor processing facility that is more appropriate for industrial-scale farms.

“The certifications of home kitchens, the trend toward licensing and bureaucracy has really put a damper on small cottage industries and small farm businesses, and I think this [ordinance] is going to have the opposite effect,” said Bob St. Peter of Food for Maine’s Future.

Two state bills also addressed this topic. LD 366, to exempt producers of raw milk from licensing requirements if sales are made on the premises by the producer, died in committee. LD 330, to exempt farm food produce and homemade food from state licensing requirements, would allow those preparing food in their own homes to sell directly to consumers or to offer homemade food at certain traditional community events. It was reported out of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee as “ought not to pass.”

Maine Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb told MPBN that the state could lose federal funds and the ability to inspect meat if Maine does not meet certain food safety standards. That would put the federal government in charge of meat inspection. He also questioned local communities’ definition of small producers and the ability of producers to sell across town lines and to notify consumers of food safety issues. Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett told the Bangor Daily News, “To the extent that the ordinance attempts to exempt any of the town residents from the food establishment and licensing laws, it would not be effective. They do not have the ability to conflict with state law.” (“Mount Vernon considers law to help food producers,” by Liz Seals, Kennebec Journal, April 14, 2011; www.kjonline.com/news/selectmen-consider-law-to-help-local-food-producers_2011-04-13.html; “Third Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance,” press release, Food for Maine’s Future, April 4, 2011; “Sedgwick’s Effort to Boost Local Farm Sales Raises Safety Concerns,” by Susan Sharon, MPBN, March 8, 2011; www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNewsArchive/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/3475/ItemId/15530/Default.aspx; “Maine Town Declares Food ‘Sovereignty,’” by Amy Halloran, Food Safety News, March 10, 2011;
www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/03/maine-town-declares-food-sovereignty; “Farmers seek to protect locally grown foods,” by Rich Hewitt, Bangor Daily News, March 12, 2011; http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/02/24/news/hancock/farmers-seek-to-protect-locally-grown-foods; “Monmouth selectmen decline food ordinance,” by Craig Crosby, Kennebec Journal, April 1, 2011; www.kjonline.com/news/monmouthselectmen-decline-food-ordinance_2011-03-31.html)


Food Safety

In March 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Advisory Committee met to review a 2007 study from the University of Southampton, U.K., suggesting that the behavior of children with ADHD is worse when they consume artificial food dyes. A subsequent 2008 petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asked the FDA to ban the nine color additives cited by the researchers. In 2010, the European Union decided to require warning labels on foods with those dyes. The FDA committee voted 8-6 not to require warning labels: “Based on our review of the data from published literature, FDA concludes that a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.” The committee added, “For certain susceptible children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other problem behaviors, however, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.” Other studies have linked organophosphate pesticides with ADHD. The CSPI’s 2010 report “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks” listed allergic reactions, hyperactivity and cancer as possibly being related to artificial dyes. The CSPI has a “Chemical Cuisine” application of food additive safety ratings downloadable at www.cspinet.org/itunes and www.cspinet.org/android. (Organic Trade Association press release, March 29, 2011; www.ota.com; “FDA Food Dyes Report and Recommendations,” by Vincent Iannelli, M.D; http://pediatrics.about.com/b/2011/04/03/fda-food-dyes-report-and-recommendations.htm; “FDA Panel Delays Action on Dyes Used in Foods,” by Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News, March 31, 2011; www.healthfinder.gov/News/newsstory.aspx?docid=651471; “‘Chemical Cuisine’ Database Now on Sale in iTunes App Store, Android Market,” Center for Science in the Public Interest press release, April 11, 2011; http://cspinet.org/new/201104111.html)

Salmonella was less prevalent on organic than on conventional poultry farms in one study. Researchers sampled fecal matter, feed and drinking water for Salmonella at three certified organic and four conventional broiler farms from the same company in North Carolina. Salmonella occurred in 5.6 percent of fecal samples from organic farms and 38.8 percent from conventional farms; and in 5.0 percent of feed samples from organic farms and 27.5 percent of feed samples from conventional farms. No water samples were positive for Salmonella. In this study, more antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella (individual and multi-drug) occurred on conventional than on organic farms. (Walid Q. Alali, Siddhartha Thakur, Roy D. Berghaus, Michael P. Martin, Wondwossen A. Gebreyes. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. Nov. 2010, 7(11): 1363-1371. www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2010.0566)

Initial studies by microbiologist Gerry Huff with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Fayetteville, Ark., and her colleagues suggest that dietary yeast extract has potential as a non-antibiotic alternative for decreasing pathogens in organic turkey production. Because turkeys are expensive to work with, the researchers are now testing the efficacy of the yeast extract against Salmonella and Campylobacter in Japanese quail, which eat less than turkeys. Yeast extracts help boost the ability of the immune system to kill bacteria, but the treatment may limit body weight in some birds, because the energy normally used for growth is redirected toward the immune system. The researchers are looking for a balance between enhancing immune response and maintaining growth.

Yeast extract is on the National List of allowed substances for organic poultry production. Alternatives to antibiotics are also needed for conventional poultry production, since regulations for the use of antibiotics are being tightened in response to the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens. (“Preharvest Food Safety Keeping Pathogens and Chemical Residues Out of Beef and Poultry,” Agricultural Research, April 14, 2011; www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/apr11/pathogens0411.htm)


Genetic Engineering

In a March 2011 poll by MSNBC asking if genetically modified foods should be labeled, 96.1 percent of 44,857 respondents checked “Yes. It’s an ethical issue – consumers should be informed so they can make a choice,” while 3.1 percent said, “No. The U.S. government says they are safe and that’s good enough for me.” And 0.8% checked “Not sure. It all tastes the same to me.” (http://health.newsvine.com/_question/2011/02/25/6131050-do-you-believe-genetically-modified-foods-should-be-labeled)

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA, www.organicconsumers.org) has developed “Oh No! Is It GMO?” labels to put on non-organic foods likely to contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and on non-organic products from animals raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations and fed GE (genetically engineered) grains. Consumers can download and print the stickers, put them on likely products, and send photos of the labeled products to local grocers and to OCA. Consumers can also sign OCA’s Millions Against Monsanto petitions to food retailers.

On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses (including Fedco) and organic agricultural organizations (including MOFGA), the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has filed suit in federal district court in Manhattan against Monsanto Company, challenging its patents on genetically modified seed. The plaintiffs sued preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement. The plaintiff organizations have more than 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers. “This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s executive director and lecturer of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farms are contaminated by Monsanto’s GE seed, the farmers need not fear also being accused of patent infringement – because, says PUBPAT, Monsanto’s patents on GE seed are invalid, as they don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law. PUBPAT cites negative economic and health effects of GE crops and says that the promised benefits of GE seed – increased production and decreased herbicide use – are false.

Jim Gerritsen, a family farmer in Maine who raises organic seed and is president of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, said, “Today we are seeking protection from the Court and putting Monsanto on notice... Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families – and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose. Organic farmers have the right to raise our organic crops for our families and our customers on our farms without the threat of invasion by Monsanto’s genetic contamination and without harassment by a reckless polluter.” (Press release, Public Patent Foundation, March 29, 2011; Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf; FMI: http://saveourseeds.com/)

On March 18, 2011, attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the USDA, arguing that its unrestricted approval of GE Roundup Ready alfalfa was unlawful.  The crop is engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate, which Monsanto markets as Roundup.  USDA data show that 93 percent of the U.S. alfalfa crop is grown without herbicide use.  With full deregulation of GE alfalfa, USDA estimates that up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides will be released into the environment annually. Because alfalfa is a perennial crop and is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and feral sources many miles apart, the engineered crop will contaminate natural alfalfa varieties. Alfalfa is the key feedstock for the dairy industry, so organic dairies stand to lose their source of organic feed. ”GE alfalfa means contamination of all alfalfa seeds within a few years. Our options include giving up organic production at great revenue loss or finding another forage at great cost increase,” says Wisconsin organic beef producer Jim Munsch. Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has ordered that the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) maintain pure, non-GE alfalfa seed at a remote site in Washington state; he appointed a committee to determine how to ensure that a choice exists “in a variety of products, GE, non-GE, and the like”; he directed the ARS to determine whether genes can be incorporated into non-GE alfalfa to prevent pollination by GE alfalfa; and he called for proposals for methods to detect GE contamination of non-GE alfalfa seed and hay. (Center for Food Safety press release, March 18, 2011; www.centerforfoodsafety.org; “USDA Announces Decision to Fully Deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa,” USDA transcript, Jan. 27, 2011; www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2011%2F01%2F0039.xml)

On Feb. 4, 2011, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) partially deregulated the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop while APHIS continued to draft a full environmental impact statement (EIS). Under this partial deregulation, growers of a RR sugar beet root crop must enter into an agreement outlining mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown. In 2005, APHIS granted nonregulated status to RR sugar beets. A 2008 lawsuit challenged that decision, and on Sept. 21, 2009, a U.S. District Court found that APHIS should have prepared an EIS before fully deregulating RR sugar beets. On Aug. 13, 2010, a U.S. District Court issued a ruling vacating APHIS’ decision to fully deregulate RR sugar beets and remanded the matter to APHIS. APHIS expects to complete its full EIS by the end of May 2012, before making any further decision on the petition to fully deregulate RR sugar beet. Meanwhile, on February 25, 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s order to destroy young GE Roundup Ready sugar beet plants, or “stecklings,” ultimately intended to produce GE seed. The Center for Food Safety, representing several coalition members, is challenging USDA’s partial deregulation. (“USDA Announces Partial Deregulation for Roundup Ready Sugar Beets, Feb. 4, 2011; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom; press release, Organic Seed Alliance, Feb. 4, 2011; www.seedalliance.org; “Monsanto wins in latest US sugar beet ruling,” Feb. 25, 2011; www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/25/monsanto-ruling-idUSN2514326820110225)

The Organic Seed Alliance has three fact sheets about GE alfalfa and sugar beets: Ten Ways to Respond to USDA’s GE Alfalfa and Sugar Beet Decisions; Five Reasons Why GE Sugar Beets Threaten Organic; Twelve Reasons Why GE Alfalfa Threatens Organic. (www.seedalliance.org/)

On Feb. 11, 2011, the USDA said it would deregulate the first GE industrial corn crop, commonly called ethanol corn: Syngenta’s Variety 3272, engineered to produce the alpha-amylase enzyme to break down starch into sugar. The breakdown is necessary for ethanol production, so the GE corn is meant to cut the cost of that production. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says allowing farmers to plant GE ethanol corn will contaminate corn intended for food. About one-third of the U.S. corn crop is used for ethanol production, says the UCS, adding that large-scale planting of GE ethanol corn would make contamination of non-GE corn a certainty. If the engineered enzyme contaminated corn that is grown for human consumption, it could decrease the shelf life and quality of corn-containing foods. Testing for the trait will be an added expense for millers, who also expressed disappointment with the move. (“Deregulating Genetically Engineered Industrial Corn Will Contaminate Food Supply Corn and Harm U.S. Food Industry, Science Group Says,” press release, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Feb. 11, 2011; www.ucsusa.org. “NAMA Disappointed with USDA Decision to Deregulate 3272 Amylase Corn,” press release, Feb. 11, 2011, North American Millers’ Assoc., www.namamillers.org)

Dow AgroSciences LLC hopes to introduce its Enlist Weed Control System in 2013, using corn, soybeans and cotton engineered to resist the common herbicide 2,4-D – because an increasing number of weeds engineered to resist Roundup herbicide are developing resistance to that product. Dow’s approach will be for farmers to apply a mix of generic Roundup and 2,4-D in one pass. The engineered seeds will likely also contain SmartStax traits to control insects. (“Dow Agro thinks it has a winner,” by J.K. Wall, Indianapolis Business Journal, March 16, 2011; www.ibj.com/dow-agro-thinks-it-has-a-winner/PARAMS/article/25939)

Researchers at the China Agricultural University, funded by the Beijing GenProtein Biotechnology Company, say they have engineered human genes into cows so that the cows produce a breast-milk-like substance. (Organic Bytes, Organic Consumers Assoc., April 7, 2011;

Researchers reviewed 19 studies of mammals fed commercialized GE soy and corn, and reviewed raw data of 90-day-long or longer feeding tests on rats. Data “appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects,” wrote the authors – although the 90-day-long tests are insufficient to evaluate chronic toxicity. The lack of obligatory testing of GE crops cultivated on a large scale “is socially unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection. We are suggesting that the studies should be improved and prolonged, as well as being made compulsory, and that the sexual hormones should be assessed too, and moreover, reproductive and multigenerational studies ought to be conducted too… [W]e think that in order to protect large populations from unintended effects of novel food or feed, imported or cultivated crops on a large scale, chronic 2-year and reproductive and developmental tests are crucial… all commercialized GMOs have indeed been released without such tests being carried out.” (Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements, by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al., Environmental Sciences Europe, March 1, 2011; www.enveurope.com/content/23/1/10)

Purdue University emeritus professor and soil scientist Don Huber has written a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying that GE soy and corn crops have suffered devastating diseases and may cause high rates of abortions and infertility in livestock. Huber points to an unidentified new microorganism as being associated with GE RR crops. He says he has collaborated with other researchers on the issue, but they wish to remain anonymous. (“Scientist Defends Claim of New Pathogen Linked to GM Crops,” Institute of Science in Society, April 21, 2011;

Canadian scientists studying 30 pregnant and 39 nonpregnant women in the Eastern Townships of Quebec Province found the herbicides glyphosate and gluphosinate (used with herbicide resistant GE crops) in the blood of nonpregnant women but not in that of pregnant women; and found a gluphosinate metabolite and the CryAb1 toxin (engineered into crops that resist insects) in nonpregnant women, pregnant women and their fetuses. This is the first study showing pesticides associated with GE foods in women and fetuses. (Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, Aris, A., Leblanc, S., Reprod. Toxicol., Feb 18, 2011; PubMed, Feb. 18, 2011; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670)

The National Organic Coalition (www.NationalOrganicCoalition.org) has identified seven steps needed for fair farming in relation to GE crops. The Coalition says that before deregulating new GE crops or discussing “coexistence” of GE and non-GE crops, seven points must be addressed transparently and fairly for all stakeholders involved.

1. Establish a USDA Public Breeds Institute to ensure that the public has access to high quality non-GMO breeds and germplasm.

2. Create a Contamination Compensation Fund, funded by GMO patent holders, to provide immediate assistance to persons contaminated by GMOs, from seed to table.

3. Complete elimination of deregulated GM crop status, including prior deregulations, with ongoing oversight and public evaluation of compliance and enforcement.

4. Conduct comprehensive, independent, longitudinal studies on the health, environmental, and socio-economic impacts of GMOs, prior to GM crop approvals.

5. Prohibit the growing of promiscuous GM crops that are likely to cause GMO contamination.

6. Prevent food security risks associated with the concentration of our food system in the hands of a few companies.

7. Institute an immediate labeling protocol for all GM crops, products, and ingredients.



Maine Legislative News

On April 28, 2011, the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) held a work session on three pesticide spray notification bills, followed by language review of other bills about pesticide use in Maine. MOFGA had hoped that one of the bills would streamline and simplify the notification system for outdoor pesticide spraying in Maine; instead, the ACF did everything it could to minimize the public’s access to information about pesticide spraying. The following bills, which MOFGA opposed, were under consideration as we went to press.

LD 16 – An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticides Applications Using Aircraft or Air-carrier Equipment, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake (R-Turner), sought to change the notification criteria for application of pesticides by aircraft or air-carrier equipment. The distance between the spray application and a person on a notification registry who must be notified would be cut from 1,320 feet to 100 feet. The distance requiring notification when pesticides are sprayed into the crowns of fruit trees or Christmas trees using air-carrier equipment would be reduced from 500 feet to 50 feet. This would be a significant rollback to the progress made with Maine’s Aerial and Air-carrier Pesticide Spray Notification Registry, which sets notification distances at 1,320 feet for aerial spraying and 500 feet for air-carrier spraying. The ACF voted unanimously that the bill ought not to pass.

LD 228 – An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticide Application, sponsored by Rep. Peter Edgecomb (R-Caribou), sought to repeal Maine’s pesticide spray notification registry for aerial and air-carrier applications. Without this registry, residents and property owners wishing to be notified would either have to pay to be notified or confront pesticide sprayers directly, depending on the population density of the area being sprayed. This would significantly limit the notification rights of Maine citizens, including almost 2,000 registrants on the notification registry. The majority of the ACF voted that this bill ought to pass.

LD 1041 – An Act To Simplify and Enhance Pest Control Notification, sponsored by Rep. Dean Cray (R-Palmyra), was created to streamline disparate and confusing systems for outdoor pesticide spray notification by creating one registry with parameters and protocols based on spray technologies. Despite an excellent presentation from the Board of Pesticides Control showing that land managers can use an online geographic information system to identify and notify registrants instantly, the majority of the ACF, including Rep. Cray who sponsored the legislation, voted that this bill “ought not to pass.” Almost as troubling was a confusing set of unnecessary amendments that came forth as a minority report from ACF members who still wanted some form of registry. MOFGA originally supported this bill but later opposed it because of the drastic rollbacks in the proposed amendments.

Other pesticide bills reviewed by the ACF present serious concerns as well.

LD 837 – An Act To Protect Children’s Health and Promote Safe Schools and Child Care Centers by Limiting the Use of Pesticides, sponsored by Rep. Mary Nelson (D-Falmouth), would require that the use of pesticides on school grounds be restricted to situations that pose a health threat to a student or staff member and to instances when animals or insects present have been identified as a public health nuisance. It would require the Commissioner of Health and Human Services to adopt rules to provide similar restrictions on the use of pesticides on the grounds of child care facilities and nursery schools. The majority of the ACF was attempting to hijack this bill, changing it into a resolve to promote integrated pest management on school grounds, rather than prohibiting cosmetic use of pesticides. MOFGA supported the minority report (original text) of the bill, NOT the majority report.

LD 321 – An Act To Change the Qualifications of Certain Members of the Board of Pesticides Control, sponsored by Rep. Peter Edgecomb (R-Caribou), would eliminate the two environmental expertise seats from the Board of Pesticides Control. The ACF voted that this bill ought to pass. MOFGA opposed this bill.

Ironically, the only bill with little controversy around it amounts to an additional regulation for all people who use pesticides on fruits and vegetables and who make $1,000 or more a year. LD 975 – An Act To Require Certification of Private Applicators of General Use Pesticides, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dill (D-Old Town), would require certification of private applicators using general use pesticides in commercial production of food intended for human consumption. The ACF voted unanimously that this bill ought to pass. MOFGA supported this bill.

New research shows that people who used either of the insecticides rotenone or paraquat were approximately 2.5 times as likely as non-users to develop Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., collaborated on the study. No home garden or residential uses for paraquat or rotenone are currently registered (although some product may remain on store shelves). Paraquat use has long been restricted to certified applicators. Rotenone is approved only to kill invasive fish species. (Tanner, C.M., et al., 2011. Rotenone, paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. Environ Health Perspectives, Jan. 26, 2011; National Institutes of Health press release, Feb. 11, 2011; www.niehs.nih.gov/news/releases/)

A European Commission-funded lab study at the University of London’s School of Pharmacy found that 30 of 37 crop pesticides interfere with the action of testosterone in cell cultures. (“Pesticides on fruit and veg ‘are wrecking men’s fertility,’” by Fiona Macrae, Mail Online, Feb. 23, 2011; www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1359747/Pesticides-fruit-vegetables-wrecking-mens-fertility.html?ito=feeds-newsxml)

After a reporting hiatus during the Bush administration, the EPA has released pesticide sales and use data through 2007. Pesticide use in agriculture decreased from 948 million pounds in 2000 to 877 million pounds in 2007 – about 1 percent per year. Still, close to a billion pounds of pesticides enter the environment and our food supply annually. Organophosphate use declined, but 33 million pounds are still used, and these neurotoxins are still detected in most Americans’ bodies and are commonly found on our food. Use of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) more than doubled, from 85 to 90 million pounds in 2001 to 180 to 185 million pounds in 2007. The Organic Center says this likely reflects the rising popularity of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically engineered crops. (“At long last: EPA releases pesticide use statistics,” by Karl Tupper, Ground Truth, Pesticide Action Network, Feb. 23, 2011; www.panna.org; Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage, www.epa.gov/opp00001/pestsales/)

Three independent studies show that children whose mothers are exposed to common agricultural pesticides are more likely to experience deleterious effects in their cognitive development, including lower IQ, as well as impaired reasoning and memory. Organic agriculture prohibits the use of these pesticides. The peer-reviewed studies, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, found links between delayed cognitive development and both dietary and environmental exposure to some of the most widely used agricultural pesticides. The studies examined individuals from a range of ethnic backgrounds, and those who lived in rural and urban settings. The lead researcher of one of the studies, Professor Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California at Berkeley, likened the effects of prenatal pesticide exposure to that of high lead exposure. Lead disrupts brain function in young children. (Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood, Stephanie M. Engel et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, April 21, 2011, http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003183; Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children, Maryse F. Bouchard et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, April 21, 2011, http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003185; 7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide, Virginia Rauh et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, April 21, 2011, http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003160; Organic Trade Assoc. press release, April 22, 2011; www.ota.com)

Scientists have found a new bee behavior: “entombing” or sealing hive cells containing pollen high in pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals in an apparent attempt to protect the hive. Pollen in neighboring cells that feed young bees is not so contaminated and is not entombed. Despite the apparent safety precaution, entombing is the greatest predictor of colony loss. (“Honeybees ‘entomb’ hives to protect against pesticides, say scientists,” by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, April 4, 2011, www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/04/honeybees-entomb-hives?)



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