The Good News
Genetic Engineering (GE)
The Good News
Maine Congressman Michael Michaud, on Feb. 1, 2012, recognized MOFGA’s 40th anniversary in the Congressional Record. He said, “Committed to the Maine tradition of local, family owned agricultural businesses which produce some of the healthiest agricultural goods available, Abby McMillen began organizing membership for what would become MOFGA in 1971… Today, the association has grown to include 6,000 members and nearly 350 certified farms. MOFGA is also one of the most active groups in the state.” Michaud praised MOFGA’s educational, apprenticeship, certification and charitable programs, called The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener “one of the nation’s leading information sources on organic agriculture and sustainable living practices” and said that MOFGA’s Common Ground County Fair is “one of the state’s most anticipated events each year.” Michaud added, “I wish MOFGA continued success in working with farmers, gardeners and families all across Maine to promote healthier and more nutritious eating options.” The complete text is at www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2012-02-01/pdf/CREC-2012-02-01-pt1-PgE105.pdf.
A Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture project, sponsored by USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), is in the first of a four-year breeding project to develop carrot varieties for organic agriculture. This partnership between the Organic Seed Alliance, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Purdue University, University of California, Washington State University and the Agricultural Research Service is developing novel colored carrots with improved disease and nematode resistance, weed competitiveness, and nutritional value and flavor. This project will also compare the relative performance of breeding material in organic versus conventional environments and investigate whether some carrots support a more robust soil microflora. (“USDA-OREI Grant Supports Innovation in Organic Plant Breeding,” Organic Seed Alliance press release, March 13, 2012; http://eorganic.info/carrotimprovement)
A new Coastal Farms Food Processing facility should be running in Belfast by July. Co-owners Jan Anderson and Wayne Snyder, who raised $1 million in private investment and secured an agreement from Farm Credit Maine for $1 million in financing, foresee growers within 50 miles of Belfast using the tunnel freezers, kitchens and processing space. And the Farmington Grange now has a kitchen that residents will be able to rent to start processed food businesses. The Farmington Grange hall also hosts a winter farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. (“Major food storage and processing company to open by July,” by Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, Feb. 23, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/23/business/major-food-storage-and-processing-company-to-open-by-july/; “Grange project may be boon for area farmers,” by David Robinson, Morning Sentinel, Feb. 18, 2012; www.kjonline.com/news/farmingtongrange-projectmay-be-boon-for-area-farmersnew-commercial-kitchen-area-to-aid-local-food-movement_2012-02-17.html; For information about the Grange kitchen, call Richard Marble at 491-6166 or Bonnie Clark, kitchen manager, at 778-6637.)
The U.S. organic industry grew by 9.5 percent overall in 2011 to reach $31.5 billion in sales. Of this, the organic food and beverage sector was valued at $29.22 billion, while the organic non-food sector reached $2.2 billion, says the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey. Comparable conventionally produced food and non-food items experienced 4.7 percent growth. The organic food sector grew by $2.5 billion during 2011, with fruits and vegetables contributing close to 50 percent of those new dollars. The fastest-growing sector was the meat, fish and poultry category, posting 13 percent growth over 2010 sales, but still remaining the smallest of eight organic food categories. Organic food sales now represent 4.2 percent of all U.S. food sales, up from 4 percent in 2010. (“Consumer-driven U.S. organic market surpasses $31 billion in 2011,” Organic Trade Assoc. press release, April 23, 2012; www.ota.com)
Producing U.S. foods organically creates thousands more jobs than if that food were produced using conventional agricultural methods, says “2010 Impacts of the U.S. Organic Foods Industry on the U.S. Economy.” The report, produced for the Organic Trade Association by Washington, D.C.-based M+R Strategic Services, showed that for every $1 billion in retail sales of organic products, 28,000 more jobs were created throughout the economy; and the use of organically produced ingredients created 21 percent more jobs than would have been generated if the food industry had relied solely on conventional farms for ingredients. The study attributed the differences largely to greater labor intensity on organic farms, smaller farm size, the need for an organic certification industry, and reliance on smaller retail outlets.
(Organic Trade Assoc. press release, April 25, 2012; www.ota.com)
Washington State University, which started the nation’s first four-year organic agriculture systems major in 2006, has received a $5 million investment from Chuck and Louanna Eggert and their family to expand the WSU Organic Farm from 4 acres to nearly 30 acres. This will be the largest organic teaching farm on a U.S. university campus. The Eggerts met at WSU and later founded Pacific Natural Foods in 1987. (“Alumni support organic ag, teaching farm expansion,” by Kathy Barnard, WSU News, April 19, 2012; https://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=31405&TypeID=1)
A survey conducted by the Organic Seed Alliance has shown that Southeast U.S. farmers and other agricultural professionals want to strengthen seed systems there to address needs of the organic community. More than 2,200 individuals, including nearly 500 farmers, responded. Nearly half of respondents said they save seed for on-farm use; more than 75 percent of farmers turn to other farmers for seed-related questions; half view the lack of organic seed and the lack of variety information as urgent or very important; and 75 percent see contamination by GMOs as an urgent or very important challenge. Most respondents said more education about organic seed is urgent or very important, as is research on varietal performance on Southeast organic farms; and that teaching farmers to save seed is urgent or very important. And 90 percent said it is urgent or very important to safeguard organic seed systems in the Southeast from GMOs. Work in these areas is being planned. (“Southeast Farmers Say More Organic Seed Research and Education Needed,” Organic Seed Alliance press release, April 17, 2012; www.seedalliance.org)
Gov. Paul LePage has signed LD 1605, a law providing limited protection from liability for Maine’s agritourism farmers with operations such as cut-your-own Christmas trees, pick-your-own produce, and others that invite visitors to the farm. Landowners must post signs telling visitors they accept “inherent risks” of those activities. Landowners still need liability insurance; the law means that visitors who sue for injuries on the property must show that more than an inherent risk was present. Bill sponsor Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, expects the law will eventually reduce premiums for farmers. (“LePage signs insurance relief bill for agritourism businesses,” by Eric Russell, Bangor Daily News, April 9, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/09/news/state/lepage-signs-insurance-relief-bill-for-agritourism-businesses/)
Skowhegan social worker Jeffrey Johnson has offered to let residents of the Skowhegan Miracle Homeless Shelter use his land for farming. Residents will grow vegetables to feed those at the shelter and to generate funds to help support the shelter. They also plan to sell eggs, piglets and pork as well as goods made from wood. (“New shelter’s residents to plant, weed, harvest, sell their own vegetable crop,” by Erin Rhoda, Kennebec Journal, April 13, 2012; www.kjonline.com/news/new-shelters-residents-to-plant-weed-harvest-sell-their-own-vegetable-crop_2012-04-12.html)
Genetic Engineering (GE)
On February 24, 2012, Judge Naomi Buchwald ruled to dismiss the case of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Assn. et al. v. Monsanto after hearing oral argument on January 31, 2012, in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The 81 plaintiffs in the lawsuit (including MOFGA) sought judicial protection from Monsanto’s lawsuits when non-GE crops are contaminated by Monsanto’s genetic material, and challenged the validity of Monsanto’s patents on seeds.
Daniel Ravicher, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said of the judge, “Her belief that farmers are acting unreasonably when they stop growing certain crops to avoid being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement, should their crops become contaminated, maligns the intelligence and integrity of those farmers.” Ravicher said the judge failed to address the purpose of the Declaratory Judgment Act and mischaracterized a Supreme Court precedent that supports the farmers’ standing.
Since the mid-1990s, Monsanto has sued 144 farmers for alleged violations of its patented seed technology. The company has sued more than 700 more farmers, who settled out-of-court rather than face Monsanto’s well-financed litigation. Many of these farmers claim not to have intended to grow or save seeds containing Monsanto’s patented genes. When seeds and pollen drift from neighboring GE crops, Monsanto can sue the farmer where its seed technology is found for patent infringement.
“Family farmers need the protection of the court,” says Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), lead plaintiff in the case. He characterized as naive the judge’s assertion that Monsanto‘s vague public relations “commitment” not to sue farmers for trace amounts of contamination should be “a source of comfort” to plaintiffs. “The truth is that American farmers and the American people do not believe Monsanto. Family farmers deserve our day in court, and this flawed ruling will not deter us from continuing to seek justice.”
UMaine School of Law professor Rita Heimes told the Portland Press Herald that Monsanto’s patent-infringement lawsuits are unique in the intellectual property field: “I think Monsanto’s litigation strategy has been very aggressive compared to other patent holders. Because Monsanto sues its customers, it does make all farmers nervous.”
On March 28, 2012, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., which could hear the case this fall or winter at the earliest.
Meanwhile, discussions on compensation for farmers of organic and identity-preserved crops who suffer market losses due to crop contamination with GE material is the focus of USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC-21). The committee is expected to deliver a final recommendation to the Secretary of Agriculture after the November election. (“Judge Sides With Monsanto: Ridicules Farmers’ Right to Grow Food Without Fear, Contamination and Economic Harm,” OSGATA press release, Feb. 27, 2012;
www.osgata.org/judge-sides-with-monsanto-ridicules-farmers-right-to-grow-food-without-fear-contamination-and-economic-harm; “Farmers Determined to Defend Right to Grow Food File Appeal in Organic Farmers v. Monsanto,” Wood Prairie Farm press release, March 28, 2012; www.woodprairie.com/wpf_news; “Maine farmer leads organic growers’ continued fight against Monsanto,” by Jen Lynds, Bangor Daily News, March 29, 2012; http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/29/news/aroostook/maine-farmer-leads-organic-growers-continued-fight-against-monsanto/; “Organic farmers lament dismissal of Monsanto lawsuit,” by Avery Yale Kamila, Portland Press Herald, Feb. 29, 2012;
www.pressherald.com/business/organic-farmers-lament-dismissal-of-lawsuit_2012-02-29.html; “Organic farmers appeal decision in Monsanto lawsuit,” by Avery Yale Kamila, Portland Press Herald, March 28, 2012; www.pressherald.com/news/Organic-farmers-appeal-decision-in-Monsanto-lawsuit.html; “What’s News in Organic, Organic Trade Assoc., March 2012; www.ota.com/pics/documents/WhatsNews-53c.pdf)
In what could become a landmark case for organic farming, Australian farmer Steve Marsh is suing a neighboring farmer for loss and damages for allegedly contaminating 325 of his 478 hectares. Marsh says GE canola seed blew onto his farm in 2010, after which he lost organic certification on more than 70 percent of his farm, where he raised organic oats and wheat. (“Farmer sues for GM contamination,” by Belle Taylor, The West Australian, April 3, 2012; http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/13336126/farmer-sues-for-gm-contamination/; The Safe Food Foundation & Institute, www.safefoodfoundation.org/projects.html; accessed April 14, 2012)
One million Americans petitioned the FDA in March 2012 through the Just Label It (JLI) campaign to label GE foods. And a national survey showed that Americans overwhelmingly support such labeling. The survey, conducted by The Mellman Group for JLI, found that among Democrats, 93 percent favor labeling and 2 percent oppose it; Independents, 90 for and 5 against; and Republicans, 89 for and 5 against. “It’s time for the FDA to give Americans the same rights held by citizens in 40 nations, including all of our major trade partners, to know whether our foods have been genetically modified,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield, one of more than 500 JLI partners. (Press release, Organic Trade Association, March 27, 2012; survey results at www.justlabelit.org)
Efforts to require labeling of GE foods have occurred in 18 states recently. This winter, the Connecticut legislature’s Environment Committee voted 23-6 to approve a measure for labeling GE foods, despite opposition from the state’s agriculture commissioner and the Connecticut Farm Bureau. California activists collected 850,000 signatures to place a citizens’ initiative on the November 2012 ballot. If it passes, the California Right to Know Act will require labeling of GE foods and will ban use of the term “natural” on GE foods. On April 20, 2012, Vermont’s House Agriculture Committee passed a GE labeling bill by 9-1-1. The bill would not take effect until 365 days after California and two Northeastern states passed similar bills. Monsanto threatened to sue Vermont if a labeling bill passes there. (“GMO Labeling Law Wins Backing In Connecticut,” by Stephen Singer, AP, March 21, 2012; www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/gmo-labeling_n_1371260.html; “Monsanto Threatens to Sue Vermont if Legislators Pass a Bill Requiring GMO Food to Be Labeled,” by Will Allen and Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet, April 4, 2012; www.alternet.org/story/154855/monsanto_threatens_to_sue_vermont_if_legislators_pass_a_bill_requiring_gmo_food_to_be_labeled?page=entire; “Organic farmers hope for boost with rivals’ labels,” by Stephen Singer, AP, April 15, 2012;
www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_20402611/organic-farmers-hope-boost-rivals-labels; “VT House Ag Committee Passes GMO Labeling Bill 9-1-1,” www.woodprairiefarm.com/index.php/component/content/article/14-monsanto/94-organic-research)
The Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee found that some 41 percent of 3,053 farmers inspected in 2011 violated the refuge requirement for growing GE Bt corn. The EPA requires refuge plantings of non-Bt corn to slow development of Bt resistance in pest insects. Already corn rootworms have become resistant to the Bt toxin Cry3Bb1 in Monsanto’s engineered corn; and weeds resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, used on GE Roundup Ready crops, now exist on up to 20 million acres of corn and soy in the United States, says chemical company Syngenta AG. In March 2012, 22 plant scientists, experts on corn, said in a letter to the EPA that long-term corn production could be at risk as corn rootworms increasingly resist Cry3Bb1. They added that Bt corn is being planted where it is not needed because non-Bt seed is hard to find; and that Monsanto’s solution of using insecticides plus Bt corn would be costly to farmers and could mask further development of pest resistance. (“Gene-Modified Corn Violations Triple Among U.S. Farmers,” by Jack Kaskey, Bloomberg Business Week, Feb. 9, 2012; www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-09/gene-modified-corn-violations-triple-among-u-s-farmers.html; “Scientists warn EPA on Monsanto corn rootworm,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, March 9, 2012; www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/us-monsanto-corn-idUSBRE82815Z20120309)
GE crops will be reviewed faster under new rule changes. Approvals that took some six months in the ‘90s now take three years due to public interest, legal challenges and national organic standards. To speed reviews, USDA will seek public comments as soon as companies petition to have a GE crop deregulated; and Congress will increase funds for reviews from $13 million in 2011 to $18 million this year. Bill Freese of the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls the rule changes “a rubber-stamp system.” (“Genetically Modified Crops to Get Faster Approval, USDA Says,” Feb. 22, 2012; http://news.businessweek.com/article.asp?documentKey=1376-LZT1UN6K50Z301-2DE1LNEKTNU5ITEVKC37VTO18K)
In a greenhouse study using agricultural soil, Portland State University researchers found that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi form fewer bonds with GE Bt corn than with non-Bt corn. Mycorrhizal fungi grow symbiotically with roots of many plants, extending the area of soil from which crops can obtain water and nutrients, in exchange for carbon compounds from host plants. (“Monsanto Bt Crops: Genetically Modified Corn Linked To Soil Ecosystem Threat,” by Ryan Villarreal, International Business Times, April 17, 2012; www.ibtimes.com/articles/329549/20120417/monsanto-gmo-bt-corn-genetically-modified-toxic.htm?cid=2)
Edible plants, especially corn, engineered to resist glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup and to express Bt insecticidal toxins, contain residues of both, so researchers tested effects of the Bt Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac toxins, alone or combined with Roundup, on human embryonic kidney cells. Within 24 hours, Cry1Ab at 100 ppm killed cells, while Cry1Ac showed no effects. Roundup alone was necrotic and apoptotic (relating to programmed cell death) from 50 ppm – below agricultural dilutions. Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac plus Roundup reduced caspases 3/7 activity (a biomarker of cell death), which could delay activation of apoptosis, say the researchers. They saw the same tendency for two other markers of cell death. The researchers suggest that GE Bt toxins “are not inert on nontarget human cells, and that they can present combined side-effects with other residues of pesticides specific to GM plants.” (Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide, by R. Mesnage et al., J. Applied Toxicology, Feb. 15, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/jat.2712; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jat.2712/abstract?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=)
Widespread use of GE herbicide-resistant crops has paralleled a large decline in monarch butterfly populations, say John Pleasants of Iowa State University and Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota. Between 1999 and 2010, as GE crops came to occupy much Midwestern farmland, the number of monarch eggs declined by about 81 percent there, as did populations of milkweed, the host plant for monarch eggs and caterpillars. The researchers indirectly tied loss of milkweed habitat to the decline in monarchs noted by volunteers’ estimates of milkweed populations and counts of monarch eggs in the Corn Belt. Pleasants said monarchs lay about four times as many eggs on milkweed in farm fields as on milkweed in pastures and on roadsides. Others say drought, and habitat loss in monarchs’ overwintering site in Mexico, may also contribute. (“Study ties GMO corn, soybeans to butterfly losses,” by Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, March 16, 2012; www.startribune.com/printarticle/?id=143017765)
In a fenced area at the Rothamsted Research Station in the UK, scientists are field trialing “whiffy” wheat – a GE crop engineered with a gene from peppermint to emit an insect pheromone called farnesene that repels aphids. Aphids naturally produce the pheromone to warn other aphids, and some wildflowers produce it. Farnesene also attracts ladybugs and parasitic wasps that feed on aphids. (“GM 2.0: A new kind of wheat,” by Steve Connor, The Independent, March 29, 2012; www.independent.co.uk/news/science/gm-20-a-new-kind-of-wheat-7595087.html)
The University of Guelph in Canada developed the GE “Enviropig” but is halting active research on the animal as the hog industry group Ontario Pork is no longer funding that research. The pig used genetic material from a mouse to reduce phosphorus in its feces. Canada approved reproduction of the GE pigs in 2010, but no government has approved it for human consumption. (“Genetically Modified Pig Shelved,” press release, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, April 2, 2012; http://cban.ca/Press/Press-Releases/Genetically-Modified-Pig-Shelved)
A meta-study by researchers at Holland’s Wageningen University of 362 published studies says that worldwide, yields of crops grown organically ranged from 50 percent lower to 20 percent higher than conventional. The researchers say that reliance on animal manure and rotated green manures in organic systems may explain part of the difference. Tuberous and root vegetables, including potatoes, had a larger yield gap, while legumes had a smaller gap. The researchers commend organic farming for its environment benefits, attention to animal welfare, and attention to problems of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. (“Yield from organically grown crops globally 20% lower than in conventional farming,” IFOAM press release, March 1, 2012; http://ifoam.org/IFOAM_Biofach2012_WOA_PressRelease_en.pdf; Tomek de Ponti, et al., The crop yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture, Agricultural Systems 108 (2012) 1-9; www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-yield-grown-crops-globally-conventional.html)
A study published in Nature in April 2012 looked at 66 published papers that compared organic and conventional yields for 34 crops. The organic farms used crop rotation, organic fertilizers and beneficial insects instead of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic yields per unit area in developed countries were 20 percent lower than conventional; and in developing countries, 25 percent lower. Organic growers using the best practices had yields 13 percent lower than conventional. Organic strawberries and apples yielded 3 percent less than conventional, and oilseed crops, 11 percent less – and neither difference was statistically significant. Cereal yields were 26 percent lower; and vegetables, 33 percent. Conventional yields were believed to be higher due largely to applications of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Also, organic yields improved on plots that had been farmed organically for more than two seasons. “To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems,” say the researchers. They plan next to compare environmental effects of organic and conventional farming. (“Organic farming, carefully done, can be efficient,” by Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2012; www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-organic-farming-20120426,0,896912.story; “Organic farming is rarely enough,” by Natasha Gilbert, Nature, April 25, 2012; www.nature.com/news/organic-farming-is-rarely-enough-1.10519; Seufert, V., Ramankutty, N. & Foley, J. A. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature11069 (2012))
Organic farms produce strawberries with fewer malformations and a higher proportion of fully pollinated berries relative to conventional farms. The study found that pollination success was greater with organic farming, possibly due to an increase in insect pollinator abundance and/or diversity. The effect was apparent within two to four years of conversion to organic. The results “suggest that organic farming could enhance the pollination service in agricultural landscapes, which is important for developing a sustainable agriculture,” says the lead author. (Andersson G.K.S. et al., 2012, “Organic Farming Improves Pollination Success in Strawberries.” PLoS ONE 7(2): e31599. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031599; “Organic farming improves pollination success in strawberries,” Public Library of Science press release, Feb. 15, 2012; www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/plos-ofi021312.php)
The percentage of consumers stating they purchased organic products rose from 39.8 percent in January 2011 to 41.8 percent in January 2012, , according to a TABS Group survey of 1,000 respondents ages 18 to 75. Total organic product sales rose approximately 15 to 20 percent. The survey also found an 11 percent increase in the number of product types purchased by a typical organic shopper. Findings included increased sales of organic beef (+48 percent), ice cream (+44 percent), hair care products (+28 percent), vegetables (+26 percent), milk (+25 percent), eggs (+21 percent) and chicken (+17 percent). Younger consumers expressed greater preference for organic products, with 48 percent of respondents under 40 years reporting usage in the last six months compared with only 34 percent of consumers above 60. Those under 30 bought on average 4.6 different organic products compared with 2.9 by people 60 and older. “Younger consumers, with typically the least disposable income, show the greatest loyalty to organics. This likely will increase organics’ sales and market share over time as their buying power grows and their preference is passed on to their children,” says TABS Group. In the survey, people earning less than $30,000 a year and those with children purchased more organic products than higher earners and those without children. Sixty-two percent buy organic products at mainstream retail stores; 38 percent at natural food or specialty stores. (“TABS Group Survey: Organic Food Sales Hit Record in 2011; Sales Jump 15-20 Percent,” press release, Feb. 15, 2012; www.marketwatch.com/story/tabs-group-survey-organic-food-sales-hit-record-in-2011-sales-jump-15-20-percent-2012-02-15)
On Feb.15, 2012, European and American officials announced an organic equivalence arrangement between the world’s two largest markets for organic food. Under the arrangement, the EU and United States will work together to promote strong organic programs, protect organic standards, enhance cooperation and facilitate trade in organic products. The agreement will reduce duplicative requirements and certification costs.
As of June 1, 2012, certified organic products can move freely between U.S. and EU borders if they meet the terms of the new arrangement. The EU will allow products produced and certified as meeting USDA National Organic Program standards to be marketed as organic in the EU, and vice-versa – provided antibiotics were not given to animals for products entering the United States, and antibiotics were not used to control fire blight in apples and pears for products entering the European Union. However, organic wines from Europe can contain sulfites as a preservative, while U.S. standards prohibit sulfites in wine. And while the U.S. National Organic Standards Board Livestock Committee recommends at least 2 square feet of open outdoor space per bird on organic poultry farms, The EU requires at least 43 square feet per laying hen or broiler.
The arrangement is limited to organic products of U.S. or EU origin produced, processed or packaged within these jurisdictions. Both programs will exchange information on animal welfare issues and on methods to avoid contamination of organic products by genetically engineered organisms. (“Will organic free trade really do a world of good?” by Claire Thompson, Grist, Feb. 24, 2012; http://grist.org/organic-food/will-organic-free-trade-really-do-a-world-of-good/; “Historic Signing Finalizes Organic Equivalence Arrangement Between EU and U.S., press release, Feb. 15, 2012; www.ota.com/GlobalMarkets/US-EU-Organic-Equivalence-Arrangement.html; www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=LATEST_RELEASES).
The number of certified organic U.S. farms and processing facilities was 17,673 at the end of 2011, about 3 percent more than at the end of 2010 and 240 percent more since the National Organic Program began compiling statistics in 2002. Worldwide, the USDA counted 28,779 certified organic operators in 133 countries – a slight decrease because of the U.S.-Canadian Organic Equivalency Arrangement. A database of USDA certified organic operations is posted at http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/?utm_source=2011+List+of+Certified+USDA+Organic+Operations&utm_campaign=Organic+milk+audit+report&utm_medium=email (“Organic operations surge 3% in U.S.,” by Tom Karst, The Packer, March 21, 2012;
Peter Townsley, former president of California Liquid Fertilizer, pleaded guilty in February 2012 to mail fraud for mailing forms to the Organic Materials Review Institute about the contents of Biolizer XN, but omitting to list aluminum chloride and aluminum sulfate as ingredients. Townsley faces possible prison time and more than $500,000 in fines for selling non-organic fertilizer to organic growers for several years. (“‘Organic’ fertilizer manufacturer could face prison,” The Packer, www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/Organic-fertilizer-manufacturer-could-face-prison-140963863.html)
In Oregon, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Harold Chase to 27 months in prison for wire fraud. Chase bought 4.2 million pounds of conventional corn and sold it as organic for almost twice the profit by faxing false documents to a buyer. (“Man gets two years in organic food scam,” by Karen McCowan, The Register-Guard, April 5, 2012; www.registerguard.com/web/newslocalnews/27859135-41/chase-organic-corn-grain-conventional.html.csp)
The New England Farmers Union Education Foundation (NEFUEF) wants to make greenhouse gas offsets derived from regional farmers available to purchasers in New England and beyond through its Buy Local Carbon Credit Project. The program aims to determine market demand for locally derived greenhouse gas credits among New England utilities, companies, colleges and consumers; assess crediting methods and protocols for farm-related energy projects, including fertilizer reduction, methane capture, soil carbon sequestration, and switching fuels for greenhouse operations. It will communicate findings to farm service providers and farm organizations, coordinate outreach to eligible farmers, and outline a plan to aggregate, evaluate and verify the crediting system. NEFUEF is seeking partnerships with regional departments of agriculture, conservation commissions, agricultural commissions, farm organizations, other carbon market projects and citizens. The project is supported by the USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Program, Farm Aid, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, High Meadows Fund, and National Farmers Union. (“The “‘Buy Local” Carbon Credit Project,” P.O. Box 226, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370; www.newenglandfarmersunion.org/pdfs_docs/2012-CarbonCrediting1-pager-JAN30.pdf)
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change has proposed several actions to achieve food security in the face of climate change. They include integrating food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national climate change policies; increasing global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade; sustainably intensifying agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture, such as depleting water supplies and destroying native ecosystems; developing programs and policies to help populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate changes and food insecurity; reshaping food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating patterns; reducing loss and waste in food systems; and creating information systems regarding land use, food production, climate, the environment, human health and well-being worldwide.
(“Achieving food security in the face of climate change – Summary for policy makers from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change,” by J. Beddington et al., CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark; www.ccafs.cgiar.org/commission)
Most farmers support the long-standing conservation compact that has helped protect the rich soil and clean water that sustain food, farming and public health, says “Conservation Compliance: A Retrospective … and Look Ahead” by conservationist Max Schnepf. Polls show that the farming community has consistently supported the historic deal between taxpayers and farmers in the 1985 farm bill, under which growers agreed to keep soil from eroding and chemicals out of waterways in return for generous taxpayer support.
“In the 10 years following the 1985 farm bill,” says Schnepf, “farmers did more to curb soil erosion than at any time since the infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.”
High prices, intense competition for farmland leases, and ethanol mandates have put unprecedented pressure on land and water, so gains in soil conservation that the compact achieved are being lost. Funding for agricultural conservation programs has been cut every year since 2002 and is currently $4 billion below the amount authorized in previous farm bills. Meanwhile, the taxpayers’ tab for guaranteeing farm business income through so-called risk management programs has increased from $1.5 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion in 2011. No conservation strings are attached because Congress ended them in 1996.
The Environmental Working Group recommends that Congress bring risk management programs back under the conservation compact umbrella; update decades-old conservation plans to reflect modern technology and current weather patterns; require landowners to control highly damaging gully erosion on all annually tilled cropland; and dedicate funding for conservation planning and enforcement. (“America’s Conservation Compact is Eroding Despite Farmers’ Support,” Environmental Working Group press release, Feb. 27, 2012; http://ewg.org/release/america-s-conservation-compact-eroding-despite-farmers-support)
Dartmouth College researchers found elevated concentrations of arsenic in two organic powdered baby formulas with brown rice syrup as a top ingredient and in some brown rice-sweetened cereal bars, energy bars and energy drinks. The study failed to address the arsenic issue as a serious concern for all food production, says the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Arsenic can occur naturally in soils and groundwater, and can occur as residue from decades of routine use of arsenic-based pesticides. Whether organic or conventional, rice growing in contaminated soils will take up the element if it is present, and some will be in grain harvested from those plants.
“In fact, organic production practices are part of the solution to reducing the application of arsenic-laden herbicides, as well as toxic and persistent pesticides known to create health problems,” says OTA’s Christine Bushway, since such applications are prohibited in organic agriculture.
The food industry can essentially eliminate future arsenic exposures, says Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center, by mapping arsenic contaminated soils and groundwater resources, as well as areas largely free of arsenic. Crops such as rice that are known to extract arsenic from the soil or irrigation water should be grown in arsenic-free areas.
The OTA says the FDA and EPA should set and enforce regulatory limits on arsenic in our food supply. The FDA has a “level of concern” of 23 parts per billion of arsenic in fruit juices, and the EPA level for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb. An OTA task force is seeking solutions to this issue within the organic industry.
Nature’s One, an organic baby food formula maker, says its baby formula falls more than 20 percent below all world standards for rice-based foods fed to infants and children, based on third-party testing. (“Arsenic’s presence reflects a wider problem for all food production,” Barbara Haumann, Organic Trade Assoc., Feb. 16, 2012; www.organicnewsroom.com/2012/02/arsenics_presence_reflects_a_w.html; “Organic Brown Rice Syrup: Hidden Arsenic Source,” by Jane E. Allen, ABC News, Feb. 16, 2012; http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/arsenic-organics-rice/story?id=15642428; “Arsenic Testing Proves Organic Baby Formula Safe,” March 5, 2012; www.marketwatch.com/story/arsenic-testing-proves-organic-baby-formula-safe-2012-03-05)
The Maryland state Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill that would ban the use of roxarsone, an arsenic additive in chicken feed. Pfizer Inc., which manufactures roxarsone, had suspended sale of the chemical in July 2011 after the FDA found higher concentrations of inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen, in chickens treated with roxarsone than in untreated birds. (“State Sen. approves bill banning arsenic in chicken feed to avoid food, water pollution,” by Sarah Breitenbach, AP, April 5, 2012; www.therepublic.com/view/story/dcb5b9b6baa1418cad8b59d3830bf8a5/MD-XGR—Arsenic-Chicken-1st-Ld/; “Maryland set to become first state to ban arsenic in chicken feed,” by Darryl Fears, The Washington Post, April 9, 2012; www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/maryland-set-to-become-first-state-to-ban-arsenic-in-chicken-feed/2012/04/09/gIQAyyU16S_story.html
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz has ordered the FDA to begin proceedings to withdraw approval of common antibiotics used non-therapeutically in animal feed unless manufacturers show that their use will not create antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed against the FDA by environmental and consumer groups. In April 2012, the FDA banned the use of cephalosporin to promote growth in cattle, swine and poultry in order to maintain the effectiveness of cephalosporin in humans. And on April 11, 2012, the FDA ruled that farmers and ranchers will need a prescription from a veterinarian in order to use antibiotics on farm animals – but the agency is asking for now only that drug makers change their labels voluntarily to require a prescription; if that doesn’t work, it will consider a stronger ban. (“FDA must act to remove antibiotics from animal feed: judge,” by Jessica Dye, Reuters, March 23, 2012; http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL1E8EN08G20120323?sp=true; “FDA takes step toward reducing antibiotics for food-producing animals,” by Jennifer Kalish, Great Lakes Echo, April 4, 2012; http://greatlakesecho.org/2012/04/04/fda-takes-step-toward-reducing-antibiotics-for-food-producing-animals/; “U.S. Tightens Rules on Antibiotics Use for Livestock,” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, April 11, 2012; www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/antibiotics-for-livestock-will-require-prescription-fda-says.html?_r=1)
A strain of antibiotic-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus was likely able to pass from humans to pigs, become resistant to tetracycline and methicillin in the pigs, and then move back to humans and eventually cause disease. A study published in mBio tracked the pathogen from the pigs to the Dutch farm family, off the farm, from Holland to other countries, and into retail meat. Paul Sundberg of the National Pork Board told writer Tom Laskawy that the threat of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection from hospitals and communities is greater than from pigs. (“Finally, a smoking gun connecting livestock antibiotics and superbugs,” by Tom Laskawy, Feb. 24, 2012, Grist; http://grist.org/factory-farms/finally-a-smoking-gun-connecting-livestock-antibiotics-and-superbugs/; “Staphylococcus aureus CC398: Host Adaptation and Emergence of Methicillin Resistance in Livestock,” by Lance B. Pricea et al., mBio, American Society for Microbiology, Feb. 21, 2012; http://mbio.asm.org/content/3/1/e00305-11.full)
Among 395 packages of pork products from 36 stores in Iowa, Minnesota and New Jersey, 64.8 percent contained Staphylococcus bacteria and 6.6 percent contained the antibiotic-resistant MRSA. Rates were similar on products from conventionally raised pigs and those labeled as antibiotic-free. The meat was not labeled as certified organic. Results were surprising, as some researchers did not find MRSA on pigs that were not treated with antibiotics, while they did find it on conventional pig farms. Likewise, Purdue University researchers found similar rates of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in beef products from conventionally- and grass-fed animals; and antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Enterococcus occurred on poultry products labeled “no antibiotics added” but at lower rates than on products from conventionally raised poultry. Possible sources of the contamination include movement from conventional farms to others; via farm workers; or at processing plants. (“Antibiotic-Free Meat Not Free of Drug-Resistant Bacteria,” by Jill U. Adams, Science Now, Jan. 30, 2012; http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/01/organic-meat-not-free-of-drug-re.html?ref=hp; “MSRA in Conventional and Alternative Retail Pork Products,” Ashley O’Brien et al., PLoS ONE 7(1), Jan. 19, 2012; www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030092)
The Soil Association says evidence is overwhelming that excess use of antibiotics on UK livestock farms is contributing to the rise of drug resistance in human E. coli infections. The Association’s report “E. coli superbugs on farms and food” estimates that 750,000 to 1,500,000 people in the UK contracted an E. coli infection in 2011, resulting in nearly 40,000 cases of blood poisoning and nearly 8,000 deaths. Cases of E. coli blood poisoning have increased nearly fourfold in the last 20 years.
Resistance of E. coli to key antibiotics has risen sharply in the past decade, and the UK Health Protection Agency says the prospect of new antibiotics to treat E. coli is poor. Scientists increasingly view farm antibiotic use as contributing significantly to the problem.
A new type of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) E. coli is of particular concern. Government scientists say it’s extremely resistant to many classes of antibiotics and more virulent than other forms of E. coli. Patients with ESBL E. coli blood poisoning are nearly three times as likely to die as other affected patients.
The prevalence of ESBL E. coli on British farms has increased dramatically since it was first identified in 2004 – almost certainly due to high levels of antibiotic use on farms.
Richard Young, Soil Association policy advisor and co-author of the report, said: “Just about every non-organic chicken in the UK is still routinely put on antibiotics from the day it is hatched.”
The Soil Association recommends phasing out preventive use of antibiotics in healthy animals and halving overall use of antibiotics on farms within five years; moving toward higher welfare and less intensive production systems that can significantly reduce the use of antibiotics in farming; greatly reducing the use of modern cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones and prohibiting off-label use; prohibiting advertising antibiotics to UK farmers; and ads to veterinary surgeons should be purely factual and not emotive. (“E. coli superbugs warning,” The Soil Association, March 29, 2012; www.soilassociation.org/news/newsstory/articleid/3221/e-coli-superbugs-warning)
Neonicotinoid insecticides, used since the early 1990s, are systemic – they are absorbed into plant tissues. They target the central nervous system of insects feeding on those plants, paralyzing and killing the insects. They seem to be targeting beneficial bees as well.
Two papers in Science suggest that neonicotinoids may be related to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. British researchers exposed bumblebees for two weeks to high or low concentrations of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, in contaminated pollen and nectar; a control group received no imidacloprid. Then the bees were placed outside in an enclosed area for six weeks to forage. With both concentrations of imidacloprid, colonies gained a mean of 8 to 12 percent less weight than controls. Also, control colonies produced a mean of 13.7 new queens, but those exposed to the high concentration of imidacloprid produced only 1.4 new queens, and those exposed to the low concentration produced only two.
In another study, French researchers fitted worker bees’ thoraxes with radio transmitters to detect when bees returned to the hive from foraging. Twice as many bees from hives treated with thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid, failed to return than bees from untreated hives.
In Indiana, Purdue University researchers Christian Krupke and Greg Hunt heard that bee deaths in 2010 and 2011 were occurring at planting time in hives near agricultural fields. Neonicotinoids, commonly used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting, were highly concentrated in waste talc exhausted from farm machinery during planting. The neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam also consistently occurred at low levels in soil for up to two years after treated seed was planted; on nearby dandelion flowers; and in corn pollen gathered by bees. Toxicological screenings found neonicotinoids from corn and soybean seeds in each sample of affected bees. Krupke said other bees at those hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions – signs of insecticide poisoning.
Krupke said corn pollen that bees brought to hives later in the year contained neonicotinoids at levels roughly below 100 parts per billion – enough to kill bees if sufficient amounts were consumed. The exhausted talc, however, had up to about 700,000 times the lethal contact dose for a bee. “This material is so concentrated that even small amounts landing on flowering plants around a field can kill foragers or be transported to the hive in contaminated pollen,” said Krupke. “These pesticides can persist for months or years, so plants growing in these soils can take up these compounds in leaf tissue or pollen.”
A study published in Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature by bee expert Dr. Jeff Pettis of the USDA Bee Research Laboratory found that bees exposed to even very low concentrations of imidacloprid were three times as likely as unexposed bees to become infected when exposed to a parasite called nosema.
And Chensheng Lu and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health gave bee colonies corn syrup with 20 to 400 parts per billion of imidacloprid. Control colonies got untreated corn syrup. Colonies exposed to more insecticide survived for shorter times in winter. Commercial beekeepers often give bees corn syrup in winter; and since imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide, its movement into corn kernels could result in its presence in corn syrup. Imidacloprid or related neonicotinoids are used on most conventional and almost all GE corn seed. From there they may end up in corn syrup and on moisture exuded from corn plants in the morning, which bees consume; and in corn and sunflower pollen. Neonicotinoids are also used on some fruit and vegetable crops. Louisa Hooven of Oregon State University has found abnormal egg laying by queen bees exposed to various pesticides, and delayed maturation of nurse bees.
Commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations petitioned the EPA this spring to suspend use of clothianidin. France, Germany and Italy have limited or banned neonicotinoids. (“Researchers: Honeybee deaths linked to seed insecticide exposure,” Purdue University news report, by Brian Wallheimer, January 11, 2012; www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2012/120111KrupkeBees.html; “Beekeepers ask EPA to ban pesticide, protect bees,” by Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press http://news.yahoo.com/beekeepers-ask-epa-ban-pesticide-toxic-bees-223752677.html; “More Damning Evidence Points to Pesticide as Cause of Mass Bee Deaths,” Common Dreams, Jan. 30, 2012; www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/01/30-9; “Subtle poison – Evidence is growing that commonly used pesticides, even when employed carefully, are bad for bees,” The Economist, March 31, 2012; www.economist.com/node/21551451; “Field Research on Bees Raises Concern About Low-Dose Pesticides,” Erik Stokstad, Science, March 30, 2012: 1555; www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2012/03/28/science.1215039.abstract; “A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees,” Mickaël Henry et al., Science, March 29, 2012; www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/348.abstract; Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production, Penelope R. Whitehorn et al., Science, March 29, 2012; DOI: 10.1126/science.1215025; “Yet another study links insecticide to bee losses,” by Janet Raloff, Science News, April 5, 2012; www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/339726/title/Yet_another_study_links_insecticide_to_bee_losses; “Pesticide exposure in honeybees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema,” by Jeffery S. Pettis et al., Naturwissenschaften, Jan. 13, 2012, 99:153-158; http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=p1027164r403288u&size=largest)
Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and other chemical/seed companies want to release new GE crops that tolerate the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba in order to fight glyphosate-resistant weeds populating millions of U.S. farm acres – weeds that became resistant because of overuse of GE glyphosate-resistant crops. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.) The propensity for 2,4-D and dicamba to drift due to wind, heat and humidity and to damage nontarget gardens, crops and landscapes has farmers and food companies worried, says the Save Our Crops Coalition, which includes growers and processors who support biotech. The coalition petitioned USDA to conduct an environmental impact study on Dow’s combined 2,4-D- and glyphosate-tolerant corn and on Monsanto’s dicamba- and glyphosate-tolerant corn. It also petitioned EPA to form a Scientific Advisory Panel to look at potential drift from the sprays. The Center for Food Safety filed its own petition, out of concern for the health of people and the environment, and because it believes USDA has not properly assessed 2,4-D-based crops. Dow says the 2,4-D formulation being used is not so subject to drift and volatility as other formulations. The coalition says many farmers will use cheaper, generic, volatile 2,4-D. Meanwhile, the EPA denied a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) seeking revocation of approval for 2,4-D, widely used by farmers and in weed-and-feed products on lawns. The use of 2,4-D will increase if GE corn resistant to 2,4-D is approved. The NRDC said studies have shown that 2,4-D can cause cancer, disrupt hormones, mutate genes and act as a neurotoxin. It says the EPA underestimates people’s exposure to the chemical. The EPA says studies on the health effects of 2,4-D are inconsistent and inconclusive. (“Farm Group Seeks U.S. Halt On ‘Dangerous’ Crop Chemicals,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, April 18, 2012; http://news.yahoo.com/farm-group-seeks-u-halt-dangerous-crop-chemicals-123359159.html; “E.P.A. Denies an Environmental Group’s Request to Ban a Widely Used Weed Killer,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, April 9, 2012; www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/business/energy-environment/epa-denies-request-to-ban-24-d-a-popular-weed-killer.html?_r=1)
A fetus exposed to organophosphate (OP) insecticides while its mother is pregnant may be born a few days early and weigh at least one-third pound less than a fetus with minimal exposure. Exposures to OPs occurred primarily through diet and possibly through pesticide use in and around the yard in the women in the current study, say the researchers, who measured OP metabolites in urine of 306 Cincinnati-area pregnant women. The 15 percent of the women with the highest concentrations of metabolites had 10 times the level of pesticide metabolites than the 15 percent with the lowest concentrations; and the high concentration group had smaller babies of shorter gestational ages. Lower birth weight and earlier birth can lead to numerous health problems, especially among preterm babies. (Associations of Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticide Metabolites with Gestational Age and Birthweight, S.A. Rauch et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, April 5, 2012; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104615; http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104615#Ahead of Print (AOP); “Dangers Posed By Pesticides During Pregnancy,” by Lynne Peeples, Huffington Post, April 5, 2012; www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/pesticides-pregnancy-babies-health_n_1406468.html)
Rick Relyea of the University of Pittsburgh created simple wetland communities and exposed three species of tadpoles to three concentrations of Monsanto’s Roundup Original MAX herbicide and to a control wetland with no Roundup. The Roundup treatments were combined with one of three predator-cue treatments (no predators, adult newts or larval dragonﬂies). With the dragonfly-Roundup combination, Roundup was less lethal to tadpoles than it had been alone in past lab studies – possibly because the dragonflies prompted tadpoles to move lower in the water, below where the herbicide had stratified. More striking, says Relyea, were morphological changes in tadpoles exposed to Roundup. Wood frog and leopard frog tadpoles exposed to Roundup had relatively deeper tails – much as tadpoles develop in response to dragonfly presence. “To my knowledge,” says Relyea, “this is the ﬁrst study to show that a pesticide can induce morphological changes in a vertebrate. Moreover, the data suggest that the herbicide might be activating the tadpoles’ developmental pathways used for antipredator responses.” Relyea told UPI that the presence of predators can affect tadpoles’ stress hormones to make them change their shape, e.g., to grow bigger tails to better escape.
Similar changes after exposure to Roundup suggest that the herbicide, too, may affect tadpoles’ hormones. The researcher said that in the presence of predators and Roundup, tadpole tails became twice as large as without those treatments. “Herbicides are not designed to affect animals, but we are learning that they can have a wide range of surprising effects by altering how hormones work in the bodies of animals,” added Relyea. (“New effects of Roundup on amphibians: Predators reduce herbicide mortality; herbicides induce antipredator morphology,” Rick A. Relyea, Ecological Applications, 22(2), 2012, pp. 634–647; www.biology.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/facilities-images/Relyea_pubs/2012%20Relyea.pdf; “Weed killer causes animal shape changes,” by Bill Greenblatt, UPI, Science News, April 2, 2012; www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/04/02/Weed-killer-causes-animal-shape-changes/UPI-74951333402187/)
Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, found that Monsanto’s Roundup Ultra Max herbicide caused cellular and DNA damage to epithelial cells derived from the inside of the mouth and throat. This raises concern over the safety of inhaling glyphosate, one of the most common ways people are exposed to the herbicide. (“Glyphosate Toxic to Mouth Cells & Damages DNA, Roundup Much Worse,” by Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji, Science in Society Report, March 29, 2012; www.i-sis.org.uk/Glyphosate_Toxic_to_Mouth_Cells.php)
In April 2012, Sofía Gatica of Argentina received the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest prize for grassroots environmentalists. Thirteen years ago, Gatica’s newborn died after being exposed to pesticides in the womb, according to Pesticide Action Network North America.
After that, Gatica learned about similar losses in her small community of Ituzaingó Annex, where aerial spraying with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide had climbed dramatically along with the number of acres planted to Roundup Ready soy. So she and other concerned mothers surveyed the community and found cancer rates 41 times the national average, and high rates of neurological problems, respiratory diseases and infant mortality. The mothers launched a “Stop the Spraying!” campaign, and in 2008 Argentina’s president ordered an investigation of the health impacts of pesticides in Ituzaingó Annex. The resulting study corroborated the mothers’ door-to-door research and brought about a municipal ordinance prohibiting aerial spraying within 2,500 meters of residences. Despite few resources and real threats – including being held at gunpoint in her own home – Gatica and the Mothers of Ituzaingó are now working to expand protections to families across the country. (Pesticide Action Network North America Action Alert, April 16, 2012. www.panna.org/courageous-mother-honored-Goldman-Prize?utm_source=action&utm_medium=alert&utm_content=health&utm_campaign=SofiaGatica)
Arysta LifeScience has pulled methyl iodide off the U.S. market – for financial reasons, says the company. The EPA first registered methyl iodide as a pesticide in October 2007, despite scientists’ concerns about its potential to cause cancer, brain damage and miscarriage in those who handle it and to contaminate groundwater. It was used to fumigate soils where conventional strawberries and other crops were grown. It is still licensed for use in eight other countries, including Mexico. (“Arysta pulls methyl iodide nationwide,” by Kathryn Gilje, Pesticide Action Network North America, March 22, 2012; www.panna.org/blog/huge-win-arysta-pulls-methyl-iodide-nationwide; “Methyl iodide distribution to halt in U.S. ,” by Steve Chawkins and Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2012; www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-strawberry-methyl-iodide-20120322,0,6581311.story)
In April 2004, French farmer Paul Francois was exposed to fumes of Monsanto’s herbicide Lasso while opening a sprayer tank. Subsequent nausea, headaches, muscle aches and stuttering forced him to stop working. Traces of Lasso remained in his system a year later. In February 2012, a French court said that Monsanto was guilty of poisoning the farmer because its product did not display proper health hazard warnings. The court awarded compensation to Francois, now disabled. After Lasso was banned in Canada, the United Kingdom and Belgium, the herbicide was removed from the French market in 2007. Monsanto says the company plans to appeal the verdict. (“Monsanto found guilty of poisoning French farmer,” by Blake Deppe, People’s World, Feb. 22, 2012; http://peoplesworld.org/monsanto-found-guilty-of-poisoning-french-farmer; “Monsanto found liable for weedkiller poisoning in France,” by Elizabeth Flock, The Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2012; www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/monsanto-found-liable-for-weedkiller-poisoning-in-france/2012/02/13/gIQAp2WcBR_blog.html)
A study of more than 300 men in Massachusetts found that increased levels of the organochlorine chemicals PCBs (once widely used in electrical transformers and motors) and p,p’-DDE (a DDT breakdown product) in their blood were associated with an extra sex chromosome in sperm that can contribute to reproductive problems. An abnormal number of chromosomes in an embryo or fetus is the largest known cause of failed pregnancies in people and can cause birth defects. Normally, a mother donates an X chromosome and a father donates an X or a Y chromosome to a fertilized egg. With an abnormal number, extra sex chromosomes almost always come from the father, who may donate an extra X or Y chromosome. Other studies have associated benzene and some pesticides with sperm having more than one sex chromosome. Both PCBs and DDT are now banned in the United States and some other countries but persist either as the original substance or as a breakdown product. (“High levels of PCBs tied to defective sperm in infertile men,” by Tamara Tal, Environmental Health News, Feb. 28, 2012; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2012/01/2012-0208-pcbs-dde-sperm-aneuploidy; M.E. McAuliffe et al., 2011. Environmental Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and p,p’-DDE and sperm sex chromosome disomy. Environmental Health Perspectives http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104017)
A NOAA Fisheries Service evaluation shows that three common weed killers – oryzalin, pendimenthalin and trifluralin – are likely to harm half of the West Coast protected salmon populations. These herbicides are used on lawns, roadsides, in orchards, vineyards, on agronomic crops, Christmas trees and golf courses. (“Fed evaluation: 3 more pesticides may harm salmon,” by Jeff Barnard, AP, April 9, 2012;
Feather meal processed from chicken feathers and used as fertilizer and animal feed contains antibiotics, fungicides, caffeine, antihistamines, acetaminophen, fluoxetine (Prozac), norgestimate (a hormone used in oral contraceptives and to treat problems associated with menopause) and other compounds, according to research published in Environmental Science & Technology (DOI: 10.1021/es203970e). Some of the compounds may have come from manure and sludge applications to fields. (“Chicken Feathers Carry Drugs,” by Naomi Lubick, Chemical & Engineering News, March 29, 2012; http://cen.acs.org/articles/90/web/2012/03/Chicken-Feathers-Carry-Drugs.html)
The FDA wants more studies from food and cosmetic companies on the safety of products that use nanotechnology. Nanotechnology uses materials smaller than 100 nanometers. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.) Nanoparticles are used in some stain-resistant clothing, cosmetics, food packaging and food additives and may be able to penetrate skin. (“FDA says nanotech may need extra safety tests,” by Anna Yukhananov and Phil Wahba, Reuters, April 20, 2012; www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/20/us-fda-nanotech-idUSBRE83J1B120120420)
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST – an agency of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that engineered nanoparticles can accumulate within plants and damage their DNA. The team exposed radish and perennial and annual ryegrass plants growing in Petri dishes to cupric oxide bulk particles and nanoparticles. Cupric oxide is used as a pigment for coloring glass and ceramics, as a polish for optics, as a catalyst in manufacturing rayon, and to conduct electric current. Radishes had twice as many lesions on DNA bases when exposed to nanoparticles versus larger particles, and their cells took up significantly more copper from nanoparticles than from larger particles. Ryegrasses had about half as many lesions as radishes. Nanoparticles significantly stunted development of roots and shoots in all three species. Nanoparticle concentrations used in this study were higher than those likely to be encountered by plants in typical soils. (“NIST/UMass Study Finds Evidence Nanoparticles May Increase Plant DNA Damage,” by Michael E. Newman, NIST Tech Beat, April 17, 2012; www.nist.gov/mml/biochemical/nanoparticles-041712.cfm; D.H. Atha et al., Copper oxide nanoparticle mediated DNA damage in terrestrial plant models. Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 46 (3): pages 1819-1827 (2012), DOI: 10.1021/es202660k.)
The USDA is urging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, but its crop insurance and credit programs handicap produce growers and instead promote commodity crops that are disproportionately used in heavily processed junk food, says a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future" recommends common-sense policies that would help American farmers grow more healthy food for our communities. For example, USDA offers crop insurance and credit to large farms growing corn, soy and other commodity crops, and to some large fruit and vegetable farms, but not to small- to medium-size farms growing produce or raising livestock sustainably. If fruit and vegetable consumption increased to meet USDA MyPlate dietary guidelines, driving demand for healthy, sustainable produce, local food sales could increase from the current $5 billion annually to as much as $14.5 billion and generate as many as 189,000 new jobs, says the report. (“Report Finds U.S. Crop Insurance, Credit Programs Harm Fruit and Vegetable Growers; Encourage Commodities for Unhealthy Food,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 24, 2012; www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/big_picture_solutions/ensuring-the-harvest.html)
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the fourth U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in a dairy cow from central California. The cow was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, and milk does not transmit BSE, says USDA. Due to feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease, only 29 cases of BSE occurred worldwide in 2011, a 99 percent reduction since the 1992 peak of 37,311 cases. The affected cow in California tested positive for atypical BSE, a rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed, says USDA. Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumer’s Union says the case raises three important questions about the safety of U.S. beef. First, USDA monitoring for mad cow disease is too small, involving about 40,000 cows a year of the millions slaughtered. Second, USDA prohibits private companies from testing their own beef, and USDA tests only cattle sent to the renderer, not at slaughterhouses. Third, the ruminant to ruminant feed ban in the US to prevent spread of mad cow disease is inadequate. Cows can be fed to pigs and chickens, and pig and chicken remains can be fed back to cows, possibly enabling the spread of the disease. (“Statement by USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford Regarding a Detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States,” USDA press release, April 24, 2012; www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdamediafb?contentid=2012/04/0132.xml&printable=true&contentidonly=true; “Consumer’s Union on Announcement Today of a Confirmed Mad Cow in California,” April 25, 2012; www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_25317.cfm)