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"If the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today."
- Martin Luther
MOF&G Cover Winter 2005-200
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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2005/2006News – Winter 05-06   
 News & Events – Winter 2005-2006 Minimize

Series on Sustainability in Norway, Maine
Eight Maine Farmers Receive Conservation Contracts
Migrant Health Program Reaches Out
New Publications about Insurance for Mainers
NOFA Guide to Organic Land Care Available
Debate over Organic Standards
Oakhurst Dairy Distributes Fresh, Organic Milk
Expanded Horizons
Free-range Eggs Are More Nutritious
IFOAM Approves Principles of Organic Agriculture
Environmental Certification Standard for Flowers
Downtowns Get a Boost from Farmers’ Markets
Why Your Food Isn’t COOL
Organic Farmers Make a Difference for English Wildlife
Kids Need Nature
New Report Sheds Light on Nutrient Intakes Nationwide
Birth Defect Rates Skyrocket on Florida Farms
Vertical Farms: the Agriculture of the Future?
Organic Consumers Fight to Stop Factory Farm “Organic” Dairy
Hospitals Offer Organic Options
Gaseous Cows on Factory Farms
Why Organic Costs More
Body Care Products, Pet Foods, Supplements to be Certified Organic
Organic Beekeeping Workshop in New York
Pesticide News
Maine Environmental Groups Want Aerial Spraying Ban
CDC Body Burden Study Finds Widespread Pesticide Exposure
Tell Home Depot You Want Pesticide-Free Lawn Products
Arsenic in U.S. Rice May Stem from Pesticide in Soil
Organic Diet Eliminates Some Pesticides in Kids’ Urine
Study Documents Neurologic Effects of Chronic Pesticide Exposure
Spinosad Bad for Bees?
Genetic Engineering News
Glyphosate Linked to Environmental, Health Problems
Study of GM Corn Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up
First U.S. Labeling Law for Genetically Engineered Food Passes in Alaska
Plants Can Repair Errors in Genes
Testing Finds No GM Corn in Mexico



Series on Sustainability in Norway, Maine


Aiming to get information about affordable, sustainable housing out, a series of free programs is being offered at the public library in Norway, Maine. The first program demonstrated building small homes with recycled lumber and using discarded tires in a foundation. The November and December programs explore photovoltaics, including using the tax credit. December programs will explore alternative building methods, including straw bale.

Termed “The Sustainability Series of Western Maine,” the idea evolved from the Affordable Housing committee of Bethel’s Creative Economy Initiative. The first few programs focus on housing and energy, then will shift to farming and gardening in February, with tentative plans to offer study groups through area Adult Ed programs.

Also, the Paris and Bethel libraries have agreed to allot reference area space for resources about sustainability. People may lend books, videos, etc., to either library.


Eight Maine Farmers Receive Conservation Contracts

The voluntary Conservation Security Program (CSP) supports stewardship of agricultural lands and natural resources. This year, eight Maine farmers were approved for contracts in the CSP. Unlike most federal farm conservation programs that are designed to address resource problems, CSP recognizes farmers who have already applied a full conservation system that addresses soil and water quality to meet program criteria. The bulk of the CSP contract payment, however, is based on agreements to further enhance these and other resources, including wildlife habitat, energy conservation and air quality.

In Maine, CSP contracts run between $1,000 and $12,000 per year for five to 10 years. Conservation enhancements included in Maine CSP contracts address air quality, grazing lands health, ground and surface water quality, wildlife habitat quality, plant population health, soil quality and wetlands health. For more information, see www.me.nrcs.usda.gov.


Migrant Health Program Reaches Out

Since 1991, the Maine Migrant Health Program (MMHP) has worked to further our mission of improving the health status of migrant and seasonal farm workers (MSFWs) and their families by providing culturally appropriate care and services. A private, non-profit organization, MMHP is funded through governmental and private grants, and donations.

Through mobile clinics and our voucher referral program, the MMHP provided care to over 1000 of Maine’s MSFWs in 2004. Our mobile units and outreach workers travel throughout the blueberry, apple, egg, Christmas wreath, tree-planting and broccoli camps offering medical and nursing care, access to dental services, health education, case management, transportation and interpretation to MSFWs and their families.

One of our country’s least visible populations, the health status of MSFWs is compromised due to the physically demanding nature of their work, substandard housing, little to no access to care, and living in isolation. Most MSFWs live below the poverty line, lack health insurance, experience interruptions in their medical care, and may struggle with issues of immigration status. They also face a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services and may be unfamiliar with the U.S. health system or local resources. Also, they often need transportation and an ability to take time off from work. While MSFWs make an overwhelming contribution to our lives and health by harvesting our fruits and vegetables (80% of which is done by hand in this country), they remain a critically vulnerable community. Unfortunately, many in our country have come to take for granted the quality, low-cost produce that is available in local grocery stores and do not think about the individuals or families who plant, nurture and harvest these crops.

The MMHP collaborates year-round with farm workers, growers, local organizations and primary care providers to offer Maine’s MSFWs the best possible access to care. MMHP wants to increase its partnerships with Maine’s community of growers to make sure that our services reach all MSFWs in Maine. If you are aware of a community or crew of workers who might benefit from our services, we encourage you to contact us. Growers provide a valuable perspective to the work that we do, so the MMHP is currently seeking members for our board of directors. For more information please contact our director, Barbara Ginley, at bginley@mainemigrant.org or call (207) 622- 9252.


New Publications about Insurance for Mainers

Maine Insurance Superintendent Alessandro A. Iuppa announced in October the availability of two new consumer brochures for business owners. These publications, titled “Insuring Your Business” and “Insuring Your Farm – The Basics of Property & Liability Coverage,” provide general information about property and liability insurance. Topics include information about policy coinsurance clauses that can affect how a loss is paid and factors to consider when obtaining coverage for commercial businesses.

Consumers may request the brochures from the Bureau of Insurance at 800-300-5000 (in state) or 207-624-8475. The brochures and other consumer information are also available at www.MaineInsuranceReg.org under Consumer info and then under Publications.


NOFA Guide to Organic Land Care Available

The Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Organic Land Care Program (NOFA OLC) has published the first edition of the NOFA Guide to Organic Land Care. The Guide is designed to help home and business owners care for their landscapes organically, whether they hire a professional or do it themselves.

The Guide lists over 120 organic land care professionals who have been accredited by NOFA. A chart locates professionals based on the types of services offered and territory served in eight states (New England minus Maine; New Jersey, New York, South Carolina).

Resources for people who want to do the majority of the work themselves include the golden rules of organic lawn care, a list of places to get soil tested, advice on what organic amendments to use and names of accredited professional consultants. Essays tell how to control common pests such as fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy and weeds as well as how to conserve water.

As more people realize that the toxic materials in chemical 4-step programs are moving into water supplies and our bodies, they are choosing nontoxic, organic methods of lawn care. Most notably, this awareness has resulted in the recent passage of Connecticut PA 916 – an act that prohibits the use of pesticides on the grounds of elementary schools and day care facilities.

Chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers contaminate surface and groundwater, threaten the health of children, pets and wildlife, decrease the activity of beneficial soil organisms and degrade the overall, long-term health of lawns and gardens. These chemicals are unnecessary and a waste of money. This Guide helps citizens consider these important issues when they decide how to care for their landscapes.

The Guide is available free at CT NOFA events and at www.ctnofa.org. For a hard copy, please send $2 for shipping and handling to Land Care Guide, CT NOFA, Box 164, Stevenson, CT 06491.


Debate over Organic Standards

This fall, the 600,000-member Organic Consumers Association (OCA) deluged Congress with over 350,000 letters and phone calls asking policymakers to reject an industry sponsored rider to the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The rider would weaken organic standards and could allow hundreds of synthetic substances to be used in organic production, processing and packaging without prior review or public participation. It would also allow continued use of such synthetics as xanthan gum, ammonium bicarbonate and ethylene. The OCA also worried that the amendment would weaken the role of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an independent advisory group that provides guidance to federal rulemakers.  Such weakening may open the door for non-organic animal feed for organic livestock.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) lobbied for the draft amendment to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), arguing that banning synthetic substances would harm organic producers. The OTA represents hundreds of small producers (some of whom oppose the draft amendment), as well as corporations such as Kraft, Dole, General Mills and the Grocery Manufacturers of America (which includes Wal-Mart and the supermarket chains).

The amendment conflicts with a recent court decision (Harvey v. Veneman) concluding that synthetic substances should not be allowed in products bearing the USDA organic seal. Current USDA rules allow the organic label on products containing at least 95% organic ingredients; the remaining 5% can contain certain synthetics. The ruling in favor of Arthur Harvey’s lawsuit said that including synthetics contradicted the intent of the 1990 law that led to national organic standards. Under the Harvey decision, products with synthetic substances that have been allowed for the past three years could no longer use the “USDA Organic” label but could be labeled “Made With Organic Ingredients,” if they had at least 70% organic ingredients. (Harvey is a Maine organic blueberry grower.)

Urvashi Rangan of Consumers Union (CU) says that many of the synthetics could have natural counterparts, although they may be more expensive. Research by CU shows that 46% of consumers buy foods labeled as organic, and 85% of survey respondents do not expect artificial ingredients in these foods.

Despite such consumer preference, Congress passed the amendment in October, but the OCA is trying to reverse this rider with an “Organic Restoration Act” in Congress in 2006. When the USDA proposed, in 1997 and 1998, to allow genetic engineering, food irradiation and toxic sludge on organic farms, the organic community rebelled successfully, says OCA’s Ronnie Cummins.  Last year, the USDA moved to allow previously prohibited pesticides, tainted feeds and antibiotics in the production of organic foods – and the organic community again rebelled and won. The current debate pits industrial organic with smaller, more local organic producers. Sources: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 5, 2005; Organic Bytes #67, Oct. 14, 2005. Organic Consumers Assoc., www.organic consumers.org/ ; “O Brother, Where Artificial Thou? Fight over synthetic ingredients splits organics community,” by Amanda Griscom Little, Grist, Sept. 29, 2005, www.grist.org/news/muck/2005/09/29/organics/index.html


Oakhurst Dairy Distributes Fresh, Organic Milk

In April, Oakhurst Dairy began distributing fresh, pasteurized Organic Valley Milk to retail stores throughout Northern New England. Stanley T. Bennett, President of Oakhurst Dairy, says that the milk is not ultra pasteurized: “Ultra pasteurizing milk imparts a cooked flavor which detracts from its nice, fresh taste.” Also, “the milk comes from cows living and grazing in New England pastures” – including from 35 Maine farmers. “The company that packages the milk, Guida Dairy (New Britain, Conn.), like Oakhurst, is a family owned and operated business,” Bennett continued, and “the milk is produced by family farms, provided by a family-owned dairy and distributed by our Oakhurst family – a natural fit.” Source: Press release, Oakhurst Dairy


Expanded Horizons

Through growth and acquisitions, U.S.-based Horizon Organics now controls 70% of the U.S. organic retail dairy market and is fully owned by Dean Foods, one of the top 25 food giants globally. Source: Rachel’s Environment & Health News, #817, 5/12/05; www.rachel.org


Free-range Eggs Are More Nutritious

Research by Mother Earth News magazine, released in July 2005, compared eggs from four free-range flocks with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for eggs from confinement production systems. Those from free-range chickens had up to twice as much vitamin E, up to six times more beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) and four times more essential omega-3 fatty acids. The free-range eggs averaged half as much cholesterol as the USDA data indicate for confinement-system eggs.

The testing, initiated by Mother Earth News, was conducted by Skaggs Nutrition Laboratory at Utah State University and Food Products Laboratory in Portland, Oregon; data and graphs were in the August/ September 2005 issue of the magazine and are at www.MotherEarthNews.com/eggs. “Other studies also have shown similar results for some of these nutrients, but the industry actively denies that free-range systems produce better eggs,” says Mother Earth News editor-in-chief Cheryl Long.

“Inferior eggs are not the only problem that has developed because the push for cheap food has gone too far,” Long says. “A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition has revealed that the nutrient content of conventionally grown vegetables and fruits has declined over the past 50 years. The study compared USDA data from 1950 and 1999 for 13 nutrients in 43 crops. After rigorous statistical analysis, the researchers found that, on average, all three minerals evaluated have declined; two of five vitamins have declined; and protein content has dropped by 6 percent.” Also, evidence is accumulating that produce grown with synthetic fertilizers is less nutritious, mainly because it tends to contain more water than produce grown with natural, organic fertilizers. For more information see the June/July 2004 article at www.motherearthnews.com/.

Meat and dairy products show nutrient differences similar to those reported above for eggs. Products from animals raised on natural pasture diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and higher in vitamins and other essential nutrients than products from animals raised in confinement on high-grain diets. (See the April/May 2002 article at www.motherearthnews.com) Both mad cow disease and E. coli food poisoning problems are consequences of intensive confinement beef production systems. Mad cow disease is the result of mixing infected animal “by-products” into feed given to feedlot cattle, and the emergence of highly toxic forms of E. coli bacteria has been linked to the practice of feeding cattle unnatural, high-grain diets.

Evidence that intensive industrial agriculture is delivering inferior food is pushing many consumers to seek local, organic, grass-fed and free-range products. The USDA reports that since 1994, farmers’ markets have increased more than 80 percent. “There’s a Real Food Revival underway in the U.S., and it’s providing safer, more nutritious and better tasting food to consumers and new opportunities for small farmers,” Long says. The August/September issue of Mother Earth News featured the story, “Join the Real Food Revival.” Source: Press Release, Mother Earth News, July 2005.


International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Approves Principles of Organic Agriculture

The General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) approved the revised Principles of Organic Agriculture after a two-year participatory process. They will inspire the organic movement in its full diversity and articulate the meaning of Organic Agriculture to the world at large.

With growth of the organic sector and the challenges and opportunities that come with growth, the IFOAM General Assembly had concluded that the basic values underpinning Organic Agriculture needed further reflection and discussion.

The approved Principles of Organic Agriculture consist of four principles upon which organic agriculture is based:

The Principle of Health – Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible.

The Principle of Ecology – Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

The Principle of Fairness – Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

The Principle of Care – Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well being of current and future generations and the environment.

Each principle is followed by an action-oriented explanation.

IFOAM’s newly elected president Gerald A. Herrmann from Germany stated, “The public demands a value oriented and credible system based on a clearly identifiable framework, and IFOAM is just the organization to provide this. The Principles of Organic Agriculture should also be recognized as a foundation for public regulations. IFOAM will make significant efforts to ensure that the Principles of Organic Agriculture are recognized by the Codex Alimentarius, other United Nations agencies and governments worldwide.”

Angela B. Caudle, IFOAM’s newly appointed Executive Director, noted, “From acknowledging the importance of precautionary management and traditional knowledge, to recognition of social and ecological justice, the Principles of Organic Agriculture provide a precise and systematic framework for the further development of the organic sector that ensures the integrity of the organic agricultural system.” Details are at www.ifoam.org.


Environmental Certification Standard for Flowers

Sustainably grown flowers are influencing the $16 billion U.S. floral industry. The U.S. organic floral market reached $8 million in 2003, growing 52% over the previous year. Sales are expected to grow 13% annually through 2008, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Organic Bouquet, the first online organic florist (www.OrganicBouquet.com), and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) have announced the Veriflora™ certification standard (www.scscertified.com/csr purchasing/veriflora/) for the American flower market. The standard is based on advanced agricultural practices, social responsibility, conservation of ecological resources, water conservation, waste management and product quality. Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, June 9, 2005


Downtowns Get a Boost from Farmers’ Markets

The Michigan Land Use Institute has shown that farmers’ markets across the nation not only offer a source of fresh produce in town but also draw customers to other downtown businesses. One national study showed that 60% of farmers’ market customers shopped at another downtown business. A Michigan survey revealed that 77% of market customers said they would not be downtown at all if not for the market. Despite burgeoning nationwide enthusiasm for farmers’ markets, the story warns that markets can be short-lived without planning and support from the larger community. Many markets are run by volunteers who can burn out, and if the community wants to maintain the benefits the market brings to downtown, government and commercial interests need to look at long-term strategies for keeping markets healthy. Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 3, 2005; article at www.mlui.org/growthmanagement/fullarticle.asp?fileid=16901


Why Your Food Isn’t COOL

A Public Citizen investigation illustrates how big agribusiness used millions of dollars in lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions, and a network of Washington insiders with close connections to the Bush administration and Congress, to thwart mandating country-of-origin labeling (COOL). This labeling would require beef, pork, lamb, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, fish and peanuts to be labeled to show where they were raised, grown or produced. The 2002 Farm Bill stipulated that the new program be implemented by September 2004, but mandatory COOL has been postponed by Congress – where lawmakers are under intense pressure from the meat and grocery industries – for two years. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted again to delay COOL’s implementation for meat until 2007. Industry is lobbying the Senate strongly to either delay funding for the USDA to work on COOL or turn it into a “voluntary” program. The report, “Tabled Labels: Consumers Eat Blind While Congress Feasts on Campaign Cash,” is posted at www.citizen.org and at www.sustainableagriculture.net/COOL_PubCitPressRel.php.


Organic Farmers Make a Difference for English Wildlife

In the largest and most comprehensive study of organic farming to date, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, scientists from leading UK institutions show conclusively that organic farms benefit a range of wildlife, including wild flowers, beetles, spiders, birds and bats, more than their conventional counterparts.

Scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (Thetford), the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (University of Oxford) spent five years studying matched pairs of organic and non-organic cereal-producing farms in lowland England. They found that organic farming systems provide greater potential for biodiversity than conventional counterparts, as a result of greater variability in habitats and more wildlife-friendly management practices, which resulted in real biodiversity benefits, particularly for plants.

Some of the significant results are:
  • Organic crops contain almost twice as many types of plant species (85% more).
  • There were more spiders (17% more), birds (5%) and bats (33%), too, but the effects were not as significant as for plants.
  • Organic farms have more grassland and higher densities of hedges.
  • Fields are smaller and hedges thicker on organic farms.
  • Organic farmers sow crops later and cut hedges less frequently.
Dr. Rob Fuller, Director of Habitat Research for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and lead author of the paper said: “Organic farms clearly have positive biodiversity effects for wild flowers. However, if they are to provide benefits on the same scale for species that need more space, like birds, we either need the farms to be larger or for neighbouring farms to be organic too. Currently, less than 3% of English farmland is organic so there is plenty of scope for an increase in area. Such an increase would help to restore biodiversity within agricultural landscapes.”

This integrated study covered 160 farms from Cornwall to Cumbria. Dr Lisa Norton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who did the work on plants and interviewed many of the farmers, said; “Organic farmers try to work with natural processes to increase productivity, using sustainable farming practices. Increased biodiversity is a happy by-product of this approach. For example, hedges on organic farms are kept in good stock-proof condition, as livestock are often an important part of the organic farming system. Typically, these stock-proof hedges are full of native, berry-producing shrubs, which are great for insects and the birds and bats that feed on them.”

The paper, “Benefits of organic farming to biodiversity vary among taxa,” by R.J. Fuller, L.R. Norton, R.E. Feber, P.J. Johnson, D.E. Chamberlain, A.C. Joys, F. Mathews, R.C. Stuart, M.C. Townsend, W.J. Manley, M.S. Wolfe, D.W. Macdonald and L.G. Firbank, was published in Biology Letters on Aug. 3, 2005. Source: News Release, British Trust for Ornithology, Aug. 21, 2005; BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU; Tel: +44 (0)1842 750050 Fax: +44 (0)1842 750030; info@bto.org.


Kids Need Nature

Between 1981 and 1997, the amount of time U.S. children aged 6 to 8 played outdoors decreased by four hours per week, while the amount of time they spent indoors in school increased by almost five hours per week. Since 1997, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation of Lincoln, Nebraska, has substantiated research showing that positive, appropriate experiences with nature bring significant benefits to children. They enhance observation skills, concentration and fine motor skills. Source: National Arbor Day Foundation, at www.arborday.org/explore/parents/.


New Report Sheds Light on Nutrient Intakes Nationwide

Nearly 95% of people in the United States are not getting desirable intakes of vitamin E from foods and beverages. More than half aren’t getting enough magnesium, about 40% aren’t getting enough vitamin A, and nearly one-third aren’t getting desirable intakes of vitamin C from the foods and beverages in their diets. This information comes from the Agricultural Research Service’s Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Maryland. The ARS report summarizes the most current federal nationwide food consumption data available from “What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002.” To access the report, see www.ars.usda.gov/foodsurvey. Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, rbliss@ars.usda.gov, September 29, 2005.


Birth Defect Rates Skyrocket on Florida Farms

The state of Florida launched an investigation in March 2005 into illegally exposing migrant workers to pesticides. At least 4,609 pesticide regulations were violated in the last 10 years, but only 7.6% of those resulted in penalties. Thus, migrant farm workers unknowingly face highly dangerous working conditions in order to supply the nation with cheap produce. For example, in Immokalee, Florida, migrant workers in pesticide-intensive tomato fields have witnessed three children born with severe birth defects in the last three months. “People have mentioned to me that maybe this has to do with chemicals,” says Francisca Herrera, who was told it was “safe” to work in the tomato fields for most of her pregnancy. Recently Francisca’s baby was born without arms or legs. Source: Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org/OFGU/birthdefects031405.cfm.


Vertical Farms: the Agriculture of the Future?

As the human population increases and as more people migrate to cities, how will food production need to change? With approximately 80% of the world’s arable land already in use, Dr. Dickson Despommier and his students at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health propose a multi-story, intensely managed, indoor farm producing traditional greenhouse crops as well as pigs and fowl year-round. See www.verticalfarm.com. Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 24, 2005.


Organic Consumers Fight to Stop Factory Farm “Organic” Dairy

Under pressure from agribusiness, the USDA is refusing to act against factory farm dairy feedlots that sell their products as “organic.”  Also, a loophole in federal organic regulations allows organic dairy farms to import young calves from non-organic, conventional farms (where animals have been weaned on cow blood, injected or medicated with antibiotics, and fed genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton seeds, slaughterhouse waste and tainted animal fats). These confinement and feeding practices are inhumane, unhealthy, environmentally unsustainable, and unfair to the majority of organic dairy farmers, who follow strict organic principles regarding pasture access and animal feed, and who do not import animals into their herds from conventional farms. On November 16, organic consumer and farm representatives attended the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Washington, D.C., to urge the USDA to stop allowing giant, intensive, confinement dairy feedlots to market their milk as “organic.”  For an update, see organicconsumers.org. Source: Organic Consumers Assoc. Alert, Oct. 25, 2005.


Hospitals Offer Organic Options

Hospitals in the United States are starting to offer organic options, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s report, Healthy Food, Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Communities: Stories of Health Care Leaders Bringing Fresher, Healthier Food Choices to their Patients, Staff and Communities. Examples include the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which operates two inpatient facilities, one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and one in Zion, Illinois. Also, Kaiser Permanente, a large, nonprofit health plan headquartered in Oakland, California, has started 14 farmers’ markets and farm stands at its medical facilities in California, Oregon and Hawaii and aims to have 29 markets by the end of 2005. Some of the markets feature local, organic producers. Source: What’s News in Organic, Issue 32, Summer 2005; Organic Trade Assoc., www.ota.com.


Gaseous Cows on Factory Farms

Burps and flatulence from dense populations of bovines in California’s heavily factory farmed San Joaquin Valley are creating more smog and greenhouse gases in the local area than cars. Each of the valley’s 2.5 million cows excretes nearly 20 pounds of gas per day, causing new policy debates between air quality regulators and the dairy industry. “This is not some arcane dispute about cow gases,” said Brent Newell, an attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “We are talking about a public health crisis. It’s not funny to joke about cow burps and farts when one in six children in Fresno schools is carrying an inhaler.” Source: Organic Bytes #63, Aug. 11, 2005,
www.organicconsumers.org/OFGU/gases080305.cfm


Why Organic Costs More

A feature in Grist magazine explores reasons for the sometimes higher cost of organic foods. Though demand for organic food is growing rapidly, that hasn’t driven costs down the way some expected it would. For some products, demand is outstripping supply, driving prices up. In addition, organic products aren’t reaching an economy of scale, because many organic producers are small operations committed to staying small. However, prices on processed organic food, which are markedly higher than those for conventional foods, could come down if economies of scale are reached. In Europe, governments have offered incentives to organic producers to help build a market that would reach an economy of scale. The article also notes that conventional food prices are artificially cheap due to government subsidies and externalities. See: www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/08/25/harrison-organics/


Body Care Products, Pet Foods, Supplements to be Certified Organic

The USDA will allow certification of qualifying organic body care products, pet foods and nutritional supplements. Since 2004, the USDA National Organic Program had been telling certified organic companies to remove the “USDA Organic” seal from non-food products. Taking advantage of the lack of regulatory oversight, some body care and supplement companies had been misleading consumers with fraudulent “organic” claims on products with synthetic ingredients. Thanks to thousands of consumers signing an Organic Consumers Association petition, and over 400 businesses signing on to support the OCA campaign, the USDA said on August 23, 2005, that it will accept certification and allow use of the “USDA Organic” seal on all organic non-food products that meet the national standards. Source: Organic Bytes #64, The Organic Consumers Association, Aug. 29, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/.


Organic Beekeeping Workshop in New York

The Pfeiffer Center will hold a workshop in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., on April 28 and 29 for beekeepers. Participants will look at the bee colony as an organism and what it needs in order to further its health and vitality. Advice and demonstrations will give novices enough information to start their own hive, and will encourage experienced beekeepers to adopt organic procedures. Presenter Gunther Hauk cofounded and directs the Pfeiffer Center and has kept bees for over 25 years. The author of Toward Saving the Honeybee, he gives lectures and workshops throughout North America. For more information, visit: www.pfeiffercenter.org


Maine Environmental Groups Want Aerial Spraying Ban

The Maine People’s Alliance and the Toxics Action Center (TAC) are seeking to ban all spraying of aerial pesticides in Maine, to ban organophosphate insecticides, and to limit other pesticide uses. In August the groups began a campaign to petition Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control for more stringent restrictions on pesticide use by farmers, commercial lawn care and pest management companies. They want aerial spraying to be phased out; and renewed research on pesticide drift, especially near Washington and Hancock county blueberry fields. The TAC reported in August that six of nine pesticides commonly used on blueberries are carcinogenic, and four affect reproductive and hormone systems.

Research conducted by the BPC from 2000 to 2003 showed that airborne pesticides travel hundreds of feet to, in one case, nearly a mile from application sites. Matthew Davis of Environment Maine said that small amounts of pesticides could affect endangered Atlantic salmon in rivers traversing blueberry lands.

The groups want organophosphate insecticides banned as well, because many are carcinogens and most are highly toxic. They also want better notification for homeowners when pesticides are to be used nearby, and they say applicators should pay the costs of notification. Currently, an informal system covers rural areas, and urban residents can pay $20 to be on a registry requiring notification when lawn care or pest management companies will be making applications nearby. Also, the groups want the BPC to require that applicators provide interested people with Material Safety Data Sheets describing health risks from pesticides being used nearby.

The TAC report, “Catching the Toxic Drift,” is available free at www.toxicsaction.org or for $10 from Toxics Action Center, 39 Exchange St., Suite 301, Portland 04101. Source: “Groups seek pesticide limits,” Aug. 18, 2005, Bangor Daily News. Posted at www.gefreemaine.org/article.php?story=2005081814584318


CDC Body Burden Study Finds Widespread Pesticide Exposure


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals in July, finding that more than 90% of U.S. residents carry a mixture of pesticides in their bodies. Many of these chemicals are linked to health effects such as cancer, birth defects and neurological problems. Children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure, had higher levels of some pesticides in their bodies than adults did.

The CDC sampled blood and urine from thousands of subjects across the country for 148 chemicals, 43 of them pesticides – just over 3% of the 1,284 pesticide active ingredients currently registered in the United States.
Pyrethroids were included for the first time in this study, and CDC found one pyrethroid metabolite in more than 75% of test subjects. Pyrethroids insecticides are widely used in agriculture, in home and garden pest products, and for lice control. They are a synthetic version of pyrethrins, a naturally occurring insecticide extracted from chrysanthemums. Unlike pyrethrins, which break down in the environment within hours, synthetic pyrethroids can last from days to months.

Exposure to pyrethroids can produce neurotoxic effects, vomiting, diarrhea and a tingling sensation on the skin. Pyrethroids are also suspected endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens, and as a group are the second most common cause of pesticide poisoning reported to U.S. poison control centers.

Some pesticides were found in the CDC study at higher levels in children than in adults. For example, the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos was found at higher concentrations in children, indicating exposures more than four times the level EPA considers “safe.” Home use of chlorpyrifos was banned in 2001 due to concern over health effects in children, but an estimated 10 million pounds are used in agricultural fields every year. In the 2001/2002 period covered by this report, chlorpyrifos was found in more than 75% of the population.

The organochlorine pesticides aldrin, dieldrin and endrin, banned in the United States for decades, were included in the CDC study for the first time and were detected in very low or unmeasurable amounts. CDC also found breakdown products of the organochlorine pesticide lindane in nearly half the subjects. The CDC did not test for other organochlorines now used in the United States, such as endosulfan and dicofol. Organochlorines persist in the environment, build up in people’s bodies, and are passed from mother to child in the womb and through breastfeeding.

A body burden study released in July by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported similar findings, focusing specifically on chemical exposures infants received before they were born. The EWG tested fetal cord blood of 10 healthy infants born at various locations around the U.S. in 2004, and found exposures to a total of 287 chemicals. Among the most pervasive pesticides found in newborns were hexachlorobenzene, dieldrin and DDT (and its contaminants and byproducts).

The Pesticide Action Network issued recommendations based on the CDC findings, including:
  • Corporations such as Bayer CropScience that distribute organochlorine pesticide products should withdraw them immediately from the U.S. market.
  • Policymakers should use CDC’s biomonitoring data to help develop policies that better protect public health, particularly of children.
  • CDC should make more detailed data (such as location and timing of sampling and occupational information) publicly available to help policymakers set priorities and evaluate impacts of state-level policies, such as California’s ban of lindane for pharmaceutical use.
  • Consumers should choose organic food and pesticide-free household and hygiene products to protect their families and support markets for healthy alternatives.
Sources: “CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/; “Body Burden, The Pollution in Newborns,” Environmental Working Group, http://archive.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/; Reigart, R.J., and Roberts, R.J. 1999. Recognition of Management of Pesticide Poisonings, 5th Edition. Washington DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; PANNA, www.panna.org.


Tell Home Depot You Want Pesticide-Free Lawn Products

Every year U.S. homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens, and use has risen rapidly. A recent survey reported that when informed about risks posed by lawn chemicals, nearly 70% of homeowners indicate a preference for non-toxic alternatives. Still, Home Depot and many other retailers are not responding to this consumer movement, nor are they offering information and products consumers need to switch to safer and healthier lawn care.

The chemical industry continues lobbying to prevent restrictions on pesticide use, and a major new public relations campaign is attacking public interest groups for misleading the public about the hazards of pesticides.

The Pesticide Action Network of North America and The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns is encouraging Home Depot, one of the largest U.S. home and garden retailers, to carry a full range of organic, non-toxic lawn care products; to train its staff in natural lawn care; to provide do-it-yourself materials; and to reconsider the sale of “weed and feed” lawn products. In October the groups asked consumers to help convince Home Depot to carry a full line of natural, non-toxic lawn and garden products by spring 2006 by writing to Brad Shaw, chair of Home Depot’s Environmental Council, and leaving a copy of their letter at their local Home Depot. They also want Home Depot staff to be trained in natural lawn and garden care; and printed information to be available on these topics for customers. Source: Pesticide Action Network North America press release, Sept. 2, 2005, www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20050902.dv.html


Arsenic in U.S. Rice May Stem from Pesticide in Soil

Rice grown in the United States contained more arsenic than rice grown in Europe, India and Bangladesh, according to a recent report. Researchers say that people consuming a subsistence diet of this rice may be consuming more than the maximum amount of arsenic provisionally recommended by the World Health Organization. The researchers suspect that the arsenic may be a legacy of arsenic-based pesticides used on cotton fields that later became rice fields. Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 24, 2005; See www.organicconsumers.org/foodsafety/arsenic080405.cfm


Organic Diet Eliminates Some Pesticides in Kids’ Urine

Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have shown that switching to organic foods provides children with “dramatic and immediate” protection from toxic pesticides. The scientists tested the urine of elementary school children from 23 families in suburban Seattle for 15 days. Children ate conventional foods for 10 of the days and organic foods for five days. During those five days, the toxic organophosphate insecticides malathion and chlorpyrifos in the children’s urine completely disappeared. These are two of the most commonly found pesticides on non-organic foods and are associated with nerve damage in children. Pesticide levels increased five-fold in the children’s urine as soon as conventional foods were reintroduced to their diet. The study concludes, “An organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposure to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production.” The researchers point out that eating organic foods will not eliminate exposure to organophosphates if these insecticides are used in homes to treat insect infestations, for example. Sources: Organic Bytes #65, Sept. 11, 2005, Organic Consumers Association; www.organicconsumers.org/school/organicstudy090405.cfm; “Organic Choice: Pesticides vanish from body after change in diet,” by Ben Harder; Science News Online, Sept. 24, 2005; Vol. 168, No. 13; www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050924/fob6.asp; Lu, C., et al. In press. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphate pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.8418.


Study Documents Neurologic Effects of Chronic Pesticide Exposure

Chronic moderate pesticide exposure is linked to neurologic symptoms affecting both the central and peripheral nervous systems, according to an Agricultural Health Study published in the July 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives. As part of the AHS, almost 20,000 farmers and private pesticide applicators completed surveys on demographic characteristics, medical history and neurologic symptoms, lifestyle and pesticide use. Applicators with the most cumulative lifetime days of pesticide use reported more neurologic symptoms than those with the fewest, for pesticides overall. The relationship between cumulative exposure and symptoms was strongest with insecticides, with organophosphates and organochlorines having the strongest relationship with symptoms. For more information, see http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2005/113-7/ss.html Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 3, 2005.


Spinosad Bad for Bees?

Research at Simon Fraser University in Canada has shown that adult bumblebees that were exposed to the pesticide spinosad during larval development showed signs of impaired foraging ability. Results published in the May 2005 issue of Pest Management Science indicate that pesticide levels previously thought to be safe for pollinators may prove harmful to wild bees. Source: What’s News in Organic, Summer 2005, Organic Trade Assoc., www.ota.com.


Glyphosate Linked to Environmental, Health Problems

Two new peer-reviewed scientific studies have further confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used herbicide. The June 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives reports that glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as “Roundup,” damages human placental cells at exposure levels 10 times less than what the company claims is safe. A study in the August journal of Ecological Applications found that even when applied at one-third of the maximum concentrations typically found in waterways, Roundup still killed up to 71% of tadpoles. Similar glyphosate studies around the world have been equally alarming. The American Academy of Family Physicians epidemiological research linked exposure to the herbicide with increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a life-threatening cancer, while a Canadian study linked glyphosate exposure with increased risk for miscarriage. A 2002 study linked glyphosate exposure with increased incidence of attention deficit disorder in children. Roundup is sprayed heavily on 140 million acres of genetically engineered crops around the world. Source: Organic Bytes #63, Aug. 11, 2005, Organic Consumers Assoc., www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.html


Study of GM Corn Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up

When a German court ordered Monsanto to make public a 90-day rat study on June 20, 2005, the data upheld claims by prominent scientists who said that animals fed the genetically modified (GM) corn developed extensive health effects in the blood, kidneys and liver and that humans eating the corn might be at risk. The 1,139-page research paper on Monsanto’s “Mon 863” variety also revealed that European regulators accepted the company’s assurances that its corn is safe, despite the unscientific and contradictory rationale used to dismiss significant problems. Also, the study is so flawed that critics say it wouldn’t qualify for publication in most journals—yet it is the primary document used to evaluate the health impacts.

Mon 863 is genetically engineered to produce its own pesticide, a toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, designed to attack the corn rootworm. Rats fed Mon 863 developed numerous health problems.  Research biologist Arpad Pusztai, commissioned by the German government to evaluate the study in 2004, says that based on the evidence, no one can say that Mon 863 will cause cancer, allergies or anything specific, since the results are preliminary. He warns, however, “It is almost impossible to imagine that major lesions in important organs … or changes in blood parameters … that occurred in GM maize-fed rats, is incidental and due to simple biological variability.”

French Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular endocrinologist at the University of Caen, agrees that the results indicate a toxic reaction. Seralini is a member of two French government commissions that evaluate GM food, one of which originally rejected a request for approval of the corn variety in October 2003 due to the adverse findings of the study. Seralini won a French lawsuit allowing him to express his concerns in public, and now Greenpeace has won a German court battle that makes public the data that concerned him.

An in-depth and fascinating article about this issue (from which the above is taken) is “Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up,” by Jeffrey M. Smith [author of Seeds of Deception (www.seedsofdeception.com)]; Aug 27, 2005; at www.foodconsumer.org/777/8/Genetically_Modified_Corn_Study_Reveals_Health_Damage_and_Cover-up.shtml


First U.S. Labeling Law for Genetically Engineered Food Passes in Alaska

The nation’s first labeling legislation for a genetically engineered (GE) food passed unanimously in the Alaska Senate and House in May. The Alaska House approved Senate Bill No. 25 requiring that genetically engineered fish be “conspicuously labeled to identify the fish or fish product as a genetically modified fish or fish product,” whether packaged or unpackaged.

Tracie Letterman, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety, says, “When 90 percent of Americans want biotech foods labeled, it’s only a matter of time before states fill in the regulatory gap left by the Federal government’s failure to require mandatory labeling. Alaska is merely the first.”

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing an application for approval to commercialize GE salmon developed to grow much more rapidly that wild salmon.

The legislation identifies genetically modified fish as “a finfish or shellfish whose genetic structure has been (A) altered at the molecular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes, including recombinant DNA and RNA techniques, cell fusion, gene deletion or doubling, introduction of exogenous genetic material, alteration of the position of a gene, or similar procedure; (B) the progeny of a finfish or shellfish described in (A) of this paragraph.” The term “genetically modified fish product” is defined as any “...product prepared from a genetically modified fish.”

“It will only take a few more states to enact similar legislation before the U.S. biotech food industry is forced to label all genetically engineered foods,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety. Source: The Center for Food Safety press release, May 12, 2005; CFS, 660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302, Washington DC 20003; P: (202) 547-9359, F: (202) 547-9429; office@centerforfoodsafety.org


Plants Can Repair Errors in Genes

Plants inherit genetic information from their ancestors and can use it to correct errors in their own genes – a startling capacity for DNA editing and self-repair wholly unanticipated by modern genetics. The newly discovered phenomenon, which resembles the caching of early versions of a computer document for viewing later, allows plants to archive copies of genes from generations ago, long assumed to be lost forever. Then, plants apparently can retrieve bits of code from that archive to overwrite genes they have inherited directly. The process could offer survival advantages to plants suddenly burdened with new mutations or facing environmental threats for which older genes were better adapted.

Scientists predicted that by harnessing the still-mysterious mechanism, they would be able to control plant diseases and create novel varieties of crops. If the mechanism can be invoked in animals – as some tantalized scientists venture may be possible — it may offer a revolutionary way to correct genetic flaws that lead to cancer and other diseases.

“We think this demonstrates that there is a parallel path of inheritance that we’ve overlooked for 100 years, and that’s pretty cool,” said Robert E. Pruitt, professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who oversaw the studies with co-worker Susan Lolle.

The finding represents a “spectacular discovery,” wrote German molecular biologists Detlef Weigel and Gerd Jurgens in a commentary accompanying the research in Nature. The existence of an unorthodox inheritance system does not overturn the basic rules of genetics worked out by Gregor Mendel in the 1800s, they noted, but it opens a mind-boggling world of possibilities and proves that genetics is still a young science.

“It adds a level of biological complexity and flexibility we hadn’t appreciated,” said Lolle, who is on leave from Purdue to serve at the National Science Foundation, which funded the work.

The Purdue team began to suspect something unusual while studying a mutation in the mustard family weed Arabidopsis thaliana, a popular plant for genetic study. The mutation was in a gene known as hothead – one of many related genes, including fiddlehead, airhead, pothead and deadhead, that, when mutated, cause abnormalities in stems and flowers.

Arabidopsis plants typically self-fertilize, so when both copies of a gene mutate in a plant, its offspring is bound to be similarly flawed – in hothead’s case, exhibiting the parent’s mutant flowers. Yet in the Pruitt-Lolle lab, a small but steady percentage of hothead offspring had normal flowers, like those of their grandparents. Somehow the mutation – a single misspelled “letter” of genetic code in a gene made of 1,782 molecular letters – was being repaired. Molecular studies indicated that the plants harbored molecular “memories” of versions of their genetic code going back at least four generations – versions that could serve as templates to correct mutated stretches of DNA.

The team has not found the templates, but evidence suggests they are pieces of RNA (ribonucleic acid) that can be inherited separately from the chromosomes that carry the primary genetic code in cells. Source: Agriculture Today, April 17, 2005. See Washington Post article.


Testing Finds No GM Corn in Mexico

Extensive testing in Oaxaca, Mexico, during 2003 and 2004 failed to turn up evidence of genetically modified corn (GM), says a Reuters news story on Planet Ark. Genetically modified corn had been found in a remote mountainous region in 2001, raising fears that the native gene pool in this area where corn originated had been contaminated. According to the story, an education campaign in the area has urged farmers not to plant corn of unknown origin, because it could be imported GM corn. This education is credited with helping to stop the spread of GM corn in the region. Sources: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 24, 2005; www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=31978&newsdate=09-Aug-2005


    

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