"We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine."
- Michael Pollan
|| News & Events – Winter 2006
New Book Study Group to Read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”
A new book study group, sponsored by MOFGA, the Belfast Co-op Store and the UU Belfast Green Sanctuary Group, is forming to read and discuss The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. The group will meet on the first Sunday of each month, from February through May 2007 (2/4/07, 3/4/07, 4/1/07, 5/6/07), from 1 to 3 p.m. at the UU Church of Belfast. Pollan addresses the fundamental question of “What should we eat?” with great wit and intelligence, looking at the social, ethical and environmental impact of four different meals. Eating well, he finds, can be a pleasurable way to change the world. To learn more about the book (the introduction and first chapter are online), visit http://michaelpollan.com/omnivore.php.
Please preregister for the group with Fran Clemetson at the Belfast Co-op Store, email@example.com, 338-2532, by January 15th. We will pre-purchase books at a group discount, which will be the only cost (between $20 to $25, depending on number purchased).
Deer Isle Group Proposing Windmill
Farmers and commercial windmills are an ideal combination. Farmers can make $10,000 to $20,000 a year from leasing land to a windmill, but lose access to only ? to 1 acre. They can continue to use the land under the windmill for grazing, crops or hay. The windmill company will benefit from having a windmill site away from built-up areas.
The town and the environment also benefit. Each windmill increases the town’s tax base by $3.5 million and provides enough clean power for 600 homes. (See www.energymaine.com.)
If you own high land and would like to find out more about siting a commercial windmill on your land, call Jane McCloskey, administrator of the East Penobscot Bay Environmental Alliance (EPBEA), at 207-348-6075.
The EPBEA believes that global warming is the most serious issue facing our planet and Penobscot Bay. It is working to reduce global warming with a three-prong strategy:
• teaching Alliance members and neighbors about ways to reduce energy use;
• working to promote government policies to reduce global warming; and
• facilitating the siting of windmills in Maine.
The EPBEA believes that small, decentralized wind projects with one, two or three windmills are the way to go in Maine. It is working with Portland energy broker Competitive Energy Services (CES), which provides energy to Hannaford, LL Bean, the Bucksport paper mill, Colby, Bates, Bowdoin and others. CES is also building three windmills in Freedom, Maine. In addition, CES partners with Maine Green Power and Maine Interfaith Power and Light. People can sign up with these groups, and their power will be provided by such renewable energy as wind, hydro or solar. To find out more about CES, the Freedom Wind Project or Maine Green Power, see www.energymaine.com or Google Competitive Energy Services.
In October 2006, CES put up a commercial anemometer (wind speed indicator) on north Deer Isle, where it will measure wind velocity on the site for the next year. If the wind is strong enough to make a commercial windmill viable, CES will apply to the town of Deer Isle for a permit to build a windmill. If the town agrees, a windmill should go up the next summer.
Neither CES nor EPBEA wants to put up a windmill if people in the town don’t want one. However, EPBEA hopes (and seems to be hearing) that Deer Isle people have begun to take global warming seriously enough that most will be proud to take the lead in promoting renewable energy and windmills.
These are LARGE windmills, with towers 260 feet tall and blades 130 feet long, for a total height of almost 400 feet. They are about 10 times the height of our spruce trees. They are beautiful, but they will be visible.
The blades on these modern windmills move more slowly than those on older windmills, and studies show that they do not cause appreciable harm to birds.
Maine Greenhouse Group Foils High Heating Costs
The threat of global warming and the high cost of energy are causing members of the Mid Maine Greenhouse Growers Association (MMGGA) to look for ways to economize on the amount of fuel needed to heat their greenhouses. Last year we undertook a group purchase of a product called Astrofoil, which consists of two layers of bubble wrap polyethylene material sandwiched between two layers of heavy aluminum foil, for a combined thickness of 3/8 inch and an R value of approximately 10. The material is manufactured by Innovative Energy, Inc., of Lowell, Indiana, comes in 4’ x 125’ rolls (other sizes available) and was shipped directly to individual members by UPS. Cost per roll was $140, or 28 cents per square foot, including shipping.
We found this material to be ideal for insulating parts of the greenhouse where light transmission was not necessary, such as knee walls under benches, end walls and north facing surfaces during the winter, when the sun angle is low. Astrofoil is tough, easily cut with scissors and has a good fire retardancy rating, because the aluminum foil protects the plastic inner layers.
Since most heat loss in greenhouses is radiational, a reflective barrier such as Astrofoil can make a real impact on heating costs. We liked the fact that this material is lightweight, flexible, easily installed and resists moisture. There are undoubtedly many other applications where such a material can help Maine farmers and gardeners battling our cold climate. (Note that no light is transmitted through Astrofoil.) We found the people at Innovative Industries to be very helpful and easy to do business with. The MMGGA is considering another group purchase this year.
For information on Astrofoil, visit the company’s Web site, www.insul.net, or call 1-800-776-3645 For information on MMGGA, contact Michael Zuck at Everlasting Farm (947-8836).
Organic Bouquet Delivers Carbon Neutral Flowers
The Climate Trust, a leading provider of carbon offset programs, and Organic Bouquet, the nation’s first organic floral company, have partnered to purchase carbon offsets to mitigate greenhouse gases generated from shipping the company’s flowers. Organic Bouquet will participate in the Climate Trust’s Truck Stop Electrification Program, which reduces diesel emissions at truck stops where, each night, thousands of truckers idle their engines to power heating, air conditioning and appliances. The program will retrofit 275 docking stations at seven major truck stops along I-5 with “Shurepower” electrical outlets, allowing truckers to power their rigs with electricity rather than diesel fuel.
The program will remove nearly 90,000 metric tons of CO2 over the next 16 years, according to estimates – the equivalent of taking 16,000 cars off the road or planting 180,000 trees. It will also save truckers an estimated 10 million gallons of fuel.
The Climate Trust offers companies a viable way to reduce their fossil fuel footprints through programs such as reforestation, green building and clean-air transportation, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To date, the Climate Trust’s “carbon offset” programs have removed 1.7 million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking over 300,000 cars off the road.
For more information, visit www.climatetrust.org. Organic Bouquet (www.OrganicBouquet.com), established in 2001, uses sustainably grown flowers as a catalyst for change.
New Barley Enzymes Boost Alcohol Production
Researchers have designed three heat-loving barley enzymes that perform exceptionally well at temperatures hovering above 70 degrees C., or about 160 degrees F. Thanks to their heat tolerance, these enzymes can yield up to 30% more sugar than enzymes in conventional barley lines. More sugar means more fermentable product for brewing beer – and more sugar for converting into ethanol-based fuels. Barley growers earn up to $1 more per bushel for top barley varieties suited for ethanol and beer production.
Today’s barley enzymes become severely sluggish at superheated temperatures, but heat is necessary to prepare the starches in barley for conversion to sugar. These new enzymes were developed not to breed into current barley plants, but to be used as a search tool to scan vast collections of barley plants for accessions already possessing the desirable enzymes.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Agricultural Research, Sept. 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep06/barley0906.htm
Map of Alternative Fuel Sites
MapMuse.com has an interactive map of biodiesel and ethanol 85 fuel stations in the United States. Site visitors may add stations to the maps.
Compost Bin Orders
Towns around Maine, and the rest of northern New England, have been taking part in group orders of plastic compost bins for the last couple of years. The solid-design bins are made in Canada from recycled black plastic and are cylindrical, 33" by 35", with animal-proof lids. They are very useful for helping people in town, and those who might not otherwise feel comfortable composting their kitchen scraps, to feel confident enough to do so. They have to be ordered in palettes of 20 bins, at $36.50 per bin, for an $80-$90 retail value per bin. Most towns have been ordering through their transfer stations, with the Maine Resource Recovery Association organizing the order.
If your town or region has not participated in these orders, you might suggest doing so to your town transfer station or dump, because having these bins at a low price really increases composting and starts people toward an understanding of how organic matter breaks down and recycles itself, without bad smells and the general “yuck” factor. In fact, novices tend to get very excited about the process and go on to bigger and better endeavors. And the enormous environmental advantages to having more people composting, on any scale, are obvious.
We’ve been ordering compost bin on our own in the Camden area for many years, along with holding annual compost classes, using a short video from Cooperative Extension followed by a Q&A session. (We also encourage people to build other kinds of bins that are not made of plastic.) Lately we’ve been using the order to raise funds for the Garden Institute, getting a cut on profits from each bin. But the usual town ordering system is through transfer stations and the MRRA (942-6772, in Bangor, with all the forms and publicity in a simple packet. Watch the Web site and call early in the winter to get ordering information. To make this a fundraiser, call the regional organizer, Northeast Resource Recovery Association, in New Hampshire (603-798-5777, www.recyclewithus.org). Orders usually are made in early May, and bins are delivered in late June. For more details on how this works in Camden, call me at 236-8732.
– Beedy Parker
Additives May Boost Pathogens in Compost Tea
Using compost to make a foliar spray or soil drench to promote plant growth and suppress plant diseases has gained popularity in the United States during the past 10 years, especially among organic farmers. These “compost teas” are made by adding small amounts of finished, mature compost to unheated water and allowing the mixture to steep or brew.
The self-heating process of composting generally reduces pathogens, but Agricultural Research Service microbiologists David Ingram and Patricia Millner have found that ingredients commonly added to compost tea may promote growth of bacteria that can cause illness in humans. Ingram and Millner, who are in the Environmental Microbial Safety Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, examined the potential for such bacteria to grow during both aerobic and anaerobic compost-tea production. They studied the effects of additives – such as soluble kelp, fish hydrolysates, humic acid, rock dust and proprietary nutrient solutions – on growth of pathogenic bacteria as well as microbes that some farmers believe are beneficial and necessary to enhance soil and inhibit foliar pathogens.
Ingram found that, in general, when compost with low numbers (fewer than two cells per milliliter of tea) of Salmonella and E. coli is used to make compost tea, the pathogens grew only when additives were included in the initial watery mixture; pathogens remained undetectable in all the compost teas made without commercial additives.
“This debunks the view among some compost-tea producers that the aerobic bacteria in compost will inhibit growth of human pathogenic bacteria when aerobic conditions and nutrient additives are present,” says Ingram. Such a scenario raises concerns about potential contamination of treated crops, particularly those intended for fresh consumption.
“Use of supplemental nutrients and other additives to produce compost tea gives even a few pathogenic bacteria a growth boost, so testing of the final tea before spraying may be necessary to ensure the absence of human pathogens,” says Ingram.
Recommendations and guidelines for safe production and use of compost tea have been provided by the Compost Tea Task Force, formed by the National Organic Standards Board. The report can be found at: www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5070290.
Vern Grubinger of the University of Vermont cites these NOSB guidelines to reduce food safety risks:
• Use only potable water to make compost tea or to dilute it.
• Sanitize all equipment used to prepare compost tea.
• Make compost tea only from compost that has maintained a temperature of at least131 degrees F. for three days and has been mixed so that all of the pile or windrow has heated.
• Avoid additives when fermenting compost tea, as these can promote the growth of harmful organisms. In particular, simple sugar sources, like molasses, should be avoided.
• Additives can be used if sample batches of compost tea are tested before using it to make sure it meets the EPA’s recreational water quality guidelines for coliform bacteria.
• If compost tea is made with additives but is not tested, or if it doesn’t meet water quality guidelines, then food crops may not be harvested until 90 to 120 days after the compost tea has been applied (as with raw manure use on organic farms).
For more information about compost tea and the debate about additives and E. coli 0157:H7, see “An Update on Compost Tea: Benefits, Risks, Regulation,” by Eric Sideman, Ph.D., The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, www.mofga.org/mofga/other/mofgm04c.html.
Sources: “Additives Boost Pathogens in Compost Tea,” Agricultural Research, Sept. 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep06/tea0906.htm?pf=1, “Compost Tea to Suppress Plant Disease,” by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Cooperative Extension, www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry
Contacts: David Ingram and Patricia Millner, USDA-ARS Environmental Microbial Safety Laboratory, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 001, Room 140B, Beltsville, MD 20705; phone (301) 504-9214 [Ingram], (301) 504-8387 [Millner], fax (301) 504-8370.
'Jefferson' Trees Resistant to Dutch Elm Disease
The fungus that causes Dutch elm disease (DED) – Ophiostoma ulmi – has killed around 77 million American elms, decimating these graceful trees along streets and in parks and gardens, since its introduction to the United States in 1931.
To combat this disease that originated in France, researchers screened thousands of American elm trees for resistance. Thanks to the efforts of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists with the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and collaborators, enough old specimens were located and kept alive to provide the germplasm necessary to develop DED-tolerant trees.
The arboretum’s tree-breeding project was led by ARS geneticist Denny Townsend until his 2005 retirement. Townsend worked with horticulturist Susan Bentz at the ARS Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit (FNPRU) in Glenn Dale, Maryland.
In 2005, the newest American elm – named 'Jefferson' – was released jointly by ARS and the National Park Service (NPS), after screening by Townsend and James L. Sherald, NPS Natural Resource Officer, showed its outstanding DED tolerance. It was cloned in 1993 from the original tree, a survivor of about 300 elms planted in the 1930s on the National Mall in Southwest Washington.
'Jefferson' grows in the typical vase shape to nearly 70 feet tall, has broad U-shaped branch unions, and has leaves that turn dark green earlier in the spring – and stay dark later in the fall – than most other elms. 'Jefferson' can withstand pollution from city traffic and is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 7.
'Jefferson' is being propagated and should be available to consumers in about four years. Specimens can be seen on the National Mall, next to the old Smithsonian building, and will soon be at the arboretum.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Alfredo Flores, (301) 504-1627, firstname.lastname@example.org, June 13, 2006. Read more about the research in the June 2006 issue of Agricultural Research at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jun06/elm0606.htm.
Organic Seed List Online
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Organic Seed Database at http://seeds.omri.org/ provides accurate information on the availability and supply of hundreds of certified organic seed varieties, to help growers and certifiers find supplies of organic seed. OMRI provides independent verification of organic certification for listed seeds, so seed suppliers are charged a fee for each seed variety listed per year.
Organic Sales Continue Steady Growth
Preliminary findings from the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA’s) 2006 Manufacturer Survey show that U.S. organic food sales totaled nearly $14 billion in 2005, representing 2.5 percent of all retail sales of food.
Organic foods’ share of total food sales is up from 1.9 percent in 2003. According to survey results, sales of organic foods are expected to reach nearly $16 billion by the end of 2006. Nonfood products, including personal care goods, flowers, pet food, fiber (linen and clothing), household cleaners and nutritional supplements, grew by 32.5% overall to reach $744 million in sales during 2005.
Organic food categories experiencing the greatest growth during 2005 included meat (55.4%), condiments (24.2%) and dairy products (23.5%). The fastest-growing nonfood categories during 2005 were organic flowers (50%), pet food (46%), and fiber (44%).
Source: Organic Trade Assoc. press release, May 7, 2006. Copies of the Organic Trade Association’s Manufacturer Survey can be ordered from OTA (phone: 413-774-7511, Ext. 16; fax: 413-774-6432; email@example.com; www.ota.com/) for $195 for OTA members and $495 for non-members.
Study Finds Organic Milk Higher in Omega 3 Fatty Acids
A three-year study, sponsored by Britain’s Organic Milk Suppliers’ Co-operative (OMSCo), found organic milk contained 68% more omega-3 fatty acids on average than conventional milk. The study, conducted independently by the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow from 2002-2005 and published in the Journal of Dairy Science, involved a cross section of United Kingdom farms over a 12-month production cycle. Omega-3s are believed to reduce risk of heart disease and have been linked to better concentration in children.
Fourteen scientists involved in the research have written to England’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) asking the agency to recognize the health benefits of organic milk. The FSA has repeatedly refused to recognize that any organic food products are healthier than their conventional counterparts. “Over the last few years there has been mounting research confirming the higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk. This latest study clearly shows that the higher levels of these essential fatty acids are a result of the whole organic farming system,” said Nicholas Saphir, OMSCo Chairman. “We believe that the consumer should have access to this information through the FSA.”
Another study, at the University of Aberdeen in 2004, found that organic milk contained on average 71% more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic.
Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Ag., Oct. 5, 2006, www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=AgTODAYNewsletter&id=24393&v=ArticleNational
Raw Milk Dairies Targeted
In Michigan, farmer Richard Hebron and the Family Farms Co-op, through which he and others distribute raw milk and raw milk products in a CSA-style plan (with customers owning the cows), have had their operations jeopardized as state police confiscated dairy products, a computer and financial records. Retailing raw milk is illegal in Michigan, but the Co-op believed it circumvented that law, since the consumers owned the cows and farmers were paid to board the animals. The actions occurred after Michigan’s Agriculture Department learned of children who reportedly became ill after drinking unpasteurized milk. The children’s illness was never traced back to any specific food, however. Nevertheless, the department is conducting a weeks-long investigation that is crippling the farmers and the co-op financially.
In a similar case, California authorities shut down raw milk producer Organic Pastures Dairy for over two weeks after four children became ill from E. coli 0157:H7 last summer. No harmful E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria were found at the dairy during the investigation, however.
Business Week writer David Gumpert writes, “In comparison, even though 200 people were sickened by E. coli from California spinach, none of the California spinach farms were shut down.” He suggests that as raw and organic milk become increasingly popular, large dairies are pressuring agriculture officials to investigate raw milk producers.
Gumpert updates the raw milk issue at thecompletepatient.com. As we went to press, he had noted that some of the milk being handled by Family Farms Co-op came from Indiana, which, says the FDA, violates interstate commerce law. (The interstate sale of unpasteurized milk is prohibited by law.) When the FDA made the same complaint to Organic Pastures in 2004, that dairy labeled its product being sold outside of California as pet food, making the commerce legal.
Sources: “Getting a Raw Deal?” BusinessWeek.com, 9/28/06, www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/sep2006/sb20060928_865207.htm. “States Target Raw-Milk Farmers,” by David E. Gumpert, Business Week, Oct. 19, 2006, www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/oct2006/sb20061019_952010.htm?chan=smallbiz_smallbiz+index+page_policy.
Growers Can Make More Money by Going Organic
Minnesota grain farmers could make more money by switching to organic grain crops, says a four-year study conducted at the Swan Lake Research Farm near Morris, Minnesota. The study analyzed economic risks and transition effects of switching to organic farming.
Researchers David W. Archer and Hillarius Kludze compared an organic corn-soybean rotation with an organic corn-soybean-spring wheat/alfalfa rotation – half grown with conventional tillage and half with strip tillage – with a corn-soybean rotation using conventional tillage. Strip tillage involves tilling only the middle of the seedbed. The scientists found that when strip tillage is used with organic farming, one transition risk is an increase in weeds until farmers learn to manage the system.
Computer simulations projected costs, yields and risks over a 20-year period, using yield and economic data from the four-year study, as well as crop price records of recent years.
Records showed that organic crops fetched much more than conventional: soybeans, up to $14 more per bushel; corn, up to $3 more; and wheat, up to $5 more. Organic alfalfa hay is too new to have a track record, so researchers recorded it as selling for the same price as conventionally grown hay.
Another computer model projected that farmers would net an average $50 to $60 more per acre per year by going organic, even with the highest transition costs. The premium price advantage would outweigh the initial higher costs and possibly lower yields, even if organic prices were to drop by half.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, July 25, 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
More Choice, Twice the Jobs, Half the Price at Local Market in London
Street markets offer more fresh produce choices than supermarkets at half the price, according to new economics foundation (nef) research for Friends of Queens Market in East London. Local markets also benefit the local economy and create twice as many jobs per square meter of retail as supermarkets. Development planned for the Market site would threaten the local economy and community, adds nef.
Eighty percent of customers at Queens Market said that the market sold goods that were not available elsewhere, undermining claims of supermarkets that they can provide what consumers want. More than two-thirds were also attracted by the market’s atmosphere.
A ‘shopping basket’ exercise found that items bought at the market were on average 53% cheaper than at a local Wal-Mart supermarket. Also, low-income customers were able to bargain for discounts, especially at the end of the market day; such bargaining does not occur at supermarkets.
Low overheads and flexible business rates at the market nurture start-up enterprises. The market also provides more varied jobs requiring richer skills than do food superstores; and it offers more opportunities to learn about and start businesses. Seven out of 10 businesses surveyed at the market had black or minority owners.
The market provides accessible, affordable, quality food in a ‘food desert’ – an area that otherwise provides poor access to fresh, affordable food. Queens Market also caters to a multi-ethnic population, principally Asian but also African and Afro-Caribbean. The market experience is one of abundance where traders create a theatre of food.
“Markets also support coral-like clusters of tiny businesses that are finely attuned to the local community and business environment in a way that no large format supermarket can ever be. The irony is that because the value of markets has not been quantified until now, planning decisions are being taken around the country which are undermining the small enterprises that can prevent us becoming a nation of clone towns,” says Guy Rubin, senior researcher at nef.
Source: New Economics Foundation, www.neweconomics.org/
Farmers’ Cooperative Restaurant Opening in D.C.
Washington D.C. bigwigs will soon be able to enjoy fine dining at a farmer-owned cooperative restaurant, Agraria, on the waterfront in Georgetown. A group of Midwest farmers invested $2 million ($2,000 each) in the enterprise and will raise much of the food on the menu – in the process connecting affluent, urban consumers with the farmers who grow the food. Farmers from the North Dakota Farmers Union came up with the idea and hired professionals to develop a business plan, find the site, and design and run the restaurant. According to the Pioneer Press, the farmers have been surprised to learn about the current fashion for having some communal tables at East Coast restaurants – places where patrons can sit and meet other diners.
Source: “D.C. dining with a Midwest menu,” by Tom Webb, St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 25, 2006.; www.twincities.com. firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5428.
Walnuts and Heart Health
English walnuts (the walnuts sold in supermarkets) reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and may have yet another way of enhancing cardiovascular health. Laboratory hamsters that ate feed containing walnuts had significantly lower levels of the natural chemical endothelin, which causes inflammation of arteries and growth of sticky deposits (plaque) on blood vessels. These conditions contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
All tested levels were effective; they were the equivalent of a human eating three to eight handfuls of walnuts a day. Other research has shown that eating walnuts may affect blood vessels directly. The present study is the first to demonstrate this by showing that walnuts suppress artery endothelin in lab animals.
Source: Agricultural Research Service, USDA, July 31, 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
New Findings About Essential Choline
Getting higher – or at least adequate – dietary levels of choline is related to lower blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, according to research at Tufts University, Harvard School of Public Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. High levels of homocysteine in the blood are a potential risk factor for heart attack, stroke, dementia, cancer and even death.
Choline is a micronutrient that is essential for breaking down fat for energy and maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes. Choline is also used by the body to produce acetylcholine, which is involved in nerve signaling.
The researchers examined the relationship between choline intake measured by food-frequency questionnaires and levels of homocysteine measured by blood tests among 1,960 participants in the Framingham Offspring Study. The findings were independent of factors that affect homocysteine levels, such as intake of folate, vitamin B-6, alcohol and caffeine.
Getting adequate dietary choline may help maintain lower blood levels of homocysteine in the body. Experts suggest that an adequate choline intake is 425 milligrams (mg) a day for women and 550 mg a day for men. Some good food sources include liver, bacon, beans, wheat bran and peanuts.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, email@example.com, June 19, 2006. This report is available at www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr. A database of choline in more than 400 foods can be accessed at www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=6232
Nutrient Data on Mushrooms Updated
Mushrooms contain several key nutrients, including copper, potassium, folate and niacin, according to recently analyzed data. Seven varieties of mushrooms – white button, oyster, shiitake, enoki, portabella, crimini and maitake – were collected from retail outlets around the country and were analyzed for fat, fiber, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals, and for ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D. Most were analyzed raw, but white button mushrooms, commonly used in recipes, were also analyzed after stir-frying and microwaving. Portabella mushrooms were analyzed after grilling, and shiitake after stir-frying. Most nutrients were fully retained when mushrooms were cooked, while others were retained at 80 to 95% of their levels in raw mushrooms.
All of the mushrooms provide a significant amount of copper. Each cup of stir-fried white button mushrooms provides 0.3 milligram of copper – about one-third of the recommended daily intake for adults. Copper helps the body produce red blood cells and drives a variety of chemical reactions that are key to human health.
The mushrooms also provide a significant amount of potassium, which helps the body maintain normal heart rhythm, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function. Two-thirds of a cup of sliced, grilled portabella mushrooms contains the same amount of potassium as a medium-sized banana.
The new nutrient values for mushrooms will appear at www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata.
Source: Agricultural Research Service news Service, USDA, Aug. 18, 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr.
Berries Boost Brain Power
Laboratory animals that were fed berry extracts and then treated to accelerate the aging process were protected from damage to brain function, according to research at Tufts University in Boston and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Three groups of 20 rats each were studied for about three months. The control group was fed a standard diet of grain-based chow. A second group was fed chow with blueberry extract equal to one cup daily in humans. A third group was fed chow with strawberry extract equal to one pint daily in humans. After two months, half of the rats in each group were treated to induce the normal losses in learning and motor skills that often come with aging.
Compared with the aged control rats, the aged-but-supplemented rats were much better able to find – and in some cases remember – the location of an underwater platform. Also, aged control rats had less dopamine release than nonaged control rats. But these decreases in dopamine release were not seen in the strawberry- and blueberry-supplemented groups, whether aged or not.
Many studies published during the past eight years showing reduced, or in some cases reversed, declines in brain function among rats whose diets were supplemented with blueberry, cranberry or strawberry extracts or Concord grape juice.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, August 23, 2006, www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
rBGH: Monsanto’s Dairy Hormone Losing Ground, Even on Factory Farms
The genetically-engineered hormone rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) is injected into about one-third of U.S. dairy cows, according to its manufacturer, Monsanto. The Organic Consumers Association puts the figure at 18 percent. Whatever the use rate, the synthesized hormone, banned in all 25 European countries, Japan, Australia and Canada, is under increasing attack as U.S. consumers demand pure milk.
An article in The New York Times noted that U.S. women who consume dairy products seem to be five times as likely as vegans to bear fraternal twins. Dr. Gary Steinman, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, compared records of 1,042 vegan mothers with records of those who consumed dairy products regularly. He reported his results in the May 2006 issue of The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
Steinman found that an increase in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in the blood of dairy consumers was associated with increased rates of multiple ovulation. The same is true in studies of other animals. Steinman cited a 2000 study that showed 13% less IGF in vegan women than in women who eat dairy products regularly. He said that his findings need to be confirmed by others before health care recommendations can be changed; while an association between IGF and twinning figures occurs, evidence that multiple ovulation is caused by eating more dairy is not conclusive.
All cow’s milk contains naturally-occurring BGH, but cows injected with the synthetic version, rBGH, produce more milk and more calf twins.
According to the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Eli Lilly & Co. reported a 10-fold increase in IGF-1 levels in milk of cows receiving the hormone. While IGF-1 is naturally present in humans, research suggests that elevated levels are associated with breast, colon and prostate cancers, says the Center. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found higher blood levels of IGF-1 in women with breast cancer than in those without.
Other factors that may influence twinning are folic acid, genetics, and delayed childbearing, according to the Times article. However, Steinman suggested that the continuing increase in the birth rates of twins in the United States since 1994, when rBGH was approved for sale, might be associated with the synthetic hormone. The rate of twin births here is more than twice that in Great Britain, which banned rBGH.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) notes that rBGH has been under increasing attack lately. For example:
On June 9, The Dairy & Food Market Analyst reported that Dean Foods, Wal-Mart, Kroger and possibly others are seeking milk from cows that were not treated with rBGH, while Monsanto is lowering the price of rBGH to try to cling to its dwindling market.
A June 4 Associated Press article in the Montana Independent Record reports that the state’s largest milk processors, Darigold Farms and Meadow Gold, now require their farmers to sign affidavits saying they’re rBGH-free – a decision made by farmers after they noted consumer demand for untainted milk.
On June 1, the huge Garelick processing plant in Florence, New Jersey, declared itself rBGH-free. Garelick’s plant supplying milk for Maine went rBGH-free a few years ago, because Maine consumers had already “voted with their dollars” by buying Oakhurst’s milk from untreated cows.
Other Oregon dairies to go rBGH-free include Tillamook, for its cheese but not other products; Eberhard; Alpenrose; and Darigold (for its processing plant in Portland and for its yogurt).
Health Care Without Harm (www.noharm.org), an international coalition of 443 organizations that promotes healthy practices in hospitals, issued a position statement in June 2005 against rBGH. Since then, numerous U.S. hospital systems have initiated actions toward going rBGH-free.
The nonprofit Food and Water Watch features a chart of rBGH-free products by state at www.foodandwaterwatch.org. (Most of Maine’s organic dairies are not on the list and might ask to be added.) The Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org) and Center For Food Safety (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) have been leading advocates for rBGH-free products for many years and cover food safety issues well.
The Organic Consumers Association notes that Starbucks still serves coffee drinks using dairy products from cows treated with rBGH – “another good reason to patronize local independently owned coffee shops that offer organic and Fair Trade alternatives.”
Sources: “Rise in Rate of Twin Births May Be Tied to Dairy Case,” by Nicholas Bakalar, The New York Times, May 30, 2006; “Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) on the Run,” Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility Campaign for Safe Food, June 14, 2006, www.oregonpsr.org; Organic Bytes #84, Organic Consumers Assoc., June 15, 2006; www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_747.cfm; “Nation’s Largest Dairies Trying to Avoid Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone,” Organic Consumers Assoc., Organic Bytes #84, June 15, 2006, Organic Consumers Association, http://alerts.organicconsumers.org/trk/click?ref=zqtbkk3um_0-1ex242x3104925&; Swedish Medical Center (Seattle), www.swedish.org/111038.cfm.
Maine Meat Purchasing Policy Addresses Antibiotic Resistance
Once again, Maine leads the nation in adopting a policy that provides a preference for the purchase of meat produced without the use of antibiotics. The new purchasing policy was adopted to address the antibiotic resistance in human medicine. Growing evidence shows that use of antibiotic feed additives promotes development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be transferred to people.
The Keep Antibiotics Working Coalition, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and other leading organizations have called for an end to the use of medically important antibiotics as feed additives.
Responding to a directive passed by the state legislature last year, the Agriculture Committee appointed a study group to explore steps the state could take to reduce the use of medically important antibiotics as feed additives for poultry, swine and beef cattle. The group’s report recommended the purchasing policy and the five other state and federal actions, including:
1. Protocols for the prudent use of antibiotics in Maine animal health and meat assurance programs;
2. Veterinarian education on best management practices for use of antibiotics;
3. Adequate funding for the Food and Drug Administration’s review of veterinary antibiotics;
4. Federal efforts to reduce use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine as animal feed additives; and
5. Funding for the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank and the National Antimicrobial [antibiotics and related drugs] Resistance Monitoring System.
“The Agriculture Committee has unanimously endorsed these recommendations and has asked relevant state agencies to report back by October 31 on progress made in implementation,” said Rep. John F. Piotti, co-chair of the Agriculture Committee.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70% of the antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States – about 25 million pounds each year – are added to animal feed for poultry, swine and beef cattle. These feed additives are not used to treat disease, but to promote slightly faster growth on less feed and to compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary conditions on industrial-scale farms. Half of these drugs belong to the same classes of antibiotics used in human medicine.
Maine also is showing bipartisan leadership on this issue at the federal level. Senator Olympia Snowe is the lead sponsor in the U.S. Senate and Senator Susan Collins is a cosponsor of “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (S. 742/H.R. 2562) that is endorsed by 350 groups, including the American Medical Association and Maine Medical Association. U.S. Representatives Thomas Allen and Michael Michaud are cosponsors of the House version of the bill, which Governor John Baldacci also cosponsored when he served in Congress.
Both bills would phase out use of antibiotics important in human medicine as feed additives for poultry, swine and beef cattle. They also would require producers of agricultural antibiotics to report the quantity of drugs they sell, the claimed purpose and the dosage form of those drugs.
Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Ag., July 14, 2006.
Crop-Yield Study Casts Doubt on a Climate-Change Prediction
Leading crop-production models predict that higher temperatures and dryer soils will diminish crop yields as a result of global climate change in the year 2050. The models also predict that another anticipated climate-change phenomenon – the yield-stimulating effects of elevated carbon dioxide – will offset those losses. So nothing gained or lost, right? Not quite, says a team of scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Switzerland.
The researchers contend that today’s simulation models overestimate the “CO2 fertilization effect,” which refers to the improved efficiency of some crops in using sunlight to convert CO2 into sugars. The problem is, the models rely on data from enclosure studies, say ARS plant physiologists Donald Ort and Elizabeth Ainsworth, UIUC scientists Stephen Long and Andrew Leakey, and Josef Nösberger of the Institute of Plant Science in Switzerland. According to their recent paper in Science, trapped heat, poor airflow, high humidity and other conditions inside greenhouses and growth chambers skew plant responses to elevated CO2.
To avoid these problems, the researchers used free-air concentration enrichment (FACE) to simulate the atmosphere of 2050 under actual field conditions. The method continuously exposes crop plants within 66-foot-diameter plots to 550 parts/million (ppm) – the CO2 concentration predicted for 2050. The current level is 380 ppm. Ort monitored growth and yield of corn and soybeans there with his ARS and UIUC colleagues. In Maricopa, Ariz., an ARS collaborator monitored wheat and sorghum; in Switzerland, Nösberger examined forage grasses.
The scientists compared their data with earlier growth-chamber-based simulations. The difference was dramatic: CO2 fertilization-effect yield increases measured in the FACE experiments were 50% lower than in the chamber simulations.
According to Ort, the finding warrants a reexamination of CO2’s role in forecasting future yields, especially in the presence of other climate-change concerns such as ozone pollution, which is toxic to crops.
Meanwhile, in Holland, rose grower Frank van Os floods the atmosphere in his greenhouse with pure carbon dioxide from a Royal Dutch Shell oil refinery to increase growth of his roses. Shell hopes to reduce the refinery’s emissions by 8% by enriching 500 greenhouses. This effort will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles that later use the gasoline produced at Shell’s (or other companies’) refineries.
Sources: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, firstname.lastname@example.org, June 30, 2006. FMI: www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr.
“A Refinery Clears the Air to Grow Roses,” by Jad Mouawad, The New York Times, June 30, 2006.
Organic Corn Outyields Conventional in Ohio Trials
Corn hybrids grown in the 2005 Ohio State Organic Corn Performance Test produced 13% more corn per acre than the statewide average yield and topped the record-high state average yield by four bushels per acre. One hybrid did even better, beating last year’s state average corn yield by nearly 50 percent. Yields at one organic site averaged 171.4 bushels per acre, and yields at the other averaged 153.6 bushels per acre, for a combined average yield of 162 bushels per acre. The Ohio Department of Agriculture estimated last year’s statewide average corn yield at 143 bushels per acre.”
From Ohio State and Purdue Extension resource Ag Answers, March 2006. Full story at www.agriculture.purdue.edu/aganswers/story.asp?storyID=4174
Organic Methods Reduce Worms in Sweet Corn
Successful application of natural pest controls to prevent a 25% loss of a sweet corn crop can increase sales as much as $750/acre for an average harvest of 1,000 dozen ears/acre and an average selling price of $3/dozen, and $2,250/acre in a year of severe infestation when 75% of a crop could be lost. Having worm-free corn increases customer satisfaction and purchasing of other farm market products.
Five farm families working with Abby Seaman of Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management Program and Cornell entomologist Mike Hoffmann on a project funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute, Inc., helped improve the odds for harvesting a good crop of organic and low/no-spray sweet corn.
“The control we had with the wasps in 2005 was better than with our past use of insecticides,” says Dave Henderson. He and his wife Cheryl grow unsprayed corn on their farm in Penn Yan.
Three organic and two no-spray growers provided a total of 36 acres of sweet corn for trials. They tested tiny Trichogramma wasps as natural predators that attack the eggs of the European corn borer and an all-season pest, the fall armyworm. Pheromone traps were used to monitor moth activity as a gauge for timing three releases of the wasps. Growers evaluated spraying an insecticide approved for organic production and applications of a Bt microbial insecticide mixed with soybean oil put directly on the corn silks as controls for a late season pest, the corn earworm.
Overall project results were measured by a customer survey at each farm. Ninety-one percent of surveyed customers were satisfied with the quality of the corn. All five farms market their corn directly to consumers.
“Control with wasps will naturally be more variable than the consistency achieved with insecticide application, but the results will most of the time satisfy customers that prefer direct market purchase of organic or no/low-spray products,” Seaman says.
For more information on integrated pest management, see www.nysipm.cornell. edu. The Trichogramma ostriniae wasps used in this project can be purchased from IPM Laboratories in Locke, N.Y.
Source: Press release, May 22, 2006; Abby Seaman, Cornell University Integrated Pest Management Program, 315-787-2422; R. David Smith, New York Farm Viability Institute, Inc., 315-453-3823; 159 Dwight Park Circle, Suite 104, Syracuse, NY 13209, 315-453-3823.
IFOAM Addresses Organic Wild Production
The First IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Conference on Organic Wild Production, held in May, increased awareness of this topic, established the state of the art in organic wild production, and demonstrated the worldwide interest in sustainable wild collection.
Gerald A. Herrmann, IFOAM president, emphasized that “wild collected products play a role in the lives of almost everyone – when we make use of ointments or drink herbal tea, even if we are unaware. For the collectors themselves, it means often a considerable income source. The interest of participants from so many countries underscores the importance of this sector.”
The opening plenary session highlighted the report The Overview of Production and Marketing of Organic Wild Products commissioned by the International Trade Centre (ITC). Ulrich Helberg, one of the report’s authors, said “wild plants play an important role in the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of gatherers throughout the world, and the plants that are collected are extremely diverse and numerous. They are used for everything from food and medicine to industrial goods and building materials, and it is my sincere hope that the information contained in this report enables the growth and development of organic wild production.”
Sustainability was a primary theme of the conference, and the ecological, social and economic implications of wild collection were considered. Discussions centered on the role of standards in guaranteeing sustainable use, a guarantee both for collectors and consumers. The conference significantly advanced alignment of the organic wild collection sector.
Jovo Stojcic, Director of the Agricultural Institute of the Republic of Srpska, said that “wild collection is an important part of the agriculture economy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and an increasingly large number of family farms deal with this work. There is growing interest wild production for medical and other uses.” Mr. Stojcic expected the conference to connect local and international producers of organic wild products and spur development of projects.
Source: IFOAM Press Release, May 5, 2006. Neil Sorensen, Charles-de-Gaulle-Str. 5 53113 Bonn, Germany Tel: +49-228-92650-10 Fax: +49-228-92650-99 Email: email@example.com; www.ifoam.org
Sowing Clover Mats to Shelter Weed Seed Eaters
An ecologist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Urbana, Ill., is trying to enlist birds, rodents and insects to help fight giant ragweed, velvetleaf and giant foxtail, major pests of Midwestern corn and soybean crops. Adam Davis’ approach is to create a natural ground cover of red clover in farm fields so that the small critters will spend more time foraging for the weeds’ energy-rich seeds and less time dodging hawks or other sharp-eyed predators. Davis notes that a single female cricket will eat up to 50 foxtail seeds a day, and mice and ground squirrels eat even more.
Using computer modeling and wire cages baited with seed, Davis is compiling data to estimate the impact of small animals’ seed foraging on annual weed populations in wheat fields where clover covers are used. He is also comparing wheat-clover fields with clover-free corn and soybean crops.
In another project, Davis is surveying weed-seed concentrations on soil surfaces, in cracks and on upright plants during harvest. Information from the surveys may help agricultural engineers build what Davis calls a “weed-seed-predator combine kit” – a vacuum head and special hammers for sucking up, crushing and spitting out destroyed weed seeds as the combine harvests the crop. Such a kit could prove especially useful to organic farmers, who rank weeds as their top production problem, according to Davis.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, firstname.lastname@example.org, May 3, 2006. Read more about this research in the May 2006 Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/ archive/may06/weeds0506.htm.
Mobile Machine Quickly Measures Manure Nitrogen
A prototype manure-analyzing device that works off a car or truck battery has been built. Chemist James B. Reeves, at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Environmental Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., designed the portable, easy-to-use analyzer so that farmers can tell quickly how much nitrogen and water are in a sample of manure.
Many farmers apply manure to their crops as an organic fertilizer, but they sometimes apply too much because they’re not sure how much nitrogen or phosphorus are in it. Excess nutrients can run off in rainwater and pollute streams, lakes and other bodies of water.
To measure nitrogen or phosphorus in manure, farmers can send samples to a lab for analysis, but that takes time and money; and they usually send only one sample from their large pits. According to Reeves, a one-sample analysis can’t reflect the nutrient levels that often vary throughout a manure pit.
The prototype analyzer passes invisible, near-infrared light through filters onto about two tablespoons of manure placed in a small cup. The amount of light reflected back allows a filter spectrometer to quantify the nitrogen and water content. Manure samples require no preparation or chemicals, and the analysis takes about a minute. The prototype analyzer is a 15-inch cube that weighs about 20 pounds. Reeves plans to shrink it to about 5 pounds and the size of a shoebox.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Sharon Durham, (301) 504-1611, email@example.com July 18, 2006. For more information, see the July 2006 Agricultural Research at www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jul06/nutrient0706.htm.
E. Coli O157:H7 Wrap-up … For Now
On Oct. 12, 2006, the FDA and the State of California announced that samples of cattle feces on a ranch had the same E. coli O157:H7 genetic fingerprint as the strain that sickened 204 people and killed three. Later, a wild pig with the same strain was found, suggesting that the pig may have transferred the organism from infected cattle manure or in its own manure. Testing was continuing on this and three other ranches in Monterey and San Benito counties. Among people infected with E. coli O157:H7 from spinach. 31 suffered Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).
“While the focus of this outbreak has narrowed to these four fields, the history of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to leafy greens indicates an ongoing problem,” says the FDA. “As FDA stated in its letter to the lettuce industry in November of 2005, FDA continues to be concerned due to the history of outbreaks and the on-going risk for product contamination of leafy greens.” Some 74% of U.S. fresh-market spinach is grown in California.
FDA announced on September 29, 2006, that all spinach implicated in the current outbreak was traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California. Thirteen product samples were confirmed to contain the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak strain – 12 in bags of Dole spinach or Dole baby spinach and one in an unnamed bag.
According to Michael Pollan, the CDC estimates that U.S. food sickens 76 million Americans annually, hospitalizing more than 300,000 and killing 5,000. The potentially lethal E. coli 0157:H7 was first found in 1982, after apparently evolving in the gut of feedlot cattle, which stand in manure all day and eat grain instead of grass, creating the ideal habitat for E. coli 0157:H7 in their rumen. Some manure from these animals is stored in taxpayer-funded manure pits.
On Oct. 3, a California food safety official claimed positive tests for O157:H7 in eight fecal samples from cattle pastures near the affected spinach fields. Over the past 11 years, 20 E. coli outbreaks have been linked to leafy products from the region, which is also home to many CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) managing thousands of dairy cows each. E. coli O157:H7 and other potent pathogens can migrate to neighboring farms by contamination of surface water and groundwater and/or in airborne dust from feedlots or farm fields where manure has been spread. It can also be spread by unsanitary working conditions. Most animal manure and municipal sewage sludge in the United States is spread on conventional crops, often with little regulatory oversight.
Also in October, Federal investigators opened a criminal investigation into measures that Natural Selection Foods and Growers Express had (or had not) taken regarding the safety of their spinach.
In 2004, the world’s largest public health association, the American Public Health Association (APHA – www.apha.org), issued a resolution calling for a moratorium on new Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), or “factory farms.” The APHA cited problems with CAFOs, including the contamination of drinking water with pathogens from animal waste runoff; growing antibiotic resistance resulting from the millions of pounds of antibiotics routinely fed to animals; severe respiratory problems in CAFO workers; and illnesses among people living near CAFO operations. These factory farms are also notoriously inhumane to animals.
An estimated 54% of livestock in the United States are confined to just 5% of livestock farms, said APHA. These CAFOs generate an estimated 575 billion pounds of animal waste each year. This animal waste contains pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium and E. coli 0157:H7; heavy metals; nitrogen and phosphorus, which seriously degrade rivers and estuaries; and an estimated 13 million pounds of antibiotics.
Sources: FDA weekly news, www.FDA.gov; “The Vegetable-Industrial Complex,” by Michael Pollan, The New York Times, Oct. 15, 2006; “U.S. Opens Criminal Inquiry in Spinach Scare,” by Gardiner Harris and Libby Sander, The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2006; “Company: organic spinach not to blame,” by Justin M. Norton, AP, Sept. 18, 2006; “The E. coli Spinach Contamination Issue,” by Mark Kastel, Sept. 17, 2006, www.cornucopia.org. “Public Health Association Calls for Moratorium on Factory Farms,” The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, March-May 2004; “E. Coli on Calif. Ranch Matches Outbreak Strain,” by Annys Shin, www.washingtonpost.com, Oct. 27, 2006.
The E. Coli O157:H7 Story
One reason pasture-fed animals – and their products – are healthier is that the animals eat more on pasture because they like it. This is their natural behavior. On the other hand, confined, grain-fed animals are subject to unnatural, stressful environments, such as overcrowding and excessive ammonia in chicken houses. Likewise, when feedlot cattle are taken to slaughter, their hides are often caked with dried manure that is difficult to remove and may contaminate the meat with E. coli 0157:H7, the bacteria that can harm people.
Grain-fed beef animals have a much higher concentration of acid-resistant than of non-acid-resistant E. coli 0157:H7. The acid-resistant bacteria are a greater concern for people, because they survive more easily in the acidic contents of the human stomach, where they can cause disease. This research was done first at Cornell University (Diez, Bonzalez, T.R. Callaway, M.G. Kizoulis, J. Russell, “Grain Feeding and the Dissemination of Acid-Resistant Eschericia coli from Cattle,” Science, 1998, vol. 281, pgs. 1666-1668), then repeated at the USDA Meat and Animal Research Center in Nebraska (Scott, T., T. Klopfenstein et al., 2000 Nebraska Beef Report, pgs. 39-41, published by USDA). When animals are fed a diet that is heavy in grain, undigested starch accumulates in the colon, ferments and increases the acidity of the colon contents. E. coli bacteria growing in this acidic environment develop a high level of acid resistance, then become more infectious to humans. If the animals are fed hay or pasture, even for just five days prior to processing, the E. coli population is greatly reduced. This research was repeated at the USDA station because feedlot owners were concerned about what the first study said about their meat. In Nebraska researchers tried many diets to reduce the acid level in the cows’ colons; the hay diet worked best.
Source: “The Benefits of Raising Animals on Pasture,” by Diane Schivera, The MOF&G, Sept.-Nov. 2003
EPA Pressured to Allow Dangerous Pesticides
Leaders of nine local chapters of the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, and Engineers and Scientists of California have written to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, complaining that EPA scientists are being pushed by political pressure to inadequately test toxic pesticides. Insufficient testing by EPA managers and the pesticide industry, says the letter, will allow continued use of 20 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides that are nerve poisons that can easily enter the developing brains of children, infants and fetuses. The pesticides are used to kill mosquitoes, in agriculture and horticulture, on golf courses, in flea collars and on pest strips.
Union leaders suggest tighter restrictions on the use of these pesticides until they are adequately evaluated. Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council says that since newer, safer alternatives are available, the “old style” pesticides in question should not be used.
Sources: “EPA Scientists Pressured to Allow Continued Use of Dangerous Pesticides,” by Ohn J. Fialka, Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2006; http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114852646165862757.html; Organic Bytes #82, Organic Consumers Association, May 27, 2006, www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_540.cfm
DDT Exposure Linked to Lower Mental/Motor Skills
Babies of farmworker women in California who were exposed to DDT have delayed neurological development, according to scientists at the University of California, Berkeley. Scientists measured levels of various pesticides in 360 pregnant women who recently emigrated from Mexico to the Salinas Valley, then tested mental and motor skills of their U.S.-born infants and toddlers. The mental tests measure the children’s ability to learn and think, including memory and problem-solving skills. For every tenfold rise in DDT exposure, children’s scores on mental tests dropped 2 to 3 points and their motor skills were reduced. Ninety percent of the participants in this study were born in Mexico, where DDT was used to control malaria until its ban in 2000. In a Los Angeles Times article, the study’s authors caution that “the benefit of using DDT to control malaria should be balanced carefully against the potential risk to children’s neurodevelopment. Whenever possible, alternative antimalarial controls should be considered, especially in areas where pregnant women and children may be exposed.” The study was published in the July issue of Pediatrics.
DDT and its breakdown products, DDE and DDD, persist for a long time in the environment and accumulate in the food chain. Banned in the United States 33 years ago, DDT is still detected in five to 10% of people and DDE is found in almost everyone.
The Berkeley researchers also found that babies who were breastfed longer scored better on developmental tests, despite their exposure to DDT in breast milk.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network News Update, July 6, 2006, www.panna.org. “DDT ‘Link’ to Slow Child Progress, July 5, 2006, BBC News; “Pesticides Linked to 70% Increased Risks for Parkinson’s Disease,” by Alan Mozes.
Experts Demand that WHO Stop Promoting DDT
Health and toxics experts worldwide have called on the World Health Organization to reverse its aggressive promotion of DDT for malaria control and expressed outrage at the agency for a statement giving DDT spraying inside homes a “clean bill of health.”
“It is criminal that WHO should make a politically-motivated announcement like this under the guise of protecting the health of children in Africa,” said Dr. Paul Saoke, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Kenya. “We need real solutions to malaria in Africa, not a return to widespread reliance on a failed silver bullet that risks the health of communities already battling this deadly disease.”
WHO’s September 15 press statement described a “new” and aggressive approach to malaria control centered on DDT. Sources inside the agency, however, report no reassessment of DDT risk and no official revision of WHO’s policy, which already allowed minimal use of DDT in accordance with the global Stockholm Convention. One WHO malaria expert, Dr. Allan Schapira, resigned abruptly prior to the announcement promoting DDT use by the controversial new head of WHO’s global malaria program, Dr. Arata Kochi. Roughly half of the Roll Back Malaria staff has reportedly resigned since Kochi took over the program.
“DDT harms human health and is not the best way to control malaria,” says Henry Diouf of Pesticide Action Network Africa. “Malaria is a disease of poverty, and addressing poverty is the long term solution. In the short term, safer and more effective approaches, such as bed nets, rapid identification and treatment of malaria cases and local education about mosquito control are needed in Africa – not more DDT.”
The Stockholm Convention’s approach to DDT, adopted by 129 countries, calls for a phase-out of DDT but allows short-term use in some countries while safer and more effective alternatives are put in place.
Kochi’s announcement had strong support from the Bush Administration, which recently changed the policy of the U.S. Agency for International Development to increase reliance on DDT in its malaria programs. “The recent shift in US policy reflects a well organized DDT promotion campaign by a handful of aggressive advocates,” says Kristin Schafer, program coordinator for Pesticide Action Network North America. “This effort is supported by conservative organizations and think tanks with funding from the U.S. pesticide industry, including Monsanto.”
Decades of scientific evidence counter the claims of the DDT promoters that its use for malaria control is harmless. Human reproductive disorders associated with DDT are well documented, including undescended testes and poor sperm quality, premature delivery and reduced infant birth weights and reduced breast milk production. One recent study found clear neurological effects – including developmental delays – among babies and toddlers exposed to DDT in the womb. Researchers in Mexico and South Africa found elevated levels of DDT in the blood of people living where DDT was used to control malaria, and breastfed children in those areas received more DDT than the amount considered “safe” by WHO and FAO. Studies have also linked exposure to increased risk of breast cancer, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists DDT as a possible human carcinogen.
More-effective and safer approaches to malaria control are being used in many countries. For example, Vietnam reduced malaria deaths by 97% and malaria cases by 59% when it switched in 1991 from trying to eradicate malaria using DDT to a DDT-free malaria control program involving distribution of drugs and mosquito nets and widespread health education organized with village leaders. Mexico phased out DDT use in 2000 and implemented a successful integrated and community-based approach.
In the wake of the WHO announcement, residents living near the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. DDT manufacturing plant in Kerala, India, declared that their communities and livelihoods had been destroyed by DDT and other persistent organic pollutants. More than 500 people from Eloor and Edayar, India, presented community demands to the Indian government and WHO, stating, in part: “There is a growing political understanding that a paradigm where the present and future generations are denied clean air and water cannot be seen as development. Scientists all over the world are working towards a dream of a hazardous pesticides- and chemical-free world by 2020. This vision statement is being put forward with a lot of hope by the people of Eloor and Edayar villages with the intention of achieving this dream.”
Sources: Press Release, Pesticide Action Network North America, Sept. 26, 2006; Pesticide Action Network News Update, Sept. 29, 2006. www.panna.org.