"The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass."
- Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947
MOF&G Cover Winter 2008-2009
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 Organic Matter – Winter 2008-2009 Minimize

A Compendium of Food and Agricultural News

The Good News
Food Safety
Pesticides in the News
Genetic Engineering News

The Good News

A nationwide survey of 750 consumers by the Ames, Iowa, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture showed that:
  • consumers are re-assessing shopping and eating habits to cut fuel use and were more likely to respond to rising food and fuel prices by taking fewer vacations, buying more foods on sale, eating out less and purchasing fewer desserts (compared with other food categories);
  • 17% were very likely to cope with rising prices by purchasing more at farmers’ markets or by canning or freezing more produce;
  • 55% perceived the U.S. food system to be safe – a drop from 70% in a 2007 survey;
  • 15% viewed a global system as safe; 74% said a local system was safe; 73% trusted a regional system;
  • respondents would be more confident in the food supply given a food safety seal or inspection certification, more information about who handled and produced food, and country of origin labeling;
  • more than 50% would value carbon labels on food products if they did not increase costs;
  • 50% said loss of natural habitat is a more important environmental issue than climate change; more than 40% said water pollution is more important;
  • more than two-thirds defined local food as traveling 100 miles or less from farm to point of purchase; a third (especially from larger western states) said it was grown in their state or region.
("Food, Fuel and the Future: Consumer perceptions of local food, food safety and climate change in the context of rising prices,” by Rich Pirog and Becky Rasmussen, The Leopold Center, Sept. 29, 2008; 
During the August Slow Food Nation meeting, Roots of Change, which is organizing to transform California’s food system, released a Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture (www.FoodDeclaration.org
). The Declaration principles include:
  • access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone;
  • information for customers about how food is produced, where it comes from, and what it contains;
  • preventing exploitation and upholding the quality of life for all farmers and food workers;
  • ensuring future prosperity by educating youth, protecting finite resources and transitioning to renewable resources and energy; and
  • creating a more secure, prosperous and healthy society.
Britains buying organic foods through CSAs are getting quality food often for the same or even lower prices than non-organic equivalents in supermarkets, and farming and food are now the U.K.’s largest goods-producing industries. Now, research commissioned by Britain’s Soil Association shows that producing organic field crops, such as wheat, barley and oil seed rape, could become more profitable than non-organic when oil costs $200 per barrel – possibly within five to 10 years. With oil at $135, profit margins are similar for the two systems. For rotations with potatoes, non-organic systems are more profitable when oil costs $135 – and at $200, but far less so. Organic systems become more profitable mainly because manufacturing artificial fertilizers used in non-organic systems uses fossil fuels.  The research concludes that organic systems use less energy, generally emit fewer greenhouse gases, sequester carbon in the soil, provide more jobs, support more wildlife and probably offer a more secure long-term financial future for U.K. farmers. (“Organic food: no flash in the pan fad,” Peter Melchett, Sept. 3, 2008;

Working with the U.K.’s Organic Research Centre (ORC) at Elm Farm and Germany’s University of Kassel, College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, has established the Trans-Atlantic Partnership in Sustainable Food Systems. The college has also created a Chair in Sustainable Food Systems. Both are funded by the Partridge Foundation. David Hales, president of COA., says, “We envision this program as a platform for creating national and international leadership in meeting the needs of providing healthy and affordable food in the 21st century, in understanding the role of international trade and finance, and in transforming the way that higher education approaches this subject.” Students will be able to do research at the ORC; and may obtain a master’s degree at the University of Kassel’s graduate school and receive full funding for their education. Researchers at Kassel and the ORC can study organic practices at COA’s Beech Hill Farm. The institutions have already begun faculty exchanges and are planning an international conference on sustainable food systems for next fall.   

Preserving the Nearing Legacy: During the 1970s, while Helen and Scott Nearing were building their third and final Forest Farm, thousands journeyed to Harborside to glean wisdom or advice from two true pioneering spirits. In return for practical homestead advice, a lecture on important matters of the day, and perhaps a meal, the wandering soul traded her labor. No one watched at Forest Farm – those who wished to learn had to work. This beautiful relationship between wise elders and seeking students gave birth to Forest Farm. Thousands whose lives were impacted by the Nearings still visit the farm.  

Last summer, long-standing moisture issues were compounded by weeks of near-daily rains, with excessive mold and mildew resulting. The board of The Good Life Center is working to preserve the Nearings’ 4000-volume personal library and to ensure that staff and visitors have a safe and healthy place to work. Contact The Good Life Center, 372 Harborside Rd., Harborside, ME 04642, or
www.goodlife.org, for more information.

(Thanks to Bob St. Peter and Juli Perry, the most recent Forest Farm stewards, for this update. The Good Life Center holds regular meetings in the area for those who want to get more involved.)


Food Safety

The USDA’s mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) program is effective for foods produced or packaged on or after Sept. 30. The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), lamb, chicken, goat and pork; perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng; and peanuts. The COOL program for fish and shellfish began in 2004. Commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail to indicate their country of origin, unless they are in processed foods.  Food service establishments are exempt from COOL. Specific criteria must be met for a covered commodity to bear a "United States country of origin" declaration. Consumers Union (CU) applauded the program, saying that under a decades-old law, foods canned, boxed or bagged in another country had to be labeled as to their origin. The new law extends the requirement to fresh perishable meat, poultry, fish and produce. CU questioned exemptions for meat and poultry sold in most butcher shops and fish sold in most fish markets, since the law covers only large establishments selling a certain minimum amount of fresh foods.  CU also objected to exemptions for processed foods, such as ham, bacon, roasted peanuts, peanut butter, fruit salad, bagged salad mix, frozen peas and carrots (mixed), trail mix, cooked shrimp and smoked salmon. CU has a guide to COOL at
www.consumersunion.org/pdf/CU-Cool-Tool.pdf. (USDA press release, July 29, 2008;  www.ams.usda.gov/COOL; Consumers Union press releases, Sept. 12 and 30, 2008; www.consumersunion.org)

Rather than dealing with problems inherent in factory-farmed foods, the FDA will allow irradiating lettuce and spinach with x-rays to destroy pathogens. The process may create toxic free radicals or other cancer-causing chemicals and reduce nutrient concentrations. Irradiated lettuce and spinach must be labeled in supermarkets but not in restaurants, schools, hospitals or nursing homes. Food irradiation is prohibited on products labeled "organic." (Organic Bytes, Aug. 28, 2008,


Pesticides in the News

A Santa Cruz, Calif., jury awarded $1 million to an organic farmer whose culinary herb crops were contaminated by organophosphate pesticides drifting from a nearby farm growing Brussels sprouts. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Oct. 2, 2008;

In September, Italy banned the use of several neonicotinoid pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. Seed treatment products clothianidin, imidacloprid, fipronil and thiamethoxam used in rapeseed oil, sunflowers and sweet corn were immediately withdrawn. Germany and Slovenia banned sales of clothianidin and imidacloprid in May, and France banned imidacloprid on sunflowers in 1999 and on sweet corn in 2003. France rejected Bayer’s application for clothianidin. Thousands of hives in Germany were poisoned by clothianidin in May 2008. Neonicotinoid pesticides move through plants, even into pollen and nectar, and attack insects’ nervous system. (“Italy bans Pesticides linked to Bee Devastation,” Sept. 19, 2008, Coalition against Bayer Dangers;

The Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency challenged Bayer's clothianidin application, charging that field studies were "deficient in design and conduct”; that "clothianidin may pose a risk to honey bees" and "is very persistent in soil, with high carry-over of residues to the next growing season. Clothianidin is also mobile in soil." The Natural Resources Defense Council has sued to force EPA to disclose studies Bayer submitted to gain U.S. approval of chlothianidin, to find out if EPA had evidence of connections between pesticides and honey bee die-offs. (Pesticide Action Network North America News Update, Sept. 4, 2008,

Penn State researchers found "unprecedented levels of fluvalinate and coumaphos" – pesticides applied to non-organic hives to combat varroa mites – as well as traces of 70 agricultural pesticides and their metabolites in beehive wax. The accumulation of miticides was expected because bees reuse old wax to build new hives, but the high concentrations and abundance of other pesticides surprised researchers. Every bee tested positive for at least one pesticide, and pollen contained as many as 31 pesticides – six on average. Researchers worry that combinations of some fungicides with pyrethroids and/or neonicotinoids may be hundreds of times more toxic than individual pesticides. (Pesticide Action Network North America News Update, Aug. 28, 2008,
www.panna.org) (Ed. note: Maine state apiarist Tony Jadczak says that the pesticides were found in brood comb, which remains in hives for many years; that wax used in cosmetics, such as lip balm, is from capping wax produced annually, in summer and fall, in honey supers, when beekeepers should not be treating for anything.)

A wetting agent (surfactant or “adjuvant load”) in some glyphosate herbicides apparently is taken up by trees and can weaken their bark, making it susceptible to freeze-thaw injury on the south and southwest sides of trunks of susceptible trees, according to Utah State University Extension ornamental horticulture specialist Heidi Kratsch.  Glyphosate drift can also cause stunted, distorted shoots, chlorosis and often death of woody plants. Glyphosate products increase levels of shikimic acid in plants, which reduces the level of phenolic compounds – natural substances in woody plants that protect against pathogens. Glyphosate products accumulate in plant roots over years and can cause injury long after the original herbicide application. (“Bark Splitting Caused by Common Herbicide,” Utah State University Extension, Sept. 17, 2008;

The Journal of Agromedicine reports that an 18-month study by the
East Texas Medical Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center of 1,400 patients found that people with Parkinson's were 10 times more likely to have been exposed to rotenone and were twice as likely to have used pesticides with chlorpyrifos, such as Dursban.
Rates are also high in the petroleum industry and the Midwest farm belt. (Pesticide Action Network North America, Sept. 25, 2008,

Toxic compost? It’s just another “Milestone” in the Dow family of pesticides: After British farmers and gardeners noticed last summer that leaves of vegetable plants were distorted and potato tubers were unusually small, the problem was traced to manure or composted manure from animals that grazed on or ate hay or silage from fields treated by Dow’s weedkiller aminopyralid, sold as Milestone or Forefront. Dow withdrew the product there, and British authorities suspended approval of aminopyralid products, but treated grass and contaminated manure remain in commerce. Mother Earth News warns that U.S. gardeners using straw from fields treated with aminopyralid, or manure from animals that grazed on treated pastures, may contaminate their crops – as happened with a related Dow herbicide, clopyralid, in 2001. The half-life of aminopyralid, says Mother, is 533 days. Aminopyralid combats bedstraw, an increasingly problematic weed in pastures. William Curran of Penn State University says that transporting contaminated manure onto fields that will be planted with sensitive crops or selling compost containing contaminated manure off the farm could cause serious crop injury. The Milestone label has many restriction related to this. Eric Sideman, MOFGA’s organic crops specialists, says, “You do need to know where you manure comes from.” According to Gary Fish of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, 2.5 gallons of Forefront (aminopyralid and 2,4-D) and 2.5 gallons of Milestone VM were reportedly sold in Maine in 2007 – enough to treat about 28 acres at a rate of 3 ounces/acre; 2008 data were not yet available. (“Plants in gardens and allotments all over Britain are dying: The reason is as surprising as it is disturbing...,” by Marcus Dunk, Oct. 7, 2008, Mail, London,
www.dailymail.co.uk; “Watch Out for Killer Compost,” by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, Mother Earth News,  Oct.-Nov. 2008; e-mail, Eric Sideman, Oct. 15, 2008)

On August 8, after a 172-day demonstration in which survivors of the 1984 Bhopal pesticide plant explosion walked 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi, camped in Delhi, suffered arrests and police beatings, and launched a 60-day hunger fast, the Indian government said it would meet many of their demands; will take legal action on the civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide and its owner, Dow Chemical Company; and will establish an "Empowered Commission" on Bhopal to address the health and welfare needs of Bhopal survivors and environmental, social, economic and medical rehabilitation. The disaster killed more than 22,000, left many of the 150,000 survivors with serious ailments, and still poisons drinking water for 25,000. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Aug. 14, 2008,

More Dow-ners: Dow AgroSciences has filed a notice of intent to seek compensation under "investor-protection provisions" of NAFTA for damages from Quebec's provincial ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. Kathleen Cooper of the Canadian Environmental Law Association told the Globe and Mail that the Quebec ban is backed by medical and environmental organizations and enjoys wide public support. She is troubled that chemical companies can use NAFTA to “undermine the decisions of democratically elected governments." (“Ban on pesticides may face NAFTA test,” by Martin Mittelstaedt and Luke Eric Peterson, Oct. 22, 2008,

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) says Mexican-based "marijuana cartels" are growing marijuana at hundreds of sites in U.S. National Parks and forests in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and throughout the West, using fertilizers and pesticides (some banned in the United States), which contaminate the land and the crops. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Oct. 23, 2008; 

Pyrethrins, natural insecticides made from chrysanthemums, and their synthetic counterpart, pyrethroids, are far less toxic than organophosphate pesticides, but the Center for Public Integrity says they accounted for 27% of reported U.S. pesticide poisonings in 2007. Pyrethrin and pyrethroid poisonings rose 63%, from 16,000 in 1998 to more than 26,000 in 2006, and "severe reactions and even deaths" increased from 261 in 1998 to 1,030 in 2007. At least 50 deaths have been attributed to these pesticides since 1982. These pesticides are used in bug repellents, pet shampoos and children's anti-lice shampoos. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Aug. 14, 2008,

On July 28, a coalition of farmworker, public health, and environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging EPA's decision to allow continued use of the pesticide diazinon – an organophosphate that can cause muscle spasms, confusion, dizziness, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, coma and death. Exposure is also associated with damage to the liver and pancreas, diabetes, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  After application, diazinon can become airborne; it has been detected in the air near schools at unsafe levels. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to diazinon, which can interfere with growth and development. Diazinon is also the most common insecticide detected in surface waters, is implicated in numerous bird and fish kills, and threatens numerous endangered species. Diazinon is used on apples, blueberries, broccoli, cherries, cranberries, pears, spinach, tomatoes and many other crops. In 2004, EPA cancelled home uses of diazinon due to the extreme risks that it poses to children, but EPA has continued to allow its use on farms. (Press release, Earthjustice, July 29, 2008; 

Imported produce is grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States, says Bridget Stutchbury, biology professor at York University in Toronto and author of Silence of the Songbirds – not only potentially harming our health, but also victimizing North American songbirds. Bobolink populations have dropped almost 50% in the last four decades as the birds are poisoned in Bolivian rice fields treated with pesticides that are restricted or banned in the United States. Swainson’s hawks wintering in Argentina have been killed by monocrotophos. Barn swallow and Eastern kingbird populations are declining. Stutchbury suggests buying organic, fair trade coffee and bananas and not buying non-organic foods from Latin America in winter. (“Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?” Bridget Stutchbury, The New York Times, March 30, 2008)

The Bush administration halted a government program that tests residues of pesticides in fruits, vegetables and field crops. Data from USDA’s 18-year-old Agricultural Chemical Usage Program were used to set levels of pesticide residues in food and to help farmers reduce pesticides use. (“Citing cost, USDA kills pesticide-testing program,” by Stephen J. Hedges, The Chicago Tribune, Sept. 27, 2008,


Genetic Engineering News
Monsanto sold its genetically engineered drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), after failing to get federal and some state officials to ban labeling milk as produced without rBGH. On Aug. 20, 2008, Eli Lilly bought the drug. The growth hormone, approved by the FDA in 1993, was one of the first uses of genetic engineering in food. (It is made in genetically engineered bacteria.) It is injected into 17% of U.S. dairy cows to boost milk production by about a gallon a day, according to USDA data from 2007. As consumers increasingly demanded milk from untreated cows, major retailers met that demand. Monsanto told The New York Times that selling the hormone “will allow Monsanto to focus on the growth of its core seeds and traits business…” (Organic Bytes, Aug. 21, 2008,
www.organicconsumers.org; “Monsanto Looks to Sell Dairy Hormone Business,” by Andrew Martin and Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Aug. 7, 2008.)

California adopted a law making manufacturers of GE crops liable for contamination of surrounding fields. The bill will protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits and harassment by biotech companies and will prevent those companies from sampling fields without explicit permission of farmers. (“Huffman's genetic engineering bill becomes law,” by Richard Halstead, Sept. 29, 2008,
www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_10593403; ATTRA weekly newsletter, Sept. 10, 2008, www.attra.ncat.org)

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's 2007 decision that halted the planting of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa until the federal government completes an environmental impact statement. Alfalfa growers feared that GE alfalfa pollen would contaminate their fields. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that the government must assess the effects of GE alfalfa on other crops and human health before more seed was sold or planted. The appeals court agreed. (ATTRA weekly newsletter, Sept. 10, 2008,

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) denounced proposed USDA rules governing food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial products, which could contaminate the food supply. The USDA proposal, unlike the ban that UCS recommended, offers no incentives to drug companies to pursue existing, safer methods for producing drugs. (“USDA's New Biotechnology Regulations Could Allow Drugs in Food,” Jane Rissler, UCS press release, Oct. 6, 2008. Some biotech companies developing drugs more safely; see
http://ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/sensible_pharma_crops/sensible-pharma/. To see where pharma crops have been grown outdoors, see

The FDA will not require labeling of GE animals sold as food. Consumers Union objects: "In our view, consumers have a right to know if the ham, bacon or pork chops they are buying come from pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes." Consumers Union is also concerned that products from cows engineered to produce antibiotics in their milk (to help avoid udder infections) will not be labeled. (Consumers Union press release, Sept. 18, 2008)

Activist Jeffrey Smith says schools should get GE foods out of their cafeterias. Among his reasons:
  • When an Appleton, Wisc., high school replaced processed with wholesome foods seven years ago, the once out-of-control students became calm, focused and orderly. Weapons violations, suicides, expulsions, dropouts and drug violations stopped. Most processed foods contain GE ingredients.
  • When an Appleton science class fed junk food to three mice, they destroyed their cardboard tubes, stopped playing, stayed awake during the day, started fighting and even killed one of the three; three other mice consuming nutritious food slept during the day in their cardboard tubes and played with each other when awake. Switching the remaining junk food mice to nutritious foods restored normal behavior.
  • When Sister Luigi Frigo’s second grade class in Cudahy, Wisc., fed mice junk food for four days, they became lazy, antisocial and nervous. After two to three weeks on nutritious foods, behavior returned to normal.
  • A Dutch student who fed mice GE corn and soy saw that the mice became antisocial and fearful, unlike those getting non-GE feed. 
(“Why Schools Should Remove GE-Tainted Foods from Their Cafeterias,” by Jeffrey Smith,

The No! GMO Campaign, representing 53 of Japan’s leading farmer, consumer and public interest groups, joined the Center for Food Safety and a coalition of U.S. NGOs in opposing U.S. cultivation of GE sugar beets. Members of Japan’s Seikatsu Club Consumer's Cooperative (SCCC) came to the United States with a statement representing nearly a million Japanese people, expressing their desire to keep food and feed containing GE sugar beets out of Japanese markets. The United States now grows four major GE crops – corn, cotton, soy and canola. No new major GE crops have reached the market in over a decade. Releasing GE sugar beets into the food supply would change that. The  SCCC representatives, including livestock and dairy producers, also toured farms, seeking non-GE corn for animal feed. (“53 Japanese Farmer, Consumer and Public Interest Groups Reject GM Sugar Beet Imports,” Center for Food Safety press release, Sept. 23, 2008,



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