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 Organic Matter – Winter 2009-2010 Minimize

A Compendium of Food and Agricultural News

Good News

In the wake of H. P. Hood’s surprise pullout of the organic milk market in Maine, 10 Maine organic dairy farmers formed their own brand, Maine’s Own Organic Milk (MOO Milk, http://MainesOwnOrganicMilkCompany.com), with help from MOFGA, Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine Department of Agriculture. Stonyfield Farms provided some startup funds. MOO Milk is trucked by Schoppee Milk Transport to Smiling Hill Farms in Westbrook, where it is processed; then it’s distributed by Oakhurst Dairy and Crown of Maine Coop to Hannaford and independent stores in Maine and New Hampshire. The milk, available in half-gallon cardboard cartons, is pasteurized (but not ultrapasteurized) and homogenized. When fully operational, the farms will be paid a base price of $24/cwt. a week after they ship milk and an additional payment the month following shipment after all expenses have been paid, with a long-term goal of $40/cwt. In all, 90 percent of profits will go directly to the farms. The remaining 10 percent will be used for expansion, maintenance and balancing cash flow. (“Farm Bureau, MOFGA, get MOOMilkCo off to a good start,” by David Bright, Maine Farm Bureau e-Newsletter, Oct. 2009)


The Maine School Garden Network’s (MSGN) Educators’ Resource Tent was a new feature at MOFGA’s 2009 Common Ground Fair. The recently re-organized MSGN worked with MOFGA’s educational programs director Andrew Marshall, UMaine Cooperative Extension, and others to create a center for educators to get ideas about bringing information and inspiration from the Fair back to the classroom. Located at the school group entrance on Friday, the tent was well received by fairgoers and provided a place for home-schooling parents, educators and leaders of educational food system initiatives to meet and share resources. MSGN publicized its Web site, www.msgn.org, which it redesigned through funds from Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Grants – funding resulting from the Maine agricultural license plate program. The site enables educators, school nutrition workers and students to connect, ask gardening and coordinating questions, register their gardens, and learn about resources ranging from grants to curriculum. The MSGN is promoting youth educational gardening and healthy eating initiatives, encouraging farm to school connections, and developing a coalition of organizations to support these efforts. Educators and interested organizations and individuals are invited to visit the site or email info@msgn.org for more information.


The USDA took several actions this fall to promote organic agriculture. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $230,000 in funding for studies to assess the capacity of the Northeastern United States to produce enough food locally to meet market demands. This is part of USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative to connect people more closely with farmers who supply their food, and to increase the production, marketing and consumption of fresh, nutritious food that is locally and sustainably grown. (USDA Agricultural Research Service press release, Sept. 17, 2009)

On October 30 in Portland, Maine, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced more than $19 million in grants to U.S. universities to solve critical organic agriculture issues – including $1.3 million, one of the largest grants, to the University of Maine. “Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture and USDA and Congress, through the 2008 Farm Bill, are committed to helping this industry succeed by addressing critical organic agriculture issues through the integration of research, education and extension projects,” Merrigan said. “These grants are an important part of USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative,” said Merrigan. (See www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer)

Merrigan announced the funding at Jim Amaral’s Borealis Breads, where representatives from the University of Maine, which is researching producing quality organic bread wheat, joined her.

In addition to several awards to agricultural universities, $46,281 went to the Organic Seed Alliance of Port Townsent, Washington, which is helping save and improve the seed resources on which organic farmers depend.

For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.

Vilsack announced that Miles McEvoy will head the National Organic Program (NOP), which will become an independent program area within the Agricultural Marketing Service. McEvoy has overseen Washington state’s organic certification program since 1988.

Vilsack also appointed five new members to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB): Joe Dickson of Whole Foods Market; Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides; John Foster of Earthbound Farms; and organic farmers Wendy Fulwider of Wisconsin and Annette Riherd of Oklahoma. The NOSB makes recommendations to the NOP. (Organic Farming Research Foundation, SCOAR Bulletin, Sept. 25, 2009; www.ofrf.org)

Molly Jahn, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), was appointed USDA deputy undersecretary of research, education and economics. As a professor of plant breeding and genetics and plant biology at Cornell University from 1991-2006, Jahn bred vegetable varieties used around the world and identified genes responsible for important crop traits. She directed the Public Seed Initiative and the Organic Seed Partnership, an outreach activity based on an alliance of public sector researchers, seed companies and nonprofit groups that worked to improve the use of public plant varieties and promote genetic diversity.

USDA ordered an audit of the National Organic Program to improve its transparency and the integrity of the USDA organic label. (Organic Farming Research Foundation Policy Update, Sept. 14, 2009; www.ofrf.org)

On the other hand, Vilsack appointed Roger Beachy as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), formerly the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES). Previously Beachy was president of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., which is heavily invested in researching GE crops and seeds and has close ties with Monsanto Corporation. NIFA will house the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Organic Transitions Research Program. Also nominated: Islam Siddiqui, VP of Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (which supports GE and synthetic chemical use in agriculture), for Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. CropLife’s regional partner, the Mid America CropLife Association, chided the First Lady for refusing to use pesticides on the White House garden. And former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor was appointed senior adviser to the FDA Commissioner on food safety. Other bureaucrats with strong ties to the GE industry have also been appointed or nominated. (“Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Launches National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Announces Vision for Science and Research at USDA,” press release, USDA, Oct. 8, 2009; www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2009news/10081_nifa_launch.html; Organic Farming Research Foundation Policy Update, Oct. 15, 2009; www.ofrf.org; Organic Bytes, Organic Consumers Assoc., Oct. 15, 2009; www.organicconsumers.org; “And All We Get Is the White House Garden?” by Alexis Baden-Mayer, CommonDreams.org, Oct. 24, 2009; www.commondreams.org/view/2009/10/24-3)


In an Organic Market Overview released on Sept. 1, 2009, the USDA said that consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown double-digit growth for well over a decade. The USDA, using information from industry sources, said that U.S. sales of organic products were $21.1 billion in 2008 – over 3 percent of total food sales – and will reach $23.0 billion in 2009, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Produce accounted for 37 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2008, followed by dairy (16 percent), beverages (13 percent), packaged and prepared foods (13 percent), bread and grains (10 percent), snack foods (5 percent), meat, fish and poultry (3 percent) and condiments (3 percent).

Most U.S. organic food sales (93 percent) are through conventional and natural food supermarkets and chains, says the Organic Trade Association (OTA); the remaining 7 percent are through farmers’ markets, foodservice and marketing channels other than retail stores. The number of farmers’ markets in the United States has grown steadily from 1,755 in 1994, when USDA began to track them, to over 4,685 in 2008. Demand for organic products was strong or moderate in most farmers’ markets surveyed, and managers felt more organic farmers were needed to meet consumer demand in many states. The overview includes price comparisons for organic and conventional products.

Generally, consumers prefer organically produced food because of concerns regarding health, the environment and animal welfare. Organic products have shifted from being a lifestyle choice for a small share of consumers to being consumed at least occasionally by a majority of Americans. (“Marketing U.S. Organic Foods – Recent Trends from Farms to Consumers,” by Carolyn Dimitri and Lydia Oberholtzer, USDA Economic Information Bulletin No. 58, Sept. 2009; www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB58/)


The French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) published an article in Agronomy for Sustainable Development showing that organic foods have higher concentrations of mineral nutrients and antioxidants; organic animal products have more polyunsaturated fatty acids than conventional; 94 to 100 percent of organic foods do not contain pesticide residues; organic vegetables contain about 50 percent lower concentrations of nitrates; and organic cereals contain similar concentrations of mycotoxins as conventional ones. (Foodmagazine, Sept. 3, 2009; www.foodmag.com.au/Article/Organic-is-more-nutritious-according-to-the-French/496876.aspx.)


Infants raised on organic dairy products are 36 percent less likely to suffer from allergies and eczema in the first two years of life, according to a Dutch study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (www.anthromed.org/Article.aspx?artpk=216) that followed 2,500 pregnant women and their children.


In June, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed the Maine hemp farming bill, LD 1159, into law. The bill establishes a licensing regime for farming industrial hemp, although the licensing is contingent upon federal government action. Maine had previously passed a study bill that also defined industrial hemp. In August, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed a bill that permits the production, trade and possession of industrial hemp commodities and products. In 2009, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Vermont passed pro-hemp laws, resolutions or memorials. Sixteen states have passed pro-hemp legislation to date, and eight have removed barriers to its production or research. Like North Dakota, where farmers are in a federal court battle over their rights to grow hemp under state law without fear of federal prosecution, the new law in Oregon does not require a federal DEA permit to grow hemp. The Hemp Industries Association estimates that the growing hemp food and body care markets are currently $113 million in North American annual retail sales and that 2008 annual retail sales of all hemp products in North America were about $360 million. (Press release, Vote Hemp, August 4, 2009; www.votehemp.com/PR/08-04-09_vh_oregon_hemp_farming_bill_becomes_law.html)


Canadian scientists who tested many plant essential oils diluted in water, including cinnamon and peppermint, found that some kill or repel pests, including aphids and mites on strawberries, spinach and tomato plants; mosquitoes, flies and roaches in homes; and ticks and fleas on cats and dogs. The oils evaporate and degrade quickly in sunlight, so may have to be reapplied often. (“‘Killer Spices’ Provide Eco-friendly Pesticides For Organic Fruits And Veggies,” ScienceDaily, Aug. 18, 2009, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090816170910.htm)


Organic Issues

Emerging issues in the U.S. organic industry, a report issued by USDA’s Economic Research Service in June, explores the effects of the economic downturn on organic sales and how the 2008 Farm Bill has affected the organic industry. Top findings include:

• Organic sales quintupled since 1997, from $3.6 billion to $21.1 billion in 2008.

• While U.S. organic acreage has doubled since 1997, the rate of transition has slowed in some sectors.

• Low supply of organic raw materials, particularly of domestically grown feed grain and soybeans, has constrained growth.

• Organic imports have increased as organic demand has exceeded domestic supply.

• Organic dairy and soybean production costs are higher than conventional.

• Organic agriculture provides measurable ecosystem services, including reduced pesticide residues in water and food, reduced nutrient pollution, improved soil quality, lower energy use, carbon sequestration potential and enhanced biodiversity.

• Frequent organic consumers have not decreased organic purchases but infrequent organic consumers have.

• The “locally grown” label competes with the organic label for sales, although they are not always mutually exclusive.

(Greene, C., et al., 2009. Emerging issues in the U.S. organic industry. USDA-ERS Economic Information Bulletin No. 55. www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB55/)


The Cornucopia Institute filed formal complaints in October with the USDA organic program and with Wisconsin and Minnesota officials alleging that Target Corporation misled consumers into thinking some conventional food items it sells are organic. The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group discovered that Target nationally advertised Silk soymilk in newspapers with the term “organic” pictured on the carton’s label, when in fact the manufacturer, Dean Foods, had shifted its products away from organics. (Press Release, Cornucopia Institute, Oct. 20, 2009)


USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) invites amateur and professional photographers of all ages to enter bird photos in the Biosecurity For Birds calendar photo contest by Jan. 31, 2010. APHIS is interested in photos of all kinds of poultry, gamebirds, wild birds, shorebirds and pet birds shown in a clean environment and without people in the pictures. Winning photos will be featured in the 2011 Biosecurity For Birds calendar, on the Biosecurity For Birds Web site, and some may be featured as screen savers on the site. To participate, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/.


Fertilizers

Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital have correlated age adjusted increases in death rates from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes with increases in exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as nitrogen (N) fertilizers. Lead researcher Suzanne de la Monte says our diet is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. Our abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilizers, which contaminate groundwater, also contributes to our exposure. The researchers found that N fertilizer consumption increased by 230 percent between 1955 and 2005 and doubled between 1960 and 1980 – just before insulin-resistant epidemics began. Also, sales of fast foods and processed meats increased more than eight-fold from 1970 to 2005, and grain consumption increased five-fold. The rapid increase in prevalence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes cannot be explained by gene mutations but mirrors classical trends of exposure-related disease. (de la Monte, Suzanne M., Alexander Neusner, Jennifer Chu and Margot Lawton, “Epidemiological Trends Strongly Suggest Exposures as Etiologic Agents in the Pathogenesis of Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis.” J. Alzheimer’s Disease, 17:3, July 2009, p. 519-529. www.j-alz.com/press/2009/20090706.html)


When farmers apply N to fields, up to 5 percent enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide – the prime ozone layer depletor and a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers also contaminate waterways and contribute to creating dead zones where ocean life is killed. (“‘Feeding the world’ – or consuming it?” by Tom Philpott, Grist, Aug. 31, 2009; www.grist.org/article/2009-08-31-food-system-ecosystem-nitrogen/ )


Dairy

The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division is investigating Dean Foods Co. Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders says Dean controls up to 80 percent of many U.S. milk markets; Dean claims less than 15 percent. Raw milk prices dropped almost 50 percent in the past two years. (“Justice Department to investigate plight of dairy farmers,” AP report and Tom Bell, Sept. 20, 2009, Portland Press Herald; http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=284411&ac=PHnws)


Genetic Engineering

The Justice Department antitrust division is investigating Monsanto Co. regarding its dominance of the GE crop market.
Monsanto’s crop genes are in about 96 percent of U.S. soy and 80 percent of corn crops. This is part of a broader investigation by the Justice Department into consolidation in the seed industry. The states of Iowa and Texas are also conducting antitrust investigations of Monsanto. (“Monsanto a Focus of US Antitrust Investigation,” by Christopher Leonard, ABC News, The Associated Press, Oct. 8, 2009); http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=8784859)


In an article about constraints that researchers face when trying to study GE crops, writer Emily Waltz cites an anonymous source who told her that a corn variety engineered by Pioneer to contain the corn rootworm toxin Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1 killed 100 percent of ladybeetles fed on the crop for eight days. Pioneer forbade publicizing the results, then gave EPA its own data showing no harm to lady beetles – when they were fed purified toxins for seven days, or when they were fed half prey and half pollen from the crop. Pioneer says the corn that was eventually released has the same toxin but with genes integrated into a different place in the genome. (“Under wraps,” by Emily Waltz, Nature Biotechnology 27, 880-882 (2009) doi:10.1038/nbt1009-880; www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v27/n10/full/nbt1009-880.html)


Canadian flax exported to Europe and used in cereals and baked goods there was contaminated with GE Triffid flax, which has been illegal to grow in Canada since 2001. Canadian growers had forced the GE flax, developed at the University of Saskatchewan, off the market, because they knew it would destroy their European markets. The source of the current contamination is unknown. (“Illegal GM Flax Contaminates Canadian Exports,” CNW, Sept. 10, 2009; www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/September2009/10/c3959.html)


In a case brought by the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice representing a coalition of farmers and consumers, a Federal Court ruled in September 2009 that USDA’s approval of GE RoundUp Ready sugar beets was unlawful. The Court ordered USDA to rigorously assess the environmental and economic impacts of the crop on farmers and the environment. The federal district court for the Northern District of California ruled that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before deregulating sugar beets engineered to resist glyphosate herbicide, marketed by Monsanto as Roundup. Sugar beet seed is grown primarily in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – an important seed growing area for crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table beets. GE sugar beets are wind pollinated and will cross with related crops growing in the same area, which could harm organic growers’ markets, limit consumers’ choices and harm the environment. Beets supply about half the U.S. sugar. Two years ago, another judge in the same court prohibited farmers from growing GE alfalfa because it had not had an adequate EIS. No EIS has yet been conducted for that crop either. (Press release, Earthjustice and other groups, Sept. 22, 2009; “Judge Rejects Approval of Biotech Sugar Beets,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/business/23beet.html?_r=1)


The United States and Canada have approved SmartStax GE corn, produced collaboratively by Monsanto and Dow Chemical Company, that combines eight genes for herbicide tolerance and insect protection. Farmers growing SmartStax must set aside only 5 percent of the crop area as a refuge to limit development of insect resistance to the pesticides, rather than the 20 percent required for earlier GE corn crops. Regulators believe that insects will not develop resistance to the combined traits as fast as to individual traits. In the refuges, farmers can use GE Roundup Ready corn without GE insecticide traits. (“US and Canada approve new multi-trait GM corn,” by Caroline Scott-Thomas, FoodNavigator-USA.com, July 21, 2009)


Monsanto, which stopped work on herbicide tolerant wheat in 2004 because of consumer opposition, is again researching drought tolerance and nitrogen fixation for GE wheat. The company says it believes that consumer support for the technology has increased. Critics say that conventional breeding works better for such multigene traits. (“Monsanto says industry wants GM wheat,” by Karen Hunt, July 17, 2009; ABC Rural Victoria; www.abc.net.au/rural/vic/content/2009/07/s2628988.htm)


Pesticides

On July 31 the High Court in Bhopal, India, ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to arrest Warren Anderson, former chair of Union Carbide Corporation, and bring him before the court “without delay.” Anderson was proclaimed an absconder from justice in 1992 after he ignored a summons to appear in court in India. Union Carbide and Anderson are charged with “culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” “grievous assault” and other serious crimes in relation to the 1984 Bhopal pesticide plant explosion. An application to summon Dow Chemical Company, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, is pending before the High Court. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Aug. 6, 2009; www.panna.org)

According to Environmental Health News, UCLA researchers who studied more than 700 people from California’s Central Valley found that those consuming well water that was likely contaminated with agricultural pesticides, including propargite, methomyl and chlorpyrifos, had a higher rate of Parkinson’s disease. Likelihood of well water contamination was extrapolated from historical use records kept by a state agency. Residents with wells near fields sprayed with these chemicals had a 90, 67 and 87 percent higher risk of developing the diseases, respectively. Residential uses of chlorpyrifos (sold as Dursban by Dow) were banned in 2001 due to health risks for children, but it remains widely used on a variety of U.S. crops. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Aug. 6, 2009; www.panna.org)


Georgetown University researchers who compared urine samples from 41 children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and their mothers with those from 41 healthy children and their mothers found elevated levels of common household pesticides more often in the mother-child pairs affected by cancer. More than half the study participants had pesticides in their urine, but children with ALL had higher concentrations of two organophosphate metabolites – diethylthiophosphate (DETP) and diethlydithiophosphate (DEDTP). (“Study finds pesticide link to childhood leukemia,” AFP, Google News, July 29, 2009; www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gojVCT1jBhMitQovIkW5fEup2E1Q; and Therapeutic Drug Monitoring, Aug. 2009)


An increasing number of studies link human and ecological health problems with atrazine, including hormonal disruption, neural damage, reproductive disorders, spontaneous abortion and cancers. Concentrations that meet federal standards may be linked to birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems; and very low concentrations at certain times of fetal development may cause skull and facial malformations and misshapen limbs. Most atrazine is produced and marketed by Swiss-based Syngenta, but the herbicide is banned in the European Union, including Switzerland, due to its potential contaminate groundwater. Atrazine, the second most widely used pesticide in the United States, is used on farms, lawns, athletic fields and golf courses. Syngenta and other atrazine manufacturers are being sued for drinking water contamination. Syngenta says concentrations in drinking water are safe, but The New York Times reviewed Syngenta’s data and found spikes in atrazine concentrations in drinking water, sometimes lasting months. Pesticide Action Network North America’s online tool – WhatsOnMyFood? – finds atrazine in 70 percent of U.S. drinking water, with highest levels in the Midwest. Local water systems are required to test for atrazine on no more than a quarterly basis, but EPA requires that Syngenta test 150 vulnerable watersheds weekly. Local water systems generally find concentrations below the legal limit of 3 parts per billion (ppb), but Syngenta sometimes finds concentrations far above the legal limit. For instance, residents in McClure, Ohio, were told that the highest concentration there in 2008 was 3.4 ppb, but EPA/Syngenta data for June 2008 showed 33.83 ppb. In October, the EPA, in a reverse from the Bush years, said it would study the potential health effects of atrazine. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, July 30 and Aug. 27, 2009; www.panna.org; “Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass,” by Charles Duhigg, The New York Times, Aug. 23, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/us/23water.html?pagewanted=1&hp&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1251032406-h/vzVxAlnHBvIgu2Vi/o0Q; Foradori, C.D., L.R. Hinds, W.H. Hanneman and R.J. Handa. 2009. Effects of atrazine on GnRH neuroendocrine function after its withdrawal in the adult female Wistar rat. Biology of Reproduction doi:10.1095/biolreprod.109.077453; “Regulators Plan to Study Risks of Atrazine,” by Charles Duhigg, The New York Times, Oct. 7, 2009; www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/business/energy-environment/07water.html)


EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced in September that EPA is eager to work with congress to reform U.S. policies governing toxic chemicals. Jackson stated, “Our oversight of the 21st century chemical industry is based on the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) …. Over the years, not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it’s supposed to regulate – it’s been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects.” The EPA identified an initial list of chemicals for possible action and anticipates completing a set of four action plans in December. It will complete and post additional chemical action plans in four-month intervals thereafter. (Pesticide Action Network North America, news update, Oct. 1, 2009; www.panna.org)


The EPA also said in September that it plans to disclose the identities of so-called “inert” ingredients in pesticides. Inert ingredients, found in most pesticide products, can comprise up to 99.9 percent of the final product. They make the “active” ingredient more effective, potent or easier to use. They are not necessarily benign; many are hazardous to health or the environment. (Pesticide Action Network North America News Update, Oct. 1, 2009; www.panna.org)

    

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