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MOF&G Cover Winter 2011-2012

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2011-2012Organic Matter – Winter 2011-2012   
 Organic Matter – Winter 2011-2012 Minimize


The Good News
Genetic Engineering
Antibiotics
Food Safety
Animal ID
Big Ag
Nanoparticles
Pesticides


The Good News

Organic farmer and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which addresses building slaughterhouses for local food processing, developing crop insurance programs for farmers who grow diverse crops, enabling schools to more easily serve local foods, and enabling the use of electronic benefit cards at farmers' markets. Pingree hopes that provisions in the Act will become part of the next Farm Bill. As we went to press, a companion bill was expected to be introduced in the Senate. ("Pingree unveils bill to benefit tens of thousands of local farmers," by Jonathan Riskind, Portland Press Herald, Oct. 25, 2011; www.pressherald.com/news/pingree-unveils-bill-to-benefit-tens-of-thousands-of-local-farmers_2011-10-25.html)

 

Hatchet Cove Farm and Oyster River Farm, both in Warren and both conserved by the Georges River Land Trust, have been recognized as "Forever Farms" by Maine Farmland Trust – that is, farmland preserved through agricultural easements ensuring that the land will always be available for farming. Maine Farmland Trust is raising awareness of preserved farmland by increased publicity and signage for such farms. ("Two Warren farms to be preserved forever," Village Soup, Oct. 18, 2011; http://knox.villagesoup.com/news/story/two-warren-farms-to-be-preserved-forever/460155; FMI: www.foreverfarms.org and www.mainefarmlandtrust.org)

 

The Maine YardScaping Partnership officially opened its 2.5-acre demonstration YardScaping Gardens at Back Cove in Portland in October. The intensive landscaping project showcases trees, shrubs and perennials – mostly native – that can make Maine gardens more sustainable through reduced use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water. The gardens were made possible by grants from the U.S. EPA-Region 1 Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, the Davis Conservation Foundation, generous donations from local businesses and garden clubs, and the efforts of many local volunteers, including Master Gardeners and dedicated members of the more than 30 YardScaping partners. The gardens received the Friend of Casco Bay award from Friends of Casco Bay and the Gold Leaf Award for Outstanding Landscape Beautification Activities from the International Society of Arboriculture, the latter presented to Gary Fish of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control staff. ("Award-Winning Back Cove Gardens Ready to Inspire More Sustainable Gardening," Press Release, Maine Yardscaping Partnership, Oct. 14, 2011; www.yardscaping.org)

 

Four banks in Belfast, Maine – Bangor Savings, Camden National, Damariscotta Bank and Trust and Key Bank, have started fee-free savings accounts for community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. The accounts are like Christmas Club savings accounts: Customers deposit money regularly so that it is set aside for joining a CSA program. Those enrolling in the accounts also get free membership in Maine Farmland Trust. ("New initiative designed to help connect farmers, customers," by Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, Oct. 13, 2011; http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/13/business/new-initiative-designed-to-help-connect-farmers-customers/)

 

The USDA has awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million to organizations that will train and assist beginning farmers and ranchers to help them run successful and sustainable farms and to become the next generation of U.S. farmers. "American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in America, a critical contribution to the strength and prosperity of the country," says Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Among the grants, MOFGA and the Northeast Organic Farming Associations of New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey have been granted funds for their proposed project, "Cultivating a New Crop of Farmers from Apprenticeship to Independence." This collaborative project will allow each organization to boost its beginning farmer outreach through educational programs, networking and overall support to aspiring and beginning farmers and to experienced farmers who help to train them.

All state chapters will launch an online apprentice and host farm directory to help match apprentices with host farms and farmer-trainers, and NOFA-NY will design, test and publish a tracking tool to guide beginning farmers' progress through core farming competencies. In future years, a similar directory will be available to help experienced and new farmers find each other.

Each chapter will organize a Beginning Farmer workshop track at its annual educational winter conference and provide scholarships to beginning farmers. The NOFA Summer Conference will include similar opportunities. Spring, summer and fall in-field technical skills workshops will be held in each state, with opportunities in summer for participants to network with peers.

All chapters will develop a Journeyperson Farmer program, following MOFGA's highly successful program that provides an educational stipend, resources and targeted support to newly independent farmers for two years. (USDA news release, Sept. 30, 2011; www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/09261_beginning_farmers.html; NOFA-NY press release, Oct. 4, 2011)



The Rodale Institute's 30-year-long Farming Systems Trial of corn and soy production has shown that organic farming can feed us better than conventional, now and in the future. The trial has demonstrated that organic yields match conventional yields and, during droughts, outperform conventional. Organic systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter; use 45 percent less energy and are more profitable than conventional. Conventional systems, meanwhile, produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases. ("The Farming Systems Trial, Celebrating 30 Years," Rodale Institute, 2011; www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years)

 

An article in the Sept.-Oct. issue of Agronomy Journal that analyzes 18 years of crop yield and farm management data from a University of Minnesota trial shows that an organic crop rotation was consistently more profitable and carried less risk of low returns than conventional corn and soy production, even when organic price premiums were cut by half. ("Economic analysis reveals organic farming profitable in long term," The Independent, Sept. 4, 2011;
www.theindependent.com/articles/2011/09/04/news/ag/13854539.txt)

 

The USDA's 2011 National Farmers Market Directory (http://farmersmarkets.usda.gov) shows more than 1,000 new farmers' markets in the country. The annual report indicates that 7,175 farmers' markets operate throughout the United States as more farmers are marketing their products directly to consumers than ever before. Last year, the USDA reported that 6,132 markets were operating across the country. ("More than 1,000 New Farmers Markets Recorded Across Country as USDA Directory Reveals 17 Percent Growth," USDA news release, Aug. 5, 2011; www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2011/08/0338.xml)

 

Growing food locally creates jobs, keeps money in local economies, promotes community development, and can reduce the environmental and public health costs of the food we eat. Maximizing these benefits requires new policies to help local and regional food systems thrive and expand, according to "Market Forces," a Union of Concerned Scientists report. The report recommends increasing funding for programs that support local and regional food systems; raising the level of research on the impacts of local and regional food systems; restructuring the safety net and ensuring credit accessibility for local food system farmers; fostering local capacity to help implement local and regional food system plans; and supporting the realization of farmers' market certification standards.

Modest public support for up to 500 farmers' markets each year could create as many as 13,500 jobs over a five-year period, says the report. Such local and regional food systems create jobs and raise incomes in the areas they serve, keeping customers' food dollars active in the local economy as farmers increase spending on inputs and equipment to meet growing demand.

Local food outlets can also catalyze local economic development, as people who shop at farmers' markets will likely patronize neighboring businesses as well.

The growth of local and regional food systems also promotes healthier eating habits. People who shop at farmers' markets tend to have more produce in their shopping bags. Also, food sold through direct marketing channels tends to be relatively less processed, which can save energy.

Challenges to expanding local and regional food systems include geographical and seasonal constraints, logistical and marketing issues, and policies geared toward commodity crop producers. ("Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems," Union of Concerned Scientists," Union of Concerned Scientists, July 27, 2011;
www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/big_picture_solutions/market-forces.html?utm_source=SP&utm_medium=more&utm_campaign=sp-more-marketforces-08-04-11)

 

Maine's medical marijuana statute LD 1296, "An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act To Protect Patient Privacy," became law in September.

The amended law eliminates mandatory state registration for medical marijuana users and requirements that patients disclose their medical condition; makes registration optional for primary caregivers growing medical marijuana for family or household members; allows outside cultivation for those who grow their own; and adds provisions that protect patients from search, seizure and prosecution. The Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine (mmcmonline.org) provides more information about the subject. ("Medical pot farmers seek advice, share tips," by Nok-Noi Ricker, Bangor Daily News, Aug. 10, 2011; http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/10/news/bangor/farmers-potential-caregivers-attend-brewer-medical-marijuana-meeting/)

 

The Organic Center's report "Transforming Jane Doe's Diet" determines the nutritional quality and pesticide risk of a typical diet for a 30-year-old woman and shows how modest changes can deliver immediate nutritional benefits and improve an average person's long-term health.

Jane Doe's "before" diet mirrors what an average woman may eat in her 20s. By age 30, Doe has gained 10 pounds due to her diet. To prevent further weight gain and to plan for her first pregnancy, she pays closer attention to her dietary choices. Her "after" diet replaces several high-calorie foods with nutrient-dense produce-based products, and she purchases mostly organic produce and grain-based products. More than half of Jane's "before" diet remains unchanged. Her few simple modifications increase her daily intake of fruits and vegetables from 3.6 to 12.3 servings, her overall nutritional quality by 79 percent (based on comparing intakes of 27 essential nutrients), and reduce her pesticide risk by more than two-thirds. Jane Doe also consumed 10 fewer calories per day – enough to prevent long-term weight gain approaching 10 pounds per decade, assuming she remains at least as active as in her 20s.

These are the top changes Jane made:

1. Whole wheat instead of white bread

2. Peanut butter instead of butter

3. Fresh, organic strawberries instead of strawberry jam

4. Plain yogurt topped with fruit instead of fruit-filled yogurt

5. Tomato juice instead of a lemon-lime soda

6. 50 percent whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta

7. One whole apple instead of apple pie

8. Light cream instead of coffee creamer

("The Organic Center Releases Groundbreaking Report Quantifying the Nutritional and Quality and Pesticide Risk Level of an Average Daily Diet," www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=190)

 

Scarborough's public properties will no longer be treated with synthetic pesticides, except in an emergency, thanks to Citizens for a Green Scarborough. Instead, the town will use only organic pesticides. The town will create a Pest Management Advisory Committee and a policy to alert residents when any pest management product is used on town land. ("Scarborough bans synthetic pesticides on town property," by Mario Moretto, The Forecaster, Sept. 22, 2011; www.theforecaster.net/content/s-scarborough-town-council-092311)

 

Projected demand for organic foods may require up to 42,000 organic farmers by 2015, triple the 14,000 of today, says a Sept. 2011 report called "Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity" from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). The United States currently has 980,000 farmers. The growth of the organic sector, from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010, and the increased labor intensity on some organic farms will fuel the job growth. Organic farming has health and environmental benefits, too. For example, "The world's soils, if managed carefully, could capture an estimated 5_15 percent of global emissions released by burning fossil fuels, or 0.4_1.2 gigatons of carbon per year," says the report. The OFRF wants Congress to increase funding for organic research; create fair and appropriate insurance options for organic farms – including coverage for contamination by neighboring genetically engineered crops, extended coverage for cover crops and double crops; increase regulations on pesticides and genetically engineered crops; and enable government institutions to buy more organic foods. ("Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity," Organic Farming Research Foundation, Sept. 2011; http://ofrf.org/publications/OrganicFarmingforHealthandProsperity.pdf)

 

Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a socially and environmentally innovative neighborhood in Belfast, Maine, will feature 36 furnace-free homes with a 90 percent savings in home heating that will not require the use of fossil fuels. The clustered homes, expected to be completed by December 2013, will be based on the German "Passive House" (energy) Standard and will be so energy efficient that it is said a hairdryer could heat the homes in winter. With only 13 certified Passive House homes in the country, if the residents choose to certify their homes, the project may become the largest of its kind in the nation.

In recognition of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage's creative and forward-thinking approach to development, the project recently received the People's Choice Award from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, given annually to an individual or group whose actions have made a real difference in protecting Maine's environment. The 36 private homes, two-third of them spoken for already, will range from 500 to 1,700 square feet, with current base prices ranging from $150,000 to $333,000. A Common House also planned for the 42-acre parcel will have a commercial kitchen for optional group meals, root cellar, freezer room, laundry, office and studio space, library, children's playroom and guest rooms. Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is reserving 85 percent of its land for agricultural use and open space. Some future residents plan to farm collaboratively, and the group is seeking a farmer to be part of the neighborhood. (www.mainecohousing.org)

 

Researchers say that we will be able to feed Earth's 9 billion population expected by 2050 if we halt farmland expansion in the tropics, close yield gaps on underperforming lands, use agricultural inputs more strategically, shift diets and reduce food waste. A team of scientists from the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, McGill University, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State University, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Bonn say that farm and ranch lands now cover nearly 40 percent of Earth's land area. Modern agriculture has increased crop yields, but those increases are slowing; and one-third of crops are used for livestock feed, biofuels and other nonfood products. Modern agriculture has cleared 70 percent of all grasslands, half of all savannas, 45 percent of temperate deciduous forests and 27 percent of tropical forests. Irrigation, fertilizer use and other practices have increased water pollution, local water shortages and energy use and are large contributors to greenhouse gases. The researchers propose halting farmland expansion, particularly in tropical rainforests, through incentives such as paying for ecosystem services, certification and ecotourism; closing yield gaps in parts of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe by improving use of existing crop varieties, better management and improved genetics; using inputs more strategically; dedicating croplands to direct human food production or shifting animal feed and biofuel crops away from prime cropland; and reducing waste (one-third of the food farms produce is discarded, spoiled or eaten by pests). The team recommends using the best of conventional, organic, industrial, local, biotech and other methods to create a sustainably intensified global food system without compromising the global environment. ("International team crafts plan to feed world and protect planet," by Jeff Falk, University News Service, Oct. 12, 2011; www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2011/UR_CONTENT_358824.html)

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Genetic Engineering

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined that Bayer CropScience's TwinLink cotton, engineered to tolerate the herbicide glufosinate and to resist several insect pests, and Mosanto's insect resistant soybean, MON 87701, are no longer subject to APHIS regulations as they are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk. (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service news releases; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2011/10/status_insect_resistant_soybean.shtml; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2011/10/status_pest_resistant_cotton.shtml)


 
Twenty Indian, Southeast Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups say that genetic engineering has not increased yields of food crops but has increased synthetic chemical use and growth of superweeds – which farmers are fighting with even more herbicides. Soy growers in Argentina and Brazil use twice as much herbicide on GE crops as on non-GE, says one study, and Indian growers use 13 times more pesticide since insect resistant Bt cotton was introduced, according to another. Farmers use GE seeds because governments are heavily lobbied to encourage them to do so, and because GE companies are buying local seed companies and removing non-GE seeds from the market. Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta now control almost 70 percent of global seed sales. Friends of the Earth International, the Center for Food Safety, Confédération Paysanne, the Gaia Foundation and others back the report, which also cites studies and reports suggesting that people and animals have had allergic reactions to GE crops. ("GM crops promote superweeds, food insecurity and pesticides, say NGOs," by John Vidal, The Guardian, Oct. 19, 2011; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/19/gm-crops-insecurity-superweeds-pesticides)

 

In October, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a legal petition with the U.S. FDA demanding that the agency require the labeling of all food produced using genetic engineering. CFS prepared the legal action on behalf of the Just Label It campaign, a coalition of more than 350 companies, organizations, scientists, doctors and individuals dedicated to food safety and consumer rights. In 1992, the FDA issued a policy statement that GE foods were not "materially" different and thus did not need to be labeled. It defined "material" as the ability of a change to be tasted, smelled or known through the other senses. The differences between GE and conventional foods are underscored by the fact that they are patented for their novelty, yet they remain unlabeled. GE crops also carry significant novel environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of natural crops and massive increases in pesticide use. ("Groups File Legal Petition With FDA Demanding Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods," Center for Food Safety, Oct. 4, 2011; www.centerforfoodsafety.org)

 

The National Biodiversity Authority of India is suing Monsanto over its GE insect-resistant eggplant. The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group alleges that Monsanto violated India's Biological Diversity Act of 2002 by engineering nine local eggplant varieties to produce the Bt toxin without approval from the Biodiversity Authority. The Maharashtra Hybrid Company in Mumbai, Monsanto's Indian partner, says it incorporated the Bt gene into varieties provided by the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad in Karnataka state and provided the technology "royalty free." ("India Sues Monsanto Over Genetically-Modified Eggplant," by William Pentland, Forbes, Aug. 12, 2011; www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/08/12/india-sues-monsanto-over-genetically-modified-eggplant/)

 

After Bavarian beekeepers who live near a test plot of Monsanto's GE Bt corn said that their honey was contaminated by the corn pollen, the EU's highest court ruled that honey with trace amounts of pollen from GE corn must be labeled and authorized for safety before it can be sold as food. ("EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale," by Leigh Phillips, The Guardian, Sept. 7, 2011; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/07/europe-honey-gm)

 

Some western corn rootworms in Iowa have become resistant to Bt since Monsanto's GE Bt corn, which makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1, has been widely grown. Genetic engineers are now studying a technique called RNA interference to create plants that would turn off an essential gene in insects. ("Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance," by Scott Kilman, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 29, 2011; http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904009304576532742267732046.html)

 

Agri-Mark Inc., the parent company of Vermont's Cabot Creamery Cooperative, is being fined $65,000 by the state of Vermont for overstating claims that some of its products come from cows that were not treated with the GE hormone rBST (recombinant Bovine Somatotropin, or recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone). The company will also have to donate $75,000 worth of dairy products to food banks and must change its labels to accurately reflect the rBST status of its products. ("Vt. cheese maker to scale back hormone claims," The Associated Press, Aug. 3, 2011; www.pressherald.com/business/Vt-cheese-maker-to-scale-back-hormone-claims-.html)

 

Monsanto's GE sweet corn, engineered to express the Bt toxin in all plant parts and to resist Roundup herbicide, was slated to enter the U.S. fresh corn market this fall. Syngenta has had GE Bt sweet corn on the market for more than a decade. ("Monsanto to Sell Biotech Sweet Corn for U.S. Consumers," by Jack Kaskey, Bloomberg, Aug. 4, 2011
www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-04/monsanto-to-introduce-engineered-sweet-corn-in-u-s-this-year.html)

 

The Obama administration awarded a $500,000 National Institute of Food and Agriculture research grant to financially strapped AquaBounty, which wants the FDA to approve its GE salmon for sale. The engineered salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and DNA from the ocean pout. Together, the genes promote nonstop growth in the engineered salmon, which grow up to six times as fast as non-engineered salmon. ("Obama administration 'bailed out' GM salmon firm," Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Oct. 18, 2011; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/18/gm-salmon-aquabounty)

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Antibiotics

University of Maryland School of Public Health scientists tested for enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed and water on 10 conventional and 10 farms that had recently become organic. On conventional farms, 67 percent of Enterococcus faecalis were resistant to the antibiotic erythromycin; on organic farms, 18 percent. Forty-two percent of the bacteria from conventional farms were resistant to multiple drugs, compared with 10 percent from organic farms. ("Organic farming reduces resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, study finds," by Rob Stein, Washington Post, Aug. 10, 2011; www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-checkup/post/organic-farming-reduces-resistance-of-bacteria-to-antibiotics-study-finds/2011/08/09/gIQAyMd74I_blog.html)

 

Recently, the USDA posted but later removed from its National Agricultural Library website a technical review of the link between factory farmed animals and increasing antibiotic-resistant infections. The Union of Concerned Scientists retained a cached version of the review, written by Vaishali Dharmarha of the University of Maryland. The U.S. meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics per year – 80 percent of U.S. antibiotic use – largely to promote growth, not to treat infections; while U.S. humans use just over 7 million pounds per year. Justin Tatham of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Tom Philpott of Mother Jones: "As a science-based group, we're concerned about how the USDA is withholding this information from the public." ("What the USDA Doesn't Want You to Know About Antibiotics and Factory Farms," by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, July 29, 2011; http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/what-usda-doesnt-want-you-know-about-antibiotics-and-factory-farms; Original report: www.bibliotecapleyades.net/archivos_pdf/focus-antimicrobial-resistance.pdf)

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Food Safety

Purdue University researchers have found that E. coli and Salmonella can live inside plant tissues as well as on the surface, so just washing produce may not eliminate all bacteria. The researchers exposed peanut seedlings to Salmonella and mung bean sprouts to E. coli O157:H7. After growing the plants, they used a process called immunocytochemistry to observe bacteria inside the plant. The process keeps bacteria where they originally were when researchers cut plants, preventing contamination of internal tissues with surface bacteria. The bacteria appeared in all major plant tissues. The researchers emphasize that cooking can kill these pathogens, and that the risk of illness from eating contaminated food is relatively low – but it is increasing. ("Illness-causing bacteria may linger inside fresh produce," by Taya Flores, Journal and Courier online, Aug. 22, 2011; www.jconline.com)

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Animal ID

The USDA already has traceability requirements as part of existing animal disease control programs. Now a proposed rule expands which animals must be identified, including young feeder cattle, which are processed at a young age and never enter the breeding herd. The proposed rule would require livestock producers, related businesses, and state livestock agencies to track animals that cross state lines – with few tangible benefits to farmers or customers. The deadline for commenting on the rule is Dec. 9, 2011, at www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=APHIS-2009-0091-0001; or Docket No.APHIS-2009-0091_Regulatory Analysis and Development _PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8 _4700 River Road Unit 118_Riverdale, MD 20737-1238
The proposed rule is posted at www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Proposed%20Rule.pdf. USDA's regulatory analysis, including its analysis of costs of the program and alleged benefits to the export market, are posted at www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Regulatory%20Impact%20Analysis.pdf. ("USDA Extends Deadline for Public Comments on New Animal ID Rule," Cornucopia Institute, Oct. 7, 2011; www.cornucopia.org)

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Big Ag

A new organization called the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (www.fooddialogues.com) wants to use its $11 million annual budget to "reshape the dialogue" about U.S. food and to fight criticism of industrial agriculture. Its members come from such big ag entities as the American Egg Board and the National Pork Board. Founding member Chris Galen from the National Milk Producers Federation was quoted as saying that Americans' concerns about the food supply "are best addressed by farmers." The Alliance's budget comes in part from marketing fees and from corporations, including an annual $500,000 each from Monsanto and DuPont. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, chairs the Alliance, and state Farm Bureau federations make up many of the Alliance's members. ("In Debate About Food, a Monied New Player," by Charlotte Richardson, The New York Times, Sept. 27, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/dining/in-debate-about-food-a-monied-new-player.html?_r=1)

 

Monsanto began marketing its ready-to-eat Beneforté broccoli last year, a conventionally bred (non-GE) hybrid advertised as a "naturally better broccoli" that "boosts the body's antioxidant enzymes at least 2 times more than other broccoli" because it has, per serving, two to three times more of the phytonutrient glucoraphanin [a type of glucosinolate] than other leading broccoli varieties grown under similar conditions, according to Monsanto. The company says this antioxidant "help[s] maintain your body's defenses against the damage of environmental pollutants and free radicals." Grist writer Andy Bellatti asks whether Monsanto's broccoli will help fight against health problems related to herbicides; and how the broccoli compares with other varieties grown under organic conditions. ("Busting Monsanto's 'better' broccoli," by Andy Bellatti, Grist, Sept. 28, 2011; www.grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-09-28-busting-monsantos-better-broccoli)

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Nanoparticles

Nanomaterials – particles from 1 to 300 nanometers in size – are as small as 1/100,000 the width of a human hair and can move into skin, lungs and blood. They have been used in foods, cosmetics, computers, clothes and more since the 1990s, with almost no regulation and without required labeling. Now scientists are questioning their safety, and in June 2011, the EPA and FDA announced their intent to issue voluntary guidance to industry on these products. Nanomaterials include titanium dioxide used in food, toothpaste, medications and more, and nanosilver used to counter bacteria, mold and mites in socks, toys, baby products and more. Nanoparticles can also make poisons more bio-available in pesticides. Scientist Robert Schiestl from UCLA has found that mice exposed to nano-sized titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and cadmium oxide suffered DNA and chromosomal damage. Other studies have found that rats that inhaled nanoparticle titanium dioxide developed lung cancer, while mice had organ damage. Still others associate nanoparticles with eczema and possibly with some cancers; and nanosilver was highly toxic to soil bacteria, including a nitrogen fixing bacterium, and may be toxic to aquatic organisms. The U.S. government provided a $1.6 billion subsidy to the nanotech industry last year. The Project on Emerging Technologies (www.nanotechproject.org/) lists many products that contain nanoparticles. ("Tiny nanoparticles could be a big problem," by Alex Roslin, July 21, 2011
www.straight.com/article-404589/vancouver/tiny-nanoparticles-could-be-big-problem; "Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation," by Dr. Steve Suppan, June 29, 2011, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,  www.iatp.org/documents/racing-ahead-us-agri-nanotechnology-in-the-absence-of-regulation)

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Pesticides

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, has been found in every stream sampled and in most air samples taken in Mississippi, according to two recent United States Geological Survey studies. Agricultural use of glyphosate increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. "Though glyphosate is the mostly widely used herbicide in the world, we know very little about its long term effects to the environment," says USGS chemist Paul Capel. "This study is one of the first to document the consistent occurrence of this chemical in streams, rain and air throughout the growing season." The EPA is assessing the safety and effectiveness of the herbicide. Meanwhile, USDA microbiologist Bob Kremer says that continued use of glyphosate may cause fungal diseases in crop roots, leading to nutrient deficiencies that may limit yield. ("Widely Used Herbicide Commonly Found in Rain and Streams in the Mississippi River Basin," USGS Newsroom, Aug. 29, 2011; www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2909; "Roundup herbicide research shows plant, soil problems," by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Aug. 12, 2011; www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/12/us-glyphosate-idUSTRE77B58A20110812)

 

Data from 1,988 participants in a Finnish study showed a higher risk for type 2 diabetes among overweight adults with highest concentrations of some organochlorine pesticides in their blood, suggesting that pollutants and body fat may act synergistically. Organochlorine chemicals are known to affect hormone function and to concentrate in fatty tissues. ("Association Between Type 2 Diabetes and Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants," by Riikka Airaksinen et al., Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Assoc., Aug. 4, 2011; http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2011/07/26/dc10-2303.abstract; "More evidence links pesticides, diabetes," by Amy Norton, Reuters, Aug. 17, 2011;
www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/17/us-more-evidence-links-pesticides-diabet-idUSTRE77G45120110817)

 

The EPA has banned the sale of DuPont's herbicide Imprelis, linked to thousands of U.S. tree deaths, while it reviews the broadleaf weed killer. DuPont is planning a refund program and is facing lawsuits because of the damage. Balsam fir, Norway spruce and white pines were especially susceptible to the herbicide. Imprelis can also persist in grass clippings from treated lawns, so these should not be added to compost. ("E.P.A. Bans Sale of Tree-Killing Herbicide," by Jim Robbins, The New York Times, Aug. 11, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/science/earth/12herbicide.html?hpw)

 

In a case involving a 12,000-acre organic farm, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that pesticides that cross property lines constitute trespassing; furthermore, when grower Oluf Johnson couldn't sell the crop in the organic market, he was entitled to damages from the pesticide applicator. Most jurisdictions consider pesticide drift as trespass. ("Wafting poison makes fertile ground for suit in Stearns County," by Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, July 25, 2011; www.startribune.com/126151483.html)

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