The Good News
Farm and Farmland Data
The Good News
Organic certification agencies now have to show USDA that those using the USDA organic seal are conserving natural resources – part of the National Organic Program regulations since 2001. USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) updated two sections of its Handbook’s Audit Checklists to include the natural resources standard requiring farmers, ranchers, wild harvesters and processors to “maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil, water, wetlands, woodlands and wildlife.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help identify practices that support wildlife on organic farms and ranches. (“Organic Agriculture Just Got Better at Being Nature-Friendly,” http://wildfarmalliance.org/resources/organic_BD.htm)
Farmers can get help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect natural resources on land they own or manage. NRCS provides free conservation planning assistance and administers several programs that provide financial assistance for conservation measures identified in a conservation plan.
A conservation plan is a roadmap for sustaining or improving production while managing the natural resource base that supports an operation. Conservation planning identifies objectives, resource limitations and opportunities, and ways to reduce soil erosion, protect soil, air and water quality, conserve water, protect wildlife, and produce crops and livestock sustainably.
Developing a conservation plan is the first step in working with NRCS and applying for most USDA conservation programs. This begins with a phone call to a local NRCS office to make an appointment with a conservation planner. You may have to visit the NRCS office, and an NRCS representative may visit with you to walk your land and discuss your concerns. You may also need to register your farm with the USDA Farm Service Agency for your area to initiate the conservation plan.
At times, a backlog of farms awaits conservation planning assistance, so start the process well before deadlines for conservation programs. If a conservation program can help address the resource needs identified in your conservation plan, an NRCS representative will explain the application process.
The conservation planning and program application process involves these steps:
1. Establish a customer record with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). This may require an appointment with the local FSA office, typically located in your local USDA Service Center. Bringing a copy of your latest tax return can aid with registration. Register the farm with FSA under the same name and tax ID used on your tax return.
2. Work with FSA and NRCS to map your farm and other fields you manage to help the planner locate fields during the site visit and to ensure that the field manager is up to date in FSA records.
3. NRCS determines if your land is eligible for conservation planning and/or programs. FSA determines additional eligibility (such as income limits) for conservation program participation.
4. An NRCS planner will conduct an initial site visit when you and the planner will identify areas you would like to include in your conservation plan and determine what conservation practices may be eligible. Include leased fields that you plan to continue farming.
5. After the site visit, the NRCS planner will develop initial recommendations and a conservation plan.
6. Review your plan and, if desired, work with an NRCS planner to identify which practices will be included in a conservation program application.
7. Work with your NRCS representative to determine the program and funding pool for which you wish to apply and fill out a Conservation Program Application.
8.Complete eligibility forms annually to keep your USDA conservation program eligibility up to date.
For more information, contact your local NRCS office via http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/ or www.me.nrcs.usda.gov.
(Adapted from UMass Extension Vegetable Notes, Sept. 13, 2012; http://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/publications/vegetable-notes-newsletter/archives)
Agricultural and forest producers can apply by Dec. 21, 2012, for funding through five conservation initiatives funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): the On-Farm Energy; Organic; Seasonal High Tunnel; Irrigation; and New England/New York Forestry initiatives for Fiscal Year 2013.
On-Farm Energy Initiatives are Agricultural Energy Management Plans or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. NRCS uses audit data to develop energy conservation recommendations. Each plan has a landscape component that assesses equipment and farming processes or a farm headquarters component that assesses power use and efficiencies in livestock buildings, grain handling operations and similar farm facilities.
Organic Initiatives help certified organic growers and producers working toward certification to install conservation practices for organic production. Funding is available to help producers plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways consistent with organic production, such as planting cover crops, establishing integrated pest management plans, constructing seasonal high tunnels, or implementing nutrient management systems.
The Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative helps producers plan and implement high tunnels – steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures that extend growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality, fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment, and better air quality due to fewer vehicles being needed to transport crops.
Irrigation Assistance is for lands that have been irrigated for at least two of the last five years. Technical and financial assistance is available for irrigation-related practices such as irrigation water management plans, irrigation sprinkler or micro-irrigation systems, and alternative irrigation water sources. This initiative focuses on projects resulting in a more efficient irrigation system and/or adherence to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s low flow rule.
The New England/New York Forestry Initiative helps Maine forest landowners with forest land planning and management of their private forests to improve wildlife habitat, forest health and productivity, and water quality. Eligible conservation practices through this initiative include, but are not limited to, forest stand improvement, early successional habitat development and management, tree/shrub site preparation and establishment, upland wildlife habitat management, brush management, stream crossings, riparian forest buffers, fish passage, forest trails and landings, conservation cover, access roads, wetland restoration and wetland wildlife habitat management.
Get more information at www.me.nrcs.usda.gov or from a USDA Service Center, listed at http://offices.usda.gov or in the phone book under United States Government, Agriculture Department. (“Applications Being Accepted for Conservation Initiatives,” NRCS press release, Aug. 24, 2012; www.me.nrcs.usda.gov/news/News_EQIPInitiatives2013.html)
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reviewed scientific evidence about organic produce, dairy products and meat and concluded that while organic foods have the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients as conventional, they also have lower pesticide levels, which may be significant for children. Organically raised animals are also less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria because organic farming rules prohibit non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. The AAP found no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease but noted that no large studies in humans have been performed to specifically address this issue.
The AAP report “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages” outlines research that has been conducted on organic foods, including convincing evidence of lower exposure to pesticides and less contamination of livestock with drug-resistant bacteria.
“At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person’s health over a lifetime, though we do know that children – especially young children whose brains are developing – are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures,” said Joel Forman, M.D., FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and one of the lead authors of the AAP clinical report.
The AAP report also notes that the motivation to choose organic produce, meat and dairy products may be reasonably based on larger environmental issues, as well as human health impacts such as pollution and global climate change. (“American Academy of Pediatrics Weighs In For the First Time on Organic Foods for Children,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct. 22, 2012 www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Weighs-In-For-the-First-Time-on-Organic-Foods-for-Children.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token; “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages,” Joel Forman, Janet Silverstein, Oct. 22, 2012; Pediatrics, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/10/15/peds.2012-2579)
Researchers (including Adam Davis, who researched crop and livestock integration while a graduate student at UMaine, and Matt Liebman, formerly of UMaine) have shown that diverse cropping systems with greatly reduced synthetic chemical input can produce as much as or more than simpler, more chemically-intensive systems while harming the environment less. From 2003 – 2011, the researchers compared three cropping systems at Iowa State’s Marsden Farm: a conventionally managed two-year corn-soy rotation treated with fertilizers and herbicides as typically used on nearby farms; a three-year corn-soy-small grain plus red clover rotation; and a four-year corn-soy-small grain plus alfalfa-alfalfa rotation using 88 percent less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer than the first treatment. Six- to ten-fold less herbicide was used on the alternative than on conventional plots; and cattle manure was applied periodically to these plots. “Grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in the more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs,” write the authors. All systems suppressed weeds effectively. Compared with the conventional treatment, the more diverse systems reduced by 200-fold the estimated potential for toxic compounds from herbicides to contaminate fresh water. “Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems,” say the authors. (Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health, Adam S. Davis et al., PLoS ONE, Oct. 12, 2012; www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0047149)
Fertilizer use, irrigation and climate are major factors in yield. Production increases from 45 to 70 percent are possible for most crops, along with reduced environmental impacts from nutrient overuse, by changing nutrient and water management. (Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management, Nathaniel D. Mueller et al., Nature, Aug. 29, 2012; www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11420.html)
More than 40 plant-based compounds can turn on genes that slow the spread of multiple cancers, according to Washington State University research published in Cancer and Metastasis Reviews (http://bit.ly/SyziXW). Gary Meadows, WSU professor, says most research focuses on preventing cancer or treating the original tumor, but cancer’s spread to nearby organs is usually what kills people. So rather than attack the tumor, says Meadows, control its spread, or metastasis. Meadows documented from medical literature dozens of substances affecting metastasis suppressor genes of numerous cancers. He found that amino acids, vitamin D, ethanol, ginseng extract, the tomato carotenoid lycopene, the turmeric component curcumin, pomegranate juice and fish oil act epigenetically, i.e., turn metastasis suppressor genes on or off in breast, colorectal, prostate, skin, lung and other cancers.
“So these epigenetic mechanisms are influenced by what you eat,” Meadows says. “That may also be related to how the metastasis suppressor genes are being regulated. That’s a very new area of research that has largely not been very well explored in terms of diet and nutrition.”
The number of studies that serendipitously connected nutrients and metastasis suppressor genes suggests a need for more deliberate research into the genes.
Meadows also sees these studies playing an important role in the shift from preventing cancer to living with it and keeping it from spreading. “We’ve focused on the cancer for a long time,” he said. “More recently we’ve started to focus on the cancer in its environment. And the environment, your whole body as an environment, is really important in whether or not that cancer will spread.” (“WSU Researcher Documents Links between Nutrients, Genes and the Spread of Cancers,” by Eric Sorensen, Washington State University Green Times, Sept. 20, 2012; http://newsletters.cahnrs.wsu.edu/category/green-times/)
Nonprofit groups in three cities recently looked at how they can support city gardeners and farmers. The Design Trust for Public Space partnered with Added Value to produce the report “Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York City,” which identified more than 700 food-producing farms and gardens, most 5,000 square feet or less. The report suggested tracking production (pounds of food, value, jobs and participation) and impact (dietary change, food literacy and social cohesion) and addressed land insecurity.
Toronto’s Food Policy Council’s “GrowTO: An Urban Agriculture Plan for Toronto” recommended creating an urban agriculture program within the city; updating city policies to support and implement urban agriculture; providing incentives for urban agriculture initiatives; and developing a web-based clearinghouse of urban agriculture information. Toronto highlighted YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), enabling use of private yards there.
The Conservation Law Foundation’s “Growing Green: Measuring Benefits, Overcoming Barriers, and Nurturing Opportunities for Urban Agriculture in Boston” is a feasibility study for a hypothetical commercial urban farm that would cultivate many sites in Boston, totaling 50 acres. The study found that commercial urban farms likely employed 2.6 to 4.5 people per acre and that Boston has at least 800 acres of vacant land suitable for urban agriculture. It details policy and initiatives in the city, including an urban agriculture zoning overlay district. (“North American Cities Produce Bumper Crop of Urban Agriculture Studies,” by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Assoc., Sept. 6, 2012; www.spur.org/blog/2012-09-05/north-american-cities-produce-bumper-crop-urban-agriculture-studies)
The Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS) and the University of Maine project “More Maine Meat” seek to improve economic returns for Maine livestock producers and grow the Maine meat industry with more forage-based resources so that Maine farmers can meet more of New England’s demand for red meat. The project will identify bottlenecks, provide information, data and support to entrepreneurs and provide expertise to specific enterprises as appropriate. (“‘More Maine Meat’ Project to Aid Maine Livestock Producers,” Sept. 5, 2012, http://umaine.edu/livestock/blog/2012/09/05/more-maine-meat-project-to-aid-maine-livestock-producers/)
The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) has launched a free Organic Seed Finder for sourcing certified organic seed by crop type and variety, at www.organicseedfinder.org. Seed companies pay an annual fee to list their organic varieties in the database. Organic industry sponsorships also support Organic Seed Finder. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 736-0120. (“AOSCA Announces New Organic Seed Database,” press release, Sept. 18, 2012)
The Whanganui River in New Zealand has become the first river to become a legal entity with a legal voice, to be recognized as a person under law. The New Zealand government and the Whanganui River Iwi are charged with protecting the river and deciding values for that protection. Their preliminary agreement recognizes the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole). (“Agreement entitles Whanganui River to legal identity,” by Kate Shuttleworth, Aug. 30, 2012;
Two goats kept on 30-foot tethers and moved every two to three days are controlling poison ivy and other weeds at Settlers’ Ghost Golf Course in Craighurst, Ontario; and San Francisco’s Presidio Golf Course has 300 goats for weed control. Settlers’ Ghost hasn’t used herbicides since the goats’ arrival. (“Goats as groundskeepers? Golf course says employing animals is eco-friendly alternative,” by Andrew Philips, Toronto Star, Aug. 20, 2012; www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1244150—goats-as-groundskeepers-golf-course-says-employing-animals-is-eco-friendly-alternative)
Stanford University researchers reviewed 17 human studies and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork and other meat. Their main findings, published in the September 2012 Annals of Internal Medicine, were that conventional produce has a 30 percent higher risk for pesticide contamination than organic produce (based on the presence of any pesticide residue, not the number, concentration or combinations of pesticides or their relative toxicity) but that exposure to those pesticides is within EPA safety limits; that conventional chicken and pork have a 33 percent higher risk for contamination with bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics than organic products do; that organic produce had higher levels of total beneficial phenols, organic milk and chicken had more omega-3 fatty acids, and organic chicken had more vaccenic acid. The Stanford team concluded that the “published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” basing its conclusion on the limited number of studies proving a “clinically significant” benefit in health related to consuming organic foods. The study also noted, however, that “Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic resistant bacteria.”
The study has been criticized for not using quality data from USDA and EPA on pesticide residue levels; for ignoring much of the literature concerning antibiotic use on conventional farms and its relationship to development of new strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant; for not defining its term “significantly more nutritious”; for citing in its references other, more rigorous studies that show positive effects of organic foods but not mentioning them in its findings and not discussing why its conclusions differ from those; for miscalculating the risk of being exposed to pesticides from organic vs. conventional foods (Charles Benbrook calculates it as an 81 percent difference rather than the Stanford team’s 30 percent; and in his own analyses of other studies finds a 94 percent reduction in the risk of exposure to pesticides by selecting several organic fruits); for not including long-term health studies of people who consume organic vs. conventional foods; for not considering the health of farm workers exposed to pesticides; for their association with Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, which receives funds from agribusiness, and for one author’s links with the tobacco industry.
Charles Benbrook, who has reviewed most of the studies that the Stanford study cited, says, “Over time, I believe that unbiased analysis coupled with modern-day science is likely to show with increasing clarity that growing and consuming organic food, especially in conjunction with healthy diets rich in fresh, whole foods, is one of the best health-promotion investments we can make today as individuals, families, and a society.” (“Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review,” Crystal Smith-Spangler, M.D., et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, Sept. 4 2012, Vol. 157. No. 5; http://annals.org/issue.aspx; “Stanford’s ‘Spin’ on Organics Allegedly Tainted by Biotechnology Funding,” The Cornucopia Institute, Sept. 12, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/09/stanfords-spin-on-organics-allegedly-tainted-by-biotechnology-funding/; “Stanford researcher readily acknowledges limitations of study on organic versus conventional food,” by Heather Rogers, Sept. 10, 2012; www.remappingdebate.org/article/stanford-researcher-readily-acknowledges-limitations-study-organic-versus-conventional-food; “Press comment: American study of organic food,” Soil Association, Sept. 4, 2012; www.soilassociation.org/news/newsstory/articleid/4416/press-comment-american-study-of-organic-food; Organic Trade Assoc. press release, Sept. 4, 2012; “Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper ‘Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier than Conventional Alternatives?’ A Systematic Review,” by Charles Benbrook, www.organicconsumers.org/benbrook_annals_response2012.pdf; Brandt, Kirsten et al., 2011, “Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables,” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, Vo. 30:177-197; “Stanford Scientists Shockingly Reckless on Health Risk And Organics,” by Frances Moore Lappé, Common Dreams, Sept. 6, 2012; www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/06-12)
A study in the Journal of Urology found that women who frequently consumed high fat, non-organic dairy products and few or no organic versions of these products were 118 percent more likely to have a son with hypospadia, a birth defect of the penis, compared with boys from 306 women who ate organic dairy and other organic foods. The authors say that exposure to pesticides or other chemicals in high fat dairy products may increase the risk of hypospadias – or that women who eat organic foods may have an overall healthier lifestyle that lowers the risk. (“Prenatal intake of non-organic dairy products linked to hypospadias in offspring,” by Jimmy Downs, Food Consumer, Oct. 7, 2012; www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Food/non-organic_dairy_products_hypospadias_1007120502.html)
Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 people, mostly farmers, living in just under 15,000 square miles, says Bhutan will be the first country in the world to convert to 100 percent organic agriculture. Much of the land is already organic, as synthetic chemicals and fertilizers are unavailable and unaffordable to most Bhutan farmers. The government wants to teach farmers to grow more food and help the country become more self-sufficient. (“Bhutan Bets Organic Agriculture Is The Road To Happiness,” by Eliza Barcklay, July 31, 2012; www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/07/31/157645902/bhutan-bets-organic-agriculture-is-the-road-to-happiness?live=1%3Futm_source%3Dfp&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20120731)
The Organic Center is combining efforts with the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and relocating its headquarters from Boulder, Colorado, to Washington, D.C. The Organic Center will remain an independent non-profit but will be under the administrative auspices of OTA. The Organic Center conducts credible, evidence-based science on the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming, and communicates those benefits to the public. Combining efforts under one administrative umbrella is expected to save money, improve access to government and foundation grants, stimulate greater research and increase information to the public to convince them of the benefits of organic. (“The Organic Center moves to D.C. and combines efforts with the Organic Trade Association,” Organic Trade Assoc. press release, Sept. 5, 2012; www.organicnewsroom.com/)
Aurora Dairy, operating in Colorado and Texas, has agreed to pay plaintiffs in a class-action consumer fraud lawsuit $7.5 million to end litigation involving fraudulent marketing claims. Aurora and its major customers, supermarket chains including Walmart, Costco, Target, Safeway and other large grocery chains that sell private-label organic milk, were accused of misrepresenting the authenticity of their products. The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, filed legal complaints with USDA alleging that Aurora was producing milk on giant feedlots, confining as many as 4,400 milk cows, instead of grazing their cattle as federal organic standards require, and used non-organic subcontractors and illegally brought conventional cows into its organic operations. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of consumers in more than 30 states who felt defrauded after purchasing private-label, or store brand, organic milk originating from Aurora. (Cornucopia Institute press release, Sept. 10, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/09/bush-era-organic-scandal-ends-in-7-5-million-settlement/)
California fertilizer producer Kenneth Noel Nelson Jr., accused of selling as organic a product with synthetic ingredients (aqueous ammonia), has pled guilty to four counts of mail fraud in the case. Nelson’s Port Organic Products Ltd., one of the largest organic fertilizer operations in the West, reportedly sold some $40 million worth of the fertilizer from 2003 to 2009. Nelson was scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 5, 2012. (“Bakersfield man pleads guilty in fertilizer case, AP, Aug. 10, 2012; www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21284509/bakersfield-man-pleads-guilty-fertilizer-case; “Feds cracking down on organic-farming cheaters,” AP, Aug. 9, 2014; www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_21278731/feds-cracking-down-organic-farming-cheaters)
The Office of the Inspector General, after a complaint filed by The Cornucopia Institute, outlined its review of allegations that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is colluding with corporate agribusiness, has conflicts of interest, and that illegal appointments and false information have tainted its decision-making process. The review confirmed that USDA’s National Organic Program was correctly administering the process of reviewing non-organic and synthetic substances before they were added to the National List, says Cornucopia’s Mark A. Kastel, but did not look thoroughly into allegations of illegal stacking the NOSB with corporate executives and consultants, he adds, rather than farmers for positions reserved for farmers. Cornucopia also alleges that Technical Reviews used by the NOSB to evaluate the health and environmental safety of synthetics allowed in organics were biased and performed by corporate agribusiness executives or consultants. (“USDA Organic Audit: Procedures for Approving Synthetics Followed, ‚Ä®Allegations of Corruption Unexamined,” The Cornucopia Institute, July 25, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/07/usda-organic-audit-procedures-for-approving-synthetics-followed-allegations-of-corruption-unexamined/)
In October 2012, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted not to allow synthetic versions of taurine, lycopene, lutein and 1-carnitine in organic foods, including organic infant formula. The NOSB also rejected petitions for two synthetic preservatives for use in organic infant formula. The board did approve one synthetic nutrient, l-methionine, for use in organic soy-based infant formula only. Without the addition of l-methionine, soy-based formula is nutritionally incomplete. Cornucopia had recommended that l-methionine may be added to soy-based formula only, given that this is required by the FDA. (“National Organic Standards Board Votes to Reject More Synthetic Additives in Infant Formula, Cornucopia News, Oct. 18, 2012; www.cornucopia.org/2012/10/national-organic-standards-board-votes-to-reject-more-synthetic-additives-in-infant-formula/)
In September 2012, the National Organic Program published a final rule that extends the allowance for synthetic methionine in organic poultry production at reduced levels. Methionine is classified as an essential amino acid for poultry. The National Organic Standards Board determined that insufficient natural methionine exists to meet poultry producer needs. The rule allows poultry producers to continue to use synthetic methionine at the following maximum levels: laying and broiler chickens – 2 pounds per ton of feed; turkeys and all other poultry – 3 pounds per ton of feed. The rule urges the organic poultry industry to continue to find commercially sufficient yet allowable natural methionine sources. USDA has funded several research projects aimed at breeding organic feed corn with higher levels of natural methionine, and projects on poultry management strategies to reduce the need for supplemental methionine. Further research is needed in this area. (“Organic Poultry Producers Have Continued Access to Synthetic Methionine at Limited Amounts,” by Soo Kim, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Sept. 18, 2012; www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateU&navID=LatestReleases&page=Newsroom&topNav=&leftNav=&rightNav1=LatestReleases&rightNav2=&resultType=Details&dDocName=STELPRDC5100544&dID=175797&wf=false&description=Organic+Poultry+Producers+Have+Continued+Access+to+Synthetic+Methionine+at+Limited+Amounts)
Researchers have found that living in the southeast region of the Netherlands, which has many farms raising cattle, pigs and veal calves, increased people’s risk of being exposed to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and infections of the blood or surgical sites. Those living near pigs were 25 percent more likely to contact MRSA; near cattle, 77 percent. (“Study links living near livestock with drug-resistant infection,” by Tim Wheeler, Baltimore Sun, Oct. 11, 2012; www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bal-bmg-study-links-living-near-livestock-with-drugresistant-infection-20121011,0,1620312.story; Livestock Density as Risk Factor for Livestock-associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the Netherlands, by Beth Feingold et al., Emerging Infectious Diseases, Nov. 2012; wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/11/11-1850_article.htm)
Consumer Reports’ tests of more than 60 rice and rice products found inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen, in most name brand and other rice product samples. Levels varied but were significant in some samples. Federal limits exist for arsenic in drinking water. Consumer Reports is urging the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice and rice products. Findings include these:
• White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas generally had more total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than rice samples from India, Thailand and California combined.
• Within tested brands offering brown and white rice versions, brown rice had higher average total and inorganic arsenic than white rice counterparts. (Aaron Barchowsky of the University of Pittsburgh says that brown rice and wheat germ contain vitamin B3, niacin and folates that help eliminate arsenic from the body.)
• Some brown rice samples were lower in arsenic than some white rice samples, possibly due to agricultural practices or geographic location.
• Infant rice cereals and drink products contained worrisome levels of arsenic. Consumer Reports advises that children under 5 not be given rice drinks daily, similar to advice given in the United Kingdom.
• People who ate rice had arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who did not, according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of federal health data. Certain ethnic groups were more highly affected, including Mexicans, other Hispanics, and a broad category that included Asians.
• Some food companies are concerned, and methods have been introduced to try to reduce arsenic levels in products.
Arsenic levels in each sample and a complete report are posted at www.ConsumerReports.org.
Consumer Reports recommends these government actions:
• The FDA should ban feeding arsenic-containing drugs to animals for the purpose of pigmentation, growth promotion, feed efficiency and disease prevention.
• The EPA should phase out use of all arsenical pesticides. Soil where cotton was treated with arsenic pesticides in the past is one source of arsenic in today’s foods. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, quoted in Grist, says one arsenic pesticide, MSMA, is still used in cotton “because of the increasing problem of Palmer pigweed – created by the overuse of Glyphosate [Roundup] due to [Roundup Ready] GMO seeds.”
• The USDA and EPA should end the use of arsenic-laden manure as fertilizer for all foods and halt the feeding of manure to animals.
Consumer Reports suggests the maximum number of servings per week of various rice-containing foods at www.consumersunion.org/arsenic and recommends these steps as well:
• Rinse raw rice thoroughly before cooking and use 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking (draining excess water afterward) to reduce arsenic levels.
• Try other grains. Though not arsenic-free, wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice.
• Eat a varied diet to help minimize risk of exposure.
• Some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. Clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins.
• Limit consumption of other high-arsenic food, such as some apple and grape juice products that Consumers Union previously found to contain arsenic.
• If you are not on a public water supply, have your water tested for arsenic and lead.
The FDA has found similar results in its testing and says it is working on a proposal to limit the concentration of arsenic in rice. Partha Basu of Duquesne University says daily arsenic intake for a 220-pound adult shouldn’t exceed 30 micrograms, and for a 50-pound child, 14 micrograms. Preliminary data from FDA show 6.7 micrograms of arsenic in a cup of cooked rice (but 3.5 in basmati rice), 5.4 in rice cakes, 3.8 in rice beverages, and 3.5 in rice cereals. (Consumer Reports press release, Sept. 20, 2012; “FDA working on plan to limit arsenic levels in rice,” by Dina ElBoghdady, Sept. 18, 2012, AP; www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/fda-working-on-plan-to-limit-arsenic-levels-in-rice/2012/09/18/3238a578-0133-11e2-b257-e1c2b3548a4a_story.html; “There’s arsenic in your rice – and here’s how it got there,” by Twilight Greenaway, Grist, Sept. 19, 2012; http://grist.org/food/theres-arsenic-in-your-rice-and-heres-how-it-got-there/; “The risks of eating rice,” by Larry Roberts, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 8, 2012; www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/health/the-risks-of-eating-rice-656638/)
Low corn yields due to drought and expensive feed led some conventional farmers to feed their cows unusual products last summer, including ice cream sprinkles, gummy worms, cookies, fruit loops, distillers’ grains, cottonseed hulls and other discarded products. (“Sweet times for cows as gummy worms replace costly corn feed,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Sept. 23, 2012 www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/23/us-usa-cattle-candy-idUSBRE88M05N20120923)
The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health sued the U.S. government in August. They say the government failed to issue final regulations for the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011, by deadline dates, and they want a federal court to order the FDA Office of Management and Budget to enforce the law. The regulations would create standards regarding sources of produce contamination; would make food importers responsible for their imports’ safety; and would require that companies identify potential sources of food contamination and ways to prevent contamination. (“Health groups sue U.S. for failing to protect food supply,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Aug. 30, 2012; http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/08/30/us-usa-food-lawsuit-idUKBRE87T02520120830)
A New York State Health Department preliminary study found lead in 28 of 58 eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. Concentrations ranged from 10 to more than 100 parts per billion. The FDA does not have a limit for lead concentrations in eggs but set 100 parts per billion as the maximum for candy that small children may eat. Eggs containing lead in this study had a mean of 11.5 micrograms; the FDA acceptable daily intake for children ages 6 and younger is 6 micrograms. (“High Lead Found in City-Sourced Eggs,” by Julie Scelfo, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2012; www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/dining/worries-about-lead-for-new-yorks-garden-fresh-eggs.html?_r=0)
A study published in PNAS Early Edition reports on the effects of nanoparticles on soybean plants. The crop was grown in soil amended with nanoparticles currently manufactured at high volumes for industrial applications: cerium oxide (CeO2) as a catalyst and additive and zinc oxide (ZnO), widely used in sunscreens. Nano-CeO2 diminished plant growth and yield and at high concentrations shut down nitrogen fixation in root nodules. Nano-ZnO was taken up and distributed throughout plant tissues, potentially giving an overdose of Zn to people and animals eating soy.
In other studies, both nanoparticles were toxic to cells. Nano-CeO2 induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagy (self-ingestion) in human peripheral blood cells at relatively low doses, while human skin cells exposed to ZnO suffered oxidative stress (even at low concentrations) and DNA damage after 6 hours. Oxidative stress is implicated in cancer development.
Nanoparticles can enter soils through the atmosphere; nano-CeO2 as fuel additive is released in exhaust when diesel fuel combusts. Nanoparticles can also enter soils in biosolids (sludge) from conventional wastewater treatment plants. Half of U.S. biosolids are spread on land. Manufactured nanoparticles are neither monitored nor regulated and have a high affinity for activated sludge bacteria.
Soybeans, the second largest U.S. crop, are farmed intensely with fossil fuel-powered equipment with nanoparticles in the exhaust and are routinely amended with wastewater treatment biosolids, from which they bioaccumulate pharmaceuticals and metals. (“Nanoparticles Bioaccumulate and Harm Soybean Crops,” by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS report, Sept. 3, 2012; www.i-sis.org.uk/Nanoparticles_Bioaccumulate_and_Harm_Soybean_Crops.php)
Sunland, Inc., a New Mexico peanut processor, has recalled its Almond Butter and Peanut Butter products manufactured between May 1, 2012, and September 24, 2012, because they may be contaminated with Salmonella. Between June 11, 2012, and September 2, 2012, 29 people reported Salmonella Bredeney illnesses in approximately 18 states, including Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, according to a Sept. 22, 2012, CDC report. Many organic products containing peanuts or peanut butter are included in the recall. (FDA press release, Sept. 24, 2012; www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm320647.htm; list of affected products at www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/CORENetwork/ucm320413.htm#recalled)
Atrazine, the most commonly used herbicide in the United States and a suspected endocrine disruptor, may be linked to an increased risk of choanal atresia, a congenital abnormality of the nasal cavity, say researchers at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and other Texas institutions, in a study to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics. In choanal atresia, the back of the nasal passage is blocked by tissue formed during fetal development, affecting a baby’s ability to breathe. It is typically treated through surgery. Chemicals that disrupt the maternal endocrine system may be associated with the risk, says Dr. Philip Lupo of BCM and Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Mothers who lived in Texas counties with the highest estimated levels of atrazine applications were 80 percent more likely to have children with choanal atresia or stenosis (a less severe form of the condition) than women who lived in the counties with the lowest levels. (“Study: Exposure to herbicide may increase risk of rare disorder,” by Dana Benson, Baylor College of Medicine, Sept. 28, 2012; www.bcm.edu/news/item.cfm?newsID=6287)
New York City boys exposed to Dow Chemical’s widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos (sold as Lorsban) while in the womb had lower scores on short-term memory tests than girls exposed to similar amounts. Published in July 2012 in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, this is the first study correlating gender differences with harm from prenatal exposure to the organophosphate, measured in umbilical cord blood when the children were born. Other studies have linked chlorpyrifos to delayed mental and motor skill development, reduced IQ test scores and reduced short-term memory. The insecticide affects boys and girls, but has a greater effect in boys. The neurotoxin was banned from home use in 2001, but residues remain in some homes, and the insecticide is used on some fruits and vegetables, and on golf courses to control mosquitoes. The EPA says it expects to complete its re-evaluation of chlorpyrifos by 2014. In the New York City study subjects, chlorpyrifos was not found in umbilical cord blood of those born after its 2001 ban for home use. (“Widely used pesticide seems to harm boys’ brains more than girls’,” by Brett Israel, Environmental Health News, Aug. 20, 2012; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/boys-and-chlorpyrifos)
When Argentine researchers injected pure glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, into amphibian embryos at concentrations far below those used in the field, defects resulted that “could be interfering in some normal embryonic development mechanism having to do with the way in which cells divide and die,” said Andres Carrasco, embryology professor and one of the study authors. Genetically engineered herbicide-resistant soy is Argentina’s main crop. (“Herbicide Used in Argentina Could Cause Birth Defects,” Latin American Herald Tribune, Aug. 8, 2012; www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=14093&ArticleId=331718)
The French government is considering banning use of Cruiser OSR, containing the neonicotinoid insecticide thiamethoxam, as a seed coating on oilseed rape. Two European studies have correlated chemicals in neonicotinoids with Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. The manufacturer, Syngenta, says no bee mortality has been linked to Cruiser OSR. In June 2012, French farm minister Stephane Le Foll withdrew Syngenta’s marketing permit for Cruiser OSR. Britain’s Food and Environment Agency says a study published in Science in April 2012 that prompted the ban did not show that thaimethoxam causes CCD but that the death rate of bees increased when they drank nectar containing thiamethoxam – and the increased size of colonies when bees feed in spring on oilseed rape may counter the population decline. The agency also questions the high dose of the pesticide used in the study. (“France to ban Syngenta pesticide linked to bee decline,” by Philip Case, Farmer’s Weekly, June 8, 2012; www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/18/06/2012/133289/France-to-ban-Syngenta-pesticide-linked-to-bee-decline.htm; “Honeybee homicide case against Syngenta pesticide unproven,” by Chris Wickham, Reuters, Sept. 20, 2012; http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/20/us-science-bees-pesticide-idINBRE88J11L20120920)
Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook says use of herbicides in producing genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-tolerant cotton, soybeans and corn has increased, based on USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service data. His analysis, the first peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impacts of GE herbicide-resistant crops on pesticide use, appears in Environmental Sciences Europe. “Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Benbrook said. The annual increase in herbicides used to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to GE cultivars grew from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011. “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years” is available at http://bit.ly/esebenbrook2012 and is summarized at http://bit.ly/esebenbrookmajor. (“Pesticide Use Rises as Herbicide-resistant Weeds Undermine Performance of Major GE Crops, New WSU Study Shows,” by Brian Clark, Washington State Univ. press release, Oct. 1, 2012; http://cahnrsnews.wsu.edu/2012/10/01/pesticide-use-rises-as-herbicide-resistant-weeds-undermine-performance-of-major-ge-crops-new-wsu-study-shows/)
Monsanto’s Roundup is New York City’s most heavily used liquid herbicide, says a Department of Health report on the city’s 2011 use of pesticides. The city Parks Department is the heaviest user. In a heavily referenced review of the herbicide, Anna Lenzer cites studies finding glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) in all urine samples from nonagricultural workers tested in Berlin, at concentrations above the limit for drinking water, and she notes potential health concerns, including cancer, neurodegeneration and more. (“Monsanto’s Roundup Is the Most Used Herbicide in NYC,” by Anna Lenzer, Mother Jones, Sept. 17, 2012; www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/09/monsantos-roundup-most-used-herbicide-nyc)
Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has been sentenced to pay $12.5 million in fines and penalties for illegally including insecticides in bird food products sold for two years and for other violations, including giving EPA false documents. The $4 million criminal fine and $6 million civil penalties fine are the largest ever levied under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, established in 1947. The pesticide was intended to prevent insect infestation in storage but was toxic to birds and not allowed by EPA. (“Pesticide violations cost Scotts Miracle-Gro $12.5 million,” by David Ingram, Reuters, Sept. 7, 2012; www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/07/us-usa-miraclegro-penalties-idUSBRE8861AW20120907)
The EPA has banned sales of the neurotoxic insecticide azinphos-methyl (AZM), sold under the trade name Guthion, effective Sept. 30, 2012. Existing stock can be used for a year. Guthion is most widely used on apples, followed by cherries, pears and blueberries [including “wild” Maine blueberries]. Residues of the organophosphate are found on more than 30 percent of U.S. apples. (“EPA pulls toxic apple pesticide. Finally!” Pesticide Action Network, Aug. 30, 2012; www.panna.org/blog/epa-pulls-toxic-apple-pesticide-finally)
After Minnesota organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson lost their organic certification (and their crops) due to pesticide drift, they sought compensation and protection against future drift through state courts. An appeals court ruled in their favor, but a subsequent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling severely limits potential compensation and threatens organic enforcement standards. The Supreme Court ruled that pesticide drift cannot be considered trespass because it is an “intangible” substance that cannot be seen with the naked eye – even though the Minnesota Department of Agriculture documented the presence of drift on the Johnsons’ farm. The justices also found that organic crops contaminated with pesticide drift from a third party may still be considered organic if pesticides are present at concentrations less than 5 percent of those tolerated by EPA – despite certifiers’ more stringent standards. The Supreme Court did, however, say that the Johnsons’ claim was one of nuisance rather than trespass – something the district court can now consider. (“MN court backtracks on pesticide drift,” by Linda Wells, Aug. 17, 2012; www.panna.org/blog/mn-court-backtracks-pesticide-drift; “Supreme Court: Pesticide drift isn’t trespassing,” AP, Aug. 2, 2012, Marshall Independent www.marshallindependent.com/page/content.detail/id/248472/Supreme-Court—Pesticide-drift-isn-t-trespassing.html?isap=1&nav=5028)
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection found trace amounts of resmethrin (Scourge) in tomalley and gonads of at least three of 10 lobsters tested from Long Island Sound, and methoprene in at least one. The insecticides are used to control mosquitoes on Long Island and in parts of Connecticut. Lobstermen in the area have reported hauling more dead and weak lobsters than usual. (“Mosquito pesticide turning up in lobsters,” by Ellen Yan, Newsday, July 27, 2012; www.newsday.com/long-island/mosquito-pesticide-turning-up-in-lobsters-1.3865875)
“Children today are sicker than they were a generation ago. From childhood cancers to autism, birth defects and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Our assessment of the latest science leaves little room for doubt: pesticides are one key driver of this sobering trend.” So says a new report from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) called “A Generation in Jeopardy, How pesticides are undermining our children’s health & intelligence,” by Kristin S. Schafer, M.A., and Emily C. Marquez, Ph.D., at www.panna.org/sites/default/files/KidsHealthReportOct2012.pdf.
Dozens of recent studies show, says PAN, compelling evidence linking some of the 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides used in the United States annually with harm to the brain and nervous system; with cancer, birth defects and early puberty in children; and possibly with the current epidemic of childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes. “Extremely low levels of pesticide exposure can cause significant health harms,” says the report, “particularly during pregnancy and early childhood development.”
In addition to individual actions regarding food choices and avoiding pesticide uses in the home, the report recommends preventing the pesticide industry from selling agricultural products that can harm children’s health; protecting children from pesticides where they live, learn and play; and investing in helping farmers step off the pesticide treadmill.
Professor and molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini of CRIIGEN (Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering) in France and coworkers published a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggesting that rats fed a diet with GE Roundup Ready NK603 corn, or with water containing Roundup at concentrations allowed in U.S. drinking water, developed cancers faster, died younger and had severe liver and kidney damage compared with rats given a standard diet. The researchers followed the rats for their two-year lifespan. (Most GE crops are approved after 90-day feeding trials.)
Ten groups, each with 10 male and 10 female rats, were studied. Three groups consumed a standard lab-rat diet in which 11, 22 or 33 percent of the feed was replaced with Roundup Ready corn that had been treated with Roundup in the field. Three other groups had the same feed, but the corn was not treated with Roundup herbicide. Three other groups received no GE corn but had varying concentrations of Roundup in their drinking water similar to that in the food chain from Roundup-treated crops. One control group had standard lab-rat chow with 33 percent non-GE corn in it.
The researchers found “severe adverse health effects including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death” associated with GE corn, with Roundup, or with both together. By the end of the study, 50 to 80 percent of non-control females had large tumors compared with 30 percent of control females. Non-control males had four times more large palpable tumors than controls. The first large detectable cancers appeared in non-control males and females after four and seven months respectively but only after 14 months in controls (and most cancers were detectable only after 18 months in controls).
Treated males had 2.5 to 5.5 times more liver congestion and necrosis than control males and up to 2.3 times more instances of marked and severe kidney disease. Of rats receiving GE corn and/or Roundup, up to 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with 30 and 20 percent of controls
The French national academies of agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, sciences, technology and veterinary studies said, “This work does not enable any reliable conclusion to be drawn.” Critics say the strain of rat used is prone to mammary tumors (although it is the same strain used by Monsanto and others); that the small number of rats in each treatment is problematic (although 10 is standard for a toxicity trial and is the number Monsanto analyzed in its study); and that statistical methods were below standard. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union noted that of 54 comparisons between treated and control rats, all but four had worse outcomes for treated rats. “That’s suggestive that there’s something going on and that there should be further research,” he said.
A short video about the study, “GMOs: the moment of truth?” appears at http://vimeo.com/49794058. (“Study on Monsanto GM corn concerns draws skepticism,” by Ben Hirschler and Kate Kelland, Reuters, Sept. 19, 2012; www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/sns-rt-us-gmcrops-safetybre88i0l0-20120919,0,4212626.story; “CRIIGEN Study Links GM Maize and Roundup to Premature Death and Cancer,” Sept. 19, 2012; Sustainable Pulse, http://sustainablepulse.com/2012/09/19/criigen-study-links-gm-maize-roundup-premature-death-cancer/; Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Gilles-Eric Séralini et al., Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005 and available at http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Final-Paper.pdf; “Does GMO Corn Really Cause Tumors in Rats?” by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, Sept. 2012; www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/09/gmo-corn-rat-tumor; “Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, Sept. 28, 2012; www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/sep/28/study-gm-maize-cancer; “Excess Cancers and Deaths with GM Feed: the Stats Stand Up,” ISIS Report, Oct. 16, 2012; www.i-sis.org.uk/Excess_cancers_and_deaths_from_GM_feed_stats_stand_up.php; “Six French academies dismiss study linking GM corn to cancer,” http://newsletters.environmentalhealthnews.org/t/95228/34239/11384/0/ Agence France-Presse, Oct. 2012; www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j8XJ6iUXuJDzCEBqOGaOgE44PdMg)
Rats fed GE Bt corn for 90 days in a study at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science became slightly fatter than rats fed non-GE corn. The same effect occurred when rats ate fish that were fed Bt corn. Salmon fed Bt corn ate more and were slightly larger than those fed non-GE corn, their intestines had a different microstructure, they were less able to digest proteins, and they exhibited changes to their immune system and blood, according to lead researcher √Öshild Krogdahl. She does not know if these changes cause harm over time. Krogdahl also noted, “A frequent claim has been that new genes introduced in GM food are harmless since all genes are broken up in the intestines. But our findings show that genes can be transferred through the intestinal wall into the blood; they have been found in blood, muscle tissue and liver in sufficiently large segments to be identified. The biological impact of this gene transfer is unknown.” (“Growing fatter on a GM diet,” by Arild S. Foss, ScienceNordic, July 17, 2012; http://sciencenordic.com/growing-fatter-gm-diet)
A U.S.-backed study led by a Tufts University professor fed 60 grams daily of GE Golden rice to 24 Chinese children in Hengyang City in central China’s Hunan Province for 35 days and found that the rice was as effective as taking carotene capsules and more effective than eating carotene-rich spinach. The rice was grown hydroponically in a USDA facility. Greenpeace East Asia said the study exposed the children to health risks and that supporting more diverse diets can treat marginal vitamin A deficiency. The study was sponsored in part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and was published in August in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (“US study feeds kids GM rice,” by Li Qian, Shanghai Daily, Sept. 1, 2012; www.shanghaidaily.com/nsp/National/2012/09/01/US%2Bstudy%2Bfeeds%2Bkids%2BGM%2Brice/; “US university confirms it used children in GM trial,” by Hu Min, Shanghai Daily, Sept. 5, 2012; www.shanghaidaily.com/nsp/World/2012/09/05/US%2Buniversity%2Bconfirms%2Bit%2Bused%2Bchildren%2Bin%2BGM%2Btrial/)
In September about a dozen opponents of GE foods, organized by Occupy Monsanto, blocked shipments and deliveries for about six hours at Monsanto’s Seminis site in California where a new GE sweet corn was developed. The activists chained themselves to cars blocking the entrance. Nine were arrested and charged with trespassing. (“Protesters set sights on GMOs, close California facility,” by Mario Anzuoni, Planet Ark, Sept. 13, 2012; http://planetark.org/enviro-news/item/66530)
Despite opposition from consumers and activists, including a Food and Water Watch petition with 463,000 signatures, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it does not object to selling Monsanto’s new GE sweet corn that contains the Bt toxin and resists the herbicide Roundup. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills said they would not carry or use the GE sweet corn. Michael Hanson of Consumers Union notes a doubling of food allergies in the United States since 1996, asks if that increase might be related to the introduction then of GE foods, and says that without labeling of GE crops, links are difficult to prove. (“Wal-Mart OK with selling genetically modified sweet corn,” by Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 3, 2012;
The U.S. farmer group Save Our Crops has dropped its opposition to Dow AgroSciences’ new biotech crop-herbicide combination that uses Enlist – a combination of the herbicides glyphosate and 2,4-D. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Dow, in return, says it will instruct farmers about minimizing drift and about applications near sensitive crops and will help investigate accidental crop damage. Dow wants to commercialize corn, soy and cotton that will survive exposure to Enlist in order to combat weeds that have become resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, due largely to overuse of Roundup on Roundup Ready GE crops. Studies have associated exposure to 2,4-D with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, birth defects, and neurological and reproductive problems. The Center for Food Safety says it will sue if the government approves Enlist crops. Monsanto and BASF, meanwhile, are working on crops that tolerate a dicamba and glyphosate mix. (“Dow agrees to safeguards for new crops, 2,4-D weed killer,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Sept. 11, 2012; www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/11/us-usda-dow-crops-idUSBRE88A19W20120911)
Even as corn, soy and cotton resistant to 2,4-D herbicide are being developed, populations of weeds are developing resistance to the herbicide as well. Previously 17 weeds were known to be resistant to 2,4-D; now a 2,4-D-resistant variety of waterhemp – a major problem for crop production in the Midwest – has been found. (A Waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus) Population Resistant to 2,4-D,” Weed Science, Vol. 60, No. 3, July-Sept. 2012, www.wssajournals.org/doi/full/10.1614/WS-D-11-00170.1 Press release, Weed Science Soc. of Amer., Aug. 15, 2012; www.wssa.net/)
Purdue University researchers grew glyphosate-resistant and glyphosate-susceptible strains of giant ragweed, horseweed and common lambsquarter in sterile soil and in field soil and then treated the weeds with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Both strains of giant ragweed were damaged more from glyphosate in field soil than in sterile soil, as was the herbicide-susceptible version of common lambsquarter. Both strains of horseweed fared the same in both soils. The results suggest that microbes may invade some glyphosate-weakened herbicide-susceptible plants and that glyphosate-resistant weeds may be more resistant to disease pressure. Said one researcher, “We may be selecting not only for glyphosate resistance, but inadvertently selecting for weeds that have disease resistance as well.” (“Glyphosate-resistant ‘superweeds’ may be less susceptible to diseases,” July 17, 2012; by Brian Wallheimer, Purdue University News Service; www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2012/story-print-deploy-layout_1_20746_20746.html)
Hans Johr, corporate head of sustainable agriculture at Nestlé, says GE food is not necessary to feed the world, and the food industry should use resources, including water, more sustainably and should employ other techniques, including new non-GE breeding techniques. Still, Nestlé donated more than $1 million to oppose California’s initiative to label GE foods. (“Nestlé sustainability champion: GM food not ‘answer’ to feeding world,” by Rod Addy, Aug. 30, 2012; www.foodnavigator.com/Financial-Industry/Nestle-sustainability-champion-GM-food-not-answer-to-feeding-world; “In a Surprising Contradiction, Nestlé Official Says GMOs Aren’t Necessary,” by Clare Leschin-Hoar, Aug. 30, 2012; Take Part, www.takepart.com/article/2012/08/30/nestle-and-gmos)
Howard Vlieger, a co-founder and agroecological farming advisor of Verity Farms in drought-stricken South Dakota, says a farmer grew both GE and Verity Farms’ non-GE soy and corn side by side. Appraised yields for three fields of SmartStax Roundup Ready corn were 12, 27 and 28 bushels per acre, while non-GE corn on Verity Farm across the road yielded 108 bushels per acre. Results were similar with soy. Previous laboratory studies showed that glyphosate-treated crops yielded less per unit of water absorbed than non-treated crops. (“GM Crops Destroyed by US Drought but non-GM Varieties Flourish,” by Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji, Institute of Science in Society Report, Oct. 9, 2012; www.i-sis.org.uk/US_drought_destroys_GM_Crops.php)
In August 2012, Monsanto Co. won a $1 billion lawsuit against DuPont, claiming that DuPont willfully infringed on Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybean technology when it combined the technology with its own Optimum GAT. The award is one of the top five patent verdicts in U.S. history and the largest relating to agricultural biotechnology. DuPont is appealing the verdict. In another, pending lawsuit, DuPont has accused Monsanto of anti-competitive behavior. The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating antitrust practices in the seed industry. (“Monsanto wins $1 billion in court battle with DuPont,” by Georgina Gustin, Aug. 2, 2012; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; www.stltoday.com/business/local/monsanto-wins-billion-in-court-battle-with-dupont/article_4e1809dd-a180-5bee-a1cd-7c29385cb2f1.html)
In August 2012, the Oregon Court of Appeals ordered a temporary halt to the state’s plan to allow GE canola to be planted in parts of the Willamette Valley until the court rules on a lawsuit filed by opponents of GE canola planting who say it threatens the state’s $32 million specialty seed industry. Opponents filing the suit include Friends of Family Farmers (based in Molalla, Oregon), the Center for Food Safety, and Oregon specialty seed producers Universal Seed, Wild West Seeds and Wild Garden Seed. The lawsuit and court order are in response to new rules, not subject to required public comment, that would allow planting of GE canola in areas previously deemed off-limits. Willamette Valley farmers who grow related plants for seeds to sell to production growers and gardeners fear that canola will cross-pollinate with crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips. An Oregon State University report says, “The two greatest threats are canola seed blown from vehicles onto road shoulders and volunteers in fields previously planted to canola. Detecting and eliminating volunteers from a 2-kilometer [1.2 mile] radius around a seed field would be onerous and perhaps impossible. (“Court Blocks Planting of Genetically Engineered Canola in Oregon,” Beyond Pesticides, Aug. 22, 2012; www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=7950)
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced in July 2012 its nonregulated status for a variety of GE Roundup Ready sugar beet, saying the crop is as safe as traditionally bred sugar beets as it “is not likely to pose a plant pest risk.” (“USDA Announces Decision to Deregulate Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets,” July 19, 2012; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2012/07/rr_sugarbeets.shtml)
In October 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman’s case against Monsanto Co., which claims Bowman used its GE Roundup Ready seeds without Monsanto’s authorization. Bowman sowed his second crop of soy using less expensive commodity soybean seed purchased at a grain elevator; the second crop was contaminated with patented Roundup Ready genes, as 90 percent of the soy grown in the area is Roundup Ready. The Obama administration urged that the court reject the case, fearing that it would affect patents on biotech products. (“High court to hear farmer, Monsanto seed dispute,” by Mark Sherman, Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 5, 2012; www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-10-05/high-court-to-hear-farmer-monsanto-seed-dispute; “Supreme Court to Rule on Patents for Self-Replicating Products,” by David Kravets, Wired, Oct. 10, 2012; www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/10/self-replicating-patents/)
In August 2012, the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture considered a draft report, more than a year in the making, to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated by GE pollen, seeds or other material. The report noted the difficulty of preventing contamination as well as concerns that addressing contamination could raise questions among buyers about the purity and safety of U.S. crops – instead of the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” status on the issue, according to one official. The report says “it is not realistic to suggest that commercial seed producers can guarantee zero presence” of GE material in organic and non-GE seed. It suggests that taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance might compensate farmers who have contaminated crops – putting the burden of proof on victims of contamination. (“USDA panel gets altered-crops pay plan,” by Carolyn Lochhead, Aug. 24, 2012; www.sfgate.com/science/article/USDA-panel-gets-altered-crops-pay-plan-3814480.php)
Farm and Farmland Data
The 9,140 USDA-certified organic farms and ranches in the United States sold more than $3.5 billion of organically grown agricultural commodities in 2011, according to the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey. This is the first time the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has conducted a survey focused solely on USDA-certified organic producers. The results will enable policymakers to better assess the Federal Crop Insurance program and its impact on the organic industry. Here are some highlights of the results:
U.S. Sales >$3.5 billion – just under 1 percent of total agricultural cash receipts
Corn > $101.5 million
Alfalfa dry hay $69.5 million
Winter wheat $54 million
Livestock products $1.31 billion
Organic milk $765 million
Chicken eggs $276 million
Broiler chickens $115 million
Organic field crop acreage harvested
United States 3.65 million acres (~0.4 percent of 917 million acres of U.S. farm and ranch land
Wisconsin > 110,000 acres
New York > 97,000 acres
California > 91,000 acres
New England sales $119.3 million – more than 4 percent of total agricultural cash receipts in New England
Livestock and poultry products (including organic milk) $70 million
Crops ~ $40 million (maple syrup accounting for more than 25 percent)
Vermont $65.8 million ($41.7 million, milk; $10.4 million, maple syrup)
Maine $24.4 million
N.H. $16.8 million
Mass. $10.8 million
Conn. $1.2 million
An Organic Trade Association survey found 2010 retail sales of organic goods represented about 4 percent of the overall food-products industry and about 12 percent of all U.S. produce sales.
The NASS survey results, including statistics on organically grown produce, value-added products and marketing outlets, are posted at http://bit.ly/2011OrganicSurvey (“USDA Releases Results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey,” USDA press release, Oct. 4, 2012; www.nass.usda.gov/Newsroom/2012/10_04_2012b.asp; “New England Highlights of USDA’s 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey, USDA NASS New England Office, Oct. 5, 2012; “Organic Food Sales Reached $3.53 Billion in 2011, USDA Says,” by Alan Bjerga, Business Week, Oct. 4, 2012; www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-04/organic-food-sales-reached-3-dot-53-billion-in-2011-usda-says)
Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012 discusses economic, technology, policy, resource use, input use and land management changes that can enhance or degrade economic, social or environmental sustainability.
Notable findings include the following:
• The number of U.S. farms varied between 2.1 and 2.2 million since 1992. In 2009, small farms made up 88 percent of all U.S. farms, but large-scale family and non-family farms accounted for more than 80 percent of the total value of production.
• In 2007, about 51 percent of the 2.3 billion acres in the United States was used for agricultural purposes, including cropping, grazing (in pasture, range and forests), and farmsteads and farm roads. Total cropland acreage in 2007 reached its lowest level since the Major Land Use series began in 1945. Over 1959-2007, forest-use land and grassland, pasture and range also decreased, while land in special uses (primarily recreation areas, transportation and national defense) and urban areas increased.
• From 2000 to 2010, national aggregate farm real estate values appreciated faster than residential values. Traditionally, farmland values were driven largely by returns from agricultural activities, but today in some regions farmland values are influenced by factors such as urban influence and income from hunting leases; so cropland values in these regions greatly exceed their implied agricultural use value.
• From 1948 to 2009, agricultural output grew 1.63 percent per year while aggregate input use increased only 0.11 percent annually, so positive growth in the farm sector was mainly due to productivity growth (1.52 percent per year).
• Total agricultural research and development funding generally increased since 2000; private sector funding grew to exceed that of the public sector, which grew slowly and sporadically until 2006 before declining. Private sector R&D tends to emphasize marketable goods, while public sector R&D tends to emphasize public goods such as environmental protection, nutrition and food safety.
• Corn, cotton and soybean growers have widely adopted GE herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant seeds since 1996. Despite higher prices for GE seed than for conventional seeds, U.S. farmers are realizing economic benefits from increased crop yields, lower pesticide costs, and/or management time savings.
• Real expenditures (2010 US$) and quantities for pesticide active ingredients declined an average 2.4 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, per year during 1996-2007, even though expenditures and quantities applied increased from 2006 to 2007. However, herbicide use increased, and increasing glyphosate use on herbicide-tolerant crops and reduced diversity of weed management practices are associated with increased weed resistance.
• Commercial fertilizer consumption fell from 23 million short tons in 2004 to 21 million short tons in 2010, with high fertilizer prices contributing to the decline. Since 2004, nitrogen recovery rates (amount removed by harvested crop/amount applied) on corn and cotton have increased, and the shares of planted acreage where application rates exceed 125 percent of the crop’s agronomic need have decreased. Phosphate recovery rates are relatively unchanged for corn and cotton. Mining phosphate in soybean plantings increased.
• In recent decades, on-farm irrigation efficiency – the share of applied water that is beneficially used by the crop – has increased: From 1984 to 2008, total irrigated acres in the West increased by 2.1 million acres, while water applied declined by nearly 100,000 acre-feet, reflecting improved water-use efficiency, as well as changes in irrigated acreage and regional cropping patterns.
• Since 2000, corn, cotton, soybean and wheat acreage under conservation tillage (mulch, ridge and no till) has increased, which may reduce soil erosion and water pollution but increase pest management costs. Over that same time, continuous corn and corn-inclusive rotations increased and continuous soybeans decreased due to higher corn prices, with uncertain effects on erosion and water pollution. Erosion control structures and conservation buffers are more widely used on highly erodible land than on other land, but overall, structures were more widely used and buffers less
widely used on cotton and wheat than on corn and soybeans.
• From 2004 to 2011, organic food sales more than doubled from $11 billion to $25 billion, accounting for more than 3.5 percent of food sales in 2011. In 2008, growers practiced certified organic production on less than 1 percent of U.S. cropland and pasture/rangeland, but the percentage is higher for fruit/vegetable crops and for dairy production.
• Federal funding for voluntary programs that encourage land retirement and adoption of conservation practices on working lands was $5.5 billion in 2010, higher than at any time since 1960 (when expressed in 2010 dollars); funding increased nearly tenfold for working-land conservation from 2003 to 2010. Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) peaked at 36.8 million acres in 2007, but the 2008 Farm Act cut maximum enrollment to 32 million acres and high crop returns have discouraged new CRP bids, so 29 million acres were under 10- to 15-year contracts as of June 2012. Goals of the CRP include soil conservation, improved water and air quality, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Total 2008-12 authorized funding for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program is $7.25 billion; 60 percent is targeted for resource concerns in poultry and livestock production.
(“Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012,” Craig Osteen, Jessica Gottlieb and Utpal Vasavada (editors), USDA Economic Research Service Information Bulletin Number 98, August 2012; www.ers.usda.gov/media/874179/eib98_reportsummary.pdf; full report at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economicinformationbulletin/eib98.aspx)
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan in August 2012 announced a 9.6 percent increase in National Farmers Market Directory listings. This USDA database, published at farmersmarkets.usda.gov, identifies 7,864 farmers’ markets operating throughout the United States, as reported by farmers’ market managers. Last year the directory listed 7,175 markets.
Users can search for markets based on location, available products, and types of payment accepted, including participation in federal nutrition programs. Directory features allow users to locate markets based on proximity to zip code, mapping directions and links to active farmers’ market websites. Customized datasets can also be created and exported for use by researchers and software application designers.
USDA has taken several steps to help small and mid-sized farmers as part of the department’s commitment to support local and regional food systems, and increase consumer access to fresh, healthy food in communities across the country. For example, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is outfitting more farmers’ markets with the ability to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), announcing $4 million in available funding to equip farmers’ markets with wireless point-of-sale equipment. Currently, more than 2,500 farmers’ markets use Electronic Benefit Transfer technology.
Also, USDA recently released the 2.0 version of its KYF (Know Your Farmer) Compass, a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The compass helps consumers locate local food resources, such as farmers’ markets, and plot them on an interactive map. (USDA press release, August 2012)
According to Oxfam, land investors, speculators and biofuel producers have, in the past decade, taken over enough land worldwide to feed nearly 1 billion people – but with the intention of producing, primarily, biofuels and other crops for export. Oxfam urged the World Bank to stop funding investments in such land grabs, most of which are in developing countries where hunger and poverty are already widespread. (“Land acquired over past decade could have produced food for a billion people,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, Oct. 3, 2012; www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/oct/04/land-deals-preventing-food-production)
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (www.maine.gov/acf) became official on Aug. 30, 2012, merging the departments of Agriculture and Conservation. The department is headed by Commissioner Walter Whitcomb; Ed Meadows is deputy commissioner. The department will have a budget of $96.5 million and 732 full-time and seasonal employees in seven divisions:
• Agricultural Resource Development
• Parks and Public Lands
• Quality Assurance and Regulations
• Animal and Plant Health
• Geology and Natural Areas
• Land Use Planning, Permitting and Compliance
Staff may be reached at 207-287-3200.
(Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry press release, Aug. 29, 2012)
As we went to press, the U.S. 2008 Farm Bill had expired, as Congress had failed to pass a new bill before adjourning in September. Important programs, including training for beginning farmers, natural resource conservation and access to quality food, were in jeopardy unless Congress acted quickly after the Nov. 6 election. Partisan disagreement over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) was largely responsible for Congress’ failure to act. (“Farm Bill limbo leaves Maine businesses in lurch,” by Ben McCanna, Morning Sentinel, Sept. 30, 2012; www.onlinesentinel.com/news/working-without-a-safety-net_2012-09-29.html)