Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


The Good News
Local Production
Food Safety
Phthalates
Biodiversity
Bees
Organic Issues
Climate
Genetic Engineering (GE)
Pesticides



The Good News

Preliminary data from the 2012 USDA census show that the number of Maine farmers 34 years old and younger increased by almost 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, while the number of young farmers nationwide increased by only 1.5 percent. The value of agricultural products increased by 24 percent in the same five years, while the amount of land in farms grew by 8 percent. The full agricultural census was to be released in May. More preliminary information is posted at www.agcensus.usda.gov.

Maine 2007 2012
No. farms (7,196 in 2002) 8,136 8,174 – more than any other New England state
Average age 56.4 57 (vs. 58.3 for U.S.)
No. farmers under age 34 396 551
No. women farmers 2,043 2,381
No. male farmers 6,093 5,793
Land devoted to farming 1,347,566 A 1,455,304 A
Average size of farm 166 A 178 A
Market value of Maine ag products $617,190.000 $764,387,000



A study of potato production systems conducted at MOFGA certified organic Wood Prairie Farm and at UMaine's conventional Aroostook Farm from 2007-2009 found that combining rapeseed rotation with compost amendment generally reduced disease and increased yield. Other specific findings included these:

• Rapeseed rotation reduced all observed soilborne diseases (stem canker, black scurf, common scab and silver scurf) by 10 to 52 percent in at least one year at both sites.

• Compost amendments affected tuber diseases variably but consistently increased yield by 9 to 15 percent at both sites.

Rhizoctonia solani hypovirulent isolate Rhs1A1, a biological control agent, decreased black scurf marginally at the conventional site in one year.

Trichoderma virens, another biological control agent, reduced multiple diseases at the organic site in at least one year.

Wood Prairie Farm adds organic matter annually and uses a four-year rotation that ordinarily includes a rapeseed cover crop. Aroostook Farm uses a two-year rotation. As a result, Wood Prairie has more than double the organic matter and organic carbon in its soils. The study suggests that including rapeseed in the four-year rotation is integral for disease management. The researchers say that combining all of the management practices (rotation crop, compost amendment, biological control amendments) used at Wood Prairie "is perhaps the most important aspect of this study, since it provides information on how these treatments function together in an agricultural system, in contrast to most studies which focus on the effects of a single type of treatment on disease suppression … Perhaps most importantly, this research demonstrated that these treatments and their combinations can be effective approaches for reducing disease and increasing yield under both conventional and organic production practices, and under a variety of cropping backgrounds and management histories."

Interestingly, the researchers found that compost additions increased disease severity in some years, but disease suppression by the rapeseed rotation counteracted that effect – which is important, because compost additions increased yields.

According to Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie, "The study validated many organic practices we have employed for decades on Wood Prairie Farm involving sod and green manure crops, use of approved biological soil inoculants for disease control on organic seed potatoes and a long four-year crop rotation including plow down rapeseed as a soil cleansing biofumigant. Importantly, contrary to the tired serial propaganda from corporate detractors of organic farming, yields and effectiveness of disease suppression stood up very well on the organic plots when compared to their conventionally farmed counterparts." (Rapeseed rotation, compost and biocontrol amendments reduce soilborne diseases and increase tuber yield in organic and conventional potato production systems, Edward Bernard et al., Plant and Soil (2014) 374:611-627; abstract at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11104-013-1909-4#page-1)


MOFGA has a new fact sheet on zone tillage, based on the method used at Jan Goranson and Rob Johanson's Goranson Farm in Dredsen, Maine. Johanson says the method has many benefits, including improving soil structure and biology, reducing the weed seedbank, and saving time, labor and fuel. http://www.mofga.org/Portals/2/Fact%20Sheets/FS%2020%20Zone%20Tillage%20Web.pdf


By changing row-crop management practices in economically and environmentally stable ways, U.S. farms could contribute to improved water quality, biological diversity, pest suppression and soil fertility while helping to stabilize the climate, according to research conducted over 25 years at Michigan's Kellogg Biological Station. Midwest farmers, especially those with large farms, appear willing to change their farming practices to provide these ecosystem services in exchange for payments. And surveyed citizens are willing to make such payments for environmental services such as cleaner lakes.

The research, by G. Philip Robertson et al., investigated yields and environmental benefits achievable by growing corn, soybean and winter wheat using one-third of the usual amount of fertilizer – or none at all – with cover crops fertilizing the fields in winter. The research also examined no-till techniques. The regime that used fewer chemicals also reduced by more than 50 percent the amount of nitrogen that escaped into groundwater and rivers, with crop yields close to those of standard management. Nitrogen pollution is an important contributor to aquatic "dead zones."

The no-till and reduced chemical regimes also removed greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, in contrast to standard management, which produces significant greenhouse warming by emitting nitrous oxide. The zero-chemical regime mitigated greenhouse warming enough to compensate for emissions produced under standard management. All three regimes led to more fertile soil compared with conventional management. ("Farming for improved ecosystem services seen as economically feasible," American Institute of Biological Sciences, April 9, 2014; http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-04/aiob-ffi040714.php)


Twenty-five agrarian elders, each with 30 or more years of practical experience with the art and craft of natural systems agriculture, gathered in Big Sur in January to share stories, farming techniques and insights, and to create a vision for the future of food and agriculture. The group, including Jim Gerritsen and Eliot Coleman from Maine, discussed climate change, government regulation (including the Food Safety Modernization Act), co-opting of the organic market, contamination by genetically engineered crops and patenting of the seed supply by biotech companies, and the rising population and urbanization of the planet.

Considering a "perpetual agriculture," they evaluated today's organic movement, talked about practices that worked for them, and envisioned where the movement should go next. A "perpetual agriculture," they said, might involve more human labor; more agile equipment; horse power; season extension structures; wind and solar power; and organic breeding for nutrient density. Organic farms would be designed as organisms and ecosystems.

The elders also discussed their own next steps – toward retirement and passing on their farms and their knowledge to the next generation.

They discussed issues related to USDA organic, including its reductionist or diluted standards; the emergence of industrial organic agriculture; and the time and cost to complete paperwork for certification.

Participants noted the need for increased research into organic agriculture; the need for a more holistic understanding of farming and nature than modern science affords; and the power of observation.

A video of the conference by Deborah Koons Garcia and a book by Michael Abelman are planned. (Esalen Agrarian Elders Conference Summary; www.esalen.org/resource/2014-agrarian-elders-conference-summary)


The steering committee of the Grassroots Seed Network (GSN, http://grassrootsseednetwork.org) is delighted to announce the formation of this new national (hopefully soon to be international) seed preservation organization. The GSN will provide a participatory, member-governed, democratic network through which those who preserve and maintain our treasured heritage of open-pollinated vegetable seeds can share those seeds with each other and encourage and help educate the next generation of seed savers. Over the past year, the five "steerers" (Will Bonsall and CR Lawn from Maine, Jim Tjepkema from Minnesota, George Stevens from California and Sylvia Davatz from Vermont) have worked to put the basic organizational infrastructure in place. GSN has two levels of membership. Listed Members offer seeds through GSN's Source List, may request seeds from other Listers, and pay annual dues of $15. Sustainers, those who do not yet offer seeds but who wish to support the organization, pay annual dues of $25. Sustainers may request seed through the Source List but do not have voting rights. The steering committee is in the process of accepting nominations for its board of directors and of assisting in the first election. All Listed Members are eligible to be board members and to vote in the election. The steering committee will dissolve once the new board is seated. GSN will seek 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. For more information, please visit the website or contact Yaicha Cowell-Sarofeen, 2470 Industry Rd., Starks, ME 04911.


A group of scientists and food activists passed out seed of 29 varieties of "open source seeds." Anyone receiving them must pledge not to restrict their use (or use of any plant derived from the) by means of patents, licenses or any other kind of intellectual property. ("Plant Breeders Release First 'Open Source Seeds'," by Dan Charles, April 17, 2014;
www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/04/17/303772556/plant-breeders-release-first-open-source-seeds)


Researchers at the University of Illinois added low concentrations of plant extracts to pigs' diets to study their effects on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and E. coli. Weanling pigs received either a control diet or a diet that included garlic botanical, turmeric oleoresin or capsicum oleoresin. Half the pigs in each dietary treatment were challenged with either E. coli or PRRS virus while the other half were not challenged. The experiment was done twice.

Pigs challenged with E. coli that had been fed any of the three plant extracts had a lower frequency of diarrhea (20 percent) than pigs fed the control diet (40 percent). Pigs fed plant extracts were more efficient (40 percent) in feed use than pigs fed the control diet in the E. coli-challenged group, and challenged pigs fed plant extracts had sounder gut morphology compared with challenged pigs fed the control diet. Even pigs in the non-challenged group, with a low frequency of mild diarrhea, benefited from the plant extracts.

Pigs challenged with the PRRS virus that received the three plant extracts were more efficient in week 1 (55 percent) and week 2 (40 percent) than pigs fed the control diet. The pigs continued eating and gaining weight – especially with turmeric added to the diet. Pigs with the PRRS virus that were fed plant extracts also had a lower blood viral load (13 percent) and lower concentrations of inflammatory mediators than pigs fed the control diet, suggesting that feeding plant extracts could suppress ongoing inflammation and prevent secondary infections.

The researchers believe the benefits resulted from effects on the pigs' immune systems, because feeding plant extracts reduced inflammation caused by E. coli and the PRRS virus. Inflammation reduces feed intake and diverts nutrients away from growth and to the immune system. Results were published in the Journal of Animal Science. ("Beneficial anti-inflammatory effects observed when plant extracts fed to sick pigs," University of Illinois, Feb. 26, 2014; http://advancement.aces.illinois.edu/shared-category/animal-sciences)


A report by Food Tank shows that family farms can nourish the world while protecting the environment. "Food Tank by the Numbers: Family Farming" features research from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and draws on dozens of agriculture and sustainability experts. It proves that family farms are not only feeding the world but are also developing effective ways to address global food security, increase income, protect biodiversity and conserve the environment for a growing population.

Agriculture has its problems. Approximately 70 percent of the world's freshwater goes toward agriculture – a figure expected to increase by 19 percent by 2050; soils are being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished, so 30 percent of global arable land has lost productivity. And deforestation and land degradation resulting from agriculture are contributing to climate change.

But millions of family farmers are using agroecological approaches to combat climate change and create resilience to food price shocks, natural disasters and conflict. Agroforestry, intercropping, cover crops and green manures, solar drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and using orphan (neglected) and indigenous crops are helping protect natural resources, improving nutrient density and increasing farmers' incomes. These innovative practices, grounded in farmers' knowledge, are nourishing communities and protecting the planet's resources. "Smallholder and family farmers are the backbone of food production all over the world," says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg. According to the report, by planting diversified and indigenous crops, family farmers can produce 20 to 60 percent greater yield than farmers who produce only one type of crop.

Supporting family farmers' livelihoods through facilitating access to markets can significantly increase rural incomes. Organic certification for family farmers has also increased incomes. In Indonesia, the Boyolali Farmers' Association has shown a 40 percent reduction in production costs with organic farming practices, and their market price for organic rice is 20 percent higher than that for non-organic rice.

Family farming also drives economic growth and social stability by providing job opportunities. Small farmers create a "multiplier" effect that extends beyond the farm sector, spending a high share of their income in other sectors, including construction, infrastructure and manufacturing, which creates demand for other goods and sectors in their communities. In Asia, every dollar of income that the farming sector generates creates an additional $0.80 US in nonfarming sectors.

With increased support for and investment in family farmers, global food security can be achieved, environmental resources can be protected and national economies can grow, says the report.

Here are further highlights from the report:

• More than 98 percent of farms FAO sampled are family farms, and these produce at least 56 percent of the world's agricultural production. In many countries, the contribution of family farmers to food production far surpasses their share of land holdings.

• Family farming makes up the majority of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 33 million farms in the region, or 80 percent, are smallholder farms.

• More than 80 percent of all agricultural holdings measure less than 5 acres.

• All farmers can directly impact nutrition through the crops they grow and consume and through postharvest and preparation methods.

• Smallholder farmers' practices preserve biodiversity – for nutrition and taste; because cultivating a wide variety of species helps insulate farmers against risk of plant disease; and because crop diversity promotes soil health and increases yields.

• Diversified and indigenous crops are typically more resilient to climate change and extreme weather conditions.

• Use of organic fertilizers by family farms effectively reduces soil degradation.

• Smallholder farmers typically use innovative technologies to conserve resources. Drip irrigation methods used in Benin, for example, can save 30 to 60 percent more water than conventional methods.

• Smallholder and family farming can be the key to mitigating negative effects of climate change and improving food security.

• If 10,000 small- and medium-sized farms converted to organic, sustainable production, they would sequester as much carbon as would removing more than 1 million cars from the road.

• In Vietnam, land tenure reforms that provide private land use rights to smallholder farmers have increased agricultural productivity and household incomes.

• Mobile phone technology has helped smallholder rural farmers, especially women, access markets.

• Despite growth of large-scale farms around the world, smallholder and family farming still makes up the majority of global agriculture.

("New Report: Food Tank By The Numbers: Family Farming," by Sarah Small, March 6, 2014;
http://foodtank.com/news/2014/03/release-food-tank-by-the-numbers-family-farming-report)


Global nonprofit Kiva's new Kiva Zip program (https://zip.kiva.org) for U.S. entrepreneurs, with a focus on supporting small farmers, has loans at 0 percent interest rate with no fees. They can be paid back between six and 24 months and have optional grace periods of up to six months. Once you repay the first loan (up to $10,000), you can take out larger loans of $15,000 and then $20,000. These loans are crowd-funded, so hundreds of people lend as little as $5 each – and lenders can be customers and supporters. Farmers, on average, raise funds on Kiva Zip in less than two weeks. Last year, a MOFGA certified organic farmer raised $5,000 to buy a truck and packing supplies (https://zip.kiva.org/loans/733). Kiva covers its operational expenses through donations, grants, foundations, corporate sponsorships, etc.

 

Shoppers care about sustainability. Among 1,003 U.S. shoppers ages 18 and above, sampled online by Cone Communications,

• 77 percent rate sustainability as a priority, relating sustainability to such issues as packaging and animal welfare;

• 89 percent consider where items are produced;

• 81 percent want options that protect the environment;

• 74 percent want companies to better explain how their products affect the environment;

• 84 percent want more disclosure about genetically engineered (GE) ingredients;

• 55 percent did not know whether GE foods are good or bad for them;

• 73 percent of women and 60 percent of men would pay more for local food;

• 52 percent of women and 38 percent of men would sacrifice variety to eat locally produced foods.

("3 Out Of 4 Food Shoppers Care About Sustainability In Their Supermarket Decisions," by Ben Schiller, Fast Company, April 3, 2014; www.fastcoexist.com/3028353/3-out-of-4-of-food-shoppers-care-about-sustainability-in-their-supermarket-decisions)

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Local Production

According to Tufts University researcher Tim Griffin and colleagues, in the 12 Northeastern states, almost 40 percent of cropland grows corn, most for animal feed. The Northeast produces

• about as much fluid milk as it consumes

• about 70 percent of its eggs

• 45 percent of its shellfish

• 23 percent of its fish

• just under 30 percent of its chicken

• 26 percent of its vegetables

• 18 percent of its fruit.

Population in the Northeast is expected to increase by about 3 percent (2 million) by 2030. More than half the Northeast's farmland is in Pennsylvania and New York; 20 percent in Maryland. Griffin and his colleagues calculated these baseline data in order to look at the area's soils, climate, land use and infrastructure; policy barriers to agricultural expansion, and incentives to address those barriers. ("Food production in northeastern U.S. may need to change if climate does," Tufts University, Science Daily, 2/28/2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140228103323.htm)


Food environment factors – such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics – interact to influence food choices and diet quality. Research has been documenting the complexity of these interactions, but more research is needed to identify causal relationships and effective policy interventions. The USDA's Food Environment Atlas assembles statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality, and provides a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so. It includes data, by county, on population, farmers' markets (including which take SNAP benefits), farm-to-school programs, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, food dollars available, very low household food security, and 2012 state-level obesity rates. (USDA releases updated Food Environment Atlas, USDA www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-environment-atlas.aspx)

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Food Safety

The 1958 Food Additives Amendment exempted from the formal, extended FDA approval process common food ingredients such as vinegar and vegetable oil that are "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). Since then, the exemption has been stretched to allow manufacturers themselves to determine whether their newest chemicals in food are safe, without notifying FDA. The FDA simply asks that industry voluntarily inform it about their chemicals. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has identified 275 chemicals from 56 companies that appear to be marketed for use in food based on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations; it estimates that 1,000 such undisclosed GRAS determinations exist. The NRDC found that when companies did voluntarily submit reviews to FDA, the agency often had serious concerns about the safety of certain chemicals, and companies sometimes made safety decisions with little understanding of the law or science. For example, companies found their chemicals safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions, interactions with common drugs, or proposed uses much greater than company-established safe doses. When the FDA is asked to review a GRAS determination, it rejects or triggers withdrawal of about one in five notices. Furthermore, the public is not informed about many substances with GRAS determinations that are never submitted to FDA – and that may pose a much greater danger. The NRDC believes that the GRAS loophole is better named "Generally Recognized as Secret" than "Generally Recognized as Safe." It says the FDA and Congress need to fix the problem, and, in the meantime, consumers need to demand that their grocery stores and their favorite brands sell only food products with ingredients that the FDA has found to be safe. ("Generally Recognized as Secret – Chemicals Added to Food in the United States," Natural Resources Defense Council, April 2014; www.nrdc.org/food/safety-loophole-for-chemicals-in-food.asp)


Of 26 drug companies asked to phase out certain antibiotics used to promote growth in farm animals, 25 have agreed to comply with FDA's voluntary plan. About 80 percent of the U.S. antibiotic supply is used on farms, some to hasten growth or prevent illness in unsanitary, crowded conditions and likely promoting resistance to antibiotics in pathogens that can affect humans. When companies remove claims that their antibiotics promote growth, use of the drugs for that purpose becomes illegal. The plan includes only antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline, used in humans. The measure does not prohibit use of the antibiotics to prevent disease due to crowding, however – possibly limiting its effectiveness. ("More drug makers agree to limit antibiotics for farm animals," by David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2014; www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-fda-antibiotics-20140326,0,985413.story)


People whose sugar intake is about a quarter or more of their total daily calories had twice the risk of dying from heart disease as those who whose intake was 7 percent, according to the research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. ("Excess Sugar May Double Heart Disease Risk, Researchers Say," by Nicole Ostrow, Bloomberg, Feb. 3, 2014; www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-03/excess-sugar-may-double-heart-disease-risk-researchers-say.html)

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Phthalates

Maine people are polluted with chemicals called phthalates, according to a report released by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. The report, "Hormones Disrupted: Toxic Phthalates in Maine People," captures the stories and reactions of 25 Mainers who provided urine samples to test for the presence of seven phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), a group of hormone-disrupting chemicals widely used in consumer products.

 All 25 men and women who voluntarily participated had detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies. All were exposed to at least five of the seven phthalates tested, and some were exposed at much higher levels than other Americans. Eight were in the top 5 percent of phthalate exposure nationally, and another four were in the top 10 percent. 

The report concludes, "Mainers are widely exposed to phthalates, which cause serious health problems and are difficult to avoid due to lack of public information" and that "our chemical safety system fails to protect pregnant women and children." The report recommends that "the State of Maine should act now to close the information gap" and "the use of phthalates should be phased out in favor of safer alternatives."

Dozens of human health studies link phthalate exposure to serious health effects, including abnormal development of male sex organs; harm to the brain, causing learning and behavior problems in children; and increased rates of asthma and allergies. Phthalates harm reproductive health through reduced fertility, premature birth, early puberty in girls, breast growth in boys and increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer. Phthalates are also "obesogens" that interfere with fat-related hormones linked to obesity and metabolic disorder. Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of phthalates and face higher exposures, but teens and adults are also at risk.


Phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic and are routinely added to hundreds of everyday products and building materials found in the home, including lunch boxes, kids' backpacks, school supplies, raincoats and boots, shower curtains, tablecloths, floor tiles and wall covering. They are also a common ingredient of "fragrance" found in many cosmetics, lotions and other personal care products. Phthalates readily escape from products and enter the human body through breathing, eating and skin contact, including from frequent hand-to-mouth activity and teething by toddlers.

All seven of the phthalates tested in Maine people have been prioritized by various state, federal and European government agencies due to scientific concern about hazards and exposures. Six are named in a "Phthalates Action Plan" by the U.S. EPA; six are "Chemicals of High Concern to Children" in the state of Washington; five are banned in toys and childcare items by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; five are known to cause cancer and/or developmental toxicity by the state of California; and four are banned as "Substances of Very High Concern" by the European Chemicals Agency.

Heather Spalding of MOFGA, one of the 25 test subjects, said that a similar biomonitoring study in 2007 found industrial chemicals in MOFGA's former executive director, Russell Libby, who died in 2012 from prostate cancer.

"Russell Libby said we have to challenge the idea that contamination is just the price of living in a modern world," Spalding said.

After the 2007 study, Maine lawmakers passed the Kids Safe Products Act, which required Maine to adopt a list of high concern priority chemicals. It also required manufacturers to disclose toxic chemicals used in products and authorized the state to require safer alternatives.

"And that law, as wonderful as it is, has been underused," Spalding said, because phthalates aren't listed as a priority chemical.

Petitions to require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to initiate a rule-making process on phthalates, with a goal of listing four phthalates as priority chemicals, were expected to have been submitted by the end of April. ("New Report: Maine people are polluted with dangerous chemicals called phthalates," Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, March 18, 2014; www.cleanandhealthyme.org/Home/tabid/36/newsid531/639/Default.aspx)

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Biodiversity

Thirty years of data from 94 studies and 184 farms (most in Western Europe) showed that organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect and animal species than conventional. Organic farms influenced species richness most when they were in areas that were intensively farmed. The researchers said more study is needed to determine effects of organic farming in tropical areas, as in banana and cocoa plantations, and of converting natural areas to farms. ("Organic Farms Support More Species," Phys.org, Feb. 3, 2014; http://phys.org/news/2014-02-farms-species.html; Original study: Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis, by Sean L. Tuck et al., Journal of Applied Ecology, Feb. 2014, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12219/abstract)


When a Michigan blueberry grower planted flowering cover crops – buckwheat, soybeans, mustard, alfalfa and clover – in the 10-foot-wide gaps between his blueberry rows for improved pollination, enough beneficial insects also showed up that he was able to reduce spraying from 10 to 12 times per season to two to three times, to save $5,000 to $6,000 on insecticides, and to rent half as many honeybee hives as previously. ("Growing Insects: Farmers Can Help to Bring Back Pollinators, By Richard Conniff, Environment 360, Feb. 3, 2014; http://e360.yale.edu/feature/growing_insects_farmers_can_help_to_bring_back_pollinators/2735/)


Researchers planted marginal lands surrounding productive blueberry fields with a mix of 15 native perennial wildflowers to determine whether increasing the wild bee population would improve pollination in nearby crop fields. (The fields were pollinated by honeybees.) The first two years saw little to no increase in the number of wild bees, but after that twice as many were present as in control fields with no habitat improvements – and the blueberries had more seeds and were larger. Based on the results, a 2-acre field planted with wildflowers adjacent to a 10-acre field of blueberries boosted yields by 10 to 20 percent. ("Attracting wild bees to farms is a good insurance policy," Michigan State University Today, April 3, 2014;
http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/attracting-wild-bees-to-farms-is-a-good-insurance-policy/)


A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, based on U.N. data from 152 countries from 1961 to 2009, says that "national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat and weight" but simultaneously declined "in the total number of plant species upon which humans depend for food." More and more people rely on a limited number of major crops, such as wheat, corn, soy, dairy and meat, which are displacing such crops as sweet potatoes, yams, sorghum, oca and maca. This shift may be contributing to the increase in obesity, heart disease and diabetes and may be making the food supply more vulnerable to drought, insects and diseases. The report suggests promoting alternative crops and supporting crop diversity and conservation. ("Global food supply grows increasingly homogeneous, study says," by Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2014; www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-global-food-supply-20140303,0,5664949.story)

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Bees

Beekeeper Anthony Cantrell of Burlington, Vermont, found "zombie bees" in his hive last October, the first such occurrence in the eastern United States. Zombie bees occur when the Apocephalus borealis fly lays its eggs in bees, where they grow and apparently cause neurological damage followed by death. They were first found in 2008 in western states by San Francisco State University Professor John Hafernik. ("'Zombie' bees identified in Vt., 1st in Eastern US," by Beth Garbitelli, San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 29, 2014; www.mercurynews.com/science-headlines/ci_25011193/1st-zombie-bees-east-coast-found-vt)


A study led by Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex found that bumblebees exposed to low doses of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, brought back pollen from only 40 percent of their trips, while unexposed bees brought back pollen from 63 percent of trips. Also, exposed bees that returned with pollen brought 31 percent less than unexposed bees, so their nests received 57 percent less pollen overall. Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides: They are taken up by and travel throughout plants. Previously Goulson and his coworkers found that exposure to neonicotinoids resulted in 85 percent fewer queens. ("Pesticides halve bees' pollen gathering ability, research shows," by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Jan. 29, 2014; www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/29/bees-pollen-pesticides-ban)


Two diseases of honeybees – deformed wing virus and a fungal parasite called Nosema ceranae – have been found in wild bumblebees in Great Britain, shortening their lifespan. On the other hand, researchers found hives in Kenya infected with Nosema and with Varroa mites did not suffer from the pests. The hives – traditional wild nests in logs – had very low concentrations of only a few pesticides. Improving bee health through practices that reduce chemical use and give bees access to diverse flowering plants can make a difference in the insects' health, say the researchers. ("Bumblebees infected with honeybee diseases," by Rebecca Morelle, BBC News, Feb. 19, 2014; www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26242960; "Honeybees in East Africa Resist Deadly Pathogens," by Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic, April 16, 2014; http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140416-honeybees-africa-kenya-disease-nosema-varroa-resistance-genetics-pesticides/)


The USDA is spending about $3 million to enable growers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants that support bees and livestock and to install fences and watering tanks and make other changes to enable more rotational grazing – also to encourage plant growth for insects and livestock. The money can be used to plant cover crops, improving soil health at the same time. Beekeepers have found in recent years that small, diverse farms that grew clover and other bee-friendly crops have been displaced by monocrops of corn, soy, cotton or canola. ("USDA Spending $3M to Feed Honeybees in Midwest," AP, The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2014;
www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/02/25/us/ap-us-help-for-honeybees.html?_r=0)

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Organic Issues

During the summer of 2013, Congress passed a new farm bill after a number of years of staff time, delays, extensions and posturing by both parties. The previous farm bill was passed in 2008, expired in September of 2012 but was extended repeatedly until, in February 2014, the Senate passed and President Obama signed the final 2014 bill.

The farm bill is actually a number of bills, or titles, combined into one "omnibus" bill covering aspects of food and agriculture, from food stamp programs to commodity price supports to forestry and farm conservation. The U.S. House of Representatives sought to remove the nutrition support programs, or SNAP, from the rest of the farm bill programs, but ended up reinstating them in the final passage of the bill.

Frustrating for many progressive farm organizations, which pushed hard for changes in the last farm bill, was exclusion of changes in the 2012 farm bill extension and challenges to their inclusion in this year's negotiations. Many organic and sustainable farm advocacy organizations favored reshaping major commodity price supports through subsidized crop insurance and conservation programs, which reward specific farm conservation practices. Unfortunately the commodity farm lobby has a big influence on legislators from the commodity-producing farm states and was able to continue price supports in the current bill.

The farm bill covers a five-year period and did include a number of programs that will benefit organic agriculture, noted below. Most are structural in nature but offer some advantages to organic farmers down the road.

Cost Share: From the early days of the National Organic Program, 16 states have received organic certification cost share assistance. This program under the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Act included Maine and continued as part of the 2012 farm bill extension. The current bill maintains two separate programs for organic certification cost share assistance: the AMA program, providing $1 million annually, and the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), funded at $11.5 million annually. Left out of the AMA program, and the 2012 extension, were food processors – but with the 2014 bill, they are once again eligible for cost share under the NOCCSP funding.

Research: The farm bill provides $20 million annually in mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative.

Organic Production and Market Data Initiative: The bill provides $5 million in one-time (not annual) mandatory funding for the Organic Data Initiative. This funding will allow for more accurate collection of organic marketing data, which will be used to determine future funding goals in organic agriculture.

Organic Crop Insurance: The bill requires USDA by 2015 to offer for all organic crops price elections that reflect the actual retail or wholesale prices received by producers of organic crops. Previous legislation required that organic producers pay an insurance premium for the additional risks perceived in organic farming, yet payments on insurance claims made on organic crops were calculated based on conventional crop prices. Both provisions were changed in the current bill.

National Organic Program: The bill includes the Senate provision, which provides $5 million in one-time (not annual) mandatory funding for USDA to upgrade and modernize NOP's existing database. Most organic certifiers would like NOP to develop a real time, web-based, searchable database of current farm and processor certification status.

Conservation Programs: The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are critical to organic farmers. Both need reform to address concerns unique to organic farms, such as the unfamiliarity of NRCS staff with organic systems, duplication between organic certification requirements and NRCS program requirements, and payment limit inequities. The final farm bill does nothing to address these concerns of organic farmers participating in the EQIP and CSP programs.

– Dave Colson


Approval of the 2014 farm bill reenergized efforts to create an Organic Research and Promotion Program. In such a program, commonly called a "check-off," producers and processors pay into a common fund to support marketing efforts. The farm bill gave USDA authority to consider creating the organic check-off program, but the organic industry itself will decide whether to do so.

To that end, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) convened regional meetings with organic producers, handlers and processors to solicit ideas on the check-off and posted a draft program framework on its website for discussion.

Laura Batcha, OTA executive director, says the website offers certified organic operations and other interested parties a chance to voice their views on a variety of program options, including governance, promotional and research expenditures, and assessments and exemptions. OTA plans to continue soliciting comments on the website over the next few months; no date for ending the survey has been set.

"Originally, we thought we'd have a general sense of how certified operators were feeling about the idea by late May, but that's slowed down a bit because of the farm bill delay," says Batcha. "We're kind of thinking now that we'll have a better sense of the feelings by this fall, maybe in September."

Achieving a final vote on the check-off is a multi-step process that could take two or more years. The initial opinion survey will help OTA craft a final program framework, which will then be referred back to the organic community for a survey vote to determine whether strong support exists for the check-off plan. If the industry – all organic certificate holders – resoundingly supports the plan, OTA will formally petition USDA to create the program. Once petitioned, USDA would review the proposal and evaluate industry support, then conduct a formal referendum in which non-exempt organic certificate holders would vote on whether or not to endorse the check-off. Under USDA rules, a super majority vote of 66 percent in the affirmative is required to establish a check-off program.

To participate in the framework survey, visit United for More Organic at http://www.unitedformoreorganic.com/. For additional information about the check-off proposal, see http://www.ota.com/ORPP.html?idp=3&ida=32.

– Ted Quaday

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Climate

For woodland owners and agricultural producers, creation of the Northeast Regional Hub for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change in Durham, N.H., will bring climate change science tools closer to home. Seven such U.S. regional hubs were announced in February 2014 to address increasing risks, such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods and crippling droughts, on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management. This is part of the President's Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change. The Northeast Climate Hub will cover Maine to West Virginia and be led by the U.S. Forest Service. ("Forest Service to Lead New USDA Regional Climate Hub in the Northeast," press release, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Feb. 6, 2014; www.nrs.fs.fed.us/news/release/ne-climate-hub)

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Genetic Engineering (GE)

As we went to press, a bill requiring labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Vermont had passed the Senate by 28-2 and the House by 114-30 and was awaiting Governor Peter Shumlin's signature. The Senate established in the bill a fund of up to $1.5 million to help defend the state against a potential lawsuit. The bill would require labeling as of July 1, 2016, on packaged foods sold at retail in Vermont and made with GE ingredients and on GE fresh produce sold in grocery stores – but not on prepared food sold in restaurants, of on meat, dairy or liquor. Unlike bills that have passed in Maine and Connecticut, the Vermont bill does not require other states to pass similar bills. ("GMO bill one step from law," by Terri Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press, April 24, 2014; www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/politics/2014/04/23/gmo-house/8060463/; "Vermont Senate votes 26-2 for GMO labeling," by Terri Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press, April 15, 2014; www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20140415/NEWS03/304150009/-1/rss)


The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced to Congress on April 9, 2014, would require the FDA to review the safety of GE products before they enter the marketplace. Foods found to be unsafe or materially different from those produced without GE ingredients would have to be labeled. Consumer groups see the bill as an effort to undermine stronger state efforts to label foods made from GE ingredients. ("Legislation would ban state GMO labeling measures," by Christopher Doering, USA Today, April 9, 2014; www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/04/09/genetic-labeling-bill/7519937/)


General Mills and Post Foods are making (and labeling) Cheerios and Grape Nuts with non-GE ingredients. The companies join Ben & Jerry's and Chipotle in committing to eliminating GE ingredients. The Non-GMO Project, a third-party testing project, now verifies more than 14,000 products representing $5 billion in sales in 2013. By 2017, non-GE products are projected to comprise 30 percent of food and beverage sales, with a value of about $264 billion. ("Non-GMO Is Going Mainstream," by Ken Roseboro, Organic Connections, Feb. 4, 2014; http://organicconnectmag.com/non-gmo-going-mainstream/)


Australian farmer Steve Marsh is suing neighbor Michael Baxter after harvested seed heads from Baxter's GE Roundup Ready canola crop blew onto Marsh's organic farm, germinating there and contaminating land where he grew oats and wheat. Marsh lost organic certification on 70 percent of his farm as a result – and profits associated with organic production. This is the first case in the world in which an organic farmer is suing a GE farmer to recover loss and damages. Baxter bought his seeds from Monsanto. Marsh did not sue Monsanto because the company has a non-liability contract with farmers who buy its seed. ("Organic Farmer Going to Court Against Monsanto's GM Crops," by Kristina Chew, Care2, Jan. 29, 2014;
www.care2.com/causes/organic-farmer-going-to-court-against-monsantos-gm-crops.html; "Neighbouring farmers fight landmark Australian GMO court case," by Jane Wardell and Colin Packham, Reuters, Feb. 7, 2014; http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/02/06/australia-gmo-testcase-idINL3N0L52XH20140206)


The Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Avoiding GE Food has these suggestions:

• Buy organic.

• Buy food certified as "Non-GMO Project Verified."

• If you can't do the above, avoid the most common ingredients from GE crops: corn, soy, sugar and vegetable oils, including canola, cottonseed, soybean and corn oil.

("EWG's 2014 Shopper's Guide To Avoiding GE Food," Environmental Working Group, Feb. 19, 2014;
www.ewg.org/research/shoppers-guide-to-avoiding-ge-food)


In the UK, foods containing GE material for human consumption must be labeled, but foods such as meat, fish and dairy products coming from animals fed GE grains are not labeled. Some European supermarkets are starting such labeling, and the Soil Association is urging labeling of all products from GE-fed animals. Some farmers say that non-GE feed is increasingly difficult to source and/or afford, and the choice now is between organic and GE. ("Revealed: How Genetically Modified Food Is Finding Its Way Onto Your Dinner Plate," by Andrew Wasley, The Huffington Post UK, Feb. 17, 2014;
www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/andrew-wasley/genetically-modified-food_b_4794557.html)


As more weeds have become resistant to glyphosate due to overuse of Roundup in Roundup Ready GE crops, Dow Chemical has a solution: GE 2,4-D-resistant crops, which it dubs "Enlist" crops. The herbicide 2,4-D has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lowered sperm counts, liver disease, Parkinson's disease and effects on reproductive, neurological and immune systems. 2,4-D is also the seventh largest source of dioxins – highly toxic chemicals that bioaccumulate – in our environment. ("Meet the New Monsanto: Dow Chemical... and Their New 'Agent Orange' Crops," by Andrew Kimbrell, Huffington Post, Feb. 18, 2014; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-kimbrell/dow-chemical-agent-orange-crops_b_4810311.html)


A Feb. 20 USDA report on genetic engineering cites the following data:

• GE crops were planted on about 169 million U.S. acres in 2013, about half the total land used for crops.

• The price of GE soy and corn seeds increased by about 50 percent between 2001 and 2010.

• GE seeds have not definitively increased yield and have sometimes reduced yields compared with non-GE varieties.

• Some research finds no significant difference in net returns from GE versus non-GE seeds.

• Insecticide use on corn was 0.02 pounds per acre in 2010 versus 0.21 in 1995.

• Herbicide use on GE corn was 1.5 pounds per acre in 2001 and more than 2.0 pounds per acre in 2010.

• 14 U.S. weed species and biotypes are now glyphosate resistant.

("U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns – USDA report," by Carey Gillam, Reuters, Feb. 24, 2014;
www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/24/usda-gmo-report-idUSL1N0LT16M20140224)


Growing crops free from contamination by GE crops and pesticides used on them is getting more difficult and costly for U.S. farmers, says a report by Food & Water Watch and the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), based on responses to a survey from 268 U.S. farmers. One out of three respondents had dealt with GE contamination on their farms. Of those contaminated, more than half had crops rejected by buyers because of GE contamination – at a reported median cost of $4,500 per semi-load (about 1,000 bushels). Farmers growing organic and non-GE crops have to leave buffer zones around their crops and/or delay planting to attempt to avoid GE contamination, at a reported cost in lost income of $2,500 to $20,000 per year. "The results of this survey," says Food & Water Watch, "reveal that the risks and the effects of GMO contamination have unfairly burdened organic and non-GMO farmers with extra work, longer hours and financial insecurity, which has led to general skepticism about coexistence within the organic community."

Food & Water Watch and OFARM recommend that companies holding GE seed patents be held accountable for all losses associated with GE contamination; that responsibility for preventing contamination be shared by those growing GE crops rather than resting solely on organic and non-GE producers; that the USDA research, track and analyze incidents of contamination and associated costs; and that USDA dedicate resources through its extension service for education about this issue. ("Organic Farmers Pay the Price for GMO Contamination," Food and Water Watch, March 2014; http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/GMO_contamination.pdf)


The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed suit to try to force the USDA to release documents that may tell why it approved Monsanto's herbicide-resistant GE alfalfa despite concerns about the crop. "USDA determined Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa posed significant environmental and economic harms and initially proposed placing restrictions on it. Yet the agency went ahead and granted full unrestricted approval one month later," says Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of CFS. "Did the White House intervene? Did Monsanto pressure the agency? The fact is we don't know, and unless the court orders USDA to hand over these documents we may never know." Alfalfa, the fourth most commonly grown crop in the United States, is pollinated by bees, so farmers who raise organic and non-GE crops are concerned about contamination. The Los Angeles Times reports that Roundup Ready alfalfa was developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics, an alfalfa seed maker owned by Land O'Lakes Inc. ("Center for Food Safety sues USDA over genetically modified alfalfa," by David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2014; www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-gmo-alfalfa-20140313,0,6462829.story)


All five "independent" UK scientists who wrote a report calling for fast-tracking of GE crops into British agriculture have links to the GE industry. They include a consultant whose lab is funded by the GE company Syngenta; an employee of a lab funded by one of the UK's biggest supporters of GE crops; a founding member of CropGen, which promotes GE crops and foods; and two scientists who work for institutions heavily involved in GE research. The study touted the alleged ability of GE crops to feed those starving in Third World countries and minimized problems associated with the crops, such as effects on wildlife, emergence of superweeds, and the lack of research into their safety for human consumption. ("Scientists' hidden links to the GM food giants: Disturbing truth behind official report that said UK should forge on with Frankenfoods," by Sean Poulter and Ben Spencer, Daily Mail, March 14, 2014; www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2581387/Scientists-hidden-links-GM-food-giants-Disturbing-truth-official-report-said-UK-forge-Frankenfoods.html)


The Chilean government in March withdrew the Plant Growers Law (the "Monsanto Law"), a seed patent law, from Congress over concerns for small- and medium-sized farmers' rights. The law would have aligned Chilean legislation over seed and plant patenting with international agriculture law. Opponents said it would largely benefit big seed developers who could patent new seed strains – including some based on strains Chilean farmers have long used – and charge smaller farmers for their use. Farmers also worried that they would be held liable if and when patented seed contaminated their fields. ("Government withdraws controversial 'Monsanto Law' from Congress," by Belinda Torres-Leclercq, The Santiago Times, March 18, 2014; http://santiagotimes.cl/government-withdraws-controversial-monsanto-law-congress/)


Researchers at Iowa State University have found western corn rootworms in Iowa fields that resist two of the three types of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin produced by GE corn – Cry3Bb1 and mCry3A. Crop rotation is one way to combat rootworms. ("Pests worm their way into genetically modified maize," by Brian Owens, Nature, March 18,2014; www.nature.com/news/pests-worm-their-way-into-genetically-modified-maize-1.14887)


The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico reached the lowest level since record­keeping began in 1993, says a report by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico's Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission. Entomologists say the main factor now in the decline is killing of milkweed plants in fields of herbicide-resistant GE crops in the U.S. Midwest. Other factors include urban sprawl; extreme weather; and habitat loss due to logging. Monarchs once covered more than 44.5 acres in their wintering spot in Mexico; in 2013, that dropped to 1.65 acres. To help support the species, homeowners are encouraged to plant milkweed; and crews tending public lands are encouraged not to cut milkweed during Monarch breeding seasons. ("Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear," by Mark Stevenson, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 30, 2014; www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Monarch-butterflies-drop-migration-may-disappear-5184818.php)

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Pesticides

Gilles-Eric Seralini and coworkers found that eight of nine pesticides (three insecticides, three fungicides and three herbicides, including Roundup) tested on human cells were two to 1,000 times more toxic than their active ingredients alone. Seralini points out that only active ingredients are used to determine guidelines for acceptable exposure levels to pesticides. ("Controversial scientist claims pesticide toxicity 'proof'," phys.org, Jan. 30, 2014; http://phys.org/news/2014-01-controversial-scientist-pesticide-toxicity-proof.html)

Several studies have linked pesticides with development of Parkinson's disease. A new study involving Californians shows that low levels of 11 pesticides affect the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), involved in processing the brain chemical dopamine, increasing the risk of Parkinson's. People with a common variant of the ALDH2 gene are particularly sensitive to ALDH-inhibiting pesticides and were two to six times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those without the variant when exposed to these pesticides. All the metal-coordinating dithiocarbamates tested (e.g., maneb, ziram), two imidazoles (benomyl, triflumizole), two dicarboxymides (captan, folpet) and one organochlorine (dieldrin) inhibited ALDH activity. ("Aldehyde dehydrogenase variation enhances effect of pesticides associated with Parkinson disease," by Arthur G. Fitzmaurice et al., Neurology, Feb. 4, 2014; www.neurology.org/content/82/5/419; "Pesticides increase risk for Parkinson's disease: Certain people may be more susceptible," Science Daily, Feb. 3, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203163428.htm)


Pyrethroid insecticides found in roach sprays, flea bombs, ant traps and pet shampoos persist indoors for years after use and collect in bodies of adults and children, possibly posing health risks, says a UC Davis study. Researchers took wipe samples of floors and measured pyrethroids in urine and found the insecticides in a majority of 173 Californians tested. Concentrations found on floors were related to those found in urine of children tested but not mothers, suggesting children are more exposed in homes, and mothers from diets or outdoors. Pyrethroids, synthetic versions of naturally occurring pyrethrins, have been linked to respiratory ailments, heart palpitations and nausea in farmworkers and have disrupted hormones and delayed puberty in lab animals. One study found that mothers of autistic children had used anti-flea and anti-tick shampoos on pets twice as often while pregnant as mothers whose children developed typically. ("Insecticides linger in homes, study finds," by Edward Ortiz, The Sacramento Bee, Feb. 25, 2014; www.sacbee.com/2014/02/25/6186580/insecticides-linger-in-homes-study.html)


Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and other herbicides) may help carry toxic heavy metals from soils and contaminated fertilizers to kidneys, possibly explaining the epidemic of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Sri Lanka, South and Central America and India where rice and sugarcane are grown, say researchers. The disease is not found in parts of Sri Lanka where agrochemical use was banned until recently to prevent bomb-making during the country's civil war. Rice-growing soils where CKD occurs are naturally high in heavy metals, and the synthetic fertilizer triple superphosphate contains heavy metals, such as cadmium, chromium, nickel and lead, and arsenic. In March, Sri Lanka's president ordered a ban on glyphosate. In September 2013, the Salvadoran legislature also approved a ban on glyphosate and other agrochemicals, but the proposal has not been signed into law yet. ("Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka?" by Channa Jayasumana et al., International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2014; 11(2):2125-2147; www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/2/2125; "Sri Lanka killer kidney disease linked to Monsanto weedicide, phosphate fertilizer: study," Lanka Business Online, March 2, 2014; www.lankabusinessonline.com/news/sri-lanka,-kidney-disease-linked-to-glysophate,-phosphate-fertilizer/2081217214; "Sri Lanka bans Monsanto herbicide citing potential link to deadly kidney disease," by Sasha Chavkin, The Center for Public Integrity, March 13, 2014; www.publicintegrity.org/2014/03/13/14418/sri-lanka-bans-monsanto-herbicide-citing-potential-link-deadly-kidney-disease)


Scientists conducting the CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study have been following several hundred Salinas Valley children of primarily Latino farmworkers since birth. After sampling for exposure to pesticides, bisphenol A and flame retardants, they found that children of mothers with the highest levels of organophosphates were at the greatest risk for neurodevelopmental problems, including poorer reflexes, pervasive developmental disorder, autism-related conditions, hyperactivity and lower IQ scores.

In her article about CHAMACOS, author Susan Freinkel covers other research showing effect of pesticides on brain development and the resulting health, social and economic effects. She also notes effects of variants of the gene PON1, which produces an enzyme that helps detoxify organophosphates and, depending on the gene type, can make children far more susceptible to the pesticides – raising questions about how the EPA assesses pesticide risks and about excessive use of its "conditional registration" category, which allows use of some pesticides before all safety testing has been done. The author interviews experts who are concerned about the slow process at EPA for reviewing pesticides; about the lack of attention paid to mixtures of pesticides and mixtures of pesticides with other synthetic chemicals; about simply substituting neonicotinoids or pyrethroids, which have their own potential health risks, for organophosphates; about measures farm workers could take to limit their exposure to pesticides – if they were paid enough to afford to wash their clothes separately, to not have to have children with them in fields or cars, or to buy organic foods.

Freinkel's article is one of three about pesticides in The Nation. Another, by Lee Fang, shows how pesticide-producing companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying politicians and received favorable treatment for their products in return. Yet another by Freinkel tells how to avoid consuming pesticides in light of inadequate regulation. ("Warning Signs: How Pesticides Harm the Young Brain," by Susan Freinkel, The Nation, March 11, 2014; www.thenation.com/article/178804/warning-signs-how-pesticides-harm-young-brain; "The Pesticide Industry vs. Consumers: Not a Fair Fight," by Lee Fang, The Nation, March 11, 2014; www.thenation.com/article/178802/pesticide-industry-vs-consumers-not-fair-fight; "6 Ways to Avoid Eating Pesticide Residue," by Susan Freinkel, The Nation, March 13, 2014; http://www.thenation.com/article/178829/6-ways-avoid-eating-pesticide-residue)


A group of Midwest vegetable farmers called the Save Our Crops Coalition has failed to convince Monsanto to reformulate its dicamba herbicide that could become widely used and can drift and damage vegetable crops. The herbicide will likely become far more popular if Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready 2 Extend corn and soy varieties, which also resist dicamba, come to market – as is expected in about two years, if approved. The new crops were developed after GE Roundup Ready crops, engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), were overused and weeds became resistant to glyphosate. Dow AgroSciences reformulated its 2,4-D herbicide that will be used with its 2,4-D-resistant Enlist corn and soy seeds to make it less prone to vaporize and drift, and labeled it to restrict its use when wind was blowing toward sensitive crops. Both 2,4-D and dicamba are prone to drifting and can deform and kill broadleaf plants – including vegetable crops. ("Monsanto in dispute with veggie farmers over herbicide," by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, March 13, 2014; www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/monsanto-dow-agrosciences-herbicides-save-our-crops/6015519/)


A study found that fruit flies exposed to very low doses of the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid produced fewer offspring than control insects did. The effect was not seen with the highest dose of imidacloprid. The researchers think regulators should look not only at short-term mortality when evaluating pesticides, but also at very low doses. Researchers do not know why such low doses of imidacloprid are so harmful. One possibility is that tiny doses do not trigger cells' detoxification mechanisms. ("Low Doses Of A Controversial Insecticide May Harm Friendly Insects," by Puneet Kollipara, Chemical & Engineering News, March 14, 2014; http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/web/2014/03/Low-Doses-Controversial-Insecticide-Harm.html)


Researchers tested effects on honeybee larvae of the four most common pesticides detected in pollen and wax – fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chloropyrifos. All at levels found in hives increased larval mortality compared with untreated larvae. A mixture of 34 mg/L chlorothalonil and 3 mg/L fluvalinate showed synergistic toxicity, but when diluted 10-fold was antagonistic. Chlorothalonil at 34 mg/L synergized the miticide coumaphos at 8 mg/L. Adding coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture. The "inert" ingredient N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone at seven concentrations was highly toxic to larvae. The researchers suggest that pesticide mixtures in pollen be evaluated by adding their toxicities until complete data on interactions are available. ("Four Common Pesticides, Their Mixtures and a Formulation Solvent in the Hive Environment Have High Oral Toxicity to Honey Bee Larvae," by Wanyi Zhu et al., PLoS ONE, Jan. 8, 2014; http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077547#pone-0077547-g005)


A Center for Food Safety literature review shows that neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments offer little benefit, do not increase crop yield and do cause widespread environmental and economic damage – and are implicated in bee population declines and colony collapse. The authors examined 19 peer-reviewed studies of the relationship between neonicotinoid treatments and yields of major U.S. crops. Eight studies found that neonicotinoid treatments did not provide any significant yield benefit; 11 showed inconsistent benefits. The studies corroborate evidence from European countries that were able to maintain crop yields even after neonicotinoid bans. The review cites the EPA for failure to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and calls on EPA to suspend seed treatment product registrations. Almost all U.S. corn seed and approximately half of U.S. soybean seeds are treated with neonicotinoids (which are not allowed in organic production). Neonicotinoid pesticides are slow to break down, so they can build up where they are applied. They contaminate surface water, ground water and soil, endangering beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems. One study found the same yield in fields of treated and untreated soybeans, with no effect of neonicotinoids on the targeted soybean aphid but with harm to ladybugs, lacewings and spiders – predators of soybean aphids. ("New Report: Widely-Used Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments Are Unnecessary in Most Cases," Center for Food Safety, March 24, 2014; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/3000/new-report-widely-used-neonicotinoid-seed-treatments-are-unnecessary-in-most-cases; "Pesticides that hurt bees don't help farmers, study finds," by Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, March 24, 2014; www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/252104351.html)


Americans have collectively forfeited 41 million IQ points as a result of exposure to certain neurotoxins, says Harvard researcher Dr. David Bellinger. Exposure to organophosphate insecticides alone was calculated to result in a loss of 16.9 million IQ points. Other Harvard researchers say 12 neurotoxins are believed to be causing ADHD and autism spectrum disorders as well as lower IQs. The 12 include two insecticides – chlorpyrifos and DDT/DDE – and manganese, fluoride, tetrachloroethylene (PERC), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), arsenic, lead, mercury, toluene, ethanol and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The government restricts use of some of these chemicals. Writer James Hamblin says, "The greater concern lies in what we're exposed to and don't yet know to be toxic. Federal health officials, prominent academics, and even many leaders in the chemical industry agree that the U.S. chemical safety testing system is in dire need of modernization." Hamblin cites economist Elise Gould's figure that combined current levels of pesticides, mercury and lead cause IQ losses resulting in around $120 billion lost annually – about three percent of the annual U.S. budget. ("The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains," by James Hamblin, The Atlantic, March 18, 2014. www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/the-toxins-that-threaten-our-brains/284466/)


British scientists asked about 623,080 women aged 50 or over whether they ate organic foods, and then tracked development of the 16 most common types of cancer among those women for nine years. Comparing the 180,000 women who reported that they never ate organic food with about 45,000 who reported that they usually or always ate organic foods, the researchers found 21 percent less non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a slight increase in breast cancer in those who ate organic foods. No difference was noted in other cancers.

Peter Melchett, director of policy for the Soil Association, said that consumers support organic for a variety of reasons, including benefits to wildlife, prohibition of hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and additives and genetically engineered ingredients – and reduced exposure to pesticides. Melchett said the researchers measured the women's body mass index and physical activity only once during the study, and he noted the challenge of studying the relationship between diet and cancer, "given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate."

The Organic Center says, "When you look at all the factors that may be confounding the study published by Bradbury et al. in the British Journal of Cancer, broad generalizations about cancer incidence decreases due to organic food consumption are not possible."

Those factors include the subjective, self-reported, unvalidated survey answers, which were not controlled for accuracy or consistency; the construction of the study, which did not include many important external factors that could influence cancer development; and the short timescale of the study. Given the many limitations of the study, The Organic Center says the fact that researchers could still find a link between consuming organic food and reducing one's risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma "means that the connection between avoiding this type of cancer and eating organic must be extremely strong." ("Women who eat organic foods no less likely to develop cancer, research finds," by Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, March 27, 2014; www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/28/women-organic-foods-develop-cancer; "'Organic food does not cut women's cancer risk' – study," by Padraic Flanagan, The Telegraph, March 28, 2014; www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/food/10728223/Organic-food-does-not-cut-womens-cancer-risk-study.html; "Organic food doesn't lower overall cancer risk," Cancer Research UK, March 28, 2013; http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/case-study/organic-food-doesn%E2%80%99t-lower-overall-cancer-risk; Bradbury, K.E. et al., "Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the UK," (2014) British Journal of Cancer; doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.148; "Cancer Study Has Major Limitations," The Organic Center, March 28, 2014; http://organic-center.org/news/cancer-study-has-limitations/)


Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. plans to release of a GE grass seed within the next couple of years that resists insecticides and herbicides, likely leading to greater use of these chemicals. The Connecticut Senate approved a ban on GE grass seed in April, but the House failed to pass it, so it died. ("State House rejects ban on GMO grass seed," by Ken Dixon, Stamford Advocate, April 12, 2014; www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/State-House-rejects-ban-on-GMO-grass-seed-5398409.php)


Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse found the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) at concentrations of concern in 3 out of the 10 samples of breast milk tested from American women, suggesting that the herbicide accumulates in women's bodies over time. Concentrations were 76 ug/l to 166 ug/l – 760 to 1,600 times higher than the European Drinking Water Directive allows for individual pesticides but less than the 700 ug/l maximum contaminant level for glyphosate set by the U.S. EPA, based on the premise that glyphosate does not bioaccumulate. The testing commissioned by Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse also analyzed 35 urine samples and 21 drinking water samples from across the United States and found levels in urine more than 10 times higher than those found in a similar survey done in the EU by Friends of the Earth Europe in 2013. These preliminary projects used ELISA tests, which have a high minimum detection level in breast milk and urine, so even samples that tested negative may have contained worrying levels of glyphosate. Women who had been eating organic and non-GMO foods for several months to two years did not have detectable levels of glyphosate in their breast milk. ("Herbicide Discovered in U.S. Mothers' Breast Milk," Sustainable Pulse, April 6, 2014; http://sustainablepulse.com/2014/04/06/worlds-number-1-herbicide-discovered-u-s-mothers-breast-milk/)


Taiwanese researchers have found that bee larvae exposed to trace amounts (10 ppb) of imidacloprid, one of the most widely used neonicotinoid insecticides, have impaired ability, as adults, to find their way home and to learn how to gather nectar. Also, adult bees treated with 50 ppb imidacloprid seem to show discomfort and cannot navigate back to their hives. ("Taiwanese scholars find new clues in bee disappearances," By Tseng Ya-chi, Liu Te-tsang and Scully Hsiao, Central News Agency, April 14, 2014; http://focustaiwan.tw/news/asoc/201404140034.aspx)

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