Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

The Good News
Organic Issues
Food Safety
Sludge
Environmental Chemicals
Bees and CCD
Fertilizers
Pesticides
Genetic Engineering


The Good News
Green Camden map

Citizens for a Green Camden has a powerful tool for encouraging town residents to pledge to have poison-free lawns: Their lawn can be colored green on a map that sits in the window of the town office and is on their website, www.citizensforagreencamden.org. The site also offers 10 Tips for a Natural Lawn and tells how lawn pesticides affect kids and pets. Citizens for a Green Camden received an Environmental Merit Award from the EPA for its contributions to problem solving and environmental awareness that led to passage of Camden's policy to eliminate the use of pesticides in parks and on playing fields.


The Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB) has posters saying, "Wanted: Green Slime Sightings," asking volunteers to report algae growing on mudflats that indicates nitrogen pollution and can kill organisms in and around the flats. Nitrogen runoff from lawn, garden and farm fertilizers contributes to the problem, as do vehicular and smokestack emissions and effluent from sewage treatment plants and septic systems. The FOCB BayScaping program, which partners with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, teaches Casco Bay watershed homeowners six simple steps to have lawns that don’t pollute. (“Wanted: Green slime sightings,” by Muriel L. Hendrix, The Working Waterfront, Sept. 2010; www.workingwaterfront.com/articles/Wanted-Green-slime-sightings/14033/printer-friendly/)


The Waldo County Area Local Food Guide, available free from the Unity College Office of Community-Based Learning (207-948-3131, ext. 273, jolin@unity.edu) and from MOFGA, connects area consumers with local farms and retailers selling local foods throughout Waldo County and bordering towns, and details farmers’ production methods. Support from the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce enabled the guide to include the coastal region.


“Gardens for Maine: Where to Share in Waldo County,” Nan Cobbey’s 2010 Master Gardener project, shows where gardeners can donate extra produce in Waldo County. It lists all pantries and soup kitchens with refrigeration and tells when those pantries can accept donations—often not the day the pantry is open to the public for pickup. The list is organized like a calendar so that on almost any day of the month, growers can see where to drop off extra produce. For a copy, contact nan@cobbey.com or 338-1198.


The new Food Justice Certified label guarantees fair prices to farmers, protection of children from hazardous farm work, and living wages plus respectful treatment for all food system workers. After a dozen years in development, the Agricultural Justice Project is launching this program across North America. The Farmer Direct Coop, 70 Saskatchewan grain farms marketing together, is the first group of farmers to earn the Food Justice label. Hoch Orchards, Featherstone Farm, the Bluff Country Coop, and the Midwest Organic Services Association also met the high bar for AJP certification as part of its pilot project over the past three years. The Food Justice label is available to farms and other food businesses from seed to table. It can be an additional claim along with certified organic or a stand-alone label for advanced integrated pest management farms. In New York state over the next year, farms will pilot a pledge version for small-scale direct market farms with limited hired labor. The standards are posted at www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org. For information, contact Sally Lee, Rural Advancement Foundation International, agjusticeproject@gmail.com, 919-623-9516. (E-mail, Oct. 11, 2010, Agricultural Justice Project Management Committee, Elizabeth Henderson, 585-764-8471, elizabethhenderson13@gmail.com or Sally Lee, 919-623-9516, agjusticeproject@gmail.com)


Ken Greene of Gardiner, N.Y., founded the Hudson Valley Seed Library three years ago using the library model: Members get seeds from the “library” each spring and are encouraged to give back seeds from mature plants each fall. Almost 700 members of the seed library pay $20 each annually for 10 seed packets that they select from 130 heirloom varieties—many produced locally. Greene’s goal is to keep New York heirlooms and their stories alive, and to find varieties that do well locally. Last year Greene learned that ‘New Yorker’ and ‘Fox’ cherry tomato had more late blight resistance than other varieties. The seed library sells to the public as well, offering “library packs” of locally grown seeds; “garden packs” of heirlooms bought from seed wholesalers; and “art packs” designed by local artists. (“A Seed Library for Heirloom Plants Thrives in the Hudson Valley,” by Joy Y. Wang, The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/garden/07seed.html)


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Organic Trade Association and its members in a case that would otherwise have prevented consumers in Ohio from knowing whether products on store shelves were produced without synthetic growth hormones. The court’s decision upholds consumers’ rights to receive truthful information about organic production practices, such as not giving cows synthetic recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, on dairy product labels. It also recognizes the rights of organic dairy farmers and processors to communicate truthfully with consumers regarding USDA regulated organic production practices. (“Organic dairy products produced free from synthetic growth 
hormones—Consumers Win Right to Know,” Organic Trade Assoc. press release, Sept. 30, 2010)


University of Maine researchers have found that shikimic acid, used to make the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, makes up 3.5 percent of the dry weight of white pine needles. They hope Maine’s forest products industry will be interested in developing a market for the acid, once the extraction technique—currently similar to brewing a tea from fresh needles—is refined. While all plants and bacteria produce the acid, few store it in a form that can be extracted. Star anise, with 6 percent shikimic acid, has been the source of the compound, but it grows in a limited area of China, so the compound has been expensive. Maine’s larch trees are also good sources of shikimic acid. UMaine researchers have also found that spruce trees are high in the antioxidant resveratrol. (“White pine needles help fight disease,” by Beth Quimby, The Kennebec Journal, Sept. 22, 2010; www.kjonline.com/news/maine-iconwhite-pineneedlesfightdisease_2010-09-21.html)


Preliminary results of USDA-funded research provide the first direct evidence that blueberries can help prevent harmful plaques that are symptomatic of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) from increasing in size in arteries. Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. The study compared the size, or area, of atherosclerotic lesions in 30 young laboratory mice. Half the animals were fed diets that contained 1 percent freeze-dried blueberry powder for 20 weeks; the diet of the other mice did not contain the berry powder.
Lesions at two sites on aorta were 39 and 58 percent smaller in mice that consumed blueberry powder. All mice in the study were deficient in apolipoprotein-E, a trait that makes them highly susceptible to forming atherosclerotic lesions. (“Blueberries Help Fight Artery Hardening, Lab Animal Study Indicates,” by Marcia Wood, USDA
Agricultural Research Service News Service, Sept. 29, 2010; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)


University of California researchers studied 238 children as they moved from fourth grade into middle school in the Berkeley Unified School District, with its School Lunch Initiative (SLI) co-created by the Chez Panisse Foundation in 2004. Compared with students from schools without integrated cooking and gardening curricula, the Berkeley students had greater nutritional knowledge; ate 1.5 more servings of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens; and had more positive attitudes about the taste and health value of school lunches. The study was too small to detect effects on academic test scores or body mass index. (“Berkeley's New School Food Study: A Victory for Alice Waters,” by Sarah Henry, The Atlantic, Sept. 2010;
www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/09/berkeleys-new-school-food-study-a-victory-for-alice-waters/63465/)


Washington State University researchers compared fruit and soil quality from 13 pairs of commercial organic and conventional strawberry farms in California, sampling the soil multiple times over two years and evaluating three varieties of strawberries. Organically grown strawberries had longer shelf life, more dry matter, antioxidant activity, ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds, but lower concentrations of phosphorus and potassium. Tasters found the organic ‘Diamante’ strawberries to be sweeter and have better flavor, overall acceptance, and appearance than conventional counterparts. The organically farmed soils had more total carbon and nitrogen, more microbial biomass and activity, greater concentrations of micronutrients, more endemic genes and greater functional gene abundance and diversity for several biogeochemical processes, such as nitrogen fixation and pesticide degradation. (“Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems,” by John P. Reganold et al., Sept. 1, 2010, PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346; www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012346)


Penn State researchers have found that chickens that forage in pastures produced eggs with twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, than eggs laid by caged hens. The hens did not forage enough to meet their requirements for energy and protein. At the end of the experiment, pastured hens weighed 14 percent less and averaged 15 percent lower egg production than commercial birds. Additional mash should increase weight and production but may also reduce omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin A and E concentrations in eggs. ("Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens," by Heather Karsten et al., Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Jan. 2010,. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?jid=RAF&volumeId=25&issueId=01&iid=7219008


British forester Linda Mallet says that alder brush farms in Nova Scotia could create biomass for energy, saving the province’s forests from clearcutting. Coppicing—cutting alders back and then letting them resprout—can produce chips on marginal farmland or industrial land. Sherwood Forest, says Mallet, has biomass fields that are fueling Britain’s power stations. (“An alder bush alternative for N.S.,” CBC News, July 9, 2010;
www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2010/07/09/ns-alder-bush-farms-biomass.html)


Researchers in Alabama are growing loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) to provide an ingredient for a potting substrate they call “WholeTree.” Soilless potting media used to grow nursery plants typically consists of Canadian peat moss, perlite (heat-expanded volcanic rock), vermiculite (a heat-expanded silicate mineral) and pine bark. The first three are energy intensive to harvest, prepare and ship, and pine bark availability depends on the stability of industries from which it is derived. WholeTree is made from the chipped bark, needles, wood and cones of pines harvested while thinning plantations. Chrysanthemums grown in WholeTree did as well as those grown in a WholeTree-peat moss mix and a peat moss-perlite mix. The researchers are also evaluating the use of WholeTree for cutting and seedling propagation of herbaceous perennial and woody ornamental crops and hope to study its use as a landscape soil amendment. ("Whole Tree: A More Sustainable, Environmentally Friendly Substrate,” by Stephanie Yao, Agricultural Research, Aug. 2010, www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug10/tree0810.htm)


As much as 12 percent of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be sustainably offset by producing biochar, a charcoal-like substance made from plants and other organic materials—more than could be offset if the same materials were burned to generate energy, says a study published in Nature Communications by soil chemist Jim Amonette and coworkers. Biochar is made by decomposing plants, wood and other organic materials at high temperature in a process called slow pyrolysis. Normally, biomass breaks down and releases carbon (C) into the atmosphere within a decade or two, but biochar is more stable and can hold onto its C for hundreds or thousands of years. Biochar can also increase the ability of soils to retain water and nutrients; decrease nitrous oxide and methane emissions from soil into which it is tilled; and, during pyrolysis, produce some bio-based gas and oil that can offset emissions from fossil fuels.

The researchers looked at world biomass sources that aren’t being used for food, such as corn leaves and stalks, rice husks, livestock manure and yard trimmings, and calculated the C content and quantity of each source that could realistically be used to make biochar. Using all sustainably available biomass could offset up to the equivalent of 1.8 billion metric tons of C emissions annually—a total of 130 billion metric tons in the first 100 years—or 12 percent of the 15.4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions that human activity adds to the atmosphere each year. Using biomass residues and wastes that are readily available, with few changes to current practices, could sequester just under 1 billion metric tons annually.

Instead of making biochar, burning the same amount of biomass to produce bioenergy from heat would offset 107 billion metric tons of C emissions during the first century—23 metric tons less than the offset from biochar. By improving soils, biochar increases plant growth and so creates more biomass for biochar production. The study showed that biochar would be most beneficial when tilled into the planet’s poorest soils, such as those in the tropics and the Southeastern United States.

The authors estimated avoided emissions by assuming no agricultural or previously unmanaged lands will be converted for biomass crop production; that enough biomass residue would remain on the soil to prevent erosion; that no crop residues currently eaten by livestock would be used; that no biochar made from treated building materials be added to agricultural soils; and that only modern pyrolysis technologies that fully recover energy released during the process and eliminate soot, methane and nitrous oxide emissions be used. “Roughly half of biochar’s climate-mitigation potential is due to its carbon storage abilities,” Amonette said. “The rest depends on the efficient recovery of the energy created during pyrolysis and the positive feedback achieved when biochar is added to soil. All of these are needed for biochar to reach its full sustainable potential.”

(“Charcoal takes some heat off global warming,” by Frances White, U.S. Dept. of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Aug. 10, 2010; www.pnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=813)


The Variable Input Crop Management System trials started in 1989 on 40 acres of the Elwell Agroecology Farm at the University of Minnesota substantiate the long‐term productivity of organic systems. Alfalfa yields were highest and least variable with organic management. Oat yields and yield variability were similar for organic and high‐input systems. Corn yields with a 4‐year organic rotation were among the highest and least variable. The challenge in organic management will be to increase soybean yield and reduce variability in soybean yield across years. (“Long­term Cropping Trials at Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) Demonstrate Positive Effects of Organic Production,” by Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator, Univ. of Minnesota. Data presented by Dr. Jeff Coulter at U of M Organic Field Day, July 8, 2010; presentation posted at www.organicecology.umn.edu)


The Whole Foods Market annual Food Shopping Trends Tracker survey conducted online in June found that organic foods are increasingly impacting consumers' shopping choices. For example, in 2010:
  • 75 percent of adults purchase natural and/or organic foods (73 percent in 2009)
  • for 27 percent of adults, more than a quarter of their total food purchases are organic
  • (20 percent in 2009)
  • 84 percent say they read nutrition labels more closely today and 83 percent understand better how their food is produced than they did in 1980.
The top five foods that shoppers strived to have on hand in 1980 were milk (89 percent); canned or frozen vegetables (83 percent); white bread and soda/pop (74 percent); iceberg lettuce (66 percent). Those shifted by 2010 to fresh fruit (83 percent); milk (82 percent); fresh vegetables (79 percent); wheat or whole-grain bread (77 percent); canned or frozen vegetables (69 percent). (“National Survey Shows Organic Foods Now Represent Larger Part of Total Food Purchases,” PRNewswire, Aug. 16, 2010; www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-survey-shows-organic-foods-now-represent-larger-part-of-total-food-purchases-100749604.html)


Organic Issues

A U.S. appeals court has ruled that Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and other retailers, and Aurora Dairy of Boulder, Colorado, must face a federal lawsuit accusing them of selling milk mislabeled as organic. (“Wal-Mart, Target Must Face Organic Milk Label Suit,” by Andrew M. Harris, Businessweek, Sept. 15, 2010; www.businessweek.com/news/2010-09-15/wal-mart-target-must-face-organic-milk-label-suit.html)


In 2009, Dean Foods stopped buying organic soybeans and began marketing its Silk product line as “natural.” Some retailers were not informed of the change and continued to inaccurately market Silk products as "organic." Now Whole Foods Market has decided to shift its soymilk offerings back toward organic by bringing in a new branded organic soymilk partner, Earth Balance. Whole Foods told the Denver Post in August 2010 that it wanted Earth Balance’s soymilk products to contain only U.S.-grown, organic soybeans. Other soymilk manufacturers hope to meet U.S. consumers’ demand for organic products, as well. The Cornucopia Institute’s soy foods scorecard, on its website, rates soy products on the integrity of their production, including whether brands buy from U.S. family farmers or from China. (“Not Crying over Spilt Soymilk,” press release, The Cornucopia Institute, Sept. 7, 2010; www.cornucopia.org)

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Food Safety

The Cornucopia Institute (www.cornucopia.org) report “Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture” rates how various egg brands are produced in accordance with federal organic standards and consumer expectations. Cornucopia co-director Mark A. Kastel says “a high percentage of the eggs on the market should be labeled ‘produced with organic feed’ rather than bearing the USDA-certified organic logo" because of “no legitimate access to the outdoors.” Cornucopia has filed legal complaints against several poultry companies that offer birds no access to the outdoors or just very small, enclosed porches. The best producers with permanent housing profiled in Scrambled Eggs have plenty of pasture surrounding their chicken houses, multiple popholes (doors) of adequate size, and rotate birds into separate paddocks, allowing time for the pasture to recover. Laying hens on pasture-based farms tend to be less stressed due to greater opportunity to exercise and engage in instinctive foraging behaviors that reduce aggression toward flock mates. They frequently live closer to three years instead of one, as is common on industrial-scale farms. A growing body of scientific literature, says Cornucopia, confirms the nutritional superiority of eggs when birds can eat fresh forage, seeds, worms and insects.


In June 2010, the Environmental Law Foundation (“ELF”) filed Notices of Violation of California Proposition 65 Toxics Right to Know law, alleging that lead was found in a variety of children’s and baby foods, including apple juice, grape juice, packaged pears and peaches (including baby food) and fruit cocktail. The notices claim that the foods contain enough lead in a single serving that they require a warning under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (“Proposition 65”). The notices were based on tests of 398 samples of 146 different branded products in five categories. Samples were purchased throughout California. A list of products tested, noting whether or not they exceeded Prop 65's warning threshold, is on ELF’s website. (“Lead Found in Children’s Foods and Baby Foods; Legal Notices Sent to Law Enforcement,” Environmental Law Foundation, June 10, 2010; www.envirolaw.org)


The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA to change the ingredient name “high fructose corn syrup” to “corn sugar,” because, according to an interview with the Association in The New York Times, the former term confuses consumers. (“A New Name for High-Fructose Corn Syrup,” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times,
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/a-new-name-for-high-fructose-corn-syrup/?hpw)

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Sludge

Compost made from sewage sludge from the Synagro CVC plant and distributed free to gardeners since 2007 by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is contaminated with known and suspected endocrine-disrupting compounds, including polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, nonylphenol detergent breakdown products, and the antibacterial agent triclosan. Research has shown that triclosan from sewage sludge can be absorbed and translocated by soybean plants. Half of all U.S. sewage sludge is applied to farmland. San Francisco temporarily stopped giving away sludge in March 2010. (“Independent Scientific Testing Finds Toxic Contaminants in San Francisco's Free 'Organic Biosolids Compost,'” PR Newswire, Aug. 10, 2010; www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/independent-scientific-testing-finds-toxic-contaminants-in-san-franciscos-free-organic-biosolids-compost-100335484.html)


A Canadian government-funded study found that 24 of 82 pharmaceutical and household cleaning products tested are not completely broken down by waste treatment processes and remain in “biosolids” (sludge) spread on fields or used in land reclamation. Bisphenol A was in 86 percent of samples; triclocarban, an antibacterial in soap and disinfectant, was in all samples, as was Carbamazepine, a mood stabilizing drug. Other contaminants included antibiotics, fragrance compounds, antifungal materials and painkillers. Safe levels have not been set for most of the detected products, and their impact on soil organisms is unknown. (“Chemicals survive waste treatment to be released into environment: study,” by Bob Weber, Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 18, 2010; www.winnipegfreepress.com/life/sci_tech/chemicals-survive-waste-treatment-to-be-released-into-environment-study-104965919.html)

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Environmental Chemicals

The new, sixth edition of a report from the Breast Cancer Fund, “State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment,” catalogs the growing evidence linking breast cancer to, among other factors, synthetic hormones in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and meat; pesticides in food; solvents in household cleaning products; BPA in food containers; flame retardants in furniture; and radiation from medical treatments. The report highlights impacts on the most vulnerable populations (including infants, pregnant women, African-American women and workers), and outlines policy initiatives required to develop a national breast cancer prevention plan. This report comes just months after the President’s Cancer Panel report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” whose lead authors found that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. The report leveled a hefty critique of failed regulation, undue industry influence, and inadequate research and funding. It also found that the government has been locked in a cancer-fighting paradigm that has failed to look at the complexity of cancer causation and, in so doing, has missed the opportunity to create a national campaign for cancer prevention. (“New Report Catalogues Chemical and Radiation Links to Breast Cancer,” press release, Breast Cancer Fund, Oct. 1, 2010; www.breastcancerfund.org/evidence)

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Bees and CCD

A combination of a fungus and a virus that proliferate in cool, damp weather and that affect bee guts may be linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Researchers found the virus and fungus in every killed colony they studied. Neither organism alone seems to devastate, but the two together seem to be 100 percent fatal, according to an article in The New York Times. Neither the Times article nor the study mentioned that the lead author, Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, has a significant research grant from Bayer Crop Science to study bee pollination. Bayer makes neonicotinoid insecticides, which some suspect are a cause of CCD. Also, Bromenshenk's company, Bee Alert Technology, is developing scanners to detect bee ailments. Reporter Katherine Eban notes that the company “will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees.” (“Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery,” by Kirk Johnson, The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/science/07bees.html?hpw; “What a scientist didn't tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths,” by Katherine Eban, Fortune, Oct. 8, 2010; http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/honey_bees_ny_times.fortune/index.htm; “Bayer behind the curtain on latest CCD claims?” Pesticide Action Network, Oct. 13, 2010; www.panna.org/blog/bayer-behind-curtain-latest-ccd-claims)

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Fertilizers

For decades, scientists have believed that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer promotes crop photosynthesis and growth and therefore increases soil organic matter (OM) through increased crop residues. Now, University of Illinois researchers say that synthetic N use actually reduces soil OM by stimulating microbial populations that feed on OM. This triggers a treadmill in which even more N fertilizer is needed as less OM is available to hold nitrogen (and other nutrients, and water and carbon). The end result is more erosion and runoff; more nitrous oxide and CO2 in the atmosphere; more compacted soils; and a greater dependence on irrigation and even more synthetic nitrogen. The researchers reached these conclusions after studying data from the university’s Morrow plots, which have been cultivated continuously since 1876. They noted soil organic carbon rising for the first several decades due to livestock manure applications but dropping after 1967, as synthetic N fertilizers were substituted. (“New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health,” by Tom Philpott, Grist, Feb. 23, 2010; www.grist.org/article/2010-02-23-new-research-synthetic-nitrogen-destroys-soil-carbon-undermines-/)


A 2006 study by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) says runoff from the greater Mississippi Basin accounted for 70 percent of the nitrate pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. These nitrates (and phosphates) come from agricultural states that receive tens of billions in taxpayer dollars supporting commodity corn, soy and similar operations concentrated in the upper Midwest. The EWG notes that in areas with the worst runoff, subsidies that promote soil loss can be 1,000 times greater, or more, than those that promote soil conservation and clean water. A 1999 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that more than 50 percent of nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi Basin could be eliminated by such measures as creating and restoring wetlands and riparian ecosystems between farmland and streams and rivers, reflooding former wetlands throughout the region, and retaining or diverting floodwaters to their historic backwater and coastal wetland destinations. The EPA has proposed a 45 percent reduction in nitrate runoff to the Gulf by 2015. The NOAA says this can be done by conventional means. Jack Bradigan Spula of the Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council asks, why stop at 50 percent?

“[W]hy not set a target of, say, a 75-80 percent reduction over the coming years? A huge additional reduction in problematic runoff could be achieved by going organic”—by using practices advocated by the Rodale Institute: converting cropland to organic agriculture to increase soil organic matter, which holds nutrients and water; growing more nutrient-retaining crops; returning cropland to pasture; and growing more multi-year forage crops.

“Something in that [75 to 80 percent] range should be attainable if organic becomes… the new normal… of U.S. agriculture,” says Spula. (“Saving the Gulf the Right Way…By Going Organic,” by Jack Bradigan Spula, article forwarded by Elizabeth Henderson for the NOFA Interstate Council, Sept. 3, 2010)

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Pesticides

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, causes malformed frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in EU-approved products, according to research by Professor Andrés Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School and member of Argentina's National Council of Scientific and Technical Research, and coworkers. Carrasco studied embryonic effects of glyphosate because high rates of birth defects were reported, beginning in 2002, in rural areas of Argentina where Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans began to be grown two years earlier. Carrasco said, "The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy. I suspect the toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low. In some cases this can be a powerful poison." Amnesty International reported in August 2010 that when Carrasco spoke about his research in the town of La Leonesa, Chaco province, an organized mob violently attacked listeners. Witnesses implicated local agro-industry figures in the attack. (“Groundbreaking study shows Roundup link to birth defects,” Sept. 16, 2010; www.gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12491; Paganelli, A., Gnazzo, V., Acosta, H., López, S.L., Carrasco, A.E. 2010. Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signalling. Chem. Res. Toxicol., Aug. 9, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx1001749; "GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?" by Andrés Carrasco et al., Sept. 16, 2010; www.gmo-free-regions.org/conference2010/press.html)


Organic growers in Whatcom County, Washington, say that severe damage to their crops seems to be linked to the herbicide aminopyralid (sold as Milestone and other brand names), which contaminated manure and compost coming from non-organic farms, where it is used to control weeds in pastures and in fields where silage crops are grown. Aminopyralid passes through cows when they consume silage and remains in their manure. Some organic growers estimate they’ve lost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the contamination. Jason Kelly of the Washington State Department of Agriculture said that lab tests pointing to aminopyralid in these cases have been inconclusive so far. The herbicide is known to be able to harm crops. (“Herbicide-tainted manure wilts organic crops across Whatcom County,” by John Stark, The Bellingham Herald, Aug. 1, 2010; http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2010/08/01/1549538/herbicide-tainted-manure-wilts.html)


The insecticide and miticide aldicarb (Temik), made by Bayer CropScience, will be phased out by the end of 2014, because EPA’s new risk assessment shows that it does not meet dietary safety standards, especially for infants and young children. Temik is used on citrus, coffee, cotton, dry beans, peanuts, potatoes, sugar beats, tobacco and other crops. Manufacturing the active ingredient, aldicarb, involves using methyl isocyanate, the chemical that leaked from Union Carbide's Bhopal, India, plant in 1984, with devastating consequences. (“EPA Confirms Phase-Out of Key Bayer Pesticide,” by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette, Aug. 16, 2010; http://wvgazette.com/News/201008160658)


A study published in June 2010 showed that U.S. children whose urine had higher concentrations of organophosphate pesticide metabolites were more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than those with lower concentrations. Another study—of children of Mexican American women born in the Salinas Valley in California, where pesticides are heavily used—also correlates pesticide exposure, especially prenatally, with increased susceptibility to ADHD. Five-year-olds had a 500 percent increase in ADHD diagnosis when their mothers had 10 times as much dialkyl phosphate (DAP) metabolites in their urine during pregnancy as other mothers. Organophosphate pesticides disrupt neurotransmitters that are critical for brain development and memory. (“More Evidence Organophosphate Pesticides Raise ADHD Risk in Children,” by Caroline Helwick, Medscape Medical News, Aug. 20, 2010; www.medscape.com/viewarticle/727225; Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Attention in Young Mexican-American Children, Amy R. Marks et al., Environ Health Perspectives, Aug. 19, 2010; http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1002056)

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Genetic Engineering

In August 2010, Federal District Judge Jeffrey White of California, issued a ruling granting the request of plaintiffs Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club to rescind USDA approval of GE Roundup Ready sugar beets, since the USDA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by approving Monsanto’s GE crop without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. The ruling prohibited any future planting and sale pending USDA’s compliance with NEPA and all other relevant laws. Judge White noted that USDA's "errors are not minor or insignificant,” he expressed "concern that Defendants are not taking this process seriously," and he noted that "despite the fact that the statutes at issue are designed to protect the environment," USDA and the sugar beet industry focused on the economic consequences to themselves, yet "failed to demonstrate that serious economic harm would be incurred pending a full economic review...." When beet farmers planted stecklings (rootstock for seed production) in the fall of 2010, after getting permits from USDA, plaintiffs in the previous case—the Center for Food Safety, et al.—asked the judge to order that the rootstock be dug up. Stecklings are normally dug in winter and replanted in spring to produce seed. Hearings on the case were ongoing as we went to press. (“Plaintiffs want bio-beet stecklings uprooted,” by Wes Sander, Capital Press, Oct. 5, 2010; www.capitalpress.com/newest/ws-sugar-beets-100810; “Federal Court Rescinds USDA Approval of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets,” Press Release, The Center for Food Safety, Aug. 13, 2010;
http://truefoodnow.org/2010/09/09/farmers-and-conservationists-file-suit-challenging-usda-attempt-to-sidestep-court-ban-on-genetically-engineered-sugar-beets/; “Judge sets hearing on beet stecklings,” by Wes Sander, Oct. 25, 2010; http://capitalpress.blogspot.com/2010/10/judge-sets-hearing-on-beet-stecklings.html)


Monsanto stock share price fell from a peak near $145 in 2008 to $47.77 in October 2010—including a 42 percent drop since the beginning of 2010. Its GE SmartStax corn, with eight inserted genes, was not yielding any higher than its less expensive corn with three inserted genes, and its Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean seed sales have been lower than expected after disappointing yields in 2009. At the same time, China released less expensive generic versions of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—even as weeds become increasingly resistant to the product. Also, Monsanto is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible antitrust violations. Monsanto plans to lower the cost of SmartStax corn for farmers next year and to offer more varieties with fewer engineered genes, since some farmers say they don’t need all eight genes and don’t want to pay for them. (“Monsanto’s Fortunes Turn Sour,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, Oct. 4, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/business/05monsanto.html)


The Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio includes 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock worth an estimated $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010—a substantial increase over its previous holdings, valued at just over $360,000. Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington professor emeritus and expert on genetic engineering, sees this as problematic because of Monsanto’s “appalling environmental track record” and its historic disregard for the interests and wellbeing of small farmers worldwide. The Gates Foundation connections to Monsanto represent a conflict of interest and cast doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers, adds Bereano. Monsanto’s GE corn failed to produce kernels in South Africa in 2009, leaving small-scale farmers with almost no crop. (“Gates Foundation Invests in Monsanto,” by Travis English and Brenda Biddle, AGRA Watch, August 25, 2010; www.seattleglobaljustice.org/agra-watch)


Entities linked to the private security firm Blackwater (now Xe Services) worked not just for U.S. and foreign governments but also for corporations, including Monsanto. Blackwater, founded and owned by Erik Prince, coordinated with Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS)—also owned by Prince. Monsanto hired TIS from 2008 to 2010 to report on groups or individuals that could pose a risk to the company. (“Blackwater's Black Ops,” by Jeremy Scahill, The Nation, Sept. 15, 2010; www.thenation.com/article/154739/blackwaters-black-ops)


An insecticidal protein called Cry(12A)b, produced by a bacterial gene inserted into GE corn, has been found in numerous streams in Indiana. The engineered corn debris was found in 86 percent of the 217 sites sampled; the insecticidal Cry(12A)b proteins were found in 13 percent of the sites. (“GM maize 'has polluted rivers across the United States,’” by Steve Connor, The Independent, Sept. 28, 2010; www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/gm-maize-has-polluted-rivers-across-the-united-states-2091300.html)


Researchers found in North Dakota the first evidence of established populations of GE plants in the wild. Of 406 canola plants growing alongside North Dakota roads, 347 (86 percent) tested positive for the CP4 EPSPS protein for glyphosate herbicide tolerance or the PAT protein for glufosinate herbicide tolerance. Two plants had multiple transgenes, even though varieties with multiple transgenic traits are not commercially available—suggesting that wild plants are reproducing and have become established outside of cultivation. (“Scientists find the new evidence of genetically modified plants in the wild,” Ecological Soc. of Amer., Aug. 6, 2010; www.esa.org/pao/newsroom/press2010/08062010.php)


Planting GE Bt corn kills enough European corn borers that non-Bt cornfields are also losing less corn to borers, according to a study by Paul Mitchell and coworkers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Mitchell found that using GE corn saved farmers in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska $6.9 billion over 14 years, and that some two-thirds of the savings came from fields where farmers did not plant the expensive, GE Bt corn. Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated that the savings were modest—only about 3 percent of the total value of the corn crop in the five states. (“GMO corn: An organic farmer's best friend?,” October 8, 2010, Los Angeles Times; http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/10/genetically-modified-crops-corn-agriculture-economics-borer.html)


Silkworms engineered to contain spider DNA at the University of Notre Dame are spinning silk that, according to scientists there, is twice as strong, finer and more elastic than natural silkworm fibers. Possible commercial uses include surgical sutures, healing bandages, ligament repair, bulletproof vests, athletic clothing and automobile airbags.
Silkworms produce much more silk than spiders. The researchers say the worms are contained in a lab and, if they did escape, could not survive outdoors. (“Tough new fiber a breakthrough,” by Margaret Fosmoe, South Bend Tribune, Sept. 30, 2010; www.southbendtribune.com/article/20100930/News01/9300330)


A panel convened by the FDA deferred recommending approval of the first GE animal for sale as food in the U.S. The agency agreed to publish an environmental assessment and open a 30-day comment period before approving "AquAdvantage" salmon, a fish engineered to grow faster on less feed. FDA had already accepted industry-supplied studies that the fish will not be "materially" different from other salmon, and thus is safe to eat. The research was submitted by AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts company that's developed the animal. Still at issue is whether the fish must be labeled as genetically engineered. AquaBounty plans to produce its salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, raise the fish inland in Panama, and sell the product in the United States. The company claims the altered fish will lower food costs. Critics say the promised benefits are unlikely. Just as Roundup Ready corn and soy and Bt cotton have profited Monsanto but neither farmers nor consumers, GE salmon will take livelihoods away from those who fish for salmon in the wild as well as other fish farmers, and retail costs will change little if at all, say critics. Furthermore, the GE salmon threatens the survival of endangered wild salmon, should the faster-growing fish escape. A recent UN study of global agriculture concluded that agroecology will likely do more to end world hunger than biotech "solutions.” Products like GE salmon transfer more control to giant corporations at the expense of farmers, fisherfolk and local economies. (“GE salmon deferred,” Pesticide Action Network News, Sept. 22, 2010; www.panna.org)

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MOF&G Cover Winter 2010-2011