The MOF&G Online
Pre-Sowing Carrot Seed on Toilet PaperA reader asked for details about sowing carrot seeds on toilet paper, mentioned in Effie Elfer’s feature, "Agricultural Systems in an Old Believers’ Village in Siberia" (The MOF&G, Sept.-Nov. 2004). Here they are:
In the winter Larissa [Elfer’s host] makes seed mats for her carrots by wetting toilet paper with a light coat of flour and water--like making a paper mache paste. She then spaces individual seeds on the paper and allows the "glue" to dry. In the spring, she just wets the paper and lays it in the soil, covered slightly. This method of seeding saves labor and time. The carrot seeds are not wasted by planting too many and later thinning. Labor is saved by not having to thin, and the carrots grow larger because they don’t have to compete for space from the start.
--Effie Elfer. ©2005. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
Taste of Success Conference, Services Support Maine Food Producers
Maine's 600-plus value-added food producers stand to benefit from a new statewide initiative to increase success for Maine's small and micro enterprises engaged in food production. Goals of the initiative include a stronger industry association, a virtual learning community, expanded one-on-one business counseling and a full-day conference on April 26 in Augusta.
Called "Taste of Success," the initiative is funded by a $200,000 Maine Micro Enterprise Initiative grant awarded to three partnering organizations, Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community (WWC), The Maine Small Business Development Centers (Maine SBDC), and the Maine Gourmet and Specialty Food Producers Association.
"The grant's targeted services will boost the productivity of this already growing Maine industry," according to Eloise Vitelli, WWC Director of Program and Policy Development. Citing a recent University of Maine study, Vitelli said, "Most value-added food producers are rural micro enterprises, employing fewer than 10 full time employees." They include producers of over 200 products, including baked goods, beverages, condiments, jams and jellies, seafood and meats, pickles and other vegetables. In the University of Maine study, almost half of the businesses surveyed indicated an interest in expanding their product line. They also cited access to technical assistance as an important need.
The project will create local networks in four to six rural regions, reach as many as 120 new and existing micro businesses through the April 26 conference, provide intensive counseling to 50 existing businesses, and establish a peer-to-peer networking and training initiative using state-of-the art online technologies. The project will also build capacity within the Maine Gourmet and Specialty Food Producers Association (MGSFPA), expanding membership and improving member services, including increased opportunities for participation in the annual New England Products Trade Show.
Maine SBDC and WCC have 20 years of experience collaborating together, and both are statewide organizations serving micro entrepreneurs from a network of community-based sites. The MGSFPA is a 17-year-old organization with a statewide membership of over 60 value-added food producers. The Maine Micro Enterprise Fund is administered by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
To learn more about Taste of Success, go to www.maine.sbdc.org and click on portal. Enter the user i.d. tosuser and the password guest. Project partners may also be contacted: Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community, 1-800-442-2092; Maine Small Business Development Centers, 1-800-679-SBDC; and Maine Gourmet & Specialty Food Producers, 207-763-2779.
New England Field Representative Joins AFT Staff
To enhance its farmland conservation work in New England, American Farmland Trust (AFT) has hired Jesse Robertson-DuBois as its New England Field Representative. Robertson-DuBois will work with local officials, agricultural landowners and conservation organizations in New England on projects that support farmland conservation, environmental stewardship, farm viability and planning related to agriculture.
Robertson-DuBois has worked for AFT’s national Farmland Information Center since 1999, monitoring state and local farmland protection activities, conducting farmland protection policy research, and educating local officials, landowners and citizens about farmland protection techniques. He earned his degree from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where he studied agricultural and environmental history with additional coursework in regional planning.
Robertson-DuBois also operates a diversified family farm with his wife and brother, raising certified organic vegetables and grass-fed livestock products for local customers. Their farm is permanently protected from development by an agricultural preservation restriction held by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Robertson-DuBois can be reached at 413-586-4593 ext. 21 or email@example.com.
A recent study shows that Americans throw out nearly half of their food. Discarded table scraps and rotted food in the back of the fridge add up to an average of $590 in wasted food per family per year, or roughly $43 billion nationally. According to United Nations' figures, America's wasted food would feed over 10% of the world's 835 million starving people. Researchers point out that reducing waste by freezing, canning or eating leftovers would also reduce the amount of land under chemically-intensive cultivation, reduce landfill input, reduce methane (a potent greenhouse gas), and save money for consumers.
Source: Organic Bytes #46, 12/17/2004; www.organicconsumers.org/organicbytes.htm.
Organic Milk Has More Omega-3s and Other Nutrients
Organic milk contains 71% more omega-3 essential fatty acid than ordinary milk, according to research at Aberdeen University. Omega-3 helps maintain a healthy heart, supple and flexible joints, healthy growth, and strong bones and teeth. The increase in organic milk comes from the higher ratio of clover that organic cows consume. Organic cheese may be an even better source of omega-3 than milk.
Jamie Robertson, livestock projects manager at Aberdeen, said: "Polyunsaturated fats are broken down into two groups, omega-3 and omega-6, and ideally an equal ratio should be consumed. Most people in the UK eat too much omega-6 and are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, therefore drinking organic milk could redress the balance." (Source: www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live /articles/health/dietfitness.html? in_article_id= 330120&in_page_id=1798; 9/12/04.)
Likewise, research in the United Kingdom showed that organically reared cows, which eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk that is on average 50% higher in vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), 75% higher in beta carotene (which our bodies convert to vitamin A) and two to three times higher in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthine than non-organic milk. (www.soilassociation.org/)
Free-Range Pork Favored for Flavor
The Boston Globe recently ran a feature on the increasing number of farmers producing free-range pork. Their product is finding favor with restaurant chefs who prize the meat for its flavor and are willing to pay a premium to obtain it. According to the article, the pork industry carried the quest for a leaner pig too far, to the point where the meat became dry and tasteless, and production methods stress the pigs, all detracting from pork's flavor. The feature includes stories on the production of Berkshire hogs for premium pork, and a look at local prices for free-range and natural pork brands.
Sources: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 8, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; www.boston.com/ ae/food/articles/2004/12/01/ putting_flavor_back_into_pork/ Related ATTRA publication: Hog Production Alternatives
Growing a Better Homeowner
Can anything be more satisfying to the suburban homeowner than a fertile carpet of green grass? How about a healthy landscape grown without excessive use of pesticides, fertilizers and water? This is the message a new campaign called YardScaping will bring to homeowners and landscapers this spring.
The campaign also hopes to shed light on the statistical dark side of the yard obsession: In 2001, 1.8 million pounds of yard care pesticides were brought into Maine. This figure has more than doubled since 1995 and coincides with a triple explosion in the number of yard care companies in Maine in the last seven years.
The YardScaping initiative formed out of rising concern among state agencies and other organizations over possible pollution caused by yard care chemicals washing into water bodies and the risks of pesticide exposure to people, pets and wildlife. Gary Fish, a member of the YardScaping coalition and certification specialist at the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, knows how deep the pursuit for the perfect yard can go after working for the nation's largest yard care company. "YardScaping hopes to change the way people think about their yards," he says. "We hope to grow a better homeowner, so to speak."
A "better" yard lover would lower the bar on perfection, accept a few weeds and insects, leave grass clippings, reduce the size of the lawn, consider groundcovers in shady areas, add vegetative buffers around sensitive areas like lakes, to name a few actions. To help spread the word about the program at the neighborhood level, property owners who have a YardScape or pledge to grow one can display a weather resistant YardScaping sign in their yards--much like the ones used by commercial lawn care companies after pesticides are applied.
The coalition is also developing its first YardScaping demonstration site. Working with the city of Portland, a public area has been selected for the site along the Back Cove. Once completed in 2006, it will showcase appropriate plantings in a beautiful, homeowner-doable way, plus serve as a model for municipalities across the state. The demonstration is funded in part by a $35,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Key YardScaping partners include the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Congress of Lake Associations, Friends of Casco Bay, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Southern Maine Community College, City of Portland, and landscape companies and nursery owners.
For more information on YardScaping, contact the Board of Pesticides Control at 207-287-2731.
Bayer Backs Out of GE in India
Greenpeace India announced in November 2004 that Bayer Crop Science has ended efforts to commercialize genetically engineered (GE) crops in India. Bayer's announcement came after weeks of protests, including an 11-hour protest in Mumbai, during which Greenpeace activists chained themselves to Bayer headquarters and unfurled banners proclaiming, "Bayer Poisons Our Food." Bayer's intention to withdraw from GE research in India was expressed in a letter to the environmental organization on November 4, 2004, in which the agrochemical giant admitted that "the future lies in conventional breeding." Greenpeace termed Bayer's withdrawal "an admission of immense significance for the entire genetic engineering industry." Bayer, a leading agrochemical company, holds 22% of the market share in the Indian pesticides industry, with 52 products, including formulations.
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India disclosed earlier in 2004 that Pro Agro (a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer) had conducted field trials of cabbage and cauliflower that were genetically modified with the controversial Cry9C gene. This gene is one of a family of crystalline (Cry) endotoxin proteins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring soil bacterium. The Bt gene is inserted into GE crops to kill pests by disrupting their digestive system. Because Cry9C is less affected by heat than other Cry proteins and resists degradation by gastric juices, it is considered likely to cause allergic reactions in humans and was certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as unfit for human consumption.
The Cry9C gene protein is present in StarLink corn, which was widely grown in the United States for animal feed and industrial purposes and in 2000 was found in 300 corn food products in U.S. grocery stores. The contamination caused massive recalls and lawsuits that may ultimately cost Aventis, StarLink’s developer and a subsidiary of Bayer, as much as $1 billion in damages.
In the last few years, the Bush Administration has moved to loosen U.S. regulations regarding contamination of food with experimental genetic material, reducing the liability of biotech companies for transgenic contamination. On November 19, 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new guidance for industry that would allow companies to voluntarily consult with the FDA in order to have their experimental biotech traits deemed "acceptable" as contaminants in food. The draft guidance states, "FDA believes that any potential risk from the low level presence of such material in the food supply would be limited to the possibility that it would contain or consist of a new protein that might be an allergen or toxin."
Friends of the Earth and others argue that no level of this contaminant is safe, noting that after StarLink was found in the food supply, expert scientific advisors to the EPA concluded, "there was no minimal level of StarLink's Cry9C insecticidal protein that could be judged safe for human consumption."
While FDA regulations may encourage GE experimentation in the United States, difficulties encountered by biotech companies in other parts of the world appear to be having an effect. Bayer’s retreat from testing GE crops in India is only its most recent demur. In March the company pulled out of GE crop research in the United Kingdom, and in June it dropped plans to commercialize GE canola in Australia. Monsanto has also limited its research and testing of GE foods, discontinuing plans for GE wheat in the United States and Canada and for GE canola in Australia.
Greenpeace credits consumers for this turnaround. "It is clear that popular resistance to genetic engineering is not diminishing as the industry had hoped it would," said Doreen Stabinsky of Greenpeace International. "No matter what country we're talking about, consumers are on the same page. They don't want to eat genetically engineered food. That's good news for farmers and good news for the environment."
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Dec. 20, 2004, www.panna.org; "Giving Up on GE: Greenpeace Exposes Truth About Bayer’s Crop Science," Nov. 15, 2004, Greenpeace India, www.greenpeace.org/india_en/; Coalition against BAYER-dangers, www.CBGnetwork.org; "FDA Proposes Draft Guidance for Industry for New Plant Varieties Intended for Food Use," Nov. 29, 2004, www.fda.gov/ bbs/topics/ANSWERS/2004/ANS01327.html; Friends of the Earth, Briefing Paper, Nov. 2004, www.foe.org. Contact: PANNA, Greenpeace India, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Study Warns of Risks of GM Pharmaceutical Crops
For more than a decade, corn, soybeans and other food crops genetically engineered to produce drugs, vaccines and industrial chemicals have been grown on American farms. A Union of Concerned Scientists' report by agricultural experts now warns that the food supply is vulnerable to contamination by these "pharmaceutical crops" unless substantial changes are made in how these crops are grown and managed. The UCS convened the panel of experts to determine whether pharmaceuticals can be produced in such familiar food crops as corn or soybean (the plants most often used for pharmaceutical production) without contaminating human food or animal feed. The panel—acting independently of UCS—analyzed the current system for growing food- and feed-grade corn and soybeans and identified many points where drugs and plastics could pass to the food supply if pharmaceutical crops were grown under the same system. After evaluating ways to block contamination at those points, the panel concluded that the current corn and soybean production system cannot be used for pharmaceutical corn and soybean in the United States while ensuring virtually no contamination of the food and feed system.
Monsanto Fined Over Bribes in Indonesia
The U.S. Department of Justice has revealed that Monsanto paid more than US $700,000 in illegal bribes to Indonesian officials, including $50,000 to an environmental ministry employee to forestall environmental reviews of the company's genetically engineered (GE) cotton. These payments did not lift controls on Monsanto's GE cotton in Indonesia but did result in criminal and civil charges against Monsanto in U.S. courts under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits bribing foreign officials.
On January 6, 2005, Monsanto and the Justice Department announced that Monsanto would pay penalties and fines of US $1.5 million to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Monsanto will also submit to independent audits of its business practices for the next three years. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, companies paying bribes to foreign officials can be fined a maximum of $2 million for each violation, and responsible corporate executives can face up to five years in prison.
Monsanto accounts for 91% of GE food and fiber crops sown worldwide. Herbicide resistance represents 77% of all GE plantings. Herbicide tolerant crops allow farmers to spray broad-spectrum herbicides to control weeds while leaving crops unharmed. A January 2004 report found that farmers growing herbicide resistant crops in the U.S. incrementally spray more herbicides to keep up with increasingly resistant weeds.
In addition to fiber, GE cotton provides cottonseed oil for a variety of foods, including cooking oils, salad dressing, peanut butter, chips, crackers, cookies and pastries.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Jan. 11, 2005, www.panna.org; St. Louis Post Dispatch, Jan. 6, 2005; Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2004; BBC News, Jan. 7, 2005; Greenpeace International Genetic Engineering Campaign, www.greenpeace.org; "Impact of GE Crops on Pesticide Use in the U.S.," Ag BioTech Info, www.biotech-info.net/technicalpaper6.html.
International Organic Movement Fights GMOs
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) participated at the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) World Conservation Congress in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2004 to facilitate passing a motion requesting IUCN to substantiate the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on biodiversity. Increasingly, organic agriculture, which fundamentally excludes GMOs, is gaining recognition by governments and NGOs for its positive effects on biodiversity and nature conservation, and IFOAM is playing a leading role in making that connection.
Major parts of IUCN general assembly were devoted to some 120 motions and recommendations. The most controversial asked for a moratorium on the release of GMOs until their safety can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt and was approved by both the governmental and the NGO chamber with a total of over 70% yes votes.
IFOAM had submitted a separate motion requesting that IUCN undertake significant work on the impact of GMOs on biodiversity and develop a plan to guide its members on this issue. This motion also was approved from both chambers, with almost unanimous NGO support (181 Yes and 4 No).
Bernward Geier from IFOAM expressed excitement about these landmark decisions and breakthrough for the struggle to protect nature and its biodiversity against the invasive impact of GMOs by noting that "... this clear positioning and mandate of IUCN's membership is a strong signal to governments and the genetic engineering multinational corporations that not only the concern, but the opposition to this high risk technology continues to grow."
Americans Divided on GM Foods But Favor Regulation
A new study from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology finds that Americans' attitudes about genetically modified (GM) foods remain divided, although their opinions appear not be deeply held and can be influenced by new information and events. The analysis, developed from a survey and focus groups, also shows that regardless of their attitudes about GM food, a majority of Americans support a strong regulatory system for GM foods, and that their discomfort increases as GE technology shifts from plants to animals.
Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 1, 2004; http://attra.ncat.org/ newsletter/archives.html; http://pewagbiotech.org/newsroom/releases/112404.php3
Genetically Engineered Crops Up Worldwide
Genetically engineered crop plantings increased 15 percent in 2003 despite continued consumer resistance. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, seven million farmers in 18 countries grew engineered crops on 167.2 million acres in 2003, compared with 145 million acres in 2002. In 1996, the first year GE crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation.
--Associated Press Newswires, 1/13/04
Organic Advocates Respond to Biotech Study
Organic advocates reacted strongly to a study released by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy that describes genetically engineered (GE) crops as "environmentally friendly farming" and claims that six GE crops have boosted U.S. farmers' yields as well as their overall income. With this explosive growth of the biotech industry, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) continues to warn of potential organic contamination and calls for stricter containment strategies for biotech crops. Since 2000, the OTA has called for a moratorium on the use of GE organisms in all agricultural production because of the possibility of contamination and other detrimental effects on the organic industry, and ultimately consumer choice. Findings in a 2004 report, "Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms," released by the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that GE contamination is possible and could potentially cause unintended effects on the environment.
Source: Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org/newsletter/archives.html; www.ota.com/news/press/155.html.
Less Natural Immunity in Cloned Pigs
Studies by scientists with the USDA and the University of Missouri indicate that the natural immune system of young cloned pigs does not appear to fight diseases as effectively as the immune system of non-cloned pigs. Scientists gave a naturally occurring toxin called lipopolysaccharide to seven young, cloned pigs and 11 genetically similar, non-cloned pigs. Although the non-cloned pigs' immune response was adequate, the cloned pigs' did not produce sufficient quantities of natural proteins called cytokines, which fight infections. Animals must have an adequate cytokine response to survive infections.
Cloned pigs and cows have had more deaths than normal around the time of birth. Many die from bacterial infections.
The cloned pigs were used only for research and are not part of the food supply.
Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA; David Elstein, (301) 504-1654, email@example.com; October 26, 2004.
EPA Studies Children and Pesticide Exposure
Children's advocates were stunned in November 2004 as the U.S EPA announced a new study of pesticide impacts on children that planned to offer money and camcorders to families that had exposed their infants and toddlers to pesticides, without warning them of the risks of these exposures. After a chorus of opposition, EPA postponed but didn't cancel the industry-funded Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) in Duval County, Florida.
Testing the effects of pesticides on infants and children has clear ethical implications. Scientific evidence clearly suggests that children in homes where home and garden pesticides are used are more likely to develop serious diseases, including asthma and childhood cancers. A recent study reports children with early persistent asthma were 10 times more likely to have been exposed to herbicides and insecticides in their first year. Children under five who live in homes where pesticides are applied may face a risk of childhood leukemia 11 times greater than those who live where no pesticides are applied. Home use of insecticide foggers has been associated with a 10-fold risk of brain tumors in children.
As more organophosphorus (OP) insecticides are replaced with pyrethroids--many of which are endocrine disrupting compounds--new adverse effects are likely to surface. Exposure to neurotoxic pesticides, including OPs and pyrethroids, is a suspected cause of learning disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/Attention Deficit Disorder, conditions that have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. While the epidemiological data are not in yet, animal models suggest reason for concern.
The CHEERS project was criticized for its offers of cash rewards and camcorders to families that regularly spray pesticides in their home. Although the Web site for the study promised, "EPA will not ask parents to apply pesticides in their home to be a part of this study," offering prizes may encourage families unaccustomed to using pesticides in the home to change their habits to become eligible. Clinics and hospitals selected as recruitment sites in Duvall County predominantly serve low-income communities and a greater proportion of African Americans than the rest of the county, thus children from low income communities of color are likely to bear the greatest risks in this EPA-led study.
EPA plans to accept $2.1 million from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to fund this ethically questionable study. Instead of allowing the pesticide industry to direct its research priorities, the agency should be doing all it can to prevent children's exposure to toxic pesticides. EPA should be informing parents of the risks of home pesticide use and promoting alternatives. Instead it has chosen collaboration with the industry that produces these chemicals to see how much exposure is "acceptable."
The Pesticide Action Network organized a petition asking EPA to firmly and permanently back away from the CHEERS study and begin speaking the truth to parents about pesticide risks. (www.petitiononline.com/NoCheers/)
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service Press Release, Dec. 1, 2004; EPA CHEERS website: www.epa.gov/cheers; Buckley, J.D., L.L. Robinson, R. Swotinsky, et al. 1989, "Occupational exposures of parents of children with acute nonlymphocytic leukemia: A report from the Children's Cancer Study Group," Cancer Research 49: 4030-37; Lowengart, R.A., J.M. Peters, C. Cicioni, et al. 1987, "Childhood leukemia and parents' occupational and home exposures," Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 79(1): 39-46; Pogoda, J.M. and S. Preston-Martin, 1997, "Household pesticides and risk of pediatric brain tumors," Environmental Health Perspectives, 105(11): 1214-20.
Rat Poisoning Rate in Kids Triples
In 2001, the Bush-led EPA struck a deal with chemical companies to remove two important rat poison regulations designed to protect the safety of children. The safety measures had required that rat poisons contain an ingredient that makes the candy-like pellets taste bitter to kids and a dye to make ingestion by children more obvious to adults. As a result of no longer requiring those safety additives, the nation is now seeing a record number of children poisoned by the toxic pellets. This year more than 50,000 children were poisoned by rodenticides--three times as many as were affected before safety regulations were removed. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the EPA met five times behind closed doors with representatives of the chemical industry, which ultimately resulted in the removal of the safety regulations.
Source: Organic Bytes #44 12/1/2004 www.organicconsumers.org/epa.htm.
U.S. Muscles Montreal Protocol on Methyl Bromide Limits
Methyl bromide (MB) use in the United States will increase this year, despite provisions added to the Montreal Protocol in 1997 to eliminate production and use of the fumigant in industrial nations by 2005. On November 29, 2004, in Prague, the 16th Conference of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer approved the U.S. government's request to increase exemptions for continued use of MB in "critical uses." The exemption will increase the U.S. consumption of this cancer causing, ozone-depleting chemical to 37% of the 1991 baseline level, or about 9,400 tons, in 2005--more than the total amount used by all U.S. agricultural and other users in 2003.
The U.S. had also requested continued exemptions for 2006 at 37% of baseline levels. The Protocol's technical panel opposed the request, because exemptions of only 27% could be justified. David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that U.S. officials balked at the technical panel's conclusions, claiming they were "arbitrary." "The technical committee did a good job of standing its ground," Doniger said. "They sent a strong message that reductions are possible and they need to be undertaken." By the meeting's end, the full conference of Parties accepted the technical panel's recommendations but also agreed to consider increasing the 2006 exemptions at a special meeting next summer.
According to U.S. EPA data, total U.S. use of MB in 2002 fell to 30% of the baseline level, or 7,674 metric tons. The recent "Critical Use" exemptions will nearly double the nation's MB use, with California strawberry growers and Florida tomato farmers the main beneficiaries.
U.S. officials argue that alternatives for soil sterilization or grain storage are not yet available, despite an investment of $150 million in research by the USDA. A fact sheet on Non-Chemical Alternatives to Methyl Bromide on the PANNA Web site lists five commonly used alternatives and several experimental procedures for soil sterilization. Eighty countries are phasing in such alternatives. While growers and millers are reducing their consumption worldwide, MB use is growing for sterilizing raw wood pallets and crates to reduce risks of invasive pests on imports and exports. International Plant Pest Convention guidelines require treatment of raw wood packaging material by heat or by MB before intercontinental shipping. Total world use of MB was about 50,000 tons in 2000, and declining rapidly. About 10,000 tons used in 2000 was attributed to all quarantine purposes. But the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service estimates that as much as 102,000 tons could be required worldwide for treating wood packaging, expanding quarantine treatment by a factor of 10 and more than doubling total world usage. Concrete figures are unknown.
At the Prague meeting, countries adopted two resolutions regarding use of MB in wood packaging. One, supported by the U.S., Australia, Canada and others, encourages all countries to compile and submit data on uses of MB for quarantine purposes. The second, supported by Colombia and Guatemala, encourages countries to prefer heat treatment or alternative materials for packaging, however this resolution is not binding.
In addition to ozone depletion, MB presents serious risks to those handling and applying the chemical. The EPA classifies MB in Toxicity Category I, the category of most deadly substances, for its potential for neurological damage and reproductive harm. Many farmworkers and residents near fumigated fields have experienced these symptoms, and communities have restricted its use in fields near homes and schools. Improper handling of MB during fumigation has killed workers in foreign ports and other facilities. In May 2003, the National Cancer Institute reported that MB has been linked to increased prostate cancer risks in a study of 55,000 pesticide applicators, including farmers, nursery workers, and workers in warehouses and grain mills.
The Montreal Protocol has succeeded enormously in reducing worldwide consumption of chloroflurorcarbons, and until recently, also achieved encouraging results for MB; as of 2003, use in developed countries had been reduced to 70% of 1991 levels. Yet, to heal the hole in the ozone, the phase-out must be fully implemented.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Dec. 10, 2004; NRDC Fact Sheets, USDA Proposed Rules for "Official Quarantine Use, and Actual Data on Methyl Bromide Use in the U.S."; Non-chemical Alternatives to Methyl Bromide, Excerpts from Technical Literature, PANNA; "Agricultural Pesticide Use May Be Associated With Increased Risk of Prostate Cancer," National Cancer Institute, Cancer.gov, www.nci.nih.gov/ newscenter/pressreleases/AgricultureHealthStudy. Contact: NRDC, www.nrdc.org, 202-289-6868.
Common Pesticide Causes Aggression and Brain Damage
The pesticide glufosinate is used widely in the United States, and its residues have been found in the food and water supply. Now Japanese government studies have confirmed previous research that glufosinate sets off violent behavior in lab animals. Male rats exposed to the chemical aggressively attack each other, while female rats remain peaceful. But female offspring of rats previously exposed to the pesticide "became aggressive and started to bite each other, in some cases until one died," said Yoichiro Kuroda, principle investigator of the study, adding, "That report sent a chill through me." Glufosinate is used as an herbicide on several varieties of genetically modified canola and corn.
Source: Organic Bytes #46, 12/17/2004; www.organicconsumers.org/organicbytes.htm
Maine Ranks First in Nation in PVC Waste Incineration
The Environmental Health Strategy Center documented the health and environmental hazards posed by PVC (polyvinyl chloride, the "poison plastic") during manufacturing, product use and disposal. Maine incinerates more PVC waste than any other state (as a percent of total PVC waste generated), according to estimates in the report. PVC is widely used in plastic pipes, building materials (such as vinyl siding), consumer products (such as toys, tablecloths, shower curtains) and disposable packaging (such as bottles and ‘blister pack’ containers).
"When you burn PVC in waste incinerators, backyard burn barrels or on construction sites, you form deadly dioxin, toxic air emissions and hazardous ash," says Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and co-author of the report.
"PVC, Bad News Comes in 3’s: The Poison Plastic, Health Hazards, and the Looming Waste Crisis," concludes that 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown "away" in the U.S. each year — and this waste poses perpetual hazards. PVC products are often labeled with a ‘3’ or a ‘V.’
"You can’t recycle PVC, and this poison plastic also contaminates the recycling process for plastic beverage bottles and other reusable goods," said Amanda Sears, campaign director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.
Maine relies on waste incineration to a greater extent than any state, burning two-thirds of its household trash in four municipal waste incinerators in Portland, Biddeford, Auburn and Orrington. Discarded PVC plastic is the major source of chlorine in trash, which forms dioxins, the most toxic chemicals known to science, when burned.
The report estimates that 70 billion pounds of PVC plastic are slated for nationwide disposal in the next decade, and disposal rates are expected to increase sharply as some 125 billion pounds of PVC installed in the last 40 years in construction and other long-lasting uses will reach the end of its useful life and be disposed.
The Environmental Health Strategy Center and the Center for Health, Environment & Justice are campaigning to convince Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft to phase out PVC use. These corporate targets are large users of PVC packaging, such as Microsoft’s blister packs on computer software and Johnson and Johnson’s Kids Detangling Shampoo bottles. A growing number of corporations, such as Nike and Firestone, are phasing out PVC use.
"At a ‘send back the vinyl’ event in Portland, the Environmental Health Strategy Center boxed PVC packaging and returned it to the companies, urging them to endorse the PVC-Free Pledge. The Environmental Health Strategy Center urges consumers to check for a "3" or "V" to identify and avoid PVC products, noting "bad things come in 3’s—pollution, health hazards and the looming waste crisis."
PVC is estimated to contribute 38 to 67% of the total chlorine found in solid waste, 90 to 98% of phthalates, 1 to 28% of lead, and 10% of cadmium. Cadmium, lead, organotins and phthalates are commonly released from PVC waste in landfills. The report was co-released by the Center for Environment, Health and Justice’s BE SAFE precautionary campaign and the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Based in Maine, the Environmental Health Strategy Center is a public health think-tank that advocates protection from toxic chemical exposures.
Source: Environmental Health Strategy Center Press Release, Dec. 7, 2004; Contacts: Mike Belliveau, 827-6331; Amanda Sears, 939-7333. Visit www.preventharm.org for more information or www.besafenet.com/pvc.htm for full documentation.
Perchlorate Found in Food Samples
Data posted by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2004 show perchlorate contamination in samples of lettuce, bottled water and milk tested in August 2004. Most perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient of solid rocket propellant, and FDA acknowledges the potential for perchlorate contamination in food through the use of contaminated irrigation water, processing water, and source waters for bottling. In its testing, the FDA found perchlorate in 217 of 232 samples of milk and lettuce in 15 states. Samples included both conventional and organic milk and lettuce. The Organic Trade Association pointed out that perchlorate contamination is not exclusively an organic agriculture concern. (ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 8, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/clo4data.html)
In January, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report said that perchlorates, which contaminate drinking water in 35 states, are roughly 10 times more toxic to humans than the Department of Defense has been claiming. Perchlorates can inhibit thyroid function, cause birth defects and lower IQs. They are considered particularly dangerous to children.
In monitoring wells across the country, scientists have found perchlorate levels as high as 30,000 times what the NAS report indicates would be "safe" exposure. Due to pressure exerted on Congress by military officials and defense contractors, no federal restrictions or tolerance levels regulate perchlorates. California Senator Diane Feinstein has proposed legislation that would clean up perchlorate pollution and make the military and other perchlorate polluters pay for this clean-up.
The Organic Consumers Association urges citizens to write to Congress to support Feinstein's bill to create federal perchlorate safety regulations and to allocate funding for its clean-up. See www.organicconsumers.org/perchlorate.htm.
Subsidies Increase for Industrial Agriculture
Farm policies are squeezing small U.S. family farms out of business and fail to support nontraditional practices such as organic farming. Even though organic farming is one of the most promising and fastest growing agricultural sectors, federal subsidies continue to promote industrialized agriculture that places profit before sustainability and relies on pesticides and unproven genetically modified organisms.
The USDA’s most recent agricultural census shows a drop in the number of U.S. farms while gross output remains stable, suggesting that production is consolidating in a smaller group of large farms. For example, in the past five years, the number of farms producing rice has fallen by more than 16%, as more than 1,500 farms have closed. Gross national rice production, meanwhile, has increased by 14 percent.
USDA funding practices, meanwhile, place a greater percentage of subsidies with a smaller percentage of farms. In 1995, the largest farms received $3.98 billion, or 55% of all federal farm payments. In 2002, their portion increased to $7.8 billion, or 65% of all federal payments. Almost 30% of agricultural subsidies go to the top 2% of farms and over four-fifths of subsidies are awarded to the 30% largest farms in the nation.
While traditional family farms are closing, sustainable and organic farming practices are rapidly expanding with certified organic acreage doubling between 1992 and 1997 and doubling again between 1997 and 2001. Organic lettuce acreage now accounts for 5% of the nation's total, and 4% of carrot acreage is certified organic.
Yet the only government funding currently committed solely to organic farming is a certification cost share program established in the 2002 Farm Bill. Five million dollars of the Farm Bill's $248.6 billion budget is available through this program.
Other federal programs designed to support struggling farms or promote environmental conservation often do not reach those most in need. Most subsidies issued by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a Bush Administration initiative that directs 60% of its funds toward helping livestock producers meet environmental regulations, end up in the hands of large-scale farmers, because only operations with more than 1,000 animals are regulated.
The Conservation Security Program (CSP) in the 2002 Farm Bill provides significant support for sustainable farming practices, but USDA has waited two years to implement this program. According to the Land Stewardship Project, CSP draft regulations limit the program to eligible watersheds, do not provide enough cost incentives for farmers and ranchers, require some farmers to wait eight years to apply, and discriminate against farmers on smaller acreages engaged in highly effective conservation management.
Crop insurance and disaster payment programs are also biased against nontraditional farming practices. Insurance companies generally use pesticide-based farming as their best-practice standard to determine premiums and reimbursements. A lack of research-based standards for organic yields and crop values makes it difficult to determine what constitutes a disaster and just how much money the farmer lost. The emerging threat to organic farms of contamination by nearby genetically modified crops is also not covered.
While farming subsidies remain stagnant, funding for research into organic and sustainable farming practices has shown modest gains. Two competitive grant-making programs, the Organic Transitions Program and the Organic Research Extension initiative of the 2002 Farm Bill, provide a combined $5 million per year, while the USDA's Agricultural Research Service has dedicated about $3 million per year to researching organics. Still, the $3.5 million spent by the ARS in 2003 represents a disproportionately small one-third of 1% of its annual budget. Based on relative market size, organic farming should receive at least three times that.
Similarly, an article in Environmental Health Perspectives asks whether agricultural subsidies for commodities are contributing to the nation's growing problems of obesity and poor nutrition. For several generations, American farmers have received various forms of federal support in an effort to keep farmers farming and provide Americans with an affordable, stable food supply. Wheat, soybeans, and especially corn are currently the most highly subsidized crops; products made from these crops, including high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats, have flooded the market as cheap means for making foods tastier, though not healthier. "There are a lot of subsidies for the two things we should be limiting in our diet, which are sugar and fat, and there are not a lot of subsidies for broccoli and Brussels sprouts," said the president of the American Obesity Association.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Nov. 11, 2004; Organic Farming Research Foundation. Information Bulletin, www.ofrf.org; Common Dreams, "More Family Farmers Failing Under Bush Administration -- Small Farmers Struggle as Programs Benefit Corporate Agribusiness," Sept. 31, 2004, www.commondreams.org ; Land Stewardship Project, www.landstewardshipproject.org; USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2002 Census of Agriculture, www.nass.usda.gov/census; ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org/ newsletter/archives.html ; http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ members/2004/112-14/spheres.html
Children Raised on Factory Farms Have More Asthma
A University of Iowa study shows that children raised on hog farms have a higher rate of asthma than children who are not, and children raised on hog farms where antibiotics were added to the feed have an even higher rate of asthma. The study tested 644 kids from age 0 to 17 and found that 55.8 % of children living on antibiotic treated hog farms had asthma symptoms, compared with 26.2 % of children on farms that do not raise hogs. The study also found that the larger the size of the hog farm, the greater the incidence of asthma.
Source: Organic Bytes #46, 12/17/2004; www.organicconsumers.org/organicbytes.htm
Antibiotic-Resistant Urinary Infections a Growing Health Problem for Women
New research strengthens the possibility that antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections UTIs), which lead to about 8 million physician visits a year for U.S. women, may originate from antibiotic use in food animals, according to experts at the School of Public Health of the University of California at Berkeley. UTIs leading to kidney infections in women cause an estimated 125,000 hospitalizations and a quarter million ambulatory cases a year.
The new research, appearing the January 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, identified E.coli bacteria from animal guts that are highly similar to the multi-drug resistant bacteria previously associated with an outbreak of urinary tract infections in women in California. The identification of the bacteria in food animals strengthens the case that antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections have a food animal origin.
Industrial animal operations routinely give the same antibiotics, such as sulfa drugs and penicillin, to animals that doctors use in human medicine. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that over 13 million pounds of such drugs are used every year in swine, poultry and cattle--not for therapy, but for to promote growth and to compensate for stressful, crowded conditions that typify industrial agriculture.
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists Press Release, Jan. 3, 2005; Contact: Margaret Mellon or Rich Hayes, 202-223-6133.
Farmers Need Incentives to Conserve Water
In a world plagued by water shortages, three facts stand out in an analysis by Cornell University ecologists: Less than 1% of water on the planet is fresh water; agriculture in the United States consumes 80% of available fresh water each year; and 60% of U.S. water intended for crop irrigation never reaches the crops. "Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues" (BioScience, Vol. 54, No. 10, Oct. 2004) names farmers as "the prime target for incentives to conserve water." The report particularly criticizes of irrigation practices in the United States, where subsidized "cheap water" offers scant incentive for conservation. "Part of the problem is the decision by farmers on what to grow where," says David Pimentel, a Cornell professor who led nine student ecologists through an exhaustive analysis of research conducted at other institutions and government agencies. "We learned, for example, that to produce wheat using irrigation requires three times more fossil energy than producing the same quantity of rain-fed wheat. The next time you make a sandwich, think about this: One pound of bread requires 250 gallons of water to produce the grains that go into the bread."
Source: Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org/ newsletter/archives.html; www.news.cornell.edu/ releases/Oct04/water_resources.hrs.html.
Organic Crop Rotation Study Shows Favorable Results
An organic crop rotation is at least as sustainable as no-till farming or chisel tillage in terms of nitrogen loss and corn yields, according to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) study. The five-year study showed that a three-year rotation of organic corn, soybeans, wheat and a legume cover crop had nitrogen losses and corn yields similar to those on land where either chisel-tillage or no-till farming had been used. The organic rotation relied on poultry litter, soybeans and a hairy vetch legume cover crop as nitrogen sources. The highest risk of leaching nitrogen to groundwater was on fields with no-till or chisel tillage where both commercial fertilizer and poultry litter had been used.
Fourth National Organic Farmers' Survey Available
The Organic Farming Research Foundation’s "Fourth National Organic Farmers' Survey: Sustaining Organic Farms in a Changing Organic Marketplace" shows that many benefits exist for farmers in the organic marketplace, but also highlights areas of need.
Organic price premiums are key to organic farmers' economic success, and a primary goal of the industry should be to help farmers expand markets for organic product and obtain premiums that maintain economic success and stability. The survey gathered information on organic markets and marketing in 2002, as well as other issues. One ominous finding was organic farmers’ observations regarding the adverse financial and operational impacts associated with contamination of organically certified crops by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The survey included eight sections: Farm profile; Production and product detail; Marketing your organic products; Organic market conditions, 2001; Information and services; Marketing orders and organic; GMOs and organic; and More about you and your farm (demographics).
Printed results are available for a suggested donation of $10 to cover printing and postage, and results are posted at www.ofrf.org.
Organic Food Popularity Keeps Growing
An annual survey commissioned by Whole Foods Market shows that more than one-quarter of Americans are eating more organic products than just one year ago; that more than half of Americans have tried organic foods and beverages; and that nearly one in 10 use organic products regularly or several times per week. Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe organic foods are better for the environment; 54% believe they are better for their health; 57% believe buying and using organic products supports small and local farmers; 32% believe organic products taste better; and 42% believe organic foods are better quality. "The survey results echo national sales trends, with recent reports indicating organic food sales hit $10 billion and 20% sales growth last year," says Margaret Wittenberg, Whole Foods Market vice president of governmental and public affairs.
Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org/ newsletter/archives.html ; www.wholefoodsmarket.com/ company/pr_10-21-04.html.
Funding for Organic Programs Holds Steady for 2005
The 2005 Appropriations Omnibus bill funds key organic agriculture programs at amounts equal to those appropriated in 2004. Organic advocates call these funding measures a small victory during a difficult fiscal year, in which many substantial cuts have been made to federal programs. "Level funding for these programs this year is evidence that Congress is increasingly aware of the value of organic farming to both farmers and consumers," said Brise Tencer of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 22, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; and www.ofrf.org/press/Releases/ PR.122004.2005OrganicApprops.html.
Organic Valley Announces "Transition to Organic Fund’
Organic Valley Family of Farms, the nation’s largest independent farmer-owned organic dairy cooperative, has announced the "Transition to Organic Fund" to help offset costs of transition for dairy farmers who become members of the Organic Valley cooperative. "The farmers of Organic Valley are committed to helping dairy farmers make the transition to organic. We know how tough the transition process can be, and we hope our ‘Transition to Organic Fund’ can help farmers meet the challenge," said Tim Griffin, Organic Valley National Milk Procurement Manager. For information about the Fund, farmers can call the Producer Hotline at Organic Valley at 888-809-9297. Farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania can contact Peter Miller, Organic Valley’s East Region Pool Coordinator, at 888-444-6455, ext. 407, or 612-801-3506 (cell), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
School Foods Go Organic
Mother Earth News profiles the work of California restaurateur Alice Waters. Through her organization Edible Schoolyard, Waters persuaded the Berkeley Unified School District to adopt food and agriculture issues as part of its curriculum for K-12 students. "We are going to take school lunch out of the fast food market and put it into academia," Waters said. "We want to teach students about the consequences of the decisions they make about food, their relation to the land; we want to instill basic values. What we are doing is creating a new way of thinking about food. Making food an academic subject will give it legitimacy." (ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 22, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; and www.motherearthnews.com/article/2150/)
Likewise, the organic salad bar at Lincoln Elementary School in Olympia, Washington, was so popular and economical that all Olympia grade schools installed one, according to AP writer Rebecca Cook; and more and more schools are doing the same to promote health and fight obesity. Schools in Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; Santa Monica and Paol Alto also have organic food programs, while Stonyfield Farm has promoted vending machines with organic foods in six states. Lincoln Elementary, attempting to meet the request for organic foods from parent Vanessa Ruddy, covered most of the added cost of organic foods by eliminating dessert. (http://lincoln.osd.wednet.edu; www.stonyfield.com/MenuForChange)
Oregon Land Use Laws Protect Farmland
Northwest Environment Watch of Seattle analyzed growth in 15 similar U.S. cities and found that Oregon’s land-use policies excel in protecting rural land. Person for person in the last decade, new development in metropolitan Portland consumed less than half as much land as it did in the average city in the study. From 1990 to 2000, if greater Portland had sprawled like Charlotte, North Carolina—the city in the study with the worst record—it would have lost an additional 279 square miles of farmland and open space, an area more than twice as large as the city of Portland itself.
Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Oct. 27, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org/ newsletter/archives.html; see www.northwestwatch.org/ scorecard/portland04_release.asp
Tracking Fluoride in the National Food Supply
For more than 50 years, fluoride has been added to many U.S. municipal water supplies to reduce tooth decay. That fluoride, as well as naturally occurring fluoride from wells and other water sources, subsequently finds its way into water-based beverages and foods. An Adequate Intake level has been set at 3 mg fluoride daily for women and 4 mg daily for men. Until now, scant data existed on the quantity of fluoride in the national food supply. Now, an Agricultural Research Service database lists the level of fluoride in 400 food and beverage items at www.nal.usda.gov/ fnic/foodcomp/Data/Fluoride/Fluoride.html. Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA; Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, email@example.com; Nov. 9, 2004. Read more in the Nov. issue of Agricultural Research magazine at www.ars.usda.gov/ is/AR/archive/nov04/fluoride1104.htm.
Apples Protect Against Digestive Cancers
Eating more fiber- and phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables—including flavonoids found most abundantly in apples—may significantly reduce the risk of developing digestive cancers. Digestive cancers are those of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum and account for 23% of new cancer cases worldwide. They don’t develop from exposure to carcinogens but primarily from cell damage. Professor Ian Johnson of the United Kingdom’s Institute for Food Research reviewed epidemiological literature regarding digestive cancers and concluded that better diet—especially diets rich in micronutrients, fiber and plant-based phytonutrients, including flavonoids—can significantly help reduce the human toll caused by these cancers. His analysis was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Mutation Research.
Apples are one of the richest fruit sources of dietary fiber, and one of the leading sources of phytonutrients among all plant foods. One medium apple contains five grams of fiber, 20% of the recommended daily value.
Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Ag., Jan. 10, 2005; www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter.
Stressed? Have Some Cold Vegetable Soup
Volunteers who ate vegetables consistently for two weeks as part of a nutrition study had significant increases in blood levels of vitamin C and decreases in key stress molecules associated with health impairment. Researchers fed 12 healthy volunteers two bowls (17 ounces, total) of gazpacho every day for two weeks. The antioxidant-rich soup was made from tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olive oil, onions and garlic. Blood samples for each volunteer were taken before soup consumption and on the seventh and fourteenth days of the study. Starting on the seventh day, levels of vitamin C in volunteers' blood samples had increased by 27% in men and 22% in women, and they remained elevated for the rest of the study.
Stress molecules are secreted by the body as a normal response to stress, but continuous, high blood levels of these chemicals increase vulnerability to illness due to inflammation and oxidative stress. One of the stress molecules measured, uric acid, was reduced by 18% in male volunteers and by 8% in females. High blood levels of uric acid, which causes gout, have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Three other stress molecules measured were also significantly lower after soup consumption.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA; Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nov. 3, 2004.
Consumer Campaign Helps Families Eat Healthier
The Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) Sustainable Table campaign educates consumers about shopping smarter, eating healthier and enjoying the abundance of fresh, nutritious meat and produce grown by local family farmers. From the benefits of pasture-raised meat to the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms, www.SustainableTable.org presents issues in a clear, easy-to-understand format that makes it easier for consumers to make healthier choices about what their families eat. Until now many consumers have been confused by labels defining organic, antibiotic-free, and free-range products.
At www.SustainableTable.org, consumers can find the Eat Well Guide, a directory of meat, poultry, dairy and eggs produced sustainably, by entering their zip code. The Guide lists nearby farms, stores and restaurants that sell sustainable foods.
The Web site features The Meatrix, the most successful online advocacy film in history. Over 6 million online viewers have watched this critically acclaimed, award-winning, flash-animation film that humorously spoofs The Matrix movies while educating viewers about issues surrounding factory farming. Offline, the movie has been screened at conferences, film festivals and special events around the world and has been translated into several languages.
The site’s Sustainable Kitchen has recipes, cookbook reviews, cooking tips and articles on sustainable food and cooking. Sustainable Table includes a Teacher Resource section for educators interested in developing curricula around healthy eating and sustainable agriculture. The site takes students to working farms that double as educational centers, shows which schools are serving sustainable foods, and profiles successful school garden projects.
Consumers who want to make a difference in their communities can use "I Care" cards that let local grocers and restaurant owners know that they care about where their food comes from. These cards can be downloaded and printed from the Sustainable Table site.
Nutrition.gov--Information on Healthy Eating, Nutrition, Obesity Prevention
A Web site launched in December helps people answer nutrition- and food-related questions. The site, www.nutrition.gov, is a comprehensive source of information on nutrition and dietary guidance from multiple government agencies. It includes databases, recipes, interactive tools and special information for infants and children, adult women and men and seniors. Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA; Len Carey, 301-504-5564, email@example.com; December 22, 2004
Meat Goat Market Grows and Improves
Meat goats are among the fastest-growing sectors of the livestock industry, with demand fueled by Muslims and other ethnic populations, according to a Chicago Tribune article posted by The Billings Gazette. No taboos exist against eating goats, and the animals do well in many conditions. Several states are encouraging producers to tap into the growing market. The Boer goat species has been introduced specifically as a meat breed. In Texas, the state that produces the most meat goats in the country, researchers are improving genetics of Boer goats, says The North Texas E-News. The Boer Goat Improvement Network (BGIN) was initiated by the American Boer Goat Association and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station to help breeders evaluate a goat's genetic potential as a parent. The program aims to improve the genetics of the breed industry-wide by selecting for seven desirable traits.
Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 22, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; See also ATTRA Publication: "Sustainable Goat Production: Meat Goats."
Bioenergy Projects Could Benefit from Local Green Tags
A column in the Sustainable Industries Journal suggests that green tags, the premiums that consumers pay for electricity generated from renewable energy, could help promote bioenergy projects, which in turn could help resolve other local environmental issues. "A local green tag for bioenergy could be a new mechanism that enables farmers to turn the environmental liabilities of modern farming into assets for their community," writes Chad Kruger, director of outreach for the Climate Friendly Farming Project at Washington State University. "For instance, anaerobic digestion of dairy manure reduces foul odors and associated human health concerns, reduces ground and surface water pollution by facilitating the export of excess nutrients off-farm, and contributes toward maintaining the economic vitality of farms and rural agricultural communities... Generating renewable energy is a valuable, but secondary, benefit." Source: ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Dec. 22, 2004, http://attra.ncat.org; and http://csanr.wsu.edu/ whatsnew/Kruger_commentary_reprint.pdf.
Lawsuit Targets Pesticide Air Pollution
In January, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and a number of environmental health and community groups sued California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) for failing to uphold the Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) law. The law, enacted in 1984, requires DPR to assess pesticides as potential air contaminants, and to regulate them in order to protect public health. More than 900 pesticides are registered in California, yet in the last 20 years DPR has completed the review process for only four. Of the 172 million pounds of pesticides used in 2002 in the state, more than 90% are prone to drifting from application sites as airborne toxins.
Source: Press Release, PANNA and Californians for Pesticide Reform, January 19, 2005. www.panna.org.
Curriculum Contest to Award $1000
The Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) is sponsoring a curriculum contest based on sustainable agriculture for grades 5-8 school teachers. The units will be based on the award winning film The Meatrix (www.themeatrix.com). The grand prize is $1000 for classroom supplies and equipment. The contest ends June 30, 2005. Visit Sustainable Table at www.sustainabletable.org/ schools/teachers/curriculum.html for more information and an application form.
Join a Community Sustainability Co-op
A new Maine cooperative is forming in an effort to strengthen community and sustainability. Those interested would be divided regionally into groups of six, and each group would meet six times a year, once at each home, for a work day and potluck dinner. Work projects would be aimed at increasing an individual's self-sufficiency and could include building a hoop house, butchering livestock, raising a barn, harvesting potatoes, building a rainwater collection system, building raised beds... almost anything. One day a year, you would have a free, five-person work force descend on your home, and five other times, you would be acquiring skills and ideas to apply to your own purposes. Each group would meet once to discuss the group's skills and schedules and to brainstorm ideas. The possibilities are limitless! No skill is required--just a willingness to work hard. Write or call Christine Baker to be put in touch with others interested in fostering community and self-sufficiency: firstname.lastname@example.org or Christine Baker at 284-9638.
Poultry Processing Coop Forming
A new poultry processing cooperative, Cooperative Ownership of Poultry Processing (COOPP), is starting. Tentative plans are to establish a state-inspected facility to process all poultry, so all birds processed there under inspection will be able to be sold anywhere in Maine. The actual costs, responsibilities and benefits of coop membership are still being decided. The facility will also be able to do custom processing for folks who bring birds for their own consumption.
Presently Maine has no processing facility where someone can take a bird, then be able to sell that bird legally. Rocky Ridge Organics processing plant in Auburn no longer exists. This includes even folks who used to process their birds under the <1,000 bird exemption and sell birds, unless they have a facility that meets new requirements established by the Maine Department of Agriculture. The facility must have a triple bowl sink, hand wash sink, washable walls, inspected septic and water, among other requirements.
For more information, contact Diane Schivera, MOFGA Asst. Dir. of Ag. Services and MAPA board member, at 568-4142 or email@example.com. The group has a survey for anyone with any interest or possible involvement with the poultry industry to complete. Please contact Diane to have it mailed to you.
Leftover Cuisine Creates Community at College
by Saima Sidik. ©2005. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
Finding a sense of community at McGill University in Montreal, where classes (at least in the first year) are half the size that my entire high school population was, is tough. However, students occasionally have torn their eyes away from their laptops long enough to create niches within the school that contribute to its sustainability, both environmentally and psychologically.
The Midnight Kitchen is a vegan food collective that creates one of these niches. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 60 to 90 students stand in line for a soup-kitchen style lunch. Some twiddle the $2 coins with which they plan to meet the suggested donation while discussing their classes and their plans for the weekend. "I think one of the most important aspects of the Midnight Kitchen is that it creates a community," says Noah Ratzan, a member of the collective.
Volunteers for the Midnight Kitchen (there are no paid positions, although the group is considering hiring a strategic planner) collect food from local markets and grocers right after closing time. The group doesn't retrieve any food from dumpsters for fear of alienating potential patrons; instead it arranges with merchants to collect leftover food before it goes in the dumpster. When possible, volunteers do these pick-ups by bike, although cold Montreal weather sometimes necessitates taking a cab. The next day, shifts of volunteers work all day to prepare and serve the food.
The Midnight Kitchen is run cooperatively, with all members having equal opportunities to share their opinions. For each day in the kitchen, one member volunteers to coordinate, and several others help him or her. Many who come to eat decide that they should give more than the suggested $2 donation, and "spontaneous volunteers," as Noah calls them, commonly help wash dishes and put away food. "Decisions are mostly made by consensus, but in the kitchen, the coordinator gets the last word," Noah adds.
The founders of the Midnight Kitchen, Noah tells me, weren't particularly partial to veggies. In fact, rumor has it that some were rather passionate meat eaters. However, all original members of the collective believed in the importance of reducing waste and increasing sustainability by feeding as many people as possible as efficiently as possible. Both in terms of costs and eating restrictions, they decided that serving food consistent with a vegan diet was most sustainable. The Midnight Kitchen avoids serving nuts so that students won't have to worry about such allergies, and the group's avoidance of dairy products means that lactose intolerant students can also dine safely.
The group is now at its carrying capacity, serving about 80 people a day. The People's Potato, a similar group at Concordia University in Montreal, serves 200 to 300 students five days a week. This older, more established group recently qualified as a nonprofit soup kitchen so that it can get food from a government food distributor, and it has multiple paid positions to take the stress off students who are trying to run the program while taking classes.
"Why do you think environmental movements like this tend to start at Concordia rather than McGill?" I asked Noah.
"Most men live lives of quiet desperation," he responded, quoting Thoreau. McGill is known among its students for having many layers of bureaucracy. "It feels so difficult to affect change. A lot of people feel like there's no reason to try to affect change. Pretty much everyone I know complains about there not being any good food on campus, but they're not thinking that there's anything they can do about that. It's very frustrating."
Noah had never thought of joining one of McGill's extracurricular groups until his senior year, after he spent a summer with a program called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). From that experience, "I learned that food is the basic necessity, and if you're going to revolve around anything, it should be that."
I usually go to the Midnight Kitchen on Wednesdays after physics class. I almost always see a few people from my dorm or friends from an environmental group. The Midnight Kitchen's food is great, and the sense of friendship among the people who attend is equally important. "I think that's the best thing about it--the community," says Noah.
Eleventh Annual Denmark Sheepfest
Saturday, April 16, will be a big day in the small town of Denmark, Maine, when local sheep flock to the Denmark Arts Center for their annual spring haircut at the 11th Annual Sheepfest. People come too, to visit the sheep and lambs up close and personal as they wait in their makeshift pens. Visitors may also find rabbits, Angora goats, and llamas or a Great Pyrenees guard dog.
Linda Whiting of Denmark, one of the original organizers, says the festival that began with five sheep to be shorn and two spinning demonstrations has gotten larger and better every year, with 45 sheep last year and about 20 exhibitors and vendors. Getting the cooperation of a 200-pound sheep for shearing is a learned skill, and most farmers find the $7 charge to be money well spent.
Originally enabling small flock owners to get their sheep shorn efficiently, the festival now gives people a chance to see the whole process of fiber production, from the woolly sheep being shorn, through cleaning, carding, spinning and dyeing the wool before it is made into hats and scarves, socks and mittens. It's fun and educational, with demonstrations including spinning rabbit, alpaca, llama, goat and even Persian cat hair into useable yarn.
This unique event that makes everyone happy, including the sheep, runs on volunteers and good will. Volunteers work at the skirting table, removing soiled and waste wool from the fleece before they weigh and bag it. "Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool? Yessir, yessir, three bags full" suddenly makes sense when someone sees the wool from a large, black Romney weighed and stuffed into three bags. Men clip hooves and wrangle sheep. The music of local fiddlers adds to the cheery atmosphere, and of course, the good food provided by the 4-H club is a morale booster. In addition to spinning, people demonstrate carding, dyeing, felting, weaving, rug hooking and other fiber arts.
The only paid people are the shearers and the vet who dispenses lots of information along with yearly shots. In addition to the demonstrations, a number of local fiber producers and craftspeople offer items for sale, from newly bagged wool to spinning wheels to gaily colored felt hats and other handmade goods. Exhibitors beg to come back, Linda says, because it's such an enjoyable event.
The sheep pens are set up the day before the event so that they’re ready when the sheep begin to arrive at 7 on the morning of the Sheepfest. Volunteers check them in and register them for shearing. Inside the hall, everyone is busy getting ready for the official, 9:30 door opening. "We strive to keep it a small, well run event with no stress," Linda explains. "And in 10 years, it's never rained on Sheepfest day."
Whiting can be reached at 207-452-2687 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about Sheepfest at smallboat-shop.com.
--Joyce White. ©2005. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
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