"At either end of any food chain you find a biological system -- a patch of soil, a human body -- health of one is connected, literally, to the health of the other."
- Michael Pollan
|| News & Events – Summer 2007
Harvey Wins Lawsuit
As of June 8, 2007, federal law will require that organic foods be better defined, thanks to a lawsuit brought against USDA by Maine blueberry grower Arthur Harvey. The appeal was heard in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston after being dismissed in 2002 in U.S. District Court in Portland. The Boston court agreed with Harvey that:
• cows producing milk labeled as organic may not receive conventional grain for a year before the product is so labeled. (Current rules used a three-month period for feeding organic grains.)
• the 5% of ingredients that need not be organic in processed foods labeled as organic must come from the national list of permitted ingredients, not from any agricultural product;
• producers must adhere to federal law requiring that after harvest, organic produce must not be treated with any artificial substances. (The USDA had developed a list of synthetics allowed in processing.) Intensive lobbying by manufacturers, however, got an amendment to the 2006 federal budget that allows synthetics after harvest. Harvey is attempting to get that amendment repealed.
Harvey’s contributions were responsible for his recognition as the Organic Inspector of the Year and Inspector Asset of the Year by the Independent Organic Inspectors Association in Encinitas, Calif., in March.
Source: “Organic farmer's efforts to change labels honored,” by Mary Standard , Lewiston Sun Journal, March 27, 2007, www.sunjournal.com/story/204993-3/OxfordHills/Organic_farmers_efforts_to_change_labels_honored/
MAINE GARDENS: Nature and Design
A Four-Day Symposium
Maine Gardens: Nature and Design is a four-day symposium presented by The Garden Conservancy, The Farnsworth Art Museum and The Maine Olmsted Alliance for Parks and Landscapes. It will be held on July 12-15, 2007, in Midcoast Maine to engage people in exploring the history and beauty of Maine’s landscapes.
Speakers will include: Patrick Chasse, ASLA, curator of landscape at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; Page Dickey, garden writer, lecturer and cofounder of The Garden Conservancy’s Open Garden Days; Kerry Hardy of Merryspring Nature Center, Camden, Maine; Maureen Heffernan of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; Erica Hirschler, senior curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nancy Harmon Jenkins, food author and editor; Leslie Land, garden writer, The New York Times; Tovah Martin, garden writer, photographer, author; Theresa Mattor, author, landscape architect; Sandra Oliver, food historian, Islesboro; Pauline Runkel, flower designer, Boston; Lora Urbanelli, director of the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland.
Participants will explore the fruitful mingling of the natural and the carefully planned. They will discover writers and artists who imagined this American Paradise, hear from those who continue to do so, become acquainted with the works of the designers, ordinary people and eminent landscape architects who have shaped and softened the wild terrain.
Lectures and discussions will take place at the Strand Theatre in Rockland on July 12-14. Kids’ Flower Hour will be at the Farnsworth Museum. Gardens and grounds from Belfast and Islesboro to Rockland, Camden, Lincolnville, Boothbay Harbor and North Haven will be open to participants, who will receive information on and directions to each site; the gardens will be listed in the Conservancy’s Open Days Directory. Flower centered art will be displayed at galleries in Camden and Rockland. A land conservation exhibit is planned for Aldermere Farm involving the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Georges River Land Trust. Noted food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins is organizing a feast in the Camden Amphitheatre for the evening of July 13 to highlight the sustainable landscape; the Belfast Maskers will perform one act of a Shakespeare play in the Amphitheatre after the feast.
Cosponsors of Maine Gardens include: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport; The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Washington, D.C.; The Garden Club of America, New York, N.Y.; Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay; The Strand Theatre, Rockland; Maine Preservation, Portland; Merryspring Nature Park, Camden; Maine Photographic Workshops, Rockport; and others.
Maine Garden Coordinator is Peggy Watson, landscape gardener and historian. For more information, contact email@example.com or visit www.mainegardenssymposium.com.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: Maine’s First
|Rhododendrons and daffodils at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ 248 acres in Boothbay make up Maine’s first, and New England’s largest, botanical garden. Visitors discover masterfully designed ornamental gardens, sparkling waterfront, stonework and sculpture, as well as miles of trails that highlight the best of coastal Maine’s natural beauty.
Beginning May 1, the Visitor Center will provide services including a gift shop and café. Programs, events and exhibits year-round offer opportunities for all ages to learn about plants, gardening and nature; experience fine art; and simply have fun.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is off Barters Island Road, about 10 miles south of Route 1 and just over a mile from the Boothbay common.
For more information please visit www.mainegardens.org.
Maine Alpaca Association to Produce Maine Fiber Frolic
The Maine Alpaca Association has become the producer of the annual Maine Fiber Frolic. In its seventh year, the Fiber Frolic is a family-oriented animal and arts festival for fiber enthusiasts of all skill levels.
The 2007 Fiber Frolic will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Windsor Fairgrounds in Windsor, Maine, rain or shine. Over 75 farms and retailers will showcase their livestock, fiber and products for 1,500 visitors. Instructional fiber arts workshops and free educational presentations will be held throughout the weekend. The event is organized by members of the Maine Llama Association, Maine Sheep Breeders Association, the Maine Alpaca Association, and dozens of volunteers.
Hundreds of llamas, alpacas, rabbits, sheep and goats will be displayed, and retail vendors will feature raw and value-added fibers, specialty products, supplies and equipment for sale. Special events include the Maine Llama Drill Team Parade, herding dog demonstrations, and youth goat, llama and sheep shows. Talks will address topics such as packing with llamas, and raising and breeding specialty livestock. Fiber-related activities will be available for children and adults.
The Maine Alpaca Association formed in 2003 to provide its members with education and support on all aspects of alpaca ownership, from husbandry to business planning and marketing, and to promote the benefits of the alpaca lifestyle to Maine’s public. The Fiber Frolic was founded in 2000 by the Maine Llama Association to celebrate all things fiber.
For complete information about the 7th Annual Maine Fiber Frolic, please visit www.fiberfrolic.com.
Organic Seed Growers’ Conference and Producers’ Course in Oregon
February 13-15, 2008
The 5th Organic Seed Growers Conference will be held February 14-15, 2008, at the Salem Convention Center in Salem, Oregon. The Conference, co-hosted by the Organic Seed Alliance, Oregon State University and Washington State University, is the largest meeting of seed professionals engaged in organic seed production, research and plant breeding in the United States. For more information, see www.seedalliance.org.
Input and proposals for presentations and posters must be submitted by June 1, 2007, to Micaela Colley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants for presentations and posters will be notified by August 1, 2007. Suggestions for speakers and presentation topics are welcome, also.
A one-day, Feb. 13 pre-conference short course, funded by Western SARE, will address fundamentals of seed production and organic production for organic professionals and farmers interested in learning how to grow specialty seed.
For more information, see www.seedalliance.org or contact Organic Seed Alliance, PO Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 360-385-7192.
USDA Begins Organic Price Reporting
In response to producer demand, USDA is increasingly reporting organic prices for various crops and livestock products in the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) Livestock and Grain Market News. You can sign up to receive biweekly updates via email (http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/aboutEmailService.do).
Gigi DiGiacomo with the Univ. of Minnesota School of Agriculture Endowed Chair Program is working with AMS to gather the data for these reports. DiGiacomo is soliciting price information from organic buyers and sellers. Please contact her for more information: email@example.com, 612-710-1188.
For more information about the subscription process, contact James Bernau, Market Reporter with the AMS Livestock & Grain News, firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-284-4460.
Source: Scientific Congress on Organic Agriculture Research, SCOAR Bulletin #16, March 19, 2007; www.ofrf.org.
Wood Prairie Farm’s Potato Wins Award
Wood Prairie Farm, a MOFGA-certified organic farm in Bridgewater, Maine, offers seed potato of a new hybrid called King Harry, developed by Cornell University. King Harry’s hairy leaves repel Colorado potato beetles, leaf hoppers and flea beetles. Wood Prairie won the Mailorder Gardening Association's Green Thumb Award – given for the five best new plant varieties each year – for the introduction. Wood Prairie trialed the round, white, early variety for Cornell. Although early, King Harry also stores well.
For more information, see www.woodprairie.com or call 1-800-829-9765.
Source: “Award-winning potato resists destructive bugs,” by Tom Atwell, Maine Sunday Telegram, March 18, 2007.
Organic Corn Yields Surpass Conventional in 27-Year Study
New data from The Rodale Institute’s 27-year Farming Systems Trial (FST) shows that over time, corn yields from organically managed fields can equal and even surpass yields from conventionally farmed fields. Organic practices also improve soil quality and result in fewer greenhouse gases in the air and less pollution in the water.
The 13-acre FST began in 1981, making it the United States’ longest-running scientifically controlled comparison of organic and conventional crop production systems. During the first few years, while the organically farmed plots were going through the transition process and building up biological activity in the soil, yields from conventional corn fields were superior. But the organic plots soon entered a long phase, from 1985 until 1993, when their mean yields equalled those of the conventionally farmed plots.
From 1995 to 2006, mean yields from organic plots surpassed those of conventional plots; this period included both severe drought years and a record wet summer. During drought years, organic corn yields were 28 to 34% higher. During the rainy summer of 2004, organic yields were 13% higher and contained 15% more protein than corn grown in conventional plots.
These increased yields are the end result of more than two decades of continuous soil improvements through organic farming techniques. Tests show that from 1981 to today, soil quality has greatly increased in the plots under organic management, but has not increased in conventional plots. The organic soil now contains 30% more carbon, 15% more total nitrogen and 225% more biological activity than it did at the beginning of the project.
“This transformation of the organic fields is like the race of the tortoise and the hare,” says Dr. Paul Hepperly, The Rodale Institute’s research and training manager. “Our research has shown that the organic systems are now pulling ahead on four fronts: namely, soil quality, drought tolerance, crop quality and overall yield. While it takes time to change worn-out soil into rich, healthy soil, it is well worth the effort and wait.”
The Rodale Institute's long-term commitment to research has demonstrated that agricultural chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not prerequisites for high, consistent field crop yields and quality. By patiently improving base soil fertility, organic farmers can make big changes. Over a period of years they can achieve yields that are competitive with conventional agriculture while cutting costs and energy consumption. Further, they can eliminate the negative environmental impact of agri-chemicals used in conventional food production.
Source: Rodale Institute Press Release, April 12, 2007. FMI: Kerry Boderman, 610-683-1456, email@example.com
Sustainable Farming Boosts Poorest Farmers
Farming techniques such as crop rotation and organic methods can help eliminate poverty among the world’s poorest farmers. Research conducted over four years and published in Environmental Science and Technology found an average 79% higher crop yields, reduced pesticide and water use, and greater profits among 280 projects in 57 developing nations.
Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex, co-author of the report, says, “In many ways farmers in developing countries are leading the way” in sustainable farming methods, working with local biodiversity and developing healthy soil.
Most methods were applied with no official policy mandates. “If there was more central support then we would expect to see these sorts of techniques and ideas spread more rapidly,” says Pretty.
Sources: “Sustainable Farming Boosts World's Poorest Farmers, Study Says,” by Ken Roseboro, The Organic and Non-GMO Report, Feb. 2007, at www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4036.cfm. Original report: “Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries,” by J. N. Pretty, A. D. Noble, D. Bossio, J. Dixon, R. E. Hine, F. W. T. Penning de Vries, and J. I. L. Morison . Environ. Sci. Technol.; 2006; 40(4) pp 1114 - 1119; (Policy Analysis) DOI: 10.1021/es051670d. To subscribe to the Organic and Non-GMO Report, call 1-800-854-0586 or visit http://www.non-gmoreport.com/.
SPIN: Small Plot Intensive Farming
Wally Satzewich operates Wally's Urban Market Garden, a multi-locational, sub-acre, urban farm dispersed over 25 residential backyard plots in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, that are rented from homeowners. Sites range from 500 to 3000 sq. ft., and total half an acre. Produce is sold at The Saskatoon Farmers Market.
Satzewich and Gail Vandersteen were growing vegetables on some 20 acres of excellent, rural, irrigated land, but pests, deer and wind made the job difficult. The couple still lived in the city, where they grew small plots of 10 to 15 crops, such as radishes, scallions, carrots and salad mix. After six years of farming their rural site, the couple realized they could make more money growing multiple crops intensively in the city, so they sold the farm and became urban growers. They grow three crops a year in Saskatoon with much less work than mechanized, large-scale farming. They use a rototiller, a push-type seeder and a few hand tools. They sell quality organic produce at high-end prices.
Satzewich says the city provides a more controlled environment, with fewer pests, better wind protection and a longer growing season. The SPIN (Small Plot Intensive) method is based on their successful downsizing, which emphasizes minimal mechanization and maximum fiscal discipline and planning.
Roxanne Christensen is co-founder and president of the Institute for Innovations in Local Farming. In partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department, the Institute operates Somerton Tanks Farm, a prototype sub-acre urban farm in northeast Philadelphia that serves as the U.S. test bed for SPIN-FARMING. Christensen contends that the separation of country and city is a bankrupt concept. “As development erodes the rural way of life, agriculture is creeping closer and closer to metropolitan areas. SPIN-FARMING leverages this trend in a positive way – by capitalizing on limited resources and space. Creating Somerton Tanks Farm using the SPIN method required minimal upfront investment, and it keeps operating overhead low.
"For aspiring farmers, SPIN eliminates the two big barriers to entry – sizeable acreage and substantial startup capital. At the same time, its intensive relay growing techniques and precise revenue targeting formulas push yields to unprecedented levels and result in highly profitable income."
In 2003, its first year of operation, Somerton Tanks Farm grossed $26,100 from a half-acre during a nine-month growing season. In 2005, gross sales were $52,200.
The first SPIN-Farming workshop is coming to Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wisc., on March 22-24, 2007. SPIN Cities: Farming Where We Live will equip a new generation of farmers with the know-how to farm commercially without having to own much, if any, land, and without making a large financial investment. Satzewich will show how to replicate his success. For more information about the workshop, contact Janet Gamble at Michael Fields Institute, 262-642-3303 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on SPIN Farming, visit
Source: Farm & Food News, Nov. 2006.
Creekstone Farms Wins “Right” to Test for Mad Cow
After the discovery of another case of Mad Cow Disease in the United States last year, foreign markets tightened their ban on U.S. beef based on the fact that the USDA requires such a small percentage of meat to be tested for this fatal disease. In an attempt to maintain sales with customers overseas, Kansas-based Creekstone Farms announced it would voluntarily test all of its meat for Mad Cow Disease. The USDA responded that it was illegal for Creekstone to have such quality food safety testing. When Creekstone took the USDA to court, a federal judge ruled against the agency. The results of the case will likely create a domino effect in the industry where more meatpackers will voluntarily increase testing for Mad Cow Disease in order to gain customers. For more information, see http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4655.cfm.
New Food Seal for Humanely Raised Farm Animals
The nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has launched Animal Welfare Approved, a seal for meat, poultry, dairy and eggs that features the highest standards for humane treatment of farm animals. More than 500 farms comply with AWI standards, which take into account all aspects of an animal’s life, from opportunities to socialize and behave naturally to assurances of comfort and freedom from intensive confinement. Animal Welfare Approved is the first seal to guarantee that humanely-labeled products do not come from agribusinesses that raise the majority of their animals under cruel and unnatural conditions while also rearing some according to so-called humane standards. Only independent family farms can earn the Animal Welfare Approved seal, since AWI’s program is designed to revitalize a culture of family-owned and managed farms.
Requirements for acceptance into the program are at www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.
Source: Animal Welfare Approved, www.awionline.org/, Jan. 31, 2007.
Livestock Generating Greenhouse Gases
The United Nations says the world's rapidly growing cattle herds are the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. They also contribute to acid rain, poisoned waters, dead zones in oceans and introduce alien species. A report by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, entitled 'Livestock's Long Shadow,' notes damage by other farm animals but blames the world's 1.5 billion cattle for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Half of that 18% is from clearing vegetation for grazing, and from fuel used to produce fertilizer to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it. Cattle’s gases and manure emit more than one-third of the methane in the world; methane warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.
Source: “Livestock's Long Shadow,” by Geoffrey Lean, London Independent, Dec. 10, 2006.
Green Roof Center
Green roofs are common in Germany, have been installed in the United States (notably on Chicago City Hall), and more are planned. Among their benefits, they are aesthetically pleasing, reduce the city "heat island" effect, reduce carbon dioxide impact, reduce air conditioning and heating demands, double or triple roof life, remove nitrogen pollution in rain, neutralize acid rain, reduce noise and storm water runoff and provide songbird habitat. Their design and plant selection depend on the depth of the growing medium and the local climate, but plants are almost always drought tolerant. Low growing plants such as grasses, sedums and other cactus-like plants are used where the medium is only a few inches deep. Where it is several feet deep, shrubs and small trees can be used. Although most easily used on flat roofs, a low pitch roof can also be “greened.” Green roofs are a significant niche market for horticulturists, especially plant propagators. For more information, see
Farms and Forests Can Reduce Global Warming
America’s farms and forests have a major role to play in reducing the threat of climate change, according to two reports released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Changes in agricultural practices coupled with foresting marginal agricultural lands could offset up to one-fifth of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while creating potential new sources of farming income. In addition, the nation could reduce emissions by 10 to 25% by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels made from agricultural crops.
The two reports are: “Agriculture’s Role in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,” by Keith Paustian, John M. Antle, John Sheehan and Eldor A. Paul; and “Agricultural and Forestlands: U.S. Carbon Policy Strategies,” by Kenneth R. Richards, R. Neil Sampson and Sandra Brown.
The reports cover agriculture and forestry as sources of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and as “sinks” that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also stress the need to bolster existing programs and develop new ones to capitalize on the opportunity to contribute to climate solutions in these two sectors.
The authors suggest “suitable payments” to encourage farmers to adopt management practices to store carbon in agricultural soils and reduce agricultural emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. Policy incentives also are needed, they say, to reduce costs of producing biofuels and accelerate key technologies. The report notes that climate mitigation could become a source of new income and cost reductions for farmers. However, access to financing, changes in economic conditions and technologies, and policies will be key factors affecting farmers’ willingness to play a part in climate solutions.
The second report, “Agricultural and Forestlands: U.S. Carbon Policy Strategies,” considers policies that would ensure a prominent role for U.S. agriculture and forests in national climate mitigation plans. Among potential policies: changing practices on public lands; land use regulations for privately owned forests; and incentives promoting climate-friendly practices on agricultural lands.
For more information, visit www.pewclimate.org.
This winter, according to The New York Times, beekeepers in 24 states have noticed that 30 to more than 70% of their bees have vanished, without leaving dead bodies in or around hives. Most hives contain honey, pollen and larvae – but not worker bees. The latter seem to have flown off and never returned. This “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) is a potential problem, since 90-plus North American crops and about one-third of an American’s diet depend on pollination by honeybees.
Many possible causes of the decline have been suggested, including diseases, mites, crowding in hives, nutritional problems, antibiotics, miticides, pesticide(s), stress due to a shorter off-season when they’re not pollinating (as bees are transported to crops around the country for pollination), monocultures – or some combination of these and other hazards.
A German newspaper says that growers there are questioning whether genetically-engineered Bt corn pollen may be part of the problem, while some Texas beekeepers note that most of the affected hives are near corn fields. They wonder whether the insecticide imidacloprid, a neurotoxin that disorients bees, may be responsible. Some uses of imidacloprid have been banned in France since large die-offs of bees occurred there in the mid-1990s and the insecticide was thought to be involved.
Another hypothesis, based on limited data, suggests that electromagnetic radiation from cell phones may be to blame. When mobile phones were put near beehives, bees refused to return.
The CCD working group, which is studying the problem in the United States, is not focusing on GE crops or cell phones as possible causes, since they are not found near many CCD sites, says the group.
Sources: “Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Keepers in Peril,” by Alexei Barrionuevo, The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2007. www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/business/27bees.html; “Collapsing Colonies – Are GM Crops Killing Bees?” by Gunther Latsch, Der Spiegel, March 22, 2007, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,473166,00.html; "A stinging loss for U.S. farmers as honeybees vanish,” by Amy Ellis Nutt, The Star Ledger, April 15, 2007, www.nj.com. “Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?” by Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross, The Independent, London, April 15, 2007; "Cell Phones To Blame For Deserted Bee Colonies?" Science-A-Go-Go, April 16, 2007, www.scienceagogo.com/news/20070315215055data_trunc_sys.shtml; "Colony Collapse Disorder: Frequently Asked Questions", MAAREC [Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consorium), March 2007. http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/FAQ/FAQCCD.pdf.
Toxic Chemical Leaching into Canned Foods
The Environmental Working Group analyzed samples of canned fruit, vegetables, soda and baby formula sold in U.S. supermarkets and found that more than 50% were tainted with a chemical linked to birth defects, ADHD and cancer. The chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is in plastics that line food cans. According to the study, the chemical has been leaching into foods at levels up to 200 times the government's recommended "safe" level of exposure. Dr. Frederick vom Saal, professor of biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and an expert on BPA, says 94 studies indicate deleterious health effects from BPA. "If BPA was treated as a drug, it would have been pulled immediately. This chemical can be replaced right now by safer materials, and the public would never notice the difference."
• Metal canned beverages appear to contain lower BPA residues, while metal canned pasta and soups contain the highest levels.
• Canned foods in glass containers are not a BPA risk.
• Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom are safer choices and do not contain BPA.
• One-third of liquid baby formulas have high levels of BPA. Powdered formula packaging is generally considered safer.
• Avoid heating foods in plastic containers and do not wash plastic containers in a dishwasher.
• When possible, opt for glass, porcelain and stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
• Do not let plastic wrap touch food in the microwave, or avoid microwave ovens altogether.
• Many metal water bottles, such as those sold by the brand Sigg, are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA. Look for stainless steel bottles, such as those sold by Real Wear and Kleen Kanteen that do not have a plastic liner.
Source: Organic Bytes, March 8, 2007, Organic Consumers Assoc.,
Free Guide Ranks Pesticide Contamination of Produce
If you can't always buy organic, you can still dramatically lower your family's exposure to chemical pesticides by choosing the least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables with the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The Shopper's Guide is a wallet-size card that lists the "Dirty Dozen" most contaminated fruits and vegetables, as well as the 12 most "Consistently Clean" items. The newest edition is available as a free download at www.foodnews.org in both English and Spanish.
The Shopper's Guide was developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), based on results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce by the USDA and the FDA between 2000 and 2004. The EWG's analysis found that consumers could cut their pesticide exposure by almost 90% by avoiding the most contaminated produce and eating the least contaminated instead.
Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 15 pesticides a day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to fewer than two pesticides a day.
EWG's analysis of federal testing data found:
* Peaches and apples topped the Dirty Dozen list. Almost 97% of peaches tested positive for pesticides, and almost 87% had two or more pesticide residues. About 92% of apples tested positive, and 79% had two or more pesticides. The rest of the Dirty Dozen include sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.
* Onions, avocados and sweet corn headed the Consistently Clean list. For all three, more than 90% of the samples tested had no detectable pesticide residues. Others on the Consistently Clean list include pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and papaya.
There is growing scientific consensus that small doses of pesticides can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects. Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.
While washing and rinsing fresh produce can reduce levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
Although the Shopper's Guide measures only pesticide residues on produce, buying organic also makes sense if you're concerned about bacterial contamination. Organic farmers meet all the sanitation standards required of conventional growers and, on top of that, meet tight restrictions on the use of compost and other organic material that do not apply to conventional fruit and vegetable growers.
“When Should You Buy Organic? Free Guide Ranks Pesticide Contamination of Fruits and Vegetables,” Oct. 4, 2006, Environmental Working Group Public Affairs: (202) 667-6982.
Judge Orders Moratorium on GE Alfalfa
A Federal judge in California ruled on May 4, 2007, that the USDA 2005 approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa was illegal. The judge called on USDA to ban further planting of the GE seed until it conducts a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the crop. The ruling followed a hearing brought by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) against the USDA for approving GE alfalfa without the required Environmental Impact Statement. Monsanto and Forage Genetics developed the seed. Judges in earlier rulings said that the USDA failed to address concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa. For more information, see www.centerforfoodsafety.org .
In other recent decisions, a federal judge in Washington said in March that the USDA had not done adequate assessments before approving field trials of GE grass; and in August a federal judge in Hawaii ruled that the USDA had not adequately assessed the potential impact of GE pharmaceutical crops on endangered species.
Sources: Center for Food Safety, www.centerforfoodsafety.org; and Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, March 8, 2007; www.panna.org; Press Release, The Cornucopia Institute, May 4, 2007, www.cornucopia.org.
USDA: No Undue Risk from Rice with Human Genes
The USDA has given preliminary approval for the first commercial GE food crop to contain human genes. The rice, which produces human immune system proteins that can fight diarrhea, is slated to grow in Kansas. The seed was developed by Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento. Opponents fear that the pharmaceutical genes will migrate to other rice crops and foods, so that people could get irregular doses of the medicine; and some people may be allergic to the protein; but USDA’s draft environmental assessment concludes no undue risk is present.
Ventria has three varieties of rice, each with a different human gene to make human proteins. Two of the proteins, which fight bacteria, occur in breast milk and saliva. A third protein makes serum albumin for medical therapies.
Meanwhile, rice seed in Arkansas was found to be a GE variety called LL62, which was never released for marketing; and U.S., Mexican and other rice has been widely contaminated by yet another GE rice, LL601, as well. The LL601 variety, developed by Bayer CropScience, has not been grown since 2001. Neither Bayer nor USDA has been able to explain the contamination. In March, Mexico began requiring certification showing that rice imports from the United States are not contaminated with LL601.
Sources: “USDA Backs Production of Rice with Human Genes,” by Rick Weiss, Washington Post, March 2, 2007; “Greenpeace Investigation Reveals U.S. Source of Genetic Contamination in Mexican Rice,” Greenpeace Press Releases, March 9 and 15, 2007; Steve Smith, Greenpeace USA, Washington, (202) 465-5352; Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace, (202) 285-7398.
Monsanto Wants to Make rBGH Labeling Illegal
In early April, Monsanto filed a formal complaint with the FDA and Federal Trade Commission, demanding that labeling of rBGH-free diary products be made illegal. Due to escalating consumer demand, an increasing number of large U.S. dairies have declared themselves rBGH-free in the last couple of years. Monsanto, sole producer of the synthetic, genetically engineered hormone, has lost substantial sales as a result. The synthesized hormone is banned in most industrialized nations, including Europe and Canada. For more information and to sign a "Millions Against Monsanto" petition, see http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4698.cfm.
Source: Organic Bytes, April 6, 2007; Organic Consumers Assoc., www.organicconsumers.org.
No Cloned Animal Products in Organic
In April, after being flooded with complaints from consumers, the USDA's National Organic Standards Board voted 12-0 (with one abstention) to ban foods from cloned animals and their progeny from the organic market. For more information, see http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4699.cfm.
Jim Riddle, former chair of the NOSB and author of a cloning report for the Organic Center (see next news item), was pleased with the recommendation. “Cloning,” added Riddle, “has no place in organic agriculture. As the FDA’s own report shows, cloning is still very experimental with a high failure rate, it’s inhumane and totally unnatural.”
The action by the NOSB will likely add further support to a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) that would outlaw the use of cloned animals and their offspring in organic food production. When we went to press, the bill, S536, was in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
Source: Organic Bytes, April 6, 2007; Organic Consumers Assoc.; press release, The Cornucopia Institute, April 17, 2007, www.cornucopia.org.
Organic Center Critiques FDA Approval of Cloned Animal Products
A Critical Issue Report released by the Organic Center questions the Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow meat and milk from cloned animals to enter the food supply. One argument made by the FDA is that clones are “virtually indistinguishable” from normal progeny and therefore may enter the food supply. “Virtually indistinguishable is not a scientific standard,” says Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator at the University of Minnesota, and author of the report. “The FDA report shows that subtle changes occur in four to seven percent of animals.”
After the FDA released its proposed plan to allow (unlabeled) food from cloned animals into the food supply, it received 130,000 comments from consumers opposing the plan. According to a Pew Initiative poll, two-thirds of Americans are uncomfortable with animal cloning. The FDA should make a decision about food from cloned animals by the end of 2007.
Sources: “FDA receives 130,000 comments opposing food from clone,” www.organicconsumers.org/ articles/article_5062.cfm, May 3, 2007. The report is posted at www.organic-center.org/science.safety.php?action=view&report_id=81.