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MOF&G Cover Fall 2011

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerFall 2011Organic Matter – Fall 2011   
 Organic Matter – Fall 2011 Minimize

 

The Good News

In a Thompson Reuters-NPR health poll of about 3,000 Americans, 58 percent of respondents said they prefer to eat organic food. Of that 58 percent, reasons for the preference were supporting local farms (36 percent), avoiding toxins (34 percent), concern for the environment (17 percent) and  better taste (13 percent). Of those who preferred non-organic food, 54 percent cited price as the reason; 21 percent, availability; 13 percent said non-organic food tastes better; and 11% think non-organic foods are safer. Respondents prefer to get produce from a farmers’ market (43 percent), followed by a supermarket (32 percent), their own garden (20 percent) and a farm co-op (5 percent). (Thompson Reuter-NPR Health Poll Organic Food, June 2011; www.factsforhealthcare.com/pressroom/NPR_report_OrganicFoods.pdf)

Clayton and Catherine Blake of Blake’s Slaughtering and Custom Meats in Alexander, Maine, have received a $123,000 grant from the Finance Authority of Maine to expand their slaughter facility in Washington County. Previously, the closest facilities that could slaughter animals for public resale and not just for private use were hours away – limiting the size of animal operations in the area. Blake and other producers will be able to sell their meat within Maine. (“Certified slaughter facility coming to Washington County,” by Sharon Kiley Mack, June 7, 2011, Bangor Daily News; http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/07/business/certified-slaughter-facility-coming-to-washington-county/)

Washington County resident Nancy Oden writes in a July 9, 2011, email that she met with Commissioner of Corrections Joseph Ponte to discuss raised bed gardens for Maine prisons.  Then she spoke with the director of the state prison in Machiasport. The result: “Boards are being sawn at the Charleston State Prison, soil will be purchased locally, and prisoners who attended my talk on gardening at the prison last November will – those who want to – plant and grow some food for the 150 prisoners housed in that old military facility.”

MyPlate logo
America's Kitchen Garden
Graphic showing U.S. subsidized agriculture courtesy of Roger Doiron, Kitchen Gardeners International, www.kgi.org

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have unveiled the federal government’s new food icon, MyPlate, to remind consumers to make healthier food choices. The new icon shows a plate half full of fruits and vegetables, paired with half a plate of lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. MyPlate replaces the government’s pyramid image of food groups and follows government guidelines to balance calories; enjoy food but eat less; avoid oversized portions; make half your plate fruits and vegetables; switch to fat-free or 1 percent milk; make at least half your grains whole grains; limit salt; and drink water instead of sugary drinks. Many of these guidelines are laudable, but some would disagree with the focus on lowfat or fat-free milk. (See The Weston A. Price Foundation at www.westonaprice.org for a different take on fat.) And some question the discrepancy between USDA promoting consumption of 50 percent of our calories as produce while only 1 percent of its agricultural subsidies support fruit and vegetable farming. (“First Lady, Agriculture Secretary Launch MyPlate Icon as a New Reminder to Help Consumers to Make Healthier Food Choices,” USDA press release, June 2, 2011; www.choosemyplate.gov/global_nav/media.html. More information is posted at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, www.DietaryGuidelines.gov and www.LetsMove.gov; “Breaking News! USDA Replaces Food Pyramid with MyPlate,” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, www.pcrm.org/newsletter/jun11/usda_food_plate.html

Laboratory hamsters fed high-fat rations containing blueberry peels and other leftovers from blueberry juice processing had 22 to 27 percent lower total plasma cholesterol than those fed rations without blueberry byproducts, and levels of very low density lipoprotein – a form of "bad" cholesterol – were about 44 percent lower in the blueberry-fed hamsters. In another study, young, rapidly growing laboratory rats fed rations that contained 10 percent freeze-dried blueberry powder had significantly more bone mass than rats whose rations were blueberry-free. Cultures of bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) exposed to blood from these animals showed an increase in development of osteoblasts into mature, functional bone cells. Serum in the blueberry-fed rats was high in phenolic acids, derived from the polyphenols that give blueberries their color. The research suggests that the phenolic acids may have promoted bone building in the rats. (“Blueberry's Effects on Cholesterol Examined in Lab Animal Study,” by Marcia Wood, and “Blueberries Help Lab Rats Build Strong Bones,” by Marcia Wood, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Agricultural Research, May-June 2011; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

Organic produce contains a mean of 12 percent more health-promoting compounds than conventionally grown produce, say scientists at Newcastle University. The researchers reviewed all published studies on secondary metabolites and vitamin C in fruits and vegetables produced using organic or conventional methods. Secondary metabolites are thought to help guard against cancer, diabetes and heart disease and include alkaloids, carotenoids and salicylates as well as polyphenols such as tannins, flavanones and resveratrol. (“Study sheds new light on organic fruit and vegetables,” Newcastle University press release, May 24, 2011 (www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-fruit-vegetables.html)

In the summer of 2010, five interns collected price data at Vermont farmers' markets, co-ops and grocery stores. All organic products except potatoes were cheaper at the farmers' market than at the other outlets. Results for conventional items were mixed, with some items cheaper at  farmers' markets and some cheaper at grocery stores. The report concludes that “price differences between farmers’ markets and grocery stores have been to a large extent exaggerated, and that farmers’ markets are an especially affordable alternative for consumers who either currently purchase organic food or who have expressed an interest in buying organic food but are restricted due to high organic prices at grocery stores.” (“Is locally-grown and organic food really more expensive?” NOFA Vt.; http://nofavt.org/pricestudy)

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reported 6,132 farmers’ markets in 2010 – 16 percent more than in 2009 – and projects that consumer demand for locally grown food will reach $7 billion by 2012 (compared with slightly above $1 billion in 2005). Among market vendors surveyed in 2005, 25 percent derived all their farm income from farmers’ markets. (“Farmers Markets by the Numbers,” by Gretchen Hoffman, American Farmland Trust, April 29, 2011; http://blog.farmland.org/2011/04/farmers-markets-by-the-numbers/)

The Cumberland County office of UMaine Cooperative Extension has a new home in Falmouth with a barn, office space, a kitchen for cooking programs, and 3 acres for demonstration plots. The site is part of the new University of Maine Regional Learning Center at 75 Clearwater Drive. The Center for African Heritage, which has a program for growing organic vegetables for local restaurants, and the nonprofit Cultivating Community, which helps young people grow food for the hungry, also have plots nearby. Extension will use some of the land to grow food for food pantries and soup kitchens. And an abandoned orchard on the land was pruned by students from Southern Maine Community College and is tended by master gardeners. (“UMaine Extension gets land, barn and a view,” by Tom Atwell, Portland Press Herald, May 8, 2011; www.pressherald.com/life/homeandgarden/umaine-extension-gets-land-barn-and-a-view_2011-05-08.html)

A new hybrid variety of organic corn, D2901, bred to thrive in the Northeast, has been licensed and is available for sale. Previously, the only organic corn seed available was developed and tested primarily in the Midwest. The hybrid parent plants used to create the variety resist many diseases, have bigger seed ears, and shade the ground early, which can help control weeds. Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding and associate director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station and one of a handful of corn breeders in public research institutions, perfected the variety. Corn breeding is dominated by about 500 private-sector breeders in the United States. Klaas Martens of Lakeview Organic Grain collaborated with Smith to expand seed production of D2901. Although Smith believes research done at a land-grant university should remain in the public domain, the seed was licensed because of diminishing public resources, with breeding programs particularly at risk because they require long-term investment that doesn't fit the two- to three-year funding windows of short-term grants. (“New Cornell corn available for nationwide sale, by Stacey Shackford, Cornell University Chronicle Online, April 15, 2011; www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April11/NewCornBreed.html)

Classical plant breeding, coupled with ecological methods for producing crops, “bests genetic engineering” in “producing the food we will need by mid-century,” write Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Classical plant breeding can introduce new varieties at significantly less expense than, and about as fast as, genetic engineering, and the pace is increasing with techniques such as marker-assisted breeding. Classical breeding has already created drought-, flood- and pest-resistant crops, and fertilizer-efficient crops. Rice that resists flooding, papaya that resists ringspot virus, and corn that deters rootworms are already growing and increasing food security for millions. The authors note that “classical breeding and better farm management are responsible for all the yield increases for soybeans and most of the yield increases for corn in the United States. Recent yield increases are often erroneously attributed to genetic engineering, but data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and academic scientists show that even during the past 15 years that GE crops have been commercialized, classical breeding and crop management improvements contributed the large majority of the increases, not the newly inserted genes” – despite minuscule support for public sector crop breeders. The authors recommend increased funding for classical plant breeding programs at public and nonprofit institutions. (“The cost-effective way to feed the world,” by Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman, Bellingham Herald, June 20, 2011, www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/06/20/2067418/the-cost-effective-way-to-feed.html)

The USDA's child nutrition programs have implemented new rules that will let schools and other providers give preference to unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products as they purchase food for the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Child and Adult Care, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and Summer Food Service programs. The rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama and one of the key provisions to bolster U.S. farm to school programs. (“New USDA Rule Encourages the Purchase of Local Agricultural Products for Critical Nutrition Assistance Programs,” USDA press release, April 26, 2011; www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2011/04/0180.xml&contentidonly=true. For more information, see www.fns.usda.gov and www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/f2s/)

A group of leading scientists, economists and farmers writing in Science calls for a broad shift in federal policies to speed development of farm practices that are more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. “We have the technology and the science right now to grow food in sustainable ways, but we lack the policies and markets to make it happen,” says lead author John Reganold, a Washington State University soil scientist. Reganold’s several studies show organic farming systems are more earth-friendly than conventional and produce more nutritious and sometimes tastier food. Likewise, the 1989 National Research Council report “Alternative Agriculture,” by the same authors, recommended more research and education into sustainable farming, as did the council’s 2010 update, “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century.” The Science paper particularly criticizes the Farm Bill, slated for renewal in 2012. Only one-third of farmers receive payments under the bill, yet it has an outsized influence on production, does little to promote sustainability, distorts market incentives and makes our food system “overly dependent on a few grain crops mainly used for animal feed and highly processed food, with deleterious effects on the environment and human health.” Environmental impacts, says Reganold, include overdrawn aquifers, eroded soil and polluted water. Research in agroecology, which adapts principles of nature to farming systems, is finding new ways to grow abundant and affordable food while protecting the environment, helping farm finances, and contributing to the well-being of farmers, farm workers and rural communities. “Why are we supporting big, mainstream agriculture that’s not necessarily protecting or benefiting the environment?” asks Reganold. “Why don’t we support innovative farming systems of all sizes that produce food sustainably?” (“WSU soil scientist leads expert panel's call for ‘transforming U.S. agriculture,’” Washington State University, May 5, 2011; wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=26019&TypeID=25)

The hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect that has devastated hemlocks in the mid-South and is creeping into northern New England, may be facing an organic adversary soon – and just in time, as climate change mitigates the extreme cold weather that otherwise stops the adelgid. When University of Vermont entomologist Scott Costa combined an insect-killing fungus, Lecanicillium muscarium, with whey, a byproduct of cheese making, and applied the “MicoMax” to infected hemlocks, adelgid growth rate was reduced significantly. (“Forest Fungus Factory,” The University of Vermont, May 5, 2011; www.uvm.edu/research/?Page=news&storyID=11914&category=uvmresearch)

A new campus residence called TerraHaus, which will house 10 Unity College students this fall, is the first American college residence designed to meet the Passive House standard, the highest international standard for energy efficiency, according to http://terrahaus.wordpress.com/.  The 2,000-square-foot residence is modeled to use the equivalent of 80 gallons of oil per year for space heating, less than 10 percent of the average heating load for a home this size in Maine’s climate. In 0 degree weather, the heating load for TerraHaus could be met almost completely with a standard hair dryer. This level of efficiency results from superior air sealing, super-insulation and solar orientation.

The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers are working together to enact new federal legislation for all 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production. The proposed standards would define the first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms. (“HSUS, Egg Industry Agree to Promote Federal Standards for Hens,” Humane Society press release, July 7, 2011; www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2011/07/egg_agreement.html)

Al and Dianne Keene of Carrabassett Valley are publishing the Maine Locavore Cookbook, focused on using local Maine foods. The couple expects to publish the book this fall and make it available to all charitable and nonprofit organizations for use as a fundraiser. See http://locavorecookbooks.com for information and to submit your favorite Maine food recipes.

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Organic Issues

The USDA has suspended Nebraska-based Promiseland Livestock's organic certification as of July 28, 2011, because the company repeatedly withheld records from authorized agents that would have allowed them to audit its facilities. The action followed a formal complaint by Cornucopia Institute concerning illegal conventional cattle being transferred to the company’s giant Aurora Dairy complex in Platteville, Colorado. During the five-year suspension, Promiseland Livestock cannot represent its products as organic.  (“Promiseland Livestock Withdraws Appeal, Suspension of Organic Certification Effective July 28,” USDA Agricultural Marketing Service press release, July 21, 2011; www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/Newsroom; Cornucopia Institute email, July 21, 2011)

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Climate

A study matching future climate change hotspots with regions already suffering chronic food problems identified highly vulnerable populations, chiefly in Africa and South Asia, but potentially in China and Latin America as well, where in fewer than 40 years, the prospect of shorter, hotter or drier growing seasons could imperil hundreds of millions of already-impoverished people. The report, “Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics,” was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The researchers mapped regions at risk of crossing climate thresholds – such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans – that over the next 40 years could diminish food production; regions that may be sensitive to climate shifts because they devote so much land to agriculture; and regions with a long history of food insecurity. Combined, the maps show that large parts of West Africa, India and China could suffer as, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 86 F – close to the maximum that beans tolerate, while maize and rice yields may decline. One previous study showed that African maize yields could decline by 1 percent for each day above 86 F, even with optimal rain.

Farmers already adapt somewhat by changing planting schedules or moving animals to different grazing areas. In some places, they may need to consider new crops, such as sorghum or cassava instead of maize, or new systems, such as integrating livestock and agroforestry.

Many parts of Latin America, where food security is now relatively stable, may be able to cope with some climate stresses – yet millions of people there depend on local agriculture to meet their food needs, so, “they are living in the very crosshairs of climate change.” By 2050, for example, prime growing conditions will likely drop below 120 days per season in intensively farmed parts of northeast Brazil and Mexico – too short to mature some staple crops. Also, parts of Latin America will likely experience temperatures too hot for bean production, a staple there. Some areas have a low sensitivity to the effects of climate change because little land is devoted to agriculture, but agriculture intensification – such as efforts to expand cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa – would render them more vulnerable.

The report calls for major, immediate adaptation efforts to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later; and foresees an increasing importance for international trade in agriculture commodities. (The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security press release, June 3, 2011; full study at http://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/media-centre/climatehotspots)

 

Dairy cows that live year-round on pastures may contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, and pesticide use than indoor herds, say USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers who modeled different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm, using field data on grazing systems and manure management and their effects on nutrient loss to the environment. Compared with high confinement systems, keeping dairy cows outdoors all year lowered ammonia emissions by about 30 percent and total emissions for methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide by 8 percent. Also, when fields formerly used for feed crops were converted to perennial grasslands for grazing, carbon sequestration climbed from zero to as high as 3,400 pounds per acre per year. The results suggest that a well managed dairy herd kept outdoors year-round left a carbon footprint 6 percent smaller than that of a high-production dairy herd kept in barns. (“Beyond the barn: Keeping dairy cows outside is good for the outdoors,” USDA Agricultural Research Service press release, May 24, 2011; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2011/110524.htm)

 

The Environmental Working Group’s “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health” says that if everyone in the United States ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year the effect on emissions would equal taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The research also notes that meat that goes into the trash accounts for more than 20 percent of all meat-associated emissions. “By eating and wasting less meat, consumers can help limit the environmental damage caused by the huge amounts of fertilizer, fuel, water, and pesticides, not to mention the toxic manure and wastewater, that goes along with producing meat,” says Kari Hamerschlag, EWG senior analyst and author of the report. “Choosing healthier, pasture-raised meats can also help improve people’s health and reduce the environmental damage associated with meat consumption.”

The report also says that beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu. (“EWG Meat Eater’s Guide Spotlights Beef’s Outsize Carbon Footprint,” Environmental Working Group press release, July 18, 2011; www.ewg.org)

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Food Safety

As we went to press, sprouts grown from fenugreek seeds were being scrutinized in relation to illnesses and deaths in Europe. More than 16 tons of organic fenugreek seed shipped from Egypt to dozens of companies in at least 12 European countries may be linked to an outbreak of E. coli O104:H4. The initial outbreak, first blamed on cucumbers from Spain and then on bean sprouts from Germany, had killed 49 and sickened more than 4,100. Then a June outbreak in France sickened about 16 more people. Many of the original fenugreek seeds were repackaged into 50-gram packets for resale.

This strain of E. coli, like the better-known O157:H7, is a Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) that can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes kidney failure and neurological damage.

Health experts believe that bacteria in fields can contaminate sprout seeds while plants grow. The FDA encourages sprout growers to sanitize sprout seeds and test sprouts for pathogens; and it tells consumers that cooking can kill bacteria that can contaminate sprouts. Some growers use a chlorine solution and/or a hot water process to sanitize sprouts.

The Cornucopia Institute says that the underlying cause of new, highly toxic strains of foodborne pathogens seems to be raising cattle in highly concentrated factory farm conditions, instead of on pasture. Cows evolved to eat grass, not the high-grain rations they get in feedlots. Eating grain changes the rumen pH and has been linked to the creation of new, more deadly E. coli pathogens. “There is nothing inherently dangerous about raw spinach, raw cucumbers or raw sprouts, which are dangerous only when they are contaminated with manure from industrial-style factory farms,” says Cornucopia, adding that of the 10 U.S. recalls of sprouts since April 2009, nine were attributed to conventional sprouts and one to organic. (“A Search Is Under Way for Tainted Sprout Seeds,” by William Neuman, The New York Times, July 5, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/07/06/business/06seeds.html?_r=1&hpw; “German officials see no E.coli fault at organic farm,” by Brian Rohan, The Montreal Gazette, June 11, 2011; www.montrealgazette.com/news/world/German+officials+coli+fault+organic+farm/4931800/story.html#ixzz1P1eC44As; “E. Coli: Don’t Blame the Sprouts!” by Mark Bittman, The New York Times, June 7, 2011; http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/e-coli-dont-blame-the-sprouts/?smid=tw-bittman&seid=auto; “90% Sprout Contamination Conventional, Not Organic (Linked to Factory Farm Livestock Production),” Cornucopia Institute press release, June 6, 2011; www.cornucopia.org/2011/06/news-advisory-90-sprout-contamination-conventional-not-organic-linked-to-factory-farm-livestock-production/; “The Poster Plant of Health Food Can Pack Disease Risks,” by William Neuman, The New York Times, June 10, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/business/11sprouts.html?_r=1&hpw)

 

After corn is processed to make ethanol, a byproduct called "wet distiller's grains with solubles" (WDGS) is sometimes used as a cattle feed ingredient. In early experiments with 608 steers, USDA researchers showed that the incidence and prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in manure, and the incidence on hides, was significantly higher for cattle whose corn-based feed included 40 percent WDGS than those whose feed did not include WDGS. (“Studies Focus on Feed Ingredient's Effects on Levels of E. coli O157:H7 in Cattle,” by Marcia Wood, USDA Agricultural Research Service press release, May 19, 2011; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

 

Some 70 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals at low doses to promote faster growth and to compensate for unsanitary living conditions. This practice appears to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are dangerous to humans. Despite the FDA’s 1977 conclusion that feeding animals low doses of certain antibiotics used in human medicine – penicillin and tetracyclines – could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people, the agency failed to act to protect human health. So on May 25, 2011, a coalition of health and consumer organizations sued the FDA to act on the agency’s own safety findings and to withdraw approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed. The lawsuit would not affect the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals. Denmark – the world’s largest pork exporter – banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in broiler chickens and adult swine in 1998, and in young swine in 1999. Danish government and industry data collected since then show a sustained decrease in overall antibiotic use and in the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in livestock and meat products, while livestock production has increased. (“Superbug Suit: Groups Sue FDA Over Risky Use of Human Antibiotics in Animal Feed,” Natural Resources Defense Council press release, May 25, 2011; www.nrdc.org)

 

Multidrug-resistant bacteria occurred in 80 percent of raw chicken bought from Dutch grocery stores. The resistance genes were identical to those collected from hospital patients, suggesting that drug-resistant bacteria in food are creating infections that are harder to treat in people. Fewer than 12 percent of raw beef, pork and ground meat samples had the drug-resistant bacteria. (“Bacteria From Dutch Poultry Linked to Superbugs in People, Scientists Find,” by Jason Gale, June 30, 2011; www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-30/bacteria-from-dutch-poultry-linked-to-superbugs-in-people-scientists-find.html)

 

Bisphenol A (BPA), believed to disrupt hormone systems, can leach from epoxy coatings in metal food and drink cans into the food in the cans. Among food products tested from U.S. markets, BPA was found in 71 of 78 canned food samples, but was not found in the two frozen food samples. Fruits and tuna were lowest in BPA concentrations; and canned food solids were higher in BPA than liquid portions in the canned foods. (“Concentration of Bisphenol A in Highly Consumed Canned Foods on the US market,” by Gregory O. Noonan et al., J. Agric. Food Chem., May 20, 2011; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf201076f)

 

Twenty people reported their consumption of canned and packaged foods; then for three days ate foods that were not canned or packaged in plastic; and then resumed their usual diets. Urine samples collected during the three stages of the eight-day study showed significant decreases in concentrations of bisphenol A (BPA) and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) metabolites in urine when subjects ate foods with limited packaging. BPA and DEHP, chemicals used in plastics and resins for food packaging, have been associated with hormone disruption in animals. (“Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention,” by Ruthann A. Rudel et al., Environ Health Perspect., March 30, 2011; http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.1003170)

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Genetic Engineering

Dr. Don Huber, in an in-depth interview in Acres (May 2011; www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/May2011_Huber.pdf), details his concerns about genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy. A plant pathologist, expert on nutrient deficiency diseases of plants and Emeritus Professor at Purdue University, Huber discusses how glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) functions by tying up essential plant nutrients. He also discusses a pathogenic microorganism, yet to be identified, that he believes may be associated with GE Roundup Ready corn and soy, and its possible link to infertility and abortions in animals ingesting contaminated corn and soy feed.

 

In an effort to boost exports, the Obama White House has entered into a joint venture with the agricultural biotechnology industry to remove barriers to the spread of GE crops, even on national wildlife refuges, according to documents obtained by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  PEER is suing the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the State Department to force release of documents detailing their partnership with industry.

In late 2010, the White House formed an Agriculture Biotech Working Group consisting of more than 35 officials from 10 agencies to promote GE agriculture.  This Working Group includes officials from the White House and its Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science & Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality, the Trade Representative, Departments of State, Justice and Agriculture, EPA and FDA. A central task of this group is to legally insulate GE crops on wildlife refuges from further litigation. Initially, it tried to pressure the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which operates the National Wildlife Refuge System, to rescind its Ecological Integrity Policy, which forbids GE planting unless essential to accomplishing a refuge purpose.  These officials then helped prepare environmental assessments to start paving a legal path for GE plantings on 75 refuges in 30 states.

“With all the environmental challenges facing this country, why is the White House priority putting wildlife refuges under the thumb of Monsanto?” asks PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who filed the Freedom of Information Act suits. “It is frankly depressing that the top White House official for ecosystem recovery is hustling genetically altered soybeans on slivers of land set aside for wildlife.” (“White House Pact with Industry to Push GE Plants,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility press release, July 21, 2011; www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1501)

 

In July 2011, the U.S. delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, made up of the world’s food safety regulatory agencies, dropped its opposition to labeling GE foods

The new Codex agreement means that countries wishing to adopt GE food labeling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO), because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade. Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union said a key reason for labeling GE foods is “so that if consumers eat modified foods, they will be able to know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction.” Edita Vilcapoma of the Peruvian consumer group ASPEC, representing Consumers International at the Codex meeting in Geneva, said: “Peru’s recent introduction of GM food labeling faced the threat of a legal challenge from the WTO. This new Codex agreement now means that this threat has gone and the consumer right to be informed has been secured.” (“Consumer Rights Victory as US Ends Opposition to GM Labeling Guidelines,” Consumers International press release, July 5, 2011; www.consumersinternational.org)

 

In April 2011, Hungary became the first country to ensure its people’s “material and mental health” by guaranteeing “an agriculture free of genetically modified organisms” in its new Fundamental Law. Other countries are rejecting GE crops and bolstering their food self-sufficiency. For example:

• Seven European countries have rejected one or more GE crops.

El Salvador has launched a program linking government, peasant organizations and NGOs to ensure that by 2014 all corn and bean seeds it needs will be produced by Salvadoran farmers, not bought from foreign companies. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said, “Only if we become independent in seed [production], will we become independent in food.”

• A new law in Cyprus mandates separate shelving and clear, prominent signs stating which foods contain GE ingredients.

Thailand has had a GE-free rice policy for years.

• The Peruvian Congress recently set a 10-year moratorium on cultivating and breeding GE crops.

• Bolivian President Evo Morales has signed a law to establish state-owned companies to produce seeds and fertilizers in order to protect biodiversity and native foods (such as quinoa, potatoes and corn), to end dependence on foreign seed companies and to make food more affordable.

On the other hand:

Brazil recently fast-tracked release of GE beans even though the government research agency that developed the beans found that organic methods could easily control pests that the GE variety was developed to control, without reducing yields.

Chilean legislators recently passed a law effectively granting Monsanto patent rights over the majority of seeds used to grow crops in that country.

• A decade-long moratorium on GE seeds in Mexico was broken in 2009, when the government approved 29 applications for experimental GE corn plots. Another 20 plots were approved in 2010. (“To be or not to be GE-free,” Pesticide Action Network North America, June 22, 2011; www.panna.org/blog/be-or-not-be-ge-free; “El Salvadoran Government & Social Movements Say No to Monsanto,” by Carlos Martinez, May 27, 2011; http://upsidedownworld.org/main/el-salvador-archives-74/3049-el-salvadoran-government-a-social-movements-say-no-to-monsanto; “Bolivia moves to end dependence on foreign seed firms,” BBC News, June 27, 2011; www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13923732)

 

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) says that USDA's draft environmental assessment of Monsanto's GE, drought-tolerant corn, MON87460 does not adequately address the environmental, health or socio-economic impacts of the crop – or the benefits offered by organic corn, and how adoption of organic corn might change if MON87460 is deregulated. Conventional and GE corn cultivation uses far more fertilizer and herbicide and creates more pollution than any other U.S. crop, says CFS, while long-term farming trials show conclusively that organically grown corn is more drought-tolerant than non-organically grown corn. “Every acre planted to MON87460 rather than organic corn will lead to an average of 140 lbs. more inorganic nitrogen fertilizer and over 2.3 lbs. more toxic synthetic pesticide use. USDA failed to analyze such potential impacts,” says CFS, adding that USDA also failed to address corporate control and monopolization of seed, and the cumulative impacts of "stacking" pesticide-promoting GE traits into this one GE crop. USDA further failed to assess the potential environmental impacts associated with conversion of Conservation Reserve Program land to MON87460; and ignored the interests of non-GE farmers and the American public, placing the burden to avoid GE contamination entirely on organic and non-GE farmers. Finally, CFS says USDA’s environmental assessment failed to use sound science and relied excessively on Monsanto data. (“USDA Looks to Approve First GE, Drought Tolerant Corn with no EIS,” Center for Food Safety, July 5, 2011; www.centerforfoodsafety.org)

 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has approved $20 million in new monies toward developing GE Golden Rice; Helen Keller International (HKI), a New York-based  NGO, is also supporting the effort. Golden Rice has been engineered to contain beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, which is deficient in diets of many poor Asians. Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, calls Golden Rice a Trojan horse PR stunt by agribusiness corporations to garner acceptance of GE crops and food, adding that donor organizations’ money and efforts would be better spent on restoring natural and agricultural biodiversity rather than destroying it by promoting monoculture plantations and GE crops. Introducing GE rice into Asia, the center of diversity for rice, threatens cultural and biological diversity. The first Green Revolution displaced thousands of traditional and indigenous varieties of rice and knowledge of their management with a handful of hybrid varieties requiring heavy doses of synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Golden Rice threatens to speed that process, with the added risk of genetically contaminating Asia’s precious resource. Golden Rice is also pushing through GE-friendly biosafety regulations under the guise of humanitarian aid. These regulations open the door for the biotech industry to bring in commercial, patented GE crops, as USAID and Monsanto did in Kenya with sweet potatoes. Farmers and national governments then become beholden to biotech giants and lose their rights to save and exchange seed. Also, once GE rice contaminates a rice supply, countries will lose agricultural export markets to Japan and Europe. Finally, vitamin A uptake depends on the presence of fats or oils in a diet. Golden Rice is useless when people can’t access or afford the diet they need to metabolize it, especially when it comes packaged in a monocultural production system that undermines the dietary diversity they need. Smarter, cheaper alternatives exist. Most important is recognizing that poverty, the underlying reason for nutritional deficiencies, can't be solved with a technological fix. (“‘Golden Rice,’ or Trojan Horse?” by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network North America, June 2, 2011; www.panna.org/blog/golden-rice-or-trojan-horse)

 

Because of new threats by Monsanto, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has amended its suit on behalf of family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on GE seed, and 23 new plaintiffs have joined the original sixty. The plaintiffs in Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto, pending in the Southern District of New York, include 36 family farmer, food, agricultural research, food safety, and environmental organizations representing hundreds of thousands of members, including several thousand family farmers and MOFGA and FEDCO Seeds.

Maine organic farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of OSGATA, says, “Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families – and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose.  Organic farmers have the right to raise our organic crops for our families and our customers on our farms without the threat of invasion by Monsanto’s genetic contamination and without harassment by a reckless polluter.”

“Our clients don’t want a fight with Monsanto, they just want to be protected from the threat they will be contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed and then be accused of patent infringement,” says Daniel B. Ravicher, PUBPAT executive director and lecturer of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

After the suit was filed in March, Monsanto said it would not assert its patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. PUBPAT attorneys asked the company to make its promise legally binding. Monsanto then hired former solicitor general Seth P. Waxman of Wilmer Hale in Washington D.C., who rejected PUBPAT’s request and confirmed that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose crops become contaminated by Monsanto’s GE seed.

According to PUBPAT, “Monsanto continued in the statement to perversely characterize this suit as an ‘attack,’ when Plaintiffs seek no money from and no injunction against them. All Plaintiffs seek is peace of mind [that] if they are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed, the company could never sue them for patent infringement. This is not an attack by the Plaintiffs and to characterize it that way only further evidences Monsanto’s aggressive and threatening attitude with respect to its patents.”

The suit also argues that Monsanto’s transgenic Roundup Ready patents are invalid under laws requiring patented products to demonstrate clear social utility and not be dangerous to health. The original complaint asserted four basic contentions, ranging from patent invalidity, to establishing proper requirements for a finding of patent infringement, to patent unenforceability and Monsanto’s lack of entitlement to collect damages.

“The issues raised in the lawsuit are critical, not just to organic farmers and others who do not want to grow genetically-modified (transgenic) crops,” says Gerritsen, but “also to the safety of food and everyone who eats – and that includes everyone concerned about environmental protection and public health.” As Gerritsen sees the suit, “This is not just a minor dispute between a few family farmers and a powerful corporation accustomed to getting its own way; it is a debate over who offers the best and most responsible way to feed the people of the world over the decades and centuries ahead.” Monsanto offers an expedient short-cut with enormous long-term risks and consequences for public health and environmental degradation, he says; “This, we intend to prove in court.”

“We believe Monsanto has anti-competitively and improperly abused their rights under patent law and have used their patents to gain monopoly dominance over major sectors of the seed industry,” says Ravicher; “They have gained control over as much as 90 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean seed market.” Independent research on the safety of transgenic food has not been permitted because Monsanto has used its patent control to prevent that, Ravicher says, adding, “The operation of the patent system against the public interest will be an important issue to be examined as part of this case.”

“The USDA, the White House, and the Congress have evaded responsibility to protect the public from the potential and unstudied dangers of transgenic food, not even requiring careful, long-term, independent testing nor the clear GMO labeling long demanded by the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens,” says Bryce Stephens, a Kansas wheat farmer and OSGATA’s vice-president. “President Obama said he wanted to see mandatory GMO labeling during his 2008 presidential campaign, but he has not provided it. We need someone to act in the public’s defense if our officials will not.” (“Family Farmers Amplify Complaint Against Monsanto’s GMOs, Reinforcing Their Arguments with Two Dozen Additional Plaintiffs,” PUBPAT press release, June 1, 2011; “Organic Farmers and Seed Sellers Sue Monsanto,” PUBPAT press release, March 29, 2011; www.osgata.org/osgata-press-releases)

 

According to the coalition No Patents on Seeds!, the European Patent Office in May 2011 awarded Monsanto a patent on conventionally bred melons (EP 1 962 578) that are resistant to cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV), which has been spreading through North America, Europe and North Africa for several years. “This patent is an abuse of patent law because it is not a real invention,” says Christoph Then, a spokesperson for No Patents on Seeds! “It contravenes European law excluding patents on conventional breeding. Further, it is a case of bio-piracy, since the original and most relevant plants come from India. Patents like this are blocking access to the genetic resources necessary for further breeding, and basic resources needed for daily life are subordinated to monopolisation and financial speculation.” DeRuiter, a Dutch seed company that originally developed the melons, was acquired by Monsanto in 2008. (“Melons Now a Monsanto ‘Invention,’” No Patents on Seeds!, May 17, 2011; www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/en/information/news/melons-now-monsanto-invention)

 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded a lawsuit over the impacts of GE Roundup Ready sugar beets in May 2011. As a result, previous court rulings in favor of farmers and conservation advocates will remain, including the order requiring USDA to prepare a rigorous review of the impacts of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets, before deciding whether to allow their future commercial use.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Sierra Club, represented by CFS and Earthjustice, challenged the USDA approval in 2008.  They argued that GE sugar beets would contaminate organic and non-GE farmers’ related crops, such as table beets and chard, as well as increase pesticide impacts on the environment and worsen the current Roundup-resistant “superweeds” epidemic.  In September 2009, Judge Jeffrey S. White in federal district court in San Francisco agreed and ordered USDA to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  In August 2010, after a year of litigation over the proper remedy for USDA’s unlawful approval, the court again agreed with plaintiffs, threw out USDA’s approval, and halted planting.

Monsanto and other biotech industry interveners appealed on procedural grounds, which, if granted, threatened to undo the earlier rulings.  The May 2011 order dismissed that appeal and affirmed the lower court’s rulings.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff says, “Dismissal of the appeal confirms that the district court rightly concluded that in this case, as in every other case that has challenged USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, the agency has flouted the law, favoring the interests of Monsanto over those of American people.  With every court decision the need for fundamental reform in this area becomes ever more obvious.”

This EIS is only the second that USDA has undertaken for any GE crop in more than 15 years of approving such crops for human consumption.  Both were court-ordered.  USDA expects to finish the GE sugar beet EIS and have a new decision on commercialization in 2012.

Despite the absence of lawful review or a new agency decision, in summer 2010, USDA and the biotech industry demanded the court allow planting to continue.  The district court refused to do so and instead set aside USDA’s approval of the crop based on the agency’s failure to comply with environmental laws.  That ruling was also preserved by the May 2011 order.

During this case’s appeal, USDA approved 2011-2012 planting of GE sugar beets under the terms of a novel permitting and “partial deregulation” scheme while it conducted the court-ordered analysis.  That decision is the subject of separate litigation. (“Court of Appeals Dismisses Monsanto’s Appeal of Biotech Beets Case, Preserves Victory for Farmers, Environment,” Center for Food Safety press release, May 20, 2011; www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2011/05/20/court-of-appeals-dismisses-monsantos-appeal-of-biotech-beets-case-preserves-victory-for-farmers-environment)

 

Monsanto could begin field testing GE wheat within one to two years, says Claire CaJacob, Monsanto's global wheat technology lead executive. Traits of interest include yield and resistance to stress (including drought). Syngenta, BASF and other companies are also developing GE wheat. Monsanto halted GE wheat work in 2004 due to opposition from U.S. farmers and wheat buyers. (“Monsanto sees "right time" for GMO wheat,” by Carey Gillam, Nov. 4, 2010; www.reuters.com/article/2010/11/04/us-monsanto-wheat-gmo-idUSTRE6A34K220101104

 

The USDA has exempted a GE Roundup-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass produced by Scotts Miracle-Gro from federal regulation. USDA said the bluegrass did not use any plant pests, so was not subject to federal regulation. When sprayed with the herbicide Roundup, the GE bluegrass will survive but weeds won’t. While many GE crops use DNA from a plant virus to activate other inserted genes, Scotts used only plant genes, and inserted those with a gene gun instead of with a bacterium. USDA also declined to regulate the bluegrass as a noxious weed, as the Center for Food Safety requested. Another GE grass from Scotts, a bentgrass, has escaped from field tests in Oregon and become established in the wild. (“U.S.D.A. Ruling on Bluegrass Stirs Cries of Lax Regulation,” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, July 6, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/business/energy-environment/cries-of-lax-regulation-after-usda-ruling-on-bluegrass.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&hpw=&adxnnlx=1310040092-CIwDth7mqAaiVRAu5FhYVQ)

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Pesticides

The Earth Open Source (EOS) report "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" says that industry has known but denied since the 1980s that glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) causes birth defects. Monsanto responded at its Monsantoblog, "Regulatory authorities and independent experts around the world agree that glyphosate does not cause adverse reproductive effects in adult animals or birth defects in offspring of these adults exposed to glyphosate, even at doses far higher than relevant environmental or occupational exposures." On June 14, 2011, EOS noted on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/machCY) that a main point of its report is that regulatory authorities have indeed agreed that glyphosate does not cause birth defects – but that conclusion is contradicted by industry's own studies, which show birth defects in experimental animals at high, mid and lower doses. The EOS report also details independent scientific literature showing that glyphosate and Roundup cause birth defects in experimental animals, as well as cancer, genetic damage, endocrine disruption and other serious health effects – even at very low, physiologically relevant doses. EOS has asked the European Commission to appoint independent scientists to review industry and independent studies on glyphosate and Roundup. (“Earth Open Source response to Monsanto,” “Earth Open Source Report on Roundup – Monsanto Response,” GMWatch, gmwatch-daily@gmwatch.eu; "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" Earth Open Source, June 2011; www.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5)

 

Tests of umbilical cord blood of 494 newborns in Valencia, Spain, between 2003 and 2006 showed that those with higher levels of residues of DDT and three other organochlorine pesticides tended to be smaller at birth. The pesticides are now banned because of their links to cancer and other potential health risks, but they persist in the environment and in foods – especially fatty foods, such as dairy products and oily fish. Higher levels of DDT were also linked to a smaller head circumference, and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) was linked to a shorter birth length. The other two pesticides measured were DDE and beta-hexachlorocyclohexane. The correlations do not prove that the pesticides affected fetuses but may just indicate the presence of greater chemical exposure generally. Similarly, in 2009, U.S. researchers found that babies conceived during the atrazine spray season are more likely than others to suffer a range of birth defects. Syngenta's atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States, applied mostly in corn fields. Now researchers in Indiana are finding that a rare birth defect called “gastroschisis” occurs more often among babies conceived when atrazine levels are high. Gastroschisis causes an infant's intestines to grow outside the body. A similar study in Washington state found that women living near atrazine-contaminated water were more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis, with the risk especially high if pregnancy started in spring. Pesticide Action Network is collecting signatures on a letter to the CEO of Syngenta, demanding that the company pay attention to recent evidence that its flagship herbicide causes birth defects and other harm. Syngenta calls concerns about the health effects of atrazine “alarmist.” (“Birth defects linked to pesticides, again,” by Kristin Schafer, June 23, 2011, Pesticide Action Network North America, http://www.panna.org/blog/birth-defects-linked-pesticides-again; “Prenatal pesticide exposure tied to birth size,” June 14, 2011, www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/14/us-prenatal-pesticide-exposure-idUSTRE75D61820110614)

 

The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper's Guide to Pesticides ranks pesticide contamination in 53 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 51,000 tests conducted from 2000 to 2009 by USDA and FDA. Nearly all the studies on which the guide is based tested rinsed or peeled produce. Choosing five servings of produce a day from EWG's Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen can lower the volume of measured pesticide consumed daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. Picking five servings from the 12 most contaminated would result in consuming an average of 14 different pesticides a day, while choosing five servings from the 15 least contaminated would result in consuming fewer than two pesticides per day (among those measured).

The 12 most contaminated items are apples, strawberries, peaches, domestic nectarines, imported grapes, domestic blueberries, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce and greens (kale and collards).

Produce least likely to test positive for the measured pesticides are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant, cabbage, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pineapples, avocados, mangoes, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon and grapefruit. Asparagus, sweet corn and onions had no detectable pesticide residues on 90 percent or more of samples.

In 2009, USDA sampled organic lettuce. Of 387 samples, six different residues (including metabolites) representing five pesticides were detected.  Most frequent were spinosad  (18.3 percent of samples) and azadirachtin A/B (1.8 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively), both allowed for use in organic practices. Cypermethrin was found in one organic lettuce sample at 0.06 parts per million (ppm) where a tolerance of 10 ppm is established for conventionally-grown lettuce. DDE p,p’, an environmental contaminant, was detected in one sample of organic lettuce. Three samples contained violative residues of phosmet oxygen analog; no tolerance is established for the parent compound, phosmet, in conventionally-grown lettuce. 

Routine USDA testing also found at least 34 unapproved pesticides on washed cilantro, the first fresh herb to be tested in the 20-year-old program. Of 184 cilantro samples (81 percent from the United States, 17 percent imported, and 2 percent of unknown origin), 94 percent had residue of at least one pesticide. Among the pesticides detected were diazinon and chlorpyrifos. In a separate issue, in March 2011, cilantro growers and distributors received a "guidance letter" from the FDA citing 28 positive salmonella findings in cilantro since 2004.

The conventional produce industry is countering EWG’s message with its own message, as in this sentiment taken from The Packer: “The truth may be unpleasant, and counterintuitive, but eating fresh produce, with trace levels of pesticides, is indeed healthy. Consumers should fill half their plate with it. That message is worth spreading.”

And consumers convey their message through their spending. The market share for organic produce increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 11.4 percent in 2009. (“EWG'S 2011 Shopper's Guide Helps Cut Consumer Pesticide Exposure,” Environmental Working Group press release, June 13, 2011; www.ewg.org/foodnews/press/; “Best Friends Forever? Produce Growers and Pesticide Makers Deepen Their Bond,” by Ken Cook, The Huffington Post, June 7, 2011; www.huffingtonpost.com/don-carr/produce-pesticides-_b_871749.html; “Fighting the good fight,” The Packer, May 20, 2011; www.thepacker.com/opinion/fresh-produce-opinion/Fighting-the-good-fight-122358019.html; USDA Pesticide Data Program, Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2009; http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5091055; “USDA testing finds 30-plus unapproved pesticides on the herb cilantro,” by Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, May 31, 2011; www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-cilantro-pesticide-20110531,0,3058450.story?page=1)

 

In June 2011, in response to FDA tests showing residues of inorganic arsenic in chicken liver, Pfizer said it would suspend sales of 3-nitro roxarsone, an arsenic-containing drug used to kill parasites and promote growth in pigs and poultry. Organic arsenic, such as that used in roxarsone, can be irreversibly converted to the carcinogenic inorganic form of arsenic. Tests published by Consumer Reports in 2005 showed that arsenic was present in many chicken livers on the market but was not detectable in organic livers. Several other arsenic containing drugs for animals remain on the market in the United States (but are not used in organic production). This arsenic can harm human health and can end up in chicken manure that is routinely spread on agricultural land as fertilizer and in litter that is swept up and recycled as feed to cows on large-scale feedlots. (“Consumers Union Commends Pfizer Withdrawal of Arsenic-Containing Animal Drug,” Consumers Union, June 8, 2011; “Pfizer Suspends Sales of Chicken Drug With Arsenic,” by Gardiner Harris and Denise Grady, The New York Times, June 8, 2011; www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/business/09arsenic.html?hpws)

 

The Rochester, N.Y.-based Empire State Consumer Project  had five brands of apple juice and five of applesauce tested for arsenic. Mott's apple juice had five times the concentration of arsenic allowed in drinking water. No other samples tested positive. Motts uses apple concentrate from China, where arsenic-based pesticides are used. Last year the St. Petersburg Times found that Mott’s had the highest arsenic concentrations among nine boxed apple juices tested. (“Group: Arsenic found in Mott's apple juice,” by Steve Orr, Democrat and Chronicle, July 22, 2011; (http://blog.usfoodsafety.com/2011/07/22/arsenic-found-in-motts-apple-juice/)

 

Exposure to three pesticides – paraquat, maneb and ziram – over several years increased the risk of Parkinson's disease. Researchers say their findings are the first strong evidence in humans that exposure to several pesticides increases risk of Parkinson’s more than exposure to individual chemicals alone. Study subjects either worked or lived – or both – near fields sprayed with the chemicals. Those exposed at work had a greater risk of the disease than those exposed at home, while those who both live and work near treated fields were at greatest risk. A 2009 study found that people who lived near fields where maneb and paraquat were sprayed had a 75 percent increase in their risk for Parkinson’s; and another published in 2011 found that people who used either paraquat or rotenone were 2 1/2 times more likely to suffer from Parkinson's. (“New science: More evidence on the Parkinson's link,” Pesticide Action Network North America, June 2, 2011; www.panna.org/blog/new-science-more-evidence-parkinsons-link)

 

Environment Minister Ross Wiseman of Newfoundland and Labrador says the sale and cosmetic use of 2,4-D, carbaryl, mecoprop, dicamba and MCPA will be banned for household lawns as of the 2012 lawn care season. The pesticides will still be allowed in agriculture, along roads and transmission lines, and on golf courses.

The World Health Organization classifies 2,4-D as a possible human carcinogen and potential hormone disruptor. The provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have also banned 2,4-D use on lawns. (“Newfoundland and Labrador joins provinces outlawing cosmetic pesticides on lawns,” by Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press, Newstalk 1290, CJBK radio, London, Ontario, July 14, 2011; (www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_23617.cfm)

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Farm Bill

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has listed information about the farm bill, which drives federal spending for farm, nutrition and conservation programs and is up for renewal in 2012. In 2010 alone, farm bill programs spent $96.3 billion. Among the points the EWG makes are these:

• The farm bill doles out billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to the largest five commodity crops: corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans – regardless of need. The payments mostly fail to help the nation’s real working farm and ranch families. Since 1995, just 10 percent of subsidized farms – the largest and wealthiest operations – have gotten 74 percent of all subsidy payments.

• The Obama Administration says we should each eat half a plate of produce at meals. Yet only a tiny fraction of farm bill funding is for programs that support growing healthy produce.

• Some 90,000 checks went to wealthy investors and absentee landowners in more than 350 U.S. cities in 2010.

• The flawed subsidy system encourages farmers to grow as much acreage of industrial-scale, fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive crops as possible, with harmful effects on our environment and drinking water – and limiting the availability of organic food.

The Farm Bill does support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamp program); the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which gives vouchers to seniors to buy food at farmers’ markets; and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides produce to schools.

Although conservation programs to protect water, soil and wildlife habitat largely go underfunded and unfulfilled, the farm bill provided more than $4 billion in 2011 to help farmers conserve soil, clean up water and protect habitat for wildlife.

The EWG suggests calling the farm bill a food and farm bill. It wants the next farm bill to protect food assistance programs for those most in need; to shift a large chunk of farm subsidy dollars into conservation programs; to reform crop insurance – another lavish subsidy for producers, it says; and to encourage truly sustainable biofuels and biomass energy alternatives, instead of heavily subsidized and inefficient corn ethanol. (“Top 10 Things You Should Know About The Farm Bill,” June 27, 2011, Environmental Working Group; www.ewg.org)

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