The Good News
Women in Farming
Genetic Engineering News
The Good News
New Loan Program for Organic Farmers in Washington County – Beginning this fall, the Sunrise County Economic Council (SCEC) will offer loans from a new Agricultural Microloan Fund for the Washington County agriculture community. Loans for up to $10,000 will be made to qualifying applicants. Made possible through a generous program-related investment (PRI – a type of low-cost loan) from a local family, microloan funds may be used for equipment, inventory, improvements; creation and/or expansion of value-added products or services; training and education, marketing assistance; energy efficiency improvements; and assistance with forming start-up capital. For more information regarding PRI opportunities or the SCEC AG Microloan Fund, please contact Harold Clossey at 207-255-0983 or email@example.com.
MOFGA member Michael Zuck will offer a class called “Growing Winter Greens in the Greenhouse: A Simplified Approach” through Bangor Adult Education, Bangor High School, on Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m., from Oct. 28 through Nov. 25. This class will detail a new technique for organically producing lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale and Asian greens in sub-irrigated pots in a lightly heated winter greenhouse. The growing system has been developed at the former Everlasting Farm in Bangor and allows for continuous production of multiple crops over a 20-week season starting in mid-October. The class will pay careful attention to each detail of the growing system, and will incorporate the fundamentals of sustainable greenhouse operation. The final class will be a field trip to see the greens growing operation in full swing. Subject to meeting minimum enrollment; see http://bangor.maineadulted.org/
Dr. Arden Andersen will present the latest on nutrient-dense biological agriculture and how healthy soils make economic and environmental sense, at Heart of Maine’s Annual Soils Conference, November 14-16 in Bangor. MOFGA is cosponsoring this event.
Says MOFGA certified organic farmer Jim Gerritsen, "Arden Anderson provides an unequaled foundation for understanding soils that will last a farmer a lifetime. His breadth of knowledge – of soils and systems from a good-nutrition-is-good health-perspective – is second to none.” Anderson’s course is “the best way for farmers and serious gardeners to gain a clear foundation of soils and biology in a compact three-day window,” Gerritsen adds. “He is also blessed to be an exceptional, highly skilled teacher. I took Arden's Bangor class in 2005, and had we done that 30 years earlier, we would really be making a good living now.”
FMI: www.heartofmaine.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-200-3603. Early-bird registration closes on Sept. 30.
|Charles Lemons. Photo courtesy of Maine Organic Milling.
Maine Organic Milling, a farmer-owned cooperative feed grain mill in Auburn, Maine, recently hired Charlie Lemons to be its general manager. Lemons moved to Maine from Arkansas, where he was operations manager in charge of production, quality, safety and process engineering at DeWafelbakkers, a food processing company in Little Rock. Lemons’ extensive background in manufacturing and management will help Maine Organic Milling improve operating efficiencies at the mill to lower costs and better serve Maine’s organic livestock farmers. For more about the Maine Organic Milling cooperative, see www.maineorganicmilling.com.
In our spring 2013 MOF&G farm hack article, we reported, “Some participants mentioned Colin Caissie of Whitefield, Maine (Colin@longhopefarm.com, 549-3338), who custom builds basket weeders, root washers, and modifies and repairs existing cultivation and irrigation equipment for small farmers.” Caissie tells us that he has since "gone into production" of the root washers. His reasonably priced unit saves shipping costs relative to other suppliers. Locally built and made with locally obtained materials, it has a sustainable, wooden base frame instead of a welded aluminum channel; a larger, more durable chain that resolves chronic chain slippage problems with some other units; is variable speed; and has replaceable components. Caissie even offers drawings so that a customer could make a new wooden base after 10 years of use in the weather. Caissie also makes pen dollies for moving poultry pens; a chili roaster; a centrifuge control panel; and probably more!
Producers switching to organic crops can get premium prices and build healthy soil and sequester carbon, making organic agriculture useful for dealing with climate change. So says a study published in Crop Management, based on results from the LongTerm Agroecological Research (LTAR) Experiment, one of the longest running replicated comparisons of organic and conventional agriculture in the country, begun in 1998.
“Farmers interested in transitioning to organic production will be happy to see that, with good management, yields can be the same, with potentially higher returns and better soil quality,” says project leader Kathleen Delate, agronomy and horticulture professor at Iowa State University.
The ISU experiment showed that some of the biggest changes over time were in soil quality, particularly once the system was established. Soils in the organic plots (three and fouryear rotations of corn, soybean, oats and alfalfa) were significantly better than in plots using a conventional twoyear rotation of corn and soybeans. The organic plots had up to 40 percent more biologically active soil organic matter. Organic soils also had lower acidity and more carbon, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and calcium.
Healthy soils hold more water and improve water infiltration, increasing a farm’s resilience to drought, heavy rainfall and extreme weather. Farming practices that build soil health also increase carbon storage in soil, called carbon sequestration, which buffers climate change and contributes to water quality.
The LTAR, located on 17 acres, compares four crop rotations using identical varieties repeated four times in 44 plots. The conventional rotation received synthetic nitrogen, herbicides and insecticides at ISU recommended rates. The organic corn plots received composted manure from a local chicken operation. Weeds are managed by timely tillage, longer crop rotations, cover crops and allelopathic chemicals from rye and alfalfa.
Corn and soybean yields were statistically equivalent in organic and conventional systems during both the transitional (19982001) and established (20022010) phase of the experiment. Yields for organic oats and alfalfa exceeded county averages.
Based on plotlevel data, organic crops earned roughly $200 more per acre over the 13 years of the study due to premium market prices and reduced input costs. In 2010, for example, an acre of land planted with the fouryear organic rotation returned $510, while an acre planted with conventional cornsoybean returned $351.
On average, labor requirements doubled for organic systems. No significant difference occurred in the number of crop pests.
The results suggest that skilled management practices can overcome the need for
synthetic inputs, ISU says. (“Iowa State study shows soil-building benefits of organic practices,” Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, May 23, 2013; www.leopold.iastate.edu/news/05-23-2013/soil-building-benefits-organic-practices; Peer-reviewed study: “The LongTerm Agroecological Research (LTAR) Experiment supports organic yields, soil quality and economic performance in Iowa,” by Kathleen Delate et al., Crop Management, April 29, 2013; http://www.plantmanagementnetwork.org/pub/cm/symposium/organic/farm/LTAR/; Details about the project are posted at www.leopold.iastate.edu/longtermagroecologicalresearch)
A nationwide survey of more than 750 farmers in 36 states by USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program confirms that farmers are seeing multiple benefits from cover crops, including the following:
▪ During the fall of 2012, corn planted after cover crops had a 9.6 percent increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops; soybeans yielded 11.6 percent more following cover crops.
▪ In the hardest hit drought areas of the Corn Belt, yield differences were even larger, with an 11.0 percent yield increase for corn and a 14.3 percent increase for soybeans.
▪ Surveyed farmers are rapidly increasing acreage of cover crops used, with an average of 303 acres of cover crops per farm planted in 2012 and with farmers intending to plant an average of 421 acres of cover crops in 2013. Total acreage of cover crops among farmers surveyed increased 350 percent from 2008 to 2012.
▪ Farmers identified improved soil health as a key overall benefit from cover crops. Others were reduced soil compaction, improved nutrient management, and reduced soil erosion.
▪ Farmers are willing to pay a median amount of $25 per acre for cover crop seed and an additional $15 per acre for establishment costs (either for their own cost of planting or to hire a contractor to do the seeding).
• Most farmers (72 percent) plant winter cereal grains as a cover crop, while 62 percent choose brassicas and 58 percent, legumes. Roughly one-third of respondents plant multi-species mixes, which can fix nitrogen, scavenge nutrients and break up hard pan; most plant cover crops to reduce soil compaction and erosion; more than 40 percent plant cover crops primarily for nitrogen scavenging benefits.
Perhaps most importantly for producers, respondents reported increases in 2012 cash crop yields in fields where they used cover crops – an average corn yield of 126.2 bushels per acre after cover crops vs. 115.1 bushels per acre without cover crops. The 2012 drought profoundly impacted corn yields in much of the country. Proponents of cover crops note that water held in the soil by shading from cover crops, and the additional moisture-holding capacity of soil in which long-term cover cropping and other conservation practices have increased soil organic matter, likely accounted for much of the yield gain where cover crops were planted. (“New USDA/SARE Survey Shows Benefits of Cover Crops,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, July 9, 2013; http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-cover-crop-survey/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SustainableAgricultureCoalition+%28National+Sustainable+Agriculture+Coalition+%28NSAC%29%29)
Deepika Kundaji and her husband, Bernard Declercq, grow 90 varieties of vegetables for seed conservation at their 7-acre Pebble Garden, once a degraded piece of land in Auroville, India. Reclamation involved planting trees and building soil by layering wet acacia leaves, soil and urine-soaked charcoal, reports Anupama Chandrasekaran. These gardeners are especially interested in crops that tolerate adverse climate conditions, including a drought-resistant eggplant variety and Malabar spinach. Growing diverse crops is a traditional way people have dealt with variable weather, says Kundaji. Another grower is using permaculture techniques (including multicropping rice, bananas and vegetables) in case a pest attacks one crop or rains are late. Still another has planted trees and created catchment ponds to fill aquifers. (“For Farmers Fearing Drought, Auroville Offers Some Lessons,” by Anupama Chandrasekaran, The New York Times, May 30, 2013; http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/for-farmers-fearing-drought-auroville-offers-some-lessons/)
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has launched its vision for healthy farms that make agriculture work for people and the environment – rather than wasting scarce water, reducing biodiversity, contributing to climate change and polluting ground and surface waters. The work of many farmers and scientists “has resulted in cumulative knowledge that demonstrates that farming based on ecological principles, or agroecology, can be highly productive and can greatly reduce our environmental impact, while improving life for farmers and farming communities,” says UCS. The UCS recommends four major changes: Use longer crop rotations that greatly reduce the need for pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, recycle nutrients, increase biodiversity and protect the water and air; see the farm as part of a larger, biodiverse landscape that protects the land; grow cover crops when cash crops are not growing; and integrate livestock and crops. Read more at http://blog.ucsusa.org/ucs-vision-for-healthy-farms-in-the-21st-century-agroecology-has-the-answers-12
Maine’s Own Organic Milk Company (MOOMilk) completed its third round of investment funding in May, totaling $3,900,000, and reorganized its board of directors.
MOOMilk was formed in 2009 by 10 Maine organic dairy farmers after HP Hood terminated their supply contract. Unable to find another processor, they and a small group of early supporters, including MOFGA, Maine Farm Bureau and local investors, started the company. MOOMilk now includes 12 Maine family farms and has increased its distribution to more than 200 retail stores in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and to organic ice cream producers in Connecticut, New York, Maine and Rhode Island.
The company has appointed representatives of its three major investors to its board. New investor Norman Cloutier, founder and former CEO and chairman of United Natural Foods, Inc., joins Steve Ruchefsky, representative of early investor Donald Sussman, and Ron Phillips of Coastal Enterprises Inc. as outside directors. CEO Bill Eldridge and three farmer members complete the board.
Cloutier also joined the company’s executive committee to oversee development of marketing, production and distribution programs to support MOO’s introduction of new products and expansion into new markets. Following his retirement in 1999 from United Natural Foods after 24 years, Cloutier founded Fairfield Farm Kitchens in Brockton, Mass., which he later sold. Cloutier and his wife, Wendy, now operate Schoolhouse Farm in Tamworth, N.H., where they raise registered Icelandic sheep and produce organic alfalfa hay and related products.
Eldridge says the new investments and additions bring “both financial stability as well as the opportunity to grow the business throughout New England. While sales have more than doubled over the past year and a half, there still exists a huge potential in southern New England … Investing in the markets in support of this growth will firmly establish MOO as New England’s premier local organic milk company.”
“From day one, MOOMilk has taken an innovative approach to putting the future of dairy farming back in the hands of family farmers,” says Sussman, an early supporter of the company and owner, with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, of Turner Farm, an organic farm on North Haven. “I invested in MOO because I believe in Maine farmers and the healthy food, community pride and economic growth that comes from all their hard work.”
Ron Phillips, CEO of CEI, the Wiscasset-based community development and investment organization, says, “MOO exists today because of the resiliency of the Maine dairy farmer, the persistence of its board and staff to overcome the odds in a tough economy, the support of retailers and consumers to carry and purchase the high quality organic milk product and, most importantly, the patience of a group of social investors to hang in when the odds might say otherwise.” (“Maine’s Own Organic Raises $3.9MM – Reorganizes Board of Directors,” press release, Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co., May 28, 2013; www.moomilkco.com)
Nebraska farmer Prescott Frost is trying to breed a cow for the grass-fed beef industry that can thrive without chemical pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and grain, in an area that gets less than 20 inches of rain per year, and to market the artisanal meat. Frost is already marketing his and others’ organic, grass-fed ground beef, hot dogs and some steaks through an Internet club at PrescottFrost.com. Raising a cow on grass in Nebraska takes two or more years, while grain-fed cows are ready for slaughter at 14 to 18 months. (“Where Corn Is King, a New Regard for Grass-Fed Beef,” by Kathryn Shattuck, The New York Times, June 17, 2013;
With help from a grant from the Waldo County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation (www.mainecf.org), the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry (VRFP) in Unity offered a chicken husbandry class in May. VRFP classes are coordinated with partners to build self-sufficiency, pride and homesteading skills (such as gardening, canning and seasonal cooking) among clients. The funds were used to provide a starter flock of 12 birds for each family/household. Graduates selected either meat birds or egg layers.
The VRFP is a 501(c)(3) community-operated food pantry providing emergency and supplementary food and services to those at risk of hunger in the Unity, Maine, area. The VRFP seeks to increase quality of life through a focus on food security. (“Volunteer Regional Food Pantry Receives Grant for Chicken Class,” VRFP press release, June 20, 2013; www.vrfp.org)
Beansprouts Early Learning Childcare Center (http://beansproutsforme.com/), a new daycare center in Freeport, will offer local, organic foods and will use natural cleaners and ecologically friendly furnishing and supplies as much as possible. (“Organic, chem-free day care sprouts in Freeport,” by Ben McCanna, The Forecaster, July 1, 2013; www.theforecaster.net/news/print/2013/07/01/organic-chem-free-day-care-sprouts-freeport/164212)
This spring the Maine Legislature unanimously approved LD 902, which will phase out toxic BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging. The new rules in LD 902 were initiated through a petition signed by 800 Maine citizens concerned about the effects of BPA. The governor allowed the rules to go into effect without his signature. (www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?LD=902&snum=126)
Research from the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio indicates that eating a modest amount of walnuts can protect against prostate cancer. The study is described in the journal Cancer Investigation. Researchers at the UT Health Science Center injected immune-deficient mice with human prostate cancer cells. Three of 16 mice (18 percent) eating the walnut-enriched diet developed prostate tumors, compared with 14 of 32 mice (44 percent) on the non-walnut control diet. Also, the final average tumor size in walnut-fed animals was roughly one-fourth the average size of the prostate tumors in mice eating the control diet. The mice consumed a diet typically used in animal studies, except with the addition of a small amount of walnuts pulverized into a fine powder to prevent the rodents from eating only walnuts. The walnut portion was equal to a human eating about 2 ounces, or two handfuls, of walnuts daily. Study co-author W. Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, published a study in 2011 that showed fewer and smaller tumors among walnut-fed mice injected with human breast cancer cells. (“Prostate Cancers Are Fewer, Smaller On Walnut-Enriched Diet,” The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio press release, July 17, 2013; The paper appears at http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/07357907.2013.800095.)
On Oct. 17, 2013, from 8:30 to 4:30, the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine will offer a forum entitled Annual Plants to Products Forum: Growing Biobased Manufacturing Jobs in Rural Maine. The forum, offered in collaboration with E2Tech, will highlight an innovative process and technology at Old Town Fuel & Fiber, a former paper mill now being used for high-tech manufacture of cellulosic sugars.
Maine is at the cutting edge of an emerging bio-based economy with the capacity to produce plastics, chemicals and fuels from wood chips and agricultural waste rather than petroleum. While biopolymers can be made from an almost unlimited range of natural materials, most bio-based plastic currently available is made from corn from the Midwest – a resource intensive crop, most of which is genetically engineered.
Maine potatoes and woody biomass have the potential to provide safe, sustainable plastics, says Maine’s Environmental Health Strategy Center. Potatoes and wood pulp have all the key properties needed to make bio-plastics and can be more sustainable raw materials than corn.
The Environmental Health Strategy Center (EHSC) is part of the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine, a trade organization of Maine businesses and organizations working to develop a bioplastic manufacturing enterprise in Maine. The Council aims to ensure that the feedstock, manufacturing, marketing, working conditions and ownership of Maine’s biobased plastic businesses are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
The EHSC is working to ensure that the development of biobased products in Maine meets the highest standards of sustainability and green chemistry.
"Maine can create new jobs in the emerging biobased economy while helping to end the use of toxic petrochemicals," Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, told The MOF&G. "Industrial corn is a poor substitute for petroleum because of marginal reductions in fossil carbon and the chemical intensity of corn production. In Maine, we can avoid genetically engineered food crops and rely instead on certified sustainably harvested forest products and agricultural waste to replace oil and gas to make environmentally-friendlier biobased chemicals, plastics and fuels."
Belliveau warned, however, that biobased is not enough. “While it's true that renewable resources can help slash fossil carbon, toxic chemicals must be driven out of the market too, not simply made from biomass instead of oil and gas.” (See Mike Belliveau, "Bio-based chemicals: When green is toxic," by Mike Belliveau, GreenBiz.com, Feb. 1, 2013; www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/02/01/biobased-chemicals-when-green-toxic; An informational flyer on biobased materials, "From Plants to Products," is available from the EHSC at www.preventharm.org/Images/137/ehsc%20biomaterials%20factsheet%202012%20V.pdf; FMI: www.preventharm.org/Programs/Healthy-Economy/Sustainable-Bioplastics.php)
France wants to double the area of farmland devoted to organic agriculture by 2017 by increasing training and research and by encouraging institutional caterers to buy 20 percent of their food as organic. (“France aims to double organic farmland by 2017,” By Gus Trompiz, Reuters, May 31, 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/31/france-organic-idUSL5N0EC33120130531
The Organic Trade Association has launched the Global Organic Trade Guide (www.globalorganictrade.com), a website to help U.S. organic producers and handlers export organic products. It features a Market Data section and a map tool to communicate global organic trade information in real time. (Press release, Organic Trade Assoc., June 18, 2013; www.ota.com)
Women in Farming
The share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over the past three decades, from 5 percent in 1978 to 14 percent by 2007, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Although there have always been women farm operators, national-level statistics to track their numbers and examine their characteristics were not available until the Census of Agriculture began asking for principal farm operators’ gender in 1978.
Using census data from 1978 through 2007, the report provides detailed information about women farmers and the types of farms they operate. The report defines “women-operated farms” as those whose principal operator – the individual most responsible for the day-to-day decisions of the farm (or ranch) – is a woman. Based on this definition, the analysis showed the following:
• Women-operated farms increased in all sales classes. Between 1982 and 2007, the number of women-operated farms grew from 121,600 to 306,200, with increases in all sales classes (measured in 2007 dollars). In contrast, the number of men-operated farms declined by 220,800, with only the largest and smallest sales classes ($500,000 or more and less than $1,000) experiencing growth. Some of the increase in the lower sales classes, however – for both women- and men-operated farms – was due to extensive methodological changes in the Census of Agriculture, introduced over time to include more small farms.
• Most women-operated farms are very small. Since 1982, a majority of women-operated
farms have had annual sales of less than $10,000. Most of the growth in the number of women-operated farms occurred in that sales class, increasing from three-fifths of all women-operated farms in 1982 to three-fourths by 2007. In both years, the share of women-operated farms with sales less than $10,000 was about 20 percentage points more than the share of men-operated farms with sales that low.
• Five percent of women-operated farms (15,400 farms) had sales of $100,000 or more in 2007. Most of these farms specialized in grains and oilseeds, specialty crops, poultry and eggs, beef cattle or dairy. The poultry and egg specialization alone accounted for roughly half of women-operated farms with sales of $1 million or more.
• Nearly half of farms operated by women specialized in grazing livestock. In 2007, 45 percent of women-operated farms specialized in raising beef cattle other than in feedlots (23 percent), horses and other equines (17 percent), or sheep and goats (6 percent). Most of these farms, however, were very small, accounting for only 16 percent of sales by all women-operated farms.
• Women-operated farms specializing in poultry, specialty crops, grains or dairy had the most sales. Although these farms totaled only 21 percent of women-operated farms, they generated 72 percent of sales from all women’s farms.
• Counting secondary operators increases the number of women farmers to 1 million. In addition to the principal operator, many farms have one or more secondary operators involved in daily decisions for the farm. When all women operators, principal and secondary, were tallied for the 2007 census, about 1 million were counted as farmers – up from the 306,200 principal operators and totaling 30 percent of all U.S. farmers. Most secondary women farm operators (96 percent) were on farms whose principal operator was a man, generally the woman’s husband.
(“Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms,” by Robert A. Hoppe and Penni Korb, USDA Economic Research Service Economic Information Bulletin Number 111, April 2013; www.ers.usda.gov/media/1093198/eib111_summary.pdf)
Milk from organic farms has a lower concentration of elements such as zinc, iodine and selenium than milk produced by conventional farming methods. The discrepancy is due to the absence of mineral substances in the diets of the cows reared organically. According to researchers, animals on organic farms should have their diets supplemented with natural sources of iodine such as seaweed, because iodine is very important for children and pregnant women. (“'Organic' milk is poorer in iodine than conventional milk,” Medical Press, July 4, 2013; http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-07-poorer-iodine-conventional.html; Original study: F. Rey-Crespo, M. Miranda, M. López-Alonso. "Essential trace and toxic element concentrations in organic and conventional milk in NW Spain". Food and Chemical Toxicology 55 (2013) 513–518; http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-07-poorer-iodine-conventional.html)
On January 4, 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which, once in effect, should improve government regulation of imported and domestic food. But since its passage, FDA has failed to meet the mandatory implementation deadlines Congress required. On April 22, 2013, after a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a Federal Court ruled that FDA had violated the law by missing FSMA deadlines and ordered FDA to propose new deadlines for completion. FDA still refused to develop a closed-ended timeline, so on June 21, the Court issued an injunction ordering that all FSMA regulations must be final by June 30, 2015, and that all draft regulations must be released to the public by November 30, 2013, for public comment. (Center for Food Safety press release, June 25, 2013; www.centerforfoodsafety.org)
Consumer Reports tested 257 samples of ground turkey products and found potential disease-causing organisms in most, many of which proved resistant to more than three antibiotic drug classes. “Our findings strongly suggest that there is a direct relationship between the routine use of antibiotics in animal production and increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria on ground turkey,” says Consumer Reports. “It’s very concerning that antibiotics fed to turkeys are creating resistance to antibiotics used in human medicine.” Consumer Reports tested the samples for five bacteria: Enterococcus, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Ninety percent of the samples had one or more of the five bacteria. Bacteria on ground turkey products labeled “no antibiotics,” “organic” or “raised without antibiotics” were resistant to fewer antibiotics overall than bacteria found on conventional products. Bacteria related to fecal contamination were found on the majority of samples. Sixty-nine percent of ground-turkey samples harbored Enterococcus; 60 percent E. coli; 5 percent Salmonella; and three samples were contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The government allows processing plants to have product contamination rates as high as 49.9 percent. The bacteria Consumer Reports found are killed by thorough cooking, but some can produce toxins that may not be destroyed by heat. Consumer Reports suggests buying turkey labeled “organic” or “no antibiotics,” especially if it also has a “USDA Process Verified” label, which means the agency has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says; considering other labels, such as “animal welfare approved” and “certified humane,” which mean that antibiotics were restricted to sick animals; being aware that “natural” meat is simply minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients or added color, but it can come from an animal that ate antibiotics daily.
Furthermore, Consumer Reports says to buy meat just before checking out and place it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks; if cooking meat within a few days, store it at 40 F or below; otherwise, freeze it. (Note that freezing may not kill bacteria.)
When cooking ground turkey, use a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 F to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
Don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.
Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within two hours of cooking. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has urged the FDA to restrict the use of antibiotics in food animals since the 1970s. It says the FDA should prohibit antibiotic use in livestock except for the treatment of veterinarian-diagnosed sick animals. (“Consumer Reports Tests: Bacteria on Turkey Raised Without Antibiotics Showed Significantly Less Antibiotic Resistance Than Bacteria on Conventional Turkey,” Consumer Reports press release, April 30, 2013; http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2013/04/my-entry-6.html)
Factory farms and industrial livestock producers routinely give healthy animals unnecessary antibiotics to get them to slaughter faster or prevent infection in crowded, stressful and often unsanitary living conditions, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG). In 2011, nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food animals – roughly four times the amount sold to treat people. This misuse of antibiotics on factory farms creates an ideal climate for breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When the EWG analyzed U.S. government data for raw meat, it found high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork, 55 percent of ground beef and 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings or thighs. To avoid some of these potentially deadly bacteria, the EWG suggests opting for organic and meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics when you can. (“Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets,” Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/superbugs/)
Drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria associated with livestock has been found in the noses of industrial livestock workers in North Carolina. Researchers found that multidrug-resistant S. aureus was roughly twice as prevalent among individuals exposed to industrial than to antibiotic-free livestock operation environments, and S. aureus that were resistant to tetracycline – an antibiotic used in industrial livestock production since the 1950s – were 19 times as prevalent among industrial compared with antibiotic-free livestock operation workers. Previous studies have detected strains of drug-resistant S. aureus from livestock among farm workers and in hospital and community settings in Europe, and among industrial livestock operation workers in Iowa. Scientists are concerned that these bacteria could follow a similar trajectory into the community. North Carolina is a major U.S. livestock producer, ranking second behind Iowa in hog production. At industrial livestock operations, animals are grown in large confinement buildings using antibiotics. At antibiotic-free livestock operations, animals are grown without the use of antibiotics, typically outdoors on pasture. S. aureus in humans can cause minor to life-threatening skin, bloodstream, respiratory, urinary and surgical site infections. (“Workers at Industrial Farms Carry Drug-Resistant Bacteria Associated with Livestock,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health press release, July 2, 2013; www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2013/heaney-mrsa-farms.html; Original article: Livestock-Associated Methicillin and Multidrug Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Is Present among Industrial, Not Antibiotic-Free Livestock Operation Workers in North Carolina, By Jessica L. Rinsky et al., PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (7). www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0067641)
Zakri Abdul Hamid, founding chair of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), warned about the accelerating loss of biodiversity on farms and about corporations' phenomenal economic and political power, at the 7th Trondheim Conference in Norway on May 27.
Zakri said the declining plant and animal biodiversity in the wild is heading toward irreversible environmental tipping points that, “once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind.”
Biodiversity loss on farms, said Zakri, threatens the world's supplies of livestock and crops. Twenty-two percent of domesticated breeds risk extinction, he said – due, in part, to incentives for more uniform breeds from industrialized countries. And crops have suffered a 75 percent loss of genetic diversity in the last century.
Christopher Cook, journalist and author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis, said, “In their relentless push for market control these corporations, Monsanto, Syngenta and others, often with help from governments, have monopolized and privatized our seed supply – and promoted monoculture farming that has destroyed soils and fed climate change and drought. Biodiversity and economic diversity are linked ..." (“UN: Accelerating Biodiversity Loss a 'Fundamental Threat' to the 'Survival of Humankind',” By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, May 28, 2013; www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/05/28-6)
In June the Maine Senate and House passed LD 1282, which would have legalized daily sales of less than 20 gallons of clearly labeled, unlicensed, raw milk, sold directly by the producer to the customer. On July 8, Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, objecting to sales of unlicensed raw milk products at farmers’ markets, and the Maine Senate had insufficient votes on July 9 to overturn the veto. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor will propose an “on farm only” bill in the next legislative session.
The vote came after Hancock County Superior Court Judge Ann Murray’s April decision that Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill was guilty in a summary judgment brought by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation for selling milk without a milk distributor’s license, operating a food establishment without a license and selling milk that was not labeled on the package as being unpasteurized. He was ordered to stop selling the milk and, later, was ordered to pay $1,000 in civil penalties and $132 in court costs.
Brown had argued that a local ordinance allowed him to sell the product directly to consumers and that earlier the Agriculture Department had said he didn't need a license to sell a small amount of milk directly from his home farm stand.
Another bill, LD 1287, passed in both legislative bodies but was carried over to the next legislative session. It would permit “direct sales of farm products between Maine farmers and consumers” and homemade food at “certain events, without being licensed as food establishments.”
The Maine House voted 93-49 against LD 475, which would have established the Maine Food Sovereignty Act of 2013. Proponents argued for more self-determination and for healthy, local options rather than food produced by multinational corporations. Opponents said that Maine’s farm inspections and licensing help ensure safe food and that limiting Maine’s oversight might bring more federal involvement in Maine’s food production – something Hickman called “a fear-based argument” that “doesn’t hold water.” (“Raw milk bills pass House, Senate,” by Anne Berleant, The Weekly Packet, June 13, 2013; http://weeklypacket.com/news/2013/jun/13/raw-milk-bills-pass-house-senate/#.Ubry9mSG0wE; “Maine Judge Sides with State in Raw Milk Sales Dispute,” by Susan Sharon, MPBN, May 1, 2013; www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNewsArchive/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/3475/ItemId/27754/Default.aspx; “Blue Hill farmer faces financial hardship after judges rule against selling unlabeled, unlicensed raw milk,” by Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News, May 2, 2013; http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/02/news/hancock/judge-rules-against-blue-hill-farmer-selling-unlabeled-unlicensed-raw-milk/; “Maine House votes against creating food sovereignty act,” by Robert Long, Bangor Daily News, May 15, 2013; http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/15/politics/maine-house-votes-against-creating-food-sovereignty-act/; “Blue Hill raw milk seller ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, court fees,” by Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News, June 18, 2013. http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/18/news/hancock/blue-hill-raw-milk-seller-ordered-to-pay-1000-in-court-fines-fees/ “Judge fines Dan Brown $1,000, judgment holds,” by Anne Berleant, The Weekly Packet, June 20, 2013; http://weeklypacket.com/news/2013/jun/20/judge-fines-dan-brown-1000-judgment-holds/#.UcRL2WSG0wE; “Raw milk deregulation bill dead after governor’s veto,” by Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News, July 9, 2013; http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/09/politics/raw-milk-deregulation-bill-dead-after-governors-veto/
In May, Isle au Haut became Maine’s tenth town to adopt a Local Food and Self-governance Ordinance. (“Isle au Haut votes in favor of food self-governance ordinance,” by Anne Berleant, Island Ad-Vantages, June 6, 2013; http://islandadvantages.com/news/2013/jun/6/isle-au-haut-votes-in-favor-of-food-self-governanc/#.UcWRUmSG0wF)
Legislation to incorporate edible plants into Augusta’s Capitol Park landscape became law in Maine in May. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Readfield and Winthrop), who is donating edible perennials from his farm, while Paris Farmers Union is donating seeds. (“Capitol Park edible landscaping bill becomes law with 2/3rd’s majority,” By Ramona Du Houx, Maine Insights, June 1, 2013; http://maineinsights.com/perma/capitol-park-edible-landscaping-bill-becomes-law-with-23rds-majority#sthash.7exYKMcC.dpuf; Capital idea sprouts at Maine State House, by Bill Nemitz, Morning Sentinel, May 10, 2013; www.onlinesentinel.com/politics/capital-idea-sprouts-at-state-house_2013-05-10.html?pagenum=2)
The European Commission is working on “simplifying” EU legislation regarding seed marketing through a “better regulation framework” that would give large seed companies even more control over the commercial seed supply. Currently, according to ETC Group, 10 companies control 64 percent of the global seed market, and four companies control 58 percent. The EU’s legal framework allows farming only with seed varieties that match the criteria of “distinctness, uniformity and stability,” favoring seeds used for industrial, monoculture operations. The proposed legislation could threaten the popular civil movement in Europe to use and promote old plant varieties with local significance. (“Closing in on our seeds,” Corporate Europe Observatory, June 5, 2013; http://corporateeurope.org/print/news/closing-our-seeds; “Who will control the Green Economy,” ETC Group, Dec. 2011; www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/publication/pdf_file/ETC_wwctge_4web_Dec2011.pdf)
Sales tax rate increases passed by the Maine Legislature take effect on October 1, 2013.
Also, a new refund/exemption provision affecting businesses engaged in commercial wood harvesting, commercial nurseries and commercial greenhouses as well as retailers selling to these businesses took effect July 1, 2013, for qualifying purchases on or after that date. Sales tax law was expanded to provide a refund/exemption provision for sales of electricity and depreciable machinery/equipment to businesses engaged in commercial wood harvesting, and to commercial nurseries and commercial greenhouses. The definition of “commercial agricultural production” was expanded to include the commercial production of plants and trees. A definition of “commercial wood harvesting” was added and is defined to mean the commercial severance and yarding of trees for sale or for processing into logs, pulpwood, bolt wood, wood chips, stud wood, poles, pilings, biomass or fuel wood or other products commonly known as forest products.
Persons engaged in these types of businesses must apply to Maine Revenue Services for an exemption certificate. The application is at http://www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/sales/salesforms.htm.
Nurseries and greenhouses should refer to instructional Bulletin 45 “Commercial Agriculture” and wood harvesters should refer to Instructional Bulletin 58 “Commercial Wood Harvesting” for additional information. Both are at http://www.maine.gov/revenue/salesuse/salestax/bulletinssales.htm.
Retailers making tax-exempt sales to those engaged in these commercial activities must obtain a copy of the purchasers’ exemption certificate and an exemption affidavit (at www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/sales/salesforms.htm). The sales invoice must be clearly marked as tax exempt.
For additional tax assistance, contact Maine Revenue Services at (207) 624-9693.
Babies whose mothers consume nitrates in drinking water were more likely to have spina bifida, cleft palate and other birth defects, says a recent study. Used as fertilizers on crops, nitrates are one of the most widespread chemical contaminants in aquifers around the world. This study compared 3,300 mothers in Iowa and Texas whose babies were born with neural tube defects, oral cleft, limb deficiency or congenital heart defects with 1,121 mothers in the study area whose babies had no major congenital malformations. Since nitrate contamination occurs in conjunction with other water contaminants, the researchers suggested that future studies look at prenatal exposure to mixtures of contaminants in drinking water. (“Nitrates in mom's drinking water linked to birth defects in kids,” Environmental Health News, June 27, 2013; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2013/06/nitrate-in-moms-drinking-water/; Original paper: J. D. Brender et al., “Prenatal nitrate intake from drinking water and selected birth defects in offspring of participants in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study,” Environmental Health Perspectives; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1206249)
New research shows that no-till may exacerbate phosphorus (P) pollution of surface waters. In 2011, cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) proliferated in an algal bloom in Lake Erie and in other waterways. Cyanobacteria can cause foul odors and kill fish, and two of the main species of cyanobacteria produce liver or neurotoxins. Algal blooms have been increasing since the mid-1990s, after several decades of reduction and coincident with increasing use of no-till in the Corn Belt. Without tillage, applied P fertilizer or P in manure concentrates in the surface layer of the soil. Even though no-till normally reduces soil runoff and erosion, heavy rains (predicted to increase with climate change) can carry that P bound to soil particles into waterways.
Occasional tillage may help alleviate this problem by burying the P, but it is unclear whether many forms of tillage, such as the use of cultivators or chisel plows that do not invert the soil, or methods such as rotational tillage or ridge till, will effectively address the problem.
No-till is valuable in some respects, but as used in industrial agriculture, it depends on heavy use of herbicides, which also harm agroecosystems. Agroecologically-based practices such as cover cropping can accomplish the benefits of no-till and much more; and organic no-till can be practiced without the use of herbicides. (“Toxic Algae and No-Till – The Environmental Darling of Industrial Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Looks Less Attractive,” by Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, May 2, 2013; http://blog.ucsusa.org/toxic-algae-and-no-till-117?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheEquation+%28The+Equation+-+UCS+Blog%29; “Record-setting algal bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural and meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions,” by Anna M. Michalak, PNAS, April 16, 2013; http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/algal%20bloom%20in%20Lake%20Erie.pdf)
The World Resources Institute says that the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually worldwide contains 45 trillion gallons of water – 24 percent of all water used for agriculture. And agriculture accounts for 70 percent of worldwide water use. Most of the lost water is in produce. (“When You Waste Food, You're Wasting Tons Of Water, Too,” by Eliza Barclay, NPR, June 6, 2013; www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/06/06/189192870/when-you-waste-food-youre-wasting-tons-of-water-too)
Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute, says grain harvests are shrinking as the United States, India and China come close to “peak water” and draw more water from aquifers than can be replaced. Brown says that 18 countries, with half the world's population, are over pumping water to the point where harvests are decreasing as a result. (“Global threat to food supply as water wells dry up, warns top environment expert,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, July 6, 2013. www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/jul/06/food-supply-threat-water-wells-dry-up)
Garden hoses and the water in them may contain phthalates, the toxic chemical BPA and other chemicals, according to the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center. In a follow-up to a 2012 study that tested 90 garden water hoses, this year 21 hoses were tested for lead, cadmium, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC); phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). These chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems.
Of the 21 new garden hoses purchased from Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, Target and Kmart, eight contained high levels of one or more chemicals of concern.
Water sampled from a hose left in the sun for two days had BPA levels of 0.34 - 0.91 ppm – three to nine times higher than the 0.100 ppm safe drinking water level – and levels of the phthalate DEHP of 0.017 - 0.011 ppm – twice the federal drinking water standards. EPA and FDA regulate DEHP in water from the tap at 0.006 ppm. Phthalates are industrial chemicals that add flexibility and resilience to many consumer products.
BPA is used as an antioxidant in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, as an inhibitor of end polymerization in PVC, and as a co-stabilizer for certain PVC plasticizers. An earlier study by scientists in Japan found BPA leaches from PVC pipes into water, and they concluded, “PVC hose might be a significant source of environmental BPA.” Other studies have documented BPA in PVC gloves.
To avoid these chemicals, The Ecology Center suggests using polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses; avoiding hoses with a California Prop 65 warning that says “this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm”; buying hoses that are “drinking water safe” and “lead-free”; letting the water run for a few seconds before using it; storing your hose in the shade; and not drinking from hoses.
Says Mike Schade, markets campaign coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, “We now know vinyl garden hoses may leach toxic phthalates and BPA into water. It’s time for retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart to safeguard our children’s health and phase out the use of these poison plastic vinyl hoses.” (“Hazardous Chemicals Found in Gardening Water Hoses,” press release, The Ecology Center, May 7, 2013; www.healthystuff.org/release.050713.garden.php)
Nanomaterials added to soil via fertilizers and treated sewage waste could threaten soil health, says a report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Peer-reviewed scientific research also indicates possible negative impacts of nano-fertilizers on public health and the food supply.
IATP’s report “Nanomaterials in Soil: Our Future Food Chain?” says that experiments have indicated that sub-molecular nanoparticles could damage beneficial soil microbes and the digestive systems of earthworms.
Nanomaterials are advertised as increasing the effectiveness of fertilizers on the market by making them the same size as plant and root pores – but nanotechnology is unregulated globally, so no pre-market safety assessment is done. Several researchers assume that nanomaterials are increasingly present in biosolids (sewage sludge) used as fertilizer on about 60 percent of U.S. agricultural land.
IATP’s Dr. Steve Suppan says the Obama administration should institute an immediate moratorium on fertilizing with biosolids from sewage treatment plants near nanomaterial fabrication facilities, giving researchers time to determine whether nanomaterials in soil can be made safe and to research alternatives to building soil heath, rather than depending on fertilization with biosolids.
The report also details risks to farmers and farmworkers applying dried biosolids that incorporate nanomaterials, including inflammation of the lungs, fibrosis and other toxicological impacts. (“Nanomaterials in fertilizer products could threaten soil health, agriculture,” By Andrew Ranallo, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, April 24, 2013; www.iatp.org/documents/nanomaterials-in-fertilizer-products-could-threaten-soil-health-agriculture)
Genetic Engineering News
In June, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in the case Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto that the organic and otherwise non-GMO farmer and seed company plaintiffs, including MOFGA, are not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto's transgenic seed patents "because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not 'take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower’s land).'"
The Court of Appeals judges affirmed the Southern District of New York's previous decision that the plaintiffs did not present a sufficient controversy to warrant adjudication by the courts. However, they did so only because Monsanto repeatedly committed during the lawsuit to not sue farmers with “trace amounts” of contamination of crops containing its patented genes.
Plaintiffs' attorney Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) views the decision as a partial victory. “Before this suit, the Organic Seed plaintiffs were forced to take expensive precautions and avoid full use of their land in order to not be falsely accused of patent infringement by Monsanto,” said Ravicher. “The decision today means that the farmers did have the right to bring the suit to protect themselves, but now that Monsanto has bound itself to not suing the plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals believes the suit should not move forward.”
The court ruling stated: “Monsanto’s binding representations remove any risk of suit against the appellants as users or sellers of trace amounts (less than one percent) of modified seed.”
The plaintiff farmers and seed companies began their legal battle in March 2011, when they filed a complaint against Monsanto asking for a declaration that Monsanto's patents on GE seed were invalid or unenforceable. The plaintiffs filed the suit because Monsanto's patented seed can contaminate neighboring fields through wind, insects and other means, and the owners of those fields, such as plaintiffs, can then be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement.
The Organic Seed plaintiffs’ – http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf – complaint alleged that Monsanto's abusive business and litigation tactics have put several farmers and independent seed companies out of business. They also detailed Monsanto’s history of ruthless patent enforcement, investigating as many as 500 farmers annually for patent infringement by trespassing onto their land. The plaintiffs detailed harms caused to society by Monsanto's GE seed, including proliferation of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” and environmental pollution. The plaintiffs alleged that the GE patents were legally deficient in several ways, including covering technology with no beneficial social use and extending Monsanto’s monopoly by issuing dozens of patents to the company.
“Even though we’re disappointed with the Court's ruling not to hear our case, we’re encouraged by the court’s determination that Monsanto does not have the right to sue farmers for trace contamination," said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of lead plaintiff – http://www.osgata.org/ – Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. "However, the farmers went to court seeking justice not only about contamination, but also the larger question of the validity of Monsanto’s patents. Justice has not been served."
“Today’s ruling may give farmers a toehold in courts regarding the unwanted contamination of their crops, but it does not protect our food supply from the continued proliferation of Monsanto’s flawed technology,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of [http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/] Food Democracy Now!, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs still have the right to ask the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision and ultimately to reinstate the case. Ravicher said the Organic Seed plaintiffs are considering doing so. (“Appeals Court Binds Monsanto to Promise not to Sue Organic Farmers,” Public Patent Foundation, June 10, 2013; www.pubpat.org/osgatavmonsantocafcdecision.htm; the court ruling appears at http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/12-1298.Opinion.6-6-2013.1.PDF)
The Supreme Court recently upheld Monsanto’s right to prohibit farmer Vernon Bowman from replanting patented seed, saying that the doctrine of “patent exhaustion” “does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.” Bowman must pay Monsanto more than $80,000.
Bowman argued that the patent exhaustion doctrine allowed him to plant soybean seeds bought from a grain elevator, even though they likely contained Monsanto’s patented genetics.
Kristina Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance says the law needs to change – that developers of new seed varieties should earn returns on their investments, “[B]ut patents on self-replicating seed – and any living organism, for that matter – are unethical and dangerous.”
Hubbard quotes Justice Elena Kagan: “Our holding today is limited – addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product. We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex and diverse.”
Even non-GE seeds are now being patented, including Seminis’ (owned by Monsanto) ‘Big Beef’ tomato.
The Independent Professional Seed Association estimates the United States has lost at least 200 independent seed companies in the last 15 years, says Hubbard, who adds that the Organic Seed Alliance and its partners are exploring “open source” patents for seeds. (“Monsanto’s growing monopoly,” by Kristina Hubbard, Salon, May 30, 2013; www.salon.com/2013/05/30/monsantos_patent_lawyers_get_a_gift_from_the_supreme_court/)
Food & Water Watch is asking McDonald’s to "publicly refuse to source the 'Innate'-brand genetically engineered (GE) potato, now up for USDA regulatory approval. The GE potato developer, J.R. Simplot, provides McDonald’s with most of the potatoes for its french fries. (“Will McDonald's serve genetically modified fries?” By Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune, June 18, 2013; www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/stew/chi-food-policy-will-mcdonalds-serve-genetically-modified-fries-20130618,0,3561651.story)
Researchers evaluated the toxicity to mice of four Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) spore-crystals that were genetically engineered to express either the Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac or Cry2A protein, alone or combined. Many crops are genetically engineered to express these Bt toxins in all their cells. In this study, the spore-crystal administrations, alone or combined, significantly reduced bone marrow cell proliferation, and the toxic effects of the proteins increased with long-term exposure. The Bt spore-crystals were particularly toxic to red blood cells.
“This finding corroborates literature that demonstrated that alkali-solubilized Bt spore-crystals caused in vitro hemolysis [rupture] in cell lines of rat, mouse, sheep, horse, and human erythrocytes [red blood cells] and suggested that the plasma membrane of susceptible cells (erythrocytes, in this case) may be the primary target for these toxins,” say the researchers. They conclude, “Taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet, our results suggest that further studies are required to clarify the mechanism involved in the hematotoxicity found in mice, and to establish the toxicological risks to non-target organisms, especially mammals, before concluding that these microbiological control agents are safe for mammals.” Current regulatory approval of GE crops containing these Bt toxins is based on their presumed nontoxicity to mammals. (“Bt toxins are toxic to the blood of mice,” GM Watch, May 2, 2013; www.gmwatch.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14803%3Abt-toxins-are-toxic-to-the-blood-of-mice; (2013). Hematotoxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis as spore-crystal strains Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, or Cry2Aa in Swiss albino mice, by Mezzomo, B. P., et al., J. Hematol Thromb Dis 1(1), 2013; http://esciencecentral.org/journals/JHTD/JHTD-1-104.pdf; Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide, Mesnage et al., 2012; J. Applied Toxicology; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jat.2712/abstract)
A peer-reviewed study of 168 pigs found that the 84 pigs fed GE corn and soy for 22.7 weeks had significant increases in severe stomach inflammation and thickening of the uterus compared with the control group. For example, pigs on the GE diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. Consumers Union says the study results “are a red flag and deserve further study. We also believe this study underlines the need for labeling of GE food, since there is still much to learn about their health effects.”
Lead author Judy Carman said, “The GM diet contained three GM genes and therefore three GM proteins. One protein made the plant resistant to a herbicide and two proteins were insecticides. We chose a mixed diet instead of a single crop because this is usually what pigs and people eat. Regulators do not require animal feeding studies on mixtures of GM genes and their proteins, regardless of whether the genes are all ‘stacked’ into the one plant or spread across several plants that are eaten in the same meal. We chose pigs because they have a similar digestive system to humans, and because some of the investigators had been observing reproductive and digestive problems in pigs fed GM crops.”
The authors conclude: “The results indicate that it would be prudent for GM crops that are destined for human food and animal feed, including stacked GM crops, to undergo long-term animal feeding studies preferably before commercial planting, particularly for toxicological and reproductive effects.”
The new study reinforces concerns raised recently by Seralini et al., who found that rats fed GE food over two years had higher rates of certain tumors and of liver and kidney problems than rats fed a non-GE diet.
Carman, responding to unsubstantiated or erroneous criticism from Monsanto, from (currently) pro-GE activist Mark Lynas and from Andrew Kniss, said that her group used adequate sample sizes, valid experimental designs, appropriate statistical tests and generated reliable findings; and “that Monsanto are saying that the level of severe stomach inflammation seen in pigs fed the GM diet is normal in piggeries – ie that it [is] normal for a third of pigs to experience severe stomach inflammation in piggeries. This is a worrying animal welfare allegation about conditions in commercial piggeries and Monsanto needs to provide proof for their allegations.” She also responded to Lynas’ false accusations that the study authors are anti-GE activists and that the study was funded by anti-GE groups. (“A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM corn maize diet,” by Dr. Judy Carman et al., Journal of Organic Systems, June 11, 2013; www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf; “A Long-term Toxicology Study On Pigs Fed a Mixed GM Diet – Adverse Effects of GM Crops Found,” Press Release, By Dr. Judy Carman, June 1, 2013; www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC1306/S00035/a-long-term-toxicology-study-on-pigs-fed-a-mixed-gm-diet.htm; “Statement of Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Scientist, Consumers Union on New Long Term Study of Feeding GE Grains to Pigs,” Consumers Union press release, June 11, 2013; http://consumersunion.org/news/consumers-union-statement-on-new-long-term-study-of-feeding-ge-grains-to-pigs/; “Critics answered” tab at http://gmojudycarman.org)
Maine writer and theater director Caitlin Shetterly suffered for years from headaches, nausea, rashes, fatigue and other ailments – until she visited allergist Paris Mansmann, M.D., of Yarmouth, who suggested she cut out consumption of all corn. Mansmann hypothesized that Shetterly had developed an allergy to GE corn. Shetterly describes eliminating corn – not an easy task, as corn is in so many products – and regaining her health, a process that sent her to Cincinnati to talk with other expert allergists about the possibility that GE corn can cause allergic reactions. She found no definitive answer, but a need for independent research into the question. (“The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn,” by Caitlin Shetterly, Elle, July 24, 2013; www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/allergy-to-genetically-modified-corn)
U.S. and French researchers analyzed 77 studies from eight countries and found that of 13 major pest species, five were resistant to GE Bt corn and cotton by 2011, compared with one in 2005. Resistance began to evolve in just two years in one case, while in others, where growers planted large enough refuges of non-Bt crops, resistance hadn’t yet evolved after 15 years. The researchers say that all pests will eventually adapt. (“More pests ‘resistant to GM crops’: study,” Agence France-Presse, June 10, 2013; www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gkQ3IN4hx0rS9dmxAQgaWzlWKaVg)
Increasing numbers of prohibited GE crops are being released into the natural environment in South Korea during crop importation and distribution, potentially threatening ecosystems if related species become contaminated, says the National Institute of Environmental Research. Of 626 samples collected from areas around ports, processing factories, livestock breeding areas and transportation routes, GE DNA occurred in 42, from 19 regions. (“More genetically modified crops found growing in South Korea,” by Kim Jeong-su, The Hankyoreh, June 5, 2013; http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_business/590585.html)
This spring, an Oregon State University scientist notified USDA that tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.) USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto field tested in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. The GE wheat, which was never approved for commercial production, was found in about 1 percent of the Oregon farmer’s 125-acre field.
APHIS is investigating the matter. If the situation resulted from a violation of the Plant Protection Act, APHIS can seek penalties of up to $1,000,000 and can refer the matter for criminal prosecution.
Meanwhile, farmers in Idaho filed a federal lawsuit against Monsanto, saying the company’s development of Roundup Ready wheat increased their production costs (by requiring testing for GE contamination) and lowered prices (due to lost markets – in Japan and South Korea, initially). The Idaho farmers are asking for class-action status for thousands of wheat farmers. Lawsuits have been filed in other U.S. courts, as well.
Monsanto said it did not find the GE trait in seeds it tested. The company’s chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, said sabotage might be responsible.
Monsanto has been testing a different Roundup Ready GE wheat in North Dakota since 2011. (“USDA investigating detection of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat in Oregon,” USDA press release, May 29, 2013; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2013/05/ge_wheat_detection.shtml; “Illegal genetically-engineered wheat has been discovered growing in an Eastern Oregon field, federal investigation underway,” by Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian, May 29, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/05/genetically_engineered_wheat_f.html#incart_river_default; “GMO Wheat Lawsuit: Idaho Farmers Sue Monsanto,” by Rebecca Boone, Huffington Post, June 12, 2013; www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/gmo-wheat-lawsuit-idaho_n_3430961.html; “Scientists Unswayed by Monsanto Findings on Rogue Wheat,” by Mark Drajem and Jack Kaskey, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 6, 2013; www.businessweek.com/news/2013-06-06/scientists-unswayed-by-monsanto-s-conclusions-on-rogue-wheat; “Monsanto testing new GM wheat after 8-year freeze,” by Veronique Dupont, Agence France-Presse;
In what the FBI called acts of "economic sabotage,” Syngenta’s Roundup Ready GE beet crops were destroyed on two nights in June in Oregon, just before they were ready to flower and produce seed. Syngenta had been growing the GE beets in Oregon for about a decade, with nearby organic seed growers unaware of that fact until recently. Sugar beets cross readily with table beets and chard, so the GE crop threatens the organic seed crop. At a meeting about the issue, Oregon State weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith suggested mapping GE and organic fields in order to plan to avoid cross contamination, but Syngenta would not detail its plots and walked out of the meeting. Soon after, Syngenta’s two fields were destroyed. Some organic seed growers in the area have destroyed their own crops after hearing that GE crops were growing nearby. A petition for a 2014 ballot measure to ban GE plants in Jackson County, Oregon, now has thousands of signatures. (“Tensions between Jackson County growers, GMO company peaked days before beet destruction,” by Kimberly A.C. Wilson, The Oregonian, July 15, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/07/tensions_between_jackson_count.html)
Researchers led by Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury in the United Kingdom have found that North America’s GE staple crop production strategy limits yields and increases pesticide use compared with Western Europe’s non-GE farming. Also, use of GE crops and/or patenting of seeds has decreased the number of varieties of various U.S. crops, including fewer varieties of cabbage (by 95 percent), field corn (91 percent), peas (94 percent) and tomatoes (81 percent) cultivated in the last century. The researchers report, “The US (and Canadian) yields are falling behind economically and technologically equivalent agroecosystems matched for latitude, season and crop type; pesticide (both herbicide and insecticide) use is higher in the United States than in comparator W. European countries; the industries of all types that are supplying inputs to the farmer are becoming more concentrated and monopolistic … and these tendencies correlate with stagnation or declines in germplasm diversity.” They also note fewer but larger farms in North America, “concentrating and narrowing the farming skills.” And annual yield variations indicate low resilience of the agroecosytem and can fuel dramatic price changes in agricultural markets.
“[T]here is no evidence that GM biotechnology is superior to other biotechnologies … in its potential to supply calories,” they add.
The genetic uniformity of North American staple crops makes them “impressively vulnerable” to pests and climate change, say the researchers. They recommend collecting data on on-farm agrobiodiversity “to create a landscape scale picture of performance and resilience”; encouraging on-farm diversity possibly by subsidizing farmers moving toward more resilient practices; and finding innovative ways to promote long-term sustainability and yields (e.g., a return to publically supported plant breeding). They cite a “viable roadmap for the future of agriculture” presented by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Research and Development (IAASTD 2009) as leaving us “no excuses.” (“Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest,” by Jack Heinemann et al., International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, June 14, 2013; www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408#tabModule; “From Boardroom To Field: Manufacturing – The Global Food And Agriculture Crisis,” by Colin Todhunter, Countercurrents, July 6, 2013;
Monsanto said in May that it will stop producing GE corn varieties in Europe, except in Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. Investigative Reporting Denmark says that Brandon Mitchener, public affairs lead for Monsanto in Europe and the Middle East, said, “We will not spend any more money to convince people to plant them.” BASF and Syngenta stopped their biotech research in Europe earlier. Mitchener said, “We stopped most of the trials … following a strategic decision in 2011 to focus our commercial activity in Europe on high-performance, conventional hybrid seeds. Monsanto has a thriving business in Europe with conventional seeds and crop protection products.” In July, Monsanto said it would withdraw all pending approval requests to grow new types of GE crops in the EU, except renewal of approval of its insect-resistant MON810 corn, and would concentrate on growing its conventional seed business there. (“GMO lose Europe – victory for environmental organisations,” by Nils Mulvad, Investigative Reporting Denmark, May 29, 2013;
www.ir-d.dk/gmo-lose-europe-victory-for-environmental-organisations/; “Monsanto to withdraw EU approval requests for new GMO crops,” By Charlie Dunmore, Reuters, July 17, 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/17/us-eu-monsanto-gmos-idUSBRE96G16R20130717)
U.S. taxpayers are paying for overseas lobbying to promote GE crops developed by Monsanto and other seed makers and to counter GE opponents, according to review by Food & Water Watch of 926 diplomatic cables to and from the U.S. State Department and embassies in more than 100 countries. The report “details how the U.S. State Department lobbies foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operates a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenges commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules — including opposing genetically engineered (GE) food labeling laws,” says Food & Water Watch. (“Biotech Ambassadors: Diplomacy or Marketing?” Food & Water Watch, May 14, 2013; www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/biotech-ambassadors-diplomacy-or-marketing/; “U.S. tax dollars promote Monsanto's GMO crops overseas,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, May 14, 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/14/us-usa-gmo-report-idUSBRE94D0IL20130514)
In May the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced plans to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) for GE corn and soy crops that resist the herbicides 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and Dicamba. Dow expressed frustration, as it had planned to sell its Enlist corn, which tolerates Enlist herbicide (a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate), by this year or next, followed by Enlist-resistant soy and cotton. These crops have been developed because several weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, used with GE Roundup Ready crops.
Likewise, Monsanto, in conjunction with BASF, wants regulatory approval for new GE soybeans and cotton that resist a new dicamba-based herbicide. The company said the decision to require an EIS was unexpected.
Concern exists about potential drift of 2,4-D and dicamba onto non-target crops; about potential for the GE crop genetics to contaminate non-GE crops; about the potential for development of yet more herbicide-resistant weeds; and about the health risks of the herbicides. Because APHIS found that these new herbicide-resistant plants may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, the agency determined it must prepare two Environmental Impact Statements. (“USDA Announces Intent to Prepare Environmental Impact Statements for Genetically Engineered Plants Under Review for Deregulation,” USDA, May 10, 2013; www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2013/05/brs_24d_and_dicamba.shtml; “USDA says more review needed for new Monsanto, Dow GMO crops,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, May 10, 2013; www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/10/us-usa-gmo-idUSBRE9490N220130510)
Kickstarter, a crowd-source funding website, may have become “the one-stop shop for risky biotech companies looking to execute an end run around regulation,” reports ETC Group.
Three California biohackers started a Kickstarter fundraising project that, in return for a $40 donation, would give donors seeds of glow-in-the-dark plants made using synthetic biology. In synthetic biology, computer programs design artificial sequences of DNA, which are then created on a DNA synthesizer and engineered into a host organism.
More than 100 organizations are seeking a moratorium on synthetic biology due to potential risks related to safety, bioweapons and social impacts. More than 5,000 donors had sent the minimum $40 to receive the synthesized seeds, reported ETC. The USDA says the technology falls outside government regulation. (“Biohackers Are Kickstarting Some Unregulated Experiments,” by L. Jim Thomas, ETC Group, May 10, 2013; www.huffingtonpost.ca/l-jim-thomas/synthetic-biology-kickstarter_b_3247151.html#slide=1240968)
Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham report on the abuse of power that some journal editors exercise. For example, in 2009, the scientific publisher Elsevier was found to have invented the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, and an editorial board, in order to publish papers provided by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck to promote Merck’s products, say Robinson and Latham.
In 2012, when the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) published a study by Séralini et al. suggesting that Monsanto’s GE corn and the Roundup herbicide used with it were associated with severe organ damage and increased rates of tumors and premature death in rats, a campaign was orchestrated to discredit the study. Many who wrote letters to FCT (published by Elsevier) failed to disclose publicly their conflicts of interest with the GE industry and its lobby groups.
In 2013 FCT created a new position – associate editor for biotechnology – and hired Richard E. Goodman, professor at the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, University of Nebraska, and former Monsanto employee. Of his fast-tracked appointment, Robinson and Latham ask if Monsanto now effectively decides which papers on biotechnology are published in FCT. They also question the need for a biotech editor when FCT’s senior editor, José L. Domingo, is a professor of toxicology and environmental health and author of two comprehensive reviews of GE food safety studies – both skeptical of GMO safety.
Robinson and Latham also note that after a campaign failed to get FCT to retract the Séralini study, the journal Transgenic Research published a heavy-handed critique of the study and of the researchers. The lead author of that critique (and editor of Transgenic Research), Paul Christou, previously attacked a 2001 report in Nature by Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University of California, Berkeley, saying that indigenous Mexican maize varieties had become contaminated with GE genes. Nature then retracted that paper, even though two of three reviewers in a second review supported its publication. Monsanto owns Agracetus, Christou’s former employer, and Monsanto holds patents on GE crops that Christou invented. Christou did not disclose either conflict of interest in his critique of the Séralini study.
In another case, in 2007, the journal Nature Biotechnology featured an attack on the work of Russian scientist Irina Ermakova, who had found decreased weight gain, increased mortality, and decreased fertility in rats fed GE Roundup-tolerant soy over several generations.
The editor of Nature Biotechnology, Andrew Marshall [not MOFGA’s wonderful educational programs director], offered Ermakova “an opportunity to present your own findings and conclusions in your own words, rather than a critique from one side”; she had presented such findings only at conferences. So Ermakova answered questions about her research sent by Marshall, and later received a proof of what she thought would be “her” article, with her byline.
However, the published article had Marshall’s byline, and each of Ermakova’s answers was followed by a lengthy critique by four pro-GE scientists – critiques that Ermakova hadn’t seen before publication. Marshall also ran the critics’ references but omitted Ermakova’s, making her statements appear unsubstantiated.
Later Marshall revealed that he had not “solicited” comments from the critics; rather, the pro-GE scientists themselves had proposed their “critique,” and even though none are toxicologists, Marshall had agreed. The critics judged Ermakova’s research – which they had never seen in its complete form – “demonstrably flawed.”
Nature Biotechnology also failed to fully disclose conflicts of interest of these critics, including their links to GE lobbying groups, to an industry consultant funded by Monsanto and to a developer of GE flax that contaminated non-GE flax in Canada.
Marshall remains editor of Nature Biotechnology.
The difficulty of getting funding for and publishing findings contradictory to industry viewpoints affects the quality of the science produced, say Robinson and Latham. A recent literature review found that most studies concluding that GE foods are as safe as non-GE counterparts were performed by the developer companies or their associates. Norway, a country without an agricultural industry lobby, hosts the only publicly funded institute in the world with a mission to research the environmental, health and social consequences of genetic engineering.
Robinson and Latham suggest that journal editors should adopt the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines and publish all conflicts of interest among staff and editors; select peer reviewers to avoid conflicts of interest or, if that is not possible, select a balanced panel representing a plurality of views.
Robinson and Latham say that in the field of evidence-based medicine, bodies such as the non-profit Cochrane Collaboration have systematic and transparent methodologies to review and evaluate data on the effectiveness of different medical interventions. The aim is to enable healthcare practitioners to make well-informed clinical decisions. The reviewing criteria are transparently set out in advance, so there is less scope for bias in evaluations of studies. When disagreements occur, the reason is easily pinpointed and the problem resolved. Cochrane also implements rules to prevent conflicts of interest among its reviewers and editorial board.
Robinson and Latham also say that public peer review, or “open-source science,” could revitalize scientific publishing. (“The Goodman Affair: Monsanto Targets the Heart of Science,” by Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., May 20, 2013, Independent Science News; http://independentsciencenews.org/science-media/the-goodman-affair-monsanto-targets-the-heart-of-science/)
Dr. Charles Benbrook says that compared to the first five years of commercial use (1996-2000), today’s U.S. GE corn and soy crops require about twice as much herbicide per acre; and corn requires two to six Bt toxins to counter European corn borers and corn rootworms, systemic seed treatments using two fungicides and two or more insecticides, a soil insecticide, and unprecedented increases in fungicides. The cumulative exposure to these engineered toxins and applied pesticides raises questions and risk assessment challenges, says Benbrook. He urges more funding for independent testing of GE crops and foods made from them. (“GE Crop Risk Assessment Challenges: An Overview,” By Dr. Charles Benbrook, Food Safety News, May 6, 2013; www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/05/ge-crop-risk-assessment-challenges-an-overview/#.UcGsq2SG0wF)
In 2012, according to USDA, more than 93 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 73 percent of the corn crop was genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides. Patent holders for these crops often tout them as reducing pesticide use, but Food & Water Watch, citing USDA and EPA data, says herbicide use decreased when GE crops were first introduced but then increased on corn, cotton and soy in the United States from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million in 2012. At the same time, many herbicide-resistant weeds have evolved, so biotech companies are developing crops that tolerate different herbicides, putting farmers on yet another pesticide treadmill. “But this approach drives the rise of superweeds, poses risks to human health and threatens critical habitat for wildlife in the process,” says Food & Water Watch, which recommends that USDA devote more funds to sustainable weed management. (“Superweeds: How Biotech Crops Bolster the Pesticide Industry,” Food & Water Watch, July 1, 2013; www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/superweeds/; ‘GMO Crops Mean More Herbicide, Not Less,” Forbes, July 3, 2013; www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/07/02/gmo-crops-mean-more-herbicide-notless/)
Most commercialized GE crops have been engineered with genes from unrelated organisms to make novel proteins. A newer technique changes the existing RNA within organisms in order to regulate (often by silencing) gene expression, because RNA, specifically double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), is now known to be an important regulator of gene expression, say Jack Heinemann and his co-authors. So dsRNA-mediated silencing is becoming the basis of novel traits in GE plants, such as biopesticides and altered nutritional characteristics, the authors continue. Such dsRNAs are “remarkably stable in the environment,” say the authors – surviving in the digestive tracts of worms and insects that consume them, for instance. They can then circulate through the animal’s body and change gene expression in the animal. Risks of dsRNA-altered plants are not always considered, so the authors propose five procedures for this purpose, including long-term testing on animals. (“A comparative evaluation of the regulation of GM crops or products containing dsRNA and suggested improvements to risk assessments,” Environment International, May 2013. By Jack A. Heinemann et al. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412013000494)
A review by Prof. Dave Goulson of Sussex University, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, indicates that neonicotinoid insecticides, linked to the deaths of bees, may also harm soil, water and grain-eating birds such as partridge. These systemic insecticides are taken up by plants, so all plant parts are toxic, and they are commonly used to coat corn and soybean seeds. Goulson found that 90 percent of the active ingredients in neonicotinoids go into the soil and groundwater. They can accumulate in soil at concentrations higher than those that kill bees and can persist there for up to 10 years. Birds that eat neonicotinoid-coated seeds can also be harmed; eating just a few treated seeds can kill some birds. Goulson argues for more research into effects of neonicotinoids on soils, water and organisms exposed to them.
Another recent study found that European streams highly contaminated with pesticides had up to 42 percent less invertebrate biodiversity than uncontaminated streams and that diversity decreased at pesticide concentrations that European regulations deem environmentally protective. Species that appeared especially susceptible to pesticides include representatives of the stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies and dragonflies – important members of the food chain.
And a review study suggests that neonicotinoid insecticides accumulate in soil at levels that can kill soil invertebrates such as the earthworm Eisenia foetida. Neonicotinoids appear to have a half-life of one to four years, so if applied annually, they can accumulate, says the researcher.
Meanwhile, the European Commission will ban three neonicotinoid insecticides – imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – for two years beginning in December as they are suspected of killing bees. Also, the neonicotinoid fipronil will be banned from use on corn and sunflowers in Europe from the end of 2013 because of its “high acute risk” to honeybees. (“Pesticides spark broad biodiversity loss,” by Sharon Oosthoek, Nature, June 17, 2013; www.nature.com/news/pesticides-spark-broad-biodiversity-loss-1.13214; “Pesticides Significantly Reduce Biodiversity in Aquatic Environments,” Science Daily, June 17, 2013; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130617160752.htm; “EU Bans Three Pesticides Harmful to Bees,” AFP, May 24, 2013; http://au.news.yahoo.com/latest/a/-/latest/17317666/eu-bans-three-pesticides-harmful-to-bees/; Banned pesticides may be having wider environmental impacts,” by Matt McGrath, BBC News, June 13, 2013; www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22893619; “An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides,” by Dave Goulson, J. Applied Ecology, June 13, 2013; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12111/full; "EU to ban fipronil to protect honeybees,” by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, July 16, 2013; http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jul/16/eu-fipronil-ban-bees)
Researchers hypothesize that outbreaks of infectious diseases in honey bees, fish, amphibians, bats and birds in the past two decades are linked to increasing use of systemic insecticides, notably the neonicotinoids and fipronil. The disease outbreaks started in countries and regions where the systemic insecticides were used for the first time and later they spread to other countries; and neonicotinoids have recently been shown to suppress the immune system in bees and fish – and may do the same in other wildlife. (“Immune Suppression by Neonicotinoid Insecticides at the Root of Global Wildlife Declines,” by Rosemary Mason et al., Journal of Environmental Immunology and Toxicology 2012 (in press); www.boerenlandvogels.nl/sites/default/files/JEIT-D-12-00001_3.pdf)
After some 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville, Oregon, Target parking lot, the Oregon Department of Agriculture restricted use of neonicotinoid insecticides with the active ingredient dinotefuran. A landscaper had sprayed 55 flowering European linden trees there with Safari insecticide on June 15 to combat aphids. The Portland-based Xerces Society says aphids can be controlled by spraying plants with soapy water.
After Oregon Department of Agriculture officials confirmed that Safari had killed the bees, the 55 trees were covered with netting to try to keep insects from feeding on the flowers. The EPA is reviewing effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators. (“Insecticide temporarily banned by Oregon Department of Agriculture after 50,000 bumblebees die in Wilsonville,” by Elizabeth Case, The Oregonian, June 18, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/06/state_agency_temporarily_bans.html; “Insecticide Safari confirmed in deaths of 25,000 bees in Wilsonville,” by Elizabeth Case, The Oregonian, June 21, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/06/insecticide_safari_confirmed_i.html#/3; “Bee deaths a result of pesticide Safari; count upped to 50,000 dead insects,” by Elizabeth Case, The Oregonian, June 21, 2013; www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/06/pesticide_confirmed_in_bee_dea.html#/0)
Just after corn was planted in Elmwood, Ontario, this spring, one beekeeper lost 600 hives (37 million bees), while another lost eight of 10 hives. Regulators said that corn seeds treated with the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin or thiamethoxam “contributed to the majority of the bee mortalities.” (“Bees dying by the millions,” by Jon Radojkovic, The Post [Ontario], June 19, 2013; http://www.thepost.on.ca/2013/06/19/bees-dying-by-the-millions)
Christopher Connolly, a neuroscientist at the University of Dundee, U.K., exposed bee brains to pesticides that attack insects’ nervous system and to organo-based pesticides and found that exposed bees’ nerves became hyperactive and then stopped working. A combination of the two pesticide types had a greater effect. Connolly says many other studies are inadequate because they follow bees for only four days after exposure, but problems often become evident after longer times; and they don’t study interactions among pesticides. (“Bees survival: ban more pesticides?” by Anthony King, European Research Media Center, May 2, 2013; www.youris.com/Environment/Bees/Bees_Survival_Ban_More_Pesticides.kl)
Honeybees that consume pollen that contains amounts of commonly used fungicides at levels too low to cause the bee's death still may leave them more susceptible to infection by a gut parasite, according to research by the USDA and University of Maryland, published in PLOS ONE. The researchers analyzed pollen collected from honeybees pollinating apples, watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, blueberries or cranberries.
In many cases, the pollen that bees brought back came primarily from plants other than the targeted crop. Some pollen samples contained very few pesticides, but the average number seen in a pollen sample was nine different pesticides, which could include insecticides, herbicides, miticides and, most frequently, fungicides. The most common was the fungicide chlorothalonil, widely used on apples and other crops. The most common miticide was fluvalinate, which beekeepers use to control Varroa mites. Neonicotinoid insecticides were only found in pollen from bees foraging on apples.
Honeybees that were fed pollen that contained the fungicide chlorothalonil and was collected at the hive entrance were almost three times more likely to become infected when exposed to the parasite Nosema, compared with control bees. The fungicide pyraclostrobin, found less frequently in the pollen samples, also increased bees' susceptibility to Nosema infection. One unexpected finding was that honeybees collected relatively little pollen from blueberry and cranberry plants, even though researchers know that bees pollinate these plants. (“Bees Exposed to Fungicide More Vulnerable to Nosema Parasite,” by Kim Kaplan, USDA Agricultural Research Service press release, July 24, 2013)
P-coumaric acid, found in the cell walls of pollen and in propolis, appears to activate genes in bees that help detoxify pesticides and other toxicants and strengthen bees’ immune systems. When bees gather pollen, that p-coumaric acid gets mixed with honey. Compounds in poplar sap also activate bees’ defenses, helping them metabolize toxicants. When bees are fed high-fructose corn syrup instead of their natural food, they may be more susceptible to colony collapse disorder – possibly due in part to the missing p-coumaric acid. A recent USDA and EPA report suggests that parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure and lack of bee forage may all be contributing to colony collapse disorder. (“Honey may hold the sticky solution to bee colony collapse,” by Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2013; www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-bee-collapse-20130429,0,665794.story; “Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera,” by Wenfu Mao et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 21, 2013; www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/04/26/1303884110.abstract; “Study suggests honeybee collapse has many culprits,” by Erika Bolstad, The Charlotte Observer, May 3, 2013; www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/05/02/4018617/study-suggests-honeybee-collapse.html#storylink=cpy)
When people who lived in cities in 18 European countries had their urine tested, 44 percent of samples contained traces of the weed killer glyphosate, according to tests commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe. Use of glyphosate (the most widely used herbicide in the world and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) has increased with use of genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops. Friends of the Earth Europe's spokesperson Adrian Bebb said, "These results suggest we are being exposed to glyphosate in our everyday lives, yet we don't know where it is coming from, how widespread it is in the environment, or what it is doing to our health.”
Adding to concern is recent research showing that glyphosate, even in the parts per trillion concentration range, can drive estrogen receptor-mediated breast cancer cell proliferation. Researchers compared effects of glyphosate on hormone-dependent and hormone-independent breast cancer cell lines and found that glyphosate stimulates hormone-dependent cancer cell lines. Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used to grow soybeans, and the researchers found an additive estrogenic effect between glyphosate and genistein, a phytoestrogen (plant-produced estrogen) in soybeans. The researchers conclude that the glyphosate-genistein interaction needs further animal study.
Meanwhile, the EPA is expected to increase allowable residue levels of the herbicide glyphosate on forage and hay teff, on oilseed crops, on root crops and on fruits from 200 ppb to 500 ppb. Recent research shows that glyphosate may harm humans by interfering with gut bacteria, thus potentially disrupting immunity and vitamin synthesis. The researchers called glyphosate possibly “the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.” (“EPA to Raise Limits on Controversial Pesticide,” The Epoch Times, www.theepochtimes.com/n3/134178-epa-to-raise-limits-on-controversial-pesticide/; Weed killer found in human urine,” Friends of the Earth Europe, May 13, 2013. www.foeeurope.org/weed-killer-glyphosate-found-human-urine-across-Europe-130613; “Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors,” by S. Thongprakaisang et al., Food Chem Toxicol., June 8, 2013; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170; “Breaking: Glyphosate (Roundup) Carcinogenic in the Parts per Trillion Range,” by Sayer Ji, GreenMedInfo, June 13, 2013; http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/breaking-glyphosate-roundup-carcinogenic-parts-trillion-range)
Preschoolers in California are exposed to more food contaminants than are older children and adults, reports the first research to assess multiple contaminants, mostly pesticides and metals, in children's diets and to compare estimated exposures with EPA guidelines.
Survey participants were asked how much and how often they and their children ate 44 foods in the past year. Then national databases were used to estimate the amount of toxic chemicals they had eaten.
The researchers’ calculations showed that preschoolers and school-aged children ate contaminants at levels with known health effects, including cancer, liver toxicity and damage to neurological and reproductive systems. Preschoolers exceeded the cancer benchmarks for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE and PCDD/Fs (polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin and polychlorinated dibenzofuran).
The primary sources of the exposures were processed foods – such as crackers, chips and french fries – for acrylamide; fish for arsenic and mercury; produce for pesticides; and dairy and meat products for other pesticides, such as chlordane, DDE and PCDD/Fs.
The researchers suggest avoiding or limiting consumption of highly processed foods; consuming organic produce and organic milk when possible; thoroughly washing non-organic produce; decreasing consumption of meat and dairy products; and choosing fish low in methyl mercury, such as catfish, salmon and scallops, rather than shark and swordfish. (“California's children face higher health risks from contaminants in food than adults,” by Jennifer Wolstenholme, Environmental Health News, May 30, 2013; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2012/12/2013-0522-california-food-pesticides-kids-higher-adults/; Original study: R. Vogt et al., 2012. “Cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures for children and adults in California: a risk assessment,” Environmental Health, Nov. 9, 2012; http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1476-069X-11-83)
Chickens raised with arsenic-based drugs likely result in chicken meat with more inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen, according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The researchers purchased conventional, antibiotic-free and USDA organic chicken from 10 U.S. metropolitan areas between December 2010 and June 2011, when the arsenic-based drug roxarsone, then manufactured by Pfizer, was readily available for poultry companies to add to feed.
Arsenical drugs are approved to make poultry grow faster, improve meat pigmentation, and to treat and prevent parasites. In 2010, industry representatives estimated that 88 percent of the roughly nine billion chickens raised for human consumption in the United States received roxarsone. In July 2011, Pfizer voluntarily removed roxarsone from the U.S. market but may sell the drug overseas and could resume marketing it in the United States at any time. Pfizer still domestically markets the arsenical drug nitarsone, which is chemically similar to roxarsone. No federal U.S. law prohibits the sale or use of arsenic-based drugs in poultry feed. (Maryland bans the use of most arsenicals in chicken feed.)
Chronic inorganic arsenic exposure can cause lung, bladder and skin cancers and has been associated heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, adverse pregnancy outcomes and other conditions.
The FDA has not established safety standards for inorganic arsenic in foods; in 2011 it did suggest that concentrations should be well below 1 microgram per kilogram of meat. Levels in the meat where roxarsone was found in the Johns Hopkins study were two and three times greater than that. (“Poultry Drug Increases Levels of Toxic Arsenic in Chicken Meat,” Environmental Health Perspectives, May 11, 2013; “Roxarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Chicken: A U.S.-Based Market Basket Sample,” by Keeve E. Nachman et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2013; www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news_events/announcement/2013/toxic_arsenic_chicken_meat.html; http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/research/clf_publications/pub_rep_desc/arsenic_chicken.html)
A National Research Council report says the EPA must do more to ensure that pesticides do not harm threatened and endangered fish and wildlife. “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides” recommends that the EPA more broadly account for pesticides’ direct and indirect harm to wildlife – including harm that is not immediately lethal, and impacts to food supply and habitat – and better consider the combined effects of exposure to multiple pesticides. The National Marine Fisheries Service has found that 21 commonly used pesticides jeopardize already imperiled salmon and steelhead populations and that pesticides are an important factor in ongoing salmon declines in West Coast rivers. (“Pesticide Regulation Overhaul Needed to Protect Wildlife from Pesticides,” EarthJustice press release, May 1, 2013; http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2013/pesticide-regulation-overhaul-needed-to-protect-wildlife-from-pesticides)
In response to a lawsuit over its herbicide atrazine, Syngenta launched an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign that included hiring a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge and commissioning a psychological profile of Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, whose research suggests that atrazine feminizes male frogs. Environmental Health News reports that Syngenta also routinely paid “third-party allies” to appear to be independent supporters, and kept a list of people and groups it could recruit as experts without disclosing ties to the company. Three-quarters of all U.S. corn is treated with atrazine; the herbicide is also used on some golf courses, Christmas tree plantings and public lands. It can run off fields and contaminate water supplies. It also drifts hundreds of miles by air. Research examining potential effects of atrazine in people is relatively sparse; it is reviewed in Environmental Health News. A few studies have found possible connections with birth defects and poor semen quality in men. Europe banned atrazine in 2003 because of its widespread discovery in water supplies. The U.S. EPA has concluded that water containing atrazine at 3 parts per billion is safe to drink – but the EPA has initiated another review of data related to atrazine and human and wildlife health. (“Special Report: Syngenta's campaign to protect atrazine, discredit critics,” by Clare Howard, Environmental Health News, June 17, 2013; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/atrazine; “Frogs feminized, but atrazine's effects on people uncertain,” by Brian Bienkowski and Marla Cone, Environmental Health News, June 17, 2013; www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/atrazine-health)
The Maine Legislature defeated LD 961, a bill that would have restricted the application of pesticides on playgrounds. The Natural Resources Council of Maine says that “lawmakers continue to be reluctant to restrict pesticide use in Maine, even on playgrounds where children play.”
With passage of Maine’s LD 1531, An Act To Maintain Access to Safe Medical Marijuana, medical marijuana dispensaries may not use pesticides that require federal registration on medical marijuana but can use certain minimum risk pesticides that are exempt from federal regulation under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, Section 25(b). Those pesticides are castor oil (U.S.P. or equivalent); linseed oil; cedar oil; malic acid; cinnamon and cinnamon oil; mint and mint oil; citric acid; peppermint and peppermint oil; citronella and citronella oil; 2-phenethyl propionate (2-phenylethyl propionate); cloves and clove oil; potassium sorbate; corn gluten meal; putrescent whole egg solids; corn oil; rosemary and rosemary oil; cottonseed oil; sesame (includes ground sesame plant) and sesame oil; dried blood; sodium chloride (common salt); eugenol; sodium lauryl sulfate; garlic and garlic oil; soybean oil; geraniol; thyme and thyme oil; geranium oil; white pepper; lauryl sulfate, zinc metal strips (consisting solely of zinc metal and impurities); and lemongrass oil. Also, LD 1062, An Act To Add Conditions That Qualify for Medical Marijuana Use, added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), inflammatory bowel disease, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders, and other diseases causing severe and persistent muscle spasms to the list of qualifying conditions for which a doctor can recommend medical use of marijuana. (MMCM Latest News – Medical Marijuana Bills, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, June 28, 2013; http://www.mmcmonline.org)