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"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
MOF&G Cover Wiinter 07-08
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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2007-2008Organic Matter   
 Organic Matter – A Compendium of Food and Agricultural News Minimize


Good News
Industrial Food
Genetic Engineering News
Pesticides
Organic Issues


Good News


UC Davis researchers say that organic tomatoes contain more of the health-protective flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol than those raised conventionally, and that the flavonoids increase after soil health is established and heavy additions of compost are not needed. The 10-year research project compared dried tomatoes raised organically with those raised conventionally and found a mean of 79% more quercetin and 97% more kaempferol. Researchers suggest that excess, readily available nitrogen in nonorganic agriculture lowers concentrations of the flavonoids. Similarly, European research shows that organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples were more nutritious than nonorganic. (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Aug. 2, 2007;
www.panna.org; abstract at http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/jafcau/2007/55/i15/abs/jf070344+.html; “Organic food 'better' for heart,” BBC News, July 5, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/6272634.stm)

Have some organic meat with those organic tomatoes? A study of breastfeeding mothers in the Netherlands, reports the British Journal of Nutrition, says a diet in which 90% or more of dairy and meat products are organic increases amounts of a beneficial fatty acid in mothers’ breast milk. The fat, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), is thought to be anti-carcinogenic, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-diabetic and immune-enhancing, and is believed to favorably influence body fat composition. For newborns, CLA is believed to aid immune system development especially. Other studies have shown that cows that get most of their nutrition from grazing pasture produce milk with less saturated (“bad”) fat and more unsaturated (“good”) fatty acids and CLA. European Union and U.S. organic standards require that dairy farms maximize use of pasture. (“Study: Organic Dairy and Meat Improves Quality of Mothers’ Breast Milk,” Press Release, Cornucopia Institute, July 24, 2007; report at
www.cornucopia.org/Rist_2007_study.pdf)

And how about some blueberries for dessert? After a single dietary change, lab mice with a genetic tendency toward Alzheimer's disease did as well as healthy peers in maze tests. The differences in the Alzheimer's-prone mice occurred after feeding them blueberry extracts for eight months from the equivalent of their early adulthood to early middle age. (“Blueberry Extracts Boost Brain Function,” Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Aug. 8, 2007,
www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug07/aging0807.htm)

Bees could use an immune boost. By screening genetics of healthy and unhealthy bees, scientists found a strong correlation between colony collapse disorder (CCD) and a honeybee virus called Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV). The virus was in 96.1 percent of the CCD-bee samples. This is the first report of IAPV in the United States; it was first identified in Israel in 2002, where bees exhibited such unusual behavior as twitching wings outside the hive and loss of worker bee populations. Researchers have not proven that IAPV causes CCD; and other factors, such as stress, may be involved. (“Genetic Survey Finds Association Between CCD and Virus,” Agricultural Research Service News Service, Sept. 6,
www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/)

A more organic approach to beekeeping may help honeybees. In an article about her family’s bees, Leslie Land says she thought that keeping heirloom bees might broaden bees’ genetics and strengthen the colony against disease – and that weaknesses in bees were probably masked previously by use of pesticides and antibiotics on bees. Those treatments are no longer working well, and at the same time, a narrow gene pool of susceptible bees has probably been selected. Land learned from Charles Mraz of Champlain Valley Apiaries in Vermont that breeding colonies from your own survivor bees is the best way to ensure resistance and genetic variation – and that backyard beekeepers, with bees adapted to the local climate, with four or five hives spread out, and, if possible, with only natural treatments against pests, can help significantly. Land gave the following resources for beekeepers: 
Beesource.com; The University of Minnesota Bee Lab (www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees); and American Bee Journal (dadant.com). (“Backyard Beekeepers as Warriors Against a Plague,” by Leslie land, The New York Times, Sept. 27, 2007)

From happy bees to happy hens: The City of Vancouver, host of the 2010 Olympics, voted to become the first host city in the world to recommend not using eggs from caged hens in city-run facilities. The city council also recommended that residents and food businesses choose certified organic, free-range eggs. The neighboring city of Richmond made the same recommendation earlier. (”Vancouver Bans Caged Hen Eggs from Facilities,” ACORN Organic E-News, Sept. 5, 2007,
www.acornorganic.org)

Something’s green in D.C., where a section of the National Mall is getting a "green make-over" from
Safe Lawns.Org. The project will test whether environmentally friendly soil treatments such as compost tea can improve soil and grass viability under the extreme compaction on the National Mall. At an excellent talk on organic lawn care, in Camden in October, Paul Tukey of Safe Lawns and of People, Places & Plants told a packed room about his excitement for this project and encouraged Maine’s coastal communities to follow suit in order to preserve coastal ecosystems and health.

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Industrial Food

Hold the additives, and the microwaved popcorn. Researchers in Britain recently showed that a mix of some common artificial colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate in drinks can increase hyperactivity and decrease attention span in a range of children – not only in those with learning problems. The dose of additives equaled that in one to two servings of candy per day, and responses were sometimes seen within an hour. (“Some Food Additives Raise Hyperactivity, Study Finds, by Elisabeth Rosenthal,” The New York Times, Sept. 6, 2007)

Meanwhile, a man who had eaten microwaved, butter-flavored popcorn at least twice a day for 10 years developed “popcorn lung” – a  disease also known in popcorn plant workers who inhale the synthetic, butter-flavored diacetyl on the job. Heated diacetyl inhaled over long periods seems to damage or destroy lungs.  The consumer in this case inhaled the buttery smell deeply when he opened popcorn bags. Concentrations of diacetyl in his home after he microwaved popcorn were like those in popcorn plants. Popcorn manufacturers interviewed denied any problem with normal, everyday consumption of their products, but had removed or were planning to remove diacetyl from their products due to consumers’ concerns. (“Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit,” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2007)

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Genetic Engineering News

Maine BPC approves Bt corn: In July, Maine's Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) approved license applications from Dow, Pioneer and Monsanto for genetically-engineered (GE) corn that contains the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin. Most BPC members accepted that the Bt corn was needed and would not adversely affect the environment.  (Now-former member Lee Humphreys opposed the move, but after voting against a motion saying the corn was needed, and against a motion saying the corn would have no significant adverse environmental effects, she felt forced to vote for a third motion, because it would regulate use of the corn.) Similarly, the USDA deregulated GE plums in July, despite thousands of opposing comments.

Fishermen beware: Just three months after the BPC’s move, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported that as pollen, leaves and cobs from Bt corn wash into streams near corn fields, toxins from Bt corn travel far and may harm aquatic insects and fish that eat them. Previous studies, said the NSF, show that corn-grown toxins harm beneficial insects living in the soil. Field data, added the NSF, indicate that Bt corn pollen is being eaten by caddisflies, close genetic relatives of targeted Bt pests; and lab tests show that eating Bt corn byproducts reduced growth and increased mortality of caddisflies. Fish and amphibians eat caddisflies.

Bt corn is engineered to produce a toxin that protects against pests, particularly the European corn borer. Bt corn now accounts for approximately 35% of U.S. corn acreage, and its use is increasing.  Streams draining the landscape heavily intersect Midwest agricultural lands where Bt corn is grown. (“Genetically Engineered Corn May Harm Stream Ecosystems,” National Science Foundation, Oct. 9, 2007;
www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110265&org=NSF&from=news; D. Saxena, G. Stotzky, 2000, “Insecticidal toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis is released from roots of transgenic Bt corn in vitro and in situ,” FEMS Microbiology Ecology 33(1), 35–39.)

MOFGA opposed the Bt corn registration, because Bt that is not genetically engineered and is not incorporated into plants, but is applied only as needed as an insecticide, is an important tool used by some organic farmers to control rootworms, cutworms and corn borers. With GE Bt corn, however, the entire plant becomes an insecticide, likely hastening development of resistance.

The major sources of information that the BPC had on pests in field corn came from an informal survey by a seed supplier and the testimony of dairy farmers who want to use the corn. Pests that might be controlled are not present for the entire growing season, are not sprayed often, and are most prevalent when crop rotation is not practiced.

The BPC had scheduled a November hearing on draft rules for using the Plant Incorporated Pesticide (PIP) crops as we went to press. Organic grower Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater urged the BPC to require annual training for farmers wishing to use Bt corn and for all dealer personnel handling PIPs. Gerritsen also proposed a 1-mile buffer between GE corn and certified organic corn crops, seed corn crops, or sweet corn crops, the minimum isolation distance for seed corn noted in Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers. He added that approximately 10,000 mail-order customers who seek his quality organic seed and food expect it to be free from genetic contamination. “I assert my right, and the rights of all organic farmers, to provide clean crops, free of genetic contamination, to our families and to our customers.” Finally, Gerritsen opposed “the secrecy implied in the provisions for requested confidentiality... Concerned citizens in order to protect themselves and their families should have public warning of proposed Bt corn use. In past years when we spread raw herring scale on our fields our supplier was required by the DEP to run public announcement ads in the local weekly newspapers. In the same way, BPC should require the manufacturer or its dealer or the farmer to run similar public ads including maps and locations of proposed Bt corn plantings. By any standard the temporary scent of natural fish scales pales in comparison to the threat of unwanted genetic pollution from such a notorious pollen emitter as Bt corn.”
 
Biopiracy? Native peoples in Minnesota worry about the legal future of their traditional wild rice, says Winona LaDuke in Orion magazine. They are upset that California’s paddy-grown rice is marketed as "wild” and that universities and corporations want to genetically engineer and patent strains of wild rice. (“Tribes Concerned over Wild Rice Patent,” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Aug. 1, 2007;
attra.ncat.org/newsletter/archives.html#wh)

Peruvians, too, reject GE. Farmers and residents of the Cusco region of Peru passed an ordinance restricting transport and production of GE potatoes and other crops, in order to protect genetic diversity of native crops.  (Pesticide Action Network News Update, July 26, 2007;
www.panna.org)

Not so sweet, however, is news that American Crystal, a Wyoming-based sugar company with an organic line of sugar, and other leading U.S. sugar providers say they will source their sugar from sugar beets that have been genetically engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide; the product will arrive in stores in 2008 – without a GE label. Half of the granulated sugar in the United States comes from sugar beets. Candy companies such as Hershey's are urging farmers not to plant GE sugar beets, noting consumers’ resistance. The European Union has not approved GE sugar beets for human consumption. (Organic Bytes, Sept. 12, 2007, Organic Consumers Assoc.,
www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_7031.cfm)

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Pesticides

A study by the California Department of Public Health shows higher incidences of autism among children born to mothers who, while pregnant, lived in areas of heavy applications of the organochlorine pesticides endosulfan and dicofol. (Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Aug. 2, 2007;
www.panna.org)

Another study, of 129 Bay Area women by UC Berkeley, found that women who were heavily exposed to DDT before the age of 14 were five times as likely to get breast cancer as women with the lowest exposures; women exposed when young were most affected by the pesticide. DDT was widely used against mosquitoes and other insects beginning in 1945 and peaking in 1959; its U.S. use was banned in 1972. The researchers measured DDT in stored blood collected between 1959 and 1967 from women who had just given birth. For women born before 1931, cancer rates and DDT were not linked; these women would have been older when exposed. Two-thirds of women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older when diagnosed. (“Study Suggests DDT, Breast Cancer Link,” by Marla Clone, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 30, 2007”)

Farm chemical use and lower academic achievement were correlated in another study. According to Dr. Paul Winchester of Indiana University School of Medicine, seasonal runoff of pesticides and nitrates used on corn fields coincided with conception dates for children with lower scores on the state's academic achievement tests. (“Indiana study shows correlation between ag chemicals and fetal impacts, from pre-term births to children's school performance,” by Dr. Paul Hepperly, New Farm, June 15, 2007;
www.newfarm.org/columns/research_paul/2007/0607/testscores.shtml)

And Costa Rican researchers linked childhood leukemia to parents' exposure to pesticides: The Central American Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances investigated effects of 25 pesticides. Cases of childhood leukemia were associated with maternal exposures to pesticides during the year before conception and during the first and second trimester. Paternal exposures to paraquat, benomyl and picloram were also linked to the occurrence of leukemia in offspring. Leukemia accounts for 25-35% of childhood cancers in most countries, but Costa Rica, with a largely agricultural economy, has one of the world's highest incidences of childhood leukemia.  (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Sept. 6, 2007,
www.panna.org)

Another revolving door? Controversial pesticides continue to be approved. In October, despite strong opposition from scientists, public health professionals and farmworker advocates, the EPA granted one-year approval for  agricultural use of carcinogenic methyl iodide to replace the soil fumigant (and ozone depletor) methyl bromide. The manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, spent eight years and $11 million to get methyl iodide registered. The EPA hired Elin Miller, an executive from Arysta LifeScience, shortly after the agency turned down methyl iodide last year.  A year later, EPA reversed its decision and approved methyl iodide. Arysta must still win approval for its Midas pesticide, which includes methyl iodide, in California and Florida.  (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Oct. 18, 2007,
www.panna.org)

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Organic Issues

As Antigua Goes? Diann Black-Layne, Antigua's chief environment officer, has proposed that the Caribbean island transition to organic farming within 10 to 15 years. The call came after recent incidents of improper use and disposal of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. “We are importing [organic foods]," Black-Layne told the Antigua Sun. "The fact that there is a market for it speaks volumes. It’s a healthier choice, for our environment and our water supply and human health.” Black-Layne noted that Antigua’s farms are "nice and small and geared toward organic farming.” In addition to saving money and increasing yields, Black-Layne predicts that Antigua could make a name for itself as an "organic territory" that might "lure more tourists, especially the health gurus." (Pesticide Action Network News Update, Sept. 6, 2007,
www.panna.org)

Back home, in August, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced the availability of $1 million to defray annual organic certification costs in 15 states, including Maine. The states will reimburse each eligible producer for up to 75% of organic certification costs, not to exceed $500. This program is in addition to and separate from the USDA’s National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. (See
www.ams.usda.gov/nop.)

That $1 million is … not much, as an August 19 New York Times article by Andrew Martin shows: The National Organic Program, which regulates the organic industry, has just nine staff members and an annual budget of $1.5 million, while some individual chemical-agribusinesses receive more than that in subsidies, including $1.7 million to a single mega-farm in Florida. The USDA (whose annual budget is $100 billion) spent $28 million on organic agriculture programs last year – and $37 million subsidizing farmers who grew dry peas; but consumers spend only $83 million a year on dry peas, and spent almost $17 billion last year on organic food. The Times noted, "It's not entirely surprising that organics are such a low priority at the department and in Congress. Both the agency and farm-state members of Congress are reliable cheerleaders for industrialized agriculture, and Big Ag has often viewed organics with suspicion, if not outright disdain." 
(Organic Bytes #116, Aug. 23, 2007; FMI:
www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_6710.cfm). As we went to press, the Farm Bill was headed for the Senate floor with some provisions for increased funding for organic agriculture.

One result of low funding and undue influence by industrial agriculture is that nonprofits, such as the Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), have had to guard organic agriculture carefully.  Cornucopia has filed several complaints with the USDA alleging that some large organic milk producers, such as Aurora Organic Dairy, have not met federal organic standards.  Cornucopia alleged that Aurora kept thousands of cows confined, with little pasture access. The USDA found problems with Aurora’s records and with keeping organic and nonorganic cows together, and suspended a portion of Aurora’s organic certification.  Aurora agreed to stop labeling some of its milk as "USDA Organic,” to sell hundreds of conventionally raised cows, to expand its pasture and to file new organic systems plans. Aurora's certifying agent, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, agreed to increase its training and hire more personnel. No fine was levied against Aurora, even though Federal organic regulations state that “any operation that knowingly sells or labels a product as organic, except in accordance with the Act, shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation.”

In September, Cornucopia filed another legal complaint alleging that Aurora’s newer 4000- to 4200-head dairy is not grazing cattle or providing pasture in accordance with federal law. Cornucopia also filed a legal complaint against two USDA accredited certifiers associated with Aurora; and Cornucopia argued that the wholesale price of organic milk was reduced by a surplus created by “questionable facilities.”

Aurora threatened to sue OCA, Cornucopia and the Center for Food Safety if they did not retract statements they made about Aurora, alleging consumer fraud. Finally (for now), on behalf of organic food consumers in 27 states, class action lawsuits filed in U.S. federal courts charge Aurora Dairy Corporation with allegations of consumer fraud, negligence and unjust enrichment concerning the sale of organic milk by the company.  (Organic Bytes, Sept. 12, 2007, Organic Consumers Association,
www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_6912.cfm; Organic Bytes #119, Oct. 4, 2007, www.organicconsumers.org; USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Press Release, Aug. 29, 2007; Press Releases, Cornucopia Institute, Aug. 31 and Sept. 13, 2007; www.cornucopia.org/Aurora/HighPlainsComplaint.pdf; www.cornucopia.org/Aurora/CertifierComplaint.pdf;  Press Release, Organic Consumers Assoc. “Aurora Dairy Threatens to Sue Public Interest Groups” Sept. 25, 2007; Organic Bytes #120, Oct. 18, 2007)

The USDA has issued a voluntary standard for grass- (forage-) fed marketing claims. The grass-fed standard states that grass and/or forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. The proposed standard will establish minimum requirements for producers who choose to operate a USDA-verified program involving a grass- (forage-) fed claim.  (ATTRA News, Oct. 25, 2007)

To keep up with news about food and agriculture, visit
mofga.org
.  Links to articles are posted almost daily at the bottom of the home page.

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