Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Dairy News
Organic Issues
Nitrate Pollution
Genetic Engineering


Dairy News

Choosing organic dairy is an easy way to minimize contaminants of antibiotics, pesticides and synthetic growth hormones in milk. Researchers at Emory University, in collaboration with The Organic Center, analyzed 35 samples of conventional milk and 34 samples of organic milk collected in 2015 from nine U.S. regions for residues of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones (bovine growth hormone or bGH, and bGH-associated insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1).

Antibiotic residues were undetectable in organic milk but were detected in 60 percent of conventional milk samples – with 37 percent of samples testing positive for sulfamethazine and 26 percent for sulfathiazole, both long banned in lactating dairy cows. One conventional sample contained amoxicillin residue exceeding the federally allowed limit.

Some pesticide residues were undetectable in organic samples, but chlorpyrifos, atrazine, permethrin and more were found in 26 to 60 percent of conventional samples, with residues of the restricted-use pesticide chlorpyrifos in 59 percent of conventional samples. Some now-banned but persistent pesticides – the organochlorines hexachlorobenzene, ppDDT, and ppDDE, a metabolite of ppDDT – were detected in nearly all samples, whether conventional or organic.

Higher bGH and IGF-1 levels in conventional milk suggest the presence of synthetic growth hormone. (“Production-related contaminants (pesticides, antibiotics and hormones) in organic and conventionally produced milk samples sold in the USA,” by Jean A. Welsh et al., Public Health Nutrition, June 26, 2019;; “Choose Organic for the Cleanest Milk,” The Organic Center, June 26, 2019;; “Choosing organic milk ‘minimizes exposure’ to chemicals, says study,” Sustainable Food News, June 26, 2019; - data at


Organic Issues

In May the Federal District Court in San Francisco agreed with organic farmers, consumers and animal welfare advocates that the USDA cannot hide communications and documents that led to the Trump administration’s controversial decision to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, which would have required animal welfare standards on farms raising animals organically.

Organic producers and stakeholders sought the OLPP rule to provide detail in the standards for organic livestock care, especially outdoor access for poultry. A coalition of organic stakeholders challenged withdrawal of these standards as arbitrary and contrary to federal law, but USDA withheld "a voluminous number of documents" from the record. The court held that agencies cannot hide their internal documents leading to a decision because these are part of the universe of materials the agency considered. USDA's internal documents may reveal why the agency reversed nearly three decades of organic policy and withdrew a rule wanted by the vast majority of the organic community.

The court also required USDA to include the 47,000 public comments it received in response to its first notice that it might withdraw the OLPP.

Consumers of organic products expect that animals raised for organic meat, dairy and eggs were treated humanely and could engage in natural behaviors. Those expectations were not being met consistently before the OLPP, mostly as a few large egg producers raised hens in confinement with no real outdoor access – a major disadvantage to the majority of producers of organic products, most of whom raise animals humanely.

The plaintiffs are Center for Food Safety, Center for Environmental Health, Cultivate Oregon, International Center for Technology Assessment, the National Organic Coalition, the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. (“Defenders of Organic Integrity Win Victory for Transparency and Open Government,” Center for Food Safety, May 6, 2019;


Nitrate Pollution

Nitrate pollution of U.S. drinking water may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer a year, according to a peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG scientists estimated the number of cancer cases in each state that could be attributed to nitrate contamination of public water systems, largely caused by farm runoff containing fertilizer and manure. They also estimated the costs of treating those cases at up to $1.5 billion a year.  

The federal drinking water standard for nitrate is 10 parts per million (ppm), although several epidemiological studies have linked nitrate in drinking water with cancer and other serious health issues at levels less than one-tenth of the legal limit. In early 2019 the EPA suspended plans to reevaluate its outdated nitrate standard.

Four-fifths of EWG’s estimated cases were occurrences of colorectal cancer, with ovarian, thyroid, kidney and bladder cancer making up the rest. Nitrate in tap water has also been linked with low birth weight, very preterm birth and neural tube defects.

EWG scientists estimate the level at which no adverse health effects would occur from nitrate in drinking water to be 0.14 ppm. (“EWG: Nitrate Pollution of U.S. Tap Water  Could Cause 12,500 Cancer Cases Each Year,” by Sarah Graddy, Environmental Working Group, June 11, 2019;; “Exposure-based assessment and economic valuation of adverse birth outcomes and cancer risk due to nitrate in United States drinking water,” by Alexis Temkin et al., Environmental Research, June 11, 2019;



Maine Board of Pesticides Control Composition Weakened

In June 2019, Maine Governor Mills signed HP 37 – LD 36 An Act To Change the Composition of the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC). Originally LD 36 sought to reinstate the requirement, eliminated during the LePage era, that the two public members of the BPC have demonstrated interest in environmental protection. Lacking that requirement since 2011, BPC members have included one person with practical experience and knowledge regarding the agricultural use of chemicals; one with practical experience and knowledge regarding the use of chemicals in forest management; one from the medical community; a scientist from the University of Maine System with practical experience and expertise in integrated pest management; one commercial applicator; and two people representing the public.

Representative Bill Pluecker (I-Warren), a MOFGA-certified organic farmer and member of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, introduced the bill. He said that organic has been the agricultural sector with the most growth in Maine in recent years and will continue to see the majority of growth in the next decade. Because this type of farming occurs near customers, residential spaces and local markets, it creates increased public scrutiny of farm management, especially regarding use of agricultural chemicals. Improving BPC oversight of environmental protection would make organic growth easier while preserving the rights of farmers as homes are developed near their farms, he said. The bill as originally written also would have preserved the public’s good will toward nearby farms and made people more willing to pay a premium for local food produced by good neighbors in their community, he noted.

Expertise in environmental protection is critical to properly administrating the board’s duties, said Pluecker. “While we would expect all of the members to have some feeling for environmental protection, it seems that requiring those last two members to have a demonstrated history in environmental protection significantly adds to the skill set necessary for the proper and full functioning of the board.”

Spencer Aitel, a MOFGA board member and certified organic farmer, testified in support of the bill on MOFGA’s behalf. He said that the public has lost trust in the BPC and has taken regulation into its own hands through municipal ordinances on pesticide use and sales. “There is,” he said, “a public perception that the BPC prioritizes the interests of the pesticide industry rather than the public and the environment. This is a challenge for all farmers, conventional and organic. And we hope that a board with well-balanced expertise and opinion will monitor challenges and opportunities. Organic farmers need the public to have faith in the BPC just as much as do conventional farmers.”

Paul Schlein of Arrowsic, who was the public information officer for the BPC from 2005 to 2013, said that after the 2011 action, “[T]he BPC could no longer be counted on to be faithful to the part of its mission to protect the public health and the environment. Witness the fact that two of Maine s largest municipalities have recently enacted the strongest pesticide ordinances in the country; this should not have been necessary.” He also suggested restoring the previous requirement that the university member have expertise in agronomy or entomology, in addition to integrated pest management; and that, when considering BPC appointments and reappointments, the ACF committee do everything possible to restore and maintain the balance of the board, and look for ways to broaden representation for large and small communities, large and small farms, and both conventional and organic agriculture.

The bill was also supported by Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine, Maine Audubon, Environment Maine, Protect South Portland, Mark Follansbee, Ph.D., of Scarborough, Caitlin Meredith of Southwest Harbor, Jo Ann Myers of Beau Chemin Preservation Farm in Waldoboro, and Avery Yale Kamila of Portland Protectors, who noted, “under the previous administration the board's education programs were eliminated, gutted or drastically scaled-back. While we were writing our ordinance, the board was unable/unwilling to provide help to the city in crafting its ordinance. The lack of environmental credentials for members of the MBPC blinds the board to many issues facing the state, since the current make-up of the board is skewed toward people who have a financial tie to the sale and use of synthetic pesticides.”

The Maine Potato Board, Maine Farm Bureau Association and Maine Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Association opposed the bill, saying its language was vague and noting that anyone can testify about BPC nominees during public hearings. Six new members will be nominated over the next two years.

All testimony is posted at

Unfortunately a worse, amended bill passed. In addition to striking the requirement that the two public members have a demonstrated interest in environmental protection, the final bill also struck from the law the requirement that these members represent different areas of the state. Instead, the amendment requires that one of the two public members has practical experience and knowledge of methods of sustainable management of indoor and outdoor pests.


In August the EPA rejected a petition by environmental and public health groups to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used on more than 50 crops. The Obama administration had decided to ban the insecticide based on epidemiological studies, rather than tests on animals, suggesting that chlorpyrifos causes neurological damage in young children. Federal judges agreed with those concerns, but the EPA now questions the significance of those data. California, New York and Hawaii have moved to ban chlorpyrifos, and other states are considering similar action. The EPA long ago banned most residential uses of the insecticide. (“EPA will not ban use of controversial pesticide linked to children’s health problems,” by Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, July 18, 2019;

In May a jury handed a $2.055 billion verdict in favor of California couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who say that long-term exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused their cancer. The Pilliods, who used Roundup on their property for more than 30 years, were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The verdict includes more than $55 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages. This was the third Roundup-related case that plaintiffs have won in California since mid-2018. Thousands of similar cases are pending around the country. Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, continues to say that glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) is safe and that it will appeal the May verdict. (“Jury returns $2 billion verdict against Monsanto for couple with cancer,” by Michael Nedelman, CNN, May 13, 2019;

A judge in California reduced damages from $80 million to $25 million to a plaintiff after a jury concluded that Roundup herbicide caused his cancer, but the judge rejected a request by Bayer for a retrial of the case. More than 13,000 other plaintiffs worldwide claim to have been harmed by Roundup. Meanwhile, Austria’s lower house of parliament voted to ban glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. (“Glyphosate woes prompt calls to split up Bayer,” The Economist, July 18, 2018;

In a study including 93 subjects, researchers at the University of California San Diego found that the concentration of glyphosate in urine samples from people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease was higher than in those without the disease, regardless of underlying factors such as age, body mass index or race. The researchers note that other studies also pointed to development of liver pathology when lab animals were fed Roundup herbicide. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has increased significantly in the United States since the mid-1990s, when Roundup began to be used increasingly, note the researchers. (“UCSD Researchers Link Herbicide Roundup to Liver Disease in Humans,” by Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego, May 14, 2019;; Glyphosate Excretion is Associated With Steatohepatitis and Advanced Liver Fibrosis in Patients With Fatty Liver Disease, By Paul J. Mills et al., Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, May 13, 2019;

A study exposing lab rats to glyphosate found negligible impacts of the herbicide on the treated generation or its first generation offspring, but second and third generation offspring had increased prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, and more obesity and birth abnormalities than control rats. “Observations suggest the generational toxicology of glyphosate needs to be considered in the disease etiology of future generations,” say the researchers. (“Glyphosate risks 'last for generations',” by Arthur Wyns, Ecologist, April 24, 2019;; “Assessment of Glyphosate Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Pathologies and Sperm Epimutations: Generational Toxicology,” by Deepika Kubsad et al., Scientific Reports (Nature), April 23, 2019;

Effective June 1, 2019, the 10 campuses of the University of California will halt their use of glyphosate, per President Janet Napolitano. The decision, which cites “concerns about possible human health and ecological hazards, as well potential legal and reputational risks associated with this category of herbicides,” follows an Herbicide-Free UC initiative. Herbicide-Free UC is also asking for a ban on all Proposition 65 pesticides and other herbicides that harm human health and the environment and for a transition to organic land care practices. (“University of California System Halts Use of Glyphosate Herbicide,” by Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., Independent Science News, May 16, 2019;

Bayer AG plans to invest $5.64 billion over the next decade developing new technologies to combat weeds, according to The Wall Street Journal. Bayer took over Monsanto Co. last year. The WSJ also reported that Costco Wholesale Corp. recently pulled Roundup herbicides from its stores, while some cities have banned glyphosate weedkillers on municipal property. Meanwhile, Bayer took out full-page ads in The New York Times in June stating, “There’s no risk to public health from the application of glyphosate.” (“Bayer to Invest Billions in Weedkillers in Wake of Roundup Controversy,” by Ruth Bender, The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2019;; “Bayer defends glyphosate,” by Marion Nestle, Food Politics, June 12, 2019;

Worker bumblebees exposed to a field-realistic (10 ppb) dose of imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid insecticide) flew at a significantly higher velocity for the first 0.75 km of flight but ultimately were able to fly only about one-third the time and distance of control workers. (“Pesticide exposure affects flight dynamics and reduces flight endurance in bumblebees,” by Daniel Kenna et al., Ecology and Evolution, April 29, 2019;

In July the EPA approved new applications for the insecticide sulfoxaflor to several crops, crops, including citrus, corn, soy, strawberries, pineapples and pumpkins. Environmental groups and beekeepers opposed the move because the pesticide is so toxic to bees. Even the EPA considers sulfoxaflor to be very highly toxic to bees, but it said the pesticide dissipates in the environment faster and often takes fewer applications than some other insecticides. The EPA provided no notice and sought no public input about the decision. (“EPA to allow use of pesticide considered ‘very highly toxic’ to bees,” by Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, July 12, 2019;

Canadian researchers found that 99 percent of 68 water samples collected from the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries contained at least one of 10 pesticides tested; 84 percent contained glyphosate and 82 percent contained atrazine. Also, 31 percent contained neonicotinoids at levels greater than Canadian allowances. The research adds to evidence that neonicotinoids, glyphosate and atrazine are increasingly contaminating fresh water (including drinking water) in farming areas. In another study, the scientists found atrazine and one of its metabolites in all 450 samples of drinking water taken in Quebec from 2015 to 2018. (“Pesticides are all over the St. Lawrence River — many at levels that hurt fish and invertebrates,” by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, May 1, 2019;; “Widespread occurrence and spatial distribution of glyphosate, atrazine, and neonicotinoids pesticides in the St. Lawrence and tributary rivers,” by J.M. Montiel-León et al., Environmental Pollution, April 2, 2019;

As part of a legal settlement reached in December 2018 involving the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the EPA, the EPA published in the Federal Register final notices of cancellation for the registration of 12 neonicotinoid pesticides. In 2013 CFS sued on behalf of a coalition of conservationists and beekeepers, accusing the EPA of failing to protect pollinators, beekeepers and endangered species from these dangerous pesticides. Another part of the settlement requires that the EPA analyze and address the impact of the entire neonicotinoid pesticide class on endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The products, listed at, contain the active ingredients thiamethoxam, azoxystrobin, metalaxyl-M, fludioxonil; thiabendazole, abamectin, clothianidin, penflufen, ipconazole, bifenthrin or imidacloprid. They have been used by large-scale agribusinesses and home gardeners. They are transported throughout the plant and make the entire plant, including pollen, nectar and dew droplets on leaves, toxic to insects. They have been used heavily since the mid-2000s – the same time beekeepers observed widespread colony losses.

The plaintiffs included CFS, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Environmental Health, Pesticide Action Network and four commercial beekeepers.

CFS has launched a free Wild Bee ID app that enables gardeners to identify the bees in their yards that are native to North America and the plants those native bees have evolved to pollinate. (“EPA Cancels a Dozen Pesticides That Harm Bees and Endangered Species,” Center for Food Safety, May 21, 2019;

A study of 2961 people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder suggests that prenatal exposure to 11 most commonly used pesticides, including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, permethrin, malathion and avermectin, increased the risk of the disorder. Children of mothers living within 2,000 meters (about 1.2 miles) of a highly sprayed area were 10 to 16 percent more likely be diagnosed as autistic than those of mothers living farther away in the same agricultural area without such exposure. The risk of diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder with comorbid intellectual disability averaged 30 percent greater among children exposed in utero to some pesticides, while exposure in the first year of life increased the risk by up to 50 percent. (“Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: A Mother's Exposure to Pesticides During Pregnancy May Raise Children's Autism Risk,” by Alice Park, Time, March 20, 2019;; “Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population based case-control study,” By Ondine S. von Ehrenstein et al., British Medical Journal, March 20, 2019,


Genetic Engineering
Note: Organic production does not allow the use of genetically engineered (GE or GMO – genetically modified organism) inputs.

Scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have genetically engineered a blight-resistant American chestnut variety. They aim to petition the USDA, FDA and EPA for its deregulation, according to Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch and Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project. If deregulated, this would be the first GE forest tree species to be planted with the deliberate intention of spreading freely, they say. Monitoring or reversing its spread, once released, would likely be impossible.

Valid risk assessment of the potential impacts of GE American chestnut on forests, wildlife, water, soils, pollinators or people is hampered by a lack of knowledge about the ecology of the American chestnut and forest ecosystems. Also, risk factors may change unpredictably over the 200-year lifespan of American chestnuts. Choices made about the GE chestnut will set a precedent for future use of other GE tree species and for use of biotechnology as “tools for conservation.”

The American Chestnut Foundation has spent hundreds of thousands of hours hybridizing American chestnut with the naturally blight-resistant Asian chestnut and then backcrossing to produce a blight-resistance tree. The SUNY scientists say GE will provide a faster solution. They used a gene sequence derived from wheat that causes the tree to produce the enzyme oxalate oxidase (OxO), which inhibits spread of the fungus once established. But engineering resistance to fungal pathogens has proven challenging because fungi evolve to evade plant defenses. Also, when plants invest energy in defending against a pathogen, their growth is often compromised, and they can become more susceptible to other stressors.

SUNY ESF has tested only young GE chestnut trees in controlled conditions, while during their 200-plus-year lifespan, chestnuts may experience conditions that could affect expression of the OxO or other traits of the trees. The SUNY researchers say they hope to engineer many other genes into the OxO trees to confer further resistance to blight and other pathogens.

Why rush the GE chestnut into regulatory review? Because the tree is being used to win over public opinion toward GE trees generally and for the use of biotechnology as a “tool of conservation” – and for commercial purposes, such as biofuels.

Protesting the American Chestnut Foundation’s embrace of SUNY ESF’s GE American chestnut, Lois Breault-Melican and Denis M. Melican resigned from the board of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation after spending over 16 years backcross breeding resistant American chestnuts. In 2015, the Maine chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation adopted this position: “The Maine Chapter is using traditional backcross breeding to develop diverse populations of American chestnuts for restoration in Maine, and has no plans for using genetically engineered chestnuts in our program.”

Rachel Smolker writes, “If we are seriously concerned about protecting forest health, then [reining] in those underlying drivers of forest destruction is the real solution – not genetically engineering trees or replacing diverse natural forests with industrial plantations.” (“The GE American Chestnut – Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?” by Rachel Smolker, Ph.D., Independent Science News, June 11, 2019; “Biotechnology for Forest Health? The Test Case of the Genetically Engineered American Chestnut,” by Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann, The Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Biofuelwatch and Global Justice Ecology Project, April 2019;


In June the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the discovery of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants growing in an unplanted agricultural field in Washington state. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and some other herbicides. No evidence exists that GE wheat has entered the food supply, and currently no GE wheat varieties are sold or are in commercial production in the United States. (“USDA Investigating Detection of Genetically Engineered (GE) Wheat in Washington State,” By Rick Coker and Lyndsay Cole, USDA APHIS, June 7, 2019;


President Trump signed an executive order in June directing federal agencies to simplify the "regulatory maze" for producers of GE plants and animals to enter the food supply. Also in June, the USDA proposed changing its regulations so that crops produced with newer gene-editing technologies wouldn't automatically require special oversight unless they posed a risk as plant pests. (“Trump administration eases rules for genetically modified foods, animals,” Associated Press, Southeast Missourian, June 13, 2019;



The Maine Department of Environmental Protection found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in most sludge tested by Maine wastewater treatment plants at levels high enough to warrant additional study. Thirty-one of 35 municipal wastewater treatment facilities exceeded the concentration of PFOS that requires additional regulatory evaluation; 19 of the 35 exceeded concentrations of PFOA; and 21 of 23 composting facilities exceeded the concentration levels for PFOA.

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals have been used for decades in nonstick cookware, firefighting foam, water- and stain-resistant fabrics and some food packaging, and they persist in bodies and in the environment. Tests of lab animals link them to cancer, thyroid disease, and reproductive and immunological changes.

The Maine DEP now requires that sewage treatment plants test for some of these chemicals before their sludge can be applied on farms or distributed as compost. The Environmental Health Strategy Center and the Conservation Law Foundation urged DEP Commissioner Jerry Reid to halt land application of all sludge and compost that exceeds the screening concentrations.

In initial tests of Maine milk, these substances were below the state’s reporting limit. Previous tests of milk from an Arundel farm where sludge was spread did find dangerous levels of PFAS. The USDA National Organic Standards do not allow sludge use on certified organic land, but the persistence of PFAS compounds means that even some organic land could be contaminated. Patrick MacRoy of the Maine nonprofit Environmental Health Strategy Center says that governments should test farms and agricultural products, and not allow the use of contaminated sludge. (“Initial test results reveal ‘forever chemicals’ showing up in fertilizer sludge,” by Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald, May 23, 2019;; “State says Maine milk passes tests for ‘forever chemicals’,” by Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald, June 26, 2019;; “How toxic PFAS chemicals could be making their way into food from Pennsylvania farms,” by Kristina Marusik, Environmental Health News, July 11, 2019;