Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


Farmers Sign On to GE-Moratorium Pledge at Augusta Trades Show
Maine Attorney General Not Cowed by Monsanto’s Claims about Maine Dairy Quality Seal

Good Communication Makes Good Neighbors  –  Usually
Coplin Plantation, Maine, Passes Controversial No-Spray Ordinance
International Students as Farm Labor


Farmers Sign On to GE-Moratorium Pledge at Augusta Trades Show

On January 8,9 and 10, 2002, Co-op Voices Unite!, the political arm of the food co-ops of Maine, manned a booth at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta. The group, an educational lobbying organization that represents the 6,000-member, $7 million market of Maine’s 14 food co-ops, was pleased to represent the “alternative point of view” to all farmers of Maine who may be contemplating growing genetically altered crops. CVU’s major thrust at the show was to ask Maine farmers to voluntarily sign a pledge for a three-year moratorium on knowingly planting GE crops within the state.

The booth created a sensation: Seventy new pledges were gained, creating a farmland total of 30,000 GE-free acres, which is nearly three times as much land as the total certified organic farm acreage. During the Trades Show, CVU saw that the farmers who were most concerned about the GE issue were those growing feed for livestock and poultry. Dairy farmers who grow soy and corn were looking for direction from the University of Maine and from agriculture commissioner Bob Spear as to which stance the state was going to take toward GE crops.

Maine is at a fork in the road. The state’s farmers may be in a unique position because the corn grown within Maine may be unpolluted by GE pollen drift, as opposed to most of the corn grown in the Midwest and Canada. Archer, Daniels, Midland Co. pays premium prices for non-GE corn and soybeans. International prices on the marketplace don’t concern Maine feed growers so much as many other pending issues related to GE, such as lower yields of corn and soy after growing the GE crops for four or five years; quality and nutrition of the crop; or the creation of superweeds that demand additional, expensive and harsh applications of herbicides. Legal problems that farmers across Canada and the United States are embroiled in because of pollen drift from Roundup Ready corn and canola are pressing, as well. Although Maine is a microcosm for some of its crops, CVU reminded those attending the Trades Show that the rest of the world does not want this technology and is passing labeling laws, moratoriums, or altogether banning GMOs from their countries.

Co-op Voices Unite! has been working with food issues for over three years, especially with genetically modified organisms. The group was successful, along with MOFGA, in lobbying for passage of GE cross-contamination legislation in the previous legislative session. Working together again, they will present a bill before the fall 2002 Legislature asking for a moratorium on planting of all GE crops. This 2002 moratorium bill will have the support of hundreds of Maine farmers who already pledged not to grow GE crops.

Our sister state of Vermont is working on a similar moratorium: a town-to-town vote against GE crops. Thirty towns have already passed legislation. Future plans to spread to all of New England are in the works.

Any farmers wishing to sign CVU’s moratorium pledge may call 207-359-2282.

– Leslie Cummins, CVU

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Maine Attorney General Not Cowed by Monsanto’s Claims about Maine Dairy Quality Seal

Maine’s Attorney General Steven Rowe has told Monsanto and others who challenged the Maine Quality Trademark on dairy products that their challenge is unwarranted.

Monsanto Corporation, the Biotechnology Association of Maine and three Maine dairy farms – Linita Farm in Union, Poland Farm in Richmond and Thomas Farms of Garland, Inc., in Garland – sent a letter to Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe and Maine Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spear in November requesting that Maine suspend the use of its Quality Trademark Seal program and that it initiate legal proceedings against two Maine dairies, Oakhurst and Hood, alleging unfair trade practices. The two dairies advertise their milk as coming from farms that pledge not to use artificial growth hormones. In order to use the Dairy Quality Trademark Seal, farmers must sign affidavits that they are not treating their cows with artificial hormones. (Robert Spear’s dairy farm family is among those who have signed the pledge.) Monsanto makes the genetically engineered recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH, also known as rBST, recombinant Bovine Somatotropin, and marketed as POSILAC 1 STEP). The letter from Monsanto et al. says that promoting milk as coming from untreated herds misleads consumers into believing that milk from untreated herds is better than that from cows that are injected with the synthetic hormone. The genetically engineered hormone is banned in Canada and the European Union but has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Organic Consumers Association (www.purefood.org/rbghlink.html) alleges that:

• rBGH makes cows sick: Some 20 veterinary health risks are listed on the Posilac label, including mastitis and udder inflammation;

• rBGH milk is contaminated by pus from mastitis induced by rBGH, and by antibiotics used to treat the mastitis;

• rBGH milk is contaminated by the genetically engineered hormone, which can be absorbed through the gut and induce immunological effects;

• rBGH milk is chemically and nutritionally very different from natural milk;

• rBGH milk has high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), excess levels of which have been incriminated as major causes of breast, colon and prostate cancers;

• rBGH factory farms threaten the viability of small dairy farms.

According to Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly #621 (at www.organicconsumers.org/rBGH/rach621.htm), the Canadian government banned the use of Monsanto’s rBGH after studying Monsanto's 90-day rat feeding study and finding that 20% to 30% of the rats fed rBGH in high doses developed primary antibody responses to rBGH, indicating that rBGH was absorbed into their blood. An antibody response is evidence that the immune system has detected, and responded to, a substance entering the body. Furthermore, cysts reportedly developed on the thyroids of the male rats, and some increased infiltration of the prostate gland occurred. The Canadian government report concludes that "the 3-month rat study did show a physiological response."

On February 6, 2003, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe responded to the letter from Monsanto and other challengers, strongly rejecting their claims. Rowe said that Maine’s affidavit system as used by buyers is legally sufficient and that dairies are not misleading consumers, because they are not making health claims; rather, they are just providing information. "Accordingly," wrote Rowe, "in our view no legal action is warranted with respect to the use of the Maine Quality Trademark. Likewise, we find that advertising accurately stating that milk comes from cows not treated with rBST or artificial growth hormones is neither false nor misleading."

– Jean English

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Good Communication Makes Good Neighbors  –  Usually

If you live near a commercial farm, forest, orchard, Christmas tree plantation or other agricultural enterprise, or if your neighbor maintains a weed-free, chemical-intensive lawn, early spring is a good time to get in touch with these growers or homeowners to let them know that you are concerned about pesticide drift. "The more growers and abutters know about each other, the better," says Paul Gregory, information officer with Maine's Board of Pesticides Control staff. "Make your presence clear. I've talked to managers of many fields, and they think no news means there's no problem." This can be true especially in relation to summer residents, who may need to make the extra effort of calling from their winter residences to notify neighbors when they will be arriving in Maine and that they would like notification before pesticide applications.

In addition to neighborly communication, Mainers have two ways of being protected from pesticide drift. First, a registry for notification of non-agricultural pesticide applications exists for those who notify the Board of Pesticides Control before December 31 and pay a $20 fee annually. This registry covers lawn and turf treatments, extermination services, tree spraying and home garden pesticide use that occur within 250 feet of your property. However, the BPC's role is to turn this registry list over to commercial applicators, not to private citizens; if your neighbor treats his own lawn, the BPC can give you a letter about the notification requirements for you to deliver to him or her.

Second, if you live within 500 feet of an agricultural operation, you are entitled to notification of spray operations. "If we ascertain that there was a good effort on the part of the abutter to seek notification, then it is the responsibility of farmers, foresters, etc., to provide that notification," says Gregory. If it isn't provided, the BPC will enforce this rule. Even if you live outside of the 500-foot distance, Gregory urges you to contact neighboring growers. While no legal mechanism exists to enforce the notification requirement beyond the 500-foot distance, "make your presence known anyhow," says Gregory. "Growers would rather not have bad press."

Last summer, commercial grower Cherryfield Foods did receive bad press when its applicator mistakenly applied the insecticide Imidan to part of the organic blueberry field of Alan Lewis of Jonesport, resulting not only in misapplied product but in sending home a contractor working on Lewis' home after the contractor developed a headache and watery eyes. The BPC staff is in the process of negotiating a consent agreement with Cherryfield Foods.

Gramp's Farm in Orland, another organic blueberry operation, owned by Tom and Holly Taylor-Lash, may have been subjected to spray drift on part of one field as well – in this case by the insecticide Guthion, which was applied to neighboring GM Allen fields by Maine Helicopter. Maine Helicopter is owned by Andy Berry, a BPC member. The BPC is awaiting results of soil and plant tissue tests in order to determine whether spray drift did occur.

The Taylor-Lash family had asked the Allens to notify them when spraying would occur, and they had written to Maine Helicopter in the past. They continue to communicate with the Allen family, because the Taylor-Lashes want to be good neighbors  –  and they want to be notified. Still, Tom thinks that this communication may be backwards; i.e., that perhaps the landowner or applicator should be the one responsible for initiating notification in cases where a certain density of population exists near commercial, sprayed fields. He is considering _working with his local state representative to introduce such legislation. "All I know," he says, "is when they come out to spray, I want to be notified."

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Coplin Plantation, Maine, Passes Controversial No-Spray Ordinance

On October 2, 2001, residents of Coplin Plantation, where International Paper (IP) owns 17,000 acres of land, voted 26 to 0 to prohibit aerial and/or mechanical applications of pes- ticides. Coplin joins 17 other Maine municipalities registered with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control that have passed some form of municipal pesticide ordinance. Controversy exists about the legality of the vote, however, because Coplin is a plantation.

Maine native Basil Powers, the force behind the ordinance, is a 69-year-old father of six, a one-term legislator, former Coplin assessor (the equivalent of a selectman) and Korean War veteran. Having lived in Coplin for 50 years, he is passionate about banning pesticide spraying there. He says he has watched IP dump sludge, clear cut at alarming rates, and dump pesticides on the sur- rounding forests. He said IP had spent millions to beat the attempt by resi- dents to stop clear cutting, so the only thing left was to stop the spraying. "How can I sit by and do nothing?" he asked. "I have grandchildren and one is asthmatic. What would I do if my granddaughter, Rosie, asked me, 'How opuld you have let this happen?'"

So, Powers got a petition signed by 47 of Coplin's 123 residents. (Not all residents are voting age; the 123 population figure is the 1996 Maine census estimate.) At an initial public meeting on August 15, 2001, 38 of the 40 attending wanted to ban spraying. Convincing them wasn't difficult, says Powers. "Although lots of folks work in the woods industry, few actually work directly for IP, and even some of those that do, do not want pesticides spraying down on them."

Despite this sentiment, Coplin assessors cancelled the special October 2 town meeting that had been planned to address the issue. However, Maine law has a provision allowing residents of municipalities, including plantations, to hold town meetings if selectmen/assessors refuse to do so and all criteria have been met. The assessors, town clerk and IP representatives did not attend when the meeting proceeded on schedule. Powers believes that the assessors cancelled the meeting under advice from the Maine Municipal Association.

Constance Morin, a Coplin assessor, would not comment except to say that plantations cannot make ordinances and that any ordinance must come from the Legislature. However, State representative Paul Volenik of Brooklin believes that plantations have the same powers as municipalities and can call special town meetings and pass ordinances if the plantation is in LURC (Land Use Regulatory Commission) jurisdiction and if the plantation has an established set of ordinances. If they do not, they must begin a process to establish them. Powers is aware of at least two ordinances in Coplin.

Fred Todd at LURC says that Coplin is under LURC jurisdiction, although LURC is concerned with planning and zoning. He noted that the authority that plantations have is not dearly spelled out in the statutes but, to the best of his knowledge, their authority to enact ordinances is limited unless they have assumed local land use jurisdiction. Brighton Plantation is one local government that has assumed such self control. It withdrew from LURC jurisdiction in July 1995 and now has an ordinance prohibiting application of pesticides to woodlands.

The Maine Constitution and Maine Municipal Association's Manual do not provide clear answers. Since the Board of Pesticides Control does not enforce municipal ordinances, the legality of the Coplin issue is not in its domain. The Attorney General's office provided the uncertain opinion that plantations can do only what the Legislature explicitly says they can, and even if they remove themselves from LURC and assume home rule, they are still subject to the restraints of the Legislature. Maine Statutes are unclear, as they list two definitions of "municipalities" one includes plantations and the other does not.

The Maine Municipal Association's Manual does give the opinion that if an article does carry against the wishes of the municipal officers, they can either go to court or refuse to implement it, thereby forcing others to take the judicial initiative. However, the Manual suggests that municipal officers are obliged either to execute the law or to seek an order overturning it. A representative from international Paper was not available for comment as we went to press.

– Leslie G. Poole

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International Students as Farm Labor

At the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, representatives from three student exchange programs encouraged growers who need help to consider seeking international exchange students. Paige Peterson of Communicating for Agriculture's (CA) Exchange Program (www.cainc.org) said that her program placed over 1100 18- to 28-year olds from 52 countries on U.S. farms last year. She explained the process by which both students and farmers apply, preliminary matches are made, and then the two parties contact one another to determine whether they have the same goals. The role of CA is to facilitate the matches and work with the U.S. Department of State to obtain necessary permits. Johanna Whitacker (www.worldwidefarmers.org), who is based in Turner, Maine, coordinates a similar program that is headquartered in California. Likewise, Curt Stutzman talked about the FFA International Program, part of the Future Farmers of America Organization based in Indianapolis.

Among the benefits of these programs, both parties gain the experience of another culture; farmers get labor from committed, motivated students; students learn English and improve their farming skills; and both parties develop a network of international friends. The main challenges are that students may not have grown up on farms, so they may not know, for example, how to drive tractors. Communication can be difficult. Having students repeat what you tell them for the first six months is a good idea, said Peter Ricker, a Turner farmer who was in the audience and has hosted several students. Even with the repetition, sometimes the wrong field gets plowed … Housing can also be a challenge. However, both Ricker and grower Bob Bowen praised the international programs overall and expressed great enthusiasm for the vast majority of the workers they'd had especially for the young Eastern European women who, in addition to doing farm work, love to cook, they said.

Contact information:

Communicating for Agriculture Exchange, Paige Peterson, [email protected]; 218-739-3241

Worldwide Farmers Exchange, Johanna M. Whitaker, [email protected] WorldLink, Inc., Curtis Stutzman, [email protected]; 877-656-4590

– Jean English

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MOF&G Cover Spring 2002