Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

OMRI’s One-Stop Seed Listing Expensive, Limited

To the Editor:

If you go online to search the Organic Seed List (p. 6 News & Events, Dec. 2006-Feb. 2007 MOF&G) being developed by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute), you will find that only a handful of suppliers of organic seed have chosen to list their varieties, making the so-called "accurate information on the availability and supply of hundreds of certified organic seed varieties" extremely incomplete. There's a good reason for that. Although its press release advertises a "small annual fee" charged suppliers for the listing, it is anything but. For Fedco Seeds the $10/variety listing would come to $2,460 for 2007 alone, nearly double our entire annual advertising budget exclusive of catalog production and mailing, representing a whole lot of carrot seed! And just another form of expensive advertising, the costs of which would come right out of organic farmers' pockets in the form of higher seed prices. That's why you won't see Fedco's name in the OMRI listing, even though we offer 246 certified organic varieties in 2007.

Unless OMRI (or someone else putting out a similar directory) changes its fee policies, organic growers will never have a single place to search for seed. Nor should they. Smart growers know that they need to do their homework. By shopping many catalogs and reading many variety descriptions, they can gain a wealth of information, and by intelligent price comparing they can save a ton of money. Whether it's OMRI or Wal-Mart, one-stop shopping doesn't cut it.

CR Lawn
Waterville, Maine


Harvey Keeps Fighting Organic Hoodwinkers

Editor, The MOF&G:

Your review of Organic, Inc., epitomizes the condition of the organic industry in Maine, and elsewhere. I compare it to an international chess tournament with a multitude of spectators. Sometimes we might have a dog in the drama, like Bobby Fischer. But few among the audience have more than a foggy idea of what is happening. We may smile or frown according to the result, but we have no part in it. Occasionally a Fromartz or a Pollan comes along to take a closer look, and we buy their books and cheer them on.

Why did I, a lone blueberry grower in Maine, have to take it on myself to stop the practice of feeding GMO grain to dairy cows until 90 days before selling their milk as organic? Why did no organic organization (except Massachusetts NOFA), and hardly any organic publications, support my lawsuit? (I refer not to the $10,000 cost, which I was happy to pay.) I sometimes get the impression that the beneficiaries of my effort don’t really care that much. Or maybe they just don’t know about it. For those who prefer not to wait for another book review to find out what is happening, I note that my suit is back before the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals, to determine whether USDA can continue to allow synthetic processing aids.

Organic farmers focus on their own practices, which are good, and many sell directly to consumers. During my organic inspection work I have seen several flocks of chickens that follow high standards. Those farmers educate their customers about those standards. BUT – 80% of the certified organic chickens raised in Maine never go outdoors and never see sunlight. Do consumers know about this, or do they believe the USDA seal means what our smaller poultry producers report (until they read Fromartz and Pollan)?

Two-thirds of organic commerce is not fresh farm products, but processed foods. This is where the standards are being nibbled away. Do you believe an organic product could not be made with high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated fats? Then you have not understood the fine print on the National Organic Program Web site. Do a Google search for FDA food contact substances. Take a look at #35, dimethyl dicarbonate, which does not have to be identified on the label of the final product.

How to explain these developments? Organic farmers, who embody our best ideals, are simply not interested in the details of how their products are handled on the way to the consumer. And so, the manufacturers who are well organized through the Organic Trade Association, exert the decisive influence over USDA and the NOP. Every manufacturer has a financial interest in his or her ability to use synthetic ingredients and processing aids. The reasons are simple and universal. Synthetics are cheaper, more consistent and more available than the natural substitutes. Some manufacturers resist the lure of synthetics because of their loyalty to consumers, but as they are bought out by conglomerates, the financial bottom line becomes all-persuasive.

So it was that the OTA formed a committee who called themselves the “pay to play” group. They hired lobbyists, including the wife of the acting majority leader Roy Blunt. They attached a rider to an appropriation bill, which removed from the organic law decisive barriers to synthetic ingredients. The tale is long and complex. Details, especially the account of Jim Riddle (NOSB chair at the time), can be found at my Web site,

Well, where does that leave me? I can continue raising and selling blueberries, not using Velpar or otherwise harming the environment or consumers. But I know full well that large blueberry growers will be able to manipulate USDA certification rules to essentially market conventionally grown blueberries as organic. If and when that happens, I would be an accomplice to their success. The reputation of organic blueberries has been built by many growers like me, but it can be appropriated by others who would use the system to cash in on our tradition with a product that debases it. At that point I would stop using the organic label and educate my customers about the debasement. If you happen to see our products in stores, you might notice we have already begun to eliminate “organic” from the titles of our processed products.

Meanwhile, The MOF&G remains an example of outstanding journalism with less and less relevance to the direction of the organic industry. OTA manufacturers will, of course, applaud any efforts to improve farm techniques – it further distracts the public from what they are doing in processing. Most of their anti-organic chemicals are not listed on labels; and why should they wish to identify them? Organic farmers need to examine how much we are feeding a system that hoodwinks consumers.

Arthur Harvey
Hartford, Maine


Ethanol Debate Continues

To the editor:

With regard to ethanol, I take issue with two points urged by Randall Parr in his letter published in your Sept.-Nov. 2006 issue.

Mr. Parr asserts that, since ethanol can be produced from various plants other than corn, “pesticides and corn should be factored out” of any analysis regarding ethanol. Mr. Parr fails to acknowledge that the U.S. proponents of ethanol are a federal government and a corporate lobby that support American corn farmers. Hence, today in the U.S., ethanol is promoted as a corn-based product. That means genetically engineered corn and that means pesticides.

The other plants that Mr. Parr identifies may indeed be great for making ethanol, but the political reality is that Big Corn is the government-sponsored king-of-the-hill in the U.S. ethanol business. Hence, GE corn and pesticides indeed factor big in today’s American ethanol business.

Mr. Parr also is not accurate when he asserts “that ethanol will never be exhausted, as petroleum one day will.” A farmer depletes the soil whenever s/he harvests from the land. Consequently a farmer must either frequently leave the land fallow, to re-energize; or fertilize; or abandon the land and move on, as early natives did.

And what is the primary fertilizer in America today? A petroleum based product! So the more we harvest crops to generate ethanol, the more we need petroleum to fertilize the soil growing those crops.

I urge Mr. Parr to factor into his ethanol analysis the reality of American support for Big Corn and the current wide-scale use of petroleum-based fertilizers. By my reckoning, while biofuels may replace a portion of America’s thirst for petroleum, the sustainable solution is energy from totally different sources. They include solar, wind, geothermal and water.

Hugo Liepmann
Randolph Center, Vermont

Parr Responds

I acknowledge that soil requires professional management to continue to produce organic inputs into distillation, but you need to separate the process of farming from the process of producing energy, because ethanol production does not require corn, petroleum-based fertilizers or genetic engineering.
Fertilizer-free GMO-free crop farming, and crop rotation, are well known to farmers in MOFGA. In fact I think it was the reason MOFGA was created.
A still can be built for under $10 and the wasted byproducts from food production can be used to produce ethanol.
When the price of gasoline is over $1.40 per gallon, ethanol becomes competitive as a gasoline alternative.
These estimates are both from Internet sources.
When the last glacier melts, much of the USA will be covered with water.
When the last drop of oil has been pumped, 90% of our vehicles will be unable to operate, unless changes are made.
Ninety percent of the oil that was under the USA has been consumed. We are now running on the last 10%, plus whatever we import from abroad.
There is no sign that any important decision-maker in the USA has acknowledged these facts.
Randall Parr
Appleton, Maine