Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Organic Matter – Food and Agricultural News

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Spring 2018 \ Organic Matter - Spring 2018

The Good News
Organic Issues
Food Safety
Young Farmers
Genetic Engineering

The Good News

After almost two years of debate, task-force meetings and public testimony, Portland's City Council voted unanimously (9-0) on January 3, 2018, to pass one of the strongest Organic Lawn Care Ordinances.

The ordinance bans synthetic pesticides on public and private property. The start date for the ordinance is July 1, 2018, while it will apply to five high-use athletic fields in 2021. Hadlock Field (where the Portland Sea Dogs play home games) and Riverside Golf Course are exempt.

The ordinance establishes a Pest Management Advisory Committee (PMAC) comprised of city staff, land care and pest control experts, and Portland residents, according to Beyond Pesticides. Within PMAC, a waiver committee will review requests to use more-toxic pesticides.

The ordinance includes a strong outreach and education campaign to ensure the community is aware of the changes, and of best practices for their lawns and landscapes. Violations of the ordinance will be subject to potential civil penalties of $100 to $500 as enforced by the city manager.

Portland Protectors, founded in 2014 by journalist Avery Yale-Kamila and organic beekeeper Maggie J. Knowles, is largely responsible for the victory. The organization highlighted the public health risks to children, bees and waterways of chemical pesticide use. Its social media and Bee Safe yard sign campaign prompted concerned citizens to convince the City Council to pass the ordinance. 

Many other individuals and groups supported the ordinance, as well. Friends of Casco Bay was a vocal proponent. Cathy Ramsdell, its executive director, wrote to the Portland City Council: "Our monitoring efforts reveal that the lawn chemicals we are putting on yards can end up in the Bay ... Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations all around the Bay."

Advocates are concerned, said Beyond Pesticides, about a clause exempting high-use athletic fields for a period of time. Yale-Kamila noted that "the city used 2,200 pounds of high risk weed-and-feed on five student athletic fields last year. This use will be allowed until 2021, and we want to see it stop much sooner."

Portland Protectors hopes the council will later restrict synthetic fertilizer use and the sale of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Beyond Pesticides noted the growing recognition that the success of policies that restrict pesticides entails a change in management practices away from fertilizers that damage soil and undermine healthy turf.

Twenty-eight Maine jurisdictions have restricted pesticides in various ways, including on public property, but the comprehensive Portland-style ordinance stops virtually all hazardous pesticide use in the community. The legislation is similar to an ordinance passed by the City of South Portland in 2016 and adopted by ballot initiative by the Town of Ogunquit in 2014.

Maine is one of seven states in which state legislative action has not taken away (or preempted) local authority to restrict pesticides more stringently than the state. Last year the chemical industry tried unsuccessfully to push such legislation in Maine. ("Portland Becomes an Organic City with Unanimous Passing of Ordinance," Portland Protectors press release, by Maggie J. Knowles and Avery Yale-Kamila, Jan. 4, 2018; "Portland, ME Becomes an Organic City, Banning Toxic Pesticides on Public and Private Property," Beyond Pesticides, Jan. 5, 2018;

Since 1981, Rodale Institute has been comparing conventional and organic cropping systems in field trials in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. The most recent results from this study, published in Organic Agriculture, found that overall, organic system yields equaled conventional while at the same time improving soil quality. Organic systems also led to greater profitability while requiring less energy and emitting fewer greenhouse gases to produce the same amount of crops as conventional. ("Studies on long-term performance of organic and conventional cropping systems in Pennsylvania," by Rita Seidel et al., Organic Agriculture, March 2017;

Researchers from several European agricultural organizations using a food systems model say that a 100 percent conversion to organic agriculture would require more land than conventional agriculture but would reduce oversupplied nitrogen and pesticide use. Combined with reducing livestock numbers and consumption of animal products, and with reducing food waste, organic agriculture can contribute sustainably to feeding more than 9 billion people in 2050. The authors calculate, for example, that combining 60 percent organic production with 50 percent less livestock feed production and 50 percent reduced food waste would need little additional land and have an acceptable N supply. Organic agriculture becomes more viable with lower yield gaps between organic and conventional and with greater climate change impacts on agriculture. The authors detail other scenarios as well. ("Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture," by Adrian Muller et al., Nature Communications, Nov. 14, 2017;

A global meta study by FiBL (the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) of 57 systematically selected international publications (149 pairwise comparisons) found that soils in organic farming contain on average 59 percent more biomass from microorganisms, which are up to 84 percent more active compared with those under conventional farming. That increased activity leads to faster conversion of organic matter such as compost into plant-available nutrients. The study also found that the positive effect of organic farming on the activity of microbes is significantly increased in warm and dry climates; that organic fertilizer, a diverse crop rotation and the inclusion of legumes in the crop rotation have positive effects on microbial abundance and activity; and that organic farming has a positive effect on soil pH and soil carbon, which in turn benefit the microbes. The paradox, says FiBL, is the lower yield in organic farming. "This is due to the lack of adapted varieties in organic farming and the avoidance of chemical plant protection agents and synthetic fertilisers as well as herbicides. However, there is mounting evidence that organic farming systems using adapted varieties produce more stable yields in drought conditions. The higher biomass in the soil is also significant for the climate: Organically farmed soils contain more humus, which helps in the sequestration of the greenhouse gas CO2." ("Organic farming enhances soil microbial abundance and activity—A meta-analysis and meta-regression," by Martina Lori et al., PLOS ONE, July 12, 2017;; "More microbes in organic soil," FiBL, Sept. 25, 2017;

Researchers compiled data from studies from around the world to assess the effects of organic farming and high plant diversity in fields on the diversity of pollinators, beneficial insects that eat pest insects, insects that eat plants, and insects that help decompose dead plant matter. Overall, organic farms and fields with high levels of plant diversity increased the abundance and number of species of beneficial insects such as pollinators and pest predators. The greatest increases in biodiversity occurred in fields as opposed to the surrounding landscape. The fact that increases in diversity were largest for beneficial insects suggests that farming organically or cultivating high plant diversity in fields can increase insects that provide beneficial services on the farm without increasing pest populations. ("A global synthesis of the effects of diversified farming systems on arthropod diversity within fields and across agricultural landscapes," by Elinor M. Lichtenberg et al., Global Change Biology, Nov. 2017;

Penn State researchers found that mushrooms have high amounts of the ergothioneine and glutathione, important antioxidants that some scientists suggest could help fight many of the diseases of aging, such as cancer, coronary heart disease and Alzheimer's, and bolster health. "[M]ushrooms are the highest dietary source of these two antioxidants taken together, and … some types are really packed with both of them," said Robert Beelman, professor emeritus of food science and director of the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health.

The researchers said the amounts of ergothioneine and glutathione in mushrooms vary greatly by species, with porcini species containing the highest amount, by far, of the two compounds among the 13 species tested. More common mushroom types, such as the white button, had less of the antioxidants, but higher amounts than most other foods. The researchers also found that mushrooms that are high in glutathione are also high in ergothioneine. Cooking mushrooms does not seem to significantly affect the compounds.

Preliminary research shows that countries with more ergothioneine in their diets, such as France and Italy, have lower incidences of neurodegenerative diseases, while people in countries such as the United States, with low amounts of ergothioneine in the diet, have a higher probability of such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. ("Mushrooms are full of antioxidants that may have anti-aging potential," by Matt Swayne, Penn State News, Nov. 9, 2017;


Organic Issues

The proposed USDA Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP) that would have guaranteed certain amounts of space, light and access to the outdoors in order to minimize stress, facilitate natural behaviors and promote well-being of certified organic livestock was finalized in January 2017, but the USDA delayed implementing it repeatedly after Donald Trump's inauguration and subsequent regulatory freeze.

The proposed rule, many years in the making, would have required that hens in organic egg farms have least 1 square foot of space inside and access to the outdoors. The USDA said the proposed rule for poultry "may hamper market-driven innovation and evolution and impose unnecessary regulatory burdens."

MOFGA and several other accredited certification bodies, the Organic Trade Association, the National Organic Coalition and several other entities had submitted comments urging that the rule become effective.

In September 2017, the Organic Trade Association sued USDA, alleging that it unlawfully delayed the OLPP and failed to protect the integrity of the organic label.

When it announced the third delay, on November 9, 2017, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service said, "during the course of reviewing the rulemaking record for the OLPP final rule, AMS discovered a significant, material error in the mathematical calculation of the benefits estimates. With the material error, the regulatory impact analysis presented costs and benefits in a table that could be reasonably interpreted to conclude that benefits were likely to exceed the costs."

In response to the November 9 delay, Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ron Kind (D-WI) released a statement saying, "We are outraged that USDA has delayed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP) for a third time. This is not regulation for regulation's sake. This rule has already undergone over 10 years of public process and debate. 
"During USDA's most recent public comment period on this rule, USDA asked commenters to choose one of four options: implement, suspend, delay, or withdraw the rule. By USDA's own admission, over 40,000 of the 47,000 total commenters supported implementing the rule immediately.  Only one commenter suggested the rule should be delayed – yet, that is the option that USDA is moving forward with.
"It is overwhelmingly clear that consumers expect high welfare standards for animals raised under organic practices. It is also clear that organic farmers need clarity and a level playing field. We should be doing everything we can to preserve integrity in the organic label, not jeopardizing consumer confidence by refusing to let OLPP take effect.  We urge USDA to listen to the public and implement the rule immediately."

Despite that overwhelming clarity, the Trump administration announced in December 2017 that it intended to withdraw the rule completely, saying that the 1990 law creating the USDA Organic label does not allow "broadly prescriptive, stand-alone animal welfare regulations." This opened yet another comment period, which ended on January 17, 2018. ("Years in the Making, Organic Animal Welfare Rules Killed by Trump's USDA," by Lynne Curry, Civil Eats, Dec. 18, 2017;; "Should ‘USDA Organic' animals be treated more humanely? The Trump administration just said no," The Washington Post, by Peter Whoriskey, Dec. 15, 2017;; Statement from Reps. Chellie Pingree, Peter DeFazio, and Ron Kind on Third Delay of USDA Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule, Nov. 9, 2017; ACTION: Final rule; delay of effective date, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Nov. 8, 2017;;



Does field crop irrigation make sense in the Northeast? The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Intervale Community Farm (ICF) in Burlington, Vermont, studied the economic costs and benefits of irrigation at ICF from 2006 to 2016. In all but one year, the benefits of avoided crop loss exceeded the costs of irrigation. ICF reduced investment costs by purchasing used equipment and using existing wells. ("Irrigation Pays in Protecting Crop Revenues in the Northeast – An Economic Case Study at Intervale Community Farm," USDA Climate Hubs;; Full report at

Food Safety

An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, LD724, took effect in Maine on November 1, 2017. It applies to sales conducted at farms and homes where the food was produced, only in towns that have formally declared food sovereignty, and when sales occur directly between producer and consumer. The law was amended in October to exclude meat and poultry processing (so that Maine would not lose jurisdiction over its meat processing facilities to the federal government), and to exclude sales at farmers' markets or other public venues. The Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets has details at


Young Farmers

According to the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey of 3,517 current, former and aspiring U.S. farmers under age 40, America's young farmers expect to overcome major barriers to their success in agriculture, including access to land, affordable health care and mounting student loan debt; but success will require deliberate policy change at all levels of government. The survey was conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) in partnership with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of sustainability at George Washington University and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Of the farmers responding, 63 percent described their farming as organic, although many are not certified.

The top challenge cited by young farmers is land access, particularly finding and affording land on a farm income. It is the main reason farmers quit farming and aspiring farmers haven't yet started.

The NYFC calls on lawmakers to enact policy reforms in the "Young Farmer Agenda," including addressing land access and affordability; helping young farmers manage student debt; increasing the skilled agricultural workforce; enabling farmers to invest in on-farm conservation; improving credit, savings and risk management opportunities for young farmers; and addressing racial inequity among farmers. Individuals, says NYFC, can support their local food economy; rent or sell farmland to young and beginning farmers; enable their businesses to be part of the solution; and join NYFC to add their voices to the young farmer movement. ("Building a Future with Farmers II," National Young Farmers Coalition, 2017;



A study followed 325 women who used in vitro fertilization to try to get pregnant. Based on dietary patterns the women described in a questionnaire and data from USDA identifying foods that tend to have the greatest pesticide residues, women who ate more than two servings daily of such produce were 26 percent less likely to have a baby than those who ate less than one serving. ("Pesticide Residues Linked to Unsuccessful IVF," by Kerry Grens, The Scientist, Oct. 30, 2017;

Researchers exposed plants and human cells to glyphosate alone and 14 of its formulations. They found that glyphosate was not the major toxic compound in the herbicide formulations: Petroleum-based compounds in the formulations were much more toxic. The researchers also identified arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead and nickel in pesticide formulations, with all but one diluted formulation containing a cocktail of metals. "This phenomenon thus appears to be widely distributed in the world, as our samples came from the European Union and North America," say the researchers. They note that in vivo experiments used to regulate acceptable daily intake of pesticides use the "active ingredient" only and not the entire formulation, and conclude "that the difference between ‘active ingredient' and ‘inert compound' is a regulatory assertion with no demonstrated toxicological basis." ("Toxicity of formulants and heavy metals in glyphosate-based herbicides and other pesticides," by N. Defarge et al., Toxicology Reports, Vol. 5, 2018;

A study of residues of glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) in the urine of 100 adults over age 50 detected residues of glyphosate in 12 urine samples from 1993 to 1996, 30 from 1999 to 2000  and 70 from 2014 to 2016. The mean concentration of glyphosate in detects more than doubled between 1993-1996 and 2014-2016. The prevalence of samples with detects of AMPA also increased, from 5 to 71 over the course of the study. In addition to using glyphosate-containing herbicides to control weeds, U.S. farmers have used the toxicant increasingly since 2002 to desiccate wheat, oats, barley, beans and other crops soon before harvest, in order to be able to harvest earlier. ("Analysis: Glyphosate exposure trends demand a public health driven response," by Dr. Richard Jackson and Charles Benbrook, Environmental Health News, Oct. 30, 2017;; "A Weed Killer Is Increasingly Showing Up in People's Bodies," by Dan Charles, Time, Oct. 26, 2017;; "Excretion of the Herbicide Glyphosate in Older Adults Between 1993 and 2016," by Paul J. Mills, Ph.D., et al., Journal of the American Medical Assoc., Oct. 24/31, 2017;

The long-term Agricultural Health Study of cancer incidence in 54,251 farmers and agricultural workers in Iowa and North Carolina found that glyphosate was not statistically significantly associated with cancer at any site, based on subjects' reporting of their use of the herbicide. Marginally higher (but not statistically significant) rates of acute myeloid leukemia did exist among applicators in the highest exposure quartile than in those who never used the chemical. This difference requires confirmation, said the researchers. The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans, in light of its mechanism of action and associations with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in some epidemiologic studies. And Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity was quoted in The Los Angeles Times: "The only way the EPA could conclude that glyphosate poses no significant risks to human health was to only analyze industry studies and ignore its own guidelines when estimating cancer risk." ("Study finds no firm glyphosate-cancer link," by Robert Arnason, The Western Producer, Nov. 9, 2017;; "Glyphosate Use and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study," by Gabriella Andreotti et al., J. National Cancer Institute, Nov. 9, 2017;; "EPA says herbicide in Roundup weed killer doesn't cause cancer, contradicting California regulators," by Geoffrey Mohan, The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 18, 2017;

Cornell researchers have found that glyphosate can harm the metabolism of some species of beneficial Pseudomonas bacteria in soils. Beneficial Pseudomonas can stimulate plant growth and fight harmful fungi, such as Pythium and Fusarium. Glyphosate did not harm Pseudomonas protegens, a biocontrol for cereal crops, or Pseudomonas fluorescens, a fungus biocontrol for fruit trees, but growth of Pseudomonas putida, used to control some harmful soil fungi, was stunted. ("War on weeds takes toll on beneficial bacteria in the soil,", Oct. 24, 2017;; "Glyphosate-Induced Specific and Widespread Perturbations in the Metabolome of Soil Pseudomonas Species," by Ludmilla Aristilde et al., Frontiers in Environmental Science, June 2017;

The pesticide chlorpyrifos is in a class of chemicals that Nazi Germany developed as a nerve gas. Residues of the brain-damaging insecticide, made by Dow, occur in food, air and drinking water, reports Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. Chlorpyrifos has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson's disease in adults, he writes. More recently, federal fisheries experts have said that chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – all widely used insecticides – are washing into streams and rivers and jeopardizing survival of many species of salmon and on orcas that feed on those salmon. In late 2017, the Trump administration overturned a long-planned ban of the pesticide for agricultural and outdoor uses, including on golf courses and road medians. Public health experts say that Dow donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration. "The American Academy of Pediatrics protested the administration's decision on the nerve gas pesticide, but officials sided with industry over doctors. The swamp won," Kristof concludes. ("Trump's Legacy: Damaged Brains," by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, Oct. 28, 2017;; "Government Scientists Say A Controversial Pesticide Is Killing Endangered Salmon," by Dan Charles, NPR, Jan. 11, 2018;

In November 2017, the UK decided to back a total ban on neonicotinoid insecticide uses in fields (but not in greenhouses) across Europe, given contamination of whole landscapes, damage to bees colonies and the disappearance of 75 percent of flying insects in Germany. ("UK will back total ban on bee-harming pesticides, Michael Gove reveals," by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2017;

Researchers at the University of Stirling found that field-realistic doses of a neonicotinoid insecticide affect bumblebee behavior, interfere with the type of vibrations bees produce while collecting pollen and hence reduce the number of pollen grains collected. Bees that were not exposed to the pesticide collected more pollen as they became more experienced in the behavior – unlike treated bees, who collected 47 to 56 percent less pollen. This suggests that the insecticide may affect memory and cognition in bumblebees. ("Neonicotinoid pesticide limits improvement in buzz pollination by bumblebees," by P. R. Whitehorn et al., Scientific Reports, Nov. 14, 2017;; "Pesticides May Cause Bumblebees to Lose Their Buzz, Study Finds," University of Stirling, Lab Manager, Nov. 16, 2017;

Imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) and chlorpyrifos (an organophosphate) – two of the most widely used insecticides worldwide – can directly affect songbird migration, and treated seeds are often present in agricultural fields where birds rest during migration. Eating the equivalent of just three to four imidacloprid-treated canola seeds or eight chlorpyrifos granules a day for three days caused up to 25 percent weight loss and altered migratory orientation in sparrows, with birds failing to orient or changing their northward orientation. Such effects could delay or change migratory flight routes and reduce birds' chances of survival or cause them to miss breeding opportunities, say the researchers. ("U of S research reveals controversial insecticides are toxic to songbirds," University of Saskatchewan, Nov. 9, 2017;

University of Illinois scientists have shown that honeybees preferred to collect sugar syrup laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil over sugar syrup alone. They avoided another fungicide tested and were neutral about a third but favored the herbicide glyphosate. Consuming chlorothalonil could exacerbate the toxicity of other pesticides to bees, kill beneficial fungi in hives and harm bees' ability to metabolize pesticides used to kill parasitic mites in hives, reports Emma Batha. ("Honey bees' attraction to fungicide ‘unsettling' for food output – study," by Emma Batha, Reuters, Jan. 9. 2018;

The FDA's most recent annual pesticide report, covering fiscal year 2015, shows increased occurrence of pesticide residues in thousands of samples of commonly consumed foods. Of 207 pesticides detected, the insecticide chlorpyrifos was the fourth-most prevalent. Carey Gillam reports that about 50 percent of domestic food and 43 percent of imported foods sampled had residues – up from about 37 and 28 percent, respectively, in 2010. The latest USDA residue report, says Gillam, also for the 2015 period, found about 85 percent of samples contained pesticide residues. Of U.S.-grown produce, about 82 percent of fruits and 62 percent of  vegetables had residues, versus 51 and 47 percent for imported fruits and vegetables, respectively. More than 9 percent of imported produce violated legal pesticide residue limits, versus 2.2 percent of U.S.-grown fruits and 3.8 percent of U.S.-grown vegetables. ("Hold the plum pudding: US food sampling shows troubling pesticide residues," by Carey Gillam, Environmental Health News, Dec. 21, 2017;

Forcing the withdrawal of individual "bad actor" synthetic chemicals from the market is successful occasionally, says Jonathan Latham, citing DDT and lindane as examples. But that method will take approximately until 1 million AD to address the 70-100,000 man-made chemicals on the market – if no new products are added during that time and if it takes only 10 years to remove a product.

Also, says Latham, "chemical testing is a pointless procedure because the potential serious harms from toxic chemicals are essentially endless, whereas chemical testing assesses these harms: carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, liver toxicity, reproductive toxicity, multigenerational effects, one at a time. A whole city's worth of rats would have to be tested to even begin to work out if just one chemical was harmful, and that is just harmful to rats. Whether that chemical was harmful to people would still be open to considerable question."

Latham suggests, instead, using anti-GMO campaign tactics that "have more-or-less successfully kept GMOs out of Europe, China and Asia, and Africa, and made GMOs a pariah even where they are grown." Rather than distinguishing among different GE crops, campaigns target them overall, due to opposition to patents on life, corporate control, chemical pollution, or hazards specific to GMOs.

"The environment movement needs to end single chemical campaigns and hit the chemical industry where it hurts. Ban ALL synthetic chemicals from agriculture. Ban ALL synthetic chemicals from schools and school grounds. Ban them from public areas, or your entire municipality (it can be done), including from food contact."

Latham has other suggestions: Make regulators liable for their decisions; propose ending subsidies to industries that use synthetic chemicals in or on foods; and automatically compensate individuals whose bodies contain toxic chemicals and who become sick, from a fund provided by the industry that made that chemical. ("EU Reapproval of Glyphosate Leaves Environmentalists' Strategy in Tatters; What Now?" by Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., Independent Science News, Nov. 27, 2017;

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

For nearly 20 years, GE Golden Rice has been promoted as a potent tool to alleviate vitamin A deficiency. The crop has never been commercialized, however, allegedly because of "over-regulation" and "anti-GMO" opposition. However, Indian scientists who introduced Golden Rice transgenes into their high yielding and agronomically superior Indian rice variety Swarna found pale and stunted plants with delayed flowering, abnormal root growth, extra side shoots, reduced height and fertility, and yields one-third those of non-GE Swarna. "[T]he Golden Rice transgenes given to them by Syngenta caused a metabolic meltdown," says Jonathan Latham, executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project. "The classic criticisms of genetic engineering as a plant breeding tool have always been, first, that introduced DNA will disrupt native gene sequences and, second, that unpredictable disruption of normal metabolism may result from introducing new functions. Golden Rice exemplifies these flaws to perfection." ("Goodbye to Golden Rice? GM Trait Leads to Drastic Yield Loss and "Metabolic Meltdown," by Allison Wilson, Ph.D., Independent Science News, Oct. 25, 2017;