Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

The Good News
Ag Census
Biodiversity Loss
Genetic Engineering

The Good News

Researchers at the University of Guelph found that the global agriculture system produces enough calories to feed the current world population but overproduces grains, fats and sugars while producing insufficient produce and protein to meet the nutritional needs of current and future global populations. Fixing this problem could reduce the amount of land needed to feed everyone, they say. They compare current consumption (servings per person per day) with that recommended by the Harvard University “Healthy Eating Plate” guide: grains, 12 current versus 8 recommended; produce, 5, 15; oil and fat, 3, 1; protein, 3, 5; milk, 1, 1; sugar, 4, 0. (“We need a complete change in agriculture to feed the planet,” by Karen Graham, Digital Journal, Oct. 29, 2018;; “When too much isn’t enough: Does current food production meet global nutritional needs?” by Krishna Bahadur K.C. et al., PLoS ONE, Oct. 23, 2018;

The Thünen Institute and several research partners, with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Food, reviewed 528 scientific studies on organic and conventional farming in temperate climates to determine the potential for organic farming to solve environmental and resource challenges. In all topic areas – water protection, soil fertility, biodiversity, climate protection, climate adaptation, resource efficiency and animal welfare – organic management was more advantageous than conventional. (“Thünen Institute Publishes Study on the Value of Organic Farming,” IFOAM, Jan. 30, 2019;; Original study, in German:

In late 2018, the White Earth band of Ojibwe passed a law formally recognizing the Rights of Manoomin (“wild rice”) because “it has become necessary to provide a legal basis to protect wild rice and fresh water resources as part of our primary treaty foods for future generations.” Included are the right to clean water and freshwater habitat; to a natural environment free from industrial pollution; to a healthy, stable climate free from human-caused climate change impacts; and to be free from patenting and from contamination by genetically engineered organisms. (“The White Earth band of Ojibwe legally recognized the rights of wild rice. Here’s why,” by Winona LaDuke, Nation of Change, Feb. 6, 2019;

Europe could be farmed entirely through agroecological approaches such as organic and still feed a growing population, according to the “Ten Years for Agroecology” study from European think tank IDDRi. The study shows that pesticides can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming. Steps involved include reorienting diets toward plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock and away from grain-fed white meat. (“Europe can go organic,” The Ecologist, Feb. 21, 2019;; IDDRI report: Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe, Soil Assoc.,

Strawberry plants grown near hedgerows of dense, woody vegetation with abundant pollinators produce larger, better fruit with more than twice the commercial value of fruit grown in other locations, according to research conducted in Germany. Researchers grew strawberries on farms surrounded by grassland, by arable land or beside hedgerows adjacent to wild forests. Fruit on plants near grassland were 20 percent smaller and weighed 37 percent less than fruit grown near hedgerows. Ninety percent of fruits from plots near hedgerows met commercial standards, as did only 48 percent from near grassland. Almost one-third of fruits from farms near hedgerows would be classified as exceptional and could demand a higher price. (“Building Habitat for Pollinators Means Bigger, Better Fruit,” by Emma Bryce, Anthropocene, March 1, 2019;

A recent study found more antioxidants in organic than conventional beef, with 34 percent more coenzyme Q10, 72 percent more taurine and 53 percent more β‐carotene. Organic beef also had a more balanced lipid (fat) profile, with 17 percent less cholesterol, 32 percent less fat, 16 percent fewer fatty acids, and 24 percent fewer monounsaturated fatty acids. And it had 170 percent more heart-healthy α‐linolenic acid than conventional and 24 percent more α‐tocopherol, a type of vitamin E. (“Organic beef is more nutritional than conventional beef,” The Organic Center, March 25, 2019;; “Nutritional properties of organic and conventional beef meat at retail,” by Albert Ribas‐Agustí et al., Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Feb. 20, 2019;

On March 27 Governor Janet Mills signed emergency legislation to allow the production and sale of food additives and food products that contain hemp or hemp products in Maine. Sponsored by Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop), LD 630, An Act To Clarify That Food, Food Additives and Food Products Containing Hemp-derived Cannabidiol Produced and Sold within the State Are Not Adulterated and To Match the State’s Definition of “Hemp” to the Definition in Federal Law, states that food, food additives and food products that contain hemp and hemp products, including hemp-derived cannabidiol, are not considered to be “adulterated” under state law and that the non-pharmaceutical or nonmedical production, marketing, sale or distribution within the state of food, food additives or food products that contain hemp-derived cannabidiol may not be prohibited.

The legislation also clarifies that eating establishments, in addition to food establishments, may not make any therapeutic claims about food products that contain hemp-derived cannabidiol without federal approval.

“Hemp” as defined by the legislation includes commodities and products derived from hemp, including food, food additives and food products, and does not include medical marijuana as governed by the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act or adult use marijuana as governed by the Marijuana Legalization Act. (“Governor Mills Signs Emergency Legislation Allowing Sale of Hemp-Derived Products in Maine,” Office of Gov. Janet T. Mills, March 27, 2019,

Fewer than 40 synthetic ingredients are allowed in organic packaged foods, while at least 2,000 preservatives, colors and other synthetic chemicals are used in conventional packaged foods, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Also, food manufacturers don’t need FDA approval for many of the chemicals added to conventional packaged foods; companies that manufacture the chemicals are allowed to declare them safe. However, substances added to organic food must be approved by government and independent experts every five years and must be proven safe for consumption, with no adverse impact on the environment. Many of the chemicals used in conventional food have been linked to serious health problems, says EWG, adding that neither conventional nor organic foods are subject to meaningful standards to prevent chemicals such as phthalates from migrating into food. (“Organic: The Original Clean Food,” by Dawn Undurraga et al., Environmental Working Group, March 5, 2019;


Ag Census

The number of beginning farmers, number of organic farms and amount of local food sales continue to climb, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, recently released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, but the number of midsize farms and farm profitability continue to decrease. The 2017 census revised how it collected demographic data on individual producers – now defined broadly as any individual making decisions about a farming operation. For the first time, the census no longer asked farm operations to identify a “principal operator” but instead collected data on up to four operators (aka “farmers”) per farm. The change resulted in NASS counting more farmers than previously.  Here are some key findings of the census:

  • As of 2017, the United States had 2.04 million farms and ranches – a decrease of 3.2 percent over the past five years.
  • Average farm size increased slightly to 441 acres out of a total of 900 million acres farmed in the United States.
  • There are more of the largest and smallest operations and fewer midsized farms.
  • The 273,000 smallest (1 to 9 acres) farms make up 0.1 percent of all farmland; the 85,127 largest (2,000 or more acres) make up 58 percent of farmland.
  • While the total number of operations shrank, the overall value of all agricultural production decreased only slightly – so as 100,000-plus small and medium-sized farms transitioned out of farming, their land and production were folded into larger operations.
  • Larger farms are producing more of the food raised in the United States. Only 105,453 farms (5 percent) produced 75 percent of all sales in 2017 – 12 percent fewer farms than in 2012. The largest farms (sales of $5 million or more) accounted for fewer than 1 percent of all farms but 35 percent of all sales. Small farms (less than $50,000 in sales) accounted for 76 percent of farms but only 3 percent of sales.
  • Average farm income was $43,053 (down 2 percent), but only 43.6 percent of farmers reported a profit in 2017 – down slightly from 2012.
  • In 2017, 130,056 farms sold directly to consumers, with sales of $2.8 billion.
  • The United States has 3.4 million producers, 6.9 percent more than in 2012.
  • 54 percent of farms reported more than one producer (versus 56 percent in 2012).
  • The number of female producers increased by 26.6 percent, and women now represent roughly one-third of all farmers. Women are most heavily involved in record-keeping and financial management of the farm.
  • The number of male producers declined slightly but still represents 64 percent of the total farm population. Men had higher rates of involvement in land use and crop decisions.
  • The average age of all farmers is now 57.5 years (versus 56.3 in 2012)
  • 11 percent of producers have served in the military.
  • 95 percent of farmers are white; the number of farmers of color counted in 2017 increased by 7.5 percent, while that of white farmers increased by 6.9 percent.
  • In 2017, 27 percent of all farmers were considered beginning farmers (having less than 10 years of farming experience), an increase of 5 percent over the past five years.
  • The average age of new farmers is 46.3 years, nearly a decade lower than more experienced farmers.
  • Farms led by a beginning farmer were smaller in acreage and value of production; most operate on 10 to 50 acres.
  • 70 percent of beginning farmers said they were the primary owner of their operation, while 11 percent were tenants.
  • The census counted 17,741 certified organic U.S. farm operations, an increase of 39 percent since 2012 – but when including organic operations exempt from NOP certification, the increase was 27 percent.
  • Sales of organic commodities were valued at $7.3 billion, versus $3.1 billion reported in 2012.
  • 49 percent of organic farms made $50,000 or more in 2017.
  • 3,723 farms were transitioning acreage into certified organic production in 2017, a 15 percent increase since the last census.
  • Over 6 percent of farms sell directly to consumers, totaling $2.8 billion – 114 percent more than during the last census.
  • Another $9 billion was sold locally via retail markets, institutions and local food hubs, representing 2.3 percent of food sold in 2017.
  • Combined, sales to local and direct markets represented roughly 3 percent of all ag sales in 2017.
  • Maine data:
  • 7,600 farms (versus 8,173 in 2012)
  • 1,307,613 acres in farm land (versus 1,454,104 in 2012)
  • 172 acres average farm size
  • 55 acres median farm size
  • $666,962,000 market value of agricultural products sold (versus $763,062,000 in 2012)
  • $87,758 mean market value of agricultural products sold per farm (versus $93,364 in 2012)
  • $16,958 average net cash farm income per farm (versus $20,141 in 2012)
  • $108,744 total organic product sales, average per farm (versus $65,706 in 2012)
  • 50.4 average age of organic producers (versus 56.5 for all Maine ag producers)

(ATTRA, April 11, 2019;; “2017 Ag Census Reveals Some Bright Spots Despite Increased Farm Consolidation,” April 17, 2019;; Census of Agriculture, 2017 Census Volume 1, Chapter 1: State Level Data Maine;,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Maine/; USDA NAS Census of Agriculture 2017;



In March a federal jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup was a substantial factor in causing Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hardeman claimed that Roundup's design was defective, that the product lacked sufficient warning of potential risks and that Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) was negligent in failing to warn about risks. The jury awarded Hardeman $80.27 million in damages. During this first phase of the trail, Hardeman’s lawyers were prohibited from presenting evidence alleging that Monsanto tried to influence scientists, regulators and the public about its product safety. They will be able to present that evidence in the second phase. Bayer is appealing the verdict. Meanwhile, some 11,000 other cases about the health effects of Roundup are pending in state and federal courts. Last year a California jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million (later reduced to $78 million) in a similar case. Monsanto is also appealing that verdict. (“U.S. jury finds Bayer's Roundup caused man's cancer,” by Jim Christie, Reuters, March 19, 2019;; “$80 million awarded to man who jury says got cancer after Roundup exposure,” by Holly Yan, Sarah Moon and Madison Park, CNN, March 27, 2019;

A new meta-analysis finds that people with high exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides are 41 percent more likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, suggesting a compelling link between the two. The study evaluated all published human studies, including the 2018 government-funded American Health Study, as well as research on other animals. (“Exposure to weed killing products increases risk of cancer by 41% – study,” by Carey Gillam, The Guardian, Feb. 14, 2019;; “Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence,” By Luoping Zhang et al., Mutation Research, Feb. 10, 2019;

A paper by Charles Benbrook published in Environmental Sciences Europe says the EPA disregarded scientific evidence of genotoxicity of glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup. Genotoxicity is the ability of a substance to cause cell mutations that can lead to cancer. Benbrook said the EPA gave little weight to research regarding formulations sold into the marketplace and used worldwide. Independent research indicates that these formulations can be more toxic than glyphosate alone. Instead, said Benbrook, the EPA and other regulators cited primarily studies paid for by companies selling glyphosate-based herbicides that found no cancer concerns and concluded that glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded, however, that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Since then some EU countries have announced plans to phase out use of these herbicides. A tax on the use of glyphosate in France will help fund the phase-out and development of organic agriculture there. (“New analysis raises questions about EPA’s classification on glyphosate weed killer,” by Carey Gillam, Environmental Health News, Jan. 15, 2019;; “French Government Starts Phase-Out of Glyphosate with Online Farmer Platform and Herbicide Tax,” Sustainable Pulse, Nov. 24, 2018;

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying almost 38,000 people, including 2,961 with autism, found that the risk of autism spectrum disorder was associated with prenatal exposure to glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion, avermectin and permethrin. Pregnant women who lived within about 1.2 miles of a highly sprayed area were 10 to 16 percent more likely to have children diagnosed with autism than those who lived farther away. Diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder accompanied by intellectual disabilities averaged 30 percent higher among children exposed to 11 pesticides while in utero. Exposure in the first year of life increased the odds for the disorder with comorbid intellectual disability by up to 50 percent for some pesticide substances. (“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 Journal of Medicine, March 20, 2019,

Government scientists in Canada found glyphosate in 197 of 200 samples of honey they examined. In fact the researchers had trouble finding a honey sample without traces of glyphosate with which to calibrate their equipment, reports Carey Gillam. Canada and the United States do not have legal standards for the herbicide in honey, but the Canadian scientists said the levels detected there were below the European limit of 50 μg/kg, although the highest was barely within this limit. The glyphosate metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) occurred in 198 of the 200 samples up to 50.1 μg/kg. Residues of glufosinate, the active ingredient in Liberty herbicide, were in 125 of 200 samples, with a maximum concentration of 33 μg/kg. (“Weed killer residues found in 98 percent of Canadian honey samples,” by Carey Gillam, Environmental Health News, March 22, 2019;

Exposure to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid at field-realistic levels caused bumblebees to be less active and less likely to care for or feed larvae, according to research at Harvard University. The exposure also impaired bees’ construction of a wax canopy that regulates temperature in the hive. The EU has banned all outdoor uses of neonicotinoids, although EU farmers can still use them on plants grown in greenhouses. (“Neonicotinoids Impact Bees’ Nursing and Social Behaviors, Study Finds,” Yale Environment 360, Nov. 8, 2018;; “Neonicotinoid exposure disrupts bumblebee nest behavior, social networks, and thermoregulation,” by James D. Crall et al., Science, Nov. 9, 2018;

A study of 16 people from four families from Oakland, Minneapolis, Baltimore and Atlanta found that those eating all organic foods reduced their exposure to four classes of pesticides, representing up to 40 pesticides, by an average of 60 percent over six days. The results, based on residues found in 158 urine samples, are similar to those of previous studies in California, Seattle and Australia. Organophosphates dropped by 70 percent, chlorpyrifos by 61 percent, malathion by 95 percent, pyrethroids by about 50 percent, one neonicotinoid by 84 percent and the herbicide 2,4-D by 37 percent. Glyphosate herbicide residues were not included because they are difficult to analyze.

To make organic food more widely available, Friends of the Earth has launched an Organic for All campaign to ensure that everyone can afford organic while organic farmers make a living through greater government subsidies and other measures. Currently organic gets less than 2 percent of federal agricultural research funding. (Can Eating Organic Lower Your Exposure to Pesticides?” by Meg Wilcox, Civil Eats, Feb. 11, 2019;; “Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults,” by Carly Hyland et al., Environmental Research, Feb. 12, 2019;

Strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines and apples are the top five U.S. fruits and vegetables most tainted with pesticides, according to the annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce report from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. More than 92 percent of kale samples showed two or more pesticides, and multiple samples of kale had 18 different pesticides. About 60 percent of kale samples contained the pesticide Dacthal, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen.

Others of the “Dirty Dozen,” starting with the most polluted, are grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The report, based on USDA data of washed and peeled produce, found that nearly 70 percent of U.S. produce is contaminated with pesticides, and more than 225 pesticides or pesticide metabolites are found on U.S. produce. Many pesticides found on our food have been linked to cancer, respiratory problems, depression, endocrine disruption and impacts to people's reproductive systems, the EWG says. Studies increasingly show that these health impacts are linked to exposure at levels below the thresholds set by federal agencies such as the EPA. Also, many foods had a mixture of pesticides on them, and very little is known about how such chemical cocktails may impact our health; and even low levels of pesticide exposure may harm children.

The “Clean 15” fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residues were avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplant, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons. (“Spinach, strawberries and kale top annual report on the most pesticide-tainted produce,” by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, March 20, 2019;


Biodiversity Loss

A review of 73 reports shows dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world's insect species over the next few decades. Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera and dung beetles (Coleoptera) appear to be most affected on land; among aquatic taxa, Odonata, Plecoptera, Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera have lost many species. Meanwhile the abundance of a small number of adaptable, generalist species is increasing and occupying niches left by those in decline. Habitat loss, conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanization are the main drivers of extinction, followed by pollution (primarily by synthetic pesticides and fertilizers); then biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and fourth, climate change, especially in tropical areas. (“Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers,” by Francisco Sánchez-Bayoa and Kris A.G.Wyckhuys, Biological Conservation, April 2019;


Much of U.S. sewage sludge has been spread on nonorganic fields and forests for decades to dispose of the material and to provide plant nutrients. (The U.S. National Organic Program does not allow sludge application to organic farms.) However, after a Maine dairy farmer learned that sludge from sewage treatment plants applied to his hayfields for decades, with state approval, was contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced in March that it will require testing of all sludge material licensed for land application in the state for PFAS.

PFAS are no longer produced in the United States but can be imported in products such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, cookware, rubber and plastics, according to the EPA. They can accumulate and persist in the human body and in the environment. They can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in lab animals. They have caused tumors in animals, increased cholesterol levels in exposed people and possibly other health effects.

Governor Janet Mills has created a task force to mobilize state agencies and other stakeholders to review and address the prevalence of PFAS in Maine. (“DEP Announces Testing of All Sludge Materials Before Land Application,” press release, Maine DEP, March 22, 2019; “Basic Information on PFAS,” U.S. EPA,; “Public health experts aim to stop spreading of sludge,” by Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald, March 19, 2019;


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

Researchers who work on GE crops are developing special “artificial diet systems” to standardize the testing of the Cry toxins, often used in GE crops, for their effects on nontarget species. But a paper published in the journal Toxins implies that the new diets contain hidden ingredients that can mask Cry toxicity and allow them to pass undetected through toxicity tests on beneficial species such as lacewings, enabling new GE crops to come to market quicker and more reliably.

Cry toxins are a family of highly active protein toxins originally isolated from the gut of the pathogenic bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). They confer insect resistance, and up to six distinct ones are added to GE corn, cotton and other crops, usually called Bt crops. Cry toxins kill insects that eat the GE crop because the toxin damages the membranes of the insect gut when it is ingested, causing the insect to immediately stop feeding and eventually die of septicemia.

The biotech industry claims that Cry toxins have narrow specificity and are therefore safe for all but “target” organisms, but many researchers disagree. Any organism with a membrane-lined gut is, in principle, vulnerable if it consumes the GE Bt crop. Research shows that organisms affected by Cry toxins include monarch and swallowtail butterflies, lacewings, caddisflies, bees, water fleas and mammals.

New “artificial diet systems” for raising nontarget organisms contain surprisingly large amounts of antibiotics, which act as antidotes to Cry toxins. By masking the harm caused by the toxin, antibiotics can give a false impression of Cry harmlessness. (“Rigging the Science of GMO Ecotoxicity,” By Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., Independent Science News, Jan. 29, 2019;