Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Organic Matter – Food and Agricultural News – Winter 2017

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Winter 2017-2018 \ Organic Matter - Winter 2017

The Good News
Organic Issues
Genetic Engineering
Industrial Meat Production and Pollution

The Good News

Compost extracts significantly reduced weed biomass in a study in Pennsylvania. Extracts prepared from compost made with 30 percent “browns,” 50 percent “greens” and 20 percent “high nitrogen” feedstocks (i.e., from legumes) were prepared 24 hours before applying a 1:3 dilution (V:V) of the extracts with distilled water to field plots using a backpack sprayer. Four replicates of four treatments were tested: post-planting compost extract application; pre- and post-planting extract application; in-season cultivation or hand-hoeing; and no cultivation or compost application.

Using compost extracts significantly reduced dry weed biomass by 43 percent compared with no treatment and by 11 percent compared with cultivation in turnip. In lettuce, extract applications reduced weed biomass by 19 and 34 percent, respectively, compared with cultivation and with no treatment. Weed biomass in cabbage plots receiving extracts was similar to that in cultivated plots.

Mean turnip yield was significantly greater in treatments that received compost extracts than with no treatment, and it did not different from yield in cultivated plots. Lettuce yield was significantly greater with cultivation than with no treatment and did not differ from yield in plots treated with compost extract. (“Compost Effects On Weed Suppression Biocycle,” by Gladis Zinati, July 17, 2017;

Penn State researchers tested the effectiveness of shallow disc injection of manure into soil instead of spreading the liquid slurry on a corn field. They took samples from nine runoff events over eight months. Much higher levels of estrogen and phosphorus came from plots with surface-applied manure than from those with injected manure. The cost of injection equipment is one factor limiting this practice. (“Simply injecting manure into soil dramatically reduces estrogen pollution,” by Emma Bryce, Anthropocene, Sept. 4, 2017;; “Relative role of transport and source-limited controls for estrogen, TDP, and DOC export for two manure application methods,” Mina et al., Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 2017;

Adding 10 g daily of rosemary or lemongrass for 12 weeks to feed for lactating Damascus goats did not affect nutrient intake or ruminal pH but did enhanced nutrient digestibility and milk yield, with positive ruminal fermentation. The herbs increased organic matter and fiber digestion, ruminal concentration of short chain fatty acids, propionate, serum glucose concentration, milk production, milk fat and lactose concentration, total unsaturated fatty acids and total conjugated linoleic acid while decreasing serum cholesterol concentration and total saturated fatty acids. (“Rosemary and lemongrass herbs as phytogenic feed additives to improve efficient feed utilization, manipulate rumen fermentation and elevate milk production of Damascus goats,” Livestock Science, by A.E.Kholif et al., Oct. 2017;

Dr. Jose Franco’s two-year study in Texas showed the effects of intercropping peanuts and watermelons; peanuts, watermelons and okra; peanuts, watermelon, okra and cowpeas; a row of all five plant species; and alternating single rows of peanuts and watermelons. Peanuts and cowpeas fix nitrogen; watermelons smother weeds and shade soil to conserve soil moisture; okra grows tall, and its large, showy flowers can attract pollinators; and hot peppers may serve as a pest barrier.

Franco found that three to four species consistently yielded higher per unit of land area than crops grown alone – with reduced inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides. “We actually used minimal fertilizer and no herbicides, and the only major input we utilized was irrigation,” he said.

In the study, intercropping with three to four species did best, while productivity declined with one or two and more than four. Plots with peppers showed an overall decline in productivity. (“Intercropping boosts vegetable production,” by Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife – Sept. 5, 2017;

Oregon State University plant pathologist Jennifer Parke has studied soil solarization – trapping the sun’s energy under a layer of plastic to heat the soil enough to kill pathogens and weeds – using new horticultural film with anti-condensation properties, developed for the greenhouse industry. Solarization using other plastics works in hotter climates but not in the cooler Pacific Northwest. Without condensed water droplets, more solar radiation can pass through the plastic.

With funding from the Western Integrated Pest Management Center and others, she tested the idea at 42 nursery sites from Southern California to Northern Washington. The film heated the ground about 10 degrees C higher than non-solarized plots.

Parke initially showed that the technique heated the soil enough to combat Phytophthora ramorum, the plant pathogen that causes sudden oak death and ramorum blight, but not enough to kill beneficial microorganisms.

She and her team then worked with the website, a weather-based decision-support tool. Oregon State University postdoctoral scientist Fumiaki Funahashi and professor Leonard Coop of the university’s Integrated Plant Protection Center built an online model that shows nursery growers how long they need to solarize their ground so that it’s disease-free.

The team then tried solarization with the new films in field production nurseries to control other soilborne diseases – and the technique suppressed weeds for months (and even into the next year) after treatment and produced taller, healthier plants and thicker stands.

Parke’s team is now testing solarization for vegetable growers – using it with and without a cover crop, and testing the minimum amount of time, from two to nine weeks, needed to solarize fields in the Pacific Northwest. The University of Maine is also researching solarization with greenhouse plastic, according to Mark Hutton, an associate professor there. (“Soil Solarization in the Pacific Northwest,” Western IPM Center;; Mark Hutton, personal communication, Oct. 11, 2017)

A survey of 2,012 farmers showed acreage planted in cover crops has nearly doubled over the past five years. The poll was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center with help from Purdue University and funding support from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the American Seed Trade Association.

Survey participants – 88 percent of whom use cover crops – reported that after cover crops, corn yields increased an average of 2.3 bushels per acre (1.3 percent); soybean, 2.1 bushels (3.8 percent); and wheat, 1.9 bushels (2.8 percent). This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the survey reported yield increases in corn and soybeans following cover crops.

Of the farmers who used cover crops, 85 percent said they have seen improved soil health, and 69 percent of respondents said cover crops always or sometimes improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Since the annual cover crop survey began in 2012, cover crop acreage has steadily increased among participants. Farmers said they committed an average of 400 acres each to cover crops in 2016, up from 217 acres each in 2012. They expected to increase their cover crop planting in 2017 to an average of 451 acres.

The timing of cover crop planting is also evolving. Approximately three out of four cover crop acres in the survey were planted after harvesting a cash crop, but the practice of interseeding covers into growing cash crops is an emerging trend: 27 percent of the respondents said they seeded cover crops at sidedress fertilization time or in late summer. And 39 percent of respondents “planted green” – seeded cash crops directly into living, green cover crops and then terminated the covers. (“Cover Crops Boost Yields and Weed Control, National Farmer Survey Says,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Sept. 16, 2017;

Soil health practices such as cover crops and no-till can result in an economic return of over $100 per acre, according to case studies by the National Association of Conservation Districts and Datu Research, LLC. During a three-year study, corn-soybean farmers experimented with cover crops and/or no-till. While planting costs increased by up to $38 per acre, fertilizer costs decreased by up to $50 per acre, erosion repair costs decreased by up to $16 per acre, yields increased by up to $76 per acre, and net farm income increased by up to $110 per acre. Included in the farmers’ calculations was the considerable time they spent attending workshops or searching the internet to learn about no-till or cover crop practices. (“Case Studies Show Big Economic Benefits of Soil Health Practices,” National Association of Conservation Districts, Aug. 29, 2017;

Organic Issues

Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), left his job in October after eight years to return to Washington state. Agricultural Marketing Service acting administrator Bruce Summers and acting deputy administrator Jenny Tucker will oversee the program until agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue names a successor. In his letter of resignation, McEvoy noted several accomplishments of the NOP during his tenure, including the Organic Literacy Initiative, which trains USDA personnel and farmers about certification and market opportunities in the organic food industry; the NOP Handbook, which provides all NOP policies and guidance in one place; a Sound and Sensible certification process to make organic certification more affordable and attainable for organic operations; adding a requirement for some unannounced inspections and residue testing; improved auditing of certifiers; reduced appeal times; implementing civil penalties regularly for violations to USDA organic regulations (over 900 suspensions or revocations occurred over the last five years); negotiating the U.S.-EU Organic Equivalency Arrangement; and developing a robust database of certified organic producers, updated by certifiers in near real time. (“Head of USDA’s organic program steps down after 8 years,” Food Safety News, Sept. 13, 2017;

A USDA National Organic Program audit by the Office of Inspector General found problems with the program related to products imported from foreign countries. Issues included fumigation of organic products at U.S. ports of entry with substances prohibited by the National Organic Program; a lack of transparency in determining equivalency of organic standards; and inability to verify that imported products labeled as organic were grown on certified organic farms. The audit said major changes were needed to strengthen control of international trade of organic products. (“OIG Audit Exposes Flaws in USDA Organic Program,” by Teaganne Finn, Bloomberg, Sept. 19, 2017;

U.S. farmers and ranchers sold $7.6 billion in certified organic agricultural products in 2016, up 23 percent from $6.2 billion in 2015, according to the Certified Organic Survey 2016 Summary, released on Sept. 20, 2017, by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). These figures represent what the producer received for the raw product. During 2016, the number of U.S. organic farms increased 11 percent to 14,217, according to NASS, and the number of certified acres increased 15 percent to 5 million. Here are the NASS data for the United States and Maine:

Number of     Total        Acres        Acres pasture/      Value of
organic farms    Acres        cropland    rangeland        sales

14,217        5,000,000    13,560         5,587         $7,600,000,000

494         55,316     44,177        11,139        $65,648,000

Note, however, that records from MOFGA Certification Services LLC show 523 MOFGA-certified growers by the end of 2016 – almost 6 percent more than the NASS figure. (Updated figures for 2017 appear in Chris Grigsby’s column in this MOF&G.)

Nationwide, according to NASS, crops accounted for 56 percent of organic sales; livestock, poultry and their products, 44 percent. Milk sales increased by 18 percent; eggs by 11 percent; broiler chickens, 78 percent.

As with MOFGA’s data, the Organic Trade Association notes that certifier-based estimates show even higher numbers. “For instance, NASS reported in December that information from U.S. accredited organic certifying agents showed 14,861 U.S. organic farms in operation in 2015, with 5.3 million acres farmed organically, compared to the 14,217 organic farms and 5.0 million organic acres NASS now counts for 2016. Overall growth in sales of organic agricultural production and acreage is positive news. However, the just released National Agricultural Statistics Service findings highlight that dramatic growth in livestock products does not parallel growth in livestock feed grains. This underscores the need to shore up import oversight and increase support for domestic producers through a stronger crop insurance safety net, organic research, market access, and organic data collection.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says that “due to a lack of consistency in methodology and survey questions, these surveys have some limitations that make it difficult to assess certain indicators over time. In the future, USDA should focus on better coordinating methods and survey questions so that at least three years of comparable data can be collected.” (“U.S. organic sales jump 23 percent in 2016,” by Carol Ryan, Capital Press, Sept 21, 2017; ; “Certified Organic Survey 2016 Summary,” USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Sept. 2017;; “2016 Certified Organic Survey released,” Organic Trade Assoc., Sept. 20, 2017;; “Gaps in Organic Data Make Projections a Challenge,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Oct. 18, 2017;

In the last year, 88 percent of U.S. households have purchased organic (according to UPC codes) food and beverages – a growing trend. In the year ended Sept. 2, 2017, dollar sales of UPC-coded organic products grew 9.8 percent, and unit volume increased 11.4 percent. Supermarkets, mass merchandisers and discount grocery channels represent a combined 25 percent share of organic spending. (“Organic products are showing up in more places – and for less money,” Nielson, Sept. 14, 2017;


The first effort to spatially quantify global soil carbon loss revealed that agriculture has removed 133 billion tons of carbon from the top 2 meters of soil, with the rate of loss increasing dramatically in the past 200 years. Those soil carbon losses nearly equal total carbon emissions due to forest clearing. The study also showed that cropping causes more soil carbon loss than grazing on a particular parcel of land, but because grazing covers so much land surface, total losses from cropping and grazing are nearly equal. The large soil carbon debt can be thought of as the maximum potential for soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere and act as a natural climate solution. (“New study finds soil carbon losses nearly equal to total emissions from deforestation,” Woods Hole Research Center, Aug. 21, 2017;

After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is increasing again, affecting 815 million people in 2016, or 11 percent of the global population, according to a United Nations report released on September 15. The increase is largely due to proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks, says “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, Building Resilience for Peace and Food Security.” Of those 815 million, 11.7 percent are in Asia, 20 percent in Africa and 6.6 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the same time, 641 million (13 percent of all adults on the planet) are obese. (“World Hunger on the Rise Again Inter Press Service,” by  Baher Kamal, Sept. 15, 2017;

In collaboration with The Organic Center, a nonprofit organization, and with citizen scientists across the nation, Northeastern University scientists Geoffrey Davies and Elham Ghabbour collected and analyzed 659 organic soil samples from 39 states and 728 conventional soil samples from all 48 contiguous states. The organic soil samples had 44 percent higher concentrations of humic acids than conventional soil samples. Ghabbour said organic soil can hold more carbon because it has higher concentrations of humic acids. Humic acids bind to soil, making it more fertile, allowing it to retain water, and helping plants absorb nutrients.

The results also showed that soil from organic farms is 26 percent better at retaining carbon – and retaining it for longer periods of time – than soil farmed with conventional methods and synthetic fertilizers.

Ghabbour and Davies’ Humic Acid Research Group previously found humic acid molecules in a live plant. Before that, scientists thought it came only from decomposing plants. The structure of humic acid remains unknown, and researchers don’t know why organic soil has higher concentrations of humic acids than conventional. Davies speculates that that feeding soils with synthetic fertilizers kills humic acids, which act as natural fertilizers, selectively binding to toxins and releasing nutrients in the soil, while synthetic fertilizers do not build soil. (“Study Finds Organic Soil Captures, Holds More Carbon, by Allie Nicodemo, News@Northeastern, Oct. 3, 2017;; “National Comparison of the Total and Sequestered Organic Matter Contents of Conventional and Organic Farm Soils,” by A. Elham et al., Advances in Agronomy, Volume 146, Oct. 1, 2017;; “Organic Farms Could Help Fight Climate Change,” by Shaun Chavis, howstuffworks, Sept. 25, 2017;


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

The diamondback moth, a pest of cole crops, has been genetically engineered by the British biotech company Oxitec to attempt to disrupt the species’ mating ability, since the insect has become resistant to insecticides. The engineered moths pass on a gene designed to kill the offspring that inherit it. Cornell University entomologist Anthony Shelton has released the moths in field trials – and the Northeast Organic Farming Association has called for a stop to such experimental release, given concern that when organic vegetables are spot checked, the GE materials may show up, and “the onus is on the organic grower to do everything in their power to minimize the likelihood of contamination." (“Scientists Try To Fight Crop Damage With An Invasive Moth's Own DNA,” by Devin Powell, Maine Public, Aug. 28, 2017;

Researchers have found that a little over 90 percent of tortillas and 82 percent of all corn products sold in Mexico contain traces of GE corn, and 27.7 percent of the samples containing GE corn also contained the herbicide glyphosate. Tortillas made using artisinal methods and with home-grown corn varieties had significantly lower frequency of GE contamination and had no glyphosate contamination. Finding GE traits in Mexico surprised the researchers, since cultivation of GE corn is not allowed in open fields in Mexico. (“GM corn found in over 90% of tortillas in MX,” Mexico Daily News, Sept. 20, 2017;

Are GE pesticides supertoxins? The chief benefit claimed for GE pesticidal Bt crops (crops containing the toxin created by Bacillus thuringiensis) is that, unlike conventional pesticides, their toxicity is limited to a few insect species. But an analysis comparing GE and ancestral Bt proteins shows that many of the elements contributing to this narrow toxicity were removed by GE developers in the process of inserting Bt toxins into crops. Thus, developers have made GE pesticides that, in the words of one Monsanto patent, are "super toxins.” Jonathan Latham et al. conclude that references to any GE Bt toxins being "natural" are incorrect and scientifically unsupportable. For example, all GE Bt toxins are soluble proteins rather than crystalline structures; many GE Bt toxins are truncated proteins; parts of natural Bt toxins are often combined to make hybrid GE molecules that don’t exist in nature; GE Bt toxins often have synthetic or unrelated protein molecules added to them; GE Bt toxins may be mutated to replace specific amino acids; and all GE Bt proteins are further altered inside plant cells.

These changes are poorly considered in GE risk assessment, say Latham et al. For example, regulators frequently refer to the "history of safe use" of specific natural Bt toxins. Regulators also controversially allow most tests of safety to be on surrogate toxins rather than GE crops themselves. For example, Ciba-Geigy measured its Bt-176 toxins to be 5 to 10 times more toxicologically active when inserted into plants. Monsanto patented novel Bt toxins with up to 7.9-fold enhanced activity and called these "super toxins" having "the combined advantages of increased insecticidal activity and concomitant broad spectrum activity." The most powerful of these is now found in commercial MON863 corn. Additionally, theoretical reasons exist to expect all GE Bt toxins to have broader spectrums of activity, say Latham et al. Natural Bt toxins are large, insoluble and nontoxic precursors requiring unusual chemical conditions to become active toxins, but processing undergone by all GE Bt proteins makes them far closer to the toxicologically active form having bypassed key specificity requirements. (“Have Monsanto and the Biotech Industry Turned Natural Bt Pesticides into GMO “Super toxins?” by Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., Independent Science News, October 9, 2017;; “The Distinct Properties of Natural and GM Cry Insecticidal Proteins,” Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, 33:1, 62-96, 9/13/2017, by Jonathan R. Latham, Madeleine Love and Angelika Hilbeck;


Industrial Meat Production and Pollution

A report by the global environmental group Mighty Earth, chaired by former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, says that much of the manure and fertilizer pollution contaminating waters from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico comes from the vast quantities of corn and soy raised as feed for meat animals. To identify the companies responsible, the group overlaid maps of supply chains of top meat and feed companies with data showing elevated nitrate concentrations in waterways with high levels of fertilizer pollution. The report also mapped where these supply chains are driving destruction of natural grasslands, including native prairies.

Tyson Foods had an expansive footprint in all regions with the worst pollution from industrial meat and feed production. Tyson’s top feed suppliers are behind the bulk of grassland prairie clearance, which magnifies the impacts of fertilizer pollution, with Cargill and ADM dominating the corn and soy market with their network of grain elevators and feed silos in all states with the highest losses.

So much pollution, coming mostly from industrial corn and soy fields, has run into the Gulf of Mexico this year that it is now one of the largest dead zones on record – nearly 8,200 square-miles, or about the size of New Jersey. Last year the U.S. Geological Survey reported that about 1.15 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. For comparison, the BP oil spill was 670,800 metric tons, and is not an annual event.

The report urges Tyson and others to ensure that grain producers reduce pollution flowing into waterways by using cover crops and managing fertilizers more efficiently. Tyson told The Guardian that it is constantly looking to improve and lead the industry. (“Mystery Meat II – The Industry Behind the Quiet Destruction of the American Heartland,” Mighty Earth, Aug. 2017;; “Meat industry blamed for largest-ever 'dead zone' in Gulf of Mexico,” by Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Aug. 1, 2017;



Monsanto documents released in relation to litigation reveal how the company campaigned to force the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology to retract a study showing toxic effects of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, according to Claire Robinson of GM Watch. The study, led by professor G.E. Séralini, showed that very low doses of Roundup were toxic to rats over a long-term period and included serious liver and kidney damage. The documents also show that A. Wallace Hayes, editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology, entered into a contract with Monsanto as a consultant shortly before the retraction campaign, and that Monsanto facilitated letters from “third party experts” to Hayes, demanding retraction. Bruce Chassy, who signed a petition demanding the retraction and who co-authored a Forbes article accusing Séralini of fraud, received over $57,000 from Monsanto in less than two years to travel, write and speak about GE crops. After the paper was withdrawn from Food and Chemical Toxicology, it was published in another journal.

Carey Gillam also reported that when Monsanto thought that IARC would likely classify glyphosate as a “possible human carcinogen” or, less likely, a “probable carcinogen” (which IARC ultimately did), the company drafted teams of PR people, lobbyists, scientist and others to create a media campaign attacking the classification and discrediting the IARC evaluation – just as the EPA and the European Commission were evaluating reauthorizing glyphosate.

In addition, Danny Hakim of The New York Times wrote that the documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and proponent of GE crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him on the subject; his subsequent article on the website of Forbes largely mirrored that article – without noting Miller’s connection with Monsanto. The documents, continued Hakim, also show that Monsanto itself was debating the relative safety of glyphosate and Roundup. Carey Gillam reported that when Forbes learned of the deceit, it severed relations with Miller. (“Uncovered: Monsanto campaign to get Séralini study retracted,” by Claire Robinson, GM Watch, Aug. 2, 2017;; “Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails,” by Danny Hakim, The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2017;; “How Monsanto Manufactured Outrage At Chemical Cancer Classification It Expected,” by Carey Gillam, The Huffington Post, Sept. 19, 2017;

After traces of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup and some other herbicides) were found in 13 of 14 of its sampled products in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, Ben & Jerry’s says it will remove all glyphosate-tainted ingredients from its production chain and will introduce an organic dairy line in 2018. The herbicide may have been in wheat, barley, oats and/or peanuts used in cookie dough, peanut butter or other ingredients added to the ice cream. In addition to being used as a weed killer, glyphosate is used to dry many crops before harvest. Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever. (“Ben & Jerry’s to launch glyphosate-free ice-cream after tests find traces of weedkiller,” by Arthur Nelsen, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2017;

The Poison Papers, released by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, consist of over 20,000 rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents stretching back to the 1920s. The documents – most collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum – are posted at

The papers include scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions and sworn testimonies. They show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press.

"In total, the stark truth revealed by these 50 years of documents is that the entire pesticide industry could not exist without lies, coverups, rampant fraud, and government enablers," said Van Strum, who authored the 1983 book “Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights.”
The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include dioxins, herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, dicamba, permethrin, atrazine and Agent Orange), and PCBs. Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold, either as products or as product contaminants. (“The Poison Papers Expose Decades of Collusion between Industry and Regulators over Hazardous Pesticides and Other Chemicals,” by Jonathan Latham et al., Center for Media and Democracy, July 26, 2017;

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, looked at  records of over 500,000 babies born between 1997 and 2011 in California’s San Joaquin Valley and found that the chance of prematurely births rose by about 8 percent and the chance of having a birth abnormality by about 9 percent where pesticide use was greatest. Those experiencing extreme exposures had an 11 percent increased probability of preterm birth and 20 percent increased probability of low birth weight. The researchers suggested that policies and interventions targeting areas with the greatest pesticide distribution near human habitation could largely eliminate such adverse outcomes. (“Agricultural pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes in the San Joaquin Valley of California,” by Ashley E. Larsen et al., Nature Communications, Aug. 29, 2017;; “Pesticides linked to birth abnormalities in major new study,” by Ian Johnston, The Independent, Aug. 29, 2017;

The environmental association Future Generations analyzed 30 food samples (cereals, pasta, beans and lentils) from supermarkets in France and found that 16 contained glyphosate residues. Concentrations were below the regulatory threshold for pesticide residues. (“Glyphosate, a herbicide in our plates,” by Aurore Coulaud, Liberation, Sept. 14, 2017;; Original report: “Résultats exclusifs de recherche de glyphosate dans des aliments vendus en France,” Générations Futures, Sept. 14, 2017;

In 2015, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) reviewed the science on the ecological effects of neonicotinoid insecticides. The scientists assessed more than 1,100 peer-reviewed studies and manufacturers’ data, and found clear evidence of harm to honeybees and many other nontarget species. In its September 2017 update of the assessment, the scientists reviewed more than 500 new peer-reviewed studies and found even broader impacts that threaten biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, vice-chair of the TFSP, says these findings reiterate the need to stop all agricultural uses of systemic pesticides. (“Ban ‘neonic’ pesticides. Our food supplies are at risk,” by Jean-Marc Bonmatin, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 19, 2017;

Analyses of 198 samples of honey gathered from around the world from 2012 to 2016 found that 75 percent contained measurable quantities of neonicotinoid insecticides. Eighty-six percent of samples from North America contained one or more neonic, followed by Asia (80 percent) and Europe (79 percent). South America had the lowest figure (57 percent). Almost half the samples contained more than one neonic. Forty-eight percent exceeded concentrations of neonics great enough to harm bees significantly. All but two samples had total contamination levels below the maximum residue level that EU laws allow for human consumption. (“Honey tests reveal global contamination by bee-harming pesticides,” by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Oct. 5, 2017;; “Nerve agents in honey,” by Christopher N. Connolly, Science, 10/6/2017;

Twenty florists Belgium volunteered to wear cotton gloves for two to three hours per day on two consecutive days (one pair of gloves on each day) while handling flowers. When researchers tested the gloves for residual pesticide deposits, a total of 111 active substances (mainly insecticides and fungicides) were detected, with an average of 37 active substances per sample and a total concentration per glove sample of 22.22 mg/kg. In the worst cases, up to five active substances exceeded the Acceptable Operator Exposure Level (AOEL), indicating risk situations. The florist profession appears to be one in which workers are exposed regularly to very high numbers and rather high concentrations of toxic chemicals, say the researchers, who recommend raising awareness among florists so that they use practices that minimize their exposure. (“Risk Assessment of Florists Exposed to Pesticide Residues through Handling of Flowers and Preparing Bouquets,” by Khaoula Toumi et al., Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, May 13, 2017;

Biomass of airborne insects declined by 76 percent (82 percent in midsummer) over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany. Changes in land use and habitat cannot explain the overall decline. Destruction of wild areas and widespread pesticide use are the most likely factors, with climate change possibly involved as well, say the researchers. Flying insects may perish when they leave the reserves and encounter farmland with little food and/or with exposure to pesticides, said one. “Our results demonstrate that recently reported declines in several taxa such as butterflies, wild bees and moths, are in parallel with a severe loss of total aerial insect biomass, suggesting that it is not only the vulnerable species, but the flying insect community as a whole, that has been decimated over the last few decades,” according to the report. The decline “must have cascading effects across trophic levels and numerous other ecosystem effects,” the researchers add. (“More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas,” by Caspar A. Hallmann et al., PLOS ONE, Oct. 18, 2017;; “Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers,” by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Oct. 18, 2017;