News -- June 2005
Kersbergen Receives Trustee Professorship
Rick Kersbergen, Extension Professor from Waldo County, Maine, recently received a Trustee Professorship from the University of Maine. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in research and teaching and allows Kersbergen to conduct further research on topics related to the dairy and livestock industry in Maine.
The trustee Professorship comes with release time and a stipend. Kersbergen will spend the next 12 months working on several projects, including a Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service (CSREES) grant project with the University of Vermont and the University of Maine on the cost of producing organic milk. Maine and Vermont are seen as leaders in the organic dairy industry. He will work on initiatives with the Maine Organic Milk Producers (MOMP); and will provide technical support to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) and the Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN).
Kersbergen received his undergraduate degree from Bates College and did his graduate work at the University of Maine in Animal Science. He has been an Extension Educator with Cooperative Extension since 1987, working from the Waldo County office.
For more information, contact Rick Kersbergen via email at email@example.com
NOFA-NY Hires Seed Project Coordinator
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) has hired Elizabeth Dyck, Ph.D., as Project Coordinator of the Organic Seed Partnership (OSP). The OSP, a collaboration between NOFA-NY and Cornell University's Department of Plant Breeding, is building upon the work of the Public Seed Initiative. The OSP will create a strong national network to develop and deliver improved vegetable varieties selected for superior performance in organic systems. This will require both new varieties and improved capacity to produce large quantities of commercial grade seed. This OSP integrates participatory, farm-based crop breeding and selection in organic systems, supported by regional research centers that ensure the early engagement of growers, consumers and seed companies.
Dyck received her Ph.D. in Plant Science from the University of Maine, Orono, then coordinated a project to screen legumes for integration into maize and vegetable cropping systems on small farms in Kenya as part of a Rockefeller Foundation program at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Nairobi. Next Dyck was Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center, where she worked extensively with the organic farm community and ran the Organic Conversion Project. She researched organic farming systems, emphasizing collaborative research with transitioning and organic farmers. Dyck is a widely published author on many facets of organic agriculture, and she is a certified organic vegetable grower in upstate New York.
More Than 26 Million Certified Organic Hectares Worldwide
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), and the Foundation Ecology & Farming (SÖL), Germany, released reported on "The World of Organic Agriculture - Statistics and Emerging Trends 2005" in February. According to the study, more than 26 million hectares of farmland are under organic management worldwide. This is more than two million hectares more than in the previous year.
In terms of organic land, Australia leads with 11.3 million hectares, followed by Argentina (2.8 million hectares) and Italy (> 1 million hectares). Regarding the share of organic farmland in comparison with the total agricultural area, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries lead. More than 10% of Swiss agricultural land is managed organically.
In 2003, the market value of organic products worldwide reached 25 billion US$, the largest share of organic products being marketed in Europe and North America. As governments and organizations increase support for organic agriculture, the sector should grow.
This study features an updated chapter on the market situation and emerging trends for several continents; and chapters on standards and certification include a wealth of new
information. A new chapter on organic farming and sustainability was added.
Contact: Dr. Helga Willer, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) Ackerstr., CH-5070 Frick, Tel. +41 79 2180626, Fax +41 62 8657-273, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.fibl.org; www.fibl.org/english/shop/index.php; Foundation Ecology & Agriculture(SÖL), Weinstr. Süd 51, D-67098 Bad Dürkheim, Tel +49 6322 98970-0, Fax +49 6322 98970-1, email@example.com; www.soel.de; Bernward Geier, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Charles-de-Gaulle-Str. 5, D-53113 Bonn, Tel. 49 228 92650-10, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ifoam.org; NürnbergMesse, BioFach, Messezentrum Nürnberg, D - 90471 Nürnberg, Tel: +49 911 8606-0; email@example.com; www.biofach.de.
Published in English, the study can be ordered for of 16 Euros (+postage) through IFOAM and FiBL (addresses above). The full study can be downloaded for 8 Euros at www.ifoam.org or http://shop.fibl.org, order number 1365. Chapter 2, "Current Status of Organic Farming World-Wide," summarizing global organic statistics, can be
downloaded free www.orgprints.org/4297.
Victory Against Biopiracy!
European Patent Office Upholds Decision to Revoke Neem Patent
In a landmark decision on March 8, 2005, the European Patent Office (EPO) upheld a decision to revoke in its entirety a patent on a fungicide derived from seeds of the Neem, a tree indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The historic action resulted from a legal challenge mounted 10 years ago by Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva; Magda Aelvoet, then MEP and President of the Greens in the European Parliament; and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Their joint Legal Opposition claimed that the fungicidal properties of the Neem tree had been public knowledge in India for many centuries and that this patent exemplified how international law was being misused to transfer biological wealth from the South into the hands of a few corporations, scientists and countries of the North. On March 8, the EPO's Technical Board of Appeals dismissed an appeal by the would-be proprietors-the United States and the company Thermo Trilogy-and maintained the decision of its Opposition Division five years ago to revoke the Neem patent in its entirety, thus closing this 10-year battle in the world's first legal challenge to a biopiracy patent.
Dr. Vandana Shiva commented at the hearing, "What a lovely celebration for the women of India that this long-awaited decision falls on March 8th, International Women's Day. Denying the patent means upholding the value of traditional knowledge for millions of women not only in India, but throughout the South. The FREE TREE WILL STAY FREE. This victory is the result of extremely long solidarity. It is a victory of committed citizens over commercial interests and big powers."
Magda Aelvoet noted: "Our victory against biopiracy is threefold. First, it is a victory for
traditional knowledge and practices. This is the first time anybody has been able to have a patent rejected on these grounds. Second, it is a victory for solidarity: With the people of developing countries-who have definitively earned the sovereign rights to their natural resources-and with our colleagues in the NGOs, who fought with us against this
patent for the last 10 years. And third, coming as it does on International Women's Day, this is also a victory for women. The three people who successfully argued this case against the might of the U.S. administration and its corporate allies were women: Vandana Shiva, Linda Bullard and myself. It can also inspire and help people from developing countries who suffer the same kind of theft but did not think it was possible to combat it."
Linda Bullard, former President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), stated, "We were able to establish that traditional knowledge systems can be a means of establishing "prior art" and thus used to destroy the claims of "novelty" and "inventiveness" in these biopiracy patents. This now becomes case law, but the historic precedent must be further developed and transposed into overall international legal frameworks so that this type of theft is no longer possible."
Source: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi, India;
The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament; and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Press Release, March 8, 2005.
For further information, contact: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology: + 91/11-26561868, -26968077, 26535422; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.navdanya.org; The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament: +32 2 284-1692; email@example.com; www.greens-efa.org; IFOAM: +49 228 926-5016; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ifoam.org.
Cows Have Feelings, Too
Cows befriend two to four other cows and spend most of their time with them, often grooming and licking each other, but can dislike other cows and can bear grudges for years. They also like intellectual challenges, such as learning how to open a door to get food. They can feel pain, fear, anxiety, worry or happiness. Other farm animals may have similar feelings, reported Jonathan Leake in The Sunday Times (Britain) on Feb. 27, 2005 ("The secret life of moody cows") before the Compassion in World Farming conference in London in March.
Leake quotes John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol and author of Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden: "People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic."
Webster also described the sexuality of cows: When one comes into heat, others in the herd try to mount her. "Cows look calm, but really they are gay nymphomaniacs," he told Leake.
Neurobiologist Keith Kendrick of Cambridge found that sheep can remember 50 ovine faces; can recognize another sheep after a year apart; and can form strong affections for certain humans, become depressed by long separations and greet him or her enthusiastically after three years.
Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, said, "Our challenge is to teach others that every animal we intend to eat or use is a complex individual, and to adjust our farming culture accordingly."
Advisory Panel Recommends Pasture for Organic Dairy Animals
A federal advisory panel on the organic industry [National Organic Standards Board] has recommended that USDA tighten existing rules that require organic livestock to be raised and fed on open pasture, reported the Chicago Tribune in an article posted by the Times Argus. The issue was first raised by complaints about large organic dairies keeping their animals in pens, claiming lactation was a "production stage." The panel recommended that this loophole be closed, by specifying that dairy cows must graze on pasture at least 120 days per year. In addition, the advisory committee will post guidelines on the number of acres of pasture required for each cow in different areas of the country.
Source: Weekly Harvest Newsletter, ATTRA, March 9, 2005. See also: www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20050304/NEWS/503040340/1002/NEWS01
Activists Urge Lindane Ban
Indigenous and environmental health advocates from the United States, Mexico and Canada testified in San Diego in March, in front of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), in support of eliminating lindane, a pesticide that persists in air and water and has been found at high levels in the Arctic. The Commission designated a task force in 2002 to reduce exposure to lindane, but so far the U.S. government has blocked a continent-wide ban.
Advocates hosted a "Lindane Lunch" for government officials attending the meeting, serving traditional and common foods known to be contaminated by lindane. On the menu were salmon, halibut and muktuk (whale meat) from Alaska--all important in the traditional diet of Arctic peoples--as well as common foods that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found to be contaminated by lindane, such as pickles, mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies and wheat bread. Human breast milk, found to contain lindane in studies around the world, was also on display.
"We wanted to offer the government officials a taste of our concern," explained Shawna Larson from the Indigenous Environmental Network in Alaska. "The task force's decisions have a real impact on our food and way of life in the Arctic, where lindane is the most abundant pesticide found in our air and water."
In 1997, the Northern Contaminants Program estimated 15 to 20% of Inuit women on southern Baffin Island are exposed to dangerous levels of lindane in their daily diet. They are not alone. An average local diet in any region of the world was found in 2003 to include 3.8 to 12 times the "Allowable Daily Intake" of lindane set under Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations system of food standards.
Lindane can cause seizures, damage to the nervous system and weaken the immune system. Research shows a significant association between brain tumors in children and the use of lindane-containing shampoos for lice control. The insecticide is also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
Mexico has committed to phase out all uses of lindane, and Canada is phasing out all agricultural uses. However, the U.S. continues to treat corn, wheat and a handful of other grains with an annual average of 142,000 pounds of lindane. Lindane is also used to control head lice and scabies in the United States and Canada, even though 52 other
countries have banned the pesticide.
Lindane contaminates urban sewer systems and sources of drinking water. The Los Angeles County Sanitation District estimates that one dose of lindane shampoo used as a treatment for head lice contaminates six million gallons of water. Thus, in 2002, California banned lindane shampoos and lotions.
Sources: Press Release, Pesticide Action Network, March 16, 2005; "Ban Lindane Now," Lindane, Fact Sheet, PANNA, March 2005, www.panna.org; Too Toxic for Pets, But not for Children, PANUPS; Lindane, Going, Going, Gone, Lindane Moves closer to Elimination, Global Pesticide Campaigner, Dec, 2003; PANNA, www.panna.org; Lindane RED Facts, US EPA, September 2002, www.epa.gov/REDs/factsheets/lindane_fs.htm.
Pesticides in Household Dust
A study of common household dust found pesticides and other chemicals in samples from 70 homes across the United States. Released by Clean Production Action on March 22, 2005, "Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products -- A Needless Health Risk in Our Homes" documents a wide range of chemicals used in common products such as computers, cosmetics and upholstery as well as household and agricultural pesticides in the dust samples.
Every dust sample contained measurable concentrations of five pesticides: cis-permethrin, trans-permethrin, piperonyl butoxide, pentachorophenol (PCP) and 4,4'-DDT. Six more pesticides were found in some samples, including alpha- and gamma-chlordane, chlorpyrifos, deildrin, methoxychlor and propoxur. Researchers tested for 14 pesticides in the study.
Permethrin products are widely used in U.S. homes, yards and gardens and in agriculture (especially in corn, wheat and alfalfa), forestry and public health programs, including use for head lice control. Because of widespread use of these products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely finds permethrin residues on food. In 2001, it was among the top 10 most commonly detected pesticides in FDA food samples. Like all synthetic pyrethroids, permethrin products kill insects by strongly exciting their nervous systems. Permethrin is a possible carcinogen and affects male and female reproductive systems and the immune system. Piperonyl butoxide, used in formulations of permethrin, increases the potency of permethrin and related pyrethroids and is a possible carcinogen.
Most exposure to pentacholorophenol (PCP) in the United States comes from its past use on treated wood and soil. Its use has been restricted since 1984, but it is still used as a wood preservative on utility poles and railroad ties. It is a neurotoxin, suspected endocrine disruptor, and possible human carcinogen.
Although DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972, a recent body burden study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found DDT residues in the blood of 99% of those sampled. It is a probable human carcinogen and has been linked to developmental and reproductive disorders, premature births and reduced lactation in nursing mothers.
Five additional classes of chemicals were found in the dust:
Alkylphenols, from laundry detergents, textiles, hair-coloring, paints and all-purpose cleaners, mimic natural estrogen hormones leading to altered sexual development in some organisms.
Organotin compounds are found in PVC (polyvinyl chloride) water pipes, PVC food packing materials, glass coatings, polyurethane foams and many other consumer products. They are very poisonous even in small amounts. They can disrupt the hormone, reproductive and immune systems. Animal studies show that exposure early in life can have long-term effects on brain development.
Perfluorinated organics are used to make Teflon, Goretex and other oil-, water- and stain-resistant materials for nonstick frying pans, utensils, stove hoods, stain-proof carpets, furniture and clothes. These chemicals can damage organ function and sexual development in lab animals, and are potentially carcinogenic.
Phthalates are used primarily in vinyl (PVC) products, such as shower curtains, raincoats, toys, furniture and flooring, and in paint, pesticides and personal care products (perfume, nail polish, hairspray). They disrupt reproductive systems in animal studies, particularly in male offspring, and can contribute to male infertility. They have been linked to asthma and respiratory problems in children.
Polybrominated dephenyl ethers (Brominated Flame Retardants) are applied to textiles or incorporated into plastics, foams and electrical goods to prevent or slow the spread of fire. They build up in the body and persist in the environment. They damage the development of the nervous and behavioral systems in young animals. American women have the highest levels of these chemicals tested for in breast milk.
"Sick of Dust" authors call for regulatory reform, corporate responsibility and consumer action. They stress the need for national level policy reforms and highlight state governments (including Maine's) that are taking action in the absence of federal leadership.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Press Release, "Hazardous Chemicals found in Household Dust Across U.S., New Report Says," March 22, 2005, www.panna.org; "Safer Products Project, Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products -- A Needless Health Risk In Our Homes," March 2005, Pat Costner, Beverly Thorpe and Alexandra McPherson. Contact: Clean Production Action, 716-805-1056, email@example.com; www.safer-products.org.
Farm Worker Tests Reveal Routine Pesticide Exposure
On February 8, 2005, national and state farm worker organizations highlighted disturbing medical monitoring results in Washington state. Their report, "Messages from Monitoring," looks at first-year data from a Washington state program that tests farm workers who regularly handle the neurotoxic pesticide groups, organophosphates (OPs) and carbamates (CBs). The report shows that one in five workers tested experiences significant inhibition of cholinesterase--an enzyme essential to proper nervous system function--and faults state and federal agencies for failing to protect farm workers.
Declines in cholinesterase levels can cause nausea, headaches, fatigue and seizures. Further declines can cause more severe effects, including long-term memory loss, paralysis and death.
Of 580 pesticide handlers who received baseline and follow-up tests, 123 (21%) had depressions of more than 20% in cholinesterase concentrations. Of these, 26 (over 4% of the 580 workers) had depressions low enough to trigger removal from pesticide handling jobs under state rules.
Four pesticides were repeatedly involved in serious depressions: chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), azinphos methyl (Guthion), carbaryl (Sevin) and formetanate (Carzol). Most handlers removed for cholinesterase depressions used a mixture of carbaryl and an OP insecticide (chlorpyrifos or azinphos methyl). One common contributing factor at workplaces with depressions was the use of air-blast sprayers towed by tractors to apply the pesticides.
A large percentage of the serious depression cases had no evidence of noncompliance with federal Worker Protection Standards or pesticide labels. Many case summaries, in fact, noted that growers and their employees exceeded regulatory requirements by wearing a respirator for chlorpyrifos, though this is not required. The report notes that EPA's own analysis predicted that occupational exposures would pose unacceptable risks, "In fact, citing cost-benefit provisions in federal pesticide registration law, EPA has approved continued use of some highly toxic OPs while openly acknowledging that even with full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and engineering controls, workers will experience exposures which EPA considers unacceptable, i.e. having Margins of Exposure (MOE) less than 100. Almost all handling scenarios for azinphos methyl pose exposure risks for workers which EPA considers unacceptable, and numerous scenarios for chlorpyrifos do the same."
Problems in the Washington testing may mask evidence of even greater harm. For example, statistical analyses done by the program's Scientific Advisory Committee reveal the risks of false negatives may be as high as 50%; and many depressions may have been missed because too much time elapsed between sample collection and analysis. In other cases, workers reportedly declined monitoring due to actual or perceived employer interference.
The report also notes that Washington state Department of Labor and Industry "chose not to use its enforcement authorities to investigate workplaces where depressions occurred. Even in cases where multiple workers had depressions, the agency adopted a 'consultation' approach." The average interval between receiving test results and performing workplace audits or removals was more than seven days, while workers may have been receiving additional exposures.
"Messages from Monitoring" points out that the Washington monitoring program tests pesticide handlers and not field workers, despite literature demonstrating routine pesticide exposure among field workers and their families. Finally, the report faults the government for failing to promote alternatives to these dangerous pesticides, and calls on state agencies and the federal government to end the use of the most risky pesticides, including azinphos methyl, chlorpyrifos and other highly toxic OPs and CBs, and to require cholinesterase monitoring nationally.
Source: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, Feb.18, 2005, www.panna.org; "Messages from Monitoring," Farm Worker Pesticide Project, Farmworker Justice Fund, United Farm Workers, www.fwjustice.org; Farm Worker Pesticide Project, 206-729-0498, PANNA.
GE Crops Reap Herbicide Resistance
A paper entitled "Herbicide-resistant crops and weed resistance to herbicides," presented by Micheal Owen of Iowa State University in March 2004, noted that planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops has increased dramatically in the last few years, with over 52 million hectares of GE crops planted worldwide. Some 41 million hectares grew herbicide-resistant soy, maize, canola and cotton and accounted for 77% of GE-planted hectares in 2001. Up to 16 other GE, herbicide-resistant crops may be commercially available soon. In addition to potential problems with contaminating other grains, increased reliance on herbicides, and lack of consumer acceptance, Owen and coworkers note cases of herbicide-resistant weed populations and of herbicide resistant crops themselves becoming weeds.
Source: Pest Management Science abstract, Volume 61(3):301 - 311. Special Issue: Herbicide-resistant Crops from Biotechnology. Issue Edited by Stephen O. Duke, Nancy N. Ragsdale, Jan. 25, 2005; Society of Chemical Industry. Contact:
Micheal D.K. Owen, 2104 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-1011, firstname.lastname@example.org
National Farm to Cafeteria Conference
On June 16-18, 2005, Farm Aid and the Community Food Security Coalition, Kenyon College in Ohio, Food Routes, the Center for Food and Justice and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association will present the second national Farm to Cafeteria conference at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
The conference, entitled "Putting Local Food on the Table: Farms and Food Service in Partnership," is designed to bring family farmers together with institutional food distributors, buyers and preparers. The gathering will offer workshops, presentations, field trips and a film festival.
Keynote speakers are Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, and David Kline, author of Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal.
For more information, visit www.foodsecurity.org.
Agricultural Tool Recruited to Help Fight Malaria, Other Diseases
Engineers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), in a quest to quash grain-infesting bugs, have developed an instrument that can determine the age of an insect. Unexpectedly, the technology can also help control disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes and tsetse flies.
Developed by agricultural engineer Floyd Dowell and colleagues at the agency's Grain Marketing and Production Research Center (GMPRC) in Manhattan, Kan., the tool uses near-infrared (NIR) light. All organisms, including insects, absorb NIR radiation differently, so the energy that's reflected back from any one of them will have a unique signature.
GMPRC researchers originally built the instrument to assess grain kernels' protein content. But ARS entomologist James Baker thought that the tool should also be able to detect a live, growing insect hidden inside a kernel. Also, entomologists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., are using the technology to sort species that carry malaria from those that do not, and to rapidly separate male and female tsetse flies. These tiny, biting insects carry the parasite that causes sleeping sickness, a disease ravaging several countries in Africa. Distinguishing sexes early in development gives researchers more time to sterilize male tsetse flies and transport them to strategic release sites in Africa. Releasing large numbers of sterile males over time should cause tsetse fly populations to ultimately crash.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Erin Peabody, (301) 504-1624, email@example.com; March 3, 2005. Read more in the March issue of Agricultural Research: www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar05/health0305.htm.
Tracking Antimicrobial-Resistant Organisms
Agricultural Research Service microbiologist Paula Fedorka-Cray, research leader of the agency's Bacterial Epidemiology and Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit at Athens, leads a team that is testing for antimicrobial resistance in food-borne microbes. Bacterial samples are taken from sick and healthy farm animals and animal slaughter facilities. The scientists test more than 17,000 bacterial samples a year.
Patterns of resistance are difficult to discern, because bacteria don't react predictably and uniformly to antibiotic treatment. For instance, the many types of Campylobacter respond differently to antimicrobial drugs; and Salmonella has more than 2,400 types, each apparently developing resistance to antibiotics at a different rate. Of all Salmonella types tested from 1997 to 2003, the rate of single-drug resistance has remained relatively stable at 9.5% of samples; but the number of Salmonella types that are resistant to more than five drugs rose from 11 to 20 percent. Those that are resistant to more than 10 drugs rose from 0.8 to almost 6 percent.
The researchers have the nation's largest descriptive database of resistant populations of bacteria recovered from animals over time. The data will be used to determine the probability that resistance will occur or be maintained if antibiotics are used. Changes in antibiotic use in food-animal production are being made in response to the development of resistance to the drugs.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Sharon Durham, (301) 504-1611, firstname.lastname@example.org; March 8, 2005. Read more in the March 2005 issue of Agricultural Research at:
Western Maine Farm Fund Makes Record Loans
Western Mountains Alliance recognizes that if agriculture in western Maine is to be stabilized and/or grown, a loan program needs to reflect the reality of the small farms in Oxford, Somerset, Piscataquis, northern Androscoggin and Franklin counties. The Alliance established the Western Maine Farm Fund: A Loan With Local Roots in January 2003, through the generosity of an anonymous donor who wants to enhance agriculture in the region by funding a loan program that is accessible and attractive to the agricultural community. "As of March 2005 the Farm Fund has guaranteed 12 low, fixed-interest rate loans for eight farms in four western Maine counties, totaling $223,000, through partnerships with Bangor Savings, Franklin Savings, Skowhegan Savings, Androscoggin Bank and UnitedKingfield Bank," says Tricia Cook, Farm Fund Coordinator at the Alliance. "With loans currently under advisement we will soon be over the quarter million dollar mark." This innovative loan program helps farmers buy equipment or land, make improvements and/or meet marketing costs.
Western Maine has a rich agricultural heritage. As in the past, the region's approximately 1,000 farms are still mostly small (averaging a little more than 200 acres), family-owned and diversified, and their farmers continue to recreate themselves to adapt to changing times. Yet fewer and fewer farmers seek loans now, because they know they are not necessarily the best of risks. Also, banks are often reluctant to make small loans to farmers due to a lack of understanding of agriculture and farming. A Piscataquis county farmer who learned about the Farm Fund from his banker said, "Finally, a program that the farmers and commercial bankers - both sides of the desk - embrace."
Western Mountains Alliance's Farm Fund is designed to meet the credit needs of farmers in the region. Participating banks offer low-interest loans, currently fixed at 4.5% and ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 with terms ranging from 120 days to eight years. The farmers must be able to demonstrate a "reasonable" credit history. The loans may cover up to 85% of the cost of the project. Loans can be made for purchase of new and used equipment, improvement or expansion of farm infrastructure, purchase or lease of land, working capital, and marketing. They support primarily profit-motivated agricultural enterprises raising field crops, animals and fruit trees.
Established in 1987, The Western Mountains Alliance strives to improve the quality of life and to strengthen the regional identity of the western mountains region of Maine. It is committed to sustaining and growing the region's farms. Interested farmers may stop at a participating bank for a brochure, contact Tricia Cook, Farm Fund Coordinator at 778-8143, or visit www.westernmountainsalliance.org.
Organic Ag May Raise Antioxidant Levels in Produce
The Organic Center's second State of Science Review (SSR) concludes that organic
farming methods can elevate average antioxidant levels, especially in fresh produce. The
report, "Elevating Antioxidant Levels Through Organic Farming and Food Processing,"
reveals that on average, antioxidant levels were about 30 % higher in organic than
conventional food grown under the same conditions. The report reviews, among other
data, 15 quantitative comparisons of antioxidant levels in organic versus conventional
produce. Organically grown produce had higher levels in 13 out of 15 cases. On average,
the organic crops contained about one-third higher antioxidant and/or phenolic content
than comparable conventional produce. Several studies found levels of specific vitamins,
flavonoids or antioxidants in organic foods to be two or three times the level found in
matched samples of conventional foods.
Source: Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;
Monsanto Warns Two Billion Farmers: Stop Saving Seeds
Since the advent of farming, farmers have collected seeds at harvest to have enough seed
for the next year's planting. Concerned that seed saving by farmers reduces their profits,
seed and biotech giants like Monsanto have rammed though controversial "intellectual
property laws" in numerous countries that make traditional seed saving a crime. Last
year, Monsanto harassed and/or sued more than 500 U.S. farmers who saved their seeds,
forcing them to pay the company over $15 million in fines and/or serve up to eight-month
long prison sentences.
Source: Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;
www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/seedsaving031405.cfm [Note: The Center for Food Safety has a toll-free hotline for farmers who are being sued or threatened by Monsanto: 1-888-FARMHLP. See also www.centerforfoodsafety.org.]
Judge Rules Against One Million Vietnamese in Favor of Monsanto
On March 10, conservative Judge Jack B. Weinstein ruled against compensating
Vietnamese children and adults who have suffered serious health damage due to the
intensive spraying of the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange
was widely applied to remove forest cover, despite being categorized as a highly toxic
dioxin to humans. Monsanto Corporation (the original producer of Agent Orange), Dow
and others claimed the chemical is not toxic, even though it is banned globally now for
that very reason. Over a million Vietnamese suffer serious health problems, ranging from
cancer to birth defects, due to exposure to Agent Orange, which persists in the nation's
environment. Birth defect rates are among the highest in the world where Agent Orange
was applied. Children are frequently born without eyes, limbs, or are even missing
internal organs. Weinstein claimed that pesticides and birth defects are not related,
saying, "There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs. The case is dismissed."
Source: Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;
Birth Defect Rates Skyrocket on Florida Farms
The state of Florida launched an investigation in March 2005 into illegally exposing
migrant workers to pesticides. At least 4,609 pesticide regulations were violated in the
last 10 years, but only 7.6% of those resulted in penalties. Thus, migrant farm workers
unknowingly face highly dangerous working conditions in order to supply the nation with
cheap produce. For example, in Immokalee, Florida, migrant workers in pesticide-intensive tomato fields have witnessed three children born with severe birth defects in the
last three months. "People have mentioned to me that maybe this has to do with
chemicals," says Francisca Herrera, who was told it was "safe" to work in the tomato
fields for most of her pregnancy. Recently Francisca's baby was born without arms
Source: Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;
UK Schools Going Organic
Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced a new government-based "School Food Trust,"
wherein junk foods will be removed from schools, while organic "made-from-scratch"
meals will be instituted. According to Blair, "If changes are made it will only be a matter
of months before British health, education and farming could be affected for the better. It
could be one of the biggest food revolutions that England has ever seen."
Source: Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;
Loans and Grants for Renewable/Efficient Energy Systems
USDA has announced the availability of $22.8 million to support investments in
renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements by agricultural producers
and rural small businesses. Funds will be available to support a wide range of
technologies encompassing biomass (including anaerobic digesters), geothermal,
hydrogen, solar and wind energy, as well as energy efficiency improvements. Of the
funding, $11.4 million is available immediately for competitive grants. Renewable
energy grant applications must be for a minimum of $2,500 and a maximum of $500,000.
Energy efficiency grant applications may range from $2,500 to $250,000. The grant
request may not exceed 25% of the eligible project cost. Applications must be submitted
to the appropriate Rural Development State Office postmarked no later than June 27,
2005. The remaining $11.4 million will be set aside through August 31, 2005, for
renewable energy and energy efficiency guaranteed loans. Source: Agriculture Today and www.rurdev.usda.gov/rd/nofas/2005/reeigp032805.html.
Cows Genetically Engineered to Resist Mastitis
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have used gene-transfer technologies to produce Jersey dairy cows that resist a bacterial infection called mastitis. The USDA claims that currently, vaccines, antibiotics and a cow's own immune system cannot
effectively fight the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, a major cause of mastitis.
A scientific team led by Robert J. Wall, an animal physiologist with the ARS
Biotechnology and Germplasm Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., built a transgene--genetic
material produced using recombinant DNA technology--that includes the genetic code for
producing a naturally occurring, antimicrobial protein called lysostaphin. While all milk contains several naturally occurring antimicrobial proteins, such as lysozyme and lactoferrin, none of the milk produced by the three GE cows in this research will be consumed. Use of milk containing lysostaphin would require federal regulatory approval after rigorous food safety testing.
The research shows that the gene for secreting lysostaphin comes from a non-pathogenic
species of Staphylococcus that uses the protein to repel S. aureus. The lysostaphin is secreted into milk, where it kills S. aureus, thus protecting cows from becoming infected.
All three transgenic cows showed little or no sign of infection after repeated exposures to S. aureus, and one never became infected. The researchers found that 71% of the mammary glands that were exposed to S. aureus from nontransgenic animals became infected, compared with only 14% for the transgenic animals. When contacted, the ARS told The MOF&G that these "control" cows were raised conventionally; the experiment had no organic control.
The scientists plan to study similar defenses against other pathogens that affect dairy cattle and to test the ability to make common dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, from milk from the GE cows.
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301) 504-4318, email@example.com; April 4, 2005; personal correspondence, April 7, 2005.
Based on bloom dates for lilacs, apples and grapes, spring is arriving up to a week earlier
in the Northeast than it did 40 years ago, say researchers at Cornell University and the
University of Wisconsin. Lilacs are blooming about four days earlier and apples and
grapes six to eight days earlier than in 1965--findings similar to those in other parts of the
United States and in Europe.
Source: Gleanings, Winter 2005; Connecticut NOFA; and
Roundup® Kills Amphibians
Roundup®, the second most commonly applied herbicide in the United States, is "extremely lethal" to amphibians, says Rick Relyea, assistant professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh. His field experiment is one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, and the results may provide a key link to global amphibian declines.
In a paper titled "The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and
Productivity of Aquatic Communities," published in Ecological Applications,
Relyea examined how a pond's entire community--25 species, including crustaceans,
insects, snails and tadpoles--responded to the addition of the manufacturers'
recommended doses of two insecticides--Sevin® (carbaryl) and malathion--and two
herbicides--Roundup® (glyphosate) and 2,4-D.
Relyea found that Roundup® caused a 70% decline in amphibian biodiversity and
an 86% decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree
frog tadpoles were completely eliminated, and wood frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles were
nearly eliminated. One species of frog, spring peepers, was unaffected.
"The most shocking insight coming out of this was that Roundup®, something designed
to kill plants, was extremely lethal to amphibians," said Relyea, who conducted the
research at Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. "We added Roundup®, and the next
day we looked in the tanks and there were dead tadpoles all over the bottom."
Relyea initially conducted the experiment to see whether Roundup® would indirectly affect frogs by killing their food source, the algae. However, the herbicide actually increased the amount of algae in the pond because it killed most of the frogs.
Previous research had found that the lethal ingredient in Roundup® was not the herbicide itself, glyphosate, but the surfactant, or detergent, that allows the herbicide to
penetrate the waxy surfaces of plants. In Roundup®, that surfactant is polyethoxylated tallowamine. Other herbicides have less dangerous surfactants: For example, Relyea's study found that 2,4-D had no effect on tadpoles.
"We've repeated the experiment, so we're confident that this is, in fact, a repeatable result," said Relyea.
Source: University of Pittsburgh Press Release, April 1, 2005; Karen Hoffman
EPA Sweet on Atrazine
As the spring herbicide application season gets underway, more calls are heard to limit
atrazine, the most widely used agricultural chemical in the United States and a nearly ubiquitous contaminant of surface and ground water. Legislation to ban the herbicide was introduced in Minnesota for the second year in a row, and regulators in Australia are reconsidering approval of the herbicide. Meanwhile, on February 17, 2005, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for holding upwards of 40 private meetings with atrazine's manufacturer, Syngenta, while the agency was conducting a special review of the herbicide to consider its impacts on amphibians and links to cancer in humans. That review resulted in EPA approving, in 2003, continued use of the herbicide.
The European Union has banned atrazine due to groundwater contamination, and
Syngenta has made alternative products available in some nations. In 2002 the herbicide
was listed by the UN Environmental Programme as a globally important persistent toxic
substance with the potential for regional transport. Measurable levels of the herbicide
have been found in rain and fog in Europe and in the United States, where atrazine has been detected at levels higher than EPA's safety standard in the drinking water serving more than a million U.S. residents.
In Minnesota, where the herbicide is applied to 45% of the state's corn acreage, surface water monitoring by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) reports
atrazine in all regularly sampled rivers, with contamination in some rivers at levels
presenting clear health risks to pregnant women and children. Sampling by MDA during
rainy seasons, for example, revealed atrazine in the Whitewater River ranging from 1.8 to 15.1 parts per billion between 2001 and 2003, and measured levels in one season as high as 32 parts per billion. The EPA drinking water standard is 3 ppb, and the California standard for drinking water is 1 part per billion.
Two weeks ago the Minnesota House Agriculture and Rural Development committee
rejected two bills banning atrazine, but supporters plan to re-introduce language
phasing out the herbicide. A "Citizens Right to Know" bill that would allow citizen access to pesticide application data was also before the committee. Jannette Brimmer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy highlighted the importance of the right to know legislation: "At a time when we are learning of chemically-castrated and hermaphroditic frogs, fish and birds, it is unacceptable that we currently have no way of accurately determining where, how much and what kinds of pesticides are being applied in Minnesota."
In a recent article in BioScience, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, author of studies indicating that low levels of atrazine affect sexual development in frogs, analyzed several Syngenta-funded studies widely reported to dispute the results of his extensive laboratory and field research. In the article Hayes dryly notes that "data presented in these studies are not in disagreement with my laboratory's peer-reviewed, published data" and points to careless animal husbandry practices and contaminated reference sites that produced data inappropriate for comparison with his published data.
In 2002, Dr. Hayes reported chemical castration (demasculization) and feminization of
frogs at low but ecologically relevant concentrations of atrazine. Earlier work by Hayes and his laboratory with funding from Syngenta was disputed by the agro-chemical giant and not published. Hayes duplicated his work independently, examining leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) across a transect from Utah to the Iowa/Illinois border, and detecting frog abnormalities similar to those found in his laboratory in every site where atrazine levels were over 0.1 ppb. When Hayes' work was published, EPA was midway through a special review of atrazine. Syngenta continued to dispute Hayes' findings while also offering him $2 million to continue his research in "a private setting."
In October of 2003 EPA ended its special review and allowed continued use of atrazine.
Instead of addressing water contamination issues, EPA developed an agreement with
Syngenta to conduct a monitoring program in 40 watersheds, fewer than 4% of the
1,000 streams identified by the EPA as being at highest risk for atrazine contamination.
Under this deal, Syngenta would then determine the effects and mitigation needed for the
herbicide's continued use.
EPA also reversed an earlier finding and concluded that atrazine was not likely to cause
cancer in humans, despite the fact that atrazine has been strongly implicated as a human
carcinogen. A number of studies have connected farmworker exposures with increased
risk of prostate cancer, and atrazine water contamination with increased risk of breast
The NRDC's legal challenge to EPA is similar to a suit it filed more than 20 years ago, also charging EPA with making deals with industry. As that case progressed, EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch resigned amid allegations of improper industry influence, and the agency agreed to strict criteria of open and transparent decision making around the re-registration or "special review" of pesticides. Those restrictions forbade EPA to make a final decision based on negotiations with industry and required a balance of perspectives in committees of outside advisors. The NRDC lawsuit charges that EPA has ignored these regulations in its regulation of atrazine.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Press Release, March 31, 2005; Tyrone B. Hayes, "There is No Denying This: Defusing the Confusion about Atrazine," Bioscience, December 2004, Vol. 54, No. 12, p. 1138-1149; Pesticide Monitoring in Water Resources: Annual Data Report, February 24, 2005, www.mda.state.mn.us/appd/ace/reports/2005annual.pdf; Press Release, Minnesota
Center for Environmental Advocacy, www.mncenter.org; Press Release, Feb 17,
2005, NRDC, www.nrdc.org.
Organic Trade Association Addresses Issues Concerning Organic Standards
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) says it will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help address issues concerning the National Organic Program (NOP) raised by the Jan. 26, 2005, rulings in the lawsuit brought by Arthur Harvey of Maine against the Secretary of Agriculture (Harvey v. Veneman). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit based in Boston, Mass., ruled in favor of three of seven issues Harvey raised concerning technical inconsistencies between the national organic standards implemented in 2002 and the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. In its ruling, the court called for the following changes to NOP regulations:
1) For multi-ingredient products labeled as "Organic" (at least 95% organic ingredients), OFPA bars synthetic substances. NOP regulations have allowed 38 synthetics, such as baking powder, to be used in these organic processed foods on a limited basis after strict review. Most of the synthetics that have been approved up to now would no longer be allowed.
2) NOP regulations have allowed whole dairy herds transitioning to organic production to
use 80% organic feed for the first nine months. However, because OFPA requires all organic dairy animals to receive organic feed for 12 months prior to the sale of milk or milk products, this provision no longer can be followed.
3) For multi-ingredient products labeled as "Organic" (at least 95% organic ingredients), agricultural products not available commercially as organic must have individual reviews in order to be used in the 5% not required to be organic.
If USDA chooses not to appeal the decision, the process for changing the regulations will take time, during which those within the industry expect to be able to comment.
Source: Organic Trade Association Press Release, Jan. 27, 2005; P.O. Box 547 Greenfield, MA 01302; Holly Givens, 413-774-7511, Ext. 18.
EPA Won't Test Pesticides on Children
Acting EPA director Steve Johnson has terminated a Florida program called CHEERS, cosponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Chemistry Council, that planned to pay low income families that continued to expose their children to pesticides. The Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS), would have paid $970 over two years if parents in Duval County, Florida, who regularly used pesticides in their homes would continue such use around their young children.
Source: "EPA cancels program testing pesticides on young children," by John Byrne, at
OMB Undermines Guidelines on Cancer Risk
This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised 20-year-old
standards for assessing the risks of cancer from exposures to environmental pollutants.
The new guidelines acknowledge the mounting evidence that children under two years of
age are 10 times more likely than adults to get cancer from certain chemicals, but the new guidelines may never take effect, because the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has added language to the regulations that will allow industry to block their implementation.
Cancer risk assessment guidelines provide a blueprint for agency regulators to determine
the risks of cancer in humans from exposure to a certain chemical and to set allowable
residues of pesticides or other chemicals in food, air, water, waste and contaminated
sites. When the first risk assessments were adopted in 1986, little was understood about
the vulnerability of different subpopulations to adverse health effects from chemical
exposure. The new guidelines seek to correct this. "EPA notes that childhood may be a
lifestage of greater susceptibility for a number of reasons, such as rapid growth and
development that occurs prenatally and after birth, differences related to an immature
metabolic system, and differences in diet and behavior patterns that may increase
exposure." The EPA also designed the guidance to reflect new evidence as it becomes known.
The regulations, including the children's supplemental guidelines, were issued by EPA in
March 2003. In its review, the agency's Scientific Advisory Board agreed with EPA's
conclusion that early-life exposures to chemical pollutants increase cancer risk and
recommended the guidelines be finalized as written.
Instead, the guidelines went to OMB for review and sat there for two years. Finally,
OMB added language allowing the chemical industry or an outside party to challenge the
way the guidelines are applied for chemical assessment in a process termed "expert
elicitation." The OMB also inserted the requirement that EPA assessments meet OMB
standards for implementation of the Data Quality Act, an obscure piece of legislation
written by an industry lobbyist and slipped into an appropriations bill in 2000 with little debate. The two-sentence Act requires OMB to ensure that all information disseminated by the federal government is reliable. The Data Quality Act has been used primarily by industry to forestall regulation.
The Washington Post found that 32 of 39 petitions filed during the first 20 months of the Data Quality Act were filed by regulated industries, business or trade organizations or their lobbyists. Among those was an American Chemistry Council petition that challenged data used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for a ban on the use of wood treated with heavy metals and arsenic in playground equipment. Another petition, filed for Syngenta, argued that atrazine should not be restricted as an
endocrine disruptor, despite hundreds of pages of scientific evidence, because EPA had
not yet established a "regulatory endpoint" or official measurement for endocrine
Consumers, environmental groups and worker advocates argue that the Data Quality Act
is biased in favor of industry, since it asks the government to use only data that have
achieved a level of certainty rare in statistical or epidemiological research. Thus scientific information that should trigger regulation is discounted.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, April 8, 2005, www.panna.org;
US EPA, "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment" and Supplemental
Guidance on Risks From Early-Life Exposure; OMBWatch, April 4, 2005,
www.ombwatch.org; The New York Times, April 4, 2005; Washington Post, August 14,
2004; Davis, Devra, When Smoke Ran Like Water, Tales of Environmental Deception
and the Battle Against Pollution, 2002, Basic Books, New York, N.Y.
Steady Growth in Organic Market
The Organic Trade Association reports that sales of organic products reached $12.7 billion in 2004, with a steady growth rate of nearly 20% per year over the past 12 years. (OTA press release, April 12, 2005; www.ota.com) Meanwhile, the Natural Marketing Institute says that 23% of U.S. shoppers are now organic consumers. (Source: Organic Bytes #55, April 12, 2005, Organic Consumers Association; www.organicconsumers.org/organic/23percent32905.cfm)
Monsanto Buys Seminis
Monsanto Co. has bought Seminis Inc. of Oxnard, California. Siminis supplies seed of more than 3,500 varieties to commercial growers, seed distributors and dealers. Other Monsanto labels include DeKalb and Asgrow. The billion dollar acquisition makes Monsanto the largest seed dealer in the world.
In response to the purchase, CR Lawn of Fedco Seeds sent letters to all customers who had ordered after mid-January, asking whether Fedco should drop the Seminis/Monsanto varieties, keep them and give them a supplier code of 6 (their own code) or keep them and retain Seminis' current supplier code of 5. A revision made to the letter on Feb. 18 offered an additional choice: to phase out Seminis varieties over two to three years. Of about 950 responses, 53% voted to drop and 17% to phase out Seminis seeds, and the Fedco staff overwhelmingly favored dropping or phasing out the Monsanto varieties.
Fedco had decided to purchase a one-year supply of most of the Seminis varieties before the merger was completed (the estimated date for the transfer is late summer, 2005). That purchase is now complete and the seeds are in house. Fedco will not replace seed stocks of these varieties when they run out and will not do business with Monsanto. The varieties will be listed in the Fedco catalog with a warning to gardeners and farmers that they are due to be discontinued from Fedco's selection. Fedco will look for suitable replacements for hybrid varieties in its trials and will try to find alternative sources of open-pollinated varieties. In some cases, Fedco's network of farmer seed-growers may be able to produce these. Additional rationales for Fedco's decision will be prominently featured in its 2006 catalog.
Rob Johnston Jr. of Johnny's Selected Seeds says that Johnny's relationship with Seminis is unlikely to change as a result of the Monsanto acquisition, since its use of Seminis as a product source has been purposely declining over the years.
"Seminis was founded on the consolidation by the new owners of several independent seed companies," says Johnston. "The focus of the consolidated company has been on big acreage world market opportunities, which tend to have different product needs than our core customer, which is the specialty and small commercial grower and critical home gardener."
For several years Johnny's has been finding improvements from other sources to replace Seminis products. Presently the company carries some 30 Seminis products. "They're good varieties, but our customers won't miss them as we replace them with better ones," says Johnston.
Source: "Monsanto Buys Seminis," by Matthew Dillon, The New Farm, Feb. 22, 2005;
www.newfarm.org/features/2005/0205/seminisbuy/index.shtml. Fedco Seeds letter to customers, Jan. 25, 2005. Personal communication with CR Lawn and Rob Johnston.
Nutrient Deficiencies Promote Violence and Aggression
The American Journal of Psychiatry has published a study connecting nutrient deficiencies to aggressive behavior in children. Children who suffered deficiencies of zinc, iron, B vitamins and protein demonstrated a 41% increase in aggression at age eight, and by age 17, a 51% increase in violent and antisocial behaviors. The study noted that 80% of the U.S. population is deficient in one or more of these nutrients, due in major part to increasing consumption of junk foods and beverages.
Source: Organic Bytes #55, April 12, 2005, Organic Consumers Association; www.organicconsumers.org/school/aggression040405.cfm
Industrial Hemp Gains Ground in Four States
Industrial hemp may be on the threshold of enjoying a new renaissance. On March 9, Governor John Hoeven of North Dakota signed House Bill 1492, which directs the North Dakota State University to start storing "feral hemp seed" in preparation for the day when growing industrial hemp becomes legal under federal law.
On March 23, New Hampshire House Bill 55-FN-A passed; this would let farmers apply for a state license to grow industrial hemp. The bill was headed for the Senate for consideration as we went to press.
On April 6, a hearing was held in Oregon for Senate Bill 294, which permits production and possession of industrial hemp and trade in industrial hemp commodities and products. And on April 27, a California hearing was to consider Assembly Bill AB 1147, which, if passed, would give farmers the right to apply for state licenses to grow industrial hemp.
Source: Organic Bytes #55, April 12, 2005, Organic Consumers Association;
Restrictions on Supplements Possible
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international body to resolve trade disputes between countries, using industry regulations established by other organizations. For food products the WTO uses standards established or being established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). Once a Codex standard is developed and approved by the CAC, WTO member nations must conform. If a trade dispute comes before the WTO, economic trade sanctions can be used to enforce compliance.
The CAC assigns development of new standards to specific Codex committees. For many years one of the assignments of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) has been to create "Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements." These Guidelines are to dictate which nutrients are deemed safe, the maximum and minimum amounts allowed in a product, and related packaging and labeling requirements.
The document "Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements" is proposed to be much more restrictive then corresponding rules and regulations in the United States. If finalized and enforced, these Guidelines could take away the American public's access to vitamin and mineral supplements.
The American Health Association (http://ahha.org/codexOV.htm) encourages consumers to research this issue and take action.
Conventional Blueberries to be Ground Sprayed
Maine's two largest blueberry growers, Cherryfield Foods Inc. and Jasper Wyman & Sons, will no longer apply pesticides aerially, but will switch to ground-based spraying.
Environmental groups (Toxics Action Center, Environment Maine, the Sierra Club and Beyond Pesticides) had threatened to sue the companies under the Clean Water Act, saying that aerial sprays drift into sensitive waters and threaten natural resources.
Source: "Blueberry grower agrees to halt aerial pesticide spraying," by John Richardson, Portland Press Herald, April 7, 2005.
British Farmers to be Paid for Environmental Stewarship
On March 3, 2005, the British government changed its agricultural funding so that farmers will become eligible for payments to protect and enhance the environment in addition to earning money for food production. The new funding will encourage farmers to maintain hedgerows, provide habitat for birds and small mammals, tend wildflower plots for beneficial insects, protect ponds from farm chemicals and encourage amphibians.
Every farmer will be encouraged to partake in this "Environmental Stewardship," which will shift British agriculture away from the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding. The CAP linked production directly to earnings and promoted excess production and environmental damage. The EU reformed the CAP two years ago, paying farmers based on the area they farm rather than how much they harvest. This payment required meeting minimum environmental standards. With the new Environmental Stewardship payments, farmers can increase their income substantially.
Source: "Farmers to be paid for protecting countryside," by Michael McCarthy, The Independent, London, March 4, 2005.
Refuse to Use Lawn Chemicals
Two national campaigns are highlighting the risks of lawn and garden pesticides. With evidence that exposure to lawn care chemicals presents health risks to children and pets and pollutes water and the environment, both campaigns ask that households switch to nontoxic alternatives. The Toxics Action Center in Boston has targeted TruGreen ChemLawn, the nation's largest provider of lawn care services, and urges consumers to "Refuse to Use ChemLawn." The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns asks consumers to use nontoxic alternatives, to urge retailers to stock nontoxic lawn care products, and to pressure public officials for protection from the aesthetic use of pesticides.
A report by the Toxics Action Center reveals ChemLawn's aggressive marketing practices and analyzes the 32 pesticide products the company markets to its household customers. More than half of the products include ingredients identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the World Health Organization as possible carcinogens; one-third contain known or suspected endocrine disruptors; and more than a quarter contain reproductive toxins. Over 40% of the chemicals on ChemLawn's list contain ingredients banned in other countries, and all products in their arsenal pose threats to water supplies, aquatic organisms and nontarget insects.
Each year, homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens. Home use of pesticides rose 42% between 1998 and 2001 and now represents the only growth sector of the U.S. pesticide market. Pesticides are also applied more intensively for lawn care, with applications rates between 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre for lawns, as opposed to agricultural averages of 2.7 pounds per acre.
This intensive pesticide use occurs where children, who are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of pesticide exposure, live and play. The Toxics Action Center report notes that "children's internal organs are still developing and maturing and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult." Researchers are increasingly identifying several especially vulnerable stages of child development, including fetal and adolescent developmental windows, in which chemical exposures can permanently alter future development.
Pesticides applied on residential and commercial lawns can migrate indoors. An EPA study found that residues from outdoor pesticides are tracked in by pets and by people's shoes, and can increase the pesticide loads in carpet dust as much as 400-fold. Pesticides can also persist for years within homes, where they do not degrade from exposure to sunlight or rain.
TruGreen ChemLawn sells its services through aggressive telemarketing campaigns, one of which was an arrangement with the US Youth Soccer program to market services to parents of soccer-playing kids. Under pressure from public health and environmental groups, US Youth Soccer ended its relationship with TruGreen ChemLawn in January of this year. A number of states have penalized the company for its aggressive and misleading marketing.
Both consumer campaigns emphasize nontoxic lawn care alternatives. Groups such as the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) regularly train and certify professionals in pesticide-free landscaping services. The Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns, representing groups across the nation, notes the number of communities that have adopted a precautionary approach, including a Natural Yard Care Program by local government in the Seattle area, and the 70 Canadian cities that have restricted or banned the aesthetic use of pesticides.
For more information, visit www.RefuseToUseChemLawn.org/ or www.beyondpesticides.org/pesticidefreelawns/.
Sources: "Refuse to Use Lawn Chemicals," Pesticide Action Network Updates Service,
April 15, 2005; "Refuse to Use ChemLawn, Be Truly Green, Why Lawn Care Pesticides are Dangerous to Your Children, Pets and the Environment," Matthew Wilson and Jay Rasku, Toxics Action Center, March 2005, 44 Winter Street, Boston, MA 02108; Backgrounder, National Coalition for Pesticide Free Lawns, Beyond Pesticides, www.beyondpesticides.org/pesticidefreelawns.
Contact: Toxics Action Center, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-292-4821; Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450; Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0237.
"Inert" Ingredient in Roundup not so Benign
French biochemists have found that Roundup herbicide damaged placenta cells at least twice as much as glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) alone. Likewise, Roundup inhibited the activity of the sex hormone enzyme aromatase at a concentration four times less than that of glyphosate. These studies suggest that "inert" ingredients in Roundup make the herbicide more available to cells and help it penetrate cells more easily.
Sources: Richard, S. et al, 2005. Differential effects of glyphosate and Roundup on human placental cells and aromatase. Environ. Health Persp. Doi:10.1289/ehp.7728 (at http://dx.doi.org); Cox, Caroline, "Another 'Inert' Surprise in a Commonly Used Herbicide," J. of Pesticide Reform, Spring 2005.
Alternatives to USDA Organic
Elizabeth Henderson wrote in Growing for Market about her participation in an IFOAM-sponsored, week-long gathering to consider alternatives to organic certification. She and 39 others from 20 countries met in Brazil and found that they shared "core principles based on sustainable, ecological practices with a strong current striving for social justice, equity, and gender balance." They called their effort Participatory Guarantee Systems-ways to decentralize and simplify certification so that it's available even to very small farms, poor farmers, and focusing on those who sell directly to customers. Ron Khosla, who started a "Certified Naturally Grown" participatory guarantee system four years ago to counter "agribusiness organic," also attended the Brazil meeting. His Certified Naturally Grown program now enrolls 300 farmers. He has posted documents related to the IFOAM gathering at www.naturallygrown.org/pgs.
Certified Naturally Grown farmers join with other farmers in their region to develop standards and abide by certain practices. Enrolled farmers or other interested parties do inspections annually (without doing mutual inspections). Information about Certified Naturally Grown is available at www.naturallygrown.org.
Sources: "International group recognized non-certified organic growers," by Elizabeth Henderson; and "U.S. alternatives to certification gather steam." Growing for Market, April 2005.
Maine Producers Receive SARE Farmer/Grower Grants
In October 2005, organic standards will no longer permit use of synthetic methionine in organic poultry production. Methionine is an essential supplement in the production of eggs and meat. In its natural form, methionine is available in meat, sunflower seeds and some aglae. Many organic poultry growers are ethically opposed to feeding meat to their poultry. Catherine Albert of Jalko Farms in Madawaska produces organic grains and is looking for an alternative for small flock poultry producers. She has received a small Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Farmer/Grower grant to determine the merits of using sunflower seeds as the organic source of methionine. This summer she will conduct sunflower variety trials, determine an efficient method for de-hulling seeds and conduct feeding trials on Jalko Farm's small poultry flock.
Day-neutral strawberry production in the Northeast is difficult for organic producers due to tarnished plant bug (TPB) damage. Mark Jacoby of Columbia, Maine, will compare conventional methods of scouting TPB nymphs with a method that traps and counts flying adults. The project manager will use these scouting techniques to assess the effectiveness of a screen barrier deterrent to TPB and an organic pyrethrum control.
Mia Morrison of Charleston, Maine, is involved with two SARE Farmer/Grower grants. As Secretary for the Maine Organic Milk Producers Association (MOMPA), she and other organic dairy producers will research the quality of feed they provide to their dairy herds. A group of dairy farmers has started producing its own grain and experimenting with different stored forages. The project will sample the nutrient quality of the feed being produced over the year. They will analyze feed characteristics to try to determine the variation in purchased feed, the quality of organic grain grown on their own farms, and the variation in quality of their stored forages.
In a separate grant, Morrison will research alternative forage programs. Purchased concentrates are the largest expense on organic dairy farms, so identifying alternative forage programs is important. This project will investigate the efficacy of growing winter barley in central Maine and will look at integrating combinations of intensive grazing with round bale harvest of winter barley in the soft-dough stage. Many organic dairy producers have attempted to extend grazing by keeping cattle on pastures later in the season. Morrison will plant winter barley in the fall and extend grazing by putting cattle on the pasture in the early spring. She will then harvest and store the matured barley. The harvested barley will all be cut at its dough stage. The variables will be barley that was grazed at early, mid and late season. The quality of the stored forage will be analyzed.
John O'Meara of New Sweden received a grant to evaluate the effectiveness of northern white cedar in controlling varroa mites, a pest that has devastated honey bee populations. One test group will have hives treated with cedar shavings, one will have hives constructed of cedar, and one will have untreated hives. Varroa mite populations will be monitored over one year, and hives will be evaluated for honey production, overall strength, and winter survival.
Susan Sharpe of Franklin, Maine, will investigate the potential for growing broomcorn in Maine. Local broom makers do not have a domestic supply of broomcorn and have to import their supplies from Mexico.
Source: Agriculture Today, April 17, 2005; Maine Dept. of Agriculture; www.maine.gov/agriculture/newsletter/feature_6.htm.
Plants Can Repair Errors in Genes
Plants inherit genetic information from their ancestors and can use it to correct errors in their own genes--a startling capacity for DNA editing and self-repair wholly unanticipated by modern genetics. The newly discovered phenomenon, which resembles the caching of early versions of a computer document for viewing later, allows plants to archive copies of genes from generations ago, long assumed to be lost forever. Then, plants apparently can retrieve bits of code from that archive to overwrite genes they have inherited directly. The process could offer survival advantages to plants suddenly burdened with new mutations or facing environmental threats for which older genes were better adapted.
Scientists predicted that by harnessing the still-mysterious mechanism, they would be able to control plant diseases and create novel varieties of crops. If the mechanism can be invoked in animals--as some tantalized scientists venture may be possible--it may offer a revolutionary way to correct genetic flaws that lead to cancer and other diseases.
"We think this demonstrates that there is a parallel path of inheritance that we've overlooked for 100 years, and that's pretty cool," said Robert E. Pruitt, professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who oversaw the studies with co-worker Susan Lolle.
The finding represents a "spectacular discovery," wrote German molecular biologists Detlef Weigel and Gerd Jurgens in a commentary accompanying the research in Nature. The existence of an unorthodox inheritance system does not overturn the basic rules of genetics worked out by Gregor Mendel in the 1800s, they noted, but it opens a mind-boggling world of possibilities and proves that genetics is still a young science.
"It adds a level of biological complexity and flexibility we hadn't appreciated," said Lolle, who is on leave from Purdue to serve at the National Science Foundation, which funded the work.
The Purdue team began to suspect something unusual while studying a mutation in the mustard family weed Arabidopsis thaliana, a popular plant for genetic study. The mutation was in a gene known as hothead--one of many related genes, including fiddlehead, airhead, pothead and deadhead, that, when mutated, cause abnormalities in stems and flowers.
Arabidopsis plants typically self-fertilize, so when both copies of a gene mutate in a plant, its offspring is bound to be similarly flawed--in hothead's case, exhibiting the parent's mutant flowers. Yet in the Pruitt-Lolle lab, a small but steady percentage of hothead offspring had normal flowers, like those of their grandparents. Somehow the mutation--a single misspelled "letter" of genetic code in a gene made of 1,782 molecular letters--was being repaired. Molecular studies indicated that the plants harbored molecular "memories" of versions of their genetic code going back at least four generations -- versions that could serve as templates to correct mutated stretches of DNA.
The team has not found the templates, but evidence suggests they are pieces of RNA (ribonucleic acid) that can be inherited separately from the chromosomes that carry the primary genetic code in cells.
Source: Agriculture Today, April 17, 2005; Maine Dept. of Agriculture;
Virginia Bans All Raw Milk Production
As of January, all dairy products, from goats, sheep and other animals, produced in Virginia must be pasteurized-or producers can face a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500 per offense plus civil fines of up to $1000. Since 1986, the sale of raw cow's milk has been banned there. Joel Salatin, president of the 300-member Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, says, "If regulations continue, individuals will lose heritage, home, hearth and indigenous foods, and be forced to eat only global government industrial stuff." And this statement was overheard at the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., in February: "When raw milk is outlawed, only outlaws will have raw milk."
Source: Regional Farm & Food Project, New Connections, Spring 2005 Newsletter
Organochlorines Accumulating in North American Birds
Over a dozen species of birds that live in North America all year have about 1 to 10 parts per million (ppm) DDT in their bodies-up to 10 times levels in birds that migrate to Latin America. These nonmigrating species also contain all 17 organochlorine compounds that researcher R. Given Harper of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, studied; migrating birds had only one to five of the compounds. Other research has found similar accumulations in North American birds. Harper hypothesizes that residues of the large amounts of DDT used in the United States in the past may be responsible.
Lindane, a pesticide used to treat seeds and to kill head lice in the United States (except in California, where lindane-based shampoos are banned), was found in most North American birds studied.
The organochlorine chemicals studied are hormone disruptors, which may be linked to learning disorders and other problems in humans.
Source: "Birds on the Brink," by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2005; posted on April 24, 2005, at www.alternet.org/story/21776/.
Audit of National Organic Program Finds Numerous Noncompliances
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) released results of an audit of its accreditation program on Jan. 14, 2005. The audit was conducted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), because the Organic Foods Production Act and the NOP Final Rule mandate regularly assessing the NOP accreditation system against international standards and part of the NOP Rule itself.
The audit found 22 cases where the Agricultural Marketing Services, which accredits the NOP, does not have required policies and procedures in place. Noncompliances at the time of the audit included not having a documented structure of the organization; not having a documented quality system; not having policies for resolving complaints, appeals and disputes; not maintaining a system for all records; and more.
The ANSI report and NOP's responses are posted at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/CertifyingAgents/ANSIReportInfo.html.
Source: "Audit of NOP Accreditation Program Exposes Numerous Weaknesses," by Lynn Coody, The Organic Standard, Issue 47, March 2005.