Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

The Good News
Food Additives
Food Waste
Organic Issues
Seed Saving
Genetic Engineering (GE)
Trouble at USDA?

The Good News

A team of international scientists found that assigning a dollar value to the benefits nature provides agriculture improves the bottom line for farmers while protecting the environment. The study confirms that organic farming systems do a better job of capitalizing on nature’s services. The scientists quantified the economic value of biological control of pests and release of nitrogen from soil organic matter into plant-accessible forms in 10 organic and 10 conventional fields on New Zealand grain farms. The values of the two ecosystem services averaged $146 per acre per year for the organic fields and $64 for conventional fields. Combining the market value of the crops and the non-market value of the two ecosystem services, organic systems averaged $1,165 per acre per year; conventional, $826. Also, the value of the two ecosystem services on the organic farms exceeded the combined cost of traditional pesticide and fertilizer inputs on the conventional farms. (“Study puts a price on the help that nature provides agriculture,” by Sylvia Kantor, Washington State University News, April 14, 2015;; original paper: Sandhu et al. (2015), Significance and value of non-traded ecosystem services on farmland. PeerJ 3:e762; DOI 10.7717/peerj.762)

The Maine legislature was the first in the nation to pay tribute to soils during the United Nations International Year of Soils when it adopted the Joint Resolution Recognizing the Importance of Soils to Maine’s Future Prosperity (HP-584). The resolution sheds light on all the ways soils impact our lives – e.g., clean water, abundant forests, productive agriculture and a way of life rooted in natural resources and the outdoors. Representative Joan Welsh (D-Rockport) sponsored and introduced the resolution, which was co-sponsored in the Senate by Tom Saviello (R- Franklin). Ivan Fernandez, professor of soil science at the University of Maine, has highlighted the role of Maine’s soils in combating and adapting to climate change. Maine’s forest soils, for example, have approximately twice as much carbon as the trees themselves. Healthy soils can act as a carbon sink, facilitating productive forestry and farming. Degraded soils, on the other hand, release carbon into the atmosphere and lead to decreased productivity over time. Healthy soils can also help mitigate the impacts of extreme storm events by efficiently storing and filtering water. (“Maine is the first state to pay tribute to soils during the International Year of Soils,” by Natalie Lounsbury, No-till vegetables (blog), March 12, 2015;

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops, given the rate at which soil is being degraded. But UK researchers have shown that soil in allotments – small plots in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains one-third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25 percent more nitrogen and produces four to 11 times more food per unit area than do farmers. (“We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it,” by George Monbiot, The Guardian, March 25, 2015;; Referenced article: “Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture,” by Jill L. Edmondson et al., Journal of Applied Ecology, April 24, 2014;

Danish and Colombian researchers tested whether improved weed suppression by corn can be achieved by increased crop density and spatial uniformity. Three varieties of corn were sown at three densities (5, 7 and 10.5 seeds per square meter) and in a grid or row pattern under very high weed pressure from Brachiaria brizantha (a tropical grass) in 2012 and 2013. At the highest density in the grid pattern, average weed biomass was reduced by 72 percent (2012) and 58 percent (2013), and average grain yield increased by 48 percent and 44 percent, compared with the standard practice of planting at medium density in rows. A significant density × variety interaction affected weed suppression. A variety with the lowest variation in the angle of insertion of the oldest living leaf at harvest (leaf 6) suppressed weeds best at high density. (“Effects of density and sowing pattern on weed suppression and grain yield in three varieties of maize under high weed pressure,” by C. Marín and J. Weiner, Weed Research, Oct. 2014;

Due to the increased numbers of Maine’s quality restaurants, community supported agriculture farms, women-owned farms and artisan food businesses, Harvard researchers are analyzing Maine’s food economy in the Maine Food Cluster Project. A cluster is a particularly powerful segment of an economy. (“Harvard researchers dig into Maine’s growing food economy,” by Meredith Goad, Portland Press Herald, Jan. 25, 2015;

The Cornell Small Farms Program has announced that insurance policies are now available to outdoor forest mushroom farmers in temperate regions of the United States. Growers interested in cultivation have sometimes found that insurance companies would deny or drop coverage upon learning the farm was planning on mushroom cultivation, mostly over fears of the liability incurred with wrongful identification of a mushroom species or with the sanitary conditions associated with cultivation. Steve Gabriel, agroforestry specialist for Cornell Small Farms, and Lindsay Wickham, area field supervisor for New York Farm Bureau, discussed the issue with Michael Reisinger of Nationwide Insurance. They learned that insurance carriers were unfamiliar with the crop, and once informed of the process could see that forest mushroom cultivation is no riskier than any other produce crop. Further, any concerns about incorrect identification of a species can be alleviated easily with a simple test called spore printing. (“Mushroom growers able to get insured in 2015,” Cornell University, April 15, 2015;

Sales of organic food and non-food products in 2014 in the United States totaled $39.1 billion, up 11.3 percent from 2013, according to the latest survey on the organic industry from the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Organic food sales in 2014, at $35.9 billion, posted an 11 percent rise, while organic non-food sales, at $3.2 billion, jumped almost 14 percent for the biggest annual increase in six years.

The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic a part of their supermarket and retail purchases – from 68 to almost 80 percent of households in southern states, to nearly 90 percent on the West Coast and in New England, according to new market research released Wednesday at OTA’s Annual Policy Conference. Organic sales are nearing a 5 percent share of the total food market and have consistently outshone the 3 percent growth pace for the total food industry.

Organic fruits and vegetables, with $13 billion in sales in 2014, were up 12 percent from the previous year and made up more than 36 percent of all organic food sales. Of all the produce now sold in the United States, 12 percent is organic and has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Organic dairy posted an almost 11 percent jump in sales in 2014 to $5.46 billion. Sales of organic non-food products, at 8 percent of the total organic market, posted the biggest percentage gain in six years, with sales of organic fiber and organic personal care products the stand-out categories. (“U.S. consumers across the country devour record amount of organic in 2014, Organic Trade Assoc., April 2015;

The USDA says the organic industry continues to show remarkable growth domestically and globally, with 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States and a total of 27,814 certified organic operations around the world. According to data released by the Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program, the number of domestic certified organic operations increased by more than 5 percent over the last year. Since the count began in 2002, the number of domestic organic operations has increased by more than 250 percent. The certified operations list is available at (“USDA Announces Record Number of Organic Producers in U.S.,” USDA, April 15, 2015;

In January the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released the Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress – an overview and analysis of the growth, changes and challenges to local and regional food systems. The report also summarized current literature on the connections among local and regional food systems and consumers, the environment and the economy, and policies and programs supporting these systems.

The report defines “local” based on such direct marketing channels as farmers’ markets, roadside stands and u-pick, and such intermediated marketing channels as restaurants, institutions or regional food aggregators.

The report says farmers’ markets have grown by 180 percent since 2006, regional food hubs by 288 percent since 2006-2007, and school district participation in farm to school programs by 430 percent since 2006.

In 2012, 7.8 percent of U.S. farms sold food through local food marketing channels, with 70 percent selling solely through direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels. The other 30 percent combined DTC and intermediated channels or used only intermediated channels. DTC sales and farms with intermediated sales in 2012 were most heavily concentrated in counties in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the West Coast.

The report says the number of farms with DTC sales increased by 17 percent and DTC sales increased by 32 percent between 2002 and 2007; between 2007 and 2012, the number of farms with DTC sales increased by 5.5 percent, but with no change in total DTC sales. The discrepancy may mean that DTC outlets are competing for the same consumer dollar as increasingly popular farmers’ markets, while consumer interest may be plateauing, and/or growing consumer demand for local food may have been met by retailers or food hubs.

The ERS estimates $6.1 billion in local food sales. Local food farms with less than $75,000 in gross cash farm income (GCFI) accounted for 85 percent of all local food farms but generated only 13 percent of all local food sales, while the 5 percent of local food farms that have $350,000 or more in GCFI generated 67 percent of the value of total local food sales. Local food farms of all sales classes marketing at least some food through intermediated marketing channels appear to earn disproportionately larger shares of local food sales.

Produce (vegetable, fruit, and nut) farms accounted for 51 percent of all local food sales and 29 percent of all local food farms, while farms selling livestock and their products represent nearly 50 percent of all local food farms.

Produce farms using DTC sales exclusively generated 45 percent of the $1.2 billion in exclusive DTC food sales. Produce farms using DTC and intermediated marketing channels generated 64 percent of the $1.6 billion in total sales by local food farmers using both marketing channels. And produce farms using exclusively intermediated marketing channels earned 46 percent of the $3.3 billion in sales among farms solely using this channel. Among all U.S. produce farms, 34 percent sold food through local food marketing channels.

In 2012, livestock farms reported $648 million in earnings from DTC sales, nearly half the value of all DTC sales. While the number of livestock farms with DTC sales increased by 1,349 (1.2 percent) between the 2007 and 2012 Census, the number of total U.S. livestock farms declined by 269,833 (18.6 percent) over the same period. The report cites high average costs of compliance with food safety regulations for small meat processors and the dwindling number of small, federally inspected meat processing plants as two main challenges for producers marketing meat locally.

More farmers (including beginning farmers) using DTC marketing reported positive sales in consecutive censuses than those who marketed through traditional channels, but DTC farms expand at a slower rate, possibly because of labor required. (“Got local food? A new report highlights trends,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Feb. 5, 2015;

A USDA report shows that New England farm cash receipts for 2013 rose 4 percent over 2012. Vermont, the highest, had $836 million in receipts, with milk the top earner; and Maine had $740 million, with potatoes leading. The other New England states trailed. (“New England farm receipts up; Vermont, Maine lead,” AP, Concord Monitor, Feb. 21, 2015;

According to the Vermont-based Strolling of the Heifers 2015 Locavore Index, which shows how states support their local food movements, national and state policies that encourage local food programs are having measurable results. Data on farmers' markets, CSAs, farm-to-school programs, food hubs and direct sales show that Vermont leads the the country in locavore sales, with more farmers' markets, CSAs and food hubs per capita than any other state. Vermont farmers received $43.78 per capita through direct sales. Maine ranked second in the index; its farmers took in $18.64 per capita. (“Locavore Index: Vermont leads in local food,” Brattleboro Reformer, April 6, 2015;; the index is posted at

The USDA has invested in agricultural research since the late 1800s but only began funding organic-specific projects in 2002. Since then it has invested more than $142 million into 188 organic farming studies, successfully targeting issues of vital concern to organic farmers, according to a preliminary analysis conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Organic research has emphasized soil nutrient management, soil quality and management of weeds, insect pests and diseases – issues identified as top priorities in multiple surveys of organic and sustainable farmers. The agency has also made significant research investments in crop breeding for organic systems, another top issue for farmers.

However research funding for livestock issues has lagged, and a number of important organic crops, including rice, cotton, tree nuts, medicinal herbs, cut flowers and peanuts, were either under-represented or entirely overlooked.

The analysis also found that newly-emerging issues were addressed, including pollinator conservation, food safety and the increasing need for organic-friendly seed sources.

Some of the earliest projects appear to have produced substantial practical outcomes with modest budgets, while some of the most expensive research lagged in farmer-ready results. (“USDA Organic Research Tackles Vital Issues, Report Says,” Organic Farming Research Center, Feb. 18, 2015;

Small farmers hold up to 75 percent of the seeds needed to produce the world's diverse food crops, and growers with farms smaller than 7 acres preserve diversity through networks of seed and knowledge exchanges, says Penn State geography professor Karl Zimmerer, who studied the issue in 11 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Maintaining this diversity is critical, as about 75 percent of the world's plant genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s, and about 75 percent of the world's food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species. (“Small farmers hold the key to seed diversity: researchers,” by Chris Arsenault, Reuters, Feb. 16, 2015;

The government of El Salvador can buy better seed at lower prices from Salvadoran farmers than from multinational corporations such as Monsanto and Dupont. Local corn seed has consistently outperformed the transnational product, says EcoViva. The Salvadoran Ministry of Agriculture’s Family Agriculture Program provides seed to Salvadoran subsistence farmers. Last year, more than 560,000 Salvadoran family farmers planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture and ensure food security in the rural marketplace. In 2015, rural cooperatives and national associations will produce nearly 50 percent of the government’s corn seed supply, with 8 percent being native (indigenous, heirloom) seed. Producing seed locally provides more than 4,000 local jobs, adds more than $25 million to local economies and saves the Salvadoran government hundreds of thousands of dollars. (“Farmer Cooperatives, Not Monsanto, Supply El Salvador With Seeds,” by Nathan Weller, EcoViva, Feb. 27, 2015;

Delegates representing diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (including hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people, produce some 70 percent of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world, said delegates to the 2015 International Forum for Agroecology. The forum seeks to challenge and transform structures of power in society so that the people who feed the world maintain control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons. Understanding of agroecology as a key element in the construction of food sovereignty is critical, said the delegates, as is developing strategies to promote agroecology and defend it from co-optation. (“Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology,” Feb. 27, 2015;

California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) now offers a “Non-GMO & More” seal for its certified members. The seal underscores the prohibition of ingredients from genetically engineered crops in organic and recognizes the many contributions of organic to a healthier world. Organic is more than non-GMO, says CCOF, because organic production has many other benefits to consumers, such as enhancing soil health and biodiversity, supporting animal welfare, and providing traceability of products produced without synthetic fertilizers or persistent pesticides. (“New CCOF Certification Seal Highlights Non-GMO Status of Organic Food,” California Certified Organic Farmers press release, March 2, 2015;

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s (DACF) Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations reports increased interest in licensing dairy farms. Currently, about 134 Maine farms are licensed to sell dairy products. The number of operations producing artisanal cheese and raw milk products has exploded, says the department.

For a $25 annual license fee, the DACF provides an initial consult with a dairy inspector offering facility and set up advice; a packet of information; monthly analysis and reports of all products made; multiple facility inspections every year; equipment inspections for those who heat-treat or pasteurize; water testing; free lab testing to identify sanitation problems or quality issues (in addition to monthly product testing); access to Maine Cooperative Extension specialists and state veterinarians for additional assistance; and unlimited phone assistance from dairy inspectors.

The department reports that in 2006, 15 licensed facilities offered raw milk for sale. Today Maine has 54 licensed raw milk businesses. In Maine, consumers may purchase “not pasteurized milk” and cheeses from a farm, a farmers’ market or a retail establishment. The number of cheese businesses has tripled to 73 in the past six years. According to a University of Vermont study, Maine is the fastest growing artisan cheese producing state in the country, trailing only New York in number of licensed artisan cheese makers. Maine dairy goat farms increased from 17 in 2008 to 46 in 2014. (“Maine agricultural officials report record interest in obtaining licenses to sell dairy products,” Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry press release, March 4, 2015;

The University of Vermont Cooperative Extension Service is testing remote thermostat technology on nine farms so that growers can use their cell phones to check cold storage conditions for their vegetables. The project has already reduced by up to 50 percent the amount of produce that needs to be culled, adding an average of $10,000 to each farm’s revenue. The university’s remote sensing device costs about $500, with an estimated $500 to install. (“Vermont farms monitor storage conditions by cellphone,” The Barre Montpelier Times Argus, March 8, 2015;

Research by Montana State and North Dakota State University faculty shows that sheep rather than farming equipment can terminate cover crops, possibly enabling farmers who grow organic crops to save money, reduce tillage, manage weeds and pests, and reduce the risk of soil erosion. Using grazing during the two-year project reduced tillage by more than half, and the integrated cropping system using sheep was economically feasible. Lambs were sold for processing after grazing cover crops. (“MSU organic farming study finds diverse benefits using sheep,” by Jenny Lavey, Montana State University, March 18, 2015;

Amanda Beal, a former MOFGA president, is the new Policy and Research Fellow at Maine Farmland Trust (MFT). A sustainable food policy advocate and consultant who grew up on a Maine dairy farm, Beal is widely respected within Maine’s agricultural community. She previously served as president of Cultivating Community and now chairs the Eat Local Foods Coalition, serves on the boards of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the Friends of the Presumpscot River and has been a force behind the early work of the Maine Food Strategy. Beal also co-authored A New England Food Vision, a 2014 report about how New England could grow up to two-thirds of its own food by 2060. Beal is completing her Ph.D. in the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies program at the University of New Hampshire. Her dissertation focuses on how to reclaim former farmland in ways that prevent environmental degradation. She received her M.S. from the agriculture, food and environment program at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. On most weekends Beal continues to help at her father’s Rocky Ridge Organic Farm, a MOFGA-certified organic dairy farm in Litchfield. (“Maine Farmland Trust establishes new program, announces fellow,” Maine Farmland Trust, March 2, 2015;

Maine Farmland Trust will receive a $249,816 federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant to increase access to produce for food insecure Mainers while also benefiting local small and mid-sized farmers. Also as part of a $3.77 million grant with national nonprofit Wholesome Wave, MFT will work with other Maine partners, including MOFGA, to implement incentive programs at markets throughout Maine. (“Food grant will help farmers and hungry people,” Sun Journal, April 3, 2015;



A new study reveals the about 63,000 tons of antibiotics were used worldwide on cows, chickens and pigs in 2010 – about twice the amount prescribed for people. Excess use of antibiotics can contribute to emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Humans’ demand for animal protein is rising globally, and modern [non-organic] production practices (large-scale, intensive operations) are associated with regular use of antimicrobials. Antibiotic use is projected to increase by 67 percent by 2030.  (“Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals,” by Thomas P. Van Boeckel et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Feb. 28, 2015;

Airborne particulate matter from U.S. cattle yards contains antibiotics, bacteria and antibiotic-resistant DNA and may be contributing to the emerging global health problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Texas Tech University researchers collected airborne particulate matter for six months from 10 commercial cattle yards within 200 miles of Lubbock, Texas, and found significant numbers of samples with antibiotics, bacteria, and microbes with antibiotic-resistant genes. (“Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From American Cattle Become Airborne, But Is It Life-Threatening?” by Susan Scutti, Medical Daily, March 30, 2015;; Source: “Antibiotics, Bacteria, and Antibiotic Resistance  Genes: Aerial Transport from Cattle Feed Yards via  Particulate Matter,” by McEachran et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015)



Mycologist Paul Stamets, who owns Fungi Perfecti in Shelton, Washington, noticed that honeybees feed on mushroom mycelium growing in wood chips in his garden. He then showed that polypore mushrooms contain substances that counter some viruses in humans, break down pesticides and boost bees’ immune systems. Now Stamets and Washington State University entomologist Steve Sheppard have found that extracts from some mushrooms growing on Douglas fir, birch and willow trees significantly reduce the virus load in honeybees and that treated honeybees live longer. They are now studying the Metarhizium anisopliae fungus, which can kill Varroa mites without harming bees. Potential delivery methods include incorporating fungal mycelium into compressed sawdust hive panels and placing mycelium-containing cardboard in hives. (“Can mushrooms save the honeybee?,” by Sylvia Kantor, Crosscut, Feb. 16, 2015;

Researchers have found the rate at which a bee colony collapses seems to be related to a change in younger workers’ foraging behavior: They leave the hive to seek food early, when they are inexperienced, and are more likely to die prematurely than workers that begin foraging later in life. Early foraging may be an adaptation to the reduced number of older foraging bees, speculate the researchers. One symptom of Colony Collapse Disorder is disappearance of worker bees. (“Bees in danger: Epidemic of colony collapses is linked to stressed out honeybees,” by Steve Connor, The Independent, Feb. 11, 2015;

In February, the Environmental Protection Agency, without allowing public comment, granted Florida citrus growers a 2 1/2-year emergency exemption to use the bee-killing pesticide clothianidin to control Asian citrus psyllid, a pest that causes “citrus greening,” a devastating citrus plant disease. Clothianidin, not currently registered for use on citrus, is in a class of neurotoxic, systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in global honey bee declines.

“EPA needs to assist in stopping the deadly use of pesticides that harm bees, butterflies, and birds with sustainable practices, rather than imperil pollinators with its decisions,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. He continued, “We understand the immediate chemical needs of chemical-intensive agriculture for increasingly toxic and persistent chemicals, but urge EPA to help stop the treadmill, lest it allow irreversible harm to the environment, biodiversity, and human health.”

Beyond Pesticides is urging EPA to require that growers adopt a management plan in order to apply clothianidin. “Ultimately, EPA should be requiring growers to adopt integrated organic systems to manage pests, as a part of an emergency permit,” said Feldman. According to the University of Florida, there are approximately 6,000 acres of certified organic citrus in Florida on which neonicotinoid pesticides, including clothianidin, are not permitted. (“As EPA Approves Emergency Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide for Florida Citrus, Group Urges Heightened Efforts to Stop Toxic Pesticide Dependency, by Nichelle Harriott and Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides press release, Feb. 25, 2015)

Research at the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee confirms that low levels of neonicotinoid insecticides accepted to exist in agriculture and found in the nectar and pollen of plants are sufficient to impair bumblebees’ brain cells and performance by bee colonies. Very low levels of neonicotinoids caused bumblebee colonies to have an estimated 55 percent reduction in live bee numbers, a 71 percent reduction in healthy brood cells and a 57 percent reduction in total bee mass of a nest. The researchers suggest that neonicotinoids no longer be used on any bee-friendly garden plants or on land that is or will be used by crops visited by bees or other insect pollinators. (“Bee brains,” University of St. Andrews, Feb. 4, 2015;,254117,en.php)

Two studies published in Nature add to the research showing that neonicotinoid insecticides harm bees. Researchers at Newcastle University found that honeybees and bumblebees offered a choice of sugar water or a sugar solution containing very low doses of neonics drank more from the latter – even though neonics impair bees’ motor function and ability to forage and collect food. The bees may be responding to the “buzz” from the nicotine-related pesticides, say the researchers. Another study, by Swedish researchers, found that oilseed rape grown from neonic-coated seeds reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting and bumblebee colony growth. (“Bees may get hooked on nicotine-linked pesticides,” by Ben Hirschler, Reuters, April 22;

In April, the EPA announced that it “will likely not be in a position to approve most applications for new uses of these chemicals [neonicotinoids] until new bee data have been submitted and pollinator risk assessments are complete.” The Agency “must complete its new pollinator risk assessments, which are based, in part, on the new data, before it will likely be able to make regulatory decisions on imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran that would expand the current uses of these pesticides.” (April 2015 Letter to Registrants Announcing New Process for Handling New Registrations of Neonicotinoids, EPA, April 2, 2015;


Food Additives

When researchers at Georgia State University added the emulsifiers carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 (common in processed Western foods) to diets of mice, the makeup of bacteria in the colon was altered and the mice became obese and developed such metabolic problems as glucose intolerance. Strains of mice prone to inflammatory gut diseases had more, and more severe, inflammatory bowel disease. Affected mice had less diverse bacteria in their colons, and bacteria were closer to cells lining the gut. Researchers think emulsifiers may break down the mucus lining of the gut, which otherwise keeps bacteria from contacting gut cells and causing inflammation. The FDA classifies emulsifiers as “generally regarded as safe” due to their apparent lack of carcinogenicity or other toxicity. The researchers recommend eating less processed food to avoid emulsifiers. (“Food preservatives linked to obesity and gut disease,” by Sara Reardon, Nature, Feb. 25, 2015;


Food Waste

Reducing consumer food waste could save $120 to $300 billion U.S. per year by 2030 according to a report by The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Achieving this would require a 20 to 50 percent reduction in consumer food waste. One-third of all food produced in the world – worth more than $400 billion per year – is wasted. Reducing food waste can help tackle climate change, as 7 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions are due to food waste. Reducing food waste may enable an increasing population as well as the food insecure to be fed from the same amount of land as currently used, says the report. Changes such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. About 25 percent of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.

WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste consumer program, which advises consumers on how to waste less and save more, helped British householders reduce avoidable food waste by 21 percent, saving a total of 13 billion pounds, between 2007 and 2012. (“Reducing food waste could save the global economy $300 billion a year,” The Waste & Resources Action Program, Feb. 26, 2015;



While lawns do remove some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the energy used to mow, fertilize and water lawns means they produce more greenhouse gases than they remove. Dr. Chuanhui Gu and coworkers at Appalachian State University found that a hectare of lawn in Nashville, Tennessee, produced greenhouse gases equivalent to 697 to 2,443 kg of carbon dioxide per year. Urban turfgrass systems contribute about two-thirds as much C emissions as agricultural fields in the same area, say the researchers. Mowing every other week instead of weekly and minimizing watering can reduce emissions by up to 70 percent, they say. Using fertilizer sparingly and leaving grass clippings on the lawn can add to the savings. (“Keep off the grass: Research confirms that highly manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up,” by Ian Johnston, The Independent, Jan. 18, 2015;



In February, the Obama administration and conservation groups launched a plan to halt the decline of monarch butterfly populations, which have fallen 90 percent over the past two decades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will spend $2 million and will work with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to grow milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along monarchs’ main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico. They also plan to promote wildflower growth along pipeline and power lines. (“US launches plan to halt decline of monarch butterfly, by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Feb. 9, 2015;


Organic Issues

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking comments on a proposed rule to clarify the requirements for transitioning dairy animals into organic production.

The proposed rule is based on recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory committee of organic community representatives. The rule would update USDA’s organic regulations by requiring that milk or milk products labeled, sold or represented as organic be from dairy animals that have been organically managed since the last third of gestation, with a one-time allowance for a producer to convert conventional dairy animals to organic milk production after a one-year transitional period.

By clarifying the manner in which producers can transition dairy animals into organic milk production and by promoting consistency among certifying agents, the USDA establishes a level playing field that protects all organic farms and businesses and maintains consumer confidence in organically labeled products.

The organic community, stakeholders and consumers may submit written comments on the proposed rule by July 27, 2015, by visiting Comments may also be submitted by mail, as instructed in the proposed rule, to Scott Updike, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-NOP, Room 2646-So., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-0268. (“USDA Clarifies Requirements for Transitioning Dairy Animals into Organic Production; Invites Comments on Proposed Rule,” by Sam Jones-Ellard, USDA press release, 4/27/2015;

Organic stakeholders, including MOFGA, have filed a lawsuit in federal court, maintaining that the USDA violated the federal rulemaking process when it changed established procedures for reviewing synthetic and prohibited natural substances used in producing organic food. The organic food producers and farmer, consumer, environmental and certification groups asked the court to require USDA to reconsider its decision on the rule change and reinstitute the agency's customary public hearing and comment process.

Previously the national organic law's "sunset provision" was interpreted to require all listed materials to cycle off the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances every five years unless the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted by a two-thirds majority to re-list them. The NOSB was charged with considering public input, new science and new information on available alternatives.

In September 2013, in a complete reversal of accepted process, USDA announced a definitive change in the rule it had been operating under since the inception of the organic program, without any public input. Now materials can remain on the National List in perpetuity unless the NOSB takes initiative to vote them off the list. FMI:

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) wants an organic “checkoff” fund to promote the organic industry and to let shoppers know what “organic” means – i.e., that a third party inspects the farm annually to see that it meets federal rules governing organic production. The proposed checkoff would assess farmers who bring in more than $250,000 a year one-tenth of one percent of their gross revenue annually. Those who gross $1 million could be assessed more. Some farmers object, saying the promotion would benefit large companies over small and mid-sized, and national brands over local. The OTA is expected to submit a proposal for a checkoff to USDA soon. More than two-thirds of organic producers would have to vote for the checkoff before it could go into effect. (“Checkoff debate stirs clash within organic food industry,” Harvest Public Media, March 19, 2015;

Nature’s Path and other organic-food purveyors are buying farmland in order to boost their supply ingredients and overcome limited supplies that hamper their growth during a time of increasing consumer demand. Other efforts include financing farmers, offering training, recruiting organic growers, supplying plans for henhouses and promising to buy crops for up to five years. (“Organic-Food Firms Tackle Supply Constraints,” Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2015;


Seed Saving

Seed saving, a thousand-year-old practice that forms the basis of farming, is fast becoming criminalized due to corporate pressure. Two organizations, La Via Campesina and GRAIN, are countering this issue by educating people about strategies of secrecy that governments and companies use when they privatize seed ownership; by blocking bills relating to seed privatization; and by supporting the work of organizations and individual seed savers. Seed laws do not guarantee quality, say La Via Campesina and GRAIN; on the contrary, they give companies more opportunities to sell junk seeds and to maintain other mechanisms of control. Around the world, communities and grassroots organizations understand that the best way to defend seeds – and to defend the practices of using and sharing that keep seeds alive – is to continue to grow them, look after them and exchange them, in every locality. Keeping farming systems alive is the best way to keep seeds alive, they say. (“Seed laws that criminalise farmers: resistance and fightback,” La Via Campesina/GRAIN, April 8, 2015;


Genetic Engineering (GE)

A report called “Who benefits from GM crops” looks at how the U.S. government, its sponsored programs and projects (such as U.S. AID), funders such as Bill and Melinda Gates, and companies such as Monsanto are collectively attempting to force unwilling African countries to accept expensive and inappropriate GE technologies. This, despite reports that in South Africa, where GE crops have been grown for more than 16 years, food security is declining, with almost half the nation currently categorized as food insecure. There, the technology is seen as elite, with only well-off, large-scale farmers being able to afford it (and often growing crops for export). The report also finds that public research institutions are shifting from research driven by demand and needs to channeling public resources into private agendas and inappropriate solutions. However, “small-scale farmers’ movements and African civil society still have an opportunity to steer governments back to policies that truly support food sovereignty and the uplifting and protection of the millions of small-scale food producers that currently feed the continent,” says the report. It recommends stopping promotion of GE crops and corporate interests in Africa, since Africa can feed itself without GE crops; ensuring compliance with the Cartagena Protocol [for biosafety] and supporting people’s rights; facilitating access to information and inclusive decision-making procedures; and stopping the flow of public resources and goods to private interests. (“Who benefits from gm crops?” by Haidee Swanby, Friends of the Earth International, Feb. 2015.

Traditional plant breeding has been far more successful in developing drought-resistant corn than has GE technology, according to a report by the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) and an article in Nature. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project has developed 153 new varieties, says the report. In field trials, these have performed at least as well as existing commercial seeds when rainfall is adequate and yielded up to 30 percent more during drought. The new varieties will, estimates the report, help reduce the number of people living in poverty in 13 African countries by as much as 9 percent.

In addition, the pro-GM International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications says that it generally takes about 10 times more money and 10 years longer to bring a biotech crop to market compared with a conventional crop and that this high cost precludes participation of public research institutions in developing biotech crops, ISIS relates. “Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes. Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it,” reports Nature.

Similarly, the Improved Maize for African Soils project has developed, with traditional plant breeding, 21 varieties that can produce more than existing varieties on nitrogen-poor soils, while project researchers say they’re at least 10 years away from that same goal with a GE variety.

Add to this the hazards of GE crops – increased use of synthetic pesticides, development of resistant pests, concentration of control of the world’s food supply among a small number of corporations, laws preventing farmers from saving seed – and the conclusion of ISIS makes sense: “All that might conceivably be worth risking if we actually needed GM crops, but the plain fact is that we don’t.” (“Cross-bred crops get fit faster,” by Natasha Gilbert, Nature, Sept. 16, 2014;; “Genetic Modification Trails Conventional Breeding By Far,” Institute for Science in Society, Oct. 15, 2014;

Open-pollinated corn varieties have better prospects than GE Bt corn for increasing and stabilizing smallholders’ corn yields in South Africa in economically sustainable ways, say agricultural scientists there. They cite the high cost of GE seed; the inability to save seed from GE varieties; the fact that the Bt insecticidal trait is not always needed, as corn pests vary from year to year and with location; the fact that Bt varieties often don’t yield as well as open-pollinated varieties on smallholders’ soil, as the engineered varieties are bred for high soil fertility and water availability; and the fact that seed companies and providers do not give adequate information about planting refuges of non-GE corn to slow development of resistance to Bt. (“Is Bt maize effective in improving South African smallholder agriculture?” by Klara Fischer et al., South African Journal of Science, Jan.-Feb. 2015;

Kids born from goats fed non-GE soybean meal, compared with those from goats fed GE soy, weighed more at day 30 and at slaughter; were taller at the withers and wider in the chest; received colostrum that was higher in protein and fat and that showed no transgenic fragments – unlike kids from goats fed GE soy. (“Genetically modified soybean in a goat diet: Influence on kid performance,” by R. Tudisco et al., Small Ruminant Research,  January 31, 2015;

A study conducted in South Africa looked for transgenes in leaves of 796 individual corn plants and in 20 seed batches collected in a village where GE insect resistant (Bt) corn was grown from 2001 to 2008. The researchers also surveyed varieties of corn grown and farmers’ seed saving and sharing practices in the community. The commonly used transgene promoter p35s occurred in one of 796 leaf samples and in five of the 20 seed samples. Farmers were unaware of the presence of these transgenes. The researchers conclude that transgenes have spread without control in stored and shared seed. (“Detection of Transgenes in Local Maize Varieties of Small-Scale Farmers in Eastern Cape, South Africa,” by Marianne Iversen et al., PLoS One, Dec. 31, 2015;

Monsanto has reached a settlement with wheat farmers in seven southern states over the 2013 contamination of an Oregon wheat farm with the company's GE wheat. Monsanto did not admit liability but will give $50,000 to land grant universities in each of the seven states to advance the interests of wheat farmers and the wheat industry and will also reimburse plaintiffs and their counsel for a portion of their litigation costs. (“Monsanto settles with farmers over GMO wheat,” by Ben Unglesbee, St. Louis Business Journal, March 18, 2015;

In March the FDA approved six varieties of GE Innate potatoes (including a Ranger Russet, a Russet Burbank and an Atlantic) developed by J. R. Simplot Co. of Idaho to bruise less or to contain less acrylamide (allegedly a potential carcinogen) when cooked at high temperatures and two varieties (a Granny Smith and a Golden Delicious) of non-browning GE Arctic apples from Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. of Canada. (“FDA approves genetically engineered potatoes, apples as safe,” by Mary Clare Jalonick and Keith Ridler, AP, March 20, 2015;



The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, says that the most popular herbicide in the United States, glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), is a probable carcinogen in humans based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It based its statement on a year of review by 17 experts from 11 countries.

Beyond Pesticides says that EPA and industry tout glyphosate as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals. It is widely used in food production and on lawns, gardens, parks and children’s playing fields. The IARC based its conclusion on an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel report and several recent studies. The IARC also noted that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and that there was some limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the United States, Canada and Sweden published since 2001.

“With the cancer classification on top of the documented weed resistance to glyphosate and water contamination resulting from its use, continued reliance on glyphosate is irresponsible from a public health and environmental perspective,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “We have effective sustainable organic management systems that do not utilize glyphosate and it’s time that EPA and USDA recognized its responsibility to move away from hazardous and unnecessary pesticides,” he continued.

Most corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical, so glyphosate is widely applied to fields where they grow. This has led to weeds that have developed resistance to the herbicide and to widespread water contamination with the chemical, which is toxic to aquatic organisms and lethal to amphibians.

The same IARC report classified the insecticides malathion and diazinon as probably carcinogenic to humans and the insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Tetrachlorvinphos is used in the United States on livestock and
on companion animals, including in pet flea collars. It is banned in the European Union, as is parathion.

Monsanto, which makes Roundup, said the report was biased and contradicts regulatory findings that glyphosate is safe when used as labeled.

David Schubert of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in LaJolla, Calif., told Reuters, "There are a number of independent, published manuscripts that clearly indicate that glyphosate ... can promote cancer and tumor growth. It should be banned."

In other glyphosate news, this and the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba were found, when applied at recommended concentrations, to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making the disease-causing bacteria stronger. And demand for testing foods for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, have spiked since the World Health Organization classified the popular herbicide as a probable human carcinogen. Reuters reports that glyphosate residues have been found in 41 of 69 honey samples, in 10 of 28 soy sauces, in three of 18 breast milk samples, in six of 40 infant formula samples and in several flour samples.

The EPA is scheduled to review glyphosate this year.

 (“Glyphosate Classified Carcinogenic by International Cancer Agency, Group Calls on U.S. to End Herbicide's Use and Advance Alternatives,” Beyond Pesticides, March 20, 2015;; “IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides,” World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer, March 20, 2015;; “Monsanto seeks retraction for report linking herbicide to cancer,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, March 25, 2015;; “Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance,” by Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats, March 24, 2015;; “Sublethal Exposure to Commercial Formulations of the Herbicides Dicamba, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid, and Glyphosate Cause Changes in Antibiotic Susceptibility in Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium,” by Brigitta Kurenbach et al., mBio, March 24, 2015;; “Fears over Roundup herbicide residues prompt private testing,” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, April 10, 2015;

To help consumers minimize pesticide exposure through produce, Consumer Reports ranked 48 fruits and vegetables from 14 countries in five categories, from very low to very high risk for pesticide residues. Risk assessment included the number of pesticide residues on each food, the frequency with which they were found and the toxicity of the pesticides. Results are posted in Consumer Reports.

Residues on produce have declined since 1996, when Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, says Consumer Reports. Still, the most recent USDA data found pesticide residues in more than half the samples taken – most below EPA tolerance levels. But tolerance levels do not consider effects of combinations of different pesticides on produce, and almost one-third of the samples had residues of two or more pesticides – after produce had been rinsed and/or peeled. All samples of organic produce were in the very low-risk or low-risk categories. Consumer Reports says its experts believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment and the people who grow our food, but its guide can help decide which produce to eat when cost is a factor. (“Pesticides in produce,” Consumer Reports, March 19, 2015;

Exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides in the U.S. population is dominated by dietary intake. When researchers assessed long-term dietary exposure to 14 OPs among 4,466 subjects over age 45, they found that those who reported rarely or never eating organic produce had significantly higher levels of urinary dialkylphosphate (DAP), a metabolite of OPs, than participants reporting more frequent consumption of organic produce. Also, participants who ate less produce overall, whether organic or not, had lower DAP levels than those who reported eating more organic produce. The researchers did not determine where those OP metabolites came from – e.g., they may have come from non-organic produce that the subjects ate. Exposure to OPs has been linked to certain cancers, endocrine system disruption and to neurodevelopment issues in children. (“Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA),” by Cynthia L. Curl et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, Feb. 5, 2015;; “Eat organic produce, and you end up exposed to less pesticide,” by Jason Best, Takepart, Feb. 5, 2015.

Men who eat produce having the highest quantity of pesticide residues have sperm counts 50 percent lower than those who eat the smallest amount of these items. Those eating the most-contaminated produce also had 32 percent more abnormally shaped sperm, according to a recent study involving 155 men, published in the journal Human Reproduction. (“Pesticides on Vegetables and Fruit Linked to Lower Sperm Counts,” Newsweek, by Douglas Main, Newsweek, March 30, 2015;

The EPA has agreed to regulate novel nanomaterial pesticides as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS). In 2008, a coalition of nonprofits led by CFS petitioned the EPA to recognize the growing class of nano-silver consumer products and their risks and to regulate them as new pesticides. After EPA failed to respond to the petition for six years, some of the petitioner groups sued the agency, forcing it to respond.

Nanotechnology manipulates materials at the atomic and molecular levels and produces nanomaterials so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope. These materials can act in fundamentally novel ways. Nano-silver products are in many consumer products, commonly as antimicrobial agents. Products containing nanomaterials need not be labeled as such.

The EPA agreed that nano-silver products intended to kill microorganisms qualify as pesticides; that they are a novel type of pesticide with unknown risks; that developers of such products must seek EPA review and approval before the products are allowed in the marketplace; and that manufacturers must provide EPA with nano-specific data. The EPA did not commit, however, to the petitioners’ demand for enforcement actions against all currently commercialized products that have not undergone the EPA registration process. (“EPA Agrees to Regulate Novel Nanotechnology Pesticides After Legal Challenge,” Center for Food Safety press release, March 24, 2015;

Portland, Oregon, has banned the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on city-owned property, and state officials there have banned neonicotinoids from use on some trees. Oregon officials blamed the 2013 deaths of tens of thousands of bees on the improper use of the pesticides. Spokane, Seattle and Eugene have similar bans. (“Portland bans use of insecticides believed to be harmful to bees on city property, by Andrew Theen, The Oregonian, April 1, 2015;

A report by the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council urges reassessment of neonicotinoid use. The report says that focusing on honeybees has distorted the debate around neonicotinoids, which harm a range of organisms that provide ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control and biodiversity; that protecting honeybees is not enough to ensure sustainable agriculture; and that in some cases, neonicotinoid use has even made pest problems worse by eliminating insects that provided natural pest control. (“Ecosystem services, agriculture and neonicotinoids,” European Academies Scientific Advisory Council, April 8, 2015;

Following letters and petitions from environmental groups, Lowe’s Home Improvement plans to phase out products containing neonicotinoid pesticides as alternatives become commercially available. Lowe’s says it will “include greater organic and non-neonic product selections, work with growers to eliminate the use of neonic pesticides on bee-attractive plants it sells and educate customers and employees through in-store and online resources.” (“Lowe’s to eliminate ‘bee-killing pesticides’ over next four years,” by Katherine Peralta, The Charlotte Observer, April 9, 2015;


Trouble at USDA?

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) says USDA scientists "routinely suffer retaliation and harassment" from managers and private industry for research that conflicts with agribusinesses. As a result, the group petitioned USDA to strengthen its protection of departmental scientists from political and industry pressure and to improve its policies on scientific integrity. USDA said the allegations were incorrect. (“Group Questions USDA Science,” by Chris Clayton, The Progressive Farmer, March 26, 2015;