Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


The Good News
New Agriculture Secretary
Organic in the News
Bees
Pesticides

 

The Good News

In 2015-2016 a coalition of organic farming organizations, including MOFGA, instigated a survey of certified organic farmers in the United States that discovered widespread interest in and a sense of urgency to create a national organic farmer association. That organization now exists. Representing organic farmers at the national level, the Organic Farmers Association (OFA), sponsored by Rodale Institute, was created to stand as the strong independent voice for U.S. certified organic farmers. The grassroots effort is led by certified organic farmers and focuses on improving American organic farmers' viability by raising their profile and policy positions at the national level.

An interim steering committee composed of a majority of certified organic farmers is leading OFA and is establishing the organizational foundation needed to ensure an authentic farmer-led voice for all U.S. organic farmers and ranchers. The committee expects OFA farm members to elect the first governing council in early 2018. While the governing council will consist of both certified organic farmers and representatives from organic farmer organizations, just as with the steering committee, only certified organic farmers get to vote. Those who are not certified organic farmers can join OFA as supporters and receive the same benefits, such as New Farm magazine, webinars and discounts to events and workshops. For more information please visit OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.


The latest global data on organic farming worldwide, according to the 2017 edition of the statistical yearbook "The World of Organic Agriculture" (published by FiBL and IFOAM – Organics International) shows that consumer demand for organic products continues to increase. As of the end of 2015, more than 125 million acres were cultivated organically, and the world organic market was estimated at $81.6 billion. The U.S. organic market (the world's largest – followed by Germany, France and China) grew 11 percent in 2015. Switzerland has the highest organic per-capita spending, while Denmark has the highest organic market share (8.4 percent of the total food market). And 179 countries (up from 172) report organic farming activities.

In 2015, 2.4 million organic producers were reported. India had the highest number (585,200), followed by Ethiopia (203,602) and Mexico (200,039).

Australia had the largest organic agricultural area (56 million acres), followed by Argentina (7.7 million acres) and the United States (4.9 million acres).                                                                                       

Countries with the largest percentage of organic agricultural land relative to their total farmland were Liechtenstein (30.2 percent), Austria (21.3 percent) and Sweden (16.9 percent). In 11 countries, 10 percent or more of all agricultural land is organic.

The USDA, which counts certified organic operations, announced data for the end of 2016 showing 24,650 certified organic operations in the United States (13 percent more than at the end of 2016), and 37,032 around the world. (“The World of Organic Agriculture 2017," by Helga Willer and Julia Lernoud, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Feb. 9, 2017; http://www.ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/press-release-world-2017-english.pdf; “2016 Count of Certified Organic Operations Shows Continued Growth in U.S. Market," USDA, April 19. 2017; https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/2016-count-certified-organic-operations-shows-continued-growth-us-market)


Local farmers (including MOFGA-certified organic North Branch Farm) and other food producers provide 15 to 20 percent of the food served at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast. The hospital is trying to model good eating while also providing fresher, tastier, local foods, says Sheila Costello, the hospital's nutrition services manager. Likewise, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport spends about $75,000 – about 15 percent of its food budget – on local foods, including a commercial-sized CSA share from MOFGA-certified organic Hatchet Cove Farm in Warren. Many of these changes resulted from the national Hospital Healthy Food Initiative. (“Maine hospitals are bringing farm-to-table to patients," by Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, April 17, 2017; http://bangordailynews.com/2017/04/17/homestead/these-maine-hospitals-are-bringing-farm-to-table-to-patients/)


The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has launched its Global Seed Network, an online tool where small growers can swap diverse, rare and heirloom seeds. The new site was developed by the same company that created match.com. Users can fully access the network free and can create profiles, rate interactions with one other and search for seeds by frost tolerance, disease resistance, regional climates and more. The site also outlines state and federal seed-sharing laws, has a primer on seed saving and will be listing in-person seed and plant swaps. (“The Match.com of Seed Saving," by Lela Nargi, Civil Eats, April 26, 2017; http://civileats.com/2017/04/26/the-match-com-of-seed-saving/)


According to a story in the Pacific Standard, more than 400 seed libraries exist in the United States – a benefit for local gardeners, for genetic diversity and for locally adapted varieties as the commercial seed industry consolidates and some seed companies limit use of their genetic material. Many of these seed libraries are hosted by public libraries, which ask that patrons who “borrow" the seed return some of their saved seed from each variety after the growing season. When some of those libraries were threatened by state officials for possibly violating statutes regarding seed dissemination, the Sustainable Economies Law Center of Oakland, California, helped local groups get laws passed in Minnesota and Nebraska exempting the libraries from seed registration laws, and in 2016 the Seed Exchange Democracy Law passed in California, providing legal status to seed libraries and exchanges. (“Will Open-Source Plants Spur Better Agriculture?" by Mark Shapiro, Pacific Standard, March 17, 2017; https://psmag.com/news/will-open-source-plants-spur-better-agriculture)


Organic foods were found in the kitchens of 82.3 percent of American households in 2016, according to a Nielsen study of 100,000 U.S. households. In some states, 90 percent or more of households now buy organic on a regular basis, with even the lowest levels all hovering around 70 percent. Organic food sales in the United States totaled $39.7 billion in 2015 and account for around 5 percent of total U.S. food sales. (“New state data shows organic now in the kitchens of over 80 percent of U.S. households," Organic Trade Assoc., March 23, 2017; https://www.ota.com/news/press-releases/19567)


In February regional networks and independent Community Supported Agriculture Farms (CSAs) in the United States and Canada launched a Charter for CSAs to unite and provide a clear definition of such farms. In the past 30 years, over 7,500 CSAs have been established in the United States, and many thousands more in Canada. CSAs that endorse the charter are publically committing to uphold the principles and practices in the charter. FMI: http://csaday.info/csa-charter/ or Elizabeth Henderson, [email protected], 585-764-8471.


The National Agricultural Statistics Service has reported farm data for 2016, with the following for Maine:

Number of farms Number of farms Number of acres Mean farm size, acres
Total 8,200 1,450,000 177
w/$1,000-$9,999 in sales 5,000 480,000 96
w/$10,000-$99,999 in sales 2,400 400,000 167
w/$100,000-$249,999 in sales 340 100,000 294
w/$250,000-$499,999 in sales 220 110,000 500
w/$500,000-$999,999 in sales 110 90,000 818
w/$1,000,000 or more in sales 130 270,000 2,077

 

The report defines a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year." Government payments are included in sales. Ranches, institutional farms, experimental and research farms, and Indian Reservations are included as farms. (“Farms and Land in Farms," National Agricultural Statistics Service, Feb. 17, 2017; http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-17-2017.pdf)


Jennifer Burns Gray has been selected as director of advocacy and public relations for the Maine Association of Nonprofits, which represents more than 800 Maine nonprofit organizations. Gray has more than 20 years of public policy experience as Maine Audubon's former staff attorney and advocate. She is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In her new position Gray will strengthen the collective voice of the nonprofit sector and increase awareness of its value and impact.
 

New Agriculture Secretary

New U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue responded to Congress during his confirmation hearings that he wants USDA to continue promoting organic and local food, establish a USDA undersecretary for trade, and give school districts more power over decisions on students' meals, according to a review of questions and answers from 10 Senate Agriculture Committee members, obtained and reviewed by Politico.

Regarding organic, Perdue wrote in response to congressional questions, “I think our system and the demands of the future best suit an all-of-the-above approach where we support those who identify high-margin local consumer-driven markets as well as those producing the safe abundance necessary to meet the economic and humanitarian challenge of providing for the food-insecure." [Ed. note: We have noted frequently in The MOF&G that producing local foods and “feeding the world" are not mutually exclusive. In his keynote speech at the 2014 Common Ground Country Fair, for example, André Leu of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements noted that the agribusiness chain produces only 30 percent of the world's food; “70 percent is produced by most of us here – family farmers, and particularly in the developing world by people with very small areas of land – 5 acres or less, and they live on $400 or less per year. That's 87 percent of the world's farmers. In the developing world they produce 80 percent of the food in their countries. But globally we produce 70 percent. Because in the developing world we can get 100 percent increases in yield and greater, you can take 70 percent of the world's food production and double it to 140 percent – that's something GMOs can't do. We do that. We feed the world.")

Regarding schools, Perdue's suggestion would undermine the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which requires that schools provide nutritious meals with more fruits and vegetables – something that frozen- and junk-food companies have opposed. Perdue also said, “the jury is still out on whether humans are causing climate change." And he told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that he will “insist that USDA be more aggressive in supporting advancements in biotech." All this, while President Trump has proposed slashing USDA funding by 21 percent. (“What Perdue told Congress after his hearing," by Jason Huffman, Politico, April 20, 2017; http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-agriculture/2017/04/what-perdue-told-congress-after-his-hearing-219881; “Will Sonny Perdue, Trump's agriculture pick, stand up for the little guy? Don't bank on it," by Ricardo J. Salvador, The Guardian, April 25, 2017; https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/apr/25/sonny-perdue-trump-agriculture-secretary; “Top 10 points from Perdue's written responses to Senate Ag," by Jenny Hopkinson and Catherine Boudreau, Politico Pro, April 20, 2017; https://www.politicopro.com – subscription needed to access)

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Organic in the News

Organic agriculture shows many potential benefits, including greater biodiversity and improved soil and water quality per unit area, enhanced profitability and higher nutritional value, and many potential costs, including lower yields and higher consumer prices. So say University of British Columbia researchers Verena Seufert and Navin Ramankutty, who analyzed literature on organic crop farming across 17 criteria such as yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.

The researchers argue that in countries such as Canada, with stringent pesticide regulations and diets rich in micronutrients, the health benefits of choosing organic may be marginal, but the benefits may be much greater for consumers and farmworkers in countries where pesticide use is not carefully regulated and people are micronutrient deficient. Still, the report highlights benefits of organic farming associated with farmer and farmworker health as “one of the most important advantages of organic management for farm workers."

Previous research has shown the mean yield of an organic crop is 19 to 25 percent lower than one under conventional management, and Seufert and Ramankutty found that many environmental benefits of organic agriculture diminish once lower yields are considered, as farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food – contributing to habitat loss and climate change.

The researchers also found the following:
• “the benefits of organic management for biodiversity of wildlife on farmland are clear, with a typical increase in organism abundance of 40 to 50% across different taxa."
• Organic uses materials that are less harmful to the environment, so can help prevent negative impacts on native species and preserve drinking water quality.
• Soils on organic farms have higher organic carbon content, reduced erosion, greater health and fertility parameters, and more abundant soil fauna.
• The same proportion of organic as conventional farmers use reduced tillage.
• On average, N leaching per unit area in organic agriculture appears to be lower, but further research is needed, as variation in N runoff data is high. More research is also needed on the impact of organic management on phosphorus runoff.
• Most organically managed crops put out lower N2O and total greenhouse gas emissions per unit area.
• Organic is more energy efficient (primarily because of the ban on synthetic fertilizers) and improves soil carbon sequestration – although more research is needed on the climate impacts of carbon sequestration, and lower yields in organic can reduce these benefits when analyses are conducted on a per-yield-output basis.
• Organic management results in soils better able to absorb and hold water, so organic farming may lead to higher yields and water use efficiency under drought and excessive rainfall conditions and to lower water limitation of organic yields.
• Organic farming is more profitable than conventional because organic products receive a higher price premium, and production costs are similar between organic and conventional. Organic also uses techniques that can provide more stable yields.
• On average, studies examining organic crops show they have higher levels of secondary metabolites, vitamins and mineral nutrients than their conventional counterparts – but due to the large amount of variability among studies, the authors say more research is needed in this area.  
• Some organic products cost about the same as conventional, while others cost up to 60 percent more. Consumers can reduce those costs by joining organic Community Supported Agriculture farms. As research on organic methods increases, farmers should be able to reduce production costs.
• More research is needed to improve stable, high-output yield in organic agriculture. Already, as more research details best practices, the yield gap between organic and conventional is shrinking. The authors note that many organic farms are located in marginal areas, while large-scale conventional farms are in areas with prime fertility. If the scale of organic increased to encompass some of these high-fertility areas, a dramatic increase in organic yield may result. Research focused on breeds optimized for organic farming would also help to increase organic yields; 95 percent of current crop varieties have been developed for high-input conventional management and may not be well suited for organic systems.  
• nutrient availability must be considered when scaling up organic systems. Many organic farms now rely on nutrient inputs from conventional farms, so analyzing alternative nutrient sources, including biological N fixation, will be critical as conventional farms became less abundant.

The authors say that organic is one way that consumers have control over and knowledge of how their food is produced, since it is the only farming system regulated in law. They advocate for better practices for organic and conventional in order to meet the world's food needs sustainably. They recommend continued focus on incorporating environmental best practices and labor rights into organic standards, more research and extension services on organic best practices, continued development of domestic organic markets and certification, subsidies for organic farmers, coupling organic and fair trade labels, and improved access to organic for low-income consumers. They show that organic has positively impacted all of agriculture, influencing more than the approximately 1 percent of agricultural land it now covers. Many conventional farms have, in recent years, increased the use of organic practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping or composts. They conclude that “organic agriculture offers many benefits and could be an important part of a suite of strategies to improve the sustainability and equity of our food system."  (“What the latest research actually says (and doesn't) about organic," The Organic Center, March 14, 2017; https://www.organic-center.org/news/what-the-latest-research-actually-says-and-doesnt-about-organic/; “Many shades of gray – The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture," by Verena Seufert and Navin Ramankutty, Science Advances, 3/10/2017; http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/3/e1602638.full; “Organic is only one ingredient in recipe for sustainable food future," University of British Columbia press release, March 10, 2017; https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/uobc-oio030617.php)


"Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic," a joint report by Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University's Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems, identifies farmers' motivation to transition from conventional to organic farming, the major barriers to transitioning, and the support farmers need to make transitioning easier. Key recommendations are these:

• Adopt a values-based approach to appeal to a wider audience of farmers. Farmers pursuing transition are generally motivated to do so through an alignment of their personal values with benefits they ascribe to organic production.

• Provide individualized, in-person support. The top two methods of support desired were mentoring from experienced organic farmers and one-on-one technical assistance.

• Develop more effective pest management strategies. Effective outreach and support on weed and pest management in organic systems should include long-term trials, on-farm demonstrations and help farmers engage in participatory research.

• Learn more about the relationship between yield and successful transition. When discussing barriers to organic transition, farmers and agricultural professionals commonly cite concerns involving reduced yield. However, survey respondents consistently ranked this obstacle far below many others.

The report is based on survey responses from over 600 farmers who participated in USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative between 2010 and 2015, with a focus on transition. Given the demographics of the survey sample, the report particularly highlights opportunities and barriers for beginning and small-scale diversified growers.

The motivation to transition to organic was largely driven by farmers' values. In fact, 91 percent of respondents said they had or are transitioning simply because it aligns with their values, and 87 percent cited their belief that organic production can address concerns about the environment and enhance farm sustainability. In addition, over 60 percent cited both accessing the growing market for organics and the potential to increase their profit as reasons to transition.

Two major challenges for a majority of survey participants were weed management and the cost of organic certification. Obstacles considered minor were the learning curve associated with transitioning, recordkeeping requirements associated with certification, managing soil health, and the availability of organic inputs such as seed and fertilizer. Other proposed barriers, including reduced yields, finding buyers and markets for organic products, and accessing knowledge and expertise, were not seen as obstacles by a majority of surveyed farmers – but more obstacles were identified as major by those who were no longer pursuing organic farming.

Asked which resources would be most helpful with the transition to organic, respondents noted these top five, in order of preference: information on organic pest, disease and weed management; information on soil health management for organic farms; information on organic markets (trends, opportunities, pricing); information on effective organic crop rotations for their region; and market development for organic products.  (“Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic Transition," Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University's Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems, March 8, 2017; https://tilth.org/resources/breakingground/ ; “Report Highlights Barriers and Opportunities for Farmers Interested in Organic," National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, March 16, 2017; http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-transition-report-oregon-tilth/)


Biochar, a charcoal created from organic materials burned at high temperatures and added as a soil amendment, has been shown to increase pH and soil fertility in areas with more-weathered, acidic soils, such as the tropics. Its impact on productive soils may be quite different, and adding biochar to a field is an irreversible decision, so understanding its long-term impacts is essential.

A four-year study conducted at UC Davis showed an increase in corn yields in the second year after adding biochar, but through different means than observed elsewhere. The study used biochar made from walnut shells cooked at 900 C, from a California orchard. The material was added to a plot where tomatoes and corn were rotated. In the second year after adding biochar, corn yields increased 8 percent. That delay may be because biochar repels water when first in the ground and may start to interact with soil only after significant time. After year two, the yield benefits of biochar dropped, and by year four showed no difference compared with plots without biochar.

According to Deirdre Griffin, Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis and lead author of the study, “The benefits that we saw were from direct fertilization from biochar, in which case growers might be able to see the same boost in yield if they applied a little more fertilizer. We didn't see much change in the soil properties that could have more lasting effects. But those things could still be impacted in the coming years as the biochar continues to age."

To see continued yield increases, growers may need to apply biochar regularly, which is not its intended purpose and may pose challenges for growers. Biochar can be dusty, dispersing black soot as it is applied. Growers can wet biochar to limit its dust, but without overcoming that challenge, repeatedly adding biochar to the soil may limit its appeal.

Like compost, different biochars act differently in the soil. Different sources of organic material, treated at different temperatures and added to varying soil types, can all impact observed benefits.

More information on biochar is on the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Biochar Blog, the Solution Center for Nutrient Management, and the Biochar Database managed by associate professor Sanjai Parikh at UC Davis. (“In a new study biochar helps yields, but only in the short term," UCDavis; http://asi.ucdavis.edu/blog/posts/russell-ranch/in-a-new-study-biochar-helps-yields-but-only-in-the-short-term; “Short-lived effects of walnut shell biochar on soils and crop yields in a long-term field experiment," by Deirdre E. Griffin et al., Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Jan. 2, 2017; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880916305394)

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Bees

In March the rusty patched bumblebee, an important pollinator, became the first officially endangered bee species in the continental United States. The name reflects the rusty reddish patch on the backs of workers and males. Over the past two decades, the previously common bee has disappeared from about 90 percent of its range in the East Coast and much of the Midwest, possibly due to disease, pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned for the endangered designation. The listing was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during President Obama's term but was delayed by the Trump administration. That delay was reversed after a Natural Resources Defense Council suit. Now Fish and Wildlife will work on conservation plans. (“Rusty patched bumblebee first of species called endangered," by John Flesher, The Washington Post, March 21, 2017; https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/energy-environment/rusty-patched-bumblebee-joins-endangered-species-list/2017/03/21/82848a3c-0e54-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.0818ed88f7c5)

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Pesticides

True of false: The federal government prohibits use of pesticides known to cause cancer. Find the answer to this and 18 other questions about pesticides in “A Pesticides Quiz and Primer: 2017 Update" at http://www.mofga.org/Programs/PublicPolicyInitiatives/PesticidesAction/PesticidesQuiz/tabid/527/Default.aspx. Sharon Tisher, a member of MOFGA's Public Policy Committee and former MOFGA president, created this valuable educational quiz and recently updated it with the latest information related to Roundup herbicide, chlorpyrifos, “inert" ingredients in pesticides, the South Portland pesticide ordinance and much more.


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in "Safeguarding with Science: Glyphosate Testing in 2015-2016," reports that the agency found traces of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) in 29.7 percent of 3,188 domestic and imported food products it tested, and residue levels above the acceptable limits in 1.3 percent of the samples. Glyphosate is used to kill weeds and to dry grains and legumes before harvest.

Dr. Warren Bell, a family physician from British Columbia and founding president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, told CBC Nova Scotia,  "Glyphosate residues have been found in California wine, in menstrual pads, in German beer, in the urine of 99.6 per cent of Germans tested." Glyphosate in the body may mimic the essential amino acid glycine and affect protein function. It may also affect antibiotic resistance and harmfully increase metal availability. (“Nearly a third of food samples in CFIA testing contain glyphosate residues," CBC News, April 13, 2017; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/cfia-report-glyphosate-1.4070275)


Researchers who tested and tracked expectant mothers in a small, preliminary study found glyphosate levels in their bodily fluids that correlated with unfavorable birth outcomes. Of the 69 women tested, glyphosate was detected in the urine of 63, and higher glyphosate concentrations in women correlated with significantly shorter pregnancies and lower adjusted birth weights. (“Moms Exposed to Monsanto Weed Killer Means Bad Outcomes for Babies," by Carey Gillam, The Huffington Post, April 4, 2017; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58e3f715e4b02ef7e0e6e172)


Last year the USDA, EPA and FDA began preparing to test samples of corn syrup for glyphosate and AMPA (a glyphosate metabolite) residues on April 1, 2017, but in March 2017, a USDA spokesman said the agency would do no glyphosate residue testing this year. When the FDA did limited testing last year, it found glyphosate in many samples of U.S. honey and oatmeal. (“USDA Drops Plan to Test for Monsanto Weed Killer in Food," by Carey Gillam, The Huffington Post, March 23, 2017; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/usda-drops-plan-to-test-for-monsanto-weed-killer-in_us_58d2db4ee4b062043ad4af84)


Monsanto reportedly is facing more than 700 individual claims filed in U.S. courts alleging that it failed to warn consumers and regulators about the risk that its Roundup herbicide can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to The New York Times, documents unsealed by a federal court in March included Monsanto emails that suggest the company had ghostwritten research published under academics' names; information that senior EPA official Jess Rowland tried to counter a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review of Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate; and communications from EPA staff who disagreed with the EPA's safety assessment. (“Monsanto weed killer caused cancer, Californians allege in new lawsuit," by Annie Sciacca, The Mercury News, March 23, 2017; http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/23/monsanto-weed-killer-caused-cancer-californians-allege-in-new-lawsuit/; “Unsealed Documents Raise Questions on Monsanto Weed Killer," by Danny Hakim, The New York Times, March 14, 2017; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/business/monsanto-roundup-safety-lawsuit.html?_r=1; “Monsanto Cancer Suits Turn to EPA Deputy's 'Suspicious' Role," by Joel Rosenblatt, Bloomberg, Feb. 27, 2017; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-27/monsanto-cancer-suits-turn-to-alleged-whitewash-by-epa-official)


French researchers who analyzed the urine of 287 pregnant women and of their children six years later found that higher levels of a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide in the urine of the mothers were correlated with behavioral disorders in the children. Pyrethroids damage nerves and are found in some head lice treatments, scabies creams, mosquito repellents, flea control products for pets and other products. The study did not show that the insecticide caused the disorders. (“Pyrethroid insecticides linked to abnormal behaviour in children, study shows," by Esther Han, The Sydney Morning Herald, March 2, 2017; http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/pyrethroid-insecticides-linked-to-abnormal-behaviour-in-children-study-shows-20170301-guo1dd.html)


Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt refused in March to ban the insecticide chlorpyrifos (trade names Lorsban, Dursban), used on some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. The Obama administration had sought to ban chlorpyrifos due to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America and because evidence increased that prenatal exposure can pose risks to fetal brain and nervous system development. In 2001 the EPA banned most home uses of the insecticide. (“Trump EPA declines to ban pesticide that Obama had proposed outlawing," by Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, March 29, 2017; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/03/29/trump-epa-declines-to-ban-pesticide-that-obama-had-proposed-outlawing/)


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed USDA data to find that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues. The USDA found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples it analyzed. The pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

The EWG's annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ lists the Dirty Dozen™ fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and the Clean Fifteen™, for which few, if any, residues were detected. It suggests that when buying organic produce is not an option, consumers use the Shopper's Guide to choose foods lower in pesticide residues.

This year the list of produce with the highest loads of pesticide residues includes, starting with the highest, strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. Each tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce.

More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Spinach samples had, on average, twice as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop.

Again this year, EWG expanded the Dirty Dozen list to highlight hot peppers, which do not meet its traditional ranking criteria but were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system. USDA tests of 739 samples of hot peppers in 2010 and 2011 found residues of three highly toxic insecticides – acephate, chlorpyrifos and oxamyl – on a portion of sampled peppers at concentrations high enough to cause concern. In 2015, California regulators tested 72 unwashed hot peppers and found that residues of these three pesticides are still occasionally detected on the crop.

The EWG's Clean Fifteen list of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues included sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues on them.

People who eat organic produce eat fewer pesticides, the EWG says. A 2015 study by Cynthia Curl of the University of Washington found that people who report they "often or always" buy organic produce had significantly less organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples – even though they reported eating 70 percent more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults reporting they "rarely or never" purchase organic produce. Several long-term observational studies have indicated that organophosphate insecticides may impair children's brain development.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report that said children have "unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues'] potential toxicity." The pediatricians' organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life to "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." It advised its members to urge parents to consult "reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables." A key resource it cited was EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

The EWG says that its Shopper's Guide is not built on a complex assessment of pesticide risks but instead reflects the overall pesticide loads of common fruits and vegetables. This approach best captures the uncertainties about the risks and consequences of pesticide exposure. Since researchers are constantly developing new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, no one can say that concentrations of pesticides assumed to be safe today are, in fact, harmless. (“EWG's 2017 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™," Environmental Working Group, March 9, 2017; https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php)

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