Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


The Good News
The Farm Bill
Genetic Engineering
Pesticides


The Good News

Maine Harvest Credit Project has reached its $2.4 million fundraising goal – a critical milestone in becoming Maine's 56th credit union and the country's first to lend exclusively to farmers and food entrepreneurs. Once chartered, Maine Harvest will offer specialized loans and mortgages with a statewide goal of boosting Maine's growing agricultural economy.

"Our research estimates that there is about a $186 million financing gap among Maine farmers and food producers," says Amanda Beal, president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. "Bridging that gap will keep farmers on their land, help others scale and grow and generally act as a catalyst for this entire industry," Beal adds. Maine has over 8,000 farms that produce $3.8 billion in sales and create 24,000 jobs statewide. The agricultural sector is one of the largest, bringing younger people to Maine, with 40 percent of farmers currently aged 34 or younger.

Maine Harvest will become part of the Maine Credit Union League (MCUL), and its members will have access to shared branching and ATMs within its statewide network. Having long recognized the strength of this project, MCUL's board recently approved a significant donation, which put Maine Harvest over the funding finish line.

Once the charter is approved, the newly formed credit union will be run by a CEO, governed by a board of directors and owned by its members. Maine Harvest's organizer group includes farmers, philanthropists and credit union experts. It also includes Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1934 signed the Federal Credit Union Act.

By spring Maine Harvest plans to begin staffing and to hire a specialized loan officer who understands the unique needs of the agricultural sector. By June Maine Harvest plans to open its headquarters in Unity, Maine. (“The Country's First-Ever Credit Union to Lend Exclusively to Farmers and Food Producers Hits Milestone and Moves Forward,” by Maine Harvest Credit Union, PR Newswire, Oct. 15, 2018; https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-countrys-first-ever-credit-union-to-lend-exclusively-to-farmers-and-food-producers-hits-milestone-and-moves-forward-300730327.html?tc=eml_cleartime)


In a French study relating organic food consumption to cancer risk, 68,946 adults (78 percent female; mean age 44.2 years) reported how frequently (never, occasionally or most of the time) they consumed 16 categories of products labeled as organic (fruits; vegetables; soy-based products; dairy products; meat and fish; eggs; grains and legumes; bread and cereals; flour; vegetable oils and condiments; ready-to-eat meals; coffee, tea, and herbal tea; wine; biscuits, chocolate, sugar, and marmalade; other foods; and dietary supplements). Researchers then calculated their organic food score (0 to 32 points) and, based on reports of cancer among the participants from 2009 to 2016, estimated the risk of cancer associated with that score.

Results indicate that, compared with those who ate the least organic food, those who ate the most were 25 percent less likely to develop cancer overall, 73 percent less likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 21 percent less likely to develop post-menopausal breast cancer.

The researchers note that their analyses were based on self-reports by volunteers – predominantly female, well educated and with healthier behaviors than the general population, factors that may have led to a lower cancer incidence than the national estimates. Also, some cancers may not have been detected. The researchers conclude, “Although the study findings need to be confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer.” (“Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption With Cancer Risk Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study,” by Julia Baudry et al., JAMA Internal Medicine, Oct. 22, 2018; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2707948)


A mushroom extract fed to honeybees greatly reduces virus levels, according to a new paper from Washington State University, the USDA and Fungi Perfecti, a business based in Olympia, Washington. In field trials, colonies fed mycelium extract from amadou and reishi fungi showed a 79-fold reduction in deformed wing virus and a 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus compared with control colonies. The researchers hope their work will help dwindling honey bee colonies fight viruses, known to play a role in colony collapse disorder. (“Fungus provides powerful medicine in fighting honey bee viruses,” by Scott Weybright, phys.org, Oct. 4, 2018; https://phys.org/news/2018-10-fungus-powerful-medicine-honey-bee.html)


The diversity of wild bee and honeybee species in Amsterdam has increased by 45 percent since 2000 as the city has installed bee-friendly native plantings and insect hotels, banned the use of pesticides on public land, educated residents and businesses about how to avoid using pesticides and installed green roofs. (“Bees are dying at an alarming rate. Amsterdam may have the answer,” by Linda Givetash, NBC News, Sept. 7, 2018; https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/bees-are-dying-alarming-rate-amsterdam-may-have-answer-n897856)


Slovenia, where one in 200 people is a beekeeper, has had no major losses of bees due to pesticides in recent years and no reported cases of colony collapse disorder. In 2011 it became the first European country to prohibit the use of some neonicotinoid insecticides. Ljubljana, the capital city, has a rapid response unit for capturing swarms, plants only nectar-bearing trees, prohibits glyphosate use in public areas, encourages citizens to plant nectar-bearing flowers, distributes seeds, organizes tours of bee-related locations, and more. (“Life is sweet: on the hunt with Slovenia's 'rapid response' beekeeper unit,” by Luka Dakskobler, The Guardian, Sept. 28, 2018; https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/28/swarm-alert-slovenias-rapid-bee-response-team-in-action)


A study from Lund University of 10 organic and nine conventional farms in Sweden shows that the number of bumblebee species on organic farms was higher and more stable over time and space than on conventional farms, due to a more stable provision of flowers or the absence of pesticides. The researchers also found that stable and abundant flower resources stabilize pollinator communities even on conventional farms where insecticides are used. (“Organic farming methods favors (sic) pollinators,” By Lund University, phys.org, Sept. 14, 2018; https://phys.org/news/2018-09-farming-methods-favors-pollinators.html; Original study: “Organic farming supports spatiotemporal stability in species richness of bumblebees and butterflies,” by Romain Carrié et al., Biological Conservation (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.08.022)


The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will allow a lawsuit by the Organic Trade Association against USDA over its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. The rule would have implemented new welfare practices for organic livestock and poultry and was set to go into effect March 20, 2017, but was delayed by a regulatory freeze by President Donald Trump. USDA delayed implementation twice more and then withdrew the rule, stating that it exceeded the agency’s statutory authority and could negatively affect voluntary participation in the program. A U.S. district court in San Francisco previously ruled that a separate lawsuit by seven nonprofits against USDA for withdrawing the rule can proceed. (“Court denies USDA motion to dismiss organic lawsuit,” by Carol Ryan Dumas, Capital Press, Oct. 5, 2018; http://www.capitalpress.com/Organic/20181005/court-denies-usda-motion-to-dismiss-organic-lawsuit)


Repurposing human waste from major cities as crop fertilizer could slash fertilizer imports in some countries by more than half. Human feces and urine contain many valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that can be hygienically extracted and applied to crops. Researchers studying 56 cities in six continents found hotspots where such recycling could make a huge impact. For example, extracting nutrients from human effluent in Cairo could reduce Egypt’s potassium imports by up to 70 percent, and human waste produced over 10 years there could replace all phosphorus imports into the country. (“Human waste is a terrible thing to waste,” by Emma Bryce, Anthropocene, Aug. 24, 2018; http://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2018/08/human-waste-is-a-terrible-thing-to-waste/; Original article: “Recirculation of human-derived nutrients from cities to agriculture across six continents,” Trimmer et al., Nature Sustainability, 2018; https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0118-9)


A Rutgers-led team has discovered how plants harness soil microbes to get nutrients. In a process the team calls the rhizophagy (root-eating) cycle, bacteria and fungi cycle between a free-living phase in the soil, where they obtain nutrients, and a plant-dependent phase within plant root cells, where nutrients are extracted from microbes.

“The rhizophagy cycle appears to occur in all plants and may be an important way plants acquire some nutrients,” says lead author James F. White Jr. of the plant biology department at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. He adds, “The discovery that plants actively cultivate and then extract nutrients from symbiotic microbes is new. The 50 or so species of plants examined so far show evidence that they engage in rhizophagy. Some of the microbes involved in the rhizophagy cycle increase growth of their particular host plants, but inhibit growth of other species of plants,” so the system might be used to support desirable plants and inhibit undesirable plants.

In the rhizophagy cycle, plants cultivate microbes around root tips by secreting sugars, proteins and vitamins. The microbes grow and then enter root cells at the tips, where cells are dividing and lack hardened walls. The microbes lose their cell walls, become trapped in plant cells, and are hit with reactive oxygen (superoxide). The reactive oxygen breaks down some of the microbe cells, effectively extracting nutrients from them. Surviving microbes spur the formation of root hairs, leave the hairs at the growing hair tip and reform their cell walls as they reenter soil. The microbes acquire nutrients in the soil and the process is repeated. (“How Plants Harness Microbes to Get Nutrients,” by Todd B. Bates, Rutgers Today, Oct. 10, 2018; https://news.rutgers.edu/how-plants-harness-microbes-get-nutrients/20180917#.W8Xm4HFKiCQ)

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The Farm Bill

On October 1, 2018, the 2014 farm bill expired, resulting in the shutdown of dozens of agriculture, food, research and conservation programs to new applications and contracts. The farm bill is an omnibus spending bill that is renewed about every five years and reflects the federal government’s agriculture and food policy. Disagreements between the House and Senate regarding the 2018 farm bill included work requirements for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients and the amount of acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program. Lawmakers must now produce a replacement bill or extend the expired law. As we went to press, lawmakers were hoping to resolve their differences and have a conference report ready for a vote in November or December.

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

J.R. Simplot is a potato processing and marketing company based in Idaho that recently launched GE potatoes with supposedly enhanced disease resistance, enhanced uniformity and improved healthiness. However, Caius Rommens, Simplot’s former lead potato breeder, alleges that the reality is very different. He says that as a crop, the potatoes contain genetically unstable traits, suffer a significant yield drag, are designed to conceal bruises and spread diseases, and are intended to be grown and stored in ways that maximize disease and pest pressures. Additionally, as a processed food, they have lost the sensory attributes that make normal potato-based foods attractive. Even worse, they likely contain dramatically increased toxins that may cause health safety issues. Furthermore, the development of these GE potatoes involved at least one act of biopiracy, Rommens alleges. Nevertheless, these potatoes are quietly entering the marketplace with innocuous names such as Innate, White and Hibernate. (“Hidden Health Dangers: A Former Agbiotech Insider Wants His GMO Crops Pulled,” by Caius Rommens, Ph.D., Independent Science News, Oct. 8, 2018; https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/hidden-health-dangers-former-agbiotech-insider-gmo-crops/)


The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on cultivating GE crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted. The ban had resulted from a lawsuit won by environmental groups. Use of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, in conjunction with GE crops, has been linked to declining bee populations. Instead of the ban, Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan says that decisions about use of pesticides and GE crops will now be made on a case-by-case basis. (“Trump administration lifts GMO crop ban for U.S. wildlife refuges,” by Laura Zuckerman, Reuters, Aug. 3, 2018; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wildlife-pesticides/trump-administration-lifts-gmo-crop-ban-for-u-s-wildlife-refuges-idUSKBN1KP01K)

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Pesticides

Farmworkers are at greatest risk for exposure to agricultural pesticides and their adverse health impacts, according to a report prepared by The Organic Center and funded by the UNFI Foundation. The report synthesizes 129 research studies from around the world about the impacts of toxic, synthetic pesticides on the health of farmworkers and farm communities. Health risks associated with pesticides include cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and poor reproductive health. The report notes how certified organic production can substantially benefit those working in agricultural systems, as it bans the use of most pesticides and reduces exposure to these toxic chemicals. (“Farmworkers at risk from chemicals but organic can help, shows new report,” The Organic Center, Sept. 13, 2018; https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/09/13/1570513/0/en/Farmworkers-at-risk-from-chemicals-but-organic-can-help-shows-new-report.html)


In August 2018 jurors in San Francisco said that Monsanto (now part of Bayer AG) must pay $289 million in damages to 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, who has a fatal form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that he claims was caused by exposure to its glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, that he used as a school groundskeeper. The jury found that glyphosate-based weedkillers presented a substantial danger to applicators and that Monsanto officials acted with “malice or oppression” by inadequately warning of the risks. Testimony showed that for over 30 years studies had shown harm from the products, but that Monsanto claimed they were safe and that it worked with the EPA to suppress evidence of harm. About 4,000 plaintiffs have similar claims pending. The World Health Organization classifies glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. After Monsanto appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial, Judge Suzanne Bolanos denied the request for a new trial but decreased the amount to be paid to $78 million. (“One man's suffering exposed Monsanto's secrets to the world,” by Carey Gillam, The Guardian, Aug. 11, 2018; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/11/one-mans-suffering-exposed-monsantos-secrets-to-the-world; “Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, cuts award to $78 million,” by Paul Elias, AP News, Oct. 22, 2018; https://www.apnews.com/5c872e3fadfa41aeaf635c99a7629ba5)


A correction issued by Critical Reviews in Toxicology, a journal that analyzes health risks of chemicals, says that Monsanto Co. did not fully disclose its involvement in published research that found that glyphosate-based herbicides were safe. The journal did not challenge the study findings but only the lack of transparency when the article was submitted. The article initially disclosed that Monsanto paid a consulting firm to develop the journal supplement entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate” but said no Monsanto employees or attorneys reviewed submitted manuscripts. However, internal emails showed that Monsanto scientists heavily organized, reviewed and edited article drafts. (“Monsanto's Role in Roundup Safety Study Is Corrected by Journal,” by Joel Rosenblatt et al., Bloomberg, Sept. 27, 2018; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-27/monsanto-s-role-in-roundup-safety-study-is-corrected-by-journal)


Independent tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found glyphosate residues in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats, such as oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars. Almost three-fourths of those samples had glyphosate levels higher than 160 parts per billion (ppb), which EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety, so a single serving of those products would exceed EWG’s health benchmark. About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats contained glyphosate – at levels well below EWG’s health benchmark.

EWG adds that internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the FDA has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found “a fair amount,” but the FDA has not released its findings yet.
    
In addition to being applied to genetically engineered corn, soy, canola and sugar beet crops, glyphosate is increasingly sprayed just before harvest on non-GE wheat, barley, oats and beans to kill and dry the crops so that they can be harvested sooner. Studies suggest that glyphosate-sprayed crops such as wheat and oats are a major contributor to glyphosate in the daily diet.

The highest levels, greater than 1,000 ppb, were detected in two samples of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats. Three samples of Cheerios had glyphosate levels ranging from 470 ppb to 530 ppb.

In a follow-up study released in October 2018, glyphosate was found in all 28 samples of foods tested for EWG. The samples included 10 types of General Mills' Cheerios and 18 Quaker brand products from PepsiCo, including instant oatmeal, breakfast cereal and snack bars. Levels of glyphosate in this test were below EPA’s threshold of 30 parts per million, but 26 tested higher than EWG's health benchmark of 160 ppb.

Glyphosate may get into organic foods by drifting from nearby fields of conventionally grown crops or by cross-contamination during processing at a facility that also handles non-organic crops. Glyphosate can adhere to water and soil particles long enough to travel through the air or in a stream to nearby organic farms.

The EWG urged the EPA to restrict pre-harvest applications of glyphosate and tell companies to identify and use sources of glyphosate-free oats. (“Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?” by Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., Environmental Working Group, Aug. 15, 2018; https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/; “Another round of tests finds weedkiller widespread in popular cereals and snack bars,” by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, Oct. 24, 2018; https://www.ehn.org/another-round-of-tests-finds-weedkiller-widespread-in-popular-cereals-and-snack-bars-2614597933.html)


Two lawsuits have been filed against sandwich company Pret a Manger claiming that the “natural” label on its products that contain glyphosate is deceptive. Lab tests allegedly found traces of glyphosate in Harvest oatmeal raisin cookies, egg salad and arugula sandwiches, and other products made with the chain’s nine-grain granary bread. The Organic Consumers Association, a plaintiff in the case, previously won a lawsuit requiring removal of the “100% natural” label from Nature Valley granola bars after glyphosate residues were found in them. (“Pret a Manger sued in US for labelling products containing pesticides as 'natural',” by Arthur Nelsen, The Guardian, Sept. 25, 2018; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/25/pret-a-manger-pesticide-glyphosate-sued-natural-sandwich-bread-labeling-lawsuit-us)


Honeybees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations commonly found in the environment had decreased amounts of microbiota in their gut, leaving them prone to early death when exposed to a harmful pathogen, according to a University of Texas study. Monsanto had previously claimed that glyphosate does not harm wildlife, but bee gut bacteria contain that same enzyme that glyphosate targets in plants. (“Active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup hurts honey bee guts,” by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, Sept. 25, 2018; https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-herbicide-roundup-hurts-bees-2607605097.html)


A study by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute reveals that daily consumption of even small doses of neonicotinoid insecticides reduces the survival of queen and male bumblebees, which are critical to the survival of wild populations, while it had virtually no effect on the survival of workers at comparable doses. The study also found that exposure to the chemicals even at ultra-low doses alters the expression of genes regulating biological functions such as locomotion, reproduction, immunity, and learning and memory, suggesting that neonics may be having a greater negative impact on the viability of wild bumblebee populations than previously thought. This is the first study to examine how oral exposure to field-realistic doses of neonics differentially affects queen, male and worker bees at the individual level. Regarding regulatory decisions relating to pesticides, the study authors say their work emphasizes the importance of expanding research on the impact of pesticides on bumblebees to include the effects of field-realistic exposures on all types of bees and at all stages of the life cycle. (“Study Uncovers New Link between Neonicotinoid Pesticide Exposure and Wild Bumblebee Decline,” by Michael Dorsey, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, October 17, 2018; https://www.wpi.edu/news/study-uncovers-new-link-between-neonicotinoid-pesticide-exposure-and-wild-bumblebee-decline; “One size does not fit all: Caste and sex differences in the response of bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) to chronic oral neonicotinoid exposure”), by Robert J. Gegear and Melissa Mobley, PLOS One, Oct. 8, 2018; https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200041)


Sulfoxaflor, the first branded sulfoximine-based insecticide, reduced the size of bumblebee colonies and resulted in 54 percent fewer male offspring in an experiment exposing colonies to the pesticide. Sulfoximine-based insecticides are being developed as likely successors to neonicotinoid insecticides as the latter are increasingly banned or restricted due to their effects on bees. (“New generation of pesticides can reduce bumblebee reproduction,” By Marianne Brooker, The Ecologist, Aug. 16, 2018; https://theecologist.org/2018/aug/16/new-generation-pesticides-can-reduce-bumblebee-reproduction-writes-marianne-brooker)


Bacteria can develop antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when exposed to the herbicides Roundup or Kamba (a formulation of dicamba) along with antibiotics, according to a New Zealand study. This could interfere with the ability of antibiotics to treat human diseases, says Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury who was involved with the study. (“Roundup exposure speeds up antibiotic resistance – study,” by Jamie Morton, New Zealand Herald, Oct. 12, 2018; https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12141543; “Agrichemicals and antibiotics in combination increase antibiotic resistance evolution,” by William Godsoe et al., PeerJ, October 12, 2018; https://peerj.com/articles/5801/)

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