UPDATED November 16, 2007

State prevents honest label for rBGH-free milk

Excessive N depletes soil organic carbon

New mycotoxin website identifies feed risks

Survey links local foods with extra value

Paper explains GMO issues in organics

Ethanol better, or worse, than gasoline

Farm-to-school buys create local markets

Pennsylvania prevents honest label for rBGH-free milk

Without an open public-hearing process, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has told milk processors distributing within the Commonwealth that they cannot label milk to show that it is free of recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, effective January 1, 2008.

In explaining the move, the state’s secretary of agriculture said the rBGH-free statements confuse consumers because they may believe there is a difference in milk from cows injected with the synthetic growth hormone, produced by the Monsanto Company. The drug, sold under the brand name Posilac, extends the duration of a cow’s lactation, thereby stimulating more milk production per lactation.

The new PDA guidelines prevent any claim that cannot be proven by scientific testing. At present, no commercial tests are known to be able to detect Monsanto’s rBGH from the natural BGH in dairy cattle.

Critics say the move is just Monsanto’s way of winning, by regulation, a level of protection (through non-disclosure of rBGH status) that consumers are not willing to give it in the marketplace.

News account

Study documents excessive N fertilizers deplete soil organic carbon

Researchers at the University of Illinois shocked the agricultural establishment recently with a research paper titled “The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration,” published online October 24 by the Journal of Environmental Quality.

The analysis came from a century of soil organic carbon data from the university’s Morrow Plots, the world's oldest experimental site under continuous corn. After 40 to 50 years of synthetic fertilization that exceeded grain N removal by 60 to 190 percent, a net decline occurred in soil carbon despite increasingly massive residue C incorporation.

"In numerous publications spanning more than 100 years and a wide variety of cropping and tillage practices," said soil scientist Charlie Boast, "we found consistent evidence of an organic carbon decline for fertilized soils throughout the world and including much of the Corn Belt besides Illinois."

University of Illinois posting

Journal article

New mycotoxin website identifies feed risks, precautions

A comprehensive mycotoxin information website aims to help farmers and other animal feed industry specialists face the challenge of overcoming the repercussions of mycotoxins in animal feed and ultimately on livestock performance. The interactive website includes discussion forums and web casts with industry experts. This month, Lon Whitlow of North Carolina State University discusses mycotoxins and distillers grains on the site, sponsored by Alltech.

As far back as 1985, mycotoxins were known to contaminate the world’s feed supply. They can have a detrimental impact on the health of the animal, as well as costing the industry millions of dollars every year in unusable grains.

Site home

Survey looks at links between local foods, climate change, health, food safety

A new Leopold Center report shows that American consumers are skeptical about the safety of the global food system and many believe that local foods are safer and better for their health than foods from afar.

These are the views of a representative, nationwide sample of 500 consumers who participated in a web-based survey conducted in July 2007. Nearly half of respondents were willing to pay a 10 to 30 percent premium for food from supply chains that emit half as much greenhouse gas as conventional chains.

Study summary

Paper explains GMO legal issues for organic farmers

To answer the questions organic farmers have about their legal rights and responsibilities with respect to the unintended presence of genetically modified organisms, the Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG) has written a new article, “If Your Farm Is Organic, Must It Be GMO Free? Organic Farmers, Genetically Modified Organisms, and the Law.”

The 40-page document examines requirements to avoid the use of genetic engineering, briefly addresses handling requirements and concludes with a brief discussion of sales contracts and the ways in which they may impose responsibilities upon farmers that differ from the requirements for organic certification.

FLAG is a nonprofit law center based in St. Paul, Minnesota, dedicated to providing legal services to family farmers and their rural communities.

Printed copies can be obtained by calling FLAG’s office at 651-223-5400 (in Minnesota, toll-free at 877-860-4349). Printed copies are available for $11, or to financially distressed farmers in Minnesota at no charge.

Free download

Ethanol, alternative fuels better, or worse, than gasoline

Heightened concern about oil dependence is generating growing support for alternative transportation fuels, but some would emit significantly more global warming pollution than gasoline or diesel, according to a new report issued today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Corn ethanol could be either more polluting or less than gasoline, depending on how the corn is grown and the ethanol is produced. On average, corn ethanol can reduce emissions about 20 percent, though there is uncertainty due to differing land use practices. The cleanest alternative, cellulosic ethanol from grasses or wood chips, could reduce emissions by more than 85 percent.

Biofuels can have an advantage over liquid coal and gasoline because plants capture carbon dioxide, the most common global warming gas, as they grow. But producing biofuels will generate emissions, which at the farm will vary depending on tilling practices, fertilizer use, previous land use, and the fossil fuels used to power farm equipment. At the ethanol plant, emissions will depend on the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the fuel used to power the facility. All of these factors must be considered in a full life cycle analysis.

Full report

Farm-to-school network creates new local markets

Nearly 11,000 schools in 34 states are involved in formal programs to buy directly from local and regional farms, according to information on the new website of the National Farm to School Network. The site is the portal for farm-to-school program initiatives in the United States, including profiles, upcoming events, news and funding opportunities, and online discussion forums, as well as dialog on issues facing farm to school programs. New queries and network participants are welcome. The site showcases innovative farmers, teachers, food service directors, parents and others who are bringing fresh, local food to kids.