Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Got Milk, Got Unwanted Hormones?

Factory farming churns out cow’s milk laced with steroid hormones.
Published on March 22, 2014 by Robert D. Martin, Ph.D. in How We Do It

Holstein dairy cows produce significantly more milk for female offspring than for males. Harvard anthropologist Katie Hinde and colleagues reported this finding in a recent paper, deservedly attracting considerable attention. The results were based on a gigantic dataset beyond the wildest dreams of most investigators: 2.5 million lactation records from 1.5 million cows. Offspring sex influences milk output in two ways. First, the mother produces more milk after giving birth to a female calf than after a male. (Calves are removed soon after birth and cannot influence subsequent milk production.) More surprisingly, ongoing milk production by a pregnant cow is enhanced or diminished according to the sex of her fetus. As Hinde and colleagues concluded, this indicates that offspring in the womb program mammary function. But wait: That means that much of the milk we now drink comes from pregnant cows!

Milking cows during pregnancy?

An avid milk drinker in my youth, I never really thought about how it was obtained, and it certainly never occurred to me that farmers might milk cows in late pregnancy. I first learned of this a few years back. In fact, the average yield of Holstein cows   —  specially selected for milk production  —  exceeds 22,000 pounds a year. Modern dairy farmers harvest milk from a Holstein cow for about ten months, seven during pregnancy. Like humans, cows are pregnant for about nine months, so milking ceases only for the last two. But levels of steroid hormones, notably estrogens and progesterone, soar as pregnancy progresses.

Health risks posed by estrogen-mimicking organic compounds in the environment, such as bisphenol A (BPA), have been much discussed (see my June 11, 2013 post: Spectators on Steroids). But natural estrogens can be 100,000 times more potent.

Epidemiological evidence linking cow’s milk to cancers
More ...

It is tempting to conclude that, because excess hormones in cow’s milk result from milking late-pregnant cows, all we need to do is to stop this recent practice. But such a major upheaval in the economics of dairy farming is unlikely to happen any time soon. Moreover, milk contains high levels of beneficial nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, so eliminating dairy products is not a desirable option. However, evasive action, such as drinking skim milk, is possible because steroid hormones are primarily located in milk fat. In addition, a 2012 paper by Farlow and colleagues reported that estrogen levels in goat's milk were significantly lower than in any cow's milk product tested.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Historic Farm Bill Funding Available to Organic Producers and Handlers

News Release
Release No. 0149.14
Contact: Office of Communications (202)720-4623

Historic Farm Bill Funding Available to Organic Producers and Handlers
Funds to assist with Organic Certification Costs

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that approximately $13 million in Farm Bill funding is now available for organic certification cost-share assistance, making certification more accessible than ever for small certified producers and handlers.

"Consumer demand for organic products is surging across the country," said Secretary Tom Vilsack. "To meet this demand, we need to make sure that small farmers who choose to grow organic products can afford to get certified. Organic food is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and helping this sector continue to grow creates jobs across the country."

The certification assistance is distributed through two programs within the Agricultural Marketing Service. Through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, $11.5 million is available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories. Through the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, an additional $1.5 million is available to organic operations in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

These programs provide cost-share assistance through participating states to USDA certified organic producers and handlers for certification-related expenses they incur from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014. Payments cover up to 75 percent of an individual producer's or handler's certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per certification. To receive cost-share assistance, organic producers and handlers should contact their state agencies. Each state will have their own guidelines and requirements for reimbursement, and the National Organic Program (NOP) will assist states as much as possible to successfully implement the programs. State contact information can be found on the NOP Cost Share Website,

In 2012 alone, USDA issued close to 10,000 cost-share reimbursements totaling over $6.5 million, to support the organic industry and rural America. Additional information about resources available to small and mid-sized producers, including accessing capital, risk management, locating market opportunities and land management is available on USDA's Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources webpage.

USDA has a number of new and expanded efforts to connect organic farmers and businesses with resources that will ensure the continued growth of the organic industry domestically and abroad. During this Administration, USDA has signed four major trade agreements on organic products, and is also helping organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation, provide access to loans and grants, fund organic research and education, and mitigate pest emergencies. Through the NOP, USDA has helped organic farmers and businesses achieve $35 billion annually in U.S. retail sales. The organic community includes over 25,000 organic businesses in more than 120 different countries around the world.

Today's funding announcement for organic certification cost-share assistance was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

For additional information contact Dana Stahl, Organic Certification Cost Share Program Manager,, (540) 361-1126. Additional information is available on the NOP's website at

The NOP is responsible for ensuring the integrity of USDA organic agricultural products in the United States and throughout the world. Find out more about organic certification by visiting


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).

Toledo panic shows Great Lakes at risk

August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am
Toledo panic shows Great Lakes at risk
Gail Philbin

Toledo’s recent bout with poisoned drinking water should serve as a huge wake-up call to Michigan to take seriously the link between factory farming, water pollution and public health.

The story of how dangerous levels of a toxin ended up in the water supply of Ohio’s fourth-largest city is in large part the story of how we grow our food today and who decides what are considered good farming practices. The impetus for Toledo’s weekend water ban was microcystin, a toxin experts say can cause diarrhea, vomiting or abnormal liver function that probably formed in a recent algae bloom in Lake Erie. The soupy, pea-green growth in one of our Great Lakes is an increasingly common occurrence fed in part by phosphorus run-off from southern Michigan fields applied with commercial fertilizer or factory farm waste.

Why all the fertilizer and animal waste in our water? Because we eat lots of meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. The United States is the largest producer of corn in the world. Eighty percent of what we grow is consumed not by people but by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry and fish production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Vast monocultures of corn require large amounts of fertilizer to grow.

We also like cheap food and buy products that come from industrial-scale, concentrated livestock facilities, many of which have been constructed in the last decade in western Lake Erie watersheds that include southern Michigan.

Such operations are favored by federal Farm Bill subsidies that keep their product prices artificially low. This taxpayer-funded support often goes to help construct manure lagoons and other systems for handling the huge amount of waste factory farms generate. Even so, it can end up polluting nearby waterways, as shown in the 2013 report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape. The current subsidy system rewards polluters, giving an unfair advantage over healthy, sustainable livestock farms.

More ...

Lake Erie algal bloom, photo by Tom Archer.