Where and Why to Buy Local in Maryland

buylocal-logoBuy Local Week is upon us! Kicking off with Governor Larry Hogan’s Buy Local Cookout on July 16, the challenge to “eat at least one thing from a local farm every day” has been lauded by farmers market organizations, civic groups, and locavores who view eating locally as a way to protect the environment, boost local businesses, and build community. After all, the typical American meal travels an astounding 1,500 miles before it winds up on someone’s plate.

With an estimated 12,000 farms throughout Maryland, and over 1,100 of those selling locally, the Buy Local campaign is a boon to thousands of farming families throughout the state. Read More >

Pesticide use reporting bill discussed in the MD General Assembly

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has surveyed MD farmers about their pesticide use just four times since 1988—most recently in 2004 when an estimated 10.7 million pounds was applied (full report). A bill heard yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly Environmental Matters Committee (House Bill 660) looks to modernize pesticide reporting— by requiring farmers and other certified applicators ( landscape companies. pest control companies, state agencies as well as dealers who purchase and sell restricted use pesticides) to annually report agricultural pesticide usage, release, purchase, and sales.

Maryland State House (wikipedia)

Maryland State House (wikipedia)

In-house record keeping of pesticide usage is already required of farmers, so what this bill adds is the concept of— and funding for— an online, centralized pesticide reporting system that Maryland Department of Agriculture would administer, using funds levied from a tax on pesticide vendors and not farmers.

Pesticide usage is important to monitor because these chemicals can be toxic to non-target organisms, including humans and wildlife. Human health risks from pesticides do exist, as noted in an information packet developed by Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network:

Recent research conducted primarily under the National Institute of Health’s Agricultural Health Study suggests that farmers, their families and other agricultural workers are at increased risk for a wide range of health problems due to pesticide exposure. These include: respiratory disorders (i.e., Farmer’s lung; asthma), cancer (lung, bladder, colon, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and leukemia in offspring), poor cognitive functioning, depression, autism and fertility problems.

Once applied to crops, pesticides can travel off the farm and into groundwater, surface water and carried by wind, called spray drift. The United States Geological Service (USGS) found 75% of wells sampled in Central and Western Maryland, and 75% of surface waters sampled in the Mid-Atlantic (including MD) contain pesticides. These pesticides include both herbicides and insecticides. Agricultural pesticides migrate into water bodies like the Potomac River, where they can create intersex fish and stress aquatic animals as shown in a USGS study.

“Given the crucial economic, ecological, and sociological role that the fisheries of the Chesapeake Bay have for our region” says Dr. Eric Schott of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in written testimony in support of HB660, “and the fact that the Bay is downstream of everything, it is prudent to know as much as possible about pesticide and fertilizer usage in the state.” Schott predicts that pesticide reporting will allow modelers and ecologists to come up with better solutions for the Bayʼs problems.”

Scientists, including myself, and physicians who testified in support of the bill are eager to see it move forward.

The MD bill’s sponsor in the House is Delegate Barbara Frush and in the Senate Karen Montgomery. The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for committee hearings next Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

Poultry Processing Plant Receives Maryland’s Highest Ever Fine for Occupational Safety & Health Violations

Wow:  The state of Maryland has issued its highest ever occupational safety and health fine, to a poultry plant run by Allen Family Foods: $1.03 million.  I wanted to blog about it both because I think it is important that those working on food systems and public health issues keep in mind not only the environmental and nutritional health implications of our food system, but also the impacts on the nearly 1/5 of US workers whose jobs involve food.  I also wanted to blog about it because it is a big deal that MOSH (Maryland Occupational Safety & Health) and OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration) are stepping up enforcement.


MOSH issued the million dollar fine after a worker’s hand was seriously injured from reaching under a conveyor belt that should have been guarded but wasn’t.  At the post-injury inspection of the Hurlock, MD plant, OSHA identified 51 violations – including 15 “willful” and one “egregious.”  In recent years, OSHA has found over 200 violations at that plant. According to the state’s MOSH director, “The biggest problem we have here is repeated warnings over the years, and a lot of times they’d repair something or take care of the problem and then go right back to the same habits.”

chickenworkersThe case follows a $182,000 OSHA fine last year to an Allen Family Foods poultry processing plant in Delaware for “hazards with industrial trucks, falls, personal protective equipment, machine guarding, electrical hazards, process safety management, respirators and emergency response” – incurred after MOSH suggested OSHA look at Allen’s non-Maryland plant.

While fines like these may not seem that high compared to those issued by EPA and other agencies, in occupational safety and health they are major.  For example, in Maryland, the average fine per “serious” violation (e.g., posing substantial probability of death or serious physical harm) was only $688.  That’s 78% of the national average, which itself is only $882.

Despite Allen Family Foods’ protestations that safety is its top priority, there is further evidence that the company has not emphasized a strong safety culture.  In a case decided last year, 250 poultry plant employees challenged the company under the Fair Labor Standards Act, saying that the company should pay them for their time putting on and taking off safety gear. Disturbingly, and with national implications, the judge said that personal protective equipment wasn’t clothing and that the company didn’t have to pay.  Way to encourage workers to gear up properly!

Allen Family Foods is less well known than a company like Perdue, but it is quite large. According to its website, the company sells 600 million pounds of chicken annually in the US and abroad, and owns breeding and hatchery facilities, feed mills, processing plants, feed grain production, and 28 company-owned growout farms.  Allen also works with over 500 independent growout farms that grow company-provided chicks.  About a fourth of the company’s processing staff are non-US born, and the company has an established partnership with the knifegloveImmigration and Naturalization Service.  Allen Family Foods announced plans to appeal the million dollar fine, and has also announced it is actually selling the Hurlock plant.  By contrast, after the Delaware fine, the company announced a 20% expansion of that plant, to enable producing 1.2 million chickens weekly.

Is Allen just a “bad actor,” and the rest of the industry is doing ok?  Is MOSH making an example of Allen with this fine in order to motivate better compliance throughout the industry?  I personally can’t say.  Perhaps both. Read More >

CLF provides House testimony on Maryland Bill 953 to ban arsenic from poultry feed


Dr. Keeve Nachman, Director of the Farming for the Future Program at the Center for a Livable Future gave invited testimony to the Maryland House of Delegates on Friday, March 5 on the public health risks of arsenic in poultry feed. Delegate Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery Co) introduced the bill, which also received supportive testimony from Douglas Gansler, the state’s Attorney General, a representative from River Keepers, a representative from the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, and a concerned citizen.

Opponents to the bill gave a wide range of unsupported statements of questionable validity why Roxarsone should be included in poultry feed. Among their assertions were statements that Roxarsone promotes environmental sustainability, food safety, and poultry health, improves the rate of weight gain, and because of its widespread use (fed to 88% of chickens in the US), that Roxarsone should be treated as a national issue and not a state issue.

Perdue has publically stated that they do not use Roxarsone, and when questioned by Delegate Steve Lafferty (D-Baltimore Co), none of the four poultry industry representatives could give a concrete reason why Perdue withdrew it from feed.

It is possible that the reasons Perdue are no longer using roxarsone are the following:

  • Roxarsone is transformed by bacteria or ultraviolet light into inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen.
  • In addition to arsenic in meat, poultry waste from the Mid-Atlantic generates an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 kg of arsenic annually (Christen 2001; Silbergeld and Nachman 2008).
  • A market basked sample of cooked and uncooked poultry products conducted by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found total arsenic in 55% (of 155 samples) of grocery store poultry meat.

“The use of arsenical drugs like roxarsone, combined with the various methods for poultry waste management create opportunities for people to be unnecessarily exposed to inorganic arsenic” says Dr. Nachman. The only way to eliminate these risks is by banning aresnicals in poultry feed.

We will follow MD Bill 953 as it moves through the Environmental Matters committee and report back in the coming weeks.

– Dave Love