Dock of the Bay
Volume VI Number 2
January 15-21, 1998
Pass That Glowing Organic Tomato with the Fast-Grow Mouse DNA
Like organic growers everywhere, David Britt was excited that U.S. Department of Agriculture finally planned to issue standards for organically grown food.
After all, it had been eight years since Congress ordered the rules as part of the Organic Foods Production Act. Meanwhile, the organic business mushroomed, growing more than 20 percent annually to become a $3.5 billion business.
But Britt and most growers are disappointed. In proposed rules spelled out last month, federal agriculture officials "raised red flags," in Britt's words, by leaving open key questions about what constitutes organic food.
Disregarding advice of the National Organic Standards Board, the agriculture department raised the possibility that food carrying the organic label could be:
"The feds say they haven't taken a stand because they want public input," said Britt, a farmer from Boonesboro and a long-time member of the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association - MOFFA. "So it's imperative we take a stand and say the vast majority of organic growers do not consider this acceptable."
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a former member of Congress from Kansas, raised a fourth issue that was as objectionable to some as Baltimore sludge on arugula: Control over the organic system.
Back in 1989, organic folks pushed for a federal law that would not only assure consumers of what they were getting but would also protect them from the Department of Agriculture. They'd had enough of dismissive treatment and snide remarks, like the words of Earl Butz, agriculture secretary in the 1970s.
"When you hear the word organic," Butz said, "think starvation."
Comments like that were one of the reasons the organic industry persuaded Congress to establish the National Organic Standards Board to decide what is and isn't organic. The law says that the agriculture secretary can delete items from the list but can't add any.
But by leaving open the question of what organic growers call "The Big Three" - genetic engineering, sludge and irradiation - Glickman served notice that he may want to add to the list.
Board member Kathleen A. Merrigan said that she and others on board are fearful for the future of organic rules. If Glickman writes his own definitions, "then the safeguards that Congress put into the law will be lost," said Merrigan, who is executive director of the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture.
Glickman is navigating some tricky political waters within the Clinton administration. The Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed the use of sludge on organic crops. The Food and Drug Administration has said that irradiation is safe.
The Agriculture Department itself has been a vocal cheerleader for genetic engineering, working in recent months to force European community members to allow imports of genetically engineered, insect-resistant corn and soybeans altered to withstand all the Roundup herbicide Monsanto can sell.
An agriculture spokesman said that Glickman felt that matters in the organic debate were important enough to open a national discussion. He's getting it.
The department has received more e-mails and letters on the organic system than on any proposed rule in memory, the spokesman said.
Maryland is among 30 states that have some kind of organic standards written into the law. Still, Shane LaBrake, manager of the organic Ecosystem Farm in Accokeek, Md., says that growers in Maryland believe the new rules can help - once the red flags are down.
" Our sincere hope is that a national standard will level out the playing field while assuring consumers reliable organic products and growers a better reputation in the market place," LaBrake said.
To join the national discussion on the new rules, dial into the internet at www.ams.usda.gov/nop
The proposed federal rules are sure to be on the agenda when MOFFA holds its annual meeting Sat. Jan. 17 with keynote speaker Kate Clancey of the Wallace Institute. Join them from 9am to 4pm at the Maryland Department of Agriculture building on Harry S Truman Parkway, in Annapolis. Admission is $10; snow date is Jan. 24. To learn more: 301/371-4814.
Found: Big Thinkers For Small Planning Groups
It promises to be a big job with no pay, but 223 Anne Arundel citizens applied to put the county's General Development Plan to work in their communities.
"These plans will be defining where we would like to be and what we need to do to get there in the next decade," said county spokesman John Morris. "People will be deciding how to spend tax dollars on schools, roads, libraries and senior centers. They'll be saying where they'll want their homes and the jobs their children will work at and the recreation they want."
In Annapolis Neck, Broadneck, Crofton, Crownsville, Edgewater/Mayo and Severna Park, "small area planning" will begin in February. Between now and then, County Executive John Gary has the tough job of narrowing the field. Each community planning committee will have 15 members and three alternates. That will mean cutting 30 from the running in Annapolis Neck, where 48 citizens applied.
In Severna Park, the next highest number, 43 people, applied for 18 citizen planner jobs. In Broadneck, 39 applied; in Crownsville, 35, and in Crofton, 34. In one of south county's fastest growing areas, Edgewater/Mayo, the lowest number applied: 24.
Helping Gary make the appointments are citizens experienced in countywide planning who, according to Morris, "know what it takes."
The goal is to make each planning group as "representative as possible across age, interest and perspective."
Self-selection - the same phenomenon that makes most pot-luck dinners nicely diverse - seems to be cooperating. "We received a wide range, from community activists to people out of the limelight. They wrote from one or two sentences to full essays," Morris explained. But, he insisted, "people aren't being judged on their writing abilities."
Next month, the 108 chosen will be putting in long hours wrangling over such matters as mixed-use development, community design and transferable development rights. Innocuous as those labels sound, the realities behind them pit neighbor against neighbor.
Yet, regardless of their interests, Anne Arundel's citizen-planners will be bound by their promise to "be open-minded in order to listen and record impartially the views of the community." Part of their job will be to bring to the table comments, insights and suggestions from their neighbors.
"We're looking for people who have the ability not to just represent a personal agenda but to serve as two-way conduits between their community to committee," Morris said.
Over the next three years, 10 more small area planning committees will be formed. Application will reopen late in 1998 for Deale/Shady Side, South County and four more of Anne Arundel's 16 small area planning committees.
At Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, Harris' Act Closes; Morgan's Opens
Two nicely danced circles have opened and closed at the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis. In the first, Deborah Harris, general manger of the theatre for five and a half years, returns to her roots.
During Harris' tenure, the school and theatre matured. Enrollment at the ballet school doubled, rising to over 350 students. The dance company nearly doubled as the budget grew from $250,000 to over $400,000.
After her successful act, Harris plans to set out on a seven-month truck safari through Europe, Asia and Australia. "Having majored in anthropology, I feel as though I am coming full circle," Harris said.
In the second circle, new executive director Janet Morgan returns to her dancing roots.
Morgan, who began dancing at age four or five, studied dance at the Juilliard School of Music, completing her bachelor's in dance and physical education at Iowa State. But she then veered toward finance. After taking an MBA in Finance from Loyola University, she went on to found a new company, Mount Vernon Associates, a Baltimore investment advisory firm.
Still, dance was in her blood. The Arnold resident gravitated to the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis in 1984, rising from secretary to vice president and now to executive director.
"I joined the board three years ago as a volunteer," Morgan said, "after I had been involved for many years as a dance student. When this position came open, I decided it would be an exciting thing to do."
While Morgan will be managing the company behind stage rather than dancing on stage, she feels she's returned to an old love. "I've kind of gone full circle," she said.
Looking ahead, she's full of plans. "One of the things that we are working on, with the board and the artistic director is performing in venues beyond Annapolis," she said. "We want to be regularly performing in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore and to become better known throughout the state. We really want to work on expansion."
"That means money," Morgan added, undaunted, for she's been in that circle, too.
In Florida, researchers have confirmed that a huge skull dug from a quarry last year came from a giant armadillo that lived there 10,000 years ago. How big was this creature? Six feet long and 600 pounds, scientists estimate
Elsewhere in Florida, a 50-foot commercial fishing boat that ran aground recently in the Keys left a "trail of destruction" in beds of delicate elkhorn and fire coral, authorities said. The Virginia-registered Italian Stallion broke up after being removed by the Coast Guard ...
In Norway, score one for the fish. A school of herring sank a 63-foot trawler after getting caught in the net off the Norwegian coast. Crew members reported that when they tried to haul in the nets, the entire school swam for the bottom, causing the ship to capsize. The crew was rescued by another trawler; no word on the fate of the fish
In Washington, Rep. Christopher Shays' experience is a case for the Energizer Bunny. Shays, R-Conn., had never missed a vote in a decade in Congress until last fall when his beeper lost power and he was unaware of a vote on an environmental amendment. "It was like I got punched in the stomach," he said ...
Our Creature Feature comes to us this week from India, where game wardens are having problems protecting 3,000 of the world's remaining 5,000 tigers. They say one tiger is poached every day in India because of world demand for tiger parts. And 13 years after India launched Project Tiger to save the cats from extinction, the program has little money and few vehicles, radios and weapons to equip game wardens.
New Year's Day showed another danger: Four tigers died in northern India
when farmers put out a poisoned calf carcass in retaliation for attacks
on their livestock.
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