Blog

November 23, 2015

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont

Several of our favorite holiday plants should be kept from children and pets, yet often they pose no serious danger in small amounts.  There are many other and more toxic substances to children in homes to be mindful of, especially cosmetics, cleaning products, and personal care products. 
   
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), the most popular flowering potted plant for indoors, has gotten a bum rap for a number of years. It's been falsely accused of being poisonous, yet no deaths from this plant have ever been recorded. In fact, research studies at Ohio State University have proven that poinsettias present no health hazard.
   
The rumors arise from a highly questionable report of a single fatality in Hawaii more than 80 years ago, a child who reportedly died after eating one leaf. However, that doesn't mean the poinsettia doesn't have mildly toxic properties. If ingested by pets or humans, it can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in diarrhea or vomiting.
   
The sap may cause a poison ivy-like blistering on contact with the skin on some persons unless washed off immediately. That's why it's important to place poinsettias, and other holiday plants, out of the reach of children and curious pets.  Keep in mind that pets and people may differ in what plants are toxic, and to what degree.  Kalanchoe, for instance, is not listed as toxic for people but is mildly toxic for pets.
   
How safe are other holiday plants to humans? Here's the rundown on some common plants which have toxic properties.

HOLLY (Ilex): Branches are used during the holidays in arrangements for the shiny (but prickly) dark green leaves and berries.  Eating the bright, red berries of this plant usually result in no toxicity in small quantities.  Large quantities cause nausea, abdominal pain, or vomiting.

JERUSALEM CHERRY (Solanum pseudocapsicum): This potted plant has been more popular in decades past, but still can be found during the holidays (so also called Christmas Cherry) for the rounded red fruits against the dark green leaves on a plant about a foot high.  Every part of this plant contains the toxic substance solanocapsine, especially in unripened fruits and leaves. Eating the fruit or foliage will adversely affect the heart and can cause a range of symptoms including stomach pain, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, to others more severe.

MISTLETOE (Phoradendron serotinum):  This plant parasite of deciduous trees in the Southeastern states is used during the holidays for hanging above doorways, and for its white berries.  While most exposures result in little or no toxicity, eating large amounts can cause acute stomach and intestinal disorders.  These are caused by the chemical phoratoxin, related to ricin (the highly toxic compound from castor bean plants).

YEW (Taxus): The leaves, seeds (not the red fleshy covering), bark, and twigs of this evergreen can be toxic from the chemical taxine, causing breathing difficulties, uncontrollable trembling, and vomiting.  Most reported poisonings are from the seeds, and only result in mild symptoms.  Allergic reactions may occur from nibbling on leaves.  Yew is another example of the toxicity difference between people and some animals.  It is toxic to people, pets, and livestock, but is devoured by deer. 


AZALEA (Rhododendron): This holiday plant is mainly grown as a shrub outdoors with thousands of variants.  The leaves can be toxic, as is honey made from flower nectar containing grayanotoxins.  Perhaps the first written account of rhododendron toxicity was from the 4th century in Greece, depicting the poisoning of ten thousand soldiers from a yellow shrub azalea.  One study concluded that eating moderate amounts of azalea posed little danger to humans.  Pets and children may be more seriously affected, so it should be kept from them.

CYCLAMEN (Cyclamen persicum):  Since the thickened roots (rhizomes) of these are the primary toxic part, containing saponins (similar to those in English ivy), it is unlikely humans (including children) would eat such and be affected, and then only if large quantities are ingested.  Skin exposure to the plant sap may cause a skin rash in some people.  Pets, especially those that like to dig in pots, should be kept away from cyclamen.

AMARYLLIS (Hippeastrum):  The toxic part of this plant is the bulb, which contains lycorine and similar alkaloids.  These are the compounds found also in daffodils, and the reason wild animals such as deer know to leave them alone.  House pets may not be so wise, so keep these away from them.  Ingestion by humans is unlikely, with small amounts producing few or no symptoms. 
   
For more details on toxic plants of all types, including common houseplants, consult the second edition of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants by doctors Nelson, Shih, and Balick.  From Springer publishing, it is one of the most authoritative, up-to-date, and affordable references for human poisoning by plants, and is used in many poison control centers.
   
A couple of the more extensive websites to check out plants poisonous to humans are from North Carolina State University (gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/) and the University of California at Davis (ucanr.edu/sites/poisonous_safe_plants).  There are several good online resources to check on toxicity of plants to pets, one being the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspca.org/pet-care), which also lists plants toxic to horses.  Several sites, including Cornell University (poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu), deal specifically with plants poisonous to livestock.
   
If you suspect poisoning, seek immediate professional help.  Unless told to do so by a doctor, do NOT make the person throw up.  Call your local poison control center, often at your local hospital.  Or, you can call the national poison control center hotline, toll-free, (800-222-1222) and talk with poison control experts.   This service is available anytime, and can answer any questions on poisoning, even if not from plants and even if not an emergency.

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November 23, 2015

Ten Public Meetings Across the State will Allow Stakeholders to Provide Feedback       

By Ryan Patch, VAAFM                                                                                           

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a period of public comment which will run through December 18, 2015.  This is a pre-filing period which will afford the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM will formalize the draft this winter and will then enter into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016.  Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite as well as the formal rulemaking period.

For a copy of the draft RAP document, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdf

To help facilitate this comment and input process, VAAFM has scheduled ten public meetings across the state.  These public meetings will include a detailed presentation of the draft RAPs, with a question and answer session to follow.  In order to maximize public input, VAAFM is also offering to hold smaller group meetings for interested organizations and stakeholders to review the rules in greater detail.  For the current list of scheduled public meetings, please visit VAAFM’s webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/public-meetings

“It is important for all stakeholders to understand the rules are in draft form – and that their feedback in this process is critical,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “We are holding these meetings because we want to engage with the public, to gather their feedback, and to ensure we are implementing a realistic, workable framework for agricultural practices in our state that effectively protects our lakes and rivers. We hope, and expect, that key stakeholders will step up and attend these meetings, to ensure their perspectives are heard.”

VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015.  Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State.  The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).”  VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016.  Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.

“The Agency of Agriculture wants to be very transparent with this process,” said Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Agricultural Resources Management Division. “This collaborative process will ensure VAAFM develops a rule which meets the intent of Act 64, and is workable and implementable by the diversity of agricultural operations in the state.”

In addition to requiring the implementation of RAPs, Act 64 instructed VAAFM to establish a program certifying and training small farm operations.  With over 7,000 farms in the state, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census, a significant portion of small farms could be required to newly certify compliance with the RAPs when the program is implemented on July 1, 2017.

“Farms of all sizes will be impacted by the RAPs, which is why it is important for all farmers to attend a meeting and provide comment,” said Leland.

Significant and expanding technical and financial assistance is available from Federal, state and local organizations—including Vermont’s new Clean Water Fund established by Act 64. This will help ensure farms of all sizes are able to continue to access resources to assist in the planning and implementation of management changes and conservation practices to improve water quality on farms. 

“Farms of all sizes are already making significant progress at developing plans and implementing conservation practices statewide,” said Leland. “When implemented, the RAPs will set a roadmap and standards to ensure current and future planning efforts are as effective as possible at improving water quality on farms in Vermont.”

Act 64 also requires that a VAAFM submit a draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile drainage to the legislature in January 2016, with the RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018.  Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.

For more information about the RAPs, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

A timeline for RAP public input, revisions and implementation can be found at AAFMs webpage http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap#Q9

VAAFM will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no formal response to individual comments received.  Comment can be e-mailed to: AGR.RAP@vermont.gov or mailed directly to: 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620

Comment received by VAAFM regarding the draft RAPs will be used solely for consideration during the revision of the RAPs and will not be used for water quality regulatory enforcement purposes.  VAAFM encourages farm operations to submit comment with examples of areas on their farm where their current management meets state water quality standards, but would be out of compliance with the draft rules.

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November 17, 2015

By Kristina Sweet, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

EVENT: Vermont Agency of Agriculture Hosts FDA for December Meeting on Food Safety Modernization Act Final Rules

DATE: Monday, December 14, 2015

TIME: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM

LOCATION: Latchis Theatre, 50 Main Street, Brattleboro, VT 05301

On Monday, December 14, 2015, join the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) and U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) subject matter experts for an overview of three final Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Rules:

  • Produce Safety
  • Preventive Controls for Human Food
  • Preventive Controls for Animal Food

FDA subject matter experts will provide information on what the new rules cover and who must comply, as well as major requirements of the rules. All stakeholders throughout the Northeast are invited to attend this informational event and will have opportunities to ask questions of FDA subject matter experts.

Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) represents the largest update to the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act since 1938, requiring FDA to set new food safety standards for food production both in facilities and on farms. Since FDA published the proposed rules in January 2013, VAAFM has worked to establish strong partnerships with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and FDA in order to ensure the perspectives and experiences of New England producers have been accurately represented throughout the rulemaking process.

The Produce Safety, Preventive Controls for Human Food, and Preventive Controls for Animal Food rules are now final and will be implemented throughout the United States over the next one to five years. VAAFM, along with other state departments and agencies of agriculture, will continue to work closely with NASDA, FDA and other national partners as FSMA rules are finalized and throughout the implementation process.

This informational event is free, open to the public, and accessible to people with disabilities. No registration is required. For more information or to request accommodations such as seating, interpreting, etc., call (802) 522-7811 or email AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov in advance of the event.

For updates and more information, visit VAAFM’s Food Safety Modernization Act page at http://go.usa.gov/3SV3F. To access the final FSMA rules, visit FDA’s FSMA page at http://www.fda.gov/FSMA.

Provisional Meeting Agenda (To be confirmed by 11/30/15)

9:30–10:00 AM - Reception (Refreshments provided)

10:00–10:40 AM - Welcome & Opening Remarks

10:40 AM–12:00 PM - FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Food Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

12:00–1:30 PM - Break (Lunch will not be provided)

1:30–2:50 PM - FSMA Produce Safety Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

2:50–3:00 PM - Break

3:00–4:20 PM - FSMA Preventive Controls for Animal Food Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

4:20–4:30 PM - Closing Remarks

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November 3, 2015

By Ryan Patch, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Ten Public Meetings Across the State will Allow Stakeholders to Provide Feedback                                                                                                     

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a period of public comment which will run through December 18, 2015.  This is a pre-filing period which will afford the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM will formalize the draft this winter and will then enter into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016.  Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite as well as the formal rulemaking period.

For a copy of the draft RAP document, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdf

To help facilitate this comment and input process, VAAFM has scheduled ten public meetings across the state.  These public meetings will include a detailed presentation of the draft RAPs, with a question and answer session to follow.  In order to maximize public input, VAAFM is also offering to hold smaller group meetings for interested organizations and stakeholders to review the rules in greater detail.  For the current list of scheduled public meetings, please visit VAAFM’s webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/public-meetings

“It is important for all stakeholders to understand the rules are in draft form – and that their feedback in this process is critical,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “We are holding these meetings because we want to engage with the public, to gather their feedback, and to ensure we are implementing a realistic, workable framework for agricultural practices in our state that effectively protects our lakes and rivers. We hope, and expect, that key stakeholders will step up and attend these meetings, to ensure their perspectives are heard.”

VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015.  Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State.  The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).”  VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016.  Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.

“The Agency of Agriculture wants to be very transparent with this process,” said Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Agricultural Resources Management Division. “This collaborative process will ensure VAAFM develops a rule which meets the intent of Act 64, and is workable and implementable by the diversity of agricultural operations in the state.”

In addition to requiring the implementation of RAPs, Act 64 instructed VAAFM to establish a program certifying and training small farm operations.  With over 7,000 farms in the state, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census, a significant portion of small farms could be required to newly certify compliance with the RAPs when the program is implemented on July 1, 2017.

“Farms of all sizes will be impacted by the RAPs, which is why it is important for all farmers to attend a meeting and provide comment,” said Leland.

Significant and expanding technical and financial assistance is available from Federal, state and local organizations—including Vermont’s new Clean Water Fund established by Act 64. This will help ensure farms of all sizes are able to continue to access resources to assist in the planning and implementation of management changes and conservation practices to improve water quality on farms. 

“Farms of all sizes are already making significant progress at developing plans and implementing conservation practices statewide,” said Leland. “When implemented, the RAPs will set a roadmap and standards to ensure current and future planning efforts are as effective as possible at improving water quality on farms in Vermont.”

Act 64 also requires that a VAAFM submit a draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile drainage to the legislature in January 2016, with the RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018.  Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.

For more information about the RAPs, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

A timeline for RAP public input, revisions and implementation can be found at AAFMs webpage http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap#Q9

VAAFM will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no formal response to individual comments received.  Comment can be e-mailed to: AGR.RAP@vermont.gov or mailed directly to: 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620

Comment received by VAAFM regarding the draft RAPs will be used solely for consideration during the revision of the RAPs and will not be used for water quality regulatory enforcement purposes.  VAAFM encourages farm operations to submit comment with examples of areas on their farm where their current management meets state water quality standards, but would be out of compliance with the draft rules.

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October 28, 2015

By Reg Godin, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Today, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces the availability of $25,000 in grant funds for the Trade Show Assistance Grant.  Part of VAAFM’s growing Domestic Export Program, the Trade Show Assistance Grant is designed to help expand out-of-state sales opportunities for Vermont farm, food, and forestry businesses by increasing the financial accessibility of national trade shows.  Held annually throughout the United States, trade shows attract many thousands of retailers and represent a valuable opportunity for VT businesses to exhibit their products and connect with new out-of-state markets and distribution channels. 

Vermont businesses have the option to apply for funding in two different areas:

  1. Trade Show Attendee - A new Company which has not exhibited at a trade show before and would like the opportunity to attend (but not exhibit), to gauge exhibiting opportunities, and partake in educational programs.  Maximum grant will be $500 per attendee, with no more than 2 attendees per company.
  2. Trade Show Exhibitor – A Company exhibiting at a specific trade show for the first time (or first time in 5 years).  Grants of up to $2,000 are available to assist grantees with expenses related to:  booth space, travel expenses, accessories and trade show related marketing.

The application window for the Trade Show Assistance Grant will be open from Wednesday, October 28th through Tuesday, December 8th 2015.  The Trade Show Grant application can be found online here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/domestic_export/trade_show_grant_application

This year marks the second year the Trade Show Assistance Grant has been made available to Vermont businesses.  Last year, 25 grantees were selected to attend 15 different trade shows in 10 different states across the country, including Nevada and California.  Twenty-one grantees have participated in a trade show to date, collectively reporting over 1,000 sales leads generated, nearly $35,000 in immediate sales and an estimated $1 million in annual sales. 

"A trade show is much more than a venue for sales,” said Hilary Hoffman of Vermont Hay Company, a 2014/2015 Trade Show Grantee who exhibited for the first time at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD.  “It is an opportunity to learn from more experienced retailers and wholesalers about product placement and price point, to gain input on possible future products, to collaborate with other companies, and to gain significant exposure to both small retailers and some of the largest chains in the United States. Well worth attending!"

This year, the Working Lands Enterprise Fund has allocated $25,000 to continue the Trade Show Assistance Grant for the 2015/2016 grant period. The mission of the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative is to strengthen and grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont's working landscape. This $25,000 investment will help Vermont food and forest producers reach critical out-of-state markets and support Vermont’s growing economy. 

The Domestic Export Program is administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. For more information about The Domestic Export Program, contact Reg Godin at Reg.Godin@vermont.gov or (802) 522-3648. 

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