There's no question that transit improvements are one of the state's biggest challenges. At the beginning of December, the Maine section of the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the state's infrastructure a C-minus, a grade reflecting the fact that 38 percent of Maine's major roads "continue to have only fair to unacceptable conditions," and that "railroads continue to be under-utilized in Maine." More than a quarter of the state's bridges are listed as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which is higher than the national average.

WHAT'S IN OUR FOOD?

The case of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto is truly a story of David versus Goliath, with David being the Maine-headquartered OSGTA, which defends farmers' rights to save, grow, and farm with organic seeds, and the role of Goliath played by Monsanto, the international agribusiness that manufactures chemical herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.

The original lawsuit, filed in March 2011, challenged the validity of Monsanto's genetically modified seed patents and also sought protection for farmers in cases where those seeds contaminate organic crops (see "Seeds of Evil," by Deirdre Fulton, November 25, 2011). The case isn't only about farmer intimidation and patent law (though it is about those things too) — at its core, the suit is another battle in the war against bioengineered food. (According to the DC-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, a full 70 percent of items on America's food store shelves contain genetically modified organisms, engineered in laboratories to enhance certain traits such as resistance to disease or speedy growth.)

This year, the plaintiffs got both good and bad news. In February, a federal judge dismissed the case before it even went to trial, saying the lawsuit was "a transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists." But then, last month, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington DC announced it would hear an appeal of the dismissal on January 10, 2013.

Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, who serves as president of the OSGTA, is pleased to have another chance. "American family farmers have gone to court seeking justice and protection from Monsanto," he said in a statement. "We are not seeking one penny from Monsanto . . . We want our day in court so that our families can achieve protection from this perverse injustice. We are prepared to prove at trial that the U.S. Patent Office improperly granted Monsanto patents on their genetically engineered seed and that those patents are invalid."

FIGHTING THE HUMAN TRADE

Human trafficking — including sex slavery — is a problem in Maine, law enforcement officials told attendees at the "Not Here" Conference on Human Trafficking and Exploitation in Auburn this fall. While statistics about sex trafficking are hard to come by (because police officers and social service providers are often dealing with reticent victims who are unwilling to cooperate in investigations, or because the victims themselves are sometimes considered criminals, facing charges of prostitution or drug offenses), there's no doubt that local awareness about this national problem is growing. The Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation, formed in 2011, now includes representatives from more than 50 non-profit organizations and law-enforcement entities. In October, Portland police sergeant Tim Ferris told the Bangor Daily News that "the greater Portland area is a destination for people looking for girls to traffic. Traffickers will come up from Atlantic City, Boston and New York and essentially trick these girls into working for them."

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