Obesity Trends Cut Across Species
Scientists studied obesity and overweight trends over five decades in 12 species of animals that live in close proximity to humans, including monkeys, rats, cats, and dogs. All species of animals, and both males and females, have been getting more obese.
The odds of 24 populations of animals all becoming more obese by chance are, according to the team, one in 8,333,333.
Female cats experienced 13.6% increase in body weight per decade, while male cats gained 5.7% of their body weight per decade.
Male rats in Baltimore grew 5.7% per decade, while rural rats grew in size by 4.5%.
The team speculates that the causes of this universal trend toward obesity could be exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, a response to new viruses, epigenetic reprogramming, and/or metabolic efficiency.
Source: Klimentidis, Y.C., et al., “Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, December 19, 2010
Strangely, the team did not address what I believe is by far the most plausible explanation of this pattern toward obesity across all species sharing the human landscape -- changes in food nutritional quality.
There has been a general decline in concentrations of essential minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids in nearly all of the foods consumed by these species, including humans. Fewer nutrients per mouthful causes animals to consume more food to get their minimally necessary allotments of essential micro and macronutrients.
As nutrient levels have fallen, there has been a steady increase in the concentrations of fat, salt, and sugar in many foods. So, bite for bite over the last five decades, food delivers more calories and less nutrition. To consume sufficient nutrients from nutrient-depleted foods, animals have to consume too many calories.
Some research suggests that the same phenomenon might be happening with taste. Animal genes are programmed to crave a certain amount of various flavours on a daily basis, presumably because of the known connection between flavour and phtyonutrients. While we have not developed a taste for quercitin or resveratrol, we have developed a taste for grapes, tomatoes, and other foods high in these health-promoting polyphenol compounds.
Glyphosate Reduces Water Use Efficiency in Roundup Ready Soybeans
A team of U.S. and Brazilian scientist have determined that applications of glyphosate herbicide on an early maturing variety of Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans dramatically reduces rates of photosynthesis and also decreases water use efficiency (WUE).
The paper explains that farmers have been reporting unexpected drought stress in some RR soybean fields, and that visual signs of plant stress are often observed following glyphosate applications. In additional, applications of glyphosate significantly impair plant nutritional status, because certain minerals in the soil become less bioavailable to root systems.
The research was carried out in the summer of 2008 at the State University of Maringa, Brazil.
Depending on the growth stage and rate of glyphosate application, rates of photosynthesis in glyphosate-resistant (GR) soybeans were reduced by 10% to 100%. A single, high-dose application reduced photosynthesis more so than the same amount of glyphosate applied over two applications.
According to the research team, “the volume of water that non-treated GR soybean plants required to produce 1 g of dry biomass is 204% and 152% less than required when the plant is exposed to 2400 g a.e. per hectare.”
Placing this remarkable finding into perspective, the scientists concluded that –
“GR soybean plants receiving a single application of the currently recommended rates of glyphosate (600-1200 g a.e. per hectare) needed 13-20% more water to produce the same amount of dry biomass than non-glyphosate treated plants.”
“Effects of glyphosate or its metabolites on WUE explains why GR soybean plants treated with glyphosate are more sensitive to drought and less efficient in converting water into biomass compared to GR plants that do not receive glyphosate.”
Source: Zobiole, L.H.S., et al., “Water use efficiency and photosynthesis of glyphosate-resistant soybean as affected by glyphosate,” Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology, Vol. 97, 2010: pages 182-193.
Nineteen Pesticides Linked to Increase Cancer Risk
The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) is the largest-ever assessment of the health of workers involvedinU.S. agriculture, and has been underway for almost two decades. A review published in Environmental Health Perspectives summarizes the results of 27 studies using AHS data on linkages between pesticide use and exposure and elevated cancer risk.
A total of 36 cases were identified in which exposure to a pesticide increased the risk of a specific form of cancer. The basic measure of risk in cancer epidemiology studies is the “odds ratio,” where values over 1.0 represent elevated risk, and values less than 1.0, reduced risk.
In general, any odds ratio over 1.2 is regarded as indicative of potential to cause cancer, and values over 2.0 generally raise serious concern among regulators, since a 2.0 odds ratio means the individuals in the most exposed group were twice as likely to suffer from a given cancer as those in the least exposed group.
There were many highly significant odds ratios across the population groups studied (some of the 27 studies reported results in multiple cohorts of people for several pesticides). There were 20 odds ratios that fell in the range 2-3, 12 in the range 3-4, 6 between 4 and 5, and remarkably, three were over 5.
Nineteen pesticides were involved in these 36 cases. While seven of these 19 pesticides are no longer registered or used in the U.S., several widely used pesticides are among the remaining 12 including chlorpyrifos, diazinon, EPTC, dicamba, metolachlor, pendimethalin, aldicarb, imazethapyr, trifluralin, carbaryl, and permethrin.
Lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and brain cancer were among the cancers elevated in children of pesticide applicators in an Iowa study. Exposed children were 2.46-times more likely to suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma than children in the unexposed control group.
Residues of chlorpyrifos remain common in the food supply. This organophosphate insecticide was linked to increased cancer risk in the lung, rectum, leukaemia (blood), all lymphoma, and the brain.
This study also points to a new reason for concern over the rapidly growing use of the herbicide dicamba. This persistent herbicide is recommended for use in fields infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds.
Dicamba increased the risk of cancer in the lung and colon, and has also been implicated as a risk factor for a range of birth defects and reproductive problems. The aggressive effort by the biotechnology industry to bring dicamba-resistant crops to market is reviewed in Chapter 7 of the Organic Center report ”Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years”.
Source: Weichenthal, S. Et al., “A Review of Pesticide Exposure and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study Cohort,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 118, No. 8, August 2010, pages 1117-1125.
USDA Releases Roundup Ready Alfalfa EIS and Sponsors Major Meeting on Organic-Biotech Crop Co-existence
The long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa was released by USDA on Thursday, December 16, 2010. The 2,300 page document identifies and analyzes three options – disapproval, approval without restrictions, and approval with restrictions to prevent gene flow from RR alfalfa to non-GM seed production fields. The first option was ruled out as unacceptable.
Potential impacts on the organic farming sector, and especially seed producers and organic dairy farmers, are evaluated in some detail in the EIS and its technical appendices, and were found to be modest and/or manageable.
In discussing the RR alfalfa EIS in a press call on December 16th, Secretary Vilsack said that “we don’t want to have judges say who can farm and who cannot...” In other press comments, the Secretary has emphasized the need to address and resolve the issues leading to litigation over emerging GE crops.
Earlier in the week, USDA officials invited a number of leaders in the organic community, including the CEOs of Organic Valley, Whole Foods, Stonyfield, UNFI, and OTA, to attend an “important” meeting December 20th in Washington, D.C. with representatives of the alfalfa and biotechnology industries.
The purpose of the meeting, attended by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and several other senior USDA officials, was to explore “common ground” on how to provide for the peaceful co-existence of farmers planting GE alfalfa seeds, farmers growing conventional alfalfa, and organic farmers and food companies.
Coming just four days after the release of the RR alfalfa EIS, there was intense interest, and a degree of concern over this meeting among all stakeholder groups.
About 45 individuals attended the three-hour meeting. Secretary Vilsack explained that the USDA needed help from the alfalfa, biotech, and organic communities in identifying practical ways to achieve and sustain peaceful co-existence after approval of RR alfalfa. He said that in the absence of concrete ideas regarding how to move forward, all constituencies would have to accept what the Department decides upon when USDA issues its final decision later this winter.
The meeting included many remarkable comments and exchanges. Secretary Vilsack stated that the science case in support of RR alfalfa was not as strong and clear-cut as the biotech industry believes. He also stated that the legal foundation for USDA approval was not as solid as proponents claim, given the scope and nature of the possible adverse impacts and outcomes documented in the EIS.
In making this point, the Secretary was acknowledging USDA’s view that a decision to approve RR alfalfa, even with conditions, would likely be challenged in a new round of litigation, and that it would be a mistake to assume that the Department would win on the merits.
One representative of the biotech industry asked what the co-existence problem was and expressed the view that biotech, conventional, and organic farmers were getting along just fine now. He asked for evidence of real harm. Fred Kirschenmann participated in the meeting via speaker phone, and replied with a concrete example.
His farm in Windsor, North Dakota had made about $60,000 in net returns from the sale of organic canola annually for many years. When Roundup Ready canola was first introduced in North Dakota in the mid-1990s, Fred consulted with extension specialists, who said a two-mile buffer area should be sufficient to prevent gene flow from RR canola into his certified organic canola fields. He worked successfully with neighbours for a few years, and maintained such separation distances, but as RR canola became more popular, it became impossible to sustain such separation distances.
About the same time, buyers of Kirschenmann’s crop started asking for annual assurances that his canola crop was not contaminated with the RR gene. Without resorting to costly testing, the only way that a farmer can provide such assurance is to get a certificate or affidavit from his or her seed supplier stating that the company’s organic seed is free from GE contamination.
Once RR canola had gained significant market share and was widely grown in all parts of North America where canola is raised and seed produced, Kirschenmann was no longer able to find a seed dealer willing or able to make such a claim. And so, this market was lost.
The last part of the meeting focused on setting up a series of task forces to address the core issues – alfalfa hay and organic dairy, assuring purity of the organic alfalfa seed supply, and the true “hot potato,” how to cover the costs of ongoing monitoring and contamination episodes, i.e. a compensation mechanism.
Representatives of the organic community pledged to work with the Secretary in getting these task forces up and running, and expressed hope that some progress could be made.
A few of the alfalfa industry represents agreed to participate in the task forces, although no biotech industry participants did so during the meeting. After the meeting, one representative of the biotech industry said that he was “stunned” by what he had just heard and experienced. While most biotech industry representatives had little to say during the meeting, many were observed taking copious notes.
For more on this series of developments, see Chuck Benbrook’s Commentary in this issue of “The Scoop.”
Sales of Non-GMO Verified Products Growing at 21% Rate
The California-based Non-GMO Project reported that sales of products verified as meeting its standards grew 21% in 2009.
The Non-GMO standard allows a threshold of 0.5% GM content (one-half of one percent) for human food, and 0.9% for GMOs in animal feeds. The standard applicable to seeds, including alfalfa is 0.1% GM contamination, or one seed in 1,000 seeds.
Food products or ingredients found to contain levels of GM proteins above these standards may not be sold as Non-GMO Project verified. Around 900 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process of becoming verified.
Source: Sustainable Food News, December 27, 2010
Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Win Appeal and $1 Million Damage Award Stands in Historic Pesticide Drift Case
California’s Sixth Appellate District Court upheld the right of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo to sue Western Farm Service for damages caused four years ago when organophosphate residues moved via fog from nearby conventional vegetable fields onto Jacobs Farm organic herbs destined for Whole Foods.
This precedent-setting decision has significant ramifications for all organic farmers, nearby conventional farmers, and both the seed and biotechnology industries. In short, the court upheld the right of an organic farmer to sue and win damages to cover economic losses even when a conventional production input (in this case, insecticides) is applied legally and in accord with all requirements.
In short, when an applicator applies a pesticide, the applicator henceforth owns responsibility for any adverse impacts associated with the application. In many similar cases involving pesticide drift or off-target movement, applicators and/or farmers have successfully used the defence that they followed the label, and hence should not be held accountable.
The agrichemical industry hired top-notch attorneys and submitted amicus briefs before the appellate court in the hope of overturning the decision. They were unsuccessful, and must now decide whether to appeal the case to the California Supreme Court.
Source: Kurtis Alexander, “Appeals court: Organic farm can seek damages from pesticide company,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 22, 2010
Respected Analyst Predicts Possibly Record Grain Prices
Dan Basse of “Agresource” predicts that “grain prices could soar, that's what we're looking at.” Cattle and hog prices are also likely headed for record highs. Given current market conditions, any additional weather shock in any major producing region will trigger major increases in corn and soybean prices.
Source: "Five-Minutes with Dan Basse"
Assuming Basse is correct, we can expect in 2011 to hear a lot more about –
- The need for biotechnology to feed the world,
- Why organic farming cannot feed the world,
- The high-cost of subsidies to keep ethanol and other biomass-based liquid fuel plants going, and
- Tough times and losses on livestock farms, especially large-scale confinement dairies and hog farms that purchase essentially all their feed.
New Estimates Released of Foodborne Illness Rates and Impacts
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released new estimates of the frequency of foodborne illness, hospitalization triggered by such illness, and deaths associated with foodborne illness.
Overall, CDC projects that 48 million people -- one in six Americans --contracts a foodborne illness annually, with 128,000 cases leading to hospitalization, and 3,000 ending in death. Of these “preventable diseases,” 9.4 million result from 31 known foodborne pathogens and 38 million are from unspecified pathogens.
Seven pathogens accounted for 90% of the estimated illnesses, hospitalization, and deaths: Salmonella, campylobacter, toxoplasma, E. Coli O157, Listeria, and Clostridium perfingens.
The new CDC estimates use a new, more complex methodology that differs in several ways from the widely cited 1999 Mead et al. study that projected 76 million cases and 6,000 deaths from foodborne illness. Because of these differences, it is not possible to determine whether the frequency and seriousness of foodborne illness has increased or decreased since 1999. Most experts feel that the problem is not getting worse, nor better.
Sources: “Food Poisoning Hits 1 in 6 Americans Each Year: CDC,” MedlinePlus, December 15, 2010
J. Glenn Morris, “How Safe is Our Food?, Emerging and Infectious Diseases, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2011.
Scallan et al., “Foodborne illness acquired in the United States – major pathogens,” Emerging and Infectious Diseases, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2011.
FDA Releases Data on Livestock Antibiotic Use...
The FDA has released, for the first time, estimates of the volume of antibiotics and antimicrobials given to farm animals based on drug sales data provided by pharmaceutical companies.
The FDA estimates that 29 million pounds of antimicrobial drugs were given to animals in 2009, most of it as feed or water supplements.
A story in the Los Angeles Times (“Livestock in U.S. gobble up the antibiotics,” December 14, 2010) notes that the new FDA estimate corroborates the findings of the 2001 Union of Concerned Scientists book Hoggin’ It. TOC Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook and Karen Benbrook carried out the analysis and co-authored the UCS book with Dr. Margaret Mellon.
Hoggin’ It concluded that 24.6 million pounds of antimicrobials were used to treat farm animals in the late 1990s, and that about eight pounds of antimicrobials were given to animals for every pound used to treat a human infection.
...and Asks Industry to Voluntarily Stop Selling Antibiotics for Subtherapeutic Uses
The FDA is now asking the pharmaceutical industry to voluntarily stop selling antibiotics fed to livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention because the agency is concerned over the time and resources it would take to formally ban such uses.
This is a major change in tactics, given that over the last two years, the Obama Administration has been both vocal and aggressive in calling for an end to such uses of antibiotics.
A spokesperson for the Animal Health Institute told the Des Moines Register that the FDA likely recognizes it lacks the scientific basis to sustain such an action if challenged in court by the industry.
Source: Philip Brasher, “FDA trying to voluntary restrictions on antibiotics,” Des Moines Register, December 19, 2010
It is hard to imagine why the FDA and Administration are confident that they can persuade companies to stop selling antibiotics for subtherapeutic uses on the farm, given the industry still argues there is no problem with such uses.
Now, the best case scenario is that one or two companies will agree to stop selling a few, low-volume drugs, but other companies will gladly and quickly step forward to supply the demand with other or even the same drugs.
Antibiotic Resistance Spreading in the United Kingdom
The UK’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment found that 48% of 33,625 isolates studied were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 35% were resistant to two or more. Moreover, data collected since 2000 by the Institute shows that the prevalence of resistant bacteria is increasing, “...posing a serious problem in consumer health protection.”
Source: Helen Glaberson, “New reports reveal increased resistance to antibiotics in food chain,” www.foodproductiondaily.com, December 15, 2010
HSUS Sues Perdue Over Humane Label
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has filed a class action lawsuit against the poultry company Perdue Inc., claiming that labeling Purdue chicken as humanely raised is “false advertising.”
Animal care specialist Temple Grandin is supporting the HSUS in the case and has been strongly critical of the industry-recommended bird care practices that Perdue adheres to.
Supermarket Guru Predicts “Humanely Raised” will be Next “Big Thing”
"There's organic, there's fair trade, but 'humane' is the next big thing," said Phil Lempert, the widely followed “Supermarket Guru.”
He goes on to say --"We ask shoppers what they're looking for, and that's what they're telling us."
"It's going to be very political...I also think it's going to be much more expensive. It might increase prices 20, 30, 40, 50 percent. But you've got people who will pay more for the label."
A consumer survey by the Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic found that well over half of consumers believe animal welfare is among the most important social issues in the food business.
To move toward improved standards, Whole Foods is launching a program developed by the non-profit Global Animal Partnership. It will rate products on a scale of 1 to 5 based on their animal welfare standards. The new program has begun at some Whole Foods stores in the South and will expand to more stores in 2011.
The Global Animal Partnership is based in Washington, D.C., and is composed of farmers, animal welfare advocates, scientists and retailers. It has developed a progressive, five-step system to rate pork, chicken and beef. For example, a steak would earn a "Step 1" rating if the animal has spent two-thirds of its life on pasture or range land, but would earn a "5" if it spends its entire life on pasture or range land.
While some of the program requirements match those within the USDA’s National Organic Program, some advocates say the program goes beyond the government standards in several areas.
Source: “Humane food seen as next big trend,” www.brisbanetimes.com.au
Interesting factoids about food, farming and the environment
$60 billion – global market for organic food and beverages in 2010
Source: Organic Monitor
29% -- Honey bee colony loss in 2009
34% -- Honey bee colony loss in 2010
Source: CCD Steering Committee, “Colony Collapse Disorder Progress Report,” USDA-ARS, June 2010
$22.98 – average price of seed corn per acre in 1995, the year before the first GE corn was introduced
$104.00 – price of Genuity SmartStax corn seed per acre in 2010 (Monsanto and Dow corn varieties containing eight GE traits)
Source: 1995 data -- Charles Benbrook, ”The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium", Organic Center Critical Issue Report, December 2009
2010 data -- Melody Voith, “Seed Defenders,” Chemical and Engineering News, November 8, 2010
“Nobody in the U.S. wants to buy a corn hybrid anymore that doesn’t have herbicide tolerance.”
Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, Syngenta Biotechnology
Source: “The Race to Market Drought-tough Corn,” www.newsobserver.com, December 21, 2010
6.2% of spinach samples tested across the European Union in 2008 contained illegal pesticide residues.
3.5% of all fruit and vegetable sampled contained residues exceeding Maximum Residue Limits (MLRs).
Source: Hans Muilerman, “Pesticide residues still a food risk in the EU,” Pesticide News 89, September 2010
“The Nature of Co-existence”
Dr. Charles Benbrook
Chief Scientist, The Organic Center
Statements by USDA officials upon the release of the Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa EIS, the content of the EIS, and the high-drama stakeholder meeting in Washington, D.C. on December 20th suggest that a cluster of issues at the interface of the organic and biotechnology industries are coming to a head.
It is also clear that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is trying hard to cajole and/or compel the organic and biotechnology industries to help USDA work out the nuts-and-bolts of co-existence. The department as convened several working groups, which will be asked to deal with tough, complex issues on a very fast track.
The road ahead enters unchartered territory with much at stake. In last month’s “The Scoop,” my commentary was entitled “. In it, I wrote –
“Whether co-existence is possible, and the impacts of attempts at co-existence, will obviously depend on the definition of co-existence.”
In the Secretary’s vision of co-existence, farmers are free to choose whatever approved technology and production system they want, and any adverse impacts across farms triggered by such choices are managed and mitigated in a mutually acceptable manner that, hopefully, imposes no serious hardships or costs on anyone.
The focus over the next few months will be on Roundup Ready alfalfa, and whether adverse impacts can be prevented through a set of restrictions on where and how RR alfalfa is grown, and where RR alfalfa seed is produced.
Seed contamination is the adverse impact addressed in greatest detail in the EIS. It is highly likely that USDA will approve RR alfalfa, but with some, and perhaps even stringent restrictions designed to prevent RR gene flow into the conventional (non-GE) and organic alfalfa seed supplies. Soon thereafter, three things are likely:
- The biotech industry will be unhappy, will appeal to Congress to intervene with the USDA, and may pursue legal options to overturn the restrictions;
- The Center for Food Safety will sue because other adverse impacts will not be addressed in the final decision, especially the inevitable increase in herbicide use and accelerated spread of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) resistant weeds; and
- There will be great risk of collateral damage to the USDA, the organic industry, the biotechnology industry, and the farm community, especially if and as this drama climbs onto a bigger stage.
Past experiences with multiple GE crops also confirms that it is next to impossible to contain GE genes once they are moved into widely planted agronomic crops. The biotech industry projects that some 20 million acres of RR alfalfa could be grown within a few years. Adoption of even 2 million acres would virtually guarantee gene flow in some seed producing areas, inadvertent mixing of some seed, contamination brought about by unanticipated weather events (floods or tornadoes), or human error or carelessness.
Eventually, a lot of organic alfalfa seed or hay will test positive. Then what?
At this point, no one knows for sure, but a number of actions and reactions are probable. Certifiers will have to decide what to do and whether to revoke certification for the land from which the contaminated hay came , and/or the animals and animal products produced from the hay.
The USDA will have to decide whether there is an obligation under the Organic Foods Production Act to trace back contamination to its source, and then look for other contaminated fields, once the source is known. And if the answer is “Yes,” the NOP will have to also specify who will be responsible for carrying out these actions.
Buyers will have to determine whether the occasional presence of GE genes in organic alfalfa alters consumer acceptance of the meat or milk produced from the contaminated hay. Buyers and consumers will ask many difficult questions regarding the fate of transgenic DNA in alfalfa once fed to animals, for which neither the biotech industry nor USDA has good answers.
Decisions will have to be made about how much additional testing and monitoring is necessary, and for how long, to assure that a contamination episode has been contained and that the circumstances leading to it have been identified and dealt with.
And all of the above will take time and cost money, so who will pay?
These are among the many tough issues that the working groups convened by USDA will need to grapple with. The stakes will be high.
Thus far, two additional issues have not received much attention, because they fall outside the purview of USDA and are not addressed to any great extent in the USDA RR alfalfa EIS.
RR alfalfa will bring GE crops and widespread glyphosate use into several farming regions where neither is now common. Problems with herbicide drift will be serious in regions where alfalfa is often grown in rotation with, and/or in proximity to high-value fruit and vegetable crops. The costs of dealing with glyphosate drift episodes will be significant in specialty crop production regions and a mechanism to deal with such costs, without drawn out litigation, should ideally be part of a co-existence scheme, especially if a central goal of co-existence is to lessen reliance on the Courts in sorting out problems in farm country.
New and troubling evidence of human health and reproduction problems triggered by exposures to glyphosate sprayed on RR soybeans in Brazil and Argentina is attracting attention worldwide. Continued expansion of the acreage planted to Roundup Ready crops in the U.S. heightens the need for the EPA to take a fresh look at new science that raises new concerns and questions about the safety of glyphosate.
Secretary Vilsack is among those who believe that GE crops are critical to the future health of American agriculture. In reality, today’s herbicide-tolerant GE crops are mature technology that is of declining significance because of the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds.
Heavy reliance on a narrow range of GE crop traits has reduced the genetic diversity of major agronomic crops, triggered new and more serious plant disease and nutrition problems, and caused periodic disruption in agricultural exports.
Today’s GE herbicide-tolerant crops were never essential, and because of overuse, are working less well and triggering more problems than anyone thought possible just a few years ago. If the future health of American agriculture depends on these crops, we are in trouble.
“Comments of Consumers Union on Proposed Guides for Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, 16 CFR Part 260, Notice of the Federal Trade Commission”
Excerpts from Comments Prepared by:
Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D.
Director Technical Policy, Consumers Union
December 10, 2010
Note: Urvashi’s full statement addresses “organic” claims on non-NOP compliant products, “green,” “degradable,” and other environmental marketing claims.
FTC should discourage the use of the “natural” claim
As the Commission correctly points out on p. 130 of the proposed Guides, other federal agencies have only provided limited guidance on what must be required to use a “natural” claim. These limited definitions fall significantly short of consumer perception of the “natural” label in many respects. With regard to consumer perception, we would like to submit findings from our 2007 national food labeling poll that provides nationally representative findings regarding consumer perception of the “natural” label.
When asked about foods--such as bread, meat, milk, fish and snacks -- at least half of consumers say “natural” or “organic” labels are important to them. But the Poll also indicates that the current standards for “natural” labels on processed food and meat fall short of consumer expectations. It's important for consumers to understand that while "natural" and "organic" products sit side-by-side in the supermarket, that they mean dramatically different things. Eighty-six percent of consumers expect the "natural" label to mean that processed food does not contain any artificial ingredients, but current standards only prohibit artificial colorings and additives. Artificial sugars and oils like high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils can still be used in “natural” foods.
Currently, the “natural” label on meat only pertains to how the cut of meat was processed and not how animal was raised or what it ate. Nearly nine out of ten consumers want “natural” meat to come from animals that were raised on a natural diet without drugs, chemicals and other artificial ingredients. Eighty-three percent of consumers want “natural” meat to come from animals that were raised in a natural environment. Seventy percent of consumers want “natural” meat to mean that no salt water was added, a common practice in the meat industry. The USDA is reconsidering a variety of options concerning the “natural” label on meat, but according to our Poll results, they are not addressing the issues that concern most consumers. This sentiment is also reflected by 33,000 consumers who signed a petition to USDA asking them to withdraw the proposed “naturally raised” claim.
Consumers Union believes that the Commission has an important role to play in preventing federal agencies from providing weak definitions, especially for popular environmental claims like “natural.” We believe that the “natural” claim is vague, cannot be substantiated adequately and currently can mislead and deceive consumers.
“Save the Date” for The Organic Center’s Annual Benefit Dinner at Natural Products Expo West on Friday, March 11, at 6:30 pm. Details on the program will be included in forthcoming issues of “The Scoop.”
TOC Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook is among the speakers appearing during the Organicology Conference, February 10-12, 2011, in Portland, Oregon.
This event unites the organic community to learn, connect and chart a course toward a more sustainable food future. Keynoters include Jim Hightower, Andrew Kimbrell and Steven Jones.
The event includes several full-day intensive sessions on soil management, seed growing, sustainable business, policy, and the roles of those who interact directly with eaters.
Workshops will explore seed, policy, zero waste, food safety, labor and more. Organicology is coordinated by Oregon Tilth, Organic Seed Alliance, the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association and Organically Grown Company.
Access enrollment information at www.organicology.org
First International Conference on Organic Food Quality and Health Research
This important conference will be held May 18–20, 2011 in Prague, Czech Republic. The Organic Center served on the scientific planning committee. The meeting is sponsored by the Organic Food Quality and Health network, the Institute of Chemical Technology Prague, and the Organics Technology Platform.
Scientists in the U.S. are encouraged to submit abstracts and attend the conference. The deadline for submission of abstracts is January 23, 2011 for both ORAL and POSTER contributions. Submit abstracts online.
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths is a ground-breaking compilation of the most current research on organic agriculture. This highly readable and graphically stunning 108-page coffee table book documents the verifiable health and environmental benefits of organic products.
For more information
The Organic Center Features Jerry Garcia Artwork
Do you or someone you know love The Grateful Dead? Do you enjoy beautiful original works of art? If so, select a giclee of Jerry Garcia original artwork and benefit The Organic Center. This unique fundraising initiative to benefit The Organic Center is made possible through the generosity of filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia and features the series, "In the Garden," by the late Jerry Garcia. Individual prints are $250, or get the full series for $1,000. To order your Jerry Garcia art, click here.
"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit www.organic-center.org.
Backed by the world's leading scientists, physicians and scholars, The Organic Center is committed to two goals:
1) RESEARCH: providing free, peer-reviewed, credible science that explores the health and environmental benefits of organic agriculture.
2) EDUCATION: helping people and organizations access and better understand science that sheds light on the organic benefit.
To access free downloads of the latest in organic science go to: www.organic-center.org.
Our Outreach and Communication Program –
Informed consumers drive the organic marketplace. Help The Organic Center reach consumers with the latest science on the organic benefit by:
For companies, The Organic Center's Affinity Marketing Partnership Program provides resources and tools to help educate your customers about the personal benefits of organic food and farming.
- For more information about our affinity marketing program, email Jamie Kelly
Joan Boykin - Executive Director
Annie Brown - Development Director
Charles "Chuck" Benbrook, Ph.D. - Chief Scientist
TOC Board Chair: Mark Retzloff, Chairman of the Board, Aurora Organic Dairy
Treasurer: Timothy Escamilla, VP Procurement/Supply Chain, Ready Pac Produce
Secretary: Ryan Black, CEO, Sambazon
The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308
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