Organic Broiler Production Dramatically Cuts Salmonella Risk
Organic and conventional chicken operations in North Carolina were studied by a team of scientists from the University of Georgia to assess the prevalence and distribution of Salmonella, as well as the presence of antibiotic resistant strains of this common foodborne pathogen.
Three organic barns and four conventional barns were studied. All were operated by the same company, using the same genetics and many similar management practices.
Salmonella was far more prevalent in fecal samples in the conventional barns compared to the organic barns – 38.8% positive versus 5.6%.
Feed in the conventional barns was five-times more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella.
Multi-drug resistant Salmonella was more common in the conventional birds and environmental samples than the organic ones.
The findings of this careful study point directly at Salmonella contamination in the conventional feed supply as a major cause of Salmonella contamination in conventional broiler operations. Two possible sources of Salmonella in conventional broiler feed are cross-contamination on the farm and animal byproducts added to feed that were not fully pasteurized. As a food safety precaution, the National Organic Program rule prohibits the addition of animal byproducts to organic broiler feed.
Source: Alali, W. et al., “Prevalence and Distribution of Salmonella in Organic and Conventional Broiler Poultry Farms,” Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, Vol. 7, No. 11, 2010, pages 1363-1371
Study Illuminates How Atrazine Disrupts Growth Hormone Gene Expression
In an elegant study, scientists at Michigan State University have identified one way that atrazine functions as an endocrine disruptor. This widely used herbicide binds to a gene that must be turned on for a cell to produce growth hormone. By blocking this key “on/off” switch at the cellular level, atrazine brings about deficient growth hormone excretion, and a cascade of related developmental problems.
The effects were noted by the Michigan team at environmentally relevant levels of exposure.
Source: Fakhouri, W.D., et al., “Atrazine Binds to the Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone Receptor and Affects Growth Hormone Expression,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 118, No. 10, October 2010-12-17
Prenatal OP Insecticide Exposure Impairs Attention Among Children
A study of farm worker families in California has shown that by age 3.5, children born to mothers exposed to OP insecticides have lessened attention spans and are more vulnerable to attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Male children were more likely to be impacted.
Source: Marks, A.R., et al., “Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Attention in Young Mexican-American Children: The CHAMACOS Study,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 118, No. 12, December 2010
Fatty Acids from Milk Can Dramatically Cut Risk of Type 2 Diabetes…
Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health have published research showing that trans-palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid uniquely found in milk and dairy products, reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Trans-palmitoleic levels in the blood of 3,736 adults were measured. The 20% of individuals with the highest levels had 60% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, compared to the 20% of individuals with the lowest levels.
The scientists described the findings as “striking,” and called for more research to confirm the finding.
Source: Mozaffarian, D. Et al., “Trans-Palmitoleic Acid, Metabolic Risk Factors, and New-Onset Diabetes in U.S. Adults,” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 20, 2010.
…and Reduce Body Fat in Overweight Children
Three grams per day of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in chocolate milk significantly reduced fat accretion in obese and overweight children in a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sources: “CLA Reduced Body at in Overweight Children,” Health Studies Journal, November 12, 2010
Racine, M.N. et al., “Effect of CLA on body fat accretion in overweight or obese children,” American J. of Clinical NutritionVol. 91, No. 5, pages 1157-1164.
Nanoparticles Bioaccumulate Up the Food Chain
Scientists at the University of Kentucky found that gold nanoparticles are taken up from the soil by tobacco plants, and then bioaccumulate in caterpillars feeding on the tobacco plants.
Levels in the caterpillars were 10-fold higher than in the plants, the first evidence that nanoparticles can bioaccumulate up food chains.
Source: “Nanoparticles Accumulate in Food Chain,” Chemical and Engineering News, December 20, 2010
The conventional food industry is embracing a number of nanotechnologies. This is another example of a new technology looking for a problem to solve before science has gained even a cursory understanding of the human health and ecological consequences.
It is a safe bet that down the road, some new health problem in humans will be traced to nanoparticles that found a way to bioaccumulate in an unexpected place, e.g. smallmouth bass, salmon, or mushrooms.
Nanotechnology enthusiasts will comment – “Well, we had no way of knowing this might happen.” Wrong, anyone paying attention to research, and the findings of this University of Kentucky study, should not be surprised.
Science has reached a point now where many of society’s major problems have been traced to a set of risk factors or causes, and many of tomorrow’s problems are now predictable.
Unfortunately, advances in science have not been matched by progress in society’s ability to act wisely in response to new science insights. Inability or unwillingness to act on knowledge erodes the inherent value of science.
Diabetes-Virus Linkage Found
Australian scientists have reported that children with Type 1 diabetes are 10-times more likely to have previously had a viral infection, compared to healthy children.
More research is needed to determine whether viral infections cause diabetes, or whether diabetes enhances vulnerability to viral infections. In any event, the finding heightens interest in environmental factors leading to exposure or heightened sensitivity to viruses, such as exposure to pesticides.
Source: “Diabetes and Virus Link Confirmed,” BBC News Health, February 3, 2011
NPR Takes a Stab at “How to Define Organic Food?”
In an “All Things Considered” program segment March 1, 2011, Dan Charles covered reaction to the USDA’s recent decision to deregulate Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa, noting that USDA’s action “has re-opened some old arguments about what’s most important in the label ‘organic’.”
After reviewing the importance of organic alfalfa to organic diary farmers, consumer activist Ronnie Cummins warns that “If you’re not willing to sue the person who pollutes the organic crop and really undermines organic integrity, then we’re not going to stand up for you.” OTA Executive Director Christine Bushway is quoted saying that the threat to organic alfalfa posed by approval of RR alfalfa “is a huge one.”
TOC’s Chuck Benbrook is then quoted as saying ”It would be a shame for the momentum behind the growth in the organic livestock industry to be siphoned off or diverted because of one-tenth of one percent contamination in some source of animal feed.” Benbrook goes on to note that if consumer activists insist that organically raised animals in America can never ingest feed crops with any GMO contamination that “you’ll have to get that food [organic livestock products] from Europe…and that’s hardly a welcomed solution for people who see in the organic food industry the best hope for positive change and innovation in the U.S. food system.”
See the Commentary in this issue of “The Scoop” for more on this topic.
Source: Dan Charles, “A Growing Debate: How to Define ‘Organic’ Food,” All Things Considered, NPR, March 1, 2011
Combating Climate Change Through Grass-fed Beef
Beef cattle in the U.S. emit 160 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs), equivalent to 24 million cars and light trucks. A significant share of the emissions are triggered by corn production, coupled with the conditions in beef feedlots.
But by switching beef to grass- and pasture-based systems, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has projected that net GHG emissions could be reduced by as much as 140 million metric tons. Sequestration of carbon in well-managed, intensively grazed pastures accounts for a large share of the reductions.
The UCS report highlights the benefits of novel pasture genetics and management techniques and notes, for example, the multiple benefits of the legume forage birdsfoot trefoil.
Source: “Raising the Steaks: Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States," Union of Concerned Scientists, February, 2011.
European Restrictions on Nitrogen Use Reducing Groundwater Contamination
Denmark put in place a comprehensive nitrogen (N) fertilizer and animal manure management program 20 years ago, involving limits of N that can be applied per acre and a strictly enforced permitting system for land application of animal manures.
Just published research suggests the program is working.
Sophisticated monitoring of N levels in groundwater shows that between 1950 and 1981, as agriculture intensified, N losses to groundwater rose from 60 to 180 kg of N per hectare. Levels remained largely unchanged until 1995, and then began to decline.
By 2007, average N losses were down to 117 kg/hectare, a 35% drop.
Source: Naomi Lubick, “Nitrogen Levels Drop in Groundwater,” Chemical and Engineering News, December 8, 2010
First Drought-Tolerant Corn Varieties Hitting the Market
Syngenta Seeds has beat Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred in bringing drought-tolerant corn varieties into the corn seed market. The new varieties are called “Agrisure Artesian,” and were developed using molecular markets and classical breeding.
Because these varieties were developed without additional genetic engineering, they require no review or approval by USDA. The varieties will include already-approved GE traits including herbicide tolerance and insect protection.
Syngenta started with 100 genes that seemed to play some role in drought-tolerance, and identified 13 that clearly did play a key role. Corn varieties that naturally expressed these genes were selected to create the parental lines used to produce Agrisure Artesian seeds.
Source: “The Race to Market Drought-tough Corn,” www.newsobserver.com, December 21, 2010
Artificial Food Dyes Still Flying Below the Radar Screen
Thirty years ago a well-respected scientist warned that artificial food dyes could impact childhood behaviour and development. Incrementally, scientific evidence has mounted that food additives, including dyes, do just that, yet the Food and Drug Administration still does not require dye manufacturers to test dyes for developmental neurotoxicity.
Average daily intakes of food dyes has increased fivefold in the U.S. since 1955.
Sources: Carol Potera, “The Artificial Food Dye Blues,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 118, No. 10, October 2010.
Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” Washington, D.C., 2010.
The National Organic Program rule prohibits use of artificial food dyes in the manufacturing of certified organic food. For every study assessing the health consequences of these ubiquitous additives, there are 20 studies on pesticides and other food contaminants that periodically are found in certain foods, and almost always at vastly lower levels than artificial food dyes.
The opportunity to avoid nearly all exposures to artificial food additives and dyes by purchasing organic food has always been among the organic community’s best kept secrets. Perhaps the time has arrived to come out of the closet and admit the truth, the whole truth.
Soy Milk Formula Judged of “Minimal Concern”
Soy baby formula accounts for about 12% of the U.S. formula market. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has reviewed the potential of soy formula to cause developmental problems from increased exposure to isoflavones.
After reviewing some 80 human studies, the expert panel classified soy formula in its draft report as posing “minimal concern,” the second category in a five-point scale, above “negligible concern” and below “some concern.”
Source: “Soy Formula of ‘Minimal Concern’”, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 118, No. 8, August 2010.
South Africa Stops DuPont Acquisition of Major Seed Company
For the first time, a country in Africa has blocked the purchase of a seed company in order to regain a degree of control over the seed supply. DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred had sought to purchase South Africa’s largest corn seed company, Pannar Seed Ltd.
Activists opposed to the purchase of Pannar Seed Ltd are also pushing the government to reduce Monsanto’s degree of control over genetically engineered seeds.
Source: “Seed industry sees S. Africa backlash,” www.Malaya.com, December 16, 2010
Intriguing Analysis Undercuts the Role of Genes in Disease
Bioscienceresource.org has published a compelling analysis of recent data demonstrating a very modest role of genes in disease causation. The December 8, 2010 paper is entitled “The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?” and was written by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson. A synopsis follows.
Since sequencing the first human genome, genetic researchers have searched intensively, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, for inherited genes that cause common diseases. Very few have been found. Indeed, for common diseases, which include heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes, and disorders such as autism, ADHD and dementia, as well as mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression, a significant role for genetic causation can now be ruled out with a high degree of confidence.
Despite profound implications, awareness of these results is almost non-existent. Some scientists believe these findings represent the most important scientific breakthrough in understanding human health in twenty five years. Among the key new insights –
- Human disease is primarily of environmental and not inherited origin;
- Knowledge of the human genome is not going to fulfill most of the medical progress and therapeutic roles it was intended to;
- For most people, personalized genomics is never going to be useful for predicting the diseases they will develop; and
- Society needs to get serious about researching the broader environmental and dietary causes of all these diseases.
Source: “The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?”
Interesting factoids about food, farming and the environment
1988 – Using first generation DNA sequencing technology, it took 3,000 scientists working for 10 years each to sequence 3 billion base pairs.
2014 – Third-generation sequencing technology will cover 3 billion base pairs for about $1,000.
Source: Bruce Alberts, President, AAAS, “Lessons from Genomics,” Science Magazine, February 4, 2011
56.8% -- Share of children ages 10 through 18 years in higher income households in Khartoum State, Sudan who are overweight or obese.
Source: Nagwa, M.A., et al., “Alarming high prevalence of overweight/obesity among Sudanese children,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 65, November 2010, pages 409-411
A mulberry yogurt under investigation by Nestle for sale in China may prove as effective as medication in regulating blood sugar.
Source: Laurie Burkitt, “Selling Health Food to China,” Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2010
In or on the human body –
There are 10 microbes for every cell in the body.
There are 100 genes in microbes for every human gene.
Microbes in the gut impact both food preferences and appetite.
The Japanese have a bacterium in their gut that is not found in Americans. It helps people digest seaweed.
Source: Sarah Everts, “Our Microbial Selves,” Chemical and Engineering News, December 13, 2010
More than a dozen pesticides still widely used on U.S. farms are banned in Europe.
Source: “Pesticides banned in Europe,” Pesticide News 89, September 2010
500 bushels – yield potential per acre of modern corn hybrids
155 bushels – average corn yield per acre in 2010
Source: Willie Vogt, “Reach higher for 2011 corn yield,” California Farmer, December 2010
31% -- increase in net U.S. farm income in 2010, compared to 2009
15% -- projected further increase in 2011
$9,700 per acre – price of two recently sold tracts of prime farmland in Iowa
$5,321 per acre – average price of prime farmland sold in Iowa in 2009
Source: “The Farm Belt Boom,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2010
14.7% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009.
Source: “Household Food Security in the United States,” Economic Research Service Report Summary, November 2010
$19.50 – cost of heating oil in Maine per million British thermal units (BTU)
$9.50 – cost of wood pellets in Maine per million BTUs
$5.50 to $6.25 – projected costs of reed canary grass pellets per million BTUs, based on likely yields and production costs in Maine
Source: Margaret Nagle, “Growing Alternative,” UMaine Today, Winter 2010
“Despite GE Alfalfa, Critical Health Benefits of Organic Dairy Remains Strong"
by Charles Benbrook
Chief Scientist, The Organic Center
[The following commentary is reprinted from the "Organic Sense" blog with George Siemon and Friends at Organic Valley]
In the wake of the disappointing approval by USDA of Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa on January 27th, the organic community has been licking its wound and creating some new ones.
I was among those who worked with George Siemon and Missy Hughes of CROPP to push USDA to impose conditions on RR alfalfa approval, in the hope that there will remain a supply of high quality, non-GE seed for organic farmers. While we made a little progress toward defining the essential ingredients of coexistence, the political pressure was too great on USDA and the Department caved.
Reacting to USDA’s decision, some observers accused those who participated in the USDA-initiated dialogue on coexistence of selling out, caving in, accepting hush money, and/or undercutting the voice of the consumer.
Some groups called for boycotts of companies that had “conspired” with Monsanto to create cover for the USDA’s decision. Such accusations don’t even pass the laugh test, but some people took them seriously.
Farmers are now free to start planting RR alfalfa and the acreage in this latest GE crop will grow, unless the court intervenes again. While essentially 100% of conventional corn, soybeans, and cotton were sprayed with herbicides before the RR versions of those crops were approved, less than 10% of alfalfa has been treated with any herbicide in recent years.
Of course, Monsanto is hoping to change that, but the very high cost of RR alfalfa seed and the availability of other effective weed control methods will keep a lid on market penetration. Still, total GE crop acres in 2011 will likely exceed 150 million acres, or about one-half of the harvested cropland base.
Respected leaders in the organic dairy community have predicted dire consequences from this USDA decision. California dairyman Albert Strauss issued a media advisory on February 4th that states that the USDA decision “seriously jeopardizes the integrity of the organic food chain” and could ruin the “ability to supply organic dairy foods to customers.”
I have great respect for Albert and the wonderful creamery he and his family have created, but I don’t think it is useful or accurate to claim that the planting of RR alfalfa means an end to organic milk production. This “the sky-is-sure-to-fall” reaction overstates the impact of the RR alfalfa decision, but if repeated often enough, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To the degree this happens, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.
Gene flow and cross-contamination of alfalfa seed and forage will happen, but can be managed so that the levels remain very low. The amount of GE DNA in organic alfalfa forages will be miniscule and have essentially no impact on organic crop production, forage quality, or milk production and milk quality.
The problems associated with RR alfalfa will impose new costs on organic farmers, but there is absolutely no reason a consumer should think any less highly of organic milk today than last week.
This latest GE crop decision by USDA does nothing to change the enormous cow health benefits of organic dairy production. It does not change the critical consumer health benefits associated with elevated levels of heart healthy fats in organic dairy products. All the agronomic and environmental benefits of producing dairy cow feed and forages organically remain intact.
The organic community deserves a chance to vent in the wake of this decision, and it is not surprising that there is a certain amount of finger pointing and bitching going on. But let’s get over it ASAP and focus our energies on activities that can make a difference. My short list is –
- CROPP needs to get into the organic alfalfa seed business, since it is crystal clear that the organic community cannot count on the USDA and needs companies committed to producing quality organic seed;
- Organic farmers should seek Non-GMO Project verification that the alfalfa seed they are plating in 2011 (and beyond) is clean, the technology exists to do so at a very low threshold level and costs will come down as the volume of testing increases; and
- The community needs to put in place an organic alfalfa animal feed testing program encompassing hay, silage, pastures, and pellets to determine where and whether contamination is happening, so that steps can be taken to deal with it via the courts or other mechanisms.
Kudos Abound for the Annual TOC Dinner at ExpoWest
A great time was had by all at The Organic Center’s March 11 Annual Benefit Dinner at Natural Products Expo West. The program was brisk and fun, the food was delicious, and Ken Cook’s keynote speech was hilarious and hard hitting.
In addition, the Center awarded its first science achievement award to John Reganold of Washington State University, and its first science communication award to Urvashi Rangan of Consumers Union.
Results from “Shades of Green” Dairy Farm Calculator Featured at Upcoming Meetings
Our dairy farm environmental footprint calculator, Shades of Green (SOG), will be featured during the CalCan conference on agriculture and climate change at U.C. Davis on March 31, 2011.
TOC Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook will present a workshop on the SOG calculator during the Organic Valley-CROPP annual meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Detailed SOG results for two grazing-based west coast dairy farms will be presented.
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
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