A study just out in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture is entitled "Effect of plant cultivation methods on content of major and trace elements in foodstuffs and retention in rats." The Danish research team compared the retention of nutrients in rats fed a diet composed of organic and conventional dried fruits and vegetables. Only trace mineral levels were compared; no results were reported on vitamins, polyphenols, and antioxidants (nutrients that routinely are present at higher concentrations in organic food).
No differences were found in nutrient levels, leading the authors to suggest that such findings might dampen consumer demand for organic food. Some media outlets have picked up this finding, and have dramatically broadened it to support headlines and statements like “Organic food no more nutritious than conventional.” A review of the study’s experimental design, however, raises serious questions about whether this study’s results actually support the more narrow conclusions stated by the authors.
The team grew the fruits and vegetables in both the “conventional” and organic plots on soils that were previously managed organically. Accordingly, the conventional crops enjoyed all the nutrient-enhancing and plant-health benefits of heightened soil quality from prior organic soil management. Given the series of studies published in the U.S. in the last three years pointing to soil quality enhancement in organic systems as the major cause, or explanation of observed differences in nutritional quality, it is not surprising that this Danish study found no statistically significant difference in mineral levels in the organic and “conventional” crops that were harvested and fed to the rats.
In addition, the organic plots were grown under limited nitrogen, whereas the conventional crop was not. On the basis of the criteria the Center developed to judge the scientific validity of comparison studies, and used in completing our March 2008 report on the nutrient content of organic food, this Danish study is clearly “invalid” for purposes of comparing the nutrient content of conventional and organic foods.
The study was carefully conducted and valid for testing the impacts of the production conditions embedded in its experimental design, but by virtue of this design, little weight should be placed on its findings in terms of the differences in conventional and organic management on crop nutritional quality.
Source: Mette Kristensen, Lars Ostengaard, Ulrich Halekoh, Henry Jorgensen, Charlotte Lauridsen, Kirsten Brandt, and Suzanne Bugel. "Effect of plant cultivation methods on content of major and trace elements in foodstuffs and retention in rats," Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2008
Building Soil Quality Could Play Major Role in Slowing Global Climate Change
One of the world’s most respected authorities on agriculture’s role in combating global climate change, Dr. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, has published a provocative and easy-to-understand overview entitled “Promise and limitations of soils to minimize climate change” (Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, July/August 2008).
Lal projects total global carbon emissions this decade at 9.4 petagrams (Pg) of carbon per year, up from 7.1 Pg carbon per year in the 1980s. Currently, he projects that terrestrial (land) carbon sinks can absorb 2.7 Pg/year, or 28.7%. Just under one-quarter is absorbed by the ocean – and hence, about 44% is released to the atmosphere.
The potential of the world’s soils to absorb additional carbon by increasing soil organic matter levels is enormous, and dwarfs several times annual carbon losses from all sources. Lal argues that –
Editor’s Note –
For conventional farmers, the combination of Roundup Ready crops and no-till can also build soil carbon levels, but at the expense of yields, costs, and rising herbicide use. Despite all the marketing and PR promoting RR crops and no-till, Lal reports that only 5% of global farm acreage is planted using no-till and other forms of advanced conservation technology. No doubt $4.00 diesel has kept some iron out of the field this season, and interest in reduced tillage systems is bound to grow.
Developing agronomic systems that sustain yields, farm profits, food and environmental quality, and sequester carbon is emerging as the great challenge for the next generation of farmers, scientists, and conservationists. The Center and the Rodale Institute plan to push the envelope hard in this quest, and will insist that the proven benefits of organic farming are given full and fair consideration as the search for solutions intensifies.
Clear Evidence of the Health-Promoting Benefits of Vitamins and Antioxidants
Between 25 and 40 million people in Bangladesh rely on water contaminated with natural sources of arsenic, increasing the prevalence of skin lesions and a range of cancers.
A U.S. team of researchers has found that individuals in Bangladesh consuming diets rich in vitamins and antioxidants enjoy up to a 68% reduction in risk of skin lesions triggered by exposure to arsenic in drinking water.
Source: Lydia B. Zablotska et al., “Protective Effects of B Vitamins and Antioxidants on the Risk of Arsenic-Related Skin Lesions in Bangladesh,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 8, August 2008
Editor’s Note –
But does this study in Bangladesh have any relevance to environmental risks and diet-health connections in the U.S.? Very few Americans are drinking arsenic-contaminated water, so no, there is little direct relevance. Still these findings are significant, because they show the great potential in promoting health and preventing disease from attainable increases in vitamin and antioxidant intakes.
While few of us suffer from arsenic in our drinking water, the American public is far less healthy than should be the case, given our wealth, health care system, and access to abundant, high quality foods. While calories are consumed in excess by most American, vitamins and antioxidants are not. Indeed, the average American ingests only about one-third the antioxidants needed on a daily basis to maximize the chances of healthy development and graceful aging.
Consuming organic fruits and vegetables will likely increase average daily vitamin and antioxidant intakes by at least a third, in contrast to eating the same conventional fruits and vegetables. Couple choosing organic with new determination to seek out brightly colored or dark, antioxidant-rich foods, picked ripe and consumed fresh, and a person can easily more than triple daily antioxidant intakes and by doing so, go a long way toward preserving good health, even in the face of the bugs, stresses, contaminants, and strains of modern life. Maybe not arsenic, but surely something else.
Length of Crop Season Emerges as Key Variable in Nitrogen Isotope Testing of Organic Crops
Several research teams are exploring the use of stable nitrogen isotope tracers to determine whether a certified organic fruit or vegetable was indeed grown using organic practices. A New Zealand study has concluded that the method appears reliable in short-season crops that mature in less than 80 days, but must be augmented with other methods in crops that take longer to mature.
This approach is based on the significant differences in N isotopes in nitrogen fertilizers synthetically manufactured from natural gas or other petroleum sources, compared to nitrogen from organic sources.
One weakness of the approach is that it can identify situations in which only some prohibited fertilizers have been used in organic production, but cannot distinguish between organic farms on which permitted sources of nitrogen were properly incorporated in an organic production system, in contrast to organic farms that improperly applied permitted sources of nitrogen.
Source: Karyne Rogers, “Nitrogen Isotopes as a Screening Tool to Determine the Growing Regimen of Some Organic and Nonorganic Supermarket Produce from New Zealand,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, No. 11, June 11, 2008
Cold Plasma Technology Shows Promise as an Alternative to Chlorine
By adding energy to a gas, scientists have created what is called “cold plasma,” a promising new option to kill pathogens such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella on the surface of fruits, vegetables, and many other foods. Ionized gas has been used for years to sterilize delicate electronics in satellites, and some day might find valuable new uses down on earth.
The food applications under study by a USDA team use air as the gas. Energy is added to the air, creating cold plasma, and then the energized gas is used to treat, for example, sliced apples or other produce. The energy is transferred to the pathogen, killing up to 99.9% of the pathogens that are present.
Much work needs to be done to assess the impacts on food quality, and the costs of the technology are not yet known, but early results are promising.
Source: “The Packer,” August 4, 2008.
Editor’s Note –
Much progress can be made by more effectively applying old and new technology in the storage and preservation of food. Over one-third of all food produced worldwide is lost to pests, molds, bacteria, and rot, and increasingly, recalls. Lowering this share is “low hanging fruit” in the quest for global food security.
28% of China’s Arable Land Devoted to “Eco-foods”
The August 2008 Environmental Health Perspectives includes a major story entitled “Recovering the Good Earth: China’s Growing Organic Market.” It reports that 28% of China’s arable land – some 34 million hectares – is producing certified organic, China “green,” or “hazard-free” categories of food.
According to the report, “Organic farming in China is largely an export-oriented industry.” Domestic demand in China is held back by premiums in China for “eco-foods, “ which can reach 700% of conventional prices, an average much higher than in the U.S.
Organic Ginger from China Takes a Fall
A national “mandatory Class 3” recall of imported organic ginger products is underway after the discovery of aldicarb insecticide in the ginger. The USDA’s National Organic Program has urged all 95 certifiers to alert customers who may have purchased the products. Several companies are recalling the products.
The presence of aldicarb in organic ginger from China was first disclosed by a Washington D.C.-based TV news program. The station first ran a story about two months ago, focusing on the presence of imported organic food products from China in a D.C.-area Whole Foods store. Strong consumer reaction to the piece led the station to sponsor pesticide residue testing of about two-dozen imported organic products for sale at the Whole Foods store. Only one out of 24 tested positive for any pesticide – organic ginger from China. While the focus has been on the one positive sample, it is reassuring that no residues were found in all other samples.
Source: Sustainable Food News, August 7, 2008; August 6, 2008 Memo from Barbara Robinson, NOP, to “All USDA Accredited Certifying Agents”
Editor’s Note –
The EPA should have banned all uses of aldicarb years ago, since this carbamate insecticide has triggered so many serious human poisoning episodes, killed millions of birds and fish, and slams populations of beneficial insects. Fortunately, few food uses remain. The recent EPA decision to ban all remaining uses of carbofuran – a similar, very toxic insecticide – is encouraging, and may signal long overdue EPA action to put aldicarb out to pasture once and for all, at least in the U.S.
Dealing with illegal aldicarb uses abroad, like an application to a ginger crop in China, is going to take concerted international effort. In the meantime, random testing of foods – organic and conventional – will be needed to catch those who are willing to break the rules, or are victims of others that are breaking rules.
How could a consumer shopping at Whole Foods who bought the Chinese ginger product, Whole Foods itself, QAI, the ultimate certifier of the ginger product, and the farmer growing the ginger crop in China ALL be victims of someone else “breaking the rules”?
Pyrethrin insecticides are allowed for organic production, but are costly, since the active ingredient is extracted via a labor-intensive process from flowers grown mostly in Africa. An unscrupulous company might decide to forego buying the expensive pyrethrin to put in an organically approved pesticide product, and instead formulate the product with aldicarb as the active ingredient. Assuming the company formulating this fraudulent product did so with some sophistication, the now-fraudulently labeled product would work just as well, if not better, and would cost the company less than a tenth as much to manufacture.
Sound farfetched? Recall from last month’s “The Scoop” that 5% to 7% of the pesticides sold in the EU are mislabeled, and that most of the mislabeled products are coming from China.
Which leads to a question – whose job is it to police the purity and authenticity of inputs used by organic farmers?
Critique Stirs Media Interest in the Center’s March 2008 SSR on Nutrient Content
In mid-July, the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH), an industry-funded organization that works on behalf of the pesticide, biotechnology and drug industries, issued a critique of the Center’s March 2008 report “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods.” The ACSH report was written by Dr. Joseph Rosen of Rutgers University.
On July 23, Barry Estabrook of Gourmet Magazine posted a story on the critique, which provides a concise summary of Rosen’s comments. His piece is entitled "Politics of the Plate -- Fighting Words”.
The response by the five co-authors of the Center’s report covers the major points of the ACSH critique, and has been posted on the Center’s website. Excepts appear below.
Organic Center Appoints New Board Members
Four new members have been appointed to the Organic Center board –
Current board members Michelle Goolsby and Anthony Zolezzi, were re-elected to new three year terms on the Board. Michelle Goolsby is the Board Chair-elect, and will take over as Chairperson in November 2008. Alan Greene is the current Board Chair.
Founding Board members Katherine DiMatteo and Walter Robb will be leaving the Board in November after many years of service. Their many contributions to the work of the Center will be sorely missed, but fortunately they have agreed to join former board member Michael Funk as the first “Advisory Directors” of the Center.
The European Union’s Food Safety Authority has issued a generally negative opinion on animal cloning, citing several of the same scientific concerns raised in the Organic Center’s report on animal cloning written by Jim Riddle entitled ”Is the FDA’s Cloning Proposal Ready for Prime Time?“
The just-released EU report emphasizes the adverse impacts of cloning on the health of surrogate mothers and offspring, and the potential for as yet unrecognized food safety risks to enter the food supply.
Herbruck Poultry Ranch Expanding Organic Egg Production
A major poultry operation in Michigan is investing $13 million in new facilities to house 300,000 organic laying hens. The farm sells conventional and organic eggs to several major chains, as well as all MacDonalds franchises east of the Mississippi. Plans call for expanding organic egg laying capacity to one million birds.
Source: Katie Merx, Detroit Free Press, July 20, 2008
Editor’s Note –
It will be interesting to watch how this farm addresses bird welfare issues. A number of state initiatives are on the ballot this year requiring extra space for birds to carry out natural behaviors. Will the new organic facilities built by this Michigan farm comply with, or even exceed the welfare standards driving these new initiatives?
Produce Tracking System Offered
A system using “Electronic Product Code” (EPC) and “Radio Frequency Identification” (RFID) tags to trace produce from the shelf back to the field has been developed by a Texas-based company, Organic Alliance. The system has been applied mainly to organic tomatoes, onions, garlic, and avocados, but is likely to be used on several more produce and meat products in the future.
Source “US organics company using tracing system to allay safety concerns,”: Food Navigator, August 8, 2008
Editor’s Note –
In the wake of the devastating outbreak of Salmonella this summer, and the two-month long effort to trace the contamination to its source in a pepper field or packing house in Mexico, there should be intense commercial interest in this sort of a system.
There is another reason, however, for the nation to invest in trace-back capability – advancing the ability of scientists to quickly understand what is triggering outbreaks. We have made much less progress than possible in definitively proving what is causing food safety outbreaks because the “crime scene” is both cold and contaminated by the time CDC and FDA specialists arrive.
A well-designed trace-back system should allow investigators to assess conditions in the field within hours, or at most a day of an outbreak. In some cases, the actual cause of the outbreak will still be readily apparent to a trained team of investigators. But three days later, the critical evidence may be gone, like dust in the wind.
A Reality Check for the Biotech PR Industry
Every year or so, the prestigious journal Nature Biotechnology publishes editorial comments that turn heads around the world. Its latest issue contains an editorial entitled “Join the dots.” Its abstract states: “Pushing biotech as the ‘solution’ to the world’s problems is doing more harm than good.” Some excerpts –
The editorial goes on to say that belief that biotechnology alone is going to “Heal, fuel, feed the world” requires “…an outrageous act of faith bordering on the religious.” Amen.
Source: Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 26, 2008
Monsanto Pulls the Plug on Posilac
In an August 6, 2008 press release, Monsanto announced it is looking to sell off its Posilac (rbGH/rbST) business. Monsanto explained the unexpected move as allowing the company to focus on its core seeds and traits business.
Much will be said and written about this decision by Monsanto, and its ripple-effects are likely to rock more than one boat. To really understand what is behind this move, watch for whether any buyers step forward and for the details of a sale.
Research Tightens Linkage between Feeding Cattle Distillers Dried Grain and E. coli O157 Shedding, While Also Raising New Questions
A major story in the July 21, 2008 issue of Feedstuffs provides an intriguing overview of recent research on the impact of feeding distillers grain (DG) from ethanol plants to cattle in feedlots. The basic messages are clear –
Government subsidies for biofuels will rise from $11 billion in 2006 to $25 billion in 2015 in the U.S., E.U., and Canada.
Source: Feedstuffs, July 21, 2008
Cost of corn seed needed to plant an acre in 1975 -- $9.51
Sources: “Farm Economics Facts and Opinions,” Farm Business Management, University of Illinois Extension, FEF 07-17, November 6, 2007. USDA Economic Research Service series on corn production costs and returns. “Seed tech titans,” Farm Industry News, July 1, 2004.
“The collapse of the WTO talks stems principally from an intransigence in the U.S. position regarding ethanol tariffs.”
Source: Nicholas Hollis, quoted in a July 30, 2008 Associated Press story.
One expert’s breakdown of the percent of foodborne illness cases triggered at each stage of the food supply chain –
Source: Tom Karst, “Blame for foodborne illness gets spread evenly,” The Packer, July 21, 2008
“Redefining Sustainability: From ‘Greening’ to Enhancing
Capacity for Self-Renewal”
By: Dr. Frederick Kirschenmann
Excerpts follow from a provocative commentary by Fred Kirschenmann that first appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of “The Networker,” the electronic newsletter of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN). Thanks to SEHN for permission to share Fred’s piece.
The full text of this commentary is posted on the Center’s website.
All social and biophysical systems are constantly changing.
Dr. Murray MacIntyre Lumpkin
Hello. Welcome to this week's version of Andy's Take. I am Dr. Murray Lumpkin. I am a pediatrician and serve you and the FDA as the FDA Deputy Commissioner for International and Special Programs.
My Take is that:
Our children deserve better…New pediatric information has now been developed for over 200 drug products. New or enhanced pediatric safety information is available for 48 drugs commonly used in children. New, more accurate pediatric dosing information is now available for around 150 drug products, and over 20 new formulations have been developed specifically for children that allow parents to give a more accurate dose. This is all a tremendous step forward.
FDA remains firmly dedicated to actively facilitating and fostering the development of sound data to guide the safest and most effective use of medicines and medical devices in our children. Children are not little adults. They are not second-class citizens. They are not guinea pigs. They are our most precious gift. Children deserve medical care based on the best data science can give us. That's my take today on FDA and its role in protecting and promoting the health of our next generation.
Kathleen Merrigan Reports from the IFOAM Organic World Congress
Organic Center board members were very active at the 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress, held in Modena, Italy June this year and attended by 1,700 people from 108 countries. Alan Greene gave a keynote plenary talk, speaking to a room of more than 1000 people; Mark Retzloff participated in the multi-day organic fibers and textiles conference; Katherine DiMatteo spoke on the issue of group certification, in the midst of her election campaign that culminated in her ascendancy as President of IFOAM, and former board member Theresa Marquez gave a talk on community building and marketing strategies, a video of which is featured on IFOAM’s website. For my part, I attended the 2nd Scientific Conference of the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) and the workshops of the Integrated Project on Quality Low Input Food (QLIF), both held in conjunction with the IFOAM world Congress.
Over 400 papers were submitted to ISOFAR in preparation for the conference. A team of excellent editors produced a two volume set of these papers, all of which are four pages long, consistently formatted, and organized by topic. Nearing 2,000 pages, I choose not to purchase the volumes while at the conference because of the weight, but left knowing that a pdf file is available from FiBL for 24 Euros (www.fibl.org). I have used the volumes over the summer, both for the research content, and as a source to find colleagues from other institutions and countries working in areas overlapping mine. The articles themselves vary in quality but overall the volumes are well worth the investment. The first volume is primarily crops, while the second volume includes articles on animal husbandry and socioeconomic issues. As might be expected, the majority of articles come from European scientists and the least from scientists in the developing world, but overall it is fair to describe this as an international effort.
Concurrent ISOFAR sessions were held over two days and many of the published papers were presented for discussion; I moderated a session on food quality and was able to present TOC findings from our March 2008 State of Science Review on the nutrient content of organic food. In addition to ISOFAR, five QLIF workshops were held in which draft papers were presented on several topics for audience input. Three of the papers – “Product quality in organic and low input farming systems”; “Safety of foods from organic and low input systems”; and “Performance of organic and low input crop production systems” cited findings from TOC publications. These and two additional QLIF papers on livestock systems and resource efficiency will be redrafted based on the feedback and published in October.
Altogether, TOC was omnipresent at the Modena events. The crowd’s enthusiasm was great, the balsamic vinegar delicious, and the presentations of many excellent scientific studies on organic systems left me convinced that research on organic food and farming is becoming a vibrant sector sure to attract young scientists.
Organic Center Fundraiser at ExpoEast to Feature Major Program Announcement
Join us on Friday October 17th from 5:30 to 7:30 for a special event associated with the Expo East Natural Products show in Boston, Massachusetts. The event will be held at the Westin Waterfront Hotel, with culinary delights by Christina Pirello.
We will be announcing at this event a new program of “local” research sponsored by The Organic Center, while also thanking past donors and inviting both new and current donors to help grow the Center’s programs.
Keep Up with Events by Visiting the Organic Center Blog
Managing Director Steven Hoffman has started an Organic Center blog that will help readers of “The Scoop” stay current on the activities of the Center, events, and other breaking developments.
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
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We can now accept secure on-line donations with both yearly and monthly giving options. We also have wonderful gifts to say thank you for your support – including a free one-year subscription to Organic Gardening magazine, organic t-shirt, organic tote bag, our book, Core Truths and Dr. Alan Greene's new book, Raising Baby Green. We have many ways to say thank you for supporting our work.
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