A team of scientists funded by the U.S. government studied the impact of proximity to pesticide applications and the risk of childhood cancer in a sophisticated, nation-wide study that included records on over 25 million children up to 14 years old.
The team found elevated risk for several types of childhood cancers as a function of living in areas with intensive pesticide use. Elevated cancer risk was found for Hodgkin lymphoma, Wilms’ tumor, renal carcinomas, Ewing’s sarcoma, thyroid cancers, and malignant melanoma.
Moreover, there was “a remarkably consistent dose-response effect seen for counties having greaterthan 60% of the total county acreage devoted to farming.”
Danish scientists studied male reproductive development among children born to women working during pregnancy in the greenhouse industry in Denmark. Sons of mothers working in greenhouses in the high-pesticide exposure group had triple the risk of cryptorchidism (a malformation of male genitals), compared to boys raised in Copenhagen. The sons of women working in greenhouses also suffered from a variety of other reproductive abnormalities and/or problems including decreased penile length, lower testicular volume, lower testosterone, and various reproductive system hormone imbalances.
The authors point out that these adverse developmental effects occurred despite the very strict worker-safety protocols in place in the Danish greenhouse industry
Sources: S.E. Carozza et al., “Risk of Childhood Cancers Associated with Residence in Agriculturally Intense Areas in the U.S,” and
H.R. Andersen et al., “Impaired Reproductive Development in Sons of Women Occupationally Exposed to Pesticides during Pregnancy,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 4, April 2008.
Conventional Wines in Europe Found to Contain Multiple Pesticide Residues; Organic Wine is Nearly Pesticide-free
Thirty-four bottles of conventional wines were found to contain, on average, over four pesticides in testing carried out by the Pesticide Action Network-Europe. One bottled contained 10 residues, and all bottles contained at least one residue.
The wines tested included some of the premier vintners in the EU, selling wines in the $200-plus per bottle range.
The study team also tested six bottles of different organic wines from France and Austria. A single pesticide residue (the fungicide pyremethanil) was found in one bottle of organic wine. Accordingly --
Source: “Message in a Bottle: European wines systematically contaminated with pesticides", Pesticide Action Network-Europe, March 26, 2008.
CLAs and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent Buildup of Abdominal Fat
A team of scientists in the U.K. studied the impact of elevated consumption levels of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-three fatty acid in a human study involving lean and obese, and young and old subjects. They found that increased CLA plus omega-three intakes in younger obese individuals prevented increases in abdominal fat mass and improved overall blood sugar metabolism. No such impacts were observed in lean individuals, whether old or young, as well as in older obese people.
These findings suggest that consumption of organic dairy products with elevated levels of CLAs and omega-three fatty acids may be particularly important to young people who are obese or overweight. In addition to possibly helping young people better manage their weight, foods with elevated levels of CLAs plus omega-threes are beneficial for a number of other reasons including the prevention of cancer and reduction and cardiovascular disease.
Source: A.A. Sneddon et al., “Effect of a CLA and Omega-three Fatty Acid Mixture on Body Composition and Adiponectin,” Obesity, Vol. 16, No. 5, pages 1,019-1,024. March 2008
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On April 29th the long-anticipated report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (IFAP) was released. This is a remarkable report that will surely trigger spirited debate for many months, if not years.
“Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production”, covers the history of IFAP and the growth of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), the public health risks associated with IFAP, environmental risks, and impacts on rural America (e.g., jobs, quality of life, community institutions, local governance). These chapters of the report span about 50 pages, followed by 40 pages of detailed recommendations.
The Commission was chaired by John Carlin, former Governor of Kansas and included 15 well-known members, e.g., the Leopold Center’s Fred Kirschenmann, Marion Nestle of New York University, and Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture. More than a dozen nationally-recognized experts supported the work of the Commission as consultants or authors of background papers.
A mammoth effort went into the production of the report, spanning 2.5 years and costing $3.4 million
Organic farm production and animal care standards meet or exceed the majority of recommendations in the report. Indeed, implementation of the recommendations in the report by conventional livestock producers would substantially “level the playing field” between conventional and organic farm operations.
Organic Farming has Potential to Reverse Honeybee Losses
A plausible explanation for Colony Collapse Disorder lies in the combination of exposure to a new class of insecticides – the nicotinyls – and long-established honeybee viruses. The stress bees are under when transported long distances also appears to be a factor behind the serious losses experienced by commercial beekeepers over the last few years, including 2008.
Others point to the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops as another possible explanation.
The Institute of Science in Society, a U.K. organization, has issued a press release dated April 25, 2008 that addresses recent scientific insights on the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. They point out that organic farming eliminates from the agricultural landscape two of the leading, plausible causes of CCD and conclude that –
Farmbill Could Increase USDA Investment in Organic by $100 million
It remains unclear whether there will finally be a 2008 farmbill, but if the Congress and White House do agree on a bill, the organic industry will benefit from around $100 million in new spending authority over the life of the bill, including a substantial and mandatory increase in the “Organic Transitions” research program. This program is slated to go from around $3 million per year to $30 million.
The $100 million increase includes $22 million to provide cost-share support for growers working through organic certification, and $5 million for enhanced data collection, analysis, and reporting by the USDA on organic crop production and market sales.
It is worth noting that even with these increases, the organic food sector will still receive a miniscule share of the USDA fiscal pie – around one-tenth of one percent.
More on the Scope of Government Actions to Solve Major Problems
Almost everyone regards the U.S. farmbill as a rather tepid response to the enormous problems and volatility now apparent in the agricultural sector, despite the good news for organic farmers discussed above.
In placing into perspective the pace and scope of change possible when political leaders and public institutions choose to act, consider two recent initiatives unfolding across the pond in Europe.
Sources: (London) “Newscripts,” Chemical and Engineering News, April 7, 2008 (page 80); (Netherlands) Dutch Ambassador’s speech at the Natural and Organic Products Show, April 2008.
India Conducting Field Tests of First Bt-transgenic Vegetable
After one more year of field tests, eggplant genetically engineered to express the Bt toxin throughout the plant’s tissues may be approved for sale in India, and if approved, would be the world’s first Bt-vegetable approved for direct human consumption.
Opposition is building in India to prevent the approval of this technology.
Source: ISIS Press Release, April 30, 2008
A Comment from the Editor –
The novel proteins in GE-eggplant (or Roundup Ready soybeans), when consumed by a pregnant woman, may or may not trigger an allergic reaction. But consumption of these novel proteins during pregnancy will almost certainly have a direct impact on the developing child.
Why, and how? Through fetal programming, a key developmental process that happens anew every generation.
As a baby develops in his/her mother’s womb, the DNA within the child’s cells are programmed to expect and tolerate the proteins that the mother has been consuming in her diet. Indeed, the child’s developing body is literally constructed from the proteins in the mother’s diet that flow into the child via the umbilical cord.
Suppose mom has been consuming a lecithin-based food supplement during pregnancy, and the soybeans used to make the product were genetically engineered to be herbicide tolerant (i.e., Roundup Ready soybeans). This food supplement, consumed every day, would deliver a steady flow of novel GE-altered proteins to the mom, and thus as well to the growing child.
After birth, when the child starts eating solid foods, including food made from soybeans, the child’s GI tract and immune system will be programmed to accept and digest GE-soybean proteins. But problems may emerge when the child consumes conventional soybean-based products, because they will have a slightly different mix of proteins than in GE-soybeans. This will lead to heightened risk of an allergic reaction to the proteins in conventional soybeans, simply because the proteins are different from those that the child was exposed to during development.
Fetal programming creates the ability to turn a normal protein into an allergen and may explain some, and perhaps even most, of the increases in corn and soy food allergies among children since the commercial introduction of GE corn and soybeans in the mid 1990s.
It is remarkable that the biotech industry has been able to thwart all serious research in the U.S. on the effects of GE-proteins on fetal programming and the emergence of new food allergies, despite the fact that hundreds of studies can be cited in support of the hypothesis –
Questions Raised over Tesco’s Carbon Footprint Label
Tesco is soon to roll out “The Carbon Reduction Label” on 20 of its house-brand products. The Soil Association has pointed out that Tesco has ignored the impacts of organic farming in capturing carbon in the soil, and reducing both CO2 and nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural operations.
Source: News at “SmartPlanet.com,” April 29, 2008
Comment from the Editor –
Just as in Europe, there is a lively debate going on in the U.S. soil science and climate change communities about the impact of various farming systems on soil carbon sequestration and net greenhouse gas emissions. As the underlying science is settled, models will emerge for projecting the impact of various farming systems on greenhouse gas emissions, and these models can then be used to support meaningful labeling programs and carbon trading or credit schemes.
One factor that adds complexity to such estimates is well known – the level of organic matter in the soil plays a direct role in how much additional carbon the soil can hold, and hence how the soil will respond to a given change in management practices.
In general, the higher the organic matter level in the soil, the less additional carbon the soil can sequester. As a result, the carbon sequestration benefits of any farming system that can raise soil organic matter concentrations from, say 1.5% (i.e., a degraded soil) to 3%, are enormous and will likely take one to three decades to achieve.
But all soils have a practical limit on organic matter levels, and hence soil carbon sequestration cannot go on forever, at least not while continuing to use land for food and fiber production.
These practical realities frame an important policy issue that has not yet received any serious attention – What happens to farmers who have preserved their soil organic matter, and/or rebuilt it to near-maximum levels through, for example, several years of careful organic management?
Will these farmers, who have already contributed significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, get little or no credit for doing the right thing on their own, before there was a subsidy or incentive to do so?
Dean Foods Opens Research Facility in Broomfield, CO
Dallas-based Dean Foods Co., the parent company of WhiteWave Foods, opened a 23,000-sq.-ft. research and development center in Broomfield, CO. WhiteWave, maker of the Silk and Horizon Organic brands, is also located in Broomfield. Kelly Duffin-Maxwell has been appointed to the newly created position of EVP of Research and Development and will oversee the new facility.
Colorado State University, Aurora Organic Dairy Partner on Organic Research
Colorado State University received a three-year $500,000 grant from Aurora Organic Dairy of Boulder, CO, to study animal welfare, veterinary medicine, growing perennial forage crops and optimizing soil fertility for organic pasture development in the Rocky Mountain West. Aurora announced that it will work with CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Aurora says it will share its findings with the organic agriculture community.
Safeway Forms Better Living Brands Alliance
Safeway announced in May that it will market through its Lucerne Foods division the O Organics and Eating Right brands across all retail channels and in food service and international markets. O Organics, initially developed by Safeway, is one of the leading organic brands in the country.
Organic Center Board Members to Speak at IFOAM World Congress
Kathleen Merrigan, Organic Center Board Member and Director of the Department of Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, will address the 16th IFOAM World Congress in Modena, Italy, on June 18-20. Additionally, the Center’s Chair, Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., will be a keynote speaker at the event. The conference will focus on connecting cultures and trade through organic food and farming and is hosted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. For more info, visit http://www.ifoam.org/events/ifoam_conferences/owc/Organic_World_Congress.html.
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About 30% of the workers on large animal operations suffer from organic dust toxic syndrome. On Iowa hog farms where animals are fed low-levels of antibiotics, almost 56% of the children have asthma.
It can take 35 units of fossil fuel energy to produce one unit of food energy in a modern beef feedlot.
Americans consume 65 billion eggs a year. One in every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella enteric (SE). Americans consume 3.25 million eggs contaminated with SE annually.
“The Infectious Disease Society of America recently declared antibiotic resistant infections to be an epidemic in the United States.”
Source: “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production”, Pew Commission, April 2008
Europe accounts for two-thirds of global wine production and consumption.
Over 19 pounds of pesticides are applied to the average acre of grapes grown in Europe.
Source: “Message in a Bottle: European wines systematically contaminated with pesticides,” Pesticide Action Network-Europe, March 26, 2008.
The rebuilding of soil organic matter to pre-cultivation levels world-wide would lead to soil absorption of CO2 equivalent to as much as 90% of projected total global carbon emissions over the several decades it would take to accomplish this goal.
Source: D.R. Montgomery, “Agriculture’s no-till revolution?, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Vol. 63, No. 3, May/June 2008.
Excerpts from -- “Making Health Care Greener”
By: Ronald M. Davis, MD
President, American Medical Association
(Originally published in AMA eVoice, April 24, 2008)
Did you know that seven of every 10 Americans die each year of a chronic disease? A number of diseases such as asthma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and breast cancer are on the rise, and many conditions are linked to toxic pollutants.
A 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that we're making progress on decreasing Americans' exposure to 148 potentially toxic chemicals that are prevalent in the environment.
But our ongoing exposure to these toxins remains a serious health concern.
Our health care system does a good job in diagnosing and treating illness and alleviating pain and suffering. But, like other sectors of society, its actions in regards to the environment have a ways to go.
"The Nature of Value"
By: Chuck Benbrook
Organic Center Chief Scientist
The price of food is on everyone’s mind, and for good reason. We are taught that prices are driven by the interactions of supply and demand, and that demand is rooted in complex combinations of actual and perceived need, perceptions of value, and scarcity.
What explains the approximate 60% increase in the price of basic agricultural commodities over the last year? Clearly, a combination of forces must be at work, since there have been no major supply disruptions in recent years.
On the demand side, the big drivers are biofuels, the weak dollar, and economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere. Ethanol production is siphoning off over 20% of the U.S. corn crop, and millions of acres worldwide are producing crops for biofuels instead of food.
Economic growth is allowing millions of people to move up a notch on the foodchain every year. The increasing consumption of animal products in the human diet is clearly having a bigger impact on global food demand than population growth. The weak dollar makes our agricultural exports more affordable for countries with strong currencies.
On the supply side, continued degradation in soil quality, shortages in water and water quality problems, and pests and diseases pose increasingly difficult challenges for farmers. Efforts to keep yields rising, or even maintain them, are undermined with increasing frequency by more erratic weather patterns, driven by global climate change. Yields are falling in many key regions, and will likely do so at an accelerating pace as water shortages and high energy prices cut into the ability of farmers to shore up sick farming systems and mask natural resource degradation by pouring on more water and fertilizer.
It won’t take more than a few minor supply disruptions this year to put food price inflation in the U.S. on the political radar screen, and in an election year when all sorts of craziness can happen in the search for “solutions.” In the developing world, possible chaos lies ahead if market forces are allowed to run their course, because income disparity drives inequality in access to food to a much greater degree than actual shortages in supply.
Higher prices for food, and the focus of the media on food system winners and losers, will surely lead many consumers to question what’s behind the higher prices for both conventional and organic food. In general, any serious effort by the American public to understand more fully where their food comes from, and how it was produced and at what cost, is a good thing for organic farmers and food businesses.
One thing is already clear – many companies are prospering in the current economic climate. Archer-Daniels-Midland’s third-quarter profits were up 42%. Monsanto is reporting record profits and has gotten farmers to accept seed prices twice the level of a decade ago. John Deere cannot keep up with the demand for combines that sell for well over $400,000.00. Investment in agricultural commodity index funds has increased from $10 billion in 2006 to $47 billion. Traders who have bet right on the spiraling market have made millions on the margin, without ever touching a single seed. Grain farmers are enjoying prices three or more times higher than two years ago, although costs have also at least doubled.
There are also losers – farmers or companies paying cash for feed grains to raise livestock are in a terrible bind. Dozens of New England organic dairy farms have switched to conventional because of the exorbitant price and lack of availability of organic feed grains. Businesses heavily dependent on energy, either for field operations, trucking or pumping irrigation water, have seen their costs go through the roof.
The public will depend on the media for help in sorting out the winners and losers, and whether anything needs to be done in the world of public policy. Expect some wild ideas to be floated, and perhaps gain traction. The best hope for sound changes in public policy is a systematic, data-driven, and honest assessment of the reasons the economics of the food system have become as shaky as the subprime mortgage market. Will the media focus on the new forces that have helped create, and often benefited from market volatility at the expense of farmers and consumers?
Will the USDA and agribusiness finally admit that the food industry has become excessively dependent on fossil fuels and that fundamental structural changes in farming systems and food distribution are necessary to avoid even greater volatility and damage to the environment in the years ahead?
The Organic Center, and the organic community as a whole, needs to sort out how we can most effectively contribute to deeper appreciation of why change is essential. Equally important, we need to help the public understand the difference between positive change that will enhance food and environmental quality and sustainability over the long haul, as opposed to quick fixes grounded on false promises.
Organic Center Findings Featured in Today’s Dietitian
Carol Bareuther wrote a positive and informative cover story on the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming in the April 2008 issue of Today’s Dietitian, the premiere and widely distributed magazine of the American Dietetic Association.
The story is entitled “Mission Organic 2010: Healthy People, Healthy Planet”. It covers pesticides, nutrient content, taste, and environmental benefits. Dr. Alan Greene, TOC Board Chair and Chuck Benbrook are quoted throughout the piece. Several MO 2010 factoids are included as a sidebar.
Core Truths includes fascinating research about why:
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