Organic Dairy Products Reduce Eczema Risk in Childhood
Children consuming a predominantly organic diet (greater than 90% organic) had well over a 30% lower risk of eczema, compared to children eating 50% or less organic food. The study was carried out in the Netherlands and relied on a large study of pregnant women and infants. The scientists report that the higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in organic dairy products is the likely cause of lessened eczema risk. An earlier report from the same team showed that the higher levels of CLAs in organic milk, when consumed by a nursing mom, increase CLA levels in her breast milk. (For more on the CLA-breast milk study, see the August 2007 “The Scoop." )
Source: British Journal of Nutrition, August 2007.
Pesticide Exposures Increase Asthma Risk
Scientists working for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., reported findings at an international meeting of respiratory specialists that pesticide exposures doubled asthma risk among highly exposed farmers.
Source: Presentation by Dr. Jane Hoppin at the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress, September 16, 2007
Novel Taste Test Produces Intriguing Results
European scientists offered 40 Swiss lab rats their choice of biscuits made from organic and conventional wheat. The rats preferred the former, despite the fact that the scientists could not find any differences in the chemical composition of the organic and conventional wheat.
The Center’s State of Science Review on taste outlines several reasons why organic food often tastes better than conventionally grown food. Plants under organic production tend to produce more flavor-enhancing antioxidants in the course of combating pests. Organic fruits and vegetables are typically a bit smaller and more nutrient dense, and tend to contain less water and sugar – factors that dilute other flavors. Recent research suggests that the richness of microbial communities in the soil can significantly impact nutrient density and antioxidant levels, and in many cases, augment the intensity and uniqueness of flavors.
Source: “Organic, and Tastier: The Rat’s Nose Knows,” New York Times, October 3, 2007
New Tools to Advance Food Safety
Source: Page B-6, “The Packer,” October 1, 2007.
Cow Health Study Launched
The Organic Center’s cow health - milk quality study is now underway. Well-respected dairy scientists at three land grant universities – Pam Ruegg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Linda Tikofsky at Cornell, and Mike Gamroth from Oregon State University – are leading the study. These scientists are compiling information on cow health from Dairy Herd Improvement Association records and will carry out an on-farm cow health survey in their state. They will work with the Center in designing and guiding the project’s analyses of published reports and USDA surveys of cow health and milk quality, and will help prepare project reports.
This study is the first “donor directed” research project carried out by the Center. The project was initiated by the offer of funding from Organic Valley (OV) for such a project. The Center worked with dairy scientists, farmers, and OV and other dairy processors to design the 2.5-year study. A consortium of dairy processors has pledged the project’s $205,000.00 budget.
In 2005 the USDA’s Economic Research Service carried out an ARMS (Agricultural Resource Management Survey) study of the dairy sector. A report drawing on additional analysis of this survey’s raw data files will be the project’s first work product (due out early in 2008). This survey included over 1,200 conventional and 350 organic dairy farms. Preliminary results shed intriguing light on a number of hot topics, including the impact of farm size and various degrees of reliance on pasture on cow health, production levels, costs, and milk quality. For more information on the study, contact the Center’s Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook.
Over 21 Million Pounds of Hamburger Recalled
A massive recall of hamburger manufactured by Topps Meat company has forced the company to go out of business. The meat contains E. coli O157 and has made dozens of people sick, including several critically ill children. USDA detected the contaminated hamburger on September 7, 2007, but waited until September 18 to order the recall. The USDA was aware this company held hamburger over from one day’s production to the next, a practice known to increase the risk of contamination, but failed to order the company to stop the practice.
Hamburger remains the single major cause of E. coli O157 illness in people. The best way to prevent E. coil from entering the meat supply is to reduce E. coli shedding on dairy farms and in beef feedlots, and the best way to do that is to back off very high grain diets and promote animal health, as discussed in the Center’s report focusing on preventing E. coli O157 contamination in spinach.
Consumer Confidence Slipping in Food Safety
The Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) most recent survey shows that only 66 percent of shoppers are confident in the safety of the food supply, down from 82 percent last year, and the lowest level in 20 years. This is one of the most dramatic and rapid shifts in public opinion about food ever reported.
In The Packer’s latest “Fresh Trends” report, consumers cited avoiding chemicals in food as the number one reason they chose organic food. Avoiding pesticides was cited by 62% of surveyed consumers as the “primary” reason for buying organic.
Nutritional Quality of Eggs
Eggs from chickens granted access to pasture contain one-third less cholesterol than conventional eggs, 25 percent less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, twice the omega-3s, and seven times more beta carotene, according to testing carried out by Mother Earth News. The October/November issue of the magazine has details, and are also posted.
Good Food at the Olympics
The Chinese government has established a special organic vegetable farm and a pig farm to produce organic food for athletes participating in the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. The pigs are provided a two-hour outdoor exercise period daily, and are given Chinese herbal medicines. News about the pig farm’s high-quality organic feed has triggered a flurry of negative commentary in China. According to the Wall Street Journal, one Chinese blogger active on mine safety issues wrote: “I would rather be a pig for the Olympics than a human in a coal mine.”
First Eight-Gene Stacked Corn Due in 2008
The first-ever, eight-gene stacked combination in corn is expected to be commercialized in 2008 by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences LLC.
SmartStax™ hybrids will contain eight different genetically modified (GM) traits – two involving herbicide tolerance to glyphosate (Roundup) and Liberty (glufosinate) herbicides, and six insect control genes controlling the European corn borer and the corn rootworm. When GM-corn was first released, one gene for herbicide tolerance and one for insect control was considered adequate, but now, it apparently takes eight genes to get the job done. It is interesting to watch the biotech seed industry explain how this represents “progress.”
Monsanto GM-Corn To Be Subsidized by USDA Crop Insurance Program
Farmers in four states buying two new stacked GM corn hybrids from Monsanto will be eligible for a cut in crop insurance premiums by up to 24 percent. The varieties included in the program offer control of both the European corn borer and the corn rootworm through the expression of two Bacillus thuringiensis bacterial toxins. The four states involved in this pilot program account for half the nation’s corn acres.
Source: Monsanto News Release, September 26, 2007
GM-Corn Found to Harm Aquatic Ecosystems
In a just-released study published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Indiana University scientists have found that bacteria toxins from Bt corn fields are washing into streams and killing or markedly slowing the growth rate of caddisflies, a major component in aquatic food chains, as fly-fishermen and women can attest.
Over 35 percent of all corn is already genetically engineered to manufacture its own Bt. Biotech-based seed companies are all rushing to market multiple-stack corn hybrids engineered to express both the kind of Bt that controls the European corn borer, and another kind active against corn rootworms. Record-high corn prices are leading to a massive shift in acreage from grain and forage crops to corn. USDA, through the federal crop insurance program, is subsidizing the planting of Monsanto GM-corn varieties (see item above). Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine the loss of caddisflies standing in the way of “progress.”
Source: Abstract of “Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems,” Rosi-Marshall et al., 2007, Proceedings of the NAS, online October 8, 2007
EPA Approves High-Risk Fumigant Despite Protest from Scientists
Methyl bromide is one of the most dangerous and damaging pesticides used by conventional farmers, and also contributes significantly to global warming. Its use is being phased out under an international agreement, leading the pesticide industry to search for alternatives. Arysta LifeScience Corp. has gained a registration for methyl iodide, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen. The EPA approved the product despite receiving a letter from 54 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, warning the agency of serious risks to pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and farmworkers. The product has not yet been approved by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Source: “EPA OKs fumigant despite protect from scientists,” L.A. Times, October 8, 2007.
STAC Member Named to Prestigious Academic Chair
Matt Liebman, a member of the Center’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) has been appointed to the Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Matt is a weed ecologist who has done pioneering work on controlling weeds in organic and low-input systems. Matt and his students came up with the phrase “many little hammers” to describe the essential ingredients in effective, affordable weed management systems. Congratulations to Matt on this appointment.
UN Body Highlights Widespread Benefits from Organic Farming
In a remarkably strong and forceful report released in September, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that organic farming helps fight hunger, reduce climate change, and improves the economic wellbeing of farmers and consumers worldwide. The FAO says that organic farming is no longer a niche market, and that a 50% conversion to organic production would not harm food security, even in sub-Saharan Africa. Through development and intensification of organic production systems, the FAO believes that food production could be increased 56% in developing countries. The report also describes the many nutritional, food safety, animal welfare, and environmental benefits of organic food and farming.
Source: “Report of the International Conference on Organic Agriculture,” Food and Agriculture Organization
A Comment on the School Lunch Program
"When I was a prosecuter in Dallas, I used to go after families who did not feed their kids enough. Now we are feeding them to death."
Susan Combs, Controller, State of Texas, remark delivered Oct. 12, 2007 at International Conference on the Health Benefits on Fruits and Vegetables.
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Over one-quarter of pets in the U.S. are obese. The nation’s largest provider of pet health insurance reports that claims for coverage related to obesity account for 7% of all medical claims submitted in 2006.
Source: “Obese pets cost $14 million,” Feedstuffs, September 3, 2007
There have been more than 2,500 confirmed cases of resistance in insects to insecticides. Both conventional and organic apple farmers in Europe are dealing now with the first documented case of resistance to a commercial baculovirus used to control codling moth. This discovery reinforces the need for organic farmers to avoid spraying biological pesticides multiple times per season.
Source: “Rapid Emergence of Baculovirus Resistance in Codling Moth Due to Dominant, Sex-Linked Inheritance.” Asser-Kaiser et al., 2007, Science, Vol. 317, September 28, 2007.
Antioxidant Facts –
Ground cloves top the list of virtually all foods in total antioxidant capacity per 100 grams. Herbs and spices account for eight of the 10 highest foods ranked by total antioxidant capacity.
Black raspberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries are the most antioxidant-dense fruits. A single serving delivers all of the antioxidants needed in a day.
Source: “Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States,” Halvorsen et al., American Journal of Clinical Research, 2006. This valuable research report analyzes antioxidant capacity in 1,113 food samples, including hundreds of popular processed foods like oatmeal cookies and bean and cheese burritos. Email Dr. Benbrook for a copy.
A single half-cup serving of pinto beans or red kidney beans delivers about three-times the total antioxidants needed per day – about twice the level of a serving of most berries.
Source: Table 2, “Common Foods in the ‘Very High’ and ‘High’ Categories for Antioxidant Activity Ranked by H-ORAC Units per Serving,” in the Center’s Elevating Antioxidants in Food SSR.
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The September 26, 2007 New York Times ran an article entitled “The Missing Ingredients in Organic Cereals.” The article points out that manufacturers of commercial cereals have been fortifying breakfast cereals for over five decades with various vitamins and minerals and that today’s highly sweetened, calorie-laden cereals have become a significant source of nutrients for many children. The article goes on to point out that some organic cereals are not fortified, and as a result provide children lower levels of certain vitamins.
Fortification has a role to play – the need for additional folic acid during pregnancy is a good example. But advancing fortification as the best solution to the current nutrient inadequacies in the U.S. food supply is misguided. Many studies have shown that the nutrients added to food via fortification are usually not as readily bioavailable, nor are they as effective as the nutrients in whole foods. Plus, does it make sense to rely on fortification to add back into food what we have, through our actions, taken out of it?
The never-ending quest for higher crop yields (see the Center’s report “Still No Free Lunch”), coupled with modern food processing techniques, has stripped nutrients from whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh, whole foods dense in nutrients have been replaced by manufactured foods devoid of most natural nutrients and laden with added fats, sugar, and salt. In light of these changes in food consumption patterns and nutritional quality, it is no surprise that the vitamin and mineral content of the average American diet has slipped to the point where most of us consume less than recommended levels of several nutrients and antioxidants on a daily basis.
Inadequate nutrient intake is real and a serious problem, especially among kids. But focusing on the absence of fortification in some organic cereal brands, as this piece in the New York Times does, is like chastising a diplomat at peace talks for not packing a gun.
One of the most important steps in crafting durable and affordable solutions to complex public health problems is to accurately trace problems to their source. If this New York Times piece had done that, it would have focused on how organic farming, coupled with changes in food processing technology, can increase dramatically the levels of many essential nutrients in the U.S. food supply, in the process making fortification less necessary, eliminating the costs associated with it, and promoting human health.
A Deep Thirst for Food Quality
We are all used to encountering pricey wines in the store or at restaurants. The willingness of people to spend five or ten times more for a highly rated, premium bottle of wine is grounded in a sense of value linked to the unique flavors and pleasing characteristics of a fine wine, compared to a jug wine, or increasingly today, box wine.
In recent years reports have surfaced of apples from a particular region in Japan, signed by the farmer, selling for $15.00 to $25.00 each. Single watermelons have sold for several hundred dollars in China. Individual tomatoes have fetched over $10.00 in many areas. High quality fresh cherries have sold for over $20.00 a pound. And lets not forget filet mignon for $26.00 a pound or more, an increasingly common occurrence in high-end food stores.
And now, a Japanese dairy is selling milk from “stress-relief” cows for the equivalent of $43.00 a quart – thirty-times the price of regular milk in Tokyo. The company claims the milk has three to four times higher levels of melatonin, a hormone known to help relieve stress.
People are clearly seeking higher quality foods and more satisfying eating experiences. These trends are creating demand for food with a new set of quality attributes. It also appears that at least some people are willing to pay substantially more for food that is uniquely flavorful or healthful.
Local organic farmers and the organic food industry are well-positioned to meet the demand for high-end foods, and can do so without sacrificing progress toward widening the selection of everyday organic foods, offered for sale at prices including a modest premium over conventional. Expect two challenges to arise if this trend broadens – an intricate dance with government agencies will be required in labeling and marketing such foods; and novel distribution systems and methods will be required to get enhanced quality food products to people wanting to buy them.
How Best to Assure Food Safety?
The erosion in consumer confidence in food safety is triggering all sorts of action across the food industry and in government. New responsibilities and costs are being imposed on growers, the food industry, and retailers – costs ultimately passed on to consumers. Both state and federal governments are considering adoption of new regulations designed to widen margins of safety. While new regulations and government programs will surely increase costs, it remains to be seen whether they will accomplish much in enhancing safety.
Most new initiatives and proposals rest upon more testing and a bigger role for “good agricultural practices” that are designed to manage risks. Little emphasis is being placed on avoiding food safety problems in the first place. Organic farming virtually eliminates risks associated with animal hormones, antibiotics use, pesticides, GMOs, and greatly reduces risks from mycotoxins and bacteria, at least in several key crops/foods, yet is not even on the radar screen among most conventional food industry leaders, and politicians looking for solutions.
Health care system costs are out of control because the medical establishment is almost exclusively focused on treatment and not health promotion and disease prevention. Investing in science and innovation in organic food production would likely prove highly cost-effective in promoting food safety across the food system, not to mention the added benefits linked to improvements in human health and environmental quality. Given what organic farming and food has to offer, one wonders why there is such persistent resistance in government to shifting a fair share of R&D dollars to organic food systems and challenges.
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Early Results of Nutrient Content SSR Featured at Conference
The Organic Center organized the panel of scientists covering organic food and farming at a major conference in Houston on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. The Center’s chief scientist Chuck Benbrook is delivering the keynote address during the session on October 12, 2007. His talk includes some preliminary findings of the forthcoming State of Science review on the nutrient content of organic versus conventional foods. The session promises to be lively and stimulating. A copy of Dr. Benbrook’s presentation will be posted soon on the Center’s website under “Events and Presentations.”
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Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
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