Organic Lettuce Passes the PDP Test with Flying Colors
The USDA's "Pesticide Data Program" (PDP) tested a total of 386 samples of organic lettuce in 2009, by far the most extensive sampling of an organic food crop for pesticide residues ever carried out in the world.
The results are remarkable and encouraging. Only four samples were found with residues of pesticides not authorized for use in organic production. Three samples contained the organophosphate insecticide phosmet and one sample contained the synthetic pyrethroid insecticide cypermethrin.
Accordingly, just over 1% of the 386 samples of organic lettuce contained a residue that should not have been present. On average over the previous decade, around 25% of the samples of organic produce has contained a pesticide residue not approved for use on organic farms.
A total of 78 residues of two pesticides approved for use on organic lettuce were also found – spinosad and neem (azadirachtin). Accordingly, taking all pesticides found on organic lettuce into account, the average organic sample contained 0.2 residues.
Conventional lettuce contained, on average, 3.9 residues per sample in the last year PDP tested conventional lettuce (2005). Accordingly, conventional lettuce contains about 19-times more residues, on average, compared to organic lettuce.
In terms of risk levels, The Organic Center uses a "Dietary Risk Index" (DRI) to translate the residues found in a given food to a quantitative measure of relative pesticide risk, based on the percent of samples testing positive, mean of the positives, and each pesticide’s toxicity.
Both conventional and organic lettuce pose relatively low pesticide risks per serving. The conventional lettuce DRI in 2005 was 0.118, whereas the organic lettuce DRI in 2009 was 0.001, about 120-fold lower.
Source: The Organic Center analysis of the 2009 “Pesticide Data Program” results (more details will be provided in forthcoming report).
New Insights Gained into Honey Bee Viruses and CCD
A team of scientists in California have completed the first comprehensive baseline assessment of viruses plaguing honey bees. The research was undertaken to try to gauge what a “normal” level of bee virus is, so that the impact of viruses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) can be more accurately determined.
Remarkably, the team discovered four new viruses, never before detected, and furthermore concluded from their extensive testing that two of these previously unknown viruses are among the most prevalent in honey bee colonies.
Despite a heavy pathogen load in all hives studied, the team reported that most of the hives remained healthy. This finding led the team to speculate that other factors such as pesticides, alone or in combination, must be contributing to CCD by, for example, suppressing the honey bee immune system.
Source: Runckel, C. et al., “Temporal Analysis of the Honey Bee Microbiome Revelas Four New Viruses and Seasonal Prevalence of Known Viruses, Nosema, and Crithidia,” PlosOne, Vol. 6, Issue 6:e20656, June 2011
Iodine Levels in Conventional and Organic Milk in the U.K.
A study reporting 42% lower levels of iodine in organic milk, compared to conventional brands, was initially released in the U.K. in June, 2011 and has now surfaced in the United States.
“Iodine concentrations of organic and conventional milk: implications for iodine intake” (Bath et al., 2011) was published by the British Journal of Nutrition, and triggered a strong response from many scientists and organizations in the U.K., including the Soil Association.
In particular, objections were raised over statements highlighting negative public health impacts from consuming organic dairy products, and suggestions that pregnant women and teenage girls in the U.K. should purchase an iodine supplement. The study was funded by the supplement industry.
Iodine is required for normal thyroid hormone production and is essential for brain development. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental retardation on a global basis, and is a modest, but growing, problem in the U.K. among school-age girls. A recent survey reported that 51% of girls 14-15 years old had mild iodine deficiency, 16% had moderate deficiency, and 1% severe deficiency, based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines (Vanderpump et al., 2011).
The U.K. is dealing with pockets of inadequate iodine intakes because, unlike most other nations, it does not require or strongly promote iodine fortification of salt. A majority of the salt in the U.S. is fortified with iodine, and all salt is fortified in Canada and dozens of other countries. Fortification of salt with iodine is regarded as a cheap and highly effective strategy to avoid problems linked to iodine deficiency.
A recent review of iodine intakes in the U.S. reported adequate, population-wide intakes since 2000 (Caldwell et al., 2011). Some groups still consume marginally less than optimal intakes, based on WHO guidelines, especially within the non-Hispanic black population.
Pregnant women need more iodine than other population groups, because during the first trimester of pregnancy, both the developing child and mother are dependent on dietary sources of iodine. The recent review of NHANES data concludes that pregnant women are at “slight risk” of inadequate iodine intakes, and that on this basis, the team supports the need for pregnant women to take an iodine supplement during pregnancy (Caldwell et al., 2011).
In most countries, milk (conventional or organic) is a minor source of iodine in the human diet and a 50% increase or decrease of milk-based iodine ingestion would have little impact on average daily iodine intakes. The primary sources of iodine in the diet are iodized salt and certain seafood, grains, and some vegetables. Most Americans ingest a majority of their iodine via salt added to processed foods.
It remains unclear what accounts for the differences in iodine levels in the samples of organic and conventional milk studied by the U.K. team. Iodine-based teat cleansers are a major source of iodine in milk, but are used in comparable ways on organic and conventional farms in the U.K., and hence are not the likely source of the observed differences. Instead, it is probable that differences in frequency and volume of feed supplements including iodine given to organic and conventional cows in the U.K. are the root cause of the higher levels in conventional milk.
In response to the findings of Vanderpump et al., public health experts are calling for mandatory iodine supplementation of salt in the U.K., coupled with targeted promotion of supplements during pregnancy.
Sources: Bath, S.C. et al., ““Iodine concentrations of organic and conventional milk: implications for iodine intake,” British Journal of Nutrition, 2011.
Caldwell, K.L. et al., “Iodine Status of the U.S. Population, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2006 and 2007-2008,” Thyroid, Vol. 21, No. 4, pages 419-427, 2011
Soil Association Press Release, “Iodine levels in milk,” July 4, 2011
Vanderpump, M.P. et al., “Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross-sectional survey,” Lancet, June 11, 2011, pages 1979-80
Codex Finally Passes GE Labeling Guidelines
After 20 years of debate, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted international guidelines for the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. The historic breakthrough came on July 5, 2011, after the U.S. delegation unexpectedly dropped longstanding objections to the draft guidelines.
Now, any country wishing to label GE foods can do so without facing a “barrier to trade” challenge in the Word Trade Organization, as long as new GE labeling adheres to the new Codex guidelines.
In a press release hailing the action, Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union explained that labeling is essential in order for people to know they have consumed GE foods, making it possible for them to “…know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction.”
In the July 10th Los Angeles Times, a story by Eryn Brown downplays the importance of the Codex breakthrough, citing comments a number of industry experts and spokespeople. Dr. Pamela Ronald, a well-known proponent of GE foods and technology, states that the distinction between GE and non-GE foods is a “distraction.” According to Ronald, the question consumers should pay attention to is whether “it (GE food) is safe to eat it?”
On this point, Ronald and CU’s Hansen are in agreement.
A senior staff member of the National Corn Growers Association is quoted as saying that there is no nutritional difference between GE and non-GE food, and because there is no difference, there is no need for a label.
Bob Goldberg, a professor at UCLA is quoted as saying that GE foods have “been more tested than any food product you can imagine, without even a sneeze.”
The LA Times piece ends with a quote by Pamela Ronald that states that the important consideration that consumers should pay attention to is not how a seed was produced, but the impacts or consequences from planting it. She then states:
“I would like to see barcode labeling where you see, ‘This conventionally bred cotton shirt was grown using insecticides. This genetically engineered shirt was not.’ But I don’t see us getting that information.”
Efforts will continue to downplay the significance of this development in the Codex. It is true that these new Codex guidelines will not have much immediate impact in the United States, but they almost certainly will in several other countries actively working on GE labeling laws.
What is stunning, however, is the degree of misinformation that made its way into a major piece in such a respected paper.
Most regulatory packages submitted by biotech companies document several nutritional differences between GE and non-GE crops in terms of nutrient content. The differences are typically downplayed by noting that they are smaller in magnitude than the “natural variation” in the level of a specific nutrient.
From year to year, the concentrations of most nutrients can vary 15% to 30% or more as a function of the weather, soil types, pest pressure, and harvest timing. So when a nutrient level in a GE crop is 10% less than in the otherwise similar non-GE crop, it is dismissed as insignificant, but this does not make it the same. Moreover, in order to win patent protection, all GE foods have to express some novel or altered proteins. Sometimes these minor differences can have health and/or nutritional consequences, e.g. when a slight change in gene sequences turns a normal protein into a food allergen.
Goldberg’s assertion that GE foods have been the most carefully studied foods ever does not pass the laugh test. Goldberg, and others in the biotech industry who make this same claim, are well aware that from the beginning of the GE food era, government regulators have accepted industry assertions that GE foods are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GE counterparts, and that as a result, no new or novel tests have ever been required.
Professor Ronald’s closing quote implies directly that GE cotton is grown without insecticides, whereas conventional cotton is grown with insecticides.
This assertion is also all myth, no facts.
The USDA last surveyed insecticide use on cotton in the U.S. in 2010. In that year, essentially all cotton planted contained one or more Bt gene for the control mostly of Lepidopteran insects. The just-released USDA compilation of GE crop acres reports that 93% of upland cotton acres in 2010 were planted to GE seeds containing “stacked” GE events, which almost always include one or two herbicide-tolerant genes, and one or two Bt genes for protection against insects. In addition, 15% of cotton acreage was planted to GE varieties containing just the Bt gene.
Without doubt, almost all cotton acreage was planted to Bt-transgenic varieties in 2010, and so according to Dr. Ronald, there should have been next to no insecticides applied to cotton in 2010. Yet USDA’s cotton pesticide use report tells a different story.
Cotton insecticide use data for 2010 was released by USDA on May 24, 2011 and shows that 20 different insecticides were applied by U.S. cotton farmers On average, each cotton acre was treated with 1.2 different insecticides, and the average acre was sprayed twice with insecticides.
A total of 6.0 million pounds of insecticides were applied on cotton in 2010, at an average rate per acre planted of about 0.55 pounds.
These data obviously do not support Ronald’s claim in the LA Times piece that GE cotton is not sprayed with insecticides. It is remarkable that some academic scientists working for public institutions can repeatedly make demonstrably false assertions overstating the benefits of GE crops, without any apparent repercussions.
Alfalfa Industry Acts Unilaterally in an Effort to Contain GE Contamination
At its June 2011 board meeting, the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance (NAF) adopted a “Coexistence Document” entitled “Grower Opportunity Zones for Seed Production."
The document highlights the need for substantial spatial separation between fields producing GE, Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa, whether for seed or forage production, and alfalfa seed being harvested for the organic and/or APS-markets.
What is an “APS-sensitive” market? “APS” stands for “Adventitious Presence Sensitive.”
“Adventitious Presence” is a soft and fluffy, biotech-industry buzzword for GE contamination of non-GE and organic crops, food, and seed. An APS market is one in which buyers do not want GE genes in purchased seed, food, or animal feeds.
The new NAFA document calls for the formation of “Grower Opportunity Zones,” or GOZs. In short, one group of GOZs would be established to cluster RR alfalfa seed production in specific, isolated geographic areas, while another group of GOZs would be designated for production of non-GE, AP-sensitive, and organic alfalfa seed. No planting of RR alfalfa, for any purpose, would be allowed in such zones.
Grower participation in a GOZ would be voluntary, and there is no way to enforce adherence to the many Best Management Practices also required to prevent gene flow and AP in non-GE seed.
This basic idea was discussed at length during the deliberations of the RR Alfalfa Working Group in December 2010 - January 2011, but was dropped from the final memorandum because of disagreements within the alfalfa industry over how such a system of segregated growing areas would work.
The USDA issued the final Environmental Impact Assessment on the requested deregulation of RR alfalfa in January 2011. It documented in great detail how difficult it will be to prevent gene flow and contamination from RR alfalfa fields to non-GE alfalfa seed and forage fields.
The most pressing concern in the case of RR alfalfa is preventing contamination of the organic and non-GE alfalfa seed supply. This is because there is little chance of even modest gene flow from a RR alfalfa field to a nearby field growing non-GE or organic alfalfa. Why?
Because farmers grow alfalfa for livestock forage and the prodigious quantities of protein this high-yielding legume can produce. Protein levels are highest right before the plant blooms, which is why most alfalfa fields are cut multiple times each year, and usually right before, or at the beginning of the bloom period. Even when wet weather delays cutting, very, very few alfalfa fields are allowed to stand long enough for mature seed to be produced. As long as no mature seed is allowed to set, there is essentially no chance for gene flow from a nearby GE, RR alfalfa field.
The NAFA proposal for GOZs is one option to segregate GE and non-GE alfalfa seed production. Many details need to be fleshed out, and there is, at this time, no way to assure either participation or compliance.
In addition, a “small” detail is not addressed in the NAFA document – Who pays if/when gene flow happens in a properly authorized GOZ and a non-GE or organic alfalfa seed producer or grower losses access to the organic or non-GE market through no fault of their own? Clearly, this will be one of the issues front and center in the deliberations of the newly reconstituted AC 21 agricultural biotechnology advisory committee, and an issue that will likely require some sort of government role to work through.
Egg Producers and HSUS Reach Historic Agreement
On a very good day for America’s laying hens, the United Egg producers (UEP) and Human Society of the U.S. (HSUS) have agreed to seek federal legislation that will lead to a phase out of conventional hen caging, to be replaced by enriched colony housing. Such systems provide birds more chances to carry out normal behaviours.
In addition, the agreement calls for a doubling of the space in cages allotted for each bird, an important and long-overdue change in laying hen housing.
The effort to pass federal legislation is intended to end state-level ballot initiatives that are underway in multiple states, sometimes leading to conflicting requirements.
Source: “HSUS, UEP reach agreement to transition to colonies,” Feedstuffs News Flash, July 7, 2011
United Nations Again Calls for Shift to “Green Technologies” in Promoting Food Security
In a July 5, 2011 report, the United Nations has called for a shift to green technologies targeting small-scale farmers as the best way to promote sustainable food security.
The UN’s “World Economic and Social Survey” report states bluntly that a “sharp move” away from large-scale, chemical intensive farming systems is essential in order to increase production and reduce environmental and land degradation.
Source: Robert Evans, “New green farming vital to end global hunger: UN,” Reuters, July 5, 2011
Food Prices Matter
New research from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has shown that lower prices for healthy foods and higher prices for unhealthy foods lower Body Mass Index (BMI) values in children. The researchers concluded that it takes considerable time for price changes to lead to changes in BMI, and that it may be more efficient to subsidize or incentivize production and consumption of healthy foods than to raise the prices of unhealthy foods via taxes or fees.
And in a story on food deserts in the U.S. (July 7, 2011), The Economist concludes that there are plenty of options to find healthy foods in most places, and that “the unpalatable truth seems to be that some Americans simply do not care to eat a balanced diet, while others, increasingly, cannot afford to. Over the last four years, the price of the healthiest foods has increased at around twice the rate of energy-dense food. That is the whole problem, in an organic nutshell.”
Source: Minh Wendt and Jessica E. Todd, “The Effect of Food and Beverage Prices on Children’s Weight,” ERS Report Number 118, June 2011.
For apples, leafy greens and a very few other fresh fruits and vegetables, organic production, distribution and marketing has attained sufficient scale to capture most of the economies of scale enjoyed by the conventional food industry. This ERS study highlights the long-term public health and health care benefits that are within reach if a systematic effort is made to expand the supply, and via efficiency gains, lower the price of tasty, nutritious, essentially-pesticide-free organic produce.
The surest way to lower the cost of organic fruits and vegetables is to build market demand, so that investments in infrastructure will allow steady reductions in prices to consumers, without undermining the premium prices that are both needed by farmers and justified by inherent benefits.
Penn State Weighs in on GHG Impacts of Pasture-Based Dairy Production
Grass-based dairy production systems reduced total greenhouse gas emissions 8% compared to high production, confinement systems on a “pound for pound” of milk basis according to a team of USDA scientists in Pennsylvania. Keeping cows outside on pasture lowered ammonia emissions an impressive 30%.
The pasture-based system also improved water quality and reduced soil erosion losses 87%.
Up to 3,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year were sequestered in row crop fields converted to pasture management.
Collectively, these benefits led the scientist to conclude that pasture-based dairy systems have a lighter environmental footprint than the confinement based, high-production systems common on most commercial dairies today.
Source: “Putting Dairy Cows Out to Pasture: An Environmental Plus,” Agricultural Research Magazine, May/June 2011
The Organic Center has developed the "Shades of Green" (SOG) calculator to quantify the impacts of dairy farm management systems on cow health and the environment. We needed a science-based tool to study the environmental footprint of a typical, confinement, Total Mixed Ration, Holstein, high production, no pasture dairy farm versus a grass-based organic (or conventional) dairy that places a high premium on animal health and sacrifices substantial potential daily milk production in the interest of cow health and longevity.
In the course of modeling different types of dairy farms, several critical points became clear.
First, metrics based on "one year in the life of a cow" bias studies toward high-production conventional farms, as does expressing all feed inputs and wastes generate per unit of unadjusted milk production per day.
In one recent application of the SOG calculator, records from two grazing-based organic farms milking Jersey cows were used to model performance, in contrast to a typical, high-production conventional farms. One Jersey farm produced 40.5 pounds and the other 41.5 pounds of milk per day, far less than the 75 pounds on the high-production Holstein farm. So, any metrics based on unadjusted milk production would likely favor the conventional farms, right? Well, it depends.
The Jerseys on the grass-based farms are smaller and eat less, and rebreed with little difficulty, whereas the Holsteins are bigger, consume more feed and have to be rebred several times before a second calf is born. A significant number of cows on most high-production farms actually never rebred and are, in effect, one-lactation wonders.
Cows on well-managed grass-based organic farms definitely live much longer, have several more calves, and much lower involuntary cull and death rates. The Jersey farm cull rates fall in the 25% to 26% range, compared to 37% on the high-production conventional farm.
The death and downer rate is also much lower on the Jersey farms -- 2.7% to 3%, compared to 9.2% on the high-production, Holstein farm. So the cull rate plus death rate on conventional farms averages around 46%, which means that the farm cannot produce enough heifers to sustain it without the use of sexed semen.
Interesting factoids about food, farming and the environment
Cattle fed wet distillers grain solubles (WDGS) from corn ethanol production are more likely to shed E. coli O157, compared to steers not fed WDGS.
$100 million or more – cost of bringing a new genetically engineered corn variety to market
$1 million – cost to bring a new corn variety to market using classical breeding techniques.
Source: Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman, “The cost-effective way to feed the world, The Bellingham Herald, June 21, 2011-07-10
$750 million – amount that Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay U.S. rice farmers to settle a lawsuit over the contamination of non-GE rice seed with Bayer’s Liberty Link 601 rice, a GE event that was never approved.
Ground cloves have 60-times the antioxidant activity of raspberries or sour cherries.
Each gallon of ethanol costs the U.S. treasury $1.78 in subsidies and lost tax revenue. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions through corn-based ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide, many times more per ton than dozens of other options.
Source: Steven Rattner, “The Great Corn Con,” New York Times, June 24, 2011
TOC Chief Scientist Appointed to Two Key Advisory Committees
Chuck Benbrook has been appointed to serve on the AGree and AC 21 advisory committees.
AGree is an ambitious, long-term project designed to chart new directions for food and agricultural policy in the United States, encompassing both policies and agricultural systems in the U.S., as well as America’s role in international agricultural trade and development. Eight major foundations supporting work in the agricultural arena have pledged $24 million over eight years to the AGree project.
Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield, is serving as one of the four co-chairs of the AGree Project.
The AC 21 agricultural biotechnology advisory committee has been charged with helping USDA develop workable strategies to support the coexistence of organic and genetically engineered crops on the same landscape. In announcing the appointments in a June 24 press release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said “I hope this committee will recommend workable solutions that will enhance the ability of all farmers to grow the crops they want to in order to effectively meet the needs of their customers.”
Other members from the organic community appointed to AC 21 include Michael Funk, Laura Batcha, Lynne Clarkston, and Mary-Howell Martens.
“I am pleased and honored to serve on these two important committees and am delighted to join other industry leaders on these committees in charting a path ahead through some tricky, contentious ground,” Benbrook said in discussing his appointments.
Primer on Pesticide Use and Risks Featured on TOC’s “Generations of Organic” Website
Learn the basic facts about pesticide use and risks on the Center’s “Generations of Organic” website. The Center is completing an update of our analysis of pesticide risks by food, by pesticide, and in organic versus conventional food, complete with residue data from the USDA through 2009.
There is good news in the most recent data, which will be featured in a forthcoming report and a new consumer shoppers guide. Stay tuned!
“Generations of Organic” serves as a “sister” site to The Organic Center’s existing website, Our goal with this new site is to provide insight, information, and inspiration for health-conscious people seeking deeper understanding of how organic food and farming promotes human health and animal well being, while also enhancing our natural environment.
“Excerpts from TOC Comments on the Proposed Rule Governing Pesticide Residue Testing By Certifiers”
By: Dr. Charles Benbrook
Access the full text of TOC’s comments on the proposed rule.
Discussions within the organic industry, the OTA’s deliberations on this proposal, and the comments and reactions from several industry leaders with years of experience tracking and trying to minimize pesticides in organic food make it very clear that the NOP cannot address and resolve all the important issues involving pesticides and GM contamination in organic food in this current rulemaking. However, the Center hopes that the comments submitted will collectively convince the NOP to move forward on two tracks – one designed to begin implementation of the OFPA-mandated residue testing program, and a second developed to address and resolve the many other critical issues and challenges the NOP and organic community are facing relative to sustaining consumer confidence in the safety of organic food. These issues include:
- clear evidence of a much more serious problem with illegal residues in imported organic foods compared to conventionally grown food
- significant variation in the frequency and levels of residues in imported organic foods based on the crop, whether the grower-shipper is U.S.-based, and country of origin
- the need for new policies and procedures to address and communicate about residues of NOP-approved pesticides in organic samples, as well as residues of long-banned organochlorines, and
- challenges inherent in dealing with low-level, unavoidable environmental contaminants including pesticides, heavy metals, animal drugs, and GM crop residues and proteins in compost, soils, water, growing medium, and organic materials.
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths is a ground-breaking compilation of research prior to 2006 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, evidence-based 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 Programs –
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 Programs provide 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
Jamie Kelly - Communications, Events, and Social Media Manager
TOC Board Chair: Mark Retzloff, Chairman of the Board, Aurora Organic Dairy
Treasurer: Timothy Escamilla, VP Procurement/Supply Chain, Ready Pac Produce
Secretary: Ryan Black, CEO, Sambazon
The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308
Back to the top