A note to our readers:
We have made some changes in order to share more information, more quickly. There are seven new boxes on The Organic Center’s homepage
- Today's Science Insight
- "Super Foods" profiles
- “Fact Abuse”
- Innovation in Action
- Leadership in Action
- “Do You Know” facts.
We have completed two new summaries of recent TOC reports. “Obesity Revisited: Beyond Exercise and Calorie Counting” focuses on how organic food and farming can prevent against adverse epigenetic developmental changes. “Reducing Pesticide Risk in Your Diet” summarizes the encouraging findings in our 2009 report “Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Option”.
We are using the Center’s Facebook page and other social media to reach new audiences and spread the good news about organic food and farming more widely.
Let us know if these changes suit your needs and how else we can help you navigate the rising flood of information. Send an email with your suggestions to Chuck Benbrook.
President’s Cancer Panel Sets the Stage for Historic Shift in “Conventional Wisdom”
A key epidemiological study was done in the late 1970s and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1981 by two scientists – Dr's. Doll and Peto. Their research suggested that less than 10% of human cancers were caused by exposures to environmental carcinogens. Their finding suited the bias of many powerful interests, who did everything possible to solidify and sustain this finding as a pillar of “conventional scientific wisdom.” The pillar has stood essentially unchallenged for 30 years.
Now, the new report issued by the President’s Cancer Panel shatters the myth built upon the foundation of Doll and Peto’s work. In the May 6, 2010 “Environmental Health News,” Marla Cone summaries the 240-page government report just delivered to the President.
The key conclusions in the Cancer Panel report include –
- “The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated...[the President should] use the power of your office to remove carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air...”
- “The American people – even before they are born – are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”
- Consumers should seek out food grown without chemicals, including organic food.
In his May 6, 2010 Op-Ed column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof begins by saying
“The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.”
Increasing the Vitamin A Content of Corn
A large team of scientists working for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the USDA, U.S. Universities, Chinese research institutions, and Monsanto have discovered a rare gene in corn that dramatically increases beta-carotene (provitamin A) content in corn hybrids.
Beta-carotene is the precursor of Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is a global problem impacting 250 million people worldwide. It can lead to blindness in up to 500,000 children annually and triggers hundreds of thousands of deaths. The global effort to reduce the toll associated with inadequate intakes of Vitamin A lead to the scientific and commercial interest in Golden Rice, a genetically engineered variety of rice with heightened levels of beta-carotene.
Two genes have been found in rare maize varieties that increase beta-carotene levels. The team has developed the markers required to detect whether the genes are expressed in a new corn variety. The researchers project that classical breeding, coupled with the new markers, will dramatically enhance carotene levels in African corn varieties.
This breakthrough was made possible in part through use of a new technique – “association mapping.” Through this and other advanced methods for isolating genes and their placement on chromosomes, the team has developed a sophisticated and efficient marker-based system for identifying and moving the high-beta-carotene genes into modern corn varieties bred for African conditions.
One team member projected that the new method will be “...up to 1,000-fold cheaper...” than existing methods to achieve the same end result. Because of the vast diversity in the corn genome, team members believe they can increase beta-carotene levels in African maize varieties to 15 micrograms per gram of corn, a 150-fold increase over some maize varieties now in use on the continent.
Levels up to 8.6 microg/gram have already been achieved, and one temperate zone hybrid with the optimal combination of genes produces 15 microg/gram of provitamin A.
A big advantage of this approach, compared to the development of a transgenic corn line modeled after Golden Rice, is that the breeding process can proceed much more quickly and cheaply. Plus, this approach raises no novel food safety, regulatory, or environmental issues.
Sources: J. Yan et al., “Rare genetic variation at Zea mays crtRB1 increases B-carotene in maize grain,” Nature Genetics, published online April 2010.
“Boosting Vitamin A Levels in Corn to Fight Hunger”, Agricultural Research, May/June 2010
Rotations Plus Use of Manure Cuts Energy Use over 50% in Corn-Soybean Systems
An Iowa State University team led by Dr. Matt Liebman has concluded that a four-year rotation of corn-soybeans-small grain/alfalfa-alfalfa cuts fossil fuel energy use 56% compared to a conventional corn-soybean production system, while producing comparable yields and farm income.
Liebman’s research is also featured in a May 3, 2010 article for National Geographic News entitled “Saving Fuel on the Farm by Making Hay.” The piece begins by reminding readers that it takes about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce a single calorie of food using conventional production systems.
The key to dramatically improving this 10:1 ratio is growing alfalfa in more complex rotations – and making hay with it to feed to livestock.
Source: M.J. Cruise, M. Liebman, D. Raj Raman, and M.H. Wiedenhoeft, “Fossil Energy Use in Conventional and Low-External-Input Cropping Systems,” Agronomy Journal, Vol. 102, No. 3, pages 934-941.
New Study on Milk Quality Runs Away from Its Own Findings
A Monsanto-funded study by scientists at Cornell University measured the concentrations of heart-healthy fatty acids in 292 samples of conventional rbST, and organic whole milk. The study was needed, according to the authors, to clear up “confusion” among consumers over nutritional differences between conventional, rbST, and organic milk.
The team found significant differences in the two key fatty acids that are higher in organic milk – conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega 3 fatty acids. CLA levels were 23% higher in the organic milk compared to conventional and rbST milk, and omega 3 levels were 63% higher.
The authors dismissed the differences as not nutritionally relevant, reflecting accurately their opinions but not hundreds of studies on the health benefits of elevated CLA and omega 3 intakes.
In fact, this study actually confirms what several other studies have found – organic milk contains significantly higher concentrations of health-promoting fatty acids, especially during the times of the year when cows are feeding on lush pastures.
Source: A.M. O’Donnell, K.P. Spatny, J.L. Vicini, and D.E. Bauman, “Survey of the fatty acid composition of retail milk differing in label claims based on production management practices,” Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 93, Pages 1918-1925. January 2010.
Organic Fresh Produce Captures 11.4% of Market in 2009
In the last decade, the market share of fresh organic produce has grown from 3% to 11.4%, leading “The Packer” (May 3, 2010, page C1) to write –
“Talk all you want about the explosion of locally grown produce and the meteoric rise of microwaveable packages for fresh produce.
“But, as far as produce trends go, the steady ascension of the organics category remains among the most bankable.”
Better taste and higher product quality in organic specialty leafy green mixes sold in clamshells, compared to bags, are behind these trends, along with steady progress in reducing the organic price premium.
The steady growth in this sector of the organic market place has made it possible for companies to reduce the organic price premium to just $0.10 to $0.50 for most 5 oz. to 7 oz. clamshells, compared to similar-sized bags of conventional greens.
The rise in sales of organic produce is among the encouraging findings in the Organic Trade Association’s “2010 Organic Industry Survey.” Across all food sectors, the organic share in 2009 was 3.7%, according to the OTA survey.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) Rages On
A bee industry-USDA survey concluded that about 30% of beehives failed to survive the 2009-2010 winter, reinforcing worries that honey bee populations are in the midst of a period of terminal decline. One beekeeper with 2,600 hives lost 62% of them this past winter.
USDA scientists recently reported the identification of 121 pesticides in bees, pollen, and wax. Strong evidence continues to implicate the nicotinyl insecticides, in particular, as a major cause of CCD.
Source: Alison Benjamin, “Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe”, The Observer, May 2, 2010.
Prime Time Coverage for Roundup Resistant Weeds
The May 3, 2010 New York Times includes a compelling assessment of the threat posed by Roundup (glyphosate) resistant weeds. The story is based largely on the stories of farmers who are struggling with newly resistant Palmer amaranth (pigweed), as well as other glyphosate resistant weeds present on some 10 million acres.
According to a Tennessee corn-soybean farmer, Eddie Anderson, “We’re back to where we were 20 years ago” in managing weeds. The President of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, not known for its left-leaning political views, said that resistance to Roundup “...is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen.”
“...the single biggest threat...,” strong words indeed.
But a Monsanto spokesman told the Times: “It’s a serious issue, but manageable.” Inquiring minds might wonder how this problem will be “managed” given that Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, and cotton are now planted on some 120 million acres annually and the number, frequency, and severity of glyphosate resistant weeds are spreading like wild fire across the country.
The “solutions” described in the NYT piece include planting seeds genetically engineered to resist multiple herbicides, spraying more old, higher risk herbicides, and a return to deep tillage, a practice that greatly increases fuel use, erosion, and water quality degradation.
The problems with such “solutions” are explained in detail in the Center’s November, 2009 report “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years".
Science Magazine Stories on Food Security Trigger Strong Response
The February 12, 2010 issue of Science contained a 40+ page special section on global food security, reviewed in the March issue of “The Scoop” in the story entitled “The Paramount Importance of Soil.”
The gist of the most provocative piece in the 2/12 issue was that relaxing regulatory hurdles for genetically engineered crops was essential to “radically rethinking” agriculture to overcome food security in an era of climate change and rising energy costs.
Eight letters to the editor appeared in the April 9, 2010 issue of Science. The major issues addressed and points made were:
- Efforts to control population growth must be part of the equation;
- Technology alone will not solve the problem;
- More investment is needed in exploiting crop and animal biodiversity in improving the human diet;
- GM crops threaten biodiversity;
- More rigorous, not relaxed, regulation of GM crops is essential;
- Farming systems deserve more attention;
- Rising prices for fossil fuels can exacerbate food insecurity; and
- “Perception failure,” defined as skepticism of the benefits and/or safety of GM crops, is the “major obstacle” to exploiting valuable technology.
The most provocative commentary in the eight letters was offered by an Emeritus Professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Dan Bromley, who wrote –
“Unfortunately, the advocacy on display here implies that technological solutions—any technological solutions—are not only necessary but sufficient. This would be a serious mistake."
"Those of us engaged ‘on the ground’ in Africa and elsewhere know very well that the binding constraint on a viable food system is not deficient technology but the institutional (policy) and organizational (bureaucratic) incoherencies...that combine to pervert incentives, render necessary inputs unavailable, defeat the best efforts of dedicated extension agents, and generally encourage individual farmers to retreat into autarchy.”
Source: “Letters,” Science, Vol. 328, April 9, 2010, pages 169-173.
Practical Advice to “Optimize Your Epigenome”
A special report in the May 3, 2010 L.A. Times provides a helpful overview of epigenetics and the importance of protecting our personal “epigenome.” A person’s “epigenome” is a secondary code composed of chemical hormones and triggers that turn off, turn on, and otherwise regulate the expression of your genes.
Science has proven conclusively in recent years that healthy development depends upon good genes and a properly functioning, balanced epigenome. Moreover, many diseases and developmental disorders are caused by exposure to chemicals, viruses, poor nutrition, or other causes that distort or disrupt the epigenome, leading to epigenetic changes.
We have just completed a two-page summary reporting on how organic food and farming can reduce the odds of adverse epigenetic changes. This readable summary draws on the findings of our March 2009 report “That First Step: Organic Food and a Healthier Future".
Respected Organic Farmer Highlights Needs and Opportunities During Congressional Field Hearing
In thoughtful testimony delivered May 3, 2010 at a House Committee on Agriculture field hearing in Fresno, California, John Teixeira made several key points including —
“These benefits [of organic farming] range from conservation of pollinator species to the provision of good jobs in production and processing. In California the organic market is a strong economic force and one of the brighter spots in our agricultural economy.”
“Organic can use all the advanced tools [of plant breeding] except for transgenic modification, but the science is moving beyond that anyway and it is not needed. Marker-assisted selection, environmental genetic analysis, and other tools need to be applied alongside classical breeding tools, to produce varieties in the public domain that respond best to the ecological fertility and pest management strategies that are built into organic systems.”
Interesting factoids about food, farming and the environment
41% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during their life and 21% will die from this disease.
Source: President’s Cancer Panel, 2008-2009 Annual Report.
Manure from a 250,000 head dairy farm in China will be converted into biogas generating 38,000 megawatts of energy per year, using four General Electric Jenbacher biogas engines – in what will be the largest such installation in the world.
Source: Sustainable Food News, May 5, 2010.
Milk production worldwide accounts for 2.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cows and their offspring account for 57% of total, global cattle meat production.
Source: “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector,” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010.
Foreign buyers have purchased 49 million acres of farmland in poor countries in the last two years, an area three times the size of Ireland. The land grab is most pronounced in northern Africa and parts of South America.
Source: Reuters, “Farmland is ripe for Wall Street picking,” May 4, 2010.
The oil reserves of OPEC nations represent about half the wealth in the world at current oil prices.
Source: James Woolsey, “How to End America's Addiction to Oil,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2010.
Just a fraction of the proceeds from oil sales over the next twenty years would finance the purchase of significant shares of the world’s farmland.
Worldwide, about 600 labels certify products as environmentally friendly.
15% of bananas and 7% of the global coffee market are covered by one or more eco-certification programs. Over 11% of fresh produce in the U.S. is certified organic (see above).
Source: Juliet Eilperin, “Environmental certification becoming increasingly crowded and contested field,” Washington Post, May 3, 2010.
Annie Brown Joins TOC Staff as Development Director
Annie began her working life in Philadelphia as an editor for a medical publisher. In New Mexico she worked for a local cooking school as the Marketing and Sales Director. In 1994 she assumed the position of Associate Marketing Manager for the University of New Mexico Press where she was responsible for the publicity and promotion of over 100 titles per year.
After leaving office work to have children, Brown launched an artisanal pasta business in Baltimore, Maryland where she helped create a line of homemade, organic pastas and sauces.
In 2007 she was back in Colorado and began working for Dow Jones as a media analyst assisting Fortune 500 clients in their quest to quantify media exposure. And now, Annie has joined the Senior Staff of the Center as Development Director.
Brown has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology/Anthropology with Honors from Kalamazoo College, as well as several professional certifications. In addition, she is a member of Naturally Boulder and sits on the Boulder Culinary Council at Sterling Rice Group.
Decisive Win for Organic Food in New York City Debate
A spirited debate occurred April 13, 2010 in New York City on the “motion” that “Organic food is marketing hype.” The Oxford-style debate was part of the Intelligence Squared debate series co-sponsored by the Rosenkrantz Foundation, NPR, Bloomberg Television, and Newsweek magazine.
During the week of April 19th, Bloomberg TV broadcast a 60-minute version of the two-hour debate about 15 times. These broadcasts reach 300 million households globally.
The debate can also be heard on over 200 National Public Radio (NPR) stations.
The full unedited transcript of the debate is now available. DVDs of the full debate will be available in May, 2010 from Intelligence Squared.
Three panelists argued for the “motion” -- Dennis Avery, Director of the Center for Global Issues; Blake Hurst, a Missouri farmer and freelance writer; and, Lord John Krebs, former chairman of the U.K. Food Standards Agency.
The three individuals that argued against the “motion” are pictured and included Jeffrey Steingarten, the Vogue magazine food critic; Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist at Consumers Union; and, the Center’s Chuck Benbrook.
The debate was moderated by John Donvan, an ABC News Nightline correspondent.
An audience of around 500 voted on the “motion” prior to the start of the debate and again at its conclusion. Before the debate, the vote was --
- 21% for the motion
- 45% against the motion, and
- 34% undecided.
Immediately after the debate, the audience in the Skirball Center auditorium on New York University voted again --
- 21% for the motion
- 69% against the motion, and
- 10% were still undecided.
The organizers noted in post-debate commentary that this was the most decisive victory for one side in an Intelligence Squared debate since the beginning of the series some five years ago. There has never been a debate where one side failed to move even a single percent of the "undecided" audience members to their position.
Feedstuffs Letter Corrects Error in Story on OIG Report
The April 26, 2010 issue of Feedstuffs printed the below letter by Chuck Benbrook, correcting some misinformation in the March, 2010 Feedstuffs on pesticide residue testing in organic food. The letter follows.
Dear Editor –
Your story “USDA to tighten organic program’s enforcement” (3/29/2010) begins by saying “The USDA is poised to begin residue testing of certified organic food…” The story refers to a recommendation to the National Organic Program (NOP) in a recent USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report. The OIG noted that the NOP has not, to date, required organic certifiers accredited by the NOP/USDA to conduct periodic residue testing for pesticides, as called for in the 1990 Organic Food Production Act. The NOP has stated its agreement with this OIG recommendation and announced that by September, 2010 it will issue guidance to certifiers requiring that certifiers – and not USDA – carry out such periodic testing.
Actually, USDA has been testing for pesticides in organic food samples since 1993, as part of the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) carried out by the Agricultural Marketing Service. In the last few years, PDP has significantly expanded the number of organic samples tested annually to several hundred per year. The Organic Center has analyzed in detail all residues found in organic samples tested since 1993, and will issue a report in May on the frequency and levels of residues in domestic and imported organic samples, focusing on how they likely got into or onto organic foods. We will provide our findings and database to the NOP to assist them in the USDA in its ongoing review of pesticide policy and testing priorities.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist, The Organic Center, Enterprise, OR 97828
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths is a ground-breaking compilation of the most current research on organic agriculture. This highly readable and graphically stunning 108-page coffee table book documents the verifiable health and environmental benefits of organic products.
For more information
The Organic Center Features Jerry Garcia Artwork
Do you or someone you know love The Grateful Dead? Do you enjoy beautiful original works of art? If so, select a giclee of Jerry Garcia original artwork and benefit The Organic Center. This unique fundraising initiative to benefit The Organic Center is made possible through the generosity of filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia and features the series, "In the Garden," by the late Jerry Garcia. Individual prints are $250, or get the full series for $1,000. To order your Jerry Garcia art, click here.
"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit www.organic-center.org.
Backed by the world's leading scientists, physicians and scholars, The Organic Center is committed to two goals:
1) RESEARCH: providing free, peer-reviewed, credible science that explores the health and environmental benefits of organic agriculture.
2) EDUCATION: helping people and organizations access and better understand science that sheds light on the organic benefit.
To access free downloads of the latest in organic science go to: www.organic-center.org.
Our Outreach and Communication Program –
Informed consumers drive the organic marketplace. Help The Organic Center reach consumers with the latest science on the organic benefit by:
For companies, The Organic Center's Affinity Marketing Partnership Program provides resources and tools to help educate your customers about the personal benefits of organic food and farming.
- For more information about our affinity marketing program, email Jamie Kelly
Joan Boykin - Executive Director
Annie Brown - Development Director
Charles "Chuck" Benbrook, Ph.D. - Chief Scientist
TOC Board Chair: Mark Retzloff, Chairman of the Board, Aurora Organic Dairy
Treasurer: Timothy Escamilla, VP Procurement/Supply Chain, Ready Pac Produce
Secretary: James White, CEO, Jamba Juice
The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308
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