In This Issue:
USDA scientists report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that a Pterostilbene in berries and grapes can reverse the negative effects of aging on the human brain, while also improving working memory.
The compound apparently produces these beneficial effects through action as an antioxidant in the hippocampus region of the brain.
In work sponsored by The Organic Center at Washington State University, we found that organic berries contained higher levels of pterostilbenes, compared to conventional fruits. Watch for more details on this work in the January, 2009 ýThe Scoop.ţ
Source: James Joseph et al., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008
Slow Growth an Advantage in Processing Tomatoes
In the latest paper published by Dr. Diane Barrett and colleagues at the University of California-Davis on processing tomatoes, organic tomatoes. were found to consistently contain more total and soluble solids than conventional tomatoes. Soluble solids are a key quality attribute in tomatoes grown for processing, since the greater the percentage of solids, the less water that must be removed during processing.
The team also reported that the organic tomatoes matured more slowly, and indeed, the scientists speculate that the greater level of total and soluble solids may be the result of the somewhat slower growth rate in the organic fields.
Source: Joy Rickman Pieper and Diane Barrett, ýEffects of organic and conventional production systems on quality and nutritional parameters of processing tomatoes,ţ Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Vol. 89:177-194.
Troubling New Evidence Emerges of Damage to Immune System by GM Corn
Four new studies have recently emerged that raise new and old questions about GM corn food safety.
An Italian team has published results in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showing significant disturbances in the immune system of young and old mice fed GM maize event MON 810 (Finemore et al., 2008).
In an important and new finding, the team concludes that ýÍage is an important factor to be taken into account in the evaluation of transgenic food safety.ţ Moreover, the team found elevated levels of a cell type known to be associated with asthma and food allergies in children.
A carefully designed Austrian study was released last month showing that GM maize reduces fertility and impairs gene expression in mice (Velimirov et al., 2008). The GM corn and its parental, isoline corn (the same genetics, minus the added transgene) were grown side-by-side in Landriano, Italy.
Twenty-one day old mice were fed with the diets for 30 and 90 days; older mice were fed for 90 days on the test diets. The team reported no differences in the total number of white blood cells in the small intestine, spleen and blood, but did find significant differences in the percentages of various immune system response cells in the gut, spleen and blood of both the young and old mice. There was clear evidence in the study of all allergic response in the immune systems of the mice fed the GM corn.
The immune disturbances reported in the Austrian study take on added significance in light of findings from a third laboratory that carried out a proteomic analysis of the proteins in GM and non-GM corn (Zolla et al., 2008). The team identified 43 proteins in the GM corn that were up or down regulated, compared to the parental, isoline corn variety. (an up-regulated gene produces more protein than normal; a down-reguated gene produces less protein than expected) In addition, the fourth study shows that GM corn expressed a well-known human allergen that was not present in the parental strain (Pasini et al., 2008).
Sources: Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, Monastra G, Ambra R, Turrini A and Mengheri E. ýIntestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice,ţ Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry, November 16, 2008.
Velimirov A, Binter, C, and Zentek, J. ýBiological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice,ţ Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV, Band 3/2008.
Zolla L, Rinalducci S, Antonioli P, Righetti PG. ýProteomics as a complementary tool for identifying unintended side effects occurring in transgenic maize seeds as a result of genetic modification,ţ Journal of Proteome Research, 2008, 7:1850-61.
Pasini G, Simonato B, Curioni A, Vincenzi S, Cristaudo Q, Santucci B, Peruffo AD, Giannattasio M. ýIgE-mediated allergy to corn: a 50 kDa protein, belonging to the reduced soluble proteins, is a major allergen,ţ Allergy 2002, 37:98-106.
EditorÝs Note: Together, these studies stand as confirmation of the basic findings published in 1999 in The Lancet by Dr. Arpad Pusztai and colleagues, who reported adverse immune system impacts in rats fed GM potatoes. The study led by Dr. Pusztai was the first rigorous animal feeding study conducted with a GM food, and triggered reactions and controversy that hardened opposition to GM foods across the U.K. and continental Europe.
The adverse immune and reproductive impacts reported in these four new studies are subtle and required sophisticated experimental designs to detect. Taken together, however, the studies reinforce concerns that have lingered since the 1999 The Lancet paper and will hopefully compel the U.S. government to finally invest in a series of independent toxicological and immunological studies on todayÝs GM corn and soybean varieties.
Until recently, the agricultural biotechnology industry has insisted that there is no evidence linking the mid-1990s commercialization of GM foods with the rise in childhood food allergies, asthma, and related immune-system mediated disorders that have become much more prevalent since the late 1990s. These four studies collectively constitute such evidence.
In the spring of 2009, American corn farmers will plant over 40 million acres of ýstackedţ GM corn hybrids expressing three, four and up to eight different transgenic modifications. The diversity of unanticipated phenotypic responses among these stacked varieties, especially in the face of unusual stresses triggered by weather or pest attacks, is bound to grow exponentially, compared to the single and double trait GM corn planted since 1997. As a result, the number of corn proteins up or down regulated will grow, as will the likelihood that novel corn proteins with allergenic potential will become more common and threatening to allergy-prone individuals, especially infants and children.
Aggressive steps are needed to assure that todayÝs GM corn can be defended as safe in light of the child-protective provisions in the ýFood Quality Protection Act.ţ As a practical matter, little can be done to reduce the risks of novel allergens and immune system damage from GM crops in the 2009 growing season, but by 2010 steps can and should be taken to assure that corn, the backbone of the American food supply, does not become a well of new allergens wrecking havoc in the lives of people prone to food allergies.
Defusing a Dangerous Fungal Pathogen
A team of scientists has discovered a method to turn off the genes in the fungal pathogen that is responsible for causing gray mold in a variety of fruits and vegetable crops. The Botrytis cinerea fungus kills plants by producing toxic sesquiterpenes. The team used genetic engineering techniques to turn off a single gene that produces an enzyme essential in the biosynthesis of the toxic sesquiterpenes.
Source: M. Viaud et al., ACS Chem. Biol., DOI:10.1021/cb800225v
EditorÝs Note: Suppose this research leads to a method to produce a strain of Botrytis cinerea that is stripped of a gene required to produce the sesquiterpenes that are toxic to plants, and that once the stripped down version of the fungus is created using genetic engineering techniques, the fungus can be grown in a fermentation vat for release in compost teas or other methods.
Would such a technology be allowed for organic production? Who should decide, and on what basis?
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In October The Organic Center submitted comments to the USDA on the reauthorization of the WIC program. We focused on why the WIC program should not prohibit or discourage mothers from purchasing organic fruits, vegetables, and dairy products with WIC coupons.
The USDA published the ýInterim Final Rule for WICţ in the Federal register on December 6, 2008.
In addition to releasing the ýInterim Rule,ţ the USDAÝs Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS) sent a communication to all WIC state agencies clarifying that the new federal WIC rules prohibit all states from disallowing purchase of organic fruits and vegetables with cash-value vouchers. Patti Mitchell, a Senior Program Analyst in the Supplemental Food Programs Division, USDA/FNS, told organic food advocates that comments submitted to USDA by The Organic Center, Earthbound Farm, and United Fresh Fruits and Vegetables were persuasive and led to this clarification.
Doubts Grow over Produce Food Safety
A survey by the United Fresh Produce Association shows that 90% of consumers are concerned about produce food safety, with 32% ývery or extremely concerned.ţ Over half of the survey respondents stated that their concerns have grown since the August and the protracted news coverage of the Salmonella outbreak ultimately traced to peppers from Mexico.
When asked about their confidence in the safety of food from different countries, 92% said they felt U.S.-grown food was safe, a far higher percentage than other countries. Food from Canada was regarded as the second safest and won the confidence of 42% of survey respondents
Source: The Packer, November 17, 2008, page 1.
News about the extent and causes of the melamine-milk adulteration scandal in China continues to emerge. A story in the November 28, 2008 Science is entitled ýChinese Probe Unmasks High-Tech Adulteration With Melamine.ţ
Baby formula contaminated with melamine has killed four infants and sickened over 53,000 in China. According to the story, experts investigating the scandal say that the ýadulteration was nothing short of the wholesale re-engineering of milk.ţ
One brand of baby formula contained a remarkable 2,563 mg/kg of melamine. This amount increased the protein content of the formula a full 1%; milk usually contains 3.0% to 3.4% protein, so milk contaminated with 2,563 mg/kg melamine is getting about one-third of its protein from melamine. Put another way, the milk has been diluted by about one-third by the addition of water.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just set a 1 mg/kg ýsafeţ level for melamine in baby formula and milk.
Putting Biotech Crop Acreage into PerspectiveEarlier this year, the biotechnology industry made much of the planting of the billionth acre of genetically modified (GM) crops. While clearly a notable milestone, the Worldwatch Institute released a report entitled ýGenetically Modified Crops Only a Fraction of Primary Global Crop Productionţ on December 4, 2008 that places this achievement in perspective.
GM crops account for just 9% of the total land area used for primary crops worldwide. Four GM crops continue to dominate GM acres planted ˝
No GM varieties are on the market now for any significant fruit, vegetable or small grain crop.
Herbicide tolerance remains the most common trait, accounting for 63% of global GM-crop acreage. The vast majority of these acres are planted to Roundup Ready crops.
In short, nearly two-thirds of the GM-crop ýrevolutionţ has been brought about by a highly successful campaign to use agricultural biotechnology to expand sales of glyphosate herbicide.
Hard Times Ahead for the Brazil and Argentina Ag Sectors
The spectacular rise of soybean production and exports in Argentina and Brazil since the late 1990s has been fueled by the planting of Roundup Ready soybean varieties, coupled with no-till planting systems. The combination of lower-cost RR soybean seeds in South America, lower-cost glyphosate (Roundup herbicide), cheap land, and very low cost labor provided soybean growers in these two countries with a significant competitive advantage.
The U.S. auto industry is not the only victim of the global credit crisis and the collapse of commodity market prices. Aggressive farmers in Brazil and Argentina borrowed heavily in the last decade, amassing huge blocks of land. One farmer in Argentina plants over 50,000 hectares annually. They also bought the modern and expensive machinery needed to cover large areas quickly during the planting and harvest seasons.
But now, a credit crunch has hit, just as global soybean prices are falling. Consider these facts and projections ˝
The collapse of soybean production and profitability in South America has been driven by several forces. The efficacy of the Roundup Ready soybean system has steadily declined as a result of new soybean diseases and the emergence of resistant weeds. The cost of the system has increased as a result of new technology fees. Currency shifts have increased the cost of exports.
A last and major hurdle is transportation infrastructure. Parts of Mato Grosso are 1,200 miles from the nearest port. Most soybeans in these countries have to travel several hundred miles to reach a port. It costs $106 per ton of soybeans to transport beans from BrazilÝs major production region to a port, compared to $30 per ton in the American Midwest.
Of 26 large conventional farmers interviewed recently by BrazilÝs national development bank, only one has managed to remain current with his agricultural loans, and did so only by selling land.
One farmer bought a combine in 2001 for $220,000 Rias, and another in 2003 for $280,000 Rias. Both were financed. The farmer now owes $800,000 Rias on the two machines because of steep interest rates and has virtually no chance of paying the loans off.
Source: ýBrazil farmers lose debt battleţ and ýSharp Drop in Argentina wheat output forecast,ţ Financial Times, December 10, 2008
EditorÝs Note: I was asked in 2002 by the Trade Knowledge Network, a Canadian development organization, to produce an assessment of ýlessons learnedţ from the adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans in the U.S. for the benefit of NGOs, government officials, and scientists involved with the then-rapidly expanding soybean industry in Argentina. I was given an opportunity to travel for a week in Argentina and visited with many farmers, scientists, and government officials. The resulting report is posted on Ag BioTech InfoNet.
In 2005 I wrote a second report on Roundup Ready soybeans in Argentina for Greenpeace International. ýRust, Resistance, Run Down Soils, and Rising Costs ˝ Problems Facing Soybean Producers in Argentinaţ expanded on the analysis in the 2002 report and addressed impacts on nutrition, land conversion and forest clearing, pesticide use, and the loss of employment opportunities in rural areas. The 2005 report warned of the problems now undermining the viability of Roundup Ready soybeans in South America, and is being made available for those interested in learning more about the underlying causes of the hard times befalling farmers in South America.
Transgenes Found in Mexican Maize Landraces
Research by a team of scientists led by Elena Alvarez-Buylla in Mexico has again found transgenes from Bt corn in local varieties of maize in Mexico. The first paper reporting the presence of transgenes in traditional varieties of Mexican corn was published in Nature in 2001 and triggered a global assault on Dr. Ignacio Chapella, the lead scientist that carried out the initial study.
The new research is published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Source: ýModified genes spread to local maize,ţ NatureNews, November 12, 2008
Pesticides in Soda Pop in the EU
Researchers looked for pesticide residues in 102 brands of fruit-based soft drinks in Europe, and to their surprise, found residues in 85%, often at levels much higher than the maximum levels allowed in European drinking water.
Eleven samples of U.S. food drink sodas were tested in which no residues were found. The team noted that sodas in the U.S. use artificial fruit flavorings that are less likely to contain pesticide residues.
Source: Chemical and Engineering News, December 8, 2008, p. 29
The genomes of todayÝs elephants and wooly mammoths that went extinct 10,000 years ago are 99.4% identical. Scientists are contemplating the feasibility of altering elephant DNA over several generations incrementally in an effort to recreate a wooly mammoth.
Source: Chemical and Engineering News, December 8, 2009, p. 3
One in three adults will be officially fat in the U.K. by 2012. From 1992 to 2004, the number of obese men in the U.K. doubled.
Number of countries with a higher rate of obesity than the U.K. ˝ one (the United States).
Source: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
If current trends continue through 2030, 86.3% of adults in the U.S. will be overweight or obese, with over 51% meeting the definition of obese.
Total health care costs attributed to obesity/overweight will double every decade, reaching just under $1 trillion in 2030.
Source: Wang, Y., et al., ýWill all Americans become overweight or obese? Estimating the progression and cost of the US obesity epidemic,ţ Obesity, Vol. 10, October, 2008: p. 2323-30
ýThe Organic Green Revolutionţ
[Leaders of the Rodale Institute have recently published a compelling call for action to pursue an organic green revolution. The full text is accessible on the Rodale Institute website; excerpts appear below].
"While feeding the hungry has always been a challenging global issue, the juxtaposition of the food price, fuel price and financial crises of this past year have disproportionately hurt the world's most vulnerable - plunging an additional 77 million people into malnutrition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Now more than ever before we need a paradigm shift rather than incremental change in the way we grow, buy and eat our food. The Organic Green Revolution provides that needed shift.
Not only can organic agriculture feed the world, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in a report released in October, it may be the only way we can solve the growing problem of hunger in developing countries."
"Based upon the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and irrigation, the industrial Green Revolution worked only as long as fuel was cheap and water was abundant. The transitory benefits of increased short-term food production have come at too great an ecological price as carbon is extracted from the soil and emitted as global-warming carbon dioxide in our air instead of remaining in the soil to nurture crops. Petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides have also polluted our water and poisoned our environment, food, and people.
Fortunately, the latest scientific approaches in organic agriculture, supported by a body of replicated research data and economic analyses, offer affordable and quickly adaptable ways to implement farming systems that can quickly move us out of our current crisis."
The need to focus on pest prevention rather than treatments with toxic chemicals was the dominant theme addressed in the 2008 Rachel Carson Memorial Lecture delivered December 4, 2008 in London by the Center's Chief Scientist, Dr. Charles Benbrook.
The presentation thematically wove together three major developments in the world of pest management ˝ the trend toward systemic (inside the plant) pest management technologies, the erosion since the mid-1990s in corn insect Integrated Pest Management as a result of transgenic corn and systemic insecticides, and the role of systemic insecticides in triggering honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Dr. Benbrook noted four critical elements of sound, safe, and sustainable pest management systems --
The lectureÝs last slide was entitled ýActions Worth a Thousand Wordsţ and highlighted four concrete steps needed to promote prevention-based Integrated Pest Management and better protect the integrity of honey bee hives ˝
The lecture slides are available, as is the paper written for the event, ýPrevention, not profits, should drive pest managementţ. The paper appears in December 2008 issue of the PAN-UK publication "Pesticide News."
The lecture was well attended and triggered a lively 45 minute Q+A session that covered a broad range of pest management issues. An excerpt from the paper published in ýPesticide Newsţ follows ˝
ýFlorida harvested 33,000 acres of sweet corn in 2006, more than any other state. Conventional sweet corn growers in southern states like Florida face a variety of insect pests. Farmers in Florida had to spray, on average, 13 applications of 2.3 different insecticides, amounting to an average of 3.7 pounds of active ingredient per acre, across the 33,000 acres of sweet corn. Almost nine applications were made per acre with the carbamate insecticide methomyl. Very few organisms that move with wings or legs would survive a summer in such a corn field.
Just to the north in the State of Georgia, another leading producer of sweet corn, the average acre was treated 14 times with methomyl. In the southern United States, sweet corn grows rapidly. Most varieties reach maturity in 80-110 days. In years with intense and early fall armyworm pressure, spraying must start at about four weeks after planting. So, in Georgia in 2006, a methomyl application was made every four to five days.
In south-central Florida in 2008, an experienced grower, producing several thousand acres of conventional vegetables and several hundred acres of organic vegetables, harvested 25 acres of organic sweet corn treated only with the natural insecticides Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) and diamotaceous earth. Moreover, the sweet corn harvested off his organic field was freer of bug damage than most conventional corn in the region.
In the State of Oregon in 2006, about three-quarters of the mostly conventional sweet corn acres were not treated with an insecticide.
Why are a dozen or more applications of relatively toxic, broad-spectrum insecticides required on some fields of sweet corn, while no such insecticides are required on others?
The answer lies in the differences between a ýsystematic,ţ or integrated approach to pest management, in contrast to management systems dependent on a few control tactics, especially those that are treatment oriented and ýsystemicţ in nature.ţ
The Organic Center Sponsors Seminar at Hollywood Goes Green ConferenceThe Organic CenterÝs Managing Director Steven Hoffman produced and moderated a seminar at the recently held Hollywood Goes Green Conference in Los Angeles. Now in its second year, the conference is targeted at the Hollywood entertainment industry, and how it can be more sustainable and effective as a role model promote broader adoption of organic and green practices. Speakers included Organic Center board member, television host and green lifestyles expert Sara Snow; Evan Kleiman, executive chef and owner of Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles; Cynthia Pasquella, clinical nutritionist to the stars; and Paige Poulos, executive director of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission. For more information, visit www.hollywoodgoesgreen.com.
Letter to the Editor Accepted
An early-2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA) will contain a letter to the editor by Chuck Benbrook and Organic Center consultant, Dr. Chris McCullum-Gomez. The letter responds to an inaccurate and incomplete news brief on a European study comparing the nutrient content of organic and conventional food.
JADA reaches 70,000 subscribers around the world.
The Organic Center Sponsors Two Sessions at the 2009 EcoFarm Conference
The Center helped organize two sessions at the January 22-24, 2008 EcoFarm conference at Asilomar, in Monterey, California. During the ýWar on Bugsţ workshop on Friday, 10:30am-12:30, Will Allen will address the evolution of the war on bugs over the last century. Chuck Benbrook will discuss the impacts and implications of the contemporary trend toward systematic pesticides and genetic engineering technology that strives to get pesticide toxins inside of plants.
On Saturday from 8:30am to 10:00, Dr. John Reganold of Washington State University will join with Chuck Benbrook in a workshop entitled ýWhy the Science is Starting to Show Benefits for Organic.ţ Dr. Reganold will present results of recent studies at WSU comparing the performance of organic and conventional farming systems, and Chuck will provide an update of recent Organic Center research.
Keep Up with Events by Visiting the Organic Center Blog
Managing Director Steven Hoffman has started an Organic Center blog that will help readers of ýThe Scoopţ stay current on the activities of the Center, events, and other breaking developments.
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths includes fascinating research about why:
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The Organic Center's on-line fundraising program - Become a Friend of The Organic Center
We can now accept secure on-line donations with both yearly and monthly giving options. We also have wonderful gifts to say thank you for your support ˝ including a free one-year subscription to Organic Gardening magazine, organic t-shirt, organic tote bag, our book, Core Truths and Dr. Alan Greene's new book, Raising Baby Green. We have many ways to say thank you for supporting our work.
Our Research ˝
Companies, foundations, or individuals can support work by The Organic Center on a critical issue, or in a specific area through our donor directed research program. Contact Dr. Benbrook for details.
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"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit www.organic-center.org.
ę 2008, The Organic Center. All rights reserved. Permission for reproduction of these materials for educational purposes will be granted by contacting The Organic Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: Chuck Benbrook, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, The Organic Center
Design: Karen Lutz Benbrook
Circulation: Matthue DeYarus
Backed by the world's leading scientists, physicians and scholars, The Organic Center is committed to two goals.
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