Intriguing new insights have emerged on how the organophosphate (OP) insecticide parathion impairs neurological development, and how these impacts can alter behavior throughout life. The NIH-funded research team analyzed the developmental impacts of parathion in a rat study, and learned that parathion exposures –
In one of the more intriguing findings of the study, the team reported that low-level exposure to parathion at critical stages of development impair the role of the brain in sexual differentiation, and as a result, adult males become more female like in their behaviors, and vice versa. Moreover, they found that female rats were better able to repair the damage caused by early-life exposures to parathion in terms of sexual differentiation and behavior. The possible implications of these findings in humans were not discussed.
Source: Theodore A. Slotkin et al., “Exposure of Neonatal Rats to Parathion Elicits Sex-Selective Impairment of Acetylcholine Systems in Brain Regions during Adolescence and Adulthood,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 10, pages 1308-1314
Editor’s Note: Nearly every issue of “The Scoop” features a new study in EHP on how pesticides can alter development and impair health. This month’s new study builds on an already compelling body of recent science that proves that low-level exposures to OP insecticides pose serious developmental risks.
Fortunately in the U.S., most food uses of parathion, and its cousin methyl parathion, have been curtailed or ended by the EPA in the course of implementing the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The bad news is that parathion residues, along with several other high-risk OPs, remain common, especially in imported foods. Implementation of the FQPA got off to a slow start after passage in 1996, and ran aground with the election of President Bush.
While there is always something to be learned from scientists delving deeper into why and how chemicals like the OPs impair development, surely enough is now known to justify ending dietary exposures to this class of insecticides. The talented scientists that have, over the last decade, so patiently and thoroughly built the case proving the adverse developmental effects of the OPs need to turn their attention and skills to the nicotinyl insecticides that are now found as frequently in several foods as the OPs were 15 years ago.
Scientists Highlight Uncertainty in the Path to Sustainable Biofuels
Twenty-three scientists working for over a dozen universities and institutions authored a “Policy Forum” piece in the October 3, 2008 issue of Science magazine on how to make biofuel production “sustainable.” The team acknowledge that more than 30% of the 2008 corn crop is going to be used to make ethanol, and that this percent is not likely to fall for at least a decade.
They see continued commitment to grain-based ethanol because of generous government subsidies and the mandate for biofuels production, despite clear evidence that current ethanol production systems cause environmental harm.
“Globally, to produce an important amount of energy with biofuels will require a large amount of land – perhaps as much as is in row-crop agriculture today. This will change the landscape of Earth, not just the United States…”
The team sees the greatest long-term potential for sustainable biofuel production in diversified perennial cropping systems. They also argue for significant research investments and substantial policy reforms in order to “…chart a low-carbon economy that is substantially better than business as usual.”
Source: G. Philip Robertson et al., “Sustainable Biofuels Redux,” Science, Vol. 322, pages 49-50.
Berries and Brightly Colored Fruits Top the Antioxidant Chart
A team of Cornell University scientists subjected 25 fruits to a series of tests of antioxidant content and cellular activity. Wild and domesticated blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and pomegranates topped the various lists in varying orders. All brightly colored fruits scored very well in all measures used in the study.
Across all fruits in the diet, apples were found to provide 33% of total phenolics, reflecting very high consumption and moderate phenolics content. Oranges provided 12%, grapes 12.8%, and strawberries, 9.8%.
In urging increased consumption of nutrient-dense, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, the team cited the latest report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service on fruit and vegetable intakes. The ERS reports that Americans are still lagging in terms of fruit and vegetable intake. On average in 2005, we consumed 0.9 cups of fruit per day, instead of the 2.0 cups (four servings) recommending in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And we consumed 1.7 cups of vegetables, instead of the recommended 2.5 cups (five servings), based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
The authors conclude (cautiously) that –
Source: Kelly L. Wolfe et al., “Cellular Antioxidant Activity of Common Fruits,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, No. 18, pages 8419-8426.
Editor’s Note: In the Center’s second State of Science Review (SSR) on antioxidants, we analyzed differences in the antioxidant activity of organic and conventional foods, concluding that organic food contains, on average, 30% more antioxidants per gram or per serving.
The antioxidant SSR contains a Table 2 (see page 14-15) that ranks over 65 common foods by antioxidant activity per calorie consumed. In assessing the ability of a food to promote human health, the metric “total antioxidant activity per calorie consumed” is as close as one can come to the miles-per-gallon rating of car energy efficiency.
This widely used Table in our antioxidant SSR is especially valuable for people looking to increase antioxidant intake while consuming fewer calories.
Will GE Technology Produce Drought Resistant Crops?
Michigan State researchers have discovered a gene that plays a role in drought resistance. They also report a role for the cell’s endoplasmic reticulum in the regulation of the new drought gene. A member of the research team is quoted as saying –
“We’re finding that heat tolerance is a more complex process than was first thought.”
A Canadian research company, Performance Plants, Inc. is promising up to 40% higher corn and canola yields from its GE-drought resistance technology, and claims new GE-crops will be ready for commercial adoption in four years.
Drought resistant crops are one of the primary new technologies cited in support of Monsanto’s bullish projections of gross profits in 2012. The company expects to earn profits between $9.5 billion and $9.8 billion that year.
Sources: “Drought Resistant GM Crops Ready ‘in Four Years’,”The Guardian and “Seed and herbicide sales bolster Monsanto,” Forbes.com.
Editor’s Note: Plant breeders have worked for years to enhance the ability of plants to withstand drought. It is widely recognized that drought tolerance is a complex, multi-gene trait, and that plants respond to excessive heat and drought in a variety of ways. The tools of genetic engineering are now being used to identify genes involved in the drought response process, and the seed industry is keen to exploit newly discovered genes in producing a new generation of drought tolerant plants.
But challenges remain. Plants with heightened capacity to withstand drought are often not able to respond as quickly or fully to more favorable growing conditions. Breeders will almost certainly be able to add new genes, or accentuate expression of existing genes with a role in drought response, but in doing so, other aspects of a plant’s response to environmental conditions or pests may be altered, as might crop composition and nutritional quality. (e.g. becoming especially susceptible and attractive to herbivorous insects)
Plant breeding is one way to improve crop performance in regions subject to drought. Improving soil quality is another, since soils higher in organic matter and less subject to compaction take in scarce water more quickly and tend to hold more water for a longer period. Plus, improvements in soil quality deliver other benefits ranging from more nitrogen and micro-nutrients to greater nutrient density in harvested foods. Investments in capturing and making better use of limited rainfall, or water used for irrigation, is another area that often will deliver sustained benefits.
As with other areas of agricultural biotechnology, there is a considerable dose of hype and wishful thinking in recent pronouncements that drought-resistant crops are around the corner and will, single-handedly, dramatically improve yields. Such an outcome is extremely unlikely. Increasing yields on a sustained basis in drought-prone regions is going to require progress on many fronts and a systematic effort to deal with how water moves through an ecosystem. Those who claim that genetic engineering can, by itself, overcome the impacts of drought on yields, especially in the developing world, set the stage for disappointment and postpone investments in initiatives with a surer chance of success.
Nitrogen Fertilizer Dilutes Antioxidant Levels in Fresh Basil
In the first study exploring the impact of nitrogen (N) fertilization levels on the antioxidant and phenolics content of fresh basil, a classic inverse dose-response curve was found by a team of Texas scientists. For most cultivars tested, the higher the N level, the lower the density of antioxidants and polyphenols.
Remarkably, the concentrations of some beneficial phenolics acids were four times higher at the lowest rate of nitrogen application, compared to the highest rate of N use. In two of three varieties tested, total antioxidant activity was 2- to 5-times higher at lower levels of N, compared to the high-N plots.
Source: Phuong M. Nguyen and Emily D. Niemeyer, “Effects of Nitrogen Fertilization on the Phenolic Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.),” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, No. 18, pages 8685-8691.
Nutrition Making a Comeback on the Agenda of Some Plant Breeders
Some fruit and vegetable breeders are heeding the call for greater attention on nutrient density, as opposed to high yields and the capacity of produce to ship long distances.
Echoing themes addressed in the Center’s report “Still No Free Lunch,” the lead horticulturist with the W. Atlee Burpee Co. is quoted as saying –
“Before, they were breeding for higher yields, stronger plants, produce easier to ship and more ornamental in appearance. Now, they’re looking at improvements in flavor and smell, in addition to more nutrients. Enriching the colors is attached to nutritive value.”
Source: Associated Press, October 2, 2008.
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The October 13, 2008 L.A. Times reports on mounting science strengthening the connection between artificial food colors and hyperactive behavior in children. The improvement in behavior when dyes are removed from children’s diets is great enough in some cases to convince parents to take their children off Ritalin. The piece by Melinda Fulmer is titled “Do food dyes affect kids’ behavior?”
There are nine artificial colors approved for use by the FDA. A 2007 study in the Lancet, a top medical journal, showed that exposures to artificial dyes increased hyperactivity in children, both among young people already displaying hyperactive behavior and children never before displaying such behaviors.
The U.K. government has asked the food industry to voluntarily remove the dyes from foods, and most are complying. Kellogg has removed the dyes from Nutri-Grain cereal bars sold in the U.K., but not those sold in the U.S.
The science supporting FDA’s approval of the nine dyes is 30 to 50 years old. In support of approval of the dyes, the FDA cites on its website a 1982 consensus report by the National Institutes of Health.
Comment by Dr. Alan Greene, Chairperson, The Organic Center Board: Recent studies raise serious alarm over not just artificial food colors, but also other classes of food additives. We also are learning more about food additive-drug and food additive-chemical interactions. Progress in sequencing the human genome has shown that some children are far more sensitive than others to the behavioral impacts of food additives and other chemicals in food.
The opportunity to avoid most exposures to artificial dyes and food additives is one of the most important but least appreciated benefits of a diet composed of organic foods and beverages. I always council parents to choose organic foods for their children and to increase the portion of their diet composed of whole, fresh foods and only lightly processed organic foods. This is the best strategy to assure kids get the nutrients they need and avoid food additives and chemicals that can trigger serious and sometimes life-long problems.
Michael Pollan’s Appeal for Sun Food
In an extraordinary “Letter to the ‘Farmer in Chief” published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on October 12th, Michael Pollan ties together three currents of change that could transform the U.S. food system –
Some excerpts from this lengthy piece reflect its scope and power –
“…with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”
“…when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.”
“…the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine.”
“This focus on quantity may have made sense in a time of food scarcity, but today it gives us a school-lunch program that feeds chicken nuggets and Tater Tots to overweight and diabetic children.”
“Your [the new President] symbolically most resonant step in building a new American food culture…is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.”
“Cheap food is food dishonestly priced – it is in fact unconscionably expensive.”
And perhaps Pollan’s most provocative and blunt statement –
“You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.”
Editor’s Comment: It is interesting to contrast Pollan’s manifesto for food system change with similar “big picture” statements recently released by the biotech industry. While corporate agribusiness and Pollan agree on many of the problems with the American food system, their recommended solutions differ as night from day.
Pollan’s basic prescription for getting agriculture moving in a healthier direction is both simple and sound. Farming systems that efficiently use sun and soil are less reliant on fossil fuels, and many produce more food calories than they consume in energy calories. If the new “Farmer in Chief” decides to seriously take on Pollan’s action agenda, the nation will benefit greatly from the good work and wisdom gained by organic farmers and food companies.
USDA Lowering Crop Insurance Rates for Farmers Planting GM Crops
The Department of Agriculture has expanded a 2008 pilot program and will be offering corn farmers a $3.00 per acre cut in crop insurance rates for fields planted to GM corn in crop season 2009.
In order to qualify, farmers must plant at least 75% of their corn to a qualifying variety of Bt corn from Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, or Dow AgroSciences.
Source: Reuters, August 19, 2008.
Editor’s Note: The reduction in crop insurance rates for Bt-corn is justified, according to the USDA, by the reduction in risk of above- and below-ground insect damage to corn hybrids expressing the Bt gene for control of the European corn borer and/or corn rootworm.
The principle behind this policy decision is that farming system changes that reduce the risk of crop losses should be rewarded through lower crop insurance rates.
Historically, drought has been by far the dominant cause of significant reductions in corn crop yields. Accordingly, USDA will probably be asked to provide an added subsidy in the form of lower crop insurance premiums when farmers buy and plant drought-tolerant corn varieties.
In the interests of fairness then, organic farmers should also receive a reduction in insurance premiums, since soils on organic farms take in and hold moisture more effectively than soils on conventional farms. Dozens of studies have confirmed that organic farming systems are more resilient in dry years, suffering a lower percentage yield reduction as a result of drought.
Why is it that a break for organic corn farmers in crop insurance rates remains miles off the USDA radar screen and is virtually unimaginable, while the biotech industry just asked politely and is already fully vested?
USDA to Review Animal Welfare and Production Claims
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced a review of its policies governing approval of animal-raising claims in the labeling of meat, dairy and poultry products.
Terms like “free-range,” “raised without antibiotics,” raised without added hormones” will be assessed. The FSIS says it is carrying out the review to create a “level playing field” for companies.
Editor’s Comment: After years of work and much investment, animal product quality and animal welfare claims associated with organic production have meaning and resonance in the marketplace. It is hard to imagine how this FSIS review will not simply change the hue in already muddy waters.
It is also clear that this review is motivated in part by the protracted controversy over antibiotic-free claims on some Cargill poultry products, as well as the Monsanto-inspired attempt to force dairies to drop claims that their milk is produced from cows not given supplemental rBGH.
With just weeks left in this Administration, however, nothing meaningful will happen until after the transition and this policy review, along with many other ninth inning initiatives of the Bush Administration, could well be overtaken by events.
Conventional Soybeans on the Comeback Trail
A University of Mississippi press release reports that conventional soybeans are coming back and replacing Roundup Ready beans because of lower seed costs, lower weed control costs, and comparable or higher yields.
The release reports that Roundup herbicide costs rose from about $15 per gallon last year to $40 to $50 per gallon in 2008.
Source: “Conventional soybeans offer high yields at lower cost,” University of Mississippi Delta Research Center.
GAO Report Hammers FDA Oversight of Fresh Produce
Inadequate staffing, outdated systems and equipment, and too few inspections are among the major problems with FDA’s efforts to combat food borne illness, according to a just-released October 3, 2008 General Accounting Office (GAO) report.
Between 2000 and 2007, the FDA found food safety problems at more than 40% of the 2,002 plants that were inspected, yet half were not inspected again to assure corrective actions had been properly implemented.
No fresh produce was seized nor were any plants or companies prosecuted. Only 1% of produce imported into the U.S. is inspected.
Source: Associated Press, October 2, 2008.
Hawaii County Bans the Genetic Modification of Taro and Coffee
A county in the State of Hawaii has adopted a bill that protects the taro (kalo) and coffee industries from genetic engineering and preserves agriculturally-based practices and cultural traditions associated with taro and coffee.
Hawaii County joins a small but growing list of counties that have passed laws or ordinances designed to prohibit the planting of GE-crops and trees.
Experience Life Magazine Highlights the “Good Earth” and Changes in the Food System
The October 2008 issue of the magazine Experience Life, a Lifetime Fitness publication, covers the impacts of organic farming on soil quality and the nutritional quality of organic food, and draws heavily from work by the Center.
The soil piece –“Good Earth” – makes the case that soil health and human health are one and the same. There is solid discussion of the adverse impacts of conventional agriculture on soil quality.
Dr. Robert Kremer, a USDA microbiologist, has carried out key research on the adverse impacts of Roundup Ready soybean technology on soybean plant health. Dr. Kramer states in the article that –
“We find some GM-crops are deficient in micronutrients, either due to genetics or the chemicals used on them to control weeds.”
A WSU soil scientist, Craig Cogger, says “Modern breeding hasn’t focused on nutritional quality and if you don’t focus on a trait, it tends to decline.”
A second feature story is called “Progressive Eaters Unite". This piece covers changes in the food industry, Michael Pollan’s books, and developments at Whole Foods. The cost of, and access to organic food is also covered in this second piece.
“The Risks of Pigging Out on Antibiotics”
Four friends of the Center published a letter in the September 5, 2008 issue of Science on the risks of agricultural use of antibiotics. The letter is authored by Becky Goldberg of EDF, Steven Roach The Food Animals Concerns Trust, David Wallinga of IATP, and Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Their letter highlights the dangers of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococus aureus) and summarizes the now compelling evidence that MRSA has its roots in agricultural use of antibiotics. A swine-based strain of MRSA in the Netherlands has been linked to 20% of human MRSA infections.
A 2008 study found that 70% of the pigs tested in Iowa and Illinois carried MRSA.
More than 20 million home gardens were supplying up to 40% of the produce consumed by Americans as a result of the “Victory Garden” movement during World War II.
The USDA opposed President Roosevelt’s decision to plant a White House garden and promote Victory Gardens, fearing that such a movement might hurt the American food industry.
Food energy calories produced per calorie of fossil fuel energy in 1940: 2.3
One in three American children born in 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes.
Eight of 535 members of the U.S. Congress are scientists or engineers.
The “New” Attacks on Organic Food and Farming
It is hard to miss the growing variety and vehemence of attacks on organic food and farming in the media, blogosphere, and from some organizations. A Fox News piece October 4, 2008 was called “Organic Food Offers Little More Than Peace of Mind, Critics Say.” Alex Avery’s book is plugged and he is quoted as saying “It’s [organic food] a total con. There is not a shred of science” to back up claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious.
On the subject of organic milk, Avery asserts that “…labs have not found ‘one detectable difference whatsoever.’”
A Food Navigator commentary on October 6, 2008 is entitled “Bringing organic back down to earth.” It begins by stating – “Organic has an image problem.” The gist of the piece is that organic food is too pricey and a luxury only the well off can afford, and that people are made to feel guilty if they do not eat an exclusively organic diet, “And that, I think, is a shame...” according to the author.
The Delta Farm Press posted a story October 8th called “Cotton bollworms:660 / organic cotton:zero.” The confusing headline refers to a yield of 660 pounds of cotton with modern technology – pesticides, Bt cotton – compared to zero pounds from an organic cotton field trial in Uganda, after an insect outbreak essentially defoliated the plants. Reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s use of language, the piece goes on to state –
“This and other organic experiments have impressed the Ugandan government so much that their Cotton Development Organization has begun offering pesticides to farmers at subsidized prices. Meanwhile, the most damaging pests reported in Ugandan fields these days is anyone promoting organic methods.”
Attacks of this nature, and others more subtle and insidious, are an inevitable byproduct of the success of organic farmers and the organic food industry. Growth in demand for, and interest in organic food and farming, reflects in part growing consumer dissatisfaction with conventional food and production technology. This dissatisfaction is rooted in a long list of problems caused by contemporary agriculture and our food system that keep impacting people in profound and unmistakable ways. News of such problems is a near-daily part of mainstream news coverage, and spans the latest on E. coli O157 outbreaks, chemical contaminants in food, antibiotic resistance and antibiotics in drinking water, inhumane care of animals, and pesticides in umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid.
Organic food and farming did not create these problems and cannot solve them alone, but is clearly one way to cut them down to size. This inherent and indisputable benefit of organic food and farming threatens some people and economic interests, and we can expect them to continue challenging efforts to increase growth and investment in the organic food industry.
As a nation we have entered a frightening era of fragility in national financial institutions, energy markets, real estate, international affairs, health care, public health, and food. Could our food system suffer from the same misguided optimism and failure to heed warning signs that brought down Wall Street?
Organic food and farming has much to offer the nation. We need to stay focused on improving the quality and consistency of organic food, while expanding supply and working to make the organic segment of the food industry more efficient. Through efficiency, we will be better prepared to offer farmers a fair pay price, finance the pragmatic steps needed to conserve soil and water resources and lower our carbon footprint, and generate profits to invest in growth, research, development, and consumer education.
We need to avoid overstating the benefits of organic food and farming, but also must not shy away from explaining – and backing up – proven benefits. No amount of new science documenting the benefits of organic food and farming is going to change the minds of ideologues dedicated to the mission of raising doubts in the minds of consumers.
But new science is a powerful force for those with an open mind and consumers paying attention to their diet and food quality. It creates a force for change that we need to invest in, respect and heed, as we work to improve the quality and affordability of organic food. Done well and in ways that build consumer trust, the rewards will be tangible and sustained in the marketplace, on our farms and in rural areas, and for individuals that take personal responsibility for their food choices and family’s health.
Excerpts from the October 7, 2008 “Statement by the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the Benefits of Organic Farming”
Access the full text on the Center’s website.
In our view, organic agriculture is one of the most promising options to meet these challenges. Let me mention a few of the relevant advantages:
The potential to export goods to consumers willing to pay premium prices for certified organic production in many developed countries generates significant income possibilities for organic farmers in the developing world. In 2006, global certified organic sales were estimated to have reached over 30 billion euros, a 20 per cent increase over 2005, and are expected to increase to 52 billion euros by 2012.
Organic production is also particularly well-suited for smallholder farmers, who comprise the majority of the world´s poor…. As the seminal work by Amartya Sen on Famines has shown us, it is not always the absence of food that creates hunger, but also the inability of some to pay for existing food stocks. Higher incomes through exports of organic food can help small farmers in developing countries to afford higher food prices.
But organic food production does not necessarily mean a sacrifice in terms of output. A recent UNCTAD-UNEP study analyzing 114 cases in Africa revealed that a conversion of farms to organic production and related training and capacity building led to an increase in agricultural productivity of 116%! Moreover, organic agriculture builds on and keeps alive farmers´ rich heritage of traditional knowledge and traditional agricultural varieties.
Reduced dependence on external inputs
As a sustainable and environmentally friendly production system, organic agriculture is based on active agro-ecosystem management and local resources instead of external inputs. This means that organic farmers are less affected by rising fertilizer and agrochemical costs. Indeed, as the prices of agro-chemicals are driven up by high oil prices, organic agriculture, which uses no synthetic agro-chemicals, becomes increasingly competitive. And reliance on local renewable resources reduces rural communities´ vulnerability to external volatility caused by factors far beyond their control.
In an age of increasing environmental concern and impending climate change, one important additional advantage of organic production methods comes to bear: It does not pollute the environment with agro-chemicals, and also reduces illness and death in farm families due to agro-chemical exposure -- a leading cause of occupational mortality and morbidity worldwide. Organic agriculture actually conserves biodiversity and natural resources on the farm and in the surrounding areas. It improves soil fertility and structure, thus improving water retention and resilience to climatic stress, contributing to climate change adaptation. Finally, it mitigates climate change by utilizing less energy than conventional agriculture and also by sequestering carbon.
For all these reasons, we believe that organic agriculture is a powerful tool for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those related to poverty reduction and the environment. Of course, at the moment, organic agriculture is only a niche market, accounting for currently about 2% of global farmland. However, its potential has not yet been fully explored, and it deserves our full attention as an important tool for development.
But there are also challenges for developing countries in seizing these opportunities, particularly in terms of building productive capacities and market access and entry difficulties.
Environmentally preferable products must meet all the requirements that conventional products do. In addition, they must provide evidence of their environmental claims--for example that they have been produced according to certain standards and that this has been verified by a certification body which in turn has been duly accredited or approved by a competent authority. Naturally, each market and often even each individual retailer has its own standard and conformity assessment requirements, and there is little or no inter-operability among systems.
Meeting all of these requirements can be daunting even for a large developed country producer. For small scale producers in developing countries, it can place the tantalizing fruits of organic and other green markets beyond their reach.
Originally published in the “Sound Consumer,” the newsletter of PCC Natural Markets, in Seattle, Washington. The full text is on the Center’s website.
What pesticides are used on what food crops? What residues remain when the crops go to market and how risky are those residues? And what about the vulnerable amongst us, are we fully protecting pregnant women, infants and children, and the elderly?
Worrisome evidence that even minute levels of pesticides in food can impair human development has driven demand for organic foods — produced without synthetic insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. Since the beginning of the organic movement, consumers increasingly have made it clear they want toxic pesticides out of their food and off their plates.
Yet a recent decision by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop measuring the use of pesticides on American farms could make it much harder to track pesticide use and risk trends.
What we know and how we know it
Annually since the early 1990s, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an agency of the USDA, has collected detailed data on pesticide use on a representative sample of farms across the country…
Despite some shortcomings, NASS pesticide use data has been the only free, publicly available resource for anyone studying, monitoring, measuring — and attempting to manage — pesticide use and risks…
It’s often said that what gets measured gets managed. Without measuring pesticide use, we will be stymied in attempts to manage pesticide risks.
The latest pesticide data
In 2008, the USDA released pesticide use data only for apples and cotton in the 2007 crop season. NASS collected no data for corn or soybeans in 2006 and 2007.
The lack of this use data means independent analysts cannot quantify what’s likely to be an enormous increase in herbicide applications since 2005 needed to keep up with resistant weeds on land planted with genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready® corn and soy. Reports we issued in 2002 and 2004 relied heavily on NASS data and contradicted industry claims that GM crops were reducing pesticide use. Now, Monsanto can continue making bogus claims that Roundup Ready technology reduces herbicide use with little fear of contradictory data…
No pesticide use data has been collected in 2008… An unusual coalition of industry and environmentalists, government agencies (including the EPA) and consumer organizations (including PCC) are asking USDA and Congress to restore the $8 million needed to reinstate NASS’s pesticide data collection activities. Hopefully data collection will resume in the fall of 2009.
An emerging opportunity
No doubt some agriculture interests feel that the less data generated by government on pesticide use and risks, the fewer headaches from noisy non-profit organizations. This myopic view misses the big picture.
The PNW leads the nation in organic tree fruit production and sustainable farming. Many non-organic farmers in our region are moving to purge their production systems of high-risk chemistry and are adopting many practices developed and perfected by organic farmers.
There’s huge, untapped demand in the nation and abroad for high-value, fresh and preserved fruit and vegetable products that deliver taste, nutrient density, and superior margins of safety. Also, with energy prices rising and support for local food security increasing, dependence on imported fresh berries, cherries, tomatoes, and grapes is likely to dwindle. Consumers also have yet to understand that eating imported fresh produce (non-organic) triggers a pronounced spike in pesticide dietary exposure...
Addendum – A coalition of organizations including The Organic Center and PCC Natural Markets are working to restore funding for NASS pesticide use data collection. We will keep readers of “The Scoop” informed as this coalition engages the Congress and new Administration in discussions on this front.
Join The Organic Center and Rodale Institute on Nov. 11, 2008, 6:00 pm – 9:30 pm, at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, NY, for a special gourmet organic reception, educational event and fundraiser to benefit the important work of both nonprofit organizations in advancing the scientific research behind the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming. Rodale and the Institute will introduce research on how organic can play a positive role in energy conservation, soil and water health and climate change, as well as nutrition, human health and world hunger. Special hosts for the evening include supermodel Emme, leading pediatrician and Organic Center Chair Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Maria Rodale, Chairman of Rodale Inc., TV host and Organic Center board member Sara Snow, Arran Stephens, founder and CEO of Nature’s Path, and David Zinczenko, editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine. Tickets are $125 per person and are available for purchase at www.organicsolution.org, or contact 303.499.1840.
Mark your calendar for a gala evening in Hollywood when The Organic Center presents its West Coast fundraiser and gourmet organic reception on Dec. 9, 2008, 6:30 – 9:30 pm, at the Hilton Los Angeles Hotel in Universal City. Tickets to the evening fundraiser and reception are $125 per person. Visit www.organic-center.org or call 303.499.1840 to purchase tickets. The Organic Center will also present a seminar on organic and the influence of Hollywood during the Hollywood Goes Green Conference, held Dec. 8-9, 2008 at the Hilton Los Angeles Hotel. For information, visit www.hollywoodgoesgreen.com.
“Living Soil, Food Quality, and the Future of Food” Session at the AAAS Annual Meeting
The Center organized with Preston Andrews of Washington State University a 90-minute symposium that will be part of the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The session will be held February 13, 2009 at 8:30am. The focus will be on the impacts of long-term organic management on soil quality and food nutrient density. The AAAS meeting will be held February 12-16, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois.
Dr. Jerry Glover of The Land Institute will present a paper entitled “Crops, Roots, and Soil Biological Processes: Synergistic Interactions.” Preston Andrews will cover fruit and vegetable crop responses to soil management. Alyson Mitchell of U.C. Davis will present on the topic “Nutrient Dense Foods: Phytochemicals and Health Benefits.”
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 “War on Bugs” 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 “Why the Science is Starting to Show Benefits for Organic.” 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 “The Scoop” stay current on the activities of the Center, events, and other breaking developments.
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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.
For companies, The Organic Center's Mission Organic Affinity Marketing Partnership Program provides resources and tools to help educate your customers about the personal benefits of organic food and farming. Become part of an effort to grow the U.S. market for organic from 3 percent to 10 percent by 2010.
"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit www.organic-center.org.
© 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.
TOC Board Chair: Alan Greene, co-founder DrGreene.com
The Organic Center