Organic View - An e-mail publication of the Organic
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v.2 n.1 January 23, 2000
Welcome to the first edition of Organic View for the year 2000.
This issue comes out a little late for two reasons: 1)
we are tabulating the results of our reader survey. The
results will be published in the next issue. Thanks to the hundreds
of you who have responded. 2) We have been working doggedly
to finish a book titled: Genetically Engineered Foods: A
Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. The book, which will come
out in May or June, details the risks of this dangerous new
technology, along with food products, ingredients and
companies to avoid, and those that have gone GE-free.
OCA is looking forward to an exciting, and very busy, year.
The USDA will likely release the next round of proposed
national organic standards in the next month. While we
expect an improvement from the last round, there are still
many important unresolved questions which will require
citizen comments. Also, the threat of genetically engineered
crops to organic food production continues. A new round of more
powerful genetically engineered crops is expected to be
introduced onto the market in 2000. We will be actively
pushing on numerous fronts for an immediate moratorium of
all genetically engineered crops. OCA made great progress in
1999 organizing in local communities around the country. We
now have information and involvement with over 1700 coops,
stores, farmers markets and CSA's. We have volunteers
in all 50 states. We will continue to work hard
to grow in the year 2000. We thank you for your support in
all of these efforts.
We've all suspected it. Now, a growing body of scientific
evidence is indicating that organic food is healthier than
conventional produce. Researchers from the University of
Copenhagen recently reported that organically grown produce
has higher levels of nutrients when compared with
Specifically, the organic crops had a higher concentration
of vitamins and far more secondary metabolites, which are
naturally occurring compounds that help immunize plants from
external attack. Some of these metabolites are thought to
lower the risk of cancer and heart disease in humans.
The research was funded by the United Kingdom's Soil
Association (the largest organic farmer organization in the
UK) and reported at the Association's January 8 conference.
These findings on the health content of organic food
contrast with research indicating that industrial
agricultural practices may be having a detrimental effect on
the nutritional value of conventional produce. (Detailed in
Organic View v.1 n.17, found at
http://www.purefood.org/organicview.htm) Those findings
* In an analysis of USDA nutrient data from 1975 to 1997,
the Kushi Institute of Becket, Massachusetts found that the average
calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables declined 27 percent;
iron levels dropped 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent,
and vitamin C levels 30 percent.
* A similar analysis of British nutrient data from 1930 to
1980 published in the British Food Journal found that in 20
vegetables, the average calcium content had declined 19
percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent.
* A 1999 study out of the University of Wisconsin found that
three decades of the overuse of nitrogen in US farming has
destroyed much of the soil's fertility, causing it to age
the equivalent of 5,000 years.
* A new US Geological Survey report indicates that acid rain
is depleting soil calcium levels in at least 10 eastern
states, interfering with forest growth and weakening trees'
resistance to insects.
As 1999 came to a close, Whole Foods and Wild Oats pledged
to rid their brand-name products from genetically engineered
ingredients sometime in the year 2000. While nearly every
major supermarket throughout Europe has gone GE-free, Whole
Foods and Wild Oats are the first US food markets to do so.
The initiative by both stores will apply only to their brand
name products - it will not apply to products made by other
companies that are sold in their stores. Whole Foods has
about 600 private-label products, which account for about
12% of Whole Foods' sales. Wild Oats derives about 10% of
its revenue from over 700 of its branded products
Current estimates are that between 60-70 percent of all
supermarket foods contain genetically engineered ingredients
- primarily either soy, corn, canola oil, or cottonseed oil.
Both stores said nearly all of their products already
include mostly organic ingredients (which forbids genetic
engineering). Whole Foods and Wild Oats are currently taking
steps to source non-genetically engineered ingredients for
their non-organic ingredients, and have the ingredients
independently tested. Currently non-organic ingredients are
not labeled as to whether they are genetically engineered.
Neither store could say exactly when they would achieve
their goal of GE-free for their brand name products.
Wild Oats, which plans on labeling its products as
genetically engineered free, is based in Boulder, Colorado and
operates 110 stores. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market
Inc., operates 103 stores in 22 states. Whole Foods also
operates stores as Fresh Fields, Bread & Circus, Nature's
Heartland, Bread of Life, Merchant of Vino and Wellspring
For additional information, check out: www.wholefoods.com
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new
regulations for farmers planting genetically engineered Bt
corn and cotton late last week. While the regulations do
little to address serious environmental concerns, they may
serve as a further deterrent to farmers thinking about
planting genetically engineered crops this year.
Under the new rules, farmers planting genetically engineered
Bt corn are required to plant at least 20 percent of their
crop as non-Bt corn. Farmers planting genetically
engineered Bt corn adjacent to cotton fields are
required to plant 50 percent non-engineered
corn. The EPA hopes that this will slow down the
development of resistance to the Bt toxin by various pests -
particularly the corn borer and pink bollworm. The idea is
that pests feeding on non-engineered Bt crops will mate
with pests who have developed a resistance to Bt after
feeding on the engineered Bt crop. Resistant and
non-resistant pests mating with each other could
dilute resistance traits in the offspring.
But, as reported in Organic View v.1 n.11
(http://www.purefood.org/organicview.htm), University of
Arizona researchers have found that Bt resistant pests reach
sexual maturity faster than non-resistant pests. The
findings mean that resistant pests are more likely to mate
with each other, thus the dilution process may not occur.
In genetically engineered Bt crops, the Bt toxin is spliced
into every cell of the crop. Genetically engineered Bt corn
was planted on more than 20 million acres in 1999 -
approximately one-third of all corn planted.
Organic farmers use the natural Bt in spray form as a last
ditch effort to protect their farms from pests. If pests
develop a resistance to Bt, it could be disastrous for
Last year, Cornell researchers found that pollen from
genetically engineered Bt corn was toxic to the Monarch
butterfly, which feeds off milkweed located around
cornfields. The 20-50 percent set aside for corn deals only
with the development of pest resistance, and does not
directly address the potential threat to Monarchs or other
non-target pests. Any efforts by farmers to protect the
Monarch are strictly voluntary. The EPA suggests that
farmers plant the non-engineered corn or cotton upwind from
the engineered varieties so the Bt pollen would not drift
into those parts of the field.
This amounts to an acknowledgement by the EPA that the drift
of genetically engineered pollen does occur. Unfortunately, its
new rules do nothing to address the effects such drift might
have on neighboring farms, particularly organic farms.
The new EPA rules have very weak enforcement provisions -
requiring biotech seed companies to instruct farmers about
the new rule and make sure they are complying. Biotech seed
firms are supposed to work with the farmers to report any
adverse effects to Monarchs or other wildlife as a result of
the genetically engineered crops. Unfortunately, it has been
the biotech seed firms which have vigorously denied that
genetic drift, pest resistance, and threats to the Monarch
butterfly even exist. These companies are not likely to
vigorously enforce the EPA's new rules.
In December, the US Department of Agriculture gave the go
ahead to allow the food industry to irradiate meat,
including such products as ground beef, steaks, and pork
chops. All irradiated packaged meat and meat products will
have to be labeled with the radura international symbol for
irradiation, and a statement that the product was "treated
Irradiated meat used in other products such as sausages and
bologna also must be labeled. For unpackaged meat products
that do not have labels, the statement and logo must be
displayed at the point of sale to consumers.
The labeling requirements do not apply to meat bought
through foodservice operations, such as restaurants, school
cafeterias or hospitals. This is a major loophole, because
fast-food restaurants are expected to be major purchasers of
The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of
irradiation technology for red meat in December 1997, but
the USDA took nearly two years to develop the new
regulations. The new irradiation rules for meat will go into
effect on February 22. Last year, the USDA received thousands
of comments from consumers, including many OCA members,
demanding that labeling be required and prominently
displayed for irradiated foods.
Irradiation has been approved for poultry products since
1992, but the industry has been slow to adopt the technology
because of the cost, and consistent polls indicating that
consumers don't want irradiated food. Meat packers such as
IBP Inc. are expected to start test marketing irradiated
ground beef to probe consumer response. Immediately after
the USDA announcement the Grocery Manufacturers of America
announced that they would jumpstart a public education
campaign on the benefits of irradiation.
There have been no long-term studies on the effects of
eating irradiated food. However, a number of studies have
found that eating irradiated food can have detrimental
effects. Mice and rats have been found to have a greater
incidence of kidney disease after eating irradiated food.
Another study found testicular damage in rats fed irradiated
food. Yet another study in India found that malnourished
children eating irradiated wheat may develop an increase
in abnormal white blood cells, a condition known as
Unfortunately, irradiation is seen as shortcut by the meat
industry to avoid addressing dirty slaughterhouses, rampant
bacterial contamination, and other impacts of industrial
agriculture. Certified organic meat cannot be irradiated.
For more on the potential hazards of irradiated foods, go
Following are excerpts from the Democratic presidential
debate in Johnston, Iowa, involving Vice President Al Gore
and former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, as recorded
by The New York Times:
Q. Genetically engineered products meet heavy resistance in
European countries and in Japan. . . . What can we do today?
MR. BRADLEY I think the most important thing we can do is to
use our authority under the World Trade Organization in
order to petition to get access to markets. When, for
example, Europe blocked our beef because of beef hormones,
we went to the W.T.O. We formed a dispute settlement
mechanism, we presented our case and they ruled in our
favor. . . .
But we all know that the problem of agriculture in this
country is serious. In Iowa, it's dead serious. I've talked
to thousands of family farmers over the last year. And it
means we have to change policy.
It means we have to get the antitrust division to get after
these large packers that are discriminating against family
farmers. It means that we have to have a conservation
reserve program expanded. It means that we have to provide
income supplement to farmers based upon the relationship
between price and their costs and it has to go to them with
a cap so it only goes to family farmers and not to big
MR. GORE: The question is about genetically modified
organisms, and you know the key point is we can't let Europe
and Japan determine our farm policy. The decisions . . .
really ought to be based on sound science, not science
controlled by people working for the companies that profit
from these new technologies, but neutral, dispassionate
experts who will give us the best and most accurate
conclusions about their safety. If they're safe and if they
enhance productivity at no risk, then we ought to be able to
Below are the titles and links to interesting articles
published recently on issues related to organic food and
food safety. These articles can be found on the website of
our affiliated organization, the BioDemocracy Campaign
1-13-00 Poll Shows US Farmers Will Plant Up to 26% Less GE
Crops This Year - http://www.purefood.org/ge/lessge2000.cfm
1-12-00 - Anti-GE Lawsuit Against FDA Has Clinton
Administration Worried -
1-7-00 - USDA Claims They'll Issue New Organic Standards in
February - http://www.purefood.org/Organic/usdaFebstds.cfm
12-27-99 - Organic Food Boom: 10% of European Farms Will Be
Organic by 2005 -