Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Current Science & News on Organic Agriculture (August 7, 2007)

I. Linkage Established Between Pesticides and Autism

For years epidemiologists have seen hints of a link between pesticide exposure and autism. As of July 30, 2007, these days are over. Scientists working for the California Department of Health Services have found that pregnant women living near fields sprayed with the common insecticides dicofol and endosulfan were six-times more likely to give birth to children with "Autism Spectrum Disorders" (ASD) than women living many miles from treated fields.

Six-times higher risk - it is very rare for such a large and statistically significant difference to be found in a study of this kind. Plus, the authors report that the closer a mother lived to treated fields, and/or the more pounds of pesticides applied, the greater the risk. These two insecticides are the last widely used organochlorines - the family of insecticides including DDT, chlordane, aldrin, and toxaphene, among others. Both are known endocrine disruptors, they are persistent in the environment, and bioaccumulate up food chains. Residues of these insecticides, in particular endosulfan, are common in conventional fruits and vegetables, especially imports. This study should compel the EPA to finally take decisive action to end exposures to these two insecticides. The full study appeared in the online version of Environmental Health Perspectives and is available free of charge.

II. Organic Milk and Meat Dramatically Enhances the Nutritional Quality of Mom's Breast Milk

Mothers consuming mostly organic milk and meat products were found to have about 50 percent higher levels of rumenic acid in their breast milk. This Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is responsible for most of the health benefits of CLAs in milk and meat. The authors of this European study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in June 2007 report that the greater reliance of organic beef and dairy farmers on pasture and forage grasses increases the levels of CLAs in milk and beef, and in turn in the breast milk of women eating organic animal products. Details on the study are on the Center's website.

III. Organic Farming Practices Improve Water Quality in Minnesota

A team of University of Minnesota scientists studied the impact of organic and sustainable agricultural practices over three years on subsurface drainage and water quality in southwestern Minnesota. Their focus was on corn-soybean farms. They found that organic and sustainable systems reduced the volume of subsurface drainage water discharges by 41 percent,­ a major benefit for the farmer, especially in dry years when lack of soil moisture cuts back yields. Organic and sustainable systems also reduced the loss of nitrate nitrogen by about 60 percent, allowing farmers to reduce fertilization rates by nearly half without sacrificing yields in most years. The improved soil quality on the organic/sustainable plots, coupled with more diverse land use patterns, were credited by the team with improving the efficiency of nutrient uptake and water infiltration and use, especially in average to wet years. The full text of the University of Minnesota study is available free of charge.

IV. Organically Grown Melons Deliver More Vitamin C and Polyphenols

 During the 2007 annual meeting of the American Society for Horticultural Science, a team from Colorado State University reported encouraging results from a two-year comparison of organic and conventional melon production systems. The team highlighted the impact of crop genetics on total antioxidant activity, which varied over ten-fold across varieties. Crop genotype accounted for 65 percent of this variation, with production system accounting for most of the rest. Organic management was found to increase both vitamin C and polyphenol. The team's work is ongoing, and has expanded to include some key Colorado vegetable crops.

V. Pesticide Exposures Increase Risk of Gestational Diabetes

The Agricultural Health Study, underway for over a decade, has produced valuable data on the impacts of pesticides on human health. In an important March 2007 paper in "Diabetes Care," a team of government scientists found that pregnant women exposed to pesticides occupationally (i.e., spraying, mixing pesticides) had more than double the risk of developing gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). Four herbicides, including two in the phenoxy herbicide class that also includes 2,4-D (see the item on pesticide use and biotech crops below), plus three insecticides were found to be associated with elevated risk of gestational diabetes. Additional information on this study is on the Center's website. "Science of Organics" Session at Nutrition Conference Draws Praise The Organic Center's Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook, and Dr. Meg Cattell, a Colorado organic dairy farmer and veterinarian, teamed up for a highly successful symposium moderated by Board member Theresa Marquesz. It was held August 1, 2007 at the annual meeting of the Society for Nutrition Education (SNE), in Chicago. The all-new, 97-slide presentation covered the impacts of organic food and farming on taste, pesticide risks, nutrient density, antioxidants, food safety, dairy cow health, beneficial fats in milk, and antibiotic use and resistance.

The session was well attended ­ and extremely well received. SNE leaders have asked the Center to consider proposing a similar session at the 2008 meeting of the American Dietetic Association, a far larger meeting. We are working on it with a group of SNE leaders.

Thanks to Organic Valley for proposing and sponsoring the SNE session, and helping with the slides. "Friends of the Center" can request the full Powerpoint file from Dr. Benbrook. The presentation is posted on the Center's website in pdf format, six slides to a printed page.

The Impact of Crop Yields on Nutritional Quality ­
The Discussion Widens

The work of The Organic Center has helped bring a critical issue back onto agriculture's radar screen ­ the impacts of ever-rising crop yields, and production levels in livestock systems, on the nutritional quality of food. Our 2006 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting symposium "Understanding and Nourishing the Roots of Food Quality" was the first significant airing of concerns at a national scientific meeting over the impact of yields on nutrient density and food quality, and now, several ongoing Organic Center projects are focusing on this question. Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook was invited to participate in a July 18, 2007 colloquium at the annual meeting of the American Society for Horticultural Science focusing on the key question ­ "Crop Yield and Quality: Can We Maximize Both?" His answer, in a nutshell, was "No," at least if one's definition of "crop quality" includes nutrient density, taste, and the presence/absence of pesticides. His meeting paper, "The Impacts of Yield on Nutritional Quality: Lessons from Organic Farming," will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Society's peer-reviewed journal "HortScience," and is now posted on the Center's website. The Center Responds The July 27, 2007 "Denver Post" ran a bizarre commentary calling into question the benefits of organic food and farming. Several factual errors and tortured leaps of logic were included. Letters to the editor have been submitted by OTA, The Center, and no doubt many others. Our letter notes that the author, Jackie Avner, has been involved with the commercialization of genetically engineered pets, and apparently Ms. Avner felt that trashing organic would somehow create a soft and fuzzy feeling among pet owners shopping for a genetically-enhanced clone of the family's favorite friend. On July 16, 2007, "The Packer" ran an editorial entitled "Don't give up on the kids." It noted that some USDA-funded programs aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in schools have failed to bring about significant or lasting increases. The editorial noted that other programs are working, and that the USDA needs to figure out what works, what doesn't, and why. The Center agrees and submitted a letter to the editor driving home a key point -

"The fresh produce industry has important work to do in order to accelerate progress in shifting U.S. dietary patterns, especially among kids. Perhaps first and foremost, schools, food service staff -- and parents -- need reliable access to fruits and vegetables that taste really good, that are appealing, and that are fresh and ripe. Too many kids get turned off to fresh produce early, and for good reason." About a week after submitting the above letter to "The Packer," Chuck Benbrook had the pleasure of participating in two school lunch lottery programs during the Society for Nutrition Education annual meeting in Chicago. The lunch sessions were held at a Chicago charter school, and were sponsored by Organic Valley (a school lunch lottery program starter kit is available to help a group in your community sponsor a similar school lunch lottery program). Each attendee drew a lottery ticket: one redeemable for a healthy lunch made from scratch based on recipes from Chief Ann Cooper of Berkeley School District fame (chicken breast, rice, salad, fruit); another for a healthy bag lunch (turkey sandwich, fresh pear, carrots, and organic milk); and a third for a normal school lunch (deep-fried chicken nuggets, fried tater tots, cole slaw, and a rice crispy bar). Attendees at each table were encouraged to discuss their meals and the health consequences for children. Chuck drew the healthy bag lunch ticket on day two. The sandwich was delicious, but the pear ­ see accompanying picture -- was a perfect example of one of the problems highlighted in "The Packer" letter. It was far harder than an average apple, was very difficult to bite into, and tasted, well to be honest, somewhere between awful and null. No wonder some kids don't eat the fruits and vegetables served to them. The California Bartlett Pear Commission clearly has some work to do on behalf of the nation's kids (and taxpayers). "Connecting the Dots" Many of the problems plaguing the American food system have their roots in excesses of nutrients and calories, poor choices of food and farm technologies, and a general-system failure to solve management problems with management solutions. In a July 28th speech at the Kickapoo Country Fair in La Farge, Wisconsin, Chuck Benbrook tried to connect some of the key dots linking today's food system challenges with pragmatic, cost-effective organic food and farming solutions. USDA Ag Biotechnology Advisory Committee Gets an Earful During the August 1, 2007 meeting of the USDA agricultural biotechnology advisory committee (AC21), Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety performed a public service by providing some actual data and facts on the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops and the impacts of GM crops on pesticide use. In his presentation, Freese pointed out that herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop varieties account for 81 percent of global GM-crop plantings, and therefore, dominate the overall impact of agricultural GM technology. Plus, this is not likely to change any time soon since HT crops account for half of the dozen new GM technologies under review by USDA for "deregulation." Citing recent USDA data and past work by the Center's Chief Scientist Chuck Benbrook ("GE Crops and Pesticide Use in the U.S.: The First Nine Years"), Freese dismantles the myth that GM crops have reduced pesticide use. One major reason ­ the emergence of several glyphosate resistant weeds that are spreading fast across the nation's major production regions. To combat resistant weeds in soybean fields in 2006, compared to 2005 herbicide treatments, conventional farmers had to apply:

42 percent more glyphosate (Roundup and related products); and, 129 percent more 2,4-D (known to trigger reproductive problems and birth defects in agricultural communities).

Questions from the Arab World on Genetically Engineered Foods

A journalist in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, recently posed to the Center a set of challenging questions regarding the safety and impacts of genetically modified foods exported from the United States to Arab countries. The questions raised by this journalist provide insight into GM food concerns in the Arab world, and point to why demand is likely to grow for certified organic food exports from the United States to Arab countries. Access the Q+A on the Center's website, and find out what the deal is with "Enviropig."

Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming

The Center's groundbreaking 108-page coffee table book is still available. Core Truths provides an overview of the science showing that:

Organic often tastes better

Organic produce contains, on average, 30 percent higher levels of antioxidants Organic farming can cut mycotoxin risk by over 50 percent Organic food dramatically reduces pesticide exposure Organic farms typically use less energy

Order your copy now! Only $30 (plus $5 shipping and handling in US). Click here for a preview of the book. Click here to order. Donate $100 Now! Receive Free Copy of Core Truths Be a part of supporting vital research about the science behind organic. Make a gift of $100 to The Organic Center now, and we'll send you a free, hard-cover copy of our groundbreaking new book, Core Truths (a $35 value.) Click here to donate. Joining the Mission Learn how your company can grow the market for organic-and your bottom line with Mission Organic The Organic Center's Mission Organic Affinity Partnership Program gives you the tools to help educate your customers about the quantifiable benefits of buying organic. You'll be a part of helping to grow the U.S. market for organic from 3 percent to 10 percent by 2010. For more information about this free affinity program, click here. To join Mission Organic 2010 as an individual, click here. Learn the health and environmental impact of Mission Organic 2010, click here.

About The Organic Center... Backed by the world's leading scientists, physicians and scholars, The Organic Center is passionately 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 or to join Mission Organic 2010, go to: www.organic-center.org.



 The Organic Center | PO Box 20513 | Boulder | CO | 80308