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Latest Organic News--February 2008 Organic Center Newsletter

THE SCOOP - February 2008 Organic Center Newsletter

Powerful Evidence Supports the Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle
In a massive study involving over 20,000 individuals in the U.K., scientists analyzed the impact of four lifestyle behaviors known to increase the risk of disease and premature death - smoking, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption. Individuals who avoided the four risky behaviors had a four-fold lower risk of total mortality, with an estimated positive impact on their lifespan of 14 years. The authors further point out that individuals with existing diseases also benefited from engaging in the healthy behaviors, leading the authors to conclude that "...even small differences in lifestyle may make a big difference to health in the population and encourage behavior change." This important study includes an up-to-date assessment of epidemiological studies on the impact of risky behaviors on disease risk and mortality, including studies trying to identify the key health-promoting factors in the Mediterranean Diet.  This report appears in the open-access journal, PLoS Medicine, and can be downloaded free of charge via the website below.
Source: K-T, Khaw et al., Combined Impact of Health Behaviors in Mortality in Men and Women: The EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study,"
  PLoS Medicine, January 2008, Vol. 8, Issue 1.

Methods Proposed to Verify the Integrity of Organic Production
On the crop side, a study just published in the Journal of Environmental Quality describes a nitrogen isotope tracer methodology that one day might be used to test organic food to determine whether conventional fertilizers were applied. They describe a successful application of the method to sweet pepper production.  Commercial fertilizer is made mostly from atmospheric nitrogen, which is composed almost solely of the 14N isotope.  Organically acceptable manure and compost-based fertilizers, on the other hand, contain a significant share of the 15N isotope, leading the team to use the 14N to 15N ratio as a basic indicator of whether commercial fertilizers had been applied. The team was able to distinguish between peppers grown with and without commercial fertilizers, by analyzing the ratio of nitrogen isotopes.  They conclude that the method might one day be used routinely by certifiers to check organic integrity. Such applications, however, are almost certainly a long way off, because it remains difficult to determine where to draw the line in the ratio values between fields treated and not treated with commercial fertilizers.  Several factors are known to impact the ratio including irrigation, past fertilizer use, soil type, and climate. In certifying animals, a U.K. team developed a method to tell whether pigs in the EU have been treated with a single therapeutic dose of antibiotics (allowed), versus recurrent, nontherapeutic doses in combination with therapeutic doses.  The method uses ultraviolet light to illuminate bone sections, and was successfully applied in a blind test to distinguish between samples of pork bone from animals treated with just therapeutic, versus therapeutic and nontherapeutic antibiotics. 
Sources: F.M. del Amor et al., "Isotopic Discrimination as a Tool for Organic Farming Certification in Sweet Pepper," Journal of Environmental Quality, Vol. 37, January-February 2008. M. Kelly et al., 2006, "Verification of Compliance with Organic Meat Production Standards by Detection of Permitted and Nonpermitted Uses of Veterinary Medicines (Tetracycline Antibiotics)," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 54, No. 4, pages 1523-1528.

Huge Variability Found in Sensitivity of Babies and Mothers to OP Insecticides
Latino mothers expressing low levels of an enzyme that breaks down organophosphate (OP) insecticide metabolites, PON1, were 65-times more sensitive to exposures to the OP diazinon than other mothers with normal PON1 levels, and 164-fold more sensitive to the highly dangerous OP chlopryifos. Even more worrisome, PON1 levels among newborns were four times lower than in their mothers, and varied widely.  Some infants had PON1 levels 26-times higher than others, suggesting that they would be 26-times less vulnerable to OP exposures. The genetic polymorphism that leads to low levels of PON1, the key enzyme produced by the body to detoxify OP insecticides, is widespread in the human population, and is present to some degree in an estimated half of the U.S. population.  The huge variability of PON1 levels in humans is significant not just in terms of detoxifying OP insecticides.  PON1 levels have a direct role in metabolizing other toxic chemicals, some drugs, and plays "a prominent role" in vascular disease. And last, there is clear evidence that a pregnant woman with low PON1 levels is less able to protect her developing child from OP exposures, and that the fetus can be seriously impacted by the combination of the mother's low PON1 levels, and its own naturally low levels during fetal development. While some children born to women with low PON1 levels will gain the ability to produce normal levels of PON1 from fathers carrying the gene for normal or high-PON1 production, the activity of this gene from the father takes 6 months to 2 years to be fully expressed in the child.  In the interim, the developing child is doubly vulnerable. Children born to two parents with low-PON1 genes will never regain the capacity to produce normal levels. This study focused on 130 Latino mothers in an agricultural community in central California.  The authors conclude by stating - "These findings highlight the significance of understanding the susceptibility of young children to organophosphate exposure and developing science-based risk standards for pesticide regulation as required by the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act."
Source: C.E. Furlong et al., 2006, "PON1 status of farmworker mothers and children as a predictor of organophosphate sensitivity," Pharmacogenetics and Genomics, Vol. 16, pages 183-190. Editors Note - This study proves conclusively that infants and children are up to 164-fold more sensitive than adults to chlorpyrifos exposures.  As a result of the Food Quality Protection Act, EPA applied in 2000 the mandated 10-fold added safety factor in estimating maximum allowable daily intakes of chlorpyrifos.  But this study shows that a factor of at least 164-fold is necessary. Based on my extensive work on chlorpyrifos dietary risks over the last decade, this much higher safety factor, once applied, will lead the EPA to end virtually all in-season uses of chlorpyrifos on crops producing fresh foods consumed by pregnant women and young children.  To protect the next generation of children from around the world, global action is now needed, and strongly justified by replicated science, to eliminate chlorpyrifos dietary exposures to pregnant women and children. For another way consumers can avoid exposures to chlorpyrifos and other OPs via diet in the interim, see the first item under "In the News."  

European Organic Food Research Network Publishes Major Volume of Research Findings
The FQH network and Louis Bolk Institute has published a 338-page book entitled "Organic, More Healthy?"  Machteld Huber edited the 2008 volume, which summarizes the search for biomarkers of potential health effects in organically managed chickens from consumption of organic chicken feed, and spans the safety and nutritional content of chicken feeds. The volume describes very sophisticated work on the composition of organic feeds, the physiology of the gut in organic chickens, nutrient bioavailability, and various novel techniques for understanding the qualitative differences in feed impacts on the health and growth of chickens. It is an impressive body of research - look next month for more on their findings. Editors Note: It is hard to imagine that scientists in the U.S. working on all aspects of organic animal production could fill a volume one-third the size of this FQH report with research results focusing on the quality of organic feeds, and the response of organically managed animals to organic feeds.

Countries with One-third of the World's Malnourished will Suffer Loss of Ag Productivity from Climate Change
A team of U.S. scientists reported in the February 1, 2008 Science that South Asia and Southern Africa - countries with about one-third of the world's 825 million hungry - will significantly reduce crop yields for many of the world's staple foods (D.B. Lobell et l., pages 607-610).  Corn yields are projected to decline over 35% by 2020-2039 in one region, while yields will fall between 5% and 15% in several other crop-regions Yields for a few crops will rise including sugarcane in Latin America, cowpeas in the Sahel, and barley in East Africa.  The authors note a high degree of uncertainty both in the models, and the underlying assumptions used to project climate change trends over the next 30 years.  They identify climate-change policy actions taken by countries, international organizations, and companies as one major variable that is hard to predict.  

Dairy Products Reduce and Diet Soda Increases Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Mostly expected, but one surprising insight into the dietary causes of Metabolic Syndrome (high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, abnormal sugar metabolism) have been published online January 22nd  in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.  The scientists studied 9,514 individuals aged 45 to 64 years and broke the group into those consuming a "Western" high-fat diet, and a "prudent" diet high in fruits and vegetables. Study participants were followed for nine years.  Just under 40% developed Metabolic Syndrome (MS).  After adjusting for all known risk factors, the team concluded that the "Western" diet was associated with Metabolic Syndrome, and that three food types increase the risk of MS: meat, fried foods, and surprisingly, diet soda. The study also reported some good news - consumption of dairy products was beneficial and reduced risk of MS. 
Source: P.L. Lutsey et al., "Dietary Intake and the Development of the Metabolic Syndrome.  The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study," Circulation, published online January 22, 2008:
Glyphosate Applications Found to Increase Sugar Beet Disease Risk in Roundup Ready Sugar Beets
Sugar beets genetically engineered to withstand applications of glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide have been approved by the USDA and will be planted widely in 2008, unless a lawsuit arguing for a halt in commercial sales is successful. Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets will be the first new genetically engineered food crop approved and commercialized in nearly a decade. USDA scientists studied the impacts of the genetic transformation of sugar beets to make them RR, as well as the spraying of glyphosate herbicide on growing sugar beets.  They did not find any impact of the genetic transformation in the absence of glyphosate applications, but did find that glyphosate sprays increased root disease severity, in some cases dramatically.  One strain of Fusarium caused 40% mortality in the plants. The scientists also reported a change in the production of shikimic acid in the RR sugar beets following applications of Roundup, indicating that the herbicide had a physiological impact on the plant related to the plant's defense mechanisms.  This same finding has been observed in other RR crops, and is believed to be a cause of the heightened risk of root diseases in RR sugar beets and RR soybeans. 
Source: R.L. Larson, et al., "Influence of glyphosate on Rhizoctonia and Fusarium root rot in sugar beet," Pest Management Science, Vol. 62, 2006.

OP Insecticide Exposures Virtually Eliminated After Just a Few Days on a Predominantly Organic Diet
Dr. Alex (Chensheng) Lu of Emory University has published with colleagues the third study on the impact of a diet composed of predominantly organic food on exposures to OP insecticides among school age children.  The study was published online January 15, 2008 by the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives (available free at:
). This study builds on two earlier experiments, also involving school age children and OP exposures.  The new study, like the first two, found an immediate and dramatic reduction in OP urinary metabolites of the OP insecticides chlorpyrifos and malathion.   The children's urine was tested prior to the switch to a predominantly organic diet, then during five days on the organic diet, and then for five days after the switch back to a conventional diet. Unlike earlier studies, urinary metabolite levels were tested in all four seasons, leading to a significant new finding.  There appears to be a distinct peak in OP exposures during the winter months as a result of the consumption of imported fresh fruits and vegetables.  Data collected by the USDA shows clearly that imported produce during the winter months has, on average, much higher levels of chlorpyrifos than domestically grown produce sold during the summer and fall. The Lu study provides direct evidence, based on human bio-monitoring and USDA pesticide residue data, of a peak in OP exposures during the winter from the nation's heavy reliance on imported produce.  Earlier reports by the Center projected that such a spike in exposures was occurring, and called for greater attention by the EPA in reducing exposures from imports. (See our "Critical Issue Report" entitled "Successes and Lost Opportunities to Reduce Children's Exposures to Pesticides Since the Mid-1990s")

Source: C. Lu et al., 2008, "Dietary Intake and Its Contribution to Longitudinal Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure in Urban/Suburban Children," Environmental Health Perspectives, published online January 15, 2008

Supply of Organic Food Lagging Far Behind Demand
Recent articles in both the U.S. and Great Britain have highlighted the growing gap between the demand for organic food and the supply. In the U.K. in 2002, 70% of organic food was imported, but today's share is only 30%.  This major change has been driven by retailers that have discouraged suppliers from importing organic food from abroad.  As a result, the demand for locally produced organic products has overwhelmed the ability of U.K. farmers to expand production.  Items in short supply include fresh produce, meat, cereal, and eggs.
Sources: Tom Karst, "Demand for Organics exceeds U.K. supply," The Packer, February 4, 2008

New Studies Cast a Long Shadow over the Footprint of Biofuels
"Almost all biofuels today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels..." begins a February 8th piece in the New York Times.  The Times reports the findings of two new scientific studies, both published in Science.  One estimated the emissions from converting rainforests to sugar cane and oil palm plantations. It turns out that mature rainforests absorb far more carbon than crop fields or oil palm plantations, because of the much denser and species-rich canopy and ecosystem.  Plus, the burning and clearing of the forests releases an enormous amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University and lead author of one of the studies told the Times that there had been an "accounting error" in past studies - the impacts of land use change had been left out of the equation. The second study focused on the clearing of grasslands for biofuel production and found that it would take 93 years of biofuel production from the land to "save" the amount of carbon released in year one, when the grassland was converted. Ten leading U.S. scientists have sent a letter to President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging a reform of biofuels policy, given new evidence that the requirements for biofuels in U.S. law will worsen global warming and lead to the clearing of virgin rainforests. The Renewable Fuels Association has already attacked the two new studies as "overly simplistic."

Wheat Industry Ready to Go with GMOs
The "green light" for GMOs has been given by the Joint Biotech Committee of U.S. Wheat Associates, reversing a policy in place for several years.  The Committee even stated support of a U.S. release of a GMO-wheat before approval in our major exporting countries and in Australia and Canada, the world's other two major wheat exporters. Apparently, industry leaders are convinced that record wheat prices have already, or will soften opposition to GMO-wheat technology.
Source: The Capitol Press, February 8, 2008

More Worries re Bt Resistance, This Time in Cotton
Last month the bad news in "The Scoop" on the Bt-resistance front involved  the low Bt-expression levels in volunteer corn.  This month, it is cotton, and the news is far worse.  The first documented case of Bt-resistance in the U.S. from the planting of GE-crops has now been officially acknowledged by a team of university entomologists. Bt-resistant bollworms (Helicoverpa zea) have been found in more than a dozen cotton fields in Mississippi and Arkansas, with the first resistant populations found in 2003.  It took seven years after the commercial introduction of Bt-cotton for resistance to evolve, according to the team.
Source: B. Tabashnik, et al., "Insect resistance to Bt crops: Evidence versus Theory," Nature Biotechnology, February 2008. Editors Note: The Consumers Union book Pest Management at the Crossroads (PMAC) came out in the fall of 1996, the year Bt-cotton was commercialized.  The section on Bt crops (pages 167-168) states: "Bt-transgenic plants are engineered to produce Bt endotoxin systemically (inside the plant) at high enough levels to control feeding insects...[Bt crops] are the genetic-engineering equivalent of calendar-spraying..[and] are bound to accelerate the emergence of resistance to Bt." A box in PMAC quotes a well-respected Texas A+M entomologist, Dr. Marvin Harris, who stated in 1991: "First, resistance [to Bt cotton] is inevitable...If Bt toxins are simultaneously deployed against Helicoverpes in cotton, corn, and sorghum, I predict perhaps 25 to 75 generations (3 to 9 years) will elapse before resistance renders the technology useless."

Nature Magazine Editorial Makes the Case --"Don't ban labels"
In a surprising departure from its usual pro-genetic engineering position, Nature magazine ran an editorial in their February 2008 issue arguing against the current attempt in the U.S. to ban labels on food products, like milk cartons announcing no use of rBST. Nature starts by explaining that "...shoppers are clamouring for information.  And many food companies are happy to supply it..."  The editorial cites and dismisses the standard industry arguments against rBST-free labels - there is no way to enforce them, and second, they will confuse consumers.  They go on to state: "The hormone injections may not affect the milk, but they are rough on the cows: producing all that milk causes problems such as udder infections and lameness. For some consumers, this may be sufficient reason to avoid milk from dairies using the injections..." "There are good reasons not to ban accurate labels.  More information means that consumers can be more discerning....They can vote with their purchases for farming practices they prefer." This editorial is a must-read, and ends with an intriguing prediction of what would happen if consumers really got "rational" in their food choices.

The Seattle-based lawyer that has litigated most human cases of E. coli O157 poisoning has won over $300 million in judgments against food companies.  He has gone to trial just once.  - leading to a $4.6 million verdict against a Washington State school district where 11 kids got sick from cafeteria food.
Source: Associated Press, February 5, 2008

The number of hog farms in the U.S. decreased more than 70% between 1992 and 2004.  The average number of pigs per farm rose five-fold in this period. The cost of pork production fell by almost one-half between 1992 and 2004 as a result of over 6% annual increases in productivity linked to larger scale operations.
Source: "Characteristics and Production Costs of U.S. Hog Farms, 2004," USDA Economic Research Service

The sulfur content of distillers grain from ethanol production is four to seven times higher than in corn, leading to significant risks for cattle fed distillers grain.  Impacts could include reduced feed and water intakes and an increase the shedding of E. coli O157.
Source: "Cattle Feeding: Nutrient Concentration and Variability of Distillers Grains," January 30, 2008, accessible at:

Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., to Present at The Organic Center's 5th Annual VIP Dinner:
"Serious Science, Serious Benefits"

When: Friday, March 14, 2008, 7:30 - 9:30 PM at Natural Products Expo West
Where: Platinum Ballroom, Anaheim Marriott, Anaheim, CA
Join us for the 5th Annual VIP Dinner: "Serious Science, Serious Benefits" and enjoy an informative and lively evening with a welcoming address by world renowned holistic physician and author Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. VIP Dinner Tickets are $175 and include a pass to the Organic Trade Association's 2008 Organic Industry Reception, 6 - 8PM in the Grand Ballroom, Anaheim Marriott, with a Silent Auction to benefit The Organic Center.  For OTA members, tickets to the dinner are being offered for $150, a $25 discount. This is an important annual fundraising gathering for The Organic Center. We welcome organic business leaders, old friends and extend a warm invitation to new friends to gather with us. Come learn about our ongoing efforts to generate credible, peer-reviewed scientific information and communicate the verifiable benefits of organic farming and products to society. Your company can participate in several ways

To buy tickets, become a sponsor, host a table or donate product please contact, Development Director,  Seleyn DeYarus, at 303.499.1840, or email Seleyn DeYarus. Oregon Tilth Annual Meeting Focuses on Organic Integrity January 18-19, 2008

Chuck Benbrook's workshop presentation entitled "Organic Food and Nutritional Value: Current Research on the Benefits of Organic Eating" has been posted.  

Major Organic Session Approved for October Meeting of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Over 15,000 dietitians and nutrition educators typically attend the annual meeting of the ADA, which will be held this year October 26-28 in Chicago.  The organic session is entitled "The Science of Organics: Nourishing the Land, Animals, and People in the 21st Century".  STAC member Chris McCullum-Gomez will moderate the session.  Chuck Benbrook and Helen Costello are the speakers.  Susan Roberts submitted the successful proposal to the ADA. Thanks to Organic Valley for agreeing to underwrite the costs of the session.  

Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths is a ground breaking compilation of  the most current research on organic agriculture.  This highly readable and graphically stunning 108-page coffee table book documents the verifiable health and environmental benefits of organic products Core Truths includes fascinating research about why:

* 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.

The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513 Boulder, CO USA 80308
tel 303.499.1840 fax 419.858.1042