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THE SCOOP - March 2009 Organic Center Newsletter

Organic Center Releases Obesity and Diabetes Report

The Center is releasing on Thursday, March 5th, 2009, a "Critical Issue report" entitled "That First Step – Organic Food and a Healthier Future" written by Dr. Chris McCullum-Gomez, Dr. Charles Benbrook, and Dr. Richard Theuer. The "Executive Summary" and full report will be accessible free of charge from the Center's website at noon on March 5th.

Up-to-date statistics are presented on the magnitude of the challenge. About one-third of adults 20 to 74 years of age in the United States are obese (Body Mass Index ? 30) and another third are overweight (BMI 25.0 to 29.9).

One of the most worrisome recent developments is that overweight and obesity is rising rapidly among children, setting the stage for far more cases of Type 2 diabetes, and cases that strike earlier in life, leaving more time for the insidious complications of diabetes to erode well being and drive up health care costs.

If current obesity trends continue, by the year 2030, government scientists expect that over 85% of adults will be overweight or obese, and over one-half will be obese. The CDC projects that the rate of new diabetes cases nearly doubled over the last decade, reaching 9.1 new cases per 1,000 persons between 2005 and 2007.

The report highlights six mechanisms or ways that organic food and farming can help reverse the damaging upward spiral in overweight, obesity, and diabetes. The six are –

1. Promote healthy patterns of cell division and differentiation, and lay the groundwork for normal endocrine system regulation of blood sugars, lipids, energy intake, and immune system functions.

2. Establish and help sustain taste-based preferences in the child for familiar nutrient-dense, flavorful foods.

3. Largely eliminate dietary exposures to approximately 180 pesticides known to disrupt the development or functioning of the endocrine system.

4. Possibly help trigger or reinforce a sense of satiety, or fullness, thereby reducing excessive caloric intake at the end of satisfying meals.

5. Lessen or limit the cellular and genetic damage done by reactive oxygen species (so-called free radicals), and in this way reduce the risk of diabetes and other diseases rooted in inflammation (arthritis, cardiovascular disease) and rapid cell growth (cancer).

6. Slow, and perhaps even reverse certain neurological aspects of the aging process, leading to better memory and retention of cognitive skills.

That First Step

The last section of the report's Executive Summary describes an important, seventh way that organic food can contribute to bringing down the incidence of overweight and diabetes. This section follows –

"We have drawn upon over one-hundred fifty scientific studies in this report in describing six mechanisms through which organic food and farming can undermine, to one degree or another, the factors leading to ever-high rates of overweight and diabetes in the United States. We must conclude, however, by acknowledging there is essentially no science exploring or documenting what may be the most important mechanism of all.

Reams of consumer research shows that the conscious decision by an individual to first seek out and purchase organic food is motivated by a personal desire to improve one's own health and/or the health of family members. The decision to buy organic food requires a personal commitment, a conscious act, to try and re-orient a person's relationship with food in ways that will lead to improved well being.

Forging a new relationship with food is the critical first step that every dietitian, doctor, educator, and concerned friend is searching for as they interact with a person headed toward or already contending with overweight and diabetes.

We see anecdotal evidence in the literature and consumer surveys that the decision to start purchasing organic food is often the first of an incremental series of steps that change in progressively deeper ways a person's attitudes and behaviors toward food, diet, and health.

Even if it reaches only a segment of society, this is a trajectory of change worth supporting in every way possible, since the exact nature and order of steps taken by people who choose to establish new, healthier relationships with food matters less than steady, and for some, even urgent and sustained progress along this path."

AAAS Symposium Presenters Reach Agreement that Organic Farming Enhances Soil Quality and Delivers Nutritionally Enhanced Foods

The Organic Center, in partnership with Dr. Preston Andrews of Washington State University, proposed and sponsored a symposium at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held in Chicago, Illinois.

The February 13, 2009 symposium was entitled "Living Soil, Food Quality, and the Future of Food" and was held as part of the largest scientific meeting of the year that spans all disciplines. The AAAS meeting was held this year in Chicago, Illinois.

The panel of scientists that made presentations included Dr. Preston Andrews, Washington State University, Dr. Jerry Glover, The Land Institute, and Dr. Alyson Mitchell, University of California-Davis. The presentations made by the three panelists and other symposium information are posted on The Organic Center website.

Six encouraging conclusions on the impacts of organic farming on soil quality and the nutritional content of food were reached by the panel of scientists, and appear in full in the Commentary section.

Commenting on the well-attended symposium, Dr. Andrews said:

"The work we reviewed over the last decade points directly to two major scientific challenges – We need to understand more fully how soil biological communities process nutrients and communicate to plant roots in order to promote improved quality in organically grown crops. And second, we need better tools to help organic farmers fine-tune their production systems in order to maximize the soil and nutritional quality benefits of organic farming."

Several stories have appeared on the symposium. The presentation by Dr. Alyson Mitchell and the "Panelists Statement of Conclusions" are featured in a news story on the home-page of the University of California-Davis.


Washington State WIC Program Drops Organic Milk

The State of Washington WIC program announced in early February that it was dropping organic milk from the list of approved foods for purchase through the WIC program. The higher cost of organic milk was cited as the reason why, given that the WIC program's objective is to maximize access to nutritious foods by WIC mothers and their children.

The Organic Center explained why organic milk should be included among WIC-approved foods in October 2008 comments to the USDA.

Editors Note: This action by the Washington WIC program raises two fundamental issues. First, on what basis does the USDA and the State of Washington (and other states) deny WIC mothers the freedom to choose among brands of a clearly nutritious food? If a WIC participant is willing to supplement her WIC allotment for milk with family funds, why should she be denied that option?

Second, do the nutritional, animal health, and environmental benefits of organic milk production justify some or all of the price premium?

If government food and nutrition programs are going to start denying access to organic foods because of the price premium, the government bears an obligation to determine whether the price premium is justified by inherent quality traits in organic food and benefits to the environment from organic production systems.

In the case of organic milk, several studies have established six important benefits linked to consumption of organic milk for children, benefits that should be quantified by the WIC program before making a determination whether the organic milk price premium is or is not justified.

1. Organic milk is produced by cows not administered genetically engineered hormones to boost production, nor are they administered the multiple hormone injections used on most conventional dairy farms to improve the cost-effectiveness of artificial insemination as a primary breeding tool.

2. Organic milk production almost completely eliminates dairy cows and calves as an on-farm source of antibiotic resistant genes. The fewer newly resistant bacteria that emerge on farms, the fewer antibiotic-resistant infections will occur in people, some portion of which lead to serious, even fatal complications.

Pasture and forages play a much larger role in the diet of organic dairy cows in most states, compared to conventional cows. As a result, milk from organic cows contains substantially higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3 fatty acids, especially during months when cows have access to nutrient-rich, rapidly growing forages. Three proven benefits are linked to the higher concentrations of CLAs and omega-3s in organic milk.

3. The extra CLA in organic milk helps infants avoid excessive weight gain and body fat early in life, which sets the stage for healthier weight management later in life.

4. Breast milk from mothers consuming organic dairy and meat products contains higher levels of the human form of CLAs, and for this reason, helps to moderate excessive weight and fatty tissue development.

5. Children consuming organic milk are at lessened risk of developing eczema, an increasingly common skin disease.

Some consumers care about the way animals are treated and choose to direct their food dollars toward farms or brands that have made an explicit commitment to animal welfare. This leads to the sixth benefit of organic milk to consumers.

6. Purchase of organic milk supports farmers who have made a commitment to providing dairy animals access to pasture and a healthy living environment free of excessive stress and disease pressure.

Corn Entomologists Issue Remarkable Statement

Twenty-six university-based corn insect specialists working in 16 states issued a statement criticizing the biotechnology industry for blocking research on new transgenic corn varieties. The statement reads in full:

"Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM [Insect Resistance Management], and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited."

A story by Andrew Pollack in the New York Times on February 20th quoted some of the scientists by name, despite the risk to their careers. Ken Ostlie of the University of Minnesota is quoted in the Times piece as saying:
"If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that come out of any research."

And that is the point.

Another scientist from Cornell said that this policy of exclusion gives the biotechnology companies "the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to E.P.A."

Editor's Note: I have talked with many of these and other corn entomologists and soybean scientists over the years about this problem. The corn insect control market is worth a $1 billion in round numbers, and the competition among the three major players in the industry is fierce. So too is the competition between traditional corn insecticide-based management programs and relatively new transgenic, seed-based control options.

The biotechnology companies, especially those lacking corn insecticides in their product portfolios, are steering farmers to the transgenic solutions because they are more profitable, and because intellectual property laws provide a firmer basis to sustain monopoly-profits for each transgenic variety. Preventing land grant scientists from carrying out traditional, side-by-side research plots comparing the cost-effectiveness of transgenic corn, to corn treated with traditional insecticides, to corn grown in a rotation is an integral part of company marketing strategy.

The problem actually goes deeper. Not only does the industry block independent field research with new transgenic varieties, it can and does also deny independent researchers access to the tools necessary to do cutting-edge research on new varieties.

The "tools" are, first and foremost, the seeds of the isogenic line of a GM-corn variety. An "isogenic line" is the non-GM corn variety that contains all the genetic traits of the GM-variety, except the GM-traits. Other tools routinely denied researchers are the DNA-based probes and markers used by the companies to tract expression levels of the introduced genes in a transgenic variety.

The situation today in public Universities trying to conduct research on the performance and possible problems with transgenic corn and soybeans is worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. Independent scientists cannot even get access to the haystack without agreeing to research terms and conditions set forth by biotechnology companies. Those terms and conditions are typically onerous and fundamentally incompatible with the conduct and reporting of independent science. Until these policies are changed, the lack of trust in the science supporting transgenic crops will almost certainly persist, and for good reason.

More Steps Taken to Clamp Down on Manufacturers of Liquid Organic Fertilizers

Several additional, important steps were taken by the organic industry, USDA, and allied organizations as part of a coordinated, and now nation-wide, effort to restore trust in the integrity of liquid organic fertilizers.

On February 20th, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) issued a press release and statement disallowing use of two liquid fertilizers that had previously been approved for use on organic farms. OMRI is also supporting the work of the USDA's Office of Inspector General in their ongoing investigation of liquid fertilizers.

Also on February 20th, Barbara Robinson, Acting Director of the NOP, issued a memo to all certifying agents entitled "Input Approval Under NOP Regulations: Liquid Nitrogen Fertilizers." The memo said the NOP is "no longer confident" that two Port Organic, Ltd. Fertilizers are compliant with NOP regulations." It warns certifiers that continued use of these products by certified growers "puts their operations at considerable risk."

By October 1, 2009, the NOP is calling for third party inspections and verification that liquid fertilizers containing greater than 3% nitrogen are made from ingredients compliant with the NOP.

Alice Waters Calls for Revamping School Lunch Program

In a hard-hitting Op-Ed in the New York Times February 20, 2009, Alice Waters and Katrina Heron call for a thorough overhaul of the school lunch program. They write:

"Many nutrition experts believe that it is possible to fix the National School Lunch Program by throwing a little more money at it. But without healthy food (and cooks and kitchens to prepare it), increased financing will only create a larger junk-food distribution system. We need to scrap the current system and start from scratch."

"How much would it cost to feed 30 million American schoolchildren a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens."

Current school lunch program spending is about $9 billion. In the massive FY 2010 federal budget released by the Obama administration on February 26th, $1 billion in additional annual funding is proposed for child nutrition programs.


2009 AAAS Symposium "Living Soil, Food Quality, and the Future of Food" Panelists Statement of Conclusions"

Dr. Preston Andrews, Wash State U
Dr. Jerry Glover, The Land Institute
Dr. Alsyon Mitchell, U.C. -Davis

A growing body of sophisticated research over the last decade has compared the impacts of organic and conventional farming systems on soil and food quality. Based on this body of research, some of it carried out in our field experiments and laboratories, we can conclude that:

1. Studies of apple production demonstrate that organically farmed soils display improved soil health as measured by increased biological diversity, greater soil organic matter, and improved chemical and physical properties. Enhancement of soil quality in organic apple production systems can lead to measurable improvements in fruit nutritional quality, taste, and storability.

2. Organically farmed tomatoes have significantly higher levels of soluble solids and natural plant molecules called secondary plant metabolites, including flavonoids, lycopene, and Vitamin C. Most secondary plant metabolites are antioxidants, a class of plant compounds that have been linked to improved human health in populations that consume relatively high levels of fruit and vegetables.

3. Organic farming can, under some circumstances, delay the onset of the "dilution effect." In hundreds of studies, scientists have shown that incrementally higher levels of fertilizer negatively impact the density of certain nutrients in harvested foodstuffs, hence the name, the "dilution [of nutrients] effect." Specifically, tomatoes grown with organic fertilizers maintain constant concentrations of beneficial phenolic secondary plant metabolites and antioxidants, even as fruit grow larger, whereas concentrations of these same beneficial compounds decline with increasing fruit size when the same tomato cultivar is grown using conventional methods and fertilizer.

4. Studies of 27 cultivars of organically grown spinach demonstrate significantly higher levels of flavonoids and vitamin C, and lower levels of nitrates. Nitrates in food are considered detrimental to human health as they can form carcinogenic compounds (nitrosamines) in the GI tract and can convert hemoglobin to a form that can no longer carry oxygen in the blood.

5. The levels of secondary plant metabolites in food appear to be driven by the forms of nitrogen added to a farming system, as well as the ways in which nitrogen is processed by the biological communities of organisms in the soil. Compared to typical conventional farms, the nitrogen cycle on organic farms is rooted in substantially more complex biological processes and soil-plant interactions, and for this reason, organic farming offers great promise in consistently producing nutrient—enriched foods.

6. Organic soil fertility methods, which use less readily available forms of nutrients, especially nitrogen, improve plant gene expression patterns in ways that lead to more efficient assimilation of nitrogen and carbon in tomatoes. This improvement in the efficiency of nutrient uptake leaves plants with more energy to produce beneficial plant secondary metabolites, compounds that promote plant health as well as human health.


Benbrook Invited to Participate in Princeton Meeting on Greenhouse Gases

The Princeton University Environmental Institute is sponsoring a conference entitled "Feeding a Hot and Hungry Planet: The Challenge of Making More Food and Fewer Greenhouse Gases." The meeting will be in Princeton, New Jersey April 29-May 1, 2009.

The program includes several sessions on the role of agricultural biotechnology, featuring leaders from industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations.

Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, will be among the keynote presenters.

The meeting has been organized by Dr. Timothy Searchinger, a research scholar at the Environmental Institute.

About The Scoop

"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit

For more information

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

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