Wisconsin Research Shows (Again) that Organic Farming is as Productive as Conventional and that Weeds and Weather Matter
The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials (WICST) have produced a series of important findings. The latest focuses on the productivity of organic corn-soybean systems and concludes that organic farms can be essentially as productive as nearby conventional farms.
Organic corn and soybean yields were on average 90% of conventional yields, and organic forage crop yields were the same as conventional yields. In years where organic farmers could carry out early-season weed control on a timely basis, corn and soybean yields were the same.
In years with wet weather in the spring, however, organic yields can suffer when mechanical cultivation of weeds is delayed. But in dry years, organically managed crops often yield higher than conventional crops because of the ability of soils on organic farms to more quickly take in rainfall.
It is worth noting that the approximate 10% lower corn and soybean yields on organic farms likely results in 15% to 25% higher concentrations of protein, some vitamins, and overall antioxidant activity. The increase in nutrient density likely more than makes up fully for the modest yield reduction.
Part of the increase in organic corn and soybean nutrient density is directly linked to lower yields and the “dilution effect” (see the “Still No Free Lunch” report for a detailed discussion), with the balance of the difference attributed to the ability of soils on organic farms to increase flavonoid and antioxidant levels.
Source: J.L. Posner et al., “Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping System Trials: I. Productivity 1900-2002,” Agronomy Journal, Vol. 100, No. 2, 2008
Better Than Eating Worms?
The third study by Alex (Chensheng) Lu and colleagues on the impact of an organic diet on children’s exposures to organophosphate (OP) insecticides has been published in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
We covered the results of this study in the February “The Scoop,” based on the January online version.
In a news report on the study in the journal, EHP highlights the study’s findings and reports that:
“..conventionally produced foods were the primary source of OP pesticide exposure for the children in the study. They also attribute higher dietary exposures to imported produce eaten in the winter and spring when domestic produce is not available.”
The Center has highlighted the dramatic shift that has occurred in the geographic sources of high-risk pesticide residues in food. Ten years ago, over 75% of pesticide dietary risk was associated with consumption of domestic produce, with imports accounting for less than 25%. Today, the shares are reversed. Moreover, the spike in pesticide exposures from residues in imported fruits and vegetables occurs in a 3-5 month period.
This new report provides the first human biomonitoring data that verifies that this shift has in fact occurred.
Sources: “Better than Eating Worms? Children’s Dietary Exposure to OP Pesticides,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 4, April 2008
C. Lu et al., “Dietary Intake and Its Contribution to Longitudinal Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure in Urban/Suburban Children,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 4, April 2008
Government Scientists Worried by Slippage in Food Safety
Progress was made nationally between 1996 and 2004 in reducing the frequency of five of six major foodborne illnesses caused by the most common bacterial and viral pathogens, but risks have increased since based on newly released 2007 “FoodNet” data, and in some cases dramatically.
A chilling article in the April 11, 2008, issue of the Centers for Disease Control’s electronic journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review (pages 336-370) reports the 2007 results of “FoodNet,” the CDC’s major system for tracking the number of cases of foodborne illness from bacteria like Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, Vibrio, and Yersinia species.
The frequency of Cryptosporidium infections rose 44% from 1996-1998 to 2007.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is the sometimes deadly complication of exposure to STEC (Shiga-toxin producing E. Coli) O157 that can cause serious kidney damage. The rate of HUS declined between 2001 and 2004, but increased in both 2005 and 2006. There were 21 major recalls of ground beef products in 2007 – 10 associated with E. coli O157 illness outbreaks. According to the CDC –
“Additional efforts are needed to control STEC [E. coli] O157 in cattle and to prevent its spread to other food animals and food products, such as produce.”
The incidence of Salmonella infections is a special cause for concern, since the level of infections for several serotypes is increasing, and the current rate is more than double the national goal.
New “State of Science Reviews” Deepen the Science Supporting Two Key Benefits of Organic Food
The Center’s two new SSRs are getting around. The pesticide SSR is entitled “Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Option” and was released March 10, 2008. Access the full 49-page report, the Executive Summary, and press release on the Center’s website.
The Center has already distributed thousands of copies of “Organic Essentials” the consumer-friendly pocket-guide brochure listing the conventional foods that pose the most significant pesticide risks. The brochure is currently being reprinted.
The SSR “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Planted-Based Organic Foods” was released March 18th. The study found that average levels of 11 nutrients are 25% higher in organic foods compared to conventional foods, based on 236 scientifically valid comparisons. Access the full report, Executive Summary, and supplemental material or the press release on the Center’s website.
Proanthocyanidins Block the Formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts
Cinnamon An important new study has shown for the first time that plant phytochemicals, such as the proanthocyanidins in cinnamon bark and several fruits and vegetables, can block the formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs) in the human bloodstream.
AGEs are rapidly emerging as a major public health concern because of their stability and toxicity. Some AGEs are ingested through the diet, while others are formed in the body. Substantial evidence suggests that modern food production, processing, and cooking methods have significantly increased AGE levels in food.
We have covered in past issues of “The Scoop” recent research that shows clear correlations between a person’s risk of Type II diabetes, the level of AGEs in their bloodstream, and risk of coronary heart disease. It is also known that AGEs can dramatically impair several aspects of the body’s immune response, and that AGEs slow healing.
This new study is the first to show that a common antioxidant in food can block the formation of AGEs. Antioxidants block AGE formation by actively scavenging carbonyl species – an important class of reactive oxygen species (ROS), otherwise known as “free radicals.”
We know that organic farming increases antioxidant levels by about 25% to 30%, compared to conventional farming. Accordingly, enhanced blockage of the formation of AGEs may soon emerge as a new health benefit associated with consumption of organic food.
Source: X. Peng et al., “Cinnamon Bark Proanthocyanidins as Reactive Carbonyl Scavengers To Prevent the Formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, March 26, 2008, pages 1907-1911
What Beverages Deliver the Greatest Antioxidant Boost per Serving?
Fruit juices, tea, and wine are among the most popular beverages and in addition to satisfying thirst, they are important sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and calories. The February 27, 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry includes a detailed comparative assessment of the antioxidant content 12 widely consumed beverages. Red Wine
The team of scientists from UCLA and Israel used four different measures of antioxidant activity, since different tests lead to somewhat different results across foods and antioxidant polyphenols. The findings are interesting –
* The top three of 12 beverages were pomegranate juice, red wine, and concord grape juice based on the DPPH test method.
* Pomegranate juice was 57-times more potent than apple juice in inhibiting the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins.
* Pomegranate juice scored 95.8 on an “Antioxidant Potency Composite Index” that the authors developed, compared to 68.3 for red wine and 14.6 for apple juice.
* The three teas tested fell near the bottom of the list in terms of the composite index, with values of 12 to 24.
The results of this study drive home the message that for people looking for simple ways to choose antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, deeper and darker colors are reliably correlated with high antioxidant levels.
The “Antioxidant Potency Composite Index” is a useful methodological innovation that researchers or companies working on antioxidant levels might be able to take advantage of in sorting through the results from the several methods used to quantify antioxidant levels.
Source: “Comparison of Antioxidant Potency of Commonly Consumed Polyphenol-Rich Beverages in the United States,” N.P. Seeram et al., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, pages 1415-1422
Copper Residues in Soils Not a Serious Problem in Australian Vineyards
Click once to zoom in.Copper fungicides are one of the most widely used disease control technology on both organic and conventional farms. The heavy use of copper fungicides in grape production in Europe led to the buildup of copper levels in soils to as much as 1,280 milligram of copper per kilogram of soil. Copper fungicides are also heavily used by potato growers to combat blight disease. Some organic certification authorities in Europe have already phased out copper fungicides, others are planning to do so in the next few years.
It remains to be seen whether the USDA’s National Organic Program will follow suit. Assuming the EU ends copper fungicide use in organic production, trade frictions with Europe could emerge over treatment of copper fungicides.
This is why this new study will be of interest around the world. Scientists tested copper levels in vineyards throughout Australian and found levels 10-fold lower than in Europe. Levels present in Australian vineyards are too low to cause lethal effects, but do pose a risk of sublethal effects on some soil invertebrates (e.g., inhibit growth, impair reproduction).
Source: A.M. Wightwick et al., “Copper Fungicide Residues in Australian Vineyard Soils,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56, April 9, 2008, pages 2457-2464
Using Genetic Engineering to Accomplish What Nature Already Does
Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) is an enzyme that plays a role in triggering a plant’s defense mechanisms against sucking and chewing insects and plant diseases. It also controls the browning process in many fruits. Given the role of PPO in keeping plants healthy, scientists have for years looked for ways to increase the expression of PPO.
Breeders have often selected for varieties with enhanced disease and insect resistance by monitoring PPO levels.
In 2005 a team of Spanish scientists showed that organic grape production doubled the activity of PPO in grapes, linking the increase to the need for the organic vines to combat various bacterial and viral pathogens (Nunez-Delicado et al., 2005).
In 2008 scientists have genetically engineered (GE) tomato plants to force them to over-express PPO by a factor of 1.5 to 7.3-fold, offering the promise of improved resistance to insects and pathogens (Mahanil et al., 2008).
The differences in these two approaches to achieve the same goal are notable. The 2-X increase in PPO in organic grapes was achieved by creating a healthier, more balanced cropping environment, and letting plants rely on their own genetic potential in combating pests. Faced with the need to limit pest damage, the plants increased PPO levels on their own and at no added cost to the farmer.
But with the GE-tomatoes, the 1.5-X to 7.3-X increase in PPO comes at a considerable cost to the integrity of the plant’s genome, and is triggered whether the plant needs to defend itself or not. Plus, it is very unlikely farmers will be able to buy tomato seeds genetically engineered to over-produce PPO at the same cost of conventional seeds.
One of the pillars of Integrated Pest Management is to save the big guns for when they are really needed. Engineering plants to continuously express an enzyme like PPO, regardless of need, makes as much sense as keeping one’s foot on the gas pedal when the need arises to apply the brake.
Sources: E. Nunez-Delicado et al., “Effect of Organic Farming Practices on the Level of Latent Polyphenol Oxidase in Grapes,” Journal of Food Science, Vol. 70, No. 1, 2005
S. Mahanil et al., “Overexpression of tomato polyphenol oxidase increases resistance to common cutworm,” Plant Science, Vol. 174, No. 4, April 2008
In The News
Executive Summary of Nutrient Content SSR Posted in Spanish
Executive Summary Spanish Version
By popular demand from the growing organic community in Spain and Latin America, we have translated the Executive Summary of the SSR “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Organic Plant-based Foods” into Spanish. Thanks to report co-author Jaime Yanez for the translation and encouragement to make this important set of findings accessible to our friends in the South.
Advisory Committee Calls for Organic Research “Roadmap”
In a report full of praise for organic food and farming, the “National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board” has called upon the USDA to produce an organic research roadmap and to continue increasing support for organic farmers and researchers.
Mark Lipson, Policy Program Director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation presented a statement before the NAREEE that included the justification for a substantial increase in USDA funding for organic farming and food research.
Source: Letter dated March 5, 2008 to the USDA Secretary Edward Schafer, from the Chair, NAREEE.
“The War on Bugs” Traces the Roots of America’s Fixation on Pesticides
Will Allen’s War on BugsLong-time organic farmer and activist Will Allen has produced a fascinating, entertaining and eye-popping book on the marketing messages and images that opened the door to chemical pesticides. The cartoons are priceless (a classic example follows in the “Do You Know” section) and help explain why so many people have such a laissez-faire attitude toward pesticides.
The book is published by Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Junction, Vermont.
Six Artificial Food Colors Banned in the U.K.
When it comes to source of color in food –
* Dark + artificial = BAD
* Dark + natural = GOOD
The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom has decided to ban six food colors to reduce the risk of mood swings and other neurological and behavioral problems in children following consumption of cakes, cookies, drinks and other brightly colored sweets.
Remarkably, researchers projected that removal of these food colors from all food could prevent 30% of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) cases.
Source: “Food agency calls for ban on six artificial colours,” Independent.co.uk, April 11, 2008.
Four OP Insecticides Targeted in Lawsuit
A coalition of environmental and farmworker groups led by Earthjustice have filed a lawsuit against the EPA seeking cancellation of the high-risk organophosphate (OP) insecticides methidathion, oxdemeton-methyl, methamidophos, and ethroprop.
These insecticides are used on a variety of fruits and vegetables, have been found in California schoolyards and homes, and Monterey Bay. Even very low exposures can trigger serious nervous system developmental abnormalities when pregnant women and infants are exposed at critical stages of development.
Like other lawsuits targeting specific pesticides, this action will take years to progress through the courts and an enormous effort to bring to closure, unless all the registrants choose to settle. This rarely happens because there are always a few companies that decide to fight until the bitter end, or at least as long as there is still demand for their high-risk pesticide products.
They have good reasons to do so — federal law profoundly tilts the evidentiary playing field in favor of pesticide registrants in this kind of case, and the EPA has to argue the case that the products can be used safely. The manufacturers bear no burden in proving the safety of their products.
GM-Crop Yields Continue to Lag
The Soil Association has released a report showing that today’s genetically-modified plants do not produce higher yields, and in some cases actually depress yields. One of the primary sources of data supporting this conclusion in the Soil Association report is the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A Kansas study is cited that reports a 9% yield drag with Roundup Ready soybean varieties – about the same as the yield drag evident in multiple land grant university varietal trials carried out a decade ago. Recall from the March “The Scoop” the item about Bollgard II cotton, soon to be marketed by Monsanto, replacing the first-generation Bt cotton. Bollgard II cotton costs $113 more per acre and yields 100 less pounds of lint per acre.
It is not surprising that the transformation of crops to make them herbicide tolerant, or produce Bt toxins in leaf tissues, reduces yield potential. Insertion of foreign DNA to alter key plant biosynthetic pathways is bound to have some unanticipated and sometimes negative consequences.
Wal-Mart Decision to Sell rBGH-Free Milk Viewed as “Tipping Point”Got BGH?
According a news report, Thursday March 20, 2008, will be remembered as the “tipping point” in the 15-year struggle to free the American milk supply of Monsanto’s genetically engineered cow hormone rBGH. That is the day Wal-Mart announced that its storebrand milk will come from dairies that can certify that cows were not treated with Posilac.
While many people worry about Wal-Mart’s market power, impacts on small retailers, and exploitation of workers and resources in third world countries, the ability of this one company to change the rules is truly remarkable.
Do You Know?
China is increasing hog production by about 65 million head annually. Total U.S. hog production in 2007 was 108 million head.
China produces almost twice the hogs as the U.S. and Europe combined.
Source: Rod Smith, “CEO: World has ‘radically changed'”, Feedstuffs, March 15, 2008
The Brazilian company JBS S.A. will soon control 32% of the U.S. beef market, following closure of two acquisitions. JBS S.A. is by far the largest beef processor in the world.
Source: Rod Smith, Feedstuffs, March 17, 2008
Across age groups, children under five have the highest rate of infections caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella and E. coli O157 bacteria.
Pet turtles and lizards, and touching the meat case in supermarkets are two primary sources of exposure to foodborne pathogens among children.
Source: MMWR, Centers for Disease Control, April 11, 2008
By creating multiple cartoons for Standard Oil from 1928 to 1943 showing people sprayingDr Seuss’ Lorax
pesticides such as the bug-killer Flit, beloved Dr. Seuss helped popularize the use of pesticides in and around the home. One cartoon for Standard Oil shows a mom standing next to her son Willie, who is gargling. The mother says to the boy’s father, who is clearly alarmed – “Don’t worry, Papa. Willie just swallowed a bug, and I’m having him gargle with Flit.”
Source: Will Allen, “The War on Bugs,” Chelsea Green Publishing, page 113
Doing the Wrong Thing Systematically
By: Chuck Benbrook
The Wild Farm Alliance has compiled a shocking series of photographs that capture the changes in land use unfolding in and around California’s Salinas Valley in the name of food safety.
These photos take no more than five minutes to look over. Warning — these pictures will leave you outraged, and saddened.
It is beyond tragic that food buyers, and the various inspectors and auditing companies working on their behalf, are purposefully mandating the erosion of diversity and vitality in such an important agricultural landscape, and are doing so without any evidence that the changes being forced upon farmers will do a bit of good.
In fact, the changes will most likely erode food safety, rather than promote it. The Center’s June 2007 report “Unfinished Business: Preventing E. coli O157 Outbreaks in Leafy Greens” traced the source of the September 2006 outbreak to bacteria-laden dust blown off a large cattle pasture just to the north (upwind) of the block of spinach that triggered the outbreak.
Quietly since last summer the “dust hypothesis” has become accepted as the most plausible explanation of how the E. coli from the pasture got onto the spinach that caused the outbreak.
The field observations and research of many scientists, conservationists, government agencies, and farmers have discounted to near-zero the possibility that feral pigs, birds, deer, or any other wild animals had anything to do with this outbreak, yet across the Salinas Valley, farmers are being told to get rid of any vegetation or habitat that might harbor life forms above bacteria. To keep their market, most farmers are complying.
They are tearing out riparian areas, shrubs, trees and other bird and beneficial insect habitat, leaving just bare earth. As these newly cleared areas dry out this summer, dust will blow off of them right onto the production fields, in some cases carrying bacteria.
The Western Growers Association, food companies, and farm leaders have pledged to base all leafy green “good agricultural practices” on sound science and contemporary research on the causes of E. coli outbreaks in leafy greens.
By allowing a scorched-earth policy to be inflicted upon farmers, they have done just the opposite. It is time for the leaders in the leafy green industry and the retail sector to stop this monumental tragedy before any more harm is done.
Events and Presentations
The Organic Center Presents Research Findings to the American Dietetic Association and American Public Health Association in the Same Week
Chuck Benbrook will present an overview of the nutritional benefits of organic food, and raise the question whether plants with a diabetes-like syndrome produce food that is more likely to lead to Type II diabetes in humans, at the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association in Chicago on October 27th.
A few days later he will be in San Diego, participating on a similar panel at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in San Diego.
Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming
Core Truths CoverCore 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.
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 ground-breaking book, Core Truths (a $35 value.)
Email Seleyn DeYarus for details.
The Art of Giving
Choose Organic for Mother’s Day and Benefit The Organic Center
This Mother’s Day and throughout the year give organic flowers. The Organic Center is pleased to announce a special fundraising initiative with Organic Bouquet. The Organic Center will receive 10% of the proceeds from purchases that follow this link www.organicbouquet.com/organiccenter . If you wish to take advantage of the special Mother’s Day offer of a free vase click on the banner posted here. Give something beautiful that doubles your giving and send The Organic Center Bouquet or any of the bouquets on offer through our link! Remember, using these links will ensure The Organic Center receives 10% of the proceeds to support our ongoing research and education efforts on the organic benefit. Thank you for your support!
The Organic Center’s on-line fundraising program – Become a Friend of The Organic Center
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. For more information
The Organic Center’s fundraising program featuring Jerry Garcia artwork
A fundraising initiative to benefit the scientific research mission of The Organic Center features a series of prints from Jerry Garcia original artwork. The series, “In the Garden,” is made possible through the generosity of filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia.
Five series of high-quality Giclee’ prints featuring the artwork of Jerry Garcia will be offered for sale over the next three years through The Organic Center website, www.organic-center.org. Each series will include four to six prints made from original artwork created by Garcia, the late lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead.
The first series of prints, “In the Garden,” is still available and includes five prints, each priced at $250. The full series is offered at $1,000. The series includes such works as “Snail Garden,” “Another Butterfly,” “Beehive,” “Banyan Tree II,” and “Butterfly Study.” Images of the prints can be viewed above with more information available on the Center’s website.
Join The Mission
Our Research – Join Now! Mission Organic 2010Individuals can support the scientific work of The Organic Center by:
* Sharing new information, data, or “Hot Science,” email our Chief Scientist
* Helping us identify scientists that can contribute to our work, email Chuck Benbrook
* Making a contribution, click here
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.
Our Outreach and Communication Program – Informed consumers drive the organic marketplace. Help The Organic Center reach consumers with the latest science on the organic benefit by:
* Join Mission Organic 2010 as an individual
* Distributing or reprinting excerpts from our studies
* Making a donation to our communications program
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.
* For more information about our affinity marketing program, email Seleyn DeYarus * Learn more about the health and environmental impacts of Mission Organic 2010
About The SCOOP
“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 and Circulation: Karen Lutz Benbrook
About The Organic Center
Backed by the world’s leading scientists, physicians and scholars, The Organic Center is 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 the Mission, go to: www.organic-center.org.
Managing Director: Steven Hoffman
Development Director: Seleyn DeYarus
TOC Board Chair: Alan Greene, co-founder DrGreene.com
Chair Elect: Michelle Goolsby, Executive Vice President, Chief Counsel, Dean Foods
Treasurer: Mark Retzloff, President, Aurora Organic Dairy
Secretary: Katherine DiMatteo, Senior Associate, Wolf, DiMatteo & Associates
The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308