In This Issue:

* Breaking Science  * In The News * Do You Know? * Commentary * Events and Presentations * Core Truths * Join The Mission * About The Organic Center

A Myth Bites the Dust
A research report of seismic importance has been published in the November-December 2007 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, a highly respected publication put out by the Tri-Societies (Agronomy Society, Soil Science Society, and Crop Sciences Society). The paper is called “The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration.”  It reports findings by a University of Illinois team.  Their research was based on the famous Morrow plots, the country’s longest running field experiment on the impacts of farm production systems on soil quality. This paper will be widely read and vigorously debated, and then likely ignored by policy-makers.  It provides compelling arguments –backed up by four pages of references — that high nitrogen (N) conventional corn-soybean cropping systems are NOT leading to soil carbon sequestration, as now assumed by most scientists and climate change models.  Why?  Because the extra N is stimulating additional microbial activity in the soil, and in the process, microbes quickly consume and break down the organic matter in crop residues. This releases the carbon in crop residues, rather than sequestering it in the soil, as previously assumed. Major implications of this paper include —

* Crop residue-based biofuel production could dramatically worsen soil quality because of loss of carbon from decomposing crop residues. * Organic production systems, with their much tighter control of nutrient cycles and far lower total N inputs, have potential to deliver major benefits in the effort to combat global warming by sequestering in soil the carbon in crop residues (and will improve water quality and farm profitability as “side” effects). * Climate change models that are based on the old assumption that crop residues in high yield systems lead to increases in soil carbon sequestration now have to be revised, and the consequences will be a much larger and negative contribution to global warming from high-input conventional cropping systems.

The focus of this paper is the atmospheric and soil quality consequences of one of the great sins of excess plaguing American agriculture.  High nitrogen corn systems inadvertently create what amounts to microbes on steroids.  Artificial stimulation of microbial activity is bad for the soil, costs farmers money, degrades water quality, dilutes the nutrient density of corn, wastes increasingly valuable natural gas (used to make commercial N fertilizer), and contributes much more significantly and directly to global warming than previously thought. This extensively documented paper could emerge as one of the most significant new pieces of evidence in support of organic and sustainable cropping systems in decades, and without even mentioning either. Source: The full article ORGANIC&s=  is available free of charge.

Ending Antibiotic Use in Broiler Production Boosts Sale of Tyson Products
“All Natural, Raised Without Antibiotics” chicken products sold by Tyson foods are boosting sales. All branded retail fresh chicken products are being converted to the “All Natural” brand.  Tyson is selling the “All Natural” brand chicken products at a slight premium, but well under the price for organic and free-range chicken. Source: “Scrapping antibiotics boosts sales,” The Capital Press, October 26, 2007. Editorial comment – Not too many years ago, Tyson was among the companies arguing most stridently that there was no way to sustain conventional broiler production in the U.S. without subtherapeutic use of antibiotics.  Given that there have been no major technological breakthroughs in poultry disease prevention, Tyson has apparently found ways to reduce the stress on birds sufficient to keep them healthy without a daily dose of antibiotics.

Fight Erupts on Capitol Hill Over Tax Credit for Diesel Made from Animal Fats
A ruling by the Treasury Department early in 2007 opened up a $1.00 per gallon tax credit for companies producing diesel fuel from animal fat wastes.  To capitalize on this new subsidy, a joint venture involving ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods was formed in April to produce diesel from animal fats.  Tyson Foods has access to about 2.3 billion pounds of animal fat annually.

It is easy to understand why some members of Congress are trying to block extension of the tax credit to diesel made from animal fats.  The original legislation establishing the credit was supposed to stimulate biodiesel production from oilseed crops like soybeans.  Some also question the wisdom of paying federal subsidies to produce extra corn that is then fed to livestock in excessive amounts, producing unhealthy levels of fat in meat animals.  This contributes to obesity and heart disease across the U.S. population. A new tax credit for diesel production from animal fat would constitute another layer of subsidies for a sector of agriculture that long ago entered the Twilight Zone.
Source: “Tax Break for Biofuel Targeted,” Chemical and Engineering News, October 8, 2007

Living Near Pesticide Treated Fields Found to Increase Risk of Autism in California Study
For the first time, a study has found that children born to mothers who lived near fields treated with pesticides are more likely to be inflicted with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  The study focused on 465 children with ASD born in 1996-1998.  Maternal pesticide exposures were compared for these children and 6,975 controls (children without ASD living in the same area). Mothers exposed to the organochlorine insecticides dicofol and endosulfan during weeks one through eight of pregnancy – the critical “developmental window” when the central nervous system is first formed – had more than a six-fold higher chance of bearing children with ASD, compared to women living away from pesticide applications during pregnancy.  The risk of ASD increased with pounds of pesticides applied near maternal residence, and decreased the farther the residence was away from fields receiving routine pesticide treatments. Endosulfan (Thiodan) remains a widely used insecticide in the U.S. and is found by the USDA in a significant percentage of several fresh fruits and vegetables.  It is even more heavily used overseas, and often is found in imported foods at levels well above those typically present in domestic produce.
Source: Access the full study ORGANIC&s= free of charge,  “Maternal Residence Near Agricultural Pesticide Applications and Autism Spectrum Disorders among Children in the California Central Valley,” Roberts et al., October 2007, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 115, Number 10

The Importance of Advanced Glycosylation End Products (AGEs)
In plants and people, sugars are typically bound to vitamins, antioxidants, and proteins through enzymatic processes in a never-ending dance of shifting chemical bonds.  A glycosylated vitamin or protein is one that has a sugar bound to it; when the sugar is stripped from the vitamin or protein, the nutrient is present in aglycone form. The glycosylation status of nutrients matters greatly in human health because it impacts the bioavailability of nutrients as they pass through the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  In general, the more fully glycosylated a nutrient, the less bioavailable it is.  One of the generic benefits of organic farming under study by the Center is whether a greater share of the nutrients in organic fruits and vegetables are present in their aglycone form, compared to conventional grown produce that tends to have higher sugar levels and a tendency toward more complex and stable forms of glycosylation. Advanced glycosylation end products, or AGEs, further complicate the science of nutrition.  AGEs are created when bonds are formed between nutrients and sugars through non-enzymatic means, usually with a lot of help from high temperatures.  AGEs have only recently been discovered and are, in general, bad news.  Some papers refer to AGEs as “toxic glycoproteins,” although only some AGEs encompass proteins.  Several are known to be overtly toxic and much more stable than other glycosylated nutrients, and animal studies have shown a wide array of damaging impacts when diets contain high levels of AGEs. Foods like bacon, cheese, steak, and pizza contain relatively high levels of dietary AGEs.  French fries contain acyrlamide, and AGE that forms through the reaction of proteins in potatoes and cooking oil, under high temperature.  Many other deep-fat fried foods contain elevated levels of AGEs.  Most fresh fruits and vegetables are low in AGEs. A paper in the Journal of Food Science points out that elevated dietary levels of AGEs appear to promote cardiovascular disease complications in people with diabetes.  The authors note that excess sugars in the diet, coupled with consumption of food that has been heated to high temperatures, tend to increase AGE levels in the human bloodstream, with several negative consequences.  One of the reasons is that in diabetic patients, persistent hyperglycemia inhibits mechanisms that can break down AGEs.  Non-diabetic patients with heart diseases are also known to have elevated levels of AGEs – confirming their central role in the progression of inflammation that can lead to heart disease. The authors state that dietary AGEs cannot be totally avoided but can be minimized by avoiding high-temperature cooking methods that tend to scorch food.  Stemming, boiling, and the use of slow cookers can dramatically reduce the levels of AGEs.  A 50% reduction in dietary AGEs decreases plasma AGE levels by about 30%, and within just one month.  Some antioxidants in food, e.g. rytine in tomato juice, are known to inhibit AGE formation.  This is one of the reasons why organic production might help lower the production of AGEs in the body.  The generally lower levels of sugars in organic food, and in diets composed of mostly fresh and whole foods, likely also help reduce AGE intakes.  Future Organic Center research will explore these and other mechanisms that show promise in reducing AGEs in food.
Source: “Advanced Glycosylation End Products and Nutrition – A Possible Relation with Diabetic Atherosclerosis and How to Prevent It,” Xanthis et al., 2007, Journal of Food Science, Vol. 72, No. 8

The Search Widens for Ways to Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Scientists from Australia and New Zealand have found that fortification of foods with encapsulated polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), such as omega-3, can help Type II diabetics better manage their blood sugar levels.  The team fed patients with Type II diabetes a hummus spread fortified with PUFAs and found that blood triglyceride levels fell about one-third and that blood lipid levels of heart-healthy PUFAs increased by 15% to 117%.
Source: M.L. Garg et al., 2007, in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 61: 1312-1317

Scientists at the University of Central Florida have genetically engineered lettuce plants to produce insulin.  Mice fed the lettuce have shown improved sugar metabolism.  The GE lettuce might someday be used to treat or prevent diabetes, although no tests have been conducted as yet in humans.

Brief Comment on QLIF Study Results Trigger Media Cascade
Several leading newspapers in the U.K. printed stories in late October with headlines like “Organic food is  healthier and safer, four-year EU investigation shows,” and “Eat your words, all who scoff at organic food.” The stories were triggered by brief remarks to a reporter by Carlo Leifert, the coordinator of the EU-funded Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project.  Dr. Leifert summarized a few of the preliminary findings from QLIF project work at the University of Newcastle and several other European research centers.  The Soil Association subsequently made a number of strong statements about “new science” supporting the nutritional superiority of organic food, and directed the attention of the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) to the new findings.  The FSA has recently announced it is commissioning a fresh review of all published studies comparing the nutritional quality of conventional and organic foods, in order to determine whether its position that there are no proven, consistent nutritional benefits of organic food is supported by contemporary science.  (The Organic Center is collaborating with the QLIF team at the University of Newcastle in the hope of successfully competing for this FSA contract).  Unfortunately, Leifert also pointed out to the media that the results of these projects are not fully analyzed and will not be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals for 12 to 24 months.  A number of food industry groups in the U.K. have criticized the Soil Association for making overly broad claims based on research that is not yet complete or published.  Sources: Times Online, October 28, 2007; The Independent, October 30, 2007; ORGANIC&s= , November 5, 2007

Kudo for Going Organic on a Large Scale
Stemilt Growers Inc. has been honored by Washington State as one of the nine most effective and innovative companies in terms of environmental stewardship and resource conservation.  Stemilt announced in April that it is transitioning 100 percent of its peach and nectarine crops to organic production this year, as well as one-half its apricot production.  The company has also launched an Artisan Natural brand for fruit that is farmed under organic management systems during the three-year transition period. The pace of transition to organic production in Stemilt is remarkable and highly significant given that this is one of the largest, premier fruit growers in the country, with sizable market share among U.S. fruit destined for Pacific Rim markets.

The Quest for Food Quality Remember, higher quality, from the consumers’ vantage point means:

* Seeking distinct flavors * Seeking more fresh (i.e., less processed) foods * Interest in locally produced foods * Seeking hand crafted or artisan produced foods * Willingness to pay more for quality.”

Source: “Premium Food Experiences: Understanding the Consumer Redefinition of Quality,” The Hartman Group, November, 2007.

Smell a Rat? Gundula Azeez of the Soil Association has written an up to date assessment of recent scientific evidence ORGANIC&s= &report_id=116   from animal experiments that raises new, and reinforces old questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods. It makes for pungent reading.

More than one-half of the population of Great Britain will be extremely obese by 2050, according to a report authored by 250 scientists and public health specialists. Source: “Tackling Obesities: Future Choices,” Foresight Report, October 2007 900 million rural people live on less than $1.00 per day. 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, yet just 4% of government foreign aid goes to agriculture in developing countries. Source: The World Bank, World Development Report, 2007 Soil holds more than twice as much carbon as the atmosphere.  This is why small changes in soil C sequestration have major implications for global climate change. Worldwide, 54 acres are required per person for all the activities that sustain a healthy human existence.  There are 39 acres available for each person alive today.
Source: United Nations GEO-4 report ORGANIC&s= ArticleID=5688&DocumentID=519  released October 25, 2007

Results of a Commonwealth Fund comparative assessment of health care in the U.S. and six other developed countries:

* One-half of Americans are able to see a doctor the same day they become sick or the day after, a lower percentage than in any of the six other developed countries, other than Canada.  * Over a third of Americans chose not to visit a doctor when sick, and skipped recommended tests, treatment, or medications because of cost, more than in any of the other six developed nations.

Source: “America’s Lagging Health Care System,” New York Times editorial, Nov. 1, 2007.
In the United States, ethanol-driven demand for corn has increased grain prices 70% across the board in the last year, while the price of sugar and fats has fallen about 14%.
Source: RTT News, October 25, 2007 

Meeting Nutrient Needs Through Supplements or Whole Foods?
By Chuck Benbrook
The Food Standards Agency in the U.K. has initiated a scientific review of the wisdom of fortifying foods with folic acid to help prevent birth defects.  New evidence has been published that suggests that different people absorb and metabolize folic acid differently.  The levels of folic acid that are beneficial to some people may actually harm others, particularly people with liver disease.  New evidence has also emerged that folic acid fortification might increase cancer risks. In the U.S. nearly all flour-based products are fortified with folic acid, the form usually used in food fortification.  Folic acid differs from the folate found naturally in food. Folic acid is the monoglutamate form of folate and is highly oxidized.  Natural folate contains a polyglutamate chain.  Past research suggests that folic acid is more bioavailable than the natural polyglutamate form. The addition of nutrient supplements to organic food is governed by Section 605(b) In the NOP rule.  This section refers to and makes mandatory Food and Drug Administration voluntary guidelines, which are subject to a wide range of interpretations regarding sources of supplements and levels allowed.  One option for the food industry to reduce the risk of possible folic acid fortification problems, while retaining the benefits of supplementation, would be to only use the natural, polyglutamate form of folate in food fortification programs, and to fortify food with folate only up to the level present in natural whole foods. Such an approach would be consistent with the general principles governing organic farming and food processing. New concerns, like those raised about folic acid food fortification, are bound to arise with other nutrients.  As a practical reality, different people have markedly different nutrient needs, and also absorb and metabolize food and nutrients differently.  One thing is certain – any food fortification program will precisely meet the needs of only some people, and may pose risks for others.  As the food industry strives to offer more nutritious products, excessive reliance on fortification with synthetic analogues of natural nutrients could lead to unintended, and sometimes negative consequences for at least some segments of the population.  The time is ripe for deeper reflection across the organic food community on the principles and criteria governing fortification of organic foods, as well as on when and how such foods should be marketed. The Debate Rages over Local Foods, Air Travel, Industrial Organic, and Food Elitism By Chuck Benbrook On October 24th, the Soil Association announced that airfreighted food would have to meet additional ethical requirements to retain organic certification in the United Kingdom.  The new policy was adopted after an intense, lengthy internal debate, and reflects the desire of the Soil Association to address the high carbon emissions associated with food shipped by airplanes.  The new policy triggered heavy media coverage, and formal complaints from food and grower associations in Africa that have invested much effort in gaining organic certification and access to the U.K. market.  The Kenya High Commission in London formally responded to the new policy, pointing out that U.K. exports support around a million poor farmers in Kenya who use much less energy-intensive horticultural practices than farmers in the U.K. This action by the Soil Association clearly addresses one of the most complex and pressing issues of the day.  Many local food advocates regard prohibiting the transport of food by airfreight as a logical, other-side-of-the-coin action that should help leverage demand for locally grown food via local market outlets.  No doubt some will argue for a similar policy intervention in the United States.  The local food movement is one of the most promising developments on the social and cultural horizon, and has potential to help heal both agriculture and people.  But those who place their faith in local food as the driver for change in the American food industry need to be realistic about the portion of the food consumed by people that can be grown and marketed locally.  They also need to remember that all people, those in the Sunbelt and New England, need their eight to 13 servings of fruit and vegetables every day, all year, and not just in the six weeks to three months when locally grown produce is in season. Hopefully the locally grown portion of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by the average American will increase steadily in the months of the year when local farmers can harvest and preserve fresh produce.  But for many fruits and vegetables, other options are needed to meet nutritional needs in the off-season.  We need to broaden the dialogue about how to address these needs, and we should not presume to know the answer when we have not even thoughtfully posed the question. Shipping dried milk, dried fruits, and other concentrated, low-moisture food ingredients long distances, and perhaps even sometimes by air, may prove surprisingly beneficial if a thorough, life cycle analysis is done of the full range of alternatives for getting a serving of fruit to a kid in New York in February.   Probably the most significant single, universal strategy with potential to dramatically lower the carbon footprint of food transport is to find ways to take some or all of the water out of food before shipping it long distances. We also need to take a fresh look at freezing food and other novel food processing and storage technologies. New methods like flash freezing, for example, could significantly improve food quality for some staples, and lower the costs of getting nutrient-rich foods that were picked ripe to dinner tables around the country in the dead of winter, and on a scale sufficient to make a meaningful difference across the American agricultural landscape and in the health of 300 million Americans, many of whom are struggling to fit two or three servings of fruits and vegetables into their daily diets, let along the eight or more they need to promote good health. Which brings us to the as-yet-unmet challenge of making good, nutritious food logistically and economically available for all Americans, year round.  I believe strongly that the achievement of this goal needs to be elevated among the many goals driving change in the food industry.   Some of the reasons why are stated clearly in a provocative piece entitled “How the Upper Crust Eats:  Food as a Status Symbol”  in Reason Magazine (November print edition).  The author, Katherine Mangu-Ward, reflects on Omnivores Dilemma and Michael Pollan’s dismissal of organic foods.  The final two paragraphs read in full:   “But time and time again, Pollan functionally turns up his nose at first-class seats for the organic revolution because he prefers to fly only on private jets. Whole Foods isn’t good enough; only local markets will do. While Pollan writes about what’s happening in Lear jets across America, the real revolution is taking place in commercial coach class. Normal grocery shoppers no longer have to agonize over the choice between settling for mealy apples or springing for the pricier exotics like mangoes or hothouse strawberries. These days even the most run-down corner grocery offers shoppers apricots, cartons of blueberries, and ripe cherries out of season. Soon Wal-Mart shoppers might even be able to get an organic pineapple if the mood strikes them. This explosion in choice for the American people is heady stuff-but for some reason, the most Pollan can muster in response is mild hostility bracketed by a general lack of interest about broader social implications.” “They say it’s not fair to criticize an author for the book he didn’t write, but in Pollan’s case, the problem is the book he almost wrote. Pollan chronicles the whole spectrum of food issues in such charming, reasonable, colorful prose that the reader longs for him to help unravel some of the messy (and ubiquitous) questions about America’s food politics and food culture. Instead, he gives us 400 pages of fantastic reportage in the service of a question that troubles only a small subculture of ethical eaters, all the while pretending to answer a question asked by everyone: ‘What’s for dinner?'” Questions about what’s for dinner, how food is grown, and where it comes from will continue to arise on a daily basis in millions of homes, and that is many small steps decisively in the right direction.  But will the answers change?  The quest to change the American food system has become a magnet for causes – advocates seeking major transformation to address social justice, economic, cultural, technological, health, and environmental challenges are constantly finding new ways to hook their campaigns for change to the “lets change the American food system” bandwagon.  And as a result, the ship is steered in a thousand directions and it is no surprise that progress proves painfully slow and fleeting. A Famous Exchange In the fall of 1989 Consumer Reports ran a widely read story entitled “Too Much Fuss About Pesticides?” The article featured the research and analysis of Dr. Edward (Ned) Groth, then CU’s resident expert on food safety and pesticide risk.  In the 1989 story, Consumer Reports critiques the scientific validity of the arguments advanced by Dr. Bruce Ames and colleagues at the University of California-Berkeley that the thousands of natural carcinogens in food pose far greater cancer risks to humans than pesticides and other man-made chemicals.  The Consumer Reports article points out that – “The contention that controlling manufactured hazards is silly when natural ones are so much greater is founded not in science but in political philosophy.” The article explains how Ames et al. came up with their conclusion that natural carcinogens pose far greater risks that man-made ones, and then points out where the methods and data used by Ames et al. move away from, or beyond sound science.  The CR article triggered a strong complaint from Bruce Ames to the President of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Ned Groth’s lengthy response to Ames was “required reading” for the next 10 years as the debate raged on over whether and how to amend the anti-cancer Delaney Clause.  While much time has passed since the 1989 article and the Ames-Groth exchange, the underlying issues are still actively debated in many circles.  Unfortunately, until now, the original Consumer Report article and the letters were not available on the Internet.  The Organic Center contacted Consumers Union and obtained permission to post a scanned copy of the copyrighted article and the letters.
Access the Consumer Reports article ORGANIC&s=  – 1.5 Mb Access the Ames response  – 2 Mb Access Ned Groth’s reply to Ames 338&u=ORGANIC&s= _Groth_Response_29pages.pdf  – 8.4 Mb

Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Webcast – “The Organics Debate: Is the Premium Worth It?” IFT is sponsoring a 90-minute webcast November 29th from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 pm Central time focused on the organic price premium.  The webcast will cost $195.00 for IFT members, and $295.00 for non-members; the fee is per site, and each site can include multiple viewers.  Access information about attending the webscast via the IFT website ORGANIC&s= The three presenters during the webcast are:

* Chuck Benbrook, The Organic Center;  * Sam Beattie, Iowa State University extension food safety specialist; and  * Mary Ellen Molyneaux, Natural Marketing Institute.

In describing the rationale for the webcast, IFT states that – “More than half of Americans now buy organic food at least once a month at premium prices because they believe that these foods are pesticide free, and therefore healthier than conventionally grown foods. Baby boomers are fueling the organic trend, with produce grabbing the biggest market share (41 percent). But are organic products really more healthful? EPA monitoring of the use of pesticides has found no evidence to suggest that they cause any health related problems. At the same time, others believe that organic products are superior to non-organic foods. Join us as we bring both sides together to discuss the issues at the center of this lively debate.”

TOC at EcoFarm 2008 The Organic Center is sponsoring a workshop at EcoFarm, January 23-26, 2008, on the impacts of high yields and production levels on plant and animal health, food nutritional quality, and food safety.  Presenters will include Chuck Benbrook and Klaas Martens. Dr. Benbrook has also been invited to present at a session Thursday afternoon, January 24th from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. entitled “Strategies for Dealing with Food Safety and Environmental Protection.”  This session will focus on efforts to address E. coli O157 and related food safety challenges in the Salinas Valley and other intensively farmed regions of California.   Chuck will draw on the “Unfinished Business” Critical Issue Report ORGANIC&s= report_id=97  in his presentation. Benbrook Presentation at Houston Conference Posted The Organic Center’s Chief Scientist was asked to deliver the keynote address on a panel exploring the contributions of organic food and farming to human health during the “Second International Symposium on Human Health Effects of Fruits and Vegetables”.   The meeting was held October 10-13, 2007 in Houston, Texas. Other panelists included Dr. Don Davis, University of Texas-Austin; Jaime Yanez, Washington State University; Dr. Gene Lester, Agricultural Research Service, Weslaco, Texas; and Elizabeth Torres, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Benbrook’s presentation focuses on nutrient density, flavor, and the critical role of sugar levels and glycosylation patterns in plants and humans.  The possible linkages between a diabetes-like syndrome in plants and human diabetes were presented and triggered considerable discussion. Access the full presentation ORGANIC&s= report_id=118  in pdf format (six slides to a page). 

Core Truths on the Major Benefits of Organic Food and Farming

The Organic 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 ORGANIC&s=  for a preview of the book. Click here ORGANIC&s=  to order.

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