In This Issue:
Organic Farming Reduces Net GHG Emissions
A team of scientists in Germany carried out a comprehensive review of existing studies relevant to comparing the net greenhouse gas emissions from conventional and organic farming systems in Europe. Their basic conclusion – “Organic farming emits lower amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) than comparable conventional systems.”
Higher GHG emissions occur in conventional agriculture because of greater reliance on imported animal feedstuffs, including a portion purchased from overseas. The use of energy-intensive pesticides and fertilizers on conventional farms also increases GHG emissions.
While higher yields on conventional farms compensate for some of the differences, total emissions are still higher in conventional farming. The article provides examples of several steps that organic and conventional farmers can take to increase the efficiency of energy use and reduce net GHG emissions
Source: Rahmann, G.; Aulrich, K.; Barth, K.; Boehm, H.; Koopmann, R.; Oppermann, R.; Paulsen, H. M., and Weissmann, F. 2008. Impact of organic farming on global warming - recent scientific knowledge. Landbauforschung Volkenrode 58(1-2)71-89. [in German].
Synthetic Pyrethroid Insecticide Found to be Estrogenic
A team of scientists at Texas A&M University has shown for the first time that esfenvalerate, a common synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, suppresses hormonal responses and delays puberty in female rats. The findings are highly significant since the synthetic pyrethroids have been adopted in the U.S. as the principle alternative to organophosphates for use in insecticide products sold to consumers and for uses in and around homes, schools, and public buildings.
Moreover, the adverse impacts in this rat study on developing animals occurred at a dose well below the dosage range supporting the current established EPA “Reference Dose” (Acceptable Daily Intake) for esfenvalerate. The EPA set the esfenvalerate Reference Dose years ago at 0.02 milligrams per kilogram per day, based on a No Observable Effect Level (NOEL) in a rodent study of 2.0 mg/kg/day and application of a standard 100-fold safety factor.
The NOEL in the current study for developmental effects was 1.0 mg/kg/day, which would lead to a 20-fold drop in the Reference Dose to 0.001 mg/kg/day under the standards set forth in the Food Quality Protection Act. The FQPA requires the EPA to impose an additional 10-fold safety factor in cases where a pesticide is known to pose unique risks to developing animals, which is why the Reference Dose would be expected to fall 20-fold, instead of just two-fold.
Such a substantial drop in esfenvalerate’s Reference Dose would likely compel EPA to re-evaluate current uses of this and other synthetic pyrethroids.
Source: Michelle D. Pine, Jill K. Hiney, Boyeon Lee, and W. Les Dees. “The Pyrethroid Pesticide Esfenvalerate Suppresses the Afternoon Rise of Luteinizing Hormone and Delays Puberty in Female Rats,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 116, No. 9:1243-1247.
More about pyrethroids and pyrethrins -- A recent investigation undertaken by The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group, reported that pyrethrins and pyrethroids, pesticides commonly used to control insects in homes, were responsible for a quarter of serious (and sometimes fatal) incidents involving pesticides in 2007. This is “up from just 15 percent in 1998 – a 67 percent increase.” Pyrethrins, which come from flowers, and their synthetic relatives, pyrethroids, can be found in thousands of consumer products, including anti-lice shampoos, flea collars, and bug repellants.
New Insights Emerge from Fresh Express Research on Leafy Greens and E. coli O157
In the wake of the 2006 E. coli outbreak, the California-based leafy greens company Fresh Express invested $2 million in research. First-year results raise some new and old flags –
- Ozone appears to be more effective than chlorine baths in removing E. coli O157;
- Pathogens were shown to re-grow on the surface of stable composts in work carried out at Clemson University;
- The coring of iceberg lettuce in the field was shown to be a high-risk practice; and
- Insects, including the common housefly, appear to be able to serve as a vector of E. coli O157.
Editors Note –
In just another week or two, assuming there are no new outbreaks, we can conclude that the Salinas Valley-based fresh leafy greens industry made it through the 2008 production season without a major outbreak. This is good news for growers, shippers, and consumers. It also gives rise to confidence that the added food safety precautions and testing adopted by individual companies and the industry as a whole are working as hoped.
But it is far too early to declare victory in the war against E. coli O157 in leafy greens. Recall that the beef industry reduced major hamburger-based E. coli outbreaks from over two-dozen in most years, down to just four in 2006. The number jumped to 21 in 2007, and 2008 appears to be on track to break past records.
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Do Rising Food Prices Mean the “…end for organic food as we know it…”?
In the last few months dozens of news reports and commentaries have covered the impact of rising food prices on demand for organic food. Publications and individuals opposed to, or threatened by organic food and farming argue, almost as if in unison, that high prices will erode demand for organic food. They assert that organic food is a niche market for economic elites, and offer the view that the rest of the world, and in particular, the world’s poor, must open their arms to GM foods, plastic and pesticides in order to achieve sustainable food security.
Other publications and commentators, including those already sold on organic food and people that feel a need to base statements of fact and opinion on some empirical foundation, point out that there has been no major collapse in interest in, or demand for organic food, at least not yet. Some articles, like the September 11, 2008 piece “The Organic times are a changin’: New Data show that 2008 organic food sales will reach $32.9 billion” on the blog “Gristmill,” point out that food prices are driven by oil prices, and that the price gap between conventional and organic food is narrowing.
As the public takes a harder look at food prices, and farmers and food businesses struggle with rapidly rising costs and volatile commodity markets, sharpened focus is needed on the factors driving the price and costs of producing conventional and organic food. And we must work hard to include direct economic and indirect social “costs” in the equation.
Government spending, and tax, regulatory and trade-related subsidies also need to be more fully accounted for. In short, the conventional food system has benefited for years from billions of dollars in government subsidies, direct payments, and trade protectionism. Many of these expenditures have been indirect and are largely invisible to the general public – for example, few Americans know the full amount of the subsidy behind every gallon of ethanol or sugar or corn oil.
The organic food industry has been largely self-financed and is thriving in the marketplace despite a systematic and largely successful effort to keep its slice of the government subsidy pie as small as possible. As more people learn that U.S. government policy is for the most part inherently anti-organic, it should become easier to alter those policies.
Without GM Wheat – “People will die”
Dr. Thomas Lumpkin is the just-appointed head of CIMMYT, the international agricultural research center in Mexico that focuses on improving corn, wheat and other grain yields. During a conference in Australia, where the debate over GM-wheat is raging, Lumpkin told a reporter that opposition to GM crops in Japan and Europe was slowing adoption of GM wheat technology, and by doing so, “…you are keeping them [poor people] hungry, they are dying.”
Source: James Grudel, “GM Wheat: ‘People will die’,” www.iol.co.za, September 3, 2008
USDA Opposes ANSI Process Seeking to Establish Sustainable Agriculture Standards
In a remarkable series of letters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has raised serious concerns about the just-underway ANSI process leading to sustainable agriculture standards. In a September 11, 2008 letter to ANSI from Lloyd Day, the Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA formerly invoked the ANSI appeal process and challenged the accreditation of the Leonardo Institute, the organization carrying out this standards setting process.
The USDA argues that ANSI failed to follow its own procedures in setting up the sustainable agriculture standards project. The Department states that ANSI did not provide affected parties adequate opportunity to challenge the decision to move forward with the standard setting process once a draft standard was issued. Also, according to USDA, the flawed procedures will make the process “impossible to administer…” and that “on too many issues, consensus will not be able to be reached.”
USDA asserts that the Standards Committee is imbalanced, with some stakeholders over-represented and others under-represented. In particular the USDA letter singles out environmentalists and organic farming advocates as holding a “dominance” position on the committee, and charges the Leonardo Institute of “bias” in favor of organic farming. The rejection of biotechnology in the draft standard documents is also highlighted in the USDA letter as evidence of bias and a flawed process.
A June 6, 2008 letter to the President of the Leonardo Institute from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Connors challenges the definition of sustainable agriculture used in the draft standard documents. Connors states that the definition advanced by the Leonardo Institute is excessively narrow, and “…identifies sustainable agriculture as a subset of certified organic agriculture as defined in the National Organics Program (NOP)…” Moreover, according to Connor, the draft standard permits violations of several provisions of the NOP.
Editor’s Note –
From the beginning, this sustainable agriculture standards setting process has been controversial. Some members of the organic community have opposed it for a variety of reasons, while others feel that some good might come from the process. Others have chosen to participate just in case the process produces standards that end up being adopted by major players in the food industry.
Between the hard-hitting letter of protest sent to ANSI in August from dozens of leaders in the sustainable and organic agriculture communities, and now this effort by the USDA , it is hard to imagine that ANSI will allow the process to continue in its current form. We will keep readers of “The Scoop” informed as this process unfolds.
Intriguing Piece in OFRF Newsletter Sets the Stage for the NAS Review of Sustainable Agriculture
The National Academy of Sciences started a major project in late 2007 designed to review the findings and recommendations of the 1989 NAS report Alternative Agriculture. The Gates and Kellogg Foundations are funding the NAS review. The piece in the fall 2008 Organic Farming Research Institute (OFRF) Newsletter is entitled “Organic and Sustainable Up for Review…Again” and was written by Deborah Rich.
Rich provides an oral history of the circumstances leading to the publication of the 1980 USDA “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming” and the 1989 NAS report Alternative Agriculture. She also covers the reaction to both reports and several perspectives on their impacts. The issue also includes an interview with the staff officer at the NAS overseeing the new study.
Editors Note –
As the Executive Director of the NAS Board on Agriculture during the period Alternative Agriculture was conceived, written, and released, Deborah Rich’s piece hits pretty close to home. It provides a thorough appraisal of how two reports shaped the debate and political climate in which Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act as part of the 1990 farmbill.
The Rich piece contains important “lessons learned” about how high-profile reports can impact the policy process, research priorities, and the direction and pace of change. It will be interesting to see what the new NAS committee will have to say about the future of sustainable and organic agriculture, and whether the forthcoming report will have comparable, greater or less of an impact than the earlier reports.
The NAS Committee includes several members with long-term experience in carrying out research on sustainable and organic farms, and two veterans from the 1989 report committee. A number of case studies will be carried out, which should also shed important light on how things have changed in the last 20-some years.
“Rusted Roots” Piece Stirs Strong Response from the Organic Community
A commentary published September 8, 2008 on Slate by James McWilliams makes the case that organic farming is polluting food with heavy metals. McWilliams states that the presence of heavy metals in soil on organic farms is organic farming’s “dirty little secret.”
On what basis does McWilliams, a history professor, support such a loaded accusation? In short, none. He acknowledges efforts in the organic community and the NOP rule to deal with heavy metals in agriculture, and points out that most heavy metals in soils got there because of conventional farming and air pollution. Plus, he states –
“No one is saying that organic soil has higher heavy-metal counts than conventional soil as a rule…”
So why the “dirty little secret” accusation? The best clue appears in the last paragraph, where McWilliams states that “complete despair may still be avoided” because of the development of genetically engineered plants that can suck zinc from the soil. But for this “solution” to be adopted, “the dichotomy between organic and conventional agriculture will have to be collapsed.”
The McWilliams piece stimulated a strong response from experts in the organic community. To provide further light on an important subject, see the excerpts below from two such commentaries.
And in late breaking news, The Center for Food Safety, a Washington D.C.-based group, has announced that it will sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its refusal to place a moratorium on application of sewage sludge on farmland – a potential major source of heavy metals in cropland soils. Six dozen food and consumer groups want to halt the practice.
Remarks on the “Rusted Root” Commentary by Chrys Ostrander, Chrysalis Farm, Davenport Washington, September 11, 2008 --
It's unfortunate that the author/editors of the
article "Rusted Roots" chose to sensationalize
this otherwise potentially informative and useful
article by singling out organic agriculture and
unjustly leaving the impression that organic
agriculture carries a major portion of the blame
for the problem. Maybe they thought that the
shock value of using organic ag as their hook
would get more people to read what might
otherwise seem too dry a subject to attract many
…heavy metal contamination of
the global food supply is a global problem of
critical proportions and most of the
responsibility for it does NOT fall on organic
farmers -- it falls on society as a whole to
reduce drastically the amount of industrial heavy
metal pollution of air, water and soil that
occurs, establish meaningful and uniform heavy
metal regulations for fertilizers, and, very
important, assist all farmers-- especially
organic farmers-- with education, funding for
soil and soil amendment contaminant testing and
…While organic agriculture as currently practiced incorporates
some measures that begin to mitigate the further
contamination of soil by heavy metals, the
criticisms of how organic standards fall short in
this regard should be taken very seriously.
Excerpts from “Further Comments on ‘Rusted Roots’ and Heavy Metals and Soils” by Brian Baker, OMRI Research Director –
As a subject interviewed by the cited article's author, I emphasized
that although organic was not immune to heavy metal contamination, the problem faced by organic farmers paled by comparison with conventional
agriculture. Farmers who are not organic can and do use all
fertilizers and soil amendments used by organic farmers. In addition,
non-organic farms apply sewage sludge and industrial by-products
prohibited in organic farming.
I also pointed out that rather than denying there was a problem, the organic community was dealing with it. McWilliams didn't mention any of that.
The National Organic Program's National List prohibits natural arsenic
and lead. It is the Organic Materials Review Institute’s (OMRI) opinion that it is illegal to apply fertilizers
that are heavily contaminated with these toxic elements to land certified organic under the NOP. Even though it is not on the National List as a prohibited element, OMRI also considered high levels of
cadmium in fertilizers to be unacceptable based on a general prohibition of heavy metals in the soils section. We prepared a study of the problem in 2005.
…Patty Martin was mayor of Quincy, WA when local dairy farmers in the area began bringing in an industrial toxic waste that was marketed as a 'zinc' fertilizer and applied it to
their hayfields. Yes, it had zinc--enough to qualify as a micronutrient. The problem was that it had cadmium as well. Some batches had more cadmium than zinc. There was not any law against it.
The cadmium started killing their cows--cadmium causes kidney and
other organ failure at low doses. At higher rates it killed stands of
alfalfa and practically made it impossible to grow all but a few
weeds. I have yet to meet a dairy farmer who wants to do that. The
losses were devastating to Quincy's economy.
…Dairy farmers should also be aware that heavy metals can make their
way into mineral pre-mixes. There have been a few incidents where
pre-mix manufacturers have used industrial waste as an ingredient…
These are problems all farmers face. People have higher expectations
of organic farmers.
The full text of Dr. Baker’s comments are posted on the Center’s website under “Commentaries.”
Acrylamide in Food Surveyed in the U.K.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) surveyed a range of foods for acrylamide, a cancer-causing “Advanced Glycation Endproduct” (AGE) that is formed when starchy foods are deep-fried, grilled, or baked at high temperatures.
The highest level was found in a Tesco house-brand potato ring (chip). Other potato-based products – chips, fries, crisps – were also found to contain acrylamide.
Organic “Duchy Originals Hand Cooked Vegetable Crisps” were also found to contain acrylamide.
Editors Note –
AGEs like acrylamide could emerge as the “break out” new food safety risk in this decade. Virtually unknown a few years ago, research on AGEs has mushroomed around the world and the results are, as a whole, worrisome. Acrylamide has put AGEs on the radar-screen of the food industry. Some event linking exposure to an AGE to a cluster of human illnesses will assure that consumers start paying attention.
The good news is that there are practical steps food companies, and consumers, can take to reduce exposures to AGEs. In particular, shifting to different cooking methods and oils appears to help. In general, lower temperatures and less pressure in food processing reduce AGE levels. The Center believes a study is needed on the impacts of various food manufacturing and processing technologies, including those allowed and prohibited in organic production, to see where there are needs and opportunities to further reduce AGE formation and consumption.
Iowa Water Quality Moving South
River water quality in Iowa continues to degrade. The boom in corn and soybean production, and return of idled land to intensive crop production, are among the factors leading Iowa to list 279 “impaired waters” in its latest report to the federal government.
Source: Sioux City Journal, September 14, 2008
Tainted Vegetables Moving North
Over 1,440 people were sickened by this year’s Salmonella saintpaul outbreak linked to peppers from Mexico. An Associated Press investigation found that peppers grown under a wide array of conditions – some following all known safety precautions, others not – likely were mixed together in handling and re-packing facilities. This mixing of produce from multiple sources is what led to such a large outbreak. It also made the task of investigators much more difficult.
About 90% of outbreaks are never traced to their source.
Source: “Few safeguards for Mexican produce heading north,” Associated Press, September 14, 2008
ABC News Highlights Risks Linked to Pesticides in Drinking Water
In a surprisingly hard-hitting piece September 9, 2008, the ABC News asked – “Should we be worried about pesticides in groundwater contaminating the water we drink and the food we eat?”—and answered “Yes.”
Several factors led ABC News to cover pesticide risk issues in Oregon – four lawsuits by the environmental group Earthjustice, new pesticide data collected and released in Oregon, the publication of a sophisticated “biological opinion” by government scientists on the adverse impacts of pesticides on the region’s beloved steelhead and salmon populations, and inaction by the Bush administration.
The piece ended with advice that eating organic and locally grown food is the best way to reduce pesticide exposure.
Editors Note –
Data strongly support the conclusion that eating organic food virtually eliminates pesticide dietary risks. In our most recent analysis of government pesticide residue data (March 2008 State of Science Review “Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation"), we concluded that consumption of organic fruits and vegetables would reduce average daily pesticide risks by about 97%.
The same cannot be said of all local produce. In fact, the growing interest in local produce is leading some farmers to grow fruits and vegetables in areas with soils and climates unsuitable for certain crops. When disease-sensitive crops are grown in moist, humid regions, watch out for big increases in fungicide use and residues.
It makes sense to reduce the miles that food travels. It makes sense to grow a greater diversity of crops in all regions of the country. It makes sense to match crops to local climates and soils. And it makes sense to be thoughtful and strategic when these goals are in conflict, as they often are.
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Only 12% of people in the United Kingdom consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, the current-U.K. recommendation. 12% of Brits eat no fruits and vegetables.
Global CO2 equivalent emissions in 2005 – 50 billion tons
Agriculture’s share – 5-6 billion tons (10-12%)
Potential mitigation from all sectors – 15-25 billion tons
Mitigation potential from changes in agriculture – 5 billion tons
Major sector of the world economy with the best chance of a major contribution to global carbon neutrality – agriculture
Source: “Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Challenges and Opportunities for Food Security,” HLC/08/INF2, FAO, May 2008
U.S. government subsidies for biofuels will rise from $11 billion in 2006 to $25 billion in 2015.
A company can import and sell produce in the United States after registering online at a Department of Commerce website.
Less than 1% of imported food is inspected by the FDA.
Dairy Sector Cost of Production Price Quiz –
Cost of good quality organic alfalfa hay in California in 2007 -- $245/ton
Cost in 2008 -- $320/ton
Cost of organic grain-based mixed ration (California) in 2007 -- $330/ton
Cost in 2008 -- $530/ton
The percent of arable land in China devoted to "Eco-Foods" -- 28%
New GM Crop research and development initiative in China -- $3.5 billion
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Excerpts from the FoodNavigator Series:
“Organics - fad or the future? Your views”
In an August 19, 2008 article, FoodNavigator stated that –
“Organic food was once seen as a niche market but now major multinationals are offering organic products. In fact it has been one of the biggest trends in the food sector in recent years but do organics have staying power, or will consumers lose interest over time?
...and asked its readers to offer their views on this key questions. Some of the published responses follow.
I believe that the drivers that are behind the growth in organics (food safety, return to naturalness and taste) are deeply ingrained within the consumers who are already converted and loyal to organic. They will remain committed to the organic concept, particularly in the core categories of fruit and veg, dairy and meat. However, I think organics in peripheral categories may suffer some decline, since the link between desire and delivery isn’t so strong. I believe the economic downturn may slow the growth of organics, but it won’t send it in to decline.
Jo Pabari, GoodStuff Consulting, UK.
The scientific evidence linking organic production methods to enhanced nutrient density and lower food safety risks is growing more compelling. Two factors will define the future trajectory for organic food sales. First, whether and to what extent organic farmers and food companies focus on sustaining and expanding the inherent benefits in organic systems, eg by foregoing the temptation to push organic crop yields and animals beyond physiological limits where health is sacrificed to production. Second, whether and to what extent the rest of the food industry moves toward production systems and technologies that produce safer and higher quality foods.
Dr Charles Benbrook, chief scientist, The Organic Center, Boulder, Colorado.
There seems little to convince me that organic food is anything other than a fad of the wealthy who have plenty to spend their money on. Anyway what precisely do we mean by 'organic'? If we mean not keeping chickens in tiny cages where they can hardly move, then I am in favor of doing something to improve their lives and buy 'free range' eggs whenever I can but this is NOT organic although it is frequently misunderstood as being so. If by organic we mean using Copper as a fungicide and refusing to consider GM crops, synthetic fungicides and glyphosate then I am anti organic and avoid buying anything described as such.
The organic movement is driven by an almost religious set of beliefs with no real understanding of proper science that does itself no good with those of us who have an understanding of agricultural science.
J.A. Harrington, Optima Excel Ltd (Agricultural Consultants), Wales.
I am a strong advocate of organic food and believe that it has superior taste and nutritional value, however this may be negated when organic food is transported long distances or stored for long periods. Organic food and farming will not become the norm, as it is just not cost effective to feed the billions on this earth in this manner. However, I do believe that it should be adopted wherever possible, as part of a sustainable future. Food prices are increasing due to droughts, floods and soaring fuel prices, so taking some responsibility is important – grow your own!
Sara Hopkins BHSc. research and development officer, Health World Limited, Australia. ____________________________
Organic prices tend to be more expensive than conventional agriculture because of higher labor input in organic agriculture, cheap fuel and subsidies conventional agriculture often receives, which deters consumers from being devoted to the purchase of organic foods. Yet, as food safety, general health, global commodity prices and biofuel issues continue to grow in influence, locally produced organic foods may just feed the masses by way of a default.
In fact, I imagine we’ll continue to see an increase in organic back yard gardens.... Just like our grandparents had. Organic food was the norm “back in the day”. It wasn’t broke. It didn’t have to be fixed. I think we’re all starting to realize this and as the food road continues to be bumpy, comfort in organic food will prevail.
Frederick Schilling, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, founder, Gula Merah Fund, managing director and eco-entrepreneur.
“Meat and Dairy Products from Cloned Animals”
Editorial Comment by Steve Hoffman, Managing Director, The Organic Center in response to Wall Street Journal coverage of the presence of food products from animal clones in the U.S. food supply –
You are right in your acknowledgment in two September articles that the best way people can avoid products from the offspring of cloned animals is to eat organic food.
Animal cloning is not allowed under federal organic production standards. Cloning involves cell fusion, a process involving the transfer of DNA from one cell to another. Cell fusion, and hence cloning based on it, narrows the gene base, while organic production relies on the maintenance of a broad and diverse gene pool. For similar reasons, GMOs are not allowed in organic production.
Additionally, organic products are grown without the use of synthetic, toxic pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones, or irradiation.
Research published by The Organic Center in February 2007, “Is the FDA’s Cloning Proposal Ready for Prime Time?” examines FDA’s own findings regarding the risk assessments on cloning. The report concludes that there are significant animal health and welfare issues associated with cloning in food products and unanswered questions regarding its impact on human health. For example, cloned animals may suffer increased risk of miscarriages and birth defects and other long-term health issues.
The study also called for mandatory labeling of food products from cloned animals or their offspring. The FDA has not ruled on whether or not cloned animals and their products will need to be tracked and labeled in the human food supply and for animal feed and pet uses. And yet, by law organic products must be audited and tracked from the origin of seed and livestock to the products that reach the table. So, despite audible protests from the cloning industry that it can’t be done, certified organic food production systems indeed show that food can be tracked from seed or origin of livestock to the table.
Labeling of products made from cloned animals is essential to prevent entry of cloned animals, their progeny and products into organic production systems, conduct long-term studies on the effects on human and animal health, sustain consumer confidence in the food system, protect conventional growers who choose not to use cloned animals, and respect the consumer’s right to know about the foods they consume.
Cloned animals may look the same as livestock resulting from natural breeding, but the public is not likely to accept similarity of appearance as the decisive food safety hurdle standing between animal clones and the American food supply.
“Statement of Grave Concern: A response to a workshop on 'Myth-busters' sponsored by Pennsylvania State University”
Pennsylvania State University widely publicized a series of 'Myth-buster' workshops at an annual conference. Several addressed issues of great interest to the organic community. The biased framing of the issues led to the below from three leaders of the sustainable and organic farming communities in Pennsylvania.
August 19, 2008
To: Robert D. Steele, Dean, Penn State College
of Agricultural Sciences
From: Timothy LaSalle, CEO, Rodale Institute
Leslie Zuck, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO)
Kim Seeley, President, Board of Directors, Pennsylvania Association for
Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
Pennsylvania Ag Progress Days is one of the state's premiere annual events
to showcase the best of Pennsylvania agriculture. The 2008 edition of this
event comes after a year when food costs, food safety, food v. fuel use and
even food sufficiency have been major news items.
It is therefore deeply disappointing and frankly shocking that members of
the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences have announced a
departmental slate of workshops that attack a number of approaches to
farming that are benefiting hundreds of family farmers across the
Commonwealth. Many of these feature human, environmental or animal
advantages documented by research-some by research at Penn State.
A July 28 press release titled "See agricultural myths busted during Ag
Progress Days," promises "we will investigate and analyze some widely
believed agricultural misconceptions and scientifically show why they are
false." Some of the myths promised to be "debunked" include:
* "High Milk Production Burns Out cows"
* "Organic Therapies are Better than Conventional Antibiotic
* "Grass fed and Organic Beef is better for Consumers" and
* "rBST-Free Milk is Better for Consumers."
The "myth-buster" topics listed in the release are simplistic and sweeping
statements about organic animal-health therapies, grass-fed and organic
beef, rBST-free milk and agriculture's impact on the environment. This
format reduces complex issues of animal, human and environmental well-being
to a true-or-false treatment of selected facts. There is no indication that
the workshops will be careful examinations of how Pennsylvania agriculture
can become more ecologically sound or produce food that is more healthful
through many different agricultural approaches.
Because of benefits to their health, well-being and profitability, hundreds
of Pennsylvania farmers have chosen to farm organically. With the even
greater numbers who have adopted grass-based dairy or beef production, these
farm families have experienced greater profit potential and seen empirical
evidence of changed conditions in their fields and herds.
It is profoundly troubling, then, that the Penn State planners of these
workshops would so recklessly disparage the value of products being marketed
by Pennsylvania farmers. In the case of certified organic farmers, these
individuals have complied with precise process rules listed in federal
regulation sanctioned by the USDA. It is further troubling to have the
animal science department at Penn State take a propaganda-like approach for
a narrow special interest group.
Innovative farmers and farm organizations in Pennsylvania expect our
Land-Grant university to be a leader in improving the sustainability of
agriculture in a period when fossil-fuel based inputs are more expensive and
scarce and it's increasingly imperative to remove farm chemicals from our
waterways. At the same time consumers are demanding more local food produced
with less energy-intensive methods and toxic chemicals in more transparent
Timothy J. LaSalle, Ph.D., is CEO of the Rodale Institute. He holds his
doctorate in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, a master's
degree in populations genetics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnic
State University (Cal Poly). For 12 years he was a full professor at Cal
Poly, where he taught dairy science classes and served as the president and
CEO of California's Agriculture Education Foundation. While at Cal Poly,
LaSalle started and operated a conventional dairy near Templeton,
California. He issued this statement on the release:
"As a dairy scientist, I find Penn State's treatment of organic dairy
management unobjective, unscientific, unprofessional and deleterious to many
livestock farmers in Pennsylvania who are making extra efforts to farm well.
Replicated research shows that there are nutritional benefits in organic
milk that are beneficial to human health. This approach also dismisses the
legitimate concerns of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania consumers who are
benefiting from the documented health benefits from organic foods, especially
Leslie Zuck is a co-founder and Executive Director of Pennsylvania Certified
Organic and a graduate of Penn State University (1980). She owns and
operates Common Ground Organic Farm in Centre County and served on the
advisory board for Penn State's Organic Transition Project, which can be
viewed on the bus tour at Ag Progress Days. She issued this statement on the
"Scientific, peer-reviewed studies published by reputable universities and
research organizations show the health and environmental benefits of
organic, pasture-based and rBGH-free food and farming systems. It is
irresponsible for Penn State researchers to use the Ag Progress Days venue
to "scientifically show why they are false" (quote from Brad Hilty, Penn
State senior extension associate). It is exceedingly unprofessional for an
institution of Penn State's caliber to stoop to sensationalizing an
important and controversial topic rather than approaching it directly with
fair, accurate and well-balanced discourse. This event perpetuates the myth
that there is only one way to farm - big, industrialized, highly capitalized, resource intensive - Penn State's way.
"It is a mystery to me why Penn State is unwilling to support organic
farming, which is the only sector of agriculture that continues to grow in
our state. While farms are going out of business due to lack of profits or
lack of interest by future generations, organic production provides an
opportunity for families to stay on the farm, produce healthy food, protect
the environment and receive a stable income. While we appreciate Penn State
College of Agricultural Science's offering several courses in organic
production for the first time this year, we are certainly mystified by this
unwarranted attempt to steer consumers and farmers away from organic food
and production methods.
"We suggest Penn State issue an apology to the thousands of organic and
sustainable farmers of Pennsylvania who are working hard to produce
high-quality, nutritious and healthy food for our Commonwealth."
Kim Seeley is president of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania
Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), co-owner of Milky Way Dairy
Farm and co-founder of Northern Tier Sustainable Meats Co-op. Both farm
enterprises supply Penn State's sister school, The Pennsylvania College of
Technology food service, with all of their fluid milk and a majority of
their ground beef requirements. He issued this statement on the release:
"Unfortunately this is what I have come to expect, since graduating from
Penn State 30 years ago. I realized then how research money was having a
growing influence in the Land Grant university system. Regrettably for
Pennsylvania dairy and beef farmers, the Department of Animal and Dairy
Science has been infiltrated the most with an unparalleled lack of respect
for the basics of animal husbandry and denial of the intricate differences
in nutritional content of animal byproducts from those produced on pasture
or by organic methods.
"Recently the Northern Tier Sustainable Meats Co-op funded research at Penn
State (not via dairy/animal science) looking at fat-soluble vitamin levels
in ground beef samples from cows fed on pasture and stored feeds. The
results of this research tell the story clearly, production methods create
very different end results. Each of the past 5 years, I have guest lectured
at PennState for a course entitled "Morality and Ethics in Agriculture,"
and when I show butter and cheese samples from grass-based cows, compared to
our winter samples, the students are wide eyed and openly admit they are
only studying an industrial approach to dairy/animal science."
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Organic Center Board Member Anthony Zolezzi Releases New Book
Chemical-Free Kids and Chemical-Free Kids: The Organic Sequel are the essential guidebooks to providing your family with a health-promoting, non-toxic diet, environment and lifestyle.
Both books will equip you with the kind of strategies and information you need to keep your children from being unnecessarily exposed to toxic and suspect substances before they can result in irreparable harm to their well-being and development, and outline the steps you can easily take to maximize their physical, mental and emotional health.
Chemical-Free Kids; The Organic Sequel, will be available at Amazon.com at the beginning of September. For a sneak preview of the first few chapters, be sure to sign up for the E-newsletter on the Chemical-Free Kids website.
Keep Up with Events by Visiting the Organic Center Blog
Managing Director Steven Hoffman has started an Organic Center blog that will help readers of “The Scoop” stay current on the activities of the Center, events, and other breaking developments.
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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.
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.
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The Organic Center Features Jerry Garcia Artwork
Do you or someone you know love The Grateful Dead? Do you enjoy beautiful original works of art? If so, select a giclee of Jerry Garcia original artwork and benefit The Organic Center. This unique fundraising initiative to benefit The Organic Center is made possible through the generosity of filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia and features the series, "In the Garden," by the late Jerry Garcia. Individual prints are $250, or get the full series for $1,000. To order your Jerry Garcia art, click here.
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
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Our Research –
Individuals can support the scientific work of The Organic Center by:
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:
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.
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"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 email@example.com.
Editor: Chuck Benbrook, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, The Organic Center
Design: Karen Lutz Benbrook
Circulation: Matthue DeYarus
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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, Consultant to Dean Foods
Treasurer: Mark Retzloff, President, Aurora Organic Dairy
Secretary: James White, Senior Vice President, Consumer Brands, Safeway
The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308