Another study sheds light on the O verse non talk TO be or not to be Organic eater is the question

New study sheds light on debate over organic vs. conventional agriculture

Apr. 25, 2012

Researchers at McGill, Univ. of Minnesota call for combining best of both approaches

Can organic agriculture feed the world?

Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at McGill University and the University of Minnesota.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet – yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often heated debate over organic versus conventional farming. Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

What’s more, when best management practices are used for organic crops, overall yields are just 13% lower than conventional levels. “These results suggest that today’s organic systems may nearly rival conventional yields in some cases – with particular crop types, growing conditions and management practices – but often they do not,” the researchers write. Improvements in organic management techniques, or adoption of organic agriculture under environmental conditions where it performs best, may help close the yield gap, they indicate.

“Our study indicates that organically fertilized systems might require higher nitrogen inputs to achieve high yields as organic nitrogen is less readily available to crops. In some cases, organic farmers may therefore benefit by making limited use of chemical fertilizers instead of relying only on manure to supply nitrogen to their crops,” Seufert says. “At the same time, conventional agriculture can learn from successful organic systems and implement practices that have shown environmental benefits, such as increased crop diversity and use of crop residues.”

Yields are only part of a set of economic, social and environmental factors that should be considered when gauging the benefits of different farming systems, the researchers note. “Maybe people are asking the wrong question,” Prof Ramankutty says. “Instead of asking if food is organically grown, maybe we should be asking if it’s sustainably grown.”

The results point to a need to get beyond the black-and-white, ideological debates that often pit advocates of organic and local foods against proponents of conventional agriculture, Prof. Foley adds. “By combining organic and conventional practices in a way that maximizes food production and social good while minimizing adverse environmental impact, we can create a truly sustainable food system.”

One way to help cut the Fed budget


 

Sometimes less is more. If we want broad support for effective and efficient conservation programs on working agricultural lands, we need fewer programs. Having a plethora of programs dilutes both the support for and efficiency of individual programs. 

This is the right time to make changes. The budget is tight. The 2008 Farm Bill is expiring. Everything is on the table. The stars have aligned, and we need to take advantage of this opportunity to fine tune our agricultural conservation programs to provide increased environmental benefits over the next five years. 

We began expanding conservation programs more than 25 years ago with the 1985 Farm Bill. But what we need today is not more programs with more acronyms and slightly different twists on accomplishing the basic goals of conservation—cleaner air, purer water, reduced erosion and expanded habitat for wildlife. We need greater efficiency and effectiveness—for those who administer the programs, those who apply for them and those who pay for them. 

For farmers, multiple programs with multiple applications mean multiple visits to the Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency offices, taking away valuable time in the fields. That really shouldn’t be necessary when the ranking criteria are often similar. Right now producers almost need a consultant to sort through the multitude of federal, state and local programs to determine which are right for them. We need to get USDA conservation experts out of their offices and back in the field helping farmers and ranchers.

The 1996 Farm Bill consolidated conservation programs, creating the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which replaced the Water Quality Incentives Program, the Great Plains Conservation Program and the Environmental Easement Program. That was the right way to go then, and it’s the right thing to do now.

I propose a simple, nimble, straightforward approach with a heavy dose of common sense. It’s cost-effective, and it can still include all the necessary requirements to ensure that taxpayers who share the cost of conservation practices are getting their money’s worth.

Today we have more than 20 agricultural programs, subprograms and initiatives—including many you’ve never heard of. What if we replaced all of them with one cost-share program, one easement program and one stewardship program? What if we only had one USDA agency delivering conservation to farmers and ranchers?

What if we rolled the Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) into EQIP? Already the sign-up procedures, eligibility requirements and rules for participation are similar. Let’s establish one program to share the costs of on-farm structures that provide environmental benefits.

What about combining the Grassland Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Emergency Watershed Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, the Debt for Nature program and the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program?   Let’s create one easement program focused on preserving and enhancing natural resources and one application to foster that goal.  Most importantly, give each state NRCS technical committee the authority to recommend priorities on grassland, wetland and open space preservation.

And what about using one stewardship program to encourage management practices such as no till, precision agriculture and high tech irrigation strategies? This approach might be particularly appealing to those who rent rather than own the land they farm. It would more clearly differentiate between EQIP and CSP and facilitate using a systems approach to conservation programs. Further, it would recognize that management is the vehicle that delivers conservation.

Let’s maximize conservation on the land by minimizing paperwork, streamlining programs, emphasizing cost-effective practices and reducing overhead. Congress is threatening to cut a billion dollars from conservation programs in FY 2012, but hasn’t considered common sense consolidation.

Let’s join forces to throw strong support behind fewer conservation programs for a better deal for farmers with a lower cost for taxpayers. Let’s make conservation work for working lands.

History of cereals being switched from Organic to GMO and non GMO status

The Cornucopia Institute’s report, Cereal Crimes, can be viewed online here.  A brief video discussing the report’s findings can be seen here.  

Kashi’s Rick Duran told Cornucopia staff that the company makes over 100 products, and although proclaiming their dedication to organics, only four of these are certified organic.  Another three products are produced from verified non-GMO grains (7 Whole Grains®).  Unsaid was the fact that there are currently no GMO grains grown for any of the ingredients used in the 7 Whole Grains cereal products.

The Cornucopia Institute has collected and saved, as a document, many of the more than 200 comments posted by angry customers on Kashi’s Facebook page, in the event that they disappear or are scrubbed from the site.  This document is available upon request.

 

The Cornucopia Institute is engaged in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture.  Through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to family farmers, consumers, stakeholders involved in the good food movement, and the media.

Cereal problem explored.

USDA Receives Over 365,000 Public Comments Opposing Approval of 2,4-D-Resistant, GE Corn

April 26, 2012

143 Farm, Fisheries, Public Health, Consumer, and Environmental Groups Send Secretary Vilsack Joint-Letter on Potential Threats to Human Health, American Farms; Public Comment Period Ends Friday, April 27

San Francisco — Over 140 groups and more than 365,000 citizens from across the country are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reject a Dow Chemical application seeking approval of a controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2,4-D. In addition to the public comments, 143 farm, environmental, health, fisheries groups and companies will submit a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing their overwhelming opposition to this crop. The comments and letter will be submitted when USDA’s public comment period ends this Friday, April 27.

“American agriculture stands at a crossroads. One path leads to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, litigious disputes in farm country over drift-related crop injury, less crop diversity, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising farmer production costs,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “This is the path American agriculture will take with approval of Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn, soybeans and the host of other new herbicide-resistant crops in the pipeline. Another path is possible, but embarking upon it will take enlightened leadership from USDA.”

According to agricultural scientist Dr. Charles Benbrook, widespread planting of 2,4-D resistant corn could trigger as much as a 30-fold increase in 2,4-D use on corn by the end of the decade, given 2,4-D’s limited use on corn at present. Overall 2,4-D use in American agriculture would rise from 27 million lbs. today to over 100 million lbs. 2,4-D soybeans and cotton would boost usage still more. Yet USDA has provided no analysis of the serious harm to human health, the environment or neighboring farms that would result.

“It’s clear that this new generation of GE herbicide-resistant seeds is the growth engine of the pesticide industry’s sales and marketing strategy,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “These seeds are part of a technology package explicitly designed to facilitate increased, indiscriminate herbicide use and pump up chemical sales.”

In addition, 35 medical and public health professionals have signed a letter to USDA warning of the severe health harms that would likely accompany the massive increase in 2,4-D use, expected to accompany approval of the GE seed. “Many studies show that 2,4 D exposure is associated with various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, nerve damage, hormone disruption and birth defects,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop.”

American farmers are also rightly concerned that the introduction of 2,4-D resistant corn will threaten their crops. 2,4-D drift is responsible for more episodes of crop injury than any other herbicide. Last week, a coalition representing more than 2,000 farmers and groups filed petitions with the USDA and the EPA, asking USDA to conduct a thorough environmental review before making a decision on approving 2,4-D resistant corn and EPA to convene an advisory panel to examine impacts from increased application of the herbicides.

“Farmers are on the front lines of this potential chemical disaster,” said Iowa conventional corn and soybean farmer George Naylor. “Conventional farmers stand to lose crops while organic farmers will lose both crops and certification, resulting in an economic unraveling of already-stressed rural communities. I’m also very concerned about the further pollution of the air and water in my community.”

“USDA must stand up for those growing America’s food and put their interests, and the public’s, ahead of chemical companies’ profits,” added Margot McMillen, an organic farmer in Missouri. Hers is the message of farmers who are speaking on this issue today at a national telepress conference organized by the National Family Farm Coalition.

Dow’s 2,4-D resistant corn is a clear indication that first-generation GE, herbicide-resistant crops—specifically Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) varieties—are rapidly failing. RR crops, which comprise 84 percent of world biotech plantings, have triggered massive use of glyphosate (Roundup’s active ingredient) and an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.”

Though Dow claims 2,4-D crops are the solution to weed resistance a recent peer-reviewed study published in the prestigious journal Bioscience concludes that these new GE crops will pour oil on the fire. The study, entitled “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” suggests new GE crops will trigger an outbreak of still more intractable weeds resistant to both glyphosate and 2,4-D.

2,4-D drift and runoff also pose serious risk for environmental harm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service have found that 2,4-D is likely having adverse impacts on several endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, the Alameda whipsnake, and Pacific salmon, via impacts on their habitats and prey.

“EPA recently denied our petition to ban or control 2,4-D, putting their head in the sand instead of protecting people and plants,” said Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If USDA now grants Dow’s application, farmers, gardeners, wildlife, and kids will all face even greater exposure to this toxic herbicide.”

If approved, the Center for Food Safety has vowed to challenge USDA’s decision in court, as this novel GE crop provides no public benefit and will only cause serious harm to human health, the environment, and threaten American farms.

The groups submitting public comments to USDA include the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Food & Water Watch, Food Democracy Now, the National Family Farm Coalition, Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Organic Consumers Association, SumOfUs.org, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. More information can be found at www.centerforfoodsafety.org

Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN North America, or PANNA) works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens’ action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society. More information can be found at www.panna.org

National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) unites the voices and actions of its diverse grassroots members to demand viable livelihoods for family farmers, fishers and workers, safe and healthy food, and economically and environmentally sound rural communities.www.nffc.net

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s purpose is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends. We work to restore the integrity of the elements that sustain life — air, land and water — and to defend endangered natural places. We seek to establish sustainability and good stewardship of the Earth as central ethical imperatives of human society.

NRDC affirms the integral place of human beings in the environment. We strive to protect nature in ways that advance the long-term welfare of present and future generations. We work to foster the fundamental right of all people to have a voice in decisions that affect their environment. We seek to break down the pattern of disproportionate environmental burdens borne by people of color and others who face social or economic inequities. Ultimately, NRDC strives to help create a new way of life for humankind, one that can be sustained indefinitely without fouling or depleting the resources that support all life on Earth. On the web at www.nrdc.org

Fad diets are out

April 11, 2012

Fad Diets Are Out – Eaters For Health Who Focus On Non-GMO, Organic and Toxic-Free Foods Are In

A wave of highly informed seekers of clean and healthy food is taking over the information highway and leaving yo-yo and fad dieting methods in the dust. They are representing a new generation of educated consumers who seek not only to maintain a healthy body, but supercharge their longevity and well-being with foods which are free of toxins and genetically modified organisms (GMO). They do not necessarily fall into any specific category whether vegetarian, fishetarian, vegan, raw or any other known pattern. They’re simply interested in eating clean, fresh, unadulterated foods that agree with both their palate and physiology.

The old tried and claimed true methods of eating less fat have clearly failed millions of people on these types of calorie reduced diets. More importantly, they damage long-term health by lowering critical cholesterol levels which may cause more serious diseases such as cancer.

Eaters For Health (EFH)

The masses are currently gearing up for a nutritional revolution that is likely making its mark for decades to come. Eaters for health (EFH) is about eating clean food, free of toxins such as chemical additives, coloring and preservatives. It’s about foods free from genetic modification, pesticides, herbicides and anything “cide”. We’re talking organic, wholesome, nutritionally dense, full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Eaters for health are not necessarily concerned about going vegetarian, fishetarian, vegan or raw, despite the claims from these groups that their way is the only path to true health. Many who pursue these lifestyles actually end up discovering the opposite, and that restricting foods to any reasonable extent can actually be quite damaging to certain metabolic types especially with ancestral origins that relied on some type of animal protein as a primary food source. Sooner or later, many (not all) of these ethical eaters dabble back into animal protein simply because it makes them feel better.

Toxic-Free Eating, Not Restricting

Regardless, that is not the concern for EFH. They embrace those who choose the path of ethical eating practices and don’t judge them based on their decisions. If it works for them–great, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine too and there’s no shame in selecting another path that focuses on clean, toxic-free eating. They’re not out to stake any claim to emphasize that it’s their way or the highway. EFH understand the diversity of choices and their primary cause is to educate themselves on toxic-free foods.

Many EFH do eat animal protein, but their focus and prerequisite insists on consuming products from animals that are treated humanely, allowed to graze fields, or swim wild in the oceans, and consume organic produce which is as close as possible to their natural diets. They choose non-vaccinated, hormone-free and toxic-free animals that are traditionally raised in loving farm environments where farmers actually care about the well-being of their livestock. They also emphasize humane slaughtering methods and insist that many of the animals enjoy several years of their life without being slaughtered one year after birth.

Eating On Intuition and Instinct

They understand that all life is consciousness and there is no such thing as eating a plant, sprout, grain, or anything that is a lower life form that lacks consciousness. If they are eating eat, it is consciousness, whether it is a plant or animal. From that perspective, it allows them to make conscious decisions to consume plants, animals or marine life on the same level of reasoning and depending entirely on the individual needs of each person.

An important part of the EFH drive for healthy eating is to follow their intuition and instinct. If a food doesn’t taste or feel right to their palate or digestive system, they will not continue to consume it regardless of the touted health benefits. They educate themselves on their ancestry, what their ancestors subsisted on, including climate, soil, and even air quality. EFH are also very interested in their genetic and metabolic predispositions and select many foods based on this research.

Nutritionist and raw food expert Eugene Hillary says the EFH movement is gaining credibility without a label. “These people have not even label themselves, yet they know exactly what they want and how to achieve it in order to increase their health,” he stated. Hillary asserted that those who escape from the yo-yo fad dieting trends and adopt EFH type lifestyles immediately see modest weight loss within a few short months, usually without any exercise because they cut out all toxins and tailor diets to their specific metabolic types.

Weight Loss

“This is great news because studies have shown that even a 5 percent reduction in weight can lead to improved health,” said author Jacinda M. Nicklas, MD, MPH, MA, a clinical research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. “With more than a third of Americans now obese and fifty to seventy percent of them trying to lose weight, this is important because the health risks associated with carrying that extra weight are substantial.”

The authors found that, “self-reported use of popular diets, liquid diets, nonprescription weight loss pills and diet foods/products were not associated with weight loss.”

“It’s very encouraging to find that the most of the weight loss methods associated with success are accessible and inexpensive,” says senior author Christina Wee, MD, MPH who conducts research on obesity and health disparities as the Co-Director of Research in BIDMC’s Division of General Medicine and Primary Care. “There are lots of fad diets out there as well as expensive over-the-counter medications that have not necessarily been proven to be effective.”

EFH consider how a food is produced, how the various foods they eat interact with each other, and how they can balance nutrition with food enjoyment and our overall well-being. When shopping at the grocery store, they make conscious decisions that can have profound effects on their life and on the world as a whole.

Common themes EFH adopt include:

1. Buying Organic, Non-GMO
Many EFH believe in not restricting what they eat as long as they are ethical in their buying practices. There are many in the holistic-eating communities who believe that there is nothing wrong with responsibly produced meat and other animal products.

The best chance of consuming the least amount of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides comes from buying organic produce from local farms. Most farmers who have sustainable organic practices will only use Non-GMO seeds, and essential ingredient in the EFH lifestyle.

2. Going Local
If they are not raising and harvesting the food themselves, the only way they can know for sure that the food they buy is ethically produced is to buy organic from local reputable farmers with the sustainable practices mentioned above.

Whenever possible, an aspect of EFH is making sure that the food they buy is as environmentally friendly as possible. Food that has been transported from the other side of the world or even from across the country does not fit the bill.

3. Buy in Season Whenever Possible
No matter where they live, there is always going to be something in season. They go online and look into what is in season during the various times of year in their area, and then focus their meal planning around seasonally appropriate foods. This means that they will have to get used to not eating certain fruits and vegetables during certain times of the year. It is how our ancestors did it for thousands of years, and EFH are conscious of this too. In fact, the restrictions of buying in season can actually make food choices more varied and interesting.

4. Avoiding Sodas and High Calorie Sugary Drinks
Following the tenant of EFH aims to remove added sugars from the diet. They choose water or tea (with the occasional coffee) for their beverages, or juice their own fruits and vegetables and enjoy them without added sugars or preservatives. They avoid all sodas without exception due to high levels of toxicity.

5. Eating Several Small Meals
EFH consume several small meals to keep blood sugar stable and to avoid overeating. They choose snacks like nuts, or fruits and vegetables. Some EFH prefer organic yogurts and raw cheese and others prefer to avoid these products all together.

Note that some people who live a clean eating lifestyle don’t eat dairy products while others adapt clean eating to a vegetarian lifestyle.

6. Balance Acid Forming Foods and Base Forming Foods
The typical Western diet is high in animal protein, which increases the body’s acidity slightly. Fruits and vegetables reduce the body’s acidity–that is, make it more alkaline. It’s not that meat is acidic, but rather that it contains acid-forming compounds, such as amino acids and phosphorus. Similarly, fruits and vegetables have alkaline-forming compounds (even though many of them taste acidic). EFH try and balance both extremes. They never eat animal protein with complex carbohydrates at the same time. Instead to always eat either animal protein or complex carbohydrates with vegetables to better balance acidity and alkalinity levels.

7. Avoiding All Toxic Additives, Preservatives and Coloring
EFH choose fresh, unprocessed foods over canned or processed products. They believe in fresh fruits and vegetables and that processing them reduces their nutritional value and fiber content and adds salt, fat, sugar and chemicals. They choose fruit instead of fruit juice and if they must pick a processed vegetable, frozen is always better than canned.

They avoid all chemical taste enhancers, additives and preservatives like MSG, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, maltodextrin, gmo emulsifiers (i.e. xanthan gum, soy lecithin), artificial coloring and flavoring, sucralose, gmo soy proteins, etc.

All of the above may seem overwhelming to the average consumer thinking about trying the EFH lifestyle, however most will tell you “it is just a way life.” It becomes part of the routine and second nature like picking the right berry off a plant.

Another major emphasis is to not let it consume you or cause unnecessary anxiety. There will always be times when they must break their own rules to conform to a specific social situation or circumstance. They are well aware and even anticipate such events. When they can, they bring a snack of their own preference. When they can’t, c’est la vie. A true measure of a dedicated EFH eater is not how rigid they become in their dietary lifestyle, but how flexible and creative they become when their ideals are challenged. Because no matter what, they will always revert back to their ideal when the challenge has passed, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.