New natural food co-op forms in Sun Prairie

In late March, the Prairie Harvest Market Cooperative held its first meeting of the membership. A Board of Directors for the new natural foods co-op was elected. Turnout at the meeting was impressive—40 of 60 members attended.

The Prairie Harvest Market will be located in downtown Sun Prairie with a focus on local, organic and natural foods, but also with a consideration to the needs of downtown residents as well. Board member Shannon Munn said that residents in that part of the city have no easy grocery options and noted that there are many seniors living in the downtown area. “Those of us in the ‘old’ part of Sun Prairie are very much disconnected with the rapid, sprawling Westside commercial development which includes plans for a Super Target, a Woodmans, and other corporate chains,” said Munn. The co-op hopes to have a retail site open by the middle of 2009.

The new co-op was incorporated in October 2007 and launched a membership drive on Halloween. They hope to reach the 250-member mark by the end of the summer. Both individual and household lifetime memberships are available. For more information on member benefits, or how to join the Prairie Harvest Market Cooperative, attend a public informational meeting, held on alternate Tuesday evenings; see their website:, or call Susan at 608/834-0176 or Shannon at 608/712-2212.

U.S. organic food industry developing plans to deal with increasing GMO contamination

Widespread contamination of U.S. corn, soybeans and other crops by genetically engineered varieties is threatening the purity of organic and natural food products and driving purveyors of such specialty products to new efforts to protect their markets, industry leaders said this week.

A range of players, from dairy farmers to natural food retailers, are behind an effort to introduce testing requirements and standards for certification aimed at keeping contamination at bay. That goal is rapidly becoming harder, however, as planting of biotech corn, soybeans, and other crops expands across the United States.

“Now there is a real shortage of organic grain for animal husbandry and dairy operations,” said Organic Consumers Association national director Ronnie Cummins. “People are having to be real careful.”

Proponents of the plan rolled it out in mid-March at an industry meeting in Anaheim, California, seeking to get the entire organic and natural foods industry to agree on testing and standard certifications. Companies that get certified will be allowed to use a seal designating as much on their products.

“We think we can keep the contamination from getting worse by putting safeguards in place so people who want to choose to eat organic products free of genetic contamination can do so,” said Michael Funk, CEO of United Natural Foods, which is backing the initiative. “The longer we delay... the more challenging it is going to be.”

Biotech crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton and canola, have genes that have been manipulated to express specific traits, most commonly a resistance to herbicide, which helps farmers. Biotech developers such as Monsanto Co. patent the crop technology and tightly control use of the seed.

But mixing of biotech crops and conventional crops can occur during many phases of harvest, storage and shipment of grain, and drifting pollen and other natural forces can also contaminate crops while they are still in the fields.

Indeed, contamination of conventional crops by biotech crops has been reported around the world. There were 39 cases of crop contamination in 23 countries in 2007, and more than 200 in 57 countries over the last 10 years, according to biotech critic Greenpeace International.

Contamination of corn is the biggest concern for those trying to sell biotech-free food. Corn is not only used in human food but is also used to feed livestock, meaning organic beef and dairy farmers must ensure their animals are fed corn that is free of contamination.

That has become more difficult as biotech corn acres have expanded in the United States. In 2007, an estimated 73 percent of the 92.9 million acres of U.S. corn planted were biotech, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has a set of national standards for foods labeled “organic” as part of its marketing service, but the industry players seeking independent testing said the USDA has not gone far enough to require organic and natural foods are free from biotech contamination.

Organic dairy farmer Albert Straus, who started testing corn fed to his 300-head dairy herd more than a year ago, and found about one-third had been contaminated, now tests every lot of grain he buys.

“I started to test our products to see if there was an issue or not. It turned out there was an issue,” said Straus. He is now adding a label to his dairy products to alert consumers to the extra level of caution. “There is so much contamination,” he said. -Organic Consumers Association

Join in the World’s largest coffee break

This World Fair Trade Day, May 10th, there is no better way to celebrate than taking part in a Fair Trade Break. A Fair Trade Break is simply an opportunity for a community, a workplace, a class, or a group of friends to take time out to consume, showcase, and discuss the benefits of Fair Trade. The focus is on increasing awareness and educating others about the importance of Fair Trade and the producers who make and grow the products that we consume.

Your Fair Trade Break may include sharing home-baked goodies like Fair Trade chocolate brownies with coffee in your office (aka A Fair Trade Coffee Break), or simply brewing a pot of Fair Trade tea to sip with your friends (aka A Fair Trade Tea Break). Hosting a Fair Trade Break is an easy, effective and fun way to introduce Fair Trade to others, as well as allow people to experience the diverse and high quality range of Fair Trade products now available in the U.S.

How does the World’s Largest Coffee Break, Fair Trade-Style Work? This year, on May 10th at 3:00pm EST and noon PST, thousands of people across North America and Canada will join together to enjoy a Fair Trade Coffee Break at the same time. The Guinness Book of World Records reports that the current record for the World’s Largest Coffee Break consisted of 3,000 people enjoying the same break. For more information online:

Salads, gardening linked to lower lung cancer risk

By simply eating four or more servings of green salad a week and working in the garden once or twice a week, smokers and nonsmokers alike may be able to substantially reduce the risk of developing lung cancer, say researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“This is the first risk prediction model to examine the effects of diet and physical activity on the possibility of developing lung cancer,” says Michele Forman, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Epidemiology.

The data are from an ongoing M. D. Anderson case-control lung cancer study involving more than 3,800 participants. Separate risk assessment models were developed for current and former smokers as well as for those who have never smoked.

Forman’s study looked at salad consumption and gardening because, she said, “Salad is a marker for the consumption of many vegetables and gardening is an activity in which smokers and nonsmokers can participate.”

The baseline lung cancer prediction model had moderate risk protection.

The study pairs M. D. Anderson lung cancer patients with cancer-free current, former and never smoker counterparts provided through a partnership with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, a Houston-based HMO.

By including diet and physical activity, the discriminatory power of the model was raised to 64 percent, 67 percent and 71 percent respectively for never, former and current smokers.

“This finding is exciting because not only is it applicable to everyone, but it also may have a positive impact on the 15 percent of non-smokers who develop lung cancer,” says Forman.

The other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke and dust, family history of cancer and the patient’s history of respiratory disease and smoking.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, with more than 213,000 estimated new cases diagnosed each year according to the American Cancer Society. Smoking tobacco accounts for more than eight of 10 lung cancer cases. -Environment News Service

Vegetables tied to lower breast cancer risk

Cruciferous vegetables may help lower the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly for women who carry a particular gene variant linked to the disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 6,000 Chinese women, those with the highest intake of Chinese cabbage and white turnips had a somewhat lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer than those with the lowest intake.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, add to evidence that compounds in cruciferous vegetables may help fight cancer.

Chinese cabbage and white turnips are two cruciferous vegetables common in the Chinese diet; in Western diets, the most common cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower and kale. The vegetables contain certain compounds that the body converts into substances called isothiocyanates, which are thought to have anti-cancer effects.

In the current study, high consumption of Chinese cabbage and white turnips was linked to a moderately lower breast cancer risk. But the apparent benefit was stronger among women who carried two copies of a particular variant of a gene called GSTP1.

Among these women, those with the highest intake of any cruciferous vegetables had about half the risk of breast cancer as those who ate the fewest, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Sang-Ah Lee of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

GSTP1 is an enzyme that helps detoxify the body of potentially cancer-causing substances. Some studies have suggested that having a particular form of the gene—the Val variant—may raise a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

The current study found that women who carried two copies of the Val variant did, in fact, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer before menopause than women who had other variants in the GSTP1 gene.

But the excess risk was cut substantially in those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables.

“We cautiously interpreted this as diet being a factor that may reduce the impact of genetic susceptibility in overall breast cancer risk,” Dr. Jay Fowke, one of the researchers on the work, said in a statement.

It’s possible, according to Fowke and his colleagues, that people who carry two Val variants of the GSTP1 gene excrete the beneficial isothiocyanates more quickly, and eating more cruciferous vegetables helps counter this.

More research, they conclude, is needed to better understand how cruciferous vegetables might modify breast cancer risk. -Reuters Health