Believe science, not spin: Organic food still the best nutritional choice

The Rodale Institute is committed to catalyzing new research that will authoritatively establish the nutritional, health and environmental benefits of eating organic food. Recent attention given to the nutritional aspects of organic foods speaks to a high level of consumer interest in food and health.

The Institute, a pioneer in organic farming research for 60 years, welcomes the call for more research by the lead scientist of a recent study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The research review included a mix of research materials published in the 50 years up to February 2008, about a quarter of them from before 2000.

“We’re as confident as we were before the recent media furor that existing and forthcoming research will show the myriad nutritional benefits of organic foods,” said Tim LaSalle, CEO of the Institute, and a former dairy science professor at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). “Nutrition is a primary consideration in food choice, and organic choices continue to be validated by nutrition studies from around the world.”

“Media spin has largely missed the point of this tightly focused study using existing data. It is a blip, not a cataclysm, in the ongoing effort to grasp the complexities of how organic food—from healthy soil and natural systems—differs from food grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,” LaSalle explained.

The study, funded by the UK Food Standards Agency, formally acknowledges data demonstrating significant nutritional advantages for organic. It said in its analysis, however, that the evidence was insufficient, under its protocol, to proclaim organic superiority.
“We know that research from scientists in the United States, UK and the EU will improve the quality and scope of this scientific discussion, and will bolster the magnitude of the organic difference,” LaSalle explained.

The study accepted data from only 55 field trials, farm surveys and market basket surveys of the 52,471 citations it identified with relevance to comparing nutrients (and other substances) from organic and non-organic sources. Methods for rejection included statistical methodology, unclear organic system verification and lack of specific breed/cultivar identification. Some of the studies included were conducted before the creation of current national organic standards.

Nutritional research emerging in the next year will build on current data showing organic superiority in the particular areas of antioxidant capacity (important for cancer-fighting properties) and omega-3 v. omega-6 balance in dairy products.

The Rodale Institute has been comparing organic and non-organic practices for nearly three decades, and released a report in 2008 explaining the regenerative capabilities of organic agriculture as a solution to confront global warming. Organic production methods are responsible for fewer pesticides and herbicides in soils and water, better management of land, and food with little to no risk of doing long-term damage to our planet, its people, and its biodiversity.

“There is no reason to be less confident in your organic choices, which continue to count as real votes in the marketplace for healthy people, healthy farms and healthy communities,” LaSalle stated. -Rodale Institute, Organic Consumers Association

EU buyers stop U.S. soy imports after GMO corn found

European Union buyers have voluntarily moved to stop imports of U.S. soy after shipments were found containing traces of genetically modified corn, a spokesman for the EU in Washington said recently.

European trade sources said U.S. soybean meal shipments to Spain and Germany were found with traces of GMO corn, which is prohibited in the European Union.

“The industry has itself decided to stop all imports of U.S. soy, as of now,” Mattias Sundholm told Reuters.

“The shipments have been rejected at the EU borders, and have been consigned and recalled when already on the market within the EU, unless they have already been consumed,” Sundholm said.

Sundholm could not confirm the quantity or location of the shipments, but said they were found to contain the corn varieties MON-88017 and MIR-604.

Officials from the U.S. Agriculture Department and trade associations have not replied to requests for information.

The incident has raised concerns about bottlenecks in supply of a key feed ingredient for European livestock, which is already pricey.
“The main problem is that EU regulations don’t allow marginal amounts, traces of GMOs not authorized by the EU,” a spokesman for the Spanish Association of Cereal and Products Importers said.

“That puts us all in an uncertain, risky trade situation, and that is most serious for the entire European Community—trade, livestock production and the economy.”

Sources said 50,000 tonnes of contaminated U.S. soybean meal had been unloaded and detained at Tarragona, Spain’s largest port. Port officials were not available to comment.

“It still needs to be dispatched and we await a meeting by the European Commission, probably in September, because nothing will happen in August,” a port source said.

“The meeting will have to be urgent, because they have had similar problems in Germany.”

The EU was the fourth-largest market last year for U.S. soymeal exports, totaling 475,900 tonnes. Shipments so far this marketing year, which began last October, are 374,300 tonnes. -Organic Consumers Association

Washington Post reports meat eating is ‘huge contributor’ to climate change

Recently, the Washington Post summarized a number of recent reports indicating that one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint or greenhouse gas pollution is to reduce your meat consumption. Here are some quick highlights:

  • A Carnegie Melon study found that the average American would benefit the planet more by being vegetarian one day per week than by switching to a totally local diet (heck, why not do both?).
  • A University of Chicago study found that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading your gas guzzler for a Prius.
  • The head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recommended that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere.
  • According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Although we’ve reported similar studies in Organic Bytes over the years, it’s refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet finally bring attention to the topic. Americans seem okay being told they should recycle, drive less, and weatherize their homes, but something short-circuits when you ask them to reduce their meat consumption. -Organic Consumers Association

Low Vitamin D in U.S. children linked to FDA’s foot-dragging on sunscreen standards

Researchers from a major medical center in New York have reported that 7 out of 10 U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, placing them at higher risk for bone disorders, heart disease, and other health problems (Kumar 2009).

Children’s major source of vitamin D is sunshine. The UV rays from the sun trigger the skin to make the vitamin. Smaller amounts are found in cod liver oil, vitamin-D-fortified milk, orange juice, and other foods. Vitamin D can also be found in supplements.
The researchers analyzed vitamin D levels in over 6,000 children who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001-2004. They found that children at highest risk for vitamin D deficiency include those who are obese or who spend more than 4 hours daily in front of the TV, computer or video game system.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) failure to establish workable sunscreen standards are a contributing factor to children’s vitamin D deficiencies and resulting health risks. FDA has not yet finalized sunscreen standards it drafted in 1978 [read more]. Currently, the agency:

  • Advises children to stay out of the sun from 10 am to 4 pm.
  • Allows sunscreens that block only UVB rays (indicated by the SPF rating), the form of sunlight the body uses to manufacture vitamin D.
  • Has failed to finalize UVA standards for sunscreen, the form of sunlight strongly linked to skin cancer.

In contrast, standards in the EU, Japan and Australia require that sunscreens protect the skin from damaging UVA rays. And in contrast to FDA’s blanket advice to stay out of the sun and always use sunscreen, the American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of sun exposure before applying sunscreen, to give skin time to make vitamin D (AMA 2008).

Insufficient amounts of vitamin D are believed to play a role in the development of heart disease, some immune disorders, diabetes, and even the flu, while excess UVA exposures contribute to skin cancer and skin aging.

“FDA’s foot dragging over permanent sunscreen safety standards puts the health of the country’s children in jeopardy,” said Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Research at Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Their continued failure to finalize meaningful sunscreen standards—and set policies that account for what’s known about the risks and benefits of sunshine—are putting children at risk and contributing to rising rates of skin cancer.” -Environmental Working Group

Organic Trade Association applauds plans for audit and review of National Organic Program

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is pleased that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program (NOP) has applied to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for a review of its accreditation process and program.
Under the review planned for fiscal year 2010 which begins Oct. 1st, NIST’s National Voluntary Conformity Assessment Systems Evaluation program will evaluate NOP’s accreditation program to assess its ongoing conformity with international standards for managing accreditation programs. NOP is seeking NIST recognition, which is granted to qualified U.S. organizations that effectively demonstrate conformance with established criteria.

Receiving such recognition would support NOP’s credentials as an accrediting body and satisfy regulatory requirements for NOP to obtain peer review.

“Such recognition of the National Organic Program as a consistent program with integrity will help build consumer trust, which is critical for a stable market for organic products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director.

This is part of overall efforts by USDA to increase support for the National Organic Program.

In OTA’s recent consumer survey conducted in collaboration with KIWI Magazine, knowledge about and trust in requirements for the organic label were essential for consumers to consistently buy organic products. In fact, organic influencers—those who were extremely well informed about organic practices and likely to influence the thoughts and actions of their friends and family—had a high level of knowledge and a strong trust in organic labeling, resulting in a strong commitment to regularly purchasing organic products. -Organic Trade Association

It’s déjà vu all over again with FDA’s review of BPA

In mid-August, Mitchell Cheeseman, the point person for the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety review of bisphenol A (BPA), strongly suggested that the agency is not taking the “fresh look” at the chemical promised in June.

During a briefing before the agency’s outside Science Board, Cheeseman, the scientist responsible for a highly controversial review of the safety of BPA contamination in food, indicated that FDA continues to rely almost exclusively on two industry-sponsored studies that have dismissed BPA exposure as harmless. As well, he made it clear that FDA is still ignoring the more numerous independent research studies, many of them conducted with funding from the National Institutes of Health, that have found that low doses of BPA compromise the health of laboratory animals, especially to those exposed in utero.

In June, an FDA spokesman pledged the new assessment, launched in response to a scathing critique by the Science Board, would be done in “weeks, not months.” But at the August briefing, Cheeseman said the delivery date would likely come in November.
The FDA has taken the position that BPA contamination of food is safe, even for pregnant women, infants and young children, and has rebuffed calls to restrict the chemical’s use in food packaging. Last October, the Science Board rejected the agency’s scientific assessment on which this policy was based as “not supported by the available data and science.”

Cheeseman’s relationship with the chemical industry came under scrutiny in May, when the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published excerpts from FDA emails showing that Cheeseman consulted closely with BPA lobbyists in formulating FDA’s reaction to intensifying public pressure to regulate BPA in baby bottles, infant formula and other food packaging.

At one point, the Journal-Sentinel reported, Cheeseman emailed Steven Hentges, head of the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) BPA group, seeking material that might help him discredit a soon-to-be-published Japanese research study linking BPA to miscarriages.

“I’d like to get information together that our chemists could look at to determine if there are problems with that data in advance of possibly reviewing the study,” Cheeseman wrote, according to the Journal-Sentinel.
Because of that report and also because of the new review’s slow pace, Environmental Working Group has asked FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg to remove Cheeseman from his role in the project.

“The course on which the agency seems to have embarked will do nothing to restore public confidence in FDA,” EWG senior vice-president Richard Wiles wrote in a letter to Hamburg. “Nor will it demonstrate that the agency puts the health of the public before the interests of BPA manufacturers and users. We respectfully request that you take immediate steps to ensure the integrity of the process.” -Environmental Working Group

More obesity blues: research shows brains of obese people have less tissue

Obesity is on a rampage. The World Health Organization pegs the number of those affected at more than 300 million worldwide, with a billion more overweight. With obesity comes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Now there is more discouraging news.

In a study published in the current [Aug. 2009] online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping, senior author Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology, lead author Cyrus A. Raji, a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and their colleagues compared the brains of elderly people who were obese, overweight and of normal weight to see if they had differences in brain structure—that is, if their brains looked equally healthy.

They found that obese individuals had, on average, 8 percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight, while overweight people had 4 percent less tissue. According to Thompson, who is also a member of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, this is the first time anyone has established a link between being overweight and having what he describes as “severe brain degeneration.”

“That’s a big loss of tissue, and it depletes your cognitive reserves, putting you at much greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that attack the brain,” he said. “But you can greatly reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s if you can eat healthily and keep your weight under control.”

For the study, researchers used brain images from an earlier study called the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study. Scans were selected of 94 elderly people in their 70s who were healthy—not cognitively impaired—five years after the scan was taken. To define the weight categories, they used the body mass index (BMI), the most widely used measurement for obesity. Normal-weight people were defined as having a BMI between 18.5 and 25; overweight people between 25 and 30, and obese people more than 30. The researchers then converted the scans into detailed three-dimensional images using tensor-based morphometry, a neuroimaging method that offers high-resolution mapping of anatomical differences in the brain.

In looking at both the gray matter and white matter of the brain, researchers found that the people defined as obese had lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes, areas of the brain critical for planning and memory, as well as in the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), hippocampus (long-term memory) and basal ganglia (movement). Overweight people showed brain loss in the basal ganglia, the corona radiata, the white matter comprised of axons, and the parietal lobe (sensory lobe).
“The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than the brains of those who were lean, and in overweight people looked eight years older,” Thompson said.

“It seems that along with increased risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, obesity is bad for your brain: We have linked it to shrinkage of brain areas that are also targeted by Alzheimer’s,” said the University of Pittsburgh’s Raji. “But that could mean exercising, eating right and keeping weight under control can maintain brain health with aging and potentially lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Center for Research Resources, and the American Heart Association. -