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Consumer Perception is a Real Concern

Just over a month ago, the Department of Agriculture announced that it will allow American farmers to plant genetically engineered alfalfa, which is widely used as feed for dairy cows and horses.

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February 2010 Organic Center Newsletter

Edited on

Key Discovery Strengthens Linkage Between Pesticide Use and Colony Collapse Disorder

Scientists around the world have been trying to identify the risk factors driving honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). There is near-universal agreement that the problem remains severe; many factors can trigger CCD, and of these, several appear to depend on a weakened bee immune system; and, exposure to pesticides, and in particular the persistent, systemic nicotinyl insecticides are likely to be involved in many CCD episodes.

In an important breakthrough, scientists in Europe have discovered a major new, widespread exposure pathway through which bees are ingesting nicotinyl insecticides in virtually all intensively farmed regions - honeybee sources of drinking water. In October, 2009 at a scientific meeting in Paris, Hedwig Riebe summarized recent research on this new exposure pathway (Riebe, 2009).

In the morning and throughout the growing season, essentially all plants emit water in the form of guttation drops. Guttation drops come from inside plant cells, and can carry with them, into the outside world, natural or man-made chemicals that are present in plant cells, such as residues of systemic pesticides that have moved, as they are designed to do, throughout plant tissues. The latest results from European research found 20 parts per billion of nicotinyl insecticides in guttation droplets, almost certainly enough to deliver a dangerous dose to nearby bees.

Inside hives during warm spring and summer nights, bees are hard at work fanning the hive with their wings to help keep the queen comfortable and the brood safe. Each morning at first flight, the bees are dehydrated and thirsty, and seek out a nearby source of moisture. The drops on leaves in nearby fields, typically a mixture of moisture from guttation and dew, are a favorite first stop and common source of hydration. If the field was planted to a seed treated with a nicotinyl insecticide, or if the field/crop has been sprayed with a nicotinyl, the bees will be exposed to some level of systemic nicotinyl insecticide.

In some cases this exposure will prove deadly, as documented in 2009 European research. In other sub-acute exposure cases, the bees ingest enough nicotinyl to weaken their immune system, or disrupt their sense of direction and ability to navigate, or both. These sub-acute impacts are widely recognized factors contributing to or occuring during CCD.

Source: "Exposition Paths of Neonicotinoids," Dr. Hedwig Riebe, DBID, Paris, France, October 12, 2009. Posted at - http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=161

Sustainability of the Dairy Industry

The Center's new, vastly improved dairy sector environmental footprint calculator is now being beta-tested by our technical team and we are putting the finishing touches on the model and documentation. A first report based on results from the calculator will be out this spring.

This is going to be an extremely valuable tool that will likely be among the models used to benchmark and track the environmental footprint of conventional and organic dairy farms.

Since joining the Organic Center's Board, George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, has highlighted cow health and longevity on organic and conventional farms as one of the most significant factors driving the relative performance and impacts of dairy farms. With the new calculator, the impacts of cow health are crystal clear, and significant, as George predicted.

One new insight has raised concerns within the team. On high-production conventional farms, lactating cows spend months in severe to moderate negative energy balance - they are putting out more energy in their milk and normal daily activities than their digestive systems can extract from their feed, even when hot feeds like corn make up a major share of rations. This leads to major reproductive problems - the cow's body feels under stress and so several natural, hormone-driven processes required to get pregnant don't happen properly. For this reason, the average lactating cow "days open" on high-production conventional dairy farms has steadily risen, leading to very long "calving intervals," a key term that measures the days between calves being born.

Dairy scientists have calculated that average calving intervals longer than approximately 420 days will render the industry unsustainable because of inadequate production of heifer calves to replace cows leaving herds because of culling or death. Our calculator confirms this finding and shows clearly why reproductive performance, coupled with high cull and death rates, is threatening the sustainability of conventional dairy farm.

The average calving interval today on many high-production farms is well over 400 days, and moving up steadily. Ironically, within a few years, the extra heifer calves produced on organic farms may become a critical pool for replacements to keep high-production conventional dairies going. More details to come.


TOC Reports on GE Crops Gaining Traction


In last month's "The Scoop," we announced the launch of two new reports, which are receiving good media coverage in the U.S. and in Europe, with more expected --

"Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years," Executive Summary: and "The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium":


Monsanto-funded Study Echoes Key TOC Report Finding


On January 18, 2010, the Center issued a press release, highlighting the findings of a new study published online in December 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. The Center's press release states in part -

"A new study entitled "Gene amplification confers glyphosate resistance in Amaranthus palmeri" from a research team including Monsanto scientists Dafu Wang and Douglas Sammons echoes conclusions from The Organic Center (TOC) report "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years"...

..."the Monsanto-funded research states that 'evolution of resistance to the widely used, nonselective herbicide glyphosate in weedy species endangers the continued success of transgenic glyphosate-resistant crops and the sustainability of glyphosate as the world's most important herbicide'."

Our November 2009 "Thirteen Years" report covered in some detail the compelling evidence linking the increase in herbicide use on herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops to the emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds including Amaranthus palmeri. Both our report and the Monsanto-funded PNAS report states that the spread of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth was placing Roundup Ready technology in jeopardy. The Monsanto-funded study went even further, saying that the emergence and spread of glyphosate resistant weeds ...endangers...the sustainability of glyphosate as the world's most important herbicide.

Yet beginning in mid-November, various spokespeople for Monsanto, or their surrogates, told reporters covering the "Thirteen Years" report that there is nothing unusual or special about resistance to glyphosate, that the problem is being managed, and that TOC's report was unnecessarily alarmist.

So why is this worth noting?

The biotechnology industry, and Monsanto in particular, lament the degree of public skepticism about the efficacy and safety of genetically engineered crops, and often ask questions like -- "Why do so many people not accept our world-class science and trust us when we say GE crops are thoroughly tested, safe and vitally needed?"

One reason is a pattern of ignoring or dismissing adverse information about GE crops and food, and if that does not work, attempts often follow to vilify the competence, integrity, or motives of scientists responsible for negative studies. And so, this PNAS study marks an intriguing challenge for the biotech PR machine, since it comes from a Monsanto-funded project, was written by a team including two Monsanto scientists, was published in a prestigious journal, and is, by any measure, bad news for those farmers and companies depending on today's herbicide-tolerant crops. Rest assured, they will rise to the challenge.

Unavoidable Environmental Contaminants in Organic Inputs

Over the last six months a series of stories, mostly in West Coast media, have focused on a new (actually old) problem - the presence of very low levels of essentially unavoidable environmental contaminants in organic inputs like compost, fertilizers, soil amendments, inoculants, and potting soil.

The latest episode involves three brands of compost in California, made mostly from urban and suburban waste streams, that have tested positive for low levels of the synthetic pyrethroid insecticide bifenthrin. Like all toxic synthetic pesticides, bifenthrin cannot be used in organic production. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has found bifenthrin in compost made by three companies. CDFA originally detected the problem during routine tests looking for pesticides in organic wheatgrass, a crop that happens to be grown directly in compost. CDFA has now taken a series of actions, including the issuance of a notice to organic farmers and certifiers directing them to no longer use the three contaminated brands of compost in organic production.

What's At Stake?

There is virtually no chance that the bifenthrin residues found in California compost could ever lead to residues in organic (or conventional) food, following typical compost use rates and application methods. In a very limited set of circumstances - e.g. growing wheatgrass or mushrooms directly in 100% compost - the risks of crop uptake will need to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Moreover, the very low levels of bifenthrin recently found in compost pose extremely modest, if any, risks to aquatic organisms, the major environmental concern with all synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, especially compared to legal agricultural and urban uses of this class of insecticides.

The NOP, certifiers, the compost industry, and OMRI-OTA-TOC are working together openly and effectively to address both the near-term, pressing problems associated with bifenthrin in compost, and the much broader problem associated with very low levels of pesticides, animal drugs, and other chemicals in compost and other organic inputs. The goal is to assure that the rules applicable to organic inputs addressing very low-level, but unavoidable environmental contaminants are:

1. Far stricter and more comprehensive than the rules applicable to conventional inputs.

2. Preserve to the full extent possible the proven benefits of recycling urban tree and grass clippings via compost, as well as the soil quality benefits of applying compost to farmland.

3. Do not penalize organic farmers by cutting off a safe and effective source of high-quality compost.

4. Fair to all input manufacturers and based on sound science and accurate information.

Big Changes at the Center

Joan Boykin has accepted the position of Organic Center Executive Director. Joan is a natural and organic products industry veteran with over 25 years of marketing, business development and leadership experience. She worked for many years in a variety of roles with The Hain Celestial Group, and in recent years has consulted for a wide range of companies and clients.

Boykin will spearhead the Center's efforts in advancing and communicating the environmental and human health benefits of organic food and farming.

According to Joan Boykin, "The opportunity to serve The Organic Center is also an opportunity to serve society by generating and disseminating credible peer-reviewed scientific studies that will help individuals make decisions on how to eat and live healthier lives. With our esteemed Board and staff, I look forward to reaching the many new constituents eager to understand more about how organic food and farming can promote both good health and more sustainable and nurturing farming practices, and ultimately, a healthier planet."

One of Boykin's goals is to augment efforts across the organic community to unearth new findings and support new policy directions that will lead to the conversion of more land to organic production.

The Organic Center also announced that Mark Retzloff has been named Chairman of the Board, filling the position of previous chair, Michelle Goolsby, former EVP for Dean Foods Company, who remains a member of the board of directors. New to the Center's board of directors are: Blaine McPeak, President of White Wave Foods; Peter Burns, President and General Manager of Celestial Seasonings/The Hain Celestial Group; and Ryan Black, Founder and CEO of Sambazon. Steve Hoffman of Compass Natural Marketing will continue to assist the Center in Development and Communications.


Interesting factoids about food, farming and the environment


A U.K. based study analyzed the behavior of 90 corporations in addressing climate change, and compared actual corporate actions to consumer perceptions of the commitment of these same companies. A 100-point scale was used to map "Actual" corporate behavior versus consumer "Perceived" behavior. Some of the results are mystifying -

Company Perceived Actual
General Mills 82 49
Kellogg 81 42
Kraft Foods 79 58
Nestle 71 63
Stonyfield Farm 44 81
ConAgra 36 31
Unilever 32 79

Source: Access the full report at http://www.getmapchange.com

Coming of Age - Perspectives from EcoFarm 2010

By: Chuck Benbrook

For this long-term EcoFarm attendee, there were three highlights during this year's meeting at Asilomar. By far the most memorable and inspiring were comments by former TOC Board member and current Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan. The Deputy spoke during a heavily attended Friday afternoon workshop entitled "High Hopes for the USDA and the NOP," and then again upon receiving a coveted "Sustie Award" during the annual EcoFarm banquet Friday, January 22nd.

Kathleen's workshop presentation conveyed the importance and breadth of support in the Obama Administration for initiatives designed to expand consumption of fruits and vegetables, local production and marketing of food, and the NOP and organic sector. She explained why the Administration is so excited about and committed to the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative. And she touched on some of the simmering controversies and NOP shortcomings that she, Miles McEvoy, and the current NOP staff inherited and are working to resolve, including the long-awaited pasture rule that will clarify the degree to which cows under organic management must have access to and consume pasture.

She stressed the importance of clarity and consensus within the organic community as the best way to help accelerate the pace of change within USDA.

She also noted in passing that the 20,000 plus emails she has gotten in recent weeks telling her she does not know anything about organic farming and asking her to not "sell out" to corporate interests have not been terribly constructive. She suggested that, in general, groups hoping to influence USDA policy should "do their homework" (i.e., study the issues in play and convey messages/information useful in moving such issues in a desired direction) before pulling the "action alert" trigger.

A second highlight was the talk delivered by the newly appointed NOP director, Miles McEvoy during the Friday afternoon "High Hopes" workshop. In his 30 minute presentation, Miles covered the waterfront of NOP activity, focusing on plans to build the program, enhance capacity to enforce the rule, and resolve both long-simmering disputes and new challenges in a timely and decisive manner.

The workshop moderator, Mark Lipson, thanked Miles at the conclusion of his talk for sharing more detailed information about the inner workings of the NOP than had previously been shared during the last ten EcoFarm conferences.

The third highlight at EcoFarm 2010 was the closing plenary, "Is Small the Only Beautiful?" The session was introduced and moderated by Amigo Bob Cantisano, and featured short presentations and lively Q&A with Eliot Coleman, Gary Hirshberg, and Dick Peixoto. (The first two need no introduction; Peixoto runs Lakeside Organic Gardens in Watsonville, a very successful 1,700 acre, all-organic vegetable and fruit operation).

What struck me as so significant about this plenary was that it was spirited, heartfelt, highly interactive, and civil. Moreover, the audience was respectful to both the people sharing ideas and perspectives, and the information and convictions conveyed.

About five years ago, I participated in an essentially identical closing plenary at EcoFarm sponsored by the then very young Organic Center. It was organized by Gene Kahn, Mark Lipson, and The Organic Center staff/board. The individual speaking about, and coming from the large-scale organic community was Craig Weakley of Small Planet Foods. Craig was tapped late in the game to take Gene's place on the program.

During the session, Craig's comments were greeted with derision in more than a few instances, and in a few cases, audible "boos" from the audience. Comments friendly to small scale, local organic farms and farmers, or critical of large scale farming and marketing, were greeted with applause, whistles, and foot stomping. It was a sad day and low-water mark for EcoFarm.

This year's closing plenary did not settle the issues of scale, but the renewed willingness to talk about these issues respectfully with an eye toward moving forward is encouraging. It seemed that a majority of people in Merrill Hall on that Saturday morning accepted that our collective challenge is to grow local and small scale organic farms and market channels, while also expanding the range and quality of organic foods in national distribution chains, from Albertson's to WalMart.

These are indeed both worthy goals that need not be in conflict. Imagine how much faster we, as a community, will progress if the energy now invested in pitting one goal against the other was re-directed toward shinning a bright light on the benefits inherent in both.

Mark Your Calendar for The Organic Center's 7th Annual VIP Dinner, to Benefit The Organic Center


Friday March 12, 2010
6:30-7:30 PM, Cocktails and appetizers
7:30-9:30 PM, Dinner
Tickets: $175 ($150 for OTA members)

Join more than 500 organic industry leaders who will gather at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA, to celebrate the Organic Center's accomplishments at the Center's 7th Annual VIP Benefit Dinner. The event will include a cocktail reception, a delectable organic dinner, special guests to share recent updates on the Center's research and results, music, and entertainment. As always, it will be the perfect time to connect with friends and the industry's top organic business leaders.

Become a Table Host!

Reserve your own Table for 10, with preferred placement at the front of the house. Invite your key staff, customers, suppliers and other VIP contacts. Your reserved table will feature your organization's logo on prominent table signage. Contact Steve Hoffman @ tel 303-499-1840.

Visit www.organic-center.org for more information and tickets.


Benbrook to Participate in the MOSES Conference

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) meeting occurs each winter in La Crosse, Wisconsin and is the largest annual meeting of organic farmers in North America.

This year's meeting is February 25-27th and features over 60 workshops, 140 exhibitors, and an expected 2,600 participants. Dr. Benbrook will present a 90-minute workshop entitled "The Science Behind the Research on Organic Food Health" at 8:30 a.m., Friday February 26th, and on Saturday at 8:30 a.m., a second workshop will focus on communicating the nutritional and food safety benefits of organic food and farming.

Register online at www.mosesorganic.org, or call 715-778-5773.


The Organic Center to Present at Denver Sustainability Summit

The Center's Steven Hoffman will speak on food, agriculture and sustainability on March 4 at the Sustainable Opportunities Summit in Denver, CO. The annual conference and expo draws leaders and influencers from business, finance and academia who are focused on environmental, social and economic sustainability. The event is sponsored by the nonprofit CORE Colorado, the City of Denver, and the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.

For information, visit www.corecolorado.org/summit.

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.

For more information

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.

Our Research -

Individuals can support the scientific work of The Organic Center by:

Sharing new information, data, or "Hot Science," email our Chief Scientist
Helping us identify scientists that can contribute to our work, email Chuck Benbrook
Making a contribution, click here

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:

Join Mission Organic 2010 as an individual
Distributing or reprinting excerpts from our studies
Making a donation to our communications program
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.

For more information about our affinity marketing program, email Steve Hoffman
Learn more about the health and environmental impacts of Mission Organic 2010

"The Scoop," is an electronic newsletter published monthly by The Organic Center. For a free subscription, visit www.organic-center.org.

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.

Joan Boykin - Executive Director

Steven Hoffman - Development and Communications

Charles "Chuck" Benbrook, Ph.D. - Chief Scientist

TOC Board Chair: Mark Retzloff, Chairman of the Board, Aurora Organic Dairy
Treasurer: Timothy Escamilla, VP Procurement/Supply Chain, Ready Pac Produce
Secretary: James White, CEO, Jamba Juice

The Organic Center
P.O. Box 20513
Boulder, CO USA 80308
tel 303.499.1840
fax 419.858.1042


For a complete listing of news archives, click here.


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