Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Does The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Think About Future Organic Milk?

The Second International Organic Animal Husbandry Conference organized by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was held in Germany's largest port city - Hamburg on September 12. It's noted that Satine Organic Milk of the Yili Group (China) was invited to attend the Conference as the main sponsor.

The Conference focused on the latest developments in the field of global organic animal husbandry. Nearly 100 institutions and enterprises from dozens of countries discussed the trend of organic husbandry, the latest organic livestock breeding technology, the innovation of organic pasture management system, the construction of diversified organic pasture ecosystems and a number of other issues.

At 10 AM local time, the Opening Ceremony of the Second International Organic Animal Husbandry Conference commenced under the guidance of the executive chairman Mr. Markus Arbenz. Professor Fritz Schneider from the University of Berne conducted a keynote speech, which indicated the beginning of the Conference. During the three-day Conference, there were several seminars and keynote speeches focusing on dairy farming, relationships of grazing, geography and climate, future organic livestock feeding, health and food security and etc.

Satine Organic Milk attended the conference on behalf of the Chinese organic dairy industry. The staff of Satine conducted in-depth exchanges with their international peers and displayed the achievements of today's Chinese organic dairy industry.

The head of the Satine delegation mentioned," Satine was a product launched in 2007 to be the first organic milk in the Chinese dairy market. Throughout the years, we have carefully analyzed the international organic standard and developed a complete organic milk production chain in accordance with the standard. Our organic milk is in complete conformity with the international organic standard."

The head of the Satine delegation also provided a brief introduction of their pastures and production methods. According to the introduction, the Satine Organic Milk originates from pastures with extremely favorable natural conditions including latitude levels, altitudes (over thousand meters), fertile soil and sufficient sunshine. Pasturage grown in such conditions possesses richer protein content which is beneficial to the cow's health and overall milk quality. No forms of pesticide or chemical fertilizer are applied to the area over a period of three years. This is done to ensure the pasture soil is completely natural and organic.

Pure breed Holstein cows were selected as the dairy breed for the Satine Organic Milk, and they are fed with a combination of ordinary silage and especially grown alfalfa through advanced TMR (Total Mixed Rations) technology. This method ensures both the nutritional demands and the nutritional balance of the cows' diet. Many full-time breeders are employed to handle feeding management and disease prevention so as to guarantee the cows are kept from the pollution of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics during the feeding process. Each Holstein cow possesses individual files and sufficient space to relax, providing it with all possible conditions to produce high quality milk with high butterfat content, and rich protein contents that meets nutritional standards of international organic milk.

After being processed by the international advanced aseptic filling line, the Satine Organic Milk represents the highest level of the current Chinese organic dairy industry and its quality fully complies with the international organic standards. Due to this the Satine Organic Milk has received the recognition of the IFOAM, becoming the only Chinese dairy brand with a membership to the IFOAM.

In recent years, organic food has gained popularity in the world for its natural features and health benefits. An industry report indicates that the global market value of organic food has reached USD 100 billion in 2010 and this figure is continuing to grow at an average annual rate of over 20%. China in particular has experienced an incredible rate of 30.57%. This means that by 2015 the organic food consumption in China will reach USD 24.8-59.4 billion. The trend of the consumption of organic foods reflects the yearning of the people for the organic lifestyle advocated by Satine.

As a leading brand in the organic dairy industry, Satine not only has been committed to promoting the development of the Chinese domestic organic industry, but also seeks to gain further recognition for Chinese dairy products in the international market. According to Satine, it will further strengthen its connection with organic industry peers domestic and abroad, and to keep pace with the latest trends of the international organic development. Moreover, Satine will focus its efforts on promoting the development of the Chinese organic industry, creating a healthier organic environment to bring an increase in assurance and more high-quality organic dairy products into international market. - Yii Group, The Sacramento Bee 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fruit Of The Week - Pineapple

Ananas comosus is the botanical name of the fruit we know as the pineapple. Native to South America, it was named for its resemblance to a pine cone. The term pineapple (or pinappel in Middle English) did not appear in English print until around 1664. 

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the pineapple on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, although the fruit had long been grown in South America. He called it piña de Indes meaning "pine of the Indians." 

South American Guarani Indians cultivated pineapples for food. They called it nanã, meaning "excellent fruit." Another explorer, Magellan, is credited with finding pineapples in Brazil in 1519, and by 1555, the luscious fruit was being exported with gusto to England. It soon spread to India, Asia, and the West Indies. 

When George Washington tasted pineapple in 1751 in Barbados, he declared it his favorite tropical fruit. Although the pineapple thrived in Florida, it was still a rarity for most Americans. Captain James Cook later introduced the pineapple to Hawaii circa 1770. However, commercial cultivation did not begin until the 1880s when steamships made transporting the perishable fruit viable. 

In 1903, James Drummond Dole began canning pineapple, making it easily accessible worldwide. Production stepped up dramatically when a new machine automated the skinning and coring of the fruit. The Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company was a booming business by 1921, making pineapple Hawaii's largest crop and industry. 

Today, Hawaii produces only ten percent of the world's pineapple crops. Other countries contributing to the pineapple industry include Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Thailand, Costa Rica, China, and Asia. - Peggy Trowbridge Filippone 

Health Benefits: 
Pineapple fruit contains a proteolytic enzyme bromelain that digests food by breaking down protein. Bromelain also has anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting and anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that consumption of pineapple regularly helps fight against arthritis, indigestion and worm infestation. - Nutrition And You

The vitamin C in Pineapple is the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant, defending all aqueous areas of the body against free radicals that attack and damage normal cells. Free radicals have been shown to promote the artery plaque build-up of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, cause the airway spasm that leads to asthma attacks, damage the cells of the colon so they become colon cancer cells, and contribute to the joint pain and disability seen in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This would explain why diets rich in vitamin C have been shown to be useful for preventing or reducing the severity of all of these conditions. In addition, vitamin C is vital for the proper function of the immune system, making it a nutrient to turn to for the prevention of recurrent ear infections, colds, and flu. - Worlds Healthiest Foods 

Manganese is a vitamin that our body can't produce on its own. We need to find daily sources of manganese from food we eat. Pineapple is agreat source of Manganese. Manganese is responsible for bone formation, healing wounds, and keeping skin healthy. It regulates blood sugar levels, and helps with the immune system to fight off disease. Regularly eating pineapple will ensure you're consuming enough manganese in your diet. - Expert Coloumn

In evaluation of the ability of the methanolic extract of pineapple peel and its effect on brain tissues found that pineapple peel extract protects against alcohol-induced changes in total phospholipids and lipid peroxidation in brain tissues. - Effect of pineapple peel extract on total phospholipids and lipid peroxidation in brain tissues of rats

Pineapple contain good amounts of vitamin B1 (Thiamin) converts carbohydrates into energy, strengthens muscles and promotes proper nervous system function. Phosphorus promotes strong bones and teeth, halting the development of osteoporosis. Potassium in Pineapples regulates blood pressure and supports the kidneys. - Natural news

Vegetable Of The Week - Rhubarb

Vegetable History: 
Rhubarb, botanically-known as Rheum rhabarbarum, comes from a combination of the Greek word Rha for the Volga River, and the Latin word barbarum, for the region of the Rha River inhabited by non-Romans. The popular edible species, Rheum rhaponticum, originated most likely in Mongolia or Siberia. It was introduced to Europe by Italian botanist Prosper Alpinus in 1608 as a substitute for Chinese Rhubarb whose roots were used medicinally. 

Ben Franklin is credited for bringing rhubarb seeds to the North American east coast in 1772, yet the red stalks did not catch on until the early 1800s, when it became a popular ingredient for pie. In the late 1800's, rhubarb was brought to Alaska by the Russians and used as an effective counter-agent for scurvy. By the mid-1900s, its popularity was firmly entrenched in the New England states where it was used as pastry and pie fillings and also to make homemade wine. 

The term rhubarb has also come to mean a "quarrel" or "heated discussion." This comes from theatrical direction, believe it or not. Stage and movie directors would have actors repeat "rhubarb" and various other phrases over and over to simulate background conversations or mutterings of a surly crowd. -  Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Fruit History: 
Red color stalks contain more vitamin-A than green varieties. Further, the stalks also contain small amounts of poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds like ß-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. These compounds convert to vitamin A inside the body and deliver same protective effects of vitamin A on the body. Vitamin A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant and is required by body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. It is also an essential vitamin for vision. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin A helps body protect against lung and oral cavity cancers. - Nutrition & You

One cup of rhubarb supplies 105 mg of calcium, which is about 10 percent of the 1,000 mg of calcium average adults need in their daily diet. - Livestrong

Researchers found that low doses of rhubarb prevented hypertension developed during pregnancy. Rhubarb (140 cases) or placebo (125 cases) was given to women at risk of hypertension consecutively from the 28th week of gestation till delivery, and another 68 pregnant women as control. Results showed that 5.7% of rhubarb treated women developed hypertension, a rate substantially lower than the 20.8% of the placebo group. - Low-dose of processed rhubarb in preventing pregnancy induced hypertension

In the investigation of the toxicological and anti-neoplastic potentials of the main anthraquinones from Rhubarb, Rheum palmatum, found that Rhein is the other major rhubarb anthraquinone, although less well studied. This compound could effectively inhibit the uptake of glucose in tumor cells, caused changes in membrane-associated functions and led to cell death. Interestingly, all three major rhubarb anthraquinones were reported to have in vitro phototoxic. This re-evaluation of an old remedy suggests that several bioactive anthraquinones of rhubarb possess promising anti-cancer properties and could have a broad therapeutic potential - Anti-cancer properties of anthraquinones from rhubarb

Like in other greens like kale, spinach; rhubarb stalks also provide good amounts of vitamin-K; 100 g of fresh stalks provide 29.3 µg or about 24% of daily recommended intake. Vitamin K has potential role in bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet helps limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. - Nutrition And You

Is What Conventional Cattle Is Fed The Cause Of The Recent E.Coli Recall?

From 1998:
A simple change in cattle diets in the days before slaughter may reduce the risk of Escherichia coli (E. coli) infections in humans, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cornell University microbiologists have discovered. Research reported in the Sept. 11 issue of the journal Science indicates that grain-based cattle diets promote the growth of E. coli that can survive the acidity of the human stomach and cause intestinal illness. E. coli contamination is responsible for more than 20,000 infections and 200 deaths each year in the United States.

Fortunately there is a workable solution to the food-safety problem, the scientists say. By feeding hay to cattle for about five days before slaughter, the number of acid-resistant E. coli can be dramatically reduced.

"Most bacteria are killed by the acid of stomach juice, but E. coli from grain-fed cattle are resistant to strong acids," explains James B. Russell, a USDA microbiologist and faculty member of the Cornell Section of Microbiology. "When people eat foods contaminated with acid-resistant E. coli including pathogenic strains like O157:H7 the chance of getting sick increases."

E. coli is a normal bacterium in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans, and most types are not harmful (See "E. coli and Cattle" fact sheet, attached). However, disease-causing strains such as E. coli O157:H7 produce toxins that cause bloody diarrhea or even kidney failure in humans. Mature cattle are unaffected by E. coli O157:H7. Only a small number of cattle (estimated at 1 to 2 percent at any one time) shed E. coli O157:H7 in their feces, a rate that is not fully explained.

When beef carcasses are accidentally contaminated by feces at slaughter, the pathogens can enter the human food supply. E. coli O157:H7 can be killed by cooking or irradiation, but the bacterium continues to pose a food-safety risk.

Cattle are fed starch-containing grains to increase growth rate and produce tender meat. Because the bovine gastrointestinal tract digests starch poorly, Russell explains, some undigested grain reaches the colon, where it is fermented. When the grain ferments -- and acetic, propionic and butyric acids accumulate in the animal's colon a large fraction of E. coli produced are the acid-resistant type.

"Grain does not specifically promote the growth of E. coli O157:H7, but it increases the chance that at least some E. coli could pass through the gastric stomach of humans," Russell says. "The carbohydrates of hay are not so easily fermented, and hay does not promote either the growth or acid resistance of E. coli. When we switched cattle from grain-based diets to hay for only five days, acid-resistant E. coli could no longer be detected."

In studies performed at Cornell, beef cattle fed grain-based rations typical of commercial feedlots had 1 million acid-resistant E. coli, per gram of feces, and dairy cattle fed only 60 percent grain also had high numbers of acid-resistant bacteria. In each case, the high counts could be explained by grain fermentation in the intestines.

By comparison, cattle fed hay or grass had only acid-sensitive E. coli, and these bacteria were destroyed by an "acid shock" that mimicked the human stomach, the microbiologists report in Science.

According to microbiologist Russell, acid-resistant strains of bacteria have evolved to overcome the protective barrier of the gastric stomach. The ongoing process of natural selection allows organisms with the appropriate genes to survive and multiply where others cannot. Because cattle have been fed high-grain, growth-promoting diets for more than 40 years, he says, there has been ample opportunity to select acid-resistant forms. Further research is needed to identify the acid-resistance genes of E. coli, but Russell says that "common laboratory strains" of E. coli appear to lack the necessary DNA to survive acidic gastrointestinal environments.

"In the meantime, now that we know where the acid-resistant E. coli are coming from, we can control them with a relatively inexpensive change in diet," Russell says. "This strategy has the potential to control the production of other acid-resistant bacteria, including virulent strains of E. coli that have not yet evolved."

A brief period of hay-feeding immediately before slaughter "should not affect either carcass size or meat quality," and the diet change could be implemented with minimal expense and inconvenience to feedlot operators, according to Donald H. Beermann, Cornell professor of animal science.

USDA microbiologist Russell has been stationed in Ithaca for more than 17 years and is affiliated with the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wisc. He holds the rank of adjunct professor of microbiology at Cornell, and the other authors of the Science report were his students when the feeding studies were conducted: Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, currently a postdoctoral fellow, completed his Ph.D. in food science at Cornell in 1996. Todd Callaway is a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology. Menas Kizoulis, a Cornell senior in biological sciences, was recently awarded a Howard Hughes Undergraduate Fellowship to continue research in Russell's laboratory. The studies were supported by the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA.

E. coli and Cattle Facts
TRILLIONS AND TRILLIONS: The gastrointestinal tract of animals and man is an ideal habitat for the growth of bacteria, and cell densities can be as high as a trillion cells per gram of digesta. Most gut bacteria are harmless types, and they can even provide essential nutrients to the host. When animals consume contaminated food, the native bacteria compete with the invaders and provide at least some protection against food-borne illness. Escherichia coli is a common bacterium in the GI tract, but it is usually outnumbered by other types. E. coli is never a beneficial bacterium, but under normal circumstances the animal and E. coli tolerate each other. Some strains of E. coli, however, are not people-friendly, and these highly virulent forms can cause acute illness or even death.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE ENTEROHEMORRHAGIC: E. coli is a normal inhabitant of the human gastrointestinal tract, but strains identified as O157:H7 are enterohemorrhagic and cause intestinal bleeding. Victims may experience severe cramping and abdominal pain, watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting or low-grade fever for an average of eight days. E. coli O157:H7 also produces "shiga-like" toxins that can cause kidney failure; once the infection reaches the uremic phase, the death rate can be as high as 30 percent. As few as 10 viable E. coli O157:H7 can cause infection.

THE FECAL CONNECTION: Mature cattle are unaffected by E. coli O157:H7, and a small percentage of the cattle in the United States are carriers. When meat is contaminated with cattle feces at slaughter or fruit and vegetables are fertilized with manure, E. coli O157:H7 can enter the human food supply. In day-care facilities and nursing homes, fecal contamination is the vehicle for person-to-person infection. Recent work indicates that swimming pools and water parks can be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

RAW DANGER: Heat, in the pasteurization of milk and fruit juices or the cooking of solid foods, will destroy E. coli bacteria. E. coli on the outer surfaces of a steak or chop are easily destroyed by heat of cooking. But E. coli in ground meat may be concealed deep within the hamburger. Hamburgers having any "pink meat" can still have live E. coli O157:H7 cells.

GASTRIC BARRIER: Humans have a natural barrier that kills food-borne bacteria the acidic, gastric juices of the stomach -- but E. coli bacteria can withstand "acid shock" if they have grown in the presence of fermentation acids. Fermentation acids increase when cattle are fed large amounts of grain. Cattle fed grain have very large numbers of acid-resistant E. coli. The E. coli of hay-fed cattle are acid-sensitive and are easily killed by gastric juice.

ACID RELIEF: Research indicates that cattle fed hay have 1 million-fold fewer acid-resistant E. coli than cattle fed grain. However it may be possible to process grains to decrease acid production and acid resistance. When grains are heat-treated or steam-flaked, less starch passes to the colon, and fermentation acids decline. - Roger Segelken, Cornell University News

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Will The Expiring Of The 2012 Farm Bill Affect Food Prices?

Congress ended the current legislative session last week with no new farm bill and no extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which expires on Sept. 30. Legislative analysts say most farmers who participate in farm programs will likely feel no impact until early 2013, but that dairy programs would be affected sooner.

Most programs in the 2008 Farm Bill will continue to operate without a new bill, including crop insurance, the majority of conservation programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Commodity programs also will not be affected until early next year, when winter wheat is harvested, as the programs cover all 2012 crops, said Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division.

She noted that a six-month continuing resolution passed by the House and the Senate will extend funding to some critical programs and keep the government running through March. That legislation puts all regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2013 on hold but contains an $8 billion increase in overall government spending and raises the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget authority to nearly $20.3 billion.

"Even though the farm bill expires at the end of the month, because of the continuing resolution, government programs continue to be funded without the reforms proposed in both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill," she said.

The 2012 Farm Bill has passed the Senate but is stalled in the House. Congress will not be in session in October, as lawmakers head back to their home districts to focus on the Nov. 6 elections. They are scheduled to return Nov. 13 for a post-election "lame-duck" session, which runs through the end of the year.

One program that will suffer on Sept. 30 is the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which compensates dairy farmers during times of low milk prices, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Dairy price support and export incentives expire on Dec. 31. MILC already began providing coverage at a reduced level on Sept. 1. Currently, the program offers farmers coverage at 34 percent of the difference between the target price and the actual price instead of the previous 45 percent. Also, the volume cap declined to 2.4 million pounds per dairy farmer from nearly 3 million pounds.

The Senate-passed farm bill and the one passed by the House Agriculture Committee both eliminate MILC in favor of a new, voluntary margin insurance program. A one-year extension of the current farm bill would provide no payments for the rest of the year. Other programs that could be hurt in the absence of a new farm bill include those providing export credit guarantees, facilities credit guarantees, export market promotion, dairy export support and technical assistance for specialty crops, according to the Congressional Research Service.

While most rural development programs will not be affected by expiration of the farm bill, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, Value-Added Product Development grants, Rural Energy for America Program and funding for pending rural development loan and grant applications will expire, the CRS said. Pegg said there is still hope that Congress will pick up where it left off and pass a farm bill during the lame-duck session. But lawmakers have much on their plate when they return after the election, including dealing with the looming "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax provisions, automatic spending cuts and extension of the debt ceiling.

Some Washington observers say passage of a five-year farm bill may be a long shot this year because the full House has yet to approve its version of the bill. Even after this hurdle, the Senate and House bills will still need to be reconciled in a conference committee before both houses can vote on the final version.

Pegg said how much Congress is willing to do during the lame-duck session will depend on who wins the election, but she thinks chances of passing a new farm bill could be greater because so many farmers are hurting from impacts of this year's drought and need a disaster relief program to help them. Drought assistance is included in both the House and Senate farm bills, she noted.

Although delays in passing a new farm bill are not uncommon, Pegg said it is rare for Congress to let one expire without an extension. She said the urgency in finalizing a new, comprehensive bill this year rather than extending the current one is because it will be much harder to achieve a five-year bill in 2013 with a new Congress and increasing budget uncertainties.

"We're going to have new members in Congress, some of whom don't even know what a farm bill does," Pegg said. "They're going to be starting from scratch and negotiating on some very complicated issues."

If no action is taken on a new farm bill or an extension of the 2008 law by next spring, crop and dairy price supports could revert to "permanent law" that dates back to provisions from 1938 and 1949, potentially limiting plantings and raising prices paid to farmers who participate in commodity programs. Support prices for dairy, for example, would be $38.63 per hundredweight and wheat would be $13.58 per bushel, according to the CRS.

"It adds to the argument for passing a bill this year," Pegg said, adding that such a scenario would cause confusion in agricultural markets. - Ching Lee, Ag Alert 

Is The USDA Deciding On What Vitamins & Minerals Can Be Added To Organic Foods?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that vitamins and minerals may continue to be added to organic products while the Department continues to clarify which additional nutrients may be added to organic products. Unless renewed, the current allowance for vitamins and minerals would expire October 21, 2012. The interim action allows vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and D, folic acid, or calcium, to be added to organic foods after October 21, while USDA completes the process of clarifying which additional nutrients may be added to organic products. 

This fall, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a citizen advisory board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, will recommend whether additional individual nutrients should be allowed in organic products. The interim action gives the public the opportunity to provide feedback to USDA on the combined impact of these recommendations, increasing the transparency of the process. Consistent with an April 2011 NOSB recommendation, it continues the USDA organic regulations’ current reference to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) fortification policy. Once the USDA completes its evaluation of NOSB recommendations and related public comments, it will change the USDA organic regulations accordingly.

In January 2012, USDA published a proposal to allow organic foods to be fortified only with vitamins and minerals designated as “essential” by the FDA. USDA is currently reviewing public comments to that proposed rule. Under that proposal, non-“essential” nutrients would be prohibited in organic foods, including infant formula, unless they were listed separately on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List). 

“More time is needed to fully evaluate public comments and the NOSB recommendations to the allowed list of nutrients, vitamins and minerals,” said Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program. “The NOSB is meeting October 15-18 in Providence, Rhode Island to finalize their recommendations on nutrients allowed in organic products. Public comments on this Interim Rule will be accepted until December 26, which will allow the NOSB to take into account any recommendations made at the October meeting.”

Per the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the NOSB must review all National List substances every five years and recommend that the USDA renew, remove, or change each listing. The advisory board is currently reviewing specific nutrients that are currently allowed in organic products but are not designated as “essential” by the FDA. Each substance must meet several criteria, including consistency with organic agricultural systems, impact on the environment and human health, and essentiality in organic production and handling. The advisory board also considers natural alternatives to each substance.

Additional information regarding this action is available here. If you have additional questions, please contact the National Organic Program at 202-720-3252. The National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture facilitates trade and ensures integrity of organic agricultural products by consistently implementing the organic standards and enforcing compliance with the regulations. - Patricia Williams, Political News

Is Amazon Trying To Sell Organic Food?

Sometimes I think (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) has taken its basic business model from the common cold. Companies, like the unsuspecting populace, think, "We'll be fine; Amazon's not even in our sector." Then, one cool fall day, the tissues come out, and by the end of the week, the competing company is balled up on the couch, watching ALF reruns. This week's infection has reached out and grabbed a hold of green retailers. Amazon has announced a new environmentally focused site called Vine, and the implications are worrying.

Vine is an offshoot of Quidsi, which Amazon purchased in 2010. The stated goal of the site is to be "an online shopping destination for natural, organic, and sustainably made products." That means everything from snacks to backpacks, making the site resemble a filtered-down version of Amazon. In addition to carrying such a broad range, Vine claims to do all the research and dirty work for customers, checking each product it carries against a set of criteria. This means customers should be able to shop without having to worry whether the products' claims to sustainability are genuine.

The model is similar to the one originally adopted by Whole Foods (NYSE: WFM  ) , which is one of the reasons Whole Foods should be on guard. While the chain has had great success over the past few years, a great deal of that success can be attributed to its ability to bring fresh, wholesome food to new places. If Vine can provide the service it claims, that selling point may slowly fade into the background. On the other hand, Whole Foods is likely to maintain its ability to source locally, something that Amazon is unlikely to achieve.

Whole Foods investors don't need to get worried yet, though. This isn't the first time Whole Foods has faced competition for its core customer group, and it won't be the last. The Fresh Market (NYSE: TFM  ) has been expanding slowly for years, and while it's still largely an East Coast chain, it has plans to open stores in California starting this year. So far, Whole Foods hasn't blinked in the face of the new competition.

Whole Foods has also fended off Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , so far. The retail giant is the largest grocer in the country, according to the USDA. For a few years, the company has had a push to sell more organic food. While the ride hasn't always been easy, it's been profitable. But Whole Foods has soldiered on, recently announcing plans to open a total of 1,000 stores. Given Wal-Mart's footprint, most of those 1,000 will have to overlap with the big boy.

Given Whole Foods' strong track record in dealing with the competition, I'm not too worried about Vine. Though I will be keeping an eye on non-grocery sales, to see if they start to slip. It seems unlikely that people will switch to ordering all their fresh food online -- though in Europe, this is trending -- but soaps, paper goods, and other non-perishable items could be an easy target. Whole Foods hasn't broken these categories out, historically, but a push from Amazon could put a squeeze on those "easy to order online" sorts of goods.

For now, I'm staying out of the whole fray. Both Amazon and Whole Foods are trading at pricey multiples, with a lot of things changing quickly for both companies. Whole Foods is going to see The Fresh Market in California for the first time, and Amazon is now dealing with the new video offering from Barnes & Noble that could hurt that revenue stream. - Andrew Marden, The Motley Fool 

Are GMO Corporations Trying To Infiltrate A GMO Free County In Oregon?

Wet winters and cool, dry summers make Oregon's Willamette Valley one of the best places on the globe to produce seeds for organic broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and a variety of other vegetables known as brassicas.

That means the fields south of Portland are also an ideal place to grow canola, another brassica whose seeds can be pressed to extract oil for food or renewable fuel. But you won't find any canola here. It was banned from the Willamette Valley to protect the delicate vegetable seeds from being contaminated by pollen from canola or destroyed by the pests and diseases it brings.

Demand for renewable energy, however, has helped fuel a push to grow canola in the region, raising a tense conflict between producers of organic foods and renewable energy in a state that cherishes both. Seed farmers fear canola would cross-pollinate with their plants, destroying the value of the pure seeds they produce. They're joined in their fight by organic-food lovers, small-farm advocates and opponents of genetically modified crops.

"This is an existential threat," said Frank Morton, who farms about 12 acres of specialty seeds in Philomath, about 90 miles southwest of Portland. "If canola comes here, it's the beginning of the end of this industry."

Canola proponents say Morton and his colleagues are overreacting. With the right controls, they argue, Canola can co-exist without harming other brassicas. Some wheat and grass-seed farmers are eager to use canola as a rotational crop to interrupt disease and pest cycles. They used to burn their fields at the end of the season, but recent pollution controls have severely limited that option.

"It comes down to good stewardship and cooperating with your neighbors and good management practices," said Kathy Hadley, who grows grass seed and other crops in the Salem area. "Everyone does those things on a regular basis already, and I feel like, in this specific case, things are being blown out of proportion."

The state Department of Agriculture has proposed loosening the ban on growing canola in the Willamette Valley, reducing the exclusion zone from 3.7 million acres to 1.7 million, with some restrictions. The agriculture agency will hold a public hearing Friday to hear from fired-up advocates on both sides of the fight. The agency director is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year.

"They can grow this stuff anywhere else," said George Kimbrell, a lawyer from the Center for Food Safety representing specialty seed farmers. "It's just this one area that's being protected for many very good reasons. It's not like Oregon or anywhere else is saying you can't grow your canola. It's one area."

Specialty seed farmers grow vegetables not for the food but for their seeds. They're shipped to farmers around the world, especially in Asia and Europe where there's higher demand for foods that aren't genetically modified. This region produces nearly all of the world's European cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga and turnip seeds, according to a 2010 study by Oregon State University.

Canola, by contrast, is uncommon in Oregon, where farmers planted just 6,500 acres of it this year, most of it in Eastern Oregon, across a mountain range from the brassica seed fields. Seed farmers here describe the expansion of canola as a Pandora's Box that, once opened, will destroy their industry.

Wind can carry pollen up to five miles. Seed farmers worry that genetically modified canola plants will pollinate with organic brassicas, producing seeds with no value. They're especially concerned that canola would become a weed that takes root far and wide, producing pollen even inside the canola-free zone.

They also worry about cabbage maggots and white mold, a fungus that can destroy root vegetable crops. Given those risks, the 2010 Oregon State study concluded that "precaution suggests not allowing canola production at this time." Those concerns haven't changed, said professor Russ Karow, the study's author.

Concerns about cross-pollination can be mitigated with a system to track the location of various crops, he said, but there's no way to know how widespread pests and diseases would be with large-scale canola fields.

"People keep asking, 'Is there a scientific answer?'" Karow said, "and there is not."

The state's proposed rules would require canola growers to remove stray plants near their fields. They'd be limited to growing the crop on any field for more than two of every five years. An electronic mapping system would keep track of where crops are being grown in an effort to prevent cross-pollination.

Canola advocates include farmers who want to grow it and companies that want to crush it, extracting oil for food or biodiesel and selling the byproducts as livestock feed. They insist they can manage it effectively, pointing out that 2 million acres of the Willamette Valley would still be off-limits to canola.

"I think it's rather insulting to the grass-seed growers and the wheat growers, who are excellent farmers, to say they're not going to be able to control it on their property," said Tomas Endicott, vice president of Willamette Biomass Processors Inc., a company that crushes seeds in Rickreall, west of Salem. As the closest processor, Endicott's company would likely be a top buyer for canola grown in the Willamette Valley - Jonathan J. Cooper, Bloomberg 

Can Spirituality Become Attached To Eating Organic Foods?

A recent Stanford University study that questioned whether eating organic food is better than conventionally grown alternatives sparked waves of controversy. Critics argued that it was "reckless" and oversimplified its findings, made inappropriate use of older studies and may have been compromised by its funding. But conclusions and complaints aside, the study itself didn't shed much light on people who choose organic food for spiritual reasons. 

 The link between spiritual values, organic food and good health is difficult to put into words, especially in the context of a scientific study. But increasingly people believe that it exists and aim to live their lives accordingly. This thinking showed up in online comments like this one attached to a Huffington Post story: 

"There are so many benefits to eating organic one of them can't be measured. It is the mind-body-spirit connection. When eating organic, whole, fresh foods I eat them with the knowledge that they are nourishing me with their phytonitrients, chlorophyll, and enzymes. They are actually healing and cleansing me. Eating this way helps ground me and make me feel more connected to nature. Eating the way mother nature intended." 

In a state like Oregon, where many people don't officially identify with a particular religion or regularly participate in a worshiping community, eating organic becomes a ritual that expresses their sense of an ultimate reality, however they might define it. 

Are you one of these people? What is the ultimate reality that shapes your life? How do you see the mind-body-spirit connection? What implications does it have for how you eat? Add a comment below and watch for a story on the spirituality of eating organic. - Nancy Haught, The Oregonian

When he first enrolled at Xavier University in 2008, Gerardo Patron-Cano anticipated becoming a successful businessman like his dad, moving across the globe for international work assignments in such exciting places as Beijing and Brussels. It didn't happen. Four years later, the 22-year-old graduate is now growing radishes, turnips, oats and tomatoes as an intern at Turner Farm, a working organic farm outside of Cincinnati.

"It's been an amazing time," he said. "I can't believe this is a job because of how awesome it is. And I know that what I'm doing is ecologically sustainable."

Patron-Cano's career plan flipped on its head after he signed up for one of Kathleen Smythe's history classes. It was an eye-opener. For the first time, he learned about "globalization and neoliberal policies as causes for the grave injustices in the world. I was so ignorant," he said. "I had previously looked at the world in terms of demand and structural problems of social justice."

The class affected him deeply, providing an alternative micro-lens perspective of the ruinous effects of agribusiness practices. "I became aware that most food comes from over mechanized highly impersonal growing processes," Patron-Cano said.

It caused Patron-Cano to rethink his major. He switched from business to the school of liberal arts with a major in economics, and he now dreams "of having my office hours as a professor being divided between my desk and my plot of land. I want students to come to me to talk and farm and have a good time."
His story is one glimpse into the world of Xavier University, where every student participates in experiential learning components related to sustainability before they graduate. Patron-Cano's experience went further: He signed up for one of Smythe's academic learning semesters in Ghana. When the group returned to Cincinnati, she reoriented them to the U.S. by organizing a day trip to Turner Farm, where "we did a couple of hours' work and talked about localization as an antidote to globalization," Patron-Cano said.
Farming duties as part of a history class might seem out of place, but it's been mostly successful, Smythe said.

"Students are open to new experiences, and they generally find the work rewarding in ways that they are not accustomed to -- an immediate sense of satisfaction in a row weeded or lettuce harvested that tastes sweet, for example," she said.

Xavier students meet sustainability through other courses as well. Elizabeth Groppe's theology and ecology class explores the biblical and theological foundations of care for creation, and "from this perspective we study climate change, the biodiversity crisis and agriculture issues." (In December, America magazine published her article on climate change.)

Like Smythe, Groppe sends students into the community for hands-on work with sustainable groups. Some go to Green Umbrella, an initiative to turn Cincinnati into a sustainable city. Others help out on farms, urban gardens, the campus' own NEXUS community garden, or in local green businesses. Groppe said some students coming to her class from Catholic high schools or parishes are already familiar with the need for creation care. For others, the alarming state of the planet comes as a shock.

"They totally resonate with Elizabeth Johnson's article 'Losing and Finding Creation' that explains how creation has been lost in much of Christian spirituality and practice over the course of the past 500 years," she said.

Groppe told Eco Catholic that in spite of the information age, many students are still clueless regarding the realities of mountaintop removal coal mining; the terrible extinction of species that is going on right now; toxins in the environment; soil erosion; and the scope and projected consequences of climate change.
Once they learn the facts, however, students start asking questions. Last week, after Groppe's class read Richard Miller's article on climate change in his anthology, God, Creation and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis, one student asked, "Why doesn't Obama draft legislation to address this and take it to Congress, where it should be signed immediately into law?"
Groppe said, "Why is the wisdom in this action that is so apparent to this young man not evident to all of us?"

Sustainability consciousness does not stay in the classroom. It pervades the entire campus. The concept received a boost in 2008 when the university's president, Jesuit Fr. Michael J. Graham, signed the school's name to The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment to become climate-neutral. 
More than 650 college and university presidents have signed on to the agreement.
After signing the commitment, Graham created a sustainability committee, which represents a cross-section of the campus community, including faculty, students and staff. It is working to reduce energy use and transportation costs; increase green space; conserve water and use organic materials; and make purchasing and maintenance practices more sustainable. The target date for becoming completely climate-neutral is 2030.

Currently, here is a campus update on what is happening. Construction-wise, Xavier recently completed the last of the buildings in its new Hoff Academic Quad. The quad consists of the Conation Commons, Smith Hall and the Central Utility Plant. The three buildings were designed to meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED silver standards.

Since the quad opened, energy consumption has decreased by 17.5 percent, the website notes. A green roof increases sustainability. Carpets, paint and other low-VOC materials are improving indoor conditions and helping the natural environment. The buildings boast reflective white roofs, which prevent 80 percent of sunlight from heating the city air and atmosphere. This directly reduces the earth's temperatures and reduces energy consumption from heating and cooling buildings.

In the words of John Buchanan, director of The Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, these climate-friendly buildings serve "as teachers, too, not just places within where we teach."
Students are likewise teaching and getting the word out to their peers about creation care. Xavier's four student sustainability interns are active in prompting environmental consciousnesses in every place their contemporaries live. An extensive guide to a Green Cincinnati has tips on how to live green both on- or off-campus. The guide includes seemingly mundane things like turning off dripping water taps -- not doing so wastes about 2,700 gallons of water each year. The booklet, which appears on the school website, points out that showering just a minute less each day can save 700 gallons of water a month.

It encourages students to ride bikes on campus or take campus shuttles; to fill their reusable water bottles at refill stations; and to observe Meatless Mondays. The guide talks about Xavier's food service operation, which is providing plastic Green-To-Go boxes instead of Styrofoam. Ann Dougherty, campus sustainability coordinator, says they can go through the dishwasher at the cafeteria and make takeout waste-free.

"We keep them in our dorm room or office, bring them back to eat in or get a clean box the next day. During summer, when school is not in session, the food service caters conference takeout meals for hundreds at a time using these boxes, and they save so much waste."

Another way the campus saves on waste is to promote sustainable projects, such as reorganizing dorm move-outs at the end of the year so furniture, clothes and food go to local charities. The temptation to just toss stuff is not there because the organizations send moving trucks to haul it all away, where it will do some good.

Finally, Dougherty points to the Xavier sustainability website, under the label "What Can I Do?" The site includes essays from faculty and staff regarding their own creation care practices. Smythe's piece on "Living Glocally" can be accessed there. In an email, Smythe wrote she believes sustainability will not endure for the long haul unless it includes a spiritual component.

"Without attention to our spirits, sustainability education will not be successful. Why? Because if we and our students do not appreciate and love what we know and have, we will not have the emotional and spiritual reservoir to carry us through the work ahead. As a professor who has been in the classroom at Xavier for fifteen years, I can say from my heart and my head that a sense of wonder, of seeing God in all things is what we need to be emphasizing." - Sharon Abercrombie, National Catholic Reporter