Sunday, October 28, 2012

Have There Been Multiple Studies Linking Pesticides To IQ Deficits?

Prenatal exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides that are widely used on fruit and vegetable crops throughout the United States has been linked to IQ deficits in school-age children, according to 3 new studies published online April 21 (2011) in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The studies add to the growing body of literature linking exposure to pesticides and insecticides to adverse neurologic and cognitive outcomes in children.

In February, a study in Pediatrics and reported by Medscape Medical News at that time showed that prenatal exposure to piperonyl butoxide, a chemical added to pyrethroid insecticides used in the home, was associated with delayed neurodevelopment in young children.

“The fact that 3 research groups reached such similar conclusions independently adds considerable support to the validity of the findings,” Hugh A. Tilson, PhD, editor-in-chief of Environmental Health Perspectives, said in a statement.

In the first study, Stephanie M. Engel, PhD, from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and colleagues analyzed third trimester maternal urines for OP metabolites and prenatal maternal blood for paraoxonase 1 (PON1) activity and genotype in 360 multiethnic pregnant women living in New York City between 1998 and 2002. PON1 is a key enzyme in the metabolism of OPs.

In the second study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health found that prenatal exposure to OP pesticides was related to lower intelligence scores at the age of 7 years.

The third study, by Virginia Rauh, ScD, MSW, from Columbia University, New York City, and colleagues, showed children exposed to prenatal chlorpyrifos (CPF), a pesticide used to kill roaches and other pests, had declining IQ and memory. It is now banned for use in the home but is still commonly used to spray food crops.

“These findings are important in light of continued widespread use of CPF in agricultural settings and possible longer-term educational implications of early cognitive deficits,” the investigators write.

“Since agricultural use of CPF is still permitted in the US, it is important that we continue to monitor the levels of exposure in potentially vulnerable populations, including pregnant women in agricultural communities, and evaluate the long-term neurodevelopmental implications of exposure to CPF and other organophosphate insecticides,” they conclude.

“It is well known that findings from individual epidemiologic studies may be influenced by chance and other sources of error. This is why researchers often recommend their results be interpreted with caution until they are supported by similar findings in other study populations,” Dr. Tilson commented.

“As a group, these papers add substantial weight to the evidence linking OP pesticides with adverse effects on cognitive development by simultaneously reporting consistent findings for 3 different groups of children.” - Emily Hanson

Are Pesticides On And In Foods Giving Children Developmental Disorders?

Exposure to pesticides is one key reason why children today are more likely to have a wide range of such diseases and disorders as cancer, autism, birth defects and asthma than children of a generation ago, according a study released yesterday. 

‘We have waited much, much too long to make the health of our children our national priority,” lamented Kristin Schafer, a mother of two, and lead author of the report, “A Generation in Jeopardy,” by the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA).

Schafer, PANNA’s senior policy strategist and a veteran policy research analyst, pointed out that a raft of studies has shown that between 400,000 to 600,000 of the 4 million children born each year in the United States, are affected by a developmental disorder. Scientists, she said, are calling it “a silent pandemic.”

Schafer and her team of researchers studied the link between pesticide exposure and developmental disorders in children for more than 10 months, reviewing more than 200 scientific studies and government data that tracked them.

What they learned was “quite startling,” she said citing figures that show that more than 10,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year and more than 7 million kids have asthma. There’s been a spike in the incidence of leukemia and brain cancer, she said. 

“This generation is less likely to reach its full potential” Schafer said, but quickly pointed out that pesticides are not the only drivers of an increase in developmental disorders, and that genetic and environmental factors can also play a role.

The report highlights the innovative policies communities across the country have adopted to protect children from pesticides where they live, learn and play. In California, for instance, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has replaced the use of harmful pesticides in its schools with so-called integrated pest management practices. 

Willie Green, SFUSD’s director for custodial services, said its schools use the least amount of toxic chemicals or none at all to address their pest problems, thanks to the city’s 1996 integrated pest management ordinance. 

SFUSD contracts with a pest control agency to make sure that any pest problems its schools face are addressed with the least use of harmful chemicals. For instance, better door sweeps have prevented rodents from entering buildings. 

“If a problem can be addressed without using pesticides, that’s the way we go,” Green asserted.

Schafer pointed out that some schools in the Central Valley, which has a strong agricultural base, have protective buffer zones for schools and neighborhoods to keep children out of harm’s way. Pesticide-free schools exists in such states as Connecticut, as well, she said.

Tracey Woodruff, a professor at UCSF’s School of Medicine, pointed out why children are especially vulnerable to the harms of pesticide exposure. She said they have “quickly growing” bodies that take in more of everything.

“They eat and drink more, pound for pound, than adults,” Woodruff said, noting that children’s “physiological systems undergo rapid changes from the womb through adolescence.

“Anything that interrupts the processes, like pesticides and industrial chemicals even at very low levels, can lead to significant health harms,” she said.

San Francisco’s bold Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program should be emulated by other cities to protect the health of its citizenry, said Chris Geiger, manager of the IPM program at the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Geiger acknowledged that while the city ordinance was only a small step because it applied only to city property, it was an important step nevertheless. Local communities should not depend on federal regulations because enforcing them fully takes a long time.

The report points to the need for such reforms to reduce pesticide use as:
Introduction of policies that allow enforcement agencies to act quickly to pull pesticides off the market, when independent studies indicate they are harmful.
Support innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use.
Track national pesticide use reduction goals, with a focus on those pesticides that studies indicate are harmful to children.
Withdraw harmful pesticide products from use in homes, daycare centers and schools.
Establish pesticide-free zones around schools, daycare centers and neighborhoods in agricultural areas to protect children from harmful exposures, especially pesticide drifts. - New America Media

Has The Value Of Iowa's Organic Agriculture Topped 60 Million Dollars?

Organic growers in Iowa were responsible for more than $60 million in sales from the products they grew or raised in 2011, according to the first-ever survey done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture looking at certified organic production in the country.

The survey, released earlier this month, looked at only those farms that were certified organic by the USDA. To be certified organic, food must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizer, sewage sludge-based fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones or irradiation, according to the National Organic Standard Board of the USDA. Animals raised on an organic farm must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors.

The Certified Organic Production survey was conducted by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and the agency’s Risk Management Agency. The data will be used to help improve insurance products for organic farmers.

“The Risk Management Agency wants to specifically look at farm crop protection and the crop insurance practices for organic operations,” said Aleksey Minchenkov, an NASS spokesman.

The report, which looked at organic production in all 50 states, showed there were 467 certified organic producers in Iowa, farming on more than 81,000 acres. The value of sales of crops and products produced by organic farmers in the state totaled more than $60 million last year, the survey showed.

More than $29 million in sales were recorded in crop production, with more than $31 million in livestock, poultry and related products. Nationally, there were more than 9,000 certified organic farms with sales of more than $3.5 billion.

In Iowa, there were 192 organic producers who grew corn for grain or feed, producing 1.5 million bushels valued at $15.9 million. There were 264 organic soybean producers who harvested more than 423,000 bushels valued at nearly $7 million.

By comparison, conventional Iowa corn growers grew more than 2.3 billion bushels of corn in 2011, valued at more than $14.4 billion. Conventional soybean producers grew more than 70 million bushels in 2011, valued at $5.5 billion.

Organic producers in the state also grow a variety of other fruits and vegetables, including grapes, apples, tomatoes, squash, peppers, pears and various berries, melons and lettuces. Iowa organic farmers also grow various herbs, garlic and spinach, produce organic chickens, eggs, turkeys, hogs and beef cattle. Iowa also had 10 certified organic farms producing more than 670,000 pounds of goat milk. There were 78 organic farms that produced more than 42 million pounds of milk from cows, the survey showed. - Michael Crumb, Ames Tribune 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are GMO Crops Being Planted On Wildlife Refuges In The South?

A U.S. judge sided on Tuesday with environmental groups that challenged the planting of genetically-modified crops on National Wildlife Refuges in the South.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg rejected the federal government's argument that the environmental groups' lawsuit was moot because the Fish and Wildlife Service had already agreed to stop the practice after this year.

"Plaintiffs allege harms that are currently occurring and will continue throughout 2012," wrote Boasberg, an appointee of President Barack Obama. "Waiting for 2013 is not good enough." He set a hearing for Nov. 5 to determine appropriate relief, but also encouraged both sides to meet to see if they could agree on at least some remedies.

In their lawsuit last year, the Center for Food Safety and two other groups argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated environmental laws in allowing genetically modified crops in the agency's Southeast Region, which encompasses 10 states. The groups claimed the practice has harmful environmental impacts. The most common genetically-modified crops planted were corn and soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup.

The government responded in a filing that the practice will not be allowed after the end of the 2012 growing season until the region completes an appropriate environmental analysis.

The environmental groups pursued two similar lawsuits in the state of Delaware, which blocked planting of genetically-engineered crops in two wildlife refuges and, ultimately, resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service's ending the practice in its 12-state Northeast Region.

In their lawsuit, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said that there are several ongoing environmental effects of using the genetically-modified crops, including harm to beneficial insects, an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds, altered soil ecology and genetic contamination of natural plants.

Boasberg said it was premature to determine what relief would be appropriate now, but he said that groups have identified several steps that could help mitigate any effects from the genetically-engineered crops. They include requirements that no genetically modified crops are left in the field after harvest, to prevent transgenic contamination; that Fish & Wildlife survey and disclose the locations of genetically modified crops in wildlife refuges; and that spraying of pesticides on all genetically-modified crops be banned.

"Ultimately, we think genetically-engineered crops should not be grown on National Wildlife Refuges, which are safe havens for wildlife, for people, and to protect biological diversity," said Paige Tomaselli, a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety.

The Department of Interior, which houses the Fish and Wildlife Service, said it does not comment on pending litigation. - Frederic Frommer, AP 

Does Organic Farming Increase The Quality Of Soil?

To a chemist, organic means that a compound contains carbon. To a farmer, it means using non-synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It turns out that organic farming actually may make the soil more organic in the chemical sense too.

An analysis of 74 studies on the soils in fields under organic or conventional farming practices, found that over time the carbon content in the organic fields had significantly increased. For farmers, that means organic agriculture results in a richer, more productive soil with plenty of humus. 

Although the carbon in the organic fields is good for the farmers' wallet, the research didn't find evidence that organic farming was trapping enough carbon in the soil to combat climate change. Extraneous sources of greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture weren't analyzed in the study, hence the study's authors could not determine if organic farming was tilting the scales towards trapping more greenhouse gases than it released.

For example, soil-derived nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) emissions weren't accounted for in the research. Nor were emissions resulting from the production of organic fertilizers. Energy-related emissions from farm machinery and irrigation, as well as emissions from livestock and manure, were also not measured.

The study's authors noted that offsetting emissions with trapping carbon in soil only buys time and does not negate the need for emission reduction. - Tim Wall, Discovery News 

Side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms and their fruit found the organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse.

“Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” said John Reganold, Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of a paper published today in the peer-reviewed online journal, PLoS ONE. “We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.”

The study is among the most comprehensive of its kind, analyzing 31 chemical and biological soil properties, soil DNA, and the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties on more than two dozen commercial fields—13 conventional and 13 organic.

“There is no paper in the literature that comprehensively and quantitatively compares so many indices of both food and soil quality at multiple sampling times on so many commercial farms,” said Reganold. Previous Reganold studies of “sustainability indicators” on farms in the Pacific Northwest, California, British Columbia, Australia, and New Zealand have appeared in the journals Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All the farms in the current study were in California, home to 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries and the center of an ongoing debate about the use of soil fumigants. Conventional farms in the study used the ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which is slated to be replaced by the highly toxic methyl iodide over the protests of health advocates and more than 50 Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences. In July, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the EPA to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide.
Reganold’s study team included Preston Andrews, a WSU associate professor of horticulture, and seven other experts, mostly from WSU, to form a multidisciplinary team spanning agroecology, soil science, microbial ecology, genetics, pomology, food science, sensory science, and statistics. On almost every major indicator, they found the organic fields and fruit were equal to or better than their conventional counterparts.

Among their findings:

The organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds.
The organic strawberries had longer shelf life.
The organic strawberries had more dry matter, or, “more strawberry in the strawberry.”
Anonymous testers, working at times under red light so the fruit color would not bias them, found one variety of organic strawberries was sweeter, had better flavor, and once a white light was turned on, appearance. The testers judged the other two varieties to be similar.

The researchers also found the organic soils excelled in a variety of key chemical and biological properties, including carbon sequestration, nitrogen, microbial biomass, enzyme activities, and micronutrients.
DNA analysis found the organically managed soils had dramatically more total and unique genes and greater genetic diversity, important measures of the soil’s resilience to stress and ability to carry out essential processes. - Public Library Of Sciences 

Six encouraging conclusions on the impacts of organic farming on soil quality and the nutritional content of food were reached by a panel of scientists participating in a February 13, 2009, symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The symposium was entitled "Living Soil, Food Quality, and the Future of Food" and was held as part of the largest scientific meeting of the year that spans all disciplines. The AAAS meeting was held this year in Chicago, IL.

The panel of scientists included Dr. Preston Andrews, Washington State University, Dr. Jerry Glover, The Land Institute, and Dr. Alyson Mitchell, University of California-Davis.

The "Living Soil, Food Quality, and the Future of Food" symposium was organized and sponsored by Washington State University and The Organic Center, based in Boulder, CO. The presentations made by the three panelists and other symposium information are posted on The Organic Center website.

A growing body of sophisticated research over the last decade has compared the impacts of organic and conventional farming systems on soil and food quality. Based on this body of research, some of it carried out in field experiments and laboratories, we can conclude that:

1. Studies of apple production demonstrate that organically farmed soils display improved soil health as measured by increased biological diversity, greater soil organic matter, and improved chemical and physical properties. Enhancement of soil quality in organic apple production systems can lead to measurable improvements in fruit nutritional quality, taste, and storability.

2. Organically farmed tomatoes have significantly higher levels of soluble solids and natural plant molecules called secondary plant metabolites, including flavonoids, lycopene, and Vitamin C. Most secondary plant metabolites are antioxidants, a class of plant compounds that have been linked to improved human health in populations that consume relatively high levels of fruit and vegetables.

3. Organic farming can, under some circumstances, delay the onset of the "dilution effect." In hundreds of studies, scientists have shown that incrementally higher levels of fertilizer negatively impact the density of certain nutrients in harvested foodstuffs, hence the name, the "dilution [of nutrients] effect." Specifically, tomatoes grown with organic fertilizers maintain constant concentrations of beneficial phenolic secondary plant metabolites and antioxidants, even as fruit grow larger, whereas concentrations of these same beneficial compounds decline with increasing fruit size when the same tomato cultivar is grown using conventional methods and fertilizer.

4. Studies of 27 cultivars of organically grown spinach demonstrate significantly higher levels of flavonoids and vitamin C, and lower levels of nitrates. Nitrates in food are considered detrimental to human health as they can form carcinogenic compounds (nitrosamines) in the GI tract and can convert hemoglobin to a form that can no longer carry oxygen in the blood.

5. The levels of secondary plant metabolites in food appear to be driven by the forms of nitrogen added to a farming system, as well as the ways in which the biological communities of organisms in the soil process nitrogen. Compared to typical conventional farms, the nitrogen cycle on organic farms is rooted in substantially more complex biological processes and soil-plant interactions, and for this reason, organic farming offers great promise in consistently producing nutrient-enriched foods.

6. Organic soil fertility methods, which use less readily available forms of nutrients, especially nitrogen, improve plant gene expression patterns in ways that lead to more efficient assimilation of nitrogen and carbon in tomatoes. This improvement in the efficiency of nutrient uptake leaves plants with more energy to produce beneficial plant secondary metabolites, compounds that promote plant health as well as human health.

Commenting on the well-attended symposium, Dr. Preston Andrews said, "The work we reviewed over the last decade points directly to two major scientific challenges. First, we need to understand more fully how soil biological communities process nutrients and communicate to plant roots in order to promote improved quality in organically grown crops. And second, we need better tools to help organic farmers fine-tune their production systems in order to maximize the soil and nutritional quality benefits of organic farming." - The Organic Center

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Has Another Study Linked Pesticides To The Collapse Of Bee Colonies?

Chronic exposure to pesticides has a bigger knock-on effect on bees than conventional probes suggest, according to a new study on Sunday touching on the mysterious collapse of bee colonies. Biologists at the University of London carried out an exceptional field study into bumblebees exposed to two commonly used agricultural insecticides. 

They sought to mimic what happens in a real-life setting, where different crops are sprayed with different pesticides at different dosages and times. Because bees get their food both from sprayed crops and wild plants, such variations make it hard to calculate the insects' total exposure to the chemicals. In addition, very little is known about what happens to bees once they return to the colony after foraging, possibly passing on pesticide-laden food to larvae. A team led by Richard Gill monitored 40 bumblebee colonies, tagging 259 bees with radio frequency identification (RFID) to time exactly when the insects left home or returned. The colonies were divided into four groups. Three were allowed to access feeder boxes, set up in the path of their nest boxes, that had a sugary syrup spiked with imidacloprid insecticide and/or a filter paper laced with another agricultural chemical, gamma-cyhalothrin

The bumblebees were not constrained to visit the treated material they could forage freely in the surrounding landscape for pollen and nectar. The fourth group of colonies was a "control" or comparison group that did not have the feeder boxes. In the colonies exposed to imidacloprid, fewer adult workers emerged from larvae and a higher proportion of foragers failed to return to the nest, the investigators found. In those exposed to gamma-cyhalothrin, there was a higher death rate among worker bees. And colonies that were exposed to both kinds of pesticides were likelier to fail. The experiment was exceptionally long and detailed, the scientists say. It lasted four weeks, whereas current guidelines test pesticides on bees for only up to 96 hours. In addition, it looked at what happened when bees were exposed to two chemicals at the same time and at the changes in a colony's social structure. 

"Our findings have clear implications for the conservation of insect pollinators in areas of agricultural intensification, particularly social bees, with their complex social organisation and dependence on a critical threshold of workers," says the study, published in Nature. 

Beekeepers in Europe, North America and elsewhere are worried by so-called colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides or a combination thereof. Bees are vital because they account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand. Another big concern is for honeybees given their commercial value. Bumblebees too are important pollinators, but their colonies are far smaller than those of honeybees, usually with just a few dozen workers, which made it far easier for Gill to follow them. Outside scientists who commented on the study hailed its innovation but noted that bumblebees could not be directly compared with honeybees, as they were biologically different. 

"This new work adds another substantial boulder to the rapidly growing mound of evidence which now points to a significant and worrying impact of these chemicals on our wild bumblebees," David Goulson, a professor of biology at Stirling University in Scotland, told Science Media Centre. But, he cautioned, the impact remains "rather poorly understood." - Phys.Org 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Are Nations In Africa Looking To GMO Crops As Answer For Food Independence?

Food Security, according to the World Food Summit of 1996, exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. 

This definition takes into account both physical and economic access, availability and use of food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences. In Europe and North America, people are increasingly becoming socially conscious to eat ethical – most times opting for “clean” pesticide-free food.

In sub-Sahara Africa, however, where the food imports of most countries far outweigh local production levels, the ‘luxury’ of choosing what to eat is yet to gain momentum as people would rather dream of sufficiency in food availability.

The introduction of appropriate water management systems to use as irrigation, increasing use of fertilizers and improved seeds and preserving natural resources are critical to securing a greener Africa, said Prof. Richard Mkandawire, Advisor and Head of Agriculture Unit at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

“It can be as green as national governments are committed to reforms in policy to ensure that there is an enabling environment, to allow the private sector to participate in the agricultural sector” he added.

To improving food security and agricultural growth in Africa, the adoption and use of new technologies are imperative, which in turn will require more and better investments in Research and Development as well as transfer of technologies.

The African Green Revolution Forum 2012 will be exploring the subject of applying technologies to build the foundations for rapid growth in agricultural productivity. There are thorny and debatable issues with the adoption of certain agricultural innovations like genetically modified seeds, which are being pushed as alternatives to combat low crop yield of farmers who are battling with poor soil fertility, pests and diseases.

But Daniel Otunge of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) believes it is high time Africa explored the potentials of GMOs to be agriculturally productive.

“There are a number of countries within even the European Union who are growing the GM crops”, he said, noting that about 90 percent of maize and soyabean sold on the world market is genetically modified, mostly to meet demands in the EU.

“Therefore, my advise to African leaders is that we really need to think for ourselves and look at what is good for us without having to look at Europe because most European countries do not have food insecurity problems”, said Mr. Otunge. “Our farmers cannot even afford fertilizers, they cannot afford herbicides, they cannot afford pesticides; now if there are technologies that can reduce these burdens of framers, then we need to evaluate them, using our trained scientists and regulators and them adopt them and avail them to our farmers”. - Kofi Adu Domfeh, Joy Online