Monday, January 21, 2013

What Are Some Of The Chemical Food Additives That Are Legal In The U.S. And Illegal In Other Countries?

Here is a look at a few of the more controversial and widely used American food additives that are banned elsewhere.

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
What is it?: A stabilizer and emulsifier used to prevent separation of citric oils from the drink they are flavoring.

Where it's found: Many citrus-flavored soft drinks, including Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Squirt and Fanta.

Not eligible for use in: European Union, India and Japan.

Concerns: A 2011 article in Scientific American noted that a few patients who binged on soda "have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine." The story also reported that "other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues. … In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems."

The FDA says: "Interim" use at up to 15 parts per million has been permitted since the 1970s, "pending the outcome of additional toxicological studies." The FDA will not say if those tests were ever performed. Asked about the long-standing interim status, the agency said, "FDA prioritizes its rulemaking in a risk-based manner to maximize its resources to protect public health."

Gatorade says: "We take consumer safety and product integrity seriously, and we can assure you that Gatorade is safe. As standard practice we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with federal regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers and athletes expect."

Potassium Bromate (Bromated Flour)
What is it: An oxidizing agent that enhances the performance of flour, making the dough stronger and rise faster. Also often used in permanent wave solutions.

Where it's found: The American Bakers Association said most members have stopped using potassium bromate, but it still is found in some bread products. New York Flatbreads is one brand that lists bromated flour as an ingredient.

Not eligible for use in: Canada, the United Kingdom and China, among other countries.

Concerns: "Although adverse effects are not evident in animals fed bread-based diets made from flour treated with KBrO3, the agent is carcinogenic in rats and nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys) in both man and experimental animals when given orally," scientists wrote in Environmental Health Perspectives in 1990. 

Bromate is considered a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is classified as a carcinogen in California.

The FDA says: The agency has encouraged manufacturers to stop using bromated flour but has not banned it. "Provided industry is complying with good manufacturing practices, residual bromate does not pose a public health hazard," said Dennis Keefe, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety. "Furthermore, recent label surveys indicate that the ingredient is no longer widely used by the baking industry."
The industry says: Companies that use bromated flour list it among the ingredients and use it according to FDA guidelines that theoretically leave less than 20 parts per billion in the finished product.

What is it: Food uses include bleaching, aging and improving flour. Also often used in foamed plastics.

Where it's found: Some brands of soft, white sandwich bread and many fast-food burger buns, including those at McDonald's and Burger King.

Not eligible for use in: Australia and Europe. In Singapore, use can result in up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of $450,000.

Concerns: The United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive said "the effects of exposure to azodicarbonamide in humans have not been fully evaluated, although evidence for respiratory sensitisation has been found in bronchial challenge studies and workplace health evaluations." The chemical also can break down to form semicarbazide (SEM), considered a carcinogen in mice.

The FDA says: The agency has "found concentrations of SEM in a limited survey of domestic bread and bakery products … indicative of azocarbonamide concentrations in excess of the 45 ppm regulatory limit in flour." The agency "has contacted the baking industry to identify production changes aimed at reducing SEM levels and potential consumer exposure and has recently initiated another survey of bread and bakery products."

McDonald's says: Azodicarbonamide "is used by McDonald's bakery suppliers in the United States, Canada and Latin America to help make the quality of their bread more consistent within each and every batch. ... All of our food ingredients in the U.S. comply with federal food laws."

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
What are they: Antioxidants used to slow the spoilage of certain fats and oils in food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.

Where they are found: Processed butters, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, vitamins, dehydrated potatoes and beer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Not eligible for use in: European cosmetics.

Concerns: The National Institutes of Health said that although studies show BHA can induce cancer in rats, existing scientific literature is "inadequate to evaluate the relationship between human cancer and the exposure specifically to BHA." California classifies BHA as a carcinogen. The FDA noted that a 2000 study found consumption of BHA and BHT does not increase people's risk of stomach cancer and may actually reduce it. The National Institutes of Health also says BHT is linked to liver enlargement.

FDA's position: The agency's select committee on food additives called in the 1970s for research on potential health risks. The agency did not respond to questions about whether studies were ever conducted.

Food manufacturer Kellogg says: "BHT is a common preservative, approved by the Food and Drug Administration," spokeswoman Kris Charles wrote. "Only the smallest amounts necessary are added to either the package liner or the food itself to preserve flavor and freshness of our products." - Chicago Tribune

Have UCLA Researchers Found A Link Between Pesticides And Parkinson's Disease?

For several years, neurologists at UCLA have been building a case that a link exists between pesticides and Parkinson's disease. To date, paraquat, maneb and ziram are common chemicals sprayed in California's Central Valley and elsewhere have been tied to increases in the disease, not only among farmworkers but in individuals who simply lived or worked near fields and likely inhaled drifting particles.

Now, UCLA researchers have discovered a link between Parkinson's and another pesticide, benomyl, whose toxicological effects still linger some 10 years after the chemical was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Even more significantly, the research suggests that the damaging series of events set in motion by benomyl may also occur in people with Parkinson's disease who were never exposed to the pesticide, according to Jeff Bronstein, senior author of the study and a professor of neurology at UCLA, and his colleagues.

Benomyl exposure, they say, starts a cascade of cellular events that may lead to Parkinson's. The pesticide prevents an enzyme called ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase) from keeping a lid on DOPAL, a toxin that naturally occurs in the brain. When left unchecked by ALDH, DOPAL accumulates, damages neurons and increases an individual's risk of developing Parkinson's.

The investigators believe their findings concerning benomyl may be generalized to all Parkinson's patients. Developing new drugs to protect ALDH activity, they say, may eventually help slow the progression of the disease, whether or not an individual has been exposed to pesticides. The research is published in the current online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Parkinson's disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder that affects millions worldwide. Its symptoms including tremor, rigidity, and slowed movements and speech increase with the progressive degeneration of neurons, primarily in a part of the mid-brain called the substantia nigra. This area normally produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that allows cells to communicate, and damage to the mid-brain has been linked to the disease. Usually, by the time Parkinson's symptoms manifest themselves, more than half of these neurons, known as dopaminergic neurons, have already been lost.

While researchers have identified certain genetic variations that cause an inherited form of Parkinson's, only a small fraction of the disease can be blamed on genes, said the study's first author, Arthur G. Fitzmaurice, a postdoctoral scholar in Bronstein's laboratory.

"As a result, environmental factors almost certainly play an important role in this disorder," Fitzmaurice said. "Understanding the relevant mechanisms particularly what causes the selective loss of dopaminergic neurons may provide important clues to explain how the disease develops."

Benomyl was widely used in the U.S. for three decades until toxicological evidence revealed it could potentially lead to liver tumors, brain malformations, reproductive effects and carcinogenesis. It was banned in 2001. The researchers wanted to explore whether there was a relationship between benomyl and Parkinson's, which would demonstrate the possibility of long-lasting toxicological effects from pesticide use, even a decade after chronic exposure. But because a direct causal relationship between the pesticide and Parkinson's can't be established by testing humans, the investigators sought to determine if exposure in experimental models could duplicate some of the pathologic features of the disease.

They first tested the effects of benomyl in cell cultures and confirmed that the pesticide damaged or destroyed dopaminergic neurons. Next, they tested the pesticide in a zebrafish model of the disease. This freshwater fish is commonly used in research because it is easy to manipulate genetically, it develops rapidly and it is transparent, making the observation and measurement of biological processes much easier. By using a fluorescent dye and counting the neurons, the researchers discovered there was significant neuron loss in the fish but only to the dopaminergic neurons. The other neurons were left unaffected.

Until now, evidence had pointed to one particular culprit a protein called α-synuclein in the development of Parkinson's. This protein, common to all Parkinson's patients, is thought to create a pathway to the disease when it binds together in "clumps" and becomes toxic, killing the brain's neurons. (See UCLA research using "molecular tweezers" to break up these toxic aggregations.) The identification of ALDH activity now gives researchers another target to focus on in trying to stop this disease.

"We've known that in animal models and cell cultures, agricultural pesticides trigger a neurodegenerative process that leads to Parkinson's," said Bronstein, who directs the UCLA Movement Disorders Program. "And epidemiologic studies have consistently shown the disease occurs at high rates among farmers and in rural populations. Our work reinforces the hypothesis that pesticides may be partially responsible, and the discovery of this new pathway may be a new avenue for developing therapeutic drugs."

Other authors of the study included Lisa Barnhill, Hoa A. Lam, Aaron Lulla, Nigel T. Maidment, Niall P. Murphy, Kelley C. O'Donnell, Shannon L. Rhodes, Beate Ritz, Alvaro Sagastig and Mark C. Stahl, all of UCLA; John E. Casida of UC Berkeley; and Myles Cockburn of the University of Southern California. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This work was funded in part by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grants P01ES016732, R01ES010544, 5R21ES16446-2 and U54ES012078; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant NS038367; the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (Southwest Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Center); the Michael J. Fox Foundation; the Levine Foundation; and the Parkinson Alliance. - Mark Wheeler, UCLA Newsroom

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Are Some Of The Health Effects That May Occur Due To Pesticide Exposure?

Neurodevelopmental Damage?
Recent studies show that young children can be exposed to pesticides during normal oral exploration of their environment and their level of dermal contact with floors and other surfaces. Children living in agricultural areas may be exposed to higher pesticide levels than other children because of pesticides tracked into their homes by household members, by pesticide drift, by breast milk from their farm worker mother, or by playing in nearby fields. Nevertheless, few studies have assessed the extent of children's pesticide exposure, and no studies have examined whether there are adverse health effects of chronic exposure. There is substantial toxicologic evidence that repeated low-level exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides may affect neurodevelopment and growth in developing animals. For example, animal studies have reported neurobehavorial effects such as impairment on maze performance, locomotion, and balance in neonates exposed (italic)in utero(/italic) and during early postnatal life. Possible mechanisms for these effects include inhibition of brain acetylcholinesterase, downregulation of muscarinic receptors, decreased brain DNA synthesis, and reduced brain weight in offspring. Research findings also suggest that it is biologically plausible that OP exposure may be related to respiratory disease in children through dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. The University of California Berkeley Center for Children's Environmental Health Research is working to build a community-university partnership to study the environmental health of rural children. This Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, or CHAMACOS in Monterey County, California, will assess (italic)in utero(/italic) and postnatal OP pesticide exposure and the relationship of exposure to neurodevelopment, growth, and symptoms of respiratory illness in children. The ultimate goal of the center is to translate research findings into a reduction of children's exposure to pesticides and other environmental agents, and thereby reduce the incidence of environmentally related disease. - B Eskenazi, A Bradman, and R Castorina, University of California

Breast Cancer?
Epidemiologic evidence on the relationship between chemical pesticides and cancer is reviewed. In animal studies, many pesticides are carcinogenic, (e.g., organochlorines, creosote, and sulfallate) while others (notably, the organochlorines DDT, chlordane, and lindane) are tumor promoters. Some contaminants in commercial pesticide formulations also may pose a carcinogenic risk. In humans, arsenic compounds and insecticides used occupationally have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Human data, however, are limited by the small number of studies that evaluate individual pesticides. Epidemiologic studies, although some-times contradictory, have linked phenoxy acid herbicides or contaminants in them with soft tissue sarcoma (STS) and malignant lymphoma; organochlorine insecticides are linked with STS, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, and, less consistently, with cancers of the lung and breast; organophosphorous compounds are linked with NHL and leukemia; and triazine herbicides with ovarian cancer. Few, if any, of these associations can be considered established and causal. Hence, further epidemiologic studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides, taking into consideration work practices, use of protective equipment, and other measures to reduce risk. - Jan Dich, Shelia Hoar Zahm, Annika Hanberg and Hans-Olov Adami, Cancer Causes & Controls 

Prostate Cancer?
The authors examined the relation between 45 common agricultural pesticides and prostate cancer incidence in a prospective cohort study of 55,332 male pesticide applicators from Iowa and North Carolina with no prior history of prostate cancer. Data were collected by means of self-administered questionnaires completed at enrollment (1993–1997). Cancer incidence was determined through population-based cancer registries from enrollment through December 31, 1999. A prostate cancer standardized incidence ratio was computed for the cohort. Odds ratios were computed for individual pesticides and for pesticide use patterns identified by means of factor analysis. A prostate cancer standardized incidence ratio of 1.14 (95% confidence interval: 1.05, 1.24) was observed for the Agricultural Health Study cohort. Use of chlorinated pesticides among applicators over 50 years of age and methyl bromide use were significantly associated with prostate cancer risk. Several other pesticides showed a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer among study subjects with a family history of prostate cancer but not among those with no family history. Important family history-pesticide interactions were observed. - American Journal of Epidemiology 

Parkinson's Disease?
In the last two decades reports from different countries emerged associating pesticide and herbicide use with Parkinson's disease (PD). California growers use approximately 250 million pounds of pesticides annually, about a quarter of all pesticides used in the US. We employed a proportional odds mortality design to compare all cases of PD recorded as underlying (1984–1994) or associated causes (1984–1993) of death occurring in California with all deaths from ischaemic heart disease (ICD-9 410– 414) during the same period. Based on pesticide use report data we classified California counties into several pesticide use categories. Agricultural census data allowed us to create measures of percentage of land per county treated with pesticides. Employing logistic regression models we estimated the effect of pesticide use controlling for age, gender, race, birthplace, year of deaths, and education. Mortality from PD as the underlying cause of death was higher in agricultural pesticide-use counties than in non-use counties. A dose response was observed for insecticide use per county land treated when using 1982 agricultural census data, but not for amounts of restricted pesticides used or length of residency in a country prior to death. Our data show an increased PD mortality in California counties using agricultural pesticides. Unless all of our measures of county pesticide use are surrogates for other risk factors more prevalent in pesticide use counties, it seems important to target this prevalent exposure in rural California in future studies that use improved case finding mechanisms and collect pesticide exposure data for individuals. - School of Public Health, UCLA

Endocrine Disruption?
Endocrine disrupting (ED) chemicals are compounds that alter the normal functioning of the endocrine system, potentially causing disease or deformity in organisms and their offspring. Pesticides are used widely to kill unwanted organisms in crops, public areas, homes and gardens and medicinally to kill parasites. Many are proven or suspected to be EDs. Ancient physiological similarities between different vertebrate groups suggest that disorders observed in wildlife may indicate risks to humans. This makes accurate risk assessment and effective legislation difficult. In this paper, the hazardous properties of pesticides which are known to have ED properties are reviewed in order to assess the implications for risk assessment. As well as data on sources of exposure in the United Kingdom (UK) an assessment of the evidence on the health effects of ED pesticides is also included. In total, 127 have been identified from the literature and their effects and modes of action are listed in this paper. Using the UK as a case study, the types and quantities of pesticides used, and their methods of application are assessed, along with their potential pathways to humans. In the UK reliable data are available only for agricultural use, so non-agricultural routes of pesticide exposure have been poorly quantified. The exposure of people resident in or visiting rural areas could also have been grossly under-estimated. Material links between ED pesticide use and specific illnesses or deformities are complicated by the multifactorial nature of disease, which can be affected by factors such as diet. Despite these difficulties, a large body of evidence has accumulated linking specific conditions to ED pesticides in wildlife and humans. A more precautionary approach to the use of ED pesticides, especially for non-essential purposes is proposed. - Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London

Is Organic Farming Really Better For The Environment?

Despite a slight decline between 2009 and 2010, since 1999 the global land area farmed organically has expanded more than threefold to 37 million hectares, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute. Regions with the largest certified organic agricultural land in 2010 were Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations (12.1 million hectares); Europe (10 million hectares); and Latin America (8.4 million hectares), write report authors Catherine Ward and Laura Reynolds.

Organic farming is now established in international standards, and 84 countries had implemented organic regulations by 2010, up from 74 countries in 2009. Definitions vary, but according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, organic agriculture is a production system that relies on ecological processes, such as waste recycling, rather than the use of synthetic inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“Although organic agriculture often produces lower yields on land that has recently been farmed conventionally, it can outperform conventional practices especially in times of drought when the land has been farmed organically for a longer time,” said Reynolds, a researcher with Worldwatch's Food and Agriculture Program. “Conventional agricultural practices often degrade the environment over both the long and short term through soil erosion, excessive water extraction, and biodiversity loss.”

Organic farming has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity. Sustainable practices associated with organic farming are relatively labor-intensive. Organic agriculture uses up to 50 percent less fossil fuel energy than conventional farming, and common organic practices  including rotating crops, applying mulch to empty fields, and maintaining perennial shrubs and trees on farms – also stabilize soils and improve water retention, thus reducing vulnerability to harsh weather patterns. On average, organic farms have 30 percent higher biodiversity, including birds, insects, and plants, than conventional farms do.

 Certifications for organic agriculture are increasingly concentrated in wealthier countries. From 2009 to 2010, Europe increased its organic farmland by 9 percent to 10 million hectares, the largest growth in any region. The United States has lagged behind other countries in adopting sustainable farming methods. When national sales rather than production are considered, however, the U.S. organic industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, expanding by 9.5 percent in 2011 to reach $31.5 billion in sales.

Sustainable food production will become increasingly important in developing countries, as the majority of population growth is concentrated in the world's poorest countries. Agriculture in developing countries is often far more labor-intensive than in industrial countries, so it is not surprising that approximately 80 percent of the 1.6 million global certified organic farmers live in the developing world. The countries with the most certified organic producers in 2010 were India (400,551 farmers), Uganda (188,625), and Mexico (128,826). Non-certified organic agriculture in developing countries is practiced by millions of indigenous people, peasants and small family farms involved in subsistence and local market-oriented production.

Further highlights from the report:

In 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, certified organic farming accounted for approximately 0.9 percent of the world's agricultural land.
Africa is home to 3 percent of the world's certified organic agricultural land, with just over 1 million hectares certified. Asia has 7 percent, with a total of 2.8 million hectares.
Despite a decline in organically farmed land in China and India between 2009 and 2010, India's export volume of organic produce increased by 20 percent. - Sustainable Plant

Are Organic Farmers Being Forgotten In The Farm Bill Discussion?

“We’ve been thrown under the bus.” That’s how some organic farmers and advocates are describing the government’s “eleventh-hour” decision on Jan. 1 to extend the 2008 farm bill for 9 months instead of enacting a new 2012 farm bill.

Their dismay is based on how organics fared when the 2008 farm bill was extended until September 2013 (Section 701). Pure and simple, mandatory funding for a variety of organic programs written into the 2008 farm bill didn’t qualify for automatic inclusion into the farm bill extension.

That outcome is in contrast to the proposed Senate and House versions of the 2012 farm bill, hammered out last summer, that had included funding for all of the organic programs (except for one in the House version).

One reason for extending the 2008 farm bill was that there just wasn’t enough time to enact a 2012 farm bill, especially in light of all of the frenzied work Congress was putting into keeping the nation from toppling over the tax side of the fiscal cliff. The other factor was that House leadership worried about possible infighting over cuts to food stamps and subsidy programs.

Among the organic programs that weren’t included in the extension of the 2008 farm bill are those that fund organic research and extension, cost share to become certified as organic, and an organic data collection system — the same sort of data collection system that has long been a mainstay for conventional agriculture and that qualified to receive continued funding.

Organic farmers say that these programs have helped them be more productive and better at marketing their goods to meet the growing demand for their crops, milk, meats and other products.

“This is a huge loss for the organic sector,” Barbara Haumann, spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association, told Food Safety News. “The cuts are severe. It will impact farmers who use safer practices and could discourage some farmers because of the loss of cost-share for certification.”

USDA’s cost-share programs make certification more affordable for small- and mid-sized organic farmers and handlers by reimbursing them for as much as 75 percent up to a maximum of $750 a year for their certification costs. Eligible costs include application fees, inspection fees, travel for certification inspectors, and even postage.

Created in 2002, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program was designed, in part, to recognize the public benefits of organic agriculture to environmental stewardship, according to the USDA. The program received $22 million in mandatory funding over 5 years in the 2008 farm bill.

Turning to research, Haumann said that the 2008 farm bill marked an important step forward for organic research. She called the loss of that funding “a real blow.”

“Cooperative Extension (a nationwide network that operates through certain universities in each state to provide research-based information to agricultural producers, among others) was working with organic farmers,” she said. “It wasn’t that long ago, that there was no funding for organics. We don’t want to lose ground.”

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the federal partner in the Cooperative Extension System, provides federal funding to the system.

In the 2008 farm bill, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative was funded at $18 million for fiscal year 2009 and $20 million for fiscal years 2010-12, plus a $25-million-per-year authorization for appropriations

According to the National Organic Coalition, USDA research programs have not kept pace with the growth of organic agriculture in the market place. Compared to the amount of research dollars going to other sectors of the industry, organics gets significantly less proportionately when looking at the nearly 4 percent of total U.S. food retail market it represents.

“As our economy struggles to rebuild, organic agriculture is a bright spot that is clearly part of the solution,” said Steven Etka, legislative coordinator for the National Organic Coalition.

Organic farmer Anne Schwartz, owner of Blue Heron Farm in Western Washington, told Food Safety News that Washington State University alone has 150 research projects focused on organic and sustainable farming, including a 30-acre showcase organic farm.

“We’ve made an impact,” she said, referring to strides organic producers have made. “But right now research is funded at the federal level. When we lose federal funding for that, we’re in trouble, and they know it.”

Pointing to another program that lost funding in the 9-month extension, Haumann said that the Organic Production and Marketing Data Initiative  has been “a wonderful help” for organic farmers and businesses because it helps keep track of what organic crops or livestock are being raised and where and what their costs are.

“It helps producers and buyers make business decisions across the board,” she said. “And it helps encourage investors when they see how much organics is growing.”

The 2008 farm bill provided $5 million in mandatory funding for the collection and publication of the data.

As far as Haumann is concerned, organic agriculture “is not getting its fair share in the extension of the 2008 farm bill to encourage good practices that produce food that many families want to buy.”

“A slap in the face and anti-people,” said Schwartz referring not just to what the loss in funding means to the organic sector but also to the general public, which benefits from the environmental stewardship and the boost to regional economies, biodiversity, and food security that organic agriculture offers.

Instead of reforming U.S. agricultural policy, as had been proposed in the Senate and House versions of the 2012 farm bill, the 9-month extension of the 2008 version includes $5 billion for subsidies and direct payments. These are payments typically doled out, farm bill after farm bill, to certain farmers (among them corn, soybeans, wheat and rice farmers).

In contrast, the House and Senate versions of the 2012 farm bill had called for eliminating the subsidies. The reasoning behind that proposed change was that the commodity farmers were doing well financially and didn’t need them. Apart from farm policy, proposed cost-cutting measures in the farm bill were seen as a way to help fix the nation’s budgetary woes. For example, the Senate bipartisan version of the 2012 Farm Bill called for cuts of $24 billion in spending.

After the 2008 bill was extended, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, made it clear that she wasn’t pleased with the outcome, describing it as “a partial extension that reforms nothing, provides no deficit reduction, and hurts many areas of our agriculture economy.”

As for why some of the organic programs weren’t included in the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, it all comes down to something called the “budgetary baseline.” According to a Congressional Research Service Report, 37 programs  that received mandatory funds in the 2008 farm bill weren’t eligible to continue receiving them because they didn’t have what is referred to as a “budgetary baseline” beyond FY2012. If policymakers want to continue these programs in the 2012 farm bill, they will need to find offsets to pay for them.

No easy task, say organic advocates, who point out that any requests for new appropriations will be part of the national debate on spending cuts, entitlement reform and the debt ceiling. In addition, the 2012 farm bill will need to go through committee mark-up and onto the House and Senate floors before it can be enacted into law.

Even so, the Organic Trade Association has vowed to lead the direct-advocacy effort for these critical programs, according to a news alert sent out to members.

Although food safety is generally thought of as keeping food free of dangerous pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria, organic farmers and consumers view food safety from an additional perspective. For them, for food to be safe, it  must also be free from pesticide residues and genetically modified organisms and cannot be raised using synthetic chemicals, compost that contains pathogens, or sewage sludge. Or, in the case of meat, poultry and fish, the animals, or fish, can’t be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.

These are just some of the standards that organic producers must meet to qualify for certification under USDA’s National Organic Program, which allows them to sell their products bearing the agency’s official organic seal. That seal gives them an important boost in the marketplace, where some consumers are more than happy to pay higher prices for food that has been raised organically.

Lisa Bunin, organic policy director for The Center for Food Safety told Food Safety News that organically grown food is the only food that is legally mandated to safeguard natural resources such as the soil and water, human health, animal welfare, and the environment.

As an example of that, a legal guide by the National Agricultural Law Center about the National Organic Program points out that legislation specifically says that the plant and animal materials must be managed by the producer “to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances.”

According to a fact sheet from the Organic Farming Research Foundation organic agriculture is a $29 billion industry in the United States in 2010 with more than 14,500 organic farmers in its ranks is one of the fastest growing sectors of U.S. agriculture. For 10 years,  the industry grew at an enviable average annual rate of 20 percent, and even during the recent recession, continued to enjoy positive growth.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which represents family and smaller-sized farmers, rankled at the decision to extend the 2008 farm bill.

“The message is unmistakable, direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead,” said the organization in a statement.

For Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a populist farm policy research group, the loss of funding for some critical organic programs in the extension of the 2008 farm bill goes beyond whether organic food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally grown food. While that debate is important, he pointed out that there’s also this economic reality to consider: It (the extension) flies in the face of the free-market system the United States’ economy is purportedly based on.

“It (the 2008 farm bill extension) undercuts where markets are going,” Kastel told Food Safety News. “Instead, with this extension, we have the government giving more money (in direct payments) to commodity farmers even though they don’t need payments now because they’re doing well. They’re ignoring what the consumers are voting for in the marketplace. It’s ass backwards. It’s undermining our capitalistic structure and free markets. We’re having the government pick and choose the winners.”

Kastel also pointed out that what organics receives in federal support is “peanuts” compared to the subsidies and other support that conventional agriculture typically receives through the nation’s farm bills and agricultural policy. - Cookson Beecher, Food Safety News

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Could Designer Bacteria Improve Vaccines? (Pay Attention News)

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a menu of 61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria that may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV.

The strains of E. coli, which were described in a paper published this month in the journal PNAS, are part of a new class of biological “adjuvants” that is poised to transform vaccine design. Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to boost the human immune response.

“For 70 years the only adjuvants being used were aluminum salts,” said Stephen Trent, associate professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences. “They worked, but we didn’t fully understand why, and there were limitations. Then four years ago the first biological adjuvant was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I think what we’re doing is a step forward from that. It’s going to allow us to design vaccines in a much more intentional way.”

Adjuvants were discovered in the early years of commercial vaccine production, when it was noticed that batches of vaccine that were accidentally contaminated often seemed to be more effective than those that were pure.

“They’re called the ‘dirty little secret’ of immunology,” said Trent. “If the vials were dirty, they elicited a better immune response.”

What researchers eventually realized was that they could produce a one-two punch by intentionally adding their own dirt (adjuvant) to the mix. The main ingredient of the vaccine, which was a killed or inactivated version of the bacteria or virus that the vaccine was meant to protect against, did what it was supposed to do. It “taught” the body’s immune system to recognize it and produce antibodies in response to it.

The adjuvant amplifies that response by triggering a more general alarm, which puts more agents of the immune system in circulation in the bloodstream, where they can then learn to recognize the key antigen. The result is an immune system more heavily armed to fight the virus or bacteria when it encounters it in the future.

For about 70 years the adjuvant of choice, in nearly every vaccine worldwide, was an aluminum salt. Then in 2009, the FDA approved a new vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). It included a new kind of adjuvant that’s a modified version of an endotoxin molecule.

These molecules, which can be dangerous, appear on the cell surface of a wide range of bacteria. As a result, humans have evolved over millions of years to detect and respond to them quickly. They trigger an immediate red alert.

“In some of its forms an endotoxin can kill you,” said Trent. “But the adjuvant, which is called MPL, is a very small, carefully modified piece of it, so it’s able to trigger the immune response without overdoing it.”

What Trent and his colleagues have done is expand on that basic premise. Rather than just work with an inert piece of endotoxin, they’ve engineered E. coli bacteria to express the endotoxin in many configurations on the cell surface.

“These 61 E. coli strains each have a different profile on their surface,” said Brittany Needham, a doctoral student in Trent’s lab and the first author on the paper. “In every case the surface structure of the endotoxin is safe, but it will interact with the immune system in a range of ways. Suddenly we have a huge potential menu of adjuvants to test out with different kinds of vaccines.”

One form might work better with cholera vaccine, another with pertussis (whooping cough) and another with a future HIV vaccine. Trent, Needham and their colleagues should be able to fine-tune the adjuvants with increasing precision as more E. coli strains are engineered and tested, and as their understanding of how they interact with the immune system deepens.

“I think we’re at the dawn of a new age of vaccine design,” said Trent. “For a long time vaccinology was really a trial-and-error field. It was a black box. We knew certain things worked. We knew certain vaccines had certain side effects. But we didn’t entirely know why. Now that’s changing.”

Trent said that an additional advantage of their system is that the E. coli can be engineered to express key viral and bacterial antigens along with the endotoxin. A single cell could deliver both parts of the one-two punch, or even a one-two-three punch, if antigens from multiple diseases were expressed in a single E. coli.

“It makes possible a vaccine that provides protection from multiple pathogens at the same time,” said Trent.

Trent and his colleagues are working on a second round of designer E. coli. They have also filed a provisional patent on their system and are working with the university to find a corporate partner to pay for clinical trials.

“This is ready to go,” said Trent. “I can’t predict whether it will actually make it to the market. But it’s very similar to the adjuvant that has already been approved, and my instinct is that if a company will undertake to do the trials, it will get approved. A company could call us tomorrow, we could send them a strain, and they could start working.” - Daniel Oppenheimer, The University Of Texas

Monday, January 14, 2013

Could Pesticide Exposure In The Womb Promote Obesity?

Affected babies in the new study weighed no more than normal at birth, so growth in the womb was unaffected. Their moms were also normal weight which is significant because babies born to overweight and obese women sometimes undergo rapid growth.

Carried out in Spain, the new and still ongoing study recruited more than 500 women to take part, beginning in the first trimester of their pregnancies. Blood collected upon entry was assayed for the presence of several common persistant chlorinated pollutants: DDT, its breakdown product DDE, hexachlorobenzene (a now-banned fungicide that still occurs inadvertently as a byproduct during the manufacturing of other chlorinated compounds), beta-hexachlorohexane (a contaminant of the insecticide lindane), and any of several dioxinlike polychlorinated biphenyls (fluids used as electrical insulators). Researchers continue to follow the babies born into the study (most of whom are now around 4 years old).

The study probed for correlations between pollutants in the moms’ blood and growth differences among their children. Only DDE exhibited such an association.

Babies born to normal-weight moms who had exhibited elevated blood-DDE levels (in the upper 25 percent of all participants) were twice as likely to grow rapidly during their first 6 months than were infants born to the least-exposed women (with DDE concentrations in the lowest 25 percent). By 14 months old, children whose exposures to DDE in the womb had been in the top 50 percent were four times as likely to be overweight as indicated by a high body-mass-index, or BMI, score when compared to children with lower exposures.

Although the heavier children were not obese, they will be followed to see if they become so, notes Michelle Mendez of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, in Barcelona, who led the new analyses.

Her team’s findings appeared online October 5, ahead of print, in Environmental Health Perspectives. Finding no DDE link to growth among children of overweight and obese women was a surprise, Mendez says.
 “We didn’t actually expect this interaction between maternal weight and DDE’s impacts,” she explains, but the study’s analyses point to less than a 5 percent chance that such a finding was due to chance.

If the association is confirmed in followup studies, she says, “there is still this big mystery: why some infants would start to grow more rapidly than others immediately after birth. Are they eating more? Are they less active? We just don’t know.” Presumably, she says, some type of fetal reprogramming maybe to neural wiring, maybe in switches affecting the activity of particular genes has altered the way these children metabolize their food.

In fact, a growing body of data has been indicating that some pollutants known colloquially as obesogens can trigger the body to put on the pounds. In animals, these pollutants will sometimes lead a mouse to become rotund despite eating no more and exercising no less than its lean cousins.

Many obesogens including DDE have a hormonal alter ego. In the body, DDE can either turn on or block the activity of natural estrogens, female sex hormones. This pollutant also can block the activity of male sex hormones. Such properties lead scientists to describe this pesticide derivative as an endocrine disrupter.

This new paper “is very interesting because the authors have linked the extensive literature on rapid early infancy weight gain and later increased BMI with endocrine disrupter exposure in a population of significant size,” says Bruce Blumberg of the University of California, Irvine. 

Although there have been few studies investigating endocrine disrupters of any type with weight-regulation issues in children, he notes that “DDE levels are consistently associated with increased BMI in adults. Therefore, the current study provides another link between DDE and the risk of obesity.”

Data on chemicals showing obesogenic activity in animals “are already very strong and we should be concerned,” maintains Ana Soto of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. But this endocrinologist acknowledges that plenty of people remain skeptical of animal data. And for them, she says, the new study’s findings from children make a good case that endocrine disrupters can be human obesogens.

As to where people might encounter DDE: Its parent, DDT, is still used for malaria control in some parts of the world. As persistent organic pollutants, DDT and DDE can leapfrog around the world for years after the insecticide was first released (Science News, March 16, 1996, p. 174). Some researchers have found DDE tainting plush toys (Science News, Dec. 10, 2005, p. 381). Root vegetables, such as carrots, may pick up DDE from soil even years after DDT was last used, and residues of the pesticide have been found tainting produce and meat from countries where DDT’s use remains legal. - Janet Raloff, Science News 

How Many Pounds Of Pesticides And Chemical Fertilizers Were Used On Fruit And Vegetable Crops In 2010 And 2011?

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Agricultural Chemical Use Program is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official source of statistics about on-farm pesticide use and pest management practices.

In fall 2011, NASS collected data about pesticide use and pest management practices on 23 fruit crops planted for the 2011 crop year. The survey was conducted in 12 states; results are based on 4,075 
responses. For each commodity, the states surveyed account for the majority of U.S. acres of the crop. Respondents applied a total of 331 unique pesticide active ingredients to the surveyed crops in 2011, up 
10 percent from 2009. The 331 active ingredients are categorized into four pesticide classes: insecticides (96), herbicides (80), fungicides (70), and other chemicals (85). 

This report highlights results for apples, blueberries, and peaches, which are each produced in at least six geographically diverse states. The seven states in which apple growers were surveyed represent 82 percent of the U.S. apple acreage. The six blueberry states surveyed make up 82 percent of the nation’s blueberry acreage, and the seven peach states account for 81 percent of U.S. peach acres. 

The growers surveyed applied fungicides to 84 percent of their apple acres, 87 percent of blueberry acres, and 81 percent of peach acres. They applied insecticides to 84 percent of apple, 84 percent of blueberry, and 61 percent of peach acres. Herbicides and other chemicals were used less extensively. Based on percent of planted acres treated, mancozeb was the most widely used fungicide on apples, applied to 40 percent of planted acres at an average rate of 10.117 pounds per acre for the 
crop year. Sulfur ranked second, applied to 39 percent of planted acres. 

For blueberries, fenbuconazole was the most widely used fungicide, applied to 55 percent of acres at an average rate of 0.218 pounds per acre for the crop year. This was followed closely by pyraclostrobin, applied to 50 percent of acres. For peaches the most widely applied fungicides were sulfur, propiconazole, and chlorothalonil, covering 56, 34, and 26 percent of the acreage, respectively.

Among insecticides, apple growers in the surveyed states applied carbaryl to 46 percent of the acreage (at an average rate  of 1.566 pounds per acre for the crop year), chlorantraniliprole to 45 percent, and chlorpyrifos to 44 percent. Blueberry growers applied phosmet on 38 percent of blueberry acres at an average rate of 1.683 pounds per acre for the crop year. Peach growers applied esfenvalerate to 31 percent of acres at an average rate of 0.114 pounds per acre.For all three fruits, growers used herbicides less widely than fungicides or insecticides. On apples, growers applied glyphosate isopropylamine salt to 25 percent of acres at an average of 1.604 pounds per acre for the crop year. 

Blueberry growers applied diuron to 19 percent of acres, followed closely by oryzalin (18 percent of acres) and paraquat (16 percent). Glyphosate isopropylamine salt and oxyfluorfen were each 
applied to 16 percent of peach acres. 

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Agricultural Chemical Use Program is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official source of statistics about on-farm and post-harvest fertilizer and pesticide use and pest management practices.

In the fall of 2010, NASS collected data about fertilizer, chemical use and pest management practices on 29 vegetable crops in 19 states. These data were collected as part of the biennial vegetable chemical usage program, and results are based on 3,272  individual responses.

Of the three primary macronutrients, nitrogen (N) was applied to 98 percent of sweet corn (FM) acreage at an average rate of 166 pounds per acre for the 2010 crop year. Macronutrients phosphate (P) and potash (K) were applied to 93 and 77 percent of the sweet corn acreage at an average rate of 91 and 116 pounds per acre, respectively. The secondary macronutrient, sulfur (S), was applied to 26 percent of acres at a rate of 26 pounds per acre. Fresh market sweet corn was surveyed in more program states than any other vegetable commodity. Nitrogen was applied to 98 percent of the tomato (FM) acreage at an average rate of 142 pounds per acre for the crop year. Phosphate and potash were applied to 89 and 93 percent of the acreage at an average rate of 111 and 182 pounds per acre, respectively. Sulfur applications were made on 30 percent of the acreage at an average rate of 47 pounds per acre.

Watermelon growers applied nitrogen to 99 percent of the acreage; phosphate, 91 percent; potash 88 percent; and sulfur 25 percent. The average rates per crop year for nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulfur were 138, 112, 131 and 18 pounds per acre, respectively.

Onion growers applied insecticides to 75 percent of the surveyed acreage. The more commonly used insecticides were Methomyl and Chlorpyrifos on 37 and 30 percent of the acreage, respectively. The average rates per application per crop year for these insecticides were 1.311 and 1.331 pounds per acre, respectively.

Fungicides were applied to 85 percent of the program states’ cucumber (FM) acreage in 2010. Chlorothalonil was the most utilized fungicide with 62 percent of the planted acreage being treated at an average rate of 5.427 pounds per acre per crop year. Propamocarb hydrochloride was the second most commonly utilized fungicide, applied to 31 percent of acreage. It was applied at an average rate of 1.414 pounds per acre per crop year.

Vegetable growers reported using several management practices to aid in the deterrence of pests through prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression strategies. The most commonly reported pest management practice for prevention was field edges, ditches or fences were chopped, sprayed, mowed, plowed or burned, used by 72 percent of the vegetable farms on 78 percent of the acres treated. For avoidance practices, rotating crops during the past 3 years was used by the majority of vegetable farms, 81 percent, on 83 percent of the acreage. For monitoring practices, scouting for insects and mites were the most commonly used scouting practices, used on 93 percent of the vegetable farms on 99 percent of the acres treated.

The most frequently used pest suppression practice was to maintain ground covers, mulches or physical barriers. This practice was used on 48 percent of the vegetable farms. Alternating pesticides with different methods of application was used on 69 percent of the acreage. - EPA NASS

What Are The Pesticide Usage Statistics From The Last 20 Years?

EPA's report, Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage: 2006 and 2007 Market Estimates, is now available at This report contains the latest estimates of agricultural and nonagricultural pesticide use in the United States. It illustrates graphically historical trends and levels of use over the last 20 years. Also included are data on imports, exports, and pesticide producers and users. The report contains statistics on pesticide sales and usage based on available information taken from Agency records of registrations, USDA surveys of pesticide use, and other public and proprietary sources. Highlights include: 
  • In the United States, pesticide sales were approximately $12.5 billion at the user level, which accounted for 32% of the nearly $40 billion world market in 2007.Pesticide use in the United States was 1.1 billion pounds in 2007, or 22% of the world estimate of 5.2 billion pounds of pesticide use.
  • Total pounds of U.S. pesticide use decreased by approximately 8% from 1.2 to 1.1 billion pounds from 2000 to 2007.
  • Use of conventional pesticides decreased about 3% from 2002 to 2007 and 11% from 1997 to 2007.
  • Approximately 857 million pounds of conventional pesticide active ingredient were applied in 2007.
  • Organophosphate insecticide use decreased about 44% from 2002 to 2007, 63% from 2000 to 2007, and 55% from 1997 to 2007.
  • About 33 million pounds of organophosphate insecticides were applied in 2007.
  • Eighty percent of all U.S. pesticide use was in agriculture.
  • Herbicides remained the most widely used type of pesticide in the agricultural market sector.

Among the top 10 pesticides used in terms of pounds applied in the agricultural market were the herbicides glyphosate, atrazine, metolachlor-s, acetochlor, 2,4-D, and pendimethalin, and the fumigants metam sodium, dichloropropene, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin. Herbicides were also the most widely used type of pesticide in the home and garden and industrial, commercial, and governmental market sectors, and the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate were the most widely used active ingredients. - EPA
Annual Amount of Pesticide Active Ingredient Used in the United States
By Pesticide Type, 1988–1997 Estimates (Millions of Pounds of Active Ingredient)
All Market Sectors
Pesticide Type1988198919901991199219931994199519961997
Other Conv. (1)137154173182189192199203222197
Other (2)266251252226246248244249234270

Annual Amount of Pesticide Active Ingredient Used in the United States
By Pesticide Type, 1998–2007 Estimates (Millions of Pounds of Active Ingredient)
All Market Sectors
Pesticide Type1998199920002001200220032004200520062007
Other Conv. (1)168173188157157150175149151163
Other (2)294332308315321335325308306276

Annual Amount of Pesticide Active Ingredient Used in the United States
By Pesticide Type, 1988 - 1997 Estimates (Millions of Pounds of Active Ingredient)
Agricultural Market Sector
Pesticide Type1988198919901991199219931994199519961997
Other Conv. (1)95113133144150154163170190165
Other (2)177161164140161166163168152188

Annual Amount of Pesticide Active Ingredient Used in the United States
By Pesticide Type, 1998–2007 Estimates (Millions of Pounds of Active Ingredient)
Agricultural Market Sector
Pesticide Type1998199920002001200220032004200520062007
Other Conv. (1)136140156127127120145119121133
Other (2)212250226232238252242225223193