Sunday, February 24, 2013

Is Organic Agriculture Moving Towards A Hazardous Industrial Future?

Longtime organic farmer Carmen Fernholz frets that the movement could be pulling away from its roots. “My fear is that organic food systems are moving too much to industrial models that conventional agriculture gives us, with larger and larger farming operations,” the Madison, Minn., farmer said.

It’s one of several themes Fernholz will deliver during his keynote speech this morning at the 24th annual Organic Farming Conference at the La Crosse Center. The three-day conference, sponsored by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service in Spring Valley, Wis., has drawn more than 3,000 farmers and organic advocates.

“The organic food system has to be an egalitarian food system — the people’s food system,” said Fernholz, who farms 400 acres in western Minnesota. “We have to decide what size we want to be. My dad used to say, ’If you don’t know how big you want to be, you’ll never be big enough,’” he said.

If the system follows the industrial agricultural model, he said, “one of the consequences is it will deprive more people of the opportunity to be food producers.”

Although organic farming often gets a rap as being more expensive, “it’s easier to achieve a profitable bottom line, if you do it correctly,” he said. “You can get comparable yields, generally at more of a premium, and generally with less of a capital investment.”

Organic seeds are less expensive, and not buying pesticides and chemical fertilizers saves money, said Fernholz, an organic research coordinator for the University of Minnesota.

“I might invest $5,000 to $10,000 more in equipment” for increased weed management and tillage, he said, “but it will last five, 10, 15 years or more. If I spent $5,000 on herbicides, that would last for just one year.“ At market, he said, “Conservatively, my neighbor might get $14 for soybeans, and I could get $28. It’s a demand thing, and an incentive for organic producers.”

Even though organic food costs more at the retail level, it’s a good health choice for consumers, Fernholz said. “From a young family’s perspective, the residues of toxicity are taken care of through organic foods,” he said. “I mention younger families because smaller children are more susceptible to toxicity.” In addition, he said, “Some limited research indicates that organic foods have higher nutritional density.”

The conference attracted more than organic farmers and advocates, such as Patricia Hagen of Onalaska, a dietician with the Women, Infants and Children public health program in Monroe County.

“I wanted to learn more about the food and farming system and also have the opportunity to develop relationships with local farmers,” Hagen said. Among other things, the WIC program provides checks to families so they can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables, she said.

“As a dietician, I believe strongly in knowing where food comes from,” she said. As the debate over the cost of organic food continues, she said, “I think organic is becoming more mainstream, and more affordable. “It’s also an investment in your health,” Hagen said. “It may not be your whole diet, but whatever you can, and it supports local farmers.”

Organic farms, by the numbers
With more than 1,200 certified organic farms, Wisconsin ranks second only to California, which has more than 2,700, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington state is third, at nearly 900, while New York is fourth at about 850, and Oregon, fifth at about 650.

A large portion of the Badger State’s organic farms are in the Coulee Region, with the heaviest concentrations in Monroe and Vernon counties, both of which have more than 60, according to the USDA’s 2011 National Organic Program data.

The program estimates that Jackson and Trempealeau counties have between 31 and 60 certified organic farms and La Crosse, between 11 and 30. In Minnesota, Winona County has between 26 and 50 organic farms, and Houston County has between 11 and 25, according to the state agriculture department. -  By Mike Tighe, LaCroix Tribune 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Will "The Largest Climate Rally In History" Make A Difference?

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) will join the Sierra Club,, the Hip Hop Caucus and more than 90 other organizations on Feb. 17, in Washington D.C., for the “Forward on Climate” rally. The rally is being billed as the largest climate rally in history. Participants will urge President Obama to reject the toxic Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, limit carbon pollution from our nation's dirty power plants, move beyond coal, oil and natural gas by investing in a clean energy economy, and transition to a healthy and sustainable food and farming system.
OCA will emphasize the critical, but often overlooked role factory farming plays in contributing to our planet’s rapidly warming climate. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the production of meat, eggs and milk on factory farms is responsible for more than 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have the technology to save the planet,” said OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins (OCA). “By abolishing factory farms and industrial and GMO crop cultivation, and transitioning back to carbon ranching and organic farming, we could potentially sequester the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas emissions, and bring the CO2 level back down to the safe level of 350 parts-per-million. That’s the number scientist say we must achieve in order to avert a climate crisis.”

Industrial agriculture spews greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere at the rate of 3,700 pounds of CO2 per year per acre. Compare that with an acre of land farmed using organic methods, including composting and cover crops. The organically farmed acre can naturally sequester up to 7,000 pounds per year of CO2 back into the earth, according to research carried out by the Rodale Institute and others.

To facilitate this transition, OCA advocates boycotting products that come from factory farms, eating more local, organic produce, and consuming less meat; requiring mandatory labeling of all factory farm-produced meat, eggs and dairy; and empowering food and farm workers, local communities, and family farmers - the people who experience the harsh realities of factory farm abuses, pollution and economics first hand - to have a greater say in how we create a green, sustainable farming system.

Candidate Barack Obama agreed with OCA’s positions in 2008, stating "As president, I would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large factory farms, with tough fines for those that violate environmental standards. I also support efforts to provide more meaningful local control over these factory farms." - eNews Park Forest 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Role Do Women Play In Agriculture And Farming In Parts Of Africa?

The EU should support rural public education programmes in Africa, with a special focus on women, to facilitate adoption of sustainable farming practices, says Hailemariam Teklewold, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

Hailemariam Teklewold has completed his doctorate in environmental economics at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. aHe has been working as an agricultural economist in socio-economics unit at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. He responded in writing to questions from EurActiv's Henriette Jacobsen.

How do you define 'sustainable agriculture'?
Sustainable agriculture is the intensification of agricultural production through innovation, including adoption of sustainable agricultural practices to combat food insecurity and poverty and degradation of ecosystem services. The [UN] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) argues that sustainable agriculture consists of five major attributes: conserves resources; environmentally non-degrading; technically appropriate; economically and socially acceptable.

Accordingly, these practices, broadly defined, may include conservation tillage, bio-diversification (e.g. intercropping and crop rotations), improved crop varieties, use of animal manure, complementary use of organic fertilisers, and soil and water conservation structures.

What role do women play in agriculture and farming in Africa?
Women in rural areas of developing countries where agriculture is a means of livelihoods play an important role in most aspects of agricultural production, marketing, household food preparation and nutrition. In farming, women participate in numerous agricultural tasks including mainly cleaning the field during land preparation, transporting inputs to the field, weeding, harvesting, transporting, threshing and storage of the production. The role of women in managing home garden crops, poultry raising, feeding, watering and cleaning of livestock and milking is also important.

You have said that there is a link between 'education among women and use of sustainable agricultural methods'. Education is of course always important, but why do you think it's particularly important in this case?

Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices requires investment decision or planning of farming business. Given the importance of women in agriculture, education of women would create investments and provide skills for a critical evaluation of innovations, improve knowledge about methods of production and increasingly advance women’s entrepreneurial ability.

When the education level of women increases, farm technology adoption decisions cannot be viewed as an isolated decision mainly taken by men, but jointly between men and women as part of an overall household strategy. You have said that today relatively few farmers in developing countries use sustainable farming practices, despite intense promotion by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. What are the governments doing?

There are a number of initiatives from both governmental and non-governmental bodies which have emerged for promoting the adoption and diffusion of sustainable agricultural practices, mostly through the extension systems. There is a development of technology packages to overcome the decline of soil fertility and increase farm productivity.

What are the reasons why the governments' promotion of sustainable farming isn't reaching the farmers?
In many cases, resource poor farmers lack the capacity to purchase necessary inputs to obtain consistently high yields. As a result, smallholder farmers are trapped in poverty, low investment capacity, soil fertility decline and low productivity. Our study also shows that the probability and extent of sustainable agricultural practice adoptions are affected by several factors - lack of social capital in the form of limited participation in rural institutions, credit constraint, women’s education, access to markets, extension service, tenure security and rainfall shocks.

What could the EU do in order to help sustainable agriculture in Africa?
They could help the local governments in investments in rural public education with special focus on women. That would facilitate adoption of technologies and practices. In a country where there is information asymmetry and both input and output markets are missing or incomplete, local institutions can play a critical role in providing farmers with timely information, inputs (e.g., labour, credit, and insurance), and technical assistance.

Hence, the significant role of social capital on adoption suggests the need for establishing and strengthening local institutions and service providers to accelerate and sustain technology adoption. Investment in public safety net programmes ... for example, in public insurance and risk-protection mechanisms, can be expected to have a positive impact on the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.

What is your opinion of microfinancing for poor women in Africa?
From our study, we found that resource constraints are important factors constraining the adoption and diffusion of sustainable agricultural practices for poor farmers. Microfinancing poor women could relax such resource constraints and increase the adoption rate of sustainable agricultural practices by smallholder farmers. - Euro Active

Is The Future Bright For Tanzanian Organic Farmers?

Executive Director of Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM) explained to me, that about 70% of Tanzanian farmers use traditional methods. In a way they are de facto organic farmers.

But at TOAM they want to separate organic from traditional farming. Gama explained that many sub-optimal practices are used by many traditional farmers. For examples, "Many burn their fields and others do not rotate their crops properly." 

Traditional farming has the potential to convert to organic farming using locally made inputs. "Organic agriculture (kilimo hai)," he continued, "is the best mix of traditional knowledge and skills and science.

The knowledge and skills are best practices of many different successful farmers. But no one group of farmers has all the skills. Organic farming brings all the best practices together. It is about adding and improving quickly the quality of the soil using biological and mechanical methods as well as medicinal plants.

Inputs such as compost, livestock manure and other agro ecological best practices create a productive environment." I learned that organic means more than just not being genetically modified and being grown without pesticides. Organic is about knowledge of the environment, soil, consumer/social responsibilities, and workers' conditions.

On the TOAM website they explain that the Organic Agriculture Movement is based on four principles: health, ecology, fairness, and care. In the principle of health, organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

In the principle of ecology, organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. In the principle of fairness, organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

In the principle of care, organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment. To eat food grown within such an environment is definitely something I would like to partake in.

But is it possible? It seems like a dream. It could be a dream coming true. It shimmers in my mind as seemingly far away, but Gama assured me that in Tanzania there might already be 450,000 certified organic producers!! He explained, "For instance, Biolands International alone has over 21,000 certified cocoa farmers in Kyela." Biolands engages in the production and export of certified organic cocoa.

It offers organic smallholder cocoa programmes. The company provides farmers with training in cocoa growing, and technical advice and supplies, as well as supplies cocoa seedlings to help improve farms. It also works with smallholders in Mbeya and Ruvuma regions of Tanzania to improve income from other crops, such as coffee, paprika, and sesame.

This is not counting KDCU (Karagwe District Co-operative Union Ltd.), KCU (Kagera Coffee Union), KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union Ltd.). And others. He continued, "There is certified organic cotton, coffee, cocoa, vegetables, tea and spices." I complained, "If there are so many organic products and I want to buy them, where are they?" He said, " Most organic products are exported.

For example the pyrethrum is all exported. The pharmacists, Mansoor Daya, want to formulate a compound for pest control using the organic pyrethrum but they can't get four kilograms." Instead of using the organic pyrethrum being grown in Tanzania for pest control we are offered imported chemical inputs! Organic cotton and organic coffee is almost all exported. There is organic instant TANICA coffee mostly for export markets.

I asked him, "How do you see the future?' Gama said, "The future looks bright. It is now clear that the policy and political will are there. The Heads of State at the Africa Union have decided to go with organic. In the Tanzanian Livestock Policy there is provision for organic practices as well as in the draft national agricultural policy.

The challenge is that our experts need to update themselves. We need extension training. We need to promote and increase domestic consumption for organic products. We need competent researchers who understand the system...." He paused for a moment as if thinking about the situation and then he said, "But we have confidence that the researchers are coming up. At Sokoine University for example they offered an elective course on organic agriculture and 100 students signed up. The future is bright." - Anne Outwater, Tanzania Daily News

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Will Russia Ban Imports Of U.S. Pork And Beef This Month?

Russia will ban U.S. pork and beef imports starting this month over concerns about ractopamine, a veterinary drug commonly used in North America to boost growth and leanness that is increasingly controversial overseas, according to Russian media reports.

“Since the violations continue and we are finding ractopamine in meat shipments from the USA, we plan starting February 11 to impose restrictions on the import of this product,” Sergei Dankvert, the chief of Russian veterinary and food safety service, Rosselkhoznadzor, told Interfax.

U.S. trade and agriculture officials have rebuked Russia’s position as retaliatory and unscientific.

“The United States is very concerned that Russia has taken these actions, which appear to be inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in December when Russia first announced it would test beef and pork imports for the drug. “The United States calls on Russia to suspend these new measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products.”

U.S. interests believe the ban is a retaliation for the Senate approval of a bill that punished Russian officials linked to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison after accusing authorities of embezzlement. The ban was announced hours after the bill passed. Russian agriculture officials maintain that their new policy, which has been in the works for months, is not politically motivated, but a response to lingering questions about the safety of ractopamine.

On Wednesday, Rosselkhoznadzor said it had informed the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “that despite the repeated warnings the growth promoter ractopamine prohibited for use in Russia was detected during the laboratory monitoring of imported food product safety in pork consignments produced by plant No.17D and beef liver produced by plant No.235 which was a crude violation of Russian and CU animal health requirements.” (The same day, Russia’s veterinary service announced it was rejecting 22 tons of  fruit, including grapes, apples, and strawberries, from China because of a compliance with plant health requirements and 63 tons of fruits and vegetables, supplied mostly from Poland, for pesticide residues that exceeded Russian standards. Products imported from Turkey and Italy were also rejected.)

In response to the new policy on ractopamine, Canada and Brazil have reportedly given Russian authorities assurance that pork and beef exports will be certified ractopamine-free before being shipped to Russia. The drug, which is a beta-agonist and mimics stress hormones, is fed primarily to swine and cattle in the weeks leading up to slaughter to improve the rate at which the animals convert feed to lean muscle. It was first approved by the FDA in 1999 for pigs, and has since been approved for cattle and turkeys.

Around two dozen countries have approved ractopamine as safe for use, but the European Union, China and several other countries, including Russia, ban their producers from using the drug. Last year, Taiwan had a contentious debate over whether to accept imports that contained low levels of the drug.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does very limited testing for the drug, but the agency has never found levels that violate the U.S. residue limits, according to the data posted online. A recent test conducted by Consumer Reports of 240 pork samples found that about one in five were positive for very low levels of the drug under 5 parts per billion (ppb), which is well under the FDA’s established MRL of 50 ppb for pork. The FDA’s MRL for beef is 30 ppb. The recently-adopted residue limit at the Codex Alimentarius Commission is 10 ppb MRL for both beef and pork.

Advocacy groups recently petitioned the FDA to lower the maximum allowed residue limits for ractopamine in domestic meat products and review the drug’s impact on animal welfare.

The fact that pork producers have reported a high number of adverse reactions to the drug was first reported by the Food and Environment Reporting Network in an report: “The drug has triggered more adverse reports in pigs than any other animal drug on the market. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request. The FDA, however, says such data do not establish that the drug caused these effects.”

The FDA added a warning label to Paylean in 2002, noting that the drug could increase the incidence of “downers.”

The petition, filed by the Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the FDA to immediately review the Codex standards and meet them or set “more health- and welfare-based standards.” - Helena Bottemiller, Food Safety News

Is More Work Needed In The Organic vs Conventional Nutrition Debate?

0.30 mg of zinc in 100 g of organic cabbage compared  to 0.25 mg in an  equal amount of conventional cabbage, both grown in the summer of 1986. - Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional
Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains 

Ascorbic and citric acids were higher in organic than conventional peaches, whereas α-tocopherol was increased in organic pears. - Modulation of Antioxidant Compounds in Organic vs Conventional Fruit 

Total polyphenols content was higher in conventional plums. Quercetin was higher in conventional plums, but myrecitin and kaempferol were higher in organic plums. - Nutrients and Antioxidant Molecules in Yellow Plums (Prunus domestica L.) from Conventional and Organic Productions:  A Comparative Study

When results were expressed as fresh matter, organic tomatoes had higher vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenol contents (except for chlorogenic acid) than conventional tomatoes. When results were expressed as dry matter, no significant difference was found for lycopene and naringenin. In tomato purees, no difference in carotenoid content was found between the two modes of culture, whereas the concentrations of vitamin C and polyphenols remained higher in purees made out of organic tomatoes. - Influence of Organic versus Conventional Agricultural Practice on the Antioxidant Microconstituent Content of Tomatoes and Derived Purees; Consequences on Antioxidant Plasma Status in Humans

Organic tomato fruits contained more dry matter, total and reducing sugars, vitamin C, total flavones and beta-carotene, but less lycopene in comparison to conventionally grown tomatoes. - Comparison of the Nutritive Quality of Tomato Fruits from Organic and Conventional Production in Poland

Organic fruits tend to have higher hydrolysable polyphenol contents than conventional ones, with values being 11.5% in orange peels, to 72.6% in papaya peels, higher for hydrolysable polyphenols. Fruit peels also showed higher concentration of polyphenols than pulp, reaching, for bananas and tangerines, twice the amount found in pulps, which reflected in higher antioxidant capacity. - Polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity in organic and conventional plant foods

Blueberry fruit grown from organic culture yielded significantly higher sugars (fructose and glucose), malic acid, total phenolics, total anthocyanins, and antioxidant activity (ORAC) than fruit from the conventional culture. Organic culture also produced fruit with higher contents of myriceti 3-arabinoside, quercetin 3-glucoside, delphinidin 3-galactoside, delphinidin 3-glucoside, delphinidin
3-arabinoside, petunidin 3-galactoside, petunidin 3-glucoside, and malvidin 3-arabinoside than
conventional culture. - Fruit Quality, Antioxidant Capacity, and Flavonoid Content of Organically and Conventionally Grown Blueberries

Overall, the results show that organic management and fertilization have a positive effect on the accumulation of certain beneficial minerals and phenolic compounds in eggplant and that organically and conventionally produced eggplants might be distinguished according to their composition profiles. - Effects of Organic and Conventional Cultivation Methods on Composition of Eggplant Fruits

Organic oranges had significantly higher total phenolics, total anthocyanins and ascorbic acid levels than the corresponding non–organic oranges (all p < 0.05). Moreover, the organic orange extracts had a higher total antioxidant activity than non–organic orange extracts (p < 0.05). In addition, our results indicate that red oranges have a strong capacity of inhibiting the production of conjugated diene containing lipids and free radicals in rat cardiomyocytes and differentiated Caco–2 cells, respectively. Statistically higher levels of antioxidant activity in both cell models were found in organically grown oranges as compared to those produced by integrated agriculture practice. Our results clearly show that organic red oranges have a higher phytochemical content (i. e., phenolics, anthocyanins and ascorbic acid), total antioxidant activity and bioactivity than integrated red oranges. Further studies are needed to confirm whether the organic agriculture practice is likely to increase the antioxidant activity of other varieties of fruits and vegetables. - Antioxidant effectiveness of organically and non-organically grown red oranges in cell culture systems 

In studies that satisfied the screening criteria, the absolute levels of micronutrients were higher in organic foods more often than in conventional foods (462 vs 364 comparisons, P = 0.002), and the total micronutrient content, expressed as a percent difference, was higher in organic (+ 5.7%, P < 0.001) as compared to conventionally grown produce. - Evaluation of the Micronutrient Composition of Plant Foods Produced by Organic and Conventional Agricultural Methods

The two production systems resulted in different morphological attributes since organic kiwifruits exhibited a larger total and columella area, smaller flesh area, more spherical shape, and thicker skin compared to conventional kiwifruits. All the main mineral constituents were more concentrated in organic kiwifruits, which also had higher levels of ascorbic acid and total phenol content, resulting in a higher antioxidant activity. Sugars and organic acids composition was not affected by the production system. - A comparative study of composition and post harvest performance of organically and conventionally grown kiwifruits

In a study of five vegetables common in the Japanese diet, Ren et al. demonstrated that organically grown spinach contained 120 percent higher antioxidant activity while Welsh onion, Chinese cabbage and qing-gen-cai contained 20-50 percent  higher antioxidant activity compared to their conventionally grown counterparts. - Antioxidative and antimicrobial activities and flavonoid contents of organically cultivated vegetables

In our own studies, we have found consistently higher levels of total phenolics and ascorbic acid in organic strawberries, marionberries and sweet corn. - Comparison of the total phenolic and ascorbic acid content of freeze-dried and air-dried marionberry, strawberry, and corn grown using conventional, organic, and sustainable agricultural practices.

Results from the study showed inconsistent pattern with respect to vitamin C, calcium and potassium contents in the conventionally and organically grown samples. No significant differences were observed in vitamin C content in conventionally and organically grown cabbage, carrots and Cos lettuce while significant differences were observed in Valencia oranges which showed higher vitamin C content in organic Valencia oranges as compared to conventional ones (51.8 to 43.4 mg/100 g fresh weight). Results on calcium and potassium contents showed significant differences in all the samples with the trend of higher values for organically grown cabbage, carrots and Cos lettuce as opposed to their conventionally grown counterparts. However, for Valencia oranges, results showed that the calcium and potassium contents were significantly higher in conventional Valencia oranges compared to the organic Valencia orange (54.5 and 192.0 mg to 51.8 and 189.5 mg/100 g, respectively). - Determination and comparison of vitamin C, calcium and potassium in four selected conventionally and organically grown fruits and vegetables

Conventional Grapefruit was better colored and higher in lycopene, and the juice was less tart, lower in the bitter principle naringin, and better accepted by the consumer panel than the organic fruit. Organic fruit had a commercially preferred thinner peel, and the juice was higher in ascorbic acid and sugars and lower in nitrate and the drug interactive furanocoumarins. - Organic vs Conventionally Grown Rio Red Whole Grapefruit and Juice:  Comparison of Production Inputs, Market Quality, Consumer Acceptance, and Human Health-Bioactive Compounds

The results obtained showed that organic carrots contained significantly more dry matter, vitamin C, phenolic acids and carotenoids in comparison to the conventional ones. - The content of bioactive compounds in carrots from organic and conventional production in the context of health prevention

. Comparisons of analyses of archived samples from conventional and organic production systems demonstrated statistically higher levels (P < 0.05) of quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in organic tomatoes. Ten-year mean levels of quercetin and kaempferol in organic tomatoes [115.5 and 63.3 mg g-1 of dry matter (DM)] were 79 and 97% higher than those in conventional tomatoes (64.6 and 32.06 mg g-1 of DM), respectively. The levels of flavonoids increased over time in samples from organic treatments, whereas the levels of flavonoids did not vary significantly in conventional treatments. - Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes

The results indicated lower nitrate content and higher vitamin C and chlorogenic acid content to be the parameters most consistently differentiating organically from conventionally produced potatoes. Elevated concentrations of glycoalkaloids were also observed throughout the experiments in some potato varieties grown in organic farming systems. Principal component analysis (PCA) of the analytical and other data using three PCs confirmed a good separation between the organically and conventionally produced potatoes when studied in single crop years. However, score-plots (objects) and loading-plots (variables) of pooled results from the consecutive harvests showed that between the years’ changes and also variety as well as geographical variations are equally or more important factors determining the quality of potatoes than the farming system. - Quality of organically and conventionally grown potatoes: Four-year study of micronutrients, metals, secondary metabolites, enzymic browning and organoleptic properties

More To Come...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Are Insecticides Used On Costa Rican Banana Plantations Giving Children Diseases?

Children living near traditional plantations in Costa Rica are exposed to twice as much of the insecticide chlorpyrifos compared to children living near organic plantations, a study reports. More than half of the 140 studied children who were mostly indigenous Ngäbe and Bribri had higher daily exposures than what is considered safe by U.S. standards. Residential use of the pesticide, which has been linked to neurological effects in children, is banned in the United States, although it is still permitted on some crops. Costa Rica's banana and plantain plantations export products to U.S. and European markets.

Chlorpyrifos treated bags are widely used to protect banana and plantain crops from pests in Latin America and West Africa [Editor's Note: A reference to West African nations using chlorpyrifos was removed on 1/11/2013 because there is no documentation to support it], even in populated areas. The bags coated with the insecticide surround the developing fruit and reduce pest damage. The chemical also contaminates the local air and soil and is tracked by workers into homes.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide used to control mites on animals, to eradicate termites from buildings and to kill adult mosquitoes (CDC 2009). Although it was banned more than a decade ago for indoor pest-control and all residential uses in the United States due to health concerns, about 10 million pounds are still used on U.S. crops each year, including on corn, citrus trees, cotton and alfalfa (EPA 2002).
Chlorpyrifos is highly toxic to insects, amphibians and fish. In people, it overstimulates the nervous system and can cause nausea, dizziness and confusion in adults.

Pre-birth exposures have been linked to lower birth weights in some but not all studies (Perera et al. 2003, Eskenazi et al. 2004). Children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb also are more likely to have mental and motor development delays, higher rates of ADHD at age 3 (Rauh et al. 2006), and lower full scale IQs and working memories through age 7 (Rauh et al. 2011). These neurodevelopmental effects may be caused by potentially irreversible physical changes in children’s brains following exposure (Rauh et al. 2012).

What did they do?
Blue bags treated with cholorpyrifos (CPF) dot the banana and plantain plantations in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, on the Caribbean coast southeast of San Jose. The area is home to indigenous Bribri and Ngäbe. To gauge children's exposures to the insecticide, researchers compared levels of TCPy – a metabolite and marker of chlorpyrifos exposure – in children from three villages. The banana and plantain villages were near plantations that use CPF-treated bags, while the organic village was near several plantations with little or no insecticide use. 

Researchers measured TCPy levels in urine samples collected from 140 children aged 6 - 9 from the three villages. The urinary TCPy levels were then used to back-calculate how much CPF the children had absorbed on average per day. These absorbed daily doses (ADDs) were compared to a reference dose that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for long-term exposures in children. The reference dose is called the chronic population adjusted dose, or cPAD (EPA 2002). To assess environmental exposures, CPF levels also were measured in hand wash and foot wash samples collected from some of the children. Levels also were measured in soil, house dust, mattress dust, drinking water, surface water, and air samples collected from inside or near the children’s homes or near the local school.

What Did They Find?
On average, children in the banana and plantain villages had twice the TCPy levels in their urine with geometric means of 1.6 and 2.0 micrograms per liter (μg/L) compared to children from the organic banana village, who had an average of 0.8 μg/L. Boys living in the plantain plantation also had higher TCPy levels than girls, suggesting that boys spend more time working in the plantation or assisting with other tasks associated with CPF exposure.

Alarmingly, the TCPy levels in urine suggested that more than half of the kids from all three villages exceeded the daily CPF reference dose considered safe by U.S. standards of 0.03 μg/kg/day for chronic exposures in children (EPA 2002). On average, children from the banana and plantain villages absorbed 3 times the reference dose, and those from the organic village absorbed 1.5 times the reference dose. The reference level was exceeded in 97 percent, 82 percent and 68 percent of the individual urine samples from the banana, plantain and organic village children, respectively. 

The kids’ environment also was widely contaminated with CPF. In general, the banana village children had more contaminated home environments than the plantain village children. CPF levels in the hand- and foot-wash samples from the banana village also were 3 times higher than in the plantain village. Children from the banana village lived only 16 - 87 yards from the plantation and played in the schoolyard right next to the banana fields. The lower environmental exposures in the plantain village children may be because they lived farther away, a little over a mile from the plantation.

What Does It Mean?
Pesticide exposures higher than recommended by U.S. standards are seen in children who live near plantations in Costa Rica that use insecticides when compared to children near organically farmed plantations. The findings raise concerns about long-term health effects on the youngsters.
The children living in two villages near banana and plantain plantations that use CPF-treated bags had higher exposures than children from a third village with mainly organic fruit production. Alarmingly, more than half of the studied children from all three villages also had calculated daily exposures that are considered unsafe according to U.S. standards.

The findings suggest that CPF-treated bags contribute to chlorpyrifos exposures in local Costa Rican children at levels that may affect their health. Although health effects were not measured directly in the children, previous studies link pre-birth CPF exposures to lower IQ, impaired memory, mental and motor development delays and higher rates of ADHD in children (Rauh et al. 2006, Rauh et al. 2011).

Prior to the 2001 regulatory changes in the United States, TCPy levels in U.S. children were even higher than in the Costa Rican children in the current study. These levels are partly why the U.S. CPF regs went into effect to prevent the use of CPF on various fruits. That year in the United States, CPF was banned for indoor pest-control use, and its use on tomatoes was stopped. Earlier in 2001, CPF was restricted for use on apples and grapes (EPA 2002). 

U.S. health studies conducted around the same time reported that mean TCPy levels in 6- to 11-year-olds were 2.9 μg/L in 1999 - 2000 and 2.7 μg/L in 2001 - 2002 (CDC 2009). These levels were 35 - 81 percent higher than those found in the Costa Rican children from the two CPF-exposed villages. Although CPF exposures have likely decreased in U.S. children since 2001, more recent national health study data to confirm this trend have not yet been published. 

Children of U.S. farm workers may have had even higher CPF exposures than the Costa Rican kids. A 2000 - 2001 study found TCPy mean level of 7.6 μg/L in farm kids from North Carolina and Minnesota whose fathers applied CPF (Alexander et al. 2006). The levels are 4 - 5 times higher when compared to the children from the Costa Rican study. In 2004, the TCPy mean level of 1.9 μg/L measured in 1- to 6-year-old farm worker children from North Carolina were more similar to Costa Rican children's levels (Arcury et al. 2007).

In addition to concerns about CPF exposure, conventional banana production is rife with other health and environmental concerns. According to BananaLink, a U.K.-based advocacy group, banana workers can work up to 10 - 12 hours a day in blistering heat, without access to clean drinking water or protective equipment to help reduce exposures to agrochemicals. Many workers also do not earn a living wage.
The banana industry uses more agrochemicals than any other industry except for cotton. Pesticides are heavily used to meet consumer demand for perfect, unblemished fruit and because bananas which are mostly grown in large monocultures  are highly prone to pests and disease. Pesticides and fertilizers pollute local waterways and can have devastating effects on ecosystems as well as worker health. Deforestation to plant more bananas also can destroy entire ecosystems.

New ways to reduce the need for pesticides and other agrochemicals on banana crops are being developed. Options include planting several varieties of bananas and rotating crops to lessen the chance of pest infestation, using pheromone traps to lure away pests, digging trenches around the banana plants and removing diseased plants by hand to reduce the spread of infestations and disease, and boosting the soil with organic matter and beneficial organisms to strengthen plants and improve soil health (ENDURE 2010).
These and other interventions to reduce CPF exposures in the banana and plantain plantations may ultimately help to protect environmental health, as well as the health of the plantation workers and their children. - Glenys Webster, Wendy Hessler, Environmental Health News 

How Much Land Is Used Globally For Certified Organic Farming?

Despite the growing worldwide demand for organic food, clothing and other products, the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 of a percent of global agricultural land. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, 91.39 million acres of land were organically farmed, an area that has grown more than threefold since 1999.

There is large regional variation in the area of land farmed organically. Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations, leads the world in certified organic land, with 29.9 million acres in 2010.

In contrast, North America had 6.42 million acres of organic land, and Africa had just more than 2.47 million acres. Reliable data are lacking for land that is farmed using organic principles but that is not certified organic. Many farmers, particularly subsistence farmers or those selling to local markets, farm organically but do not acquire organic certification.

Certified organic products have created a niche market in recent decades, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants. The countries with the most certified organic producers in 2010 were India (400,551 farmers), Uganda (188,625), and Mexico (128,826), while the region that added the most organic farmland between 2009 and 2010 was Europe.

Overall, the amount of organically farmed land worldwide dropped slightly, by 0.1 of a percent, between 2009 and 2010 due largely to a decrease in organic land in India and China. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements defines 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.

The Benefits:
  • Organic farming can require up to 50 percent less fossil-fuel energy than conventional farming and boost on-farm biodiversity by an average of 30 percent;
  • It can help soil retain water and nutrients, improving resilience to drought and other harsh weather patterns; and
  • It reduces human exposure to chemicals or toxic residues, which have been linked to a variety of illnesses.

Organic land can return higher yields than land farmed conventionally, particularly when the land has been farmed organically for several years running. The modern organic farming movement emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, largely as a reaction to consumer concerns about the rising use of agrochemicals.

The period after World War II and through the 1950s is commonly known as the “golden age of pesticides.”
But, as the health and ecological impacts of agrochemicals began to be understood, governments started to regulate their use and consumers began demanding organically certified foods. Producing food sustainably, which includes farming without chemicals whenever possible, will be as important as ever in the coming decades, as the global population continues to grow and as climate change affects land quality worldwide.

Organic farming has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and supporting livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously enhancing biodiversity and reducing vulnerability to climate change. - Laura Reynolds, Iowa Farmer Today 

Will The USDA Help Organic Cotton Farmers Effected By The Drought?

The sweeping, unrelenting drought across US farmlands has also impacted organic cotton growers, but for the first time, farmers are able to get the full cash value back for lost crops. 

The US Agriculture Department, which has long resisted to pay  organic growers more because of the higher value of their crops, received crop insurance payments 40% greater than conventional cotton farmers in 2011. 

While farmers planted 36% more acres of organic cotton that year, the harvest plunged because of scathing drought.  Acreage devoted to this crop in the US is quite limited out of the 16,050 acres planted in 2011, just 6,151 were harvested. Organic growers received higher payments if they bought "multi-peril" crop insurance, which costs 5% more. 

For example, if conventional cotton sold for $.93 per pound, an organic farmer received $1.30 per pound for lost crops. A survey of organic cotton growers shows they received $1.50 per pound for organic upland cotton, and as much as $3 a pound for organic pima cotton, about the same as U.S. organic cotton prices for the past several years. Along with cotton, organic corn soybeans and organic processing tomatoes were eligible for higher prices in 2011.

One of the barriers of farming organic cotton in the US is the increasing difficulty of sourcing organic cotton seed. Genetically modified (GMO) seeds dominate the market, and as major seed companies have acquired smaller ones they discontinue their organic offerings. Organic farmers save seeds from year to year, but much of that stock was lost to the drought. 

"Although it may still be possible to source organic or at least untreated seeds, unfortunately little corporate or federally funded research has been conducted to improve the drought resistance, or other key performance measures, of these seed varieties. That said, it is worth noting that there are a few dedicated researchers, such as Texas A&M's Jane Dever, Ph. D., who continue to make strides in the realm of cotton breeding," says the Organic Trade Association.

Also, some of the programs organic farmers rely on were eliminated or cut as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal. Drought in the Southern Plains continued into 2012, but the toll wasn't as extreme for cotton. Farmers planted organic cotton on 14,481 acres final harvest numbers are not yet available. 

Organic cotton is more often grown in other parts of the world, with over 800,000 acres in 2011. It's growing fastest in India, followed by Syria, China, Turkey, the US, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal. - Sustainable Business