Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | December 13, 2009

Should We Allow Organics to be Genetically Modified?

The Food Chain Radio is a weekly radio and internet cast that debates a variety of food topics from food scarcity to Indians selling off land to food pirates to the debate overfarm raised versus fresh fish. Food Chain airs live Saturday mornings from 8-9am PST and anyone can call or login to interact with the day’s guests. The show is moderated and hosted by Michael Olson, a producer for several major television programs, as well as author of MetroFarm, the award-winning book that looks at metropolitan farming.

So why should we even consider genetically modifying organic food? The two guests, Pamela Ronald, Director, UC Davis Plant Genetics and Raoul Adamchak, Instructor of Organic Agriculture, UC Davis Student Farm and they plan to discuss the pros and cons and how something like that might even work. This week’s program is being billed as:

“They are married with children: She is the chair of the UC Davis Plant Genetics Lab and he teaches at the UC Davis Organic Farm. Their suggestion of a future filled with genetically-engineered organic foods leads us to ask… Should we allow genetic engineering into organic agriculture?Topics include why genetic engineering and organic agriculture have been legally separated by the Federal government; what opportunities allowing the technologies to commingle would provide; and given the traditional antipathies involved, how such an allowance could be made.”

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | September 23, 2009

GMO risk assessment must be transparent

More work is needed on opening up GM assessment to integrate public concerns, attendees at a conference on the possible risks of genetically modified organisms heard this week.

The two-day conference, which was held on 14-15 September by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), aimed to share knowledge and best practices on risk assessment and provide a platform for EFSA to exchange views with the Member States, stakeholders and other participants.

The conference was opened by EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, who pointed out that “the field of GMO is characterized by a significant divergence in opinion among the various actors, low social acceptability and differing views on the potential benefits and beneficiaries of the technology.”

Geslain- Lanéelle reaffirmed EFSA’s role as a provider of scientific advice on GMOs, insisting that “EFSA is neither pro-GMO nor anti-GMO”. She added that it was important for EFSA to clarify its role in the risk assessment of GMOS. “We are here not only to inform but also to listen and learn,” she said.
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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | September 19, 2009

French study says organic food is healthier

A new review from France has concluded that there are nutritional benefits to organic produce, on the basis of data compiled for the French food agency AFSSA. The conclusion opposes that of a UK study published last month. Whether or not organic food brings nutritional benefits over conventional food has been a matter of considerable inquiry and debate. The issue came to a head last month when a study commissioned by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) concluded that there is no evidence of nutritional superiority. Now, however, a review published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development has said drawn wildly different conclusions. Author Denis Lairon of the University of Aix-Marseille coordinated an “up-to-date exhaustive and critical evaluation of the nutritional and sanitary quality of organic food” for AFSSA, which was originally published in 2003. The new review is based on this, as well as the findings of new studies published in the intervening years. Lairon concluded that organic plant products contain more dry matter and minerals – such as iron and magnesium – and more antioxidant polyphenols like phenols and salicylic acid. Data on carbohydrate, protein and vitamin levels are insufficiently documented, he said.

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Successful organic apple farming literally starts from the ground up. Maintaining a healthy orchard floor is the key to preventing weeds and keeping soil healthy. Logically, finding effective methods to increase production and marketability of organic apples is critically important to growers who have to deal with pests and disease without the use of conventional tools available to nonorganic growers.Dario Stefanelli of Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture led a study to evaluate three types of rootstocks of ‘Pacific Gala’ apples. Published in HortScience, the study compared three methods of orchard floor maintenance.

The first was an alfalfa hay mulch treatment, applied by hand in the spring and fall, to prevent weed growth and maintain soil moisture. Drawbacks of this method include the expense, maintenance, risk of rodent damage, possible nutrient leaching, and incubation of some weed species.
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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | August 30, 2009

Risks Involved With Transgenic Fish

Fast growing transgenic fish can revolutionise commercial fish farming and relieve the pressure on overexploited fish stocks. But what happens in the natural environment if transgenic fish escape? Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have studied transgenic fish on behalf of the EU and are urging caution:

“Until further notice transgenic fish should be bred in closed systems on land,” says Fredrik Sundström at the Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

By furnishing fish with genes from other organisms, so-called transgenes, researchers have succeeded in producing fish that grow considerably faster or are more resistant to diseases. Fish can also be modified to cope better with cold, which facilitates breeding in colder conditions. There are major benefits for commercial fish farming as transgenic fish are expected to deliver higher production and better yields. However, transgenic fish can also entail risks and undesirable effects on the natural environment.

More resistant to toxins

For example, transgenic fish can be more resistant to environmental toxins, which could entail the accumulation of toxins that ultimately end up in consumers. There are also misgivings that the higher level of growth hormone in the fish can affect people. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have therefore been commissioned by the EU to study the environmental effects of GMO (genetically modified organisms) within fish farming.

The results of the studies show that the genetically modified fish should be treated with great care.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | August 17, 2009

GM silver bullet could shoot farmers in foot

THE introduction of a Genetically Modified (GM) wheat variety with frost tolerance could potentially flood the world wheat market and drastically lower its price and profitability, according to Network of Concerned Farmers WA spokesperson Julie Newman.

“Our competitors will actually fare much better if we bring in GM wheat, because we can grow frost-tolerant crops now but they can’t because of the cold snaps,” she said.

“If you invent a GM wheat variety that has frost tolerance, it will open up all of the rich farming area in Russia and the Ukraine, and there will be a major glut of wheat on the world market.

“It would almost double global production and that means our wheat would be worth a fraction of the price.”

She said a clear set of rules needed to be established to ensure non-GM farmers were protected and retained their right of choice to not grow it.

“The reason you grow a crop is because you want to sell it, but if you can’t sell it, why grow it?

“There’s not much point growing GM wheat if it can’t be sold, because you will make a loss.

“Now that wouldn’t be so bad if it only affected the growers who choose to grow it, but the losses will also be forced upon the other farmers who don’t want to grow it.

“Bringing in GM wheat will force losses on everyone who grows conventional wheat.”


Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | August 10, 2009

Organic is more than small potatoes

Study after study show that organic techniques can provide much more food per acre in developing countries than conventional chemical-based agriculture, says Geoffrey Lean.Forget, for a moment, the impassioned debate over the healthiness of organic food that has been raging merrily since the Food Standards Agency published its controversial report last week.

There is a much more important issue to consider, one that has hardly figured in the argument. Can organic farming do much to feed an increasingly hungry world? Almost everyone assumes that it can’t. It is seen as something purely for the health-conscious Western middle classes. But the counter-intuitive truth is very different.

The Western organic boom is helping people out of poverty

Study after study show that organic techniques can provide much more food per acre in developing countries than conventional chemical-based agriculture. One report – published last year by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – found that 114 projects, covering nearly two million African farmers, more than doubled their yields by introducing organic or near-organic practices.

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Sante Fe, NM, USA;  August 25-28, 2009

Draft Position on Seed to be discussed at the conference!
Find the link to the call for consultation here

Conference Topic
The time is right to bring together all endeavors to focus on organic breeding. Fostering the sustainable development of new successful low input breeds is urgent in the face of future challenges of food insecurity and massive threats to the livelihoods of millions of people caused by climate change.

Through the conservation and promotion of Agro-Biodiversity of both animal and plant genetic resources, organic agriculture will again prove to be a viable alternative to genetically modified organisms. Both organic plant and animal breeding are therefore gaining momentum in several parts of the world. Successful organic breeding is the basis of organic production, but it is only in early phases of development.

Organic breeding includes efforts of both professional companies involved in the organic market, as well as participatory farmers’ initiatives from all around the world. The conference is aiming at encouraging the dialogue between commercial and subsistence farmers; scientists and practitioners; professional farmers and hobby gardeners/animal keepers to promote the lively exchange of experiences and perspectives on organic breeding. Even though technical aspects may differ dramatically, each field can inspire the other to develop and build upon successful strategies.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | July 21, 2009

Definitive Global Rejection of Genetically Engineered Wheat

Statement of Australian, Canadian and US Farmer, Environmental and Consumer Organizations

Summary Statement:

In light of our existing experience with genetic engineering, and recognizing the global consumer rejection of genetically engineered wheat, we restate our definitive opposition to GE wheat and our commitment to stopping the commercialization of GE traits in our wheat crops. We are committed to working with farmers, civil society groups and Indigenous peoples across the globe as we travel the road towards global food sovereignty.

Statement in Full:

In the interest of reiterating the decisive global rejection of genetically engineered (GE) wheat, culminating in Monsanto’s 2004 withdrawal of requests to the Canadian and U.S. governments for commercialization of their GE wheat; and in the interest of laying to rest the attempts by Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations to introduce genetically engineered wheat, the undersigned organizations issue the following joint statement:

1. Wheat is an ancient grain that is vital for meeting the nutritional needs of many societies and has deep religious significance in many cultures. Wheat is one of three staple crop plants (the other two are rice and maize) that account for two-thirds of the diet of the world’s population. Over centuries of cultivation, farmers have developed a tremendous diversity of wheat varieties, many of which are adapted to the soil and climate conditions of certain regions of the world. These locally-bred varieties are critical to ensuring local food supplies during times of weather-related disasters. In Australia, Canada, and the US, farmers and public scientists have worked collectively with this diversity to develop varieties adapted to local conditions and suited to relevant markets. Multinational seed companies have played an insignificant role in fundamental wheat seed development in these countries or anywhere else in the world. Read More…

Used in yards, farms and parks throughout the world, Roundup has long been a top-selling weed killer. But now researchers have found that one of Roundup’s inert ingredients can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.

The new findings intensify a debate about so-called “inerts” — the solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other substances that manufacturers add to pesticides. Nearly 4,000 inert ingredients are approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States.  About 100 million pounds are applied to U.S. farms and lawns every year, according to the EPA.

Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate, rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.

One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.”

“This clearly confirms that the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” wrote the study authors from France’s University of Caen. “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on Roundup-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens.

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Nitrate levels in organic lettuce are a fraction of levels found in conventional hothouse lettuces. Experts, however, say authorities are reluctant to showcase the benefits of organic farming.

Ari Kulmanen, an organic farmer from the town of Ikaalinen in western Finland, studied nitrate levels in lettuce because no official studies on lettuce nitrate content exist. His research showed sharp differences in the nitrate levels of organic and conventional lettuce.

”The nitrate levels for organic lettuce were 150 mg/kg. Conventional lettuce carried levels of over 3,500 mg/kg,” says Kulmanen.

In Finland conventionally grown produce is often presented as “near organic,” according to Jouni Kujala, a research director at Helsinki University’s Ruralia Institute.

“It seems as if Finnish authorities have not wanted to make conventional and organic segments compete for consumer choice,” says Kujala.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | May 18, 2009

Agricultural Aromatherapy: Lavender Oil As Natural Herbicide

Could essential oils extracted from lavender be used as a natural herbicide to prevent weed growth among crops? Research carried out in Italy and reported in the current issue of the International Journal of Environment and Health suggests the answer may be yes.

Elena Sturchio of the National Institute of Health and Safety at Work in Rome and colleagues there and at the Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, and the Department Crop Production, at Tuscia University, in Viterbo, have investigated the inhibitory effects on weed growth of aromatic oils, or mixtures of phytochemicals, from plants such as lavender, Lavandula officinalis.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | April 29, 2009

EU taps emerging talent for new organic logo

The European Commission has re-started the search for a new logo to appear on pre-packaged organic food, over a year after original designs were scrapped due to similarly to a supermarket’s logo. The 2007 EU regulation on organic foods (834/2007) provided for a new, common organic logo to appear on pre-packaged organic food sold in the EU, on a mandatory basis if it originates from the EU and on a voluntary basis if from outside. It was originally planned that the logo would start appearing on products this year. However the common logo that was drawn up was withdrawn in April 2008, after it was pointed out that it resembled the logo of Aldi supermarket. Moreover, it used the word ‘Bio’ – a term that is not associated with organics in the English language. The Read More…

Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | April 27, 2009

Pesticides, fresh produce washing is not enough

Organic eating is proving to be more than a fashion. According to a recent U.S. report published by the Environmental Working Group ( – a non-profit environmental-research organization – washing and rinsing fresh produce may reduce levels of some pesticides but are not sufficient to eliminate them. “There is growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long-lasting effects”, the EWG report highlights.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables are not covered with synthetic fertilizers, anti-fungal treatments or radiation – and they’re not genetically modified. “Peeling also reduces exposures but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals”. Organic meat, eggs and dairy products come from more humanely raised animals that haven’t been pumped full of antibiotics or growth hormones. Another reason to support organic agriculture is that organic farms are generally smaller-scale and conservation-conscious, which means that they strive to reduce the impact of their practices on natural resources. Furthermore, many seem to maintain that organic food also tastes better. The Environmental Working Group suggests that switching to organic could start with just a few foods that are most often eaten. Here are the recommended seven foods to start with: Dairy products: Milk, yogurt and cheese are considered healthy bone-strengtheners, especially for children, but the additions of hormones and antibiotics undermine the simple goodness of commercial dairy products. Potatoes: Commercially farmed potatoes are among the most pesticide-filled vegetables, and they still contain residues after being washed and peeled. Meat (including poultry and eggs): Animal products can contain antibiotics, hormones and even heavy metals like arsenic that is used to prompt an animal’s rapid growth. Ketchup: Even besides the pesticide issue, research has shown organic ketchup has nearly double the good-for-you antioxidants of conventional ketchup. Apples: Apples are among the most pesticide-filled fruits out there. Coffee: Conventional coffee farming relies heavily on pesticide use and contributes to deforestation around the globe. Nuts and seeds (including peanuts and nut butters): Pesticides and fungicides are rampant in the production of these foods, and many varieties are bleached after harvest. The Environmental Working Group has developed the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”, now in its fifth edition, which ranks 43 fruits and veggies according to their pesticide content. The Association suggests that it is better to choose the organic grown varieties of peaches, nectarines, cherries, strawberries, table grapes, apples, pears, peppers, lettuce, carrots – which register the highest level of pesticides when conventionally grown. On the contrary, onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mangos, asparagus, peas, kiwifruits, cabbages, aubergines, papayas, watermelons, broccoli and tomatoes don’t contain in general worrisome levels of pesticides.

source: greenplanet

Which is a better strategy, specializing in one crop or diversified cropping? Is conventional cropping more profitable than organic farming? Is it less risky?

To answer these questions, the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute agronomists established the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) in 1990. This research is funded by USDA-ARS.

Systems ranging from species-diverse pasture and organic systems to more specialized conventional alfalfa-based forage and corn-based grain systems were compared at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

Crop production analysis was published in the 2008 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal while this companion article focuses on the net returns and associated risk exposure of these systems. Full research results from this current study are presented by Chavas et al. in the 2009 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal.

“In our study we found that diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping,” explains Joshua Posner, University of Wisconsin.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | April 5, 2009

Spreading Antibiotics In The Soil Affects Microbial Ecosystems

Antibiotics used extensively in intensive livestock production may be having an adverse effect on agricultural soil

In a presentation to the Society for General Microbiology meeting at Harrogate International Centre March 30, Dr Heike Schmitt from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands described how antibiotics passed from the animals in manure that was then spread on farmland. Although higher organisms, such as earthworms, would only be affected at unrealistic concentrations of antibiotics, changes in soil bacterial communities have been found repeatedly using molecular microbiological techniques.

Bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle, which replenishes nutrients in the soil, seem to be particularly affected. The effects persisted over several weeks and were still seen even when the antibiotics had broken down significantly. In addition the microbial population of the soil changed as fungi replaced the bacteria suppressed by the antibiotics.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | April 1, 2009

West Bengal to go organic; plans to set up bio-villages

The West Bengal government, which is keen to spread organic cultivation, has resolved to set up one bio-village in each of the 341 blocks in the state in the next two years. The objective behind setting up bio-villages is to create role models for adaptation to organic farming. Already 75 bio-villages have been set up across the state up to 2007-08 since its launch in 2004-05. There was plan to set up another 64 biovillages in 2008-09. In these villages, work is in progress to train farmers on the proper use of bio/botanical pesticides and use of microbes and parasites to wage a biological warfare against prevalent pests and plant diseases. “Those villages, which have been selected as bio-villages are blessed with rain-fed irrigation and have achieved a 200% or more cropping intensity. Post-selection, the prime task is to make farmers aware about the adoption of bio-farming through a series of workshops, training and demonstration programmes,” said agriculture secretary Sanjeev Chopra. The agriculture department has decided to carry out the programme on a shoe-string budget. For this, it has submitted a proposal to the finance department, asking for just Rs 1 crore for each year, from 2009-10 to 2011-12. The money has been sought to provide training to farmers and supplying bio-inputs to them at subsidised rates or free of cost. As cultivation with organic inputs cannot be initiated overnight in areas that are already inflicted with chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the process starts with the implementation of cultivation with bio-inputs. Here, the thrust is on using Read More…

Herbicide drift, which occurs when pesticides “drift” from the targeted application area to a nearby non-targeted area, is a particular concern in Midwestern regions of the United States. In the Midwest, where the topography is relatively flat and large-scale farms and agriculture production facilities reside side-by-side with housing developments and woodlands, herbicide drift can have an impact on wildlife, livestock, timber production, and quality of life for human neighbors.

A study published in a recent issue of HortScience evaluated the effects of field corn herbicides on white oak seedlings. White oak, a popular landscape and forest species native to the eastern United States, has been suffering from an abnormality called “leaf tatters”, which give the leaves a lacy appearance. Leaf tatters in white oak trees have been reported in states from Minnesota, south to Missouri, and east to Pennsylvania. This problem is not just aesthetic; it can affect a substantial portion of a tree’s canopy, reducing the health of the tree. Leaf tatters make affected trees more susceptible to other stressors such as adverse environments, air pollution, and pests, and can make containerized oak seedlings unmarketable.
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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | March 6, 2009

New Test For Detecting Fake Organic Milk

Scientists in Germany are reporting development of a new, more effective method to determine whether milk marketed as “organic” is genuine or just ordinary milk mislabeled to hoodwink consumers.
In the study, Joachim Molkentin and colleagues point out that organic milk has soared in popularity in many countries. Sales in Germany, for instance, rose by almost one-third between 2006 and 2007. Consequently, crooks may take advantage of the situation by marketing increasing quantities of fake organic milk. That situation created a need for better tests to detect the fraud.

To address the issue, the scientists developed a test based on an analysis of milk fat for the ratio of stable isotopes of carbon. They used it to identify milk samples from cows raised on feed containing a higher ration of maize. Such a feeding regimen is typical of conventional milk production.

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Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | February 10, 2009

More organic food production could help Africa: UN

Demand for organic foods will keep growing despite the world economic crisis, creating an opportunity for farmers in poor countries, the United Nations’ trade and development agency said on Monday.

In a research note, UNCTAD projected that sales of certified organic products would reach $67 billion in 2012, up from $46 billion in 2007 and about $23 billion in 2002.

“Even in this current economic crisis, where demand for most products is dropping fast, demand for organic products continues to grow,” it said.

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