This week's dose of organic headlines, updates, resources, goodies, and recipes courtesy of dsnodgrass...
Time for another round of connect-the-dots.
A government report claims that the way Americans farm could be putting the public at risk for cancer and recommends people eat more organic products.
The study was issued today by the President’s Cancer Panel and is a look at the potential risks from the environment. The cancer panel has two members – the third seat is vacant – and both were appointees of President George W. Bush.
The study includes a chapter on agriculture and goes into a number of potential health hazards, including from pesticides such as the herbicide atrazine that’s used on corn fields but also from nitrogen fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals. Fertilizer may increase cancer risk through the breakdown of the nitrogen during digestion, the study said. Nitrogen from fields seeps below ground and into drinking water supplies.
The study recommends consumers buy food grown without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers and to wash conventionally grown produce to remove residues. The panel also recommends eating “free-range” meat produced without antibiotics and growth hormones. (Even organic food is produced with the use of pesticides, though they are not the synthetic versions cited in the study.)
Reaction to the report from cancer organizations was mixed, according to USA Today. The American Cancer Society said the report was unbalanced, but the president of the Breast Cancer Fund, an environmental advocacy group, called the report was “a watershed that could transform federal policy not just on cancer, but on chemicals.”
The study discussed in the following item was released a few weeks ago, but is very relevant to the story directly above, and has been widely under-reported.
Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine released the first study that examines the effects of common chemicals found in cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, and more and the affect they have on young female development. The study published in the journal, Environmental Health Studies, demonstrates that early exposure to three common chemical classes , phenols, phthalates, phytoestrogens - all endocrine disruptors - may interfere with the timing of puberty and could cause health complications later in life. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body's endocrine, or hormone system.
Dr. Mary Wolff, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine said, “Research has shown that early pubertal development in girls can have adverse social and medical effects, including cancer and diabetes later in life.” She goes on to say, “Our research shows a connection between chemicals that girls are exposed to on a daily basis and either delayed or early development. While more research is needed, these data are an important first step in continuing to evaluate the impact of these common environmental agents in putting girls at risk.”
Phenols, phthalates and phytoestrogens are found in broad range of consumer products like cosmetics including nail polish, perfumes, lotions, shampoos, where they carry fragrance. Some of these chemicals are used to increase flexibility and durability and plastics like PVC or used in medication coatings and nutritional supplements to make them time released.
Researchers collected and studied urine samples of 1,151 girls from East Harlem (a unique minority group considered high risk), greater Cincinnati's and northern California. The girls ranged in age from 6-8 at the beginning of study and between 7-9 and the conclusion of the analysis.
Results of the study showed that three classes of chemical compounds were widely detectable in the study population and that exposure to specific chemicals could lead to early breast development . Some of the highest exposures and the strongest links were seen with phytoestrogens and phthalates. Two subsets of phthalates, one phenol and two phytoestrogens were linked with later onset of puberty.
The state of organic agriculture in Taiwan.
Taiwan's organic farms are expected to compose 5,000 hectares, or 0.6 percent, of the country's total agricultural land by 2012, Agriculture and Food Agency Director-General Chen Wen-deh said Friday.
The area for organic farming totaled 2,300 hectares at the end of 2008 and amounted to 2,960 hectares by the end of 2009.
As of this April, nearly 1,399 households in the country had become involved in organic farming and 3,150 hectares, or about 0.38 percent of the nation's farmland, were dedicated to organic crops, agency statistics showed.
The Council of Agriculture has accredited 13 non-government groups as organic product certification organizations. This year, labeling checks will be conducted on 3,000 organic products and quality inspections on 1,800 organic items, Chen said.
With the small sizes of Taiwan's farms, chemical pesticides can easily find their way from nearby plots into the soil of organic farms, Chen noted, saying that the government has designated four zones covering 262 hectares for organic production in Tainan County, Kaohsiung County and Hualien County. It plans to set aside more areas in Pingtung, Chiayi and Yunlin counties, Chen said.
Good discussion from Dr. Walter Crinnion.
The sales of organic foods in the United States surged past the $20 billion mark a few years ago, and is continuing to climb. But, what are we getting from all of those dollars? Are we getting better quality food? Fewer pesticides? The possibility of improved health? Or, as an editorial in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, suggested last year, maybe we are just making ourselves think we are doing better.
The Lancet published this editorial after two reports by the same group of scientists came out of England about the "supposed" health benefits of organic foods. Because I have believed for years that organic foods are better for us and the planet, I immediately sought these articles out -- and actually read them -- something the editor of The Lancet and a number of news reporters apparently failed to do.
In answer to the question of whether organic food has higher nutrient content, this group of researchers said "there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs". This was from their study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. If you only read the abstract of the article, it makes it seem as though it was a very thorough study -- winnowing 52,471 published articles down to only 55 that "were of satisfactory quality." The funny thing is that these 55 articles were not even listed as references in the article. Hmmmm, now just how did that slip past the editorial review board? Being the author of a handful of review articles, I happen to know that one must not only supply the references, but must also talk about the articles that were referenced! Otherwise, you are left with nothing but thin air to base your conclusion upon.
So, this really got me going on a hunt for what the real facts were about the nutrient content in organic foods. My first stop was the computerized database that the National Library of Medicine keeps. This is a wonderful resource that everyone with a computer and an internet hookup can access. The problem with my search for organic food information however, is that PubMed doesn't have an established search term for "organic foods." So, one has to really be creative and keep asking things in different ways, like "natural foods" or "nutrient content," etc.
Well, it turns out that there are a lot of articles published about the nutrient content of organic foods. It also turns out that all organic foods are not the same. Take tomatoes, for example. There are numerous studies on the nutrient content of organic tomatoes as compared to commercially raised tomatoes. Some of these studies showed that organic tomatoes had higher quantities of certain nutritional compounds; other studies did not. The key in unraveling these studies was in noting how long the plots of land had been under organic farming methods. Tomatoes from 'newly planted' organic plots were not superior, but those from 'mature' organic plots were definitely better. So, the longer the farm has been organic, the better the quality of the food.