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January 2015

Latest Research Studies and Reports

Organic cotton is better for the environment than conventional cotton
The Textile Exchange recently published a life cycle assessment (LSA) for organic cotton demonstrating that it is more environmentally friendly than conventional cotton.  An LSA is a study designed to quantify the complete environmental inputs and outputs associated with a particular commodity from the beginning to the end of its construction. The organic cotton LSA covers the planting, growing, harvesting, ginning and baling of cotton – the production steps before it enters the textile industry. When the results for the organic cotton LSA were compared to the results of independently published conventional cotton LSA, the study found that organic cotton production is significantly more environmentally friendly.  Specifically, organic cotton production is much less likely to contribute to global warming, acidification and eutrophication than conventionally grown cotton.  It also conserves more water and uses less energy than conventional cotton production.
 
Narrower yield gap between organic and conventional farming
A new study published in the Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology has found the yields of organic crops are higher than previously thought, particularly when organic farmers use environmentally friendly farming techniques. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, carried out the largest meta-analysis comparison of organic and conventional crop yields to date, synthesizing results from 115 studies with over 1,000 observations. By including this large body of data and using a more rigorous statistical methodology, this study found that the gap in yields between organic and conventional was lower than had previously been reported, and that some organic management practices (such as multi-cropping and crop rotations) can shrink that yield gap even further, reducing the yield gap from 19 percent to only 8 to 9 percent.  Additionally, the study notes a bias in the direction of conventional agriculture in data from the literature comparing organic and conventional yields. This means that the yield gap reported by this study, using the most comprehensive available data, is probably over-estimated and the true yields of organic are likely even greater. “The yield gap that we detected is actually surprisingly small when one considers the historic underfunding of research in organic agricultural management and in breeding of seeds for organic conditions,” said Professor Kremen, one the study’s authors. “Coupled with our finding that crop rotation and multi-cropping (two practices that are well known to build soil fertility and health, reduce pest and diseases, and improve water use efficiency) improve the organic-to-conventional yield ratio, we suggest that additional agronomic research and breeding for organic could further reduce the remaining gap, leading to environmentally friendly and productive agriculture.”
 
Neonicotinoid pesticide use leads to increased crop damage by slugs
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in soybean crops reduced yields by indirectly increasing crop damage by slugs, a tenacious crop pest. Researchers found that exposure to neonicotinoids did not have a negative effect on slugs, likely because neonicotinoids are specialized to affect the insect brain and slugs are mollusks. However, when slugs ate neonicotinoid-treated soybeans, they became toxic to their natural insect predators.  In a laboratory experiment, slugs were fed an organic diet or seedlings from neonicotinoid-treated soybean seeds. These slugs were then fed to C. tricolor beetles, natural predators to slugs in the field.  Beetles that consumed the ‘organic’ slugs appeared normal, while more than half of the beetles that consumed the ‘neonicotinoid’ slugs exhibited a range of symptoms including twitching, paralysis, and death. Results from field trials mirrored what was observed in the laboratory. The number and diversity of natural slug predators, the number of slugs, slug damage to the soybean plants and crop yields were compared between fields planted with neonicotinoid-treated soybean seeds and fields planted with non-neonicotinoid seeds. In fields planted with neonicotinoid-coated seeds, there were fewer slug predator insects present, and more slugs present, resulting in a 19 percent reduction in soybean seedlings and a 5 percent decrease in soybean yield. The authors conclude that “this indiscriminant use [of neonicotinoids] can have unintended consequences, with measurable costs for farmers.”


Latest Updates from The Organic Center

Join us "Where Science Meets Soul"
The Organic Center will hold its 12
th Annual VIP Dinner March 5, 2015, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Marriot Hotel in Anaheim, CA, in conjunction with Natural Products Expo West. At this celebratory dinner, thought-provoking speakers will discuss the intersections of food, farming, science and politics. National best-selling author Anna Lappé will be the keynote speaker, and a celebrity-chef-designed menu will feature offerings made with organic ingredients.  This fundraising event, which will start with a cocktail reception and end with a rhythm & Blues soul band, supports The Center’s work to convene and conduct credible evidence-based science on the environmental and health benefits of organic food and farming, and communicate the findings to the public. For more information and to buy tickets, go online.

The Center attends the NAS information gathering webinar on GE crops
The Organic Center attended the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops information gathering webinar, part of the NAS’s broad review of available information on GE crops in the context of contemporary global food and agricultural systems. The webinar speakers included researchers, representatives from U.S. regulatory agencies, and representatives from companies involved in GE crop development.
 
Commenting on CODEX Code of Practice for arsenic in rice
In partnership with the Organic Trade Association, The Organic Center provided comments to FDA on the CODEX code of practice discussion paper on proposals for draft maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice. The Organic Center is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research Service at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center to understand factors affecting the presence of arsenic in organically grown rice to support the development of limits for inorganic arsenic in rice based on the best science available.
 
Developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
The Organic Center continues to be involved with the development of the 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines, and recently attended the seventh and final meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The Center previously submitted comments to the subcommittee on food sustainability and safety supporting the health and environmental benefits of organic food and farming.
 
Organic Media Breakfast
The Organic Center joined the Organic Trade Association (OTA) for its media breakfast this month in Washington, D.C. The event brought together experts from The Center and OTA in areas such as science, policy, and international trade, with reporters from media outlets including AP, Bloomberg, USA Today/Des Moines Register, NPR, Politico, CQ Roll Call, Bureau of National Affairs, Hagstrom Report, Inside Ag, Food Safety News, Kiplinger Ag Newsletter, and Environment & Energy Publishing. Topics covered included a wide variety of issues of importance to organic food and farming, highlighting The Organic Center’s exciting studies planned for completion in 2015.
 
The Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders’ Policy Briefing
The Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders (SAFSF) held its first annual Policy Briefing in Washington, D.C., December 9-11. The Organic Center attended to join discussions about paths to sustainable food and farming policy. The briefing focused on power building and how grassroots organizing, storytelling and unlikely alliances can and are leading to important shifts in policy across the country. Workshops and plenaries covered such issues as building the base for social change, how policy shapes the health of our food system, land conservation, trade pacts, corporate concentration in the food system, food safety regulations, immigration, and the power of media in influencing policy.

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