March 2015

Looking back at 2014 

Now available, The Organic Center’s 2014 Annual Report details its growing project portfolio focusing on emerging issues in the fields of environmental health, human health and applied studies. Some of the most exciting projects have included studying the effects of organic farming practices on nitrogen pollution, finding organic solutions to citrus greening disease, working on organic fire blight prevention for apple and pear growers, understanding how organic farms boost soil health, investigating methods to protect organic agriculture from inadvertent pesticide exposure, decreasing arsenic uptake in organic rice systems, and understanding the health effects of dietary pesticide exposure. Meanwhile, The Center continues to be instrumental in communicating the science behind organic to the public, policymakers and industry through extensive outreach via its website, social media, and congressional briefings, and by giving presentations at science and industry conferences. Download PDF.

Latest Research Studies and Reports

Eating organic reduces pesticide exposure
A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives has confirmed that choosing organic does, in fact, reduce consumer exposure to pesticides. The study aimed to (1) estimate long-term dietary exposure to organophosphate pesticide residues for individuals, (2) check the accuracy of the estimates and (3) determine whether choosing organic fruits and vegetables lowered pesticide exposure. Four thousand participants from major cities across the nation completed surveys regarding their fruit and vegetable consumption, and the frequency in which they chose organic or conventional produce. Scientists then used the survey data along with data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program on average pesticide residue levels for those same food items to estimate the amount of pesticide residues each participant was exposed to on a daily basis. Scientists then checked the accuracy of their estimations by measuring the amount of dialkyl phosphate (DAP)—a by-product created when the body breaks down organophosphates—in the urine from a subset of participants. They also compared the amount of DAP in the urine of people who reportedly ate conventional diets with those who ate organic diets. The results confirmed that their calculations of daily pesticide residue consumption levels were accurate, and that even when consumers chose organic “at least occasionally,” they had significantly less of the pesticide by-product DAP in their urine than consumers who primarily chose conventional produce.
Neonicotinoid pesticides and parasites negatively affect bumble bees
As bee populations decline, scientists are directing their research to understand what factors are adversely affecting bee health and what can be done to help them. Because of the large role that the European domestic honey bee plays in crop pollination particularly on expansive farms, the majority of research has been focused on managed colonies. However, native bees, which also contribute important pollination services to our crops and wild plants, are also experiencing declines. Now, a recent study published in Journal of Applied Ecology has found that neonicotinoid pesticides and parasitic infections are adversely affecting the bumble bee. Researchers exposed bees to different combinations of the neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam and clothianidin and to a gut parasite to understand how they affected bumble bees individually and in combination. They found that exposure to the pesticides reduced the productivity of workers, was linked to earlier worker bee mortality, and decreased the overall productivity of the entire hive. Even more striking, researchers showed that parasitic infection combined with pesticide exposure significantly reduced the survival ability of the queen bee. These results confirm previous findings that demonstrate the detrimental effects of neonicotinoid exposure to bees, and further show that the effects may be magnified when pesticide exposure is combined with environmental stressors such as parasitic infections
Farm workers become ill after exposed to new pesticides
A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documents the poisoning of farm workers in the state of Washington after accidental exposure to new pesticides from off-target drift. Twenty people were working in a cherry orchard when they were exposed to pesticides being sprayed in a nearby pear orchard. Within minutes of the exposure, the workers began to experience symptoms including headaches, nausea, respiratory irritation and eye irritation. The crew leader called 911, and the workers were treated at the local emergency department. This is the first report of illness caused by exposure to three newly released pesticides—pyridaben, novaluron, and triflumizole—and highlights the health risks of exposure via accidental pesticide drift for people living and working in agricultural areas.
Antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria airborne from feedlots
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is commonly attributed to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Antibiotics are fed to livestock at low levels on a regular basis to enhance growth. They then enter the environment via animal urine, which eventually makes its way through soils and into waterways. Once antibiotics are present in the environment, they can lead to even more antibiotic resistance in bacteria. A new study has now demonstrated that antibiotics are dispersed into the environment via air, as are antibiotic-resistant bacteria from feedlots, increasing chances of human exposure through inhalation. Particulate matter was collected from feedlots, with air samples collected upwind and downwind. Samples were tested for the presence of antibiotics and for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Results showed that all samples collected downwind of feedlots contained significantly more antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including some that are known to infect humans. “There is significant potential for widespread distribution of antibiotics, bacteria, and genetic material that encodes antibiotic resistance via airborne particulate matter as a result of the large particles released daily from bed cattle feed yards in the Central Plains of the United States,” the authors concluded.

Latest Updates from The Organic Center

March highlight: The Centers Annual VIP Dinner
The Organic Center will celebrate the intersection of food, farming, science and politics the evening of March 5 in Anaheim, CA, with its 12th Annual VIP Dinner. With over 500 attendees expected, this business networking and celebratory fundraising event at Natural Products Expo West is already sold out. Featured will be thought-provoking keynote speaker Anna Lappé and an all-organic menu specially designed by celebrity Chef Susan Feniger. The evening provide plenty of time to connect with friends, colleagues, and the industry’s leading innovators. Add your name to the waitlist.

The Center’s organic trainings
The Organic Center’s Director of Science Programs Dr. Jessica Shade participated in the Garden of Life’s National Conference February 3-5 to lead a training on the benefits of organic food and agriculture.  Dr. Shade spoke about new scientific discoveries in 2014 supporting the benefits of organic and highlighted The Center’s projects coming out in 2015.  Topics covered included health effects of pesticide exposure, nutritional aspects of organic food, and environmental benefits of organic agriculture.
Organic Agriculture Research Symposium
The Organic Center collaborated with the University of Wisconsin to bring the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS) to La Crosse, Wisconsin, February 25-26. More than 40 presenters from across the U.S. and abroad shared the latest developments in organic farming research including new crop varieties developed for organic farms, innovations in biological pest management, recent economic data, and advancements in organic livestock care and feeding.
Taking part at MOSES
The Organic Center participated in at this year’s Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference February 26-28, leading a workshop for farmers about methods for controlling fire blight without the use of antibiotics. The Organic Center also had a booth featuring opportunities for organic farmers to get free soil analyses through the Center’s collaboration with the National Soil Project.  The project will uses these samples to examine soil health on organic farms, specifically looking at sequestered carbon in the soil.
National Academy of Sciences’ 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 committee’s broad review of available information on GE crops in the context of plant breeding. The webinar speakers included Jim Holland (a professor at North Carolina State University), Jane Dever (a professor at Texas A&M University and a member of The Organic Center’s Science Advisory Board), and Irwin Goldman (a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison). Speakers addressed the complex dynamic between plant breeders at public institutions and private biotech companies. Dr. Dever discussed the challenges that contamination from GE crops places on public sector plant breeders as well as the importance of traditional plant breeding in the development of any modern crop cultivar. All three speakers emphasized the importance of public plant breeding programs for the development and provision of crop resources to the public, and also for the role they play in the education and training of future leaders in agricultural research.
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee releases recommendation
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has just released its new recommendations for 2015. These not only encourage eating a healthful diet in order to improve human health but also to benefit the health of the environment. To recognize the importance of the sustainability of our food choices to ensure nutritious food for future generations, the committee took into account research on food sustainability in making their recommendations, and focused on the role of food production in the creation of greenhouse gas, land use, water use, and energy use. The committee found consistent scientific evidence that “a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.” While the environmental benefits of organic agriculture are not explicitly discussed, there may be opportunities for including them in future, as organic farming is demonstrably more environmentally sustainable than industrial conventional agricultural production with reduced reliance on fossil fuels, less wastewater runoff, and higher soil carbon sequestration. In fact, the committee’s chapter on Food Sustainability and Safety describes one study comparing vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous diets produced using organic and conventional methods.  Researchers found that the organically grown vegan diet had the most potential health benefits and the lowest estimated impact on resources and ecosystem quality. The conventionally grown average Italian diet had the least potential health benefits and the greatest projected environmental impact. While the inclusion of sustainability considerations was extremely limited in this year’s recommendations, they will likely become more substantial in future iterations of the guidelines.

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