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May 2014
Latest Research Studies and Reports
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked with autistic behavior
A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that hormone-disrupting chemicals are linked to autistic behaviors. The inter-university collaborative research project specifically looked at gestational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as some found in flame retardants and pesticides. Researchers hypothesized that hormones may play a part in autism development, because of the gender disparity between occurrence (boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism) and the fact that many hormones are known to control brain development. In this study, they tested levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in 175 pregnant women, finding that study subjects had an average of 44 of these chemicals in their systems. The children of these women who had higher levels of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals exhibited more autistic behaviors than children of women with lower chemical levels. Although this study does not definitively link chemicals as an autism risk, it suggests that more research is needed to investigate the hypothesis further.
 
Gut bacteria are important to a healthy immune system
Another reason to avoid meat and dairy products produced with antibiotics:  beneficial gut bacteria are critical for healthy immune systems. In fact, a new research study published in Cell Host & Microbe suggests that a strong ecosystem of beneficial gut bacteria can help promote resistance to some diseases. The Caltech research team examined the difference between mice born with and without gut bacteria, and found that the mice that did not have gut bacteria also had fewer immune cells than healthy mice with a normal population of microbes in their gut. The gut bacteria-free mice were also more susceptible to Listeria infection. “It’s interesting to see that these microbes are having an immune effect beyond where they live in the gut,” said Arya Khosravi, the study’s lead author. “They're affecting places like your blood, spleen, and bone marrow—places where there shouldn't be any bacteria.”  This study shows the importance of maintaining a healthy gut bacterial population.
 
Agent Orange persists in the human body for over 40 years
A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology highlights the long-term presence pesticides can have in our bodies. The research examined Vietnamese men living near areas where Agent Orange was stored and sprayed more than 40 years ago to examine the presence of dioxins caused by exposure to the pesticide. It then compared their dioxin levels to men living in unsprayed areas of Northern Vietnam. They found that the level of dioxin toxicity was 2.5 times higher in the men who had lived near Agent Orange storage facilities. Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to several health problems in veterans, such as lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and leukemia. Unfortunately, the results of this study show that some toxic pesticides can persist in the human body for over four decades.

Inert ingredients in pesticides increase their toxicity to humans
French researchers recently published a study showing that major pesticides are more toxic to humans than suggested by their active ingredients. In addition to declared active ingredients, pesticides contain a mix of other ingredients deemed “inert,” which are often kept confidential by the manufacturing companies. When pesticides are tested for safety, the trials do not take these other chemicals into account, and the active ingredients are tested in isolation. However, some “inert” ingredients may magnify the overall toxicity of the pesticides by enhancing the ability of the active chemicals to penetrate cells. This research looked at the toxicity of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides when all ingredients were included in the testing, and found that eight out of nine pesticide formulations were up to 1,000 times more toxic than their active ingredients. Roundup was an example of a pesticide that showed high toxicity. “Despite its relatively benign reputation, Roundup was among the most toxic herbicides and insecticides tested,” wrote the study authors. Tests of pesticide toxicity need to take into account the full cocktail of ingredients, because even exposure to low levels of residue may be more dangerous than previously thought.

Latest Updates from The Organic Center
The Organic Center at the Organic Trade Association’s Policy Conference
The Organic Center will be hosting a science session at OTA’s Policy Conference and Hill Visit Days this year in Washington, D.C. The event is OTA’s annual, signature policymaking event, bringing together farmers, executives, policymakers and other thought leaders in the field of organic. The Center will be holding a panel covering organic research priorities and funding structures for organic scientific studies. Panel members include Professor Asa Bradman of the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Jane Dever of Texas A & M, Mathieu Ngouajio of NIFA, and Brise Tencer.
 
Georgetown Earth Day panel at Teens Turning Green
The Organic Center was asked to participate in a panel at Georgetown University as part of its Earth Day events. The panel was organized by Teens Turning Green on their Conscious College Road Tour, a unique, interactive, hands-on opportunity for students to become informed about the benefits and accessibility of conscious living. The Center’s Director of Science Programs Jessica Shade shared her experiences in the green food movement and spoke about the importance of communicating science about the benefits of organic in raising awareness about food choices.
 
The Organic Center at the University of Virginia
The Organic Center visited the University of Virginia to participate in a roundtable workshop on methods for comparing nutrient runoff between agricultural systems. Members of the workshop included Professor Jim Galloway (UVA), Dr. Verena Seufert (McGill University), and UVA students working in the field of nitrogen pollution. Topics covered included using the Nitrogen Footprint Calculator as a tool to communicate nutrient pollution contributions by individuals based on their organic versus conventional food consumption. The Organic Center is currently working on a project with Professor Galloway’s lab to quantify the difference in nitrogen pollution outputs between organic and conventional farms.
 
Response to “Organic is not the ‘sustainable’ food of the future”
The Organic Center posted a response to the Western Farm Press article entitled “Organic is not the ‘sustainable’ food of the future.”  The Center pointed out that farmers face many challenges—threat of decreased yield, soil degradation, and resistant weeds and pests, and that these troubles are shared by organic and conventional farmers alike. The grower community should share resources to address them in a way that is beneficial to all. Many of the ecologically sound practices in organic agriculture are not exclusive to organic management, and can be used by conventional farmers to reap the benefits of long-term crop health. These systems are based on current research to provide long-term solutions to problems. Because organic farming relies on few inputs, these methods are often so cost-effective that they are incorporated into conventional management plans as another useful tool to combat common challenges.
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