by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Organics

Oct 31 2018

Organic foods might reduce cancer risk, says new study

I never cease to be amazed by how angry some people get about organic foods.

  • They complain about its higher prices (organics cost more to produce).
  • They complain about its implicit—no, explicit—critique of conventional farming methods (organics use fewer toxic pesticides, are kinder to soil, and are more sustainable).
  • They complain that organics exclude GMOs (this is bad for the GMO business).
  • They complain about research showing the benefits of organics.

This last complaint brings me to the study on organic food and cancer just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

This is an observational study of nearly 70,000 people who were asked to report their level of consumption of organic foods and were then monitored for cancer for 7 years.

The results: those who reported consuming the highest levels of organic foods had the lowest risk of developing cancer during that period.

For non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the cancer most associated with exposure to herbicides and pesticides used in conventional agriculture and GMO production, the observed reduction in risk was a whopping 86%.

An accompanying editorial lists the limitations of the study; the dietary intake data were self-reported, the questionnaire wasn’t validated, blood levels of pesticides and herbicides were not measured.

So yes, more research—perhaps much more research—is needed to confirm these observations before anything can be said about whether organics are really protective against cancer.

But in the meantime, there’s no harm in eating organic foods and these foods have demonstrable environmental benefits.

Choosing them means voting for food production systems that are better for the environment—and might be better for health as well.

This makes organics a good bet and worth the premium price if you can afford it.

Here’s what the New York Times says about this study.

Share |
Tags:
Sep 28 2018

Weekend reading: Elliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower

Elliot Coleman.  The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.  30th Anniversary Edition.  Chelsea Green, 2018.

The first edition of this book came out in 1989 and it has been an essential tool for organic farmers and home gardeneres ever since.  Coleman’s goal is to make everyone want to farm organically.

“Small farms,” he begins, “are where agricultural advances are nurtured.”  And, he says, “I write only about those things I know.”

Fortunately, he knows a lot.  He knows about soil fertility, pests, weeds, crop rotations, agricultural craftsmanship, land, labor, marketing, and the economics of all of this.

His philosophy?  A pleasure to read.

Humans cannot imagine a world where they are not in charge.  As a biological farmer, I work in partnership with Nature, and I’m a very junior partner.  Given the limited amount of hard knowledge available, I often refer to my management style as “competent ignorance,” and I find that a very apt description.  But my level of trust in the design of the natural world and willingness to be guided by it is discomforting to those who think we should exercise total power over Nature…The reality of today’s world is that the practical success of the many farms managed on biological lines coexists with the striking lack of interest (antagonism actually) from scientific agriculture in exploring why these farms succeed.  The foundation upon which our Maine farm operates—a sense that the systems of the natural world offer elegantly designed patterns worth following—appears to be an indecipherable foreign language to most of agricultural science.

 

Share |
May 16 2018

Should organic eggs be labeled “healthy?” Their producers think so.

You have to have some sympathy for egg producers.  Egg consumption has been declining for years.

Egg producers blame the decline on cholesterol concerns; eggs are by far the largest dietary source of cholesterol.

Now Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs is petitioning the FDA to forget about cholesterol and update its definition of “healthy” so the company can advertise its eggs as “healthy.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a speech last month that the FDA would be updating the definition.

I, of course, think “healthy” is a slippery slope best avoided, and that Congress never should have allowed health claims on foods in the first place.,

But too late for that.

I don’t envy the FDA’s challenge here.  The petition is based on the dietary guidelines, but what the guidelines say about dietary cholesterol, and therefore eggs, is extremely confusing.

As I explained in a previous post, the guidelines no longer recommend a cap on dietary cholesterol of 300 mg/day (the equivalent of 1.5 eggs), but do say that people should eat as little cholesterol as possible.

Good luck on this one.

Mar 9 2018

Weekend reading: Organic Profit / Prophet

Andrew N. Case.  The Organic Profit: Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism.  University of Washington Press, 2018.

Image result for The Organic Profit: Rodale and the Making

I did a blurb for this one:

Organic Profit is a great read for anyone interested in knowing how the Rodales and Prevention Magazine helped bring organic foods from cult to mainstream and from pesticide-free produce to environmentally conscious lifestyles.  This is biography, social history, and contemporary politics, all viewed through the lens of the fastest growing segment of the U.S. food system.

Here are a few brief excerpts from the last couple of chapters:

  • The surge of public interest and engagement with environmental issues in the 1980s provided the Rodale Press with an opportunity to make a renewed case for reforming the food system.  As a privately held firm that did not need to meet the quarterly demands of shareholders, the company enjoyed the freedom to pursue projects that did not create immediate returns.  To address the farm crisis, the company relied on the tools of the marketplace…to generate public support for reforming how food was grown, distributed, and consumed in the 1980s.
  • Yet the impact of these efforts was limited at best….Rodale’s story does not resolve the tension between prophecy and profits, but it does illustrate the complexities of green consumerism and the many unresolved questions about the choices we face in an era of unprecedented environmental change….
  • The crowded marketplaces of consumer societies have succeeded in providing an array of choices at the exact same time that consumer societies have failed to tackle global climate change and many other issues of health, equity, and sustainability.
Share |
Tags:
Dec 11 2017

USDA’s case studies on front-of-package labeling

The FDA is responsible for food labeling but in the peculiar way things get done in federal agencies, the USDA governs front-of-package labeling for organics and also gets involved in labels for non-GMO, no-antibiotics and those for country-of-origin.

It has just published a report on all this:

The report is a good place to learn about the labeling laws passed in 1990, and it has an interesting case study on GMO labeling:

It has a lot to say about organic labeling:

Do such labels influence what the public buys?  Yes.  (That’s what the USDA is worried about)

Does the public understand what the labels mean?  Not really. (The USDA worries about this too)

The USDA derives many conclusions from this study, but boils them down to this statement:

There are fundamental tradeoffs in how information is presented to consumers. If it is presented simply, then important nuance or complexity may be missed. On the other hand, if standards and labels attempt to convey complexity, then consumers may just be confused. Policymakers and marketers will need to consider these tradeoffs in the future when developing new process-based labels.

What the USDA does not discuss is the fundamental issue behind fights over food labels.  They work well to discourage people from buying products that may not be good for them or do not meet their values.  That’s why the food industry opposes them so strongly.

Dec 1 2017

Weekend action: Advocating for organics (Toolkit!)

IFOAM—Organics International–offers a Global Policy Toolkit on Public Support to Organic Agriculture, for use by anyone who wants to advocate for organics and sustainable agriculture.

The toolkit includes:

The main report offers Policy summaries for specific measures to promote organic production and consumption.

No excuses!

Oct 2 2017

Rodale introduces Regenerative Organic Certification

The Rodale Institute has a new Regenerative Organic certification program with four requirements that include but go beyond those for USDA Certified Organic:

  • Increase soil organic matter over time, and potentially sequester carbon in the soil
  • Improve animal welfare
  • Provide economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers
  • Create resilient regional ecosystems and communities

An Infographic illustrates how it works.  It’s based on three pillars:

This program seems to address most of the major criticisms of USDA’s National Organic Program.   I will be interested to see whether farmers sign on for it.

Sep 25 2017

Good news: sales of organic foods

The USDA announces:  2016 Sales of U.S. Certified Organic Agricultural Production Up 23 Percent from Previous Year

Sales of organic agricultural production continued to increase in 2016, when U.S. farms produced and sold $7.6 billion in certified organic commodities….

Results of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey show that 2016 sales were up 23 percent from $6.2 billion in 2015.

During the same year, the number of certified organic farms in the country increased 11 percent to 14,217, and the number of certified acres increased 15 percent to 5.0 million.

The top commodities in 2016 were:

  • Milk – $1.4 billion, up 18 percent
  • Eggs – $816 million, up 11 percent
  • Broiler chickens – $750 million, up 78 percent
  • Apples – $327 million, up 8 percent
  • Lettuce – $277 million, up 6 percent

And here’s a quick look at the trend:

Image result for trends in organic foods

Share |
Tags: