Eat For A Change

A major improvement the health of the U.S. citizens could come from a relatively minor change in their dietary habits. According to an economic model developed at Purdue University designed to predict how U.S. farmers would respond to shifts in eating habits, if Americans simply ate fruits and vegetables at current USDA-recommended levels, U.S. farmers would respond by bringing nearly twice as much (88%) produce to market. This would both drive down their price and increase their accessibility, benefitting the health of millions.

Conversely, if meat and dairy consumption simply fell to the levels recommended by the Harvard University School of Public Health, farmers would grow less of the corn and grains they now use to feed livestock. This would help build healthier soil and diminish the environmental impact of animal waste.

A still more drastic improvement would come from finding ways to promote (and even subsidize if necessary) greater consumption of organic-certified fruits and vegetables. This would have a profound impact on the health of U.S. children. Research published in the peer-reviewed Journal Of Environmental Health Perspectives found that children who ate predominantly organic fruits and vegetables had much lower concentrations of certain pesticides in their system.

The study enrolled 40 children, 3-6 years old: 20 from an urban neighborhood in Oakland and 20 from the nearby agricultural Salinas Valley. Researchers swapped out non-organic for organic food in the children’s diets and measured the concentrations of pesticides in their urine. In both communities, the amount of pesticides, as measured by breakdown products (metabolites), plummeted after they switched to organic food. Metabolites of two neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides dropped by an average of 40 percent and 49 percent. Levels of the weedkiller 2,4-D, a possible carcinogen, dropped by 25 percent.

In addition to reducing the “pesticide burden,” studies show organic crops also have higher concentrations of antioxidants and lower levels of cadmium and nitrogen compounds than their non-organic counterparts.

Concerned parents might wish to consult The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce that includes the Dirty Dozen Plus list of non-organic produce with the highest pesticide loads. There is also a Clean Fifteen list of fruits and vegetables that are least likely to have pesticide residues.

Organic Updates

  

When The National Organic Standards Board voted unanimously last year to update U.S. organic standards in order to exclude ingredients derived from next generation genetic engineering and gene editing it was a good day for all those who support food integrity.The vote will help ensure that ingredients derived from new genetic engineering techniques, including synthetic biology, will not be allowed in the production or final product of foods and beverages that are certified organic.

Synthetic biology is a new set of genetic engineering techniques that include using synthetic DNA to re-engineer organisms to produce substances they would not normally produce or to edit DNA so as to silence the expression of certain traits.

According to Dana Perls, a food and technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “The Board’s hard-fought proactive stance on synthetic biology will both help preserve the integrity of organic standards and raise awareness about this virtually unregulated and unlabeled form of genetic engineering. It’s critical that organic standards treat new types of genetic engineering that are rapidly entering our food and consumer products as rigorously as the first generation of GMOs.”

Like “traditional” GMOs, synthetic biology ingredients are entering food and consumer products in the absence of adequate health and environmental safety assessment, oversight and labeling. Many are being falsely marketed as “natural.” Products with synthetic biology in development include stevia, saffron, coconut and cacao. Creating synthetic replacements for these ingredients will also undermine the market for the plant-based ingredients, many of which are still sourced from small farms in the southern hemisphere. There is obvioulsy increasing concern for the economic impact of this shift to bio-synthetic production. Products already using synthetic biology practices in their products include gene-silenced apples, DuPont’s CRISPR waxy corn, and Canola oil engineered with gene editing techniques.

“The National Organic Standards Board has made clear that all kinds of genetic engineering are to be excluded from ‘organic.’ The public expects that government to actually assess the new foods that it is permitting on the market,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst of The Center for Food Safety. “Unfortunately, the government has failed to update its regulations to adequately assess these new kinds of genetically engineering. When the USDA approves that NOSB recommendations, consumers who want to avoid GMOs will be able to use the Organic Seal to know that the product is not a GMO.”

The Board’s announcement followed a growing trend of companies stating that they will not use ingredients produced via synthetic biology. The Non-GMO Project, North America’s only third party verification program for non-GMO food and products, also updated its standards last year so as to include synthetic biology and new gene editing techniques.

The pushback by conscientious producers against synthetic biology ingredients should be supported. Companies such as Straus Family Creamery and Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss have committed to not sourcing “natural vanillin.” the first major synthetic biology ingredient to be marketed, in their products. Other companies that have pledged to avoid synthetic biology ingredients altogether include Nutiva and Dr. Bronner’s.