Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Much Money Has The Government Made Off Of Biotechnology?

In April, the White House released a policy paper what was styled the "National Bioeconomy Blueprint."  Its presumptions are based on the idea that the portion of the economy "fueled by research and innovation in the biological sciences" is a "large and rapidly growing segment of the world economy that provides substantial public benefit."  This has caused innovation in the biological sciences to become a priority of the Obama Administration, promising not only economic development but to "live longer, healthier lives, reduce our dependence on oil, address key environmental challenges, transform manufacturing processes, and increase the productivity and scope of the agricultural sector while growing new jobs and industries."  

Successes of the bioeconomy touted by the Blueprint include $76 billion in revenues from genetically engineered crops and $100 billion in revenues from "industrial biotechnology" (including "fuels, materials, chemicals, and industrial enzymes derived from genetically modified systems").  The Blueprint identifies genetic engineering technology, DNA sequence analysis and "automated high-throughput manipulations of biomolecules" as "foundational technologies," while identifying "synthetic biology," proteomics and bio-informatics as "emerging technologies."

The result of the "bioeconomy" becoming an Administration "priority" is a directive (Executive Memorandum (M-10-30)) to all Federal agencies to "support research to establish the foundations for a 21st century bioeconomy," an effort that the Blueprint says has made "significant early progress."  While these efforts also "raise important ethical and security issues that are also top priorities for the Administration," discussions of these concerns are expressly deemed to be outside the scope of the Blueprint itself.

The first chapter of the Blueprint sets out the broad goals, citing the National Research Council's 2009 report, A New Biology for the 21st Century, for a recognition of the importance of biological research for addressing societal needs for foods, fuel, and medicines (echoing BIO's motto of "Healing, Fueling and Feeding the World").  The Blueprint enunciates "key elements" of the recommended national effort, including:

• a full spectrum of basic and applied R&D activities performed by academic, government, and private sectors
• public-private partnerships
• a supportive commercialization system for bioinventions
• innovative regulatory policies that reflect government awareness of needs for and impediments to progress
• a skilled and creative workforce
• public support for technological advances
• flexibility to accommodate the evolving needs, discoveries, and challenges

The second chapter enumerates several examples of efforts to achieve the goals.
The Blueprint sets forth "five strategic objectives" for achieving the promised bioeconomy:

1. Support R&D investments that will provide the foundation for the future U.S. bioeconomy.
This objective includes "coordinated, integrated R&D efforts will help strategically shape the national bioeconomy R&D agenda"; "expanding and developing essential bioeconomy technologies"; "integrating approaches across fields"; and "implementing Improved Funding Mechanisms."  In this effort, "the President has called for agencies to identify strategic R&D investments, as well as increase the use of flexible funding mechanisms to improve program efficiency and provide the best opportunity to enhance economic growth."  The rationale is that "a robust biological/biomedical R&D enterprise, backed by government, foundations, and for profit investments, is necessary to produce the new knowledge, ideas, and foundational technologies required to develop products and services that support businesses and industries and help create jobs."

Much of what is cited in the Blueprint are efforts like the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine, to accelerate the development and testing of new clinical protocols using iPS-cell-based treatments, and the use of FDA data on drug products clinical data ("the FDA currently houses one of the largest known repositories of clinical data, including safety, efficacy, and performance information, and an increasing amount of post-market safety surveillance data").  While technology-based, such efforts do raise their own questions, such as whether translational activities are the best use of NIH resources and the extent to which clinical and other data submitted in support of regulatory approval can be expropriated by the government for its own, alternative uses without raising constitutional concerns.  The Blueprint also cites several biofuels efforts by Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy's (DOE) Biomass Program, USDA-DOE Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Program, National Science Foundation's (NSF) Engineering Directorate Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP) effort, as well as government programs supporting biomanufacturing.

2. Facilitate the transition of bioinventions from research lab to market, including an increased focus on translational and regulatory sciences.
This objective includes "a dedicated commitment to translational efforts will accelerate movement of bioinventions out of laboratories and into markets, specifically: accelerating progress to market; enhance[ing] entrepreneurship at eniversities; and utilizeing federal procurement authority."  The Blueprint identifies programs intended to help start-ups negotiate the "valley of death" of investment, including the Startup America initiative, specifically naming "five areas highlighted for action: unlocking access to capital; connecting mentors with entrepreneurs; reducing regulatory barrier; tax relief; and other economic incentives for small businesses"; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP); the National Innovation Marketplace; BioInnovation Initiative; Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance; reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs; translational biomedicine efforts such as the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), established in December 2011, and cooperative programs between FDA and NIH.  In addition, the Blueprint advocates enhanced entrepreneurial activities in universities and improved technology transfer, which includes exclusive licensing of NIH-developed innovation, "to companies developing drugs, vaccines, or therapeutics from NIH-patented or patent-pending technologies."  But the Bleuprint also contains statements like "[t]he America Invents Act provides entrepreneurs the tools they need to obtain patents more quickly and to defend them against litigation challenges, both at lower costs" which reduces a reader's confidence that the Administration has accurately assessed the important components of bio-innovation.

3. Develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health.
This objective includes "improved regulatory processes that will help rapidly and safely achieve the promise of the future bioeconomy, specifically: improving regulatory processes and regulations; and collaborating with stakeholders." This initiative is actually directed to "reducing regulatory barriers":  specifically, regulations that "have become inadequate or unnecessarily restrictive because technology and its associated products and services, as well as our national interests, have evolved and regulations may not have kept pace."  The Blueprint also cites Executive Orders, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review and Regulation and Independent Regulatory Agencies and revisions to FDA regulations that "increase transparency, consistency, and predictability of the regulatory processes and help drive medical product innovation forward."  Specific regulatory changes are directed to medical devices and regulation for "emerging technologies."

4. Update training programs and align academic institution incentives with student training for national workforce needs.
This objective includes the directive that "Federal agencies should take steps to ensure that the future bioeconomy has a sustainable and appropriately-trained workforce," specifically enumerating "employer-educator partnerships" and "reengineering training programs."  A large portion of this objective is directed towards an emphasis on minority-serving institutions (including community colleges).

5. Identify and support opportunities for the development of public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations -- where competitors pool resources, knowledge, and expertise to learn from successes and failures.
This objective includes the directive that "Federal agencies should provide incentives for public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations to benefit the bioeconomy broadly, specifically directed to "catalyzing public-private partnerships."  "Models" for collaboration are listed as:

• Open-source initiatives
• Industry consortia for process innovation
• Discovery-enabling consortia
• Public–private consortia for 
knowledge creation
• Prizes
• Innovation incubators
• Industry complementors
• Virtual pharmaceutical companies

Citing "Overview of Precompetitive Collaboration for Institute of Medicine Workshop."
This portion of the Blueprint sets out public-private partnerships for "rescuing" or repurposing" abandoned pharmaceutical compounds and smarter drug design. The next portion of the Blueprint sets forth purported "successes" of the Administration's efforts to stimulate the bioeconomy, which include:

• "Broad Spectrum Anti-Viral: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory reported in 2011 creation of a broad-spectrum antiviral technology that selectively kills any virus-infected cell but does not harm uninfected cells." ("Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Therapeutics")

• "Diesel from CO2: Through photosynthesis, plants, algae, and some bacteria use the energy of sunlight to convert CO2 into a variety of organic compounds needed for growth and survival A Massachusetts-based company re-engineered photosynthetic organisms to synthesize, from sunlight and CO2, molecules that form the chemical basis of diesel fuel."

• "Designing Biological Systems for Next- Generation Biomanufacturing: Synthetic biology is enabling scientists to rapidly design organisms that can be used in the production of renewable chemicals, biofuels, renewable specialty and fine chemicals, food ingredients, and health-care products. Bioacrylic acid heralds the advent of synthetic-biology-enabled manufacturing: acrylic acid ingredients are used to make adhesives stronger, paints more durable, and diapers more absorbent, and today petroleum-based acrylic is an $8 billion global market" ("Current Uses of Synthetic Biology")

• "Allergen-Free Peanuts: Researchers at a number of institutions in the United States have made inroads towards eliminating or inactivating allergenic proteins in peanuts. If successful, these approaches could lead to significant health benefits for Americans and economic opportunities for the peanut industry."

• "Biodegradable Plastics from Biomass: A major commercial "polylactic acid" bioplastic is already made today from cellulose However, the ability to replace petroleum-based plastics with this bioproduct is constrained by the limited availability of the specific cellulosic source material. To address this limitation, USDA scientists discovered a bacterium that can ferment a broader range of cellulosic biomass materials into polylactic acid, enabling commercial production on a much larger scale. With an estimated $375 billion market for chemical, plastic, and rubber products based on petroleum, this represents a substantial bioeconomy opportunity." ("Sustainable Polymers")

• "Biosensor Pollution Monitoring: Biosensors are devices composed of a biological sensing component linked
to a signaling component, working together to reveal the presence of an element, molecule, or organism of interest. In 2011, a team at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reported creation of a portable biosensor that could detect marine pollutants, including oil, much faster and more cheaply than current technologies. If deployed near oil facilities, such sensors could provide early warning of spills and leaks and track dispersal patterns in real time." ("Near real-time, on-site, quantitative analysis of PAHs in the aqueous environment using an antibody-based biosensor")

More naïve (or perhaps idealist) portions of the Blueprint posit "trends" in the bioeconomy such as "sharing:" Non-traditional research collaborations that feature the
sharing of information, resources, and capabilities are
transforming the bioeconomy.  Precompetitive collabora
tions, where "competitors" partner and pool resources, are growing as partners seek new ways to leverage constrained resources and surmount shared problems.  Partnerships for innovation are increasingly observed as a response to changing economic and technological conditions.

In agriculture, as the public and private sectors seek increased information for the bioeconomy on potential crop characteristics, there is increased sharing, both domestically and internationally, of genetic information.  The sharing of genetic information enhances U.S. agricultural competitiveness for food, energy, chemical production in plants, and other biobased-product crop species.

In the health sector, precompetitive collaborations are having significant impacts in clinical-trial design and biomarker discovery, among other areas.  Combined industrial R&D has contributed to transformative progress despite major challenges such as increased management costs due to "outside" collaborations and the need to develop effective communication networks across companies.

Similarly idealistic (or perhaps fantastical) portions of the Bleuprint include the idea for "using the power of prizes to drive innovation," specifically with regard to enactment of the "America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, granting all Federal agencies broad authority to conduct prize competitions as called for by the President" in December 2011 ("Implementation of Federal Prize Authority: Progress Report").

The Blueprint contains some important information, such as the "30-year decline in new molecular entities per dollar spent on R&D":
There has been a 30-year decline in new molecular entities per dollar spent on R&D There has been a 30-year decline in pharmaceutical industry productivity, as measured by new molecular entities per dollar spent
on R&D, normalized to 5-year rolling average of 1970 
to 1975 While R&D costs have increased 50-fold during this time period, the output of investigational new drug candidates and new drug application products has stayed flat.

The Blueprint interprets this data, by asserting that "one issue that government and industry must address is that increased investment in research has not resulted in a concomitant increase in approved drugs. Advances in translational and regulatory sciences, improvements in the transfer of technology from the public to the private sector, regulatory process improvements, Federal workforce enhancements, and innovative public-private partnerships have potential to help overcome these challenges."

The "Cost per Genome", the cost of sequencing a human-sized genome Data from 2001 through October 2007 represent the costs of generating DNA sequence using first generation sequencing technology.  Beginning in January 2008, the data represent the costs of generating DNA sequence using 'second-generation' (or 'next-generation') sequencing platforms.  The change in instruments represents the rapid evolution of DNA sequencing technologies that has occurred in recent years.

The Blueprint asserts that "while the sequencing of the first human genome took 13 years and cost $2.7 billion, researchers can now sequence a human genome for a fraction of that cost (~$7,700) and within two weeks' time" and considers the implications of these rapid increases in speed and decreases in cost for "whole-genome" human genomic sequencing.

The Blueprint concludes:
The Administration has made great strides in harnessing biological research innovations to address national challenges in health, energy, food, environment, and manufacturing via the commercial economy.  But there is much more to be done.  The Administration plans to explore additional creative ideas for promoting U. S. leadership in the bioeconomy, such as innovative financing for translational research, increasing the impact of the SBIR program, and improving the ability of faculty and students to move from "idea to IPO," and will continue to accept public input by email at bioeconomy@ostp gov.

By strategically shaping future R&D investments, improving commercialization of bioinventions, updating workforce training programs for new bioeconomy careers, reforming regulatory processes, and building new bioeconomy public-private partnerships, the Administration will help stimulate the growth of a high-wage, high-skill sector while improving the lives of all Americans.

Politics aside, publication of the Blueprint indicates that the Obama Administration recognizes the importance of the bioeconomy to the nation's economy as a whole.  Provided that the government is receptive to the input and information from all stakeholders (and not just government policy wonks, academics or think tank, armchair entrepreneurs, the Blueprint may actually provide a roadmap for progress. - Kevin E. Noonan, Patent Docs

Are Monsanto GMO Crops & Pesticides Causing Birth Defects?

A new scientific study now shows that the Bt-toxin, known as Cry1Ab toxin, kills human embryonic kidney cells. Combined with Monsanto's RoundUp, it can delay apoptosis, thus promoting cancer. A new report is once again showing the dangerous effects of GMOs, pesticides and herbicides. Just over a year ago, the journal Reproductive Toxicology published the results of a study done in Quebec, Canada. The Study showed that Bt-toxin, a pesticide now routinely genetically engineered into GE corn and cotton, had been found in the blood of both pregnant women and also their fetuses, as well as women who are not pregnant. 

The study also discovered that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp, was also found in the blood of non-pregnant women. The full study can be purchased here. Up until now, this study in Quebec has been one of few pieces of sound scientific evidence demonstrating the absorption of Bt-toxin into human blood - which Monsanto claimed would not occur when they submitted their invention for approval some years ago. But now, a brand new scientific study shows that Bt-toxin, known as Cry1Ab toxin, kills human embryonic kidney cells. The study also shows that combining Bt-toxins Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac with RoundUp (as is commonly done on GMO crops) can delay apoptosis, which can promote cancer. Apoptosis is the normal and natural death of cells which occurs as a routine and controlled part of an organism's growth or development.

The study further found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp on its own causes necrosis, that is the death of tissue, in amounts lower than that used in agriculture. Yet another scientific study shows that Bt-toxin increases the mortality rate of infant ladybugs, known as larvae. Ladybugs are often employed for natural pest management in organic gardens and orchards, naturally with no side-effects, so this is a serious loss. This study was conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and was published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

Then there is the case of honeybees, an essential part of nature. It is widely believed that pesticides in general and particularly a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, are a major contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in honeybees worldwide. The pesticides have already been banned in some countries in Europe, namely France, Germany and Italy. With genetically modified crops requiring hundreds of millions of extra pounds of pesticide sprayed on them, this is also believed to be contributing to the fate of honeybees worldwide.

With GE corn being such a huge part of most processed foods in the USA, it is important to stop supporting GMOs. People should try to avoid buying GMO foods and also avoid using RoundUp. In fact, avoid any pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Rather use safe organic bug sprays, easy to make yourself and so much better for the environment and your health. - Anne Sewell, Digital Journal 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Has Pepsi Stopped Using Aborted Fetal Cells In Its Flavor Research & Development?

A pro-life leader has won a victory in her efforts to convince soft-drink manufacturer PepsiCo to stop the use of aborted fetal cells in its research for enhancing the flavors of its products. Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life (COGFL), announced that in late April she had received a letter from Paul Boykas, PepsiCo’s vice president for Global Public Policy, confirming that the company will not allow the use of HEK-293 — a cell line derived from human embryonic kidney — in its partnership with Senomyx, the company with which it had inked a four-year, $30 million contract for flavor research.

As reported last November by The New American, a PepsiCo shareholder had filed a resolution with the Securities and Exchange Commission in an effort halt the company from contracting with Senomyx, which, according to documents collected by Vinnedge, used cell lines derived from aborted babies in its process of producing artificial flavor enhancers. According to a report by at the time, Pepsi had “ignored concerns and criticism from dozens of pro-life groups and tens of thousands of pro-life people who voiced their opposition to PepsiCo contracting with biotech company Senomyx even after it was found to be testing their food additives using fetal cells from abortions.”

But after a nearly year-long campaign led by COGFL that included a nationwide boycott of PepsiCo products, in late April Boykas sent a letter to Vinnedge assuring her that PepsiCo would not “conduct or fund research — including research performed by third parties — that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.” Boykas also assured Vinnedge that “Senomyx does not use HEK cells or any other tissues or cell lines derived from human embryos or fetuses for research performed on behalf of PepsiCo.”

In response to the letter, Vinnedge said that she was “absolutely thrilled with PepsiCo’s decision. They have listened to their customers and have made both a wise and profound statement of corporate integrity that deserves the utmost respect, admiration, and support of the public.”

Vinnedge said that she had spoken personally with Boykas, who told her that in the process of internal discussions on the issue, company officials had recognized that it was not in PepsiCo’s best interest to continue a policy that could hurt customer relations. “We took the matter very seriously,” Vinnedge quoted Boykas as saying. “We have an official statement on Responsible Research and we intend to live by that policy.”

The policy, Vinnedge explained, “precludes any research by PepsiCo or third parties they fund from using human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.”

News of PepsiCo’s decision reverberated through the pro-life community. “We are grateful to PepsiCo, and especially to all those who sent a loud and clear message to the management of this company,” said Brad Mattes of Life Issues Institute, one of the over 30 groups that joined in the efforts to persuade PepsiCo to change its policy. He added that “there are moral cell lines Senomyx can and should be using — not just for PepsiCo research but for all their customers.” Vinnedge noted that such usable cell lines could easily come from animals, insects, or even non-fetal human cells that express the “G protein” relevant for taste receptors.

Vinnedge said that beyond its contract with PepsiCo, Senomyx, which receives royalties for products sold using its ingredients, needs to rethink its use of aborted fetal cells in flavor research. “If they do not use aborted fetal cell lines, they offend no one,” she said. “If they do, they most certainly offend at least half of U.S. consumers who are pro-life.” She said that “it only makes financial sense for both Senomyx and their collaborators to avoid a substantial loss of potential market. Senomyx needs to stop using the aborted fetal cell lines entirely and we will continue to pressure them to do so.”

The pro-life leader added that individuals and families who had boycotted Pepsi products over the issue should now write the company and thank its CEO for the ethical decision “and then go buy your favorite Pepsi products to celebrate!” Vinnedge said that “too often we seem to focus on the negatives and forget to take the time to let others know we appreciate their efforts. It is our sincere hope that the public will once again rise to the occasion en masse as they did in the boycott but this time in appreciation and support of PepsiCo.” - Dave Bohon, The New American 

Can A Common Additive In Artificial Sweeteners Encourage The Growth Of E.Coli In The Intestine?

The food additive maltodextrin, commonly used in some artificial sweeteners, may worsen Crohn's disease by encouraging the growth of E. coli bacteria in the small intestine, a new study suggests.

However, researchers stressed that the findings are preliminary and the tests were conducted in the lab, not in people, so it's too soon to advise those with the inflammatory bowel disease to avoid maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin is a white powder used in many processed foods as a thickener or a filler, including the artificial sweeteners Splenda and Equal, along with cereal, canned fruits, packaged desserts, instant pudding, sauces and salad dressings. Maltodextrin, typically derived from corn or wheat starch, is also used in some medication coatings.

In the study, researchers placed Equal, Splenda and another sweetener, Stevia, in a dish along with E. coli bacteria taken from people with Crohn's disease. While E. coli is commonly found in the digestive tract of humans, it's usually found in the large intestine, explained senior study author Christine McDonald, assistant staff in the pathobiology department at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute. Prior research has found that people with Crohn's tend to have E. coli in their small intestine.

Though the precise role that E. coli plays in Crohn's is unknown, it's thought that the bacteria may contribute to the inflammation that marks the condition. When grown in the dish with the Equal (which contains aspartame, dextrose and maltodextrin) and the Splenda (which contains sucralose, dextrose and maltodextrin), the E. coli grew stickier, forming a thick biofilm, according to the researchers. The same didn't happen with the Stevia, which is made from the leaves of a South American plant and does not contain maltodextrin.

Researchers then repeated the experiments, culturing E. coli with maltodextrin alone, and the same sticky biofilm formed.

"In the lab, the E. coli becomes stickier, and it sticks to intestinal cells," said McDonald, who conducted the research with graduate student Kourtney Nickerson. "But we haven't tested this in animals to see if there is a particular amount you need to eat to have this effect. It may be that in people who have other risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease, this may tip them over the edge."

The study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was to be presented Monday at the Digestive Disease Week meeting in San Diego. Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract that can lead to swelling, pain and ulcers. Although the disease can affect any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, the most common spot is the small intestine.

It's unknown what causes the disease, although it's believed that microbes -- along with genetics and other environmental factors -- play a role, said Dr. Jerrold Turner, an associate chair in the department of pathology at the University of Chicago.

A healthy gut contains a multitude of bacteria that aid in the digestion of food and extraction of nutrients from foods. A healthy intestine has a layer of mucus that keeps the bacteria away from the lining of the intestine itself. Prior studies have found that, in people with Crohn's, the thickness of that mucus layer decreases, meaning there are more bacteria directly on the cells lining the intestine, possibly leading to inflammation, Turner explained.

The sticky biofilm may also mean there are more bacteria on the lining of the intestines, McDonald said.

No specific diet has been shown to prevent or treat Crohn's disease, according to the U.S. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. However, the incidence of Crohn's has been rising in the United States in recent decades, leading researchers to suspect that something about the modern American diet is contributing.

In addition, many people with the disease notice that certain foods or types of foods seem to make their symptoms worse. McDonald said people with Crohn's may want to try avoiding maltodextrin and see if their symptoms improve, but she and Turner both said more needs to be learned before they recommend that people with Crohn's or a susceptibility to Crohn's avoid the additive. 

"It's a very interesting and provocative finding, and [it] may tell us something about the bacteria and what is happening in the intestines, but it's really too preliminary to make any recommendations," Turner said.

A group representing the artificial sweetener industry said the finding was too preliminary to prompt any changes in how artificial sweeteners are made or sold.

"This study was done on cells in petri dishes, therefore it is not possible to apply these findings to humans," the Calorie Control Council said in a statement released Monday. "Even the researcher has stated that it is too early to conclude that maltodextrin promotes disease. Further research is needed before any human nutrition recommendations can be made."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. - Jennifer Goodwin, Health Day, US News & World 

Does The Food You Eat Contain Pesticide Residues That Exceed Human Tolerance Levels?

The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service has released its annual report on pesticide residues on produce and other foods, called the Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary. The agency samples more than 12,000 products to test for chemical residues in a program that has been in place since 1991. This was the 20th annual survey and covers the calendar year 2010.

This report tells scientists, farmers, consumers, and government regulators about the use of pesticides on our food supply. The safety of U.S. exports is demonstrated, and the EPA uses the data to conduct dietary risk assessments. The report states that residues found on tested foods are “at levels well below the tolerance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency”. In 1996, the agency started focusing on foods that are “most likely consumed by infants and children.”

Foods are tested on a rotating basis. The foods tested this year included fresh fruit, processed fruit, fresh vegetables, processed vegetables, oats, eggs, baby food, catfish, groundwater, and treated and untreated drinking water. This was the first time baby food, cabbage, hot peppers, and mangoes were included in the report. No residues that exceeded safety levels were found in baby food. The government found that “residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.25% of samples tested. Residues of chemicals that have no established tolerance levels were found in 4.6% of the samples.” 

Before testing, analysts wash samples for 10 seconds under running water; consumers should do the same at home. Nutritionists encourage consumers to eat lots of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization famous for its list of  “Dirty Dozen” foods, still recommends that consumers choose some varieties of fruits and vegetables grown organically. Those twelve foods, including apples, celery, strawberries, and peaches, have the highest pesticide residues. The group also publishes a list of the “Clean Fifteen”, or produce that has the lowest pesticide residues that are safe to purchase conventionally grown. - Kathy Will 

Will You Soon Be Eating Genetically Modified Salmon? (Zombie Food)

The U.S. Senate moved the country one step closer Thursday afternoon to something that the world has never seen before: approving a genetically modified, or GM, animal for human consumption. The Senate passed a bill approving reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration, which clears the way for the agency to go ahead with its consideration of allowing GM salmon to be sold to people.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich thought the decision was too important to be left exclusively in the hands of the FDA. They wanted the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to rule on genetic engineering as well. After all, NOAA -- the senators argued -- has jurisdiction over the open sea.

Begich and Murkowski's amendment to mandate NOAA participation failed to get enough votes on the floor of the Senate, however, which means the FDA is free to make its own ruling on GM animals. In one sense, that's not a big deal. Right now people eat GM foods including tomatoes, corn and breakfast cereal. So far, however, the FDA has not allowed a GM animal to be served on America's dinner tables.

For about 20 months, the agency has been carefully considering a proposal by Massachusetts firm AquaBounty to perrmit GM Atlantic salmon to be marketed as food for people. AquaBounty says the fish reach market weight in about half the time of unmodified fish -- 18 months instead of 30 months, making them about 20 percent less expensive to produce.

More importantly, according to AquaBounty, in an age where most fish populations are under stress from overfishing and the planet's increasing human population, the company's GM fish will help take the pressure off of wild stocks. Backers of the AquaBounty proposal say that if people don't find better ways to farm fish including genetic modification we may see fish populations go extinct.

AquaBounty argues that its salmon are nutritionally and chemically the same as Atlantic salmon, and that their fish will not breed with wild populations or contaminate their gene pool. The fish will be raised in inland pens for their entire lives; as an added precaution, they are sterile.

Murkowski and Begich do not want to take any chances, and have been fighting AquaBounty's plans since 2010. They say no adequate studies of possible human allergic reactions to the salmon have been made. AquaBounty claims there are no added allergenic risks.

At this point, the FDA is not likely to rule on the GM salmon before the presidential election in November. Murkowski and Begich vow to challenge the agency, however, if it moves too swiftly on giving permission to AquaBounty to commercially raise and sell the fish. - Dan Fiorucci 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Is Grass Fed Beef Better For The Environment?

Research reveals that grass-fed beef is better for people and the environment. Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research we've commissioned.

One of the biggest global challenges is how to increase food security whilst reducing the environmental impacts of food production.  

Livestock - like cattle and sheep - produce high levels of methane as part of the process of digesting grass.  This has led to suggestions that intensive production methods – where cattle are fed largely on cereals, producing less methane – should be preferred over more traditional grass fed livestock farming.

However, in a report issued today, research at 10 of our farms shows that while the carbon footprint of grass-fed and conventional farms were comparable, the carbon sequestration contribution of well-managed grass pasture on the less intensive systems reduced net emissions by up to 94 per cent, even resulting in a carbon 'net gain' in upland areas.  The farms that had recently converted to organic status showed even greater gains.  

Rob Macklin, National Agriculture and Food Adviser at the National Trust, said:
“The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population.”  

“Maximising carbon efficiency alone is too simplistic.  Many less intensive livestock systems would be classed ‘inefficient’ on the carbon emission scale, yet are much less reliant on artificial inputs and tend to have less impacts on water quality, loss of soil organic matter and reduced biodiversity.
“We believe that optimised beef production – deliberately accommodating less than maximum output in order to secure stronger and broader ecosystem protection – is the best sustainable use for the grasslands in our care.

“The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping.  

“Grasslands support a range of ecosystems services including water resources, biodiversity and carbon capture and storage.  Grazing livestock not only contributes to their maintenance but also turns grass into human-edible food.”   

Other recent research found that the health benefits of beef (and lamb) are greater when animals are fed totally on grass – their natural food.  Omega 3 fatty acids – recognised as essential to good physical and mental health – are higher in meat from grass and the levels of saturated fat are a third of grain fed beef.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “This research is incredibly timely.  Policy makers across Europe and in the UK are having to tackle the issue of carbon-efficient food production right now.  The debate is all about bringing broader public benefits to the fore alongside food production and this research demonstrates how extensive, grass-fed beef should be at the heart of discussions.

“We need to find new market mechanisms which reward optimised rather than maximised beef production and as bodies like the Government's Ecosystem Markets Task Force gather their thoughts we think this research demonstrates an area which is due some real focus.  Current Common Agricultural Policy reform discussions can also benefit from understanding what this research is telling us and, as the reform drives towards even stronger 'greening' of the payments farmers receive, we think management that delivers quality, grass-fed beef should be encouraged even more through agri-environment measures.

"We'll be taking the findings forward with our tenants, policy makers and the industry to explore how we can develop a market advantage which supports a stronger grass-fed beef sector". - National Trust, Grass Fed Is Best

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Vegetable Of The Week - Leeks

Vegetable History:
The Latin name for the leek is Allium porrum. The word Allium shows its relation to the onion family. Even so, onions are considered to be more harsh, or even low-brow. Leeks have a more upscale appeal. The flavor is thought to be more subtle and sweet than the average onion.

Although scientists are by no means certain, it is believed that leeks, like many herbs, are native to the Mediterranean area and possibly Asia Minor. Even though leeks have only recently become popular in the United States, they have been grown and used for cooking for more than 3,000 years in Asia and Europe.

Even the Bible mentions leeks. In Numbers (11:5) we read, "Remember how in Egypt we had fish tor the asking, cucumbers, and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic." This was from a lament by the Israelites as they wandered in the desert searching for the Promised Land. Later leeks would be traditionally consumed on Rosh Hashanah. It was meant to symbolize the desire for the people to have their enemies "cut off". This came from the idea that the Hebrew word for leek is karti, which is similar to the verb, to cut off, or yikartu.

It is widely reported that the Emperor, Nero (37-68 AD), ate leeks in quantity, cooked in oil. He believed it would improve his singing voice. He was so well known for eating leeks that he acquired the nickname, Porophagus (leek eater).

Leeks may have been introduced to Wales via Phoenician traders. The subsequent popularity of leeks in that country is exhibited by the fact that in 620 AD (or perhaps 640), King Cadwallader and his men wore leeks in their hats to differentiate themselves from their enemies, the Saxons. The onion-like vegetable was associated with Saint David and it was said that any maiden who slept with a leek under her pillow on his feast day (March 1st) would see her future husband in her dreams. The leek has become a national symbol of Wales.

Leeks were first brought to the United States, Canada, and Australia by the early settlers of those respective nations. The French call the leek, poireau, which also means "simpleton". In Europe, leeks are thought of as a kind of "poor man's asparagus". Agatha Christie named one of her most famous characters, the French detective, Poirot, after the leek. Today leeks are not as popular as they were in ancient times, largely because other similar vegetables such as onions are more convenient to use. - In Depth Info

Vegetable Benefits: 
Though leeks contain proportionately less thio-sulfinites than that in garlic, they still possess significant amounts of these anti-oxidants such as diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide and allyl propyl disulfide. These compounds convert to allicin by enzymatic reaction when the stalk disturbed (crushing, cutting etc). Allicin also decreases blood vessel stiffness by release of nitric oxide (NO); thereby bring reduction in the total blood pressure. It also blocks platelet clot formation and has fibrinolytic action in the blood vessels which, helps decrease overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular diseases (PVD), and stroke. - Nutrition & You 

Often overlooked in leeks is their important concentration of the B vitamin folate. Folate is present in leeks in one of its bioactive forms (5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5MTHF) and it is present throughout the plant (including the full leaf portion, not only the lower leaf and bulb). While it's true that we still get about 50% more 5MTHF from the bulb than the leaves, this distribution of folate throughout the plant makes leeks a cardioprotective food from top to bottom. (Folate is a key B complex vitamin for supporting our cardiovascular system, because it helps keep our levels of homocysteine in proper balance. Excessively high levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases.) - Worlds Healthiest Foods

Leeks are a rich source of vitamin A. One hundred grams contain approximately 33 percent of your daily recommended total. Vitamin A is also known as the anti-infective vitamin, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. It functions by maintaining the integrity and health of the mucosal linings of your nose, throat, urinary tract and digestive tract. Vitamin A also plays a key role in the development and activation of white blood cells. - Live Strong

Leeks are one of the best sources of dietary fiber, a distinct type of carbohydrate that passes through the human digestive system and energizes the body's many functions, including digestion and metabolism. Because leeks are a bit hard to chew (as are most fibrous vegetables), they help people eat slower and more properly digest food. This also aids in preventing overeating and allowing the body to feel more full. - E How

Leeks are great source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.  Their leafy stems indeed contain several vital vitamins such as pyridoxine, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin in healthy proportions. 100 g fresh stalks provide 64 µg of folates. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis and cell division. Their adequate levels in the diet during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn babies. - Nutrition & You 

The Fruit Of The Week - Mango

Fruit History:
Mangos orginated in Southeast Asia and India, where references to the fruit are documented in Hindu writings dating back to 4000 B.C. Buddhist monks cultivated the fruit and in fact, the mango is considered to be a sacred fruit in the region because is is said that Buddha himself meditated under a mango tree. The mango belongs to the same family as the cashew and pistachio nut.

Mango seeds traveled with humans from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and South America beginning around 300 or 400 A.D. Mangos sold in the U.S. are grown near the equator in countries like. Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala and Haiti.

Mangos have been grown in the U.S. for a little more than a century, but commercial, large-scale production here is limited.

Because mangos need a tropical climate to flourish only Florida, California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico grow mangos. The United States Territory of Puerto Rico has been producing mangos commercially for the last 30 years. Currently about 4,000 acres of mangos are being cultivated for export, but the majority of this crop goes to Europe rather than the mainland United States.

In the Coachella Valley of California, around 200 acres of mangos are being produced, with about half of these being certified organic. Slow, gradual growth in mango acreage is expected in California, where the competition for suitable land is fierce. Mangos are susceptible to frost, and farmers who own appropriate land are hesitant to switch from tried and true crops such as grapes and citrus. In Hawaii, the estimated space devoted to mangos is around 300 acres and nearly all of this fruit will be sold locally.

Many mango varieties have been cultivated in South Florida, as part of a seedling program initiated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and spearheaded by David Fairchild, founder of USDA’s Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. The program focused on introducing mango varieties to the region, with the goal of producing mangos that could be exported.

Over time, new varieties were developed, and some of these were introduced to growers in other parts of the world. Today, many of the popular varieties of mango grown around the world were derived from this program in Florida, including the Tommy Atkins, Haden, Keitt, and Kent. In fact, the Haden was a seedling of the Mulgoba, a seedling brought to Florida by the USDA from India during the late 1800s.

While the mango industry in Florida thrived for some time after the mango’s introduction, its commercial acreage peeked at 7,000 acres in the early 1900s. The mango industry in Florida has since been diminished by freezes, urbanization, hurricanes and competition from other countries. Today, it’s estimated that less than 1000 acres of mangos are still in production, and most of these mangos are destined for local farmers’ and specialty markets. Meanwhile, backyard trees in Florida continue to thrive and bring joy to residents across the southern part of the state. - The Mango Factory

Fruit Benefits: 
The Vitamin E which is abundantly present in mangoes helps to regulate sex hormones and boosts sex drive. In many varieties of mango there is about 2.3 to 3 mg of Vitamin E per mango. - Health Mango

According to new research study, mango fruit has been found to protect against colon, breast, leukemia and prostate cancers. Several trial studies suggest that polyphenolic anti-oxidant compounds in mango are known to offer protection against breast and colon cancers. - Nutrition & You

The tartaric acid, malic acid, and a trace of citric acid found in the fruit help to maintain the alkali reserve of the body. - Real Food For Life

While one cup of sliced mangoes provides at least 25 percent of Vitamin A that is required on a daily basis, there is no doubt that this contributes to good eye sight. If that’s not enough, mangoes also prevent night blindness, softening of the cornea, dryness of the eyes, itching and burning of the eyes and refractive errors and so on and so forth. - Medical Daily

The nutritional value of mango makes it good for weight gain, eye disorders, hair loss, heat stroke, prickly heat, diabetes, bacterial infections, sinusitis, piles, indigestion, constipation, morning sickness, diarrhea, dysentery, scurvy, spleen enlargement, liver disorders, menstrual disorders, leucorrhea, and vaginitis. - Organic Facts

Mango fruit is an excellent source of Vitamin-A and flavonoids like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. 100 g of fresh fruit provides 765 mg or 25% of recommended daily levels of vitamin A. Together these compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in carotenes is known to protect body from lung and oral cavity cancers. - Nutrition &  You 

Can Pesticides Sprayed On Fields Effect The Reproduction of Cattle?

Norma Smith knew something wasn’t right when, after several years of successful breeding, her family’s flock of nearly 70 sheep produced just six lambs. More were born the next year, but many of those were sick or deformed. By that winter, 29 of the sheep had mysteriously died.

Other strange things were happening: The Smiths would come home from church on Sunday to find dead birds in their yard. And the long familiar summer sound of frogs croaking and chirping? Suddenly silent. The family, which lives near Frazee, had only one clue about what was going on: potato fields.

The Smiths’ troubles began in 1996, one year after potato fields started sprouting up in the area, including right next door to their property. The fields were being sprayed with chemicals at least once a week, Norma said. The timing was too suspicious for her to ignore.

The family eventually found others in the area who shared their concerns. They formed a group called Minnesotans for Pesticide Awareness, and later partnered with the Pesticide Action Network out of California to study pesticides in the air.

Over the summers of 2006 to 2009, the group took 340 air samples from 19 locations in central Minnesota, including three sites in Perham – two in rural areas and one on the southwest side of town in a residential neighborhood.

The results, recently released in a report, found various pesticides in small percentages. Traces of one chemical in particular – chlorothalonil, a fungicide commonly used on potatoes – were found in a high percentage of the samples (64 percent of all air samples taken around the state).

The percentage was much higher in the Perham area, where traces of chlorothalonil were found in 100 percent of samples taken at the first site in 2008, and 91 percent at the second site. The third site, in town, was tested in 2009 and came in at 96 percent. All locations were within one mile of a potato field.

Other pesticides detected in the air around Perham included the herbicide chlorpyrifos, used on a variety of crops such as corn and soybeans. Residents involved in the study are now calling for stronger protections from chlorothalonil. They say the potential health and environmental risks are understudied.

Chlorothalonil is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “probable” carcinogen. Along with cancer, other health impacts from exposure include immunological reactions in the airways and skin, pneumonia and kidney failure.

Chlorothalonil is applied to 83 percent of the state’s potato fields, according to information from the Pesticide Action Network. Potato fields cover roughly 50,000 acres of Minnesota, particularly in the northern Red River Valley, a small part of the southern border, and areas with sandy soils from Elk River to Park Rapids.

John Peckham, supervisor of the pesticide and fertilizer management division’s inspection unit at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said chlorothalonil is used by potato growers to help fight off late blight, “a very difficult, deep disease to control.”

In March, the EPA began a new review of chlorothalonil, which will include inhalation studies. An entire report of the study and its results, “Pesticide Drift Monitoring in Minnesota,” may be found online at - Marie Nitke, Park Rapids Enterprise

Are Pesticides Destroying The Appetite Of Honey Bees?

New research shows that a common pesticide can alter the appetite of honey bees and turn them into “picky eaters.”

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) found that a single dose of imidacloprid given to bees made the insects crave sweeter foods and reject foods that may not be as tasty. According to the researchers, honey bees that prefer sweeter foods limit the amount of resources they contribute to the colony.

During the study, the scientists individually harnessed the bees so only their heads could move, enabling them to get a more detailed perspective of a bee’s behavior. They stimulated the bees’ antennae with sugar water and were able to determine at what concentrations the sugar water was rewarding enough to feed on.  The researchers touched the antennae of each bee to see if it extended its mouth parts.

Bees treated with imidacloprid were less willing to feed on lower concentrations of sugar water than those bees that went untreated with the pesticide.

“Our results show that shortly after bees are exposed to pesticides, they respond less often to sweeter nectar sources that they would normally feed on,” Daren Eiri, lead author of the paper published in Journal of Experimental Biology, told RedOrbit in an email.

“In addition, bees typically recruit their nestmates to good food with waggle dances, and we discovered that the treated bees also danced less to food sources that did not contain any pesticides.”

Imidacloprid, which is part of the group of crop pesticides known as neonicotinoids, is a popular active ingredient in many consumer-used products for home gardening, according to Eiri. Honey bee populations have dropped in both North America and Europe over the years due to “colony collapse disorder,” and recent published studies point to neonicotinoids as a culprit.

Eiri said the biologists began this study because an earlier study showed that bees feeding at a source contaminated with imidacloprid resulted in reduced foraging activity.

“It was unclear whether this was due to the anti-feedant character of the pesticide, or if there was activity occurring inside the colony to reduce foraging activity,” he told RedOrbit. “Our research will contribute to the number of studies recently published that have also found negative effects on honey bee behavior.”

Imidacloprid is banned for use in certain crops in some European countries, but it is still able to be used in the U.S.  Eiri said he hopes the study may influence how pesticides are registered by the EPA.

“The EPA currently does not have a formal review process that looks at the sublethal, or behavioral, effects of pesticides to beneficial insects like honey bees,” he said.

Because imidacloprid is part of consumer products, Eiri said the findings may also have an influence on homeowner’s choice in what products to use for gardening.

“It may influence home owners to use alternative products that use active ingredients that are not considered harmful to beneficial pollinators,” Eiri told RedOrbit.

The researchers said their discoveries not only have implications for how pesticides are used in crops, but also help to produce an additional chemical tool that can be used by other researchers who study the neural control of honey bee behavior, according to a press release. - Lee Rannals, Red Orbit 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is The Organic Food Supply Being Synthetically Infiltrated By Big Money Corporations?

You've probably heard the health conscious mantra popularized by Michael Pollan: "If you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't be eating it."

The easiest way to side step synthetic food additives has been to simply eat certified organic foods. But we've seen an increasing number of questionable additives being approved for use in organics. There are currently almost 300 non-organic and synthetic compounds approved for use in organic farming or food production. But just how rigorous were those reviews, and are these additives really safe and appropriate for use in organics? Mark rightfully points out that fighting for the integrity of the organic label is well-worth it, considering the fact that conventional foods are allowed to use thousands of synthetic processing aids and additives, plus residues from a myriad of agricultural chemicals and genetically engineered ingredients.

Research by the Cornucopia Institute reveals disturbing evidence showing that large corporate interests have infiltrated the process, and that the rules put in place to maintain organic integrity are severely compromised.

"... It seems evident that the people doing the supposedly careful scientific reviews and approving these chemicals have mostly been affiliated with the same corporate agribusinesses and the same food producers that are lobbying for their use," Mark says.

"We thought organics would be different from the rest of the money-dominated corruption in Washington... But the corporations that have gobbled up most of the pioneering organic businesses are relentless in their short-sighted pursuit of profit."
The Organic Watergate
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with enforcing the laws regulating organic foods, so how are improprieties occurring? According to Mark, what we have here is nothing short of an Organic Watergate. He explains:

"An incident last fall caused Cornucopia staff to do a cursory review of many non-organic and synthetic ingredients that have been approved for use in organics since the USDA took over regulation in 2002. And what do we find? A corporate and governmental conspiracy to allow almost any chemical petitioned by agribusinesses in organic food, regardless of the fact that Congress mandated review of all such substitutes to make sure that they will not damage the environment or human health."

In November, 2011, the USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held a meeting in Savannah, Georgia. During that meeting, two 12-billion-dollar corporations-- Martek Biosciences (a division of the Dutch biotechnology giant DSM), and WhiteWave (a division of the dairy behemoth Dean Foods)—received approval for synthetic, genetically mutated DHA and ARA oils derived from algae and soil fungus, which are then grown in a medium of genetically engineered corn products and organics.

Furthermore, the oil is then extracted from this biomass using synthetic solvents including hexane, a neurotoxic byproduct of gasoline refinement that is specifically banned in organics. Martek Biosciences' lobbyists duped the NOSB into believing that banning hexane was enough of a safeguard but they failed to look at the other petroleum-based solvents used (illegal in organic production). " But petrochemical solvent extraction is just the tip of the iceberg. Other questionable manufacturing practices and misleading statements by included:

Undisclosed synthetic ingredients, prohibited for use in organics (including the sugar alcohol mannitol, modified starch, glucose syrup solids, and "other" undisclosed ingredients)
Microencapsulation of the powder (possibly using nanotechnology), which are prohibited under organic laws
Use of volatile synthetic solvents, besides hexane (such as isopropyl alcohol)
Recombinant DNA techniques and other forms of genetic modification of organisms; mutagenesis; use of GMO corn as a fermentation medium.

Heavily processed ingredients that are far from "natural" Shocked by this incident, the Cornucopia Institute began a more in-depth review of other chemicals approved for use in organics, to determine whether proper procedures and safeguards were followed in the past. "Guess what? For the most part, sadly, they were not," Mark says.

One of the first products the Cornucopia Institute looked at was carrageenan. Like most people in the industry, the initial belief was that it was natural and benign since it comes from seaweed. However, as it turns out, carrageenan is an inflammatory agent tied to serious intestinal disease and is even categorized as a "possible carcinogen." Just how did that get approved for use in organic foods?
The Integrity of the Organic Label has Been Compromised
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) provides a structure for reviewing non-organic ingredients being petitioned for approval for use in organic foods, in order to assure the integrity of the organic label. The first line of defense is the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB), which must, by law, maintain a certain diversity of members:

4 farmers
2 handlers (processors/marketers)
3 environmentalists
1 conservation expert
3 representatives of the public or consumers
1 certifier
1 retailer
1 scientist

The intention was for this board to act as a balance against competing interests and corporate power. Unfortunately, abuses and obvious violations of the Congressional intent have been rampant.

According to Mark:
"The most egregious example of this was when a corporate employee of General Mills was nominated as the "consumer representative." There was such a strong backlash that her name was withdrawn and later she was nominated and served in a slot reserved for a scientist. She might have technically qualified as a scientist. But by filling a slot with a corporate representative that Congress obviously intended as an independent voice, the board's agribusiness bias was reinforced.

During the Obama administration, a full-time employee of a 700-million-dollar-a-year agribusiness was appointed as a "farmer." And a similar "farmer" was just appointed to the board, this time a manager at Driscoll's, the giant, primarily conventional berry producer in California." 
Absurd Bias Showing up in "Independent" Technical Reviews
Before an ingredient can be approved for use in organic foods, it must undergo a technical review by the NOSB. As you can see by the list of mandated board members above, the NOSB is not a scientific panel; rather these organic industry stakeholders are meant to use their individual field of expertise and judgment to help evaluate each petition. In order to do so, the petition must include accurate and comprehensive scientific data from truly independent sources.

According to Mark:
"One of the problems of the recent Martek proposal was the gross level of bias exhibited in the technical review (TR) supplied to the NOSB. Even though materials that are highly processed by bleaching or deodorizing have previously been deemed as "synthetic," the Martek materials presented in the TR as "natural."
From genetically mutated strains of algae never existing before in nature? Instead of presenting independent research regarding a material, the TR was filled with biased statements lacking the required scientific citations. How could the NOSB use their best judgment in evaluating the Martek petitions without sound scientific advice?"

Making matters worse, it turns out that of the handful of industry experts who have been advising the NOSB on scientific matters, one of them, Dr. Theuer, co-authored 45 of approximately 50 technical reviews during a two-year span in the 1990s—virtually all of them in support of approving the synthetic material in question for use in organics.

And if you think matters may have gotten better since then, think again. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was appointed to his post despite massive public outcry, as he was well-known for his agribusiness and biotechnology industry bias'. He's been a strong supporter of genetically engineered crops (including bio-pharmaceutical corn), Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and animal cloning, for example. The USDA now contracts the Organic Center to produce technical reviews for the NOSB. And who's behind The Organic Center?

According to Mark:
"[The Organic Center] began as the non-profit organic arm of the powerful Organic Trade Association (OTA) and are generally controlled and funded by the same giant corporations that run that OTA. The rest of The Organic Center's leadership reads like a who's who of giant corporations involved in organics: Aurora Dairy, the giant distributor UNFI, the vegetable giant Earthbound Farms, Safeway Grocers, Organic Valley, Whole Foods, and no fewer than four individuals with financial relationships to Dean Foods and their WhiteWave division."

Talk about proverbial foxes guarding the organic chicken coop... Mark points out that some of the board members of The Organic Center are even from the same companies petitioning for, and/or supporting the use of synthetics in organics! So how can employees of The Organic Center be expected to actually provide wholly independent technical reviews and solid scientific advice to the NOSB, when their bosses are neck-deep in corporate interests?
Carrageenan—Another Ingredient that Should Never have Been Approved
As mentioned earlier, once the Cornucopia Institute began reviewing carrageenan, a seaweed derivative used as a stabilizer, it became clear that just like Martek's DHA/ARA oils, it does not belong in truly organic foods. This is a timely issue, as carrageenan is currently up for a sunset reevaluation by the NOSB. (By law, all synthetic ingredients in organics must be reevaluated every five years.) According to Mark:

"When carrageenan was first reviewed in 1995, the NOSB, as required by law, looked at the potential environmental and health impacts after examining a technical review produced by three experts with corporate agribusiness ties: Dr. Steve Harper, director of R&D at Small Planet Foods (now owned by General Mills), Dr. Richard Theuer, a vice-president of R&D at Beech Nut, and Dr. Stephen Taylor, professor of food science at the University of Nebraska and defender of genetic engineering. Dr. Taylor has published studies on genetically engineered organisms (GMO) and allergy risks, co-authored by agribusiness scientists at DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred (manufacturers of chemicals and organic seed).

This technical review hardly mentions some potential serious health impacts from degraded carrageenan, failing to cite any of the research to inform the board that historically, as much as 25 percent of carrageenan on the market was categorized as degraded. Current research shows all types of carrageenan can degrade in the body and can create serious known health impacts.

A number of peer-reviewed published papers that should have been cited indicate that degraded carrageenan causes inflammation and can cause serious intestinal abnormalities. Degraded carrageenan is also considered a possible carcinogen, and it's in organic foods! There is no doubt that carrageenan is an inflammatory agent. In fact, in testing anti-inflammatory drugs, laboratory animals are given carrageenan to produce inflammatory symptoms. There's no secret in the medical community that this is a problem.

The technical review also failed to document the known environmental hazards from discharge of alkaline water, the deleterious impacts of seaweed farming to coral reefs, coastal ecosystems, and mangroves. By law, organics is supposed to do no harm. By law, these environmental externalities needed to be considered. Now, carrageenan is up for review again this year. As before, no negative environmental impacts and no human health threats were recognized by the NOSB's industry-friendly handling subcommittee, which unanimously again recommends its approval.

We must oppose the relisting of carrageenan and assure that it is taken out of organic foods. It shouldn't be in any food – conventional or organic. We need to be careful about reviews of all synthetics and organics. We need to re-review them, and the weight of your voice will help us make this argument."
A Call to Action
The Cornucopia Institute are now pursuing a pressure campaign aimed at the organic program at the USDA, and at the National Organics Standards Board, to persuade them to review the manipulation and misinformation provided at the November NOSB meeting, which led to the approval of synthetic, genetically mutated DHA and ARA oils—ingredients that have been "confidently linked" to health problems in infants.

"We need to be careful about reviews of all synthetics and organics. We need to re-review them," he says.

On the Cornucopia Institute's website, you'll find a proxy letter calling for careful scrutiny of all synthetics and organics; a creditable and independent review process; and a diverse NOSB that truly reflects the organic community as Congress intended. Please take a moment to download and sign the proxy letter, and mail it back to the Cornucopia Institute.

"We will deliver your message as an organic industry stakeholder to the powers in Washington, who can preserve or destroy organics," Mark says. "Please download and sign the proxy letter that's posted at to amplify our message and your voice...

The law requires the imperative to make sure we have independent oversight. Please, don't reject organics because corporations have acted recklessly and the USDA has failed to do their legally mandated job. Organic farmers and their ethical processing and marketing partners need your support now more than ever, and your family deserves authentic organic food." - Dr. Mercola, The Organic Watergate

Mark Kastel's Presentation About Organic Watergate