Chemicals and additives found in the food supply and other consumer products are making headlines regularly as more and more groups raise concern over the safety of these substances. In a statement released this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked for reform to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The group is particularly concerned about the effects these substances have on children and babies.
Last month, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) held hearings on the safety of food dyes but failed to make a definitive ruling. The most recent study on Bisphenol-A (BPA) added to growing doubts about its safety; but the FDA's stance on it remains ambiguous. Meanwhile, in 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported [PDF] that the FDA is not ensuring the safety of many chemicals.
Yet while the FDA stalls and hedges on the safety of these substances, Americans are exposed to untested combinations of food additives, dyes, preservatives, and chemicals on a daily basis. Indeed, for the vast majority of Americans consuming industrial foods, a veritable chemical cocktail enters their bodies every day and according to the GAO report, "FDA is not systematically ensuring the continued safety of current GRAS substances."
Organic farming is often falsely represented as being unscientific. However, despite the popular assumption that it sprang full born from the delusions of 60s hippies, it has a more extensive, and scientifically respectable, provenance. If you look back at the first flush of notoriety in the 1940s, the names most often mentioned, Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, rather than being the initiators, were actually just popularizers of a groundswell of ideas that had begun to develop some 50 years earlier in the 1890s.
A growing coterie of farmers, landlords, scientists, and rural philosophers in both England and Germany had begun questioning the wisdom of the chemically based agriculture that had grown so prominent from its tiny beginning in the 1840s. Advances in biological sciences during the late 19th century, such as those that explained the workings of nitrogen fixation, mycorrhizal association, and soil microbial life supported their case. Those new sciences set the stage for a deeper understanding of natural processes, and offered inspiration as to how a modern biologically based agriculture might be formulated.
Babies exposed to high levels of common pesticides in the womb have lower I.Q. scores than their peers by the time they reach school age, according to three new studies.
The research, based on data collected in New York and California from about 1,000 pregnant women and their babies, is certain to set off a new debate about the benefits of organic produce and the risks of chemicals found in the food supply and consumer products. The pesticides, called organophosphates, are commonly sprayed on food crops and are often used to control cockroaches and other pests in city apartments.
In early April, the USDA made what I'm reading as a second response to Judge White, this one even more craven. To satisfy the legal system's pesky demand for environmental impact studies of novel GMO crops, the USDA has settled upon a brilliant solution: let the GMO industry conduct its own environmental impact studies, or pay other researchers to. The USDA announced the program in the Federal Register for April 7, 2011 [PDF].
The biotech/agrichemical industry has applauded the new plan. Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization told the Oregon-based ag journal Capital Press that the program will likely speed up the registration process for GMO crops and make the USDA's approach less vulnerable to legal challenges like the rebuke from Judge White. Capital Press summed up Batra's assessment of the plan like this: "The pilot program will not only help move crops through the process more quickly, but the added resources will also help the documents hold up in court."
The organic farming sector grew by 8 percent in 2010, dramatically outpacing the food industry as a whole which grew at less than 1 percent in 2010, according to an industry report released earlier this month at the Organic Trade Association's (OTA) 2011 Policy Conference in Washington D.C.
OTA released data onsite from OTA's 2011 Organic Industry Survey that reveal the industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010.
Despite the nation's worst economic downturn in 80 years, the organic industry has come out of the recession hiring employees, adding farms, and increasing revenue.
CryAb1 toxin [was] detected in [pregnant women], their fetuses and [non-pregnant women]. This is the first study to reveal the presence of circulating [pesticides associated to genetically modified foods] in women with and without pregnancy, paving the way for a new field in reproductive toxicology including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities.
An insecticide used in genetically modified (GM) crops grown extensively in the United States and other parts of the world has leached into the water of the surrounding environment.
The insecticide is the product of a bacterial gene inserted into GM maize and other cereal crops to protect them against insects such as the European corn borer beetle. Scientists have detected the insecticide in a significant number of streams draining the great corn belt of the American mid-West.
The researchers detected the bacterial protein in the plant detritus that was washed off the corn fields into streams up to 500 metres away. They are not yet able to determine how significant this is in terms of the risk to either human health or the wider environment.
A new paper shows that consuming genetically modified (GM) corn or soybeans leads to significant organ disruptions in rats and mice, particularly in livers and kidneys. By reviewing data from 19 animal studies, Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and others reveal that 9% of the measured parameters, including blood and urine biochemistry, organ weights, and microscopic analyses (histopathology), were significantly disrupted in the GM-fed animals. The kidneys of males fared the worst, with 43.5% of all the changes. The liver of females followed, with 30.8%. The report, published in Environmental Sciences Europe on March 1, 2011, confirms that “several convergent data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects.” The authors point out that livers and kidneys “are the major reactive organs” in cases of chronic food toxicity.
Speaking of Monsanto, it turns out they are playing a role in Iowa's proposed anti-whistleblower bill -- a bill focused primarily on agriculture. Should the bill pass, it will become illegal to produce undercover videos at various types of agricultural facilities (as well as to get a job at a facility with the express intent of producing a video). Sarah Damian of the Government Accountability Project, a "whistleblower advocacy organization," observes over at the Food Integrity Campaign's blog that Monsanto has been throwing lobbying dollars behind Iowa's effort to draw a steel curtain around food production. And not without reason:
... Monsanto has more facilities in Iowa than in any other state in the country, with more than 25 offices. The company is heavily invested in the bill's outcome because "crop operations" are also covered, which would apply to Monsanto's seed houses, pesticide manufacturing plants and research facilities throughout Iowa. The biotech and crop chemical giant wouldn't want any undercover videos produced on its clock, apparently.
That's a bit ironic, however, given the fact that Monsanto investigators are notorious for trespassing on farmers' property and going to extreme measures to produce evidence of seed patent infringement, including posing as land mappers or even joining a local Alcohol Anonymous group to gain the farmers' trust and gain video access to their fields. Talk about undercover.
"Organic producers are very entrepreneurial in nature. They're in a position to create value-added products that provide a wealth of opportunities in rural America," Secretary Vilsack said.
His comments were made before the more than 150 persons taking part in the policy conference. Organized by OTA and supported by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) under the theme "Advance Organic Together," the conference is focusing on the value of organic agriculture in providing jobs, supporting rural livelihoods, and advancing an entrepreneurial spirit.