Organic in the News

This page contains news and reports about major issues relating to organic farming and foods. Check back periodically for updates. Contents are organized thematically:

  • feeding the world’s population sustainably
  • research points to culprit in global bee collapse: pesticides
  • more about pesticide impacts
  • genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • is organic healthier? yes, for many reasons

UNITED NATIONS REPORT SAYS ORGANIC IS THE ONLY WAY WE WILL BE ABLE TO FEED THE WORLD …
The United Nations’ released a science-based report in March 2011 which found that organic farming is the only way that we will be able to provide food security for the world’s growing populations in industrialized, developing, and poor countries (full report) (UN press release). The UN press release titled “Eco-Farming Can Double Food Production in 10 Years” says: “To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live — especially in unfavorable environments.”  It goes on to say: “Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today,” De Schutter stresses. “A large segment of the scientific community now acknowledges the positive impacts of agroecology on food production, poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation — and this this is what is needed in a world of limited resources.”

BEE COLLAPSE LINKED TO AGRICULTURAL PESTICIDES

January 23, 2013. (European Environment Agency) – The EEA released today its mammoth new report, Late Lessons from Early Warnings II: Science, Precaution, Innovation (746 pages). The report contains 28 chapters, each of which is a ‘case study’ in examining the failure to follow the precautionary principle in adopting new technologies, and the ensuing costs to health, environment, and economy.  Of particular relevance to organic production are chapters on neonicotinoids and bees, as well as chapters on other pesticides and GMOs.  Read the summary or whole report here.

January 16, 2013. (The Guardian UK) – “Insecticide ‘unacceptable’ danger to bees, report finds.”  The European Food Safety Authority scientists and other European experts report on their findings that one of the most widely used agricultural insecticides is significantly implicated in the rapid, large-scale decline of bee populations.  Bees are crucial in pollination of many crops. Read the article here.  Read the EFSA news release and their other information about bees here.

April 5, 2012.  (Harvard School of Public Health) – Researchers at Harvard reported that “the likely culprit in sharp worldwide declines in honeybee colonies since 2006 is imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides”, according to a press release from Harvard, which you can read here. A useful article about the study and some reactions to it can be read here.

March 29, 2012. (Science News) – Two articles in the March issue of the journal Science report on new research into the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees and wild bumblebees, as contributory factors in bee declines.  Read the summary article here. Another article about the research can be read here.

MORE ABOUT PESTICIDE IMPACTS…

February 21, 2013. (gmwatch.org) – “Roundup more toxic than officially declared – new study”.  A new study says the most widely used herbicide in the world is even more toxic than we thought. The reason? Roundup contains unlabeled ingredients that affect all living cells, including human cells, according to a new study in the scientific journal, Toxicology. Turns out that industry regulators and long-term studies look at glyphosate in isolation, instead of looking at Roundup’s full formulation, which includes the ‘confidential’ ingredients.  Read the full story here.

February 6, 2013. (Tom Philpott, Mother Jones) – “Nearly Half of All US Farms Now Have Superweeds.”  Superweeds: first they gallop, then they roar. According to a new report from the agribusiness research consultancy Stratus, nearly half (49 percent) of all US farmers surveyed said they have glyphosate-resistant weeds on their farm in 2012, up from 34 percent of farmers in 2011. It’s spreading at a faster pace each year: total resistant acres increased by 25 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2012. For Monsanto and its peers the solution is “next generation” herbicide-resistant seeds using more toxic herbicides, like 2,4-D and Dicamba, leading to more prolific and more super, superweeds, along with a sharp increase in herbicide use.  For the full article click here.

In some ways none of this should be surprising because pesticides are designed to kill pests. That is their job.  What many people may be assuming is that because the insects are so small, what kills an insect could not harm an animal or a person.  One of the factors that is turning up more often is that with the normally recommended practices of multiple treatments, and often multiple different pesticides being used in a season, the combined impacts from each exposure increases the intensity of the effect.  But the next article shows that a single treatment at recommended levels can kill a frog within 30 minutes.  The impacts on biodiversity are serious. The impacts on humans are serious. There are less dangerous ways to grow crops, as noted by the UN Special Rapporteur in the report linked at the top of this page.

January 24, 2013.  (The Guardian UK) – “Common pesticides can kill frogs within an hour”. Read the news article here.  Read the scientific report  here.

NEWS ABOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)…

February 2013. (Centre for Food Safety & Save Our Seeds) – “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers.”  In the last few decades, the U.S. has led a radical shift in marketing and control of seed ownership. Three agri-chemical firms – Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta – now control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market. This shift has fundamentally changed farming in North America. The 2013 report Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers recounts the history of seed and plant breeding and intellectual property policies in the U.S. and outlines how the current intellectual property regime has resulted in seed monopolies, rising seed prices, loss of germplasm diversity, the strangling of scientific inquiry and lawsuits against farmers. It also comments on lawsuits being waged to curb the abuses of the GMO seed industry, such as the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Ass’n vs Monsanto Co., to which Canadian Organic Growers is a party.  The full report can be accessed by clicking here.

January, 2013. (Independent Science News) – Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops.  Research article available here.

October 10, 2012.  This short documentary, Seeds of Freedom, was released in May 2012 and offers a clear and factual account of the importance of non-GMO seeds to provide real food security on a global scale.  Approx. 30 min.

October 1, 2012.  (Reuters) – U.S. farmers are using more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies that are sparking a rise of “superweeds” and hard-to-kill insects, according to a newly released study.

Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011, according to the report by Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.  Read more…

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IS ORGANIC BETTER FOR YOU?  ABOUT ‘THE STANFORD STUDY’…

October 10, 2012.  This new report presents scientific evidence of the serious harmful effects of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on children.  This is a major part of the argument in favour of choosing to eat organic, to garden organically, and to avoid places that use synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

Update October 4, 2012.  By now you will likely have heard on the radio and TV the multiple sound bites saying that “new research says organic isn’t better for you after all”.  There are a few things wrong with this statement, the first being that the research did not reveal that outcome, and the second being that the research itself was problematic.  Several postings below illustrate why, and this new article from the New York Times further explains how the hype around the ‘research’ is intentional misinformation, and it reviews what is wrong with the study.  It’s always a good idea to do a little investigation when we hear this kind of thing.  The new professional “fact checkers” seem to be increasingly necessary these days.

Update September 13, 2012. Linda Watson has investigated the funding behind the recent study from Stanford University researchers which has been presented as showing that organic food is not necessarily healthier than non-organic, based on a review of selected existing publications (rather than new scientific research).  Interestingly the study itself received no external funding, but the institute that the research was completed by is funded by major agricultural chemical company Cargill, and others unfriendly to organic.  Watson asks if this relationship is the basis for the negative spin from the institute at Stanford and from the media – that is not consistent with the more modest claims made by the researchers.

Update September 9, 2012. This article further highlights some of the flaws in the Stanford study.  And here’s another.  Noted author Frances Moore Lappé cites authoritative studies to the contrary in another critique.

In contrast, a recent review of existing research by the Ontario College of Family Physicians for example, demonstrated that conventionally used agricultural chemicals are clearly implicated in a host of serious diseases and conditions. Indeed, there are many studies that show the negative health impacts of exposure to agricultural pesticides and herbicides that are used widely in “conventional” agriculture but not  used in organic agriculture.

September  6, 2012.  You may have seen or heard about a new article by a team of researchers at Stanford that was based on a review of existing publications, from which the Stanford team concluded that there is not much published evidence in the research literature indicating a significant nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods.

There are some very important flaws in the Stanford study.  One caution is that although it was presented as a comprehensive meta-analysis of existing publications, it was based on selected publications rather than all relevant publications.  The reasoning for the selection of papers to include and exclude is  questionable and suggests that the authors’ have an uninformed view of what makes a food healthy.  There is indeed extensive, published scientific evidence that they did not consider and which confirms the significant differences in the health implications of organic as opposed to non-organic food consumption.

This response article by Charles Benbrook at Washington State University clearly demonstrates some of the flaws in the Stanford paper and lays out the key evidence that they overlooked.

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Check this page for regular updates on organic issues covered in the news and research reports. We’ll post local items here but you will definitely be interested in receiving the organic news feed from the following groups via their Facebook pages and their websites:
Canadian Organic Growers   Facebook   Website
Organic Council of Ontario  Facebook
   Website
Ecological Farmers of Ontario   Facebook   Website
Canadian Organic Trade Association   Facebook  Website

Breaking news on GMO issues can be found at the
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network  Facebook  Website

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