Friday, March 28, 2008

Another Point for the Organic Industry!

For years I've been a big supporter of the organic movement. But recently I made a decision to make a change in my buying behaviors and bring my beliefs into my home. Now, it is hard to find food in my house that is not organic. There so many reasons to purchase organic foods, first and foremost, organic foods are better for the environment and of equal importance, better for you health.

Just last month, I wrote about a study that revealed that the pesticides applied to industrial fruit and veggies enter our bodies and show up in our saliva and urine. Happily, this is not a permanent problem.  Once you switch to organic produce you can "get clean".  The same study showed that after switch to organic foods, the industrial pesticides were no longer present if your body within 8-36 hours after switch. You can my earlier post on this topic here

If that isn't enough to change your buying habits, two more studies on organic foods were published last week that are sure to make you rethink your food choices.

The first study, from the Organic Center was entitled "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods." The report compared the nutrient content in conventional vs. organic foods, based on the findings of 97 published studies. The study revealed the following:
  • Organic plant-based foods are on average, more nutritious in terms of their nutrient density for compounds.
  • The average serving of organic plant-based food contains about 25% more nutrients compared with the same food produced by conventional farming methods.
  • There is strong evidence that poultry and livestock that consume organic feed produce meat, milk and eggs that are more nutritious. 
So plainly said, organic food is healthier for you, and has more nutrients per serving.  

Studies like this make me feel all that much better about buying organic. It is better for me to eat "green,"  but is it better for the farmer?

So the first question here is, do you care? I do, and the reason why is that unless farmers can be as productive and profitable growing organic, I won't be able to buy the foods I want to. So, is organic farming a smart business decision for Farmer John?

Yes! Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study to see if organic farms can be as productive as conventional industrial farming systems.  As reported in the March-April issue of the Agronomy Journal, "The answer is an unqualified, "Yes" for alfalfa or wheat and a qualified "Yes most of the time" for corn and soybeans."

These are THE most important cash crops for the American farmer, and if they can be as productive, meaning getting an equivalent yield per acre, then there is truly no incentive to grow industrial foods, except for its easier. But, most farmers, want to grow food they can eat, they can be proud of, and won't hurt the land or the people eating it.

Finally, there is money in the organic foods industry. As I wrote in an earlier posting, last year American's spent $20 billion on organic foods. While that isn't close to the overall food spend, that ain't chump change. Also the trends are that people are buying more and more organics.

So, get on the bandwagon, get healthy and buy organic.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How "green" are your personal and household products?

When my youngest son was only a few months old, a friend sent me an email warning me about baby products that include 1, 4-Dioxane, an Environmental Protection Agency identified carcinogen. This compound has been known to causes cancer in lab animals and now I find out its in Johnson & Johnson Baby Wash.  Once I found out about this I quickly stopped using this soap and found one that was not on the EPA list.  That was almost a year and half ago.  

Now a new study released last week by the Organic Consumers Association revealed that the carcinogenic 1, 4-Dioxane was found in nearly 50% of leading "organic" personal care products tested.  The study included a test of more than 100 organic and natural soaps, shampoos, lotions, and other products from some of our favorite "green" companies including Jason Pure, Natural & OrganicKiss My Face, Method, Seventh Generation and 365 - Whole Foods private label. Forty-seven of the products tested had detectable levels of 1,4-Dioxane. 

Are you kidding me? Nearly half of the "green" products tested had a cancer causing compound in it!  We kind of expect this from the traditional, industrial products, but from household and personal care products advertised as natural, green and organic, no way! 

"For companies to knowingly or carelessly put a carcinogen into commerce in this day and age is barbaric, I think, particularly products that have the moniker of natural or self-proclaimed organic,"  stated consumer advocate and leader of the study David Steinman in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Organic Consumer Association, the petroleum based product, ethylene oxide, is used in many product to make them milder and 1,4-Dioxane is a by-product of ethylene oxide. In addition to being known to cause cancer, 1,4-Dioxane is also suspect kidney, neuro and respiratory toxicant. It is also a leading groundwater contaminant.  

So what are we to do? Well, any USDA certified organic product does not contain 1,4-dioxane because companies are not allowed to use ethylene oxide or any other synthetic petroleum chemical modification.  So look for the USDA Organic Seal on the products. A full list of all products tested and the levels of 1,4-dioxane can be downloaded here.  This document also includes a list of ingredients to avoid.

The Organic Consumer Association is working hard to push the organic personal care industry to stop misleading consumers and is leading a movement called "Coming Clean."  They are pressuring the USDA National Organic Program, Organic Trade Association and the industry to adopt strict national organic standards for personal care products. Currently 485 business have sign in support.  On May 14th the Organic Consumer Association and Dr. Bonner's filed a "Cease and Desist" letters to many of the companies who tested positive for 1,4-Dioxane.  Let's hope all this pressure makes a change in the right direction. 

Monday, March 17, 2008

There is something fishy with salmon.

I don't know about you but I am always very confused when it comes eating salmon.   Should I eat farmed or fresh? Most articles about eating fish publish charts on safe fish and fish to avoid and I find that salmon makes it into both columns.

Last week my friend and I were discussing the issue, because she, like I, is obsessed with food these days. Our list of foods we eat is ever dwindling.  We were wondering what salmon is best for the environment and our health.  Subsequent to our conversation, she called me up to say that she had just read an article in Eating Well Magazine on the fresh vs. farm salmon debate that helped bring some clarity.  

So I quickly grabbed the March/April issue and began to read the article entitled "The Wild Salmon Debate."  The piece was written by David Dobbs, a salmon angler and author of The Great Gulf, about the decimation of the ocean fisheries.  Dobbs is "a sort of salmon-expert-for-the-day." In his article, Dobbs discussed the differences between types of salmon, location caught and farmed vs. fresh. 

Wild salmon today is all from the Pacific. Why? Because the Atlantic salmon are now on the Endangered Species List.  Salmon from the Pacific can be found in Alaska, British Columbia, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.  

All Atlantic salmon species are farmed and live in net pens of tens of thousands of fish. These fish are vaccinated against diseases because they live in crowded confinement and fed fish pellets of food and additives to make their flesh pink like their wild fishy friends in the Pacific. 

As Dobbs reports, "Farmed salmon holds about 2 to 10 times the levels of PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, mercury and some other suspected carcinogens that most wild salmon do, apparently because the rich meal they eat contains bits of oily fish in which these contaminants tend to concentrate." These levels are still low (relatively) and that the benefits of eating salmon out way the cost of these contaminants unless you are pregnant, nursing or young. 
However, as he points out, there is a bigger picture to the farmed salmon. Farming salmon is wreaking havoc on the environment.  With the expansion of farmed salmon, there appears to be more and more problems emerging.  Many of the fish escape and disrupt the spawning of the wild salmon.  Sea lice that have infested farms are now spreading to wild populations killing many wild salmon.

Dobbs concludes that wild salmon is the way to go. It may be seasonal, inconsistent in taste and more expensive, but these trade offs are small in the whole scheme of things.

So I thought I was set.  Wild salmon was all my family would eat.  But then last week the Pacific Fishery Management Council stated that the wild salmon in the Pacific West fisheries, were at an all time low.  The managers are discussing cancelling the early seasons of ocean fishing for chinook salmon off the coast of Oregon and Northern California because of a collapse in stock. 

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 12th, "only 63,900 fall run salmon were documented spawning in the Sacramento River in 2007, far below the 122,000 to 189,000 objective the council had set."  And to make matters worse, the number of jacks (two year old fish that return to the river to spawn) are at an all time low. Frighteningly, officials expected 157,000 jacks but only counted 6,000.

So now I was really in a tizzy. First I moved my family to eating more fish. Then, only wild salmon. Now, heck, what am I supposed to do? The salmon stocks in the Northwest are collapsing, I can't figure out which way is up.  So stealing a line from Dr. Suess, one fish, two fish, red fish, who knew fish?  

So I decided to contact Dobbs and get his take on the issue. Dobbs, who in addition to writing for Eating Well and other outlets, writes his own blog called Smooth Pebbles where he covers various health issues. 

He explained to me that this truly is a confusing issue. "To make it easy, just think Wild Alaskan Salmon -- these are Pacific salmon but unlike Pacific Northwest salmon, the Alaskan salmon have habitat undamaged by dams (which are doing in many salmon) and are extremely well-managed so that they are not overfished."

Dobbs told me he considers farmed salmon disastrous and the only salmon he eats is wild Alaskan.  And now so do I.

So next time I go shopping, I'm looking for the mukluks on my fish.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Milk labeling: I rather be confused.

I don't know about you, but shopping for milk is very confusing.  It used to be it was either skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk.  Now when you go to the market and read the labels each brand is touting something different.  Pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, organic, no antibiotics, no hormones, ultra-pure, no rBST, no rBGH, fortified with vitamin A & D added, lactose-free, DHA Omega-3, the list goes on. 

But at least we have a list of items to decipher.  Maybe not for long if Monsanto gets their way. Monsanto, the maker of Posilac, an artificial hormone that stimulates milk production, would like to change the labeling law on milk.  We recognize this hormone as rBST or rBGH (recombinant bovine somatotropin). Many milk companies now label their milk stating that no rBST (or rBGH) were used on their cows but they also have to add the statement: The FDA has found no significant difference between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST treated cows. Confused? 

Monsanto feels if the FDA deems it safe then why should milk be labeled that no rBST/rBGH were used.  Safe?  If it is so safe, why is the hormone banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most of Europe?

Well to be fair to Monsanto, they are not directly trying to change the law, it is a group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (Afact).  But who is Afact? As reported in the New York Times, Afact was formed by Monsanto and a consultant that has Monsanto on their client roster, in addition to a marketing/pr firm whose founders were former Monsanto executives, and were hired to work on Posilac. 

Last year, Monsanto asked the FDA and Federal Trade Commission to crack down on milk labels. And for once these agencies refused.  So Monsanto has taken their fight to the states. Label change bills have come up in Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, Vermont and Missouri.  Pennsylvania, the fifth largest dairy state in the nation, actually banned the no rBST labeling but rescinded the law when consumers and some dairies complained.  Ohio passed a law that stating milk labels are not allowed to say rBST free.  In Indiana, a bill was introduced banning rBST-free labeling. It passed in the Indiana House Agriculture Committee but was never brought to the full house because the state representative did not have enough votes for it to pass. But dairy farmers in Indiana are pushing it because they use rBST.  Kansas just introduced a similar bill. 

Just to give a a little background on Monsanto.  This is the wonderful company that brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, genetically engineered seed, sacchrin, aspartame, nuclear weapons, and growth hormones. The Environmental Protection Agency list Monsanto as a potentially responsible party for 56 Superfund sites in the US.  Who knows how many sites they have contaminated around the world.

If Monsanto has its way, Ben & Jerry's would have to change its advertising campaign that their ice cream doesn't contain the synthetic growth hormones made by Monsanto.  Currently Ben & Jerry's is fighting these labeling laws.  As they state, "We believe that rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone given to dairy cows to increase their milk productions, is a step in the wrong direction toward a synthetic, chemically-intensive, factory-produced food supply.  It also raises the risk of serious health problems in cows.  That's why we've worked with our dairy suppliers to make sure they do not use rBGH on their herds. And it seems like it shouldn't be a secret."

When it comes to the labeling of our foods, I rather be provided with as much information as possible so I can make my decision.  Confused or not, the more information the better. 

To label or not, what do you think?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Daylights-Saving Time -- What are we saving?

Daylight-savings time takes effect Sunday at 2:00 am springing the clocks ahead to 3:00 am.  Growing up I always was excited about daylight-savings time, when we got to spring ahead with the change of season. However, now that the Bush Administration changed the date to the second Sunday in March, rather than the first Sunday in April, it all just seems like another day with an extra hour.

In 2005, Congress amended the Energy Policy Act, extending daylight-savings time by one month by beginning earlier and ending later, in hopes to conserve energy and help the environment. However, a recent study conducted by University of California-Santa Barbara economics professor Matthew Kotchen and Ph.D. candidate Laura Grant, shows that springing forward may actually waste energy.  

Waste energy, how can that be?  If we have more daylight, there should be less demand on energy right.  We turn our lights on later, no?

Well, Kotchen and Grant studied energy use in nearly every household southern Indiana from 2004 to 2006 (7 million monthly meter readings for 3 years).  Most counties in Indiana did not observe daylight-savings until 2o06.  They discovered that residents that lived in counties that adopted daylight-savings used 1 t0 4 % more energy per year.  They found that the reduce of the cost of lighting in the afternoons was offset by hight air conditioning costs on hot afternoons and increase heating cost on cool mornings. 

So what is the cost of daylight-savings time according to Kotchen.  Well, a recent interview published in USA Today, Kotchen stated, "The change in cost to Indiana residents in terms of increased electricity demand is just over $3 per household per year. Over the whole population, that comes out to $8.6 million a year.  Another element is the social (and economic) cost of pollution emissions.  Having to generate more energy for electricity means there is going to be more pollution.  We estimate those cost are between $1.6 million and $5.3 million per year in increased pollution costs."

Kotchen admits that more studies need to be done to evaluate the cost to the entire nation and that in some areas it just may save energy.  In addition, he says that before we scrap the increased daylight we must take many other factors into consideration like increased leisure time. 

There are so many arguments for it and against it.  Teachers do not like it because many kids go to school when it is still dark.  Oil companies love it because it keeps people on the roads driving.  Retailers and merchants make more money during daylight-savings because it gives people more time to shop after work.  However, the silliest and one I do not really understand I read about in the San Francisco Chronicle. Cows do not like it. According to an organic dairy farmer in California, it is very hard for the cows to adjust.  Can they tell time?  Is hard for them to change their watches?  

What do you think about it?   

Monday, March 3, 2008

Go Local...

Prior to using Door-to-Door Organics to get my organic produce, I was on the hunt for a local buying club or coop in my area that I could join. I was having trouble finding one that was close enough to my home, so when my friend introduced me to Door-to-Door, I thought I had found my solution. I figured I would use the deliver service until the summer when I would get my veggies from my family's garden and farmer's markets in my area.  However just last week I discovered that some mothers in my area were trying to put together a group to join a "Community Supported Agriculture" (CSA) farm.  

A CSA is a way for consumers in an area to support and create a relationship with a local farm. Members of a CSA pledge in advance to cover the farms anticipated costs.  By doing so, members receive weekly boxes of produce for the season.  Where I live the season runs from around May through November. Most CSA farms offer high quality produce that is grown organically, avoiding pesticides and fertilizers.   

So now I was in a quandary.  Stick with my original plan or join the CSA?  

Then I received in the mail, via Netflix, the movie The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a documentary about John Peterson, a.k.a Farmer John, a midwest farmer who life parallels the history of American farming in the late 20th century.  

Peterson came from a family of farmers who struggled, like most farmers, to make ends meet. Peterson's father died when he was teenager, which forced him to be in charge of the farm.  By the 1980's, when most farmers were trouble, so was Peterson who had to sell off most of his farm to make ends meet. Destitute and depressed, Peterson took time away from farming and returned in the '90s.  Deciding to change his farm from a mono-culture, chemical dependent farm, to an organic farm and connect himself to the land, Peterson turned his farm, Angelic Organics, into the one of the largest CSAs in the country. 

So after seeing the story of Farmer John, I have decided that it is important, not only from my families health perspective, but for community support, to join the CSA.  I might be overflowing in veggies this summer but my husband loves to entertain.  Just hope our friends like veggies!

To find CSA farms in your area go to Local Harvest and Eat Wild, or a buying club go to United Buying Clubs. In addition, Local Harvest also lists farmer markets, coops, restaurants and farms.