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Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

This issue of Organic Update features three scientific studies showing that best practice organic agriculture can produce high yields. All of the studies give examples of where the yield is higher than conventional farming systems.

Equally important is a study showing that pesticides are responsible for declines in yields in conventional farming systems by poisoning the soil biology that makes soil nitrogen available to plants. The researchers have linked pesticide use to the reason why there has been a massive increase in the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers in the last 40 years.

There is yet another study showing that organic food has higher levels of cancer fighting antioxidants and more studies linking pesticides and GMO’s to serious health problems.

Given the growing amount of credible scientific data backing the numerous benefits of organic systems, one has to seriously question the funding priorities of governments and industries. Organic agriculture receives pittance compared to the many billions of dollars spent on conventional and GM research and development. Because organic systems are achieving similar to higher yields without the benefit of all this funding - three serious questions have to be asked.

  1. Has much of the funding into conventional farming systems been a massive waste of financial resources?
  2. What types of yields and economic benefits could we be achieving if similar resources had been applied to organic systems over the last forty years?
  3. Why do we need GMO’s for reducing pesticides and increasing drought tolerance when organic systems have already achieved these outcomes?

Best Regards
Andre Leu

Organic Farming Can Replace Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilisers

According to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report, soluble nitrogen fertilisers are causing serious environmental problems. The Report States ‘Since 1960, flows of reactive nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems have doubled.’

Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are responsible for a significant proportion of green house gases as well as the environmental pollution of rivers and seas. The reduction of these chemicals in agriculture is considered critical in slowing climate change and improving the health of aquatic environments.

The researchers, who conducted the University of Michigan study showing that organic agriculture can feed the world, concluded that synthetic nitrogen fertilisers could be replaced by growing legumes.

The researchers stated "We also evaluated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture."

Organic Production Increases Yields and Builds Soil Quality in Iowa

Scientists at Iowa State have recently reported the results of their "Long-Term Agricultural Research" (LTAR) experiments, in conjunction with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Results from the ongoing study of conventional and organic cropping systems near Greenfield, Iowa, are turning heads. By the fourth year in an organic crop rotation, organic corn and soybean yields rose above conventionally grown fields. The improving performance in the organic plots in Iowa is attributed to soil quality improvements: more soil organic matter, enhanced microbial activity in more diverse communities of organisms, and reduced soil acidity.

Anne Larson from the Leopold Center stated: "In the LTAR project, organic crop yields were equal to conventional acres in the three years of transition. In the fourth year, organic corn yields in the longest rotation outpaced those of conventional corn. Organic soybean, which can be grown for a price premium, also out-yielded conventional soybean in the fourth year of the rotation. The research also reported remarkable consistency of yields during the first three transitional years."
Source: The Organic Center

Organic Systems have Higher Yields in the Long Term
Since 1981, the Rodale Institute has conducted the longest running scientifically controlled comparison of organic and conventional crop production systems in the United States.

Continuous soil improvements after two decades have resulted in dramatic environmental improvements and production resiliency during weather extremes. From 1995 to 2006 organic corn yields (119 bushels per acre) have out-yielded conventional corn yield (110 bu/A). This period included both severe drought years and a record wet summer.

Rodale Institute research manager, Dr. Paul Hepperly stated "This transformation of the organic fields is somewhat like the race of the tortoise and hare, but in this case the organic systems now look to be winning the race on three fronts: soil quality, drought tolerance and overall yield."

"In our trials we have noted that soil quality—in terms of carbon, total nitrogen, and biological activity—has increased in each area under organic management, but not under the conventional system. These soil changes explain why organic soils have improved over time in our testing environment."

"Hard scientific evidence shows that agricultural productivity can be judiciously enhanced through long-proven, ecologically sound, soil-improvement methods without resorting to toxic chemicals."

"This new paradigm of productivity offers this potential: if we want to help all farmers to develop systems which will, in time, improve their yields while they increase the quality of food produced, and while they decrease their input costs and environmental impact, organic methods are needed by all farmers." Source:

Pesticides are Reducing Crop Yields by One Third

The United States National Academy of Sciences has published a study showing that pesticides are decreasing crop yields by one third. The researchers have discovered that pesticides are toxic to the soil bacteria that produce the forms of nitrogen that plants need.

The researchers focused on the ways that pesticides can disrupt signaling and impair the efficiency of Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixing (SNF) by bacteria. Some 30 pesticides are known to disrupt SNF. The most widely used pesticide in the United States, glyphosate, is toxic to nitrogen fixing bacteria.

"The results of this study demonstrate that one of the environmental impacts of pesticides and contaminants in the soil environment is disruption of chemical signaling between the host plants and N-fixing Rhizobia necessary for efficient SNF and optimal plant yield."

Using the information from this research and other published studies, the researchers concluded that pesticides and other contaminants are reducing plant yield by one-third as a result of impaired SNF. This conclusion suggests one mechanism, or explanation of the yield-enhancing benefits of well-managed, long-term organic farming systems.
Source: The Organic Center

Organic Tomatoes Have Higher Anti Oxidant Levels

A 10-year study comparing organically grown tomatoes with conventional ones has found that organic produce provides several major health benefits.

The study, by scientists at the University of California, found in particular, organic tomatoes contain almost double the level of flavonoids. Flavonoids are anti oxidants and have been shown to reduce high blood pressure as well as lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. They have been linked to reduced rates of some types of cancer and dementia.

Scientists measured the amount of two flavonoids - quercetin and kaempferol - in dried tomato samples. They found on average they were 79% and 97% higher respectively in the organic tomatoes than in the conventionally grown fruit.

These findings confirm recent European research, which showed organic tomatoes, peaches and processed apples have higher nutritional quality than non-organic. Source: The Organic Center

Organic Cotton Production Booming in India
India could be overtaking Turkey and becoming the largest producer and supplier of organic cotton along with the leading supplier of textiles and garments made of this increasingly popular eco-friendly fibre.

With around 175,000 hectares of land under organic cotton cultivation almost every big textile mill in India is now looking to produce at least some organic textiles for the international market.

The fact that numerous countries are producing organic cotton, without the use of any pesticides, must send a message to governments and industry to question the need for GM cotton that only achieves a moderate reduction in pesticide use. Source: Biofach

Pesticide News

Organophosphates Damage the Brain and Developing Nervous System

Researchers from the Duke University Medical Center, USA and the University of Milan, Italy have found that organophosphates can damage nerve and brain cells at doses below the threshold for systemic toxicity or growth impairment.

The scientist concluded: "Effects on neurotrophic factors provide a mechanistic link between organophosphate injury to developing neurons and the eventual, adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes." Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Organophosphate Exposure Damages Neurodevelopment in Children
Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia and the University of California, USA have found that small prenatal and postnatal exposures to organophosphates were associated with pervasive developmental disorders in children.

The researchers investigated the relationship of prenatal and child urinary metabolites of organophosphates (DAP) levels with children's neurodevelopment.

They concluded: "We report adverse associations of prenatal DAPs with mental development and pervasive developmental problems at 24 months of age." Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Another Study links Atrazine to Cancer and Endocrine Disruption
Scientists from the University of California, USA and Kyushu University, Japan have produced yet another study showing that Atrazine and its related herbicides cause breast and prostrate cancer as well as causing problems with reproduction.

The researchers concluded: "The current findings are consistent with atrazine's endocrine-disrupting effects in fish, amphibians, and reptiles; the induction of mammary and prostate cancer in laboratory rodents; and correlations between atrazine and similar reproductive cancers in humans. This study highlights the importance of atrazine as a risk factor in endocrine disruption in wildlife and reproductive cancers in laboratory rodents and humans."

This study adds to the overwhelming body of science, showing that this widely used group of herbicides is clearly unsafe at any level in the environment. It is time for the rest of the world to follow Europe’s lead and ban them. Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Atrazine Causes Altered Breast Development
Researchers from several universities and research institutions in the USA have established a link between a mother’s exposure to the breakdown products of Atrazine and altered breast development in female offspring at puberty.

The Scientists concluded: "Our data suggest that acute exposure to AMM [Atrazine metabolites] at levels as low as 0.09 mg/kg bw [birth weight] during late pregnancy causes persistent alterations in mammary gland development of female offspring, and that these effects do not appear to be related to bw or associated with pubertal timing’. Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Boys More Vulnerable to Toxic Exposure
A new report by the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment demonstrates that while all children are at risk from exposure to environmental hazards, male infants are more vulnerable in utero than females, with impacts on brain development of particular concern. "Four times more boys than girls are affected by autism and ADHD. Boys are also at increased risk for learning disabilities, Tourette's Syndrome, cerebral palsy and dyslexia," according to Kathleen Cooper with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. The study, released on Father's Day, urges parents to be conscious of toxic chemicals that might come into the home from the workplace, and encourages activism to reduce use of pesticides and other chemicals. Source: PANNA

EU Court Reverses Paraquat Ruling
The European Union's Court has rejected a ruling authorizing the use of paraquat as an active plant protection substance in the EU. Although the active ingredient had been banned in 13 countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Finland, in 2003, the Commission of European Communities (CEC) issued an order approving the use of paraquat. Sweden challenged the ruling and the judges ruled that the CEC's action showed a "disregard" of proper procedures.

Paraquat is a highly toxic poison that causes serious, irreversible, untreatable and potentially deadly effects. Paraquat is one of the most widely used active substances in pesticides. More than 120 countries use pesticides containing paraquat for weed control in orchards, forests and a range plantation crops, including sugar, coffee, cocoa, oil palms, rubber, bananas, and tea.

The Court found that Zeneca and other "notifiers" were faulted for withholding "studies on the link between paraquat and Parkinson's disease". The Court also noted that the CEC failed to acknowledge important studies from France and Guatemala that demonstrated the real-world risks of paraquat use. Source: PANNA

GMO News

GM Potatoes Cause Serious Health Damage

As several Australian states are reviewing the moratoria on the production of GMO’s more scientific research has come to light about their health risks.

Eight years after being conducted, a secret feeding study of Monsanto GM potatoes was finally published which showed that the potatoes caused 'considerable damage to the organs of the rats in the study'. Dr Irina Ermakova of the Russian Academy of Science said that the GM potatoes were ‘toxic’ to lab rats and ‘cannot be used in the nourishment of people’. Only three animal feeding studies on GM potatoes have been carried out - and they all show negative health effects. Even so, official scientists are still in denial about the emerging scientific evidence on harm and uncertainty of GM crops. Source:

Monsanto Forced to Withdraw GMO Food Safety Claim
The South African Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered Monsanto to stop advertising genetically modified foods as being "safe," ruling that the claims were "unsubstantiated." At issue was an ad that ran in February in a South African magazine. The Citizen has the story. In February a 1998 Monsanto study conducted in Russia was made public linking genetically engineered potatoes to intestinal cancer. GM Free Cymu had sued to get the Russian research released. Source: PANNA

Moscow Proposes Banning GMO Food in Russia
City legislators and the mayor of Moscow are pushing for a national ban on genetically modified food. The Russian daily

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