Organic Farmers Do Well by Doing Good

For many organic farmers, adopting safe and sustainable methods of cultivation has long been a choice centered on conscience and principle. Now a new study indicates that doing the right thing has also become financially rewarding for these organic pioneers.

The study, published earlier this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that organic growers who charged a premium for their harvests were 22 to 35 percent more profitable than their conventionally-farming neighbors.

Organic agriculture, writes Chelsea Harvey in the Washington Post, “is often touted by environmentalists as a more sustainable alternative to conventional farming. And now, new research shows that it’s financially sustainable for farmers, too. … These bigger profits are good news for conventional farmers who are thinking of switching to organic agriculture. According to [study co-author David] Crowder, making the transition from conventional to organic is a long and financially risky process. There’s a ‘period of time where you have to document that the land was managed according to these principles of organic farming,’ Crowder said. ‘During that time, you’re not allowed to sell your products as organic, so you don’t get those price premiums.’ …

“A global expansion in organic agriculture could be good news for the environment in many ways. ‘There’s been other meta-analyses on organic agriculture that have shown that it enhances biodiversity of ecosystems and also helps promote the quality of nutrient cycling,’ Crowder says. ‘And it’s also been shown, of course, to have lower pesticide residues.’”

Author Harvey sees the higher profits for organic farmers as an example of market forces dovetailing with the needs of the planet and the interests of political elites: “With a growing body of evidence pointing to the environmental damage inflicted by large-scale agriculture — from rainforest clearing and other forms of habitat destruction, to high carbon outputs and the ecological impacts of pesticides — exploring more eco-friendly farming systems is a high priority for environmentalists and policymakers alike.”

Discover more here: http://wapo.st/1dJbjZ4

Escape of the Dreaded, Breaded GMO Salmon

For nature’s salmon, fulfillment, purpose and new life await upstream. For the prototype genetically-modified salmon, a whole new world awaits at the end of a different journey — a trip down the laboratory drain.

GMO salmon are currently being developed in what are described as land-based tanks in Canada and Panama. Faced with the prospect of this man-made fish becoming a pan-seared fillet in the near future, a group of scientists began studying what might happen to the global ecosystem if one of these life forms escaped into the wild. The results of their research suggest that the effects are unlikely to be pleasant.

GMO salmon is a 20-year project of AquaBounty Technologies to transform nature’s imperfect version of a salmon into a more profitable fish that grows faster, hungers for more, shows aggression, and contains an altered balance of nutrients. By splicing genes from the Chinook salmon and the eel-like ocean pout into the Atlantic salmon’s DNA, the company’s genetic designers ensure that each fish has a growth hormone stuck on high volume.

“According to the FDA’s environmental assessment of AquaBounty’s fish, [a] combination of screens, filters and netting block access to drains and pipes that might provide means of escape,” reports National Public Radio. “What’s more, AquaBounty says its salmon will be all-female and sterile, so if they do escape, they will fail to reproduce.

“But critics remain unswayed by such assurances. Environmentalists question just how dependable the company’s containment methods are. … There are also questions about the process used to render the fish sterile. It carries a very small rate of failure, but if a large number of fish escaped at once, a few fertile fish could introduce the transgenes into the wild population.”

The study of GMO salmon escape risks appears in this month’s issue of the journal BioScience. One of the authors, Fredrik Sundström of the Uppsala University in Sweden, told NPR: “We are expecting very little risk at the moment, because there are very few facilities that actually hold these fish. I think what’s a worry to some people is if it becomes commercialized and you find these kind of fish in millions of hatcheries around the world.”

NPR notes: “If that were to happen, he says, the concern is that growers might become lax about containment methods, and then it would just be a matter of time before a fish — or a few — got out. Sundström says scientists can’t predict with absolute certainty what would happen in the event of an escape. The real world is just too complicated.”

Discover more here: http://n.pr/1QQf3cq

Food Safety: A Legal Perspective

If you’re a food manufacturer, Bill Marler is someone you don’t want to see at your door. He’s not a consumer watchdog or government inspector, but rather something far more dangerous: a trial lawyer specializing in food safety cases.

Writing in Forbes this month, he reviews some of the deadliest recent examples of food contamination, beginning with the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993:

“Shortly after the Jack in the Box case, we represented most of the seriously affected victims of an outbreak of E. coli traced to Odwalla apple juice. Odwalla was a San Francisco-based processor that marketed ‘fresh’ juice with no preservatives. At least 70 people fell ill, and a 16-month-old Colorado girl died, from drinking unpasteurized juice that was believed to have become contaminated by apples that fell off trees and into cow manure before being harvested. The case had a nationwide impact, demonstrating that foodborne illness can be contracted from fresh produce as well as meats. …

“Vegetables came next. In 2002, more than 50 high school cheerleaders and dancers contracted E. coli from prepackaged lettuce served at a dance camp in Washington. We represented several victims, including a Spokane teenager who had to endure dialysis treatments because her kidneys were severely damaged by the E. coli. … The following year, at least 660 people were sickened, and five died, from hepatitis A contracted from Mexican green onions served at a Chi-Chi’s chain Mexican restaurant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The FDA attributed the outbreak to poor sanitation, leading to the largest single-source epidemic of hepatitis A in U.S. history. …

“In 2006, a nationwide E. coli epidemic was attributed to prepackaged, fresh-cut spinach packed for Dole Foods by Natural Selection Foods LLC, a California company that specialized in processing specialty lettuces, primarily spinach and spring mix. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA confirmed 205 illnesses in 26 states — including a frightening 31 with [hemolytic uremic syndrome] — 104 hospitalizations, and five deaths associated with the outbreak. Victims of the E. coli outbreak were identified in 26 states. E. coli was isolated on cattle ranches adjacent to the spinach fields.

“It goes on and on. We have handled cases of foodborne illness traced to packaged almonds, homemade apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, fruit salad, packaged breakfast cereal, sushi, orange juice, tomatoes, cantaloupe, gelatin desserts, and most recently, cantaloupe and ice cream. The microorganisms involved in these outbreaks range from Listeria monocytogenes, to E. coli O157:H7, to numerous strains of Salmonella, and include microbial toxins and viruses such as Clostridium botulinum, Cryptosporidium, Vibrio, hepatitis A, and Norwalk virus, to name a few. …

“So why is this happening now? First, it may be true that industrial food production fosters an environment friendlier to these bugs. Enormous feedlots, centralized processing plants, long-distance shipping, and even air conditioning systems may create new opportunities for pathogens to spread. And in any case, big business makes the system less tolerant of error. If a small town processing plant has an outbreak, a few people might be infected — perhaps too few to be detected. But today, with extended and increasingly efficient supply chains, a mistake in a peanut butter plant in Georgia or meat packing plant in Colorado can quickly sicken thousands of people around the country or even on a global scale.”

Read more here: http://onforb.es/1f12wSs

New One Degree Film: Save the Pollinators

One Degree’s newest film celebrates National Pollinator Week and the work of the Pollinator Partnership, a remarkable nonprofit that we are so proud to support.

The week runs from June 15 through Sunday, and is devoted to raising awareness of the plight of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. It’s the perfect time to teach the essential lesson that pollinators are both vital and fragile, diverse and endangered, and that without them the world would lose so much — colors, tastes, sustenance and joy.

The global collapse of bee colonies is one of the most visible signs of pollinator distress and the planet’s ecological peril. Bees have been disappearing from fields and dying off under the care of commercial beekeepers at alarming rates.

From the founding of our company, One Degree has fought against many of the practices that are believed to be causing bee colony collapse. By emphasizing sustainability, we advocate the preservation and restoration of bee habitats. By rejecting all pesticides, we are demonstrating that there is a better alternative to the use of these dangerous chemicals, including the neonicotinoids that may be poisoning honeybees. And by raising the banner of transparency, we are making it harder for commercial beekeeping operations to hide corner-cutting production methods that endanger the health and survival of bees, such as putting colonies on diets of glucose and antibiotics.

When we began sourcing ingredients for our honey-sweetened cereals, we became even more aware of the plight of this irreplaceable species. We knew that using the most bee-friendly raw organic honey we could find was an important step, but we wanted to do much more.

The result: One Degree is donating a portion of Sprouted Khorasan Honey O’s and Sprouted Oat Honey O’s sales to the Pollinator Partnership’s BeeSmart™ School Garden Kit program, a fun initiative that connects kids with the natural world around them, inspiring young minds to plant habitat gardens that attract and sustain honeybees. The kit is a rich resource for teachers and parents to use for kids in grades 3 to 6.

You can learn more about this wonderful program via another element of One Degree’s contribution to the work of the Pollinator Partnership: a video that we created after spending time with the group’s research director and, at her suggestion, visiting an elementary school in San Francisco where outdoor pollinator lessons have become an extremely popular part of the curriculum.

Follow the link to watch this special film, which we have donated to the organization: http://bit.ly/1GSMJQ0

Trans Fats Lose FDA’s ‘Safe’ Designation

This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that trans fats will no longer be classified as “generally recognized as safe” and will be banned entirely by 2018. The decision marks a dramatic fall for an additive that became food manufacturers’ favorite artificial fat soon after its debut in 1911 as Crisco.

Originally devised as a synthetic component for soap, partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats were inexpensive, lengthened shelf life and gave foods ranging from bread and pizza to cookies and pies a softer texture. By the time war rationing made butter scarce in the 40s, trans fats were well positioned to fill the breach. A decade later, consumption of trans fats surged again, as fears about the health effects of saturated fats often led to their replacement with that cheap, chewy soap additive.

Yet even as a series of studies in the 90s linked consumption of trans fats with heart disease, the compound remained on the FDA’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list. Widely seen as a glaring food safety loophole, GRAS designations allow manufacturers to use a particular ingredient without first proving its safety.

Consumers, however, have been removing trans fats from their own “safe lists” for years. A 2006 mandate requiring trans fat content to be listed on packaging exposed the presence of the heart-harmful substance in many popular foods, prompting some manufacturers to drop the additive from recipes. New York City and other municipalities imposed trans fat restaurant bans. Consumption fell by an estimated 85 percent.

That drop, together with the total ban scheduled for 2018, will save thousands of lives, scientists say. Writing in The Atlantic, James Hamblin notes: “In the late 1990s, at peak trans fat intake, Walter Willett at the Harvard School of Public Health calculated the effect [of the additive] to be at least 30,000 premature deaths annually. CDC director Thomas Frieden later endorsed an estimate of 50,000.”

Ironically, the demise of trans fats may compel some manufacturers to return to saturated fats. As Sabrina Tavernise reports in The New York Times: “Barry M. Popkin, a nutrition epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said consumption of saturated fats in baked goods actually increased from 2005 to 2012, probably, in part, because of reductions in trans fats. The fats are difficult to replace in baked goods because of their unique contributions to texture. However, trans fats are much more dangerous than any other fat, Professor Popkin said, so the agency’s decision will still reduce disease risks.”

Doubling Down: Monsanto’s Merger Bid

In the fictional world of monochromatic mad scientists, two heads are always better than one. In the real-life world of Frankenfood corporations, the same rule now applies. Monsanto, infamous for its laboratory GMO creations, is bidding to acquire Syngenta, a Swiss seed company that is also the global leader in the production of agricultural pesticides.

Syngenta has not been excited about Monsanto’s $45 billion offer, nor with what it terms the “reputational risk” of linking destinies with the U.S. conglomerate. In response, Monsanto has promised that, in the wake of any successful acquisition, it will leave America and change its name. That may not impress Syngenta, but it sounds like an incredible deal-sweetener for the American consumer.

Yet the prospect of a huge London-based splice-and-spray multinational dominating global seed and pesticide markets is raising anxiety among farmers, analysts and governments. “Antitrust regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere are expected to closely examine whether a combination would concentrate too much market power in the hands of Monsanto, already the world’s largest seed maker by sales and a big supplier of crop chemicals,” writes Jacob Bunge in the Wall Street Journal.

“Combined, Monsanto and Syngenta would hold 42% of the North American pesticide market, 28% in Latin America and 25% in Europe and the Middle East, according to estimates from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. The two together sell about 26% of the world’s pesticides. Monsanto sells 35% of all corn seeds in North America and 46% in Latin America, according to J.P. Morgan.”

Monsanto already has a great deal of practice marketing seeds and pesticides to farmers as an inflexible package. Many of its GMO seeds are designed to tolerate its potent herbicide Roundup. Not surprisingly, the company is already thinking ahead about how to build profitable new synergies with Syngenta’s own agricultural toxins.

“Monsanto has said its influence with farmers would help make a deal profitable for Monsanto and farmers alike,” the Journal reports. “The company’s president, Brett Begemann, told investors at a conference last month that Monsanto would be able to leverage its relationships with seed customers to sell them Syngenta chemicals, but didn’t plan to ‘bundle’ products. The company, he said, has been able to use incentive programs to steer seed customers toward specific chemicals.”

Recipe: Banana Ice Cream With Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps

This creamy, delicious vegan ice cream topped with crunchy Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps is exactly what we love whipping up on these hot summer days. We keep a couple bags of frozen bananas in the freezer with exactly this refreshing dessert in mind. For some variations try adding in some frozen berries, a little cinnamon, chocolate chips or nuts.

 

BANANA ICE CREAM WITH SPROUTED BROWN RICE CACAO CRISPS

3 large frozen organic bananas

1/8 cup almond or coconut milk (only if needed)

1/2 cup One Degree Organics Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps

DIRECTIONS

Chop the frozen bananas into small chucks and place in a high-powered blender or food processor.

Blend or process on high.  If needed, pour in milk — the less milk you use the thicker the ice cream will be, so use as little as possible. You will need to use a tamper or spatula to scrape down the sides and help all ice cream get completely smooth.

Transfer ice cream to bowls and generously sprinkle with Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps. Serve immediately.

Keep any leftovers frozen.

Enjoy!

Trust but Diversify: Big Food Panics

These days, Big Food is all about consumption — consuming mammoth rivals and small upstarts with big ideas.

Heinz is swallowing Kraft in a multi-billion dollar deal that promises a cost-cutting cornucopia for private equity investors, pink slips for loyal workers and a blurred focus on the long-term quality of the product. Two years earlier, Heinz itself was acquired by 3G Capital in league with a well-fed Warren Buffett.

Yet these American food Leviathans know that cutting costs and magnifying economies of scale won’t be enough to ensure their survival. Not in light of trends that show consumers are turning away from their products because they no longer trust either the ultra-processed recipes or the brands themselves. In response, the traditional brands are looking for successful insurgent food companies that can give them credibility among health-conscious consumers.

Late last month, Ad Age took a comprehensive look at these industry changes, and found a general level of panic at the top of the corporate food chain. The journal’s E.J. Schultz discovered that even as the big names hunt for rivals to acquire, some are also seeking to change ingredient content, or at least change perceptions of that content:

“Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison recently summarized the situation using unusually stark language when she told financial analysts at a February meeting that ‘we are well aware of the mounting distrust of Big Food.’ She added that ‘we understand that increasing numbers of consumers are seeking authentic, genuine food experiences and we know that they are skeptical of the ability of large, long-established food companies to deliver them.’ …

“One thing is clear: Anything seen as artificial is definitely out. And that has forced marketers into changing formulations for even the most iconic of brands.

“Consider Kraft, which recently announced it was taking artificial preservatives and synthetic colors out of its original Macaroni & Cheese brand, replacing the synthetic colors with ‘those derived from natural sources like paprika, annatto and turmeric.’ Nestle USA has pledged to remove artificial flavors and colors from its chocolate candy brands, which include Butterfinger and Nestle Crunch. Last year, General Mills took aspartame out of Yoplait Light yogurt.

“Walmart — the nation’s largest food retailer — on May 22 announced a new policy urging suppliers to reduce their use of antibiotics on farm animals, limiting it to medical purposes, not to spur growth. The company also called for public reporting on antibiotic use. ‘Our customers have told us that they want to know more about where their food comes from, and how it was sourced,’ Walmart stated on its corporate blog.”

Discover more here: http://bit.ly/1IVQare

Losing Trust: Big Food Seeks New Identity

Big Food has trust issues. That’s the theme of a comprehensive look at the changing American food industry landscape published last week in Ad Age. Companies that once enjoyed near-monopolistic dominance, plying ultra-processed meals and snacks to rapidly inflating customers, have seen market share erode in tandem with a collapse in trust.

With consumers shifting their spending to smaller companies offering healthier fare, the food conglomerates have turned to Madison Avenue for a lifeline. Suddenly what’s inside the box is an Ad Age story. As the trade journal’s E. J. Schultz reports:

“This rather unappetizing statement was tucked into a request for proposals recently sent to ad agencies: ‘Most of our food supply comes from factory farms, is dependent on GMOs and chemicals, and is not sustainably grown or raised.’

“The inflammatory language sounds like the typical musings of a fiery activist ready to take on Big Food. But it actually came from the Kashi brand owned by industry giant Kellogg Co. The brand is seeking ideas to ‘re-establish our identity in the natural foods movement.’

“The RFP, which was recently obtained by Ad Age, is a small but telling example of how the food industry has been shaken from its core, forced to reinvent itself in the face of shifting consumer demands. Families once reliably heaped their plates with products such as Stove Top stuffing from Kraft Foods, Hamburger Helper from General Mills and Kellogg cereals, along with similar products from other processed food titans. But now those consumers are increasingly migrating to smaller, upstart brands that are often perceived as healthier and more authentic.”

These new and innovative brands are often organic companies, independent and fiercely devoted to a clear set of ideals. As Schultz notes, the appeal of these brands is having an extraordinary impact in the market: “Some $18 billion in sales have shifted from large to small companies from 2009 to 2014 across all consumer packaged good categories, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group and IRI. Credit Suisse recently isolated the changes in market share among food and beverage companies and found that the largest 25 companies saw their control slip from a combined 49.4% share in 2009 to 45.1% share in 2014. Their ‘dominance of the core U.S. market seems to be slowly eroding,’ Credit Suisse stated in a report.”

Caught in such a downward spiral, how can the food giants recast themselves? One solution has been to reformulate the ingredient content of processed items. Another controversial gambit has been to absorb smaller organic competitors. In our next post, we’ll take a close look at examples of both, and consider whether these frantic image makeovers are likely to succeed.

EPA Wants Toxin-Free Safe Zones for Bees

As refugees in their own land, bees need protective safe zones, government regulators have concluded. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants temporary bee reservations that would be free of neonicotinoid pesticides and other toxins.

When honeybees need government safe havens, you know there’s a problem. According to Reuters: “Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that honeybees had disappeared at a staggering rate over the last year. Losses of managed honeybee colonies hit 42.1 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, up from 34.2 percent for 2013-2014, and the second-highest annual loss to date, according to the USDA.

“Commercial beekeepers reported adverse effects from pesticide applications to roughly 20,000 bee colonies pollinating almonds and roughly 2,000 colonies contracted to pollinate blueberries in 2014, and there are claims of tens of thousands more colonies similarly affected.”

The government plan seeks to extend protections to such commercially-employed bees, drones with the ability to produce a W-2 form in the event of a field audit.

“The restrictions are aimed at protecting bees from ‘pesticides that are acutely toxic’ to them, and would cover foliar applications when certain plants are in bloom and when commercial honeybees are being used to pollinate crops, the Environmental Protection Agency said in an 18-page outline of the rule. In foliar applications, the pesticide is put on the plant.

“Honeybees pollinate plants that produce roughly a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, and beekeepers travel around the country with managed hives to help the process. The rule …would apply to pesticide applications to blooming crops where bees have been contracted to pollinate and would cover 76 active ingredients used in pesticides, including a popular class of insecticide known as neonicotinoids.”

Originally developed by Bayer, this class of pesticides is chemically similar to nicotine. Their use has become so prevalent that commercial seeds are often coated with the chemical before planting. The proposed EPA rule does not address this critical element.

“EPA needs to take the next step and ban these poisoned seeds,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters.