Archive for the ‘organic’ Category

Is organic overrated?

June 9, 2009

From a nutrition standpoint, there isn’t enough research to show that organic foods are more nutritious than regular foods…
Ashley Mullins, dietitian at Baylor All Saints Medical Center

ScienceDaily — Just a few short years ago, if you wanted to buy organic food, you had to make a special trip to an out-of-the-way grocery store. Today, organic products are, well, cropping up all over the place. Are they really worth the higher price or is it just another marketing maneuver? Full story


Is your Wonder Bread destroying the ozone layer?

June 9, 2009

The smokestack on the left is for conventionally produced bread, while that on the right is for organic. (Photo: Stock.xchng)

Organic food, bread specifically, just picked up a little more gleam for its halo. Research by the German environmental policy think tank Öko-Institut in Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, suggests that organic wheat flour breads are better for the environment because they emit up to 25 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than conventionally produced bread.

That applies to most organic foods, according to the Oko-Institut study. The bread finding was just one result of comprehensive research into the carbon dioxide emissions of food.

Carbon dioxide, or CO₂, is a naturally occurring compound and is used in a wide range of capacities from food processing and mining to dry cleaning and refrigeration. Evidence shows that our reliance upon CO₂ has dramatically increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to an uptick in atmospheric temperatures. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by about 35% since the beginning of the industrial age in the early 1700s.

“This difference was largely attributed to the higher amounts of energy used to produce synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in conventional agriculture,” according to, which reported on the study.  “Organic farming was also said to increase the content of organic matter in the soil, locking in up to 1.5 tons of CO₂ per hectare per year.”

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Is organic farming better for animal health?

May 28, 2009
Pamela Ruegg (Photo: University of Wisconsin)

Pamela Ruegg (Photo: University of Wisconsin)

Are organic farming methods better for animal health? A study being conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture is looking for the answer to that question.

One aspect of the study is being lead by Pamela Ruegg, a professor and extension milk quality specialist in the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin. The study, slated to last for 18 months, will examine the impact of organic farming methods on livestock. Researchers expect to conduct at least 300 visits to organic dairy operations throughout the country.

“The most important focus is to identify practices that help farmers optimize animal health and well being,” Ruegg said in a story that appeared in “Control of mastitis, production of high quality milk and management practices that contribute to enhanced animal well being are all of interest to us.”

Ruegg has done extensive work in mastitis causes and treatment. Mastitis is an infection of the udders that poses an ongoing and expensive challenge for dairy farmers. The infection sets in when cows’ udders become irritated due to rough treatment during milking or other injuries. Cows which are injected with the synthetic growth hormone rBGH are more prone to mastitis, as well.

More narrowly focused studies have been conducted in Europe and have found that dairy cattle on organic farms fare better when it comes to mastitis infection overall, but one study noted that dairy cows treated with conventional methods actually did better during dry periods when they were not being milked. Another study from Sweden suggests that conventionally managed cows subject to high milk production are also more prone to mastitis.

Opposition to possible ag secretary appointment grows

November 20, 2008

The possibility of President-elect Barak Obama appointing former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture has been raising cackles for the past few weeks. While no appointments have been made, as yet, proponents of organic farming as well as others are starting to take action.

Organic Consumers Association has begun collecting names in a petition drive to convince Obama to consider someone (anyone!) else. Among the arguments OCA raises in its petition:

-Vilsack has been an ardent supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn. These crops pose huge risks to human health and the environment.

Vilsack is a noted proponent of unsustainable and dangerous genetically engineered crops. Even, the biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership. Organic farming does not allow for the use of genetically engineered crops.

-Vilsack has fought strongly to limit states’ rights to regulate seed, GE crops, pharma crops and other proactive measures. We believe that municipalities and states have the right to enact laws that protect their welfare, health and the environment.

-Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a shill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Corporations, like Monsanto, are inherently undemocratic and threaten human health and sustainable agriculture with their toxic products.

-Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.

Vilsack makes no secret of his support for biofuels. As the former governor of Iowa, critics say he listened attentively to the demands of Big Pharma and the corn lobby. Even his My Space page touts his enthusiasm for biofuels.

Critics see his appointment, assuming he is appointed, as a win for Monsanto and a continuation of the status quo for consumers. Ezra Klein, in his blog at the American Spectator, writes:

The fact that Obama is already signaling that his chief agricultural appointment will hail from the land of corn, and whose agricultural experience will mainly have been keeping powerful corn interests happy with him, is not a good sign.

Organics taking a hit in recession economy

November 14, 2008

Formerly seen as a market stalwart, organic goods are taking a beating in the recession. reports that sales of organic foods is slowing as shoppers begin turning their noses at higher-priced goods. Private labels, those brands produced by retailers, however, are expected to do better as the economy tanks.

“Rising food and gas prices, the credit crunch and economic uncertainty have deeply affected people’s shopping habits,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research firm.

For the full story, go here.

Hard Times Ahead for Whole Foods?

August 30, 2008

Seventy-four percent of US consumers say they purchase organic foods, but 79 percent say they’ve had to alter their buying habits because of inflation. What does that mean for organic retailers?

Whole Foods has been taking it hard lately. Between its recent recall of beef for e.coli contamination and the impact of inflation and rising fuel prices on just about everybody, the national natural and organic foods marketer is not only suffering hits to its bottom line, but has come under increased media scrutiny. Many are questioning whether the demand for organic goods can survive as if Whole Foods were the bellwether of the entire movement.

Earlier this month, Treehugger reported on the failure of the United States’ largest natural foods market to make much of a positive impression on Londoners with its highly touted entry into the British market. After a loss of more than $18 million in its first year, its ambitious plan to expand to 40 stores throughout the UK seems rather unlikely for the time being. AlterNet reported this week that middle class consumers in the United States are cutting back substantially on their purchases of organic and natural foods.

“Slowed growth in organics reflects not only cuts in spending by current organic consumers but also a slower rate of adoption by new organic consumers,” AlterNet reported. “However, a May survey of 1,000 people by Information Resources found that 52 percent were buying fewer organics because of cost.”

Profits at Whole Foods are down 13 percent, and the store is struggling to combat its image as a high-priced retailer geared toward high-end consumers. Whole Foods higher-ups, however, insist their market base is strong as consumer demand for natural and organic foods is still high. Earlier this month, the chain conducted a poll through Harris Interactive to gauge consumer interest in organic foods. They released their findings earlier this week, touting the results as good news for their market share.

“It is reassuring to see these results as they confirm we’re on the right track in highlighting our value offerings for our customers,” said A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market, in a press release. “At Whole Foods Market, we’re reminding shoppers that they don’t have to trade down on quality to save money – they can continue to choose high-quality foods and stay within their grocery budgets.”

Among their findings*:


  • 74 percent of adults buy natural and/or organic foods.
  • 20 percent of those polled said more than 25 percent of their grocery purchases are natural and/or organic.
  • 70 percent of adults said they continue to purchase the same amount of natural/organic foods as they always have.
  • 67 percent prefer to buy natural/organic foods over conventional foods if prices are comparable.
  • 66 percent of adults said they want to find ways to fit natural/organic foods into their grocery budgets.
  • 79 percent of those polled said they have had to alter their spending habits because of rising prices.
  • 43 percent of adults said they now cook more meals at home and 40 percent are using more coupons.
  • 37 percent said they are going out of their way to find less expensive grocery items.

Le Less encouraging is that the numbers indicate more about what consumers would like to do than what they are actually doing. If only 20 percent of consumers say 25 percent of their total grocery purchases are organic, and 70 percent of consumers are not going to change their organic/natural food purchasing habits, it’s still a low number.

If 79 percent of those polled said they have had to alter their spending habits because of rising prices, that would seem to entrench an already small market share even further. That 66 percent of consumers would like to fit organic/natural foods into their budgets isn’t the same thing as saying 66 percent of consumers are indeed buying organic/natural foods.

More encouraging, perhaps, is the figure that says more people are cooking at home, more often.

* The Food and the Economy survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Whole Foods Market, Inc. between Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2008 among 2,209 adults ages 18 or older. Data were weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population.