Why Organic Food Tastes Better
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Not every example of an organic food is going to beat its conventional counterpart in the taste department 100 percent of the time. In a well-known taste test conducted by Time magazine, using New York City chefs as the tasters, the chefs preferred the taste of organic over conventional foods 66 percent of the time. The TV personality Dr. Oz asked his audience to taste-test organic vs. conventional and organic did win, except for the frozen enchiladas. (My guess is that the conventional frozen enchiladas had been given some artificial flavor boosters, but I don’t know that.)
What’s important is that most of the time, people can taste the subtle quality differences between organic and conventional foods. The question arises, why does organic food taste better?
Think about the soil first. In a conventional field, chemical fertilizer contains nitrogen compounds, phosphorus, and potassium—the so-called macro nutrients. There’s nothing to blow the life in the soil aflame by feeding the naturally-present soil bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, worms, and the myriad of other creatures that live in the soil. Far from it. Conventional soil is doused with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides—chemicals designed to kill things. And so in conventional agriculture, the soil is used mostly to prop up plants. The plants themselves are given a meager diet of mineral fertilizer and the plants’ roots don’t find much else of value to absorb from the soil.
In good organic soil, on the other hand, life abounds. And the metabolic processes of that life feed the plants all kinds of nutrients besides the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium minerals of the conventional system. The result is that the plants—and the animals that live from those plants—become healthy. All their systems and functions are turned on because they have the raw materials they need for the systems to perform well.
First, they produce additional nutrients. Many, many studies have shown that organic food has more nutrients than conventional, despite corporate agribusiness’s propaganda to the contrary. Studies from the U.S., Europe, even the United Nations have shown the nutritional superiority of organic foods. Some of these nutrients add to the flavor of a food, or are associated with flavor development.
Think of a factory where automobiles are made. If the factory has only a limited number of parts, it will only be able to make a bare-bones automobile—engine, clutch, drive shaft, universal, seats, steering wheel. Now if that factory is supplied with lots of parts, the car might have a CD player and radio with surround speakers, antilock brakes, hybrid engine, and all the bells and whistles the engineers can think up.
A good patch of organic soil is like that well-supplied factory, giving its crops the ability to express all the systems programmed into their DNA. That’s why there’s more taste and better flavor, as well as greater amounts of nutrients.
The Prince’s Speech
By the way, Rodale has just published a pamphlet called, “The Prince’s Speech: On the Future of Food,” by H.R.H. Charles, the Prince of Wales, who is an indefatigable organic farmer and gardener. It’s as clear an exposition of why organic farming must become the way we conduct our food production as any I’ve seen. Wendell Berry wrote the introduction. It’s just $6.99 and you can buy a copy with one click at Amazon.
The following is based on reporting by Jane Ayers from Nation of Change, originally posted on February 15, 2012.
Willie Nelson, President of Farm Aid, recently called for the national Occupy movement to declare an “Occupy the Food System” action. “Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers and destruction of our soil,” he said.
Hundreds of citizens, (even including NYC chefs in their white toques) joined Food Democracy Now, gathered outside the Federal Courts in Manhattan on January 31st, to support organic family farmers in their landmark lawsuit against agribusiness giant Monsanto (the case is Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v. Monsanto). Oral arguments were heard that day concerning the lawsuit by 83 plaintiffs representing over 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers, and organic seed businesses.
The lawsuit addresses the issue of Monsanto harassing and threatening organic farmers with lawsuits for “patent infringement” if any organic farmer ends up with any trace amount of GM seeds on their organic farmland.
Judge Naomi Buckwald heard the oral arguments on Monsanto’s Motion to Dismiss, and the legal team from Public Patent Foundation represented the rights of American organic farmers against Monsanto. After hearing the arguments, Judge Buckwald stated that on March 31, she will hand down her decision on whether the lawsuit will move forward to trial.
Is Raw Milk Safe?
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Raw milk, like any raw food, comes equipped with all its natural enzymes and other health-promoting factors that are destroyed by pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization (sterilization). It is also a breeding ground for Lactobacillus lactic, one of the good bacteria that inhabit our intestines and make our cheeses, yogurts, kefir, and other curdled milk products. Remember Little Miss Muffet.
One of the other good things this and other beneficial bacteria do is to curb the growth of pathogenic bacteria. So raw milk has its own, built-in disease suppressing system. However, just as pests can “break out” and destroy a crop on a farm, a deadly germ like listeria can infect milk—if the cows are not properly raised.
Cows are fit by nature to eat and digest pastures grasses, weeds, and forbs. Given their natural food, their four-chambered digestive systems are very effective at digesting grass by action not only of the cows’ digestive juices, but especially by the beneficial bacteria in their stomach chambers. Like the soil bacteria that digest fresh organic matter in a compost pile, these bovine bacteria turn stalky plants and grass into rich food that supports the cow as she produces milk.
The problems start when farmers feed their cows beans and grains. The cows’ natural bacteria can’t digest beans and grains, and so other bacteria that can digest them find their way into the cow and set up shop. These bacteria cause disease not only in the animals, but in humans that drink infected milk.
A second matter is cleanliness. Cows are not naturally clean animals, the way cats are. If they are confined to barnyards, cows will slop along through a mixture of mud and cow dung. Here’s a video of what Dr. William Campbell Douglass, the author of The Milk Book, has to say about cows and cleanliness:
I drink raw, organic, whole milk every day. I make it into kefir. The milk comes from a dedicated dairyman near Fresno whose cows are pastured, clean, and whose milk is regularly tested for the presence of pathogens. I buy it at Oliver’s Market, a local chain of three stores in Sonoma County that actively seeks out the best organic products.
As for the safety of raw milk, consider that many of the world’s finest cheeses are made from raw milk. Don’t take my word for its safety. Do some research on the topic. Decide for yourself whether you want to seek out a source for you and your family. I’ll only say that I personally am a confirmed believer in its value in an organic diet, especially when it’s so easily made into kefir.
How Does Natural Differ from Organic?
The following was written by Ronnie Cummins, the co-founder and National Director of the Organic Consumers Association. He makes the point that the “natural” label on food products has no legal meaning—other than to allow markets to mark up conventional produce as though it’s “almost organic.” It’s worth reading.
Walk down the aisles of any Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, or any upscale supermarket and look closely. What do you see? Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic “natural” (i.e. conventional) foods and products. By marketing sleight of hand, these conventional foods, vitamins, private label items, and personal care products become “natural” or “almost organic” (and overpriced) in the “natural” supermarket setting.
It’s no wonder – and no accident – that consumers are confused. Companies selling these products are simply telling us what we want to hear, so they can charge a premium price.
In fact, all these “natural,” “all-natural,” and “sustainable” products are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a third-party certifier. Most “natural” or conventional products – whether produce, dairy, or canned or frozen goods – are produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical-intensive and energy-intensive.
Test these so-called “natural” products in a lab and what will you find? Pesticide residues, Genetically Modified Organisms, and a long list of problematic and/or carcinogenic synthetic chemicals and additives.
Trace these “natural” products back to the farm or factory and what will you find? Climate destabilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and sewage sludge – not to mention exploited farm workers and workers in the food processing industry. Of course there are many products in WFM, Trader Joe’s and other natural food retailers that bear the label “USDA Organic.” But the overwhelming majority of their products are not so labeled.
Demanding that natural and conventional products and producers make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. And standing in the way of making this great transition are not only Fortune 500 food and beverage corporations, Monsanto, and corporate agribusiness, as we would expect, but the wholesale and retail giants in the natural products sector as well.
We cannot continue to hand over 88 percent of our consumer dollars to out-of-control, biotech, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, greenhouse gas- polluting corporations and “profit-at-any-cost” retail chains such as Wal-Mart.
News Note: Thanks to consumer pressure, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills have all agreed to not use Monsanto’s GM (Bt) sweet corn in any of their products.
The Tragedy of Bt Corn
Speaking of Monsanto’s Bt sweet corn, let me explain what it is. There is a bacillus called Bacillus thuringiensis that organic farmers and gardeners have used for decades to kill caterpillars—the kind that are the larval stages of insects like corn earworm, corn rootworm, monarch butterflies, tomato hornworm, gypsy moths, cabbage worms, and many others. This bacterial disease primarily targets caterpillars. Corn farmers, especially, have found it to be cheap and effective. Bt was one of the most effective and environmentally safe pest controls that organic practitioners had, because it was spot-applied just to places where the pests had broken out.
So Monsanto comes along and takes the genetic code that produces the caterpillar toxin in the bacteria and inserts it into the genetic structure of the corn itself. Now the corn produces its own pesticide as it grows. This is sweet corn we’re talking about—the kind we eat at summer barbecues and picnics. This is unique corn, so Monsanto owns the patent on it. It’s hard to keep these genetic modifications confined, however, and pollen from the Bt corn may blow in the wind and land on non-Bt corn silk in neighboring fields. Now the pesticide gene is transferred to the corn kernels in the neighboring fields. Now Monsanto comes to the farmer who grows corn in the neighboring fields and says to him, “You’re growing our patented corn. We’re suing you.” And so Monsanto has done, over a hundred times.
Worse, because so much corn now produces oceans of Bt toxin, evolutionary processes select for those insects that can resist the toxin, and so the Bt corn becomes the driving force behind the development of Bt-resistant insects. As resistant insects proliferate, Bt toxin becomes less and less effective. This is already happening. Tragically, Monsanto has ruined a perfectly natural and effective, organic insect control in its profit-driven quest to dominate world agriculture. And that’s no exaggeration, even if it sounds like one.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopath who writes at his website (www.mercola.com), has other news that should interest you. Here’s just a little of what he has to say:
“Cry1Ab,” he writes, “a specific type of Bt toxin from genetically modified crops, has for the first time been detected in human and fetal blood samples. It appears the toxin is quite prevalent, as upon testing 69 pregnant and non-pregnant women who were eating a typical Canadian diet (which included foods such as soy, corn and potatoes), researchers found Bt toxin in 93 percent of maternal blood samples, 80 percent of fetal blood samples, and 69 percent of non-pregnant women’s blood samples. This insecticide toxin is already showing up in fetal blood, which means it could have an untold impact on future generations.
“Given that Bt toxin has now been confirmed in the human bloodstream, it should come as no surprise that it has also infiltrated the environment.. According to one study, 50 of the 217 streams, ditches and drains near cornfields that researchers tested were found to contain Cry1Ab above six nanograms per liter. The protein is getting into the waterways via corn stalks, leaves, husks and cobs that blow into the water — a phenomenon that’s incredibly common since farmers often leave such material in fields to help minimize soil erosion.
“A new study in the UK has confirmed that if you eat GM foods that contain the insecticidal Bt toxin, it appears likely that it will be transferred to your bloodstream…however, the UK government, which funded the study, chose not to fund any follow up research to see if GM corn — which contains the BT toxin — might continue to create insecticide inside your intestines. Now the evidence has come through that it does transfer, at least to your bloodstream (and the bloodstream of your baby if you’re pregnant).”
Dr. Mercola has gone on record saying that due to the amount of GM crops now grown in the United States, every processed food you encounter at your local supermarket that does not bear the “USDA Organic” label is filled with GM components.
This means that the public has been eating GM foods for the last decade, whether people knew it or not. Thank Congress for this, and the USDA and Monsanto. What ultimate impact these GM foods will have on our health is still unknown, but auto-immune diseases top the list of most likely side effects. This is yet another very important reason to choose organic food. The thought that Bt corn may be turning our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories is appalling.
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on Kefir!
About two months ago, I bought a kit to make kefir (pronounced keh-FEER, although Americans, with our penchant for putting the emphasis on the first syllable, tend to call it KEE-fur) from a seller on eBay. The cost was $26. The kit included a baggie of milk kefir grains and one of water kefir grains, a plastic strainer, and instructions for use. It has turned out to be one of the best $26 purchases I’ve ever made.
If you buy commercial kefir at the store, it’s a thin and rather unappealing version of what you can make at home. My local market sells raw, whole, organic milk from pastured cows, and believe me, that makes kefir that’s a hundred times better than the commercial product.
Kefir grains are a combination of bacteria and yeast in a matrix of proteins, fats, and milk sugar (lactose), and this symbiotic matrix forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower florets. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY—symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast) can be found in these grains. Some scientific sources have found up to 30 different kinds of bacteria in the grains.
Kefir grains contain a water soluble polysaccharide known as kefiran, which imparts a thick texture and smooth feeling in the mouth. Kefiran ranges in color from white to yellow. The grains can grow to the size of walnuts (although rice-sized grains and sizes in between also develop).
Kefir has microorganisms that colonize the intestines and benefit health by protecting the intestine against disease-causing bacteria and by strengthening the diverse ecosystem of the gut, which supports health. The kefiran in kefir has been shown in one study to suppress an increase in blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol levels in rats. Kefir also contains compounds that show antimutagenic and antioxidant properties in vitro, although it is not yet clear whether these results occur when kefir is drunk.
Making kefir is simple. In the morning, when I’m making breakfast, I strain off the kefir to be drunk straightaway, then fill the quart canning jar that holds the kefir grains halfway with raw, organic milk. I cover the top with a piece of paper towel and screw it down with the metal band that comes with the canning lid, although I don’t use the lid. This let’s the kefir breathe and keeps out insects and dust and any odd bacteria, fungal spores, or yeasts that are floating in the air. The next morning, I take off the paper lid, pour the contents of the jar through the plastic strainer that catches the grains into a bowl that catches the freshly-made kefir. The lumpy, milk-sodden grains go back into the jar, and I again fill it halfway with the milk, then set the jar back in the kitchen cupboard at room temperature, where the grains will make tomorrow’s kefir over the next 24 hours. Every three or four days, I let the grains rest in their plastic strainer (never use metal on or in the kefir grains, or put them in a metal container) and scrub out the quart jar. Then I put the grains into the clean jar and add the milk.
For water kefir, I dissolve a couple of tablespoons of Sucanat—natural and organic sugar—in two or three cups of water and add this to a quart jar holding the water kefir grains, which resemble small, translucent cubes. I add half an organic lemon, to give the water kefir a nice citrusy flavor. This sits covered like the milk kefir with paper toweling held tight with a canning lid band in the cupboard next to the milk kefir. After two or three days, I drain off the water kefir and store it in the fridge, then prepare a new batch with the same grains. These grains also reproduce, and, like the milk kefir, extra grains can be frozen.
Milk kefir has a slightly sour taste and a texture like a thin yogurt, but it’s rich and feels good just drinking it. You can add a splash of fruit juice to the kefir if you find the kefir’s taste too cheese-y, but many people prefer it plain because its taste fairly shouts the word, “Wholesome!”
Kefir originated in the North Caucasus region, but no one knows precisely where or when. It comes to us from the mists of time, made by the SCOBY that has been handed down through many generations. As you make your kefir every day, you’ll find that the grains grow in number, doubling in amount over a month or so. The extra can be frozen in plastic baggies, given to friends, or shared with members of your local Fermenters Club (www.fermentersclub.com). But don’t throw them away. They are our friends and they are partners in health.
One noticeable way they will improve your health is to increase your regularity, lessen the need to strain at stools, and decrease any digestive problems you may have. It reduces flatulence and is a wonder food for your intestinal flora. In fact, kefir microbes colonize your gut, especially the colon, and become part of your intestinal flora—part of you, in fact.
The Rodale Institute: Label GM Foods Now
The Rodale Institute has issued the following statement:
“We wholeheartedly support the movements across the country to institute labeling laws for genetically engineered products. Research has already shown serious risks associated with the genetic engineering of our food supply including:
• Toxicity to human embryonic cells and endocrine disruption.
• Transfer of GE genes from the food we eat to microflora in our intestines.
• Herbicide resistant ‘superweeds’ infesting 13 million acres in 23 states, many of which can be linked directly back to genetically engineered crops.
• 1,500 percent increase in glyphosate use since the introduction and widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant GE corn, soybeans and cotton.
• Rampant contamination of non-GE crops.
“Even setting the research aside, the fact remains: If genetically engineered products are different enough to patent, different enough to protect, different enough to market as unique plants to farmers, then they are different enough to be labeled.
“All American citizens have the right to know what is in the food they are buying, and should be able to choose for themselves whether or not they eat genetically engineered products.”
Good News from France!
According to The Scottish Farmer magazine, France has held firm in its opposition to Monsanto’s genetically modified MON 810 corn and the agrichemical multinational has admitted defeat.
Monsanto had been putting legal pressure on the French government to lift its 2008 cultivation ban on MON 810, first with a successful appeal to the European Court of Justice, then with a follow-up case heard in France’s own highest court, the Council of State.
But despite both these institutions’ ruling that the ban was “insufficiently justified in law,” the French government, backed by President Sarkozy, has insisted that it will still not allow cultivation of the biotech maize.
Now Monsanto has announced that it will not be selling seeds for MON 810 in France this year.
France’s stand–and Monsanto’s capitulation–has been warmly welcomed by anti-GM lobbyists GM Freeze, whose campaign director Pete Riley said: “The decision by Monsanto not to market MON 810 seeds in France in 2012 is yet another sign that Monsanto has failed to convince the public or policy makers that there is any benefit to growing to growing GM crops.
“This needs to be acknowledged by industry and politicians and there should be a big shift to agricultural research and development which addresses the future sustainability of farming in Europe. EU policy needs to forget about the bottom line of biotech corporations and focus on developing agro-ecological farming which provides for the needs of farmers, consumers, the environment and future generations.”
Five other EU countries–Germany, Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, and Hungary–have current bans on MON 810 cultivation in place. The European Court of Justice has also ruled that honey contaminated with GM pollen must be authorized as a novel GMO product and labelled as such before it can be sold.
Peas Four Ways
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There came a day in 1976 when I first heard that snap peas had been invented and that we—the editors at Organic Gardening magazine—were going to get pea seed to plant and sample.
I erected trellising in the garden and planted the peas on St. Patty’s Day, March 17, the traditional day for planting peas in USDA Climate Zone 6, where I was living while working at the magazine.
Those first peas showed promise, but they also had problems. First, they had so much hybrid vigor that they grew to the top of my six-foot trellis and then continued to grow for another two to three feet, flopping over themselves. While the pods were edible, they also had a string running down the concave side of the pod that had to be pulled off by hand. Years earlier, gardeners grew string beans that had a similar string running down one side. That’s why they were called string beans. But breeders had bred the strings out of them, and by 1976, string beans were known as snap beans, a name they bear even today. Same with peas. The first edible-podded peas that weren’t Asian snow peas had the string, but it was subsequently bred out of them. Breeders also increased their sweetness and tamed their vigor. Today we have bush snap peas that only grow two to three feet high, with no strings in the pods, and a wonderful sweetness. And you can eat these well-behaved snap peas in four different ways.
First, if the seeds are organic, meaning they are not treated with fungicides, you can sprout the pea seeds. Pea sprouts have a delightful, full pea flavor and make a fine addition to sandwiches and salads.
Second, you can harvest pods when the peas inside the pods grow so they
just touch one another—like regular garden or English peas. Then you just have to shell out the peas, discard the pods, gently give the peas a little cooking, and serve them as peas only.
Third, you can blanch them pods and all for a minute in boiling water and eat them that way, or simply crunch into the raw pods, mange-tout. Personally I like them raw, pods and all.
Fourth, if you grow them, you can harvest the little packets of folded leaves and tendrils at the tips of the growing vines and stir-fry or steam them as Asian-style pea shoots. But don’t take them all, because those packets will unfold to become flowering shoots that will give you snap peas.
Of course, do it all organically.
As you know, we organic types have been trying to get the FDA to require foods containing GMOs to be labeled, so we can avoid putting GMOs into our bodies and our children’s bodies—so far without success. Now a California group is trying a different tack. It’s trying to get an initiative on the California ballot requiring GMO labels on all GMO-containing foods produced in California, and as you know, California produces a lot of the food that’s sold across America, so a successful ballot initiative will have wide-ranging effects. To get the measure on the ballot requires signatures—millions of them. So the group (www.labelgmos.org) has mounted a campaign to find volunteers who will collect signatures to get GMO labeling on the ballot. Visit the website or email them at email@example.com for more details.
America’s largest corporate dairy, a biotech firm, and the USDA are being accused of conspiring to corrupt rulemaking and pollute organics. An organics watchdog group is seeking an investigation and has filed ethics charges, according to its recent press release.
The press release is important enough to reprint here. It contains information every person interested in keeping the organic label strong should know. Here’s the release:
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry research and watchdog organization, announced it has formally requested the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate corruption at its National Organic Program resulting in the use of illegal synthetics in organic food and then allowing powerful corporations to “game the system” for approval “after the fact.”
The controversy surrounds products developed by Martek Biosciences Corporation. Martek is part of a $12 billion Dutch-based conglomerate that recently petitioned USDA for approval of its genetically modified soil fungus and algae as nutritional supplements in organic food.
Martek’s formulated oils are processed with synthetic petrochemical solvents in a blend containing a myriad of other synthetic chemicals. Supplements derived from these oils, commonly marketed as DHA and ARA, are being added to milk, infant formula, and other organic foods by such companies as Dean Foods (Horizon), Abbott Laboratories (Similac) and Nurture, Inc. (Happy Baby).
“This is a long-standing controversy that the USDA seems to think is just going to go away,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director of the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute.
After a formal legal complaint by Cornucopia and an investigative story by the Washington Post, the USDA announced in April, 2010, that it had “inappropriately” allowed Martek oils to be included in organic foods.
The scandal contributed to the removal of the previous director of the National Organic Program (NOP), who overruled her staff’s decision finding Martek supplements were illegal in organics, after she met with a prominent Washington lobbyist, William J. Friedman.
The former NOP director’s decision was reversed in April, 2010. But instead of immediately ordering the removal of these unapproved synthetics from organic food, the USDA delayed enforcement by 18 months.
“It’s unacceptable that these materials are still in organic food and that corporations think they can manipulate the system and get away with it,” said Kastel.
In December, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA Secretary on organic matters, narrowly approved the Martek petitions for their patented versions of DHA and ARA. “All hell broke loose at the meeting in Savannah as the controversy grew extremely heated,” Kastel noted.
In its complaint to the OIG, Cornucopia alleges that Martek misrepresented their synthetic products and manipulated the vote by the NOSB. “Martek oils, marketed under the Life’s DHA™ brand and included in organic infant formula, milk and baby food, are processed with petrochemical solvents like hexane or isopropyl alcohol, both of which are explicitly banned in organic production,” stated Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at Cornucopia.
Although Martek told the board that they would discontinue the use of the controversial neurotoxic solvent n-hexane for DHA/ARA processing, they did not disclose what other synthetic solvents would be substituted. Federal organic standards prohibit the use of all synthetic petrochemical solvents, including isopropyl alcohol, which is currently used to extract DHA algal oil for use in products such as Horizon milk.
Martek again brought in William J. Friedman, with the powerful Washington law firm of Covington and Burling, to lead the approval process. Friedman appeared to deliberately mislead NOSB members into believing that the powdered form of Martek’s DHA oil was not covered in the petition for approval. “That’s not the petitioned material,” he stated. This particular product formulation uses microencapsulation (banned in organics) and includes a number of additional synthetic materials that have never been reviewed or approved for use in organics.
“Mr. Friedman’s statement thus appears patently false in an apparent attempt to intentionally mislead the NOSB. This apparent subterfuge led, in turn, to the NOSB’s failure to review other aspects of these materials which would have disqualified them, under law, for inclusion in organic food,” Cornucopia’s Kastel said.
In addition to the letter to the OIG, Cornucopia has requested the District of Columbia Bar to conduct a formal ethics investigation of Mr. Friedman’s conduct. “The dog and pony show put on by Martek and their largest customer, Dean Foods, was without precedent in the organic industry,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association, who was present in Savannah.
The only scientists who testified at the meeting on the DHA issue were all on Martek’s payroll, and focused on research showing benefits of consuming naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish and breast milk), while ignoring the preponderance of published peer-reviewed research that shows that these health benefits are not gained from consuming Martek’s manufactured DHA additive.
Dean Foods, Martek’s largest customer, brought in a well-known web pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene, who has acted as a public relations agent endorsing Horizon brand organic milk with the added Martek DHA oils.
Although Dr. Greene represented himself as a “consultant,” simply answering questions for Dean Foods, and stated he had previously worked for two other organic companies, he failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest in commenting on the benefits of Martek’s manufactured DHA supplements.
Dr. Greene has also accepted compensation from Mead Johnson, the largest conventional infant formula manufacturer, to promote Martek’s DHA oil in their products, and even has his own product line of nutritional supplements that include Martek DHA, marketed by Twinlabs with his name and photograph on the product package.
“It is unconscionable that a physician, who accepted money from a big drug company to promote synthetic DHA—which many believe promotes the use of baby formula at the expense of the nutrients in breast feeding—failed to disclose such a gross conflict of interest when he testified before the governmental body on certified organic standards,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch, which helps expose corporate PR tactics.
Cornucopia’s complaint to the OIG also included evidence documenting that three corporate-backed members of the NOSB, who voted in favor of this petition, had undeclared conflicts of interest. Two of the board members work for Earthbound Farms, a giant produce distributor that also compensated Dr. Greene during 2011. A third member of the NOSB board works for General Mills which partnered with Martek, starting in 2009, on the technology to microencapsulate their DHA and ARA oils.
Adding fuel to the controversy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just announced the end of its investigation into Dean Foods’ advertising campaign for Horizon DHA supplemented milk. The FTC is forcing the dairy giant to alter claims in its advertising concerning “brain development or function, cognitive development or function, intelligence, and learning abilities in children over the age of two.” This action resulted from a complaint filed by The Cornucopia Institute based on its research of the fraudulent and misleading health claims.
Although the FDA has dismissed complaints about the safety of Martek products in infant formula, reports persist from parents and healthcare providers of infants who experience serious gastrointestinal symptoms from consuming Martek’s DHA and ARA oils in infant formula, raising serious public health questions about the marketing of these products.
The Cornucopia Institute has sent a formal briefing paper on these matters to all members of the National Organic Standards Board. “We are asking the NOSB to reopen their deliberations and consider rescinding their approval of Martek nutritional oils,” Kastel added. “If the board fails to act now, protecting the integrity of organics, it risks changing the working definition of the organic seal and degrading its value in the eyes of consumers.”