Posts Tagged ‘organic’

It’s time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up, so grab a snack and a drink, settle in on the couch and get ready for some of the week’s best stories, videos and memes!

  • Remember me telling you about a little girl who sustained injuries from a house fire? Reese has dairy cattle and I know (well, know of, more like) her parents because of my years in show ring. Anyway, two years ago, Reese and her sister, Brinkley, were staying at their grandparents’ house when a fire broke out. Her sister and grandfather were okay, but Reese and her grandmother suffered pretty extensive injuries, with Reese bearing the brunt. Well, finally, after nearly 700 days in the hospital, Reese is going home! Check out the story in Bullvine (a dairy mag) and keep the Kleenexes handy.
  • This, which is so awesome, I’m sharing it again. Because I can’t remember if I’ve already shared it once.  FB_IMG_1454818465099
  • If you live in the Midwest, you’ve no doubt seen auger wagon, combines, tractors and planters moving slowly down the road. But, do you have any idea how much that very necessary equipment costs farmers? Illinois Corn Growers gave an excellent breakdown of the Heavy Cost of Machinery on their blog, Corn Corps. Check it out.
  • This, because, obviously. It was 72 degrees two days ago. Today, it has barely broken 40 degrees. And there’s snow in the forecast for the weekend. FB_IMG_1456014244576
  • If you’re not an Illinois resident, you may be unaware of the budget situation with which we’re currently dealing. The situation is this: We don’t have a budget and we probably won’t have one for quite some time. We’re now approaching one full year without the governor and legislature working together enough to get a budget in place. All of that political wrangling means that bills are going unpaid and state programs are being affected. The latest to hit the chopping block was the agriculture education line item, when the governor decided to zero out the funding in early March. To learn more about how this will affect students, check out these stories from WEEK and Prairie Farmer.
  • This, which I obviously love. And yes, I can say, ‘yes’ to everything on this list. It’s a badge of honor. 12794340_10208972861066778_8754308815924586604_n
  • And finally, this story from Forbes, about the USDA’s Certified Organic label. I’ve talked quite a bit about conventionally-raised vs. organic foods and how marketing plays a big role in the way both are perceived by consumers. This piece goes a bit deeper and it’s excellent.

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I found this on Facebook and have been thinking about it over the last couple of days.

I talk often about GMOs and organic foods here on the blog. I mean, they are a pretty hot topic these days. As for myself, I find it pretty easy to support conventionally-raised foods and GM products because I’ve done my research and believe that’s the best choice for my family.

But I also try my darndest to allow for others’ choices as well. In other words, if you whole-heartedly believe in the power of organics and non-GMO foods, it’s your right to spend your money on those products and choose them for your family.

We may not agree, but that’s okay.

Where I stumble is when I come across articles like this one that, without sources or background information, passively condemn one production type over another. Or, worse yet, include information that’s just plain incorrect.

The article mentioned above, from Eco Child’s Play, is touting the benefits of the first school lunch program to go 100 percent organic and GMO-free.

My first thought was, “Okay. Not my choice, or what I would want for my kid, but okay.”

Then I saw this:


All ingredients are organic, with absolutely no exceptions.

To be certified organic, a farmer must avoid using anything that might harm air, water or soil, including synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic food puts human health first, and supports farmers and businesses that do the same.”

Specifically, “Organic food puts human health first, and supports farmers and businesses that do the same.”

I know lots of farmers. Farmers who raise corn and soybeans, pigs, beef cattle, dairy cattle and more. Some of them are organic and some of them aren’t. All of them put human health first because all of them are feeding their own families the products they raise.

Make no mistake, organic farming isn’t farming without chemicals. It’s farming with chemicals specifically approved for organic production. And those chemicals can be just as dangerous as chemicals used in conventionally-raised crops. The key to raising food safe for human consumption isn’t necessarily organic or conventional, it’s the knowledge and care each individual farmers uses in raising that food.

Corn Soybeans

A little farther down, I saw this:


 A commitment to using only ingredients that are not genetically modified. We believe The Conscious Kitchen is the only 100% organic/non-GMO school food program in the country.

GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have yet to be deemed safe for humans or the environment, yet they are ubiquitous in today’s food. In the United States, companies are not required to label items that contain GMOs.

*Indicates a no-exceptions rule”

Honestly, this statement is the one that really got to me and it got to me because it’s just plain wrong.

Google GMOs and it’s an argument you’ll see again and again, despite the fact that study after study has proven that isn’t the case. Every time, the “study” backing the proof that GMOs are dangerous comes from a non-peer-reviewed journal, was authored by someone close to anti-GMO organizations, or has been retracted.

In fact, more than 2,000 studies (real ones that have been done by independent researchers and published in peer-reviewed journals) have documented that biotechnology doesn’t pose a threat to human health and GMO foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods.

The most recent was published a year ago. This study, which takes into account animals fed GMO crops like many others, is based on 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of GMO crops.

Nebraska 13

I’ll give you two guesses as to what they found out, but you’ll only need one. GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. From Forbes writer Jon Entine who reviewed the study:

“The field data represented more than 100 billion animals covering a period before 1996 when animal feed was 100% non-GMO, and after its introduction when it jumped to 90% and more. The documentation included the records of animals examined pre and post mortem, as ill cattle cannot be approved for meat.

What did they find? That GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There was no indication of any unusual trends in the health of animals since 1996 when GMO crops were first harvested. Considering the size of the dataset, it can reasonably be said that the debate over the impact of GE feed on animal health is closed: there is zero extraordinary impact.”

As for the rest of the Eco Child’s Play article’s assertion that, because of these foods, disciplinary actions are down, I can’t comment because, well, I’m not a scientist. Personally, I don’t think it’s because they’re feeding the kids organic, non-GMO foods. I think it’s because they’re feeding kids fresh foods, prepared in house, and bringing students and teachers together in an atmosphere that is conducive to communication and cooperation.

After all, that’s what food, of any kind, has a tendency to do; bring us to the table to talk and enjoy each other’s company.

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Image: Whole Foods

As you roam up and down the aisles at the grocery store and begin throwing items into your cart, what drives your decision-making? Are you constantly searching for products with the best price? Perhaps, you think nutritional value supersedes all or the way the food is grown is most important. Or, maybe it’s a combination of all three.

If you ask Whole Foods, the answer isn’t all three — it’s just one of those things. Sure, they would probably tell you all three factors are important to their customers. But two weeks ago, they decided to throw the other two out the window by focusing on one — the way the food was grown — when they announced a five-year deadline for labeling products in their stores that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Anti-GMO groups practically threw parades.

In the end, it is Whole Foods’ decision. They are, after all, a private company. And they aren’t doing this because of a federally-mandated law. Unfortunately, it could cause a ripple effect for which Whole Foods may not be prepared, damaging their suppliers and hurting their customer base.

To put it simply, GMO labeling will drive current prices up and will lead consumers to believe that non-GMO products are more nutritionally complete or safer (which, unfortunately for Whole Foods, just isn’t true). What’s more, labeling could effectively decimate the organic foods market — a niche market that was built and has thrived on the marketability of being non-GMO.

If you’ve been here before, this GMO-labeling-just-doesn’t-make-sense argument shouldn’t be news to you — we’ve covered it before.

But, Whole Foods’ announcement brought the issue back to the forefront. And this time, it got some surprising responses from, well, surprising sources.

Take, for example, The New York Times:

The Food and Drug Administration says it has no basis for concluding that foods developed by bioengineering techniques present different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Nevertheless, bills are pending in several states to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients (a referendum to compel such labeling was narrowly defeated in California last November). For now, there seems little reason to make labeling compulsory.

Consumers can already find products free of genetically engineered ingredients, with labels voluntarily placed by the manufacturers.

In addition to buying foods containing voluntary labels, consumers wanting to stay away from foods containing GMO foods don’t have to look any further than the Certified Organic aisle at the grocery store.

The point is, farmers and companies who grow and use GMOs aren’t in the business of hiding information, or sweeping any kind of ‘dirty little secrets’ under the rug. We want the same thing you want: A safe food supply that offers consumers choices and, quite frankly, offers farmers choices, too.

Unfortunately, labeling mandates could make those choices disappear by making the organic market — a market that many farmers and growers have worked hard to develop — virutally obsolete and rising prices for all consumers.

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The editor-in-chief of Men’s Health, David Zinzcenko (author of Eat This, Not That), recently wrote about the 15 biggest nutrition myths for an article in Yahoo! Health.  In it, he busts a couple of urban myths that we hope are soon (but suspect never will be) put to rest:

MYTH #1: High fructose corn syrup is worse than table sugar. 

Here’s what Mr. Zinzcenko had to say: “Both HFCS and table sugar, or sucrose, are built with roughly a 50-50 blend of two sugars, fructose, and glucose. That means in all likelihood that your body can’t tell one from the other—they’re both just sugar . . .  HFCS’s role as nutritional enemy #1 has been exaggerated.”

MYTH #14: Organic is always better

Writes Mr. Zinzcenko: “Organic produce is almost nutritionally identical to its conventional counterpart. The issue is pesticide exposure—pesticides have been linked to an increased risk of obesity in some studies. But many conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are very low in pesticides.”

MYTH #15: Meat is bad for you.

“Pork, beef, and lamb are among the world’s best sources of complete protein, and a Danish study found that dieting with 25 percent of calories from protein can help you lose twice as much weight as dieting with 12 percent protein. Then there’s vitamin B12, which is prevalent only in animal-based foods. B12 is essential to your body’s ability to decode DNA and build red blood cells, and British researchers found that adequate intakes protect against age-related brain shrinkage. Now, if you’re worried that meat will increase your risk for heart disease, don’t be. A Harvard review last year looked at 20 studies and found that meat’s link to heart disease exists only with processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli cuts. Unprocessed meats, those that hadn’t been smoked, cured, or chemically preserved, presented absolutely zero risk.”

We couldn’t have made those points any better.  However, Mr. Zinzcenko needs to be pressed on the logic he presents in one of his myths.  In principle, Myth #7 (Foods labeled “natural” are healthier), is spot on—those ‘natural’ labels are more about marketing than nutrition.  But in attacking the myth, he points out that “7UP boasts that it’s made with ‘100% Natural Flavors’ when, in fact, the soda is sweetened with a decidedly un-natural dose of high fructose corn syrup. ‘Corn’ is natural, but ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is produced using a centrifuge and a series of chemical reactions.”

Hold on.  Didn’t he just get done saying HFCS isn’t necessarily a bad thing? 

His characterization of the making of HFCS also needs to be taken in context.  HFCS is made by soaking corn in water to loosen the starch from the protein, separated in a centrifuge (as he correctly points out) and treated with enzymes.  If that sounds too “processed,” think about cheese.  Cheese is ‘separated’ from an animal when it is milked, and then treated with enzymes to get the desired flavor and consistency.  That’s why parmesan is different from brie.  Bread is another example of something that can be made to sound overly processed: it’s made with yeast, which is (are?) eukaryotic micro-organisms.  Kind of gives grandma’s homemade bread an ick factor, when put that way.

And as compared to “natural” cane sugar?  Cane sugar has to be milled, liquefied, treated with lime, boiled and also spun in a centrifuge before it’s useable.  Turning it into table or powdered sugar requires even more processing.

I’d give Mr. Zinczenko a 9.5 out of 10 for his article.  He started and finished strong, but a little extra twist in the middle cost him a perfect score.

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It was with concern that we read a headline on CNN’s health blog—“Does ADHD Come From Foods?

Our concern stemmed from the possibility the story was yet another attack on conventional agricultural production, that GMO’s and “factory farmed” animals were causing our children to run wild.

The article was predictably going to point out how we should all go vegan, and buy/consume only locally grown, organic foods.

Only it didn’t.

The blog cites a study out of the Netherlands which determined that no specific foods appeared to induce ADHD.  During the study, the children were fed an “oligoantigenic” diet, or one in which the foods selected were least likely to cause an allergic reaction.  What did the researchers include in their oligoantigenic diet?  Meat, vegetables, fruits, water, potatoes and wheat.  In other words, a well-balanced diet.  But there was no mention of organically grown this or non-genetically modified that.

The study ultimately drew no conclusions.  Although the researchers found 64% of the kids involved seemed to show improvement with a well-balanced diet, there was not enough evidence to point one way or another.  Regardless of the lack of a definitive conclusion, we’re all for kids replacing junk food and empty calories with fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. 

We congratulate the researchers and CNN for not spinning the study or its results, and for pointing out what we’ve said all along: a well-balanced diet with meat, fruits and vegetables is perfect for just about everyone.

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There’s a guy in Illinois who’s a farmer.  He farms 5000 acres of corn and soybeans over several areas.  He is responsible for all of the business decisions for the operation, including which varieties to plant, when to sell what he harvests and for how much. His tractors and combines are huge machines. They are equipped with laptop computers and the latest GPS technology. As part of his income, he sells seed and cattle equipment to other farmers. He sits on the Board of Directors for a statewide farm organization, often traveling to meetings and conventions and providing input on the operation of county farm bureaus in his district. During busy times, he hires outside employees to help get the job done around the farm.

There’s another farmer, also from Illinois. A fifth-generation farmer, he takes environmental stewardship seriously, maintaining buffer strips next to water sources on his land. He uses contour planting and no-till farming. He and his kids drink water from the well on his farm.  He tends to his animals daily, taking special care when they’re sick. He’s up in the middle of the night – every night – during calving season to check on birthing cows and heifers and their newborns. Hundreds of school kids visit his farm each year for personal tours to understand how their food grows.  Three generations of his family work on the farm.

If you were forced to label one of these farmers as a “family farmer” and one as a “factory farmer,” which would be which?

Here’s the catch:  these two real-life farmers are brothers, in charge of different operations on the very same farm.

How can that be, when everything about the first farmer appears to describe a factory farm?  The answer is simple—the term ‘factory farm’ doesn’t mean anything. It’s a term used by activists to make people assume facts not in evidence. They know you’ll hear or read the term assume it means something bad.  But do you know what they mean?  Do they mean a farm over a certain size?  If so, what is that size?  A hundred acres?  Five hundred?  Is it a farm that raises animals for meat, instead of just milk, eggs and companionship?  A farm that plants biotech crops?  Is it a farm that makes a certain amount of money?  Does it have to be all of the above—or just any one of the above?

If you Google “factory farm” you get about 260,000 results.  The first entry, from dictionary.com, defines a factory farm as “a farm in which animals are bred and fattened using modern industrial methods.”  Conjures up the image of robots forcing animals to mate on a conveyor belt while they’re being stuffed full of food, doesn’t it?

Wikipedia’s definition is this: “a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade.”  By this definition, a farmer trying to maximize efficiency to turn a profit – and using anything but horses and oxen to work the fields – is a factory farmer. As Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times wrote earlier this year, “farming without a financial motive is gardening.” 

We are blessed in this country to have plenty of food and many options … conventionally-produced food, organic, locally grown. The truth is that no matter the size of the producer or the type of food produced, a profit must be made so that money can be re-invested and the farmer can provide for his or her family.  Yet, the organic farmer with 20 acres or 20 animals is celebrated, but the conventional farmer with 500 acres or 500 animals is vilified.

Activists would have you believe that because someone farms a large number of acres or raises a lot of animals, he does a bad job; he endangers the environment and mistreats his animals. Not true. Quality assurance programs, regulations and inspection programs keep farmers accountable. And when someone tells you that America is being over-run by “factory farms,” know that 94% of the farms in Illinois are family farms. Beware of labels. They can be misleading, vague, and even meaningless.

Follow Illinois Farm Bureau – News & Issues on Facebook.

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