Home News & Events Alternative Agriculture News -- February '99

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Alternative Agriculture News
For February '99, from the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture.

red ballCDC Has Never Compared E. Coli Risks of Organic, Traditional Food
red ballSmithsonian Steps Up Campaign for Shade-Raised Coffee
red ballPaul Johnson Named Director of Iowa DNR
red ballPositions
red ball"Dead Zone" May Require Change in Fertilizer Practices
red ballCanada Rejects Use of BGH for Cattle
red ballUSDA Allows Organic Label for Meat and Poultry
red ballAgriculture Research Prize Seek Nominations
red ballUpcoming Events

Back Issues

©1999, Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, 9200 Edmonston Road, #117, Greenbelt, MD 20770. Phone: (301) 441-8777. E-mail: hawiaa@access.digex.net.

This newsletter is also available to subscribers to the sanet-mg discussion group. To subscribe, send a message to: almanac@ces.ncsu.edu. Leave the subject line blank and in the body of the message type only: subscribe sanet-mg

Subscription information for the hard-copy version is available at the Wallace Institute website.

In addition to this monthly newsletter, the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture publishes the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of research on alternative agriculture. It is a scientific forum for disseminating technical, economic, and social research findings about the character and requirements of alternative agriculture systems.

The current issue (Volume 13, No. 3) features articles on:

  • Alternative practices for managing plant-parasitic nematodes.
  • The impact of agricultural management on nitrate concentrations in drainage waters.
  • An assessment of legume and non-legume ground covers on coleoptera.
  • The agronomic and economic performance of wheat and canola-based double-crop systems.
  • Soil improvement following addition of chipped wood.
  • An examination of microbiological and biochemical parameters in a long-term fertilization trial.

Subscriptions to AJAA are $44 for libraries; $24 for individuals; and $12 for students. Find more information about AJAA at he Wallace Institute website.

red ballCDC Has Never Compared E. Coli Risks of Organic, Traditional Food

Contrary to a well-circulated article written by Dennis T. Avery, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has never conducted a study that compares the risk of contracting E. coli bacteria in both conventional and organically grown food. Avery is the Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, which is "a research organization dedicated to thinking about the future from a contrarian point of view," according to its literature.

Avery published an article entitled "The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food" in the Fall, 1998, issue of American Outlook, a quarterly publication published by the Hudson Institute. Avery's article began, "According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and 'natural' foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7)."

A statement from Dr. Mitchell Cohen of the CDC last month states that: "Since 1982, most of the outbreaks of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 have been associated with foods of bovine origin (e.g. - ground beef). In recent years, a wider spectrum of foods, including produce, have been recognized as causes of outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods. CDC recommends that growers practice safe and hygienic methods for producing food products, and that consumers, likewise, practice food safety within their homes (e.g., thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables). These recommendations apply to both conventionally grown and organic foods."

Sharon Hoskins of the CDC told Alternative Agriculture News that the CDC did not have any such research currently in the works, nor was it planning to conduct any in the future because such research was "not warranted."

"We are not planning any research on organic and natural foods," she said. She also said, "We have tried to contact the magazine and have never been able to speak with anyone at American Outlook, including the editor. There has been no response."

Avery's article has been excerpted in several other publications, including The Wall Street Journal, whose excerpt included these sentences from the American Outlook article: "Consumers of organic foods are also more likely to be attacked by a relatively new, more virulent strain of the infamous salmonella bacteria. Salmonella was America's biggest food borne death risk until the new E. coli 0157 came along. Organic food is more dangerous than conventionally grown produce because organic farmers use manure as the major source of fertilizer for their food crops. Animal manure is the biggest reservoir of these nasty bacteria that are afflicting and killing so many people. Organic farmers compound the contamination problem through their reluctance to use antimicrobial preservatives, chemical washes, pasteurization, or even chlorinated water to rid their products of dangerous bacteria."

No documented research sources were given to support these assertions.

The Organic Trade Association has also disputed Avery's article, reporting that, "According to Robert Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the CDC, there is no such data on organic food production in existence at their centers....Let the record show that manure use is a common agricultural practice for conventional and organic food production....Any organic grower that uses the certified organic label must abide by safe food production standards, and, as with all food producers, must be in compliance with their local and state health standards."

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red ballSmithsonian Steps Up Campaign for Shade-Raised Coffee

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has intensified its campaign to promote "shade-grown" coffee, which is grown in traditional coffee plantations that also serve as sanctuaries for more than 150 bird species.

According to an article in The Washington Post (January 4, 1999), "As coffee companies race to meet galloping demand, farmers have begun cutting the trees and using direct sunlight and chemicals to grow more beans at a faster pace. As the trees disappear, so do the birds -- in some cases by as much as 97 percent."

Because the Center's "shade-grown coffee" campaign "has been slow to catch on" with coffee chains or food retailers, it has turned to environmental organizations for support. The National Audubon Society, for example, "views the coffee crusade as a way to advance a host of environmental objectives, from protecting wildlife to reducing pesticide dependency," the article said.

The Center is also expanding the use of its bird-friendly label for commercial brands of coffee, and sells its own Cafe Audubon shade-grown beans at the National Zoo. What is lacking, according to Center scientist Russell Greenberg, is proven demand for the beans, and the networks to market them.

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red ballPaul Johnson Named Director of Iowa DNR

Paul Johnson, former Chief of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and a Wallace Institute Board Member, was appointed Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources last month. He is an Iowa farmer and a former State Representative "known as the architect of environmental legislation, including Iowa's Groundwater Protection Act," according to Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. He is one of four new officials who will be instrumental in "ensuring the security of Iowa's families, and improving the quality of life for all Iowans," said Gov. Vilsack.

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red ballPositions
  • Drumlin Farm seeks interns to work in sustainable agriculture from April-October; contact Stacy Miller, Drumlin Farm, South Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773; (781) 259-9506, ext. 7700.

  • The Center for Rural Affairs seeks a Media and Outreach Director; application deadline is Feb. 26; for full application, contact Gary Peterson at the Center, P.O.Box 406, Walthill, NE 68067; (402) 846-5428; e-mail garyp@cfra.org.

  • The Rodale Institute Experimental Farm seeks interns from April/May-December; contact Kim Frederick, Office Manager, RIEF, 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kutztown, PA 19530; (610) 683-1400; e-mail kfrede@rodaleinst.org.

  • Cascadian Farm in Sedro-Woolley, WA, offers apprenticeships for 6-12 months; contact Lisa Bell, The Fresh Ideas Group, (303) 247-1100; e-mail FIGlbell@aol.com.

  • Alternative Swine Center, University of Minnesota, seeks an Associate Program Director; application deadline is Feb.26; full position announcement is on the Internet at http://www.misa.umn.edu; or contact Donald Wyse, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, (612) 625-8235, or 1-800-909-MISA.

  • The Land Institute seeks applicants for five graduate research fellowships in natural systems agriculture; proposals are due April 1; contact David Van Tassel at the Institute, 2440 E. Water Well Road, Salina, KS 67401, (785) 823-5376; e-mail dvantassel@midkan.com; on the Internet, http://www.midkan.com/theland/.
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red ball"Dead Zone" May Require Change in Fertilizer Practices

The increasing size of a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by the runoff of fertilizer and may be mitigated only by changing farming practices throughout the Corn Belt, according to a story by the Associated Press (January 24, 1999).

Every spring and summer, nitrogen from fertilizer washes down the Mississippi River and into the northern Gulf of Mexico, which triggers a bloom of algae, stripping the water of oxygen and killing many species of bottom-dwelling marine animals. "Nancy N. Rabalais of Louisiana State University said the average size of the dead zone has doubled in size since 1992 and is now persisting from May until October in some areas," the story said.

Though nitrogen comes from natural sources, cities, and industry, agriculture is "clearly a major player," said Dr. Otto Doering of Purdue University. He said farmers could reduce nitrogen runoff by 20 percent by changing farming practices, and that "the goal could be reached if farmers stopped fertilizing in the fall and if major wetlands were restored along the Mississippi River watershed," the AP said. "Doering said it may take regulation or a tax on nitrogen fertilizer to force changes in farming practices."

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red ballCanada Rejects Use of BGH for Cattle

Canadian health officials last month rejected the use of bovine growth hormone (BGH), or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), in cattle.

"It's pretty clear we have to reject the request for approval to use rBST in Canada," Joel Weiner, acting director of the Health Protection Branch, told the Associated Press. "In our view, it presents an unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows."

According to The New York Times (January 19, 1999), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "has long since dismissed such concerns." Last month, after Canadian researchers released findings of BGH health effects that had not been cited in research by the FDA, Senator Patrick J. Leahy and Senator James M. Jeffords, both of Vermont, asked Dr. Donna E. Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, to "investigate whether the FDA overlooked evidence in the case. Dr. Shalala has not yet responded."

In addition, 21 dairy farmer associations and consumer groups said they would sue the FDA for "failing to require additional safety studies of the hormone," according to The Times.

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red ballUSDA Allows Organic Label for Meat and Poultry

The USDA last month announced that certain meat and poultry products will be allowed to carry a label saying that they are certified organic, effective immediately. If processors seek prior label approval from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the claim meets certain basic criteria, meat and poultry products will be labeled "certified organic by (name of the certifying entity)."

There are 33 private and 11 state organic certification entities, as well as smaller entities that provide self-certification. The USDA is currently revising its first draft national organic standards, but meat and poultry products can now be labeled as organic in the interim.

The USDA had prohibited the organic label for meat, which is more strictly regulated than fruits and vegetables.

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red ballAgriculture Research Prize Seek Nominations

The Filippo Maseri Florio World Prize for Distinguished Research in Agriculture is seeking nominations for the second award, to be made in November. The Prize this year will be awarded to deserving individuals who have made significant contributions to agriculture through research, specifically in the area of diseases of wine grapes. The individual or team selected for the Prize will receive $100,000; another $100,000 will be awarded to two Early Career Award winners. Nominations must be received by June 1.

For more information on the Prize, contact Dr. M.A. Massengale, Secretariat, Room 220 Keim Hall, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0953; (402) 472-4101. For information on the Early Career Awards, contact Franco Scaramuzzi, Florence, Italy; phone 055-213360; e-mail accademia@georgofili.it

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red ballUpcoming Events

For additional listings, see the Sustainable Agriculture Network's Calendar of Events.

  • March 1-6, "Designing and Building the Unplugged Permaculture" will be held in Buena Vista, VA; contact Andy Lee, Good Earth Farm School, (540) 261-8775.

  • March 4-6, "Organic Works at Home and Around the World," the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, will be held in Sinsinawa, WI; contact UMOFC, P.O. Box 52, Viroqua, WI 54665; (715) 772-6819.

  • March 4-7, Organic Crossroads Conference, sponsored by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, will be held in Naramata, British Columbia; contact Rebecca Kneen, (250) 835-4775; e-mail rkneen@jetstream.net.

  • March 5-7, Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming Workshop will be held in Willits, CA; contact Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits, CA 95490; (707) 459-0150.

  • March 8-10, "Using Organics to Create A Recycling Revolution" will be held in San Francisco, CA: contact BioCycle, 419 State Ave., Emmaus, PA 18049; 1-800-661-4905.

  • March 8-10, "International Conference on Emerging Technologies for Integrated Pest Management: Concepts, Research, and Implementation" will be held in Raleigh, N.C.; contact North Carolina State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Box 7616, Raleigh, N.C. 27695; on the Internet, http://ipmwww.ncsu.edu/ipmconference/.

  • March 10-14, Natural Products Expo West will be held in Anaheim, CA; contact Expo Registration, P.O. Box 671, Boulder, CO 80306; (303) 939-8440.

    March 11, Goldenseal Conference will be held in Anaheim, CA; contact United Plant Savers, P.O. Box 98, East Barre, VT 05649; (802) 479-9825; e-mail info@plantsavers.org.

  • March 12, Soil Fertility Training Session, sponsored by Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, will be held prior to "Agriculture of the Future, Farms of Many Faces," the OEFFA's 20th Annual Conference, March 13-14, in Wilmington, OH; contact OEFFA, (614) 267-3633; e-mail oeffa@iwaynet.net.

  • March 13-14, "Organic Business: Can It Be Ecological and Ethical?," the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York's 17th annual conference, will be held in Dryden, N.Y.; contact NOFA-NY, P.O. Box 21, South Butler, N.Y. 13154; (315) 824-2864.

  • March 15-16, "Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture: Building on the Past, Shaping the Future," the 22nd annual National Food Policy Conference, will be held in Washington, D.C.; contact Jackie Balser, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, 1012 14th St., NW, #800, Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 347-6200.

  • May 2-5, A National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America will be held in Detroit, MI, sponsored by the President's Council on Sustainable Development and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation; for more information, contact NTM Headquarters, 1-888-333-6878; on the Internet, http://www.sustainableamerica.org.
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Home News & Events Alternative Agriculture News -- February '99

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