Archive | October, 2012

Pediatricians back organics

31 Oct

“Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages “. Pediatrics 2012;130:e1406–e1415

The US market for organic foods has grown from $3.5 billion in 1996 to $28.6 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic
products are now sold in specialty stores and conventional supermarkets. Organic products contain numerous marketing claims and terms, only some of which are standardized and regulated. In terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches. However, current evidence does not support any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic compared with conventionally grown
foods, and there are no well-powered human studies that directly demonstrate health benefits or disease protection as a result of consuming an organic diet. Studies also have not demonstrated any detrimental or disease-promoting effects from an organic diet.

Although organic foods regularly command a significant price premium, well-designed farming studies demonstrate that costs can be competitive and yields comparable to those of conventional farming techniques. Pediatricians should incorporate this evidence when discussing the health and environmental impact of organic foods and organic farming while continuing to encourage all patients and their families to attain optimal nutrition and dietary variety consistent with the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommendations. This clinical report reviews the health and environmental issues related to organic food production and consumption. It defines the term “organic,” reviews organic food-labeling standards, describes organic and conventional farming practices, and explores the cost and environmental implications of organic production techniques. It examines the evidence available on nutritional quality and production contaminants in conventionally produced and organic foods. Finally, this report provides guidance for pediatricians to assist them in advising their patients regarding organic and conventionally produced food choices. Pediatrics 2012;130:e1406–e1415


You ready for the next President?

19 Oct

Expected Chinese President

The Oct. 22 issue of Time magazine had the picture of Xi Jinping, who is expected to be the next Chinese President at the Nov. 8 Party Congress, as the background of the cover, which says ‘The next leader of the unfree world’. The issue also featured an article titled ‘Why China’s Xi Jinping will be the new President who really matters’ by Hannah Beech, a very interesting topic especially during this tight presidential campaign in the US.

I don’t have subscription to Time magazine to read the whole story, but I could take an educated guess on what the article talked about, and how it’s relevant to the green industry.

Just like many other aspects of our lives, the green industry is no stranger to ‘made-in-China’. If Xi decides to manipulate the value of Yuan (Chinese dollar), that may affect your operation cost (price of machines, tools, fertilizers, etc. etc.) more than any action from Romney/Obama. With many production sites moved offshores, some may find that China, with its highly educated workforce, is a good candidate. With the affordable labor force, rich plant resources, and huge investment in agriculture, many other things could be done in China too, including breeding—–have you thought about that?

On the other hand, whatever actions Romney/Obama take may result from how much Xi wants to loan to the US or from other actions Xi may take. For example, anti-Japanese movements around China, which could be fueled or unfueled by Xi’s government, have caused significant decrease in sales for all three Japanese auto makers. Don’t you think that’ll affect the US auto industry and thus US economy? I’m sure you’ve heard ‘butterfly effect’ (a butterfly could have far-reach ripple effect on subsequent events; just google it).

So Green Industry, are you ready for the next President?

Citrus greening, boxwood blight and now Knockout roses are not knocking out?

15 Oct

When I was giving a presentation on Earth-Kind® principals, someone asked what could be wrong with their Knockout roses. In my opinion, two things probably caused the problem: 1) Knockout roses are vigorous plants and have been planted way too close together, ending up with fighting against each other for light, water, fertilization and everything else; and 2) with the mass amount of Knockout roses planted everywhere, it’s not that easy for rose-loving pests to find a palatable source, but have to settle down on something not so preferable at the beginning like Knockout roses. It’s all natural selection.

However, my colleague Dr. Kevin Ong raised a very good point—–as a business, you should always look ahead and plan for disaster/changes. That’s so true! What kind of business does NOT change? A dead or dying one.

There are so many rose cultivars that you could come up with at least 10 to meet every need. This ‘Hoot Owl’ is really not bad.

When Knockout roses first came out to the market knocking out every other roses (or plants), you (hopefully have learned a lesson from the Bradford pears) needed to plan for change. Here’s a suggestion from my students in Nursery Production and Management class for growers: still produce, but reduce the production of Knockout roses, and look for alternatives.

When citrus greening was first discovered in Florida (long time ago), whoever handling citrus plants elsewhere (mainly in TX and CA) should plan for disaster, which would’ve come in their way sooner or later, with things spreading so fast these days.

When news about boxwood blight first came out, you should plan for change, offering and marketing boxwood look-alikes and alternatives.

The list could go on and on. The key is always changing, and staying ahead of the game. Disasters are not scary, but you DO need to act quickly and embrace them.

Work together to get the fair share for the green industry

9 Oct

USDA announced its 2012 Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grants not long ago and I was happy to see the following projects receiving funding:

Florida: $9M; eliminate citrus greening;

Delaware: $1.6M; control lima bean disease;

Indiana: $3M; develop pruning automation for grape and apple;

Iowa: $1.6M; develop cucurbit production;


From Drs. Marco Palma and Charlie Hall.

On the other hand, I’m sad and upset that no SCRI grant has funded work for the green industry in TX. A colleague of mine told me the value of citrus, not fruit, industry in FL was about $1,1B in production and 76,000 job creation. In comparison, the Texas Green Industry represents $16.9B value and 192,000 jobs. The green industry in many other states probably got similar statistics, compared to the other agriculture sectors.

The disproportional federal funding to the green industry (compared to its output and job creation) only indicates one thing: we’re not known that we’re BIG. We need to educate ourselves, and everyone around us, and we need to work together to get the fair share of federal funding for the green industry. Until then…

A 2nd mother-forker’s view on organic research

5 Oct

Gvreader left a comment on my Oct. 1 post that made me think, any other pitfalls in any organic research including the one featured on NPR.

First, organic production itself may be a victim of the conventional agriculture. The earth, including the air, soil and water, has been contaminated with all sorts of chemicals since the start of industrialized agriculture, and although organic agriculture does its best to keep a ‘safe’ distance, both spatially and timely, from industrialized agriculture, it may not be going too far.

For instance, the research from the Food and Drug Administration and a leading consumer group, Consumer Reports found arsenic levels in virtually all of the hundreds of samples of rice and rice-based foods, including cereals, crackers and rice milk (that’s devastating for me, a rice-loving Asian). Yes, rice plant is good at absorb arsenic, which naturally occur in water and soil, however, “evidence that the Southern states – Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri and Texas – produce rice with generally higher levels of total arsenic compared to, say, California”, suggested that pesticide “residue in the soils from former cotton fields could have caused the higher levels”.

The funny thing is that Gerber and Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice contains trace arsenic at 150 to 250 parts per billion (ppb) range, which is higher than the non-organic Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (85 to 90 ppb). That just tells you that chemical ‘ghosts’ are probably everywhere.

So some studies that compared organic and conventional food on people were really comparing organic food (not knowingly contaminated by chemicals) to conventionals.

Secondly, those studies did NOT or failed to document the effect of organic practices on the environment, which will eventually affect human health in the long run. I understand that studies like this ought to be long-term. With budget cuts and pressure to publish and everything else, I’m not sure how many researchers have the willingness and grant funding to do that long-term research. Plus, they’re not going to get any help from the mega chemical companies.

The increasing organic practices may not have caused changes in quality yet.

So what are we supposed to do, if some organics are even worse than the conventionals (in the case of the aforementioned arsenic in rice)? I believe that changes in quantity will eventually lead to changes in quality, which may not happen to us, but will to our kids and grandkids and theirs.

To be more specific, we could vote three times a day (I’m stealing this phrase from documentary Food Inc.) by choosing what we put on table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A mother-forker’s view on organic research

1 Oct

Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You on NPR raised a lot of questions among listeners and here’s my 2 cents.

From NPR.

I became mother-forker since I put first spoonful of solid food in my son’s mouth (hey, you have to admit that ‘mother-forker’ will attract a lot more eyeballs than ‘mother-spooner’). I started to buy food, as organic as I could. Actually, before that—-when I first found out I was pregnant. The only reason that I didn’t ‘convert’ 100% to organic food was only because of the availability, thanks to the small college towns I’ve been living in.

I don’t give a whole lot cr** (credential or others) about research on whether organic food is healthier for you.

No. 1—-research done on human being  could barely be considered as ‘scientific (at least not enough) research’, compared to plant research. I have a PhD in plant sciences. When we conducted different treatments on plants, we normally require at least 5 replication of each data point. If we want to see effect of organic treatments (e.g. conventional and organic I, II, and III), we’ll have at least 4*5=20 plants. In plant research, we have the luxury of using identical clonal plants, from tissue culture. At the end of the treatments, we have the luxury of ‘harvesting’ (killing) the plants, dry them, and ground them before putting them through various machines to look ‘inside’ of a plant, anywhere we want.

Was any of the human research conducted on 20 identical twins? Think about the difference between you and your brother/sister—-could you really draw something as conclusive from that? Was any of the experimental object ‘harvested’ to measure the outcome (forgiving me saying this)? Yeah, I guess blood was drawn (or something more invasive) during human research, but probably not to the extent as in plant research where we could harvest every organ and the whole thing to get the full picture.

No. 2—-as a scientist, we should always be aware of our own limitation—–not being able to find organic food is healthier is different from finding that organic food is not healthier. The same is true about pesticides/drugs/etc.—- not being able to find pesticides/drugs/etc . is dangerous to human and environment is different from finding that pesticides/drugs/etc. is NOT dangerous. How many times has EPA cancelled certain pesticides  or has FDA revoked its approval of certain drugs ?

Do I really need to continue? Or right, we haven’t even touched the environmental issues yet.