Food and Health Food News

The Question of Sustainability in Organic Farming

E – The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk: Do you agree with the recent claim in the Wall Street Journal that organic agriculture isn’t actually sustainable?                                      — Chuck Romaniello, Pittsburgh, PA

Dr. Henry I. Miller’s May 15, 2014 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal has indeed made waves in the organic farming community. Miller, former director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, argues that conventional farming—which uses synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and often genetically modified (GM) seed stock to maximize yields—is actually better for the environment, producing more food and using less water compared to organic farming.

“Organic farming might work well for certain local environments on a small scale, but its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones,” says Miller. “The low yields of organic agriculture—typically 20 percent to 50 percent less than conventional agriculture—impose various stresses on farmland and especially on water consumption.” Miller adds that organic methods can cause significant leaking of nitrates from composted manure—the fertilizer of choice for most organic farms—into groundwater, polluting drinking water. He also cites research showing that large-scale composting generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases and “may also deposit pathogenic bacteria on or in food crops, which has led to more frequent occurrences of food poisoning in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

“If the scale of organic production were significantly increased, says Miller, the lower yields would increase the pressure for the conversion of more land to farming and more water for irrigation, both of which are serious environmental issues.” He adds that conventional farming’s embrace of GM crops—a no-no to organic farmers—is yet another way we can boost yields and feed more people with less land.

But, the Washington, DC-based Organic Center takes issue with Miller’s allegations about nitrates polluting groundwater: “Most studies that examine nutrient runoff show that organic production methods result in reduced nitrogen losses when compared to conventional crop production,” reports the group.

The Organic Center also disputes Miller’s claims about the organic farming’s carbon footprint, arguing that overall energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions are much less from organic farming than for conventional agriculture. The group also says that taking into account the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production (not just the use) of synthetic fertilizer changes the equation entirely. The group cites a recent study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which found that organic agriculture could potentially reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared to conventional farming.

Also, Miller’s statements about GM crops overlook the ecological problems associated with their use. “For example,” the Organic Center reports, “transgene movement from GM crops to wild, weedy relatives could increase the invasiveness of weeds.” Also, genetic modification has led to higher pesticide use in agricultural systems and an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds. Some worry this is leading to a vicious cycle whereby farmers use more and more chemical herbicides to battle hardier and hardier weeds.

As the price of organic food continues to drop, more and more people will be able to afford it and the increased demand may well drive the conversion to organic agriculture more than policy or philosophy.


CONTACTS: Wall Street Journal,; The Organic Center,


EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine ( Send questions to:

Food and Health Healthy Options Holidays Meals

6 Mental Tricks to Avoid Gaining Weight this Holiday Season

holiday-diet-tipsBoston, MA (November 2013)- The holiday season is upon us, which usually means that an extra 5-7 pounds are upon us as well. Delicious food, cold weather, less sunlight, and plenty of parties make it hard to say no to seconds during the holidays.  If there is food nearby, most of us can make an excuse as to why we should eat it.

Gary Marino, who produced and starred in the film Million Calorie March: The Movie, which chronicles his walk from Florida to Boston raise awareness about obesity says, “I used to be the master of holiday buffet excuses.” At his heaviest, he topped the scales at almost 400 pounds. “For me, the holidays provided a perfect excuse to wave the white flag and roll the dice on a successful New Year’s resolution—and that’s still the case for a lot of people.”

Although the New Year serves as a new start for many, Marino says, “we have a 95 percent failure rate on long-term weight loss in this country. The truth is, most of our resolutions will have shaved their heads and checked into rehab Britney Spears-style by the end of February.”

Why is it so hard to avoid falling into this holiday eating/gaining/New Year resoluting trap? Retired psychologist Dr. Howard Rankin says, “we can always find a reason for procrastinating and avoiding doing what we consider difficult or unpleasant.” For him, it boils down to a matter of basic human psychology. “Humans aren’t logical. Instead, we’re emotional, psychological beings…with an emphasis on the ‘psycho.’ Fortunately, when you know beforehand the pitfalls into which your pleasure-driven brain might cause you to fall, your odds of avoiding them improve.”

Dr. Rankin’s five-stage motivation model might further explain this behavior.

  1. 1.    Pre-Contemplation. The person does not acknowledge the need for change. This can also be called denial.
  2. 2.    Contemplation. The person recognizes the need to change, but makes no commitment to make it happen.
  3. 3.    Preparation. The person gets ready for change.
  4. 4.    Action. The person finally takes steps toward changing.
  5. 5.    Maintenance. The person continues the action steps to develop and preserve the changes.

Many people make it to stage 5 during the holidays, but if they start to allow excuses and rationalizations for unhealthy holiday behavior in, they are in danger of never succeeding with their resolutions.

Watch out for the following rationalizations to keep yourself and your resolutions on track this year:

  1. 1.    “I Can’t Be Rude or Unsociable.” Yes it is true that some people place high value on the food they make for the holidays. If you are going to hurt someone’s feelings by not sampling their cake, then you can make the decision to try it. Just be more cautious about eating other food. You can still be sociable even if you are not piling your plate with unhealthy food.
  2. 2.    “I Can Hide It.” Winter clothes are baggier than styles from other seasons. Just because you have more room inside your sweater, however, does not mean that you should use it with those extra pounds.
  3. 3.    “Winter is Coming.” A lot of people shy away from exercising during the winter because of the cold and dark days. Instead of talking yourself out of exercise, though, you should make an effort to find an alternative method to stay active. Maybe you can’t swim laps outside (unless the pool is heated), but you can pop in a fitness DVD and work out in your living room.
  4. 4.    I’ll Wait ‘til the New Year.” The year is almost over, right? Why not wait until 2013 changes to 2014 to start a new healthy eating regiment? As Marino explains, “food addiction doesn’t have a calendar. And the problem with a diet that starts on January 1st is January 2nd. Grab inspiration any time you can get it.” Instead of setting yourself up for failure, start incorporating healthy habits into your life now.
  5. 5.    “I’m Too Busy Right Now.” If you let it, it is easy to get overtaken by your holiday to-do list and make excuses for those things that you do not really want to do. If you make health a priority, however, you will always find time for it.
  6. 6.    “I’ll Be Cooking.” Being surrounding by unhealthy holiday food is not the best way to start eating better, but there are ways that you can still make smart food choices even as you bake sugar cookies for the kids. Only buy enough food for your needs and donate the rest. Marino says, “you have to stay aware and stay in the fight. You know what giving up is like. Many of us have lived it, and it’s no fun there. Fortunately, with mindfulness and motivation, you don’t ever have to go back.”
Food and Health

Americans: Are foods you eat every day BANNED across the rest of the world?

Many Americans, if not most, love a good piece of meat. Whether it is a delicious stuffed turkey during Thanksgiving or a tender Sirloin steak for dinner, it is an easy crowd-pleaser. But is it safe to eat? One report lists 10 foods consumed regularly by Americans that are banned in many other countries.

The drug ractopamine is currently used in a large portion of the meat we all enjoy and it increases protein synthesis and decreases the overall fat content. The drug is fed to animals prior to slaughter. According to veterinarian Michael Fox, 20 percent of this drug remains in the meat bought from supermarkets.

While it is still available in the United States, ractopamine-tainted meat has been banned in use in food animals in 160 countries across Europe, mainland China and Taiwan due to its harmful effects.

This is only one of many foods eaten by Americans that are banned in other nations. Is this the reason why health standards are so low in comparison to other parts of the world?

Even popular drinks such as Mountain Dew or sports drinks are banned in Europe and Japan. They contain a synthetic chemical called brominated vegetable oil (BVO).

Despite the drinks being enjoyable and effective for bursts of energy, animal studies indicates that it causes reproductive and behavioral issues and in more serious cases; skin rashes, acne, loss of appetite, fatigue and irregular heartbeats.

Many breads that are served in restaurants or even a hot-dog off the street contain bromide, an additive commonly used in flours. Many commercial companies claim it’s for structural purposes in terms of the dough but farms successfully use unbromated flour without any difficulties.

Bromate flour has an overload of potassium bromate, which correlates with kidney and nervous system damage, thyroid problems, and cancer.

While it is still available in the United States, ractopamine-tainted meat has been banned in use in food animals in 160 countries across Europe, mainland China and Taiwan due to its harmful effects.
While it is still available in the United States, ractopamine-tainted meat has been banned in use in food animals in 160 countries across Europe, mainland China and Taiwan due to its harmful effects.

Other foods banned in other countries include salmon, genetically engineered papayas, arsenic-laced chicken, dairy products laced with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

The lack of precautionary actions might pose questions about the food we consume and the consequences afterwards but there are other options for better health. One example is to ditch the processed foods from supermarkets and switch to organic and fresh foods from the local farmers market.

It’s all about understanding what you eat and where the food comes from. The food you eat affects your health, not anyone else’s, so ensure you are taking good care of your own self.

Food and Health

Vegan hiker hits the 2,655-mile Pacific Crest Trail to promote vegan diets and Mercy for Animals

JoshHiking1Josh Garrett is carrying more than a backpack as he hits the grueling Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,655-mile trek from Mexico to Canada – he’s carrying a message about the benefits of a vegan diet and the plight of animals on factory farms.

Garrett, 30, a college track coach and exercise physiology instructor, first hiked the trail in 2009 and called that trek the greatest experience of his life. Now, a vegan for 18 months who feels stronger than ever, he wants to get back out there, this time to promote the benefits of a plant-based diet and raise money for the group Mercy for Animals.

Garrett hikes fast. In 2009 he thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 88 days, a comfortable pace for him but about half the time taken by most hikers. He is confident that fueled by plants and compassion he can trounce his previous speed – barring fires, snowstorms, or snake bites. In fact he has to cut his time down, at least to 76 days, just to make it back in time for the exercise physiology class he’ll be teaching at Santa Monica College in Southern California this fall.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey thinks Garrett can do better than that – Mackey thinks Garrett can break the current 64-day Pacific Crest Trail speed record and is sponsoring Garrett by providing hiking gear, support, food and water. Mackey, who shares a passion for plant-based eating, hiked with Garrett on a portion of the Continental Divide Trail last summer.

“Josh is not only a very nice person, but is also the strongest hiker I have ever had the privilege to hike with,” Mackey said.

To break the record Garrett will have to average 42 miles per day across terrain such as the blazing Mojave Desert and the steep Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, often carrying a 30-pound pack. He’s happy to give it a go as long as he can get the word out about the animals as he walks.

“When it comes to helping animals, Josh doesn’t just talk the talk, he literally walks the walk,” said Mercy For Animals executive director Nathan Runkle. “We hope that Josh’s selfless journey inspires others to take steps in their own lives to help prevent the horrible suffering of animals on factory farms by adopting a healthy and humane vegan diet.”

JoshMFAShirtAn investigation done by Mercy for Animals, which Garret saw 18 months ago, helped inspire Josh to change his diet.

“I was a big meat eater, wild about dogs but not letting myself think much about other animals,” he said. “Over Thanksgiving 2011, I met two turkeys rescued by a friend. They were friendly and fun, and clearly conscious. Then I saw a Mercy For Animals undercover video where a slaughterhouse worker was using live turkeys, suspended upside down on a conveyor belt, as punching bags. I was sickened. And my own consciousness started to change.”

After seeing the movie Forks Over Knives, he realized a plant-based diet would not only ease his conscience but also benefit his athletic performance, overall health, energy, and endurance. “There was just no half-decent reason not to go vegan,” he said.

Today Garrett feels great, and wants to help Mercy For Animals conduct undercover investigations like the one that had such an impact on him.

“I was deeply disturbed to learn that many animals confined on factory farms are locked in cages and stalls so small they can’t even walk, lie down comfortably, or turn around,” says Garrett. “I want to use my freedom to advocate for theirs. I’m walking because animals can’t.”

Garrett has never been a tweeter but is picking up the habit just for this cause and was delighted to find the handle @VeganHiker available. Follow him there and visit learn more about his quest and sponsor his hike.

Food and Health

Energy drink consumption: A growing health concern

energy-drinksPowerade, Gaterade, Monster, Red Bull – we’ve all seen these energy drinks in supermarkets, cafeterias, and convenience stores. Many confide in these for a simple boost for the day, as they are both tasty and convenient. But is what we are drinking becoming a rising health issue?

Results from a study conducted by the nation’s hospitals highlight that the number of cases involving these drinks have doubled since 2007. More than half of the participants reported they had consumed an energy drink prior to emergency treatment. Steve Sun, an emergency physician at San Francisco, told that “Five years ago, perhaps I would see one or two cases every three months or so. Now we’re consistently seeing about two cases per month.” There clearly seems to be some red flags.

On the other hand, the beverage industry reports that energy drinks are safe and there is also no proof of correlation between the products and adverse reactions. But rest assured, organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are working hard to investigate this issue. Despite the research, manufacturers continue to defend their position.

Consumers need to be aware and understand what we are drinking. The public should be careful, as we may not fully understand the strength of neon-labeled beverages. If you want more information, you can visit the HHS’ website at or you can visit the FDA’s homepage at

Blog Food and Health Food News

Eating dark chocolate daily may reduce risk for heart disease

(Media Credit/Tom Morris via Wikimedia Commons)

A piece of dark chocolate a day could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in some people, finds a study published Thursday in BMJ.

The 10-year Australian study looked at 2,013 people with metabolic syndrome, a combination of medical disorders that puts them at high risk for heart disease and diabetes. Participants had high blood pressure, but had no history of heart disease or diabetes, and were not undergoing blood pressure-lowering therapy.

Using a mathematical model, researchers found that a 10-year daily consumption of dark chocolate, which contains at least 60% cocoa, could reduce the number of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, by 85 per 10,000 people.

Dark chocolate contains flavanoids, which have been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The study’s authors conclude that “daily dark chocolate consumption could be an effective cardiovascular preventive strategy” for people with metabolic syndrome.