Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guess what is coming to your dinner? Deep-fried Cockroaches, Scorpian Vodka and crunchy Crickets by Devinder Sharma

Some of the edible insect-filled foods

I am not sure how many of you will be able to digest this.

Aware that agricultural scientists have failed to make any breakthrough in food production, and expecting world to face food crisis in the days to come, some scientists (and industry) have begun to see insects as a possible source of protein.

Now don't be startled. What you probably don't know is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already allows insects to be an essential component of some of the processed foods. I also was caught unaware when I learnt that FDA has allowed upto 75 pieces of insects in 55 mm of hot chocolate and a maximum of 60 aphids in a portion of frozen broccoli. Yuck !

Now if you want to know how many rodent hairs and insect parts are in your food, read this list approved by the FDA. Accordingly, a typical food contains about 10 per cent of what has been approved, but some may contain as much as 40 per cent (

The FDA's action level for peanut butter is 30 or more insect fragments or one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.


Insect filth
: Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when 6 100-gram subsamples are examined OR any 1 subsample contains 90 or more insect fragments

Rodent filth
: Average is 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams in 6 100-gram subsamples examined OR any 1 subsample contains 3 or more rodent hairs


Insects and insect eggs
: 5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml


Parasites: 3% of the fillets examined contain 1 or more parasites accompanied by pus pockets


Insect filth
: Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples

Rodent filth
: Average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples


Insect filth
: Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams

Rodent filth:
Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams


Rodent filth: 1 or more rodent excreta pellets are found in 1 or more subsamples, and 1 or more rodent hairs are found in 2 or more other subsamples OR 2 or more rodent hairs per pound and rodent hair is found in 50% or more of the subsamples OR 20 or more gnawed grains per pound and rodent hair is found in 50% or more of the subsamples


Insect filth: Average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams

Rodent filth: Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams

Can these things be avoided? To avoid all unsavory food components, it seems, would be to stop eating all together. And perhaps we're just being too squeamish. After all, as Dr. Manfred Kroger, a professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, says, "Let's face it, much of our food comes from nature, and nature is not perfect."

How disgusting, you would say. More so when we think that FDA's approval ensures food is safe. I wonder what would be the situation in a developing country like India. Will the newly formed Food Safety and Standards Authority look into this?

An article Deep-fried locust, anyone? Insect may be the answer to our looming food crisis in The Guardian (Aug 19, 2009) first opened my eyes to the new 'sunrise' industry. The article says: In south-east Asia, insects are an important part of the daily diet for millions of people. Crickets, cockroaches and other bugs and grubs are sold across the region by roadside vendors and in smart restaurants. They are harvested commercially and by home producers, providing vital income for struggling farmers. Often, insects are the only source of income for women earners, who rig polythene awnings above a fluorescent tube-light to trap flying insects after dark.

Well, I was aware of this. Often in my travels through Southeast Asia I have seen insects being sold by roadside vendors. But what I didn't know for sure was that Entomophagy (insect eating) is a growing industry with more than 1,400 insect species being gobbled in 90 countries. The FAO says there are 1462 recorded species of edible insects. I did a quick search and found some interesting details. One of the sunrise industries is called Sunrise Land Shrimp (SLS), founded in March 2005. David Gracer describes some of the new projects his company is undertaking. And I reproduce portions from one of his letters to a web portal:

The Montana Project:
I have started plans with Mr. Mark Rehder, an organic farm in Montana who reports that grasshopper harvests of 100 pounds per hour are possible. While gathering this largesse is intriguing, the prospect of cultivation makes even more sense. We are currently seeking capital and other resources that would allow us to best make use of a huge amount of grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers (and orthopterans in general) are probably the single most utilized food-insect worldwide. There is a particularly robust tradition of this practice in Pre-Columbian Mexican cuisine, and grasshoppers are enthusiastically consumed in Mexico to this day. The owner of a Mexican restaurant in Providence, RI, has told me that if I can secure a reliable supply of grasshoppers, he would put them on the menu. This is an exciting prospect, and might attract the attention of that specific restaurant industry. I am also interested in processing the grasshoppers into insect flour for high-protein baked goods. It could possibly be a model for a new paradigm in locust-related famine response.

Human consumption itself is hardly the only option. Other markets include: pet and zoo animal; fish, poultry, and possibly hog feed, and even fish bait and fertilizer.

Rhynchophorus in Peru:
The so-called "Sago grub" (the larva of Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, a species of weevil) is one of the most renowned edible insects; some people have traveled all the way to Papua New Guinea in order to sample it. Slightly less well known is the fact that this species (and several others in the genus) are both cherished as food items and despised as agricultural pests. These include R. phoenicis in Africa, and R. palmarum and R. cruentatus in the Americas.

I've been in touch with Mr. Manuel Miranda of Amazon Insects regarding "suris" the local name for R. palmurum larva. Mr. Miranda has discovered live suris sold as food in the marketplace in Lima. We have been in discussion regarding the best way to process, package, and export this food product. In the meantime he reports that he's been keeping them in his apartment, the better to observe their feeding habits and metamorphosis.

From China:
In early September 2005 I received a package mailed by an American teaching English in Yantai, China. The pre-packaged food consisted of vacuum-packed silkworm pupae. There were also jars of caterpillars (of a Sphigind species, probably Clanis bilineata); scorpions (probably Buthnus martensii); and cicada nymphs. These were purchased fresh in the marketplace, the caterpillars and scorpions were cooked and preserved in honey, while the cicadas were sent dry.

My contact reports that these products, though seasonal, are readily available in the marketplace. He urged me to learn about the process by which they could be officially brought into the U.S. as the delicacies they are considered to be in China.

The Mopane quest [and a proposed safari to Southern African countries]:
The consumption of caterpillars is common throughout much of the world, particularly in Africa. Many species are consumed there, but few approach the ubiquity of the Mopane [or Mopani] worm, the larvae of Gonimbrasia belina, a Saturnid moth, which is harvested in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and probably other countries.

I have been most interested in obtaining dried or possibly canned mopane worms; to this end I've sent several hundred emails, to no avail. I've learned that considerable amounts of mopane are exported to France and Belgium (from which country[ies] I have not been able to determine) but there is no exportation to the U.S., and this should change.

Oh dear ! Where are we heading towards !! The human civilisation seems to be fast returning to square one. We probably are going back to the jungle lifestyle once again and that too in the name of modernity.

If you want to know some nutritional and economic aspects of insects as food, you can see this research paper: Insects as human food and The Guardian article

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 8/27/2009 09:24:00 AM

Sunday, August 16, 2009


A small country like Egypt can rise to the muscle of the conglomerates to safeguard their citizens and environment against GM foods then why not India??? A shame to our Indian government to not be able to take charge of our appalling state of affairs internally re food security despite being independent after 60 odd years and to us citizens who have lost a single strong voice of reason!!!

On 15th August, I had exchanges with a few media and associates wishing me "A Happy Independence Day". It actually riled me up, to say the least that we are pretending that all is well...Jai ho, Jai Hind used so frivolously without a care that only on this day do we realise the importance of a Free India! We, the proud creative, sentimental race have the knack of translating each occasion be it joyful or one of sorrow into heart rendering songs which are most melodious and emotive eliciting our love, faith in Bharat Ma (Mother India) Giving her the status of a Divine Mother.

Once the emotions of the song are digested then its back to ground reality. It is not the Divine Mother India that is exploited but a Material Earth that is raided and raped for selfish gains. Ill treating, exploiting, abusing this Divine mother, oh sorry Material Earth is just about fine!

My concern - what freedom are we celebrating, when in reality we are victims to corruption and slaves to Trans Nationals/ Private companies who through strategic marketing ploys dictate how we should live our lives. Even more startling is how easily the so called voice of India consisting of the corporate sector succumbs to it! We have sadly lost our freedom to reason, see right from wrong, voice our concerns cohesively, to safeguard what little is left of natures reserves.

Wake up India and strive to be the once sustainable India

In solidarity
Sangita Sharma
Now, Egypt says no to trade in GM foods by Devinder Sharma

There is good news on the GM front. Finally, Egypt has shown the door to controversial GM foods. And if you recall some years back some African countries had refused to buckle under the US pressure to import GM corn despite the fake threat of an impending famine. The World Food Programme had collaborated with the USAID to exert pressure on these poor countries.

That was in 2002. And after six long years, Egypt has shown the political courage to say no GM food imports and exports.

To take you back to the issue, let me print the relevant portion from my article Famine as Commerce (Aug 2002

But what is arguably one of the most blatantly anti-humanitarian act, seen as morally repugnant, is the decision of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to offer US $50 million in food aid to famine-stricken Zimbabwe provided that it is used to purchase genetically modified maize. Food aid therefore is no longer an instrument of foreign policy. It has now become a major commercial activity, even if it means exploiting the famine victims and starving millions.

That is the official line at the USAID about the corn it has offered to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi, where an estimated 13 million people face severe hunger and possibly live under the spectre of an impending famine after two years of drought and floods.

For the genetically modified food industry, reeling under a growing rejection of its untested and harmful food products, there is money in hunger, starvation and death. Spearheaded by USAID, the industry has made it abundantly clear that it has only genetically modified maize to offer and was not willing to segregate. The WFP, which over the past few decades has for all practical purposes become an extension of USAID, was quick to put its rubber stamp. It had earlier helped the United States to reduce its grain surpluses by taking the genetically modified food for a mid-day meal programme for school children in Africa.

President Mogabe may not be able to hold for long. He had earlier told Zimbabwe's Parliament on July 23: "We fight the present drought with our eyes clearly set on the future of the agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of our economy. We dare not endanger its future through misplaced decisions based on acts of either desperation or expediency." But then, the biotechnology industry is using all its financial power to break down the African resistance. Once the GM food is accepted as humanitarian aid, it will be politically difficult for the African governments to oppose the corporate take-over of Africa's agricultural economy. For the industry, Africa provides a huge market.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa too has said that his people would rather die than eat toxic food. While Malawi says it has no choice but to accept GM maize, newspaper reports cite Mozambique, from where Malawi's food aid has to pass through, asking the WFP to cover it with plastic sheeting to avoid spillage while in transit.

Malawi incidentally is faced with famine after it was forced to sell maize to earn dollars for debt servicing. Explains Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation: Just three months before the food crisis hit, Malawi was encouraged by the World Bank "to keep foreign exchange instead of storing grain" Why? Because foreign exchange is needed to repay debts. Creditors will not accept debt repayments in Malawian Kwachas. Or indeed in bags of maize. Only "greenbacks" or other hard currencies will do.

One of Malawi's key commercial creditors needed to have their debt repaid, according to Malawi's president, who in a BBC interview said the government "had been forced (to sell maize) in order to repay commercial loans taken out to buy surplus maize in previous years". President Muluzi said the IMF and the World Bank "insisted that, since Malawi had a surplus and the (government's) National Food Reserve Agency had this huge loan, they had to sell the maize to repay the commercial banks." So Malawi duly sold 28,000 tonnes of maize to Kenya. Under pressure from her creditors, led by the World Bank and the IMF, Malawi exchanged maize -- her people's staple diet -- for dollars.

And now, it is getting another loan to purchase genetically modified from the United States. Sure the USAID has been working overtime to create a market for its genetically modified food industry!

I am not sure how long will Egypt be able to hold on to this ban. But still it is a very significant development. It isn't easy to stand up to the US (read biotech companies) pressure. Take the example of Poland. Julian Rose says: Now, working in Poland with Jadwiga Lopata (The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside) we are preoccupied with attempting to keep GM crops off the thousands of richly biodiverse small peasant farms that still cling on to survival in this Country. We managed - between 2004 and 2006 to get every Province (there are 16) to make a 'GMO Free' self declaration and then purswaded them to write to the government demanding national legislation banning GM seeds and crops.

To our great surprise the government responded by banning all GM seeds and plants in 2006. But such is the fickleness of politics that the next government decided to reverse this situation - and is now trying to satisfy the dictats of Brussles (the EU) which says that it is illegal to ban GM seeds and plants that have been approved by them.

India is another country which is buckling under the biotech pressure. But in India, it is not only the political pressure that works. Public-Private partnership in agricultural research also plays an equally important role. Agricultural scientists have mortagged the public interest for the sake of their own livelihoods.


AFP, via France 24, 12 August 2009:

Egypt is banning food imports and exports that are not certified free of genetically modified products, state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza "gave instructions... against the entry of any imports, especially wheat, corn and soya beans until samples of the cargo have been the absence of a certificate," it added.

The agency gave no further details.

Egypt is the most populous Arab country and one of the world's largest wheat importers.

GM crops are widely grown in North America, South America and China. Egypt approved the cultivation of genetically modified corn last year.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

A cancerous conspiracy to poison your faith in organic food by Joanna Blythman The Daily Mail, 31 July 2009 - read below

" Organic food is no healthier, Food Standards Agency, UK finds". Yet another controversial report recently released.
I have emails pouring in for my views on this report. This was expressed by a concerned scientist "No claims to nutritional superiority were made for organic foods. It is the environmental and health benefits of these foods that make them superior to those grown 'chemically'. Am I right? Why is this study from an apparently impeccable academic institution being given so much of publicity and why is it being bandied about as though it knocks the bottom off the argument for organic foods?Could you kindly throw some light on this front?

How sad is this that we actually begin to believe this report, since it comes out from the so called impeccable academic institute FSA in the UK. Why blame ourselves indeed, for we wish to continue to be so naive and not wake up to the politics of these corrupt giants who are hand in glove with government funded bodies. Such studies are usually very narrow with some very specific objective - one to publish reports which suit their self vested interests to fill their coffers. This is then hyped by substantial media coverage making matters even worse. Incidently, the study was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency in UK whose profile on lobby watch might be worth reading...

Yes, the study is only about nutritional effects of organic food versus conventional foods and explicitly states that " This review does not address contaminant content (such as herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, or the environmental impacts of organic and conventional agricultural practices. Lopsided isn't it!

Unfortunately, we are to blame - The hectic lifestyles maintained with sapped energy levels, this so called independent watchdog strives to further ignite the already confused minds. Media muscle is used to seek your urgent attention and that too at our expense. A pandora's plot of toxic tactic moves are being carried out right under our noses. We are nothing short of writing our own obituary, if we allow the dictats of these corrupt giants and bodies to rule our lives.

If you do not believe me, then read below the views and links shared by John Fagan, Ph.D. a molecular biologist who spent more than two decades using recombinant DNA techniques in his own research. His latest book Genetic Engineering: The Hazards, Vedic Engineering: The Solutions exposes the real story regarding genetic engineering, revealing that this approach is superficial, incomplete and hazardous, and at best, offers partial, temporary fixes, over-promoted bandaids that cause more harm than good.This highly readable book also provides the essentials that each one of us needs to know to protect ourselves, our families, and our planet from these dangers.

I do hope this revives your faith in safe foods.

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma

Dear All,

I keep receiving additional information rebutting the conclusions of the FSA-sponsored article that claims that organic is not more nutritious.

Below are three of these:

The first is short comments by a person in the UK who is very knowledgeable about the politics of food in the UK, as well as about organic agriculture. She explains that the FSA-sponsored article was written to counteract research that came out earlier this year showing that organic foods are genuinely more nutritious.

The second is a good article from the Daily Mail, a major UK newspaper.

The third is a critique of the FSA-sponsored article by the top scientist in the Organic Center, a leading organic agriculture research institution in the US.

John Fagan


(1) Comments from Claire Robinson

There's lots of support for organic food and farming published in UK national newspapers today in response to yesterday's findings by the pro-GM, anti-organic Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA review dismisses health benefits of eating organic food but admits to a lack of research on which to base findings, while completely ignoring other benefits (eg to the environment and animal welfare) and the risks and damage that arise from intensive agriculture.

The Ecologist reports that researchers could only identify 11 studies relating to the health content of organic food and admitted the current evidence base was, "extremely limited both in terms of the number of studies and the quality of studies found".
The Ecologist online (30 July)
See also
Editor's blog: FSA organic study: read it closely The Ecologist online (30 July)

The FSA has been on a pro-GM anti-organic crusade since it was first launched under the chairmanship of John Krebs. From the beginning there was a total failure to re-examine the safety of GM foods, despite the high level of consumer concern. Indeed, Krebs declared all approved GM foods safe on his first day in the job before he had even had time to look at the evidence!

Instead, he quickly ordered a safety enquiry into organic food, which has a high level of consumer confidence. Krebs then made a high profile attack on organic food that lead Dr Patrick Wall, then chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, to describe Krebs' views on organic food as "extreme".

Krebs, of course, has been far from alone at the FSA in terms of close links to the GM lobby. The first director of the Scottish arm of the FSA was Dr George Paterson -- the former director general of Health Canada's Food Directorate. Paterson has been linked to major food safety scandals in Canada involving both fast track approval for a Monsanto GM crop and the overriding of internal government scientists' health warnings on a GM product.

Krebs and the FSA's aggressive pro-GM anti-organic stance triggered to GMWatch's very first PANTS ON FIRE AWARD.


A cancerous conspiracy to poison your faith in organic food Joanna Blythman The Daily Mail, 31 July 2009

Despite its obvious benefits for our health and for the environment, organic food continues to be denigrated by the political and corporate establishment in Britain.

The food industry, in alliance with pharmaceutical and big biotechnology companies, has waged a long, often cynical campaign to convince the public that mass-produced, chemically-assisted and intensively-farmed products are just as good as organic foods, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

The latest assault in this propaganda exercise comes from the Food Standards Agency, the government's so-called independent watchdog, which has just published a report claiming that there is no nutritional benefit to be gained from eating organic produce.

Those forces bent on promoting GM crops and industrialised production, would have been delighted by the widespread media coverage of the Agency's report, portraying enthusiasm for organic foods as little more than a fad among neurotic consumers that would pass once the public is given the correct information.

But what is truly misguided is not the increasing popularity of organic goods, but the Food Standards Agency's determination to halt this trend and instead promote genetic modification.

The new report from the FSA highlights this. For all the publicity it has attracted, the document does not contain any new material.

In fact, it is just an analysis of existing research carried out by other bodies. Moreover, the organisation that conducted this second-hand study, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is not renowned as a leading centre in this field.

Indeed, there is far more significant work currently being done on organic foods by several other bodies, some of it funded by the European Union, though the FSA has chosen to ignore it.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the FSA has decided to give such loud backing to this report because it can bend the findings to suit its political, pro-GM, anti-organic agenda.
GM crops

What is truly misguided is not the increasing popularity of organic goods, but the Food Standards Agency's determination to instead promote genetic modification

Ever since its creation in 2000, the Food Standards Agency has been biased against organic farming. The first chairman, Sir John Krebs, was supportive of the biotechnology lobby and only too keen to promote GM as the future of farming.

In fact, one early review of the FSA's work, by the Labour peer Baroness Brenda Dean, warned there was a risk of the Agency losing its 'objectivity'
and 'rigour' in its support for GM crops and its opposition to organic production.

The departure of Sir John Krebs has not brought any change in policy, since the Agency is now largely run by plodding bureaucrats all too keen to follow the correct official corporate line.

Yet even in the context of the latest report from the FSA, the spin does not match the reality. For, contrary to all the hype this week, the Agency's own published research shows that organic foods are clearly far better for the consumer even just in nutritional terms.

Happy hen vs jail bird: Organic poultry, eggs and [bacon not only taste much better, but they have also not been pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics]

According to the FSA's findings, organic vegetables contain 53.6 per cent more betacarotene - which helps combat cancer and heart disease - than non-organic ones.

Similarly, organic food has 11.3 per cent more zinc, 38.4 per cent more flavonoids and 12.7 per cent more proteins.

In addition, an in-depth study by Newcastle University, far deeper than the one conducted by the FSA, has shown that organic produce contains 40 per cent more antioxidants than non-organic foods, research the FSA appears to have overlooked.

But the concentration solely on nutrition is to play into the hands of the anti-organic, pro-industrial lobby.

As most of the British public understands, but the FSA fails to acknowledge, the benefits of organic food go far beyond this narrow point.

The fact is that organic production is much better for personal health, food quality, the environment and the welfare of livestock.

Organic farming works in tune with the rhythms of the earth, gently harnessing the changing seasons, the natural cultivation of crops or the rearing of animals for our benefit.

In contrast, the vast biotech, processed food industry is at permanent war with nature, continually trying to manipulate, overwhelm and conquer.
Organic farming is all about harmony, non-organic about chemicalised ascendancy.

The most obvious way this difference is manifested is in the use of pesticides on crops, banned from organic farming but eagerly promoted by big industry.

Fifty years ago, agro-chemicals hardly existed in British farming, but today they dominate this sector. But their rise has not been without justifiable concerns about the side-effects.

There is now a wealth of evidence to show that pesticides not only poison the soil and harm wildlife, but also promote cancer and a host of other diseases because of their toxicity.

This is, after all, only common sense. Anything that can kill insects is bound to have an impact when consumed by humans.

It has been shown that ordinary pears are sprayed with pesticides no fewer than 17 to 18 times during one seasonal growing cycle. A third of all the food we eat, and no less than half of all our fruit and vegetables, contains such chemicals.

The Government airily dismisses any worries about the risks, but this kind of complacency is based on old, outdated science.

As the agro-chemical industry tightens its grip, the worse the dangers become. Organic farming, however, offers the opportunity to eat without these dangers. All organic food is free from chemical residues and thus the health threats are much lower.

Even the most die-hard GM enthusiast would have to admit that organic meat, fruit and vegetables taste much better than the mass-produced fare turned out by major suppliers.

Non-organic produce is not just grown with chemicals, it is also filled with additives, colourings, flavourings, salt and water simply so it has an acceptable appearance to the consumer once it reaches the shelves.

Again, this battery of synthetic additives which appears in many processed foods, ready meals and take-aways has a detrimental effect on our health, something that is avoided with organic produce.

Intensive farming also has a brutal impact on the well-being of animals, which in turn undermines both the quality of meat and our own health.

Organic poultry, eggs and bacon not only taste much better, but they have also not been pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, like industrialised produce.

Putting pigs and hens in battery cages inside vast hangars is a sure recipe for the spread of disease, akin to locking up a large group of children in an overheated, overcrowded nursery.

In this environment, the only way to combat germs is to dish out the antibiotics, but there are now scientific concerns that the overuse of such chemicals is weakening resistance in animals and also reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics among humans.

Giving animals a decent life through organic, traditional husbandry is better for them - and for us. All the cheerleading for the agro-chemical giants cannot hide the fact that industrialised farming represents a cul-de-sac for mankind.

We cannot go on as we are, pumping chemicals into our livestock and into the earth. The future has to be organic.

If it has any genuine interest in nutrition, the Food Standards Agency would be supporting a shift away from intensification, not pushing for more of it.

The FSA was meant to be an organisation for improving our food. Now it is just getting in the way.

Read more:


(3) Critique by Dr. Charles Benbrook of the FSA-Sponsored Article

Organic Center Response to the FSA Study
July 2009
Author(s): Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist
The Organic Center

Donald R. Davis, PhD.
Retired Research Scientist
University of Texas at Austin

Preston K. Andrews
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Washington State University
An advance copy of a study appeared today that will be published in the September edition of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The published paper, "Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review," was written by a team led by Alan Dangour, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and funded by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In their written report, the London team downplayed positive findings in favor of organic food. In several instances, their analysis showed that organic foods tend to be more nutrient dense than conventional foods. Plus, their study omitted measures of some important nutrients, including total antioxidant capacity. It also lacked quality controls contained in a competing study released in 2008 by The Organic Center (TOC). Last, the FSA-funded team also used data from very old studies assessing nutrient levels in plant varieties that are no longer on the market.

The London team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and tritratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. Elevated levels of nitrogen in food are regarded by most scientists as a public health hazard because of the potential for cancer-causing nitrosamine compounds to form in the human GI tract. Hence, this finding of higher nitrogen in conventional food favors organic crops, as do the other two differences.

Despite the fact that these three categories of nutrients favored organic foods, and none favored conventionally grown foods, the London-based team concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organically and conventionally grown crops.

A team of scientists convened by The Organic Center (TOC) carried out a similar, but more rigorous, review of the same literature. The TOC team analyzed published research just on plant-based foods. Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods."

The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health – total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies.

Unlike the London study, The Organic Center review focused on nutrient differences in "matched pairs" of crops grown on nearby farms, on the same type of soil, with the same irrigation systems and harvest timing, and grown from the same plant variety. It also rigorously screened studies for the quality of the analytical methods used to measure nutrient levels, and eliminated from further consideration a much greater percentage of the published literature than the FSA team.

While the FSA team found 80 comparisons of phenolic compounds, the TOC team focused on the more precise measure of total phenolic acids, or total polyphenols, and found just 25 scientifically valid "matched pairs." By mixing together in their statistical analysis the results of several specific phenolic acids, the FSA team likely lost statistical precision.

Instead, the TOC team focused on studies reporting values for total phenolic acids, and also applied more rigorous selection criteria to exclude poorer quality studies.

The TOC team found –
Twenty-five matched pairs of organic and conventional crops for which total phenolic acid data was reported. The levels were higher in the organic crops in 18 of these 25 cases, conventional crops were higher in 6. In five of the matched pairs, phenolic acid levels were higher in organic crops by 20% or more. On average across the 25 matched pairs, total phenolics were 10% higher in the organic samples, compared to conventional crops.
In seven of eight matched pairs reporting total antioxidant capacity data, the levels were higher in the organically grown crop. Of 15 matched pairs for the key antioxidant quercetin, 13 reported higher values in the organic food. In the case of kaempferol, another important antioxidant, the organic samples were higher in six cases, while five were higher in the conventional crops.

In the TOC study, there were an ample number of matched pairs to compare the levels of 11 nutrients, including five of the nutrients in the FSA review. For the five nutrients covered in each review, the TOC team was in general agreement with the FSA findings for two (nitrogen and phosphorus).

The London team did not assess differences in key individual antioxidants, nor in total antioxidant activity, important nutrients that have been measured in several more recent studies.

Across all the valid matched pairs and the 11 nutrients included in the TOC study, nutrient levels in organic food averaged 25% higher than in conventional food. Given that some of the most significant differences favoring organic foods were for key antioxidant nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of on most days, the team concluded that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day.

Why the Different Results?

A review of the London-based team's methodology and study design points clearly to why the FSA and Organic Center studies reached some different conclusions.

Inclusion of Older Studies

The FSA review included studies over a 50-year period: January 1958 through February 2008. The TOC team included studies published since 1980. Most studies published before 1980 were found flawed for purposes of comparing the nutrient content of today's conventional and organic crops.

Most of the older studies used plant varieties no longer in use, and did not measure or report total phenolics or antioxidant capacity (since these nutrients were just being discovered). The older studies used analytical methods that are now considered inferior, compared to modern methods.

Further, since the 1950s, plant breeders and growers have consistently increased the yields of food crops, leading, in some cases, to a dilution of nutrients. In 2004, one of us (Donald R. Davis) reported evidence for a general decline in some nutrient levels in 43 garden crops between 1950 and 1999 (Davis et al., "Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999," Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23(6): 669-682; a summary of the Davis paper is posted).

Similarly, an Organic Center report by Brian Halweil describes in detail the evidence linking higher yields and nutrient decline ("Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in the U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields,").
Thus, results in the FSA study are likely confounded by the team's decision to include data from over three decades ago.

New Studies Support Greater Nutrient Density in Organic Foods

Since February 2008, the cut-off date of the London study, some 15 new studies have been published, most of which use superior design and analytical methods based on criticisms of older studies. The Organic Center is updating its earlier analysis with these additional studies. These new studies generally reinforce the findings reported in the March 2008 TOC report, particularly in the case of nitrogen (higher in conventional crops, a disadvantage), and Vitamin C, total phenolics, and total antioxidant capacity, which are typically higher in organically grown foods.

The Center's study finds that protein content and beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, are typically higher in conventionally grown foods, but since both are present at ample or excessive levels in the diets of most Americans, these differences do not confer a nutritional advantage nearly as important as heightened levels of phenolics and antioxidants in organic foods.

Exclusion of Studies Analyzing Results on "Integrated" Farms

The FSA team excluded studies comparing organic foods to "integrated" and biodynamic production systems, stating that "integrated" systems are not conventional. Most conventional U.S. fruit and vegetable producers are now using advanced levels of Integrated Pest Management. Thus, "integrated" systems are now a more accurate description of "conventional" agriculture in the U.S., than a definition grounded in monoculture, the calendar spraying of pesticides, and excessive applications of chemical fertilizers. The London team did not report in the published paper which "integrated" studies were dropped, but we suspect some important U.S.-based studies may have been eliminated.

TOC Study Applied Much Stricter Screens for Scientific Validity

The two teams agree that many published studies are methodologically flawed, and hence should not be included in comparative studies. But the FSA and TOC teams used very different rules to screen studies for scientific quality and to select matched pairs for analyses.

The FSA team cites five criteria: definition of the organic system; specification of the plant variety (i.e., crop genetics); statement of nutrients analyzed; description of laboratory method used; and, a statement regarding statistical methods for assessing differences. The London team states that they simply required some discussion of these issues in published papers, but did not set or apply any qualitative thresholds in judging scientific validity.

The Organic Center team focused on the same factors (plus several others) and used stated, objective criteria for assessing them. The TOC team reviewed the statistical power and reliability of the analytical methods, a process that eliminated dozens of results. Finally, the TOC team insisted upon a close match of soils, plant genetics (variety), harvest method and timing, and irrigation systems, all factors that can bias the results of a comparison study.

Inclusion of Market-Basket Studies

The FSA team included some market basket studies, for which there is no way to know the specific circumstances of the farm locations, the plant genetics, the soil type, or harvest method and timing. In the Organic Center study, market basket results were judged as "invalid" based on several quality-control screening criteria.

This review is also available as a pdf document below.
Review of FSA Sponsored Study on Nutrient Content

Friday, August 7, 2009

‘Juicy’ activism drives healthy food alternative on IIM-A campus

This is refreshing news that Siddharth Jaiswal has succeeded in "Sowing the Seeds of Consciousness" to awaken the elite alumini at IIM -Ahmedabad. Raising a dash of awareness on genetically modified foods is the critical need of the hour. At least IIM-A director, Samir Barua understands the frightening impact of crop species or the harm it does to our bodies, and wishes to revisit our food policies. That is the way forward. Thank you Samir.

It certainly is a sound start for Siddharth to introduce the concept of safe foods but wish to caution you all that once the GM genie is released into our environment, your entire biodiversity, one by one will get contaminated leaving you to the mercy of the transnational giants. You can be rest assured then, NO amount of organic foods can save you as through cross pollination the organic fields will get destroyed leaving toxic trails and a toxic you.

Food for thought - Since when were herbicides safe for growing our food???How come such lethal contaminants when introduced into your food chain not glare you in your face?

As informed consumers you have choice - Choose GM foods to create a pesticide factory in your gut/intestines for the rest of your life or choose to Say NO to GM foods!!!

Well, earlier this year, I did have the fine opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the Dean Academic Trilochan Sastry at IIM - Bangalore. Mr Sastry was extremely helpful on issues concerning 250 underprivileged children for a school run by my sister, a reputed social worker. But when i voiced the dire concerns re the hazards of genetically modified foods, interestingly, Prof Sastry was all for safe foods evoking a personal concern but to carry it through to the whole campus, a rather disappointing, passive luke warm response.

Since the spark has now been kindled, lets hope the Dean will change his mind. I will be more than delighted to raise awareness at IIM. To keep you all abreast....soon after the launch of "MY Right to Safe food" in March 2009, almost each day we get invited to various institutes/corporates/ schools/ spiritual centres for the screening of the 28 min film "Poison On The Platter" followed by a 20 min talk by me on "Indian versus Global scenario on GM foods". And then a 10 min Q&A session.

The feedback received from many consumers as we campaign.... they have limited access to safe food outlets and limited access to organic vegetable seeds. So, we embarked on a sound mission - "With a problem, carry a solution" We consciously decided that when we get invited to locations, we invite safe food outlets based in that location to distribute fliers, display their organic produce or even sell. Besides this, all publicity material of Annadana's displaying biodiversity, membership forms, booklets like compost composting, organic growth promoters, SRI etc along with a beautiful array of Annadana vegetables growing in season along with a display of wide variety of OP vegetable seeds.

We drive home one strong message to consumers - "Wake up and do take charge of your own food", you cannot go wrong!!!

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma


Adam Halliday Tags : IIM-ahmedabad Posted: Thursday , Aug 06, 2009 at 0037 hrs Ahmedabad:

It is an example of entrepreneurship mixed with shades of activism. After having started a unique juice centre, an IIM-A alumnus has come up with the concept of an organic food stall that has organic material in its interiors and a dash of awareness on genetically modified (GM) food. Siddharth Jaiswal opened his niche eatery at the institute on Wednesday.

Besides serving a range of dishes, juices (without artificial colouring), mocktails and salads, one of the reasons for opening the stall, called Joos, is to spread awareness against GM food.

“Starting an organic food stall was one way of making the public realise what the pitfalls of GM food really are,” said Jaiswal.

Joos formerly stood in a corner at Ahmedabad’s C G Road. On the door and walls are pasted posters of ‘I am no lab rat’ campaign, a nationwide movement that alleges GM food can seriously harm humans, and that it has been introduced in India without adequate safety tests and public debate.

"We know GM food is bad for us and we can say no. But for those who don't, it is sadly 'normal' food," said Rahul Kashyap, who was present at the stall's campus opening.

IIM-A director, Samir Barua, who inaugurated the stall in the presence of about 50 people, called Joos theme of organic food "great" and said, "I really don't understand the scientific findings about GM food or their long-run impacts, but if it is going to destroy crop species or cause harm to our bodies, then we will need to re-look our food policies."

Awareness about GM food and its side-effects, and campaigns to spread awareness, are low-key in Gujarat, and are spread by a loose medley of organic food enthusiasts, academicians and activists.

Among them is Jatan, a Vadodara-based NGO that organises meetings for farmers and consumers, distributes pamphlets and brochures and collects signatures for petitions to the government, seeking to stop the onslaught of GM crops.

"We tell people about the science behind GM crops and the harm they can cause, and people get very frightened. The main problem is that there was and still is no public debate when a new technology like this is being introduced. People do not know about it, and they have no choice about what they eat," said Kapil Shah, one of Jatan's leaders.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tamil Nadu introduces a draconian Bill to bar non-agricultural graduates from advising farmers by Devinder Sharma

This is extremely disturbing news. A radical conflict is now taking birth between age old traditional practices in agriculture known for sustainability being exploited in the name technological advancements which are highly unsustainable and erosive. What was practiced in this country for centuries are made to be outdated in the name of "modern technology". In the name of modernization we are losing the true essence of nature's harmonious ways of living. Co-existence of species is not a factor in our well-being. We devise means of exterminating those forms of life we don't happen to like, wilfully ignoring the 'web' of life and its inter-dependence. We are living and promoting a civilization where we have forgotten the difference between matter and being holistic.

This draconian bill read below goes to prove that the government is once again hand in glove with the agri facilitators/transnationals - Muscle of MIGHT with absolutely no concerns what so ever in safe guarding our environment with safe foods be it for the farmers nor consumers but take control of our lives to further fill their coffers.

What is even more ludicrous and outrageous is that this bill's ploy is to prevent natural farmers like me through out India from spreading the message of hope of sustainability.

Sangita Sharma

Step-by-step the agribusiness industry is strengthening control over agriculture. The industry knows that if it has to take complete control over Indian agriculture, before driving out Indian farmers from agriculture, it has to work towards removing all the impediments that comes in its way. I mean it has to ensure that all factors that dissuade farmers from following the corporate mantra have to be first removed. The first and foremost are the naturalists, the new emerging breed of organic practitioners, including the religious heads who talk and preach protection of the environment and promote sustainable farming methods. This is followed by numerous groups and organisations, including activists, who have been engaged in low-external input sustainable farming practices.

These are the people who have come in the way of corporate profits. And since their influence is gaining ground, and more and more farmers are realising their mistake, the folly they committed in blindly accepting the intensive farming technology that has played havoc with agriculture and pushed them deeper and deeper into a terrible agrarian crisis, these people must be barred from interacting with farmers.

Moreover with the dimnishing credibility of agricultural scientists, agricultural universities are becoming redundant and the demand for disinvesting these universities is also growing. The agricultural universities and the agribusiness industry have therefore joined hands to seek a ban on any 'outside' effort to influence farmers. The Tamil Nadu government (in southern India) has brought in a new draconian agriculture Bill that bars anyone who is not an agricultural graduate or an agricultural professional as recognised by the Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council to render agriculture service within the State.

Only those who hold an agriculture degree granted by the University of Chennai, Annamalai University and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have been recognised under this legislation. Well, this means that even people like me who are qualified in agriculture (but not from Tamil Nadu) cannot address a training workshop for farmers in Tamil Nadu. Most of the scientists working with the ICAR institutes or agricultural universities outside the State would also be similarly barred.

Noted agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan, who escapes the provisions of this legislation since he did his graduation from Coimbatore (at that time it was not an university), will have to redesign field activities of the M S Swaminathan Foundation in Chennai in a manner that only the staff members who have an agricultural degree from Tamil Nadu are sent to advise/interact with farmers. Othwerwise, as my colleague Ramasamy Selvam informs, anyone violating the provisions of this proposed legislation will attract a fine of Rs 10,000 or imprisonment for six months.

Here is the Indian Express report on the agricultural Bill when it was introduced in Tamil Nadu Assembly. On the last day of the State Assembly session yesterday, 30 Bills were passed without any discussion, and this Bill was one of them.

New agriculture Bill introduced.

CHENNAI: June 24: Agriculture Minister Veerapandi S Arumugam on Tuesday introduced in the State Assembly a Bill to regulate agriculture practice in Tamil Nadu. This legislation provides for establishing a council called Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council (TNSAC).

The Bill said at present, there was no law to provide for the regulation of agricultural practice in the State. As per the Bill, every agricultural institution which grants a recognised agricultural qualification should furnish details about their courses of study and examinations to be undergone in order to obtain such qualification.

The TNSAC may, by regulation, specify the minimum standards of education required for granting agricultural qualifications by the agricultural institutions. The Council shall maintain a register by name The Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Practitioners Register which would have the names of all persons who possess agricultural qualifications.

The Bill further said no person other than a person whose name is borne on the register should practice as Agricultural consultant within the State or render agricultural services.

For preparing this register, the government shall, constitute a registration tribunal and appoint a Registrar.

The agricultural degrees granted by University of Chennai, Annamalai University and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have been listed as recognised agricultural qualifications under this legislation.