Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Organic Meat and Milk Tested Against Conventional Product

Organic meat and milk put to the test by British study at Newcastle University

article image
Milk today comes in a lot of different varieties: lactose-free, permeate free, low-fat, high protein, A2-only protein, pasteurised and homogenised milk.

In a similar manner, meat selection has also vastly broadened to include wagyu, free-range, grass-fed, grain-fed, hormone-free, nitrate-free, heart-smart etc.

Consumers are being forced to debate whether it is worth the extra dollars for organic versus about $2.15 for conventional, $9.89 for 450g of organic beef mince versus about $5 for conventional meat.

A new study, the largest of its kind to date, set out to delineate the nutritional differences (ethical differences, are another matter), one arguably of equal or greater importance.

Breaking down the data from 196 studies on milk and 67 on meat from around the world, the British researchers from Newcastle University found that there were clear nutritional differences between conventional and organic meat and dairy.


It was found that both organic milk and meat contain about 50 per cent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.  "Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function," said study co-author Professor Chris Seal.  "But getting enough in our diet is difficult.  Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients."

Nutritionist and founder of The Health Clinic Pip Reed adds that our bodies can't produce omega-3 fatty acids so we need them from food.  "Studies show that three in five Australians don't eat the recommended two to three serves of 150 grams of oily fish per week required for good heart health," Reed says, "and less than 10 per cent of children meet these recommendations which means that having additional sources of omegas available through organic milk and meats is extremely important."


The researchers also found organic meat and dairy contain about 40 per cent more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and "slightly higher" concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids.  "CLA is a natural polyunsaturated fat found in meat and dairy products, and is one of the most popular weight loss supplements," Reed says. "It is technically a natural trans fat, however without the risks that come with artificially made trans fats renowned for damaging our health.  "Getting CLA from animal milk products is important, as supplement versions are derived from sunflower and safflower oil, and do not have the same health benefit effect on our bodies."


Conventional milk, with 74 per cent more iodine and slightly more selenium, was a winner here.

This is significant given that iodine deficiencies in Australia were considered enough of a problem that, in 2009, mandatory fortification of baked bread and iodised salt was introduced.

Now it affects about 12.8 per cent of Australians.  "Iodine and selenium are both important essential minerals that help regulate the thyroid hormones, controlling metabolism, body temperature, improve energy levels, as well as aid in detoxification, providing antioxidants, healthy pregnancy and stabilising healthy weight," Reed says.  "These two essential minerals, in excess consumption, can cause toxicity, so unless you are deficient in these minerals and/or not eating a well rounded diet then the increase of iodine and selenium in conventional milk may not be of benefit to you."

The dietitians:
"While we no doubt all agree with not using chemicals if possible and the philosophy of organic farming, we have to question if it can really produce enough food to feed us all?" says Dr Joanna McMillan.

"The cost is still prohibitive for most and at the end of the day are these differences clinically significant? Most people just need to eat more real food before they think about whether they can make the switch to organic."

"This analysis clearly shows that organic milk has higher concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk. However the analysis also found that grass-fed cattle tend to produce milk with higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids," says Nutrition Plus dietitian Melanie McGrice. "We are blessed to be living in a country where most of our cattle are grass-fed, and they are not locked away in stalls.

"The analysis found that organic milk is a more nutritious option, and I'd certainly be in favour of people using it... [but] we don't really drink milk for its omega 3 anyway – for that we should be turning to fish.
"In summary, drink organic milk if you'd like to and can afford it, but conventional milk is still a nutritious choice if you can't."

The study author:
"People choose organic milk and meat for three main reasons: improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, and the perceived health benefits," said the study author, Professor Carlo Leifert. "But much less is known about impacts on nutritional quality, hence the need for this study.

"Several of these differences stem from organic livestock production and are brought about by differences in production intensity, with outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals producing milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases."


The story is somewhat mixed - a British study using data from many sources at the British University of Newcastle, yet with comments about Australia.

True, in Australia [and NZ] most livestock products are produced predominantly outdoors by grazing animals on pastures, also beneficial for food quality.

The bottom line is that normal dairy products are okay - although there may be a very minor benefit from some specialist products including organic.  It does seem to say that it is an expensive option and other actions could be more useful nutritionally eg eat more fish.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Bananas and Disease - A Range of Ideas

Disease may wipe out world's bananas – but here's how we might just save them

Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Cardiff University

Catastrophe is looming for the banana industry. A new strain has emerged of a soil-borne fungus known as “Panama disease” which can wipe out entire plantations – and it is rapidly spreading around the world. Farmers in Australia, Latin America and across Asia and Africa all fear the worst.

The fungus is almost impossible to stop or eradicate. It moves through soil, so contamination can be as simple as infected dirt travelling from one farm to another on the sole of a shoe, or as complex as soil particles blowing on the wind across long distances – even across oceans, in theory.

Faced with huge losses to a global industry, many have called for a new strain of disease-resistant “superbanana”. However, this would be just another temporary fix. After all, the world’s most popular banana, the Cavendish, was itself the wonder fruit of its day, being introduced in the 1950s after an earlier strain of Panama disease destroyed its predecessor.


              Panama disease causes banana plants to wilt and die.
              Scot Nelson

The fungi simply adapted and fought back, though, until the Cavendish also became susceptible. Panama and other diseases will continue to do so until we seriously reform how we grow and market bananas.

The banana industry is its own worst enemy. The huge farms where most exported bananas are grown are ideal for pests. These plantations are monocultures, which means they grow only bananas and nothing else. With very few shifts between crops over the years, and lots of tropical sunshine, there is an abundant and year-round supply of food for pests without any breaks, in time or space, to disrupt the supply and lower the disease pressure.

Banana producers spend a third of their income on controlling these pests, according to a study I published in 2013. Chemicals to control microscopic but deadly worms are applied several times a year. Herbicides that control weeds are applied up to eight times a year, while bananas may be sprayed with fungicides from a plane more than 50 times per year in order to control Black Sigatoka, an airborne fungus.


              Keep out, pests!

And those bags that are wrapped around each individual banana bunch? They’re lined with insecticides to serve as both a physical and chemical barrier to insects feeding on and damaging the skins.

All of this amounts to approximately one litre of active ingredients for every 18.6 kg box of bananas that is exported to consumers in the global north. It’s a huge, long-running problem for the industry and the new strain of Panama disease may just be the nail in its coffin.

Or maybe this is the wake-up call the export banana industry so desperately needs.

Searching for the superbanana

Given the way the fungus spreads, containment and quarantine are hardly long-term solutions. Some experts, especially those entrenched in the business of growing export bananas, argue that we need to breed or genetically modify a new type of banana that is resistant to the latest strain of Panama disease.

But this is harder than it sounds. Modern bananas – the tasty yellow ones – don’t exist in nature; they were bred into existence around 10,000 years ago. They reproduce asexually, which means they don’t have seeds and every banana is a genetic clone of the previous generation.

This lack of genetic variation makes breeding a new banana particularly challenging. If one Cavendish is susceptible to a disease, all others will be too. When all bananas are clones, how do you create the genetic variation from which traits for better disease resistance can be identified and nurtured?


              Identical bananas – and only bananas – for miles on end.
              underworld / shutterstock

A new banana would also have to be tasty, durable enough to withstand long voyages without bruising, and bright yellow. Looks really do trump pest-resistance. A new type of banana introduced during a previous Panama disease panic back in the 1920s was rejected by consumers for going black on the outside, even when it was ripe and sweet inside.

Saving the banana

Today, banana growers are in a fight for survival, continuously applying newly-formulated fungicides in an effort to keep ahead of the diseases. But they are acutely aware that they are losing ground. While breeding a new banana staves off the current problem, history has already shown that this doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is the design of the production system.

We need to ditch the massive farms. Around the world, millions of small-scale farmers already grow bananas in a more organic and sustainable way. Alongside bananas are cacao, avocado, mango, corn, orange, lemon and more. A mix of crops creates more stable production systems which rely on fewer, if any, pesticides and generates diverse income sources, handing local people greater food sovereignty. Farms where bananas are mixed in with other crops are also more resilient to climate change which is likely to hit banana-producing regions – developing countries – harder than most.

Yes, this would mean fewer bananas are grown. Sustainable agriculture simply can’t keep up with the megafarms. But if we learned to ignore the odd blemished or undersized banana, then the actual amount sent to market need not drop at all.

The farmers themselves should be okay as they’ll make up their income by producing different crops. Breaking the dominance of the banana multinationals should also distribute wealth among more farmers and empower the regions where they’re grown. As a consumer, ask yourself this: isn’t that a far better way to spend your money?

Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Research Associate, Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This is but one view, and a variety of views is always worth hearing.  There is a lot of research occurring to deal with the proliferation of Panama Disease TR4.  Agricultural science research focused on solutions!.

Also relevant is a need to improve the nutrition quality of bananas in regions especially where it is a staple food eg Uganda and other parts of Africa.  Progress is being made, supported by the Gates Foundation.  Loss of bananas as a crop in these regions would be a very serious issue.  Genetics are at the forefront of the scientific work to find a solution.

The picture worldwide with bananas is far from the gloom and doom portrayed in this article. It might not be all beer and skittles,  but a lot of bananas are still being produced and shipped around the world.

Biosecurity programs, cultural and agronomic interventions and management are somewhat mitigating the disease spread in areas known to have the disease, but it is spreading slowly - absolutely correct.  And it is a steady "war "between plant disease and plant varieties - across many different crops, with new disease resistant varieties produced regularly across many crops yet the diseases continue to adapt and infect crops that are either not resistant, or the disease adapting to forma modified strain.  It has been that way for thousands of years.  Genetics at work, Even if more difficult in a cloned variety.

But banana demand in many regions also is expanding.  It is a fruit of choice quite often in many countries, so pressure to develop solutions is high.  And there may well be multiple solutions.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The International Year of the Pulse 2016

Feeding the Future With Pulse Crops
The year 2016 has been dubbed the “International Year of Pulses” by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). The goal of the initiative is to heighten consumer awareness of the nutritional and other benefits of pulse crops as well as to marshal the capabilities of agricultural research organizations worldwide in developing new, improved varieties that will further global food security and sustainable agriculture.

Pulses are the dry edible seeds of certain leguminous plants, including dry peas, lentils, chickpeas, mungbeans and dry beans (such as kidney and navy beans), but not fresh green beans, fresh peas, soybeans, or peanuts.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions, and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals.”
The Agricultural Research Service of the USDA has long been a proponent of pulse crops, with one research program—the Dry Bean Project at Prosser, Washington—dating back to 1958 and currently serving growers and other industry members in more than 11 states across the country. Scientists with the agency are also making global contributions, particularly through their participation in the Feed the Future (FtF) Grain Legumes Project, a food security initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Pulses are historically important food crops, and ARS is a leader in developing high-yielding varieties with enhanced nutritional qualities,” says plant geneticist George Vandemark, who leads the agency’s Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Pullman, Washington.
Vandemark’s laboratory is one of several ARS locations across the country whose pulse crop research programs produce improved germplasm and commercial varieties offering better resistance to pests and diseases, greater tolerance to environmental extremes like drought, improved nutritional quality, and other traits benefiting growers, processors, and consumers.
Over the past 5 years, in partnership with USAID and through their participation in the FtF Grain Legumes Project, ARS scientists at five locations have brought their considerable expertise to bear in addressing some of the agricultural challenges faced by rural and small-holdings farmers in developing regions of the world where pulses, particularly dry beans, are staple food crops.

• The Andean Diversity Panel (ADP), a collection of nearly 500 accessions of large-seeded dry beans of Andean descent obtained from more than a dozen countries in South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of North America. ADP database information includes analyses from genomic mapping and genotyping, physical and biochemical descriptions of the accessions, and DNA markers associated with genes for important traits like higher mineral content, adaptability to nutrient-poor soils, and resistance to diseases like rust and angular leaf spot that can decimate susceptible bean crops. 
• Demonstration that certain genomic regions are responsible for “fast cooking,” a valuable trait that can reduce the cooking time of beans—thus reducing the amount of fuel needed to prepare meals in resource-poor households. FtF team members are also investigating the role of other contributing factors, namely, seed mineral concentrations (before and after cooking) to assess their correlations with cooking time.
• Use of a plant breeding technique called “pyramid stacking” to develop red, pinto, great northern, and navy beans with adaptability to a broad range of conditions, including extreme heat, productivity in nutrient-poor soils, and limited irrigation. Together with University of Puerto Rico colleagues, FtF team members have provided breeding and pathology training to East African, Haitian, and Central American scientists, particularly in developing locally adapted varieties that can withstand common bacterial blight, angular leaf spot, and other bean diseases.
• Identification of broad-spectrum resistance to the bean rust fungus in large-seeded cultivars from Tanzania and Ecuadorian germplasm lines. Crosses are under way to transfer the rust resistance into dry bean market classes (yellow, red-mottled, white, and tan) for small-holdings farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, where fungicide use to prevent outbreaks can be too costly.
• Evaluations of the agronomic performance of common and tepary (southwestern) beans inoculated with strains of Bradyrhizobium bacteria, which convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can use for their growth—reducing the need to apply fertilizers for subsequent crops.—By Jan Suszkiw, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
“Feeding the Future With Pulse Crops” was published in the February 2016 issue of AgResearch Magazine.       - link with images.