We read an interesting article this week in The Australian regarding the link to organic food and better bowel health. If you didn’t catch it, please read below.
There is growing evidence for the benefit of organic food, according to a previously skeptical doctor who says many agricultural pesticides are lethal to good bacteria in the bowel.
“Scientists have always said eating organic food is senseless and makes no difference as pesticides don’t harm humans,” says Dr Mark Donohoe, a Sydney GP with a special interest in environmental medicine. “However, the pesticides kill certain species of gut bacteria, not us.”
This causes an imbalance that contributes to obesity and poor general health, says Dr Donohoe, who spoke at an AustralAsian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine Conference in Melbourne on August 24.
“This thinking is becoming mainstream, particularly among gastroenterologists. My wife and patients have told me for 20 years that they feel better on an organic diet, but I have said there is no reason why they should. It turns out they are protecting their gut flora”, he says.
“For the past 10 years doctors have been looking at gut bacteria as something that makes us healthy. If our gut bacteria is not healthy, we cannot be healthy,” says Dr Donohoe.
“A lot of what doctors see in their surgeries is just a consequence of altered bacteria playing up.”
He says entire families can become obese if something in their environment disrupts their gut. “It’s not what they eat or some type of moral corruption of the owner of those bugs.”
Interestingly, Dr Donohoe is particularly concerned about the high rate of elective caesarean sections, which may leave babies with inadequate gut flora for years after birth, affecting their weight.
“More research is needed for a solution, but breastfeeding appears to be a healthy and effective way to encourage a broader diversity of gut bacteria in the infant.”
As the baby grows, plenty of fresh organic fruit and vegetables in season and minimising grains is the key to a gut-healthy diet, he says.
We can’t vouch for the veracity of Dr Donohoe’s line of thinking, but that all seems to make sense to us here at Bellamy’s Organic. Organic foods do not contain pesticides and hormones, so healthy gut bacteria are not at risk.
Following on from last weeks blog Organic farming: where is it going in Australia?, this week we thought we’d present some information from the Australian Organic Market Report, 2012. It makes interesting reading because it shows just how far we’ve come as a society in embracing organic food in Australia.
First, the size of the organic food business is now over $1.15bn in retail value. That represents a doubling since 2008. Australian exports of organic food are estimated to be about 10% of this value at some $126m.
Organic Farming in Australia
Australia still has the largest surface area of certified organic land in the world. Australian Bureau of Statistics data for 2011 noted that 11,199,577 ha is certified organic in Australia. Data from certification agencies suggests the area is actually much larger at 16.9m ha
In addition to that over 250,000ha is in “pre-certification” meaning that it is undergoing its period of transformation from conventional to organic.
Obviously not all of this land is arable. Much of the area is given over to grazing country. But then it would not surprise you to learn that 25% of all beef sold in Australia is organic meat.
Where Can I Buy Organic Foods?
Over one million Australians regularly purchase organic products. 65% of consumers reported that they purchased organic food occasionally. Beef, fruit, and vegetables/herbs make up the top three categories of fresh produce purchased, with dairy being fourth.
Showing just how mainstream organic is in this country, three in every four organic purchases are made at a major retailer. With availability increasing and pricing reducing, organic food is set to grow strongly over coming years.
Why Organic Farming?
The environmental benefits of organic farming practices are numerous – it protects the soils, improves water quality, conserves water and lowers greenhouse gases from agriculture. In fact, it is estimated that if 1,000 medium sized farms converted to organic it would be the same as taking 117,000 cars off the road every year. If it’s possible to farm successfully without chemicals, then that’s the way we should do it because we believe the whole community benefits from it.
Food Safety Issues
In Australia we’re very lucky that we have good fresh foods that are clean and healthy. And let’s be clear, our conventional food stream is closely tested and regulated, so it’s not just about organic foods.
But such controls are hard to police in some countries. China is one of these. Even Certified Organic growers in China flout the rules and there are exposures of these unscrupulous people every week.
That’s one of the reasons why Bellamy’s Organic baby formula is so highly sought after in China. Australia, and Bellamy’s Organic, have a very high reputation for organic quality and more importantly, safety.
Sadly though, the very reason why Chinese mothers buy Bellamy’s Organic is the reason why we don’t buy any Chinese ingredients that go into our formulas or indeed any of our other food ranges. We are committed to buying only the best quality, verified ingredients. That may make us more expensive sometimes, but it arguably does make us the best you can get.
Organic Food and Health
Naturally, we believe that certified organic baby foods are best. Quite simply it’s because of what is not in them. It seems that, increasingly, mothers who want to give their babies A Pure Start to Life are switching to organic baby food and it’s easy to understand why. Conventional farming practices continue to use pesticides, insecticides and hormones that are potentially harmful. Many are untested.
The problem is that some of these chemicals are found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. A 2013 study by a UN & WHO Panel[i] indicated that chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.
The report noted that children are at special risk due to their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, both of which magnify their vulnerability to known or suspected carcinogens, including radiation. Numerous environmental contaminants can cross the placental barrier; to a disturbing extent, babies are born “pre-polluted.”
The UN & WHO Panel[ii] reported that evidence linking hormone-mimicking chemicals to human health problems has grown stronger over the past decade. Specifically, the panel noted “Fetuses, babies and young children “are not just little adults” and are the most vulnerable to hormone-altering chemicals since their bodies are still developing, the authors wrote.
“We seem to be accepting as a society that it’s acceptable to load up our next generation with chemicals in an unregulated manner and hope they’re not bad. We need to change that entire culture.”
We would agree.
If you’d like to read more of what the WHO had to say, go to the link below
For many people the growth of organic farming and the consumer uptake of organic food has been depressingly slow. Some might say it’s an experiment that’s failing. But is it?
The introduction of many new ideas start with an excited introductory phase and then a long haul of slow growth as the “status quo” is overcome and overturned. I believe that this is the case with organic farming. But for any idea to have any chance of long term success in any field of endeavour there are two precursors:
Does it actually represent a better way to do things (as opposed to just an alternative way to do things) and
Does it make economic sense, by which I mean can the industry make realistic returns on a consistent basis into the future?
I’m hard pressed to think of any idea that has been a long-term success that does not meet these fundamental criteria. So what about organic food?
Is organic food a good idea?
There is no doubt that the world’s ability to feed itself is under threat.
In comparison to the past 50 years, the rate at which pressures are building up on natural resources – land, water, biodiversity – will be somewhat tempered during the coming 50 years due to the slowdown of demand growth for food and feed. However, an expanded use of agricultural feedstock for biofuels and ongoing environment degradation would work in the opposite direction.
Even if total demand for food and feed may indeed grow more slowly, just satisfying the expected food and feed demand will require a substantial increase of global food production of 70 percent by 2050, involving an additional quantity of nearly 1 billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tons of meat.
Much of the natural resource base already in use worldwide shows worrying signs of degradation. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are already being degraded or used unsustainably. These include capture fisheries and water supply. In addition, actions to intensify other ecosystem services, such as the ecosystem service ‘food production’, often cause the degradation of others. Soil nutrient depletion, erosion, desertification, depletion of freshwater reserves, loss of tropical forest and biodiversity are clear indicators. Unless investments in maintenance and rehabilitation are stepped up and land use practices made more sustainable, the productive potential of land, water and genetic resources may continue to decline at alarming rates.
We have always looked to technology to help improve our farming yields, yet the fact is that globally the rate of growth in yields of the major cereal crops has been steadily declining, it dropped from 3.2 percent per year in 1960 to 1.5 percent in 2000. Technology has increased yields over past decades, but at long term cost to the ability of land to produce at all. It’s funny how the laws of physics and the laws of nature seem to firmly agree on one thing: you can’t get something for nothing.
If technology is to save us then, it must do so in a way that does not contribute to the decline of the very land it is designed to support.
Alternatively, organic farming actively works to rehabilitate the land whilst decreasing the possibility that harmful chemicals enter the food chain. As a person with a science background myself, I don’t make these comments from a romantic viewpoint. I have no doubt that technology will need to be harnessed to improve food yields, but I think that this will be increasingly from working smarter with nature rather than with chemicals. I have no doubt also that in many farming situations currently, yields fall under organic practices. But that does not mean that they will always be less.
Fundamentally, then, it makes sense to work with nature in farming and the environment. Organic farming and food production is a better idea. Early adopters may have found it tough and many have retreated. That’s more a reflection of technique and know-how rather than on the idea itself.
So what is the situation in Australia at present? Let’s look at some basic information. In Australia there are already over 11 million ha of organic farming and grazing land available. This is a larger area than exists in any other country and it is continuing to grow.
ABS data shows that over 50% of farms are still small-scale, but that the average size of organic farms continues to grow, highlighting the trend toward professional farming.
So what of the second criteria?
Do organic farms make economic sense?
In Australia it takes three years of preparation for a farm to be certified organic. That’s the time deemed necessary for the chemicals previously used to disappear from the soil or pasture. The cost of chemicals and additives is taken out of the farm accounts. The cost of diesel for the machinery to apply them is removed, along with the time that takes. On the other side of the ledger we have reduced yields probably, particularly in the early years.
The other key factor, though, is what can farmers sell the crop for? Can they get a premium? Often the answer to that lies in what they are producing and where they are selling it. Perhaps it stands to reason that expensive foods are more likely to be able to stand some premium over the most simple basics, so that’s a consideration for the farmer. But is this born out by what we buy? The 2012 Australian Organic Market Report provides the following information. What organic product are consumers buying?
60% fresh fruit and vegetables
45% home-cooking ingredients
39% canned goods
It seems that simple basics that can carry an organic premium and are being purchased. 65% of consumers report that they buy organic food occasionally and the total value of the organic industry in Australia is now estimated at $1.276bn, $220m of which is exported.
However, there is no doubt that the marketplace is often “market-centric”, so selling to supermarkets can negate upside returns as the supermarket captures most the value of the effort. Despite this 75%, of all purchases of organic food in the country are through supermarkets, so presumably economically viable deals are being struck, if under pressure.
Export of organic food from Australia to Asia represents a good opportunity for growth. This is because, unlike Australia, Asia and particularly China has on-going concerns about basic food safety. For example, this month in Shanghai, a man was arrested with 10 tonnes of fox, mink and rat meat that he was selling for human consumption. Most of us have heard of the melamine-in-baby-milk scandal. Food safety in China continues to be a problem despite Chinese authorities working hard to eliminate these issues. Chinese consumers are prepared to pay a premium for clean, safe food and Australia’s reputation in this regard is second to none.
In the domestic market there are two issues. The first is price. Price apparently puts a lot of consumers off, but that’s the sort of explicit response that you can expect from market research in any category. Implicitly, consumers know that organic food is free from harmful chemicals. 89% of people say that’s why they buy it! The penetration of organic purchase continues to grow, as mentioned above it’s now over 65%, and so organic is now very much mainstream rather than a fad.
Production wise, 24% of all Australian beef production and 6% of all lamb production is organic. Demand for organic dairy products continues to rise. Interestingly, Australian companies can’t source enough organic milk or butter in Australia and the shortfall is made up almost exclusively from New Zealand, so opportunities exist here in markets that are already developed.
The other issue that can be addressed directly is that 48% of consumers say they’re not sure that they can trust that the food really is organic. If it’s a produce or packaged food that has been certified in Australia, it can be trusted. If it’s “organic” from China or other parts of Asia then that’s a problem. Despite this, Australian supermarkets insist on buying more and more product from Asia because it’s cheap, not because it’s good. That in turn impacts on the ability of Australian farmers to make the change to organic.
On balance then, organic seems to be a sound long-term idea that should get better as technology learns to support it. Interestingly these support techniques may well come from aid to developing countries where the infrastructure, machinery and cost of herbicides and pesticides probably make them unviable as a solution to yield increases in the first place.
Economically, it appears that organic farming practices can be viable in the long term but that short term there is some pain as markets establish.
The trend of buying organic fresh produce in Australia continues to rise, albeit slowly, but the increasing recognition of the role of epigenetics on long term health will slowly educate people to the real value of an untainted food chain. Then we will see human health and environmental health values begin to coalesce in people’s minds, as they always have in practice.
We often talk about Mindful Eating in this blog. For those of you new to the topic, mindful eating is simply thinking about what you put in your mouth before you do so. When you really think about what you’re about to eat, it’s amazing how many times you’ll switch to something else. But why is mindful eating so important to Bellamy’s Organic?
Diet and Obesity
We have a major problem with obesity in Australia. It’s estimated that two thirds of the population are at least overweight. The problem is that what a mother eats is critically important to the development of and the future life of, her unborn child.
It turns out that our diets alter what is known as our epigenome. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying (genetic) DNA sequence – hence the name epi.
The nutrients we extract from food enter our metabolic pathways where they are manipulated, modified and molded into molecules the body can use. One such pathway is responsible for making “methyl groups” – important epigenetic tags that silence genes. Familiar nutrients like folic acid and B vitamins are key components of this methyl-making pathway. Diets high in these methyl-donating nutrients can rapidly alter gene expression, especially during early development when the epigenome is first being established.
A mother’s diet during pregnancy and what mothers feed their infants can cause critical changes that stick with them into adulthood. Animal studies have shown that deficiency of methyl-donating folate or choline during late fetal or early postnatal development causes certain regions of the genome to be under-methylated for life. For adults, a methyl deficient diet still leads to a decrease in DNA methylation, but the changes are reversible with resumption of a normal diet[i].
Nutrients that positively affect our epigenome and the sort of foods that they come from can be seen in the following table.
Enzymes transfer methyl groups from SAM directly to the DNA
Egg yolks, liver, soy, cooked beef, chicken, veal and turkey
Methyl donor to SAM
Wheat, spinach, shellfish, and sugar beets
Break down the toxic byproducts of SAM synthesis
Removes acetyl groups from histones, improving health (shown in lab mice)
Soy, soy products
Increased methylation, cancer prevention, unknown mechanism
Increased histone acetylation turning on anti-cancer genes
A compound produced in the intestine when dietary fiber is fermented
Increased histone acetylation turning on ‘protective’ genes, increased lifespan (shown in the lab in flies)
Diallyl sulphide (DADS)
Increased histone acetylation turning on anti-cancer genes
If unborn children don’t get enough of the right kinds of foods because of parental diet, this can lead to obesity for future life.
So baby food starts before you have your baby, it seems. Women who are thinking about pregnancy should try to ensure that they eat enough of the sorts of foods on the list above.
Obviously plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are the go and few of us eat enough of those no matter who we are.
When your child is small and you are introducing solid meals, the idea of Mindful Eating can be applied to them too. Organic Ready to Serve meals, like the new Bellamy’s Organic range, available in all Chemist Warehouse stores and our online store, are a great way to serve them wholesome fruit and vegetables. The idea is to offer good nutrition instead of snacks with “hollow calories”. If you feed your children fruit and vegetables when they’re young, that’s what they’ll grow up to eat.
You work tirelessly to provide a pure start for your baby, and with Bellamy’s Organic that has never been easier! We are working hard too, to create new tastes your baby will love! So we’re asking for your help with this, and in return the winner will receive a pamper pack from ECO. Modern Essentials (worth over $100!) to soothe your body and restore your senses with the following products:
1. Prenatal Massage Oil
2. Diffuser (safe around babies – no open flame)
3. Hair Silk Oil with certified organic Argan Oil (bring your hair back to life/make the most of healthy hair during pregnancy)
4. Celulite Rub
5. Refresh Toning Mist
6. Relaxation Aroma Kit – pure essential oils: lavender and sweet orange
7. Rosehip Oil – this is great for both mum and baby – certified organic by ACO
To be in the running to win this awesome prize pack, all you have to do is tell us what Ready to Serve baby food variety you would like to feed your baby. The winner will be selected by our very own Production Team (who created our current range!) and will be announced early August. Entries close 31st of July 2013.
Keeping the following Bellamy’s Organic criteria in mind tell us what baby food variety you would like to feed your baby (ie Chicken, Sweet Potato and Cous Cous or Mango, Blueberry and Apple)
· 100% Certified Organic
· 100% Australian Made
· No Added Sugar or Salt
· No Recognised Allergens
Who knows, you could create the next Ready to Serve baby food variety!