Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Tips & Tidbits – Winter 2000-2001

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Winter 2000-2001 \ Tips


Vitamin K May Strengthen Bones
Soy Soothes the Circuits in Body Cells
New Model Saves Farmers Costs of Fertilizer, Soil Tests
Bromelain – Health Food for Bessie, Too
New Air Cleaning Device Cuts Salmonella in Poultry Houses
International Hemp Journal Yearbooks Released


Vitamin K May Strengthen Bones

More evidence that vitamin K helps maintain strong bones comes from a new look at data from 888 elderly men and women participating in the Framingham Heart Study between 1988 and 1995. The study is reported in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The risk of hip fractures among these elderly decreased as intakes of vitamin K increased, according to study leader Sarah Booth. She heads vitamin K research at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, funded by the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s chief scientific agency. Booth collaborated with researchers from the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged Research and Training Institute, Harvard Medical School and others.

Men and women who reported the lowest daily vitamin K intakes – averaging 56 micrograms – in 1988 had experienced significantly more hip fractures by the 1995 examination than those reporting the highest intakes – averaging 254 micrograms.

Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, are rich in vitamin K – known chemically as phylloquinone. One serving of spinach or two servings of broccoli provide four to five times the Recommended Dietary Allowance, now set at 65 to 80 micrograms.

Vitamin K activates at least three proteins involved in bone health, according to Booth, but exactly how it works is still a mystery. That may help explain why the study found no relationship between bone mineral density and vitamin K intakes.

Booth and colleagues estimated vitamin K intakes from food frequency questionnaires the volunteers fill out at each examination, but the estimated intakes are misleading. They overestimate intakes by 50 percent or more, explains Booth, because people report eating more vegetables than they actually do, so the estimates aren’t a good ruler for setting recommendations.

The new findings support others reported in 1999: Analysis of data from more than 72,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study showed that low vitamin K intakes increased risk of hip fracture. Booth provided vitamin K levels for the foods reported in the nurses’ study.

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Judy McBride, (301) 504-1628; Scientific contact: Sarah L. Booth, Vitamin K Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass.; phone (617) 556-3231, fax (617) 556-3149.

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Soy Soothes the Circuits in Body Cells

Human body cells are constantly barraged with chemical signals that pester them to respond. Miraculously, they do a pretty good job of filtering out the “noise” and staying focused on their purpose. But some cells lose the ability to regulate these signals, and they react before they should. Researchers now believe this loss contributes to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

Foods play an important role in filtering out this chemical noise. Test tube studies more than a decade ago showed that a phytonutrient in soy foods – genistein – dampens communication from the cell’s surface to its interior. Now, an Agricultural Research Service study gives the first evidence of this dampening effect in an animal.

For four weeks, chemist Norberta Schoene, based at the ARS Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., fed young rats diets containing soy protein with high or low levels of genistein. Then she measured how the animals’ blood platelets responded. Platelets are quite sensitive to outside signals and so are a good model for studying cell signaling. In three different tests, the platelets from the animals receiving the high-genistein diet showed less response to such signals.

Schoene’s hypothesis: Isoflavones may reduce over-responsive signaling that produces chronic disease. For example, if an order to divide gets “heard” by too many cells, it could lead to unrestrained growth as in cancer or an overactive immune system.

Japanese diets on average contain about 10 times more soy than North American diets, and the Japanese have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease. The genistein-rich diets in this study had the equivalent of twice the average Japanese genistein intake. The genistein-poor diet contained the equivalent of the U.S. intake of soy. Tofu, tempeh and miso are some soy foods rich in genistein and other isoflavones. (Editor’s note: Be sure to look for organic soy to avoid genetically engineered soy.)

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Judy McBride, (301) 504-1628, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Room 1-2251, Beltsville MD 20705-5128, (301) 504- 1617, fax 504-1648; Scientific contact: Norberta W. Schoene, ARS Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8388, fax (301) 504-9062.

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New Model Saves Farmers Costs of Fertilizer, Soil Tests

A new computer model from the Agricultural Research Service could save farmers worldwide millions of dollars by increasing crop yields while requiring fewer soil tests and less use of nitrogen fertilizer. The Nitrogen Fertilizer Decision Aid, available on the World Wide Web (www.ars.usda.gov/services/software/download.htm?softwareid=85), eliminates uncertainties that lead many farmers to over apply nitrogen as so-called “insurance fertilizer.”

Agricultural Research Service soil scientist Alan E. Olness in Morris, Minn., developed the model. It uses soil and weather information to predict how much nitrogen will be produced by soil microbes after spring planting. Often, that amount can be 50 to 100 pounds per acre.

Results from a soil test just before planting tell the model how much nitrogen the soil has at that time. In addition, the model requires farmers to know the soil’s clay and organic matter content and pH and to provide data from a field weather station.

The model predicts nitrate-nitrogen content for up to 90 days after planting, well before the critical nitrogen uptake period for corn. If the rate of natural nitrogen production doesn’t meet their crop needs, farmers will add nitrogen fertilizer to make up the difference. If production of nitrogen is predicted to be too rapid, farmers can slow it down by planting without tillage.

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Don Comis, (301) 504-1625.
Scientific contact: Alan E. Olness, ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, 803 Iowa Ave., Morris, MN 56267; phone (320) 589-3411, Ext. 100, fax (320) 589-3787.


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Bromelain – Health Food for Bessie, Too

Dairy producers could benefit from an enzyme supplement – for their cows. Bromelain helps keep the white cell count in cows’ milk down in the range that fetches a premium price, according to a recent Agricultural Research Service study.

Many commercial dairy cows lumber along with chronic infections of the mammary glands that push up the number of white blood cells in their milk, especially during the dog days of summer. Dairy producers in the United States get an extra 20 cents per 100 pounds for milk having a white cell count under a specified level. That level ranges from about 200,000 to 300,000 cells per milliliter, depending on which state tests the milk. Producers can’t sell milk with cell counts above the legal limit. In the United States, that’s 750,000 cells/ml. Canada and Europe have lower limits – 500,000 and 400,000, respectively.

In the study, 75 grams of bromelain pellets daily in each cow’s feed reduced cell counts by 100,000 on average during each of two trials. What’s more, cell counts never surpassed the legal U.S. or Canadian limits when the cows got bromelain, as they sometimes did when left untreated. The findings mean that with bromelain, producers could have more days with cell counts in the premium price range – under 300,000.

Bromelain is a mix of enzymes extracted from the stems of pineapple plants. It’s sold in health food stores under claims that it combats heart disease, arthritis and many other maladies. In animals, it appears to reduce inflammation by interfering with the synthesis of prostaglandins and other inflammatory substances, according to ARS dairy scientist Max Paape in Beltsville, Maryland. Paape tested bromelain, supplied by Tokyo manufacturer Ajinomoto Co., Inc., on 10 cows having average cell counts a little over 300,000.

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Judy McBride, (301) 504-1628.

Scientific contact: Max J. Paape, ARS Immunology and Disease Resistance Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8302, fax (301) 504-9498.

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New Air Cleaning Device Cuts Salmonella in Poultry Houses

A new electrostatic air cleaning system reduced airborne Salmonella by 94 percent in a commercial hatchery in Georgia recently, according to Agricultural Research Service scientists who developed the system.

Once it’s incorporated into commercial poultry operations, the system promises to improve food safety by reducing Salmonella in hatching cabinets – a primary source of Salmonella contamination for broiler chickens. Strong air currents can spread Salmonella from a single infected chick to all of the chicks in a hatching cabinet.

The new system, developed by ARS scientist Bailey W. Mitchell at the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga., captures dust that harbors hitchhiking organisms such as Salmonella. Dust is electrostatically charged and captured on special plates that are automatically washed clean at prescribed intervals. The system has been tested in hatching cabinets of two large poultry integrators as well as in experimental caged layer rooms.

Results of the most recent commercial experiments showed an average reduction of 77 percent in dust levels and 94 percent less enterobacteriaceae (commonly encountered bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli that frequently cause disease) than a cabinet treated with hydrogen peroxide disinfectant. The system has also been shown to reduce airborne Salmonella enteritidis in a caged layer room by 95 percent and to have a strong killing effect on Salmonella at close range.

Researchers applied for a patent in July 1998, and two companies have licensed the technology. A commercial version of the system, called “Clean Chick,” has been developed by BioIon, a newly formed company in Watkinsville, Ga., and it is being distributed by Surepip, Inc., of Dallas, Georgia.

Major poultry companies around the world, including the United States, Mexico, South America, Japan, Korea, Israel and Holland, also have expressed interest in the system as a food safety intervention approach.

Source: ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Sharon Durham, (301) 504-1611, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Room 1-2251, Beltsville MD 20705-5128, (301) 504-1617, fax 504-1648; Scientific contact: Bailey Mitchell, ARS Southeast Poultry Laboratory, phone (706) 546-3443 .

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International Hemp Journal Yearbooks Released

New, bound compilations of HempWorld magazines from 1996, 1997 & 1998 cover the most tumultuous years in the history of the modern-day hemp industry. Highlighting each book is an introductory essay written by Publisher Mari Kane, who describes the dynamics of hemp industry players and the legal and political obstacles they’ve striven to overcome.

In the 1996 Yearbook she writes:

“We were cutting-hedge eco-entreprenuers, the coolest of the cool, mixing business with pleasure while ready to do battle with Uncle Sam over a plant that’s been cultivated for thousands of years. At that time, many of us still ascribed to the notion that, armed with enough history, facts and logic, we could persuade the federal government to exempt industrial hemp from the Schedule One drug laws. Boy, were we naive.”

Read the Yearbook essays and other information about the hemp industry at www.hemppages.com, or order your yearbooks (three volumes cover 1996, 1997 & 1998 and cost $19.95 each – tax and shipping not included) using VISA/MC/AMEX from 1-800-649-4421; from outside the U.S. call: 805-965-7170; Fax: 805-965-2006; Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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MOF&G Cover Winter 2000-2001