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“Banana shortage causes remarkably high prices in summer”

Marcel van der Lem:
“Banana shortage causes remarkably high prices in summer”

Although traditionally bananas are eaten a lot less during summer, the past weeks showed a remarkably high level. “Usually during summer production is larger and sales are less, but as a result of a storm in Colombia, during which a lot of damage was done to the plantations, a banana shortage arose”, says Marcel van der Lem of the wholesaler and ripening facility from Uitgeest that bears his name.


“Currently the market price is around 15% higher than average, but will probably still go up. Although cheaper ones can be found, you’ll get the best bananas in the Netherlands from us,” Marcel laughs. “A month ago, the market price was also higher than average. The price went up then, also because consumption is increasing now. I don’t expect the price to go down again any time soon. Demand is consistent, but that also depends on the weather. With warm weather, people consume more tropical fruit and fewer bananas. All in all, banana consumption is quite high in the Netherlands.”


Van der Lem has 28 ripening cells with a capacity of 33,000 boxes.

Its clients are Dutch retailers and exporters. The organic share of bananas in Van der Lem’s ripening facility in Uitgeest is 20%.

According to director Marcel van der Lem, this rather high share is caused by the fact that the ripening facility is well able to work with small loads. “For us, it’s no problem if we get one container each week with organic bananas, to deliver it over the next week at a pallet a day. We’re working with quite a few Fairtrade bananas, but it’s mostly smaller purchases. So I don’t see the volume increasing significantly.”


The well-known 99 cents Jumbo asks for its bananas, hasn’t been imitated much by other retailers, says Marcel. “Personally, I don’t think it’s wise for retail to structurally drop prices, but they have every right to do so. Although with the low prices for traditional bananas, it becomes ever harder for the organic bananas, because the price difference gets too big. The Dutch consumer is apparently susceptible to the low prices for traditional bananas.”

For more information:
Marcel van der Lem
Van der Lem B.V.
Molenwerf 26
1911 DB Uitgeest
Tel: +31(0)251 – 362 345
[email protected]
www.vdlem.nl

Publication date: 9/15/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Typhoon in Okinawa causes minimum mango and pineapple damage

Typhoon in Okinawa causes minimum mango and pineapple damage

Last Tuesday, the powerful typhoon Neoguri hit the Japanese island chain of Okinawa, bringing torrential rain and winds of up to 252km/h. The typhoon is also expected to reach the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, posing a serious risk of heavy rain and flooding.

The typhoon has arrived at the start of Miyakojima’s mango harvest period, although growers were prepared, as a “special alert” is given for such storms. “No fruit has fallen from the trees; however, there may be indirect damage, as the planes loaded with harvested mangoes are not able to depart, and are thus likely to become over-ripe and not reach the client within 4 days after the harvest” said a mango grower.

Another grower, founder of Daihari Farms, explains that “I had only harvested 10% of the fruit so far, which at the moment is kept in cool chambers. The fruit’s freshness will hopefully not be too affected until the typhoon passes and flights can be resumed.”

Other crops, including sugarcane and pineapple, have also been affected, although the damage is expected to stay to a minimum.

Publication date: 7/9/2014
Author: Juan Zea Estellés
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

Typhoon in Okinawa causes minimum mango and pineapple damage

Typhoon in Okinawa causes minimum mango and pineapple damage

Last Tuesday, the powerful typhoon Neoguri hit the Japanese island chain of Okinawa, bringing torrential rain and winds of up to 252km/h. The typhoon is also expected to reach the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, posing a serious risk of heavy rain and flooding.

The typhoon has arrived at the start of Miyakojima’s mango harvest period, although growers were prepared, as a “special alert” is given for such storms. “No fruit has fallen from the trees; however, there may be indirect damage, as the planes loaded with harvested mangoes are not able to depart, and are thus likely to become over-ripe and not reach the client within 4 days after the harvest” said a mango grower.

Another grower, founder of Daihari Farms, explains that “I had only harvested 10% of the fruit so far, which at the moment is kept in cool chambers. The fruit’s freshness will hopefully not be too affected until the typhoon passes and flights can be resumed.”

Other crops, including sugarcane and pineapple, have also been affected, although the damage is expected to stay to a minimum.

Publication date: 7/9/2014
Author: Juan Zea Estellés
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

Ocean fishing: Bottom trawling causes deep-sea biological desertification

A study led by scientists from the Polytechnic University of Marche (Ancona, Italy) involving researchers from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM, CSIC) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), has determined that fishing trawling causes intensive, long-term biological desertification of the sedimentary seabed ecosystems, diminishing their content in organic carbon and threatening their biodiversity.

Trawling is the most commonly used extraction methods of sea living resources used around the world, but at the same time, it is also one of the main causes of degradation of the seabed. This fishing practice originated in the second half of the fourteenth century, and in the last thirty years has grown exponentially.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), focuses on assessing the impact of this activity on the meiofauna (small organisms, between 30 and 500 micrometers) living in marine sediments over the fishing grounds of the continental slope, about 500 meters deep. The results reveal that trawling, by continuously stirring over the years the soft sediment of seabed, have led to meiofauna being 80% less abundant and to reduce its biodiversity by 50% lower in comparison with similar areas where no trawling occurs. The negative effects of trawling are also evident in the decrease in the number of species of nematodes (the dominant component of the meiofauna at these depths), which decreases by 25%. The study also revealed that the sediments are impoverished significantly (over 50 %) regarding the content of organic matter (food for organisms that live at these depths) and show lower degradation of carbon (about 40%), one of the main functions of ecosystems in deep marine environments.

The study was conducted in northeastern Catalan coast, in La Fonera, also called Palamos, submarine canyon and is the continuation of a previous work where the impact of this method of fishing on the morphology and sedimentary dynamics of this canyon was evaluated.1

According to Pere Puig, researcher at the ICM-CSIC who participated in the study, “the dragging of the gear on the seabed lifts and removes fine particles of sediment, yet also resuspends small organisms living in the sediment that constitute the base of the food chain at these depths.” Jacobo Martin, also at ICM-CSIC and who currently works at the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas of Ushuaia, Argentina, adds “in the long run, it causes a steady loss of fine sediments, soft and rich in organic matter, leaving a more depleted and compacted seabed sediment surface that it is more difficult to be colonized again.”

The work compares these kinds of impacts of trawling on marine sediments with the loss of fertile soil on land. According to Pere Masqué, researcher at the Department Physics and the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at UAB, “the fishing grounds are compared to agricultural fields in terms of the morphological change caused to the seabed, and may end up becoming barren if the constant loss of superficial sediment endures over time.”

The paper concludes by warning about the ecological consequences and effects on ecosystem functioning and biodiversity of deep marine sedimentary environments around the world, where it was believed that the impact caused by this type of fishing were lower. The results of this study, therefore, reinforce the need for immediate action for the sustainable management of trawling in deep marine environments.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Virtual bees help to unravel complex causes of colony decline

Scientists have created an ingenious computer model that simulates a honey bee colony over the course of several years. The BEEHAVE model, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was created to investigate the losses of honeybee colonies that have been reported in recent years and to identify the best course of action for improving honeybee health.

A team of scientists, led by Professor Juliet Osborne from the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter (and previously at Rothamsted Research), developed BEEHAVE, which simulates the life of a colony including the queen’s egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.

Professor Juliet Osborne said: “It is a real challenge to understand which factors are most important in affecting bee colony growth and survival. This is the first opportunity to simulate the effects of several factors together, such as food availability, mite infestation and disease, over realistic time scales.”

The model allows researchers, beekeepers and anyone interested in bees, to predict colony development and honey production under different environmental conditions and beekeeping practices. To build the simulation, the scientists brought together existing honeybee research and data to develop a new model that integrated processes occurring inside and outside the hive.

The first results of the model show that colonies infested with a common parasitic mite (varroa) can be much more vulnerable to food shortages. Effects within the first year can be subtle and might be missed by beekeepers during routine management. But the model shows that these effects build up over subsequent years leading to eventual failure of the colony, if it was not given an effective varroa treatment.

BEEHAVE can also be used to investigate potential consequences of pesticide applications. For example, the BEEHAVE model can simulate the impact of increased loss of foragers. The results show that colonies may be more resilient to this forager loss than previously thought in the short-term, but effects may accumulate over years, especially when colonies are also limited by food supply.

BEEHAVE simulations show that good food sources close to the hive will make a real difference to the colony and that lack of forage over extended periods leaves them vulnerable to other environmental factors. Addressing forage availability is critical to maintaining healthy hives and colonies over the long term.

Professor Osborne added: “The use of this model by a variety of stakeholders could stimulate the development of new approaches to bee management, pesticide risk assessment and landscape management. The advantage is that each of these factors can be tested in a virtual environment in different combinations, before testing in the field. Whilst BEEHAVE is mathematically very complex, it has a user-friendly interface and a fully accessible manual so it can be explored and used by a large variety of interested people.”

BEEHAVE is freely available at http://www.beehave-model.net.

The project was funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from BBSRC with co-funding from Syngenta. It involved collaboration between ecologists and modellers from Exeter (Professor Osborne, Dr Becher and Dr Kennedy, who started the project at Rothamsted Research), Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research — UFZ Leipzig (Professor Grimm and Ms Horn) and Syngenta (Dr P Thorbek).

Professor Osborne’s research group studies the behaviour and ecology of bees and other pollinators. They started the project when based at Rothamsted Research and moved to the University of Exeter in 2012. They work with beekeepers, conservation organisations, farmers and industry with the aim of conserving bee populations, and protecting and promoting wild flower and crop pollination.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC’s Science Director, said: “Healthy bees are vital to our food supply as they pollinate many important crops. This virtual hive is an important new research tool to help us understand how changes to the environment impact on bee health.”

Dr Pernille Thorbek (Syngenta) adds: “Studying several stressors in multifactorial field trials is immensely complicated and difficult to do. BEEHAVE is an important new tool which can simulate and explore interactions between stressors and can improve understanding and focus experimental work.”

“BEEHAVE can help explore which changes to agricultural landscapes and beekeeping practices will benefit honeybees the most.”

Dr David Aston, President of the British Beekeepers Association, commented that: “This model will be an important tool in helping us to understand the interactions and impact of the diverse stressors to which honey bee colonies can be exposed.

“Not only will it be invaluable for scientific research purposes but it will also be an important training tool to help beekeepers better understand the impacts of their husbandry and other factors on the health and survival of their colonies.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Report Details Causes of Salmonella Outbreaks at Two Arkansas Prisons

Problems with food preparation, hand-washing and food-safety training were cited as the cause of two large, multi-serotype Salmonella outbreaks at Arkansas prisons in August of 2012, according to a new study released in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Investigators from the Arkansas Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 597 inmates incarcerated at Arkansas prisons were infected with eight serotypes of Salmonella during the outbreak.

Those eight strains of Salmonella revealed 15 pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns of the bacterium. This finding surpasses all previous reports for multiple-serotype outbreaks of Salmonella previously reported in prisons.

Case-control studies conducted at the prisons revealed that the Salmonella outbreak was statistically associated with chicken salad and other food items. Chicken salad was the likely cause of the outbreak at Prison A. Multiple food items, as well as person-to-person transmission, were the likely causes of the outbreak at Prison B.

Both prisons incorporated eggs produced at Prison B into the chicken salad dishes served at the institutions. Several food-handling errors, including leaving chicken salad at unsafe temperatures, could have contributed to the Salmonella outbreak. MMWR editors noted that inmates should receive food safety training before assignment to kitchen work.

The editors further state that sanitarians should regularly inspect prison kitchens, cafeterias, and agricultural facilities, and require them to maintain standards equivalent to those of commercial establishments in accordance with state or local guidelines.

A final recommendation that resulted from the outbreak findings is that health departments might consider enhancing collaborative surveillance with prison staff to improve control of foodborne outbreaks in prisons.

The entire study and its findings can be found on the MMWR website.

Food Safety News

Listeria Causes Virginia Cheese Recall

On February 10, 2014, Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause human illness, was isolated from a sample of Cuajada en Terron (Fresh Cheese Curd) collected by representatives from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  The sample was collected at Mega Mart, a retail store located at 8328 Shopper’s Square, Manassas, VA 20111. The product was sold in clear, unlabeled plastic bags held in the retail cheese display cooler within the facility.

No lot or date coding information was included on the product packaging.  Individuals who purchased this product should not consume the cheese and should discard any remaining portions.  Those who have already consumed the product should be aware of the risks and symptoms associated with Listeria monocytogenes infection.

Virginia has not seen any reported cases of listeriosis associated with this cheese at this time. Listeria monocytogenes infection commonly can exhibit short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea when it affects healthy individuals. The Listeria monocytogenes organism may cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and individuals with weakened immune systems.  Listeria monocytogenes infection is a major concern for pregnant women because it can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and neonatal illness.

The consumption of unpasteurized or contaminated milk or cheeses can cause Listeria monocytogenes infections. Symptoms of Listeria infection generally appear about three weeks after exposure, but may appear as soon as three days or as long as 70 days after exposure.  Anyone who experiences the symptoms described above and has purchased and eaten the Cuajada en Terron cheese at Manassas Mega Mart, 8328 Shopper’s Square, Manassas, Virginia should see a doctor.

Food Safety News

Listeria Causes Virginia Cheese Recall

On February 10, 2014, Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause human illness, was isolated from a sample of Cuajada en Terron (Fresh Cheese Curd) collected by representatives from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  The sample was collected at Mega Mart, a retail store located at 8328 Shopper’s Square, Manassas, VA 20111. The product was sold in clear, unlabeled plastic bags held in the retail cheese display cooler within the facility.

No lot or date coding information was included on the product packaging.  Individuals who purchased this product should not consume the cheese and should discard any remaining portions.  Those who have already consumed the product should be aware of the risks and symptoms associated with Listeria monocytogenes infection.

Virginia has not seen any reported cases of listeriosis associated with this cheese at this time. Listeria monocytogenes infection commonly can exhibit short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea when it affects healthy individuals. The Listeria monocytogenes organism may cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and individuals with weakened immune systems.  Listeria monocytogenes infection is a major concern for pregnant women because it can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and neonatal illness.

The consumption of unpasteurized or contaminated milk or cheeses can cause Listeria monocytogenes infections. Symptoms of Listeria infection generally appear about three weeks after exposure, but may appear as soon as three days or as long as 70 days after exposure.  Anyone who experiences the symptoms described above and has purchased and eaten the Cuajada en Terron cheese at Manassas Mega Mart, 8328 Shopper’s Square, Manassas, Virginia should see a doctor.

Food Safety News

“Frost causes huge catastrophe for Chilean fruit sector”

Andrea Ramirez, purchasing director Capespan:
“Frost causes huge catastrophe for Chilean fruit sector”
Last week, the first figures were released on the frost damage in Chile. According to Andres Ramirez, the purchasing director of Capespan, the damage differs per region and per product. ”It will take two weeks before it is clear how large the loss is, but I can conclude that the two days of frost in September have ensured a catastrophe for the Chilean fruit sector.”


Damage in grape growth

Ramirez estimates that the damage to the fruit sector is around 1 million dollars and that around 185.000 hectares of ground has suffered damage. In the following six months it is also expected that 150.000 people could lose their jobs. ”In particular, stone fruits and kiwi’s have been hard hit, with a decrease in plum and apricot production of 60 to 65%. Some apricot growers have lost 70 to 80% of their production. Some cherry varieties have seen no harvest. In some areas the loss is enormous. “According to the latest estimates, 56% of cherries have been lost, 55% of nectarines, 50% of peaches, 65% of plums, 20% of pears, 15% of the grapes, 15% of blue berries, 10% of the apples and 10% of avocados. All in all in the season 2013/2014, 60 to 70 million boxes of fruit will not be exported.” 

Frost

The purchasing director said that there were two days of frost in Chile. “Frost is very normal in Chile, there is always frost of minus 1 or 2 which lasts for an hour. Now it was even colder, reaching minus 3 and lasting more than 5 hours at a time. There was nothing which could be done. Experts compared the damage to the severe earthquake of 2010 and as the damage is comparable, the people in Chile are calling it the “white earthquake” because of the frost. Some growers have almost nothing to harvest and can only wait for the next production. It is really hard.”

Damage in the grapes

Ramirez visited Chile last week where his focus was on grapes. “It was reported that from the 105 million boxes normally produced, they had lost 15%. Early varieties such as Sugraone, Flame and Thomson were the worst affected. There was less damage for the varieties which are harvested later, but this also differs per region. It was mainly the areas around Santiago Metropolis who had the most problem with the frost. The centre and south were the worst hit. It is presumed to be not so bad in the North, but there are problems with severe drought, in particular in the Ovalle region, where they are short of water and there is a large area of citrus and grape harvest which could be heavily hit and lost.”  



Damage in cherry crops

There are currently no products from Chile in Europe. “We are talking about waiting until January/February for fruit to be here. We are pleased that our suppliers are spread throughout Chile since some cannot deliver what we asked for, but other volumes will compensate. Next to that, is the difficulty of predicting how the market will react. Everybody is speculating on high prices since they know we will be short. It is now too early to say, but from the first batch of grapes we know there will be fewer. The varieties which are plucked later will have the quality well controlled to see if they are suitable for far destinations. We therefore don’t know what will be the volume and to which markets they shall go, but the coming months will tell.” 

For more information:

www.capespan.com

Publication date: 10/18/2013


FreshPlaza.com

Aggressive fungal pathogen causes mold in fruits, vegetables

Oct. 3, 2013 — A research team led by a molecular plant pathologist at the University of California, Riverside has discovered the mechanism by which an aggressive fungal pathogen infects almost all fruits and vegetables.

The team discovered a novel “virulence mechanism” — the mechanism by which infection takes place — of Botrytis cinerea. This pathogen can infect more than 200 plant species, causing serious gray mold disease on almost all fruits and vegetables that have been around, even at times in the refrigerator, for more than a week.

Study results appear in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Science.

Many bacterial, fungal and oomycete pathogens deliver protein effectors — molecules the pathogens secrete — into the cells of hosts to manipulate and, eventually, compromise host immunity.

The new study represents the first example of a fungal pathogen delivering RNA effectors, specifically small RNA effector molecules, into host cells to suppress host immunity and achieve infection of the host plant.

“To date, almost all the pathogen effectors studied or discovered have been proteins,” said lead author Hailing Jin, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology. “Ours is the first study to add the RNA molecule to the list of effectors. We expect our work will help in the development of new means to control aggressive pathogens.”

Small RNAs guide gene silencing in a wide range of eukaryotic organisms. In the case of Botrytis cinerea, small RNAs silence the expression of host defense genes, resulting in the host plant cells being less able to resist the fungal attack. The process is similar to how protein effectors weaken host immunity in the case of most pathogens.

“What we have discovered is a naturally-occurring cross-kingdom RNAi phenomenon between a fungal pathogen and a plant host that serves as an advanced virulence mechanism,” Jin said.

RNA interference or RNAi is a conserved gene regulatory mechanism that is guided by small RNAs for silencing (or suppressing) genes.

Next, Jin and colleagues plan to continue investigating if the novel mechanism they discovered also exists in other aggressive pathogens.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Hurricane Manuel causes crop losses, planting delays in Culiacan, Mexico

After leaving a death toll of at least 197 on the central coast of western Mexico early the week of Sept. 15, Tropical Storm Manuel continued up the coast and reached hurricane strength before making landfall once more on the coast of Sinaloa, bringing extensive storm damage to growing areas around Culiacan, a major growing area for tomatoes, squash and many other produce commodities marketed in the United States during the late fall, winter and early spring seasons.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, more than 350,000 acres of crops were damaged by the storm, mostly due to heavy rains.

Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez estimated it would cost at least $ 93 million to rebuild areas hit by the storm, the Tribune stated.

As of Monday, Sept. 23, growers were still evaluating the extent of the damage to their fields, shade houses and greenhouses, a process that was expected to take at least another week.

Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, AZ, said that the extent of the damage depends on where the farms are located, with rainfall amounts varying from around eight inches to 15 inches in various parts of Sinaloa.

Ciruli Bros. would soon be harvesting pre-Thanksgiving green beans and other products in the Los Mochis area of Sonora, the next state north.

“They received maybe two to three inches, not a heavy rain,” Ciruli said. “I think we are going to come out of that deal OK.”

But in the Culiacan Valley, “there are going to be some challenges,” he said. “There are going to be some setbacks, particularly with regard to the timing of when the crops come off.

Many winter crops had not yet been planted, he said. “Not everything was in the ground.”

But prior to the storm, “we were probably already running about 10 days behind schedule. Now, that is going to set us back a little bit longer,” he said, adding that planting will be delayed, and many damaged fields will need to be replanted.

That will make the transition from earlier growing areas into the Culiacan area challenging, he said. “It will make a difficult transition in the front part of November.”

On the positive side, the heavy rainfall helped fill reservoirs needed for irrigation that were very low prior to the storm.

Gonzalo Avila, vice president of Malena Produce Inc. in Nogales, AZ, posted a blog Sept. 20 on the company website, stating that “the recent storm and floods reported in Sinaloa and surrounding areas in Mexico have indeed been devastating to many. Thankfully, our growers and crews were spared much of the damage, mainly due to the fact that the majority of our crop has not yet been planted. Also, our shadehouses suffered only minimal damage to the outer covers but are structurally intact.”

While the “aggregate damage to the region’s production is yet to be determined,” Avila said in the post, he expects the company’s first shipments of the season to start by Oct. 1, as projected, “one of the earliest start dates reported for our winter vegetable season.”

Ted Kaplan, president of Professional Produce in Los Angeles, said Sept. 23, that Sinaloa is one of “my primary areas” for sourcing winter produce, and growers have told him that “they had more rain in one day than they can ever remember.” Some of the early production “was heavily affected,” and some of their plantings will be later than usual.

Chuck Thomas, president of Thomas Produce Sales Inc. in Nogales said Sept. 23 that some areas in Sinaloa appear to have crop losses of 20-30 percent. The coverings of some shade houses were torn by the high winds.

Some transplanted fields were lost to flooding, but will be replanted, Thomas said. He noted that growers generally hold in reserve enough seedlings to do extensive replanting just in case a situation such as the recent storm make it necessary.

The delays will probably mean that in some cases, crops that would have started in early September will not be ready until late September, he said. Squash, cucumbers and eggplant were among the crops most heavily affected.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Why crop rotation works: Change in crop species causes shift in soil microbes

July 18, 2013 — Crop rotation has been used since Roman times to improve plant nutrition and to control the spread of disease. A new study to be published in Nature’s The ISME Journal reveals the profound effect it has on enriching soil with bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

“Changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield,” said Professor Philip Poole from the John Innes Centre.

Soil was collected from a field near Norwich and planted with wheat, oats and peas. After growing wheat, it remained largely unchanged and the microbes in it were mostly bacteria. However, growing oat and pea in the same sample caused a huge shift towards protozoa and nematode worms. Soil grown with peas was highly enriched for fungi.

“The soil around the roots was similar before and after growing wheat, but peas and oats re-set of the diversity of microbes,” said Professor Poole.

All organisms on our planet can be divided between prokaryotes (which include bacteria) and eukaryotes (which include humans, plants and animals as well as fungi). After only four weeks of growth, the soil surrounding wheat contained about 3% eukaryotes. This went up to 12-15% for oat and pea. The change of balance is likely to be even more marked in the field where crops are grown for months rather than weeks.

Analysis has previously relied on amplifying DNA samples. This limits scientists to analysing one taxonomic group at a time such as bacteria. It also means that everything present in that group is analysed rather than what is playing an active role. Every gram of soil contains over 50,000 species of bacteria so the task is enormous.

There are relatively fewer actively expressed genes, or RNA. It is now possible to sequence RNA across kingdoms so a full snapshot can be taken of the active bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other microbes in the soil. The research was carried out in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and The Genome Analysis Centre on Norwich Research Park.

“By sequencing RNA, we can look at the big picture of active microbes in the soil,” said PhD student Tom Turner from the John Innes Centre.

“This also allows us to work out what they are doing there, including how they might be helping the plants out.”

“Our work helps explain the experience of farmers in the field,” said Professor Poole.

“The best seed needs to be combined with the best agronomic practices to get the full potential benefits.”

“While continued planting of one species in monoculture pulls the soil in one direction, rotating to a different one benefits soil health.”

Seeds can be inoculated with bacteria before planting out, just like humans taking a dose of friendly bacteria. But this does not achieve the diversity or quantity of microbes found in this study.

The scientists also grew an oat variety unable to produce normal levels of avenacin, a compound that protects roots from fungal pathogens. They expected the soil to contain higher levels of fungi as a result, but instead found it contained a greater diversity of other eukaryotes such as protozoa.

The findings of the study could be used to develop plant varieties that encourage beneficial microbes in the soil. John Innes Centre scientists are already investigating the possibility of engineering cereal crops able to associate with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria normally associated with peas.

“Small changes in plant genotype can have complex and unexpected effects on soil microbes surrounding the roots,” said Professor Poole.

“Scientists, breeders and farmers can make the most of these effects not only with what they grow but how they grow it.”

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Why crop rotation works: Change in crop species causes shift in soil microbes

July 18, 2013 — Crop rotation has been used since Roman times to improve plant nutrition and to control the spread of disease. A new study to be published in Nature’s The ISME Journal reveals the profound effect it has on enriching soil with bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

“Changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield,” said Professor Philip Poole from the John Innes Centre.

Soil was collected from a field near Norwich and planted with wheat, oats and peas. After growing wheat, it remained largely unchanged and the microbes in it were mostly bacteria. However, growing oat and pea in the same sample caused a huge shift towards protozoa and nematode worms. Soil grown with peas was highly enriched for fungi.

“The soil around the roots was similar before and after growing wheat, but peas and oats re-set of the diversity of microbes,” said Professor Poole.

All organisms on our planet can be divided between prokaryotes (which include bacteria) and eukaryotes (which include humans, plants and animals as well as fungi). After only four weeks of growth, the soil surrounding wheat contained about 3% eukaryotes. This went up to 12-15% for oat and pea. The change of balance is likely to be even more marked in the field where crops are grown for months rather than weeks.

Analysis has previously relied on amplifying DNA samples. This limits scientists to analysing one taxonomic group at a time such as bacteria. It also means that everything present in that group is analysed rather than what is playing an active role. Every gram of soil contains over 50,000 species of bacteria so the task is enormous.

There are relatively fewer actively expressed genes, or RNA. It is now possible to sequence RNA across kingdoms so a full snapshot can be taken of the active bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other microbes in the soil. The research was carried out in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and The Genome Analysis Centre on Norwich Research Park.

“By sequencing RNA, we can look at the big picture of active microbes in the soil,” said PhD student Tom Turner from the John Innes Centre.

“This also allows us to work out what they are doing there, including how they might be helping the plants out.”

“Our work helps explain the experience of farmers in the field,” said Professor Poole.

“The best seed needs to be combined with the best agronomic practices to get the full potential benefits.”

“While continued planting of one species in monoculture pulls the soil in one direction, rotating to a different one benefits soil health.”

Seeds can be inoculated with bacteria before planting out, just like humans taking a dose of friendly bacteria. But this does not achieve the diversity or quantity of microbes found in this study.

The scientists also grew an oat variety unable to produce normal levels of avenacin, a compound that protects roots from fungal pathogens. They expected the soil to contain higher levels of fungi as a result, but instead found it contained a greater diversity of other eukaryotes such as protozoa.

The findings of the study could be used to develop plant varieties that encourage beneficial microbes in the soil. John Innes Centre scientists are already investigating the possibility of engineering cereal crops able to associate with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria normally associated with peas.

“Small changes in plant genotype can have complex and unexpected effects on soil microbes surrounding the roots,” said Professor Poole.

“Scientists, breeders and farmers can make the most of these effects not only with what they grow but how they grow it.”

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Insecticide causes changes in honeybee genes, research finds

July 2, 2013 — New research by academics at The University of Nottingham has shown that exposure to a neonicotinoid insecticide causes changes to the genes of the honeybee.

The study, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, supports the recent decision taken by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoids amid concerns that they could be linked to bee deaths.

There is growing evidence connecting the decline in the honeybee population that pollinates one-third of the food that we eat, and insecticides, but this is the first comprehensive study to look at changes in the activity of honeybee genes linked to one of the recently banned neonicotinoids, imidacloprid.

The study, led by Dr Reinhard Stöger, Associate Professor in Epigenetics in the University’s School of Biosciences, was conducted under field realistic conditions and showed that a very low exposure of just two parts per billion has an impact on the activity of some of the honeybee genes.

The researchers identified that cells of honeybee larvae had to work harder and increase the activity of genes involved in breaking down toxins, most likely to cope with the insecticide. Genes involved in regulating energy to run cells were also affected. Such changes are known to reduce the lifespan of the most widely studied insect, the common fruit fly, and lower a larva’s probability of surviving to adulthood.

Dr Stöger said: “Although larvae can still grow and develop in the presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised. Should the bees be exposed to additional stresses such as pests, disease and bad weather then it is likely to increase the rate of development failure.”

The study was funded by The Co-operative Group, as part of its Plan Bee campaign.

Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative, said: “This is a very significant piece of research, which clearly shows clear changes in honeybee gene activity as a result of exposure to a pesticide, which is currently in common use across the UK.

“As part of our Plan Bee campaign launched in 2009 we have adopted a precautionary approach and prohibited the use of six neonicotinoid pesticides, including imidacloprid, on our own-brand fresh and frozen produce and have welcomed the recent approach by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoid pesticides as this will allow for research into the impact on both pollinators and agricultural productivity.”

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Hepatitis A Vaccination Process Causes Stress, Fear for Many

Reflecting on a week of sleepless nights and gut-churning stress, George Bentley said he wished Costco’s recall of frozen berries could have come at a better time.

Bentley, from La Puente, Calif., got a call from Costco on the evening of Friday, May 31. The retailer had just announced a recall of Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend of frozen berries linked to a hepatitis A outbreak, and was now working fast to call the 240,000 customers who had purchased the 3-pound bags of berries since February.

While he appreciated the warning, Bentley said he felt overcome with stress at the possibility that he had contracted a serious virus that could jeopardize his already fragile health.

A quadriplegic man with neuromuscular disease, Bentley prioritizes healthful eating and avoids illness at all costs. The Townsend Farms berry blend caught his eye because of the organic, antioxidant part of the label, and he knew that getting in servings of fruit with a breakfast smoothie could help maintain good nutrition.

“In the past I’ve been hospitalized just because of the stomach flu,” Bentley told Food Safety News, “so the thought of getting hepatitis A was frightening.”

Since he got the call from Costco sometime around 7 p.m. on Friday, Bentley had to wait through the weekend before his doctor’s office would respond to his inquiries about a blood test. But because he can’t drive, he had to wait until Tuesday, June 4, for his caregiver to take him to the clinic.

It wasn’t until Friday, June 7, that Bentley could relax knowing that he wasn’t infected. For a week, he said he could hardly sleep due to worries that he might come down with symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pains and jaundice in the coming weeks, as news reports and recall alerts had suggested might happen.

Other Costco customers who spoke to Food Safety News felt similarly, experiencing sleepless nights and paranoia that they could be spreading the virus while they awaited clinical tests.

Unlike Bentley, who got a call Friday evening, Andrea Medrano of Hilo, Hawaii, said she never got a call from Costco despite having the same phone number the entire time she’s been a Costco member. To her surprise, she also missed all news coverage of the recall and outbreak. She didn’t get the news until she received a letter from Costco roughly a week after the recall was first announced.

Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of quality assurance and food safety, told Food Safety News last week that the company called customers who had purchased the product twice — once on Friday and then again early the next week — before sending out letters to each of those customers, postmarked June 5. Bentley confirmed that he received an additional call early in the week after the recall announcement, as well as a letter in the mail.

Medrano said she just had one sleepless night before she was able to see a doctor. She also still received the vaccination within the two-week window of exposure before symptoms tend to appear.

Her biggest frustration, she said, was that she didn’t receive notification from Costco until nearly a week after the recall announcement.

“The letter was a little piece of paper that looked like an advertisement,” Medrano said. “No call, no voicemail, no email. It didn’t seem like a very effective warning. And the letter was dated June 5, so I felt like that was pretty late in the game.”

San Diego resident Adrienne Martinez said she didn’t receive a call from Costco either. She heard about the recall on National Public Radio, and when she went home to check her freezer, she found the recalled berries chilling inside.

She then called Costco to confirm the recall before arranging to get vaccinated, only making the two-week cutoff by two days. A few days later, she got the letter from Costco in the mail, but said she has no evidence of receiving a call.

One of the most stressful parts of dealing with the news of the outbreak, Martinez said, was knowing that she had held and kissed a friend’s 2-month-old baby shortly after first eating the Townsend Farms berries. She was worried for days, until talking to a doctor, that she might have passed the virus onto the child.

“It just added stress to everyone’s lives that no one wants to deal with, especially when I was worried I might be contaminating other people,” Martinez said.

Bentley, Medrano and Martinez are all being represented by food safety law firm Marler Clark in a class action lawsuit against Townsend Farms. Marler Clark underwrites Food Safety News.

Each of the three sources expressed the feeling that they purchased the organic berries with the trust that the fruit blends would be more wholesome than their non-organic counterparts, and that a bit of their trust had been betrayed to learn they could have been sickened.

“The thing that struck me the most was the way the berries were packaged to stress they were organic and antioxidant, implying that they were really healthy,” Bentley said. “That’s why I bought them — to get good nutrition. To find out that they had something really dangerous in them was really disturbing.”

Food Safety News