News bites, June 2002
This article was originally published in June 2002
From coal mine to kitchen
There’s a new warning that cleaning your self-cleaning oven may be hazardous to your health. A bird owner reports that after starting his oven cleaning cycle, with his windows open, one of his eight pet birds had trouble standing, four others suddenly died, and the others were saved only by opening more windows. Microscopic lung findings were consistent with the inhalation of toxic chemical fumes. Despite no warnings about release of toxic gas in the oven’s directions, the source reportedly was the oven’s nonstick coating. Birds have very sensitive respiratory systems and have protected people by detecting poison gas for decades — in the WWI trenches and the legendary canaries in the coal mines. (‘Cide Lines)
Thirteen of the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines have all but shut out criticism of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops from their opinion pages.
Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy reports an overwhelming bias in favor of GE foods not only on editorial pages, but also on op-ed pages. Some newspapers surveyed did not publish a single critical op-ed on GE foods and crops, while publishing several with the arguments used by the biotech industry. The papers surveyed are The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, Newsday, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist. (Pesticide Action Network)
Fruit instead of aspirin?
Vegetarians generally have less heart disease than meat-eaters, in part because they bypass the saturated fat in red meat. But researchers say there’s a chemical compound in fruits (especially berries) and vegetables that also help protect the heart. The Journal of Clinical Pathology reports that the anti-inflammatory salicylic acid found in aspirin also is found in produce. Scientists say vegetarians have up to 12 times higher levels of salicylic acid than meat-eaters — in some cases, as much as those who take 75 mg of aspirin each day. Meat-eaters can get similar benefits if they load up on the fruits and veggies. (Journal of Clinical Pathology)
Alternative to irradiation
A company in Kent, Washington has developed an alternative to irradiation of food to kill bacteria. Fresher under Pressure, a subsidiary of Flow Industries, has developed a method using high-pressure water. Chicago’s National Center for Food Safety and Technology says the process is effective against E.coli, Listeria, and other pathogens. (Provender Journal)
The family farm is not fading away. It’s simply moving into town to be with the money. How much money? According to a Census of Agriculture, an average acre of farmland in one big city earns $123,000 per year. (www.Metrofarm.com)
New bills on genetic engineering
Five bills concerning genetic engineering have been introduced for consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH). The bills cover mandatory labeling, independent testing for food safety, farmer protection, contamination liability, and promoting sustainable agriculture in foreign countries instead of genetically engineered crops and animals. (Organic Trade Association)
Farmed fish high in PCBs
A Canadian researcher who found high levels of PCBs in farmed salmon says that eating as little as one meal a week of farmed salmon could be dangerous, especially to women of childbearing age and children. PCBs are linked to suppression of the immune system and reduced mental development. Michael Easton, a geneticist, says farmed salmon have high residues of toxic compounds because the feed used to fatten the fish and promote rapid growth is laced with PCBs. Easton is calling for more research to learn if the findings are industry wide. (Bellingham Herald, http://globeandmail.com)
Farmers shun GE wheat
Wheat millers in Europe and Japan have warned they won’t accept any genetically engineered wheat, although Monsanto is hoping its GE wheat may hit the market by 2004. Meanwhile, there are reports that Monsanto is sponsoring “secret” GE wheat-growing trials in Washington.
The Washington Wheat Commission says wheat farmers here are “pretty nervous about the push for GE wheat” because most of Washington State’s wheat crop is grown for export. Japan is an important market for this state, as well as other Asian countries that either label or prohibit GE crops.
“We don’t want this stuff released with potential to eliminate our markets,” says a spokesman. “The wheat industry isn’t opposed to research, but it has issued a policy saying it doesn’t want GE wheat commercialized unless the genetic drift can be contained, the grain kept separate, or if customers demand it.” The spokesman also says the “secret GE wheat growing trials” are “troubling” and “a big problem,” since it would be moved by rail cars and inevitably blow off along the way.” (Wa. Wheat Commission)