News bites, July 2002

This article was originally published in July 2002

Going organic

  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is urging consumers to buy organically grown and raised food to promote clean water and support family farms. This, as a new study reveals organic crop production uses about 50 percent less energy than conventional crop production. (Associated Press, Food Marketing Institute)
  • The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports the nutritional composition of conventionally grown American food has declined over the past 60 years. (The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine)
  • A new study presented to a meeting of the American Chemical Society finds that organic oranges contain an average 30 percent more vitamin C than non-organic oranges. (Nutrition Business Journal)
  • According to a Roper Starch Worldwide survey, Americans see organic food as a way to take control of their health. 56 percent say organic food is healthier than non-organic and 57 percent say eating organic foods from childhood helps protect people from health problems. 74 percent of Americans say they’re concerned about the safety of foods today and worry that “with non-organic foods, you never know what hidden ingredients you’re eating.” (Walnut Acres)


A chemical found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts shows promise as a potential treatment for a bacteria that causes ulcers and raises the risk of stomach cancer. The National Academy of Sciences has published the research, reporting the chemical eradicates the bacteria in laboratories. Additional studies are planned outside the lab. (New York Times)


The USDA is tightening restrictions on planting corn engineered for pharmaceutical uses. Vaccines against diseases, such as Hepatitis B, are being developed using corn. The new GE corn planting rules will keep biotech corn half a mile from other cornfields, or will require it to be planted three weeks before or after other corn in the area, to minimize cross-pollination.

Jane Rissler with the Union of Concerned Scientists says, “The government is unprepared to regulate these products. They’re talking about cancer drugs, potent drugs, drugs that are active in very small amounts. It’s potentially troublesome to think of these genes falling into the food supply, like StarLink.” The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration are working on a policy to regulate pharmaceutical crops that also could include rice, barley, and tobacco.

“Free Farmed” milk label

Vitamilk is the first Northwest dairy to be allowed to label its milk with a “Free Farmed” logo, to show it meets animal welfare standards. Processors can use the Free Farmed logo on products if they meet American Humane Association standards. The standards bar the use of added hormones, antibiotics in feed, and confining “tie stalls.” They also require farmers to give cows some pasture access, although the amount of time outside is not specified. (Capital Press)

Food makes brain light up

A new report says the very sight of food causes the brain to react with pleasure and shows why so many people are fat. The reaction looks very different from the way the brain lights up when people actually eat and explains the phenomenal success of advertisements for junk food and snacks, the team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory found. (Food Institute Daily Update)

Trees can talk

There’s evidence that plants can warn each other and call in friends when under attack. A Penn State University entomologist reports that certain trees under attack by microbes or chewing insects send out airborne chemicals that drift to nearby trees as a warning. The neighboring trees then produce a chemical in their leaves that makes them less appetizing to the invaders. The entomologist says there’s also a second line of defense: using chemical signals to attract parasites and predators of attacking insects. For example, some trees emit ethanol to attract woodpeckers, which eat bark beetles. (Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D., Boys’ Life)

GE corn affects fertility

Feeding genetically engineered (GE) corn to pigs has resulted in reports of sow breeding problems in Iowa, according to numerous farmers in Shelby County who observed plummeting farrowing rates in their sow herds. Further investigation showed all had fed their herds GE corn hybrids and that their corn contained high levels of Fusarium mold. Switching back to regular non-GE corn eliminated the problem. (Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman)

Also in this issue