News bites, March 2004

This article was originally published in March 2004

More fast food

Experts estimate that childhood consumption of fast foods has increased fivefold, from two percent of daily meals in the late 1970s to 10 percent of daily meals by the mid-1990s. During that time, the number of fast food restaurants more than doubled to an estimated 250,000 nationwide. (Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Corn ethanol a loser

From the University of California, Berkeley, there’s word that making ethanol from corn is a losing proposition for reducing fossil-energy use. Tad Patzek, a chemical engineer there, cites numerous studies that more energy is used to grow the corn than the amount of energy you can get from the corn as ethanol. He says producing corn ethanol is a negative energy balance. The energy considered included fertilizer, fuel, transport, machinery construction and other such factors. (Agribusiness Examiner)

Fungus threatens pistachios

California pistachio trees are being destroyed by a fungus that causes panicle and shoot blight, according to the American Phytopathological Society. Aggressive and difficult to control, this fungus reportedly has the potential to reach epidemic levels unless breeders work closely with plant pathologists to develop disease-resistant varieties of the pistachio tree. (FoodNavigator/Food Marketing Institute)

rBGH problems

Monsanto has announced a cutback in its genetically engineered growth hormone for dairy cows. Beginning March 1, Monsanto says it can supply only half the normal amount of its recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), called Posilac.

According to the New York Times, the announcement follows a report from the Food and Drug Administration that “more batches of hormone than expected were failing the factory’s quality control tests.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding this announcement. The FDA and Monsanto are not providing many details. Read more at www.dairy (

Wal-Mart goes to voters

Stung by strong opposition in some corners of the country where it proposes a large-scale development, Wal-Mart is taking a new tack in Inglewood, California. It’s bypassing local regulators and going straight to voters for permission to build a mega-store.

By introducing a ballot measure for an April 6 vote, Wal-Mart hopes to avoid several major obstacles to building new stores: environmental reviews, traffic studies, public hearings and municipal officials who have had the final say in many towns.

The Wal-Mart ballot proposal is a byproduct of California’s initiative process. (Chicago Tribune/Agribusiness Examiner)

Hemp food ban overturned

The Hemp Industries Association has won a two-and-a-half-year-old lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA had tried to ban hemp foods such as waffles, cereal, vegetarian burgers and nutrition bars. A three-judge panel agreed that a Congressional exemption in the Controlled Substances Act excludes hemp seed, oil and fiber from DEA control. The decision is expected to result in many more hemp food products on store shelves. (Nutrition Business Journal)

A penny a burger

Testing for mad cow disease would add less than a penny to the cost of a hamburger, according to Canada’s National Farmers Union (NFU) President Stewart Wells. France and many other European Union countries test all cattle over 30 months of age for mad cow. The NFU says cost estimates from American and European sources range from five cents to nine cents [Canadian] per pound of dressed meat, or about $30 to $55 per animal.

Paying even nine cents per pound works out to just two cents per pound overall — less than one penny per burger, said Wells. (Agribusiness Examiner)

Food concerns

A study from the American Dietetic Association is showing that the leading dietary concern among consumers is obesity. The next most worrisome concern is food irradiation, followed by dietary supplements, genetically modified food, and underestimating kids’ consumption of junk food. (Nutrition Business Journal)

Internationally organic?

Washington State soon could become the first and only state offering its farmers full European organic certification, which could give growers here an edge in trade.

Miles McEvoy, the organic food program manager in the state Department of Agriculture, has been working to make Washington’s organic certifying program fully accredited by European standards. He hopes to have the process complete in time for the fall 2004 harvest.

Once Europeans recognize Washington certification, farm products need to be approved only here to be certified organic for European markets. (Capital Press)

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