News bites, November 2004

This article was originally published in November 2004

Wild is better

American shrimpers have launched advertising campaigns highlighting wild-caught American shrimp as “more natural, tastier, fresher and more tender” than imported, farmed shrimp. Less expensive imported shrimp has cut into the domestic market over the last few years and American shrimpers apparently are looking to regain market share. (ABC News)

Whole grain cereals

General Mills is converting all of its cereals, such as Trix and Lucky Charms, into whole grain products. A former FDA commissioner calls the move one of the most significant improvements in the nation’s food supply since the 1940s. The change will increase the number of whole grain servings eaten by Americans by 1.5 billion a year -— without adding calories. General Mills’ use of sugar, artificial colors and preservatives will stay the same. (USA Today)

Biopharm landmark ruling

A federal judge has ordered the disclosure of a “biopharm” test plot in Hawaii. Biopharming is the use of genetically engineered food crops to produce experimental industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The USDA and biopharm interests have resisted revealing the location of experimental test plots. Hawaii reportedly has had more than 4,000 open-air field tests of genetically engineered crops, including some biopharmaceuticals.

The Center for Food Safety and other public interest groups filed a lawsuit for disclosure, saying that people who could be harmed should be informed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reportedly will have to reveal the location of any biopharming plots, the first time it’s had to disclose to an outside party. (Center for Food Safety)

Consumer spychips

CASPIAN has uncovered evidence of plans to deploy tracking devices in consumer clothing items. A company called Checkpoint has developed prototype labels containing RFID “spychips” for Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, and Champion sportswear. These tags contain tiny computer chips with unique ID numbers that can be read remotely by anyone with the right equipment.

People wearing the tagged clothing items can be identified and tracked as they pass through Checkpoint-equipped doorways or “smart zones” in stores. There’s no legal requirement for companies to tell consumers when products they buy contain such tags. (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, CASPIAN)

Portion control

When it comes to portion sizes, American restaurants just aren’t doing what consumers want. A national survey conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation found that more than half the public believes the typical size of portions in U.S. restaurants is too big. Only about a third of consumers see restaurant portions as properly sized. Four in 10 consumers said they would be more inclined to eat at restaurants that offer half-sized portion options. (Food Marketing Institute)

Banana worker lawsuit

Thousands of banana pickers in Costa Rica have filed a lawsuit against five American chemical and produce companies, claiming exposure to a toxic pesticide caused a range of reproductive disorders. The suit — filed against Dole Food Company, Chiquita Brands International, Fresh Del Monte Produce, Dow Chemical and Shell Chemical — accuses the companies of using dibromochloropropane (DBCP) on bananas in Central America after the United States banned it in 1979.

The pesticide is a soil fumigant and is suspected of causing sterility, testicular atrophy, miscarriages, birth defects, liver damage and cancer when inhaled or absorbed by the skin. Dow and Shell stopped making DBCP in the late 1970s, but continued selling it overseas. (Reuters)

Milkweed crisis

The number of milkweed plants in the Upper Midwest that support monarch butterfly larvae is in a slump. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs and is the only food source for larvae. Research at the University of Minnesota confirms that the number of milkweed is below average and at the lowest level since 1998.

Nearly 25 percent of all milkweed plants in the Upper Midwest carried larvae in 2001. A year later, only about 7 percent of milkweed carried larvae. In 2003, the number was about 8 percent. This year, fewer than 5 percent of milkweed plants carried larvae.

Researchers believe one factor for the decline could be the growing use of genetically engineered (GE) soybeans, which can tolerate heavy doses of an herbicide that’s deadly to monarchs. (

Full fat, full benefits

Forget fat-free dressing. Turns out, you need fat to absorb carotenoids, the disease-fighting antioxidants that give fruits and veggies their color. A recent study found that volunteers absorbed more carotenoids when they ate salads with full-fat dressing than with low-fat dressing, and almost none when they opted for non-fat. According to the research, other fat sources such as avocado, cheese or nuts should work just as well. (Alternative Medicine)

A little moo

A rancher in Cuba is breeding mini cows so local families can have a quality source of milk right in their own backyard. The little bovines stand between 23 and 28 inches tall. Rancher Raul Hernandez says they’re easy to care for and feed. (MSNBC/Associated Press)

GE grass

The Monsanto and Scotts corporations are facing a problem in their drive to get genetically engineered (GE) grass onto the market. The companies have patented a Creeping Bentgrass for golf courses that’s resistant to the herbicide Roundup, but the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have raised concerns that the grass pollen can spread great distances and transfer herbicide-resistant traits to related species, creating superweeds.

A study from the Environmental Protection Agency has documented that pollen from the GE grass can travel at least thirteen miles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now requiring an Environmental Impact Statement before deciding if the GE grass can be released commercially. (

Canola antioxidants

Burcon NutraScience and the Fraunhofer Institute tested the health benefits of canola proteins and found they have “remarkable” antioxidant characteristics. The investigation involved the canola protein’s ability to lower blood cholesterol. Results were slightly less favorable than for soy proteins, but further tests are scheduled. (Food Marketing Institute)

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, November 2004

PCC and Farm Aid, Supporting local farmers, Women's sex drive, and more

Your co-op, November 2004

Board meeting report for September, Next board meeting, October 10 semi-annual membership meeting, and more