News bites, December 2004

This article was originally published in December 2004

A tree for D.C.

A Washington state tree is gracing the White House Blue Room for the holidays this year. It’s coming from the farm of John Burton near Mossyrock after a lengthy competition that began last summer through the National Christmas Tree Association. The tree had to be pretty perfect and stand exactly 18 feet, 6 inches tall to fit the Blue Room. (Capital Press)

Weather and the price of food

Heavy rains in California and hurricanes over Florida are causing a big jump in the cost of warm weather crops such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. The bad weather destroyed thousands of acres of crops, turning fields into messy losses.

Consumer prices for tomatoes have since doubled in many places across the country. Some fruits, such as grapefruit, are being sourced now from the desert Southwest, but supply is limited and the size of grapefruit much smaller than usual. Availability of these warm weather crops is expected to return to normal in January. In the meantime, some restaurants temporarily have stopped putting tomato on sandwiches. (The Oregonian, San Francisco Chronicle, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Trans-fats and the brain

Researchers looking into how fat intake affects brain functions believe trans-fats can cause weakened intellect and memory. One scientist suspects trans-fats cause inflammation in the brain, and plans to do follow-up experiments to see if the damage can be reversed. (The Baltimore Sun)

Food and farming in Iraq

A report by GRAIN has found that new legislation in Iraq has been put in place by the United States that prevents farmers from saving their seeds and “effectively hands over the seed market to transnational corporations.” GRAIN is an international non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable farming, agricultural biodiversity and the right of people to control genetic resources and local knowledge.

The new law means that patenting life forms will become part of Iraqi law — the first one affecting plants and seeds. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes 97 percent of Iraqi farmers used saved seed from last year’s harvest or bought from local markets. When the new law takes effect on “plant variety protection” (PVP), seed saving reportedly will be illegal and the market will offer only “PVP-protected” product patented by corporations. (

New food safety agency?

There’s a proposal in the U.S. Congress to create a new food safety agency to monitor the integrity of the food system. The Safe Food Act of 2004 would consolidate federal oversight into a single agency called the Food Safety Administration. It would reduce the Food and Drug Administration’s reach over processing, handling and storage of consumer foods and would take some powers away from the Department of Agriculture, such as inspecting processing facilities and imported foods, and providing traceability for items in the food chain. Lawmakers say the bill probably won’t come up for action this year. (

Seeing red over GE vines

French winemakers are reportedly outraged after a key scientific commission gave the go-ahead to plant 70 genetically engineered (GE) vines in Alsace. Vineyard owners say that GE vines could ruin public trust in their product. Proponents of the GE vines have included LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy). At press time, the French government had not yet ruled on whether to approve or rule against the commission’s recommendation. The GE vines are meant to be resistant to a disease that stunts growth and sours the grapes. (Diverse Women for Diversity)

Grants help WA farmers

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2) has helped Western Washington farmers secure two U. S. Department of Agriculture grants to increase the value of their crops. Larsen is the only member of Congress from Washington state on the House Agriculture Committee and he fought hard during the writing of the 2002 Farm Bill to include the Value-Added Program. The grants are funded by a value-added market development program.

The Whatcom County Agricultural Preservation Committee will receive $113,003 to evaluate marketing gourmet butters, specialty cheeses and processed dairy products in the county, which is first in the nation in milk production per cow. The Western Washington Agricultural Association has been awarded $136,000 to help Skagit-area apple growers create a marketing plan for value-added beverages and food products.

Larsen represents Washington’s second congressional district, which includes Snohomish, Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties. There are 4,258 farms in the second congressional district. They produce almost $610 million worth of products and generate more than $15 billion in gross income from farm-related sources. (Agribusiness Examiner)

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