News bites, April 2005

This article was originally published in April 2005

Tree fruit is number one

Washington state tree fruit is big business, according to a new study. The State Horticultural Society reports that the tree fruit industry accounts for more than 142,000 jobs, from field work to advertising and sales. The economic value is more than $2 billion a year in the Yakima Valley alone. In north central Washington, it’s worth $1.5 billion a year and in the Columbia Basin, more than $800 million annually. The total cumulative value is greater than that from Microsoft or Boeing combined, according to Jim Hazen at the horticultural society. It’s also ahead of the biotechnology industry, which reportedly employs 19,300 statewide and generates only $1.8 billion in revenue. (Capital Press)

Organic farming stats

A new study from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) shows steady growth in organic farming worldwide. More than 26 million hectares of farmland are under organic management worldwide, an increase of almost 10 percent over the previous year. In sheer numbers for organic farmland, Australia leads the world with 11.3 million hectares, followed by Argentina with 2.8 million hectares and Italy with more than one million hectares.

Regarding the share of organic farmland in the total agricultural area, Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries lead the way. In Switzerland, more than 10 percent of the agricultural land is managed organically. (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements)

Gluten linked to osteoporosis

A new study shows that some people develop osteoporosis because their bodies cannot tolerate wheat and other grains with gluten. According to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 3 to 4 percent of patients develop osteoporosis as a consequence of being gluten intolerant, a condition that makes them unable to absorb normal amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Researchers suggest that patients with osteoporosis should get a blood test for celiac disease, which involves gluten intolerance. Gluten is in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut. (MSNBC/Reuters)

Class action against Breyers

Ice cream eaters in St. Louis have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the Good Humor-Breyers ice cream company because the milk used in its “All-natural ice cream” may be produced with the use of synthetic growth hormones. A lawsuit seeking class action must receive court approval granting it class action status.

The lawsuit, filed in a Missouri state court, accuses the company of fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. It says Breyers knew or should have known that it was falsely claiming that its ice cream contains “only the finest ingredients from all-natural sources.” The lawsuit says it represents consumers who bought Breyers ice cream, not knowing it contained recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), antibiotics and other synthetic ingredients. It seeks punitive and compensatory damages for each ice cream purchase. (Reuters)

Precautionary principle

From California, there’s an important victory for environmental justice and the precautionary principle. California’s Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to use a precautionary approach to guide its work. A precautionary approach means taking action to protect public health or the environment if a reasonable threat of serious harm exists, based on the best available science — even if the scientific evidence doesn’t definitely determine risk.

This approach will now be the foundation for policy in legislation and regulations on community health. It will guide efforts in pilot project communities in 2005 and 2006, taking into account all sources of pollution affecting public health and the environment. (Environmental Health Coalition, Institute for Children’s Environmental Health)

More on bSE

Mad cow disease (bSE) may be more threatening than previously thought. The journal Science reports that prions believed to be involved in the disease are not restricted to areas of the animal body such as the spinal column, nervous tissue and the brain. Research shows the prions also can exist in muscle tissue used for meat. (Organic Consumers Association)

Pets need veggies

“Eat your veggies!” applies to dogs, too. A study at Purdue University reveals that Scottish terriers who ate vegetables three times a week reduced their risk of bladder cancer by 50 percent. Green leafy vegetables provided about a 90 percent reduction in risk; yellow vegetables, 70 percent; and cruciferous vegetables, about 80 percent. The findings are part of a study on dogs and cancer involving exposure to chemically treated yards.

The risk of bladder cancer increased significantly among Scotties exposed to lawns or gardens treated with herbicides, especially when exposed to phenoxy or nonphenoxy acid herbicides. Phenoxy acid is an active ingredient in 2,4-D, a common ingredient in weed killers. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

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