News bites, May 2005

This article was originally published in May 2005

Moo power

In Lynden, Wash., the first dairy digester in the state is up and running. It turns methane gas from cow manure into energy and is being sold by Puget Sound Energy as part of its Green Power program. The digester can convert manure from 1,500 cows into electricity for 180 homes and provides a new source of income for dairy farmers. Digesters also reduce air and water pollution caused by manure and capture greenhouse gases before they reach the atmosphere, thereby reducing global warming. (Capital Press)

Local food security

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon is making good on a pledge to enhance the agricultural economy. He signed an action plan to take care of agricultural businesses already in Snohomish County and to address barriers that hinder farmers, ranchers and processors. The action plan would address permitting procedures, development, outreach and education. (Capital Press)

Agriculture stats

The Census of Agriculture is providing some interesting statistics. Among them, only 10 percent of income in the United States goes toward food, while the next lowest percentage is 16 percent of income — in Finland. If you add up the market value of all crops and livestock produced annually, it equals $207 billion, more than General Motors had in total sales. Combine the land area of all farms and ranches in the country and it would cover the five largest states — Alaska, Texas, California, Montana and New Mexico — and mostly cover the sixth largest, Arizona. A single American farmer feeds and clothes 144 people. (Capital Press)

Local food cuts CO2

A new survey from Japan shows that an average family of three could reduce CO2 emissions by about 300 kilograms a year if they ate domestically produced food at every meal. An organization called Daichi-o-Mamoru Kai (Association to Preserve the Earth) reports that Japan gets 60 percent of its food from other countries by air or sea, forms of transportation that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide that causes global warming. Domestically produced foods can be hauled by train or vehicles that produce less CO2. (Kyodo News)

Antibiotic resistance in GM seeds

Nature magazine reports that hundreds of tons of genetically modified corn seeds sold to farmers by mistake over the past four years contained a gene for antibiotic resistance. The corn, called Bt10, was not approved for sale by regulatory agencies.

The use of antibiotic-resistant genes in genetically engineered crops has been condemned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Royal Society and the Pasteur Institute, who are concerned the genes could spread antibiotic resistance in humans and animals.

The world’s largest agro-chemical company, Syngenta, initially argued that its Bt10 corn is essentially identical to Bt11 corn, which has been approved for sale. Syngenta later admitted that a marker gene conferring resistance to ampicillin, a commonly used antibiotic, is present in the Bt10 seeds. (

States limit GM bans

At least nine U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona and West Virginia, have either passed or introduced legislation to preempt local cities and counties from restricting the sale of genetically modified (GM) seeds. The bills are viewed as a nationally coordinated attempt to block GM-free ordinances such as those approved in Mendocino and Marin counties in California last year. (

Earth stewardship

The Church of England reportedly has discussed changing some practices to exercise the type of stewardship towards the Earth that it believes is commanded in the Bible. The changes include serving Fair Trade coffee, providing organic bread and wine, increasing recycling, using natural fibers in clergy robes and pressuring the British government to take a stronger stance on global climate change. Archbishops have also reportedly discussed a church report, “Sharing God’s Planet,” where Christians are urged to become more active in protecting the environment to “celebrate and care for God’s creation.” (Organic Consumers Association)

The Vatican and GE crops

Catholic leaders around the world are standing up to claims by the biotech industry that the Vatican endorses genetically engineered (GE) crops. Biotech proponents have touted a portion of a Vatican report that says God gave humans the right to manipulate and control the natural environment, but failed to mention it also says GE crops should not be allowed since they’ve not been tested adequately or proven safe for health or the environment. The Vatican report says, “Available scientific data are contradictory or quantitatively scarce. It may then be appropriate to base evaluations on the precautionary principle.” (Organic Consumers Association)

Organic ketchup better

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that ketchup can be an excellent source of lycopene, carotenoids and antioxidant compounds, especially if the tomatoes are organic. Scientists compared 13 national brands of ketchup and found the average level of lycopene in three organic brands was 57 percent higher than in six national brands and 55 percent higher than in two store brands. There’s evidence that lycopene protects against cancer and can reduce the risk of heart attack. One of the organic ketchups also had the highest total antioxidant capacity, about twice the level in fast food/vending machine brands and about two-thirds higher than the major national brands. (Organic Food Quality News)

Get your calcium

The journal Pediatrics is reporting that consuming more dairy products is not the best way to get your calcium. Researchers at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reviewed 37 studies on calcium consumption and bone strength in children older than 7. A strong majority, 27 studies, did not support drinking more milk to boost calcium. The report suggests instead a cup of cooked kale or turnip greens, 2/3 cup of tofu, one and 2/3 cup of broccoli, or two servings of oatmeal. Several studies conclude that exercise may be more important than increased calcium consumption in developing strong bones. (Reuters/

Organic in China

China’s international organic certification agencies are helping the country’s organic food export business to Europe and North America. Organic consumption is taking hold in China thanks to urbanization, disposable income and new eating habits. (

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