News bites, June 2005

This article was originally published in June 2005

Organics at WSU

Washington State University has been on the cutting edge of organic and sustainable agriculture, and now it seems WSU will be the first university in the country to offer a major in organic agriculture. The program is finishing the approval process and is poised to start training a new generation of farmers and scientists in the 2005-2006 academic year. Business and industry are reported to be interested in hiring people with such a background.

Gov. Christine Gregoire visited WSU’s organic farm in May when she gave the commencement address in Pullman. The legislature also directed WSU to emphasize a sustainable and organic research program called BIOAg and the university is moving forward to hire a BIOAg director even amid budget reductions. (Nutrition Education Network of Washington)

Farmland preservation

For the second time in eight years, a Snohomish County superior court judge has rejected a bid by car dealer Dwayne Lane and the city of Arlington to convert 110 acres near I-5 from agricultural to commercial zoning. Judge Linda Krese struck down the proposal saying Lane, the city of Arlington and Snohomish County had not shown any substantial change in circumstances since previous court decisions. (The Herald)

GE fish to be labeled

The Alaska legislature has passed a bill that will require genetically engineered (GE) fish to be labeled. The bill was passed unanimously by both the U.S. Senate and House, and because of the strong support, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski is expected to sign it into law. GE fish are not approved for commercial production by the Food and Drug Administration, but could be approved at any time.

Lawmakers in Alaska feel the labeling law will be a marketing advantage to assure consumers that Alaskan seafood is not genetically engineered, an assurance provided by requiring labels on GE fish.

The law could set a precedent. Montana, for instance, could pass a law to label GE wheat, if ever it was approved for commercial production. Having a labeling law in place before approval may hinder efforts to market GE foods. (The Campaign to Label GE Foods)

Pesticide clothing?

Clothing impregnated with insect repellents is raising concern among environmentalists and health experts. Outdoor recreation stores across the United States are selling clothing blended with the insecticide permethrin, which is a reported carcinogen, a suspected endocrine disruptor and linked to asthma attacks. Critics say the clothing doesn’t clearly label the dangers of permethrin and that people wearing it can absorb the chemical, especially if they’re sweating. Some of the clothing may be made with DEET as well and the “Journal of Toxicology” links this combination to Gulf War Syndrome, a neurological disease. (

Pesticide lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that makers of pesticides and weed killers can be sued and forced to pay damages if their products cause harm. The ruling reversed a series of lower court rulings. The ruling permits lawsuits by farmers whose crops are damaged by pesticides as well as suits by consumers who are hurt by insecticides, fungicides or herbicides. (Los Angeles Times)

Lawn stats

Americans who want to help heal the environment can start in their own backyards. “Audubon” magazine reports that annual care and feeding requirements for an average one-third acre lawn in the United States include 10 pounds of pesticides, 20 pounds of fertilizer, 170,000 gallons of water, and that they emit pollution equivalent to driving a car 14,000 miles. That’s not counting the amount of labor to mow the lawn, averaging 40 hours a year. (Yes, A Journal of Positive Futures)

Body fueling

A nutritionist is suggesting Americans adopt the “two-thirds rule” as key to a healthier diet and to curb obesity — that two-thirds of a plate or shopping cart should be filled with fruits, vegetables and grains. A recent study, meanwhile, found that only 3 percent of Americans are living lives that include a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight level. Lead researcher and Michigan State University epidemiologist Mathew Reeves says the results “shocked” him. He expected about 15 percent of Americans to score points in the so-called “healthy lifestyle index.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Junk food linked to bad behavior

The “American Journal of Psychiatry” has published a new study connecting nutrient deficiencies with aggressive behavior in children. Children who suffered deficiencies of zinc, iron, B vitamins and protein demonstrated a 41 percent increase in aggression at age 8, and by age 17 they demonstrated a 51 percent increase in violent and antisocial behaviors. The study notes that 80 percent of the U.S. population now has deficiencies in one or more of these nutrients, in large part from increasing consumption of junk foods and beverages. (Organic Consumers Association)

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, June 2005

Raw food in the deli?, More on biofuel at PCC, Genetically modified food info, and more