News bites, April 2006

This article was originally published in April 2006

Budget increase for organics

The National Organic Program is one of few U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to see a funding increase in the administration’s proposed 2007 budget. Requested funding increased from $2.026 million to $3.13 million to support increased regulation writing, training for certifiers and enforcement. Congress has not yet approved the proposed budget. (Organic Trade Association)

Del Monte leaving Hawaii

After 90 years in the Hawaiian islands, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. says it will cease pineapple operations there in two years. Del Monte said it’s no longer economically feasible to grow pineapples in Hawaii because they can be grown for less in other parts of the world. The president of the longshore and warehouse union says he’s worried about the 700 pineapple workers who will lose their jobs. (Agribusiness Examiner)

Nutritional declines in produce

U.S. government data shows that the nutritional content of America’s vegetables and fruits has declined in the past 50 years, in some cases dramatically.

A biochemist at the University of Texas, Donald Davis, says that of 13 major nutrients in fruits and vegetables tracked by the Agriculture Department from 1950 to 1999, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C showed significant declines. The declines ranged from 6 percent for protein, 15 percent for iron, 20 percent for vitamin C, and 38 percent for riboflavin.

Davis suspects the emphasis on growing crops faster and bigger is to blame. Research shows that the faster plants grow, the uptake of trace nutrients is diluted. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Mineral declines in meat and milk

British government data shows the mineral content of milk and popular meats there has plummeted in the past 60 years. The Food Commission reports that iron in 15 different meat items had fallen by 47 percent on average. The iron content in milk dropped by more than 60 percent and by more than 50 percent in eight different cheeses. Other minerals declined, too — with parmesan showing a 70 percent decline in magnesium and iron all gone compared to the years before 1940.

The lead researcher, Dr. David Thomas, attributes the losses to chemical and industrial farming methods that strip the soil of vital nutrients needed by people and animals. (The Guardian/UK)

GE alfalfa lawsuit

A coalition of farmers, consumers and environmental groups is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying it failed to analyze the risks to public health, the environment and the economy when approving genetically engineered alfalfa.

The suit asserts that GE traits will contaminate traditional alfalfa quickly and threaten alfalfa exports to countries that won’t accept GE crops. Alfalfa exports are worth $252 million to Washington state’s economy. The suit asks a federal court in San Francisco to rescind the USDA’s decision until an environmental review is completed. (Reuters/Washington State University)

Anti-corporate farm law under appeal

A federal judge has rejected Nebraska’s ban on corporate farming as unconstitutional. The ban was added to the state constitution after a successful petition drive and legislative initiative by the Farmers Union in 1982.

The measure, known as I-300, prohibits corporations and business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity, although there are numerous exceptions. U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith-Camp ruled that it violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nebraska’s attorney general says his office will appeal the ruling. (Agribusiness Examiner)

GE fight in the WTO

The European Union (EU) officially has lifted a ban against importing genetically engineered (GE) foods after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled the ban is illegal. Canada and Argentina joined the U.S. in filing a complaint in 2003 with the WTO, alleging the ban was a violation of international trade laws. EU markets still are expected to boycott GE foods because of consumer resistance. Critics expect U.S. trade officials will file a second complaint against the EU, claiming that labeling requirements for GE foods are an unfair restriction of trade. (The Campaign to Label)

Ethanol emissions

California researchers are discrediting claims that making ethanol for gasoline consumes more energy than it creates. But the study also concludes that ethanol made from corn — the type dominating the market today — offers little improvement in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-based fuel. The Renewable Fuels Association reports that of 42 ethanol plants under construction nationwide, six are farmer-owned. (Agribusiness Examiner)

Bears like grapes

Black bears in northern California have a taste for quality. They’ve been munching their way through vineyards of Cabernet grapes that sell for as much as $7,000 a ton and can be produced only in mountainous regions where animals traditionally live. Some winery owners have called in authorities to trap and shoot the bears — as well as wild pigs, deer, turkeys and mountain lions. The killings have prompted debate over the place of wildlife in one of the most famous wine-producing regions. (Capital Press)

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