News bites, May 2006

This article was originally published in May 2006

Skagit farmland preservation

A new program in Skagit County is proving successful in saving farmland. The county’s Farmland Legacy program is funded by 6.25 cents per $1,000 property tax, and gives qualifying farmers a percent of the market value for their land in exchange for retiring development rights.

The first farmer to enter the program, a beef rancher, received $89,000 for the development rights on 103 acres. A dairy farmer got $50,000 for rights to 75 acres. Thanks to the program, farmers can fix their fencing or barns and pay off bills that kept them in debt. It also means new farmers will be able to buy land at affordable prices and gives incentive to improve the soil, knowing the topsoil won’t be paved over. (Capital Press)

Teens shopping ethically

“Ethical consumption” among the nation’s young adults and teenagers is driving the growth of fair trade and other ethically marketed products. Students United for Fair Trade reports that 30 colleges serve only Certified Fair Trade coffee, and students on 300 other campuses are pushing for similar policies. Marketing experts say teens often feel powerless to solve the problems of the world, but choosing products that reduce pesticide and deforestation, and support family farmers makes them feel they’re making a difference. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Washington Farm Bureau vs. orca whales

The Washington Farm Bureau has joined the state’s Building Industry Association to sue the federal government for listing orca whales as an endangered species. The farm bureau apparently fears the listing will trigger water and land restrictions on farms near salmon-sensitive waterways. Agricultural practices are involved because salmon is the primary food of the Puget Sound whales. According to the lawsuit, farmers could be fined for farming practices that harm salmon. (Capital Press)

Organic watchdog

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to force the release of records involving organic farming standards. At issue is the record of correspondence and discussions between USDA staff and corporate lobbyists, farm organizations, and the public — especially about rules that organic dairy cows must have access to pasture and that a significant portion of their feed comes from grazing.

When the National Organics Standards Board was ready to close loopholes and tighten the rules in August 2005, USDA staff blocked the action without explanation. Cornucopia’s lawsuit comes after USDA ignored three requests for the records under the Freedom of Information Act. (The Cornucopia Institute)

Organic advantage

The ScienceDaily is reporting new evidence that organic farming is a more sustainable tradition than non-organic, chemically based farming. Researchers report that fertilizing apple trees with synthetic chemicals produced more adverse environmental effects than feeding them with organic manure or alfalfa. The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ScienceDaily)

The politics of shopping

Business Week magazine ran an article about the increase in consumers who are shopping with morals in mind. The rise of the “ideological consumer” is forcing companies to reassess marketing strategies and has created a business boomlet for PR specialists to defuse customer complaints. Companies used to ignore attacks and hope they’d go away. Now, businesses can’t ignore the attacks because of talk radio and all the blogs, listservs and Web sites on the Internet that tell consumers what to buy or boycott. (BusinessWeek)

Colgate buys Tom’s of Maine

The Colgate-Palmolive company is acquiring a majority 84 percent stake in Tom’s of Maine, the leading maker of natural toothpaste. All jobs and product formulas will remain intact. Founder Tom Chappell says that his toothpastes are now the number six brand in the United States, but with Colgate’s help, it will become number three. Tom’s of Maine got started in the 1970s by selling phosphate-free laundry detergent. (Associated Press)

Benzene levels in diet colas

A newly discovered report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that regulators knew at least three years ago that some soft drinks have unsafe levels of cancer-causing benzene. The Total Diet Study revealed that between 1995 and 2001 nearly 80 percent — 19 out of 24 — of the diet colas tested had higher benzene levels than what’s allowed in drinking water. The study did not identify brands. The FDA and industry groups insist diet sodas are safe, yet the Centers for Disease Control say long-term exposure to benzene can cause cancers of the blood. (Contra Costa Times)

Say no to water for mining

The Washington Department of Ecology is accepting public comments through May 12 on a potentially devastating gold mine in north central Washington. The Crown Resources/Kinross company wants all the water rights of Buckhorn Mountain, including streams and wetlands — water rights that have been fully appropriated for 50 years to farmers and residents. The consequences of the mine proposal could be harmful for generations. To learn more and comment, visit

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, May 2006

PCC customer service, Fluoride, Bag of shame?, and more

Your co-op, May 2006

Notice of 2006 ballot counting meeting, Vote now, PCC board elections: “I just don’t know who to vote for…”, and more