News bites, June 2006

This article was originally published in June 2006

Washington asparagus

Washing state asparagus farmers are recovering somewhat after two canneries closed their operations in Walla Walla and Dayton, and moved their operations to Peru. Historically, about half of Washington’s crop went to canneries, the other half to the fresh market. After the canneries closed, growers cut back acreage and pushed more product on the fresh side, where the market is absorbing the supply. There are about 175 asparagus growers in Washington. (Capital Press)

Canadian fat tax?

In addition to banning junk food in schools, the Canadian government is considering a tax on certain snack foods to help fight childhood obesity. The president of the Canadian Medical Association Healthy says unhealthy choices should be more costly and less available and one way to do that is to tax them, like cigarettes. Other health organizations, including the World Health Organization, also have recommended the so-called “fat tax.” (The Canadian Press/

Miracle cherries

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered 29 companies to stop making unproven claims that cherries ease or prevent disease. The cherry industry apparently has been marketing cherries as a health food, citing their high levels of antioxidants and even individual reports that cherries cured gout. The FDA says that by claiming cherries could treat or cure disease, they were prescribing cherries as “drugs.” Cherry advocates counter that no one ever reported adverse effects from eating cherries, which is more than can be said about many FDA-approved drugs. (Capital Press)

Bee battle

In a landmark decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that landowners who spray pesticides on their property can be held liable for damages to beekeepers’ neighboring apiaries. The case was brought by three beekeepers who raise bees for honey and sale. The ruling could impact pesticide use across the country. (Pesticides and You)

Survey on GE food

A recent study by Cornell University researchers shows that consumer acceptance of genetically engineered (GE) food is falling, rather than growing. Thirty-eight percent view GE foods as a high risk — an 11 percent increase from the 27 percent who were skeptical in a similar 2003 study. Women generally and non-whites of both genders are the least accepting. (The Non-GMO Report)

Toxic cotton

In India, 1,600 sheep died after grazing in fields where genetically engineered cotton had been harvested. Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture found the sheep were poisoned by the Bt toxin, a pesticide engineered into the cotton plant.

Meanwhile, in Texas, 90 cotton farmers are suing Monsanto and two related companies, claiming they suffered huge losses because they weren’t warned of a defect in Monsanto’s GE cotton. The farmers say the Roundup herbicide that they’re instructed to use on the cotton ate into the plants, causing deformities and reduced yields during extreme heat and drought. (Reuters)

Shareholders query Horizon

Investors raised concerns at the annual shareholders meeting of Dean Foods in Dallas about the policies and procedures used to source milk for Dean’s Horizon Organic brand of dairy products. Investors say they’re concerned that Dean’s share value has been jeopardized by charges that large dairies for Horizon are compromising organic standards.

Institutional shareholders previously floated a proposal demanding an independent review on the matter. But it was withdrawn when Dean Food lawyers filed a protest with the Securities and Exchange Commission, asking to omit the proposal from the 2006 proxy statement based on technicalities. (Cornucopia Institute)

Palm oil campaign

An ad campaign is urging consumers to avoid products with palm oil to help save the habitat and survival of the great apes and orangutans. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says tropical rainforests are being destroyed to make way for oil palm trees.

Palm oil has no unhealthy trans-fats and is appearing in noodles and snacks as a replacement for hydrogenated oils. PCC sells palm fruit oil shortening from Spectrum, which says its product is produced under certified sustainable practices in Columbia, where there are no orangutans. (FoodNavigator/ Spectrum Naturals)

Organic is better

Non-organic strawberry, tomato and pepper farmers still are using a pesticide, methyl bromide, which depletes the ozone layer and causes neuromuscular and cognitive problems. The United States signed an international treaty to phase out methyl bromide for all but critical uses by 2006. However, more was used in 2005 than two years ago, due to exemptions to prevent “market disruption.” (Natural Food Network magazine)

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