News bites, October 2006

This article was originally published in October 2006

PCC a Best Place to Work

Seattle Metropolitan magazine has named PCC Natural Markets as one of the 25 Best Places to Work. The September issue says it “surveyed and sleuthed” to come up with its list, citing flexible schedules, paternity leave, discounts, low turnover, philanthropy and fully-paid medical premiums as notable benefits. (Seattle Metropolitan)

Global organic growth

More than 31 million hectares of farmland are under organic management worldwide, a gain of about five million hectares last year, according to the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture. Much of the increase occurred in China.

Most of the organic land is in Australia/Oceania (39 percent), followed by Europe (21 percent), Latin America (20 percent), Asia (13 percent), North America (4 percent) and Africa (3 percent). A hectare equals 2.47 acres. (Organic Trade Association)

Sustainability grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will award up to $1.25 million in grants for student projects seeking sustainable solutions to environmental challenges. The program, called the “People, Prosperity and the Planet” competition, will provide grants up to $10,000 each to college or university student teams doing research and development during the 2007-08 academic year.

Proposals must reach EPA by December 21. For more information, visit

GE rice contaminating food

Rice farmers in six states — California, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana — have filed class action lawsuits charging Bayer CropScience with negligence after its genetically modified (GM) rice was found to be contaminating the food chain. Japan suspended imports, the European Union imposed restrictions, and the rice futures market plummeted by $150 million.

The unapproved rice from Bayer CropScience contains a gene making it resistant to an herbicide called glufosinate. Bayer decided for unknown reasons not to market the rice after field tests ended in 2001, and it has not been approved for human consumption. The contamination was discovered in January, but Bayer didn’t inform the government until July 31. The government also waited 18 days before informing the public.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it’s uncertain if organic rice is affected. Organic certifiers are reviewing production and operation records to identify all rice varieties planted and the seed suppliers. (New York Times/Organic Trade Association)

Soy advisories

The American Heart Association (AHA) has cancelled its endorsement of soy foods. In the journal “Circulation,” the AHA declares soy has little effect on cholesterol and is not likely to prevent heart disease. A publication of the Food and Drug Administration recently links some of the isoflavones in soy to thyroid disorders.

Last year, the French Center for Cancer Research decreed no amount of soy should be consumed by children under 3, or women with a history of or family history of breast cancer. Soy products in France now must carry a warning label. The Israeli Health Ministry also issued a public warning, ordering daycare centers and schools to limit soy to no more than three servings per week. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Organic almonds

Don’t be surprised if the price for organic almonds keeps going up. Organic almond prices have more than doubled in the past year for a number of reasons. Almonds in general are increasing in popularity, and more large food companies are interested in organic produce. California growers also have been hit hard by bad weather and declining bee populations needed for pollination. (New York Times)

Mad cow testing cut back

The USDA is cutting back on testing cattle for mad cow disease by about 90 percent, saying that even the current level of testing just 1 percent of U.S. cattle is “unnecessary.”

Meanwhile, the USDA’s Inspector General is reporting serious flaws in the testing process: Testing is voluntary, the USDA pays for samples, and slaughterhouses have incentive to send in samples from animals less likely to test positive. Two cases of mad cow disease were confirmed in the United States this past year. (New York Times)

Forests fight cancer?

Walks in the forest apparently help activate natural killer (NK) cells known to attack cancer and increase certain anti-cancer proteins. Research from the Nippon Medical School and the Forest Products Research Institute of Japan shows that NK cell activity in highly stressed men increased by 52 percent after just two days of walking in the woods. Japan’s Forestry Agency says it’s further evidence that trees and forests have a therapeutic effect. (Arbor Day Foundation)

The WTO and crop subsidies

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is blaming the United States for the collapse of the latest round of global trade talks. He says that for every dollar the United States would strip out of farm subsidies, it wants to be given a dollar’s worth of market access in developing country markets.

That’s not acceptable to poor nations, who reportedly say no deal is better than a bad deal. Such a deal would have left subsistence farmers and other small-time players no better off than they are now. (Agribusiness Examiner)

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