News bites, February 2007
This article was originally published in February 2007
Hain Celestial buys Avalon
The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., is buying Avalon Natural Products, the maker of natural skin and hair care products, for $120 million. In the most recent fiscal year, Avalon and its brand, Alba Botanica, generated sales of more than $40 million. (Reuters)
WSU helps rebuild Iraqi agriculture
Washington State University (WSU) is one of five universities in a consortium to help Iraq rebuild its agricultural base. WSU is joined by Texas A&M, Utah State, New Mexico State University and the University of California at Davis.
The consortium will train Iraqis to train their countrymen in management, production and marketing for small and medium agricultural enterprises. The program will include crop trials, demonstration plots and research on irrigation technology, efficient water management, livestock development, and animal health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved $5.3 million to finance the effort. (New Mexico Business Weekly)
Genetic engineering unfriendly to bees, organic is best
Bees pollinate about 40 percent of the crops for the human food chain, and now a study shows organic farming best protects them. Researchers in Canada recently compared organic, non-organic and GE canola fields to measure bee populations and the impact on pollination.
They found the smallest bee populations and the greatest pollination deficits (the difference between potential and actual pollination) in the GE fields. Non-organic fields had a moderate pollination deficit. Organic fields had no pollination deficit. Bees also were most abundant in organic fields while GE fields had the fewest bees. (Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada)
Ban on corporate farms unconstitutional?
In Nebraska, a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a ban on corporate farming as unconstitutional, saying it violates a federal provision on how much states can regulate interstate commerce. State voters approved the ban in 1982 as Initiative 300 and it has withstood numerous court challenges over the past 24 years.
The toughest rule of its kind, Initiative 300 required one member of a Nebraska farm corporation to be involved in the daily operation of the farm. An appeal to the full Circuit Court is nearly certain; it could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Omaha World-Herald)
Seafood depleted by 2048?
A study published by the journal Science says the world will run out of seafood by the year 2048 if the collapse in marine species continues at current rates. Fourteen ecologists and economists from the United States, Canada, Panama and Sweden spent four years analyzing all available data on fish populations and ocean ecosystems. They found that 29 percent of all fished species had collapsed by 2003 and that the rate of collapse is accelerating. The loss of so many species is eroding the viability of marine ecosystems and their ability to resist environmental stresses. (Science/Washington Post)
Personal nutrition and health apparently can be diagnosed by analyzing hair samples. Scientists at Brigham Young University say they were able to pinpoint eating disorders, for instance, in 80 percent of the hair samples taken in a recent study. A hair analysis may be especially helpful to discover problems a patient may not wish to reveal, such as alcohol or drug habits. (ABCnews.com)
Artificial life forms unregulated
An international coalition (ETC Group) of scientists, environmentalists, trade unionists, biowarfare experts and social justice advocates are calling for oversight of “synthetic biology,” where artificial life forms are created for specific tasks. The coalition argues that regulations and policing are needed, while synthetic biologists argue that a voluntary code for self-regulation is sufficient.
New life forms already created include novel E. coli bacteria and microbes for use in energy, agriculture and climate change remediation. (GeneWatch UK/Ecological Farming Association)
Bacteria linked to obesity
Researchers have discovered a unique mixture of bacteria in the digestive tract of obese people that makes them prone to gaining weight. A study in the journal Nature says the bacteria in obese people are more efficient at extracting calories from food. It also says the presence of those digestive microbes is reduced as people lose weight. The findings suggest a new possibility for treating obesity. (Nature/Associated Press)
Washington cows #1
Washington ranks first in the nation for milk production per cow. The average Washington cow produced 1,965 gallons of milk in 2004 compared to the national average of 1,630 gallons. (Washington State University)