News bites, March 2007

This article was originally published in March 2007

Court ruling may block GE plantings

In a precedent-setting decision on genetically engineered (GE) crops, a federal court has ruled, for the first time, that the USDA failed to abide by federal environmental laws when it approved a genetically engineered crop without conducting a full environmental impact statement (EIS).

Judge Charles Breyer of the northern district of California decided in favor of farmers, consumers and environmentalists who had filed suit calling the USDA’s approval of GE alfalfa a threat to farmers’ livelihoods and the environment. Breyer agreed that farmers who want to grow non-GE alfalfa cannot — because GE traits contaminate other fields, effectively eliminating all other alfalfa.

Breyer ordered a full EIS on Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa, the GE variety developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics, a variety planted in trial fields in Washington state. The court ruling may prevent future GE alfalfa plantings and future applications to commercialize GE crops. (Center for Food Safety)

Court requires stronger reviews for GE

Another federal court has ruled that the USDA’s approval of GE creeping bentgrass was illegal. Citing environmental concerns, Judge Harold Kennedy of Washington, D.C. ruled that the USDA must require more rigorous and more detailed environmental reviews before approving any new field trials of any GE crops.

GE creeping bentgrass from the Scotts Co. and Monsanto was found to have contaminated native grasses more than 12 miles away, including plants in a national grassland. The USDA approves most of the permit applications to grow GE crops outdoors with no formal environmental impact review. (Associated Press)

Canola-free zone

Seed growers in Skagit County want the Washington State Department of Agriculture to create a canola-free zone. The zone would cover all of Skagit County and parts of Island, Whatcom, Snohomish and Clallam counties.

Most canola seed has been genetically modified and growers worry that GE canola would cross-pollinate with vegetables in the brassica family (such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) and hurt the area’s $20 million seed industry.

Wash. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, is co-sponsoring a Senate bill to address the concerns. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Farm Bill facts

As wrangling continues over the 2007 Farm bill, data shows that 60 percent of America’s farmers and ranchers get nothing from the current farm bill program. Virtually none of the benefits go to farms producing the vegetables and fruits advocated by the USDA’s own “food pyramid.” Three of four farm applications are rejected for the Conservation Security Program, which rewards farmers for practices protecting soil, wildlife and water supplies. (Neal Pierce, syndicated columnist)

Organic subcommittee in Congress

The U.S. House of Representative’s Agriculture Committee has created a new Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture. Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) will chair the committee of 11 members. (Organic Trade Association)

Monsanto fined for false advertising

A French court has found the agrochemical giant Monsanto guilty of falsely advertising its flagship herbicide, Roundup, as environmentally friendly. The herbicide apparently was advertised as biodegradable and that it left the soil clean after use.

A former chairman and Monsanto’s French distributor, Scotts France, were fined about $19,000. A suit was filed in 2001 because Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, is classed by the European Union as “dangerous for the environment” and “toxic for aquatic organisms.” (Agence France-Presse)

Deceptive food packaging

About half of the foods marketed aggressively to children with pictures or names of fruit on the packaging apparently contain no fruit at all. The Prevention Institute, a nonprofit group in California, examined 37 products with pictures of fruit or the words “fruit” or “fruity” on the wrapping and found 19 had no fruit at all in them. Only 10 of the 37 had any real fruit ingredient. Some relied on red dye and blue dye to create an impression of fruit. (Contra Costa Times)

Fatty food and exercise

Exercising after a high-fat meal apparently counteracts the arterial dysfunction and damage caused by fatty foods. Researchers explain arteries can’t respond well to an increase in blood flow after eating fatty foods, which causes oxidation of the arterial walls, but physical activity reverses the damage.

According to the research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, arteries respond even better after physical activity than before the high-fat meal. (Today’s Diet & Nutrition)

Climate change in Washington state

According to a recent study, Washington state is especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change because of its dependence on snowpack for water and energy and rising sea levels. Research from the Climate Leadership Initiative, led by Bob Doppelt, shows historic 10-year droughts are likely to start occurring every two years, causing crop and cattle losses, and rising sea levels will affect farming around Willapa Bay and the Skagit River delta.

Warmer winters also will allow pest populations to boom. Eastern Washington fruit growers already are seeing an extra generation of codling moths. (Capital Press)

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