News bites, April 2007

This article was originally published in April 2007

Wanted: Organic livestock feed

The number of organic dairies is growing at such a rapid pace in Washington and Oregon that farmers are finding it difficult to find enough local suppliers of organic feed. Six years ago, there were only two organic dairies in Washington. Now, out of 550 Washington dairies, 25 are certified organic and 18 are in transition to become organic.

Oregon has 20 organic or transitional dairies. The two states now have nearly 30,000 organic milk cows. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

New farmer health insurance relies on collective bargaining

In Wisconsin, the first group health insurance program for farmers — the first of its kind in the country — began offering coverage April 1. The program offers comprehensive insurance plans at cheaper rates than farmers can get on their own and with more extensive coverage and benefits — including workplace injuries, preventive care and prescription drug coverage.

The program arose out of a partnership between the state and federal governments. A Wisconsin senator secured $4.4 million in federal money to provide initial capital. Wisconsin state law was changed in 2003 to get the program started. (Associated Press)

Watercress reduces cancer risk?

Research suggests that eating watercress regularly could help reduce the chances of developing cancer. Work at the University of Ulster shows that watercress appears to increase beneficial antioxidant compounds in the blood while reducing potentially harmful triglycerides.

During a study of 60 people who ate watercress daily for eight weeks, scientists found that DNA damage to white blood cells was reduced by about 23 percent; the cells were more able to protect themselves against the damaging effects of free radicals. (BBC News)

GE potatoes linked to cancer

More evidence of links between genetically engineered (GE) potatoes and cancer is leading critics to call for a halt to trial plantings of the potato in England. UK Greenpeace activists obtained the findings from Russian trials after an eight-year court battle with the biotech industry. The research showed that GE potatoes caused considerable organ and tissue damage in lab rats, including tumors and cell damage in their stomachs and intestines. (The Independent)

Despite outbreaks, fewer inspections

Despite a number of high-profile food recalls — from spinach contaminated with E. coli and peanut butter with salmonella — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reportedly is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago.

Analysis of federal records shows the FDA also has cut the number of safety tests by nearly 75 percent since 2003. People in the administration now apparently are coming out and saying the agency cannot do its job at current resource levels. (Associated Press)

Processing may spread E. coli?

Some scientists and food safety advocates are suggesting that packaging greens might contribute to the spread of E. coli bacteria. Lettuce and spinach destined for packaging usually are trucked to a central processing facility, where tainted and untainted leaves can be mixed during chopping, washing and bagging. In contrast, greens that are not bagged are not chopped up and commingled. (Los Angeles Times/Center for Food Safety)

Meat and global warming

Researchers at the University of Chicago have concluded that dietary changes could make more difference in greenhouse gas emissions than trading in a standard sedan for a more efficient hybrid car — which reduces annual CO² emissions by about one ton per year.

Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin compared the global warming impact between meat eaters and vegetarians and found that the average American diet with meat (including all food-processing steps) produces an extra 1.5 tons of greenhouse gases per year compared to a no-meat diet. They say people can make a substantial difference by cutting down from two burgers a week to one. (Christian Science Monitor)

Wild harvesting standards

The World Conservation Union has launched a new standard to promote sustainable management and trade of wild medicinal and aromatic plants. About 15,000 species of medicinal and aromatic plant species reportedly are at risk from over-harvesting and loss of habitat. In the United States, American ginseng and goldenseal both are harvested from the wild. The new standard includes monitoring practices for collection and management. (Environment News Service)

Illegal cows from Canada

The Cattle Producers of Washington has obtained documents showing that hundreds of cattle from Canada — where officials found a ninth case of mad cow disease — have entered the United States without required health papers or identification tags.

The organization said the intent behind obtaining the information was to check on whether state and federal governments were enforcing laws that govern Canadian imports. The Cattle Producers of Washington views cattle imports as a potential threat to its own businesses, as well as a risk for the spread of disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating. (Cattle Producers of Washington)

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