News bites, June 2007

This article was originally published in June 2007

Legislation for a healthier Washington

The Washington legislature has passed four bills for a cleaner, healthier environment. HB 1303 mandates policies and incentives to help consumers and businesses shift away from fossil fuels. ESHB 1024 mandates phasing out flame retardants that cause learning and behavioral disorders and requires safer substitutes for TVs, computers and furniture by December 2008.

A bill requested by Gov. Gregoire establishes an agency to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound by 2020. In the fourth bill, state funding was doubled for state and local parks, protected shorelines and wildlife habitats, and also provides for the state’s first farmland preservation program. (Priorities for a Healthy Washington)

Pharma safflower barred by Canada

Nearly 200 tons of genetically modified (GM) safflower seed, much of it bound for Washington state, is sitting in limbo at a Chilean port. The safflower seed, engineered with a carp growth hormone for use in farmed fish, was to be shipped to Vancouver, B.C., and trucked to Calgary for processing. But the Canadian government has refused a permit needed to import the seed because it’s banned in Canada. The SemBioSys company wants to plant 1,000 acres of the GM seed in Washington state. (CanWest News Service)

Bellingham a “Green Power Community”

By purchasing more than 11 percent of all its electricity from green power sources, the city of Bellingham is being recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as Washington’s first Green Power Community. Bellingham’s achievement is especially remarkable because it’s buying twice as much green power as the other six Green Power Communities across the country. They include Boulder, Colo.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Salem and Corvallis, Ore., and Moab and Park City, Utah. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Pastured cheese tastes better

Preliminary research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that a consumer panel preferred the taste of cheese made from the milk of pastured cows to other cheese, saying it tasted significantly different. Researchers so far cannot identify the chemical compounds causing the difference in flavor. (University of Wisconsin)

The 2007 “Dirty Dozen”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its analysis of data from 43,000 tests on non-organic produce this year and announced the new list of the so-called “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 produce items most contaminated with pesticide residues. They are non-organic strawberries, cherries, peaches, imported grapes, nectarines, pears, apples, sweet bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, celery and potatoes. (

Dirt: a natural antidepressant

There’s scientific evidence that gardening and working on the land may affect the brain in a way similar to antidepressants. Researchers from Bristol University and University College London found that naturally occurring “friendly” bacteria in the soil, known as Mycobacterium vaccae, stimulate serotonin production by the brain. Cancer patients treated with the bacteria reported improved vitality and cognitive function and decreased pain. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia. (

Private testing for mad cow

In the District of Columbia, a federal judge has ruled that the USDA must allow private companies to test cattle for mad cow disease. A Kansas beef operation, Creekstone Farms, had sued the USDA when it refused to let Creekstone test all its cattle voluntarily. The court says the USDA lacks authority to regulate the test or block private use. The USDA now tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows. (Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, LLC v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, et al)

Ireland raises cost of plastic bags

Ireland’s levy on plastic bags will increase in July from 15 cents to 22 cents to counter a recent increase in plastic bag use. Ireland began charging for new plastic bags in 2002 when the average person used 328 plastic bags per year. The Minister for the Environment says the levy caused a 95 percent drop in plastic bag use, but recently the average person’s dependence has increased from 21 to 30 bags. (

Energy for food

It takes 20 times the amount of energy to produce a calorie of food today than 50 years ago. In 1940, one calorie of fossil fuel energy was used to produce 2.3 calories of food. In 1974, one calorie of fossil fuel energy was used to produce one calorie of food. This year, 2007, 10 calories of fossil fuel energy is used to produce just one calorie of food. (Capital Press)

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