News bites, December 2007

This article was originally published in December 2007

USDA sets standard for “grass-fed”

The USDA has established a voluntary standard for marketing meat as “grass-fed.” It says that grass, forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state shall be the only feed for the lifetime of a ruminant animal, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation also may be included. (USDA AMS Federal Register Notice, October 16, 2007)

Fake chocolate

Representatives for large chocolate companies are petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow substitutes for a key ingredient in chocolate — natural cocoa butter — and still call it chocolate. The Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association is asking for a change in the “Standard of Identity” for chocolate to allow vegetable oils and milk substitutes to replace cocoa and real milk. A campaign to oppose the change is being led by the Guittard chocolate company. (

Resorts switch to natural and organic food

Skiers and snowboarders having lunch at Vail Resorts in Colorado this winter will find something new on the menu — an array of natural and organic foods, including all-natural burgers, hot dogs and yogurt without artificial additives. The nation’s largest ski operator says that consumers are demanding healthier food. The change will affect offerings at 40 restaurants in five ski resorts, which serve 2.5 million lunches each winter. (Associated Press)

Tight world grain markets

The tightest world grain stocks in 30 years are contributing to rising food costs and fueling worries about food shortages in some countries. Drought and bad weather in Australia, Europe, Canada and other countries have cut yields while surging demand for wheat from China and India, and a drive to plant more acres of corn for ethanol have pushed up prices on wheat futures about 75 percent since last year.

Higher grain and energy costs are pushing up prices for beef, chicken and pork and increasing demand for alternative feed grains such as barley and sorghum. In the United States, the average price for a loaf of bread is up 11 percent over the past 12 months. Ground beef is up 6 percent, chicken is up 9 percent, and eggs are up 31 percent. (USA Today)

Clorox Co. to acquire Burt’s Bees

Sources say the Clorox Co. will buy Burt’s Bees for a reported price of $925 million to $950 million — a figure that’s more than five times what the natural personal-care products maker is projected to do in sales this year. Other contenders for the company reportedly included Unilever and SC Johnson. (Food Marketing Institute)

Biofuels worse than fossil fuels?

A study published in the journal “Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics” has found that biofuels derived from canola and corn contribute more to global warming than fossil fuels. The research was done by scientists from Britain, the United States and Germany and included Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel prize for his work on ozone.

They calculated that rapeseed and maize biodiesels produce up to 70 percent and 50 percent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. They also found that biofuels release twice as much nitrous oxide as previously realized. Nitrous oxide is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. (The Times, U.K.)

France stops GMOs

The President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, says he’s stopping all commercial plantings of genetically modified (GM) crops in his country until an evaluation is completed.

France also is studying whether it can petition the European Union to withdraw a request to authorize a certain type of GM corn called Bt 11. The only GM crop grown for public sale in the European Union is the so-called MON 810 corn developed by Monsanto. Hungary outlawed planting MON 810 corn in 2005. Austria has banned MON 810 and another type of GM corn, T25 maize, made by the German company Bayer. (Le Monde)

A ban on GM potatoes in Peru

The regional government of Cusco, Peru, has banned GE potatoes to protect the genetic diversity of more than 4,000 native potato varieties that farmers have developed over generations. That area of Peru is a center of potato diversity where potatoes have been cultivated for centuries and have important cultural, economic and nutritional significance. The decision forbids the sale, cultivation, use and transport of genetically modified potatoes and other native food crops. (Environment News Service)

Livestock at risk for extinction

A study by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that over-dependence on certain breeds of livestock is causing other breeds around the world to disappear. The report says at least one breed of livestock is lost each month. The high-yielding Holstein-Friesian dairy cow, the egg-laying White Leghorn chicken, and fast-growing large white pigs, for instance, have been exported from the United States and Europe to regions around the world, replacing other breeds. Since research for the report began in 1999, 2,000 local breeds have been identified as at risk.

Scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have called for the rapid establishment of gene banks to conserve the sperm and ovaries of key breeds critical for the survival of a global population. (Inter Press Service)

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