News bites, May 2008

This article was originally published in May 2008

Local Farms, Healthy Kids bill passes

Governor Gregoire has signed into law a $1.5 million bill that establishes Washington state as a national leader in promoting local food policies. The Local Farms, Healthy Kids bill will enable schools and state food contractors to give preference to locally produced foods. It promotes school gardens requiring education about organic and non-organic growing methods and will enable farmers’ markets to accept food stamps and credit cards. (Priorities for a Healthy Washington)

City of Seattle eliminates bottled water

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has signed an executive order ending the purchase of bottled water for city buildings and events by the end of 2008. Nickels cited the environmental cost of throwaway plastics and said Seattle’s water supply meets or beats the quality of expensive bottled water.

Bottled water costs about $8 a gallon — 2,400 times more than tap water. In 2006, Americans bought 31 billion liters of bottled water, requiring nearly 900,000 tons of plastic and more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including fuel for transportation. That accounts for an estimated 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases. (Office of the Mayor, Seattle)

Tracking cloned meat

A scientist from the University of Dublin says he has a method to identify cloned meat and dairy. Professor Patrick Cunningham says DNA-tracking is fast and cheap and already used in some countries to certify beef and chicken as organic or hormone-free.

The technique originally was developed to deal with public fears when Mad Cow disease appeared in Europe during the 1990s. Cunningham says his method costs only pennies per food item and could identify meat or milk from the direct offspring of cloned cattle, but costs rise sharply for later generations. (

Organic farming can feed the world

Research from the University of Michigan shows that organic farming can yield as much food as non-organic farming and, in some cases, three times more in developing nations. Professor Ivette Perfecto and her colleagues analyzed published studies on crop yields, looking at 293 different examples.

They say model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current population and potentially an even larger population without increasing the amount of land in agriculture. Perfecto says the research should put an end to claims by chemical companies that organic farming can’t feed the world. (Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems/Cambridge University Press)

Pesticides killing songbirds

Ornithologists say the number of migratory songbirds returning to North America has declined by 50 percent over the past 40 years, due to unregulated use of toxic pesticides and loss of habitat. They say the demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables by North Americans and Europeans has transformed the birds’ wintering grounds across South and Central America into intensive farming operations producing grapes, melons, bananas and rice for export.

One expert says, “The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that often would be illegal in the United States.” (The Independent)

Hawaii halts ban against GM coffee

State lawmakers in Hawaii have shelved a bill that would have prohibited growing genetically modified (GM) coffee in Hawaii until 2012. Coffee farmers say they’re worried that GM traits will contaminate expensive Kona blends grown on Hawaii’s Big Island and exported to Japan and Europe, which won’t accept GM foods.

One company reportedly intends to plant a coffee on Oahu early next year that’s engineered to be decaffeinated. (Associated Press)

Tree theft

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources doesn’t allow trees to be cut on its land for making musical instruments and furniture, but says there aren’t enough officers to enforce the law.

Maples, cedars and alders are being harvested illegally by thieves, who can fetch as much as $125 for a two-foot long block of wood with a desirable grain. Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council ensures responsible harvesting. (Capital Press)

Germs get worse in space

Germs sent into space on a rocket apparently come back stronger and deadlier than ever. The National Academy of Sciences reports that researchers fed two groups of mice identical strains of salmonella but one group got salmonella that had been to space and back on board the shuttle. After 25 days, mice fed the space germs were three times more likely to get sick and die.

Scientists theorize that the germs from space sensed changes in their environment and mutated to survive, making them more virulent. (Associated Press)

Canada declares BPA dangerous

Health Canada has become the first regulatory agency in the world to declare bisphenol A a dangerous substance. Bishpenol A is a basic component of polycarbonate, a see-through shatter-proof plastic used in lining most tin cans and in some dental sealants.

Independent research has linked trace exposures in animal experiments to hormonal imbalances, early puberty, changes in brain structure during fetal development, and breast and prostate cancer. Canada’s government could issue possible control measures within a year. (The Globe and Mail, Canada)

Also in this issue

Insights by Goldie: Diacetyl and bisphenol A: Peeling the onion

The layers of emerging food contamination issues bring PCC's nutrition education manager to the point of tears.

Your co-op, May 2008

Notice of 2008 ballot counting meeting, Vote now, Board report, and more