News bites, October 2008

This article was originally published in October 2008

Small is more efficient

With the price of oil hovering around $120 a barrel or more (up from less than $30 for most of the last 50 years), small and midsize farms are gaining a competitive advantage. They aren’t as dependent on oil because they use fewer large machines and less petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides.

In fact, small farms are non-polluting and the most productive. A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre. A 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre.

Big farms have compensated for the disequilibrium with sheer quantity. But their economies of scale come from mass distribution and with diesel fuel costing more than $4 per gallon in many locations, it’s no longer efficient to transport food hundreds or thousands of miles from where it’s grown. (New York Times)

Pesticide residues shopper’s card

King County officials have issued a new version of its popular wallet-sized shopper’s guide ranking fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residues. Industry groups had pressured the county to pull the original guide introduced a year ago, saying it didn’t contribute to food safety and hurt local farmers, whose crops are among those containing the most pesticides.

The new shopper’s guide relies on Dietary Risk Index scores (based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA) and shows that non-organic apples, potatoes and spinach grown in the United States contain more residues than foreign, imported apples, potatoes and spinach. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

EPA bans carbofuran residue on food

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will no longer allow residues of the toxic pesticide carbofuran on domestic or imported food. The EPA’s scientific assessment found that residues exceeded the agency’s safety standard for children ages 1 to 2 by 200 percent. The pesticide also kills bees. A million pounds of carbofuran are applied each year in the United States, but it’s used more in other countries that grow rice, bananas, coffee and sugar cane. (Washington Post)

Food trade sustainability

Leaders in the organic food industry are signing on to a “Declaration of Sustainability” — an 11-point plan to promote education and action toward sustainable business. Gathering support for the declaration is the first action of a new nonprofit known as The Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association (FTSLA).

Topics to be addressed include organics, climate change, energy, distribution, labor, packaging, water, waste, animal care, governance and consumer education. The purpose of the FTSLA is to be a hub for businesses to network, share best practices and work toward sustainability in common challenges. (FTSLA)

Irradiation: spinach and head lettuce

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for food companies to irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce. Consumer resistance, however, may stop many companies from rushing to irradiate their products. See Goldie’s column: Food irradiation: two words that should never connect, October 2008 Sound Consumer, for more.

Farmed tilapia and catfish high in inflammatory fats

A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association indicates that farmed tilapia and catfish may not be good for people with heart disease, arthritis, asthma or other diseases involving overactive inflammatory responses. Research from the Wake Forest Center for Botanical Lipids in Winston-Salem, N.C., shows farmed tilapia and catfish have troubling fatty acid ratios; they’re low in healthy omega-3s (which suppress inflammation) and high in omega-6s (which provoke the inflammatory response). Farmed trout had relatively good levels of omega-3s and omega-6s. (HealthDay News)

Cutting calories may slow aging

New research indicates that cutting 300 to 500 calories a day from your diet could help slow the aging process. Saint Louis University scientists believe that restricting calories decreases production of the thyroid hormone known as T3, which then slows metabolism and tissue aging. Although a long-term study is needed to confirm the evidence, researchers say there’s plenty of evidence that calorie restriction can reduce the risks for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. (

Pasteurized soy milk

Pasteurization and ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization of soy milk may be damaging the isoflavones that some consumers desire. Researchers at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou studied the effect of heat on three soy isoflavones: genistein, daidzein and glycitein.

They found that when soy milk is heated to 250º F, 87 percent of the daidzein, 72 percent of glycitein and 17 percent of genistein were destroyed. When heated to 203º F, daidzein degraded 77 percent and glycitein degraded 66 percent but genistein surprisingly increased by 33 percent. (

Genetically engineered trees

137 organizations from 34 countries have joined the STOP GE Trees Campaign to demand a global ban on genetically engineered trees. They say GE trees would contaminate native forests with unnatural and destructive traits, such as the ability to kill insects and reduced lignin — the substance that enables a tree to stand up straight and withstand disease. GE trees are being developed in part to produce ethanol for fuel. (The Canadian)

Also in this issue

Your co-op, October 2008

Fall member meeting, Upcoming Talk to the Board opportunities, Board application deadline November 4, and more

Why genetically modified crops will not feed the world

Rising food prices reached a flash point this spring, sparking food riots in more than a dozen countries. And for the world’s poor, high prices mean hunger. The global food crisis has many causes, but according to the biotechnology industry, there’s a simple solution — genetically modified (aka biotech) crops ... Not everyone is convinced.