News bites, February 2009

This article was originally published in February 2009

Washington farm statistics

New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service shows that the number of farms in the American West continues to shrink, but the ones that are left are making more money. In Washington state, agricultural output rose 20 percent from 2006 to 2007, from $6.8 billion to $8.2 billion. Revenue from animal agriculture jumped 23 percent, from $1.6 billion to $2 billion, while crop revenues increased 21 percent, from $4.4 billion to $5.3 billion.

Net farm income more than doubled, increasing from $1 billion to more than $2.4 billion. The number of farms, however, dropped from 34,000 to 33,000. (Capital Press)

Weight gain linked to recession?

Health professionals reportedly are worried that the economic recession will cause weight gain among low-income people. They’re concerned that people on a tight budget will cut back on healthy but relatively expensive foods, such as vegetables and fruit, and instead buy cheaper processed foods that typically are high in refined grains, sugar and bad fats. (University of Washington/Reuters)

Color additives from insects

By 2011, labels on food and cosmetics will have to disclose whether they contain color additives made from insects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the rule after reports of allergic reactions, some life-threatening, to products containing colorings from insects.

For instance, carmine is a crimson or purplish-red color, and cochineal is a red dye from cochineal insects. They’re reportedly in makeup by Estee Lauder, the maker of the Clinique brand, and in some Dannon yogurts, which already lists them. (Bloomberg

Daily wine, tea and chocolate

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a combination of wine, dark chocolate and tea enhances cognitive performance in the elderly. The study involved 2,031 elderly adults for a year and found that those who consumed daily 1 to 3.5 ounces of wine, 10 grams of chocolate, and up to 200 milliliters of tea (preferably green) had a 41 to 53 percent lower risk of performing poorly on cognitive tests than other participants.

Those who drank only wine did better than those who consumed only chocolate. Those who consumed all three performed best. Results did not improve for those who consumed greater quantities. (Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging, Journal of Nutrition)

Factory farm pollution deregulated

In its final days, the Bush administration issued two decisions in the interest of big agribusiness. It announced that huge farming operations could apply for permits to discharge waste into waterways, and it exempted the livestock industry from reporting hazardous methane gas emissions from manure at so-called factory farms.

President Obama’s Web site has said his administration will regulate feedlot pollution with tough standards and will levy fines for violations. (

Another chance for bison

Conservationists say they’ve removed most of the cattle genes from a herd of Oklahoma bison, helping to restore their ability to survive. Crossbreeding bison with cattle for decades has impaired the bison’s metabolism, ability to withstand cold and heat, fertility, resistance to disease, and even behavior.

Out of half a million U.S. bison, just two tiny herds never were crossed with cattle — one in Yellowstone National Park, the other in South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park. Researchers are using them to rebuild the wild species. (National Public Radio)

Catholic dollars for sustainable food

A leading Catholic hospital system is taking action to support sustainable food. Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) has asked eight of its largest food suppliers for their policies on genetically modified (GM) sugar beets and reportedly soon will survey meat and dairy suppliers about sourcing products not from cloned animals or their offspring.

CHW says genetic modification and cloning raise deep ethical and moral concerns about genetic contamination, increased pesticide use, and animal cruelty. (Market Wire via Comtex)

Farmer protection from GM liability

Washington state Sen. Ken Jacobsen has proposed a bill protecting farmers from liability for GM crop contamination. SB 5006 says farmers wouldn’t be liable for the presence or possession of GM plants in their fields if they didn’t knowingly buy GM seeds or plant them.

It also ensures that companies such as Monsanto cannot enter a farmer’s fields without written permission, and it authorizes the state to carry out any sampling activity. Sen. Jacobsen represents Seattle’s north side. (Sen. Jacobsen’s office)


A January Sound Consumer News bite stated incorrectly that certain seed companies are owned by Monsanto or a subsidiary, Seminis. In fact, none of the companies that were named are owned by Monsanto or Seminis, although they may source seeds from Seminis.

The editor greatly regrets this error and extends her apology to Territorial Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, Park Seed, Burpee, Cook’s Garden, Spring Hill Nurseries, Flower of the Month Club, and Audubon Workshop. She also has written, hoping it will post an alert about this inaccurate information, which continues to spread through the Internet.

Also in this issue

Working for a new farm and real food

This month's article quotes two donors and their experiences about the work being done to preserve the farmland that makes real food possible. It also mentions a fundraising dinner for a new farm that will be held on Saturday, February 21 at 6 p.m. at the Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma. Tickets are $75.

Your co-op, February 2009

Talk to the Board, Board meeting report, Elections coming, and more