News bites, April 2009
This article was originally published in April 2009
Consumers still buying green
Four out of five people — 80 percent — say they’re still buying “green” products in this damaged economy, even though they may be more expensive. A study by market research firm Opinion Research Corp. found that about half the 1,000 people surveyed are buying the same amount of green products, while 19 percent say they’re buying more than last year. Fourteen percent say they’re buying fewer environmentally friendly products. (Progressive Grocer)
Organic food sales
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is forecasting that sales of organic foods will increase by 18 percent through 2010, despite the current economy. The OTA says sales increased by 16 percent in 2006 and 21 percent in 2005. A July 2008 survey by a market research firm reports that 36 percent of the respondents who buy organic products had incomes lower than $25,000. (Associated Press)
Supporting local through a recession
Seattle shoppers in some neighborhoods at least are rallying around local merchants that are in dire straits because of the recession. Experts report that while large, national chains dominate the headlines about slow retail sales, small shops are more at risk of folding. There’s apparently some evidence that people who are financially stable want to help. (Seattle Times)
One food safety agency?
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reportedly favors a single food safety agency. He told a food industry group that he has not decided whether it should be within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or another independent agency.
A proposed bill would create a new food safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services. The United States is the only industrialized nation to have two systems — split between the USDA and FDA. (Capital Press)
Eat more dirt?
Biodiversity beats sterile homes for healthy babies. Recent studies indicate that exposure to germs, bacteria and dirt may be vital for kids to develop healthy immune systems. Shielding them from natural pathogens often results in excessive immune responses, such as allergies and asthma, to everyday germs. (Rodale Institute)
Organic veteran chosen for USDA post
Kathleen Merrigan has been named deputy secretary for the USDA. She was a staff member on a U.S. Senate committee that worked to shape the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. She later headed the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service during the Clinton administration. (Organic Trade Association)
Biotech companies thwart research
Twenty-six university scientists have issued a complaint to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying biotech companies are preventing them from researching fully the impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops. They say biotech companies often deny access to GM seeds or insist on reviewing any findings before they can be published, raising doubts about the research that is made public. (New York Times)
Men more responsive to caffeine
Researchers at the University of Barcelona have discovered that men respond more quickly to caffeine than women. In a study with 668 volunteers, they observed that men perked up just 10 minutes after drinking an espresso. So did women, but less so.
They say some of the effects might be psychological because decaf coffee also worked to some degree. Caffeine concentration in the blood apparently peaks 45 minutes after drinking caffeinated coffee. (BBC News)
Calories, not content, determine weight loss
A National Institutes of Health study “goes against the idea that certain foods are the key to weight loss.” The lead researcher says the study looked at four different diets and found that calorie intake was what mattered — not protein, fat or carbohydrate ratios. (The Wall Street Journal)
Organics can prevent food crises
The United Nations (UN) Environment Programme says that up to 25 percent of world food production could be lost to “environmental breakdowns” by 2050 unless action is taken, including more organic agriculture. UN research shows that organic practices outperform chemical-intensive farming, while improving soil fertility, water retention, and resistance to drought.
In 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries, yields more than doubled where organic or near-organic practices were used. (Treehugger.com)
Organic agriculture increases worldwide
A study by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture shows organic agriculture continues to grow. Today, 32.2 million hectares worldwide are certified organic, an increase of 1.5 million since the previous survey, with the highest growth rates in Africa and Latin America. (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture)
GM cotton contaminates food chain
The USDA, FDA and EPA have announced that an experimental GM cottonseed developed by Monsanto has entered the U.S. food system illegally. According to the agencies, Monsanto harvested the unapproved cottonseed in error and allowed it to mix with animal feed that non-organic livestock already have eaten. (Union of Concerned Scientists)