News bites, June 2009

This article was originally published in June 2009

Economic impact of cooperatives

A comprehensive study assessing the economic impact of cooperatives shows that more than 29,000 American cooperatives generate revenues exceeding $654 billion and employ more than 2 million workers. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Cooperative Business Association, and Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Until now, no comprehensive national statistics had been compiled about U.S. co-ops and their importance to the U.S. economy. (National Cooperative Business Association)

Washington legislative update

Despite Washington state’s deficit, several programs that support sustainable agriculture will continue. The Washington Grown Fruits and Vegetable Grant program will receive continued funding to help provide fresh produce to schoolchildren. The Senior and WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs also will continue to be funded. Other measures will help small-scale poultry farmers get turkeys and ducks to market more easily, and will restrict urban sprawl to protect farms in floodplains. (Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network)

USDA surveys organic agriculture

This spring the USDA will conduct its first wide-scale survey of organic farming. The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, says it will encourage organic farmers to share their experiences and ideas to ensure the growth and sustainability of organic farming. It will examine many aspects of production, marketing, income and expenses to help shape future decisions about farm policy, funding, availability, community development and other key issues. (USDA news release)

Organic manure better

USDA research has found that non-organic and organic dairy manures have different concentrations of plant nutrients, including phosphorus, metals and minerals. Organic cows generally consume forage feeds from soils that are fertilized naturally with manure and compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. These organic practices may affect significantly how nutrients are converted in soil into forms readily taken up by crops. (USDA Agricultural Research Service)

rBGH bill vetoed

Former Kansas governor (now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services) Kathleen Sebelius has vetoed a bill that would have restricted labeling on dairy produced without recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH). The measure would have required labels to say that milk produced without artificial hormones was no different than other milk. Sebelius said the bill would make it more difficult for consumers to have clear information. (Food & Water Watch)

GM corn ban upheld

Monsanto has lost a court appeal to lift Germany’s ban on genetically modified (GM) corn. Germany recently banned GM corn, saying it’s dangerous for the environment. France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg already prohibit the cultivation of GM corn. (

Roundup linked with cell death

A French study has found that glyphosate — an herbicide commonly sold as Roundup and used with GM corn and soy — damages and kills human cells. Researchers evaluated the herbicide’s effect on human embryonic, umbilical and placental cells and found that even at diluted levels far below recommendations, all cells exposed were killed within 24 hours. They concluded that residues in food and feed treated with Roundup can be highly toxic. (American Chemical Society)

Free-range eggs have more vitamin D

Eggs from pastured hens contain four to six times more vitamin D than other supermarket eggs, according to a study reported by Mother Earth News. Results showed that free-range eggs have more vitamin D than the USDA’s nutrient data on eggs produced in factory farms. Two scrambled eggs from free-range/pastured hens can provide 63 to 126 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin D. (Mother Earth News)

Fight hay fever with vitamin E?

Vitamin E supplements may help relieve some symptoms associated with seasonal hay fever, according to a study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Nasal symptoms were significantly less in a group receiving vitamin E than in a placebo group. The vitamin E group also experienced much less nasal stuffiness than the placebo group. (

Gates Foundation funds GM tomato

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced its second round of grants for global health research. Among the 81 projects is a $100,000 grant for creating a genetically modified tomato to deliver antiviral drugs. (The Seattle Times)

GM crops don’t yield more

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years on the market, genetic engineering has failed to increase U.S. crop yields significantly. The Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed two dozen academic studies of GM corn and soybeans and concluded that herbicide-tolerant GM soybeans and corn have not increased yields.

Insect-resistant corn has improved yields only marginally. They found that increased yields were due largely to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices. (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Also in this issue

The economic value of farmland

Until now, the costs of pollution and exploitation of finite resources haven’t been factored into the price of food. Profits are privatized while the cost to the environment is externalized to the public. It doesn’t have to be this way. Farmland needs to have its value recognized as more than just a source of food. In some places, that is being done.

Choosing sustainable and healthy seafood

Choosing seafood that is both sustainable and healthy can be challenging. Is it farmed or wild? Troll-caught or trawled? Alaskan or Chilean? Healthy or toxic? There are so many questions — it’s enough to confuse even the most conscientious consumer.

Public policy report

From time to time, PCC engages in public outreach and policy initiatives as events warrant. Read about some of our recent activities, from PCC staff testifying in Olympia to writing the Obama administration on public policy issues.