News bites, August 2009

This article was originally published in August 2009

Agriculture and global warming

A study from the Worldwatch Institute says greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced 25 percent with some basic changes in how the world’s food is produced. The top suggestions include farming more perennials instead of annuals, using managed grazing techniques for livestock (see Harvesting sunlight, August 2009 Sound Consumer), restoring rangelands and watersheds, protecting forests and grasslands, and reducing tillage and nitrogen fertilizers. (Green Right Now)

Consolidation of seed supply

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) has sent a letter to 23 state attorney generals, asking them to expand antitrust investigations into Monsanto’s practices in the U.S. seed industry. OCM says the lack of competition due to Monsanto’s market power is driving up seed prices and harming farmers and rural communities.

Monsanto recently announced that some seed corn varieties will cost $300 a bag this fall, reflecting a $100 per bag price increase. The increased cost to a farmer planting 1,000 acres will be more than $40,000. (Organization for Competitive Markets)

Federal court upholds GM alfalfa ban

A U.S. Court of Appeals has denied an appeal made by Monsanto and Forage Genetics, upholding a 2007 nationwide ban against planting genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready alfalfa. The decision is pending a full Environmental Impact Statement and affirms that the USDA violated laws by approving GM alfalfa without fully addressing the risks.

The court determined that planting GM alfalfa can result in irreversible harm to organic and nonorganic crops, the environment, and farmers. (The Center for Food Safety)

Judge rejects organic dairy lawsuits

A federal judge has dismissed 19 lawsuits filed by consumers claiming fraud in the sale of milk labeled “organic” and sold under store brands at Walmart, Target, Safeway, Costco and other national chains.

The court ruled that milk from the Aurora Dairy in Colorado was entitled to market its products as organic, despite the USDA’s finding of 14 willful violations. The judge argued that Aurora’s organic certification had not been suspended or revoked. (Capital Press)

Electric power lines affect cattle

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that power lines can disorient cattle. Most grazing cows and deer tend to orient themselves in a north-south alignment but researchers found that when power lines run east-west, that’s the way cattle line up.

Researchers also found that cows and deer grazing under northeast-southwest or northwest-southeast power lines faced in random directions. The study supports the theory that animals respond to magnetic effects, since power lines produce a magnetic field. (Capital Press)

Garden at Buckingham Palace

For the first time since World War II, fruit and vegetables will be grown in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Called the Yard Bed, a 4×10 meter plot will grow specialty vegetables, including six heirlooms with regal names: French bean Blue Queen; dwarf French bean Royal Red; Northern Queen lettuce; and Golden Queen, Queen of Hearts, and White Queen tomatoes.

The garden will use mulch from the palace compost heap, a liquid seaweed fertilizer, and garlic to deter aphids. Chemicals are banned. (The Guardian)

White tea might inhibit fat cells

Research from Germany has found that an extract in white tea may help fight obesity by preventing new fat cells from forming and breaking down fat in existing ones. The lead researcher says white tea may be an ideal, natural source of “slimming substances.” White tea is made from the buds and first leaves of the plant used to make green tea and the black tea most commonly consumed in Western countries. (Food Navigator)

Salt water added to chicken

The Truthful Labeling Coalition estimates that Americans spend $2 billion annually for added salt water in about one-third of all commercial chicken. Untreated chicken reportedly has about 45 to 60 mgs of sodium per four-ounce serving, while chicken “plumped” with salt water has between 200 to 400 mgs of sodium per serving — almost as much as a serving of fast food French fries. The USDA allows such chicken to be marketed as “all natural” or “100% natural.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Pesticides and Colony Collapse Disorder

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formed a pollinator protection team to explore the potential risks from pesticides to colony collapse disorder among bees. The team will consider tools and resources for reducing potential pesticide risks. It also has a strategic plan for guiding the EPA, which has authority to regulate pesticides. (

Industry defends Bisphenol A

While lawmakers across the country consider restrictions or bans on Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and food products, industries that use it are strategizing to defend BPA. The Washington Post obtained notes from a private meeting of executives, revealing plans for a PR campaign “using fear tactics” to diminish opposition.

The notes said their ideal spokesperson would be “a pregnant mother … willing to speak about the benefits of BPA.” Some peer-reviewed studies indicate BPA is harmful even in extremely low doses, increasing the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer. (The Washington Post)

Also in this issue

Your co-op, August 2009

Talk to the Board, Election prizes awarded, Nominating committee searches for new candidates, and more

Choosing farms to save: the basics of good soil and water

Quite often, the PCC Farmland Trust is asked about the criteria for projects. Are we interested in saving large or small farms? Do we have regions of priority? Are we interested in working on the east side or the west side of the mountains? To all of these, we answer yes.

Food safety at home

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: 60 percent of the cases of foodborne illness originate in home kitchens! Fast food hamburgers contaminated with e-coli and peanut butter tainted with salmonella get the most press, but some of the most harmful bacteria fester at home.