News bites, December 2009
This article was originally published in December 2009
McEvoy to lead National Organic Program
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has appointed Miles McEvoy to lead the National Organic Program (NOP). McEvoy was head of Washington state’s Organic Food Program for more than 20 years and helped establish the National Association of State Organic Programs.
Vilsack also has announced that NOP will become an independent program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) because of increased visibility and emphasis on organic agriculture, evolving consumer preferences, and the need for government oversight. Congress has increased NOP funding to $3.2 million in 2009 from $2.6 million in 2008. (USDA)
Organic demand exceeds supply
The USDA reports that, despite the recession, the organic food industry still is growing and in some cases, manufacturers are finding it difficult to meet demand. Sales of organic food grew 15.8 percent in 2008 over 2007, faster than the 4.9 percent increase for total U.S. food sales.
Organic farms haven’t been able to keep up, causing periodic shortages. Forty-one percent of the manufacturers and suppliers surveyed said the lack of a dependable supply of organic materials and products limited their ability to generate more sales. (Capital Press)
Organic reduces global warming
A video from the Rodale Institute says organic agriculture is one key part of the solution to controlling global warming. “Ripe for Revolution: the Organic Solution” says that if all U.S. farmland was farmed organically, 25 percent (1.6 billion tons) of U.S. carbon emissions would be sequestered.
If the world’s 3.5 billion tillable acres were transitioned to organic methods, 40 percent of the global annual carbon emissions would be sequestered. View the video on PCC’s Web site. (The Rodale Institute)
The Organic Valley dairy cooperative has launched an online calculator that measures the impact of personal food choices. Visitors add their organic dairy choices into a simulated shopping basket, and automatically the calculator adds up and displays the amounts of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers avoided by that product. (Organic Valley)
Canadian cattle not inspected?
Washington’s cattle ranchers say they’ve seen a stream of trucks with Canadian cattle cross the border without state health inspections. They say the greatest concern is the health of cattle from Canada, which has had 17 cases of mad cow disease. The beef is slaughtered here and sold as “Northwest” beef. (Cattle Producers of Washington/Capital Press)
Bottled water statistics
Pepsi owns 13 percent of the U.S. bottled water market and Coca Cola owns another 11 percent. That means 24 percent of the bottled water sold reportedly is nothing more than purified tap water, repackaged.
The average American purchased more than 28 gallons of bottled water in 2007. Only 24 percent of the bottles were recycled; 9.2 billion pounds of plastic water bottles were not recycled. (naturalstepusa.org)
HFCS and bees
A new study shows that heat can produce a potentially toxic substance in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that can kill honeybees and also pose risks to humans. Some commercial beekeepers feed HFCS to bees to increase reproduction and honey production.
Researchers found that as temperatures rose, levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) in products made with high-fructose corn syrup also increased. The researchers noted that other studies have linked HMF to DNA damage in humans. (The New York Times)
NOAA raises red flags on offshore drilling plan
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is urging that an aggressive lease schedule for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf be cut back dramatically. NOAA’s recommendations include safeguards for fisheries, marine mammals and coastal populations. They would reduce significantly the number and size of offshore tracts offered for exploration and development leasing. (CommonDreams.org)
Sweden labels carbon emissions on food
New labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods are on some grocery items and restaurant menus in Sweden. The labels appeared after the Swedish National Food Administration created new food guidelines giving equal weight to climate and health. Some experts say Sweden could cut its carbon emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent if citizens followed the guidelines and chose foods with less of an impact. (The New York Times)
Junk food as addictive as heroin
A new study has found that junk food elicits addictive behavior in rats similar to the behavior of rats addicted to heroin. Researchers fed rats either a standard diet of high-nutrient, low-calorie food, or unlimited amounts of high-calorie and junk foods such as Ho Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon and cheesecake.
The rats in the high-calorie group took in twice the calories of rats in the control group and the pleasure centers in their brains became less responsive the more they ate. Researchers say it’s evidence that obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings. (Science News)