News bites, February 2010

This article was originally published in February 2010

Mark Kastel named a visionary

“Utne Reader” has named Mark Kastel, cofounder and senior policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, to its list of 50 visionaries who are changing the world. The magazine said, “Kastel and his small but dogged Cornucopia crew make sure that organic food producers are walking their talk by snooping around their barnyards and balance sheets.”

The Cornucopia Institute is a nonprofit organization that seeks eco-nomic justice for family-scale farmers and supports organic and ecological, authentic food. (The Cornucopia Institute)

AMA advocates better food

The American Medical Association (AMA) has approved a new policy to educate the health care community and public about the importance of healthy and ecologically sustainable food systems. The AMA policy says industrial agriculture causes air and water pollution and uses toxic chemicals and antibiotics that can elevate cancer risks; disrupt human reproductive, immune, endocrine and nervous systems; and cause antibiotic resistance.

It suggests the health care industry can influence the course of agriculture by using its purchasing power to support food produced in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. (The Organic Report)

Bayer liable for GE contamination

In the first case of its kind in this country, a St. Louis federal court jury has found a biotech company liable for contaminating the U.S. rice supply, awarding almost $2 million in compensatory damages to two farmers.

The farmers sued Bayer CropScience after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in 2006 that Bayer’s experimental, genetically engineered (GE) rice escaped test plots and contaminated rice fields in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Global markets for American long-grain rice evaporated when Japan, Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Taiwan and Iraq restricted U.S. rice imports and the European Union required all U.S. rice be tested and certified free of GE traits. One plaintiff lost $1.9 million. About 3,000 additional rice producers are suing Bayer. (Politics of the Plate/Barry Estabrook)

GE corn health risks

A European study reveals health impacts on the liver, kidneys and other organs from three varieties of Monsanto’s GE corn. Researchers from Caen and Rouen Universities, and the EU Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, based their analyses on data supplied by Monsanto to authorities for commercial approval — but they drew different conclusions after a two-year test period, compared to Monsanto’s much shorter test period.

They say they proved GE food is not healthy and should be prohibited, and that for all three types of Monsanto’s corn, the kidneys and liver — organs that react to poisoning — revealed problems. All three GE corn varieties (Mon810, MON863 and NK603) are approved by the USDA. (International Journal of Biological Sciences/Truthout)

Frozen salmon more sustainable

Researchers from Sweden, Canada and an environmental think tank in Portland have found that in most cases, fresh salmon has about twice the negative environmental impact as frozen salmon. The reason: Most salmon consumers live far from where the fish was caught or farmed and the majority of salmon bought is fresh and shipped by air, which is the most carbon-intensive form of travel.

Frozen fish, on the other hand, can be moved thousands of miles by ship, rail or even truck with a much lower environmental impact. Researchers say that when fish is flash-frozen at sea, its taste and quality are practically indistinguishable from fresh. (The New York Times)

Inert pesticide disclosure

Reversing a decade-old decision, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it plans to require pesticide manufacturers to disclose to the public the inert ingredients in their products. Inert ingredients are mixed into pesticide products as a carrier or sticking agent, often are as toxic as the active ingredient, and may account for more than 95 percent of the volume. Until now, manufacturers were not required to identify inerts. (Environmental Health News)

Killer spices

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada have found that essential oil pesticides, also called killer spices, show promise as an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic pesticides and pose less risk to human and animal health. Essential oil pesticides generally are a mixture of different spices diluted in water and can repel or kill insects. Some spice-based products are being used by organic farmers. (The Organic Report)

Wanted: cattle rustlers

A $47,500 reward is posted for information leading to the conviction of cattle rustlers in southeastern Oregon. The rustlers have hit about 20 ranches, stealing 1,240 cattle worth $1.2 million over the past three years. The rustlers work on horseback and are believed to be insiders to the area. (Capital Press)

Chocolate milk reduces inflammation?

A new study suggests that regular consumption of skim milk with flavonoid-rich cocoa may reduce inflammation. Scientists at the University of Barcelona found that people who drank chocolate milk twice a day for four weeks had significantly lower levels of several inflammatory biomarkers, although some markers of cellular inflam-mation remained unchanged. Participants also had significantly higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) on the chocolate milk regimen. (The New York Times)

Also in this issue

Homemade yogurt

Are you hesitant to try plain yogurt because it might taste bitter? Try homemade yogurt. It is sweet even when unflavored, although you can add any flavor you like. Sweeten it with agave or pure maple syrup, or add organic berries, nuts or raisins. A squeeze of lemon is tasty, too.

Organics in 2010: Age of Enforcement

The year 2010 is shaping up as a very good one for the National Organic Program (NOP). The new director, Miles McEvoy, is promising an "Age of Enforcement," with stronger standards, increased collaboration with stakeholders, improved oversight, and penalties for violations.

Letters to the editor, February 2010

Holidays for staff; Plastic, GE corn, listening; GE crops increase pesticide use; and more