News bites, June 2010

This article was originally published in June 2010

Economical horse power

Draft horses have an economical future in farming, according to Walla Walla, Wash. farmers Emily Dietzman and Andy Asmus. Purchasing a team of American Belgian horses and horse-drawn farm implements cost about $10,000. That’s less than half what the farmers say they would have had to spend for motorized machinery to work their 13 acres. (Capital Press)

College sheep club

Some students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia are learning what it takes to raise sheep. It’s not a class but an outside activity that entails breeding, lambing, grazing and shearing a flock of 20 ewes, one ram and 29 lambs. Their 14-acre pasture was donated by nearby landowners for students to use if the sheep just kept the grass cut. (Capital Press)

BPA action

Muir Glen says it no longer will use bisphenol A (BPA) in its tomato can linings, starting with the next tomato harvest, presumably this summer or fall. The announcement is in General Mills’ report on corporate social responsibility for 2010. It says Muir Glen has worked with can manufacturers to develop alternative linings without BPA and has one now that it considers safe and viable. (General Mills)

rBGH decline

Use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to induce more milk production in dairy cows reportedly has declined over the past few years. Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility scoured government, academic and accounting figures and figured that the number of U.S. dairies using rBGH is now about 9 to 12 percent, down from 15.2 percent in 2007. The number of cows injected is 10 to 14 percent, down from 17.2 percent. (Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility)

Salt an additive?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate salt as a food additive. If successful, the suit reportedly could prompt food companies to limit salt in their products. (The New York Times)

Subsidies don’t make people fat

Farm subsidies may make fattening foods cheap and abundant but a recent analysis has determined that subsidies do not contribute to obesity. Researchers at the University of California-Davis and Iowa State University have concluded after a four-year study that eliminating subsidies won’t change the rate of obesity. They say other factors are responsible. (Capital Press)

“Stacked” GE seeds

A new GE corn seed approved for market, called SmartStax, has eight genetically engineered traits combined or “stacked” together. Until now, “stacked” GE crops on the market have had only three traits, at most. Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences created the new seed by crossing four GE corn varieties that already were approved, thereby not triggering an approval process under U.S. law. The SmartStax corn seed also is registered as a pesticide. (GE News List/Ecofarm)

GE in Spain

15,000 people marched through Madrid, demanding the government ban the growing of GE crops, specifically corn. Spain is the only European country that grows GE crops, including corn, on a large scale. The demonstrating farmers, environmentalists and consumers say they want prohibitions similar to ones in France, Germany and Austria. (Friends of the Earth Spain)

GE soy: sterility, infant mortality

Russian biologist Alexey Surov has found disturbing health changes in hamsters eating GE soy. By the third generation, most GE soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth and a high mortality rate among the pups. Some in the third generation had hair growing inside their mouths — a rare phenomenon but reportedly more prevalent among hamsters eating GE soy. The study, conducted by Surov’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the National Association for Gene Security, is being published in July. (Jeffrey Smith/The Huffington Post)

Legalizing pot hurts small farmers?

Marijuana growers in California reportedly are concerned that a ballot initiative this November may cause a problem — that big, corporate interests will move in and take over the business. At a community meeting in Humboldt County, growers worried that an increase in supply means prices would fall, and that could force them, the little guys, out of business. (Capital Press)

Dine out, gain weight?

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, eating one meal a week away from home can make the average American gain two pounds a year. A USDA blogger says the servings of fruit per 1,000 calories also declines as much as 22 percent on average, and the drop in whole grains and dark green and orange vegetables is similarly large. The blog also says that with restaurants starting to provide nutritional information, it’s possible that food away from home could be part of a healthy diet. (

Also in this issue

Saving farmland, generating questions

This saving farmland business, it’s complicated stuff. In essence our mission is simple, but realizing it is fraught with complexity. There is the enormity of the task, of course: attempting to save farmland from inside a giant system that does not, generally speaking, value farming.

USDA researcher raises GE alarm

It’s one thing for environmentalists to say genetically engineered crops are dangerous but now scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are sounding the alarm, too. Microbiologist Robert Kremer has analyzed farm soil for 20 years, the last several studying soil quality and genetically engineered (GE) plant growth.

Letters to the editor, June 2010

Stickers on produce?, Local produce in season?, Soil testing, and more