News bites, August 2010

This article was originally published in August 2010

GE alfalfa victory

In its first ruling ever on a case involving genetically engineered (GE) crops, Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, the U.S. Supreme Court has left a ban in effect against GE alfalfa.

The Supreme Court declined to overrule a lower court’s prohibition against planting and selling Roundup Ready® alfalfa. It agreed also that GE contamination was a sufficient cause of environmental and economic harm to support future challenges on GE crops. 
Monsanto unsuccessfully had asked the court to allow planting and not allow contamination of other crops to be considered “irreparable harm.” (Organic Trade Association)

Outlaw food dyes?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is asking the Obama administration to ban artificial food dyes. It says the most-used dyes — Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 — are contaminated with cancer-causing substances. Another dye, Red 3, is identified as a carcinogen by the Food and Drug Administration but remains in commercial use. The British government asked its food industry to phase out most food dyes by last year, and the European Union now requires a warning notice on most dyed foods. (

Rosemary for safer grilling

Studies show that adding rosemary to ground beef and other meats before grilling, frying, broiling or barbecuing significantly reduces carcinogenic toxins (heterocyclic amines) created by cooking meat at high temperatures. Marinating lowers the risk by preventing formation of the toxins. Marinades with rosemary have been shown to be particularly effective — due to its antioxidants — but marinades with garlic, onion and lemon juice also are effective. (The New York Times)

More food inspections needed

A federal report says inspectors are conducting fewer reviews of food manufacturing plants, with many facilities going more than five years without being checked. The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services says the drop in inspections could make an outbreak of food-borne disease more likely. A shrinking workforce reportedly is responsible for much of the drop in the number of facilities inspected. (Reuters)

Grasshopper threat

The worst grasshopper infestation in 30 years may sweep the West this summer, including the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, the amount of land with more than eight grasshoppers per square yard increased from 67,000 acres in 2007 to 451,000 acres in 2009. Last summer, grasshoppers ate up 7,000 acres of grassland in southeastern Oregon. (

Gates Foundation funds organic

The Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the International Federation of International Agriculture Movements have launched a project to help small African farmers adopt organic farming practices. The project is funded by a $302,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the foundation’s first grant to support the development of organic farming in Africa. (Organic Trade Association)

GM in Germany

A genetically modified (GM) variety of maize banned in the EU has been sown accidentally across Germany. The NK603 variety has been planted in seven states, on nearly 7,500 acres so far. It is not clear how the mistake occurred but it could cost farmers millions of euros, since crops will now have to be destroyed. (BBC)

Nuts improve cholesterol

Another study reports that eating nuts improves one’s cholesterol profile. The study looked at 25 clinical trials involving 583 participants and found that eating just 2.4 ounces of nuts of any kind was associated with a 7.4 percent decline in LDL “bad” cholesterol and improved the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL “good” cholesterol. The effect was most pronounced among people with higher LDL cholesterol to begin with and among those who were not obese — and the more nuts they ate, the greater the effect. (The New York Times)

MSC certifies Antarctic krill

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies fisheries as sustainable, has approved an Antarctic krill fishery run by a Norwegian company that catches 40,000 to 50,000 tons of Antarctic krill annually and uses it to make a supplement called Superba. The sustainable designation prompted protests from the Pew Environmental Group, which says that MSC is ignoring “irrefutable evidence” of harm and is giving the impression that the Antarctic krill fishery is sustainable, when it is not. (Yale Environment 360)

NOP prohibits OCIA in China

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) has banned OCIA International from operating in China as an organic certifier for one year. The action came after an NOP audit found OCIA used Chinese inspectors who had a conflict of interest. OCIA still retains its accreditation to certify operations in other countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico. (Organic Trade Association)

Land for new farmers

Beginning farmers have a new option for acquiring farmland. The Washington state Farm Service Agency says farmers can enroll in the Transition Incentives Program — a new program under the 2008 Farm Bill. The program encourages retired or retiring owners or operators with Conservation Reserve Program acres to transition their land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. (Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network)

Dairy efficiency

A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) shows the global dairy sector contributes just 2.7 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, excluding meat production — far less than previously reported in a 2006 study by FAO. Dairies in industrialized nations in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have the lowest carbon footprint, and North American dairies have the lowest of all, emitting 45 percent less greenhouse gases compared with the global average. (Capital Press)

Also in this issue

A toast to Powers Winery ... and you!

This June PCC Farmland Trust reached a milestone worth celebrating — our partnership with Powers Winery surpassed $50,000 raised in support of organic farmland preservation. For every Powers’ Farmland Trust Cabernet or Chardonnay bottle sold at PCC Natural Markets, two dollars is donated to the trust.

Letters to the editor, August 2010

Safer cosmetics, Vendor remembered, City chickens, and more

Do you drink enough water?

Water is important to many bodily functions, such as regulating temperature, transporting nutrients and oxygen to the blood, removing waste, and lubricating joints. Every day our bodies lose water through sweating, exhaling, urination and bowel movements. This water must be replaced.