News bites, March 2011

This article was originally published in March 2011

Universal obesity?

U.K. scientists studying obesity have discovered it’s not just humans that are getting more obese. They studied 12 species that live close to humans including cats, dogs, rats and monkeys and found that all have gotten fatter over a 50-year period, despite odds of one in 8,333. Suspected causes include exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, new viruses, and reduced nutrient levels in food. (The Organic Center/Proceedings of the Royal Society)

Pesticide liability

A court of appeals has upheld a $1 million award to an organic farm for damages from pesticide drift. Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo — a PCC vendor for organic cherry tomatoes — sued Western Farm Service in 2008 after its organophosphate pesticides rendered Jacobs’ vegetable organic crop unmarketable. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that following regulations and label instructions does not protect them from liability. (Capital Press)

True Source Honey

The U.S. honey industry is launching a program to try to stop the flow of illegal honey into the U.S. market. Americans consume more honey than U.S. beekeepers produce but the wholesomeness and origins of imported honey have been problematic. The True Source Honey Initiative is offering third-party audits and a seal to packers that identify a honey’s origin and purity. (Associated Press)

USDA Certified Biobased

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new certification for so-called “biobased” products. The USDA “Certified Biobased Product” label will identify non-food products with at least 25 percent of their materials from biological sources. “Biobased” doesn’t mean eco-friendly, however, because it doesn’t consider a product’s impact on the environment from its creation to disposal in a landfill or incinerator. (

Sustainability a bad word?

Advertising Age has named “sustainability” one of the “jargoniest jargon” words of 2010 that it wishes people would stop saying. It’s right up there with monetize, choiceful, and the new normal, among others. The trade journal explains its decision by describing sustainability as “a good concept gone bad by misuse and overuse.” (Advertising Age)

Organic milk healthier

A new study in the Journal of Dairy Science confirms once again that organic milk is healthier than non-organic milk, containing more beneficial omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid. Researchers at Newcastle University studied 22 different milk brands over different years and found omega-3 levels averaged 60 percent higher in organic milk and CLA levels 30 percent higher. They said the differences are due to the grass-centered diet of organic cows. (Dairy Reporter)

GOP drops “organic”

The new Republican majority on the House Agriculture Committee seems to be de-emphasizing organics. The Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture has overseen organic agriculture but now, committee chair Jean Smith (R-Ohio) has dropped the word “organic” entirely from the subcommittee’s name. It’s now simply the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture, even though organic agriculture remains a key responsibility. (La Vida Locavore)

Farmer loses to Tyson

A Tennessee poultry farmer has lost a bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear his case against poultry giant Tyson Farms. Alton Terry says Tyson cancelled his chicken-farming contract after he organized farmers and sent complaints about the company to USDA. Terry also lost his farm in foreclosure, he says, because Tyson demanded expensive upgrades and scared off potential buyers. (Associated Press)

Strawberry pesticide challenged

Farm workers and environmental groups are challenging California’s approval of a common fumigant for non-organic strawberries. They say the state fast-tracked registration of methyl iodide and avoided legally mandated public hearings before approving it to substitute for methyl bromide, another fumigant that’s banned already. Lab tests on animals link methyl iodide to miscarriages, cognitive impairment, and thyroid disease. (Los Angeles Times)

Government hides GMO spread

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and USDA reportedly refused to tell the public that genetically engineered (GE) bent grass spread from a test plot in Idaho to irrigation ditches in Oregon. An Oregon State University weed scientist made the discovery and asked ODA and USDA to announce it publicly but both declined. (Capital Press)

Starlink in tacos

Kraft Foods has recalled all its Taco Bell brand tacos after an independent lab found they contain significant levels of Starlink, a type of GE corn not approved for human consumption. Starlink exudes an insecticide, is a potential allergen, and is not digestible. Recalls of food contaminated by Starlink 10 years ago cost $1 billion but residues still show up in the food supply today. (The Ecologist/Friends of the Earth)

Taco Bell sued for “beef”

An Alabama law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell for false marketing. The firm, Beasley Allen, contends that Taco Bell cannot legally market its “taco meat filling” as “beef” because testing shows that it contains only 36 percent ground beef. USDA’s standard requires at least 40 percent “flesh of animals” to be called beef legally. (Yahoo News)

Also in this issue

Mouthwatering miso

Salty-sweet and deliciously savory, miso is a flavorful paste made of fermented soybeans and grain, such as rice or barley. It traditionally is used in Japanese cooking but also can add a twist to many non-Asian soups, dips, marinades and more.

PCC pledges to be Non-GMO

The Center for Food Safety is back in court, defending the farmer’s right to choose what to grow, and the consumer’s right to choose what to eat. It is appealing the government’s approval of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa and sugar beets. We’re signed on as a friend of the court in the sugar beet case, and we’re implementing a policy to support the consumer’s right to an informed choice in our stores.

Insights by Goldie: Diet is a national security issue

With March designated Nutrition Month by the American Dietetic Association, it’s a good cue to bring up the intertwined problems of how we as a nation are (or are not) addressing childhood hunger and its closely related counterpoints: overeating, under-nourishment and obesity.