News bites, April 2011

This article was originally published in April 2011

Cage-free initiative

Animal welfare advocates have filed a proposed initiative for Washington state’s November elections to ban battery cage confinement in egg production. Washingtonians for Humane Farms say this initiative is the outcome of three years of failed discussions with Northwest egg producers. The state’s egg producers raise 6.5 million hens in confinement. (

Organic testing for pesticides

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it will start testing up to 10 percent of all organic operations to make sure they’re free of prohibited chemicals. Certifiers always have had authority to test for pesticides if they had cause. USDA says up to 10 percent of organic operations will be tested now. It also will conduct more unannounced inspections and will fine willful violators as much as $11,000 per violation. (Capital Press)

Washington cherry crop

Pacific Northwest cherry growers are assessing the damage from some sudden winter freezes. Growers report seeing some browning behind the buds, which indicates no fruit. Damage to the cherry trees was caused by a sudden drop in temperatures, which gives trees no time to acclimate. (Capital Press)

Vashon kids eat local

The Vashon Island School District is working with the Vashon Island Growers Association to bring locally grown fruits and vegetables into the district’s three cafeterias. The goal is to get local produce into Vashon’s public schools while creating a larger and more stable market for the island’s farmers. (Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber)

GE corn for biofuel

USDA has legalized without restriction the first genetically engineered (GE) corn meant to produce biofuel. Critics say the GE ethanol corn made by Syngenta, known as Event 3272, will contaminate food crops and increase use of herbicides. (The Center for Food Safety)

Ethanol raises food prices

Farmers and ranchers warn that the government’s decision to allow more ethanol in gasoline will raise food prices. Beef, pork, poultry and dairy producers say the push for corn-based ethanol is raising the cost of corn to feed their flocks and herds. The level of ethanol was 10 percent; it’s now 15 percent. (Capital Press)

Peace Cereal misleading

The Cornucopia Institute has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Peace Cereal. The complaint notes that Peace Cereal originally was certified organic until it switched to non-organic ingredients in 2008, but continued marketing it as a “natural” food produced without pesticides. Unlike organics, there is no federally regulated standard for use of the term “natural.” (The Cornucopia Institute)

Fair trade certifiers collaborate

The Domestic Fair Trade Association has facilitated an agreement among three fair trade certifiers. It says the Institute for Marketecology (Fair for Life), American Justice Project (Food Justice Certified), and Scientific Certification Systems (Certified Fair Labor) have agreed to work collaboratively, in a transparent fashion, toward a meaningful code of conduct. (Alliance for Natural Health)

Flame retardant butter

A routine investigation found flame retardant chemicals in butter. Scientists at the University of Texas were trying to improve estimates on the amount of persistent toxins consumed in food and found one butter sample containing 135 times more flame retardants known as PDBEs (polybrominated diphenyl ether) than other butters; the paper wrapper contained 16 times more PDBE than the butter itself. The source of the contamination is not known. (

Prison dairy

A state prison soon will house and operate the largest dairy in the state of South Carolina. The state’s three prison farms already produce all the milk and eggs ­— and some vegetables — served to prisoners statewide. The new 27-acre dairy will house 1,000 cows by summer. (Associated Press)

Cow escapes slaughterhouse

In Montana, a cow reportedly leapt a slaughterhouse gate and swam across the Missouri River in a daring escape. The cow, dubbed Molly B, has a home now at an animal sanctuary. She’s sore in the hoof but otherwise reported to be healthy. (Capital Press)

“Super” bacteria in chicken

An investigation by a Canadian news outlet found two-thirds of more than 100 chicken samples from major grocers had bacteria resistant to at least one antibiotic. The findings are raising new concerns about the pervasive use of antimicrobials in animal feed. Results showed the samples contained E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter bacteria, and that some bacteria were resistant to six, seven or eight different types of antibiotics. (Food Safety News)

Baboons pick the sweetest

A South African farmer is thinking of naming a new variety of tangerine after some smart baboons. The farmer says workers noticed that baboons stripped one particular tree of its fruit ahead of the others, year after year. Tests now show that the tangerines selected by the baboons are a natural mutation, with sweeter fruit that ripens faster. (Associated Press)

NW timber exports

Small woodland owners in Washington and Oregon are getting higher prices this year than last for their timber. Prices for quality Douglas fir logs exported to Japan are $100 higher than prices paid by U.S. buyers. Logs bound for China are priced $50 higher. (Capital Press)

Also in this issue

Big Ag walks out on the sustainable standard process

The Sound Consumer first began reporting on a proposed process to define sustainable for labeling foods in 2008. The following report is an update on the controversy.

Camelot Downs: A fairytale farm

Camelot Downs is the kind of place that leaves a sort of dreamy, picturesque impression in your memory. We recently visited this Whidbey Island farm with a small group of PCC members, PCC Farmland Trust donors, and local conservation specialists.

Letters to the editor, April 2011

Edmonds frisée, GE alfalfa, Regarding “natural”, and more