News bites, September 2011

This article was originally published in September 2011

“Natural” isn’t natural

Two class action lawsuits are challenging use of the term “natural” on products made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Plaintiffs say ConAgra Foods is deceiving the public by labeling its Wesson cooking oil “pure” and “100% natural,” when it’s made from GMOs. The suit notes even Monsanto doesn’t consider GMOs “natural.” Monsanto defines GMOs as “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs…” ( Andrei V. Rado)

Organic vs. no-till

A nine-year study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research Service shows that organic farming is better than no-till farming for building soil. Researchers led by John Teasdale say that organic practices — such as adding composted manure and using cover crops — more than offset losses from tillage. A three-year follow-up study showed organic fields also held more nitrogen and carbon, and yielded 18 percent more than no-till plots. (Agricultural Research Service)

Farm-to-School ends

Small farmers in Washington state have lost valuable resources that helped them understand regulations and find markets for their products. The Small Farm Direct Marketing program, and the Farm-to-School program have been eliminated due to budget cuts. They were created in 2005 to increase the viability of small farms and build community vitality. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

Climate chaos losses

The national supply of non-citrus orchard tree stock will be tight for several years due to harsh weather that caused huge losses at Washington state nurseries. Washington’s five biggest nurseries had to plow under nearly 2 million trees — about a quarter of their stock — after a pre-Thanksgiving day freeze last fall and another freeze in February. This year’s losses are the worst in more than 55 years. (Capital Press)

Chemical trespass

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that organic farmers can sue GMO farmers whose pesticides “trespass” and contaminate others’ fields. The court said particulate matter that contaminates neighboring fields, including pesticides and GM particulates, is illegal trespass and subject to the same laws concerning other forms of trespass. This ruling and a similar one in California are considered legal precedents for holding non-organic operations liable for damages caused by pesticides and GMOs. (NaturalNews)

Metal bottles with BPA

Scientists at the University of Cincinnati found that consumers who switched from plastic to metal water bottles to avoid bisphenol A aren’t necessarily better off. Some metal water bottles have a plastic lining that leaches even more of the estrogen-like chemical than plastic bottles. Researchers say consumers can get a good idea of whether bottles contain BPA resins by looking inside. A golden-orange coating indicates material that can shed BPA; a white coating doesn’t. (

Nonstick cookware and ADHD

New evidence suggests that exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in nonstick cookware is linked to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A study at the University of Syracuse suggests PFC levels increase the risk of ADHD by making children prone to impulsive behavior. PFCs have been used since the 1950s to make Teflon and stain- and water-repellent clothing. (Chemical and Engineering News)

Ending ethanol subsidies?

Livestock and poultry groups, including the National Chicken Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, are asking U.S. senators working for budget reductions to end subsidies for ethanol. They say that cutting ethanol subsidies could save $6 billion annually. (Capital Press)

Downer hogs

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a lawsuit over California’s ban against slaughtering downer hogs. The National Meat Association contends that hogs normally lie down and that the ban interferes with pre-slaughter inspections. Critics say the meat industry is trying to push animals that can’t even walk through the food system. (Capital Press)

GE rice settlement

Bayer has agreed to pay $750 million to 11,000 U.S. rice farmers after its unapproved, experimental genetically engineered (GE) rice contaminated U.S. ricelands and caused the collapse of export markets. Europe, Japan, Russia and other buyers cancelled orders when the contamination was announced in 2006. Importers reportedly are buying now from Thailand, Pakistan, India and Uruguay. (Organic Trade Association)

GE labels worldwide

Any country wanting to label GE foods will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization. After 20 years, the Codex Alimentarius Commissionii, made up of the world’s food regulatory agencies, reached consensus on GE labeling. The U.S. delegation reversed its longstanding opposition and allowed the measure to move forward and become an official text. (Consumers International)

GE costs

The cost to bring a new corn variety to market using classical breeding techniques — $1 million.
The cost to bring a new genetically engineered corn variety to market — $100 million or more. (Mellon and Gurian-Sherman, “The cost-effective way to feed the world,” The Bellingham Herald, June 21, 2011)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

This month reporting on apples, nectarines, Washington peach producers, the organic grape crop, Reed avocados, wild mushrooms, sweet corn and peas, stone fruits, nuts, honeybee losses and the sustainability of yellowfin tuna.

Organic Seed: A resource at risk?

While we may not think about seed when eating breakfast or helping our children into their cotton pajamas at night, seed is the foundational step in feeding and clothing ourselves.

The University of Washington Farm

University farms have been around since the turn of the century. The University of Washington (UW) hosts a student farm these days, but it doesn’t look like a typical plot of row crops.