News bites, February 2012

This article was originally published in February 2012

Cheap food in America

Cheap food in America
U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows the average American spends only 6.9 percent of income on food less than in any other country in the world. The Irish spend 7.2 percent, the English 8.8 percent, Australians 10.5 percent, in Spain and France more than 13 percent, in Mexico 24 percent, in China 33 percent, and in most of South America more than 20 percent on food. People spent the most on food in the Philippines (36.7 percent), Indonesia (43 percent), and Azerbaijan (46.9 percent). (

U.S. tightens fishing policy

In an effort to curb overfishing and rebuild fish stocks, the United States this year will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species of fish it manages. The federal government will have annual catch limits in place for all species by the time the 2012 fishing season begins. Until now, regional management councils wrote rules for all 528 fish stocks and, according to scientists, regularly flouted scientific advice and authorized overfishing. (The Washington Post)

Citrus reduces E. coli?

Researchers at the USDA are investigating the role that citrus might play in reducing pathogens in cattle. Cows reportedly like eating orange peels, which contain a naturally occurring antimicrobial compound called d-limonene. Researchers found a 10-fold reduction in salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 in the cows’ intestines when they were fed orange peel pellets. (Food Safety News)

EPA: stop Bt corn

For the first time, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panel is recommending that biotech companies implement a “remedial action plan” to stop the spread of insect resistance to GE corn. EPA recommends that farmers stop planting Bt corn altogether, following reports that farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska are losing genetically engineered Bt corn crops to insects. (NPR)

GE mosquitoes in Florida

Key West, Florida may be the next testing ground for genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes. Pending regulatory approval, thousands of GE mosquitoes could be released there as early as this month. The GE mosquitoes from a U.K. firm, Oxitec, already have been released in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil, even though the mosquitoes reportedly are not sterile as claimed and have not demonstrated they could eradicate dengue fever. (GE News List)

Hungary destroys GE corn

Hungary has destroyed 1,000 acres of GE corn found to have been grown with GE seeds. Unlike many European Union countries, Hungary has banned GE seeds altogether. (Natural

Organic can feed the world

The British Soil Association reviewed all the research available on whether organic farming can feed the world and found every one of 98 papers confirmed organic methods have the ability to feed the planet’s population. Not one argued otherwise. Some looked beyond quantity of production to say organic methods offer solutions to many failures of chemical farming, such as high energy use, high greenhouse gas emissions, and widespread pollution. (Barry Estabrook/Atlantic Monthly)

Ranchers fight ethanol

Beef, pork and poultry ranchers are demanding a change in the nation’s ethanol policy, saying the current policy causes higher meat prices and less selection. They’re concerned that the amount of corn diverted to ethanol remains fixed by a 2005 law requiring production of a certain amount of ethanol, even if drought or another disaster causes crop shortages. When there are shortages, the ethanol industry is protected but farmers facing skyrocketing feed prices say they have no choice but to reduce the size of their herds. (Associated Press)

Cattle rustling

High beef prices have made cattle rustling attractive in this economy, and other livestock are being stolen, too. Six-thousand lambs were taken from a Texas feedlot and nearly 1,000 hogs were stolen from farms in Iowa and Minnesota. The three states hit hardest by cattle rustling — Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — don’t require branding, making it hard to identify animals at auction barns or stockyards. (Associated Press)

Quinoa in the Northwest

A Washington State University researcher is testing the potential to grow quinoa in Washington and Oregon, far from its native Bolivia. Kevin Murphy says little is known about growing quinoa in the Northwest but believes it could become an important specialty crop and he plans to grow it on half a dozen farms this spring. Murphy is using European seed varieties and developing hybrids suitable for climates north of the equator. (Capital Press)

Bee watching

Honeybee keepers are hoping to survive the winter with fewer losses than in recent years. Winter is when they lose most of their honeybee populations and the die-off rate nationwide last year was 30 percent. That’s a bit lower than losses averaging 32 percent the year before. (Capital Press)

Hatchery v. wild fish

Research suggests that hatchery fish may be adapting to captivity, making them less equipped to take on life in the wild. Scientist Mark Christie at Oregon State University found that in captivity, hatchery-born steelhead had nearly twice the reproductive success of wild fish, indicating an adaptation to captivity. Previous research has determined that fish raised in hatcheries, once released, do not do as well as wild fish. (KUOW-FM)

Antibiotics in dairy and meat

Health advocates are renewing a push to restrict antibiotics in dairy and meat production, armed with federal data showing antibiotic use is increasing faster than food production. A Pew analysis of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data found the amount of antibiotics used in food production was up almost 7 percent from 2009 to 2010, from 28.8 million to 30.6 million pounds. Industrial animal farms routinely add antibiotics to food or water to hasten weight gain and control diseases that spread in overcrowded conditions. (

GE salmon virus

Genetically engineered (GE) salmon from the company AquaBounty have tested positive for a highly contagious virus that has caused the collapse of farmed salmon populations around the world. The GE salmon, currently under review by the FDA for potential sale to American consumers, reportedly tested positive for the infectious salmon anemia virus in November 2009 but the finding wasn’t made public until December 2011. (Living Oceans Society)

GE sweet corn

A grassroots coalition is sending consumer petitions to supermarkets and food processors, saying it won’t buy GE sweet corn approved for market this year. GE corn already is in non-organic corn syrup, cornstarch and animal feed but this is the first time GE sweet corn will be on the market. The consumer coalition has delivered more than 264,000 consumer signatures to Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Bird’s Eye and Del Monte. Add your name to the petition at (Food and Water Watch)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn what's happening with the organic grapefruit and Minneola crops, problems sourcing organic bananas, seafood sustainability upgrades for some snapper, and more.

Paleolithic diets: Should we eat like our ancestors?

PCC employee Janice Parker has eaten a whole-foods diet for many years, but 14 months ago she changed it in a way that led her to shed 30 pounds, feel less joint pain, sleep more soundly, have more energy, and, remarkably, control her diabetes without medication.

Your co-op community, February 2012

Kindiependent, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Sweater Drive, Burke Museum presents "Hungry Planet", and more