News bites, March 2012

This article was originally published in March 2012

Fair labor certified farms

Two certified organic farms providing PCC with produce are the first to earn certification for fair labor standards. The Food Justice Certified label verifies the farms respect their workers’ rights, treat them with respect and pay living wages, and that buyers of farm products pay fair prices that cover the full cost of production. Spring Hill Farm provides PCC with greens and red bell peppers, and Gathering Together Farm provides shallots, hard squash, turnips, greens and more. (Organically Grown Company)

GMO bourbon

Bourbon without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is increasingly difficult to find. An investigation by “Grist” notes that about 85 percent of U.S. corn is now genetically engineered and bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn. Jack Daniels had committed to using non-GMO corn until 2009. Wild Turkey and Four Roses bourbons remain non-GMO. (Grist)

Non-GMO sales growing fast

“Non-GMO Verified” has become the fastest growing food label in North America as sales of certified products hit $1 billion in 2011. The market research and consulting firm, SPINS, also says the $1 billion figure is likely to be a great underestimation because it does not include sales at Walmart or Whole Foods. (

China suspends GE rice

China is the latest country to take a stand against genetically engineered (GE) crops, in suspending commercial planting and sale of GE rice. The announcement by the Ministry of Agriculture followed a consumer campaign that caused two huge food companies and several of the biggest supermarkets to pledge they wouldn’t use GE ingredients in their own branded foods, or in fresh fruit, vegetables or grains. China requires labels on GE foods. (

Chicken welfare

The American Farm Bureau, along with sheep, cattle, pork and milk associations, are asking Congress to reject the first proposed federal law for animal welfare, covering all U.S. laying hens. The proposed bill would double the minimum space per bird starting in 2014, with more space phased in by 2026. The proposal also would require egg carton labels to identify whether eggs are from hens raised in cages, cage-free, or freerange. (Capital Press)

Organic vet shortage

There’s a shortage of farm animal veterinarians, especially organic and holistic vets who focus on preventing disease through diet, low-stress management, and grazing for organic dairy cattle. Only California State University-Chico and the University of New Hampshire offer organic veterinary programs. (Capital Press)

Horses for meat

Horses soon could be butchered for human consumption, now that Congress has lifted a five-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections. Advocates say the previous ban against horse meat had unintended consequences, including an increase in neglect and abandonment of horses. If a horse meat slaughtering facility opens, most of the meat will be exported to Europe and Asia. (Associated Press)

BPA linked to obesity

Researchers in China have linked higher levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) with abdominal fat, obesity and insulin resistance. They found that adults over age 40 who had higher levels of BPA in their urine tended to have these traits, affirming previous studies linking BPA to metabolic disorders. BPA is a chemical resin used in the lining of many food cans, some receipt paper, CDs, DVDs and other plastics. (Environmental Health News)

Cephalosporin livestock ban

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned cephalosporin antibiotics from being used at “sub-therapeutic” levels (low-doses) to prevent and control the spread of disease in livestock. Cephalosporins are needed to treat pneumonia and serious infections in humans, and low-dose usage in animals encourages pathogens to become resistant, rendering them ineffective. Critics say the FDA ban is insignificant because less than 1 percent of antibiotics used on farms are cephalosporins while tetracycline and penicillin use is rising. (FDA/Mother Jones)

Climate change and cocoa

Researchers in Colombia predict that a 1-degree rise in world temperatures expected by 2030 may hit cocoa farmers in West Africa particularly hard. A 2-degree increase projected by 2050 would make it impossible to grow cocoa at current elevations. Farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast currently produce half the world’s cocoa. (Food Politics)

WSU in Afghanistan

Washington State University is continuing work with agriculture in war-torn Afghanistan with funding from federal agencies. WSU is receiving $3.12 million to help strengthen the Afghani Extension system and $895,500 to improve the skills of agriculture faculty at Afghan colleges and universities. The programs will teach livestock production, crop rotation, agronomy and production on student and research farms. (Washington State University)

Public land grazing

An association of cattle, sheep and grassland interests, the Public Lands Council, is challenging a report that says grazing rights on public lands supports only a miniscule number of jobs compared to recreation, tourism and mining. The Department of Interior report says grazing on public lands provides 7,500 direct and indirect jobs, valued at $640 million. It says recreation and tourism generate 388,000 jobs and $44 billion, while mining and energy development generate $246 billion. (Capital Press)

Also in this issue

Food trends

The consumer research firm, The Hartman Group, based in Bellevue, released findings on recent “food culture trends.”

Hungry Planet - What the World Eats

Imagine your family collected every food and drink it consumes in a typical week — every carrot, every grain of quinoa, every coffee bean, every PCC take-and-bake pizza — and you took a snapshot of it all piled up in your kitchen. What would the photo show? That’s the question you may ask yourself after visiting the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture’s exhibit, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” which runs through June 10 and is sponsored by PCC.

Biosolids hit the fan

PCC advocates buying organic and not just because of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Unlike conventional farmers, organic farmers can't use sewage sludge as fertilizer. It was one of the most hotly contested battles in developing national organic standards. Here's why.