News bites, April 2012

This article was originally published in April 2012

Edible forest

Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood soon will have an “edible forest,” a seven-acre plot donated by Seattle Public Utilities that will grow apples, pears, plums, grapes, blueberries and raspberries. The food will be available to anyone who wants to pick it, although there’s no plan yet for dealing with greedy foragers. Learn more at

Chick hatcheries booming

The number of people raising backyard chickens and demand for local eggs is causing a boom in business at chick hatcheries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the number of small egg producers jumped more than 60 percent between 1997 and 2007, and people with 50 birds or less account for most of that increase.

Hatcheries say business historically is best when people feel they need to be self-sufficient, such as during the 1973 oil crisis, after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and as the new millennium approached, raising fears about a “Y2K” technology breakdown. (Capital Press)

Imported shrimp

Asian shrimp farms providing the majority of the shrimp sold in the United States have a carbon footprint 10 times greater than beef raised on clear-cut land in the Amazon rainforest. Research from the University of Oregon estimates at least half of Asia’s shrimp farms occupy former mangrove tidelands, and that producing just 1 pound of frozen shrimp creates a ton of carbon dioxide — and that doesn’t include emissions from farm development, feeds, supplements, processing, storing or shipping. The farms typically are abandoned in three to nine years because of disease, soil acidification, and contamination. (Mother Jones)

Pecan thieves

Tens of thousands of pounds of pecans are being stolen every week from U.S. pecan orchards. The incentive is a huge price increase — up 365 percent from two years ago due to increased demand from Europe, the Middle East, India and China. Pecan farmers in New Mexico reportedly are paying security guards to watch over their land. (NPR)

Wild salmon not holding up

Wild fish populations are not holding up compared to hatchery-born salmon according to recent research published in the journal “PLoS One.” Researchers studied fish that returned to a Northern California river, and found only 4 percent of the total spawning population were of natural origin — most were hatchery-born. Water degradation, pollution and overfishing may be to blame for the low survival rate of natural populations, and hybrid offspring of hatchery and wild fish may have a lower chance of surviving and reproducing than pure wild offspring. (KUOW Radio)

Pastured chicken v. organic?

USDA’s Economic Research Service says the pasture-raised chicken sector may be growing faster than the organic sector, which is notable since organic chicken production more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2008. The latest Census of Agriculture shows production by small-scale, conventional farmers over the same period shrank about 25 percent, prompting some to quit or merge. It says many other small producers converted to organic or niche poultry production, echoing the microbrewing movement of the early 1980s. (Capital Press)

GE corn loses edge on pests

One of the most widely planted genetically engineered (GE) crops has lost its ability to kill the pest it was designed for. Bt corn was engineered so every cell would express an insecticide and comprises about 65 percent of the U.S. corn crop — going into cereal, syrup, cornstarch and oil. Scientists report that rootworms have become resistant to the Bt trait and are destroying fields across Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska. (Associated Press)

Caramel color cancer warning?

Coca-Cola is asking its provider of artificial caramel color to reformulate, to avoid putting a cancer warning label on its soda pop per California’s Prop 65. The caramel colorant that currently gives Coca-Cola a brown color contains byproducts that cause cancer in animals, according to the National Toxicology Program, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban two types of caramel color, and to prohibit labeling any product as “natural” if it contains any type of caramel color. (,

Pasteurized almonds

A federal judge has upheld a requirement that California almonds be “pasteurized” with heat or chemicals to kill pathogens such as salmonella. Organic and small-scale almond farmers filed a lawsuit against USDA a few years ago, claiming the rule unlawfully prohibited them from selling raw almonds and placed them at a market disadvantage against almond importers since foreign-grown almonds are not required to be pasteurized. The judge said USDA did not exceed its authority in mandating pasteurization. (Capital Press)

Salt/potassium balance

A study based on data from 12,000 American adults found that people whose diets had a high sodium-to-potassium ratio were nearly 50 percent more likely to die from any cause and more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than people whose diets included less salt and more potassium. Ninety percent of the sodium in the American diet comes from salt added to foods, three-fourths of it from processed and restaurant foods. Potassium-rich foods include cantaloupe, bananas, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, blackberries, yogurt, dried beans, leafy greens, potatoes and sweet potatoes. (The New York Times)

Also in this issue

Washington shellfish initiative: Is it sustainable?

When Governor Chris Gregoire announced a $4.5 million state-federal initiative to boost shellfish production in Puget Sound and clean up the environment last December, it was met with both praise and criticism.

Honeybee disaster

A Purdue University study indicates pesticides are one cause of Colony Collapse Disorder among honeybees. Some say the study suggests pesticides called neonicotinoids may even be the major or precipitating cause — with mites and other problems the final blow.

Letters to the editor, April 2012

Biosolids as "fertilizer", Arsenic in rice products, Paleolithic diets, and more