News bites, May 2012

This article was originally published in May 2012

Eat chocolate

People who eat chocolate several times a week tend to be slimmer. A study of nearly 1,000 people found regular chocolate consumption is related to lower body mass index (a measure of obesity), despite adding calories and regardless of exercise. The frequency of eating chocolate is what’s important, not the volume, which scientists say suggests that the composition of calories, not just their number, determines the impact on weight. (Archives of Internal Medicine/

Caramel color

A California court says it’s legal to label drinks or food with Class IV caramel coloring as “known to cause cancer” under Prop 65. The state says warning labels are required because people who drink a 12-ounce cola consume four times the amount of a compound (4-MEI) found to increase the risk of leukemia and lung, liver or thyroid cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban Class IV and Class III caramel coloring — two of the four types on the market. (Food

Sustainable eggs?

The president and CEO of the United Egg Producers says that keeping egg-laying chickens in cages is the most “sustainable” way to produce eggs. Gene Gregory is quoted as saying that hens in modern cages “use 15 to 20 percent less feed per dozen than hens in cage-free or free-range systems.” He reportedly says they have “smaller carbon footprints due to less feed, more efficient use of natural resources and less land usage.” (Progressive Grocer’s Sustainability Handbook)

Fukushima beef

Some Japanese farmers from an evacuation zone near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site are defying orders to euthanize their cattle. Their wagyu beef cattle once commanded as much as $10,000 each but no longer are marketable because they’ve ingested radioactive cesium. The farmers are travelling for hours to feed these cows, which they care for “like family” and believe should not be killed. (The Guardian U.K.)

Animal antibiotics

A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop farmers from mixing penicillin and tetracycline into non-organic animal feed — unless industry can prove the practice is safe. The judge found FDA determined in 1977 that sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics to prevent disease in crowded living conditions or promote growth “are not shown to be safe” because they encourage drug-resistant pathogens. The ruling said FDA must uphold its findings. (Associated Press)

Vatican official condemns GMOs

A prominent member of the Vatican is speaking out against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In an interview with the magazine “L’Osservatore Romano,” Cardinal Peter Turkson said that GMO crops are a “new form of slavery” in discussing the impact on the environment and economies. Turkson was appointed by the Pope in 2009 as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and is considered papabile, meaning it’s likely or possible that he will be elected pope. (Natural Society/

No crop subsidies?

The American Farm Bureau has shifted a longstanding policy by voting against crop subsidies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has paid out more than $5 billion a year to subsidize certain crops, such as corn and soy. Farm Bureau chapter leaders say they’ve been warned that direct payments to farmers are “toast” in the next Farm Bill and that they need to be part of the solution for deficit reduction or risk being marginalized. (Capital Press)

Young pursue farming

Increasing enrollment in ag programs at universities and farmer-training programs indicate more young people in their 20s and 30s are going into farming. Many reportedly say the reason is that the corporate life is stifling, doesn’t offer job security, and they feel they could sell organic and locally grown foods even in a bad economy. More than 60 percent of today’s farmers are older than 55. (Capital Press)

Inspector General on GMOs

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General is urging the National Organic Program to “develop guidance” for detecting GMOs in the feed for organic dairy cows. In a 21-page audit, the Inspector acknowledged organic standards prohibit genetic engineering as a method of production but do not require testing for verification. The report said that unless certifiers “utilize GM detection to identify potential violations, there cannot be reasonable assurance” that GMOs aren’t contaminating livestock feed. (Food Chemical News)

HFCS is different

The TV commercial tries to convince us that sugar is sugar and that our bodies can’t tell the difference but that is not so. Research from the University of Colorado confirms that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and white sugar are absorbed differently and that drinks sweetened with HFCS increase systolic blood pressure. Researchers say that compared with white sugar, HFCS also leads to “significantly different acute metabolic effects.” (

Starbucks buys Evolution

The Starbucks Corporation has purchased the California-based juice maker, Evolution, for $30 million to expand its domain beyond coffee. It opened its first Evolution Fresh juice store in Bellevue, Wash. which also is selling wraps, soups, salads, vegetarian and vegan fare. (The Wall Street Journal)

Also in this issue

PCC Board of Trustees report, May 2012

A message from your board, PCC 2012 Election, Notice of 2012 ballot count meeting, and more

Letters to the editor, May 2012

Food ties us, Sustainable shellfish, Biosolids hit the fan, and more

Arsenic in the food supply: Questions and answers

Media coverage about findings of arsenic in brown rice syrup and other rice-based foods has failed to point out that arsenic is a concern for the entire food industry — in both conventional and organic systems.