News bites, June 2012

This article was originally published in June 2012

Organic creates more jobs

Organic foods create more jobs than if made with non-organic ingredients. A study released by the Organic Trade Association found that using organically produced ingredients created 21 percent more jobs than would have been generated if the food industry relied on ingredients from non-organic farms.

The study attributed the job creation differences to greater labor intensity on organic farms, smaller farm size, the need for a certification industry, and reliance on smaller retail outlets. The organic food industry generated more than 500,000 U.S. jobs in 2010.

AMA votes on GMO labels

The American Medical Association is voting this month on whether it will support federal legislation to label foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The AMA vote is expected during its annual meeting in Chicago, June 15 through 20.

The American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and medical associations in Illinois, Indiana and California already have passed labeling resolutions. More than a million people petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to label GMO foods, and 55 members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter to support the petition.

California GMO initiative

The California Right to Know campaign gathered twice as many signatures as needed to get a GMO labeling initiative on the state’s November ballot. If approved by voters, the initiative will require labels on GMO foods in California.

“60 Minutes” on sugar

The U.S. sugar industry is dismissing as bad journalism a “60 Minutes” TV report suggesting sugar is toxic and creating a public health crisis. The CBS news program interviewed a University of California doctor, Robert Lustig, who said sugar needs to be regulated and come with warnings similar to those for alcohol and tobacco.

The program cited research showing sugar is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Saving old barns

Barn surveys are underway in several states, including Washington, as the first step in trying to save old barns that are falling apart across rural America. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to document the architecture, use and condition of barns built before 1960. The next phase of the census-taking begins later this year. (Associated Press)

Organic transition funds

Nearly $50 million in federal funds has been made available to help farmers and ranchers transition to organic status, or help currently certified organic producers remain compliant. The financial and technical assistance is meant to address common practices such as cover crops, nutrient and pest management, seasonal high tunnels, crop rotation and fencing. (

Strawberries and methyl bromide

Researchers are revisiting steam technology as methyl bromide, a broad-spectrum pesticide used on non-organic strawberries, approaches a complete phase-out in 2015. A USDA researcher is testing a machine that injects steam into the ground to disinfect it from fungi that damage strawberries. He says applying steam to raised berry beds could be comparable to use of methyl bromide, which is being eliminated under a global treaty because it depletes the planet’s ozone layer. (

France reduces pesticides

Over in France, where a farmer successfully sued Monsanto for pesticide poisoning, the government has set a goal of cutting pesticide use 50 percent by 2018 — with initial results showing a 4 percent drop in the past few years.

France also aims to expand organic acreage to 20 percent by 2020. As for the herbicide, Alachlor, that poisoned the French farmer, it was banned by the European Union in 2007 due to cancer and endocrine-disruption concerns, but it’s still sold here in the United States. (Mother Jones/Pesticide Action Network)

Legal labor shortage

Desperation to harvest a crop and fill customer orders apparently pushed a western Washington culinary herb grower to rehire illegal workers. A raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April 2011 prompted the HerbCo company to fire 86 workers after an audit showed their documentation was illegal — but HerbCo rehired some of the workers when unable to keep its commitment to customers.

The law requires employers to make hiring decisions before asking about documentation, and then if a worker’s papers appear valid, the employer is precluded from asking further questions. (Capital Press)

Antibiotics in animals

The FDA is asking non-organic dairy and meat producers voluntarily to stop using antibiotics to promote weight gain and prevent disease. A federal judge found FDA has known since 1977 that adding antibiotics to food and water creates antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which makes it difficult to treat infections in animals and people.

Drugs and arsenic for chickens

A study in “Environmental Science & Technology” shows that non-organic poultry routinely are fed fluoroquinolone antibiotics (banned in 2005) and arsenic to prevent disease and encourage weight gain. Most samples also contained acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) and caffeine to keep chickens awake so they’ll eat more.

Tests show one-third of the feather meal contained the antihistamine found in Benadryl and some contained the antidepressant in Prozac to reduce anxiety from stressful living conditions. None of these practices are allowed in organic poultry production. (The New York Times)

Monsanto buys bee research firm

Monsanto has bought a leading company that studies Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among bees. The buyout of Beelogics raises concern that Monsanto will divert research from studying links between genetically engineered (GE) crops and CCD and will use more GE technology and pesticides to “solve” the crisis. A key product in the Beeologics development pipeline was aimed to help bee health. (Natural News/NaturalSociety)

Wolves help trees

The return of gray wolves to Yellowstone Park seems to be good for trees and many animals. Research from Oregon State University shows that where wolves have curbed elk populations, stands of aspen, willow and cottonwood are expanding. As trees grow taller, they provide more habitat for yellow warblers and other songbirds and more food for beavers, who in turn create ponds that attract fish, reptiles and amphibians. (Associated Press)

Financiers advocate cleaner food

An op-ed by Bloomberg financial editors is calling on federal officials to stop allowing poultry litter in cow and cattle feed to limit the risk of mad cow disease. Bloomberg says ranchers use a lot of it (2 billion pounds a year by some estimates) because it’s cheaper than corn, alfalfa or other feed. Of the 35 million cattle slaughtered each year, only 40,000 — less than 0.1 percent — are tested for mad cow disease. (

Bipartisan support for GMO labels

A public opinion survey by the Mellman Group confirms that support for labeling foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is nearly unanimous. The survey from February found 93 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of independent voters, and 89 percent of Republicans favor GMO labeling. (

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

It's looking to be a good summer for Northwest tree fruit, so get ready for all your summer favorites: peaches, nectarines, cherries and more! Healthy runs of troll-caught Chinook salmon are expected, as is a bumper harvest of Oregon pink shrimp.

Letters to the editor, June 2012

Educated shoppers, BPA containers?, Greens freshness, and more

Detoxing: Cleansing your body

Food is always better than supplements for avoiding toxins, but if you want a boost in preparing your diet for a cleanse, a variety of products and books at PCC may help.