News bites, October 2012

This article was originally published in October 2012

Washington crop circles

Paranormal investigators are assessing a series of crop circles that appeared in a wheat field near Wilbur, Wash. in late July. The owners of the wheat field, Cindy and Greg Geib, say they’re trying to figure out how they were done without breaking any of the wheat, since it’s hard to walk through crunchy wheat and not knock it down. The Unexplained Northwest Investigation Team says the soil within the circle was 10 degrees warmer than outside it, and that it’s analyzing soil samples, radioactivity and electromagnetic levels. (Capital Press)

Cattle for climate change?

Some American farmers apparently have concluded it’s too late to fight climate change and instead are working to adapt. In Texas, where there has been drought or below normal rainfall since 1996, ranchers are selling off cattle they can’t graze or afford to feed. At least one is breeding cattle with genes from stock in India or Africa, where cattle have developed more tolerance to heat and drought. (Associated Press)

Honey theft

There’s a shortage of bees for pollinating crops and, with prices for renting them high, thieves stole half a million bees and an estimated 8,000 pounds of honey from a 76-year-old beekeeper in Abbotsford, British Columbia in July. The losses are estimated at $100,000. The beekeeper says he’s planning to bolster security. (Canoe Sun Media)

Bhutan’s organic pledge

The tiny country of Bhutan recently pledged to become the first country in the world to convert to a 100-percent organic agricultural system. Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said his government is developing a national organic policy because the country’s farmers increasingly are convinced that “by working in harmony with nature, they can help sustain the flow of nature’s bounties.” Bhutan drew international attention a few years ago for saying “Gross National Happiness” should trump Gross Domestic Product when measuring a nation’s progress. (NPR)

Cities tapping aquifers

A plan to draw massive amounts of underground water from the Mojave Desert is moving forward. A private company, Cadiz Inc., has proposed tapping a huge aquifer 200 miles east of Los Angeles to serve more than 100,000 people in Southern California. The Santa Margarita Water District has approved the project’s environmental impact report, and the Orange County district has agreed to buy some of the water. (Associated Press)

2,4-D soy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is indicating it’s likely to approve genetically engineered (GE) soy that can absorb without visible damage the herbicide 2,4-D, a key component of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war. The GE soy also can absorb glyphosate, another herbicide made by Monsanto. (Mother Jones)

GMOs killing butterflies?

Scientists say GE corn and soybeans are jeopardizing the existence of the monarch butterfly. A study from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University found the number of monarch eggs declined by 81 percent across the Midwest between 1999 and 2010 when GMO crops became the norm for farmers there. Researchers say the herbicide Roundup kills milkweed plants, preferred by Monarchs for breeding. (Grist)

Walnuts boost semen quality

Eating walnuts can improve sperm quality in men aged 21 to 35, according to a new study from researchers at UCLA. The study, sponsored by the California Walnut Commission, analyzed the effect of the polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts on semen quality and found men who ate 75 grams of walnuts a day had improved sperm “vitality, motility and morphology.” (Food Politics)

Alaska salmon drops MSC

The Alaska salmon industry is pulling out of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification program effective in October. The industry is citing a need to broaden marketing efforts and growing frustration with the rising complexity of MSC’s sustainability certification program as reasons for the withdrawl. Alaska is North America’s largest source of wild-caught salmon and was an early participant in the MSC program. (The Seattle Times)

Regulating factory farm pollution?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had authority to regulate pollution from livestock feedlots and farms for 40 years, but says it can’t regulate farms it can’t find.

EPA says it doesn’t know how many feedlots and farms exist, where they are, how much manure they generate, or how the manure is handled. EPA began using airplanes for surveillance, but ranchers were outraged and GOP Congressmen now have introduced a bill to prohibit flyovers to enforce the Clean Water Act. (Associated Press)

Trans fats and aggression

In the first study of its kind, researchers have linked trans fats consumption to increased behavioral irritability and aggression in humans. The study in the journal PloS One is based on the life histories and self-ratings of 945 adults. It supports other research finding synthetically produced trans fatty acids adversely affect cardiovascular health and cancer risk. (

Occupy Monsanto

Advocates calling themselves the Genetic Crimes Unit effectively shut down distribution of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds for a day by peacefully blockading the exit and access for shipping and receiving at Monsanto’s Oxnard, Calif. facility. The protest was one of more than 65 actions worldwide. Participants say Monsanto has bought off both political parties to defeat labeling GMO foods and that civil disobedience is necessary. (

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, October 2012

Labeling GMO initiative, Titanium dioxide?, Carrageenan?, and more

Non-GMO Project Verification: What does it mean?

Until labels for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) become mandatory, we have two voluntary labels for GMO avoidance — certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Sweet cooperation: chocolate from farmer-owned co-ops

Chocolate's good for the heart, skin and even mood — and here's yet another reason to indulge: eating chocolate from responsible companies can support farmers in developing countries around the world.