News bites, November 2012

This article was originally published in November 2012

Organic food sales

Organic foods are consumed at least occasionally now by a majority of Americans. Data from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) shows more than three-quarters of U.S. families choose organic for at least some of their purchases, making organic more than a niche market. ERS found no consistent correlation between household income and expenditures on organic produce. (Organic Trade Association)

Ag money in politics

Agribusiness and other agricultural groups donated at least $57 million to the candidates this year for president and Congress, with most of it going to Republicans. According to the non-partisan political watchdog group, The Center for Responsive Politics, election records show ag groups gave $2.7 million to Mitt Romney and $1.1 million to President Obama. The single largest agricultural political action committee (PAC) is American Crystal Sugar, which tends to favor Democrats. (Capital Press)

Long-term GMO risks

New research has found that rats raised on genetically engineered corn or the herbicide Roundup have an increased risk of tumors, liver and kidney damage, and premature death.

The peer-reviewed journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology” says the study followed 200 rats over their lifetime, eight times longer than the 90-day studies done for regulatory approval of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Some criticize the study’s methodology. Russia, however, banned this Monsanto GMO corn, known as NK603, following the report. The findings also prompted a review in Europe, which may suspend imports of the corn, typically used for livestock feed.

Food wasted

Americans are throwing out almost every other bite of food, wasting up to 40 percent of the nation’s food supply at a cost of $165 billion annually. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says the average family of four squanders about 20 pounds per person per month — a 50 percent increase since the 1970s. Food waste is the largest part of solid waste in American landfills. (Los Angeles Times)

Zombie bees

Researchers have confirmed the first cases of “zombie” bees in Washington state, where infections caused by a parasite cause bees to embark on a “flight of the living dead.” The infection triggers abnormal behaviors, such as being attracted to light and flying at night. There’s no treatment but researchers are inviting Northwest beekeepers and the public to be on the lookout for oddly-behaving honeybees.

Get instructions for how to participate at (

Weight gain from GE food?

An international research project found that rats eating genetically engineered (GE) corn over a 90-day period became slightly fatter than a control group of rats fed non-GE corn. The same effect occurred when rats were fed fish raised on GE corn.

The researchers also found salmon fed GE corn were slightly larger, ate a little more, had a different microstructure in their intestines, were less able to digest proteins, and had some changes to their immune system and blood compared to fish fed non-GE corn. (ScienceNordic)

Shoppers want antibiotic-free meat

A Consumers Union poll found more than 60 percent of respondents would pay at least five cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics; 37 percent would pay a dollar or more extra per pound. Respondents were concerned about creation of “superbugs” caused by overuse of antibiotics, unsanitary and crowded conditions for livestock, human consumption of antibiotic residue, and environmental damage from agricultural runoff containing antibiotics. (Mother Jones)

Human infections from chicken antibiotics

Researchers have found the rising number of bladder inflections resistant to antibiotic treatment is linked to chicken raised on antibiotic feed additives. ABC News and the Food & Environment Reporting Network investigated the cause of the drug resistance and found evidence that the E. coli responsible for the infections closely matches the bacteria found in retail chicken that have a high level of drug resistance.

Investigators say many chickens are on drugs from the time they’re in an egg all the way up to the time they’re slaughtered. (Civil Eats)

Washington crop circles

Investigators say they’re 90 percent certain the crop circles in an eastern Washington wheat field were not made by dragging some device through the field but instead by microwave energy.

The Unexplained Northwest Investigation Team says that when crops such as wheat are irradiated with microwaves, the moisture rapidly expands, causing the plant’s “knuckle” to expand and weaken, causing the wheat to bend but not break — just like the wheat in the crop circles. The team will post a video on its website ( explaining what it did and why they think the crop circles are “real.” (Capital Press)

Misconception about fiber

A Kellogg-led study into perceptions about whole grain found that 85 percent of consumers think food labeled as whole grain automatically provides a high level of dietary fiber, which is not always the case. The research concluded that there’s a need for more education and better labeling to help consumers better discern what foods are a good source of fiber, which means having at least 3 grams per serving. (FoodNavigator)

Organic seed website

A new online database may help organic farmers find certified organic seed, which often is difficult. The Organic Seed Alliance estimates organic farmers use certified seed only 20 percent of the time because they can’t get organic seeds. National organic standards allow farmers to use non-certified seed when certified seed is not available, but the new website makes it easier for farmers to connect with organic seed suppliers. (Capital Press)

Chocolate reduces blood pressure?

More research suggests dark chocolate may be heart-healthy. A meta-analysis of short-term studies on the effect of flavonols (a class of antioxidants) on blood pressure finds that eating dark chocolate is associated with a small reduction in blood pressure. (Food Politics)

Also in this issue

Sugar: why do we crave it during winter?

During the cold, dark winter months, we get less sunlight, less exercise, and many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mild form of depression.

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn how much the apple industry powers Washington’s economy, what happens to the state’s mint crop, why cherry farmers weren’t happy this year and more.

Letters to the editor, November 2012

I-522: labeling GMOs, GMOs cannot occur in nature, Craft beer, and more