News bites, January 2013
This article was originally published in January 2013
Report: organic benefits
A new report by the Organic Farming Research Foundation finds organic farming practices build soil quality, maintain water quality, support biodiversity, and have potential to mitigate global climate change and boost the economy.
The report, “Organic Farming for Health & Prosperity,” reviews scientific literature since 2000 concerning organic farming in the United States and Canada.
Other studies conducted over the past decade have called for the agricultural industry to be responsive to changing climate and environmental conditions, but this is the first review to focus primarily on organic farming. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised the report and says it will help the U.S. Department of Agriculture “refine and strengthen” the National Organic Program. Read the report ».
Judge halts GE on wildlife refuges
A federal court has ruled to halt cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in all national wildlife refuges in the Southeastern United States. The ruling is the third in a series of victories against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) resulting in the removal of GE plants or trees from federal wildlife preserves. It bars FWS from entering into cooperative agreements for GE plants on the 128 refuges across eight states, including the 25 refuges currently growing GE plants. (Center for Food Safety)
USDA to require organic tests
Starting this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is requiring organic certifying agencies to collect and test samples from at least 5 percent of farms monitored to ensure farmers aren’t treating crops with conventional pesticides. Until now, testing has focused on growers suspected of violations. In 2011 less than 1 percent of organic farms were tested for pesticide residues. (Capital Press)
Danes roll back “fat tax”
Denmark is abolishing its so-called fat tax after barely a year, citing hardships on business and the poor. The country instituted a tax on foods that contain more than 2.3 percent saturated fat such as butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and some processed foods to curb unhealthy eating habits and increase life expectancy. Just as the government announced it would abolish the tax, a report showed Danes’ consumption of butter, margarine and oil did, in fact, fall by 10-20 percent in the three months after the tax went into effect. (NPR)
French wine consumption drops
French wine consumption has fallen to a new low with the average adult now consuming barely a glass a day, down from three glasses in 1967, according to the latest edition of a major government survey. Fewer than one in five French adults now drink wine almost every day as health concerns and a sluggish economy curb consumption. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices are taking the place of wine. (The Huffington Post)
Slaughterhouse fined $500 million
Hallmark Meat, the California slaughterhouse caught abusing sick cows then selling the beef mostly to school lunch programs, has been fined $500 million by a federal court. Most of the meat was eaten by the time it was recalled in 2008 — the largest recall in U.S. history — after an undercover video exposed gruesome slaughterhouse practices. The ruling reportedly marks the first time federal fraud statutes were used in an animal abuse case. (Grist)
Milk inhibits tea’s benefits?
A small German study found drinking black tea significantly improved the ability of arteries to relax and expand to keep blood pressure healthy. But the European Heart Journal paper also found proteins in milk, called caseins, blocked this effect. The lead researcher said the results provide a possible explanation for the lack of beneficial effects of tea on the risk of heart disease in the U.K., a country where milk usually is added. (BBC)
Mexican maize massacre
Outrage and alarm rang out through Mexico when agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow AgroSciences applied to the Mexican government for permission to plant more than 6 million acres of genetically engineered maize there. If the agribusiness applications are approved, it will mark the world’s first commercial-scale planting of GE varieties of a major food crop in its center of origin. Scientists have identified thousands of peasant varieties of maize, making Mexico the global repository of maize genetic diversity. (ETC Group)
Hershey sued for slave labor
Hershey Co. is being sued by an investor group accusing it of overlooking the African child labor allegedly used to produce the cocoa in its candy. The Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System, a public pension fund and Hershey shareholder, filed suit claiming that Hershey’s board knew that its ingredients came from West African suppliers sourcing from farms using illegal child and forced labor and that it was hurting business relationships and breaking human trafficking laws. In August a group of 65 retailers wrote to Hershey’s board voicing concerns, according to the complaint. (Los Angeles Times)
Early antibiotics linked to obesity
The use of antibiotics in young children might lead to a higher risk of obesity, and two new studies, one on mice and one on humans, conclude that changes of the intestinal bacteria caused by antibiotics could be responsible. Taken together, the studies’ results indicate it might be necessary to broaden our concept of the causes of obesity and urge more caution in using antibiotics, say New York University researchers. Both studies focus on the early age because that is when obesity begins, the scientists say. (The Washington Post)
Pediatricians condemn pesticides
Children should have as little exposure to pesticides as possible, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group says household insecticides, pet flea and tick chemicals, and agricultural pesticide residues are all hazards, but diet may be the most influential source. It pointed to an organic food intervention study that cut pesticides out of the diet, which showed “drastic and immediate decrease in urinary excretion of pesticide metabolites.” (Medpage Today)