News bites, April 2013

This article was originally published in April 2013

Food company ethics?

A new Oxfam report rating 10 of the world’s most powerful food and beverage companies on their ethics found they scored poorly on measures of how they treat workers and the environment. Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestle, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Associated British Foods, PepsiCo, Unilever, Danone and Mondelez International (previously known as Kraft) were rated in the “Behind the Brands” report. The highest grade was a 38 out of 70. (Grist)

Consumers want sustainable seafood

A nationwide NPR poll finds 80 percent of Americans who eat fish regularly say it’s “important” or “very important” the seafood they buy is caught using sustainable methods, but only 14 percent say they’re very confident in labels that call seafood “sustainable.” About a quarter of respondents said they would pay up to 10 percent more, while 22 percent said they would fork over between 10 and 20 percent extra for products they believed were sustainably caught. (NPR)

More GMO labeling bills

In the 2013 state legislative season, as many as 20 states have floated legislative bills that would require labeling genetically engineered foods. These include Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. (various sources)

Heart-healthy diet

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals. The findings follow the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. Until now, evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of heart disease was weak, based mostly on studies showing patterns that could be attributed to factors other than diet. (The New York Times)

LA opposes GE salmon

The Los Angeles city council has passed a resolution opposing genetically engineered (GE) salmon, citing concerns that the fish poses risks to human health and the environment. The city council previously passed a resolution supporting Prop 37, which would have required labels on GE foods in California but failed to pass in the November 2012 election by a vote of 51.4 to 48.6 percent. (Food & Water Watch)

Organic tomatoes more nutritious

Another study has found that tomatoes grown on organic farms have significantly higher levels of vitamin C, sugar and lycopene, a compound linked to a decreased risk of stroke. Research shows that not relying on synthetic chemicals tends to make plants produce more stress compounds — such as vitamin C and lycopene — to defend themselves, similar to the way humans make antibodies to fight off disease. (NPR)

Hemp farming to return?

American farmers soon may see the return of hemp as a feasible crop alternative. That’s if Congress passes a bill that would strike down a 1957 decision by the Justice Department that lumped industrial hemp with marijuana as a drug. Hemp is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber with remains of hemp cloth dating back nearly 6,000 years.

In recent years, new processing technologies have produced “cottonized” hemp, hemp concrete, high-tech hemp composites, and other novel hemp applications. (Western Farm Press)

Half of U.S. farms have superweeds

Nearly half (49 percent) of all U.S. farmers surveyed said they had weeds resistant to the pesticide Roundup (glyphosate) on their farm in 2012, up from 34 percent of farmers in 2011. A new report from the agribusiness research consultancy, Stratus, says resistance is worst in the South but Midwest states are catching up. The problem is getting more complicated as more and more farms have at least two resistant species on their farm. (Mother Jones)

Sugar limit in soda?

Health advocates and public health officials are asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the amount of caloric sweeteners in sodas and other beverages. They say scientific consensus is that the level of added sugars is unsafe and that FDA pledged twice in the 1980s to reassess the safety of sweeteners if consumption increased, or if new research indicated a public health hazard. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and others say both conditions have been met and FDA should set a safe limit. (The New York Times)

No more Food Alliance

The certifying body, Food Alliance, is ending operations. The Portland-based outfit was losing money and was unable to continue. Critics say the certifier’s business model was losing relevance as retailers began requiring suppliers to obtain retail-driven audits. (Capital Press)

More “ag-gag” bills

Indiana has joined Wyoming in moving “ag-gag” closer to law. The Indiana Senate has passed a bill making it unlawful to photograph or make a video recording or motion picture of animal agriculture operations without the written consent of the owner. Ag-gag bills have been introduced in at least three other states. (Food Safety News)

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, April 2013

Food and water waste, Chocolate standards, Fermented foods, and more

New PCC standard: chocolate must be fair labor

From now on, PCC will sell chocolate candy confections and cocoa powders only from vendors that provide assurance that child slave labor is prohibited and follow International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Conventions.

Question for urban farmers: To bee?

If you notice more bees on your flowering plants this spring, it might be because a neighbor has taken up the latest craze in urban farming: beekeeping. It's a growing pastime and some even say the humming honeybee hive will replace the clucking from the coop as the gardener's favorite pet.