News bites, August 2013

This article was originally published in August 2013

More pesticide residues

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a petition from the Monsanto Company and raised the limit of pesticide residues allowed on some conventional food crops, including flax and sunflower seeds, carrots and sweet potatoes.

The limit for residues of Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup (glyphosate), on carrots was raised from 0.2 parts per million (ppm) to 5.0 ppm, a 25-fold increase. For tubers, such as sweet potatoes, the limit climbed from 0.2 to 3.0 ppm — 15 times higher. Residues on oil seeds, such as sunflower and safflower, may be 40 ppm. (The international standard for residues on sunflower seeds is nearly six times lower, at 7 ppm.)

The new limits were declared in a Federal Register notice, effective last May 1.

EPA raised the limit for residues of glyphosate on sugar beet roots a few years ago, also upon petition from Monsanto. EPA raised the limit from 0.2 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm, a 5,000 percent (50-fold) increase. Half the U.S. sugar supply is from genetically engineered sugar beets.

Several studies have linked glyphosate to a number of diseases including gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, depression, autism, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. One study in June found glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects on human hormone-dependent breast cancer.”

U.S. companies label GE

Did you know Hershey’s and the Cheerios and Betty Crocker brands from General Mills already are labeling their “Made in the USA” foods as genetically engineered? See the labels for yourself in a new section of our website on genetically engineered foods.

Browse the list of processed food ingredients likely to trigger labeling under Washigton’s initiative, I-522. Read the Food and Drug Administration letters that defer to industry to decide what’s safe. Understand why dozens of scientists say independent research is virtually impossible. See what crops are undergoing experimental genetic engineering in Washington state. Visit

Sea-Tac Airport bee hives

About half a million bees are flying near Seattle Tacoma-International Airport’s runways, part of a program aimed at supporting bee populations on undeveloped Port of Seattle land. The bees, which inhabit six hives brought to three sites, are a joint venture between Common Acre, a nonprofit supporting agriculture, and the Port of Seattle. Sea-Tac will be the second U.S. airport with a resident bee population, following Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. (Puget Sound Business Journal)

Honeybee sperm bank

Washington State University scientists are creating the first sperm bank for honeybees as a way to preserve and improve the stock of bees and to prevent subspecies from extinction. The researchers are using liquid nitrogen to preserve semen extracted from the bees. They’ll use the semen to breed honeybees selectively to make them more resistant to threats such as mites and disease. (The Seattle Times)

Millions of bees die

Beekeepers in Ontario, Canada, found millions of their bees dead this summer just after corn was planted. One farmer lost 600 hives, a total of 37 million bees. Researchers are pointing to a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, used on corn and some other crops. (

Pesticide kills Oregon bees

In June an estimated 25,000 bumblebees were found dead in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon — the largest known incident of bumblebee deaths in the United States, according to the Xerces Society. Officials from the Oregon Department of Agriculture confirmed the active ingredient in the insecticide Safari is responsible for the bee and insect deaths. Safari is part of the neonicotinoid pesticide family and when sprayed on a plant, the leaves, flowers and nectar become toxic to almost all insects. (

Carbs trigger cravings?

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds sugary foods and drinks and other processed carbohydrates appear to stimulate parts of the brain involved in hunger, craving and reward, which might drive some people to overeat. Researchers studied 12 obese men and found that four hours after consuming milkshakes sweetened with corn syrup, the men reported more hunger, and brain scans showed greater activation in parts of the brain that regulate cravings, reward and addictive behaviors than when they drank milkshakes with a low-glycemic sweetener. (The New York Times)

USDA approves GE meat label

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the Non-GMO Project verified label for meat and liquid egg products. It’s the first time USDA, which regulates meat and poultry processing, has approved a non-GE label claim. The verification process includes Best Practices and testing to avoid genetically engineered corn, soy and alfalfa. (USDA)

NW wine’s bright future

The Northwest is well-positioned to make wine into the future despite global climate change, according to a study analyzing 24 prime wine growing regions throughout the world. Scientist Antonio Busalacchi says increased temperatures, less rainfall and dramatic storms would affect vineyards. But, he says, the Northwest has advantages such as high altitudes over Western Europe and California. (KUOW)

Disease ravaging African staple

Scientists say a disease is destroying entire crops of cassava, the potato-like root that helps feed 500 million Africans, and is spreading throughout the continent.Africa reportedly is losing 50 million tons a year of cassava to the cassava brown streak disease. (The New York Times)

U.S. takes on food waste

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency have announced the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, aimed at reducing the country’s food waste. Its goals include increasing the sale of aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables, improving education about misleading expiration dates, pursuing new technologies to convert waste into usable products, and reducing waste in schools by allowing kids to choose just how much they want. Currently 40 percent of all food in the United States is wasted. (National Resources Defense Council)

Potato cartel?

A group of more than 1,000 grocery retailers has filed a lawsuit against the United Potato Growers of America (UPGA), alleging the growers illegally conspired to inflate potato prices. In their lawsuit, the grocers accuse the growers of enforcing their pricing schemes through a variety of strong-arm, high-tech means, including GPS systems and satellite imagery of farmland to make sure farmers aren’t planting more spuds than they’re supposed to. UPGA denies the claim and says it was helping its members avoid a cycle of boom and bust. (NPR)

Abandoning backyard chickens

The growing trend of raising backyard chickens in urban settings is backfiring, critics say, as disillusioned city dwellers dump unwanted birds on animal shelters and sanctuaries. Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, reportedly are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters as owners discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive. (NBC News)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Cherry farmers were hit hard this year by foul weather, but the pear harvest is forecast to be bigger than last year. Also learn why Northwest onion farmers are worried, and news about Northwest salmon and albacore tuna.

PCC Board of Trustees report, August 2013

June board meeting report, Scenes from CCMA, Board recruiting ongoing

Fracking and food

The extraction of natural gas across America's farmland is having devastating impacts on livestock and organic farmers, and the chemicals used may be getting into the food supply.