News bites, September 2013

This article was originally published in September 2013

Bumblebee species returns

A North American bumblebee species that all but vanished from about half of its natural range has re-emerged in Washington state, delighting scientists who are optimistic the insect might eventually make a recovery in the Pacific Northwest. Entomologists have photographed several specimens of the long-absent western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) buzzing among flower blossoms in a suburban park north of Seattle.

Bombus occidentalis is one of four wild North American bumblebee species whose populations began to plummet two decades ago. (Reuters)

Monsanto drops GE plans in Europe

Monsanto said in July it largely will drop its bid to grow some of its genetically engineered crops in Europe. The world’s largest seed-maker has nine pending applications with the European Commission, but said it plans to withdraw eight of those applications due to “political obstructionism.” (Los Angeles Times)

Breakfast for healthy heart?

A 16-year study of 27,000 men, published in the journal Circulation, finds men who routinely skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease compared to men who ate breakfast. The finding was significant even after controlling for differences in diet, smoking and exercise patterns. The researchers say it could be because not eating breakfast puts strain on the body, which over the long term can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. (NPR)

FDA proposes arsenic limit

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a 10 parts-per-billion threshold for levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice. This is the same level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arsenic in drinking water. Right now, there is no FDA standard for apple juice or other foods that contain arsenic, including pear juice, grape juice and brown rice products.

More antibiotic resistance

Yet another study affirms that keeping animals in confinement and feeding them antibiotics encourases the development of antibiotic-resistant strains that may not readily be treated by antibiotics. Published in the journal PLoS One, the study found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in far greater numbers in workers on industrial farms than those on farms where animals were raised on pasture, without antibiotics. (The New York Times)

Suing over Washington water quality

Several environmental groups, including Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Earthjustice, say they will sue EPA to get it to raise the fish consumption rate in Washington. The rate helps determine how clean state waterways need to be to protect the health of people who eat fish caught there. Current water quality standards assume people eat much less fish than they really do. (Earthfix)

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. (

Salmon return to Yakima River Basin

Yakama Nation biologists released thousands of sockeye salmon into Cle Elum Lake in Central Washington over the past four summers to restore fish runs that were decimated with the damming of area rivers and streams. Now, the offspring of those fish are returning to their birthplace to spawn, and tribal members are celebrating what they hope is the resurrection of the species to its native habitat. Historically, at least 200,000 sockeye returned to the Yakima River Basin until the construction of dams eliminated them. (The Bellingham Herald)

Syngenta bribes

Biotech corporation Syngenta reportedly paid millions of dollars in a covert effort to protect its herbicide atrazine and discredit critics. Company memos reveal it hired private detectives to investigate a judge hearing a case against atrazine and a prominent University of California Berkeley scientist who has been running experiments for decades suggesting atrazine causes sexual deformities in frogs.

In return for supportive blog posts and editorials, Syngenta funneled money to the American Council on Science and Health, the Hudson Institute and Steven Milloy, publisher of and president of Citizens for the Integrity of Science. (Grist)

Report: Pacific full of trash

It’s well-known that a giant gyre of plastic is floating on the Pacific. New research shows the trash also accumulates in the deep sea. Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute reviewed 18,000 hours of footage from deep-sea remotely operated vehicles, collected over a period of 22 years, and found human-made garbage everywhere, including as deep as 13,000 feet. Plastic was the most common material found and half the garbage was plastic bags. (Truthout)

Pepsi drops “natural” claim

PepsiCo says it no longer will label its Naked juices “all natural,” after a lawsuit complained that the drinks contained ingredients that did not fit that bill. Pepsi also agreed to pay $9 million to settle the lawsuit. Pepsi says it uses “an added boost of vitamins” in some of the drinks and the lawsuit notes the vitamins are actually synthetic ingredients. (USA Today)

Also in this issue

What's wrong with wheat?

Gluten-free sales are increasing steadily each year at PCC, with more shoppers than ever avoiding wheat and/or gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Veterans return to farming

When Seattle native Chris Brown, a U.S. Marine combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, returned from multiple tours of service, it was vegetable gardening that healed some of the tender wounds he brought home with him.

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Northwest blueberry supply outstrips demand, and Wash. apple farmers may have a hard time finding export markets for millions of boxes of apples. Also: the farm worker shortage continues on Wash. farms, and strong demand from overseas has bumped the value of Northwest pink shrimp.