News bites, January 2014
This article was originally published in January 2014
FDA to ban trans fats?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a first step toward eliminating most trans fats from the food supply, saying it has made a preliminary determination that a major source of trans fats — partially hydrogenated oils — no longer is “Generally Recognized As Safe.” Trans fat can be found in processed foods, including desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, margarine and coffee creamer, and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. (CNN)
Inflammatory foods and depression
Women who eat more foods that trigger inflammation — such as sugar-sweetened or diet soft drinks, refined grains, red meat, and margarine — and fewer foods that restrain inflammation — such as wine, coffee, olive oil, and green leafy and yellow vegetables — have up to a 41 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with depression than those who eat mostly the less inflammatory diet, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health. It’s one of the most comprehensive studies to date to link certain foods to inflammation and depression. (Harvard University)
Argentina’s pesticides and cancer clusters
Insecticide and herbicide use has soared across Argentina as farmers switched to growing genetically engineered soy, and doctors are reporting cancer clusters and soaring rates of birth defects. Weeds in Argentina have developed resistance to glyphosate and, as in the U.S., farmers are using more pesticides and adding more toxic ones, such as 2,4,D. In the Santa Fe region, cancer rates are two times to four times higher than the national average and in Chaco, birth defects have quadrupled. (Mother Jones)
Fish farms and rising sea levels
Yet another problem with fish farming has been documented in a new report, which finds extracting groundwater for fish farms can cause the land to sink and sea levels to rise. The study researched fish farming facilities along China’s Yellow River Delta and found extracting water for the farms is causing sea levels to rise nearly 100 times faster than the global average. The delta is dominated by fish farms and has experienced severe coastal erosion up to 25 centimeters a year. (Modern Farmer)
Fish ingest chemicals from plastic
The majority of the plastic pollution in the ocean, by volume, comes in the form of tiny confetti-sized particles eaten by more than 40 species of fish globally. A new paper in the journal “Nature, Scientific Reports,” finds that persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs, flame retardants and polyaromatic hydrocarbons transfer from plastic in the ocean to the fish. That’s because as plastic floats around in the ocean, or polluted waterways, it acts like a sponge for heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. (Earthfix)
China rejects GE corn shipments
China has rejected five batches of U.S. corn tainted with a genetically engineered strain not yet approved by its agriculture ministry. Traders said the possibility of further rejections could prompt a sharp decline in new Chinese orders for U.S. corn, dragging down global prices that have already dropped around 40 percent this year. (Reuters)
Humans growing more carnivorous
The fast-growing economies of China and India are driving a global increase in meat consumption, cancelling out decreases elsewhere, according to a comprehensive study of global food consumption. The work, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that over 50 years an increase in fat and meat consumption has moved humans further up the food web. (Nature News)
Turnips on the moon?
NASA hopes to begin growing radishes, basil and other plants on the moon in 2015 in a two-pound “greenhouse.” Reportedly the goal is to find out if space crews will be able to grow some of their own greens, a capability that has proved psychologically comforting to research crews isolated in Antarctica and on the International Space Station. Factors that could hinder lunar plant growth include the virtual absence of an atmosphere and high levels of solar and cosmic radiation that bombard the moon’s surface. (Grist)
Saying “No” to GE apples
McDonald’s and Gerber say they do not plan to sell, or use, genetically engineered (GE) apples awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. McDonald’s sells apple slices and is expanding its fruit and vegetable offerings, but it doesn’t want them. Gerber is owned by Nestlé, which spent more than $2 million to fight labeling initiatives in Washington and California and sells many GE foods. (Friends of the Earth)
Certification for meat without drugs?
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture certification program for livestock producers may permit them to market their products with a special “Never Fed Beta Agonists” label. Beta agonists are feed additives used to increase muscle mass and promote weight gain in livestock animals. If successful, the new certification program could open up previously closed or restricted markets in Russia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and possibly others to U.S. meat imports. (Food Safety News)
Rhode Island bans gestation crates
A law in Rhode Island now makes it illegal to confine breeding pigs and veal calves in gestation crates. It also prohibits “tail docking” — partial amputation of a cow’s tail. Rhode Island is the ninth state to ban gestation crates for pigs, the seventh for calves, and the third to ban cattle tail docking. (The Huffington Post)