News bites, April 2014

This article was originally published in April 2014

Fluoride classed as neurotoxin

Medical authorities have reclassified fluoride as a developmental neurotoxin in the current issue of Lancet Neurology. A meta-analysis of 27 cross-sectional studies, mainly from China, suggests an average IQ decrement of about seven points in children drinking fluoridated water. Most of the studies involved fluoride at levels approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — less than 4 milligrams per liter.

The reclassification means fluoride joins lead, arsenic, methylmercury, toluene, tetrachloroethylene and other chemicals known to cause brain damage. (PRNewswire-USNewswire)

Coffee for hydration?

Despite its reputation for causing dehydration, coffee can provide similar hydrating effects to water, according to a new U.K. study. Researchers studied the fluid levels of 50 men who had a habit of consuming about three to six cups of coffee each day. Apparently, drinking coffee habitually can lead people to develop a tolerance to the potential diuretic effects of coffee. (NPR)

Argentina stops Monsanto

seed plant for Monsanto. Monsanto’s plans for a $192 million corn-seed production plant in the Cordoba province hit a roadblock after local authorities rejected Monsanto’s environmental impact assessment. (

Meat plant inspector shortage?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reportedly is suffering from a shortage of inspectors at some of the nation’s meat and poultry plants, raising the possibility that contaminated products could reach consumers. The warning from an inspectors’ union official came shortly after USDA recalled nearly 9 million pounds of beef processed at the Rancho Feeding Corporation in Petaluma, Calif. The meat had been sent to 1,000 retailers in several states, including Oregon and Washington. (The New York Times)

Fracking increases birth defects?

A new study shows hydraulic “fracking” gas-extraction sites may increase the risk of birth defects as much as 30 percent. The Colorado School of Public Health found congenital heart defects were 30 percent more common in babies born to mothers with the most fracking wells within 10 miles of their homes. Many pollutants that can increase birth defects are emitted into the air during natural gas extraction. (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Weed killers cause depression?

Farmers who used weed killers were more than twice as likely to be treated for depression as farmers who didn’t, according to a study from France. The lead author from the Harvard School of Public Health says it “is not clear” whether the weed killers are causing depression, but results suggest we should not ignore herbicides because we think they only target plants. (Reuters Health)

Climate hubs for farmers

As part of its climate strategy, the Obama administration has announced that seven new hubs will provide information about ways farmers can prepare for potential threats to their crops and livestock. Virtually all parts of the country are experiencing increasing severe weather events and pest invasions, which scientists have tied to the effects of climate change. The hubs, including one in Corvallis, Ore., will coordinate resources through federal and state governments, universities and non-governmental agencies. (Grist)

Non-GMO raises stock value

Chipotle’s stock soared on Wall Street when it announced it was dumping genetically engineered ingredients from its food in 2014. The stock was up almost 72 percent year to date on the announcement last October. (

Gut bacteria and the mind

There’s growing evidence the bacteria in our digestive systems may help mold brain structure as we’re growing up and possibly influence our moods, behavior and feelings when we’re adults. A physician at UCLA has found connections between brain regions differ depending on what species of bacteria dominate a person’s gut. It suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired. (NPR)

Seafood toxin levels?

A study in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests officials may need to reconsider what levels of the toxin, domoic acid, are safe for human consumption. Domoic acid accumulates in seafood and is known to cause brain damage. The study found domoic acid also causes kidney damage in mice at levels considered safe for consumption. (American Society of Nephrology)

Banning microbeads?

Lawmakers in California and New York have introduced bills to ban personal care products and cosmetics with microbeads, the microscopic balls of hard plastic that flow down drains and pass through wastewater treatment plants, ending up in rivers, lakes and oceans, where they enter the food chain. Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have made recent commitments to start phasing out microbeads from their products. (Grist)

Bee deaths stem from virus?

The mass die-offs of honeybees known as Colony Collapse Disorder may be linked to a rapidly mutating virus that jumped from tobacco plants to soy plants to bees. A new study reported by the academic journal mBio found that honeybee deaths correlated with increasing infections by a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus, which is found in pollen. It’s the first known instance where a virus jumped from pollen to bees. (The New York Times)

Also in this issue

Questioning canola?

Canola oil continues to be one of the most controversial cooking oils. Some people claim canola is a heart-healthy cooking oil, while others claim canola is toxic and unfit for human consumption. Who's right?

PCC food bank program award

The PCC Food Bank Program has won the Food Marketing Institute's (FMI) 2013 Community Outreach Award in the category for programs addressing food insecurity.

Eating to beat genetics

The emerging field of epigenetics tells us our genes are influenced by diet and environment.