News bites, August 2014

This article was originally published in August 2014

Organic ag better for birds

A new article published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment shows that organic farming could be beneficial for songbirds. One of the reasons linked to bird declines is the lack of food for young songbirds unable to leave their nests, or “nestling food.” Researchers found that because organic farming does not use synthetic pesticides and has longer, more diverse crop rotations, organic farms result in higher availability of nestling food than conventional farms. (The Organic Center)

Supreme Court rules on false labeling

The Supreme Court has ruled that Pom Wonderful, maker of 100 percent pomegranate juice, can continue to sue Coca-Cola Co., maker of a “Pomegranate Blueberry” beverage that’s actually 99.4 percent apple and grape, containing only 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice. The court accused the company of “cheating” consumers and said the label was “misleading” and “deceptive.” (

Slavery in shrimp industry

Large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of shrimp sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco. A six-month investigation by the Guardian found that the world’s largest prawn farmer, Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal to feed to its farmed prawns from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves. (The Guardian)

Marijuana pesticides?

Legalization of marijuana may bring more transparency to cannabis production. Washington state reportedly plans eventually to test finished product for adulterants, including pesticide residues. The Environmental Protection Agency has not approved or labeled any pesticides for use in marijuana, so to avoid losing a crop due to off-label uses of prohibited pesticides, growers will have to use natural biological pest controls. (Capital Press)

Spokane bans bee-killing pesticides

In June the Spokane City Council approved an ordinance that bans the purchase and use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides by the City of Spokane. Science points to pesticides as a key factor is massive bee die-offs. Spokane is now the second city in the nation, after Eugene, Oregon, to pass a policy to protect pollinators. (Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network)

Chardonnay seeds for weight loss?

The seeds of Chardonnay grapes, discarded as a waste product in the winemaking process, could be packing a compound that aids weight loss. Researchers recently isolated the seeds and processed them into a flour that they then fed to hamsters. The hamsters fed chardonnay flour displayed significantly lower cholesterol levels, decreased abdominal fat and reduced weight gain compared to those on red grape seed diets even though all the hamsters were on high-fat diets. (Modern Farmer)

Pink Slime lawsuit

South Dakota’s Supreme Court has refused to throw out a defamation lawsuit involving media coverage of the meat product that critics call “pink slime.” Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News in 2012, saying the network’s coverage caused three plants to close and led to 700 layoffs by implying the product was unsafe. ABC News anchor Diana Sawyer and two network correspondents are likely to be deposed in the $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit. (Associated Press)

GE banana

A genetically engineered, vitamin-enhanced banana developed by scientists is to be tested on humans. The trials will take place in the United States over a six-week period. Researchers aim to start growing the fruit in Uganda by 2020. (

Broccoli protects against air pollution?

Compounds in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale enable cells to get rid of certain air pollutants that accumulate in our bodies, according to a new study published online in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. A trial of about 300 Chinese adults found that consuming a beverage made with broccoli sprouts every day for three months led to high rates of excretion of two harmful chemicals: benzene, common in car gasoline, and acrolein, common in cigarette smoke. The researchers say the finding lays the groundwork for more research about whether superfoods can prevent cancer and other diseases. (

Fortified foods and kids

Fortifying foods may sound like a good thing, but when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels actually could cause short- or long-term health problems. A recent study from Environmental Working Group found that cereals and snack bars often contain added vitamin A, zinc and niacin (vitamin B3) in amounts much greater than young children need — and sometimes in amounts that the Institute of Medicine considers unsafe for children. (Environmental Working Group)

Satellites to end pirate fishing?

Satellites may help end illegal, fishing pirates on the high seas. Pew Charitable Trusts and Satellite Application Catapult say satellites could identify any vessel by name history, ID number and the details of its fishing license to help authorities spot illegal fishing even in remote areas. About one in five fish sold is caught illegally, for a grand theft of $23.5 billion. (Grist)

Also in this issue

Organic food superior

A major study published in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition claims conclusive evidence that organic crops — and foods — are nutritionally superior to conventional crops and foods.

Alaska seafood safe from radiation

The Alaskan government received results from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on radiation testing of Alaska seafood and the results confirm seafood in the North Pacific and Alaska waters poses no radiation-related health concerns.

Letters to the editor, August 2014

Global warming and agriculture, Healthy sunscreen, Sugar in recipes, and more