News bites, September 2014
This article was originally published in September 2014
PCC joined 19 other organic farm and consumer groups in filing a legal petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to protect the authority and permanence of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The petitioners object to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) reclassification of the NOSB as a purely advisory and discretionary committee. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 gave the NOSB unique and exceptional powers compared to other federal advisory boards. (The Cornucopia Institute)
Organic in restaurants?
Restaurateurs may be hesitant to make organic claims if they’re not certified as a retailer. Research shows restaurants are reducing organic claims on menus, while claims about where a food is from, nutritional information, and terms such as “original recipe,” “signature” and “farmstead” are increasing. Mintel Research says the term “organic” still is the top ethical food claim on restaurant menus, but its use dropped 28 percent between 2010 and 2013. (Capital Press)
Air pollution hurts bees
Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths travel long distances and use their sense of smell to find flowers, but the Riffell Lab at the University of Washington discovered that pollutants from car exhaust and even scents from neighboring plants are disrupting that process and changing pollinator behavior. Pollinators can’t smell the flowers adequately and, under certain conditions, don’t even know the flowers are there. The levels of pollution in Seattle neighborhoods are high enough to affect pollinators significantly. (University of Washington)
Sugar industry obscures science
A report from the Center for Science and Democracy has found that the sugar industry tries to bury research pointing to sugar’s harmful effects on health. The Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association have dismissed the links between overconsumption of sugar and diet-related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Companies with a stake in the sugar market typically enlist their own scientists and use their data to lobby government for weaker nutrition standards, from school meals to nutrition labels. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
High-mercury fish for schools?
Lawmakers in New England are hoping to expand the market for so-called “trash fish” by pushing USDA to buy surplus supplies of spiny dogfish to serve in the National School Lunch Program. Environmental pressures and overfishing the North Atlantic have shrunk populations of cod, leaving others such as the spiny dogfish. The dogfish is high on the marine food chain and studies show average mercury concentrations are well above the safety threshold for fish consumption. (Discover Magazine)
GE salmon risks
Food & Water Watch is calling on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to force the producer of genetically engineered (GE) salmon to divulge its risks to investors as AquaBounty attempts to join NASDAQ. In a complaint filed with the SEC, Food & Water Watch says Aqua- Bounty’s SEC filing misrepresents market barriers, regulatory hurdles and financial prospects. The GE salmon is AquaBounty’s sole product. (Food & Water Watch)
Dark chocolate for blood flow
A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association provides evidence of another possible benefit of chocolate: improving vascular health by increasing blood flow. Researchers studied patients with peripheral artery disease and gave them either dark chocolate with 85 percent cocoa, or milk chocolate with less than 30 percent cocoa. After eating the dark chocolate, participants had improved blood flow and walked 11 percent farther on a treadmill. (NPR)
El Salvador pressured to buy GE seeds
As a precondition to authorizing $277 million in aid, the United States reportedly is pressuring El Salvador to buy genetically engineered (GE) seeds from Monsanto instead of traditional seeds from local farmers. According to Sustainable Pulse, the aid package was first delayed in 2013, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation would not deliver funds without “specific” reforms, including purchase of GE seeds. The president of El Salvadore’s Center for Appropriate Technologies reportedly said he wants the U.S. Ambassador to stop pressuring his government to buy Monsanto’s GE seeds because it would hurt the local economy and benefit only U.S. companies. (rt.com)
Cloned horses to race?
A federal court in Texas has ruled that cloned quarter horses must be allowed to register with the American Quarter Horse Association, potentially clearing the way for cloned horses to compete in races. Two cloned horse owners had sued, arguing the association held an illegal monopoly in quarter horse racing, the third most popular form of equine racing after thoroughbred and standard-bred racing. Quarter horse racing generated more than $300 million in wagering at U.S. racetracks in 2012. (NBC News)
EPA to block Alaskan mine
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing restrictions that essentially would block development of a gold-and-copper mine near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. An EPA spokesman said the science is clear that the mining “would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems.” EPA said if the proposed restrictions were finalized, mining still would be possible, but only if the environmental impacts were smaller than those expected. (Earthfix)