News bites, February 2015

This article was originally published in February 2015

Pollinators prefer organic

A recent study finds that pollination of crops on organic farms increased when habitat diversity was increased, but this same trend was not seen on conventionally farmed land. Researchers compared pod development in beans on conventional farms and organic farms and found organic farms had more pods per plant and more beans in each pod than conventional fields, suggesting more successful pollination occurred in organic fields. The authors hypothesize the increased pollination may be because organic farming is more pollinator-friendly since it doesn’t use synthetic herbicides or fertilizers. (The Organic Center)

Home cooking for health

People who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to research from Johns Hopkins’ School of Public Health. Researchers analyzed a national survey of more than 9,000 participants and found that when people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all. Those who frequently cooked at home also consumed fewer calories when they ate out. (Johns Hopkins University)

Farmed salmon less healthful

Farmed salmon today may contain as little as half the omega-3s it did a decade ago because it’s fed less omega-3 rich fish, such as anchovies or sardines. Dwindling numbers of viable anchovy and sardine fisheries have caused the price of fishmeal to more than double in recent years, leading salmon farmers to turn to soy, algae, barley protein, insects, trimmings from seafood processing, and even mixed nut meal to feed salmon. (Civil Eats)

BPA linked to blood pressure rise

A new study shows that bisphenol-A (BPA), a common chemical in plastic bottles, plastic packaging and the linings of food and beverage cans, can seep into beverages and raise blood pressure within a few hours. The study found that when people drank soy milk from a can, the levels of BPA in their urine rose dramatically within two hours — and so did their blood pressure. BPA has been associated with heart disease, cancer and other health problems, but this study is among the first to show a single exposure to the chemical can have a direct and fairly immediate impact on cardiovascular health. (The New York Times)

EU curbs plastic bags

The European Union has declared a goal of cutting throwaway plastic bag use by 80 percent over the next decade. The EU’s original proposal to ban plastic bags was downgraded to appease the U.K., which remains displeased with binding elements of the agreement. EU bag use varies widely — from more than 400 a year by some Eastern Europeans, to just four a year for people in Denmark and Finland. (Newsweek/Earth Policy Institute) 

Antibiotic-free lunches? 

The Los Angeles Board of Education and five other major school districts across the country have adopted a requirement that chicken for school meals must be raised without antibiotics or hormones. LA joined school districts from New York, Chicago and Florida to leverage their collective purchasing power for lower prices and more healthful fare. The so-called Urban School Food Alliance already has replaced polystyrene and plastic with biodegradable trays and flatware. (Los Angeles Times)

Plastic in oceans

5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small, weighing 269,000 tons, can be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches, according to a study in the journal PLOS One. The largest source of plastic by weight reportedly comes from discarded fishing nets and buoys. Researchers were surprised to find plastics in the water that were the size of grains of sand —100 times smaller than models predicted — suggesting the smaller bits may be swept deeper into the sea and consumed by marine organisms. (The New York Times)

GE banana human trials

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) reportedly submitted an open letter to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Iowa State University, expressing fierce opposition to the human feeding trials taking place with young female students and unapproved, experimental genetically engineered (GE) bananas. AFSA writes, “Africa and Africans should not be used as justification for promoting the interests of companies and their cohorts. We do not need GM crops in this changing climate. What we need is crop diversity …” The open letter was supported by 120+ organizations worldwide. (Alliance for Food Sovereignty)

Phthalates: lower IQs

Increased exposure to phthalates before birth correlates with lower IQ scores for children, according to a team of Columbia University and Centers for Disease Control researchers. Phthalates are softeners used to impart flexibility to plastic bags, cling wrap, toys and personal care products. The research found that kids exposed to the highest levels of phthalates in the womb had an IQ score more than six points lower, on average, than children exposed at the lowest levels. (Mother Jones/PLOS One)

General Mills removes “natural”

General Mills has agreed to remove the “100% natural” claim on products made with corn syrup, maltodextrin or more than 0.9 percent of GE ingredients. The settlement follows four lawsuits from 2012 filed by consumers and advocacy groups, charging General Mills has been misleading consumers by labeling products containing GE ingredients as “natural.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about American’s rising berry consumption, innovative coffee farmers, Europe’s commitment to seafood traceability, and more.

Letters to the editor, February 2015

PCC serves specialty diets, Holistic pet care, High-oleic oils, and more

Bristol Bay drilling ban

President Obama has banned indefinitely oil and gas exploration of Alaska’s Bristol Bay to protect some of the nation’s most productive commercial fisheries.