News bites, April 2015

This article was originally published in April 2015

Avoiding dietary pesticides

New research published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” adds to the growing body of evidence that choosing organic has health benefits. A team led by scientists at the University of Washington reviewed data collected from more than 4,400 participants and found that people who reported eating organic produce most often had significantly lower amounts of organophosphate pesticides in their urine compared with those who said they almost never eat organic produce. Organophosphates are linked to several cancers, neurodevelopment issues including autism, and endocrine disruption. (Takepart.com)


One food safety agency?

In its 2016 budget, the Obama administration proposed combining the food safety responsibilities of the Agriculture Department (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into one agency, with the possibility of absorbing more agencies holding related responsibilities. The goal for the new food agency would be to provide more streamlined, consistent inspections of the food supply. In order for his proposal to go into effect, Obama must gain support from Congress. (USA Today)


Child slavery liability

A federal court has ruled that Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill cannot escape liability for child slavery in the cocoa industry. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the companies can be held accountable for aiding and abetting child slavery in Côte d’Ivoire and has allowed a lawsuit to proceed. The court says companies can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to seek remedies in U.S. courts for human rights violations. (Courthouse News Service/ABAjournal.com)


Supplement integrity

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reportedly has refused to release data from the study he used to pressure four major retailers to remove herbal supplements from their shelves. Schneiderman says a third-party lab used DNA barcoding to identify botanical ingredients, alleging 19 of the 24 products tested contained DNA that either was unrecognizable or from a plant other than what was claimed on the label. The Natural Products Association says the Attorney General fails to mention that botanical extracts are unlikely to have intact DNA, making the test unfit for that purpose. (ag.ny.gov/npainfo.org)


DelBene on Agriculture Subcommittee

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene has been named the ranking member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research. She represents Washington’s first Congressional District, which is home for several biotechnology firms and more than 1,000 farms. It’s also the nation’s number one producer of red raspberries. (Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network)


Arson at yogurt facility

The founder of Three Happy Cows yogurt has been fined $1.5 million and sentenced to five years in prison after admitting to setting fire intentionally to the company factory in Dallas. Edgar Diaz reportedly did so in a passionate fit, overwrought that the business he started was going in the wrong direction under new ownership by Tyson Foods. Tyson bought Three Happy Cows in 2013 and was developing new recipes and packaging. (Food Navigator-USA.com)


No consensus on GE safety

A statement signed by more than 300 molecular biologists, biotechnologists and legal experts clarifying that there’s “no consensus” on the safety of genetically engineered (GE) crops or foods has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It now stands as a citable publication. The statement first was published in late 2013 after the biotech industry erroneously claimed “scientific consensus” that GE foods and crops are safe for human and animal health, and the environment. The 300 scientists call these claims “misleading” since “the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.” (Environmental Sciences Europe)


Trees fight warming best

After a year of research, Oxford University scientists have determined the best way to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse global warming is trees, plain and simple. They considered other high-tech methods, including capturing emissions from factories and power stations, extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, and adding lime to oceans to increase absorption of CO2. None were more promising than planting trees, or baking waste wood to form a type of charcoal that can be added to soil. Afforestation and biochar are low-cost, have fewer uncertainties and offer other benefits to the environment. (Bloomberg.com)


Illegal Chinese honey

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have seized close to 450,000 pounds of illegal Chinese honey worth more than $2 million over the last few months. Some Chinese companies tried to get their sub-par products to the U.S. market while avoiding tariffs. The reputation of Chinese honey has been marred since FDA issued a 2002 warning that some contained a broad-spectrum antibiotic not approved for use. (Modern Farmer)


Beef packers block drug

The nation’s largest beef-packers are blocking revival of a controversial growth-promoting drug in the $4 billion beef industry. The FDA says Merck’s drug, Zilmax, is legal to use but Cargill, JBS, National Beef Packing, and Tyson aren’t buying, because some countries won’t accept beef raised on Zilmax. Zilmax was pulled off the market in 2013 after photographs and videos showed cattle on it became unable to move and, in some cases, were missing hooves. (NPR’s The Salt)

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