News bites, July 2015

This article was originally published in July 2015

Country-of-origin unfair?

The World Trade Organization has ruled that labeling the country of origin on beef and pork puts Canadian and Mexican livestock at a disadvantage. Starting in 2013, Country of Origin Labels (COOL) have stated where livestock is born, raised and slaughtered. Congress now will have to repeal, modify or amend COOL.


Big Food losing

Fortune magazine’s special report, “The War on Big Food,” says big, processed-food companies lost $4 billion in market share last year alone, and an equivalent $18 billion in market share since 2009, as shoppers swerved to fresh and organic alternatives.

Artificial colors and flavors, pesticides, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs are Big Food’s problem. Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow says, “Think of them like melting icebergs. Every year they become a little less relevant.”


Bee decline worsened

The die-off of honeybees got worse this past year. An annual survey by a consortium of universities and research laboratories learned about 5,000 beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April. That is well above the 34.2 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and is the second-highest loss recorded since surveys began in 2010.


Baby formula lawsuit

Three consumers have filed a class action lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories, claiming its Similac Advance Organic infant formula contains dozens of ingredients prohibited by organic standards. Of the 49 ingredients, 26 reportedly are not allowed in organic foods because they’re irradiated, synthetic, or produced from hazardous substances, and at least one is produced using genetically engineered (GE) materials. Plaintiffs seek damages of more than $5 million claiming Abbott “deceptively and misleadingly” labeled the product “organic” to charge a premium price.


Generational divide on organics

Organic consumption is greatest among young people, with nearly half of millennials (49 percent) choosing organic for at least half their food/beverage purchases, a drastic comparison to the 43 percent of Gen X, 51 percent of baby boomers, and 58 percent of the swing generation that consume no organic products. Additionally, more than half of millennials indicate they feel better about themselves when they purchase organic products, a factor that declines notably among older generations. (Mintel Research)


Bees addicted to pesticides?

Bees may become addicted to nicotine-like pesticides in the same way humans get hooked on cigarettes, according to a landmark field trial. The study, published in the journal Nature, showed bees have a preference for sugar solutions laced with the pesticides imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, possibly indicating they can become hooked on these neonicotinoid chemicals. (The Guardian)


Pesticide for oyster beds revoked

The Washington Department of Ecology revoked a permit for use of a neurotoxic pesticide to treat oyster beds after backlash from environmentalists, restaurateurs and the public. The permit to use imidacloprid in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor prompted Taylor Shellfish to abandon its plan to use the neonicotinoid pesticide. The pullback means oyster growers will have to find another way to fight burrowing shrimp, which destabilize tideflats, causing oysters to sink and suffocate. (The Seattle Times)


Ireland cracks down on labels

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has published guidelines aimed at ensuring consumers are not misled by marketing terms. “Artisan” means the product is made by skilled craftspeople using a traditional method and local ingredients. “Farmhouse” means the food is made on a farm with local ingredients. “Natural” can be used only if the ingredients are formed by nature and not significantly interfered with. (Irish Examiner)


Chemicals in food packaging

Federal health officials and hundreds of scientists from 38 countries are calling for restrictions on poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, a class of chemicals used in nonstick pans, fast food containers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, baked goods packaging, hamburger clamshells and disposable paper plates. DuPont banned one PFA from nonstick pans after studies found some PFASs increased cancer risks and interfered with hormones, development, and the immune and neurological systems. The replacement chemicals are now at issue. (The New York Times)


Organic violations?

Aerial photographs of 14 of the largest U.S. organic egg and dairy farms showed few animals outside on pasture, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it won’t investigate whether these operations are violating organic rules. The photos, taken by the Cornucopia Institute, show huge livestock facilities that reportedly supply Wal-Mart, Target and Costco. In declining to investigate, USDA said all the farms are in good standing with their inspectors and the photographs weren’t enough to prompt an official inquiry. (The Cornucopia Institute)


Oilfield wastewater used on crops?

Oil companies in California are selling oilfield wastewaster to non-organic farmers, raising concerns about the safety of food from irrigated crops. Lab tests over the past two years reportedly found the wastewater contains toxic compounds, including industrial solvents acetone and methyl chloride, and oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling. (Los Angeles Times)


HFCS and cholesterol

Only two weeks of modest consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) causes cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise, and the more consumed, the greater the increases, according to a new study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers divided 85 people chosen for their healthy lipid profiles into four groups: One consumed drinks sweetened with 25 percent HFCS; the second with a 17.5 percent concentration; the third 10 percent; and the last consumed drinks sweetened only with aspartame. The results showed the more corn syrup, the worse the lipid profile. (The New York Times)


Red Sox organic garden

Fenway Park in Boston now hosts the largest organic rooftop garden in Major League Baseball, dubbed “Fenway Farms,” and will grow vegetables and herbs to be used in food sold at the park. The 5,000-square-foot roof space will generate an estimated 4,000 pounds of produce annually, reduce energy costs by insulating the building below, and be a “teaching tool” for children about healthy eating and the local environment. Other Major League teams that boast organic gardens at their stadiums include the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants. (Modern Farmer)


Organic more profitable

A Washington State University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers than conventional agriculture. It shows that despite lower yields, the profit margins for organic were significantly greater, with actual premiums paid to organic farmers ranging from 29 to 32 percent above conventional prices. (Washington State University)

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