News bites, August 2015

This article was originally published in August 2015

More could eat locally

New farmland-mapping research shows that up to 90 percent of Americans could be fed entirely by food grown or raised within 100 miles of their homes. Researchers at the University of California, Merced, looked at the farms within a local radius of American cities, then estimated how many calories those farms could produce.

Researchers found most areas in the United States could supply 80 to 100 percent of their populations with food grown or raised within 50 miles.

Seattle, they say, could source 100 percent of its food from within a 100-mile radius.

Sustainable vineyards help butterflies

Washington wine grape vineyards experimenting with “sustainable” pest management where pesticides are absent or reduced are seeing an unexpected benefit: an increase in butterflies.

Over the years, the numbers of about 50 species of butterflies in Eastern Washington have declined with loss of habitat. But in a recent Washington State University (WSU) study, researchers found vineyards that create nearby natural habitats have three times the number of butterfly species and four times more butterflies than conventional vineyards.

WSU researchers recorded 29 species in “habitat-enhanced” vineyards, compared to nine in conventional vineyards. They counted 20 butterflies on average in habitat-enhanced vineyards, compared to five in conventional vineyards.

Synthetic flavorings petition

A petition signed by several prominent consumer groups calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban eight synthetic flavorings that currently may be used in baked goods, candy and ice cream. Petition sponsors including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and National Resources Defense Council say the substances have been known to cause cancer in lab animals and warrant a “zero tolerance” policy. The eight substances, which currently have GRAS status, are: Benzophenone, Ethyl acrylate, Eugenyl methyl ether, Myrcene, Pulegone, Pyridine, Styrene and Trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal. (Food Safety News)

“Organic” baby formula fraud?

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 $5M+ claiming Abbott “deceptively and misleadingly” labeled the product “organic” to charge a “premium price.” (

Overfishing worsens sardine collapse

Sardine populations rise and fall naturally, cycling as ocean temperatures shift, but overfishing makes the down times worse, according to a paper by University of Washington scientist, Tim Essington. He shows that overfishing worsens the magnitude and frequency of cyclical declines in sardines and other forage fish, such as anchovies. The current Pacific sardine collapse is rippling through the marine ecosystem, since sardines and anchovies are essential prey for salmon, tuna, whales, dolphins and sea turtles. (Yale Environment 360)

CO2 emissions zap plants’ protein

A new study finds plants grown under higher levels of carbon dioxide are about 10 percent lower in protein. The study examined data from independent experiments in countries including the United States, Italy, Germany, New Zealand and China, where open-air croplands, grasslands and forests are subjected to increased levels of CO2. The crops analyzed in the study were rice, wheat and sorghum — all key sources of protein in the world’s food supply. (

EPA sued over pesticides

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for failing to disclose all ingredients in pesticide compounds. The Center for Environmental Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Beyond Pesticides say EPA has endangered public health by not requiring disclosure of so-called “inert” ingredients. A body of evidence shows “inerts” can be just as harmful as active ingredients. The federal law regulating pesticides gives EPA authority to disclose ingredients it considers hazardous. (

GE salmon susceptible to disease

A draft environmental review of AquaBounty’s GE salmon reveals Canadian government scientists disagree with the FDA on key questions about GE salmon. Canada’s 400-page risk assessment says GE salmon are more susceptible to disease-causing bacteria, are exhibiting dramatically diminished growth rates, and that performance varies widely, raising questions about the GE salmon’s durability, safety and commercial viability. (Center for Food Safety)

Hospital kitchen reducing GMOs

The University of Vermont Medical Center says it’s purchasing more certified organic and non-GMO foods. In 2014 the hospital increased organic purchases by more than 50 percent, in part by buying more organic milk, spinach and other greens. The hospital is trying to source non-GMO soy milk, edamame and canola oil. It serves 2 million meals a year. (Burlington Free Press)

Artificial sweeteners in Waterways

Humans don’t absorb artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and Sweet’N Low — and after they pass through the human body, they end up in rivers and lakes around the world. Canadian researchers found the amount of sugar substitute in Ontario’s Grand River, which empties into Lake Erie, is equivalent to about 81,000 to 190,000 cans of artificially sweetened soda flowing through the 300-kilometer river each day. Scientists warn that the sweeteners could have negative impacts on aquatic life throughout the food chain. (Civil Eats)

White House orders GE review

The White House has ordered a review of the rules for genetically engineered crops, saying they’re outdated and confusing and don’t foster public confidence. A blog post by White House science advisor, John Holdren, and three other senior White House officials indicates they’ll accept public input and hope to complete some updates to the regulatory framework in a year. (The White House)

General Mills organic investment

General Mills is investing $50,000 in an organic grain initiative to entice growers to transition to organic and to secure its pipeline of natural and organic ingredients. Earlier this year, General Mills announced its goal to build a $1 billion organic business by 2020. Since 2000, General Mills has acquired brands such as Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, Larabar, Food Should Taste Good, Immaculate Baking and Annie’s. (Triple Pundit)

Probiotics reduce social anxiety?

A new study finds young adults who eat more fermented foods have fewer social anxiety symptoms, with the effect being greatest among those with high neuroticism. They surveyed 700 students about eating habits, asking about consumption of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso soup and sauerkraut. The researchers say it’s likely the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety. (College of William & Mary)

Also in this issue

PCC Board of Trustees report, August 2015

June board meeting report, 2015 CCMA, Ends Policies, and more

Your co-op community, August 2015

Food bank packaging work parties, Subaru Kids Obstacle Challenge, Lynne Vea at Farestart Guest Chef Night, and more

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Drought is bearing fruit for Washington's wineries, while warm temperatures are threatening salmon, tea and shellfish. Learn also about the impact of the bird flu on eggs and what's disgruntling halibut fishermen.