News bites, December 2015

This article was originally published in December 2015

Washington second in organic sales

Just 10 states represented 78 percent of U.S. organic sales in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California is #1 ($2.2 billion) and Washington is #2 ($515 million). Sales from organic farms across the country boomed last year, with consumer spending up 72 percent since 2008. The first point of sale for 80 percent of all U.S. organic products was less than 500 miles from the farm, compared to 74 percent in 2008. (ecowatch.com)


Fish retire?

Do fish look forward to retirement? After making an exhausting migration from river to ocean and back — often multiple years in a row — a species of Alaskan trout named Dolly Varden apparently decides to retire from migrating once they’re big enough to survive off their fat reserves. This is the first time such a “retirement” pattern has been seen in fish that make this river-to-ocean migration, according to University of Washington research published in the journal, Ecology. (University of Washington)


Sunscreen harms coral reefs

Reports about the harmful environmental effects of certain chemicals in the water have circulated for years, but according to the authors of a new study, the chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen are enough to damage fragile coral reef systems. The ingredient oxybenzone leaches the coral of its nutrients, bleaches it white and also can disrupt the development of fish and other wildlife. Some 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotions wind up in coral reefs around the world each year. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)


Pesticide protections for farmworkers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced updates to its Worker Protection Standard to reduce farmworkers’ exposure to harmful pesticides. Children now are prohibited from handling or applying pesticides, no-entry zones and exclusion zones will reduce exposure to pesticide drift, and requirements have been improved for personal protective equipment. In a video, EPA said, “Farmworkers deserve the same protection from hazards that workers in other professions have had for decades.” (EPA)


Funding fake meat

I mpossible Foods, a Silicon Valley-based company founded by a former Stanford biochemistry professor, is at work on a new generation of “meats” and “cheeses” made entirely from plants and has raised $108 million in new funding from a powerful group of backers including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. It’s looking to make foods that have no cholesterol, hormones, or antibiotics, and its flagship product is a plant-based cheeseburger. Impossible Foods reportedly raised one previous round of $75 million from investors. (techcrunch.com)


Harder to stay thin?

A new study has determined that people today who eat the same number of calories and exercise the same amount as people 20 or 30 years ago still are fatter. Controlling for food and exercise, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s. The authors hypothesize that exposure to chemicals, rising use of prescription drugs, and the changing microbiome (gut bacteria) may be to blame. (The Atlantic)


Cut sugar, rapidly improve health

Obese children who cut back on their sugar intake see improvements in their blood pressure, cholesterol and other markers of health after just 10 days, according to a study financed by the National Institutes of Health. Scientists removed foods with added sugar from children’s diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so the subjects’ weight and overall calorie intake remained roughly the same. The findings add to the argument that all calories are not created equal and that those from sugar are likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases, which are on the rise in children. (The New York Times)


Diminishing crop diversity

U.S. farmers are growing fewer types of crops than they were 34 years ago, which could have implications for how farms fare as changes to the climate evolve. The first large-scale, long-term study to quantify U.S. crop diversity found areas with high diversity tend to be more resilient to external pressures and that diversity provides stability in an area for food sustainability. Overall, the national trend was toward less crop diversity, but parts of the Northwest had some of the most crop diversity. (Eurekalert.org)


California cracks down on antibiotics

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that sets the strictest government standards in the United States for the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The move comes amid growing concern that the overuse of such drugs is contributing to rising numbers of life-threatening human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs.” Roughly 70 percent of antibiotics important for human medicine are sold in the United States for use in meat and dairy production. (Reuters)

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