News bites, May 2016

This article was originally published in May 2016

Big companies to label GE

By the time you read this, more companies are expected to have announced they’ll label their genetically engineered (GE) foods, dimming chances of any congressional action to stop Vermont’s GE labeling law from taking effect July 1. Campbell Soup, General Mills, Mars, Kellogg and ConAgra already have announced they will label their GE foods.

There’s no evidence any companies are reformulating to avoid GE ingredients, contrary to claims by labeling opponents. Also, labeling laws drafted for Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states have the same standards for packaged food as Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, so there’s no basis for concern about a patchwork of state laws.

GMA unlawfully hid donors

A Thurston County Superior Court has ruled the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) unlawfully hid the identities of corporate donors from the voting public during the I-522 campaign to label genetically engineered foods. The court has not yet determined the penalty but it could be $14 million+. Pepsi, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, General Mills, ConAgra, Campbell Soup, Hershey, JM Smucker, Kellogg’s and Land O’Lakes were the top 10 contributors to GMA’s “Defense of Brands” account. (Washington State Office of the Attorney General)

Stronger protections for bees?

The Government Accountability Office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, says the Obama administration needs to do more to protect the health of the U.S. bee population. The agency says efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the wide range of factors affecting bee health — including pests, disease and pesticides — will be “a complex undertaking that may take many years and require advances in science and changes in agricultural land-use practices.” In 2014 the Obama administration ordered both agencies to lead a government-wide effort to study more about why pollinators are dying off and look for ways to stem the declines. (Des Moines Register)

Sleep influences food choices

A new study sheds light on how lack of sleep initiates overeating and poor food choices by amplifying and extending blood levels of a chemical signal that enhances the joy of eating, particularly from sweet or salty, high-fat snacks. When given access to snacks, sleep-deprived subjects ate nearly twice as much fat as when they had slept for eight hours. The effects of sleep loss on appetite were most powerful in the late afternoon and early evening, times when snacking has been linked to weight gain. (

Chinese chicken?

The chicken on American plates soon could be made from chicken raised, slaughtered and processed in China. USDA audited China’s inspection system for slaughtered poultry and ruled it meets U.S. “equivalency standards,” meaning China could be eligible soon to export poultry to the United States. USDA first must complete a rulemaking process, including a public comment period. Critics warn that poultry from China poses risks, citing China’s history of food safety failures. (

Crackdown on “maple” label?

Thirty-one U.S. representatives and senators from maple-syrup-producing states, including Sens. Leahy, Sanders, DeLauro, Warren and Stabenow, joined with industry groups to write the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, asking him to take action against products that falsely suggest they contain maple syrup or maple flavor. They’re asking the FDA to help stop what they call “widespread, intentional deception” to consumers by these “misbranded” products. (

Vitamin D for sleep

Vitamin D may be important for healthy sleep. Recent research indicates that vitamin D may influence both sleep quality and sleep quantity. Researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with less sleep overall and more disrupted sleep. (

Switch cosmetics, lower chemicals

A new study has shown that even a short break from using makeup, shampoos and lotions that contain certain kinds of chemicals can reduce levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in teens. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas provided teen study participants with personal care products labeled free of phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone and found that after three days on lower-chemical products, participants showed significant drops in levels of the chemicals in urine. The results were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. (The Organic Center)

Gut bacteria and stroke

Certain types of bacteria in the gut apparently can decrease the severity of a stroke. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine induced in mice the most common type of stroke, where an obstructed blood vessel prevents blood from reaching the brain. They found that when the mice were treated with antibiotics, their strokes were about 60 percent smaller than in rodents that did not get antibiotics. Investigators say the microbial environment in the gut directed immune cells to protect the brain, shielding it from the full force of a stroke. (

Slicing meat shaped modern humans

Our early human ancestors likely mastered chopping and slicing more than 2 million years ago — at least 1.5 million years before cooking. Not only did this yield smaller pieces of meat and vegetables that were much easier to digest raw, with less chewing — it also helped us become modern humans. Researchers reported in the journal Nature that tool use and meat-eating reduced evolutionary pressure to have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, “permitting selection to decrease facial and dental size for other functions, such as speech production, locomotion, thermoregulation, or, perhaps even changes in the size and shape of the brain.” (NPR’s The Salt)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Can climate change benefit French wine? Why are almond farmers planting a new varietal? Why is West African cocoa under threat? Learn the answers, plus more news from the field.

New standards for PCC Health & Body Care

PCC has updated our standards for health and body care products and believe we have the highest standards anywhere. Products are vetted for safety, efficacy, environmental impact, and their non-synthetic status. More than 500 ingredients common in mainstream and some "natural" products are not allowed at PCC.

Letters to the editor, May 2016

Growing your own food, Aid for farmers, Cooking with olive oil, and more