News bites, November 2016

This article was originally published in November 2016

Five-second rule debunked?

A new study in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology finds that the five-second rule is mostly bogus: Food can pick up bacteria in as little as one second. Rutgers University researchers found that watermelon contracted the most contamination because of its moisture, while gummy candy contracted the least. Carpet had very low contamination transfer rates compared with those of tile and stainless steel, whereas transfer from wood was more variable. (Forbes)

Farmworkers demand pesticide ban

The United Farm Workers and several other Latino and migrant health, environmental and civil rights groups are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chlorpyrifos, an insect killer used on crops such as apples, nuts and corn that can cause damage to human health. The petition points out risks to pregnant farmworkers and their children and concerns over underreporting. The EPA has until November to issue a status report and will make a final decision by March 2017. (Grist)

Stopping seed and chemical mergers?

The Organic Seed Alliance and the Clif Bar Foundation’s Seed MattersTM campaign are sending a joint letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking it to stop the sale of Monsanto to Bayer in a $57 billion deal that creates the world’s largest supplier of seeds and agricultural chemicals. DuPont and Dow, and ChemChina and Syngenta, also announced agreements to merge. If the DOJ allows these mergers, three corporations will control nearly 60 percent of the world’s seed, which could reduce seed choices for farmers and crop diversity and increase vulnerability to pests. (

Bees’ sweet emotions

A sweet treat can change the way bumble bees make decisions, producing a sugar rush of optimism, similar to the way a chocolate bar might affect a human, according to research published in Science. A treat can change a bee’s brain state so that it’s quicker to pursue a reward and to recover from a scare than it would be without a sugar boost. Other researchers have found something like pessimism in bees, anxiety in crayfish, and a defensive state similar to fear in fruit flies. (The New York Times)

Ending illegal fishing

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Oceans and Fisheries Partnership and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program (a PCC partner) are partnering to improve the traceability of seafood products entering North America. The partnership’s goal is to increase sustainable fisheries management in the Asia-Pacific region, the world’s largest seafood exporter. In light of labor abuses and unsustainable fishing in the region, the groups will work to ensure fisheries there are better managed and conform with the highest standards. (

Big Food sugar lawsuits

General Mills, Post and Kellogg are facing class action lawsuits over the sugar content of leading cereal brands including Raisin Bran and Cheerios. The lawsuits, filed in California, accuse the defendants of falsely advertising their cereals as healthful and wholesome even though they’re high in sugar. For instance, 40 percent of Raisin Bran’s calories come from sugar and 32.7 percent of calories come from sugar in Honey Nut Cheerios, the best-selling cereal in the United States. (

Sugar industry influences research

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to minimize the role of sugar in causing heart disease and to promote fat, instead, as the dietary culprit. Historical documents found by a university researcher show a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (known today as the Sugar Association) paid three Harvard scientists to publish a review of hand-picked studies that would exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for heart disease. The documents suggest the review, published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, was used to influence 50 years of government dietary recommendations. (The New York Times)

Algae to protect oysters?

Researchers are turning to an unexpected ally to help keep the Washington oyster fishery productive: kelp seaweed, which absorbs carbon during photosynthesis. University of Washington scientists are testing whether growing and then removing kelp before it decays can take enough carbon out of the water to provide a better environment for shellfish. If they find a significant effect, kelp may one day be used by local fisheries to give their oysters and clams a fighting chance against ocean acidification. (Yale Climate Connections)

Coffee grinds filter heavy metals?

Researchers in Italy have found a new home for coffee grinds — infusing them into a porous foam that removes heavy metals such as mercury and lead from polluted water. Previously, other researchers used coffee as a powder to remove lead from drinking water, but getting the powder out afterward wasn’t easy. The method of infusing grounds into foam has yet to be perfected for everyday, practical uses. (The New York Times)

Also in this issue

Letters to the editor, November 2016

Supporting choice at PCC, The PCC difference, Avoiding carbs?, and more

Does the proposed TPP trade agreement threaten our food?

Food, and trade deals involving food, are a topic in the presidential race with some provisions in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) raising concern among good food advocates. Here's why.

Pure Éire Dairy leads the way to greener pastures

Pure Éire Dairy recently was the first dairy farm in North America to be both Certified Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by A Greener World. PCC sells Pure éire's organic whole milk, 2-percent milk, skim milk, chocolate milk, cultured buttermilk, butter, kefir, whipping cream and yogurt.