News bites, January 2017

This article was originally published in January 2017

Seafood guidelines: too much mercury?

Pregnant women who follow U.S. government seafood recommendations may be exposing their babies to too much mercury, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG tested 254 women who eat two or more seafood meals per week, which is in line with federal recommendations, and found that nearly 30 percent exceeded safety guidelines for mercury exposure during pregnancy and 60 percent were not getting enough of the healthy omega-3 fats essential for fetal development. Salmon and sardines are among the fish considered healthy choices says EWG, because they’re high in omega-3s and low in mercury. (EWG)

Sustainable food system windfall?

Taking a sustainable approach to the world’s food and agriculture challenges such as hunger, food waste and environmental degradation could lead to new business opportunities totaling an annual $2.3 trillion — and 80 million new jobs — by 2030, based on an analysis of industry reports and academic literature. That economic impact would be a sevenfold return on an annual investment of $320 billion, according to the flagship report by the international nonprofit Business and Sustainable Development Commission. The report calls for significant shifts in how our food is produced, processed and sold. (The Huffington Post)

Can AI help save tuna?

Scientists are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to bring one of the world’s largest tuna fisheries back into balance and ensure a sustainable supply for generations. An estimated $500 million to $1.5 billion is lost every year from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Pacific. The Nature Conservancy is launching a technology challenge that calls for data scientists to apply AI to the process of reviewing video of fishing activities, which currently takes a lot of time when done by humans. (FishChoice)

Spokane vs. Monsanto lawsuit

A federal judge says the city of Spokane’s lawsuit against Monsanto for polluting the Spokane River can move forward. The city sued Monsanto in 2015, alleging the company knew for decades that it was making and selling polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are dangerous to human and environmental health. Spokane is trying to force Monsanto to clean up contamination of the river. (Washington Times)

New soda taxes

Voters in four cities and a county passed new taxes on soda during the November elections. In California, San Francisco, Oakland and Albany approved a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages and Boulder, Colo., passed a two-cents-per-ounce tax. In Illinois, Cook County’s board of commissioners passed a penny-per-ounce tax to make it the largest jurisdiction to tax sugary and artificially sweetened soda, sports drinks, lemonade and iced tea — adding 72 cents to a typical six-pack. (USA Today)

GMA to appeal fine

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is likely to appeal an $18 million fine for a criminal money laundering scheme during Washington’s I-522 initiative to label GE foods. In a 24-page ruling to support the fine, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch cited “a preponderance of evidence” that GMA intentionally violated the law. She said GMA’s claim that it didn’t mean to break the law was “not credible.” (Seattle PI)

Fracking impact on drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency made questionable changes at the last minute to a five-year study about the impact of fracking on the nation’s drinking water. The changes played down the risk of pollution from fracking and scientists criticized the changes for lacking evidence. Documents show officials inserted a phrase to suggest researchers didn’t find “widespread systemic impacts” from fracking, despite earlier drafts that emphasized fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places. (

WHO calls for more sugar taxes

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on nations around the globe to tax sugary products to reduce sugar consumption. A WHO spokesperson emphasizes that people don’t need any sugar nutritionally and recommends that if they consume any sugar, to keep intake below 10 percent of calories, and less than 5 percent for additional benefits. The American Heart Association says sugar is a major risk factor for heart disease, as well as obesity and diabetes. (WHO/AHA)

Sonoma County bans GE

Voters in Sonoma County approved a ban against cultivation of GE crops by a margin of nearly 12 percentage points. Sonoma is the sixth county in California to ban GE cultivation and since it’s adjacent to the other five (Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Marin), the ban creates a 13,734-square-mile GE-free zone, the largest such area in the United States. (San Francisco Gate)

Food banks reject sugar

Some food banks are getting pickier about what they’ll accept, especially when it comes to sodas, candy, cakes and processed bakery items. Two food banks around Washington, D.C. are cutting back “dramatically” on the “junk” food they’ll accept. Officials cite the epidemic of diet-related diseases and say “we have a moral obligation [to serve] the right kind of food.” (NPR)

Also in this issue

Tips for getting your child to love vegetables

PCC Cooks instructor and cookbook author Cynthia Lair says, "In almost every class that I've taught for parents, someone raises their hand to say, 'My husband/daughter/son hates vegetables. What should I do?'" Here are tips for getting your kids to like vegetables, from carrots to kale.

Go with the flow?

With news of poor water quality from Michigan to Texas, you may be wondering about the purity of water in the Seattle area. In general, our region enjoys high-quality water. Even so, problems can crop up from time to time, but there are simple steps we can take to ensure purity.

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about PCC Farmland Trust's 20 new projects, a new startup's attempts to farm the elusive black truffle mushroom, Canada's crude oil pipeline project, and more!