News bites, February 2017

This article was originally published in February 2017

GE salmon update

A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to turn over additional materials to plaintiffs challenging FDA’s approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The order by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is a victory for environmentalists, fishing groups, and a Native American tribe that have argued the agency withheld key documents. They want approval for GE salmon reversed.

The plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety, argue that FDA failed to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. Their lawsuit challenges whether FDA has authority to regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Biotech industry influences GE policy

A New York Times investigation exposes conflicts of interest at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS). It asserts that nine of the 13 people named to a NAS panel that makes recommendations to the White House about biotech regulations have potential conflicts of interest and likely will give short shrift to GE health and environmental worries.

The NAS committee was formed in 2016 on request by the White House and tasked with advising the government.

Study: GE not equivalent

A new study published in Nature has concluded that GE Roundup Ready corn is proven not “substantially equivalent” to traditional non-GE corn. Researchers describe a study that reveals “major differences” between GE corn and its non-GE parent. Their findings show the transformational process of genetic engineering results in profound compositional differences.

Their findings challenge the premise of the 1992 U.S. regulatory policy that GE food is “substantially equivalent.”

Fresh vs. frozen nutrition?

Nutrient level differences between fresh and frozen produce are so minor they aren’t likely to impact overall health, according to research from the University of California, Davis. Vitamin content occasionally was higher in some frozen foods but researchers found no consistent differences between fresh and frozen. Frozen broccoli, for example, had more riboflavin (a B vitamin) than fresh broccoli. But frozen peas had less riboflavin than fresh peas. Frozen corn, green beans and blueberries had more vitamin C than fresh. (The New York Times)

Pesticide-coated seeds dangerous to insects

Neonicotinoids — the most widely used class of insecticides — significantly reduce populations of predatory insects when used as seed coatings, according to researchers at Penn State. The team’s research challenges the previously held belief that neonicotinoid seed coatings have little to no effect on predatory insect populations. The results also suggest that neonicotinoids are reducing populations of natural enemies at least partly through their toxic effects rather than simply by reducing the availability of their crop pest foods. (

Washington dairy overtime lawsuit

Two workers at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy in central Washington are challenging the U.S. federal law that excludes people who work in agriculture — on farms and in dairies — from the right to overtime pay and the right to unionize. They’re filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all agricultural workers in the state. The suit claims that the lack of overtime pay violates state wage law, which requires overtime pay for more than 40 hours worked per seven-day week, and also violates the state constitution’s protections against discrimination and favoritism. The suit also seeks to recover payment for the dairy’s failure to provide required meal and rest breaks, and failure to pay workers for that time. (NPR’s The Salt)

Palm oil investigation

An investigation by Amnesty International found the world’s most popular food and household companies are selling food, cosmetics and everyday household products containing palm oil “tainted by shocking human rights abuses, with children as young as 8 working in hazardous conditions.” It links these abuses to nine global firms including Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, ADM and AFAMSA. (

What defines “milk”?

Can milk be called milk if it doesn’t come from an animal? A group of 32 members of Congress, many of them from big milk-producing states, say no and are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order manufacturers of plant-based drinks to find some name other than “milk.” Democratic Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a co-author of the letter, says, “The FDA regulation defines milk as something that comes from a mammary gland. So we’re asking the FDA basically to enforce its own regulation.” (NPR’s The Salt)

EPA: fracking contaminates drinking water

Hydraulic fracking for gas and oil is contaminating drinking water after all. The Environmental Protection Agency has reversed course, acknowledging fracking can and is contaminating drinking water sources in some places. The report comes as President-elect Trump says he’ll expand fracking in the United States, and roll back existing regulations. (The New York Times)

Cracking down on seafood fraud

The Obama administration took a significant step against seafood fraud and overfishing, introducing a rule meant to help us know if the fish we eat truly is what we paid for. A Seafood Import Monitoring Program will require about 25 percent of imported seafood to be traced from the boat or farm it comes from to the U.S. border. (The Huffington Post)

Dannon “natural” lawsuit

A lawsuit filed against yogurt maker Dannon in the southern district of New York alleges that consumers do not expect yogurts labeled “all-natural” to use milk from cows fed genetically engineered feed. The plaintiff cited a Consumer Reports survey suggesting most consumers think the “natural” label on meat or poultry means the animals’ feed contains no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The case follows a recent flurry of lawsuits alleging that most reasonable consumers think non-GMO claims on packages should mean genetic engineering is not involved at any stage of food production, including the animal feed. (Food Navigator)

Livestock antibiotics increase

Every year, more restaurants and food companies announce they will sell only meat produced with minimal or no use of antibiotics, yet every year, more antibiotics are administered to the nation’s swine, cattle and poultry. According to the latest figures, released in December by the FDA, antibiotic sales for use on farm animals increased by 1 percent in 2015, compared to the previous year. But the FDA finds a glimmer of good news, pointing out that antibiotic use had increased by 4 percent in the previous year and by a total of 22 percent from 2009 to 2014. (FDA)

Americans say organic better for health

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 55 percent of Americans believe organically grown produce is healthier than conventionally grown, and 39 percent see health risks in GE foods. There was no significant relationship between these findings and political affiliation, education, income, geography or having children, suggesting that good food issues are a unifying force across the country. Even when asked about all the conflicting reports and studies about health and food, 72 percent of U.S. adults agreed, “the core ideas about how to eat healthy are pretty well understood.” (Cornucopia Institute)

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Organic Valley is transitioning to carrageenan-free foods, Oregon's Coho salmon are facing threats, and President Obama prohibited future oil and gas development in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans before leaving office. Hear all the details, plus more current food and agriculture reports.

GMOs 2.0

New, experimental genetic engineering techniques are altering food and other products while racing ahead of regulations. What are the consequences and will they be allowed in organics?

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