News bites, April 2018

This article was originally published in April 2018

Better bread

The Bread Lab, a research institution at Washington State University that focuses on developing and using local whole grains, was awarded a $1.5-million endowment by Clif Bar. Bread Lab research has rejuvenated grain farming across the region and nation — prompting farmers, millers, brewers and distillers to use local grains. Clif Bar & Co. notes, “With the endowment, we’re putting a stake in the ground for organic’s future because we believe The Bread Lab can improve the good that organic brings to farmers, consumers and the planet.” (FERN’s AG Insider)

Young farmers

Young farmers gathered in New Mexico to discuss with local lawmakers the ways that state agencies and programs can help supplement the Farm Bill. Led by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), the group had many strong asks, including requests for more staff to interact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), improve rural wireless connections, and improve student loan forgiveness programs. The NYFC is trying to add farmers and ranchers to the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to help support recent college graduates who operate a farm or ranch. (Politico)

No more manure

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources voted unanimously to implement restrictions on the amount of animal manure that can be sprayed on agricultural fields. The rule bans manure spraying in areas with fewer than 2 feet of topsoil and aims to decrease the runoff of manure that has been contaminating the state’s drinking water. Tap water in some rural Wisconsin counties tested positive for E. coli, likely due to contamination from manure. (New Food Economy)

Organics Improve Fertility

A new study published in JAMA found that women seeking to get pregnant could improve their fertility by replacing conventional fruits and vegetables with organic produce. The research demonstrates that replacing one serving of high-pesticide-residue produce with low-residue produce could increase the probability of a successful pregnancy by 88 percent. Women who already ate organic produce were not included in the data set. (Environmental Working Group)

Don’t kiss chickens

Salmonella rates are on the rise from a new source: too much physical contact with backyard chickens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 23 percent of the people who reported contracting salmonella from homegrown fowl either had recently kissed their chickens (7 percent) or snuggled them (16 percent). Springtime is the beginning of salmonella season for chicken owners, and the CDC recomends safety procautions including wearing different shoes when going inside chicken coops, rigorously washing after handling chickens, and no kissing. (Gastro Obscura)

Bad prison food

No one expects the food served in correctional institutions to be particulalry good, but recent research from the CDC shows that lapses in food safety controls have made U.S. prisoners 6.4 times more likely to contract a foodborne illness than the general population. The CDC report – the first update on prison food data in the last 20 years — indicates a previously overlooked public health crisis. (Civil Eats)

Sustainable cocktails

Local brewers and distillers, such as Fremont, Westland and Elliott Bay Brewing, are working toward sustainability in their operations. The innovations range from the technical — a cooling tower at Copperworks that allows distillers to recirculate the same 500 gallons of water instead of going through 70,000 gallons a day — to ecological — buying malt from salmon-safe farms in the area and conducting deliveries by hand truck. (Seattle Met)

Treating honeybees

The Varroa mite parasite is listed as a major cause of bee mortality and bee colony losses. German researchers say they may have discovered a cure for battling the infected mites in lithium chloride. Annual treatments of lithium chloride to control Varroa mites may treat and save honeybees. (FERN’s AG Insider)

Jellyfish chips

Although seasonal blooms are a natural part of the jellyfish life cycle, there is some evidence that climate change is causing an overall rise in jellyfish populations. Mie Thorborg Pedersen, a gastrophysicist at the University of Southern Denmark, is on a mission to figure out how we might use the influx of this species. Pedersen discovered an “embarrassingly simple” method for producing light and crispy jellyfish chips. Yum? (

No Net Pens

Washington state lawmakers passed a law this session to end open-water net-pen farming of invasive, non-native Atlantic salmon. The bill will phase out the last Atlantic salmon open-water farms by 2022 and, in effect, bar genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon from public waters. PCC has advocated an end to fish farming in public waters since 2005, likening them to “floating feedlots.” (Go Anacortes)

Worker safety concerns

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports a legislative loophole leaves meat and poultry processing workers without a safety evaluation for exposure to toxic chemicals. Meat and poultry processing routinely involves spraying peracetic acid to limit foodborne pathogens on meat. Airborne peracetic acid burns the eyes and can cause respiratory symptoms hours after exposure, yet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently has no permissible exposure limit. (Food Integrity Campaign)

Hops up

Hop production for Idaho, Oregon and Washington hit a record high in 2017, increasing 20 percent from 2016’s crop yield. 2017’s value of hop production for the U. S. also hit a record high of $618 million, up 24 percent from the previous record high value last year. Washington produced 75 percent of the U.S. hop crop for 2017. (USDA)

Good news for coffee

Researchers found that drinking coffee is more likely to lead to health benefits than to harm health. A meta-analysis of more than 200 studies found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of death and heart disease than drinking no coffee. Coffee drinking also is associated with a lower risk of some cancers, diabetes, liver disease and dementia. (

Also in this issue

Gardens for the bees

I used to think of my work as growing organic food for humans. These days I prefer to consider the whole effort as growing food for bees. Feeding humans is an incidental perk.

PCC's 2018 annual Election

PCC’s Annual Election is just around the corner. Get ready to cast your vote!

Insects for food security

Pollinators contribute to the production of crops as diverse as avocados, almonds, apples, canola, chocolate, coffee and pumpkins, as well as a huge range of things we typically feed to livestock, such as alfalfa and clover. Based on current estimates, pollinators – such as bees – are responsible for about one of every three bites of food or drink that we consume.