News Bites

This article was originally published in November 2018

Storm drain runoff kills salmon

Salmon exposed to toxic stormwater runoff can die in a matter of hours and scientists are asking Puget Sound area residents to help them figure out why. A report of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force created by Washington Governor Inslee recognizes storm drain runoff contains heavy metals, oil and hydrocarbons that are highly toxic to fish. Every salmon that dies before it can spawn means fewer eggs, fewer fry, and fewer fish to feed hungry orcas. Researchers created an interactive website for citizen volunteers to help map where salmon are dying, at (NOAA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Washington State University)

Environmental farming

New research published in the journal Nature Sustainability finds that nearly one-third of the world’s farms employ environmentally-friendly agricultural practices, with one in 10 undergoing “sustainable intensification.” It shows sustainable intensification leads to the largest improvements in productivity in developing countries, while industrialized countries see increases in efficiency and some reductions in yield. Methods include improved Integrated Pest Management practices, pasture and forage redesign, incorporating trees in agricultural systems, irrigation water management, and conservation agriculture. (

Inclusive awards

The James Beard Foundation announced major changes to its annual awards this year that increase process transparency and gender, race and ethnic representation. The awards, sometimes known as the “Oscars of Food,” are given to prominent chefs, food writers, and others in the food community. Changes to the award’s nomination and selection processes are intended to better support the work of marginalized groups and may have lasting equity impacts on the culinary landscape. (

Not 100% natural

Packaging for Nature Valley Granola bars no longer will claim “100% Natural Whole Grain Oats.” A lawsuit against the manufacturer, General Mills, brought by the Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides and Moms Across America, claimed the bars contained detectable amounts of the pesticide, glyphosate, and that the “all natural” claim was misleading and deceptive. Oats are the most likely source of the glyphosate, as nonorganic farmers may spray oat crops before harvest for the crop to be taken up more easily by harvesting machinery. (

Toxic sweeteners

A study in the academic journal Molecules found six common artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration were toxic to the gut microbes of mice. Mouse gut bacteria became toxic when exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame or acesulfame potassium-k. Artificial sweeteners are in many drinks and processed foods, so people may be consuming them without knowing. (

Climate labels

A new proposal in Denmark will require foods to be labeled with stickers explaining environmental impacts, allowing shoppers to make environmentally-based purchasing decisions more easily. This proposal is part of a campaign by the Danish government in collaboration with the nation’s retail and food processing sectors, to support climate-friendly consumer choices. (

Tick-borne meat allergy?

Meat allergies, first observed in the 1990s and formally recognized in 2009, may be triggered by a tick bite. Human allergies to meat challenge previous medical allergy assumptions, as tick bites appear to impact a previously assumed tolerance. More than 5,000 meat allergy cases have been diagnosed in the United States to date, with prevalence estimated to be at least one percent of the population in tick-heavy regions. (The New York Times)

Killing bees

Research from The University of Texas at Austin finds that exposure to glyphosate — the world’s most widely used weed-killer — may be killing honeybees. Glyphosate contact causes bees to lose beneficial gut bacteria, making them more susceptible to infection and death. The research counters previous assumptions that glyphosate is nontoxic to animals. (Sustainable Pulse)

Neonicotinoids in wild turkeys

A new study in Canada has found that neonicotinoid pesticides may harm wild animals. Researchers in Ontario studied animals that may eat neonicotinoid-coated seeds, such as wild turkeys, and found almost 25 percent of the wild turkey livers had detectable levels of neonic residues, including clothianidin, thiamethoxam and fuberidazole. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects on wildlife. (Environmental Science and Pollution Research)

Microplastics in food

Plastic waste and microplastic particles that make their way into the ocean are being ingested by marine plankton and fish, moving up the food chain to people. Microplastic ingestion damages organs and leaches toxins, including bisphenol-A (BPA) and pesticides, that harm immune function, growth and reproduction. Microplastics also might be ingested by humans through packaged sea salt, beer, bottled and tap water or through the air. (Scientific American)

Oil boom byproducts

A toxic byproduct of the U.S. oil drilling boom is contaminating farmland and costing farmers in lost productivity. Farmers in North Dakota, for instance, say oil companies are neglecting to report all saltwater “spills,” failing to restore bulldozed acreage as required by the state, and are not compensating farmers for lost revenue. North Dakotan officials do not know the extent of cropland acreage that has been damaged by saltwater spills. PCC has joined a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Program to address the impacts of oil and gas fracking on organic farms. (NBC News)

Electric co-ops

USDA is providing nearly $350 million in loans to electric cooperatives for infrastructure improvements, new power lines and smart grid technologies. The funds will go toward improving services for more than one million residential and commercial customers in rural areas, to increase rural prosperity and economic opportunity. (

Preventing aquaculture

In Louisiana, a federal court has ruled that industrial aquaculture is not “fishing,” and that existing fisheries management laws never were intended to regulate farming fish in net pens. The decision means net pen fish farming, with all its demonstrated harm to commercial and recreational fisheries, will not be permitted in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The plaintiffs challenging the federal permitting process for aquaculture included fishing, charter boat, wildlife and consumer interest groups. (Center for Food Safety)

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