Sound Consumer | July 2006
Heirloom wheat at WSU
A Washington State University wheat breeder, Stephen Jones, has received a $680,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop wheat varieties for organic and low-input farming systems. Jones says there are genes and traits to help a plant compete against weeds and mine nutrients from the soil, but many of these traits have been lost since they’re not needed in high input systems that rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Research at WSU also shows modern wheat varieties have fewer beneficial micro-nutrients.
Jones has been crossing modern wheat varieties with 163 strains grown in the Pacific Northwest from the 1840s to the 1950s, when synthetic pesticides and fertilizer weren’t used. His research is expected to benefit non-organic wheat growers also by reducing costly inputs. (Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network)
First organic major approved
The nation’s first major in organic agriculture systems has been finalized and will be offered this fall to students at Washington State University. The major is expected to appeal not only to aspiring farmers but also people interested in marketing and the organic food business.
arge corporations, for instance, reportedly want to meet the growing appetite for organic foods and are seeking employees who understand organic agriculture. The major includes a summer practicum at WSU’s organic farm where students get hands-on experience in planting, nurturing, harvesting and marketing organic produce. (Washington State University)
ID chips in farm animals
Congress is debating a controversial program called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The system would require tagging or implanting all farm animals with radio frequency devices (RFID) and registering them with a federal system that includes tracking by satellite.
The plan would require every owner of even a single livestock animal to register it with the national system. Large-scale livestock producers want NAIS to help pry open foreign meat markets that are hesitant about U.S. meat. Small-scale farmers say the registration fees, RFID expenses and administrative bureaucracy of the system would drive them out of business. Critics say a better way to control disease is to clean up feeding practices and processing plants. (NoNAIS.org)
Eat local “Locavores”
The notion of eating locally produced foods is gaining popularity as a fuel-saving, community-building alternative — or addition — to organic standards. A northern California group called the Locavores issued a challenge for volunteers to eat only foods grown within 100 miles of their home. More than 700 people signed up. (Agribusiness Examiner)
Missing links in mad cow case
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it still doesn’t know where 14 cows linked to a case of mad cow disease have gone. The animals were part of a group that ate the same feed rations as a cow that tested positive for mad cow disease in April. (Capital Press)
Giant food merger
Two of the world’s largest food industry trade groups are merging. The Food Products Association, which represents the food and beverage industry, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing packaged food, beverage and consumer product companies, plan to merge in January.
Officials reportedly hope to strengthen their influence on food safety, nutrition and international trade issues. The two groups tend to agree on food policy legislation and regulation. Both have stated opposition to experimental, biopharmaceutical crops. (Food Institute/Agribusiness Examiner)