News bites
Sound Consumer | August 2006


Water wars

There’s a battle over water in Maine, where a citizens group is upset that Poland Spring and other bottled water brands are taking the state’s water. The group is pushing a proposal declaring that the citizens collectively own the state’s groundwater and that companies would have to bid for rights to tap aquifers, and that the proceeds go to the state. New Hampshire and Vermont already have tightened restrictions on large-scale water withdrawals by bottlers. Another bill is proposed in Michigan. (The Washington Post)


Dead water linked to subsidies

A new study has linked the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to crop subsidies. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says the vast majority of fertilizer runoff causing algae blooms and oxygen depletion in the Gulf water comes from a small area of heavily subsidized cropland along the Mississippi River.

The EWG report also finds that crop subsidies there get more than 500 times the amount of taxpayer funding than water quality programs. The EWG says that shifting a modest portion of tax money from crop subsidies into programs that encourage more careful fertilizer use, wetland restoration and the planting of streamside buffers with grass and trees to absorb runoff could reduce dead zone pollution significantly while boosting the bottom line for family farms. (ewg.org/reports/deadzone)


Meat and fish taste inherited

Research suggests that children largely inherit their taste for high-protein food like meat and fish. A liking for vegetables and puddings, however, was less likely to be fixed and more the result of the menu provided by parents. The research, published in the Journal of Physiology and Behaviour, also found girls were more likely to enjoy vegetables than boys. The research was based on a study of more than 200 pairs of same-sex twins. (BBC News)


Antibiotics in vegetables

Vegetarians may think they’re not affected by the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, but that’s not true. A University of Minnesota study shows that an antibiotic given to pigs was absorbed by vegetables grown in soil where the pigs’ manure was used as fertilizer.

Researchers say the findings may not apply to organic vegetables because organic standards require manure to be composted or applied more than 90 days before harvest, and the crops studied were harvested within 42 days of when the fertilizer was applied. In non-organic agriculture, raw manure may be used with little restriction. (Journal of Environmental Quality)


Styrofoam take-out containers

In California, the city of Oakland has banned restaurants and cafes from using plastic foam take-out containers and will require that they switch to biodegradable and compostable materials. Eateries found using plastic foam containers after January 1 would face fines up to $500. Until then, businesses can use plastic trays, wax-coated paper boxes, or any material other than plastic foam. City inspectors will monitor compliance. About 100 cities, including Portland, have adopted similar measures. (Contra Cost Times)


School food flunks

The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a School Foods Report Card, evaluating state policies on foods sold in vending machines, school stores, a la carte and fundraisers. Twenty-three states, including Washington, received an “F” for not having strong nutrition standards at the state level for these competitive foods. (Center for Science in the Public Interest)


Toxic pesticide phased out

A lawsuit filed by the United Farmworkers of America has forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out a highly toxic pesticide that has poisoned farmworkers and endangered species. The pesticide, azinphos-methyl (AZM), kills insects on non-organic peaches, nectarines, cherries, pears, apples, potatoes and cranberries. It’s also a human neurotoxin, derived from World War II chemicals.

The EPA found AZM posed unacceptable risks in 2001, but less toxic choices were more costly and the chemical industry applied pressure to keep it on the market. Following a lawsuit in a Seattle federal court, the EPA will phase out all uses of AZM by 2010 with some uses phased out by 2007. (Earthjustice/Beyond Pesticides/United Farmworkers)


Church alliance won’t buy GE food

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, a global alliance of churches and agencies providing support during emergencies, has a new policy on genetically engineered (GE) food. The policy says members will not buy any GE food with their resources, but it acknowledges that in times of famine, people will accept any food simply to survive. If any GE grain is offered during emergencies, it must be milled to reduce the risks of GE seeds taking root. (act-intl.org)


GE foods produce herbicide in human gut

Research is showing that many genetically engineered (GE) foods can produce an herbicide inside the human digestive tract. About 71 percent of GE foods are engineered to tolerate special herbicides that contain certain enzymes; when the crops are sprayed and humans eat them, some of the enzymes regenerate into the herbicide.

Studies show that the regenerated herbicide was found in 10 percent of the rats studied — with toxic effects. More than a third of the goats studied had the herbicide in their kidneys, liver, muscle, fat and milk. (Institute for Responsible Technology)

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