News bites, July 2007 | PCC Sound Consumer | PCC Natural Markets

News bites
Sound Consumer | July 2007

What's sustainable?

The term "sustainability," while widely used by the media and industry, is not well understood by consumers, according to The Hartman Group, a market research firm in Bellevue. Consumers apparently ascribe very different personal meanings to the term "sustainability." More than half (54 percent) claim some familiarity with it, yet most of them cannot define it.

However, the report finds that 72 percent of U.S. consumers believe their purchases have a significant impact on society. A full 71 percent say they're "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to pay a 10 percent premium for sustainable products. (The Hartman Group)

GM corn toxic

Another study shows that Monsanto's GM corn (MON863), authorized for human and animal consumption in the United States, is toxic to the liver and kidneys of rats in feeding trials. The study was published in the peer-reviewed American journal "Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology."

Higher triglycerides and reduced excretion of phosphorus and sodium reportedly indicate hormonal disruptions. There's some evidence that the corn, engineered with the Bt-toxin, may perforate blood cells. Since humans can be exposed at comparable levels, lead researcher Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini says no one can say this GM corn is safe or healthy. (Ecological Farming Association)

Oregon passes pharma crop bill

Oregon's House and Senate have passed a bill addressing pharmaceutical crops. The bill enjoys bipartisan support and reflects a view that federal regulation of pharma crops is inadequate and that Oregon needs to protect itself against contamination.

It would allow state agriculture and health officials to view confidential business information on such crops and authorize the state to approve any permits before field trials are allowed. It also would require insurance to cover potential damages from contamination.

The state must yet negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and write specific state rules. Minnesota also has statutes providing for state approval for all genetically modified (GM) crops. (Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon)

Organic acreage

Certified organic acreage in Washington increased by 47 percent between 2004 and 2006, and by 70 percent since 2002. Estimated sales of Washington-grown organic goods by 2005 totaled $101.5 million.

Nationally, sales of organic foods totaled nearly $17 billion in 2006 — a 22 percent increase since 2005. The share of total food sales is still just 3 percent, but that's up from 1.9 percent in 2003 and 2.5 percent in 2005. (Washington State University)

Towns restrict GM crops

Since 2000, 111 towns and cities in New England have passed resolutions that restrict GM food and crops. Since May 1 this year, nine towns in Massachusetts alone have passed resolutions calling either for mandatory labeling, moratoriums or measures that hold biotech corporations liable for genetic pollution that hurts independent farmers. Five towns voted to support all three measures. (Ecological Farming Association/Newman's Own Foundation)

Venezuela bans GM crops

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced that planting GM crops will be prohibited in Venezuela, perhaps the most sweeping restriction on GM crops in the western hemisphere. Chavez told an audience in Caracas that GM crops are contrary to the interests and needs of farmers and farm workers and he declared "terminated" a contract with the Monsanto Corporation to plant 500,000 acres of GM soybeans. (Ecological Farming Association)

Monsanto sues over rBGH

Monsanto has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, demanding that labeling rBGH-free dairy products be made illegal. A growing number of dairies have chosen not to inject their cows with Monsanto's genetically modified bovine growth hormone known as rBGH and many state that on milk labels, in response to consumer demand. Monsanto's lawsuit follows substantial losses in sales of its rBGH. (Organic Consumers Association)

Biofuels unsustainable?

The first major report on biofuels from the United Nations says the benefits may be offset by serious environmental problems and higher food prices for the hungry. It says large-scale mono-cropping for biofuels would cause further losses in biodiversity, soil erosion and nutrient leaching.

The report also says using land for biofuel crops would cause new environmental and social problems, some with "irreversible consequences." It noted that soaring demand for palm oil has led to the clearing of tropical forests in Southeast Asia. Prices for corn and sugar have increased steeply. (Associated Press)

Barley for heart health

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim that barley can help reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Barley is the only other grain, in addition to oats, that contains significant levels of soluble fiber, which provides these healthful benefits. Unlike most grains, barley contains fiber throughout the entire kernel, not just in the layer of bran. (

More about: biofuels, GE corn, GE crops, Monsanto, sustainability, whole grains