News bites
Sound Consumer | September 2009


Organic funding increased

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has outlined spending for a $2.8 million increase in funding for the National Organic Program. In a letter to the Organic Trade Association, Vilsack cited “the President’s pledge to encourage organic agriculture” and said the new money will enhance outreach and education, increase audits of certifying agents, add staff for enforcement, and increase monitoring of foreign agreements for compliance. (Organic Trade Association)


Organic audits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ordered an audit of its National Organic Program, saying external scrutiny is needed to improve the integrity, transparency and reliability of the seven-year-old program.

The audit will determine whether the program is using internationally recognized standards for accrediting and overseeing nearly 100 private certifiers, who decide whether foods meet U.S. organic standards. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says the audits aim to strengthen trust in the organic program. (The Washington Post)


Consumers buying more organic

A 2009 study of U.S. families’ organic attitudes and beliefs show that shoppers are not giving up organic products despite the economic recession. Three in 10 families (31 percent) said they’re buying more organic foods compared to a year ago, with many parents preferring to reduce their spending in other areas before cutting organic products. Seventeen percent said the largest increase in their spending this past year was for organic products. (Organic Trade Association)


Antitrust action against Dean Foods?

Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is asking the Justice Department to investigate Dean Foods for potential antitrust violations. The senator says Dean Foods buys about 70 percent of the fluid milk in New England and has been recording record profits while dairy farmers struggle to survive.

Dean’s profits reportedly climbed from $30 million in the first quarter of 2008 to $76.2 million in the first quarter of 2009. The price paid to farmers for milk, meanwhile, was down from $19.50 per hundred pounds a year ago to less than $11 in June. (Grist.org)


Home gardens increase

A survey from the National Gardening Association (NGA) indicates food gardening in the United States is up and rising. Seven million more households planned in 2009 to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs or berries — up 19 percent from 2008. According to NGA estimates, a well-maintained food garden yields a $500 average return based on a typical gardener’s investment and the market price of produce. (National Gardening Association)


Baby potatoes better?

When it comes to nutritional value, baby potatoes apparently have more than full-grown, mature potatoes. A USDA research geneticist and adjunct professor at Washington State University (WSU) conducted preliminary trials, harvesting 71 varieties of potatoes between seven and 10 weeks of growth. Roy Navarre and his team found phytonutrients, such as folate (vitamin B9) and other antioxidants, to be much higher in baby tubers weighing about an ounce. (WSU)


Lower yields can be more profitable

Bigger crop yields don’t necessarily mean the best economic yield. Research at WSU shows that extra nitrogen and other fertilizers might increase overall yield in a potato field but given the increasingly high cost of petroleum-based fertilizers, optimal economic yield for two types of test potatoes occurred at 87 percent and 96 percent of total production. In other words, the net profit of a slightly smaller crop grown with fewer inputs is higher than a larger crop grown with standard inputs. (WSU)


Pharma-crop moratorium

The governor of Maine has signed Public Law 388, placing a three-year moratorium on growing pharmaceutical and industrial crops in open fields. So-called “pharma crops” are genetically engineered (GE) to produce medical or industrial products but have not been safety tested for human or environmental health. The law restricts testing to a medical or other indoor laboratory. (Organic Trade Association)


GE tree trials

The biotech company, ArborGen, has asked the USDA for permission to conduct open field trials of GE eucalyptus trees, engineered to tolerate cold temperatures. Scientists say they’re concerned because USDA has not conducted a full environmental impact statement, despite studies showing some tree pollen can travel from North Carolina into Canada.

Engineering eucalyptus to tolerate cold removes the only barrier to their unrestricted spread. Eucalyptus already has become a costly, invasive species in California. (Center for Food Safety)


Celiac disease can develop late in life

Research shows that older people can develop Celiac disease, that it’s not necessarily something we’re born with. A Finnish study involving more than 2,800 people older than 55 found five new cases among those who tested negative in prior years. Only two of the five had symptoms; the other three showed none. (Reuters)


GE sugar beets in garden mix?

GE sugar beet roots are turning up in a soil mix sold to gardeners at a landscape supply business in Corvallis, Ore. The soil mix is sold under a brand called Pro Bark. The business owners say they have no idea how the roots wound up in the mix. (non-gmoreport.com)

More about: GE crops, health concerns, organic food, potatoes, USDA

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