News bites
Sound Consumer | January 2011


New powers in agriculture

The 2010 elections that gave Republicans a majority in the U.S. House is causing changes in the leadership of agriculture committees. Chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee transfers from Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) to Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the new Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, replacing senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). The shift also may delay consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill.(Capital Press)


Strawberry fumigant causes cancer

California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation has raised the acceptable level of exposure to methyl iodide, a fumigant for non-organic strawberries that the state’s own experts say puts farmworkers and bystanders at risk. The new level is 120 times higher than what state scientists and an eight-person peer review panel recommended. Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin that causes late-term miscarriages and brain damage. (Associated Press)


EU retreats on bluefin tuna quotas

Representatives from 48 countries have set fishing quotas for the threatened Atlantic bluefin tuna but France, Spain and other Mediterranean nations have blocked the European Union from doing the same. The EU says it will not seek cutbacks in fishing quotas based only on scientific “advice” and will consider the “interests” of tuna fishermen. The number of bluefin tuna, popular in sushi, has dropped 60 percent from 1997 to 2007. (Associated Press)


Gene patent policy change?

The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed a longstanding position, now saying that human genes should not be eligible for patents. In a court brief, the government says that merely isolating a gene, without alteration or manipulation, does not change its nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office already has issued thousands of patents on genes of various organisms, including 20 percent of human genes. (The New York Times)


Not organic goji

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has revoked the organic certification of a Chinese goji berry producer after discovering it used synthetic chemicals on a large scale. Organic inspectors found “a huge number” of empty fertilizer bags and evidence of herbicide and insecticide use at the farm in Inner Mongolia. The USDA revoked certifications of eight companies in 2010. (Capital Press)


Organic hops required

Starting in 2013, certified organic beer must contain organic hops. The National Organic Standards Board has voted unanimously to remove non-organic hops from a list of non-organic ingredients allowed in organic foods. Non-organic hops were allowed for a few years until producers were able to demonstrate that organic hops are in ample supply. (Change.org)


Sight of meat calms men

A McGill University study suggests that men become less aggressive at the sight of meat. Researchers asked 82 men to inflict punishment on actors who made mistakes when reading scripts and found they were less likely to inflict pain if they saw images of meat when mistakes were made. Researchers had expected that images of meat would increase aggression, due to hunting instincts that it might provoke, but instead meat seems to be associated with feelings of comfort and gatherings with family and friends. (The Montreal Gazette)


Apple a day?

Washington state is developing a reputation for another beverage in addition to fine coffee, wine and microbrews. It’s cider, especially those with fizz and alcohol known as “hard cider.” About 10 cideries have sprung up across Washington state in the past few years, although producers say they earn a lot less than $20 a bottle. (Capital Press)


Beak deformities linked to pesticides

A U.S. Geological Survey is reporting the highest rate of beak deformities ever recorded in wild bird populations in the Northwest and Alaska. Scientists say overgrown and crossed beaks among chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are dramatically more common than 10 years ago, 10 times the normal rate. Clusters of beak deformities have long been associated with pollutants such as PCBs and dioxin, and critics say they’re not surprised, given that Pacific Northwest forests were blanketed with herbicides for decades. (Associated Press)


BPA disappearing from packaging

A new survey shows consumer concerns are driving industry faster than regulators to eliminate bisphenol A (BPA) from food and beverage containers. Green Century Capital Management surveyed 26 major food companies and found that 32 percent of them have timelines to phase out BPA; only 7 percent had timelines last year. (FoodProductionDaily.com)


Aquifers going dry

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington State Department of Ecology say they’ll decide this summer on where the water will come from to offset shrinking supplies from underground aquifers in Washington. Several options would pull water from the Columbia River to irrigate as much as 102,000 acres. An environmental impact statement will be released this year. (Capital Press)


Wind farm health effects

Oregon’s public health officials are holding “listening sessions” to hear public concerns about the health impacts from wind turbines and wind farms. Health concerns generally focus on noise and vibration but one New York physician has coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” to describe the headaches, nausea, dizziness and memory loss from living near the machines. (Capital Press)

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