PCC Sound Consumer | News bites, December 2008

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News bites
Sound Consumer | December 2008

Same prices, less food

To avoid raising prices, many food companies are reducing package sizes in ways that are difficult to detect. They’re trimming a half-ounce off bars of soap, narrowing the width of toilet paper, and shrinking the size of ice cream and peanut butter containers. Unilever’s Skippy peanut butter jar, for instance, now has a dimple on the bottom and holds 16.3 ounces instead of 18 ounces, and Kellogg has reduced the weight of many of its cereals. (Los Angeles Times)

Farm Bill helps organics

The 2008 Farm Bill contains some good news for organic wannabes. It provides $22 million in federal funds to assist producers and handlers in transitioning to organic certification. The funds will be available beginning in 2009. (Capital Press)

Organic pasturing standard

After years of pressure from organic farmers, consumers and advocacy groups, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a draft rule outlining pasture requirements for cattle on organic farms. Grazing will be required every day of the growing season (minimum 120 days) for dairy and beef cattle and at least 30 percent of organic cattle feed must be pasture-grown forage, not grains or other stored feed.

It’s hoped that clarifying the standards will ensure uniform compliance by all certified organic producers. The draft rule, however, also contains another proposal that would allow non-organic cattle to be added to organic dairy farms and be considered “organic.” (Cornucopia Institute)

Horse crisis?

Record high prices for hay is raising worries that more horses may be abandoned this winter by owners who can’t afford them. With hay selling for as much as $230 per ton, horse rescue groups say they’re getting several calls a day from owners looking to offload their horses.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Revenue reportedly is considering rule changes that would prevent horse boarding, training and riding farms from qualifying as farm and agricultural land.Critics say a rule change would force the sale and development of horse farms. (SaveWashingtonHorseFarms.org)

Court prohibits mad cow testing

A federal appeals court has ruled against a Kansas meat packer, Creekstone Farms, which wants to test all its cattle for mad cow disease (BSE). The USDA tests only 1 percent of all U.S. cattle and has confirmed three BSE cases. Larger companies argued against testing by individual outfits, fearing they’d be pressured to do it, too, if Creekstone could advertise its product as BSE-free.

The Court of Appeals has sent the case back to a lower court where Creekstone Farms can make new arguments. (Los Angeles Times)

Antitrust action against consolidation

The antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice is challenging a proposal that would further concentrate the beef packing industry. It has filed a lawsuit challenging acquisition of National Beef Packing (the fourth largest U.S. beef company) by JBS, the world’s biggest beef producer, based in Brazil.

The proposed consolidation would leave ranchers in parts of the country with just one nearby place to sell their cattle — allowing packers to dictate the price they’ll pay. In some parts of the United States, a single packer already controls 100 percent of the market. (U.S. Cattlemen’s Association)

More allergies in children

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 1 in 26 children had food allergies last year — up from 1 in 30 kids in 1997. Peanut allergies have doubled and children reportedly are taking longer to outgrow milk and egg allergies than in decades past. Researchers aren’t sure what’s causing the increase, but they believe parents and doctors are more likely to now consider food as the trigger for symptoms, such as skin rashes, irritability and breathing problems. (Associated Press)

Pesticide killing bees?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted an “emergency” exemption and “conditional” registration for two pesticides suspected of causing a worldwide die-off of bees. Bayer is the only company selling the pesticides, sold under the trade names Gaucho and Poncho.

France and Germany have banned the entire family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids of which these compounds are a part. Neonicotinoids are applied to seeds but travel systemically throughout a plant and contaminate the pollen, causing paralysis or death. (www.guardian.co.uk)

Non-GM soy making comeback

Farmers reportedly are showing renewed interest in soybeans that aren’t genetically modified (GM). An agronomist at the University of Missouri, Grover Shannon, says farmers are realizing non-GM soy is cheaper to grow and yields as well or better than GM soy.

The cost of the herbicide Roundup for use on Monsanto’s GM soy has increased from $15 to $40 or $50 per gallon over the past year. Plus, overseas demand for non-GM soy and price incentives at the grain elevator are making conventional seeds more appealing. (University of Missouri)

Canada challenging COOL?

Canada’s beef and pork producers are pressuring their government to challenge the new U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. They say COOL discriminates against imported meat products, violating rules of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (U.S. Cattlemen’s Association)

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