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Factory farm producing “organic” milk shut down

After a seven-year-long battle between organic farmers and consumers and the USDA, the first of a handful of industrial-scale dairies, producing what they claimed was organic milk, has been shut down by regulators. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic watchdog, announced that the Case Vander Eyk Jr. dairy in California has been forced to suspend selling organic milk. The 10,000-cow feedlot dairy, near Fresno, was found to be operating outside of the organic law.

In early 2005, Cornucopia filed the first of a series of formal legal complaints with the USDA against Vander Eyk and other large factory-farm operators alleging that the mammoth “factory farms” were violating the spirit and letter of organic law by confining their animals to pens and sheds rather than grazing them.

“This is a big victory for farm families around the country who work so hard to create milk and dairy products that meet a high ethical standard,” said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s senior farm policy analyst. “Scofflaws, like Vander Eyk, place family farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

According to governmental regulators the dairy lost its ability to ship organic milk in May because of serious questions surrounding Vander Eyk’s record-keeping—such as assuring that cows are actually managed organically.

“It’s excellent to see the organic certifier fulfilling their responsibility under the organic law,” said Lisa McCrory, a certification expert for Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “This is an example of the system working as designed—organic inspectors uncovering problems and protecting the public if problems are discovered.

“The reason our customers have made this a growing industry is they trust us and the integrity of the organic label,” said Arden Landis, who milks 100 cows in Kirkwood, PA. “We don’t plan on letting them down!”

The good news about organic dairy products, according to Cornucopia, is that the vast majority are produced with high integrity and meet the spirit and letter of the organic law. In 2006 the organic watchdog published a comprehensive report and scorecard that rated the 70 organic dairy brands, over 90% of which received an excellent score. -Cornucopia Institute

Catastrophic bee colony collapse is not affecting organic hives

Beekeepers in 24 states are experiencing record losses of honeybees. Some states have reported up to 70 percent disappearances of commercial bee populations. Researchers are struggling to find the causes of this mysterious collapse.

A crucial element of this story, missing from reports in the mainstream media, is the fact that organic beekeepers across North America are not experiencing colony collapses. The millions of dying bees are hyper-bred varieties whose hives are regularly fumigated with toxic pesticides by conventional beekeepers attempting to ward off mites.

In contrast, organic beekeepers avoid pesticides and toxic chemicals and strive to use techniques that closely emulate the ecology of bees in the wild. Researchers are beginning to link the mass deaths of non-organic bees to pesticide exposure, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the common practice of moving conventional beehives over long distances. -Organic Consumers Association

100 percent pure fruit juice is no longer linked to obesity

New research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual convention in Toronto in May indicates that 100 percent pure fruit juice does not add to childhood obesity and may actually help children maintain healthy weight.

In the their study, researchers analyzed the juice consumption of 3,618 children ages 2 to 11 using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Increased risk for obesity was linked to beverages that contained artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, which makes up the vast majority of beverages on the market (note: most high-fructose corn syrup is made from genetically engineered corn). “The bottom line is that 100 percent juice consumption is a valuable contributor of nutrients in children’s diet and it does not have an association with being overweight,” said study chief Dr. Theresa Nicklas. -Organic Consumers Association

Solar power set to shine brightly

The solar industry is poised for a rapid decline in costs that will make it a mainstream power option in the next few years, according to a new assessment by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Prometheus Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Global production of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, which turn sunlight directly into electricity, has risen six fold since 2000 and grew 41 percent in 2006 alone. Although grid-connected solar capacity still provides less than ONE percent of the world’s electricity, it increased nearly 50 percent in 2006, to 5,000 megawatts, propelled by booming markets in Germany and Japan. Spain is likely to join the big leagues in 2007, and the United States soon thereafter.

This growth, while dramatic, has been constrained by a shortage of manufacturing capacity for purified polysilicon, the same material that goes into semiconductor chips. But the situation will be reversed in the next two years as more than a dozen companies in Europe, China, Japan, and the United States bring on unprecedented levels of production capacity. In 2006, for the first time, more than half the world’s polysilicon was used to produce solar PV cells. Combined with technology advances, the increase in polysilicon supply will bring costs down rapidly—by more than 40 percent in the next three years, according to Prometheus estimates.

“Solar energy is the world’s most plentiful energy resource, and the challenge has been tapping it cost-effectively and efficiently,” says Janet Sawin, a senior researcher at Worldwatch, who authored the update. “We are now seeing two major trends that will accelerate the growth of PV: the development of advanced technologies, and the emergence of China as a low-cost producer.”

The biggest surprise in 2006 was the dramatic growth in PV production in China. Last year, China passed the United States, which first developed modern solar cell technology at Bell Labs in New Jersey in the 1950s, to become the world’s third largest producer of the cells—trailing only Germany and Japan.

China’s leading PV manufacturer, Suntech Power, climbed from the world’s eighth largest producer in 2005 to fourth in 2006, and PVs have made the company’s CEO one of his nation’s wealthiest citizens. Experts believe that China, with its growing need for energy, large work force, and strong industrial base, could drive dramatic reductions in PV prices in the next few years, helping to make solar competitive with conventional power even without subsidies. -Worldwatch Institute

Study confirms heart benefits of whole grains

Americans should bulk up on whole grains like oatmeal, barley and brown rice to help lower their risk of clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes, according to researchers.
In a review of seven major studies, the researchers found that higher whole grain intake was consistently linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. On average, adults who ate 2.5 servings of whole grains per day were nearly one-quarter less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their peers who rarely consumed whole grains.
Whole grains are believed to benefit the heart in a number of ways. The fiber and other nutrients in whole grains may help lower cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as improve blood vessel functioning and reduce inflammation in the circulatory system.

Yet surveys show that few Americans get the recommended three servings of whole grains per day, according to the authors of the new study. More than 40 percent of U.S. adults say they eat no whole grains. Some may also be confused about what exactly constitutes a whole grain. Whole grains contain three components: bran and germ, which are rich in fiber and nutrients, and an endosperm, which contains starch and protein. Highly processed grains, like white bread or snack foods made from white flour, are stripped of the bran and germ. In contrast, whole grains -- such as oats, barley, whole wheat, brown rice and quinoa -- retain more of the nutrient-dense bran and germ.
For the study, the researchers pooled data from seven major studies involving more than 285,000 men and women who were followed for 6 to 15 years. Overall, those who ate the most whole grains were less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, or die of cardiovascular causes. This was true when other health factors, like overall diet, exercise, weight and smoking habits, were taken into account. -Reuters Health

Record deer population eating Wisconsin forests

Throughout most of Wisconsin’s countryside, record-setting numbers of white-tailed deer are eating away at the state’s forests. Nationally, deer numbers have exploded from 500,000 in the 1900s to over 25 million today. Despite efforts by wildlife management agencies, expanded hunting policies have not diminished the deer population boom that has resulted, in part, from changing land use practices and ownership. According to the Wisconsin DNR Governor Knowles State Forest Study, “browsing by white-tailed deer has been a growing problem for Wisconsin landowners planting seedlings for reforestation purposes.” It’s estimated that 80 percent of the 17 million seedlings shipped out by the state nurseries are subject to browsing.

Already well known for their devastating impacts related to vehicle damage and human fatalities, agricultural crop loss, and landscaping plantings, deer are increasingly biting into newly planted trees. In some cases, deer are undermining the natural regeneration of existing forests, completely transforming the very forest ecology at the expense of native species while reducing tree survival rates.

Now forest landowners are fighting back by adopting aggressive strategies to protect their trees with tree shelters, deer repellents and other reforestation aides. For deer and small animals that browse on the trees, a variety of scientifically proven reforestation aides are available, including Tree Pro Miracle Tubes which surround the trees, deer repellent, and spiral tree guards. To control weeds, herbicides and a plastic tree mat have been proven effective.

“There’s a lot that can undermine a successful tree planting,” admits Mark Shepard, Vice President of the conservation non-profit Southwest Badger Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D). For over a decade, Southwest Badger RC&D has assisted forest landowners with their reforestation efforts, emerging as the Midwest’s leading supplier of affordable reforestation aides, sales of which help support the work of the organization.
“In addition to browse by deer, rabbits and other small animals,” continues Shepard, “weather, weed control, tree planting technique, and getting good seedling stock can determine whether forest landowners end up with a field of trees, or nothing at all.” No products trump active stewardship on the part of the forest landowner.

For more information about reforestation aides, contact Southwest Badger RC&D by calling 608-723-6377 x136, e-mailing swbadger@mhtc.net, or visiting www.treeprotection.org.

Canada approves labeling of health claims on tea

Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) has deemed tea to be a natural health product and has officially recognized tea for its role in maintaining good health. After a period of extensive review, the NHPD has approved three health claims for tea. All types of tea infusions (black, green and oolong) are recognized as a source of antioxidants for the maintenance of good health. Tea is approved for increasing alertness. And tea is further accredited as helping to maintain and/or support cardiovascular health. Green Tea extract is approved as a source of antioxidants for the maintenance of good health. It is also approved for use as an adjunct treatment in a weight management program in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
The NHPD’s ruling will enable tea manufactures to include the approved health claims on product packaging and will set stage for allowing the use of the accepted health claims in marketing tea. The scientific evidence about the numerous health benefits of tea has been mounting for nearly two decades. Hundreds of research studies have found many potential health attributes associated with tea including protection from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Tea is second only to water as the healthiest beverage choice according to guidelines for healthy beverage consumption that were developed by a panel of American nutrition experts and published in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of American Clinical Nutrition. “Tea is rich in naturally occurring flavonoids which act as antioxidants,” says Dr. Carol Greenwood, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. “In fact, tea is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in the diet.” Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize the body’s naturally occurring but cell-damaging free radical molecules. Damage by free radicals over time is believed to contribute to the development of many chronic disease including cancer and cardiovascular disease, explains Greenwood.

Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage after water. In 2006, the tea market in Canada was worth approximately $319 million. Canadians drink more than seven billion cups of tea each year. In 2005, the per capita consumption of tea in Canada was 69.98 liters (280 cups) per Canadian, an increase of 43 percent from 1996 when it was 48.9 liters. -Organic Consumers Association