11. Whole colonies are vanishing across the country
By Maurice Possley
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 28, 2007, 7:47 AM CDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -- The disappearance and
deaths of millions of honeybees in nearly half of the nation's states is a
mystery seemingly befitting an episode of "CSI" and is threatening an
estimated $14 billion in crops that rely on pollination.
In an inconspicuous office suite here—the home of Bee Alert Technology Inc.—scientists are feverishly working to solve an entomological mystery: What happened to tens of thousands of honeybee colonies in at least 24 states?
These are crime scenes without bodies.
Beekeepers have been opening hives and instead of finding thriving colonies
with as many as 60,000 bees, they find an apian ghost town.
"It's called Colony Collapse Disorder," said Jerry Bromenshenk, a University of Montana professor and head of Bee Alert who has studied honeybees for more than three decades. "We don't know that it's a disease, we don't know if it's due to management practices by beekeepers. There are so many variables. We can't yet find a common denominator."
This baffling situation has sent shock waves through the agriculture industry nationwide, particularly almond growers in California, where 80 percent of the world's almonds are produced. The growers rely on pollination by bees.
While the U.S. honey-production industry generates more than $150 million annually, honeybees' pollination of crops is valued at about $14 billion a year, according to a Cornell University study. Beekeepers truck billions of bees to orchards and farms to pollinate crops including apples, grapes, cucumbers, cauliflower, cherries and almonds.
About three decades ago, S.E. McGregor, an apiculturist from Arizona, estimated that one-third of what is eaten by humans is a direct result of the work of honeybees. Bromenshenk suspects that today McGregor's words are an understatement.
On Thursday, a U.S. Department of Agriculture subcommittee on horticulture and organic agriculture is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on the collapse of honeybee colonies. Bromenshenk says the panel will consider the need for money for immediate research, future funding for a sustained examination and whether to set aside money to compensate beekeepers who have been virtually wiped out.
Just when this phenomenon began is hard to pin down, Bromenshenk said, because the reporting of problems is not organized. He said he first went to Florida late last year to investigate a report of empty hives, but as the problem has gained notoriety , more and more reports have emerged.
Bromenshenk is part of a national task force attempting to figure out why bees leave their hives and don't return. He recently returned from California with thousands of dead bees that he suspects were in colonies in the midst of collapsing.
Those bees have been turned over to Dave Wick, whose company, BVS Inc. of Stevensville, Mont., conducts biological screening in an attempt to determine whether an as-yet-unidentified virus is responsible for the mass disappearance.
"We are … trying to figure out the unknown," Wick said in an interview. "This is a devastating situation. If every honeybee disappeared tomorrow, we would still have produce in our markets—it just wouldn't come from the United States."
Bromenshenk's addition to the team studying the bees' disappearance was prompted by the significant research he has conducted at the university as well as the company that spun off from that work.
The firm has learned how to train bees to perform a variety of tasks, including sniffing out poisons, a skill that can be applied to such things as land mine detection or use of chemicals in a terrorist attack. Bromenshenk said the company has discovered how to train a bee in less than a day to identify things by smell or by sight.
While Illinois is not on the list of states where Colony Collapse Disorder has been discovered, Steve Chard, an apiary inspection supervisor with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said this past week that one possible case has been reported by a beekeeping hobbyist in Decatur who lost nine colonies.
"It's too early to tell for the most part because the weather is just starting to warm up enough to open up hives," Chard said. "We do have one suspected case from Decatur and samples have been sent to the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] for testing. There's no conclusive evidence."
In Michigan, Terry Klein, vice president of the Michigan Beekeepers Association and a commercial beekeeper, said reports of huge losses are beginning to filter in.
"One beekeeper started with 1,500 hives and had only 500 colonies left," Klein said. "Over three or four more weeks, he lost 70 percent of those."
Klein, of St. Charles, Mich., said he lost 80 percent of his bees, but he blames bad weather and mites.
"It's a hard thing to pin down," he said. "You can't autopsy the bodies if they are gone. I am concerned about my survival."
Bromenshenk said that beekeeping largely hasn't changed in more than a century and that the reports coming in don't point to a single cause. "It doesn't appear to be related to poor practices or to those who are organic or those who are not organic," he said.
He suspects that the phenomenon has occurred before, but because reporting practices were not as sophisticated and because the problems have been more publicized, more and more credible reports are being made. He said something similar wiped out millions of bees in Texas, Louisiana and several other Southern states about 50 years ago, but the cause never was determined.
The company is seeking reports from any affected beekeepers at a Web site, href="http://www.beesurvey.com">www.beesurvey.com. More than 400 reports have been filed, but Bromenshenk hopes to get 10 times that number.
"We don't know if this is something new or if it's cyclic," Bromenshenk said. "It is amazing that millions of bees have disappeared across the U.S."
"We've got to figure this out this time," he said. "We've had beekeepers tell us they are going out of business. The public forgets what a critical role bees play in pollination. This is devastating."
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12. Companies Offer “Farm Codes” Saying Where/How Organic Food is Grown.
Dole Foods and Organic Valley are two companies which have begun to label their organic product offerings with “farm codes” to help customers check the veracity of label claims. Dole’s organic banana “stickers” send consumers to doleorganic.com where typing in the three-digit code identifies the plantation that grew the banana, along with organic certification details, worker photos, and satellite map images from Google Earth. Organic Valley has offered a similar feature on its soy milk cartons since 2004. Entering the expiration date at organicvalley.coop/soy brings up the bios of the farmers who grew the beans. (Business Week, March 19, 2007)
13. Farmers discuss
impact of milk bill Some say profits could more than double; others say it's a
Here is an article from Sunday's issue of the Wooster Daily Record:
March 25, 2007
By KATY GANZ
As the Ohio Legislature debates the legalization of raw milk sales, area farmers await word on a decision that may nearly triple the profits for some small dairies.
"It would be different," Holmes County dairy farmer Alan Kozak said. "Instead of selling it to Smith Dairy or Reiter Dairy, the farmer could sell it direct to the consumer and easily more than double their paid price."
If Senate Bill 95 is passed, raw milk sales will be legal only at the farm, thus cutting out a middle man.
"If a farmer would sell even 500 gallons a week, that doesn't sound like a lot in today's commodity market because it's not worth much more that $1 a gallon," said diversified farmer Ralph Schlatter. "But 500 gallons at $3 a gallon you've increased your income by $1,000 a week."
With 52 weeks in a year a farmer could increase income by up to $52,000 a year, more than most small farms run on in a year, Schlatter said.
Schlatter doesn't use a middle man. He uses a technique known as direct marketing, selling his grass-fed beef and raw cheeses out of a store located on his farm in Defiance.
Having to do direct marketing, though, is one of the issues that may prevent dairy farms from going into the raw milk business, said state Rep. Bob Gibbs, a Lakeville Republican.
"I think the economic impact is relatively minor," Gibbs said. "You're only selling it at the farm level. People have to come and pick it up."
Another problem is liability.
"It's not just straightforward when you decide to go into something like that. There are a lot of safeguards that you have to be concerned with," said Leah Miller of the Farm Institute.
Even now Miller hears complaints from farmers about paperwork, and the red tape would only get worse for a farmer with a raw milk license.
There are several farmers in the Amish community Miller said would consider getting a license anyway.
And a few small-scale Amish farmers are all it would take to fill the need for raw milk, said Holmes County Farm Bureau President Darrell Kick.
"I don't think it's a large market." he said. "It's more of a niche."
Schlatter would disagree.
"This is all being done without advertising," Schlatter said. "These people are doing 400 and 500 gallons a week when they are just doing it by word of mouth and once it's legalized people won't have to be so quiet."
Raw milk is consumer driven, Schlatter said. People often ask him if he sells raw milk and although he has told people no, requests keep coming.
"It used to be that the dairy farmer got half of the consumer dollar, or over 50 percent," Kozak said. "Over time the percent of the consumer dollar that the dairyman has received has shrunk to about one-third. Obviously this would correct a lot of that."
Reporter Katy Ganz can be reached at (330) 674-1811 or e-mail [log in to unmask]
14. E. COLI PROBE FAILS TO SOLVE OUTBREAK
Paicines Ranch officially named as source By DAWN WITHERS The Salinas Californian
A report released Friday after seven months of investigation has officially identified the Central Coast ranch where E. coli bacteria contaminated spinach last fall, but it fails to show how the produce became tainted.
A small ranch in San Benito County was the likely source of the nationwide E. coli outbreak that killed three people and sickened more than 200 others, state and federal officials said Friday.
Authorities with the California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - for the first time - said they had isolated the deadly E. coli strain to sources on Paicines Ranch near a field it leased to Mission Organics, a spinach grower.
Even with this revelation, federal and state health officials said during a teleconference they still don't know how the pathogens contaminated the spinach.
The most likely sources, however, are water or wild hogs, according to the report. Streams, which run through the ranch and carry manure from cattle, could have tainted the well water used for irrigation. The ranch also has a large population of feral pigs that could have spread contaminated feces, the report says.
Genetic matches were found between E. coli in Dole bagged spinach eaten by people who fell ill last August and September and the E. coli detected in 21 samples of soil and feces on or near the ranch.
The Paicines Ranch, which breeds Angus cattle and quarter horses, said in a statement on its Web site that it leases land to crop growers and was not under investigation in the outbreak. Ranch officials declined further comment.
The report indicates the contamination probably occurred in the Mission Organics-leased field during or just before harvest, but it goes on to say the bacteria probably was spread to other spinach during bagging and processing at Natural Selection's south processing plant in San Juan Bautista.
But the information does little to help industry leaders take specific action to protect their produce, even as spinach processors cope with a roughly 40 percent drop in bagged spinach sales from recent years, according to a Dole Food Co. representative.
Otto Kramm, chief operations officer for Mission Organics, said in a statement that his company "has cooperated fully" with the FDA and that it supports more research into food safety.
"The FDA report is helpful in narrowing the possible sources of the problem," Kramm said, "but its studies did not find the specific strain of E. coli that caused the outbreak in any of the fields where the spinach in question was grown."
Mission Organics can't sell spinach until state health authorities approve a new plan that shows they corrected their agricultural practices to minimize bacterial contamination, officials said during the morning teleconference. The company has said it's repairing broken fences around its fields, and the report cites groundwater issues on the ranch as a possible factor in spreading the E. coli. Mission Organic's spinach fields were in the second year of a three-year transition to organic production, officials said.
The report also identifies three other ranches where E. coli O157:H7 was found in the investigation, although the strain present there wasn't a genetic match to the E. coli that caused the outbreak.
The other three ranches were identified as Wickstrom Ranch in Aromas, Taix Ranch in Hollister and Eade Ranch south of San Lucas.
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, a vocal critic of produce industry-led voluntary food safety guidelines, lambasted the report in a statement, saying none of the farms identified have been fined. He accused state and federal health officials of "relegating themselves to 'simple spectators' by reiterating recommendations made in the past and failing to provide an action plan."
Ranchers aren't happy with the report, either. The FDA should have provided each of the farms named in the report with a copy to prepare them for the flurry of media, industry and government scrutiny, said Jeff Gilles of Salinas-based Lombardo and Gilles, a law firm representing Kramm, especially because the report contains inaccuracies.
"It would have been in FDA's best interest to meet with farmers to review the report," Gilles said in an e-mail, "in order to correct certain information provided therein."
Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney representing 93 people sickened from the outbreak, said he will decide in the next few weeks whether to add the three other farms to his lawsuits, which already target Mission Organics.
Natural Selection criticized
Also already named in Marler's lawsuits are Dole Fresh Vegetables and Natural Selection Foods, which were targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during visits to the companies last fall. In the report released Friday, investigators pay particular attention to Natural Selection's south facility - one of its two plants in San Juan Bautista
- where the contaminated spinach was processed and bagged. It lays out numerous problems with the company's food safety program.
On Aug. 15, Natural Selection Foods processed the 13 bags of Dole baby spinach that tested positive for the outbreak strain type. A total 34 brands of fresh bagged spinach packaged at the facility were pulled from shelves when the FDA issued its Sept. 14 advisory not to eat such produce.
The report states that from Aug. 15 to 26, Natural Selection Foods didn't conduct its normal sanitation testing and that discrepancies occurred between sanitation schedules and the company's sanitation procedures on the frequency of cleaning for certain areas of the south facility.
"Information and documents obtained from NSF revealed the firm did not update or review (food safety) procedures ... already in use at the north facility prior to initiation of production at the south facility,"
the report said.
Additionally, starting Aug. 13 the company experienced almost a week of chronic labor shortages in its south facility for quality assurance testing and cleaning the facility.
Natural Selection Foods also operated the facility from April 1 to Sept.
15 last year without a license from the California Department of Health Services.
Replying to questions, Natural Selection Foods' spokeswoman Samantha Cabaluna said the company's "commitment to food safety is unwavering, and we are taking an aggressive stance on the issue."
The company also hasn't thoroughly vetted the report, Cabaluna said.
The statement also highlighted the company's overhauled food safety program, which it said includes "multiple barriers and extensive pathogen-specific testing" for both its growers and processing facility.
"We believe our salads are safer than ever before," it says.
Report will help
Although the evidence from the spinach outbreak points to one crop, food safety investigators call the problem of contamination multifaceted, complicated and unable to be pinpointed to just one source.
But the report's findings, as well as information gathered at two public hearings, will help the FDA find ways to prevent future outbreaks, said David Acheson, the FDA's chief medical officer and head of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
"There is a need for uniform application of good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices," Acheson said, "because without them, clearly the potential for illness associated with leafy greens is still there."
Produce-related illnesses are a rising problem, with 72 outbreaks in the past 10 years associated with fresh fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens have been blamed in 22 outbreaks, followed by tomatoes and melons.
While it's impossible to completely eliminate the risk of E. coli contamination in leafy greens, said Kevin Reilly, deputy director of prevention services for the state Health Department, the report points to ways to reduce risk factors through proper food safety practices.
"If we can put into place good agricultural practices on the farm level on every field to reduce the risk, then we can manage the risk and prevent food borne illnesses," Reilly said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and LOS ANGELES TIMES contributed to this report.
Contact Dawn Withers at [log in to unmask]
E. coli that tainted spinach traced to San Benito County cattle ranch By Brandon Bailey San Jose Mercury News Article Launched:03/23/2007 09:07:17 AM PDT The spinach responsible for last fall's nationwide outbreak of illness and death was likely grown by a company called Mission Organics on a ranch in San Benito County, state and federal officials said today.
As reported by the Mercury News earlier this week, officials said they weren't able to determine exactly how the spinach became contaminated, despite an unprecedented six-month investigation.
But they said samples taken from manure, water and a dead pig found on the ranch were an exact genetic match to the deadly strain of E. coli bacteria that killed at least three people and sickened more than 200 others.
Any of those sources could have led to the contamination, said Dean Cliver, a microbiologist and professor of food safety at the University of California, Davis.
State and federal health officials issued their report this morning and planned to discuss it at a news conference later today.
An attorney for Mission Organics, a Hollister company that grew the spinach, has previously said the company doesn't believe it was responsible for the outbreak. The company has been named in a lawsuit filed by an attorney representing dozens of people who became sick, but health officials have not confirmed the name before today.
But health investigators said they traced the contaminated batch of bagged spinach, which was sold under the Dole label, to one batch processed by Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista. The spinach in that batch came from four farms in the area.
Investigators found traces of deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria at all four farms, but only the samples from the Mission Organics site were an exact genetic match to the strain implicated in the outbreak.
While E. coli is often found in the intestinal tracts of cows and can be transmitted through their manure, investigators will probably never know exactly how the bacteria got onto the spinach, according to Dr. David Acheson, a top food-safety official for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
However, investigators have theorized that the bacteria could have been spread by a cow or pig that wandered through the field, or through contaminated irrigation water.
The field is part of the Paicines Ranch, a large property that is primarily used to raise cattle. Owners of the ranch have said they are not responsible for any crops grown by companies that lease portions of the ranch.
The final investigation report can be viewed at: http://www.dhs.ca.gov
NewsTarget.com printable article
Originally published March 15 2007
Antibacterial soap ingredient triclosan may be harmful to humans
by David Gutierrez
Triclosan, widely used as an antibacterial ingredient in household hand
sterilization products, breaks down rapidly when exposed to chlorinated
water and produces toxic chemicals including chloroform, according to a
study published on the Environmental Science & Technology research
website As Soon As Publishable (ASAP), suggesting that many
antibacterial products may not only be ineffective, but harmful.
Jump directly to: conventional view | alternative view | resources |
What you need to know - Conventional View
A previous study demonstrated that pure triclosan reacts with free
chlorine to produce chloroform, a toxic chemical and probable carcinogen.
This 2005 study led to the removal of all triclosan-containing
products from the British chain Marks & Spencer, as well as all
triclosan-containing toothpaste from stores in China.
In the new study, the same researchers from the Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University tested 16 household products, including
lotions, soaps and body washes. All the products containing triclosan
produced either chloroform or other chlorine byproducts when exposed to
The researchers found that people using these products would be
exposed to chloroform levels 40 percent higher than that found in tap water.
Triclosan decomposes into chlorine byproducts in as little as one
minute when exposed to chlorinated water at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a
temperature commonly reached in household use. This led the researchers
to question whether triclosan-containing soaps even provide the
purported anti-bacterial benefit.
Quote: "At fairly low levels of chlorine, the triclosan degrades
rapidly [into chlorine byproducts]." - Researcher Peter Vikesland
What you need to know - Alternative View
Statements and opinions by Mike Adams, executive director of the
Consumer Wellness Center
What this groundbreaking study reveals is that antibacterial products
containing triclosan are a hoax. This chemical is proving to be a real
threat to human health, and that doesn't even include the fact that it
can accelerate the breeding of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
I strongly advise consumers to avoid purchasing antibacterial products
made with triclosan. Use natural products containing tea tree oil or
other herbal ingredients that are naturally antibacterial.
Resources you need to know
Worldwatch Institute page on triclosan:
Antibacterial ingredient triclosan degrades rapidly when exposed to
chlorinated tap water, producing potentially toxic byproducts.
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March 22, 2007 SPIEGEL ONLINE International
Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist
Michigan State University
C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems
303 Natural Resources Bldg.
East Lansing, MI 48824
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