Digest: USDA diluting organics, emptying bottled water

NEWS

Organic, except when it's too hard: The USDA followed the tried-and-true technique of releasing controversial news on a Friday afternoon with an interim approval to the rule allowing 38 non-organic ingredients to be used in products with the "USDA organic" label. Manufacturers must prove (whatever that means) that the organic equivalents can't be found and the product can contain only up to 5% of the non-organic ingredient(s). The USDA will take comments for 60 days before deciding on the final rule. Information about comment submission is at the USDA. (L.A. Times) (Previous Ethicurean coverage)

Bucking the bottle: San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order banning purchases of bottled water by the city, arguing that SF's tap water is some of finest around. In recent years the city has spent nearly $500,000 on bottled water and related supplies. San Francisco's water, which primarily comes from reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada mountains, has won blind taste tests that included several brands of bottled water (taste test article). (SF Chronicle)

Which tap is on top?: One of the events at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Los Angeles is the final stage of the "City Water Taste Test Competition." Ninety-three water agencies entered, just five made it to the finals: Toledo; Anaheim; Colorado Springs; Long Beach, Calif.; and St. Louis. (Toledo Blade)

Water news just keeps flowing: Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is cosponsoring a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting that calls for a study of the impact of bottled water on city budgets and waste-disposal programs. S.F. Mayor Newsom of the recent bottle ban is one of the cosponsors. (KUTV)

Ozone is bad for plants too: Part of the EPA's proposal for new ground-level ozone standards is a tightening of the "secondary" standard, which is intended to protect plants and property from the reactive gas. Ozone is formed by the combination of air pollution and sunlight, and can make plants more susceptible to disease and cause direct damage to vegetation. (U.S. EPA)

Supplemental testing required: The FDA has approved a rule that will require manufacturers of vitamins, herbal pills, and other dietary supplements to test each ingredient in their formulas for purity and potency. Although the rule, which will be phased in over the next three years, does not require demonstrations of safety or effectiveness, some consumer groups are happy about this first step towards better consumer protection. The rule was required by a 1994 law that changed the regulations for supplements, a 13-year rule-making process. (SF Chronicle (AP))

Gov't report finds more species overfished in U.S. waters (Reuters)

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

Just follow the money: A new computer modeling study connects subsidy payments with the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The authors found that almost 60% of the nitrate loading to the Gulf of Mexico is from fertilizer runoff, with almost half of this runoff coming from just 5% of the Mississippi River Basin (Illinois, Iowa and Southern Minnesota). The researchers added subsidy payments to the model and found that areas with the most fertilizer runoff received significant payments but had little land enrolled in conservation programs. Their results indicate that small changes in farm programs can lead to major environmental improvements. For example, identifying areas most prone to fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi River and enrolling the land in set-aside or habitat restoration programs. Continuing with the ethanol madness without limits, on the other hand, will probably increase the size of the dead zone. (ES&T News)

How do you define a farm? (High Plains Journal)

Why one Montana farmer uses organic practices (The Prairie Star)

ON THE BLOGS, ETC.

Going for a SPIN on the farm: A couple from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has formalized and documented a system for starting urban farms called SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) farming. The method has been exported to Philadelphia with excellent results so far (previously digested here). (World Changing)

Clarifying committee confusion: Dan Owens tries valiantly to make sense of what is going on in the House as the Agriculture Committee works on the Food and Farm Bill. Rep. Peterson (D-MN), Chair of the House Agricultural Committee, realizes that changes to the commodity programs will be required to pass a Food and Farm Bill, but the representatives from commodity districts aren't ready to budge on anything. Owens has a few predictions about what will happen next to bridge the divide. (Center for Rural Affairs)

Listening to peaches: LA Times food columnist Russ Parsons joins Terry Gross to talk about the history of cherries and apples, ripeness versus maturity, and other produce-related topics. Stream here or download MP3 from the Fresh Air podcast site. (Fresh Air from NPR)

Consumer pointillism: A pointer to a series of amazing images by Seattle artist Chris Jordan that try to capture the scale of consumer habits. (Marc Gunther)

Farm Bill update from the Organic Farming Research Foundation

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" movie plays across the nation this summer (Farmer John Movie website)

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