In brief | Nation & World | 4-25-14


Food makers worry about costs, confusion as Vermont OKs labeling of GMO products

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont has raised the stakes in the debate over genetically modified foods by becoming the first state to pass a bill requiring that they be labeled as such in the grocery aisle, making the move despite the opposition of the powerful U.S. food industry.

Americans overwhelmingly favor such requirements for foods containing genetically modified organisms, but the industry fears a patchwork of state policies. The Vermont bill says genetically modified foods “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment” and includes $1.5 million for implementation and defense against lawsuits expected from the food and biotech industries.

The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food industry’s main trade group, said it’s evaluating how to respond. Options could include a legal challenge, labeling only foods that are sold in Vermont or making a wholesale change nationwide to avoid multiple labeling systems.

On a federal level, the association has urged policymakers to support requirements for labeling only if the Food and Drug Administration finds a health or safety risk.

Major oil and gas supplier to disclose all chemicals used in fracking fluids

PITTSBURGH — A major supplier to the oil and gas industry says it will begin disclosing 100 percent of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, with no exemptions for trade secrets. The move by Baker Hughes of Houston is a shift for a major firm; it’s unclear if others will follow suit.

The oil and gas industry has said the fracking chemicals are disclosed at tens of thousands of wells, but environmental and health groups and government regulators say a loophole that allows companies to hide chemical “trade secrets” has been a major problem.

A statement on the Baker Hughes website said the company believes it’s possible to disclose 100 percent “of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations,” to increase public trust.

“This really good news. It’s a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “One hopes that the entire industry goes along with it.”

But Goldstein noted one “major hedge” in the Baker Hughes position, since the company said it will provide complete lists of the products and chemical ingredients used in frack fluids “where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities.”

AP sources: US government effort to seek release of US soldier is disorganized

WASHINGTON — Critics of the U.S. government’s nearly five-year effort to seek the release of the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan claim the work suffers from disorganization and poor communication among numerous federal agencies involved, leaving his captors unclear which U.S. officials have the authority to make a deal.

The shrinking U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan has refocused attention on efforts to bring home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, who has been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009.

About two dozen officials at the State and Defense departments, the military’s U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, the CIA and FBI are working the case — most of them doing it alongside their other duties, a defense official said.

Bergdahl’s captors are anxious to release him, according to a defense official and a military officer, who both spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

“Elements in all echelons — from the top of the Taliban down to the folks holding Bergdahl — are reaching out to make a deal,” the defense official said.

By wire sources