Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On Dicing Vegetables

April 9, 2013

On Dicing Vegetables.

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GM Beets Under the Gun

January 12, 2010

Could a federal judge in San Francisco who has already found the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lacking when it comes to making sure genetically modified sugar beets are safe end up blocking planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets this spring? From Food Safety News.

Sometimes food is … well, just food.

January 8, 2010

Russ Parsons, food editor at Los Angeles Times, has issued a smart, balanced call for reason in the snipefest that more-often-than-not characterizes the debates over food sustainability.

Food is not just a culinary abstraction. No matter how much you and I might appreciate the amazing bounty produced by talented, quality-driven farmers, we also have to acknowledge that sometimes food is . . . well, just food. So when we start dreaming about how to make our epicurean utopia, we also have to keep in mind that our first obligation is to make sure that healthful, fresh food remains plentiful and inexpensive enough that anyone can afford it.

Parsons‘ commentary provides an insightful, if uncomfortable, gaze in the mirror. Read it.

Farmers are Earning Less for Their Efforts

January 7, 2010

Food prices are going down and farmers are getting less and less of the profits from their efforts. That’s the story in a piece that appeared in Brownfield Ag News yesterday.

[American Farm Bureau Federation] says Americans today spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income for food, the lowest average of any country in the world. Meanwhile, the farmer’s share of that food dollar continues to decline from roughly 33 percent in the mid-1970’s to 19 percent today. In other words, of the $42.90 spent on the Market Basket items, the farmer gets $8.15.

Considering the source, the AFBF, it’s even more interesting. While farmers continue to struggle with increasing costs and lower returns, the very organization that supposedly speaks for them continues to ally itself with organizations that do more and more to reduce farmer’s independence.

Founded in 1919 by farmers, the organization’s original purpose was to “to make the business of farming more profitable, and the community a better place to live.” From the outside, it’s hard to believe that’s the organization’s focus anymore. Entrenched with companies such as Monsanto and pursuing political policies that do more to benefit corporate interests, Farm Bureau policies do more to increase the distance between farm and fork, thereby ensuring farmers receive less and less of the profits.

“Again this quarter and compared to one year ago, Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers found that the foods that declined the most in average retail price are among the least-processed items in our marketbasket,” Farm Bureau economist Stefphanie Gambrell said in a release from the organization.

That’s a highly suspicious statement, although not hard to believe. Given that fewer parties are involved in the production, distribution, and sales of less-processed foods, and given the increase in fuel prices and production costs, it makes sense that the least processed foods cost less. What the Farm Bureau doesn’t comment on is from which foods farmers’ profits derive. The AFBF also notes that the decline in farmers’ earnings really began in the mid-1970s, a time when fuel costs began to rise dramatically. Even more notable is the increase in Americans’ appetites for heavily processed convenience foods, a trend that returns few earnings to the people who produce the raw ingredients and more and more to those who take the food farther and farther from its origins.

School Lunches Under Increasing Scrutiny

January 6, 2010

When the food kids find at fast food joints turns out to be safer and – arguably – healthier than the stuff they’re served in school cafeterias, there’s a problem.

Photo: Jared Richardson, Stock.xchng

A good chili-cheese dog is a noble thing; it may not be the best option for school lunches, however.

School lunches have been coming under increasing scrutiny the past couple of years; momentum for change is coming even faster. While parents put more pressure on school officials to change their menus to healthier options, those officials are forced to contend with shrinking budgets that prevent them from offering the better foods parents for which parents are clamoring.

With only about a dollar budgeted per student, food choices are limited. Many schools don’t even bother to prepare lunches anymore, preferring the cheaper alternative of contracting out their lunch programs to companies whose primary concern is how to make a buck rather than providing healthy meals. Of course, not only parents are raising their voices: students are getting involved, too.

Ban on non-therapeutic antiobiotic use fails

June 12, 2009

A bill that would have gradually phased out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in food animals died in the California Senate last week. Its author, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.

Florez

California Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter)

“The reason the bill didn’t get passed in the Senate is that Big Ag can still flex its muscles,” said Florez in an interview Tuesday. Florez is also a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.

Senate Bill 416, had it passed, would have begun phasing out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics (NTAs) in animals raised for food. Beginning with an outright ban in public schools on meat from animals treated with NTAs in 2012, the bill would have ended the use of the NTAs in food animals throughout the state by 2015. The bill that was finally put before the Senate for vote, however, was notably different than the version Florez introduced. By the time it hit the Senate floor for its third and final reading, it said “This bill allows a school district to make every effort to purchase poultry and meat products that have not been treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics” with no mention of the 2015 ban.

Support and opposition

Support for, and opposition to, the bill fell along the usual lines. Organizations such as Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, and Union of Concerned Scientists supported the proposed legislation, while agricultural and veterinary groups such as California Pork Producers Council, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Veterinary Medical Association opposed the bill. Two labor organizations, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and United Food & Commercial Workers Western States Council also opposed SB 416.

In an April letter to Florez, California Veterinary Medical Association lobbyist Michael Dillon stated his organization’s opposition to the bill, comparing it to earlier similar legislation that had been defeated in the past.

“Not unlike SB 416, those measures made declarations that the food animal industry and veterinarians were somehow responsible for antibiotic resistance in humans,” Dillon wrote, “yet there was little effort to examine if there is a nexus with the over-prescription of antibiotics for humans, by physicians.”

Food & Water Watch cited European efforts to end the use of NTAs. Citing a ban on NTAs by Sweden in 1985, the organization said that “Over the next decade, the total amount antibiotics given to animals for any purpose dropped by 50 percent.” Improved hygiene in barns, reduced animal stress, and new animal husbandry practices helped diminish farm animals’ vulnerability to disease, they added.

Although the bill went down 20-15 in the Senate vote, it was approved for reconsideration, and may be introduced in the next session.

Given the size of the livestock industry in California, said Florez, “we’re going to have to be in the forefront.”

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Is organic overrated?

June 9, 2009

From a nutrition standpoint, there isn’t enough research to show that organic foods are more nutritious than regular foods…
Ashley Mullins, dietitian at Baylor All Saints Medical Center

ScienceDaily — Just a few short years ago, if you wanted to buy organic food, you had to make a special trip to an out-of-the-way grocery store. Today, organic products are, well, cropping up all over the place. Are they really worth the higher price or is it just another marketing maneuver? Full story

China’s new Food Safety Law now in effect

June 4, 2009
herdingcats

China begins the overhaul of its food safety system with new laws that went into effect Monday.

While the phrase “herding cats” comes most readily to mind, China has begun its gargantuan effort to regulate and improve the safety of its food and drug industries. China’s new Food Safety Law, a far reaching piece of legislation with which the government hopes to change the country’s battered food safety image, came into effect Monday.

The law, which was passed in March, replaces regulations enacted in 1995. That legislation “was outdated and the food monitoring system has long been blamed for lacking efficiency, which led to repeated scandals ranging from tainted dairy products to vegetables with excessive pesticide,” reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency, earlier this week.

It was the dairy scandal in 2008 which brought China’s faltering food safety system to world-wide attention. More than 300,000 people were sickened and several infants died after drinking milk which had been mixed with melamine, a fire retardant which processors used to increase the protein readings in their products. A year earlier, thousands of animals in the United States were sickened with melamine contaminated pet food made in China. Numerous other scandals, ranging from poor or non-existent food safety standard to outright fraud, exacerbated the problem.

The Chinese government, however, was already at work on the legislation that finally became law this week. The overhaul of the country’s food safety regulations began back in 2007 in recognition of the fact that officials were largely powerless in their ability to oversee the production of more 200 million farmers and half-a-million food processors.

“China’s Food Safety Law appears to be as much a consequence of recent food safety scares as it is the result of protracted consideration and drafting,” noted an advisory from the international business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

Back in 2007, however, the Chinese government was hailing its food exports as the safest in the world, noting in a report “Japanese quarantine authorities found Chinese food exports had the highest acceptance rate at 99.42 percent, followed by the EU (99.38 percent) and the United States (98.69 percent)”.

Following the melamine dairy scandal, as well as outbreaks of Salmonella contamination from American products in the United States, figures exposing the weaknesses of the American inspection process began to crop up. Those high acceptance rates the Chinese touted had more to do, it seemed, with a lack of resources on the part of the US than with over-all quality. In 2007, the United States imported more than $4.5 billion in food products from China, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Only 1 percent of food imported into the US in 2007 was actually inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, reported USA Today two years ago. The FDA is responsible for all drugs and food products other than meat, poultry, and eggs.  That figure was down from 8 percent in 1992, when food imports to the US were significantly lower, the same article reported.

The FDA sealed an agreement with China last year to allow a small number of inspectors to work alongside Chinese officials inspecting products destined for US markets, reported Foodnavigator.com. Only eight positions were approved, however, to be installed over a period of 18 months. More than 3,000 pharmaceutical plants manufacture goods for export to the US, and thousands more produce food.

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Why buy local when you can buy the whole country?

May 30, 2009

Several months ago, we posted a link to a story from Financial Times discussing the move by Asian and Arabian Gulf states to buy or lease land in the Third World for farming. The catch? Nearly all the food produced is shipped back to the lessor with little or no benefit to the citizens of the countries where it was raised. Last week, The Economist published a similar story examining the phenomenon in several other countries, and says the governments of those countries are profiting from those agreements at the expense of their citizens. Governments have even been overthrown to support these schemes. Full story

‘Fingerprinting’ Helps Make Great Grapes

September 1, 2008

ScienceDaily — At about this time next year, nearly all of the 2,800 wild, rare and domesticated grapes in a unique northern California genebank will have had their “genetic profile” or “fingerprint” taken. (Full story here)