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Food Policy Stories that Mattered in 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, Civil Eats looks back at some of the biggest food stories of the year and how we covered them.

The Battle Over GMOs  

Yet another labeling initiative, this time in Washington state, came down to the wire and yet again those with the most cash were able to defeat the proposal. For a look back on the details, we published Kim O’Donnel’s GMO primer here and her intrepid behind-the-scenes reporting on the money behind the “No” campaign and the “Yes” campaign. On the upside, Maine and Connecticut voted to label GMO foods, but there are strings attached. Connecticut’s law requires four other states to have similar laws in place before it goes into effect. Maine’s bill requires neighboring New Hampshire, a swing state on many issues, to sign similar legislation as well as a few other states before it will take action.

In the wake of the labeling battles in Washington and California, reporter Jason Mark took a look at what it would take to win these fights–driving a wedge between Big Food and Big Ag.

The conversation this year in the media over GMOs was also heated, with many media outlets taking sides. Ralph Loglisci addressed Scientific American’s anti-labeling stance here and concluded: “There may be legitimate reasons to argue against mandatory GMO labeling, but claims that Americans cannot be trusted to make rational decisions about what they want to feed themselves and their children is not one of them.”

In other GMO labeling news, the USDA did approve a label for GMO-free meat and Twilight Greenaway interviewed the vanguard behind the label for Civil Eats here.

And last, but not least, this was the year of the the Seralini Affair. A study released in 2012 that revealed that GMOs fed to rats gave them tumors hit the media like a storm, fueling worries about the safety of eating GMO foods. But the journal that originally published the study decided to retract it in November, seemingly without a strong reason to do so.

Fighting for Fair Labor

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers were recognized this year for their work raising farm worker wages with the Roosevelt Medal, even though places like Publix and Wendy’s are still dragging their feet on signing up.

Fast Food workers went on strike a few times this year to demand higher wages. We reported on the strikes the first time around, but then they got even bigger earlier this month. In a nutshell: Higher wages for workers means less poverty and workers that can afford to eat better food and the higher cost of that Big Mac will better reflect the true cost of food.

As Kathleen Merrigan, the former Deputy Secretary of the USDA, recently said at the University of California, the key issue facing agriculture right now is immigration reform. Although Congress has yet to move legislation forward, this year Robert P. Martin reported on why it matters here and published this opinion piece by Navina Khanna, Joann Lo, and Cathi Tactaquin. You can also read this interview by Tracie McMillan with author Seth Holmes about his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies for what the immigrant farmworker experience is really like.

Pesticides and Pollinators

In a bold move, this year Europe placed a two-year moritorium on neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides that have been closely associated with Colony Collapse Disorder, which is ruthlessly killing bee populations worldwide. But bees aren’t the only pollinators effected by these chemicals: Our report on other vital pollinator populations, including Monarch butterflies, at risk is here by Jason Mark. What it means for us: One-third of all the food we eat, including all fruit and flowering plants, are pollinated by insects. Without them, plan on eating mostly gruel.

Nutrition News

This year we covered many nutrition stories, including the FDA ban on trans-fats and Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to stop the sale of soda over 16 ounces, both by Kristin Wartman. Andy Bellati took McDonald’s to task for claiming to be healthy and  shined a light on Coca-Cola for tainting tap water, and Anna Lappé took a hard look at “philantro” marketing.

SNAP, or food stamps, made news this year when it looked like the program would be split from the Farm Bill. Roots of Change President Michael Dimock weighed in here on what that could mean. Meanwhile, the expiration of the Recovery Act meant an automatic cut in food stamps. Nora Gilbert, Miranda Everitt, and William Haar reported on the effects of those cuts here. And here, former food stamp beneficiary,  Sarah Fertig shared her experience.

We also published this opinion piece by former Executive Director of the Community Food Security Coalition, Andy Fisher, on how hunger groups are working very closely with corporations, and thus against the very thing they claim to be for: Helping the poor access (good) food. Meanwhile, at the Oregon Food Bank they are learning how to cook, and ditto in Toronto, Canada.

We also covered how our food habits are flourishing and exacerbating obesity in China, Mexico, India and South Africa in a blog series in partnership with Brighter Green.

2014: The Year We Do Something About Antibiotic Resistance?

While the issue of antibiotic resistance is not new, it is becoming more clear that we could be at the end of the antibiotic era. So what will FDA do to protect our drugs from becoming resistant? This month the agency issued some voluntary guidelines to try to deal with the problem. At least it got a conversation started, but many feel, including Ralph Loglisci writing here on Civil Eats, that it won’t be enough to keep antibiotics working.

Other Civil Eats Favorites This Year

There are a few pieces we’re particularly proud to share that don’t fall into the categories above.

Kim O’Donnel penned a must-read piece about cooking as the cornerstone of a sustainable food system.

Barry Estabrook wrote “5 Things I Will Not Eat,” which quickly went viral and might be the perfect thing to hand your curious aunt on your visits this holiday season.

Andy Fisher wrote this piece on the state of the food movement, which we still think is important.

Raj Patel and Bob St. Peter got together to write a manifesto on land reform here.

Some of our best interviews this year included Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Michael Pollan, Leigh Adcock, Samin Nosrat, Kari Hamerschlag and Patrick Holden.

And thanks to our successful Kickstarter campaign, we are thrilled to be able to pay our writers and bring you more great stories in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Image: Shutterstock

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