Get caught up on some of the top food news of this week.
1. Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says (New York Times)
Just in case we didn’t already know that food waste was a huge international problem, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a daunting report this week that turns up the volume on the message. The FAO found that 60 million tons of food is wasted a year in the U.S., with an estimated value of $162 billion. About 32 million tons of it end up in landfills, at a cost of about $1.5 billion a year to local governments. But financial cost pales in comparison to the cimate cost: 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. The report also warns that the food waste problem is likely to get worse as the world’s population grows, provided the middle class expands with it. By 2030, the FAO predits consumer food waste will cost a whopping $600 billion a year. Time to get those compost pails out and use them!
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack isn’t in charge of GMO labeling–that responsibility lies with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. None the less, he seems determined not to side squarely with either the pro-labeling American public or the companies resisting it. Instead, this week, he advocated for bar codes or other symbols on food packages that consumers could scan to read information such as whether the food’s ingredients include GMOs. Scott Faber, head of the national Just Label It campaign, responded by saying that “Consumers shouldn’t have to have a high-tech smartphone and a 10-gigabyte data plan to know what’s in their food.”
3. Michelle Obama Enlists Stars for Produce Push (Politico)
This week, the First Lady unveiled a celebrity-infused marketing blitz further solidifying her as a member of “team produce.” Politico‘s Helena Bottemiller Evich writes: “The constant promotion of broccoli comes at a tense time for the food and agriculture industries, as several major trade associations are battling a federal panel that recently suggested the government should urge Americans to eat less red meat and less processed foods.” Evich notes that while the processed food industry may feel threatened by the first lady’s campaign to eat more fruit and vegetables, the produce industry is thrilled. The timing of the new campaign is notable, as next week the School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 school meals providers across the country, will be on Capitol Hill to make its case for walking back some of the changes in the law, which is set to be reauthorized this year.
The latest in a series of efforts to cut out controversial and unhealthy ingredients, Hershey’s announced that it will no longer use GMO sugar or soy lecithin in its milk chocolate bars and “Kisses.” The company will also switch to cane sugar, remove the emulsifier polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR), and stop using artificial vanillin. Hershey’s said in a statement: “We are specifically looking to formulate new products and transition existing products to deliver on no artificial flavors, no synthetic colors, no high-fructose corn syrup and to be gluten free.” The change comes after a popular 2013 campaign run by a coalition of groups led by Food Democracy Now! asked several commercial chocolate companies to change their recipes.
5. A Pesticide Banned, or Not, Underscores Trans-Atlantic Trade Sensitivities (New York Times)
Anti-pesticides activists worry that trans-Atlantic trade talks–in which the U.S. is seen as having the upper hand–could weaken pesticide regulations in Europe and lead to a flood of conventional commodity products coming in from the U.S. One especially potent herbicide, atrazine, is applied to the majority of soybeans and corn in this country, but banned in the European Union. And while the company’s tactic has been to semantic slight-of-hand that boldly denies the confirmed ban, it is yet to be seen whether the chemical’s parent company, Syngenta, and the American diplomats it lobbies, will take the same blissfully ignorant approach to trade policy.
6. Food Habits Getting Worse Around the World (New York Times)
When it comes to healthy eating, the poorest nations have an edge, says a pair of recent study publishing in the British Journal The Lancet. Not only do people in many developing world nation consume more whole grains and fresh produce, but they take in much less processed food and soda. Meanwhile, in nations that have recently become wealthier, like Brazil, Vietnam, South Africa, India, Mexico, as large food and beverage companies have begun spending millions targeting children. The result? Many children are stunted in height from poor nutrition and yet obese.
7. Why are Foodies Turning Their Backs on Fair Trade? (The Guardian)
Fair Trade is on the decline in the United Kingdom, where it saw sales of products carrying its logo fall by 4 percent last year. In the case of high-end coffee producers, for whom quality and flavor are often paramount, informal deals rule the day. Where as fair trade companies work exclusively with cooperatives and require an investment and an agreed upon price up front. Those working outside the certification system prefer to engage in direct trade and visit individual suppliers, so they can have full confidence in those they buy from. One chef, also part of the backlash told the Guardian: “When you get to the bottom of it, [the Fairtrade scheme] is kind of neo-imperialistic. It’s something we impose on them.” But Fairtrade International maintains that their third party certification scheme is still far more responsible, and effective, than the alternatives.
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