Recent Articles About Antibiotics

With its focus on dense, whole grain breads, smoked fish, berries, and a high percentage of plants, Denmark’s Nordic diet has been called “the New Mediterranean diet.” Now, it seems that we might also benefit from studying the nation’s larger structural choices when it comes to making food.

From food waste reduction to better treatment of both animals and people working in the its food industry, here are some lessons that the U.S. could afford to learn from this small northern European nation.

1. Cutting Food Waste

Last year, the Danish government estimated that the country had slashed its food waste by 25 percent over five years. Much of that drop can be traced to efforts by the organization Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food), which started in 2008. Danish supermarkets, even the largest chains, now deliberately discount and market food that is about to expire. They also monitor which types of food are being wasted the most—and order less of it.

WeFood, a (nonprofit) store scheduled to open this month, will sell cheap food that supermarkets can’t sell for a range of reasons; the store, located in a low-income neighborhood of Copenhagen, will invest proceeds in hunger relief organization DanChurchAid‘s projects in some of the world’s poorest countries.

In addition to these NGO projects, leading minds are trying to devise with technologies to reduce the edible waste stream. The team behind WasteTaste, a project based at Aarhus University, is working on a technology that can vacuum-dry unwanted fruits and vegetables that don’t meet producer or retailer standards and turn them into products that can be used across the food sector, whether it’s pureed fruit for a health food manufacturer or crystalline ingredients for a sports drink producer.

2. Dedicating Resources to Organic Agriculture

The Danish government not only touts the importance of organic agriculture—it’s putting its money where its mouth is. Last February, the government announced a plan to double the amount of organic farmland by 2020 (over 2007 figures)—earmarking approximately $60 million to facilitate the effort and increase organic production and supply. The country’s agriculture minister also committed to boosting the amount of organic food served in public institutions—and its ministry of defense pledged to do the same for food served at its bases.

3. Paying Food Workers Better

It’s been a long and slow struggle for fast food workers to get any respectable increase in the U.S., with select municipalities finally acting to meet their needs. But the fast food industry in Denmark pays its workers no less than $20 an hour—a minimum dictated not by law, but by an agreement, according to the New York Times, between Denmark’s 3F union, the nation’s largest, and the Danish employers group Horesta, which includes Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and other restaurant and hotel companies.

4. Prioritizing Safe Food

Denmark has taken measures to monitor, and then protect against, the spread of salmonella in chicken houses—unlike in the U.S., where salmonella in chicken is perfectly legal and about 25 percent of raw chicken pieces are contaminated. While we average more than 1.2 million illnesses a year from this pathogen, Denmark now goes years between reported illnesses from salmonella-contaminated chicken. The country has also managed to keep its use of antibiotics in animal agriculture so low that its average level, less than 50 milligrams a year per kilogram of livestock in the country, may inspire a target for international efforts to reduce animal antibiotic use.

5. Treatment of Animals Humanely

Food journalist and author Barry Estabrook explored the differences between pork production in the U.S. and Denmark for his book Pig Tails, and found a few things—some of them seeming laughably small-—that have made an enormous impact on the welfare of pigs raised for meat, as well as the quality of the pork they are turned into. For example, farmers in Denmark are required to provide pigs with straw—not as food, but as entertainment and stimulation. Estabrook says that normally, a pig spends 75 percent of its waking hours rooting. So something as simple as throwing a softball-sized fist full of straw into a pen containing a couple of dozen growing pigs satisfies their minds, and it makes a remarkable difference in how they grow and how they act. The pigs don’t eat the straw, they just nuzzle it and bat it back and forth.

Pregnant and nursing sows in Denmark—where, Estabrook notes, the pork industry is just as concentrated as it is in the U.S.—are not kept in gestation crates either. They’re kept in larger stalls with other females.

Moreover, farmers don’t use antibiotics for growth promotion in Denmark. Estabrook says, “When they do use antibiotics it’s very strictly limited to cure disease. Producers here claim they can’t raise pork without feeding the animals constant low doses of antibiotics.”

 

We don’t have eat like they do in Denmark to appreciate all that they’re doing—or working to do— to create a respectable food system. From making food safer to paying workers better, it might be time for policymakers and companies in the U.S. to start taking notes.

This spring, when McDonald’s announced its plans to start buying chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine, the move had a ripple effect throughout the food supply. McDonalds is the nation’s second largest chicken buyer and Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. poultry producer, and one of McDonalds’ major suppliers, followed shortly thereafter with a similar announcement. A few weeks later, the nation’s number-two poultry producer, Pilgrim’s Pride, announced its own antibiotic reduction policy. Read more

Not every writer can speak to both seasoned experts and curious newcomers, but that is precisely what Barry Estabrook can do well. In his 2011 book, Tomatoland, Estabrook took a deep dive in the modern tomato industry, shining a light on labor abuse in Florida, and the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. In addition to telling a riveting and complex story full of pesticides poisoning, escape from slavery, and tense court cases, Estabrook helped bring attention to one of the most important American labor struggles of the last few decades. Read more

Last week, Tyson Foods made major headlines when it announced that it was “striving to eliminate human antibiotics from broiler chicken production by September 2017.” The move garnered a great deal of accolades for one of the biggest chicken producers in the world. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farming for years, has called this “the tipping point for getting the chicken industry off antibiotics.” Read more

McDonald’s announced today that it’s making a greater effort at offering transparency and engagement to the public, in a new campaign it’s calling “Our Food, Your Questions.” McDonald’s has a serious image problem and a sagging bottom line, which might explain its sudden willingness to fling the barn door open as a way to shed its reputation for serving mass-produced, unhealthy food. Showing the public how the sausage is made may win favor with some consumers, but a better strategy for the fast food giant would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability. Read more

It’s summer, but that doesn’t mean food news stops. Below, we share some of the top news stories of the week.

1. USDA Overhauls Poultry Inspection Rules (The Hill)

After more than two years of proposals and push-back by advocates, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) moved to put new poultry inspection rules in place yesterday. The voluntary rules would result in companies providing their own inspectors (while keeping one from the USDA in every plant), making it essentially a move to privatize the inspections. It will also mean fewer inspectors per plants, with each inspector looking at 140 birds per minute. Read more