Last November, Mark Bittman, Micheal Pollan, Olivier De Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador made the case for a national food and farm policy to improve American diets and the environment. In a collectively penned Washington Post opinion piece, the authors and food system experts identified a crucial roadblock for implementing system-wide change. They wrote:
…reforming the food system will ultimately depend on a Congress that has for decades been beholden to agribusiness, one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. As long as food-related issues are treated as discrete rather than systemic problems, congressional committees in thrall to special interests will be able to block change.
There are about 20,000 factory farms in the United States and together they produce more than 500 million tons—or 1 trillion pounds—of manure. These farms, also called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), altogether house billions of chickens, dairy cows, hogs, and other livestock. The waste from these animals adds up to more than three times the raw sewage produced by people in the U.S. and it emits significant amounts of harmful air pollutants [PDF] that include ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Read More
Here’s your recommended weekly allowance of food politics news.
1. One in Five U.S. Children Now Rely on Food Stamps: Census Data (Reuters)
According to federal census data, the number of children living in households that rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) jumped to 16 million last year, surpassing the number that was recorded before the recession. The data also revealed that 27 percent of the children in this country were living with single parents last year, and more than half of those were getting assistance. Read More
Stroll the aisles of your local health food store and our country’s love of “functional beverages”—drinks fortified with vitamins, minerals, and other “healthy” additives—becomes apparent. Products in this $17 billion industry claim to strengthen your immune system, flood your body with antioxidants, and boost energy. It’s faddish, yes. But one of the latest additions, maple water, may also help preserve North American forests and put some welcome cash in the pockets of small farmers. Read More
These days, consumers expect organic food manufacturers to pay close attention to how ingredients are sourced. But, one company has taken the process a step further. Nature’s Path, the British Columbia-based organic cereal manufacturer, has kicked off an innovative crop-sharing model with local farmers by purchasing 5,640 combined acres of farmland in Canada and northern Montana. Read More
You may have heard of the new genetically engineered Simplot potato. It was made with a new GE technology called RNAi (RNA interference), a technology for which many important gaps remain in our understanding.
In fact, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently asked a panel of independent scientists for advice about this technology, which alters the function of genes in the plant, the scientists wrote a detailed report [PDF] that warned the agency of risks that could sometimes result in harm.* And, they noted that current regulations were not well designed to address these risks.
But those concerns didn’t keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the agency with the greatest responsibility to prevent environmental impacts of GE plants—from approving the Simplot potato. Read More
Snowville Creamery, based in Pomeroy, Ohio, is a small dairy operation, but its owner, Warren Taylor, has big ideas. Taylor wants to change the food system—from one based on factory farms and GMOs to one based on local, sustainable, non-GMO, and organic farms and foods. He is starting with his own operation. Read More
We’re wrapping up the week with the following food news from across the U.S.
1. U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit (New York Times)
About two hours outside of Omaha, Nebraska, lies the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a hub under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) whose purpose is to figure out how to make meat production more profitable for farmers. Read More
Dumpster divers of the world, unite. Last week, food waste activist Rob Greenfield offered to pay the fines and bring some media attention to anyone who gets arrested or ticketed for taking and eating tossed food.
Greenfield has been drawing attention to food waste by traveling the country, engaging local communities, and photographing the enormous quantities of wasted food he finds. Now he hopes more Americans will begin looking at the problem directly by trying it themselves by taking people’s fear of arrest and fines out of the equation. Read More
Agriculture field run-off is the main contributor to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, an oxygen-deprived swath of ocean the size of Connecticut. Fertilizer from farms throughout the Midwest washes into the Mississippi River and eventually makes its way into the Gulf. This pollution kills everything in its wake and threatens Louisiana’s $2 billion a year seafood industry with yearly losses to shrimp farmers alone estimated between $300 and $500 million.
And in what could only be described as a case of national sticker shock, a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that fixing the problem would cost an eye-popping $2.7 billion a year.
The Gulf Dead Zone isn’t the only agriculture body of water imperiled by farm pollutants either. Des Moines, Iowa and Toledo, Ohio have both been in the news recently as residents in both cities struggle with fertilizer run-off in their drinking water.
There are five basic ways to address the problem. Read More