The New York Times recently published a report that focused on fraud in disbursing settlements for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discrimination among African American, Indian, Hispanic, and women farmers. Reporter Sharon LaFraniere wrote of “career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination.” Read more
The Obama administration is losing its most powerful supporter of local and organic foods. Kathleen Merrigan, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced last week that she would be leaving her post as USDA’s deputy secretary. Sustainable agriculture groups responded with dismay and disappointment to what the Columbus Dispatch described as her “abrupt” departure. The food industry publication The Packer speculated that this could spell “the end of local food at USDA.” Read more
On the heels of his agency’s release of a comprehensive report on climate change and its effects on U.S. agricultural production, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said yesterday that America’s farmers and ranchers are a critical part of the solution and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be there to help them step up to the plate. Read more
In a new study of raw pork chops and ground pork, Consumer Reports found 69 percent samples were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, according to a report published by the group today. A lesser-known foodborne pathogen, Yersinia enterocolitica can cause fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, lasting one to three weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is approximately one confirmed infection per 100,000 people reported each year, but since these cases are severely under-reported, CDC estimates there are actually around 100,000 infections in the United States annually.
Consumer Reports tested 198 samples and found that while the vast majority were positive for Yersinia, only 3 to 7 percent were positive for more the more common foodborne pathogens Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus or Listeria monocytogenes.
According to the report, several of the isolates found were resistant to one or more antibiotics: Six of the eight Salmonella samples, 13 of the 14 Staphylococcus samples and 121 of the 132 Yersinia samples. The study also found MRSA on one sample.
The group points to the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture as a key contributor to the resistance problem. Read more
Compared to the billions that the government pays to subsidize industrial-scale growers of commodity crops such as corn, rice and soybeans, federal farm bill spending to promote cultivation and marketing of healthy fruits, nuts and vegetables is tiny. The Specialty Crop Block Grant program is one of the more important programs to support these healthy foods, known also as “specialty crops”. Last year the US Department of Agriculture distributed $55 million in these grants to increase “the competitiveness of the specialty crop sector,” more than 30 percent of it in California, the source of nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
Although the money comes from the federal budget, it’s the California Department of Food and Agriculture that manages the grant-making process in the state and sets the program’s priorities. California is a nationwide leader in its efforts to craft a broader state strategy that goes well beyond USDA’s minimal guidelines, focusing its funding in three broad categories: research, marketing and nutrition.
The program is extremely competitive. Grant applications in California in 2009 totaled $65 million, nearly four times the amount available. Because this is such an important source of funding for innovative food and agriculture projects, Environmental Working Group took a close look at three years of grant awards to assess whether they were in line with the state’s top priorities and strategies as defined by the California Agricultural Vision, a strategic plan adopted in 2010 in a broad process involving multiple stakeholders. Read more
It’s no surprise when pro-industrial agricultural organizations fight to keep the status quo. Yet, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) capitulated in July to trade organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and their political representatives, retracting an endorsement of Meatless Mondays, a controversy began. The Meatless Mondays debate however isn’t the only example of how big animal agriculture is on the defense. In recent months similar controversies involving the National Pork Producers Council and the Animal Agricultural Alliance, while less publicized, seem to illustrate that big animal ag is losing their footing and plan to fight big time for their position.
Starting a farm is not easy, a business in which high startup costs and a lack of available land for purchase or rent are obvious obstacles. As our nation’s farmers grow older–the average American farmer is 57–and we simultaneously undergo a shift towards reclaiming our food system, young and beginning farmers are stepping up. Government programs designed to help farmers have existed for many years, but much of this funding is only within reach of large-scale producers that have been in the business for many years. Several USDA programs are geared towards helping farms based on production, favoring commodity farmers and large-scale farmers, which keep these loans out of the hands of smaller start-ups.
But new opportunities are in development for young farmers. Read more
A new coalition is trying to throw sand in the gears of industrial agriculture’s chemical treadmill. And this one just may have what it takes to slow it down. I’m referring to the fight over USDA approval for Dow AgroScience’s new genetically modified corn seeds (brand name “Enlist”), which are resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D.
This is part of biotech’s “superweed” strategy, by which they hope to address the fact that farmers across the country are facing an onslaught of weeds impervious to the most popular herbicide in use, Monsanto’s glyphosate or RoundUp (and in some cases impervious to machetes as well!). Of course, this is a problem of the industry’s own making. It was overuse of glyphosate caused by the market dominance of Monsanto’s set of glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered seeds that put farmers in this fix in the first place. Read more
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently deciding whether or not to approve an application by Dow Chemical for its controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn variety that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2,4-D. 2,4-D and the still more toxic 2,4,5-T formed Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War. After receiving pressure from organizations like the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the USDA extended its public comment period until April 27–just a few weeks from today. There is overwhelming public opposition to this crop. To date, 155,000 comments opposing approval of 2,4-D corn have been collected by environmental, health, and farm groups. Read more
In response to nationwide concern among parents and school service providers about ‘pink slime’ being purchased by the national school lunch program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last Thursday that next year it will give school districts the ability to choose whether they will serve the ammoniated beef product.
The USDA said that while it believes all products it buys for the school lunch program, including Lean Finely Textured Beef, are “safe and nutritious” it would respond to customer demand to give schools additional options, so they can opt out of purchasing LFTB if they wish. Read more