September 5, 2014
We’re welcoming the beginning of Fall with a fresh set of food news stories that caught our eye this week.
Over the past five years, Perdue Foods has been phasing out the use of antibiotics in its chicken hatcheries, announcing this week that the process is finally complete. The poultry giant has emphasized that its efforts are directly related to increasing concerns about the risk that overuse of antibiotics in the livestock and poultry industries poses to human health. The company claims that as a result of their 5-year process, 95 percent of chickens raised in Perdue facilities will never receive antibiotic treatment; the remaining five percent will only get a dose of antibiotics in the event of illness. Importantly, this statement only applies to antibiotics that are also used to treat humans, whereas animal-specific drugs called ionophores may still be used more widely. Nonetheless, this is a big step forward for the poultry industry. As the third-largest poultry company in the U.S., Perdue could ruffle the feathers of other industry giants like Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride to shift toward an antibiotic-free model as well, particularly given FDA’s relative inaction on the issue.
2. Hundreds of Fast-Food Workers Arrested While Striking Against Low Wages (The Guardian)
Building on momentum from a two year campaign against the fast food industry, protestors across the country came together in over 100 U.S. cities to speak out against poor working conditions and to demand that the federal minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour. Many of the workers make just $7.25 an hour, the current minimum wage, despite working for big companies like McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King (which, by the way, is deftly figuring out how to pay less in U.S. taxes). Though police arrested over 400 people (including Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore), movement supporters see the tide shifting in their favor, particularly as President Obama continues to push pro-labor reforms through the end of his second term.
3. The Food Gap Between Poor and Wealthy Americans Is Widening (The Atlantic)
Despite many efforts to curb nutritional deficiencies among low-income people, from healthy corner stores to SNAP incentive programs, new research shows that the diets of people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are still poor–and getting worse. Equally disheartening is that the nutrition gap between low- and high-income people doubled between 2000 and 2010, as the affluent continue to enjoy near-exclusive access to the highest quality food. The researchers argue that persisting inequities in our food system, from food deserts to low wages, cannot simply be addressed by personal choice alone, but require a strong, concerted policy effort. The new research also reinforces the need to double-down on fighting our nation’s diet-related health crisis by addressing such inequities.
Good news in the sustainable fishing world: Seafood Watch, a well-respected, California-based environmental organization, recently gave 21 species of sole, rockfish, cod, and other West Coast fish a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” ranking. These are all species that the organization had previously told consumers to “Avoid.” The improvement is a clear sign that efforts to restore groundfish populations in the Pacific Northwest are working. As Seafood Watch notes, several factors have contributed to better sustainability in West Coast fisheries, including the scaling back of over-fishing of several species, better enclosures for fish, and general improvements in fisheries’ facilities. The new rankings are also great news for fishery workers, who emphasize that getting the green light from Seafood Watch means consumers are more likely to buy fish that are rated “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.” For an industry that underwent an economic disaster in 2000, better sustainability is likely to spell greater profits.
5. San Francisco Becomes the First City to Offer an Urban Farm Tax Break (San Francisco Chronicle)
Urban farmers across the country often bemoan the barriers to growing food in cities: strict zoning laws, delinquent property owners who let vacant lots languish, retracted promises from city officials, etc. However, things may be looking up for San Franciscans who want to farm without leaving the comforts of urban life. The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act provides tax breaks to any property holder that allows their land to be put to agricultural use for five years or longer. The legislation is likely to have a range of positive impacts, from helping residents save money while growing food, cutting down on long wait times for community garden slots, drawing bees and other pollinators to the area, and combating blight in disinvested neighborhoods.
The California legislature passed three bills that regulate the use of groundwater statewide, which are heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s office for approval. After months of severe drought with dramatic reductions in available surface water, Californians have been forced to tap wells at increasingly high rates, causing 100 year lows in groundwater stores in some parts of the state. For the country’s largest agricultural producer, the effects of on-going water depletion could wreak havoc nationwide. The three bills would allow statewide control in regulating groundwater use, while still giving local jurisdictions primary authority to manage underground reservoirs. In November, voters will also decide on a $11 billion ballot measure to improve water-related infrastructure in California.
7. President Obama Declares September 2014 National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (The White House)
This week kicks off National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a campaign designed to sustain momentum to fight the obesity epidemic that affects nearly a third of all U.S. children. While childhood obesity has fallen by over 40 percent nationwide for children between the ages of 2-5, some states, like Colorado, are seeing their rates of childhood obesity increase. Many are hoping that the President’s proclamation will again shine light on this critical public health issue.
Did we miss anything? Share your food news with us in the comments below.
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