Happy new year! We hope you had a wonderful, relaxing holiday season. We’re kicking off 2015 with these stories from the world of food and agriculture.
A co-founder of FoodCorps and a friend of Civil Eats, Debra Eschmeyer will soon head to the White House for her new role at the helm of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program. Since 2009, Eschmeyer and FoodCorps have led the charge to improve school food across the U.S. by promoting garden education, healthy eating, and farm-to-school coordination. In her new role, she will lead Let’s Move’s efforts to curb childhood obesity and will advise the White House on food and nutrition policies. She replaces former White House Chef Sam Kass, who led Let’s Move for six years.
2. California’s New Egg Law (KCET)
Say hello to happier chickens in California. Back in 2008, voters and legislators passed a series of measures requiring that any eggs sold in the state must come from hens raised in cages large enough to allow them to spread their wings. While the law is being touted by some as “the most significant animal welfare law in recent history,” others are concerned that the subsequent rise in egg prices might have adverse effects on consumers and the industry. Regardless, the new cage requirements are likely to have a big impact in California and across the U.S.–as long as they’re well-enforced. Read our deep-dive on the topic here.
3. Meat Consumption and the Dietary Guidelines (various sources, updated)
For the first time since 2010, Americans are set to receive updated dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) later this year. As we’ve reported, the committee behind the decision has been considering including focus on environmental sustainability in addition to health for the first time, which could mean a potential shift in the way the meat consumption is discussed. While Vice was quick to report the it looks like environment didn’t make it into the final recommendations, the Washington Post reported it this way: “Just because the USDA’s advisory committee is discussing such recommendations doesn’t mean it will ultimately include them in its official findings, which are expected to be delivered to the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments later this month. Nor does a recommendation by the panel mean the departments will ultimately heed the advice in determining the final guidelines, which are expected to be released later this year. But the they might. And if they do, the impact would be significant.”
4. Fresh Market Agrees to Step Up for Farmworkers (Miami New Times)
Farmworker advocacy group Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has convinced another company to sign on to its Fair Food Agreement. The Fresh Market, a grocery chain based in North Carolina, approached CIW with the goal of supporting the Fair Food Program (FFP), which ensures farmworkers are paid and treated fairly for their work. Several large grocery and fast food corporations including Walmart and McDonalds, have signed on to the FFP, but CIW continues to face opposition from stalwart grocery chain Publix, which has been one of the group’s principal targets for years.
5. Advocacy Group’s Video of Hens Raises Questions, but Not Just for Farms (New York Times)
An animal welfare advocacy group called Direct Action Everywhere released a video this week of chickens at Petaluma Farms, which supplies eggs to big name chains and brands like Whole Foods and Organic Valley. While video’s creators argue that the footage is evidence of inhumane treatment, Petaluma Farms hasn’t necessarily done anything to contradict their organic certification. Furthermore, there’s debate between groups like Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved regarding what is and isn’t permissible in a large-scale egg operation. What the video reveals, as much as anything, is the lack of consensus about what “humane” treatment of animals really means.
6. Judge Considers Halting Vermont’s GMO Law (Burlington Free Press)
Last year, Vermont lawmakers passed a law requiring food companies to label products containing genetically modified (or “GMO”) ingredients. The law was the first of its kind in the country and quickly came under fire from industrial food and agriculture corporations who argued that the state guidelines would be bad for business. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with other trade groups, sued the state over the law. This week, a state judge is hearing from both sides before deciding whether to suspend the law or allow it go into effect.
Meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker in Indiana introduced a similar bill to require GMO labeling in that state. If passed, the legislation would also prevent foods containing GMOs to bear the “natural” label.
7. Antibiotic Failure Will Kill 10 Million People a Year by 2050 (Mother Jones)
Across the pond, British Prime Minister David Cameron has commissioned an in-depth review of the risks the world faces due to increasing antibiotic resistance. The results from the first report are in, and the findings are sobering. The study projects that by 2050, our modern antibiotics will be all but futile to combat quickly evolving bacteria and that pathogenic “superbugs” will claim 10 million lives per year. While recommendations for curbing this outcome are forthcoming, the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is likely to be a clear target.
8. Transatlantic Trade Agreement Could Increase Toxic Pesticide Use (The Guardian)
The U.S. and the European Union are in the midst of behind-closed-doors trade negotiations that could have a dramatic impact on pesticide use in agriculture. Industry front groups CropLife America and the European Crop Protection Association have recommended policies that would scale back many important pesticide regulations in the E.U. and some parts of the U.S., a new report argues. If such recommendations are adopted, the report’s authors note that dozens of pesticides currently banned in the E.U. would be legal, the limits on pesticide residue on food would skyrocket in some cases, and already-threatened pollinator populations would be put at even greater risk.
9. Corn Growers Join Cuba Coalition in Call for Level Playing Field on Trade (Southeast AgNet)
After President Obama announced in late 2014 that the U.S. would move to normalize relations with Cuba, there was speculation about how a potential trade relationship might affect food and agriculture in the U.S. Now, the National Corn Growers Association has joined with other industry groups and USDA to encourage the U.S. to end its trade embargo with Cuba. Such a move would likely bring the biggest benefits to Big Ag, if the membership of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba is any indication.
Did we miss anything? Please let us know in the comments below.