All the News That's Fit to Eat: Kids on SNAP, Struggling Butterflies, and Drones on Farms | Civil Eats

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: Kids on SNAP, Struggling Butterflies, and Drones on Farms

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. The take-away: The economic recovery hasn’t meant much for many working-class Americans. According to the Huffington Post, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that food stamp enrollment will fall steadily in the coming years, but that’s in part because 1 million childless adults will be cut out of the program. Meanwhile, the latest farm bill alone will reduce the program by $8.6 billion.

2. Monarch Butterflies Rebound in Mexico, Numbers Still Low (Washington Post)

The number of Monarch butterflies counted this week in Mexico, where they travel for winter, has rebounded 69 percent from last year’s devastatingly low levels, but not by much. At their peak in 1996, the Monarchs covered more than 44.5 acres of land. This week it was just shy of three acres (or around twice what it was last year). According to the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico this was the second-smallest number recorded in the last 22 years. The Monanchs’ numbers have dropped in recent years due to a loss of native milkweed habitat. According to one study released last summer, the drop may also be tied to an increase in the use of crops that have been genetically engineered to resist pesticides, and the resulting increase in pesticide use.

3. Beef Packers Block Plan To Revive Growth-Promoting Drug (NPR’s The Salt)

Merck, the maker of the cattle growth-promoting drug Zilmax, is trying to launch a study of the drug, but farmers and meat processors, including Cargill, are refusing to take part. The drug has been linked to “fatigued cattle syndrome,” a state of paralysis that even the meat industry appears to see an inhumane. Cargill also worries that the international market could block sales of American beef produced with the drug (much like what has been happening with the growth-promoting drug ractopamine in pork).

4. Extra Funding Sought to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (Washington Post)

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Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced that it wants to double the amount of federal funding dedicated to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, bringing it to $1.2 billion. Unfortunately, this money would nealry all be spent in hospital settings and none of the funds appears to be earmarked to change the farming systems in which antibiotic resistance is often born. According to the Post, Obama is asking for money to fund more “antibiotics and diagnostic tools, improve surveillance for ‘superbugs,’ and better prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant microbes in hospitals and other health-care settings.”

But, as Jonathan Kaplan of the Natural  Resource Defence Council (NRDC) points out on the organization’s blog, Switchboard, “there’s no sign from the Administration that the budget increase will be used to actually require significant antibiotic use reduction or compel antibiotic use reporting by the livestock industry.” That’s because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never put meaningful regulation of growth-promoting antibiotic use in place. Instead, it has stuck with “voluntary guidance” which calls on pharmaceutical companies to phase out the use of livestock antibiotics on their own time and does not draw a line between preventative use and growth promotion.

5. Where Did All the Sardines Go? (Salon/Earth Island Journal)

It took four decades for Pacific sardines to rebound from the big population crash of the 1940s. Now, new data confirms what scientists have been concerned about for several years: These tiny forage fish have suffered the worst population crash since the mid-1900s thanks to water temperature cycles and overfishing. And, as the writer of this Earth Island Journal article points out, their decline could have a large-scale effect on other important bird and sea mammal species, which rely on sardines for food.

6. Unmanned Drones Could Play Key Roles in Food Supply  (Associated Press)

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This piece lists five ways drones have been used in relations to food production in recent years. These include: 1. Helping farmers monitor large fields to scout out where crops are too wet, too dry, too diseased or too infested with pests; 2. Applying chemicals in targeted ways; 3, tracking cattle; 4. spotting fish underwater; and 5. Allowing outsiders to document farms and reveal their secrets (such as capturing footage of factory-scale animals farms).

Anything else caught your eye? Share with us in the comments below.

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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