Scientists are only now starting to study how ever-more-common heat waves may disrupt the way bees and other pollinators interact with plants, with cascading negative impacts on crop production.
November 20, 2015
Get yourself up to date on the week’s food news:
Genetically Engineered Salmon Approved for Consumption (The New York Times)
On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption. If sold, it will be the first genetically altered animal to reach American tables. Consumer and environmental groups have strongly opposed the approval of the fish, arguing that it’s safety is not yet certain and that wild salmon populations could be affected if the genetically engineered fish were to escape into oceans and rivers. Because the FDA does not require (and has refused to consider) labels for genetically engineered foods, the fish will not be labeled as such. The Center for Food Safety, a consumer advocacy group, plans to sue the agency in an attempt to block the sale and consumption of the fish, saying, “FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public.”
Taco Bell Commits to Using Cage-Free Eggs By End of 2016 (Chicago Tribune)
This week Taco Bell finally joined other major restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Panera in moving toward sourcing eggs that are sourced from hens not raised in cages. Although Taco Bell is a little late to the game, the fast food chain plans to have fully transitioned to cage-free eggs in its 6,000 plus restaurants by the end of 2016, which is an earlier date than most other chains have set.
Scientists in China say they have identified a gene that enables antibiotic resistance to spread between bacteria and is likely to spread worldwide. The gene, was found in both pigs and people in south China, allows a range of common bacteria, including E. coli, to become resistant to the last fully functional class of antibiotics, the polymyxins. The gene is widespread in bugs called Enterobacteriaceae, which are capable of causing a range of diseases, from pneumonia to serious blood infections. Polymyxins B and E (known as colistin) are the last resort antibiotics used for infections caused by E. coli and other similar bacteria. Scientists think the resistance to colistin began in animals. China is one of the world’s largest users and producers of colistin for agriculture and veterinary use, but many other countries also use it in agriculture.
In other antibiotic news, a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says antibiotic resistance caused by the widespread practice of giving antibiotics to healthy livestock to promote growth and prevent disease is making it harder for doctors to treat life-threatening infections in young children.
Scientists think they are closer to understanding how pesticides such as neonicotinoids affect bees. (In the past there have been discrepancies between lab and field studies, leading to a debate over neonics.) French researchers say their monitoring of tagged honeybees in the wild suggest that bees foraging around crops treated with neonicotinoids die off at a faster rate than normal, but colonies are able to make up for this by boosting the number of worker bees in the hive.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is “unlikely” to cause cancer, while the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), says it “probably” does. Specialists say both European agencies are likely to be right, but the evidence they considered was not the same, and each agency approached the issue from different stances. The IARC approached the issue as an identification of a potential hazard, while the EFSA approached it as a risk assessment. There are critics of both the EFSA and the IARC, and Peter Jenkinson, a genotoxicologist, says, “Which conclusion or opinion is ‘correct’ depends on your point of view on the methods used by the two agencies.”
Lots of conversations about consolidation are happening in the crop chemicals industry, says Chief Operating Officer of Monsanto, Brett Begemann. Monsanto is considering another attempt to acquire Syngenta. In August, Monsanto withdrew its $46.6 billion proposal after Syngenta turned it down. Currently, Syngenta is in talks to be acquired by ChemChina. DuPont and Dow Chemical are also in discussions for deals.
Pizza Companies Push Back on Menu Labeling Rules (Marketplace)
The FDA will require chain restaurants and move theaters to post calorie counts on their menus starting December 1, 2016, but big pizza companies like Domino’s want to scale back the mandate through a bill called the “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015.” Domino’s says there are 34 million ways to put a pizza together with different crusts, sauces, and toppings, so posting calories or even calorie ranges on a menu board doesn’t make sense. Lynn Liddle, executive vice president of Domino’s Pizza and chair of the American Pizza Community says she supports legislation that would require calorie counts to be posted online only, but critics worry that the restaurants would make the information difficult to find. Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says people need to know information about pizza in particular, since it’s such a big part of the American diet, and that efforts to scale back menu labeling rules are an attempt to withhold information from consumers.
In ‘Just Eat It,’ Filmmakers Feast For 6 Months On Discarded Food (National Public Radio)
A Canadian couple ate only food waste for six months and documented it in a film called “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.” The couple says they couldn’t quantify how much food they found because it was immeasurable, but they estimate its worth at around $20,000. The majority of the food they found was near the sell-by date label, but rarely past it. They found dried goods like rice, frozen meats, bread, dairy, maple syrup, as well as $13,000 worth of organic chocolate bars.
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