Beyond seed banks, saving seeds and cultivating local varieties may help feed us in our climate-changed future—and preserve them for future generations.
April 15, 2016
It was a big week for food news, but don’t worry, we read it all for you.
Acreage for Genetically Modified Crops Declined in 2015 (New York Times)
In 2015, for the first time, the acreage used for genetically modified crops declined, according to a nonprofit that tracks the planting of biotech seeds. The organization said the main cause for the decline (1 percent from 2014 levels) was low commodity prices, which led farmers to plant less corn, soybeans, and canola of all types (both genetically engineered and nonengineered). Three countries—the United States, Brazil, and Argentina—account for more than three-quarters of the total global acreage used for genetically modified crops, and only four crops—corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola—account for the majority of biotechnology use in agriculture.
Home And Garden Giant Ditches Class Of Pesticides That May Harm Bees (NPR’s The Salt)
This week, Ortho, a leading brand of home and garden pest-control products, said it would stop using neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides linked to the decline of bees and other pollinators. The announcement comes after the Maryland state legislature passed the Pollinator Protection Act, which would ban consumers from buying pesticides that contain neonics beginning in 2018. Ortho has already begun to phase out neonics, and says some products will be reformulated or discontinued by 2017. Its phaseout of neonics in its outdoor products will be complete by 2021.
EU Parliament Wants Limits on Use of Popular Weedkiller (Associated Press)
The European Union (EU) legislature wants tougher limits on glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup, because of increasing concerns about its possible links to cancer. Instead of a marketing approval of 15 years, which was proposed by the EU Commission, the EU parliament this week called for a marketing approval of only seven years and says its use should be strictly limited to professionals. Meanwhile, France is poised to ban weedkillers that combine glyphosate and tallowamine because of concerns over possible health risks, and the country’s environment minister is pushing for an EU-wide ban on glyphosate-based products. Germany, however, supports the EU proposal that would allow the continued use of glyphosate in weedkillers.
Farmers are about to get more government aid than at any other time in the past decade due to plunging commodity prices and crop surpluses. This February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that income for farmers is headed to a 14-year low. Corn and soybeans, the biggest U.S. crops, are so cheap that farmers are expecting to lose money on every acre planted this season. Harwood Schaffer, an agricultural economist at the University of Tennessee, says crop oversupply, and the accompanying low prices that boost supplementary payments, may persist for several years.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a ban on the antibiotic carbadox, which is used to fatten up pigs for slaughter, saying the company has not proved that it does not cause cancer in people. Several studies have shown the antibiotic can cause cancer in rats, and there are worries it could remain in pork and affect people. Carbadox is already limited in Canada, Australia, and the European Union.
Large investors managing $1.41 trillion in assets have launched a campaign urging 10 large American and British restaurant groups (including McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza Group, Darden Restaurants, the Wendy’s Company, and Yum! Brands) to stop using antibiotics in their meat and poultry. The World Health Organization has said that the world is moving towards a post-antibiotic era in which many infections will no longer be treatable due to the overuse of antibiotics. The investors say this could cost the world as much as $100 trillion in lost output by 2050.
In other antibiotics news, in response to high demand for antibiotic-free meat—a USDA report shows demand is great enough that consumers are willing to pay a premium—Butterball, the biggest turkey processor in the U.S., is rolling out a new line of ground meat that’s produced from birds that were never given any form of antibiotics. As much as 10 percent of Butterball’s ground turkey products will be under the antibiotic-free brand in the next 12 months.
Study Finds Cattle May Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Ag (Des Moines Register)
A new study says Iowa and other Corn Belt states could reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from agriculture by raising more cattle and cutting back on traditional crops such as corn and soybeans. Researchers found that while cattle produce methane, a GHG, when they chew and digest food, row crops have a bigger impact on the environment because of the increased soil erosion that later results in the release of carbon emissions.
A previously unanalyzed four-decades-old study—one of the largest controlled clinical dietary trials of its kind ever conducted—has raised new questions about longstanding dietary advice regarding saturated fat in the American diet. The study intended to show that removing saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils would protect against heart disease and lower mortality, but analysis of the study found that a low-saturated fat diet did not reduce mortality, which runs counter to conventional dietary recommendations that advise a diet low in saturated fat to decrease risk of heart disease. Christopher E. Ramsden, a medical investigator at the National Institutes of Health, said the analysis should be interpreted cautiously, as the research does not show that saturated fats are beneficial. “But,” he added, “maybe they’re not as bad as people thought.”
US: Forced Labor Continues on Thai Fishing Vessels (Associated Press)
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that forced labor on Thai fishing vessels has continued during the past year despite legal reforms and arrests following an Associated Press investigation. The State Department’s annual global review of human rights practices found that reports of abusive work environments, including forced labor, continued in many sectors, including Thai fishing vessels and food and seafood processing facilities. Later in the year, the department will release a separate report that focuses on human trafficking and exploitative labor and ranks governments on their performance in combating those abuses.
California Soda Tax Bill Pulled Without a Vote (Sacramento Bee)
A California bill, which would have imposed a two-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, was pulled ahead of its first committee vote by its author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who concluded he lacked the necessary votes. Soda tax bills have repeatedly failed in Sacramento. The city of Davis also recently rejected a soda tax push. According to the California secretary of state, the California Nevada Beverage Association, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola have spent at least $413,000 on lobbying since the start of 2015.
At Tampa Bay Farm-to-Table Restaurants, You’re Being Fed Fiction (Tampa Bay Times)
Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley combed through hundreds of menus from Tampa Bay restaurants, identifying those that made specific claims about the source of the ingredients, and then she investigated those claims. She visited farms, spoke with distributors, and had foods genetically tested when deemed necessary. Reily concluded that most restaurants aren’t being completely honest.
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