Busy week? We’ve rounded up the major food news you might have missed.
Hawaii Aims to Be 1st to Help Farmers Get Certified Organic (Associated Press)
Hawaii is the first state to pass legislation providing tax breaks to farmers to offset the cost of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification. The legislation would give farmers up to $50,000 in tax credits for qualifying expenses, including application fees, inspection costs, and equipment or supplies needed to produce organic products. Doug Farquhar, director of agriculture for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Hawaii has fewer industries competing for tax credits compared with other states, which allows it to pull ahead in subsidies for organic farming. Governor David Ige said he has not yet decided whether he will sign the bill into law.
This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would now allow KIND Health Snacks to label its products as “healthy.” Previously, the agency had said that the company’s snacks did not meet the criteria for “healthy” food because of the fat content of the nuts in their products. After KIND launched a citizen’s petition aimed at getting the FDA to rethink its categorization of “healthy” foods in general, the FDA said it would “reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’” The agency said it plans to solicit public comment. It recently solicited input from the public and industry regarding the use and definition of another vague term used on labels: “natural.” A Consumer Reports survey released this week found that 73 percent of U.S. adults buy foods labeled as “natural,” even though the term has little or no meaning in the marketplace and no federal or third-party standards or verification.
Following pressure by consumer groups and lawmakers over concerns about antibiotic resistance, the FDA has issued a rule that will require drug makers to report the amount of antibiotics that are sold for use with food-producing livestock. The agency hopes that by collecting this data, it will better understand exactly how antibiotics are used by farms that raise hogs, cattle, chickens, or turkeys for human consumption (i.e., how much is used for growth promotion versus to prevent or treat illness in animals). Until now, the FDA has only tracked the total quantity of antibiotics used.
A new Oxfam America report details the pain and discomfort poultry workers in the U.S. suffer while they worry about their health and job security. Poultry workers—there are roughly 250,000 in the U.S.—say they are routinely denied time to use the bathroom, and are forced to urinate and defecate into diapers while standing in line. They also restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees. While the poultry industry enjoys record profits and produces billions of chickens, workers earn low wages, suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, and toil in harsh conditions.
On a related note, Eric Schlosser, award-winning journalist and author of Fast Food Nation, told us in an interview last fall that the food labor issue he is most discouraged about is the exploitation of meatpacking workers, having seen “no improvement whatsoever” since his book came out in 2001.
This Stings: Winter Death Rate for America’s Bees Jumps (Associated Press)
After two years of improvement, a new federal survey released Tuesday showed that America’s winter honeybee colony loss rate was 28 percent, up from 22 percent. What might be more alarming, said University of Maryland bee scientist and survey leader Dennis vanEngelsdorp, is that as many bees are now dying in the summer as are dying in winter. IN 2015-2016, the overall colony loss rate was 44 percent, which is also up from the previous two years, though scientists only started surveying summer deaths in 2010. Scientists say worsening varroa mites might be behind the losses, but that’s just one of several problems scientists have blamed for declining bee populations including pesticides, disease, and poor nutrition and food supply.
German firm Bayer AG has reportedly held preliminary discussions internally and with advisers about buying Monsanto Co., which has a market value of about $43 billion. Part of an unprecedented wave of consolidation in the crop-chemicals industry, the deal would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals, and would bring together brands such as Roundup and Sivanto, as well as seeds for crops ranging from corn to sugar cane. A deal with Bayer would help Monsanto—currently grappling with a global slump in agricultural commodities—reduce its reliance on the agriculture industry, while Monsanto would strengthen Bayer’s seed business, which is one of the company’s priorities.
Vermont’s GMO labeling law goes into effect on the first of July, and while some companies—including Mars, Campbell Soup, and General Mills—have announced decisions to add such labels nationwide, other companies are quietly adding them to their products. PepsiCo’s beverages and snack foods are now carrying a notice that says, “Partially Produced With Genetic Engineering.” A customer service representative at Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, told Consumers Union that the company plans to label products nationwide, and that the “partial” terminology can be used on any product that uses less than 75 percent of ingredients from GMO sources.
California Consumers Get New Warnings on Food, Drink Containers (Sacramento Bee)
This week, Californians started seeing new warnings about Bisphenol A, known as BPA, on food and drink containers at grocery stores. The new warnings are required by Proposition 65, a 1986 measure intended to ensure that Californians are informed about potential exposure to chemicals that the state has determined cause “cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.” A panel of scientists determined last year that BPA met the criteria for the Proposition 65 list. BPA is used in a wide variety of products, including the linings of food and beverage cans and bottle and jar lids. In recent years, questions have come up about BPA’s potential toxicity. With the new requirement, businesses must decide whether to stop using BPA or continue using the chemical and provide a warning. Several major manufacturers say they plan to remove BPA from their packaging, and some already have.
A report released this week found that the global sustainable seafood market hit $11.5 billion in retail sales last year, a result of commitments by large restaurant chains and retailers such as Walmart, Whole Foods, Ikea, and McDonald’s to source certified seafood and address decades of mismanagement. According to the report, seafood that has been certified as sustainably sourced now accounts for 14 percent of worldwide seafood production, up from 0.5 percent in 2005. Only five species groups account for two-thirds of the world’s certified production: Peruvian anchoveta (primarily used as fishmeal and fish oil), cod, salmon, tuna, and mackerel—and the bulk of certified seafood production is occurring in only five countries: Peru, the U.S., Norway, Chile, and Russia.