Rotting Crops, More Obesity, and Philly's Soda Tax Moves Forward

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: Rotting Crops, More Obesity, and Philly’s Soda Tax Moves Forward

picking grapes

U.S. Lawmakers Scrutinize China’s Bid To Buy Agrichemical Giant Syngenta (NPR’s The Salt)

A Chinese state-owned company called China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, has bid $43 billion to buy Syngenta, the world’s third largest genetically modified seed and pesticide company—but the U.S. government is holding up the sale. Although it’s a Swiss company, Syngenta does more than a quarter of its business in the U.S. Concerned by the potential threat ChemChina poses to national security, the Treasury Department’s Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is conducting a detailed review. The committee is bringing in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine the impact on U.S. food security and the Department of Defense is evaluating the proximity of Syngenta’s facilities to military bases since some of the chemicals Syngenta produces fall under the Department of Homeland Security’s list of hazardous substances.

America’s Obesity Epidemic Hits a New High (NBC)

Two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that rates off obesity in the U.S. have continued to rise in recent years. In the first report, based on a national survey of more than 5,000 adults, the agency found that 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women were obese from 2013 to 2014. The second study found that 17 percent of children and teens are obese, meaning they weigh more than 95 percent of kids the same age. There are many theories about why the obesity epidemic is getting worse. But one thing everyone can agree on is the fact that people who are obese have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Both the Trust for America’s Health and the CDC project that by 2030, the percentage of obese Americans will be above 40 percent.

Crops Rot While Trump-Led Immigration Backlash Idles Farm Work (Bloomberg)

Washington partisanship and Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies may have already resulted in farm labor shortages. Bloomberg found evidence that some crops are not being harvested as immigrant laborers struggle to get work visas and are tied up by bureaucratic paperwork. (And no U.S. citizens appear willing to work for what most farms can pay.) In recent years there has been successful collaboration between agricultural groups and Democratic and Republican senators to increase the number of farmworker visas approved, but the numbers dropped last year. Trump, who tore down Marco Rubio and other reform-minded rivals, has effectively stalled the efforts to provide farmworker visas and to propose more ambitious guest-worker policies. Labor shortages will likely only intensify in the divided political landscape: An immigration policy focused on closing the border would shift agricultural production to other countries while a successful guest-worker program could make labor too expensive here. Meanwhile, farm owners watch carefully for a window to the labor market to open.

Coalition Launches Global Food Loss and Waste Standard (Marketplace)

This week, a coalition of international organizations led by the World Research Institute (WRI) and including the United Nations released the first-ever global standard to measure food loss and waste. Although the new standard is voluntary, it provides common definitions and reporting requirements for companies and countries setting food waste reduction goals. The new standard requires users to report the amount of food wasted by weight and track it over time. The new standard offers structure to a global effort to address the fact that an estimated one-third of food produced worldwide is wasted, which results in greenhouse gas emissions and, according to WRI, amounts to $940 billion.

U.S. Lawmakers Probe EPA Staff Over Possible Bias in Herbicide Review (Reuters)

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Has the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed personal bias to color its scientific review of glyphosate, the main chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide? The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology launched an ongoing investigation last month to find out. What has lawmakers most concerned is the fact the agency has contributed to two primary scientific assessments—one for the WHO and the other for the U.S.—with contradictory results. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Then, last month, the EPA’s cancer assessment review committee accidentally released a report that found glyphosate was “not likely” to be carcinogenic to humans. Last Tuesday, the congressional committee sent a letter to EPA requesting to interview four of the agency’s top officials who were involved in glyphosate reviews. An EPA spokeswoman said last Tuesday that the agency was reviewing the letter and would respond.

EU Countries Refuse to Back New License for Glyphosate Weed-Killer (Reuters)

This week, EU nations refused to postpone a decision concerning the future sale and use of glyphosate. While use of the herbicide is already largely obsolete and disapproved of in the EU, a ban could lead to increased regulation of the agricultural chemical industry worldwide. The EU executive’s original proposal, which hoped to renew the glyphosate license and protect its sales there for up to 15 years, was met with stark opposition. Compromising, the EU executive recently offered a 12-18 month extension to allow for further scientific investigation into the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate, which are disputed among EU and U.S. politicians. But EU nations rejected the compromise, instead threatening to withdrawal Monsanto’s Roundup and other weed-killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of the month.

Three Bible Quotes Later, No Extra Overtime Pay for Farmworkers (Sacramento Bee)

Last week, California lawmakers failed to pass a bill designed to ensure that overtime pay rules for farmworkers there. While California mandates that farm laborers receive overtime pay if they work more than 10 hours in a day or more than 60 hours in a week, the bill would have allowed laborers 1.5 times their normal wages for every hour they worked over eight in a day or 40 in a week. To put that in perspective, working more than 12 hours a day—a common practice during summer months—would have earned a farmworker double pay. The deliberation spanned over an hour and advocates challenged the idea that farmworkers were not entitled to the same protections given to other workers who put in long hours. Some contextualized the case historically, drawing parallels to slavery, sharecropping, and the farmworkers’ rights movement in California in the 1960s and 70s. But those arguments didn’t persuade the lawmakers, who insisted the measure would be devastating for the agricultural industry.

Novel Strategy Puts Big Soda Tax Within Philadelphia’s Reach (New York Times)

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In a preliminary vote, Philadelphia’s City Council passed the second successful soda tax measure in America, alongside Berkeley, California. If the final vote next week yields the same result, the measure will enact a tax of 1.5 cents for every ounce containing sugar or artificial sweeteners. While countless other cities have proposed failed soda tax measures, the secret to Philadelphia’s success may lie in the mayor’s promotion strategy. Instead of presenting the tax as a public health measure, Mayor Jim Kenney framed it as source of revenue for popular initiatives, including expanded public prekindergarten, and renovations of city libraries and recreation centers. While not the primary argument for the campaign, experts suggest that the tax will also have substantial public health benefits, as did the soda tax in Mexico. Both Philadelphia and Mexico have substantial populations of low-income folks who buy and consume the largest amounts of soda and consequently suffer the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. The success of Philadelphia’s soda tax measure in the face of strong opposition creates significant momentum for soda tax advocates across the nation.

FDA Too Slow to Order Food Recalls, U.S. Watchdog Finds (Reuters)

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General reviewed 30 recalls that occurred between 2012 and 2015, including two in which companies did not recall all affected items until 165 days and 81 days after the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became aware of tainted foods. In a report issued this week, the watchdog agency said: “FDA does not have adequate policies and procedures to ensure that firms take prompt and effective action in initiating voluntary food recalls. As a result, consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA was aware of a potentially hazardous food in the supply chain.” FDA food safety officials called the report’s findings “unacceptable” and said the agency is “totally committed” to food safety. Provisions in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act that require companies to minimize food safety risks, and require companies to have a recall plan, will begin to take effect this fall.

Anna Guth is a freelance editor and reporter based in Marin County, California. Previously a staff writer for the Point Reyes Light, she has a degree in English and environmental studies from Wesleyan University. Read more >

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