June 17, 2016
Soda Tax Passes in Philadelphia. Advocates Ask: Who’s Next? (New York Times)
On Thursday, a measure to tax sweetened drinks passed in Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the U.S. Many believe the tax passed because the city’s mayor, Jim Kenney, took a different approach than politicians who have tried and failed to pass sugary drink taxes in the past. He didn’t talk about reducing the consumption of sugary beverages, and he didn’t promise that the proceeds would go to health programs. Instead, Kenney focused on the revenue the tax could provide for universal prekindergarten and other popular city programs. Analysts think this approach may work in other cities. San Francisco, Oakland, and Boulder are also considering soft drink taxes this year. Jim Krieger, executive director at Healthy Food America, says other cities are interested, too. Philadelphia’s tax of 1.5 cents an ounce will apply to all sugary or artificially sweetened drinks sold by distributors in the city.
On Tuesday, North Dakotans rejected a law enacted last year that changed decades of family farming rules in the state by allowing corporations to own and operate dairy and hog farms. North Dakota is one of nine states that have laws limiting corporate farming. The debate over these laws taps into widespread fears about the disappearance of family farms throughout United States and the spread of big corporations (and their farming methods) into rural America. In North Dakota, many people are suspicious of big businesses and want to preserve the state’s long heritage of family-owned farms. Corporate and foreign control of U.S. farmland has been a hot-button issue in recent years due to a multi-year commodities boom that has attracted banks and other non-farm investors.
Rules on GMO Crops in Hawaii Head to US Appeals Court (Associated Press)
This week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Honolulu on ordinances that seek to regulate or outlaw genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui counties. After agrochemical companies and trade associations sued each county and the court sided with the businesses, the counties and some environmental groups want the 9th Circuit to overturn the decisions. The counties argue that they have the right and obligation to regulate the industry, and that the Hawaii Supreme Court should have taken up the issue, since there is no written opinion specifically on genetically engineered crops in the state. Two years ago, Kauai and Hawaii counties adopted measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying state law superseded them.
FDA Warns Whole Foods on Failure to Address Food Safety Problems (New York Times)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a letter to Whole Foods this month, saying that the company had failed to address a long list of food safety issues at its food processing plant outside of Boston, one of three preparation kitchens that help stock its stores in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and South. Problems cited included condensation dripping from the ceiling near food, an ammonium-based sanitizer used on a work surface near the preparation of a salad, and a failure to separate dirty dishes from ready-to-eat salads. Whole Foods said it had already taken steps to correct the problems and would meet with the FDA on Thursday to discuss the situation. The company now has two weeks to provide evidence to the FDA that it has taken the necessary steps to correct the problems.
Government statistics show that meat and poultry processing plants are safer than they were a decade ago, but in today’s slaughterhouses, workers are still paying a steep price to produce our meat, sometimes with their lives. Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) check workplaces for violations of federal safety standards, but fines for violations are often “embarrassingly low,” says Debbie Berkowitz, a fellow with the National Employment Law Project. An investigation by Harvest Public Media found that OSHA’s initial fines for safety violations in meat and poultry plants are, on average, just under $20,000 per case, but some companies end up paying even less, negotiating down to about $11,000. Berkowitz says that because the fines are so low, “it’s unclear what kind of deterrent effect it really has.”
Superbug Found in Illinois and South Carolina (Washington Post)
U.S. officials have found bacteria resistant to the antibiotic of last resort in a sample from a second pig, increasing concerns about the spread of a newly discovered superbug that initially surfaced in the U.S. in March. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli from a pig intestine. The bacteria carried a gene making it resistant to the antibiotic colistin, a drug that is used against particularly dangerous types of superbugs that can already withstand many other antibiotics. Colistin is also used as an addition to animal feed because it makes animals gain muscle mass faster. Last month, the same gene was found in an E. coli strain from a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman—the first time the colistin-resistant strain had been found in a person in the United States. Public officials’ biggest fear is that the gene will spread to bacteria that are now susceptible only to colistin, which would result in a kind of super-superbug, invincible to every life-saving antibiotic available.
Whole Grains Can Help You Live Longer, Harvard Study Finds (Chicago Tribune)
A new analysis from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who ate 70 grams of whole grains per day, compared with those who ate little or no whole grains, had lower risk of premature death. The study also found that whole grains lowered the risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease. Qi Sun, assistant professor of the school’s department of nutrition and senior author of the study, said this is the first analysis of this type linking whole grains to mortality risk. Sun added that while “whole grains should be considered part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, they should not be considered a magic food, or a magic bullet, for increasing longevity.” Last week, we reported on a company that is working to educate the public about the value of whole grains in an effort to help local, whole grain economies thrive.
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