CLF opposes Rehberg amendment, antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections in children

The FY 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill, voted out of the House Appropriations Committee last week, includes an amendment that would severely limit the authority of FDA to regulate the use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics, in food animal production-a key concern of public health researchers.  Sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), the amendment would prohibit the agency from spending any money appropriated by the bill on actions “intended to restrict the use of a substance or a compound” unless certain conditions are met.  Although the amendment is broad-affecting any “substance or compound,” notably including tobacco-Rep. Rehberg has told The Washington Post that his goal was to block FDA action on the use of antimicrobials by food animal producers.  Indeed, the amendment would, among other things, preempt upcoming FDA restrictions on the misuse use of cephalosporin-the antibiotic of choice for serious Salmonella infections in children.  (Researchers have reported increased incidence of cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella infections [Foley and Lynne, 2008].)   Joining many others in the public health community, researchers at the Center for a Livable Future recently sent a letter to Congress , urging members to strike the amendment from the legislation before final passage.

The Rehberg amendment reads as follows (we have broken it into numbered and lettered points to make the language easier to follow):

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Food and Drug Administration to write, prepare, develop or publish a proposed, interim, or final rule, regulation or guidance that is intended to restrict the use of a substance or a compound unless the Secretary

  1. bases such rule, regulation or guidance on hard science (and not on such factors as cost and consumer behavior), and
  2. determines that the weight of toxicological evidence, epidemiological evidence, and risk assessments clearly justifies such action,
  3. including a demonstration that a product containing such substance or compound

a.  is more harmful to users than a product that does not contain such substance or compound, or

b.  in the case of pharmaceuticals, has been demonstrated by scientific study to have none of the purported benefits. Read More >

Art, Love and Agriculture: An Interview with Farmer John

Farmer John with BeeThe 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John chronicles the life of John Peterson, a man who has been described as a “flamboyant, cross-dressing, hippie-loving third-generation farmer [who] saves his farm… by being different.”  A vibrant artist and storyteller, John unabashedly documents the crippling failures, deep losses, passionate loves and soul-searching quests that are part of his ongoing relationship with the land.   He is now the owner and operator of Angelic Organics, a biodynamic farm (think organic, with an added appreciation for natural rhythms) with one of the largest CSAs in the nation and a thriving education center.

“We had a big paper-mâché cat head that we installed in the packing barn…”

I took a moment to chat with John at the 2011 Financing Farm to Fork Conference in Chicago.

Read More >

Shovel Ready: Cuban Urban Agriculture as Job Creator

CLF’s Sr. Research Program Coordinators Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl and Sarah Rodman are visiting Cuba as part of a Natural Environmental Ecological Management delegation. Members of the group will see first hand large-scale Cuban infrastructure developed to support its 18-year-old, world-renowned sustainable agricultural system in both the rural and urban sectors.

I’ve just returned from eight days in Cuba studying their sustainable agricultural system — especially their urban agriculture sector — and I have several key take-aways.

cubagraphicOne of the biggest insights was the untapped potential of urban agriculture as a creator of good jobs. The Cuban system was reported to have provided over 300,000 employment opportunities and significant community development. (Koont, S. 2009) In a country of 12 million people, that means 2.5% of the Cuban population is employed in urban agriculture and its related industries.

Now, for many reasons, you cannot and should not compare Cuba to the United States with regard to agriculture. The two nations have different economic and political systems, cultures, climate and much more, but that does not mean that Cuban urban agriculture cannot provide lessons to us here in the U.S. I have long been interested in urban agriculture – not only as a way to provide healthy, local produce, but as a community development and youth development tool and, yes, a job creator. This is the mindset I had when I met Miguel Salcines and his Vivero

Kids playing at Vivero Organiponico

Kids playing at Vivero Organiponico


Vivero Organiponico is a 10-hectare (24-acre) urban farm within Alamar, a neighborhood of Havana. It is surrounded by apartments, houses, parks and the normal activities of a Havana neighborhood. The farm produces 12 to 15 crops for market, from eggplant to tomatoes, to lettuce, cabbage and onions. It sends produce to market 365 days a year. The farm grows intensively, turning over beds at a blistering rate, sometimes getting eleven cycles of greens out of a bed in a single year. It uses no chemical pesticides and no artificial fertilizers, but can draw fertility from its cattle and its large vermicomposting and mycorrhizae systems.

This organiponico is called a UBPC (basic unit of cooperative production) which is a sector of Cuban agriculture where farms are run on a cooperative basis, managed independently by individuals not employed by the Cuban government. The farms’ managers pay salaries and taxes, make profits and set prices. While in certain situations UBPC’s have levels of production that they must meet for the state (often sold to the state below the cost of production), even in those situations they can sell much of their surplus produce into local farmers markets and keep the profit for their cooperatives. Read More >

Fair Food in Our 21st Century Economy

Last Wednesday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) held the last of a series of joint workshops on “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement Issues in Our 21st Century Economy.” This particular workshop was held at the USDA in Washington D.C. and focused on the issue of price margins – the discrepancies between prices received by farmers and ranchers for the food they produce and the prices paid by consumers for that food. Panelists and public commentary explored potentially anticompetitive conduct in the agriculture sector and discussed the possible need for the application of antitrust laws to address this conduct.

Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Vilsack

This workshop series was the first ever to bring the DOJ and USDA together around competition and regulatory issues in agriculture industries. The attention being given to this subject was reflected in the participation of senior staff at the USDA and DOJ, including Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture, USDA) and Eric Holder (US Attorney General). In addition to senior-level representation, the panels were well balanced to reflect the viewpoints of producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Read More >

2 School Farms in 2 Days

This past weekend, I witnessed hundreds of volunteers working in a very tangible way to take back the food system for a community.  The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  This was a stride.  Two high schools in Richmond, Calif in the span of one weekend built urban school farms at their respective school sites.  Supported by Urban Tilth, those students, teachers, parents and community volunteers laid the infrastructure and built the capacity to grow significant amounts of local produce in Richmond. 

These are farms that will not just change the physical environment of the schools and the community, but significantly change the way students think about food.  This year, close to 30 students at Richmond High are enrolled in the second pilot year of an Urban Agriculture and Food Systems class, what we call Urban Ag Institutes, and those students will grow from seed thousands of pounds of produce, that will feed families from their high school.  Last year, the program had a small but impressive 10 family CSA box (community supported agriculture) and this year with the expansion of the farm at the high school, they hope to do even more. Article on RHS program

Just as exciting, across town at Kennedy High School, an even larger farm with thirteen 100 ft. rows were put in behind the football field.  Say bye-bye to the school garden and say hello to the school ‘farm!’  Imagine the depth of knowledge that will come as those students learn to manage a working urban farm.  Growing seasons, soil, pests, nutrition, food systems, marketing, community food security, advocacy, organics, cooking, and permaculture are just some of the topics that we will engage with students in the program.

I interviewed Park Guthrie, the Urban Ag Club teacher at Kennedy (slated to become an official Urban Ag Institute in fall of 2010) and his words speak volumes.  I wanted to know how he saw this program and these farms fitting into the food movement and the local food system of Richmond.  With the interwovenness of the American food system, was this solving access issues, food security, or generating behavioral change?  Park replied, “The truth is, I really think it all goes back to Wendell Berry.  It’s the most direct way to address a relationship problem.  It’s a relationship problem imbedded in so many facets of our culture.  The alienation between food, nature, natural cycles and community health.  I guess I feel like a production focused Urban Ag Institute Program solves that relationship problem.  It puts those teenagers in a completely new relationship with food, land, community and a general sense of power.  I think it does tangibly improve the Richmond food system, but maybe the most important way it affects the food system is in the relationship these teenagers have with food.” Read More >

Could ‘Vertical Farming’ Work?

chris_jacobs_darkDickson Despommier brought his idea for vertical urban farms to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on Friday, and his audience of more than 100 people responded with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism.

Despommier is director of the Vertical Farm Project and a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He believes the combination of increasing human population and the increasing crop failures seen on much of our cropland necessitates new ways of producing food. He proposes vertical indoor farms that grow hydroponically, use local wastewater and solid waste (as fertilizer), and market to local urban customers as one way to address the growing demand for food.

“Do we need to invent anything to make this happen? The answer is no,” Despommier said. “I think the solutions are out there. We just have to piece them together in the proper way.”

In a Scientific American article this month, Despommier writes: “A one-square-block farm 30 stories high could yield as much food as 2,400 outdoor acres, with less subsequent spoilage.” Read More >

The Toughest Test

Great Kids Farm Greenhouse

Great Kids Farm Greenhouse

On Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future honored Baltimore City Public Schools’ Great Kids Farm with an award for visionary leadership in local food procurement and food education. The school system is now able to provide local milk, fruits, and vegetables with meals it serves and is working to help its more than 200 schools and programs develop their own gardens. Throughout the month numerous articles on this trend towards local food production have been published. For example, The Baltimore Sun published an article about the first harvest of the new one-acre garden at McDonogh School in Owings Mills. This isn’t a new trend. In fact, McDonogh School began in 1873 as a school for orphan boys who grew their own foods and farming continued at the School until the early 1960s.

Coincidentally, The New York Times published an article Tuesday entitled “Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking” about the impressive efforts that New York City’s Middle School 137 has made in redefining their lunch program. The article proves that it is possible to “entice nearly 2,000 students at the height of adolescent squirreliness to eat a good lunch,” but that it is definitely not easy: ingredients must be approved by the Department of Education, meet the food cravings of a culturally diverse student body, and then there is the need for cooking equipment—according to the article, only half of New York’s 1,385 school kitchens have enough cooking and fire-suppression equipment to actually cook. The efforts by Sharon Barlatier, the manager of the middle school cafeteria, that are described are commendable.

The article is a must read for anyway who questions the practicality of providing quality lunch programs in urban schools nationwide.

Obama makes moves on environment, agriculture during first week

Funny how much difference a week can make.  Just a few days into his term, President Obama gave America a new reason to look at the world through green-tinted shades by announcing his plan for tackling climate change, the New Energy for America plan.   The plan focuses on increasing the country’s energy independence by investing in renewable energies and plug-in hybrid cars and creating new jobs for a greener future.   Read More >

Looking Ahead: Obama’s Food Policy Platform

The Huffington Post this week looks at U.S. food policy and how it could potentially change under the Obama Administration. ‘Yes We Can’ Create a Sane Food Policy in the U.S. calls for President-elect Obama to appoint “an independent-minded secretary of agriculture who shares his concern for our nation’s youth, our national health, global development, the environment, and animals, and [to] create a National Food Policy Council and appoint a food-policy “czar” to oversee and coordinate a comprehensive and forward-thinking policy.” 

The piece also highlights the findings of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production’s report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America — a joint initiative between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — as well as the recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations

Read More >