January 11, 2013

The CLF Week in Links: Food Safety, Shortages, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Superbug found in British milk

Here are a few of the news items that are getting the most attention at the Center for a Livable Future this week.

Food safety. Last Friday, the FDA announced its proposal of two major rules as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). (FSMA was signed into law in January, 2011, two years ago.) Over the next weeks, the fine print will be digested, but at first blush the rules aim to prevent the high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illnesses that have sadly become fairly common for the U.S. food system. One of the proposed rules deals specifically with standards for produce safety and looks at things like water, soil, animals in the growing area, and more.

Aquaculture. High temperatures and drought are affecting the catfish industry, at farms like this one in central Missouri. And a collaborative project will explore will explore an alternative technology to traditional oyster reproduction and culture in St. Mary’s River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland oyster industry could see a boost from this oyster restoration project.

Antibiotic resistance. Food Safety News published a blogpost by a physician who contends that the antibiotic-use-in-livestock situation is overblown and a pack of lies. Dr. Raymond raises some interesting points, and as a physician I appreciate his willingness to admit that part of the problem lies with bad judgment by doctors who treat humans. But he’s made some grave scientific mistakes, and this rebuttal contains the Pew Health Group’s full response to the post.

Milk.  A new strain of methicillian-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found in British milk, indicating that the superbug is spreading through the livestock population and poses a growing threat to human health.

Meat. I really like this article about five places you might not expect to adopt Meatless Monday, but have. One of them is Smithfield, Virginia, home of the world’s largest pork producer—but there’s no pork, or any other meat, served to public school students on Mondays.

The farm bill. The Huffington Post just published this piece about the urgency of pressing our elected officials—now—for a better farm bill when the current extension runs out. Public health advocates, environmentalists, and farmers need to be involved. There’s no rest for the weary.

Oprah raises chickens. This was a nice thing to see circulating in the social media world—Oprah is doing some urban gardening, and she posted a photo of herself with fresh chicken eggs. The tweeted caption reads, “Look what I just gathered. Chickens are workin’.”

“Wise eating.” I was taken aback last Friday by Jane Brody’s blogpost on what she calls “wise eating.” For decades, I’ve considered Ms. Brody a comrade in the mission to promote healthy eating, mainly the consumption of whole foods and the rejection of processed products rife with chemicals, fats, sugar, and salt. But in this post, she got quite a few things wrong. Thankfully, someone at Civil Eats took her to task, in this fine rebuttal.

Bizarre development at the NIH. The incoming chair of the U.S. House of Representatives panel that controls the budget of the National Institutes of Health is Rep. Jack Kingston (R–Ga.). His reputation as an anti-evolution, climate change–denying conservative budget hawk makes this a curious position for him. Is he simply ignorant, or is he an ideologic science-denier?

Bizarre disavowal by GMO activist. British activist Mark Lynas, an environmentalist who helped spur the movement against genetically modified food in the 1990s, has recanted. He told Slate that he was “completely wrong to oppose GMOs.” This 180 by Lynas has us at CLF stumped since there is mounting evidence that GMOs continue to disappoint on the yield side and are helping select out new strains of weeds resistant to glyphosate, and corn rootworm resistant to Bt maize, a genetically engineered corn.

Global food security. Food prices around the world are rising, in places like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Guam, and China. Meat, eggs, and dairy are named as the leaders in high prices, and the culprits seem to be crop damage resulting from severe weather. It’s so bad in Zambia that on Monday, President Michael Sata warned that high food prices could spark riots. The price of corn—a staple in Zambia—has nearly doubled since December. Curiously, in Australia, food prices are decreasing. It looks like this is only a “return to normal,” though, after a spike in prices following two major floods (Queensland and Victoria) and Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

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