February 8, 2013

The CLF Week in Links: Land Grabs, Nanoparticles, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

The real deal: Albright Farms, Baltimore County

Here’s what’s on our minds at the Center for a Livable Future, besides the Ravens’ victory at the Super Bowl.

God made a (white) farmer? Speaking of the Super Bowl, the Dodge Ram trucks commercial has people talking. The two-minute ad gives us the voice and words of Paul Harvey, and the photographs are beautiful. Unfortunately, though, most of America’s hyper-industrialized farmland looks nothing like the ad’s nostalgic vision. In addition, I counted 11 white men, one white woman, one black man, one Latina woman, and a few children in the commercial—interesting art direction, considering that, according to the USDA, nearly half of all hired farmworkers are Latino. And the final shot showed the Dodge Ram parked in front of a swine CAFO, which represents the polar opposite from the family farm evoked in the Paul Harvey speech to the Future Farmers of America back in 1979.

Nanoparticles in food. I wanted to write about a recent New York Times story on nanoparticles, but Mark Bittman did that yesterday. I’ll let you read his thoughts, while noting that the European Union requires labeling of foods containing nanomaterials, and that last year our FDA said it did not have enough data to determine the safety of nanomaterials in food.

Agrobusiness in impoverished nations. Here’s a story in the New York Times about how Big Ag buys up cropland in resource-poor or conflict-prone countries like Mozambique, Mali, and Sierra Leone, and sends the food back home to richer nations—leaving residents out of the profit loop. To wit, in Sudan in 2008, the United Arab Emirates was growing sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, to feed camels back home.

Obama’s picks for Cabinet positions. According to this Reuters story, President Barack Obama might name nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz as the next Energy Secretary. Moniz directs MIT’s Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing climate-changing greenhouse gases, and he favors using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable energy. Food and Water Watch has labeled him a “fracking proponent” and oppose his appointment. Other appointments include Sally Jewell, chief executive of outdoor retailer REI, to replace Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary, and possibly Gina McCarthy, a top official in charge of air quality at the EPA, to fill Lisa Jackson’s shoes.

Is USDA walking the walk? The USDA cafeterias have been revamped: no deep-fried options, whole wheat breads and pastas as the default option, and a full-time dietitian on-site to answer questions. Ironic, considering the agency’s capitulation to Big Meat last year when Secretary Vilsack apologized for his agency’s support of Meatless Monday. But maybe the times are a-changin’.

And while I’m on the subject of Meatless Monday, St. Mary’s College of Maryland implemented its Meatless Monday pilot program this week, and Fox News goes meatless on Mondays with a new healthy recipe each week. The times really are changing.

Overfishing anchovies and other species. This AP story has been picked up by several papers: the Peruvian anchovy is being overfished, which raises concerns about global food security. On that same note, a new paper in Food Chemistry addresses the health benefits of seafood to facilitate an educated move toward sustaining it in the future.

Antibiotic use in food animals. Here’s a great breakdown of the FDA’s voluntary guidance policy, from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It explains the feet-dragging, horse-trading, and sweetening-of-the-pot by the agency that’s supposed to safeguard our public’s health.

Poultry production on the Eastern Shore. The Baltimore Sun reports on how a recent poultry lawsuit highlights weak oversight on chicken CAFOs, with gaps in nutrient plans, lapses in timely renewal, and spotty enforcement.

Jamaica gardens. Some of us at CLF have soft spots in our hearts for rap/reggae artist Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg), which is why I’m ending with this story. It seems that after an eye-opening trip to Jamaica, where he was shocked by the nation’s poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, Snoop Lion has joined forces with Reed’s Ginger Brew to create the Mind Gardens Project in Trench Town and Tivoli Gardens, sponsoring the creation of greenhouses and seed houses. The musician says, “Plant a seed, grow a garden, change your life.”

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