February 1, 2013

The CLF Week in Links: Meat Safety, McDonalds Fish, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Here’s what’s on our minds at the Center for a Livable Future this Purple Friday.

school lunch

How do U.S. school lunches stack up against Japanese?

School lunch in the Far East. This Washington Post piece takes a lovely look at how Japan feeds its schoolchildren—and it’s radically different from what we do in the U.S. The meals are sourced locally, made from scratch, heavy on rice, vegetables, fish and soups, and a point of national pride. I’d like to add that in the last decade, Japan has eliminated polycarbonate dishware, which contains BPA, from all its school lunches, and replaced plastic with ceramic. The aesthetics are a bonus feature.

USDA reduces safety audits on meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cut the number of food safety audits it conducts on meat imported from foreign countries. This is part of an overhaul that the agency says will allow it to focus on the riskiest imports. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, says, “It is time for the Obama Administration to fund this vital consumer protection program adequately.”

New fish labels for McDonalds. The world’s biggest fast-food company will soon be labeling its fish products with the imprimatur of the Marine Stewardship Council to show that the fish it serves is caught in an environmentally responsible manner. That seems like a good move. But how about taking it one step further? McDonalds fish supply is entirely wild-caught Alaska Pollock—why not include small oily fish that are lower on the food chain? They probably tastes the same fried and would have more omega-3-fatty acids.

Go Ravens! (And Taco Bell.) The air in Baltimore is nippy, but it’s bristling with excitement this Purple Friday as the city awaits Sunday’s Super Bowl. Regardless of who emerges victorious, Baltimore or San Francisco, Taco Bell has scored some points in my book. After running an ad that says, “People kind of hate you for” bringing veggies on game day, the Center for Science in the Public Interest responded to the attack ad, gathered thousands of signatures on its letter to Taco Bell—and the fast food chain pulled the ad “with record speed.”

Mayor Bloomberg’s gift. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg stunned the world with his generosity this week when he pledged $350 million to the Johns Hopkins University, bringing his total donations to the University to $1.1 billion. We at the Bloomberg School of Public Health have long recognized Mayor Bloomberg as “the public health” mayor; he’s forged forward-thinking and effective policies in his city on tobacco, menu boards and calorie counts, trans fats, and sweetened beverages. Some of his most intense interests expressed in this new gift are in areas that touch food systems thinking—global water supply, global health, and urban development.

Go meatless for heart health. February is American Heart Health Month. Go “red” this Monday, with these tips from Meatless Monday.

Hobbled health departments. A new study by our researchers shows that local health departments are hindered from responding to the public health risks to people who live in communities with CAFOs.

Kristof on book leave. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof announced this week that he’ll be taking some time off from column-writing to work with his wife on a book. A few years ago, Mr. Kristof gave a delightful talk at the Bloomberg School, and he met privately with CLF staff. Also, he’s written many columns about the perils of modern, industrial food production. (Here’s one he wrote about our study on arsenic in feather meal.) We’ll miss his keen voice on food system issues, but we hope that the muse is kind to him.

Ag-gag laws. Recently, there’s been a spate of ag-gag laws re-introduced in several state legislatures. Ag-gag laws are pernicious. Vigorously pushed by the meat industry, these laws aim to prevent people from finding out about animal abuse, making criminals out of undercover investigators and whistle-blowers. Bruce Friedrich tells all in this Huffington Post piece.

Make more or throw away less? Almost half of all the food we produce in the world never makes it to a plate, says Andrew Gunther in this Huffington Post story. He argues that Big Ag is profiting from our addiction to wasting food.

Eating snakes to benefit Chesapeake Bay. The Northern Snakehead is an invasive species in the Potomac River and neighboring bodies of water. What better way to keep its population in check than to serve it in a delicious dish? That’s exactly what happened at the second annual ProFish Invasive Species Benefit Dinner at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour.

Blame ethanol for high food prices. A new study uses USDA data to show that after more than 50 years of declining food prices, there has been a dramatic rise in U.S. food prices since 2005. Rapidly rising corn prices are the most important factor in rising food prices, and this spike in corn prices is caused by ethanol subsidies and mandates. As the documentary, King Corn, illustrated several years ago, the U.S. corn crop is mostly used to feed cattle, swine, and poultry before they are fed to us. But it is also used to make a variety of processed food items. Whether as animal feed or as ingredients for processed food, the rise in commodity prices is now showing up at the grocery store.

Step backwards for advanced biofuels. Six years ago, Congress issued a mandate intended to promote the use of advanced biofuels (made from woody materials or so-called cellulosics) for cars and trucks, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required gradually higher levels of cellulosic fuel to be incorporated into motor fuel each year. But now a federal court has told the EPA that, in essence, its goal was wishful thinking, and the rule has been thrown out.

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