May 24, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Food Stamps, Tornadoes, Arsenic and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Tornado, Oklahoma City, May 12, 1896

Food stamp funding. This week the Senate has been amending the farm bill, and already there has been heartbreak. I’m very disappointed that both Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD) and Senator Ben Cardin (D–MD) voted against the amendment sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–NY), which would have restored the $4 billion in cuts to SNAP. For a list of all the Democratic senators who voted for and against the bill, consult this story from the Daily Kos. You can send your thoughts via Twitter to @SenatorBarb and @SenatorCardin. [Update: On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, the Baltimore Sun ran this letter to the editor.]

The farm bill at large. Developments continue, and as always, the best resource I can recommend for updates is the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. You may follow them on Twitter via @sustainableag. Also, one of our research assistants, Karina Christiansen, has written a very helpful blogpost about what to expect.

Tornadoes and climate change—yes or no? Andrew Revkin has made a thorough contribution to the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog in response to the question of whether climate change has had any impact on the frequency and strength of tornadoes like the one that plowed through and took many lives in Moore, Oklahoma, this week. For once, climate change is not the clear culprit. He quotes Kerry Emanuel of MIT: “In my view, the data on tornadoes is so poor that it is difficult to say anything at all about observed trends, and the theoretical understanding of the relationship between severe thunderstorms in general (including hail storms) and climate is virtually non-existent.” But a different and good point is raised by William Hooke of the American Meteorological Society: “Population growth and urban sprawl have transformed much of Tornado Alley from a rural area to a target-rich environment.”

Big Ag concerned about bees. Agrichemical companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and Sygenta are funding initiatives to nurture research on colony collapse disorder, like hosting a Bee Summit and establishing a Bee Care Center. Greenwashing? Perhaps. Science has shown us that the pesticides they manufacture and sell are the problem (especially a class known as neonicotinoids), but the companies are blaming other factors, such as tracheal mites. As mentioned in this blog several weeks ago scientists and policymakers in Europe find the evidence implicating neonicotinoids sufficient to ban their use, invoking the precautionary principle. The EPA is studying the situation but has not taken action. Honeybees pollinate plants that produce roughly 25 percent of the foods Americans consume, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans.

Arsenic in chicken. A new CLF study on arsenic in chicken is getting a lot of attention, from food system advocates and industry alike. Here’s the New York Times article that broke the story. Also, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have written an article, “Corporate greed is poisoning America—literally,” in which they bemoan the lax regulations that allow arsenic into our chicken and keep workers unsafe in, for example, fertilizer plants. CLF research on arsenic in chicken is cited in the article.

Poultry line perils. Our friend Jim Harkness writes in the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy blog about the dangers posed for those working on the poultry inspection lines. I’ve written about some of these hazards in a past post, and Jim brings up an interesting new angle: “The industry claims these increases in line speeds are to meet increasing consumer demand, but which consumers are they referring to? Per capita chicken consumption in the U.S. has been flat for ten years, turkey for more than twenty.”

Malik Yakini on video. For those who have some time, I recommend watching Malik Yakini’s talk given at the School last month. It’s available in its entirety on video now, and in it he addresses the need for social and racial justice in the food system, and he describes the movement he is leading in Detroit to empower poor people to grow more of their own food in urban gardens and farms.

The CLF Lerner Fellowships. ’Tis the season for pomp and circumstance. This week, our Lerner Fellows were honored at the awards ceremony and commencement. To learn more about these fine scholars, visit our web page.

Image: Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

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