May 3, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Walmart, FDA, Food Justice and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Pesticide killing New Brunswick lobsters?

Rep. Slaughter fights back. Last week, the New York Times ran a shamefully shallow letter to the editor from Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine; in the letter, Dunham downplayed the seriousness of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Fortunately, this week the same paper ran a response from Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY), who calls out Dunham for her lack of understanding of the issue. Slaughter rightly links the problem of antibiotic resistance to the indiscriminate misuse of antibiotics in industrial food animal production and calls for protection of critical antibiotics for human use.

U.S. food aid in need of reform. The U.S. is the only international food aid donor that still gives food rather than cash to the World Food Program. Under a proposal in President Obama’s new budget, nearly half the requested food aid donation in 2014 could be used to buy food in bulk in countries in need or to provide individual recipients with vouchers for local food purchases. The New York Times editors point out that food bought locally is cheaper—up to 50 percent less—and saves shipping costs of up to 16 percent of the food aid budget. International aid groups have endorsed the changes, but the U.S. farm and shipping lobbies oppose the reform.

FDA sued over arsenic. Attorneys at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit on behalf of CFS, Food and Water Watch, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and six other U.S. organizations to compel FDA to respond to the groups’ three year-old petition calling for immediate withdrawal of FDA’s approval of arsenic-containing compounds as feed additives for food animals. The lawsuit was filed the same day Consumer Reports released an alarming study on the high levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in ground turkey, yet another reason to add Meatless Monday to your health-promoting behaviors agenda.

Walmart’s Hunger Games. Anna Lappé has written a scathing and spot-on review of Walmart’s newest publicity stunt. The nation’s largest grocer announced the winners of its Fighting Hunger Together contest, which awards a total of $3 million to anti-hunger organizations. As Ms. Lappé points out, if Walmart actually cared about the 50 million hungry Americans, 17 million of whom are children, it might consider halting cuts to its employees’ hours and benefits and provide a livable wage.  Our esteemed colleague Mark Winne, who joined the Center this year as a senior adviser, comments that this is a by-design goodwill campaign and nothing more. Ms. Lappé concludes that even those Walmart workers who are able to secure a full-time schedule, with at least 34 hours a week, bring home just $15,500 a year—and live below the poverty line. To add insult to injury, Walmart requires entrants to the Fighting Hunger Together contest to provide detailed personal information, which Walmart then uses to refine its marketing strategy! To call all of this greenwashing doesn’t begin to capture the perfidy involved.

Salmon pen pesticide kills lobsters. A Canadian aquaculture company is paying nearly half a million dollars in fines for using the pesticide cypermethrin to control sea lice in salmon cages in Passamaquoddy Bay, Maine. Hundreds of lobsters were killed in 2009 in New Brunswick, Canada, because of the pesticide, which found its way across the border and into larger bodies of water. While illegal in Canada, cypermethrin is allowed in the U.S. with regulated permits. This represents another case of failing to honor the ecologic laws of nature.

Decline in California food production. Global climate change is raising food security concerns in high-producing states like California. Increased winter temperatures are affecting produce, as is drought in the state. The amount of grapes grown in the famous wine country could be reduced to half as a result of hotter, drier days. The state produces about half of all fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S.

Food justice needs social justice. This week the Center was honored to host Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network as our 13th Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture. Mr. Yakini spoke eloquently about the need for justice and equity in the food movement, and the need for special attention to working against institutional racism. We look forward to further collaborations with him and his network of farmers and activists in Detroit.

Photo: Mia Cellucci, 2009

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