June 14, 2013
First drought, then rain. Recently, our nation saw one of its worst droughts in history, but that’s ended with torrential rains this spring in the Midwest farm belt. Unfortunately, the rains have flooded acres of corn and soybean plants, washed countless tons of prime topsoil down chocolate-colored rivers, and farmers are worried about their harvests. Because these crops feed livestock, the rains could result in higher prices for meat in the near future.
Dust Bowl re-dux? In the 1930s, southeastern Colorado was devastated by the Dust Bowl, and now there are once again fierce dust storms rolling across the state’s Eastern Plains. According to this Denver Post story, farmers and ranchers are praying for rain. The photos alone are worth the click-through to the article.
USDA and climate change. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides good coverage of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s speech at the National Press Club, where he acknowledged the toll that climate change is taking on agriculture. Some of the “unique regional challenges” farmers and ranchers are facing include extreme precipitation in the Northeast, drought in the West and Southwest, and increasing temperatures across the board. Thankfully, Secretary Vilsack acknowledged that climate change is a two-way street: agriculture has the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Now if he would just show some spine with the industrial food animal producers whose production methods and the subsequent high-meat American diet are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases from the food we consume. Follow @sustainableag on Twitter for updates.
G8 and superbugs. The 39th G8 summit will take place in Northern Ireland next Monday and Tuesday, and the UK is getting ready to sound the alarm—again—regarding the spread of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” At the summit, UK experts will urge coordinated international action to prevent what they are predicting could be a public health catastrophe. Fortunately, the UK seems to understand the need to advocate a saner approach to the use of existing drugs, especially in industrial food animal production. Farms in the UK are not supposed to use low-dose antibiotics routinely for growth promotion and disease prevention, but they are used rampantly in the U.S. and Latin America. About 80 percent of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in animal agriculture, most in the low-dose form that creates the ideal conditions for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant mutant genes in bacteria that cause disease in animals and humans.
More on Smithfield-Shanghui. Here’s a great post by Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company, about what we hope China does not learn from cheap hot dogs, and other American food tragedies. Fedele is a former member of the Pew Commission for Industrial Farm Animal Production, which evaluated the hazards associated with the meat industry. Sadly, in the five years since the report, nothing has changed in the meat industry, except for the worse. But influenced by his experience on the Pew Commission on IFAP, Fedele has become a leader in the food service industry, using the power of sourcing to encourage the adoption of more sustainable and more humane methods of producing animals, eggs, and dairy products for purchase by Bon Appétit. Follow Fedele via Twitter @bamco.
Aquaculture’s shadow. This NPR story addresses a big problem associated with aquaculture—fish waste that pollutes water surrounding large fish farms. The story covers the practice of growing seaweed and mussels to soak up the polluting nutrients in the waste, known as multi-trophic aquaculture. Unfortunately, the story does not mention other harms of fish farms, such as disease transfer to wild fish, escapes, and the use of chemicals and drugs. Sea lice and infectious salmon anemia (a viral disease) in salmon pens off the coast of British Columbia have become a major hazard to the remaining wild salmon returning to spawn.
GMO cotton may help farmers. Any debate about the risks and benefits of genetically modified crops is bound to be a complicated one. I’ve sounded off about the risks associated with GMO crops that are modified to tolerate certain pesticides. But cotton may be a different story, because it’s modified with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis that that produces a toxin that helps it ward off bollworms. And a new study of farmers in India who use this “Bt cotton” shows that these farmers make higher profits, which helps them achieve greater food security.
San Diego going Meatless. San Diego elementary school students will no longer be able to buy lunches that contain meat on Mondays. Speaking at the school board meeting, Lawrence Hansen, a professor at the UC San Diego medical school, said “I have five reasons why the district should adopt Meatless Mondays: heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and obesity.” We applaud yet another city’s efforts to reduce meat consumption. Follow @MeatlessMonday for more updates.
Food desert strategy in Baltimore. Yesterday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke about the city’s food desert retail strategy at local, family-owned Food Depot in Southwest Baltimore. A key component of her strategy is to retain and expand existing grocery stores like Food Depot, which has opened its doors to CLF for the past three years in a study about supermarket interventions. Here’s a link to local CBS coverage and to our own web article. Follow Baltimore food policy initiatives on Twitter via @BmoreFoodCzar and the city’s health department @BMore_Healthy.
Photo: Michael Milli, 2013.