July 12, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Superbugs, Immigration Reform, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Kudos for CIW and tomato workers

Kudos for CIW and tomato workers

Farm bill split? In what Democrats are calling “an act of desperation,” Republicans have proposed splitting the omnibus farm bill into two bills—one that addresses SNAP (food stamps) funding, and one that addresses agriculture issues. The bill was endorsed by John Boehner (R–Ohio), and opposed by an unlikely medley of interests such as the Environmental Working Group, the Heritage Foundation, and the Obama administration.

Breeding superbugs. In a New York Times column, Mark Bittman gives attention to a new study (by a Bloomberg School affiliate) that found drug-resistant bacteria associated with livestock in the noses of industrial livestock workers in North Carolina but not in the noses of antibiotic-free livestock workers. As Bittman writes, the situation is dire: “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are bad enough, but now there are more kinds; they’re better at warding off attack by antibiotics; and they can be transferred to humans by increasingly varied methods.”

Immigration reform. The recently passed Senate version of a new immigration bill (S.744) has received praise from strange bedfellows, from pro-industry groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers, and also from the pro-farmers group United Farm Workers of America. According to the UFW, the bill represents a compromise born of intense negotiations among Senators Feinstein (D–Cal.), Bennet (D–Col.), Rubin (R–Fla.), and Hatch (R–Ut.), agribusiness reps and the UFW. If enacted, it would provide undocumented farmworkers and their family members an opportunity to obtain legal immigration status leading to permanent residency and the opportunity to become U.S. citizens. But it doesn’t look good for the bill to pass the House—in a joint statement on Wednesday, GOP House leaders called the bill “flawed legislation.” Let House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) know what you think via Twitter @repgoodlatte.

Green algae in the Yellow Sea. In the Yellow Sea, off the coast of Qingdao, China, a huge algal bloom is choking marine life, chasing away tourists, and costing millions of dollars to abalone, clam and sea cucumber farms. How big is the bloom? About the size of Connecticut. As the algae decomposes, it releases toxic hydrogen sulfide gas and smells like rotten eggs. Chinese officials are calling it a “large scale algae disaster.” The culprit, most likely, is a combination of pollution, especially nutrient run-off, warm water, and seaweed farming.

Bye-bye butterflies? I’ve been tracking the plague affecting honeybees, known as colony collapse disorder, and now another pollinator is in the news. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that two brown, moth-like butterfly subspecies are probably extinct in South Florida, which some entomologists say is ground zero for the number of butterfly species on the verge of annihilation. Along with bees and other insects, amphibians like frogs, salamanders and toads are in peril. A recent U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that seven species of amphibians will drop by 50 percent if the current rate of decline continues. The likely culprit? Pesticide use and loss of habitat.

Good tomatoes—hurray for Immokalee. When the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was chosen by the Roosevelt Institute to receive its Freedom from Want Medal, kind words and congratulations poured in from around the world (and from CLF, too). Former president Jimmy Carter praised the CIW for historic advances made in the Florida tomato industry, and so did food justice advocates like Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and more. Follow them on Twitter via @ciw.

The crime in ag-gag. Mother Jones has published a horrifying story about what happens to industrially raised livestock, and what happens to the people who try to blow the whistle on those practices. Ag-gag laws make the whistleblowers the criminals—and this article asks the relevant question: what’s the real crime?

Ready for more Roundup? The use of Monsanto-manufactured herbicide glyphosate, known as Roundup, has increased by 26 percent since 2001. Glyphosate is a known endocrine disruptor, and it has been showing up in carrots and potatoes that pick it up from the soil—but the EPA is proposing to relax regulations in favor of saying that higher levels are all right.

Greek ag. As Greece’s economy continues to implode, more Greeks see farming as a good investment in the face of austerity. As world nations destabilize economically, will farming make a comeback among the educated and urban? The story is from the Washington Post.

The Institute of Medicine. This Tuesday, July 16, I’ll present at an IOM public session at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The topic is developing a framework for assessing the health, environmental, and social effects of the food system, or, more informally, the “true costs of food.” It’s open to the public. More information is here.

 Photo: Michael Milli, 2012.

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