August 9, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Meat, Fish, Dolphins, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

apple-a-dayTrillions of dollars and Meatless Monday. Two days ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report that examines how making a very modest increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat—about one apple a day per person—could lead to profound improvements in public health. (The UCS assigns an $11 trillion cost benefit to this simple dietary change if carried to the full USDA dietary recommendation for five portions a day of fruits and vegetables.) The New York Times’ Mark Bittman used the report to remind us that our federal agriculture policies thwart public health and are in desperate need of reform, but he failed to mention something else in need of reform—our patterns of meat consumption. By eating less meat, starting with going meatless one day of the week as the Meatless Monday campaign urges, we could eat our way toward better health, a better environment, and a better use of cropland to produce less animal feed and more fruits and vegetables. And of course, the way to make room for those important fruits and veggies is to cut back or eliminate those burgers and dogs! Starting with Meatless Monday we can rely on that old principle of psychology—inch by inch it’s a cinch, yard by yard it’s real hard.

Synthetic meat. A hamburger made big news this week when it was cooked and served in London. It was the years’ long culmination of a proof of concept experiment funded by Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, to create meat in a lab. The experiment involved using stem cells of cows. Brin said he was inspired to fund the project because of how poorly livestock are treated on farms.

The meat aisles. Former CLF Lerner fellow Lance Price was featured in this story about his efforts to trace the spread of superbugs through the supermarket meat aisles. In particular, his team is trying to figure out how many people in one American city are getting urinary infections from meat from the grocery store, and they are using genetic sequencing to match antibiotic-resistant E. coli in the meat with those in women with infections. If they match up, the evidence will confirm what scientists have long believed—that the misuse of antibiotics by industrial food animal producers to stimulate growth and protect animals against the squalor of factory farms is a major driver of antibiotic resistance in bacteria infecting animals and humans.

Bee happy. Given how colony collapse disorder is imperiling the honeybee population, I appreciated this New York Times story about rooftop gardens in Bryant Park. According to the story, “unbeknown to the busy office workers and the tourists sunning themselves in Bryant Park, above them on the seventh-floor rooftop are now some 100,000 European honeybees.” Hives on top of hives!

Fewer fish in Thailand. Climate change and rampant overfishing may be threatening a way of life for residents along the southern coast of Thailand, according to this Al Jazeera story. Not only do trawlers deplete the marine life there, but many rice paddies have been converted into shrimp farms, which take their toll on mangroves, an essential part of the coastal ecosystem. Effluent from the shrimp farms, mainly antibiotics and fertilizer, are damaging the mangroves. Removal of healthy mangroves to create shrimp farms adds to the problem.

Dolphin casualties. Since June, more than 120 dolphins have died mysteriously along the Mid-Atlantic coast. According to the Baltimore Sun story, scientists believe that toxic algae blooms or a virus could be to blame. This quotation is attributed to Susan Barco, of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Foundation: “This is really frightening because these animals are sentinels of ocean health. Strandings have been much more common in the past few decades, and we think it’s an indication of the health of our ecosystem.”

Food heroes. Food Tank recently recognized our director of Food System Policy, Bob Martin, as a food hero and highlighted our current work revisiting the former Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production report that was issued five years ago. The new report, which CLF will produce, will examine progress that has—or has not—been made in regard to improving IFAP.

Image: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013.

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