October 21, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Fall Flurry of Events

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

scientists-chicksMeatless Monday is 10. U.S. News covered Meatless Monday’s tenth anniversary, in this story. To celebrate, we had a scientific symposium here at the Bloomberg School yesterday. Adding a surprise element to the event, Emeritus Dean Al Sommer, representing Dean Michael Klag, who was in Germany, presented Sid Lerner with the Dean’s Medal for his vision and leadership in improving the health of the public through the Meatless Monday Campaign. It was a well-earned award, and we at CLF look forward to the next 10 years of providing technical assistance and scientific advice to the campaign.

Update on IFAP. On Tuesday, I’ll have the pleasure of kicking off an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for the release of the CLF Study on Impacts of the 2008 Pew Commission report on Industrial Farm Animal Production. The new report, put together by a CLF team led by our Food System Policy Program director, Robert Martin, explains the progress that’s been made—and hasn’t been made—toward improving IFAP in the U.S. The report will be available on our website Tuesday morning, but don’t hold your breath waiting for good news. The IFAP landscape is still grim, and we need to do some heavy-lifting—and fast—to make progress. Many of the Commission’s recommendations ran into the failure of political will in the regulatory agencies responsible for protecting our food supply, the environment, and the health of the public.

Salmonella saga, continued.  The government has finally re-opened for business, but this is having no effect on how USDA and FDA are managing the Foster Farms chicken antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak. In this piece, Mark Bittman takes a very reasonable point of view, namely, that the burden of food safety should not be entirely on the consumers’ shoulders; while we can be expected to use proper, safe meat handling and cooking methods, the agencies charged with protecting our health must play a larger role. In particular, says Bittman, they should pull Foster Farms products from the market and end the practice of misusing antibiotics in food animal production.

Food is not sales. In time for World Food Day (this past Wednesday), Mark Bittman opines yet again this week in this opinion piece, in which he equates “Let’s feed the world” with “Let’s ramp up sales,” pointing out that the world produces enough calories for the humans in it—but that so many of these calories are wasted, burned for fuel, or fed to livestock. There are two food systems, he argues: one industrial, and the other of peasants. In the essay, he makes a great case for small-scale, biodiverse operations, and agroecology overall.

Food Day 2013. Established by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. We celebrate Food Day on Thursday, October 24, but there are events going on across the country all week. Visit the website to find or host an event near you.

Parks in peril. According to this Los Angeles Times story, at least 45 national parks are being fertilized by unwanted nutrients drifting through the air from agricultural operations, putting some of the country’s natural landscapes at risk of ecologic damage. The damaging nutrient is nitrogen, which, at certain thresholds, can harm sensitive ecosystems, such as lichens, hardwood forests or tall grass prairie. The study was published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Ranchers in trouble. This past weekend, about 80,000 cattle were killed, found huddled and frozen after the surprise storm. The 6,000 ranching operations that were hit had no safety net, thanks to the federal government shutdown—we’ll see what happens now that the government has re-opened. This Los Angeles Times story says that this is the state’s worst economic disaster in decades, ravaging South Dakota’s $7-billion livestock industry.

Mercury and the food chain. According to this Washington Post story by Darryl Fears, a Dartmouth study found that because fish eat more in warmer water (because their metabolism increases), the fish end up taking in more methylmercury, which poses health risks to humans who eat the fish or eat fish higher up on the food chain. This is one more piece of evidence among many that warming waters is not only bad for the health of wildlife ecosystems, but for human health as well. Celia Chen, one of the co-authors quoted from the study, will be presenting at the American Public Health Association conference next month in Boston (November 2-6), in a session organized by CLF researchers Jillian Fry and Dave Love.  

Whither the sardines? The Vancouver Sun reports that a $32-million commercial sardine fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the British Columbia coast. The repercussions have traveled up the food chain to humpback whales, which seem to be changing their patterns. The culprit in disappearing sardines? Rather than overfishing, it seems that changing ocean conditions are the root cause. To what extent have humans played a role in that change? We know that oceans are becoming more acidic as CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere, that the Pacific gyre contains millions of tons of plastic waste that breaks down into microscopic particles that clog the guts of phytoplankton that are the base of the food chain upon which sardines depend, and, I suspect, other anthropogenic forms of pollution that make the oceans more and more inhospitable to the web of life.

Oysters ahoy. On Tuesday, the Healthy Harbor Oyster Partnership deposited oyster cages into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the first of 75 to be placed there. The partnership is a medley of businesses, public schools, and philanthropic organizations in Baltimore. That the waters of the Inner Harbor might once again support these important filter feeders is a very encouraging development.

Asylum seekers in gardens. Our beleaguered immigration system makes rough-going and long wait times for torture victims who are seeking asylum in the U.S. Unlike refugees, asylum seekers cannot work or go to school, and they are often barred from health and legal services. Dirt Therapy is a community supported agriculture farm that allows asylum-seeking torture survivors to benefit from the sales of their produce. Consider “liking” this project here to improve Dirt Therapy’s chances for funding.

Bee-ing trendy. This New York Times story expounds on how beekeeping and artisanal honey may be one of the next big marketing trends. One editor quoted in the article says, “It’s got a great cool factor. … It’s not as extreme as raising goats.” The article mentions colony collapse disorder (CCD), as well, but in my opinion gives it short shrift; CCD could put our harvests in serious peril, and no amount of artisanal beekeeping will be able to supply the pollinators our food system requires.

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