November 8, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Trans fats, I-522, new mayors and more

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

I-522.poster.1022Billionaires on farm aid. A report produced by our friends at the Environmental Working Group and released this week has caught the attention of the New York Times and other outlets. According to the report, the federal government paid $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses in which they have some form of ownership. As reporter Ron Nixon notes, “The report is being issued as members of the House and Senate are meeting to come up with a new five-year farm bill.” That’s a farm bill in which the House proposes cutting nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program. This is corporate welfare for the rich while ripping holes in the safety net for the poor. As Sir Michael Marmot, British epidemiologist who documented the social gradient in health and keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Boston last Sunday, observed (and I paraphrase): Income inequalities and health disparities in the United States are at an all-time high, but since you are a functioning democracy, you must want it this way!

GMOs in Washington State. It was a close race, but it seems that Washington State residents have rejected legislation that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered products. The defeat of the proposed legislation, known as I-522, was supported with $22 million from industry, and $5 million of that came from Monsanto. Once again corporate money and corporate power dominated the debate and advertising. Regardless of whether or not the consumption of GE foods harm humans, the consequences of producing these crops are ones that degrade the environment—and I’m suspicious of anything that Monsanto supports.

Too-da-loo, trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed measures that would all but eliminate artificial trans fats, the artery clogging substance that is a major contributor to heart disease. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats. Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the agency’s commissioner, said the new rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year. This is a bright spot of good news for public health. Our good friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), directed by Michael Jacobson, deserve a lot of credit for keeping this issue alive over the last decade and more.

Broccoli is cool. In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Michael Moss gives us an insightful look at how food is—and could be—marketed to children and the rest of the U.S. One of the first reforms? Stop making healthy eating feel like an obligation. The story gives us notes from an “extreme makeover” for broccoli.

Growing pigs. Over the last 60 years, pig farmers got into the habit of feeding antibiotics to their herd to promote their growth. Now it seems that the antibiotics no longer do that trick—but the farmers keep feeding them to the pigs. Dropping the unnecessary drugs would save farmers money, but old habits die hard, and I suspect the drug detail persons pushing antibiotics are just as relentless as the ones who used to come to my internal medicine practice. Here’s the story from National Public Radio.

The downside of ethanol. There are so many reasons why policies that mandate blending corn ethanol into gasoline do more harm than good. In this astute Q&A, the Daily Hampshire Gazette breaks it down for readers. While burning ethanol releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, when you factor in land conversion, erosion, pollution and greenhouse gases that come with it, ethanol doesn’t look green. As Dennis Keeney, founding director of the Aldo Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, observed, “Corn ethanol seemed like a good idea…until we thought about it!”

FSMA and real food. Introduced by the Obama Administration in 2011, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was supposed to make our food safer, primarily by reducing outbreaks of, say, salmonella and every day foods like eggs and peanuts. But a question has been burning since then: would the new rules steamroll small and midsize farms? In this Mother Jones article, Tom Philpott says it looks like the verdict is in: “The proposed rules as currently written represent a significant and possibly devastating burden to small and midsize players.”

Real Food Hopkins. I’m pleased to pass on the good news that has transpired from years of hard work by CLF’s Mia Cellucci and two of our esteemed colleagues, Raychel Santo and Emily Nink. Because of the persuasive powers of these young women, who worked through an organization known as “Real Food Hopkins” (a chapter of the Real Food Challenge), president Ron Daniels has pledged that at least 35 percent of Johns Hopkins University food purchases will be local, sustainable, humane and fair-trade by 2020.

New mayors. Democrat Bill DiBlasio has been elected mayor of New York. Mayor Bloomberg, known as the public health mayor, seems pleased with the results, and we at CLF hope that Mr. DiBlasio continues Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign for better health in the city. And in a close race in Boston, Marty Walsh has prevailed as Mayor Thomas Menino’s successor. Walsh has run on a platform of education reform and organized labor. Let’s hope he continues Mayor Menino’s contributions to food policy reform, as well.

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