December 13, 2013

CLF Week in Links: FDA, Farm Bill, Shrimp and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

cows-at-feed-troughFDA and Antimicrobial Resistance. The big news this week is that the FDA issued its final Guidance for Industry #213, which is intended to address the crisis of rising antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. (Here’s the New York Times story.) The guidance is composed of voluntary guidelines directing producers of antibiotics used in food animal production: they are discouraged from using them for growth promotion and feed efficiency, but allowed to use them for treatment of sick animals, and—this is the controversial part—for disease prevention. Time will tell whether voluntary guidelines that rely on veterinarians for enforcement and oversight will accomplish the FDA’s goal of protecting public health.

Farm bill delay. Because of more stalling in Congress, what was supposed to be the 2012 farm bill, and then was supposed to be the 2013 farm bill, will now become the 2014 farm bill. According to this Farm Futures story, yesterday U.S. House members approved a 50-day extension of the 2008 farm bill to allow more time for conference committee negotiations on a new, five-year bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) filed for the extension.

Goodbye, Maine shrimp. For the first time in 35 years, a regulatory agency has banned shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine. The agency, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, was responding to reports of a fully collapsed stock that could be driven to near extinction. The shutdown will last indefinitely, and a marine biologist involved with the decision was quoted as saying that there’s little hope for recovery in the near future.

In utero impact on taste. According to this New York Times story, some researchers at a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia have found that babies born to and breast fed by mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet are more open to a wide range of flavors, and that they carry those preferences into childhood and adulthood. This is an intriguing piece of information that, if true, could have big implications for yet another education campaign aimed at pregnant and nursing women. For now, I’ll take this study with a grain of salt, so to speak.

Organic milk gets a high score. This New York Times story covers a study done by CLF friend Charles Benbrook into the health benefits of drinking milk from organic dairies. “Whole milk from organic dairies contains far more of some of the fatty acids that contribute to a healthy heart than conventional milk, scientists are reporting,” writes the reporter. The study was largely funded by Organic Valley, but “experts not connected with the study said the findings were credible.”

Chicken in China. According to this Wall Street Journal story, Tyson aims to run 90 chicken farms in China by 2015. Three years ago it had none. In a country where most chickens come from small-scale farms, Tyson’s model of production could change the landscape significantly. China overtook the U.S. last year as the world’s largest consumer of chickens. And that is saying a lot given that we eat an average of one million chickens per hour, 24/7, 52 weeks a year.

Billionaires on the dole. Jim Hightower at Nation of Change sends out a giant raspberry to the “50 billionaires who’ve been farming the U.S. farm subsidy program for years, harvesting a cornucopia of taxpayer cash for themselves or their corporate empires.” Read the op-ed to see how many of the “Forbes 400” are receiving payouts from the government. Is this what some of our friends on the right mean when they decry entitlements?

Criticism for the Heartland Institute. In this Des Moines Register story, Mike Delaney does not hold back on how he feels about the Heartland Institute. “According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch.org, the institute has a track record of turning a blind eye to long-acknowledged science for the sake of advancing its own pro-business, anti-regulation agenda.”

Perspective on eating local. Here’s a provocative Wall Street Journal story, in which a Stanford doctoral student in Modern Thought and Literature argues that “local foods are often neither better for the environment nor for the poor. Shipping produce from across the world often emits less greenhouse gases than the same local produce grown with more resource-intensive methods.” I found her analysis shallow and naïve. She offers a particularly silly example to support her criticism of the locavore movement; “Corn grown in vast farms in Iowa and shipped to Alaska will always be more cost-effective and environmentally sound than corn grown in a small greenhouse in Anchorage, for example.” She goes on to argue that American agriculture has always relied on imports and exports of food and comments, “Imports of rum, molasses, woolens, sugar and wine led Colonial Americans to spend a quarter of per capita income on imported goods. The Boston Tea Party was, after all, about tax policy on imports.” The last time I looked these were not exactly core items of a nutritious diet. She cites a 2008 Carnegie Mellon University study that offered a new perspective on “food miles;” the study suggests that more than 80 percent of emissions occur before food even leaves the farm and that transportation contributes little to overall environmental impact. But she misses the core points of encouraging local and regional food production: encouraging a return to seasonality for fresh fruits and vegetables, improving nutrition content by harvesting fruits and vegetables closer to their ripeness rather than when they can be transported long distances without spoiling, and using the agroecologic approach espoused by Aldo Leopold to adapt crops to local soil and climate conditions.

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