January 10, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Farm Bill, Food Stamps, Calorie Cuts and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

paradise-seed-packetStill no farm bill. Well, it looks like Congress blew it this week for finishing up a farm bill. But we hear that negotiations are almost complete on a version that will include about $9 billion in cuts to SNAP. And there seems to be some contention on the issue of dairy policy, as well as other issues. SNAP has emerged as one of our core safety net programs for low income Americans as income disparities increase. The $9 billion reduction undermines food security and makes a mockery of the right to food in this wealthy land of ours.

Does running out of food money cause diabetes? In a study designed to explore the effects of running out of money (or food stamps) at the end of the month contributes to poor health, researchers found a high correlation. In this New York Times story, we learn that “Poor people with diabetes are significantly more likely to go to the hospital for dangerously low blood sugar at the end of the month when food budgets are tight than at the beginning of the month.” In addition, “Researchers found no increase in such hospitalizations among higher-income people for … hypoglycemia.” This seems especially a propos considering the SNAP cuts up for debate.

Cutting calories. According to this story in The Guardian, a coalition of 16 leading food companies announced this week that they sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than they did in 2007. This cut amounts to approximately 78 calories per day per person, which is roughly equivalent to a medium apple or a small cookie. In 2010, these 16 companies—including General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods Inc, Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Hershey Co.—pledged to cut 1 trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015. The companies report that they’re selling more foods that are no-calorie or low-calorie.

“Agent Orange” GMO seeds. Over the years, we’ve learned that “Round-up Ready” crops, which are produced from genetically engineered seeds and are impervious to glyphosate, an herbicide known as Round-Up, have had unintended consequences. One of these is the development of “superweeds”—weeds that are also resistant to the herbicide. Monsanto’s response to this situation has been to engineer a new seed for soy and corn, with the brand name “Enlist,” and according to this article the USDA is poised to approve the sale. Enlist is resistant to even stronger herbicides, such as 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange. So now farmers will be able to kill their superweeds with 2,4-D. But what happens in a few years when the weeds develop resistance? And even more important, what happens to the field workers who work with the herbicide (which has been linked by critics to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)?

Bee warned. Scientists are predicting that the ever-shrinking honeybee population is going to cause problems in not only the U.S., but also the UK and Europe. According to this Guardian story, “The UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies, which provide an essential service in pollinating many crops.”

Where’s the beef coming from? CBS reports that McDonalds will soon be sourcing “sustainable” beef for its products. The company admits that it hasn’t yet figured out what it means by “sustainable,” or how the policy change will affect prices. We shall see.

Cows and climate. A study published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change echoes something we’ve been saying for years: a key activity in curbing climate change is to put greater emphasis on livestock management. Ruminant animals such as cows, sheep, goats and buffalo contribute quite a bit of methane to the atmosphere through their burps and waste. Nature World News reports: “At approximately 3.6 billion heads, the world population of ruminant livestock is about half the global human population. Moreover, about 25 percent of the Earth’s land area is dedicated to livestock grazing, and a third of all arable land is used to grow feed crops for livestock.”

Kudos. Congratulations to Keeve Nachman, Tyler Smith, and Bob Martin for their letter to the editor in Science magazine, “Antibiotics: Call for Real Change,” in which they sound off in a letter to the editor of Science magazine about the ineffectual voluntary guidance put forth by FDA. If you have a subscription, you can read it online.

Photo: California Historical Society.

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