June 6, 2014

CLF Week in Links: School Lunch, Best-By Labels, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Do these labels contribute to food waste?

Do these labels contribute to food waste?

Food fight. This Politico story provides an excellent review of the school lunch standards fight going on right now. I wrote about this two weeks ago, but the struggle is ongoing. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has made an enemy of First Lady Michelle Obama by supporting Republicans in their attempt to relax federal school lunch standards. From Politico: “SNA’s decision to aggressively lobby for a controversial rider in a House agriculture appropriations bill that would force the USDA to give schools waivers from the nutrition standards next school year has sparked a civil war within the nutrition community and the association itself.” As Bob Martin, our director of Food System Policy and Public Health, has pointed out, the SNA has recently changed lobbyists, hiring a group that also represents the NRA.

Best-By labels. The writer Jonathan Bloom has written in Civil Eats about an exciting new shift in EU policy regarding food labels. In the U.S., these “best-by” or “sell-by” labels on food are neither regulated nor standardized, and they contribute to a great deal of food waste. As Bloom writes, if the U.S. could follow the EU’s examples, “U.S. lawmakers could help trim million of tons annually from our collective household food waste.” Roni Neff, our director of the Food System Sustainability program, is quoted in the article.

Animal waste and EPA. In this story Bloomberg BNA writes about the EPA’s conclusion this week that there is a “continued need” to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that discharge pollutants. CAFOs generate tremendous amounts of animal waste – the 9 billion cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys raised, killed, and consumed each year in the U.S. produce about 40 times the amount of waste that we 310 million humans do. And, unlike the waste-water treatment plants that process our waste, animal waste isn’t treated, contaminates the air, water and soil, and also contributes to dead zones like the ones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. The waste also makes life very uncomfortable for the rural communities that live near the CAFOs. Here are some facts about pollution from livestock farms, from the NRDC. The American Farm Bureau has sued the EPA. Here’s an article about the work done by CLF’s Jillian Fry on the issue.

Good company. I was pleased to see that the Center For a Livable Future made it onto this list of organizations working to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance, created by Food Tank. As the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance not only looms but increases in urgency, the more awareness about the issue, the better.

Speaking of antibiotic resistance…. Last week the CLF hosted a briefing for the U.S. Congress in cooperation with the office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY-26) on the complex role that a pending trans-Atlantic trade deal could have in the crisis of antibiotic resistance. As the new TAFTA, which is being negotiated behind closed doors, explores ways to “harmonize” trade between the U.S. and the EU, we must underscore the importance of advancing public health standards with regard to antibiotic use in livestock production. Here’s a recap of the briefing, and we’ll publish a more in-depth blogpost about the issue next week. The EU is a decade or more ahead of the U.S. in eliminating the misuse of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention, and it would be a terrible outcome if TAFTA were to “dumb down” the EU standards in order to harmonize with our backward policies.

GMOs and the EU. This is a fascinating story from PRI about Italian farmer Giorgio Fidenato’s fight for the right to sell genetically engineered corn. Italy has banned GMO crops, but the EU approves of that seed, Monsanto 810. It will be interesting to see what happens when Italy leads the European Council, starting in July. According to the article, “The plan is to dismantle Fidenato’s line of defense by changing European law, so that individual countries can ban GMOs if they want.” Fidenato’s complaint with Italy’s ban is that the nation does not produce enough corn to feed its people and livestock, and as a result livestock producers import GMO corn for their herds; he says that Monsanto 810 produces much more than non-GMO corn. The article does not address the environmental complexities of growing corn designed with a gene from a pest-deterring bacteria (Bt toxin) to which pests are now becoming resistant, nor does it address the social justice issues of having to buy new seed every year (because Monsanto insists as terms of sale that none of the crop produced with GMO seed is set aside for the next year’s planting, thus securing Monsanto’s sales of new seed each growing season).

Bad eggs. According to this USA Today story, two owners of an Iowa egg producer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges related to a massive salmonella outbreak in 2010, the latest prosecution serving notice to the food industry that its leaders can be held criminally responsible for the products they sell. They’ll pay a $6.8 million fine for sickening thousands of people.

Panera Bread. This week Panera Bread announced a new food policy that stresses “clean food,” transparency, and positive impact in the community. I commend the company for its leadership in helping to fix our broken food system and setting an example for other large food distributors. If you live near one of Panera’s 1800 outlets in the U.S. and Ontario, the next time you stop for a loaf of bread or a meal, be sure to seek out the store manager and commend the company for its leadership in sourcing animal products produced without antibiotics, eliminating artificial ingredients such as caramel coloring, and being a good food citizen. More information is available here.

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