July 21, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Turkey, Mexican Soda, Aquaculture

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future


Recently Mexico drastically restricted TV ads for soda.

Limits on Mexican soda ads. According to this BBC News story, Mexico has just moved to restrict the airing of television ads selling soda. The ads will not be permitted on weekday afternoons and most of the day on weekends. According to the story, 70 percent of adults and 30 percent of children in Mexico are obese or overweight, and Mexicans are also the world’s heaviest consumers of sugary drinks, at 163 liters per year. If only Pepsico and Coca Cola would follow this example and practice good citizenship in the interests of America’s children, who now average about 8 percent of their daily calories from sugar sweetened beverages.

California drought. In this Bloomberg story about the severe drought in California that’s threatening more than $800 million in crop revenue, we learn that water needed for farming is at record lows. Adding insult to injury, it seems that some are pumping groundwater in order to sustain their crops, which is a dangerous practice for the long term. Alfalfa, one of the thirstiest of crops, is grown for the California dairy CAFOs and for sale on the lucrative international market, especially China. The drought may finally force the issue of how unsustainable industry food animal production is.

The risks of fish farming. CLF colleagues Dave Love, Jillian Fry, and Laura Genello recently published a paper in the Journal of Current Environmental Health Reports, in which they discussed the harms of some aquaculture operations on the public’s health and on the environment. Seafood sourcing plays a critical role in reducing the risks, especially as increasing seafood consumption is being touted as one tactic for increasing individual human health. This News Medical article covers the issues, as does our news release.

Is organic food healthier? This TIME article brings up good questions about how well—and whether—our food labeling system is working. (Apologies about the paywall.) It seems that a lot of Americans are confused about what all those claims on labels mean. And meanwhile, according to the article, a comprehensive new review of research reveals that organic crops have higher levels of antioxidants and less pesticide residue than conventional produce. As the superiority of organic crops for protecting human health and the environment becomes increasingly confirmed by good science, the importance of strict labeling standards also increases.

Turkey with fewer antibiotics? Cargill announced this week that it will stop using antibiotics for growth promotion in raising its turkeys. This move is in line with the FDA’s Guidance #213, which asks for voluntary phasing out of antibiotic use for growth promotion, but the Guidance leaves a loophole for producers such as Cargill to exploit. While recommending a phasing out of use for “growth promotion,” the Guidance does not ask for producers to discontinue use of antibiotics in “disease prevention,” and we’re concerned that producers will continue business as usual, while changing only how they refer to their practice of using antibiotics in a way that contributes to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, the USDA does not collect sufficiently detailed data on animal drug use to detect promptly continued use of antibiotics in turkey production for “disease prevention” rather than “growth promotion”—nothing more than a slight-of-hand relabeling of use by the industrial food animal producers.

Externalities. Mark Bittman has written another excellent opinion piece, this time about the “True Cost of a Burger.” As those involved in food systems research know very well, food production incurs many externalities, and the production of cheap food creates big-ticket externalities such as carbon emissions and an obese, unhealthy population. To quote Bittman, “What you pay for a cheeseburger is the price, but price isn’t cost. It isn’t the cost to the producers or the marketers and it certainly isn’t the sum of the costs to the world; those true costs are much greater than the price.”

Hungry summer. In this story by NPR’s Sheilah Kast, we hear about the thousands of kids in Maryland who find themselves hungry in the summer.  For the most part, the kids who are hungry in the summer are the ones who received free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year, and find themselves without that resource during the summer months.

Climate change skeptic. The New York Times published an article this week about Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama, a scientist who is skeptical about the causes of climate change, and the responses it demands. The article is interesting for its reflection on how scientists treat each other, and for questioning whether there’s a “climate establishment,” although I find myself unswayed by Dr. Christy’s assertions that it’s futile to mitigate climate change by addressing carbon emissions. What is useful about the profile is the list of actions recommended by Dr. Christy for adapting to the climate change that is occurring: “money is better spent adapting to what he says will be moderately higher temperatures. Among other initiatives, he said, the authorities could limit development in coastal and hurricane-prone areas, expand flood plains, make manufactured housing more resistant to tornadoes and high winds, and make farms in arid regions less dependent on imported water — or move production to rainier places.” He has some good ideas about mitigation. Too bad he continues to deny the overwhelming evidence supporting anthropogenic climate change.

Fat Britain. In this New York Times op-ed about “Fat Britain,” Roger Cohen writes about our genetic inclinations for eating high-fat, high-sugar foods, and for avoiding exercise—and how those inclinations are out of sync with the environment we’ve created. Our instincts and environment, which promotes cheap food and laziness, are at war with each other, he says. In the penultimate paragraph, Cohen lists some interventions. Could some future historian write about the decline and fall of the anthropocene wherein our carbon-emitting devices coupled with an unhealthy diet and low-energy lifestyles are the causes of our undoing?

The Buy Local challenge. You might want to consider participating in The Buy Local Challenge, which started July 19. The Challenge is a personal commitment to support farms by eating one thing from a local farm every day, from July 19 to July 27. Strengthening our local and regional food systems is one of the most positive things consumers can do to protect the environment and support the production of healthy, nutritious food. Tweet about your progress at @buylocalchallen.

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