November 10, 2014
Elections, the bad news. A lot happened on Tuesday at the polls, and how the shift in our representation affects our food system, our environment, and the health of our public is yet to be seen. One of the biggest disappointments is that with a Republican-majority Senate, we are likely to see damage done to the EPA’s already limited authority over the livestock industries that pollute our soil, water, and air, and we will probably see that agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) systematically dismantled. The political pressure from anti-regulatory forces on the USDA and the FDA is also likely to render both of these agencies less effective during the final two years of Obama’s presidency. Overall, the support for the Republican party on Tuesday reminds me of Daniel Kahneman’s use of “unenlightened self-interest” to describe the support of working class people for George W. Bush’s huge tax cuts a decade ago. Because they stood to receive a $50 reduction in their taxes, they were in favor of the cuts—failing to recognize that the very wealthy, who received a $200,000 reduction, would drastically reduce the revenue for services worth far more than $50 to the average working person. In many cases on Tuesday the people who have the most to lose from Republican policies provided the margin of victory for Republican politicians.
Elections, the good news. On the other hand, a few developments bode well. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY), the only microbiologist in Congress and sponsor of the The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (which has not yet made it into law), was elected to a 15th term. Although she was elected with a very lean margin this time, we look forward to working with her on initiatives that might curb the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. In Florida, Rep. Steve Southerland (D–Fla.) of the Second Congressional District was defeated by Gwen Graham, the first woman to win this district. As was the case with Rep. Slaughter, Graham won by a slim margin, but we were happy to see it happen. Chef, anti-hunger advocate, and co-founder of Food Policy Action Tom Colicchio supported Graham to replace Southerland, who voted in favor of huge cuts to SNAP during Farm Bill negotiations. Sen. Cory Booker (D–NJ), another anti-hunger advocate and former mayor of Newark, was re-elected to the Senate; he filled Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s seat last year when the senator died.
Berkeley v. soda. Another good outcome on Tuesday was that the municipality of Berkeley, California, passed a tax on sugary drinks, the first in the nation. The law, known as Measure D, will levy a one-cent per ounce tax and passed with 75 percent of voters approving it. The funds collected will go into a general fund. A similar measure across the Bay in San Francisco did not pass.
Big Food v. food labeling. This Reuters story describes the fight put up by the food industry to defeat GMO food-labeling measures in Oregon and Colorado. According to the story, “In Colorado alone, anti-GMO labeling groups spent $15 million. In Oregon, opposition groups spent $18 million.” But the more heartening news is that in Maui County, Hawaii, voters approved a temporary ban on GMO crop cultivation. As a result, both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences will have to cease farming in the area, and both companies said they would legally challenge the moratorium.
Massachusetts food waste. This NPR story describes what the state of Massachusetts is doing to keep food waste out of its landfills. Some of it goes to farms, some goes to composting organizations, and some goes to anaerobic digesters. The movement started by Will Allen in Milwaukee’s Growing Power project is, I hope, beginning to spread.
Meatless Boston schools. Joining many school districts across the U.S., the Boston public school district has decided to participate in the Meatless Mondays campaign. That’s 128 schools with 57,000 students. According to the Public News Service story, “The school district joined the movement after working with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and after hearing from over a 1,000 students and parents.”
Image by or Ryan Oelke from Boulder, CO, USA via a Creative Commons 2.0 license. Maui, Hawaii, 2006.