March 13, 2015

CLF Week in Links: Fast-food, Antibiotics, Dietary Guidelines

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

320px-Fried-Chicken-LegMcDonald’s says no to antibiotics (mostly) in chicken. Last week McDonald’s USA announced that within two years, it will only buy chickens raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine. This is mostly good news for consumers and a positive step forward, but there is an important caveat. McDonald’s says it will continue to source chicken from producers that use ionophores, a class of antimicrobial agents that are not used in human medicine. But, and it is an important but, ionophores put selective pressure on bacteria that have had spontaneous mutations of genes conferring resistance to the ionophores. Some of the genes also confer resistance to antibiotics of great importance in human medicine. This is a complex scientific phenomenon to communicate easily to consumers. Already consumers have begun to pressure the fast-food chain to extend that policy to all their animal products. If other fast-food chains could follow suit and McDonald’s extends its ban to include ionophores, we could see significant change. Here’s the story on Reuters.

Tyson follows suit. Following the announcement by McDonald’s, Tyson Foods Inc announced that they have removed gentamicin, a key antibiotic for human use, from company hatcheries. Here’s the story on Reuters. Perdue did something similar last year: here’s a blogpost about that by our own Keeve Nachman.

And Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yet another Reuters story explains how fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken is feeling the pressure after McDonald’s announcement. Costco and Chick-Fil-A have made some commitments to serve antibiotic-free chicken over the next several years. Chains Chipotle and Panera are ahead of the curve, already serving antibiotic-free meats.

Burger King says no to sugar-sweetened beverages. TIME Magazine reported on Burger King’s quiet move to drop soda from its kids’ menus. Milk and juice are listed on the menu, although customers may still order soda off-menu.

Soil health. The first Southern Soil Health Conference was held recently in Fort Worth, Texas, and this New York Times article profiles a North Dakota farmer who advocates and uses soil-conservation farming methods. The federal Department of Agriculture endorses the soil-conservation approach, and an agronomist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service says there’s been a “massive paradigm shift.” Two of the most popular methods of soil conservation in farming include leaving fields unplowed (no-tillage) and using cover crops. The Times article did not devote adequate coverage to the very real problem of excess use of herbicides in many no-tillage operations. There is a real trade-off between the benefits to soil conservation and soil health of no-tillage and the risks to the ecosystem of excess reliance on glyphosate (RoundUp©) and atrazine, two of the most widely used herbicides now thought responsible for the emergence of “super-weeds,” the dramatic fall in Monarch butterfly populations, and pollution of waterways with endocrine disruptors. Farmers who have relied more on cover crops in connection with low-tillage rather than herbicides are leading the way to true agroecologic approaches to crop production.

Climate change and fish gender. Here’s another reason to worry about how climate change may affect our ecosystems. The Daily Climate reports that as waters warm up, the higher temperatures could exacerbate the damage already being done by hormone-disrupting chemicals such as clotrimazole, which find their way into waterways through industrial channels. Higher temperatures are likely to encourage higher ratios of male offspring among lizards, fish and amphibian species, which in itself could threaten the survival of those species. The presence of clotrimazole increased that effect.

Keeping sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines. Our own Jillian Fry started a petition on urging the USDA and Health and Human Services to stick to their guns when it comes to keeping ideas about sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. For the first time ever, the committee that drafts those guidelines has included language about sustainability—and not surprisingly there has been pushback from Big Food. Jillian’s petition has received more than 1,000 signatures already.

USDA responds on Guidelines. On Wednesday, USDA Secretary Vilsack told the Wall Street Journal that despite the Dietary Guidelines Committee’s appeal to sustainability, he will stick to the letter of the law and focus on dietary and nutrition information. He says the Guidelines should focus on health, not environment, as though the environment had nothing to do with health! He is clearly not ready to think outside the box on dietary guidelines. In a condescending comparison of the expert advisory group to his three-year-old granddaughter who hasn’t yet learned how to color within the lines, he promised to stay within the narrow confines of nutrition, giving no thought to ecological health or the food security of future generations. We think this is very narrow thinking: in the long term, environment has everything to do with health. His announcement seems like an attempt to assuage the Big Food corporations that are up in arms about the focus on sustainable practices and the environment. Yesterday, 30 U.S. senators (29 Republicans and one Independent), led by Sen. John Thune (R–South Dakota), sent a letter to secretaries of the departments of Agriculture and HHS, chastising them for the Guidelines’ likely recommendation that Americans cut back on their consumption of red and processed meats. The senators also expressed concern about the committee’s focus on issues of sustainability. Here’s the story on Agri-Pulse.

What’s working. On Wednesday, our CLF associate Mark Winne joined Representative Tim Ryan (D–Ohio) and Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats on HuffPost Live to discuss food policy on #WhatsWorking. They covered issues such as conditions on industrialized farms, antibiotics and hormones in food, and food access. Mark spoke about food policy coming up from grassroots movements to rectify the lack of food access in low-income communities. Naomi discussed the power of consumers to make positive change and how food is building community.

Speaking of Civil Eats…. Congratulations to our friends at Civil Eats, one of our favorite food policy blogs, for joining forces with Yahoo Food. Civil Eats’ stories will now be featured on Yahoo Food, giving them the exposure they deserve.

The Meatrix Relaunched. After a decade and more than 30 million views, our friends at Sustainable Table proudly presents the new, updated, remastered Meatrix video that exposes truths about factory farming. Check out the entertaining, 4-minute film.

Speaking of relaunches… On Monday, the Meatless Monday campaign relaunched at JHU’s Homewood campus with festivities in the dining hall and help from our own Raychel Santo. Students were able to learn more about the campaign and see featured menu items.

Remember the CSA. If you’re part of the Hopkins community, join us for our eighth year of partnering with One Straw Farm to offer CSA shares. This blogpost by Kate McCleary, who manages the CSA, explains not only how to join, but how participation translates into donations of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Franciscan Center in Baltimore, where the food is put to good use serving up to 600 people a day. Whether you’re part of the Hopkins community or not, you can always volunteer at the Franciscan Center to help fight hunger.

Image: Evan-Amos, 2011,


One Comment

  1. I wonder how long it will take until the general public becomes aware of how important it is to eat organic, unprocessed, local, and slow food, not fast food.

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