April 17, 2015
California drought. One of the big news stories these past weeks has been the restrictions put on household water use in the state of California—and the lack of restrictions put on agriculture, which uses far more water than households. But agriculture is big business in California, and the state is not eager to hobble it any time soon. Almonds in particular have become a target; the oft-repeated factoid is that it takes one gallon of water to produce one almond, and California produces 80 percent of the almonds produced worldwide. This NPR story takes a look at he maligned almond. But in terms of water-hogging, almonds have nothing on meat and dairy. This Los Angeles Times story addresses the water footprint of animal products in comparison to crops. (Then there’s the issue of alfalfa, grown as feed for dairy cows and hogs and then exported.) Here’s a New York Times article about the history of drought in the West, and what Governor Jerry Brown is calling “the new normal.” And here’s a handy guide to buying produce that won’t make the drought worse, from Wired. The snow pack in the Sierra Madre mountains is 6 percent of normal this year – a grim omen for a long, dry summer.
Fast food strikes. This week has seen some significant activity among fast food workers demanding a higher minimum wage of $15 per hour. The Fight for 15, as it’s known, has been building for a couple of years, and on Wednesday thousands of people marched and protested peacefully across the nation. This USA Today story tells more about this social justice movement. Hillary Clinton has backed the Fight for 15.
Danish pigs, no drugs. Op-ed contributor Barry Estabrook, in the New York Times, sings the praises of hog farms in Denmark, where antibiotic use is stringently regulated. Denmark is a great model for us; their hog industry is thriving, despite drastic cuts in antibiotic use at low doses for growth promotion and prevention. Last summer we met with Jørgen Schlundt, the director of the National Food Institute of the Technical University of Denmark, who attested to the resounding success of policies that limit antibiotic use to therapeutic doses for sick animals. “Production is dramatically increasing after the halts to antibiotic use,” he said. “We have more efficient production now.” Here’s more about the Congressional briefing we attended with him.
Last arsenic-based drug. It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. On April 1, the FDA made a move to withdraw the last arsenic-based feed additive approved for use in chicken and turkey. That drug is nitarsone, which is manufactured by Zoetis (a spin-off of Pfizer), and we released a study in May 2013 showing that arsenic-containing compounds and inorganic arsenic (a known carcinogen) are present in both raw and cooked chicken breast. This Center for Food Safety story provides more coverage.
Pesticides everywhere. Here’s a sobering article from the Washington Post about the ubiquity of pesticides used in agriculture. Considering that the WHO’s cancer research arm recently declared glyphosate a probably carcinogen, and that companies like Monsanto and Dow continue to manufacture increasingly toxic herbicides, we “non-target organisms,” i.e., humans, are most likely carrying a very heavy load of toxins in our bodies and environments. And as more and more “super weeds” emerge under the selective pressure of glyphosate (trade name Roundup), farmers are having to apply greater and greater amounts with damaging effects on the ecosystem.
Photograph of the Sierra Madre mountain range (Mexico), taken by mexikids and published without restrictions at http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=13368 (From the Spanish Wikipedia).