June 19, 2015

CLF Week in Links: School Lunch, Trans Fat, Avian Flu and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

2015-petition-schoollunchSchool lunch law. On Tuesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This law, passed in 2010 and championed by the First Lady, has successfully brought more healthy food into public schools. But the “pizza is a vegetable” members of Congress want to chip away at it. They say that the law makes it too difficult for schools to comply—but 95 percent of school districts are already complying with the standards. Here’s a petition launched by the American Heart Association in support of keeping the laws intact. I hope every public health professional signs on.

Trans fat. The FDA has issued a ruling that all but bans trans fat, a substance commonly used in scores of food products, from pizza to sprinkles to candy. The evidence linking trans fat to heart disease is undeniable. The deadline set by FDA is 2018; many food companies have already reduced their use of trans fat, but now they no longer have a choice. Here’s the New York Times story.

Avian flu. Last week CLF’s Bob Martin wrote a post about the avian flu spreading across poultry farms. According to the New York Times, “Avian flu, which first appeared in the United States in December, has devastated the nation’s turkey and laying hen flocks, though it seems to be abating with the arrival of higher temperatures, as specialists had predicted.” Virtually of the losses have been in industrial production facilities with tens of thousands of birds crowded together. Smaller scale and free-range operations in the same geographic areas as the devastating epidemic have not been affected. With 10 to 13 percent of the laying hens lost to this virus, we’ll see what the effect is on egg prices. So far, there is no indication that this highly pathogenic H5N2 virus has mutated to increase the risk of transmission to humans.

Voluntary GMO labeling. This is from this week’s International Business Times: “Should the United States label genetically modified foods, and if so, how? The question is at the heart of a fierce and ongoing controversy that will only be heightened when a U.S. House panel discusses legislation later this week that could establish voluntary GMO labeling for foods.” The legislation, known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, is authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R–Kansas) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D–NC). It’s no surprise that Monsanto supports this bill.

Antibiotics and livestock. There have been some encouraging developments in the world of industrial food animal production (IFAP): several producers are voluntarily reducing their use of antibiotics with farm animals, some retailers are vowing to purchase and serve only meat raised without unnecessary use of antibiotics, and the FDA is taking steps to gather more data about antibiotic use on farms. We are cautiously optimistic, for a number of reasons. Here’s an interesting article from Wired that critiques the FDA’s moves to gather more data.

Soilless farming. Here’s an article from the Washington Post about an MIT researcher’s grand plan to create the personal food computer. His idea is to grow plants without soil, getting nutrients to the roots through a mist. With the alarming rate at which we’re losing topsoil in this country, exploring alternatives to soil is a good idea but whether these approaches can be taken to scale remains to be demonstrated.

Wasted food and Americans. CLF’s Roni Neff and co-authors recently published a study in PLOS ONE that turns up a couple of interesting findings: first, that Americans are most motivated to reduce food waste by cost savings, and second, that Americans are fooling themselves about how much food they’re actually wasting. According to the survey, Americans are not that motivated at all by environmental concerns. These are important items of information, given that 31–40 percent of the American food supply goes to waste, primarily in homes, stores, and restaurants. Here’s the story from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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