July 10, 2015

CLF Week in Links: Chesapeake Bay, GMOs, Iowa Water

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

2015-can-labelFood labels. In their Ask Well blog, The New York Times addressed an issue that our own researcher Roni Neff has been tackling for some time: the confusion that surrounds food labels. All those “best by” and “sell by” dates may be contributing to unnecessary food waste, and misleading consumers. The Times story is here. For more on Roni’s research, read this story, published by Johns Hopkins Public Health magazine.

Good news for the Bay. This week, the U.S. Third Court of Appeals upheld a Chesapeake Bay conservation measure known as the TMDL plan, or the Total Maximum Daily Loads plan. The “loads” refer to the amount of pollution that will be tolerated and includes nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus—typical run-off ingredients from farm fertilizers used on the Eastern Shore. Our own program officer Claire Fitch wrote about the ruling in this blogpost; the distilled version of the story is that the American Farm Bureau argued that the EPA was overstepping by putting the conservation effort in place, and the judges saw through their weak argument.

Protection for contract growers. The Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), run by USDA, works to provide basic protections for contract growers—these protections include, among others, notice of termination of contracts and recourse from retaliation. These protections, while included in the Farm Bill that passed in 2014, have yet to take effect because of riders that continue to block them, often by reducing funding for GIPSA enforcement. This week, the National Farmers Union sent a letter to Congress, the House Appropriations Committee in particular, asking the Committee to pass a “clean” bill without any riders. The Committee’s markup of the spending bill was expected yesterday: we’ll keep you posted on how that turned out.

Food access in Baltimore. Food insecurity continues to be a problem in Baltimore, a fact that saw a little more light when the City released a food environment map created by our Maryland Food Mapping team. Here’s an article in the Huffington Post that quotes our own Darriel Harris and the research done by the mapping team. The article discusses the food deserts in the city, and what black churches are doing to help low-income residents have greater access to healthy food.

Re-evaluating GMOs. This is from a New York Times story last week: “The Obama administration said on Thursday that it would update the way the government regulated genetically modified crops and some other biotechnology products, saying that the nearly 30-year-old system had become outdated and confusing and did not foster public confidence.” Currently, genetically engineered foods are overseen by the EPA, the FDA, and the USDA, all at different stages. The Administration would likely start by setting up a task force to study the issues and solicit comments from the public.

Water in Iowa. This week the Des Moines Register ran an opinion piece penned by a longtime friend, adviser, and a former visiting scholar at CLF, Dennis Keeney. In the op-ed, Dennis discusses the “hypoxia era,” in which dead zones in waterways result from an overabundance of nitrates—which of course come from farm run-off. He suggests that Iowa’s weak leaders, including Tom Vilsack (then governor, now Secretary of Agriculture), put the interests of farming profiteers over the interests of Iowa residents. It seems that the column got under the skin of Secretary Vilsack, who offered a rebuttal, also in the Register, stating that he has made water quality in Iowa a priority. Sadly, the Secretary did not address Dennis’s points about the “leakiness” of corn and bean systems as they exist today.

Bad news for bees. Researchers from the University of Calgary and University of Ottawa have found some troubling results concerning the habitat range of bumblebees. According to the University of Calgary’s press release, bumblebees are losing ground in the southern regions of North America and Europe, which have become hotter, but they’re not taking up residence in northern regions. Unlike honeybees, which are experience a drastic reduction in population known as Colony Collapse Disorder, bumblebees are wild pollinators. Honeybees primarily pollinate food crops for humans; bumblebees are one species of wild, or native, bee that pollinates plants in various wild ecosystems.

Dietary guidelines. Here’s an essay from the Huffington Post that covers some of the political shenanigans surrounding the scientific recommendations for new Dietary Guidelines. The recommendations include a reduction of red meat intake, for health reasons and for the good of the environment. But industry is fighting that recommendation, trying to thwart a move toward a more plant-based diet.

Wasted food in Europe. This is from a story in The Guardian: “The councillor behind a French campaign to stamp out food waste has called on the head of the European commission and national leaders to adopt laws forcing supermarkets to give their unsold produce to charities.” A similar law banning the waste of food by supermarkets was passed in France recently; the legislator who got the law passed in France is now trying to extend it to the EU.

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