August 21, 2015

CLF Week in Links: Pumpkins, Farm Data, CNN and more

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Saying "no" to caramel coloring.

Saying “no” to caramel coloring.

Good news for school lunches. I’ll start off this week’s update with some good news, coming from Marin County, California. Starting this month, the Sausalito Marin City School District will be serving 100 percent organic, GMO-free meals in two schools in Marin City and Sausalito. These schools serve about 500 students. All meals will be prepared on-site by The Conscious Kitchen, which rethinks school food based on five foundational terms: Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Non-GMO. This is the first school district in the nation to deliver food with this model. An important message to Big Ag is that transparency in labeling is essential for long-term monitoring of health and ecosystem effects of GMOs, and until we can have post-release surveillance and epidemiologic studies of possible health effects, the public will be attracted to approaches such as this one in Marin.

Where to source fresh ingredients? The Wall Street Journal reports that as more fast food companies are promising fresh ingredients, supplies are running low. (The article is gated for non-subscribers; my apologies.) This may be a temporary bump in the road. Ideally, the demand for fruits and vegetables will motivate more food producers to shift toward meeting the demand, instead of relying on the old commodities model of producing wheat, corn, and soy. This challenge of sourcing fresh ingredients may also stimulate more interest in the “food hub” approach to supporting local producers and suppliers.

Honeybee decline. Rolling Stone has a long, thorough article about the decline of honeybee populations, colony collapse disorder and a commonly used group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The article asks why the Environmental Protection Agency has not stepped up to protect the environment and its ecosystems from agrochemical companies and has not followed the lead of the European Union. I’m afraid we know the answer to the question – the political power of the pesticide industry.

Deadly CAFO fumes. In a very sad story from the end of July, Mother Jones reports on a father and son in Iowa who were killed by the fumes from a hog farm manure pit. This was actually the second set of deaths from manure pit fumes in one month. The air in these facilities contains hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. Hydrogen sulfide is especially lethal when concentrated and is responsible for adverse health effects in CAFO workers at sub-lethal levels.

Real pumpkin. The Today Show reported that both Panera Bread and Starbucks will be changing their recipe for the popular fall beverage, pumpkin spice latte. The companies will be adding real pumpkin and removing caramel coloring. The Today article cites CLF research on caramel coloring used in soda as one of the motivating factors for reducing exposure to the carcinogens found in caramel color. Panera’s goal is to eliminate all chemicals and artificial additives from its baked products and lunch menu items.

Data collection on farms? Just yesterday the FDA announced that it would hold a public meeting at the end of September to get input regarding the collection of additional on-farm antimicrobial drug use and resistance data. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the CDC and USDA. The impetus for this meeting is the growing antibiotic resistance crisis; more data would help scientists learn about the role that on-farm antimicrobial use plays in the crisis.

Meat production villains. As part of CNN’s Two° series, which looks at climate change, reporter John Sutter asked readers to vote on which climate change “villain” they’d like to see him target in his reporting. By an overwhelming majority, his readers chose “food and meat production” as the topic they’d like to see him explore. The other three contenders were carbon emissions from planes and cars, the clearing of rainforests, and “carbon bombs.” It’s heartening to see that readers are so knowledgeable and showing concern about the environmental impact of the high-meat American diet.

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