Food and Farm Policy: this is not the image and style that you’re used to

HFHP Summit 2011

HFHP Summit 2011

Recently, my boyfriend offered to give me a dollar for every blog I started with, “Stop what you’re doing, ’cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.” I responded to his idea with a barrage of reasons why it was ridiculous and certainly not appropriate in my line of work to write blogs citing The Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” On second thought, however, those 18 words are an oddly apropos summary of the overarching goals of the Healthy Farms, Healthy People (HFHP) Summit, recently held in Arlington, VA, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hosted by Public Health Institute. The Center for a Livable Future was a co-organizer of the Summit-along with American Farmland Trust, California Food and Justice Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Public Health Law and Policy-which brought together interests from conventional and sustainable agriculture with public health professionals, physicians and health insurers to discuss potential shared issue-areas in food and agriculture policy. The goals of the Summit were to: Read More >

Health experts worldwide agree, people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should cut back

As physicians we recognize that lean meats may be a healthy part of almost anyone’s diet. However, based on the preponderance of evidence compiled by scientists and health experts across the globe, there is little doubt that a diet high in red and processed meats is linked to serious health risks and that we would all be wise to keep our consumption down. New dietary guidelines, recently released by the United Kingdom’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) bolsters this conclusion. The SACN’s Iron and Health 2010 report advises that Britons can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer while maintaining healthy levels of iron by keeping their red meat and processed meat consumption to 70 grams or about 2 ½ ounces a day.

Cutting back on red and processed meat could do more than just ward off colorectal cancer.  Research has linked it to other diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s. A landmark United State’s study, published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Meat Intake and Mortality, which included data from more than half a million members of the AARP, concluded red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases of “total” mortality in addition to cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality. An equally important Harvard study, published in Circulation in 2009, that followed more than 84,000 female nurses, found that red meat intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease. More importantly researchers concluded that shifting sources of protein from meat based to plant based could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The Washington Post reports that cutting down on red meat could save an estimated 3,800 Britons from dying of bowel cancer every year. However, SACN researchers made it clear that their report did not address other potential health risks associated with meat consumption, which means many more lives could be saved from other preventable diseases. Read More >

Maryland’s Grocery Store Tax Credit Bill Could Improve Food Deserts

Maryland House Bill 1135, the Grocery Store Property Tax Credit Bill, passed the House yesterday with 138-0 votes! The bill grants a property tax credit to grocery stores throughout the state located in low-income areas. Delegate Justin Ross, the main sponsor of the bill, represents Prince George’s County, an urban county surrounding Washington, DC. Delegate Ross clearly sees the need for attracting new and better grocery stores into low income areas, especially low income urban areas, to help provide better access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables (the bill stipulates that a grocery store is defined as entity where “at least 20% of the gross receipts of which are 3% derived from the retail sale of fresh produce”).

Baltimore's Food Deserts

Baltimore's Food Deserts

The lack of quality supermarkets and groceries in low income areas has been receiving much greater attention recently. And these underserved areas are being referred to as “food deserts.” While there is no strict definition of a food desert, the term generally mean areas that do not have easy access (within walking distance in cities or a reasonable driving distance in rural areas) to a supermarket, notably the most reliable and most utilized source for healthy foods. The USDA’s Economic Research Service just published an article on food deserts in their March Amber Waves magazine. The concern comes from a greater appreciation of the role access to healthy foods plays in one’s diet. It is not enough to recommend that people eat “5 a Day” and educate people about how to shop for healthy foods and prepare them. This will do little good if people don’t have access to the recommended foods. We at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) are excited by the recent attention that the “food environment” is receiving (for a detailed examination see Policy Link study).

The issue has come to the attention of local government officials as well – in 2008 former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon created the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, of which CLF’s Anne Palmer was an active member. The Task Force’s report lists 10 recommendations to improve access; however, many of these recommendations have short-term impact and rely on alternative and seasonal sources for produce. People need access to healthy food year round, again which can be most reliably found at supermarkets and grocery stores. The Task Force recognized the lack of quality supermarkets in the city, but also recognized that the solution to the problem was long-term and they were tasked with looking for short-term, actionable recommendations. HB 1135 is perhaps one long-term solution to attracting the kind of supermarkets Baltimore needs (and that are needed in other low income areas in Maryland). The bill also leaves room for both large chain supermarkets and smaller grocery stores (even corner stores?!) to qualify as a “grocery” – if they can prove that their primary business is selling food at retail and that 20% of their profits come from produce. This flexibility could prove useful in finding creative solutions to food deserts, in that large, chain supermarkets may not be the answer for all locations. Read More >

House Committee Exempts Livestock & Poultry From Food Safety Bill. Where’s the Dissent?

Courtesy: Laurea Padgett/Flickr

Courtesy: Laura Padgett/Flickr

During my TV-news days, I supported the old axiom; it must be a balanced report if we’re getting just as much negative feedback as we are positive responses. I found the same rule of thumb to hold true on Capitol Hill. Good legislation usually means each side had to make serious concessions, inevitably leaving a number of unhappy people to complain about its inadequacies. Perhaps that’s why I’m feeling a little uneasy over the latest developments surrounding the long overdue Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. After some serious arm-twisting from Big Ag and members of the House Agriculture Committee, the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously agreed Wednesday to alter the proposed legislation and “exempt livestock and poultry from oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.” I’ve heard a lot of praise for the committee’s bi-partisan approval of the bill, but where are the dissenters? Where is the healthy debate? Read More >

Vilsack Visits the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Meeting

I was privileged to spend the past few days at the Inaugural Meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), a well-organized group of stakeholders from around the country ranging from farmers to policy wonks (who are sometimes one in the same) working in coalition on important issues. In addition to learning an incredible amount from this crew, I was thrilled to meet dozens of NSAC members eager to see public health take a larger, more active role in drawing the links between sustainable agriculture and health. I was also encouraged that Secretary Vilsack took the time visit to the NSAC Meeting. Read More >

Dangerous Medicine in U.S. Food Production: Antibiotics

Robert S. Lawrence, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

I applaud Nicholas Kristof for his column, “Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health,” in Wednesday’s edition of The New York Times. Mr. Kristof zeroes in on a critical public health issue that could have dire consequences if we do not stop using antibiotics and other antimicrobials as growth promoters in industrial food animal operations.

Nearly a year ago, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report entitled “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” After two years of extensive investigation, the Pew Commission found that the use of antibiotics in animals without a diagnosed illness (i.e., as growth promoters) was of “deep concern.”

In 1998, the National Academies of Science estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections were increasing health care costs by a minimum of $5 billion annually. The unchecked use of antibiotics in industrial agriculture is contributing to the spread of resistant organisms.

The volume of antibiotics used to treat human illness pales in comparison to the volume used in industrial farm animal production. In 2005, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that while 3 million pounds of antibiotics were being used in human medicine each year, the food animal industry was using 24.6 million pounds, primarily to stimulate growth and increase production.

Resistant bacteria from industrial operations, such as the facilities mentioned by Mr. Kristof, can reach the human population in a number of ways-through our food and water supplies, the air we breathe, or direct contact with animals, to name a few. And there is increasing concern that this resistance can “jump” species of bacteria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prudent public health policy requires that non-therapeutic uses of antimicrobials in food animal production should stop. Economic analyses demonstrate that little economic benefit derives from using antimicrobials as feed additives, and that equivalent improvements in growth and feed consumption can be achieved by improved hygiene.

In 2006, Europe eliminated the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, and South Korea did the same last summer. The American Medical Association opposes the use of antibiotics in farm animals that are not sick, and WHO has called for phasing out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion in livestock and fish production.

We must put an end to this practice.

*Note from LFB: You can follow Nicholas Kristof’s blog, On the Ground, or his Twitter feed.

Move Over Ag, We Need a Secretary of Food

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristoff addressed President-elect Obama’s soon-to-be-made choice for Secretary of Agriculture, asking whether or not a “U.S. Department of Food” would better reflect the change our country needs to see realized in our food policy. 

Kristoff notes that “a Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming.  But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers.  In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.”  As such, what we need now “is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed ‘secretary of food.'”

Read More >

Where’s the Grain?

Note: This is a response to an editorial posted in the New York Times.

Thursday’s Editorial (“The World Food Crisis,” New York Times, April 10, 2008) questioned the environmental and ethical impact of corn ethanol production. The question is: With more people and less grain, should we put the food in our gas tanks or in our stomachs?

It’s a good question. Here is another one: With more people and less grain, should we put so much grain into cows?

In the United States 70 percent of the corn harvest is fed to livestock.

Read More >