Certified Naturally Grown – an Alternative to USDA National Organic

I drove slowly along the country road in mountainous Boonsboro, Maryland, looking for a large greenhouse facility, which is typically the marker of a commercial aquaponics farm, where fish and plants are grown together in a re-circulating water system. Instead, all I found was a small sign for “South Mountain MicroFARM” posted next to a gravel driveway in front of a modest home. I turned into the driveway, headed down the hill, and was met by a smiling Levi Sellers, operator of South Mountain MicroFARM. Levi led me farther down the hill, past their family’s Christmas tree farm, to the impressive new barn and greenhouse structure that houses their recently established aquaponics operation. Read More >

Perdue at USDA Will Threaten Food Safety and Public Health

This blogpost was co-authored by Claire Fitch, Carolyn Hricko, Bob Martin and Jim Yager.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue finally had his day in front of the Senate, the last in a long line of Trump administration nominees. In the two months since the announcement of his nomination for Secretary of Agriculture, questions have been raised about Perdue’s conflicts of interest, denial of climate change, ethical violations, and efforts to undermine food safety and local control. Read More >

Dietary Guidelines Confusing on Red Meat

USDA MyPlate, 2010

USDA MyPlate, 2010

Last week the USDA and HHS released the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines. And while there are some evidence-based recommendations that make a lot of sense, there are some recommendations that leave us scratching our heads. There is also a disturbing omission of environmental concerns.

Perhaps the biggest piece of good news is that the Guidelines clearly call for a reduction in the consumption of “added sugars”—the new recommendation calls for a maximum 10 percent of daily calories. Could the agencies have gone a step further and specified that sodas and sugary drinks make up a big part of “added sugars?” Why, yes, they could have done that. Marion Nestle writes that “added sugars is a euphemism” Read More >

The USDA Is Gonna Do What?

320px-Chicken_vaccination-wikicommonsThe outbreak of several Asian-origin Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A (HPAI) viruses is still wreaking havoc for industrial egg and turkey integrators. And the USDA has a vaccination program that’s supposed to address HPAI—but it’s naïve at best or ludicrous at worst.

It’s difficult to keep up with advancement of the HPAI viruses‑H5N2, H5N8, and H5N1—and difficult to keep up with the related data collected by the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As of mid-to-late July, 223 separate reported incidents had affected more than 49 million birds. Fewer than 9,000 of the birds have been grown in small, so-called “backyard” operations. Read More >

New Dietary Guidelines Should Keep Sustainability on the Menu

Jillian Fry testifying about the Dietary Guidelines, March 24, 2015.

Jillian Fry testifying about the Dietary Guidelines, Bethesda, Md., March 24, 2015.

MARCH 24, 2015, Bethesda, Md.—This morning Jillian Fry, a project director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), gave public testimony about the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). This is the first time in history that the DGAC has included sustainability considerations in its recommendations. The testimony is being heard today by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversee the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, known recently as MyPlate and updated every five years. Read More >

Beef Tax, Take Two

Exhibit by  Oregon Cattle & Horse Raisers Association, circa 1940 / OSU

Exhibit sponsored by Oregon Cattle and Horse Raisers Association, circa 1940 / OSU

My blogpost last week, “Taxation Without Representation, Beef Industry Style,” highlighting the problems of the federally sanctioned beef tax (commonly referred to as the “beef checkoff”) drew an analysis from Kendal Frazier, the chief operating officer at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). (See the comments section for his response.) He may not remember me, but I have interacted with Kendal periodically over the years when he was an agriculture reporter in Kansas, as well as working public relations for the Kansas Livestock Association, and I worked first at the Kansas Farmers Union and then as communications director for then Kansas Congressman Dan Glickman. Read More >

On the Horizon: The Future of Biofuels

For the eleventh entry in our series “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol,” we asked biofuels expert Donna Perla, MPH, senior advisor with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, for her thoughts on the future of the biofuels industry.

Patti TruantWhat’s new in the world of biofuels right now?  What do you think are the greatest opportunities and challenges right now in moving toward a more bio-based economy?

Donna Perla: I think there are several. One is that the industry has really evolved.  Certainly it started with corn ethanol, but there still is this push for cellulosic ethanol.  Read More >

USDA People’s Garden Grant Awarded to Baltimore City Neighborhood

Also contributing to this post is Rachel Pinson, an MPH student focusing on food access, food policy, and program planning.

One of Baltimore City’s most underserved neighborhoods received funding for a facelift recently in the form of a $60,000 grant from the USDA. The grant, known as the People’s Garden Grant, was designed “to invest in urban and rural areas identified as food deserts and/or food insecure areas, particularly those with persistent poverty” (USDA).  Cherry Hill—a neighborhood without a full-service supermarket and where more than 90 percent of non-married families live below the Maryland Self-Sufficiency Wage (an index of how much income is needed for a family to adequately meet their basic needs without public or private assistance)—is a quintessential food insecure area.  Read More >

Does Ethanol Pollute the Environment … or Does Corn?

Which is the culprit? Ethanol or corn?

This is the third blogpost in the series, “Corn-Fed Cars: On the Road with Ethanol.”

When environmentalists complain about ethanol, they complain about the negative impacts of an ethanol economy: increased levels of nitrate, sediment and pesticide pollution, as well as decreased biodiversity and fewer small farms. Are these valid complaints? Or are they actually complaining about corn? Are we talking about “failed agronomy?”

First, some facts. The amount of land dedicated to corn today is at an all-time high. And so is the land in soybeans. The reason is clear: corn and soybeans are at all-time high prices and returns. The USDA is putting less emphasis on conservation reserve programs, and so farmers with their eyes on the bottom line are putting more land into corn and soybeans. Read More >

Filtering the Distortion: What the GAO Report on Antibiotic Resistance Really Says

The pork and beef industries are having a field day with the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on antibiotic resistance—and they are distorting the findings dramatically. Both industries are saying that the GAO found insufficient evidence to link antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans. But what the report really tells us is that the FDA and USDA are not doing a good enough job collecting data on the connection between antibiotic use and resistance.

Two years ago, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY) asked the GAO, the impartial research arm of Congress, to look into the efforts of two federal agencies (FDA and USDA) to curb antibiotic resistance that results from the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in food animal production. The GAO’s mandates included an examination of the extent to which these federal agencies are collecting data on the issue, as well as examinations of lessons learned by FDA and regulators in Denmark and the European Union. I think it’s very important to note that Rep. Slaughter did not ask the GAO to evaluate the extensive scientific literature connecting the use of antibiotics in food animal production to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. Read More >