Food in the News

Hunger is a poverty problem

I highly recommend the recent New York Times article by Mark Bittman entitled “Dont ask how to feed the 9 billion”.  In the article and during a subsequent talk he gave at the New York Times sponsored “Food for Tomorrow” conference, Bittman simply and clearly debunks the myth that only industrial agriculture  can feed the world’s expanding population.

As he notes, by current estimates, between 30 and 40% of agricultural products purchased in the United States to be eaten as food is ends up in the garbage as waste.   Add to  that that the 40% that goes to produce ethanol (according to a 2012 NY Times article) and it becomes clear that we produce plenty of food.  The real problem is making sure that we eat what we produce and that everyone can afford to buy what they need.

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New poultry inspection rules at Dept of Agriculture

Photo NY Times 2011

According to a July 31, 2014 article in the New York Times, the US Department of Agriculture has just released new rules for inspections during processing of poultry.  Couple o’ highlights:

1)  Poultry processing plants will now be responsible for inspecting themselves.

2)  New rules would set the maximum speed of processing lines at inspection points at 140 birds per minute.

What part of this was supposed to make me feel better about industrial chicken?

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FDA Bans cheese aged on boards, then changes mind (?!?!)

On Tuesday the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would begin enforcing rules that ban all cheeses that are aged on wooden boards, a move that would effectively outlaw many American and French artisan cheeses.

Then today, they changed their collective mind.  Apparently the public outcry that greeted this announcement was so intense that the FDA had second thoughts.

Had the ban stood, it would have effected a huge swath of artisan cheeses.  Many of the best known cheeses from America and France are aged on wooden boards, including the Comte cheese that we use on croques, onion soup, sandwiches and baked eggs at both Le Pichet and Cafe Presse.

Despite the reversal, however, our cheeses are not yet secure.  In a statement, the FDA said:

“In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.  The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

Clearly the FDA is unconvinced of the safety of aging cheeses on wood, despite the centuries-long history of artisan cheese production without health concerns.

Cheese lovers, don’t let your guard down.  As an Op-Ed piece by New York Times writer David Firestone says “Keep your government hands off my cheese”!

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Genetically Engineered Food Laws advance

Efforts to require labels on Genetically Engineered foods (often refereed to as GM or GE foods) advanced in the far ends of the U.S. this week.  And in Oregon’s Jackson County, a mostly rural area that includes part of the Rogue Vally, a Farm Bill will soon be decided that would go even further.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill on Thursday April 24, 2014 that makes Vermont the first state in the U.S. to require labels on foods that contain GM ingredients.  Two other New England states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed GM labeling laws, but they will not take effect unless neighboring states also pass labeling laws.

In Oregon, a petition effort is underway to get a GM labeling bill on the Oregon ballot this Fall.  The proposed bill, which is similar to Initiative 522 that failed in Washington State in November 2013, and which would require labeling of any food that contains GM ingredients, is being actively promoted by a group known as Oregon Right To Know.

At the same time,  Farm Measure 15-119, which will be decided by residents of Jackson County, Oregon in late May 2014, would outlaw altogether the growing of GM crops.

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GM Alfalfa was in the food supply before USDA approval

“A food-safety advocacy group demanded on Friday that the U.S. government investigate how a Washington state alfalfa crop became tainted with a genetically modified trait that was illegal when the seed was purchased.”
Reuter’s , September 27, 2013

According to a recent article in Reuters, a Washington State farmer has filed suit against Monsanto.  Seems that his 2011 crop of alfalfa was rejected by a Japanese purchaser after it tested positive for GM material.  The odd thing is that the alfalfa in question was grown with seeds purchased from Monsanto in 2010, before GM alfalfa was approved for sale by the USDA.

Is anyone surprised?

 

 

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Tomatoes engineered for flavor

NY Times 2013

A friend recently forwarded me this article by Kenneth Chang in the NY Times which discusses efforts by scientists at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation to built a better tasting tomato that can still be mass marketed.  In this case, the methods to be used are plain old selective breeding, backed up by high tech methods of assessing consumer reaction to changes in taste, with the goal of optimizing positive taste reaction.

It surely does qualify as news that scientists have finally begun to consider taste when they set to work to improve our food, not just industrial food goals like weight, color,  shelf life, resistance to bruising, and  tolerance to herbicides.

However, it does seem that science has failed to internalize the message of the “eat local” movement.  In this study, the goal is to find a tastier tomato that can still be “grown in large quantities, picked green and shipped long distances before being gassed with ethylene to ripen”.  And the methods used to study consumer preferences are uncomfortably similar to those used by junk food manufacturers to find the so called “bliss spot”, that perfect combination of chemical flavors that hooks consumers (for a really shocking insight into the process of junk food design, check out Michael Moss’ book “Salt Sugar Fat”).

The message that consumers are slowing beginning to learn is that foods grown with care and skill, without chemicald or pesticides, picked when ripe and eaten soon after, these foods taste best and are the most nutritious and healthy.

Until scientists learn this as well, consumer beware in the supermarket.

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Lets talk about GMOs

Please join us for a Conversation about

 

We at Cafe Presse and Le Pichet feel that it is very important to know what is in the foods we eat.  Therefore, Cafe Presse will be hosting two meetings to talk about the upcoming vote on Initial 522 which would require labeling of GMO foods.  Do you have all the information you need to make an informed decision?  Lets talk about it!

Where:  The back room at Café Presse 1117 12th Avenue Seattle, WA 98122

When:  Tuesday, June 18:  5:00 P.M. to 6:30 PM – Light apetizers and beverages will be provided.

or

Thursday, June 20: 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 AM – Pastries and coffee will be provided.

Come learn what GMOs are, what foods they are in,  why the labeling of genetically modified foods is important, and what you can do to help.

Suggested Donation $5.22
(all donations will be given to Yes on 522)

Space is limited.  RSVP to 206-709-7674

For more information call 206-709-7674 or visit www.cafepresseseattle.com or jimdrohman.com

 

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More bad news for bees

Photo New York Times 2013

It’s not easy to be a bee
The news on the bee front is going from bad to worse.  As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, bee populations throughout the world and particularly in Europe and North America, have been under pressure for the last decade.  Now come reports of more bad news.  New figures show that bee populations in the United States are declining at a faster rate than ever.   And at the same time, the European Union, under pressure from chemical manufacturers in France and Germany, failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which many researcher believe play a role in declining bee population.

Worse year ever?
In a recent article in the New York times, author Michael Wines notes that, although the official U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers will not be out until May, many beekeepers are reporting losses of between 40 and 50% of their hives in 2012.  This compares with losses of about 30% in 2011.  FDA bee research director Jeff Pettis said that he was confident that the May USDA report would show colony losses well in excess of the 2011 losses.

Bees can’t kick the habit
There are many theories as to what is killing the bees, everything from GMO corn syrup in sugar water used to feed commercial bee colonies, to electromagnetic fields generated by electronic devices like cell phones, to the increased use of herbicides made possible by herbicide-resistant GMO crops like Roundup Ready corn.

But many researcher feel that the most likely cause is a new class of pesticides derived from nicotine that are designed to be incorporated into every cell of the protected plant.  These pesticides, known as neonicotinoid or  systemic pesticides, were developed in the late ’80s and ’90s but have only come into widespread use since 2000 (the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world).  The unique characteristic of systemic pesticides that that they are not designed to kill pests immediately, but to build up in their system over time, distorting the DNA of pest insects so that not only the exposed insect, but also its offspring, are compromised.  For an in-depth report on the available scientific data linking neonicotinoid pesticides to bee mortality, check out this article in the Guardian UK.

Europe passes on ban
Last week, the European Union failed to pass a 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that was intended to give researcher a chance to study the effect on bee populations of the removal of these pesticides from the environment.  Representatives of nine European Union nations, led by France and Germany, voted against the ban.  Intense lobbying by European pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer is thought to have played a role in the decision.

 

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GM Foods in the Spotlight

Photo National Public Radio 2013

Its not easy being GM
Two recent articles, one featured on National Public Radio, and the second on New York Times Op-Ed page, both look at the trials and tribulations of the approval process for  new GM products.

In his piece for NPR, Dan Charles looks at the different motives behind the development of so-called Golden Rice, which is  genetically modified to have high levels of beta-carotene.  While Agra-business has always claimed the GM grains were intended to increase farm yields in countries that desperately need to feed their people, many activists claim that the real goal is to market highly profitable proprietary seeds and pesticides.

Emily Anthes’ New York Times opinion piece argues that FDA approval of GM animal breeds such as the Aqua Advantage salmon and the Enviropig have been held up for political reasons.  She claims that these new types of GM farm animals offer real environmental and economic advantages that consumers should welcome.

But why don’t they want us to know?
An interesting parallel runs through each of these articles:  In the first, the International Rice Research Institute that develop Golden Rice is now in hot water because a study that it backed in China to test its ability to supplement beta-carotene in children, failed to disclose to all the participants that it is a GM product.

And Emily Anthes glosses over the fact that  the corporations that develop products like the Aqua Advantage  salmon also spent a mountain of money to defeat the California GM labeling initiative.  One wonders why, if we accept the idea that these products offer a clear advantage to consumers and farmers alike, why Agra-business wants to prevent their being  labeled as such?

Just asking.

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Mislabeled fish rampant in the U.S.

New York Times 2013

According to a New York Times article by Kirk Johnson, a recently released study shows that the fish being served on tables across America is chronically mislabeled, either through error or through misrepresentation.

The study was conducted by Oceana, a non-profit ocean protection group,  who looked at seafood being sold in sushi bars, stores and restaurants in 12 regions around the country.  Fish was purchased during normal operations, and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Continue reading

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