Saturday, May 12, 2007

Food and Agricultural News for May 2007

Most of the following is from the May 2007 FEED of the Union of Concerned Scientists with any comments from me in [ ].

1. Food supply no safer since the spinach scare
Most Americans have returned to buying spinach since last fall's outbreak of foodborne illness that killed three people and sickened hundreds. But according to the chief medical officer of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the underlying problems that allowed spinach to be contaminated with fecal matter carrying E. coli bacteria haven't been solved, and another outbreak involving leafy greens is likely. The agency's own documents show that it knew for years about the situation that led to the spinach outbreak, but lacked the resources to enforce food safety regulations, relying instead on producers to implement voluntary measures. The FDA's ineffectiveness is just another good reason to choose organic food and/or buy from local farmers you can trust. Read more from The Washington Post. [For those of us who are aware or have been paying attention, none of this should come as any surprise. The FDA and the USDA are dinosaurs when it comes to regulating food and animals in the US. We're a damn big country now. But the solutions that they come up with often just perpetuate the problem and limit the Civil Rights of US citizens without actually improving safety. The best thing you can do to improve food safety nationally, improve your health and the health of your family is to 1.) grow it yourself, 2.) buy organic from local farmers, or 3.) buy from trusted organic food suppliers. As more people shift to this way of procuring their food, the national suppliers will either go out of business or shift the way they grow our food to comply with what the market demands with no need at all to get the government involved.]

2. USDA advisory board: Cloned food isn't organic
The organic label should exclude not just cloned animals and products like milk, but clones' offspring and all successive generations as well, according to a recent decision by the advisory board to the National Organic Program (NOP). After the FDA announced in December its intention to allow cloned products in the food supply, the NOP stated that cloned animals would not be considered organic, but until now it was unclear whether the offspring of clones would be excluded too. The board's recommendation has not yet been officially incorporated into the organic standards. Read more from the Cornucopia Institute. [This is wonderful news and yet another reason to buy organic... For those who don't know, cloned animals and plants have tons of health problems, and scientists really have no idea what consuming these damaged technically edible (in that they won't kill you right away) things will do to people in the long run. Right now, I don't believe anyone is in operation with cloned animals and plants yet, but also as of right now, no one is required to label products which contain cloned material.]

3. Marker-assisted selection vs. genetic engineering
Marker-assisted selection (MAS) is an advanced form of conventional breeding that can be an alternative to genetic engineering. Instead of inserting a foreign gene into a plant, as in genetic engineering, marker-assisted selection screens for useful genes that are already present in the plant or a related wild plant. Genetic "markers" associated with these genes are identified and can be quickly tested for during the breeding process. After the individual plants that contain these genes have been identified, those plants can be used to breed the next generation. The technique can significantly reduce the time needed to develop a plant with the desired traits. Since the desired genes occur naturally in the plant and are simply selected for during the breeding process, it’s possible to get the desired traits without the risk of introducing genes from different species into crops. MAS can also allow the breeding of complex traits that were not feasible by previous methods. Although not a panacea, MAS is a sophisticated and promising new approach to an age-old technology. [See there's really no reason at all to genetically engineer food... or to be required to buy it...]

4. Burger King moves toward more humane practices
Responding to consumer concerns, the world's second-largest hamburger chain will begin purchasing cage-free eggs and crate-free pork. Burger King's initial goal is to purchase two percent of eggs from cage-free suppliers and 10 percent of pork from farms that keep sows in pens rather than crates, with plans to expand the program over time. The company also will favor poultry slaughterhouses that use controlled atmosphere killing, a slaughter method that is considered more humane than electrical stunning. Read more from The New York Times. [I do suppose that 2% of eggs and 10% of pork from these sources is a step in the correct direction for Burger King, just as the news from Greenpeace (that they've got McDonald's word that they will stop getting chickens from suppliers who use feed grown on ill-gotten land and "reclaimed" rainforest land in Amazonia) last fall was good. I still won't eat at either establishment unless I've been starving in the desert for a couple of days and there is no other food source in site. But it is an excellent sign that entities with the buying power and market command that Burger King and McD's do are seeing a market driven need to more responsible consumerism.]

5. Adventures in eating: The 100-mile diet
A new book chronicles the adventures of a Vancouver couple who spent a year eating food produced within 100 miles of their home. Aware that in North America the average distance traveled by produce from farm to fork is 1500 miles or more [which is really obscene since most areas in North America could feed themselves with some notable exceptions], Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon embarked on this experiment to reduce their environmental impact. The story of their year, Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and A Raucous Year of Eating Locally, bursts with lively descriptions of home-grown meals, clever substitutions (a turnip-bread sandwich?), connections with local farmers, and surprising discoveries about the food and environment of their region. Read more at [I've heard great things about this book... Haven't read it. I don't have the time or the inclination, unfortunately, to read every book that I've heard great things about. But checking out the website wouldn't be a bad idea. There's a map which will figure out your 100 mile parameter, as well as tips on how to get started buying locally. Even if you're just thinking about buying some of your food locally, it's worth checking out. 100 miles gets us in Tampa almost all the way to Cocoa Beach (yes, where I Dream of Jeanie was set) on the east coast, as far south as Ft. Myers and as far north as Ocala (not to mention all that prime fishing area in the Gulf to the West). That's almost the whole state! (Well, not really, but when you're raised in Tampa, it's pretty much as far south as you commonly get and as far north as you want to go before skipping over Gainsville on your way to Atlanta ::cheeky smile::) And I guarantee that, if we really wanted to, we could find anything we wanted to eat within that parameter.]

And if these above listed reason aren't enough to prove that we should try to do better, here's some more to convince you that not only *should* we, but we *can* and with not all that much effort:

1. Average minimum distance that North American produce typically travels from farm to plate, in miles: 1,500

2. Number of Planet Earths’ worth of resources that would be needed if every person worldwide lived like the average North American: 8

3. Planets saved if all of those people ate locally: 1

4. Ratio of minutes spent preparing food by English consumers who buy ready-made foods versus traditional home-cooking: 1:1

5. Estimated number of plant species worldwide with edible parts: 30,000

6. Number of species that currently provide 90 percent of the world’s food: 20

7. Share of each U.S. consumer food dollar that returned to the farmer in 1910, in cents: 40

8. Share that returned to the farmer in 1997, in cents: 7

9. Ratio of prisoners to farmers in the U.S. population: 5:2

10. Percentage of fresh vegetables eaten in Hanoi, Vietnam, that are grown in the city: 80 [my personal favorite - come on, if Hanoi can do it, places like Tampa should have no problem beating 80%!]

11. Percentage of all tomatoes in U.S. that are harvested while green : 80 [which is just one of several reasons that most tomatoes from the grocery store taste like shit.]

12. *Major* river dams constructed to irrigate California, now the world’s number five agricultural producer: 1,200 [read that at least 3 or 4 times until it sinks it because I know it didn't sink in the first time - what that really says. Dude, that's really not good.]

Buying organic improves air quality, water quality, the health of people who eat it, the health of the farmers and farm workers who grow it, and I believe that all that makes the food taste better too.

Buying local improves the local economy, makes sure that more money goes directly to the people who grow the food we eat every day, strengthens community bonds and improves social ties, brings us greater appreciation for those who grow the food we eat and makes us more thankful for what we have been blessed with, creates less pollution because food is transported via fossil fueled transportation over much shorter distances, and I believe all that makes the food taste better too.

Growing food ourselves improves self-esteem through self-sufficiency, teaches children confidence building skills and values, gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning (gotta water those tomatoes!), gives us a reason to get outside and enjoy the outdoors and sunshine, is great exercise, shows us just what it takes to put food on our tables every day, gives us greater appreciation for the Earth, what it does, what it gives us, and what it can do, and I believe all that makes the food taste like the best food we've ever eaten.

So... are you convinced? I hope so because at the moment, I've got nothing left. So, I want everyone to go to their local garden center and buy a potted vegetable plant. At least one. Any kind you want, but I recommend a tomato or an eggplant for beginners. Then go home and plant it in a sunny spot in your yard. Don't have any ground to put it in 'cause you're in an apartment? Find a sunny spot on your porch or balcony and set it there in an overlarge pot so that the roots have room to spread out. Keep it watered and if you're feeling adventurous and want an extra special happy plant, mix in some composted manure (I promise it doesn't smell the way you think it will) with the potting soil. It will so be worth it!

Feel free to copy and paste this and send it to friends and newsgroups... ;D

No comments: