This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.
In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.
Good news doesn’t come often enough in this business, so when POET—the world's largest ethanol producer—announced they’d decided to phase out antibiotic use in some of their ethanol plants, we celebrated. IATP has been pushing ethanol producers hard to stop using antibiotics—a common practice that we’ve determined is not only unnecessary, but also rife with public health risks.
During the ethanol fermentation process, there’s a risk of bacterial outbreaks—bacteria love the combination of a warm, moist environment and sugary corn mash. If bacteria get out of control, they compete with the yeasts (which turn the corn sugars into ethanol) and can decrease yields. Producers have traditionally doused fermentation tanks with antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin to thwart the bacteria, but that’s problematic because along with fuel, ethanol plants also produce animal feed known as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), made up of the leftover grain mash. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing has revealed antibiotic residues in DDGS, adding them to the already high burden of unnecessary antibiotics fed to livestock.
Farm to School in Minnesota has been continually growing, and now it's been recognized by the state for its importance to students and local farmers.
Last Thursday, Governor Dayton declared September Farm to School Month in Minnesota. The proclamation request was initiated by IATP as part of its ongoing Farm to School efforts.
Read the press release for more on Governor Dayton's proclamation.
At the request of our colleagues working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy formed a delegation today that delivered a letter to the manager of the Trader Joe’s store in St. Paul, MN. The letter, which was signed by several leading agriculture and labor organizations in the Twin Cities, requested that Trader Joe’s sign onto the CIW Fair Food Agreement and use their purchasing power to help put an end to the forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.
The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 lbs. of tomatoes picked, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday – nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago. Grinding poverty leaves farmworkers vulnerable to the most exploitative employers, often resulting in egregious labor rights abuses, and in the most extreme cases, documented cases of slavery.
Today several Florida tomato growers – including East Coast, the state's third largest producer – are implementing the CIW's Fair Food agreements with retail food industry leaders Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co, Aramark and Sodexo. The agreements require those retailers to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers, to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to buy only from growers who meet those higher standards.
A week after we learned that a killer Salmonella superbug spread through Cargill turkey, new science shows that on-farm decisions to go organic can drastically reduce the antibiotic-resistant bugs on meat. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), which includes IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga, has issued a press release. See more below, or download the PDF.
Washington, D.C. – One week after the outbreak of Salmonella spread through ground turkey raised the specter of drug resistant food-borne infections, a new scientific study released this week shows that changing farm practice can help stem the spread in poultry meat of another bug that is a major cause of expensive resistant infections in hospitals.
The study, by researchers from the University of Maryland and the FDA, compared poultry farms where antibiotics were used with organic poultry farms that had recently switched to antibiotic-free production. The new organic farms had much lower amounts of resistant bacteria than the conventional farms.
You’ve gotten rid of BPA from baby bottles and out of water bottles, but did you know another unnecessary toxic plastic may be hiding in your children’s school supplies?
Your child’s innocent-looking pencil case or three-ring binder could contain chemicals linked to learning disabilities, obesity and asthma. That’s because many school supplies are manufactured using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the most hazardous plastic for our health and environment.
This plastic can contain a toxic stew of phthalates, lead, cadmium and organotins—making it a recipe for disaster. As a result, some of these chemicals, like phthalates, are building up in our bodies. To the developing body of a child, even a small exposure to these toxic chemicals can be dangerous. A new 2011 study found PVC is the most widely used hazardous plastic in the world. This toxic plastic is being used in more forms than ever for your kids, from notebooks to art supplies to backpacks.
From its manufacture to disposal, PVC releases hazardous chemicals like dioxins and phthalates that are harmful to your children’s health. When incinerated (at disposal), PVC releases dioxin a potent toxic chemical linked to several harmful health effects, including cancer. Dioxin then builds up in the food chain (especially in the fatty tissue of animals) and in turn an estimated 90 percent of our exposure to dioxin is through food consumption.
The good news is there are safer and cost-effective alternatives. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) has just released their fourth-annual 2011 Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.
Advancements in science sometimes boggle the mind. Take nanotechnology, for example. Researchers can now manipulate material at the atomic level to add various properties to new foods, plastics or consumer products. They can make products lighter, softer, or better able to retain moisture. There are now an estimated 1,300 products on the market that use Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs).
Just as boggling as the scientific wonders of nanotechnology is the lack of regulation for this technology. The Environmental Protection Agency, like other U.S. regulatory agencies, has no regulations to ensure the health and safety of new nanotechnology products. For more, see our new report, Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation.
In agriculture, one of the major uses of nanotechnology is in pesticides. The EPA believes that there are already unapproved and unregulated pesticides in the marketplace that contain the bio-cide nanosilver. Experimental studies with laboratory rats indicate that inhaled ENMs can have “adverse lung effects.” Experiments with rainbow trout demonstrate that ENMs absorbed through the skin or consumed orally can move through different organs with toxic effects and can contribute to decreased reproduction.
Now, the EPA has taken the first step toward regulation. It is requesting comments until August 15, 2011 on its draft voluntary guidance for gathering data on pesticides that incorporate nanoscale materials. This data is essential to determining human health or environmental risks. Submit a comment now to the EPA and help protect human health and environmental safety.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an overlooked international body with representatives of 136 governments, about 100 food industry associations, several intergovernmental organizations, and a smattering of consumer and other nongovernmental organizations. Codex food standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as authoritative, so seemingly small matters of wording in a standard often can have major international trade consequences. The Codex has a duel (and often conflicting) mandate to protect consumer health, as well as to write standards that facilitate international trade.
A standing item of contention on the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) for two decades has been whether or not to recommend to the commission the adoption of a labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients. The United States and several other exporting countries of genetically modified organisms (or “foods derived from modern biotechnology” in the Codex terminology) had opposed any labeling of GMOs as “misleading even if true.” The justification for opposition was that even though governmental adoption of any Codex standard is voluntary, the adoption of a GM labeling standard would become an unfair trade barrier. However, at a June 16 meeting, the U.S. Codex Office announced that it would not oppose the adoption of a Codex guidance on the voluntary labeling of GMOs.
Nanotech holds lots of promises: products that are stronger, lighter and longer lasting; food packaging that can detect, and more effectively resist, bacteria. All of this amazing potential has industry chomping at the bit—already, 1,300 products now on the market claim to implement Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs) in some way. The problem? Not one of these 1,300 has been through pre-market testing to determine the effect of ENMs on public health, worker safety or the environment. In a new report, "Racing Ahead: Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation," IATP's Dr. Steve Suppan addresses the broad lack of regulation and oversight of nanotech applications in food and agriculture.
On June 9, the FDA and EPA released draft, voluntary guidance to industry as the first step towards requiring companies to submit ENM data for regulatory review. The same day, the White House issued an executive memorandum on principles of regulation and oversight of nanomaterials. While this step is encouraging, there is so much more to be done—especially as related to the application of nanomaterials in food and agriculture. According to the report:
ENM residues that could not be washed away by consumers in nano-coated produce are already reportedly being exported from Latin America to the U.S., without pre-market safety assessment or regulation.
Tomorrow the first ever summit of G-20 Agriculture Ministers will take place in Paris. The French government is to be commended for the initiative. Concerned by the evident disarray in government responses to the food price crisis of 2007-08, the French government moved quickly and deliberately to consider how best to respond. One of their investments, one that might be overlooked in the drama of a G-20 summit, has been in research to understand what kinds of tools governments have used to respond to price spikes and volatility, and how effective those tools have been, particularly in developing countries, and particularly with an eye on reducing poverty and vulnerability to hunger. The results of that investment is informing the debate at many levels, and is a welcome addition to a literature that is otherwise rather too orthodox.