Tag Archives: food safety

Climate Change and Crop Yields

The Economist reports on a study on climate change and agricultural yields. The bad news: climate change is having a negative impact on yields. The good news: the change may be smaller than expected. The article is here.

And then there is this interesting news about the spread of drought insurance in Kenya, a country likely to experience stress from climate change. Perhaps this new development will put them in a better position to face the challenges of climate change. What is most interesting is the explosive expansion of cell phone use which made this development possible.

The GM Debate

For those who might be interested in  informing themselves on the GM debate, a scientific perspective that addresses concerns on biosafety, biodiversity, and intellectual property among other things.

The GM debate is about more than biosafety – SciDev.Net.

The Best Laid PLans….

So, there you are, grilling a Tilapia fillet for dinner (perhaps with a side of quinoa or broccoli!) and congratulating yourself on eating right. Well, the new York Times has a piece that will make you think again. Farm raised Tilapia is fed a corn based diet and is a meager source of fish oil, DHA and EPA which are the reason for eating fish in the first place. Plus, all those fish farms have huge adverse environmental impacts.Read and weep…….

The Return of Salmonella

So, we might just be looking forward to another summer without the delights of tomatoes or spinach as efforts are on to cut FDA funding for food safety. This area was sadly under-funded to begin with, and now House Republicans want to slash that further. If these proposals go through, the FDA will have to furlough or lay off staff and that will mean fewer, or less intensive inspections of  all the stuff that is going into your grocery cart.

Yes, we need to live and budget more sensibly as people and as a nation but how could the health of the citizens fall off the priority list? On the flat, not-warming planet where these proposals might have originated, has anyone given a thought to subsidies? or biofuels? Just saying!

Two Banana Stories

My day, like that of so many people across the world ,starts with the banana. I set out one each for the kids, they moan about how boring it is, I remind them how good it is for them, and then; ritual completed we munch together in the early morning calm. So when I heard about the banana crisis in Uganda, which is the world’s second largest producer of banana and where the banana is a staple food, I was concerned. It turns out that rather than give up and watch the banana plantations be laid to waste by disease, Ugandan scientists are testing a GM strain that would withstand the BXW bacteria. This new story though, has the same ending as many we have heard before: opposition to GM technology means there might be a very long wait before these developments can actually be brought to the fields. In the meantime, livelihoods are lost, and an entire way of living is in danger.

Closer to home, the introduction of individually plastic wrapped bananas by DelMonte brought howls of laughter as well as disbelief. Had no one noticed that the banana came in its own bio-degradable wrapper? Why did people try to interfere with Nature? So obvious, right? Consider this, as theAtlantic did: individual wrapping, intended to preserve freshness, will lower the number of perfectly good bananas thrown out each year. The article also makes the point that we should stop thinking of nature as sacred and man as a despoiler. We are part of the same world. Yes, we should be more thoughtful in the way we impact nature but let us not set some impossible Garden of Eden standard for this interaction.

When is a Centrist a Radical?


The answer, according to James E. Mcwilliams, is the moment when you enter the domain of food and take up position in the middle. In his book, “Just Food” he notes how polarizing the food wars can be: either you are a diehard supporter of organic farming or you are a “frankenfood” fan. “The dull but respectable place called the center” he finds, is a lonely place.

The subtitle of the book is “Where Locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly” and this goes against the current push towards buying and eating locally. I started out with some scepticism but his essential arguement is convincing : eating locally may be a good plan on a personal level but we are not going to be able to solve the problems of the food system at the global level by eating and growing  only local, organic food. The book is an easy read, the evidence is presented in an accessible way. So, pick it  up if you can and see if you agree that “To be a centrist when it comes to food is, unfortunately, to be a radical.

Food Safety Bill Uncertainty



As we prepare for Thanksgiving, let us be truly grateful that we have not been subject to even more recalls, illnesses and or deaths from unsafe food than are on record. The system set up in the dim past, 1938 to be exact, desperately needs an overhaul. We can still hope that this will be accomplished in the lame duck session. The Senate is going to take up the debate on the Food safety Modernization act (S. 510) after the break. Now that the Tester amendment has smoothed over the issues affecting small farmers,  there may be room for hope. But  as Grist reports there are still those who hold the view that there is no food safety crisis at all! May wiser counsel prevail!

Food Safety Bill in Coma

The Senate will not take up the Food Safety Bill before the members leave for election campaigning. There is a small chance they may take it up at the end of the year or have to start all over again next year. Why did this happen? In the past two years alone, there has been a  steady drumbeat of outbreaks of illnesses related to unsafe food (lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, eggs to name a few) so the urgency is quite clear. Sen. Coburn (Republican of Oklahoma) ) who has opposed the Bill, says we do not have the money to make our food system safe in the face of a huge deficit. Here is an alternative: unsafe food=more sick people=higher healthcare costs=higher premiums for all of us. Add to this the loss in productivity due to time lost in dealing with sickness.This cost is likely to be far higher than the proposed outlay on overhauling the food system. Others have opposed to inspections of farms. Why? There has to be a way to protect consumers from being sold unsafe food, why would anyone object to participating in that system? Also, concerns have been raised over the rights of small and organic farmers and that should definitely be addressed. But it is a crying shame that big money can stand in the way of public health in this country. If you are voting this November or happen to meet the people you voted for, ask them why this is so. Perhaps you could show them this video.

The full text of the Bill is here and some important FAQs here.


Yes, I am referring to the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recall of millions of eggs. As an ardent egg devotee, I am appalled and as a follower of food policy issues, I am outraged. Here is why:

1. The regulations necessary to prevent outbreaks like this have been floating around for a decade when President Clinton was in office but have not been implemented.

2. A simple and cheap way to avoid salmonella is vaccination. It is done in the UK, for example, and the egg supply is very safe. However, it is not mandatory in this country and only about half the egg laying hens are vaccinated.

3. Who was in charge? No one. The USDA is responsible for plants and animals (but not for eggs) and the FDA is responsible for  shelled eggs ( but not for the hens). So the infected hens who laid the eggs are nobody’s business.

4.Is this serving as a wake up call to Congress which is dithering over the Food Safety Bill? No. They are too busy working hard on your time and money trying to prevent banning BPA in plastics to actually pass the Food Safety Bill which would give some teeth to the FDA.

There is more on this issue here: in the New York Times. We all need to educate ourselves on this issue and also communicate our views to the people we elected.

The Great Locavore Battle

It’s on! The battle to define and support /oppose the locavore movement was kicked off today. Stephen Budiansky in his piece for The New York Times, “Math Lessons for the Locavore” while noting that he was all for growing your own veggies, pointed out what he calls the “absurdities” of this trend. The gauntlet was picked up over at Grist by Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center who argued that the locavore movement is crucial to fixing our broken food system. Now, you be the judge! And stay tuned, there is more to come!