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Unhealthy Fixation

Slate | Posted on July 19, 2016

Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

What if antibiotics in animal feed make a comeback?

Watt Ag Net | Posted on July 18, 2016

Europe is resting after a long period of trying to remove growth promoting antibiotics from animal feeds.  The U.S. is just starting, but it looks determined to take it one step further — that is, remove even antibiotics used for therapeutic purposes. To this end, we must keep in mind several Northern states of the European Union are already working to reduce the use of therapeutic antibiotics. So, one might be excused to believe the world is working against the notion of usinf antibiotics in animal production.

But what if the ubderlying reason of going aways from antibiotics no longer existed? How would that be possible? Very simple: the medical industry could come up with a new generation of antibiotics specific for animals. That is, antibiotics that would not promote resistance to those used in human medicine. If that was possible, and my instinct says it is coming up sooner than we might want to believe, then why not allow antibiotics back into animal feeds?

Post Holding’s Sued for False “Natural” Claims

Whole Foods magazine | Posted on July 14, 2016

Post Holdings, Inc., and its subsidiary, Post Foods, LLC, are being sued by three separate plaintiffs for labeling, marketing and selling Shredded Wheat as “natural” despite testing positive for the herbicide glyphosate.

The lawsuits were filed on June 22 by the Organic Consumers Association. “On the back of its cereal box, Post says Shredded Wheat is made of ‘100% Whole Grain Wheat’ and that the product is ‘made with nothing but goodness,’” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director in a press release. “But tests prove Shredded Wheat contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Glyphosate is not only very unnatural, it is a known toxin, linked to a long list of potential and serious health problems.”  Though testing by an independent lab in California found Shredded Wheat to contain 0.18 parts per million of glyphosate, which is a level below what is allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kim Richman, of The Richman Law Group, which represents OCA in the suit notes that “even at low levels, including levels below those approved by regulatory agencies, studies show that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor.”

US consumers still prefer cheaper cage-produced eggs

Watt Ag Net | Posted on July 14, 2016

With the tsunami of cage free egg purchase pledge announcements thus year, you might think U.S. egg producers would be struggling to meet the surging demand for cage-free eggs, but that isn’t the case. The current glut of cage-produced eggs has resulted in very low retail egg prices and that many consumers just aren’t willing to pay as much as $2 more per dozen eggs to get cage-free eggs.

The net result is that some of the increased production of cage-free eggs are being packed and sold as cage-produced eggs, because the market just isn’t absorbing the increased supply of cage-free eggs. Free markets have a very efficient, if sometimes painful, way of matching supply with demand. The story has Terry Pollard from Big Dutchman mentioning egg producers canceling or delaying orders for cage-free systems because of the current supply glut of cage-free eggs. Delaying increases in cage-free hen housing as a result of the current supply-and-demand situation is a logical response by producers, but there is another option. At some point, won’t a retailer just decide to offer lower prices on cage-free eggs? If they do, we can learn how much of a premium consumers are willing to pay, and the market will sort out how much of a premium egg producers need to maintain cage-free flocks and to expand.

A Closer Look at Declining Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Using Linked Data Sources

USDA | Posted on July 14, 2016

Researchers linked ERS's food availability data with food intake survey data to break down national food and vegetable consumption trends by age, gender, education level, income, and race/ethnic background. They found that declines in fruit and vegetable consumption—driven by falling consumption of orange juice, potatoes and head lettuce—have been steeper for some demographic groups than for others.

Danone buying WhiteWave in $12.5 B deal

Agri-Pulse | Posted on July 14, 2016

France-based Danone has agreed to buy WhiteWave Foods and its health-based brands like Silk and Horizon Organic in a deal valued at about $12.5 billion.   The two companies said Danone will pay $56.25 a share, a 24 percent premium over WhiteWave's 30-day average closing price of $45.43. That would value WhiteWave at $10.1 billion based on 180.2 million shares outstanding at the end of last year. The transaction, which also includes debt and certain other WhiteWave liabilities, is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to the approval of WhiteWave's shareholders and regulatory approvals.

Illnesses from meat and poultry – up or down? | Posted on July 14, 2016

The proportion of all illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 attributable to meat likely have been reduced as demonstrated by a correlation between reductions in those organisms in FSIS product testing and illnesses reported by FoodNet.  L. monocytogenes and Campylobacter are more difficult to characterize.  The most recent data show no improvement for L. monocytogenesillnesses or findings of this pathogen in FSIS testing.  FSIS testing for Campylobacter is too recent to be useful for correlation with illnesses, butCampylobacter sicknesses seem to be on the rise.  Salmonella is a mess.  FSIS desperately wants to claim the fraction of human salmonellosis from poultry is declining.  But, I must respectfully disagree. 

First, FSIS sampling of poultry for Salmonella has been called into question by USDA researchers.  We discussed that problem in a blog last month.  It’ll take a while to sort it out.  Until then, we don’t know if we can correlate product testing with human illnesses.  Second, if illnesses from poultry were really on the decrease that should show up in the FoodNet numbers.  It doesn’t.  The overall level of human salmonellosis hasn’t changed. 

What Would a World Without GMOs Look Like?

National Geographic | Posted on July 11, 2016

Without genetically-modified foods, we might have to give up oranges and resign ourselves to living with avian flu and more malnutrition. It was hailed as a radical move when more than 100 Nobel laureates sent a letter to Greenpeace, urging the environmental group to stop blocking genetically modified foods like golden rice from reaching those who need it. The debate over whether GMOs are good or bad has been stuck in neutral for years. Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis scientist who has been working to develop a disease-resistant, drought-tolerant rice, laid out what’s at stake in National Geographic last year:

“All this arguing about what’s genetically modified is a big distraction from the really important goals. We need to produce safe and nutritious food that consumers can afford and farmers can make a profit from. And we need agricultural practices that enhance soil fertility and crop biodiversity, use land and water efficiently, reduce use of toxic compounds, reduce erosion, and sequester carbon.”

Thousands of Products to Leave Shelves as GMO Labeling Becomes Law in Vermont

The Northfield News | Posted on July 11, 2016

Price Chopper has learned that manufacturers will no longer ship 3,000 products to Vermont because they will not have a GMO label. The grocery store stopped receiving shipments of many food items beginning last Friday when Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect.

Coke was one of the first manufacturers to announce last week that it would stop sending some products to Vermont. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s main competitor, is following suit. Also on the list of items that Price Chopper said that they will no longer receive are Del Monte fruits, some Hostess products, some Chicken of the Sea, Sabra Hummus, some Heinz Ketchup, Sage Valley nuts, Bob Evans foods, Louisiana Fish Fry products, Sea Gold Seafood and some Starbucks products. “To avoid multiple labeling changes, some lower-volume brands and packages we offer within our broad portfolio could be temporarily unavailable in Vermont,” Coca-Cola Co. spokesman Ben Sheidler told Bloomberg News. The world’s largest soft-drink company said that its biggest sellers—including Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke and Coke Zero—will still be available, complete with new labeling. But for smaller brands, Sheidler says
the company is working out how to restructure product packaging to comply with the new law. Coca-Cola sells more than 100 different beverage brands in the U.S. including Mello Yello, Odwalla, Dasani, Honest Tea, Fuze,Minute Maid and many more.

Hundreds of other manufacturers are also included they said. However, regardless of the
problems which have arisen regarding the new law, Vermont lawmakers celebrated the first in the nation GMO labeling law on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier. Gov. Peter Shumlin
along with Congressman Peter Welch and Senator Bernie Sanders headlined the event.

As Labeling Law Goes Into Effect, Vermont Farmers Divided On Value Of GMO Crops

Vermont Public Radio | Posted on July 11, 2016

Vermont, as it happens, is one of the few states that tracks herbicide usage. “And so we figured, well shoot, we’ve got the data, let’s take a look at it,” says Will Allen, an organic farmer and activist. “When we did we were shocked, really.” llen says herbicide use has nearly doubled from 2002 to 2012. And he says it’s no coincidence that the increase came during a time period when almost all the state’s corn growers switched from conventional seeds to GMOs. “And we feel like that paradigm one, is hurting farmers, is hurting farmworkers, is trashing the environment, and probably is contaminating products,” Allen says. Over at the Sprague Farm in Brookfield, the view on GMO corn is decidedly different.  Sprague, whose family began farming this land 152 years ago, has converted his corn crop entirely to GMOs. Not only is he using less herbicides as a result, Sprague says the hardiness of the GMO corn has allowed him to adopt what’s known as a no-till growing system.  “We have tremendous worm activity in our soils,” Sprague says. “Our organic matter is way higher than anybody that tills.” Sprague says he takes pride in his “progressive” farming practices. And he says healthier soil means less erosion, less runoff, and less toxic substances leeching from fields to nearby rivers.

Cary Gigeure, chief of the Agrichemical Management Section at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, says he appreciates Allen’s dogged pursuit to reform agriculture practices.“Will Allen is a brilliant guy. He’s passionate and I enjoy having conversations with him,” Giguere says. “But if you look at the longer term trends and talk with farmers about why they’re choosing what they’re choosing, the data doesn’t support the theory, at least here in Vermont.”  Giguere says Allen has cherry-picked data to game the results of his analysis. If you track numbers from 1999 to 2013, for example, atrazine use is down by 40 percent, despite the near-total conversion to GMO crops during that time period. And if you compare metolachlor use in 2008 to metolachlor use in 2013, it’s down by nearly half, despite the fact that GMO corn acreage jumped by about 50 percent over the same time period. State data indicates that farmers actually used less herbicide in 2013 than they did 15 years prior. Allen doesn’t trust the science done by state or federal regulatory bodies.