Blog | August 4, 2014

Amanda’s Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaIn the Midwest, tests have uncovered alarming rates of pesticide remnants slipping into water supplies. Iowa, a leading user of neonicotinoids over the last decade, has at least nine streams and rivers polluted with the chemical. All 79 water samples revealed the presence of neonicotinoids, and some samples exceeded the toxic levels for aquatic organisms. Studies found other pesticides in only 20 percent of samples. Despite apparent dangers to pollinators and the water supply, the EPA and neonicotinoid manufactures continue to deny the risks of using the chemical.

If we go beyond the point of no return for bees, there may be other options for pollinators in the future. The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has designed “RoboBees” that can pollinate a programmed path of crops. We’re still at least 20 years from widespread use of such technology that would require farmers to pay high prices for their robo-pollinators.

Shiny skyscrapers have long decorated city skylines, but soon, you might find a farm growing among them. Skyfarm, a new project in Seoul, is an urban farm that will provide crops, energy and clean water while also conserving space in the densely populated city. With between 60 and 70 farming decks, Skyfarm would act as a giant tree capable of growing a variety of fruits and vegetables using a hydroponic system rather than soil-based approach. Of course one urban farm won’t put a dent in feeding the 10 million people of Seoul, but the project represents an innovative start in sustainability for cities worldwide.

Despite pushback from the powerful forces in the meat industry, the government still thinks you have a right to know where your food comes from. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld the new government rule requiring producers to label meats with information regarding where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The meat industry, led by the American Meat Institute, has avidly tried to block the law since its inception last year, claiming that the costly labeling process violates freedom of speech and fails to benefit to the consumer. The court, however, saw the law as valuable to consumer interest and important in the case of foodborne illness outbreaks in producing countries. Consumer, environmental and some farm groups have supported the rule since 2002, and then again in 2008 once some revisions were made after haggling with the meat industry.

On Tuesday, the USDA announced $9 million in grants to provide outreach and technical assistance to minority and veteran farmers. The funding comes from Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 program. In recent years, the number of minorities working in agriculture has increased significantly. This program will enable community organizations to help some of these individuals own and operate farms while also participating in USDA programs, changing the face of agriculture and creating a diverse, varied network of farmers.

Public records have long kept the public aware and informed, but information regarding farms could soon become near impossible to access. A bill already approved by the state Senate in North Carolina would prevent the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources from disclosing complaints or information from investigations on farms without a court order. The proposed law, backed by the North Carolina Farm Bureau and opposed by the Sierra Club, has created controversy in the state. Supporters say that bill protects farmers from the stigma created by false accusations, which account for 30 to 80 percent of complaints against farms, depending on the area. Others call the bill misdirected, believing that it robs the public of vital information and prevents necessary scrutiny. The bill currently awaits a vote from the House.

23,000 Americans are killed by antibiotic-resistant infections each year, yet the FDA and a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals seem unconvinced that they could solve the problem. A recent ruling by the court allows an antibiotic used in animal feed to remain available even if the agency finds the drug dangerous. Now, the meat and poultry industry can continue to misuse antibiotics for growth purposes, breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can infect consumers. While the United States continues to gamble with the drugs in meat industry, the European Union has already outlawed the use of growth-promoting antibiotics.

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