| September 19, 2014

Amanda’s Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaAs the rich continue to snag more of the nation’s wealth, they’re also bagging up more of the country’s good food. Reports show that the number of farmers markets has doubled in the last decade, leading to an increase in the number of vegetables and fruits consumed and a decrease in the consumption of processed foods. But it’s important to note that only certain demographics have had access to this healthy, local food. A new report from the USDA shows that a number of households in the US lack food security, meaning that one or more members of the household could not afford sufficient food at some point last year. When the food secure browsed their local farmers markets for fresh greens, they spent 30 percent more on food than those in food insecure households – even those with access to SNAP benefits, or food stamps. Now, more are calling for economic reform, arguing that health reform will ensue once all employees receive fair wages.

If you’re looking to save some cash in San Francisco, all you’ve got to do is pick up a shovel. A new tax break initiative allows property owners who turn vacant city spaces into urban farms to reassess their land at the standard rate for irrigated farmland in California – a rate valued much lower than the attractive downtown land usually pulls. Estimates show that this would drop tax dues from an average of $10,000 a year to just $100. With the temptation to turn the spaces into high priced real estate, it’s hard to say how many land owners will take the tax break and pick up a rake, but officials hope that some will make the move toward creating viable, sustainable areas for agriculture within city limits.

In between taking “selfies” and making Starbucks runs, young people have jumped behind a new, unexpected trend: farming. Amidst the growth of the local food movement and a thriving farmers market culture, more young people have taken an interest in agriculture. What many don’t realize, however, is that agriculture is about more than just getting your hands dirty. Young farmers will need investment funds, marketing knowledge and accounting skills in order to make it big and prove that the local food movement is more than just a trend.

As more than 1 million tons of corn makes its way back to the United States, big companies are pointing blame at one another, wondering who should take the responsibility for sending an unapproved ingredient overseas. Last week, Cargill, the food manufacturing giant, issued a suit against Syngenta, a seed manufacturer who sold GMO seeds to American farmers. The company says it lost $90 million when Syngenta added new GMOs to seeds without China’s approval, therefore “reckless contaminating” the corn. Syngenta fired back, claiming to “uphold the rights of farmers to access new and approved technologies.” Neither company seems prepared own up and apologize, leaving the court to decide whose responsibility it is to play by other countries’ rules.

As weeds toughen up, manufacturers break out the heavy-duty chemicals. In a recent move, the USDA approved a new GMO version of corn and soybeans that are engineered to survive the 2,4-D herbicide, made using a component found in Agent Orange. Growers say it will allow them to grow corn and soybeans while also striking down weeds that have become resistant to conventional weed killers like Roundup, but critics claim it will bring millions of pounds of toxic waste into soil and the food supply. Other research shows that the 2,4-D herbicide has a tendency of evaporating and drifting, potentially allowing the chemical to spread to other farms and contaminate other plants that may not be resistant to it.

‘If they’re not sick, don’t medicate them’ seems to be a philosophy gaining momentum among legislators. Two members of Congress proposed legislation that would authorize the FDA to collect data on antibiotic use on farms. This push comes after a report by Reuters revealed how major poultry firms fed antibiotics to chickens as a standard practice. Now, legislators are standing up for consumer health and transparency within the food industry. If passed, this law would follow another set to take affect in 2016, requiring veterinarians to issue prescriptions when administering antibiotics. Still, many poultry companies remain reluctant to release information regarding medicating their animals, and have told their producers if they release the information their contracts will be terminated.

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