Blog | April 3, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_Eagan

The United States has long been reliant on antibiotics, especially in factory hog farms. Maybe it’s time to take a tip from Danish hog farmer Kaj Munck, one of the many hog farmers in Denmark who raise their animals without the constant use of antibiotics (using them instead as needed for specific medical purposes). His operation has proven beneficial in almost every aspect on the farm. He’s raising 12,000 pigs per year, which is larger than the average American farmer’s production, and he can produce pork at prices low enough to compete with international markets. The most important benefit to an antibiotic-free farm, however, Munck saw coming from a mile away. “We saw a potential problem with antibiotic resistance and wanted to get ahead of the game,” he said. Turns out he was right, as antibiotic resistance is a rapidly increasing issue in the United States. Antibiotic use in Denmark livestock is currently down 50%, animals aren’t experiencing more bacterial infections than usual, and growth-wise, they’re thriving without regular doses of antibiotics.

Unfortunately for the US, problems with antibiotic resistance continue to grow. A new study finds that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are capable of surviving air travel. Upon gathering particulate matter in a 200-mile radius surrounding 10 of Texas’ commercial cattle yards over a period of 6 months, researchers determined that the airborne microbe had indeed originated from the yards, and the air studied contained bacteria and antibiotics. As for the makeup of the bacteria itself, it was found that a “significant number” of the microbial communities studied had antibiotic-resistant genes, so much so that it made microbiologist Greg Mayer “not want to breathe.” The genes that are capable of becoming airborne are contained in fecal matter that becomes dust and is picked up by wind, creating opportunity for the antibiotic resistant, active bacteria to be spread over a long distance.

This issue, among many others, has prompted the Obama Administration to release a National Action Plan to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The ultimate outcome stated in the plan is to curb the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the goal of saving lives. The agriculture industry will play a huge role in making this a reality. The plan includes the goal to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals by the year 2020. It appears this action plan could create a system of agriculture much closer to that of our Danish counterparts, who adopted antibiotic-free ways back in 2000.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is progressing with its mission to cut ties with Kraft. Kraft currently has a contract to display the Academy’s “Kids Eat Right” label on the packaging of its product Kraft Singles, which is described as “pasteurized prepared cheese product” and is made with milk, Cheddar cheese, whey, milk protein concentrate, milk fat and sodium citrate. Following the announcement of the Academy’s deal with Kraft, concerns grew among the organization members, who expressed outrage that their label, one that was supposed to indicate some degree of nutritional value, would promote Kraft’s highly processed product as healthy. Andy Bellatti, a founder of the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, believes that the termination of the relationship will provide some much needed conversation surrounding the companies dietary groups support, “Dietitians need to continue advocating for an organization that represents us with integrity and that we can be proud of, rather than continually have to apologize for.”

According to Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator at Whole Foods Market, “There has been a mass awakening among consumers for organic, but not a mass awakening in the farming community.” With major retail chains like Target and General Mills making commitments to sell organic food, massive shortages are beginning to occur, particularly in the market for organic grain. The grain, used for both animal feed and food, is now being imported from places like Canada, Eastern Europe, and South Africa by companies who want to keep up with the booming organic demand. In order to rally support on United States’ soil, collaboration was formed between popular pro-organic companies like Annie’s, Organic Valley, the Organic Trade Association, Sustainable Food Lab (SFL), and more, who together are now known as the US Organic Grain Collaboration. “The focus is to address the systemic issues that are barriers to farmers in organic production,” says SFL program director Elizabeth Reeves. The group will attempt to tackle the technical barriers farmers face when trying to go organic: lack of resources, equipment, services, and finances.

In closing, I invite you all to enter the world of Angora rabbit show business. These divas, while incredibly docile, all have personalities of their own – and with names like Alfredo, Surprise, Silvertone’s Marvelous, and Shamwow, how could they not? Learn about the breeds and appearance maintenance, and be sure to view the slideshow of avant-garde bunny beauty by photographer Andres Serrano. Serrano pointed his camera lens away from his usual controversial subjects to something fluffier in this particular shoot. “The rabbits were good subjects,” he said. “They didn’t move much. They’re professionals.”

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