Blog | April 24, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

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While they aren’t the most popular guests at your summertime picnics, their positions in the system as pollinators render bees critically important to our food supply. In the past decade scientists have been studying the various factors that are contributing to the global decline in bee health, looking at everything from viruses to climate change. One factor that has recently been considered, and is the subject of two new published studies, is our overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides. A derivative of nicotine, the chemical is poisonous to the nervous system while also being potentially addictive to the bees. UK researchers found that in an experiment to determine which food source the bees were drawn to–a plain, sugary one or one laced with neonics–the bees preferred the neonics. This common insecticide, which is extensively coated onto corn, soy, and canola seeds before planting, is absorbed by the plant and protects its tissue from pests. While the plant may be “protected,” the bees are not so lucky: they interact with neonicotinoid residues that remain in the nectar and pollen of the plant, exposing them to the pesticide and harming them. The Environmental Protection Agency announced this month that it is unlikely to approve new neonicotinoid pesticide uses.

Following last week’s roundup feature on the “organic boom,” check out this article from CNBC that lays out the benefits of buying organic, but also doesn’t shy away from the costs to your wallet. The benefits? Ask Marion Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU: “I always recommend organics whenever possible. They are produced using methods that are kinder to soil and animals.” Organic foods are also less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, another large concern among farmers and eaters. But with good organic practices comes an unfortunate increase in price. Organic produce can show up at the market at four times the cost of its conventional counterpart. The solution? Dr. Andrew Weil researched the level at which certain foods contain pesticides, and suggests some “spending priorities” to make shopping for good produce more affordable.

North Carolina chicken farmer Craig Watts opened his barns to an animal welfare group and their cameras a few months ago with hopes of exposing the unsafe, misleading nature of the factory farm industry to the public. “I wanted to show the public the conditions of an average poultry farm and how they were being misled into thinking the situation is better than it is,” said Watts, in this recent op-ed. Now, Watts is calling on his state’s elected officials to say no to Senate Bill 433 and House Bill 405, “ag-gag” measures that aim to stop investigations into North Carolina factory farms. “Even if animal welfare isn’t a top concern for us when buying meat, food safety should be,” says Watts, “North Carolina’s elected officials must say ‘no’ to SB 433 and HB 405. Democracy thrives on transparency, and our food system should, too.”

It’s been a long time coming! The government announced this week that it is moving forward on proposing regulated standards for organic, US-raised fish. While we may be “trying to play catch-up on organic aquaculture,” according to Miles McEvoy, head of the USDA’s organic program, even if the USDA proposes these standards this year, it may still take time for seafood companies and retailers to accept them. The news may be joyous to loyal organic shoppers, and retailers will likely embrace the product and its higher price, but many in the farmed fish industry say that the feed requirements may be too costly and difficult to regulate.

“…We’re witnessing the rise of a new kind of cook—one devoted to his or her craft, wielding masterly knife skills and a deft palate, as well as a social conscience,” says Brian McGinnis, director of the Netflix documentary series “Chef’s Table.” In ‘Sustainable Chef,’ McGinnis explores the work of Chef Ben Shewry, who has completely changed the menu at his world-class restaurant Attica in Melbourne, Australia, to emphasize sustainable ingredients. McGinnis saw it fit to profile the innovative work of Chef Shewry on Earth Day this year: “I wanted to highlight the work that he and so many other forward-thinking chefs around the world are doing to ensure that the food sources we enjoy now will still be here in years to come.”

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