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From across the web, some interesting things we’ve read this month

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 April Issue Newsletter

By Amie Lindenboim

Wayne Andrews, a member of the Bristol County Beekeepers Association, displayed the bees in his hive at his home in North Dighton (Source: The Boston Globe)

We’ve compiled this list of stories to help keep you up to date on issues impacting food and farming.

Animals

New Study Finds Clear Differences Between Organic and Non-Organic Milk and Meat

In the largest study of its kind, an international team of experts led by Newcastle University, UK, has shown that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.

Cargill To Cut Antibiotic Use in Cattle by 20 Percent

Amid growing concern over antibiotic resistance in humans, Cargil announced it has started eliminating 20 percent of antibiotics deemed important for human medicine and farm animals from its four feed yards in Texas, Kansas and Colorado. The changes affect about 1.2 million cattle annually, which represents about 18 percent of the cattle Cargill processes. Voluntary guidelines issued by the FDA in 2013 called for antibiotics not used to treat illness to be pared back farm animals by December 2016.

Pew Casts Critical Eye on Meat Residue Program

The Department of Agriculture needs to seriously rethink its system for testing meat and poultry for residues, suggests a new report released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report takes issue with the fact that the USDA's National Residue Program sometimes excludes certain contaminants, like dioxins, from its sampling plans because there aren't set tolerances for them. The report also broadly questions whether the program is transparent enough about which veterinary drugs, heavy metals or other contaminants it decides to test for and why, and raises concerns about the rigor of the science used to prioritize testing.

 

Ballot Measures

Move Over, Marijuana: Hemp Industry Could Explode in Massachusetts if Ballot Measure Passes in November

A small section in the proposed ballot measure promoted by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would also regulate the cultivation, process, distribution and sale of hemp. [Seperately, bills regulating the cultivation of industrial hemp were filed earlier this session at the State House]

State: Food Industry Lobby Engaged in 'Egregious' Money Laundering in 2013 Vote

Excellent story in Seattle Post Intelligencer about how Grocery Manufacturer’s Association hid $11 million in donations to fight I-522, the ballot initiative to require labeling of GE foods.  Quote from the WA Attorney General:  "GMA's conduct was so egregious that it ranks among the worst in state history."

 

Food & Society

How Millennials Faked the Food Movement

Twenty-and-30-somethings share articles about new cookie flavors far more than articles on how to change the food system. We’re eager to eat “local” but less interested in actually thinking about what eating local truly means.

 

Genetic Engineering

A Biotech Evangelist Seeks a Zika Dividend

Billionaire Randal J. Kirk’s company, Intrexon, is fast becoming one of the world’s most diverse biotechnology companies, with ventures ranging from unloved genetically engineered creatures to potential cancer cures and gene therapies, gasoline substitutes, cloned kittens and even glow-in-the-dark Dino Pet toys made from microbes. Some of the company’s interests promise the end to problems like the Zika outbreak, while others, such as the AquaAdvantage salmon, pose risks of their own.

PR Firm Attacks Organic Food, Then Pitches Itself to Organic Companies

Ketchum Inc., the public relations firm leading the charge to promote chemical-dependent GMO agriculture is launching a new "specialty group" to capture a slice of the growing organic food market Ketchum's new branch, called "Cultivate," is pitching itself to "help purpose-driven brands with a natural, organic, and sustainable focus."

The news comes as Ketchum remains a key player in PR efforts to dampen demand for organic foods, spinning messages that tell consumers organics are over-priced and over-hyped, on its industry-funded “GMO Answers” website and elsewhere.

 

Organic Food

Eating for Two: Does an Organic Diet Make a Difference?

The study analyzing 35,107 women and their male infants who participated in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study estimated that women who ate organic food during pregnancy were 58% less likely to deliver boys with hypospadias, a common urogenital birth defect, than mothers who never ate any organic produce.

The study’s researchers cautioned that selecting organic food may be a proxy for other behaviors that would reduce exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as choices in cleaning products and personal care products, so more study is needed.

 

Pesticides

Experts Call on Feds to Re-evaluate the World’s Most Heavily Used Herbicide

One of the main gaps identified in the report is the lack of endocrine disruption testing.  Studies done in the 1970s when glyphosate was approved were very unsophisticated. “The problem with dose ranges that are very high is [that] research on developmental problems and endocrine disruption has shown repeatedly chemicals can have subtle effects at much lower levels.”

The health concerns coincide with more use and pervasive exposure. Over the past decade glyphosate has been bundled up in the debate over genetically modified food, because many seeds from companies such as Monsanto—manufacturer of the most popular glyphosate herbicide, Roundup—are genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide. When crops such as corn and soybeans have such immunity, farmers can spray entire fields. This has spurred a vicious cycle where weeds are increasingly evolving resistance to the herbicides, leading to more and more spraying.

Why the EPA’s Recent Pesticide Battle Could Be a Big Deal

In a rare show of regulatory muscle, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced  that it planned to cancel the sale of the pesticide flubendiamide.  The battle between the U.S. government and a chemical giant revealed a fundamental flaw in the way we control pesticides — one that could be allowing thousands of unsafe chemicals to go undetected.

FDA to Start Testing for Glyphosate in Food

Claiming they recently streamlined methods for testing for glyphosate, the agency will start measuring glyphosate residues in some foods beginning Fiscal Year 2016. The move by the FDA follows an October 2014 GAO report that found the FDA needed to improve its methodology for testing pesticide residues in food and disclose those chemicals, including glyphosate, that it isn't looking for.

 

Pollinators

Mass. Beekeepers Abuzz at the Sting of Proposed State Plan

MDAR’s proposed “Pollinator Protection Plan” has enraged beekeepers, who say the state has ignored their plan to address the problems and underestimated the threat pesticides present to bees.

Was a USDA Scientist Muzzled Because of His Bee Research?

In October, Jonathan Lundgren filed a whistleblower suit alleging that he was disciplined to suppress his science. The government says the suspensions had nothing to do with his research. Today, he is the most outspoken of several scientists who say they feel muzzled by the government.

57 Different Pesticides Found in Poisoned Honeybees

A new method to detect a wide range of pesticides could help save bee populations. (maybe we could just think about why we need to apply 57 different pesticides during blooming season)

 

Urban Farming

Most Urban Farmers Aren't Making a Living

In a survey of 370 self-identified urban farms in the U.S., researchers found that about two-thirds had a social mission that went beyond food production and profit.  They also found that, regardless of their mission, roughly two-thirds of urban farmers say they’re failing to make a living, reporting sales below $10,000 per year.

 

Water/Food Safety

Should We Be Watering California’s Crops With Oil Field Wastewater?

After years of drought, farms are desperate for water. But a new report recommends taking a closer look at water that's being repurposed from oil fields. Whether it’s possible for plants to take up harmful chemicals from irrigation water has not yet been studied by scientists. Current monitoring efforts are insufficient to understand the risks to human and animal health.

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