It’s definitely fall where I live. Temperatures have gotten cooler, leaves are just barely starting to change color, and the election draws ever closer. It didn’t surprise me much that food and farm policy haven’t often been among the policy issues discussed by candidates, but I am committed to seeing that change. One of the stories this month dissects polling data showing that a substantial majority of people would like to hear candidates talk about farm and food policy. So let’s make them start talking! Check out these articles, and talk about them with the folks running for municipal, county, state, and federal office in your community! Candidates won’t start talking about these issues until we tell them that farm and food policy matters to us. Looking for a way to chat with candidates? Check out farm and food themed candidates’ forum in Mecklenburg, Alamance and Durham Counties in NC later this month. And please, don’t forget to vote on November 8!
Thanks for all you do,
Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director
The Big Stories in Sustainable Ag. This Month
Since I mentioned it in the letter, let’s start with the story about that polling data. A FoodMinds survey conducted in September finds that food opinion leaders increasingly believe that society and government play roles in ensuring that people make good food choices. And this means that they want political leaders to talk about the policies they would support when it comes to making sure food is healthy and safe. Keep talking, everyone. Eventually, the politicians will join your conversations.
One thorny issue when it comes to farm and food policy is the treatment of farm workers. Farm workers are exempt from some labor laws, including the right to overtime pay if they work over 40 hours/week. California recently passed a law that will eventually give farm workers the same right to overtime pay as other workers in the state. While this will raise the standard of living for workers, it could also make food more expensive. What a great topic to discuss with policy makers–what are your ideas? What are theirs?
Worried about GMOs in your milk? You’re not alone. Sales of non-GMO products are expected to grow 65% during the five year period from 2014 to 2019. This article takes a look at why a non-GMO label doesn’t mean anything beyond the genes of the seeds planted (non-GMO crops can be treated with conventional herbicides and pesticides), whereas the USDA Organic label means that a farmer is engaged in soil or water conservation practices, is taking steps to support biodiversity on her land, uses organic fertilizers, and is rotating crops to reduce the need for any insecticides.
By now, we’ve all heard that pollinators are having a really hard time. Insecticides, loss of habitat, herbicides, new diseases–there are so many pressures on this very important part of our food system. In this story, learn about how pesticide manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta seem to have hid studies showing that a widely used type of pesticide–neonicotinoids– causes serious harm to honeybees. In more news about pollinators and neonicotinoids, a study conducted at University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the pesticide hurt the honey bee queen’s egg laying ability. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that seven native bees in Hawai`i were recently placed on the endangered species list.
Glyphosate,or Round-Up, is an herbicide. So why is it turning up in honey? FDA has been quietly testing foods for Round-Up residue to assess how much of this chemical ends up in our food. So far, it’s been found not only in honey, but also in oatmeal and baby foods.
It is a common refrain, stated from farmers, policymakers, agribusiness professionals, and others that industrial scale agriculture combined with genetically modified seed, is the only way to feed the world. This report, from the Environmental Working Group, raises some tough questions for the “feed the world” movement, noting that 86% of US farm exports went to 20 developed or developing nations that can afford diversified diets. How much of the food we grow is headed to places experiencing high or very high undernourishment? 0.5%.
Michael Pollan digs into why the food system hasn’t changed as much during the Obama presidency as he would have liked and expected. Our food system is still broken. What happened and can we expect changes eventually?
The World Bank has flagged drug resistant infections as a potential source of a worldwide economic downturn on a scale comparable to the 2008 financial crisis. Their research suggests that 28 million people, mostly in developing countries, could be pushed into poverty by 2050. Research has connected the use of antibiotics on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to the uptick in antibiotic resistant bacteria infecting human populations. This kind of agriculture isn’t good for our environment, our health, and it’s looking like it won’t be good for our economy either.
Bayer and Monsanto are planning to merge. Dupont is looking to merge with Dow, and ChemChina is buying Syngenta. Consolidation in the seed and agri-chemical industries means less competitive pricing and fewer options for farmers. We suspect Congress and the Department of Justice will be taking a close look at all three mergers, and we will too.
A less publicized merger could have big consequences in eastern NC. Two Canadian firms, Potash Corp. and Agrium Inc., announced that they will merge, creating the world’s largest crop-nutrient company. Potash Corp. employs hundreds of people in Beaufort County, NC. No word yet on how the merger could impact the workers or the food and farming industries that rely on the phosphate mined in Aurora.