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The final countdown to the school year has begun, so it’s time to snap out of my grade-school reverie and devise a climate-friendly strategy for school lunch.  I’ve learned a few tips worth sharing with the uninitiated, or with those seeking fresh insight into the daily encounter with the lunchbox. Begin by keeping the five Cool Foods principles in mind when you go grocery shopping.

What are those five Cool Foods principles again, you ask?

  1. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods
  2. Buy local and in-season
  3. Choose organic
  4. Reduce meat and dairy consumption
  5. Plan head to prevent food waste

Let’s put them into practice! I usually start by grabbing a piece of fruit. We keep bowls of fruit on the kitchen counter, so within seconds I’m no longer staring at an empty lunchbox. It may amaze you to discover that most kids love fresh, ripe fruit. It’s delicious, nutritious, easy-to-eat, and low waste. In the coming fall and winter months, organic apples are a tried-and-true choice, and a good staple to have on hand. When winter rolls around, along come mandarin or navel oranges cut in wedges. But variety is not just the spice of life—it’s a critical must-have for the lunchbox chef. Seek other in-season fruits for a lunchbox that’s “cooler” for your kid and the earth!

With the easiest part of the lunch out of the way, I move to the all-important sandwich. I start by toasting the bread, and while the toaster is humming along I consider the filling. I try to keep a variety of nut butters on hand, as well as jams and honey to mix and match. There’s almond butter and raspberry jam. Peanut butter and whipped honey. Sunflower butter and grape jelly. The great news? Variations on the classic PB&J are almost limitless. (Stay informed on your school guidelines for nut allergies, which can be an issue.)

Now, students don’t live on PB&J alone, and this is where planning ahead can save time, money, and stress. Egg salad is delicious, economical, and I’d say, under-appreciated. I like adding grainy mustard for a little zip and spreading it on toasted rye bread. A sandwich of this caliber can cost $7.00 at the deli, but you can make it for a fraction of that at home. Also in the “you’ll-be-glad-you-planned-ahead” department are hummus and pesto. Both are simple to make, economical (using walnuts instead of pine nuts in the pesto), and long-lasting. Top humus with a few slices of red pepper, or cucumber and crisp lettuce for a colorful, tasty sandwich. My kids are certified pesto fiends, so this bright green paste is my secret weapon (i.e. a painless way to get kids to eat leafy greens). If you buy sandwich meats, like turkey or ham, be sure to look for the “nitrate-free” label, and be mindful of the amount that you use. Two or three slices should be more than enough, depending on the age of your child.

Don’t forget to get a little feedback from the one who knows best about lunchboxes. Ask your child how much they really eat, so that portions of your lovingly prepared lunches don’t wind up in the nearest schoolyard trash can. Avoiding food waste is a back-to-school priority in my family: good for the planet, and for household budgets!

Cheese and crackers is a nutritious option, too, but avoid the pre-packaged stuff. My son loves Jarlsburg cheese, so I’ll buy a wedge at Trader Joe’s and cut it up into manageable squares and throw in some crackers. Almost as easy as grabbing fruit from the bowl!

Finally, there should be a treat! I opt for something salty or sweet. Maybe a few squares of dark chocolate or dried cranberries, maybe a slice of banana bread. Occasionally, if they’re really lucky, there will be a few of those home-made oatmeal cookies I used to take for granted—I may even pack an extra to share with covetous classmates.

Diana Donlon is the director of the Center for Food Safety’s Cool Foods Campaign. (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) For additional ideas on how to fill the lunch-box be sure to check out Cool Foods on Pinterest!

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(I wrote previously about why this policy makes sense.', 'page' => array ( 'id' => '1135', 'SECTION_ID' => '186', 'PARENT_ID' => '0', 'BLOCK_ID' => '0', 'order' => '289', 'visible' => '1', 'feature' => '0', 'hide' => '0', 'name1' => 'Center for Food Safety Comments at New York City Soda Limits Hearing', 'url' => 'center-for-food-safety-comments-at-new-york-city-soda-limits-hearing', 'bitly' => 'http://bit.ly/14pPRR7', 'lead_img' => 'nutrition-image_18045.jpg', 'meta_title' => 'Center for Food Safety | Blog | | Center for Food Safety Comments at New York City Soda Limits Hearing', 'meta_desc' => 'Last week I had the pleasure of lending my support, on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, to New York City’s proposal to limit the size...', 'meta_img' => 'nutrition-image_18045.jpg', 'meta_json' => '', 'update_meta_title' => '1', 'update_meta_desc' => '0', 'update_meta_img' => '0', 'update_meta_json' => '0', 'start_time' => '0', 'end_time' => '0', ), 'section' => array ( 'id' => '186', 'PARENT_ID' => '486', 'PAGE_ID' => '0', 'name1' => 'Blog', 'url' => 'blog', 'hide' => '0', 'order' => '2', ), 'bid_3610' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Related Issue 2', 'block_type' => 'Relation', 'block_alias' => 'rel2', 'post_id' => '10938', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_3611' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Related Issue 3', 'block_type' => 'Relation', 'block_alias' => 'rel3', 'post_id' => '10938', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1089' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Category', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'cat', 'post_id' => '10936', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1099' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Author', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'author', 'post_id' => '10937', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_2295' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Keywords', 'block_type' => 'Tags', 'block_alias' => 'tags', 'post_id' => '12397', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1102' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Hash Tag', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'hash_tag', 'post_id' => '10944', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4808' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Tweets', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'tweets', 'post_id' => '10945', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4809' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Quotes', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'quotes', 'post_id' => '10945', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4810' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Join CFS', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'join', 'post_id' => '10945', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_5598' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Hide', 'block_type' => 'Hide - In \'page\' table', 'block_alias' => '', 'post_id' => '10945', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_5838' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Scheduler', 'block_type' => 'Schedule', 'block_alias' => 'scheduler', 'post_id' => '10945', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'alias' => array ( 'title' => 'Center for Food Safety Comments at New York City Soda Limits Hearing', 'desc_short' => 'By Michele Simon, JD, MPH, Food Policy Consultant with the Center for Food Safety', 'desc' => '

Last week I had the pleasure of lending my support, on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, to New York City’s proposal to limit the size of sugary beverages sold at food service outlets. (I wrote previously about why this policy makes sense.) The hearing room at New York’s health department was packed with media outlets and hundreds of folks eager to witness the showdown with Big Soda.

Interestingly, no one from an actual soda company spoke up. But we did hear from several trade associations, along with members of the city council, several of whom objected to the idea over potential negative impacts on small business. As I explained in my own remarks, this talking point is a classic misdirect put up by major corporations. Here are a few excerpts from my comments:

This isn’t about choice or any other distracting rhetoric

The soda industry, because it does not have science (or even common sense) on its side, is resorting to methods of distraction such as claiming that this proposal is an affront to consumer choice. Of course, this proposal doesn’t take anybody’s choice away. New Yorkers who wish to consume more than 16 ounces are free to purchase more.

But let’s take a closer look at the concept of choice. It is the soda industry that has taken away the choice of reasonable portion sizes. Nobody demanded larger beverages. Cups got larger and larger over the years because the soda industry (in coordination with food service outlets) realized it has a gold mine on its hand. When the beverage industry and its cohorts use the word “choice,” it’s really code for threatened profit margins — which are estimated to be as high as 90 percent. 90 percent.

The soda industry is acting like Big Tobacco

One tried and true tactic of the tobacco industry is inventing “grassroots” smokers’ organizations, a strategy known as Astro-turfing (as in fake grass). It’s a great way for companies that don’t want their fingerprints on a controversial campaign to hide behind a front group. Such groups tend to garner public sympathy and support while attracting media attention. “New Yorkers for Beverage Choices” is a classic Astro-turfing campaign led by the American Beverage Association, the soft drink industry’s lobbying group, which has retained powerful political and PR consultants. Who made this list of alleged New Yorkers so concerned with their choices? For starters, other lobbying groups outside of New York, such as:

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • The International Franchise Association
  • The National Association of Concessionaires
  • The National Association of Theater Owners
  • The National Restaurant Association

Also, restaurant chains like Chick-Fil-A, Denny’s, and Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, among others. Not quite the sort of grassroots activism members you hope for in a campaign about personal choice.

Additional Big Tobacco-style tactics from the soda lobby include:

  • Shooting the messenger and name-calling, by depicting Mayor Bloomberg as a “nanny” in full-page ads taken out by the industry front group, Center for Consumer Freedom, which not coincidentally, began with funding from Philip Morris and is run by notorious tobacco lobbyist Rick Berman;
  • Claiming to take the side of small businesses because they know the public and the press have more sympathy for the little guy than multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo;
  • Claiming to care about the economic plight of poor people, never mind the fact that the soda industry targets these same populations with advertising designed to get them hooked for life on their unhealthy products.

Ultimately, the tobacco industry lost all credibility with the American public (along with most policymakers) by engaging in such deceitful tactics.

In conclusion, the soda industry is running scared because they know the jig is up; that the public health crisis their products have helped create means that industry cannot keep enjoying the same unfettered regulatory environment. This common sense proposal will catch on as other cities take New York’s lead. This is an idea whose time has come.

You can read the submitted comments here.  A decision by New York’s board of health is expected in September.

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There is no disputing the claim that organic has become “a wildly lucrative business for Big Food,” as discussed at length in the recent New York Times article: “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?” But what reporter Stephanie Strom has noticeably omitted in her oversized argument is the fact that “organic” is so much more than just the organic processed food industry she chastises.  Admittedly, big business wields big influence, and Strom’s article is a sorely needed wake-up call for those who enjoy the benefits of organic to become informed and get active in organic policy debates or risk the weakening of organic standards.

Organic has historically provided seeds of inspiration for farm-related entrepreneurs looking to create their own meaningful job opportunities.  Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs of all sizes have sprouted up across the nation along with farm-to-school purchasing schemes, and K-12 experiential curriculum that includes growing and cooking organic food.  Independently-owned organic food trucks that sell raw and diverse ethnic foods and mobile organic gardens peddling organic produce throughout neighborhoods have also emerged in response to community needs for fresh food and self-employment.  A whole host of organic raw nut butter, fermented foods, and even beer and spirit makers have developed small batch systems for their artisanal organic food and drinks, marketed in their self-defined regional foodsheds.  All of this is to say that the evolution of the organic food sector is not linear.  It’s complex, constantly innovating, and changing — organically.

Even though some aspects of organic are indisputably “supersized,” the issues Strom details with respect to Big Organic do not necessarily extend to the entire organic industry.  What she is talking about is the consolidation of the organic processed foods industry which markets its products nation-wide, and oftentimes overseas.  These nationally-recognized, big label brands represent just one aspect of the organic foods industry that clearly deserves closer public scrutiny, particularly when considering allowable ingredients in organic food. Processed foods manufactured by Big Organic companies fall along a spectrum of “organic-ness” that varies depending upon the corporate philosophy and values a given company embeds in the products it sells.  So, while some organic products contain only whole, naturally-derived, organically grown ingredients and no additives, others incorporate a few non-organic and synthetic ingredients as well.  Not all Big Organic food companies support the dilution of organic integrity in their product either, as Strom suggests they do.  But, as more and more conventional food industry players buy up smaller organic brands, they are increasingly exerting their influence – some of which is targeted at weakening organic standards to elevate profit margins.  Yet, even so, these companies represent only one sector of organic — and certainly not its heart or soul.

The organic movement remains firmly rooted in the soils of small and family farms that strive to continuously improve their organic operations and provide wholesome, fresh food to their communities.  It encompasses all of us who want to support systems of production that grow healthy food in healthy soils without the use of synthetic toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, or genetically engineered ingredients (See: Tom Philpott’s Mother Jones article,  which also criticizes Strom and extols the benefits of organic).

That’s why it’s critical to engage in ongoing policy debates about what’s permitted in organic and to familiarize yourself with opportunities to participate in government decisions that affect the evolving meaning of the organic label and USDA organic seal. To understand how organic is regulated, read the Organic Foods Production Act—the law that provides the foundation for the development of organic standards and the third-party certification system.  Visit the National Organic Program’s website to learn how the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) solicits written public comments and oral testimony at its bi-annual meetings (twice a year) to help improve organic standards.  And, be sure to stay informed and active in Center for Food Safety’s True Food Network.  That way, when a company submits a petition to allow a synthetic additive in a processed organic food, it will be forced to answer tough questions about how the substance is manufactured and to justify why the substance is needed in the first place.  And, organic consumers will be listening to those answers and making their own decisions about which companies uphold organic integrity with their food dollars.

', 'date' => '2012-07-16', 'rel1' => array ( 'custom_title' => '', 'page_id' => '306', 'name1' => 'Organic & Beyond', 'section_name1' => 'Issues', 'page_link' => '/issues/306/organic-and-beyond', 'lead_img' => 'istock_000016218181large_07294.jpg', 'rich_snippet' => ' More and more people are beginning to understand that what we put on our food, land and water ends up in our bodies.', ), 'images' => array ( 0 => array ( 0 => 'hero-lettuce_21205.jpg', 1 => '', 2 => '', 3 => '', 4 => '', 5 => '', 6 => 'New York Times\' Oversized Argument: Organic Can\'t Be Stuffed Inside a Big Food Box', 7 => 940, 8 => 350, ), ), 'video' => array ( 0 => '', 1 => '', 2 => '', ), 'link' => array ( 0 => '', 1 => 'http://truefoodnow.org/2012/07/16/new-york-times-oversized-argument-organic-cant-be-stuffed-inside-a-big-food-box/', ), 'hash_tags' => '', ), ), ), 3 => array ( 'id' => '1191', 'SECTION_ID' => '186', 'PARENT_ID' => '0', 'BLOCK_ID' => '0', 'order' => '296', 'visible' => '1', 'feature' => '0', 'hide' => '0', 'name1' => 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...', 'url' => 'life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-cool', 'bitly' => 'http://bit.ly/10kr2jV', 'lead_img' => 'seasonal-feast-hero.jpg', 'meta_title' => 'Center for Food Safety | Blog | | Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...', 'meta_desc' => 'It’s hot out! With heat records falling across the U.S. every day, we’re a nation in pursuit of cool . So when it comes to...', 'meta_img' => 'seasonal-feast-hero.jpg', 'meta_json' => '', 'update_meta_title' => '1', 'update_meta_desc' => '0', 'update_meta_img' => '0', 'update_meta_json' => '0', 'start_time' => '0', 'end_time' => '0', 'content' => array ( 'page_link' => '/blog/1191/life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-cool', 'bitly' => 'http://bit.ly/10kr2jV', 'root_url' => 'media', 'root' => 'Media', 'lead_img' => 'seasonal-feast-hero.jpg', 'rich_snippet' => ' It’s hot out! With heat records falling across the U.S. every day, we’re a nation in pursuit of cool . So when it comes to meal time this summer, forgoing the stove and dining on a hearty salad with extra pitchers of lemonade might the norm.', 'page' => array ( 'id' => '1191', 'SECTION_ID' => '186', 'PARENT_ID' => '0', 'BLOCK_ID' => '0', 'order' => '291', 'visible' => '1', 'feature' => '0', 'hide' => '0', 'name1' => 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...', 'url' => 'life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-cool', 'bitly' => 'http://bit.ly/10kr2jV', 'lead_img' => 'seasonal-feast-hero.jpg', 'meta_title' => 'Center for Food Safety | Blog | | Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...', 'meta_desc' => 'It’s hot out! With heat records falling across the U.S. every day, we’re a nation in pursuit of cool . So when it comes to...', 'meta_img' => 'seasonal-feast-hero.jpg', 'meta_json' => '', 'update_meta_title' => '1', 'update_meta_desc' => '0', 'update_meta_img' => '0', 'update_meta_json' => '0', 'start_time' => '0', 'end_time' => '0', ), 'section' => array ( 'id' => '186', 'PARENT_ID' => '486', 'PAGE_ID' => '0', 'name1' => 'Blog', 'url' => 'blog', 'hide' => '0', 'order' => '2', ), 'bid_3610' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Related Issue 2', 'block_type' => 'Relation', 'block_alias' => 'rel2', 'post_id' => '11669', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_3611' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Related Issue 3', 'block_type' => 'Relation', 'block_alias' => 'rel3', 'post_id' => '11669', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1089' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Category', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'cat', 'post_id' => '11670', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1099' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Author', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'author', 'post_id' => '11671', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_1102' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Hash Tag', 'block_type' => 'Grouping', 'block_alias' => 'hash_tag', 'post_id' => '11676', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4808' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Tweets', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'tweets', 'post_id' => '11677', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4809' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Quotes', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'quotes', 'post_id' => '11677', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_4810' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Join CFS', 'block_type' => 'Checkbox', 'block_alias' => 'join', 'post_id' => '11677', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_5598' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Hide', 'block_type' => 'Hide - In \'page\' table', 'block_alias' => '', 'post_id' => '11677', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'bid_5838' => array ( 'block_name' => 'Scheduler', 'block_type' => 'Schedule', 'block_alias' => 'scheduler', 'post_id' => '11677', 'content' => array ( ), ), 'alias' => array ( 'title' => 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...', 'desc_short' => 'By Diana Donlon, Cool Foods Campaign Director', 'desc' => '

It’s hot out! With heat records falling across the U.S. every day, we’re a nation in pursuit of cool. So when it comes to meal time this summer, forgoing the stove and dining on a hearty salad with extra pitchers of lemonade might the norm.

But there is far more to this subject of ‘cool foods’ than meets the eye. Has it ever crossed your mind that some foods may actually be contributing to these outbursts of extreme weather? Strange as that might sound, it’s true. The way food is grown, processed, packaged and distributed makes some food “climate-friendly” and other food “climate-unfriendly.” But how can you tell?

Center for Food Safety’s Cool Foods campaign is here to help, guiding you through the daily challenges of family meals and making them climate-friendly along the way. And, by making cool choices for your family three-times-a-day every day, you’ll contribute to the important work of stabilizing the climate!

To get you ready for the ‘how comes’ and ‘whys’ at your kitchen table, let’s go over some basic facts:

Agriculture produces the food we eat every day, and every form of agriculture emits some greenhouse gases, or GHGs. These include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide. We all know about the harmful health effects of CO2, but did you realize that methane is 23 times more potent than CO2, and that nitrous oxide is 298 times more powerful? Not good! As residents of this increasingly hot little planet, our common goal must be to produce as few GHGs as possible!

How can you and your family help? Start by following these 5 Cool Foodsprinciples:

  1. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods
  2. Buy local and in-season
  3. Choose organic
  4. Reduce conventional meat and dairy consumption; opt for grass-fed alternatives.
  5. Plan ahead to prevent food waste

Start by choosing fresh foods. You know, those fruits and vegetables that you love—and your kids will learn to love. Carrots, lettuce and corn are a good place to start. Fresh foods are better for you and for the climate. Processed foods require a lot of fossil fuel energy. So does the associated packaging, including tin cans, plastic wrappers and bottles.

Look for local foods. Most every region has its local specialty, and farmers’ markets are a great way to find out what these are. Shopping at local farmer’s markets and independent grocery stores can help your local economy and help build community. As the saying goes, “Know your farmer, know your food.” Ask if they use chemicals like nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These are made from fossil fuels and can pollute waterways, kill pollinators (like honey bees!) and leave residues on the food you eat.

Also, buy foods that are in-season. Our grandparents knew all about this. That’s just the way things were. You ate what you ate because that’s what there was to eat! But today nearly every kind of produce is available year-round, and most of us have no idea where it came from. Vendors at your local farmers’ market or grocery store can help you stay in-season and make cool choices.

Okay, you’re so down with fresh, local and in-season now it’s time to go organic! The health and climate benefits of organic foods are a definite win-win. They’re produced without energy-intensive, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics, and are not genetically engineered or irradiated. It’s amazing how many foods we eat every day are! Going organic also can result in 60% less energy use and produce 24% fewer GHGs. Yes, cost is important. And you could see your weekly grocery bill inch up a little. But doing what you can is a great first step. Think of it as investment in your family’s health and the planet’s health, too.

What about meat and dairy? Conventional animal products—beef, poultry, pork, dairy and farmed seafood—are the #1 cause of climate change in our food system. How can you take a bite out of this scary statistic? Begin by trimming your family’s weekly consumption of conventional meat, dairy and farmed seafood. You won’t be alone. Millions are opting for Meatless Mondays. And when you do crave a burger and fries, go for organic or grass-fed meat. Grass-fed animals consume less energy and provide an abundance of beneficial omega-3s. Wild salmon is also high in omega-3 brain food, so look for ‘wild’ (not farmed) local seafood.

And last – try planning ahead to avoid food waste. Up to an amazing 50% of food is wasted. Can you believe that? And most of this food ends up in land-fills where it off-gases methane (with GHGs that are 23 times more powerful than CO2). The moral to this story is simple: It’s not cool to waste food.

So – How cool are you?

Diana Donlon is the director of the Center for Food Safety’s Cool Foods Campaign. She has two hungry teenage boys at home who are learning to cook good food. www.centerforfoodsafety.org

Photo Credit: Nathan Lane

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After years of debating, petitioning, rulemaking, and outright stalling, this week the federal government is finally implementing new requirements for testing E. coli in ground beef.

Why is this cause for celebration?

Because while the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has for years required testing of the deadly 0157:H7 strain of E. coli, numerous other strains have also become a significant safety threat.

So now, any ground beef that tests positive for six additional strains will be considered adulterated under the law, which means the product cannot be placed into commerce. That’s what makes this such a big deal.

It also explains why the meat industry fought the policy for so long. As I detailed last year in an article for Food Safety News, this issue has been a decade-long battle, during which numerous outbreaks might have been prevented.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximately 160,000 people in the United States are sickened each year by non-O157 E. coli. “These strains of E. coliare an emerging threat to human health and the steps we are taking today are entirely focused on preventing Americans from suffering foodborne illnesses,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply.”

But we did ignore the evidence for far too long. While the first non-0157 E. coli outbreaks occurred in the 1990s, USDA didn’t seriously consider the matter until 2008. The following year, the food safety law firm Marler Clark filed a 470-page petition demanding expanded testing, and along with other groups, kept the pressure on USDA ever since.

Unsurprisingly, the meat lobby put up roadblocks at every turn. In 2010, the American Meat Institute opined: “We do not believe declaring non-O157 [strains] to be adulterants will enhance the food safety system.”

But, in fact, declaring the O157 stain an adulterant back in 1994—in the wake of the deadly Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak—did just that, as evidenced by declining 0157 infections, while non-0157 cases have increased. When USDA requires testing, the meat industry takes extra steps to avoid having its products declared unfit for consumption—the policy incentivizes better practices.

USDA’s testing requirements also work because by removing contaminated product from the stream of commerce, we prevent (or minimize) outbreaks. Indeed, defining bacteria such as E. coli as legal adulterants is one of the best examples of how government regulation enhances public safety.

Too often we take government interventions for granted because we can’t always see when policy works to reduce or minimize problems.

However, testing is not true prevention, and we still have a long way to go toward cleaning up the industrialized meat system. It also doesn’t make ground beef completely safe or, for that matter, healthy. But it’s a start. This time, in an atmosphere of government deregulation, the Obama Administration stood up to the meat industry and did the right thing.

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Few things get a media frenzy going like the combination of two words: radiation and food. Despite the ubiquitous availability of truly unhealthy foods 24/7, just raise the specter of radioactivity on our plates, and people suddenly get very serious about what they are eating. And the media fans the flames.

So when scientists reported traces of radioactive chemicals from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown found in Bluefin tuna caught off the California coast, news outlets raced to post scary headlines like “Radioactive Tuna Swim from Japan to California” and “Radioactive tuna travels from Japan to US faster than wind.”

But how scary is it? Not as scary as it sounds.

The researchers themselves told NPR that while they were surprised (“We did not expect to see this radioactivity retained by the fish during their trans-Pacific voyage”) they were not concerned about potential health risks. That’s because the amounts detected were so small, and tuna naturally contains some radiation. As NPR’s Richard Harris explains:

If you are still worried about the cesium from Fukushima, Robert Emery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston says you’d need to eat 2.5 to 4 tons of tuna in a year to get a dose of cesium-137 that exceeds health limits. That’s a lot of sushi.

Also, Americans hardly eat Bluefin tuna. Most of what’s caught in the Pacific is sold to high-end seafood markets in Japan.

The lasting effects of Fukushima should never be dismissed or underestimated. Learning that Bluefin tuna caught off California contain traces of radioactivity is disturbing regardless of health risks to fish eaters. It’s yet another example of how the human race continues to find new ways to damage the planet and its inhabitants.

The fact is when it comes to tuna, we have more serious problems to worry about, like mercury and overfishing. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against excessive tuna (and other fish) consumption due to mercury contamination. Here’s how Newsweek’s Daniel Stone explains the bigger picture:

David McGuire tests Pacific seafood for mercury with GotMercury.org, a part of the Turtle Bay Restoration Network. His team has found yellowfin tuna, a species more common to American plates, to sometimes have more than 1 part per million of mercury, the federal limit set by the FDA. Bluefin species have registered up to six times higher than federal standards. It’s harder to identify the source, but burning coal, which produces organic methyl mercury, is the major global factor that has increased over the past century. “That’s what we should be focused on,” he says. “We need to change our own habits if we’re concerned about our health and the health of the oceans.”

Moreover, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, has a handy guide that rates Bluefin as “avoid” due to overfishing. The recommendation is for both wild-caught and farmed Bluefin, the latter because they deplete stocks of small fish. Ironically, the current radioactive tuna scare could actually help restore Bluefin stocks if the tuna market tanks.

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With Memorial Day just a few days away, many across the country will soon stop and remember the meaning of military service and the ultimate sacrifice so many gave — and are still giving. Remembering is what the day is all about. And yet sometimes we can do more than reflect. We can honor vets by listening when they speak, and acting at their urging. Right now, they’re talking – and they’re asking for our help on an issue important to every one of us.

Center for Food Safety strongly supports yesterday’s Vietnam Veterans of America appeal to President Obama on the hazards of 2,4-D resistant corn, developed by Dow Chemical Company, to dramatically increase use of the company’s toxic 2,4-D herbicide. Make no mistake, this is an effort rooted in profit and market dominance, not science. The Vietnam vets of this nation know all too well the price to be paid when the truth is hidden from sight.

As the VVA points out, Dow was a major manufacturer of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, phenoxy herbicides, which together comprised the infamous Agent Orange defoliant dumped in massive quantities on Vietnam to destroy rice fields and rainforests. Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese people have suffered tremendously from exposure to this toxic biocide.  With increasing scientific study, the US government recognizes ever more diseases suffered by vets as being related to Agent Orange exposure.  Today, that list includes diabetes, neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, liver dysfunction, chloracne, numerous cancers (e.g. leukemia, lung, prostate, and multiple myeloma), as well as birth defects (e.g. spina bifida) in the children of exposed soldiers.

The toxicity of Agent Orange is generally attributed to its dioxin contaminants. Though 2,4-5-T (banned since 1978) is the worse of the two chemicals, 2,4-D exposure has independently been associated with the deadly immune system cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis, lower sperm counts, and birth defects in the children of exposed applicators. 2,4-D is the seventh leading source of dioxin in the U.S., and this excludes dioxin emissions from factories that produce it. While dioxin levels in current 2,4-D are lower than in Agent Orange, a recent Australian study shows that today’s 2,4-D contains as much dioxin as it did twenty years ago, directly contradicting industry assurances to EPA that production improvements have reduced dioxin levels.

Such dishonesty will come as no surprise to Vietnam vets, who know better than anyone how little Dow can be trusted. Dow assured the U.S. military in 1963 that Agent Orange was safe, suppressing its knowledge that dioxins in Agent Orange compounds and their precursors had sickened production workers in Germany and the U.S.  In the same year, Dow changed its production process to boost output, despite knowing that this would sharply increase dioxin contamination. And it’s now a matter of public record that Dow, in the mid-1960s, sponsored secret dioxin testing on inmates of a Pennsylvania prison, even as the much larger-scale experiment with its Agent Orange was being conducted on US soldiers and Vietnamese.

Approving crops engineered solely for the purpose of tolerating more of this toxic weed-killer should concern us all. Experts project that a widespread planting of 2,4-D corn will dramatically increase overall use of 2,4-D in agriculture.  Use of 2,4-D will sky-rocket from 27 million pounds at present to over 100 million pounds per year. And corn is just the tip of this health-imperiling iceberg. 2,4-D-resistant soybeans and cotton will increase usage still more. And where do you think that will end? A chemical quagmire, that’s where.

Our hope at Center for Food Safety is that President Obama will listen carefully to the Vietnam Veterans of America. If he does, he’ll find that U.S. vets are actually not asking him to do anything at all. They are asking him not to approve this risky crop. Not yet. Not until we know more. Not until science and the public have their chance to speak. After all, a smarter, more measured approach to virtually every issue is always the best answer. Had we walked that path in Administrations past, there would have been no organization called Vietnam Veterans of America in the first place.

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Institute of Medicine Gives Big Food Another Deadline – or else!

This week, the nation’s top public health experts are gathered at a much-trumpeted obesity conference hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Weight of the Nation. (A quick glance at the agenda reveals nothing that would even begin to challenge the food industry.)

Released at this bland event was an equally uninspired report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM, an advisory arm of Congress) called, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. The irony of the report’s title gets lost among the 478 pages that aim to solve “this complex, stubborn problem” with “a comprehensive set of solutions.”

One of the recommendations intended to speed things up is for the food industry to “take broad, common, and urgent voluntary action to make substantial improvements” to marketing aimed at kids. This is certainly important, as advocates have for years been sounding the alarm about the intractable problem of junk food marketing to children and its connection to poor health. But another part of the IOM dictate sounded vaguely familiar:

If such marketing standards have not been adopted within two years by a substantial majority of food, beverage, restaurant, and media companies that market foods and beverages to children and adolescents, policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels should consider setting mandatory nutritional standards for marketing to this age group to ensure that such standards are implemented.

Two years? Where have I heard that deadline before? Oh yes, it was another IOM report, this one focused entirely on food marketing to children, from 2005, which reviewed the science showing a clear connection between junk food marketing and children’s dietary habits. That report said if voluntary efforts by industry to clean up its act were unsuccessful, “Congress should enact legislation mandating” a shift in advertising. Also, that “[w]ithin 2 years the Secretary [of health] should report to Congress on the progress and on additional actions necessary to accelerate progress.”

So it’s been 5 years since that earlier deadline has passed and now the food industry has 2 more years to show how much it really cares about kids? Did anyone at IOM bother to check its earlier reports before writing this one?

But it’s hardly IOM’s fault. If anyone is to blame for lack of action on this issue, it’s Congress and the White House, as two recent reports make painfully clear.

An in-depth investigation by Reuters describes the dirty details of the onslaught of Big Food lobbying in the wake of an effort by the federal government to improve voluntary guidelines on food marketing to kids.

Reuters found that food and beverage lobbyists spent more than $175 million lobbying since President Obama took office in 2009, more than double that spent in the previous three years, during the Bush Administration. “In contrast, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year -- roughly what those opposing the stricter guidelines spent every 13 hours.”

Reuters also examined lobbying visits to the White House, finding that a “who\'s who of food company chief executives and lobbyists visited the White House” including:

CEOs of Nestle USA, Kellogg, General Mills, and top executives at Walt Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom, owner of the Nickelodeon children\'s channel -- companies with some of the biggest financial stakes in marketing to children. Those companies have a combined market value of more than $350 billion.

Another damning report emerged this month from the Sunlight Foundation found similar influence from Big Food. The strategy was for industry lobbyists to give money to members of Congress in exchange for their sending letters objecting to federal agency efforts. Here is how Sunlight describes one such transaction:

Days after receiving several campaign checks from the food lobby last May, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who is up for re-election this year, sent a letter raising concerns about the Federal Trade Commission\'s efforts to develop voluntary guidelines aimed at toning down the marketing of junk food to kids.

Seems Klobuchar wasn’t the only Democrat on the dole. Sunlight found that while most letter-writers were Republicans, lobbyist campaign donations held particular sway with Senate Democrats. Those who wrote letters of objection “collected on average, more than twice as much campaign money from food lobbying interests since 2008 as those who did not write letters.” A similar pattern also held in the House, where 38 Democrats wrote letters of protest.

As Jeff McIntyre, policy director for the advocacy group Children Now told Reuters: "We just got beat. Money wins." That’s why it’s irrelevant how many more recommendations or deadlines come from the Institute of Medicine or any other panel of experts on how to “accelerate” progress. The only thing getting accelerated is lobbying dollars into politicians’ pockets. And kids’ poor health.

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In a long-awaited decision, last week the Food and Drug Administration disappointed health advocates once again by allowing Bisphenol A or BPA, a known endocrine disruptor, to remain approved as a chemical additive in food containers such as plastic bottles and metal cans.While the agency says it’s still studying the matter, a number of groups say the science is clear enough. Indeed, in the four years since the filing of a legal petition asking for a ban (a court order was needed to force FDA to respond), evidence of potential harm from BPA exposure has only increased. Of particular concern are young children, as the chemical often lines infant formula containers and baby bottles. Ironically, some of the more alarming research is funded by the federal government. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is spending $30 million to study BPA, with much of it published already and more to come. Not surprisingly, the chemical industry claims the additive is perfectly safe.

But with the scientific studies piling up to show how BPA increases the risk of everything from cancer to heart disease to fertility problems, and more recently, even obesity, this latest industry-friendly move by FDA is especially troubling. Meanwhile, without a hint of irony, FDA also maintains several web pages with helpful information for parents and others wishing to avoid BPA, such as: “What You Can Do to Minimize Your Infant’s Exposure to BPA.”

So if FDA admits the chemical is scary enough to avoid and previous independent scientific advisory panels have derided the agency for ignoring the mounting evidence, why did the agency back down yet again?

A revealing article in the New York Times on Tuesday entitled “White House and FDA Often at Odds” could explain what’s behind this disconnect:

The internal clashes over FDA policy played out against a broader backdrop of regulatory politics. Republicans have made the charge that Mr. Obama is an overzealous and job-killing regulator — a central element of their case against his re-election. And on issues from clean air to investor protections, the White House has been carefully calibrating its election season positions.

Lack of support from the White House to allow FDA do its job would certainly explain other politically safe decisions during the Obama Administration. These include refusing to act on the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and continuing to ignore demands to label foods containing genetically-engineered ingredients.

But if the recent uproar over “pink slime” is any indication, Americans are waking up to the stark reality that our food supply is controlled by corporate entities with powerful influence over our political system. This increasing awareness, combined with strong consumer backlash means more companies are feeling the heat and starting to respond. For example, Campbell’s Soup recently announced plans to phase out BPA from its cans, following other food makers.

FDA seems to be in favor of this voluntary approach: “The Food and Drug Administration is supporting current efforts by industry to stop the manufacture of infant bottles and feeding cups made with BPA from the U.S. market.”

How nice. But we can’t only rely on the kindness of companies. The White House should get out of FDA’s way and let public health guide the agency, not politics.

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“I’m going to see ‘The Hunger Games’ on Thursday night with Eli. It opens at midnight,” announced my fifteen year old son, Owen.  “On a school night?” I respond incredulously, “how about waiting until Friday night?” “Mom, this is a really important movie. I’ve been waiting for it to come out for two years.”

For those of you not yet in the know, “The Hunger Games” is based on Suzanne Collin’s eponymous best-selling book aimed at the young adult market. Owen devoured the book (which has now sold over 10 million copies) in his seventh grade English class. Not drawn to dystopian fiction myself, I listened in quiet horror as he explained the plot:

It takes place in the future when there is almost no food because of global warming and most people are starving. Teenagers representing different states in Panem are randomly chosen to compete in games, kind of like the Olympics, only they have to fight each other to the death. A girl named Katniss volunteers to compete in the place of her little sister Primrose. If she survives and wins the Games her people will be rewarded with enough food for a year.

Now, over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading what my children are reading in school. When it comes time to write the inevitable essay, I can then offer up l prompts like, “Why do you think Red Scarf Girl hates her bourgeois grandfather?” or “Why does Arnold Spirit Jr. refer to himself as a ‘part-time Indian?’” Although “The Hunger Games” clearly struck a chord with Owen, to me it sounded like “The Lottery” meets “Schindler’s List,” and to avoid the parental pain inherent in the “sacrifice the children” motif, I decided to pass.

Whereas I may avoid the fictionalized account of a society surviving in a world ravaged by climate change, in real life I am not so timid. As a parent, I believe it our responsibility to work proactively to ensure that our children will indeed have a future that is as free from the ravages of climate change as possible. Fortunately, I am not alone. In recent years, interest in joining the good food movement has exploded, and a broad spectrum of people now understand that food which is healthy for people and the planet is a strong lever we can use to catalyze positive social change.

Right now, we can harness the power of the good food movement in order to energize the currently-flagging climate movement. We must educate ourselves about the connection between daily food choices and their climate ramifications.  In a nutshell, there are certain agricultural practices—and by extension certain food choices—that contribute vast amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. From production of pesticides and fertilizers to long-distance transportation, excessive packaging to rotting food waste, greenhouse gasses are produced along the entire “life cycle” of industrial food. In total, approximately 30 percent of global emissions leading to climate change are attributed to agricultural activities, according to a 2009 report initiated by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the United States, with our large swaths of industrial agriculture and livestock production, these emissions include high levels of nitrous oxide and methane, two of the most potent greenhouse gases. Thankfully there is a climate-friendly alternative. If adopted, sustainable agriculture methods (including organic, agro-ecological, local, and biodynamic farming) can provide powerful solutions to the climate crisis. Sustainable agriculture works in sync with natural processes to reduce both the energy-intensive inputs and the climate-expensive outputs.

Both adults and young people have a narrow window in which to jolt ourselves out of on-going complacency and tackle the climate crisis with purpose.   Bolstered by midnight throngs of teenagers on opening night, the success of “The Hunger Games” is inevitable, but a real-life, climate-induced future of resource scarcity doesn’t have to be. By making careful and informed choices about our food now, we can ensure enough food, as well as a livable planet, for generations to come.

Diana Donlon is the Director of the Cool Foods Campaign at the Center for Food Safety in San Francisco. Her teenage son built her a compost box for her birthday this year.

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This past week, the media woke up to the shocking reality that our meat supply is in fact industrialized. Long gone are the days of your friendly local butcher grinding meat for your kids’ hamburgers. Taking its place is a corporate behemoth you probably never heard of called Beef Products Inc. BPI now finds itself on the receiving end of consumer outrage over its ammonia-treated ground beef filler a former USDA official coined “pink slime.” Thus far, a petition aimed at getting current USDA officials to stop using the scary stuff in school lunches has garnered more than 200,000 signatures in about a week. What’s this all about? How did this disgusting stuff wind up in 70 percent of ground beef sold in supermarkets? And why if McDonald’s and other fast food chains have stopped using the filler, is the federal government still purchasing it – to the tune of 7 million pounds to be fed to schoolchildren?

The beef industry is always looking for ways to cut corners, and so Beef Products Inc. devised a clever high-tech method to make money from what you and I would consider garbage, but what industry euphemistically calls “trimmings.” But they had a couple of problems: it’s very fatty and prone to bacterial contamination. Here is how ABC News described the process in its recent story:

The “pink slime” is made by gathering waste trimmings, simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.

Sound like something you’d like to put on your grill?

The main way BPI and the meat industry has defended using ammonia (see this silly website just up - http://pinkslimeisamyth.com) is by claiming the safety benefits in reducing bacteria. This claim was soundly disputed back in 2009 in a Pulitzer-prize winning expose by the New York Times, which found, for example, that ground beef containing BPI’s product was four times more likely to contain salmonella than regular ground meat.

Also, Kit Foshee (who worked as BPI’s Corporate Quality Assurance Manager for ten years before he was fired for not doing BPI\'s bidding) – disputes the company’s safety claims in great detail. At a conference I attended last year on food safety and whistleblowers, Foshee called BPI’s claims of reduced levels of the deadly strain of E. coli 0157:H7 “totally misleading.”

He also said BPI would manipulate test results in various ways, including not using the most effective testing methods available for detection. He said BPI’s claims that its testing was the best in the industry was “a farce” and that “all they wanted was a test to give a negative result” and move on.

Amanda Hitt, director of the Food Integrity Campaign also disputes BPI’s claims of food safety and says the goal was to offer up cheap filler for hamburgers: “This product was never about safety, it’s about economics.”

Another laughable meat industry response has been that the filler is “lean” – made up of 94% lean beef says BPI. So of course, this makes it good for you!

Just to recap: industry is taking scraps from animal carcasses, which are full of fat, and then through a laboratory process of heating and centrifugation, made “lean.” Could there be alternative methods of making lean beef, say based on how cows are fed in the first place? Yes, but those would be way more expensive, when heating and dousing with ammonia is so much easier.

In other words, pink slime is just one of many problems with industrialized meat. Let’s not lose sight of this bigger picture, as registered dietitian Andy Bellatti noted in his recent post “Beyond Pink Slime:”

[T]he majority of ground beef in the United States, even if free of said "slime", comes from animals (35 million beef cattle, to be exact) that are treated miserably, is processed by employees under horrible working conditions, and severely damages the environment. And, of course, there are also the rampant recalls and food safety concerns.

What to do about it? Demand labeling, buy organic, or just don’t eat ground beef.

Most importantly, we have to realize that cheap food comes at a cost. Let’s hope the current media focus on this symptom leads to increased scrutiny of the larger problems with industrialized meat beyond the obvious yuck factor here.

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You’ve probably never heard of the Microbiological Data Program (MDP) but if you eat fresh produce, you should, because it’s currently on President Obama’s budgetary chopping block. The MDP is a small ($5 million annually) pathogen monitoring program tucked away in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It tests fruits and vegetables for deadly bugs like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.

While the testing program may be inexpensive, it’s critical because no other federal mechanism currently exists to conduct regular testing of fresh produce. (The Food and Drug Administration—which technically has jurisdiction over produce safety—conducts only limited inspections.)

To date, the MDP has tested high-risk produce such as alfalfa sprouts, cilantro, green onions, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and other leafy greens. Every one of these vegetables has caused a food-borne illness outbreak or recall over the years, some of them lethal thanks in part to an industrialized food system that transports bugs nationwide. You might recall, a shocking 34 people (and counting) died from a listeria outbreak last year in cantaloupe in 26 states (yes, melon – also on USDA’s tested produce list). That tragedy alone should cause the Obama Administration to rethink this thoughtless budget cut.

It’s not like this is some wasteful government program. It’s a relatively cheap way to help save lives, so what’s going on? Here is how food safety attorney Bill Marler explains who just might be behind the idea:

The produce industry hates this program as it has found pathogens in domestic and imported samples and FDA has responded to the information and recalled products. The produce industry—via the fruit and vegetable advisory committee—recommended to USDA and Congress that the program be terminated.

The produce industry hates the program? Now we’re getting somewhere.

According to this AP story, lobbyists with the United Fresh Produce Association and other major trade associations “have repeatedly pushed the government in recent years to get rid of the comprehensive testing program, saying it has cost growers millions in produce recalls.” (Isn’t that the idea—to get tainted food off the market?) Instead, industry suggests more private sector testing.

More private sector testing? Like the third-party “audit” that missed the deadly listeria in the cantaloupe at Jensen’s Farms? According to a Congressional report on the matter released in January, FDA called it “an inherent conflict of interest" for a private auditor to provide safe handling advice in exchange for payment. Moreover, such auditors don’t have to adhere to scientific standards, are not regulated by the FDA, and cannot enforce FDA rules.

This is also the same United Fresh Produce Association that claims to care about food safety but does not want to pay the fees necessary to fully implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, the new law intended to improve inspection and oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the United Fresh Produce Association has spent more than a million dollars a year on lobbying in each of the past three years. Of course only some of that money was spent lobbying on food safety but the trade group must expect a good return on its investment.

For its part, USDA claims the program doesn’t belong there but is better suited to FDA, raising once again, the challenges caused by our currently fragmented oversight system and lack of a single, effective food safety agency.

The Food Safety Modernization Act may help fix some of these problems, but we still have to find the funding. Obama’s budget also seeks a 17 percent increase for FDA, but almost all of the new money would come from industry fees, which again, industry is dead set against. Moreover, it’s not at all clear that FDA will pick up the slack from USDA’s testing of fresh produce.

In sum, Obama is proposing to cut a nominal food safety program that’s working fine, while suggesting new funds come from fees that industry will fight. Of course, testing won’t solve all problems either. Not with an industrialized food system that consistently externalizes costs in favor of profits. Maybe if we examined how massive consolidation of produce growers, processors, and distributors contributes to these nasty outbreaks in the first place, and considered better prevention through smaller-scale production models, we wouldn’t have to haggle over this testing program. But meantime, can’t we find somewhere else to cut $5 million that doesn’t make our problems even worse?

 

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer who has been researching and writing about the food industry and food politics since 1996. She has taught Health Policy at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and lectures frequently on corporate tactics and policy solutions. She has written extensively on the politics of food, and her first book, Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, was published by Nation Books in 2006.

Michele recently joined the Center for Food Safety as a Policy Consultant, where she will help CFS expand into issues related to food safety and nutrition, while connecting the dots to the larger problems of our industrialized food system and the political influence of the food industry.  

She is also president of Eat Drink Politics, an industry watchdog consulting firm. Simon has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University and received her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

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Bunin, PhD. Organic Policy Director, Liana Hoodes and Michael Sligh, National Organic Coalition', 'desc' => '

Last week, USDA announced its decision to allow the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) GM alfalfa without any ongoing monitoring or regulation whatsoever.  Despite widespread consumer, farmer, and food industry opposition and contrary scientific evidence, the Agency proclaimed Roundup Ready alfalfa: “as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa."   

This is simply not true. 

Once planted in fields across America, genetically modified crops, pollen, and seeds cannot be recalled or removed from the natural environment. Unlike tainted products on a supermarket shelf, GMOs cannot be located by a barcode and forever removed from the stream of commerce. Nature happens, humans can’t control everything and no one can prevent GMO contamination from prodigious, wind-pollinated plants like GM alfalfa.

While many strong arguments exist to counter USDA’s GM alfalfa safety claims, the single, most important counter-claim is that planting GM alfalfa will result in millions of pounds of toxic herbicides being sprayed in communities where farmers currently use no herbicides at all.   Yes, 93% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. is grown without the use of any herbicides.   Why?  Because alfalfa hay grows in dense stands that crowd out weeds, and regular mowing effectively controls them and the need for herbicides.  This little-cited fact remains buried deep within the 2,400 pages of USDA’s GM alfalfa Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was released in December 2010.

Monsanto’s newly deregulated RR alfalfa is genetically modified to be used in combination with its trademark herbicide, Roundup®.   Unfortunately, the widespread adoption of the company’s GM seeds will lead to herbicide addiction by an entirely new segment of farmers who must spray Roundup® on their fields in order to grow GM alfalfa.   That’s what Monsanto wants.  USDA’s decision to deregulate GM alfalfa – the fourth largest U.S. field crop— opens up a tremendous market opportunity for Monsanto to boost its sales not only of GM seeds but also of Roundup®.   With the full deregulation of GM alfalfa, USDA estimates the release of an additional 23 million pounds of herbicides into the environment annually.  

What the introduction of this pesticide-promoting GM crop means for our nation is that communities across the country will now be exposed to millions of pounds of pesticides for the first time ever and without their consent.  Communities where GM alfalfa is grown will no longer be able to decide for themselves whether they want to resist pressure to plant GM alfalfa and to grow organic alfalfa instead.  That is because the likelihood of GM contamination eliminates the choice for farmers and communities to grow organic alfalfa and seeds.  What’s worse is that the option of expanding or creating new organic dairies will be much more difficult because the main source of forage for organically raised cows – organic alfalfa hay – will be contaminated by GMOs.

In case you’re thinking that claims about the rapid contamination from GMO alfalfa are overstated, here’s what a Center for Food Safety supporter observed while driving South on Highway 5 from, San Francisco to Tehachapi, CA, in June 2010:

I was amazed by the vast unmanaged, unirrigated, and abandoned fields that I saw with loads of alfalfa plants growing randomly, everywhere.  I was even more surprised to see alfalfa plants—IN FULL BLOOM—growing on the shoulder, in the median, along drip irrigation lines, and even under fruit trees in orchards near alfalfa fields.  Nature happens, humans can\'t control everything, and certainly not the spread of GMO alfalfa.

But, the rapid spread of GMO pollen is not the only problem farmers face.  Weed resistance is certain to follow, as has been the case with GM corn, cotton, soy and canola.  When superweeds develop and fail to wither and die when exposed to repeated Roundup® applications, GM alfalfa farmers have no other choice but to use increasingly more toxic and persistent chemicals on their farms, such as 2-4D and Dicamba.  And so the pesticide treadmill will continue and extend its hazardous impacts, posing increasingly greater health and environmental threats in communities where GM alfalfa is planted.

For these reasons and many others the National Organic Coalition (NOC) takes huge exception to USDA’s safety claims about GM alfalfa.   We oppose its decision to deregulate alfalfa and challenge its conclusion that GM, conventional and organic agriculture can “co-exist” without government oversight, restrictions or enforceable liability laws against GM seed patent holders.  In response to USDA’s call for “co-existence” NOC proposes the adoption of a more prudent GMO policy that focuses on “GMO Contamination Prevention.”   We believe that this is a preferable strategy for protecting organic and non-GMO conventional farming, which has served as the foundation of American agriculture and fed our nation for centuries.

NOC has been crystal clear with USDA:  there is no “coexistence” without first creating a fair and transparent Contamination Prevention Plan. [see NOC’s paper:  GMO Contamination Prevention and Market Fairness, What Will it Take?which involves all stakeholders. This Plan must address all of the following 7 actions:

  1. Establish a USDA Public Breeds Institute to ensure that the public has access to high quality non-GMO breeds and germplasm.
  2. Create a Contamination Compensation Fund [see NOC’s Draft proposal funded by GMO patent holders, to provide immediate assistance to persons contaminated by GMOs, from seed to table.
  3. Complete elimination of deregulated GM crop status, including prior deregulations, with on-going oversight and public evaluation of compliance and enforcement.
  4. Conduct comprehensive, independent, longitudinal studies on the health, environmental, and socio-economic impacts of GMOs, prior to GM crop approvals.  
  5. Prohibit the growing of promiscuous GM crops that are likely to cause GMO contamination. 
  6. Prevent food security risks associated with the concentration of our food system in the hands of a few companies.  
  7. Institute an immediate labeling protocol for all GM crops, products, and ingredients. 

USDA’s organic seal and certified organic label assures consumers that they are not exposed to GMOs in the organic foods they eat because GM crops are not allowed in organic production.  GMO contamination threatens organic markets and diminishes non-GE seed options for organic and conventional farmers.  By approving GM alfalfa, the Obama administration undermines this most vibrant, 23 billion dollar sector in US agriculture, placing an unfair burden on those who want to grow non-GM and organic food.

It is incumbent upon President Obama to immediately rescind approval of GM alfalfa and to instruct the Secretary of Agriculture to implement an immediate moratorium on new GM crop approvals, until outstanding concerns about the science, contamination, liability, and labeling are satisfactory resolved. 

Originally posted on the blog of Food Democracy Now!

Authors:
Lisa J. Bunin
, Organic Policy Coordinator, Center for Food Safety and  NOC member;
Liana Hoodes, Executive Director, National Organic Coalition (NOC) 
Michael Sligh, Director, Just Foods, Rural Advancement Fund International—USA, NOC member

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Yesterday’s announcement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it will once again allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic and conventional farmers, is deeply disturbing, but not surprising.

For the past four years, there has been a ban on the planting and sale of GE alfalfa, as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety (on behalf of farmers) against USDA. In 2007, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GE alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of glyphosate herbicide, sold by Monsanto as Roundup.  The Court banned new plantings of GE alfalfa until USDA completed a more comprehensive assessment of these impacts via an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice affirmed the national ban on GE alfalfa planting.  In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa until and unless future deregulation occurs.

Last spring more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the USDA highly critical of the substance and conclusions of its draft EIS on GE Alfalfa. Instead of responding to these comments and concerns, including expert comments from farmers, scientists, academics, conservationists, and food safety and consumer advocates, the USDA has chosen instead to listen to a handful of agricultural biotechnology companies.

USDA’s decision to allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa without any restrictions flies in the face of the interests of conventional and organic farmers, preservation of the environment, and consumer choice. USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment. CFS will be suing on this decision, and we anticipate we’ll have to litigate on GE sugar beets and other pending approvals as well.

In the aftermath of USDA’s decision on GE alfalfa, some are harshly criticizing organic companies that favored a compromise. But make no mistake. USDA’s final decision is only supported by agricultural biotech companies – not organic food companies such as Stonyfield Farm or Whole Foods – but by Monsanto and the other biotech companies that produce and sell GE alfalfa. While the Center for Food Safety and other advocacy groups may have some differences with the position originally taken by some organic food companies, these companies are not the enemy.

In the coming months, we will be seeing USDA proposals to allow unrestricted plantings of GE sugar beets, and GE corn and soy crops designed to resist toxic pesticides such as 2-4D and Dicamba, highly toxic pesticides that pose a serious threat to our health and the environment. To win these critical and difficult battles, the entire organic community, and our allies in the conventional food and farming community, will have to work together. Now is not the time for organic infighting, but rather a time for us to come together to fight a common enemy and work to protect our farms, our food, and our environment.

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Bunin, PhD, Organic Policy Director', 'desc' => '

The media got it wrong and let the public down when it erroneously reported Monsanto’s wholesale victory in its Supreme Court appeal of the GM alfalfa case -- the first-ever Supreme Court case on GMOs (Monsanto Co. v Geertson Seed Farms).  Despite claims and headlines to the contrary, Monsanto is still prohibited from selling and planting its Roundup Ready GM alfalfa. The true victors in the case are farmers, consumers and environmentalists who have argued that planting GM alfalfa would contaminate conventional and organic crops and lead to spraying noxious pesticides in regions where over 90% of alfalfa farmers do not use or need them.  

So, why did the press get it so wrong?  Monsanto hit the press early and convincingly and the press failed to do its due diligence by corroborating Monsanto’s factswith both sides in the case.  It should have known better and acted more carefully despite the rush to get the first story published, but it didn’t.  Monsanto’s Goliath PR machine succeeded in framing the Supreme Court decision as a slam dunk in its favor, to head off a drop in its stock market price.  The real news—that it still can’t sell its patented GM alfalfa—would surely have driven impatient investors to sell their stocks.

Not surprisingly, shortly after the publication of multiple stories announcing Monsanto’s unequivocal win, an alternative narrative began to circulate on the web and people started asking questions about whether Monsanto actually “won” the case and what it meant to “win” the case anyway.  Fulfilling the role of David against Goliath, bloggers exposed how the rightful victors had been unfairly slain by the press due to the unsavory alliance between the Goliath biotech giant and the major media. 

The answer to the question of “who really won the case,” requires examining on what grounds Monsanto appealed to the Supreme Court.  Specifically, Monsanto asked the court to reconsider the lower court decision in the GM alfalfa case by: (1) lifting the injunction on GMO alfalfa, (2) allowing the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa, and (3) not allowing contamination from GMO crops tobe considered “irreparable harm.” 

In truth, the Court only ruled on Monsanto’s first request, which it affirmed by stating that the injunction was too broad to be allowed to remain in place.  However, it ruled in favor of the farmers and Center for Food Safety on the two other remaining issues, which in many ways are even more important.  First, the Court did not overrule the lower court’s ban on the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa and, therefore, the ban remains intact.  Moreover, the Court\'s decision to set aside the injunction was based, in part, on the fact that a prohibition on GMO planting was already in effect, due to the lower court’s ruling and, therefore, the injunction was duplicative overkill.  Second, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that the threat of GMO contamination was a sufficient cause of environmental and economic harm to support future challenges on GMOs.  Unfortunately, these critical details about the Supreme Court’s decision were omitted in early press accounts, making it look as though Monsanto prevailed in its quest to deregulate GM alfalfa. 

Two and three days later, the real story about the outcome of the GM alfalfa Supreme Court case has emerged in some press accounts.  Yet, any analysis about the need for civil society to demand greater corporate accountability in the face of government inaction to halt threats of GMO contamination has yet to surface in the mainstream media.  Clearly, the greatest significance of this case is that it shows how Goliath corporations, like Monsanto, BP and the rest, can be held accountable for their actions by members of civil society who have the courage to take on the role of David in the battle to protect our environment and food supply.

# # #

Lisa J. Bunin, Ph.D. is the Organic Policy Coordinator at the Center for Food Safety, a national, non-profit, membership organization, founded in 1997, that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org

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Many of you may have read press today reporting that the 7-1 decision announced by the Supreme Court this morning went entirely in Monsanto\'s favor, and have asked us to clarify this decision. Not to our surprise, Monsanto’s PR machine is working hard to overpower the truth in today\'s decision in the first-ever Supreme Court case on genetically engineered crops (Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms). While the decision is complicated, this Court opinion is in many ways a victory for CFS and a defeat against Monsanto—especially given that it is still illegal to sell or plant GMO alfalfa.

CFS’s Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell authored an article in today\'s Huffington Post to help clarify the legal ramifications of the decision. Grist also has a good piece outlining the decision, as does Eco Centric.

Despite what Monsanto is claiming—and what many mainstream media outlets reported earlier this morning—today’s ruling isn’t even close to the victory they were hoping for. Generally speaking, Monsanto asked the Supreme Court to rule on three main issues: (1) to lift the injunction on GMO alfalfa; (2) to allow the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa; (3) to rule that contamination from GMO crops not be considered irreparable harm. In fact, the court only ruled on the first request which it did affirm by stating that the injunction was overly broad and should be overturned; however, the Court ruled in CFS\'s favor on the other two issues, which in many ways are more important as the fact remains that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal.

The Supreme Court ruled that an injunction against planting was simply unnecessary since, under lower courts’ rulings, Roundup Ready Alfalfa became a regulated item and is therefore illegal to plant. In other words, the injunction was “overkill’ because our victory in lower federal court determined that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court felt that voiding the USDA’s decision to make the crop legally available for sale was enough.

The Center is victorious in this case in several other ways: most importantly, the High Court did not rule on several arguments presented by Monsanto about the application of federal environmental law. As a result, the Court did not make anyruling that could have been hurtful to National Environmental Policy Act or any other environmental laws. In addition, the Court opinion supported the Center’s argument that gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GMOs can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective, another huge victory for CFS.

We will keep you updated on any Agency attempts to deregulate GE alfalfa and on the ongoing EIS process.

 

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August 20th, 2012
Taming the Lunchbox
Taming the Lunchbox
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to bring my lunch to school. Invariably tucked inside my “Peanuts” lunchbox was a sandwich, a few carrot sticks, a piece of fruit, and a couple of home-made cookies, usually oatmeal.
August 2nd, 2012
Center for Food Safety Comments at New York City Soda Limits Hearing
Center for Food Safety Comments at New York City Soda Limits Hearing
Last week I had the pleasure of lending my support, on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, to New York City’s proposal to limit the size of sugary beverages sold at food service outlets. (I wrote previously about why this policy makes sense.
July 16th, 2012
New York Times' Oversized Argument: Organic Can't Be Stuffed Inside a Big Food Box
New York Times' Oversized Argument: Organic Can't Be Stuffed Inside a Big Food Box
There is no disputing the claim that organic has become “a wildly lucrative business for Big Food,” as discussed at length in the recent New York Times article: “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?” But what reporter Stephanie Strom has no.
July 4th, 2012
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cool...
It’s hot out! With heat records falling across the U.S. every day, we’re a nation in pursuit of cool . So when it comes to meal time this summer, forgoing the stove and dining on a hearty salad with extra pitchers of lemonade might the norm.
June 5th, 2012
Your Burger Just Got a Little Safer, Thanks to Uncle Sam
Your Burger Just Got a Little Safer, Thanks to Uncle Sam
After years of debating, petitioning, rulemaking, and outright stalling, this week the federal government is finally implementing new requirements for testing E. coli in ground beef. Why is this cause for celebration? Because while the U.S.
June 4th, 2012
Mercury Bigger Worry than Radiation in Tuna
Mercury Bigger Worry than Radiation in Tuna
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May 25th, 2012
Supporting Vets' Letter to President Obama on 2,4-D a Fitting Memorial
Supporting Vets' Letter to President Obama on 2,4-D a Fitting Memorial
With Memorial Day just a few days away, many across the country will soon stop and remember the meaning of military service and the ultimate sacrifice so many gave — and are still giving. Remembering is what the day is all about.
May 10th, 2012
More Empty Recommendations on Junk Food Marketing to Children
More Empty Recommendations on Junk Food Marketing to Children
Institute of Medicine Gives Big Food Another Deadline – or else! This week, the nation’s top public health experts are gathered at a much-trumpeted obesity conference hosted by the U.S.
April 4th, 2012
BPA is FDA's Latest Gift to Food Industry
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In a long-awaited decision, last week the Food and Drug Administration disappointed health advocates once again by allowing Bisphenol A or BPA, a known endocrine disruptor, to remain approved as a chemical additive in food containers such as plastic.
March 23rd, 2012
"The Hunger Games" -- Fantasy or Prophecy?
“I’m going to see ‘The Hunger Games’ on Thursday night with Eli. It opens at midnight,” announced my fifteen year old son, Owen.
March 15th, 2012
Pink Slime: A Symptom of Industrialized Meat
Pink Slime: A Symptom of Industrialized Meat
This past week, the media woke up to the shocking reality that our meat supply is in fact industrialized. Long gone are the days of your friendly local butcher grinding meat for your kids’ hamburgers.
February 22nd, 2012
A Budget Cut Only the Produce Industry Could Love
A Budget Cut Only the Produce Industry Could Love
You’ve probably never heard of the Microbiological Data Program (MDP) but if you eat fresh produce, you should, because it’s currently on President Obama’s budgetary chopping block.
February 22nd, 2011
Nature Happens - Humans Can't Control Everything, Particularly GE Alfalfa
Nature Happens - Humans Can't Control Everything, Particularly GE Alfalfa
Last week, USDA announced its decision to allow the planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) GM alfalfa without any ongoing monitoring or regulation whatsoever.
January 29th, 2011
Fighting a Common Enemy on the GMO Battlefield
Fighting a Common Enemy on the GMO Battlefield
Yesterday’s announcement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it will once again allow unlimited, nation-wide commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa, despite the many risks to organic an.
June 24th, 2010
A Pressing Issue: David and Goliath Battle on GM Alfalfa and How the Media Got it Wrong
A Pressing Issue: David and Goliath Battle on GM Alfalfa and How the Media Got it Wrong
The media got it wrong and let the public down when it erroneously reported Monsanto’s wholesale victory in its Supreme Court appeal of the GM alfalfa case -- the first-ever Supreme Court case on GMOs ( Monsanto Co. v Geertson Seed Farms ).
June 21st, 2010
Update on Supreme Court Decision
Update on Supreme Court Decision
Many of you may have read press today reporting that the 7-1 decision announced by the Supreme Court this morning went entirely in Monsanto's favor, and have asked us to clarify this decision.