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Illnesses from meat and poultry – up or down? | Posted on July 14, 2016

The proportion of all illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 attributable to meat likely have been reduced as demonstrated by a correlation between reductions in those organisms in FSIS product testing and illnesses reported by FoodNet.  L. monocytogenes and Campylobacter are more difficult to characterize.  The most recent data show no improvement for L. monocytogenesillnesses or findings of this pathogen in FSIS testing.  FSIS testing for Campylobacter is too recent to be useful for correlation with illnesses, butCampylobacter sicknesses seem to be on the rise.  Salmonella is a mess.  FSIS desperately wants to claim the fraction of human salmonellosis from poultry is declining.  But, I must respectfully disagree. 

First, FSIS sampling of poultry for Salmonella has been called into question by USDA researchers.  We discussed that problem in a blog last month.  It’ll take a while to sort it out.  Until then, we don’t know if we can correlate product testing with human illnesses.  Second, if illnesses from poultry were really on the decrease that should show up in the FoodNet numbers.  It doesn’t.  The overall level of human salmonellosis hasn’t changed. 

What Would a World Without GMOs Look Like?

National Geographic | Posted on July 11, 2016

Without genetically-modified foods, we might have to give up oranges and resign ourselves to living with avian flu and more malnutrition. It was hailed as a radical move when more than 100 Nobel laureates sent a letter to Greenpeace, urging the environmental group to stop blocking genetically modified foods like golden rice from reaching those who need it. The debate over whether GMOs are good or bad has been stuck in neutral for years. Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis scientist who has been working to develop a disease-resistant, drought-tolerant rice, laid out what’s at stake in National Geographic last year:

“All this arguing about what’s genetically modified is a big distraction from the really important goals. We need to produce safe and nutritious food that consumers can afford and farmers can make a profit from. And we need agricultural practices that enhance soil fertility and crop biodiversity, use land and water efficiently, reduce use of toxic compounds, reduce erosion, and sequester carbon.”

Thousands of Products to Leave Shelves as GMO Labeling Becomes Law in Vermont

The Northfield News | Posted on July 11, 2016

Price Chopper has learned that manufacturers will no longer ship 3,000 products to Vermont because they will not have a GMO label. The grocery store stopped receiving shipments of many food items beginning last Friday when Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect.

Coke was one of the first manufacturers to announce last week that it would stop sending some products to Vermont. Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s main competitor, is following suit. Also on the list of items that Price Chopper said that they will no longer receive are Del Monte fruits, some Hostess products, some Chicken of the Sea, Sabra Hummus, some Heinz Ketchup, Sage Valley nuts, Bob Evans foods, Louisiana Fish Fry products, Sea Gold Seafood and some Starbucks products. “To avoid multiple labeling changes, some lower-volume brands and packages we offer within our broad portfolio could be temporarily unavailable in Vermont,” Coca-Cola Co. spokesman Ben Sheidler told Bloomberg News. The world’s largest soft-drink company said that its biggest sellers—including Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke and Coke Zero—will still be available, complete with new labeling. But for smaller brands, Sheidler says
the company is working out how to restructure product packaging to comply with the new law. Coca-Cola sells more than 100 different beverage brands in the U.S. including Mello Yello, Odwalla, Dasani, Honest Tea, Fuze,Minute Maid and many more.

Hundreds of other manufacturers are also included they said. However, regardless of the
problems which have arisen regarding the new law, Vermont lawmakers celebrated the first in the nation GMO labeling law on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier. Gov. Peter Shumlin
along with Congressman Peter Welch and Senator Bernie Sanders headlined the event.

As Labeling Law Goes Into Effect, Vermont Farmers Divided On Value Of GMO Crops

Vermont Public Radio | Posted on July 11, 2016

Vermont, as it happens, is one of the few states that tracks herbicide usage. “And so we figured, well shoot, we’ve got the data, let’s take a look at it,” says Will Allen, an organic farmer and activist. “When we did we were shocked, really.” llen says herbicide use has nearly doubled from 2002 to 2012. And he says it’s no coincidence that the increase came during a time period when almost all the state’s corn growers switched from conventional seeds to GMOs. “And we feel like that paradigm one, is hurting farmers, is hurting farmworkers, is trashing the environment, and probably is contaminating products,” Allen says. Over at the Sprague Farm in Brookfield, the view on GMO corn is decidedly different.  Sprague, whose family began farming this land 152 years ago, has converted his corn crop entirely to GMOs. Not only is he using less herbicides as a result, Sprague says the hardiness of the GMO corn has allowed him to adopt what’s known as a no-till growing system.  “We have tremendous worm activity in our soils,” Sprague says. “Our organic matter is way higher than anybody that tills.” Sprague says he takes pride in his “progressive” farming practices. And he says healthier soil means less erosion, less runoff, and less toxic substances leeching from fields to nearby rivers.

Cary Gigeure, chief of the Agrichemical Management Section at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, says he appreciates Allen’s dogged pursuit to reform agriculture practices.“Will Allen is a brilliant guy. He’s passionate and I enjoy having conversations with him,” Giguere says. “But if you look at the longer term trends and talk with farmers about why they’re choosing what they’re choosing, the data doesn’t support the theory, at least here in Vermont.”  Giguere says Allen has cherry-picked data to game the results of his analysis. If you track numbers from 1999 to 2013, for example, atrazine use is down by 40 percent, despite the near-total conversion to GMO crops during that time period. And if you compare metolachlor use in 2008 to metolachlor use in 2013, it’s down by nearly half, despite the fact that GMO corn acreage jumped by about 50 percent over the same time period. State data indicates that farmers actually used less herbicide in 2013 than they did 15 years prior. Allen doesn’t trust the science done by state or federal regulatory bodies.

Stop worrying about GMOs; it's that organic granola bar that could make you sick

LATimes | Posted on July 11, 2016

Recalls of organic foods amounted to 7% of all food units recalled in 2015, even though organic farms account for only about 1% of agricultural acreage.   Now a favorite snack of those same protesters, the sacred granola bar, has been found to pose an actual health risk.  In early June, several types of Clif Bars were recalled from stores because they contained organic sunflower kernels potentially contaminated with a bacterium called listeria. Food poisoning from this nasty bug kills hundreds of Americans every year.Anti-genetic engineering campaigns are among the activities bankrolled by organizations such as the Clif Bar Family Foundation, which uses the considerable profits it receives from selling “healthy” and “natural” snack foods to denigrate the products of modern farming and extol supposedly superior organic alternatives. Like Clif Bars. The superior safety and environmental benefits of food made from genetically engineered plants have been proven over decades. Many genetically engineered crops resist insects and contamination with dangerous fungal toxins such as mycotoxins. And unlike new crop varieties modified with less precise, less predictable techniques that are permitted in organic agriculture, genetically engineered crops have all been exhaustively tested and are subject to government regulation.

Some of the potential problems with organic produce seem like a matter of common sense. Why on Earth would anyone think that using raw manure as a fertilizer — in essence spreading feces on food plants — produces healthier food for the dining table? (It's allowed, but the FDA requires certain intervals between the application of raw manure and harvesting.)  And the widely held belief — which the organic industry promotes — that organic growers don’t use pesticides is simply untrue. Although modern pesticides are prohibited, according to  USDA, there is extensive cheating. Moreover, many of the primitive pesticides permitted to organic farmers pose significant dangers. 

Vegan chicken | Posted on July 7, 2016

Ever wonder why so many in the general public are confused about the source of their food? I used to but no longer! The food world has become a mixture of fact and deliberate misinformation disguised as responding to the consumer. The most recent example strikes me a ironic and a bit funny. In the spirit of cage-free eggs to improve chicken welfare, H.J. Baker recently announced a new product, “the first vegan protein concentrate for use in poultry.” Is that an oxymoron? Chickens are omnivores and destined to become or produce food. 

The Road from Farm to Market

GROW | Posted on July 7, 2016

Consumer demand for regionally produced food is on the rise. But transportation and distribution logistics for mid-size shippers, distributors and farmers can be tricky. These supply chain partners are looking for ways to more efficiently move products from Wisconsin’s farms to markets, while upholding many of their customers’ sustainability values.  That’s where the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) comes in. CIAS is working with university and private-sector partners to bring regionally grown food to urban markets while growing rural economies and addressing the environmental impacts of food freight. “When people think of local food, they think of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture,” says Michelle Miller BS’83, associate director of programs for CIAS. “While these direct markets are the gold standard for connecting us with the people who grow our food, they don’t address the need to get more high-quality regional products into grocery stores, restaurants and schools.”  Consumers tend to believe that food is more sustainable if it travels a short distance from farm to table. However, a USDA study found that compared to direct markets, the large truckloads and logistical efficiencies found in the conventional food system sometimes use less fuel per food item transported.

Breeding for Flavor

GROW | Posted on July 7, 2016

Wisconsin scientists are breeding new varieties of produce that not only are delicious, but also will thrive in organic growing systems. And in a new collaboration called “Seed to Kitchen,” they’re partnering with chefs and farmers to help determine what works best.

Father of toddler, who died after drinking raw milk, knew it was dangerous

Dailymail | Posted on June 30, 2016

The father of a toddler who died after drinking raw milk knew it was dangerous when he gave it to him in tiny amounts, a court has heard. The man, who has not been named, said he understood Mountain View Farm's Organic Bath Milk had been labelled as not for human consumption, but that it looked like 'every other milk carton' on shelves.  Four other children also took ill after drinking other brands of raw milk that year which had been branded as bath products, prompting health authorities to reiterate warnings over its consumption.  While the sale of raw milk for drinking purposes has been illegal for years, retailers are still able to sell it as a cosmetic product.   Many have continued to drink it under the belief that it is not harmful and may even benefit their health despite warnings it is more likely to contain bacteria which can cause serious infections - particularly among children.



Hormel sued over ‘natural’ pork claims | Posted on June 30, 2016

Hormel Foods Corp.’s claims that certain of its pork products are “natural” are deceiving consumers, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the District of Columbia Superior Court.  The complaint takes aim at the Austin, Minn.-based processor’s Natural Choice brand of lunch meats and bacon, pitting its slogan “Make the Natural Choice” and claims like “100% Natural” and “All-Natural” against consumers’ understanding of what “natural” means.   The lawsuit cites Consumer Reports research that found that most consumers believe “natural” to mean that animals were raised using "sustainable" farming techniques on "independent" family farms — as opposed to “factory farms” — and that the products are free of artificial ingredients. USDA’s definition of “natural” is: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed").”