You may remember that voters in the State of California in 2008 approved a referendum requiring egg producers in the state to engage in more humane production practices. The measure, known as Proposition 2, prohibited egg producers in California from using small cages in which hens were unable to stand or extend their wings. California egg producers then spent millions of dollars to comply with the new requirements, either by increasing the size of cages, transitioning to cage free production, or by relocating operations to other states with laxer regulations. To ensure that California egg producers did not face price competition from states without such requirements, the state legislature passed a law requiring that all eggs sold in the state be produced under conditions that met the same standards even when imported.
Now six other states are suing California, alleging that the requirements violate the US Commerce Clause. They are also worried that similar requirements might be extended to other animal production, including pork or beef.
California has long used its market size to dictate national standards. California’s imposition of stricter emissions and fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, for example, has long driven the adoption of stricter national standards. Because the California economy is so large, producers find it more efficient to meet California’s standards for all cars produced in the nation than to produce cars to one standard for California and another for the rest of the United States. Auto producers have unsuccessfully attempted to sue to block California’s auto standards in the past. But a more conservative Supreme Court might indeed find California’s stricter standards for food production to violate the Commerce Clause, turning back the clock on establishing a more sustainable (and humane) food system. It will be an interesting case to watch.
A new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week found that incidents of obesity among children aged 2 to 5 declined by 43 percent over the past decade. While the rate of obesity in children 2 to 5 declined from 14 percent in 2003-04 to 8 percent in 2011-12, the rate among the broader population remained unchanged, with about 17 percent of youth aged 2 to 19 and 35 percent of adults considered obese. The report does not attempt to determine the cause of the decline, but notes that improved nutritional and physical activity standards in preschools over the past few years may have contributed to the decline. Others suggested that a greater reliance on breastfeeding instead of infant formula may also have helped.
The report was welcomed by public health advocates, as obesity rates in children under 5 bear a strong correlation to obesity as an adult. It was also noted that this was the first time since the federal government began tracking such data that there had been a significant decrease in the rate of obesity for any group.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the United States on February 14, and is often marked by the gifting of flowers. But we rarely stop to consider how the global trade in flowers—which increases sharply ahead of both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day—connects us to the broader world.
The global trade in cut flowers is estimated to be worth $100 billion annually, with the United States alone accounting for about $13 billion. About 82 percent of all flowers sold in the United States are imported from abroad, with the majority of US-destined flowers arriving from Latin America. Europe, by contrast, tends to import the bulk of its cut flowers from Africa.
The sharp seasonal fluctuations in flower production presents challenges to customs and border officials responsible for inspecting imports. Concerns over pests and disease are the primary focus for their inspections.
Developing countries looking for a comparative advantage in the context of historical subsidies offered to food and cotton producers in the developed world have often transitioned to specialized crops like cut flowers, spices, or specialty coffees in an effort to carve a market niche where they can complete on a more equal playing field.
While the global flower trade has increased sharply over the past decade, concerns over the environmental impact of the practice are growing. A 2009 report by Flowerpetal.com noted that about 80 percent of the estimated 100 million roses sold for Valentine’s Day were produced abroad, generating an estimated 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A similar study by Cranfield University in 2007 found that a single rose imported from Kenya generated about 1.1 pounds of CO2. The same report noted, however, that imported flowers were far more carbon efficient than flowers raised in greenhouses in Europe, the production of which generated an estimated 6.4 pounds of CO2 per flower. In such a case, the higher CO2 emissions associated with transporting the flowers are offset by the more favorable growing environments abroad.
Then there’s the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers in the growing process, all of which raise potential questions about the ecological suitability of the cut flower trade.
The school cafeteria workers and the district supervisor for Uintah Elementary School were placed on paid administrative leave on Friday, four days after they decided to walk through the school’s cafeteria and seize lunches from students who owed money on their food accounts. About 30 students had their hot lunches taken and thrown in the trash because they had negative balances. They were provided with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk instead.
An initial statement by the Salt Lake City District spokesperson, Jason Olsen, said that district was not able to notify the school of the negative balances until after lunch had been served, meaning that the students had been served their meals in error. So they seized the meals. Olsen stated, “If students were humiliated and upset that’s very unfortunate and not what we wanted to happen.” The district later issued a formal apology via its Facebook page, acknowledging that “This situation could have and should have been handed in a different manner. We apologize. We understand the feelings of upset parents and student who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation.”
The students whose lunches were thrown away were not necessarily recipients of subsidized school lunch programs. But the shaming of students (and let’s be clear, the only reason a school employee would walk through a cafeteria, take children’s lunches, throw them in the trash, and given them a piece of fruit instead is to shame them), is the natural outcome of efforts to stigmatize welfare recipients n the United States. In December, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) proposed that children receiving subsidized school lunches be required to work—perhaps sweeping the cafeteria floor, he suggested—in order to show them that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
The shaming of school lunch recipients (and of welfare recipients more broadly) is longstanding. It helps explain the hostility so many Americans–who themselves are usually just one or two paychecks away from poverty–express towards social spending in the United States. And it also helps explain the ease with which dramatic cuts to federal programs like SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, made their way through an otherwise divided Congress this year.
It was later discovered that Kingston had enjoyed more than $24,000 in free lunches (and other meals covered by his Congressional per diem) and more than $4,200 in free meals provided by lobbyists. He also billed more than $145,000 for meals and catering expenses to his campaign. The federal government reimburses schools a maximum of $2.86 per lunch… Something tells me Kingston’s lunches run a bit more than that. But somehow he doesn’t have to bear the stigma that kids receiving free or subsidized school lunches do.
To celebrate the Sydney International Food Festival, the advertising agency WHYBIN\TBWA has released a series of eighteen colorful photographs of national flags each comprised of national foods. The Italian flag, for example, is comprised of basil, pasta, and tomatoes, while the Thai flag features sweet chili sauce, shredded coconut, and a blue swimmer crab. It’s a fun take on food and flags. My favorites are below, but you can see the complete collection at TwistedSifter.
The long-awaited Farm Bill could be passed by Congress in a matter of days. After languishing in committee for two years, the Washington Post reported on Sunday that a compromise version could be unveiled as early as today, and it could be passed by the Congress in a matter of days. House aides suggested the bill would enjoy broad bipartisan support—something increasingly rare in the US Congress.
While Democratic Senators and Republican House Members have been negotiating for months, the Farm Bill stalled last summer after Republicans demanded deep spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. But Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise, agreeing to cut spending on SNAP by $9 billion over the next decade.
The bill also restructures the subsidy system, moving away from direct payments to producers and replacing it with a crop insurance program that removes some of the risk of farming.
At least two issues could still present a stumbling block. First, Speaker of the House John Boehner has suggested he would not allow a vote on the Farm Bill if it did not strip funding to a government price support program for dairy farmers. The program, which enjoys broad bipartisan support, has been described by Boehner as a “Soviet-style dairy program.”
Second, rules requiring country-of-origin labels for livestock raised in Mexico or Canada but slaughtered in the United States remain contentious. The World Trade Organization previously found the labeling requirements constituted a violation of its rules. The meat industry has also sued to prevent the labeling rules from taking place, despite the fact that such labels enjoy widespread support among consumers.
Finally, several fiscally conservative House Republicans are demanding stricter rules governing farm payments under the Department of Agriculture’s actively engaged farmer program, which would limit federal transfers to individuals who do not actually live or work on a farm. But such restrictions have been opposed by Southern lawmakers, who argue that such transfers are necessary to maintain a rural way of life.
In the end, it seems likely that compromises will be worked out for most of the remaining issues, and we’ll have a new Farm Bill. But whether we’re unlikely to see the more dramatic changes that would dramatically improve our food system remains to be seen.
An interesting story in The Guardian this week argues that teff—an ancient Ethiopian grain—is poised to be the next global super grain. Teff is rich in calcium, iron, and protein. It’s gluten-free, and makes an outstanding substitute for wheat flouwer in most baked goods. And it’s an Ethiopian staple, most often ground into flour to make injera, large spongy, fermented pancakes used to scoop up stews (called wots).
The Ethiopian government is excited to raise the profile of teff. Classified as a least-developed country and with an annual gross domestic product of about $470 per capita, the government hopes that increased global demand for teff could provide some relief to Ethiopian farmers who produce the vast majority of the world’s teff supply. But as the experiences of Bolivia and Peru (and the case of quinoa) suggest, increasingly popular stables in global markets can disrupt local production, leading to malnutrition and hunger amid growing food exports. It’s a situation that warrants watching.