Food Politics: Feb 15, 2011

Grocery Stores (Whole Foods, Walmart, Trader Joe’s):

I’m really excited to announce that we are providing shoppers with a new level of transparency about how farm animals are raised by now offering beef, pork and chicken certified under the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system.

The rating system is the signature program of Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit organization that facilitates and encourages continuous improvement in animal agriculture. Independent, third-party certifiers audit farms and rate animal welfare practices and conditions using a tiered system that ranges from Step 1 (no crates, cages or crowding) to Step 5+ (animals spend their entire lives on one farm). We are proud to adopt this new rating system that helps shoppers make even more informed buying decisions while offering them peace of mind that the animals from our producers are raised with care.

The challenge is to find and support sustainable seafood sources while also keeping their stores stocked well enough to meet current consumer demand.  Although the projected date for complete sustainability is still far ahead, Trader Joe’s has already taken steps toward sustainable seafood by stopping the sale of Chilean Sea Bass and Orange Roughy, both of which appear on the “Avoid” list at Seafood Watch because they are overfished or caught by methods that damage other sea life.  Over the course of 2011 and 2012, Trader Joe’s has vowed to shift its purchasing practices so that all Trader Joe’s seafood, whether canned, fresh or frozen, comes from companies that use ethical fishing practices.

Many more articles after the jump…

Farming:

President Barack Obama called in his 2012 budget plan for the elimination of farm subsidies to the wealthiest U.S. growers on Monday, arguing that the payments distort the farm sector and some farmers can be paid even if no crops are grown.

Lawmakers rejected an identical proposal a year ago, ahead of the 2010 mid-term elections. They said any change in farm supports should be delayed until a scheduled overhaul in 2012.

Obama said his plan would save $2.6 billon over 10 years, a comparatively small amount of overall farm spending, while preserving a farm safety net against low prices or crop failures. The changes would affect roughly 30,000 people, the Agriculture Department has estimated, out of 1.2 million farm subsidy recipients.

A type of corn that is genetically engineered to make it easier to convert into ethanol was approved for commercial growing by the Department of Agriculture.  The decision, announced Friday, came in the face of objections from corn millers and others in the food industry, who warned that if the industrial corn cross-pollinated with or were mixed with corn used for food, it could lead to crumbly corn chips, soggy cereal, loaves of bread with soupy centers and corn dogs with inadequate coatings.

Domestic aquaculture – seafood that is farmed rather than caught in the wild – currently only accounts for about five percent of seafood consumed in the United States. Eighty-four percent the United States’ seafood is imported and about half of that comes from aquaculture, the NOAA said – and it expects demand, both in the US and worldwide, to increase rapidly.

Its new draft policy document has a strong focus on how domestic aquaculture can be carried out sustainably, which the agency said comes from growing interest in seafood’s health benefits as well as increasing consumer concern about how fish is produced.

International Food Politics:

But the real issue is whether we pay “enough” for the products normally. No farmers get rich growing cacao. World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are 5 to 6 million cocoa farmers worldwide producing 3 million tons of cocoa. Child labor is common, especially in Cote d’Ivoire. Nearly all of the processing, marketing, and packaging—the points where the price gets marked up—occurs in the North American or European countries where the products are consumed. That means farmers are compensated for their commodity products only, unless they produce the coveted criollo cacao bean, the rarest and most expensive cocoa on the market. Accounting for just 5 percent of total production, it is native to Central America, the Caribbean islands, and the northern tier of South American states.

Domestic Food Politics:

President Obama didn’t use the opportunity to answer our concerns, nor did he speak to our hopes. He didn’t talk about how he was going to make it easier to access fruit than Froot Loops. He didn’t talk about how he was going to reduce federal support for the crops that are most damaging to our health and environment, and he didn’t talk about what he was going to do to increase support for a sustainable food system. The president didn’t talk about taking on the massive consolidation in agribusiness that makes it cheaper and easier to get unhealthy processed food than it is to buy whole ingredients. Though he touched on it, he didn’t talk about addressing food insecurity in any meaningful way and he didn’t talk about the power of citizens as shoppers … or as voters.

Instead, he talked about Walmart.

Michelle Obama recently celebrated the first anniversary of her Let’s Move campaign to inspire healthier eating. But as the popular face of the Obama administration’s advocacy for healthy, nutritious food, the first lady has conveniently side-stepped several critical consumer food issues like organics, genetically engineered food, fair markets for farmers and ranchers, and local and regional food economies. While Mrs. Obama has remained silent on these topics, the actions of the agencies that regulate our food under President Obama speak volumes. And progressives don’t like what they are hearing.

American Cities:

The agency released an 84-page overview of delta problems that is the first step in possibly issuing new regulations. Among the pollutants highlighted in the report are Sacramento’s sewage discharges, urban pesticide runoff and selenium in farm drainage.

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