Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekend Update

Whole Foods recently came out with its own standards for seafood sustainability that seem to provide a handy fig leaf for the farmed Atlantic salmon industry.

Whole foods would bar use of antibiotics, growth stimulants and pesticides in salmon farming, but it merely encourages salmon farmers to reduce fish escapes and aim for a one-to-one ratio of wild fish in feed for every pound of salmon produced.

Now comes Food and Water Watch calling on Whole Foods to put some real bite in its standards: refuse fish from net pen operations and implement a strict timeline for the one-to-one feed goal.

In a letter to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, Food and Water Watch says "we hope that Whole Foods intends to have a deadline by which all seafood wholesalers meet these new standards and that if the standards are not met, the products will no longer be offered at Whole Foods."

The latter part of course is the crux of the matter. I am trying to imagine a day when Whole Foods posts a sign at the seafood counter saying, "Sorry, no farmed Atlantic salmon today because the farmers failed to live up to our standards. You'll just have to pay $10 more a pound for the wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon."

Ironically, Whole Foods will catch the heat even though it's doing more than any grocery chain to promote sustainable seafood. We're still waiting to see what other groups such as Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute have to say about the Whole Foods standards.

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The international Doha negotiations in Geneva collapsed and for a very obvious reason: Developed countries such as the United States insist that poor countries remove trade barriers for subsidized First World farm products, such as U.S. corn and soybeans. While it may put money into tthe U.S. farm economy, exporting those products into poor countries has the effect of putting struggling farmers out of business.

In Mexico, imports of cheap U.S. corn following NAFTA drove Mexican farmers off their land, resulting eventually in a tortilla crisis when the price of corn went through the roof (largely because we started making fuel for automobiles out of it.).

At Doha, Third World nation's stood their ground against the World Trade Organization's mandate to remove trade barriers, insisting that "development" become a centerpiece of trade talks. Only now there are more countries that want a slice of that exporting pie.

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The reasons for growing food organically keep piling up. Researchers studying Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees are finding bees with as many as two dozen different insecticides in their bodies.

It's still not clear what's killing bee colonies. But it is clear that insecticide use in agriculture is rampant and causing untold effects. The Environmental Protection Agency apparently isn't even testing these chemicals anymore, merely analyzing tests performed by industry. Certain of these pesticides are systemic, accumulating in greater concentrations in the soil and in crops from one year to the next, only to be fed upon by bees and other pollinators.

"We still don't know what's going on (with the bees) or why," said one researcher. "But bees are dying and we better figure it out...quick."

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Spiking food and energy costs are pushing up the price of school lunches around the country and could force school districts to scale back healthy choices in favor of cheap processed foods.

In the Boston area, for instance, the cost of a school lunch is expected to go up 25 to 50 cents this fall. In an effort to ward off big deficits, some districts will be eliminating the fresh fruit cup. There are worries that kids from poor families that aren't quite poor enough to qualify for federal assistance may not have enough to eat.

"We truly are at a point of crisis," said Katie Wilson, president-elect of the national School Nutrition Association.

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Cutting the fresh fruits in favor of processed foods would be just the ticket for big food corporations who, according to the Federal Trade commission, spent $1.6 billion in 2006 marketing to children under 17. Nearly $1 billion was aimed at children less than 12 years of age.

The FTC examined marketing expenditures by 44 companies. Spending on soda marketing came to $492 million, with the vast majority of that spending directed toward adolescents. Fast food restaurants reported spending close to $294 million, which was divided about evenly between children and adolescents. For cereals, companies spent about $237 million, with the vast majority of that targeted to children under age 12.

Needless to say, very little was spent trying to convince kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Marketing media included television and major movies such as "Superman Returns" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." Companies created limited-edition snacks, cereals, waffles and candy based on the movies. They offered prizes on the Internet to buyers of those products that ranged from video games to trips to Disney World to a $1 million reward for the capture of villain Lex Luthor.

The internet, where ad rates are relatively cheap, is coming to play a much larger role in marketing processed food to kids. According to the FTC, more than two-thirds of the 44 companies reporting online, youth-directed activities.

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The Mediterranean diet, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and olive oil as the lipid of choice was supposed to be just the thing to keep you lean and fit. But now people who live in the Mediterranean don't eat it any more. They've switched to meat and sweets.

Greeks now have the highest body mass index of any country in the European Union. More than half of all Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese are listed as overweight. Average calorie intake in the last 40 years has increased 20 percent.

What's to blame? People have more money to spend, researchers find. Some countries that started out much poorer, such as Cypress and Malta, have increased the number of calories in their diets by 30 percent. And Spain has become an absolute fat guzzler. The average Spaniard now gets 40 percent of his calories from fat.

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If you're looking for food here in the District of Columbia, you might try this handy, interactive web site. A coalition of groups supporting local foods and food assistance programs sponsor the site. Called "DC Food Finder," it will direct you to maps showing locations for farmers markets, food banks, soup kitchens and lists of local CSAs. Shouldn't every city have one of these?

Try it. You'll like it.

Bon appetit....

3 comments:

Pattie said...

Ed: I read that report this weekend about marketing to children and I have to tell you, I had never heard of half the products and promotion examples they mentioned. That's because we don't watch commercial TV or we TIVo anything that we want to watch and we don't go to fast food restaurants at all (and we have the computer in a common room at home so we see what goes on there). Anyone who wants to pretty much eliminate most of the advertising to their kids can take those two simple steps and you'll be shocked at the results. My kids don't know the breakfast cereals, don't know the characters, and don't care.

Where I am concerned is with the proliferation of televisions all over the place. I can control the TV at home but I can't control it at the doctor's office, on the bus and train (Transit TV!) and in just about every single restaurant to which you could possibly go.

Plus, are there schools that are still in bed with Channel One, which forces the kids to watch the commercials that are wrapped around news updates every single day in school? I believe in the sanctity of a commercial-free school environment, and I believe we as citizens may want to consider the societal impact of ubiquitous televisions everywhere we (and our children) travel in the course of our daily lives.

We sat there and took it when commercials were added to the "movie-going experience." Are we going to sit there and take it as commercial tv takes over every other experience we have?

Janet said...

I'm coming to the conclusion that prosperity is fattening, unless you're well-educated enough to see the lie in a fat- and sweet-based diet. If I understand correctly, just such a diet is what we're genetically driven to prefer, thanks to having evolved in distinctly less affluent times, and heaven knows industrial food processors are happy to give it to us.

Ed Bruske said...

Pattie, I happen to believe that there is a greater community interest in corporations not being able to market to children. But of course that violate the national credo that the free market trumps all. I think we need to change that and start reining in all kinds of behaviors.

Janet, the big food companies have done a genius job convincing us to eat things that aren't good for us. Avert your eyes!