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Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions. Empowering consumers to make choices that mitigate some of these impacts through devising and disseminating numerically sound information is thus a key socioenvironmental priority. Unfortunately, currently available knowledge is incomplete and hampered by reliance on divergent methodologies that afford no general comparison of relative impacts of animal-based products. To overcome these hurdles, we introduce a methodology that facilitates such a comparison. We show that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively.

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State of the World’s Forests 2014

July 23, 2014 Comments off

State of the World’s Forests 2014
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

Across the world, forests, trees on farms, and agroforestry systems play a crucial role in the livelihoods of rural people by providing employment, energy, nutritious foods and a wide range of other goods and ecosystem services. They have tremendous potential to contribute to sustainable development and to a greener economy. Yet, clear evidence of this has been lacking. This evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development agenda, not only with respect to the environment, but also for their contributions to broader social issues. This edition of State of the World’s Forests addresses this knowledge gap by systematically gathering and analysing available data on forests’ contributions to people’s livelihoods, food, health, shelter and energy needs. Crucially, the report also suggests how information might be improved and policies adjusted, so that the socioeconomic benefits from forests can be enhanced in the future.

The Effects of Premium Subsidies on Demand for Crop Insurance

July 21, 2014 Comments off

The Effects of Premium Subsidies on Demand for Crop Insurance
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Premium subsidies are a major factor in the current success of the Federal crop insurance program. This study measures the change in crop insurance demand across multiple crops and regions following a legislated increase in subsidies. Findings reveal the influence of premium subsidies on participation in the program.

SNAP Error Rates at All-Time Lows; Steady Improvement in Payment Accuracy Reflects Program’s Extensive Quality Control System

July 21, 2014 Comments off

SNAP Error Rates at All-Time Lows; Steady Improvement in Payment Accuracy Reflects Program’s Extensive Quality Control System
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The percentage of SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or to eligible households in excessive amounts fell for the seventh consecutive year in 2013 to 2.61 percent, newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show. That’s the lowest national overpayment rate since USDA began the current system of measuring error rates in 1981. The underpayment error rate fell to 0.6 percent, also the lowest on record. (See Figure 1.) The combined payment error rate — that is, the sum of the overpayment and underpayment error rates — fell to an all-time low of 3.2 percent.[1] Less than 1 percent of SNAP benefits go to households that are ineligible. In other words, more than 99 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to eligible households.

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses (PDF)
Source: British Journal of Nutrition

Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/ crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95% CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95% CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95% CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95% CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95% CI 28, 72)% and 51 (95% CI 17, 86)% higher, respectively. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd. Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral Nand P fertilisers, respectively) prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.

CRS — Low-Income Assistance Programs: Trends in Federal Spending

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Low-Income Assistance Programs: Trends in Federal Spending (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

This report examines the spending trends of 10 major need-tested benefit programs or groups of programs: (1) health care from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); (2) the refundable portion of the health insurance tax credit enacted in the 2010 health care reform law; (3) the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); (4) assisted housing; (5) financial assistance for post-secondary students (Pell Grants); (6) compensatory education grants to school districts; (7) the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); (8) the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC); (9) Supplemental Security Income (SSI); and (10) Family Support Payments. The common feature of need-tested programs is that they provide benefits, services, or funding based on a measure of limited financial resources (income and sometimes assets). However, other than that common feature, the programs differ considerably in their target populations, services, and focus.

Restaurant Menu Labeling Use Among Adults — 17 States, 2012

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Restaurant Menu Labeling Use Among Adults — 17 States, 2012
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Week Report (CDC)

Many persons underestimate the calories in restaurant foods (1). Increased attention has been given to menu labeling (ML) as a way to provide consumers with point-of-purchase information that can help them reduce calorie intake and make healthier dietary choices (1–3). In 2010, a federal law was passed requiring restaurants with 20 or more establishments to display calorie information on menus and menu boards.* The regulations to implement this federal law have not been finalized, but some states and local jurisdictions have implemented their own ML policies, and many restaurants have already begun providing ML. To assess fast food and chain restaurant ML use by state and by demographic subgroup, CDC examined self-reported ML use by adults in 17 states that used the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Menu Labeling optional module in the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. Based on approximately 97% of adult BRFSS respondents who noticed ML information at restaurants, the estimated overall proportion of ML users in the 17 states was 57.3% (range = 48.7% in Montana to 61.3% in New York). The prevalence of ML use was higher among women than men for all states; the patterns varied by age group and race/ethnicity across states. States and public health professionals can use these findings to track the use of ML and to develop targeted interventions to increase awareness and use of ML among nonusers.

Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Consumers’ Use of Nutrition Information When Eating Out
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that nutrition information be posted in many restaurants and fast food places.To establish a baseline against which to measure changes in the use of on-site nutrition information about food away from home (FAFH), the report examines demographic characteristics and dietary behaviors of FAFH consumers before implementation of the law.

EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

July 10, 2014 Comments off

EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
Source: Environmental Working Group

Two-thirds of produce samples in recent government tests had pesticide residues. Don’t want to eat bug- and weed-killers? EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce helps you shop smart. We highlight the cleanest and dirtiest conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables. If a conventionally grown food you want tests high for pesticides, go for the organic version instead. And remember – the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh risks of pesticide exposure. Dirty Dozen™ Plus highlights hot peppers and leafy greens – kale and collard greens – often tainted with unusually hazardous pesticides.

The Effects of Phytosanitary Regulations on U.S. Imports of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

July 9, 2014 Comments off

The Effects of Phytosanitary Regulations on U.S. Imports of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Trade agreements have reduced tariff rates and worked to restrain the arbitrary use of nontariff measures, including sanitary and phytosanitary measures, since the 1980s. U.S. imports of fruits and vegetables have risen steadily during this period as more country-commodity combinations have been approved for importation to the United States.

International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24

July 2, 2014 Comments off

International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

The number of food-insecure people is projected to fall 9 percent to 490 million in 2014 from 539 million in 2013 in the 76 low- and middle-income countries included in the ERS report. Over the longer term, the food security situation is projected to deteriorate with the share of the population that is food insecure projected to reach 14.6 percent in 2024 up from 13.9 percent in 2014.

CBO — The Renewable Fuel Standard: Issues for 2014 and Beyond

June 30, 2014 Comments off

The Renewable Fuel Standard: Issues for 2014 and Beyond
Source: Congressional Budget Office

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) establishes minimum volumes of various types of renewable fuels that must be included in the United States’ supply of fuel for transportation. Those volumes—as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)—are intended to grow each year through 2022 (see the figure below). In recent years, the requirements of the RFS have been met largely by blending gasoline with ethanol made from cornstarch. In the future, EISA requires the use of increasingly large amounts of “advanced biofuels,” which include diesel made from biomass (such as soybean oil or animal fat), ethanol made from sugarcane, and cellulosic biofuels (made from converting the cellulose in plant materials into fuel).

In this analysis, CBO evaluates how much the supply of various types of renewable fuels would have to increase over the next several years to comply with the RFS. CBO also examines how food prices, fuel prices, and emissions would vary in an illustrative year, 2017, under three scenarios for the Renewable Fuel Standard…

Presidential Memorandum — Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators

June 26, 2014 Comments off

Presidential Memorandum — Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators
Source: White House

Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.

Pollinator losses have been severe. The number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14, and there is an imminent risk of failed migration. The continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food. Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover. The loss of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, is much less studied, but many native bee species are believed to be in decline. Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.

Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels. These steps should include the development of new public-private partnerships and increased citizen engagement. Therefore, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:

Section 1. Establishing the Pollinator Health Task Force…

Take Care in the Kitchen: Avoiding Cooking-Related Pollutants

June 25, 2014 Comments off

Take Care in the Kitchen: Avoiding Cooking-Related Pollutants
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM) are harmful air pollutants that pose significant short- and long-term health risks. Emitted from coal-fired power plants, vehicle exhaust pipes, and other combustion sources, they’re among six primary pollutants monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Clean Air Act. These same pollutants are also some of the most common contributors to unhealthy air inside U.S. homes, due in part to a ubiquitous and possibly surprising activity: cooking.

Researchers now understand that the process of cooking food and even simply operating stoves—particularly gas appliances—can emit a cocktail of potentially hazardous chemicals and compounds. Within our homes, these pollutants are less diluted than they are outdoors, and in the absence of proper ventilation, they often are trapped inside. The World Health Organization has established general guidelines for indoor air quality and is currently developing specific limits related to burning solid fuels for cooking and heating. However, indoor air in nonindustrial buildings is not regulated by the EPA or any other U.S. agency.

Prevalence of U.S. Food Insecurity Is Related to Changes in Unemployment, Inflation, and the Price of Food

June 25, 2014 Comments off

Prevalence of U.S. Food Insecurity Is Related to Changes in Unemployment, Inflation, and the Price of Food
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Food security has remained essentially unchanged since the 2007-09 recession. Falling unemployment from early post-recession (2009-10) to 2012, absent any other changes, would suggest a modest decline in the prevalence of food insecurity. However, this report finds that potential improvement was almost exactly offset by the effects of higher inflation and the higher relative price of food in 2012.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study

June 24, 2014 Comments off

Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Background:
Gestational exposure to several common agricultural pesticides can induce developmental neurotoxicity in humans, and has been associated with developmental delay and autism.

Objectives:
To evaluate whether residential proximity to agricultural pesticides during pregnancy is associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or developmental delay (DD) in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) Study.

Methods:
The CHARGE study is a population-based case-control study of ASD, developmental delay (DD), and typical development. For 970 participants, commercial pesticide application data from the California Pesticide Use Report (1997-2008) were linked to the addresses during pregnancy. Pounds of active ingredient applied for organophophates, organochlorines, pyrethroids, and carbamates were aggregated within 1.25km, 1.5km, and 1.75km buffer distances from the home. Multinomial logistic regression was used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) of exposure comparing confirmed cases of ASD (n = 486) or DD (n = 168) with typically developing referents (n = 316).

Results:
Approximately one-third of CHARGE Study mothers lived, during pregnancy, within 1.5 km (just under one mile) of an agricultural pesticide application. Proximity to organophosphates at some point during gestation was associated with a 60% increased risk for ASD, higher for 3rd trimester exposures [OR = 2.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) = (1.1, 3.6)], and 2nd trimester chlorpyrifos applications: OR = 3.3 [95% CI = (1.5, 7.4)]. Children of mothers residing near pyrethroid insecticide applications just prior to conception or during 3rd trimester were at greater risk for both ASD and DD, with OR’s ranging from 1.7 to 2.3. Risk for DD was increased in those near carbamate applications, but no specific vulnerable period was identified.

Conclusions:
This study of ASD strengthens the evidence linking neurodevelopmental disorders with gestational pesticide exposures, and particularly, organophosphates and provides novel results of ASD and DD associations with, respectively, pyrethroids and carbamates.

The Community Eligibility Provision: Alternatives to School Meal Applications

June 23, 2014 Comments off

The Community Eligibility Provision: Alternatives to School Meal Applications
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

“Community eligibility” is a powerful new tool to ensure that low-income children in high-poverty neighborhoods have access to healthy meals at school. Established in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, community eligibility streamlines school meal operations and allows schools in high-poverty areas to offer nutritious breakfasts and lunches to all students at no charge.[1] One of the key simplifications of community eligibility is that participating schools no longer collect school meal applications. Eliminating applications reduces the administrative burden on school districts and reduces paperwork for parents struggling to put food on the table.

Without applications, schools need an alternative method to determine meal reimbursements. Under community eligibility, reimbursements are determined by a formula based on the percentage of “Identified Students” who are approved to receive free meals by means other than a household application, primarily children in households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who are “directly certified” through data matching. This simplification eliminates the numerous hours that school administrators spend processing and verifying school meal applications. When school districts implement community eligibility, however, they no longer have the individual income data from those meal applications for the students attending community eligibility schools — data that programs outside of the school meal programs often use.

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation’s Streams

June 20, 2014 Comments off

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation’s Streams
Source: USGS

Concentrations of dissolved solids, a measure of the salt content in water, are elevated in many of the Nations streams as a result of human activities, according to a new USGS study. Excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, domestic, municipal, and industrial water users.

Results from this study provide a nation-wide picture of where dissolved-solids concentrations are likely to be of concern, as well as the sources leading to such conditions.

“This study provides the most comprehensive national-scale assessment to date of dissolved solids in our streams,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water. “For years we have known that activities, such as road de-icing, irrigation, and other activities in urban and agricultural lands increase the dissolved solids concentrations above natural levels caused by rock weathering, and now we have improved science-based information on the primary sources of dissolved-solids in the nation’s streams.”

The highest concentrations are found in streams in an area that extends from west Texas to North Dakota. Widespread occurrences of moderate concentrations are found in streams extending in an arc from eastern Texas to northern Minnesota to eastern Ohio. Low concentrations are found in many states along the Atlantic coast and in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. food aid reform 101: fact sheet

June 18, 2014 Comments off

U.S. food aid reform 101: fact sheet (PDF)
Source: Bread for the World Institute

Despite increasing demand for food assistance, particularly among vulnerable women and children, funding for FFP is declining. More people are in need of assistance than ever, especially as the lasting effects of drought are felt in places like Africa and refugees are fleeing fragile states. Making every food-aid dollar count is both a responsible use of taxpayer money and a moral imperative.

Food-aid reform efforts reflect a more responsive approach to global food assistance in a time of declining budgets. New, more efficient food-aid programs continue to buy American-grown commodities while adding the option to be flexible in using local and regional food purchases and cash vouchers for food where appropriate. In the recently passed bipartisan farm bill and the current fiscal year funding bill, efforts to make food aid more efficient were recognized by Congress. Unfortunately, the progress we’ve made to reform food aid is at risk.

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would keep 2 million people from receiving lifesaving food aid. This bill takes critical food-aid dollars away from hungry people to pay for the increased cost of transporting food. This subsidy to the world’s largest shipping companies was quietly inserted as a provision in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill for fiscal year 2015. This provision has nothing to do with the U.S. Coast Guard and is a blatant attempt by special interests to line their own pockets while more people overseas go hungry.

CRS — International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues

June 16, 2014 Comments off

International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

For almost six decades, the United States has played a leading role in global efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and to enhance world food security through international food aid assistance—primarily through either the sale on concessional terms or the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities. Foreign food aid assistance accounts for about 4% of total U.S. foreign aid each year, with economic and military assistance accounting for most outlays. The objectives of foreign food aid include providing emergency and humanitarian assistance in response to natural or manmade disasters, and promoting agricultural development and food security.

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