Archive for the category “Food Policy”

Will Cowork for Food: San Francisco’s Forage Kitchen Aims to Be a Hub for Food Lovers

“Making food from scratch and selling it on a small scale is one of the simplest and oldest business models. But it isn’t that simple to get a food venture off the ground. Financial barriers to entry include expensive commercial kitchen spaces and equipment. Bureaucratic impediments include licensing and permits. A lack of experience, savvy, and connections compound the challenge, of course, preventing many food lovers from taking the plunge to become food entrepreneurs.

Iso Rabins would know—his attempts to break into San Francisco’s food scene were foiled from the get-go. Farmers markets turned him away when he offered to sell foraged mushrooms. He ended up “cold-calling chefs and knocking on the back door of restaurants.” In 2008, Rabins founded ForageSF, a social enterprise to support the city’s foraging scene. The group began hosting the Underground Market, a food market for shoppers willing to take a risk on food prepared outside a commercial kitchen. The market exploded in popularity, with hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of participants. Then, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health issued them a cease-and-desist last year.

Now Rabins and ForageSF are back with a new project called Forage Kitchen, a physical home for San Francisco’s craft food scene—everyone from aspiring entrepreneurs to hobbyists. Currently in its Kickstarter phase, if funded the kitchen will become the first coworking space for craft food and a much needed “venue for small food producers to get their start without having to pay all the fees,” says Rabins.”

via Will Cowork for Food: San Francisco’s Forage Kitchen Aims to Be a Hub for Food Lovers – Business – GOOD.

Fascinating article on the SF food scene.  I remember reading about their “Underground Market” last year and wishing we had such a thing here.  So was very sorry to learn that the SF Department of Public Health had shut them down.

I was talking to a nonprofit developer recently about the possibility of putting a commercial kitchen into the low income housing project they were working on. It seemed to me that it could have great benefit both to the residents and to potential “food entrepreneurs” in that neighborhood.  While my developer friend agreed that the kitchen was a great idea and could be a tremendous benefit, it wasn’t something she could do because if she added a commercial kitchen to the space, it would cause the per hour labor costs for the build to go to a much, much higher level—like from $15 per hour to $30 per hour.  And not just while the kitchen was being constructed–those higher rates would be in effect for the entire build.  So even though the kitchen would be a great asset and could help some of the residents/neighbors build a business to support themselves and their families, it was “off the table” as an option.

There has to be a way around this problem; a way to make growing a new food business affordable for people with dreams and talents, but little means.  I know there are people trying to work on this problem here in Portland and I very much hope they succeed.  In the meantime, budding food entrepreneurs will need to keep looking for a cost-effective way to bring their food to market.

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USDA to Ramp Up Drug Residue Testing for Meat and Poultry

 I have commented a lot about the antibiotics in meat issues (and I’m not done yet!)  That said, here is the news that came out today:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is beefing up testing for veterinary drug residues in the meat supply – and the new policy will take effect this  grilling season.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service today will announce a new, more modern testing system that allows the agency to test for dozens of drugs, pesticides, and other potentially harmful compounds simultaneously, instead of only testing for one or a handful of compounds in each meat sample.

The change is a significant update to an often-overlooked part of the food safety system. For the last several years much of the focus has been on microbiological contamination, but much less attention has been paid to drug and chemical contamination in the food supply.

In 2010, the USDA’s Inspector General published a report questioning whether the agency was doing enough to keep harmful drug and chemical residues out of beef products, but the issue has not received much media attention since.

“The new testing methods being announced today will help protect consumers from illegal drug residues in meat products,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “By allowing us to test for more chemical compounds from each sample, these changes will enable USDA to identify and evaluate illegal drug residues more effectively and efficiently.”

Using new multi-residue methods, FSIS will be able to test for 55 pesticide chemicals, 9 kinds of antibiotics, various metals, and eventually more than 50 other chemicals”

via USDA to Ramp Up Drug Residue Testing for Meat and Poultry.

What results it will have or how effectively it will be implemented remains to be seen.  I still believe that consumer protests directly to the grocery store chains will have the most impact (like they did with pink slime). If you get a chance to sign a petition or express your position to Safeway, Trader Joes, Albertsons or other grocers about being willing to buy only antibiotic-free meat and poultry, I hope you will do so.

More on the Factory Farms Antibiotics Use Ruling

Although it’s highly unlikely the meat industry will be able to show its current practices are safe, it may be months or even years before the court-ordered hearings even happen:

“The judge put the burden on the pharmaceutical industry to prove that its products are safe. Here’s the money quote from the decision: “If, at the hearing, the drug sponsors fail to show that use of the drugs is safe, the [FDA] Commissioner must issue a withdrawal order,” i.e., ban the drugs…

“As yet, there is no timetable on when the court-ordered hearings will take place. And getting the FDA to initiate them in an election year—when both Big Meat and Big Pharma will be pumping money into campaigns—may be tricky. “[T]he fight is far from over: further court proceedings will likely be required to establish a timeline for FDA to act, and FDA could appeal the decision which could delay action for months or even years,” NRDC attorney Avinash Kar wrote in a Friday blog post.”
via Tighter Rules for Factory Farm Antibiotics? Maybe. | Mother Jones.

I wonder if public pressure can expedite this process?  No doubt there will be Internet petitions urging the FDA to move on the process.  But how much effect can those actually have?  Not to be cynical, but in an election year, probably not much.

Judge’s ruling may begin to curb antibiotics use with livestock

MSNBC and Time both reported recently on a ruling by Judge Theodore Katz, which could limit the use of antibiotics with livestock.  It’s not everything we could hope for, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“A federal judge ordered U.S. regulators to start proceedings to withdraw approval for the use of common antibiotics in animal feed, citing concerns that overuse is endangering human health by creating antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin proceedings unless makers of the drugs can produce evidence that their use is safe. If they can’t, then the FDA must withdraw approval for non-therapeutic use of those drugs, the judge ruled.”

via FDA must act to cut antibiotics from animal feed – Health – Food safety – msnbc.com.

And from Time.com:

“It’s not clear how big an effect the ruling will ultimately have on antibiotic use. The FDA has refused to put forward restrictions on drugs used specifically to prevent disease even if the antibiotics are delivered via food or water, and the ruling doesn’t address this either. Farmers may simply say that the drugs are being used to treat or prevent disease, and still go on using them. For its part the Animal Health Institute (AHI), a meat industry trade group, argued that the ruling would distract from an effort to collaborate with the FDA to stop growth promotion drug use. “It is unfortunate that time and resources will now be diverted to responding to the court decision,” the AHI said in a statement.

Still, even if Katz’s ruling is limited, it’s one more indication that Big Ag isn’t as all-powerful as it once was — and that change could be coming to American meat production.”

via Toward a Drug-Free Burger: Ruling May Curb Antibiotics in Meat – TIME.

55 Congress Members Ask FDA to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

It’s so rare to find a story about multiple members of Congress “doing the right thing,”  it seems particularly newsworthy.  The fact that it involves requesting the FDA to begin labeling  GMOs is even more so.  If it only were 450 members, rather than just 55!

 “On Monday. March 12, 45 U.S. representatives and 10 U.S. senators signed a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in support of a legal petition that asks the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

The petition, filed by nonprofit Center for Food Safety and supported by more than 400 health and consumer organizations and businesses, argues that consumers require more complete labeling in order to make informed decisions. Since October 2011, members of the public have submitted more than 850,000 comments in support of the petition.

Genetically engineered foods are foods made from organisms — mainly plants — that have had their genes modified to exhibit specific desired traits, such as tomatoes modified to delay ripening or corn with built-in resistances to herbicides and insects. Such foods have been sold on the market since 1996.”

via 55 Congress Members Ask FDA to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.

FDA gives up on antibiotic restrictions in livestock

As these excerpts from a Grist article make clear, it is maddeningly difficult to make changes in national food regulations, despite conclusive evidence that “business as usual” is injurious to the public health.

I admire and support  the organizations who keep up the fight, despite year after year of defeats.  In the meantime, I am grateful to have the option of buying local, antibiotics-free, grass-fed meat from farmers and ranchers I know and trust.   I can’t change national policy, but I can try to make the option to buy healthy, local meat  more readily available for more Portland-area residents in 2012.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled a Scrooge move just before Christmas. The agency published an entry in the Federal Register declaring that it will end its attempt at mandatory restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The agency isn’t advertising the shift, though: This news would have remained a secret if not for Maryn McKenna’s Superbug blog over at Wired. McKenna, who specializes in writing about antibiotics and their link to pathogens, caught the Federal Register notice.

This is a sorry end to a process that began in 1977 (!), but McKenna created an excellent timeline that traces the history of the issue back to the 1950s. In 2009, the Obama administration breathed new life into a moribund process because the top two Obama appointees at the FDA, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and her then-deputy Joshua Sharfstein, strongly supported restricting antibiotic use in agriculture.

But despite Hamburg and Sharfstein’s many supportive statements, the FDA has only produced a draft set of “voluntary” guidelines. And, with this latest announcement, it looks like that’s as far as they’re willing to go.

Inaction has consequences: According to the vast majority of microbiologists and public health experts, restrictions on agricultural uses are key to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics as well as to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and salmonella Heidelberg (cause of last summer’s record-breaking ground turkey recall). And it’s no small dosage: Every year 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to animals — often via their feed. That figure represents 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S.”

via Scrooged: FDA gives up on antibiotic restrictions in livestock | Grist.

School Lunch Programs: Turning Food into Junk

There has been a lot of outrage online about the fact that Congress allowed plain pizza to be classified as a vegetable because there is tomato paste on it.  But less discussion about some of the other things that are wrong with school lunches  detailed in this Grist article:

In a collaboration between The New York Times and the Investigative Fund, reporter Lucy Komisar delved into the billion-dollar business of the national school lunch program and found some unsettling news.

Komisar looked at two less-examined aspects of the school lunch program. The first is the practice of taking up to $1 billion of “surplus” fruits, vegetables, and meats that the USDA supplies to the program and, rather than cooking them into healthy meals, turning them into high-fat processed foods. The second is the surprisingly inefficient economics of outsourcing cafeteria services to private companies like Sodexo or Aramark.

As for the first practice, about $1 billion of surplus foods like apples, potatoes, and chicken are transferred from the USDA to schools for free every year. Only most schools don’t prepare the foods in their own kitchens — they pay processing companies, as Komisar says, “to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza, and the like.”

And, of course, french fries.

Schools across the country have shut down their own kitchens in favor of facilities that can reheat and serve these processed foods. The logic was supposed to be irresistible — it combined the efficiencies of centralized food production with the simplicity of easily trained workers.

However, as Komisar observes, turning chicken into chicken nuggets isn’t all that cheap:

The Michigan Department of Education, for example, gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.

… Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding “no substantive economic savings.”

Komisar also quotes another study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which determined that this practice transformed perfectly good ingredients into foods that “have about the same nutritional value as junk foods.”

For some reason, this reminds me of an old Bill Cosby routine about why he doesn’t play golf.  In it, he explains that golf doesn’t make sense to him because “You HAD the ball and then you hit it away.”   It’s the same with the USDA surplus food which schools get for free–You HAD real food and then, you turned it into junk.  And not just junk, but more expensive junk–which makes no sense at all.

The article goes on to talk about why it would be better job-wise, cost-wise, health-wise to go back to actually cooking school lunches onsite, rather than simply reheating prepared food.  But alas, there are big food lobbies for prepared food who don’t want to lose out on this captive market.   Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see that despite arguments to the contrary, it really doesn’t even make economic sense (for anyone except big business) to do it the way it is currently being done in many school districts.

via A dollar badly spent: New facts on processed food in school lunches | Grist.

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