The News21 project at University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and GOOD just announced the winners in their Rethink the Food Label competition to design a new nutrition label. Five experts in the field judged entries from more than 50 designers. View the winning entries here and cast your vote for the people’s choice award.
A new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives the “food miles” concept a new twist – an infographic from the report looks at the carbon footprints of 20 foods, shown as car miles.
Teaming up with environmental analysis and consulting firm CleanMetrics, EWG calculated greenhouse gas emissions for each food item using a “cradle-to-grave” lifecycle approach that includes emissions generated before and after the food leaves the farm.
Read the full report: Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change + Health
A new report from the Farm Foundation says demand for corn-based ethanol and a dramatic rise in Chinese imports of soybeans are key drivers of food prices in 2011. Other factors include weather-related production shortfalls, changes in cropping patterns and a weak and volatile US dollar.
The report’s authors, Purdue University economists Wallace Tyner, Philip Abbott and Christopher Hurt, presented their findings yesterday at a Farm Foundation Forum at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The new report builds on similar work done by the authors in 2008 and 2009.
A tight world stock situation for corn and soybeans is likely to persist, along with high prices, for at least two crop years, the report says.
“The cupboard is absolutely bare. That’s why what happens to this crop still this year is very, very important,” said co-author Christopher Hurt. “We just aren’t going to get out of this, at least on those two crops, this coming year.”
The report also looks at implications for US agricultural policy, including a shift from a policy of surplus to one focused on stimulating supply.
“Today, we are in an era of shortage, and we don’t have a lot of experience with policies of shortage,” said Wallace Tyner.
Nearly 45 million people in the United States benefit from SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also referred to as food stamps). The USDA administers this and other nutrition assistance programs, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market nutrition programs, providing funds to low-income individuals and families to purchase food.
Historically, food stamps were used at farmers markets and grocery stores. However, when the program changed over to electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in the late 1990s, farmers markets were not equipped with the technology to handle the electronic currency. This is changing, and as of 2009 SNAP was accepted at about 900 farmers markets nationwide with numbers continuing to climb. In the nation’s capital (and Maryland), the nonprofit FRESHFARM Markets is working to increase access to farmers markets by SNAP recipients. The program began accepting EBTs at two of its markets in 2008, and has since expanded to five, including the White House market and the Dupont Circle market.
One of the co-executive directors of FRESHFARM Markets, Bernie Prince, commented that the biggest hurdles during the program’s first year were a lack of awareness that farmers markets accepted EBTs and insufficient incentive for shoppers to begin frequenting them. FRESHFARM’s Double Dollars program, started in 2009, matches the amount that nutrition assistance recipients spend, providing an inducement to purchase regularly from farmers markets, and increasing their access to fresh and healthy foods. Funding for the program comes from grants and individual donations. Ms. Prince noted that SNAP transactions reached $20,000 in 2010, up from $200 during the first year in 2008, a testament to the success of the program.
In the DC metropolitan area, other markets, including the Columbia Heights Community Marketplace and Ward 8 Farmers’ Market, are also seeking to increase food stamp recipients’ access to local and seasonal products by providing matching funds. And in Takoma, MD, the Crossroads Farmers Market has operated for four seasons under the core mission of reaching underserved, minority and low-income populations. Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit based in Connecticut, is providing financial and technical assistance to implement Double Value Coupon programs at farmers markets across the country.
The current issue of The Economist includes an article on the role of food stamps during times of economic recession and discussing the prospects of the program under current budget discussions.
Additional reading: Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets
On July 13, president and CEO of The Hunger Project Mary Ellen McNish announced this year’s laureates for the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. The prize is awarded to African men and women who “through their tireless efforts, innovative spirit, and focused dedication, are taking actions to address the issues of hunger and poverty.” Bingu wa Mutharika, President of Malawi, and Dr. Florence Chenoweth, Liberia’s Minister of Agriculture and former Director of FAO’s Liaison Office at UN headquarters in New York, were recognized this year for their outstanding contributions to confronting food security challenges.
Read more about the prize and recipients at The Hunger Project’s website.
British scholar Thomas Malthus posited that resource scarcity, famine and disease would eventually check the rapidly growing global population. While population has risen precipitously since Malthus’s time and is projected to hit 7 billion in October, the issue of resource scarcity continues to be a concern, particularly with regards to feeding a hungry planet.
On the heels of World Population Day on July 11, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Population Reference Bureau organized the second annual Malthus Lecture. Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria, presented the state of global hunger and the challenges that must be overcome in order to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe. In his lecture, Dr. Serageldin emphasized that “we must abolish hunger” but makes clear that a suite of solutions are necessary and “looking for a silver bullet would be pointless”.
Video of the lecture and Dr. Serageldin’s presentation slides are available online.
An article in this week’s Time Magazine – A Future of Price Spikes – also looks at the challenges facing the global food system and what’s needed to avoid the “Malthusian conclusion”.
They can increase crop yields significantly in dry climates, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and the University of Sydney, report that in field experiments on a dryland farm under low tillage but otherwise conventional agricultural management the presence of ants and termites increased wheat yield by 36%.
The authors attribute the rise in yield to increased soil water infiltration due to the tunnels dug by ants and termites and improved soil nitrogen due to termites’ nitrogen-fixing gut bacteria.
Lead author Dr. Theo Evans says the insects have the potential to become a new tool for sustainable crop management in drier climates:
“The role of earthworms in building soil and soil health has long been recognised and studied; work originally done by Charles Darwin turned them from pests into good guys. One of the last things Darwin did in his life was to rehabilitate earthworms. But, earthworms really only survive in wet places. In drier and hotter habitats, ants and termites appear to replace earthworms as soil ecosystem engineers.”
Not according to Cristopher Barrett (Cornell) and Marc Bellemare (Duke). Writing in Foreign Affairs, they argue that the real problem is expensive food and that global leaders are wrong to focus on unstable prices rather than high ones.
“Policies aimed at curbing food price volatility, such as export bans, price stabilization schemes, and subsidies for farmers are misguided if policymakers aim to increase the welfare of the poor, or avert political unrest in developing countries.”
The full paper, including notes and statistical tables, is available here.
Leading experts and advocates gathered in Aspen, Colorado, for a week of knowledge exchange and dialogue at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Topics spanned from the economy and education to arts and the environment. The issues of food security and agriculture were well represented during the event, stimulating dialogue on agricultural productivity, biofuels and “edible education.” Videos of all panel discussions and presentations are available on the festival’s website.
Discussion around the topic of biofuels has figured prominently in the headlines lately. At the Group of 20 (G20) meeting of agriculture ministers, the topic surfaced as one of the key points of interest. A Wall Street Journal blog post framed the issue, noting the positions of various countries, international and non-governmental organizations. A New York Times editorial also addressed the meeting, but with a post-meeting perspective.
The journal Nature examined the debate between biofuel and food production a little further. The author touched on subjects ranging from second generation biofuels derived from the inedible portions of plants to tradeoffs between devoting land to growing food or fuel.
The increased focus coincides with a U.S. Senate proposal to end a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for corn ethanol at the end of July and divert the majority of the funds towards debt reduction. Awaiting acceptance by the House and Obama administration, the proposal still allows $668 million to be used as incentives for the biofuel and ethanol industry. Some national taxpayer, meat and dairy groups voiced concerns about the proposal, arguing in a joint statement on July 7 that the money “would be better spent reducing the deficit or encouraging the development of energy sources that do not compete with feed needs.”