We like to think that Google has all the answers, but your next search could lead you to some unreliable information. After a PBS Frontline report titled "The Trouble With Antibiotics" aired this week, the National Pork Board sent an advisory email to food industry executives, detailing plans to control the conversation and redirect online searches for the PBS special to their own website and propaganda. The detailed Frontline report focused on the dangers of antibiotic resistant superbugs like KPC and MRSA that have become more frequent in areas close to large confined livestock agriculture operations. These superbugs kill about 20,000 people each year in the US and an increasing number of experts believe that excessive antibiotic use on farms is to blame. The National Pork Board's communication, which was leaked to the press, claimed there were no connection.
In additional antibiotic news, new findings published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supported the hypothesis that antibiotic use in agriculture could be linked to antibiotic resistance found in some pathogens. The study showed that manure aids the growth of bacteria in soil by both feeding them and eliminating other competition for resources. Even manure from antibiotic-free cows can assist in this process.
As California continues to seek solutions to its devastating drought, some farmers are turning toward technology to alleviate the situation. In the third year of drought, some 500,000 acres of farmland have already been taken out of use, pushing the agriculture business toward long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. To continue feeding the country, California crops may start to shift north to areas where water is plentiful, but sunshine is lacking. Here, the presence of grow lights can provide supplemental sunshine indoors and allow farmers to grow crops year round. In other areas, farmers are trying to adapt to climate change by cajoling rain from clouds. By using drones to fire silver iodine into clouds, farmers can facilitate participation. These two methods have become less costly in recent years and could become attainable solutions to the Golden State's growing water problem.
If you're looking to stretch your dollars, a trip to your local farmers market could do the trick. Early this month, the USDA announced $31.5 million to aid programs that bring farm fresh food closer to low-income families. For every $10 SNAP beneficiaries spend at farmers markets, they will receive $20 worth of produce, while the grant program provides the other $10. This move is designed to bring some of the $80 billion SNAP dollars spent each year to local communities rather than Big Food manufacturers.
For farmers taking those extra steps to be sustainable, more than just a pat on the back from Whole Foods could be in store. On Wednesday, the chain announced that it would begin ranking produce from farms as either "good," "better" or "best" based on farmworker treatment, greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem management. Some complain that the rankings require statistics that are tricky to retrieve – such as the number of earthworms in the soil. But for those willing to count their dirt dwellers and protect native species in their area, increased sales could pay off. The initiative marks a move toward transparency that will also define goals for farmers to achieve.
This year, the United Nations chose to focus its annual World Food Day on family farmers. In honor of the occasion, Willie Nelson wrote a letter that appeared on the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's website and in the Huntington Post. You can read it here. The voices of North Carolina farmers we met at Farm Aid 2014 are also shared on the UN's website.