Friday, April 26, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe USDA is coming back to the table with a new system to track livestock, this time across state lines. This is the second recent effort to prevent disease outbreaks and monitor livestock movement; the first attempt was met with widespread opposition from farmers and eaters who protested the cost to independent livestock producers and loopholes for large producers. In addition to tracking the movement of animals, researchers believe the system will also provide insight into the source of disease, whether it is natural or a fault in practice. Though the law is mandatory, each state will determine how each animal is identified and the program only applies to animals transported across states.

Lambs are beginning to make a bold statement with this new coat. Don’t jump on this fashion craze just yet, as this trend, meant to keep the lambs warm, is quickly falling out of season.

Leave it to Willie Nelson, Farm Aid’s founder and president, to transform an event as monumental as his own 80th birthday into a fundraising event for the firefighters that battled the fire after the horrific explosion at West Fertilizer Co. in West, TX. Willie’s hometown, Abbott, is just miles from West, Texas where the blast occurred. The concert is a part of Willie’s tour and will be held on April 28 at The Backyard in Austin, with all proceeds to the West Volunteer Fire Department.

Researchers are studying if urine can be used as an alternative to manure as a plant fertilizer because of its high concentration of nitrogen, which plants need to grow. Farmers in Nepal have been using the method for hundreds of years, and now colleagues at Tribhuvan University are testing its effectiveness. Researchers at the university grew sweet peppers using different kinds of fertilizers: human urine, compost and urea, the most effective of which was a combination of human urine and compost. Farmers shouldn’t switch to this method just yet, as a study in Africa found commercial fertilizer to be more successful than urine alone. The urine would need to be mixed with compost to be most effective according to the results in the Tribhuvan study, and some cultures might be hesitant to accept human urine as a plausible alternative to commercial options. Still, if further research yields similar results, urine would provide a free alternative for farmers that does not harm the environment.

The US Department of Agriculture is exploring the possibility of a new poultry inspection policy that would reduce supervision of large poultry processors. If the bill passes, it will allow poultry companies to speed up the amount of birds processed. Right now, each large poultry processor is required to have four USDA inspectors monitoring the kill lines, which average about 140 birds per minute. Under the new law one inspector will be able to oversee the plant, which would be able to increase kill line production to about 175 birds per minute. The concept of the bill originated last year, but was killed when food safety advocates expressed concern that conditions would become unsafe. The latest proposed USDA budget, however, includes the provisions of the law with plans to implement the more lax inspection guidelines by September 2014.

Recent reports show that most of the meat commercially sold in supermarkets is contaminated by potentially dangerous bacteria, which probably means that a large percentage of that meat has come in contact with fecal matter. Grist reports:

87 percent of meat—including beef, pork, chicken, and turkey products—tests positive for normal and antibiotic-resistant forms of Enterococcus bacteria. Fifty percent of ground turkey contains resistant E. coli, 10 percent of chicken parts and ground turkey tests positive for resistant salmonella, and 26 percent of chicken parts come contaminated with resistant campylobacter.

Hidden in the depths of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2011 Retail Meat Report, the FDA stated that much of the meat sold at supermarkets contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Though the FDA reported vague figures, the Environmental Working Group used this data to formulate solid statistics. These antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” are linked to various health concerns in humans, with one strain of salmonella even found to be deadly. With 80 percent of all US antibiotics used in raising livestock, this should come at no surprise.

Lamb photo: © PA Photos/Landov

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