Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniSometimes it seems news in the world of agriculture is a never ending cycle depressing stories—a GMO war, drought, flooding, a nonexistent Farm Bill—but one farmer decided to shake this, and the story of his fluffy cows went viral. These adorably pruned cows from Iowa made their way onto the Reddit site in May, before more photos of fluffy show cattle began circulating the web and the trending topic #fluffycow was born. While some people are just taking these fluffed fellows as the Boo of cattle, Matt Lautner, owner of the original fluffy cow that hit the Internet, is taking this as an opportunity. He’s trying to educate the public about the cattle industry through Reddit question and answer sessions as well as a new Fluffy Cows R Us Facebook page, talking on cattle issues ranging from feed to management to the beef end product.

An unapproved genetically modified strain of wheat was recently found in a field in Oregon, and though the US Department of Agriculture has said it appears the incident was isolated, some countries abroad, particularly in Asia, are hesitant to import wheat from the US West Coast. The strain of wheat was originally developed by Monsanto in the late 1990s but was never commercially approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “As of today, USDA has neither found nor been informed of anything that would indicate that this incident amounts to more than a single isolated incident in a single field on a single farm,” the USDA has said in a statement. Nonetheless, countries in Asia are concerned about the presence of unapproved genetically engineered wheat, causing US exports to fall. Japan and South Korea are firmly rooted against importing US wheat at this time, while China and Manila are accepting imports once more with extreme caution. The US is still currently the world’s biggest supplier of US wheat.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, which prides itself on its commitment to natural foods from family farms, recently became the first fast food establishment to label its ingredients containing genetically modified products. To the dismay of many, the labels are buried in the company’s website and many of Chipotle's ingredients contain GMOs. But that, truly, is the reality of our food system. GMOs have permeated the foods we eat, and most of us don't realize it. The move makes Chipotle the first major food company to label its products, though both Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods announced plans to label all ingredients for genetically altered substances in the near future.

The USDA recently approved the first label for GMO-free meat and liquid egg products created by the third-party Non-GMO Project organization. In order for a processor to use the label on a product, the animal cannot be fed any genetically modified feed products. In many cases, this means the livestock or poultry is fed organic feed. Under the USDA, the Non-GMO Project must approve all GMO-free labels on meat before it can be distributed. In the past, companies such as Mindful Meats tried to receive USDA approval on labels containing non-GMO claims, but were denied due to a lack of industry standards.

The US House of Representatives voted against its version of the Farm Bill, just days after farm legislation passed the US Senate. The nearly $1 trillion bill would have spanned over 5 years and slashed approximately $2 billion in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps) benefits. Most liberals opposed the bill for the food stamp program cuts, while some on the conservative side voted against it arguing it needed to cut these programs even more. The bill only failed by 34 votes. This means the House will need to rewrite a new version of the bill, but if no bill is passed then the US government will be forced to revert back to laws written 64 years ago, the last time permanent farm legislation was set in place. If this were to become a reality, crop production would be required to steeply decline and consumer prices would rise dramatically.

In the midst of high meat prices following one of the nation’s worst droughts ever, a stomach virus infecting piglets is sweeping across the US and could affect pork prices in the future. The virus is deadly in most instances and is currently impacting 13 states, even more alarming as it shares over 99 percent of genes with a virus that killed over 1 million piglets in China. The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) cannot inflict humans or other animals, but the outcome of eating pork that was infected with PEDV is still unknown. The number of piglets that have died from the virus is also still being determined, and authorities do not know how the disease came to the US. Though the first case was discovered in May, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory speculates that the virus may have originated as early as April. As farmers gear up for fair season, they are urged to take extra caution so as not to spread the virus more.

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