Category Archives: Food & Farming

McDonald’s and KFC hit by China food safety scandal

Lucy Hornby reports for the Financial Times:

Two Chinese men walk past a billboard advertising US fast-food giant McDonald's, in Yichang, central China's Hubei province on July 8, 2010. McDonald's said it was working with Chinese authorities to test its Chicken McNuggets amid reports they contained risky chemical additives, but stressed the food was safe. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)‘A supplier to McDonald’s and KFC in China has been accused of supplying rotting meat to the fast-food chains and falsifying product expiration dates, in the latest food safety scandal to hit the country. It is also the latest blow to foreign fast food companies operating in the country, where promises of rapid growth – there are more than 4,400 KFC restaurants alone – are being undermined by food safety issues.

The Shanghai food safety watchdog said on Monday it had closed a meat and poultry processor on the outskirts of the city after an undercover investigation by a local television station found the company to be putting new labels on expired meat, among other food safety violations. KFC and McDonald’s, both of which used the US-owned meat processor to supply their Shanghai outlets, apologised to their Chinese customers.’


Coca-Cola Forced To Shut Bottling Plant in India

Fatima Hansia reports for CorpWatch:

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage producer, has been ordered to shut down its bottling plant in Varanasi, India following local complaints that the company was drawing excessive amounts of groundwater. After an investigation, government authorities ruled that the company had violated its operating license.

…This is not the first time that the company has been in trouble in India for unsustainable water extraction practices. In 2004 a bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, was closed for excessive water consumption. Later Kerala passed legislation that allows Coca-Cola to be sued for as much as $47 million in damages as result of the operations. And last year, community organizers in Charba, Uttarakhand, defeated Coca-Cola’s plans to build a new factory as soon as the proposal went public.’


Study: Organic Food Has More Antioxidants, Less Pesticide Residue

Dominique Mosbergen reports for The Huffington Post:

Organic food really is better for your health than its conventional counterparts. At least, that’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University and published this week. But not everyone is convinced. Specifically, the researchers said that organic fruits, vegetables and cereals contain significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown crops. They added that organic produce and cereals were found to have lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides.

For the study — said to be the largest of its kind – the researchers analyzed more than 340 international, peer-reviewed studies that looked at compositional differences between organic and conventional crops. According to the paper, researchers found that organically grown produce and cereals have between 19 and 69 percent higher concentrations of certain antioxidant compounds than conventionally grown crops.’


Nanotech: Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food

Tom Philpott writes for Mother Jones:

‘The rapid emergence of nanotechnology suggests that size does, indeed, matter. It turns out that if you break common substances like silver and nickel into really, really tiny particles—measured in nanometers, which are billionths of a meter—they behave in radically different ways. For example, regular silver, the stuff of fancy tableware, doesn’t have any obvious place in sock production. But nano-size silver particles apparently do. According to boosters, when embedded in the fabric of socks, microscopic silver particles are “strongly antibacterial to a wide range of pathogens, absorb sweat, and by killing bacteria help eliminate unpleasant foot odor.” (By most definitions, a particle qualifies as “nano” when it’s 100 nanometers wide or less. By contrast, a human hair clocks in at about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.)

According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)—a joint venture of Virginia Tech and the Wilson Center—there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market today. If SmartSilver Anti-Odor Nanotechnology Underwear sounds like a rather intimate application for this novel technology, consider that the PEN database lists 96 food items currently on US grocery shelves that contain unlabeled nano ingredients. Examples include Silk Original Soy MilkRice Dream Rice Drink, Hershey’s Bliss Dark Chocolate, and Kraft’s iconic American Cheese Singles, all of which now contain nano-size titanium dioxide*. As recently as 2008, only eight US food products were known to contain nanoparticles, according to a recent analysis from Friends of the Earth—a more than tenfold increase in just six years.’


The Deep Harm of Antibiotics

Dr. Cesar Chelala writes for CounterPunch:

‘Resistance to antibiotics is a growing phenomenon and has become one of the world’s most serious public health concerns. Antibiotic resistance is a form of drug resistance where some bacteria are able to survive the administration of one or more antibiotics. This phenomenon is a consequence of misuse and overuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock feed. As a result of this, there is a growing presence of superbugs, as are called microorganisms -mostly bacteria- that carry several antibiotic-resistance genes.

The seriousness of the problem is underscored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which in a recent report has called this phenomenon a ‘global threat.’ The WHO report follows a 2013 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report which showed that two million people in the U.S. are infected annually with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die each year from them. Last year, Dr. Sally Davies had called the problem a “ticking time bomb” and said that it probably will become as important in the magnitude of its effects as climate change.

As a result of antibiotic resistance and the increasing number of superbugs, common infections that could be treated without major problems have become untreatable. In 2012, the WHO reported 450,000 cases of tuberculosis in 92 countries where multiple drugs used to treat them were found ineffective.’


Report: Over-fortified cereals may pose risks to kids

Michelle Healy reports for USA Today:

‘Young children who dig into a bowl of fortified breakfast cereal may be getting too much of a good thing. A new report says that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of the excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.

Outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuel this potential risk, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based health research and advocacy organization.’


Meals of the Future: Will Soylent and Ambronite Make Food Obsolete?

Amir Khan writes for U.S. News & World Report:

soylent‘[...] Old TV shows and movies depicted 21st century food as nutrient-dense capsules, giving you a day’s worth of calories and nutrients in a single pill – and two new companies are close to bringing that prediction to reality.

These California-based companies – Soylent, named after the 1973 science fiction film “Soylent Green,” and Ambronite – have both developed meal replacement mixes that are intended to free you from the burden of cooking. Simply mix the powder with water or any liquid and, in the case of Soylent, a little oil, and you have a ready-to-drink nutritious breakfast, lunch or dinner.’


Nafeez Ahmed: World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs, say NGOs

Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

A Kenyan farmer tends newly planted trees‘Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations. Many such deals are geared toward growing crops or biofuels for export to richer, developed countries – with the consequence that small-holder farmers are displaced from their land and lose their livelihood while local communities go hungry.

The concentration of ownership of the world’s farmland in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is rapidly accelerating, driven by resource scarcity and, thus, rising prices. According to a new report by the US land rights organisation Grain: “The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing.” Less known factors, however, include ‘conservation‘ and ‘carbon offsetting.”


How much sugar do we eat?

Christine Jeavans writes for BBC News:

Soft drinks in a supermarket‘There is fierce debate about the role of added sugar in contributing to the obesity crisis. UK government scientists today halved the recommended level of added sugar people should eat each day. And the World Health Organization has also said people should aim to get just 5% of their daily calories from the sweet stuff. But calculating how much sugar we eat is not as simple as it sounds.

Sugar is sugar – right? Not quite. Health professionals take a dim view of sugars added to processed food but say that naturally occurring sweetness in milk and fruit is largely fine, with the exception of juice. Current advice says no more than 11% of a person’s daily food calories should come from added sugars, or 10% once alcohol is taken into account. That works out at about 50g of sugars for a woman and 70g for a man, depending on how active they are. And it’s this level which has just been halved in a draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. But look at the back of a food packet and you’ll see a guideline amount for total sugars – including those naturally occurring in fruit and other ingredients.’


High-tech spoon helps people with tremors tackle tasks

Robin Erb reports for Detroit Free Press:

‘Technology originally designed for the U.S. military now has a second use: helping those with tremors eat and live better.

A high-tech spoon — fitted with a tiny computer and sensors such as those in a camera or cellphone — softens the effect of essential tremors by sensing their direction and strength and moving the device in the opposite direction.

“In some ways, it seems too simple to be true,” said Dr. Kelvin Chou, a University of Michigan neurologist and essential tremors specialist whose patients helped test the device. For essential tremor patients, simple daily activities — eating, applying makeup — can be impossible.’


Study: Healthy buzzwords trick consumers into buying unhealthy products

From AFP:

‘Buzzwords like “gluten-free,” “antioxidants” and “whole-grain” pepper the grocery store aisles, but do they really mean that such products are healthy? A recent study conducted at the University of Houston warns shoppers to proceed with caution. Researchers say these health-related euphemisms have a powerful impact on consumers and, in light of the actual ingredients in some of these products, could convey a false sense of health.

…Although the FDA requires Nutrition Information labels in the United States and similar labeling systems are seen in other countries, Northup’s research concludes they have little effect on consumers. “Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”‘


Association found between maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides and autism

From Science Daily:

‘Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women’s pregnancies. The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants’ pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.’


Coalition abandons plans to force manufacturers to reveal meat origins after industry lobbying

Ben Spencer reports for the Daily Mail:

Meat: Despite vowing to improve transparency in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, some of the Findus products which contained the meat pictured, the Coalition has U-turned on implementing tighter rules‘Tough proposals to force food manufacturers to reveal where the meat in their products comes from have been shelved in a U-turn by ministers. Despite vowing to improve transparency in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the Coalition has quietly abandoned the plans following a sustained lobbying drive by the industry. It means manufacturers will not be obliged to say where the meat in pies, lasagnes, pasta sauces, sandwiches and any other processed dish originates. Farming Minister George Eustice has quietly lobbied against tighter regulations for processed meat in Europe after his department held a string of meetings with food manufacturers. As a result, new rules coming into force this year have been significantly watered down – so they will not have to tell consumers where the meat has come from in hundreds of product lines.’


Parasites, Killing Their Host: The Food Industry’s Solution to Obesity

Mark Bittman writes for The New York Times:

‘You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition. The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.’ theory has it that as long as even one of the big food companies remains cynical and uncaring about its market, they all must remain so.’


Dr. Oz’s bad day on Capitol Hill

Elise Viebeck reports for The Hill:

‘TV personality Mehmet Oz ran into trouble before a Senate panel Tuesday over his claims that certain products can cause “miracle” weight loss. Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” repeatedly tangled with lawmakers who called on him to change his approach to encouraging healthier habits in his audience. The back-and-forth took place at a Commerce subcommittee hearing led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on deceptive advertising for weight-loss products.

Referring to Oz’s “miracle” claims for products like green coffee extract, she said, “I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true.”  “The scientific community is almost monolithically against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,’ ” McCaskill told Oz. “We didn’t call this hearing to beat up on you. … [But] you can either be part of the police or be part of the problem, and we hope you’ll do a better job at being part of the police.”‘


GMO 2.0: genetically modified foods with added health benefits

Marc Gunther writes for The Guardian:

‘It’s easy to understand why many Americans are unenthusiastic about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although supermarket aisles are lined with foods made from biotech crops – most cereals, frozen foods, canned soups, vegetable oils, soft drinks, baby formula, tofu and even milk contain GMOs – consumers have yet to see tangible benefits from GMOs. The biotech industry has been slow to develop food that is healthier, better tasting or longer lasting – to its political detriment. As Food and Water Watch, a critic of GMOs, has argued, hyperbolically: “The only ones experiencing any benefits from GE crops are the few, massive corporations that are controlling the food system at every step and seeing large profit margins.” That is about to change.’


Slave ships & supermarkets: Modern day slavery in Thailand

‘Slavery is back. Modern day slave ships have been used to provide feed for prawns supplied to some of the world’s biggest supermarkets, including: Tesco, Aldi, Walmart and Morrisons. A six-month Guardian multimedia investigation has, for the first time, tracked how these supermarkets use suppliers relying on slave labour to put cheap prawns on their shelves.’ (The Guardian)

Peter Mandelson: a battering ram for big business

David Cronin wrote for SpinWatch last November:

mand 199x300 Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy richPeter Mandelson’s willingness to act as a battering ram for Western multinationals knew few bounds… During his four years in Brussels, Mandelson pushed the EU’s agenda to new extremes. In the past, trade negotiators had traditionally focused on cutting or removing taxes levied on imports and exports. A 2006 policy paper called Global Europe - drawn up at Mandelson’s behest – pushed for that scope to be enlarged. It committed the EU to strive towards dismantling a range of “barriers” encountered by firms doing business abroad.  Workers’ rights and environmental standards across the world would be vigorously challenged if they harmed corporate profits, the paper inferred. Sadly, this agenda has gained more momentum than Mandelson could have dreamed.

…Having set in motion a process aimed at allowing corporations play dangerous games with nature and human health, it is perhaps only logical that Mandelson is now a grubby lobbyist himself.  In his current capacity as chairman of two consultancies, Mandelson habitually attends the annual conferences of the Bilderberg Group and other gatherings for the world’s political and business elite. To use his own words, Mandelson always appears “intensely relaxed” when surrounded by the “filthy rich”.  It is not hard to understand why.  He has worked tirelessly to allow Europe be captured by his corporate chums.’


Monsanto: the Toxic Face of Globalization

Alexander Reid Ross writes for CounterPunch:

‘To the rhythms of drums and chants, concerned people took to the streets across 436 cities in 52 countries. The message was clear: smash Monsanto. With thousands marching from coast to coast, Canada to Argentina, and around the world, the day of protest has emerged as one of the largest global events—and it has only been around for two years. However, more than small hopes for a mandatory labeling of genetically modified products, smashing Monsanto entails a larger transformation of the modern relationship between people and food.

It is not only GM products, but the continuing economy of globalization, that Monsanto represents. Thanks to major seed companies and agricultural conglomerates like Monsanto and Cargill, the very definition of farmer has changed throughout the world—from a person or group of people in a given community who specialized in producing food to a corporate, land-owning entity comprised more of machines, technological assemblages, and inputs than of people who work the land. Thus, the target of protest is not only GMs, although GMs are a central aspect, but also the supply chain of multinational corporations that transforms food into a commodity that many throughout the world cannot afford.’


The end of fish

Amy Novogratz and Mike Velings, co-founders of Aqua-Spark, write for the Washington Post:

Sait Serkan Gurbuz/St. Joseph News-Press via Associated Press‘People are getting more adventurous with how they eat, and when it comes to seafood, this means exhaustively looking to every exotic corner for the best, newest and tastiest fish. Also, the stuff is delicious. Seafood is a critical portion of more than 3 billion people’s diets. Already, 90 percent of U.S. seafood is imported.

This can’t last. The oceans are stretched, and certain fish species are approaching depletion. Leading scientists project that if we continue to fish this way, without allowing our oceans time to recover, our oceans could become virtual deserts by 2050. That’s just 36 years from now. Given that demand for seafood – along with the world’s population – is rising, don’t be surprised if this window closes even faster. Make your peace with fish, because it may not last much longer.

[...] If this sounds alarmist, look at the data. The Census of Marine Life concluded in 2010 that 90 percent of the large fish are gone, primarily because of overfishing. This includes many of the fish we love to eat, like Atlantic salmon, tuna, halibut, swordfish, Atlantic cod. If we don’t allow for proper recovery, these fish risk total extinction.’


Watercress number one on list of ‘powerhouse fruits and vegetables’

Researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey, USA have compiled a list of “powerhouse fruits and vegetables” based on the amount of 17 critical nutrients they contain. Vegetables dominate the list and watercress is the only one to come out with a perfect score:

Powerhouse fruits and vegetables

Fruit juices, fizzy drinks and cereals push children over sugar limits

Laura Donnelly reports for The Telegraph:

Fruit juices and fizzy drinks provide the largest source of sugar for children aged between four and 18‘A single glass of fruit juice a day is the most anyone should drink, new guidelines say, as a report warns that families are consuming unsafe levels of sugar. There is rising concern that sugar is one of the greatest threats to health, creating an obesity time bomb and contributing to spiralling levels of diabetes. Health officials issued the warning as a national study found that children and teenagers are consuming around 40 per cent more added sugar than the recommended daily allowance.

Fruit juices and fizzy drinks are the chief culprit, providing the largest source of sugar for children aged between four and 18, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey by Public Health England found. The country’s most senior nutritionist yesterday advised limiting children and adults to 150ml of fruit juice per day, and always accompanied by a meal. It is the first time health officials have outlined such a limit.’


Coca Cola in controversy over £20m ‘anti-obesity’ drive

Laura Donnelly writes for The Telegraph:

‘Fizzy drinks giant Coca-Cola has sparked controversy with new plans to fund a £20 million anti-obesity fitness drive in 70 of the country’s parks.

The global company says the new programme will mean thousands of free sessions and coaching for families, in activities such as tennis, basketball, hula-hooping, Zumba, rounders and archery.

But the plans last night triggered immediate criticism, with nutrition campaigners accusing the company of an “obscene” attempt to distract from its own part in fuelling Britain’s obesity epidemic.’


Credit ratings agencies just realized that climate change is a threat to the world economy

John McDuling writes for Quartz:

‘Credit rating agencies have been accused of being asleep at the wheel during the US subprime mortgage crisis, which ended up morphing into a full-blown international financial crisis and triggering a global recession. But there’s a new risk to the world economy and this time credit ratings agencies are on it.

Over the past week or so, one of the most prominent credit agencies, Standard & Poor’s, has, in a series of reports, attempted to quantify the financial impact of climate change. The company looked at the impact of changing weather patterns on various industries, including utilities and insurance.

Among other things, the ratings agency ranked nations based on the percentage of their population living below an altitude of 5 meters (about 16 feet), their share of agriculture in total economic output, and their ranking in the GAIN Vulnerability Index, a measure developed by the University of Notre Dame that measures countries’ vulnerability and readiness to deal with climate change.’


Sperms’ swimming and navigational skills disrupted by common chemicals

Ian Sample reports for The Guardian:

Microscopic image of sperm‘Common chemical additives found in sunscreens, food packaging, toothpaste and toys can harm sperm and may affect the fertility of some couples, scientists say.

Tests on 96 ubiquitous and supposedly non-toxic substances found that nearly one third disrupted the way sperm functioned, affecting their swimming and navigational skills, and their ability to fertilise an egg.

The findings – from an experiment conducted on sperm in dishes in the lab – are the first to demonstrate how the chemicals, which are so widespread they are detectable in people’s blood, can impact on sperm and potentially harm reproduction.’


Climate Change Is Turning Your Produce Into Junk Food

Tom Philpott writes for Mother Jones:

‘Climate skeptics like to point out that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulates plant growth—suggesting that ever-growing fossil fuel consumption will lead to an era of bin-busting crop yields. But as I noted last week, the best science suggests that other effects of an over-heated planet—heat stress, drought, and floods—will likely overwhelm any bonus from CO2-rich air. Overall, it seems, crop yields will decline. And here’s more bad news: In a paper published in Nature this month, a global team has found that heightened levels of atmospheric carbon make key staple crops wheat, rice, peas, and soybeans less nutritious.’


Why We’re Fat: I Went to the Nutritionists’ Annual Confab and It Was Catered by McDonald’s

Kiera Butler writes for Mother Jones:

‘With 75,000 members, the CDA’s parent organization, the national Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), is the world’s largest professional association for nutritionists and dietitians. It accredits undergraduate and graduate programs in nutrition science and awards credentials to dietitian degree candidates who pass its exam. In Washington, its lobbying arm is active on issues including childhood obesity, Medicare, and the farm bill.

It also has strong ties to the food industry. In 2013, Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and food politics blogger, launched an investigation (PDF) into the academy’s sponsorship policies. Simon found that its corporate support has increased dramatically over the past decade: In 2001, the academy listed just 10 sponsors. By 2011, there were 38, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Mars, and many others. Corporate contributions are its largest source of income, generating nearly 40 percent of its total revenue.

Simon also learned that in 2012, Nestlé paid $47,200 for its 2,500-square-foot display in the exhibition hall at the annual AND conference, and PepsiCo paid $38,000 for 1,600 square feet. The academy’s position papers, she noted, state that its sponsors do not influence its positions on controversial issues. And yet it often takes a pro-industry stance. When New York City was considering a ban on sales of oversized sodas, for example, the academy opposed it.’


Organic is going from hippie to mainstream

Danielle Kurtzleben writes for Vox:

‘Make fun of $4 bunches of kale all you want; people are buying organic, and it’s changing American farming.

The USDA recently released its latest Census of Agriculture, and among the more startling findings was that sales of organic goods are exploding. Between 2007 and 2012, the USDA found, US farms’ total organic sales grew from an inflation-adjusted $1.9 billion in 2007 to $3.1 billion in 2012. That’s growth of more than 60 percent in just five years.’


Farms sprout up in US cities

‘Urban farms are sprouting up in US cities that are not known for agriculture.Rooftops and warehouses are being used to grow local, sustainably produced food.Many stores in New York get their produce from the country’s west coast, which means a lot of items are already a week old before they hit store shelves in the east.What was once a community project has become a commercial business but experts caution that the business model is still new.’ (Al Jazeera)

Report: 60% of China underground water polluted

From AFP:

Photograph: Qiu Bo/Greenpeace‘Sixty percent of underground water in  which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country’s grave environmental problems. Water quality measured in 203 cities across the country last year rated “very poor” or “relatively poor” in an annual survey released by the Ministry of Land and Resources, the official Xinhua news agency said yesterday. 

Water rated “relatively” poor quality cannot be used for drinking without prior treatment, while water of “very” poor quality cannot be used as a source of drinking water, the report said. The proportion of water not suitable for direct drinking rose from 57.4 percent from 2012, it said. China’s decades-long economic boom has brought rising environmental problems, with large parts of the country repeatedly blanketed in thick smog and both waterways and land polluted.’