by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Apr 29 2013

Happy 5th Birthday: Pew Commission

Five years ago today, The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released its report: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

I was a member of the commission, put together by Pew  Charitable Trusts in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and chaired by John Carlin, a former governor of Kansas.

The commission met for two years to investigate the effects of the current system of intensive animal production on public health, the environment, the communities housing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and on the welfare of farm animals.

As a member, I had the opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens.  This was, to say the least, quite an education.

The big issues? Overuse of antibiotics and the shocking environmental impact of vast amounts of animal waste.

The big surprise? Plenty of adequate laws exist to protect the environment and communities; they just aren’t being enforced.

A New York Times editorial noted that farm policies have turned “animal husbandry…into animal abuse,” and need rethinking and revision.

Indeed they did and do. 

As with all such reports, this one made too many recommendations but the most important ones had to do with the inappropriate use of antibiotics in farm animal production:

Restrict the use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics.

Another key recommendation:

Fully enforce current federal and state environmental exposure regulations and legislation, and increase monitoring  of the possible public health effects of IFAP [industrial farm animal production] on people who live and work in or near these operations.

And my sentimental favorite:

Create a Food Safety Administration that combines the food inspection and safety responsibilities of the federal government, USDA, FDA, EPA, and other federal agencies into one agency to improve the safety of the US food supply.

What good do reports like this do?

The report established a strong research basis for the need for policies to clean up industrial farm animal production and better protect the health and welfare of everyone and everything involved: workers, communities, the environment, and the animals themselves.

This is a good time to take another look at the report and consider how its basic—and absolutely necessary—recommendations can be put in place, and the sooner the better.

Apr 16 2013

Happy publication day: Farmacology

At your local bookstore now:

Daphne Miller, MD.  Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing.  William Morrow, 2013


I blurbed it:

Farmacology is an eloquent call for better systems of sustainable agriculture and humanistic health care.  In linking the two, Dr. Miller brings a physician’s critical eye and understanding to this lovely, touching, and sometimes quite funny account of what she learned about taking care of patients from visits to farmers who view growing food as part of an self-sustaining, integrated, natural cycle.  Her insight: both soil and people do better when treated as complex systems, not fragments.  This is a fresh, original, and utterly charming book that belongs on the shelves of everyone who loves food or thinks about health care.

Dr. Miller provides a link to a page on her website with more information on the book, reviews and her “official” Farmacology slide show.


Feb 15 2013

A gift from AGree: position papers on food and agriculture.

AGree is a foundation-sponsored group devoted to nonpartisan ways to “transform federal food and agriculture policy to meet the challenges of the future:”  future demands for food and improvements in conservation, public health, and agricultural communities.   

It has just posted a series of position papers reflecting its members’ short- and long-term thinking about how to:

AGree also offers a report on Facing the Future: Critical Challenges to Food and Agriculture.  It has identified a set of strategies in addition to the ones listed above to address the challenges confronting the global food and agriculture system.


These papers are useful for anyone interested in how to improve agricultural systems and it’s great that this group is laying the groundwork for serious thinking about these issues.

Feb 14 2013

Barclays agrees to stop speculating on food. Is Fred Kaufman responsible?

World Development Movement proudly announces that Barclays bank has agreed to stop speculation on food commodities.  Betting on food drives up world food prices.

Until now, Barclays has been the leading UK bank involved in speculation on food including staples like wheat, maize and soy. The bank made up to an estimated £500 million from speculating on food in 2010 and 2011.

The effects of speculation on world hunger is the reason why Fred Kaufman wrote Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (Wiley, 2012).  As I noted in an earlier post, his book is a riveting account of how banks make money by treating food as a speculative widget, driving up prices, and adding global hunger.

Did Bet the Farm have anything to do with shaming Barclay’s into doing the right thing?

World Development Movement takes credit.  Kaufman should too.

Jan 15 2013

Reading food and food politics

I’m also catching up on reading.

This just in:

Wenonah Hauter.  Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.  The New Press, 2012.

Hauter heads up Food and Water Watch, a tough-minded advocacy group in Washington DC working to preserve and ensure a safe, accessible, and sustainable food supply.  Foodpoly is her manifesto.  She has a lot to say about the problems with food policy, food chains, the organic-industrial complex, the food safety system, factory farms, and corporate control of the food supply.  She urges: “eat and act your politics.”  I’m using it as required reading in my food advocacy course this spring at NYU.

And here are a couple of others I’ve been saving up:

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Basic Books, 2012.

I blurbed this one:

Consider the Fork is a terrific delve into the history and modern use of kitchen tools so familiar that we take them for granted and never give them a thought.  Bee Wilson places kitchen gadgets in their rich cultural context.  I, for one, will never think about spoons, measuring cupts, eggbeaters, or chopsticks in the same way again.

W.A. Bogart, Permit But Discourage: Regulating Excessive Consumption, Oxford University Press, 2011.

I blurbed this one too:

Permit But Discourage is an engagingly written examination of a hugely important question: How can laws best be used to protect individuals and societies against out-of-control consumption of such things as alcohol, junk foods, sodas, and other unhealthy indulgences, without doing more harm than good?  The book clearly and compellingly argues for a mix of laws that permit consumption but discourage excesses, and for finding that mix through trial and error.  This fascinating book is as must read for anyone who cares about promoting health as well as human rights in a market-driven economy.

Nov 13 2012

Food books worth blurbing: just published

I get asked to blurb books every now and then and say yes to the ones I especially appreciate.  Here are three recently published books, well worth having and reading: 

Fred Kaufman, Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, Wiley, 2012.

In Bet the Farm, Fred Kaufman connects the dots between food commodity markets and world hunger.  Kaufman is a wonderfully entertaining writer, able to make the most arcane details of such matters as wheat futures crystal clear.  Readers will be alternately amused and appalled by his accounts of relief agencies and the interventions of rich nations.  This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about feeding the hungry in today’s globalized food marketplace.  It’s on the reading list for my NYU classes.

Counihan C, Van Esterik P, eds.  Food and Culture,  Routledge, 2012.

Food and Culture is the indispensable resource for anyone delving into food studies for the first time.  The editors have conveniently gathered readings from classic texts to the latest writings on cutting-edge issues in this field.  Although in its third edition, the book has so much new material that it reads as fresh and should appeal and be useful to students and others from a wide range of disciplines. 

Jon Krampner, An Informal History of Peanut Butter, The All-American Food, Columbia University Press, 2012. 

Creamy and Crunchy is a fast-paced, entertaining, and wonderfully gossipy look at the history of everything about peanut butter, from nutrition to allergies and genetic modification—and with recipes, yet. Everyone who loves peanut butter will want to read this book (personally, I prefer crunchy).

Oct 17 2012

The latest dismal report on world hunger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just released the latest iteration of its annual report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012.

It’s bottom line estimate: 870 million people in the world are hungry, 852 million of them in developing countries.

The good news is that this figure represents a decline of 132 million people from 1990-92 to 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world’s population.  In developing countries, the decline is from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent.

The not-so-good news: Since 2007-2008, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and leveled off, and hunger in Africa has gotten worse.

Much of the press attention to the report yawned at the major message but instead focused on errors in the previous estimates, which were higher.

the projections were wrong. They were calculated using figures from non-U.N. sources that were fed into the U.N.’s number-crunching model, because FAO was expected to quickly come up with an estimate of how many people might go hungry from the dual crises of high food prices and the global downturn

The UN bases its hunger projections on figures on population, food supply, food losses, dietary energy requirements, food distribution, and other factors.

The report contains other bad news.  While 870 million people remain hungry, the world confronts a double burden of malnutrition: 1.4 billion people are dealing with the consequences of overweight and obesity.

Focusing on the need to address world hunger Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College, London writes in the Huffington Post:

as I set out in my latest book One billion hungry: can we feed the world?, I believe there is reason for optimism. Yes we can feed the world, but only if we accept that agricultural development is the best route to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and achieve an agriculture that is highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable.

Sounds like a good plan to me.  Let’s get busy.

Aug 17 2012

To ponder over the weekend: What to do about corn and biofuels

Think about this over the weekend.

Among the other consequences of the current drought—along with the ruin of this year’s corn crop—is a complicated political battle over who gets the corn.

The players:

  • Corn producers: Want high prices.  Don’t care whether meat or ethanol producers get the corn.  Note: Many own their own ethanol refineries.
  • Meat producers: Want the corn at low prices.  Do not want corn grown for ethanol.  Want the ethanol quota waived.
  • Ethanol producers: Want the corn at low prices.  Want to keep the quota.
  • International aid agencies: Want corn to be grown for food and feed, not fuel.  Want the ethanol quota waived.

The ethanol quota:

Three big industries—corn agribusiness, industrial meat, ethanol—plus international agencies have a stake in the U.S. corn crop.

How should the Obama administration handle this?

  • Waive the ethanol quota?
  • Keep the ethanol quota?
  • Do nothing?
  • Do something else?  If so, what?
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