Tag Archives: agriculture

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Sustainability Strategies for the Food Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Sustainability is a word that you’ll hear a lot these days, especially as industries try to become more eco-friendly. The food industry has been lagging behind in the world of sustainability, and in order to keep up with national and international food demands, it is difficult to implement the kind of change that is necessary to make the world a little greener. However, that doesn’t mean that food companies shouldn’t try. The following are some sustainability strategies that might be easier to implement in the food industry.

Water Conservation

field irrigation
Field irrigation (Wikipedia commons image)

While the majority of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, only about 3% of that water is drinkable—and 2 of that 3% is frozen in the planet’s glaciers and ice caps. This is why water conservation is so important. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), roughly 39% of fresh water used in the United States is used to irrigate crops.

Switching from flood irrigation with sprinklers to drip irrigation can reduce water usage.

Wastewater reuse is also a new technique that is gaining traction in the food industry. While it isn‘t practical in all situations due to the technology needed to remove chemicals and impurities from the wastewater, it can help reduce water waste and water use in the food industry. Simply reviewing water usage and switching to procedures that are less water-intensive can save a company money and reduce its overall water usage.

Natural Pest Control

Pesticides and fertilizers are among some of the most dangerous chemicals in the food industry. For largescale operations, however, they are necessary to ensure a large and healthy harvest. Some companies, such as Kemin Industries, are shunning these typical processes in favor of more sustainable options.

“Our mission at Kemin is to improve the quality of life for more than half the world’s population, and we believe sustainability plays an important role in our work,” said Dr. Chris Nelson, president and CEO of Kemin Industries. “Our FORTIUM line of rosemary-extract-based ingredients uses Kemin-grown rosemary for maximum effectiveness against color and flavor degradation. Kemin is the only rosemary supplier that is certified SCS Sustainably Grown, and we’re one of the world’s largest growers of vertically integrated rosemary.”

Vertical integration doesn’t have anything to do with how the rosemary is grown. In the agriculture industry, it means Kemin owns the entire supply chain for its rosemary, from field to processing to distribution.

“We use botanicals—spearmint, oregano, marigold and potato, in addition to rosemary—in our other products as well,” continued Nelson. “As an ingredient manufacturer, we understand the value of good suppliers. When the planet is supplying us with the ingredients we use in our products, it’s important to us that we are responsible in our growing practices.”

Sustainable Distribution

Distribution is one of the biggest problems when it comes to creating eco-friendly and sustainable supply chains. Upwards of 70% of the products in the United States are transported by truck, and each of those trucks generates CO2 and greenhouse gases.

There are two plans of attack for sustainability in food distribution: Reducing the distance food needs to travel, and upgrading trucks to use greener fuel options like biodiesel or electricity, such as the ones Tesla is offering.

Reducing the emissions created by tractor-trailers could help make the entire process a bit more sustainable, although it would require a large investment to upgrade the distribution process.

Back to Their Roots

It’s only in recent decades that agriculture has started being sustainable in an effort to keep up with the demands of the consumer. By going back to our roots and focusing on farming techniques that promote things like soil health—by rotating crops instead of using artificial fertilizers—and lowering water use and pollution, agriculture can become sustainable once again.

Farming, sustainability
Creative Commons image

Modern agricultural techniques are detrimental, both to the environment and to the people who work there. These methods ensure we have enough food to supply consumers, but they lead to soil depletion and groundwater contamination. In addition to this, it can also lead to the degradation of rural communities that would normally be centered on farm work. That’s because corporate farms focus on quotas and large harvests without the community angle.

These commercial farms also cost more to run, and many have poor conditions for farmworkers because of the harsh chemicals used to kill pests and fertilize depleted topsoil.

Farm numbers have dropped since the end of World War II, with corporate farms taking the place of smaller family farms. While the number of farms has dropped, the remaining farms have increased in size. The average farm in 1875 was roughly 150 acres, and there were more than 4 million of them. Today, less than half that number remains, but the average size of the farms has increased to more than 450 acres.

Sustainability is a popular buzzword right now, but it’s a lot more important than most people believe. Switching to sustainable practices, whether that means changing production, distribution or anything in between, will help ensure the food industry can keep fresh, healthy food on our table for decades to come without damaging the environment. Sustainability is something that should be adopted by every industry, especially agriculture.

Department of Commerce

Wilbur Ross Confirmed to Head Department of Commerce

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Department of Commerce

In a 72-27 Senate vote yesterday, Wilbur Ross was confirmed as the Secretary of Commerce. The secretary’s position plays a crucial role in the growth of the animal food industry, with last year’s exports surpassing $11 billion (includes feed, feed ingredients and pet food). Ross will have an important part in collaborating on federal trade issues, especially in efforts to strengthen agricultural exports, as well effectively working with agencies such as the USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“It is important for Sec. Ross to understand how international markets are key for continued development and success of the U.S. feed industry. The agriculture industry, specifically the animal food sector, must be a priority when determining administrative trade policy. If not, our ability to advance will be diminished. It is now Sec. Ross and the Department of Commerce’s job to protect our industry from unfair global practices, including violations of intellectual property rights,” said Joel Newman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association in a press release.

Sonny Perdue, USDA

Trump Names Sonny Perdue to Head USDA

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Sonny Perdue, USDA

This morning President-elect Donald Trump named Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, to lead the USDA. The new agriculture secretary grew up on a farm in Georgia, has a doctorate in veterinary medicine, and owns the firm Perdue Partners, LLC, a global trading firm specializing in exporting U.S. goods.

His farming experience will be seen as a plus by many folks in the agriculture industry. However, the selection of Perdue also means there will be no Latinos in Trump’s Cabinet (this hasn’t happened since the Reagan administration).

Key issues in the agriculture sector that Trump’s administration will need to address include the 2018 farm bill, immigrant labor, the decline of farm income, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

New Report Gives Failing Grade to Many Food Retailers on Pesticide Use

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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A recent report released by Friends of the Earth revealed that very few of the nation’s biggest food retailers have what it considers satisfactory policies and practices in pollinator protection, pesticide reduction and organic offerings. The organization graded 20 of largest retailers in the report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating Top Retailers on Bee Friendly and Organic Food”.

In the category of publicly available policies on reducing or eliminating pesticides in order to protect pollinators, only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in a press release. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. According to Friends of the Earth, neonicotinoids (insecticides) are a leading cause of pollinator declines, while glyphosate (the most widely used herbicide) has been tied to monarch butterfly declines.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at FOE. “Organic farms support 50% more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

In conducting the report, FOE mainly used publicly available information sources such as company websites and annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage, and other forms of industry analysis.

Hand

Consumers Drive GMO Debate, Chicken Playtime and Tech Innovation

By Maria Fontanazza
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Hand

Last week several leading organizations in the food industry gathered to discuss trends and key issues facing the industry at The Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum. From the GMO debate to small farming and humane practices to sugar preferences, it’s clear that consumer demand for more control over what they’re consuming will continue to drive industry practices and future policies.

Industry leaders will gather at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, December 5–9 in Schaumburg, IL | LEARN MOREAgriculture in the Global Landscape

The agricultural sector is often one of the most protected markets, according to Darci Vetter, ambassador and chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Vetter strongly advocated for moving forward with free trade agreements in the United States for fear of falling behind in such a competitive global market.

When the audience was asked which country would see the biggest increase in agricultural exports in coming years, 40% selected China. To this observation, Vetter commented that while China has invested a great deal into basic research in the field of agriculture, the country has not been able to turn discoveries into viable technologies for farmers.

“China’s vision of national security is very much tied to food security.” – Darci Vetter, ambassador and chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

Antibiotics: Not in My Chicken

As industry faces unprecedented scrutiny from consumers, the use of antibiotics in livestock remains a hot button issue. Nearly 15 years ago, Perdue Farms saw evidence that consumers were concerned about antibiotics, and the company has made significant strides to reach today’s slogan, “No Antibiotics Ever”. This means that 100% of the chickens are not receiving antibiotics unless they’re sick, which is about 5%, according to company Chairman Jim Perdue. Measures the company has taken to reduce the incidence of illness in birds includes wiping every egg that comes into a hatchery with a baby wipe (Perdue says that the company is the biggest user of baby wipes); using herbs such as oregano in feed, because it has been shown to help condition the gut; and engaging in “chicken playtime” (a controlled atmosphere for chickens to play), which is said to reduce stress in chickens.

Debating GMOs and Technology

In order to address the growing population, industry must look at the entire suite of tools available, said Vetter. According to Mike Frank, senior vice president and chief commercial officer of Monsanto Co., 60–70% more food needs to be produced to feed the future population. Global warming, affordability and consumer education are just a few challenges that farmers face while trying to improve productivity and efficiency. This is where technology plays a key role, said Frank. Industry needs innovation to address the challenge of producing more food and managing the environmental footprint.

“We need every farmer, whether organic or not, to be successful.” – Mike Frank, senior vice president and chief commercial officer, Monsanto Company

Frank predicts that big data will dramatically change agriculture within the next five to six years by allowing farmers to farm by the square meter, thereby improving productivity in areas such as seeding and pest management. Farmers will also be able to leverage data to gain a better understanding of soil conditions and weather, and how it will ultimately impact their harvest.

Closing the Food Safety Loop

“Food safety doesn’t magically happen,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. He emphasized how companies must work hard to reduce risk early in the process, citing Walmart’s guiding principles: Is it safe? Is it affordable? Is it sustainable? He also touched on the company’s program to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in chicken parts and how companies should approach risk not just from the scientific point of view but also consider the regulatory requirements and perceived risk in making risk management decisions.

“We as leaders need to shift the conversation and let food unite us.” – Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart

The discussion between FDA commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. and Susan Mayne, director at CFSAN, focused more on chronic disease and healthy eating, however Califf expressed a need for more interrelated data sources within FDA. He also encouraged that industry conduct more research to ensure that decisions are based on good evidence.

Change Needed: Five Challenges Facing Food and Agricultural Industry

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The worldwide food supply will be under intense strain, as the population is anticipated to grow to nearly 10.5 billion by 2100. A new position paper released by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) stresses the need to address five key challenges confronting the food and agricultural industry:

  1. Food nutrition and security
  2. Climate change
  3. Environment
  4. Health and safe food
  5. Inequality

WUR is maintaining the position that the Common Agricultural Policy, an initiative of the European Union, should be revised to emphasize an urgency for sustainability rather than agricultural productivity goals. It identifies the following innovations, which would also lead to a more integrated agricultural and food policy, to address the above challenges:

  • Genetics
  • Digitization and big data
  • Energy and bio-based transitions
  • Chain redesign
  • Social innovation

“We need a policy that addresses the consumer concerns on the food chain and admits that the actors in the food chain are much bigger than in the past, including most farms,” said Krijn Poppe, Research Manager & Senior Economist at Wageningen Economic Research in a press release.” ‘One size fits all’ will not do in a more complex Europe; to keep it simple and affordable we need a combination of several targeted instruments.”

Graphic courtesy of Wageningen University & Research
Graphic courtesy of Wageningen University & Research

WUR also proposes five new pillars for a successful Common Agriculture & Food Policy:

  1. Income support and risk management to guarantee food security
  2. Public issues and eco-system services
  3. Rural development to support innovation and quality of rural life
  4. Consumer food policy and consumers themselves, retail and food industry in effort to push a healthier diet and healthier climate
  5. Monitoring, reflection and research

House Votes to Repeal COOL for Beef, Pork and Chicken

By Maria Fontanazza
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The debate over country-of-origin labeling isn’t over yet.

In a 300-131 ruling, the House voted to pass the highly contentious COOL Amendments Act of 2015 (H.R. 2393) last week. This means that country-of-origin labeling will no longer be required for beef, pork and chicken. Consumer advocacy groups such as the Consumers Union (a division of Consumer Reports) are clearly unhappy about the passage of the bill, while industry associations such as GMA immediately applauded the decision.

“Without these changes to U.S. COOL rules, U.S. food and agricultural sectors could face financial losses in the billions when Mexico and Canada impose WTO authorized retaliatory tariffs as early as this summer,” said Denzel McGuire, executive vice president for government affairs at GMA, in a statement. “The financial impact of these tariffs will be felt even before they are implemented because the targets of these retaliatory tariffs will begin to experience a substantial drop in export sales almost immediately due to supply chain disruptions. A wide array of product categories will be impacted by these tariffs.”

On the opposing side, the Consumers Union states that the U.S. can avoid trade sanctions. According to the advocacy group, 90% of Americans surveyed want country-of-origin labeling on the meat they purchase. “No penalties have yet been accepted by the WTO, and the U.S. may still avoid trade sanctions by negotiating a settlement with Canada and Mexico,” said Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union’s Food Policy Initiatives, in a letter sent to the House of Representatives, urging them to vote against a repeal. “Even if retaliation occurs, it is not likely to begin for many months, during which time the United States could develop and implement a solution preserving consumers’ access to country-of-origin information.  Contrary to statements made by the proponents of H.R. 2393, a settlement with our trade partners would be the true “targeted response” to the WTO ruling.”

Now it’s up to the Senate.