News bites, April 2008
This article was originally published in April 2008
Farmers going to Mexico
A growing number of American farmers are leasing land in northern Mexico to grow their crops, avoiding immigration raids and other problems with illegal workers. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 53 percent of farm workers in the United States are illegal immigrants; growers and labor unions estimate as many as 70 percent of the younger field hands are here illegally.
Some economists say that moving farms to Mexico jeopardizes our food security and that thousands of middle-class jobs supporting agriculture are being lost. (New York Times)
Rising food prices
Inflation in food prices has been low for nearly 20 years, but now the U.S. Department of Labor says prices for food have surged over the past year at double-digit rates. Milk, for example, increased 26 percent and the price for eggs is up 40 percent.
Economists say rising food costs could be a greater problem than soaring oil prices because the average household spends three times as much for food (13 percent of household spending) as for gasoline (about 4 percent). Analysts say consumers should expect to keep paying more for food; wholesale food prices rose last month at the fastest rate since 2003. (Boston Globe)
GM beet update
The American Sugarbeet Growers Association says farmers intend to plant genetically modified sugar beets for the first time this month, despite a lawsuit to stop them. More than 95 percent of Idaho’s sugar beet acreage is expected to be in Roundup Ready® varieties this year. Seed growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are especially concerned. See Goldie’s column, page 8 for more. (Capital Press)
Downer cows will stay in food supply
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer is rejecting calls to ban “downer” cows (those too sick or weak to stand) from the food supply. Consumer groups, the Humane Society and some senators demanded a ban after the biggest beef recall in U.S. history.
An undercover video showed workers at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in California using electric shocks and water cannons to try to force downed cattle into the slaughter line.
Officials say they aren’t sure how many schools got beef from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company and that it’s still trying to track down more than 50 million pounds supplied to the National School Lunch Program. (Washington Post/Wall Street Journal)
Packaging and the environment
More than half of U.S. shoppers say they’d give up all forms of convenience packaging if it would benefit the environment. Research by the Nielsen Company says this would include packaging designed for easy stacking or storage (58 percent); packaging that can be used for cooking or as a re-sealable container (55 percent); and packaging designed for easy transport (53 percent).
Nielsen’s study of 65,000 households also found that consumers are not as willing to give up packaging that keeps products clean and untouched by others (26 percent); packaging that keeps products in good condition and fresh (31 percent); and packaging with food labeling or cooking instructions (33 percent).
Only one in 10 U.S. consumers says he or she won’t give up any packaging for the benefit of the environment. (Progressive Grocer)
rBGH front group?
A new group that’s defending use of genetically modified, recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH) apparently has close ties to the Monsanto Corporation, the manufacturer of rBGH. American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (Afact) says it’s a grassroots organization and some dairy farmers are in it.
But the New York Times reports that Afact was organized in part by Monsanto and a consultant who lists Monsanto as a client. Afact has been lobbying states to pass laws that ban or restrict labels indicating the milk comes from untreated cows (New York Times)
Fair labor chocolate
For Valentine’s Day, the CEOs of major chocolate companies received bouquets of Fair Trade Certified™ roses and a note asking them to help end child labor on cocoa farms in Africa. The companies include Archer Daniels Midland, Callebaut, Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cargill, World’s Finest Chocolate, and Guittard Chocolate.
They’re being asked to sign “The Commitment to Ethical Cocoa Sourcing” by other chocolate companies and organizations that already have pledged to source cacao that’s not produced with child labor. (www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor)
Parents in denial about obesity
A significant number of American parents with children who are obese or very overweight apparently don’t realize their kids are fat. A study from the University of Michigan found that among parents with an obese or extremely overweight child age 6 to 11, 43 percent said their child was “about the right weight.” Thirty-seven percent perceived their child as “slightly overweight.” (Associated Press)
No “cap and trade” for mercury
A federal appeals court has struck down the Bush administration’s “cap and trade” policy that would have allowed some power plants to exceed mercury emission levels. Cap-and-trade would have allowed power plants that fail to meet emission targets to buy credits from plants that did, in lieu of installing pollution control measures.
The court ruled that the policy failed to consider the effect on public health and the environment. Mercury is known to contaminate seafood and damage the development of fetuses and young children. (Environment News Service)