The Center for Disease Control released a report this week that connected imported food to an increase in foodborne illness during 2009 and 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, 39 outbreaks and over 2,300 illnesses were attributed to imported foods. Over half of those illnesses occurred in 2009 and 2010. Fish and spices were the two most common carriers of foodborne illness. The USDA's Economic Research Service estimates that about 16% of all food eaten in the U.S. is imported.
An interesting battle is being fought in Taiwan over the growth compound ractopamine, which is commonly fed to cattle and pigs. America wants Taiwan to lift its ban on the controversial compound, thereby opening up trade relations between the two countries (U.S.-produced meat often contains this compound). The Taiwanese people strongly support the ban, claiming that over 100 countries have found the compound unsafe and have banned its use. At stake are U.S.-Taiwan trade negotiations, and the integrity of a nation's imported meat supply.
Over fifty-five members of Congress have signed a bi-partisan letter supporting the labeling of genetically-modified foods. The letter is to be sent to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and supports a petition written by the Center for Food Safety in 2011. The letter states that labeling allows Americans to make fully informed decisions about their food choices. According to the USDA, about 90% of all corn, soy, sugar beet, and canola grown in the U.S. are grown with GM seed.
- The New York Times profiles a family dairy farm that has come up against hard times as the dairy industry has modernized and squeezed out smaller farms. The Fulpers, of Fulper Farms in New Jersey, currently produce over twice as much milk as they did in the 1970s, but are receiving a lower profit margin for their product. This decrease in income can be partially attributed to increased international trading of cow feed, such as corn and soy. International commodity trading leads to unstable prices, leaving dairy farmers in the lurch. Small farms must try to stay afloat and compete with huge industrial dairies who have scale and expert accountants on their sides.
- Did you hear all the controversy this week about "pink slime," a low-cost ingredient in ground beef that is made from fatty parts of left over cuts of meat? After a petition and recent upswing in attention to this unappealing additive, the USDA has responded to the outpouring of disgust. Starting next fall, schools will be given the option to choose between 95% lean ground beef that contains pink slime and ground beef that does not for the National School Lunch Program. The USDA buys about 20% of all food served in schools nationwide.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.