Food Safety, Female Farmers, and More in Food Policy This Week

In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.


Corn and big sky. [Photograph: Kaatje on Flickr]

Food Safety Modernization Act In Effect November 20th

On November 20th, parts of the Food Safety Modernization Act will go into effect, which marks the first update to the U.S.'s food safety policies since 1938. This update is in part due to recent deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness. But many are criticizing FSMA's one-size-fits-all approach to food safety. Many small farmers will have to comply with similar or same regulations as larger farms, which they may not be able to afford. This piece from Forbes lays out the economic difficulties awaiting many small farmers, including increased cost of water and compost testing. The FDA extended the public comment period on FSMA until November 22nd.

More Than 1 Million Woman Farmers in U.S.

A USDA report released in April reveals that there are more than 1 million female farmers in the U.S. This figure includes women who are both primary and secondary farm operators, and represents about 30% of all American farmers. The report also shows that the number of woman-operated farms doubled between the years 1982 and 2007. This phenomenon was seen across "sales classes," meaning that both small and large farms saw this increase in female farm involvement. Kathleen Merrigan, now-former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, also notes that many beginning farmers are women. All of these statistics indicate that women should have an important voice in coming years of food and farm policy.

AP Report on Ethanol Reveals Biofuels' High Political and Environmental Consequences

In this lengthy and revelatory report, the AP brings to light the many negative environmental consequences of the Obama administration's ethanol push. The article traces ethanol's history from 2007, when then-President Bush signed a law requiring oil companies to add ethanol to their fuels, through the Obama campaign's support of ethanol as a leverage point in the 2008 election. As farmers worked in recent years to plant corn for ethanol, they destroyed or tilled over 5 million acres of conservation land. That corn required use of pesticides, fertilizers, and extensive irrigation, given that the crop was often planted on land unfit for cultivation. Extensive government reports have called into question the supposed environmental benefits of using biofuels. Read the AP piece for more details.

Unilever Plans to Source Sustainable Palm Oil by 2015

Palm oil plantations are a major source of deforestation in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Consequently, any environmental protection groups in those countries and abroad advocate for the sourcing of sustainably-grown and legally-produced palm oil. Last week, Unilever, a huge consumer good company, announced their commitment to trace their palm oil sources in order to weed out unsustainable or illegal growers. As of 2012, only 5% of their palm oil was traced. Demand for palm oil has increased substantially in the past few years—the shelf-stable ingredient can be found in shampoos, lipstick, and margarine, among other goods.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.