Banana Blight, Antibiotics in Meat, 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.


Here's hoping they stick around. [Photograph: design-dog on Flickr]

USDA Amends School Lunch Nutrition Requirements After Backlash

In 2012, the USDA changed National School Lunch Program nutritional requirements and had parents up in arms. The reforms led to limits on the amount of trans fats and salt in school lunches, as well as setting calorie maximums on meals. The resulting backlash included reports of schools serving less satisfying lunches to still-hungry kids. In response, the USDA temporarily lifted the new requirements, and as of last week they will return to their prior iteration. The updated—or, un-updated—requirements will allow for the inclusion of lean proteins and whole grains that will make meals more filling for students.

New Report Shows Fish Imports Resulting in International Marine Mammal Deaths

Since Americans became aware of how many dolphins, whales, and other sea creatures were being killed as bycatch in American fisheries, the fishing industry has increased regulations to substantially decrease unintentional injury and death to other animals in fishing territories. However, the same regulations are not imposed overseas, where Americans source much of their seafood. A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that more than 650,000 marine mammals (including seals, sea lions, whales, porpoises, and dolphins) are killed in foreign fisheries each year as a result of unintentional hooking, dragging, and trapping. Their report recommends holding international fisheries to the same standards as domestic ones. This recommendation would preserve the lives of sea mammals while leveling the economic playing field for American producers who spend resources on meeting domestic regulations.

Banana Fungus Threatens Worldwide Banana Exports

Most of the world's banana exports are the Cavendish variety, which is pretty much the only kind sold in most American supermarkets. Unfortunately, a banana fungus has been spreading around the world and experts fear it could soon threaten key export countries. So far, Foc-TR4 has been found in parts of Asia, Australia, and most recently, Mozambique and Jordan. If the fungus reaches Latin America, which produces about 80% of the world's banana supply, the results could be devastating to the banana industry. This isn't the first time a fungus has taken out banana crops: in the 1950s, another strain of Foc eliminated the Gros Michel banana variety, which was until then the most popular banana for export.

Conversion of Grasslands to Cropland Results in Massive Carbon Dioxide Output

This story looks at the environmental impact of converting the Great Plains to corn and soy fields. These conversions have resulted in a massive output of carbon that the grasses had previously stored in their extensive root systems. The report states that "plowing and converting that land to annual row crops leads to the emission of 20 to 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre." For comparison, "a typical passenger car emits about 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide a year." While some of the corn is later made into ethanol—which could theoretically environmentally counterbalance its carbon output at the start—it would take about 30 years for the ethanol outputs to match the initial carbon output. In other words, the story behind monocropping is more complicated that subsidies and runoff—there's an environmental story, too, waiting to be told in the roots of converted grasses.

FDA Issues Voluntary Guidelines for Antibiotic Use in Meat Production

The FDA has been focusing on the issue of antibiotic use in meat production for several months. Last week, it released voluntary guidelines for makers of animal antibiotics. The document include labeling antibiotics as unfit for use in animal growth or feed, thereby essentially eliminating antibiotics from the meat supply chain. The FDA suggests implementing this labeling within three years. Critics are naturally wary of the 'voluntary' label. The FDA often issues 'voluntary' guidelines because of its limited capacity to enforce strict food production regulation. The efficacy of voluntary guidelines often depends on whether private companies decide to demand, for example, antibiotic-free meat. These decisions are usually sourced from the public opinion, so it remains to be seen whether the public will continue to demand reduced antibiotic use in meat production and how much impact these FDA guidelines will have.