Walmart Goes Organic, Farmer Suicides Increase, 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.


Photograph: joi on Flickr

Walmart to Introduce New Organics Line

Walmart recently announced a partnership with Wild Oats, a decades-old brand of organic food products. Walmart will begin stocking Wild Oats products in about half of their 4,000 locations. The products will be priced lower than equivalent organic products being sold at other retailers. The chain cited increased consumer demand for organic products as well as a commitment to "quality, affordable groceries" as the motivation behind the new partnership. Walmart does over $200 billion in grocery sales each year, making it the largest grocery retailer in the country. Because of its strong market share, analysts wonder how the Wild Oats partnership will affect organics prices at other retail locations.

Farmers Commit Suicide at Twice the National Rate

Farmer suicide has recently been a high-profile issue in countries like India and China, where farmers use suicide to draw attention to government land grabbing. But in the U.S., there is little conversation around the fact that farmers commit suicide at about twice the national rate. A long-form piece in Newsweek explores this phenomenon. Spikes in farmer suicide can be linked to economic crises, such as the 2008 recession, or agricultural difficulties like ongoing draught. But often, farmers experiencing hardship don't seek out help from family or mental health professionals. Several organizations attempt to provide support to farmers before they reach a crisis point. But convincing farmers, many of whom are enormously independent and self-sufficient, to be vulnerable about their anxieties and fears is difficult. Hopefully bringing this issue to light will increase resources available to farmer support organizations.

The Environmental Impact of Cow Burps

Did you know that methane gas emission from livestock production represents 39 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture? Over half of that gas comes from cows, which farmers are raising in record numbers to keep up with global demand for beef and milk. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with negative environmental impact. But lowering methane emissions isn't as easy as simply eating less meat. Beef production is rising quickly in the developing world, and methane emissions could rise 30% by 2050. Farmers would do better to focus on reducing overuse of fertilizer and feeding cow less corn and soy—which makes them especially gassy— in order to mitigate their environmental impact.

Should Farmers Go to Jail for Outbreaks?

Stories of food contamination are often headline news when people are sickened or die as a result of an outbreak. In 2011, a listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupes from a Colorado farm killed 33 people. But the farmers responsible for the outbreak didn't see any jail time —instead, they were fined and sentenced to five years probation. Most contamination cases don't lead to jail time or even any punishment for the responsible farmers. But some food safety lawyers think that if the FDA and USDA had more resources to inspect farms and hold farmers accountable, the consequences for causing an outbreak would be much harsher. With 3,000 people losing their lives each year to food contamination, whether or not to prosecute farmers for negligence is an increasingly pressing issue.