Food

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organic crops in field

Activist Groups Says Not All Food Labeled Organic Really Is

In the world of food production, conventional agriculture and organic farming have always had sort of a David and Goliath relationship.

Conventional ag employs enormous scale and enhanced production tools, including chemical fertilizers. Organic operates on a small scale and was completely natural. As a result, Organic was not much competition for Big Ag.

But changing demographics have resulted in increased demand for organic food and researchers at the University of California Berkley now say organic crop yields are increasing to the point that they can go head to head with conventional food production.

Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. says a review of over 100 studies comparing organic and conventional farming sets the record straight.

Taking another look

“With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining,” she said.

Specifically, the Berkley researchers maintain that organic yields are only about 20% lower than conventional ones, a much smaller difference than previous estimates.

In the past, conventional farming yields may have been over-estimated while organic yields were under-estimated. Organic yields may also be much higher than previously assumed, depending on the crop. In fact, there was hardly any difference in the output of the two types of farming when it came to growing leguminous crops, such as beans, peas and lentils.

“Our study suggests that through appropriate investment in agroecological research to improve organic management and in breeding cultivars for organic farming systems, the yield gap could be reduced or even eliminated for some crops or regions,” said Lauren Ponisio, the study’s lead author.“This is especially true if we mimic nature by creating ecologically diverse farms that harness important ecological interactions like the nitrogen-fixing benefits of intercropping or cover-cropping with legumes.”

But is it all organic?

While organic output appears to be growing, an activist group says a lot of product labeled as organic isn’t. The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute says its investigation has resulted in formal legal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations producing milk, meat and eggs being marketed, allegedly illegally, as organic.

Criticizing the U.S. Agriculture Department for alleged inaction the Institute says it employed aerial photography in nine states, from West Texas to New York and Maryland, over the past eight months. It says it found a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.

“The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. “The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”

The group says USDA inaction is placing thousands of family-scale farmers, who are competing with a couple of dozen giant dairies, at a competitive disadvantage.

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fresh blueberries in a bucket

Business booming for berry growers

KENAI, Alaska (AP) – Alaska Berries, which started out as a hobby for Brian Olson and his wife Laurie Olson, has expanded into a full-fledged business. Located on West Poppy Lane between Soldotna and Kenai, Alaska Berries sells a variety of jams, syrups and wine, all of which are produced from fruit grown on the Olsons’…

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thanksgiving dinner on table

Agriculture Officials Encourage Shopping Local For Thanksgiving Meals

As Massachusetts residents plan their Thanksgiving Day menus, state agriculture officials are asking that they consider buying local.

Several communities are planning to hold holiday farmers’ markets over the weekend and leading up the holiday, featuring turkeys, cranberries, pumpkins and other Massachusetts-grown food products.
For example, America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration Harvest Market will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Pilgrim Memorial Park in Plymouth.

The Department of Agriculture also says Red Apple Farm is sponsoring its 12th annual Thanksgiving Harvest Festival in Philipston over the weekend.

More than 40 farmers markets continue operating through the winter in Massachusetts.

Read the full article here.

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turkeys

Turkey production is at its lowest level in nearly three decades and wholesale prices are at an all-time high, but Thanksgiving cooks probably won’t see much difference in the price they pay at the stores for their frozen birds.

This year’s anticipated stock is 235 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service — the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.

While the estimated 2014 number doesn’t indicate a shortage of turkeys, which can remain in cold storage for a year or longer, it does reflect a pullback in recent years by poultry producers who were forced to reduce their flocks to remain afloat.

“Last year was a bloodbath. It was bad,” said John Zimmerman, a farmer in Northfield, Minnesota, who produces about 300,000 turkeys a year. He said scaled back his numbers in recent years because higher feed and transportation prices, among other things, cut into his bottom line. Even the price of soybean meal — which accounts for about 30 per cent of turkey feed — is at a historical high, he said.

All areas of livestock production — poultry included — were drastically cut after the widespread 2012 drought in an attempt to stifle losses, says Corinne Alexander, a Purdue University agricultural economist. Plus, many farmers are using feed that they bought in the wake of the drought, which cost more than the current market price.

“What’s happening in the turkey sector is a mini-story of what is happening in other sectors, where the impact has been really dramatic,” Alexander said. “If you look at beef cattle, we have the smallest beef cattle herd since 1951, and prices for beef are up 17 per cent this year.”

October wholesale prices for live turkeys jumped 12 per cent from 2013, from 72 cents per pound to 81 cents, NASS commodities statistician Michael Klamm said. And frozen turkey wholesale prices were expected to be between $1.12 and $1.16 per pound in the fourth quarter — up from $1.05 per pound at this time last year, the USDA said.

But consumers won’t necessarily see that reflected in the price of their Thanksgiving meal centerpiece.

“There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at,” USDA agriculture economist David Harvey said.

Turkey numbers peaked in 1996, with nearly 303 million birds.

Read the full article here.

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golden wheat field

Monsanto Co. said Wednesday it will pay nearly $2.4 million to settle a dispute with farmers in the Pacific Northwest over genetically modified wheat.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, but it was found in Oregon in 2013.

That discovery prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, and the European Union called for more rigorous testing of U.S. shipments.

Agriculture Department officials said the modified wheat discovered in the Oregon field is the same strain as a genetically modified wheat that was designed to be herbicide-resistant and was tested by seed giant Monsanto a decade ago but never approved.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said that it is settling the case rather than pay for an extended legal battle.

The company will put roughly $2.1 million into a settlement fund to pay farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who sold soft white wheat between May 30 and Nov. 30 of 2013.

Monsanto will also pay a total of $250,000 to wheat growers’ associations, including the National Wheat Foundation, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Oregon Wheat Growers’ League and the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

Representatives for the growers’ groups could not be reached immediately for comment.

The USDA said in September that it believes the genetically modified wheat in Oregon was the result of an isolated incident and that there is no evidence of that wheat in commerce. The report said the government still doesn’t know how the modified seeds got into the fields.

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potato plants in field

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved commercial planting of a potato that is genetically modified to resist bruising and to produce less of a chemical that has caused cancer in animals.

Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. developed the potato, and it was approved by the USDA Friday.

Simplot is a major supplier of french fries, hash browns and other potato products for restaurant chains like McDonald’s Corp.

The company altered the potato’s DNA so it produces less acrylamide, which is suspected to be a human carcinogen. Potatoes naturally produce the chemical when they’re cooked at high temperatures.

The potato is also engineered to resist bruising, which can cause black spots in the potatoes, making them less desirable to buyers.

The USDA has approved genetically modified forms of many other crops, including corn and soybeans.

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pasta ingredients


Spaghetti lovers could soon see higher prices for a plate of their favourite comfort food. That’s because a rainy spring, a dry summer and a freak September snowstorm in Alberta have damaged crops, resulting in a smaller harvest. Both the quality and yields this year are poorer than in the past. And if that wasn’t bad…

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man washing his hands
The Ebola outbreak is causing a food crisis in West Africa. The virus has already killed more than 4,000 people and left local residents struggling to cope with food shortages and spiking prices. In countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where poverty rates are already high, economists say these problems could have an impact on…

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insects on skewers ready to eat
AUSTIN, Texas—Why aren’t you eating bugs? They’re tiny terrors to some, but to a large percentage of the world, including many countries in Africa and Asia, they’re nutritious delicacies and environmentally-friendly to raise. This is according to a gathering of people who are passionate about entomophagy, or insect eating, who advertised their cause this week at…

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tomatoes at market
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it is dedicating more than $52 million to funding five grant programs to boost the nation’s organic industry as well as its local and regional food systems and markets. The move comes as consumers have become unprecedentedly aware of the provenance of their food as well as the conditions…

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