Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Dec20

Putting a Dollar Value on Food Waste Estimates

Share
Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about one-third—or 1.3 billion metric tons—of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste each year. While it is easy to recognize the enormity of this number, it is much more difficult to make sense of it in a useful way. An October 2012 study by Jean Buzby and Jeffrey Hyman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks to make food waste estimates more meaningful by attaching a dollar value.

Research from the USDA finds that Americans waste an average of US$544 worth of food per person per year. (Photo Credit: biocycle.net)

The study measures the value of food loss in the United States at the retail (“supermarkets, megastores like Walmart, and other retail outlets”) and consumer (“food consumed at home and away from home”) levels. Findings indicate that US$165.6 billion worth of food was lost at these levels in 2008. This translates to the loss of an average of US$1.49 worth of food per person per day—totaling about US$544 per person per year—at the retail and consumer levels. At the consumer level, alone, the average American wasted almost 10 percent of the amount spent on his or her food in 2008.

Food losses on this scale are concerning, especially when viewed in the context of a growing global population. As the study explains, “The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and this growth will require at least a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels.” Considering that a reduction of food loss at the consumer and retail levels by just one percent would keep US$1.66 billion worth of food in the food supply, limiting food waste could play a major role in feeding future populations.

Food waste also places an unnecessarily heavy burden on the environment. The production, processing, storage, and transportation of food that ultimately goes to waste still consumes natural resources and other inputs, while also releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants that stem from the food system. For example, the study points out that the production of wasted food consumes over 25 percent of all freshwater used in the U.S. and around 300 million barrels of oil.

(more…)

Oct16

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

Share
Pin It

Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.

(more…)

Aug30

Innovation of the Week: Policy Analysis at Your Fingertips

Share
Pin It

By Ronica Lu

The Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, recently released by the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is an innovative, web-based application that provides a visually pleasing, interactive breakdown of Farm Bill legislation spending.

A screenshot of the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer’s homepage (Photo Credit: Food and Tech Connect)

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive omnibus bill, first passed in 1973 and updated every four or five years, that deals with food and agricultural affairs under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Farm Bill is the primary food and agricultural policy tool of the U.S. federal government and addresses issues from numerous perspectives—including everything from food assistance and nutrition education, to efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables.

With the upcoming release of the updated 2012 Farm Bill from Congress later this year, the Budget Visualizer helps the general public, advocacy groups, and policymakers make connections between the provisions of the bill and the amount of federal spending allotted to each program.

The visualizer displays Farm Bill programs in collapsible and expandable boxes. The sizes of the boxes are proportional to the amount of funding the programs receive. The use of the app does not require a software download, but does use the latest versions of Java and Adobe Flash.

(more…)

Aug21

Five food guides that are combating malnourishment

Share
Pin It

By Jenna Banning

If you are what you eat, our world is certainly unhealthy. People across the globe are not getting the nutrients that they need, resulting in high levels of both hunger and obesity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 925 million people were undernourished in 2010. At the same time, the World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people are overweight, and at least 300 million obese. (Such estimates are based on Body Mass Index measurements, which compare one’s height and weight. Individuals with BMI’s over 25 are considered overweight, and over 30 are obese).

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can prevent obesity and malnutrition (Photo Credit: Carol Lee)

In order to tackle this issue, food pyramids and other guides have been used by organizations and governments to suggest better nutrition for the needs of their populations for many years. Today, Nourishing the Planet shares visual food guides from five countries (and one organization) being used across the world.

(more…)

Aug13

15 Innovations Making School Lunches Healthier and More Sustainable

Share
Pin It

By Seyyada A. Burney

As summer draws to a close, it’s time for kids to go back to school. Sadly, this often means a return to terribly unhealthy school lunches filled with fried chicken, pizza pockets, sugary drinks, and high-calorie snacks. School food can  jeopardize the health and well-being of America’s next generation, but fortunately, it’s also the best place to start addressing the obesity epidemic—one in three children is obese or overweight, increasing the risks of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver problems later in life. This needs to change.

Fostering healthy eating habits at a young age is critical to life-long health. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) feeds 32 million kids every year and is expanding rapidly as more families qualify for free or reduced-price meals. These lunches represent the primary source of nourishment for many children, but few schools have the facilities or the know-how to prepare fresh food—only the ability to reheat froze, processed foods high in sodium and fat. Even cafeterias that serve more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often forced to subsidize programs using vending machines and snack bars loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup due to fiscal deficits and a lack of student interest.

As kids head back to school, Nourishing the Planet outlines 15 innovative ideas and programs that are making school lunches healthier and more sustainable.

1.         Higher nutrition standards: Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can finally set nutritional requirements for school lunches—a measure they implemented earlier this year. First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently unveiled new national standards for school meals—the first in fifteen years. They require daily fruit and vegetable offerings; more whole grains; only fat-free or low-fat milk; and reduced saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium in school lunches.

2.         Cooking from scratch: Contrary to past privatization and outsourcing trends, a University of Michigan study reported that privately managed cafeterias have few economic advantages. Their food options are also more likely to be processed, with higher sugar, fat, and sodium contents and relatively few fresh vegetables. In recent years, entire school districts such as Minneapolis have introduced locally sourced salad bars and have shifted to more on-site preparation in order to serve kids fresher, more nutritious food.

(more…)

Aug04

City Orchard: Nourishing the Capital

Share
Pin It

By Jameson Spivack

Bread for the City, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing food, medical care, and other necessities to D.C. residents who cannot afford them, recently began its newest project, City Orchard. City Orchard is a program that grows fruits and vegetables, which are then used to stock the shelves of Bread for the City’s food pantry. Whereas most food pantries rely on donations, Bread for the City is growing its own fresh, local produce, in partnership with Casey Trees, a group that protects the plant life in the D.C. area.

The City Orchard project grows fruits and vegetables for a D.C. food pantry. (Image credit: Bread for the City)

The project has already planted 200 apple, Asian pear, and persimmon trees and blueberry and blackberry bushes, and plans to have 800 more in the ground over the next year. Once they have matured in 2014, they will provide up to 40,000 lbs. of fruit per year, all of which will be given to the needy.

The idea for City Orchard came from Bread for the City’s nutrition consultant Sharon Feuer Gruber, who noticed there wasn’t enough fresh fruit on food pantry shelves. She then teamed up with Casey Trees, who had already been in talks with the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) about using some of their property to create a community garden.

Through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, Bread for the City received the funding it needed to get the garden started. City Orchard will provide fruits and vegetables to Bread for the City’s “Glean for the City” project, which collects fresh, free surplus produce. It will then distribute the nutritious food to the hungry in D.C. through its food pantries.

The project also provides a place for both D.C. residents and Bread for the City clients to learn about nutrition, urban farming, and the benefits of local, nutritious food. Through programs like nutrition and cooking workshops, residents can become more knowledge about and involved in the food they are eating.

(more…)

Aug02

12 Innovations to Combat Drought, Improve Food Security, and Stabilize Food Prices

Share
Pin It

By Seyyada A. Burney

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing drought assistance to 1,584 counties across 32 states and warns of increased food prices in 2013 as a result of corn and soybean yield losses.

Drought is plaguing the United States, driving up food prices. (Photo credit: KPBS San Diego)

Corn is currently selling at around $9 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June, while soybeans are selling at a record high of $17 a bushel as a result of drought-related losses in crop yields. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products.

Nearly half of all domestic corn production is used as livestock feed, a trend that is now encouraging larger livestock producers to import corn from Brazil while smaller farmers must reduce herd sizes by sending more animals to the market. Most immediately, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to the animals’ more rapid growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. The price of beef is projected to rise the highest—4 to 5 percent by November—but at a slower rate, reflecting the longer growth period and higher feed requirements of beef cattle.

Higher U.S. grain prices could have an even greater impact worldwide. The United States is the world’s largest corn producer as well as a major exporter of crop-derived agricultural products. Declining domestic production could translate into exacerbated food security problems abroad. Countries that import corn and soybean byproducts or animal feed, such as Japan and Mexico, will be affected the most.

Climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought.

The Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable.

  1. (more…)
Jul26

Meatless Mess: Politics and ‘Business as Usual’ Push USDA to Withdraw Endorsement of Meatless Mondays

Share
Pin It

By Seyyada A Burney

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came under fire this week after an interoffice “Greening Headquarters Update” encouraged staff and cafeteria visitors “to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative,” reports a recent New York Times article.

Pressure from livestock groups and Republicans forced the USDA to withdraw support for Meatless Mondays earlier this week. (Photo Credit: www.nytexaminer.com)

Meatless Mondays are part of a joint initiative by the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that encourages switching to healthier, vegetarian meals once a week. The USDA newsletter also championed the environmental benefits of reduced meat consumption. According to the United Nations, the livestock industry is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. It also wastes resources, requiring 7,000 kg of grain to produce every 1,000 kg of meat.

Although endorsing Meatless Mondays would appear consistent with USDA objectives to promote sustainable agriculture, and better nutrition and health, responses by livestock producers and at least one member of Congress prompted the agency to withdraw support within hours of posting the newsletter. Iowa Republican, Representative Steve King, angrily tweeted: “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.” A National Cattlemen’s Beef Associationspokesman added that it was “ a slap in the face of people who every day are working to make sure we have food on the table to say, ‘Don’t eat their product once a week’.” They also adamantly disputed the environmental benefits of vegetarian meals, claiming that the meat industry has become more environmentally efficient in recent decades.

(more…)

Jun29

Family Farms, Conscious Consumption, and Ecological Profitability: An Interview with Bev Eggleston

Share
Pin It

By Kevin Robbins

On Sunday mornings at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market in Washington, D.C., you can find bouquets of fresh flowers, bundles of brussels sprouts, and buckets of local apples. And you can also find a man in a white butcher’s smock surrounded by tables of ice and local meats labeled “Designer Line of Fine Swine” and “Grass-kickin’ Chicken.”

Bev Eggleston discusses raising animals humanely. (Photo credit: Gourmet Magazine)

Bev Eggleston—founder of EcoFriendly Foods—invites wondering customers to sample his latest selection of cured meat. He starts out simple: “Have you ever tasted heritage pork?” But before you leave, he’ll get serious: “So why do you think Obama didn’t mention agriculture in his State of the Union address? How can an ‘America Built to Last’ forget about its farmers?”

Eggleston’s grass-fed, family-farm-raised meats are a favorite with farmers’ market shoppers and dinners at some of the best restaurants up and down the East Coast. He owns and operates the first of what he hopes to be many multi-species, certified humane, USDA inspected processing plant in Moneta, Virginia. He works with small, local farms to source, process, and distribute local beef, eggs, lamb, pork, and poultry.

(more…)

May31

New UCS Report: Improve Crop Insurance and Credit Availability

Share
Pin It

 By Jameson Spivack

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the biggest obstacles in the way of achieving healthier eating in the United States are the current farming laws. In its latest report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” UCS recommends reforming policies that make it more difficult for farmers to grow healthy crops like fruits and vegetables.

A new UCS report urges more financial incentives for farmers to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. (Image credit: UCS)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s new dietary guideline, “MyPlate,” states that 50 percent of our diets should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. But Americans don’t consume enough of either—instead, American consumers eat large amounts of refined grains, sugars, meat, and fat. In fact, according to the UCS report, only two percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables.

The major reason for this, says the UCS, is because of farm policy. Currently, farmers are financially discouraged from planting healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and instead opt for subsidized commodity crops like corn and soybeans. These crops mostly end up as inputs for meat production, processed foods, and non-food products. In addition, laws prevent subsidized commodity crop farmers from planting fruits and vegetables, and these laws are supported by large fruit and vegetable producers who wish to keep prices high.

The USDA typically only offers crop insurance to farmers who grow commodity crops. Since there is limited data on “healthy food” crops, it is harder to develop an insurance policy. While there is a pilot program—“whole-farm-revenue insurance,” which offers insurance to farmers growing fruits and vegetables—it is expensive and limited to certain geographical areas.

(more…)