As the year comes to an end it’s become a tradition of mine to write a note of gratitude to Big Ag for the many ‘gifts’ they’ve given us throughout the year that we didn’t really want, need or – in some cases – didn’t even know about. Here’s my top 10 for 2012...
#10 – Undermining Organic With Industrial Practices
Many people are putting their faith in the “certified organic” label as an easy way to support farming systems that care about animal welfare, our health and the health of the planet. But the popularity of organic food is attracting industrial-scale operators who are exploiting the organic regulations for their own short-term gains. In October, news broke that a large-scale “organic” egg producer was being sued for making misleading marketing claims about the welfare of its chickens. Judy's Family Farm Organic Eggs’ cartons feature images of hens roaming on green fields, while the carton explains the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” Yet it’s alleged that the birds are kept in covered sheds with no outdoor access, misleading consumers. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident...
George Washington University's Urban Food Task Force, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) have joined forces by providing a platform for DC's vibrant culinary community to focus on strengthening the supply chain for sustainably raised meat.
As if we needed any more evidence that pesticides are bad for human health, three independent scientific papers have provided some of the strongest evidence yet of the link between exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides and lower IQ levels among children.
Published in the latest Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the results suggest that prenatal exposure to OPs can have a lasting and damaging effect on our children. Researchers from the University of California, Columbia University, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine all found that children exposed to higher levels of OP while in the womb were likely to have significantly lower intelligence scores by age seven than children who were not exposed.
A recent paper published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that exposure to Organophosphates (OPs) could result in a higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children. My major concern is that we are not talking about children who came into direct contact with excessive amounts of OP; the results suggest that that exposure to OP is potentially harmful to U.S. children at levels that are commonly found in their immediate environment.
Organophosphates are one of the most widely used pesticides across the world. Among other things, they are used as insecticides on grains, fruit and vegetables, to control parasites on farm livestock and pets, and for fly control in industrial and commercial premises. You might think that a product that has been around for more than 60 years--and which is used so widely--is safe and has no side effects. But sadly this is not the case.
All the heat wasn’t in the kitchen on March 17, when a group of chefs, led by AWA supporter Chef Bill Telepan, wore their traditional white jackets to Capitol Hill to push for increased funding for school lunches. Chef’s Day of Action, coordinated by the NYC Alliance for CNR (Child Nutrition Reauthorization), brought together celebrity chefs and school lunch reform advocates to urge Congress to provide an additional $4 billion in funding per year for school food programs.
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act comes up every five years and this year President Obama has asked for an additional $1 billion per year. The Senate, however, is considering only authorizing $500 million per year—half of what the President has requested. Even $1 billion wouldn’t make much of a difference to the 30 million school children who depend on the National School Lunch Program for meals. And when you consider the size of the budget—$3.7 trillion—it’s pocket change. $1 billion only equals 17 ½ cents per day per child. The government reimburses schools $2.68 for fully subsidized lunches.
The chefs say much more is needed to really make a difference. An increase in funding to $4 billion will provide an additional $0.70 per child. “We need school lunches to be about the best food, not the cheapest food,” says Chef Bill Telepan, who is also a board member of NYC’s Wellness in the Schools. “This is what we practice as chefs and we have a responsibility to bring the best food there is into schools.”
It was two years ago today that the U.S. saw its largest meat recall in history. The USDA recalled 143 million pounds of beef distributed by Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company and said that the meat had been used in school lunches and food assistance programs.
On January 18 of this year, Huntington Meat Packing Inc. of Montebello, CA recalled 864,000 lbs of beef because it may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This past weekend the recall was expanded to more than 5 million lbs of meat. Some of the products made from this meat appear to have been distributed through the USDA National School Lunch Program.
Happy anniversary of the Hallmark recall, America! You were expecting flowers?
Where does our school food come from and how is it produced?
To investigate some of these issues, Animal Welfare Approved sponsored a one-week, three-city tour for the UK Dinner Lady, Jeanette Orrey. Jeanette is credited with changing school food in the UK, and AWA sponsored this visit to promote cross cultural dialogue and share her experiences with people working to make change in several US school districts. Following two days in New York City, the tour continued south (via Amtrak), to Baltimore City Public Schools and Arlington (Virginia) Public Schools. (Pictured: Nancy Easton and Chef Bill Telepan of NYC nonprofit, Wellness in the Schools and Baltimore City Schools' Great Kids Farm Manager Greg Strella.)
We had a great visit yesterday with our friends at Queens County Farm Museum. Pictured is Amy Fischetti-Boncardo, Executive Director, Jeanette Orrey, UK Dinner Lady, Andrew Gunther, AWA Program Director and Michael Grady Robertson, Director of Agriculture for the Queens Farm. Our discussion focused on nutritious school food and ways we can work together to effect changes. The Farm hosts more than 250,000 school children annually who get the opportunity to see live farm animals and get an idea of where their food comes from. Joining us on this continuing journey were Chef Bill Telepan, Wellness in the Schools' Nancy Easton and AWA staffer Brigid Sweeney.
Jeanette Orrey visits NYCAnimal Welfare Approved staff members Andrew Gunther, Beth Hauptle and Brigid Sweeney were thrilled to welcome Jeanette Orrey, the U.K. "Dinner Lady" on her first visit to the United States. On our first day of a three-city, week-long tour, we visited three public schools in the New York City System: PS 87, PS 84 and Fiorello Laguardia HS (the Fame school)!
We were joined by our friend Bill Telepan, of Telepan restaurant of course, and Nancy Easton, both with Wellness in the Schools, a non-profit working to support healthy school food in NYC.
Animal Welfare Approved, the nation’s leading certification label for family farmers raising their animals with high welfare standards, is hosting Jeanette Orrey, the United Kingdom’s famous “Dinner Lady” (that would be a lunch lady on this side of the pond) the week of January 11th. Orrey is a leader in the U.K.’s efforts to provide school lunches made of fresh, local organic food. She will be visiting with school officials, farmers and proponents of healthy school lunches in New York City, Baltimore, Maryland and Arlington, Virginia.
Accompanying Orrey on her journey will be Animal Welfare Approved staff, Bill Telepan, chef/owner of Manhattan’s Telepan Restaurant, and Nancy Easton, a New York City teacher for 20 years. Telepan is a long-time Animal Welfare Approved supporter and a board member of Wellness in the Schools. Wellness in the Schools is a grassroots organization that promotes children's environmental health, nutrition and fitness within the New York City public schools. Easton co-founded Wellness in the Schools and serves on its board. The New York City school system serves approximately 1.1 million students.