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Web of Contamination: Shoreline Spiders Transfer Mercury up the Food Chain

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Researchers have highlighted the role of certain shoreline spiders, particularly long-jawed spiders, in moving mercury contamination from aquatic regions to terrestrial ecosystems. Mercury, which largely...

Researchers have highlighted the role of certain shoreline spiders, particularly long-jawed spiders, in moving mercury contamination from aquatic regions to terrestrial ecosystems. Mercury, which largely...

Long-Jawed Spider

Researchers have highlighted the role of certain shoreline spiders, particularly long-jawed spiders, in moving mercury contamination from aquatic regions to terrestrial ecosystems. Mercury, which largely...

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The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits?

Last week, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that could transform the agency’s food purchasing processes, directing the USDA to seek out not just the most affordable foods but also to consider factors including supply chain resiliency, environmental impact, and labor policies when deciding which companies are on the receiving end of […] The post The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits? appeared first on Civil Eats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an array of programs aimed at helping farmers grow food that supports rural communities and the environment, but its own purchasing has long revolved around sourcing the cheapest foods available. Last week, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that could transform the agency’s food purchasing processes, directing the USDA to seek out not just the most affordable foods but also to consider factors including supply chain resiliency, environmental impact, and labor policies when deciding which companies are on the receiving end of the billions of dollars it spends on food each year. “USDA has an opportunity to use its sizable purchasing power to address our agriculture sector’s compounding crisis of agri-business consolidation, climate change, and worker mistreatment,” said Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), a lead sponsor of the bill in a press release. Called the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, Markey’s proposal follows another bill, the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act, introduced by John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) in September. After a ramp-up period, Fetterman’s legislation would require the USDA to purchase at least 20 percent of its meat and poultry from small and mid-sized processors and to prioritize contracts with regional producers, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and companies that have fair labor agreements in place. Both pieces of legislation, which face long odds of getting included in next year’s farm bill, represent a push to better use federal purchasing power to accelerate progress on goals that the Biden administration has stated are key to its policy vision, including climate action, equity, and improving competition and resilience. And they’re linked to a larger movement to shift institutional and government food purchasing that has taken root in cities and states around the country, said Chloe Waterman, the senior program manager of the climate friendly food program at the nonprofit Friends of the Earth. The organization is one of several environmental, food, and farm groups that joined forces to create the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition about a year ago. “We got together and said, ‘We now have a decade’s worth of proof-of-concept for this idea of values-aligned food procurement. The federal government is a way bigger player than any of the cities or municipalities or school districts that we’re working with. So, how can we bring this strategy to the federal level?’” she said. The coalition released its first report earlier this month, which traces how the government spent nearly $17 billion on food in two separate years, 2019 and 2022. And it found that despite an executive order directing agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions in procurement, another addressing consolidation, and hundreds of millions of dollars granted to small and mid-size farms and processors over the past few years, the government isn’t exactly putting its money where its mouth is. According to the analysis, the USDA is by far the largest purchaser within the federal government, with programs for school meals, domestic hunger, and foreign aid accounting for more than half of total government food spending. In 2022, USDA spent nearly half of its food dollars with just 25 vendors, several of which represent the same multinational food companies the Biden administration has called out for exploiting American farmers. The USDA spent the most money—6 percent of its total purchases, or $270 million—on food from Cargill, which is the country’s largest private company and has long been accused of creating unfair markets for farmers and perpetuating deforestation in South America. Tyson, recently the subject of a major child labor investigation, took in $248 million, including 43 percent of dollars spent on poultry and was among the top five beneficiaries of spending on pork. Interestingly, the largest contracts for beef did not go to any of the country’s biggest meatpackers, although some of the companies are processors that could be sourcing animals from slaughter facilities owned by the big four. (The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would also require the USDA to provide more transparency around its purchasing.) While it wouldn’t affect numbers from the past, the agency did recently commit to only buying red meat from cattle raised in the U.S. But that won’t impact its relationship with JBS USA, a subsidiary of the Brazilian meat giant. In 2022, the USDA spent more than $60 million on pork and chicken from JBS and its poultry company, Pilgrim’s Pride. More than a year ago, lawmakers asked the USDA to end contracts with the company based on accusations of criminal behavior, including bribing government officials and using child labor in its supply chain. However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined, stating that it would “potentially impair” the agency’s ability to secure affordable food. To Waterman, that is precisely why change is necessary. “If we can’t even cut out or suspend purchasing from one vendor who’s a particularly bad actor, what does that say about like the resiliency of that supply chain and the lack of diversification in it?” she said. To illustrate the alternative approach, when Senator Fetterman introduced his bill to diversify the USDA’s meat purchasing, groups supporting the legislation created a map that showed the hundreds of small and mid-size processors that could be tapped instead. Many of those businesses recently received grants from USDA to expand and/or stay open. A map of the small and mid-sized processors that could supply the USDA with its meat needs. The report also analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from USDA purchasing and concluded that shifting more dollars toward plant-based foods (pulses, including beans, lentils, and tofu are a particularly tiny slice of current purchasing) could provide a variety of benefits that match the administration’s priorities. For example, it found that replacing 50 percent of beef purchases with plant-based proteins would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, land use by 16 percent, water use by 5 percent, and costs by 2 percent. “Our analysis included this cost element to show that you can reduce emissions and save . . . while also achieving benefits along every metric that we included,” Waterman said. To date, more than 200 organizations have endorsed the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, while 65 have endorsed the Strengthening Local Meat Economies Act. But the bills are partisan, with no backing from Republicans. And with the farm bill process punted to next year and still no end in sight on the many spending bills Congress plans to pass, their future remains uncertain. That’s not to say that, if enough momentum built up, the agency couldn’t start to shift its purchases on its own, Waterman said. “Even just from the numbers that we found, it does appear that USDA is moving in the right direction, and they have stated that they share some of the goals of diversifying their supply chains,” she said. “I just don’t think that they’re doing it fast enough.” Read More: Biden Targets Consolidation in the Meat Industry (Again) Institutional Food Has a Sourcing Problem. This Coalition Is Trying to Fix It. How One Groundbreaking Set of Rules is Changing the Food System in L.A. Schools COP28 Kicks Off. Starting tomorrow, world leaders, experts, fossil fuel and agribusiness executives, civil society groups, and activists will officially convene in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for what is being billed as the first global climate summit to pay serious attention to food and agriculture’s role in the conversation. Because it’s also the first COP to be led by an oil company executive who is also using the gathering to strike oil and gas deals, it’s unclear whether it will result in the immediate, dramatic shifts away from fossil fuels that experts say are necessary to curb catastrophic climate outcomes. Last week, the Council of the European Union published a draft of the food systems declaration world leaders are expected to sign; it barely mentions greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and stops far short of getting countries to commit to concrete actions and targets to reduce those emissions. “Anything that does not address emissions at this point is really a disappointment and a cop out,” said Wanjira Mathai, managing director for Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute, during a recent media briefing. The briefing included a panel of experts who said one of their top priorities would be ensuring that small-scale and Indigenous farmers from around the world are given adequate resources and represented in the conversations around food production. A report earlier this month found that while small, family farms produce a third of the world’s food, they have received less than 1 percent of international financing aimed at expanding climate-smart agriculture. Anna Lappé, executive director of the Global Alliance for Future of Food (and a member of the Civil Eats advisory board), said that her group was seeing “a worrying uptick” in food and agrichemical companies putting money into lobbying and public relations campaigns to try to steer the narrative toward what many experts and advocates see as false food-and-climate solutions. “The challenge will be to ensure that vested interests from the energy, food, and agrochemical sectors don’t undermine calls for real solutions,” she said. “We cannot address the planetary crisis without tackling food system emissions, and we can’t phase out fossil fuels without transforming food systems.” Read More: Will a Food and Ag Focus at COP28 Distract From the Fossil Fuel Economy? The IPCC’s Latest Climate Report Is a Final Alarm for Food Systems, Too Is Agroecology Being Coopted by Big Ag? Avoiding the Next Dust Bowl. Sand and dust storms are becoming much more frequent due to climate change, accompanying droughts, and poor land and water management, and two billion tons of sand and dust now enters the atmosphere every year as a result, according to the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). During a five-day meeting, UNCDD experts released three reports on the storms, one of which is specific to agriculture and includes information on how to reduce its role in desertification and the creation of dust and to minimize impacts on farms. Dust storms have been increasing in frequency and severity in dry western states, and agriculture can contribute to them by leaving fields bare between crops and tilling the soil. In May, dust from tilled farm fields caused a storm in Illinois that led to a 72-car crash in which seven people died. The storms can also destroy crops and harm livestock. Read More: Dust is a Growing Problem. What Role Does Farmland Play? To Prevent the Next Dust Bowl, Give Soil a Chance Unfair Trade. A new report published by Corporate Accountability Lab, an organization that holds businesses accountable for human rights and environmental abuses, shines a light on abuse faced by farmworkers in Mexico—even while working on farms growing certified “responsible” produce. To gather data, food anthropologist James Daria conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews with workers in Mexico’s San Quintín Valley employed by berry farms selling to Driscoll’s and the company that produces the Good Farms and Heritage brands sold at Costco. While the farms were certified by Fair Trade USA and the Equitable Food Initiative, Daria found incidents of forced labor and widespread violations of policies on sexual harassment, wage theft, and retaliation. The workers themselves described the conditions as “21st century slavery.” Annual audits required by the certifying bodies often failed to reveal the system’s shortcomings. Read More: Does Your Food Label Guarantee Fair Farmworkers’ Rights? Why Aren’t Federal Agencies Enforcing Pesticide Rules That Protect Farmworkers? The post The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits? appeared first on Civil Eats.

US life expectancy no longer catastrophic, now merely bad

A crowd of people gathers in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in February 2020. | Jeff Swensen/Getty Images 4 big takeaways from the CDC’s new report. US life expectancy increased this past year, from 76.4 to 77.5 years, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after declining for two years in a row. It’s not exactly a cause for celebration. America’s life expectancy has been lower than that of other wealthy countries for decades, and declined more than other nations’ during the pandemic. The trends were bad before the pandemic, and awful during it. Now they’re on their way back to being merely bad. As a measure of a nation’s well-being, life expectancy is useful, but its meaning is sometimes misunderstood. Life expectancy isn’t about individual people — it’s about the moments they’re born into. The metric doesn’t refer to the number of years a baby born today can expect to live. Instead, it reflects how long a baby born today would live if nothing in their environment changed over their lifetime. It’s like saying: If every year of this child’s life was like the year 2023, how long would they live? That means that if a baby is born during a period when lots of people are dying at relatively young ages — e.g., during a pandemic or a war — their estimated life expectancy would be lower than if they were born during happier times. And obviously, the baby’s individual life expectancy will change if their environment and conditions change — if the pandemic or war ends, for example. The point is that life expectancy changes in response to the social, cultural, environmental, and political environments countries create. That makes it a helpful tool for tracking the health of nations’ populations over time, and for comparing the health of different countries’ populations. A closer look at this year’s figures offers some pointed reminders that the US’s life expectancy curve isn’t an accident, but a response to choices its elected officials have made. Here are four takeaways from the report. 1) Covid-19 killed fewer people in 2022 than it did in 2021 — but it still killed a lot of people. The historic drop in life expectancy that occurred in the first two years of the pandemic was the worst the US had seen since World War II. The CDC estimates 375,000 Americans died due to Covid-19 infection in 2020, and about 460,000 in 2021 — an almost incomprehensible loss of human potential. In 2022, there were fewer Covid-19 deaths, but still a lot: ​​244,000. This is the main reason for the increase of life expectancy in the CDC report: Covid-19 is killing fewer people. But Covid-19 may also help explain why the US is not yet all the way back up to its pre-pandemic life expectancy of 78.8 years. Most other countries around the world also saw big dips in their life expectancies during the first year of the pandemic. But the US’s decrease was bigger than other countries’ — and its rebound has been slower. The authors of a study assessing pandemic-era life expectancy changes across a range of countries hypothesized that US mortality due to Covid-19 was higher than that in European countries due to higher rates of underlying conditions like obesity and diabetes. A recent analysis by the Washington Post suggests that stalled progress on preventing and treating chronic illness is responsible for the majority of deaths among Americans in their prime. “We’re starting from a lower spot, and we sunk faster than other countries,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a physician and epidemiologist who directs the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins University’s public health school. “And now we’re trying to crawl our way out.” 2) Racial/ethnic groups that lost the most when Covid was at its most lethal had the most to gain as the virus got weaker. The figures in the report suggest certain racial and ethnic groups made particularly big gains in life expectancy. For example, life expectancy went up by 2.3 years for American Indians and Alaska Natives; by 2.2 years for Hispanic Americans; and by 1.6 years for Black Americans. Does this mean the US has fixed health disparities? No. This reflects that those groups that had the highest rates of pandemic-related deaths had the most to gain when Covid-related mortality went down. “Groups had a little bump that was in proportion to the loss that they had,” said Sharfstein. Over the course of the pandemic, American Indians and Alaska Natives died of Covid-19 at more than twice the rate of white Americans, and Black and Hispanic Americans also died at much higher rates. The disproportionate increase in life expectancy in these groups just indicates they were further from their baseline during the worst of the pandemic. 3) Infant mortality rose. It’s likely due to abortion bans and failing maternal health care. Another factor holding down US life expectancy, according to the report, is infant mortality. In 2022, rising death rates due to perinatal conditions (that is, fetal deaths later in pregnancy or newborn deaths ) and congenital malformations kept the topline numbers from creeping higher. That hadn’t been the case in 2021, or in 2020. In fact, in those years, death rates due to these types of conditions actually decreased. This is likely a consequence of ending the constitutional right to abortion, said Sharfstein. “There’s a very strong relationship between access to abortion and infant mortality — and infant mortality went up,” he said. (Multiple studies have linked restrictions to abortion access with higher infant death rates. According to the Society for Family Planning, there were about 32,000 fewer abortions in the six months after the Supreme Court overturned a national right to the procedure in June 2022.) Some of this is related to changes in how doomed pregnancies are managed in the face of criminalized abortion. When OB-GYNs cannot safely provide a full spectrum of medical care, they cannot provide the abortions that would prevent pregnant people from carrying nonviable pregnancies to term. That means pregnancies that previously would have ended long before labor and delivery are instead progressing to birth — and the infants who result from those pregnancies are dying shortly thereafter. But it’s also likely related to the impact of abortion restrictions on the availability of prenatal care — and that directly affects both infant and maternal mortality. As I wrote earlier this month, maternal care providers are leaving states with abortion restrictions, and medical trainees are avoiding these states because they know that in states that don’t permit abortion, they won’t get training in a key part of pregnancy care. Prenatal care reduces the risk of infant death and may also reduce risks to mothers — and a lack of prenatal care increases the risk babies will die. “There’s no question that the reduction in reproductive health care access has implications for population health,” said Sharfstein. 4) Our baseline compared to other countries — both before and after peak pandemic — is low, and we haven’t taken any steps to address the root causes. In 1980, US life expectancy was among the highest in the developed world — now, it’s one of the lowest. There are many possible reasons for this: Compared with other countries, the US’s health care system is one of the most difficult to afford and navigate, and invests less in preventive care than in high-tech treatment. The nation wildly underfunds public health, has a high prevalence of processed foods, and promotes overwork and underrest. And access to guns and opioids has made high rates of death due to both a uniquely American problem. The prevalence of many chronic health conditions — along with smoking cigarettes, another important contributor to premature death and Covid-19 mortality — can be changed by policy choices. “Improving the public health system, rebalancing the health care system more toward prevention, thinking about the social drivers of health more intensely, addressing major social challenges that sometimes are right in front of our eyes and associated with a lot of death,” said Sharfstein — “all of those things are going to be necessary” to improve Americans’ overall health.

A child loved cinnamon applesauce. Then he got lead poisoning.

A Maryland toddler is among the children who developed lead poisoning suspected to be caused by recalled applesauce pouches.

A child loved cinnamon applesauce. Then he got lead poisoning. November 28, 2023 at 6:27 p.m. ESTA packet of lead-tainted apple puree sits on a counter Monday as Sarah Callahan holds her 15-month-old son, Rudy, at their home in Port Republic, Md. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post) Sarah and Ricky Callahan thought nothing of it when a doctor tested their son, Rudy, for lead at a checkup, a routine blood test for all young children in Maryland.But when his levels came back at nearly six times the minimum risk threshold for lead poisoning, they were worried. Surely, there had been a mistake. They had been so careful when it came to their only child, a redhead who loves to build things with blocks and help unload the dishwasher, pulling out all the utensils.Suddenly, their Maryland home felt like what Ricky Callahan described as a “death trap.” Was it the furniture? The carpet? Rudy’s toys? Inspectors checked all of that and more — the water, the dishes, his crib — and found nothing suspect.Months went by, and then a friend at Sarah Callahan’s work in whom she had confided about her son’s lead poisoning forwarded an article about a Food and Drug Administration recall of the same pureed fruit pouches Rudy had eaten for months. A lightbulb went off.“As soon as I read the FDA announcement I knew that was the source of my son’s lead poisoning,” Callahan said in a phone interview from the family’s home in Calvert County, about an hour from Washington.The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it had received 52 reports of children up to 4 years old potentially exposed to lead in contaminated apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches manufactured by a company in Ecuador and sold under WanaBana, Weis and Schnucks brands. While the FDA won’t identify the affected children, the Callahans reported their concerns to the agency after matching a pouch left in their cupboard to the contaminated lot numbers published last month, according to a copy of their complaint.After weeks without answers, it all added up.Rudy’s lead levels had peaked in a second screening, then dropped as he switched to a whole-foods diet on the advice of experts helping the family work to eliminate potential culprits. A favorite dish is now spinach with cheese and garlic.The FDA said it is still investigating how the pouches were contaminated, but its “leading hypothesis” is that cinnamon — added to the applesauce Rudy loved — is the likely source. Complaints of suspected exposures have been identified in 25 states, the agency has reported, including three cases in Maryland and one in Virginia.The other Maryland cases are from the Eastern Shore and the Baltimore area, said Chase Cook, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health. He declined to comment on the specifics of any cases.An analysis of multiple lots of WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree detected extremely high concentrations of lead, officials said. Although young children with lead poisoning often show no symptoms, experts say exposure over time can cause lasting neurodevelopmental disabilities.“There is no reason why in 2023 families are dealing with lead poisoning of their toddlers, of their children, because of a fruit puree that claims to be healthy and safe and free of preservatives,” said Nikki Guntner, a Pensacola attorney whose firm, Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, is working with the Callahans and other parents whose children had elevated lead levels after ingesting contaminated apple puree.WanaBana, the manufacturer, did not respond to questions Monday but in a previous statement said it has initiated a voluntary recall of the affected batches and is working closely with the FDA to investigate the source of the contamination.In a statement, the FDA said it is working with state, federal and international partners to investigate the source of the cinnamon and the point of contamination as well as whether additional products are potentially contaminated. The agency is screening incoming shipments of cinnamon from multiple countries for lead contamination and said it has not yet detected elevated lead in imported cinnamon.“In this instance, the FDA encourages manufacturers that import cinnamon and products that contain cinnamon to be extra vigilant to ensure their products do not contain elevated levels of lead,” agency officials said.While FDA officials said contaminated pouches have been seen on shelves at Dollar Tree stores in multiple states, a Dollar Tree spokeswoman said stores have locked registers to prevent sales of the brand’s pouches and instructed stores to remove the product from shelves.“We are aware of the FDA’s recent report and have worked with our store operations teams to ensure the recalled WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Puree pouches are no longer in our stores and destroyed according to FDA guidelines,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.Research shows exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals such as lead at an early age may increase the risk of several health problems, as well as prospective long-term cognitive consequences that may not show up for years.Barbara Moore, a pediatric nurse practitioner and director of the lead poisoning program at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, said a child can ingest or inhale lead particles. The material goes into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier, which can affect brain development, leading to lower IQ, speech delays and fine motor delays, and can affect growth. Older children may experience attention-deficit disorder, impulsivity problems and learning problems, she said.A high percentage of environmental investigations show the source has been lead dust or lead paint, Moore said; however, she has noticed more public health alerts for contamination in imported spices.Parents “may feel a twinge of guilt that they thought they were doing something healthy for their children, giving them a healthy pouch,” she said.The FDA has previously warned about high levels of heavy metals in baby and toddler foods. Heavy metals can leach into fruits and vegetables from soil or water contaminated by pesticides, fertilizers and other sources, or they can be introduced to foods as additives and mineral or vitamin mixes. The focus was prompted by a 2021 congressional report that found many of the products made by the country’s largest commercial baby food manufacturers contain significant levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury.Although the agency has set maximum allowable levels of metals such as lead in bottled water, it had not previously regulated levels of metals in baby and toddler foods, with the exception of arsenic in rice cereal — an effort that is now underway.The plans are of little comfort to the Callahans, who began feeding Rudy, now 15 months, the pouches at about 9 months old as he transitioned from breast milk to solid food. They were a regular part of his diet from May through August, and he sometimes consumed as many as six a day, according to Sarah Callahan’s complaint to the FDA.“We took a lot of precautions when picking out his food and … were giving him things which we thought were healthy,” said Ricky Callahan, 36.After Rudy’s first test on Aug. 22, the state lab identified blood lead levels of 19.8 micrograms per deciliter, his parents said. That’s nearly six times the level at which the state identifies children at risk for lead poisoning, 3.5 micrograms per deciliter.The result triggered the state to call the Callahans and made Rudy eligible for close monitoring. A second draw two weeks later on Sept. 1 showed an even higher level, 22.5 micrograms per deciliter, and a few days later they began the new whole-foods diet, the family said. He had his last pouch on Sept. 6.Another two weeks passed, and his next test showed little change, 22.4 micrograms per deciliter. But by Sept. 26, his levels were down to 14.3 micrograms per deciliter, an encouraging sign that the source of the lead was declining.A full month passed before Sarah Callahan read about the applesauce recall on Oct. 30 and scoured their home for pouches, finding one. It matched the contaminated lot numbers reported by WanaBana and the FDA, and she reported the case to the FDA, which prompted the state to call the Callahans again.Through a process of elimination, Sarah Callahan said, officials she has spoken to believe the pouches are very likely the source after two home inspections, a water test, soil test and blood tests of the parents found nothing, and because the new diet helped and the puree batch numbers matched.Even with the probable source identified, the Callahans are on edge, waiting to see if Rudy hits milestones at the same pace as other children his age. The Callahans worked with Calvert County Public Schools on an early intervention plan for Rudy, who has speech delays, and a specialist comes to their home every two weeks to track his development.“I am just concerned about his future,” said Sarah Callahan, 39. “I want the best for my son.”

How counting the true cost of cheap food could make a better world

What we pay for food and other goods doesn’t reflect the environmental and social damage they cause. But a radical new approach to economics could change that

IN THESE difficult times, it seems utterly bananas to say that food is underpriced. In the UK, average grocery bills have risen by more than 12 per cent in the past year. But it is. The price tags on food are way lower – by about two-thirds – than what they would be if we were paying the full cost. Don’t worry, though, there are plans to sort this out. That might sound unpalatable: who wants their grocery bill to rise even more? Yet in reality, we already pay the true price, it is just that most of it is stealthily hidden from us. “We pay overall four times for our food,” says Alexander Müller at the sustainability think tank TMG in Berlin. First, we pay at the checkout. Then we pay for the health, environmental and social costs of producing that food, mostly though taxes. Green accounting These costs are “externalities” – things that are treated as free even though they aren’t, such as the environmental damage caused by farming or the health costs of obesity. Right now, producers ignore them and let the rest of us pick up the bill. Maybe not for much longer. Economists and accountants – don’t yawn at the back! – have been working on a system called true cost accounting (TCA), which aims to internalise these externalities and upend decades of economic orthodoxy. Play our cards right, and it won’t result in all of us spilling more cash at the tills, but rather in a wholesale recalibration of global supply…

Tackling Climate Change and Alleviating Hunger: States Recycle and Donate Food Headed to Landfills

A growing number of states are working to keep food out of landfills over concerns the waste is taking up too much space and posing environmental problems

ELMSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — When Sean Rafferty got his start in the grocery business, anything that wasn't sold got tossed out.But on a recent day, Rafferty, the store manager for ShopRite of Elmsford-Greenburgh in New York, was preparing boxes of bread, donuts, fresh produce and dairy products to be picked up by a food bank. It's part of a statewide program requiring larger businesses to donate edible food and, if they can, recycle remaining food scraps.“Years ago, everything went in the garbage ... to the landfills, the compactors or wherever it was,” said Rafferty, who has 40 years in the industry. “Now, over the years, so many programs have developed where we’re able to donate all this food ... where we’re helping people with food insecurities.”New York is among a growing number of states targeting food waste over concerns it is taking up diminishing landfill space and contributing to global warming as meat, vegetables and dairy release the greenhouse gas methane after being dumped in a landfill. Rescuing unwanted fruits and vegetables, eggs, cereals and other food also helps to feed hungry families.Globally, about a third of food is wasted. In the United States, it's even higher, at 40%, according to the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. The U.S. spends about $218 billion each year growing and producing food that is wasted. About 63 tons (57 metric tons) goes to waste, including 52.4 tons (47.5 metric tons) that ends up in landfills and 10 tons (9 metric tons) never harvested from farms.“What’s shocking to people often is not only how much we waste ... but also the impact," said Emily Broad Leib, a Harvard University law professor and director of the school's Food Law and Policy Clinic. "Food waste causes about 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.” Broad Leib says 20% of water in the U.S. is used to grow food "that we then just throw away, so we’re basically taking water and putting it directly into a landfill.”But she and others also note there is growing awareness of the need to do something about food waste in the U.S. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency announced a goal of 50% food waste reduction by 2030. That has prompted a number of state-led initiatives, along with smaller, nonprofit efforts.Ten states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation or executed policies to reduce, compost or donate waste. All 50 states have passed legislation shielding donors and recovery organizations from criminal and civil liability linked to donated food.California and Vermont have launched programs converting residents’ food waste into compost or energy, while Connecticut requires businesses, including larger food wholesalers and supermarkets, to recycle food waste. Farmers in Maryland can get a tax credit of up to $5,000 per farm for food they donate.Several states have joined New York in setting up systems allowing food to be donated. Rhode Island requires food vendors servicing education institutions to donate any unused food to food banks, while Massachusetts limits the amount of food that businesses can send to landfills, which Broad Leib said has increased food donations in the state by 22% over two years.New York's program is in its second year, and state officials believe it's having a significant impact. As of late October, the program had redistributed 5 million pounds (2.3 million kilograms) of food — the equivalent of 4 million meals — through Feeding New York State, which supports the state's 10 regional food banks and is hoping to double that number next year. Among those required to donate food include colleges, prisons, amusement parks and sporting venues. “Certainly, we should be reducing the amount we waste to start with, but then we should be feeding people before we throw food away if it’s good, wholesome food,” said Sally Rowland, supervisor with the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Organics, Reduction and Recycling section. “To me, it’s a commonsense kind of thing and I think it’s just kind of built that momentum of people understanding about how much food we’re really wasting.”New York's Westchester County has eight refrigerated trucks that pick up all types of perishable food, according to Danielle Vasquez, food donations coordinator for Feeding Westchester, one of the state's food banks. The group started working with businesses in 2014 but has seen participation ramp up since the donation law went into effect last year. Much of the food collected goes to nearly 300 programs and partners throughout the county, including a mobile food pantry and the Carver Center, a nonprofit serving Port Chester's families and children, which has a pantry.“This time of year is very important for us and a lot of families across Westchester," Vasquez said. "There is the high cost of food. There is a high cost of living. Westchester is a very expensive county to live in. ... We are here to supplement our families as much as we can so, that way, they can focus that money on paying their bills.”Among those visiting the Carver Center earlier this month was Betsy Quiroa, who lamented how the cost of everything had gone up since the coronavirus pandemic. She was counting on getting milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables during her visit and said she didn't care if the produce was dented or slightly damaged.“Coming here is good,” said Quiroa, a mother of four who relies on Social Security. “If you are not working, you buy nothing. This is the problem.”Despite New York's success, advocates for food waste worry not enough is being done to meet the 2030 goal. Broad Leib and others have called for a national effort to coordinate the various state and local policies. There is a goal, “but we don’t really have a great roadmap ... and how we’re going to actually achieve that end goal by 2030, which is kind of crazy,” Broad Leib said, adding that a one-person liaison office in the USDA isn’t sufficient to address the problem.Kathryn Bender, a University of Delaware assistant professor of economics, said donation programs are helpful, but she worries they might shift the burden from businesses to nonprofits, which could struggle to distribute all the food. “The best solution for food waste is to not have it in the first place,” Bender said. “If we don't need to produce all that food, let's not put all the resources into producing that food.”Casey reported from Boston.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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