Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category

Peanut Scandal: Food Factories Know If They Are Clean

February 6, 2009

Let’s not sugar coat this: food factories know if they are clean or not.

Rats, cockroaches and other bad things get seen and detected: they leave calling cards.

The owners and operators of the the Peanut Corp. of America, which are suspected of shipping salmonella laced peanut products, shoul be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We also have zero sympathy for federal and state food safety agencies responsible for public health safguards. They have clearly violated the public trust.


The Agriculture Department shipped possibly contaminated peanut butter and other foods to schools in at least three states under a contract with the Georgia company blamed for a nationwide salmonella outbreak.

The government abruptly suspended all business with the company Thursday, as officials defended their efforts to halt the outbreak that has sickened at least 575 people in 43 states. At least eight have died. It’s become one of the largest food recalls ever, including more than 1,300 products.

The potentially contaminated products went to school free lunch programs in California, Minnesota and Idaho in 2007, the Department of Agriculture said Friday. Peanut butter and roasted peanuts processed by the Peanut Corp. of America were sent to the schools.

None of the states reported illnesses as a result of students eating the recalled peanut products.

Jim Brownlee, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, said there have been no potentially contaminated shipments from the company in the last year. It was unclear how much of the suspect food might still remain uneaten at the schools.

Despite ongoing reports of illnesses linked to the company, the Agriculture department only Thursday suspended Peanut Corp. from participating in government contract programs, for at least a year. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also removed Stewart Parnell, president of the company, from USDA’s Peanut Standards Board.

The company’s actions indicate that it “lacks business integrity and business honesty, which seriously and directly hinders its ability to do business with the federal government,” said David Shipman, acting administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said in a statement.

The recalled foods used ingredients from the Peanut Corp. processing plant in Blakely, Ga. While the outbreak appears to be slowing down, new illnesses are still being reported.

School officials across the country have been checking cafeterias and vending machines for the recalled products, and some have stopped serving any peanut-related products at all, out of an abundance of caution.

The Food and Drug Administration learned only weeks ago that the Peanut Corp. of America had received a series of private tests dating back to 2007 showing salmonella in their products from the Georgia plant, but later shipped the items after obtaining negative test results.

The Agriculture Department initially said that school meal programs were not affected by the large-scale recall. But that changed when Peanut Corp. expanded its recall to all peanut products made at the plant since Jan. 1, 2007.

At a Senate hearing Thursday on the salmonella outbreak, lawmakers reacted angrily when told that food companies and state safety inspectors don’t have to report to the FDA when test results find pathogens in a processing plant, leaving the federal government in the dark.


Food Security, Supply Needs Totally New Thinking

December 28, 2008

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of “new fundamentals”, according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing “structural failures”, such as “astronomic” environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government’s newly formed Food Council.


Vegetables (Getty Images)

Food crops, agriculture and biodiversity cannot be separated from one another

“Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s,” he told BBC News.

“It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

“At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers.”

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people’s diets and public health.

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Population a Growing Problem for Vietnam

December 27, 2008

VietNamNet Bridge – The latest statistics show that currently Vietnam has 86.5 million people, ranking 13th in the world. It has a density of 227 persons per square kilometre – six fold higher than the global level and double China’s figure.

The General Department of Population reports that by October 2008, approximately 95,000 third babies were born in 43 provinces and cities and the figure is estimated to rise to 142,000 by the year’s end. This means the number of the third child increased by 13.8 percent against in 2007.

The boom was attributed to families’ misunderstanding of the 2003 Ordinance on Population in terms of the time to give birth, the number of newborns and intervals between births.

Babies are held by their mothers at Tho Ha village in the northern ... 
Babies are held by their mothers at Tho Ha village in the northern province of Bac Ninh. Officials in Communist Vietnam alarmed by a new baby boom are to crack down on couples having more than two children, family planning chiefs said this week.(AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam)

To solve the problem, experts say there is no choice but to enhance public communication and have a decree imposing administrative fines on law-breakers.

Also many doctors have used technical measures to identify the sex of the foetus, as many couples are seeking ways to give birth to a boy rather than a girl. These practices have resulted in a gender imbalance and inequality, which are not acceptable in society.

According to the Ministry of Health, the traditional customs of an agriculture-based society and the far-reaching impact of the Confucian ideology on giving birth have posed a great challenge to Vietnam’s population and family planning programme aimed at ensuring gender equality and improving the quality of life.

The fact is that in an agriculture-based economy like Vietnam, people still have low incomes, infant mortality remains high and there are no insurance services for the elderly. Since rural people make up 73 percent of the country’s population, and basic social services are not well developed, many couples find it difficult to embrace the concept of having one or two children in their family.

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by Robert Engelman

The government of Vietnam will decide on December 22 whether to penalize parents who have more than two children, reinitiating a coercive population policy it abandoned in 2003.

“We are considering an adjustment to our policy appropriate to the circumstances of the country,” Truong Thi Mai, chair of Vietnam’s Parliamentary Committee of Social Affairs, confirmed on Saturday. “The Parliament Standing Committee will decide the week after next.”

Ms. Mai, a leading figure in the government debate who sits on the influential Standing Committee, was attending a weekend conference of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development in Hanoi. She declined to provide details of the proposed policy adjustment, but said it was brought about by continuing poverty in rural areas associated with families with more than two children.

Asked whether the policy would violate the principles of family planning voluntarism, an approach that Vietnam government representatives agreed to at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, Ms. Mai responded that the government “has consulted all international laws to which Vietnam is a party” and had discussed the proposed policy change with the United Nations Population Fund. The 1994 agreement lacks the status of international law.

UN sources confirmed that discussion and characterized the initiative as a return of population policy influence by government forces who believe Vietnam’s decline in fertility – it fell from 3.8 children per woman in 1989 to less than 2.1 today – is among its greatest social successes. The fertility rate has not risen significantly in recent years, but some Vietnamese officials nonetheless fear that a population “boomlet” may be occurring.

If approved, the new policy would impose fines on parents for any third and higher-order children, the UN sources said. Government officials and parliamentarians are already required to have no more than two children, risking advancement or continued service if they have more.

Initiation of the proposed new policy may also reflect the recent breakup of what had been a ministry devoted to population, maternal health, and child welfare, according to the UN sources. These three functions have since been split into three departments and divided among ministries, weakening the influence of former ministry officials committed to family planning voluntarism.

The Vietnamese two-child population policy had been in effect in the 1990s and until 2003, when – in part due to international pressure against coercive family planning policies – it was replaced with a policy encouraging a “small-family norm” throughout the country.

Reinstatement of the two-child policy would be reminiscent of the longstanding one-child population policy of China, Vietnam’s northern neighbor, which requires that most parents have no more than one child or face fines or other penalties. Despite this policy, China’s fertility averages around 1.8 children per woman, indicating widespread exceptions to or evasions of the policy.

Vietnam’s fertility rate rose slightly around the time its two-child policy was relaxed in 2003, but demographers judge the increase insignificant and doubt it stemmed from relaxation of the policy. The fertility rate has since fallen back to 2.1 or slightly lower, according to UN sources.

Fertility rates that stay consistently at two children per woman allow a population eventually to stop growing in the absence of significant net immigration. Most eastern Asian countries have experienced rapid fertility decline in recent decades, to roughly two children or fewer, due to the increasing popularity of small families and improved access to family planning services in the region.

Robert Engelman is Vice President for Programs at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, published in 2008 by Island Press.

California Water Crisis Signals Warning for Other States

December 6, 2008

A drought that’s lasted only two years is creating serious problems in this nation’s most populous state. And other Western states, including Idaho, had better take notice of the simple fact that if we don’t increase water storage, we are putting our food supply and our economy in jeopardy.

If the drought in California continues until spring, water officials there are planning to ration municipal water deliveries and dry up as much as 200,000 acres of farmland. Compounding California’s problem is a recent federal court ruling that limits pumping of water out of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta in order to protect an endangered fish, the smelt. Sound familiar?

To sum up California’s problem, the state ranks No. 1 in population with over 37 million people and No. 1 in value of agricultural output at $36.6 billion in 2007. At the present time, there’s not enough water to supply both of those demands. So water managers’ options include first, pray for rain and make plans to dry up farmland, and second, ration water to cities and encourage people to conserve by limiting lawn watering and other activities.

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By Paul Eakens
Long Beach Press-Telegram

As drought continues to tax the state’s water supply, water officials from around California gathered this week in Long Beach to contemplate the challenges ahead.

During the Association of California Water Agencies conference, which began Tuesday and ends today at the Long Beach Convention Center, one panel discussion Thursday reflected the polarizing debate over how to address the crisis.

Four panelists from rural water districts made clear the differences between their views on water conservation and those of urban officials.

Long Beach has led Southern California in conserving water use through public outreach and rules for outdoor water use. On Thursday, local water officials announced that the city’s water demand in November set a record 10-year low, falling 12.1 percent below the historical 10-year average and 7.9 percent below November 2007.

State water allocations are expected to be 15percent of what water agencies had hoped for in 2009.

While the four panelists generally agreed that water conservation is needed, they debated how best to implement it and disagreed on creating explicit local or state mandates.

Chris Kapheim of the Alta Irrigation District near Fresno said urban and agricultural water needs differ.

“One size that fits all clearly doesn’t work in California,” Kapheim said.

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