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August 24, 2012

News Bites

Prop 37: Follow the Money

sites/default/files/prop37_cornucopia.jpgThe battle over Proposition 37, a state measure on the November ballot that would require labeling of GMO foods, is heating up. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, proponents have contributed $2.7 million to the “Right to Know: Yes on Prop 37” campaign, while the opposition has raised almost 10 times as much ($25 million).

Last week, the Cornucopia Institute released a shopper’s guide to brands that have contributed to both sides of the campaign. The largest donations to defeat Prop 37 have come from (no surprise) corporations like Monsanto, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Conagra, and Kellogg. Healthy food shoppers may be alarmed to also find a number of prominent organic and “natural foods” brands on the list, such as Cascadian Farm and Horizon Organic, which are owned by General Mills and Dean Foods. See the list.

Michele Simon of Appetite for Profit reports that “No on 37” campaign funds are already being spent to hire political consultants that have worked for Big Tobacco. And with just 10 weeks to go until the November election, voters can expect to see an onslaught of ads soon. While Prop 37 is currently favored in the polls (65 percent pro vs. 21.8 percent against, according to a recent voter poll), supporters of the right to know what’s in our food will have their work cut out to stay ahead of an anti-campaign with deep pockets. Get involved.

California Farmworker Safety Bills

As farmers endure some of the worst heat in decades, California legislators consider two important bills that safeguard farmworker health and safety in scorching working conditions. During the summer, farmworkers in the Central Valley routinely work in upwards of 100ºF heat, and safety inspections are rarely conducted. The state adopted heat-related safety regulations in 2005, but at least 14 farmworkers have since died due to heat illness.

On Tuesday, the California Senate passed the Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act (AB 2676), which would make violation of shade and water regulations a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment and fines. Next Monday, the Farm Worker Safety Act (AB 2346) is expected to hit the Senate floor. This bill would impose stricter requirements for farm employers to provide adequate shade and drinking water, mandate stronger penalties for violations, and empower farmworkers to take delinquent employers to court.

As the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “Protecting the agricultural bounty of the state […] requires us to protect the health of the workers who harvest it.” The United Farm Workers is urging us to support this legislation by contacting our Senators. Take action today.

Drought to Impact Food Prices

The drought shows no signs of letting up: the total of drought-stricken natural disaster areas has risen to 1,821 counties in 35 states. Today, the USDA confirmed earlier predictions that food prices are expected to rise at least 3 to 4 percent next year as a result of the drought that has swept the Midwest. Meat, dairy, and poultry will be hit the hardest due to rising feed costs driven by low corn and soybean yields.

New Guide: Good Food on a Tight Budget

sites/default/files/good_food_on_budget.jpgEating fresh, healthy, and green doesn’t have to break the bank, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), the organization behind the popular Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This week, EWG released Good Food on a Tight Budget, a new guide to help eaters stretch their healthy food dollars. The free guide offers recipes, tips, and resources, and it ranks common produce items that pack the highest nutrition for the least cost.

Some highlights? Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and lettuce get top marks for offering the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, as do pears, nectarines, and watermelons. Beans and turkey top the list for proteins, while fresh cheeses like ricotta rank high for dairy. Download the guide.

Waste Not, Want Not—Food, That Is

On the subject of making the most of our food dollars: A recently released report by the National Resources Defense Council estimates that Americans waste about 40 percent of our food, amounting to $1,350 and $2,275 annually for a family of four. The report looks at waste all along the food chain, from farm fields to retail shelves and restaurant tables to our homes and trash bins. Plus, it examines the environmental impact and makes recommendations for how we can use our resources more efficiently and avoid letting food go to waste.Read more in Grist.

Can Science Build a Better Tomato?

sites/default/files/tomatoes_colorful.jpgIf you’re acquainted with indignities of the industrial tomato, you know that most supermarket tomatoes have been bred for uniformity, high productivity, and ease of transport, not flavor or nutrition. As KQED reports, researchers are now trying to figure out how to put the “tomato taste” back into the modern tomato by isolating genes associated with flavor.

One trait they’ve identified, known as “green shoulders” (a dark green color around the stem of the tomato as it grows, indicating a heavier concentration of chloroplasts), contributes to about 20 percent more sugars in tomatoes. Though commonly found on heirloom varieties, green shoulders are absent in most supermarket tomatoes.

As scientists attempt to engineer green shoulders back into the industrial tomato, the solution to this predicament seems simple to us: forgo the tasteless tomatoes, and choose from a rainbow of heirloom varieties and flavorful modern hybrids at your local farmers market instead.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »