The names “alaria,” “dulse,” “kelp,” and “laver” may not mean much now, but a growing cadre of aquatic farmers and chefs in New England are trying to change that. These types of edible seaweed (or sea vegetables) are revered by cooks for the jolt of salty goodness they bring to soups and salads, and by health food advocates who dig the high levels of minerals in seaweed.
The prospect of having certified organic aquaculture products was a hot topic at this year’s Aquaculture 2013 conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Farmed aquatic animals are the only type of food not represented in the marketplace with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic seal—a highly recognizable label—although that may change soon. The USDA is initiating the process for developing an organic aquaculture standard.
At the conference, Mark Bradley of the USDA Marketing Service presented a roadmap for the development of the organic aquaculture standard, which he thinks will take at least 18 months to finalize. Read More >
In a disturbing turn, the EU has again weakened regulations addressing feeding animals to other animals, bringing their rules more in line with flawed U.S. policies. The decision, made earlier this month, revises the animal feed rule to allow swine and poultry carcasses to be fed to farm-raised fish. Read More >
At this summer’s annual Smithsonian Institute dinner, “Sustainable Seafood: Ensuring a Healthy Supply,” the question echoed by many guests was about the safety of imported shrimp. This year, I was an invited guest expert at the dinner, and I was joined at a table with Ed Rhodes, Vice President of Sustainability and Aquaculture Development at Phillips Foods, Inc. Ed and I fielded several questions from guests about sustainable seafood, but the emerging common concern was about imported shrimp. Read More >
I want to congratulate my friends at the Recirculating Farms Coalition who were recently awarded two grants to construct an Urban Farming and Food Center in downtown New Orleans. The center will be home to a community garden, fruit trees, aquaponics and hydroponics. These last two are methods for raising fish and edible plants in soil-free recirculating water systems, and similar to the approach we have taken in our Center for a Livable Future Aquaponics Project in Baltimore’s Cylburn Arboretum.
RFC says in the press release, “The Center will be a hub for research, education, training, and community interaction on growing, marketing, and preparing healthy food in the city and beyond.” The center will be built and run in a collaboration between RFC and the New Orleans Food and Farm Network. Funding for the project comes from the Claneil Foundation and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.
A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration study has found that farmed shrimp can be added to the list of animal protein sold in grocery stores that harbors multi-drug resistant bacteria. That list, now being joined by farmed shrimp, includes pork, chicken, ground turkey, and ground beef.
The article was published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Food Microbiology in February 2012, and while it has not been covered by the mainstream media, given the importance of the study findings I think this article deserves more attention. Read More >
The United States needs better food systems, and it needs more jobs. Aquaponics, a relatively new type of urban food production model, can give us both—sustainable food and green jobs.
Currently, the U.S. imports about 85 percent of our seafood, a large fraction of which is produced in overseas fish farms, by a process called aquaculture. Another 10 percent is “domestic wild catch,” which is made up of seafood caught by U.S. fishermen (NOAA). The remaining 5 percent comes from U.S. aquaculture. As global wild catch declines, aquaculture is steadily increasing as a viable replacement, although some aquaculture operations are criticized for being sited in open water or rivers, where fish escapes, exchange of fish diseases between farmed and wild fish, and environmental pollution are of concern.
But there is a different approach to aquaculture that addresses many of these concerns: aquaponics. Aquaponics is typically land-based, closed-system farming that is designed with the principles of agroecology in mind— fish species and vegetable crops are raised together in harmony— because fish waste serves as liquid plant fertilizer and plants strip the water of chemicals that are harmful to fish.
Agroecology, a method for integrating biological systems into agriculture, is widely recognized as a potential solution for increasing farm productivity and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, is strongly in favor of the agroecology approach, in which farmers create “complex farming systems that replicate the complexities of nature.” Read More >
India is the most recent country to address the public health concerns associated with the use of non-therapeutic antimicrobials in food animal production, and in doing so, may just leap-frog the United States.
India’s Directorate General of Health Services recently released a policy document entitled “The National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance (NPCAR)”, which outlines approaches for targeting both human and animal antimicrobial usage, infection prevention and control, education and training on administration of antimicrobials, antimicrobial resistance surveillance systems, and enforcement.
“It is a move that should be viewed as very positive, if significantly overdue” says Ed Broughton, Research and Evaluation Director of the USAID Health Care Improvement Project at University Research Company and former doctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
Among the proposed policies specific to food animal production, the NPCAR recommends banning non-therapeutic usage of antimicrobials in food animals, labeling requirements in food exposed to antimicrobials, and banning over-the-counter (OTC) sale of antimicrobials. It is not clear whether the OTC sales ban would also apply to purchases of antimicrobials in feed (i.e. medicated feed) for food animals. Read More >
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has surveyed MD farmers about their pesticide use just four times since 1988—most recently in 2004 when an estimated 10.7 million pounds was applied (full report). A bill heard yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly Environmental Matters Committee (House Bill 660) looks to modernize pesticide reporting— by requiring farmers and other certified applicators ( landscape companies. pest control companies, state agencies as well as dealers who purchase and sell restricted use pesticides) to annually report agricultural pesticide usage, release, purchase, and sales.
In-house record keeping of pesticide usage is already required of farmers, so what this bill adds is the concept of— and funding for— an online, centralized pesticide reporting system that Maryland Department of Agriculture would administer, using funds levied from a tax on pesticide vendors and not farmers.
Pesticide usage is important to monitor because these chemicals can be toxic to non-target organisms, including humans and wildlife. Human health risks from pesticides do exist, as noted in an information packet developed by Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network:
Recent research conducted primarily under the National Institute of Health’s Agricultural Health Study suggests that farmers, their families and other agricultural workers are at increased risk for a wide range of health problems due to pesticide exposure. These include: respiratory disorders (i.e., Farmer’s lung; asthma), cancer (lung, bladder, colon, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and leukemia in offspring), poor cognitive functioning, depression, autism and fertility problems.
Once applied to crops, pesticides can travel off the farm and into groundwater, surface water and carried by wind, called spray drift. The United States Geological Service (USGS) found 75% of wells sampled in Central and Western Maryland, and 75% of surface waters sampled in the Mid-Atlantic (including MD) contain pesticides. These pesticides include both herbicides and insecticides. Agricultural pesticides migrate into water bodies like the Potomac River, where they can create intersex fish and stress aquatic animals as shown in a USGS study.
“Given the crucial economic, ecological, and sociological role that the fisheries of the Chesapeake Bay have for our region” says Dr. Eric Schott of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in written testimony in support of HB660, “and the fact that the Bay is downstream of everything, it is prudent to know as much as possible about pesticide and fertilizer usage in the state.” Schott predicts that pesticide reporting “will allow modelers and ecologists to come up with better solutions for the Bayʼs problems.”
Scientists, including myself, and physicians who testified in support of the bill are eager to see it move forward.
The MD bill’s sponsor in the House is Delegate Barbara Frush and in the Senate Karen Montgomery. The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for committee hearings next Tuesday, March 8, 2011.
One in six Americans contracts a foodborne illness each year (CDC). Such illness can mean an unpleasant day of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and/or worse— hospitalization or death in rare cases. “There’s something that can be said about the problem of foodborne illness, that can’t be said of many other public health problems of the day” said Elisabeth Hagan, Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, who opened a January 25th foodborne hazards conference convened at the Pew Charitable Trusts offices in Washington DC, “and that is: Foodborne illness is preventable.”
The day-long conference “Managing the Risk of Foodborne Hazards: STECs and Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens” was organized jointly by Pew and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Hagan and other conference speakers focused their attention on antibiotic-resistant pathogens and shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli). A key message that I heard from several speakers was that we know enough today to develop policies that can enable action in addressing the most pressing foodborne hazards.
Central to the development of smarter food policies is incorporating our understanding the ecology of foodborne microbes. For example, understanding the ecology of toxin-producing E. coli strains can improve our ability to detect the right types of E. coli in tainted foods. In another example, nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production creates a persistent collection of antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes or a ‘resistome’ on farms that is difficult to dismantle. Antibiotic-resistance genes transferred to pathogenic bacteria creates a health hazards for animal workers, slaughterhouse workers, farm neighbors, and to consumers who handle or prepare raw meat in their kitchens.
The Pew/CSPI conference focused on antibiotics in food animals because in 2009 nearly 80% by weight of all antimicrobials were sold for use in food animal, and the remaining 20% by weight were used in human medicine, as reported last year by Ralph Loglici on the Livable Future Blog.
Resistance is an inevitable result of using antibiotics on food animals or humans. In the words of Quijing Zhang of Iowa State University, “[it is] always going to happen.” Once gut bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, they can trade the blueprints for resistance to other beneficial bacteria or with pathogenic bacteria in a giant microbial swap meet called ‘the resistome.’
The microbial world’s resistome and our own human-centered biome collide more often than we think—just talk to a health care provider about hospital-acquired antibiotic resistant infections or read the latest 2008 report on the quality of retail meats from the U.S. National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System.
When humans take antibiotics or animals are given antibiotics, these are individual decisions—and as Dr. Stuart Levy of Tufts University pointed out, “[these individual decisions have] societal effects when antibiotics are mismanaged, such that every dose of antibiotics has a consequence.” Levy underscores the severity of current practices, saying, “the fact that we are still practicing [the use of antibiotics in animal production] is an embarrassment and a mistake.”