“Obama Proposes Single Overseer for Food Safety” – New York Times, 20 February 2015

Currently, as many as 15 governmental agencies have their hand in food safety — primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, but also others like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the FDA and Agriculture Department are the main overseers, they too have different protocols and inspection methods.

The Obama administration has proposed a streamlined approach to food safety that would bring all the agencies under one roof in the Department of Health and Human Services. Centralizing food safety might run into some problems, as food safety experts, food safety inspectors, and consumer groups are already resistant to the idea.

The FDA and Agriculture Department often find themselves in opposition with each other: not only do they have different protocols — their guidelines are entirely different, from mandates to inspections programs to training and education — they are also territorial.

While the FDA oversees a majority of the food we eat, such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and shelled eggs, the Agriculture Department inspects our meat, poultry, and processed eggs. However, both departments’ inspections methods vary widely.

Everyday, the Agriculture Department, for instance, will assign inspectors to livestock processing plants so that every piece of meat and poultry is thoroughly examined. Every meat and poultry plant in the US is lawfully obligated to have an inspector there daily. Because the FDA is in charge of inspecting more food products, inspectors aren’t present at every plant.

Foods imported into the US also seem to have to pass few inspections. In order for meat to comply with US standards, the export countries must have inspection protocols that are the same as the Agriculture Departments. At the most, the FDA inspects two percent of our plant imports.

Some of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspectors think that the FDA’s standards would weaken their own. Other doubters assert that there is no research that advocates that a streamlined system would be better than the US’s current system.

But it seems like US food safety might already need change. Every year, around 87 million Americans fall sick from food, 371,000 go to the hospital for that sickness, and 5,700 die.

February 23, 2015

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2014   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“Global Pork Market Starts to Shift” – Wall Street Journal, 20 June 2014

The swine-disease that has been ravaging the US pork industry for over a year, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), is beginning to impact US pork exports and the global trade. PEDv, which only effects piglets and has no impact on human health, has killed millions across 30 states.

US pork prices in the market have also caused US consumer pork prices to increase. In May, average retail was at an all-time high of $4.10/pound, a 15% increase from the same time in 2013. Increased pricing is persuading big buyers to import pork from other markets. Such a move will likely hit the US pork industry hard, since the US exports almost a quarter of its yearly pork production.

PEDv is certainly a threat to the US pork industry, as the industry is known for low prices and large output. Skyrocketing costs in the US is reshaping global trade: other markets are stepping in and creating their own exporting opportunities.

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

The USDA projects that US pork exports will plummet by 190,000 tons to 2.2 million tons in 2014. This April, exports to China dropped 13 percent from April 2013, and 37 percent from March 2013. China is the biggest global consumer of pork, and was the US pork industry’s third-largest importer from April 2013 to April 2014.

The USDA reports that Brazil’s exports are expected to grow by 55,000 tons to a total of 675,000 tons. Canada’s exports increased by 16 percent from January to April, compared to export rates from a year earlier. The USDA also projects that Canada’s exports will grow by 20,000 tons to 1.3 million tons in 2014. A majority of these exports will be to the US and China.

Europe’s pork industry has also become victim to disease, the African swine fever, which is disrupting its trade with Russia. Russia banned pork imports from the EU this past January. Similarly, China has placed a ban on pork imports from Poland. Japan’s pork industry has also been hit with PEDv, which has wiped out over 200,000 piglets since Fall 2013.

June 24, 2014

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2014   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“U.S. Rice Farmers Cash In On Venezuelan Socialism” – Wall Street Journal, 18 August 2013

Though Hugo Chavez was a huge critic of capitalism, US rice farmers are still benefiting from the late Venezuelan president’s socialist economic policies. While president, Chavez attempted to aid the poor by putting large farms under state control, reorganizing land ownership, and controlling food prices.

However, those policies have negatively affected Venezuela’s farming and manufacturing communities; for instance, turning the country into net importer, rather than net exporter, of rice. Additionally, manufacturing of steel, sugar, beef and coffee has dropped, forcing Venezuela to depend on those imports as well.

In 2010, Chavez nationalized Venezuela’s main farm-supply company, making it difficult for farmers to obtain farming basics, like fertilizer and herbicide. Chavez’s government also set prices for rice and other goods; and while those prices were fixed, inflation still rose. Venezuelan farmers could no longer afford new equipment. With no basic farming supplies and without adequate equipment, Venezuelan rice farmers’ yields decreased, causing Venezuela to look elsewhere for rice, i.e. the US. Venezuelan economic policies have made US rice farmers very happy.

According to the Department of Agriculture, in the first half of 2013, Venezuela imported $94 million of rice from the US, a 62% increase from 2012, making Venezuela the US’s fourth-biggest rice market. In 2011, imports from the US reached $12 billion, a 16% increase from 2010. Alcoa and Kimberly-Clark, a personal care corporation, are two US companies that export the most products to Venezuela.

Venezuela has still managed to hold on to oil, the country’s biggest commodity, which provides for half of the government’s income. This year, oil prices are $105/barrel; if they somehow decrease to $90/barrel, then the government will have to drastically curb imports to make up for the loss.

September 20, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat” – New York Times, 27 March 2013

The agricultural industry’s use of antibiotics in their livestock has been a hot button topic the last few months, and only getting hotter. While the agriculture industry overwhelmingly denies that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transferred from livestock to humans, a British-Danish report from last month shows that bacteria does has the ability to move from animals to humans.

As we wrote in a previous post in November, “Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny“, responsibility for regulating antibiotic use is splintered among multiple agencies: the FDA, USDA and CDC. The FDA polices drugs, a role they carry out by overseeing the meat sold in our supermarkets, and by monitoring the existence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA is trying to get a handle on the kinds of antibiotics that are being fed to livestock, but to no avail — livestock facilities are not legally required, and are vehemently opposed, to divulge details about what drugs are administered to which animals, and in what amounts.

It seems as this point that the situation could be a matter of life and death. In 2011, the agricultural industry bought almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics — 80% of the US’s 2011 antibiotic sales — for animal use, the biggest quantity ever purchased. The drugs are mostly given to animals at low dosages in order to encourage growth, and to contain any sicknesses they might contract by living in such close quarters of each other and their waste. However, feeding livestock low levels of antibiotics can actually breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases.

In 2008, Congress forced drug companies to report to the FDA the amount of antibiotics they sold to agricultural facilities. Again, no information was released on what drugs were given to which animals, in what amounts and why.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education. Labor and Pensions reauthorized the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) for 2013, requiring veterinary-drug companies to pay fees to the FDA as a way to financially support the agency. Two Democrats from the House have introduced new legislation that would give FDA the authority to amass more data from drug companies, as well as make food producers reveal how frequently they give low doses of antibiotics to animals, so as to spur growth and offset poor conditions.

We believe that in order to lower societal costs, and protect animals and humans, open and objective debate needs to continue among all stakeholders.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 29, 2013

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2013   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

Time is Running Out to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

In the US, we have something called a Farm Bill, which is the main agricultural and food policy for the federal government. The bill is renewed every 5 years by Congress, and manages agricultural activities under the periphery of the Department of Agriculture.

The farm bill can actually be a contentious issue, and can affect international trade, environmental conservation, food safety and rural communities. The most current farm bill, which was passed in 2007, expired this September; however, no new legislation has been passed by Congress since then. Many decisions involved in a new farm bill are directly related, and affected by, our recession and the fiscal package.

The White House and Congress are at a political standoff, which is further worrying farmers. It is farmers’ hope that a new bill will be included in the fiscal package before year’s end — if legislation isn’t renewed, then milk and cheese prices will soar, affecting farmers and consumers alike. Extension of current law would be a relief for now, but would only be a band-aid for the existing problem. However, if neither current law is renewed nor new legislation passed, milk pricing would regress to the old system — the Agricultural Act of 1949 — where milk was set at $6 a gallon. The old system of milk pricing is out-of-date and unaligned with our current economy and market conditions.

The Agricultural Act of 1949 delineates how to set milk prices; the act is overridden when a new farm bill is passed, but will be effective if no new bill or extension is passed. The act includes a component that assures that minimum milk prices will cover producers’ costs. The government also assures producers that it will buy milk products at that price point; however, producers typically profit more through the consumer market. Given the existing market conditions, the government-set price could double, which could persuade farmers to sell their products to the government rather than through the private market. Because of this, store prices for consumers could skyrocket. If the government keeps accumulating milk, then it will subsequently have an excess of dairy products in storage. Eventually, prices could decline as the government sells its dairy stockpiles.

Increased milk prices could put American dairy farmers and cheese-makers out of line with the international market; instead of buying American-made dairy products, consumers could be looking at alternatives, such as foreign-made cheeses, and soy and almond milk.

What stands between the White House and Congress passing new legislation in 2012 are disputes over the food stamps program — three quarters of the farm bill goes into funding food stamps. The Senate bill, spearheaded by conservative lawmakers, would cut food stamps by $4 billion.
At this point, farm lobbyists are pushing to have any legislation passed before the new year so that dairy farmers will not have to revert to old legislation. This is an obscure issue that isn’t given much limelight, and many Americans don’t even know of this bill’s existence; yet, deep cuts into the farm bill could greatly affect everyone.
Like most issues facing our country today, the public expects lawmakers and lobbyists to work together and let the country move froward to a market-based system. We think that this is very reasonable expectation; however, it isn’t as reasonable as we think.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 19, 2012

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2012   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny” – New York Times, 3 September 2012

Since World War II, the antibiotic has been modern medicine’s savior, allowing doctors to treat and stop the spread of infections. Antibiotics are given to both people and animals; almost 80% of the US’s antibiotics are used to treat chickens, pigs, cows and other livestock that people consume. However, meat manufacturers and farmers are not forced to divulge details about their use of antibiotics – i.e. what drugs are administered in which animals, and in what amounts.

Though antibiotics are used to treat infections, people often suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases; and many believe that there is a link between these resistant infections and regular antibiotic-use in animals. Meat manufacturers’ and farmers’ lack of documentation is a direct hindrance on identifying this relationship, both of whom maintain that there is no link; but both humans and animals play a part in the escalation of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Unsystematic use of antibiotics is a large problem, causing antibiotics to become less effective in both humans and animals. Meat manufacturers and farmers indiscriminately use antibiotics in order to encourage growth in livestock – some drugs encouraging growth, while others stunting it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has attempted numerous times to standardize the use of antibiotics in livestock; but it is hard to systematize and regulate antibiotic use in animals because there is nothing comparable to a national system that tracks animal healthcare, as there is for people.

The FDA continues its efforts to restrain drugs that are sold over-the-counter to meat manufacturers and farmers. Recently, the agency recommended banning specific antibiotics that are used to fuel animal growth, while also forcing meat manufacturers and farmers to acquire prescriptions for certain animal antibiotics.

Responsibility for regulating these issues is splintered among multiple agencies, which has become another obstacle. The FDA polices drugs, while the US Department of Agriculture’s scope is agriculture; the Centers for Disease Control also has a part.

Some meat manufacturers and farmers, such as poultry feed mills, keep meticulous records of antibiotic usage, and the FDA has the authority to review these records at anytime. But while the agency has access to these records, the data cannot be gathered to publish. Other data, most of which has been collected on antibiotic-resistant bacteria transmitted in meat, is so small that it is fairly unreliable – no real conjectures can be drawn from such numbers.

There is no way to confirm that meat manufacturers are complying with existing rules on antibiotic usage. In any attempt, regulators have to look for misused or prohibited drugs in meat from slaughterhouses and shopping markets, rather than regulating directly from the source – farms.

Judging from the conflicting viewpoints of consumers who want safer and cheaper meat, and regulators who want to protect public health, what can animal farmers do to satisfy consumers and regulators, while also guarding against rising costs? Perhaps there is a solution in better communication between healthcare providers for animal health and human health, and drug manufacturers and regulators.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 28, 2012

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2012   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring” — New York Times, 22 October 2012

This year, the US experienced its worst drought in over 50 years, destroying corn and soybean crops across the Corn Belt. Surprisingly, regardless of the drought, farmers are continuing to invest more in planting. Taking advantage of low interest rates, farmers are snatching up land, rather than investing in stocks and bonds.

Even in our tough economy, farmland prices – with the exception of the recession in 2008 – have doubled since 2005. Banks are worried that the same thing that jumpstarted the recession will occur with farmland to create a “farmland bubble”. But such a bubble is far from farmers’ worries; farmers are more concerned about growing their businesses so they can produce more crops and increase their income. Rather than buying stocks or leaving their money in the bank, many farmers feel that investing money in farmland is more practical.

The demand for farmland is high, which has caused some banks to worry that farmers will make poor choices. Such was the case in the 1970s and 80s, when many farmers were piling up more debt to acquire more land, and using their farms as collateral. The debt inevitably left many farms in ruin and led to sinking land values.

The drought has caused a surge in soybean and corn prices, probably a main factor in the farmland boom. The Department of Agriculture has reported that the likely net farm income for 2012 is $122 billion, a 4% rise from the $117 billion in 2011, the record net income level since 1973.

Farmers have less debt then 30 years ago. Low interest rates also make borrowing less expensive, which can be helpful for farmers; but farmers might be in trouble if interest rates rise and crop prices fall.

The question to answer: since farmers have continued to invest in land, will we see a reemergence of plummeting land values? And what happens if, in 2013, farmers have to suffer through another drought?

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 12, 2012

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2012   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar

“Drought’s Grip Is Wide, Deep”- Wall Street Journal, 4 Sept 2012

Though Hurricane Isaac brought relief to one of our driest summers, the drought still has the capability of slowing our economy.

Farms have faced the brunt of repercussions, severely effecting corn and soybean crops, and increasing prices of feed for chickens, hogs and cattle. Many cattle ranchers and dairy farmers have found it cheaper to slaughter their livestock, which, in turn, affects food companies’ profit margins. According to the Department of Agriculture, food prices could climb 3% to 4% from 2012-13. Food prices rose from 2.5% to 3.5% in 2011-12.

Among other price increases is the growing cost of gasoline. Ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is mixed with gasoline, is a likely source of mounting gas prices. Gasoline prices are now around $3.78, having risen over 40 cents since July.

Regardless of the drought, farm incomes will grow 3.7% this year, to $122.2 billion. This is partly due to elevated prices of corn, soybeans and land, which are compensating for any losses. This, however, hasn’t widely stirred economic growth.

Recent rains cannot undo damages incurred, but may be able to facilitate next year’s soybean crop. Our current economic situation could worsen if moisture isn’t restored for next year’s growing season.

The question to answer: Will inflated food prices cause consumers to spend less on big ticket items, such as flat screen TVs and computers?

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

October 10th, 2012

Fluid Management Systems

Copyright 2012   All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.

www.fluidmanagementsystem.com     subodh@fluidmanagementsystem.com

Social Share Toolbar