A few things caught my eye looking over this piece from CNBC on food fraud and rising prices.
The Department of Agriculture predicts food prices will rise between 2.5 and 3.5 percent this year. And while the consumer price index was up 0.1 percent in February, the food index rose more sharply, at 0.4 percent.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely noticed sticker shock at the check out aisle. Little wonder. According the the USDA ERS, while the CPI rose 1.1% in 2013 it rose 1.4% for food. That 1.4% broke out into .9% for groceries (the same rate as 2012) and 2.2% for restaurant spending. But it’s since the beginning of the year that I’ve noticed the pinch and the numbers bear that out, especially for the kinds of foods I buy. Last year theose items went up faster than the rest of the CPI basket. Since the beginning of this year that trend has accelerated, especially since February and the forecast is for more of the same as we recover from the drought in California and the economic recovery returns inflation to normal historical levels.
Relative to 2012, prices rose considerably for poultry, eggs, fish, and fresh vegetables; however, prices fell for nonalcoholic beverages, sugar and sweets, fats and oils, and other meats. For the remaining food categories, prices were mostly unchanged. From February to December 2013, average supermarket prices fell by 0.2 percent.
Looking ahead to 2014, ERS forecasts that food price inflation will return to a range closer to the historical norm. The food-at-home CPI has already increased more in the first two months of 2014 than it did in all of 2013, but given its current trajectory, it is on track for normal annual inflation. Since 1990, grocery store prices have risen by an average of 2.8 percent per year. Inflationary pressures are expected to be moderate, given the outlook for commodity prices, animal inventories, and ongoing export trends. Retailer margins, having contracted since the drought, may expand in 2014 if input prices rise, which should contribute to inflation. The food, food-at-home, and food-away-from-home CPIs are expected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2013 levels.
. . . Eggs continued their recent surge, increasing 0.7 percent from January to February. The CPI for eggs is now 5.7 percent above the February 2013 level. ERS has revised the forecast for egg prices upward to 3.0 to 4.0 percent in anticipation of increased exports as well as strong domestic demand (due in part to high meat prices) in 2014.
Painful reading for someone who leans heavily on eggs and vegetables.
Up to 59 percent of tuna is mislabeled, according to a study by advocacy group, Oceana. Customs and Border Protection chemist Matt Birck said escolar is often mislabeled as tuna and could cause digestive issues.
59% !!! That’s a lot of fake tuna. I had to wonder if a lot of non-tuna tuna was winding up in the pet food market, but it turns out that fish fraud in the fish counter and restaurant trade is widespread.
Meanwhile in the TMI departemnt, I love escolar and have never had a problem with it, but apparently lots of people do.
But a Government Accountability Office review found problems in the overlap between the agencies charged with stopping food fraud. For example, while the FDA regulates eggs in the shell, the USDA regulates them once they are in products.
At first I thought that had to be backwards, wouldn’t the USDA inspect eggs and the FDA egg products? But it turns out to be correct. But that all the more underscores the crossed wires of having US Customs, the FDA and the USDA involved in regulatory overlap in vouchsafing the food supply.
The FDA inspects shelled eggs, while the USDA is responsible for egg products, including liquid, frozen and dehydrated eggs. The FDA regulates the feed chickens eat, but the laying facility falls under USDA jurisdiction.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. This year’s investigation into the Salmonella outbreak in Iowa eggs was complicated by the fact that the USDA was responsible for the pile of manure next to the laying facility, but the FDA was accountable for the danger of the eggs themselves.
Let’s construct a primitive infographic on the topic, shall we.
[Chicken feed – FDA] –> [Egg laying operation – USDA] –> [Eggs – FDA] –> [Egg products – USDA]
It seems like that’s the kind of project that could make for a great bipartisan project in Congress, or a non-cabinet level tsar position in the executive branch. That seems like a better place to start than trying to place more burdens on a dysfunctional system.
Rising prices aid $15B food fraud problem
Jennifer Schlesinger, Sheila Dharmarajan | CNBC | 13 April 2014
Food Price Outlook, 2013-14
Economic Resarch Service | USDA
Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Food and Beverages
FRED | St. Louis FED
Olive Oil Fraud Rampant, Trade Agency Finds
Alan Farnum | ABC News | 25 September 2013
Extra Virgin Suicide
Nicholas Blechman | The New York Times
Tom Philpott | Mother Jones | 7 November 2011
The Ex-Lax Fish
Mother Jones | November 2009
Accountability lost in murky fish supply chain
pecial Investigation | Boston Globe | 2011
Who Inspects What? A Food Safety Scramble
Gretchen Goetz | Food Safety News | 16 December 2010
Kimberly Kindy reports on the attempt by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to call bullshit on the conclusions that the USDA is drawing from a report on the effect of a pilot program to speed up poultry production lines.
In a March 26 blog post, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service director Al Almanza said the study shows line speed increases are “not a significant factor in worker safety.” USDA officials have offered a similar interpretation to members of Congress and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the past several weeks.
However, NIOSH Director John Howard chastised USDA officials, last week, saying he was “quite surprised” by the agency’s assertions. “It’s impossible to draw a conclusion about the impact of line speed changes on worker health” from the NIOSH study,” Howard said in a letter to Almanza, adding that to do so “is misleading.”
Howard said NIOSH “found an alarming 42% prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome” among workers during its first assessment at a plant in South Carolina. When NIOSH returned a second time, some 10 months later, they were not surprised to find the injury rates were about the same.
What’s stunning is that the USDA felt that a 47% rate of carpal tunnel was an acceptable base rate against which to judge the effect of a speed up. Wow.
This post has been moved to our new home at Food and Farm Discussion Lab. Apologies for any inconvenience.
1.WHAT THE FEDERAL SHUTDOWN MEANS FOR PEOPLE WHO EAT AND GROW FOOD
Sam Brasch | Modern Farmer
The USDA Can’t…
Help pregnant women or women with new children buy healthy food. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) doesn’t have funding to continue during the shutdown. The $6 billion dollar program buys healthy food for pregnant women or new mothers if they are poor or at risk of buying unhealthy food. The Huffington Post reports that states can step in for a few days, but if the shutdown goes on too long, mothers and kids could be turned away.
Keep in touch with consumers. In the event of a shutdown, the USDA will basically shutter its office of communications. The website will go dark, reporters won’t have anyone to contact, and all USDA publications and press releases will stop. So even if the agency can find a listeria outbreak, it’s won’t have all channels available to let you know about it.
Keep their databases open. This might not seem like a big deal, but for farmers, it’s huge. Markets rely on reports from the USDA to set the price of soy, wheat, corn, beef, etc. Without an October report traders would be adjusting prices in the dark and farmers would be selling without knowing the real value of their crops.
2.THE RISE OF FOOD ALLERGIES AND FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS
Noah Davis | Pacific Standard
Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, told me that his team conducted a random calling in 1997. It showed one in 250 children were allergic to peanuts. When they did the same study in 2008, the number jumped to one in 70. “That sounds crazy, because it’s a tripling, but the numbers from other countries are similar,” the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) fellow said, pointing to similar studies with similar results from Canada, the U.K., and Australia.
4. DO HIPSTERS ON FOOD STAMPS SHOP AT WHOLE FOODS?
Dana Woldow | BeyondChron
How many of Saunders’ imagined able-bodied childless moochers can possibly be getting SNAP benefits? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as recently as 2011, children and elderly or disabled adults comprised 64% of SNAP recipients. Of the remaining 36%, 22% are adults in families with children; just 14% of SNAP recipients are able bodied, childless adults of working age. With about 48 million individuals getting SNAP, that would be about 6.7 million potential “deadbeats”.
But according to the USDA, “Generally, able-bodied adults aged 18 to 50 who do not have children and are not pregnant can only get SNAP benefits for 3 months in a 3-year period unless they are working or participating in a work or workfare program.”
5. THE PLIGHT OF THE POLLINATORS
Jason Mark | Civil Eats
“Earlier this year people were getting very worried, because they weren’t seeing monarchs very far north,” says Lincoln Brower, a research professor of biology at Sweet Briar College and a butterfly expert. “Our predictions have proven to be true. There have been very few sightings in August and now into September. Right now things are looking very grim. I have seen a total of five monarchs in my garden since October 2012. I would normally see a couple of hundred, at least.”
Several species of native bumblebees are also suffering.
“As dramatic as the honeybee declines have been, they pale in comparison to what we have seen with our native bumblebees,” says Eric Mader, a program director at the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based group working to raise awareness about the role of native pollinators. “Honeybees are not going extinct, and that’s the crucial difference with our native pollinators.”
HOUSE MEMBERS ADVOCATE FOR ORGANIC AGRICULTURE IN FARM BILL
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
A bipartisan group of Representatives delivered a “Dear Colleague” letter to House leadership on Friday September 27th, calling for House farm bill conferees to support key programs for organic agriculture in any upcoming negotiations.
Thanks to the leadership of Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Ron Kind (D-WI) , as well as strong grassroots pressure from NSAC members and partners in the organic sector, dozens of Representatives from both parties and all parts of the country have joined together in calling for key investments in the future of organic agriculture as an essential part of the 2013 Farm Bill.
7. RECIPE: WHOLE WHEAT PENNE OR FUSILLI WITH FRESH TOMATOES, SHELL BEANS AND FETA
Martha Rose Shulman | The New York Times
Shell beans and tomatoes are still available at the end of September in farmers’ markets, and I’ll continue to make pasta with uncooked tomatoes until there are no sweet tomatoes to be found. Shell beans are a rare treat, soft and velvety, to be savored during their short season.