IPM, Antibiotics, and Fire Blight- is there a happy medium?

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Applpy over at Thought + Food recently published an interesting article talking about increased antibiotic use in organic pear and apple orchards.  These antibiotics—Streptomycin and Oxytetracycline—are used to combat fire blight, a contagious disease that can destroy an entire orchard in a season.  It’s spread primarily by pollen-bearing insects such as bees, and although it’s indigenous to North America it has since spread to the rest of the world.[1]  It’s extraordinarily damaging, especially to organic farmers whose orchards tend to contain more pollen-bearing insects thanks to decreased pesticide use.  That’s why organic farmers received an exemption to allow them to use these antibiotics on their fruit—but applpy pointed out that organic labels don’t require disclosure of antibiotic use anyway.

So where do we draw the line between antibiotic use and orchard health?  Fire blight is devastating, but antibiotic use in food has proven to be problematic;[2] is there a way to mitigate or eliminate the effects of fire blight without the use of antibiotics?  Applpy raised this question, and I had commented on the potential of Integrated Pest Management/Control (IPM/IPC) to do exactly that.

But what is IPM?  Well, it’s integrated pest management—so just as pesticides won’t be effective, IPM can’t control this bacteria-born blight entirely.  However, IPM is a series of practices that dovetails perfectly with fire blight prevention.   Rather than dousing orchards in fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics, IPM advocates a more sensible, measured approach.  From the EPA’s website:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.  IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

So what does that mean for fire blight prevention?  Rather than spraying affected trees and fruit with antibiotics, farmers would instead scan for early signs of infection and plan new orchards based on existing knowledge.  For example, nitrogen containing fertilizer and heavy pruning increases susceptibility; farmers would know keep that in mind when selecting fertilizers and pruning.  Infected shoots can be pruned during the dormant season to contain spread; IPM involves year-round orchard maintenance and supervision.

Essentially, IPM is a low-chemical, common-sense approach to pest management that has the potential to cut down on fire blight without excessive use of antibiotics or pesticides.  It’s not so advanced yet as to make pesticide and antibiotic use obsolete in fire blight cases, but it can drastically reduce the amount of chemicals needed.  So what do you think?  Do you know much about IPM or exemptions for organic farmers?  What are your thoughts?

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Liebster award!

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I’m very happy to have been the recipient of a Liebster Blog Award!  This is a cool award meant to recognize and encourage small and upcoming blogs (that is to say, blogs with less than 200 followers) and is awarded by other bloggers.  A big thank you to Janina at Food (Policy) for Thought for the nomination—I’d like to say I’ve never won anything before, but I did win a DVD of Clueless at a raffle once.  I can definitively say that I am prouder of this, though : )

So Liebster is a German word that means ‘favorite,’ and the award started in Germany in 2010.  There aren’t really any requirements for the award, other than having less than 200 followers.  There are, however, rules for receiving it!  And they are as follows—

  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog (Thanks again, Janina!)
  • Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you
  • Copy and paste the blog award on your blog
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed
  • Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment at their blog

This is a really cool award—I’ve found a lot of wonderful food blogs to follow through looking at other peoples’ picks.  What a wonderful community builder!

Anyhow, here are my picks for the Liebster award:*

  1. food (digested)
  2. Food (Policy) for Thought (am I allowed to nominate my nominator?)
  3. Thought + Food
  4. Cami Ryan
  5. Science on the Land

*Disclaimer:  I am very, very bad at wordpress, and can’t figure out how to find out how many followers someone has.  So if I’m breaking the <200 rule I’m very sorry!

US Food Aid Reform is Long Overdue

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Image courtesy of North Country Public Radio

I’m excited to see that Obama is proposing food aid reforms- US food aid as it stands today is an incredibly inefficient system that benefits US producers at the expense of the hungry.  Today the US is one of the few countries that still ‘ties’ its financial aid- in other words, the food that we provide abroad is grown, processed, and packaged in (and then shipped from, on US-flagged ships) the states.  The government buys surplus grain from farmers, then sells it to governments and NGOs who use the proceeds for development; this whole process is called monetization, and it’s incredibly inefficient.

I should also clear up some possible confusion in terms of nomenclature:  US food aid is a general term referring to food sent abroad to alleviate hunger/aid in development.  It’s generally provided through Food for Peace, a piece of legislation established by Dwight Eisenhower (more on that in a sec).  The Office of Food for Peace is situated within the US Agency on International Development (USAID), but one of its titles is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Whew, okay.  Got that?

So Food for Peace is a piece of legislation that was originally established in 1954 (albeit under a different name; it was JFK that gave it its present moniker); US farmers were experiencing record yields as a result of fertilizers developed in World War II and were looking for a way to offload the surplus without diluting domestic markets.  Food for Peace was developed as a way to kill two birds with one stone– alleviating hunger while “[laying] the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands.”[1]  Sounds good, right?  A win-win situation.

Except that over the past sixty years, agribusiness interests have come to hold increasing control over government at others’ expense and the Food for Peace program is no exception.  Rather than using our resources to build infrastructure and shore up agricultural resources in target countries—which will cost everyone less in the long term, both in societal and direct economic costs— farm state representatives and various interests are trying to ensure that our food aid system stays expensive and inefficient.[2]

Andrew Natsios, head of USAID under George W. Bush, has been fighting for food aid reform for the past ten years, but it’s been an uphill battle: when he introduced one of his pilot programs to distribute cash in-country to humanitarian groups to an audience in Kansas City, he “was almost physically assaulted”[3]; these programs are near and dear to many American interests, who argue that they are job creators along with altruistic endeavors.  However, Natsios argues that the system as it exists today is unacceptably inefficient:  “I’ve run these operations, and I know that food aid often gets there after everyone’s dead,” he says.[4]

Parker Wilde over at US Food Policy had a great blog post about this last week detailing the state of US food aid today, and it’s pretty sad.  He cites some astonishing statistics- more than 16% of Title II (emergency and development food aid) funds are spent on shipping from the United States. For example:

  • Buying food in-country, rather than shipping it from the US, costs about 50% less for cereals and 31% less for legumes
  • The average prices of buying and delivering American food across an ocean has increased from $390 per metric ton in 2001 to $1,180 today.
  • These costs eat into precious resources designed to feed hungry people—causing more than 16 percent of funds to be spent on ocean shipping.
  • Buying food locally means that aid will be received 14 weeks faster.

Some might say that we’re already one of the biggest food aid donors in the world—what’s anyone complaining about?  But innovation has been a cornerstone in American success:  how do we do something faster, cheaper, better, in a way that benefits more people?  It’s taxpayers that are bearing the brunt of inefficient and expensive US food aid policies—not to mention the development dollars that are going to transportation and packaging costs instead of into local economies that need it.  The US food aid programs total $1.5 billion—that money could do a lot more good if it were being managed effectively.

It’s done!

So I finally turned my thesis in!  Several all-nighters and an inappropriate amount of animal crackers and coffee later (getting the economy-sized animal crackers jar from BJ’s was a very unhealthy choice) I turned in 55 pages of food policy glory.

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I’m proud and relieved- now all I have to do is wait to see if they call me in for an oral presentation.  I’m not going to stop blogging though- if anything, now I have more time for it!  The past couple weeks have been insanely hectic, but I’m glad to finally have this turned in and finished with.  Thanks to all of you who have been reading and following me through this journey- the thesis may be done with, but the food policy wonking is far from over!

Happy belated Easter!

The Legality of Kinder Surprise Eggs….

Another food policy blogger has written an interesting piece on Kinder Eggs- it’s a great example of the power government has over our food!  Kinder Eggs are outlawed in the states because the FDA banned “non-nutritive (inedible) object[s] inside a candy,” for fear of choking- a notably entertaining headline she mentions is “American Children Finally Deemed Smart Enough to Eat Kinder Eggs.”