Climate Change and the Future of Farming

In a press release issued on March 31st, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described the future risks associated with climate change, particularly in relation to the world’s food supply.  The following infographics from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which were based on the IPCC report, detail the current effects of climate change, the expected decline in crop production by 2030 as a result of climate change, and what farmers can do to mitigate some of the negative impacts.

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Sources: IPCC Press Release, Full IPCC ReportNYT, NPR, Forbes

 

“The Fat Drug”

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, contributor Pagan Kennedy discusses the ways in which low-dose antibiotics may have “affected our size, and shape, and made us different people.”  As Ms. Kennedy highlights in her piece, numerous scientists are now wondering if our nation’s obesity epidemic is due to constant exposure to low-dose antibiotics.  In other words, can the antibiotics that we feed to animals “cause the same growth promotion in humans?”

Humans are exposed to antibiotics through a variety of sources but low-dose antibiotic exposure is largely due to eating animals that have been fed low-dose antibiotics and when runoff from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) enters the water supply.  Although the mechanism through which antibiotic exposure could impact obesity rates in humans is not fully understood, many scientists, including Dr. Blaser of The Blaser Lab, are investigating how antibiotic exposure can alter the composition of the human microbiome and result in various health consequences.  According to Lita Proctor of the Human Microbiome Project, the human microbiome is “all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also the genes – all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health.”  Many of these microbes reside in the human gut and as a result of antibiotic exposure, we may be killing off the bacterial strains that protect us from excess weight gain.

Although this research is still in its infancy, the fact that antibiotic exposure may be linked to the obesity epidemic suggests that we need to think critically about our existing regulations for antibiotic use in agriculture.

For more information on the human microbiome, this NPR video provides an excellent overview.

 

Sources: “The Fat Drug”, Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities, Human Microbiome, NPR Microbiome Video

“The Meat Racket”

In his latest op-ed, The Unhealthy Meat Market, writer Nicholas Kristof discusses the ways in which industrial agriculture has negatively influenced the quality and safety of US meat products.  According to Kristof, “industrial meat has an acrid aftertaste.”

Citing Christopher Leonard’s new book, The Meat Racket, Kristof concisely summarizes the advent of our consolidated meat industry and its related consequences.  As a result of the prominence of Big Meat, the use of low-dose antibiotics in animal feed, and factory farming, meat products in the US are cheap and widely available but at the expense of independent farmers and the humane treatment of animals.

Kristof’s opinion piece serves as an important reminder that we need to support independent farmers if we want to move away from a meat industry that “privatizes gains but socializes health and environmental costs.”  As consumers, we need to remember that the hidden costs of industrial agriculture are steep and unsustainable. With technology that enables us to reconnect with the farmers and ranchers that grow our food, we have the capacity to ensure that our dietary choices are in support of healthier animals, a healthier planet, and a more sustainable future.  

Sources: New York Times, The Meat Racket

Sustainable Livestock Production and Climate Change

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 14.5% of all greenhouse emissions are attributable to the livestock industry.  This calculation takes various stages of the livestock supply chain into account, which includes animal feeding, farm energy use, and post-slaughter animal transport.  As a result, eating less meat or adopting a vegetarian diet are often touted as ways for individuals to decrease their carbon footprint, particularly in developed countries.

But what about developing nations?

As certain developing countries, particularly Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), experience rapid population and income growth, demand for livestock products has also increased.  According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meat consumption in developing countries is expected to increase by 2.4% each year over the next ten years, compared to a 0.9% increase in developed nations; this increase in meat consumption would significantly increase global greenhouse gas emissions.  Given that, is it possible to meet the rising demand for meat without exacerbating environmental problems?

According to researchers Havlik et. al., the answer is yes.  In a recent study, the researchers claim that improving the efficiency of livestock production systems would limit land conversion from forests to grazing areas and could potentially minimize an increase in greenhouse emissions.  Additionally, if farmers shift to poultry and pork products that produce less emissions than ruminant animals – such as sheep, goats, cattle –  it is possible to temper global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, even as the demand for meat increases.

 

Sources: FAO, USDA, Havlik et. al., NPR

 

Farmer Spotlight: Nolan Thevenet of Stryker Farm

Nolan Thevenet

Stryker Farm, located in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, prides itself on true free range farming. All of the livestock, including heritage breed pigs and goats, have unrestricted access to a wild habitat of pasture and forest land, which allows the animals to act out their natural behaviors. Farmer Nolan Thevenet had this to say about his experience with AgLocal and his partnership with Ellary’s Green:

I initially heard of AgLocal through a farmer friend in New Jersey. Initially, I did not know if it would be a good match since we are a young/moderate size farm and AgLocal serves some high volume restaurants. It has actually worked out wonderfully because AgLocal pairs us with customers of a similar scale or that are willing to work with us as we grow.

Ellary’s Green is a great customer to work with. When I visited their restaurant, Alex and Leith treated me like family and they were genuinely curious about our farming practices. I can tell that buying local is not just a marketing ploy to them. We stay in touch through social media and promote each other’s businesses.

 AgLocal has been a dream come true. Without their sales and marketing services we would not yet be selling products in NYC. It’s refreshing to work with a company that is mission-driven first and profit-driven second (much like us farmers). Their purpose is to bring the best quality meat products from independent family farms into the wholesale marketplace. They are also some of the friendliest people in the wholesale food business.  Thank you to Naithan, Julie, Collin, Emma, Tatyana, and everyone else on the AgLocal crew. Keep up the good work!
Pig Stryker Farm
To learn more about Stryker Farm or schedule a visit, click here.

“Simple Truth” or a Lie?

Arguably more than ever before, consumers care about what’s in the food they eat.    As such, they rely on the transparency of food labeling to make informed purchases. But what if these food labels are misleading?

The Kroger Company, which is the largest supermarket chain in the United States, faces a class-action lawsuit for its allegedly deceptive marketing of store brand chicken products.  According to the complaint:

…Kroger engaged in a deceptive and misleading marketing scheme to promote its ‘Simple Truth’ store brand chicken as having been sourced from chickens raised ‘cage free in a humane environment.’  In fact, Simple Truth chickens are treated no differently than other mass-produced chickens on the market.

This lawsuit raises important issues about the regulation of food labels and their marketing claims.  According to Consumer Reports, the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013, a bill proposed in September 2013, would require that the FDA creates “a standardized system for labels on food and packaging. The bill would also require the FDA to update guidelines and definitions for marketing claims that can be misleading, such as labeling a product ‘natural’ or ‘healthy.’”  

While it is unclear whether this bill will pass, its proposal and the Kroger lawsuit, Anna Ortega v. The Kroger Co., highlight the importance of knowing your farmer, if you really want to know your food.

 

Sources: Reuters; Consumer Reports

Fast Company Names AgLocal One of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies

The Most Innovative Companies is Fast Company’s most significant, high-profile editorial effort of the year. The editorial team spends months gathering and sifting data, to identify those enterprises that exemplify the best in business from across the economy and around the world. The end result is a package that dares to be different, emphasizing not just revenue growth and profit margins but also progressive, sustainable business models and an ethos of creativity. This year’s honorees include major brands such as Dodge, Johnnie Walker, GE, and Michael Kors; creative upstarts like Warby Parker and Box; and food-technology companies like AgLocal.

Fast Company contributor Jane Black writes:

Small, sustainable ranchers face two big problems when bringing their meat to market: Many chefs want only the premium cuts like steaks and fillets, and it costs too much to deliver small local orders to multiple customers around town. This three-year-old, Kansas City, Missouri–based online meat market efficiently solves both problems by matching local ranchers with chefs.

Farmers use AgLocal’s app to list their available meat. (They also include photographs of their operation and describe their sustainable practices, which the startup confirms with local government and advocacy groups.) Restaurants, schools, and other meat buyers shop on the app and purchase directly from the farmer. There’s no need to go through a big distributor, which usually pays farmers wholesale. They also earn more money because they sell every bit of the animal, and buyers get a better price because AgLocal’s platform creates an economy of scale. The startup is experimenting with a new CowTipper program in California that allows consumers to buy directly as well.

Founder and CEO Naithan Jones is uniquely positioned to recognize the need for AgLocal. His brother is a chef; his wife’s family is involved in ranching. Despite his inexperience in software and lack of Silicon Valley connections, Jones created a digital platform that taps Americans’ growing appetite for sustainable food. He has courted not only farmers but also high-wattage investors, such as Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz.

AgLocal is honored to be recognized for its contribution to the sustainable food space.  We would like to thank all of the farmers, ranchers, restaurants, and chefs who have used our platform and we are excited to expand our services to consumers in the near future.

Source: Fast Company

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