GMO

Providence Food Labeling Policy Memo

“Organic”, “All-Natural”, and “Locally Produced” are all great initiatives in the momentum of sustainable food and agriculture, but they will all remain buzz words unless standards are set in place. These standards are currently out of reach due to the lack of transparency within the industry. Right now, there seems to be a deliberate veil between us and where our food comes from, rendering us powerless. We need an ideal label not from the perspective of marketers, but from consumers.

Current Laws and Regulations:

We are proposing this policy memo that aims to establish a transparent labeling system for all food products beginning with raw fruits, vegetables, and fish. Currently, food labeling for raw products are not required within Providence and the United States. According to Chapter 1 Sec. 101.45 of the FDA guidelines, nutrition labeling of raw fruits, vegetables, and fish are voluntary. No other kind of labeling is mentioned nor required. Food safety relies on the FDA's importation laws and local production laws, which are harder to trace and therefore traditionally have not been transparent either.

U.S. Government intervention in labeling began in 1906 with the Federal Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which authorized Federal regulation of the safety and quality of food and prohibited sales of misbranded or adulterated foods. Lawmakers’ primary objective in passing the acts’ labeling regulations was to enhance fair competition by cracking down on deceptive marketing practices. Enhancing fair competition and market efficiency has remained the primary motivation behind food labeling regulation for the past 100 years.

Current Problems:

The current law only mentions voluntary labeling or health- and nutrition-related (HNR) claims which are most often "Low Fat", "Sodium Free", "Organic", "All-Natural", and "Locally Produced". Since they are voluntary however, these are not held to stringent standards. This kind of labeling just leads to consumer confusion. Companies that produce food that is anything but natural can use loopholes and vague language in current laws to label their food as natural.

Even within the required packaged food labeling, there are issues regarding transparency. Ingredients are all placed under an umbrella. If a product is using corn, it does not matter what type of corn it is.

One snapshot of this crisis is the debate over GMO products. Unlike strict safety evaluations required for the approval of new drugs, the safety of genetically engineered foods for human consumption is not adequately tested. Drugs are also labeled with possible side effects, which certain types of food has on the human body as well. As seen from a public health point of view, this lack of transparency in Providence can lead to an untraceable epidemic that can have sever adverse effects on sustainability. More than 60 countries including the EU, Japan and China already label GMO products.

This kind of lack of control and limited labeling is a sustainability problem. Our current "normal" agricultural industrial model that we rely on and its distribution has a lot of negative impacts on all sectors of sustainability including environment, equity, and economy. Lack of food sourcing transparency leads to nutritional issues and foodborne-illnesses but most importantly it creates an inefficient distribution of power through manipulation. Empowerment and choice are stifled when there is a lack of transparency.

Figure 1.1 Map with Farmers’ Markets, Grocery Retail Locations (2013) and Low Income and Low Access Tracts, as of 2010

Figure 1.1 Map with Farmers’ Markets, Grocery Retail Locations (2013) and Low Income and Low Access Tracts, as of 2010

Figure 1.2 Map with Farmers’ Markets, Grocery Retail Locations (2013) and Estimated percent of adults reporting to be obese (a body mass index of 30 or greater) in 2013.

Figure 1.2 Map with Farmers’ Markets, Grocery Retail Locations (2013) and Estimated percent of adults reporting to be obese (a body mass index of 30 or greater) in 2013.

As seen with Figure 1.1, location of farmers markets and grocery retail locations are abundant. Yet, there is still a lack of access to food especially for low income groups. The next map Figure 1.2 shows us that there is a moderately high case load of adults reporting to be obese (BMI of 30 or greater). There also seems to be a correlation between lower obesity and the proximity of a farmers market. One cause of this health issue is lack of both access to nutritional food and proper food education.

Figure 2.1 Food at home ($000), 2015 by Census Tracts of Providence

Figure 2.1 Food at home ($000), 2015 by Census Tracts of Providence

Figure 2.2 Food at home ($000), 2015 by Census Tracts of United States

Figure 2.2 Food at home ($000), 2015 by Census Tracts of United States

According to Figure 2.1, citizens in Providence pay an average of $5,797 per year for food at home. This is very high when compared to the American average of $2,273 per year for food at home according to the USDA. As seen in Figure 2.2, expenditure for food is much lower in central America, where food production is higher. Cost is decreased due to transportation and processing.

 

Figure 3.1 Map with Estimated percent of people age 16 years or older who were employed in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting Industry between 2009-2013

Figure 3.1 Map with Estimated percent of people age 16 years or older who were employed in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting Industry between 2009-2013

Currently as seen with Figure 3.1, percent of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry is quite small compared to other industries within Providence. This showcases the lack of local production of food, which is correlated to higher food prices and lack of access.

Figure 4.1 Trend of Vegetables: Per Capita Availability in the US

Figure 4.1 Trend of Vegetables: Per Capita Availability in the US

Figure 4.2 Trend of Fruits: Per Capita Availability in the US

Figure 4.2 Trend of Fruits: Per Capita Availability in the US

This lack of access is not only a Providence issue but a nationwide one as well, according to information provided by the USDA. As seen in Figure 4.1 there is a clear decrease in vegetable availability in the US. Fruits on the other hand has been more stable but also shows dips in availability according to Figure 4.2.

Policy Memo:

This new policy memo provides all the necessary information to completely inform the consumer and aid their choices. The information provided will include but is not limited to:

  • Type of Seed Used (GMO or not)
  • Type of Fertilizer Used
  • Location of Farm
  • Location of Processing
  • Type of Processing
  • Additives Used
  • Date of Planting
  • Date of Harvest
  • Recommended Shelf Life

Alongside the aforementioned information, food will also be required to include a "stoplight" label that is based on a standardized 15-point scale. The color of the product will be determined by where it falls in this scale: 0 to 5 is red, 6 to 10 is yellow, and 11 to 15 is green. The scale is based on three key factors including nutrition and health benefits, how close the product is to real food, and production. The last metric involves quality of treatment of workers, animals, and the earth. According to a study done by the American Journal of Public Health, sales of red-lighted soda fell by 16.5% in only three months of implementation.

One factor of a successful memo is its scalability. This labeling system can be applied to all different sectors of the industry and start with a few products first. For the test pilot, this label will be first applied to apples in Providence supermarkets. Once successful, it can trickle down to all other raw food and even packaged food.

Supermarkets were chosen as the initial target because most of the parties involved in the food system converge here in where food is collected, distributed, and consumers vote with their dollars. Without transparent food systems, accountability is impossible, and the industry will be continuously motivated by inefficient market forces. By providing more information, consumers are able to make decisions that are based on facts rather than in marketing.

Impact:

This policy memo tackles the issue in where most impact can be made, by changing market forces through educating the public and increasing access. By improving access to healthy produce, Providence could reduce rates of nutrition-related disease, like diabetes and heart disease. Since many diseases are caused by - or at the very least, correlated with - poverty, improving access to healthy food for low-income communities in Providence leads to a healthier city overall.

According to a study done by the Economic Research Service as seen with Figure 5.1, a large amount of people surveyed would use nutrition information in fast-food/pizza place in deciding what to order.

Figure 5.1 Survey of Who Would Use Nutrition Information in Full-Service Restaurants in Deciding What to Order

Figure 5.1 Survey of Who Would Use Nutrition Information in Full-Service Restaurants in Deciding What to Order

As seen with Figure 5.2, availability of labels and guidelines have proved to be effective in affecting consumer choice. In a study conducted by the USDA, the whole-grain industry grew significantly when the 2005 dietary guidelines were released. This further supports the need for a new kind of transparent label.

Figure 5.2 Trend on Whole-Grain Product Introduction by Manufacturers

Figure 5.2 Trend on Whole-Grain Product Introduction by Manufacturers

Aside from health, this policy memo improves all sectors of sustainability. Environmentally, local food is better because it decreases transportation, processing, and shipping costs. Reversing industrial agriculture into a more ecological practice would decrease carbon emission, water run-off, and increase soil productivity. Economically, local food is cheaper and stimulates the local economy. It gives the state more financial independence and more resilient over nationwide financial fluctuations. With regard to equity, the information provided will highlight local farming and more ecological agricultural practices that are more beneficial to health. This would increase local food production. When food is sourced locally, it becomes more affordable and thus more accessible for more people. It also provides more jobs within the region.

The attached figures shown are just a few of the metrics that can gauge the success of this policy memo. With our current data, there is a clear need for this policy but it can have many more positive externalities. It has the ability to really impact and improve lives through creating a sustainable environment that enables smarter growth.

Sources:

 

"A 2-Phase Labeling and Choice Architecture Intervention to Improve Healthy Food and Beverage Choices." American Public Health Association -. Accessed October 22, 2015.

Law, Alex. "The DARK Act Makes Absolutely No Sense, And Here's Why." The Huffington Post. Accessed October 22, 2015. 

"Food Policy: Check the List of Ingredients." USDA ERS -. Accessed October 22, 2015. 

Gregory, C., T.A. Smith, and M. Wendt. 2011. How Americans Rate Their Diet Quality: An Increasingly Realistic Perspective. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, EIB-83, September.

Kim, S.Y., R.M. Nayga, and O. Capps. 2001. “Food Label Use, Self-Selectivity, and Diet Quality,” Journal of Consumer Affairs 35(2):346-63. 

"Obesity and Other Health Concerns Lead Food Companies to Step up Health and Nutrient Claims." USDA ERS -. Accessed October 22, 2015.

"USDA ERS - Food Expenditures." USDA ERS - Food Expenditures. Accessed October 22, 2015.

Seiders, K., and R.D. Petty. 2004. “Obesity and the Role of Food Marketing: A Policy Analysis of Issues and Remedies,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 23(2):153-69.

 

Impacts of Western Philosophy on Modern Agriculture

Let's lay down some facts. Currently, chronic hunger and its related preventable diseases kill as many as eight thousand children under the age of five.[1] From 1990 to 2010, “most of the key causes” of non-communicable diseases are diet-related and predicted by 2020 to account for nearly 75 deaths worldwide.[2] Lastly, according to WHO, UNICEF, and the Worldbank, nearly 800 million people worldwide were “stunted”.[3] Most often, we see this image of hunger as just that, statistics. Yet chronic hunger is more. According to Frances Moore Lappe who wrote World Hunger: 10 Myths, it is anguish, grief, humiliation, and fear. As a society, how did we get here?

This paper is an investigation of the relationship between the philosophy of modern hunger, philosophy of modern agriculture, and the philosophy that drove us to our current state. It can be argued that there is a direct relationship between the three; cause and effect. As a cyclical causal relationship, these topics are paramount concerns that shape our sustainability as a race. After only investigating these causal relationships can we then decide philosophically which paths are ethically right to pursue.

Within traditional philosophy fathered by Plato, the stomach is but a manger for the ravening appetitive soul, that part of the soul whose job it is to sustain the bodily creature. Appetite is a powerful, relentless force that must be kept chained like a wild animal lest it overtake the whole being.[4] In Making Sense of Taste, Carolyn Korsmeyer interprets this as food being a functional good. It is just needed for health and maintenance of energy and sickness. The bodily senses are “lower” in part because of the necessary closeness of the object of perception to the physical body. Therefore, quality of information received from vision is superior as “form” is available.

We can clearly see the divide between mind and body creating a duality which shapes our perception of value. Korsmeyer mentions Socrates and his remarks that a philosopher must be concerned with neither food, drink, nor sex. Through the lens of this rationality, we began to value food less, but even within food, we had created hierarchy. The impact of this philosophy is evident with our current obsession toward the ideal visual perception of produce in where those that do not meet visual standards are discarded.

It is interesting to note that as philosophers denounce the senses related to food and the action of eating, they simultaneously place it in high regard due to acknowledgement and repetition. Why is it such a central theme with philosophers? No matter the answer, it is a central theme, one that has evolved through different eras. Aristotle emphasizes the concept of food when he talks about the mean of virtue. Since he believes food to be measurable, we can find the right quantity of food that is “good” for a person. He also notes that this is not always the same for all people.

This train of thought arguably drove “nutritionism” which was brought upon by the era of science: the scientific revolution. In Firtjob Capra’s The Newtonian World-Machine”, our current scientific and rational world view and value system was essentially formulated in the 16th and 17th century. Prior to that, the dominant world view was organic[5]. Inspired by the previously mentioned philosophers, modern philosophers such as Descartes and Francis Bacon replaced organic world view with that of a machine with their methods of inquiry and analytic reasoning.

Nutritionism is the spawn of both traditional philosophical concepts of duality and modern philosophical concepts of rationality. Michael Pollan writer of In Defense of Food, states that within nutritionism, food is essentially the sum of their nutrient parts and that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. This manifested in trends that organized most of its energies around an imperial nutrient such as protein in the 19th century, fat in the 20th, and now carbohydrate in the 21st. [6] Parts are then highlighted, as the system that it is within got lost in the background. This leads to the lack of causal links which leads to the lack of transparency and accountability.

This duality and hierarchal philosophy was further exacerbated during the industrial revolution in where the scientific revolution manifested itself as industrial agriculture also known as the “Green Revolution”. This was introduced in the developing world as the solution to hunger, only about 60 years ago. However, we now often refer to it as “conventional agriculture” creating the illusion of authenticity and longevity. With the aid of time, we can now look through its causal relationship with our current state (as mentioned in the introduction) and see that it was not the solution to hunger. Some argue, that it cannot end hunger because its narrow focus on producing more for short-term profit-sometimes called “productivism” can’t incorporate the interests of everyone.[7] However, this is merely a symptom of a larger problem, one that this paper explores, its philosophical roots.

To prove the inefficiencies of this “Green Revolution”, this paper will investigate two different case studies including CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

As previously mentioned, nutritionism has created a culture obsessed with imperial nutrients such as protein which aided in our increased intake of animal products. Worldwide, three-fourths of all agricultural land go to producing animal products.[8] In terms of calorie efficiency, animal products are highly inefficient. About half of the world’s calories don’t go to people but instead go to feed livestock. Within this inefficiency, beef comes in last in where we only get a measly 3 percent. Therefore, it feeds fewer people per hectare.

Rather than to adapt our diet accordingly, we chose to mold our environment and agricultural methods which resulted to CAFOs or also known as “factory farms”. To increase beef production, we began isolating parts by separating production of feeds and the cows. This model is being replicated across the globe at fast rate. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 80% of growth in the livestock sector is in animal feeding operations not integrated into farms.[9] This in return, altered animal’s natural behavior, decreased water supplies, destroyed biodiversity, and created an ecological imbalance. Again, another proof of the impacts of Western philosophy on our current agricultural model.

The introduction of CAFOs also opened doors for the creation of GMOs to ensure that feed production was optimal changing traditional cropping patterns and resorting to high-input agriculture. GMOs were first created in the 70s by inserting specific genes from one organism into the DNA of another.[10] Proponents saw to this technique as a faster and more targeted form of traditional crossbreeding. The discovery of DNA promoted the Western philosophical concept of rationality and part to whole.

There are numerous ethical debates for and against GMO and within those, the most convincing are the systemic ecological externalities. Biologically speaking, unintended side effects such as mutations are common in genetic engineering practices. Genetic engineering can introduce a range of genes and traits, some never before present in our food supply or in plant ecosystems. Now from a social aspect, since only a handful of industries are distributing these GMOs, increase in dependency further exacerbates concentration of power. This in return, creates more hunger as a root cause.

In conclusion, there is a clear causal relationship between Western Philosophy and our current agricultural methods. With this, we can then project forward, creating an image of a world further divided into parts and separation due to its inherit philosophical hierarchies. This trajectory of our current agricultural model will continue to lead us to hunger due to its unsustainable fragmentation. Paradoxically, the same philosophy has also equipped us with the rationality and reasoning to reverse said trajectory. From what we have “learned”, we can no longer perceive the world through the lens of duality and senseless hierarchy if we are to sustain our existence on this planet. We need to look through a relational lens, one that focuses on the interaction of all elements, often described as “systems thinking”.[11] Ecological systems do not have isolated parts that function in a hierarchy as they are all integral to sustainability. Simply stated, one is not better than the other. Therefore, I do not propose that our current system is a mistake, but a necessary iteration for a more sustainable future. It has led us to where we are now. However, just like any iteration, we have to acknowledge its failures and learn when to move on.

 


[1] “Hunger Statistics,” World Food Programme, last updated 2013, accessed October 13, 2015, www.wfp.org/hunger/stats.

[2] Fumiaki Imamura et al., “Dietary quality among men and women in 187 countries in 1990 and 2010: a systemic assessment,” The Lancet 3 (March 2015): 132-142

[3] World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory Data Repository, Joint child malnutrition estimates (UNICEF-WHO-WB), “Global and regional trends by WHO Regions 1990-2013 Stunting”

[4] Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food & Philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1999. Print.

[5] Capra, Fritjof. The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture. Toronto: Bantam, 1983. Print.

[6] Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

[7] Oxfam-Solidarity and Stephani Parmentier, “Scaling Up Agroecological Approaches: What, Why, and How? Discussion Paper, January 2014,

[8] Hans Hurni et al., “Key Implications of Land Converseions in Agriculture,” in Wake Up Before It Is Too Late, Trade and Development Review 2013, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 2013

[9] FAO, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, “Livestock impacts on the environment,” Spotlight, 2006

[10] Lappe, Frances Moore, and Joseph Collins. "Myth 3: Only Industrial Agriculture & GMOs Can Feed a Hungry World." World Hunger. Grove/Atlantic, 2015. Print.

[11] Lappe, Frances Moore, and Joseph Collins. "Myth 3: Only Industrial Agriculture & GMOs Can Feed a Hungry World." World Hunger. Grove/Atlantic, 2015. Print.