The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has published their Spotlight 2018: Stories to Watch in Food & Agriculture, an annual survey for top FERN writers, highlighting what food and environment issues they believe will drive food and agriculture coverage this year:
1. Farm Bill Heating Up – In 2013, Conservative House Republicans attempted to impose large cuts on food stamps, and they are likely to make the attempt again this year. Budget hawks and farm-policy reformers will try to shrink federal subsidies of crop insurance, the principal farm support, and farm groups. The 2018 farm bill, which determines five years’ worth of spending, would budget around 90 billion dollars annually on farm subsidies, public nutrition, land stewardship, agriculture research, international food aid, export promotion, and other agricultural programs.
2. The Battle against Antibiotics in Livestock – For the past year, U.S. farmers have had to comply with set limitation on their use of antibiotics in their livestock, as the country’s effort to prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria from growing. For the past year, growth promoters that cause animals to put on weight have been banned, and veterinarians are required to supervise farmers and write any prescriptions. This upcoming year, these rules in place will be assessed to see if they are working, and it will be decided if more or less regulation is needed in the future.
3. Nutritional Secrets – Recently, many stories have become known of companies in the food industry bribing the scientific community to lie about the results of their research, convincing the public for decades that certain foods or substances posed no health threats. For example, the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to cast doubt about the link between sugar and diabetes so the sugar industry would not decline. Investigations into bias in nutrition research have just started, but it is a good bet there will be more evidence that the food industry has been causing much of the confusion about the risks of its products.
4. The Deregulation of American Fisheries Laws – First passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens act will come up for re-authorization this year. Alaskan Congressman Don Young is leading the charge to overhaul MSA. Young is proposing a new bill, HR 200, which will relax many of the conservation-minded restrictions set in commercial fishing. Conservation groups say allowing HR 200 to overrule MSA would increase the risk of over fishing, which could destabilize American fisheries and cause oceanic ecosystems to begin collapsing. The bill was previously stalled under the threat of a veto from President Obama, but with a Republican now in office, results could vary this time around.
5. Protecting Public Land from Private Threats – Twice in the last year, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy escaped federal prosecution on charges related to his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1993, the Bundy’s have allowed their cattle to graze on public lands, which have been closed for grazing for decades to protect the grasses. These lands in question were grazed to dust during the free-range years leading up to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, and restored with public money, and they are now being grazed without regulation yet again.
6. The Future of Food Waste – Food-scrap recovery in the U.S. has increased by 87 percent in the past 3 years. This will remain a high-profile sustainability story as public pressure mounts to avoid food waste and, where unavoidable, to keep it from dumps, where buried food generates greenhouse gases. However, this closed-loop cycle is not without its problems; large composts generate horrible smells and the amount of food waste available totals about 34 million tons a year.
7. The Fight for Bees – Recent years have hit the bee population hard. Due to mites, habitat loss, and effects of pesticides, the important of scientific research for solutions has grown exponentially, but government cuts have left these environmental research agencies short. Scientists have discovered that a significant percentage of bees fly away rather than to pollinate a specific or particular field consistently. Because of this, scientists are looking for way to reduce this “absconding”, but the Trump administration is looking to cut this research budget by 22 percent.
8. Gene Editing Seeds – The application of synthetic biology techniques, such as gene editing, will usher in a new wave of seeds this season. Scientists behind this project are attempting to avoid the public rejection crises that GMOs experienced by rolling out gene editing technology with careful and targeted messages. The practice also brings into play whether or not farmers should be creating these seeds to be “climate-smart”, which would be relevant in extreme weather conditions, and prevent potential food shortages.
9. Agriculture Consolidation Continues – In 2017, America saw many large corporations take control of major food companies. A potential deal on the table for Bayer and Monsanto in 2018 could further reduce the corporations in charge of agrochemical and seed producers, leaving everything in the hands of just three major corporations. This year, all eyes will be on antitrust regulators, who could decide to intervene in some of the biggest deals ever made in agriculture — or not.
10. Weed-killer remains mired in legal minefield – Legal battles over the world’s most popular weed-killer, Monsanto’s Roundup, continue into 2018. Back in 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer listed glyphosate, the main ingredient of the weed-killer as a probable carcinogen. Since this allegation, more than 200 consumers have come forward and joined a federal suit. These allegations began a series of court battles. While the EU has recently agreed to extend its authorization of glyphosate, the EPA has announced that it is not actually glyphosate.
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