The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.
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About Think Forward
Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.
Food and Health
June 13, 2011
Join the Healthy Legacy coalition at the Toxie Awards on June 16
Toxic chemicals are about to get the recognition they deserve.
On Thursday, June 16, the Healthy Legacy coalition (IATP is a cofounding member) will host a viewing party of The Toxies, a satirical awards ceremony which will recognize toxic chemicals for the harmful health effects they are linked to and their prevalence in our lives. Toxic chemicals Formaldehyde, Bisphenol A (BPA), Lead and others, portrayed by actors at the event, will be in attendance, hoping to accept awards in categories such as “Worst and Longest Running Performance” (Mercury) and “Worst Chemical Body Burden” (Dioxin).
The Toxie Awards were created by Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE) and led by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA). Now, several supporting organizations are hosting viewing parties all across the nation to raise awareness around the issue of toxic chemicals in everyday products that are linked to cancer, developmental disorders, infertility and other health problems.
The event will take place in Hollywood and be broadcast live over the internet around the country. Healthy Legacy’s screening at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis (map) will be a full satellite event, complete with local actors, Minnesota-specific awards, and a reception including complimentary appetizers and drinks. Registration for the event is free with a suggested donation at the event of five to ten dollars.
Attendees are also encouraged to vote in advance for “Worst Performance of the Year” by a toxic chemical in Minnesota. The winning chemical will receive a Minnesota Toxie live at the event.
Healthy Legacy is a diverse public health coalition of 34 member groups that works to phase out the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a co-founding member of the coalition.
—Jacob Taintor, Healthy Legacy/IATP Social Media Intern
June 08, 2011
Major contributor of arsenic in animal feed halts practice
Today, IATP and the Center for Food Safety issued the below press release on a major announcement to temporarily halt the use of arsenic in some animal feeds. IATP issued a report in 2006 on the heavy use of arsenic in animal feeds. In 2009, we partnered with the Center for Food Safety to petition the FDA to halt the use of arsenic in animal feed.
Major contributor of arsenic in animal feed halts practice
Washington, D.C., June 08, 2011 – The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that Alpharma, a division of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has agreed to stop selling (for now) its arsenic-containing product, 3-Nitro, for use in chicken, turkeys and swine. In 1944, 3-Nitro became the first arsenic-containing product approved by the FDA for use in food animals.
When combined with antibiotics and other drugs, 3-Nitro is widely used by poultry producers to help control a parasitic disease in animals, but also has been used to induce greater weight gain and to create the appearance of a healthier color in meat. IATP estimated in its 2006 report, Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat, that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat are fed arsenic. Neither European poultry producers nor organic producers use 3-Nitro.
The sales suspension follows new FDA findings that use of 3-Nitro, which contains the organic arsenic roxarsone, also increases cancer-causing inorganic arsenic in chicken liver. The FDA did not test chicken muscle, the meat that most people eat.
The FDA stressed that it did not think the increased arsenic in chicken posed a human health threat. Inorganic arsenic, however, is known to cause multiple cancers in humans, and the science suggests that any additional exposure in food or elsewhere will increase the risk across the population of developing those cancers.
“The use of arsenic in meat production is unnecessary, and, from a public health perspective, reckless,” says Dr. David Wallinga, a physician and author of the IATP report. “Given what we know about this age-old poison, our exposure to all arsenic should be reduced—especially in food.”
Pfizer markets 3-Nitro by itself as a feed additive. However, the suspension also affects another 70 or so other products containing 3-Nitro in combination with other antibiotics and other ingredients, also marketed to poultry producers. In effect, the Pfizer move to voluntarily take its product off the market means that after 30 days, none of these 70 products will be on the market. However, Pfizer is not giving up the NADA or FDA-approval—it could resume manufacture and sale of its product at a later point in time.
“We applaud Pfizer’s voluntary step,” says Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety, “but we urge the FDA to now move forward on banning all arsenic-containing additives in animal feed. These include Pfizer’s own feed additives containing nitarsone, another arsenic compound as well as those containing arsanilic acid and carbarsone. Clearly, producers can do without them, and they pose a very real threat to public health.”
As IATP and the Center for Food Safety asserted in a 2009 petition to the FDA calling for a roxarsone ban, there is abundant science both that organic arsenics are directly toxic, but also that they convert into the more worrisome inorganic forms of arsenic in chickens, in chicken meat, and in humans. The 2009 petition is also supported by Food Animal Concerns Trust, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Physicians for Social Responsibility, Food and Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Center for Environmental Health, Institute for a Sustainable Future, Health Care Without Harm and Ecology Center of Michigan.
Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user whyswomen.
May 26, 2011
Antibiotics in ethanol? Just say no.
Here's an issue you don't hear very much about: antibiotic use in ethanol production.
Image above used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user argonne.
May 24, 2011
Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy joined with Public Health Insititute, Public Health Law & Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, California Food & Justice Coalition, and American Farmland Trust to convene the CDC-funded Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit last week in Washington, D.C (See the event agenda). The blog post below from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides an overview of the topics and discussions that took place over the course of two-day summit.
Dietz encouraged participant consideration of how these facts in agriculture and public health are intricately linked.
The conveners of the summit will be surveying participants on next steps including the possibility of forming a farm bill public health coalition of some kind. They will host a series of discussion webinars over the summer to explore the feasibility of and interest in various policy options and will organize a meeting for advocates.
-- by Helen Dombalis, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (See original post.)
May 18, 2011
What's standing in the way of healthy, sustainable agriculture?
Transforming U.S. agriculture to make it healthier and more sustainable is suddenly a hot topic. Last week, Science published an essay in its policy forum, Transforming U.S. Agriculture, concluding that we already have the technology to grow healthier food more sustainably. Standing in the way is the domination of agricultural markets by monopolies and oligopolies, the lack of means for getting up-to-date information to farmers, and, maybe most importantly, the lack of appropriate policies that incent farmers to adopt healthier, more sustainable practices.
May 11, 2011
Loud and clear: Report finds state laws get BPA out of baby bottles, sippy cups
The Minnesota-based public health coalition Healthy Legacy, cofounded by IATP in 2006, has some good news for parents today.
In a new market survey, Message in a Bottle: A Market Survey on Bisphenol A (BPA) in Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups (PDF), Healthy Legacy found that state legislation was a key driver in actions of key states, parents in states with BPA bans can be pretty sure that baby bottles, sippy cups and breast-milk storage products on the market are free of bisphenol A (always look for a BPA-free label, though). Unfortunately, states without BPA laws, like Oregon, still have BPA-containing children’s products lurking on some store shelves.
The market survey checked the inventory of baby bottles and sippy cups in 89 stores from 35 communities in five different states. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago and New York all have laws on the books that ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The survey findings confirm that in these locations, nearly all bottles and sippy cups are BPA-free and labeled as such. However, in Oregon where legislation to ban BPA is still pending, parents need to be alert for BPA containing products still on store shelves. Based on our samples, parents should be particularly alert on shelves of dollar stores, value stores and drug stores.
Both state and federal action are needed to ensure that parents in every state, no matter where they live or where they shop, need not worry about BPA in baby products such as bottles and sippy cups. While the U.S. lags behind the European Union, China and Canada in federal action to restrict BPA, states are still moving to phase out BPA in baby products and food can linings. Beyond baby products, families should have information that makes it easy to make BPA-free purchasing choices when it comes to canned food and other consumer products.
We also need to fix the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the broken and out of date law that is failing to protect public health from exposure to toxic chemicals. Current legislation introduced by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg seeks to fix many of the problems with TSCA through the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. In Minnesota, Senators Franken and Klobuchar are both co-sponsors of the bill. Take a moment to thank them for their support.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a cofounding member of Healthy Legacy, a diverse public health coalition with 34 member organizations, representing over one million Minnesotans. Healthy Legacy promotes healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals by advocating for consumer education, business leadership and protective policies to advance safe alternatives in Minnesota.
By Katie Rojas-Jahn, Healthy Legacy Coalition Coordinator
April 14, 2011
Safe Chemicals Act introduced, good news for people and families
Today, the Senate introduced the Safe Chemicals Act, which seeks to reform the outdated and badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We think this is good news for people and families across the United States. Why? Because TSCA has failed so completely to protect our health! Of the more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, only about 200 have ever been tested for safety. Of those, only five have been banned. Despite 10 years of rulemaking, the EPA could not even ban asbestos, a substance widely known to be harmful to health.
Now, more than 35 years after TSCA was passed, there is no shortage of stories about toxic chemicals, like BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde and lead ending up in the products we use everyday. These chemicals don't just end up in our products, they end up in food. For example, one of the most prevelant exposure routes for people to BPA is canned foods (can linings almost always contain BPA, which leaches into the contents of the can). A recent study from Environmental Health Perspectives found that by eliminating canned foods, levels of BPA were reduced by an average of 60 percent in study participants, after only three days!
The Safe Chemicals Act will change all of that by changing the way we review and regulate chemicals.
Here's what we like about the bill:
Toxic chemicals, and their health effects, know no party lines. Let's hope Congress moves this bill forward quickly.
April 08, 2011
Buying better chicken for schools, hospitals and other organizations
Making healthy choices can be difficult, even when you know what you're looking for. The myriad of standards and certifications can be hard to navigate, especially in poultry: Does antibiotic-free mean no antibiotics in the feed or no antibiotics used in raising the animal? Do poultry producers have to list whether or not arsenic is used? Now, imagine being responsible for feeding a school's student body, or a hospital. Getting enough of the right product, and getting it on time, can be difficult when trying to source healthier alternatives.
Large-scale food purchasers now have a resource guide to help them make healthy decisions when purchasing poultry for their organizations. Today, IATP is releasing a new fact sheet entitled "Buying Better Chicken," which helps sort out the complicated system of certifications, standards and terminology in the poultry industry.
March 30, 2011
Food packaging major exposure route for BPA
A new peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives has found evidence suggesting that food packaging is a major source of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).
The study, conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, recruited five families (each with two parents and two children, for a total of 20 people) and tested them for levels of BPA and certain phthalates in their urine while feeding them a diet of freshly prepared foods.
BPA is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical and has been linked to numerous health effects, including behavioral changes, early-onset puberty, reproductive harm, diabetes and even cancer. Due to its dubious reputation, it was also recently named on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which includes toxins that are harmful to children and are present in products kids are exposed to. Phthalates are no treat either, having been linked to poor sperm quality, obesity and cancer.
What did the study do?
On the first two days of the study, participants ate as they normally do. On the following three days they were provided with freshly prepared organic meals—no canned food, and no plastic storage containers. After that they went back to their normal diets.
The levels of BPA and a particular phthalate called DEHP (used in food packaging) dropped substantially (an average of 60 percent for the BPA, and 50 percent for DEHP) during the three days when participants were only eating the freshly prepared foods.
Reduce your BPA exposure
These findings suggest that food packaging (e.g., canned food, grease-resistant wrappers and polycarbonate bottles) is a major exposure route for BPA, and that removing it from food packaging would lead to an immediate and significant drop in BPA levels in the general population.
One recommendation from the authors is to cut out consumption of prepackaged foods and to cook from fresh as much as possible. They've even created this handy chart (right) which shows the top ten canned foods known to leach the most BPA, so start by avoiding those if you can.
BPA and phthalates have both been linked to certain types of cancer. You can act now by asking President Obama to take a strong stand on getting these cancer-causing chemicals out of our products.
March 10, 2011
Minnesota schools increasingly eat farm fresh
A new survey of Minnesota foodservice leaders released today shows, in just four years, the number of Minnesota schools participating in Farm to School has sharply increased: From just 10 in 2006 to 123 this year.
“Minnesota is lucky to have the three key ingredients for Farm to School: dedicated food service leaders, innovative farmers seeking local markets, and passionate students and parents,” says IATP's JoAnne Berkenkamp.
See the press release for more information, or read the full survey results. For more Farm to School resources and information, and to see a map of Minnesota school districts participating, be sure to check out Farm2SchoolMN.org!
March 03, 2011
HFCS by any other name: Like putting lipstick on a pig
Tell the FDA you vote no on High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) being renamed “corn sugar.”
Two years ago, we published the first evidence that some HFCS was mercury contaminated. Ever since then, the corn refining industry has been growing ever more shrill in claiming there’s really no concern around HFCS. Take their multimillion dollar “Sweet Surprise” PR campaign, for example. (Methinks they protest too much.)
Now that consumers are shying away from food products carrying HFCS on their label, the Corn Refiners have a new gambit: Just change the name!
That’s right, they are petitioning the FDA to let them stop calling it high fructose corn syrup and to call it “corn sugar” instead. How sweet.
This isn’t a science issue. It’s a simple matter of having a food system that’s transparent for everyone, and to eaters most of all. Transparency is key to the joint Principles for a Healthy, Sustainable Food System developed by the nation’s nurses, dieticians, public health folks and planners.
Maybe you disagree. And that’s fine. In a democracy you can and should tell the FDA what you think:
Click on this link to the FDA, click “Submit a Comment,” lodge your thoughts, and hit send.
March 01, 2011
Greater action urged on hormone-busting chemicals
The world's largest public health group, the American Public Health Association (APHA), has just announced a new policy calling for greater government action to protect the public from hormone-disrupting chemicals in the food supply.
David Wallinga, M.D.
February 23, 2011
Can food safety race to the top?
"Many argue that globalized trade creates a ‘race to the bottom,’ where the country with the weakest regulations or lowest wages ultimately sets the standards in the global marketplace," writes IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. in the Des Moines Register. "Something different may now be happening around food safety: Global forces are putting pressure on U.S. regulators to catch up with the rest of the world."
Dr. Wallinga writes that weak U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in meat and poultry production have blocked or limited U.S. exports in Russia, the European Union and several other countries. A Congressional Research Service report released in December also concluded that antibiotic use in the U.S., commonly used for growth promotion in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), could affect future U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry.
"At some point, the economic costs of lost exports may override even the purported—and very suspect—economic benefits from the routine use of antibiotics in animal feeds," Dr. Wallinga writes.
You can read the full commentary here.
February 15, 2011
Upcoming webinar on health, justice and industralized meat production
Today’s predominant, industrialized farm animal production facilities raise huge numbers of livestock in small geographic areas, producing enormous concentrations of waste that pollute air and water. As a result, these Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) create a number of problems for the health of the environment and the people living in it, including increased respiratory symptoms, antibiotic resistance and decreased quality of life. And like other highly polluting industries, CAFOs are disproportionately located in low-income areas and communities of color.
Next week, IATP will host a webinar that reports on the health effects of CAFOs on surrounding communities, and examines how public health researchers can collaborate with affected communities. For more than a decade, Steven Wing and colleagues at the University of North Carolina have been studying the health effects of hog CAFOs in collaboration with community-based organizations in eastern North Carolina. He’ll present their most recent findings, to appear in Epidemiology next month. Naeema Muhammad, from Concerned Citizens of Tillery, the lead community organization in this research, will discuss community involvement and how the research has contributed to organizing and public education efforts. Discussion will be moderated by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s David Wallinga, M.D.
The webinar, Health, Justice, and Industrialized Meat Production, will take place on February 22 at 12 noon- 1pm EST. Join us and register today.
February 07, 2011
Public health cost of global (corn) trade
Last week Mexico paid a U.S.-based corn processor, Corn Products International, Inc. (CPI) $58.4 million in accordance with a 2009 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunal decision. The case illustrates the important intersection of U.S. trade policy with food and public health.
Corn Products International, Inc. provides corn “ingredients” to the global food, beverage, brewing and pharmaceutical industries. The company brought the 2003 case claiming that the Mexican government—by putting a tax on soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar—had discriminated against CPI in order to protect Mexican cane sugar producers. Ruling in CPI’s favor, the NAFTA tribunal required Mexico to compensate CPI for its lost revenue.
CPI is only one among many cases brought by corporations under NAFTA’s little known Chapter 11. Chapter 11 enables corporations, or individuals, to sue the three nations signing NAFTA—Canada, the U.S. or Mexico—when they believe an action by those governments adversely affects their present or future profits.
Chapter 11 imparts rights to international investors that go well beyond those present in existing international trade agreements (e.g., the GATT and WTO), and has important ramifications for public health. In one of the most well-known Chapter 11 cases, the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí refused to grant a permit to U.S.-based Metalclad Corporation to operate a hazardous waste treatment facility and landfill in La Pedrera. The Mexican state also created an ecological preserve in the area where the facility was located. Metalclad brought its case and in 2000 the NAFTA tribunal ruled that Mexico’s establishment of the ecological zone and failure to grant Metalclad a permit was “tantamount to expropriation,” requiring Mexico to pay Metalclad $15.5 million in compensation.
These Chapter 11 rulings also illustrate two relatively recent phenomena: 1.) the costs to Mexican farmers and consumers of the NAFTA-led, ever-increasing economic integration between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico [i], and 2.) the increasing legal rights granted to corporations relative to governments. NAFTA Chapter 11 makes it more difficult for governments to protect public health because corporations or individuals may legally challenge regulations they believe are adversely affecting their financial investments.
As costs of chronic disease rise, along with global challenges to public health, the public health community cannot afford to ignore the often subtle, yet powerful, influence of the legal and economic trends of globalization. For more information on such issues, check out the American Public Health Association’s Trade and Health Forum and the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health.
Sarah Clark is a former IATP intern and master's degree candidate in international agriculture and trade policy at Tufts University.
[i] Sarah Clark, Corinna Hawkes, Sophia Murphy, Karen Hansen-Kuhn and David Wallinga, “Exporting Obesity: How U.S. Food and Farm Policy is Transforming the Mexican Consumer Food Environment,” [forthcoming]
January 26, 2011
Banning BPA from food containers
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-disrupting chemical. CDC data indicate BPA is present in the bodies and urine of more than 90 percent of Americans. It's widespread use in everything from food can liners to ATM receipts accounts for the exposure. Exposure to BPA has been linked to a variety of hormone-related diseases, from cancer to reproductive problems.
Yesterday, Rep. Ed Markey (D –MA) introduced a bill that would ban BPA’s use in food and beverage containers. Markey sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
David Wallinga, MD
January 24, 2011
Feeding Animals Antibiotics: Not Helping U.S. Meat Export
At a 2010 Congressional briefing sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter, I warned the continued and routine overuse of antibiotics in U.S. meat production could be shooting the global competitiveness of that industry in the foot.
Data finally released last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do little to allay those fears, while confirming the findings of a decade-oldreport from the Union of Concerned Scientists: More than 70 percent (74 percent, in fact) of all U.S. antibiotics are being used in food-producing animals. Most of our "medically important" antibiotics, like penicillins, tetracyclines and erythromycins, are used in animals, not people. And, nearly all of these are routine uses in feed for animals that are not clinically sick. Rather than to treat disease, these antibiotics are used for growth promotion or to avert sickness in animals that are stressed from the confined conditions in which they are raised.
There is no scientific basis for doubting the public health import of allowing antibiotics to be used in this way. The Center for Disease Control Director, the leadership of the Food and Drug Administration, the leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the medical literature all conclude that agricultural overuse of antibiotics in feed is worsening the scourge of antibiotic resistance affecting the human and animal population.
The trade issue we raised in our presentation last March was that other countries, particularly in Europe, are also increasingly pointing to these feed antibiotics as worrisome and grounds for restricting imports of U.S. meat products.
In fact, a December 6, 2010 Congressional Research Service report itself confirms what we were saying six months earlier: "Although antibiotic use in animals has not been a significant factor affecting U.S. trade in meat products to date, evidence suggests that country restrictions on the use of these drugs could become an issue in the future and could affect U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry products."
What seems clear is that U.S. meat production is at a crossroads. Either we can try and cling to the way things have always been done, despite evidence that it is harming our citizens as well as putting our agriculture economy at risk. Or, we can all work together to make future meat production healthier, using fewer antibiotics, and become more competitive in a marketplace where people and countries care more and more about how their food is produced.
This post, by IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
January 07, 2011
Health leaders call for healthy Farm Bill
A growing and impressive number of health professionals are calling for changes in the next Farm Bill. Below is our press release from today:
Health leaders call for healthy Farm Bill
Next Farm Bill should put Americans on path to healthier eating and living
Minneapolis – U.S. health professionals are calling on new leadership in Congress to make health a priority in writing the next Farm Bill. National health leaders, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Marion Nestle, have signed onto a “Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill.” (See the full list of signatories at HealthyFoodAction.org.)
The Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill calls for a food system that incorporates health into the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, consumed and disposed. Such a food system must protect the environment as well as ensure farmers and workers are fairly compensated. The charter’s principles emphasize a food system that is healthy, sustainable, resilient, fair, diverse, economically balanced and transparent.
Congress is expected to begin work on the five-year Farm Bill this year. The Farm Bill includes programs for farmers and for food assistance. Traditionally, Congress has not integrated public health issues into Farm Bill programs, despite strong scientific evidence that food production and consumption patterns are linked to rising health costs and associated diseases.
“The Farm Bill helps create an American food environment where unhealthy food is the cheapest and most readily available,” says David Wallinga, M.D., of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “Given the enormous health costs of obesity and other food-related epidemics, integrating health goals into the next Farm Bill is a good investment and smart public policy—a real no-brainer.”
“Healthy food is fundamental for good health,” says noted physician and author Dr. Andrew Weil. “It only makes sense that the Farm Bill should encourage production of more foods that are good for our health and are grown in ways that do not undermine our health.”
“The links between agriculture, public health and the environment become more apparent every day,” says Marion Nestle PhD, of New York University and author of Food Politics. “The next revision of the Farm Bill presents the perfect opportunity to create American food policies that promote healthier and more sustainable diets for everyone.”
Healthy Food Action, a project of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, works to engage health professionals as advocates for a healthier, more sustainable food system. Read the full charter at HealthyFoodAction.org.Download this press release in PDF.
January 06, 2011
Are genes for disease a mirage?
Is chronic disease mostly a product of environment, and not genes, as we've been led to believe? That provocative question is the focus for a new report by The Bioscience Resource Project. The report, "The Great DNA Data Deficit: Are Genes for Disease a Mirage?", concludes that for common diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and others, "a significant role for genetic causation can now be ruled out with a high degree of confidence." This finding indicates that other environmental factors, like food, pollution, stress and tobacco use, likely play a larger role than previously thought. Interestingly, the four mentioned diseases—among the six leading causes of death—are all closely linked to an unhealthy food system and unhealthy eating.
December 22, 2010
Hospitals support Minnesota farmers, purchase locally grown produce
Hospitals, as places of healing, have a natural incentive to provide food that’s healthy for people and the environment and to be models for healthy eating. A poor diet is a risk factor for four of the leading six causes of death nationally: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. More than 75 percent of the $2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on medical care is going to treat diet-related chronic diseases.
However, like many institutions seeking to contain food and labor costs, hospitals have become increasingly reliant on pre-processed and convenience foods, volume pricing and distribution agreements negotiated by national group purchasing organizations (GPOs). In some cases, they have completely outsourced their food service management and supplier relationships, giving up the ability to make day-to-day menu planning and purchasing decisions.
Nearly six years ago I wrote a report for IATP entitled Healthy Food, Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Communities: Stories of Health Care Leaders Bringing Fresher, Healthier Food Choices to Their Patients, Staff and Communities. In the report I described many of the barriers mentioned above. I also provided eight case studies of institutions that had found creative solutions to these barriers and were willing to share their experiences. At the time, these examples were far from the norm. Fortunately, this is no longer the case in Minnesota and nationwide.
In recent years, several Minnesota hospitals have formalized their commitment to “the goal of providing local, nutritious and sustainable food” by signing the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, including St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Hennepin County Medical Center, Ridgeview Medical Center and Winona Health. Others have been taking less public but noteworthy steps to do the same.
To better understand the progress that Minnesota hospitals have made in the last few years, IATP partnereded with the Institute for a Sustainable Future (ISF) and Land Stewardship Project (LSP) over the last 12 months to survey individual hospitals.
We attempted to track purchases, document lessons learned, and more. Our efforts were focused on health care facilities in four regions of the state, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Duluth metropolitan area, Rochester area, St. Croix River Valley, and portions of west central Minnesota. The effort was funded in large part by a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
As a result of our survey, we learned that a high percentage of Minnesota hospitals (about 68 percent of survey respondents) are purposefully buying Minnesota-grown produce when available. Though some hospitals (35 percent of respondents) purchased produce directly from Minnesota farms, most hospitals reported purchasing local products via their distribution partners (70 percent of respondents) such as Bix Produce and Sysco Minnesota. The most commonly purchased crops include apples, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, potatoes and winter squash. Also, 25 percent of respondents reported purchasing USDA Organic or Food Alliance Midwest certified produce items. This is great news since directing even a small portion of hospital purchasing dollars to support local farmers can help improve the overall economic health of our community, particularly Minnesota’s rural communities.
We also confirmed that more hospitals are hosting farmers markets and farm stands on site and/or are acting as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop sites. Approximately 25 percent of survey respondents (7) hosted a farmers market or farm stand during the 2009 growing season, and 10 percent (3) acted as a CSA drop site for employees who wanted the convenience of purchasing and receiving CSA shares at work. While interest in and plans to host farmers markets held steady for 2010, survey results indicated a potential doubling of the number of CSA drop sites. Through a separate process we also learned that many CSA farms are interested in adding more workplace drop sites to their existing routes.
In addition to the survey, staff from IATP, ISF and LSP worked individually with hospitals between May and October to set local-produce purchasing goals, determine steps needed to achieve the goals, measure progress and document lessons learned so they can be shared with Minnesota farmers and other hospitals.
For many hospitals, it is still very challenging to spend even a small percentage of their food dollars outside their normal distribution channels. Most Minnesota hospitals are still relying on their distributor to provide them with produce, including produce grown on Minnesota farms. Right now there are only a few distributors that are going out of their way to provide these products, and only one that does pre-processing and carries at least some Minnesota-grown produce items most of the year. Thus, hospitals that do not or cannot do business with these distributors or buy direct from farms will have extremely limited ability to support local farmers until contracts expire or are renegotiated.
In the meantime, many of the hospitals we worked with this year are eager to continue their efforts to increase staff and community access to fresh produce grown on Minnesota farms in 2011, and we will continue to support them.
Written by IATP's Food and Health Senior Policy Analyst Marie Kulick. Download the pdf.