Rights and Regulation

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Government regulation gave influencers plenty to discuss in recent weeks. Consider the issues raised by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. The Connecticut Democrat not only questioned changes in poultry food safety inspection, but also took aim at sugary beverages by introducing a tax on sweeteners used in them, vowing to combat the “dual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.”

Other widely-discussed topics included the government’s stance against Salmonella; a U.S. appeals court decision that supports country of origin labeling on meat; and the impact of the Russian ban on food imports. There was also the narrow vote supporting the right to farm in Missouri, which one university professor interpreted as “the agricultural establishment trying to build a firewall against growing consumer concerns.”

The ensuing debates focused on whether the government is doing too much or not enough in its oversight of the nation’s food industry. Read more about these issues and others in this digest of influential voices in food and agriculture.



Uncovering Data, Fueling Insights

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Influencers explored boundaries regarding what’s necessary, reasonable and appropriate when it comes to managing food. Recent discussions include the ongoing hot topic of school lunch, long-term global food production priorities, food safety issues in China, and domestic animal agriculture practices.

As often is the case, it’s not just the information that’s debated but also the motivation behind it. At the top of the list is a review of research regarding the benefits of organics, questioned not only because of who funded the study but also because of the premise: Are organics prized by some consumers based on nutrition, or is it because of production values? The Guardian wrote of one scientific analysis, “The findings will bring to the boil a long-simmering row over whether those differences mean organic food is better for people, with one expert calling the work sexed up.”

You’ll find plenty of debates simmering in this edition of Influence Feed.



Midyear Reflections; Standards and Solutions

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This edition of Influence Feed highlights the most highly discussed topics from the first half of the year in addition to providing recent insight from our influencers. After analyzing tens of thousands of communications, some clear leading topics emerged among influencers in 2014: sustainability, food regulation, genetically modified organisms and organic food. Government-led initiatives, agriculturalist feedback and activist responses all had a large impact in discussions of those topics. Additionally, foodborne illness received heavy news coverage following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports and several large recalls that prompted government intervention.

In recent weeks, food safety concerns and fears have dominated influencer conversation. As the latest episode in a year of dealing with Salmonella Heidelberg, Foster Farms issued a recall of some of its chicken. Noted seafood author Paul Greenberg released American Catch — a book documenting the questionable sources of our seafood supply. Meanwhile, a study from Cornell University identified fears — often unfounded — that drive purchasing decisions of food consumers, while a cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek delved into the workings of Monsanto, a company often viewed with suspicion and distrust. Read more about influencer reactions to these concerns.



Food Policy in the Spotlight

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Our eating habits are in the spotlight. From reporting new research to advocating calls for urgent action, the media understands that consumers want more information about food. That’s why the changing nature of how we’re consuming food is the major theme for this edition of Influence Feed.

“Food has become America’s all-consuming passion,” writes Bruce Horowitz in a June 4 USA Today article. “Blame it on the Food Network. Blame it on a culture of celebrity chefs whose names are no longer limited to Wolfgang. Blame half on Whole Foods. Blame it on a generation of Instagram-loving Millennials, many of whom would rather post a photo of themselves eating a veggies Thai lettuce wrap than lounging on a Thai beach. Food is the new cool. Food is consuming us” (emphasis added).

In recent days, we saw a series in The Wall Street Journal focusing on “How We Eat.” Butter made the cover of Time magazine in a piece rethinking how we look at fat. Things we once took for granted are under fire, including whether our cereal has too many vitamins and minerals. After decades of being vaguely defined, the word natural is under assault.

Influential voices are weighing in on all these issues, and you’ll find them in this latest summary of the conversations focusing on food and agriculture.



Clashes Over Health

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Red meat has once again risen to the forefront among influential conversations about healthfulness. The release of a study showing red meat consumption in early adulthood could create a higher risk of breast cancer gathered widespread attention. There were also spirited debates over GMO labeling, use of artificial ingredients in food service and soda sizes in New York City.

In Washington, D.C., a summit over soda stirred a many-sided dialogue in social media. In particular, talk of a soda tax gathered a lot of attention, not only in principle but also in detail over whether such a tax could be most effective based on size or calorie count.

Twitter was a battleground in the debate over school lunches. Deliberation in Congress over whether schools that show financial hardship should be exempt from nutrition standards continued a dispute that included lunch worker lobbyists and the first lady.

You’ll find these issues and more in the latest summary of discussions from influential voices in food and agriculture.



Under Pressure

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Protests, research and well-placed journalism have proved effective for those applying pressure to opponents in the food sector. Advocates for specific nutrition standards for children criticized a House Committee on Appropriations bill that would offer flexibility to school lunch programs. Meanwhile, activists gained notice for urging McDonald’s Corp. to stop advertising to children. Protesters drew attention at McDonald’s headquarters as they sought higher worker wages, while other protests outside Monsanto locations put a spotlight on GMOs. Voters in two rural counties in Oregon outlawed GMOs, while many eyes were on an Oxfam International report singling out 10 major food brands as largely responsible for climate change.

More than two years after the vilification of lean, finely-textured beef, Beef Products Inc. is suing ABC News for its role in propagating the term “pink slime.” In addition, Yelp has found some unintended utility in helping to spot foodborne illness. Worries about an egg white shortage also ricocheted around the news. Read about these and more in this edition of Influence Feed.



Global Concern, Local Debate

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In recent weeks, influencers were fired up by issues as widespread as the global climate and as local as food labeling rules. The Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment, which outlined its position on climate change, attracted the most buzz among influencers. They were quick to relate the issue to the food supply. Worldwide antimicrobial resistance continued to attract influencer coverage as well. Nationally, the Census of Agriculture was released, with influencers finding reasons to celebrate and scour the new data. The agriculture community also debated the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new rule related to the 1972 Clean Water Act.

On a local level, the new farmers market season prompted lively discussion about trends in purchasing local foods. Also, as expected, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the first law of its kind requiring labels for foods with genetically modified ingredients. Meanwhile, school districts grappled with increased restrictions in school lunch programs for the upcoming year. Read more about the topics, local and far-reaching, that influencers weighed in on.



Crops In Focus

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With planting season finally underway, crops are commanding attention in food and agriculture discussions. The Open Source Seed Initiative stirred excitement from farmers and academics with its launch at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Genetically modified organism (GMO) technology and the organic label continued to stimulate debate, with agriculturalist perspectives gaining momentum over activist views; GMO technology was the topic of a uniquely balanced and respectful dialogue at the University of California, Berkeley, while organic labeling came under unprecedented criticism. Meanwhile, the European Union made waves by effectively banning the import of U.S. apples over use of a pesticide.

Earth Day was on April 22, and influencers widely celebrated and acknowledged the day while using it to assert their viewpoints. At the end of April, the World Health Organization announced that antibiotic resistance is now a worldwide threat, which attracted substantial coverage. In The Netherlands, Maryn McKenna examined innovative broiler chicken housing systems. All the while, the agriculture business was making wide use of the hashtag #plant14, sowing plenty of interest in the crop season among influencer circles.



What’s on a Label?

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As the debate on wholesomeness and healthfulness continues, dedicated advocates from every perspective are digging in their heels. The definition of what is good is evolving, with its story punctuated by attempts to officially label what constitutes healthy. In the past couple of weeks, the status of trans fats and their Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status continued to elicit heated debate. Walmart and Target made waves when they announced new lines of organic and better-for-you brands. Regarding health, foodborne disease rates proved stubbornly immoveable between 2006 and 2013, according to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Finally, nothing has garnered more attention recently than the battle over genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling at the state and federal government levels; specifically, Vermont appears likely to pass a GMO label mandate, and Congress is mulling the role of the federal government in the debate. President Obama weighed in via an April 11 letter to Dr. Norman Borlaug’s granddaughter, “I share his belief that investment in enhanced biotechnology is an essential component of the solution to some of our planet’s most pressing agricultural problems.”



Real Voices

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Two highly respected individuals bookend this edition of Influence Feed. On National Agriculture Day, the U.S. commemorated the 100th birthday of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the deeply influential “father of the green revolution,” with a life-size statue in Washington, D.C. Secondly, food and agriculture lost an outspoken advocate for animal health and food safety in Dr. Scott Hurd. These two had tremendous influence on improving the quality of our food supply.

Several hotly-debated topics are covered in this edition. The FDA published a progress update on Guidance 213, and we provide some key feedback from different perspectives. Reporter Lynn Terry’s piece on Salmonella prevention in Denmark received major attention after Food Safety News’ Bill Marler shared it. Additionally, we saw how a labeling mistake at Whole Foods served as an opportunity for New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom to bring plant-based protein into the spotlight. Read about these and more.



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