More shoppers say they care about ‘animal welfare’

A spokesman for the organization that represents U.S. food retailers says more consumers are identifying “humane treatment of farm animals” as one of their food-buying concerns.

“In looking at some of the (survey) data, we’ve found that it jumped about seven percent—so it’s a growing concern,” says David Fikes of the Food Marketing Institute. “Most other concerns were growing about three percent, but humane treatment of animals was one that was getting a little bit more attention in consumer attitudes.”

Fikes says most consumers just want some reassurance that animals are being treated humanely. “Most of them want to believe that the animal had a good, stress-free life and a very peaceful death in preparing it for the plate,” he says.

But Fikes says cost, convenience and taste continue, by far, to be the biggest factors behind consumer food purchases. Fikes was a presenter at a beef cattle welfare symposium in Ames, Iowa.

AUDIO: David Fikes (5:32 MP3)

Ag economist to speak at Iowa events

Jayson Lusk

Jayson Lusk

Oklahoma State University ag economist Jayson Lusk will be in Iowa July 8th and 9th to speak at two separate events.

On the evening of the 8th, Lusk will address farmers and other agricultural stakeholders at an event on the Iowa State University campus. The next day he will deliver the keynote presentation at the Iowa Grocery Industry Association annual meeting in Okoboji.

Aaron Putze with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and Iowa Food & Family Project, says Lusk has a powerful message to share about how the so-called “food elite” in America are making food more expensive, putting the less fortunate at a disadvantage.

“He (Lusk) has been studying food regulations for many, many years and he looks at the costs and benefits of food and farming-related policies,” Putze says, “and, over the years, he has just grown increasingly disenfranchised with the a movement that he feels is really ignoring the realities that most American consumers and farmers face.”

The July 8th event in Ames, which includes dinner and Lusk’s presentation, is open to farmers and their guests. There is no charge to attend, but you are asked to RSVP by this Thursday by calling Maureen at ISA at 515-334-1077.

AUDIO: Aaron Putze (7:48 MP3)

Survey looks at consumer awareness, concern for food issues

Oklahoma State University ag economist Jayson Lusk coordinates a monthly Food Demand Survey of consumers across the U.S. In addition to questions about meat prices and overall buying habits, Lusk also asks consumers about food-related issues, measuring both “awareness” and “concern” on those issues. In a recent interview with Brownfield, Lusk discussed some of his findings.

AUDIO: Jayson Lusk (9:49 MP3)

GMO labeling debate continues

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) says it will file suit to overturn Vermont’s new GMO labeling law.

GMA argues that the labels are not necessary, pointing out that the FDA, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association all have said bioengineered ingredients are safe.  And the group says consumers who prefer to avoid genetically-modified ingredients have the option of purchasing “certified organic” products that are already in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, a new study from Cornell University reports that the cost of GMO food labeling could cost New York families an average of 500 to 800 dollars in additional food costs each year.  The report says that the added costs incurred by the food industry as a result of GMO labeling will simply be passed down to consumers.

Additionally, the report says, the state of New York could face millions of dollars in added costs to implement and monitor a labeling initiative.

The study was funded by the Council for Biotechnology Information.

GMO labeling bills have been introduced in the New York State Assembly, as well as several other state legislatures.

Supermarket exec discusses GMOs, hormones, antibiotics

How do food retailers view current hot button food issues such as GMOs, hormones and antibiotics?  And what are they hearing from consumers? At a recent CommonGround event in Lincoln, Nebraska, we discussed those topics with Larry Elias, director of sales and merchandising with Lincoln-based B & R Stores.  B & R owns and operates the Russ’ Market and Super Saver grocery store chains in Nebraska and Iowa.

AUDIO: Larry Elias (4:47 MP3)

Post will make Grape-Nuts ‘non-GMO’

Cereal manufacturer Post says it will begin producing a “Non-GMO Verified” version of its staple barley and wheat cereal, Grape-Nuts.  And the company indicates that efforts are underway to add more non-GMO verified products to the Post Foods product line.

The move closely follows General Mills’ announcement that regular Cheerios will be made with non-GMO ingredients.

Non-GMO activist groups applaud the move, but say they will continue to pressure companies to remove GMOs from more food products.

Non-GMO activists claim ‘huge victory’

“A huge victory for the non-GMO movement.”

That’s how non-GMO activists are reacting to General Mills’ announcement that it will be stop using genetically modified ingredients in its original Cheerios cereal.

In reality, the move does not appear to be that much of a stretch for General Mills.  The main ingredient in Cheerios is oats, which has never been genetically modified.  The company says it will switch to corn starch from non-GMO corn and sugar from non-GMO pure cane sugar.

However, these changes apply only to the original Cheerios.  A company spokesman tells CNN that removing genetically modified ingredients from their flavored varieties, such as Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, would be “difficult, if not impossible”.

General Mills said the original-flavored Cheerios will soon include a label on boxes stating “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients”.  But the company also issued a warning that traces of GMO product could still be found in the new batches, due to contamination during processing and manufacturing.

General Mills has been strongly criticized by non-GMO activists since the company donated over one-million dollars to the campaign to defeat California’s Proposition 37 in 2012.  That proposition would have required labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients.

Thank America’s farmers for safe, abundant food supply

Commentary.

For many of us, food is the centerpiece of all family and social gatherings. For as long as I can remember, the food at our family gatherings was always tastier than that I might sample at gatherings of some of my friends’ families. Perhaps that is partially because of the happy memories associated with our family gatherings, but I think there is more to it than that. I believe it has something to do with the fact that much of what is laid out at a family “spread” is home grown.

Beef that we’ve raised is always better than the best steak at the best restaurant. When I think back of gatherings from my childhood, I can remember going to Aunt Vicki and Uncle Melvin’s on a Sunday with the smell of fried chicken and green beans with bacon greeting us as we entered the house. (Those were home grown chickens and green beans of course.)

My husband and I now cook our home raised beef roasts in the Dutch oven in which Grandma Doris used to cook her home raised beef roasts. I have such fond memories of Sunday gatherings with twenty-some cousins running and jumping, playing softball or tag or kick-the-can. Kids ate big and played hard. Adults ate big and worked hard. Our play and our work were of a physical nature, however, and we burned the extra calories consumed at a big family function in short order.

Deciding what to take to carry-in meal today presents more challenges than it did not so many years ago. Part of that is because of the abundance of food available to us today. We don’t have to bake our bread or brew our own tea or grow our own potatoes to make potato salad. I can go to Hy-Vee and buy any quantity of ready-to-serve potato salad I want to buy!

Grocery stores, farmers markets, convenience stores “dollar” stores all carry food items today. I can grab a pizza and milk when I stop to get fuel on my way home from town. The behemoth stores where you can buy shoes, get your oil changed, fill your prescriptions, get a haircut, have your nails done, sign up for internet and mobile phone service and have your taxes done also have groceries.

We can buy a variety of fruits and vegetables any time of the year, or we can choose to buy only what is locally grown, in season.

A safe, abundant, and affordable food supply is at the tip of our fingers. We can thank you, America’s farmers, for that.

Happy New Year.

Bill would require GMO labeling

Legislation to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label all genetically modified foods has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced by California Senator Barbara Boxer and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio. It would require FDA to label all food products that incorporate ingredients made from genetically modified grains, including animal feeds and pet foods, as well as genetically engineered salmon.

Boxer says Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families. She says the legislation has the support of a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree consumers deserve more information about the food they buy.

During 2012 floor consideration of the Senate’s farm bill, there was an attempt to add language allowing states to set their own GMO labeling regulations.  That effort failed 76 to 24.

Concerns over crop insurance, food aid

Proposed cuts to crop insurance and a restructuring of the nation’s food aid programs are drawing criticism from the American Soybean Association (ASA) and state soybean groups.

Those proposals were part of President Obama’s budget proposal for 2014, released last week.  It includes a seven-point-four billion dollar reduction in the federal crop insurance program. 

Carol Balvanz of the Iowa Soybean Association

Carol Balvanz of the Iowa Soybean Association

But the policy director for the Iowa Soybean Association, Carol Balvanz, says it’s the wrong place to look for savings.

“Crop insurance paid out this past year, but it hasn’t always—and if you back the last ten years, farmers have more than paid their fair share,” says Balvanz. “So making cuts to this just because it’s a good place to gather a couple percentage points of money does not seem to be wise planning.”

In addition to the proposed cuts to crop insurance, ASA reiterated its strong opposition to a proposed restructuring of the nation’s international food aid programs.

The proposed change would replace in-kind aid with cash vouchers for purchases of food aid from foreign suppliers instead of commodities grown by American farmers.  But Iowa Soybean’s Balvanz says simply giving cash to foreign countries is a risky proposition.

“Cash is very fungible—it’s very usable for things other than food,” she says, “and many of the countries where our products end up are so poor that I’m not sure they have the infrastructure in place to assure that that money would actually go for either food production in that country or to buy food for the poorest people.”

However, ASA points out there were also positives in the President’s budget. Several of ASA’s top priorities were reflected in the proposal, including both agricultural research and infrastructure.

AUDIO: Carol Balvanz (2:09 MP3)