The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council's newly-released Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan is an attempt to understand our local food system.
Food banks in the U.S. are on course for a preventable collision between record-setting food insecurity and lead-contaminated meat.
Uninspected meat<p>Each winter, after the last shot of Minnesota's hunting season has been fired, a refrigerated truck distributes hunter-harvested deer meat to food pantries. The driver stops at meat processors throughout the state, picking up packages of frozen venison. Within a week, the truckload is delivered to an X-ray facility, where an assembly line of staff from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) takes over.</p><p>The team unboxes the meat, placing packages on a conveyor belt of an X-ray machine. Inspectors watch for the unmistakable glowing specks of lead, left behind from lead bullets. Contaminated packages are discarded. Meat that passes inspection is loaded back on the refrigerated truck and redistributed to food banks in the region where it was harvested. The X-ray process for more than 10,000 pounds of meat takes approximately 3-5 hours. </p><p>The system works—people in need receive several tons of meat that has been screened for lead contamination.</p><p>According to the state's inspection results obtained by EHN, during the past 6 years, an average of 9 percent of packages were contaminated with lead and discarded. Last year alone, 946 pounds of lead-contaminated meat were prevented from reaching vulnerable people in Minnesota. </p><h3><em>Related: <a href="https://www.ehn.org/lead-ammunition-in-meat-2645108170.html" target="_blank">Lead in hunted meat—who's telling hunters and their families?</a></em></h3><p>The MDA provides meat processors with inspection results from their donated venison, along with suggestions of how to reduce lead contamination. Experts from the MDA have<a href="https://www.mprnews.org/story/2012/03/07/game-meat-donation-regulation" target="_blank"> testified</a> that before the inspection program was implemented, tests found lead in nearly 25 percent of donated venison samples. </p><p>The volume of venison donated in Minnesota is an order of magnitude lower than many other states, where lead inspection programs are nonexistent. According to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) Hunters for the Hungry initiative, the <a href="https://hfth.nra.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top 5 states</a> for venison donations are Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio. The states combined for nearly 1 million pounds of venison donated in 2019—all of it uninspected for lead contamination. </p><p>The majority of deer hunters use lead ammunition, and several variables influence the extent of lead contamination in hunted meat. These include choice of firearms, choice of bullet type, whether a bullet strikes the animal's bones, and whether the resulting meat is ground. Without X-ray inspection or chemical analysis, the extent of lead contamination in donated meat is unknown and can vary from year to year. In addition to Minnesota's ongoing inspection program, past efforts to X-ray samples of donated meat in <a href="https://www.jamestownsun.com/sports/1744064-nd-health-officials-find-lead-processed-venison" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">North Dakota</a>,<a href="https://www.kwqc.com/content/news/TV-6-Investigates-Lead-in-venion-Iowa-health-officials-actions-421225163.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> Iowa</a>, and <a href="https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/environmental/venisonandleadhc.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wisconsin</a> have also found lead contamination.</p><p>"I'm really concerned about the amount of venison that's being donated unchecked, understanding that most of the ammunition that is used contains lead. I think it's a serious issue," Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, assistant professor at the Spelman College in <a href="https://www.spelman.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/environmental-and-health-sciences" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental and Health Sciences</a>, told EHN."There should not be meat that is accepted and then distributed to families in need if it has not been screened. Especially given the fact that we know there's perhaps a high probability that some of this meat can be contaminated with lead, which we know to be a neurotoxicant. I'm just kind of blown away by this."</p>
Jennifer Stephes, meat inspection supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. (Credit: Isabelle Stephes)
Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, assistant professor at the Spelman College in Environmental and Health Sciences. (Credit: James Mills)
Science denial and the NRA<p>"Nobody can say that it's ok to distribute meat contaminated with lead – I don't think any official authority can say that. Not even in the U.S. It's a problem," Jon Arnemo, a wildlife veterinarian, professor at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, and a leading expert on lead-hunted meat around the world, told EHN.</p><p>"If you know that someone injected poison into a tomato, you don't want to eat that. Most likely nobody would want to eat that. But that's what's happening when you go hunting with lead," Dr. Arnemo said, adding that the lack of a policy for inspecting lead-shot meat for lead contamination is consistent with science denial pushed by organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).</p>
Jon Arnemo, wildlfe veterinarian and professor at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, transports a moose that he hunted with non-lead ammunition. (Credit: Jon M. Arnemo)<p>In 2017, the NRA encouraged members to oppose a <a href="https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/ProposedAmendment/11232" target="_blank">proposed amendment</a> to a <a href="https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2525/Introduced" target="_blank">House Bill</a> under consideration by the Oregon Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. The amendment proposed to deem donated game meat "unfit for human consumption" if it contained visible lead ammunition. The NRA <a href="https://www.nraila.org/articles/20170522/oregon-vote-rescheduled-on-anti-hunting-amendment" target="_blank">claimed</a> the amendment was "anti-hunting", "an attempt to demonize the use of traditional lead ammunition", and said that "the myths surrounding the use of traditional lead ammunition are based on faulty science made by anti-hunting advocates."</p><p>"If you oppose lead ammunition, you are immediately regarded as anti-gun and anti-hunting. I am a hunter. I have been hunting all my life, for more than 45 years. So I'm not anti-gun. I'm not anti-hunting. I'm simply anti-lead because it's poisonous," Dr. Arnemo said.</p><p>The NRA's website, HuntForTruth, claims to debunk the 'myths' about lead in hunted meat. According to Dr. Arnemo, "The statements are unbelievable and parallel arguments used by The Flat Earth Society. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus—a huge majority of the scientific community that agree on the facts here. For lead ammunition, it's a 99 percent consensus – 99 out of 100 papers agree that the use of lead ammunition poses a risk to both humans and wildlife and the environment.To say there's no proof or no problem just denies 1,000 papers published over the past 30-40 years."</p><p>The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.</p><p>Dr. Arnemo said there are numerous peer-reviewed experiments on animals, epidemiological papers on humans, and case reports in human medicine showing that ingestion of lead from ammunition causes increased blood levels. And when it comes to lead, the impacts of exposure cannot be undone. "All the damage you see that lead causes to the nervous system, kidneys, to the cardiovascular system, is permanent. It's not reversible. So even if at some point in time if you completely stop lead exposure, the damage is there forever. You can't reverse it."</p>
Food distribution site set up by the Des Moines Area Religious Council at Carver Elementary School in March 2020. (Credit: Phil Roeder/flickr)
Environmental injustice<p>Food insecurity has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Black, Latino, and Native American people are more severely <a href="https://www.cbpp.org/black-and-latino-households-likelier-to-experience-food-insufficiency-during-pandemic-3" target="_blank">impacted</a> than White people. Osborne Jelks emphasized this racial disparity, and said that when people who cannot afford to feed their families are forced to sacrifice food safety, it is a matter of environmental justice.</p><p>"Given what we've seen in other situations where meat has been contaminated, it's an issue of justice with respect to there not being policies in place—with agencies not taking the responsibility for ensuring that this food supply is safe. I think about the families that are perhaps most in need of resources from food banks, I think about communities that are already impacted by a number of different stressors, whether they be environmental stressors in their community or these kind of social stressors inclusive of income, that complicate things and make these communities more vulnerable to environmental health risks." </p><p>Stephes said this has been part of the reasoning behind MDA's inspection program, "This venison provides a healthy protein source for an underserved part of the public that tends to struggle in many ways ... some may even have a greater risk of lead-associated problems. We do not know the effects of lead until years after the exposure—some of the health effects can be discovered down the road and may be significant. That's what's challenging and unique about lead. It's especially risky with children and pregnant women, as well as adults who have kidney and heart-related risks to their health." </p><p>Osborne Jelks sees a need for swift action to ensure that lead-hunted meat is screened for lead contamination. Dr. Arnemo pointed out that there is another option to keep lead out of food banks. "There is a very easy solution to this if the hunters switch to lead-free bullets," he said. "It's very easy. Lead-free are as good as the lead-based bullets. The killing efficiency is similar, the bullets behave in the same way, they kill the animals in the same amount of time."</p><p> As for food banks that plan to provide uninspected, lead-shot meat in the coming months, Osborne Jelks said, "I think it sends a message that certain parts of our population are expendable. That there isn't enough concern about making sure those families are safe, about making sure that the food being distributed is safe." </p><p>Meanwhile, this winter in Minnesota, Stephes will be overseeing the process of discarding lead-contaminated meat. "We are focused on public health; it is supported by multiple health agencies. That's our job." </p>
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El cambio climático seguirá ampliando las brechas en la seguridad alimentaria, según un nuevo estudio
Con tormentas al Este e incendios forestales al Oeste, la crisis climática está actualmente en el foco de la conciencia pública. Pero además de estas catástrofes, existe otra amenaza perniciosa que viene con el calentamiento del clima: la disminución del rendimiento de los cultivos a nivel mundial.
Cantidad de Calorías vs. Alimentos Saludables<p>La carga desigual que enfrentarán los países más pobres no es una sorpresa, afirmó a EHN Ephraim Nkonya, un economista agrícola del Instituto Internacional de Investigación de Políticas Alimentarias que no participó en el estudio. Es bien sabido que el cambio climático afecta de manera desproporcionada a las naciones más pobres; y también afecta de manera desproporcionada a las comunidades más pobres dentro de las naciones. El cambio climático, al exacerbar las desigualdades de ingresos y riqueza, por supuesto ampliará las disparidades en la seguridad alimentaria, declaró Ephraim Nkonya .</p><p>Pero Nkonya cuestiona si la ingesta calórica debería usarse como una indicación de seguridad alimentaria. "El pensamiento actual es que realmente necesitamos enfocarnos en una dieta saludable". Dijo que la FAO ha cambiado su enfoque en los últimos años de aumentar la ingesta calórica en áreas con inseguridad alimentaria a fomentar sistemas que produzcan dietas accesibles y saludables. El simple hecho de aumentar la ingesta calórica promedio de una nación no se traduce necesariamente en una nación con mayor seguridad alimentaria, afirmó, y depender de una medida como la ingesta calórica perjudicaría el bienestar de la población.</p><p>Por ejemplo, Nkonya cita el informe "El estado de la seguridad alimentaria y la nutrición en el mundo 2020" de la FAO e indica que alrededor del 60 por ciento de la población del África subsahariana no puede permitirse una dieta saludable. Esa información se pierde si solo se observa la producción y el consumo calórico promedio, que han ido en aumento.</p>
Agricultor en Indonesia, uno de los países que resulto mas afectado negativamente en el nuevo estudio. (Crédito: defika hendri/Unsplash)
Comparaciones de cultivos<p>Independientemente de los países, el estudio muestra que hay cultivos que pueden tanto perjudicarse como también beneficiarse. Los modelos muestran que no todos los cultivos responderán por igual al aumento de las temperaturas, y que los rendimientos de cultivos como la cebada, el mijo y la canola reaccionarán de manera bastante volátil. Los cultivos más robustos fueron la yuca, la papa y la soja, para los cuales los modelos predicen que un aumento de 1 grado Celsius en la temperatura ayudará a los rendimientos casi universalmente.</p><p>Los resultados también mostraron simetría en el sentido de que los cambios dramáticos negativos en el rendimiento de los cultivos en algunos países para un cultivo en particular, también irían acompañados de fuertes cambios positivos en el rendimiento en otros países. Para el rendimiento de la producción del arroz, por ejemplo, un aumento de la temperatura de 1 grado Celsius predijo una disminución en el rendimiento de la producción de aproximadamente el 20 por ciento en India, pero un aumento de rendimiento de aproximadamente el 10 por ciento en Rusia.</p><p>Estos datos nos muestran dónde deben concentrarse los esfuerzos futuros y en qué cultivos deben enfocarse al planificar estrategias agrícolas teniendo en cuenta el cambio climático, indicó Agnolucci. En el caso de la India, el arroz es un alimento tan importante desde el punto de vista cultural, pero puede que no valga la pena invertir los recursos y tratar de mantener sus niveles de cosecha. Pero, "una sustitución en la producción no implica necesariamente que deba haber una sustitución del consumo", agregó. Por el contrario, es más probable que "la estrategia ganadora requiera una combinación de cosas, incluido cambiar la producción a un cultivo diferente y exportar ese cultivo mientras se importa arroz".</p><p>El estudio tiene sus limitaciones. Por ejemplo, no todos los países tienen datos completos y confiables sobre el rendimiento de los cultivos o las prácticas agrícolas estándar. Además, los modelos estadísticos no pudieron dar cuenta de los cambios dinámicos en las tierras agrícolas que ocurrirían a medida que cambie el clima. Su modelo sólo representa cómo reaccionará la tierra cultivable existente con las temperaturas cambiantes, cuando en realidad, un clima más cálido cambiará el área y la ubicación de la tierra cultivable con el tiempo. Por último, Agnolucci declaró que los datos que utilizaron eran números promediados entre países, lo que borró cualquier matiz o variabilidad en países grandes como Estados Unidos o China, etc.</p><p>Nkonya difiere con todas estas generalizaciones, y específicamente con una línea en el estudio: "En 10 de los 18 cultivos evaluados en este estudio, un aumento de 10 milímetros en la precipitación induce una disminución en los rendimientos, evaluados en la media global, mientras que en el resto de cultivos el impacto es positivo ".</p><p>Esa línea es contradictoria, declaró Nkonya, probablemente porque la media global que usaron nuevamente oculta la realidad de los países más pobres. Es casi seguro que ese promedio no refleja la realidad de los países más pobres y secos, donde un aumento de las precipitaciones aumentará casi definitivamente el rendimiento de los cultivos. Tales generalizaciones no son útiles, afirmó, y posiblemente sean contraproducentes cuando se trata de iniciativas de seguridad alimentaria.</p><p>Agnolucci reconoce y considera que futuras investigaciones se desarrollarán y mejorará la precisión de los datos y mostrarán mayores matices. Es de esperar que estos datos, indicó, permitan a los países y las comunidades adaptar un conjunto de herramientas y estrategias para satisfacer sus propias necesidades y combatir los desafíos agrícolas relacionados con el clima. Después de todo, afirma, "aquí no hay una varita mágica".</p>
With storms to the east and wildfires to the west, the climate crisis is currently at the forefront of public consciousness. But aside from dramatic disasters there is another, pernicious threat that comes with a warming climate: diminishing global crop yields.
Counting calories vs. healthy foods<p>The unequal burden poorer countries will face is no surprise, <a href="https://www.ifpri.org/profile/ephraim-nkonya" target="_blank">Ephraim Nkonya</a>, an agricultural economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute who was not involved in the study, told EHN. It is well known that climate change <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/116/20/9808" target="_blank">disproportionately affects poorer nations</a>; it also disproportionately affects <a href="https://www.un.org/esa/desa/papers/2017/wp152_2017.pdf" target="_blank">poorer communities within nations</a>. Climate change, by exacerbating income and wealth inequalities, will of course widen food security disparities, he said.</p><p>But Nkonya questions whether caloric intake should be used as an indication of food security. "The current thinking is that we really need to look at a healthy diet." He said the FAO has pivoted their focus in recent years from raising caloric intake in food insecure areas to fostering systems that yield accessible, healthy diets. Simply raising a nation's average caloric intake does not translate necessarily to a more food secure nation, he said, and relying on a measure like caloric intake obscures population well-being.</p><p>For example, Nkonya quotes the FAO's "<a href="http://www.fao.org/3/ca9692en/online/ca9692en.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020</a>" report and said that around 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford a healthy diet. That information is lost if you only look at average caloric production and consumption, which have been on the rise.</p>
Farmer in Indonesia, which was one of the countries found to be most negatively impacted in the new study. (Credit: defika hendri/Unsplash)
Crop comparisons<p>Beyond countries, the study shows that there are losing and winning crops, too. The models show that not all crops will respond equally to rising temperatures, with yields for crops like barley, millet and rapeseed reacting quite volatilely. More robust crops were cassava, potatoes and soybeans—those for which the models predict that a 1 degree Celsius raise in temperature will help yields almost universally.</p> <p>The results also showed symmetry in that dramatic negative crop yield changes in some countries for one crop would also be accompanied by strong positive yield changes in other countries. For rice yields, for example, a 1 degree Celsius temperature rise predicted an approximate 20 percent yield decrease in India, but an approximate 10 percent yield increase in Russia. </p> <p>These data show us where future efforts need to be concentrated, and which crops need to be focused on when planning agricultural strategies with climate change in mind, said Agnolucci. In India's case, rice is such a culturally important food, but it may not be worth the resources to double down and try to maintain their crop levels. But, "a substitution in production does not necessarily imply there needs to be a substitution of consumption," he added. Rather, it's more likely that "the winning strategy might take a combination of things, including shifting the production to a different crop and exporting that crop while importing rice." </p> <p>The study has its limitations. Not every country has comprehensive, reliable data on crop yield or standard farming practices, for one. Also the statistical models could not account for the dynamic changes in farmland that will occur as the climate changes. Their model only represents how existing arable land will react with changing temperatures, when in reality, a warming climate will shift the area and location of farmable land over time. Lastly, Agnolucci said that the data they used were numbers averaged across nations, which erased any nuance or variability across large countries such as the U.S. or China, and so on. </p> <p>Nkonya takes greatest issue with all these generalizations, and specifically with one line in the study: "In 10 of the 18 crops assessed in this study, an increase of 10 millimeters in precipitation induces a decrease in the yields, evaluated at the global mean, while in the remaining crops the impact is positive."</p> <p>That line is counterintuitive, said Nkonya, likely because the global mean they used again obscures the reality for poorer countries. That average almost certainly does not reflect the reality of poorer, drier countries where an increase in precipitation will almost definitely increase crop yields. Such generalizations are not helpful, he said, and possibly counterproductive when it comes to food security initiatives.</p> <p>Agnolucci concedes, and believes that further research will build upon and improve the accuracy of the data and show greater nuance. These data, he said, will hopefully allow countries and communities to tailor toolkits and strategies to meet their own needs and combat climate-related agricultural challenges. After all, he says, "there is no magic wand here." </p>
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