When the California State Fair, Sacramento, opens Friday, Aug. 15 for an 18-day run, don't miss...
With 85 days till the November election, cackling continues in the media over Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. The proposed law would bar veal crates, battery cages, sow gestation crates and any enclosure that prevents animals from turning around, standing up or spreading their wings.
Fresno Bee reporter Dennis Pollock called it a "study in cage fighting" when he reported on what he termed "dueling news releases."
In his column, Pollock wrote, "The headline on a release from the University of California: 'UC study: If passed, initiative likely to drive egg production out of state.' . . . the Humane Society of the United States countered with: 'New UC Davis study claims Prop 2 is good for consumers ...'
According to the Daily News, Tehama County farmer Zach Whitten is in favor of the initiative. Whitten will be unaffected by the law. He uses a system called "range confinement," housing chickens in cages large enough to let them wander around and dust themselves.
The story quotes the UC Agricultural Issues Center study, saying that the Proposition could raise in-state egg costs by 20 percent for the farmer and 25 percent for the consumer, but that grocery store prices will be stable as out-of-state producers send more eggs over the state line.
The Fresno Bee story noted that the Merced County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose the initiative.
An article in the North (San Diego) County Times, which also pulled information from the AIC study, quoted two egg producers:
"We won't be in operation anymore," Ryan Armstrong, vice president of operations for Armstrong Egg Farms in Valley Center, predicted. "We'd have to buy hundreds of acres to supply as many eggs as we do now. At $50,000 an acre, it gets pretty expensive."
The cost of compliance would be "prohibitive," according Kevin Demler, whose Pine Hill Egg Ranch in Ramona is the largest in the county, with 1 million hens.
The New York Times reported that China's ban on California strawberries has been lifted during the Olympics at the request of athletes who know what's good for them.
Chinese farmers produce strawberries for just two months of the year; California offers them year-round. This week the state sent 450 pounds of berries, the first of 35 or so shipments, officials said, according to the Times article.
In the brief story, writer Jennifer Steinhauer apparently didn't have the space to mention the key role University of California scientists have had in developing California's robust strawberry industry. About 80 percent of the strawberry varieties grown on 30,000 acres in California, stretching from San Diego County to San Mateo County, were developed by University of California breeders. For more on the UC connection with California strawberries, see this UC Delivers article.
For food policy and public health wonks, the summer of 2008 will go down in the books, and California is leading the way. On July 27th, I blogged about the state's newly passed legislation requiring restaurants to cook without artery-clogging trans fats. http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=532In
On July 29th, the Los Angeles City Council approved a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a move that was not without controversy. And just yesterday, August 7th, Los Angeles County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich announced a proposal that will require fast food and chain restaurants to provide calorie counts for their menu items. While the legislation would only apply to unincorporated areas of the county, it would affect millions of residents. It comes to a vote next week, and is anticipated to receive a strong endorsement from the Los Angeles City Council.
Is this good public policy? Or do these measures represent the worst aspects of what some term the "nanny state?"
I don't claim to have the answers to these difficult questions, but I have reviewed a variety of statistics in the last two days. And after considering these statistics, I do understand why Los Angeles policy makers and legislators are feeling compelled to make some changes.
According to Los Angeles County Public Health statistics, the percentage of obese adults in the county increased from 14.3 percent in 1997 to 20.9 percent in 2005. So what does this mean?
This figure represents a lot of people. Per some sources, Los Angeles County is the most populous in the nation, with more than 10 million residents. (To give you an idea of the bigness of that figure, 27% of California's 38 million residents live in LA County).
It's got a young population, too: 28% of LA County residents are under the age of 18, and nearly 40% of the population is under the age of 24. About 15% of the county's population lives below the poverty line. (And that number is conservative: it doesn't reflect the alarming increase in families being pushed below the poverty line as the price of food and fuel skyrockets). 1 in 4 children living in the county are included in that sad statistic. And a significant percent of the county's population is uninsured; per the County's Public Health Department, 1 in 4 Los Angeles County children lack health insurance.
And many of those children desperately need medical care, because the childhood obesity rate in Los Angeles County is high. Based on California Physical Fitness testing assessments mandated for 5th, 7th and 9th graders, more than 1 in 5 of the county's students are obese. An excellent community survey conducted by the County's Department of Public Health http://lacounty.info/omd/q3_2007/cms1_077502.pdf showed a strong correlation between childhood obesity and economic hardship. This means that if you are a child living in poverty in Los Angeles County, you are more likely to be obese, for a number of reasons.
Will banning trans fats, providing moratoriums on fast food in poorer neighborhoods and requiring menu labeling help solve these problems?
I don't know, but it bears watching.
In the meantime, I've seen little legislation that promotes school, home and community gardening. That bears watching, too. Because banning "bad" foods is not the real solution. Providing healthier choices is...healthier choices like the fruits and vegetables that can be grown in a school, home or community garden.
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."
I'm standing in line at the photo center, waiting to pay for the dozen 8x10 photos of noted...