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‘Use-by’ dates: A myth that needs busting

Dana Gunders, Grist
Here’s a superbly kept secret: You know all those dates you see on food products that say “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before”? Those dates do not indicate the safety of your food, and generally speaking, they’re not regulated.

I couldn’t believe it either, but a quick look at USDA’s food labeling site confirms that the only product for which “use-by” dates are federally regulated is infant formula. Beyond that, some states regulate dates for some products, but generally “use-by” and “best-by” dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality.

… “Sell-by” dates are equally problematic. The goal of sell-by dates is to help stores stock and shelve their goods. Sell-by dates are designed to indicate a product is still fresh enough for a consumer to take it home and keep in their fridge for days or weeks. Most stores discard products as soon as they’re past their sell-by dates. It’s understandable. Many consumers would balk at buying something with an expired date, especially since they may not understand the date’s meaning.

But the cost of this waste is significant. In American Wasteland, a book that examines the massive quantities of food we waste from farm to fork, an industry expert estimates grocery stores discard $2,300 worth of “out-of-date” food goods each day. Even worse, the waste continues at home, since many consumers also misinterpret this date and discard products with weeks of good shelf life remaining. And all that adds up to a huge amount of wasted resources, with serious impacts to our land, air, and water.
(18 November 2011)

Young Farmers Find Huge Obstacles to Getting Started

Isolde Raftery, New York Times
Emily Oakley, who had worked on an organic farm in California, moved with her husband, Mike Appel, to Oaks, Okla., in pursuit of cheap farmland. But even though they had $25,000 saved, the couple could not get a bank loan. When they applied for a government loan, the loan officer threw back his head and laughed.

“He’d never met anybody coming in for a loan for an organic vegetable production,” Ms. Oakley said. “He thought, ‘These are young, naïve, romantic, idealistic kids who didn’t know what they’re getting themselves into.’ ”

Similar stories prompted the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, a new group that has grown out of the Hudson Valley in New York, to survey more than 1,000 young farmers nationwide in an effort to identify the pitfalls that are keeping a new generation of Americans from going into agriculture.

“Everyone wants young farmers to succeed — we all know that,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, who oversaw the survey.“But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.”

Ms. Shute’s husband, Benjamin, runs Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley, which delivers seasonal produce to 500 families. Ms. Shute said she hoped that the survey results, released on Wednesday, would demonstrate to the United States Department of Agriculture and to Congress that young farmers, although passionate, have needs that must be addressed.

The obstacles are formidable.

At Quincy Farm in upstate New York, Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver say they are living their dream, harvesting cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots on a 49-acre property on the Hudson River. Still, even after three years of farming, Ms. Fraver, 30, waits tables, and Mr. Deikis, 31, moonlights as an engineer in the film industry, occasionally driving three and a half hours to Manhattan to pay the bills.
(12 November 2011)
EB contributor Jeffrey Brown writes:

“It would seem to me that we are entering a period of “Revolving Door” politics in OECD countries, as voters periodically turn against the party in power, in effect hoping–without realizing it–that someone can figure out a way to maintain an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil fuel resource base (and bring back cheap oil), while Global Net Exports and Available Net Exports of oil will probably show an accelerating rate of decline.

“As voters periodically change the makeup of the officers on the bridge of the Titanic, I have concluded (Sharon Astyk and many other people were there long before me) that perhaps we should be focused on encouraging vocational and agricultural training in high schools and community colleges. An article from the NYT follows.”


Processed Food Industry Shows USDA Who’s Boss in the Cafeteria

Ed Bruske,
First it was potatoes. Now it’s pizza. The processed food industry is reaching out to its friends in Congress to scuttle new USDA guidelines that were supposed to make school meals healthier.

Politico reports that House and Senate negotiators are likely to approve agriculture appropriations language that would allow the tomato paste on pizza to be counted as a vegetable serving under the USDA’s new school meal guidelines. Count this as the result of lobbying efforts by processed food giants ConAgra and Schwan Food. Schwan is one of the world’s largest purveyors of frozen pizza and pitching for its sauce is Sen. Amy Knobluchar, Democrat of Minnesota, where Schwan is based.

The new pizza rule comes quick on the heels of a Senate amendment prohibiting the USDA from limiting the amount of potatoes served in school meals. That was pushed by senators from potato producing states Maine and Colorado.

These latest broadsides against the USDA rule-making process–inserting Congress as micro-manager and protector of economic interests over kids’ health–point up the pitfalls of trying to use meal standards written in Washington as a way to dictate what kids eat. It also provides a vivid illustration of what happens when you go after the foods kids most love in the lunch line.
(18 November 2011)