UNDERSTANDING THE FACTS IN THE FOOD
MARKET By Juliette Enfield, Penn State Extension Educator
in Warren County
Printed in the Live Fresh Live Local Tab of The
July 16, 2014
Today making the decision about what food to buy is a challenging
one. There are many concerns about human health and the health
of the environment. One study found that 92% of consumers consider
healthier lifestyle habits and effects on the environment when
making purchases (Hartman, 2011). Of course, some customers are
more heavily involved in sustainable purchasing than others. But
what exactly does sustainable mean? There is not an easy answer.
Eating Locally Grown Foods
Eating locally grown foods is a way to support local businesses
and eat high quality food. It also means eating with the seasons:
strawberries in June, pumpkins in October, and maybe even giving
up those tasty items that cannot be grown locally such as pineapple
or avocado. In terms of economics, how do you determine whether
local purchases really keep money locally or not? Several economic
analyses have addressed this question. They have found that small
local businesses do provide greater long term economic growth
than their larger national or multi-national counterparts (Penn
State News, 2011). Small local businesses (10-99 employees owned
by residents or businesses with headquarters in the same state)
tend to hire within the community and rely on other small local
businesses for their business needs. Large companies tend to be
self-reliant when it comes to accounting, manufacturing, shipping,
legal needs, etc. However, this is not just a case of good guy
versus bad guy. The economic benefit of locally owned businesses
diminishes as the business grows. This is a natural part of business
growth and expansion. Another natural part of business growth
and expansion is the shift from high quality to high quantity.
This is why the food at large box stores is cheaper than when
you purchase it directly from a local farmer, but it may not be
as flavorful or unique. Large businesses and small businesses
definitely have their distinctions, and it is up to you to decide
what kind of food purchase you are willing to make.
The GMO Debate
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. A genetically modified
organism is created through a laboratory process in which genes
with desirable traits are inserted into plant genes in order to
create resistance to diseases which could otherwise devastate
a crop. Genetically modified organisms in agriculture include
plants such as corn, wheat, rice, soy, cotton and many fruits
and vegetables. Humans have been breeding plants for desirable
traits for thousands of years, so why is genetic modification
so controversial? Genetically modifying foods is a revolutionary
technology that started being used in the 90s, and since then
many profound questions have been raised about where exactly this
movement is headed. These genetically modified organisms are patented
by the companies that create them. Concerns include gene ownership,
few players in the seed patenting industry, and the effects of
GMO plants on the environment. Because of these concerns, consumers
are currently pushing for the labeling of genetically modified
foods and food products so that they can choose whether to purchase
them or not.
Every year 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from consuming food or beverages
that are contaminated with bacteria or viruses. These bacteria
and viruses can come from humans, from animals, and from the environment.
There have been many incidences of bacteria and viruses being
spread from food that is moved in large volumes and passed through
a complex supply chain. In 2011, 100 people in 26 states became
sick from eating cantaloupes tainted with the bacteria Listeria
monocytogenes. Officials said that the likely cause of contamination
was from cleaning equipment that was not properly sanitized (LaJeunesse,
2014). Incidents like this have weakened consumer confidence in
our global food economy, in which the consumer is far removed
from the farms where their food was produced. Concerns like these
have caused consumers to want to see where their food is coming
from, which is one reason why small locally farmed food has grown
in popularity. However, there are still food safety concerns even
with small local producers. Food safety is a very real concern,
and any business must have the confidence of their consumers to
What are Organic foods?
Consumers are not only concerned with bacteria and viruses making
them ill, but there is also a concern about pesticide residue
creeping in to our bodies or our ecosystems without us knowing
it. "Organic" is a term that was not officially recognized
by the US Government until the 90s. Today, for a farm to be called
organic, they must follow certain procedures that enhance biodiversity
on the farm and minimize off-farm inputs such as fertilizers or
pesticides. The farm must also go through a rigorous ongoing inspection
process through the USDA and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
There are also requirements for eggs to be labeled as "cage-free",
chicken to be labeled "free range", and for beef to
be labeled "grass-fed". Because of the time and money
involved in gaining to rights to this label, or because some farmers
disprove of the requirements, farmers have created their own certifying
labels such as Certified Naturally Grown, or Pesticide Free. And
there are many more labels than just the ones that I have mentioned
here, each one with its own set of standards and practices. Are
you confused yet as to what you will accept and what you will
not? All businesses must have competition, and in the process,
these marketing messages can be confusing. One of the best advantages
of shopping at a farmers market or farm stand is that you can
actually talk directly to the farmer and ask them about their
As you can see, the answer to sustainability is a complicated
one. However, there is one common thread through all of these
issues, and that is the desire of the modern consumer to know
where their food is coming from. If it has been a while since
you were at a farm, I recommend making a trip to meet a farmer
soon. In Warren County, there are 830 farms, and many of them
belong to our friends and neighbors. Seeing the farm and meeting
the farmer will give you greater confidence when considering what
kind of food to buy. For a list of farms in Warren County, visit
the WarrenAg website at www.warrenag.org.
Hartman, H. 2011. "Trends in Consumer Demand". The
Hartman Group. http://vsp.lf.dk/~/media/Files/Kongres%202011/Indlaeg%20fra%20foredragsholdere/Foredrag20_HarveyHartman.ashx
Accessed June 30, 2014.
LaJeunesse, S. "Outbreak". Penn State AgScience Magazine.
Spring 2014. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park,
Penn State News. "Locally owned small businesses pack powerful
economic punch." August 2011. http://news.psu.edu/story/156452/2011/08/04/research/locally-owned-small-businesses-pack-powerful-economic-punch
Accessed July 3, 2014.
FARM BILL By JACOB PERRYMAN (firstname.lastname@example.org),
The Times Observer
February 3, 2014
Direct payment programs are out, expanded insurance
programs are in.
A 600-plus page, five-year farm bill is well on its way to passing
after more than two years of negotiation was capped by a joint
House-Senate conference committee's agreement on measures to reconcile
the two chambers' differing bills Monday.
The compromise measure, officially titled the Federal Agriculture
Reform and Risk Management Act, passed the House on Wednesday
and now moves to the senate. If the Senate assents to the compromise
agreement, the reconciled farm bill will move on to the President
While much of the discussion of the measure has centered around
changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),
popularly known as food stamps, the measure makes significant
changes to programs more in line with its popular title, namely
The bill will put an end to the controversial direct payment
program, in which farmers receive subsidies whether they grow
crops or not. The direct payment program subsidies have grown
to account for approximately $5 billion in government spending
in recent years.
Left in place, and in some cases expanded, are insurance programs
meant to help shield farmers from unexpected crop losses and market
A similar approach was taken with livestock and dairy production.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, who represents Warren County and was chosen
as part of the joint House-Senate conference committee, said the
change represented a shift to a more "free-market" approach.
"We did eliminate a number of subsidies," Thompson
said. "In exchange, we implemented more of a free-market
approach. Actually, a risk-management approach of margin insurance."
Thompson, who sits on the House Committee on Agriculture, discussed
the shift and how it would impact dairy production in particular.
"It is the number on segment of agriculture in Pennsylvania
and it's one that, I think, is probably one of those at highest
risk," he said. "Between 2001 and 2009 in the nation,
we lost one-third of our dairy farms. They became fallow ground.
They became housing developments, parking lots. That's a fast
way to insecurity."
Thompson attributed the losses to market fluctuations.
"A big part of that was the volatility in the payments that
farmers received for fluid milk. That's measured as a hundred
weight, a hundred pounds of fluid milk," Thompson noted.
"Subsidies is how we were trying to manage this. It was just
broken. Because of volatility, sometimes prices would be high
enough to cover costs. Sometimes it would be low. So my goal with
dairy was to take that volatility out of milk. So that they (dairy
producers) can have some certainty to make a decent living after
working so hard, like they do, seven days-a-week."
Approaching that issue through insurance wasn't a universally
popular move, according to Thompson.
"We had some controversy with that," he recalled. "There
were some in Washington that wanted to attach supply management
to the policy. Basically, the government would dictate to farmers
how much milk they could produce and, essentially, when they had
to slaughter their cows, because you can't turn a cow off. It's
got to be milked every day if you have it. So we did prevent supply
management and we did successfully, with what we passed out of
the House and I think next week the Senate is going to concur
with this, some really positive changes to dairy."
The bill also provides expanded programs aimed at providing incentives
for individuals to enter agriculture, including expanded farm
ownership loans and changes to requirements to qualify for loans
for operational costs and first-time farmers and ranchers.
By way of further cost-saving, the bill introduces new income
limitations for payment of agricultural benefits, including lower
yearly income caps for those receiving such benefits.
In general, Thompson noted passing the farm bill is an important
step, especially for rural Pennsylvania.
"I got involved in this, probably, the same way I got involved
with the forestry committee," he said. "The chairman
knew it was important to my congressional district and Pennsylvania.
I have a lot of things that I'm very proud that are now, when
the Senate passes it and the President signs it, that will be
enacted as legislation.
"It's a food bill and jobs bills, especially in Pennsylvania
where one-in-seven jobs, those are jobs directly or indirectly
contributable to farming. It's the number on industry in PA. So
I'm very excited for what this means for the economy, for jobs,
and, quite frankly, to have access to high-quality, affordable
and safe food. Not just in Pennsylvania, but throughout the United
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