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In an apparent about-face, EWG’s new rating system gives top scores to fresh produce

The Environmental Working Group, best known for lambasting fresh produce with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list, has released a new food database and smart phone app that recommends eating the same produce it has been railing against for years.

The “Food Scores” app rates about 80,000 foods on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being the best and 10 the worst. Only 18 percent of the foods, including most fresh fruits and vegetables, received the highest rating (1-3.5), while 57 percent scored in the middle range (4-7) and 25 percent were ranked in the worst category of 8-10.

EWG calls the new tool “the most comprehensive food-rating database available to consumers.” The scoring system factors in nutritional information as well as food additives, such as sugar, and contaminants, such as pesticides. It also estimates the degree to which foods have been processed.

“When you think about healthy food, you have to think beyond the Nutrition Facts panel,” Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research, said in a press release. “It doesn’t always tell the whole story. EWG’s Food Scores shows that certain foods that we think are good for us may actually be much less so because they contain questionable food additives or toxic contaminants.”  

According to the press release, the new app is designed to “guide people to greener, healthier and cleaner food choices” by providing “highly detailed information” on how each food stacks up in terms of nutritional content and whether they contain questionable additives, such as nitrites or potassium bromate, or harmful contaminants, such as arsenic and mercury, and which foods have the lowest and highest processing concerns. The app also identifies meat and dairy products that are likely produced with antibiotics and hormones and highlights the fruits and vegetables that are likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues.

In perusing the scoring, it appears that the system is especially harsh on added sugars while giving much better scores to items that are not processed. And while the system notes the fresh produce items that regularly make the group’s “Dirty Dozen” list for excessive pesticides, those fruits and vegetables don’t appear to be harshly judged for their appearance on that list.

For example, cherry tomatoes made the “Dirty Dozen” list this year coming in 10th place with the note that a single sample tested positive for 13 different pesticides. Yet a 10.5 ounce package of cherry tomatoes scored a 1.5 in the EWG Food Scores system, which places it high in the “Best” category.

The notes about this particular pack of cherry tomatoes do state that the produce is on “EWG’s Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residues” but also gives the product good marks for no processing, no additives and being “one of the most nutritious vegetables for the lowest cost.”

The cherry tomato listing also contains this information that is included in all the fresh produce listings: “Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a healthy diet.”

While the Food Score listings do differentiate between organic and conventional items, the scores are typically very similar.

For example an eight-ounce container of both organic and conventional mushrooms from different companies receive the highest 1.0 rating. The same is true for many different packaged salad products, which all received very high marks (typically between 1.0 and 1.5), though both organic and conventional packs are included and as are many different blends.

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a produce industry trade group that has waged a concerted battle for several years against the publicity the “Dirty Dozen” list has received, weighed in on EWG’s new effort.

“In light of this new ‘best’ ranking for organic and conventional produce and EWG’s new and very strong statement regarding the need for increased consumption, we are hopeful this means they will discontinue their annual release of the so-called ‘Dirty Dozen’ list,” Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance, said in a press release. “This ‘best’ ranking is a very positive step by EWG and we look forward to them continuing this trend by dropping their list, which only confuses consumers about produce safety.”

Dolan also praised EWG’s new statement promoting increased consumption of organic and conventional produce.

EWG now states, “Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables–especially dark green, red and orange varieties, as well as beans and peas–is an essential part of a healthy diet. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and some types of cancers (USDA and DHHS 2010). Fruits and vegetables are also key sources of potassium and dietary fiber — nutrients that many Americans do not get enough of. Perhaps that’s because on average, Americans eat only 42 percent and 59 percent of the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables, respectively (USDA and DHHS 2010), making them one of the few foods we should all eat more of.”

Dolan said it is an important step that EWG is adopting the same health message put forth by the Alliance and many other health experts.

No spokesperson for EWG was available to comment on the new app.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Automated imaging system looks underground to help improve crops

Plant scientists are working to improve important food crops such as rice, maize, and beans to meet the food needs of a growing world population. However, boosting crop output will require improving more than what can be seen of these plants above the ground. Root systems are essential to gathering water and nutrients, but understanding what’s happening in these unseen parts of the plants has until now depended mostly on lab studies and subjective field measurements.

To address that need, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Penn State University have developed an automated imaging technique for measuring and analyzing the root systems of mature plants. The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, uses advanced computer technology to analyze photographs taken of root systems in the field. The imaging and software are designed to give scientists the statistical information they need to evaluate crop improvement efforts.

“We’ve produced an imaging system to evaluate the root systems of plants in field conditions,” said Alexander Bucksch, a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia Tech School of Biology and School of Interactive Computing. “We can measure entire root systems for thousands of plants to give geneticists the information they need to search for genes with the best characteristics.”

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP) and Basic Research to Enable Agriculture Development (BREAD), the Howard Buffett Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Center for Data Analytics at Georgia Tech. The research was reported as the cover story in the October issue of the journal Plant Physiology.

Beyond improving food crops, the technique could also help improve plants grown for energy production, materials, and other purposes.

Root systems are complicated and vary widely even among plants of the same species. Analyzing critical root properties in field-grown plants has depended on manual measurements, which vary with observer. In contrast, automated measurements have the potential to provide enhanced statistical information for plant improvement.

Imaging of root systems has, until now, largely been done in the laboratory, using seedlings grown in small pots and containers. Such studies provide information on the early stages of development, and do not directly quantify the effects of realistic growing conditions or field variations in water, soil, or nutrient levels.

The technique developed by Georgia Tech and Penn State researchers uses digital photography to provide a detailed image of roots from mature plants in the field. Individual plants to be studied are dug up and their root systems washed clean of soil. The roots are then photographed against a black background using a standard digital camera pointed down from a tripod. A white fabric tent surrounding the camera system provides consistent lighting.

The resulting images are then uploaded to a server running software that analyzes the root systems for more than 30 different parameters — including the diameter of tap roots, root density, the angles of brace roots, and detailed measures of lateral roots. Scientists working in the field can upload their images at the end of a day and have spreadsheets of results ready for study the next day.

“In the lab, you are just seeing part of the process of root growth,” said Bucksch, who works in the group of Associate Professor Joshua Weitz in the School of Biology and School of Physics at Georgia Tech. “We went out to the field to see the plants under realistic growing conditions.”

Developing the digital photography technique required iterative refinements to produce consistent images that could be analyzed using computer programs. To support the goal of making the system available worldwide, it had to be simple enough for field researchers to use consistently, able to be transported in backpacks to locations without electricity, and built on inexpensive components.

In collaboration with a research team led by Jonathan Lynch, a professor of plant sciences at Penn State, the system has been evaluated in South Africa with cowpea and maize plants. With its ability to quickly gather data in the field, it was possible to evaluate a complete cowpea diversity panel. Penn State collaborator James Burridge compiled a novel cowpea reference data set that consists of approximately 1,500 excavated root systems. The data set was measured manually to validate and compare with the new computational approaches. In the future, the system could allow scientists to study crop roots over an entire growing season, potentially providing new life cycle data.

The research shows how quantitative measurement techniques from one discipline can be applied to other areas of science.

“Alexander has taken rigorous, computational principles and collaborated with leading plant root biologists from the Lynch group to study complex root structure under field conditions,” said Weitz. “In doing so, he has shown how automated methods can reveal new below-ground traits that could be targeted for breeding and improvement.”

Data generated by the new technique will be used in subsequent analyses to help understand how changes in genetics affect plant growth. For instance, certain genes may help plants survive in nitrogen-poor soils, or in areas where drought is a problem. The overall goal is to develop improved plants that can feed increasing numbers of people and provide sustainable sources of energy and materials.

“We have to feed an ever-growing population and we have to replace materials like oil-based fuels,” Bucksch said. “Integral to this change will be understanding plants and how they provide us with food and alternative materials. This imaging technique provides data needed to accomplish this.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Automated imaging system looks underground to help improve crops

Plant scientists are working to improve important food crops such as rice, maize, and beans to meet the food needs of a growing world population. However, boosting crop output will require improving more than what can be seen of these plants above the ground. Root systems are essential to gathering water and nutrients, but understanding what’s happening in these unseen parts of the plants has until now depended mostly on lab studies and subjective field measurements.

To address that need, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Penn State University have developed an automated imaging technique for measuring and analyzing the root systems of mature plants. The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, uses advanced computer technology to analyze photographs taken of root systems in the field. The imaging and software are designed to give scientists the statistical information they need to evaluate crop improvement efforts.

“We’ve produced an imaging system to evaluate the root systems of plants in field conditions,” said Alexander Bucksch, a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia Tech School of Biology and School of Interactive Computing. “We can measure entire root systems for thousands of plants to give geneticists the information they need to search for genes with the best characteristics.”

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP) and Basic Research to Enable Agriculture Development (BREAD), the Howard Buffett Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Center for Data Analytics at Georgia Tech. The research was reported as the cover story in the October issue of the journal Plant Physiology.

Beyond improving food crops, the technique could also help improve plants grown for energy production, materials, and other purposes.

Root systems are complicated and vary widely even among plants of the same species. Analyzing critical root properties in field-grown plants has depended on manual measurements, which vary with observer. In contrast, automated measurements have the potential to provide enhanced statistical information for plant improvement.

Imaging of root systems has, until now, largely been done in the laboratory, using seedlings grown in small pots and containers. Such studies provide information on the early stages of development, and do not directly quantify the effects of realistic growing conditions or field variations in water, soil, or nutrient levels.

The technique developed by Georgia Tech and Penn State researchers uses digital photography to provide a detailed image of roots from mature plants in the field. Individual plants to be studied are dug up and their root systems washed clean of soil. The roots are then photographed against a black background using a standard digital camera pointed down from a tripod. A white fabric tent surrounding the camera system provides consistent lighting.

The resulting images are then uploaded to a server running software that analyzes the root systems for more than 30 different parameters — including the diameter of tap roots, root density, the angles of brace roots, and detailed measures of lateral roots. Scientists working in the field can upload their images at the end of a day and have spreadsheets of results ready for study the next day.

“In the lab, you are just seeing part of the process of root growth,” said Bucksch, who works in the group of Associate Professor Joshua Weitz in the School of Biology and School of Physics at Georgia Tech. “We went out to the field to see the plants under realistic growing conditions.”

Developing the digital photography technique required iterative refinements to produce consistent images that could be analyzed using computer programs. To support the goal of making the system available worldwide, it had to be simple enough for field researchers to use consistently, able to be transported in backpacks to locations without electricity, and built on inexpensive components.

In collaboration with a research team led by Jonathan Lynch, a professor of plant sciences at Penn State, the system has been evaluated in South Africa with cowpea and maize plants. With its ability to quickly gather data in the field, it was possible to evaluate a complete cowpea diversity panel. Penn State collaborator James Burridge compiled a novel cowpea reference data set that consists of approximately 1,500 excavated root systems. The data set was measured manually to validate and compare with the new computational approaches. In the future, the system could allow scientists to study crop roots over an entire growing season, potentially providing new life cycle data.

The research shows how quantitative measurement techniques from one discipline can be applied to other areas of science.

“Alexander has taken rigorous, computational principles and collaborated with leading plant root biologists from the Lynch group to study complex root structure under field conditions,” said Weitz. “In doing so, he has shown how automated methods can reveal new below-ground traits that could be targeted for breeding and improvement.”

Data generated by the new technique will be used in subsequent analyses to help understand how changes in genetics affect plant growth. For instance, certain genes may help plants survive in nitrogen-poor soils, or in areas where drought is a problem. The overall goal is to develop improved plants that can feed increasing numbers of people and provide sustainable sources of energy and materials.

“We have to feed an ever-growing population and we have to replace materials like oil-based fuels,” Bucksch said. “Integral to this change will be understanding plants and how they provide us with food and alternative materials. This imaging technique provides data needed to accomplish this.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Whole Foods to Use Transcritical Refrigeration System

Coffin referred to the store last week in a webinar hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill program that addressed the Green Globes building certification program.

The transcritical system to be used by Whole Foods is the Advansor system made by Hill Phoenix, Conyers, Ga., said Keilly Witman, manager of the GreenChill program. She noted that “at least two other” supermarkets will have transcritical systems before the Whole Foods Brooklyn store, one using a system from Carnot Refrigeration, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and the other using a Hill Phoenix system.

By incorporating only carbon dioxide as their refrigerant, transcritical refrigeration systems dramatically reduce the global warming impact of refrigerant leaks, compared to leaks from conventional systems that use synthetic refrigerants. In North America, Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, has installed numerous transcritical systems in its Quebec stores, taking advantage of the better performance of the systems in colder climates. Transcritical systems are also implemented in European supermarkets.

Supermarket News

Marco pack house system increases productivity for Windset Farms in California

Marco pack house system increases productivity for Windset Farms in California

Marco’s YCM yield control equipment is bringing important productivity improvements for Windset Farms at their expansive fresh produce operation in Santa Maria, California.

Installed in 2013, the multi-line system, designed to simplify and deskill the manual packing process, is helping Windset increase throughput of their extensive range of pre-packed tomatoes. The installation features Marco’s ingenious ‘one light–one fruit’ operator display, designed to significantly increase line speeds and reduce overpack/giveaway.

Each light segment on the visual light display represents a single fruit. The YCM terminals can be pre-programmed to store different types and weights of tomato, making pack line changes very simple and rapid. As pre-packed tomatoes travel down the packing line, they are placed on the scale and then Windset operators are visually prompted to ‘add’ or ‘take out’ individual tomatoes to ensure pack weight compliance.

Windset’s Chief Operating Officer John Newell has been very impressed with the Marco solution: “Marco’s original improvement predictions at first seemed very optimistic, but we have certainly not been disappointed. The improvements in productivity and reductions in giveaway since the installation last September are dramatic. We also have gained additional benefits in terms of increased pack house visibility and we can now measure individual operator performance so that targeted training can be given where necessary.”

Marco are exhibiting at the upcoming Fruit Attraction exhibition in Madrid (October 15th-17th), stand 3E12C.

For more information:
Becky Hart 
Marco

Tel: +44 (0)1732 782 380
E-mail: [email protected]
www.marco.co.uk

Publication date: 9/19/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Strawberry monitoring system could add $1. 7 million over 10 years to some farms

A University of Florida-developed web tool can bring growers $ 1.7 million more in net profits over 10 years than a calendar-based fungicide system because it guides growers to spray their crop at optimal times, a new UF study shows.

The Strawberry Advisory System, devised by an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher, takes data such as temperature and leaf wetness and tells growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than is needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Natalia Peres, associate professor in plant pathology, who led the system’s development.

Not all strawberry growers use the system, but this research might persuade them to do so, said Tatiana Borisova, an assistant professor in UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

“The study will help additional producers to realize the benefits,” Borisova said. “Increased adoption of this system can increase the profitability of the strawberry industry in Florida, and it will help producers to stay competitive in the market.” Ekaterina Vorotnikova, a doctoral student in food and resource economics, worked on the study to identify how much the web tool could increase profits and yield by reducing spraying for anthracnose and botrytis, two of the crop’s deadliest diseases.

Using a 26-acre farm as her average, Vorotnikova took data collected at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center from 2006-2012 and put it into a 10-year model. She found that using the web tool increased net profit for strawberries with anthracnose by $ 1.7 million and $ 890,000 for those with botrytis. The increased profit stemmed mostly from decreased spraying, Borisova said.

Florida is the nation’s second-leading strawberry producer, behind California. Florida’s crop brings in $ 366 million annually, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Given that world strawberry production was worth about $ 4.3 billion in 2013, the development and adoption of expert systems for small fruit production operations can benefit millions of farmers worldwide,” Vorotnikova said.

In 2012 and 2013, a UF/IFAS survey found 96 percent of Florida’s strawberry producers said botrytis attacks their crop. Half said they get anthracnose every three to four years, while 40 percent said they get it every year. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they subscribe to text or e-mail alerts about anthracnose and botrytis risk levels from the system, Borisova said.

Traditionally, strawberry growers sprayed their crop with fungicide weekly. But this was not optimal, said John VanSickle, a UF/IFAS food and resource economics professor and a study co-author.

For example, if conditions do not induce diseases, growers sprayed unnecessarily, wasting chemicals and labor and increasing production costs. Second, if weather worsens unexpectedly, farmers might not be able spray. Third, too much fungicide helps build chemical resistance for the disease, VanSickle said.

The study, written by Vorotnikova, Borisova and VanSickle, was published online last month in the journal Agricultural Systems.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The original article was written by Brad Buck. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Strawberry monitoring system could add $1. 7 million over 10 years to some farms

A University of Florida-developed web tool can bring growers $ 1.7 million more in net profits over 10 years than a calendar-based fungicide system because it guides growers to spray their crop at optimal times, a new UF study shows.

The Strawberry Advisory System, devised by an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher, takes data such as temperature and leaf wetness and tells growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than is needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Natalia Peres, associate professor in plant pathology, who led the system’s development.

Not all strawberry growers use the system, but this research might persuade them to do so, said Tatiana Borisova, an assistant professor in UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

“The study will help additional producers to realize the benefits,” Borisova said. “Increased adoption of this system can increase the profitability of the strawberry industry in Florida, and it will help producers to stay competitive in the market.” Ekaterina Vorotnikova, a doctoral student in food and resource economics, worked on the study to identify how much the web tool could increase profits and yield by reducing spraying for anthracnose and botrytis, two of the crop’s deadliest diseases.

Using a 26-acre farm as her average, Vorotnikova took data collected at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center from 2006-2012 and put it into a 10-year model. She found that using the web tool increased net profit for strawberries with anthracnose by $ 1.7 million and $ 890,000 for those with botrytis. The increased profit stemmed mostly from decreased spraying, Borisova said.

Florida is the nation’s second-leading strawberry producer, behind California. Florida’s crop brings in $ 366 million annually, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Given that world strawberry production was worth about $ 4.3 billion in 2013, the development and adoption of expert systems for small fruit production operations can benefit millions of farmers worldwide,” Vorotnikova said.

In 2012 and 2013, a UF/IFAS survey found 96 percent of Florida’s strawberry producers said botrytis attacks their crop. Half said they get anthracnose every three to four years, while 40 percent said they get it every year. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they subscribe to text or e-mail alerts about anthracnose and botrytis risk levels from the system, Borisova said.

Traditionally, strawberry growers sprayed their crop with fungicide weekly. But this was not optimal, said John VanSickle, a UF/IFAS food and resource economics professor and a study co-author.

For example, if conditions do not induce diseases, growers sprayed unnecessarily, wasting chemicals and labor and increasing production costs. Second, if weather worsens unexpectedly, farmers might not be able spray. Third, too much fungicide helps build chemical resistance for the disease, VanSickle said.

The study, written by Vorotnikova, Borisova and VanSickle, was published online last month in the journal Agricultural Systems.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The original article was written by Brad Buck. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

FSIS Poultry Rule Requires More Pathogen Testing, Introduces Voluntary Inspection System

The new poultry inspection rule announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the rule a “longstanding effort” to “modernize our system” and said the agency is confident that it will result in safer food.

USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) already tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter, Vilsack said, but this rule requires plants to do additional testing at least twice per shift.

“They will have to pick the pathogen that they believe is a hazard within their establishment, and, being a poultry establishment, it could either be Campylobacter or Salmonella,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.

“This is extraordinarily important,” Vilsack said. “We think it will increase the chances of us detecting problems and it places a responsibility and burden on the processing facility to do additional testing.”

The New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) is based on the HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors.

“In this option, we’re moving away from a system that was devised and designed as far back as 1957, where individual inspectors are at the beginning of a line taking a look at issues that really involve quality assurance, not so much food safety,” Vilsack said. “We still have a responsibility to inspect carcasses, and we will continue to have inspectors at the end of the evisceration line doing that important inspection.”

The goal is to free up inspectors on each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules.

“They’re all going to be performing food safety tasks that are more relevant to public health and food safety than sorting duties that they’re relegated to today,” Almanza said.

After many public comments expressed concern that the proposed increased line speed of 175 birds per minute would jeopardize worker safety, FSIS responded by maintaining the maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute to match all other existing poultry inspection systems.

According to Vilsack, the plants that have been using HIMP on an experimental basis for more than a decade have an average line speed of 131 birds per minute.

“We are still looking to improve worker safety,” he said. The rule also requires plants adopting the NPIS system to set up a method of notifying employees about initial indications of injury and encouraging early reporting of injury. In addition, FSIS inspectors will be trained to watch for injuries and report concerns directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

FSIS estimates that the NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year. The system is part of the agency’s Salmonella Action Plan, unveiled last December, along with revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry and new standards for poultry parts, which will be announced later this year.

Vilsack said that the department does not have an estimate of how many companies will choose to opt in to NPIS.

“This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system for poultry into the 21st century, relying on sampling and testing, understanding the science of pathogens much better than we did in 1957, and, I think, it also reflects a department that took very seriously the comments that were provided over the last several years about this rule,” Vilsack said.

Food Safety News

Automatic orchard covering system advances cherry flowering

Automatic orchard covering system advances cherry flowering

This is the second season that trials of Cravo’s covering systems over high efficiency sweet cherry trees are being done at Michigan State University. This year, flowering in the automated orchard covering system (or retractable roof greenhouse) had advanced 15 days compared to those trees outside.

For more information:
Cravo Equipment Ltd
Benjamin Martin
Canada
Toll Free: (CDA/ US) 888 738 7228
Office:  +(1) 519 759 8226 x260
Mobile:  +(1) 905 317 3546
Skype: benjamin_cravo
[email protected]
www.cravo.com

Publication date: 6/10/2014
Author: Jannelie Bras
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

Chinese garlic scrutiny by U.S. Customs applauded, but system still flawed says shipper

In December, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection successfully investigated a Chinese garlic dumping case, and ultimately stopped Jinxiang Hejia Co. from shipping the product into the United States.

Through its investigative work, Customs discovered that the firm was not just shipping its own garlic into the United States but that other Chinese producers who did not have duty-free or reduced-duty status and were illegally using the same packing codes for their garlic.

Over a little more than a year, the company shipped more than 60 million pounds of garlic into the United States through New York and Oakland ports.

Bill Christopher, president and chief executive officer of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA, California’s largest garlic grower and shipper, said that while most major U.S. retailers no longer purchase Chinese garlic because of their own strict food-safety protocols, illegal shipments still put a huge downward pressure on the f.o.b. price of garlic in the United States.

“Chinese garlic still represents 50 percent of the garlic sold in the United States,” Christopher said.

He said very few U.S. companies import Chinese garlic into the country, but it is available on most terminal markets at a price far below U.S. garlic.

For example, on April 16 he said a 30-pound carton of Chinese garlic was selling for about $ 12-$ 15 per box, while California garlic was closer to $ 45 per carton.

The protocol in question that allows Chinese garlic to come into the United States duty free or near duty free is a “new shipper review” provision allowed by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce in Kelton, PA, who buys and sells Chinese garlic, but does not import it directly, said Chinese garlic has a standard 376 percent duty slapped on it if it comes into the United States without any special status.

“That means a $ 40,000 container has a duty of $ 150,000 on it,” he said.

He said it is impossible to recapture that outlay so virtually no garlic is sold in the United States under a regular duty situation. Instead, Chinese shippers will request a “new shipper review,” bring in a load, pay the duty and sell that load at a substantial loss.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reviews the numbers and often grants the shipper a reduced-duty status, which can be reviewed at a later date. Both Christopher and Provost said this reduced-duty status allows the shipper to bring in as much of their own garlic as they can sell until their situation is reviewed a year or more later.

Christopher said in the case of Heija, its “new shipper review” status was granted on the basis of a 7,000-pound shipment that was sold at reasonable prices. Over the next year, the firm shipped an additional 60 million pounds of garlic — much of which belonged to other shippers who did not have duty-free status – and flooded the market, hurting domestic shippers.

“It would leave China under one shipper’s name and arrive in the United States under the name of the duty-free shipper (Heija),” Christopher said. “I think the ‘new shipper exemption’ is ridiculous. These companies have new shipper review applications lined up so that when one company is hit with duties, that company just disappears and they start shipping under a new name. It’s just impossible for Customs to enforce this. They just don’t have the manpower.”

Provost agrees that the system is flawed though he is not advocating a particular fix. However, he said the 376 percent duty is unreasonable and that all Chinese shippers should not be painted with the same bad brush. He said there are Chinese garlic shippers that are playing by the rules and are equally hurt by the dumping of garlic on the U.S. market.

Provost said after Heija was forced out of the market in December, the garlic market did rebound and sellers of both legitimate Chinese and California garlic were able to reap the benefits.

Additionally, he said, “Customs did a great job of identifying that other producers were using Heija’s packing number. I have never seen Customs go after producers in China as they did in this case.”

He added that an added advantage to the industry’s Produce Traceability Initiative is that it should make the producer of product, such as Chinese garlic, much more transparent and make it more difficult in the future to skirt the laws.

Christopher said Customs used to deserve a “C” or a “D” for their Chinese garlic investigative work, “but now they are doing a much better job. I’d give them a ‘B’.”

While encouraged by their efforts, he is pessimistic that the flood of garlic will stop any time soon as long as the “new shipper review” process remains intact.

He believes that if a Chinese shipper achieves duty-free status because of the shipping of a handful of loads, they should be able to achieve that status on the same number of loads moving forward.

He said it makes no sense that they can parlay a 7,000-pound review into the shipment of 60 million pounds.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

FDA to improve drug security with new system

The FDA is developing standards for a system that will help identify and trace certain prescription drugs as they’re distributed within the U.S.


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“The ultimate goal is to identify each individual prescription drug package in a way that will enable rapid and accurate verification of the legitimacy of the product, which will be an important tool in the fight against counterfeit drugs,” explained Ilisa Bernstein, deputy director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a blog post.

The system will be interoperable, giving different stakeholders in the drug supply chain the ability to communicate and share information about a drug and its location, according to Bernstein.

Under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act, the FDA must issue draft guidance by Nov. 27, 2014, and many stakeholders must establish systems for compliance by Jan. 1, 2015.

The FDA has opened a docket in the Federal Register with questions for stakeholders about the systems they use to exchange information related to prescription drug transactions. The docket is open until April 21.

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Russia to set up own payment system after Visa and Mastercard pull services

Russia to set up own payment system after Visa and Mastercard pull services

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin yesterday said that the country will set up its own payment system to rival Visa and MasterCard after the companies pulled their services from several banks in the wake of the sanctions imposed on the country.

Last week, the United States and the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on two dozen Russians who are believed to be Putin’s close allies, following the country’s annexation of Crimea.

The banks of some of those individuals reported suspension of card services. Visa and MasterCard suspended services for St Petersburg-based bank Rossiya, which was specifically targeted by US sanctions, and two of its subsidiary lenders.

In a meeting with Russian lawmakers, Putin said the country’s central bank is “working hard” to set up Russia’s own payment system, citing the recent troubles facing Rossiya and others.

“This is not our decision,” he said in televised comments. “We have to protect our interests, and we will do it.”

Putin expressed “regret” that the companies halted their services and cited Japan’s JCB or China’s UnionPay as examples of successful card business which started off as domestic companies, but have expanded internationally ever since.

Russian officials have criticised the reliance on Visa and MasterCard, saying Russian banks are hostage to international corporations.

Source: jamaica-gleaner.com

Publication date: 3/28/2014


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Stater implements refrigerant management system

Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., has implemented a cloud-based refrigerant management system at its 167 stores, according to Polar Technology, Brentwood, Tenn., manufacturer of the TrakRef system.


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According to Polar, TrakRef offers retailers the ability to manage refrigerant emissions — which affect the environment and boost operating costs — at multiple supermarket locations and also provides real-time visibility to inventory, usage, leaks, repairs and disposal.

In addition to being a refrigerant management system, TrakRef also provides the ability to automatically upload data into the California Air Resources Board’s Refrigerant Registration and Reporting System — a feature the company said will save Stater hundreds of hours of manually entering data.

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Supermarket News

Food & Water Watch Questions USDA Assessment of Australian Meat-Inspection System

Consumer rights group Food & Water Watch has expressed concern in a new letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2011 decision to reaffirm equivalency status to the meat-inspection systems in Australia.

The concern stems from the fact that the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS) has removed government meat inspectors from slaughter lines in red-meat plants, turning their responsibilities over to company employees. Since 1999, USDA has officially considered Australia to have an equivalent meat-inspection system to the U.S.

The 2011 reaffirmation of equivalency was based on a five-plant HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot being conducted in hog slaughter plants, Food & Water Watch said. But both USDA’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently found that USDA had no basis to determine whether HIMP pilot projects in hog slaughter actually improved food safety compared to conventionally inspected meat plants.

“So, [the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service] has granted equivalency status to foreign inspection systems based on a domestic pilot project that might be flawed,” the letter read.

The letter goes on to claim that Food & Water Watch has collected proof that the European Union has rejected Australia’s export system based on the policy that current EU regulations do not permit inspectors that are paid by the meat processors.

Food & Water Watch concluded its inquiry into the future of Australian meat imports with a series of questions:

  • In light of the OIG and GAO findings regarding the HIMP pilot for market hogs, will FSIS revoke all equivalency determinations for foreign inspection systems that were made based on that program?
  • Has USDA entered into any discussions with the DAFF [the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry] about the concerns raised by the European Union regarding AEMIS? If so, what have been the outcomes of those discussions? If the EU accepts the DAFF proposal for third-party inspections, will that acceptance impact how meat is inspected for export in the United States? If so, will a new equivalency determination be required? Will public comment be accepted?
  • When will the most recent audit report for Australia be posted on the FSIS website?

Food Safety News

Hawaii Plans to Introduce Public Restaurant Grading System

Eateries in Hawaii may soon begin displaying their recent restaurant inspection grades, thanks to an initiative by the state’s health department, local news outlet Hawaii News Now reports.

Assuming that the plan receives approval from the governor following a public comment period in December, the new system would go into effect around March of next year.

Under the new system, restaurants would be asked to display a green, yellow, or red notice at their establishments.

The green notice, considered a “pass,” indicates that the eatery committed few or no violations at the time of the last inspection. Yellow, or a “conditional pass,” would be given to establishments with two or more violations, which will require them to be inspected again the next business day to earn a passing grade. Restaurants that cannot meet those standards would be given a red notice and closed until they can resolve whatever concerns that inspectors cite.

The grading system follows the same rules that have been in place for the state’s restaurant inspections – only now the results would be put on display for the public to see.

The state also plans to roll out an online restaurant inspection database in the next year so that anyone can look up reports of past inspections at any given establishment.

Hawaii will also be bolstering its roster of restaurant inspectors to 31 by 2015 and increasing its rate of restaurant inspections to three times a year – up from the status quo of once every two-and-a-half years. The health department plans to have 25 inspectors on staff by the end of this year.

The new inspectors and grading system would be funded by increasing annual restaurant permit fees from $ 46 to $ 200.

Food Safety News

The immune system benefits from life in the countryside

Sep. 30, 2013 — Adults who move to farming areas where they experience a wider range of environmental exposures than in cities may reduce the symptoms of their hypersensitivities and allergies considerably. This is the result of new research from Aarhus University.

This pioneering result was recently published online in the periodical, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in an article entitled Become a farmer and avoid new allergic sensitization: Adult farming exposures protect against new-onset atopic sensitization.”

The immune systems of people who work in farming are frequently exposed to a wide range of bacteria, fungi, pollen and other irritants which may trigger a response that protects them against hypersensitivity. Working in a farming environment may therefore serve to prevent or dampen hypersensitivity to the most widespread plant allergens: grass and birch pollen.

Positive effect on children and adults

Surprisingly, the positive effect on the immune system is seen both in people who have lived in urban environments and in adults who were born and raised in farming areas. But the real surprise is that the effect is not only seen in children:

“Previously, the assumption was that only persons who had lived in farming areas while growing up would benefit from the environment’s protective effect on the immune system. But now we can demonstrate that it’s not too late simply because you are an adult,” says postdoc Grethe Elholm.

It is, in other words, possible to affect the immune system and thereby the hypersensitivity which may cause allergy and allergic asthma, and what is more, this can be done at a much later point in life than previously assumed.

Closer to preventing allergies

This knowledge is now bringing researchers closer to discovering how to prevent allergies. The assumption is that the absence of environmental exposure does not protect against hypersensitivity. In fact, living in an environment with a much higher level of environmental exposure than you are used to can actually be good for your health. In general, exposure to the farming environment dampens the entire immune response to the environment because it stimulates the immune system.

“We cannot, however, simply recommend that people who suffer from allergies and hypersensitivities move to farms. Because they may also suffer from lung diseases such as asthma and would therefore become more ill due to the high concentrations of dust and particles found in stables and in agriculture in general,” stresses Grethe Elholm.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Whole Foods’ new rating system to offer enhanced standards for fresh produce

Whole Foods Market will launch a comprehensive rating system for produce and flowers sold in its stores to help shoppers make more informed purchases, the company announced Sept. 26.

organicWhole Foods Market will present customers with a three-tier rating system throughout produce and floral departments.“We are driven by our core values and are always looking at ways to enrich our customers’ experience, improve our communities and support our supplier partners,” Edmund LaMacchia, global vice president of perishables for Austin, TX-based Whole Foods Market, said in a press release. “The new produce ratings will provide deeper transparency to our shoppers, helping them make conscious choices while also celebrating the great work and responsible practices of growers beyond their organic and local efforts.”

Beginning in September 2014, Whole Foods Market will present customers with a three-tier rating system and begin displaying ratings of “good,” “better” and “best” throughout produce and floral departments.

With the help of sustainable agriculture experts and with considerable input from suppliers, Whole Foods Market developed a science-based index to measure performance on important sustainable farming topics, including:

  • Pest management, including prohibited and restricted pesticides
  • Farmworker welfare
  • Pollinator protection
  • Water conservation and protection
  • Soil health
  • Ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Waste, recycling and packaging
  • Energy
  • Climate

The program will recognize organic growers for the investment and achievement represented by organic certification while highlighting additional responsible practices, including farmworker welfare and resource conservation.

The ratings will also reward suppliers for certification by a number of leading social and environmental standards including Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Protected Harvest and Demeter Biodynamic certification.

“For years, we’ve maintained organic and Fair Trade certifications and the new produce rating system will validate the worth of these programs,” John Musser, owner of Tropic Trade, added in the press release. “It also rewards those growers who go beyond requirements not because they have to, but because they want to.”

The ratings also will recognize and celebrate growers whose practices surpass Whole Foods Market’s base standards for produce and flowers, which address GMO transparency, food safety and traceability.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Whole Foods Creates Rating System for Produce, Floral

AUSTIN, Texas — To point customers towards the most sustainable produce and floral items, Whole Foods Market has established a rating system that it will begin using in stores in fall 2014. The retailer informed suppliers about the system on Thursday.

Similar to Whole Foods’ ratings for meat, the three-tiered system will label produce and floral as “good,” “better” or “best” based on the following factors:

  • Pest management, including prohibited and restricted pesticides
  • Farmworker welfare
  • Pollinator protection
  • Water conservation and protection
  • Soil health
  • Ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Waste, recycling and packaging
  • Energy
  • Climate

“We are driven by our core values and are always looking at ways to enrich our customers’ experience, improve our communities and support our supplier partners,” Edmund LaMacchia, global vice president of perishables, said in a press release. “The new produce ratings will provide deeper transparency to our shoppers, helping them make conscious choices while also celebrating the great work and responsible practices of growers beyond their organic and local efforts.”

Whole Foods developed the rating system with sustainable agriculture experts as well as suppliers.

While certified organic farms will rate highly, so will those that treat workers well and promote resource conservation. The system also recognizes farms that have achieved third-party certifications like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Protected Harvest and Demeter Biodynamic.

Supermarket News

Early-warning system to prevent fishery collapse

Sep. 16, 2013 — Threats from overfishing can be detected early enough to save fisheries– and livelihoods –with minimal adjustments in harvesting practices, a new study by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences shows.

The work indicates that a healthy fishery can be maintained the way a skillful captain steers an oil tanker: by small course corrections that prevent disaster far ahead.

The study, by Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (EEB) graduate student Matt Burgess and co-advisors Stephen Polasky (EEB and Applied Economics in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) and David Tilman (EEB), was published on September 16 in the Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Specifically, the work demonstrates how extinction and overfishing threats from multispecies fisheries can be identified decades before valuable species are over-harvested and populations decline.

Most of the world’s large fisheries use nets or lines with multiple hooks, which catch multiple species simultaneously and have serious ecological consequences. Past population declines and current increases in harvest rates can be used to assess current threats of overfishing and extinction, but this approach doesn’t apply to future threats. By predicting future threats, the researchers’ new method would enable conservation measures to prevent overfishing and extinction.

The “Eventual Threat Index,” presented in the study, uses minimal data to identify the conditions that would eventually cause a species to be harvested at an unsustainable rate. The central premise of the Eventual Threat Index is that because multispecies fisheries impact many species with the same effort, the long-term fates of all species can be predicted if the fate of any one species can be predicted. In any multispecies fishery, there are a few ‘key’ profitable or managed species, which are easy to identify and whose socio-economic importance makes their long-term harvest rate somewhat predictable. Threats to other species are predicted by measuring their harvest rates relative to these key species.

“The data we collect includes estimates of the relative population sizes, catch rates and the growth rates of different fish populations,” Burgess says. “This index uses what we know about what tends to happen to economically important fish to predict the fate of other species caught along with them.”

The approach was tested on eight Pacific tuna and billfish populations; four of which have been identified recently by conventional methods as in decline and threatened with overfishing. The study found that the severe depletion of all four populations could have been predicted in the 1950s using the Eventual Threat Index. These results demonstrate that species threatened by human harvesting can be identified much earlier, providing time for adjustments in harvesting practices before consequences become severe and fishery closures or other socioeconomically disruptive interventions are required to protect species.

Burgess says the index is easy and inexpensive to use. He hopes fisheries will adopt it soon.

“In many fisheries, managers could calculate this index tomorrow using the description in the paper and data they have already collected,” Burgess says.

The study is based on marine fisheries but could be applied to multispecies fisheries in large bodies of fresh water, such as Lake Superior.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News