Friday, May 6, 2011

Tilapia, Cellulose Food Filler, Early Humans Ate Grass, Abundant Rice Production, Rapidly Expanding Human Population and More News

Here are some news articles from this week that you don't want to miss:

1. I have referred to slack in our food and agricultural system many times and was surprised to find this article @cnbc this week: Food for thought: How energy is squandered in food industry By Shelly K. Schwartz,

One of the reasons energy use in the food system is growing so rapidly is that there are more of us to feed. The U.S. population grew by more than 9.7 percent to 308.7 million in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. A second culprit is higher food expenditure for the amount of food marketed to U.S. consumers, which boosted food system energy use in America by 25 percent, the USDA report notes.

By far, though, the use of energy-intensive technologies as a substitute for manual labor is the biggest contributor. An example: High tech, energy-intensive hen houses — and the growing use of liquid, frozen and dried egg products (instead of whole eggs) — increased energy use per egg by 40 percent between 1997 to 2002, the USDA report found.

The same is true in kitchens across the country. In fact, with our penchant for labor saving technologies, (not to mention the second refrigerator in the basement) households are the biggest energy users in the food chain — 29 percent of total food system energy use, according to the USDA.

ERS estimates that food related home energy use increased by 3.9 percent per meal between 1997 and 2002. "Consumers are relying on blenders and food processors instead of knives and chipping blocks, and self cleaning ovens have replaced EASY-OFF and elbow grease," the report states. "Modern appliances, while sometimes more energy efficient, still require energy to manufacture and operate." ...

2. This is a very informative article covering many aspects of talapia: where it comes from, how healthy it is, how it is raised: Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish By Elisabeth Rosenthal NYTs

Compared with other fish, farmed tilapia contains relatively small amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the fish oils that are the main reasons doctors recommend eating fish frequently; salmon has more than 10 times the amount of tilapia. Also, farmed tilapia contains a less healthful mix of fatty acids because the fish are fed corn and soy instead of lake plants and algae, the diet of wild tilapia. ... Last year, more than 52 million pounds of fresh tilapia were exported to the United States, mostly from Latin America, as well as 422 million more pounds of frozen tilapia, both whole and fillet, nearly all from China, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. ... In farmed tilapia, raised largely on corn and soy, omega-3 levels depend on how much fish meal or fish oil the farm’s breeders mix in. ...

3. When forestry and agriculture are lumped together, you don't expect it to be because you are eating forestry products. Think again. Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier

What is often in shredded cheese besides cheese? Powdered cellulose: minuscule pieces of wood pulp or other plant fibers that coat the cheese and keep it from clumping by blocking out moisture. One of an array of factory-made additives, cellulose is increasingly used by the processed-food industry, producers say. Food-product makers use it to thicken or stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content, and cut the need for ingredients like oil or flour, which are getting more expensive.

Cellulose products, gums and fibers allow food manufactures to offer white bread with high dietary fiber content, low-fat ice cream that still feels creamy on the tongue, and allow cooks to sprinkle cheese over their dinner without taking time to shred. ...

4. The NYTs Room-for-Debate asks the question, Can the Planet Support 10 Billion People?

5. The current Foreign Policy magazine's theme is "the Food Issue". Find many articles worth reading there.

6. South Africa's white farmers are moving further north by Fred Pearce

White South African farmers are now being courted by the north, by countries who believe their agricultural expertise can kickstart an agrarian revolution across the continent. They are being offered millions of hectares of allegedly virgin rainforest and bush, as well as land already farmed by smallholders or used as pastures by herders.

In the biggest deal to date, Congo-Brazzaville has offered South Africa farmers long leases on up to 10m hectares of land, an area that includes abandoned state farms and bush in the remote south-west of the country. The first contracts, which put 88,000 hectares in the hands of 70 farmers, were signed at a ceremony in the country last month.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, some 800 South African farmers have acquired a million hectares in the southern province of Gaza, thanks to an arrangement set up by sugar farmer Charl Senekal, an associate of the South African president, Jacob Zuma. This deal will be celebrated at a ceremony in Pretoria next month. ...

7. FAO sees world rice output up 3 pct in 2011 Reuters.

World rice production is expected to rise to 480 million tonnes in 2011, or 3 percent higher than a year earlier, due to improved weather conditions, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday. In a report, FAO gave what it called a very preliminary estimate on global rice paddy output, on a milled basis, saying the effects of the La Nina weather phenomenon looked set to dissipate in the next few months.

It said governments were also maintaining support to the sector to contain food inflation and secure long-term supplies. "The bulk of the increase is again expected to stem from good performances in Asia, with output also anticipated to increase in Europe, Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean," FAO said.

"By contrast little change is foreseen in Africa, while prospects are negative in North America." FAO said output in Asia was forecast to record 3 percent growth to 434 million tonnes, boosted by sizeable increases in mainland China and India and a recovery in Pakistan. ...

8. This is bad news for the subject of global food security, and nothing is more relevant. U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End NYTs.

Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Denmark. ...

Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptives — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor, but the budget compromise in Congress last month cut international family planning programs by 5 percent. “The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group.

9. From my little town: Boulder city manager pulls Roundup weed killer in public places - Daily Camera.

Rella Abernathy, Boulder's integrated pest management coordinator, said the decision to reduce the use of Roundup is based partly on new scientific studies that have shown the surfactant "POEA" -- the inactive ingredient in Roundup -- to be more harmful to humans than its active ingredient of glyphosate.

"(POEA) tends to have more health risks associated with it, and the combination of the two together tends to make the glyphosate more toxic," Abernathy said. The city will rely primarily on mechanical means of controlling weeds in public sidewalks, paths and parks.

10. Study: Ancient 'Nutcracker Man' really ate grass, AP.

It turns out that the early human known as Paranthropus boisei did not eat nuts but dined more heavily on grasses than any other human ancestor or human relative studied to date. Only an extinct species of grass-eating baboon ate more, they said. "That was not at all what we were expecting," Cerling said in a telephone interview. Scientists will need to rethink the ways our ancient relatives were using resources, he said.

Added co-author Matt Sponheimer of the University of Colorado: "Frankly, we didn't expect to find the primate equivalent of a cow dangling from a remote twig of our family tree." The skull of Paranthropus was discovered by Mary and Louis Leakey in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and helped put the Leakeys on the world stage. Their daughter-in-law, Maeve Leakey, is a co-author of the paper.