There’s a lot going on in the world of food these days. Here’s a current round-up of some of the topics we’re watching.
Country of Origin Labeling and Know Your Farmer
According to the Chicago Tribune, “...in late December, Congress repealed the law that required Country of Origin Labeling...” (COOL). The repeal was part of the omnibus appropriations bill passed for the Federal Fiscal Year 2016. Supporters of COOL, such as Food and Water Watch, the National Farmer’s Union, the Rancher’s Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, and your Co-op, believe that consumers have the right to know where food comes from. Knowing where your meat was sourced helps you know whether your meat was sourced safely, how sustainable your meat choices are, and helps you support local and domestic farmers. Opponents of the labeling measure, such as the North American Meat Institute and the World Trade Organization felt the tracking and labeling was costly for U.S. processors and detrimental to international trade.
The repeal of COOL exempts pork and beef; chicken and lamb still require COOL. There are current actions being taken by supporters to reinstate or negotiate ways to improve the COOL process for importers. As we noted on social media January 5th, “We’re committed to continuing to tell you where your meat comes from,” and currently, all of the meat we carry is domestic. You can find out more about where our meat comes from by visiting the meat department and by visiting our website, where we have new “Know Your Farmer” infographics detailing how our meat and eggs are sourced and raised. Go to www.willystreet.coop/know-your-food to find out more.
Genetically Engineered Foods
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (SAFLA) was introduced to Congress last year and has failed to pass into law on several occasions (it most recently failed as a legislative rider in the omnibus appropriations bill cited above). The act, dubbed the “Denying Americans the Right-To-Know, or DARK Act” by some opponents, aims to block mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling by overriding state GMO labeling laws and instead establishing a voluntary-only GMO labeling standard. Your Co-op, in concert with National Cooperative Grocers, opposes SAFLA legislation. We believe that you have a right to know what is in your food, and how it was produced so that you can be the best consumer you can be and decide for yourself. That is why Federal legislation requiring GMO labeling is so important. Thank you to all of our followers on social media, who responded to our requests to contact your legislators, asking them to oppose SAFLA. We anticipate that there will be continued lobbying for SAFLA legislation this year. We are hoping that we will see a bill that calls for a clear, on-package disclosure such as “genetically modified” in the ingredient panel.
The conversation about genetically engineered foods is not going to end or become any less controversial any time soon. At the end of 2015, Federal agencies approved several new GMO foods including the Arctic apple, Innate potato and new varieties of existing GMO corn crops with slightly different modifications. The FDA’s approval of genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon is notable because it is the first GMO animal approved for sale in the U.S. It will be awhile before it becomes available, and neither the Seafood Center nor Shizen, our sushi provider, will carry it. On the other hand, more companies are beginning to see the value of informing consumers. On January 8th, National Public Radio (NPR) reported “The Campbell Soup Co., after years of staunchopposition to mandatory labels, now says that it ‘will advocate for federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be clearly and simply labeled for GMOs.’” The company believes that federal regulations requiring GMOs to be labeled will not only be better for their consumers, but will also be less costly for Campbell, as they will not have to navigate differing regulations state-by-state. Willy Street Co-op carries Pepperidge Farm, which is owned by Campbell Soup.
People that are interested in avoiding genetically engineered foods have a number of options right now. One way to guarantee food is free of GMOs is to purchase foods with organic certification. Another way is to look for products with the Non-GMO Project verification (Willy Street Co-op is a supporting retailer for the Non-GMO Project). Finally, if you are sourcing salmon, checking to make sure that your salmon was “wild-caught” is the best way to avoid GMOs. We will continue to keep you up to speed regarding labeling regulations.
FDA Dietary Guidelines
The USDA and the U.S. Health and Human Services Departments issued new dietary guidelines on January 7th, According to NPR, many of the guidelines remain unchanged since 2010. The guidelines are updated every five years to correlate with current scientific and medical knowledge. According to the executive summary of the guidelines, the 2015-2020 guidelines are: follow a healthy eating plan across the lifespan; focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount; limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake, shift to healthier food and beverage choices, and support healthy eating patterns for all. They also suggest that healthy eating patterns include a variety of vegetables, fruits (especially whole fruits), grains (at least half whole grains), fat-free or low fat dairy or fortified soy beverages, a variety of both plant and animal based proteins, and oils. Furthermore, healthy eating patterns limit saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. They also recommend alcohol be consumed in moderation, that Americans of all ages meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and that Americans should aim to achieve a healthy body weight.
According to the New York Times on January 7th, “The guidelines affect the foods chosen for the school lunch program, which feeds more than 30 million children each school day, and they help shape national food assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.” The advice to cut back sugar may lead to changes to nutrition labels. It is also the first issuing of the guidelines that suggests focusing less on individual ingredients and more on overall eating patterns and diets. We will keep you posted, should we hear about changes these dietary guidelines bring to the consumer.
FoodShare is the Federal QUEST Card program that helps people with limited money purchase the food they need. As we reported in December, “FoodShare is a public program, there will always be legislators who have differing opinions as to how FoodShare is administered and how FoodShare can be utilized.” Last year, the State of Wisconsin made some key changes to the FoodShare program in an attempt to address fraudulent usage. On April 1st, new work requirements went into effect. Able-bodied adults ages 18-49 (who do not have minor children) now must either work or participate in an allowable program under the Workforce Investment Act for at least a combined 80 hours a month, or participate in and meet the requirements of a workfare program in order to preserve their FoodShare benefits. In 2015, Governor Scott Walker also signed into law Act 55, allowing the state to test certain FoodShare participants for controlled substances as a condition of eligibility. The Federal Government is challenging the law, as it maintains drug testing is not permitted in the Federal FoodShare program. According to ABC News on January 2nd, “Since Wisconsin officials and the Obama administration disagree about the interruption of federal law, Wisconsin is requesting that a federal court declare Wisconsin’s position to be correct, and to issue an injunction preventing the Federal Government from applying their standards in what [Attorney General Brad] Schimel says is an unlawful way.”
Your Co-op accepts the QUEST Card. We also support access to the program that is user-friendly, and based in community good. FoodShare helps feed families when they need assistance and also puts money into the local economy by keeping money in the pockets of families who will then support the workers and farmers that provide our food, keep grocery stores, farms, and other businesses open for business, and keep food pantry stock available to those who do not qualify for FoodShare and really need it most. The QUEST card can be used at any participating grocery store, at some farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, and Meals on Wheels.
Anyone interested in FoodShare can come talk to a Second Harvest FoodShareOutreach Specialist at Willy West on the second Monday of the month from 2:00pm to 6:00pm, or at Willy East on the second Tuesday from 8:00am to 12:00pm. In February and March, we will also be joined by FairShare CSA Coalition, and those looking to stretch their food budget further will also be able to stop in and learn about their Partner Shares program to help families offset their CSA share costs and use QUEST to pay for them. Specialists are available to help you learn if you may be eligible for FoodShare, to offer one-on-one application assistance, and to help you report changes or submit renewals. Co-op staff is also available to talk about the Access Discount Program, which offers 10% off most purchases to Owners who can demonstrate a financial need. Walk-ins are welcome, and you may also call the FoodShare Helpline to make an appointment. Call 1-877-366-3635 or visit GetAQuestCard.org for more information.
In November, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that “Nearly 15,000 Wisconsinites have lost access to food stamps” because of Act 55. At the time of writing, the State Senate Committee on Public Benefit and Regulatory Reform was reviewing Assembly Bill (AB) 188, which removes unused FoodShare benefits after six months instead of a year. The Hunger Task Force opposes the bill and is asking that it minimally includes an exemption for elderly, blind or disabled persons. They claim about 97% of FoodShare participants spend them within the first month of receiving them. AB 188 “increases the chances that the hungry individuals that need the program will choose hunger over re-activating their account,” according to their position paper. We spoke with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF, a Community Shares of Wisconsin member supported by Community CHIP), and they also oppose AB 188. According to Jon Peacock of WCCF, AB 188 “will primarily affect people who don’t qualify for much of a benefit (such as seniors who are near the income ceiling), and may let them accumulate for long periods of time before using them for a special occasion. In addition, the state will have to incur significant start-up costs to make the software changes to implement a tighter time limit than the one established by federal law.” WCCF and Hunger Task Force still have an eye on AB 222, which will affect a wide range of users by adding photo ID to QUEST cards (the bill is stalled in Committee).
We are keeping an eye on future legislation that may impact FoodShare participants, and when we hear about changes we will keep you apprised. If you are concerned about FoodShare and its future, we encourage you to contact your State legislators, and ask them to oppose bills like AB 188 and AB 222 that would impede use of FoodShare benefits while also creating large administrative costs for the state. You can find your legislator at maps.legis.wisconsin.gov.
Thank You For Your Advocacy
We appreciate our Owners for trusting us to follow the food issues that matter to you, and for investing in not only the Co-op but in the charitable endeavors within our community that address food topics and access. Thank you for supporting us and for exercising your consumer voice. It makes a difference.