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Avoid 'race to the bottom' in seafood sustainability

Fisheries need to improve sustainable practices before doing business on global seafood market. (Simon Bush/photo)

As the global demand for seafood booms, major food retailers are promising that soon all of the fresh, frozen, farmed and wild seafood that they sell will come from sustainable sources. However, finding such sustainable sources to satisfy the global appetite for seafood is easier said than done.

While many of the sustainability standards have been met by commercial fisheries in the developed world, a major challenge exists in fisheries overseen by developing nations, which account for about half of all seafood entering the international market. Unfortunately, only 7 percent of the fisheries that have been fully certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for meeting sustainability standards are developing-nation fisheries.

An alternative mechanism for achieving both sustainability and increased seafood supply has been developed in the form of Fishery Improvement Projects, which aim to get fisheries on a path to sustainability and potentially certification by the MSC.

These improvement projects are partnerships between fishermen and firms up and down the international seafood supply chain. They are designed to offer developing-country fisheries access to the lucrative international export market in exchange for promises to improve sustainable fishing practices.

“It is hoped that the projects will protect marine life and ecosystems in areas where local and national governments have not acted to oversee sustainable practices, while also satisfying the demand for sustainable seafood,” said Gabriel Sampson, UC Davis graduate student and lead author of the study.

In many cases, however, the fisheries are obtaining access to the international seafood markets without following through to make the required improvements in sustainability. 

In a May 1 policy forum titled “Secure Sustainable Seafood from Developing Countries” in the journal Science, Sampson and colleagues conclude that Fishery Improvement Projects need to be fine tuned to ensure that fisheries are delivering on their promises for sustainability improvements. The related abstract and podcast are available online.

Such sustainable fishery management reforms should include data collection and ongoing monitoring, strengthening harvest and access rights to the resources, limits on the catch, and instituting traceability throughout the supply chain, the researchers say.

They predict that if access to the fisheries is not better regulated, the current efforts by retailers to secure sustainable, wild-caught seafood could stimulate a “race to fish,” and those fisheries with full sustainability certification could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage compared to the fisheries that have been fast-tracked into the international market without having first made sustainability improvements.

And that could trigger a “race to the bottom” in terms of sustainable seafood fishing practices, they say.

“The retailers and organizations involved with managing fishery improvement projects need to insist on progress toward reforms from the fishery as a condition for purchasing seafood from that fishery,” said James Sanchirico, a faculty member with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station, UC Davis professor and associate director of the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.

“This would likely lead to more durable conservation and greater assurance for consumers that marketing claims of ‘sustainable' seafood are valid,” he said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 3:11 PM
Tags: policy (1), seafood (3), sustainability (5)

Hackathon movement connects consumers to food

Undergrad Constantine Spyrou and nutritionist Sara Schaefer (both UC Davis) developed an app matching meds to foods. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

On a Friday evening in a San Francisco conference room, food and technology leaders – including nutrition expert Carl Keen, a UC Davis professor affiliated with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station – spoke to a mixed audience on the need for innovation in adapting populations across the world to changing food systems.

In the crowd, one inspired undergraduate student from UC Davis thumbed together some notes on his phone. The next day he stood in front of everyone at the event – more than 250 in all – and pitched his newly formed idea for a nutrition app.

It drew a small team: a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a UC Davis nutritionist and a UC Berkeley student. Over the next 40 hours they developed a software application that matches safe foods to patient medications. With the final presentations Sunday evening, the judges announced the winners.

Their project, called Took that? Eat this., won first place at the 2015 Food Hackathon. They now have sponsors and are developing their idea into a real consumer product. They are also flying out to the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in September – the first devoted to food and where an even larger food-themed hackathon will take place.  

(Food Hackathon from FounderLY on Vimeo

Breaking down the silos 

“It's powerful how much happens in such a short period of time,” says Bob Adams, innovation adviser for the UC Davis World Food Center and a mentor for the hackathon teams. “It was a great experience for all the UC Davis students who participated, because they don't normally interact in projects with students from other programs.”

With nearly 9,000 total hours spent in developing the 18 different projects, the hackathon was declared by the organizers a success and a testament to the power of crowd sourcing.

A group of passionate techies, foodies, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs shut in a room for two days pushed them like never before to apply their diverse expertise toward tackling some of the biggest problems facing food and ag. 

Winning team members celebrate with organizer Tim West. Left to right: Spyrou; Cindy Ma; Sonja Sulcer; West. (Clara Wetzel photo)

A university connecting ag and nutrition 

Research and industry leaders are looking to this model as one way to seed California's innovation ecosystem across the state's agricultural horizons. As another example, Mars, Inc., which co-sponsored the hackathon, is investing in a new type of university-industry partnership with UC Davis and the World Food Center by establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.

“All of us win from these new and needed collective investments in innovation in food, agriculture and health,” writes Mars chief scientist Harold Schmitz in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, also a Mars chief scientist and a UC Davis fellow, sees innovative food technology projects like those crafted at the hackathon as this decade's biggest investment arena.

“The next, larger human generation will face food challenges ranging from climate change and water stress to growing demands for upmarket foods,” he wrote in a LinkedIn article. “But from what I saw at the hackathon, the next generation is on it.” 


See the original story by the UC Davis World Food Center.

Posted on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 12:41 PM
Tags: app (1), diet (1), food (29), hacker (1), medication (1), nutrition (100), Silicon Valley (1), student (1), UC Davis (26)

Q&A: UC ANR's Doug Parker talks drought

Recently, the UC Food Observer caught up with one of California's foremost experts on water: Doug Parker of the University of California. Parker is the director of the University of California's Institute for Water Resources. The mission of the institute is to integrate California's research, extension and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. The institute has recently launched a blog, The Confluence.

Doug Parker
As director, Parker works with federal, state and local agencies to guide academic expertise toward finding solutions to California's water challenges. He brings together local, state and federal stakeholders to identify issues and sources of political and financial support for water-related research. Dr. Parker is vitally concerned about improving the understanding of the complexities surrounding California and water, and to that end, he also serves as a key spokesperson on the state's water issues. 

Prior to joining UC, Parker worked on water quality issues related to the Chesapeake Bay as an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland. An economist by training, he earned his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, and was on faculty there as an extension specialist. He holds bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara.

 

Q: Governor Brown recently issued an executive order that will restrict urban water usage by 25 percent. How do you see this being enforced across the state? What might enforcement mechanisms look like?

A: The State Water Resources Control Board will set restrictions for each of the over 400 water districts that serve residential consumers in the next month. The 25 percent reduction is meant to be a statewide average for urban users, and the actual reductions will be based on per capita water consumption in 2013. So, areas that are already conserving water will not be asked to reduce as much as the largest water users, who will have to make bigger reductions.

To meet the reductions, individual water districts will each have to draft a plan of how they will bring consumers in their district into compliance. This may include restrictions on outdoor water use and pricing structures that greatly increase costs to large water users and monetary fines. In essence, the reductions are not solely aimed at individual users, but will be made by a combination of reductions by homeowners and industrial and commercial users.

In terms of enforcement, the State Board can fine water districts that are out of compliance up to $10,000 per day. Before fines are enforced, the board will engage the water district to try to help figure out how they can meet the goals.

 

Q: How much is this going to hurt the average person? What kinds of changes will individuals have to make?

A: The average person will most likely need to reduce outdoor water use, such as landscape watering, and increase conservation measures indoors as well. The easiest way to meet the water reductions is to reduce or eliminate outdoor watering. The governor's order calls for a voluntary, incentive-based program to remove 50 million square feet of turf. Many homeowners may want to consider replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping. There will also be programs for water efficient appliances like dishwashers and clothes washing machines, and low-flow shower heads. In general, I don't see major changes for the average person, particularly if they've already been conserving and cut outdoor watering, but they will need to take action and be more mindful of their water use.

 

Q: Increasingly, the narrative of California's water problem has taken on a divisive tone that pits agriculture versus urban users, Northern California against Southern California, etc. Is there any perspective you could offer that might make people realize water issues are shared issues?

A: I find it rather disturbing that some people see this as an urban vs. agriculture issue. The California Constitution states that water belongs to the people of the state. It is our water to use for the benefit of all Californians. I myself am happy to be able to cut back on my water use so that it can be used to grow food. What greater use of water do we have? It is inconvenient and perhaps aesthetically unpleasing to have a brown lawn, but compared to food production and food insecurity, the impact on my own life seems pretty minor.

In addition to growing food, the agricultural sector supports jobs in many of our most needy communities. The agricultural water restrictions in 2014 were estimated to have cost the agricultural sector over 17,000 jobs and a loss of over $2 billion. We expect those numbers to increase in 2015.

In the urban sector the drought has had very little impact on jobs or income. In the landscaping industry it remains unclear what impact the drought is having or will have. Reductions in turf irrigation may reduce the need for mowing and other uses of labor. But an increase in turf removal and replacement with drought-tolerant landscaping will lead to an increase in landscaping expenditures and labor.

The thing that I try to keep in mind is that it's all of our water, and we're all in it together.

 

Q: What happens to California agriculture in the next few years? What might the industry look like 20 years from now? What kind of cropping patterns might we see?

A: I think agriculture will reassess their perception of how secure their water supply is. For those that are seeing large cuts in water allocations, future planting decisions may be more conservative. We may see a decrease in permanent crops to increase flexibility in response to water shortages, though this may be balanced by the fact that things like almonds continue to yield a high value and if you are already reducing crops, keeping the most valuable ones is a rational decision. We will continue to see increases in efficiency, whether through irrigation technology or management of irrigation. We will also see increased investment in surface and groundwater storage to increase resiliency.

 

Q: Historically, is this drought a bump in the road or a harbinger of things to come?

A: All droughts are a bumps in the road and all droughts eventually end. But, I think we are more used to the speed bump type of drought that slows us to 25 mph. This one is a bit more severe and we probably need to take it down to 5 mph and do some serious long-term planning. Climate models predict that we will see an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. We need to start preparing for this drought to last a few more years and for future droughts as well.

 

Q: What resources would you recommend people seek out for information on a practical level? What about resources for those who might want to dig deeper?

A: The University of California has many resources to help homeowners, businesses, landscapers and farmers adapt to the drought. Many of those resources can be found on our webpages.

 

Q: What policies do we need in California to make sure we are able to more effectively respond to these types of crises in the future? What kind of infrastructure would help us more effectively meet our water needs?

A: I think this drought has brought to light the critical importance of groundwater as a resource to lessen the impacts of drought. California passed historic groundwater legislation in 2014 that will ensure this resource is available to us in future droughts. We need to work now to implement this law as quickly as possible. The law's timeline is very generous but I believe that communities that work to accelerate the timeline will greatly benefit from such efforts.

Rose Hayden-Smith is a UC ANR advisor who writes as the UC Food Observer. The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food, curated by the University of California. Visit our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article first appeared on the UC Food Observer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 8:35 AM

New study focuses on food safety practices on small and medium-size farms

Food safety study looks at farms that raise livestock and grow fresh produce.
To improve food safety, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources studies every link in the food chain, from producers' farms to consumers' kitchens.

A new UC study is looking at small to medium-size farms, both organic and conventional production, to identify on-farm food safety practices that are specific to farms that raise livestock and grow fresh produce. These are farms that sell their products directly to consumers at farm stands and farmers markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA).

“Much of the produce food-safety research in recent years has focused on large commercial farms,” said project co-leader Michele Jay-Russell, microbiologist and program manager at the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis. “In this study, we hope to identify best practices that may be unique for smaller operations and to share this information with the farmers.”

The 12-month study is being conducted on commercial farms in Northern California, from the Shasta Cascade region down to the Central Valley, including the coast. Fecal-borne pathogens can be spread to fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables through animal intrusions, or indirectly through contaminated water or soil. The researchers are looking for the best practices that prevent pathogens from contaminating fresh market tomatoes and leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach.

“Raising livestock and growing fresh produce together for the local community presents certain opportunities and challenges from a food safety perspective,” said Alda Pires, UC ANR Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food safety specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, who is leading the project with Jay-Russell, who is liaison to the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.

“Our research aims to identify practical, scale-appropriate approaches that reduce risk from pathogens, while maintaining sustainable and economically viable family farms in Northern California,” said Jay-Russell, who has a small dairy goat herd in the Yuba Foothills.

Researchers will visit participating farms to collect samples of their produce, water, compost and livestock feces to test for bacteria. Farmers will be asked to complete a short survey about farm management practices. The testing is free and the farm identities are confidential.

“We anticipate publishing our results, without revealing farm names, next year and sharing the findings with the agricultural community through workshops and trainings,” said Pires, who grew up on a small family farm in Portugal.

A USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) multi-state grant is funding this study and a similar study in the northeast – New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware – looking at microbial food safety issues potentially unique to small and medium-scale farms. The results of that study have been published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology and Applied Environmental Microbiology.

For more information about this food safety study, contact Alda Pires, UC ANR Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food safety specialist, at (530) 754-9855 or apires@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 8:49 AM

6 ways local officials can encourage urban farming

City Slicker Farms' community market farm in Oakland
We know that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to a healthful diet, but not everyone has ready access to a grocery store or can afford to buy fresh produce. One approach to the problem is to bring the farm closer to people's homes by making it easier to grow food in backyards and on vacant urban land.

To find out how to help people who want to grow food in their communities in California, Rachel Surls, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor, and several UC ANR colleagues interviewed urban farmers as part of a statewide study of urban agriculture needs.

Surls, who specializes in sustainable food systems in Los Angeles County, and her colleagues identified several common challenges that UC ANR and local governments could address to cultivate a more urban agriculture-friendly environment.

In an op-ed published March 24 in the Sacramento Bee, Surls listed the following six things that local officials could do to encourage urban farming:

  1. Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, helps urban farmers test soil in Alameda County.
    Make zoning and regulatory information accessible
  2. Develop a transparent process for use of city-owned land
  3. Create an urban agriculture incentive zone
  4. Update zoning to make it urban-ag friendly
  5. Make water accessible while promoting efficient use
  6. Provide guidance and support for soil testing and remediation.

There seems to be growing interest in cities encouraging urban farming. For example, last year Oakland updated its city codes to allow planting of community gardens in most zones of the city without obtaining a special permit. San Diego has made it easier for residents to keep chickens and bees in their backyards. The Sacramento City Council recently voted to allow residents to farm on urban lots and sell produce they grow at farm stands. And now, Santa Clara County is considering tax breaks for property owners who allow crops to be planted on their unused parcels. 

Urban farmers told the researchers that UC ANR could help by providing educational materials on topics such as pest management, water management, design of community urban agriculture projects and soil testing and remediation.

To begin providing the public with information about urban agriculture, UC ANR has created a website at http://ucanr.edu/urbanag. Visitors to the website will find science-based information on raising crops and livestock, selling farm products and links to policies for farming in a backyard, at a school or a community garden.

“Many urban farmers are beginning farmers so the website offers basic information on planting, pests and irrigation, and on navigating local laws and regulations that impact farming,” said Surls. “But the website is also intended to be a resource for policymakers who are making decisions that impact local farming in their cities.”

For the latest information about urban farming, visit http://ucanr.edu/urbanag and follow @UCurbanag on Twitter.

Cities can allow residents to farm on city-owned vacant lots and entice property owners to lease their land for gardens in exchange for reduced property taxes.

 

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

 

Posted on Monday, March 30, 2015 at 10:52 AM

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