The UC Food Observer chooses a handful of important stories for you to read as you end your work week.
On the menu, in no particular order:
1. ‘Godzilla’ El Niño: The latest forecast raises hopes that help may be on its way for drought-stricken California: The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting a strong El Niño this winter. The warming temperatures in the Pacific Ocean could deliver much-needed rain to California, though experts say it will almost certainly not wipe out the state’s four years of drought. Farmers are cautiously optimistic. The media have jumped on this story and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert’s proclamation that this could be a ‘Godzilla’ El Niño. Rong-Gong Lin II (@ronlin)reports for the Los Angeles Times, Scott Neuman (@ScottNeumanNPR) for NPR, John Schwartz for The New York Times, Phillip Reese (@PhillipHReese) and Dale Kasler (@dakasler) for The Sacramento Bee, Paul Rogers (@PaulRogersSJMN) for the San Jose Mercury News, Robert Krier (@sdutKrier) for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sanden Totten (@sandentotten) for Southern California Public Radio, Scott Smith (@ScottSmithAP) for The Associated Press, and Brandon Miller (@BrandonCNN) and Nick Thompson (@nickthompson) for CNN.
2. Severe weather, part two: Major “shocks” to global food production will be three times more likely within 25 years because of an increase in extreme weather brought about by global warming, warns a new report. The likelihood of such a shock, where production of the world’s four major commodity crops – maize, soybean, wheat and rice – falls by 5-7 percent, is currently once-in-a-century. But such an event will occur every 30 years or more by 2040, according to the study by the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience. Emma Howard (@EmmaEHoward) reports for The Guardian, Matt McGrath (@MattMcGrathBBC) for BBC News, Kate Kelland (@kkelland) for Reuters and Erik Stokstad (@erikstokstad) for Science.
3. The next great GMO debate: Deep inside its labs, Monsanto is learning how to modify crops by spraying them with RNA rather than tinkering with their genes. Monsanto now thinks it has hit on an alternative to conventional genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Monsanto isn’t the only one working on genetic sprays. Other large agricultural biotech companies, including Bayer and Syngenta, are also investigating the technology. The appeal is that it offers control over genes without modifying a plant’s genome — that is, without creating a GMO. That means sprays might sidestep much of the controversy around agricultural biotechnology. Or so companies hope. Opponents see a new risk, reports Antonio Regalado (@antonioregalado) for MIT Technology Review. Also, see additional coverage by Suzanne Jacobs (@SuzanneJacobs89) for Grist.
4. Middle East food aid cuts: Cuts in food aid to vulnerable refugees in the Middle East are making young men “prime targets” for recruitment by extremist groups such as Isis, a top official at the UN’s World Food Programme said. Lack of funds may also force the organization to order further cuts in provisions to Syrian refugees in the Middle East, many of whom already have to survive on a little over $13 a month in food allowances. Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) reports for The Guardian. See also The Washington Post’s profile of Rob Thayer, who leads a Syria emergency food assistance team for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
5. Farming on the edge of a volcano: The Telica volcano in northwest Nicaragua erupted in May. Subsistence farmers in Telica, still reeling from damage caused by the volcano erupting in 2011, rely on a limited number of rainfed crops, namely beans and maize. If there is too little or too much rain, or a disease outbreak, crop yield is reduced and diets and livelihoods are compromised. Being on a volcano, there is no capacity to irrigate. This makes farming particularly difficult in drought years such as this one. Nuevas Esperanzas, a local NGO, is using model farms to address many of the factors that compound food insecurity and poverty on the Telica volcano. Crop diversification is key, reports Rosie Iron (@RosieIron00) for The Guardian.
6. Let’s Move: Deb Eschmeyer, the new executive director of first lady Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity program and senior policy adviser for nutrition policy at the White House, is profiled by Darlene Superville (@dsupervilleap) for The Associated Press. Eschmeyer faces two particular challenges in the final months of the Obama administration. One is keeping intact a federal law that made school foods healthier. The other is helping the first lady’s Let’s Move initiative continue after she leaves the White House.
7. ‘That Sugar Film’: What eating 40 teaspoons of sugar a day can do to you. Soda has been a major target in the debate over sugar and its role in the obesity crisis. But high levels of added sugars can be found in many seemingly healthful foods, from yogurts to energy bars and even whole-grain bread. A new movie called “That Sugar Film” seeks to educate consumers about the hazards of consuming too much added sugar, which can be found in an estimated 80 percent of all supermarket foods. The new documentary stars Australian actor-director, Damon Gameau, who modeled his movie after “Super Size Me,” the 2004 film that followed Morgan Spurlock as he consumed an all-McDonald’s diet for 30 days. Anahad O’Connor (@anahadoconnor) has a Q&A with Gameau for The New York Times. Daniel Engber (@danengber) offers a critical look at the film for Slate. See more coverage from Today, Jonathon Sharp for CBS Minnesota and UC San Francisco’s Laura Schmidt (@LauraSchmidtPhD) for The Daily Beast. For more information on added sugar, visit UCSF’s SugarScience site.
8. Apple boom: Sonoma County’s rapidly shrinking apple industry is undergoing a boom. In the heart of Wine Country, many wineries and entrepreneurs now see apples as something else they can ferment into a new industry. Apples made into hard cider are generating hard cash, reports Tom Vacar (@TomVacarKTVU) for KTVU. Read more on the trend from Karsten Strauss (@KarstenStrauss) for Forbes and Debra A. Klein for The Wall Street Journal, whose travel piece focuses on Sonoma’s craft-beer scene.