Some 80 percent of crop value wiped out: Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico last week as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away. In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms ever to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary. “There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” one farmer predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.” READ MORE
Living conditions worse by the day: Living conditions in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico are growing worse by the day, with tired, bewildered people lining up to buy scarce fuel and food Sunday amid a blackout and little to no telephone service. Puerto Ricans are spending hours waiting in line to buy whatever they can, but often go home empty-handed if they do not manage a purchase before a dusk to dawn curfew takes effect. Cell phone service is spotty at best and hotels are running out of diesel fuel for their generators. READ MORE
Military stretched thin by relief efforts: The Pentagon is taking steps to prevent burnout among military personnel working rescue and recovery missions following a string of devastating hurricanes. It’s been a long month for the military’s rescue personnel, as three major storms have hit the U.S. mainland or a territory in recent weeks. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with roughly 3.4 million residents, is now 95 to 100 percent without power. About 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands are also without power. In response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened an air bridge from the mainland, flying three to four military planes laden with water, food and generators to Puerto Rico daily. READ MORE
Food safety experts worried about Codex move: The U.S. Codex Office is moving from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to USDA’s Trade and Foreign Affairs Office, and that has food safety experts worried. Codex Alimentarius, aka the “Food Code,” is a set of standards, guidelines and codes designed to protect food quality and safety (one example is the safe level of veterinary drug residues in meat and poultry). The Codex is about food safety for all nations, and it is about fair trade. But mostly, it is about public health, and that is not what the Trade and Foreign Affairs Office is going to have front and center. Public health at the USDA has for decades been centered in the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), and that is where the handful of individuals who work full time on Codex issues are currently located.
It is a long-standing (although not necessarily accurate) belief that FSIS is strongly influenced by industry and puts public health on the back burner. Now that the Secretary of Agriculture and his boss have said they are moving the Codex Office, which is a recognized force worldwide for food safety and protecting public health, over to the Trade Office, that belief will be further enhanced and U.S. leadership on controversial issues reduced. Are we emphasizing trade goals over food safety? Moving the U.S. Codex Office from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to USDA’s Trade and Foreign Affairs Office may not be a wise thing to do, sends the wrong signal, and may compromise food safety and health.
“Yes, it’s a pretty big deal, and frankly, this is alarming news,” says contributor Dr. Stephanie Ostrowski, with Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Is that name too apt? The folks over at Death Wish Coffee Co. may now be thinking their name is a bit too literal. The upstate New York company, which claims to make the strongest coffee in the world, is voluntarily pulling all cans of its 11-ounce Nitro Cold Brew because of the slight risk of botulism, a deadly toxin that can lead to muscle weakness and breathing problems or death, in extreme cases. No one has reported being sick from the product, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Death Wish says their product hasn’t shown any “degradation of quality or shelf stability at all” during nearly four months of testing, but decided to recall the cans as a”precautionary measure.” READ MORE
Partnership seeks to design less-picky nitrogen-fixing bacteria: A collaboration between Bayer (one of the two largest agrochemical companies in the world) and a Boston-based startup called Gingko Bioworks, which designs “custom microbes,” is trying to come up with a way to get nitrogen-fixing bacteria to stick to plants they haven’t historically been interested in. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth, and many major crops, including corn, wheat, and rice, need massive amounts of nitrogen needs but are unable to produce it themselves. That means farmers have to use fertilizer—a lot of fertilizer. Some plants, especially legumes like beans and lentils, get help from bacteria instead of fertilizer. READ MORE
Pathogen decimates guava crop: The South African guava industry depends entirely on one single cultivar, Fan Retief, which has been decimated by the fungus Nalanthamala psidii. The pathogen, which has also been reported from Malaysia and Taiwan, causes quick wilting of leaves, starting in the upper crown and spreading downwards, followed by necrosis of leaves and branches, defoliation and death of the tree. In South Africa, an estimated 80 per cent of northern guava plantings are thought to have been lost to wilt in the 1980s and 1990s. Resistant cultivars protected grafted susceptible fruit-producing scions from infection. Emergence of new host resistance breaking fungal strains have placed the national guava industry under threat again. Strict quarantine measures have so far been able to prevent a spread of the fungus to the south. (Reported by the International Society for Infectious Diseases)
Chemical spill sends workers to hospital: A chemical spill last week at a mushroom processing facility in Pennsylvania sent 12 workers to the hospital. According to local media, at around 12 p.m. on Wednesday, a barrel containing peracetic acid, which is used to clean and disinfect mushrooms, either spilled or leaked. Several workers began to feel dizzy, so they were decontaminated and sent to a local hospital. All of the workers are expected to recover. READ MORE
Workers drown in manure pits: Alberto Navarro Munoz had been working on the farm for only two weeks when he encountered one of the most gruesome hazards that a dairy worker can face. His tractor tipped over into a pit of cow manure, submerging the Mexican native under several feet of a “loose thick somewhat liquid-like substance,” according to the police report documenting his death in southern Idaho. Another laborer from Mexico died last month after he was crushed by a skid loader, used to move feed and manure. The deaths have rattled Idaho’s dairy industry as well as local immigrant communities that do the bulk of the work producing nearly 15 billion pounds of milk annually on the industrial-sized farms in the state’s southern prairie. READ MORE
Aldi’s plan to take over: The secretive German discounter Aldi is taking the world by storm — and now the United States. The Wall Street Journal draws on internal documents, rare public filings, and interviews to illuminate Aldi’s plan: Limit choice. It’s betting people will prefer quick trips through streamlined stores offering “low prices and high quality” instead of sprawling warehouses. Eye-opening detail: A basket of 30 typical household items is on average almost 17 percent cheaper than Walmart. READ MORE
Amazon takes aim at restaurant delivery: Following its move into grocery delivery through AmazonFresh, Amazon is now upping its game in restaurant food delivery through Amazon Restaurants by teaming up with Olo, an online food ordering system for the restaurant industry. READ MORE
And Walmart eyes deluxe delivery: Delivery workers who drop off Walmart groceries may soon also bring them into your kitchen and unload them into your refrigerator, even if you’re not home. The world’s largest retailer announced Friday that is testing a delivery program in Silicon Valley that would allow customers to use smart-home technology to remotely open the door for delivery workers and watch a livestream of the delivery by linking their phones with home security cameras. READ MORE