Food supply chain safety

  • Food securityTech investors turning to agriculture as a safe bet

    Investors and entrepreneurs are turning their sights toward the world of farming, seeing the next decades as especially challenging for because of the need to feed the expected ten billion people who will then people the planet. The technologies that these companies are investing in include not just the expected hallmarks of advanced efficient farming — robot workers, better software, and food substitute technology — but also farmland itself.Manysee the investment as a more solid and safer relative one amidst to the much more volatile tech prospects. “Farmland is more of a safe way to invest your savings,” says one investor. “Farmland isn’t going to disappear. Dropbox could disappear.”

  • WaterSimulations reveal California’s resilience to extreme droughts

    The results from a series of several-year-old computer simulations reveal that the state of California may be more resilient to long-term drought conditions than previously believed. “The results were surprising,” said one of the scientists involved in the study. “California has a remarkable ability to weather extreme and prolonged droughts from an economic perspective.”

  • Food safetyFDA, industry face pressures to ensure safety of food ingredients

    Confusion over a 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that eases the way for food manufacturers to use ingredients “generally regarded as safe,” or GRAS, has inspired a new initiative by food makers. Food safety advocates say the current GRAS process allows substances into the food supply that might pose a health risk, while industry defends its record.

  • Food securityIrish teens win Google Science Fair prize for using bacteria to improve crop yields

    Three high-schoolers from Cork County Ireland have won the top prize at this year’s Google Science Fair for their project that demonstrates a way to germinate seeds faster using bacteria as a seed treatment. The group found that all of the seeds treated with bacteria sprouted on average 50 percent faster than those that were left untreated, which, the team reports led to an increase in harvest amounts of some of the oats by as much as 70 percent.

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  • Food safetyBotulism’s genetic triggers found

    Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce the most deadly toxin we know of. Botulinum spores are found throughout the environment. If they contaminate food, under certain conditions they can germinate and reproduce in our food, and generate a neurotoxin. Scientists from the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategically funded Institute of Food Research have discovered genes that are crucial for its germination, which may present a new way of stopping these deadly bacteria growing in our food.

  • Food safetyDetecting horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

    As the United Kingdom forms a new crime unit designed to fight food fraud — in response to an uproar last year over horse meat being passed off as beef — scientists from Germany are reporting a technique for detecting meat adulteration.

  • Food securitySouthwest may face “megadrought” within century: Study

    Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade-long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” — one that lasts up to thirty-five years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century. While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

  • Food safetyForensic technology detects drugs in milk, meat

    TV shows like “CSI” have made forensics a hot topic, spawning books and even science programs for kids. The same technology used at crime scenes to link a stray hair to a suspect can also find antibiotics or other medications in milk and meat. And the use of sophisticated testing is becoming increasingly available for livestock producers, who stand to lose lots of money if their products are tainted.

  • Food safetyNew methods of detecting Salmonella in pork meat processing

    Infections caused by foodborne microorganisms are an increasing public health burden. In a Ph.D. project at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, new methods of characterizing and detecting foodborne illness-causing Salmonella in pork meat processing and in bacteria in water, feed and food samples were studied.

  • WaterDrought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Food securityHow existing cropland could feed billions more

    Feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth’s strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge. According to a new report, focusing efforts to improve food systems on a few specific regions, crops, and actions could make it possible both to meet the basic needs of three billion more people and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint. The report focuses on seventeen key crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s crop calories and account for most irrigation and fertilizer consumption on a global scale.

  • Food securityForeign investment in agriculture increases productivity of subsistence farming

    The improved infrastructure brought about by foreign investment could increase the productivity of subsistence farmlands in countries such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and could mean these lands can feed at least 300 million people around the world. This is compared to about 190 million people that could be fed if the land was left tended to by the local population. The most targeted countries for land grabs are Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and the former Sudan. Altogether, these nations account for around 82 percent of the total food calories that can be produced by acquired croplands worldwide.

  • Food securityReducing use of nitrogen-based fertilizers helps combat climate change

    Nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas, behind only carbon dioxide and methane, and also destroys stratospheric ozone. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions worldwide, which have increased substantially in recent years, primarily due to increased nitrogen fertilizer use. Scientists help farmers around the globe apply more-precise amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer to help combat climate change.

  • DronesDrones offer farmers eyes in the sky to check on crop progress

    Commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles in U.S. airspace was banned by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007, although growing numbers of hobbyists have been toying with the use of drones, particularly for aerial photography. Facing mounting pressure from agribusiness, retail, and other industries, however, the FAA is expected to release new policies by 2015 that will enable businesses to integrate drones into their operations. The agriculture industry is expected to be one of the largest market segments for drone usage. This growing season, crop researchers at the University of Illinois are experimenting with the use of drones on the university’s South Farms. A crop sciences educator is using two drones to take aerial pictures of crops growing in research plots on the farms.

  • Food securityDramatic drop in Central Valley wintertime fog threatens California’s agricultural industry

    California’s winter tule fog — hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees — has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. Many crops go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill. The findings have implications for the entire country since many of these California crops account for 95 percent of U.S. production.