Policy Summaries and Analyses

The Food Policy Research Center delivers comprehensive, integrated Policy Analyses and Issue Briefs of some of today’s complex food issues. The goal is to inform policymakers, industry representatives, and consumers of the science behind the issues. Each Policy Analysis and Issue Brief involves an interdisciplinary research team comprised of at least one author and several scientific reviewers incorporating economic, environmental, social, health, governmental, and legislative considerations.

Issue Briefs are presented using balanced and un-biased science in a straightforward one to two-page format using plain language. Topic areas identified by various commodity groups and legislative staffers helped determine the critical issues for Analyses.

We welcome your comments and recommendations for future Analyses. Share your thoughts by contacting Carol Peterson at fprc@umn.edu or 612-625-8709.

Agriculture
  • Issue Brief: Changing Agricultural Climate: Implications for Innovation Policies

    Authors: Jason Beddow, Philip Pardey and Mark Seeley, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Average temperatures are rising, both globally and in the Midwest United States.
    • Rainfall is increasing on average in the Midwest while also becoming more unpredictable on any given farm.
    • Episodes of extreme air moisture content are increasing, affecting both animal and plant agriculture.
    • Agriculture is especially sensitive to the ever-changing natural environments in which it operates.
    • Agricultural producers can respond to variations in climate given the right know-how and technologies.
    • Choices made now will have long-run implications for the productivity and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.

    Issue Brief: Changing Agricultural Climate: Implications for Innovation Policies | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Do Alternative Livestock Production Systems Yield Safer Food?

    Authors: Cara Cherry, Peter Davies, John Deen, and Fernando Sampedro, College of Veterinary Medicine; University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Food products from alternative livestock production systems are increasing in popularity among consumers.
    • Limited research exists examining differences in food safety between conventional and alternative animal production systems.
    • There appears to be no difference in rates of Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli in animals raised in conventional or alternative systems.
    • Animals raised in outdoor environments have an increased exposure to parasites and environmental contaminants.

    Issue Brief: Do Alternative Livestock Production Systems Yield Safer Food? | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Pigs and MRSA: What Are the Human Health Risks and to Whom?

    Author: Peter Davies, College of Veterinary Medicine; University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been a major cause of human infections for over 50 years, particularly in hospitals. MRSA is among the foremost bacteria of concern regarding antimicrobial resistance.
    • From the mid 1990s, MRSA epidemiology changed globally as new MRSA variants caused infections in otherwise healthy people having no exposure to hospitals.
    • Since 2004, the discovery of novel MRSA variants in livestock has raised concerns about potential public health impacts of animal reservoirs of MRSA.
    • A specific MRSA lineage (ST398) is the focus of concern in livestock. ST398 was unknown before being found in patients in the Netherlands who had exposure to pig farms. ST398 MRSA is now known to occur in many countries and species (cattle, poultry, and horses).
    • Exposure to MRSA from livestock is a concern for people working with live animals (farmers, veterinarians). Risk to the general public via other routes appears minimal.
    • MRSA of livestock origin are less likely to persist and spread in people than MRSA of human origin. No community outbreak of ST398 MRSA infection has been reported anywhere, nor has a single case of clinical infection been reported in the United States of America (USA).
    • The impact of ST398 MRSA on human illness has been very low. Policy strategies to reduce ST398 should be assessed with respect to feasibility and cost prior to implementation.

    Issue Brief: Pigs and MRSA: What Are the Human Health Risks and to Whom? | PDF

Antibiotics
  • Issue Brief: Balancing the Health Impacts of Antibiotic Use in Animal Feed

    Authors: William Hueston, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota (UMN); James R. Johnson, Medical School Department of Medicine, UMN; Michael Osterholm and Jamie Umber, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, UMN; and Kirk Smith, Minnesota Department of Health.

    Summary of findings

    • Antibiotics are important for both animal and human health and welfare.
    • Administration of antibiotics through feed or water is often the most humane and labor-efficient method of treating groups of animals such as chickens, pigs, or fish.
    • Administration of antibiotics to food-producing animals – like all antibiotic use, regardless of setting or route of administration – contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance.
    • While the human health and economic implications of resistance vary widely depending on antibiotics and pathogens of concern, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and World Health Organization (WHO) conclude that feeding certain antibiotics for production purposes (i.e., growth promotion or increased feed efficiency) is a public health problem.
    • Current science supports three complementary food animal-related strategies for maintaining the benefits of antibiotic use for animal health and welfare while reducing the antibiotic resistance risks: elimination of long term, low dose use of most antibiotics for production purposes; good animal husbandry practices; and more judicious use of antibiotics in prevention and control of disease in food animals.

    Issue Brief: Balancing the Health Impacts of Antibiotic Use in Animal Feed | PDF

Food and Nutrition
  • Issue Brief: Food Loss and Waste in the US: The Science Behind the Supply Chain

    Authors: Alexander H. Reich and Jonathan A. Foley, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Roughly 40% of the United States (US) food supply (1500 calories/person/day) is never eaten, which
      is among the highest rates of food loss globally. Addressing this loss could help reduce food
      insecurity and the environmental impacts of agriculture.
    • Tremendous resources are used to produce uneaten food in the US: 30% of fertilizer, 31% of
      cropland, 25% of total freshwater consumption, and 2% of total energy consumption.
    • Food waste generated when people discard food in homes and foodservice accounts for 60% of food
      loss, is mostly avoidable, and is under-emphasized as an opportunity to improve the food system.
    • Targeting efforts on reducing waste of meat has great potential to benefit both the environment and
      the household budget.
    • Clarifying the meaning of date labels on foods could also reduce consumer food waste.

    Issue Brief: Food Loss and Waste in the US: The Science  | PDF

    Accompanying YouTube Video: "Love Letter to Food"

  • Analysis: A Controlled Experiment to Reduce Menu Item Portion Sizes

    Authors: Sarah Berkowitz, Leonard Marquart, Elton Mykerezi, and Marla Reicks, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota; Dennis Degeneffe, Consumer Centric Solutions LLC.

    Summary of Analysis Findings: Providing Flexible Food Portions in a Restaurant Setting: Impact on Business Operations, Food Consumption and Food Waste

    • Increased portion sizes of meals outside the home are associated with increased energy intake, obesity, and lower diet quality.
    • Large portion sizes have a major influence on waste in food service operations.
    • Consumption and food waste decrease with smaller portion sizes.
    • Customer satisfaction improves with the addition of reduced 

    Analysis Abstract (PDF) | Analysis Poster (PDF) 

Genetically Engineered Foods
  • Analysis: Comparing Public Attitudes Towards Genetically-Modified and Nanotechnology-Based Foods and Labeling

    Authors: Jennifer Kuzma, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of North Carolina State University; Chengyan Yue, Applied Economics, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Analysis:

    Using the data collected, authors employ various statistical models to capture the differences in consumer preferences and have identified four segment groups in which consumers can be summarized:

    1. “Price Oriented/Technology Adopters,”
    2. “Technology Averse,”
    3. “Benefit Oriented/Technology Accepters,”
    4. “New Technology Rejecters.”

    Analysis Abstract (PDF)
     

  • Issue Brief: Safety Assessment of Genetically Engineered Foods: U.S. Policy and Current Science

    Authors: Jennifer Kuzma and Rachel Haase, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

    Summary of findings

    • Safety of GE foods is evaluated through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary consultation process.
    • The FDA can take action if food, including GE food, presents a demonstrable safety risk post-market.
    • GE safety studies focus on toxicity, adverse nutritional changes, allergenicity and horizontal gene transfer.
    • Scientific studies testing whole GE food show some mixed results so statements about all GE foods being safe or unsafe are unwarranted.
    • Whole-food feeding studies for GE safety assessment are tricky, as plant varieties are diverse in chemical composition and the effect of the introduced genes or changes caused by them are hard to tease out.
    • Strong agreement exists for better testing protocols, especially for allergenicity and whole-food feeding trials.

    Issue Brief: Safety Assessment of Genetically Engineered Foods: U.S. Policy and Current Science | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Considering the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically-Engineered (GE) Foods in the U.S.

    Author: Benjamin Senauer, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Over 25 U.S. states, including Minnesota, are considering legislation to label GE foods.
    • The major arguments for mandatory labeling include the consumer’s right to know, genetic engineering is still controversial, some do not trust the government regulatory process, many countries already require labeling, and a majority support it in polls.
    • The major arguments against mandatory labeling include viewing it as a false warning that GE foods are risky, consumers already have GE-free options such as organic products, the difference between a right and need to know, consumer choice could be reduced, and the cost of food could increase.
    • State labeling laws are likely to face legal challenges. Federal action is unlikely. However, one grocery chain has already taken action to require GE-product labeling and other food companies may also.

    Issue Brief: Considering the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically-Engineered (GE) Foods in the U.S. | PDF

Policy
  • Analysis: Public Opinion about an Emerging Food Policy Issue: Where Evidence, Policy, and Politics Intersect

    Authors: Sarah Gollust, Assistant Professor, Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota (UMN); Wendy Rahn, Professor of Political Science UMN.

    Summary of Analysis Findings:

    • Raw milk, until recently, has been a low-salience issue in both the national and regional media. In the last few years, however, the overall volume of media coverage of raw milk has expanded, but media attention in this period is characterized by distinctive spikes rather than a gradual increase in the issue’s prominence.
    • Supporters and opponents of raw milk compete to frame the issue, offering a relatively small set of arguments for and against the sale of raw milk that employ a combination of scientific evidence and political and personal values.
    • Framing access to raw milk as an issue of consumer choice is more persuasive than the opposing frame of health risks.
    • Differences of opinion between Democrats and Republicans are smaller on the question of raw milk regulation than other food policy issues, but providing political party cues in addition to framing arguments widens the gap between them. Differences between partisan groups on raw milk policy are smallest when the issue is presented as one that involves consumer choice.

    Analysis Abstract (PDF)
     

  • Issue Brief: Dairy Subtitle to the 2013 Farm Bill: Critical Issues and Options

    Authors: Marin Bozic, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota; John Newton and Cameron S. Thraen, Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, the Ohio State University.

    Summary of Findings:

    • 2013 House and Senate Farm Bills provide major reforms to federal dairy policy, re-orienting dairy safety net programs from supporting milk revenue to protecting dairy income over feed cost (IOFC) margins. Proposed 2013 House and Senate Farm Bills are likely to be very effective in providing catastrophic dairy margin insurance. If effective, the Senate stabilization program would reduce the duration of low-margin periods. However, if the stability of net farm incomes is substantially increased, then milk supply response may result in reduced average IOFC margins.
    • Contrary to current Title I commodity programs, these dairy reforms impose no eligibility constraints with respect to farm size or adjusted growth income. As such, the new dairy policy in the 2013 Farm Bill is expected to increase the share of total program benefits accruing to large farm operations.2,5 Under the Milk Income Loss Contract program (MILC), farms with less than 100 cows (76% of farms; 18% of milk production) account for 42% of net payments and farms over 1000 cows (2% of farms; 42% of milk production) account for 6% of net payments. Under the new policy regime farms with fewer than 100 cows will get 17-21% of net program benefits, and farms over 1000 cows will get 36-43% of benefits.
    • Expected costs of 2013 Farm Bill dairy policy proposals are found to be up to three times as high as the expected costs of continuing the 2008 Farm Bill dairy programs. The proposed Senate stabilization program may reduce costs of 2013 Farm bill programs between 5% and 30% relative to standalone margin insurance, with results highly sensitive to modeling assumptions regarding the program participation rate and elasticity of demand for dairy foods.
    • The ability to make annual coverage decisions immediately before the coverage period starts encourages dairy producers to use the new programs strategically. When forecasted margins are above average, the profit-maximizing decision for producers is to forfeit supplemental margin insurance. When forecasted margins are much below average, producers are likely to over insure, and buy very high margin coverage levels. By instituting a six-months gap between a sign-up date and the beginning of the coverage period, participants’ ability to forecast margins over the coverage period would be substantially reduced, and enrollment decisions would be based on the need for risk protection, rather than the opportunity for rent extraction. This change would preserve low and affordable premium levels, while reducing the expected program outlays by at least 20%.

    Issue Brief: Dairy Subtitle to the 2013 Farm Bill: Critical Issues and Options | PDF

Public Health
  • Issue Brief: Regulation of Raw Milk Sales and Implications for Public Health

    Authors: Will Hueston, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota; Laura Pickrell, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Consumer demand exists for the sale of unpasteurized (i.e., raw) milk, driven by a number of consumer interests including: taste preference, belief about health benefits, desire to consume local food, concern that pasteurization masks ‘dirty’ milk, interest in ‘right to choose’, and arguments that producers can encourage beneficial microbes and thereby control the presence of harmful bacteria in raw milk .
    • Current Minnesota law allows “occasional” sale of raw milk only by dairy producers on the farm where the milk was produced.
    • Public health investigations have identified links between raw milk consumption and foodborne illness outbreaks caused by a range of pathogens in Minnesota and other states.
    • Children are at greatest risk of serious illness and death from raw milk consumption.
    • Pasteurization of milk began in the 1920s in the United States (US), and became a widespread practice by the 1950s. Use of pasteurization led to a reduction in foodborne diseases commonly linked to unpasteurized milk.
    • Scientific evidence suggests that relaxing Minnesota regulation of raw milk sales will result in increased illness and more multi-person outbreaks.
    • While sanitation inspections and regular product testing may decrease the health risks of raw milk, multiple policy options exist regarding regulation of raw milk sales.
       

    Issue Brief: Regulation of Raw Milk Sales and Implications for Public Health | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Hunting Ammunition and Implications for Public Health

    Author: Julia Ponder, School of Public Health; University of Minnesota.

    Summary of Findings:

    • Multiple types of hunting ammunition are available with varying ballistics and public health implications
    • Game meat harvested with lead ammunition may be contaminated with lead fragments
    • Ingestion of lead fragments in game meat may present health risks, especially to women and children. There is no level of lead exposure in children known to be without adverse effects
    • Public health risks can be mitigated by use of alternative hunting ammunitions  

    Issue Brief: Hunting Ammunition and Implications for Public Health | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Backyard Poultry: Implications for Public Health and Safety

    Authors: Tanya Bailey & Jean Larson, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; University of Minnesota.

    Summary of findings
    :

    • Keeping backyard poultry is predominately regulated at the local level through county and city ordinances and zoning.
    • Keeping backyard poultry as pets may contribute to overall human well-being through their companionship.
    • Backyard poultry also can expose people to disease; live birds can appear healthy and show no sign of illness while carrying germs and bacteria that can make humans sick.
    • Children, the elderly, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk of getting disease from backyard poultry.
    • Prevention practices can help minimize or eliminate infectious disease transmission, including thorough hand washing with soap and water after handling poultry, poultry feed, equipment or eggs; proper food preparation of poultry and eggs; and supervising children when handling live poultry.

    Issue Brief: Backyard Poultry: Implications for Public Health and Safety | PDF

  • Issue Brief: Food Irradiation and Public Health

    Authors: Michael Boland, Food Industry Center, University of Minnesota; and Sean Fox, Department of Agricultural Economics; Kansas State University.

    Summary of findings
    :

    • The US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recognize the potential of food irradiation to prevent many infectious diseases that are transmitted by meat, poultry, fresh produce and other foods.
    • Irradiation has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to kill harmful and spoilage bacteria and pests on fruits, vegetables, spices, raw poultry and red meats, and wheat flour.
    • Use of irradiation would improve food security by reducing foodborne illness and reducing food waste by spoilage. Approved levels of irradiation do not sterilize food and are not a substitute for proper food handling.
    • Food irradiation currently is underutilized, most likely due to limited processing capacity, demand uncertainty, consumer perceptions and the feelings of some organizations that more research is needed.

    Issue Brief: Food Irradiation and Public Health | PDF

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  • Last modified on April 17, 2014