FERN’s Friday Feed: China gets serious about food safety

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

China is trying to make Chinese food less scary


After too many food-safety scares, including the death of six infants from toxic milk powder in 2008, the Chinese are understandably wary of Chinese food. That’s why JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce company, is launching a program to trace beef straight from the farm. Every step of the way is tracked electronically in the hopes of guarding against fraud. Describing his experience with the technology, Echo Huang writes at Quartz, “I learned that my cow was three years old, weighed 605 kilograms (1,338 lbs), and was tended to by a local vet named Na Qin before being slaughtered on July 2. A Simmental breed, the cow lived on a farm Kerchin (a Mongolian meat company working with JD.com) identified as ‘1556,’ and was fed a diet of corn, wheat, and straw.” The app also assures customers that their beef wasn’t treated with ractopamine — a banned growth stimulant. Walmart is adopting similar technology in China, while the Chinese government is teaming with the European Union to establish EU-China-Safe, another food-tracking program.

Back when the Mississippi was wild

Roads & Kingdoms

“For many millennia, the Mississippi River was one of the world’s great swamps,” says Roads & Kingdoms. And the people who lived along it — speaking different languages and living by profoundly different customs — thrived in a place that Europeans considered impassable, menaced by bears and panthers. Today, 90 percent of that ancient floodplain has disappeared, farmed into soybeans. But travel the old river by canoe, as the writer in this story does, and you can still imagine a culture that 1,200 years ago built massive earthwork ridges fueled by swamp rabbit and catfish and corn — the crop that ultimately turned them into a society as complex, and troubled, as our own.

Dairy farmers in Wisconsin get what they voted for — and they don’t like it

Reveal News

“I was expecting some things to happen when I voted for Trump,” says Abby Driscoll, a dairy farmer in Wisconsin. “As far as all of his immigration policies, I guess I wasn’t expecting it to go as far as it did already.” But many of Driscoll’s employees are in the country illegally, including Manuel Estrada, who drives to work every day afraid he’ll be pulled over and deported to Mexico, separated from his American wife and their children. Wisconsin helped put President Trump in the White House, voting for a Republican candidate for the first time since 1984. Yet, the state’s dairy farming communities are not eager to enforce Trump’s tougher immigration laws and risk losing their workforce. As Estrada told his boss after the election, “[S]he could be milking the cows by herself if Trump does what he says he wants to do,” says Reveal News.

Going to Europe? Skip the scrambled eggs.


After an insecticide called Fipronil contaminated chicken eggs in the Netherlands — one of Europe’s biggest egg producers — 180 Dutch poultry farms have been temporarily closed and millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves in several European countries. Fipronil is used to rid cats and dogs of lice, fleas and ticks, but it can cause “nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and epileptic seizures” if consumed by humans, according to the Dutch food-safety agency. Investigators believe that the insecticide was added to a legal treatment for red mites and sold by a Belgian pest-control firm to a company that cleans poultry farms. So far, no one has been sickened by the poisoned eggs.

How to help indigenous people regain food sovereignty

ISGP’s The Forum (audio)

Researchers in Canada say the best way to improve the health of the country’s First Nations people, who suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes, is to reconnect them with the foods their ancestors ate. Apart from teaching young people how to cook and forage like their grandparents, communities are calling for more hunter-support programs like the one that gives money to Cree families that spend at least 120 days harvesting local foods. Hunting and fishing sites also need to be safeguarded for indigenous use, say experts, since many are popular spots for commercial and sport hunters too. In what could be a model for the rest of the world, some researchers think there’s an opportunity to channel the proceeds from provincial carbon taxes toward supporting indigenous food systems in the regions that have been most hurt by the fossil fuel industry.

Sign up for the FERN Newsletter below and receive FERN’s Friday Feed in your email