Myths & Truths about Agriculture

An assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Photo taken 03/18/16.

Do you find yourself in a sea of information overload and not knowing what’s true and what’s a myth?  Unfortunately, it can be difficult to decipher at times.  One of the first questions we should ask ourselves is why do we believe things about agriculture that are not always true?  Some reasons we do this would be that more Americans are removed from the farm than ever before.  Currently less than 2% of our population are farmers.  Information is at everyone’s fingertips, regardless of whether it is true or not.  We are quick to believe anything we read.

One of the biggest myths that I hear on a regular basis is that family farms are a thing of the past.  In reality, 97% of American farms are family owned and operated by individuals.  Another is that organic producers don’t use pesticides.  In reality, organic producers do use pesticides that have been approved for organic production.   However, they are not always as effective as synthetic chemicals so crops are often sprayed more frequently.  They are all registered with the EPA and must pass the same regulatory safety tests as the synthetic chemicals used by non-organic producers.  These are just a couple myths among the millions that are going around.

In contrast, a couple of the truths in agriculture that you rarely hear are that homeowners use the greatest concentration of chemical pesticides per acre.  The EPA has found that homeowners applied chemical pesticides at a rate eight times greater per acre than did farmers.  Another truth amongst the myths is the number of GMO crops approved for commercial sale in the United States.  Currently the only genetically modified crops commercially available in the United States are corn, soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, squash, papaya, sugar beets, and canola.  Any crop that is commercially available today has been modified by humans in some way for taste, yield or disease resistance.

It is important for the consumer and public to understand that much of the information being circulated on social media, news media and on the street are untrue claims of agriculture.  It is important, now more than ever, to verify the truth of what you read or are being told.  Be an informed consumer and make up your own mind rather than believing what someone tells you.  Ask questions and do your own research using reputable sources.  Agriculture producers would much rather answer your questions than have more misinformation spread.

Taken from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm502182.htm.

FDA modernizes Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods
Refreshed design and relevant information will help consumers make healthy food choices

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a major step in making sure consumers have updated nutritional information for most packaged foods sold in the United States, that will help people make informed decisions about the foods they eat and feed their families.

“I am thrilled that the FDA has finalized a new and improved Nutrition Facts label that will be on food products nationwide,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.”

“For more than 20 years, Americans have relied on the Nutrition Facts label as a leading source of information regarding calories, fat and other nutrients to help them understand more about the foods they eat in a day,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. “The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices – one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.”

Key Updates

The new Nutrition Facts label will include the following.

  • An updated design to highlight “calories” and “servings,” two important elements in making informed food choices.
  • Requirements for serving sizes that more closely reflect the amounts of food that people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink has changed since the last serving size requirements were published in 1993. By law, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, requires that serving sizes be based on what people actually eat.
  • Declaration of grams and a percent daily value (%DV) for “added sugars” to help consumers know how much sugar has been added to the product. It is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars, and this is consistent with the scientific evidence supporting the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • “Dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. Examples include a pint of ice cream and a 3-ounce bag of chips. With dual-column labels available, people will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
  • For packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20 ounce soda, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.
  • Updated daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D, consistent with Institute of Medicine recommendations and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Daily values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the %DV that manufacturers include on the label.
  • Declaration of Vitamin D and potassium that will include the actual gram amount, in addition to the %DV. These are nutrients that some people are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. The %DV for calcium and iron will continue to be required, along with the actual gram amount. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required because deficiencies of these vitamins are rare, but these nutrients can be included on a voluntary basis.
  • “Calories from Fat” will be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will continue to be required.
  • An abbreviated footnote to better explain the %DV.

The FDA is also making minor changes to the Supplement Facts label found on dietary supplements to make it consistent with the Nutrition Facts label.

Most food manufacturers will be required to use the new label by July 26, 2018. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply with the new rules. The FDA plans to conduct outreach and education efforts on the new requirements.

The iconic Nutrition Facts label was introduced more than 20 years ago to help consumers make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices. In March 2014, the FDA proposed two rules to update the label, and in July 2015, issued a supplemental proposed rule. The Nutrition Facts label regulations apply to packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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Posted by Michelle Atkinson, Environmental Horticulture Agent Can you tell me how old a fish is just by looking at a slice of bone? That’s one question youth will learn how to answer in the Manatee Marine Explorers Day Camp created by two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences…

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Improving Lives for More than 100 Years

For more than 100 years, the Extension Service has helped improve the lives of Florida’s citizens through research, education, and the application of practical knowledge to solving everyday problems.  During this year’s National Agriculture Week, we are celebrating the contributions Extension has made to not only Manatee County’s agricultural industry, but to the individuals and families who live and work in our community.  Since 1918, when Extension was established in Manatee County, our faculty and staff have helped people save water and money, improve agricultural practices, promote healthy lifestyles, protect the environment, cultivate civic engagement, foster economic development, and prepare strong and capable youth for a vibrant and productive adulthood.

The history of Extension in the United States really began in 1862 with the signing of the first Morrill Act, which established the land-grant university system.  Land-grant universities were created to provide education in agricultural and mechanical sciences and to prepare (at that time) young men for military service through ROTC.  The 1862 land-grant university in Florida is the University of Florida, located in Gainesville.  A second Morrill Act was signed in 1890, which established land-grant universities for African-Americans.  Florida’s 1890 land-grant university is Florida A & M University, located in Tallahassee.  Today, these two universities work together to provide Extension education in all 67 counties in Florida.

The next milestone in Extension history occurred with the development of the Hatch Act, which was signed into law in 1887.  This act awarded $15,000 to each land-grant university for the establishment of agricultural experiment stations.  These experiment stations performed research primarily in the areas of soil nutrients and plant growth, which was then shared with farmers to help them improve their yields.  Today, important research in areas such as range cattle, citrus, vegetables, strawberries, plant diseases, and tropical fruits is performed at 13 research and education centers around the state.  The data collected at these centers is then shared with clientele from the Panhandle to the Keys with the help of Extension faculty and staff.

The Cooperative Extension Service was officially created in the United States in 1914 through the Smith-Lever Act, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.  The act established a widespread informal education system within the existing land-grant university structure where research developed at the university was delivered to folks out in the community through a network of agents who would take it directly to the people where they lived.  The Extension Service is a three-tiered partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture, the land-grant universities, and county government.  In Florida, the primary state-level partner is UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), which employs hundreds of Extension researchers, professors, agents, and support staff.

The original focus of Extension programming was on helping rural families improve farming techniques and implement the latest technologies on the farm and inside the home.  But as the population grew and changed, the scope of Extension programming grew as well.  Today, the UF/IFAS Extension Service in Manatee County educates both urban and rural clientele on everything from healthy cooking to integrated pest management, workforce development to cattle management.  Our faculty and staff work closely with citizens to troubleshoot problems and find unbiased, research-based solutions.  Our areas of expertise include livestock, commercial vegetable production, nursery production, commercial and residential landscapes, water conservation, marine resources, parenting and family economics, health and wellness, and youth development through the 4-H program.  Our strong core of volunteers helps expand our reach and promote our mission within the greater community.

The Extension Service has been going strong for more than 100 years and the future continues to look bright.  With strong leadership and dedication to the mission, Extension will continue to not only meet the current needs of our clientele, but will grow and adapt to our rapidly changing world.  As the future becomes the present, Extension looks to stay perched on the cutting edge of new research and technologies that will help make positive and lasting impacts on the quality of our lives and the health and sustainability of our environment.

The Manatee County Extension Service is located at the fairgrounds at 1303 17th Street West in Palmetto.  We are open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.  For more information about what we do and what classes are available give us a call at (941) 722-4524 or visit our website at http://manatee.ifas.ufl.edu.  All Extension classes and events are open to everyone without discrimination, most at low to no cost.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 provides a clear roadmap to help people like you and me eat more healthfully and improve our overall wellness.  The primary focus in the new guidelines is helping people establish a healthy eating pattern.  A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • Eating a variety of colorful vegetables, including legumes (peas and beans).
  • Eating a variety of whole fruits.
  • Making at least half of the grains you eat whole grains.
  • Including fat-free or lowfat dairy in your diet, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy choices.
  • Eating a variety of protein foods such as lean meats, poultry, and seafood as well as eggs, nuts, and seeds.
  • Using healthier fats and oils, such as those from plants (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower).

Do these suggestions sound familiar?  That’s because they have been a central part of the Dietary Guidelines for years, supported by research and integral to human health and wellness.

Other highlights from the new Dietary Guidelines include:

  • Healthy eating one of the most important disease-fighting tools we have available to us.  The risk of acquiring chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and even cancer can be reduced by adopting a healthier diet.  The first step in eating more healthfully is making informed choices about the foods you eat.
  • Don’t forget the importance of physical activity!  Adults need 150 minutes of exercise a week to stay healthy.  Mix it up; include both cardio (aerobic) and muscle-building activities into your exercise routine.  Children between 6-17 need 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
  • Less than 10% of your total calorie intake per day should come from saturated fats.  An easy way to distinguish saturated from unsaturated fats is to remember that saturated fats are solids at room temperature and unsaturated fats are liquids.
  • Limit sodium! Adults and children over 14 should limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day (about a teaspoon). Children under 14 should consume even less.  This doesn’t just include added sodium, such as table salt, but the sodium naturally present in foods.  Be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label when calculating sodium.

One of the most interesting highlights in the new Guidelines is the focus on community health.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to encourage and model easy, accessible, and affordable ways to support healthy choices.  It’s only when we all work together for a healthier lifestyle that true success can occur.

For more information about the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, please visit http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/.

Source: “Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” January 7, 2016.