Ag Today Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ag Today

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

 

Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Drought Watch: Optimism at area reservoirs

By Chris Kaufman

Water, water, everywhere.

Local officials are optimistic that if weather trends continue, the prospect is promising reservoirs will be at a sustainable levels.

“Were doing great,” said Lincoln Young, Collins Lake’s general manager, who said the Yuba County spot is 30 feet from full — up from 68 feet from full in October.

“To be at that stage this week in January is comforting,” said Young, who has managed the lake’s recreation portion for more than 40 years. “We need to see normal rainfall activity from here on out to be at normal capacity, and forecasts are calling for more rain.”

Rainwater-fed, Young said the lake sees runoff for 48 hours following a downpour.

Doug Carlson, with the California Department of Water Resources, said recent storm activity has been an encouraging drop in the drought bucket.

“The Department of Water Resources believes the trajectory of storage levels in reservoirs and rainfall and snowfall is moving in the right direction,” Carlson said. “We’re hopeful that the recent storms continue in a pattern that will deliver much more precipitation in the weeks ahead.”

Carlson said most reservoir storage levels aren’t at their historical average for this date — but current and projected weather patterns are promising.

“We generally believe we need 150 percent of normal perception to move us into a more normal water situation,” he said. “We need to have a lot more precipitation to move the storage levels to a more comfortable level.”

According to data on the DWR site, Shasta Reservoir is at 46 percent capacity; 69 percent capacity is the historical average for this date. Lake Oroville is at 38 percent, compared to 59 percent historical capacity. New Bullards Bar is the highest at 52 percent capacity, but still well behind the 87 percent historical capacity for this date.

“The general feeling is that the recent precipitation is encouraging. We’re still waiting till the end of the season to get a better idea,” Carlson said. “We have to wait to see if the pattern will continue, and until then, it’s too premature to predict the end of the drought.”

CONTACT Chris Kaufman at 749-4794. ckaufman@appealdemocrat.com

 

Eureka Times-Standard

Public at Arcata meeting unified in desire for Klamath dam removal

By Will Houston, Eureka Times-Standard

Though coming from different backgrounds, professions, and cultures, the nearly 30 speakers at the California Water Resource’s Control Board meeting in Arcata on Monday evening were all unified by one goal: the removal of four Klamath River dams.

“Allowing Klamath salmon to go extinct because these four dams were allowed to stand would represent one of the clearest and most egregious irretrievable commitments in the history of environmental analysis, in my opinion,” Klamath Riverkeeper Project Manager Erica Terence said, speaking as a private citizen.

The State Water Board’s Monday scoping meeting at the D Street Community Center was held to gain input from the public as it prepares its environmental review of PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project, which includes four Klamath River dams — Copco 1, Copco 2, Iron Gate and J.C. Boyle — once slated for removal by now failed Klamath Basin agreements. PacifiCorp is seeking to obtain a Clean Water Act permit from the state as part of a larger dam relicensing effort at the federal level through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The project has not been relicensed since 1956.

Based in Portland and a subsidiary of American businessman Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, PacifiCorp had been undergoing the relicensing process for several years until delaying it after signing on to the first of the three Klamath Basin agreements, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KHSA called for the removal of the four PacifiCorp dams by 2020 in exchange for limiting PacifiCorp’s liability to about $200 million. The two other agreements — the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement — would have sought to resolve water rights issues between tribes and irrigators, provide environmental protections and ensure water certainty for Klamath Basin agriculture.

However, after Congress failed to pass the agreements by Jan. 1 this year, PacifiCorp resumed its relicensing process. Having gone through much of the relicensing process already, the last major hurdles the company faces are obtaining Clean Water Act permits through the California Water Resources Control Board and from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The California Water Board was in Arcata on Monday for a scoping meeting to hear from the public and stakeholders as it prepares its environmental impact report for the dam’s Clean Water Act permit. From tribal members to fishermen to environmentalists to politicians, every public speaker that attended the meeting stated the only way to protect water quality and resources as prescribed under the California Clean Water Act was through full removal of the four dams.

California 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman’s District Representative John Driscoll read a statement from Huffman, which acknowledged that the Klamath Basin agreements are now “dead” and called upon the State Water Board to demand dam removal.

“Nothing short of an aggressive approach will do here,” Huffman wrote in his statement.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission evaluated six alternative actions in its own environmental review of the dams, ranging from leaving the dams as is or removing the four hydroelectric dams altogether. There were also alternatives that kept the dams in place, but with changes. PacifiCorp’s own proposal would include installation of fish ladders, oxygenation of Iron Gate Reservoir, flow alterations, and gravel replacement among nearly 40 other changes. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s environmental review of the dams shows that the company would lose more than $20 million per year if they reopened the dams with some of these conditions, but recommended the dams stay in place.

Yurok Senior Fisheries Biologist Mike Belchik said the impacts the dams have on the river — including temperature, flow, nutrients and sediment — are having serious consequences on downstream salmonids, especially with disease and parasitic outbreaks like ich. Over 90 percent of diseased juvenile salmon the tribe surveyed in the river last year succumbed to their illness, Belchik said. Belchik said that the alternative options don’t go far enough to address these impacts and that there is no way to mitigate them except through full dam removal.

“There is not enough cold water in the reservoir,” he said, referring to Iron Gate.

Stillwater Sciences senior fish biologist Joshua Strange said the reservoirs behind the dams also affect spawning salmon upstream migration patterns in the river, with the fish now pausing their migration for about a week at the start of the fall season when they would normally still be moving. Strange said this is occurring because the reservoir water is warmed up as it sits behind dams like Iron Gate. Upon release downstream, the reservoir water is warmer than it normally would be during the start of fall, and the fish react by waiting for the cooler waters.

“This is a big contributor in my mind as to why ich outbreak has occurred in the lower Klamath River,” he said. “It’s the only place this disease has ever occurred in a migrating salmon population. Otherwise, it only occurs when fish are stationary.”

Cultural impacts were also a major talking point, with several local tribal members explaining how the conditions of the river have made cultural ceremonies or activities difficult or impossible. Yurok tribal member and Cultural Resources Manager Rosie Clayburn said that part of praying is actually interacting with the water, but that people are now walking out of the water with rashes from irritants like algae.

“We don’t even have the water flow to do that,” she said. “We can’t even put a boat in to go down. We actually have to request water releases to have that done.”

The State Water Board is set to hold another scoping meeting in Orleans this morning from 10 a.m. to noon at the Karuk Tribe Community Room. Written comments on the State Water Board’s environmental impact review preparations are due by 5 p.m. on Jan. 29.

More information on the project and written comment submittals can be found online at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/klamath_ferc2082.shtml

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reach the author at whouston@times-standard.com@times-standard.com or follow Will on Twitter: @Will_S_Houston.

 

Palm Springs Desert Sun

Agua Caliente tribe to keep up water fight, leader says

By Ian James

Nearly three years after the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians sued the Coachella Valley’s largest water districts, the two sides remain just as far apart in a case that could force changes in how water is managed locally and set a precedent for similar disputes nationwide.

Agua Caliente Chairman Jeff Grubbe said he thinks the case is going to take time and the tribe is not in a hurry.

“We’re patient. This is a top priority for my membership and we’re going to see it through no matter how long it takes,” Grubbe told The Desert Sun. “We’re going to keep fighting for those rights.”

Grubbe answered questions about the lawsuit during an interview last week at the Agua Caliente administration building in Palm Springs, also touching on his meetings with President Obama and his tribe’s relationship with the federal government.

He said Agua Caliente leaders are taking a long-term view with the federal lawsuit and hope to obtain rulings recognizing their rights to groundwater and granting them a “seat at the table” to help manage water alongside the agencies.

The Agua Caliente sued the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District in May 2013 in an attempt to assert rights to a portion of the area’s groundwater. The tribe accused the agencies of imperiling the aquifer by allowing its levels to decline over the years and by using saltier, less pure Colorado River water to offset the amounts drawn out.

The water agencies have defended their efforts to deal with the long-term problem of groundwater overdraft and have insisted that water from the Colorado River meets all drinking water standards.

“We attempted to sit down and work all these issues out with the water agencies, and it went nowhere,” Grubbe said.

“We’re still open to any sort of talks that they want to have, settlement talk, I mean, we’re open. But I doubt they are. They’re going to stay on their side and we’ll stay on ours. We’ll see what happens.”

Deciding on one of several issues in the case, a federal judge ruled in March that the tribe has a “reserved right” to groundwater. CVWD and DWA appealed to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in June agreed to hear their case.

Grubbe said other tribes have been watching the lawsuit and have been supportive. If the Agua Caliente win the case, he said, the result should help other tribes in their own disputes over water rights.

“We’ve had tribes throughout the country wanting to get involved,” Grubbe said. “They’re a little taken aback on how the water agencies have treated the tribe and how they’re doing business.”

One of the concerns that prompted the lawsuit, Grubbe said, is that the water districts are using untreated water from the Colorado River to replenish the aquifer.

Grubbe said he views the higher levels of total dissolved solids (also known as TDS) as a problem, as well as the pesticides and other contaminants that may end up in the Colorado River. He said that use of “dirtier water” may not have much of an effect in the next several years but it could harm the quality of the area’s drinking water in the long-term.

“It’s a contaminated water going into a pristine aquifer,” he said. “We obviously would want to see that water cleaned – cleaned before it’s put in the aquifer. It doesn’t matter if it costs money. It’s the right thing to do, I think.”

The water districts strongly disagree. DWA General Manager Dave Luker said in an email that Colorado River water is used for drinking water by millions of people across the region. He said not using that water to recharge the aquifer would be irresponsible.

“Replenishment with Colorado River water also has water quality benefits,” Luker said in an email. By diluting the amounts of the naturally occurring chromium-6 in the aquifer, he said, that water from the Colorado River has helped decrease the levels of the contaminant in the water supply of the west valley.

“Desert Water Agency is the only local public water agency that has chromium-6 levels below the state’s new strict standard. Colorado River water is also nitrate free,” Luker said. “The idea of treating Colorado River water before recharging it is infeasible due to the infrequency of deliveries. If it was done, it would be astronomically expensive. Cost may be no object for the Tribe, but it is for DWA and its customers.”

Luker also said it was the tribe that broke off talks in 2014, and “they have made no suggestions that they are willing to settle.”

If the appeals court agrees with the initial ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal, the lower court would go on to consider other disputed issues. Subsequent phases of the case would determine whether groundwater is needed “to fulfill the reservation’s purpose,” and the quantities of water to which the tribe would be entitled.

Ultimately, the Coachella Valley’s aquifer could join a list of 23 other California groundwater basins that have been adjudicated by courts. In those cases, a judge typically divvies up the water supply and determines how much various parties can pump. The cases often require years of litigation and can end with a judge appointing an independent “water master” to oversee water management.

In court documents, both sides in the lawsuit have cited details of the reservation’s establishment in 1876 through an executive order by President Ulysses S. Grant, as well as a subsequent order by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 setting aside additional lands for the tribe. The tribe and the water agencies have also disagreed on the implications of a landmark 1908 Supreme Court decision, Winters v. United States, which affirmed that Indian tribes are entitled to sufficient water supplies for their reservations.

Responding to Grubbe’s statement that the Agua Caliente tribe hopes to participate as a decision-maker, Luker said the tribe already serves as a “planning partner” for the area’s regional water management plan. He said that means the Agua Caliente have the same seat at the table as city governments, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and other stakeholders.

Managers of the water districts have questioned how the Agua Caliente would use the water rights if they prevail in court.

“DWA asked Agua Caliente how much water they want rights to, and in those talks the Tribe did not respond to that question,” Luker said. “DWA cannot give away water rights. The water rights belong to the people.”

The Agua Caliente reservation spreads across more than 31,000 acres in a checkerboard pattern that includes parts of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. The tribe, which has approximately 480 members, owns developments including casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, and has plans for new developments on tribal lands.

The tribe is also fighting Riverside County in federal court over a special tax paid by those leasing tribal land, arguing the tax violates its status as a sovereign nation.

Grubbe has often said the lawsuit against the water districts is aimed at safeguarding the area’s water supply for all residents. In the interview, he emphasized what he said are fundamental differences between how the agencies manage water and how the Tribal Council views water issues.

“The board members on the water districts’ boards… they’re business-minded. They’re looking at profit, they’re looking at what they can do to run efficient,” Grubbe said. The leaders of the Agua Caliente tribe, he said, are more concerned about addressing long-term water issues now in order to prevent problems for future generations.

“We’re looking at these issues, how bad they can get 100 years from now, not just 10 years from now,” he said, “and so that’s a huge consideration of why we filed that suit.”

Although it’s not an issue in the lawsuit, the tribe also has a historic cultural connection to the water that bubbles up in a hot spring in downtown Palm Springs. The tribe and the city are both named after the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring, which flows into an underground chamber at the site where the Spa Resort hotel was demolished last year and where the tribe now plans a new development.

Since the court case began in 2013, much more attention has been focused on water issues in California due to the drought. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency and ordered a mandatory statewide cut of 25 percent in water use in cities and towns across the state. People in the Coachella Valley have responded by using less water, though the area’s six water suppliers have still largely fallen short of the state’s mandatory conservation targets.

Grubbe called those efforts beneficial and a start in the right direction.

“It’s something they should have done, though,” he said. “It shouldn’t have just happened while we’re in a drought. It should have been happening before we hit the drought.”

The Desert Sun has repeatedly analyzed measurements of groundwater levels for more than 300 wells in the area and has found significant long-term declines in the aquifer in much of the Coachella Valley, even as imported water has helped partially counteract that trend.

The U.S. Department of Justice has backed the tribe in the water lawsuit, and Grubbe has brought up the issue in person with President Obama. The two have met several times, both on the tarmac next to Air Force One in Palm Springs and in Washington, where the president has convened annual conferences with Native American leaders.

The Agua Caliente tribe has long maintained relationships with presidents and members of congress from both parties. Grubbe said Obama and his Cabinet appointees have put a new focus on relations with Native American leaders.

“They’re open and easily accessible to tribes,” Grubbe said. “It’s something that we’ve never had as much as we have now.”

He said the administration is “working with us side-by-side” on the water lawsuit. Grubbe said the subject didn’t come up during Obama’s most recent sit-down with him and other tribal leaders last year. Instead, Grubbe said he thanked Obama for his stances on climate change.

When Obama stood to leave, Grubbe recalled the president shook his hand and said something like, “We’re not done yet.”

“We’ll see. It worries me who the next president will be and how that relationship will go,” Grubbe said. “This has been great. Just to have that access to the White House is a first for Indian country.”

Ian James can be reached by email at ian.james@desertsun.com and on Twitter: @TDSIanJames

 

Sacramento Bee

California wildfire losses pegged at $1 billion

By Dale Kasler

Northern California’s twin wildfires last fall caused an estimated $1 billion in insurance losses, state regulators said Monday.

The estimate by the state Department of Insurance makes clear that the Butte and Valley fires in September were among the costliest in California history.

The department said the Valley Fire, which destroyed 1,958 homes and other buildings in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, caused $700 million in covered losses. The Butte Fire, which claimed 818 buildings in Amador and Calaveras counties, caused $300 million in insurance losses.

The estimates are in line with an earlier calculation by insurer Aon Benfield that the insured fire losses totaled $925 million. Aon said total losses, including those not covered by insurance, came to $1.95 billion.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the state’s estimate includes losses for homes, commercial buildings, cars and other personal property. The $1 billion figure doesn’t cover damages to roads, utilities and other public infrastructure.

The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 remains the most expensive blaze in the state’s history, with $2.67 billion in inflation-adjusted covered losses.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler, dkasler@sacbee.com

 

 

San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County releases new economics of agriculture study

By Milpitas Post Staff

Local agricultural industries produce a total of $1.6 billion in output value and contribute $830 million to Santa Clara County’s economy each year. The “Economic Contribution of Agriculture” study recently released by the County of Santa Clara evaluates the additional economic activity beyond the value of crop production created by key agricultural industries in the county, and traces that value from the field to final processing and consumption.

The study was to be presented to the Board of Supervisors’ Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee on thursday at the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers.

“While the footprint of agricultural land has become smaller, decreasing from 40,000 acres in the 1980s to 20,000 acres today, the continued growth in land and labor productivity has resulted in an increase in production value in the agriculture sector,” said Joseph Deviney, Santa Clara County agricultural commissioner. “Santa Clara County agriculture production ranks sixth in the state for land productivity per acre.”

Initiated by the county’s agricultural commissioner, the study outlines the eight sectors of local agricultural industries including crop production, mushroom farms, nurseries, livestock, wine and agritourism, support industries, primary processing, and food manufacturing.

These industries provide diverse and stable employment opportunities with 8,100 jobs created annually, the county reports.

Similar to other industries in Santa Clara County, agriculture has been subject to constant change and development.

Although urban development has reduced the local agricultural resource base, there has been substantial growth in the value of agriculture per acre and per worker because of shifts in crop mix toward higher-value commodities and increases in productivity.

“The Economic Contribution of Agriculture Study provides an analysis of the direct, indirect, and induced costs that make up the total $1.6 billion total output value for the industry,” Deviney said.

Key points highlighted in the report include:

The resource base of agricultural land declined significantly in the 1980s and 1990s, but has recently stabilized. The value per acre, currently $11,000, and the value per worker created by Santa Clara County agriculture has continued to increase and has never been higher.

Like the other high-tech industries in Santa Clara County, agriculture is growing in productivity per unit worker and per unit land.

The Santa Clara County Open Space Authority estimated that the total value of Santa Clara County natural capital exceeds $45 billion. Agriculture preserves some of these vital natural processes and enhances the character of the county.

Agriculture can be viewed as self-financing open space, providing important ecosystem value to county residents.

To view the report, or learn more about Santa Clara County agriculture, visit the Santa Clara County Department of Agriculture website at sccgov.org/sites/ag/news/Pages/reports.aspx.

 

 

Opinion

Washington Post

The surprising truth about the ‘food movement’

By Tamar Haspel

Let me ask you a question: When it comes to our food supply, what do you care about?

Think about it for a second. Make a mental list.

Now, let me ask you another question: Do you care about farmworker exposure to pesticides? I sure do, and I’m betting you do, too. But was it on your list? I’m betting it wasn’t.

And that difference, in a nutshell, is the source of a serious misconception about what we think of as “the food movement.” Ask people whether they care about a particular topic, and they’re likely to tell you — truthfully — that they do. But ask what people care about without prompting, and the fraction of people citing the issues that fall under food movement auspices – organics, local food, genetically modified organisms, farm subsidies, antibiotics, farmworker conditions, animal welfare — is actually quite small.

Take GMO labeling: Polls routinely show that, when you ask people whether they want GMOs labeled, upwards of 90 percent say yes. Overwhelming support for labeling GMOs! But if, instead, you ask consumers what they’d like to see identified on food labels that isn’t already there, a paltry 7 percent say “GMOs.” Almost no support for labeling GMOs!

That 7 percent study was done by William Hallman, professor and chairman of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, who points out that “most of the research that is out there that has tried to gauge how much people care about such things [has] asked people to react to lists of foods that are nasty or nice, and there are certainly social-desirability biases baked into the responses to such questions.”

The Rutgers study asked consumers about information on labels using both methods: first, “What would you like to see on labels?” and second, “Would you like to see X on labels?” The difference between the responses is huge, and it’s at the heart of why the food movement seems so much bigger than it actually is.

When subjects were asked what they would like labels to identify, here were some of the results: 7 percent (the highest number) said GMOs, 6 percent said where the food was grown or produced; 2 percent said chemicals; 1 percent said pesticides. A survey by the International Food Information Council in 2014 asked a similar question; 4 percent of respondents cited biotechnology and 4 percent cited source or processing information. Those are very small numbers.

But when the Rutgers study asked the question the second way, 80 percent of respondents said it was somewhat, very or extremely important to them that GMO content be on the label. Pesticides? 83 percent.

The moral of this story is that it’s easy to make it look like people care a whole lot more than they do.

Where does that leave us? How many people really do care? Is there even such a thing as a food movement?

Asking what consumers would like to see labeled yields an incomplete measure, certainly. The public relations firm Ketchum, which works extensively with the food industry, has tried to pinpoint the kind of consumer we think of as part of the food movement: someone who regularly and publicly recommends or critiques foods or agricultural practices. The firm came up with a definition using those criteria and found that, in 2015, 14 percent of the population met them, up from 11 percent two years earlier.

The Ketchum study indicates that food concerns among consumers are rising, something just about everyone I’ve spoken to believes to be true. But hard data on the foods that people actually buy indicate that old habits die hard.

Take organic foods. Sales growth has outpaced the rest of the market for many years, but organics still account for only 5 percent of the total market.

Local food sales make an even less compelling case. Sales at farmers markets, the venues most closely associated with the food movement, peaked in 2007 and haven’t grown since (although sale of local foods through restaurants and retail markets “appears to be increasing,” according to the Agriculture Department). The USDA estimates the total local-foods market to be about $6 billion, or about 1 percent of total food sales.

Meanwhile, our consumption of highly processed foods has held steady. But our fruit and vegetable consumption is a mixed bag. We’re buying more fresh and less canned, so the “fresh” message may be resonating. And we’re eating fruit 7 percent more often than we did a little over a decade ago (not counting fruit juice, which we drink considerably less of), but we’re eating vegetables 6 percent less often, which brings our total fruit and vegetable consumption down just a hair since 2004. Michael Pollan’s “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is undoubtedly the best seven-word diet advice ever given, but it doesn’t appear to be catching on.

What explains the discrepancy between the common perception of a growing “food movement” and the disconcerting data on what people actually buy and eat? It could be the profound disconnect between the priorities of food movement leaders and those of food movement consumer participants.

A Washington Post op-ed by four of those leaders (including Pollan) summarized what we think of as “food movement” concerns: cutting pollution and greenhouse gases, improving conditions for farmworkers and livestock, and ensuring that Americans have access to safe, affordable, nutritious, “real” food.

[How a national food policy could save millions of American lives]

For consumers, on the other hand, environmental, farmworker and animal welfare concerns take a back seat to their overwhelming first priority: their family’s health. Ketchum partner Linda Eatherton says the firm’s research indicates that “it all boils down to one thing. They care deeply about the health and safety of themselves and their family.” She notes that they also care about what’s going on in their communities and are beginning to register concerns about climate and environment, but, she says, “conversations about feeding the world fall very, very flat.”

Consumers’ fears for health don’t focus on declining vegetable consumption or the dietary dominance of highly processed foods. They are focused, instead, on a sense that they’ve been misled by the people and companies selling them food. “They feel all the information presented to them before was intended to hide important information,” says Eatherton.

That may well explain why the increasing pressure consumers are exerting on food manufacturers hasn’t focused on, say, decreasing the fertilizer runoff that’s polluting our water but has, instead, driven moves such as Kellogg’s, last August, to remove all artificial colors and flavors from their products by 2018.

There’s not much evidence that switching from additives that are artificial to those that are natural will be a public health win, but “natural” — a word that the FDA hasn’t defined — seems to be what consumers are looking for. And natural sure sounds better than artificial. Even a hard-hearted empiricist like me, who has waded through the data and found very little support for the idea that natural is actually safer, can’t help but like the idea of “natural” food. We’re hard-wired to associate the word with purity, wholesomeness and, yes, safety.

The strongest evidence of harm from artificial ingredients comes from research linking food dyes with behavioral problems in kids, and, even there, the evidence is mixed. Is it really in the public’s interest that parents feel better about Froot Loops? But Kellogg’s knows that the connection between what we eat and our health is tangible and accessible. The connection between what we eat and the Lake Erie algae bloom — fed by fertilizers, manure and sewage — that poisoned Toledo’s water supply feels distant and unreal.

The bottom line is that consumers are pushing corporations to eliminate chemicals, preservatives and anything artificial — a deck-chair rearrangement exercise that probably won’t make our food more healthful but could both encourage consumption of the targeted processed foods (because they’re natural!) and, possibly, contribute to food waste (because preservatives do, indeed, preserve).

Meanwhile, absent pressure from consumers, progress on issues of planet, workers and livestock may be slow. Unilever, which has been out front on environmental health, has found that changing the way it sources ingredients to encourage responsible farming practices has been an uphill battle. Although there are some bright spots (cage-free eggs are increasingly popular, and many food-chain players are phasing out antibiotics in livestock), most corporate food-policy changes seem designed to appease consumers without making any real improvements.

Is there a food movement? Hallman at Rutgers says there is, but he says “it is much smaller than is assumed by many in government and the food industry,” and everything I’ve read and heard indicates that he’s right. The biggest problem, though, isn’t size but substance. As long as consumer concern about additives, chemicals and preservatives overshadows concern for the environment, workers and livestock, progress on those fronts may be stymied.

When eliminating preservatives from processed food we shouldn’t be eating anyway is what passes for progress, don’t look to consumer pressure for meaningful improvement. And that’s troubling, because, at the end of the day, we’ll get the food supply we demand.