Monday, December 20, 2010

Food Safety Bill Passes Senate (Again). Not A Good Thing.

Last night, the US Senate unexpectedly passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill granting the FDA broad new powers to regulate food. It is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, and require the hiring of thousands of new FDA inspectors (link). The bill now goes back to the House, which is almost certain to pass it, and on to the President, who will sign it.

Aside from its expense, the main problem with the bill is that the FDA's technological vision of "food safety" is at odds with the idea of "real food" (link).

The only reason the bill isn't a COMPLETE disaster is that it contains some exceptions for very small food producers.

Regardless, it is a step in the wrong direction.

Why did this bill pass now, when it seemed like it was stuck in the legislature? Slate speculates:
The best theory I've heard is that key Republicans…decided that it wasn't worth keeping the Senate in session past Christmas to debate it. It's a Christmas miracle, if the key characteristics of Christmas are self-interest and fatigue.
At least as likely an explanation as any other.

It's unlikely to get killed in the House, but if you would like to make your voice heard, please contact your representative.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Food System Is Broken. Buying Local Food Can Help.

For many of us, the fact that our food system is broken is not news.

The US government subsidizes crops we don't need more of (like "number 2 field corn"), which get processed into foods that are bad for us (high-fructose corn syrup), and are fed to animals who get sick from eating them (cows). Vegetable farmers receive no subsidies.

Government incentives and regulatory agencies encourage centralized, industrialized food production and processing, which lead to food-borne illness and recalls on a massive scale, not to mention the disappearance of local variation. Time was, you could drive across the country and get some local color by visiting family-run roadside eateries; today, most of your options are chain restaurants serving food from Sysco and other foodservice distributors.

We have become so dependent on food from other regions that any sort of crisis—whether it be transportation fuel shortage, water shortage, or natural or man-made disaster—will have its effects magnified, because it will have an impact on the food system nationwide.

How can buying local food help?

First, when we buy food directly from local, small farmers, we cut out the intermediary. The profits all go directly to the farmer, rather than going mostly to the distributor. The farmer is able to stay in business and continue growing food, rather than selling the farm to a real estate developer. Furthermore, we are able to talk to the farmer. What kinds of anti-pest measures were taken? Grass-fed, grain-fed, or a combination? Why? What's good right now? What's coming next week? How's the family? And so on.

Second, when we buy local food, we are creating a more robust, resilient food system. It is to our advantage to have more food produced locally, whatever sort of food is suited to our climate, because in the event of a discontinuity of some sort, it may become more difficult or expensive to transport food thousands of miles. Buying eggs from a national distributor is, in effect, "putting all our eggs in one basket".

Third, local food is likely to be fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.

This isn't the first time anyone has made these arguments, and I hope it won't be the last. And of course there are many more arguments to be made in favor of local food.

We need to keep making these arguments until things are working right.

(This post was submitted as part of Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


If you drink milk or eat butter, you should be willing to eat veal. Or at the very least you should be okay with the idea that someone, somewhere is eating veal.

Here's why:

Dairy cows, in order to give milk, must have calves. Half the calves are male. Male calves don't have a role to play on a dairy farm. Hence, veal.

Am I saying that we should all go to the big supermarket and buy veal? No. The veal they sell in the supermarket is no better than the beef at the supermarket, and it can be worse, because of the way some calves are treated. What about "organic" veal? Not necessarily any different. A few years ago, two employees of a processor specializing in organic veal were charged with cruelty after "hidden-camera video taken by the Humane Society of the United States showed days-old calves being dragged, kicked and shocked as they were loaded off a truck and taken to slaughter." (link)

So where is the veal that we should be willing to eat?

It is at the small farms. Find a local dairy or beef farm, ask them about veal, and buy some from them. You will be supporting their business. You will also be getting a versatile, tender, and delicious meat for yourself and your family.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Organic Eggs Are Not All Good

Organic, "free-range" eggs from the grocery store are all pretty good, right?


The word "organic" on the package does not guarantee that the hens had humane treatment, space to move around, or access to the outdoors. And it doesn't guarantee that the eggs are healthy for you to eat, especially if you choose to eat your eggs raw. Pretty much all the word "organic" guarantees is that the hens received organic feed.

For the disheartening details, check this excellent report from the Cornucopia Institute, which includes a scorecard naming specific organic brands.

Also check Dr. Mercola's recent posts on the subject of eggs, here and here.

The solution:

Find a local farmer you trust, and buy your eggs from that farmer.

For reasons why, see my earlier post on the subject of Eggs of Known Origin.

This post is linked to from Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forbes Magazine Still Doesn't Get It: Monsanto Is Still Evil

At the beginning of 2010, Forbes Magazine named Monsanto "Company of the Year", and wrote a long paean to them. I responded here.

It's worth reading the comments posted to the Forbes website in response to their article, here. I looked through the first page of them: no one supported Monsanto; everyone expressed dismay at Monsanto's business. Among other useful links that came out of the comments: How to Avoid GMO/Monsanto (aimed at folks buying seeds, necessary because Monsanto is buying up as many independent seed companies as they can); Non-GMO Shopping Guide (including a short Tips for Avoiding GMOs and an extensive Guide, also available for iPhone).

I recently learned that Forbes published a "retraction", of sorts. The author who wrote the original article has written a new piece entitled "Forbes Was Wrong On Monsanto. Really Wrong." I saw the title and was filled with hope. Had Forbes come to understand that their endorsement of Monsanto was short-sighted?

No. They're saying that they were wrong because they had predicted great things for Monsanto's stock price, and it had not performed as hoped. They are still defending Monsanto's fundamental strategy.

To me, this is a vivid illustration of the growing divide between those who favor corporate interests, and those who favor the human interests. This divide is MUCH more important than Democrat-versus-Republican or liberal-versus-conservative. I would urge everyone to evaluate life choices, small and large, using this frame of reference, rather than the "political" frames.

Oh, and please cancel your subscription to Forbes.