Digest: Safety vs. cloning, Philpott’s 3rd Farm Bill opus, USDA’s hand slapped on GM crops, crisis in India…

Wednesdays are always a busy day for the Digest, but this one might be a record. Hope you're hungry, people, because there's an 18-course meal's worth of links today.

Get thee back into the lab, FDA!: Biotech reporter Denise Caruso has a kick-ass top-notch op-ed about why the FDA's science regarding the safety of meat and milk from cloned animals is fundamentally flawed. By narrowing the scope of their risk assessments to very specific concerns — ones that were conceived with no input from consumers, ethicists, or other stakeholders, naturally — the biotech industry and regulators create the illusion that science and risk calculations have "proven" that biotech products will behave in predictable ways and are perfectly safe. We'll be back in a minute: must run out and buy Caruso's book "Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet," and add her blog to our RSS feeds. San Jose Mercury News

Philpott teaches Farm Bill 301: High fructose corn syrup in everything, the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, America's polluted waterways, the fact that small family farms are going under every day — we can blame all of these depressing trends on our failed agricultural policy. And if you care about any of the above, you must pay attention to the 2007 Farm Bill. Part Three in Tom Philpott's quietly angry series on this broken billion-dollar boondoggle of a system is yet another eye-opening summary of the whole mess — even if he doesn't spend as much time detailing how to fix it as he promised he would. Grist

Dept. of Good News, Probably Too Late: A judge has ruled that the USDA must stop approving new field trials of genetically engineered crops until it ascertains whether more rigorous environmental reviews are needed. (Associated Press) In related news, the Rapid City Journal says South Dakota State Sen. Kenneth McNenny's bill to ban the sale, planting or harvesting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa was defeated, even though as McNenny points out, once you plant the stuff, it's too late: “If you let all of the toothpaste out of the tube and you decide, maybe I shouldn’t have done that, how are you going to get it back in the tube?” Just ask the Indian scientists who, the Hindu reports, are begging Hyderabad's government to halt planting of Bt cotton until some serious-sounding side effects on livestock and shepherds can be investigated.

India stops being lab-rat for America's GM crops: More and more Indian farmers are "voting with their matches," helped by anti-GMO activists to beat biotech companies and the government in the public relations game. BBC News

Suicidal farmers: Indian farmers are continuing to commit suicide at epidemic rates. In just the two days that a coalition of Indian churches at a conference took to come up with a three-step agenda to improve their quality-of-life, another nine in Vidarbha ended their lives. (Look for Corn Maven's forthcoming post on the crisis.)

Eggstra special: Blue Hill chef and sometime food-politics essayist Dan Barber has gotten very excited about the rich wonderful taste of "immature" eggs, also known as embryonic — the eggs not yet laid by chickens who've been slaughtered. Sadly for those of us who occasionally buy "stewing hens," there are no instructions for extracting these bright-orange-yolked bonuses. Depressing aside: Factory chickens are worth so little that when they no longer lay enough eggs to justify their keep, many are incinerated. New York Times

Cheesed off: In response to competition from "natural" and "organic" companies like Annie's mac-n-cheese, Kraft is slapping terms like "natural" and "real Kraft cheese" on its labels to appeal to health-motivated shoppers. This article exposes how quite a lot of the time, "real" Kraft cheese means a factory-mixed powder. Some nifty charts and slide shows reveal that Kraft is of course not alone in label bait-and-switching. Bottom line: read the ingredient lists, not the labels. Chicago Business

Fish conundrum: Marc Gunther reports on how difficult it is to know which fish to order in a restaurant, unless you'd like a side of guilt sauce. Fortune

Be green, eat green: Perhaps the most powerful factual argument we've read yet for why anyone concerned about the environment (and that's of course everyone reading this, right?) should be eating less meat, or none at all. AlterNet

Hard labor: Farmers are suffering from a shortage of trained veterinarians. New York Times

Midwesterners part of the dietgeist, too: Giving the lie to the idea that only yuppies on the coasts buy organic, this article interviews lots of central Iowans willing to pony up the extra dough for the green label. Includes the now-obligatory sidebar titled "Are organic products worth the money?" — in this case, thankfully, a Q&A with the most widely quoted nutritionist in the world, Marion Nestle, who really ought to be syndicating her answers at this point. Des Moines Register

Bill and chains?: California State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) today introduced legislation that would require chain restaurants to post calorie counts for their food in "plain view" on menus and menu boards. San Francisco Chronicle

Buy local, Iowans!: If Iowans bought just 25% of their produce from local growers, the net value added to the state’s economy would be huge — almost $140 million in sales, $54 million in workers’ income and over 2,000 jobs. Des Moines Register

Hints of wood shavings?: Curious Cook Harold McGee explores why wines sometimes smell "mousy" — like an infestation of rodents. Only the renowned technician of the kitchen could get away with a sentence like this: "2-acetylpyrroline...surprised me because it was an old acquaintance, an admirable compound that I would never have thought capable of causing trouble." New York Times

Stalking the wild porcini: Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County. San Franicsco Chronicle

Sweetest thing: Maple syrup makes a great replacement for sugar in many recipes — nad if you're a Northeast 100-mile dieter, a nice locavorean substitute. San Francisco Chronicle

Good Gates governance: In response to an L.A. Times news story that argued that the money-making investments of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — in big oil and pharmaceutical companies, for example — are neutralizing the positive benefits of its generous grants, the foundation pleaded the "we're just an investor" defense. This opinion piece explains why the massive do-gooder needs to hold itself to a higher standard. AlterNet

2 Responsesto “Digest: Safety vs. cloning, Philpott’s 3rd Farm Bill opus, USDA’s hand slapped on GM crops, crisis in India…”

  1. Tom Philpott says:

    Thanks yet again for the plug, Ethicureans. The farm bill is an issue I've (clearly) been struggling with. In short, it's hard for me to come up with a big grand solution to a problem that been caused by big grand thinking. I'll keep on struggling with it, though not in public for the next few weeks. Meanwhile, i do suggest everyone get acquainted with the Farm and Food Project. Those folks have the right idea, though they're a bit vague (sigh) on the details.
    Cheers,
    Tom

  2. Thank you for the plug and the link, Ethicureans! Very nice of you. I do hope that you love Intervention, too.

    I must do a set-rec, though, lest anyone think wrongly: I'm not a biotech reporter. I'm not even a journalist anymore, at least not as my primary profession. I run this little nonprofit research.org and consultancy called Hybrid Vigor Institute.

    (Although I do, however, at least for the present, write a monthly column for NYT. This is already in the 'restricted' (aka it costs money) part of the site, but here's my January 28th column on gene patenting.)