Digest: Rice with human proteins OK’d, Time celebrates la vida locavore, bee CAFOs

A groaning plateful o' food news today — more than we can possibly eat. Tomorrow's digest gets the leftovers.

Averting a shitstorm?: The USDA has greenlighted large-scale cultivation in Kansas of rice that produces human immune system proteins in its seeds. The proteins go into an anti-diarrhea medicine for children and might be added to health foods such as yogurt and granola bars. Washington Post Note that back in 2004, it rejected a petition by the same California biotech firm because the rice would be grown too close to that intended for food. This time, there are supposedly many more measures in place to prevent cross-contamination — Kansas is not a rice bowl, for one — and the USDA's draft environmental assessment says the project poses no undue risks. The public can comment until March 30 — and we encourage you to do so, maybe explain how your definition of "undue risks" differs from theirs?

1101070312_400.jpgTime for the dietgeist: Locavoreanism makes the cover of Time! In this leisurely, first-person account, reporter John Cloud does a good job of summarizing the various arguments for choosing local food over imported organic — taste and freshness, knowing who grows your food, etc — and talks to or invokes many familiar sources. Fromartz, Pollan, LocalHarvest.org, and the Eat Local Challenge all get nods, although unfortunately Sustainable Table's EatWell guide did not. The only argument omitted is the "community selfishness" accusation levied by ethicist Peter Singer in "The Way We Eat" (and cited by Whole Foods John Mackey in his recent discussion with Michael Pollan) that buying locally deprives organic farmers in developing nations of a market that would help them survive. Mainly, we're just excited and surprised to see a magazine like Time devote this much space to a food-politics topic, and to do so without any jokes about hippies ... although Cloud does linger on a farmer's dirt-clogged toenails. Could a farmer be Person of the Year in 2007? A long shot, but we'd take that bet. Time

The buzzing in the coalmine: An op-ed about the bee plague called "colony collapse disorder" says again that "severe stress brought on by crowding, inadequate nutrition or even the combined effects of prophylactic antibiotics and miticides sprayed by beekeepers to ward off infections may be a factor" — sounds like the same unhealthy factory-farm symptoms displayed by mammals and poultry. What we can't understand, however, and no one has seen fit to explain in all the coverage, is why "rent-a-bee-colony" traveling pollinator crews are even necessary. We suspect it has something to do with the rise of bee-unfriendly, pesticide-drenched monocultures, but we're wondering: are native bee populations in the wild having this porblem? Jaw-dropping new fact: Rent-a-bee queens are artificially inseminated! New York Times

Cargill sheds tear over world's poor: Yesterday at the USDA's annual Agricultural Outlook conference — at which far too many agribusinesses were represented — Archer Daniels Midland said it would be hard to meet increased mandates for using biofuels, and meat giant Cargill said food costs could rise for the world's poor because of the increased prices of commodities (expensive corn and soybeans means pressure on cheap beef, pork, and chicken that rely on the two for feed). Des Moines Register

Dishwashing science: Bacteria — including E. coli and listeria — can be cleaned away in temperatures that won’t burn your hands; it's all about the scrubbing. Fun quote: "Bacteria are scared of lipstick." Should we be listening? Columbus Dispatch

Full fat and female fertility: Women who eat low-fat dairy foods may have a higher risk of infertility than those who eat full-fat versions, found surprised U.S. researchers, who said "It is possible that dairy fat or something along with dairy fat such as the hormones in pregnant cows may be affecting ovulation in women." No word on whether the milk samples included any that were rBST free — or unpasteurized, for that matter. Now that's a study that we'd like to see. Scientific American

Wine police: In the '70s, the NIH tried to suppress research that red wine has a variety of positive effects on health. And apparently, both good wine and cheap wine have the same beneficial compounds. (Dairy Queen says: Potato Non Grata, this does not mean you can go back to drinking cases of Two-Buck Chuck.) Napa Valley Register (Thanks Jack!)

How the World (is supposed to) Work: Andrew Leonard, usually quite the curmudgeon, finds quite a few rays of hope in a Wednesday congressional hearing on energy research and development, at which the government displayed a rare instance of working like it ideally is supposed to — listening to experts and considering bold new ideas like energy from switchgrass, dude. One idea is neither new nor bold, but worth noting: the best bang for the government buck comes by setting, enforcing and encouraging better energy-efficiency standards. (Six Nobel Laureates at UC Berkeley said as much in January.) Salon

Sales growth formula: A growing number of hospitals are banning the traditional free gift bags, containing infant formula, that are routinely given to new mothers; that could be why, as we reported last month, formula makers are partnering with Wal-Mart to host "new baby showers." Wall Street Journal

Michigan not playing NAIS: Business Week columnist David Gumpert has a scoop on his blog, about the voluntary-to-required debut of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in Michigan. Already a farmer is challenging its underpinnings, and the state has responded by quarantining his farm. The Complete Patient

Gift idea for skeptical eaters: We have to read the book still, but this review of "A Field Guide to Buying Organic" makes it sound like a promising guide for those who still wonder if buying organic is "worth it." Whole Life Times

6 Responsesto “Digest: Rice with human proteins OK’d, Time celebrates la vida locavore, bee CAFOs”

  1. cookiecrumb says:

    Obviously I haven't read the Time cover story yet.
    But on the cover illustration: "Forget Organic" ?
    Wow. Is that really one of their conclusions?
    (BTW, what a crappy photo-illo. That leaf?)

  2. DairyQueen says:

    Cookie -- Not really. I suspect it's the art department and the circulation people reducing a complex cover story to its dumbest, most attention-grabbing soundbite. Having worked in publishing, I'm sure you're aware that this almost never happens.

  3. Marc says:

    From How the World (is supposed to) Work: "One idea is neither new nor bold, but worth noting: the best bang for the government buck comes by setting, enforcing and encouraging better energy-efficiency standards."

    Standards are great, but it helps if the agency responsible for those standards actually sets them. From Thursday's Chron (via AP):

    "The government has missed all 34 deadlines set by Congress for requiring energy efficiency standards on everything from home appliances to power transformers, government auditors said Thursday.

    "Two-thirds of the deadlines have yet to be met, although many of them are more than a decade old.

    "Because of the failures, consumers and corporations stand to pay tens of billions of dollars more for energy than they would have if the deadlines had been met, the Government Accountability Office said."

    Full article: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/01/national/w134217S03.DTL

  4. Marc says:

    The bees that the rental services deliver are European bees, which came to the U.S. in the 1600s. They are needed because habitat for native bees has been decimated by industrial agriculture, suburbia, and other human activities. Last year the SF Chronicle wrote about how native bees can help reduce the need for rent-a-bee services:

    "When Claire Kremen, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, discovered that California's native bees could, given suitable nearby habitat, pollinate Central Valley crops as well or better than trucked-in colonies of non-native European honey bees, she gave farmers one more reason to cultivate diversity on the farm: ensuring crop pollination.

    ""We certainly knew that certain crops require pollinators and that we often use the honey bee as the main pollinator, but we didn't know much about the contributions that were naturally flowing from the ecosystem: about the wild unmanaged bee populations and what they were contributing," Kremen said. "

    Article link:
    (thank goodness for the never-expiring Chronicle archive!)

  5. Corn Maven says:

    Actually, Claire Kremen is now an assistant professor at UC Berkeley.

    In a December 2006 article, she comments:

    Change in habitat quality is the number one threat and that's because we're taking away a lot of the floral resources that support them. We used to have small farms that grew lots of different types of different crops and now we have big mono-culture farms that provide only one resource for just a couple of weeks.

    Also, please see a wonderful yet disturbing piece from the NRDC that rfranke brought to my attention after my post on Albuquerque's erda Gardens. Again, Kremen is featured and says:

    'Pollination is a valuable service that we're destroying through our land management practices,' says Kremen. But she points out that there are many ways conventional farming could change to support bees. One is to grow cover crops like rye and clover, which aren't harvested but instead plowed under to enrich the soil after they've flowered. Farmers could also use roadsides and ditches to restore native plants and create bee-nesting areas. They could reduce their use of pesticides or apply them at night, when bees aren't flying. Growers ought to do these things, Kremen believes, not out of selfless concern for threatened bees but because, in the end, it will protect their own bottom line. Since honeybees -- which now pollinate up to $14 billion worth of crops annually in this country -- are in steep decline, native bees are needed as a backup. The costs of managing bee habitat could be offset by reductions in the amount a farmer spends on renting honeybees, a cost that continues to increase for many crops. In 1999, for example, U.S. plum growers paid about $6.4 million for honeybee pollination.

  6. prince says:

    describe the digestion of a meal rice garnished with three eggs