Digest: Judge stops sale of GM seeds, FDA’s guidelines mocked, organic cloned kids update

Batten the hatches, there’s a deluge o’links today.

MAJOR NEWS: Following on his decision last month that the USDA failed to take seriously concerns that genetically altered seeds could migrate to other alfalfa crops, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco has ordered that the sale of such seeds be stopped for now. Monsanto has engineered the seeds to be resistant to its herbicide Roundup. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Food Safety, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Cornucopia Institute, and other environmental groups, and the ban — if upheld in court, because of course Monsanto will appeal — is a major blow to “cavalier” GM seed planting practices. Los Angeles Times

Wannabe major news: The FDA released draft food-safety guidelines yesterday for fresh-cut produce. Everyone seems underwhelmed by them. The Mercury News quotes a consumer advocate as saying they’re “too little, too late” because they are only advisory, while the New York Times’ Marian Burros says “Once again, the federal government lags behind the efforts of some states to improve food safety.”

Maybe, maybe not: Sam Fromartz has an update on whether meat and dairy from clones’ progeny will be eligible for the organic label. Chews Wise

Mackey misstep: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has at last gotten around to posting an account of last month’s debate with Michael Pollan (and a PDF of his epic presentation). Unfortunately, it’s not his own account — it’s a rather hagiographic take by Michael Strong, “CEO and Chief Visionary for FLOW, a social entrepreneurial group” that Mackey cofounded. A sample: “John’s mature, relaxed perspective on Pollan’s often misguided attacks are also an exemplary manifestation of the spirit of constructive dialogue.” Wholefoods.com

Show us the money: For several years now, the Environmental Working Group has been posting names and figures online about farmers who receive federal crop subsidies (data supplied by the USDA) in the hope that the publicity over the multimillion-dollar payments to large farmers would create widespread opposition to the program. That remains to be seen, but it certainly is causing some community resentment. Guardian (UK)

Look out Europe, here comes sunshine: Worldchanging alerts us to a story we missed back in January, about how all 27 EU countries have pledged to disclose data revealing details of some €100 billion given in taxpayer subsidies every year to farmers, food companies, industrial regeneration schemes and the fishing industry. You’ll be shocked (shocked!) to learn that the major beneficiaries are not “poverty-stricken hill farmers” but huge multinationals, powerful politicians, and royals from the Queen and Prince Charles to the Grimaldis in Monaco.” Guardian (UK)

Unbeeknownst leave-taking: A devastatingly beautiful essay by Novella Carpenter on the inexplicable disappearance of her backyard bee colony. So much for the theory that stressed-out rent-a-bees are the only victims. An Oakland writer and farmer, Carpenter helps Michael Pollan coordinate UC Berkeley’s Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism. Salon

And the Pulitzer goes to…: Editor and Publisher reports that the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize have been leaked. Among them are two we Digested with great admiration: the Washington Post’s “Harvesting Cash” series on U.S. agricultural policy (don’t miss the graphics package), and the L.A. Times’ five-part series “Altered Oceans” a truly depressing, yet awesome look at the manmade crisis of the seas.

Raw deal: Time magazine examines the states’ crackdowns on sales of unpasteurized milk. Time

Chemical alert: Just in time, a major feature takes on the bisphenol-A debate — the possible endocrine-disrupting chemical found in plastic bottles (such as for water) and cans (even of organic soup). There’s a good sidebar on minimizing your exposure. National Geographic’s Green Guide

Can’t say we’re surprised: The private contractor hired by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to assess the health risks of chemicals like bisphenol A has a list of clients that includes Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Union Carbide. Living on Earth

Taking back the fields: Profiles of some really cool grassroots projects to grow and distribute affordable fresh food in poor neighborhoods. Culinate

High prices for our cheap imported food: In Guatemala, child laborers work long hours at food processing plants that distribute to U.S. schools, hospitals, restaurants, and the military. Legumex, a factory that exports broccoli, melons and other fruits and vegetables to America, said they paid children low wages — claiming the legal minimum of about a dollar a day but others allege are well below it — “because of the low prices paid for their products in the United States.” New York Times The Guardian (UK) reports that Bush’s visit to Guatemala was marred by a lot of protests over U.S. immigraton crackdowns, although the president did enjoy his photo opp loading lettuces on a truck.

Massive fish kill: Hundreds of thousands of farmed tilapia have been found dead in one of Thailand’s major rivers. An MSG factory upstream may be the villain. Independent Online

Can farmed fish be organic?: The Pure Salmon Campaign says no. Although the USDA has not allowed the organic label on fish raised in open net cages, salmon and cod raised and certified organic in Europe have been sold with organic labels in the U.S. Between March 27-29, the National Organic Standards Board will meet to discuss its organic aquaculture standards. PR-inside

Thicken and the egg debate: Does childhood fat cause early puberty in girls, or are they linked to the same cause? Slate

Label police: A UK animal-rights group has released a film showing neglected and abused pigs, turkeys and ducks sold under “Freedom Food” ethical label Guardian (UK)

Cost estimates can be too dam hard: The Klamath River was once the third-most productive river for salmon, but since several dams were constructed the numbers of salmon spawning in the river have plummeted. The dam owners (PacifiCorp Energy) criticized a study by the California Energy Commission which concluded that it would be less expensive to remove the dams than to continue operating them. Across the nation, environmentalists, fisherfolk, and Native American tribes are pushing for dam removal. Los Angeles Times

Pay-per-view hunting: Some U.S. lawmakers are proposing to ban Internet-based hunting, whereby customers use remote-controlled rifles and Webcams to fire at game thousands of miles from where they sit in front of their computers. Real hunters are as up in arms about this as the Humane Society is. Vancouver Sun (Thanks, Megan!)

Calling Collin: An editorial from the paper of record in House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson’s home state says “Congress should recognize the farm bill’s contribution to the broader public interest in healthy food, a clean environment and renewable fuel sources.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune

USDAta at risk: Seven computers owned by the Agriculture Department were stolen in Stockton and Yuba City, California, potentially compromising the privacy of farmers and their customers. Almost 100 USDA computers were stolen between October 1, 2005, and May 31, 2006, many of which contained personal information. ScrippsNews

Who’s the fairest trade of them all: Fair trade sales in Britain up 46 percent, with markets like Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer pledging to sell only fair-trade bananas and tea and coffee, respectively. Christian Science Monitor

Secrets and fries: University of Buffalo professor Jerry Newman worked undercover in seven fast-food restaurants and gained a new appreciation for burger flippers. His 14 months of research helped him write “My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons from Behind the Counter to Supersize any Management Style.” The real reveleation? Fast-food managers suck (and give lap dances!). Buffalo News (Via Chow’s Grinder)

Worshiping at the Temple of Corn: Something about running for president makes candidates love corn-based ethanol, regardless of their opposition to subsidies or past voting history. Washington Post

He’s at it again: Our favorite spinmeister, Alex Avery, has an op-ed proclaiming last fall’s spinach E. coli outbreak has been traced to an organic grower but “organic food activists” don’t want to talk about it. Again he raises the spectacle of (eek!) bacteria-laden manure used as fertilizer. Alex, where do you think the E. coli-infested waste products from confined animal feeding operations are going? In our waterways and on your conventionally grown food. At least in organic production, compost applications are regulated. American Daily

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