Digest: CCD vs. SSDD, food borders awfully insecure, fat-powered initiative

What's the buzz, tell me what's happening: The wires and the blogs are swarming with speculation over yesterday's Independent story suggesting a link between the unexplained bee plague known as "colony collapse disorder" and cell phone signals. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit collects the chatter in one place, including links to those skeptical of CCD in general who've dubbed it the "SSDD" crisis, for "Same Stuff, Different Day." On the other hand, the New Jersey Star-Ledger fingers a systemic pesticide called imidacloprid that is used to coat corn seeds, and is essentially built into the corn as it grows. Manufactured by the German company Bayer CropScience, imidacloprid is a neurotoxin that has been shown to affect honeybees at sublethal doses; the reporter cites a 2001 article in the Journal of Pesticide Reform saying that research "indicated that bees affected by imidacloprid suffer problems with orientation." But wait! Ronald Bailey of Reason Online actually reads some of the papers citing as supporting the GM-CCD link — which Dairy Queen, at least, admits she has not — and finds their conclusions to be less than damning. "In their sadly predictable knee-jerk fashion, environmentalist ideologues cannot resist making biotech crops the bogeyman in this unfolding agricultural tragedy," he sneers. Actually, we're not interested in pointing fingers at Frankencorn, we just want to know what's killing the bees. Hmm. Has anyone checked to see whether they'll return to their hives with Karl Rove standing nearby?

Time to get COOL: The pet-food debacle over tainted gluten has focused attention on the U.S.'s food imports, which account for about 13% of the annual diet. So who's inspecting all these tons of imports? Funny you should ask. Less than 2% get scrutinized. Safety is largely "the responsibility of the importer," shrugs the FDA. Great! "Know your importer" comes right after "know your farmer" on our list. China's share of U.S. imports has tripled in value since 1997; among the Chinese products detained at the border last month were "frozen catfish tainted with illegal veterinary drugs, fresh ginger polluted with pesticides, melon seeds contaminated with a cancer-causing toxin and filthy dried dates." Look, we're not trying to be xenophobic — the spinach E. coli outbreak was 100% made in the USA — but the FDA needs to mandate implementation of country-of-origin labeling. COOL was passed in the 2002 Farm Act, but long put off for fruits and vegetables after industry squealed about costs. We think consumers should have an transparent choice deciding where they want to buy from, and saftey officials should have a faster paper trail for tracing future outbreaks. Denver Post (via AP)

Why not recycle liposuction leftovers?: Oil giant ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat producer, are teaming up to produce diesel fuel for U.S. trucking fleets using beef, pork, and poultry fat, reacting in part to rising prices for soybean and other oils. Since these are also frequently the feed stocks for cheap meat, we can see how recycling their unwanted byproducts (fat) could mean big bucks for Tyson, which expects the venture to add between 4 cents and 16 cents a share to its annual earnings. But we'd no more fill our tank with factory meat than we would our stomach — it's like killing the environment to save the environment, while torturing a few million animals along the way. There's got to be a better solution. Houston Chronicle

Quick! Register its uses!: Reuters reports that production of prickly pear cactus, AKA nopal — a thorny, flat-leaved cactus that has been a Mexican food staple since Aztec times — is rising fast, along with its reputation as a natural remedy for everything from diabetes to hangovers. How soon before some big multinational swoops in and patents it? We were just reading on a blog about how a group is helping to protect traditional medicine by registering herbs' and plants' historic folk uses in a brand new database, which means that corporations cannot patent them as "novel" applications. But now we can't find the link again, darn it.

B'more local: The University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy found that 76 percent of Marylanders are more likely to buy produce identified as having been grown by a Maryland farmer, up from 57 percent last year, and that almost all surveyed said that it is at least "somewhat important" that the state preserve land for farming. Now if only those supporters would tell their government representatives that local farms are important to them. Frederick News Post

Um, isn't that the point of cloning?: A story about an exceptional cow, Blackrose, and the farmer who cloned her concludes with a quote from the farmer, who says, "Our clones weren't identical. Genetically, they were. Some weren't as tall as Blackrose; one was huge, but the markings were different. The Lord is still in charge." Between other, less omnipotent variables such as the environment, feed, disease, etc., we really have to wonder why anyone would bother to clone an animal, let along eat it afterward. Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

Savor it her way: Deborah Madison says to ignore the glossy food magazine covers, and wait for asparagus to appear in season in your area. Culinate.com

Texas needs pastured Longhorns: The Lone Star State is finally getting on the grass-fed chuckwagon, but there's far more demand than supply. Belleville News Democrat

Foxy friends banished from henhouse, for now: The U.S. government has fired Sciences International, the contractor it had hired to review the safety of chemicals for newborns, over its undisclosed conflicts of interest. The chemicals that Sciences International was reviewing included bisphenol A, a chemical widely used in plastic such as baby bottles that has been found to cause cancer and reproductive damage in animals. Dow Chemical and BASF, two manufacturers of bisphenol A, have been among Science International's clients. Washington Post

Umbra tells how to recycle all those wine corks you've been saving. Or is that just us? (Grist)

Marion Nestle says don't give up on organic labeling, change it (East Bay Express)

Corn oil's qualified health claim raises eyebrows in nutrition circles (LA Times)

2 Responsesto “Digest: CCD vs. SSDD, food borders awfully insecure, fat-powered initiative”

  1. An interesting comparison for this and other explanations would be are the bees being killed off in pockets like our valley. We have no cell phone reception, no radio, no TV due to the shielding of the mountains. There is no pesticide or herbicide spraying. I kept bees for 25 years but am not doing so right now so I can't provide data but it would be interesting to know if isolated areas have the CCD.

  2. Re: bees, part 1
    via Ezra Klein, a snarky set of instructions on how to react to CCD: http://beutler.typepad.com/home/2007/04/bee_crisis.html

    Re: bees, part 2
    It seems perfectly reasonable to me to suspect that GMOs could be a possible cause of CCD. When something new like CCD occurs, it's natural to look at what is new. Humans and bees have been working together for thousands of years, but GMOs have only been around for a few decades.

    Re: Quick! Register its uses!
    I looked in the SF Chronicle archives for an article about indigenous people in South America fighting against biopiracy by multinational firms that I thought was what the digest author couldn't find. I distinctly remember reading the article on the Powell St. BART platform on a Sunday afternoon while waiting for a train, but cannot call forth the right keywords. However, I found this:

    Traditional cures get new protection - India catalogs ayurvedic treatments to combat their patenting by Western drug companies, by Suzanne Marmion, 07/08/06
    The 2nd paragraph: "Ayurveda is a school of medicine in India thought to be at least 4,000 years old. Today, its ancient medicines have been caught up in a modern phenomenon called biopiracy. India claims that U.S. drug companies have started wrongfully patenting existing ayurvedic treatments. So India is working on an equally modern solution: a digital database for patent officers to peruse, containing thousands of traditional medicines that include everything from cardamom paste for bronchitis, to nightingale droppings to treat constipation."

    link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/08/BUG2RJRNS81.DTL&hw=plant+patent+south+america&sn=001&sc=1000