Digest: Farm Bill proposals, health conflicts, bottled water redux

Gateway giveaways: AgSec Mike Johanns has announced proposed changes to Farm Bill programs “to help future generations of farmers and ranchers become established in production agriculture.” Unfortunately, one of them involves proposes raising the direct payment for commodity crops by 20 percent for beginners. Given that there is no shortage of these crops, and that the subsidy program is problematic from a world-trade standpoint, we don’t think getting new farmers hooked on higher handouts is a smart idea. USDA press release

Babies and bathwater come to mind: Attention, ag wonks! The libertarian think tank the Cato Institute has released what it calls “a pragmatic solution to the Farm Bill’s many failures.” A better adjective would be “radical.” Its researchers propose a one-time buyout payment to farmers that would end agricultural subsidies and eliminate tariffs for once and for all. Yeah, don’t hold your breath. Sort of reminds us of what Environmental Working Group Ken Cook said at the UC Berkeley Farm Bill forum last month — something along the lines of “for what we’ve paid in subsidies over the past few decades, the U.S. government could have bought every farm in America outright.” Cato press release

Reuters Rx: Reuters’ Health RSS feed can produce whiplash on a daily basis. Eating avocados is dangerous to the colon for Caucasian women who’ve had appendectomies! Study finds that half a cup of coffee a day is better than four! OK, we’re making those up. But three stories today seem more than usually plausible and ahem, rather pertinent to some of us.

  • This one’s for you, Potato: A Japanese study finds that men who drink regularly and heavily benefit from taking a “liver holiday’ for a few days every week. Unfortunately, you have to read to the last sentence to learn that the study’s conclusions may not be applicable to non-Asians. About half of Japanese individuals — like other Asians — lack an enzyme that processes alcohol’s nasty byproducts.
  • And this one’s for DQ: People who frequently eat cured meats such as ham, hot dogs, and bacon face a higher risk of lung disease, even accounting for smoking history and other risk factors. The likely culprit? Nitrites. Predictably, the meat industry is up in arms. The article does not mention that nitrites in meat only convert to carcinogens at very high heat — which is why, cough cough, we try to cook our bacon long and slow.
  • Red meat and breast cancer: Women who eat a lot of meat, particularly red or processed meats, may be more likely to develop breast cancer, according to a large study of British women. One theory fingers saturated fats, another focuses on compounds produced buy grilling meat. But nobody mentions that maybe the unnatural diets, steroids, and antibiotics the animals are ingesting might have something to do with it. Next time, why not have an Ethicurean control group as well as a vegetarian one?

Bottle royale: Chez Panisse isn’t the only high-end restaurant to ditch its bottled water and go eau natural. Incanto blazed the trail, and other restaurants in Los Angeles and new York are even charging for the house blend of water. Wall Street Journal (free article) (Merci beaucoup, In Praise of Sardines)

Spear us: Phoebe Nobles writes charmingly about eating asparagus every day for two months after a vegetable-deprived winter in Michigan, part of her quaint quest to become the Spargelfrau, or Asparagus Woman. Salon.com

That’s not cricket!: More bad news for English folk trying to chew the right thing — following on the heels of last week’s farmers market expose, a Food Standards Agency investigation has found that salmon, sea bass, and sea bream sold as wild caught frequently are just farmed fish. As was previously Digested, the U.S. has its own fish scams. This Is London

Organic bureaucracy: Citing burdensome paperwork and onerous fees, several Delaware growers have given up on being certified organic and are either going ti label-less or signing up for the “Certified Naturally Grown” program run by a New York-based nonprofit. The nationwide program, which we’d never heard of but are quite intrigued by, claims to hold farmers to the same standards as the national organic program, but farms are reviewed by peers rather than third parties. We think consumers are already confused enough by all the myriad free trade, humane, pesticide-free, etc labels — check out the latest on the Food Alliance certification program. Maybe it’s time to fix the national organic program so it can actually encompass all of these standards. Wilmington News Journal

Give them some room to grow: The National Organic Coalition and the Organic Consumers Association are asking the USDA to reconsider its changes to its certification process of non-U.S. Grower Groups (GGC), which could have devastating effects on small international coffee, sugar, and other farmers. OCA press release

Predator vs. conservationists: Sea lions munching on endangered salmon might be facing their own death sentence. Bellingham Herald

Abattoirs a dying business: Large-scale agriculture has nearly eliminated small slaughterhouses from many states, which is a real problem if you’re trying to buy locally raised, grass-fed meat. (NPR) Expat Chef over at the Eat Local Challenge has an excellent post about all the big-picture reasons why you should, and the questions to ask.

Feed the world…another way: The Government Accountability Office has a new report that says the U.S. government’s food aid programs are wasteful, including the “inherently inefficient” practice of selling U.S.-grown food in poor countries to finance antipoverty programs. New York TimesThe force that through the green fuse drives the flower: How plants work — something most Americans know nothing about. New York Times

Trans fats fight back: With trans fats off the menu, some are arguing that the saturated fats that replace them in many cases are no healthier for American hearts. MSNBC

Ew: Tiny fish nibble away dead skin for beauty, health (Guardian)

Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly becomes first food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize (Associated Press)

Supreme Court declines to hear case involving Mississippi company that saved Monsanto’s patented seeds (Wisconsin Ag Connection)

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