Digest: Tainted pet food fed to hogs, seed sanctuary, clueless consumers, clueless Deen

“Boosting” pet food: The FDA says that the melamine used in recalled pet food may have been intentionally included by Chinese manufacturers to boost the apparent protein content. And in other disturbing developments, only two pet-food manufacturers who used the contaminated rice protein have recalled their products; two others have not. Meanwhile, some of the tainted food that was rejected for pet food was fed to hogs. Yeah, to the meat that people eat. (Hmmm…the pork industry just asked for “downer” hogs to be allowed to enter the food supply. Coincidence?) Even though it does seem that smaller animals (like 10-pound cats) have been most adversely affected by the tainted food, versus big dogs and presumably, 250-pound hogs, the sheer disregard for public health leaves us slack-jawed. Heads should roll. (Associated Press) Note to commenter Frances B: we couldn’t find any reports confirming a connection between melamine and farmed fish feed that you asked about.

Save the seeds!: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the government of Norway are donating millions to create a new, more secure, seed bank in the Arctic. The project will focus particularly on “orphan” crops — like cassava, coconut and taro — that are staples in poor countries but have not been the focus of commercial plant breeders. Many seed banks are in precarious locations (like in the path of wars or typhoons), and with the rapidly dwindling diversity of crops on farms, the hasty introduction of transgenic crops seemingly everywhere, and a changing climate, we could probably use a few more banks like this one. (New York Times) See also KCRW’s Good Food.

Don’t know jack about Big Macs: A new field poll finds that consumers don’t know much about fat and calories in restaurant food. The California legislature is trying to remedy that with a bill that would require restaurants with more than nine outlets in California to post calories on menu boards and disclose calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium content on menus. Not surprisingly, the California Restaurant Association is opposed to the bill. San Francisco Chronicle

Deen defends Smithfield: HuffPo reports that celebrity chef Paula Deen, under fire from union activists for endorsing Smithfield pork products, put out a statement saying she went with Smithfield because it “shared my family values and traditions.” Does she know anything about the company at all, other than how generous its checks are? Unless her family gene pool includes Genghis Khan, we think Deen needs to wake up and drop Smithfield like a hot piece of fried butter. Huffington Post

Mmm, lard sandwiches: Earth Dinner cards — bearing recipes, food facts, trivia, and questions about the memories and connections to food experienced by those eating it — can bring a new element to any meal, holiday or not. Grist

Keep on truckin’: With fresh food moving every which way, we sometimes forget about the people who transport it hither and yon. But truck drivers are a critical link in the system, especially when refrigerated food is considered. During the spinach recall of 2006, many truckers weren’t paid for delivering their shipment because of quirks in their contracts — trucking organizations are pushing for regulations that will prevent such a ‘payment recall’ during future food recalls. Land Line Magazine

“Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water”: A Superior Court judge is not budging on a ruling that in two months could virtually shut down the California State Water Project, stopping the flow of Northern California water to Central Valley farms and 17 million Southern Californians. At issue: the huge pumps that siphon water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are killing thousands of threatened and endangered fish. Los Angeles Times

Yes, John B., you are a hater: The East Bay Express’s restaurant critic — who in person is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken fellow — showers the “mandarin” parade of the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge, as covered by the Chron, with his particular blend of withering ridicule … the kind that makes us laugh even as we wince, knowing we could well be his next targets. “Isn’t a complex scheme of artificial limitations on your daily life the kind of self-indulgent game that elites love to play?” he asks. “Isn’t it a bit like masturbation?” Yowch! In defense of our penny-pinching elite locavorean friends, we’d like to point out that they’re quite capable of organizing to influence the 2007 Farm Bill and volunteering for People’s Grocery AT THE SAME TIME as cooking elaborate four-course meals for $1.76 from within their admittedly lavish foodshed. Here in the Bay Area, we have something more like a foodpalace instead. East Bay Express) But what do you guys think? Elites being elite again, or a valid exercise to shut up the real haters and skeptics? Discuss.

Wal-Mart not backing off: Wal-Mart is firing off letters refuting the BusinessWeek report that selling organic food is going badly for the world’s largest retailer. Treehugger reprints the entire letter. Treehugger

Organic in da House pt. 2: More on organic farmers’ testimony to Congress this week. Some colorful quotes: “I think a lot of people would like to pretend that this industry doesn’t exist, or that it’s concentrated on that crunchy-granola Whole Foods shopper. It clearly is not.” Article’s conclusion also made a lightbulb go off in our heads regarding a hazy idea we’ve been mulling: organic agriculture has the potential to be a bipartisan uniter. We just need to focus on how it’s about small farmers, self-reliance, no government subsidies, and meeting market demand. San Francisco Chronicle

Bottom line — get a clue!: Watch as our blood pressure rises! In an article titled “Organic vs. Conventional: What do Experts Say,” CookingLight.com reporter Amy Spindler gives organic food props for being more nutritious. Then she says its environmental benefits are hotly debated for experts, thanks to toxic natural pesticides (so much worse than organophoshates) and because organic fertilizers “may contain harmful bacteria, such as E. coli.” Um, yeah, it might, but it is far less likely to than is conventional fertilizer. Only the manure used in organic compost is heavily regulated, unlike that in conventional, which happily sprays raw liquid manure on fields or in a new development, injects it. There’s some other annoying half-truths that lead to this conclusion that eaters should just focus on their own body’s health. You need better experts, Ms. Spindler. CNN.com

Renewable chemicals boom: High oil prices have bolstered the economic rationale for companies like Cargill to add plastics, foam, and lubricants from plants to their offerings. Soybeans and corn are showing up in carpets, disposable cups, and soon surfboards and car seats. Sure they’re biodegradeable, but you can’t call corn environmentally friendly. Wall Street Journal (subscribers only)

And we thought “environy” was good: Reporting on the demand for raw milk in Ohio and the underground network for “moo-shine.” Oxford Press

Eating green in the Windy City: Food is a key part of a growing movement in Chicago and across the nation to go “green.” Includes a handy list of restaurants serving SOLE food. Chicago Sun-Times

Perk up and sign: Equal Exchange, the organic and fair trade coffee group, has a petition drive to block the USDA decision that would decertify organic ‘grower groups’ such as coffee co-ops. Gristmill

Idaho’s Iowa’s handful of organic growers want help from state, feds to meet demand (Des Moines Register)

How to pick eco-friendly seafood (Chicago Sun-Times)

Another guide to SOLE labels (NOW Toronto)

A short list of eco-friendly restaurants across the country (The Daily Dish)

Representative Delores Mertz (D-Ottosen) singlehandedly kills pork meatpacking reform bill in House (Blog for Rural America)

Threatened traditional foods like taro are turning Hawaii into “ground zero” for GMO activism (Culinate)

Bernard Matthews to get £589,000 compensation for turkeys slaughtered to prevent spread of avian flu (BBC)

10 Responsesto “Digest: Tainted pet food fed to hogs, seed sanctuary, clueless consumers, clueless Deen”

  1. bcm says:

    I wish that everyone would watch the 1hr/29-min documentary, “Future of Food”. It is now on Google Video. Also, “I Want My Father Back” – the story of what is happening to the farmers in India because of the introduction of GMO’s.

  2. Hooray to the Gates and Norway for helping to retain germplasm of non-commercial crops. For lots of food plants though, the USDA is and has been keeping seed and plants for as many varieties as they can via the National Plant Germplam System. It just makes sense to keep those genes around. For example, stone fruits, rice, and potato germplasm are kept in Maryland (I know because I worked there as an undergrad). There are good parts of the USDA too, I promise :) It’s too bad that the article didn’t mention these important programs.

    As for the evils of GMOs, I find it sadly amusing that people are simultaneously against gene flow via windborne pollen and terminator genes that make pollen sterile. Seriously, isn’t that silly?

  3. DairyQueen says:

    Not sure if it’s silly, or just skeptical. I find it sadly amusing that people place so much faith in new biotechnology’s efficacy bae don lab results. Terminator genes are strictly a biotech solution to a biotech problem when it may have it’s own problems. Do we know yet what side effects terminator genes have? I also heard in a lecture by UC Berkeley researcher that terminator genes are only effective 99.7% of the time. Sounds good, but when you look at the millions of pollen spores in a few acres, that 0.3% that isn’t terminated can still do quite a lot of damage. What happens when a silent terminator gene is able to cross-breed?

    I’m about to read Denise Caruso’s “Intervention” so as to be better informed about this aspect. Have you read it? What did you think?

  4. JMP says:

    Idaho’s handful of organic growers want help from state, feds to meet demand (Des Moines Register)

    I think you mean Iowa.

  5. edenz says:

    “Isn’t a complex scheme of artificial limitations on your daily life the kind of self-indulgent game that elites love to play?”
    What on earth is his problem with budgeting and planning meals? If he actually spent any time with (or as) a non-elite (Pet peeve: wealthy obvious members of the elite echlons of society accusing other people of being elites) he would know that there are a lot of families in the US that spend a lot of time trying to squeeze a much food out of as little money as possible because they have no choice. An exercise like the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge not only offers people hope that you don’t have to eat crap if you’re not rich, but also allows an opportunity to empathize with members of society that have to plan and budget meals to survive.

  6. DairyQueen says:

    JMP: DOHP! My bad. Corn Maven (from Iowa) and Man of La Muncha (from Idaho) would never have mixed up the two.

    BCM: “The Future of Food” is great, and it’s available on YouTube. I will have to check out “I Want My Father Back”

    Edenz: All good points.

  7. Corn Maven says:

    BCM: I saw “I Want My Father Back” about two months ago and talked with the filmmaker Suma Jossan afterwards. Eventually I’ll write a post about it… but in the meantime: I bought my own copy of the film and highly recommend readers check it out. If anyone would like to purchase a video themselves, I have contact information. Please e-mail me directly here. Suma said the money goes to helping the farmers in the region of India where the documentary takes place.

    My heart feels such sorrow for what so many farmers are experiencing in India — to the point that they are taking their lives at a rate of 8-10 suicides a day. Often they drink the very same pesticides they have gone into debt to buy.

    I remember all too well the impact of huge debt to farmers in Iowa in the 80s — farmers who were farming land that had been passed down to them, only to get caught up in the “get bigger or get out” philosophy of farming at that time in our country’s history. They often lost their farms, took part-time jobs off the farm to make ends meet, or sometimes they chose to end their life.

    I knew two families who were touched by the tragedy of suicide due in part to runaway debt and despair.

    I own many copies of ‘The Future of Food,” which I give away to people as the mood strikes me. I wrote briefly about the film last year. It’s a very digestible introduction to how we got where we are today and where we are going.

    JMP: Thanks for being on the ball. :)

  8. dantc says:

    As I said on the East Bay Express site, anyone who uses the term “the elites” as a pejorative automatically fails at whatever it is they were trying to accomplish by using the term. Vegan and vegetarian friends often speak of encountering defensive rudeness from people when they disclose their dietary preferences and I have to wonder if John Birdsall’s reaction isn’t a bit of the same.

    I’ll try to be a little less condescending here than I was at his blog post: I think he’s overreacting to the typical media coverage of the extreme, the ideal. The Chronicle’s coverage (and of course to a greater extent, The Ethicurean) reflect everything a sustainable omnivore should be.

    Not all of us reading those articles, or even participating here, will do all local, all the time. I don’t. But I try. I find myself looking at labels more closely these days not just for ingredients but for point of origin. I Google labels and terms I don’t know to find out more. My diet is more local and more natural than it was even six months ago but I doubt I’ll ever be at the ideal “everything within 100 miles.” My coffee consumption alone rules that out.

    For me and many other consumers, the point of local, ethical and sustainable has been to become more aware of what we consume, to scrutinize the industrial food complex and to make consistently better choices. I think that if people make better decisions for just three meals a week — a day’s worth of eating — they’ll be better off in the long run. If making better choices to keep myself healthy makes me one of “the elites” then bring on my crown and scepter, because I’m ready to rule.

  9. Emily says:

    Ok, so locavores do tend to be realtively rich…but why is it a bad thing for the elite to be trying to live a less elite lifestyle?

  10. I haven’t read Intervention, though it is on my list of things to read over the summer. I hope it is as unbiased as the reviews say.

    I have to admit some animosity toward Monsanto. They are only recently researching nutritional improvement of crops. If they had chosen nutrition first, perhaps people would be more accepting of other applications. “GM” has almost infinite possibilities – I hope people don’t lump all improved crops with Round Up Ready (although it seems like they are).

    An example – heart healthy low linoleic soy. This weekend I was talking with some soy breeders that have developed low lin soy through traditional breeding. Three traits took 30 years to combine. Alternately, those genes could be inserted “cis-genically” (meaning genes from the same species) in just a few years.

    A lot of research (both private and public sectors) is going into choosing genes from the same or related species (cis) instead of from a different species (trans). It’s more like accelerated breeding with a little molecular help. I am really optimistic about this. It removes a lot of the problems, but provides a lot of positives, especially when we have germplasm banks with tons of genes to choose from. I wonder if Ms. Caruso mentions this in her book…