Digest: Pollan issues Farm Bill manifesto, U.S. lags in organic, birds sick, food aid scrutinized

Food Bill of Rights and Wrongs: Michael Pollan attempts to reframe the Farm Bill — that "resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation" — as a chance to reform the food system so that it actually benefits the interests of eaters. In his usual clear-eyed, deceptively simple style, he explains in detail how the Farm Bill to a large extent pre-determines public health — "The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow" — as well as the health of the American soil, water, biodiversity, and the very look of its landscape. It's a call to arms, a manifesto to vote with our votes, not just our forks — by telling our representatives in Congress to read this article, and stop pandering to the ethanol, meat, and dairy lobbies. (New York Times Magazine) Related: Washington state farmers, chefs and activists share opinions on the Farm Bill in the Seattle Times.

Organic around the world: The U.S. has only 0.22 percent of its arable acres devoted to organic, putting it at 69th in the world — tied with Iceland and just behind Bulgaria, says a new report. But it does rank a more respectable fifth in total acreage devoted to organics. Europe has the highest proportion of organic acreage compared to conventional farming, and Latin America has the greatest number of organic farms. The Ledger

Migrating canaries in the coalmine: North American birds that spend their winters in Latin America aren't making it back thanks to habitat loss, lack of food, and chronic pesticide poisoning in the tropics. When it's time to head north, many of these migrants are too thin and sick to make the journey back to breed, says a Canadian biology professor. Canadians are using some of these same pesticides, and experts are worried about health side effects. CTV News

Eating local in a refugee camp: The Bush Administration proposed a change in rules for the Food for Peace program, which currently requires that 100% of U.S. overseas food aid come from U.S. farms. The new rule would allow 25% of the food to be purchased from farmers in the host nation. The current program is a boon for agribusiness giants like Cargill and ADM, which have supplied half of the food aid in recent years. One organization is trying a new model, in which farmers who formerly shipped their products to needy nations across the planet are selling their crops in the U.S. and sending funds that can be used to help subsistance farmers in developing nations. New York Times The Des Moines Register has more about the problems that plague the current system.

Happy Earth Day: Our buddy Kim Carlson has a roundup of good food-related links in honor of Earth Day, which is today. Culinate

Sea changes: L.A. Times won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for Altered Oceans, a five part series about the state of the oceans that we Digested at the time of publication, but it's worth linking to again. The reality is brutal (massive dead zones at river mouths, a garbage patch in the Pacific twice the size of Texas, coral bleaching because of warmer and more acidic water), but it is important to know what challenges we are facing. The Pulitzer Prize

"I'd like to thank the fish for this award": Orri Vigfusson, a retired Icelandic businessman, is one of the 2007 winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to preserve wild salmon in the North Atlantic. His organization bought fishing rights from fishermen to reduce the pressure on this valuable fish. Perhaps his next efforts could be devoted to stopping Iceland's whale hunts. International Herald Tribune (via AP)

Fish-killing plague spreading: A virus called viral hemorrhagic septicemia, known as V.H.S., has already killed tens of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes and is spreading, scientists said. The virus, a mutated pathogen not native to North America that causes hemorrhaging and organ failure, is not harmful to humans, even if they eat contaminated fish. But it is devastating to the ecosystem. New York Times

Good move, eh?: The Minnesota House has passed several sustainable agriculture bills, including money for farmers who want to convert their operation to organic and grants for farmers to host sustainable agriculture demonstrations. Winona Daily News

Sows kept down Down Under: Australian agriculture ministers have extended for another 10 years the practice of confining breeding sows to cramped conditions, over the protests of animal welfare groups and critics who say Australia is lagging in world trends of hog production. Sydney Morning Herald

Hogs for kids: A fight is brewing over an Ohio farmer's plans to breed and raise nearly 7,500 hogs in three facilities on his family's land. Critics claim he is sidestepping the law by configuring the hog operation so that he does not need to obtain state permits; he says his children are just buying into the family business. Toledo Blade

A fat deal: Oil companies have managed to get the government to expand the definition of a separate provision that was added into the biodiesel tax credit law late in the legislative process. All they need to do is add fat to their existing refineries. Press release

Pennywise by another name: A brief about how Oregon governor Theodore R. Kulongoski and his wife are spending just $3 per day each on their meals, the amount spent by the average food stamp recipient in Oregon. It's part of the “food stamp challenge” sponsored by religious groups, community activists, and food pantries across the country. New York Times

J'aime Clothilde: The Magazine's food section has high praise for Parisian food blogger Clothilde Dusoulier's new cookbook, “Chocolate and Zucchini”: "like going on a slightly frenetic shopping spree — in other words, irresistible." New York Times Magazine

Settlement reached in E.coli spinach death (KCBS)

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