Digest: More bad news from China, EU revokes Monsanto soy patent, Smithfield gets bigger

Just a reminder that we're currently publishing the Digest every other day. We hope to return to our daily schedule soonishly.

NEWS

Boy, China's having a bad month: The Times has another huge investigation into Chinese manufacturers, this time some rogues who've been substituting diethylene glycol — a sweet-tasting, yet incredibly dangerous industrial solvent, the prime ingredient in some antifreeze — for more expensive syrups like glycerin, which is commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products. Hundreds of people have died from the poisoned switch around the developing world, where counterfeit drugs are common and followup is nonexistent. (New York Times) Probably not coincidentally, the FDA has issued an advisory warning pharmaceutical manufacturers, suppliers, drug repackers, and health professionals to be "especially vigilant" about any glycerin they use. In case you're wondering about the coincidence of how — like melamine in combination with cyanuric acid in pet food — diethylene glycol also causes kidney failure, a quick search of the ingredients of two main recalled pet-food brands did not turn up glycerin on the list. But it is used in marshmallows, candy, fudge, baked goods as well as numerous cosmetics as listed in EWG's Skin Deep database.

Monsanto patent revoked by EU. Snap!: The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a patent owned by agribiz titan Monsanto for the genetic modification of soybeans, saying the technique it approved 13 years ago lacked "novelty." Opponents complained that the patent gave Monsanto de facto control over all GM soybeans, and have been fighting against it since it was granted. Before you bust out the bubbly, know that the patent was due to expire in 2008 anyway. (News@nature.com)

Big Pork consolidating: Federal regulators approved Smithfield Foods' acquisition of Premium Standard Farms after determining that "it would not harm competition or depress prices paid to hog farmers." Smithfield is the largest hog producer and pork processor in the United States; Premium Standard is the second-largest hog producer and sixth-largest pork processor. (International Herald Tribune via AP)

Don't panic, plant organic: Researchers told a U.N. conference Saturday that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger while improving the environment. (Associated Press)

Federal crop insurance program wastes billions on middlemen (Washington Post)

More than 20 nations have agreed to discourage bottom trawling — fishing's version of strip mining — on the South Pacific high seas (Associated Press)

FEATURES

Amber waves of tyrannical grain: An examination of how the high demand for corn is causing farmers to abandon crop rotations to plant corn every year ("corn on corn"). A corn farmer says that corn-on-corn planting is no problem, he has plenty of chemical ways to add nitrogen to the soil, he cares about the land (but he probably also has some hefty debts and bankers who don't care about the land, they just want their money). Critics point to the danger of biodiversity loss, which can lead to major outbreaks of disease (like Northern Corn Leaf Blight). (Argus Leader)

Dept. of You Are What You Eat Eats: Scientists have found that feeding hogs dry distillers' grains with solubles, or DDGS — a byproduct of the corn-based ethanol-making process that solves the pesky problem of corn now being too expensive to be cheap feed — adds excessive unsaturated fatty acids. Those can make the pork less nutritious and taste bad. (Reuters)

Inside the chop shop: A reporter goes undercover inside a fruit and vegetable processing facility. The air is damp and cold — under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The work is repetitive. And the pay is lousy. (Willamette Week) [via Culinate's Sift]

Compost modern: Composting is becoming a tool for cities to reduce the amount of material sent to landfills, and this is leading to a much more, um, diverse input — pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other nasty things that might not break down during the composting process. If soil is akin to our liver, we could be poisoning it. (SF Chronicle)

The farmer goes to town: Urban farms are taking off in Ontario, Saskatoon, and Philadelphia. Surprisingly, some farmers are having better luck in the city than along the fringe, where their crops are threatened by insects, deer and other pests that aren't present in the city. One farmer is finding that an urban location allows him to have more contact with buyers and a chance to explain why his prices are higher than at the mega-mart. (Business Edge)

Recycling another kind of litter: An Arkansas entrepreneur has a plan to treat chicken litter — the pleasant euphemism for chicken factory waste — in a way involving limestone that keep it out of streams and lakes. (The Morning News)

A review of "Planet Chicken: The Shameful Story of the Bird on Your Plate" (Financial Times)

Micro-power plant at the microbrewery (Plenty Magazine)

ON THE BLOGS, ETC.

The one where Christie's head explodes: Perhaps the best rant about the toothless, spineless, corporate-colluding FDA ever. Pet Connection Blog

This will make you sad: Calf born with 6 legs on Nebraska farm. (SF Gate)

But this will cheer you up: Watch pair of peregrine falcons and their three chicks on Falcon Cam. (City of San Jose)

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