Digest: Dairy ads restricted, worrisome hormones in all milk, the Bay Area oyster wars

Like Americans, the Digest just gets fatter and fatter. We'd love to put it on a diet, but there's a lot of good stuff out there, and just as at foodie potlucks, we just can't help but load up our plates.

NEWS

Checkoff, unchecked: The Federal Trade Commission is asking the USDA and the dairy industry to halt the "Body by Milk" and other national ad campaigns touting dairy products for weight loss because research does not support the claim. (New York Times) Food economist Parke Wilde over at U.S. Food Policy calls this "a major policy change," one that may have implications for the future of the checkoff programs (the national campaigns funded with mandatory taxes on meat and dairy).

Not a good week for milk: A physician studying modern milk is concerned that the high levels of hormones found in commercially produced milk may be harmful, not because of the use of bovine growth hormone (she excluded BGH-fed cows from her studies), but from the fact that milk-producing cows in commercial dairies are kept pregnant and lactating 300 days a year. This means extremely high levels of estrogens and other growth factors that have been implicated in the development of hormone-dependent cancers — those affecting the prostate, testes, ovaries, breasts, and uterus. (Harvard Magazine, found via The Complete Patient, which has more to say about it)

Shell shocking: An oyster farmer and the National Park Service are waging a greener-than-thou battle at Point Reyes National Seashore in the Bay Area over the future of Drakes Bay, one of the cleanest estuaries on the West Coast.Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay Oyster Co., said his operation in the estuary is the epitome of sustainable food production; the Park Service says it must protect habitat for wildlife and return the seashore to wilderness. (San Francisco Chronicle)

We're so excited and we just can't hide it: Alice Waters hosted a press conference Thursday to formally announce Slow Food Nation, a "world's fair of food" that will be held in San Francisco May 1-4, 2008. (Between Meals)

You say humane, we say harumph: The House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry held a hearing on animal welfare with lots of industry representatives; the Humane Society and Farm Sanctuary were present to take some abuse. Former congressman Charlie Stenholm, now a lobbyist with Big Meat clients, said "ensuring the health and well-being of their animals is their No. 1 priority." Just curious: If so, why will it take 10 years for Smithfield and other pork producers to phase out those viselike farrowing crates for gestating sows? (Brownfield Network) Related: The Olympian reports that researchers from Iowa State University found that allowing pregnant pigs to move freely in group housing structures could be less costly and just as productive as the narrow, individual crates.

Slight improvements: The FDA's reauthorization in the Senate (S.1082), includes an amendment from Sen. Durbin (D-IL) that creates an adulterated-food registry; attempts to ensure the safety of pet food; and improves communication between the FDA, affected organizations, and the public. (Press Release; more from Durbin's own press release.)

The European Union is legislating improved chicken welfare standards (Worldwatch Institute Blog)

Manure runoff from a dairy farm kills hundreds of fish in Pennsylvania river (Public Opinion)

We can't resist: Four fish farm workers rescued from feces (Ottawa Recorder)

FEATURES

Operation yogurt: The Danone Group has sold billions' worth of French yogurt to Americans. Now the company is turning to the American Gary Hirschberg, head of Stonyfield Farm, to introduce organic yogurts in Europe, starting in France. (New York Times)

Wonkwatch: An excellent, no-B.S. guest post from Washington Post special correspondent Dan Morgan analyzes what House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is up against as he readies his proposal for a new multi-year farm bill, and looks at why the chairman, along with some other influential groups, are eying the more than $5 billion a year in automatic, annual allowances called "direct payments" that go to farmers on land growing staple crops. (FarmPolicy.com)

We (heart) the Big Green Apple: A May 4 story we missed tells how a barge on New York's industrial waterfront has been converted to growing produce hydroponically and organically. Its creators also argue that there is enough rooftop space in the five boroughs to grow fresh vegetables for the entire city of New York. (New York Times)

When popcorn kills: We Digested a Reuters story a few weeks ago about how workers at factories that make food flavorings — like microwave popcorn's "butter" — are at risk of a rare and life-threatening lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. But we missed the New York Times update that in California, a bill to ban the culprit, diacetyl, in the workplace by 2010 is on its way. Over at Gristmill, Tom Philpott has some fun with the industry's Kafkaesque argument that there's "no substitute for the butter substitute."

The wages of wet: Bottled water has costs up and down the "drink chain," from mismanaged aquifers and lakes, to energy for packaging, to lax quality standards, to mountains of plastic waste. Bottled water consumption around the world doubled between 1997 and 2005. During roughly the same period, recycling rates for PET bottles dropped by about 50%. (Reuters)

A living exhibition: Work crews are about to start planting the roof of the new California Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate Park with an astonishing 197,000 square feet of native strawberries, stonecrop and California poppies. (San Francisco Chronicle)

An earful of Farm Bill: Listen to a professor of agricultural policy talk about the Food and Farm Bill on a public radio station in the heart of the Farm Belt, through either downloadable MP3 or stream. (WILL-AM (Champaign-Urbana, IL), via the Rural Blog)

Filling up the subsidy tank: With new biodiesel plants coming online every month, the laws of supply and demand are pushing prices of the soybean feedstocks higher. So high, in fact, that profit margins are being squeezed. (Des Moines Register)

Last Kingsolver mention for at least a week: Janet Maslin calls the novelist's new memoir "a wonderfully neighborly account of stunt eating." (New York Times)

Turkey poop powers Minnesota electric plant (XYZ.com)

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COMMENTARY

Beeing and nothingness: Entomologist and advice columnist Richard Fagerlund thinks pesticides are likely to blame for the mass disappearance of bees. "Even though the active ingredients in the pesticides may be considered safe for bees, the inert ingredients — which compose most of the product (up to 99 percent, in some cases) — may be severely detrimental," he writes. "Not only are the inert ingredients not listed on the pesticide labels, but many also haven't even been tested and are classified as 'toxicity unknown.'" (San Francisco Chronicle)

Buy fresh, Buy-owa: The demand for local food has reached Iowa, says farmer Matt Russell but the state "simply doesn't have enough supply of the local foods Iowans seek, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, specialty meats and grass-fed dairy products. We must grow more farmers and more food entrepreneurs." Des Moines Register

Just another health vs. dollars conflict of interest at the USDA...: An op-ed reviews the history of the school lunch program, which was created to improve the health of school children and to encourage consumption of agricultural products. (San Francisco Chronicle)

More on AgCom fiat: House Ag Committee Chair Peterson (D-MN) says that any Food and Farm bill proposals must be sponsored by a member of the Ag committee. Two sponsors of well-received plans--DeLauro and Kind — are not on the committee. (Des Moines Register Cash Crops blog)

Globalization IP bullies: New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki looks at how the U.S. is requiring other countries to revise their intellectual property (I.P.) rules to match U.S. law. But when the subject turns to labor or environmental standards, the U.S. nevers seem to ask for synchronization. (The New Yorker)

ON THE BLOGS

Melamine man-euvers: Guest poster "Litbrit" describes the saga of one of the alleged gluten contaminators in China. This entrepreneur also knew how to drive a bulldozer, which he used to personally destroy his manufacturing plant last month. (Ezra Klein)

Follow the white meat: Trying to find out which poultry companies sold melamine-fed birds to the public. (Spocko's Brain)

Industrial madness: Diane at Sustainable Table reminds us that while melamine and cyanuric acid may be verboten, the USDA allows plenty of scary chemicals to be used in processing meat. (At the Table)

Yes, Dairy Queen is taking notes: Blogger Rebecca Blood think Oregon's First Couple was letting themselves off the hook too easily by sticking to a food-stamp budget for a week. She's feeding herself and her husband for one month on organic food with a $74/week budget. (Rebecca's Pocket)

Satellite photos of bottom trawling (Gristmill)

Are bio-gas subsidies a way to help concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)? (Gristmill)

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