Big gulp, don't swallow: Research from a British university suggests sodium benzoate, a common preservative found in soft drinks, has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA. The problem can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. (The Independent) Although Coke and others recently reformulated their drinks to avoid the combination of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acidm which can turn into the carcinogen benzene, this indicates it might be scary all by itself.
Protection vs. protectionism: China went on the offensive in response to rising concern about the safety of its food and drug exports, asking the U.S. to clarify its regulations on the use of antibiotics that turned up in Chinese catfish in three southern states. The Chinese regulator said the drugs are allowed in China, the EU and Japan - and said the FDA allows their use if below concentration levels of five parts per billion. (The Wichita Eagle/AP))
"Supersize" diet is deadly: A high-fat and sugar-sweetened water diet compounded by a sedentary lifestyle will have severe repercussions for your liver and other vital organs, if results from a Saint Louis University research on mice can be extrapolated. (SLU press release)
Shark and chips?: The spiny dogfish shark is on the World Wildlife Fund's new endangered species list. It's known as "rock salmon" in the fish and chips trade, and strong demand from restaurants is severely decreasing its numbers. (Discovery Channel)
Of course it is: The U.S. meatpacking industry is throwing its support behind the immigration reform measure now before Congress. The nation's meat and poultry industry employs 500,000 workers, making it the largest sector of agriculture. (Chicago Tribune) For why guest-worker programs have historically not benefited agricultural laborers, see this guest post from last week.
"Um, we're kind of busy right now": Congress wants documents from the FDA about food contamination, among other subjects, and is threatening subpoenas if they don't show up soon. (Washington Post/Reuters)
What, jet fuel's not organic?: Food flown into the UK may be stripped of organic status in a move being considered by the Soil Association, over concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. (BBC News)
A buggy in their ear: Amish dairymen in Pennsylvania are rallying to protest regulation of raw milk and the possibility of animal-tracking technology known as the National Animal Identification System. (Lancaster Online.com)
Seems like a fair trade for what we've been importing lately: Bush's press conference Thursday largely focused on Iraq and immigration reform, but included this choice nugget about what food he wishes China would start buying from the U.S. He said: "They need to be eating U.S. beef. It's good for them. They'll like it." (Brownfield Network)
Canada ag in crisis: Statistics Canada released three agricultural reports about the nation's precarious food-security system. Only 5.5% of Canadian farms produce fruit and vegetables, primarily sweet corn and potatoes. (NOW Magazine, Toronto)
A game of chicken: Three environmental groups this week are suing Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation and Cargill Meat Solutions for violating federal and state environmental laws by overwhelming a wastewater treatment facility and thus dumping poultry waste and construction debris into the Shenandoah River in Virginia. (Lancaster Farming)
Growing "Frankenflowers": Genetically modified ornamental plants, say that have been made resistant to frost, are being tested, but could spark the same backlash created by genetically altered food crops such as corn and soybeans. Writer Bart Ziegler says such concerns may be misplaced here, as "most people don't eat flowers" and it's "much less likely that they would escape into the wild." He concedes that they could become an invasive species. And we wonder, has their pollen been tested for bee safety? how about other insects? Are we so sure the disease-free geraniums are worth risking our stressed-out ecosystem's fragile health? (Daily Herald | Suburban Living)
FEATURES & COMMENTARY
Oh, how we love Paul Newman: The "Internet edition" of "Nightline" has a great segment, "Paul Newman's New Venture" (the "Taste of the World" segment is puke-worthy, however) about Ole Blue Eyes' mission to change the way we eat, including side trips to his new restaurant Dressing Room, which serves only local, organic food; hosts a weekly farmers market; and whose menu contains an anti-steak manifesto. Shockingly, the segment contains a no-holds-barred condemnation of feedlot industry practices. Anyone know if this was in the broadcast? (ABC News, via Gristmill)
And Barbara too: San Francisco Chronicle food writer Carol Ness has lunch with Barbara Kingsolver and her coauthor husband, deftly combining a mini-review of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" — "hanging on the bones of the story is a full college course in sustainable foods and why you should care" — with a revealing interview on going locavore before it was even a term. Corby Kummer also reviews the book for the Times.
Roll over, public: Ya gotta love a headline like this one — "Administration, general public cited as obstacles to crafting good farm bill" — drawn from a speech Rep. Moran (R-KS) gave to Texas cotton growers. A few reminders for Moran: First, the general public buys farm products, and therefore should have a significant voice in the Food and Farm Bill. Second, you and other representatives work for the public, not farmers or agribusiness. (Southwest Farm Press)
Slow Food detente: We forgot to include this in Wednesday's Digest — there's peace in the foodie corral again, with Petrini apologizing, sorta, and Alice Waters smoothing Ferry Plaza farmers' ruffled feathers. (San Francisco Chronicle)
When "buy fresh, buy local" is a problem: A look at how restrictions on catching grouper have affected not only the fishermen but the restaurants of Madeira Beach, the self-described “grouper capital of the world." (New York Times)
"Pooped out": Oregonian chicken manure suppliers are scratching to keep up with demand, thanks to the organic farming explosion and rising costs for the petroleum used for synthetic fertilizer. (OregonLive.com)
Deja vu all over again: Elizabeth Kolbert reflects on Rachel Carson's anti-pesticide work and how the Bush Administration is rolling back some of the changes brought about by "Silent Spring." (The New Yorker)
Digging it: Pittsburgh, PA, is a thriving - and inspiring — hotbed of sustainable urban-agriculture efforts. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
"The Jungle" was local: Columnist Harold Meyerson, worried that trade negotiators are swapping our safety for huge grain and soybean sales to China, writes "if we're going to globalize the food we eat and wish to be safe, we need to get serious about globalization. The regulations we enacted under Theodore Roosevelt, who established the FDA (partly in response to the outcry Sinclair's novel prompted), need to become part of the rules of the World Trade Organization, which in turn needs real inspectors to enforce those rules." (Cincinnati Post via Washington Post)
Another Q & A about Community Supported Agriculture (Hartford Courant)
Food scares help China's nascent organic market (Washington Post)
ON THE BLOGS, ETC.
"Monkfish" could cause involuntary vow of silence: Litbrit looks at the latest Chinese import problem — potentially deadly pufferfish ( a.k.a. blowfish or fugu) labeled as "monkfish." Even the FDA is worked up about this one. (litbrit at Ezra Klein)
New online game lets you run the FDA inspection service (Game On at PC World)