Digest: Domestic melamine scandal, UK lifting ban on animal feed, Monsanto monopoly grows

It's been a busy, meaty last few days in Ethicureanland. Details to follow. In the meantime, there's been an avalanche of news links.

NEWS

Eeny, mela-miney mo — who is minding our food sto'?: The New York Times reports that China isn't the only country using melamine in animal feed. A Ohio manufacturing plant was using melamine as a binding agent for feed for farmed fish, shrimp, and livestock. Discovered in independent testing, the melamine came from Tembec BTLSR, a Canadian forest products company that makes resins and certain chemicals for industrial uses; Tembec surely should have known to stop using it after the contaminated Chinese gluten scandal hit the front pages. The Brownfield Network quotes new FDA food-safety czar David Acheson as saying, "You know, if I was a CEO of a company, I would be asking the question, 'Do I know who I'm getting my supplies from and do I know exactly what's in it?'" We think eaters should be asking themselves exactly the same thing. Full transcript of yesterday's FDA-reporter conference call here.

The protein wars: The specter of mad-cow disease haunts EU plans to feed chickens to pigs and vice versa. An EU body says use of meat meal from non-ruminants poses no danger to human health, and it's true that chickens and pigs are both omnivores (unlike cattle, which are ruminants). The problem is whether, given the labyrinthine food supply, the proteins can be kept separate enough so as to avoid species cannibalism that could give rise to more prion diseases. (Times UK)

PETA 2, BevCo 0: Under pressure from PETA, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have agreed to stop financing research that uses animals to test or develop their products. PETA already got Pom Wonderful to cease tests on rabbits for … possible erectile dysfunction relief? (New York Times)

EPA is for Every Pesticide Approved: According to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the EPA has illegally approved 60 pesticides without first checking to see if they could harm endangered wildlife, including many Bay Area species. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Monsanto deal goes through: The DoJ will allow Monsanto's $1.5 billion acquisition of top cottonseed producer Delta and Pine Land Co., but said the companies would have to sell a range of key assets. The decision comes after months of complaints from competitors, farm groups and consumer representatives that the purchase of Delta and Pine, which operates the world's largest commercial cottonseed breeding program, would hobble competition, lead to higher prices and reduce seed options. (Washington Post)

Test case closed: The USDA said that it would appeal a ruling that allows Creekstone Farms to voluntarily test all of its cattle for mad-cow disease. The USDA is worried that testing all cattle will lead to too many "false positives." Yeah, that would be scary. (Wisconson Ag Connection)

More devil's candy: Coke has teamed up with agribusiness gigantico Cargill to market a new calorie-free natural sweetener aimed at health-conscious consumers like Whole Foods shoppers. It has filed 24 patent applications for the product, tentatively named rebiana, which is supposedly derived from a South American herb called stevia, frequently sold in health-food stores as a sugar alternative. If it's the same sweetener as was mentioned in this previously Digested story, it's "made from stevia" like high-fructose corn syrup is "made from" corn. (Washington Post)

Straight corn, no chaser: Reuters reports that Mexican farmers are setting ablaze fields of blue agave, the cactus-like plant used to make the fiery spirit tequila, and resowing the land with corn as soaring U.S. ethanol demand pushes up prices. Andrew Leonard at Salon fingers the real culprit: Depressed prices for agricultural commodities brought about by overproduction.

Whatever happened to cow tipping?: Someone, possibly teenagers, is shooting Marin County cows and heifers for fun and leaving them to die. (Marin Independent Journal)

We hope it's not from China: Unilever, the company that produces Lipton tea, aims to obtain all its tea from plantations deemed sustainable. (Reuters)

Pacific tuna stocks are at critical point, two important species at risk of being decimated (AFP)

Monsanto forms international fruit, vegetable seed holding company (FreshPlaza)

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

Yesterday's food sections had quite a few Ethicurean-ish stories:

  • Horn of plenty: Manresa chef David Kinch represents an evolving trend of chefs who are intimately connected to a farm, in his case a biodynamic one. (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Local food flying off shelves: A fun story about how airport retailers are stocking foods that "truly reflect the airport's location." Now, if only malls would follow suit... (Los Angeles Times)
  • Cutting off those little fingers: The chicken ones, that is. David Kamp on the proliferation of children's menus. (New York Times)
  • Go with the flow: A catchup story on the West Coast trend toward tap water in restaurants, which New York is just now preparing to stick a toe in. (New York Times)
  • Peachy koan: Q&A with Russ Parsons, LA Times writer and author of "How to Pick a Peach." Great quote: "You can't cheat your way to flavor. You can cheat on the cosmetics, grow beautiful fruit by cheating — and by that I mean pumping it full of water, using lots of pesticides and fungicides to knock the bugs down. But flavor only comes from good farming." We're not sure why he swipes at Alice Waters or why worrying about the carbon footprint of food is silly, but he's got a point about produce. (Washington Post) Sidebar: How to find local peaches in the Washington D.C. area

Europe has biofuel fever, too: The rapid conversion of fields that once grew wheat or barley to biofuel crops like rapeseed is already leading to European shortages of the ingredients for making pasta and brewing beer and could translate into higher prices in supermarkets. (New York Times)

Gardening victory: People all over are planting their own gardens, with reasons ranging from environmental concerns to simply wanting to get their hands dirty. (San Jose Mercury News/AP; thanks Diana!)

The Veggie Mobile cometh: A great story we missed last week about a fresh-produce delivery truck that makes the rounds in poor, grocery-store-less neighborhoods in Troy, NY. (New York Times)

To market we go: A West Seattle family won a contest in which they will attempt to buy as much of their weekly food supply from the local farmers markets and chronicle their efforts in the newspaper's Farm Fresh Family blog. (Seattle P-I)

Growing chefs: As more British Columbia residents seek out SOLE food, a groundswell has begun building school-based projects designed to help children understand the issues behind the food they eat. (Globe and Mail)

Don't do as we do!: The president of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy warns China not to follow the U.S. example of oligopoly or voluntary guidelines in its evolving food system. (Reuters)

Not COOL: The American Meat Institute — which represents feedlots, processors, and packers — doesn't want consumers to know the source of their food. "To assert that any country-of-origin labeling regime would have an impact on food safety or the integrity of a food product is absurd" as well as "anti-import." Perhaps, but we think consumers deserve to be able to choose locally raised meat if they want. (Food Production Daily)

Buy local fuel: The president of Washington state's chamber of commerce has an op ed condemning corn-based ethanol because of its role in driving up food prices. Trees and nonfood plants are the answer (and Washington state has a large forestry industry). (The Columbian)

New Mexico is the largest U.S. pecan producer (Current Argus)

A brief history of guerrilla gardening (San Francisco Chronicle)

ON THE BLOGS, ETC.

Passing the subsidy buck: Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group has a really funny post about federal welfare recipients' defense that they don't get to keep the money, it just goes to pay expenses. A sharp-tngued sample: "Translated to those of us in the paved world, this tortured defense amounts to saying that your salary isn't really paid to you, but to the bank that holds the note on your car or the mortgage on your home, or to the landlord who owns that $2,300-a-month efficiency you're renting." (Mulch) Bonus link: Oxfam has a video on YouTube about the global effects of these subsidies on poor nations and subsistence farmers.

Pot o'golden eggs: SFist reports that San Francisco's beloved Rainbow Grocery Co-op will now exclusively carry cage-free eggs, claiming it is the first San Francisco-based store to do so. This may be true, but Whole Foods has been carrying nothing but cage-free eggs since 2004, and uses them exclusively in its prepared foods.

Half-caf, hold the hormones, please: Although Starbucks is keeping it hush-hush, 51% of their milk supply is now rBGH-free. (Food & Water Watch)

E tu, Barack?: On his personal blog, Fortune reporter Marc Gunther has some strong words for Barack Obama about the incongruity of the presidential candidate's Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007. (MarcGunther.com)

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