Digest: We’re all just lab rats in the maze of the global food chain

Not much news this weekend. Which doesn't mean there's a shortage of links.

NEWS

Globalization risks: The New York Times has two top-notch articles, one in the Business section and one in Health, that could have been even better with a little integration. (We're just saying.) The first looks at how Big Food is scouring the globe for exotic — or the cheapest — ingredients to compete in a more global marketplace, not unlike automakers shipping in parts from all over, and asks "is the trend to assemble food from so many far-flung locations heightening the risks of contamination?" (Ya think?) Rhetorical questions aside, there's some interesting stuff in here about how the globalization of food brands has contributed to their dependence on chemical ingredients, so that Pizza Hut consumers in China can taste the same exact crappy pizza as in Chicago. The second article looks at the FDA’s efforts to investigate Haiti poisonings from fake Chinese glycerin in 1996, which demonstrate Chinese officials' intransigence and the regulatory failings that allowed a virtually identical poisoning to occur 10 years later in Panama. "The cases further illustrate what happens when nations fail to police the global pipeline of pharmaceutical ingredients," says the article...and, by extension, of food ingredients. Or anything, really: As most parents know by now, Chinese-made Thomas the Tank Engine toys have been recalled for using lead paint and fake Colgate toothpaste in the U.S. may contain diethylene glycol — that same toxic ingredient swapped for glycerin in Haiti and Panama.

Time to rob the rich: One of the many articles spotting the fat cats in the Environmental Working Group's new database of ag-subsidy recipients, such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (worth $16 billion, received $30,687 in federal welfare). EWG Prez Ken Cook said his group thinks the USDA has better things to do with its budget than subsidize billionaires — such as boosting federal money for food stamps, which now averages $1 per meal for everyone who gets them. (New York Daily News)

Nice catch: Alaska salmon fishermen are now officially classified by the federal government as agricultural producers. As 'farmers of the sea,' they can be included in various programs under the Farm Bill. (SitNews)

Three bags full, please: Federal programs to aid U.S. sheep producers are up for reauthorization in the 2007 Farm Bill; in addition to their renewal, they want sheep designated as an official prescription for fighting weeds. (Jackson Hole Tribune)

Two North Dakota farmers will file lawsuit against the DEA in ongoing fight to grow hemp (Associated Press)

Parents of 4-year-old girl sue United Food Group meat company over E. coli poisoning (Sacramento Bee)

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

Buying Local for Dummies: Richard Conniff had a blog entry on the New York Times last week with the sensation-seeking headline "Don't Buy Local" that we ignored because it seemed stupid irrelevant. He started from a faulty premise — that those who buy local do so purely for environmental-footprint reasons (food miles) or worse, to "punish" foreigners, and thus his triumphant proof that often local is no more energy efficient was — to our minds and to the dozens of unusually articulate NYT commenters — an empty victory. Michael Shuman, the author of “The Small-Mart Revolution” and “Going Local" who's (we think) posting on renegade Berkeley lunch lady Ann Cooper's blog, does a far better job of setting Conniff straight than we ever could have about the advantages of rebuilding local economies. He also deconstructs that UK study that the Economist and fellow local/organic-skeptics like to reply on. (Lunch Lessons; don't tell the Times, but she she also republishes Conniff's Select-only piece on her blog, too)

You had us until Hillary: An exploration of the cultural ramifications of the 1,000-pound, pet-turned-quarry pig named Fred. (L.A. Times West Magazine)

Tater nots: Japanese schoolchildren get a far better lunch than their U.S. counterparts. One odd aside that jumped out at us, however: fresh milk is "always" served — unsurprising given that the lunch program is modeled on the European system, but probably tough on the kids given that 90% of Japanese are lactose intolerant. (Financial Times)

Sticking up for corn-based ethanol: This guest post by David Morris of the Institute for Local Self Reliance opened our eyes to possibly knee-jerk assumptions we've been making about Congress's favorite biofuel. He offers some pretty interesting guidelines: "Approach biofuels as an agricultural issue with energy security implications, not as an energy security issue with agricultural implications. Design policies to maximize the benefit to rural areas of using plant matter for industrial and energy uses." (Gristmill)

CR4-bidden: An eye-opening report from the USDA (of all places) about consolidation in the food industry. Fun fact: The four biggest beer-makers control more than 90% of the market. (Gristmill)

Protesters of Montauk shark hunt call in the big harpoons — the Humane Society (New York Times)

ON THE BLOGS, ETC.

Methane credits: Danielle Nierenberg has a skeptical take on the first large-scale livestock methane offset program. One of the U.S.'s biggest electric utilities (and its largest CO2 polluter) will offset its atmospheric impact by investing in a system to lower methane emissions from confined animal feeding operations. (Worldwatch Institute blog)

Attention Berkeley farmers market shoppers!: Ethicurean pal Dylan goes field-trippin' to check out the eggs at Kaki Farms, rice at Massa Organics, and peaches at Woodleaf Farms. (Sourdough Monkey Wrangler)

Chews your leader: Rachel Dixon over at The Guardian's new food blog attempts to make a list of ethical food heroes; heated debate over Norman Borlaug and Jamie Oliver ensues in comment section. (Word of Mouth)

McMoms are lovin' it: McDonald's will allow six moms to investigate restaurants in the chain, work in the restaurant, and then blog about their experience and their discoveries. Derrick shares our skepticism. (An Obsession with Food)

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