Digest: Whole Foods in hot water, apple moths eating everything in sight, Tyson goes drug-free (sorta)
[Update: minor typos corrected in Farm Bill items]
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John Mackey and the Straight-Talk Express: According to FTC papers unsealed today in the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger investigation, CEO John Mackey told board members that buying Wild Oats would "eliminate forever the possibility of Kroger, Supervalu, or Safeway" launching a competing national natural/organic food chain, reports Bloomberg, while CNN Money quotes him as saying "By buying [Wild Oats] we will ... avoid nasty price wars in Portland [both Oregon and Maine], Boulder, Nashville, and several other cities which will harm [Whole Foods'] gross margins and profitability." That's the kind of straight talk that sets antitrust fingers waggin', John. Over at Chews Wise, "Organic Inc" author Sam Fromartz thinks the merger was a defensive move by Whole Foods. Meanwhile, Mackey is fighting back, via a 14,000-word blog post that provides "a glimpse into the bullying tactics used against Whole Foods Market by this taxpayer-funded agency" — and also says the company's main U.S. competitor is Trader Joe's.
A mothful o' trouble: The light-brown apple moth feeds omnivorously on flowers, fruits and firs, a diet that earned it its nickname the "light-brown everything moth." A native of Australia, the moth has since been found in nine critical agricultural California counties, including Napa, prompting platoons of white-bunny-suited, organic-pesticide-spraying soldiers. (New York Times)
Consumers get their drug-free chicken: Tyson Foods has announced that all of its Tyson brand fresh chicken will come from birds "Raised Without Antibiotics" — because 91% of consumers said that they wanted it. (Despite what you may think from confusing labels, all U.S. chicken and pork are raised without artificial hormones by law.) While Tyson is bragging about the change, it's more about scoring the label and the extra pennies per pound: like the other large poultry producers, the company has gradually been phasing out the once-common practice of lacing feed with growth-promoting antibiotics in response to pressure from McDonald's and other fast-food chains. And note its nuggets and frozen foods won't carry the label. (Press release)
'Nothing but dust': More than a third of the United States is in the grip of a terrible drought, and while urban neighbors snitch on each other for washing cars, agriculture has been hit especially hard in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia, as well as parts of Arkansas and West Virginia. (Chicago Tribune)
86 Section 123: As we've ranted about previously, a provision slipped quietly into Title I of the House Farm Bill draft, known as Section 123, would bar state or local governments from banning anything the USDA has already approved — like genetically modified foods. Fortunately Hill staffers are saying they do not expect it to survive. (Recordnet.com)
Room for improvement: China trumpets the news that quality of its farm products is improving, but article notes there are still a few problems. For example malachite green, a cancer-causing chemical used by fish farmers to kill parasites, was found in some samples, as were nitrofurans, an antibiotic also linked to cancer. (Reuters)
But we're sure cottonseed oil is safe for us to eat: Transgenic cotton appears to kill farm animals that graze on it; the Andhra Pradesh state government has ordered a probe. (News Track India)
Taiwan sets standards for pesticide residues on organic-labeled produce (Radio Taiwan International)
FEATURES & COMMENTARY
Polymers we could love: Fossil fuels — inexpensive, abundant and water resistant — won the race long ago to dominate the plastics market. Now, agriculture-based plastics are back in the running, and a whole new array of polymers has become commercially viable, such as a type of Styrofoam made from orange peels and circuit board made from a composite made from soybeans and the down of chicken feathers. (New York Times)
Better sorry than safe?: Last month Vermont passed an agricultural bill allowing farmers to sell 1,000 or fewer uninspected birds to state restaurants and farmers markets, in part to help the state's farmers gain access to more markets and to give consumers more access to fresh, local products. Food-safety reps are not thrilled. An interesting in-depth look into the tension in New England between people increasingly demanding safe food and inspection — shrilly with each new outbreak of tainted food from China — and the revivalist trend for small-scale, diversified farming. (Rutland Herald Online)
Local strategists: Virginia natural grocer Ellwood Thompson's Natural plans to expand from one location near Carytown to several stores in the next few years. New locations will be strategically placed within 100 miles of small farms for potential suppliers. (Richmond Times Dispatch; thanks, Courtney!)
Basket cases: Pick-it-yourself fruit is a fun way to get in touch with the land, and, for small Brentwood, CA farms, a necessary tactic to stay afloat. But even then, they need agritourists to not just pick more, but buy more. (East Bay Express)
Sisters are growing it for themselves: Profiles of several female farmers, part of an increasing number in Pennsylvania, who followed their dreams from the business world to the barnyard. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Apple appeal: In long-term cold storage many apple cultivars suffer scald, a skin discoloration that renders them unmarketable; organic growers can't use the chemicals others do to prevent scald. A new, cheap storage method could help organic apple growers store their wares long past harvest. (Culinate)
Raw milk revolutionary: The annual open house of Ontario dairyman Michael Schmidt, whose raw milk operation was shut down by Canadian officials last year, prompting him to go on a hunger strike, was unusually somber as Schmidt faces an uphill battle to legalize his sales. (Osprey Media)
ON THE BLOGS, ETC.
Don't like the call? Get a new referee: The Case Vander Eyk dairy, suspended from organic certification in May, is now working with a new certification agency to get back in business. Sam Fromartz finds this very odd, and for good reason. (Chews Wise)
Netroots attacks Farm Bill bugs: A Vegetables of Mass Destruction diarist on dKos alerts the political activist blogging community to the Trojan horses of the House's draft Farm Bill Section 123 (giving USDA power to trump state bans on transgenic food, for one) and Section 121 (which contains the misguided idea that Country of Origin Labeling requires implementation of the much-hated-by-small-farmers National Animal Identification System). (Daily Kos; thanks Cookie Jill!)
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