Digest – News & commentary: Killer drought, piling on China, organic tomatoes healthier


NY Times drought photo"My salary is tied to how much it rains" (right): The wicked drought in the U.S. encompasses more than a dozen farm-reliant states as far north as Ohio and Indiana but is ravaging the Southeast, producing conditions not seen in more than 50 years in some places, and longer in northern Alabama. Harvest day’s expected small returns will be make-or-break time, so time to patronize your farmers markets and buy as much as you can afford of whatever they’ve got. (New York Times)

China having rather bad year: The salmonella bacteria found in recalled Veggie Booty and other Robert’s snacks has been linked to a spray-on seasoning made with imported Chinese ingredients. (Press release PDF) Related: A Chronicle editorial says U.S. food companies and manufacturers that rely on China for cheap ingredients must be especially vigilant, while Fortune reports that Big Food executives are madly appointing "chief import officers." But who’s looking out for Chinese consumers? The New York Times reports that China revealed that nearly a fifth of the food and consumer products that it checked in a nationwide survey were found to be substandard or tainted. Among the domestically sold villains: animal feed, fertilizer and agricultural equipment, and "many food items were mislabeled or heavily colored by additives." The good news? Three years ago, the government never would have released any of this information.

Mutant frogs in the coalmine: Tadpoles living near commercial farms in Vermont are twice as likely as those living elsewhere to develop deformities, usually missing limbs. Others say stress and overcrowding are more important factors. (Boston Globe)

starYes, Alex Avery, there is a difference: UC Davis researchers have found that tomatoes grown organically were richer in two types of flavonoids, compounds that might lower rates of cardiovascular disease and some cancers in people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables. The likely cause: the cover crops and compost used on this particular organic farm increased overall fertility of the soil. (Sacramento Bee) Sam Fromartz has more at Chews Wise.

Tall tail tale: New rules will soon limit will limit the size of lobsters that can be caught in Massachusetts; big ones will be left in peace to spawn. (The Boston Globe)

No match for Nickelodeon advertising: The federal government will spend more than $1 billion this year on nutrition education — fresh carrot and celery snacks, videos of dancing fruit, lessons about how great kids will feel if they eat well. But an examination of 57 such programs found mostly failure. Here’s an idea — spend that $1 billion on Food and Farm Bill reforms like food stamp increases, organic agriculture incentives, re-educating school lunch "cooks" (and maybe home ones too) and see if the success rate increases. (Washington Post)

Mayors weigh in: †he U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously urged Congress to make big changes in agricultural policy through the 2007 Food and Farm Bill. The mayors’ resolution calls for a new urban-rural partnership, increased food-stamp benefits, and improved access to healthy food, among other things (California Coalition for Food and Farming (PDF); thanks Naomi!)

Don’t go with the CAFO flow: Researchers sampled surface waters and groundwater near a large hog factory and found much higher concentrations of enterococci, fecal coliforms, and Escherichia coli in the down-gradient samples, as well as higher antibiotic resistance in the sampled bugs. (Environmental Health Perspectives)

Would it really kill them to label it?: A "natural" Dutch-made product that uses bacteriophages to fight listeria has been approved for use in the U.S. as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the FDA and the USDA, meaning its use on say, chicken, won’t have to be labeled. (World Poultry; thanks Bruce!)

Slippery slope: Science writer David Ewing Duncan writes thoughtfully about how as banana crops fall to a devastating fungus, Ugandan scientists are testing genetically modified varieties to save this food staple of 500 million people. (Technology Review)

Hey! Do some of that in your home country!: The UK branch of McDonald’s will convert its 155 delivery trucks to run on biodiesel made from its own recycled cooking oil. Last week it said it would switch all the milk it serves in coffee and tea to squeezed-in-the-UK organic. (International Business Times)

Chocolate is the largest growing snack segment in the U.S. organic market (Reuters)


starSee this dirty movie: Our e-pal Kerry of Eating Liberally wants you to see "The Real Dirt on Farmer John," the story of John Peterson, quirky founder of Angelic Organics farm, which we agree is one of the most poignant and powerful documentaries we’ve seen lately. (So does Al Gore.) "Farmer John" deserves a wider distribution than it’s gotten (screening list here) — read Kerry’s passionate review/plea, then call your local indie theater and ask them to show it. (The Huffington Post)

"Kathy Lee Gifford, K-Mart, and sweat shops" ring any bells?: TV chef Paula Deen is caught in a dispute between Smithfield (whose pork products she endorses) and the United Food & Commercial Workers, a union that has been trying for years to organize the Tar Heel plant, the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse. "They treat the hogs better than human life," said one worker. We’re wondering how that’s even possible, given how the hogs are treated, not to mention its home state. Paula, honey, don’t matter how much your deal is worth — this company is indefensible. (Rutland Herald)

starVictory Gardens redux: Patrick Holden, director of Britain’s Soil Association, issues a dire reminder about the fragility of the U.K. food supply, and offers multiple ways to rebuild England’s food infrastructure. (Word of Mouth)

"Caveat Elsie": Learning that milk is loaded with hormones — the naturally occurring kind — and so is meat (the adrenalin experienced by animals about to be slaughtered, not to mention the growth hormones) — makes this writer consider turning vegan. (Huffington Post)

Rope-a-DOHP!: Kate marches into her local Kwik-E-Mart and samples some of the Simpsons-themed, "food-like treats" made to promote the show’s forthcoming movie. While her reviews are hilarious, her analysis kicks the discussion up to a whole ‘nother level: "For this promotion.’The Simpsons’ gets it exactly right. For all of this talk about our growing worldwide restaurant reputation, the increased demand for organic and local foods, and ‘The United States of Arugula,’ American food is still more accurately represented by the cereals, colas and beers that have been manufactured by faceless corporations." Kudos. (Accidental Hedonist)

Blackberries and Independence Day: Writes the Baklava Queen, "Our nation began as an agrarian society and grew from the toil of farmers. What better way to celebrate the Fourth by paying tribute to their legacy through eating local foods?" Indeed. (Rolling in the Dough)

Times editorial supports country-of-origin-labeling (New York Times)

"Bioengineered Milk? No Thanks" — 7 letters about that rBST op-ed from both readers and interested parties ((New York Times)

How broadband and cable are changing the character of rural U.S. villages (New York Times)

One Responseto “Digest – News & commentary: Killer drought, piling on China, organic tomatoes healthier”

  1. Anastasia Bodnar says:

    I saw the article in SEED about bananas, but not this follow up. Thanks! It would be a terrible shame if the only answers to this devastating fungus were pesticide or eating fewer bananas (especially if it’s your staple food). This is an ideal situation, as there is no way for the gene to spread, and no charge to the farmers for the improved crop. I do wish they had used genes from a related species, but they might not have any that would be appropriate.

    Caveat Elsie was also great. It was good of the author to pass on the word that all milk and meat naturally contain hormones, and might be something we should think about consuming less of.

    I hope that studies like the one on flavnoid levels cause more conventional farmers to use compost instead of relying on petroleum derived fertilizer.