Digest – News and Commentary: animal welfare, recalls, CAFO map

Although the House passed its version of the Food and Farm Bill on Friday, this news digest will be Farm Bill-free news digest (to which many will breathe a sigh of relief). We'll have a special Food and Farm Bill digest in the next few days that will be full of wonky goodness.

starWelfare goes widespread: Animal advocacy groups like Farm Sanctuary, PETA and the Humane Society have brought issues of animal welfare almost into the mainstream. Although fast food companies have made changes that gratify the activists, the corporations are quick to say that liability and consumer preferences are driving their decisions. The companies seem to be missing or ignoring an important factor: activities of the advocacy groups bring animal welfare issues into the consciousness of consumers, thus affecting their preferences. (New York Times)

A sweet herb might sweeten lives: Stevia, an herb containing compounds that are far sweeter than sugar, offers a way out of poverty for Paraguayan farmers. The world's leading producer is currently China, but South America is the new frontier because multiple crops are possible each year. Big companies like Cargill and Coca-Cola are beginning to test compounds from stevia as an alternative sweetener. (Thanks Tyler!) (Financial Times)

Dissent is dangerous?: Two members of Congress have accused the FDA of intimidating employees after several of them gave the agency poor marks in a Congressional hearing. A few days after the hearing, the associate commissioner for regulatory affairs sent a complaining about the testimony. (Santa Fe New Mexican (AP))

China cracks down: The Chinese government is issuing new rules to protect food safety. The rules will increase supervision activities, define the government's responsibilities, and make punishments for food safety violations more severe. Will also apply to companies run by family members of powerful government officials, or companies run by military leaders? These two classes usually seem to be immune from most environmental and worker safety rules. (Environment News Service)

Recall's short reach: Despite FDA recall notices and plenty of news coverage, some stores have not removed all of the potentially botulism-contaminated Castleberry Food Co. products from the their shelves. Smaller stores are more likely to be oblivious to the warnings. Big chains act more quickly and are able to reprogram their cash registers to prevent purchases of recalled items. (The Tennessean)

starMapping manure mounds: Food and Water Watch has released a new interactive map showing the locations of factory farms in the United States. It illustrates how certain regions of the country have become CAFO-ized, like Southeastern North Carolina. (Food and Water Watch) (via The Rural Blog)

Reviewing a recall: This article explains the mechanics of a food recall, using the recent case of botulism-contaminated Castleberry Food Co. products as an example. One surprising item: the massive recall was voluntary. Although Federal agencies can't require a recall, they are able to confiscate products deemed to be unsafe. Another item: Costco knew exactly who had purchased any of the affected products and sent each one a letter. (Mail Tribune)

Fraying trust: A survey of people in the UK finds widespread distrust of food manufacturers. Sixty-seven percent are unaware of product alerts, and only 17 percent trust manufacturers honesty in food alerts and recalls. (Food Navigator )

Watch what you breathe: A new study links air pollution and hardening of the arteries. Air-borne particles and iesel exhaust, especially the smallest particles, have been implicated as a cause of cardiac events for a long time. But now scientists have shown a potential mechanism in which particles enter the bloodstream (!) and activate artery-clogging genes. (Los Angeles Times)

Tap dance: Thanks to pressure from Corporate Accountability International, PepsiCo-owned Aquafina, one of the largest brands of bottled water, will improve disclosure about its source of water. Whereas current bottles say "P.W.S.", a new label will say "public water source." In other words, the bottle contains purified tap water. (San Francisco Chronicle (AP))

Fading fish: Early sockeye salmon counts on the Fraser River in British Columbia are way down. Stresses like overfishing and water pollution are possible causes; another is that the fish will be arriving later than usual. Conservationists warn that unless serious measures are undertaken, the salmon fisheries could disappear like the Atlantic cod did several years ago. (The Province)

Terrible news: Grant Achatz, the executive chef of the innovative Alinea restaurant in Chicago, has a form of cancer that sounds like something from Dante's Inferno. He has been diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. The treatment could severely hamper his ability to taste (not to mention the ability to work the long, long hours required of a chef). (San Jose Mercury News)

Ozone uh oh: One of the probable results of climate change will be higher ozone concentrations in urban areas (and places downwind). A new study published in Nature finds that this is bad news for plants (and for the assumption that higher carbon dioxide levels will simply cause plants to grow that much faster). The new research finds that ground-level ozone pollution hinders plant growth and uptake of carbon dioxide more than previously suspected. (Los Angeles Times)

Great times for some...: In case you're worried about the health of the poor, oppressed oil companies, Chevron's second quarter profit was $5.38 billion, a company record. (San Francisco Chronicle)

If Anthony Baah-gess wrote "A Clockwork Orange": Sheep are being dosed with lithium chloride to train them to not eat grapes while taking care of weeds in vineyards. (San Francisco Chronicle)

New label identifies line-caught fish for Nova Scotians (Nova Scotia News)

Pure Country Pork is first to receive Food Alliance Certification (press release)

Sara Lee recalls bread containing metal pieces (Reuters)

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