Digest – News: Farm Bill languishing, we have a beef with Boxer, more Aurora

Farm Bill delayed, again: Even though we're currently Farm Bill-less — the 2002 one effectively ended Sunday — the Senate mark-up of the 2007 bill is being pushed back once again. Why? They want the Finance Committee to go first, so they know how much money they have to work with. Um, shouldn't they be working together to determine how much money the bill actually needs? (Brownfield Network) Thankfully, Dan Owens over at the Center for Rural Affairs' blog is back from vacation and posting like mad: he has some thoughts on the speculation around where the money might be found to pay for various increases.

Boxer, we'll fight you on this Please see comment section: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) says that she will block the Farm Bill if it allows state-run slaughterhouses to ship meat across state lines. The House-passed bill authorizes the shipments if the state facility is subject to guidelines that are identical to federal guidelines. Sen. Boxer sees a health risk to consumers. (AP) Californians, please let her know that until the processing infrastructure to support small ranches is rebuilt, this proposal is critical to their continued survival. And by the way, all the major beef recalls of late have come from federally inspected slaughterhouses — the big ones. Revised (again): Sorry for the annoying updates. I'm hearing from people that there's more to this slaughterhouse thing than just what Patty has said — and more than just what met my hurried eye. With luck one of us Ethicureans will have time to get to the bottom of  the good/bad debate in the next 24 hours, but I would love for any folks who have the inside skinny to share in the comments as well. 

Cutting corners on your box of organic milk: Now that Aurora Organic dairy (revenues, $100 million) has settled charges that it violated organic food standards, Aurora president Mark Retzloff wants to muzzle its foes, reports Marc Gunther. "Organic milk shouldn't cost so much that only elites can afford it," says Retzloff. To which we reply: Diluting standards to make it cheaper — and raise your profits — is not the solution, even if you think the end justifies the means. (CNN Money)

Expelled from Eden: The UK organic community is divided over what should happen to organic male calves. Many are slaughtered at birth, others are exported for inhumane veal production elsewhere in Europe, like Holland. (Channel 4)

Maybe they should dye dogfood gray, too: Joining North Carolina, the Georgia Department of Agriculture is proposing to dye raw milk — which can only be sold as "pet food" — charcoal gray to discourage human consumption. Hey guys — what about letting the market decide? (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Si, GM-free: Italian food producers, consumersm and conservation groups start a petition drive to ban genetically modified food. (Reuters)

Swim, boys, swim!: A U.Cinn professor is intensifying the properties of light-emitting diodes by introducing biological materials, specifically salmon DNA. Where does he get it? Salmon sperm! It's considered a waste product of the fishing industry. (Press release)

Beats nothing — the USDA announced $900K worth of Farmers Market Promotion Program grants (Press release)

Ocean experts warn bluefin tuna collapse is imminent (Reuters)

Lake poisoning seems to have worked to kill invasive pike (SF Chronicle)


5 Responsesto “Digest – News: Farm Bill languishing, we have a beef with Boxer, more Aurora”

  1. RE: State-inspected abbatoirs

    In theory, meat safety would be better left in the federal government's hands. But theory means little when it invloves human behavior, politics and bureaucrats.

    We have a small family farm selling retail cuts of grass-fed and pastured drug free meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken). Fortunately, we have two abbatiors within reasonable driving distance: one state-inspected, the other federally-inspected. We decided to use the federally-inspected facility so we could sale across the state line.

    Now we only use the state-inspected plant, even though it costs us in out of state sales. The federally-inspected plant smelled of rotting meat, had exposed animal offal in the livestock corral, and an abundance of flies. Once when we picked up our processed lamb we had too many livers for the number of lambs we brought in. When we called about it, we were told all the livers from all the lambs brought in that day were thrown in a pile and someone just counted out the wrong number for us. When we told them we sold our meat as 100% grass-fed and drug free and had to have the products from our own animals, we were told take it or leave it, that's just the way they did it.

    The state-inspected plant is clean, neat, no odor, the quality of butchering is better, and the service is personal and caring.

    The federally-inspected plant cares most about quantity (profit), while the state-inspected plant cares most about quality. This difference cannot be legislated. Or in the words of Joel Saladin from his book "Everything I want to do is Illegal", "You cannot legislate integrity".

    As far as meat safety is concerned, it matters little who had control of the inspection process. What this means for the consumer is that once again you must know your farmer. If he had integrity, he will not use an unsafe processing facility.

  2. Bonnie P. says:

    Steve, that's scary -- but from the few farmers I know, it's not unusual either. I know a farmer who has to bring two or three hogs to a facility that processes over a hundred a day (that's considered a small one); he just prays he gets his own carefully raised pork back, and he's given up on the offal. The chain is broken here. We have to fix it.

    By the way, our Captcha comment protector creeps even me out sometimes: my two words below are "Soviet" and "pasture"!

  3. Patty Lovera says:

    On this issue, just like so many other food safety proposals, the devil is really in the details. Food & Water Watch is a consumer advocacy group that has fought for years for stronger food safety standards, especially federal meat inspection. We understand the obstacles that small livestock producers face in getting their animals to market and don’t want food safety rules to favor large companies over the little guy. And like most people examining the current state of our food supply, we think it’s obvious that consumers would be better off if more sustainable, independent livestock producers could get their products into more markets.

    BUT… we don’t support the measure in the farm bill to allow meat from plants that are inspected by state governments instead of the USDA to cross state lines. Why? Because as the language stands right now it would do far more damage than good. There are several specific things in the bill that go way overboard and put consumer safety at risk:

    - The bill covers much more than “small” plants. The bill would allow any meat plant with up to 50 employees under state inspection to ship its products across state lines. This means that 80 percent of plants currently under USDA inspection could switch to state inspection. Instead of creating a system for truly small producers and processors to have access to the marketplace, this proposal could radically change food safety requirements for 80 percent of the industry.

    - The bill would let meat plants switch back and forth between state and federal inspection every 4 years. Besides creating a logistical (and funding) nightmare for both the states and the feds, this opens the door for meat companies to “shop around” for more sympathetic regulators if they are having quality or safety problems.

    - Not all state inspection programs are created equal – and not all of them are equal to USDA inspection. Federal courts and investigators at the USDA have documented problems in several state programs that amount to their inspection being weaker than USDA's. But rather than require each state to be evaluated individually to see if it is up to snuff, this bill would make all of them eligible for interstate shipment at the same time.

    We need to find ways for small meat plants and the sustainable livestock producers they serve to get into more markets. A great start would be by making sure that USDA had enough inspectors to get to every plant that needs inspection by filling vacant positions that have plagued the agency for years and possibly working cooperatively with states to use state employees to enforce federal standards (a wonky, but important, distinction from the farm bill proposal.)

    The language in the farm bill might be well-intentioned, but it doesn’t get it right.

  4. Bonnie P. says:

    Patty: Thank you for your thoughtful, informative comment. I have amended the Digest item to point people to it. You clearly know more about this than we do, and we obviously should have read the actual language of the bill, rather than just an AP brief about it. But tell us — how do we get the right language into the Farm Bill?

    1:30 pm addendum: There's some pushback on this flowing into my email inbox, and I apologize, but I don't have time right now to sort out what's what or who's right. Sorry for the mixed messages and confusion. With luck I or one of the other team members will make time in the next 24 hours to give an informed opinion.

  5. Localivore says:

    Patty clearly makes some excellent points, but I'm concerned that there are parts to the legislation that are left out in her analysis. I have read the proposal too, and my understanding after reading it was that only states where the standards meet or exceed federal standards are eligible to ship meat across state lines. I know that state standards are not all created equal, but if some are in fact equal, why is it a problem to let the meat cross state lines? It makes the argument about which plants are eligible for this provision moot, since it's the state standard meeting federal standards and not the size that makes a plant eligible.

    I do agree that allowing plants to switch back and forth between state and federal standards would be a nightmare, and clearly that should be struck.

    I was at a conference last Friday and heard the Chair of the House Agriculture Committee say that he knows there are problems with the current language on state inspected meat and he wants to work with concerned groups to address these problems. I hope Food and Water Watch will lend their expertise to this dialogue in order to find a solution to the problem in time for this Farm Bill that will ensure safety AND allow small farmers and slaughterhouses to succeed.

    One last point: Sen. Harkin has not included this provision in the Senate draft of the Farm Bill, which seems to me to make Sen. Boxer's statements about this issue rather out of place.