Digest – News: Tomato pay raise endangered, Smithfield rejects clones, organic fish debated

Forgive us readers, for it has been a record 12 days since the last Digest. But we're back,  with an incomplete list of links both moldy and fresh. Smell before you click.

What's "un-American" is virtual slave labor: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has fought for years to persuade McDonald’s and Taco Bell to pay a penny more a pound for Florida tomatoes, effectively doubling the workers' incomes. Well, those deals are in danger of collapsing under pressure from Burger King and a growers group. We don't eat at Burger King, so a boycott is pointless — but we might consider picketing. (New York Times) Related: Watch "With These Hands I Demand the Future," a moving video tribute to the Immokalee workers posted on YouTube.

And we thought Smithfield couldn't shock us anymore: Smithfield Foods, the pork producer we love to hate, has announced it will not use pork from cloned animals because the technology is too young and requires further investigation to determine it is safe. (The Pig Site)

We ain't buying it: The National Organics Standards Board is meeting to decide whether farmed fish should qualify for the organic label. The industry's main motivation seems to be that other countries get to label their farmed salmon "organic," under questionable standards, which is then imported here and undercuts their sales. Excerpts quoted from a report by the Pacific Organic Seafood Association emphasize health claims and point to the success of offshore aquaculture around the world as proof that the industry is sustainable. Under the latter argument, cornfed feedlot beef would be sustainable, too. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) Related: Jellyfish attack wipes out N.Ireland salmon farm

Shaking things up: Sen. Grassley (R-IA) is reintroducing legislation to increase agricultural competition, proposing to create a task force to determine how to address anti-competitive behavior, require the Justice Department and the FTC to update their guidelines on agricultural competition, and improve the USDA's merger review process. With just a handful of huge companies dominating the beef, pork and poultry industries, these reforms are long overdue. (The Hill Blog)

Roundup Ready beets are back: Seven years ago, beet breeders were on the verge of introducing genetically modified, herbicide-resistant seeds. But they had to pull back after sugar-using food companies like Hershey and Mars, fearing consumer resistance, balked at the idea of biotech beets. Now though, they think "consumer attitudes have come to accept food from biotechnology." Clearly we're not doing our jobs here. (New York Times)

Execution stay from PA governor for rBGH-free labels: The controversial decision by Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture to restrict dairy labeling is under review after facing strong public backlash. (Post-Gazette)Related: Over at Chews Wise: Pennsylvania's Milk Cover-Up, Sam Fromartz explains the backgrounds of this campaign by Monsanto to lobby state governments to reduce consumer choice.

Hope there's no salmonella in that golden parachute: ConAgra announced that the executive in charge of the division that made both the company's tainted peanut butter and pot pies will be leaving next July to seek "the top leadership position at another consumer business." (Houston Chronicle)

But USDAaaad, the FDA said it was OK: On the eve of Tyson's $70 million ad campaign touting how its fresh chicken is "raised without antibiotics," the USDA said it made a mistake in approving the labels. The agency overlooked a feed additive, called ionophores, that it classifies as antibiotics; Tyson is claiming a) it's unfair because the FDA doesn't see ionophores that way and b) consumers seek out such labels because they are worried about antibiotic resistance in humans. (AP; thanks Cookie Jill)

starAnother week, another recall: American Foods Group has recalled 95,927 pounds of ground beef produced Oct. 10 and shipped to Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Virginia. (Bloomberg)

Might want to rethink that: The Maryland Department of Agriculture is paying farmers to plant cover crops over the winter to reduce agricultural runoff, a major source of Chesapeake Bay pollution. This part of the program doesn't sound good for the Bay: "Instead of harvesting those crops in spring, he will spray them with herbicide." The fund also pays for manure confinement devices and buffers of vegetation around farmland. (Baltimore Sun)

King Kong Corn: A grain bin collapsed and sent a tidal wave of corn into an Iowa home, sweeping it off its foundation, trapping a family of four, and shaking the ground for miles. (AP; thanks Henry!)

Which one of these things is not like the others?: A new San Francisco municipal program recycles restaurants' cooking oil for use as fuel for city vehicles. Factoid: The current king of such recycling sells the grease for a wide range of uses, including animal feed, boiler fuel, lubricant and paint. (San Francisco Chronicle)

EU set to reject biotech corn applications (Brownfield Network)

Furor in Australia as government decides to allow GM canola to be grown in Victoria (The Age)

Starbucks to open center in Ethiopia to help coffee farmers improve crop profitability (New York Times)

Salmonella Hits Nearly 100 at U. of Western Ontario (Chronicle of Higher Education)

No more plastic bags at big San Francisco grocery stores (SF Chronicle)

Fire kills 1,000 pigs at NJ farm (AP)

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