Digest – News: EU ponders Bt corn, California raw-milk battle, USDA shills for Monsanto

starTo Bt or not Bt: A look at what's at stake as the European Union comes under pressure from the U.S. and the WTO to open its markets to genetically modified, herbicide rsistant Bt corn. There, so far, the precautionary principle has applied, and politicians have listened to those who urge caution, noting that we just don't know enough, and that the bulk of the scientific evidence of safety comes from company-financed studies that do not look at broader ripple effects, such as changes to bird or benign insect species, or the effect of all farmers planting a single biotechnology crop. Article notes that Syngenta and Monsanto and other GM seed developers have rejected repeated requests to release seeds to researchers to conduct independent studies on their effect on the environment — and that Europe is essentially looking to the U.S. as a live safety trial. (New York Times)

Bacteria to the future: The Associated Press reports that California's sneaky amendment to raw-milk laws, AB1735, takes effect January 1, setting an entirely arbitrary limit of no more than 10 coliforms per milliliter and pretty much ensuring that raw-milk dairies will have to shut down. But Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures, however, writes on the dairy's website that "California's raw milk supply will NOT be interrupted in January, 2008 or beyond!" He says the state's Ag Sec is backing him, the legislation will be reversed, and just to be safe, he's filing a lawsuit.

USDA pays farmers to plant Monsanto corn: The U.S. regulatory agency is giving farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota a break on their federal crop insurance premiums — about $2 per acre, or $2,000 for a typical 1,000-acre farm — if they plant Monsanto's genetically modified seed corn this spring. Why? Because it's lower risk – of crop failure, anyway. Slow ecosystem collapse, alas, isn't part of the assessment. (Chicago Tribune)

Christmas gifts from Satan: (No Jack, that was not a typo.) On December 21, the EPA announced a proposed rule change that would exempt large livestock operators from having to report releases of hazardous substances to the air when they come from animals. Under the proposed rules, hog confinement operations, for example, will no longer need to disclose hazards like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to local, state, and federal agencies. That reporting is just so burdensome. (New West Network)

"Harvest of Shame." 2007 edition: An update on the status of the group of Florida farmworkers who had persuaded McDonald’s and Taco Bell to have their tomato suppliers pay their pickers more — that is, until the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a scary Mafia-sounding cooperative representing 90 percent of the state’s growers, started threatening large “noncompliance penalties” for any growers that share information about wages or tonnage picked with third parties. (New York Times)

That human society is really nuts: Colorado, the nation's 15th leading state for pork production, has voluntarily decided to phase out sow gestation crates by 2018. According to this neutral account, even that move has failed to satisfy the state's "animal rights extremists" like Wayne Pacelle, "a vegan who heads the Human Society of the U.S." [sic], who want to ban chicken battery cages too. (Brownfield Network)

Tapping the courts: An alliance of food and beverage retailers plans to sue Chicago over its upcoming 5 cent bottled-water tax. (Chicago Tribune)

Happy Ethanolidays!: Keith Good reports that some farm policy observers think the legislation with the biggest impact on agricultural producers has already been passed and signed into law — the Energy Bill. (FarmPolicy.com)

Pols do at least one thing NAIS for us: Congress trimmed the Bush administration's budget request for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) by more than two-thirds. (Brownfield Network)

When the milkman delivers listeria: State health officials are saying that two elderly men have died drinking milk products from Whittier Farms in central Massachusetts, which depends on home delivery for the bulk of its distribution. (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

Can't they use it for pet food?: A New Jersey company is seeking to purchase Topps Meat, which went bankrupt after last fall’s massive beef product recall. The deal would include equipment and property — and more than 1.8 million pounds of potentially E. coli-contaminated meat, which it must destroy. (The Buffalo News)

China offers production guidelines for seafood (New York Times)


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