Mini-Digest: Biotech giants lose appetite for hunger help, MS-apprehension, RIP Rusty Butz

Many thanks to guest contributor Leslie of the Eat Well Guide for supplying the bulk of this mini-Digest, and to readers for their leads. We hope our regular full coverage will be back very soon; sadly, we will not attempt to Digest the 28,086-headline backlog on the semi-crippled editor’s RSS feed interface.

We’re taking our ball and going home: Monsanto and Syngenta pulled out of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology, which aims to do for hunger and poverty what the IPCC has done for climate change. Why? Oh, says this critical Nature editorial, because of "the inability of its members to get industry perspectives reflected in the draft reports. One of these perspectives is the view that biotechnology is key to reducing poverty and hunger." In fact, the report is leaning the opposite way — awesome.

Let them eat…nothing: Representative W.T. Mayhall in Mississippi has proposed legislation that would bar restaurants from serving obese people. Word on the foodie street and common sense indicates that there’s no way this will fly — the restaurant industry would howl, for one, and the Mississippi residents who would fall into the "unfeedable" category (over 30% of the state’s population) would probably have a strong case against the state for human rights abuse – but the fact that it’s even being discussed is pretty crazy. There’s gotta be a better way for the Ole Miss stop being the #1 fattest state. (Huffington Post)

Blame progress: Q&A with the author of "The Fattening of America" seeks to dispel "myths" about the obesity "crisis," saying that it’s due to "market forces that are bringing us low-cost products and services that make us more productive" with less need for physical activity. If that’s true, why are so few Silicon Valleyites — who work pretty darn hard, and efficiently — obese? (NYT Blog)

"The Butz Stops Here": We can’t improve on Grist’s headline for, or Tom Philpott’s reflection on, the lasting legacy of 1970s USDA Secretary Earl Butz, who died last week. (Grist)

Tainted dumplings making for chilly inter-Asian relations: Frozen gyoza from China, contaminated by "potentially lethal" insecticide methamidophos, has sickened at least 10 people in Japan and threatens to strain a historically tenuous relationship between the two countries. Officials of each are cooperating to figure out how it got in there, but in the mean time, frozen food has gotten very cheap in Japan, while in the wake of a DIY-dumpling explosion, the price of minced meat has skyrocketed and stores can’t keep pre-made wrappers in stock. (Time)

Salmon crashing: The number of endangered coho salmon returning to spawn in Marin County has plummeted, and scientists are trying to figure out why. (San Jose Mercury News)

Dead zone talking: Farms in Indiana and eight other states cause most of the pollution that creates a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey says, and manure runoff is a bigger contributor to the problem than previously thought. (

Bringing pet-food CEOs to justice: Top execs of two Chinese companies and a Vegas food importer (it’s all in the name – if people had known a company called ChemNutra Inc was feeding their pets, the make-your-own pet food trend probably would have picked up steam a long time ago) are facing criminal charges for the parts they allegedly played in last year’s melamine scandal, which left countless animal-lovers mourning the loss of dogs and cats around the country. (Los Angeles Times)

Head case: A well-written medical detective tale of how inspectors tracked down the neurological illness (elsewhere the news comes it’s being called "progressive inflammatory neuropathy") befalling workers who blew out hog brains at Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minnesota, which kills and butchers 19,000 hogs a day. What sounds like a nightmare is actually considered a good job. (New York Times; thanks Jen!)

No high-school football team? No problem!: Under proposed legislation, farmers market shoppers in Wyoming will be able to buy and sell home-baked goods at local farmers markets, the proceeds of which may now go to the bakers. Current laws allow the sale of home-baked creations only when the dough goes to nonprofits. (Local News 8)

Who will be the next…McStar?: Marketers at McDonald’s are further exploiting giving employees the chance to get famous, American Idol-style. The first "Voice of McDonald’s" contest, in 2006, attracted over 2,500 contestants and was such a success they decided to do it every two years. This year, they’re encouraging customers to vote online. Tastes like consumer-generated content, but it’s employee-generated! (New York Times)

Big Bird has landed: Chicken king Tyson has raised the standard size for birds from 6.5 to 8 pounds for two of its contractors. Why? Bigger birds equal bigger breasts. Some fun facts: Today just 11% of birds are retailed whole, 43% are cut up, and even more, 46%, are further processed. McDonald’s buys almost nothing but white meat. The nonstop demand for breast meat "puts pressure on poultry processing at precisely the spot where it’s weakest right now: manpower" — it’s all manually deboned. (; free registration required) Related: Broiler chickens getting so large they can’t always walk

Biofuels a gastronomical mistake: The rush to grow biofuel crops is actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them, according to two studies in the journal Science (Los Angeles Times)

Get on de Bus: The Skills for the New Millenium Tour kicks off from Prescott, AZ February 20 and will be on the road for six months before winding up at the Republican National Convention. This Permaculture bus tour will be sharing skills like home butchering, canning, and writing radical poetry. To see if they’re coming through your town, check out this PDF.

Cheerio, Chester Cheetah: The South Australian Government says that if the junk food industry doesn’t voluntarily remove ads from the telly during children’s programming, they’ll outlaw them. (The Advertiser)

U.S. farms drop 0.6%, to 2.08 million, from 2007 (Reuters)

Urban "farm" wins design competition for P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City (NY Times; thanks Diane)

Dairy farm workers breathing in manure dust up to 5x less likely to get lung cancer (New Zealand Herald)

Blogger Barbara is one of the few to "admit that I didn’t think much of In Defense of Food" (Tigers & Strawberries)

We welcome links (note preferred new email address, digest at ethicurean), especially if they come pre-chewed for us, with pithy summaries.

7 Responsesto “Mini-Digest: Biotech giants lose appetite for hunger help, MS-apprehension, RIP Rusty Butz”

  1. Dan says:

    If that’s true, why are so few Silicon Valleyites — who work pretty darn hard, and efficiently — obese?

    Would you like “the stress of being seen as less productive and contributing to a product delay” or “an unspoken epidemic of stimulant addiction, particularly of crystal meth” for your answer?

  2. John says:

    Silicon Valleyites – Stress, California Car Culture, Bay Area drinking culture, stress, long hours, and general sitting on their asses. Working long hours and being productive don’t mean that they are physically active.

    Butz – How about, “Don’t let the door hit you in the Butz on the way out?”

  3. Bonnie P. says:

    Dan–Crystal meth? Whatever happened to prodigious amounts of Red Bull? I’m shocked and appalled.

    On the other hand, maybe Silicon Valley isn’t as slim as it used to be: another reader pointed out by email the “Google effect” — its 12,000 employees are all noticeably fatter thanks to the bottomless cornucopia of free, delicious SOLE food offered in restaurants all over the Googleplex.

  4. ExPat Chef says:

    Love the first bit. I actually got to debate on the BBC radio against the head Monsanto lobbyist on this very issue! Heh. The BBC didn’t tell me who he was, so Raj Patel of Stuffed and Starved and I got to be ambushed a bit, though we held out ground.

  5. I find the headline “U.S. farms drop 0.6%, to 2.08 million, from 2007″ to be rather interesting. The USDA for the purposes of their proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS claims that there are only 1.4 million premises and they include all locations with even a single livestock animal including horses. In that they include all auction houses, slaughter facilities, veterinarian offices, feed lots, etc, etc. Only a fraction of the USDA’s number is actually farms. Yet, there are 2.08 million farms… Something’s funny with the numbers.

    My estimate of the number of premises is more like 8 to 10 million using the USDA’s own definition. That is a number they’ll have a very difficult time getting to voluntarily, or even mandator-ally, comply with their premises registration program.

    It is to be noted that the USDA dramatically reduced it’s count of premises when it needed to justify that it was making headway with registrations of premises for NAIS. The numbers are very flexible for them and used to justify their budgets rather than actually count farms.

  6. Expat Chef says:

    More Monstanto woes, rBGH-free dairy labeling and other important food labels under attack in Kansas now.
    The bill could also impact the state’s use of labels like “pastured” and “free range” in fact anything that cannot be tested in a lab could come under fire if this version of the legislation passes. ONLY ONE WEEK to get the word out to Kansas state legislature! Please help!

    Details here:


  7. Amanda Rose says:

    We’ll get a labeling update posted soon. Thanks for the link!