Digest – News: Mega-McDonald’s, bathing moo-ties, and CA Senate embraces food

No budget, but an awesome mandate: The California state Senate reforms its agriculture committee - traditionally a buddy of the state's industrial produce contingent - to prioritize issues such as sustainable agriculture, food safety, animal welfare, and food security. Berkeley/Oakland Senator Loni Hancock will sit on the new Food and Agriculture Committee, as will Fran Pavley, who authored a bill requiring that products from cloned animals be labeled (vetoed by the Governator). It'll be headed by raw-milk cheerleader Dean Florez. Progress? We think yes. (Fresno Bee)

Mighty Mickey Ds: McDonald's sales and stock price are continuing to rise, even as the economy and the restaurant industry as a whole are struggling. As of November, the company had delivered 55 consecutive months of increases in global same-store sales. While it's nice that the popularity is attributed to its "healthier" food offerings, we wish the chain would improve its environmental and public-health contributions as well. (New York Times)

Military meat: It's official, at least sort of. The National Bio and Agrodefense Facility - which will study, among other things, virulent livestock and poultry diseases - will move to Manhattan, Kansas, in the heart of cattle country. The only good news is that people, not livestock, are in the path of most prevailing winds and tornadoes. What a relief! (Manhattan Mercury; KTKA).

Feathers will fly: Expect a lot of gleeful clucking over a new Swedish study just published today in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica that "chickens kept in litter-based housing systems, including free-range chickens, are more prone to disease than chickens kept in cages." The press release for the study (Eureka Alert) does explain that the farmers being studied formerly relied on battery cages, and that "many of the farmers caring for these flocks lacked the experience and knowledge that would have prevented the higher mortality and disease rates." Our Digest tipster MaryAnn sums up the problem succinctly: "The inexperienced farmers didn't know enough to remove their Hannibal Peckters....Not to mention the flock sizes were undoubtedly in the thousands, and still in a confined perimeter; totally unnatural."

Just add it to the paycheck: If former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is confirmed as Agriculture Secretary, he plans to continue receiving $7,500 in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments from USDA. Vilsack owns 580 acres of land in Iowa but does not receive crop subsidies because he rents the land to a farm manager. (Des Moines Register)

Tastes great, more diverse: Research by Henry Buller and others found that livestock that grazed on natural grasslands helped encourage biodiversity of plant species and produced more flavorful meat than other animals. (Economic & Social Research Council)

Udderly cool experiment: UC Davis researchers found that if you give a hot cow a chance to take a cooling shower, some will bathe for up to seven hours a day. Too bad we can't spare the H2O. (PDF from UC Davis Magazine; thanks Diana!)

Lean, with a subtle hint of trash: Some Kansas City area residents swear by the culinary joys of raccoon. Wildlife officials say that's dandy. (KC Star)

Peanut butter salmonella outbreak traced to plant in Blakely, GA (Wall Street Journal)

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