Digest – News: Peanut crime spree, spinach gets zapped, lonely locusts

Busting a nut: With the list of recalled peanut products topping 400, the Department of Justice begins a criminal investigation of the processing company behind it. The Food and Drug Act prohibits companies from knowingly transporting contaminated products across state lines, something the Peanut Corporation of America apparently did at least 12 times in the last two years. But even if the company were successfully prosecuted, the penalties that the government can levy under the act are pathetic – a $10,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison for a felony, far less for a misdemeanor. (Washington Post)

Now that’s crunchy: Not only did Peanut Corporation of America’s peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA, ship out salmonella in its products, last September, a shipment of peanuts from the same plant was held at the United States/Canada border because it contained metal fragments. (Food Product Design; thanks Jill!) And to add insult to injury, the Fed is now investigating the possibility that this Salmonella-peanut outbreak may be linked to the one that sickened more than 700 people two years ago. (Newsday)

No shit! Just nuke it: As food poisoning continues apace, Andrew Martin reports that the food industry’s looking ever more closely at irradiating spinach and iceberg lettuce, among other things. If they could only get over the small hurdle of consumer acceptance, it would be so much cheaper than fixing the industrial problems that caused the unsafe food in the first place. (New York Times)

Let them eat cheese: Thirty-five U.S. Senators have sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for help for the dairy industry, including export incentives, price supports, and a resumption of the purchase of packaged dairy products for use dairy in food and nutrition programs. (Brownfield)

Adios, organic: The Utah Department of Agriculture is eliminating its organic certification program, without so much as a cost benefit analysis. The move may force organic producers to pay as much as 10 times more for organic certification. (Salt Lake Tribute)

Formula-makers at the government teat: A report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service finds that government donations of baby formula to moms participating in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food program constitute 50% of the U.S. formula market. Government bulk formula purchasing is also the primary factor driving the growth of formula wholesale prices. Relevant info that’s not included in the report is that by October, the WIC food package will change nationally to give more benefits to moms who exclusively breastfeed. (USDA’s Economic Research Service)

Anti-Prozac for locusts: New research shows that serotonin — a chemical that plays a major role in the emotions of humans — might cause locusts to coalesce into plant-ravaging swarms. As the serotonin level increases in a locust’s brain, it loses its dislike of other locusts and is willing to join the band. When the scientists blocked serotonin’s effect, the locusts remained solitary. The research could offer clues to preventing devastating locust plagues, but could also unleash awful unintended consequences if brain-chemistry altering compounds were distributed widely. (Science, subscription required) (New York Times)

Like coffee for the ears: As urban chicken raising becomes more popular, a problem is appearing: roosters. Most cities prohibit keeping roosters because of their early-morning crowing, so informal adoption networks are springing up in places like the Portland, Oregon area. (The Atlantic)

Chocolate bar offers a connection to the cacao farm (San Francisco Chronicle)

House Ag Committee announces subcommittee assignments (Press release)

Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry announced (Press release)

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