Digest – News: Vilsack’s singing our song, but he ain’t our valentine yet

Yeah OK, we’re listening: The WashPo’s Jane Black interviews new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who says that being an overweight kid has given him insight into childhood nutrition problems, that in an ideal world all food would be purchased locally, and that the USDA needs to help build the infrastructure to make that possible. (Washington Post) He also dared to use the “O-word in front of a bunch of large-scale industrial farmers.” (Gristmill)

Groundbreaking USDA move: Vilsack broke up some concrete at the USDA’s washington, DC headquarters to plant the inaugural USDA “People’s Garden.” Some of us may have swooned, before more cynical heads pointed out that the press release rather curiously omitted any mention that this garden would grow food, instead, it will “be designed to promote ‘going green’ concepts, including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; utilizing native plantings and using sound conservation practices.” So, can we have some kale with our photo op, please? (USDA press release)

Goodbye, nest eggs: In the wake of last year’s bankruptcy filing by poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., hundreds of farmers suddenly find themselves unable to make mortgage payments on their pricey chicken coops. Horrifying fact: Pilgrim’s growers say they earn about 5 cents per pound per bird. (Wall Street Journal; thanks Holly!)

Peanut pleas: The owner of Peanut Corporation of America, the company behind what is now a record-breaking recall of products for Salmonella contamination ( a second plant, in Texas, was shut down yesterday), takes the fifth when asked on the stand of a Senate hearing whether he knowingly shipped contaminated products from his Georgia plant. The Senate investigation turned up a slew of incriminating e-mails between the owner and employees, including one exchange in which an employee warned, “This lot is presumptive SALMONELLA!!!!” and the owner replied “I go thru this about once a week…I will hold my breath…again.” Outrageous. (LA Times; links to e-mails from the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee)

Reason #4,773 not to support industrial meat: Since the late 1970s, Henry’s Turkey Service has been shipping mentally retarded men from Texas to Iowa to work in its West Liberty processing plant, paying the men a reduced wage and deducting room, board and care. Payroll records indicate the men, some of whom have worked there for decades, are left with as little as $65 per month in salary. (Des Moines Register; hat tip La Vida Locavore)

They don’t shoot horses, do they: Equine slaughterhouses may be in the works in North Dakota and Montana. At present, the United States does not have a slaughterhouse in operation where horses are processed. (Meatpoultry.com) This lack has led to increased animal abandonment and export of horses to inhumane processing plants in Mexico where horses are stabbed to death.

Banned class: Maryland may be the first state to ban school food that contains certain food dyes that have been linked to attention problems and hyperactivity in kids. A second legislative proposal would require that all foods containing the colorings bear a warning label. (Food Navigator) And just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy releases its “Brain Food Selector,” a guide to foods that contain dyes that impact child brain function. After you scan the list, you may just want to dump processed foods entirely. (IATP)

Monopolitics: Quite obviously inspired by the Ethicurean’s USDA Milestones list, Senators Grassley and Kohl introduce legislation to fight anti-competitive practices by agribusinesses. Among the reforms proposed in the bill is a requirement that companies wishing to merge must prove to the Department of Justice that consolidation won’t harm market competition. Currently, that burden of proof lies on the folks opposing the merger. (Senate Press Release)

Really, it’ll be all right: The government said so. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano visits the future Kansas home of the National Bio and Agro-Defense  Facility, and tells everybody that no germs will get free. And that business may begin sooner than anticipated. (AP via Lawrence Journal-World)

Udderly awesome: General Mills announced earlier this week that it will ban the use of milk from cows treated with rBGH, a synthetic growth hormone linked to breast and other cancers in humans, for use in its Yoplait yogurt products. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) Yoplait had been the target of a campaign by Breast Cancer Action, which found the yogurt’s “pink ribbon for a cure to breast cancer” campaign a bit hypocritical.

Pinching protein pennies: Looks like the spectacular growth that the meat industry’s organic segment has enjoyed over the past several years is slowing down — and in some market segments has nearly stopped. (Meatpoultry.com)

The time it never rained: The worst drought in nearly 100 years is devastating most of Texas. Winter wheat crops have failed, ponds are dry, cattle are hungry, and farmers are considering not planting. (New York Times)

3 Responsesto “Digest – News: Vilsack’s singing our song, but he ain’t our valentine yet”

  1. Linda says:

    I read the WPost interview and thought Vilsack managed to say hardly a word of any substance whatsoever, so maybe someone saw or read something there, or in days since, that I did not.  So far, there is no “there” there, but yes, we’d like to be optimistic.  By the by, I was able to buy “local, pasture-raised beef” at my neighborhood Whole Foods yesterday, though they did not know exactly where the “local” was.  It’s a start.

  2. In pinching protein pennies the link is to the wrong article. I think you wanted to link to:


    On a related note, while we are not Certified Organic (CO) our farm is Certified Naturally Grown (CNG)* and sales are definitely up for us. We’ve continued to see gradual growth over the past six years.

    Just last night my wife was reading about a local restaurant that was having trouble and we were speculating on why some are doing well and others not. No conclusions but she said that several other similar ones were all hopping busy when she made her meat deliveries to them on Friday. It may be more variance in individual businesses than the economy at work.

    *CNG is similar to CO but also includes standards for humane animal raising, access to pasture, etc. Unfortunately CO got badly cooped by Big Ag and diluted in the process. For more info on CNG, see http://NaturallyGrown.org

  3. Dixie Burkhart says:

    Vilsack has had issues with food.  People have issues with food prices remaining affordable.  Or perhaps corn being used for ethenal rather than food.  Or that Vilsack is in big business’s pocket.  Or in many cases that he has a history of lack of ethics and transparency,  Let us see what Vilsack actually can and will do.

    Dixie Burkhart
    Facts Don’t Matter