Saturday, November 29, 2008

weeping willow

This is the tree down the street from my house.

Cut down as neighbors mourned and protest.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Country of Orgin Labeling, Oh, How COOL!

Oh, How COOL!
Ashley Colpaart, RD LD
Policy Chair, HEN DPG

Many of you may have noticed yet another “thing” on your food labels. While Country Of Origin Labeling (or COOL if you wanna be cool) was already printed on wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, the 2008 Farm Bill has expanded the list to cover some muscle cuts of meats, ground meats, perishable agriculture commodities, ginseng and nuts. The implementation is the responsibility of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and so far, as expected, their job has been far from

The legislation has roots in the 2002 farm bill. On January 27, 2004, Public Law 108-199 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2006. On November 10, 2005, Public Law 109-97 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2008.

The bill has been framed as effort to provide consumers with information to make informed decision regarding where their food comes from, partially due to the recent attention to local food movements. What they tried to avoid was the ‘elephant in the room’ to all of us, food safety. The reason to avoid food safety? Maybe it is admitting that there is a problem with food safety in this country? Or maybe we don’t want to offend the countries we trade with? Whatever the reason, you are now going to know if you cow was a Canadian or if your tomatoes have been on further vacations then you.

Like most pieces of legislation there are a few exemptions to rule:
Non-PACA licensed stores- (PACA) Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act is a federal law that regulates the produce industry (this could be butcher shops, convenience stores etc)
Food Service Establishments
Certain Processing Productions
- any covered commodity that has undergone processing that results in a change (cooking, curing, smoking, restructuring)
- any covered commodity that has been combined with another food product that is not water salt or sugar (does this mean a rise in peas and carrots? Oh dear!)

And it is these “exemptions” that seem to be causing a lot of ruckus. Say for instance:
Mixed salad versus bagged spinach? Mixed salad wouldn’t be covered, but the spinach would require labeling. How about a fruit cup that contains melons and strawberries? Nope, does not require a COOL label.

Dried fruit is not subject to COOL labeling requirements since the drying process changes the character of the fruit. Mushrooms, if fresh, are covered. Dried mushrooms are not covered. Packages of different colored sweet peppers (green, yellow and/or red) different colored sweet peppers combined in a package will require country of origin notification because there is one U.S. Grade Standard for sweet peppers, regardless of the color.

And if you think the produce industry is confused on how to implement, the coolness continues for the meat industry responsible for muscle cuts beef, veal, pork, lamb and chicken and the ground counterparts.
a) Product of the U.S.—meat from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States or from animals present in the United States on or prior to July 15, 2008. b) Product of the U.S., Country X—meat from animals born in Country X and raised and slaughtered in the .
c)Meat from these animals were not exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United Statesor imported for immediate slaughter.—meat from animals imported into the for immediate slaughter.
d) Product of Country X—foreign meat imported into the United States

Attempt at implementation has been revealing how meat is carried through the supply chain. From birth, to stockyard, to feedlot, to slaughter, animals can have quite a stamped passport and these complexities of the livestock industry may have some product labels listing multiple countries. That's especially true of ground beef, because some meat processors combine cuts from a number of countries to make ground meat and hamburger patties.

Meat packers and large agribusinesses initially opposed the rule because they want continued access to imported (often cheaper) meat, without facing a penalty in the marketplace from consumers who may think American meat is safer. They also argued that the label is unnecessary, too expensive and would be a record keeping nightmare (in this case, "they" was Tyson vice president testifying against COOL at USDA education session)

Proponents for the bill consider COOL a feather in their cap. They believe the greatest advantage is knowing exactly where your food comes from. They argue that COOL gives consumers the ability: to support more local economies, to choose fresher food, and could ultimately prevent food safety problems associated with imported foods.

Some caveats, because what would policy be without them?

1. There is a loophole: Food further processed in foreign countries, may still receive US determination i.e. baby carrots

2. Commingled commodities: goods from mixed countries require all countries to be identified i.e. a mixed bin of tomatoes

Whether you are for or against Country Of Origin Labeling, what this bill teaches us is that these laws are never cut and dry. Once the rule making and regulation begins, what sounded like a great idea, can sometime turn into something that is not-so-COOL.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A New Colonialism

In efforts to secure their own food supply, rich countries and corporations are causing panic in the developing world as millions of hectares of agriculture land is being purchased. The article by Julian Borger, Diplomatic Editor for the Guardian, maintains that these types of purchases are benefiting the big guys at the expense of the little guys. Some highlights from the article:

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of "neo-colonialism", with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people.

Rising food prices have already set off a second "scramble for Africa". This week, the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics announced plans to buy a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar. Its aim is to grow 5m tonnes of corn a year by 2023, and produce palm oil from a further lease of 120,000 hectares (296,000 acres), relying on a largely South African workforce. Production would be mainly earmarked for South Korea, which wants to lessen dependence on imports.

"These deals can be purely commercial ventures on one level, but sitting behind it is often a food security imperative backed by a government," said Carl Atkin, a consultant at Bidwells Agribusiness, a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land deals.

At a food security summit in Rome, in June, there was agreement to channel more investment and development aid to African farmers to help them respond to higher prices by producing more. But governments and corporations in some cash-rich but land-poor states, mostly in the Middle East, have opted not to wait for world markets to respond and are trying to guarantee their own long-term access to food by buying up land in poorer countries.

Even China, which has plenty of land but is now getting short of water as it pursues breakneck industrialisation, has begun to explore land deals in south-east Asia. Laos, meanwhile, has signed away between 2m-3m hectares, or 15% of its viable farmland. Libya has secured 250,000 hectares of Ukrainian farmland, and Egypt is believed to want similar access. Kuwait and Qatar have been chasing deals for prime tracts of Cambodia rice fields.

Eager buyers generally have been welcomed by sellers in developing world governments desperate for capital in a recession. Madagascar's land reform minister said revenue would go to infrastructure and development in flood-prone areas.

Sudan is trying to attract investors for almost 900,000 hectares of its land, and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has been courting would-be Saudi investors.

"If this was a negotiation between equals, it could be a good thing. It could bring investment, stable prices and predictability to the market," said Duncan Green, Oxfam's head of research. "But the problem is, [in] this scramble for soil I don't see any place for the small farmers."

Alex Evans, at the Centre on International Cooperation, at New York University, said: "The small farmers are losing out already. People without solid title are likely to be turfed off the land."

Details of land deals have been kept secret so it is unknown whether they have built-in safeguards for local populations.

Steve Wiggins, a rural development expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: "There are very few economies of scale in most agriculture above the level of family farm because managing [the] labour is extremely difficult." Investors might also have to contend with hostility. "If I was a political-risk adviser to [investors] I'd say 'you are taking a very big risk'. Land is an extremely sensitive thing. This could go horribly wrong if you don't learn the lessons of history."


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Merrigan for Undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Tuft's very Kathleen Merrigan's name has been popping around the bloggersphere for a possible position as Undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs. As a student in two of Merrigan's classes, I can attest that she is a strong choice for anyone looking for "hope" for the American food system. Kathleen's admirable work in developing the USDA Organics standards, oversight in the Agricultural Marketing Service and breadth in the inner-workings of Washington's political climate all position her as a quality candidate. Of course, her student's would find the news bitter/sweet, I think they would all agree that her place in Washington is well needed.

You can read a bit more on Merrigan at Chewise.

From Wall Street to Main Street

As congress moves to bail out some of the largest corporations in order to prop up the economy, main street is jumping on the bandwagon to ask for a little help in these hard times. Is this the 'new New Deal?' Everybody seems to need a bailout.

Democratic Senators are working to pass the Reid-Byrdecon Stimulus Bill. In response to higher unemployment, rising food costs, higher energy costs, State budgets in crisis, and increased dependence on foreign oil, President-Elect Obama has called for a second stimulus bill to jump start the economy and help Americans recover from the recession.

It is well known that the hits on Wall Street take a few months to trickle down to Main Street. The bill focuses on the areas of society that are being hit the hardest:

Unemployment: "The U.S. economy has lost jobs every month this year, a total of 1.2 million jobs, with almost half of the job losses coming in the last 3 months alone." The bill would extend unemployment benefits by seven weeks in all states.

State Economies: The package includes $37.8 million to help States reduce their share of Medicaid, in order to ease the budget shortfalls affecting local economies.

Auto-Industry Assistance: $25 billion in loans with required long term financial plans.

Tax Relief for New Car Purchasing: to help tax payers afford new cars, while propping up the automobile industry.

High Food Costs: "$445 million for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program (which would allow 600,000 women and children to receive WIC benefits, meet some of the rising demand due to a faltering economy, and allow states to avoid creating waiting lists). $50 million is included for Food Banks, $8 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food program, and $60 million for senior meals programs (18 million more meals)."

High Energy Assistance: In order to help Americans cope with spiraling energy costs, $500 million is included for weatherization programs.

Energy Independence: The stimulus makes major investments in electrifying vehicles with $300 million for advanced battery research, and $1billion for the advanced battery manufacturing loan guarantee program which will authorize over $3.3 billion in loan guarantees. In addition, the stimulus includes $500 million to help local governments improve energy efficiency; $500 million for additional energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development and deployment; and $140 million for electricity transmission improvements.

Caring for the Environment: Over $5 billion is included for environmental clean up, urban and rural clean water systems, and for maintenance of our parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.

Building Infrastructure and Creating Jobs: The stimulus package includes: $13.5 billion for building and repairing highways, bridges, mass transit, airports, and AMTRAK, creating 470,000 jobs.

Housing: The Committee bill includes $700 million for capital funding grants to public housing agencies and $200 million to provide housing agencies with additional funding to alleviate the increased costs of energy.

Improving the Quality of Life for Military Families: $175 million for the construction, replacement, and improvement of military family housing at Army and Air Force installations, and an additional $75 million for the construction of child development centers at Navy installations.

Education and Job Training: $2.5 billion is included for school repairs, $600 million for youth training and dislocated workers, $200 million for the Community Services Block Grant, and $36 million for homeless education.

Health: $1 billion to restore some of the purchasing power of NIH that was lost because of inflation in the past five years and allow NIH to award as many as 2,700 new research project grants that could lead to cures and treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and many other devastating diseases.

Small Businesses: The stimulus provides $615 million to support $22.5 billion in zero-fee loans to small businesses under the 7(a) program and the 504 program. The bill also provides $1 million to support $10 million in new microloans for small businesses and $4 million for critical technical assistance for these “micro” borrowers.

Border Security and Crime Fighting: The bill includes over $1 billion for border security and other homeland security investments.

Science: $675 million for NASA, Department of Energy and Cyber Security.

Disaster Assistance: Relief support for farmers facing crop damage, and community disaster loans.

Consumer Protection: 13.1 million to permit prompt implementation of new authorities enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-246), $75 million for the FBI for agents to investigate rising claims of mortgage fraud, and $10.5 million for the Treasury Inspector General to conduct critical reviews of bank failures.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

foodies loose their focus?

While I honor and respect idealism more than the next guy (it is encapsulated in my blog title after all), I am disgruntled to see this post on the Comfood listserv this morning:
I have just begun and am soliciting help in my quest. I would love it if you could assist me in getting the word out.Direct link to petition:

And my blog (petition can be signed directly from blog):
I would first like to thank Blane Friest and welcome him to the movement and the 493 signers of the petition for thinking big and having passion. While this is an exciting time in the US to push for change, we (the food movement) have to be strategic and realistic about our agenda. A good friend once told me, "passion without focus is futile" and it indeed is. Not understanding the history of US Agriculture, not understanding the status quo and not understanding politics may be our biggest downfall. While we all want to move mountains, my friend, mentor, and farmer Mary Jo Forbord would ask “do you think it doesn’t make any difference to move a glacier an inch?” I had to admit, that’s a pretty powerful movement. It has helped me through discouragement time and time again. Progress can be slow, but you never know when a breakthrough will occur. "Mice make elephants dance"

"The solutions are in the connections."

The idea for Michael Pollan for Secretary of Agriculture is far fetched. Lord knows he won't want to take the salary cut. But what can we do? I think that the great Debra Eschmeyer said it best:
It has been quite public who the main candidates are:

Rounding out the list of prospective nominees are Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, National Farmers Union President Tom Buis, House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson and and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. (House 1979-87; Senate 1987-2005).

Why not use this opportunity instead to educate the new Administration-elect on what our priorities are for a good, fair, and safe food system?

Let's not talk about individuals, let's talk priorities through policies and action. Here are some very quick examples:

Child Nutrition Reauthorization--Every four or five years (coming up in 2009), there is an opportunity for all of those concerned with the health of our nation’s children to evaluate, defend, and improve the federal Child Nutrition Programs. Nourishing kids and community is the promise of farm to school. With the authorization of the National Farm to School Program in 2004, and the tremendous growth and interest in farm to school programs, the time is ripe to support that promise and voice ideas that include locally and regionally grown foods in national meal programs. Learn more:

Other Campaigns underway:Eat the View: "Eat the View" is a campaign to urge President-elect Obama to replant a large organic victory garden on the First Lawn with the produce going to the White House kitchen and to local food pantries."Eat the View" is coordinated by Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based 501c3 nonprofit network of 10,000 gardeners from 100 countries who are inspiring and teaching more people to grow some of their own food.

White House Organic Garden: TheWhoFarm (aka The White House Organic Farm Project) is a non-partisan, petition-based initiative to respectfully request that our 44th President oversee the planting of an organic farm on the grounds of The White House, our nation’s First Home, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC.

Food Declaration: The Declaration is meant to provide 1) A clear statement of what kind of policy is needed now, endorsed by a broad base of organizations and individuals with a long-established commitment to a healthier food and agriculture.; 2) An invitation to all Americans to join in the improvement effort by taking action in their own lives and communities and by offering them a way to call on policymakers to support comprehensive change. 3) A set of principles from which policy makers can craft policy that will lead to a healthier system.

This topic is also covered by Steph Larson at Ethicurean.

And now for something completely different:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama's Secretary of Agriculture

The one appointment that "foodies," "locavores," policy makers, farmers, food companies and manufactures and any other group interested in food, have their sites on is the Secretary of Agriculture. It can make or break the movement towards sustainability and set the agenda on a "status quo" route or a "change" route.

There is much speculation in the bloggersphere on this appointment, but it is hard to say how serious any of the names being kicked around are. This is a cross post from the Organic Consumers Union about the dangers of Govern Vilsack of Iowa:

  • Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, for USDA Head is a Terrible Idea
    OCA, November 12, 2008

Nov. 12, 2008

* Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's support of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn:

* The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

* When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

* Vilsack was the origin of the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, which many people here in Iowa fought because it took away local government's possibility of ever having a regulation on seeds- where GE would be grown, having GE-free buffers, banning pharma corn locally, etc. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged on the House Floor that Vilsack put her up to it right after his state of the state address.

* Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Sustainable ag advocated across the country were spreading the word of Vilsack's history as he was attempting to appeal to voters in his presidential bid. An activist from the west coast even made this youtube animation about Vilsack
The airplane in this animation is a referral to the controversy that Vilsack often traveled in Monsanto's jet.

*Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I just finished an article that changed my life. It is in this month's issue of Ode Magazine- a publication about positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.

The article is called: Slow and Steady Wins the Race. It reminds me of the theme of the book: Living at Natures Pace by Gene Logdson. I recommend reading this, and think of how we can contribute in this big picture idea. I hope you find it as engaging as I. This section is off the website, but I recommend picking up this month's issue called Eat, drink and be healthy with an article from Frances Moore Lappe on Courage. Good stuff for 'intelligent optimists.' All for now.

Slow and steady wins the race
Carleen Hawn | November 2008 issue

The need for speedy profits has brought the world's financial system to its knees. Financial high-flier Woody Tasch believes his Slow Money movement, which invests in sustainable agriculture, can put the economy back on its feet.

Woody Tasch: "The Earth isn't expanding indefinitely. We only have so much soil, water and air."
What if you were told that one solution to crises such as global warming and the worldwide financial meltdown could be unearthed in the simple act of growing your own food? Nothing drastic; nothing revolutionary. Just a window box for a tomato plant in your kitchen.

"It's remarkable, but people who grow their own food, who reconnect with the soil, can immediately appreciate the implications of an economy that doesn't respect the power of ecology," says Woody Tasch, somewhat quixotically. But Tasch is no quack. He's chairman of the Investors' Circle, a national group focused on funding socially responsible companies. Since 1992, Investors' Circle has placed $130 million into 200 such businesses and venture funds. Today, sitting in the bar of a San Francisco hotel, Tasch orders a local Syrah and a fresh batch of the bar's potato chips. "I like them because they make them here," he explains.

"Reconnecting with the soil" may sound like a bohemian throwback. But despite the progress the environmental and sustainability movements have enjoyed in recent years, Tasch believes one aspect of social responsibility has been left out that can no longer be neglected: a more personal connection to our food. Already imposing for his height (6'2'', some 1.9 meters), Tasch gets more and more excited as he talks. He leans into the table and gesticulates as he tosses names about—Thomas Malthus, Google, Wal-Mart, American farmer and man of letters Gene Logsdon. But it all comes down to Earth and back to sustainable agriculture.

For years, Tasch, 57, has promoted a philosophy of socially responsible investment, prioritizing the social good over the urge to make a quick buck under an ethos known as "patient capital." Today, Tasch believes, if we have any hope of curing society's greatest ills—much less fixing the reliance on rapid growth and rising debt that created the current crisis in the global financial markets—being "patient" with our capital is no longer enough. We need to be slow. To explain what he means, this month Tasch unveils his latest investment treatise in the form of a book entitled Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered (Chelsea Green Publishing). Slow Money, Tasch writes, is "a new vision for investing that looks above the top line and below the bottom line [by] put[ting] soil fertility back into the calculus of investing."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ADA, Dietitians, Corporate Sponsorship & HFCS

December 14, 2007: assistant editor at In These Times, Jacob Wheeler wrote an article called Corporate Potluck: Dietitians and their company sponsors make strange buffet fellows which highlighted the corporate industry partners attending the American Dietetic Association's 2007 Food and Nutrition Conference(FNCE).

March 1, 2008: American Dietetic Association Welcomes The Coca-Cola Company as an ADA Partner. The press release says:

The program provides Partners a national platform via ADA events and programs with prominent access to key influencers, thought leaders and decision makers in the food and nutrition marketplace.

About the time the dietitians were becoming critical of their own association, criticism was coming from the very influential and proficient author and renowned food policy advocate Marion Nestle. She quotes on her blog:

Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours.

Furthermore, an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History or Four Meals and more recently In Defense of Food, An Eaters Manifesto, Micheal Pollan had this to say:

Well, nutrition science is very compromised by industry. Organizations like the American Dietetic Association take sponsorship from companies who are eager to find -- you know, be able to make health claims.

Soon the Corn Refiners Association launched a PR campaign that took Dietitians along with them with a full page ad in the Washington Post: "Registered Dietitians agree that HFCS is the same as table sugar and can be enjoyed in moderation."

This year at the American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference in Chicago, The Corn Refiners Association had an exhibit that included information about "the many ways corn based ingredients are contributing to great-tasting food and beverage choices and to innovations that enhance nutrition and help reduce calories and fat."

I guess the question is, who is suppose to be teaching who about nutrition?

I can attest, not all Registered Dietitians believe that everything can be enjoyed in moderation. There is more impact from consuming HFCS than the human nutrition implications.