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Tom Laskawy's Posts

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USDA FAIL

Can the USDA really keep our food safe?

Having read and listened to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's attempts at ground beef-related damage control in the wake of the recent food safety revelations, I'm left to wonder if the USDA simply needs to get out of the food safety business entirely. Vilsack himself -- in a Minnesota NPR radio interview where he defended the USDA's dual role as a marketing service and a food safety regulator, its recent shift towards more aggressive testing, and its ability to inspect foreign meat importers -- all but admitted that the USDA has fundamentally failed in its mission. How so? The interviewer asked …

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what not to eat

Warning: This product may cause sickness, paralysis, and death

It's hard to draw any other conclusion from Michael Moss's New York Times blockbuster investigative piece on E. coli in industrial beef, which is centered on the plight of Stephanie Smith, a young dance instructor left comatose, near death and now paralyzed from eating a single Cargill hamburger. Of course, a "single hamburger" can include meat from hundreds, some would say thousands, of animals. As Moss puts it: Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades …

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Great, Danes

Big Pork and Sen. Grassley: the Danes want you to know your hogs don’t need endless antibiotics

Must we be dosed daily with antobiotics? According to the meat industry, the debate over legislation pending in the House that would ban the use of sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics comes down to a simple "fact": hog-farming on any scale without sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics is impossible. The National Pork Producers Council says so. The American Veterinary Medical Association says so. Heck, even GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa says so. For the record, these folks also say that livestock producers don't really use 70% of all antibiotics distributed in the US as the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates. And …

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Alfred E. Neuman now leads the AFB

Big Ag on climate change: “What, me worry?”

Once again, topics covered at length in the pixels of Grist are slowly percolating out into the wider media world. Newsweek over the weekend posted an article by Jeneen Interlandi about the grave effects of climate change on agriculture, summed up as the triple threat of "droughts, bugs and big storms." And once again, we learn the future is now: Farmers on both coasts are already starting to reap some of what the nation's fossil-fuel addiction has sown. Crops in those regions (cranberries in the East and almonds in the West) require a certain number of colder days, or "winter …

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Local Happens

Illinois points the way to food system reform

Not your father's Corn Belt. This development in Illinois managed to pass somewhat under the radar, probably because it took place during the dog days of summer. But it's still a big deal -- Illinois has a new law that starts building the infrastructure for a real regional food system: The legislation establishes a council to develop a fresh farm and food system in the state, and it creates a system that allows buyers for state agencies to pay up to 10 percent above the lowest bid when purchasing locally grown foods. It also sets a goal for state-owned agencies …

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Plastics, the Silent Obesogens

Can plastics make us fat?

Hmm... That title doesn't quite seem to capture the urgency of the issue, does it? Yet despite rampant skepticism, the data continue to pour in -- chemicals in some of the most common plastics and household products, things that surround us every minute of the day, are major culprits in the obesity epidemic. At least now that fact is now getting some well-deserved attention. From Newsweek: Evidence has been steadily accumulating that certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain, have two previously unsuspected effects. They act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells …

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Bubble Trouble

The soda wars heat up — and the possibilities are thrilling

To read the news, it would look like soda taxes are just around the corner. First, President Obama mildly suggested in an interview in Men's Health that soda taxes were worth some consideration. Then Obamafoodorama broke the news of Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent's reaction to said soda tax: “I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,’’ Kent said. “If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around." Kent also called the soda tax "outrageous." Whew. The man is pissed. That's probably why Coke is one of the companies behind …

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food reform DOA?

When lobbyists cheer, the news can’t be good

As suspected, agribusiness is indeed turning cartwheels over the news that Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln is now chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. The public policy director for the retrograde American Farm Bureau told The Hill, "We couldn’t have handpicked a chairman better than this." The giant sucking sound you're hearing is agricultural reform rushing down the drain. The headline of The Hill's piece tells you all you need to know:  "K Street welcomes Lincoln as the new head of Ag committee" -- K Street being the center of the lobbying biz. If you read on, however, you'll discover all …

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food blues

Food reform. Health reform. How about income reform?

Where the deals are.First came the news that anti-reformer Sen. Blanche Lincoln has taken over the Senate Agriculture Committee. Now, from the US Census Bureau we get even more bad news for those hoping for serious reform of our food system: the Census Bureau announced to day that middle class income is diving. Real median household income fell 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2008, from $52,163 to $50,303. As Felix Salmon of Reuters points out, that $1,800 drop is real money. Oh and I did I mention that the poverty rate is up, too? Salmon also directed attention to David …

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A Label Too Far

Big Food’s ‘Smart Choices’ label raises eyebrows at the FDA

"Smart Choice"--where's the hole in this logic?Zanastardust/FlickrYou don't need to be a nutritionist with an advanced degree to know that Froot Loops only qualifies as a "Smart Choice" on Planet Kellogg's. But as the NYT told us over the weekend, if you are a nutritionist at a prestigious university's nutrition school, you just might think it does. I give you Eileen Kennedy, President of Tufts University's (up to this point) well-regarded School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and also board president of Big Food's "Smart Choices" food label inititative. As Dr. Kennedy explained to the NYT: [T]he program’s criteria were …

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