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Tom Laskawy's Posts

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Vilsack sets the table

It's official: Nutrition will play a big role in reform at the USDA

After reading Tom Philpott's post on Tom Vilsack's recent comments to the WaPo, I think it's worth digging in a bit more. To this point, we've all had to be content with reading tea leaves and parsing statements. But now we are finally getting a taste of the tea. Philpott highlighted Vilsack's line about his desire to represent the interests of those "who consume food" -- a long-awaited distinction to be sure. Of course, claiming to represent eaters is no panacea. The USDA can easily describe its efforts to support a system that provides vast amounts of cheap calories as …

Read more: Food, Politics

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Action alert: Chuck Hassebrook

Kent Conrad is trying to kill reform at the USDA

As I surmised might happen in a comment to Tom Philpott's recent post on ag reform, "Sustainable Dozen" member Chuck Hassebrook, Tom Vilsack's choice for deputy secretary, is having trouble getting through the Senate Ag committee. North Dakota's Kent Conrad (D) is trying to kill Hassebrook's nomination before it's even officially announced. Nick Kristof has the details here (h/t Jill Richardson). In the Senate, a single senator wields enormous power and can put a stop to any bill or nomination if he or she so chooses. With everyone's attention on the stimulus package, this is the perfect time for a …

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Food reform, meet climate change

True agricultural policy reform may require climate reform first

I'm becoming more and more convinced every day that addressing climate change and reforming food production are pretty much the same thing. You can't do one without the other. And -- as Yogi Berra might say -- vice versa. The food and agriculture industries, aided and abetted by governments worldwide (not to mention by consumers), have succeeded in offloading just about all external costs involved with feeding us. Environmental issues, public health issues, natural resource utilization issues, even most economic issues related to food have all been socialized to the extent that the industry is almost totally isolated from the …

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More, better markets

A hint of the future appears at a Miami-area produce market

No, this isn't another cap-and-trade post. I'm talking about the yummy kind of markets. As we grapple with ways to reform food production in this country, one problem that crops up is the loss over time of the old farm-to-market networks that fed cities before air freight and transcontinental trucking took over. So even if we wanted to (or, more ominously, were forced to) re-regionalize our food distribution system, the infrastructure no longer exists. This desire, by the way, is not motivated simply by a need to reduce food miles -- a misleading measure for sure. I and others have …

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Where's my quid pro quo?

Let's get a little something in exchange for our biogas

Here's something someone should run with. Via Green Inc. I learned that Sen. Ben Nelson just introduced a bill that would encourage development of the agricultural biogas industry with hopes of including it in the stimulus package. Biogas is a renewable form of natural gas derived from any methane source, like, say, manure. While burning biogas does create carbon emissions, it's more than offset by its effect in eliminating methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas (Marc from the Ethicurean explains how much of an offset in this comment). In many ways, it's not a particularly high-tech approach and it's …

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Peak everything

Is there anything that isn't peaking?

Felix Salmon mused on the subject of Peakniks recently (and what a neologism that is!) after reading Ben McGrath's entertainingly morbid piece, "The Dystopians" in The New Yorker ($ub. req'd). While it's worth observing that "peaknik" has typically referred to Peak Oilers, I think it's safe to say that we're all peakniks now. McGrath talks mostly about financial doomsayers, i.e. Peak Debt and Peak Dollars, but refers generally, if somewhat dismissively, to the "Peaknik Diaspora" and some of its adherents. These would be folks who "believe" in Peak Oil, Peak Carbon, Peak Dirt, Peak Fish. Personally, I think Peak Carbon …

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The opposite of safety

Recent food safety struggles suggest the limits of regulation

It's been a bad week for food safety. First it was the peanut butter, then it was the high fructose corn syrup, and now it's deadly antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria (MRSA) in CAFO pigs (and their minders). And of course, as Bill Marler -- litigious scourge of the food industry -- reminds us, we're continuing to lose the fight against E. coli. Much has been written about the efforts to track down the sources of contamination.  And invariably the companies involved quickly close the their doors (which is how we lost one of the largest ground beef distributors in the country …

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Brown state, green state

NYT fails to acknowledge the job-creation opportunities from climate legislation

On the front page of Wednesday's NYT, we learned that Midwestern Democrats hate the climate. Or something. The ostensible point of the article was to highlight the geographical split between the climate change policymakers from the Obama administration and the House -- predominantly from the East and West coasts -- and the moderate Midwestern and Plains-state Democrats in the Senate who, according to the NYT, actually care about jobs. For the record, the article, while admitting that President Barack Obama is, you know, Midwestern, ignored the fact that Ray LaHood and Tom Vilsack, Secretaries of Transportation and Agriculture, respectively, 1) …

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The limits of cap-and-trade

Obama's quick regulatory actions ring louder than markets

This post originally appeared on Ezra Klein's blog at The American Prospect, where I am guest-blogging this week with a promise "to keep the doom and gloom to a minimum." ----- Speaking of doom and gloom, I was pleased to see the environmental policy-related dark cloud over Matt Yglesias lift somewhat over the weekend. The reason? First the EPA halted two new coal-fired power plants that were on the verge of construction -- plants that had been opposed for years by environmentalists -- and then President Barack Obama announced that California (along with 13 other states) could start regulating tailpipe …

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Science is hard!

Americans' climate change doubts aren't hard to understand

As if in response to David Roberts' point that "[t]here is nothing close to the public or political support necessary to pass the kind of sweeping policies necessary to eliminate America's emissions," Pew is out with a new poll saying just that. Kevin Drum (via Andy Revkin) has the details: Global warming, once again, ranks as the lowest priority from a list of 20, and the more general category of "protecting the environment" fell 15 percentage points from last year. And as if that's not bad enough, Revkin also points to a new Rasmussen poll, which finds that 44% of …

Read more: Politics