Tom Laskawy

A 17-year veteran of both traditional and online media, Tom Laskawy is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a contributing writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy. Tom's long and winding road to food politics writing passed through New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Florence, Italy, and Philadelphia (which has a vibrant progressive food politics and sustainable agriculture scene, thank you very much). In addition to Grist, his writing has appeared online in The American Prospect, Slate, The New York Times, and The New Republic. He is on record as believing that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. Follow him on Twitter.

Not the triple theat?

Current flu virus may be 100% swine in origin

Everything swine and dandy?This intriguing notice posted to the International Society for Infectious Diseases by Columbia University researchers suggests that the current swine flu outbreak may be a “reassortment” (i.e. rearrangement) of existing swine flu viruses and not a swine, avian, and human influenza combo: The preliminary analysis using all the sequences in public databases (NCBI) suggests that all segments are of swine origin. NA and MP seem related to Asian/European swine and the rest to North American swine (H1N2 and H3N2 swine viruses isolated since 1998). There is also interesting substratification between these groups, suggesting a multiple reassortment. We …

Deposing King Corn?

Corn ethanol approaches a moment of truth

Courtesy Randy Wick via Flickr [UPDATED 4/24] As expected, California’s Air Resources Board passed the LCFS with the indirect land use component intact. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the actual model to be used in the calculation (including to what extent gasoline will incur an indirect land use penalty) won’t be finalized until 2011, a year before the rule actually goes into effect. The badder news is that Reuters reported that CARB’s chair, Mary Nichols, sent a to letter for Fmr. Gen. Wesley Clark, CEO of Growth Energy, the main ethanol lobbying group, declaring “that corn …

Yielding to reality

Biotech’s history of overpromising and underdelivering may be catching up with it

GMOs: false promise?km6xoTom Philpott’s post on USDA chief Tom Vilsack’s comments regarding biotech deserves a bit more attention. Vilsack was speaking at the first ever meeting of the Group of Eight agricultural ministers. I guess we have to consider it progress that the top ag officials from the eight largest industrialized nations finally decided it was worth getting together despite the fact that there’s no consensus on what to do about food. It doesn’t help that when Tom Vilsack leaves the country — the meeting was held in Italy — he goes from being “Farmer Tom” to “Salesman Tom.” His …

the usda's newest hire

Vilsack names former head of Iowa’s Health and Human Services as new USDA nutrition chief

Phil Brasher at the Des Moines Register is reporting that USDA chief Tom Vilsack has named Kevin Concannon the new Undersecretary of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, i.e. the head of the federal food and nutrition programs — which include food stamps and the national school lunch program. Concannon ran Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services — responsibile for administering the state’s Medicaid and nutrition programs — from 2003-2008. The USDA post is typically held by a former state health department administrator — the main question will be what, if any, reformist credentials Concannon has. According to Brasher, …

What a load of manure

Stop the environmental subsidy for factory farms

  North Catolina hog-waste lagoon: Smells like CAFO spiritDefMoIn one of the most deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) twists in our deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) system that is US agricultural policy, the prime beneficiaries of one of the USDA’s main environmental programs are beef, pork, and poultry factory farms. This money, of course, comes on top of the monetary benefit that these vast (literal) cesspools of industry reap from an almost total lack of government oversight (a benefit which the GAO has estimated to be in the billions of dollars). Even subsidies to corn and soy farmers …

lies, damned lies and statistics

Adventures in the FUD-osphere

Don’t FUD it upImage: psdFDR must have been talking about the Internet when he famously said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Everywhere you turn there is another study raising some new hazard and questioning some baseline assumption about how our society lives, eats or fuels itself. And then in short order, another study appears questioning the conclusions of the first — leaving us all full of nothing but FUD. FUD, of course, stands for the bedrock principles of a depressingly large segment of corporations (and politicians) — Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. The concept may go back as …

Sour corn

Is ethanol’s Congressional free ride coming to an end?

The Congressional Budget Office just released a paper looking critically at the relationship between ethanol, food prices and carbon emissions. But it gets better. The CBO blogged about it!Bedtime for corn ethanol?Photo: Big Grey Mare Most ethanol in the United States is produced from domestically grown corn, and the rapid rise in the fuel’s production and usage means that roughly one-quarter of all corn grown in the U.S. (nearly 3 billion bushels) is now used to produce ethanol. The demand for corn for ethanol production has exerted upward pressure on corn prices and on food prices in general. CBO estimates …

It's the calories, stupid

NYC’s attack on salt misses the forest for the trees

Diet dilemmas Photo: George D Thompson In his most recent column the NYT’s John Tierney — a conservative political columnist turned “skeptical” science columnist — objects to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to reduce New Yorkers’ salt intake. He compares the proposed new policy to a mandatory experiment in which residents are unwitting (and possibly unwilling) participants. …Why bother with consent forms when you can automatically enroll everyone in the experiment? And why bother with a control group when you already know the experiment’s outcome? The city’s health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, has enumerated the results. If the food industry …

Playing with fire

Did Obama screw up ag subsidy reform?

Over the weekend, the NYT detailed the trials and tribulations of the Obama administration’s attempts to trim farm subsidy payments of a certain size: Among the audacious proposals in President Obama’s budget was a plan to save more than $9.7 billion over a decade by putting strict limits on farm subsidies that are disbursed regardless of market conditions or even whether the land is actively farmed. But Mr. Obama’s grand ambitions have run into political reality. The budget outlines approved by the House and Senate on Thursday night do not include limits on farm subsidies at all, and even champions …

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