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Tom Philpott's Posts


How the meat industry turned abuse into a business model

The meat industry routinely abuses workers and animals. Cross-posted from Mother Jones. As a long-time student of the meat industry, I read Ted Genoways' extraordinary article on conditions at the "head table" of a factory-scale pig-processing plant with delight. As a human being, my reaction was revulsion. In a single long piece, Genoways lays out the crude history of U.S. meat over the past 80 years. We get the unionization of the kill floor in the wake of Sinclair's The Jungle, the post-war emergence of meatpacking as a proper middle-class job, the fierce anti-union backlash of the '70s, followed by …


There's a Foxx guarding the ag-policy henhouse

Know your farmer, know your food? Oh no, you don't, says Virginia Foxx. Photo: Rep. Virginia FoxxCross-posted from Mother Jones. In my post on the House Republicans' recent assault on progressive ag policy, I mentioned the move to shut down the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. The sponsor of the amendment that did the dirty deed is Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) -- who, it turns out, represents my district in Congress. This is the sort of thing she gets up to when she's not defending children from the scourge of gay marriage, or lashing out at undocumented workers (who, incidentally, form …

Read more: Food, Politics


House Republicans aim pitchfork at food-system reform

Photo: JulussuglaCross-posted from Mother Jones. I've complained once or twice in the past that U.S. farm policy, even under Obama, favors corporate-led, highly dysfunctional agriculture. That's true on balance, but it doesn't tell the whole story. If you dig into the topic, you'll find that sustainable-food activists have been working for decades to place progressive, community-oriented programs into the ag-policy mix. These hard-fought victories, won during once-every-five-years Farm Bill wars, are vastly outweighed by things like the government's corn-ethanol fetish, or its hyperaggressive trade policies.  But the food movement's political gains are real, they're fragile, and they need defending. And …


Is the 'Clean 15' just as toxic as the 'Dirty Dozen'?

Photo: Santiago NicolauCross-posted from Mother Jones. Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists of produce with the most and least pesticide residues. My reaction was: Well done, but what about farm workers? The EWG lists provide an invaluable tool to help consumers reduce pesticide exposure, but tell us nothing about the folks who grow and harvest the great bulk of food we consume. Well, over on Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog, researcher Karl Tupper shed some light on the murky question of farm worker exposure to toxic pesticides. Tupper stressed that …


Why the Senate ethanol vote doesn't matter much

Photo: Daniel LeiningerCross-posted from Mother Jones. I have a really bad idea. Let's push farmers to plant as much as they possibly can of our most ecologically devastating crop. Maybe we'll even get them to plow up some erosion-prone grasslands to do so. Then we'll take a huge portion of the bounty (say, 40 percent) and subject it to a Byzantine, energy-intensive process that will turn it into something (barely) suitable for internal-combustion engines. (Never mind that internal-combustion engines, powering private pods over roads always in need of extravagant maintenance, are a rotten way of converting energy into mass locomotion.) …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Corn, Food


Salmon surprise: House opposes FDA Frankenfish approval

Cross-posted from Mother Jones. The eminent fisheries writer Paul Greenberg recently gutted and filleted the rationale for a novel type of farmed salmon genetically altered to grow faster. The "improved" fish, created by a Massachusetts-based company called AquaBounty Technologies, threatens to "escape and contaminate wild populations of salmon," Greenberg wrote. And the business model AquaBounty has in mind is ecologically insane: "the fish requires much wasteful transport since it would be cloned in Canada, grown in Panama, and then flown back to the U.S. for consumption." On top of those obvious drawbacks, the GMO salmon literally offers no benefits to …

Read more: Food, Scary Food


Hey, Vilsack: Big Ag won't feed the world or make jobs

Tom Vilsack.Photo: CIAT International CenterTropicalAgricultureCross-posted from Mother Jones. Back in March, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at an event called the Commodity Classic in Tampa, Fla. Sponsored by agribusiness giants Monsanto, BASF, John Deere, Dow AgroSciences, Dupont, Syngenta, and Archer Daniels Midland, among others, the event hails itself as the "premier national trade show and convention for corn, soy, wheat, and sorghum farmers." According to an account in the trade journal Agri-Pulse, Vilsack spoke "with sometimes evangelistic fervor." He thundered against critics of corn-based ethanol, reiterated the Obama administration's goal of doubling U.S. farm exports by 2014 by ramming open …


Poison apples bad for consumers, Snow White

EWG: Don't resist the temptation to eat apples -- just buy organic when you can. Photo: D. Sharon PruittCross-posted from Mother Jones. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) sifts through USDA testing data and figures out which "Dirty Dozen" fruits and veggies deliver the largest doses and the widest variety of pesticides. This year's winner, announced Monday: apples. According to EWG, 92 percent of the apples tested by the USDA carried two or more pesticide residues. And even as supermarket shelves feature a pretty narrow range of apple varieties -- Red Delicious, Granny Smith, etc. -- farmers are spraying …

Read more: Food, Food Safety


Cheap food: Not what’s for dinner anymore?

Cheap food might go the way of cheap gas.Photo: Eddie SCross-posted from Mother Jones. Remember when gas was a dollar a gallon? The era of the fast-food "dollar menu" may be going the same way. Cheap food has been with us for a while. After World War II, global grain prices fell steadily for decades. U.S. and European farms scaled up, resorted to synthetic and mined fertilizers and pesticides, invested in massive planting and harvesting machines as well as novel seed varieties. All of this pushed crop yields into the stratosphere -- and crop prices into the dirt. The era …


It’s the McEconomy, stupid

As American as Baked Apple Pie.Photo: Keoni 101Cross-posted from Mother Jones. Up to 30,000 of the 54,000 jobs created in May were the result of a hiring spree by the hamburger chain, analysts at Morgan Stanley told Market Watch on Friday. So hiring at McDonald's accounted for about half of the nation's job growth in May. What lessons can we draw from this? One, obviously, is that the economy is anemic and lurching toward a "double dip" -- which isn't some new dessert concoction at McDonald's. While unemployment hovers at 9 percent, job creation has slowed to a trickle -- …

Read more: Food