Factory Farms

Two percent of U.S. energy goes to wasted food

The U.S. wastes a stunning amount of food — 40 percent of what we produce, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland. That’s way above the already-staggering global average of one third. That means that 40 percent of the energy, water, and fuel we put into farming goes straight into the trash. All in all, Bloom says, “2 percent of all U.S. energy goes to food we’re throwing away.” And this waste is built into the system. Farmers are forced to toss crops that aren’t up to aesthetic standards, and often have to plow under whole fields if the …

Factory Farms

Digging deeper into that NYT Room for Debate on farm-animal cruelty

A horrific scene from a Humane Society undercover video.Photo: Humane Society of the United StatesI was privileged this week to participate in a New York Times Room for Debate discussion on the government’s vs. consumer’s role in “Preventing Cruelty on the Farm,” inspired by the paper’s coverage of the spate of ag-gag laws pending in several states (although it appears Florida’s ag-gag bill is now dead). Our discussion featured an excellent lineup of experts including Nicolette Hahn Niman, Temple Grandin, Joel Salatin, law professor Joseph Vining, the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson, economist Daniel Sumner, and Wayne Pacelle, president of the …

Sustainable Farming

Factory farms the only way to ‘feed the world’? Not so, argues Science paper

To “feed the world” by 2050, we’ll need a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. Even progressive journalists trumpet the idea (see here, here, and here, plus my ripostes here and here). The public-radio show Marketplace reported it as fact last week, earning a knuckle rap from Tom Laskway. At least one major strain of President Obama’s (rather inconsistent) agricultural policy is predicated on it. And surely most agricultural scientists and development specialists toe that line … right? Well, not really. Back in 2009, Seed Magazine organized a forum predicated on the idea …

Food

Is Walmart our best hope for food policy reform?

Photo: Code PoetTwo years into the Obama administration, most of the energy around food-policy reform resides in the East Wing, in the form of the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. So far, Let’s Move has been about Michelle Obama pursuing what I have called a “soft power” campaign — that is, using her stature to nudge private companies to reform their ways in the absence of real policy change. So far, the centerpiece of Let’s Move! has been a non-binding deal the first lady and her staff worked out with Walmart in January, in which the retail giant vowed to …

Factory Farms

Little piggies, crawling in the dirt: Minnesota reps behind ag-gag bill have factory-farm ties

Now that The New York Times editorial page has come out against what are now known as “Ag-gag” laws (thanks, Mark Bittman!), I think we can say this story has truly gone national. These laws, on the books in a few states already and quickly moving through legislatures in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota, would attempt to make it illegal to produce — and in Minnesota to possess — undercover videos of livestock factory farms. But a blogger has offered a whole new twist on this story. In Minnesota, at least, it’s not the massive factory farms that reek to high …

Corn

Gary Taubes’ sugar article makes an excellent case for diversifying agriculture

In last week’s New York Times Magazine, the science writer Gary Taubes argues forcefully that a range of chronic health problems — heightened rates of obesity, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer — can be blamed on overconsumption of refined sweetener. It isn’t just the surge of empty calories that sweeteners provide that’s making us sick, Taubes argues; it’s also — and mainly — the way our bodies process them. Taubes acknowledges that the science around sugar metabolism isn’t fully settled. But he brings highly suggestive evidence to bear, and I find it convincing, with a couple of …

Factory Farms

Meat Wagon: Undercover video shows sick calves getting brains bashed in with pickax, and more

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. ——————- A grim ending awaits sick dairy calves on factory farms.Photo: Garrett ZieglerAs I’ve written so many times before, much of the dysfunction in our food system stems from its hyper-consolidation: It’s controlled by a handful of companies whose business models hinge on selling huge volumes of cheap food. When you make money by selling cheap, the whole game is about cutting costs. A system hinged on slashing costs can be counted on to produce a shoddy product, as well as all manner of unintended …

Nearly half of supermarket meat is tainted, says disgusting new study

Now would be a good time to go vegetarian, or demitarian, or just find a reputable butcher. A new study from the Translational Genomics Research Institute has found that 47 percent of tested samples of supermarket meat and poultry were infected with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which causes a range of health problems including skin infections and food poisoning. Half of the bacteria found in the study were resistant to at least three antibiotics. So if you buy meat at the grocery store, you've got a one in four chance of bringing home a drug-resistant superbug. As long as you're cooking …

Food

Ranchers struggle against giant meatpackers and economic troubles

All cattle, no hats.Photo: Rob CrowA sea of cream-colored cowboy hats, the kind ranchers wear on their days off, fills a sterile conference room at the Fort Collins Marriott. Banners from groups like the Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Action Fund and the Western Organization of Resource Councils add bright slashes of color, and warn that JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, now controls 24 percent of all cattle produced in the United States. It’s August 2010, the night before a national workshop on competition in the livestock industry, and well over 500 ranchers, feedlot owners, and their allies are packed into this room …