The genius of self-regulation

Smithfield: don’t worry, we’re testing our Mexican hogs for swine flu

For a lobbyist working the Hill on behalf of an industry, the gold standard is self-regulation. No need to send in inspectors — we’ll test our process to ensure that it doesn’t pollute. Trust us! Astonishingly, pork giant Smithfield Foods has evidently managed to arrange just such a testing regime with regard to its hog-rearing operations in Vera Cruz, Mexico — some of which lie just a few miles from the village where the swine flu outbreak first manifested itself. Here is Wednesday’s Richmond [Va.] Times-Dispatch: The company has voluntarily submitted 30 blood samples from pigs at its facility near …

Ethanol's Big Day

Barack gives biofuels the big thumbs up

[Update: While some may think this decision was a win for corn ethanol, House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson clearly does not. In fact, he is seriously ticked off about it. According to CongressDaily, Peterson responded to the indirect land use ruling as follows:  "You are going to kill the biofuels industry. You are in bed with the oil industry. I won't support any climate change bill even if you fix it because I don't trust anybody," Peterson told administration witnesses at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the renewable fuel standard's impact on land use. Ouch.] The Obama administration …

On what grounds

Stimulating coffee lectures in Seattle focus on sustainability

Ever wonder exactly what goes into your morning coffee (aside from milk and sugar, of course)? A series of lectures this spring at the University of Washington attempts to answer just that question. The UW is serving up its public-speaker series Coffee: From the Grounds Up as a complement to the cultural exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup at the university’s Burke Museum. So far, the series has covered topics like the history of coffee and the issue of fair trade, but the final three events on offer — occurring over the next three Tuesdays — will focus on …

Poop + Marketing = Biosolids

Sludge, farmer’s friend or toxic slime?

Should what we put down our sewers ultimately wind up back on our plates?Marc Samsom via Flickr Urine, feces, menstrual blood, hair, fingernails, vomit, dead skin cells. Industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, soaps, shampoos, solvents, pesticides, household cleansers, hospital waste. Sewage sludge, the viscous brown gunk left over when wastewater is treated, is more than just poop: it’s an odiferous smoothie of everything we pour down the drain. There are pathogens; there are heavy metals. PCBs, dioxins, DDT, asbestos, polio, parasitic worms, radioactive material — all have been found in sludge. Despite pretreatment programs that prevent some of the most noxious stuff …

The Sludge Report

Regulating biosolids

Biosolids are regulated under what’s known colloquially (to those who speak colloquially about sewage) as the 503 Sludge Rule, which came into effect in 1993. Technically titled “40 CFR 503 — Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge,” it’s complicated enough that EPA came out with a “Plain English” guide to help make sense of the rule’s requirements and details. It’s not light reading, so here are the basics: The most recent version of the 503 rule regulates seven heavy metals in sludge. It also divides biosolids into two categories for land application, Class A and Class B, …

Dysfunctional foods

Ethanol waste: it’s what’s for … breakfast?

It’s food, no fuel, no food…For the ethanol industry, much depends on distillers grains, the stuff that’s left over after corn has been fermeneted and distilled to make alcohol. Corn ethanol’s energy balance (net energy produced minus energy consumed in production) is razor thin; it only goes positive when you factor in generous credits for distillers grains. Then there’s the harsh economic reality: With corn prices stubbornly high and ethanol prices stubbornly low, not even $5 billion or so a year in government support can keep the industry from bleeding red ink. The industry has been scraping by on revenue …

Ripe for change

Another win for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Photo: Scott RobertsonOver the past week, much attention has been focused on the “B” part of that classic U.S. sandwich, the BLT. The swine flu outbreak has quite rightly raised questions about the environemtal/public health implications of modern industrial hog production. Almost lost amid the furor was much happier news about the “T” part of the delectable lunch item. In Florida, source of 90 percent of winter tomatoes consumed in the United States, farmworkers have for decades faced outright exploitative conditions: miserly and stagnant wages, lack of healthcare, and living conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in Apartheid …

Pot calling the kettle green

Smithfield brings home McDonald’s corporate responsibility prize

Larry Pope“Oh, my goodness. I think I’m extremely proud of — of how we are from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.  And, in fact, McDonald’s just gave us their first award as the most — for their corporate social responsibility. The fist time they’ve given that, they gave it to us.” –Larry Pope, CEO of Smithfield, in a Friday interview on CNBC (video available here)

Yes, it's the CAFOs

Now is not the time for timidity

I agree with the calls for some amount of caution in the search for a smoking gun in the swine flu pandemic. There’s always the danger of over-reaching and turning your target into an object of sympathy. But really, the science IS behind us on this one. The head virologist of the CDC has indeed identified the core strain of this outbreak as one that arose in a North Carolina CAFO.  Meanwhile, another voice, this time Johann Hari of the London Independent (via HuffPo) convincingly touts the idea that our desire for cheap meat is a cause of the current …