Food

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 …

Premature Pontification

Jumping to conclusions in health matters may have adverse side effects

The past week, the Netiverse has erupted with stories linking the Granjas Carroll confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) near La Gloria, Vera Cruz, Mexico, with the outbreak of a strain of H1N1 influenza, commonly called “swine flu,” that has triggered concerns about possible flu pandemic reminiscent of the one that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1918 and 1920. Outlets such as Grist, Huffington Post, and Daily Kos have contributed to the eruption, as have some members of the old-line print and broadcast media, but I find much of the reportage at this point troubling. Why? Because I don’t …

Home groan

CDC: swine flu strain has genetic roots in U.S.A.

(Another hat tip to the increasingly essential Tom Laskawy.) In an interview with Science Magazine,  CDC chief virologist Ruben Donis essentially confirmed the reading of the current swine flu strain made by New Scientist: that it evolved from a strain that cropped up in U.S. hog farms in 1998. Both New Scientist and Donis emphasize that what we’re talking about is a swine flu — in direct contradiction of the pork industry’s party line. In an interview with me today, David Warner, director of communications at the National Pork Producers Council, repeatedly attributed the outbreak to “human flu, not swine …

Big Pork speaks

Smithfield is listening!

What’s that you say? Smithfield claims that they are awaiting the results of “additional” tests on the pigs at their Veracruz, Mexico, CAFO — the facility at the heart of speculation here on Grist and elsewhere as the source of the current swine flu outbreak — to determine if any pigs are infected. And just in case you were wondering, Smithfield is fully aware of who’s “driving” the CAFO/swine flu meme, if their CEO is to be believed (reg req’d): In a letter to employees, [CEO C. Larry] Pope wrote that the results of those independent laboratory tests will be …

CDC chief confirms U.S. origin of flu strain

H/t to Fair Food Fight for this one. In a Q&A with ScienceInsider, the CDC’s chief virologist Ruben Donis confirms what Columbia researchers declared: the current H1N1 swine flu virus is “all swine” in origin, the human and avian components present in the current virus date to the 1998 swine flu outbreak, and that this is not a recent triple reassortment of swine/human/avian, as has been reported: Q: How does it tie to the current outbreak? R.D.: Where does all this talk about avian and human genes come from? I was describing a fully swine virus. For [the] last 10 …

Not ready for swine-time players

‘New Scientist': Swine flu stems from virus that evolved in U.S.

In a pair of articles in New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie links the swine flu virus now spreading across the globe to large-scale pork-raising operations in the United States. In the first article, titled “Swine flu: the predictable pandemic?,” MacKenzie writes that the “virus has been a serious pandemic threat for years, New Scientist can reveal — but research into its potential has been neglected compared with other kinds of flu.” She writes that the strain now in the headlines has its origins in an earlier outbreak in the United States a decade ago: This type of virus emerged in the …

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