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Biofuels: good for agrochemical/GMO biz

GMO giant Monsanto wows Wall Street, consolidates its grip on South America

While debate rages on Gristmill and elsewhere about whether biofuels are worth a damn ecologically, investors in agribusiness firms are quietly counting their cash. As corn and soy prices approach all-time highs, driven up by government biofuel mandates, farmers are scrambling to plant as much as they can -- and lashing the earth with chemicals to maximize yields. At a Wall Street meeting on Tuesday, genetically modified seed/herbicide giant Monsanto promised investors even-higher-than-expected profits in fiscal year 2008. The company expects to rake in $1.3-$1.4 billion in gross profit from its Roundup herbicide alone (Monsanto had been previously expecting to …

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Hot Chocolates

A review of six eco-chocolate brands, for your Valentine’s pleasure

The connection between chocolate and Eros runs deep. How do I love thee? Let me taste the ways. Photo: iStockphoto In southern Mexico -- where chocolate cultivation probably originated -- the treat figured among the wedding rituals of the ancient Maya. By the time it became popular in Europe in the 18th century, a Venetian named Casanova was crediting chocolate with boosting his romantic prowess. Modern science confirms the beliefs behind this long-held tradition. Chocolate contains tryptophan and phenylethylamine -- two chemicals thought to trigger sensations in the brain similar to falling in love. So its status as the Valentine's …

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Safeway agrees to animal-welfare standards for some products

One of the largest grocery store chains in the United States, Safeway, has agreed to increase animal-welfare standards for some of the animal-derived products sold at its stores. Chickens and pigs were the focus of the most recent efforts pressuring the chain to adopt humane standards. Safeway has pledged to purchase more pork from suppliers that have started phasing out the most restrictive kind of crates that don't even allow pigs to turn around; the chain has also promised to buy more eggs from suppliers that don't use the most-cramped kind of chicken cages. Safeway also said it will source …

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Meat Wagon: Poultry-worker blues

OSHA looks the other way while poultry giants abuse workers

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat industry. In an excellent muckraking report which underlines the importance of metropolitan newspapers, The Charlotte Observer has shined a bright light into one of the murkiest corners of our food system: poultry-packing factories. The report focuses on North Carolina-based House of Raeford, the nation's seventh-largest poultry packer. According to an industry trade journal, Raeford churns out 20 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken each week, slaughtering 3.6 million birds. And it's growing fast; its 2006 production represented a 28 percent leap from the previous year. Chickens aren't the only …

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Cross pollination

Israel trades irrigation technology for access to India’s ag-gene bank

Israel is seeking to invest in Indian agriculture, according to this article in the India Times. The two powers signed a bilateral agricultural agreement a couple years ago; in the pact, India agreed to trade information on "genetic resources" from their crops in exchange for Israel's dryland farming expertise. As part of the agreement, Israel would share its expertise on water recycling and irrigation. It would also help India "intensify" its agricultural production, share greenhouse farming techniques and "livestocks feed, dairy equipment, and technology," according to the article. Israel's biggest dairy producer, TNUVA, is also interested in India's dairy industry. …

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Biofuels not helpful in climate-change fight, new studies say

Photo: doskophoto Two new studies published in the journal Science conclude that growing and burning biofuels actually increases net greenhouse-gas emissions and exacerbates climate change. The new research questions the assumptions of earlier studies, making sure to incorporate the effects of land-use changes into emissions calculations. When land-use changes are taken into account, turns out that plowing up rainforests and grasslands to make way for biofuel crops tips the balance, making biofuels more problematic than helpful. Biofuels proponents, including the powerful U.S. ethanol lobby, have for years cited figures asserting that biofuels made from crops like corn release about 20 …

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Lenten up already!

A Christian quest to cut carbon

With the start of Lent, Christians the world-over are praying, fasting, and giving alms in preparation for Easter. This often means also making some kind of sacrifice in the name of solidarity with the poor and the Church ... you know, getting guilted into giving up your most savory sins: gorging yourself on Moose Tracks ice cream or ogling Al Gore. Going without. For forty days. In a row. It's often perceived as a chore akin to New Year's Resolutions -- and adhered to about as strictly. Part of the problem lies in the negative and obligatory framing of Lenten …

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A reflection on the lasting legacy of 1970s USDA Secretary Earl Butz

Industrial agriculture lost one of its greatest champions last week: Earl "Rusty" Butz, secretary of the USDA under Nixon. Blustering, boisterous, and often vulgar, Butz lorded over the U.S. farm scene at a key period. He plunged a pitchfork into New Deal agricultural policies that sought to protect farmers from the big agribusiness companies whose interests he openly pushed. He envisioned a hyper-efficient, centralized food system, one that could profitably and cheaply "feed the world" by manipulating (or "adding value to") mountains of Midwestern corn and soy. Patron saint of the Fast Food Nation, Butz lived to see his dream …

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Next market bubble: farmland!

Thanks to the ethanol boom, big investors are plowing cash into corn country

Big investors seem to have forgotten how to exist without some sort of speculative bubble. In the last decade, they've whipped cash from tech stocks to bonds to emerging markets to real estate to junk mortgages. With the latter bubble now deflating rapidly, they've turned to ... Midwestern farmland? Yes, big cornfields. Here's a Chicago asset manager talking about who's buying up farmland, quoted in USA Today: It's everybody from the person concerned about the stock market to large government and corporate pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds. [!] Investors do like a sure bet. With the 2007 Energy Act …

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Edible media: Hole in the middle

New NYT pundit bravely defends GMOs, cloning

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. The New York Times op-ed page appears to be grooming James E. McWilliams, a professor of history at Texas State University, as a rising pundit on food-politics issues. In August, The Times ran a McWilliams piece worrying that growing consumer desire for local food might be harming the environment. And yesterday, they had McWilliams wringing his hands about whether cloned meat will get a fair hearing. His local-food critique didn't amount to much on examination. And his cloned-meat piece is absurd. In other words, his …

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