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Subsidies and the agony of modern farm policy

A response to my critics

Last week's Victual Reality column startled a lot of sustainable-food advocates, particularly folks not immersed in the details of U.S. farm policy. Subsidies, I argued, do not cause the ravages of industrial agriculture; rather, subsidies are a symptom of a food policy gone wrong. Moreover, I continued, gutting subsidies won't end the ubiquity of cheap and empty calories in the U.S. diet; or stop the devastation of waterways from fertilizer runoff; or make CAFOs unprofitable; or treat any of the other ills of industrial agriculture. I concluded that reckless attempts to end subsidies should not be seen as a panacea, …

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Can industrial agriculture feed the world?

Another study shows organic ag outpacing conventional

Apologists for industrial food production often level what they see as a devastating charge against organic agriculture: that it could never "feed the world.&quot The claim goes like this: industrial ag produces higher yields, and as global population grows, we're going to have to squeeze as much food as possible out of the earth, by any means necessary, to produce enough sustenance. Not so long ago Norman Borlaug, that aging lion of industrial ag, growled: [D]on't tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertilizer. That's when this [pro-organic] misinformation becomes destructive. (Borlaug and his followers …

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Pennsylvania bans hormone- and antibiotic-free labels on dairy products

Pennsylvania agriculture officials have banned the use of hormone- and antibiotic-free labels on dairy products sold in the state, upsetting food-safety advocates and handing the chemically enhanced dairy industry a significant victory. The ruling takes effect Jan. 1 and would affect at least 19 companies that label their milk or other dairy products as having come from cows that are free of hormones, antibiotics, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), or rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin). New Jersey and Ohio are considering similar label bans. Monsanto, the company that manufactures the most common growth hormone given to cows -- among other things …

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Target asks USDA to let it label meat treated with carbon monoxide

Under pressure from Democrats in Congress, Target Corp. has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to let it attach warning labels to meat it sells that has been treated with carbon monoxide to make it appear fresher than it is. The proposed label reads: "CONSUMER NOTICE: Carbon monoxide has been used to preserve the color of this product. Do not rely on color or the 'use or freeze by' date alone to judge the freshness of the product. For best results please follow the Safe Handling Instructions." In the wake of recent food-safety scares, other companies such as Safeway and …

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Organic whiskey?

My search for organic amber spirits turned up only Scotch

On Grist, we've written about organic beer, organic wine, and organic vodka. But what about those of us whose heritage has left them with a deep and abiding love of the amber spirits? Are there eco versions of Irish, scotch, and bourbon whiskey available to us green-minded drunkards? I decided to investigate a bit, and by that I mean type words into Google. Strangely, I was able to find several brands of organic scotch, but no organic Irish or bourbon. What's up with that? First, I give you Benromach Organic, which purports to be the world's "first bottled Single Malt …

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Farm bill: Beware the industrial-meat complex

Don’t let Big Meat slaughter the packer ban

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared briefly Friday. I pulled it down because of a misunderstanding involving a leaked document. I've deleted references to the document in this post, but hope to be able to post about it soon. In the debate over the Senate ag committee's farm bill version, a key facet has gotten lost in the shuffle: the so-called "packer ban," which would prohibit meat processors from also raising livestock. Michael Pollan didn't mention it in his recent NYT op-ed on the farm bill, and I neglected it as well in this week's Victual Reality. Nor …

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Exercise can combat both obesity and global warming, says CDC

Americans facing the triple threat of climate change, obesity, and what-can-I-do-ness can tackle all three by walking or biking instead of driving -- even if just for a half-hour per day -- and eating less red meat. So says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is considering public promotion of everyday exercise as a way to mitigate the challenges of our time.

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Farm school

The Farm Bill debate does hinge on subsidies

This is a guest post from Britt Lundgren, an Agricultural Policy Fellow at Environmental Defense. ----- Tom Philpott's recent column on the ongoing debate over Farm Bill reform raises some interesting points, including the idea that commodity subsidies may not be the root cause of overproduction. But he misses the real point behind the debate, which is whether or not the current suite of farm subsidies are actually an effective and productive way to support agriculture in the U.S. Supporters of farm bill reform recognize that it is possible and necessary to replace our antiquated system of farm subsidies with …

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Nefarious legislative shenanigans

Domenici tries to kill the energy bill and sneak nuclear loan guarantees into the farm bill

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) is up to some serious shenanigans up on the hill. First, he has introduced an amendment that would attach the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to the farm bill. He claims he's trying to save the RFS, in case negotiations on the energy bill (where the RFS now lives) stall out. Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposes the move. Why? It's complicated, but the gist is that lots of folks -- Reid likely included -- see this as an attempt to sink the energy bill. The RFS is one of the key planks holding support for the …

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Why gutting subsidies shouldn’t be the focus of Farm Bill reform efforts

A lot of people, myself among them, have spent substantial time this year trying to demystify the 2007 Farm Bill. But as it lurches into its stretch run -- with passage possible by year-end -- I fear that the bill is more shrouded in mystery than ever, even among sustainable-agriculture advocates. The answer ain't blowin' in the wind. Photo: iStockphoto Here's what we can all agree on: Late last month, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a version of the bill that would generally preserve the crop subsidies that have become so infamous. It would also add funding to some important …

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