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How to stop the agribiz giants from impeding the growth of local food.

In today's Victual Reality I discussed how a few companies dominate U.S. food production, and how their market girth weighs heavily on efforts to rebuild local-oriented, environmentally and socially responsible food networks. Now I'd like to add a few words on what might be done to remedy the situation. First of all, it's important to note that heavily consolidated food markets rig the game to favor large-scale, industrial-style farming. As companies like Cargill and Tyson have grabbed more and more control over food production in the past 30 years, they've systematically dismantled local infrastructure and concentrated their operations in a …

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How food processing got into the hands of a few giant companies

Two years ago, dairy giant Dean Foods shuttered a milk-processing facility in Wilkesboro, a town at the eastern edge of North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains. Photo: iStockphoto Dean processes 35 percent of the fluid milk in the U.S. and Canada -- roughly equal to the combined market share of its three biggest rivals combined. In my area of western North Carolina, it processes 100 percent of the fluid milk. Since there were no other USDA-approved processing plants around, the few remaining dairy farmers in the mountains faced a stark choice: pay to have their milk hauled an additional 55 miles to …

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Some miscellaneous but connected items

The daily news is never short of articles on biofuels these days, but these three caught my eye today. The first concerns the release of some research results by soil scientist Jane Johnson of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). It's an open secret that the dominant feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production as the technology takes off in the Midwest will likely be corn stover, and not switchgrass or prairie grasses. The implication of Johnson's findings, however, is that farmers growing corn for ethanol production might be able to "sustainably" harvest only half as much cornstalk residue as previously expected: If …

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Now that I’ve actually read the book …

When I caught up with 100-mile dieters Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon a few weeks ago, they were just kicking off their book tour with a stop in Toronto, and I hadn't even had a chance to read Plenty, in which they recount a year of local eating. Sure, I had the basic info -- one man, one woman, a year of eating only food grown within 100-mile radius of their Vancouver, B.C. home. They'd kept up a blog on their website, 100milediet.org, posted regular dispatches on The Tyee, and we'd even written about them here on Gristmill a bit. …

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Feeding the world sustainably

(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.) If heaven was a pie it would be cherry Cool and sweet and heavy on your tongue And just one bite would satisfy your hunger And there'd always be enough for everyone -- Gretchen Peters, "If Heaven" Agriculture for food and fiber represents another significant category of environmental impact. Before we worry about how to farm, we should consider how much agriculture we need. If you read the technical news, when this subject comes up it always centers on how to increase food production for a hungry world. This is completely misleading. There …

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Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon chew the fat on their 100-mile diet

Two years ago, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon set out to see if it was still possible, in these hyper-globalized times, to live off food grown in your own 'hood. The pair made a pact to dine on dishes culled from within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver, B.C., home for an entire year. Their personal experiment quickly evolved into a movement, and now Smith, a freelance journalist who writes regularly for Reader's Digest, and MacKinnon, a nonfiction author, have turned that movement into a book. The 100-mile diet began as a way to reduce dependence on the fossil fuels …

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Pollan weighs in

Michael Pollan thinks so. Let's hope he's right. Call your Senators and Representatives to make sure.

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ADM gets its filthy paws on an immaculate confection

Earlier today, Trina Stout brought to our attention a food crime in progress: the FDA is quietly preparing to let manufacturers adulterate chocolate by replacing cocoa butter with cheap vegetable oil. This will allow them to cut costs on candy bars and use cocoa butter for more valuable purposes -- thus undermining the quality of the chocolate most people eat and further brutalizing palates. I did some checking around, figuring I'd find Archer Daniels Midland's paw prints on this ignoble effort. I did. By its own reckoning, ADM is the the "world's premier producer of cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate." …

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Willy Wonka would be pissed

The FDA is thinking about allowing Big Chocolate to pass off waxy imitations as the real deal: Like all foods in the United States, chocolate is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that consumers get a safe and consistent product. But perhaps no longer. The FDA is entertaining a "citizen's petition" to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter. The "citizens" who created this petition represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and …

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Sign a petition

The issue regarding certification of organic farmers in the Third World continues to gain steam. Equal Exchange, the organic and fair trade coffee group, has a petition drive (scroll to bottom of page) to block the USDA decision that would decertify organic 'grower groups' such as coffee co-ops. Grist had a spirited discussion on this previously. A comment from Equal Exchange over at Chews Wisely states: We at Equal Exchange are working with others in the National Organic Coalition to collect signatures for 2 seperate petitions to be submitted to the USDA asking they delay this ruling and focus on …

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