Czange we can believe in

Salmon czar could coordinate better protection, rule over peasant salmon

Because nothing signals a democracy on the mend like a profusion of czars, salmon defenders are now calling for a federal salmon czar. According to …

More farmers, less market

Farmers markets need rules if we want them to help the food system

Daniel Duane in Mother Jones warns you about farmers markets becoming “farmers markets”: In 1994, there were 1,755 farmers markets in the United States; by …

New legislation would make the meat industry ‘just say no’ to antibiotic abuse

As debate around food safety regulation heats up — some might say, overheats — sublimely named Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced a House bill that …

Looking for work?

African ethanol producers accepting employment applications

Wanted: Young cane cutters for part time seasonal work. Must be willing to work ten hours a day swinging a machete in tropical sun while …

Did you know Alice Waters invented the slow food movement!?

Success in Brazil

The city that ended hunger did it by going local

What struck me in Frances Moore Lappé’s piece at Yes! on Belo Horizonte, Brazil — the city that ended hunger — was how simple the …

Big Pig Strikes Back

The National Pork Board tries to spin Nick Kristof's MRSA column

In the wake of Nick Kristof's column on MRSA infections among hog farmers, Obamafoodorama found evidence of Big Pig (the National Pork Board) conspiring with the CDC in prepping its response. And after all that, this is the best they could come up with: "They are making a huge leap attributing MRSA in these people to hogs," says Angela DeMirjyn, science communications manager for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The pork organization has been researching MRSA for some time, says DeMirjyn, and supports the CDC's statement that most community acquired MRSA infections are caused by a different bacteria than is commonly associated with pigs or pig farms. There. Now don't you feel better? They're all over it like flies on, well, you get the point. They have, as that nameless intelligence bureaucrat assured Indiana Jones as regards research into the Ark of the Covenant, "top men working on it right now." Top men, indeed. But wait, there's even more rhetorical emptiness waiting for you: "We also know that MRSA is not just staph bacteria that can be found in pigs, it also can be found in horses, dogs and even marine animals. It is not a problem that is solely related to pigs," DeMirjyn says. MRSA, in fact, can be found anywhere in nature, according to Paul Ebner, a livestock microbiologist at Purdue University. While he says there has been an increase in the number of these infections and that pigs and other animals can be carriers, the vast majority of infections come from skin-to-skin contact with infected humans. File that under "Beside The Point." You know, I think these folks just might be panicked. Funny, Tom Philpott and I (at Ezra Klein's blog) covered the "MRSA in pigs" issue recently - it didn't get quite this reaction. I guess the Gray Lady has life in her yet.

Immokalee diary, part II

In industrial-tomato country, workers suffer squalid living conditions and even slavery

Note: Last week, I visited Immokalee, Fla., with nine other food-politics writers and activists. We were there to check out conditions in the area where 90 percent of winter tomatoes consumed in the U.S. originate. Part I of my diary is here. --------- Update [2009-3-13 15:3:13 by Tom Philpott]: After refusing for two years, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has agreed to meet with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Fort Myers News Press reports. --------- In the area around Fort Myers, Fla., the collapsed real-estate market has plunged the economy into depression. Home prices have fallen 80 percent from peaks in some exburbs, entire blocks of houses lie empty, and families are queuing up at church breadlines in increasing number, The New York Times recently reported. Walking through Immokalee's housing trailers. About an hour inland in Immokalee, my fellow food-justice delegates and I witnessed a much different real-estate scene. Walking through town with Coalition of Immokalee Workers leader Lucas Benitez, we saw very little apparent vacancy in the dense thicket of rusted trailers and dilapidated shacks that make up most of the farmworker housing. As we toured Immokalee on this cool, sunny March morning, residents milled about here and there. Because of the real-estate meltdown in places like Fort Myers, construction has stalled. The building boom had drawn thousands of tomato pickers to the coast for higher-paid construction work. The bust has propelled them back to the tomato fields -- where a worker glut idles about a quarter of the workforce every day, Benitez estimates. If the labor market has soured in Immokalee, rents have held up just fine. According to Benitez, workers pay $800 per week for the largest two-room trailers and shacks available. That's $3,200 a month, for a space that looks like it might comfortably fit a family. That's a rate that might make a Manhattan landlord grin. The dwellings are unheated and uninsulated -- no fun during chilly winter nights. How do farmworkers, who make $50 on a good day, manage? As the old marketing slogan goes, volume, volume, volume. In order to bring rent to a manageable level, they often live 16 people per structure. That makes rent about $50 per person per week. That's how the people who pick 90 percent of winter tomatoes consumed in the United States live.

Food scare!

Would new food-safety legislation 'criminalize organic farming'? No

The Internets are abuzz with accounts of a House bill, allegedly sponsored by Monsanto and pushed through Congress by its lackeys, that would "criminalize organic farming" and even backyard gardening. The object of frenzy: H.R. 875, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, a bill that attempts to bolster the broken food-safety system. Here's how one critic, whose work circulates widely on sustainable-food listservs, characterizes it: The bill is monstrous on level after level -- the power it would give to Monsanto, the criminalization of seed banking, the prison terms and confiscatory fines for farmers, the 24 hours GPS tracking of their animals, the easements on their property to allow for warrantless government entry, the stripping away of their property rights, the imposition by the filthy, greedy industrial side of anti-farming international "industrial" standards to independent farms -- the only part of our food system that still works, the planned elimination of farmers through all these means. Wait, did she just say "the planned elimination of farmers"? I've been reading hysterical missives about H.R. 875 for weeks. I could never square them with the text of the bill, which is admittedly vague. For example, the bill seeks to regulate any "food production facility" which it defines as "any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation." But then again, the USDA already regulates farms. And "24 hours GPS tracking of ... animals"? Not in there. "Warrentless government entry" to farms? Can't find it. More recently, reading around the web, I found more reasoned takes on H.R. 875. The bill may not be worth supporting -- and from what I hear, it has little chance of passing. But it hardly represents the "end of farming," much less the end of organic farming. The Organic Consumers Association, an energetic food-industry watchdog, recently called the paranoia around H.R. 875 the "Internet rumor of the week."