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Organic eggs are so expensive because the chickens eat fancy imported food

organic eggs

There are lots of reasons to pony up a few extra dollars for organic eggs -- they have those rich, deep yellow yolks, for instance, and you get the satisfaction of knowing the chickens who laid them lived better lives than the chickens who laid the sad non-organic eggs. But man, they are spendy.

One reason, Dan Charles reports at NPR, that organic eggs are expensive is that the chickens eat fancy imported food. American farmers aren't growing enough organic feed to feed the chickens that produce organic eggs:

Most chickens eat feed made from ground-up corn and soybeans, but America's farmers are not growing enough organic corn and soybeans — especially soybeans — to feed the country's organic animals. ...

Read more: Food, Living


How big meat recalls hurt small cattle ranches

West Marin cattle
Terrie Schweitzer

Whenever there’s a giant meat recall, the first and often only reaction is disgust. It’s entirely justified self-interest: People want to be sure that their ground chuck hasn’t ever shared a vat with pathogens. But these recalls also have an effect on the other end of the food chain, which we rarely consider.

After “diseased and unsound animals” were killed without a full inspection, the USDA closed the Rancho Feeding slaughterhouse in Petaluma, Calif.  While the numbers sound huge -- 9 million pounds were recalled -- the reality is fairly small scale. As Grist commenter Rachel pointed out, 9 millions pounds translates to killing fewer than 10 cows an hour over a year. Large operations slaughter hundreds an hour.

Rancho won’t reopen; at least not in its current form. The abattoir lost its right of inspection, meaning it will have to start from scratch, rebuilding and replacing equipment to bring the facility up to modern standards.

Meanwhile, the ranchers that rely on the plant are struggling to survive. Having a local slaughterhouse is vital to maintaining local agriculture. Much of the land around Petaluma is ideally suited for raising seasonal, grass-fed cattle. But without a means to kill those cattle, those ranches won’t be viable. The next nearest slaughterhouse is a three to four hour drive away. As my colleague Heather Smith has pointed out, if omnivores want to eat local, we have to kill local.


Someone found the world’s oldest cheese, and it’s from 1615 B.C.

Not THIS someone, mind you.
Not THIS someone, mind you.

Everyone knows mummies were buried with their bling. But it turns out that bling was raclette, gouda, and pecorino, littered across their necks and chests as if making one last attempt to stuff some tasty goodness down before venturing into the afterlife.

That’s right: Researchers found the oldest cheese ever. It's even older than the crumbs under my bed -- this cheese has been preserved since about 1615 B.C. The cemetery where they discovered it is in a dry, salty desert in northwest China, where conditions basically freeze-dried the little snacks. Interestingly enough, the cheese is low-lactose:

The analysis also showed the mummies' cheese was made by combining milk with a "starter," a mix of bacteria and yeast. This technique is still used today to make kefir, a sour, slightly effervescent dairy beverage, and kefir cheese, similar to cottage cheese.

Read more: Food


Feds will help honeybees find food

A bee on pastureland

The U.S. government estimates that honeybees provide $15 billion worth of pollination services to America's farms every year. So it's throwing $3 million at them in the Midwest, announcing a new effort to help farmers and ranchers grow plants that furnish bees with healthier diets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will use the funds "to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment." The pollen and nectar will come from such sources as cover crops and high-quality pastures.

It's another little step by the government to boost hives' chances of survival. Forcing bees to subsist on the pollen and nectar of crops alone can leave them sickly.

"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honeybee population," USDA official Jason Weller told Al Jazeera. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."

Read more: Food, Politics


EPA’s new pesticide rules: Will they make a difference?


A few days ago, the EPA proposed new rules to protect farmworkers from  pesticides. It's about time. The standards were last updated in 1992, and there's been a lot of research on the effects of pesticides on human health in the 22 years since.

Among the proposed changes: Workers would need to be at least 16 years old in order to handle pesticides, except in some situations involving small family farms. Farms would be obligated to hold mandatory safety trainings every year, instead of every five years, to cover things like how to handle pesticides, how to clean gear and clothing and yourself after handling them, how to know when it’s safe to return to a field that has been treated, and what legal protections are available to farmworkers.

In an ideal world, no workers would ever be exposed to pesticides at all (and no eaters either), but the ideal world is not where we live. While everything we use to kill insects has some level of toxicity to humans, it’s also not fun to stand in a field and watch rootworms eat all your corn. The new rules would be an improvement.

The question, then, is would they be effective and enforceable? I asked Thomas Arcury at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who has spent almost two decades studying the health of farmworkers in North Carolina. His short answer: no.


Carbon dioxide pollution just killed 10 million scallops

scallops with chili

Scallops go well with loads of chili and an after-dinner dose of antacid. It's just too bad we can't share our post-gluttony medicine with the oceans that produce our mollusk feasts.

A scallops producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia just lost three years' worth of product to high acidity levels. The disaster, which cost the company $10 million and could lead to its closure, is the latest vicious reminder of the submarine impacts of our fossil fuel–heavy energy appetites. As carbon dioxide is soaked up by the oceans, it reacts with water to produce bicarbonate and carbonic acid, increasing ocean acidity. 

The Parksville Qualicum Beach News has the latest shellfish-shriveling scoop:


Rice is the new cocaine for European drug dealers

IRRI Images

It’s hard out here for a food eater! Between the rapid desiccation of some of the United States’ most productive farmland, cannibalism and disease on meat farms, and organized criminals in Europe selling long-grain rice as fraudulent basmati, the struggle is real. That last one is not a euphemism.

Departments of Interpol and Europol are beginning to crack down on gangs profiting off of a fairly new form of illegal activity: food fraud. Former drug dealers have hung up their dime bags and moved into the food counterfeiting game because, as it’s still in its nascent stages, legal consequences are almost negligible. The payoff for substituting cheap, low-quality, and often dangerous ingredients for certain in-demand foods and beverages far outweighs the risk -- because that makes sense! Welcome to the modern food system; you must be new here.


GMO, yeah? 5 surprises from an otherwise boring look at genetically modified crops

GMO tomato, anybody?

Researchers at the USDA’s Economic Research Service have stepped back to look at the effect of genetically engineered crops since they were introduced in the U.S. It’s a pretty dry and unsurprising document, but when read carefully a few interesting things jump out. Here’s five.

1. How many GMO trials are there? Tons

Read more: Food


Lunch money: Can schoolkids really eat local without breaking the bank?

DC Central Kitchen

This is part of a series in which we're asking what pragmatic steps we can take to make regional food systems more sustainable. We previously spoke with organic farmer Tom Willey, the people at Veritable Vegetable, and a Slow Money guy.

When I started asking about the prospect of serving local food as school lunches, I got two conflicting messages.

The first message was exuberantly optimistic: By going straight to the farmer, schools could get regional, delicious, and healthy food at the same prices they were getting the normal mystery meat and “barfaroni.” This is good for the students, and it’s even better for the farmers. When Oakland Unified School District served California chorizo with local kale, “They used literally tons of organic kale, just from one lunch,” Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, told me.

The second message was very different: We just spend too little on school lunches to make them environmentally and physically healthy. Alexandra Emmott, farm to school supervisor at the Oakland Unified School District, has just 60 cents to create an entrée -- and that, or less, is the norm around the country. “Food service is the only part of school that needs to run like a business and break even,” Emmott said. “We don’t expect the math classes to make a profit, that’s just something our society has decided is worth supporting. Why not make that same investment in feeding our children?”

Read more: Food, Living, Politics


Ocean bottomliner: Why Mike Bloomberg is investing in fish

fishing trawlers

Last month, Michael Bloomberg did a lot of things. He stopped being mayor of New York and started being U.N. envoy for cities and climate change. He promoted immigration reform before Congress. He freaked out over the True Detective pilot like the rest of us (we assume). But the thing that really got our attention was when decided to throw several million dollars into the sea.

Over the next five years, Bloomberg Philanthropies will dish out $53 million to three nonprofits -- Oceana, Rare, and EKO -- each of which will lead one charge of a three-pronged attack plan that, appropriately, reminds us of a trident. It's called the Vibrant Oceans Initiative.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food