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Industrial Agriculture


Growing power

Debunking the stubborn myth that only industrial ag can ‘feed the world’

Hold the agrichemicals: Organic ag could keep markets brimming with food. I've written about it once already, but I want to return to The Economist's recent special series about how industrial agriculture is the true and only way to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the world by 2050. The framing, I think, is extremely interesting. The widely revered magazine identifies two strains of thought on the food system's future: one serious and one frivolous. The serious one -- made up of "food companies, plant breeders, and international development agencies" -- is "concerned mainly with feeding the world's …


Berry patch

USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic, Wendell Berry

A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama's food and ag policy was "giving me whiplash," because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo.   Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo -- see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops -- and deploys what the political scientists call "soft power" (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit. Two events last …


see no evil

Florida lawmaker wants to make farm photos illegal

If we just don't look at what's going on inside factory farms, everything will be fine. Right? Along with mountains of oranges, tomatoes, and sugar, Florida's branch of Big Ag Inc. is a reliable producer of bad news. Whether it's the fight over proto-slavery conditions for its tomato workers, the push to perfect genetically modified oranges, or the outrage of the crony capitalist "solutions" to the environmental degradations of sugar plantations, it seems like there's always something rotten in the state of Florida. Oh, and did I mention that Florida also has a shockingly low number of organic farms? So …



Minn. Rep. Collin Peterson’s crusade against climate policy rages on

Collin Peterson -- a Democrat even the Koch brothers could love.Photo: Name Your Frame & Photography via Collin PetersonThe sad saga of climate legislation under Obama -- its harrowing ride through Congress and final collapse -- features many villains. For me, the most maddening isn't some Tea Party ideologue railing against the "climate conspiracy." Rather, it's a powerful Democrat named Collin Peterson, rep from Minnesota, the House's ranking Agriculture Committee member, and the man I once deemed the corn jihadi.   Peterson's opposition to climate policy doesn't stem from any insane denialist creed. Indeed, he once even welcomed global warming …


brand news

Your healthy alternative food may just be the same crap in different packaging [SLIDESHOW]

Looking to lower your impact? Here's your cheat sheet. GoodGuide offers greenness and social responsibility ratings, via web or app, for tens of thousands of products, including food, clothing, toys, and cleaning supplies. Obviously, it's massively useful to be able to look up a brand on your phone and see its health and environment score before you buy. But there's another interesting side effect of the GoodGuide website: Because it scores companies and not just products, you can use it to find out who owns your favorite brands. Even if you don't trace your meal all the way back to …


Organic matters

The Economist dismisses organic ag, while also making the case for it

This isn't the only way.I've been reading The Economist's "Special Report on Feeding the World" (intro here). So far, it's typical Economist: compellingly written and impressively broad in scope -- but largely uncritical of the status quo. The report doesn't bring much new to the table, especially to those of us who follow the gloomy macro-analyses of thinkers like Lester Brown. Predictably enough, The Economist's perspective on the "feed the world" question is guided by the assumption, never much examined, that only high-tech, massive-scale farming can tackle the task of feeding the 9 billion people expected to be on Earth …


Trope a dope

Forbes writer: GMO labeling would violate corporate speech rights

Civilization goes on in the Netherlands, despite the menace of mandatory GMO labeling. Photo: GMO CompassIn a blog post on, Glenn Lammi, general counsel for the right-wing, pro-business think tank the Washington Legal Foundation, goes on the attack against Mark Bittman's recent New York Times op-ed column calling for the labeling of genetically engineered food. Lammi, aside from indulging in ad hominem attacks mocking Bittman's "modestly named iPhone/iPad application, How to Cook Everything," not to mention "the foodie elites and Luddite activists" who oppose genetically engineered food, also indulged in just about every pro-GMO trope in the books. Lammi extols …


Choice nuggets

The case for labeling GMOs, food for environmentalist thought, and more

When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the web. Bittman: Time to label GMOs With the USDA's recent flurry of green lights for genetically modified crops -- evidently at the urging of the White House  -- the Obama administration should brace itself for a big push on the labeling question. Popular sentiment may be swelling for something the agrichemical/biotech industry really doesn't want: labels on food products proclaiming the presence of GM material. The New York Times' Mark Bittman is a widely read and influential writer. His latest column puts the …


Thou shalt not commit food adulteration

Ask Umbra Book Club: The history of ‘adulterated’ food and gross-food urban legends

Give us this day our daily bread, as long as we know what went into it.Photo: LaCheryl PorterDearest readers, Last week, we kicked off our discussion of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. You can catch up here. Let’s move our conversation into what is perhaps the heart of a house: its kitchen. And let's talk about a touchy subject: food adulteration. No, not "food adultery." (I'm not quite sure what that would be, although it sounds kinda titillating.) Food adulteration -- the tainting of food with dangerous and disgusting additives -- was something of a …


Is that spelled 'traitor' or 'trader'?

Why is Trader Joe’s short-changing farmworker justice?

Hey Trader Joe's: respect the people who harvest the food you sell. Photo: Scott RobertsonOver the past two decades, Trader Joe's has grown rapidly as bargain-hunting foodies swarmed into its outlets. The chain now runs more than 350 stores with sales topping $8 billion in 2009. The secret to its dazzling success? Fortune magazine describes the retailer as "an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience." Equally important, Trader Joe's business model is based on offering a limited selection of high-quality products at very low prices. By restricting its inventory, it's able …