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Pig ears and donkey butts: 5 foods that could save the world

Photo by Laura Billings.

Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, eats some pretty strange dishes. Now, he wants you to do the same in the name of saving the world:

You can change the world one plate at a time. If we can take better advantage of the global pantry and eat from a wider variety of choices we would do more to combat food poverty, our damaged food production system, obesity and other systemic health and wellness issues than any one single act I can imagine. Here are some suggestions, but be creative. It works.

Here are the five foods he suggests we all start stuffing our faces with:

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Study: GMO crops are killing butterflies

Photo by David Slater.

We’re all familiar with Big Ag’s bad reputation of picking on small-scale and organic farmers. Now Monsanto and its cronies are beating up an even more innocuous set of victims: beautiful, defenseless monarch butterflies.

A new study from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University fingers Monsanto’s genetically modified corn and soybean crops as the culprit behind monarch butterflies’ declining populations.

Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which so-called GMO crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch eggs declined by an estimated 81 percent across the Midwest, the researchers say.

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The man who blew the whistle on ‘pink slime’

"Pink slime" whistleblower Kit Foshee (Photo by Government Accountability Project)"Pink slime" whistleblower Kit Foshee. (Photo by Government Accountability Project.)

This past week, the media woke up to the shocking reality that our meat supply is in fact industrialized. Long gone are the days of the friendly local butcher grinding meat for kids’ hamburgers. Instead, most hamburger now comes from a corporate behemoth you've probably never heard of called Beef Products Inc. (BPI), or “the world's leading producer of lean beef processed from fresh beef trimmings.”

BPI now finds itself on the receiving end of consumer outrage over the ammonia-treated ground beef filler that one former United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) official famously dubbed “pink slime.” The news surfaced last week that this scary stuff is currently being served in school lunches, and a petition aimed at getting current USDA officials to stop serving “pink slime” has garnered more than 200,000 signatures in about a week. [Update: As of March 15, the USDA has announced that schools will be able to "opt out" of pink slime. What they'll be able to replace it with if they do is another question.]

All the hullaballoo reminded me of a dramatic talk I witnessed about a year ago on this very topic at a conference organized by the Government Accountability Project (GAP)'s Food Integrity Campaign called “Employee Rights and the Food Safety Modernization Act.” The event’s focus was on the little-known but critical aspects of the newly enacted food safety law, which would give whistleblowers new protection.

Read more: Food, Scary Food

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Campbell’s to ditch BPA from soup cans

Photo by Antonio.

Attention, shoppers: Campbell’s (FINALLY) announced plans to eliminate hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A from the linings of its soup cans. And it only took consumer outrage, countless nonprofit petitions, concern from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and hundreds of independent studies linking BPA to a hodge-podge of horrifying health maladies!

Campbell's Soup Co. spokesman Anthony Sanzio said Monday the company has been working on alternatives for five years and will make the transition as soon as "feasible alternatives are available."

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Finally, a smoking gun connecting livestock antibiotics and superbugs

How does the livestock industry talk about antibiotics? Well, it depends on who's doing the talking, but they all say some version of the same thing. Take the National Cattlemen's Beef Association; they say there is "no conclusive scientific evidence indicating the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle herds leads to antimicrobial resistance in humans [MRSA]."

Or Ron Phillips of the Animal Health Institute (a drug-industry front group). In an interview on Grist last year, he said that before you can draw any conclusions:

... You have to look at specific bug/drug combinations and figure out what are the potential pathways for antibiotic-resistant material to transfer from animals to humans. Studies have been done, and have come to the conclusion that there is a vanishingly small level of risk.

The message is clear. Until scientists trace a particular bug from animals to humans and show precisely how it achieved resistance and moved from farm to consumer, there's no smoking gun. Thus industry leaders' heads can remain firmly buried in the sand.

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a smoking gun! NPR reported on it first; here's their take:

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GMO-labeling game plan: California or bust!

Participants in the Millions Against Monsanto march.

Taking a play from the gay marriage battle, GMO-labeling advocates are taking a state-level approach. The plan has been to pass labeling bills in states where food is on the public’s radar, in order to convince Congress, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the issue has teeth.

"We want to see it on a national level, but as more states put it up, we'll get more attention," says Cary Condotta, the Washington state representative who co-sponsored a GMO-labeling bill.

However, it's not as simple as pointing to the high percentage of Americans who would like to know when they're eating genetically modified food. According to a 2010 poll [PDF], 93 percent of Americans were in favor of such labeling.

Thanks to lobbying by seed companies and other agribusiness players, however, state legislators all over the nation have been hitting a wall. Now advocates are joining forces to create a super team in California, in an attempt to get a ballot initiative passed in the state that’s home to 10 percent of all the nation's grocery stores.

Read more: Food, Scary Food

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Bacon milkshake contains no actual bacon

In a marketing decision that was clearly made by stoners for stoners, Jack in the Box is debuting a bacon-flavored milkshake. At 1,081 calories for 24 ounces, this seems like a great way to get most of a full day's worth of energy, protein, and dairy without having to do any chewing, assuming you are the nutritional equivalent of a sociopath. Except this "bacon milkshake" has barely even looked at bacon (and has only a passing acquaintance with milk). It's basically a thousand-calorie food golem made of chemicals.

Read more: Food, Scary Food

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Sh*t happens: Mysterious ‘manure foam’ causes pig farms to explode

A screen shot from an ABC news report about the probem (click to watch the video).

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Well, according to this report from the Minnesota Daily, nature also abhors factory farms. Large midwestern hog farms have for the last few years been battling a mysterious foam that is forming on top of their barns. In the worst case scenarios, the foam blocks ventilation ducts and the barns explode -- yes, explode -- killing the thousands of hogs inside. The report reads:

The foam traps gases like methane and when a spark ignites it causes an explosion. About a half dozen barns in the Midwest have exploded since the foam was discovered in 2009.

In mid-September 2011, a barn in Iowa was added to the growing number of barns taken down by the foam. In the explosion, 1,500 pigs were lost, and one worker was injured.

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MRSA MRSA me: Getting the facts about the superbug in pork

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). (Photo by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.)

A few weeks back, we reported on a study out of the University of Iowa that tested supermarket pork for antibiotic-resistant Staph bacteria (aka MRSA). The researchers found MRSA at the same rate for conventionally raised meat and for meat raised without antibiotics. In her well-respected WIRED blog on the topic, Superbug, Maryn Mckenna summed up the media response to the news like this:

There’s just as much resistant bacteria on drug-free meat as there is on conventional meat, so why spend the money — or raise the alarm over farm antibiotic use?

But she disputed that conclusion:

My takeaway is that, in its underlying data, the study proves what campaigners against ag antibiotic use keep saying: that once you use antibiotics indiscriminately and drive the emergence of resistant organisms, you have no way of predicting where that resistance DNA will end up.

For most of us, any sign of MRSA in our food is pretty creepy. (Although the bacteria doesn’t make it through the cooking process, meat can still be what scientists call a “vector,” or a mode of transmission, when we handle it). So we tracked down McKenna, who is also a columnist and contributing editor for Scientific American and the author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA. Her take on the research may surprise you.