When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the Web.


chouice nuggetsGet ’em while they’re hot. 

New rules, old mindset

Everyone should read this article, posted on Chewswise by Joe Cloud, who co-owns a “small-scale locally focused” slaughterhouse outside of Washington, D.C. It’s about proposed new USDA rules for slaughterhouses that might have the potential for reducing the frequency of what has become almost a routine industry event: the nationwide release of hundreds of thousands of pounds of tainted meat from a single massive facility.

Unfortunately, they don’t address the root causes of tainted meat: the cramming of livestock together over their own manure; sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics in livestock feed rations; the practice of finishing cows on corn, which appears to be the origin of the deadly E coli 0157 strain; the growing popularity of corn-ethanol waste (distillers grains) as feed, which appears to increase the incidence of E coli 0157 in cows; and the rapid speed of kill lines in industrial-scale slaughterhouses that ups the odds of meat coming into contact with fecal matter.

But as Cloud shows, if the proposed rules don’t address this big issues, they could place a crushing burden on small-scale slaughterhouses: the ones who serve farms that keep their animals on pasture and don’t use antibiotics in feed. In other words, they could further entrench the industrial-meat model that creates the safety problems in the first place.

Research and seizure

Over at Yale Environment 360, Bruce Stutz has an important article on the agrichemical industry’s control over scientific research into genetically modified organisms. Last year, 24 scientists wrote a letter to the EPA complaining that the industry’s restrictions on research “inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good” and make independent analysis of GMOs impossible. As if to prove their case, the scientists declined to sign their names, out of fear of reprisal from the companies: the pursuit of scientific knowledge wiggling under the boot of brute corporate power.

Stutz has an update to this story. Following the EPA letter, the industry — represented by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) — agreed to “allow researchers greater freedom to study the effects of GM food crops on soil, pests, and pesticide use, and to compare their yields and analyze their effects on the environment,” Stutz writes.

But there remain concerns with the ASTA agreement, Stutz reports. For one, the new rules are voluntary. The industry still has the power to control research; it has simply vowed to do so benevolently. For another, it applies only to already-commercialized crops, not to ones in development.

Finally, it doesn’t address the fact that in addition to controlling the research terms, the companies also control the funding. “Making things worse was that with fewer public monies available for farm research, scientists, and their universities, found themselves increasingly dependent on the seed companies for funding,” Stutz writes.

“That a company with an interest in the outcome of a study should make itself arbiter of what’s good science and what’s not good science, I find offensive as a matter of principle,” Doug Gurian-Sherman of Union of Concerned Scientists, tells Stutz. “The scientific process is much more subtle than that.”

Attack of the GMIs

For one species of writer — I’ll call them genetically modified intellectuals, or GMIs — the scientific process isn’t that subtle at all. The latest geegaws conjured up by the GMO industry represent science incarnate, and anyone who dares question them is an anti-science “denier.” The New Yorker‘s Michael Specter is probably the leading proponent of this deeply naïve school of thought. (I reviewed his recent book Denialism here). He is by no means the only GMI. Indeed, they are popping up like the transgenic corn plants now surging skyward on Iowa’s vast, monocropped fields. Two leading GMIs — UC Davis plant pathologist Pamela Arnold and Texas State University historian James McWilliams — landed an op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times.

In it, they deplore the heavy regulatory regime imposed on the GMO seed industry and fret that U.S. and European policymakers will “allow propaganda to trump science” and that therefore “the potential for global agriculture to be productive, diverse and sustainable will go unfulfilled.”