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Articles by Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

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  • The WSJ documents GM contamination

    The Wall Street Journal came out with a terrific page-one article documenting "genetic pollution" -- the damage caused when genetically modified crops cross-pollinate with conventional crops.

    The article leads with an organic farmer in Spain whose sells his red field corn at a premium to nearby chicken farmers, who prize the product because it "it gives their meat and eggs a rosy color." (I'd be willing to bet that rosy color also translates to higher nutrition content.)

    Now the farmer is screwed -- his seeds, carefully bred over time, have become contaminated by GM corn from nearby farms. The rich red color of his corn, like his premium, has vanished into the ether.

  • Junk food: The Senate trashes organic standards

    The Senate succumbed last week to food-industry pressure and approved a rider that would water down organic standards. (Grist's Amanda Griscom Little a few weeks ago ably laid out the context behind the Senate's surrender.)

    This AP article states that a Senate vote last Thursday ...

    ... unravels a court ruling on whether products labeled "USDA Organic" can contain small amounts of nonorganic substances. Earlier this year, an appeals court ruled that nonorganic substances such as vitamins or baking powder can't be in food bearing the round, green seal.

    As I understand it, the real issue isn't that baking powder and vitamins will be allowed in food labeled "USDA organic." Ominously, the Senate's act would strip power to decide which synthetic substances can and cannot be used from the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member panel made up of  a mix of farmers, processors, retailers, scientists, consumer advocates, environmentalists, and certifying agents. Although the board is appointed by the USDA chief, it has acted independently -- and by most accounts, responsibly -- in its ten-year history, approving only 38 synthetic ingredients.

    If the Senate bill becomes law, the power to decide what synthetics can go into "organic" food would be shifted directly to the USDA -- that bastion of food-industry flackery.

  • Is agribusiness behind the ouster of one of its biggest critics?

    Plunked down in the land of huge, chemical-addicted grain farms and the nation's greatest concentration of hog feedlots, Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has always had a tough row to hoe.

    Imagine trying to operate an Anti-Cronyism League from Bush's West Wing, and you get an idea of what the Leopold Center is up against. Industrial agriculture runs the show in Iowa, sustained by regular infusions of federal cash and its government-sanctioned ability to "externalize" the messes it creates. The state grabbed $12.5 billion in federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2004 -- second only to Bush's own home state. Iowa leads all states in hog production: It churned out 14.5 million pigs in 2001 alone, the vast majority from stuffed, environmentally and socially ruinous CAFOs (confined-animal feeding operations).

    Yet since springing to life in 1987 by fiat of the Iowa legislature -- funded ingeniously by state taxes on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide -- the Leopold Center has become an invaluable national resource for critics of industrial agriculture and seekers of new alternatives.

    Now, however, a sudden purge at the top has called the Center's much-prized independence from industrial agriculture into question.

  • Ag giants launch new public-tv show that promises to be so bad it’s … bad

    What do you get when Monsanto and the Farm Bureau (whose sorry politics are discussed here) team up with the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board, the U.S. Grains Council, and the National Cotton Council (discussed here)?

    If your answer is vast-scale, heavily subsidized, environmentally ruinous agriculture, you have a point. But I was thinking of a different response: Television that promises to be so bad that it might qualify as camp.