Love/Hate - A Roundup of Food and Agriculture News

knuckles, Love Hate

Did you know that Ecocentric has a News Briefs section?  Yup; every day, our staff diligently traverses the digital media jungle in order to handpick the very best articles about food, water and energy issues.  (Find the latest on the right side of the page.)  We try to highlight the most important current events within our posts on Ecocentric, but there’s a lot going on in the fwenergy world, so inevitably, some noteworthy items don’t end up receiving the attention they deserve.  I decided to pull together a list of a few such stories from the food/agriculture department.

As a person who’s prone to periodic bursts of intense emotion, I've long identified with Craig Anton’s character in the bath towel guy sketch on Mad TV (summary: Anton stands around in a bath towel ranting about stuff he loves and stuff he hates).  I decided I'd categorize the news items in the same love/hate style.

You Know What I LOVE?

USDA Finds in Favor of Grass-Fed Cows
Industry loves to slather on the greenwash, using junk science to extol the purported environmental benefits of factory farms.  So we were psyched that the USDA mentioned this study in the May/June issue of its Agricultural Research magazine.  Key quote from the study: “a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than her more sheltered sisters.”

The Environmental Working Group
EWG is a hit factory; this year, the organization released the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated its Farm Subsidy Database, created the 2011 Sunscreen Guide and this week launched the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.  Helping you avoid skin cancer?!  Showing you how to reduce your carbon foodprint?!  Providing the hard stats to enable you to get riled up about the gross misappropriation of tax dollars to support industrial agriculture?!  What’s not to love about this organization?

Capital Area Food Bank to Begin Charging Members for Produce
Obviously, there’s nothing to love about food pantries being forced to charge for produce, but the creative responses  to rising food prices described in this article (e.g., construction of rooftop farms, urban gleaning from fruit trees) are inspiring.  Hopefully some of these practices will be replicated elsewhere, enabling unfortunate economic circumstances to encourage the sort of small-scale local food production that will ultimately improve food security for the most vulnerable populations.

EU Lawmakers Give Backing for National GM Crop Bans
If it were up to Monsanto, GM seeds would be available everywhere – no pesky regulators or approval processes required!  While the USDA seems to embrace this approach (see below), Europe remains reluctant to blindly accept biotech’s dubious assurances of the technology’s safety.  If this legislation is enacted, individual nations will be able to ban GM crops even if they're approved by the EU.  Guess who doesn’t love this news?

You Know What I HATE?

Wait, Did the USDA Just Deregulate All New Genetically Modified Crops?
Yeah, kinda seems like it..  Despite the good news across the pond, the USDA recently announced that it doesn’t have the authority to regulate a Roundup-Ready variety of Kentucky bluegrass engineered by Scotts Miracle Gro.  While the USDA’s previous efforts to regulate GM crops were lackluster at best, it looks like the agency won’t even go through the motions in the future.

Ag Gag Aftermath
We've written before about the ag-gag legislative proposals that surfaced across the country this year (see Leslie’s Farmarazzi post).  Basically, they represent a thinly veiled attempt by industry to prevent the public from seeing how industrial food is produced (because if most people did see this, they'd be outraged).  While we're glad that the ag-gag bills died in Florida, Minnesota, New York and Iowa, we hate that they weren’t immediately rejected – and that they might be reintroduced or pop up in other states in the future.

Report: Adult Obesity on the Rise
According to a report by the Trust for America’s Health, over the past year, obesity rates failed to decrease in any state – and increased in 16 states.  Currently, the only state with an obesity rate below 20% is Colorado.  This constitutes a public health crisis, which we find frightening and, given the manner in which public policy promotes unhealthful foods, infuriating.

Crackdown on the (Really) Little Guys
There seems to be a strange trend toward rigid enforcement of food/ag regulations that affect the little guys (e.g., kids getting busted for selling lemonade without a permit, people getting threatened with jail time for cultivating home gardens). We're all for following the rules, but we'd like to see them enforced with the same rigor when they apply to the big guys – especially since problems involving large producers can have such devastating impacts.  In any case, we think it’s odd that this guy – who operated industrial egg farms with such reckless disregard for public safety that a half-billion-egg recall had to be initiated after 1,500 people were sickened – received only a token fine while gardeners are facing imprisonment for growing vegetables in their yards.