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Friday, October 25, 2013

Food Freedom Friday: Antibiotic Use in Livestock
By Monica @ 1:05 PM PermaLink

Today, The Washington Post reports on the problem of anywhere from 40%-80% of the country’s antibiotics being used in livestock for growth promotion and feed efficiency, which is increasingly being linked to the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains.  The news is based on a report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health using data from the Pew Charitable Trusts.  

The Animal Agriculture Alliance released its responseusing double-speak reassuring subtitles such as "Care," "Sustainability," "Improvement," "Responsible," "Safety," and "Advancement."  This white paper naturally included an important foreword written by Dr. Orren Boyle Richard Raymond, Former Undersecretary for Food Safety Inspection Service at the USDA.  Here we learn about growing up as a farm boy in Nebraska, replete with concerns about food insecurity, political unrest, empty stomachs, hungry children, and the threat that raw milk, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, and bucking the FDA-approved use of antibiotics poses to the urgent task of feeding the world.

Meanwhile, growing evidence about antibiotic resistance linked to the nation's farms is actually a worrying sign in the threatening emergence of a post-antibiotic world.  I'm not sure it’s Congress' job to deal with this problem, but it goes without saying that Congress has failed at stopping a lot of things that are bad for the public.  

I don't necessarily agree with the path of getting to all of the proposed solutions in the Johns Hopkins report.  They propose endpoints like phasing out and eventually banning the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock and increasing competition in the livestock industry.  I'd rather focus on educating the public and repealing subsidies that help confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) clean up their waste and put the cost burden completely on them, instead of focusing on enforcing anti-trust law.  The FDA as a model for protecting public health is defunct.  When it comes to agriculture, the FDA is primarily a problem because it lives in cozy symbiosis with the very industries it was supposedly designed to regulate.  

I think antibiotic resistance needs to be handled as a tort, but doing that will probably require more than eliminating the FDA.  It would likely require a lot of changes to our country's laws, particularly the distortion of the original purpose of Right to Farm laws.  Those laws were originally intended to protect farmers from new zoning regulations when the land surrounding them became suburbanized.  Right to Farm laws now allow CAFOs -- producing as much fecal waste as the entire city of Philadelphia -- to set up shop in rural areas, pollute local air and water supplies, and destroy adjacent property values of the people who were there first.  CAFOs aren't required to treat animal waste in the same aerobic digestion process as municipalities, which renders it a lot safer.  As a result, water and air quality suffer, and antibiotic resistance spreads.  

We also need to repeal Ag Gag laws in many states that essentially outlaw whistle-blowing activity in the agricultural industry.  And I haven't even discussed how you get judges to think independently without relying on regulatory 'science.'

Government reform isn’t going to happen overnight, if ever.  The movement in government is in the exact opposite direction: toward more centralized control, with industry cronies like Richard Raymond writing the rules that destroy the competition: healthy food.  My free market critics don’t like it when I use language like that, but it’s the truth.  The fact is that we don't have a socialist system: we have a fascist one where industry packs regulatory agencies with former executives, and they write the rules for the USDA and FDA.  So instead, we get a flood of recently passed and proposed regulations that disproportionately harm supplement makers and small farmers, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Supplement Labeling Act.  

Of course, there is a huge awakening and a growing amount of public opposition in support of clean food, but as we are seeing in all areas of government these days (such as NSA spying), public opinion doesn't always result in any meaningful change in government, and therefore the hope of immediate reform is bleak.  A significant number of people also still buy into the propaganda about the necessity of mass surveillance without warrants using antibiotics non-therapeutically in 100% of livestock, in order to move forward in keeping us safe fed in the War on Terror War on Hunger.

So, to change this situation makes it imperative that people actually become aware of shortsighted Big Ag/Big Gov industry practices that are proving to be a disaster in the long run.  There is still enough choice left in the market to take action to protect yourself.  Think of buying clean meat to protect you from Big Ag/FDA/USDA as putting a Faraday cage around your iPhone to protect you from Booz Allen Hamilton/NSA.  We wouldn’t be in this situation if consumers had, in large enough numbers, raised questions about this 40 years ago, just as we wouldn’t be staring down an Orwellian NSA spying program if the Patriot Act hadn’t overwhelmingly passed among 99% of legislators as a good idea.  And that's why I share information like this: because people don’t yet understand that for them to have $1/lb. chicken or $2/lb pork, someone else is probably paying in polluted water and air, or a MRSA infection.  

Change starts with us.  Please consider knowing where your meat, eggs, and milk come from, and refuse to buy from sources that are using questionable practices that endanger others.

Here are potential resources:


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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sticky Issues in Property Rights: Cross-Pollination of GM Corn with... GM Corn
By Monica @ 3:01 PM PermaLink

Policy analysts at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights continue to discuss Seralini's widely hyped but year-old rat study on GM corn for the third week in a row (only one in around a hundred studies indicating concerns), perpetuating the myth that only radical environmentalists have concerns about GM crops.  Argument by picture is a problem, but meanwhile, in the alternate universe known as the real world, there remains actual policy that needs to be analyzed with regard to GM crops, and more widely, cross-pollination law.

In this article, Is Ethanol GM Corn a Disaster Waiting to Happen?, we learn from the corn milling industry and a corn breeder who worked for Syngenta for 20 years, that cross-pollination with a newly developed variety of GM corn with superior traits for ethanol (Syngenta's Enogen) could be devastating to the food industry, because even small amounts of Enogen corn kernels could destroy the texture for corn chips, as they have a heat-tolerant enzyme that destroys starch.

In a bizarre twist of events, it's not just environmentalists who are concerned about certain varieties of GM corn.  It's entire industry associations who already use GM corn, like North American Millers Association (NAMA), which represent nearly 4 dozen major food companies including ConAgra and General Mills.

Disturbingly, since four times as much corn is grown for ethanol as it is for food in the US, it's almost a dead certainty that if acreage for Enogen corn increases, we'll see such contamination events, according to the article.  5,000 acres of Enogen were grown in 2012, and 60,000 acres were grown in 2013.  The goal is to capture the market for ethanol-based corn: 2.5 million acres.

Some select quotes:

"At a biotechnology conference in Iowa in 2011, Jim Bair, NAMA vice president, criticized the US government’s regulations of GM crops, saying they had been “cobbled together with bailing wire and duct tape.”

"It would only take one kernel of Enogen GM corn mixed with 10,000 kernels of food corn to ruin the food processing abilities of food corn, according to NAMA."

"If a food company were to find Enogen corn mixed with food corn, Clarkson predicts they would sue. “I would expect the suit to be against Syngenta and perhaps the USDA and/or the FDA,” he says."

The entire article is well worth reading.

Fluid entities such as air, water, and pollen present special issues with respect to property rights: one that free market advocates need to address by consulting with scientific and law experts.  I'm not prepared to say how cross-pollination issues should be addressed in a free market, but the fact is that such issues extend even beyond GM varieties.  Canola was recently banned in the Willamette Valley of Oregon because it cross-pollinates with other brassicas, and could destroy the seed industry in that region.

If free market organizations want to be taken seriously on matters of individual and property rights, they have to acknowledge and begin to discuss potential solutions for such problems.  I'll be writing more about cross-pollination issues in the future.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

More Pasture Than You Might Think: A Breakdown of Farmland in the United States
By Monica @ 11:02 AM PermaLink

I thought it would be interesting to share a graph on the breakdown of farmland in the United States.  These data come from the USDA's Economic Research Service.  

Note: The Y axis is the amount of acreage in thousands of acres. 
Thus, 370,000 actually means 370,000,000.

In a discussion yesterday, I was asked if it would actually be feasible in terms of land use to be able to produce cattle in the US by grass-finishing instead of grain-finishing in feedlots.  In other words, would we really have space to grow all those cows if we returned to the old methods?
I found that USDA statistics show that in 2007, 2 billion bushels of corn were used to produce 22.16 billion lb. of grain-fed beef.  At an average of 150 bushels/acre of corn, this converts to 13.3 million acres used to produce feed grains.  This means that for 2007, converting all beef production to grass-based finishing would require an additional 26.6 million acres of pasture/grass.  
That seems like a lot, until you consider that it's only around 4% of the 613 million acres of pasture that actually existed in 2007.  It's amazing just how many commodity crops we grow on so little land.  Even more amazing is that only around 20% of field corn produced in the US feeds humans -- either domestically or overseas -- while approximately 40% feeds cattle, and 40% feeds cars.  What's also remarkable to me about these data is just how stable the amount of cropland and pastureland have been over time.  

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New Joel Salatin Interview: "Why Are We Growing Corn?"
By Monica @ 8:33 AM PermaLink

"At the end of the day, altruism doesn't put shoes on your feet or pay your taxes.  Profit is the lifeblood of a business."

This is an excellent little interview in which Joel Salatin discusses why conventional farmers -- for example, a midwestern farmer doing corn and soybean rotations -- find it difficult and financially disruptive to convert over to grass-based farming, even when it's more profitable.  And he gives them some advice.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

New NPR piece on Honeybee Decline
By Monica @ 4:45 PM PermaLink

There's a new NPR piece on what's killing bees, and it's quite good from the standpoint that it addresses the longstanding decline in honeybees that dates back to WWII.  And surprise, surprise, it's mostly what I've been saying all along.

Logically, though, we need tens of millions of dollars of research to do the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting "lalalalalalala" while looking for "mysterious" and "hidden" causes of bee declines when they are staring us right in the face.

Definitely worth a listen.  You heard it here first.

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Can Pastured Food Be Stopped?
By Monica @ 12:07 PM PermaLink

In this short article The End of Pastured Food?, Robert Gammon contemplates whether the FDA and Big Organic are going to be successful in shutting down old-style pastured farming in relation to the new, absurd egg regulations that will put certified organic hens inside a building for their entire lives, never to see a blade of grass.  The entire article is well worth reading.

My answer?  No, this isn't "the end of pastured food."  Not by a long shot.  Americans are, in ever increasing numbers, returning to their agricultural roots and wanting to know how their food is produced.

Many Americans want Exhibit A:

Not Exhibit B:

Yet FDA regulations propose to make Exhibit A illegal, even for USDA Organic eggs!!

Americans will continue to demand pastured animal products in larger and larger numbers. Big Agra, Big Organic, the USDA, and the FDA (which are all synonymous now, living in a happy symbiosis) are resisting this, and I predict that if these regulations go forward, producers of pastured eggs will abandon the USDA Organic label in order to cater to their customers.  

Pastured food cannot be stopped.  Americans are waking from a decades-long slumber.  They are realizing that our country has gone insane, and that we need to purge the fascists in our government at all levels and get back to the basics on which this country was founded.

HT to Cheeseslave for the photos.
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Food Freedom Friday: GMO labeling
By Monica @ 10:41 AM PermaLink

Most people are aware that there is a huge movement toward mandated labeling of foods containing GMOs.  This push is now occurring at the state level, even though Prop 38 failed in California.  Now, in a bizarre twist of fate, there's a proposal from General Mills CEO to do the exact opposite: mandate that everything *not* containing a GMO be labeled.  Karma's a bitch, ain't it?

I've never been supportive of labeling mandates.  For one thing, the FDA is about as scientific as the Catholic Church.  Consider these facts.

1) The FDA allows beta carotene to be listed as Vitamin A under Nutrition Facts labels.

2) Foods labeled as free of trans fats are not actually free of trans fats.

3) Independent studies have found that not all eggs are created equally.

4) The FDA supports labeling of foods as certified gluten-free that are not technically gluten-free.

Those are just four examples where the FDA gets labeling wrong.  (I discuss another example at the bottom of this article.)  You have no way of knowing the extent of incorrect information on the Nutrition Facts label when you buy a food.  More fundamentally, I oppose mandated labels on the basic principle that any action should be legal unless it's fraudulent.

Currently, the FDA allows voluntary labeling of food with regard to whether it has GMOs or not. And with that in mind, here's a thought.  Voluntary labeling already exists in the form of USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project verified.  And honestly, it's really only an issue if you eat foods that come in a box or a can or contain highly processed ingredients, since whole foods (organic or not) are almost exclusively non-GMO apart from a minority of Hawaiian papaya, squash, and zucchini.  In fact, to make it even simpler, here are ten apps to help you eat non-GMO, if you care.  Look at that.  I just told you how you can tell whether foods are GMO, and I did it without spending a penny.

What about labeling on the other side?  To my knowledge, it doesn't exist, because the food industry doesn't want to.  And that's what so hilariously bogus about the claims of the food industry.  The entire argument of food processing companies revolves around the idea that the American public is, by and large, just too dumb and scientifically illiterate to comprehend how awesome their products are, so they need to be protected by the FDA.

Maybe these companies could re-learn the American capitalist mentality that existed in the good ole days, where they are actually proud of the products they produce and seek to educate the public about them, rather than capturing regulatory agencies to rubber-stamp their activities, all the while spending close to $100 million to be deliberately obscurantist.  What a concept.  I suggest this label: "This product was proudly produced using biotechnology!" or perhaps this: "We use GMOs and we think they're great!"

If you can't educate consumers about your product and you have to rely on the protection of the FDA to keep the market share you have, you might not deserve that market share.  This is why rBST-milk has largely gone the way of the Dodo Bird, despite Monsanto and Eli Lilly spending tens of millions on numerous lawsuits to protect the American public from free speech, until they and the FDA were finally slapped down in court in 2010.  This may also be why the market share for organic food has grown at twice the percentage as conventional food each year for the past decade, and is predicted to balloon from its current 6% of the market to 30% of the market in just four more years.
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

We're Back!
By Monica @ 12:19 PM PermaLink

Hello everyone!  After a three year hiatus, FA-RM is back.  For now, we're posting mainly on the FA-RM Facebook page, but will soon start creating new content here and cross-posting it to Facebook.

For now, visit us over on Facebook and like the page to get regular updates!
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Food Producers Threaten to "Go Galt"
By Monica @ 12:45 PM PermaLink

Over the past several months, there's been an enormous wave of concern over "Obamacare." Even the CEO of Whole Foods condemned Obama's healthcare plan. Some doctors have even threatened to go on strike. I highly recommend a good resource on the current "healthcare" debacle: We Stand Firm.

But much less attention has been given to some recent food legislation bills. However, the proposed increase in "food safety" regulations are having the exact same effect: producers of food are threatening to go on strike.

I've written about the most recent legislation in question, HR 2749, here. From a BusinessWeek article by David Gumpert entitled Small Food Producers Question Greater FDA Powers, here's a brief summary of HR 2749:

There's a big push in Washington to pass new food safety legislation. The House has already passed a major bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which would significantly expand the Food & Drug Administration's authority to oversee food companies, and the Senate is expected to act on a similar version once its recess ends after Labor Day. President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign whatever the legislators finally approve.

The intensive action is coming in response to a number of highly publicized food recalls involving everything from peanut butter to spinach to cookie dough to raw hamburger over the last three years. The new law would seem to reduce the chances of food contamination by clamping down on producers—requiring detailed, written, quality plans, more frequent FDA inspections, and tough penalties for violations.

These "written food safety plans" have been estimated to cost thousands of dollars to enact.

If the idea of medical service providers going on strike bothers you, how about producers of food? Sound too implausible to be true? David Gumpert writes:

For Destandau, the latest federal efforts to crack down on food producers is part of a long-term trend. When he started in business in 2003, he had one inspector to deal with, from the California Food & Agriculture Dept. Now he deals with more frequent and costlier inspections from both the CDFA and the county health department. As Destandau contemplates the addition of FDA inspectors, he considers leaving the U.S. entirely. "Right now, we are seriously looking at moving to Australia," he says.

Of course, as with healthcare, the increased regulatory burden would not cause food production to grind to a swift halt. However, a certain number of food producers would simply stop producing -- and quality and choice would gradually decline over the coming years and decades.

The true answer to food-borne illness is a free market. That means de-regulating large and small producers alike and de-regulating things like raw milk. Smaller food producers and small farmers often like to mention that large food producers cause food-borne illness on a much wider scale and it is harder to track. These points are true, but overall, food-borne illness rates are remarkably low.

Even so, mistakes, negligence, and fraud all happen. No amount of regulation will take that fact away. Producers, if they make a mistake or commit fraud, should be held responsible for the food they produce. One of these means is through objective tort law. Consumers also need to be responsible. In 2009, one would expect various third party inspection organizations to eventually crop up in the absence of the FDA. (They already exist for organic certification, and the standards are more stringent than the USDA's. It should be noted that organizations like NOFA pre-date the USDA organic certification program.)

100 years of experience with the FDA's "food safety" regulations ought to be enough to convince Americans that more nannying by the FDA isn't the answer. We don't need more food safety regulations, irradiation mandates, food bans, and the like. Here are some results of flawed FDA and USDA policies. An Ayn Rand quote is apropo: "One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary."

If HR 2749 passes, there will be one sure result: reduced quantity and quality at your farmer's markets, local farms, and meat and veggie CSA as they become unable to cope with the costly regulatory burden. Eventually it would happen in the grocery store too. Let's not let it.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Contact Your Representative about HR 2749 Today
By Monica @ 10:05 AM PermaLink

I've been very very remiss in blogging here because I just got married and have been swamped with wedding related activities for the past month or two. My apologies for not keeping you all up to date with what is going on.

However, there is a matter that requires your immediate attention. I knew about HR 2749 a few months ago, but just learned about the vote on the bill yesterday. From Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund:

The House of Representatives is scheduled for a vote on HR 2749 (The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) on Tuesday, July 28. HR 2749 will be voted "on suspension", meaning that debate will be limited to 40 minutes and no amendments will be considered. A two-thirds vote will be required for HR 2749 to pass. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is asking everyone to contact their U.S. Representatives requesting that they vote against HR 2749....

HR 2749 would reduce FDA's accountability while significantly increasing its power.The bill would empower FDA to conduct warrantless searches of business records without any evidence whatsoever that a violation has occurred, to order a quarantine prohibiting or restricting the movement of food in a geographic area. HR 2749 also creates severe criminal and civil penalties with the potential for substantial fines for even minor violations of the law.

Three Ways to Contact your Representative:

1. You may wish to sign two petitions: FTCLDF Petition and AAHF Petition. (I haven't read these petitions but I suspect that I would not completely agree with them as they would not make a principled case for a free market.)

2. Better yet, if you have the time, offer your own simple message. Go to "My Elected Officials" at www.congress.org. Enter your zip code to find your legislators. Call them.

3. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to contact your Representative's office.
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