“It’s a hard-knock life, scouring the landscape for pollen to sustain a beehive. Alight upon the wrong field, and you might encounter fungicides, increasingly used on corn and soybean crops, and shown to harm honeybees at tiny levels. Get hauled in to pollinate California’s vast almond groves, as 60 percent of US honeybees do, and you’ll likely make contact with a group of chemicals called adjuvants—allegedly “inert” pesticide additives that have emerged as a prime suspect for a large bee die-off during this year’s almond bloom. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Tom Philpott
“In 1968, India’s farmers cranked out a record-setting wheat crop at a time when many observers feared the nation would plunge into famine. That triumphant harvest represented the culmination of decades of work by a group of foundation-funded US technocrats. Their effort, which became known as the “green revolution,” still casts an imposing shadow more than four decades later.
Its technological architect, the Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, was all but beatified upon his death in 2009. In its obituary, Reason Magazine proclaimed him “the man who saved more human lives than anyone else in history,” while The New York Times wrote that he “did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself.” Continue reading
“Is organic food little more than a trumped-up marketing scheme, another way for affluent consumers to waste money? A just-released paper by Stanford University researchers—and the reaction to it by the media—suggests as much. (Abstract here; I have a copy of the full study, but can’t upload it for copyright reasons.)
“Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,”declared a New York Times headline. “Organic food hardly healthier, study suggests,” announced CBS News. “Is organic healthier? Study says not so much, but it’s key reason consumers buy,” the Washington Post grumbled. Continue reading
“In a much-discussed feature that led the Sunday New York Times business section, Stephanie Strom reignites the long-simmering debate about whether the organic label has been essentially bought out and drained of meaning by gigantic corporations. She paraphrases Michael Potter, founder and CEO of one of the last independently owned organic companies, Eden Foods, like this: “He calls the certified-organic label a fraud and refuses to put it on Eden’s products.”
A fraud, huh? Strom’s story raises many important points that need to be thought through and debated. But it misses a key one: The organic label, for all the untoward influence of Big Food players like dairy giant Dean Foods, still means something. If you buy food labeled organic, you can be reasonably sure it was grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, without genetically modified seeds, without (in the case of dairy, meat, and eggs) antibiotics and other dodgy pharmaceuticals, and on farms required to have a plan for crop rotation and (quoting straight from federal organic code) to “manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content.” (For a primer on why I find the latter bit so impressive, go here.) Even the most processed certified-organic item on the supermarket shelf contains raw plant and/or animal material that was raised in ways fundamentally different than nonorganic fare. Continue reading
“Over on the Atlantic site, the food politics writer Jane Black has a thoughtful post on farmers market sticker shock in brownstone Brooklyn.
Confronted at her neigborhood market by the spectacle of $8/dozen eggs—which had sold out, no less—Black frets that “that the ‘good-food-costs-more’ argument is being taken to an extreme that puts at risk the goal of a mass food-reform movement, which is to make good food available to the greatest number of people possible.”
Black goes on to do a bit of analysis on the $8/dozen farmer’s production model and reckons that he probably isn’t just sticking it to Brooklyn yuppies: “It turns out that’s what it costs him to produce his eggs,” because he uses a labor-intensive pasture-based system and feeds his birds organic corn, which is much more expensive than conventional. Continue reading
“For decades, the federal government has watched idly while a few gigantic companies grabbed ever-greater control of the food industry. As big players gobble smaller ones, they concentrate power at the top of the food chain — and apply relentless pressure to cut costs, giving rise to many of the things I hate about the food system. Workers, farmers, the environment, animals, public health — all get abused so that mega-retailers like Walmart, meat producers like Smithfield, and corn processors like Cargill can keep costs down while profitably selling cheap food. Continue reading
Animals in factory farms get daily doses of antibiotics, both to keep them alive in their stressful, unsanitary conditions and to make them grow faster. What’s the annual volume of antibiotic use on factory farms? The question is a critical one, because the practice has given rise to a novel strain of antibiotic-resistant staph (MRSA), known as ST398, that’s widely present in our vast hog and chicken factories.
Well, federal regulators have for years ignored the question and refused to release estimates of just how much antibiotics the livestock industry burns through. But that ended yesterday, when the FDA released its first-ever report on the topic. The answer: 29 million pounds in 2009. According to ace public-health reporter Maryn McKenna, that’s a shitload. (I’m paraphrasing her.) Continue reading