Wednesday, August 31, 2011

State Dept. Aggressively Pushed Genetically-Modified Crops to Help Agribusiness Giants

AllGov - News - State Dept. Aggressively Pushed Genetically-Modified Crops to Help Agribusiness Giants

The latest release of government files from WikiLeaks shows that the State Department has repeatedly pushed foreign governments to approve genetically-engineered crops and promote the international business interests of corporations like Monsanto and DuPont.

U.S. officials have used “outreach programs” in Africa, Asia and South America, where Western biotech agriculture has not been established. In one cable, American diplomats sought funding from Washington to send U.S. biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for meetings with local politicians and agricultural officials.
Several cables showed American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture in Tunisia,South Africa and Mozambique, which confirms what Truthout previously reported on “front groups” with U.S. and corporate backing that are trying to introduce genetically-modified crops in developing African countries.

Previously released cables revealed that during the administration of George W. Bush, American diplomats had pressured advisors to the Pope to accept GM crops and that U.S. Ambassador to France Craig Stapleton pushed his staff to create a “retaliation list” of European Union members that opposed the spread of GM foods.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky

AllGov - News - State Dept. Aggressively Pushed Genetically-Modified Crops to Help Agribusiness Giants

Proving It Can Be Done

   A food system in harmony with nature? How crazy is this?


A Hollister dairyman uses a vast network of interlocking pastures to monitor what goes into the cows that make his organic dairy run.

Grass Fuels Organic Dairy
By Cindy Snyder - For the Times-News | Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dairyman Sean Mallett began planting pastures around his Nature’s Harmony Organic Dairy near Hollister in 2006. Grasses grown at the location play a vital role in the dairy’s functions.

It’s past 10 a.m. as cows ready to move to their new pasture mill impatiently through a delay in their routine.

But Sean Mallett, one of the owners of Nature’s Harmony Organic Dairy, wants to demonstrate how easy it is to move dairy cows from one paddock to another in an intensive grazing management system. First, he explains to a group of more than 50 visitors how he began organizing pastures and the barn at his dairy near Hollister five years ago.

It’s all part of a tour held last Thursday to show how strict grazing requirements for organic dairies are met, and how they benefit both producers and cattle. But the cows are only interested in their new pasture, and as Mallett finally lets loose a wire gate, about 500 of them move to a fresh paddock in less than three minutes.

“Even if we were a conventional dairy, I would still graze,” Mallett said. “I love what it does for the cows.”

The layout of Mallett’s dairy conforms to rules that at the time were pending for organic dairies but didn’t go into effect until this year.
Mallett — along with his stepfather and mother, John and Susan Reitsma — bought the former hog farm in 2005, intent to use it as a heifer feeding facility. But Mallett’s research showed the site had potential for organic dairy use.

In 2006, they began planting a pasture mix of alfalfa, perennial rye, fescue and orchard grass. Lately, white clover has been added to the mix. According to pasture rules for organic production, animals must graze pasture at least 120 days per year. Animals must also take in a minimum of 30 percent dry matter from grazing pasture.

“We knew in 2006 that the pasture rules that went into effect this year were coming,” Mallett said. “We wanted to exceed them.”

Because they had the luxury of starting the dairy from essentially bare ground, the owners located the milking barn as close to the plot’s middle as possible. Pastures were seeded near the barn, and gravel lanes allow cows easy pasture access.

Cows graze paddocks of 3 or 6 acres for between 12-24 hours before they’re moved to the next section. Each paddock is rested for about 30 days before it is grazed again.

A 35-acre feed yard is about a half mile from the milking barn, different from most conventional dairies that locate the feed yard closer. Mallett said he’s willing to spend a bit more to move feed than to force cows to walk longer distances.

“The farther the cows walk, the more energy they burn and the less milk they produce,” he said.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Bright Future for the Heartland

   All too often I find myself posting about the negative side of an issue, so here's a positive spin:

A Bright Future for the Heartland
Powering the Midwest Economy with Clean Energy

From the manufacturing centers and corn and soybean fields to the major finance hubs and lead­ing research universities, Midwest states have long served as an economic engine for the United States.

Yet the region is still struggling to fully recover from a recession that has made it difficult for families to pay bills and for businesses to prosper and sustain job growth.

The region’s unsustainable energy system exacerbates these economic pressures.

The Midwest power system is dominated by coal—largely imported from outside the region—which poses serious risks to public health and the environment, and leaves consumers vulnerable to volatile energy prices.

With abundant resources, revitalization is possible. 
The good news is that practical and affordable ways are available to help revitalize the Midwest economy and ensure a clean, safe, and reliable power supply.

The Midwest is home to some of the best renewable energy resources in the world.

The region is also endowed with a strong industrial base and leading research universities, where a tradition of hard work and innovation has long made the Midwest an economic engine for the entire nation.

Few areas of the world have this ideal mix of resources, industrial capacity, and knowledge base.

These advantages give the Midwest the tools to turn the challenges of a stalled economy and an unsustainable, polluting energy system into an opportunity for economic prosperity, job growth, and a healthy environment.

UCS’s new report, A Bright Future for the Heartland, shows how we can get there.

Clean energy: a wise investment for a bright future.
Energy efficiency technologies and renewable electricity resources, such as wind, bioenergy, and solar energy, offer a cost-effective and responsible path away from polluting fossil fuels toward an innovation-based twenty-first-century economy.

Investing in these solutions would deliver new jobs and other economic development benefits, save consumers money, diversify the region's energy mix, and cut heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming.

Boosting invest­ment in renewable energy and energy efficiency would also help keep the Midwest competitive in the growing global clean energy industry.

A roadmap for renewable energy and energy efficiency. 
In A Bright Future for the Heartland, UCS based its analysis on the renewable energy and energy efficiency goals of the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA)—a collaboration of 10 states working on key public policy issues.

These goals call for producing 30 percent of the Midwest's electricity supply from renewable energy by 2030, and for investing in energy efficiency technologies to reduce growth in power consumption at least 2 percent annually by 2015 and thereafter.

Two key solutions: renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards.
In 2009 an MGA advisory group released the Midwestern Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Roadmap (or Energy Roadmap), a set of policy recommendations for tran­sitioning to a clean energy economy (MGA 2009).

Our analysis focuses on two of the highest-priority recommendations in the Energy Roadmap, which we model as a renewable electricity standard (RES) and an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS). Our report shares what would happen if the entire Midwest region enacted the standards.

An RES is a flexible, market-based policy that requires electricity providers to gradu­ally increase the amount of renewable energy used to produce the power they supply.

An EERS similarly requires utilities to meet specific annual targets for reducing the use of electricity.
While the region will need other policies to overcome specific market barriers to clean energy, the RES and EERS have proven to be effective and popular tools for advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency, and can play a key role in ensuring that the Midwest meets the targets in the Energy Roadmap.

A bright future, together.
Midwest states can benefit from enacting these policies individually, but will benefit even more by acting together.

Many Midwest states have already taken important steps to promote clean energy, and there must be no retrenchment in those efforts.

Instead, each state can go further to strengthen or enact policies that at least match the Energy Roadmap’s clean energy targets, and to support local, regional, federal, and international efforts to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cuts in carbon emissions.

With each state doing its part to promote renewable energy and ener­gy efficiency, the region will reap many vital benefits today while building a clean and sustainable energy economy for future generations.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hoh River Trail and Mercury in Fish

   I went backpacking up the Hoh River Trail earlier this week. We made it 14.8 miles up to Martin Creek -- quite a bit further than I had been previously. The weather was beautiful and, other than deciding to hike all the way out on the third day rather than stay one more night as originally planned (not the best decision), it was a near-perfect trip.

   There were an unusual number of people on the trail. While the Hoh River Trail is one of the more traveled trails in the park, this week there were even more hikers than usual. We stopped and spoke with one of the rangers at the Olympic Ranger Station along the trail and he commented on the high level of traffic. It's no surprise, the weather was still cold and wet right up until August. The ranger said that he didn't recommend climbers try to make the climb up Mt. Olympus (the end of the Hoh River Trail) this year as the snow still obscured the route. Even those familiar with the area were having difficulty staying to the "path".

   Another interesting thing I discovered at the Olympus Ranger Station was a sign posted with fishing information. At the bottom of the sign was a warning that fish from the Hoh River have been found to contain high levels of mercury. It got me thinking, how do fish in a river sourced solely from snow and ice in a National Park of over 900,000 acres become contaminated to the degree of needing a warning posted?

   I understand that pollution in the air travels into the park and that fish have the ability to swim beyond the borders of the park and then back upstream. But the park takes up much of the Olympic Peninsula and is surrounded by a very small population (probably the largest town around the park would be Port Angeles, with a population of around 19,000), an ocean, and the Puget Sound. It seems like it should be safely isolated. Granted, it is surrounded by National Forest areas where much industrial logging takes place, but the water is flowing out from the park, not into it.

   So I got online when I got home. From Wikipedia:

"Much of the mercury that eventually finds its way into fish originates with coal-burning power plants and chlorine production plants. The largest source of mercury contamination in the United States is coal-fueled power plant emissions. Chlorine chemical plants use mercury to extract chlorine from salt, which in many parts of the world is discharged as mercury compounds in waste water, though this process has been replaced for the most part by the more economically viable membrane cell process, which does not use mercury. Coal contains mercury as a natural contaminant. When it is fired for electricity generation, the mercury is released as smoke into the atmosphere. Most of this mercury pollution can be eliminated if pollution-control devices are installed."

   Here's my point, the Olympic National Park is one of the largest National Parks (the eighth largest, not counting Alaska's Parks) and it is situated in a relatively isolated corner of the U.S. It should be one of the cleanest places on earth and still, it isn't safe to eat the fish.

   What the hell are we doing?

Politics and Climate Change

   I wrote a while back in a post titled, It's Time To Shut Up And Do Something, that I believe climate change is the biggest issue we may ever face as a species.

   I didn't stop with my blog post. I appealed to my own representatives on the matter. Here is what Senator Maria Cantwell had to say.

   The language illustrates that, while we all agree climate change is a problem, we're not willing to make many concessions.

   As always, we are continuing to live off the backs of future generations because we are not willing to sacrifice.

   We suck.

[From Maria Cantwell : ]

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about climate change.  I appreciate hearing from you on what I believe is the preeminent environmental challenge facing our generation and sincerely regret the delayed response.

As you know, scientists have determined that the ongoing buildup of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, will cause the Earth's climate to warm, potentially leading to greater occurrences of droughts, floods, and other catastrophic natural disasters.  In Washington, climate change is expected to alter the region's historic water cycle, threatening drinking water supplies, wildlife and salmon habitat, and the availability of emissions free hydropower.  In fact, researchers project that the annual average temperature in the Pacific Northwest will rise about 2 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2020s and April 1 snowpack could decrease as much as 40% in Washington State by the 2040s.  Considering these potentially serious environmental and economic consequences, I believe that the United States must urgently address this matter, in partnership with the rest of the world.

One of my top priorities as a U.S. Senator has been to fight for legislation to promote the production of renewable energy, incentivize energy efficiency, develop clean technology industries, and protect our environment. While these energy measures provide critical tools necessary to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we also need federal legislation that establishes scientifically based emissions caps. Unfortunately, I have concerns about the cap-and-trade climate measures that have dominated Congressional debate to date because they unfairly penalize the Pacific Northwest's decades-old reliance on emissions free hydropower.  In addition, they do not recognize that our state's hydropower system is mature and won't be able to add much more capacity in coming years, thus any future electricity generation will likely be relatively more polluting.  Some legislative proposals would also effectively penalize Washington State for its years of aggressive energy efficiency measures, making any additional savings more costly for Washington State relative to other parts of the country. Finally, I have strong concerns that some cap-and-trade proposals could provide windfalls to historic polluters, or allow excessive speculation and manipulation of emission allocation trading markets.  For decades, Washingtonians have been on the cutting edge of clean energy solutions and energy efficiency, setting an example for the rest of the nation.  I have been committed to working with my colleagues to craft legislation that will cut our greenhouse gas emissions without punishing low carbon intensity states.

With that in mind, on December 11, 2009, I authored and introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that will put a predictable price on carbon, reduce our nation's dangerous over-dependence on fossil fuels, and mitigate the threat of global warming.  This bill will accelerate our nation's urgently needed transition to a clean energy economy, helping ensure America's leadership in the largest market opportunity of the 21st century while protecting the vast majority of Americans from higher energy prices.

The Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act (S. 2877) gradually limits the amount of fossil fuels entering the U.S. economy by requiring fossil fuel producers and importers to bid at an auction for permits to place their product into commerce. Out of the money raised at the auction, three-fourths goes directly back to every American, and one-fourth goes toward clean energy investment. Eventually, as the amount of carbon allowed into the market declines over time and spending increases in other greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, the CLEAR Act will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and by over 80 percent before 2050.

Many Americans are rightfully concerned about rising energy bills during America's transition to a clean energy economy.  That's why the CLEAR Act is rooted in protecting consumers, with most of the monthly carbon auctions going straight to your pockets.  This monthly dividend, made out to each American on an equal per capita basis, ensures all but the wealthiest ten percent of Washingtonians (who use the most energy) do not lose money but instead come out ahead.  A typical family of four would receive tax-free monthly checks averaging $1,100 per year, or up to $21,000 between 2012 and 2030.

The remaining quarter of auction revenues are directed to a dedicated trust, the Clean Energy Reinvestment Trust (CERT) Fund, to accelerate the nation's urgently needed transition to a cleaner 21st century energy system and meet other climate change-related priorities. These priorities include clean energy R&D, low income weatherization assistance, reductions of greenhouse gases in the forestry and agricultural sectors, and needs-based, regionally-targeted assistance for communities and workers transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The CLEAR Act invests in America's future by positioning the United States as a global leader in clean energy expansion, creating jobs and recharging our economy at home.  With the right policies, millions of green jobs will be created, strengthening our economy, international competitiveness and nation's infrastructure.  The longer we wait to tackle energy independence and carbon pollution, the larger the economic and social costs of adapting to climate change will grow.  Our time of renewal is now, and I plan to continue pushing the most effective policies to create a cleaner, more diverse and secure 21st century energy system.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are You An Adult Picky Eater, by Dr. Andrew Weil

Are You An Adult Picky Eater?
Dr. Andrew Weil

Everyone prefers some foods over others, but some adults take this tendency to an extreme. These people tend to prefer the kinds of bland food they may have enjoyed as children -- such as plain or buttered pasta, macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, French fries and grilled cheese sandwiches -- and to restrict their eating to just a few dishes.

This condition is not officially recognized as an eating disorder in the current edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the American Psychiatric Association's compendium of mental and emotional disorders. But it may be listed in the next one, under the title "selective eating disorder."

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have established an online registry to learn more about the problem and determine how widespread it is. As I understand it, researchers haven't been able to say for certain whether extremely selective eating as an adult is an extension of childhood habits.

While we must wait for more data, I think it's likely that this will prove to be a largely American phenomenon tied to an unfortunate aspect of our food culture: nowhere else in the world is it so universally taken for granted that children should eat differently from adults. Our hypercommercialized society is the first -- and, I hope the last -- to create an entirely separate universe of child-specific foods and dishes. Most are overpriced, nutrient-poor assemblages of sugar, salt and fat, often garishly colored.

Pediatrician Alan Greene, M.D., points out that this perversion of whole foods for young people actually starts in infancy. His "White Out" campaign aims to stop the common practice of feeding white rice cereal to infants. As Dr. Greene puts it, this is essentially "processed white flour, and to a baby's metabolism, it's about the same as a spoonful of sugar."

These kinds of foods are just the opposite of what babies, children and adults need for optimum health. In fact, they are major drivers of the obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics. Unfortunately, I see much evidence that some degree of adult "selective eating disorder" has become widespread. While eating only five or six kinds of food is unusual,  millions of adult Americans now prefer bland, highly processed, nutrient-deficient foods, and eat them exclusively or nearly so.

It does not have to be this way. Most of us -- especially those who grew up before the children's food revolution -- can remember foods we hated as kids that, through repeated trials, we learned to enjoy or even count among our favorites as adults. It seems probable to me that a steady diet of child-centric processed foods may lock in unhealthy preferences for life in some susceptible people.

Sadly, I've read that among members of an online support group for adult picky eaters, there has only been one report of semi-successful treatment. We need to know a lot more about this problem before we can treat it successfully. It is probably not entirely cultural. In some cases it may be a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive or autistic spectrum disorder, or a residual phobia stemming from abusive parental treatment.

Until we know more, I urge parents to reject the entire world of overprocessed babies' and children's food as much as they possibly can. For infants, I am a great fan of portable, inexpensive, hand-cranked food mills that allow parents to grind fresh, wholesome foods into nutrient-rich purées. As children grow older, the only sensible concessions to make for their meals are to make sure bites are small and tender enough for them to chew properly and to back away from overuse of spices, which can be overwhelming to children's palates.

It does kids no favors, and sets them up for a potential lifetime of poor health and social embarrassment, to excuse them from family meals of real food. Everyone benefits from healthy eating, but it is particularly crucial at the beginning of life. Providing your children with a variety of healthy foods -- and gently but persistently continuing to offer them exclusively during a child's "picky" phase -- are among a parent's most important obligations.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's Time To Reboot

   Jefferson said the world belongs to the living, suggesting that the government he and our forefathers set-up be torn up each generation and rewritten.

   Today we have a Tea Bag Party trying to ignore everything our founders stood for and drag us back two hundred thirty years.

   The recent debt-ceiling debacle should be the final piece of evidence to the American people that the system is obsolete. It is time to wipe the hard drive, get both parties out of office, abandon this system, and  upgrade to something that is relevant and has some user support.

   How about this idea: we actually educate everyone and each person gets one vote regardless of wealth, status, or bias, and we do away with lawyers and lobbyists?

   The American Dream of our forefathers was replaced by hopes that the next generation might get it right. We have built on that model with greed, bureaucracy, and corruption.

   The question now is: do we keep building on this foundation or tear it down and start a new one?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The U.S. Government is Standing in the Way of Jobs and Health?

   I'm shocked...

Farmers Markets Could Generate Tens of Thousands of New Jobs with Modest Federal Support, New Report Finds

They’re Growing Nationally, but Federal Policies Favoring Industrial Agriculture Hold Them Back

WASHINGTON (August 4, 2011) – Over the last several decades, thousands of farmers markets have been popping up in cities and towns across the country, benefiting local farmers, consumers and economies, but they could be doing a lot better, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). What’s holding farmers markets back? Federal policies that favor industrial agriculture at their expense.

“On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, the author of the report and an economist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “But our federal food policies are working against them. If the U.S. government diverted just a small amount of the massive subsidies it lavishes on industrial agriculture to support these markets and small local farmers, it would not only improve American diets, it would generate tens of thousands of new jobs.”

UCS released the report just a few days before the 12th annual U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Farmers Market Week, which starts on Sunday, August 7. According to the report, “Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems,” the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 jumping from 2,863 to 6,132, and now more than 100,000 farms sell food directly to local consumers.

All that growth happened with relatively little help. Last year, for example, the USDA spent $13.725 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments mostly to support large industrial farms, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The amount the agency spent that year to support local and regional food system farmers? Less than $100 million, according to USDA data.

In 2007, the most recent USDA figure, direct agricultural product sales amounted to a $1.2 billion-a-year business, and most of that money recirculates locally. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local,” O’Hara said. “That helps stabilize local economies.”

Keeping revenues local also can mean more job opportunities. Last summer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Congress to set a goal in the 2012 Farm Bill of helping at least 100,000 Americans to become farmers by, among other things, providing entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets. O’Hara’s report takes up Vilsack’s challenge and argues that supporting local and regional food system expansion is central to meeting that goal.

In the report, O’Hara  identified a number of initiatives the federal government could take to encourage new farmers and the growth of farmers markets in the upcoming Farm Bill. For example, the report called on Congress to:

  • support the development of local food markets, including farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, which can stabilize community-supported markets and create permanent jobs. For example, the report found that the Farmers Market Promotion Program could create as many as 13,500 jobs nationally over a five-year period, if reauthorized, by providing modest funding for 100 to 500 farmers markets per year.
  • level the playing field for farmers in rural regions by investing in infrastructure, such as meat-processing or dairy-bottling facilities, which would help meat, dairy and other farmers produce and market their products to consumers more efficiently. These investments could foster competition in food markets, increase product choice for consumers, and generate jobs in the community.
  • allow low-income residents to redeem food nutrition subsidies at local food markets to help them afford  fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently, not all markets are able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“Farmers at local markets are a new variety of innovative entrepreneurs, and we need to nurture them,” said O’Hara. “Supporting these farmers should be a Farm Bill priority.”


Jam and Beans

   We were planning to can some more pinto beans this weekend. Then we went to the produce stand where they had ten pounds of strawberries they were needing to unload for about half price.

   We ended up making strawberry jam -- filling the 26 half pint jars we had available, plus another six pint jars. The new food mill pretty much rocks and the chickens appreciated the strawberry pulp and tops. We're set for strawberry jam!

   We figured we could put 16 pint jars in the pressure canner, so we prepped 32 pints (two rounds) of pinto beans to can tomorrow.

   We also made a trip to Costco to stock up on a few things.

   The next bulk purchase will be from the butcher. I fear we may not have an abundance to can or freeze from the garden, but I plan to pick up stuff as needed from the produce stand and can as much local and organic produce as I can over the next couple months. It's going to be a race to get things in the pantry this season.

   I need to start seriously thinking about firewood, too...

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Government's Job Is To Protect Business, Not People

   It's not even news. If bailouts on banks that were "too big to fail" while the average American who is "too poor to give a rat's ass about" wasn't a big enough clue that our government is no longer "of, for, and by the people", take a look at this.

   (To get a bigger picture of what's going on, I would like to refer you to this post and this post.)

Every Mother's Nightmare: Bacteria in Recalled Ground Turkey Is Resistent to Antibiotics
Laurie David

It is... maddening that our so-called "food safety system" is designed to protect giant food corporations more than individuals. Consider this scenario: That package of ground turkey sitting in your freezer right now could be tainted with a the potentially deadly Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria. Imagine for a moment that you served your family a turkey burger tomorrow tonight and that your youngest child becomes violently ill -- the poisoning is so severe that she ends up in the hospital needing antibiotics. The physician comes in -- you're praying for an end to this torture for your child -- and the doctor says the antibiotics aren't working. The Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria raging through your child's body are resistant to not one but several antibiotics -- ampicillin, tetracycline and streptomycin- why?

Perhaps it has something to do with the massive amounts of antibiotics used on factory farms every day. Food Animals use up about 29 million pounds of antibiotics a year, compared to the 7 million used in people. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics on factory farms can lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as Salmonella Heidelberg. You might recall last May when I asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: "When will the government do something to stop producers from squandering 70% of our antibiotics on healthy farm animals?" And he answered with the question, "How do you basically legislate that?"

Well, Mr. Secretary, one thing you can do immediately is to demand that the Department of Agriculture stop turning a blind-eye to Salmonella contamination in our meat supply. When it comes to routine Salmonella testing in ground turkey meat, according to the Consumers Union, current USDA standards allow 49.9 percent of samples in a test run to be positive for Salmonella -- 44.6 percent for ground chicken. Are you kidding me?

I was astounded to learn that inspectors will not immediately issue a recall if they find resistant-Salmonella bacteria in ground turkey. The USDA and CDC admitted that 4 routine samples of retail ground turkey tested positive for the resistant Salmonella Heidelberg strain between March and June, but they waited until late July to find "proof" that it would make people sick. And it still took nearly a week before Cargill recalled the 36 million pounds of turkey meat, sold under several brands in 26 states. Tough time recalling a product already eaten!! It's not an automobile!

What is going on? I thought the goal of "food safety agencies" was to do something before people get sick. Waiting until dozens of people are sent to the hospital and one to the morgue is unacceptable!

Why would you wait if you have a good idea that the meat poses serious health risks? To save companies like Cargill time and money? What about the pain and suffering of the family members who lost a loved one, or the parents of 1-year-old Ruby Lee? According to the Oregonian, little Ruby spent 7 days in the hospital in June after she was sickened by Salmonella-tainted ground turkey.

Before this recent outbreak, the Center for Science in the Public Interest demanded that the USDA ban the sale of any ground meat that contain 4 known resistant-Salmonella strains that have been linked to outbreaks in the past, including Salmonella Heidelberg. It sounds like a no-brainer to me. They already order immediate recalls for meat that contain the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7.

Tightening food safety regulations are important. But it is equally important to ensure that the will and resources are there to enforce them. The government can not be afraid or hampered from enforcing the rules designed to protect our health and our children's health! We must empower food safety agencies to not fear the wrath of huge corporations that do not want to be bothered with regulations. Scares like this are proof positive these huge companies can not be trusted to regulate themselves.


Sunday, August 7, 2011


   So, I haven't posted much but news since the Mt. Rainier trip. Here's why.

   About a month ago we discovered some mold on our dining room wall behind the buffet. An hour or so of watching the water meter confirmed that we had a leak. We contacted the landlord who got a plumber out. The plumber found the leak in the hot water line going to the bathtub/shower on the other side of the dining room wall. The leak was tiny but had been going on for who knows how long. Next in was a flood damage specialist who determined the entire floor in the kitchen, dinning room, and bathroom would need to come out as well as much of the wall between the dining room and bathroom.

   We were planning to go to Mt. Rainier the following day, so we arranged to have the demolition team come in then. While we were away it was found that the damage was worse than originally thought. On top of that, a nest of ants had decided that the damp wood made a nice home. When we returned the bathroom was gutted and a significant chunk of the floor in the bathroom and dining room was completely gone. There were five industrial dehumidifiers running and the temperature inside the house was around 100 degrees. Fortunately, we had made arrangements to stay somewhere else.

   We spent a week staying in some friends' house. The timing had just happened to work out that our friends were moving into a new house, but hadn't yet moved completely out of the old house, so we had the place to ourselves. We made regular trips home to take care of the chickens and the garden and to check on the progress of the repair. The dehumidifiers came out after a few days and then the progress slowed to a sudden stop. The insurance company was in no hurry to cut a check and as a result the house sat untouched for over a week. I spent my days off away from home trying out recording software on my MacBook.

   After a week in our freinds' house we had to move to a motel as there had still been no work done on our house. The landlord said he hoped to have the bathroom useable in three days when we had to be out of the motel. At this point my mother-in-law had come up from Portland for a previously planned visit. Three days later, still having not received any money from the insurance company, the landlord bought the materials himself and he and the contractor started on the bathroom. My wife, son, mother-in-law, and I moved to a different hotel.

   The following day we checked out of the hotel and moved back into our home where our landlord and the contractor were still working on the bathroom. It had now been two weeks since we left the house and at 1am our landlord and the contractor left us with an unfinished, but functioning bathroom.

   It is now a week later -- three weeks since we first moved out. We spent the past week still living out of our various bags and backpacks as we tried to get back into a routine. No further work has been done. Our furniture from the dining room and bathroom -- shelves, table, buffet, hutch, etc. -- is still unstrategically littered throughout the house. We haven't heard from our landlord or the contractor.

   I am hoping we will hear from (or see!) the contractor today...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Food Safety In The 21st Century

   This article make a great argument for food safety. It is obviously written by someone in government and not agriculture because it focuses on government agencies, seems to blindly accept the factory farming practices that make food-bourne issues huge problems, and no where suggests that how we manufacture food be changed.

   In the last paragraph, Dr. Blumenthal writes, "Greater attention to reducing food-related infections would save lives and contribute to reducing health care costs as well. The report underscores that today's world of agricultural practices in a global food supply chain require a modern system of food safety inspection."

   I contend that we can reduce food-related infections by moving from industrial food manufacturing where these pathogens thrive and spread, to a more diverse, small-scale, locally-focused agricultural system. Such systems are better for the environment, better for the soil, have the potential to produce better food, would create more jobs in real farming, has reduced incidents of food-borne pathogens, and affects fewer people when there is an issue.

   Of course, there are no lobbyists in Washington for real agriculture.

   Here's the article:

Food Safety In The 21st Century
Susan Blumenthal, M.D.Public Health Editor at HuffPost and Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General
Written in Collaboration with Alison Gocke

It sounds like a story right out of science fiction: A microscopic killer that shuts down the food supply, cripples a nation's exports, and leaves scores of people dead and thousands more ill. Such an event would seem unthinkable in the modern world of advanced agriculture and medical practice. But it did unfortunately occur several months ago as a result of an outbreak in Germany caused by a deadly, rare strain of E. coli bacteria that sickened more than 4,000 people and killed more than 50.

The strain, whose genome was just recently sequenced by scientists at the University of Maryland, is particularly virulent, carrying a combination of both Shiga toxin (which causes severe gastrointestinal illness like bloody vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes, kidney failure) and a unique ability to adhere to the intestinal wall. The bacteria -- part of the serotype 0104:H4 -- is thus one of the most rare, deadly E. coli lines in existence. [1]

Over the past five years, from the E. coli scare found in California spinach to the recent outbreak of salmonella in ground turkey, serious and sometimes fatal illnesses resulting from contaminated food have occurred more frequently than expected. Since 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued 39 warnings of multi-state foodborne illness occurrences. [2]

It is estimated that 48 million people are infected by foodborne diseases in the United States each year [3], resulting in $152 billion in medical costs annually. [4] And these outbreaks show no sign of abating; the incidence of salmonella infections alone has increased 20 percent since 1997. [5] With 170 countries exporting food to the U.S., and more than 70,000 food safety violations on food that is imported into America reported from 1998 to 2004 alone, the E. coli outbreak in Germany -- with additional cases reported in France and the U.S. -- shines a spotlight on why the issue of food safety is an international concern. [6]

According to the World Bank, more than two-thirds of countries globally are net importers (i.e., imports exceed exports) of food. [7] The devastating European E. coli outbreak that began in Germany in May illustrates the interconnectedness of the global food supply. From the beginning, the E. coli incident created an international chain reaction: Confusion early on in the investigation of the source of the outbreak led to erroneous warnings about Spanish cucumbers, tomatoe, and leafy greens as the source of infection. [8] As a result, Russia suspended food imports from all member countries of the European Union. [9]

However, upon further investigation, public health officials from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) now believe the source of infection to be sprouted seeds (a category of germinated seeds that includes fenugreek, lentil and bean sprouts) imported from Egypt and purchased by a German company. [10] The infected seeds were then sold to Britain, which in turn sold them in France, where reports of infections from the same strain of E. coli as that found in Germany surfaced a month ago. [11] The outbreak even reached the United States, with six confirmed cases of Americans infected by the German strain. [12] According to the European Food Safety Authority, the Egyptian seeds -- more than 11 tons in total -- were shipped around the world, purchased by 54 companies in Germany and disseminated among at least a dozen other European countries. [13] Investigators are now working to locate the remaining shipments of Egyptian seeds to prevent further disease outbreaks.

This incident highlights the fact that agriculture in the 21st century involves industrial-sized farms and corporations harvesting their products from all corners of the earth, and selling them across the globe, crossing national borders. This makes the issue of food safety much more complex. The good news is that many serious foodborne illness outbreaks are preventable; an efficient and effective food safety agency that monitors farms and factories, maintains an effective epidemiological and emergency response team, and provides up-to-date, accurate information to the public in the face of an outbreak can go a long way in reducing the spread of disease and its related costs. Unfortunately, this type of agency is the exception rather than the rule, including in America.

Until recently, the food safety mission of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was focused on response rather than prevention. The FDA had little authority to inspect food production at all levels of the supply chain, issue guidelines for proper cultivation of produce (thus reducing outbreaks at their source) or verify that food imports came from reliable growers. The agency could only suggest that infected foods be recalled -- it had no powers to require companies to remove their products, even if they were found to carry diseases. [14] And for three years now the FDA has been requesting additional funds to increase inspections of foreign foods, claiming that the agency does not have the resources to meet the demand. [15]

Furthermore, the creation of a seamless system of food safety programs is impeded by the split functions between the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the inspection of meat, eggs and poultry under the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), has had its own issues with implementation of food safety procedures. Approval of regulations for the inspection of six strains of E. coli found in beef -- known as the "Big Six" -- have stalled in the White House Office of Management and Budget, leaving some experts wondering whether the U.S. meat industry is vulnerable to E. coli outbreaks. Consequently, a number of ground beef businesses have begun testing for E. coli at their plants. This is possible because tests created and used by the USDA have recently become commercially available. Scientists are now working to develop a new kit that would test for the German E. coli strain as well. [16]

The FDA does not have procedures in place to test regularly for the Big Six strains of E. coli either, which can also be found in produce. [17] The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the USDA and the FDA often overlap in their duties. For instance, although the USDA's mission is confined to inspecting meat, poultry and some eggs, with the FDA regulating all other foods and drugs in the U.S., a simple frozen pepperoni pizza would fall under the jurisdiction of both agencies. As a result, almost 1,500 food establishments are inspected by both the USDA and the FDA. The overlap creates inefficiencies in the system and could delay responses in the case of a serious foodborne illness outbreak. [18]

Fortunately, steps forward in fixing life-threatening problems in food safety prevention and response in America were taken this year with the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in January of 2011. The legislation, the first serious reform for U.S. food safety since 1938, brings the FDA's food safety authorities into the 21st century [19], with new powers for the agency to require prevention-based checks across the food supply; standardize inspections for food producers; mandate food recalls in the case of an outbreak; and improve coordination among the FDA and other government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the CDC. [20]

The FSMA also addresses the international component of food safety: Under the FSMA, the FDA is given the authority to require importers to verify the quality standards of their suppliers, to refuse admission to imported food if the foreign facility refuses to allow an FDA inspection and to require certification that imported food is in compliance with food safety requirements. The legislation also mandates more frequent inspections of foreign food suppliers, with inspection quotas increasing each year after the FSMA is implemented. [21]

Additionally, the FSMA aims to harmonize some of the shared responsibilities between the FDA and the USDA. The legislation calls for increased coordination between the two agencies under the categories of food vulnerability assessments, private sector coordinating councils for agriculture and food defense, laboratory networks and data sharing, and decontamination and disposal standards. Although the legislation does not change the jurisdiction of either agency, it requires that the USDA and FDA, along with other agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), collaborate on a National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy. [22] The FSMA is a much-needed step forward in protecting Americans from foodborne illnesses and, hopefully, reducing the costs of outbreaks in terms of productivity loss and economic impact.

But now the FSMA faces a whole new hurdle: the movement in Washington to tighten the reins on federal spending. This year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut the 2012 FDA budget by $87 million dollars -- that's $87 million less than the FDA received last year, and $226 million short of what's needed to enact FSMA. [23] The House also proposed cuts to the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA, which is responsible for the inspection of meat, poultry and eggs. [24] The proposed cuts mean that the FDA will struggle to keep up with its inspections as well as maintain a coordinated and speedy response system in the case of an outbreak. It also reduces the likelihood that the FDA will have the resources to establish the new FSMA system to inspect imported foods. That means that foreign suppliers may not have to meet the same food safety standards as do domestic farmers. [25]

The FDA is not the only agency involved with food safety to face budget reductions this year. The House of Representatives has also proposed cuts to the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA, which is responsible for the inspection of meat, poultry and eggs. [26] In addition, all funds were cut for the national foodborne pathogen monitoring program overseen by the USDA, known as the Microbiological Data Program. This program is considered by many public health officials as one of the first lines of defense against foodborne illnesses in the United States, because it screens fruits and vegetables for common pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. [27] The Microbiological Data Program has regularly screened around 15,000 produce samples a year for the past ten years, as compared to the 1,000 samples spot-checked annually by the FDA. In the past two years alone, the program's screenings have led to 19 product recalls. [28]

The looming budget cuts have prompted a warning from the FDA. Recently, the agency released a special report entitled Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality. The document underscores that the current food safety infrastructure is simply unable to support the inspections required to keep contaminated foods from entering the U.S. market. This is in part due to the fact that imports of food and drugs to the United States have increased six-fold over the last ten years. Almost 80 percent of medication ingredients,75 percent of seafood, and 60 percent of fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States come from other countries. And though FSMA takes these statistics into account -- requiring the FDA to inspect at least 600 foreign food suppliers over the course of a year -- the report says implementing the task will be impossible without additional funding. [29]

The FDA report also emphasizes that food-borne illnesses result in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually in the United States alone. [30] A recent nationwide outbreak of Salmonella sickness (resulting in the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey produced in an Arkansas meat plant) underscores the seriousness of food poisoning as a public health threat in America.

Greater attention to reducing food-related infections would save lives and contribute to reducing health care costs as well. The report underscores that today's world of agricultural practices in a global food supply chain require a modern system of food safety inspection. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a long-awaited step towards improving our country's food safety system. The recent E. coli outbreak in Europe, the high incidence of food-borne illnesses in the United States as illustrated by the latest Salmonella outbreak and the FDA's report highlight why adequate resources are urgently needed to fully implement the FSMA, and why food safety must be made a national priority in the United States and around the world.

For more information, visit

Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, M.D. (ret.) is the Public Health Editor of the Huffington Post. She serves as Director of the Health and Medicine Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C., a Clinical Professor at Georgetown and Tufts University Schools of Medicine, and Chair of the Global Health Program at the Meridian International Center. She served for more than 20 years in health leadership positions in the Federal government in the Administrations of four U.S. Presidents, including as Assistant Surgeon General of the United States, the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Women's Health, as a White House Advisor on Health, and as Chief of the Behavioral Medicine and Basic Prevention Research Branch at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Blumenthal has received numerous awards including honorary doctorates and has been decorated with the highest medals of the U.S. Public Health Service for her pioneering leadership and significant contributions to advancing health in the United States and worldwide and was the recipient of the 2009 Health Leader of the Year Award from the Commissioned Officers Association. Admiral Blumenthal has been named by the National Library of Medicine, The New York Times and the Medical Herald as one of the most influential women in medicine and as a Rock Star of Science by GQ by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation.

Alison Gocke, an undergraduate at Princeton University, serves as a Health Policy Intern at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington D.C.