April 12, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Heart Disease, Ag-Gag Laws, EPA and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Stricter standards for apples under FSMA

Ag-gag laws. In most of the major agricultural states, laws have been introduced or passed that would make it illegal to gather evidence of abuse or other wrongdoing on factory farms, either by filming or photography. In essence, filming the cruelty that happens on farms is the crime rather than the abuse of the animals. Here, the New York Times’s editorial board chimes in on these shameful ag-gag laws.

Meat and heart disease. As if we didn’t have enough good reasons to reduce our meat consumption, a fascinating study from the Cleveland Clinic has made a connection between meat and heart disease—and it has nothing to do with fat or cholesterol but rather the mechanisms by which cholesterol may infiltrate the walls of blood vessels and form the plaques that clog diseased arteries. The real culprit may be carnitine, a form of protein found in meat and an increasing number of “body builder” supplements. The carnitine is used as fuel by bacteria in the intestines after people eat red meat, and the bacteria then burp out another chemical called trimethyamine-N-oxide, or TMAO, which appears to injure vascular endothelium and increase the risk of heart disease. What’s most interesting to me about this study is the fact that people who regularly eat meat, rich in carnitine, had a marked increase in blood levels of TMAO after eating a steak, while vegetarians exposed to the same 8-oz. steak meal did not produce the chemical, their intestinal bacterial environment not having large numbers of the TMAO-producing bacteria. This is one more reason to cut back, as campaigns such as Meatless Monday have been advocating for years.

New head of EPA? On Thursday, the Senate held a confirmation for hearing for Gina McCarthy as the new head of the EPA. McCarthy is known as a dedicated environmentalist with a record of paying attention to science and protecting public health. I imagine she’ll take on the challenge of climate change—or climate justice, as some of us are beginning to say—and I hope she will address the Clean Water Act as one of her first orders of business. Here are five reasons to support her nomination, from the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Implementing food safety. The 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) directed the FDA to prevent food-borne illnesses rather than simply react to outbreaks. Now the FDA has strict new standards for some fruits and vegetables. Those usually consumed raw, like apples, would be included, while those usually cooked or processed would be exempt. Needless to say, apple and pear farmers are none too happy. The implementation of FSMA will be a hard row to hoe. And many domestic farmers doubt that their foreign competitors will face the kind of scrutiny that they will—what will be the standards for food coming in from China?

Stone soup and GE food. On Monday, College Park, Maryland, witnessed a stone soup–style “eat-in” in which protesters demanded that the FDA require labeling of genetically engineered food. The protest was peaceful, as a 50-gallon vat of GMO-free soup was cooked and consumed outside the FDA’s offices.

Bittman on books. The New York Times’s Mark Bittman has given us a rare treat—reviews of three books that sound very good. We know that Foodopoly, by Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, is stellar. He also sings high praise for Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat and Melanie Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox. (He also notes that this year is the 100th anniversary of Mallomars.)

Wendell Berry Conference. Last week a conference sponsored by the newly-established Wendell Berry Center was devoted to the topic, “What will it take to resettle America?” Speakers included some of the leaders of the movement to restore ecologic agriculture—Wes Jackson, Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Fred Kirschenmann, and many more.

Soaring food prices. According to Worldwatch Institute, the global food price index has reached a level not seen in nearly 40 years. Corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, poultry, and pork drove the overall price increase (and expect an increase in the price of almonds, because of the honeybee decline, as I mentioned last week). Once again, climate change is one of the factors, as is increased global demand. Follow on Twitter via @worldwatchinst.


  1. Just wanted to drop in and say how much I appreciate your blog, it always has such relevant and interesting topics! I nominated you for the Liebster blog award on my own blog – I don’t know whether you engage much with the blogging community but if you are interested, check it out here: http://foodpolicyforthought.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/the-liebster-blog-award/ I also really loved the Coursera class you gave – keep on doing such great work!

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