September 13, 2013

CLF Week in Links: China, Pink Slime, Farm Bill and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

RS2_A lot of crowded piggiesPork to China. The Smithfield-Shuanghui merger has been approved by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment and now awaits shareholder approval in a vote scheduled for September 24. According to this Politico story, U.S. pork producers expect to benefit from the sale in terms of increased exports of U.S. pork products to meet the growing demand of China’s middle class. But what about the costs of raising and slaughtering swine on U.S. soil? Will the fattened wallets of those pork producers also pay to remediate the damage done to our waterways and soil? Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow expressed concern in an op-ed: “Will China or other countries seek to purchase our largest poultry, or dairy, or corn producers next? Is it in America’s security interests if in a decade or two our food supply is 30, or 60, or 90 percent foreign owned?” While her emphasis on food sovereignty is commendable, she – and the rest of the Senate Agriculture Committee – appear to be ignoring the glaring reality that China will get the pork and the American public will get the mess of concentrated waste, intolerable odor, pollution of air, water, and soil and the associated environmental harms of the industrial row-cropping necessary to produce the feed. At the CLF we have documented many of the problems associated with vertical integrators like Smithfield, Purdue, Cargill, Tyson, and others where the integrator gets the profit and owns the animal from birth to slaughter and the retail product while the grower is left with the waste and the dead animals that don’t survive to market weight. Now we have vertical integration on a grand scale; Shuanghui and China are the integrators and profit-makers and the U.S. people are the growers.

Antibiotics and Chinese livestock. As noted in this Mother Jones article, half of China’s antibiotics are fed to livestock. Given this information, it’s not surprising to read that researchers recently found that Chinese swine farms are teeming with antibiotic-resistant pathogens. It’s a shame that this powerful nation is following our lead on meat production and relying on the misuse of antibiotics to promote growth and compensate for the squalor of confined animal production methods.

Farm bill gridlock. Progress on the farm bill has slowed once again because of fights about SNAP, or the food stamp program, and because of controversy over direct payment programs. Both the House and Senate have passed bills that cut direct payments, but they lock horns over big cuts to food stamps, as this New York Times story explains. There are only a few weeks left before the end of the fiscal year, and it appears that Congress may again either extend the current farm bill or let hundreds of farm programs expire. An extension means another year of farm subsidies. The story of this farm bill is a shameful example of the breakdown of congressional ability to forge sound policy and seek common ground for the good of the American people.

The return of pink slime. Lean finely textured beef, also known as pink slime, seems to be making a comeback. According to this Politico story, schools in at least half a dozen states have put in orders for the product. As the story notes, “It’s no wonder. Lean finely textured beef brings down the cost of ground beef by about 3 percent, which can add up quickly in a program that feeds more than 31 million school children each day;” because of changes to the federal school lunch program, which requires the lunches to contain more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, schools are under a great deal of financial pressure. The USDA insists that the product—remnant scraps of beef that are heated, centrifuged and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill the fecal bacteria that often contaminate these parts of the carcass—is safe to eat. What does this say about our national commitment to providing healthy, safe, and nutritious food to our children? And what does it say about farm-bill policy that subsidizes the production of animal feed while allowing the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables to increase year by year? To compensate for the increased cost of healthy food by cutting budgetary corners with pink slime is fundamentally wrong.

Meatless in San Diego. Cafeterias at elementary schools across the San Diego Unified district have committed to the Meatless Monday campaign, eliminating cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and other popular meaty meals from their menus on Mondays. Instead, the schools will offer garden veggie burgers, cheese pizza, salad bars and sunflower-seed butter and jelly sandwiches.

Next step for CSAs? This Washington Post story covers a phenomenon known as the whole-diet CSA, in which one farm provides members of community-supported agriculture projects with the makings of a well-rounded omnivorous diet, year-round. Subscribers commit to align their diets with the output of one farm, finding, for example, that their butter is a different color depending on the season, and being advised when to can tomatoes and peppers.

Food truck in food desert. In Capitol Heights, a “food desert” in Washington, D.C., Baruch Ben-Yehudah has made it his mission to get people to eat more healthfully in a county where 70 percent of adults are obese or overweight and where 71 percent of restaurants are fast-food outlets. This Washington Post story follows Ben-Yehudah, the owner of Everlasting Life Restaurant in Capitol Heights, and his food truck, from which he hands out free samples of healthful food. Even though there are plenty of fast food restaurants in the neighborhood, as Ben-Yehuda says, “This doesn’t even qualify as food. It’s empty calories with side effects. That is an injustice.”

Farm Aid. Next weekend, September 21, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and others will perform at Farm Aid at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York. Farm Aid’s mission is to keep family farmers on their farms, which is no easy feat. Here’s what their website says: “As family farms are forced out by large, factory farms, the quality of our food, our environment and our food security is in danger.” The traditional family farm of about 200 acres with a diversity of crops and small numbers of animals is “farming in the middle,” and this approach to farming is rapidly being replaced by large farms of 1,000 or more acres and small specialty farms of 30-40 acres. The losers in this transformation are rural communities and a safe and resilient food supply. Sound farm policy would create incentives to support farming in the middle.

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