Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

All’s Fair: Cloned Cow Wins Iowa 4-H Competition

One of my favorite events at our rural county’s annual agricultural fair is when the youthful 4-H club members show their prized cattle. Well-scrubbed teenagers clad in white shoes, white pants, and white shirts proudly lead their well-groomed bovines into the arena where they are judged and ribbons awarded. You almost expect to see a pipe-puffing Normal Rockwell peering from behind his easel on the sidelines.

I don’t think I would have gotten the same warm, nostalgic feeling at Iowa State Fair  a few weeks ago. Tyler Faber, age 17, took home the blue ribbon in the “Big Steer” category for a 1,320-pound behemoth named Doc. The beefy steer, it turned out, was a clone.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

There’s Gotta be a Catch(share)

Wherever they have been implemented, so called “catch-share” management programs—which essentially give each fisherman an ownership stake of his quota of the legal catch instead of setting a fleet-wide annual limit—have proven good for fishermen, the fish they catch, and those of us who consume seafood. Catch-share systems have been shown to reduce the decline in fish populations in all areas of the world. So it was good news late last month when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved a catch-share plan for bottom-dwelling species caught off the Pacific coast.  

The old laws promoted what the industry calls “derby” fishing, where captains would race out to try to catch as much as possible as quickly as possible, regardless of weather or market conditions. The method was also wasteful, encouraging sloppy practices that led to large rates of bycatch (unintended and unmarketable species) and harvests that exceeded the legal limit. In a catch-share system, each fisherman is assured a certain amount of the catch. He can fish when and where he chooses. For consumers, it means a steady supply of local fresh fish, rather than a glut of seafood that has to be frozen or trucked to distant markets.  

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Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

Fresh Express Bags Food Safety Trifecta

In the past three months, Fresh Express, a unit of Chiquita Brands International, managed to claim food contamination’s Triple Crown.

Sustainable Food News reports that earlier this month, the company, known for its bagged “ready-to-eat” salad greens, recalled nearly 3,000 cases of its Veggie Lover’s Salad mix because of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

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Posted in Food Politics, Produce

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Jim Crow is Alive and Well in California

SB 1121 was hardly a radical-sounding piece of legislation. Among other things, it would have given California’s 700,000 farm workers the right to take one day off out of every seven. Hourly paid agricultural employees would have received overtime pay after eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

But when the bill landed on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, he vetoed it, saying that the new provisions would put farmers out of business.

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Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Pop a Cork, Save a Forest

We had a dinner party last night for a group of friends who enjoy their wine. I’m glad to report that we more than did our bit to save the forests of Portugal, Spain, Italy, and northern Africa. The vintages we selected all came in bottles sealed with cork, which is made from the bark of a species of oak.

But with the increasing popularity of screw caps and plastic “corks,” the real cork industry is threatened, and along with it, more than four million acres of forest. In addition to providing some 100,000 jobs, cork forests combat global warming and provide habitat for wildlife. Portugal’s Montada Forest is home to hundreds of species of birds and also habitat for the Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered animals. Apcor, the Portuguese Cork Association says that cork is compostable and produces 24 times less carbon than the aluminum in screw caps—if you need another reason to pop a cork and raise a glass.

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Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Big Ag’s Big Pal in the Oval Office

Even as a journalist following food and politics, I have trouble keeping up with the revolving door between the Obama administration and the corner offices of huge agrichemical and GMO seed producers like Monsanto and DuPont. The latest announcement to catch me by surprise is that Romona Romero, a DuPont corporate lawyer, has just been nominated by the president to the post of General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So it was great to receive this handy roster from the Organic Consumers Association last week. The list could grow, but here’s the current lineup of Team Big Ag:

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Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook 

Lubricated Crab Larvae

It had to happen sooner or later. Oil has officially contaminated the Gulf of Mexico’s seafood chain.

Last week Geoff Pender of the Sun Herald, a newspaper serving the Mississippi coast, reported that scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University had found droplets of oil in the larvae of blue crabs. While the oil’s presence is no immediate cause of concern for those craving a summer evening Cajun crab boil ,it is a harbinger of bad news. Small fish such as menhaden feed on crab larvae, and as they say, big fish eat little fish. “I think we’ll see this enter the food chain in a lot of ways,” Harriet Perry, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, told Pender. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics, Seafood

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook  

One More Reason to Avoid Farmed Salmon

Prince Edward Island bills itself as a bucolic haven of pristine beaches, white clapboard farmhouses, and quaint fishing villages. But the province is also home to one of the scariest places I’ve ever visited. There, in 2002, I toured a small warehouse-like building housing a dozen aquariums containing salmon that were genetically modified to grow twice as fast as normal salmon.

In one tank, a biologist showed me fish that were about the size of hot dogs. In an adjacent tank, salmon easily the size of my forearm paddled in listless circles. The fish in the two tanks were exactly the same age and had been fed identical diets. The giants, however, carried a gene that from a cold-water dwelling ocean pout that continuously enabled them to produce a growth hormone. Normal salmon stop excreting growth hormones when water temperatures cool. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Something to Squawk About

During the winter here in Vermont, my 12 laying hens seem content enough residing in a retrofitted horse stable. But when I open the henhouse door for the first time in the spring, feathers literally fly as the birds stampede to get outside. In celebration of their newfound liberty, they flap, run, peck, and scratch—in short, behave like chickens.

Which is why I’m always skeptical when a factory farm claims that hens are perfectly happy spending their entire lives crammed into barns with tens of thousands of other chickens in stacked battery cages each not much bigger than the average computer screen. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) apparently agrees. Last week, the organization filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to stop Rose Acre Farms, the country’s second largest egg producer, from making “false and misleading animal welfare claims.” Continue reading

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Where Have All the Lobsters Gone?

On Cape Cod, Mass., nothing says summer evening as clearly as a big pot of boiling seawater and a mess of locally caught lobsters. Thanks to warming ocean temperatures, the all-important “local” component of that timeless ritual may soon be a thing of the past.

With Cape Cod lobster catches reduced to a quarter of what they were in the 1990s, officials are thinking of imposing a five-year closure of the fishery from the Cape to New York’s Long Island Sound. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics, Seafood