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BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLACK TOGETHER

Poor Al Gore. He just wants to save the world. And yet, his well-intentioned efforts to curb greenhouse gases have had the terrible unintended consequence of driving up the cost of rBST-free milk.

This is a disaster not just for dairy lovers, but for the whole nation—no, wait! the whole world--according to the latest op-ed from Henry I. Miller, “How Al Gore Harms the Environment.” It’s an Onion-worthy slice of satire, only Miller’s not kidding. He picks up right where his last shameless defense of rBST on the NY Times op-ed page left off.

Miller’s a fellow at the Hoover Institute, the same “Bush brain trust” that brought us the neo-con cast behind that perennial Off Beltway bomb known as the War in Iraq. How is it, Miller muses, that no one else has spotted the connection between the Live Earth extravaganza and the rising cost of milk from cows that haven’t been injected with Monsanto’s rBST hormone?:

Several stories in the news the past week are fascinatingly linked, but no one seems to have noticed. One item was the series of Live Earth rock concerts intended to draw attention to global climate change; another was the American Farm Bureau Federation's announcement of huge and seemingly inexplicable disparities in "niche" milk prices.

The connection? Al Gore. His influence on both issues – via intractable, decades-long opposition to biotechnology – has been indubitably negative.

Indubitably. Now, there’s the kind of ten dollar word that only a corporation can afford to buy. And make no mistake, Miller is Monsanto’s man, brazenly promoting rBST--which he refers to as a “protein” rather than the hormone that it is--as a cure-all for climate change, because it enables dairy farmers to squeeze more milk out of fewer cows.

According to Miller’s math, this adds up to significant savings in water usage, lower feed costs, and reduced methane emissions.

But Miller ‘s Soylent Green scenario of synthetic sustainability ignores the inconvenient truth that there’s a worldwide ban on rBST due to its undisputed propensity to cause serious disease in dairy cows and suspicions that it may pose a health hazard to humans as well. As for the “seemingly inexplicable disparities” in milk prices that Miller cites, it’s a classic case of supply and demand, with demand for milk untainted by synthetic hormones far outstripping supply. Is it such a shock that consumers would be willing to pay a premium to avoid pus-filled, potentially disease-inducing milk?

More egregious than Miller’s sins of omissions, though, is the way he frames Gore’s opposition to biotech commodity crops as an Olympian-sized obstacle to tackling global warming. The problem with genetically modified crops is that they are a veritable Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences, and scientists have yet to find a way to test them that doesn’t make guinea pigs out of ourselves and our planet.

Case in point: Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which have created a monster strain of uber-herbicide resistant weeds, requiring ever-greater applications of Roundup. Way to go, Monsanto! The USDA’s own report on 2006 field crop pesticide use shows “a state by state, huge, dramatic, unbelievable over-reliance on glyphosate,” aka Roundup, as Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for the Organic Center, noted in an e-mail forwarded to me by a farmer friend, Anne Patterson of Living Earth Farm in Illinois.

Maybe that’s why the USDA’s looking into tightening its oversight of genetically modified crops, as Reuters reported last Thursday, citing a series of court cases that have faulted the USDA for failing to fully examine the environmental impact of a number of GM crops before approving them.

But the more we try to steer clear of the pesticides and chemicals that poison us and the planet, the more the biotech industry resists regulation—like an unstoppable Roundup ready super weed. We’ve got to douse these perennial lies with strong applications of fact whenever they pop up in the mainstream media, before they can take root and choke out the truth.

Miller’s been sowing this noxious nonsense for years, as the NY Times noted earlier this month in an article citing new doubts about the alleged benefits of biotech breakthroughs. At a 2004 roundtable on the safety of biotech food, the Times quotes Miller as saying that “both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products.”

Well, no, actually, they don’t. In fact, evidence is mounting to the contrary. But as long as GM-touting corporations fund jolly bad fellows like Miller, we’re going to see a lot more of this disingenuous drivel. Miller’s attacked Gore before, and he’ll no doubt do it again. If only L.C., Eating Liberally’s fictitious mad cow, could gore Miller first. Unfortunately, he seems determined to shill, and shill again.

hat tip to Severine Von Tscharner Fleming of pixiepoppins.org

TAKE IT FROM THE TAP

“Plastics” was the big buzzword in 1967’s The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you -just one word.

Ben: Yes sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Ben: Yes I am.

Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.'

Ben: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ben: Yes I will.

Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.

Forty years later, Mr. McGuire’s buzzword is a big ol’ buzzkill, and plastic’s a deal killer. Plastic shopping bags—which Americans reportedly go through at the rate of 100 billion a year--are getting banned left and right--and rightly so. Card-carrying environmentalists carry a reusable canvas tote.

But bottled water’s set to unseat the plastic shopping bag as Public Eco-Enemy Number One. “We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone,” according to FastCompany reporter Charles Fishman, who notes that we indulge our thirst for convenience while “one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water.”

What a colossal waste of fossil fuels, from the petroleum-based bottles to all that gas it takes to truck the stuff hither and yon from its source—which, in the case of Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina, is just regular ol’ tap water, anyway. Taking a page from the Department of Redundancy Department, they re-purify previously purified municipal water. This is even more absurd than it sounds when you consider that federal quality standards for bottled water are less stringent than they are for tap water.

So, please, bypass the bottled water and take it from the tap when you can, whether it’s in a restaurant or on the road. Bring a reusable bottle and refill it whenever possible. And yeah, we know some tap water may need to be filtered first, and we’re aware that polycarbonate-based plastic bottles can leach contaminants. But you’ve got to pick your battles, and we’re awash in bottles. Don’t let bottled water be our Waterloo.

(hat tip to Elizabeth Royte for the FastCompany link)

FRIDAY GREENMARKET BLOGGING

Oh no! Farmer Kitty came back from the Greenmarket this morning with sweet Hudson Valley cherries so perfect, the cherry-picking committee doesn’t know what to do!

 

WHY DID MACKEY HITCH WHOLE FOODS’ WAGON TO PHONY POSTS?

Oy. What was John Mackey thinking? The Wall Street Journal’s revelation that the Whole Foods CEO posted comments on a Yahoo! stock-market forum under the name “Rahodeb” in order to denigrate competitor Wild Oats and defend his own hairdo is just hair-raising.

How could the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, that empire of emporiums geared towards ethical eaters, do something so seemingly unseemly? It may not be illegal, but Mackey’s attempts to manipulate public perception of a company he’s had his eye on buying raise serious questions about his judgment.

But the hair thing really makes you wonder whether the Whole Foods CEO is playing with a whole deck. When a photo of the perpetually rumpled Mackey in Whole Foods’ annual report inspired another Yahoo! user to mock Mackey’s messy mane, “Rahodeb” responded, “I like Mackey’s haircut…I think he looks cute!”

Mackey claims the FTC, which revealed the “Rahodeb” comments in its antitrust lawsuit seeking to block Whole Foods' acquisition of Wild Oats, is simply out to embarrass him and his company, although Mackey doesn’t seem to need any help in this department.

On Whole Foods’ own website, Mackey defends his “Rahodeb” ruse with a dizzying array of justifications:

1. I posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.

2. I never intended any of those postings to be identified with me.

3. The views articulated by rahodeb sometimes represent what I actually believed and sometimes they didn't. Sometimes I simply played "devil's advocate" for the sheer fun of arguing. Anyone who knows me realizes that I frequently do this in person, too.

4. Rahodeb's postings therefore do not represent any official beliefs, policies, or intentions by either Whole Foods Market or by me.

5. At no time did I reveal any proprietary information about Whole Foods on Yahoo!

6. All of rahodeb's postings should be read in the full context of the discussions that were taking place on the bulletin board at the time the postings were made. Reading them out of context may lead to serious misunderstandings.

7. All of rahodeb's postings also need to be understood in the context of the time that they were written. Because the competitive market has evolved so much in the last 5 years, older postings mean far less today than they did when they were written.

Yeah, well, they still mean that Mackey has thoroughly shredded his cred. Whole Foods has always tried to portray itself as the epitome of a conscientious corporation: “…high standards permeate all aspects of our company,” Whole Foods’ website declares. “Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.”

Mackey’s freaky foray into a Yahoo! forum under a faux name calls into question his own state of mind. According to SeekingAlpha, a website devoted to stock market analysis, "Rahodeb" once commented, “While I’m not a ‘Mackey groupie,’ I do admire what the man has accomplished.” Not to mention the “cute” haircut.

Sadly, it looks like Mackey’s sacrificed his integrity in his attempt to sew up Wild Oats. But integrity, like virginity, is one of those priceless commodities you can’t buy back.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS?

Did Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration, literally lose his head on Tuesday? Chinese officials declined to say what method of death was deemed fitting for Xiaoyu’s execution, but in any case, he’s dead now. His crime? Taking some $823,000 in bribes to approve drugs that proved unsafe and killed at least 10 people.

“Corruption in the food and drug authority has brought shame to the nation,” Yan Jiangying, deputy policy director of the State Food and Drug Administration, told the NY Times. “What we will have to learn from the experience is to improve our work and emphasize public safety.”

All these horror stories about China’s lethally lax standards and toxic products (antifreeze-flavored toothpaste is just the latest) have given our Asian rival a big black eye, but in some departments, China’s actually more progressive than we are.

While Lou Dobbs has compulsory conniptions over the impending arrival of cheap Chinese cars to our shores, we can’t sell American cars to the Chinese because the Ailing American Automakers Formerly Known As The Big Three can’t meet China’s fuel efficiency standards.

And Home Depot sells made-in-China sheets of plywood that are so full of formaldehyde they’re too toxic even for the Chinese, who are nonetheless willing to produce this product just for the U.S. market.

Our stores are so dominated by made-in-China goods that trying to live for a whole year without buying anything made in China is the latest literary stunt. But China’s paying a terrible price for its unregulated manufacturing, with air and waterways so degraded that “about 460,000 people die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water,” according to a preliminary report from the World Bank. The Financial Times claims that Chinese authorities are asking the World Bank to sit on these shocking figures out of fear their revelation would spark a riot.

But Chinese officials needed to manufacture some good pr, get a “message: we care” kinda vibe going, if you will, and what better way to do that than to demonstrate zero tolerance for government officials who accept money from corporations to look the other way and approve unsafe products?

May I make an immodest proposal and suggest that we try this tactic in the U.S.? After all, we’ve had a spate of deaths linked to drugs the FDA approved as a favor to Big Pharma despite evidence that the drugs in question had serious and even fatal side effects. And lobbyists routinely bribe our politicians to ignore legislation such as the Country of Origin Labeling Laws, which would tell us where our food comes from, because the corporations that manufacture our food are afraid that informed consumers might pass up their products if they’re forced to bear those three little loaded words, “Made in China.”
Since so many Americans supposedly support the death penalty, I hardly think it’s un-American to suggest that we execute government officials who accept money in return for doing the bidding of Big Pharma or Big Food. The only problem with this scenario is that it might turn Capitol Hill into a ghost town.

THE SHREK/RATATOUILLE SNACKDOWN

At long last, we’ve got a cartoon character praising the virtues of veggies! Does it matter that it’s a rat? And he’s not even that cute. I refer, bien sûr, to Remy, the long-tailed lead in Pixar’s culinary tale Ratatouille.

Never in the history of cinema has this simple, classic French dish of summer vegetables been so lovingly celebrated. There’s a climactic scene, a nod to Proust and his much-loved madeleines, where fusty food critic Anton Ego (who looks to be on the lam from a Tim Burton film) is transported by a rather refined interpretation of this humble blend of onions, bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and garlic. The sequence is so stunning it reduced Slate’s Dana Stevens to tears.

Thanks to scenes like that, Ratatouille-the-movie is ratcheting up demand for ratatouille-the-dish in restaurants and inspiring newspapers all over the country to print ratatouille recipes perfectly timed for all that ripe produce that’s filling our farmers’ markets.

NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni hails the success of Ratatouille at the box office as a triumph of enlightened eating over mindless munching, and notes that a fable with a foodie hero would have been unthinkable until recently:

I’m not sure that two decades ago, or even a decade ago, it would have been possible to make and successfully market a Cinderella story set in the fussy world of haute cuisine, a furry fairy tale that presents a snooty dismissal of inferior victuals as a badge of honor and path to glory.

Bruni points out that Ratatouille’s alleged premise is that “anyone can cook,” but the movie is really more of a mélange of egalitarianism and elitism. Yes, even a lowly rodent can learn to cook, but just like the rest of us, his culinary endeavors will succeed or fail depending on the quality and freshness of his ingredients.

Am I the only one who finds this message pretty radical for an animated film supposedly aimed at kids? And it seems all the more astonishing when you contrast it to Pixar parent Disney’s Shrek the Third, with its endless tie-ins to processed foods that target toddlers’ taste buds.

Now, I happened to love the original Shrek—having been an ugly duckling myself, I was delighted to see a cartoon challenge our notions of beauty. But whatever good Shrek may have done on behalf of the humble and homely is being utterly undermined by the way the big ugly lug is shilling for Big Food. And he’s doing it on a global scale. NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who went to Australia last week to speak at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, checked out a local supermarket and posted the following dismayed dispatch from Down Under:

Shrek was everywhere. I counted at least ten special displays of Shrek-illustrated foods positioned at the ends of 5 aisles, along one entire wall (with a blow up Shrek doll), and in stand-alone areas. Shrek III has arrived in Australia but does Australia really need a store full of Shrek-green Froot Loops (devoid of fruit, of course), Shrek cheese-flavoured snacks, Shrek-illustrated chocolate flavoured biscuits, and Shrek candies? And a local McDonald’s also has a Shrek tie-in. This is about one thing and one thing only: marketing junk food to kids.

“Not a good idea,” adds Dr. Nestle in her eternally understated way.

It’s no accident that the bad guy in Ratatouille hawks a line of microwavable convenience foods, because the real villain in Ratatouille is fake food. But can Remy’s real food revival make a dent in sales of Shrek-sanctioned snack foods? At the very least, Ratatouille’s giving Americans a taste of what cooking could be if we stopped abdicating the role of feeding ourselves to a handful of corporations.

I guess it’s fitting that Big Food’s hired a monster to market its overprocessed crap. Whether Ratatouille’s Remy will prove to be an effective spokesvermin for the Slow Food movement remains to be seen, but I’m betting he’s already got a pretty big freegan fan base to build on.

EATING LIBERALLY: CHAPTER TWO

Eating Liberally’s pleased as punch to announce the launch of our second chapter in Charlotte, North Carolina! Our mentors, the folks at Drinking Liberally, have blazed an amazing trail with their coast to coast netroots network; there are now 200 Drinking Liberally chapters across the nation. What a great recipe for socializing and social change—set a regular time and place, and just show up! It’s the ultimate antidote to alienation and isolation.

When you add food to the mix, though, the model is not quite so easy to duplicate. Sure, you can meet for coffee and donuts, but if the coffee’s from Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re underwriting the overlords at the Carlyle Group, the military-industrial behemoth that owns Dunkin’. And if the donuts are loaded with trans-fats, well, that kinda undermines our “good food” campaign.

But what’s the solution? We would have to be total control freaks to decree that any group that gathers under the auspices of Eating Liberally must consume only fair trade coffee lightened with rBST-free milk from pastured cows, and whole grain-only pastries made with grass-fed butter and omega-3 enhanced eggs.

We wouldn’t do that (would we?) But the menus for our NYC Eating Liberally events are so full of fresh-from-the-Greenmarket, factory farm-free, pasture-raised pureness with no nasty agribiz aftertaste that they border on self-parody. Easy to pull off when your neighborhood is, like, the East Coast epicenter of ethicureanism, but maybe not the friendliest format for our fellow foodie liberals off the wheatened path to follow.

So we were thrilled when Laura Paynter, who founded the Charlotte, North Carolina chapter of Drinking Liberally, came up with the brilliant notion of creating an Eating Liberally chapter that will meet on the second Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. at the Matthews Community Farmers Market, where like-minded liberals can grab a locally made muffin and a non-corporate cup o’ joe, pull up a chair and chew the grass-fed fat.

Wow! Why didn’t we think of that? Um, maybe because you can’t get coffee at our Greenmarket, unless you count the Starbucks across the street. We New Yorkers like to think we’re so cutting edge, but the Matthews Farmers Market seems to offer some amenities we haven’t got; beyond simply having coffee, they’ve got a website that tells you what produce the farmers expect to have each week, and recipes for all that exotic stuff you have no idea what to do with.

Thanks to Laura and Heather Taylor, who’s co-founding the Charlotte chapter, Eating Liberally’s taken its first baby steps toward spreading our sustainable social movement. We’re starting a third chapter later this month in DC, and we’re hoping to nurture progressive foodie communities in other regions soon, too. All we are saying is give peas a chance!

FAUX HOLY ROLLER ACTUALLY GETS ARRESTED FOR PREACHING THE FIRST AMEN!-DMENT AT CRITICAL MASS

Last Friday, the NYPD hauled the Reverend Billy off to jail for reciting the First Amendment at the monthly bicycle rally known as Critical Mass, making this particular Mass seem especially Critical.

“Reverend Billy has a First Amendment right to recite the First Amendment,” Norman Siegel, the legendary civil rights lawyer, told the NY Times. Siegel is representing the Rev, who’s been charged with second-degree harassment because he wouldn’t stop reciting the First Amendment to a bunch of stone-faced cops. Watch the incident yourself and decide who’s harassing whom.

We were deeply disturbed by this episode because: (a) I thought we lived in a democracy where people have the right to peaceably assemble, and (b) we were expecting the Rev for dinner that evening and had been looking forward to it for a whole month.

Sadly, my chilled strawberry soup turned warm while the Rev cooled his heels in the slammer. His partner, Savitri D, who rushed over around 9 p.m. to tell us Billy had been arrested, sent a mournful e-mail at 3:15 a.m. titled “Billy is still in jail,” adding that she “was able to sneak him in a sandwich…”

We’ll have to set a new date to break bread with the Rev and brainstorm about how the Church of Stop Shopping and the Liberally crew can join hands to help Americans rise above the hype and hoopla of our uber-consumer culture.

His clerical collar’s a costume, but the Rev’s rhetoric is no comedy routine; he’s on a serious mission to rescue us from the maws of the malls, deliver us from Fed-Ex delivered temptation, get the mom and pop shops off the endangered species list, banish bigotry, and preserve God’s green earth before we brown it to a crisp.

So let’s hear it for heresy! Reverend Billy’s agenda flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that we have a civic duty to shop to prop up our Made in China economy, as well as a god-given right to squander resources and pollute the planet in the pursuit of our “blessed way of life.”

My own rants against rampant consumerism and our fuelish ways have won me a halo from the Rev, so in my official capacity as Saint Kerry, I’d like to offer the following Beatitude:

BLESSED ARE THEY WHO BIKE, FOR THEY SHALL PRESERVE THE EARTH.

What could be more benign than bicycling? It gets you where you’re going by burning fat instead of finite fossil fuels. You would think Mayor Mike would be pro-bike, right? I mean, he’s throwing all his weight behind congestion pricing, and he launched a sustainability initiative whose goals include reducing emissions from vehicles and easing gridlock.

Spoke-centric spokespersons have lobbied long and hard on behalf of NYC cyclists, from Transportation Alternatives to the officially unofficial coalition known as Critical Mass. The mass transit mavericks at Transportation Alternatives advocate a “green hierarchy” which gives priority to pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit, and commercial vehicles over the single occupancy cars that create so much congestion and pollution. Transportation Alternatives has also popularized the concept of “traffic calming”—think feng shui for roadways.

But the Critical Mass crew is cut from slightly woollier cloth, and their monthly rallies routinely rub the NYPD the wrong way. Critical Mass is an international grassroots movement to green our cities by making them more bike-friendly, and the participants celebrate cycling by meeting up for a ride, typically on the last Friday of the month.

Of course, when you have dozens or even a hundred cyclists riding en masse, motorists who are used to ruling the road can find themselves displaced and disgruntled. And City Hall claims the cyclists don’t have the right to assemble and pedal--however peacefully--without a permit.

So, take a stream of green bikers, add a sea of NYPD blue, shake and stir, and you get a wave of purple-faced cops launching a free-for-all against our freewheeling friends.

This persecution of pedal pushers has been going on for years—back in October of 2004 our dear friend Liz had her bike confiscated at a Critical Mass and spent an unpleasantly unforgettable night locked up in the Tombs, a dismal downtown jail, accused of disorderly conduct and parading without a permit.

Eight months later, the NY Times reported that Liz was found not guilty:

One of 33 bicyclists arrested last October in a monthly Critical Mass bicycle protest was found not guilty on Tuesday of charges of disorderly conduct and parading without a permit. The bicyclist, Liz Shura, an art director at The Wall Street Journal, had been the sole rider to plead not guilty and take her case to trial, said Mark Taylor, a spokesman for Freewheels, a group that defends the Critical Mass riders. The cases of the 32 other bicyclists, arrested for running red lights and other violations, had been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Mr. Taylor said that a judge in New York County Supreme Court acquitted Ms. Shura after just 30 minutes of testimony, saying that her lawyer did not have to present a defense.

Perhaps because the charges were indefensible? Liz was so deeply shaken by this flagrant abuse of power and trampling of her rights that she left her job at the Wall Street Journal to go to law school.

The charges against the Reverend Billy will no doubt be dropped, too, because they’re equally bogus. But things are really going to heat up when the Morgan Spurlock-produced “What Would Jesus Buy?” hits the theaters this fall. This biography of the Rev and his Church of Stop Shopping on the road in their biodiesel bus is already hitting speedbumps, according to Reuters, although the Today show aired a surprisingly supportive profile of the Rev, partner Savitri, and their gospel choir.

Some folks see Reverend Billy as a social satirist à la Jonathan Swift, but given his role as a mock missionary and a champion of conservation, he strikes me as more of a modern day Johnny Appleseed, sowing a social movement dedicated to uprooting the weeds of waste that choke our democracy. The 44 words of the First Amendment “are like a magic seed,” he e-mailed me yesterday. It better be a Round Up-resistant strain, though, because the Powers That Be seem to see Billy as a pest, and they’re taking toxic measures to control him.

THE VAST RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY TO SELL YOU BAD FOOD

I know today’s newspaper is destined to be tomorrow’s fishwrap, but there’s a prematurely stinky smell coming from today’s NY Times . Something is rotten in the District of Columbia, and I’m afraid it’s our roly poly congressional fish heads, who’ve caved in to lobbyists and refused to enforce the Country of Origin Labeling Laws on meats and produce.

COOL--as we like to call it ‘cause it sounds cool--was passed as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. But the meat lobby and grocery industry have stopped Congress from implementing it for five whole years now.

The seafood industry, on the other hand, saw a marketing advantage for products like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, which is widely regarded as healthier and more environmentally friendly than imported farm-raised salmon, and can therefore command a higher price.

So Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, a pretty scaly and flaky specimen himself, did the right thing for the wrong reasons, i.e. out of concern for his corporate constituents rather than consumers, and made sure the labeling law for seafood was enforced.

As usual, corporate interests trump consumer protection. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a question for you, and I’m sorry that it’s not a hypothetical: would you like to buy spoiled, rotten meat that’s been irradiated and then repackaged?

You probably wouldn’t; 71% of consumers have indicated that they’d rather not buy irradiated food. But the food industry has some spoiled, rotten food it would love to sell you.

So they’ve been pressuring the FDA to permit the use of euphemisms like “electronic pasteurization” in order to sell consumers spoiled food that’s been zapped and repackaged. And in cases where there’s supposedly no change in the taste of the food, there would be no label required at all.

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a health policy scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union, discussed the proposed changes with Living On Earth’s Steve Curwood last week:

RANGAN:...it's a slightly unappetizing thought to know, that meat that is unfit for sale, that is so contaminated that it would be illegal to sell it, can actually be stored, irradiated and then sold to the public after that. And that's a very big concern for us because what it does is it can mask bad hygiene problems…consumers can unknowingly buy food that was previously so contaminated that it would have been illegal to be sold.

CURWOOD: Wait a second. You're telling me that spoiled meat can be zapped and then sold?

RANGAN: That's right.

CURWOOD: Stuff that I would throw out of my refrigerator?

RANGAN: Stuff that you would throw out of your refrigerator. Stuff that the stores might throw out because it's gone bad. The fact of the matter is at the processing plant if that meat is so dirty that it doesn't pass USDA inspection standards, you can hold the meat, irradiate it, and then sell it to consumers

But wait, it gets worse. According to Dr. Rangan, the radiation process converts fat into a possibly carcinogenic “radiolytic byproduct”:

RANGAN: It changes the fat into something called 2-alkylcyclobutanones, or 2-ACBs, and those things when put into rats seem to cause cancer tumors in their colon. And, so we certainly seem to think more research needs to be done in terms of really understanding the safety of irradiation, especially when it comes to irradiating products like meat. It may also be of interest to the listeners to know that in Europe irradiating meat is illegal because of those concerns about irradiated fat.

Now, if you’re not sufficiently grossed out by the thought of unknowingly consuming recycled rotted meat that may contain cancer-causing chemicals, read on:

CURWOOD: So, how does this stuff taste once it's been zapped?

RANGAN: Well, when we tested irradiated beef in 2003 our taste testers found that it tasted like singed hair. And in the industry they've also termed it as "wet dog hair." So, it's rather unappetizing and it seems to be these changes in the fat specifically that seem to cause the off taste in irradiated foods with fat.

The FDA’s accepting public comments on the proposed policy change until tomorrow, July 3rd, so if you’d like to weigh in you can go to the FDA’s website and type in the docket number 2005N-0272. (hat tip to OrangeClouds115 at Daily Kos.)

And if you’re still not convinced that there’s an entire industry dedicated to shoving unproven, potentially dangerous technology down our throats, an article in the Sunday NY Times business section reveals new questions about the safety of biotech products.

The article quotes Henry I. Miller—yes, the same Henry I. Miller who had an op-ed in last Friday’s NY Times trumpeting Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone as a tremendous boon to consumers and a great way to combat climate change—as emphatically declaring the undisputed safety of biotech food products:

“Both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products,” said Dr. Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who represented the pro-biotech position. Dr. Miller was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration, and presided over the approval of the first biotech food in 1992.

Dr. Miller gave this ringing endorsement at a 2004 roundtable sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

Now, researchers who’ve completed a four-year study organized by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute have released findings that raise all kinds of questions about the thousands of patents that have already been given to plant, animal, and microbial genes.

But then Dr. Miller doesn’t seem terribly prescient about a lot of things. If you want to have a laugh, revisit the unhinged hatchet job he penned for the National Review a few years back accusing Al Gore of being cuckoo on climate change. Do I smell roasting wingnuts? Between that and the rotting fishheads on Capital Hill, we could sure use some fresh air. Too bad the news is so stinky.

NY TIMES PLAYS PATSY TO MONSANTO’S COWPIES

(following is a letter to the NY Times from our mascot, L.C., the “Liberally” cow, in response to an op-ed the Times ran extolling the alleged virtues of Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone. We warned L.C. that the Times is not likely to publish a letter from a farm animal, much less a fictitious one, but she was bullish about it:)

To the Editor:

I nearly had a cow when I spotted Henry I. Miller’s work of fiction, “Don’t Cry Over rBST Milk,” masquerading as fact on the Times’ op-ed page last Friday.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a cow, and as the bovine mascot of an organization dedicated to more humane treatment of farm animals I couldn’t let this half-baked cowpie of Monsanto-mandated myths go unchallenged.

There are so many flat-out lies and gross distortions in this piece that even I, a ruminant blessed with not one but four chambers in which to do my digesting, could not stomach them all.

Miller’s attempt to portray rBST as a boon to the environment is an especially nauseating display of spin, but what really made me choke on my cud was his claim that “consumers are apparently happy to drink milk from supplemented cows, in spite of efforts by biotechnology opponents to bamboozle milk processors and retailers into believing that consumers don’t want it.”

But who’s bamboozling whom? Consumers have led the stampede to reject milk from hormone-injected cows, worried not only about ingesting dairy products with added hormones, but also because the use of rBST has serious and painful side effects for myself and my sister cows. It puts us at a much higher risk of contracting a painful condition called mastitis, which requires massive amounts of antibiotics to treat and increases the somatic cell count in our milk. This means that our milk is full of pus. As Rachel Ray might say, yuck-o!

We cows do produce a certain quantity of this hormone naturally, but injecting us with Monsanto’s patented gene-spliced version in order to maximize our milk production treats us like machines, without regard for the fact that we are living, breathing creatures whose bodies break down under the burden of this supposed breakthrough.

The use of rBST is banned in Canada and the European Union, and, as Andrew Kimbrell, founder of the Center for Food Safety, notes in his book Your Right to Know, “The suffering of animals alone is enough cause for consumers to avoid” rBST-derived dairy and meat products.

Mr. Miller doesn’t even bother to mention the problem of mastitis, which is an undisputed and well-documented side effect of rBST use. I guess he figures nobody gives a damn about dairy cows. But we’re fed up, and we’re harnessing our fury; we’ve even got our own website, now: CowsUnite.org, where our Bovine Bill of Rights includes the Right To Just Say No To Drugs.

Plenty of people are willing to pay more for milk from humanely treated cows, and the dairy farmers catering to conscientious consumers are doing just fine, thank you very much. The only party who gets hurt by the rBST boycott is Monsanto, who’s spent a gazillion dollars to manufacture and promote this hormone and can’t stand to watch their investment curdle.

As a grass-fed cow, I have an easy time distinguishing real grassroots from Astroturf apologists like Henry I. Miller. What a perfect name for a biostitute! I’m just sorry the Times allocates space on its op-ed page to such flagrantly disingenuous Agribiz-funded disinformation. The Old Grey Lady, she ain’t what she used to be…

Sincerely,

L.C., the “Liberally” Cow.

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