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Lee Camp on Food

Lee Camp at the Tank.

WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Blueberries are almost unbearably good for you—they’re one of the finest sources of antioxidants known to man (and beast.) That’s because anthocyanins, the phytochemicals that give blueberries their deep, beautiful purple-blue pigment, also do wonders for our bodies and brains, helping us fight heart disease, cancer, and aging, among other ills.

So most of us know that berries are one of the best—and tastiest—fruits we can eat. But nobody seems to realize that they’re also one of the easiest and most rewarding shrubs to grow. There’s even a dwarf variety called Tophat that’s so small you can grow it in a window box, and it’s self-pollinating, too, unlike most blueberries, which require a second variety for cross-pollination. We planted four different kinds, so they ripen a few at a time over the course of the summer, giving the birds—and sometimes us, if we’re lucky—a steady source of delicious berries.

Blueberries are a near-zero maintenance plant, and they’re ultra-ornamental; they give you something to look forward to three seasons out of four. In spring there are delicate little flowers that look like lilies of the valley, which turn into tasty berries in the summer, and then in fall the leaves go all autumnal.

Those weary rhododendrons and azaleas standing sentry in suburbia just make me sad--I say yank ‘em out and replace ‘em with blueberries. It’s a no-brainer, which people would realize if only they ate more brain cell-boosting blueberries.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Coca-Cola

Laughing Liberally Comic Lee Camp rants about Coca-Cola and Politics.

LOU DOBBS LOSES HIS COOL OVER COOL LAWS

Here’s a brain teaser for ya: when is a law that President Bush has signed into law still not a law?

Answer: when lobbyists object to the enforcement of the law on the grounds that it will be too costly for their corporate clients to implement.

The Decider’s decided to take a backseat to K street lobbyists and allow our food safety policies to be driven by beefy bullies like The American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now,” as Maureen Dowd noted Wednesday. But he can’t rope ‘n’ ride, much less catch Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

The awful truth is that the Leader of the Free World’s been lassoed by lobbyists and roped into doing their bidding at every turn. He’s a docile little dogie, but this gittin’ along is gittin’ kinda old.

As CNN anchor Kitty Pilgrim reported last Monday on Lou Dobbs Tonight:

Kitty Pilgim: The USDA said even though the law has been passed, it's not a final rule. It's still only a proposed rule…

Lou Dobbs: All right, help us all out here. Is this thing the law or isn't it?

Kitty Pilgrim: You know, I went through this about six times with the USDA. They said, it is a law, but it's still a proposed rule. And, so, until the USDA acts on it, it will not be a final rule.

Lou Dobbs: So, these incompetent, cowardly people--I am going to be generous; I am going to call them people -- at the USDA are not implementing a law signed by the president, passed by the Congress, and it's been five years?

Kitty Pilgrim: And they say they're still soliciting comments…

Lou Dobbs: OK. I have got a comment.

USDA, listen to me. Start protecting the American consumer. Do your jobs.
And, if it's the Bush administration, Mr. President, why don't you just get one thing right in your administration and start protecting consumers? Is that a fair comment?

But Lou was just getting warmed up about COOL on Monday. By Wednesday, his head nearly popped off:

Lou Dobbs: A Consumers Union poll in fact shows 92 percent of Americans want to know where their food comes from. Now, there's a law on the books that calls for country-of-origin labeling of meats and other foods. But implementation has been delayed because of pressure from special interest groups, food industry lobbyists, and others…and, as Kitty Pilgrim now reports, the lobbyists, well, they are still trumping the public interest…

Jay Truitt, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: We have asked for delays in this law from the very beginning. And the law that was passed as a part of the 2002 farm bill has some significant flaws with it.

Kitty Pilgrim: Now, with the House Agriculture Committee working on a new farm bill, some in the beef industry lobby are trying to change country-of-origin requirements by changing the definition of livestock eligible for a "Made in the USA" label. This would allow an animal born and raised in another country and brought to the United States to be slaughtered and be labeled as a product of the United States. And the lobbyists are also pushing Congress to rewrite rules for ground beef, which is sometimes mixed with meat from Canada, Mexico, or Australia, with just fat trimmings from U.S. cattle. Then there would no telling if the package contained meat from Mexico or Canada in so-called U.S. beef.

Some are calling attempts to water down country-of-origin regulations an insult to consumers.

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch: What we are afraid of is, instead of delaying it, the beef industry will try to weaken it and get themselves off the hook and not be totally covered.

Kitty Pilgrim: The beef industry says they are fighting country-of- origin rules because they cost too much. Now, the House Agriculture Committee is currently working on the new bill. And the worry is, amendments are being proposed that will basically weaken the country-of-origin labeling rules -- Lou.

Lou Dobbs: Will weaken the country-of-origin rules?

Kitty Pilgrim: They have been delayed twice, basically through appropriations, and now they think they will be diluted -- they will be put in place, but they won't be effective.

Lou Dobbs: So, once again, Congress is filled with gutless wonders rolling over for lobbyists on K Street, in this case, the beef industry fighting these country-of-origin labels.
Has anybody in this Congress got the guts to enforce this law?

Kitty Pilgrim: Well, let me tell you, this is in markup right now in the House, and the consumer groups are watching this like a hawk. When those amendments go in, there is going to be a public outcry...

Lou Dobbs: Well, let's get here tomorrow night, let's get those groups that are watching, Food & Water Watch, for example…the Consumers Union, all of them, and give them some credit, and show our audience where they can write, and try to get some -- and the idiot congressmen who would be blocking the enactment of this law. But let's also get the USDA. And who is the fellow from the Cattlemen's Association?

Kitty Pilgrim: Yes, Jay Truitt? He…

Lou Dobbs: Jay Truitt?...Well, Jay Truitt -- Jay Truitt, I want to talk to you, pardner. You're all bull and no beef. And we're going to call you on this. And we're going to go through every one of your objections. And if you don't start thinking just a little about the national interests, you are going to hear from us daily, nightly, hourly. I don't care what it takes, because I have had a bellyful of this. This is outrageous, a gutless administration on this issue, a gutless Congress, and lobbyists rolling over the will of the people.

Kitty Pilgrim: The public will is very clear on this. They want country-of-origin labels.

Lou Dobbs: It's a law, for crying out loud...millions of Americans that have just had it with this nonsense. This is no longer funny. And they are putting the public health at risk…let's see if we can get the existing law enforced and roll back the influence of lobbyists in Washington.

Yeah, let’s see! Food safety advocates and consumers have been huffing and puffing about this issue for years without getting anywhere, but with a prime time populist like Dobbs hyperventilating, maybe we’ll start to feel the winds of change. Tune in to CNN tonight at 6 for more fireworks. And if you think it’s unfashionable to be a Lou Dobbs Democrat, just call yourself a Kitty Pilgrim Progressive.

DISPATCH FROM DC: INSIDE THE FARM BILL HEARINGS

Eating Liberally’s delighted to announce that we’ve acquired a DC correspondent, and just in time to get the inside scoop on the farm bill hearings! Blogger Natasha Chart, a charter member of the netroots who ruminates about all things agricultural (and just cultural) on Daily Kos, myDD, OpenLeft and PacificViews , snagged a ringside seat yesterday and sent us her account of the dueling for dollars between sustainable ag advocates and the agribizness-as-usual crew.

Washington, D.C. - “A sound compromise that no one is satisfied with, but nevertheless represents real reform.” - From Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-MN) opening statement today on the 2007 Farm Bill.

 

The first House Agriculture Committee markup session on the 2007 Farm Bill began with Rep. Collin Peterson's opening statement, followed by everyone else's. Peterson said that Americans were fortunate to enjoy low, stable food prices, and food that meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

No markup, or voting on specific amendments, actually took place during today's session. The last changes to the legislation weren't made until late last night, and today was the first chance most members got to see the final versions, though Rep. Peterson said that the changes were minor in comparison to the version released a little over a week ago.

Peterson said that listening sessions all over the country indicated that the 2002 Farm Bill was popular and regarded as successful. Building from that as a platform, changes Peterson described as departing from 2002 policies included increased spending on research, investment in nutrition, and help for new farmers. He said it was also the first time there was dedicated baseline funding support for fruits and vegetables, as well as a hard cap on payments under the commodity and conservation programs, such that no one with an adjusted gross income of a million dollars or more is eligible.

Peterson further said that there would be a main version of the bill that strictly adhered to paygo, pay-as-you-go, budget guidelines. Other items not covered by this baseline funding would be included in a separate bill that would need to have budget offsets found for it.

Ranking member Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that he had called for a “modern, forward-looking Farm Bill,” as opposed to an extension of the previous bill, but that there wasn't enough money. He said that the majority party's Budget Committee wasn't willing to pay enough for nutrition, for a modern bill, not with a $60 billion budget shortfall.

Goodlatte said that he wasn't pleased to see the bill going to the floor with funding for some wishes, but only promises and good intentions for the rest. He also said that, though all the Republicans on the committee supported paygo rules, that demands had been made on the committee that they didn't have the resources to meet.

Goodlatte predicted an onslaught of amendments on the floor that would cripple the safety net for agriculture. He said that it was very important to know what outside funding would be made available, and that it be committed to publicly.

Peterson responded that other committees were reluctant to legislate on nutrition and energy issues that were in the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee. However, these pieces of legislation would be sent to the Rules Committee to find offsets from other committee budgets.

Rep. Terry Everett (R-AL) said that an industry facing as much uncertainty as agriculture needed a safety net. He singled out peanut farming as a sector that had to deal with the same rising costs as other farm enterprises, but without the benefit of countercyclical payments to redress price shortfalls.

Everett made a point of saying that his district grows a lot, and that he's not opposed to getting a Farm Bill passed just to keep Democrats from passing legislation. He said that preserving agriculture was more important than playing politics.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) agreed that it was important to support the $800 million peanut industry, worth $67 million in his own state alone. As the chair of the Subcommittee on Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture, McIntyre devoted most of his statement to rural development issues. He highlighted what he considered the critical importance of providing rural communities with libraries, fire trucks, and access to microenterprise development assistance. He said that companies with fewer than 10 employees were a fast growing source of jobs, and that programs like supporting rural broadband would help rural small business, as well as schools and hospitals.

Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) focused on farm finance, talking again about the listening tours that had been held around the country, saying that farmers especially liked three things: direct payments, marketing loans and counter cyclical payments. Counter cyclical payments are intended to compensate farmers for prices that fall below their operating costs. This year, the bill will include the option to sign up for a just released revenue based counter cyclical payment plan (pdf), a proposal forwarded by the president, that would establish target revenue and yield prices on a national formula.

Representatives Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) both expressed reservations about inclusion of Davis-Bacon Wage Determinations in the bill. This standard “determines prevailing wage rates to be paid on federally funded or assisted construction projects,” and is included as a requirement for biorefineries built with federal loan guarantees. The idea is alarming enough to Representatives Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA) and Michael Conaway (R-TX), that they've offered an amendment, number 51, to strike that language from the bill.

King later described himself as a lifetime opponent of Davis-Bacon, saying, “I don't get to die until that's repealed.” He also referred to the 46 percent increase in nutrition spending as “freedom from fear of want,” needlessly addressing the worries of households who weren't worried about the next meal, but a couple meals down the line. He said that this kind of worry was why he thought people got up to go to work.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) started off by identifying himself as a former food stamp recipient. He said that he still thanks God every day that they were there when his family needed that help. Rep. David Scott (D-GA), later reiterated the importance of the food stamp program, and warned the committee that it was important to protect it from moves toward privatization.

Baca also pointed out that while one in ten Americans suffer from hunger, this rate was double in the Black and Latino communities, so it was important to pay attention to nutrition for those receiving assistance. Scott further highlighted racial diversity issues, noting that Black farmers faced “dire and unique” pressures; having been around a long time, but usually running small farms.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) said that it was important that the bill support agricultural entrepreneurship, agriculture-based renewable energy, and rewards for creative conservation. He also noted that concentration in agriculture was a problem, and that having 70 percent of payments go to 10 percent of farms didn't help matters. Rep. Cardoza (D-CA) echoed this concern for payment diversity in pointing out that no previous Farm Bills have given specialty crops, fruits and vegetables, their fair share.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), himself a farmer, repeated the concern many Republicans expressed for providing a safety net for farmers. He said they were unique among industries in having to buy at retail and sell at wholesale, accepting prices at both ends. He said that he wanted a bill that would get farmers through the lean times, when, as Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) noted, they face enormous capital exposure and risks beyond their control.

Graves proposed safeguarding the current system by offering an amendment that would allow the USDA to permanently disbar anyone committing fraud against it from further participation in their programs

Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) returned the topic again to rural development. He praised the reauthorization of the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, a research service that provides technical advice for organic and sustainable farming, and expressed concern at the rate the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was closing rural offices. He also reiterated the interest expressed by Rep. Scott in having a strong country of origin labeling standard.

The committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 am. There were 300 people in line today. I'm going to have to hope I can get into the overflow room for the markup session, not sure I'll be as lucky again as I was today to get a seat in the main hearing room.

Republican Restrooms - Costaki

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey by Costaki Economopoulos. Republican Restrooms.

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.

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