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THE MELAMINE MERRY-GO-ROUND

First it was cats and dogs, then hogs and chickens. Now we find out they’ve been feeding melamine-tainted wheat gluten to the fish, too. Oh, and by the way? It wasn’t even really wheat gluten. According to the AP, it was actually a blend of wheat meal, melamine, and “related, nitrogen-rich compounds to make it appear more protein rich than it was.” Next, they’ll be telling us it was really pulverized pencil shavings.

So while federal inspectors poke around the fish farms trying to figure out whether the fish that ate the tainted feed have entered the food supply, the FDA assures us that “the contamination was probably too low to harm anyone who ate the fish.”

Probably. Who knows? Even additives that have been declared safe by food safety experts can turn out to be toxic. The Guardian reports today that a study of synthetic food additives commonly consumed by British children supports “findings first made seven years ago that linked the additives to behavioural problems, such as temper tantrums, poor concentration and hyperactivity, and to allergic reactions.” The additives include food colorings and preservatives that have been deemed safe in the U.K., including some that are banned in Scandinavian countries and the U.S.

The results of the study, conducted at Southhampton University for the Food Standards Agency, will not be published for several months, although independent experts say the evidence is compelling enough that parents should eliminate foods containing these ingredients from their childrens’ diets immediately.

The research confirms a 2000 report called the Isle of Wight study, which concluded that "significant changes in children's behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet…”

The FSA's Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food (CoT) discussed the findings in a closed meeting on March 20. Normally, the CoT’s meetings are open. The Guardian notes the ramifications of making the results public:

If the findings of the new research do confirm the Isle of Wight work, "the implications would be enormous", said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, in London. "The stakes are very high; these are additives that children have been exposed to for years. I can understand the FSA wanting to be sure no one can accuse it of breaking scientific protocols but these findings need to come out quickly," he added.

So, here in the U.S., we’ve got stuff in our food that isn’t supposed to be there, but may or may not be harmful, while in the U.K., the stuff that the experts say is safe may not be after all. We're all out to sea while our FDA fishes for clues and the U.K.'s FSA flounders.

THE ECO-REALITY SHOW THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL WON’T LET YOU SEE

We’d rather not hear about how our habits are harming habitats in faraway places. Why let rainforest destruction rain on your parade? All those acres of amputated tree limbs shipped off to the sawmill to become chopsticks, or make room for livestock crops, leaving a cemetery of sawed-off stumps—such a buzzkill.

Americans don’t want to watch that kind of thing, or so the Discovery Channel seems to think. After greenlighting Planet Action, a collaboration between the World Wildlife Fund and Discovery’s Animal Planet channel, Discovery’s executives evidently concluded that the six-part series documenting the extreme exploits of amateur environmentalists and eco-experts in places like Belize and Borneo made for Mustn’t-See-tv, at least in the U.S.

The Planet Action series, which aired internationally, continues The World Wildlife Fund’s forty year-plus fight for the rights of the finned and the furry. From Animal Planet’s UK website:

Around the globe, animals and their habitats are threatened. Many species are faced with extinction and often this is a result of human behaviour. Global warming, deforestation, unsustainable fishing practices and pollution all play a part in endangering the world’s wildlife.

In a mission to show viewers how they can help the conservation cause the global television network, Animal Planet, and WWF present PLANET ACTION, an all-new eco-reality series which takes on these crises in a new way.

Sounds like a reality show I might actually want to watch, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have the chance; there’s no mention of the show on Animal Planet’s American website. I only heard about it thanks to a Daily Kos post by a Kossack in Scotland, “Melmoth,” aka novelist and environmentalist Gregory Norminton, who wrote:

In 2005 I was one of the lucky participants in PLANET ACTION, a 6-part
TV series commissioned by ANIMAL PLANET. Seven volunteers from around
the world spent six weeks working in field conditions with WWF conservationists in Belize, Panama, Malaysia, Borneo and Cambodia. The
series was an exciting way of bringing the complexities of
environmental issues to a wide audience, and it was broadcast to great
acclaim throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the Palm Beach executives who commissioned the series decided NOT to screen it in America...where Animal Planet has by far its largest audience. The reason? The programme (and I quote) was "too intelligent" and "too worthy".

It would have been nice if Norminton had cited his sources, but it’s not much of a stretch to imagine a bunch of suits at company headquarters decreeing that a show about sustainability wouldn’t sustain our interest.

Norminton calls the Discovery Channel’s decision “stupid, gutless and wasteful.” To which I would only add “sad,” because it’s a missed opportunity to encourage Americans to embrace a more sustainable way of life.

I’ve been heartened in recent months by, among other things, the growing stigma against plastic shopping bags, the rising rejection of agribiz animal abuse, and the ever-higher profile of the eat local movement, which made the cover of Time a couple of months ago and is about to get an even bigger boost from Barbara Kingsolver’s brand-new locavore memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

We’ve been fiddling while the world burns, but the majority of Americans now seem to recognize that global warming is a real problem. The good news is that there are things we can do to avert carbon-fueled catastrophe, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, released on May 4th. From the AP:

The report, a summary of a voluminous study by a U.N. network of 2,000 scientists, showed the world has to make significant cuts in gas emissions through the development of biofuels, increases in fuel efficiency, the use of renewable energy like solar power, and a host of other options.

The document made clear that the world has the technology and money to decisively act in time to avoid a sharp rise in temperatures that scientists say would wipe out species, raise ocean levels, wreak economic havoc and trigger droughts in some places and flooding in others.

Norminton ends his Kos diary with a plea to take action on behalf of Planet Action:

PLEASE HELP GET THE SERIES BROADCAST!

Write to David Zaslav c/o Discovery Channel, requesting that PLANET ACTION get an airing. And if Discovery won’t screen it, tell him to sell it to Green TV or Sundance Channel Green:

Discovery Communications Inc
David Zaslav – CEO
One Discovery Pl
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Telephone: 240-662-2000

OK, so Animal Planet’s not PBS, I get that. It’s a for-profit enterprise. And so is Discovery Home, which Discovery’s going to turn into a “24-hour channel focused on eco-friendly living,” as part of its “PlanetGreen” initiative.

“The channel is doing well economically,” Mr. Zaslav told the NY Times, “but it’s not serving this higher purpose.”

And producing a program like Planet Action and then choosing not to air it in your largest market--which, incidentally, is also the largest producer of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions--isn’t serving a higher purpose, either.

Norminton’s Kos post caught my eye because the story it tells is part of a larger pattern. The people who program our airwaves have a pre-conceived set of notions about what Americans will watch. Look at the way the Learning Channel routinely adapts British “how-to” shows for American audiences by dumbing them down and prettying them up with bland but telegenic hosts.

The news shows are just as bad. Witness CNN’s decision to replace Soledad O’Brien with Fox News alumnus Kieran Chetry on its morning news show. American Morning’s ratings were up, but still trailing Fox. Not good enough for CNN president Jon Klein.

So he replaced O’Brien, who did such a terrific job during the Katrina debacle, with Chetry. Chetry’s credentials? ''You just have to look at her'' to know what a strong anchor she is, Klein told the NY Times. ''She lights up the screen.''

Sounds more like a candidate for American Idol than American Morning. Not that there’s much of a difference, these days. I vote for bringing back Soledad. And airing Planet Action.

WEEKEND GREENMARKET BLOGGING

Finally, the greenmarket’s kicking into high gear after what seemed like an awfully slow start. In our haste to beat the chefs to the cream of the season’s first crops, we hustled over to Union Square around 8 a.m. without even taking time out for our usual morning coffee.

Even so, we arrived just in time to see someone snap up the last bunch of pea greens from Gorzynski’s Ornery Farm, our favorite “beyond organic” source for unusual greens. John Gorzynski farmed organically for decades before abandoning the “organic” appellation a few years back out of disgust with diluted federal standards.

Ask him what it’s like to be a grower of what the USDA labels “specialty crops,” aka fruits and vegetables, and he’ll gladly give you a dash of ornery indignation to go with your greens, because our nation’s farm bill, up for renewal this year, historically gives agribiz fatcats a hefty helping of corporate welfare, and leaves the so-called “niche market” growers like Gorzynski to fend for themselves, like feral felines.

All us sustainable ag-tivists are trying to rebrand the Farm Bill the “Food and Farm Bill” in the hopes that more non-rural folks will finally realize this incredibly important piece of legislation affects them, too. Dan Imhoff’s excellent and entertaining Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill should be required reading for anyone who eats. Michael Pollan wrote the forward, though he apparently forgot to mention Imhoff’s book in that great NY Times article he wrote about our atrocious agricultural policies a few weeks back. Oh well.

We consoled ourselves for missing the boat on the pea greens by scoring one of Gorzynski’s last bunches of fava bean greens; less delicate but equally exotic in their own beany way. Either one adds a zing of spring to an otherwise ordinary salad, which is why both are sold out by 8:30 a.m.

Moving on to other vendors, Matt stalked up on asparagus, ramps, shitake mushrooms, and one extravagance--nasturtiums, the most flamboyant member of the cress family. They’ve got a peppery bite much like watercress with the added bonus of being beautiful. So easy to grow, too; I tuck nasturtium seeds in the ground every spring and watch them climb up our front fence and trail in front of it all summer, giving us plenty of flowers to garnish our greens and our garden.

They’ll thrive in a city window box, too, though they’re not fond of auto exhaust. But then, who is? Nasturtium lovers, unite, and demand congestion pricing in car-choked urban centers!

I gravitated as always to the greens, filling the now-mandatory canvas shopping bag with lacinato kale, baby collards, and a lovely bunch of beets with their equally lovely greens, which are identical to chard for all culinary purposes. My one indulgence was a single red bell pepper, grown hydroponically in a hothouse. It will give the Greek salad I’m making for lunch a nice crunchy touch, but it’s not so crunchy, figuratively speaking. Yes, it’s local and organic, but it’s an off-season crop grown in an artificially heated environment.

Then again, try finding a place on this planet that’s not artificially heated, these days. It’s getting to the point where a greenhouse will be the only place where the phrase “climate control” won’t be an oxymoron.

WE, THE PEOPLE: A NOT-SO-SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP

Madison Avenue has a label for socially conscious shoppers who are willing to pay a premium for ethically and sustainably produced food: LOHAS. As in, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.

But the LOHAS crowd is being denied the one label it craves, COOL, aka Country of Origin Labeling. Under the COOL legislation, which Congress included in the 2002 Farm Bill, retailers were required as of September 2004 to provide labels revealing the country of origin for all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, peanuts, and seafood.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket; food industry lobbyists bought themselves some back door delays from Congress. With the exception of the seafood industry, which was apparently not agile enough to escape getting caught in COOL’s nets, the legislation has yet to be implemented.

Debra Eschmeyer, program director for the National Family Farm Coalition, has done the math:

Lobbying expenditures by groups that opposed COOL between 2000 and 2004 include American Farm Bureau Federation: $11,840,000, and Wal-Mart: $2,760,000. The Goliaths of Agribusiness thus undercut our right to know the source of our food, despite 82 percent consumer support for the idea.

The clothes we wear are required to carry a label telling us what country they were made in; why shouldn’t we have access to the same information regarding the food we consume?

Matt and I have been scrutinizing the source of our food purchases for a long time now in our quest to eat more ethically, but lately, we’ve noticed that the fine print seems to have disappeared altogether. At first I thought maybe it was my aging eyeballs, but no, the frozen peas and corn from Whole Foods have taken a vow of silence, refusing to divulge their origins.

Trader Joe’s frozen peas are clearly labeled “Product of U.S.A.” But they’re not organic. Whole Foods, on the other hand, has organic frozen peas, but won’t tell you where they’re from. Presumably they’re foreign, because they’re certified organic by a private, for-profit corporation called Quality Assurance International.

We just want to know where our food comes from, as do the vast majority of Americans. A cabal of corporations and special interest groups doesn’t want us to have that option. And Congress is doing their bidding--bidness as usual.

So while an army of advertisers targets the lucrative LOHAs demographic by coating everything with a shell of sustainability, Congress withholds from us the single greatest weapon in our battle for better food—the right to know its origins. Why are the food manufacturers so determined to keep their sources a secret? Maybe because a “Product of China” label on a bag of frozen peas just doesn’t have the kind of cachet that translates into ka-ching.

YUM BRANDS: U.S. SAYS “YUCK,” CHINA SAYS “YUM!”

Yum Brands, proud parent of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, has had a spell of bad yuck recently. First came the Taco Bell E. coli episode. Then came the vermin-filled video that quickly went viral, starring the rat pack who turned a West Village Taco Bell into their very own after hours supper club.

Nothing slows fast food sales faster than viruses and varmints, and, sure enough, Yum Brands announced Wednesday that its overall U.S. operating profits fell 11% in the first quarter.

Yum Brand shares promptly soared to a record high on the New York Stock Exchange.

It’s not that Wall Street’s bullish on bacteria, or unperturbed by pests. Strong sales are what floats investors’ boats, and Yum Brand’s got ‘em—in China.

Sales have been terrific in the land where formica’s a food additive, more than offsetting the decline in U.S. earnings.

We learned last week that Chinese food producers routinely add melamine, a coal-derived chemical, to a wide variety of grain-based food products. The practice is widespread and appears to have been going on for more than fifteen years, according to an account in the China Post:

Melamine scrap is believed to be commonly mixed in animal feed in China to artificially boost the protein level, especially in soymeal, tricking feedlots and farmers into paying more for feed for chickens and pigs.

"The chemical plant next to us used the melamine scrap as waste for landfill and built houses on it. Then they tore down the buildings to get the scrap once the price rose," said a manager with Tai'an Yongfeng Feedmill Co. Ltd. in the coastal province of Shandong.

"It is a very popular business here. I know people have been mixing this since 1991."

Call it a culinary culture clash. We say “contaminant,” they say “revenue enhancing additive.”

No wonder Yum Brands finds plenty of takers for its take-out in China. Apparently, if you taint it, they’ll say “yum.”

HOW NOT TO GROW A BUSINESS

I was walking along West Broadway on my way to meet Matt for lunch yesterday when I impulsively decided to pop into the Soho Smith & Hawken’s in the hopes of finding a packet or two of Osaka purple mustard greens. The Seeds of Change revolving rack was out of my favorite greens, but the store had plenty of one of my most despised greens--and yellows--the Miracle-Gro label.

The sight of this toxic turquoise fertilizer dominating the shelves of a store that pioneered the rebirth of organic gardening in the U.S. gives me the heebie-jeebies. How does Paul Hawken, the original crunchy capitalist, feel about having his name attached to a company that’s now owned by Scott’s, the giant chem corporation that’s in cahoots with Monsanto, and run by a former Wal-Mart executive?

Back in the day, I schlepped countless bags of Smith & Hawken’s mushroom compost home to mulch my rooftop roses, and they also sold their own brand of organic fertilizers in little 5 pound brown bags, with different blends for vegetables, bulbs and flowers--perfect for city dwellers with tiny terraces and windowboxes. Or renegade roof gardeners like myself.

Their selection of fine English gardening tools and fancy Felco pruners was notoriously expensive but fun to fantasize about, and sometimes even affordable if you waited for them to go on sale.

Now, the tools are all cheap Made-in-China knock-offs, and the fertilizers are brought to you by Scott’s, which has teamed up with Monsanto to develop a genetically modified grass that’s resistant to Monsanto’s signature herbicide, RoundUp, so that gardeners “can plant the turf and spray weed-killing chemicals without worrying about harming their lawn.” The Department of Agriculture has yet to approve it, citing environmental concerns.

A sickly Agent Orange aura hangs over the whole enterprise now, and no wonder; Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, is a former F-16 fighter pilot, who “views grass and gardens as a commercial combat zone,” according to a recent profile in U.S. News and World Report. "I run my own war every day," he told them. "Instead of taking land, [we gain] market share... I would like Scotts to be the McDonald's of lawn and garden.”

I guess this combative mindset explains Scott’s decision to sue Terracycle, a tiny start-up founded by some eco-geeks in a Trenton, New Jersey enterprise zone. Terracycle sells organic fertilizers made from worm poop and packaged in used plastic bottles.

The fledgling business, founded in 2003 by a Princeton dropout, has yet to turn a profit, but it’s turning up on the shelves of big box stores like Home Depot. In other words, trespassing on Hagedorn’s turquoise-tinged turf. Evidently, Miracle-Gro’s unwilling to surrender a single inch of shelf space, so they’ve gone on the attack, filing a lawsuit against Terracycle.

Scott’s claims that Terracycle’s packaging steals Miracle-Gro’s trademark green and yellow and is designed to fool consumers. Just imagine how disappointed you’d be if you went to your local garden center looking for funny colored synthetic chemicals to give your plants a nitrogen rush and accidentally came home with an all-organic fertilizer derived from worm poops and sold in a secondhand soda bottle.

As Grist’s David Roberts notes, the lawsuit has brought Terracycle “boatloads of free advertising out of its innovative strategy: rather than creating new bottles for the product, it asks schools and churches to collect used 20-oz. soda bottles. For each bottle collected, the company donates a nickel to the charity of the collector's choice.”

How great that Miracle-Gro is boosting upstart start-up Terracycle’s sales with the kind of publicity that only a huge corporation like Scott’s can buy. Looks like Hagedorn the blowhard’s got some blowback coming his way.

Hagedorn’s determined to not just hold on to Miracle-Gro’s market share, but to cut into organic fertilizer sales with its own line of organic fertilizers, just to hedge its bets while it waits for the feds to give the RoundUp-Ready transgenic grass the green light.

Scott’s is pumping up its advertising, too, in an effort to appeal to “the Internet generation,” according to the U.S. News and World Report. Hagedorn’s strategy? "We need to make gardening seem edgy and hip."

Good luck with that, Scott’s. Your CEO’s a 51 year old fossil fuel fossil who collects muscle cars and proudly displays a picture of himself in his office giving the finger, as U.S. News and World Reports noted, citing these as example of Hagedorn’s “spunky side.” How juvenile. Smells more like mothballs than teen spirit.

Bottling up worm compost tea and selling it in old soda bottles, now, that’s cutting edge. The twenty-something founders of TerraCycle were savvy enough to mock Scott’s sourpuss lawsuit with a website called suedbyscotts.com, which also encourages donations to the TerraCycle Defense Fund. Sweet.

Hagedorn, like so many CEOs who try to paper over their petro-based businesses with a green veneer, doesn’t understand the demographic he aims to appeal to. Smith & Hawken is losing money, and stocking its shelves with Miracle-Gro will only hasten its decline.

If Hagedorn really wants to board the socially conscious business bandwagon, he can get a crash course in conscientious capitalism by reading a new book called Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being. It’s written by a guy named Paul Hawken.

CHINA’S HAIR-RAISING CONDIMENTS, & OTHER AGRIBIZ ATROCITIES

When we welded our wagon to China’s economic engine, did we sign on to an environmental train wreck?

I’m glad the Chinese government’s hired clean tech trailblazer William McDonough’s design firm to create a green blueprint for six new cities and a village--who better to help China bind its ever-widening carbon footprint than McDonough, the internationally influential green architect and designer who turned Ford’s River Rouge factory green and helped Nike create a biodegradable sneaker?

But China may have misinterpreted his “Waste = Food” concept. I’m pretty sure McDonough doesn’t advocate putting pulverized scraps of plastic in pet food, or making soy sauce out of human hair (not to mention lard out of sewage.)

The premise of McDonough’s environmental manifesto, Cradle to Cradle, co-written with Michael Braungart, a former Greenpeace activist turned sustainability scholar, is that every product we make should be non-toxic and biodegradable, or else endlessly recyclable. It’s a utopian vision for a garbage-and-pollution-free future.

Maybe McDonough’s tilting at wind turbines, but his ground breaking, earth saving designs have been hailed by environmental activists and not-so-crunchy corporatists alike. Steven Spielberg reportedly wants to do a documentary about McDonough’s heroic eco-endeavors.

And Chinese officials recognize the need to tackle the problems their overheated economy poses for the planet. In fact, while we fume about all the greenhouse gases China’s spewing, they may actually leave us in the dust when it comes to cutting carbon emissions.

But while the Chinese government may be leaning green, its business sector has been caught red-handed pumping up its profits by dumping chemicals into our food supply. The confirmation that melamine has been routinely added to animal feed to cut costs makes you wonder what else they might be putting in the food they’re shipping to our shores.

The other day we asked our friend Sue, who’s been to China several times, whether she would trust Chinese produce that’s labeled organic. “No way!” was her emphatic response.

And yet, more and more of the organic food we buy in the U.S. is coming from China. Supposedly, our food manufacturers have to rely on imports because American farmers simply can’t grow enough organic produce to meet the ever-growing demand.

I accepted this notion at face value until my friend and fellow NYC Food Systems Network colleague Christina Grace, a farmers’ market maven, pointed out that it really comes down to the fact that Big Food would rather cut corners and buy cheap from China than support America’s small family farms.

After all, it’s a terrific boon to the corporate bottom line to be able to do business with suppliers who can manufacture their products without the added expense of such niceties as worker safety or environmental protection.

Of course, here at home, the agencies entrusted to protect us aren’t doing such a bang-up job of things, either. It doesn’t help that the FDA’s budget keeps shrinking even as food imports rise. Welcome to Small Government, a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Food.

The USDA’s going to compensate the pork producers for the millions of dollars they’ll lose when they euthanize those 6,000 melamine-tainted hogs. Bereaved pet owners, on the other hand, will get nothing.

So taxpayers get stuck with the bill for Big Ag’s habit of salvaging substandard pet food and feeding it to the pigs. The dead dogs and cats? Just collateral damage. You know, like all those Iraqi civilians.

BELATED WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Farmer Kitty’s all in favor of promoting a plant-based diet, despite being an unapologetic carnivore. But, like most felines, she devotes the lion’s share of her waking hours to catnapping. Her less than rigorous routine goes something like this; plant a few seeds, catch a few z’s.

And once the seeds are sown, she tends to forget to tend them, thanks to all that mercury-tainted tuna she’s eaten over the years. So we insisted that she start her seeds in our self-watering germination trays this spring. The seedlings never dry out or get overwatered, because they sit on top of a strip of capillary matting which wicks water from a reservoir underneath on a need-to-grow basis. And the lid helps keep the soil temperature even so the seeds germinate faster.

All you have to do is remember to refill the reservoir every now and then and remove the lid once the seeds sprout. It’s the most painless form of propagation short of just throwing seeds on the ground and crossing your fingers, which is my other preferred method.

I’ve never seen these trays in a store but you can find them online at Gardener’s Supply and Lee Valley. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at growing your own herbs or salad greens but hesitated because you’re not a natural nurturer, these trays are for you; they’ll give the brownest of thumbs a greener patina.

FOOD CHAIN PILE-UP

First, the dogs and cats got kidney failure. Now, some 6,000 hogs in seven states will have to be euthanized after consuming tainted feed. Chickens may have eaten melamine-contaminated food, too.

Oh, and then there’s the three hundred or so hogs that have already been slaughtered and shipped off to market. Suddenly bringing home the bacon sounds slightly sinister.

The FDA expressed confidence a few weeks ago that the tainted wheat gluten hadn’t entered the human food chain, but they acknowledge now that plastic-polluted pork may indeed have entered our food supply.

Still puzzling over how a chemical used to make plastic found its way into the food chain? The evidence suggests not a random or accidental contamination, but rather a systemic and deliberate reliance on melamine, which is high in nitrogen, to artificially elevate the protein content of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain-based products used in animal feed as well as human food products.

Melamine is only mildly toxic, but experts have detected a second contaminant in the tainted pet food called cyanuric acid, which, when combined with melamine, appears to prompt the formation of crystals in urine, which in turn can cause kidney failure.

Cyanuric acid has all kinds of useful applications, apparently; it’s good for stabilizing the water in outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs, as well as boosting the protein content in food.

As Kitty Pilgrim reported Thursday on Lou Dobbs Tonight:

“The United States is importing tons of food and food additives from China. Imports of Chinese food and agricultural products have soared 400 percent in the last 15 years. Nobody knows how much of it is safe…

The Chinese themselves suffer from contaminated food and water. The U.N. estimates 300 million Chinese every year suffer food poisoning.

Sometimes, it’s substandard sanitation, such as the 100 restaurant goers hospitalized after eating bad snails. Sometimes deliberate fraud. A Chinese company was caught making lard from sewage. Farmers were caught adding cancer-causing dye to duck feed to enhance the eggs.

Pollution from industrial production or toxic accidents find their way into the water and subsequently into the food chain in China. Some of that food may be shipped to the United States. Almost all of it, untested and uninspected.”

Making lard from sewage? Suddenly, the Yes Men’s “reBurger” satire seems more prescience than parody.

SPREADING MANURE WITH IMPUNITY

Factory farms are incredibly efficient powerhouses of pollution; they simultaneously sully our air, soil and water.

I always assumed the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) could get away with dumping so much toxic waste and generating all those greenhouse gases because enforcement of environmental regulations is so lax.

But in Michigan, the factory farms are free to spew all the noxious sludge and fumes they create. Call it the No Particle Left Unpolluted Act. From the Muskegon Chronicle:

CAFOs in Michigan spread more than 4 billion pounds of untreated manure on farm fields each year -- animal feces and urine laced with hundreds of toxic chemicals and potentially deadly pathogens -- because the state Legislature in the 1990s made farms exempt from most environmental laws.

Air emissions from CAFOs contain hundreds of chemicals, including potentially deadly toxins and compounds that contribute to global warming. Those emissions are not regulated because farms in Michigan are exempt from the state's air pollution rules.

Ah, but there’s a new sheriff in town; on Wednesday, Michigan Democrats introduced legislation intended to halt the CAFOs’ unrelenting assault on their surroundings. One bill would impose a moratorium on construction of CAFOs. Another would give the Department of Environmental Quality more clout.

The pro-CAFO contingent claims that if it can’t pollute, it can’t compete. The Farm Bureau immediately cried foul, claiming that the right to foul our land, air and water is essential in a global economy:

Imposing a moratorium based on arbitrary and unscientific reasoning on the growth and expansion of agriculture, Michigan's second largest industry, is unreasonable, economically irresponsible and unfair punishment to Michigan farmers who are complying with environmental laws.

It all makes sense when you think about it. Our demand for cheap food compels us to ship more and more of the foods we eat from China, where pollution is just the cost of doing business.

If we hold Michigan’s farmers to a higher standard, they’ll have to pass the cost of compliance on to the consumer. Currently, they’re passing the costs off to the environment and the next generation. Talk about “unfair.”

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