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THE O’BRIEN RETORT: DO WE NEED INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE TO FEED THE WORLD?

It probably won’t make many headlines, but today, October 16th, is World Food Day, established in 1979 to commemorate the founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Seems like a great day to ponder the paradox of plenty: when so many of us are grappling with a glut of calories, why are there millions of people still going hungry? As Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé note over at the Huffington Post:

Though the planet produces enough calories to make every one of us chubby, 854 million are hungry, up from 830 million six years ago according to the United Nations.

Some friends of mine, after seeing the documentary Our Daily Bread, peppered me with questions about the kinks in our global food chain. But I’m an activist, not an expert.

So we’ve decided, in the tradition of our “Let’s Ask Marion” segments, to farm out questions about agriculture to our favorite “farminist,” Denise O’Brien. Denise is an Iowa farmer and longtime sustainable ag advocate who founded the Women, Food & Agriculture Network. Last year, she ran for Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, and, to the consternation of the cornarchists, she nearly won!

We asked Denise if she’d be willing to set down her spade long enough to take up our questions, and to our delight she said yes. So, here’s the first installment of “The O’Brien Retort”:

Kat: Is this industrial agriculture the necessary outcome of having so many people on the planet?

Denise O’Brien: Industrial agriculture, assembly line production of crops, if you will, is not the necessary outcome of having so many people on this planet. Industrial agribusiness has imposed itself on the rural areas of the world to maximize the bottom line of corporations like Cargill, ConAgra and Tyson’s. These corporations, plus many others, want to own what everyone needs to sustain themselves – food.

Growing food in an industrial manner to feed the world is a humanitarian disguise that shields agribusiness from their true motives. Farmers, especially those in the United States, have been led to believe that it is their responsibility to grow food to feed the hungry. All the while these farmers are being pitted against each other to produce crops at the lowest possible price. Because of trade agreements set up to benefit agribusiness corporations, farmers in the “developed world” grow crops that are dumped on the farmers in the “undeveloped world” making grain cheaper to buy than grow. This has caused migrations to urban areas and to other countries to try and earn a living.

As we become more dependent on products grown in other parts of the world, we become less food secure. It is important to understand that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. People lack access to food because of war, corruption and lack of a government’s will to feed their people.

ALL HANDS ON DECK! ICEBERG RIGHT AHEAD--OH, WAIT, IT’S MELTING…

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day Yes, the glaciers in Greenland are melting at a not-so-glacial pace, but they’re not the only formerly frosty icons fighting global warming; we New Yorkers had a meltdown of our own last week at Rockefeller Center’s ice rink .

You see, Columbus Day marks the annual opening of the Rockefeller Center ice rink. So, last Monday, would-be skaters showed up eager to glide across that historically glassy surface, only to find themselves slipping and sliding in several inches of water as record breaking temperatures made it impossible to keep the rink’s surface frozen.

It was 87 degrees in Central Park, and 90 at JFK airport. “That broke the daily record by 15 degrees,” as Tom Moore, a senior meteorologist for the Weather Channel, told the New York Times.

A day earlier, the Chicago Marathon was cut short "amid brutal heat and humidity that sent scores to hospitals,” according to USA Today, causing another senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel, Stu Ostro, to breathlessly blog “WAS GLOBAL WARMING A FACTOR IN THE CHICAGO MARATHON HEAT?” (his answer is yes, and he backs it up with graphics.)

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and unless you’re in denial, you don’t need the Weather Channel to know the planet’s getting hotter. The evidence is right there in our own backyards, and on our farms, where an extended growing season and warmer temperatures make it all too clear that we’ve literally entered a new zone.

Agriculture in some regions may temporarily benefit from this “new normal,” as I learned from Cynthia Rosenzweig, the research scientist who leads NASA’s Climate Impacts Group. Rosenzweig spoke last month at a panel hosted by the Glynwood Center on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food, and warned that while some farmers see the longer growing season as a boon, it brings with it a whole host of new problems in the form of diseases and pests that will flourish in this altered climate.

I’m glad to see there’s a growing awareness that global warming could fracture our food chain, and the fact that factory farming contributes to this crisis. People used to be puzzled that we tackled these topics at Eating Liberally; now, with the concept of “food miles” getting some mileage in the MSM and Barbara Kingsolver’s locavore memoir topping the bestseller charts, more folks are catching on.

But not nearly enough, and that’s why the United Nations Environment Programme has declared today, October 15th, “Blog Action Day.” They’re calling on bloggers all over the world to devote their posts today to the topic of global warming, hoping, presumably, to light a fire under all the (dumb)asses who remain apathetic, oblivious, or skeptical that it’s really all that serious.

I don’t know if Blog Action Day will manage to make a dent in some of those thick skulls, any more than Gore winning the Nobel will sway the naysayers, including that oily Texas team who’ve stained the Oval Office with their petro-centric policies. A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, served up a typical slice of snideness when describing Dubya’s reaction to Gore’s achievement. "Obviously it's an important recognition, and we're sure the vice president is thrilled."

I’m sure he is, but I bet he’d be even more thrilled if the current administration would stop all the spinning and stalling, the corn-based ethanol snake oil-selling and hydrogen car hyping, and Step It Up instead of spewing more noxious gases into the atmosphere.

So, here’s my contribution to Blog Action Day—yet another post calling on us all to curb our collective carbon footprint. Just another manic Monday (wish it was Sunday, ‘cause that’s my fun day—my “I don’t have to pun day.”)

A CONSOLATION PRIZE FOR “OZONE MAN”

It’s quite a resumé: two Oscars, an Emmy, and now a Nobel Peace Prize. But the prize that might have mattered most eluded Al Gore, even though he won the popular vote back in 2000.

Would we be a nation at peace today if Gore had actually become president? Ralph Nader was so convinced that Bush and Gore were indistinguishable that he felt obliged to offer Americans a genuine alternative.

Thanks, Ralph, but you really shouldn’t have. Gore would not have launched a needless and unjust war, for starters. He also, in all likelihood, would not have implemented the No Incompetent Crony Left Behind Act, or the current administration’s “a fox in every henhouse” policy. In a Gore White House, breaking levees would have been breaking news, not a compilation of clips put together for a highlight reel our commander in chief finally watched nearly a week after Katrina hit.

But when it comes to climate change, well, that’s when the “what if’s” become truly painful. I’m happy that Gore won the Nobel, but it’s a bittersweet victory. His fellow recipients, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are releasing a report next month that reveals the IPCC has underestimated the rate at which greenhouse gases are accumulating. To put it more dramatically, if ungrammatically, the worst case scenario just got worser.

Scientists had thought we’d have a decade or so before we’d pass the ominous milestone of 450 parts per million—the measure of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. That number represents, in essence, the Point of No Return; once you pass that threshold, it may be impossible to halt catastrophic climate change.

Alas, the IPCC’s report will show that we’re already there.

So what to do, now? We can give up, or we can Step it Up. As peak oil prophet Albert Bates noted at the talk I attended last week, we have only two choices at this point: sustainability, or extinction. Kind of a no-brainer, dontcha think?

Lee Camp: Letter to Blackwater

The more we sip of Blackwater, the more we realize what a murky, muddy, mucky mess they've made. Once you look into it, you may not want to drink the Blackwater, but how about a liberal shot of political whiskey with Lee Camp of Laughing Liberally.

LET’S ASK MARION: IS THE EVIDENCE AGAINST FAT THIN?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Gary Taubes' new book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” presents the hypothesis that carbohydrates, not fat, are to blame for the obesity epidemic, and that the evidence linking a high fat diet to heart disease is unconvincing.

So why the widely held consensus that eating too much fat is bad for us? According to Taubes, it boils down to peer pressure, or a kind of group think phenomenon among nutritionists and scientists who blindly regurgitate the conventional wisdom that excess fat consumption contributes to heart disease. He calls this an “informational cascade,” and credits it with a flood of fallacies about fat’s supposed role in our current health crisis.

Taube’s theory got an approving nod from the New York Times’ resident contrarian John Tierney (aka “the thinking man’s John Stossel”) in Tuesday’s Science Times, but Tierney admits that Taube’s hypothesis remains unproved because the pro-low fat contingent won’t even allow it to be properly studied. Another New York Times science writer, Gina Kolata, began her review of Traube’s book by heralding him as “a brave and bold science journalist,” but concluded it by saying “I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced.”

You described the “Snackwell’s phenomenon” in What to Eat, whereby consumers eat a whole box of high-carb, fat-free cookies because they think “fat-free” equals “low calorie.” The low-fat fad has given rise to all kinds of dubious “innovations,” such as hogs bred so lean that they haven’t got sufficient fat on their backs to be able to survive outdoors. Lost in all this low-fat baloney is the fact that some fats are good for us, and others (such as saturated animal fats) aren't. Do any truly credible scientists dispute that?

It seems to me that most of us are simply eating too much of everything, be it fats or carbs. But I’m not a nutrition professor, just lucky enough to know someone who is. What’s your take on Taube?

Dr. Nestle: Gary Taubes' book arrived while I was in India and I can't comment on it because I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I gather that it comes down hard on carbohydrates. I continue to be impressed by how difficult it is to separate the health effects of fat, carbohydrate, and protein from the calories they provide, the foods that contain them, the diets as a whole, or the rest of the lifestyle that goes along with the diet.

Finding out what people eat is hard to do. Determining the health effects of dietary factors or patterns is even harder to do since humans make such awful experimental animals. Plenty of things about human nutrition are reasonably well established--the basic nutrients that are required and the amounts that prevent deficiency diseases, for example.  But it is much trickier to figure out the effects of nutrients on chronic diseases that are also affected by activity levels, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and social factors such as poverty, stress, and lack of control. I can't help but be skeptical of journalists who think they have answers to questions that scientists have been grappling with for years.

In a situation in which questions remain, is it better to say nothing or to give the best advice possible based on existing knowledge? Intelligent people may differ on this point but I am convinced that people really want to know what diet is best for their health and want help making food choices. What seems amazing to me is that despite decades of arguments over fat v. carbohydrate, basic dietary advice for preventing chronic diseases hasn't changed in 50 years. I summarize this advice in What to Eat as don't eat too much (eat less, move more); eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and don't eat too much junk food.

Oh, and the calorie question. It's not that people are overeating 50 to 100 calories a day (the amount in one or two Oreo cookies) and gaining weight. Most bodies can easily compensate for small differences in caloric intake and output. But, as I hear from pediatricians all the time, kids these days are consuming hundreds of calories more than they need, and sometimes thousands. Metabolism--in kids or adults--just can't handle that level of overload. In that situation, carbohydrates may be harder to handle than fats, but both will end up in the body as fat if those calories aren't used up in physical activity.

Fortunately, my precepts leave plenty of room for enjoying delicious food, and aren't we lucky to have so much around.

 

BLESSED ARE CUBA’S POOR, FOR THEY SHALL BE HEALTHIER?

Here’s a hypothetical for you: what would happen if our food and fuel supply was suddenly disrupted—and drastically reduced--for, say, a whole decade, forcing millions of Americans to eat less and walk or bike to work instead of driving?

It might be the best thing that could happen to us, judging from Cuba’s experience. As PRI’s Marketplace reported yesterday, Cubans currently have a slightly longer life expectancy than we do. Free universal health insurance may be a factor, but they apparently owe their longevity in part to an economic crisis that deprived Cubans of food and fuel from 1989 through 2000, according to a new study from the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989 brought an abrupt halt to the food and fuel shipments that Cuba had long relied on. Overnight, Cubans found their daily caloric intake reduced by about a third, and were forced to walk or bike instead of drive.

During this “crisis,” the percentage of physically active adult Cubans rose from 30% to 67%, and obesity rates dropped by half, from 14% to 7%. Rates of diabetes and heart disease plummeted, with an across the board reduction in deaths from all kinds of disease.

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago in which I noted that Americans had a healthier diet during World War II than we do now, thanks to rationing of fatty foods such as meat and a reliance on homegrown produce, aka the “victory gardens” our government encouraged us to grow.

Cubans coped with their sudden food shortage by converting vacant lots and backyards into verdant, ultra-productive models of urban agriculture in a now legendary transformation that guerrilla gardeners all over the world dream of emulating. Without access to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Cuba’s home gardeners and small family farmers had to fall back on old-fashioned organic methods, which yielded an astonishing abundance of fresh, healthy produce. As The Land Research Action Network noted in September, 2005:

There can be no doubt that urban farming, relying almost exclusively on organic techniques, has played a key role in assuring the food security of Cuban families over the past two to three years. As an indication, more than 90% of perishable produce consumed in Havana is grown in and around the city limits.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I attended a talk the other night by Albert Bates, an eco-activist who gleefully foresees a fossil fuel-free future. One of the first photos in his slide show was a picture of him grinning, accompanied by the message “We are going to have an enormous change…and it could turn out to be something wonderful!”

If Bates seems weirdly cheerful about the prospect of our compulsive consumption being severely curtailed by “compelled conservation,” maybe it’s because he sees the potential for a Cuba-style revival in which Americans rediscover the lost art of walking and the pleasures of pure, unadulterated foods.

Does this scenario sound farfetched? Just last Sunday, Pat Buchanan warned of an impending economic crisis on The McLaughlin Group. With the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, the deflating dollar, and rising food and fuel costs, it’s not so hard to imagine. But would a decade of deprivation turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for our ailing nation?

Well, let’s look at how Cubans are faring today. Now that their economy has recovered, obesity-related deaths are creeping up again. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it takes an unhealthy economy to create a healthy population?

WHY THE WORLD’S OLDEST GRAINS ARE THE FUTURE OF FOOD

Millet's been around since the Stone Age, or maybe longer. Dinosaurs reportedly grazed on this ancient grain, and it’s been a staple for centuries in Africa, Asia, and India, in part because it’s so easy to grow. Millet needs only two months or so from planting to harvest, and thrives in the kind of hot, dry weather that’s becoming ever more common thanks to climate change. It’s naturally resistant to pests, so needs no chemicals to grow. How sustainable can you get?

Plus, it’s ultra-nutritious, with more protein than rice, corn or oats. Millet is also high in fiber, B vitamins, and essential minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium. It’s easy to digest and low in gluten. Oh, and it’s tasty, too—especially if you toast it before you cook it.

This amazing ancient grain has even inspired a millet-based movement in Japan called “tsubu-tsubu.” Tsubu tsubu is advocated by a non-profit organization called The International Life and Food Association (ILFA), founded in Japan in 1982 to research and promote "food for a sustainable future." While Tsubu tsubu is centered on millet, a traditional staple crop in Japan, it also encompasses other ancient grains including quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and barley.

The tsubu tsubu movement is based on the belief that a plant-based diet offers a way to feed the world without causing catastrophic pollution and disease. Instead of chopping down rain forests and burning through fossil fuels to maintain our meat-based diet, we could be cultivating these easy-to-grow grains and meeting our protein needs without squandering resources, degrading the planet, and feeding the “globesity” epidemic.

So what do we do here in the U.S. with this marvelous millet? Well, we feed it to the birds. In America, a bag of birdseed is nearly the only place you’ll find millet; it’s one of the main ingredients in most commercially sold birdseed. Unless you’re a bluejay (or a birdfeeder-plundering squirrel,) you’ve probably never even tasted millet.

You can find it in health food stores, and it’s slowly creeping into the “dietgeist,” to borrow from those clever Ethicureans , but by and large, millet is utterly obscure and unappreciated in our culture despite the fact that billions of people all over the world have survived on it for centuries.

American agribusiness sinks most of our resources into chemically dependent commodity crops, planting endless acres of feed-grade corn, soybeans, and wheat. Our Monsanto-made monoculture has relegated venerable crops like millet, barley, and buckwheat to the fringes of our food chain when they ought to be front and center.

A growing number of family farmers across the U.S. are planting these heritage grains as the demand for more nutritious whole grains rises, so perhaps in the future millet won’t be just for the birds in this country. Italy’s Slow Food movement is (slowly) catching on in the U.S., so why not an American tsubu-tsubu contingent?

I hadn’t heard of tsubu-tsubu till I attended a talk the other night by Albert Bates, author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide & Cookbook. Bates, a cheerier Cassandra than crotchety Jim Kunstler, gave a terrific presentation (pdf) on the perils of peak oil followed by encouraging examples from around the world of the many ways people are working to create a sustainable future. As Bates noted, “There is only one alternative to sustainability—extinction.”

Yumiko Otani, the founder of ILFA, has a message on ILFA’s home page written in exquisite Hello Kitty-style syntax:

What we eat is environmental problem closer to our lives.

If our foods change, naturally our life changes too.

Open your mind to your diet!
We can eat food that:
nourish our mind, feed every cell,

makes the earth happy
and change the world.

Change our thinking and change our actions for a sustainable future!

 

Millet couldn’t sustain the dinosaurs, but maybe it’s not too late to save us.

The New TV Season: An Inside Look

Laughing Liberally previews the hottest shows of the 2007 season

This Old Hospital
Watch Norm Abrams and the gang fix up Walter Reed as critically wounded soldiers look on from their creaky beds in Building 18. Is it a hospital or a construction site? It’s both! Our workers won’t know whether to plaster the walls or the casts as they do an extreme makeover of this embarrassing eyesore as it recuperates America’s bravest. Look out, is that spilled paint? No, it’s blood! This hospital is a real fixer-upper! Viewer Warning: Contains vermin and other disturbing images. (PBS)

You Cannot be Syria’s!
Tennis legend John McEnroe hosts this docudrama which follows the adventures of intrepid explorer Johnny Mac and trusty sidekick Hans Blix as they search Syrian weapon stockpiles looking for Iraqi WMD’s. (The Discovery Channel)

The Devil Wears Pantsuits
A weekly Fox News panel discussion where eminent conservative scholars and theologians attempt to prove Hillary Clinton is the Antichrist to the dozen or so Fox News viewers that aren’t already convinced. Evidence presented includes quotes from ancient religious texts and unflattering photographs of the Senator and former First Lady. Hosted by “Democratic Strategist” Dick Morris. (Fox News)

Duck Blind Justice
Each episode follows Justice Antonin Scalia as he hunts with a celebrity guest who also has a case pending before the Supreme Court. Viewer Warning: To preserve the authenticity of the hunting experience, this program contains impact shots and questionable ethics. (Court TV)

Who’s Left?
Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Laura Ingraham gather each week to discuss the pervasive liberal media. Four hour talk show moderated by John Stossel, simulcast on Clear Channel radio outlets and CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

Fishin’ Accomplished!
A nostalgic look at George W. Bush’s years in the Texas and Alabama National Guard. “W” may miss roll call but he doesn’t miss a chance to hang with his buddies talkin’ bout the one that got away (the Vietnam War) with a little fishin’ and a lotta drinkin’ in a band of brothers that refer to themselves as “Swiftboat Veterans for Trout.” No violent scenes. This is must viewing…unless you know somebody, then you can skip it. (OLN)

All My Sons
Reality show which documents Mitt Romney’s boys’ service to their country in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond. Romney, who once said, “One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected,” has since vowed to have more children if necessary. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Romney. “I’ll have’em two at time if I have to, I love this country.” (ABC Family)

Let’s Do Cooking Right
Demonstrates a conservative approach to food preparation emphasizing wholesome ingredients and American-style cooking…no ethnic foods in this kitchen! Learn to cook fair and balanced meals for the whole traditional family (with the occasional exception for a dish like “Mary Cheney’s Meatless Chili”). Featured recipes in the series include classics like Oysters Rockefeller, but also contemporary entrees with a neoconservative twist like Water-boarded Sockeye Salmon, Alaskan Caribou Steaks (dredged in oil), and sinful desserts such as New Orleans Forgotten Cookies and Heckuva Job Brownies. Hosted by Katherine Harris. (The Food Network)

Touched by an AttorNey GenEraL
It’s bedtime for Gonzo in this one hour drama as each week the ghostly image of a certain A. G. hovers over the sickbed of a desperately ill patient and pressures them on important decisions. The shady apparition also materializes to fire U.S. Attorneys with witty quips like, “Hasta la vista, baby!” and, “You serve at the pleasure of the President, bitch!” Missing this show would be torture! (FX)

The House on Abstinence Street
Finally, a primetime soap for the whole family! This soap opera features no premarital sex, no extramarital sex, and no marital sex! Viewer Warning: May contain suggestive glances. Note: Critics predict the lowest-rated television show of all-time. (PAX)

Some Like It Hot
Examines the benefits of climate change…Imagine a future with coffee plantations on the North Slope, Spring Break on the Aleutian Islands (over 20 hours of daylight!), hosted by Patricia Heaton. Safe viewing for the whole family, no Gore. (The Weather Channel)

HBO ½ Hour Comedy Special: Dick Cheney Uncensored! Live from an Undisclosed Location
Cheney builds on the comedy act he delivered at the Correspondents Dinner in this new HBO special. Early reviews are mixed. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times calls Cheney Uncensored, “A Revelation!” while The New York Times said Cheney is “Funny as a heart attack.” Viewer Warning: Explicit language and extreme denial of reality. (HBO)

Best Week Ever
Sunday news magazine that looks back at the highlights of the previous 7 days of the Iraq War, emphasizing progress in reconstruction and GI’s distributing candy. Each show ends with a random list of U.S. soldiers who were not killed or wounded that week. At long last an unashamedly positive look at the Iraq War. Hosted by Elizabeth Hasselbeck. (The Military Channel)

Cavemen
A weekly roundtable featuring Don Imus, Isiah Thomas, and Hootie Johnson discussing women’s issues, with a special appearance by Sean Connery. Hosted by Geraldo Rivera. (Spike TV)

Whose Wife is it Anyway?
A quiz show where contestants are asked to match Republican Presidential candidates with their current and former wives. Hosted by Chuck Woolery (Game Show Network)

A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Reality show which follows the Bush Administration process for naming high level appointments, from open calls across the country to regional competitions leading to confirmation hearings before finding the one candidate who best strikes the delicate balance between incompetent yes-man and political hack. (C-Span 2)

Tax Cuts of the Rich and Famous
See how the other half (okay, top 1%) lives, as we tour mansions, yachts, and look over the hedge funds of the primary beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. Co-hosted by Robin Leach and Billy Bush. Viewer Warning: Obscene wealth. (The Style Network)

Every Breath You Take
A dual examination of the Bush Administration’s domestic spying program and the emasculation of the Clean Air Act. (Airing on Oxygen...for a limited time)

FEAR MONGERS VS FISHMONGERS

It shouldn’t be hard to tell a true grassroots organization from an industry-sponsored Astroturf campaign; a real grassroots coalition springs from the fertile soil of citizen activism, whereas if you dig for the origins of an Astroturf group, you’ll find no roots at all—just a plastic mat of fake grass hiding slimy lobbyists intent on manipulating public opinion.

But I confess I’m baffled by the recommendation from the non-profit National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition asserting that pregnant women should eat a minimum of 12 ounces of seafood a week. This advice conflicts with current recommendations from the FDA and the EPA that pregnant women should consume a maximum of 12 ounces of seafood weekly in order to minimize their consumption of methyl mercury.

The experts behind HMHB’s recommendations concluded that insufficient consumption of omega-3 fatty acids--so crucial to fetal brain development--is a bigger problem than methyl mercury:

The recommendations come at a time when the debate about mercury in fish and an FDA/EPA advisory have created confusion for pregnant women, causing a reduction in their fish consumption. This leads to inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids resulting in risks to their health and the health of their children…

…women who want to become pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should eat a minimum of 12 ounces per week of fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, and can do so safely.

HMHB seems to have impeccable credentials as a legit grassroots group, but these findings were funded by a $60,000 grant from a seafood industry group, the National Fisheries Institute, creating what appears to be a blatant conflict of interest.

As Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told NPR on Thursday, "It's very troubling that the National Fisheries Institute is essentially paying for a public health message."

HMHB is not some fly-by-night, hastily assembled front group; founded in 1981, its members include the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But the announcement came as a surprise even to some of HMHB’s own members, as NPR reported:

"I really think that's the wrong recommendation to be making," says pediatrician Frank Greer, chairman of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We really should not be implying that women should be eating more than 12 ounces of seafood."

Christina Pearson, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told NPR “We are members of the coalition, but we were not informed of this announcement in advance, and we do not support it."

The fact is that the fish industry is, indeed, suffering from a pr problem; consumers are so confused about which fish to eat, and how much, that many pregnant women don’t eat enough fish to ensure healthy fetal development.

So, even though I question the National Fisheries Institute’s methods of promoting their products, I support the goal of getting pregnant women—along with the rest of us--to eat more fish. If you have trouble keeping track of which fish is high in omega-3’s and low in mercury, print out a wallet-sized guide from one of these organizations untainted by industry influence:

Oceans Alive

Monterey Bay Aquarium

National Resources Defense Council (pdf)

Purdue University

Phony-ing it in

Clear Channel: "Rush Limbaugh's listeners are too stupid to think for themselves."

Via Salon:

The Clear Channel affiliate that airs Rush Limbaugh's show in Palm Beach, Fla., is refusing to run VoteVets.org ads dealing with Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" remark on the ground that the ads "would only conflict with the listeners who have chosen to listen to Rush Limbaugh."

To be fair, if your diet consists solely of swallowing bullshit, I imagine any abrupt change in that diet would cause a massive shock to your system. So, really, Clear Channel's just trying to protect the people. Good lookin' out!

As for Rush, I'm sure his drug-addled mind is just confused. It happens when you're a drug addict. Besides, how would he know what a real soldier is? The only soldiers he's ever seen are the ones he avoided serving with.

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