Will Obama Follow Doctors’ Orders to Protect American’s Health?

 

Come on, Joe.

Come on, Joe.

 

 

It’s damn near impossible to get 93% of Americans to agree on anything, but that’s the percentage of doctors who told a recently released Consumer Reports poll that they were concerned about the common practice of feeding perfectly healthy livestock in this country constant low levels of antibiotics—a practice banned in much of the civilized world.

Groups that included Physicians for Social Responsibility, Natural Resources Defense Council, and National Physicians Alliance, in addition to the Consumers Union, have long held that feeding farm animals drugs creates strains of bacteria that resist even the most potent antibiotics. Infections from these so-called “Superbugs” kill 23,000 Americans a year, and many of the germs responsible originate on farms.

The Consumers Union also sent a letter signed by more than 2,000 medical professionals to Trader Joe’s, urging the niche grocery chain to stop selling meat from animals fed regular low-dose antibiotics (Trader Joe’s competitor Whole Foods Market already follows such a policy).

The Food and Drug Administration has known for nearly four decades that misusing antibiotics in this way is hurting Americans’ health, and has yet to take any serious steps to stop the practice.

Last month President Obama ducked the issue by telling cabinet secretaries to come up with a five-year action plan. He ought to act now—doctors’ orders.

 

See also:

As 125,000 Americans Die, Obama Resorts to Greenwash

The Rise of Superbugs

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A Dangerous Duo Is on the Loose Thanks to the EPA

If at first you don't succeed . . .

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

Weeds aren’t as dumb as you might think. Kill enough of them with a certain herbicide, and some will eventually figure out how to become resistant to that herbicide, rendering it useless. This fact appears to be lost on the scientists at Dow Chemical and the bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So-called “Superweeds” have already become resistant to glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup, which farmers apply to 80 percent of the soybean acreage in the United States and 66 percent of corn acreage, according to research sponsored by the agricultural chemical industry. After being doused with the herbicide for two decades, at least 14 weed species in 29 states have evolved traits that allow them to survive applications of the popular chemical.

Dow’s solution has been to combine glyphosate with an older, even nastier herbicide called 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange, the notorious defoliant used in Vietnam. The new chemical cocktail, called Enlist Duo, is meant to be deployed in combination with Dow’s Enlist corn, soybeans, and cotton varieties, which are genetically engineered to survive the weed killer.

Earlier this month the EPA approved Enlist Duo, clearing the way for it to be applied to American fields, even though over one million citizens, 60 members of Congress, and 35 prominent doctors petitioned the agency to disallow application of a chemical that many claim has been associated with immune system cancers, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems.

The Center for Food Safety, a consumer group, vowed to battle the EPA’s decision in court.

But the final verdict may be out of the legal system’s hands. Enlist Duo has already sowed the seeds of its own obsolescence. Scientific studies (see here and here) have proven what should be obvious to agrichemical producers and government officials who allow them to use poisonous chemicals: Weeds will inevitably become resistant to the new herbicide cocktail.

By then, one fears, the corporations will have come up with another, even more toxic “solution.”

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“In Search of the Perfect Loaf:” A Review

Sam's Book Cover

I am not in the habit of reviewing books by friends or people who have edited my work and supported it financially. Sam Fromartz, the author of In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, fits into all three categories.

But I found this book so informative and worthwhile that I would be remiss if I failed to bring it to the attention of anyone who bakes bread—or who wants to understand the art, craft, and science that come together to create this historic staple.

I envy Fromartz. He is a bread geek extraordinaire. He bakes beautiful sourdough loaves for his family (neighbor kids rush over to beg for slices when that telltale aroma wafts from his kitchen window). He once entered a baguette contest against the best bakers in Washington, D. C. (his home) and won. When Alice Waters of Chez Panisse—no slouch when it comes to appreciating great bread—held a benefit in Washington, she requested that Fromartz provide the bread.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf is a seamless blend of memoir and how-to. Serious bread bakers will want this book for the how-to information it contains. For four years Fromartz traveled to bakeries from Berlin, to Paris, to New York, and California and worked elbow to elbow with the world’s finest bread bakers, and makes readers feel like they, too, are participating. His journey makes for a fascinating story in its own right, populated with vividly drawn characters, every one a dedicated fanatic.

Unlike Fromartz, I am a bread geek manqué. I like to think of myself as the type of guy who wakes up at dawn, gets his hands all flour-y, and turns out perfect loaf after perfect loaf from a starter that came down to me from a genuine Forty-Niner. Alas, my one and only attempt at sourdough bread produced a product that was the size, weight, and texture of a paving stone. I have neither the patience nor the powers of observation to make anything that requires more than a packet of store-bought yeast and a couple of hours rising time on the kitchen counter. Besides, my neighbor down the road bakes splendid bread in his wood-fired oven and sells it at our weekly farmers’ market for less than four bucks a loaf. Why bother?

But thanks to Fromartz, I feel for the first time that I know what bread really is. I understand the mysterious lives of the yeasts that make a miracle out of flour and water. I understand how wheat becomes flour, and know about the other grains that go into breads. And most important, I see the care and craft that go into making “real” bread.

Even though he includes detailed, step-by-step recipes complete with timelines (“Morning, First Day; Evening, First Day, Second Day”) for nine different breads, it is evident that Fromartz feels that the most detailed instructions are far less useful to the novice bread baker than trial and many, many errors. But as this book makes clear, those errors are perhaps the most important ingredient in mastering the art of making a perfect loaf.

 

Click here if you are interested in ordering In Search of the Perfect Loaf through Amazon. Disclosure: This blog receives a commission from any books sold through this site.

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As 125,000 Americans Die, Obama Resorts to Greenwash

Thanks for the five-year reprieve, Mr. President.

Thanks for the five-year reprieve, Mr. President.

Salmonella are known killers. The food-borne bacteria poison 1.2 million Americans each year, resulting in 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. Astonishingly, it is not illegal to sell meat and poultry contaminated with salmonella, according to the current policies of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service—the folks who are charged with keeping this country’s meat supply safe.

Three years ago the USDA denied a petition by the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) requesting that the agency declare four strains of drug-resistant salmonella adulterants, which would have made it illegal to sell food contaminated with them. These four bugs can survive regimens of modern medicine’s most powerful antibiotics, making them the worst of the worst in salmonella’s thuggish clan.

Despite the evidence, the USDA turned away CSPI’s petition. Agribusiness representatives won the day by making the rather counterintuitive argument that the potentially deadly germs were simply too common, particularly in poultry. (Early this year, Consumer Reports found salmonella in 97 percent of chicken breast samples in grocery stores.) Eliminating them, they said, would be inconvenient and costly.

After an outbreak of salmonella poisoning caused by poultry from California-based Foster Farms that sickened more than 630 people came to light this summer, the CSPI refiled its petition. A USDA spokesperson told the Washington Post that the agency “will give the petition a full review.”

What’s needed is not yet another foot-dragging “review,” but a quick, firm decision.

I would suggest that the USDA take an approach like the one they used in 1994 when they declared E. coli 0157 an adulterant after that bacteria killed children who had eaten tainted fast-food hamburgers. That caused yowls from the same industry groups that are whining today, but infections from that notorious bug subsequently dropped by 58 percent.

The CSPI’s move coincides with yet another example of the Obama administration’s paying lip service (and reaping huge PR rewards) to sustainable agriculture issues while doing absolutely nothing concrete to back up its fine words.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order telling three cabinet secretaries to come up with a five-year action plan to curb the abuse of antibiotics. Many resistant bacteria arise on farms where animals, even healthy ones, receive regular doses of antibiotics. These “Superbugs” kill 23,000 Americans a year.

This delighted trade groups such as the National Pork Producers Council, who claimed that more research is needed.

It disappointed biologists, physicians, and consumer advocates who have long insisted that the time for action to curb antibiotic abuse by agriculture is long overdue. When five years have gone by, 125,000 more Americans may have died needlessly.

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Something Stinks at the FDA

Rats!

Rats!

With no warning and little publicity the Food and Drug Administration recently issued import bans—and then quickly backtracked—on Roquefort, Tomme de Savoie and other delightfully pungent cheeses because they contained elevated levels of a common, utterly harmless bacteria.

In an LA Times story, Janet Fletcher (who has written three books about cheese and publishes a free online newsletter called Planet Cheese) reported that the FDA began to enforce drastically lower limits for nontoxigenic E. coli on foreign and domestic raw-milk cheeses.

The ruckus was similar to a flare-up in June when it appeared that the FDA was about to forbid aging cheese on wooden shelves, an artisanal practice.

What is it with the FDA and tasty cheese, anyway? Surely it has more important matters to attend to.

This is the same agency that didn’t have the resources, or will, to properly inspect the Colorado farm that packed the bacteria-contaminated cantaloupe that killed 33 consumers three years ago.

Even though the FDA knew peanut products were a common cause of bacterial illness, it somehow missed the Peanut Corporation of America’s filthy plant in a national inspection blitz. Nine Americans died as a result.

Contaminated eggs from farms owned by Austin Decoster killed nine people in the late 1980s, and the state of Iowa listed his company as a habitual offender, but the FDA failed to inspect its Iowa barns until a salmonella outbreak occurred in 2010 that sickened 2,000 people.

In 2009, the FDA inspected only 1 out of every 1,000 shipments of imported seafood for toxic chemicals. Canada managed to inspect 40 out of every 1,000; Japan 110 out of every 1,000.

Even less excusable is that in the face of a national epidemic where more than 3,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic resistant infections, the FDA refuses to pass rules that effectively limit farmers from feeding antibiotics to perfectly healthy animals, a practice that is known to cause resistant “superbugs” to evolve. Over 40 years ago, the FDA’s own scientists said that giving drugs to healthy farm animals put human health at risk. Fixing this problem would require no money or human resources—just a stroke or two of a bureaucrat’s pen.

But the FDA won’t budge. It seems like it would much rather expend its regulatory authority on cheeses that have been made safely in the same way for hundreds of years.

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Good News for Seafood Lovers

We went through some rocky times, there. Nice to be back.

We went through some rocky times, there. Nice to be back.

Something very fishy has happened in the waters off California, Oregon, and Washington—and it’s the best news I’ve heard in nearly two decades of reporting on issues related to sustainable seafood.

In an unprecedented step, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (always my go-to source for which seafood I can eat with good conscience, and which I should avoid) has upgraded no less than 21 species of groundfish to either “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.” Many had been previously listed as “Avoid.” The Aquarium’s move comes on the heels of the Marine Stewardship Council’s certifying 13 groundfish species as sustainable earlier this summer.

The species up-graded by Seafood Watch include sablefish, rockfish (often mislabeled as snapper) sole, founder, Pacific sand dabs (my favorites), pacific grenadier, and spiny dogfish. Overall, 84 percent of groundfish—species that live on or near the ocean floor—are now considered either a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.”

The rebound is all the more impressive because as recently as 14 years ago the West Coast groundfish fishery was declared a commercial failure due to collapsed populations.

“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery,” Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said in a press release.

The turnaround should put to rest controversies surrounding two management practices. One involves setting aside “marine protected areas” where fishing is banned outright. The other is so-called “catch shares,” where each fisher has a scientifically established quota set on the amount of fish he or she can catch, essentially giving them an ownership stake in ensuring that fish populations remain robust. Both were important to the improvement in West Coast stocks.

The take-home message is that with proper management, we can have our seafood and eat it, too.

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5 Short Films You Have to See

From "A Greene Generation" by Tim Grant

From “A Greene Generation” by Tim Grant

 

 The votes are in, and the winners of the Food and Farming Film Competition are . . . all of us!

Organized by writer and activist Anna Lappé’s Real Food Media project, the competition, a virtual film festival of brief (four minutes or less) documentaries about farming, the environment, and community, attracted more than 150 submissions from 25 states and the District of Columbia and four countries. Judges included Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Robert Kenner. The five winners were announced this week and deal with everything from inner city gardening in the Bronx to hog raising in North Carolina to organic oregano farming in Mexico, but they are united by one theme: It can be done!

You can view all five winning films at Real Food Media’s site. They are thought provoking, moving, and truly inspiring.

Do yourself favor. Check them out.

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Ralph Loglisci Tells the Real Story Behind the FDA’s Symbolic Steps to Limit Livestock Antibiotics

Drug Addicts

Drug Addicts

In 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) let everyone know that there was strong evidence that the use of penicillin and tetracycline for anything other than treating disease in livestock, could lead to the development of super bugs strong enough to render the powerful antibiotics useless in people. That warning sparked a ferocious backlash from the powerful animal agriculture industry, which to this day still depends on feeding animals low doses of antibiotics to help grow them faster and compensate for crowded unsanitary living conditions.

Now, nearly 40 years later the embattled agency has finally mustered the courage to approve a strongly worded recommendation for producers to stop using medically important antibiotics as growth promoters and to give veterinarians oversight over therapeutic uses of the life-saving drugs.

But perhaps FDA’s announcement isn’t so brave after all.

READ MORE AT CIVIL EATS

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Here’s the Ideal Gift for the Tomato Geeks on Your List (And, no it’s not my Book)

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People always ask me, “What is the best tasting tomato variety?” My answer is simple: the one grown closest to your kitchen counter.

But until I met the dedicated crew at the Treasure Valley Food Coalition in Boise, Idaho, in September, I never realized that that the simple act of tending a few tomatoes in your backyard or on your balcony might also be the best way to break agribusiness’s stranglehold on our food system.

Disgusted with the “flavorless, rock-hard, industrially grown tomatoes in grocery stores” the coalition launched the Tomato Independence Project last spring as a way to take on the “industrial tomato complex” by encouraging residents in southwestern Idaho to grow their own. Workshops were held. Seedlings sold. And great tasting tomatoes harvested.

The coalition’s larger goal is to support local farmers and to promote a vibrant food economy in the Boise area. But the group also wants to help folks in the rest of the country break the “tyranny of tasteless tomatoes.” For information on how to bring the Tomato Independence Project to your area email treasurevalleyfoodcoalition@gmail.com.

And, if you’re looking for the perfect gift for that hard-to-please tomato geek on your list, what could be better than a Tomato Independence t-shirt? Proceeds go to a great cause. And as the owner of one myself, I assure you it will be worn proudly. It’s also quite slimming.

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Five Foods I Will not Eat

My partner eyed me sternly when I announced that my next book was going to be an investigative look at pork production. “Does this mean that I’ll have to give up eating bacon?” she asked.

Deadly outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella in spinach and cantaloupes, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” connected to pork and chicken production, potent drugs that are banned in the United States in imported shrimp and catfish: Nothing has the potential to destroy your appetite quite as thoroughly as writing about industrial food production or living with someone who does. Somehow, I have remained omnivorous, more or less. But there are only five things that I absolutely refuse to eat.

Hamburger

 1. Supermarket Ground Beef

I lost my appetite for prepared ground beef in the late 1980s, when a friend’s three-year-old daughter died after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli O157:H7, which lives in the intestines of healthy cattle and other animals, but can be found in water, food, soil, or on surfaces that have been contaminated with animal or human feces. She endured a painful, lingering death, beginning with a tummy ache, and over two weeks progressing to bloody diarrhea, convulsions, and seizures as the E. coli bacteria destroyed her kidneys.

It’s true that E. coli dies when hamburger is cooked to at least 160 degrees, by which point it is well-done. But even if you like dry, gray patties (I don’t), why take the risk? Every time you buy a package of supermarket ground beef, you’re playing culinary Russian roulette. E. coli comes from meat that has been contaminated with manure. A few E. coli cells can multiply into millions in a short time. Slaughterhouse scraps that go into ground beef come from the outside and undersides of carcasses, the areas most likely to come in contact with the hide and most prone to fecal contamination. Those parts can travel from several slaughterhouses to one facility to be ground and packaged.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning article describing how a Minnesota woman was left paralyzed after eating E. coli-tainted hamburger, New York Times’ Michael Moss reported that the meat in the single prepared, frozen patty she ate had been shipped to a Wisconsin processor from facilities in Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota, and Uruguay.

The easiest way to avoid supermarket hamburger is to buy a whole cut like a chuck steak or sirloin and grind it yourself. A few pulses from a food processor does the trick nicely, if you don’t own a meat grinder. Or have a butcher grind it for you while you wait. You can also buy from a small producer. When I went to pick up my beef order last fall, the owner of the custom slaughterhouse was standing beside a stainless steel table holding a mountain of ground beef waiting for her to pack it into one-pound bags. “I can tell you exactly how many animals this hamburger came from,” she said. “One.”

Bagged Greens

2. Salad Greens in Plastic Bags or Clam-Shell Boxes

For starters, salad fixings bought whole and chopped in your kitchen are more nutritious than those from containers. Bagged and boxed greens are in for the long haul, and can stay “fresh” for as long as 17 days. But vegetables begin losing nutrients the second they are picked. Within eight hours, 10 percent of Vitamin C and  between three and four percent of beta-carotene are gone. Chopping and shredding increase oxidation, driving out more nutrients.  Even short stretches of time at room temperatures further lower nutrient levels.

Packaged greens are also vulnerable to bacterial contamination. In packing houses, crops from many fields are washed in the same water, which allows bacteria from one field to spread to greens from clean fields. E. coli and other bacteria can hide in cut edges, safe from wash water.  Allowed to become warm for even a short time, the containers become perfect incubators for bacteria. The result is that bagged greens have sickened or killed consumers in dozens of outbreaks over the last several years.

In a 2010 investigation, Consumer Reports found that bags and containers of greens contained levels of coliform bacteria (which doesn’t make you sick, but is a sign of unsanitary handling) that were 39 percent higher than what is considered acceptable.

Avoiding packaged greens is simple: Buy whole heads or bunches and chop them yourself. While working on an article for the New York Times Magazine in 2011, I bought a head of romaine lettuce, rinsed the leaves individually, and chopped them. It took me two minutes and 53 seconds. As a bonus, I saved myself 80 cents.

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3. Bluefin Tuna

Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean populations of Bluefin tuna are severely overfished. In the Atlantic, the species hovers on the brink of extinction. Some scientists say that it may have already passed the point of no return. In the Pacific, the population has been decimated by 96 percent. I liken eating bluefins to eating Bengal tigers. Both are beautiful, sleek predators. Bluefins can swim 60 miles per hour, dive to 4,000 feet, and migrate across oceans. Someone alive today could be the person who eats the last bluefin. I don’t want it to be me.

International organizations that are charged with setting catch limits for bluefins regularly set quotas far above what their own scientists recommend. And there has been a thriving market in illegally caught fish. If that’s not enough to put you off Bluefin, be warned, their flesh is extremely high in mercury.

Tomato pickers

4.  Out-of-Season Tomatoes

The first question is, why would you want to eat an out-of-season tomato? Most of the hard, pale orbs are pithy and tasteless, at best. Compared to their local, in-season cousins, they are bereft of nutrients. And varieties that do have a glimmer of tomato flavor are outrageously expensive.

But the real problem with winter tomatoes is the abuses suffered by the farmworkers who harvest them. These men and women in the tomato fields are underpaid, ill-housed, and often sprayed with toxic pesticides. Abject slavery is not uncommon. (I care so much about this topic that I wrote a book about it.)

In recent years, working conditions in Florida, the source of most American-grown winter tomatoes, have improved dramatically. New varieties have been developed that actually taste tomato-y, and most Florida growers have signed onto a Fair Food Program that guarantees workers some basic labor rights and provides them with a one-penny-a-pound raise (it doesn’t sound like much but it’s the difference between $50 and $80 a day).

However that’s only if—and it’s a big if—the end buyer of the tomatoes signs onto the program as well and agrees to pay that extra penny directly to the workers. So far, most fast-food and food-service companies have come aboard. But aside from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market, not a single supermarket chain has signed on. Until they do, they won’t get my business.

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5. Farmed Salmon

A salmon farm, even a so-called organic one in Scottish waters, is nothing short of a floating feedlot. Excrement, uneaten food, and dead fish fall into the ocean, along with a witch’s brew of drugs and disease organisms that can kill wild salmon unlucky enough to swim in the vicinity of a farm’s net pens. Farmed salmon are susceptible to infectious salmon anaemia, aquaculture’s answer to highly contagious hoof-and-mouth disease. The “cure” is to eradicate entire farmed Stocks consisting of millions of fish. Captive salmon also spread sea lice to wild fish. The parasites feed on the mucous, blood, and skin and can kill young salmon.

Farmed salmon is also potentially harmful to humans who eat it. Studies have shown that farmed salmon contains significantly higher levels of chemicals known to cause everything from neurological damage to cancer than wild salmon.

As a way to produce protein, farming salmon is illogical. Although feed formulas have improved over the years, salmon still have to eat more pounds of fishmeal and oil than they put on as meat. That meal they are fed comes from stocks of small sardine-like fish that are already caught at maximum sustainable levels. It’s far better to raise fish like tilapia that can be fed a vegetarian diet. But that’s not where the money is.

Fortunately, there is a good alternative to farmed salmon. Wild salmon from Alaska is sustainable and its taste will remind you why you wanted to eat salmon in the first place.

So what about my partner? Will she feel obligated to forsake bacon? My pork research is still in the early stages, so I don’t have a final answer. But at very least, it’s looking like we’re going to want to become very selective about what goes in our frying pan.

This?

This?

Or this?

Or this?

 

This post originally appeared on Civil Eats

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