Monday, September 29, 2008

Food politics update

The Government Accountability Office has released an enlightening report on the pollution caused by feedlots and the (in)ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to ameliorate the problem. A highlight:

Two recent federal court decisions have affected EPA’s and some states’ ability to regulate CAFOs for pollutants that may impair water quality. Specifically:

• In 2005, in Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. v. EPA (Waterkeeper), the U.S. Court of appeals for the Second Circuit set aside key provisions of a CAFO rule EPA had issued in 2003. This rule would have provided EPA with comprehensive information on the universe of CAFOs and their operations and would have subjected large numbers of previously unregulated CAFOs to monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as periodic inspections. However, the court concluded that EPA did not have the authority under the Clean Water Act to require CAFOs that were not discharging pollutants into federally regulated waters to apply for permits. As a result, CAFO operators currently determine for themselves whether they need to apply for a federal permit, and EPA must rely on other means of acquiring information about CAFOs that are illegally discharging pollutants, such as through citizens’ reports. ...

• The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision—Rapanos v. United States (Rapanos)—has also complicated EPA’s enforcement of CAFO regulations. The Court’s decision has raised questions that have not yet been resolved about which “waters” are considered federal waters and, therefore, fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA enforcement officials, the agency may be less likely to seek enforcement against a CAFO that it believes is discharging pollutants into a water body because it is now more difficult to prove that the water body is federally regulated. Congress is considering legislation that seeks to clearly define the scope of the Clean Water Act and resolve the questions raised by the Rapanos decision.

Speaking of meat, there's a good article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the Country of Origin Labeling law, which goes into effect tomorrow. Through some sneaky maneuvering, folks who would rather not have consumers learn where their food comes from managed to exempt more than half of all pork and seafood and a third of beef from the labeling requirement. How? By exempting all "processed" foods --and establishing a very broad definition of "processed."

Given that the economy has people working so long that they have no time to cook, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods are taking up a greater and greater share of grocery sales. These foods -- from mixed frozen vegetables to cooked whole chickens -- are exempt from Country of Origin Labeling.

Quite convenient for someone. But not for the consumer.

To be clear, I'm not saying the U.S. meat is necessarily better than meat from other countries. Our meat production system is problematic, to say the least. But there are instances when Country of Origin Labeling can help; I'd much rather eat salmon from Alaska than from Chile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

News from the familial homeland

Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for meats, fresh produce, peanuts, and some frozen produce goes into effect at the end of the month (just in time for Rosh Hashanah, in case you hadn't noticed). We are way behind South Korea, where consumers have been inspecting their meat labels for a while because they would hate to end up with U.S. beef, which they figure is unsafe because we slaughter downer cows for human consumption and have a few documented cases of mad cow disease (and would probably have many more if we actually tried to monitor for it more than half-heartedly).

Ninety percent of people surveyed are avoiding U.S. beef for the upcoming harvest festival, according to this article from a Korean news agency. Now, you could surmise that people prefer to eat local for their harvest festivals, but the avoidance of U.S. beef extends to other times of the year. Thirty percent of respondents said they won't even eat in a restaurant that serves U.S. beef because they have concerns about its safety. Even if they'd been planning to order chicken?

I was feeling so at one with my Korean cousins until I read that last part. Alas, I may not eat industrial U.S. beef, but 100 percent of me eats at restaurants that serve it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The okapi survives in the wild!

This okapi adult and babe are not in the wild, but if you follow this link, you can see one that is wandering the woods in its native Great Lakes region of Africa.

I hesitate to spend too much time comparing the okapi to other animals, since it is so beautiful in its own right, but hell, here I go: If you look closely, you can see the knobs on its head that are like those on its close relative, the giraffe. When Europeans first encountered the creature, they thought the knobs were a single horn and that the okapi was a unicorn. But the okapi reminds me most of a doe-eyed dog. I guess its the fur.

Photo by Takako Matoba/Jason Hickey, used under an attribution-only Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Terrorism at home

The St. Paul-Minneapolis-Ramsey County police made quite a to-do about their capture of alleged aspiring terrorists at the Republican National Convention this past week. Unfortunately for them, along with everyone who wishes there was a terrorist under every roof (because then that would justify bombing abroad and curtailing civil liberties at home even more!), they seem to have more rhetoric than evidence in most cases.

A good source of news about the eight people arrested for their work with the anarchist-leaning Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee is here. It's hosted by supporters of the RNC-8, but includes coverage from mainstream and conservative press, as well.

Meanwhile, one wonders what will happen to the law enforcement folks who attempted to strike terror into journalists and medics by locking them up and/or beating them for filming/treating folks who were pummeled by police officers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wow, and I thought *I* was full of vitriol

Then I started listening to hateful speech after hateful speech at the Republican National Convention. I really thought they could be civil. Heck, after listening to the speech by Hillary Clinton, in which she appeared to give up on playing dirty (in her case, I'm referring to insulting your opponents -- innuendo and actions of henchpersons count), I really thought that people could engage in politics without degrading themselves or others.

This commentary on the Palin speech provided some moral Alka-Seltzer to soothe my anguished soul.