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.

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