For years, everyone from Michael Pollan to Alice Waters has been talking about the “true cost of food.” The reasoning is pretty straightforward: Consumers don’t pay the real cost of food because many of the harms done to the environment or public health as a result of industrial farming practices are currently not included in cash register prices. Read more
Today, together with Causes.Com, I’m launching a new petition to take on what government officials and medical experts are increasingly calling a growing threat to public health: The overuse of antibiotics on animal farms. The petition is expected to reach as many as a half million Internet viewers this week. Petition signers are asking Walmart’s CEO, Mike Duke, to demand that its meat suppliers only use medically necessary antibiotics when an animal is sick, rather than to prevent sickness because animals are crammed in conditions that breed infection. Read more
Rolling across North Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, California, and today, eastern Michigan, I’ve seen first-hand the impacts of industrial dairy, poultry, and hog factories on rural communities. I admire the people who fight back against the invasion of factory farms. I seek them out, trying to see the land from their eyes. But no matter how many times I experience it, I still find unpalatable a business model that’s based on marginalizing animal welfare and polluting your neighbors’ air, land, water and quality of life in the name of profit and cheap food. Read more
When might it be punishable to report a criminal activity? When it takes place inside a poultry warehouse, slaughterhouse, or on a cattle feedlot. That’s the upshot of a new wave of so-called “ag-gag” bills passed in state legislatures around the nation, the latest of which, AB 343, was introduced in California last month.
“Ag gag” laws have been put forth by the meat industry to criminalize the reporting of animal cruelty by anyone — journalists, activists, or whistleblowers. They are intended to prohibit the release of videotapes or photographs that document what happens inside factory farms and meat processing facilities, often with the threat of jail time. The real goal of these laws is to “chill” a person’s resolve to make public any illegal behavior such as beating or torturing captive animals, often using the police to seize their materials. Read more
The Farm Bill is a 700-page hodgepodge of laws, regulations, guidelines and payouts covering all manner of U.S. agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs. And by the end of September, Congress is supposed to re-authorize this mess, or some variant of it, for another five-plus years.
A rational, coherent blueprint for a healthy national food supply might be too much to ask. But after years of studying the Farm Bill, I’d be thrilled to see a dent made in four of its most glaring conflicts of purpose. Read more
The West Coast is a place where, on a recent rainy winter night in Seattle, hundreds of people turned out to discuss food policy. Like their counterparts in Portland, San Francisco, and other cities and towns, these folks were hungry for information about the connection between healthy food and community health. They saw local and regional food as an engine to revitalize economies. At events like these, it’s easy to imagine that Washington, Oregon, and California could become a regional force in the national dialog leading up to the next Farm Bill. Read more
See no evil, hear no evil, eat no evil. This seems to be the operating principle behind a slew of recent legal initiatives aimed at sheltering animal factory agriculture operations from public view. Read more
Imagine a series of pits that, if combined, would cover an area 40 acres in size carved 20 feet deep. Laid out as a perfect square, each side is 1,320 feet long, enough to hold 16 football fields. Now imagine it full of millions of gallons of festering manure from over 5,000 dairy cows plunked down into rural Jo Daviess County in northern Illinois. Imagine also, that these cesspools would be excavated from a porous Karst geological formation, with the propensity to percolate directly into the groundwater, along with a cocktail of nitrates, phosphorous, hydrogen sulfide, bacteria, and other substances like antibiotic drugs. Read more
In late April, a trio of Republican senators––John McCain (AZ), Saxby Chambliss (GA), and Pat Roberts (KS)––wrote an angry letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, debunking a recent USDA program called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” This initiative distributes grant money and loans with the goal of strengthening local food chains and linking consumers with farmers.
The Senators accuse USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan of diverting urgently needed funds from rural communities in favor of: 1) “specialty crops” (the government’s term for fruits, nuts, and vegetables, of which the USDA recommends each of us eat at least five servings a day); and 2) small growers and organic farmers (who the Senators stereotype as hobby producers “whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”) Read more
The Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization by September 30. This is a federal government policy that sets the rules and standards and uses tax dollars to—among other things—provide a daily reimbursement for school lunches. Right now this amounts to $2.57 for a free lunch, including labor and ingredients. It is nowhere close to what most school districts need to put healthy foods on our cafeteria tables and reward all the people who make that possible. Congress will soon consider adding one dollar per meal to the reimbursement, and this still might not be enough. Read more