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Buying Silence: Big Soda Takes a Page from Big Tobacco

For years now, numerous commentators (myself included) have made comparisons of the food industry with Big Tobacco. The most recent example should become the poster child for how the most egregious tactics of tobacco companies are alive and well. Last month came the announcement that the American Beverage Association (the lobbying arm of soft drink companies) was donating $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Read more

The Troubled Waters of Big Ag’s Academic Influence

Last month, the University of Minnesota caused a stir when it decided to postpone the release of a film that focuses on the effect agriculture is having on U.S. waterways from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Troubled Waters–a film directed by Larkin McPhee for the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History, part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences–was held up, according to University Relations (the university’s PR office) to “allow time for a review of the film’s scientific content.” Yet ace reporting by Molly Preismeyer at the Twin Cities Daily Planet revealed that the film’s team had already thoroughly fact-checked the film, and followed the review process utilized by the PBS science program NOVA. Attempts to get the university to outline a standard procedure for research-based films were not fruitful. Then the story shifted once again when Dean Allen Levine told Minnesota Public Radio that the film “vilifies agriculture.”

Even though the University caved under pressure and allowed the scheduled premiere of the film to take place on October 3 and on October 5 on a local television station, the story of Troubled Waters has developed into a debate on academic freedom and the role a university’s donors should play in its research priorities. Read more

Watch Food, Inc. on PBS Next Week, and Make it a Potluck

It has often been said that the reason television is called a medium is because it is neither rare nor well done.  For forty years, PBS has been defying that axiom, consistently providing some of the best television on television.  They also have the only serious nightly news show left.

Possibly the best thing they offer is POV, the easiest way to see serious documentaries by strong filmmakers unless you are a obsessive film junkie with scads of time on your hands and you live in New York or LA.  Even for a show as impressive as POV though, their plans for April 21st are unique.

In conjunction with the showing of Robert Kenner’s Oscar-nominated film Food, Inc. (trailer) that day, POV is helping to organize potlucks in people’s homes all across the country.  The idea is to get groups to share a healthy, sustainably-sourced meal, watch the film, and discuss – thus helping to spread the gospel of real food. Read more

Global Harvest Initiative Seeks Not to Feed People, But to Bolster Big Ag Profits

The Global Harvest Initiative, founded by agribusiness interests DuPont, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and John Deere, will meet today beginning at 9:00 am for a daylong symposium at which the focus is said to be on finding “ways to sustainably double agricultural output to meet rapidly growing global demand as anticipated by the United Nations.” Are big corporations finally seeking to do what is right by the nearly billion people who are currently food insecure in the world, or is this another instance of corporate green washing bought into by our politicians? Indeed, this so-called initiative needs a bit of parsing. Read more

A Better Prescription for Generation Rx

Today’s headlines are enough to make any mother wary. As we battle our toddlers in the grocery store, we hardly have the energy left to decipher the headlines: Organics aren’t healthier, death panels await health care reform, bankers receive record bonuses, swine flu pandemics swirl . What has happened to the world that our children are inheriting? And does anyone care?

Perhaps we should. Because the children of today represent the economy of tomorrow. Today’s parents and grandparents are raising the “think tanks” that are going to be the solutions to tomorrow’s problems . Today’s children will reinvent energy technology, redefine reform and regulations and enhance agricultural productivity in ways that we can not even begin to imagine. But only if we give them the tools with which to do it. Read more

Desperate Food Industry Tries to Tar Michael Pollan and Organic Produce

What do you get when you cross a grassroots movement with a food industry fearful of losing its influence? Bogus studies, campaigns of misinformation and opinion pieces filled with myth and vitriol.

You may have noticed an uptick this year in news reporting that organic food isn’t really better for you, opinion pieces by conventional farmers saying that they are tired of being demonized by “agri-intellectuals”, and guilt-inducing ads by Monsanto in highbrow publications like the New Yorker touting the company’s ability to feed the world through technology.

Though all of this could be disturbing to those of us committed to sustainable agriculture and food that is fair to eaters, animals, workers and farmers, I’m choosing to see this as a good sign. I think it means we might be winning. Read more

All That Glitters is Not Gold: Biotechnology Has Failed Us, So Why Promote It Abroad?

The head of the World Food Program announced on Friday that an additional 105 million more people have become hungry in 2009, adding to the one billion plus who were already food insecure. The day before, Secretary Clinton gave a speech about hunger in the world, speaking in broad strokes: “[H]unger belies our planet’s bounty. It challenges our common humanity and resolve. We do have the resources to give every person in the world the tools they need to feed themselves and their children.”

In the next sentences, she gives a clue about what “tools” she might be referring to by praising the Green Revolution — without noting the depleted water table, reduced soil fertility, massive farmer debts and increased rates of farmer suicides left in the wake of the failed experiment in India. Read more

Message to Obama: Bust-up the Agribusiness Trusts

Beyond the thirty-year experiment in free-market ideology having been judged a failure in financial markets, one thing is clear: as Kerry Trueman reminded us in a recent post, unfettered capitalism has also been bad for our health, and indeed the safety of our food.

Last week, The New York Times reported that this administration has said it will take a harder line on anti-trust legislation, in diverse sectors of the economy including agriculture.  Perhaps its premature to tell what this will look like, but enforcing the laws that we already have on the books would be a great start to building a better food system. Read more

Crashing the Twitter Ag Chat, Announcing #sustagchat

On Tuesday night, I stumbled onto a phenomenon brewing on Twitter, an “agchat,” featuring a regular discussion open to those interested in talking about agriculture, run by Michele Payn-Knoper, a media consultant representing clients like Pfizer Animal Health, Monsanto, Feed & Grain Magazine, and many other boards, councils and bureaus representing almost every commodity interest across the US.  On her blog, she discusses many of the same issues we discuss in the sustainable food world, but with an obvious bent towards agribusiness. Read more