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Food Safety in 2009: Obama, Vilsack, FDA, Senate on Naughty X-Mas List

The food safety landscape after the first year of the Obama administration remains very similar to the last year of the Bush administration….

During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, President Obama gave himself a letter grade of B+ for his first year in office. But all the same, an ad hoc consortium of food safety professionals, food safety advocates, and food safety writers say he deserves some coal in his Christmas stocking. Food Safety News, the best online publication for all aspects of the safety of the global food supply, is running a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice this year in food safety. The list was created after polling those mentioned above, including your intrepid blogger. There was an overwhelming consensus that large chunks of coal should be deposited in the Christmas stockings of both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the failure to name someone to lead USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs. Read more

Calling for Real Food Safety Reform: Bill Marler for FSIS

Just when America thought it was safe to go back into the grocery store, another food outbreak wakes us up to the fact that there is something seriously wrong with our food safety system. This time it’s Nestle Toll House cookie dough with E.coli, a treat that nearly every kid in America reaches for a few times a month during the summer. This is yet another reminder why it’s important to get the new food safety legislation, currently winding its way through Congress, right. Read more

Dear Mr. President and Secretary Vilsack

Author’s note: Lately a number of people have asked me what I think of how the Obama administration is approaching agriculture. Do all the gardens and talk of healthy food represent significant change, or are they a leafy green veneer on what amounts to nothing more than business as usual? Here’s my response, which was mailed by post today. Read more

Food Safety Bill Unanimously Approved by House Committee

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed legislation yesterday that would increase government oversight of the U.S. food supply and, if the measure passes in the House, it will be the most sweeping reform of the food safety system in nearly 50 years. The House of Representatives is expected to decide on the bill before the July 4 recess. Read more

Food, Inc. Gets Rave Reviews, Big Ag Shudders

Today, Food, Inc. debuts, with more cities to follow in the coming weeks, and almost every major media outlet has weighed in: it is certainly not a film to miss, it offers a view into the food system you’ve never seen before, and you will leave the theater changed.

Big Ag realizes that the tide is turning on the corporate control of our food system, and that their message is in jeopardy. This is why most of the corporations and corporately supported groups from Monsanto to the National Chicken Council (now tainted in light of the newly-released CDC report about chicken as contamination’s numero uno) have created special sections of their websites dedicated to the film, in an attempt to mislead the public on the facts Food, Inc. is bringing to light for the first time. Read more

Step One, Hone the Ask: Why We Should Better Regulate CAFOs

Our movement up to now has been disparate, siloed into unique yet interrelated causes around food, from hunger, to farmer and farmworker rights, to food access or to food safety issues. But in the last year, the pieces of the pie have been coming together to form a true movement. The question remains to be answered: How can we rally to show president Obama this movement, as he has asked us to do? And, what do we ask for when we get there?

Many great folks are out there developing “asks” around food. In my opinion, the biggest successes will come from getting at the roots of issues, asking for change on bigger policies that could have an effect on what is on our plate everyday. One great “ask” I have been thinking about, for example, is to change our policies around Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Read more

Food Safety Versus Playing Nice: Filling the Post at FSIS

With the announcement today of a Class 1 (meaning could be deadly if eaten) recall of nearly 40,000 pounds of ground beef for E Coli contamination (Hat tip to Obamafoodorama), in addition to another 300,000 pounds of beef recalled last month, it grows ever more important that we have a person in charge of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) at the USDA, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs. Why is this administration dithering? Guest blogger Tom Laskawy has some thoughts on the matter:

It really does seem like Tom Vilsack can’t find anyone to run the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard. There must be dozens of scientists and food safety experts who fit the bill. But this, of course, is the USDA we’re talking about — the poster child for regulatory capture, the phenomenon whereby a regulator acts almost entirely in the interests of its target industry rather than in the interests of the public. 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

In 2010 Budget, President Obama Offers $1.25 Billion To Resolve Black Farmers’ Pigford Claims


Later today, when the President announces his 2010 budget, which slashes 121 programs and about $17 billion, there’ll be one crucial area where spending will increase. Working with his closest advisers, President Obama is attempting to redress the longstanding civil rights grievances of black American farmers, by proposing a $1.25 billion deal to settle their discrimination case against USDA, which has come to be called ‘The Pigford Claims.’ (Pic: John Boyd speaks at a USDA rally) Read more

Brooklyn Food Conference Takes to the Streets

On Saturday, 3,000 people gathered at John Jay public high school for the Brooklyn Food Conference, a grassroots, volunteer-organized discussion around the state of our food system, featuring keynote talks by Dan Barber, Anna Lappé, Raj Patel, and LaDonna Redmond.  Along with these talks were 70 workshops throughout the classrooms of the school, on subjects as varied as growing your own food, starting a co-op and the value of breastfeeding.

According to the accompanying bright yellow guide, one of the goals of this event was to “bring Brooklynites together to demand — and participate in creating — a vital, healthy, and just food system available to everyone.” By my assessment, that is just what’s begun to happen. Read more