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Why GMOs Won’t Feed the World (Despite What You Read in the New York Times)

With all due respect, Nina Federoff’s New York Times op-ed reads like it was written two decades ago when the jury was still out about the potential of the biotech industry to reduce hunger, increase nutritional quality in foods, and decrease agriculture’s reliance on toxic chemicals and other expensive inputs that most of the world’s farmers can’t afford.

With more than 15 years of commercialized GMOs behind us, we know not to believe these promises any longer.

Around the world, from the Government Office of Science in the UK to the National Research Council in the United States, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there is consensus: in order to address the roots of hunger today and build a food system that will feed the future, we must invest in “sustainable intensification”—not expensive GMO technology that threatens biodiversity and locks us into dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water, and agrochemicals. And that’s never proven its superiority, even in yields. Read more

Big Cheese vs. Real Cheese

As shocking as the news is that the United States Department of Agriculture facilitated a cheese bailout with a $12 million marketing campaign to help sell Domino’s Pizza, I believe there is much more to the New York Times story as it affects average Americans and their ever-expanding waist lines.

The story makes a strong case for the correlation between saturated fat consumption and obesity. Michael Moss nails the issue of the USDA’s two-sided policy: promoting cheese consumption in the form of Domino’s Pizza, while simultaneously working to fight obesity by discouraging some of these very same foods.

But as I see it, cheese in itself is not the problem—the issues are deeper and more complex than that. Conventional wisdom says that saturated fat is bad and at the root of the American obesity and diabetes epidemics. The Times article says, “[O]ne slice contains as much as two-thirds of the day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease.” But let’s look a little deeper at this claim. Read more

Domino’s Pizza and the USDA: The Bailout You Didn’t Hear About

Chalk up another victory for Stephen Colbert’s gut. Back in January, the touter of all things truthy declared Domino’s Pizza his “Alpha Dog of The Week” for a “game-changing ad campaign” to promote its new pizza recipe. Consumers had complained that the old formula tasted like ketchup-covered cardboard, a factor that presumably contributed to the company’s sagging sales.

So, Domino’s did two things: it reformulated its pizzas to contain nearly twice as much cheese; and launched an ad campaign which took the bold step of acknowledging just how awful its old pizzas were, while gushing about the “cheese, cheese, CHEESE!!!” that distinguishes the new recipe from the old one.

With the logos of Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, and AIG on display behind him, Colbert applauded Domino’s “for joining the great American corporate tradition of screwing your customers and then having the balls to ask them to come back for more.”

Turns out that Domino’s had something else in common with these ethically challenged entities, aside from the dubious products they dumped on unwitting dupes. Read more

The NY Times Business Section: Out to Lunch on the Local Food Debate

In Sunday’s New York Times, Damon Darlin has now weighed into a debate which I am suddenly making a career of noticing, that of publicly lambasting locavores. Normally a tech writer (and perhaps better suited to it), Darlin has wheeled out some of the same tired points that others have recently, making them officially clichéd.

It takes only 12 words before he drops Michael Pollan’s name, whose best-selling books argue eloquently for a better food system, and in the next paragraph he mentions Michelle Obama’s organic garden at the White House, though he makes no mention of her new “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity, for which this garden is a tool.

I was going to dismiss Mr. Darlin’s piece as not worthy of notice despite its prominent placement in the Paper of Record and thus avoid writing my third column lamenting this misplaced disrespect for eaters who care what they eat (I swear I do have better, more enjoyable things to write about), but then he said this: Read more

Ag Sec Vilsack on the E. coli Crisis

In the wake of the devastating New York Times piece on E. coli in ground beef, USDA Chief put out a statement yesterday evening:

“The story we learned about over the weekend is unacceptable and tragic. We all know we can and should do more to protect the safety of the American people and the story in this weekend’s paper will continue to spur our efforts to reduce the incidence of E. coli O157:H7. Over the last eight months since President Obama took office, USDA has been aggressive in its efforts to improve food safety, and has been an active partner in establishing and contributing to President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group.

Bah, humbug. What’s your plan, Tom? Read more

Memo to NYT “Free-Range Trichinosis” Editorialist: Food Safety Advocates Can Handle Transparency

Last Friday, an op-ed hit the pages of the New York Times written by James McWilliams (“Free Range Trichinosis”) purporting that free-range pork was more likely to be contaminated with the deadly parasite trichonosis than its industrially sardined and antibiotic-overdosed cousin. The writer chose to take this information from a single study funded by the National Pork Board, a lobbying group for industrial pork operations, and neglected to mention that the the two free-range pigs (out of 600) had tested positive for antibodies of trichinosis, not specifically the disease itself. Read more

Are Contrarians Helping or Hurting the Food Movement? Pork Op-Ed in NYT a Shill for Big Ag

It is necessary to question our movement. Without a cold, hard look at the snags in implementing a sustainable food system, someone ill-informed will crawl out of the woodwork clinging to their credentials and poke holes in our arguments, whether with valid points or not, possibly shilling for Big Ag or just looking to market themselves as a contrarian.

Today, a free-range dissenter ended up in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, seemingly to defend factory farmed pork. Read more

Who Are We Talking To? A Personal Reflection on the Business of Slow Food

I was amazed when I opened my New York Times yesterday, after a busy Sunday working at the café. The first face I saw when I pull the paper out of its blue plastic wrapper was that of Alice Waters, gracing the cover of the Sunday Business section. The superb accompanying article by Andrew Martin raises the question of whether the sustainable food movement is ready for the visibility it is getting these days. Read more

Will Obama’s Food Safety Working Group Address MRSA and the Deeper Issues Facing the Food System?

In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama announced that he had put together a “Food Safety Working Group,” whose focus will include fostering communication between federal agencies in order to make sure food safety policies are being enforced, starting with “closing loopholes” that have up to now allowed sick downer cows to make their way into the food system.  The goal, he said, is to ensure that the food we eat — including Sasha’s peanut butter sandwiches — are safe from contamination. Read more