All the News That's Fit to Eat: 'Natural' Burgers, More 'Mayo', and Oceans Protected | Civil Eats

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: ‘Natural’ Burgers, More ‘Mayo’, and Oceans Protected

In case you missed these any of this week’s top food news stories, here’s our take.

1. Carl’s Jr. to Roll Out ‘Natural’ Burger (USA Today)

Burger joint Carl’s Jr. is now slinging grass-fed beef in all 1,150 of its locations in response to increasing consumer demand for “better” meat. The chain will source its beef from Australia, citing that the U.S. market for sustainable beef just hasn’t kept pace with demand (Chipotle has made similar claims). It’s also unclear how much better the cows in the new supply chain will be treated, as Carl’s Jr. is only using the virtually meaningless label “natural” to rate the new burgers.

2. California Could Be on the Verge of a Severe Egg Shortage (The Washington Post)

Back in 2008, voters in California approved a measure to make chicken cages substantially roomier. The law is set to go into full effect in January 2015 and will require that any eggs sold in the state come from chickens which have enough space to flap their wings. Much of the cost of these changes is expected to be reflected in an uptick in egg prices. But more space equals fewer birds, and Californians’ high demand for eggs might lead to shortage elsewhere in the country.

3. USDA Announces Proposed Expansion of the Organic Assessment Exemption (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Earlier this year, we reported that the 2014 Farm Bill opened an opportunity for organic food companies to develop “checkoff” program to market their products under one generic campaign (think “Got Milk?”). Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has moved forward by proposing an exemption to the hefty fees organic producers would otherwise have to pay to access the Department’s marketing and advertising services. At least one representative for organics, the Organic Trade Association, commended USDA’s announcement and argues that an organic checkoff will allow an already fast-growing industry a higher competitive advantage.

4. White House Moves to Keep Fake Fish Off Your Dinner Plate (Take Part)

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Fish sticks probably aren’t top of mind when you conjure up an image of a pirate, but the two have a strong relationship. According to a study on wild-caught fish, between a quarter and a third of wild fish imported to the U.S. is illegal in some way. The problem? Rogue fishermen who cruise across the oceans in “floating fish factories” and convert fish into value-added products (e.g., fish sticks) along the way. Doing so covers up the origins of a particular fish species, making it harder for U.S. officials to track the source of its imports. Fortunately for sustainable seafood advocates, a White House task force issued a set of recommendations to curb illegal fishing that draws on the muscle of several U.S. regulatory agencies.

5. Congress to Nutritionists: Don’t Talk About the Environment (NPR)

Despite the fact that more and more consumers are starting to connect the dots between what they eat and our warming planet, Congress hasn’t seemed to catch up. In the “CRomnibus” spending bill that passed earlier this month, several lawmakers chided the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for exploring environmental concerns in its directives to consumers. While this slap on the wrist has no real policy ramifications, it does signal that the food fight between Congress and President Obama during his final two years is likely to be contentious.

6. In Final Spending Bill, Salty Food and Belching Cows Are Winners (The New York Times)

Speaking of the CRomnibus, lawmakers attached a number of riders to the $1.1 trillion piece of legislation that have an impact on nutrition and agriculture. Among these is a prohibition against lowering the salt content in food served in school cafeterias, a provision that the industry-backed School Nutrition Association lobbied hard to achieve. The rider is a blow to First Lady Obama’s attempts to make school meals healthier. Second, the CRomnibus limits EPA’s ability to crack down on methane emissions from farmers and ranchers, despite the fact that agriculture contributes to at least 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

7. Unilever Drops Mayo Lawsuit Against Egg-Replacing Startup Hampton Creek (Forbes)

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So, what makes mayonnaise mayonnaise? According to a lawsuit filed by Unilever in November, the answer is easy: eggs. The food conglomerate sued San Francisco-based Hampton Creek for its eggless Just Mayo product, claiming that it was mislabeled. Unilever dropped the suit this week, however, and in a bizarre twist, commended Hampton Creek for its “inspired corporate purpose.” Must’ve been due to the fact that Hampton also announced $90 million in new funding the very same day.

8. Cuba Inc.? Not Quite (Politico)

This week, the Obama Administration announced that it will move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, signaling the biggest shift in foreign policy to that country in 50 years. The move is certainly historic, but how much of an impact will it have on agriculture, both in the U.S. and in Cuba? Several agricultural groups, mostly representing commodities and grains, point out that on-going economic sanctions against Cuba still make trade difficult. And while some have claimed small farmers in Cuba will benefit by gaining access to farm equipment, it seems more likely that big food giants in the U.S. will have the biggest payoff.

9. Obama Protects Alaska’s Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Drilling (Los Angeles Times)

Bristol Bay is home to the largest fishery for sockeye salmon in the world, and the ecosystem is one of Alaska’s most valuable treasures. President Obama removed the area from the list of locations available for oil and gas drilling, a move that has earned the praise from Native Alaskans, fishermen, and environmentalists alike. While this effort to protect Bristol Bay from the energy industry is important, EPA warns that an open-pit mine, Pebble Mine, is still on the table for the region, which means the fight to keep the waters pristine isn’t over.

This will be the last week of our weekly news round up until next year. Happy Holidays and a Sustainable New Year to you all! (And, don’t worry, we’ll get you caught up in 2015.)

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Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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