Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What a difference four months makes.

In September, in a step hailed as revolutionary, Los Angeles schools yanked chocolate milk, chicken nuggets and other foods high in fat, sugar and sodium from their cafeterias. In their place were healthier and more exotic options, like black been burgers.  Praise flooded in from the U.S. Agriculture Department and elsewhere.

But that was then.

Today, according to the Los Angeles Times, much of the healthier fare is being rejected by students, food waste is rampant and participation in the school lunch program is plummeting. Some students are skipping lunch altogether and suffering health consequences. Others bring soda and chips to school in their backpacks and say they are eating more junk food than ever.

Acknowledging the problems, school food services director Dennis Barrett announced that cafeteria menus will be revised—again! Out will be some of the more exotic dishes, like vegetable curry and lentil-and-brown-rice cutlets, while hamburgers and pizza—albeit with whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese—will be back in.
Well, at least their intentions were good.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From The ‘What’s Good for the Goose …’ Department

Here’s a switch. The Humane Society of the United States says it’s being unfairly attacked.

HSUS, notorious for its undercover videos and policy assaults on animal agriculture, is up in arms over a new group that could siphon off some of its charitable contributions.  The new group, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, says it’s dedicated to fostering support for local pet shelters. 

HSUS accuses the new group of “hijacking” its name and of being a front group for the food industry.

At the core of the controversy is confusion over what HSUS does. While many think HSUS supports local humane societies, most of its funds are used for other purposes, including extensive attacks on modern livestock farming. Critics, including many in the food industry, accuse HSUS of being a radical vegetarian group, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 

The Humane Society for Shelter Pets concedes that part of its mission, in addition to encouraging support for local shelters, is to “address the misperception that national animal charities work locally.”  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Now, THIS Takes Chutzpah!

In 2006, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which makes it a federal crime to interfere with livestock farms or other “animal enterprises.” The idea was to protect pork producers and others from attacks by members of militant animal rights groups. Federal authorities consider these attacks acts of domestic terrorism.

So along comes a group of animal rights activists, who challenged the law in court on Thursday because, they said, it treats them like … terrorists!

The law can be used to prosecute anyone who “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property used by an animal enterprise.” The Associated Press quoted one longtime activist saying he no longer does undercover filming of livestock farms because he is concerned about being prosecuted.

HOTH thinks the law is working just as intended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Modern Farming: The Way Forward

Need more evidence that modern farming techniques—criticized by some for polluting waterways, scarring the land and mistreating animals—are the way forward for the environment and an exploding world population? A new report from the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service offers it up in spades.

Today’s crop and livestock farms, the report found, are much larger and rely more on marketing and production contracts than those 25 years ago. They use 6 percent less land and 30 percent to 40 percent less labor than their predecessors—and are nearly 50 percent more productive. All those factors have combined to keep food prices in check and to limit impacts on the environment, the report said.

And productivity must continue to improve if U.S. agriculture is to meet energy and population demands, the report added. “Future innovations will be necessary to maintain, or boost, productivity gains in order to meet the growing global demands that will be placed upon U.S. agriculture,” it concluded.

The 77-page report is ERS Bulletin No. 88, titled The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

‘GIPSA-Lite’ Just Days Away

Look for a scaled-back version of the Agriculture Department’s controversial GIPSA rule to be issued by Friday. The farm policy newsletter Agri-Pulse said Wednesday that the Office of Management and Budget has signed off on the regulation, clearing the way for publication in the Federal Register “by the end of the week.”

The first draft of the regulation, made public in mid-2010, triggered an avalanche of criticism from livestock groups, including NPPC, and their congressional allies. In reaction, USDA last month jettisoned some of the regulation’s key provisions, including a ban on packer-to-packer livestock sales. A week or two later Congress blocked the department from spending money to implement much of the regulation. The restrictions were included in the House-Senate conference report on an annual spending bill for USDA and other agencies, which has now been signed into law.

The scaled-back regulation is expected to include four of the five mandates that Congress put in the 2008 farm bill. Two of those apply only to poultry production; the other two deal with requiring a capital investment under a contract and determining what constitutes fair use of arbitration. Expected to be left out of the new rule is a provision setting criteria for what constitutes an “undue” preference or advantage for producers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And The Award Goes To …

… Lisa Jackson, Energy Policymaker of the Year. Or so an influential inside-the-beltway tabloid decreed on Tuesday.

But the decision by Politico, a publication started by ex-Washington Post reporters but sometimes accused of leaning right, was not without logic. Jackson was singled out largely for simply surviving as Environmental Protection Agency administrator over the last 12 months. That’s a period in which she reportedly contemplated treating spilled milk the same as spilled oil and considered imposing tough new regulations on farm dust.
Politico said Jackson “had her hands full in 2011” between attacks from House Republicans and a White House that didn’t always have her back. When President Obama shelved a major EPA smog rule in September, there was talk she would resign. Still, Jackson managed to hang on.
Any bets on whether Jackson—the regulator farmers love to loathe—will be around to receive the award again next year?  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Antibiotics, Revisited

No matter how often it is corrected or rebuffed, The New York Times simply won’t throw in the towel on animal antibiotics.

On Thursday, The Times published yet another editorial on the subject, urging limits on the use of these drugs despite Congress’ clear lack of interest in passing legislation and continuing regulatory caution from the Food and Drug Administration.

Specifically, The Times editorial lamented FDA’s decision to deny requests from animal welfare groups that it ban the use of medically important antibiotics in feed for purposes other than treating disease.

Of course, FDA’s decision was eminently reasonable, given that there’s no proof that curtailing the use of these drugs will slow the growth of antibiotic resistance in humans. In fact, the best science suggests the risk of human antibiotic resistance problems developing from farm use is negligible.

Still, The Times has never let facts get in the way of opinion on this topic.