Friday, May 30, 2003

Don't worry about it, the FDA is on it:
The FDA reviews biotech foods for safety, and the agency's action on a new biotech crop is often characterized in press accounts as approval. But legally, it isn't.

The FDA operates a voluntary system under which biotech companies decide on their own how to test the safety of their products, submit summaries of their data -- not the full data -- to the FDA, and win a letter that says, in so many words, that the agency has reviewed the company's conclusion that its new products are safe and has no further questions. In most cases, the data on which the safety conclusion is based remain secret. It is a much less rigorous system than the FDA procedures for reviewing new drugs or food additives, in which the agency will spend months if not years going over company claims in detail.

[from Gillis's article, 2 items down.]

Cause, you know, they're doing such a good job with the pharmaceuticals, like Schering-Plough and Warner-Lambert.

Consider DeLay's latest apocalyptic ravings in this context. Burdensome regulation is crippling them. Douchebags.

world's safest food supply [WSJ via ABE #252]
How does mad cow spread? Mad cow likely is spread by an infectious agent called a prion, largely found in the brain and spinal cord of a diseased animal. The disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), bores holes into the animal's brain and is always fatal. In humans, the disease, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease or vCJD, is equally fatal. It's believed the disease spread because cattle were fed the recycled remains of infected sheep and cattle.

But didn't the U.S. ban those feeding practices? Yes, but loopholes remain. The ban means cattle, sheep, goats and deer can't be given feed that contains protein made from similar animals.

But these animals still can be turned into food for chickens, pigs and pets. Chicken and pigs can still be fed back to cattle. And bovine blood is still fed to calves. All this means it's still theoretically possible for a U.S. cow to consume infected material. In other countries, the practice of recycling animals for feed is banned altogether.

A scathing report from the General Accounting Office last year found the Food and Drug Administration had done a lousy job enforcing the limited ban. The office found cases where firms repeatedly failed to properly label feed that contained the banned protein. They sometimes continued to include the banned proteins in cattle feeds.

Federal officials say enforcement agencies have since stepped up their monitoring of mad-cow safety rules. The USDA has criticized the GAO report, saying it failed to take into account a Harvard study the USDA funded, which found the risk of BSE occurring in the U.S. is extremely low. "The public health threat in the United States from BSE is vanishingly small," FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford says.

Aren't the riskiest parts of the cow kept out of the food supply? Not always. Cow brains, spinal cords and central-nervous-system tissue pose the highest risk. Cow brains, banned in Europe, still are sold in the U.S. In addition, cuts of meat with bone, such as a T-bone steak, are stripped directly from the animal's vertebrae and may contain portions of the spinal cord.

Finally, some plants use high-pressure water and air or scraping methods to remove meat bits off a cow carcass. The recovered bits are added to hotdogs and low-quality hamburger. A USDA survey last year found more than one-third of products that contained this type of meat also contained some central-nervous-system tissue. In March, the USDA announced a stepped-up monitoring program aimed at keeping spinal-cord tissue out of meats. But critics want this meat-recovery method banned entirely, as it has been in Britain.

Aren't animals in this country tested for mad cow? The U.S. tests far fewer animals than do many countries. Last year, 20,000 U.S. cattle were tested, three times more than the previous year. But in Europe, they test more than 20,000 animals a day. Japan tests every bovine that enters the food supply. U.S. officials note testing here far exceeds standards required for a country where mad cow has never been found. Critics contend it isn't enough. "You can't find what you're not looking hard enough for," says Michael Greger, BSE coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association.

Failed Pew biotech "stakeholder" forum and Gillis's Post article about it:
Participants in the Pew discussion would not say publicly what issues foiled their attempt at compromise. But speaking on condition of anonymity, several people knowledgeable about the talks said the core issue was whether to go to Capitol Hill to get legislation to prohibit the introduction of new biotech foods without detailed FDA certification that they are safe.

Consumer and environmental groups and several academics who took part in the discussion felt that was the way to go and pushed the group to agree to new federal legislation, the people said. At least some food companies, though usually wary of too much federal oversight, took that position. But Monsanto, in particular, strongly resisted the idea of a new law and favored what would amount to a tweaking of the patchwork regulatory system already in place to oversee biotech foods, the people said.

"It's not our view to always go to the Hill," said Linda A. Strachan, Monsanto's representative in the Pew talks.

The two factions attempted a compromise that would have called for an initial attempt to get a stronger regulatory system through administrative changes, to be followed -- if that failed -- by a unanimous appeal to Capitol Hill for legislation, the sources said. But the Monsanto-led faction would not agree to the legislative proposal in sufficient detail to satisfy consumer and environmental groups, which would not agree to go forward without detailed commitments, the people said.

One reason the biotech industry was so resistant, knowledgeable people said, was that the Bush administration just filed suit in the World Trade Organization to overturn a ban on many gene-altered crops in European countries. As part of that case, the administration will take the position that the current American regulatory system is fine. European consumer and environmental groups consider it to be egregiously inadequate. As the Pew discussions unfolded, the biotech industry grew wary of endorsing any compromise that would appear to support the European view and thus undermine the Bush legal case, the knowledgeable people said.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

No child left behind... except you poor fucks
A last-minute revision by House and Senate leaders in the tax bill that President Bush signed today will prevent millions of minimum-wage families from receiving the increased child credit that is in the measure, say Congressional officials and outside groups.

Most taxpayers will receive a $400-a-child check in the mail this summer as a result of the law, which raises the child tax credit, to $1,000 from $600. It had been clear from the beginning that the wealthiest families would not receive the credit, which is intended to phase out at high incomes.

But after studying the bill approved on Friday, liberal and child advocacy groups discovered that a different group of families would also not benefit from the $400 increase -- families who make just above the minimum wage.

Because of the formula for calculating the credit, most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, says those families include 11.9 million children, or one of every six children under 17.

Speaking of fish there is an excellent article in the Guardian describing the destruction of the world's greatest fishery, Newfoundland's Grand Banks, for those of you who haven't read Kurlansky's Cod. Meanwhile, Ray Hilbornet al., "Biocomplexity and fisheries sustainability," PNAS100/11 (2003): 6564-8 describe one of the most productive remaining fisheries, Bristol Bay Alaska sockeye, whose fisherman just lost a massive antitrust suit against processors and distributors.

Oh yeah: stop eating farmed fish for fuck's sake.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Wow, actual journalism from the Guardian and the BBC's panorama show:
They tested 12 fillets of Dutch frozen chicken. IdentiGEN found beef DNA in half of them. A fillet from Slegtenhorst where Anna worked proved positive. Slegtenhorst has since told Panorama they don?t use hydrolysed proteins, let alone beef proteins. They blamed contamination. There was beef DNA in two fillets from T. Lelie, Niko's employers. They do use proteins but insist they're made from chicken. Lelie told us their own tests had proved negative. A fillet from the Dutch firm Jozef Hassan contained not just beef DNA but pork too. The label said the product was halal, suitable for Muslims who, for religious reasons, choose not to eat pork. Hassan deny they use animal proteins. Again they say tests they carried out, and independent tests, were all negative....

Professor ROY ANDERSON FRS, Imperial College, London

At the moment it looks as though the size of the variant CJD epidemic, which is the human BSE disease, is going to be a lot smaller than we originally feared, so it's not a highly transmissible, highly infectious agent, but once acquired it's invariably lethal. And therefore all of us would like to know if there's bovine material in a product, and if there is, where did it come from.

DAVID STATHAM, Director of Enforcement Standards, FSA

This is not a food safety issue. There is no indication whatsoever that any of these ingredients have any adverse health effects. This is a food composition issue. This is food being misdescribed. This is not a food safety issue....

MR HIETBRINK: We have what we call PCR-negative proteins.... The only thing I would say is that if you're able to bring the situation in such a point that you have only one base pair of DNA you never can recombine it again. That's the only thing I want to say about the subject.

Now stuff that nugget in your face and go back to the Laci Peterson show. Can't happen here....

Clarification [5/30]: It's been brought to my attention that this post doesn't really make sense. Just go to the panorama link above to read the transcript and learn about the pork in your chicken.

Kevin's Law: the juvenile name for Tom Harkin's new bill [S.1103] attempting to give the USDA more authority to monitor food safety. Unfortunately, it doesn't have much teeth:
[Sec. 5(b)(1)] If the Secretary determines that an establishment fails to meet a requirement described in subsection (a) and that the establishment fails to take appropriate corrective action, as determined by the Secretary, the Secretary may refuse to allow any meat or meat product, or poultry or poultry product, subject to the standard and processed by the establishment to be labeled, marked, stamped or tagged as `inspected and passed'.
No fines, no shutdowns.
Pork is an antioxidant: Ai Saiga, Soichi Tanabe, and Toshihide Nishimura, "Antioxidant Activity of Peptides Obtained from Porcine Myofibrillar Proteins by Protease Treatment," J. Agric. Food Chem. 51(12) (2003): 3661-7
True cost of labeling: somewhere between a quarter and 10 bucks per person per year. See William K. Jaeger, Economic Issues and Oregon Ballot Measure 27: Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods [pdf]. More on this soon.
hey ladies!
By the way, we just figured out that shit we said you needed makes you crazy.
"It's exactly the opposite of what was anticipated," said Sally Shumaker, professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and principal investigator on the new study.
Whoops! Don't worry, now we have totally figured out the endocrine system. Everything we say isn't a load of crap starting... now! No wait... now! Also, Atkins is a quack.

[JAMA article | Wyeth criminal press release]

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

labelling
In a relatively reasonable discussions of the "myths" hampering debate on GM food, [ASPB News May/June 2003, v.30, No. 3 -- sub. only, but text available here], Pamela Ronald & Steve Strauss have this to say about labeling:
Labeling and process knowledge is a consumer right, regardless of its scientific basis and social cost [this is the "myth"]. Although labels themselves are inexpensive to print, the identity segregation, tracking, and testing systems that a meaningful labeling system requires can be very costly to society. This is especially true when, as in the European Union, very small levels of GEO ingredients must be carefully identified in all derivative products. Societies therefore choose not to label many trace ingredients or specific aspects of crop and food production that may be of some nutritional or environmental relevance, even though this information would be of interest to many consumers (e.g., pesticide residues, varieties, fertilizers, irrigation practices, origins of processed foods).

Labels also tend to be viewed by consumers as 'warnings' and thus can stigmatize crops that may have economic, health, or environmental benefits. Under current law, the FDA seeks to avoid information on labels that consumers may find 'misleading' with respect to nutrition and safety. For example, a label on a genetically engineered papaya indicating that it contains 'trace amounts of papaya ringspot viral DNA' would be accurate but misleading because the average consumer does not know that the non-genetically engineered fruit is likely to be virally infected and would therefore carry higher levels of papaya ringspot viral DNA as well as protein.

Generic GMO labels are also of negligible public value, as the variety of genes, insertion events, and products makes such a system nearly useless for tracking epidemiological patterns or for inferring personal risk or benefit. Finally, there has been no public uprising to label conventionally bred crops, even though their nutritional and toxicological properties vary widely and have been far less well studied than GEO crops. The decision whether to label GEO products is both scientifically questionable and fraught with social and economic tradeoffs. It is anything but simple and clear, nor is it an inalienable right.

Now first of all, exactly how costly to society is an accurate labeling regime? There is a lot of hot air blowing around this subject, but I haven't seen any hard numbers. Second, does your right to impossibly cheap flavorless food outweigh my right to know what I'm eating? I don't know -- I don't normally give a shit about this kind of moral philosophy, but it seems to me a legitimate question. Third, why not let the market decide? Impose the labeling laws and see if 4�/lb. or whatever number it ends up being is worth bothering about, or if some producers decide to label everything just in case, while others charge a premium for the knowledge of what you're eating. Finally, this is why people are inclined to distrust everything "scientists" say:
There has been no public uprising to label conventionally bred crops, even though their nutritional and toxicological properties vary widely and have been far less well studied than GEO crops.
Are you a disingenuous corporate tool, or just hopelessly stupid? People don't want to label conventional tomatoes because their name is their label. They know what a tomato is. If the tomato has a piece of papaya [not flounder!] in it they might want to know about that. It's so lame that the the people actually equipped to talk intelligently about this stuff end up with retarded non-arguments like this.
dumbing down
It is easy to laugh at the billion-dollar Wargames set in Qatar, the Bush-on-blue-backgrounds-with-repeating-monosyllables-strategy and the administration's other juvenile media strategies. Of course, the fact is that they work, and not only because we the public are dumb -- the media was obviously psyched to hang out in a fake desert NORAD that looked like something important was happening.

I think there is something more than this to the playing cards though, and, judging by the 1500 more-or-less fake versions for sale on eBay, I'm not alone. Of course, cards are cheap, and give off that whiff of mass-produced uniqueness, like Princess Di wedding matchbooks or a Franklin Mint commemorative, which lets those of us who weren't, in fact, "there" to feel that we were. The many competing decks out there, from the original to this somewhat arbitrary french version [via Rittenhouse], show that the concept itself is universally appealing -- and not merely stupid. There is something poignant about the popularity of the originals, though, as if people are thinking, "won't it be fun in 10 years to win 50 bucks on a "Chemical Ali"-high straight and laugh about how scary those orange alerts were?" Of course, the fact that we are increasingly unlikely to be laughing about anything a decade hence makes it even more poignant.

I think I won't buy a deck from eBay after all. But if anyone can get me some fake Made in USA boxes, let me know.

update [5/29]: great "inside info" from antic muse; and even the WTO gets in on the act [via skimble].
[5/30]: Ruckus gets in on it.

Friday, May 23, 2003

big meat week closes: "boutique beef" at LA Times (including sources).
Their corpse flower is bigger than ours. Time for a trade war!
Fish Friday
I was going to write about some of the inanities printed in the Post's account of last week's Nature study of the destruction of the world's fish stocks, but Jim Capozzola at Rittenhouse Review took care of it (and subsequent stupidities too dumb to name). Then yesterday, the latest on "rockfish":
The collapse of West Coast rockfish populations was triggered by a flawed federal management system that set excessive harvest levels, failed to properly account for fish caught and favored commerce over conservation, an environmental coalition charged Wednesday.
The Nature report came out on the same day I was talking with a friend about how seafood was becoming morally inedible and I was thinking about an earlier paper demonstrating that commercial fishing is intrinsically unsustainable. But that was also the day Copper River Salmon season opened -- a small cause for hope. (Alaska Salmon is basically the only fish you should eat at this point). Think I'll make some for dinner, before we kill them all off.
More on bilateral trade
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick late last week said countries that seek free-trade agreements with the United States must pass muster on more than trade and economic criteria in order to be eligible. At a minimum, these countries must cooperate with the United States on its foreign policy and national security goals, as part of 13 criteria that will guide the U.S. selection of potential FTA partners, he said in a May 8 speech.

The U.S. seeks "cooperation -- or better -- on foreign policy and security issues," Zoellick said in a speech to the Institute for International Economics. Given that the U.S. has international interests beyond trade, "why not try to urge people to support our overall policies?" he asked.

Zoellick said that he uses a set of 13 criteria to evaluate potential negotiating partners, but he insisted that there are no formal rules for the selection or any guarantees. "It's not automatic," Zoellick said. Negotiating an FTA with the U.S. "is not something one has a right to. It's a privilege."

[From a pay site called World Trade Online, quoted in the invaluable ABE #250 (not yet online)].

Cf. the reaming we just administered to New Zealand:

A US official's extraordinary attack on the Prime Minister makes it clear that Helen Clark's personal criticism of President George W. Bush cost New Zealand any chance of a free-trade deal.

The US Government spokesman told the Herald last night that personal attacks by Helen Clark on Mr Bush had been "beyond the call".

"You can forgive friends a lot, but in the way the world really operates, personal attacks are beyond the call, particularly from friends," he said.

Helen Clark apologised to the Bush Administration last month for offending the US in saying it would not have invaded Iraq if Al Gore had been President.

In an unusual comment from a senior trade official, Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told the US House of Representatives agriculture committee on Wednesday that there had been "some things done recently that would make [a free-trade agreement] harder to carry" to Congress.

Asked what Mr Zoellick had meant, the spokesman said that, while he could not talk for Mr Zoellick, the way the Iraq issue was handled had raised eyebrows in Washington.

"When already-hoped-for co-operation isn't there and comments get increasingly more strident about 'it has to be the UN, it has to be the UN, it has to be the UN' and then the most responsible person in that Government all of a sudden comes out and sort of personally attacks the President, it's that one step beyond."

The spokesman said his remarks were not intended as a personal attack on the Prime Minister, but as a criticism of her comments and Government policy.

Helen Clark said last night she was "quite astonished".

Details on the USDA Greeley ConAgra investigation [Rocky Mountain News].
John M. Burke and Loren H. Rieseberg, "Fitness Effects of Transgenic Disease Resistance in Sunflowers," Science 300 (2003), p. 1250:
Fears about transgene escape have focused attention on the potential for hybridization between crops and their wild relatives. Although transgenes will often escape from cultivation (1), their rate of spread will be mainly governed by their fitness effects, not the migration rate (2). Thus, only highly advantageous transgenes will spread rapidly enough to have a substantial ecological impact. Therefore, research on the risks associated with transgene escape should focus on the fitness effects of the gene(s) in question....

Presence or absence of the OxOx transgene had no effect on seed output (P = 0.25), indicating that there was no cost of resistance in the absence of a pathogen challenge. In terms of infection rates, the OxOx transgene did provide protection against white mold (P = 0.002). The transgene did not, however, have any effect on seed output after inoculation (P = 0.84). Though the transgene provided protection against white mold infection, it had no effect on reproductive output. This result has a simple explanation: Variation in the likelihood of infection was offset by variation in the severity of infection. In California, where the transgene provided the most protection against infection, disease onset had no effect on seed output. In contrast, white mold infection caused a severe decline in seed output in Indiana, but infection rates were unaffected by the transgene. Thus, the transgene had a significant effect on the likelihood of infection, and infection had a negative effect on seed output (P 0.0001), but the disease effect varied across locations (P = 0.001), nullifying any advantage of the transgene....

Our results suggest that the OxOx transgene will do little more than diffuse neutrally after its escape....

Future studies assessing the environmental impact of transgenes should not only be replicated over space and time, but should also examine the effects of genetic background and environmental stresses. Regardless of the form of future research, an informed judgment of the risks and benefits of genetic modification on a case-by-case basis is preferable to either the dismissal of transgenic approaches entirely, or the introduction of transgenic crops in the absence of appropriate scientific scrutiny.

SARS came from outer space.
world's safest food supply [Philly Inquirer via foodroutes]
Mad cow is the least of your worries: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

GRAIN interviews David Quist:
I am concerned about the impact on science. It is unfortunate that the debate became so politicised and the real issue was discredited because of some disagreements over the interpretation of the I-PCR data. While there was a lot of noise made about the paper, there has been what I call 'scientific silence' over it: no-one is doing the follow up work to refute or support our findings and no-one is asking what the implications of them are. People have reacted defensively: because they don't see what they expect to see, they call our results 'erroneous'. This kind of approach is a disservice to science. What we are seeing more and more is that the science of substantiating facts is overriding science as a process, which is all about questioning and re-examining our assumptions, in order to lead us to a better understanding of reality. The way that the debates are framed and the inability of corporate science to re-examine its paradigms are compromising good science. What message does this send to other scientists who make the 'wrong' findings or ask the 'wrong questions', ie those that go against the science of the corporate agenda?

The events that have occurred also raise a lot of questions about the true objectivity of the peer-review process in scientific reporting. Science recently published a fairy tale [see this] story about the success of Bt cotton in India, despite the fact that Bt cotton is failing miserably all over India. Nature's handling of our paper suggests that it was under pressure from the industry camp. As the heat built up, the journal did not handle things very well and made a lot of people angry, on both sides. Two of the three referees said that they did not challenge the main conclusions of our paper, but suggested writing a correction to part of it. Why didn't the editor make this clear, point out that there were some issues of contention over certain aspects of our findings, and put out calls for more work on the subject? Why the need for a disavowal? And why were most people left with the impression that the paper had been retracted, when it was not? A hallmark of good science is in asking exploratory questions -- just as we were doing. We weren?t out of step with that, but the response we received was out of step with the way that normal scientific discourse should happen to advance scientific knowledge. Situations like this call into question whether these journals can continue to be looked to as a reliable source of objective science.

BSE links: Western Producer, @g Online, CFIA, CCA, google news.
That Country of Origin law is starting to sound, uh, cool.
In the meantime... or maybe yak?
Roundup
San Joachin valley farmland conservation [Post via ABE].

Vermonters try to do something about school lunch [Vt. 7 Days via Saut� Wed.].

WAF news from the Post-Dispatch -- and St. L Indymedia [via mad prophet]..

Pharmageddon in Time.

Her work done, Christie decides to go to Starbucks incognito. I wonder where her replacement will come from? I hear Ken Lay is looking for work...

Americans: fucktards of the world:

"People are kind of incredulous," says Sarah Thorn, director of international trade for the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America, which represents scores of companies from Campbell's to Kraft. "Is it fair to claim after hundreds of years of fair use that these are 'my products?' " she asks. "Nobody thinks of Dijon mustard as . . . coming from Dijon, France. No, it is a type of mustard."
[This ties right in to the WTO shitstorm discussed below].

Monday, May 19, 2003

Serious science types will want to take a look at genefiles, a dutch-funded database summarizing the research done on transgenic genes. There are only 5 genes in the database so far, but one hopes they will expand it.
Cropchoice has a good piece on Washington State wheat breeder Steve Jones, whose funding the state wheat commission has threatened to withhold unless he licenses BASF GM technology. Clarifies some issues raised by the K-State-Monsanto soybean deal I noted a couple weeks ago.
Dan McKay, owner of McKay Seed Company, is one of the commissioners who introduced the measure to withhold funding for the breeding program. He says growers in his district are "going broke" because goatgrass, cereal rye and other weeds are decreasing the value of their harvests. Resistance to Beyond would give them a new tool to make weed control easier. They could spray the herbicide without harming the wheat.

"If growers want a tool, it's obligatory for the breeders to do what growers want," McKay says.

Chris Herron, who grows wheat in Connell and leads the Research Committee of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, disagrees. He and his neighbors don't have excessively weedy fields, Herron says. Keeping out the unwanted plants requires careful management. This means harvesting in -- and saving seed from -- fields only where weeds aren't an issue, practicing proper crop rotation and planting only certified seed.

"All of a sudden a farmer wakes up one day and says, 'Holy Cow, I've got goatgrass on my whole farm. I need Steve Jones to breed me some [imazamox]-resistant wheat.' I don't think it's Steve Jones's responsibility to bail that farmer out of his poor management," Herron says.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Bush's brain, and his package
Tidbits from Leman's 5/12 New Yorker profile of Rove. His first memory of president codpiece:
"It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1973," Rove said. "Chairman Bush's chief of staff called me and said, 'I've got to be at a meeting on the Hill, the chairman's got to be at a meeting at the White House, the other people in the office have already gone, and the eldest son's going to be coming down from Harvard. He's going to arrive at the train station, early afternoon. He'll call over here when he gets to the train station. Meet him down in the lobby and give him the keys to the family car.' I can literally remember what he was wearing: an Air National Guard flight jacket, cowboy boots, bluejeans, complete with the -- in Texas you see it a lot-one of the back pockets will have a circle worn in the pocket from where you carry your tin of snuff, your tin of tobacco. He was exuding more charisma than any one individual should be allowed to have."
Hey Karl: rednecks like you call it chaw. And you better hope Santorum doesn't read this. The AWOL flight jacket is a nice touch though.
In one of our interviews, I asked Rove to lay out the basic American political correlation of forces-who's a Republican and who's a Democrat.... He moved on to the Democratic base: "Somebody with a doctorate." This he said with perhaps a suggestion of a smirk.
Kinsley in Slate:
So you get rich with a dozen different types of tax-funded help, you become a Republican, and you live happily ever after complaining about how much you pay in taxes. Maybe President Bush was right after all, that is the American dream.
This WTO suit is so stupid I'm starting to wonder if the point is something entirely different from what it seems. First, the Financial Times [sub. req.] explains the stupidity:
First, the US could pay the political costs of launching an inflammatory dispute and then lose. Most press accounts compare this case with one of the first disputes ever handled by the WTO: the EU's ban on beef that had been produced using hormones. The EU lost because its ban had no basis in science and in "comparable" areas of food policy it had adopted much less strict rules -- a telltale sign that the ban was a protectionist gambit.

On the surface, the cases appear similar. Although the science on the health risks of GM food is contested, essentially all the credible evidence shows that these foods are safe, which would seem to indict the EU ban. But in critical ways the cases differ. Across the board, the EU is tightening food safety regulations in ways that seem irrational by standard cost/benefit tests but, crucially, are broadly non-discriminatory and consistent - the key tests for whether a trade ban is legitimate. Moreover, the GM ban is a temporary measure - unlike the permanent ban on beef hormones - and trade rules allow more flexibility for countries that implement temporary measures when they can claim the science is uncertain.

Second, the EU could change its rules in the middle of the dispute. For several years, EU bureaucrats have been designing a new set of standards that would "reopen" Europe's markets to GM foods if traders complied with onerous tracing and labelling requirements. This shift would make it harder for the US to win because trade laws are tolerant of labels that allow consumers to make the final choice. While the US might respond by dropping the suit, it would be more likely to redirect the dispute against the tracing and labelling rules. In the past, hotly contested trade disputes have usually taken on a myopic life of their own. Each side digs in and the political damage spreads.

Third is the most likely (and worst) outcome: the US could win. The victory would be Pyrrhic because the issues are fundamentally ones of morality and technology - they must be settled in the courts of consumer opinion. On this score, the beef hormones case is instructive. Even today, hormone-treated beef is no more able to find European consumers than it was before the US won its case; and the years of legal wrangling have led to counter-sanctions that have harmed a wide variety of unrelated products and industries. The antagonism over GM foods appears to be unfolding in much the same way.

Futhermore, they are fucking over the WTO itself:
Nonetheless, the prospect of being called on to adjudicate in such a politically sensitive conflict between the world's two economic superpowers is sending shivers through the WTO. The organisation is already under fire because of past decisions in trade disputes that critics, including members of the US Congress and activist groups, say trample on national sovereignty.

Trade officials fear that trying to lay down the law - in an area where global rules are far from clear - would expose the organisation to still fiercer attacks that could undermine its authority. "Whichever way a case on GMOs went, the WTO would lose," says one. Despite those risks, Mr Bush's administration has decided to press ahead. It has threatened since October to bring a WTO case; but the White House blocked action in January, fearing it would complicate efforts to win European support for the war in Iraq.

[Also, supposedly, FT -- I could only find it here]. This at a time when the current (Doha) round of negotiations is stalled -- the House Ag Comittee is holding a hearing on this next week -- and a number of countries are preparing another WTO challenge to the monstrous US farm bill.

Could it be that they actually want to destroy the WTO? And replace it with their new mercantilist bilateral strategy? You might think so, but US industry seems to need someone to whine to: just now they are complaining that banning the import of exotic Newcastle-infected poultry somehow constitutes an "unfair" restraint of trade (as opposed to, say, steel tariffs and corporate tax breaks). And yesterday an organization called the National Foreign Trade Council released a report claiming that virtually any safety or quality standard is restraint of trade. See, the playing field is just not "level" enough for US corporations to compete fair and square. But, considering how crazy these neocons are, maybe the theory is that they won't need to whine once we impose our inferior disease-ridden products on the world by force. This prominent quotation on the NFTC's homepage says it all:

"From the point of view of Halliburton, one of the most valuable organizations we are a part of is the NFTC."

-- Richard Cheney

(After, of course, the US Government).

[more on the bilateral agreements here and here; open democracy link thanks to skimble; modified/elaborated substantially on 5/16]

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Via Sauté Wednesday, Guardian special section on the "way we eat now." The meat article will help you decipher the USDA's new school lunch ground beef specs, but it reveals more of how ass-backwards our food supply has become:
The cutting edge now, however, is in fat technology. Fat is seriously cheap and with the help of additives you can make it eat with a bit of chew, just like meat. You can buy thick rectangular slabs of pork back fat for about 50p a kilo to make your economy sausage. But if you want to cut costs even further, the cheapest stuff on the market is something called flare fat. This is the highly saturated fat that collects around the vital organs of the pig such as the kidneys. It was traditionally rendered into lard because you couldn't put it into sausages without it running straight back out again when they were cooked. It also clogs up your arteries. But now food scientisits are developing ways to make it hard so it doesn't ooze out.
First of all, that saturated fat is what makes meat taste good, as the pig article two entries down demonstrates. Second, what we're talking about here is leaf fat, which is the best fat for baking.
In Mother Jones, Michael Pollan on Slow Food; Alice Waters chimes in too.

I have an Italian friend who recently told me that he was giving up on Slow Food, that it was too commercial. It sounded like he was talking about Nirvana signing with DGC. Sellouts. In Italy Slow Food has probably become more oppressive with its success -- the Gamberi Rosso guides are certainly exercising excessive influence on the wine market [on the other hand, better them than Parker]. Conversely, in this country, SF seems quixotic, if not precious, as Pollan points out and my local convivium reminds me all too frequently. Despite these flaws, though, they are still doing something very, very important in the form of the (quixotically-named) presidia: promoting the biodiversity of the food supply. This is not just a good idea because we might need it (biodiversity) some day, but because we need it right now. The inexorable logic of monocultural production agriculture not only impoverishes the food supply, it actually reduces its quality, as the pig item immediately below makes clear. I'm not saying the rapture is imminent unless we destroy factory farming tomorrow, but we have to modulate its influence, before we end up eating Soylent Green. If Slow Food is too much for you, there are plenty of other people working on the same thing, like Seed Savers and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Or you could just buy some Rhode Island white flint corn, Iroquois white flint corn (order info here), or the equivalent from your neck of the woods, before it vanishes forever.

Why your pork tastes like shit: Mario Est�vez, David Morcuende, Sonia Ventanas, and Ram�n Cava, "Analysis of Volatiles in Meat from Iberian Pigs and Lean Pigs after Refrigeration and Cooking by Using SPME-GC-MS," J. Agric. Food Chem. 51 (11) (2003), 3429-35:
The Iberian pig is a rustic animal reared free-range in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. This pig offers a meat with excellent properties for the preparation of cured products and meat for fresh consumption. The high content of fat, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), heme iron, and antioxidants in meat from Iberian pigs have been identified as critical aspects of their higher quality as compared to meat from lean pigs. In fact, the fresh meat from lightweight Iberian pigs has higher nutritional and technological properties than meat from lean pigs. Despite that, there is no information of the effect of this particular breed and its free-range rearing system on the formation of volatile compounds after meat refrigeration and meat cooking. Previous studies indicated that MUFAs are positively correlated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are negatively correlated with pork flavor. Moreover, pork flavor is thought to have declined with selection strategies that reduce intramuscular fat (IMF) content.
Copper River salmon season opens today -- even as the FDA considers GE Salmon [both via tidepool].
A poor Christian Science Monitor reporter tries to eat local for two weeks in Boston. Her counterpart in LA, obviously, had more luck
My chef friend Evan summed it up perfectly when she said, "I think eating locally starts as an abstract set of values which you want to conform to in your own life.... But then you get completely seduced by the tastes of what you're consuming. And you get drawn in shopping at the farmers' market. You wind up feeling unconscionably lazy if you make a different choice. Because what you're consuming when you eat locally is so much more vivid in flavor and in meaning."
Pew spotlight on biopharming. [for those who have never clicked on the Pew link, they always provide a sober, MoR state of the question. not the most exciting stuff, but a good place to start if you're interested in the issue].

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

ASPB organ Plant Physiology on agricultural ethics:
Farmers and consumers are beginning to question some technologies, especially pest control practices and genetic engineering of crops, wanting to know if they are consistent with human health, stewardship of the land, and the sustainability of the Earth's ecosystems. Low commodity prices are beneficial for consumers and safeguard our export markets, but our ecosystems and rural communities suffer from some of the policies that encourage specific agricultural practices. For example, our agricultural system relies heavily on irrigation (Fig. 1), continuous monocultures, and purchased inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, farm machinery, etc.) but ignores most of the laws that govern natural ecosystems and, by extension, also stable agro-ecosystems. Many of our practices have negative impacts on the environment: fertilizer runoff causes enormous problems in our riparian systems and our cheap meat policies (financial incentives through tax policy for concentrated animal husbandry, cheap grazing rights, and low commodity prices), also have serious negative environmental consequences. According to Zimdahl (2002): "Agriculture has been so confident in its narrow pursuit of increased production that its practitioners have frequently failed to listen to and to understand, the position of others (e.g. environmental groups, modern agrarians, organic practitioners). Agriculturalists have not taken the time to articulate any value position other than the value of production." Although production is an excellent goal, the challenge that faces us in the 21st century is to make the transition from production agriculture to agricultural sustainability. This transition will require substantial institutional innovation (Ruttan, 1999).
Pretty thoughtful summary. Also features P.B. Thompson on Value Judgments and GE crops:
Hazard identification, exposure modeling, and comparison populations each involve value judgments that are ethical or pragmatic but in either case cannot be characterized as following from established scientific findings or theories. It may be the case that many plant scientists share common views with respect to these value judgments. Nevertheless, taking different viewpoints on any of the value-oriented questions is, absent more extensive argument at least, fully consistent with taking a scientific view on the comparison of environmental risk from transgenic and conventional crops. Because of the technical sophistication implicit in the foregoing analysis, it is unlikely that the specific value judgments identified above contribute strongly to nonscientific resistance to transgenic crops. However, resolving the conceptual and definitional ambiguities noted herein, and providing a clear and straightforward rationale for such resolution, are critical to the credibility of risk assessment.
Got it?

Ok, this means that both pro- and anti- GM positions are value judgements independent of the "science" involved. In case you hadn't figured that out yet.

business as usual [NYT]
The A.P., using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain [J. Steven Griles's (deputy secretary of the interior)] appointment calendars, reported last month that while Mr. Griles's nomination was pending before the Senate in 2001, Chevron was paying his firm $80,000 to lobby the Interior Department. Two months after his confirmation, Mr. Griles began meeting with other department officials to discuss Chevron's proposed projects. The A.P. said those meetings ended with the Bush administration's paying Chevron $46 million to abandon plans for oil wells off the Florida coast, a decision that enhanced the re-election prospects of President Bush's brother Jeb as governor of Florida....On behalf of Mr. Griles, Eric Ruff, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said Mr. Lieberman's request for an investigation was politically motivated.
See what happens when you leave the cretins in charge? They can't even count.
Monsanto is now pursuing criminal complaints against farmers who save seed. The first victim got eight months.
Monsanto has built a whole department to enforce its seed patents and licensing agreements. It has 75 employees and an annual budget of $10 million, said spokeswoman Shannon Troughton.
They have an 800 number for informers too.

[Both St. L. P-D via the AgBiz Examiner]

US bringing WTO suit against Europe over GM food. [FT | AgWeb]. Now, if you had an irrational fear of GM food, and an unelected transnational organization shoved it down your throat on the basis of free trade, would you be likely to change your mind? It's mind-boggling. Especially because, as the EU food safety commisioner pointed out yesterday, Europe is going to lift its ban well before the WTO can rule.

Monday, May 12, 2003

shitstorm swirls [NYT]
Some former government employees said industry pressure had limited their ability to study and combat the problem.

Former Environmental Protection Agency prosecutors said they started looking at air pollution from factory farms in 1998, but political appointees issued a directive in early 2002 that effectively stymied new cases. "You had decisions about enforcement that were being made on the political level without any input from the enforcement," said Michele Merkel, a prosecutor who resigned from the agency in protest....

At the Agriculture Department, officials have reclassified research topics relating to industrial farms and health, including antibiotic-resistant pathogens, as "sensitive." As a result, at least one scientist, James Zahn, has left the department. "It was a choke hold on objective research," said Dr. Zahn, who had studied swine and bacteria until he left last fall. "Originally we were praised for the work we were doing. All of a sudden we were told, no more antibiotic resistance work."

Who could be responsible -- and why? Plus: Iowa microsm; shit = power in Cali.; a simple way to get rid of H2S.

Friday, May 09, 2003

K-State has licensed the Roundup-Ready gene from Monsanto, because farmers won't use soybeans that aren't RR [Reuters via Forbes via Corante].

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Chefs at the Santa Monica farmers market [LA Times]
Fresh Air did a segment on the Carlyle Group Tues., but I can't bring myself to listen to it -- Terri Gross's voice sends me into a seizure. You can listen to it though. Tell me what it says.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

the saga of intellectual property [Nature]
Most geneticists have never heard of Malcolm Simons. But they could get to hear about him pretty soon when they're asked to pay for use of non-coding DNA -- sometimes known as 'junk' DNA -- on which the New Zealand immunologist has won wide-ranging global patents.

Genetic Technologies (GTG), the Australian company that now holds the rights to the patents, is starting to assert these rights in universities. And researchers could shortly need a licence from the company to use any non-coding sequence in genetic analyses of any species in their research.

"We have contacted academic research groups in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan and Europe," says Mervyn Jacobson, chairman of GTG, who says that the company is in the final stages of negotiations with three universities in Australia and one in the United States.

I don't know who Julia Moskin is, but she needs some help with her writing. And proofing. And fact-checking. On the other hand: lardo. One reason to move to New York.

Before you get all superior in that way that you have, I should point out that I can walk down the street and get hand-cured lardo from my local butcher. Put that in your Greenmarket and smoke it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Do you think Hardee's Chairman and winery owner Mr. William P. Foley, II, who raised $132,110.00 for Bush, is related to April? Maybe tpj can find out. Then there's Tom Foley.... [link via skimble of course].
pension wrinkle [NYT]
A bill pending in the House of Representatives would allow businesses with union workers to reduce their company pension obligations by billions of dollars, because statistics show that most blue-collar workers do not live as long as other Americans.
How convenient.
Christie gets busy,
prepares to unleash
a literal shitstorm

at factory farms.
[warning: contains
repeated references to
"fecal dust particles."]

Few too many ventis,
Christie?

Good God, this is
the official picture?

AP story on a new method to prevent GM crops from breeding with the "natives." Supposedly published in PNAS but I can't find it.

5/12: here.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Food
Michael Pollan on unsustainable food systems in the Times magazine [plus genetic diets, the nemesis on heirloom livestock and more].

Certified Naturally Grown is an alternative non-profit certification regime with exactly the same requirements as the USDA's NOP, but none of the paperwork.

Going mainstream -- I mean, alternative: Local Harvest is going to set up organic farmer's markets at lollapalooza this year. Sadly, I fear it may be too late to save the complexions of the poor kids from incubus...

Friday, May 02, 2003

Science has free SARS content, including the genome.

They also review the Green Revolution:

Critics of further investment in research have noted that grain prices are at or near historic lows, and they question the need for further improvements in technology. They have also raised concerns about the sustainability of intensive cultivation -- e.g., the environmental consequences of soil degradation, chemical pollution, aquifer depletion, and soil salinity -- and about differential socioeconomic impacts of new technologies. These are valid criticisms. But it is unclear what alternative scenario would have allowed developing countries to meet, with lower environmental impact, the human needs posed by the massive population expansion of the 20th century. Nor is it true that chemical intensive technologies were thrust upon the farmers of the developing world. Both IARC and NARS breeding programs attempted to develop MVs [Modern high-yielding Vaieties] that were less dependent on purchased inputs, and considerable effort has been devoted to research on farming systems, agronomic practices, integrated pest management, and other "environment-friendly" technologies. But ultimately it is farmers who choose which technologies to adopt, and many farmers in developing countries -- like those in developed countries -- have found it profitable to use MVs with high responsiveness to chemical fertilizers.

The end result, as shown in Table 2, is that virtually all consumers in the world have benefited from lower food prices. Many farm families also benefited from research-driven productivity gains -- most clearly those whose productivity rose more than prices fell, but also those who produce much of their own food. But some farmers and farm workers experienced real losses from the Green Revolution. Those who did not receive the productivity gains of the Green Revolution (largely because they were located in less favorable agroecological zones), but who nonetheless experienced price declines, have suffered actual losses of income. The challenge for the coming decades is to find ways to reach these farmers with improved technologies; for many, future green revolutions hold out the best, and perhaps the only, hope for an escape from poverty.

One of the world's biggest douchebags writes of biopharming in Nature Biotechnology
Thus, genes could be transferred from a crop that has been modified to synthesize a pharmaceutical, but that is likely to occur only if a certain gene(s) that has moved confers a selective advantage on the recipient -- an occurrence that should be uncommon with biopharming, where most often the added gene (which directs the synthesis of large amounts of substances intended for nonagricultural purposes) will place the recipient at a selective disadvantage. In other words, plants that acquire the ability to produce the pharmaceutical are unlikely to compete successfully and proliferate....
ok, if you say so...
But one might well ask, who has conferred on the food manufacturers the imperium to decide where, when and how new plant varieties should be tested and cultivated? Conversely, why shouldn't pharmaceutical companies decide that their cultivation of crops that produce potentially inexpensive, life-saving drugs should take precedence, and that lest gene transfer from food crops cause contamination, it is the food crops that should be segregated and stringently regulated?
Why indeed? Because, you know, those pharmaceutical companies just want to help people:
But three months later, many biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies say the plan known as Project Bioshield may not be radical enough. Enthusiasm for the concept of a government-driven market is nearly unanimous within the industry, and dozens of companies have pledged their support. But executives say that, given the financial and legal hazards of developing drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests for deadly pathogens, they want a higher guaranteed profit and fewer restrictions than the current proposal would offer.
Your stinking regulations are holding back our glorious march into the future. But you're shirking your duty to guarantee our profits with taxpayer dollars. Fucking commies.
Uh-oh. Turns out organic agriculture may require human rights violations. [Sacramento Bee].
Grassy knoll dept.
After recalling the good old draft-evading days on his toy boat, Pres. copilot heads to Santa Clara today for some more speaking in tongues with the choir at United Defense, maker of the aptly-named crusader howitzer. Rummy, of course, killed the Crusader (or tried to), and it is supposedly related to the firing of Army Sec. Thomas "what email?" White.

United Defense is, of course, owned by The Carlyle Group.

So who's sending a message to who?

[Added Globe link via Conason, who also reminds us: "And then I remembered exactly how he has demonstrated his respect and admiration for those who actually serve. His budget slashes their benefits over the next decade by almost $29 billion and restricts their medical care, in order to reduce taxes on his friends and patrons."]

French wine sales down 19% in March.
Arianna Huffington on pensions in Alternet:
Among the gimmicks being used to goose the value of these plans is an accounting scheme that can dramatically increase a CEO's retirement windfall by adding phantom years -- even phantom decades -- of service to the exec's pension....

Thanks to this latest innovation in corporate accounting, Leo Mullin, Delta Airlines' CEO, has had an additional 22 years of service tacked on to the less than six years he's actually worked for the company, while US Air's former CEO Stephen Wolf was given credit for 24 years he didn't really put in. And this scam isn't reserved for the high-flyers of the airline industry. When John Snow left CSX Railroad to become Treasury Secretary, he was given credit for having put in 44 years at the firm, even though he'd actually punched a time clock there for 25 -- a little fun with numbers that helped him walk away with a cool $33 million in pension booty....

Unlike salaries and bonuses, which are regularly reported in the business press, the details of executive pension plans are usually hidden away in the extra fine print of a company's SEC filings....

And CEOs love that pension plan payouts come with none of those annoying tied-to-performance strings attached.

Did I mention that The Carlyle Group owns CSX?

Update:You should probably read the Fortune article that Arianna got all her info from. Lot's more revolting details from the piggy issue.

Rummy was on the board of the company that built North Korea's reactors. [Richard Behar in Fortune via MeFi]

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Hi, Monsanto!
You know, you should maybe talk to your pr people about IP spoofing or something.

Remember, I don't hate genetic engineers, just acts of genetic engineering.

©2002-2005 by the author