Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Federal Money Available to Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

The USDA awarded grants to three New York organizations to provide training and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers to help run successful and sustainable farms.

“Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges, and these efforts will help provide the training needed to ensure these producers become profitable and sustainable,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. The average age of farmers today is 57 and is trending upward.

USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded grants of $18 million through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The grants are for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. BFRDP is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers, specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer.

Entities receiving the awards are:

Groundswell Center for Food and Farming, Ithaca, N.Y., ($349,873)
Just Food, Inc., New York, N.Y., ($426,921)
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc., Rochester, N.Y., ($143,973)

Contact these organizations for more information and opportunities to participate.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Texas Farm Bureau Stands With Chicken Factory Operators

Texas Farm Bureau defends Chicken “Factory Farming”

Texas Farm Bureau Publications Director Mike Barnett believes that proponents of more humane farming methods make outrageous claims because they are pushing a vegan-based agenda to free the world of meat.

He cites statistics from the National Chicken Council that say that modern factory farms produce larger birds more quickly than smaller farms were able to do so 50 years ago – and they can do it while feeding the birds less food during their short 47 day lives.

"Mistreated chickens don't gain weight," explains Barnett.  And, according to Barnett, factory farmers are family-men, so stories about confinement in unsanitary, disease-ridden chicken factory farms in Texas where birds succumb to heat prostration, infectious disease and cancer are just that – stories.  Chicken growers, especially those who grow chickens under contract to Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms don’t take shortcuts – they are “family farmers” who produce birds humanely and who care, according to Barnett.

Mr. Barnett perhaps doesn’t recall how Pilgrim’s Pride’s bankruptcy in 2008-2009 left many of its contract growers in dire straits with worthless chicken houses and massive debt. Or how litigation continues against Pilgrim’s Pride by 107 contract poultry farmers who took on personal debt to grow chickens under long-term contracts to grow chickens for the company.

Barnett doesn't mention how complaints against Sanderson Farms with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality increased 15-fold in the three years since Sanderson growers built 400 "barns" in the area just east of Waco (each barn holds about 27,000 birds). And, we would guess he would disagree with the Texas Observer's characterization of Sanderson growers as modern-day sharecroppers in "Getting Plucked."

To see Barnett’s defense of contract farmers, click here.

State Farm Bureaus, along with the national Farm Bureau, continue to support big agriculture and oppose any changes geared toward factory farm reform. They oppose bans on battery cages, veal crates and pig gestation cages. They oppose mandated limits on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics and antimicrobials despite evidence of growing bacterial resistance. The Farm Bureaus claim to be the voice of agriculture, yet it seems to have stopped listening to consumers who have begun to shun the products of factory farms. It is time for the Farm Bureau to step aside and for real family farmers to speak with a different voice.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Godfather's Pizza Continues Using Bromated Flour At Many Locations

Godfather’s Pizza continues to use potassium bromate as a dough conditioner in many of its full service locations.
Bromate is considered a category 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), meaning that it may be harmful when consumed. In theory, the substance is supposed to bake out of bread dough as it cooks, but if too much is added, or if the bread is not cooked long enough or not at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain.

Potassium bromate has been banned from use in food products in Europe, as well as the United Kingdom in 1990, and Canada in 1994, and most other countries. It was banned in Sri Lanka in 2001 and China in 2005. It is also banned in Nigeria, Brazil and Peru.

Godfather’s Original and Golden Crust pizza dough lists potassium bromate as an ingredient (the listing is  required by federal law). Its frozen Golden Crust does not list potassium bromate, and those outlets (like Hess gas stations) that sell Godfather’s “manufactured” products may or may not be buying a product containing potassium bromate. According to Tricia Hamilton, Godfather's Director of Research & Development, two Hess locations in New York bought and sold a "manufactured" product that did not contain potassium bromate. Its gluten free pizzas do not list potassium bromate.
In the United States, potassium bromate is not banned. A warning label is required when bromated flour is used in California. California declared bromate a carcinogen in 1991.  Some organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest have lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to ban potassium bromate as a food additive in the United States. Instead, since 1991 the FDA has urged bakers to voluntarily stop using it. The FDA currently permits the addition of potassium bromate in flour provided that its inclusion does not exceed .0075 parts for each 100 parts of weight of the flour (or 750 parts per million). These regulations are found at 21CFR136.110(14)(i).

Potassium bromate is added to bread and other flours as maturing agent. It promotes gluten development in doughs, making the bread stronger and more elastic. Commercial bakers use bromated flour because it yields dependable results and can stand up to bread hooks and other commercial baking tools. It is also used to render inferior flour with low protein levels more useable since these flours do not develop enough gluten on their own.
There has been a multi-year effort to get the FDA to ban potassium bromate. Until that happens, consumers should self-inform themselves and decide for themselves if they want to ingest potentially harmful ingredients banned in other parts of the world.

When asked if Godfather's Pizza sold its pizza in school lunchrooms around the country, Tricia Hamilton did not respond.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taking A Look At Howie Hawkins for New York Governor

I know. I know. The Green Party is just a fringe group with no real political muscle.  But, have you had a look at Howie Hawkins' platform regarding organic farming?  I took this from his web site:


Ban corporate-owned farms. Support family farms with price supports, credit, and tax relief. Financial and technical assistance incentives to convert farms to organic methods. Bypass corporate food middlemen by supporting farmer-owned processing and marketing cooperatives and consumer-owned food cooperatives. Full organizing rights and decent wages for farmworkers.

There was no link on this platform point, so I had to dig a little deeper.

I reviewed the questionnaire answers he offered to the Sierra Club in 2010. On it, he writes, "The Greens have also pushed for a ban on the planting of genetically modified crops in NYS. We were able to get legislation introduced in the state legislature in support of a five year moratorium on the planting of GMO crops."

On the Citizens Union for the City of New York questionnaire, he writes, "The public sector has to step up [to] make this happen, not with still more corporate welfare tax breaks and subsidies, but with public investment in a green industrial policy of investing in renewable energy, mass transit, green buildings, organic agriculture and clean manufacturing. These are the new means of production needed for a sustainable green economic recovery and future." (emphasis added) Hawkins made the same statement to Gannet on its questionnaire.

To the League of Conservation Voters, Hawkins said, "Make a major commitment to promoting sustainable organic agriculture in New York State to provide, without polluting our valuable water resources, quality food and the material feedstocks for industry to replace the nonrenewable, climate altering hydrocarbon economy with a renewable, clean carbohydrate economy where materials are recyclable or biodegradable." He also says he would, "Promote legislation and regulation to reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff from farms, businesses, and residences into our waterways." Farm runoff is largely a factor related to factory farms and CAFOs, and not small, sustainable-run family farms.

Hawkins and the Green Party are after 50,000 votes in the upcoming election to secure the Green Party a guaranteed ballot line on state elections for the next four years.  Andrew Cuomo's victory is almost a certainty. Consider using your vote to help Hawkins and the Green Party and to continue the important dialog on the organic agriculture, sustainable farming, and the environment.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Burb Appeal: The Collection (An Excerpt)

(An excerpt from Tina Traster's new Kindle Book, Burb Appeal: The Collection, available on Amazon.com)

Kitchen Stadium

By Tina Traster

My childhood home always smelled of freshly baked goods thanks to my stout Polish grandmother, who pulled trays of mandel brot (almond bread), cream cheese cookies and challah out of the oven daily.

She was also a decent cook.

That gene skipped a generation (Mom shunned the kitchen), but over the years, I became an adequate self-taught chef. Living in New York City apartments for two decades, however, dampened my enthusiasm for cooking. Why bother when there is no counter space, crummy appliances, a drawer full of takeout menus and a thousand restaurants at your doorstep?

But when I got my dream kitchen during an old farmhouse renovation, my inner Julia Child resurfaced.

The 225-square-foot space is a sea of green tile and emerald granite. Light pours in through a wall of tree-filled windows and skylights in the soaring, vaulted ceilings. Stainless-steel appliances, a double sink, a quiet dishwasher and a garbage disposal are arranged at spacious intervals in the U-shaped custom maple cabinets.

In my new domain, I toyed and innovated and found pleasures my grandmother must have known. Happy faces at dinner told me I should scribble the ad hoc recipes into a book. These days, we rarely bother eating out.

One day, my husband tore a peasant bread recipe from a magazine. Read on . . .

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

U.S. Hazelnut Forecast (2010) Looks Bleak

The 2010 hazelnut harvest forecast is for 27,000 tons, a 43% decline from last year's harvest of 47,000 tons. It would also be the lowest harvest level since the 19,500 tons in 2002. This season's crop has a high-defective nut count, resulting in a lower yield. The good-nut percentage was 78%, a 20-year low. This is an off-year for US hazelnuts.

Hong Kong was the largest importer of US inshell hazelnuts from July 2009 to June 2010, buying 39 million pounds, or 54% of the 72 million pounds US hazelnut exports. Vietnam followed at 12 million pounds. Canada was the largest importer or US shelled hazelnuts with 926,000 pounds, followed by Vietnam with 549,000 pounds and then Germany, with 394,000 pounds.

Domestic hazelnut production is largely limited to Oregon, but other parts of the country are actively investigating cultivars for their regions that are both frost tolerant and disease resistant, for food products and biofuels.

For more information, see Hazelnut Breeding and Reseasch at Rutgers University.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Subsidized New York Dairy CAFO serves up adulterated meat

New York farmer Kenneth Corscadden from Corscadden Family Farm received a warning letter last month from the US Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA investigation of Corscadden's dairy farm in Richville, NY revealed that Corscadden offered up animlas for slaughter that were adulterated under federal law. It seems Corscadden sold bob veal (male calves from dairy farms, usually less than one month old) over a period of weeks and that those calves had Tetracycline residues in excess of federal tolerances in their liver, kidney and muscle tissues, sometimes as high as five times the legal limit.

The investigation also revealed that Corscadden also sold a dairy cow and that an analysis of the kidney tissue showed Penicillin residue almost forty times the legal limit.

Corscadden was also accused of holding animals under conditions where medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues were likely to enter the food supply. Corscadden failed to maintain complete treatment records and used controlled drugs for improper extra-label purposes without proper veterinary supervision.

A review of the USDA farm subsidy database shows that Corscadden received $86,375 last year in federal farm subsidies and $511,833 in subsidies from 1995 through 2009. Coscadden also operates a New York State Registered CAFO with 647 mature dairy cattle and about 100 dairy heifers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation - Brand Marketing In Public Schools

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) has partnered with the Discovery Education to launch a new on-line school curriculum to promote ways to help young people achieve healthy weights. Available at www.energybalance101.com, the curriculum uses a calories in, calories out approach to weight management.

This certainly sounds great. A draft of the federal government's 2010 Dietary Guidelines (to be formally released in December 2010) identified obesity as the nation's greatest public health threat.

So who is the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and what role does Discovery Education play in the creation and dissemination of lesson plans geared toward healthy eating habits?

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation bills itself as an “Unprecedented CEO-led Partnership to Reduce Obesity.” According to its web site, its members provide funding and support for programs and activities designed to help people achieve a healthy weight. Members include ConAgra Foods, the Food Marketing Institute, General Mills and the Grocery Manufacturer's Association. Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, along with large supermarket companies and restaurant chains, also are members. Are these the folks we want ot learn weight management from?

Discovery Education is a subsidiary of Discovery Communications, those nice people who run the Discovery Channel and Discovery Kids on cable television. Discovery Education is basically a brand marketer. According to its web site, it claims to be a leader in digital video-based learning and it wants to bring its client's “brand and message to life in thousands of school districts nationwide.” It works with, in this case the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, to create a customized curriculum intended to bring its members' brands (Coke, Pepsi, Kraft, General Mills, industry trade groups, and some of the largest food companies and grocery chains in the world) in front of school kids everywhere – your kids, my kids, etc.

Again according to its web site, its program will disseminate brand information to tens of thousand of schools nationwide to enable these brands to “gain entry to the entire education universe.” It also leads pep rallies, PR campaigns, sweepstakes and other “excitement builders.”

Childhood obesity is a serious issue in this country. One cannot help but wonder if we want weight management taught by companies that load their foods with empty calories, high fructose corn sweeteners, excessive amounts of salts, and that serve portion sizes to children meant for Olympic athletes in training.

Should Discovery Communications be leveraging its respected name to push what are sometimes less than healthful brands in our public schools?

Something seems wrong here. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The "Good Egg" PR Project

In an ever-continuous effort to mesmerize the public, the American Egg Board and egg farmers are partnering for the "Good Egg Project," which is an initiative to convince Americans that modern egg farming is a good thing.

The program touts Hickman's Egg Ranch in Arizona and Herbruck's Poultry in Michigan as good stewards our food system. Hickman's houses about 4,000,000 hens and Herbruck's houses about 5,000,000 eggs, primarily in battery cages, raised indoors, on complex industrial diets.

On board seem to be Rachael Ray (whose name is obviously for sale for almost any project) and Sesame Street (so that children can be fooled early on), who have "lent" their names to the project. No mention is made of confinement systems, de-beaking, and hens unable to spread their wings, turn around, bathe themselves, or engage in any natural behaviors. Oh, wait, there is a section on "Animal Well-Being" where mention is made of a "comfortable environment" and "happy" hens.

The web site for the "project" is www.goodeggproject.org.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Maine's Restaurants Hide Behind Costs to Avoid Calorie Disclosure

Source: From Maine Public Broadcasting Network

Representatives of Maine's restaurant industry say a proposal to require restaurants to post the number of calories in their offerings on their menus and menu boards will cost the state's eateries thousands of dollars apiece.

At an Augusta news conference today, the Maine Restaurant Association came out in oppostion to LD1259, which was up for a hearing on May 5, 2009 before lawmakers.

Dan Gore of Amatos says now is not the time to require expensive new mandates for restaurants. "The timing of this is poor in our view, as far as the additional cost that would be associated with us having to change all of our menu boards and lables and menus to comply," Gore told MPBN's Susan Sharon. He was unable to provide an estimate of how much it would cost the chain, but he said the expense would be borne by individual franchisees.

Dick Grotton of the Maine Restaurant Association says he's concerned about a "patchwork quilt of rules and regulations across the country." Grotton said he would prefer a federal measure now pending called the LEAN -- or Label Education and Nutrition -- Act. "We think a better way to go is to have federal legislation that wpuld make it the same for restaurants that have 15 or more in the country under the same name to follow the same rules everywhere they go," he said.

The federal proposal requires restaurants to make nutrition information available, but not necessarily on their menus and menu boards. The measure being considered in Maine is sponsored by House Speaker Hannah Pingree.

[Editor's Note: This is typical restaurant industry nonsense -- but they do have the presentation down quite well.]