October 18, 2009

Farm protests over milk prices ahead of EU meeting

From the Associated Press. There are great photos on the linked website! How often do you see a man in a suit and an actual cow in the same photo? On a city street? (Thank you to Neal Axton and Mary Ann Archer for forwarding this along.)

BRUSSELS — Hundreds of dairy farmers drove tractors into Belgium's capital Monday to pressure EU farm ministers on declining milk prices, as 20 of 27 member nations called for more protection from the volatile world market.

About 1,000 farmers from Germany, France and other EU nations protested outside the emergency meeting, throwing bottles and eggs at police, and burning tires and hay. Police closed off the EU Council building and set up a major security perimeter, snarling traffic in parts of Brussels for much of the day.


October 18, 2009 in Issues and thoughts, marketing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wrestling Promoter, Wine School Butt Heads in Trademark Smackdown

This is a little off the wall, but I've been saying for a while that Food Law encompasses just about every area of law taught in law school.  Here's trademarks in a context I might not have thought of.  This is from The National Law Journal via Law.com (thank you to Steve Sholk for forwarding it!)

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is attempting a legal smackdown against a wine school that it says is violating its trademark.

WWE is opposing the Philadelphia Wine School's attempt to register the name Sommelier Smackdown for the food and wine pairing competitions it has held since 2007. The WWE's "SmackDown" program has aired on television since 1999.

"The WWE has been the registered owner of the trademark SmackDown for entertainment purposes for many, many years," said K&L Gates partner Jerry McDevitt, who represents the WWE. "We sent a letter saying, 'Guess what, you can't use that.'"

Philadelphia Wine School owner Keith Wallace said that he received the WWE's cease-and-desist letter in September. He has no intention of backing off the Sommelier Smackdown name, however.


October 18, 2009 in Food culture, Issues and thoughts, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2009

"Veggie Libel" laws

I am in Laramie, Wyoming, at the University of Wyoming's consumer issues conference on Food Safety, Security, and Sources.  Tonight I watched the movie Food, Inc., in an auditorium that was packed to overflowing. This was the first time I'd seen the film, which is beautifully done. 

While I recognized most of the people interviewed in the film, and was not surprised by anything in it, there was one new tidbit for me -- "veggie libel" laws.  How this has escaped my radar until now I am not sure.

Here's what Wikipedia says: Food libel laws, also known as "food disparagement laws", "veggie libel laws", or "veggie hate laws", are laws passed in 13 U.S. states that make it easier for food industry interests to sue their critics for libel. These 13 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas.

The entry cites a Center for Science in the Public Interest chart of state food libel laws.

September 24, 2009 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 02, 2009

Animal Cruelty -- Video Shows Male Chicks Ground Up

From the Associated Press:

Video shows chicks ground up alive at Iowa egg hatchery

An animal rights group is calling on the nation's largest grocery story chains to post warnings on egg cartons that unwanted male chicks are ground up alive, after videotaping the common industry practice at an Iowa egg hatchery.

Read more

The article goes on to explain that "instantaneous euthanasia" by grinding is considered "a standard practice supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community."  This article does not mention the other standad poultry industry practice of debeaking.

September 2, 2009 in Current Affairs, Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

Pasture to Plate -- Cool Graphics

Here's a light and engaging look at the food production and distribution system.  You click on an item on a dinner plate and the following slides outline how the food got there. 

To see the plate, go to  Pasture to Plate on the University of North Carolina website.

August 12, 2009 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 08, 2009

With Salmonella Scare, Shoppers turn to “Sacred Foods”

An article on Examiner.com, reports that the Salmonella scare associated with pistachios has caused many shoppers to turn toward so-called “sacred foods.” Sacred Foods include kosher and Halal foods and foods that are gluten-free and dairy-free.

According to an article in Specialty Food Magazine, the boom of the “sacred food market is second only to the organic market in increased sales in recent years.

The increase in this market can be partially attributed to “perceived quality and hygiene involved in the preparation of these foods which are regulated by religious standards more rigorous than government standards,” and seem less likely to be contaminated than processed foods.

The SpecialtyFood.com article noting the increase in the Sacred Food market can be found here.

Some examples of popular Sacred Food online distributors include Kosher.com and GlutenFree.com.

Thank you to William Mitchell College of Law student John McVoy for preparing this post.

April 8, 2009 in Food culture, food safety, Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2009

The Danger of Zip Codes Revisited

In a previous post we saw the correlation between zip code and obesity. A new study out recently from reported on Reuters suggests people who live in neighborhoods packed with fast-food restaurants are more likely to suffer strokes.

One example from the study shows that residents of one Texas county who live in neighborhoods with the highest number of fast-food restaurants had a 13 percent higher risk of experiencing a stroke than those in neighborhoods with the fewest such restaurants.

The study was recently presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference.
Dr. Lewis Morgenstern of the University of Michigan's stroke program led the study.

February 24, 2009 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 29, 2009

More and More People Promote a White House Veggie Garden

Almost a year ago Roger Doiron, founder and director of Kitchen Gardens International, initiated the campaign to convince the new president to create a Victory Garden at the White House. He named the campaign Eat the View. Thousands have joined the movement that hopes to convince the new administration to grow some of its own produce and act as an example to the rest of the country and world. Sign the petition here.
Also, inspired by Michael Pollan's letter in the New York Times to the new Obama administration, another group has been accepting nominations for a White House Farmer. Nominations are now closed, but you can still vote for your favorite local organic vegetable farmer to be the next White House Farmer.

The next White House Farmer, you ask. That's right. Check out this video about the agricultural history of the south lawn of the White House.

Watch this video for a short history lesson.

January 29, 2009 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 10, 2008

Who owns Hummus?

From National Public Radio: Lebanon (by way of Lebanese businessmen) wants to sue Israel for exclusive rights to name products with labels like "hummus" and "falafel" and others.  They claim this is what France has done with "champagne" and Greece with "feta".

Listen to the report here: http://www.theworld.org/?q=node/21630&answer=true

William Mitchell College of Law student Peter Hemberger (who sent me this story) comments:

Trademarking a cultural item that has mingled with several cultures for centuries?  Who has priority: the first to register or the one that can prove they have been using the mark the longest? 

What sort of international law would make this sort of exclusive use possible?

Food for thought I guess.

I note that the Hebrew word for garbanzo bean is "humus" so the name of the spread is really just "garbanzo beans."  DMB 

October 10, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 10, 2008

Almond Growers Sue over mandatory chemical treatment of "raw" almonds

Raw almonds must be treated before sale (more on this). I just received the following from the Cornucopia Institute:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of fifteen American almond growers and wholesale nut handlers filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C. federal court on Tuesday, September 9 seeking to repeal a controversial USDA-mandated treatment program for California-grown raw almonds. 

The almond farmers and handlers contend that their businesses have been seriously damaged and their futures jeopardized by a requirement that raw almonds be treated with propylene oxide (a toxic fumigant recognized as a carcinogen by the EPA) or steam-heated before they can be sold to American consumers.  Foreign-grown almonds are exempt from the treatment scheme and are rapidly displacing raw domestic nuts in the marketplace.

Tens of thousands of angry consumers have contacted the USDA to protest the compulsory almond treatment since the agency’s new regulation went into effect one year ago.  Some have expressed outrage that even though the nuts have been processed with a fumigant, or heat, they will still be labeled as "raw."

“The USDA’s raw almond treatment mandate has been economically devastating to many family-scale and organic almond farmers in California,” said Will Fantle, the research director for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute.  Cornucopia has been working with almond farmers and handlers to address the negative impacts of the USDA rule, including the loss of markets to foreign nuts. 

The USDA, in consultation with the Almond Board of California, invoked its treatment plan on September 1, 2007 alleging that it was a necessary food safety requirement.  Salmonella-tainted almonds twice this decade caused outbreaks of food related illnesses.  USDA investigators were never able to determine how salmonella bacteria somehow contaminated the raw almonds that caused the food illnesses but they were able to trace back one of the contaminations, in part, to the country's largest "factory farm," growing almonds and pistachios on over 9000 acres.

Instead of insisting that giant growers reduce risky practices, the USDA invoked a rule that requires the gassing or steam-heating of California raw almonds in a way that many consumers have found unacceptable. 

"For those of us who are interested in eating fresh and wholesome food the USDA's plan, to protect the largest corporate agribusinesses against liability, amounts to the adulteration of our food supply," said Jill Richardson, a consumer activist and blogger at: www.lavidalocavore.org.

“This ruling is a financial disaster and has closed a major customer group that we have built up over the years,” said Dan Hyman, an almond grower and owner of D&S Ranches in Selma, CA.  His almond business relies on direct sales to consumers over the internet.  Hyman notes that his customers were never consulted by the USDA or the Almond Board before they were denied “a healthy whole natural raw food that they have eaten with confidence, enjoyment and benefit for decades.”

The lawsuit contends that the USDA exceeded its authority, which is narrowly limited to regulating quality concerns in almonds such as dirt, appearance and mold.  And even if the USDA sought to regulate bacterial contamination, the questionable expansion of its authority demanded a full evidentiary hearing and a producer referendum, to garner public input – neither of which were undertaken by the USDA.

“The fact that almond growers were not permitted to fully participate in developing and approving this rule undermines its legitimacy,” said Ryan Miltner, the attorney representing the almond growers.  “Rather than raising the level of income for farmers and providing handlers with orderly marketing conditions,” added Miltner, “this particular regulation creates classes of economic winners and losers.  That type of discriminatory economic segregation is anathema to the intended purpose of the federal marketing order system. "

Retailers of raw almonds have also been expressing their unhappiness, based on feedback from their customers, with the raw almond treatment rule.  “We've been distributing almonds grown by family farmers in California for over 30 years and we regard them as the common heritage of the American people,” said Dr. Jesse Schwartz, President of Living Tree Community Foods in Berkeley, CA.  “We can think of no reply more fitting than to affirm our faith that ultimately the wisdom and good sense of the American people will prevail in this lawsuit.”

Barth Anderson, Research & Development Coordinator for The Wedge, a Minneapolis-based grocery cooperative, noted that their mission has always been to support family farmers.  “We weren't surprised when Wedge shoppers and members wrote nearly 500 individual letters expressing disapproval of the USDA's mandatory fumigation law for domestic almonds,” Anderson said.  “Our members especially did not like the idea that fumigated almonds could be called ‘raw.’”


According to the USDA, there is no requirement for retailers to alert consumers to the toxic, propylene oxide fumigation or steam treatment applied to raw almonds from California. 

“This rule is killing the California Organic Almond business,” said Steve Koretoff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Purity Organics located in Kerman, CA.  “Because foreign almonds do not have to be pasteurized their price is going up while our price is going down because of the rule.  It makes no sense.” Koretoff added.   

Two groups of consumers that have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the almond treatment rule are raw food enthusiasts and vegans.  These consumers may obtain as much as 30% of their daily protein intake from raw almonds, after grinding them for flour and other uses.  Studies exploring nutritional impacts following fumigant and steam treatment have yet to be publicly released.  A Cornucopia Institute freedom of information request for the documents is awaiting a response from the USDA.

“We raw vegans believe raw foods, from non-animal sources, contains valuable nutrients – some not yet well-understood by scientists,” stated Joan Levin, a retired attorney living in Chicago.  “These nutrients can be destroyed by heat, radiation and toxic chemicals.  We support the continued availability of fresh produce free of industrial age tampering,” explained Levin.

Cornucopia’s Fantle noted that the Washington, D.C. federal district court has already assigned the almond lawsuit a case number, beginning its move through the judicial system.  “We believe this is a strong legal case and hope for a favorable decision in time to protect this year’s almond harvest,” Fantle said. 

September 10, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2008

Future look -- mandatory food irradiation

eFoodAlert.com has a great post by Phyllis Entis about mandatory food irradiation written from the perspective of 25 years from now:

Washington, DC. August 28, 2033– The Secretary of State for Food Safety announced today that – effective January 1, 2034 – all food shipped interstate for retail sale must be sterilized by irradiation. The Secretary urged food regulators in all fifty states to follow suit.

When asked whether this new mandate would also apply to imported foods, Secretary Jenna Bush replied, "You betcha!"
Read more

September 8, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 29, 2008

The Economist -- Debate on whether Rising Food Prices can be Good for Humanity

I just received this announcement from The EconomistI don't have a response just now, but the debate looks interesting:

Starting today and lasting through August 8, The Economist will be hosting an online, Oxford-style debate on whether or not rising food prices can have an upside for humanity.

The proposition is: "There is an upside for humanity in the rise of food prices." Although we can never overlook the grave situation posed by rising food prices, we hope to dissect the issue and view it from fresh perspectives to see if it can have a positive impact. For example, do rising food prices benefit farmers? Can they lead to development of safe, genetically modified foods which in turn can help developing nations with marginal farmlands become self-sustainable? And are the shorter-term pains of creating biofuels worth the longer-term gains of reduced transportation costs? 

Moderator John Parker feels that “there is always some sort of upside. The question for the audience is how big, and whether it is big enough to be meaningful.” What do you think? We’d love it if you could help us spread the word of the debate by posting your response to your blog and/or to the debate floor. If we like your argument, Moderator John Parker, may highlight it an upcoming moderator statement.

Pro and Con experts, Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow at the Wolfensohn Centre for Development at the Brookings Institution and Joachim von Braun, Director General, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) spar off tomorrow in opening posts followed by rebuttals (August 1) and closing statements (August 6). A winner will be determined by popular vote and announced on August 8.

Additionally, the following guest participants are scheduled to post their one-time statements:

·         July 30 - Papa Seck Abdoulaye, Director-general, Africa Rice Center

·         July 31 - Neil Parish, chairman, European Parliament's Agriculture Committee

·         Aug. 4 - Paul Roberts, author, The End of Food

·         Aug. 5 - Valerie Guarnieri, Director of Programme Design and Support, United Nations, World Food Programme (WFP)

Best wishes and may the best argument win!


Sparkpr for The Economist

July 29, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2008

DHA and grass fed cows

Confession -- I was trying to learn about self-tanning lotions.  A review website said the active ingredient is DHA (dihydroxyacetone).  So I googled DHA and read the entry on Docosahexaenoic acid on Wikipedia.  (Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, says Wikipedia is OK, at least in comparison to Encyclopedia Britannica.) 

I don't think this is the same DHA - Docosahexaenoic acid is an Omega-3 fatty acid -- but the entry contained this interesting bit:

There is less DHA available in the average diet than formerly, due to cattle being taken off grass and fed grain before butchering; likewise, there is less in eggs due to intensive farming. DHA is widely believed to be helpful to people with a history of heart disease, for premature infants, and to support healthy brain development especially in young children. Some manufactured DHA is a vegetarian product extracted from algae. Both types are odorless and tasteless after processing.

The cited source for this paragraph is a New York Times article describing Martek Bioscience's vegetarian source DHA.

I still haven't learned anything about hte DHA in self-tanning lotions.

July 21, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 09, 2008

CRS Report: The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products

Another food-related Congressional Research Service report available on OpenCRS: The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products. Here's the abstract:

Over the last decade, there has been a growing U.S. trade deficit in fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. Although U.S. fruit and vegetable exports totaled nearly $9 billion in 2007, U.S. imports of fruits and vegetables were more than $16 billion, resulting in a gap between imports and exports of more than $7 billion. This trade deficit has widened over time -- despite the fact that U.S. fruit and vegetable exports have continued to rise each year -- because growth in imports has greatly outpaced export growth. As a result, the United States has gone from being a net exporter of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables in the early 1970s to being a net importer of fruits and vegetables today. A number of factors are shaping current competitive market conditions worldwide and global trade in fruits and vegetables in particular, which explain in part the rising fruit and vegetable trade deficit.

May 9, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CRS Report: High Agricultural Commodity Prices: What Are the Issues?

A Congressional Research Service report, High Agricultural Commodity Prices: What Are the Issues? is available on the Open CRS website. Here is the abstract:

Prices for nearly all major U.S. agricultural program crops -- corn, barley, sorghum, oats, wheat, rice, and soybeans -- have exhibited extreme price volatility since mid-2007, while rising to record or near-record levels in early 2008. Several international organizations have announced that the sharply rising commodity prices are likely to have dire consequences for the world's vulnerable populations, particularly in import-dependent, less developed nations. In the United States, high commodity prices have pushed farm income to successive annual records and have sharply lowered government farm program costs, but they have also stoked the flames of food price inflation and have raised costs for livestock producers and food processors.

In addition, high, unexpectedly volatile prices have increased the risk and costs associated with grain merchandising. In particular, they have dramatically increased the cost of routine hedging activities (i.e., pricing commodities for purchase, delivery, or use at some future date) at commodity futures exchanges and, as a result, have diminished "forward contracting" opportunities for grain and oilseed producers who are eager to take advantage of record high market prices. For some crops (particularly for wheat and rice), the price increases are likely to be relatively short-term in nature and are due to weather-related crop shortfalls in major producer and consumer countries, a weak U.S. dollar that has helped spark large increases in U.S. exports, a bidding war among major U.S. crops for land in the months leading up to spring planting in 2008, and the often perverse price effects resulting from international policy responses by several major exporting and importing nations to protect their domestic markets. Assuming a return to normal weather, these factors will likely self-correct within two growing seasons as global supplies are replenished and prices moderate. For coarse grains (corn, sorghum, barley, oats, and rye), oilseeds, and oilseed products (e.g., vegetable oil and meal), the price increases have also been due to strong, sustained demand deriving from two sources: robust income growth in developing countries (e.g., China and India), which has contributed to increased demand for meat products and the feed grains needed to produce that meat; and growing agricultural feedstock demand to meet large increases in government biofuel-usage mandates or goals in the United States, the European Union, and other countries. Market analysts, including the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), are predicting record global grain and oilseed production in 2008 in response to the high market prices. However, given the overall strength in demand growth, most market analysts predict that when commodity supplies eventually recover and prices moderate from current high levels, the new equilibrium prices will be significantly higher than has traditionally been observed during periods of market balance. This report examines the causes, consequences, and outlook for prices of the major U.S. program crops, and provides references for more detailed information. It will be updated as events warrant.

May 9, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2008

Parke Wilde and Mark Winne on YouTube

Parke Wilde (U.S. Food Policy blog)has posted his interview with Mark Winne on YouTube.  Mark Winne is the author of Closing the Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty.

May 7, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2008

"Cool Foods" Campaign: Consumer Initiative to Address Climate Change Crisis through Food Choices

From a Center for Food Safety news release:

New York, NY, April 16th, 2008 – This afternoon the Center for Food Safety and the CornerStone Campaign announced the launch of the “Cool Foods Campaign.”  This national initiative is designed to empower people and businesses to take a bite out of global warming by encouraging them to make more sustainable food choices. Principal speakers included Campaign co-founders Mary Morgan and Andrew Kimbrell, as well as Chefs Dan Barber and Peter Hoffman, and food advocate and writer Anna Lappé.  The launch took place this afternoon at New York City’s Blue Hill.

At the event, Lappé also announced the launch of her Take a Bite Blog www.takeabite.cc, a complimentary cool food chronicle, which details her journey to explore how food, farming, and your fork can help solve the climate crisis.

Read the rest of the news release on the Center for Food Safety website.

April 16, 2008 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2008

Food Stamp Use Approaches a Record High

Grocery_bag The New York Times reported that the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach a record high of 28 million this year (the U.S. population is estimated at over 303 million; therefore nearly 10% of the U.S. population is receiving food stamps).

According to the article, although food stamp use has fluctuated since the program was implemented in the 1960’s, the recent upward trend is attributed to economic slowdown and inflation.  In Michigan, one in 8 residents now receives food stamps, and the caseload has more than doubled since 2000. 
Food stamp eligibility is determined by a complex formula, but generally recipients must have incomes below 130% of the poverty line.

Congress is considering bills that would alter the food stamp eligibility formula to more closely track the cost of living, but the bills may be stalled as part of partisan farm policy disagreements.   The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the current status of the farm bill in Congress. 

A short history of the food stamp program is available from at the USDA website.

Thank you to William Mitchell College of Law student Ellen Laine for preparing this post.

April 3, 2008 in Food culture, Food security, Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2007

Heksher Tzedek -- kosher food with a conscience

From Fair Trade News:

Rabbi Morris Allen, of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, MN, has been promoting kashrut, Jewish dietary laws, to his congregation for twenty years. He says that kashrut provides “a way in which we as Jews understand a daily opportunity to sanctify our lives, to create a sense of holiness and a sense of awareness of God in our lives.” This consciousness means that Allen takes his food and its production seriously.

More than a year ago, Allen learned of labor abuses at an Iowa kosher meat processing plant that supplied the Twin Cities Jewish community. He was faced with a contradiction: The worker may slaughter an animal according to the laws of kashrut, but he or she may be underpaid and mistreated. What if the ritual is observed, but the ethics are undermined?

Allen distinguishes between “ritual,” the letter of the law that describes specific procedures for kosher slaughter and food handling, and the ethics of how kosher food is actually produced. While he does not privilege one over the other, he thinks current certification practices do. According to Allen, “kashrut has become more...  more

Link to the Heksher Tzedek website

November 19, 2007 in Food culture, Issues and thoughts, Labeling | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2007

Wal-Mart sustainability initiatives

Walmart has published a report on its progress on various sustainability initiatives, and consumer groups have published critiques:

Full civil society critique available at: www.laborrights.org/projects/corporate/walmart/CounterSustainability.pdf
Wal-Mart progress report available at: http://walmartstores.com/GlobalWMStoresWeb/navigate.do?catg=772

Washington, DC—As Wal-Mart releases its long-anticipated sustainability progress report today, 23 environmental, farm, labor, and human rights groups are disseminating their own report, “Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Initiative: A Civil Society Critique.”

The report, prepared by some of the country’s most respected public interest groups, includes sections on Wal-Mart’s specific commitments in seven product areas -- organics, seafood, shrimp, forest products, cypress mulch, product packaging, and toxic chemicals -- as well as sections on global warming and Wal-Mart’s international business practices. It argues that even if Wal-Mart achieved all of its stated goals, the company’s business model is inherently unsustainable.

(Hat tip Mark Kastel, Cornucopia Institute)

November 15, 2007 in Issues and thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack