Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekend Update

Excuse me if I seem a little cranky this morning, but the so-called Democrats on Capitol Hill have revealed themselves in the end as unashamedly alligned with vested interests.

The Senate, for instance, finally put the farm bill to a vote but hopes for true reform of the way the country manages its agriculture fell to earth with a thud when an effort to curb crop subsidy payments to giant landholders came up four votes short.

An amendment was proposed that would have limited crop subsidies to $250,000 per family. But Senators favorable toward Big Ag--led by Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota--managed to limit the yeas to 56, four short of the 60 needed for passage. The status quo holds. Mega-farms--which suck the oxygen out of family farms and rural communities but fit so neatly into the industrial agriculture scheme--will continue to be eligible for the unlimited subsidies that only feed their growth.

Savings from the subsidy program were supposed to go to nutrition and conservation programs. Oh, well. (It now seems the fix was in all along. The Democrats agreed to require a 60-vote super majority for passing amendments to the farm bill, rather than the usual simple majority.)

As with everything in Washington, you need only know who is lining whose pockets. Here's a list of Democratic senators who helped extinguish hopes for a more sensible farm policy:

Max Baucus, Montana
Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii
Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana
Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Joe Lieberman, Connecticut
Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas
Claire McCaskill, Missouri
Mark Pryor, Arkansas

Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia
Ken Salazar, Colorado

Debbie Stabenow, Michigan

Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL) both voted in favor of the amendment to limit subsidies.

For a summary, read this rant from the Center for Rural Affairs and this one from Chef Ann.

Meanwhile, Clinton has named Joy Phillipi, former chair of the National Pork Producers Council--a mouthpiece for the confinement livestock industry--to be co-chair of Rural America for Clinton. Moral of the story: Ye shall know them by the Big Ag types they run with.

It should also be noted that Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, in addition to helping euthanize any hope of progress in the farm subsidy area, also cast a decisive vote maintaining tax breaks for big oil companies in the Senate's recent energy bill. It does make you wonder why the country bothered handing the Democrats a majority in the last election.


Drinking sodas laced with high-fructose corn syrup is one of the surest ways to pack on the pounds, but Americans can't get enough of them. In the latest survey results from the Nielson company, soft drinks, refrigerated milk, ready-to-eat cereal, fresh bread, bottled water and cookies were among the ten consumer packaged goods that generated the most sales in 2007.

Mmmmm, so good--and so good for you, right?

Cereals generated sales of $7.7 billion, putting those products fourth in the list of top ten packaged goods sold in US retail stores. Furthermore, 92 percent of American households purchased the product at least once during the year, placing it sixth in the list of all packaged goods purchased in the US.

Psssst. Oatmeal in the bulk section is a much better deal...


More bad news for farm-raised salmon. Researchers in the Pacific maritimes of Canada are finding that sea lice infestations are so bad around salmon farming operations that they are threatening the survival of wild salmon.

The death toll on wild salmon caused by salmon aquaculture prompted some researches to question the very idea of commercial salmon farming, according to a report in the journal Science. But the Canadian government agency resonsible for developing aquaculture says the findings are still inconclusive. (No surprise there.)


Meanwhile, the oysters that once were so abundant in the Chesapeake Bay are now just about gone. We recently posted about the Chesapeake being in failing health and getting worse. Here's a nice takeout by my former collegue Angus Phillips, outdoors writer at The Washington Post, about the sad state of the bay's oyster population.

Angus lives outside Annapolis and particularly likes the taste of the local oysters. He thinks they taste like home.


And here's a news bulletin for commercial fishermen: Catch fewer fish and there will be more of them--and more profits--in the long run.

That's the conclusion of an Australian study published in Science. It urges fishermen to focus not so much on the maximum number of fish scientists say can be sustainably caught, but on methods that generate the greatest profits, which turn out to involve leaving more fish in the sea to multiply.

Exucse me, but is this just a case of common sense making it into a scientific journal? If only human nature could be swayed by such healthy advice.


Ever wonder what life is like these days on the nation's small farms? If so, read this riveting account of New York inspectors showing up at a small dairy operation to witness the destruction of seized milk and yogurt, and the confrontation that ensues when the farmer calls the local sheriff to stop the inspectors from taking photos of things that had not been seized.

Somehow I am left with the feeling that I do not recognize the country that was described to me in my civics classes.

Bon appetit...

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