Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend Update

Whole Foods has issued new "quality guidelines" for farmed seafood and the retailer seems determined to keep farmed Atlantic salmon on the menu no matter what anyone else says.

Seafood sustainability organizations such as Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute urge consumers to avoid farmed Atlantic salmon (the only kind commercially available) for several reasons, including the pollution caused by salmon farming operations, the potential for farmed salmon to escape into the wild and the tons of other seafood salmon need to be fed because they are carnivorous.

Whole Foods addresses each point--sort of . First, Whole Foods says it will not accept farmed fish treated with growth hormones or antibiotics. Parasiticides must be phased out within five years. The retailer will not purchase genetically modified or cloned fish. Whole Foods says its goal is to "reduce pressure on wild fish" and will move toward a goal of "no greater than" one fish in as feed for every fish produced.

Producers sourcing to Whole Foods must "work to minimize" pollution as well as to "minimize" the transfer of parasites into the wild. And salmon farmers selling to Whole Foods must demonstrate an "exceptional effort in preventing escapes...."

Basically, Whole Foods says it will give preference to salmon farms that are making an effort to address the issues raised by sustainability organizations. It's not insisting that all of these problems be solved. In other words the new guidelines, while drawn in excruciating detail, still have a hole big enough to sail a boatload of farmed salmon through.

(Note: Tens of thousands of farmed salmon recently escaped from their pens into and inlet in British Columbia. A Canadian study, meanwhile, has found that salmon farms are severely depleting wild salmon stocks.)

Give Whole Foods some credit for making an effort where so many retailers are doing nothing. It will be interesting to see what Monterey Bay Aquarium, Blue Ocean Institute, Greenpeace and the others have to say. Will they?


While the skyrocketing price of corn and soybeans is helping to create a worldwide food crisis, it's also driving U.S. catfish farms out of business.

Farming catfish was once a major industry in states such as Mississippi. But catfish farmers now are literally draining their ponds and closing shop.

“It’s a dead business,” said John Dillard, who pioneered the commercial farming of catfish in the late 1960s. Last year Dillard & Company raised 11 million fish. Next year it will raise none. People can eat imported fish, Dillard told the New York Times--just as they use imported oil.

Corn and soybeans, used as feed for catfish, have tripled in price in the last three years--corn largely because of our federal government's policy of turning grain into ethanol to fuel automobiles. Soy is the number one source of oils used in processed foods.

Along with all the catfish farms go the jobs in area processing plants and restaurants that rely on local catfish. In 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, catfish farming was a $462 million industry, far exceeding any other American farm-raised fish. The industry employed more than 10,000 people at its peak, almost all in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas.

No more. "The industry is going to implode," said one executive.


Meanwhile, there will be plenty of corn and soybean bi-product flowing down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico this year. Scientists report that the "dead zone" in the Gulf, caused by fertilizer runoff from the nation's heartland, could be the biggest on record.

Fertilizers cause algae blooms that rob the water of oxygen, making it uninhabitable for fish and other life forms. The area in question is expected to be about the size of New Jersey, or nearly 9,000 square miles.

Runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous is expected to be especially severe this year because of unprecedented spring flooding in the Midwest and because more cropland is under cultivation to raise more corn for--you guessed it--ethanol to fuel automobiles.


More and more people are seeking milk produced without bovine growth hormones. In fact, the issue of injecting cows with hormones to produce more milk, and whether dairymen can indicate on milk bottles that they do not use growth hormones, has become a hot topic around the country.

Monsanto, which produces the hormones, would just as soon prohibit dairies from even mentioning growth hormones. Now comes a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences saying it would be so much better for the environment if all dairy cows were given growth hormones. Injecting one million cows, researchers concluded, would produce so much extra milk it would be like taking 400,000 automobiles off the road.

The reasoning is that large scale cow milk production requires the use of huge amounts of land, water and feed resources. Making cows more efficient milk producers would mean we wouldn't need so many of them, reducing the dairy industry's carbon footprint. Of course, that doesn't really speak to the quality of the milk. Cows on growth hormones are usually kept indoors eating corn and soybeans...

Hey, wait a minute. Isn't that the same stuff that's driving catfish farms out of business and creating a worldwide food crisis as well as a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico?

We're confused....


Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have declared that it's safe again to eat tomatoes. But they still haven't figured out what caused a nationwide salmonella outbreak.

These are the same people who were having such a hard time getting a grip on tainted foods entering the country. Remember the toxic pet food from China? But despite its reputation as the agency that can't shoot straight, the guys at the top thought they deserved a bonus.

Federal law makers were fuming when they learned that 28 senior FDA executives took in a combined $1 million in bonuses last year, pushing their pay above that of members of Congress, federal judges - and even some cabinet secretaries.

Some $48,000 in a cash award and retention bonus went to an associate commissioner whose plan to overhaul FDA field labs was rejected by Congress as poorly thought-out.

Another $41,000 went to the director of the office of criminal investigations, pushing his total income to enforce one statute to $208,000 - more than the director of the FBI makes.

But topping it all was the bonus that went to the person who was hired to reform the bonus system: $58,000.

"What we are talking about here is the need to have highly experienced, highly capable technical experts that, without which, the country would suffer," said FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.

Oh, that make us feel so much better.

Bon appetit....

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