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Food Politics

Home on the Organic Range


My neighbor, Henry, is a small-scale dairy farmer who decided to take his herd organic a couple years ago. Unfortunately, he had to give up after one season. The reason was that during the conversion process, which can take three years, Henry was paying all the costs associated with managing organic cows, but still receiving lower conventional prices for his milk. He simply lacked the funds to bridge the gap.

There are a lot of Henrys out there, and help may be on the way. Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) has introduced legislation into the Senate version of the Farm Bill that would provide farmers trying to convert to organic with up to four annual payments of $20,000.

Senator Tester knows whereof he speaks. He converted his own 1,800-acre spread to organic nearly 20 years ago.

Sashimi Without Guilt Bluefin tuna may be on the list of species to avoid because of over-exploitation, but their smaller cousins, albacore tuna in the Pacific Ocean, have just been granted the Marine Stewardship Council’s coveted eco-label for sustainability. The fishery, which uses poles and lines to catch the albacore, has virtually no by-catch, according the Council.

A Bunch of Hog Wash All that sludge in factory pig farms’ waste lagoons has to flow somewhere, and according to a University of Illinois study, that somewhere is right into the public’s groundwater. That, alone, would be cause for concern, but the researchers made a more alarming discovery. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria genes in that sludge are also making their way into drinking water as a result of hogs being fed massive amounts of tetracycline on a continuous basis, not to prevent or cure disease, but because it makes them grow faster.

Not-So-Great EscapeAn unknown number of farm-raised salmon made a successful bid for freedom last week off Vancouver Island when workers harvesting them tore a three-foot hole in a net pen that contained 20,000 fish. Of particular concern was that the escapees were actually Atlantic salmon (the species favored by aquaculture). The alien fish can out compete native Pacific salmon for food and nesting sites.

All in a Name Last week, the Food and Drug administration recalled chocolate cookies because the label on their packages failed to list walnuts, which can cause fatal allergic reactions, as being among the ingredients. The name of the offending product? Death by Chocolate Cookies.