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News for March 14, 2010

The ‘femivore’: New breed of feminist, or frontier throwback?

Have locavores and feminists -- factions that a few years ago, some bloggers believed to be fundamentally at odds -- become allies?

That's what Peggy Orenstein suggests in her essay, "The Femivore's Dilemma," for today's New York Times Magazine. The author of several best-selling nonfiction accounts of modern women's life (and an acquaintance of mine), Orenstein thinks that "the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming [Mad Men housewife] Betty Draper." Stay-at-home moms -- at least four in Orenstein's Berkeley, Calif., orbit -- are these days obsessing less over which high-end stroller to buy (if any) and more about which tomato variety to plant or laying hen with which to stock their backyard coop.

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Foodborne Illness By The Numbers

Robert L. Scharff, with the help of funding from the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, recently published a study analyzing the financial impact of foodborne illness in the United States. Employing the same methods used by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economists, Scharff estimates that the total cost of foodborne illness in the United States is a staggering $152 billion per year. This headline-grabbing number certainly calls attention to the significant yearly expenditures attributable to illnesses caused by foodborne pathogens. It is my belief, however, that the number is based on speculative data that, unfortunately, calls into question the accuracy of the results.

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New York City’s Queens County Farm Museum

The Queens County Farm Museum’s history dates back to 1697; it occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and is the only working historical farm in the City. The farm encompasses a 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York State. The site includes historic farm buildings, a greenhouse complex, livestock, farm vehicles and implements, planting fields, an orchard and herb garden.

Early morning livestock feedings and cultivating the herb garden aren’t on the daily list of duties for most New Yorkers, but for Leah Retherford, they’re business as usual. As farm manager of Queens County Farm Museum, she oversees 47-acres.

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'Ethical Eating' Goes Mainstream

As the economic downturn has dragged on, we've grown accustomed to hearing about consumers watching their pennies as they do their food shopping.

However, survey data released this month by Context Marketing, a strategic-marketing- communications firm, points to another behavior that has been taking hold: While an interest in "ethically produced" food used to be a niche preoccupation of food co-op habitues, it has become a mass-market phenomenon.

If you are what you eat, many consumers want to be something more than lowest-priced commodities -- and often for practical, self-serving reasons.  

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Taxpayer-subsidized manure digesters stimulate factory farm pollution

What is the latest taxpayer-subsidized economic stimulus scheme?

Why, manure digesters on factory farms, of course!

At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled plans to promote manure digesters as a way to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. The trick is that you have to be a factory farm to qualify.

In his State of the State address in January, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced his latest round of tax credits for factory farm expansion, including a whopping $6.6 million for two manure digesters in Dane County catering to just a handful of mega-dairies. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk has also been pushing for $1 million in her budget for these digesters.

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Animal Factory

The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment

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US regulators examine competition in agriculture

ANKENY, Iowa — Federal officials concerned about how much control a few corporations have over the nation's food supply pledged Friday to begin a new era of antitrust enforcement, seeking to balance agricultural power between companies, farmers and consumers.

More than 650 farmers, slaughterhouse workers, lobbyists and executives gathered for a hearing on competition in agriculture that will help shape how the Obama administration redraws its antitrust policy after decades of industry consolidation.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, sitting side by side to open the hearing, called the workshop an unprecedented act of cooperation between their agencies.

"I think you will see an historic era of enforcement that will almost inevitably grow from the partnership that we have established," Holder said.

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Obama Keeps Two Factory Farm Promises - Will Hold "National Rural Summit"

The Obama Administration on Friday fulfilled two campaign pledges that affect factory farming in America: It agreed to hold a long-delayed National Rural Summit and, on the same day, two Cabinent members began confronting the problem of entrenched Agribusiness monopolies.

A USDA official told me on Friday that the Administration will soon announce a "National Rural Summit," something that candidate Obama had promised but failed to accomplish within the first 100 days of his term. Obama had originally promised to hold the summit while campaigning in Iowa in 2007, boasting that: "When I'm President, I'll have a department of agriculture, not simply a department of agribusiness." The summit would allow citizens to address the growing displacement of family farms by large corporate-backed factory farms.

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