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News for April 16, 2010

Is McDonalds right that an organic Egg McMuffin isn't worth the extra cost?

McDonalds has decided not to have 5% of its eggs it buys be from chickens with lots of elbow room (do chickens have elbows?). As a younger man, I loved their Egg McMuffin. But, now that I'm an older man I have new questions.

If McDonalds went ahead and purchased the eggs from the farms that are nice to their chickens, this would raise the marginal cost of production for McDonalds. How much would this marginal rise by?

We know that McDonalds has decided not to take this action so by revealed preference we must learn that this firm does not believe that the Egg McMuffin munchers are willing to pay a price premium for a breakfast made in an environmentally friendly way.

Is McDonalds right about this? Is there diversity among McDonalds' customers such that a subset is willing to vote with their pocketbook to be nice to chickens? Now in truth, I would guess that the average person eating at a McDonalds is not a big "organic foods," Prius driving person but am I wrong?


Organic, local farms get a boost from USDA

Obama administration officials Wednesday outlined a broad array of efforts to elevate organic and local farming to a prominence never seen before at the sprawling U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The shift is raising eyebrows among conventional growers and promising federal support to a food movement that began in Northern California and was considered heretical only a few years ago.

"Guys, this is your window - use it," USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told organic farmers, processors and retailers at a conference Wednesday in Washington that was sponsored by Santa Cruz's Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Organic Trade Association.

When her microphone went dead as she discussed genetically modified foods, a member of the audience joked, "They're already sabotaging you."


Think Twice Before Beef's for Dinner

We all know eating fewer animal products is good for the environment. But when you do eat meat, do a favor for both the planet and your health and try to choose protein from humane, sustainable farms. Besides, it's proven that compassionately-treated animals produce tastier, more tender beef.

It's true that the majority of the animals raised for food live miserable lives of confinement in dark, overcrowded facilities known as factory farms. The conditions at these places are horrifying. Antibiotics are administered regularly to the animals in an attempt to ward off diseases bred by unnatural, unsanitary conditions. But, instead of doing their best to keep these animals healthy, farm managers are more concerned with keeping the animals just alive enough. It's more about how sick can these animals be without dying than it is about cultivating healthy livestock. And, to promote faster growth, the animals are fed hormones and even more antibiotics.


Michael Moss on Food Safety (Round 2)

The Times’s Michael Moss, who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on contaminated beef and food safety issues, responds to a second batch of readers’ questions.

Q. Our family’s latest move when we want ground beef has been to buy a chuck roast and have it ground twice by the butcher at the supermarket. I felt a little better about this, at least knowing where the meat came from and seeing the kitchen where it is ground. Now reading this Q. and A., I see that the larger cuts of meat are “untreated.” Does this mean that they are more prone to E. coli than ground beef? So am I just trading one risk (mystery meats in a tube) for another (more likely to have bacteria on the surface — which will then be ground in)? Which is the safer route?


Should Canada ban the niqab? Legalize file-sharing? Ban bars? Decriminalize pot?

In an exclusive series from and, legislators, artists, activists and entrepreneurs were asked to identify one thing that should be banned or legalized but currently is not ... and their answers might be surprising.

Liberal MP Keith Martin, for example, comes out on the side of decriminalizing marijuana.

The Conservative government’s crime policy “has proven to be an utter failure,” Martin writes in an opinion piece. “It has not reduced crime, harm or even drug use.”

The former physician’s solution? “Decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, including the possession of up to two plants. This will cut the connection between the gangs involved in commercial grow ops and casual pot users.”


CDC: Danger of Foodborne Illness Remains Serious in U.S.

The federal government still has a lot work to do in reducing foodborne illnesses in the United States, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While the federal government has made some progress on foodborne E. coli, the report states, improvement on reducing other pathogens remains stalled, leaving consumers at serious risk of illness or death from contaminated food.

"The federal government needs to figure out how to address this problem," said Chris Waldrop, director of The Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.

The CDC said rates of Salmonella and Campylobacter, illnesses associated with consumption of raw or undercooked poultry have seen no meaningful improvement in the past three years, according to the report, while salmonella infections remain more than double the National Health Objective target rate.


Wisconsin Senate approves limited raw milk sales

Wisconsin farmers could sell raw, unpasteurized milk for the next two years directly to consumers under a bill passed Thursday by the state Senate.

The Senate approved the bill on a bipartisan 25-8 vote over concerns that drinking unpasteurized milk could make people sick and put the state's dairy industry at risk. Supporters say it tastes better than pasteurized milk, has health benefits and that the state should not get in the way of private sales from willing raw milk sellers and buyers.

The vote comes amid a growing push nationally to legalize raw milk sales.


ABC 7 I-Team Investigates: Organic Foods


FDA Issues Guidance on New Safety Rules for Shell Eggs

SILVER SPRING, Md., April 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On April 13, 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published guidance for small egg producers to help them comply with a 2009 federal egg safety regulation designed to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis in shell eggs during production, transportation, and storage.

Entitled "Guidance for Industry: Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Transportation, and Storage - Small Entity Compliance Guide (SECG)," the new guidance is intended to set forth, in plain language, the requirements of the 2009 egg safety regulation in order to help small businesses comply with that regulation. The regulation is part of a coordinated strategy between the FDA and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to help ensure egg safety.

The FDA published the egg safety regulation in July 2009. It requires egg producers to have preventive measures in place during the production of shell eggs in poultry houses and requires subsequent refrigeration during storage and transportation to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis. The regulation is expected to prevent thousands of cases of foodborne illness and approximately 30 deaths caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis each year.


FDA Food Safety Bill Raises Concerns as It Heads for Senate

Any minute now, the Senate will start discussing pending food safety legislation, FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which has been delayed by health care reform and other hot issues since it was unanimously voted out of committee in late 2009.

The bill is expected to pass easily with bipartisan support, but one look at which groups have come down on each of side of this thing gives you a hint that there might be some controversy afoot.

Supporting the bill are major food industry, public health and consumer advocacy groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Fisheries Institute, General Mills, Kraft Foods North America and the Consumers Union. Those who have raised the alarm about it include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Organic Coalition, the National Farmers Union, the Center for Rural Affairs, the Community Alliance With Family Farmers, the Defenders of Wildlife and Farm Aid.



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