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News for April 20, 2010

U.S. standards on beef are lax, inspector general says

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. government is not fully guarding against the contamination of meat by traces of antibiotics, pesticides or heavy metals, a new report warns.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general said federal agencies have failed to set limits on many potentially harmful chemical residues, which "has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce."

When it comes to pesticide traces, only one type is tested for, according to the report. There are also no set limits for some heavy metals, like copper.

In 2008, Mexican authorities turned away an American shipment of beef, because it did not meet Mexico's limits when tested for copper traces. But the very same rejected meat could be sold in the United States, since no limit has been set, the analysis says.

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'Growing concern' over marketing tainted beef

WASHINGTON — Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds.

A program set up to test beef for chemical residues "is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce," says the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General.

The health effects on people who eat such meat are a "growing concern," the audit adds

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Beef Recall Expanded to Six States

WinCo Foods, a food seller operating in six Western states, has issued a recall on ground beef sold in all of its 70 stores, which are located in California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Utah. This is an expansion of an earlier recall that affected only its Modesto, CA, stores, according to the Modesto Bee.

The original recall was announced on April 10. "Two samples of ground beef purchased at the Modesto store tested positive for E. coli O157:H7," wrote Brian Ramsay for the Bee, and consequently all tray-packed ground beef sold from April 3 through April 9 was recalled from the stores.

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Making It Easier to Eat Local Food

A recent Times article highlighted a growing problem for small farmers across the nation: too few slaughterhouses. Many farmers who have answered the demand for locally raised meat have been forced to scale back expansion plans because local processors can’t handle any more animals and the cost of driving their livestock hundreds of miles for slaughter is too expensive.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, while the number of small farmers has increased by 108,000 in the past five years. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has acknowledged the imbalance. “It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this,” he said.

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Is Organic Food Marketing Hype?

Organic produce, and meat and dairy products, are a tiny—although growing—fraction of what Americans spend on food, on the order of 3 percent. And one would expect it to be a fairly uncontentious topic, compared with some that the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series has tackled over the past year (American policy toward the Mideast, the financial crisis, etc.). But when six speakers—including a farmer and a food critic—squared off this week to debate the proposition "Organic food is marketing hype," the level of passion generated surprised even veteran moderator John Donvan.

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Vilsack helps dedicate $464 million USDA facility here

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack led a delegation of Iowa congressional members from both parties Monday as he helped to dedicate the final component of the $464 million National Centers for Animal Health in Ames.

Jointly serving U.S. agriculture from a single campus, the center provides laboratories, offices and space for administration and animals, consolidating three USDA units that previously operated separately in Ames.

The three consolidated units include the National Animal Disease Center, (operated by the USDA Agricultural Research Service), the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics (operated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service).

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Senate bill strengthens food safety

WASHINGTON — The Senate is getting ready to consider a bill to modernize food safety operations at the Food and Drug Administration.

The bill, which passed the House in a somewhat different version last year, was expected to come up the week of April 12, but has been postponed because the Senate wants to consider reform of the financial services industry as soon as possible.

The bill generally strengthens FDA’s enforcement capabilities and has the support of most of the food industry, particularly the fruit and vegetable sector, which has been stung in recent years by outbreaks of foodborne illness. The bill also is the first FDA bill Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has written since he took over the chairmanship of the committee after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Harkin previously chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee and has long taken an interest in food safety.

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Lunatic Farmer Rocks the Bell Museum

This past Sunday, the prettiest of the year so far, why would 300 people forsake biking, gardening, or napping for a lecture in the dark Bell Museum Auditorium? To hear Joel Salatin, the “libertarian, Christian, capitalist, environmentalist” grass-farming evangelist of Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the movies FRESH and FOOD, INC. fame. 

If you’ve gotten this far, you might be familiar with the ideals of the movement: the industrial commodity system is dangerously wreaking havoc on the quality of our food, health, water, air, and land. Salatin addressed the protective myths and proposed solutions: 
1) Sustainable heritage local artisan foods are NOT elitist. Everyone can eat well. 
2) Sustainable methods CAN feed the world. 
3) The history of where and how we went wrong AND how to change things, quickly and easily, before it’s too late. 
Salatin was smart, funny, and irreverently mixed personal experiences with research to present his case. Drawing on examples of his own sustainable system as well as those in Japan and Europe, he showed how using integrated methods employing rotational grazing and “multi-speciation” (lots of animals) symbiotically could allow a lot of food to be produced on small parcels of land. He addressed the issue of price by showing that once we figure out how to aggregate product and become more efficient, prices will become comparable. 

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