MoJo Author Feeds: Tom Philpott | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Trump's Ag Czar Runs His Business Like Herbalife <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Tuesday, the Donald Trump campaign <a href="" target="_blank">formally announced</a> its Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee&mdash;a crew of more than 60 GOP politicians (including Texas' colorful ag commissioner, <a href="" target="_blank">Sid Miller</a>) and agribusiness execs, chaired as previously announced by Nebraska cattleman and business operator Charles Herbster, whom I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote about a couple of weeks ago</a>.</p> <p>Since then, I've learned something interesting about Herbster's company, Conklin, a Kansas City-based firm with an <a href="" target="_blank">odd mix of product lines</a>: <a href=";line_id=01&amp;mline_id=01&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">pesticide additives</a> called <a href="" target="_blank">adjuvents</a>; fertilizers for <a href=";line_id=01&amp;mline_id=01&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">farms</a> and <a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=05&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">lawns</a>; probiotics for <a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=02&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">livestock</a>, <a href=";id=02&amp;line_id=02&amp;mline=02&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">pets</a>, and even <a href=",04&amp;id=00&amp;line_id=06&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">people</a>; industrial <a href=",07&amp;id=00&amp;line_id=08&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">roof coatings</a>; and <a href=";line_id=09&amp;mline_id=09&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">motor oils</a> for "<a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=09&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">everything from semis to farm equipment to race cars</a>."</p> <p>Turns out, it's a <a href="" target="_blank">multilevel marketing operation</a>: one of those companies&mdash;like Avon, Amway, or Herbalife&mdash;that<a href=";CFID=4531255&amp;CFTOKEN=d6df17d5f713dc07-65001AC6-237D-E16E-6E0779FB340E73E4" target="_blank"> sell their products to the public through a network of individual "distributors</a>" who make money not just based on their own sales, but also from the sales of others they've managed to recruit.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">homepage</a> of the Conklin's website lays out the <a href="" target="_blank">business model</a>. "Our superior products are your ticket to a financially-independent life. Become a Conklin distributor today! <a href="" target="_blank">Get Started</a>." The link goes to a <a href="" target="_blank">page</a> stating that "in the last 40 years, Conklin has made it possible for thousands of ambitious people to increase their income and achieve financial independence."</p> <p>Since it's privately held and not publicly traded, it's hard to say how large of a company Conklin is. It's certainly well connected in Nebraska Republican political circles. When I called the company to ask, the receptionist referred me to the voicemail of Carlos Castillo, vice president of governmental affairs for the company. Before taking the Conklin job, Castillo <a href="" target="_blank">served</a> as a top aide to former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman&mdash;who now <a href="" target="_blank">serves on Conklin's board of directors</a> and was recently named as a member of the Trump ag advisory committee chaired by Herbster.&nbsp;</p> <p>In this video, an interview with the trade publication <em>Agri-Pulse</em> <a href="" target="_blank">released July 27</a>, Herbster and Heineman make the case for Trump.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>I have repeatedly called Herbster, Castillo, and Heineman to ask for more information on Conklin, but have so far not heard back.</p> <p>According to the MLM-promoting website <a href="" target="_blank">Business for Home</a>, Conklin brought in an estimated revenue of $28 million in 2015&mdash;tiny compared with industry giants Amway, Herbalife, and Avon, which drew in billions of dollars per year, and just the 239th largest US MLM, according to the website.</p> <p>MLM is a <a href="" target="_blank">highly controversial business model</a>. Critics like Robert FitzPatrick, president of <a href="" target="_blank">Pyramid Scheme Alert</a> and co-author of the book <em>False Profits: Seeking Financial and Spiritual Deliverance in Multi-level Marketing and Pyramid Schemes, </em>says the model by its nature concentrates profits at the top of the chain and keeps most "distributors" in the red.</p> <p>FitzPatrick noted that the Federal Trade Commission has long taken an indulgent view of MLMs, <a href="" target="_blank">distinguishing between</a> "legitimate" and "illegitimate" MLMs. But the agency's recent settlement with Herbalife "may change all that," he added. Last month, the giant MLM agreed to pay $200 million to consumers the company "deceived into believing they could earn substantial money selling diet, nutritional supplement, and personal care products," according to an <a href="" target="_blank">FTC statement</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Conklin has "the classic MLM hallmarks,"&nbsp;FitzPatrick told me. Another MLM expert, Jon Taylor of the <a href="" target="_blank">Consumer Awareness Institute</a>, echoed FitzPatrick's assessment of Conklin. He told me Conklin has "all the hallmarks" of an MLM.</p> <p>Of course, the spectacle of GOP politicians rubbing shoulders with MLM purveyors is nothing new, as Rick Perlstein showed in a<a href="" target="_blank"> 2013 <em>Nation</em> series</a>. The DeVos family, owners of the enormous MLM Amway, have played a large role in shaping the modern Republican Party, as <em>Mother Jones</em>' Andy Kroll <a href="" target="_blank">laid out</a> in a 2014 article.</p> <p>And Trump <a href="" target="_blank">himself has dabbled in the MLM business model</a>. He made "millions of dollars for extolling ACN Inc., a multilevel marketing firm that has weathered regulatory investigations in three countries," the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>. And he <a href="" target="_blank">licensed his name</a> to a vitamin-hawking MLM that became known as Trump Network, whose owners eventually went bankrupt, the <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>.</p> <p>With Trump's surprise success sending the GOP into disarray, he's apparently having to bring in second-tier MLM titans like Herbster, FitzPatrick told me. He noted that last month's Republican National Convention featured a <a href="" target="_blank">speech</a> by a <a href="" target="_blank">representative of Youngevity</a>, an elixir-selling MLM <a href="" target="_blank">closely associated </a><a href="" target="_blank">with</a> the prominent right-wing conspiracy theorist and <a href="" target="_blank">broadcaster Alex Jones,</a> an <a href="" target="_blank">avid Trump supporter</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the above video interview, Herbster makes a claim about the 2016 presidential campaign that at this point seems as likely as someone achieving "financial independence" by peddling supplements to friends: "I believe we [the Trump campaign] will win. I don't think there's any question about that."</p></body></html> Environment Food Thu, 18 Aug 2016 10:00:43 +0000 Tom Philpott 311346 at Monsanto Just Made a Massive Mistake <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> it had gotten an "unusually high number of reports of crop damage that appear related to misuse of herbicides containing the active ingredient <a href="" target="_blank">dicamba</a>." Complaints of drooping and often dead crops appeared in no fewer than 10 states, the EPA reports. In Missouri alone, the agency says it has gotten 117 complaints "alleging misuse of pesticide products containing dicamba," affecting more than 42,000 acres of crops, including peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, peas, peanuts, alfalfa, cotton, and soybeans.&nbsp;</p> <p>The state's largest peach farm, which lies near soybean-and-cotton country, has suffered massive and potentially permanent damage this year&mdash;and suspects dicamba drift as the culprit, <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> the <em>St. Louis Post-Dispatch</em>.&nbsp;</p> <p>What gives?</p> <p>The trouble appears to stem from decisions made by the Missouri-based seed and pesticide giant Monsanto. Back in April, the company bet big on dicamba, <a href="" target="_blank">announcing</a> a $975 million expansion of its production facility in Luling, Louisiana. The chemical is the reason the company launched its new Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds, genetically engineered to withstand both dicamba and Monsanto's old flagship herbicide, glyphosate (brand name: Roundup). Within a decade, the company wrote, the new GM crops will proliferate from the US Midwest all the way to Brazil and points south, covering as much as 250 million acres of farmland (a combined land mass equal to about two and a half times the acreage of California)&mdash;and moving lots of <a href="" target="_blank">dicamba</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The plan is off to a rough start&mdash;which brings us back to those drooping crops in soybean and cotton country. The company elected to release Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds this spring, even though the EPA has not yet signed off on a new herbicide product that combines glyphosate and a new dicamba formulation. That was a momentous decision, because the dicamba products currently on the market are highly volatile&mdash;that is, they have a <a href="" target="_blank">well-documented tendency to vaporize in the ai</a>r and drift far away from the land they're applied on, killing other crops. Monsanto's new dicamba, tweaked with what the company calls "VaporGrip" technology, is supposedly <a href=";gclid=Cj0KEQjw88q9BRDB5qLcwLXr7_sBEiQAZsGja4XavZNycVSP_iemPMs4pYeA38M0I-jn-Hg02c3_iHYaAt4H8P8HAQ" target="_blank">much less volatile</a>.</p> <p>The trouble is that farmers have been planting glyphosate-tolerant cotton and soybeans for years, and as a result, are dealing with a mounting tide of weeds that have evolved to resist that ubiquitous weed killer. So they jumped at the new seeds, and evidently began dousing crops with old dicamba formulations as a way to knock out those glyphosate-tolerant weeds. Oops.</p> <p>For its part, Monsanto <a href="" target="_blank">says</a> it expects the EPA to approve the new, improved dicamba formulation in time for the 2017 growing season, and that it never expected farmers to use old dicamba formulations on the dicamba-tolerant crops it released this year. If the VaporGrip formulation does indeed control volatization as promised, the drift incidents of 2016 will likely soon just be a painful memory for affected farmers. If not, they portend yet more trouble ahead for the PR-challenged ag giant.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 17 Aug 2016 20:22:26 +0000 Tom Philpott 311861 at This Region Is Twice Flint’s Size—And Its Water Is Also Poisoned <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In two of California's most productive farming regions, at least 212,000 people rely on water that's routinely unsafe to drink, with levels of a toxin&nbsp; above its <a href="" target="_blank">federal limit</a>. And even if the pollution source could be stopped tomorrow, these communities&mdash;representing a population more than twice as large as t<a href="" target="_blank">hat of Flint, Michigan</a>&mdash; would endure the effects of past practices for decades. That's the takeaway of a <a href="" target="_blank">major new assessment</a> by researchers at the University of California-Davis.</p> <p>The toxin in question is nitrate, which leaches into aquifers when farmers apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizers or large amounts of manure to fortify soil. Although probably <a href="" target="_blank">not as ruinous as lead</a>, the contaminant that fouled Flint's water, nitrate isn't something you want to be gulping down on a daily basis. Nitrate-laced water has been linked to a <a href="" target="_blank">range of health problems</a>, including <a href="" target="_blank">birth defects</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">blood problems in babies</a>, and cancers of the <a href="" target="_blank">ovaries</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">thyroid</a>.</p> <p>According to the Davis report, nitrate takes a leisurely path from farm soil into the underground water sources that provide both irrigation and drinking water to these regions&mdash;taking anywhere from years to millennia. That means the high nitrate concentrations these communities now find in their water are the result of farming decisions made years and even decades ago&mdash;and "will persist well into the future," even if farmers ramp down fertilization rates.</p> <p>The reality is that the practices are unlikely to change anytime soon. The regions in question are two crucial nodes in California's industrial-agriculture economy: the Tulare Basin in the southern Central Valley, a <a href="" target="_blank">massive producer</a> of milk, cattle, oranges, almonds, and pistachios, and the coastal Salinas Valley, which churns out <a href="" target="_blank">about a half</a> of the leaf lettuce and broccoli grown in the United States, and about a third of the spinach. Together, the <a href="" target="_blank">two</a> <a href="" target="_blank">regions</a> produce more than $12 billion in ag commodities and account for 40 percent of the state's irrigated farmland and half its confined animal operations, according to an <a href="" target="_blank">earlier Davis report</a>.</p> <p>While huge economic interests are invested heavily in maintaining the status quo, the drinking-water impact falls largely on <a href="" target="_blank">low-income</a> <a href="" target="_blank">farm worker communities</a>. A <a href="" target="_blank">2011 study</a> by the Pacific Institute of four small community water systems in Tulare County painted a depressing picture: A third of residents drank the water available to them, "despite years of existing nitrate contamination." The rest spent extra money on bottled water. As a result, study participants spent 4.6 percent of median household income on water &mdash;"more than three times the affordability threshold" recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the study noted.</p> <p>And because the areas vulnerable to nitrate pollution are spread out and fragmented, it's difficult to organize to clean up the water. At least the 207,000 residents of Des Moines, Iowa&mdash;which faces a similar nitrate problem from proximity to corn and hog farming&mdash;has a municipal water works system that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to filter the water&mdash;and has even challenged farm interests to clean up their act with a <a href="" target="_blank">high-profile lawsuit</a>. Municipalities and private well owners throughout the Corn Belt&mdash;in <a href="" target="_blank">Iowa</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Minnesota</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Ohio</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Missouri</a>&mdash;grapple with the issue of heightened nitrate levels in drinking water.</p> <p>Of course, the Tulare Basin's nitrate problem&mdash;which is completely independent of the current drought&mdash;isn't the only water crisis Big Ag imposes on the region's residents. The industry's intense thirst for irrigation sends water tables tumbling, making it ever more expensive to extract groundwater as wells need to be deepened. In times of intense drought like the current one, some low-income communities have trouble accessing any tap water at all. Last year, <em>Mother Jones' </em>Julia Lurie <a href="" target="_blank">filed a report</a> from the Tulare County town of East Porterville, "home to the pickers and packers of the fruits, veggies, and nuts grown nearby and distributed across the country," where thousands of households lacked access to tap water due to dry wells.</p> <p>And for my <a href="" target="_blank">feature on California's nut boom</a>, I visited the Tulare County farmworker town of Alpaugh (pop. 1,000), where a plunging table meant the town's residents drew tap water laced with dangerous levels of arsenic, a naturally existing toxic chemical that concentrates at the aquifer's lower depths. They, too, were urged to buy bottled water. It was a stark experience to drive less than five minutes out of Alpaugh and see thousands of acres of brand-new pistachio groves, irrigated by wells drawing down that same aquifer.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 17 Aug 2016 10:00:32 +0000 Tom Philpott 311841 at Your Turkey Sandwich: Now Without a Side of Antibiotics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Meat behemoth Cargill&mdash;one of four big players that <a href="" target="_blank">produce more than half of the turkey Americans eat</a>&mdash;has <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> it's stopped all routine use of antibiotics in its two biggest turkey brands.&nbsp;</p> <p>The move means that for those two brands, Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms, birds will only be treated with antibiotics when they actually come down with an infection.</p> <p>Back in 2014, the company stopped using antibiotics as a tool to make birds raised for those brands grow faster, complying with a request by the Food and Drug Administration that growth-promoting antibiotics be phased out of US meat production. But that doesn't mean the company stopped routine antibiotic use. On top of being voluntary, the FDA's request <a href="" target="_blank">included an industry-friendly twist</a>: It blessed the practice of using small doses to "prevent disease," creating a loophole that critics warned would allow meat companies to continue using antibiotics routinely, a practice that erodes the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating infections in people. Cargill's move means that the company will no longer utilize the loophole for its largest brands.</p> <p>According to the latest FDA figures, <a href="" target="_blank">nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States</a> flows to meat production. Public-health authorities from the <a href="" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention </a>to the <a href="" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> warn that overuse of drugs in meat farming contributes to the the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which cause 90,000 US death annually, while also racking up $55 billion in societal costs and causing 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital, according to the <a href="" target="_blank">National Institutes of Health</a>.</p> <p>Cargill's announcement is the latest sign that the meat industry is slowly moving away from its decades-old reliance on routine use, a story I laid out in a <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Mother Jones </em>piece </a>earlier this year. For its beef unit, the company <a href="" target="_blank">pledged</a> in March to cut use of human-relevant antibiotics by 20 percent in eight large feedlots that supply it with cattle. But because the <a href="" target="_blank">practice has gone global</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">bacteria move rapidly across borders</a>, these efforts may prove to be too little, too late.</p></body></html> Environment Food Thu, 11 Aug 2016 20:58:58 +0000 Tom Philpott 311536 at Donald Trump’s Newest Adviser Once Compared Syrian Refugees to Rattlesnakes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>Update (8/17/2016): The Trump campaign finally <a href="" target="_blank">released</a> its full Agricultural Advisory Committee, and Sid Miller was </em>not<em> named a co-chair, despite what he said on an <a href="" target="_blank">Aug. 5</a> radio show. <a href="" target="_blank">Charles Herbster</a> remains the sole national chairman. However, Miller was named to the committee&mdash;along with more than 60 others. </em></p> <p>Like the rest of Donald Trump's campaign, the GOP presidential nominee's effort to lasso support from agribusiness interests and rural voters keeps getting weirder.</p> <p>A few weeks ago, Trump <a href="" target="_blank">tapped&nbsp;Charles Herbster</a>&mdash;a Nebraskan best known for his fat checks to GOP candidates and <a href="" target="_blank">his bizarrely diversified business</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Conklin</a>&mdash;as chairman of his Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee. On Friday, Sid Miller, Texas' colorful agriculture commissioner, <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> that he had agreed to serve as co-chair of the committee. (Hat tip <em><a href="" target="_blank">Politico</a></em>).</p> <p>Miller has emerged as a notorious figure in Texas politics. Seldom seen without a big white cowboy hat, Miller is a "<a href="" target="_blank">world champion rodeo competitor</a>" and a founder and elder of the <a href="" target="_blank">Cowboy Church</a> in his home county of Erath,&nbsp;outside of Fort Worth. He runs a <a href="" target="_blank">landscaping-nursery </a><a href="" target="_blank">business</a><a href="" target="_blank"> </a>as well as farm operations that received about $124,000 in crop subsidies and disaster-relief funds between 1995 and 2014, according to the Environmental Working Group <a href="" target="_blank">farm subsidy database</a>.</p> <p>For his successful campaign for Texas ag commissioner in 2014, Miller <a href="" target="_blank">tapped</a> former rocker/<a href="" target="_blank">reality TV personality</a> and longtime <a href="" target="_blank">gun nut</a> Ted Nugent as the co-chairman and treasurer of his campaign. Before that, Miller served for years in the Texas Legislature, where he was a <a href="" target="_blank">founding member</a> of the Tea Party Caucus is 2010. After leaving the Legislature in 2013, Miller quickly <a href="" target="_blank">set up shop as a lobbyist</a>, bringing in between $205,000 and $405,000 in contracts, according to filings with the <a href="" target="_blank">Texas Ethics Commission</a>.</p> <p>His tenure as Texas ag commissioner has been a ride worthy of one of his beloved rodeos. Soon after taking office, Miller launched a campaign to make public schools safe spaces for junk food, <a href="" target="_blank">granting "amnesty"</a> to cupcakes and <a href="" target="_blank">reversing bans</a> on deep-fat fryers and soda machines. He grabbed headlines for <a href="" target="_blank">handing plum state jobs to campaign contributors</a>, and for <a href="" target="_blank">comparing Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes</a> on Facebook and suggesting <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear bombs should be dropped on Muslim countries</a>. As if taking advice from The Donald himself, Miller declined to apologize for those inflammatory posts, though he did delete them.</p> <p>But his most celebrated exploits involve trips initially billed to taxpayers as official state business&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">one to Oklahoma</a> to receive a medical procedure known as "the Jesus shot," <a href="" target="_blank">administered by a convicted felon known as Dr. Mike</a>; and another to <a href="" target="_blank">Mississippi to attend the Dixie National Rodeo</a>, where he reportedly won $880 in a calf-roping competition. In both cases, Miller eventually relented and picked up the travel tabs on his own dime.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Lubbock radio interview where he announced his association with Trump, Miller gave few details about what sort of agriculture agenda the candidate would push. "My emphasis will be carrying the Texas ag industry for Trump," he said. He denounced "overregulation," naming the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Endangered Species Act as regulatory forces Trump would reckon with.</p> <p>And he sought to turn one of Trump's liabilities in agribusiness circles, his opposition to <a href="" target="_blank">industry-friendly trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership</a>, into an asset. "Above all, [Trump wants] to be known as the president that cuts the good deals," he said, adding, "He's a deal maker, that's his whole mantra." Trump will use that skill to "shore up" food exports to China, Miller insisted, not noting that US food sales to China <a href="" target="_blank">more than tripled between 2006 and 2014</a> (more <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>). He also asserted that "America will get our respect back around the world, because his [Trump's] personality is, if you hit me, I&rsquo;m going to hit you twice."</p> <p>Asked if he would accept a job in a Trump administration, Miller said he'd "have to pray about it&hellip;but right now, I've got the best job in the state of Texas."</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 10 Aug 2016 10:00:26 +0000 Tom Philpott 311276 at How Are You Supposed to Win a Gold Medal If You Can’t Get A Cup of Coffee? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Brazil has been the <a href="" target="_blank">globe's most prolific coffee-producing </a><a href="" target="_blank">nation for 150 years</a>; and coffee culture has long permeated Rio de Janeiro, where you can find everything from a cheap <a href="" target="_blank"><em>cafezinho </em>(little cup of coffee) at a corner cafe</a> to super fancy <a href="" target="_blank">brews extracted from the nation's best coffee beans</a>. But if you're an athlete holed up in Olympic Village for the games, things are apparently a bit different. Here's <a href="" target="_blank">NPR</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>BLOCK: This will be the second Olympics for Egyptian archer Ahmed El-Nemr. He's mostly happy, but there is a problem.<br> AHMED EL-NEMR: Actually, yes, I have some complains about coffee (<em>laughter</em>).<br> BLOCK: He's been shocked to find there is no coffee for athletes in the village apartment buildings or at the sports venues.<br> NEMR: I asked. They said we are only limited to Coca-Cola products. So...<br> BLOCK: You're kidding me.<br> NEMR: No. Yeah, that's what they told us in the venue.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>What? </em>No coffee for Olympic athletes in the globe's coffee epicenter, because...Coca-Cola? According to the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Daily News</em></a>, "A Coca-Cola spokeswoman denied the archer's claim and said there is coffee in the Olympic Village but it isn't being supplied by the company." But apparently, it's not very easy to find. This must not stand. If I were an athlete in Rio, I'd organize a revolt. And I would not be mollified by <a href="" target="_blank">some crap like this</a>&mdash;I'd want a fresh cup of coffee. In solidarity with my coffee-loving brothers and sisters in the Village, I've done a Google dive into catering and sponsorships at the Games to try and figure out what's going on.</p> <p>I found a Rio 2016 <a href="" target="_blank">"Taste of the Games" document </a>that lists the sugary beverage behemoth as the "exclusive" provider of non-alcoholic beverages for the 2016 event, including for its 17,500 athletes. (McDonald's is listed as the exclusive provider of retail food services, and Skol&mdash;a Brazilian brand owned by global beer giant AB InBev, maker of Budweiser&mdash;is the exclusive beer provider.)</p> <p>What does "exclusive" mean? "What this means to caterers is that if menus include products from a sponsor product category, the products of that sponsor must be used unless Rio 2016 approves otherwise in writing." However, "this does not mean that all food and beverage products must be sourced from these organisations alone," the document continues. Drinks not offered by the sponsor&mdash;in the case of Coca-Cola, say, a fresh cup of joe&mdash;can be provided, with the stipulation that it be unbranded. Easy enough for a damn cup of coffee.</p> <p>So, under the terms of the sponsorship, the Olympic village <em>can</em> provide fresh coffee. But is there a <em>right</em> to coffee? Here the document is muddy. It contains this line about services to be provided to the athletes: "Supply of snacks, fruit, isotonic [<a href="" target="_blank">sports, ugh</a>] drinks, soft drinks, mineral water, tea and <strong>coffee</strong>, biscuits, cereal bars and other items at Athletes' lounges in competition and training venues."</p> <p>Note that this clause mentions "Athletes' lounges in competition and training venues," but doesn't mention the living quarters, where El-Nemr tells NPR he's being denied coffee&mdash;and where athletes wake up in the morning. Coffee time, in other words. Here's what the document says about that region:</p> <blockquote> <p>&bull;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; 24/7 catering service at the Main Dining Hall in the Olympic Village<br> &bull;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; High-quality menu with wide range of options,<strong> in line with different cultural and nutritional needs</strong> <strong>in every location serving Athletes. </strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Not to play Olympic Village lawyer, but that last bit to me sounds like a right to coffee&mdash;morning coffee fuels many cultures across the globe. If I were an athlete in Rio, I'd print out that doc, put a big circle around that clause, and take it directly to a Rio 16 official, preferably trailed by a band of annoyed and imposingly athletic fellow coffee fiends.</p></body></html> Environment Food Fri, 05 Aug 2016 18:18:00 +0000 Tom Philpott 311111 at McDonald's Insists Its Sugar Decision Is a Big Deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>McDonald's recently announced plans to remove high-fructose corn syrup from its buns and replace it with sugar, as "part of its drive to target increasingly health-conscious consumers," Reuters <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>. But my immediate response to the news was not: Great&mdash;time to grab a Big Mac, now they're healthy! Instead, it made me want to figure out just how much sweetener the <a href="" target="_blank">resurgent</a> (<a href="" target="_blank">sort of</a>) burger behemoth is pumping into its nondessert offerings.</p> <p>Now, sweetener is by no means a necessary ingredient in bread&mdash;you won't find it in a <a href="" target="_blank">baguette</a>, for example, or the famous <a href="" target="_blank">24-hour no-knead</a> method popularized by Mark Bittman. But it is quite common in modern commercial baking because it speeds up the rising process. Even the <a href="!page=product&amp;id=DE75C782-FFC5-11E0-8977-1231380C180E" target="_blank">Whole Foods version</a> of a classic hamburger bun&mdash;a concept McDonald's surely helped shape&mdash;contains sugar, as does <a href="" target="_blank">this recipe</a> for homemade buns from the Kitchn website, which calls for 2 tablespoons, around 18 grams, of sugar for eight buns. That's about 2.25 grams of sugar per serving&mdash;not very much, as I'll show below.</p> <p>But McD's HFCS-to-sugar announcement still made me want to take a peak behind the Golden Arches to see how much sweet stuff is hiding on the savory side of the menu.</p> <p>It should be noted that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are chemically very similar. And as Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens showed in a blockbuster 2012 <em>Mother Jones</em> <a href="" target="_blank">article</a>, "sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars."</p> <p>People know they're getting a sugar blast when they order a Coke or a chocolate sundae; not so much when they're ordering a burger. The McDonald's website features a "<a href="" target="_blank">nutrition calculator</a>" with detailed information on every regular menu. Scrolling around it, I find that a Big Mac contains 9 grams of sugar, while a Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich has 11 grams and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese packs 10 grams. Even the healthy-sounding Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad contains 9 grams. The Sausage McGriddle, originally a morning item whose availability has <a href="" target="_blank">expanded as part of McDonald's popular "all-day breakfast" strategy</a>, has 15 grams.</p> <p>To put those numbers in perspective, <a href="" target="_blank">three Chips Ahoy cookies</a> contain 11 grams of sugar. The World Health Organization <a href="" target="_blank">recommends</a> limiting added sugar intake to about 25 grams per day&mdash;meaning that a Quarter Pounder delivers about 40 percent of the maximum sugar you should be taking in. Combine it with other common McDonald's items&mdash;a small Coke (47 grams) or a small vanilla shake (61 grams)&mdash;and you've just swallowed quite a sugar bomb. Even forgoing that obviously sweet stuff for a simple McCafe Iced Coffee (22 grams) would push you well over the World Health Organization's recommendation.</p> <p>So where is all the sweetener coming from in savory items like burgers and chicken sandwiches? The company doesn't break down nutrition info by a dish's components, but the "<a href="" target="_blank">nutrition calculator</a>" does drill down on ingredients. Here's what's in a Big Mac bun:</p> <blockquote> <p>Enriched Unbleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Sesame Seeds, Leavening (Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate), May Contain One or More Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Calcium Propionate (Preservative).</p> </blockquote> <p>Note that HFCS (soon to be switched out for sugar) is the third ingredient, after flour and water. The other Quarter Pounder component that contains sweetener is the "Big Mac sauce," whose ingredients are no longer secret:</p> <blockquote> <p>Soybean Oil, Pickle Relish (Diced Pickles, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Spice Extractives, Polysorbate 80), Distilled Vinegar, Water, Egg Yolks, Onion Powder, Mustard Seed, Salt, Spices, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Mustard Bran, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Caramel Color, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin, Turmeric (Color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (Protect Flavor).</p> </blockquote> <p>That's some sweet pickle relish, goosed up with HFCS, corn syrup, <em>and</em> sugar. (The company has announced no plans to swap HFCS for sugar in its condiments.)</p> <p>As for the Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad and its 9 gram of sugar, check out the "cilantro lime glaze" that graces it:</p> <blockquote> <p>Water, Corn Syrup Solids, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Olive Oil, Soybean Oil, Freeze-Dried Orange Juice Concentrate, Cilantro, Salt, Freeze-Dried Lime Juice Concentrate, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Garlic Powder, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Spice, Onion Powder, Citric Acid.</p> </blockquote> <p>However, the company made a genuinely momentous revelation along with the HFCS dud: It <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> 100 percent of the chicken it serves is raised without antibiotics important to human medicine, making good on a <a href="" target="_blank">pledge</a> the company made back in March 2015 and beating its own timetable by six months. For a deep dive into why helping the meat industry break its antibiotic habit is crucial, check out my <a href="" target="_blank">story</a> from earlier this year.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 03 Aug 2016 18:36:04 +0000 Tom Philpott 310841 at Olympians Are Selling Sugar Water to Kids <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Back in 2012, just ahead of the summer Olympics in London and the associated advertising blitz, the prestigious UK medical journal <em>BMJ </em>issued a <a href=";pmid=22810384" target="_blank">scathing takedown</a> of sports drinks, ably <a href="" target="_blank">summarized</a> for <em>Mother Jones</em> by health writer David Tuller. Takeaway: The colorful fluids are utterly unnecessary for restoring electrolytes after exercise, but they do contain unhealthy jolts of sugar.</p> <p>Four years later, beverage giants are once again using Olympians' beauty and grit to market these supposed elixirs&mdash;this time to children. Above, see tennis wizard Serena Williams, sprint champ Usain Bolt, and NBA star Paul George picturesquely working out with a charismatic kid in an Olympics-focused ad for Pepsi's flagship sports drink Gatorade. And <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>'s boxer Shakur Stevenson doing the same for Coca-Cola's Powerade. Expect to see these ads and many more during the broadcast of this year's Olympics, which open in Rio de Janeiro Friday.</p> <p>And it's easy to see why the industry is investing heavily in this massively watched sports spectacle. According to the industry tracker <a href="" target="_blank">Beverage Marketing Corporation</a>, US carbonated soda consumption fell 1.5 percent in 2015, the <a href="" target="_blank">11th straight year of decline</a>. But sports drink volumes raced ahead by a (relatively) Usain Bolt-like 5.5 percent. In short, people are turning away from sugary carbonated drinks because they know they're unhealthy&mdash;and turning to sports drinks, which are associated with lean, athletic bodies, but are also quite sugary.</p> <p>Over at the <em>Washington Post, </em>Casey Seidenberg&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">notes</a> that the success of sports drinks is drawing new brands into the market. Honest Tea (also owned by Coca-Cola) and upstart <a href="" target="_blank">Greater Than</a> have rolled out "healthier sports drinks that are lower in sugar and free of artificial food colorings." While less sugary than drinks like Gatorade, these products are equally unnecessary, Seidenberg writes; like adults, "kids and teens rarely, if ever, lose enough electrolytes during their athletic endeavors to require extra replenishment." She adds, "Sodium is the most common electrolyte lost in sweat, yet most Americans get more than enough sodium from their diets."</p> <p>She subjected her sons and their friends to a blind taste test pitting Gatorade and Powerade against new-wave products from Honest Tea and Greater Than, as well as a glass of water and a piece of fruit, which, as she shows, provides just as much hydration as&mdash;and several times more potassium (a non-sodium electrolyte) than&mdash;most sports drinks, with zero added sugar.</p> <p>"To my dismay (but not to my surprise), the kids blindly chose Powerade and Gatorade as their favorites," she writes. "After all, these varieties are the sweetest and the most chemically engineered to cause consumers to come back for more." As for water and fruit, she found that her experiment subjects "prefer a sports drink" but agree that the combination "satisfies when thirsty or hungry after a game." If only influential athletes like basketball giant LeBron James would dump their <a href="" target="_blank">sports drink deals</a> and get behind that solution.</p></body></html> Environment Food Tue, 02 Aug 2016 10:00:17 +0000 Tom Philpott 310641 at Here Is the Mysterious High Roller Donald Trump Wants to Put in Charge of Our Food <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump churns out strong opinions like McDonald's produces Big Macs. But save for the odd eruption&mdash;like declaring the <a href="" target="_blank">supremacy of Trump Tower Grill's "taco bowls"</a> or <a href="" target="_blank">blaming the California drought on environmentalists</a> to the delight of the state's agribusiness interests&mdash;he has been relatively quiet about food. At last month's Republican National Convention, the real estate developer and reality TV star took a step toward filling out his food and farm policy by <a href="" target="_blank">tapping</a> Nebraska agribusiness owner and cattleman Charles Herbster as the chairman of his&nbsp;Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee.&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Trump, Herbster is an unconventional business titan with political ambitions.</p> <p>He and his wife <a href=";catid=02" target="_blank">own</a> <a href="" target="_blank">Conklin</a>, a Kansas City-based company with an <a href="" target="_blank">odd mix of product lines</a>: <a href=";line_id=01&amp;mline_id=01&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">pesticide additives</a> called <a href="" target="_blank">adjuvents</a>; fertilizers for <a href=";line_id=01&amp;mline_id=01&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">farms</a> and <a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=05&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">lawns</a>; probiotics for <a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=02&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">livestock</a>, <a href=";id=02&amp;line_id=02&amp;mline=02&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">pets</a>, and even <a href=",04&amp;id=00&amp;line_id=06&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">people</a>; industrial <a href=",07&amp;id=00&amp;line_id=08&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">roof coatings</a>; and <a href=";line_id=09&amp;mline_id=09&amp;eibo=0" target="_blank">motor oils</a> for "<a href=";id=00&amp;line_id=09&amp;pl=1" target="_blank">everything from semis to farm equipment to race cars</a>." In addition, he owns a cattle-breeding company called <a href="" target="_blank">Herbster Angus Farms</a> as well <a href=";summlevel=address" target="_blank">as farmland in Nebraska and Colorado</a>, for which he received a total of <strike>$196,757</strike> $577,179 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2014, according to the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database. <em>(Note: After this piece went live Monday morning, an EWG press person emailed me to note that in addition to the <a href="" target="_blank">$196,757 Herbster took in under his own name,</a> <a href="" target="_blank">Carico Farms</a>, for which Herbster is <a href=";summlevel=whois&amp;dbtouse=2011" target="_blank">listed as the owner</a>, received $380,422 between 1995 and 2014.) </em>That's still not a particularly high number&mdash;<a href=";progcode=totalfarm&amp;regionname=Nebraska" target="_blank">many Nebraska farm operators got much more</a> over that time frame.</p> <p>Before he took the reins of Trump's ag policy team, Herbster was best known for his aborted 2013 campaign for Nebraska's governorship, as <em>Politico</em>'s&nbsp;Ian Kullgren recently <a href="" target="_blank">noted</a>. Soon after exiting the race, Herbster <a href="" target="_blank">donated</a>&nbsp;$860,000 to the campaign of another Republican gubernatorial candidate, Beau McCoy, a Nebraska state senator. Herbster ultimately donated a total of $2.7 million to McCoy's campaign, "nearly his entire war chest," the <em>Omaha World-Herald</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a>. McCoy lost the race. Last year, Herbster <a href="" target="_blank">hired</a> McCoy to <a href="" target="_blank">run marketing</a> for Conklin's building-supply business. Another one-time Nebraska officeholder, former Gov. Dave Heineman, <a href="" target="_blank">joined Conklin's board of directors last year</a>.</p> <p>Herbster's largesse to politicians <a href=";name=herbster,%20Charles&amp;employ=&amp;cand=&amp;state=&amp;cycle=All&amp;soft=&amp;zip=&amp;sort=R&amp;page=1" target="_blank">hasn't been limited</a> to McCoy's failed bid. <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Politico</em></a> notes he "has given $336,000 to Republican candidates and ag-related PACs since 2012."</p> <p>He is a major funder of Ag America, which <a href="" target="_blank">describes itself</a> as a "Federal Super PAC active in local, state, and federal elections." Herbster <a href="" target="_blank">sits</a> on the Ag America steering committee, and according to the money-in-politics tracker <a href=";cycle=2016" target="_blank">Open Secrets</a>, he donated $60,000 to it in 2015. Other recent contributors include Monsanto, DuPont, Archer Daniels Midland, and several other agribusiness giants.&nbsp;</p> <p>In public documents, Ag America <a href="" target="_blank">pushes</a> a fairly standard agribiz policy agenda: The next president must subject (unnamed) federal ag regulations&nbsp; to "rigorous cost-benefit analyses" and pursue free-trade agreements "across the globe to open markets for America's agricultural products."</p> <p>That last bit would seem to contradict Trump's oft-stated antipathy to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade deal that was <a href="" target="_blank">hotly</a> <a href="" target="_blank">supported</a> by the agribusiness lobby.</p> <p>And that appears to be where Herbster comes in&mdash;reassuring farm interests that a Trump presidency wouldn't mean reduced access to foreign markets.</p> <p>On a recent afternoon, I caught up with Herbster by phone on a corn field on his Nebraska farm after calling a number I found on the website of Herbster Angus Farms. I was quite surprised when the man himself answered the phone. After volunteering that "I've been friends with Donald J. Trump for more than 10 years," Herbster told me that he's been getting calls from farmers "concerned about issues of trade." Herbster said he reassures them that Trump "is not against trade in any way"&mdash;it's "just that he wants trade to be fair," and that means renegotiating trade deals. Herbster acknowledged that "trade for agriculture in the Midwest has probably been pretty good for the past few years," but that it "hasn't been good for small manufacturers in middle America and the coasts." Trump, he suggested, would make trade great again for everyone.</p> <p>He then mentioned reducing the inheritance tax (<a href="" target="_blank">applied only to estates valued at $5.45 million or higher</a>) as a "big issue," and said that rolling back regulation would be "at the forefront" of Trump's first 100 days as president. "We regulate, regulate, regulate," he complained. Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, he added that "if it moves, the government's response is to tax it; if it keeps moving, the response is to regulate it; and if it stops moving, the response is to try to control it and subsidize it."</p> <p>I asked him to specify what regulations he sought to dismantle. "We're not gonna pinpoint and try to detail the minutiae of all of those, because the first thing we have to do is we have to win," he said. "I believe we are gonna win, but I've always said, 'Until you win, all of the great ideas in the world aren't going to help you, because you have to win to implement 'em.'"</p> <p>Rather than sweat policy details, "my focus&hellip;is to make sure we get rural America out to vote, that we raise as much money as possible," he said, adding that "it's gonna take a lot of money for this campaign, because we saw what happened with Romney versus Obama."</p> <p>Meanwhile, Herbster said, he's working to assemble a group of people to serve with him on Trump's ag policy committee, which will be announced the first week of August. "Everyone's gonna pretty well know the names on that list&mdash;we have some governors, we have some former governors&hellip;we've put together a really great list."</p> <p>I pressed him for more policy details, but he politely hustled me off the phone. "I don't want to be rude, but I've got concrete being laid at the farm," he said.</p></body></html> Media Food Mon, 01 Aug 2016 10:00:28 +0000 Tom Philpott 310421 at The One Thing Hillary Cares About Most—When It Comes to Food <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If Democratic presidential nominee&nbsp;Hillary Clinton wins in November, what kind of food and farm policy can we expect from her? Like most presidential campaign seasons, the current one has been lighter than a souffl&eacute; in terms of debate around food issues. Here's what we know so far.</p> <p><strong>(1) The <a href="" target="_blank">2016 Democratic Party platform</a> is mostly short on food policy details. </strong>Farm programs get all of two paragraphs, under the rubric of "Investing in Rural America." The section nods to "promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices" and expanding "local food markets and regional food systems," a likely reference to the <a href="" target="_blank">Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program</a> instituted under President Barack Obama. It also takes a stand on farm workers, advocating "stronger agricultural worker protections including regulation of work hours, elimination of child labor, ensuring adequate housing for migrant workers, and sanitary facilities in the field."</p> <p>In other notable sections, the platform mentions developing "science-based restrictions" to protect Alaska's wild salmon fisheries from a <a href="" target="_blank">controversial proposed mine</a>, and it vows to enforce antitrust laws to "protect competition and prevent excessively consolidated economic and political power, which can be corrosive to a healthy democracy." As I <a href="" target="_blank">noted a few weeks ago</a>, that section contains the first mention of antitrust policy in a Democratic Party presidential platform in three decades; and if a President Clinton were to make good on it, there could be profound implications for our highly concentrated food industry.</p> <p><strong>(2) ...except one: Clinton will likely defend hunger programs. </strong>The platform bluntly promises to protect "proven programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)&mdash;our nation's most important anti-hunger program&mdash;that help struggling families put food on the table." SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, has been in the Republican crosshairs for years. President Obama and Democrats in Congress fought off a <a href="" target="_blank">GOP attempt to slash SNAP in 2013</a>, and there's no reason to think Clinton won't hold the line.</p> <p><strong>(3) The State Department hotly promoted GMOs abroad under Clinton. </strong>Diplomatic cables dumped by WikiLeaks back in 2010 showed that Clinton's State Department lobbied foreign governments to weaken regulation of GMOs, including food labels, and operated public relations campaigns to improve their popularity. (More <a href="" target="_blank">here</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.) Back in 2012, Jack Bobo, then serving as senior adviser for biotechnology at the State Department, <a href="" target="_blank">even lobbied <em>me</em></a> to take a less critical view of ag biotech. (Bobo is now the <a href="" target="_blank">chief communications officer</a> of a biotech company.)</p> <p><strong>(4) She showed signs of appreciating organic ag as first lady. </strong>In the 1990s, before organic food went mainstream, Clinton was a fan. Walter Scheib, whom the first lady hired as White House chef in 1994, later <a href=";partner=permalink&amp;exprod=permalink" target="_blank">reminisced</a> that the Clintons "dined regularly on organic foods" and favored "both wagyu and grass-fed beef." He added that "nearly all the product used was obtained from local growers and suppliers." While Michelle Obama is widely celebrated for her robust White House garden, Hillary Clinton kept a small one on the roof, Scheib noted.</p> <p><strong>(5) She's tightly aligned with Tom Vilsack, Obama's US Department of Agriculture chief. </strong>The two veteran pols go way back&mdash;Vilsack <a href="" target="_blank">credits</a> Hillary Clinton's fundraising efforts on his behalf for boosting his successful run as Iowa governor back in 1998. About a decade later, Vilsack <a href="" target="_blank">endorsed</a> Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. Last year, Clinton put longtime Vilsack adviser Matt Paul in charge of her Iowa caucus campaign, plucking him from his post as the USDA's director of communications. The Clinton team aggressively floated Vilsack as a contender for vice president before settling on Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for the post. But despite his getting passed over, there was a Vilsack angle&mdash;the campaign <a href="" target="_blank">quickly named Paul</a>, Vilsack's longtime right-hand man, as Kaine's chief of staff. Two Washington insiders who declined to be quoted directly have told me that Vilsack is and will likely remain Clinton's top ag adviser, on everything from policy details to choosing the next USDA chief. That tells me that if Clinton prevails, the next administration will look a lot like the current one on ag policy. Here's my <a href="" target="_blank">recent summary</a> of Vilsack's eight-year run as USDA chief.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 27 Jul 2016 10:00:28 +0000 Tom Philpott 310126 at