MoJo Author Feeds: Tom Philpott | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/authors/116126 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Check Out These New Emojis for Foodies http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/sustainable-food-iconathon <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>On a frigid Sunday morning in Manhattan this past March, several dozen people, many of them design students, gathered at the School of Visual Art's building in Chelsea. Their task: to perform a bit of pro-bono marketing for non-corporate food producers&mdash;the kind of small and mid-sized farms that grow produce without poisonous chemicals and tend their animals on pasture, not in fetid, polluting feedlots.</p> <p>The meeting, organized by an innovative Los Angeles-based design firm called the <a href="http://thenounproject.com/about/" target="_blank">Noun Project</a> (whose founders my colleague Tasneem Raja interviewed <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/11/icon-noun-project-edward-boatman-sofya-polyakov">here</a>) and an accomplished New York-based sustainable-food advocacy group called the <a href="http://gracelinks.org/" target="_blank">Grace Communications Foundation</a> (the force behind the <a href="http://www.themeatrix.com/" target="_blank"><em>Meatrix</em> video</a> and <a href="http://www.sustainabletable.org/" target="_blank">Sustainable Table</a>), was modeled on the techie concept of a "hackathon"&mdash;a bunch of people getting together to solve some problem. But whereas hackathons typically result in computer code, this "iconathon" would produce images, known as icons, that can wordlessly express concepts like "grass fed" and "heritage breed," free for anyone's use under a creative-commons license.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/07/sustainable-food-iconathon"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Wed, 09 Jul 2014 10:00:08 +0000 Tom Philpott 255596 at http://www.motherjones.com Are Nanoparticles From Packaging Getting Into Your Food? http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/06/nano-sized-particles-food-packaging-how-big-problem <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A while back, I <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/nanotech-food-safety-fda-nano-material">wrote about</a> the US regulatory system's strange attitude toward nanotechnology and food.</p> <p>On the one hand, the Food and Drug Administration is on record stating that nanoparticles&mdash;which are microscopically tiny pieces of common materials like silver and clay&mdash;pose unique safety concerns. The particles, which measure in at a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair, "can have significantly altered bioavailability and may, therefore, raise new safety issues that have not been seen in their traditionally manufactured counterparts," the FDA wrote in a 2012 <a href="http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ucm300661.htm">draft</a> proposal for regulating nanoparticles in food. On the other hand, its solution&mdash;that the food industry conduct safety testing that is "as rigorous as possible" and geared specifically to nano-materials before releasing nano-containing products onto the market&mdash;will be voluntary.</p> <p>But what about packaging&mdash;the wrappers and bags and whatnot that hold food to keep it fresh? Nano-sized silver has powerful antimicrobial properties and can be embedded in plastic to keep food fresh longer; and <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/science/small-world/2013/nov/20/nanotechnology-revolutionise-food-storage-lady-gaga">nanoparticles of clay</a> can help bottles and other packaging block out air and moisture from penetrating, preventing spoilage. Yet research has suggested (see <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23954768">here</a> and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24450547">here</a>) that nanoparticles can migrate from packaging to food, potentially exposing consumers.</p> <p>So how widely is nanotech used in the containers that contact our food? Back in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency released a <a href="http://www.epa.gov/nanoscience/files/NanoPaper1.pdf">"State of the Science Literature Review" on nanosilver</a> (PDF; warning: 221 pages). The report confirms that nano-materials, including silver, are being used in food packaging, but shows why it's hard to get a grip on how just widely. "Current labeling regulations do not require that the nanomaterial be listed as an ingredient," neither in food or in food packaging, the EPA report states. And "manufacture of nanosilver-containing products is shifting to the Far East, especially China, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam," making it even harder to track nano-containing products that come in from abroad.</p> <p>The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)&mdash;a joint venture of Virginia Tech and the Wilson Center&mdash;keeps a running inventory of "nanotechnology-based consumer products introduced on the market." A PEN spokesperson stressed to me that its list isn't comprehensive&mdash;it by no means captures every nano-associated item, and some products on the list may no longer contain nanotech. That said, the database includes 20 products in the <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/browse/categories/food-and-beverage/storage/" target="_blank">"food and beverage storage" category,</a> including a couple of beer bottles,&nbsp; aluminum foil,&nbsp; sandwich bags, and even a salad bowl.</p> <p>Meanwhile, environmental watchdog groups warn that nanotech-imbued packaging will soon become ubiquitous. "Major food companies are investing billions in nanofood and nanopackaging," Friends of the Earth stated in a <a href="http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/42/e/4699/TinyIngredients_BigRisks_Web.pdf">2014 report</a>. Tom Neltner, a food additives researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me in an email that, "we believe nano-engineered particles are being extensively used in food packaging."</p> <p>When I asked Neltner for specifics, he sent me to Joseph Hotchkiss, director of the School of Packaging and Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability at Michigan State University, and a close watcher of the food-packaging industry. Hotchkiss told me that while nano-materials are quite attractive to the food industry as a way to cheaply prolong the shelf life of packaged foods, they currently "aren't widely used" because "no one knows for sure what kinds of risks from ingesting exquisitely tiny amounts of nano-materials may or not represent." As a result, the food industry is "waiting on the sidelines" until more safety research emerges.</p> <p>Indeed, the above-noted EPA report reveals significant health concerns around nanoparticles. They "can pass through biological membranes," the report states, including the blood-brain barrier. And they're "small enough to penetrate even very small capillaries throughout the body."</p> <p>What harm nanoparticles cause when they move about our bodies remains murky, though. "There are very limited well controlled human studies on the potential toxicities of nanosilver," the EPA states; but animal studies have shown potential toxicity for the liver, kidneys, and the immune system.</p> <p>Back in March, the EPA&nbsp; moved to <a href="http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/6469952cdbc19a4585257cac0053e637!OpenDocument">block</a> a company called Pathway Investment from marketing plastic food storage containers laced with nano-silver to the public. But what ran the company afoul with the EPA wasn't its use of nano-silver per se; rather, it was the claim that its product would kill microbiota in stored food. "Claims that mold, fungus or bacteria are controlled or destroyed by a particular product must be backed up with testing so that consumers know that the products do what the labels say,&rdquo;&nbsp;the EPA's press release <a href="http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/6469952cdbc19a4585257cac0053e637!OpenDocument">states</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, no one seems to know for sure how widely nanotech is being used in packaging, or what the health consequences are. And that's potentially a big problem stemming from some very small stuff.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Health Top Stories Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:00:27 +0000 Tom Philpott 253811 at http://www.motherjones.com Will California's Drought Bring About $7 Broccoli? http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/06/california-drought-water-produce-fruit-vegetables <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="sun wilting broccoli" class="image" src="/files/california-drought-broccoli630.jpg"><div class="caption">Illustration: Christoph Hitz</div> </div> <p>When people tell you to "eat your veggies," they're really urging you to take a swig of California water. The state churns out <a href="http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/" target="_blank">nearly half</a> of all US-grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts; farms use <a href="http://www.californiawater.org/cwi/docs/CIT_AWU_REPORT_v2.pdf" target="_blank">80 percent</a> of its water. For decades, that arrangement worked out pretty well. Winter precipitation replenished the state's aquifers and covered its mountains with snow that fed rivers and irrigation systems during the summer. But last winter, for the third year in a row, the rains didn't come, likely making this the <a href="http://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/california-facing-worst-drought-record" target="_blank">driest 30-month stretch</a> in the state's recorded history. So what does the drought mean for your plate? Here are a few points to keep in mind:</p> <p><strong>The abnormally wet period when California emerged as our fresh-produce powerhouse may be over.</strong> <a href="http://geography.berkeley.edu/people/person_detail.php?person=25" target="_blank">B. Lynn Ingram</a>, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California-Berkeley and author of <a href="http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520268555" target="_blank"><em>The West Without Water</em></a>, says the 20th century was a rain-soaked anomaly compared to the region's long-term history. If California reverts to its drier norm, farmers could expect an average of 15 percent less precipitation in the coming decades, and climate change could exacerbate that. Less rain means more irrigation water diverted from already dwindling rivers&mdash;bad news for river fish such as the threatened <a href="http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=E070" target="_blank">delta smelt</a>. Wells won't save the state, either: Farmers are already pumping the groundwater that lies deep under their farms much faster than it can be naturally recharged.</p> <p><strong>Cotton out, orchards in.</strong> California farmers have increasingly turned toward orchard crops like nuts, grapes, and stone fruit. That's because those crops <a href="http://www.eq-cap.com/wp-content/uploads/The_Opportunity_in_Perrmanent_Crops-2013_09_04.pdf" target="_blank">bring more return</a> for the water invested than lower-value row crops like <a href="http://apps.cdfa.ca.gov/frep/docs/Cotton_Production_CA.pdf" target="_blank">cotton</a>, rice, and vegetables. But they also make for less flexibility: A broccoli farmer can let land lie fallow during a drought year, but an almond farmer has to keep those trees watered or lose a long-term investment.</p> <p><strong>California will keep getting nuttier.</strong> According to US Geological Survey hydrologist <a href="http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3729&amp;from=rss#.Ux-xNuddWM4" target="_blank">Michelle Sneed</a>, it's not family farms that are sucking up the most water. Rather, it's large finance firms like <a href="http://www.prudential.com/view/page/public" target="_blank">Prudential</a>, <a href="https://www.tiaa-cref.org/public/index.html" target="_blank">TIAA-CREF</a>, and <a href="http://haig.jhancock.com/" target="_blank">Hancock Agricultural Investment Group</a>. To cash in on <a href="http://www.growingproduce.com/fruits-nuts/nuts/china-a-game-changer-for-walnuts/" target="_blank">surging demand</a> <a href="http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/OI_Report_Down_on_the_Farm.pdf" target="_blank">for nuts</a> among China's growing middle class, these companies are <a href="http://www.manulifeam.com/Real_Assets_for_Real_Diversification/About_Hancock_Agricultural_Investment_Group.aspx" target="_blank">buying up</a> California farmland and <a href="http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/OI_Report_Down_on_the_Farm.pdf" target="_blank">plunking down nut orchards</a>; acres devoted to pistachios <a href="http://www.acpistachios.org/pdf/2011Statistics.pdf" target="_blank">jumped nearly 50 percent</a> between 2006 and 2011, and the almond orchard area <a href="http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201305almac.pdf" target="_blank">expanded 11 percent</a>. Nuts are some of the thirstiest perennial crops around, with a single almond requiring a <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/02/wheres-californias-water-going" target="_blank">gallon of water</a> and a pistachio taking three-quarters of a gallon. So when the finance companies snatch up farms in the Central Valley, they're also grabbing groundwater&mdash;and California places no <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/state-water-withdrawal-regulations.aspx" target="_blank">statewide </a><a href="http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2010/rsrc/groundwater/groundwater_032410.aspx" target="_blank">limits</a> on how landowners can exploit the water beneath their land. Even Texas, a state known for its deregulatory zeal, <a href="http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2010/rsrc/groundwater/groundwater_032410.aspx" target="_blank">has stricter rules</a>.</p> <p><strong>Mexico and China won't </strong><strong>fi</strong><strong>x this for us. </strong><a href="http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf" target="_blank">Nearly half</a> of the fruit and <a href="http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf" target="_blank">almost a quarter</a> of the vegetables we eat come from abroad, mainly from Mexico, Canada, China, and Chile. But water supplies are dwindling worldwide. Mexico, for example, supplies <a href="http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf" target="_blank">36 percent</a> of our fruit and vegetable imports, almost all of it in the winter months. Most of that produce is grown in Sinaloa and Baja California, states that also are under <a href="http://www.oecd.org/gov/regional-policy/Making%20Water%20Reform%20Happen%20_%20Mexico_Jan18.pdf" target="_blank">intense water stress</a>, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Parts of the Mediterranean have a <a href="http://www.meteor.iastate.edu/~kuballc/portfolio/406%20Version%202.pdf" target="_blank">California-like climate</a> suitable for year-round farming, yet those places, too, have <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012825211000134" target="_blank">severe water issues</a> (and an <a href="http://www.cairn.info/mediterra-2012-english--9782724612486-page-345.htm" target="_blank">already-ravenous market</a> for their goods in Europe). Even Southern Hemisphere countries like Chile, from which we get <a href="http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf" target="_blank">8 percent</a> of our imported produce, face serious water challenges.</p> <p><strong>But the Midwest could.</strong> According to a 2010 Iowa State University <a href="http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2010-03-selected-measures-economic-values-increased-fruit-and-vegetable-production-and-consumption-upper-mid.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, just 270,000 acres of land&mdash;about what you'd find in a single Iowa county, and a <a href="http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/quickfacts.asp" target="_blank">tiny</a> <a href="http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Illinois/Publications/Current_News_Release/Pr-June-2013-Acreage-and-Grain-Stocks-Reports.pdf" target="_blank">fraction</a> of the tens of millions of acres devoted to corn&mdash;could supply everyone in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin with half of their annual tomatoes, strawberries, apples, and onions, and a quarter of their kale, cucumbers, and lettuce. Add another 270,000 acres and the region's farmers could grow enough for the parts of the country that aren't as well suited for expanding fruit and veggie production, such as the Northeast, where <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/377487/eib92_2_.pdf" target="_blank">land is too expensive</a> and development pressures too high.</p> <p><strong>So why aren't we seeding the heartland with lettuce already?</strong> The problem is that fruits and veggies would <a href="http://www.swwrpc.org/Publications/Local%20Food%20Prospectus%20for%20the%20TriState%20Region.pdf" target="_blank">require</a> a far different kind of infrastructure from the huge mechanical harvesters and grain bins used for corn and soy (most of which goes to <a href="http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html" target="_blank">feed livestock</a>, not people). The transition would be pricey, and so far, few farmers have taken the chance. But the calculus could soon change: The US population will <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html" target="_blank">continue to grow</a>, and, if current nutritional recommendations hold, so should our appetite for produce. This year, for example, a Harvard <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/school-meal-standards-increase-fruit-and-vegetable-consumption/" target="_blank">study</a> found that after a 2012 change in federal school lunch standards, US students consumed 16 percent more vegetables. Eventually, California's water issues will mean "large and lasting effects" on your supermarket bill, the US Department of Agriculture <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings.aspx#.Uz3YS8eLmeQ" target="_blank">warned</a> in February. Once the era of $7 a pound broccoli dawns, setting up the Midwest to grow fruits and veggies might not look so expensive after all.</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Economy Food and Ag Top Stories Mon, 09 Jun 2014 10:00:07 +0000 Tom Philpott 248811 at http://www.motherjones.com Over Easy: An Egg King Gets Dethroned http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/06/over-easy-one-time-king-us-egg-production-cops-plea <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Remember the <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/SALMONELLA/ENTERITIDIS/INDEX.HTML" target="_blank">salmonella outbreak of 2010</a>, the one that that sickened 2,000 people and led to the recall of more than a half-billion eggs?</p> <p>A federal investigation has pulled the curtain back on the way the man at the center of the outbreak, Jack DeCoster, ran his massive egg empire. He and his son Peter DeCoster have pleaded guilty to the "distribution of adulterated eggs in interstate commerce," resulting in the 2010 outbreak, the US Department of Justice <a href="http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/June/14-civ-591.html">reports</a>.</p> <p>And that's not all. One of DeCoster's companies, Quality Egg, also copped to attempting to bribe a USDA inspector, not once but twice in 2010, to allow it to send out eggs that didn't meet the agency's quality standards. The company also admitted to falsifying expiration dates on egg cartons "with the intent to mislead state regulators and retail egg customers regarding the true age of the eggs," between 2006 and 2010.&nbsp;</p> <p>Even before these revelations, the episode had revealed gaps in how the US regulatory system handles massive livestock operations. DeCoster's own company-run<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/business/15egg.html?_r=0"> tests had found salmonella in its facilities</a> before the outbreak, but it continued churning out eggs. Shortly before the outbreak, US Department of Agriculture inspectors <a href="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703960004575482091768513872?mg=reno64-wsj&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052748703960004575482091768513872.html">had noted </a>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/09/03/egg-farm-workers-say-complaints-ignored/">filthy conditions</a> but didn't act to halt them&mdash;they were there to inspect egg size, not cleanliness. The Food and Drug Administration, which does regulate food safety in large egg operations, filed a <a href="http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/ucm224399.pdf">damning report</a> on DeCoster's facilities&mdash;but only <a href="http://grist.org/article/2010-08-31-after-a-half-billion-bad-eggs-get-fda-reveals-filthy-conditions/">after</a> those half-billion suspect eggs had been trucked out to supermarkets nationwide.</p> <p>And though DeCoster ran no corporate empire along the lines of Tyson or Smithfield Foods, his egg fiefdom was quite large. My reporting at the time <a href="http://grist.org/article/food-its-official-jack-decoster-rules-the-u-s-egg-roost/">established</a> that the companies he controlled accounted for more then 10 percent of US laying hens&mdash;more than any other egg producer.</p> <p>DeCoster <em>pere et fils </em>face prison sentences of up to one year; fines of $100,000 each; and a "term of supervised release after any imprisonment for up to one year," the DOJ reports.</p> <p>Thus, presumably, ends an illustrious career at the heights of industrial-scale agriculture. Previous highlights include:</p> <p>&nbsp;&bull; In 2002, one of DeCoster's companies paid a <a href="http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-30-02-b.cfm" target="_blank">$1.5 million settlement </a>after women at one of his Iowa plants "alleged they were subjected to sexual harassment (including rape), abuse, and retaliation" by supervisory workers.</p> <p>&bull; In 2000 he got himself <a href="http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/protecting_consumers/2000_news/6_15_decoster.html">declared</a> a "habitual offender" of Iowa's manure management laws by the state's attorney general.</p> <p>&bull; In 1996, Robert Reich, then the US labor secretary, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/29/us/in-maine-egg-empire-is-under-fire.html">slapped</a> a $3.6 million fine on DeCoster's Maine egg operation for labor violations. Reich denounced the company as ''an agricultural sweatshop" where the workers are treated like ''animals."</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Fri, 06 Jun 2014 19:08:50 +0000 Tom Philpott 253561 at http://www.motherjones.com This Video Shows What Happens to Baby Turkeys at the Butterball Plant http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/06/turkey-butterball-undercover-video <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/OJovxS9-RTQ?rel=0" width="560"></iframe></p> <p>There's no particularly egregious act of cruelty in the above video expos&eacute; of a Butterball turkey hatchery in North Carolina&mdash;no one stomps a screeching bird, or whacks one with a rod as these videos from <a href="http://youtu.be/D5LM06ZvCk4">2011</a> and <a href="http://youtu.be/PRxNj3bbqyc">2012</a> show. What the latest undercover video investigation by the animal-welfare group Mercy For Animals reveals is quite banal: the reduction of newborn turkey chicks to assembly-line widgets, material inputs whose result will fill millions of sandwiches. (Butterball raises <a href="http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/butterball-turkey-trots-yr-103850">a fifth</a> of all US-grown turkeys).</p> <p>We see just-hatched birds dumped onto conveyor belts and whisked along, occasionally getting a limb stuck in factory machinery. The severely injured ones get tossed unceremoniously into the hole of a machine, where, a voiceover informs us, "they'll be ground up alive." The surviving ones get lifted by workers into machines that cut off their toes and burn off their beaks. Then it's on to a truck and off to a factory farm, the voiceover declares.</p> <p>The suffering we see can't be blamed on the viciousness of a rogue employee, as often happens after video-captured abuses. (Several Butterball employees <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/25/butterball-animal-cruelty_n_2758472.html" target="_blank">were convicted of animal abuse</a> in the wake of earlier Mercy for Animals investigations.) The scandal here lies in the routine practice, not spectacular violence.</p> <p>It's something that meat eaters have a right to know about before they bite into a turkey sandwich. And it's something that the industry is fighting hard to keep out of sight and mind. Last year, the North Carolina legislature <a href="http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/05/ag-gag-battle-moves-on-to-north-carolina/#.U490J4LgXrR" target="_blank">introduced a proposal</a> that would criminalize the act of infiltrating a factory farm and documenting what goes on behind closed doors&mdash;a classic<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/06/ag-gag-laws-mowmar-farms" target="_blank"> "ag-gag" bill </a>of the type documented by Ted Genoways in <em>Mother Jones</em> last year. According to Mercy For Animals, the ag-gag provisions have generated major pushback within the state, but could still pass this year.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Wed, 04 Jun 2014 23:08:46 +0000 Tom Philpott 253416 at http://www.motherjones.com Your Vanilla Ice Cream Is About to Get Weirder http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/06/synthetic-biology-vanilla <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Synthetic biology&mdash;or "synbio" for short&mdash;is the stuff of science fiction brought to life. Whereas standard-issue biotechnology involves inserting a gene from one organism into another, synbio entails stuff like&nbsp;inserting computer-generated DNA sequences into living cells: i.e, creating new organisms altogether. And the technology has made a major breakthrough: A company called Evolva has <a href="http://www.evolva.com/products/vanilla" target="_blank">managed to create </a>a compound called vanillin&mdash;the one that gives vanilla beans their distinctive and wildly popular flavor&mdash;grown not on a vine but rather in a culture of synthetic yeast.</p> <p>Even though you'll likely soon be ingesting its products, synbio&mdash;like nanotechnology, which I looked at in <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/nanotech-food-safety-fda-nano-material">two</a> <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/regulation-nanoparticles-workplace-exposure-hazards">posts</a> last week&mdash;is virtually unregulated and can show up in consumer products without any labeling requirements. But unlike nanotech, whose tiny particles <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/">already pervade more than 1600 consumer products</a> (including 96 food ones), the industry around synthetic biology is only beginning its push its inventions into things we encounter daily.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/06/synthetic-biology-vanilla"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Science Top Stories Wed, 04 Jun 2014 10:00:10 +0000 Tom Philpott 253281 at http://www.motherjones.com Tom's Kitchen: Farmhouse-Style Roasted Potato and Egg Scramble http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/toms-kitchen-farmhouse-style-roasted-potato-egg-scramble <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the years I spent working on a small organic farm in North Carolina, we'd often spend the wee hours of the morning harvesting a variety of vegetables. One of my favorite crops to pick was potatoes, which required a kind of subterranean treasure hunt. One of us would plunge a pitchfork into the earth and upturn a potato plant, and another, on hands and knees, would quickly snatch the dirt-caked orbs dangling from the roots and place them in a bucket.</p> <p>Occasionally, a potato would get "speared"&mdash;unintentionally stabbed by the fork&mdash;making it unmarketable. We'd separate them out, and march them into the kitchen for a post-harvest "second breakfast" of potatoes, just-laid eggs, and any other vegetables on hand. Early-morning harvests generated a fierce hunger, and nothing satisfied it quite like these just-dug treasures roasted in a hot oven&mdash;sweet, creamy, and sumptuous, justifying their name in French: <em>pomme de terre</em>, or apple of the earth.</p> <p>Now when I go the the farmers market, I can never resist "new" potatoes, which are just potatoes that haven't been stored long. Recently, at the stand of an excellent Austin farm called <a href="http://greengatefarms.net/">Green Gate</a>, I spied some purple potatoes&mdash;which are not only <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44345789/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/potatoes-may-help-lower-blood-pressure-purple-ones#.U4jMbYLgXrR">rich in health-giving phytochemicals</a>, but also deliver an extra dose of earthy flavor.&nbsp; I grabbed a couple handfuls, came home, and tried to recapture that farmhouse magic.</p> <p>Note: You can omit the eggs and just use the below recipe as a guide for roasting potatoes.</p> <p><strong>Farmhouse-Style Roasted Potato and Egg Scramble</strong><br><em>Serves two</em></p> <p><em>Ingredients</em><br> About .75 pounds new potatoes, preferably blue or purple, chopped into bite-sized pieces<br> Olive oil<br> Sea salt<br> 1-2 shallots, minced<br> 3-4 eggs from pastured chickens<br> A few slices of decent cheese&mdash;I used <a href="http://www.organicvalley.coop/products/cheese/grassmilk-cheese/">Organic Valley "Grassmilk" raw cheddar</a><br> Some coarsely chopped herbs, for garnish. (I used cilantro, but parsley, chives, and even arugula would all work great.)</p> <p>Adjust your oven's top rack to between 6-8 inches below the broiler (you'll be finishing the potatoes under the broiler). Turn the oven to 400 degrees F and insert a large cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed, over-proof skillet. Your going to want to cover it, so find an oven-proof cover that will work with the pan before proceeding.</p> <p>Dab the chopped potatoes dry with a towel. When the oven comes to temperature, remove the skillet. Proceed with caution: It will be blisteringly hot. Add enough oil to cover the bottom, and drop in the potatoes along with a good pinch of salt. Using a spatula, toss the potatoes around in the pan until they are well-coated in oil. Cover the skillet and return it to the oven. The cover will help the potatoes cook faster by essentially steaming them in their own moisture.</p> <p>While the potatoes are cooking, crack the eggs into a bowl, along with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, and whisk them together with a fork until the yolks and whites are just combined.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/eggs2.jpg"></div> <p>Check the potatoes every ten minutes or so by plunging a fork into one of the larger pieces. When the fork penetrates easily, it's time to remove the skillet's cover, turn off the oven's bake function, and turn the broiler on to its highest setting. Place the skillet under the broiler and cooking, checking often, until they're brown and crisp on one side. Flip them with a spatula, and brown/crisp them on the other.&nbsp; Remove the skillet, placing it on the stove top. Turn off the broiler and shut the oven door.</p> <p>Add the chopped shallots to the pan along with a small glug of oil, tossing it all with a spatula. The pan will still be sizzling hot, and will cook the shallots. When the sizzling has calmed down, turn the heat to low and carefully pour the mixed eggs over the potatoes, covering the skillet bottom with the eggs. When the edges have set, flip the eggs with a spatula. Lay the cheese slices onto the eggs, and return the skillet to the still-hot oven until the cheese has just melted&mdash;a couple of minutes.</p> <p>Serve with a green salad, toast, and white wine for dinner, or tortillas and coffee for breakfast.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Sat, 31 May 2014 10:00:16 +0000 Tom Philpott 253101 at http://www.motherjones.com What If Nanoparticles Are Sickening American Workers Who Don't Even Know They're Being Exposed? http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/regulation-nanoparticles-workplace-exposure-hazards <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>On Wednesday, I wrote about how nanotechnology&mdash;which involves microscopic particles of common substances&mdash;is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/nanotech-food-safety-fda-nano-material" target="_blank">rapidly pervading the food supply</a>, despite health concerns raised by the Food and Drug Administration. But food is just one of the ways people interact with this ubiquitous and little-discussed technology. Another one is the workplace.</p> <p>Nanoparticles are known to be used used in more than 1,600 consumer products, from <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/antibacterial-silver-athletic-and-lounging-socks/">athletic socks</a> and <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/antibacterial-sheet-and-pillowcase-sets/">bed sheets</a> to <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/search-products/?title=toothpaste">toothpaste</a>. Globally, the nanotech industry <a href="http://www.bccresearch.com/pressroom/nan/global-nanotechnology-market-reach-%2448.9-billion-2017">is worth</a> about $20 billion per year. That's a lot of superfine particles that have to be manufactured, delivered, and added to the various end products by workers.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/05/regulation-nanoparticles-workplace-exposure-hazards"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Labor Regulatory Affairs Science Top Stories nanotechnology Thu, 29 May 2014 10:00:06 +0000 Tom Philpott 252911 at http://www.motherjones.com Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/nanotech-food-safety-fda-nano-material <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The rapid emergence of nanotechnology suggests that size does, indeed, matter. It turns out that if you break common substances like silver and nickel into really, really tiny particles&mdash;measured in nanometers, which are billionths of a meter&mdash;they behave in radically different ways. For example, regular silver, the stuff of fancy tableware, doesn't have any obvious place in sock production. But nano-size silver particles&nbsp;apparently do. According to boosters, when embedded in the fabric of socks, microscopic silver particles are "strongly antibacterial to a wide range of pathogens, absorb sweat, and by killing bacteria help eliminate unpleasant foot odor." (By most definitions, a particle qualifies as "nano" when it's 100 nanometers wide or less. By contrast, a human hair clocks in at about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.)</p> <p>According to the <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/">Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies</a> (PEN)&mdash;a joint venture of Virginia Tech and the Wilson Center&mdash;there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market today. If <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/smartsilver-anti-odor-nanotechnology-underwear/">SmartSilver Anti-Odor Nanotechnology Underwear</a> sounds like a rather intimate application for this novel technology, consider that the PEN database lists 96 food items currently on US grocery shelves that contain unlabeled nano ingredients. Examples include <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/silk-original-soy-milk/">Silk Original Soy Milk</a>, <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/rice-dream-rice-drink/">Rice Dream Rice Drink,</a> <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/hersheys-bliss-dark-chocolate/">Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolate</a>, and Kraft's iconic <a href="http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/products/kraft-american-single/">American Cheese Singles</a>, all of which now contain nano-size titanium dioxide<a href="#correction">*</a>. As recently as 2008, only eight US food products were known to contain nanoparticles, according to a <a href="http://www.foe.org/projects/food-and-technology/nanotechnology">recent analysis </a>from Friends of the Earth&mdash;a more than tenfold increase in just six years.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/05/nanotech-food-safety-fda-nano-material"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 28 May 2014 10:00:06 +0000 Tom Philpott 252731 at http://www.motherjones.com Did Scientists Just Solve the Bee Collapse Mystery? http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/smoking-gun-bee-collapse <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It's a hard-knock life, scouring the landscape for pollen to sustain a beehive. Alight upon the wrong field, and you might encounter fungicides, <a href="http://www.agriculture.com/crops/pesticides/fungicides/flushing-out-fungicide-trigle_180-ar43227">increasingly used on corn and soybean crops</a>, and <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/authors/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0070182">shown</a> to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/07/bee-colony-collapse-disorder-fungicides">harm honeybees at tiny levels</a>. Get hauled in to pollinate California's vast almond groves, as <a href="http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572">60 percent of US honeybees</a> do, and you'll likely make contact with a group of chemicals called adjuvants&mdash;allegedly "inert" pesticide additives that have <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/04/california-almond-farms-blamed-honeybee-die">emerged as a prime suspect for a large bee die-off during this year's almond bloom</a>.</p> <p>The hardest-to-avoid menace of all might be the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, widely used not only on big Midwestern crops like corn and soybeans <a href="http://e360.yale.edu/feature/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture/2645/">but also on</a> cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. They're even common in <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/01/bee-killing-pesticides-not-just-corn-fields">yard and landscaping products</a>. I've written before about the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/03/bayer-pesticide-bees-studies" target="_blank">growing weight of science</a> linking these lucrative pesticides, marketed by European agrichemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, to declining bee health, including the annual die-offs known as colony collapse disorder, which began in the winter of 2005-06.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/tom-philpott/2014/05/smoking-gun-bee-collapse"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Tom Philpott Animals Food and Ag Science Top Stories Tue, 20 May 2014 10:00:20 +0000 Tom Philpott 252206 at http://www.motherjones.com