Sunday, November 23, 2008

How annoying can one food trend be?

Quite, annoying, actually, but judging by the popularity of Bacon Today ("Daily Updates on the World of Sweet, Sweet Bacon") many people would disagree with that opinion. There's little doubt of the site's founders' enthusiasm for cured side pork, however, and plenty on the site to whet the appetite of all but the most zealous anti-porkists.

At a time when the Internet is awash in recipes for bacon chocolate chip cookies, candied bacon, and bacon Christmas ornaments, it can be reasonably argued that Bacon Today is filling a need.

Features currently include part two in a series about bacon cupcakes, why bacon shouldn't be worshiped, a recipe for bacon-wrapped Turducken, and something about wrapping iPhones in bacon. Oh, there was also an inspiring piece about the British firefighters who rescued two pigs from a burning pen, thereby saving them from becoming bacon.

Is serfdom making a comeback?

South Korean giant Daewoo Logistics Corp. has leased more than 3 million acres in poverty-stricken Madagascar to raise corn and palm trees as a source for palm oil. The lease, good for 99 years, applies to nearly half of that country's arable land. Most notably, according to Financial Times, it looks as if Daewoo will not actually have to pay for its use of the land.

Is Madagascar, a nation already ravaged by the effects of deforestation, now susceptible to the problems of mono-agriculture? About three-quarters of the leased land, largely on the island nation's west coast, will be used to grow corn for which South Korean industry has been struggling to find a steady supply. Over the past year, China which had largely filled the gap, has begun to place restrictions on the amount of corn which may be exported in order to meet supply needs at home.

South Korea banned imports of American corn after StarLink contaminated tortillas found their way into Korean markets. The Koreans only began allowing genetically modified corn back into the country legally in May of this year. Until the ban, the United States supplied South Korea with most of its corn, of which 80 percent is used as animal feed. Most of the remaining 20 percent or so goes into the production of corn starch which is used in a wide variety of food products.

In lieu of payment, evidently, Daewoo has pledged infrastructure development and jobs, although whether any of the food it grows in Madagascar will stay in that country is up for conjecture, said the Financial Times piece.

Daewoo's venture in Madagascar is part of a larger trend by industrialized Asian nations including various Arab Gulf states looking for reliable supplies of raw materials and, now, food in Africa. According to Financial Times, Daewoo is not the first Korean company to make inroads in Madagascar.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recall Friday

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, or the Food and Drug Administration, has issued the following recall(s) over the past week:

Nov. 17, 2008 - Nestlé Prepared Foods Company of Springfield, Utah, is recalling approximately 879,565 pounds of frozen chicken meals that may contain foreign materials. The problem was discovered after the company received consumer complaints and a report of one injury. The company identified the objects as small pieces of hard plastic. (More information)

Nov. 20, 2008 - PANOS brands, of Saddle Brook, N.J., is recalling Vegan Rella Cheddar Block, (a cheese substitute) with a sell-by date of 12/09/2008. This product is being recalled because it may possibly contain an undeclared milk protein. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk protein run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product. No other lot or variety of Vegan is involved. (More information)

Nov. 20, 2008 - Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. is initiating a voluntary recall of 24 oz. Wegmans Italian Classics Seasoned Tomato Sauce with a use-by- date of 11/26/08, UPC 77890 79010. The product is being recalled because the package may actually contain a milk ingredient which is not declared on the label. The recall of this product is of concern only to those individuals who have an allergy to milk. Consumption may cause a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction in persons with an allergy to milk. No other code dates are affected by this recall. (More information)

Nov. 14, 2008 - Seattle's Favorite Gourmet Cookies & Dessert Co. of Tukwila, Wash., is recalling Orange Cranberry and Banana Nut Muffin Tops because they contain undeclared milk. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk run the risk of serious or life threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. Orange Cranberry and Banana Nut Muffin Tops were distributed nationwide to coffee shops, espresso stands, and retail outlets. (More information)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kosher kitchens take another hit

Customers for kosher foods are finding it increasingly difficult to put meat on the table. With the closure this week of Agriprocessors main plant in Iowa, and problems at other kosher meat processors in other states, shoppers have been enduring a nationwide shortage of kosher beef and lamb.

It may only get worse. Sara Lee Corp., which owns such names as Sara Lee, Ball Park Franks, and Hillshire Farm, announced Wednesday it is going to close its kosher meat processing operations in Chicago. Sara Lee owns Best's Kosher, Sinai Kosher, Shofar, and Wilno brands.

Approximately 185 people are expected to lose their jobs when the plant closes in January.

Sara Lee, which employs about 44,000 people worldwide, announced plans to close one of its North American plants back in July, but has only now announced it was singling out its kosher meats processing business.

Nationwide, kosher consumers have been finding normally well-stocked meat cases empty, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news wire dedicated to Jewish issues.

Problems began last May when Agriprocessors was raided by Immigration and Naturalization.
Then, "meat buyers began shifting their purchases to other companies, which have struggled to meet the increased demand," reports JTA. " Alle Processing, a New York City kosher meat supplier that has become the largest in the United States with the collapse of Agriprocessors, has had to place a moratorium on new customers, according to several industry insiders."

Bush seeks to gut endangered species laws

President George Bush is rushing to gut regulations that protect endangered species, according to a story from the Associated Press.

Regulations requiring government experts verify proposed construction projects don't pose a threat to endangered wildlife could be relaxed, if the Department of the Interior is able to complete its efforts to rewrite the rules before tomorrow. Assuming they're successful, President-elect Barak Obama would find his hands tied on the matter. The full story appears in the Huffington Post.

California game fish face extinction

Seventeen species of California game fish face "poor chances of survival" and three species of salmon face "very poor chances of survival" according to a report just issued by fish advocacy group California Trout. The report's findings were the lead story in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

The damming of the state's waterways and global warming are two of the factors that threaten the fish, and chances are good they may be extinct before the century's end, says the report.

"Our fish need cold, clean water to survive, but they're getting less and less of it," said Peter Moyle, author of the study and a professor of conservation biology at UC Davis. "Dams block access. Climate change is now looming to exacerbate the threat, and it increases the urgency. All of these things are pushing our fish toward extinction."

California's recreational fishing industry is worth $2 billion to the state's economy, according to another study published earlier this year by California Trout, and each salmon caught in the dammed Klamath River could be worth $200 to the local economy. (Full story)

Biofuels not to blame for high food costs, says biofuel exec

Consumers and officials are pointing their fingers at the wrong people, say biofuel execs in a story published yesterday at Meat & Poultry.

"American consumers should not be fooled by ongoing attempts to misplace blame for this year’s rise in food prices on biofuels," said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Studies by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Purdue University clear the biofuels industry of these charges, Greenwood said. Indeed, the BIO executive adds that the biofuels industry has suffered, as well.

"While agribusiness companies have been impacted by the rapid rise and fall of grain prices, so have biofuel companies."

Bacteria In Mouth Help Make Certain Foods Tasty

ScienceDaily - Scientists in Switzerland are reporting that bacteria in the human mouth play a role in creating the distinctive flavors of certain foods. They found that these bacteria actually produce food odors from odorless components of food, allowing people to fully savor fruits and vegetables. (Full story)

Opposition to possible ag secretary appointment grows

The possibility of President-elect Barak Obama appointing former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture has been raising cackles for the past few weeks. While no appointments have been made, as yet, proponents of organic farming as well as others are starting to take action.

Organic Consumers Association has begun collecting names in a petition drive to convince Obama to consider someone (anyone!) else. Among the arguments OCA raises in its petition:
-Vilsack has been an ardent supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn. These crops pose huge risks to human health and the environment.

Vilsack is a noted proponent of unsustainable and dangerous genetically engineered crops. Even, the biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership. Organic farming does not allow for the use of genetically engineered crops.

-Vilsack has fought strongly to limit states' rights to regulate seed, GE crops, pharma crops and other proactive measures. We believe that municipalities and states have the right to enact laws that protect their welfare, health and the environment.

-Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a shill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Corporations, like Monsanto, are inherently undemocratic and threaten human health and sustainable agriculture with their toxic products.

-Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.
Vilsack makes no secret of his support for biofuels. As the former governor of Iowa, critics say he listened attentively to the demands of Big Pharma and the corn lobby. Even his My Space page touts his enthusiasm for biofuels.

Critics see his appointment, assuming he is appointed, as a win for Monsanto and a continuation of the status quo for consumers. Ezra Klein, in his blog at the American Spectator, writes:
The fact that Obama is already signaling that his chief agricultural appointment will hail from the land of corn, and whose agricultural experience will mainly have been keeping powerful corn interests happy with him, is not a good sign.

Consumers want more action by the FDA, poll finds

Consumers want more inspections of food processing plants, according to a poll by Consumer Reports. While the country's meat processing plants must be inspected daily by the United Stated Department of Agriculture, those plants that fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration have no such requirements.

"While 73 percent polled currently regard the overall food supply as safe, nearly half (48%) said their confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply has decreased," said Consumer Reports in a press release. "A bare majority of Americans feel the government is doing all it can to ensure food safety (54%). Eighty-three percent of respondents are concerned with harmful bacteria or chemicals in food and 81 percent are concerned with the safety of imported food."

Consumers are worried, too, about FDA plans to not require labeling of cloned or genetically engineered meat. That issue will become even more visible as the FDA has just closed the public comment period on its draft plan for how it will approve genetically engineered animals.

Chez Nous wins out over Chez Panisse

Admittedly, it's an unfair headline. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' fabled restaurant and the birthplace of California's food renaissance, is probably weathering the economic storm quite nicely, thank you. But a story in Wednesday's Business section of the San Francisco Chronicle confirmed what many already suspected: grocery stores are faring better than restaurants in this recession.

Why? More people are cooking and eating at home, evidently. While grocery prices are rising, restaurants are raising their prices, too, just to keep their heads above water and an already expensive dining experience is only becoming even pricier. But even grocers are feeling the pinch. While discount retailers Costco and Wal-Mart are seeing strong sales, according to Chron reporter Victoria Colliver, high-end chains like Whole Foods are seeing troublesome declines in their bottom line.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another mad-cow case in British Columbia

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a federal government agency, has confirmed another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a British Columbian dairy cow.

According to the CFIA, the 7-year-old cow's birth farm has been identified and officials have launched an investigation to trace not only the source of the BSE, but to identify the cow's herdmates at birth.

"The age and location of the infected animal are consistent with previous cases detected in Canada," according to a release from CFIA. The animal has not been introduced into either human or animal food supplies.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy incubates for several years and is most commonly identified in older animals. In Canada, cattle are typically slaughtered for food production between 18 and 30 months of age.

The Centers for Disease Control defines BSE as:
...a progressive neurological disorder of cattle that results from infection by an unusual transmissible agent called a prion. The nature of the transmissible agent is not well understood. Currently, the most accepted theory is that the agent is a modified form of a normal protein known as prion protein. For reasons that are not yet understood, the normal prion protein changes into a pathogenic (harmful) form that then damages the central nervous system of cattle.
This is the 19th case of BSE identified in North America. Sixteen cases have been identified in Canada and three in the United States. Of the American cases, one cow was born in Canada. Both nations have imposed rigorous surveillance procedures to identify any new cases. The Food and Drug Administration will begin enforcing new, more rigorous feed regulations in on April 2005 to bring US regulations more in line with those of Canada.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Organics taking a hit in recession economy

Formerly seen as a market stalwart, organic goods are taking a beating in the recession. reports that sales of organic foods is slowing as shoppers begin turning their noses at higher-priced goods. Private labels, those brands produced by retailers, however, are expected to do better as the economy tanks.

"Rising food and gas prices, the credit crunch and economic uncertainty have deeply affected people's shopping habits," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research firm.

For the full story, go here.

FDA finally acts decisively on melamine scare

Months into the melamine crisis, the Food and Drug Administration is finally cracking down on certain categories of Chinese exports.

The FDA announced Thursday it has beefed up its import controls for Chinese dairy products as well as non-dairy proteins. This action follows its last major action when, on Oct. 10, the agency placed an import alert on specific products found to be contaminated with melamine and melamine-related compounds.

Since then, "FDA has collected additional information on the scope of the melamine contamination problem in China," the agency said in a press release, "and determined a countrywide import alert is warranted."

The FDA defines an import alert as "detention without physical examination." The alert has been applied to all milk products, all milk-derived ingredients, and finished food products containing milk. The alert also includes animal feeds: last month, Hong Kong officials reported finding traces of melamine in eggs, possibly as a result of tainted feed fed to chickens.

No reports of injuries as a result of melamine contamination have come to light in the United States, but more than 54,000 infants in China have reportedly suffered kidney and other ailments as a result of consuming contaminated infant formula. Four have died.

Recall Friday

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, or the Food and Drug Administration, has issued the following recall(s) over the past week:

Nov. 8:
R. L. Zeigler Co., Inc., a Selma, Ala., firm, is recalling approximately 28,610 pounds of hot dog products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. This is a Class I recall, categorized as a high risk to health. (More information.)

Nov. 7: Barber Foods Company, a Portland, Maine, establishment, is recalling approximately 41,415 pounds of frozen stuffed chicken products that may contain foreign materials. This is a Class I recall, categorized as a high risk to health. (More information.)

Nov. 7: Nestlé USA, of Glendale, Calif., is voluntarily recalling two production codes of Nestlé Nesquik Strawberry Powder 21.8 ounce that may contain small fragments of aluminum. (More information.)

Nov. 7: Amy's Kitchen Inc. of Santa Rosa, Calif., is voluntarily recalling Tofu Scramble in a Pocket Sandwich Lot 10 H148, because of the presence of milk in a product that is labeled non-dairy. The 4.0 oz net wt frozen product, sold in U.S. grocery stores, comes in a retail package labeled as Amy's Tofu Scramble in a Pocket Sandwich. (More information.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Food processors dismayed by public distrust

Surprise! Americans don't trust big food processors.

Late last month, industry journal Meat and Poultry published a commentary expressing surprise and disappointment that public faith in the country's large meat processors was at a critical low.

"We're losing significant ground on food safety," Charlie Arnot, CEO of [Center for Food Integrity], which is supported by several universities as well as major industry trade associations including the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation. "Ten years ago, consumers saw an outbreak or recall as a food-safety aberration, but now they believe these problems are the norm. Our survey shows that Americans are more concerned about food safety than they are about the war in Iraq." (Meat & Poultry, Oct. 24, 2008)

The Center for Food Integrity, based in Kansas City, Mo., conducted a survey last July of 2,000 American adults. The findings? After being asked to rate the statement "I am confident in the safety of the food I eat" people responded with a mean score of 5.70 out of a possible 10, with 0 being the lowest rating on the scale. Even worse, although hardly surprising given the disasters in food safety over the past couple of years, the mean score dropped even lower - to 4.68 - with the statement "Government food safety agencies are doing a good job ensuring the safety of the food we eat."

According to the survey, Americans are far more trusting of individuals - hence the rising popularity of the locavore movement and CSA farms - than they are of corporate entities.

For the complete article, and more telling statistics, click here (You'll need to register to read it, but registration is free).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kosher consumers face shortages

Consumers who keep kosher may find themselves facing a serious shortage of kosher meats very soon.

Agriprocessors, the Postville, Iowa-based slaughterhouse specializing in kosher meat and poultry, is facing closure following its defaulting on a $35 million loan from a St. Louis bank, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The company has also been reeling after United States Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested nearly half the company's workforce following what, at the time last May, was the largest such action by INS ever. At the end of October, a former top manager was arrested after the company was fined $10 million for labor violations. Agriprocessorshas also received a cut off notice from its power supplier.

The company has been mired in controversy for months. After the INS raids, the company was charged with 31 labor violations, and has been denying charges by the state of Iowa that it pollutes. A Nebraska-based plant owned by Agriprocessors has also closed down. In addition, production at another kosher processing plant, Minnesota's North Star Beef, has come to a halt following a fire at that plant.

According to studies quoted in the Boston Globe, July 30, 86 percent of Orthodox Jews keep kosher homes. That's in contrast to about 25 percent of Conservative Jewish households, and only 5 percent of Reform Jews. Kosher dietary laws cover all aspects of food, from what may be eaten and which foods may be combined with which, to how animals are slaughtered.

Freaky no more

You know the funky looking carrots with two legs that amused you so much as a child, or the rutabagas that bear a closer resemblance to, say, Mother Teresa than other rutabagas? Turns out, it's been illegal to sell them in markets of the European Union. Until now.

The New York Times reported today that EU lawmakers have waived standardization restrictions on a wide number of fruits and vegetables, meaning that misshapen produce can now be sold in stores. Even more bizarre is that several countries have opposed this easing of regulations.