- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a legal complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission against Smithfield Farms, pork supplier for McDonald's. The recent release of the McRib drew attention to the restaurant chain's purchasing practices. Smithfield pitches itself as "100% committed to animal care," yet holds its pigs in gestation crates in unsanitary conditions. HSUS claims that Smithfield is "issuing unlawfully false or misleading representations" about its animals' welfare. It asks the SEC to investigate and stop Smithfield's misleading language on its website and advertisements.
- Last Tuesday, the "Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act" was introduced in both the Senate and the House. The act provides modifications to the Farm Bill, which is up for renewal in 2012. Provisions of the act include a new crop insurance program protecting organic and diversified farms; elimination of existing penalties that discourage farmers from growing fruits and vegetables instead of row crops; development of infrastructure to allow farmers to accept EBT benefits; and reduced barriers to institutional purchasing of local food. The bill currently has six co-sponsors in the Senate and 28 in the House. Meanwhile, the Congressional agriculture committees are still working on a version of the Farm Bill that includes $23 billion in budget cuts, for presentation to the budget supercommittee within the next week.
- One of the biggest barriers to starting a small-scale farm is gaining access to farmland. Small plots have been increasingly bought up by developers for housing, manufacturing, or any number of more profitable ventures. Gilt Taste has a nice story on land trusts, which protect farmland from development by buying it and placing an agricultural easement on the property. The farm's tenants then pay off debt to a reduced property value, while the land trust uses government funds as well as donations to break even on its investment. This system allows new, young, and immigrant farmers to have an affordable way to start their own small businesses.
- Food Politics has a quick synopsis of the recent potato dispute between the Institute of Medicine and the Potato Council. The IOM released recommendations for improvements to the USDA's school lunch standards, including increased diversity of provided vegetables and a limit of two servings per week of potato products. The USDA adopted these recommendations—much to the upset of the Potato Council, who quickly held a press conference and began lobbying against this provision. The Senate followed up by adding a provision to the 2012 agriculture spending bill prohibiting the USDA from limiting the number of servings of any individual vegetable served in school lunches. The episode reveals the politicized nature of national food debates and the USDA's limited ability to implement healthy changes to the school lunch program.
- The Chicago Public School system announced plans to serve antibiotic-free, local chicken in its schools' cafeterias. The 473 participating schools will have scratch-cooked chicken on the menu, including bone-in chicken two to three times a month. CPS bought 1.2 million pounds of antibiotic-free chicken from Amish farms in the Chicago area. This school district is the first in the country to offer antibiotic-free meat at such a large scale. They chose to work with poultry because it is the most popular meat in school lunches.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.