Daily Essentials | 16 August 2016


SMITTEN KITCHEN | Chile-Lime Melon Salad

If you go to Mexico City and leave without a pressing, relentless craving for melon, or really just about any fruit, sprinkled with tajín (salsa en polva), a branded seasoning powder comprised of chiles, lime and salt, I think you need to go back because you did it wrong.

BLOOMBERG | DowDuPont Deal Faces In-Depth Probe as EU Targets Seeds, Crops

Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. face months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe into the duo’s plans to create the world’s biggest chemicals company.

The European Commission said Thursday it needs to further probe “whether the deal may reduce competition in areas such as crop protection, seeds and certain petrochemicals.” The Brussels-based authority extended its deadline to rule on the tie-up until Dec. 20.

“The livelihood of farmers depends on access to seeds and crop protection at competitive prices,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said in an e-mailed statement. “We need to make sure that the proposed merger does not lead to higher prices or less innovation for these products.”

… Dow and Dupont shareholders approved the 50-50 merger last month. The companies still must clear other global antitrust hurdles. The U.S. Justice Department in February issued a second request for information on the combination, launching an in-depth probe. Dow and DuPont notified China’s competition agency of the deal in May and filed with the EU for approval in June.

AGRI-PULSE | Court Gives EPA Firm Deadline on Chlorpyrifos

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given the Environmental Protection Agency an additional three months to decide whether to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos.

In a decision issued Friday, August 12, a three-judge panel ordered EPA to make a final decision by March 31, 2017. The court added that it “will not grant any further extensions.” EPA had asked for six more months, and pesticide manufacturers and commodity groups had sought an extra year. Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council said EPA should comply with the December 30 deadline imposed by the court last year.

FOOD POLITICS | MARION NESTLE | The FDA’s unfortunate ruling on GRAS regulations

The FDA has announced its Final Rule on Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

The FDA explains:

Unlike food additives, GRAS substances are not subject to FDA pre-market approval; however, they must meet the same safety standards as approved food additives…The GRAS criteria require that the safe use of ingredients in human and animal food be widely recognized by the appropriate qualified experts.

Uh oh. “Appropriate qualified experts?” Like those selected by the companies themselves? The FDA has failed the public on this one.

FERN’S AG INSIDER | SAM FROMARTZ | Why the GMO-labeling movement fell short

GMO labeling required no expensive retooling of production lines, no banning of ingredients, no new practices. It was a label that advocates said amounted to a “consumer’s right to know.” Plus, labeling wasn’t unprecedented. As food-studies professor Marion Nestle of New York University points out, “These multinational companies were already labeling in Europe.” As for labeling in the U.S., “I didn’t notice sales of [Mars’] M&Ms dropping off a cliff,” she said.

Yet getting a full GMO label proved tougher than the campaigns by the Humane Society of the United States and others to get millions of egg-laying chickens out of battery cages and pregnant sows out of gestation crates. So why are the animal-welfare advocates succeeding while the GMO labeling camp is falling short? The reasons tell us a lot about how change happens in the food system.

HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA | Kristofor Husted | How Rural Farming Communities Are Fighting Economic Decline

This story is a familiar one for thousands of towns across rural America. It mostly comes down to technology — because of advances like herbicide-resistant seeds and more efficient tractors, farms need fewer employees. The number of farm jobs in the U.S. plummeted by 14 percent between 2001 and 2013, according to the Department of Agriculture.

“What does that mean for a rural community?” asks Mary Hendrickson, a rural sociologist at the University of Missouri, who says there’s a ripple effect. “How are you going to sell insurance if those people aren’t there? How are you going to have a bank if those people aren’t there? How are you going to have a grocery store?”

THE DAILY SIGNAL | THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION | ‘Like Hogs at the Trough,’ Lobbyists Feast on Farm Bill for Subsidies, Food Stamps

Proving that green politics don’t strictly slant red or blue, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway spent two days touring the district of his Democrat counterpart, Rep. Collin Peterson.

Conaway, a Texas Republican, told reporters last week that he already looks forward to working closely with Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, to craft the 2018 farm bill.

Conaway’s office insists his visit with Peterson in Willmar, Minnesota, is just an example of how the Agriculture Committee is a bipartisan oasis in an otherwise gridlocked Congress.

Some Republican aides, operatives, and members disagree. The episode, they tell The Daily Signal, demonstrates how the Agriculture Committee has become an overgrown briar patch of special interests.

GROWING RETURNS | ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND | The snake at the crux of California’s wildlife challenge, and the policy that can solve it

[A] multi-stakeholder effort has been underway for the last several years in California with the goal of improving the process for protecting and restoring wildlife habitat. It’s called the Central Valley Habitat Exchange, also described as “Airbnb for wildlife.”

The core of the Central Valley Habitat Exchange is the habitat quantification tool, which has been designed for multiple species.
EDF staff join farmers and other conservation collaborators in the field to test the habitat quantification tool.

EDF staff join farmers and other conservation collaborators in the field to test the habitat quantification tool.

To extend the Airbnb analogy, the giant garter snake habitat quantification tool is like the set of preferences the snake would fill out to find its perfect home. The tool takes into account the snake’s most vital habitat needs in order to rigorously measure or predict habitat quality at various sites. The outcome? Everyone from farmers to flood agencies is equipped with the information they need to manage their lands and projects in a way that would earn them a five-star review from the snake (and fish and wildlife agencies).

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BLOOMBERG VIEW | MEGAN MCARDLE | Early Returns From Seattle’s Minimum-Wage Experiment

So what did they find? People are getting paid a higher wage — and yet, earnings didn’t rise much, because people are also working less. People who made less than $11 an hour before the law took effect saw, on average, a modest bump in their paycheck (about $72 every three months). The median number of hours worked fell by about four hours per quarter.

If you can make slightly more money by working slightly fewer hours, who wouldn’t take that deal? The trouble is that this is the average effect. If the cutbacks in hours worked are “lumpy” — if some people saw big reductions, while others saw little or none — then the people whose hours were reduced a lot could well be worse off, while the people who got the wage hikes and the same number of hours might be substantially better off. This is particularly true if one of those “lumps” consists of people who become unemployed entirely.

Which it seems to…

GRIST | NATHANAEL JOHNSON | Monsanto’s new GMO soybeans are making a hot mess for farmers

You can see signs of Monsanto’s latest belly flop in stricken farms: The leaves are gone from the acres of peach trees on Bill Bader’s orchard in southern Missouri, and soy fields in eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee are curling up and dying.

A lot of the blame falls on Monsanto’s new genetically engineered soybean, Xtend, which is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad roll out this year.

Painted Mountain corn from Stephan Guyenet's garden.
Painted Mountain corn from Stephan Guyenet’s garden.

WHOLE FOOD HEALTH SOURCE | STEPHAN GUYENET | The most slimming tortillas in the world

It’s no secret that I’m an avid food gardener. In the last two years, I’ve moved from exclusively growing vegetables to growing large quantities of staple calorie crops, such as potatoes, flour corn, and long-storing winter squash.

Why do I put so much effort into growing my own food, when I could buy it easily and cheaply at the grocery store? There are a few reasons. First and foremost, I enjoy it. Second, it allows me to grow the healthiest and best-tasting ingredients possible (although I think you can compose a very healthy diet from grocery store foods). Third, it saves a bit of money. And fourth, it gives me a window into the world of my ancestors.

The fourth point is an important one for me, and it’s why I can justify making tortillas the hard way. What’s the hard way, you ask? Well, first you plant corn. Then you water and weed it for several months. Then you harvest the corn, shuck it and dry it on the cob.

THE NEW YORK TIMES | ANAHAD O’CONNOR | Is Teff the New Super Grain?

[M]ost of the teff consumed in North America, Europe and other parts of the world is grown in places like Idaho, the Netherlands, Australia and India. That’s because the Ethiopian government mostly forbids its farmers from exporting teff in a bid to keep the grain affordable at home.

The government imposed the export ban, in part, because of what happened to quinoa, another ancient grain that earned international “super-food” status about 15 years ago. Quinoa was a dietary staple in countries like Bolivia and Peru for centuries. But as the international appetite for it grew, there were media reports that it had become too pricey for many South Americans, including those who depend on it as part of their traditional diets.

Khalid Bomba, the chief executive of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, which oversees the country’s teff production, said Ethiopia is trying to protect its domestic supply of teff as international interest in it grows.

“We don’t want to be in a situation similar to Latin America where they started exporting quinoa and then all of a sudden the local population couldn’t afford it,” he said. “We’ve learned the lesson of quinoa, and that’s just not going to happen in Ethiopia.”

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