Food & Farm Policy Issue Update: Food Fights

Food has long been associated with peace and harmony. The first Thanksgiving, the phrase “breaking bread together,” it’s all about getting along. But if you look at some recent headlines, you can see that food is also a frequent point of contention. Whether it’s Taco Bell, pork production, or genetically-engineered alfalfa, opinions differ and billions of dollars are at stake. So try to digest this:

  • “Is there sand in your taco meat?” That is one of many questions that Taco Bell asks and answers on a new web page in response to a class action suit claiming that their beef taco filling may not have that much beef at all. (The answer is “no,” by the way.) They also took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal under the banner “Thank you for suing us,” and then defending themselves against the charges. Whether the plaintiffs have a legitimate beef or not (sorry!) the hoopla shows the power consumers have to hold big restaurant chains and food producers accountable. Taco Bell was so affected by the lawsuit that they have released an entire new ad campaign to counter it.
  • Speaking of meat, there has been an open discussion inThe New York Times about the safety of the meat we eat, the safety of employees and sustainability. In his “Food Manifesto,” celebrated chef Mark Bittman addresses unhealthy and unsafe food production in America. He goes on to offer ways we can fix these problems, suggesting that we end government subsidies for processed foods, begin subsidies for those who produce food for direct consumption, break up the USDA and FDA, and tax the marketing of unhealthy foods. In response to the piece, a representative of the National Pork Producers Council fired back with his own letter to the editor, boasting of new efforts to keep facilities clean and the fines put in place by “tough new federal regulations.” He also states that the livestock is kept in “safe and comfortable conditions.” And while he seems to be on board with “sustainable alternatives,” he’s quick to take a jab at the costliness of that route.
  • In one of the best articles I have read in a long time Organic Consumers Association founder Ronnie Cummins accused the"organic elites" of succumbing to Monsanto. Cummins rails on Whole Foods MarketOrganic Valley and Stonyfield Farm dropping their opposition to mass commercialization of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops. He posits that the reasons their tune has changed is because Whole Foods and Stonyfield’s CEOs are personal friends and financial contributors to now USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has cozy ties to the biotech industry and bioengineering giant Monsanto. After the article received some attention, Cummins hit with another piece in which he dissects Monsanto and their alleged wrongdoing. The uproar centers around Alfalfa, which the author notes is currently the U.S.’s fourth largest crop and 93 percent of the time is not sprayed with toxic herbicides.

What’s on your plate? Leave your thoughts and comments below.