Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Buying Organic, Buying Smart.

There's a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today, which because of the subscription stuff I had to get through the back fence.

The gist of the article is, the potential benefits of buying organic are a mixed bag, and buying organic is not necessarily the more healthy choice. Here's a few highlights:

  • If the fruit and vegetables you buy are already low in pesticide residue, buying organic may not be anything more than a personal decision.

  • In meat and dairy, organic may be more healthy if one is concerned about hormone or antibiotic residues.

  • Organic does not always mean "family farm produced", and that is becoming less and less likely as big hitters like Walmart get green.

  • The benefits of organic food are in fresh products, not packaged and processed foods.

  • Organic seafood does not yet exist.

There are a couple of points that are not made in the article.

  • Organic food that travels a couple thousand miles in the back of a motor truck isn't doing the environment one bit of good. That's the concept of "food miles"-how far an article of food travels and what it costs to get to your table. It stands to reason that locally grown produce is fresher and easier on the planet if it comes from right down the road.

  • Supporting local producers is a way to keep your money in local circulation among your friends and neighbors. Charity begins at home, not half a world away among strangers.

  • Most important, every dollar you spend is a political statement about the kind of world you want your kids to live in.

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has a lot to say on the subject of the politics and ethics of eating. It's well worth a look. I didn't think they'd mind if I borrowed their IS an important issue and I want to get the word out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Amish Cheese Cooperative Shuts Down

It's reported in the Register today that the award winning Golden Ridge Cheese Cooperative in Cresco, Iowa has ceased operations in the wake of production quality problems and philosophical differences among the members. This will be a disheartening blow to gastronomes everywhere, ans it will mean an end to the cooperative's famous blue cheese-at least for now.

Old Order Amish members founded the cooperative, and since then there have been differences over the use of electricity and other modern processing methods at the plant.

It's expected that a buyer will be found in a short period of time.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Canada Takes Issue With Corn Price Supports

It is reported in today's Des Moines Register that the Canadian government has decided to take a complaint to the WTO with respect to the price supports that US farmers receive. Canada says that the price supports encourage overproduction and distort trade. It is said that Canada's complaint is similar to one that Brazil brought over US cotton price supports.

Paradoxically the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ruled last year that Canadian corn growers had not been harmed by US price supports.

Quite possibly the reverse is true. US price supports stabilize the market price farmers receive by setting a floor under it. If the market price goes below the cost of production, the supports kick in. Because the US corn market is big enough to swing world market prices, it's arguable that the support works to the benefit of all corn farmers in the world, courtesy of the US taxpayer. Without that safety net there'd be nothing to prevent the North American market from crashing and taking Canada's corn growers along with it.

While we're on the subject of international trade, one has to wonder: if no corn grower in Canada stands to gain by this, what's the point?

The point is, it's a political realignment. By this, Canada can gain credibility with those in the WTO who are waving the bloody shirt of the third world dirt farmer in his loincloth in an effort to bust open world markets for their grain, which IS produced on the backs of those long suffering souls. Brazil is one of these underdeveloped countries-and it's the largest soy exporter in the world. India and South Africa aren't far behind and Argentina's in that crew as well.

If Canada's so concerned about free markets, they'd abolish the Canadian Wheat Board tomorrow morning before coffee break and have done with it. But they won't, because they aren't. This is about posturing and positioning.

I had a discussion with one of my correspondents on this subject not too long ago. He's in India. I made the same argument, that the price the Indian farmer gets for wheat is due, in some measure, to US price supports. He said "Well, our farmers don't take grain to the elevator and get a price. They are mostly small farmers and they sell the grain to a middleman who's usually the village loan shark. They take what they can get."

I told my friend that rather than that being an argument for demolishing price supports in the US and posturing before the WTO with a cynical appeal to the poor third world farmer, it was an argument for agricultural reform in his own country.

Stay tuned....this issue will be around for a while.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Eighth Circuit Invalidates Initiative 300: UPDATE

Jones v. Gale, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 30588 (8th Cir. Dec. 13, 2006)

The eighth circuit invalidated Initiative 300, the Nebraska Anti Corporate Farming statute recently. Six people with interests in Nebraska farmland filed suit against the state, alleging that the statute violated the 'Dormant Commerce' clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Dormant commerce analysis, once thought to be the bane of all law students, now seems to be gaining ground. Simply stated, laws that unduly burden or discriminate against interstate commerce are invalid under dormant commerce clause analysis. The court found that Initiative 300 was both facially discriminatory and invalid because of its discriminatory intent.