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Spring-cleaning: Hmm, how about a tasty catburger?
Food & Farm File
By Alan Guebert
While the nation’s farmers leap into spring planting, this office is reluctantly digging through the winter drifts of stories gone undone.

At the top of the heap is a bizarre March memo sent by the Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA’s meat and poultry watchdog, to its inspection staff around the nation.

Watchdog is the operative - if not belly-churning - word because, according to the FSIS notice, “non-amenable animal tissue can be included in amenable meat or poultry products produced in official establishments.”

Non-amenable, the memo explains in a reply to field inspectors’ questions about the policy, is any animal tissue not subject to inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Inspection Act.

Hmm, wondered Andrew Martin, the Chicago Tribune’s Washington-based ag reporter who read the notice, could that include ground-up tissue from dogs, cats, deer, rabbits, water buffalo, alligators, kangaroo or, egads, roadkill?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and - whew - thankfully, no.

An FSIS spokesman, quizzed by Martin over the policy, noted the memo simply “clarified previous policies” often clouded by more broad state meat inspection laws. The spokesman also noted that, while not illegal, “There is no place that is producing dog meat.”

And, oh, roadkill cannot become a hamburger helper because it’s slaughtered by Fords and Chevys, not humans. As such, according to the FSIS, a pavement-hugging groundhog or bumper-busted deer is an “adulterated” meat ingredient.

Digging deeper in the tottering story stack turns up a page from the final 2005 Land Stewardship Letter headlined “Myth: Industrial agriculture is efficient.” Circled (presumably by me) is part of the “Myth Buster” answer:

“When both production and distribution (of food) are taken into account, it takes 10 to 15 calories of energy for every calorie of food energy produced, according o the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin.”

For example, the myth buster (www.landstewardshipproject.org) continues, “The more processing done to food, the more energy it burns before it even gets to your mouth. It takes around 500 to 600 calories to process a kilogram of flour or canned fruits and vegetables ... breakfast cereal gobbles up 15,000 calories and instant coffee slurps nearly 19,000 calories.”

At $70 per barrel of crude, this “industrial” food model will soon crack like a robin’s egg.

Another energy fact spills from the clip stack. In 1926, the Ford Model T rattled across 25 miles for each gallon of gas it burned. Eighty years later, in 2006, the average mileage per gallon for the American automobile fleet is 24.5.

Further pile diving reveals a private e-mail from a Land Grant University plant breeder. The e-mail is his reply to my question about turfgrass research money: Is the public research money spent on better lawns and golf courses greater than alfalfa, the nation’s fourth most important crop?

His answer, rife with data gleaned from USDA, was shocking. “Between 1994 and 2001,” he wrote, “support for public plant breeding (universities and USDA-ARS) fell 10 percent. State funded breeding fell by 21 percent ...”

“Of the 20 crops with the most public breeding effort,” he continued, “16 declined during this period (alfalfa by 46 percent), two were essentially static (peanuts and apple) and two showed large increases - SURPRISE - soybeans up by 9 percent and corn up 36 percent.”

“So, you tell me,” he opined, “is the university agenda supporting Monsanto and Pioneer, whose two major crops are corn and soybeans, or are the universities doing their job for the public good, e.g., supporting alternatives to the major commodities? The story is crystal clear, it seems, to me.”

Me, too.

The commodity emphasis can be pinned partly on “the corn and soybean commodity commissions,” he explained, because their “agenda is certainly congruent with that of Pioneer and Monsanto. [The groups] usually do the dirty work of forcing new [Land Grant] positions into corn and soybean research, making all things appear ‘farmer’ driven.”

Alas, my dirty work, spring-cleaning, is complete. My real work, however, following up on these leads, is just beginning.

This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.

4/26/2006