Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mitch Daniels Can't Swim

That's why he has promoted a permit to allow BP to expand its Indiana refinery on Lake Michigan. The new permit will allow the refinery to discharge 1,584 pounds of ammonia, an increase of 54 percent over the current level, into the lake each day. Also allowed is discharge of up to 4,925 pounds of suspended solids into the lake each day, an increase of 35 percent.

“Here’s one of the biggest steps forward for the Midwest, really the whole nation,” Mr. Daniels, a Republican, told reporters last week. “I don’t think it should be held up without a good scientific reason, and none has been provided.”

Sources close to Mr. Daniels have suggested that his hatred of the lake is linked to a summer swimming class he took at Lil Patriots' Summer Camp on Lake Michigan in the early 1960s, where he nearly drowned.

His reasoning for promoting further pollution of Lake Michigan (besides the fact that he most likely can't swim)? The expansion of the plant may provide up to 2,000 temporary contract jobs and 80 positions at the refinery.

More Indiana jobs, but at what cost? Seriously. How short sighted can you get?

In the meantime, tens of thousands of people in Chicago have signed petitions protesting the permit, which will allow the largest oil refinery in the Midwest to discharge more pollutants into Lake Michigan.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why My Baby Eats Organic Beef

Today's New York Times published another editorial about the FDA's weak oversight of imported food:

"Hearings before a House oversight subcommittee raised serious questions about the F.D.A.’s ability to protect the public against contaminated or adulterated foods. William Hubbard, a former top agency official who consults for a coalition of industry and consumer groups, told the committee that the F.D.A. has lost some 200 food scientists and 700 field inspectors over five years, exactly the wrong direction when food imports are skyrocketing. He also noted that the small budget increase the White House has proposed for food safety next year would be a decrease after accounting for inflation.

As if that weren’t discouraging enough, the committee’s chief investigator described how porous the current safety shield is. Agency personnel, he said, inspect less than 1 percent of all imported foods and conduct laboratory analyses on only a tiny fraction of those. Overwhelmed entry reviewers at one field office have so many items to screen that they typically have less than 30 seconds to decide whether an import needs closer scrutiny. Importers also learn to game the system by sending goods to lax entry points or mislabeling them. And they are allowed to take possession of suspect goods and arrange testing by private laboratories whose work is often shoddy or driven by financial concerns."

What is ironic about this editorial is that Americans are spending an awful lot of time worrying about the inspection of imported food, while we don't even inspect our own food. Steven L. Hopp, in Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, points out:

"After the first detected case of US mad cow disease, fifty-two countries banned US beef. The USDA then required 2 percent of all the downer cows (cows unable to walk on their own) to be tested, and 1 percent of all cows that were slaughtered. After that, the number of downer cows reported in the United States decreased by 20 percent (did I mention it was voluntary reporting?), and only two more cases of BSE (mad cow disease) were detected. In May 2006, the USDA decided the threat was so low that only one-tenth of one percent of all slaughtered cows needed to be tested. Jean Halloran, the food policy initiatives director at Consumers Union, responded, 'It approaches a policy of don't look, don't find.'"

Why are American elected officials such terribly vocal glass-house dwellers? ("Hey! Look over there! That foreign food is bad!") The answer seems clear enough: if we make a big enough stink about Chinese food imports, maybe the American consumer will 1. get scared of foreign food imports; 2. continue to not ask questions about the American food they buy; 3. buy more American produced food. But we eaters must remember: Industrial feed lots not only produce unsafe beef, they also contaminate other agricultural products. Remember the e-coli outbreak on spinach last year?

The American beef industry may have stopped feeding beef parts to cows, but they still feed cow parts to chickens, and chicken parts back to cows in many or most CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Here is Steven L. Hopp again: US policies restrict feeding cow tissue directly to other cows, but still allow cows to be fed to other animals (like chickens) and the waste from the chickens to be fed back to the cows. Since prions (that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy) aren't destroyed by extreme heat or any known drug, they readily survive this food-chain loop-de-loop. Cow blood (yum) may also be dinner for other cows and calves, and restaurant plate wastes can also be served."

American eaters beware: It's not just imports that you have to worry about. It's also the American beef--produced through factory farming--that is tested even less than our imports. For some reason, it seems unsafe to trust the four US companies that produce 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs and 50 percent of chickens. Do they have my baby's best interest at heart?

Probably not. That's why my baby gets locally farmed organic beef. It's what's for dinner.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Dunes

So, last week we did some gardening.

Ripped out some periwinkle. We hate periwinkle.

Don't ever plant periwinkle, okay?

As a reward for all our periwinkle elimination work, we decided to drive up to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

We found a nice shady spot away from the crowds and had a nice picnic.

You can see the crowds down there. We are kind of exaggerating when we say "crowds."

But more people showed up as our post-prandial nap progressed. If you look really really hard (and click on that photo to see the full-sized image) you can just make out Chicago in the distance.

That's us. Waiting for the baby to come out.

On the way home, we thought it would be nice to take the scenic route. The interesting thing about the Indiana Dunes is that the park is sandwiched between two steel mills and a nuclear reactor.

The people in that house must get really good deals on their electricity.

On our way home, we stopped in Three Oaks, Michigan. Home of the "Prancer" movie. We bought some fine Polish sausage at Drier's. If you have the means, we really recommend their bratwurst, too. They have a really good homemade mustard with horseradish in it. We like that, too.

Glad we got this blog out there. We've been sitting on it for a while.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Stay tuned for more local interest stories from the Michiana area.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Nice But Hot

Nice but hot.