USDA Sued Over Salmonella

SalmonellaThe US Department of Agriculture [USDA] is being sued by the

Center for Science in the Public Interest
[CSPI] in an attempt to force the
agricultural watchdogs to treat antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella
bacteria as adulterants that would prevent the sale of tainted meat to the
public.

The complaint
is specific to four strains of salmonella – Heidelberg,
Newport, Hadar and Typhimurium – that have been identified in dozens of
outbreaks of salmonella poisoning via ground meat and other products, but more
resistant strains are showing up almost weekly.

CSPI petitioned the USDA three years ago to address the growing problem, but
the department never got around to a response. Antibiotic resistance is an
inevitable result of the overuse of important antibiotic drugs solely for the
purpose of making livestock grow fatter and faster, as well as to sustain what
is in truth an unsustainable production model that has food animals being raised
in grotesquely overcrowded and unhealthy conditions.

This past Tuesday (May 27th), the

Center for Disease Control [CDC]
reported 50 more illnesses in an ongoing
“outbreak” of seven strains of drug-resistant salmonella tied to Foster Farms
chicken parts. That brings the total of reported cases to 574 since March of
2013. 40% of those people required hospitalization. The company involved, Foster
Farms, has refused to issue a recall on the tainted meat, and USDA does not have
the power to force a recall.

Bayer & Monsanto Killing Bees

The numbers are in, and they add up to devastating.

bees Bee Informed Partnership this month released its preliminary report on honey bee colony losses in the US for 2013-2014. The partnership, along with the Apiary Inspectors of America [AIA] and the USDA have been surveying beekeepers for 8 years in an attempt to get a handle on how many of the nation’s bee colonies are succumbing to what has been a mysterious mass die-off called “Colony Collapse Disorder” [CCD]. Last winter 23.2% of managed honey bee colonies died. That’s lower than the previous year’s estimate of 30.5%, but it does confirm that harm is still being done to these important pollinators. Loss estimate for the 12-month period between April 1, 2012 and March 30, 2013 was 45.2%. The bees are still dying, and now we know why.

Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies have been published over the past decade linking CCD to pesticide use, and honey bees aren’t the only victims. More specifically, the culprit is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids. Rather than being sprayed just on the surface of plants, neonics are absorbed and spread through the entire plant, including pollen and nectar. They persist in the environment and can accumulate quickly. This has led to contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil, endangering species inhabiting those ecosystems.

Neonic pesticides are manufactured and marketed primarily by Bayer Crop Science and Monsanto. The Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] sued the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] after it failed to release Bayer’s underlying studies on the safety of its neonicotinoids. EPA approval for neonics hinged on the claim that amounts in pollen and nectar were non-lethal to bees, but studies have shown that even at low doses the pesticides have effects that impair bees’ learning and memory. The EU has banned neonics, but EPA is not considering doing so in the US. 30-50% losses annually is unsustainable, and about a quarter of the food Americans eat relies on bee pollination.

In March of 2012 the Canter for Food Safety [CFS] joined with 25 prominent beekeepers to file an Emergency Petition to the EPA asking for suspension on the use of certain neonicotinoids. When that brought no action, CFS and a coalition of 4 beekeepers and 5 environmental and consumer groups filed a formal lawsuit against EPA for failure to protect pollinators as well as seeking suspension.

Check out the Sierra Club’s Pollinator Protection Campaign to see how you can help convince Congress and the administration that bees are more valuable than Bayer’s or Monsanto’s profit margins.

Proposed FDA Rule Angers Brewers and Farmers

American Craft Beer Week – May 12-18, 2014

cropsAh, good ol’ beer. There’s the cheap, light, basically glorified carbonated water with a slight kick, there’s the more expensive big name imports, and increasingly, there’s small to mid-sized ‘Craft Brewers’ who produce seasonal beers and everything from amber light to deep chocolate brown brews. Lots of people enjoy a good beer. The closest city to my homestead – Asheville, North Carolina – has gained quite a reputation as Beer City USA, with some serious competition in places like Portland, Oregon and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many other cities are boasting successful microbreweries as well. Microbrews have become so popular, in fact, that many of the Big Beer brewers are buying in and happily marketing the stuff, or brewing big batches of seasonal beers under their own brand names.

Humans have been enjoying beer for just about as long as civilization has existed. More than 6,000 years ago brewers in Mesopotamia and Egypt were recording recipes for beer. Pharos were entombed with yeast and barley so they could enjoy their favorite brews in the afterlife! By the second millennium b.c.e. the Babylonians boasted 20 different types of beer. The Romans were fonder of wine, but beer was still brewed in Britain, Eastern Europe and Germany. By the Middle Ages home brews were a staple of the family diet, as beer was safer to drink than plain water. Plagues and famines in Europe left the task of making beer, mead and wine fell to monks. Who built fine breweries to provide pilgrims with food, drink and shelter.

There are a couple of bulky by-products of the beer brewing process – spent grain (sprouted and dried to produce “malted” mash), and with the introduction of hopped beers from Holland in the 1500s, used hops. Since these by-products are organic, the practice of recycling the waste products came naturally. The spent grain mash is used as a sweet feed treat for cows, sheep, lamas, horses, chickens and other livestock, while used hops are composted and/or used as mulch. Some microbreweries offer their spent grain back to the farmers who help supply the grain, or sell it cheap. The grain is usually still damp from the brewing process, so it goes quickly to the animals. Who appear to love it.

According to the website Craft Beer, the cycling of grain from farmers to brewers and from brewers back to farmers is the “farm-to-foam, foam-to-farm” cycle. At the Piney River Brewing Company’s 80-acre farm in the Ozarks, the cows eagerly abandon their pasture when they smell sweet mash on brewing day, get as close to the brewhouse as they can, and moo loudly for their bucket of spent grain. A couple of Colorado brewers donate spent grain to a local dog biscuit bakery, and the dogs apparently love it too. The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Spent Grain Chef offers recipes for such delicacies as spent grain grapefruit bars, spent grain corn dogs, spent grain mini carrot cupcakes and more. The Alaska Brewing Company uses their spent grain in a biomass steam boiler to generate steam used in the brewing process. Brewers usually give the spent grain away to farmers if they’ll come get it, or sell it quite cheaply. Widmer, a larger brewery, sells theirs for $30 a ton. One dairy farmer near Portland, Oregon says “It’s a premium product. I pay virtually nothing. But it’s like putting honey on your cereal. It makes the cows want to eat more and we notice it in their [milk] production. That farmer goes through 20 tons of spent grain a week for his 300 cows. That’s feed he would otherwise have to purchase, adding to the cost of the milk his cows produce.

With all this sound cycling and recycling between the food supply and the beer supply, the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] just had to weigh in. Whether on behalf of the Biggest of the Big Boyz in grain agriculture (Cargill, ADM, etc.) or just because government regulators figure they have to think up some regulations nobody’s thought of before, they came up with a new rule on animal feed that would bring the spent grain from beer brewing under its regulation and possibly raise the price of beer generally.

It’s Summer: Must Be Preservation Time

PreservationBoy, oh boy – it’s hot! That means tomatoes, apples, peppers and beans are coming in as fast as I can pick in the scorching heat of late July, taxing my tolerance for dripping sweat at the counter prepping tomatoes and apples for the solar dryer, keeping the oven on low – propped slightly open – in a cabin with no air conditioning to dry pans full of shell beans, just trying to make it to the usual every evening thunderstorm to cool things down. Whew!

Got 18 half-pints of apple-blackberry sauce/butter stuff from those not-yet ripe apples salvaged from the lost limb a couple of weeks ago. Very yummy and extremely useful stuff, Have enough to gift family and friends as well as use myself to sweeten plain yogurt, turn into a vinegrette dressing, dollop on pancakes and stir-fry veggies, mix into barbeque sauce, etcetera. I do NOT plan to can any more now that it’s apple-climbing harvest time. Those suckers will be dried, the lot of ‘em. Along with the peaches and pears when their time comes, of course.

My biggest dilemma right now is what to do with all those duck eggs we can’t manage to eat fast enough, mostly because it’s too darned hot to cook a breakfast this time of year. They just keep on piling up day after day, and I am unable to give them away fast enough to keep up either. It’s a good thing we didn’t go with my plan to get chickens the ducks could guard!

At any rate, I had to compost a full dozen this morning that were quickly coming up on 6 weeks of age, though in the ‘fridge they’d have been good for another couple of weeks at least, but there are two dozen newer eggs that have ‘em beat, so there’s that.

Preserving Surplus Eggs

Now, there are lots of sites out there that recommend painting sealers on eggshells or packing in sand, mud or sawdust, but the fact that eggs are bacterial havens – and salmonella isn’t fun – I’m looking for something that seems a lot safer and long-term. Regular refrigeration can preserve fresh eggs from two to five months, but they’ll need to be in air-tight containers and kept away from the door. Out of the shell eggs can only be kept for four days in the ‘fridge (and should be covered with water to prevent toughening of the white). Hard boiled eggs will keep a week in the ‘fridge, so I’m better off storing them raw.

For longer term storage freezing works. Don’t try to freeze them in the shell, as it’s likely to break during freezing and make an awful mess. You can open the eggs and whisk them thoroughly, put into those plastic food storage containers with tight lids, and they’ll keep for a year. These can later be thawed for scrambled eggs or omelets, or used for baking cookies and cakes. You could also use zip-lock freezer bags and stack them, and these will thaw faster in a pan of cold water when you decide to use them. Egg whites keep well, but if you also wish to freeze the yolks you should add some salt or sugar when whisking so they don’t turn gelatinous. Hard boiled eggs can be frozen, but they turn into rubber. Yuck.

One interesting idea I discovered from the Oregon Extension Service is to put your thoroughly mixed whole eggs into an ice tray, freeze, then remove and put into a zip-lock in the freezer. About 3 tablespoons of egg mixture is equivalent to one regular size chicken egg for recipe purposes, so this seems particularly handy. Add a 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar or 1/2 teaspoon salt to the egg mixture, depending on how you intend to use them, and do label the zip-lock so you don’t put sweet eggs in a dinner casserole or salty eggs in your pound cake.

Some people use the ice tray method, but do not blend the eggs first. This probably works, but isn’t what the extension service recommends because of the tendency for whites to become rubbery when frozen.

Another handy method is to whisk in a little whole milk or cream with the eggs, about 3 tablespoons per cup plus the half tsp. per cup of salt, put into sterile canning jars for freezing, cap with clean lids not tightened (so air can escape in the freezing process, tighten later). A jar can later be taken out of the freezer and placed in the ‘fridge to thaw and use as your basic egg-beater stuff for scrambled eggs or omelets. Do shake it up thoroughly before using. For this, half-pint jars such as those for jelly and jam are best so it doesn’t sit too long in the ‘fridge before using. Unless, of course, you have a large egg-loving family or a house full of guests to feed. In which case a pint sized jar would be optimum, to be emptied over no more than 2 or 3 days.

You can also pickle hard boiled eggs in a vinegar-brine solution, an old technique. If you do pickle, remember that the jars can’t be kept at room temperature due to botulism. Sterilize everything, and store jars in the refrigerator. Some people like to eat whole pickled eggs, but they’re also good sliced on salads. Still, they’ll only stay good for three months in the ‘fridge, and who eats THAT many pickled eggs?

You can of course add herbs and spices to pickled eggs, according to your tastes. It takes 4 to 5 days for the pickling liquid to flavor eggs the size of Pekin duck eggs, less time for chicken and smaller eggs.

Useful Links:

Oregon Extension Service (pdf)
Backyard Poultry: Preserving Eggs
How to Freeze or Dehydrate Eggs