Food News: Sustainable Highs and Lows

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Bluefins' Last Hope?

Last fall, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas lived up to its cynical nickname International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas by setting catch limits that, according to the commission's own scientists, would put the Atlantic bluefin on the road to extinction. This spring, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) bowed to political pressure from Japan and refused to give the species protection.

Earlier this month the environmental activist group Greenpeace set out to try to accomplish what the regulatory agencies failed to do. The organization's flagship Rainbow Warrior set out from a port in Malta to engage in "peaceful direct action" just in time for the beginning of the Mediterranean tuna fishing season, which runs through June 15, unless fishermen catch their allotment before that date. One of the Rainbow Warrior's first maneuvers was to blockade France's largest tuna port, keeping the fleet at its docks.

"Politics and fishery management have failed our oceans and set the bluefin tuna on a one-way path to extinction," said Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace International oceans campaigner, in a release. "Others have failed our oceans, so Greenpeace will act. The Rainbow Warrior is now heading to sea to take action against one of the most irresponsible and destructive fishing operations in the world, to demand that the Mediterranean bluefin fishery be closed immediately. We will enforce the repeated recommendations of scientists."

Raw Deal for Democracy in Wisconsin

In a rare bipartisan effort, lawmakers in Wisconsin, the nation's largest producer of dairy products, recently voted to allow the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk under strict regulatory guidelines. According to Democratic State Representative Chris Danou, one of the bill's sponsors, the law was designed to provide economic security to small, cash-strapped farmers looking to make direct sales to consumers.

But last week, Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, who had been expected to sign the legislation into law, abruptly vetoed it.

"The dairy industry, from lobbyists representing Kraft and Dean Foods on down, circled the wagons and killed this bill," said Mark Kastle of the Cornucopia Institute, a small farm and organic advocacy group, to Chris Hubbard of the Lacrosse Tribune. "Their smokescreen about health concerns and harming the industry represented a diversion from an obvious agenda to crush a rapidly growing competitive threat."

Sustainable Seafood Counters

A major supermarket chain has announced that it plans to stop buying seafood that fails to meet sustainability standards.

Publix Supermarkets, Inc.,whose stores are ubiquitous in Florida and much of the Southeast, will begin to rank the 300 seafood items it carries according to sustainability. The program will unfold over the next year, and will involve categorizing seafood into three groups: Sustainable, Needs Improvement, and Needs Major Improvement. Publix officials told the Tampa Tribune that they intend to apply pressure on fisheries with poor rankings to improve. If there is no sign of improvement over time, the company will stop buying.

It's an encouraging trend in Big Retail. In January, Target adopted similar policies on seafood, including the elimination of all farmed salmon from its stores.

A Sweet Deal

In response to consumers' wariness about the health effects of high-fructose corn syrup and its links to the country's obesity epidemic, ConAgra Foods Inc. has removed high fructose corn syrup from its Hunt's ketchup.

Although corn syrup is less expensive than sugar, other major food and beverage companies have made similar shifts. In March, PepsiCo Inc. announced that it had replaced corn syrup with cane sugar in its Gatorade sports drink.

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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