‘After three years, USDA releases previously hidden animal cruelty records’

H. Claire Brown with

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) announced it had released a searchable database of thousands of inspection reports documenting animal welfare violations at research labs, breeders, dealers, zoos, and other facilities. 

The agency removed many of the records from the internet in early 2017, shortly after Trump took office, citing “privacy concerns.”


As The Washington Post reported last year, the larger issue with the USDA’s enforcement of animal welfare laws under the Trump administration may be that the agency is simply doing fewer inspections and citing fewer violations than it used to. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of inspections decreased from 9,489 to 8,354. The decline in violations cited was far more dramatic: Whereas 6,052 violations were issued in 2014, by 2018 just 1,716 went on the books. That’s a 72 percent decline.

It’s disheartening but not surprising that this seems to be a partisan issue in our government.

‘Half of Us Face Obesity, Dire Projections Show’

Jane E. Brody for the NYTimes:

A prestigious team of medical scientists has projected that by 2030, nearly one in two adults will be obese, and nearly one in four will be severely obese. The estimates are thought to be particularly reliable, as the team corrected for current underestimates of weight given by individuals in national surveys. In as many as 29 states, the prevalence of obesity will exceed 50 percent, with no state having less than 35 percent of residents who are obese, they predicted.

Likewise, the team projected, in 25 states the prevalence of severe obesity will be higher than one adult in four, and severe obesity will become the most common weight category among women, non-Hispanic black adults and low-income adults nationally.

Add this to the pile of future problems with no easy fix. Things on America’s current To-Do list: teach cooking basics, raise wages enough so that people can afford to purchase healthy food, also raise wages enough so that people don’t have to work all the time and can make time to *make* food, stop subsidizing unhealthy food, and make school lunches healthier.

The worst part is I’m sure I’m forgetting things too. But we have to keep trying. It only improves if we continue to focus on them as a society—but sadly I think it all really begins and ends with regulation and our government.

‘Federal judge declares Kansas “ag-gag” law unconstitutional’

From The Counter:

Last Wednesday, a federal judge declared unconstitutional a Kansas law that criminalizes the secret filming of slaughterhouse facilities, The Wichita Eagle reports. The ruling stems from a December 2018 lawsuit filed by a coalition of animal welfare activists, who argued that state’s “ag-gag” law, which was enacted in 1990, violated the First Amendment. In her ruling, the judge noted that the law “discriminates based on viewpoint.”

I wonder what Big Meat is afraid people might see.

‘The Alphabet Soup of Responsible Investing Needs a Good Stir’

Mark Gilbert for Bloomberg Opinion about the shortcomings of responsible investment opportunities:

Investors continue to pour funds into passive investment products that aim to replicate the performance of benchmark indexes. They’re also increasingly keen that their money gets used to influence corporations to stop damaging the planet and improve social inclusiveness. Unfortunately, many of the products designed to achieve both objectives currently fall short on the goal of responsible investing.

The shift in emphasizing environmental, social and governance issues puts pressure on the index providers to come up with benchmarks that more accurately reflect the concerns investors are attempting to express by allocating capital to ESG investment products. Currently, though, even dedicated ESG indexes have shortcomings that many investors are probably unaware of.

The U.S. Vegan Climate exchange-traded fund, for example, tracks a $124 billion index created by Beyond Investing that excludes companies engaged in a laundry list of potentially harmful activities, including animal exploitation, human rights abuses and fossil fuels extraction. While the $14 million ETF’s top five holdings — Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc., Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. — may all meet those criteria, they’re hardly the first names that spring to mind when thinking about the words vegan or climate. And there are many other examples.

But Gilbert sees a way out:

There are two main routes whereby ETF providers can meet the implicit demands of clients allocating money to passively managed ESG products. The first is to use their collective muscle to prompt index providers to increase the granularity of the benchmarks used to shape asset allocations. Improving the discrimination of ESG indexes would go a long way to ensuring investors aren’t being hoodwinked into products that aren’t as green or socially savvy as they first appear.

The second is trickier. Excluding companies deemed to be damaging the environment or being socially irresponsibly isn’t enough to move the needle. Engaging with the boards of those firms and using the clout of a shareholding to force them to change their ways is much more effective.

After BlackRock announced last week that it would try to shift its focus to try to reflect its values, I hope we continue to push this discussion into wider forums. Voting with cash is the strongest vote we have.

‘“Breaking our back”: Food banks are drowning in milk China won’t buy’

H. Claire Brown for the New Food Economy:

Across the nation, food banks are struggling to distribute food purchased through the government’s Trade Mitigation Program, more commonly known as the farm bailout program. This is the money President Trump appropriated—without input from Congress—to blunt the impact of his trade war with China. The bulk of the $12 billion in funding has gone to farmers in the form of direct payments to reimburse them for income lost because of retaliatory tariffs. But more than $1 billion was reserved to purchase actual food that may otherwise have been sold to trading partners. At wholesale prices, $1 billion buys a heck of a lot of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. Most of those purchases are funneled to local food banks like Care and Share, which aren’t accustomed to dealing with deliveries of perishable items. One official privately confessed that all the extra food is “breaking our back.”

I wonder if our government will ever spend as much money on vegetables as it does on milk.


Anna Starostinetskaya for VegNews:

This week, new advocacy group California Plant Based Alliance (CPBA) formed in Sacramento with the mission of advancing the interests of the plant-based industry in the state’s legislature. CPBA—the first state-level plant-based advocacy group in the country—was founded by Julie Manusco, founder of animal-advocacy organization Social Compassion in Legislation[.] […] In 2016, lobby group Plant Based Food Association (PBFA)—which currently has more than 160 company members—formed to represent the interests of the plant-based industry on a federal level.

I’m interested in seeing how this group will affect the larger Plant Based Food Association. This new group is at the state-level, while the other is at the federal. It might be interesting to see if they’re able to essentially use California as a testing ground for legal arguments before they move to the national level.

‘Is it time to retire the term “food desert?”’

Jessica Fu for New Food Economy:

What they found was that the biggest beneficiary of new supermarkets were supermarkets themselves, which enjoyed an increased share of consumer spending.

The overall nutritional quality of a household’s grocery purchases, however, was not heavily impacted by a new store’s presence in the area. Nor was the proportion of a household’s budget spent on groceries. This was the case across the entire study and—most importantly—among “food deserts,” which the study defined as zip codes lacking a supermarket.

“Total expenditure shares across grocery stores, supercenters, and club stores [increased] by only a fraction of a percentage point in the full sample, with no statistically detectable effect in the food desert subsample,” the study reads. “Thus, the primary effect of supermarket entry is to divert sales from other supermarkets.”


“The deeper issue is really poverty,” Mitchell says. “Local grocery stores and other kinds of retail can help alleviate that, but they’re obviously only one part of the broader problem. While thinking about grocery store development, favoring the local grocer, and being very wary of a company like […] Dollar General as a solution to that problem makes a lot of sense, [it’s] not going to solve the whole thing. We need other kinds of economic development.”

In other words, there are no easy villains in a systemic issue like food access. While there is plenty of anti-dollar-store sentiment in that ongoing conversation, some researchers argue that dollar stores are often the only food option available to many communities that would otherwise have none.

Like I’ve said before on here, this issue is actually many issues coming together. Poverty, lack of knowledge about cooking, lack of time, cost of fresh produce, and the list goes on. This won’t be solved simply.

‘What Does ‘Plant-Based’ Actually Mean?’

Jaya Saxena with a nice write-up for Eater:

Though meat-free eating has been common in numerous cultures, labels and identities began to harden in the 20th century. The phrase “vegan” was coined in 1944 to stand for “non-dairy vegetarian,” and the Vegan Society soon declared that it opposed the use of any animal products in any capacity, not just in food. As Ethan Varian recently wrote for the New York Times, the word “vegan” has an inherently political connotation. To identify as vegan is to concern oneself with animal rights, with the conditions of slaughterhouse workers, and with the environment. It is not inherently “healthier” (as endless op-eds about Impossible Burger being no better for you than beef will point out), but health isn’t the point; harm reduction is.

The term “plant-based” was coined in 1980 by biochemist Thomas Colin Campbell, who employed it to present his research on a non-animal-product diet in a way that he felt wouldn’t be clouded by politics. He went on to advocate a diet of “whole foods,” though not everyone who eats a plant-based diet focuses on unprocessed and “nutritious” food. Instead of a collective ethical movement, the phrase has come to signal health and the individual, factors which, according to Naro, are why most people give up meat. Of course, that’s a veneer — a bowl of mashed potatoes or a bag of Takis technically qualifies as plant-based, though these items probably aren’t what people think of when they think “healthy.” But the term doesn’t come with the baggage of “vegan.” “Using ‘plant-based’ allows people to feel they’re not joining a specific group for eating a specific way,” says Varian.

‘Unjust Deserts: Cities move to ban dollar stores, blaming them for residents’ poor diets’

Steven Malanga for City Journal continues the conversation about what Dollar stores are doing to America:

Recent research undermines the argument that a lack of fresh, healthy food is to blame for unhealthy diets. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, three economists chart grocery purchases in 10,000 households located in former food deserts, where new supermarkets have since opened. They found that people didn’t buy healthier food when they started shopping at a new local supermarket. “We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” they wrote. In other words, the food-desert narrative—which suggests that better food choices motivate people to eat better—is fundamentally incorrect. “In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the researchers write. In other words, “lower demand for healthy food is what causes the lack of supply.”

Combatting the ill effects of a bad diet involves educating people to change their eating habits. That’s a more complicated project than banning dollar stores. Subsidizing the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables through the federal food-stamp program and working harder to encourage kids to eat better—as Michelle Obama tried to do with her Let’s Move! campaign—are among the economists’ suggestions for improving the nation’s diet. That’s not the kind of thing that generates sensational headlines. But it makes a lot more sense than banning dollar stores.

I do believe America is looking for a scapegoat. Trying to blame the Dollar stores is an easy out to a dizzyingly complex topic.


From Josefina Salomon at Oxy.com:

Six out of every 10 Argentines are considering giving up beef and going vegan, according to a recent study by the country’s Institute for the Promotion of Beef. Martí, now 63 and head of the Argentine Vegetarian Union, remembers that, in 2000, he knew only one other vegan. A poll his organization commissioned found that 9 percent of Argentina’s population is either vegetarian or vegan at the moment.  

Finding a vegetarian or vegan restaurant is no longer a challenge, at least in the country’s main cities. Buenos Aires alone has at least 70 exclusively vegan restaurants. The capital’s colorful walls are plastered with messages and banners demanding the protection of animals and the yearly VeganFest is becoming increasingly popular. Many local celebrities are turning their backs on animal products (soccer megastar Lionel Messi has said he switches to a vegan diet during tournament season).

Health concerns and worries about climate change — drivers of veganism globally — are playing out in Argentina too. But there’s an additional factor pushing people away from meat and animal products: the country’s economic crisis and nearly 50 percent annual inflation. The latest report from Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce for Beef and Its Derivatives found that consumption of meat products has decreased to its lowest point in the last 50 years.

It’s interesting to see how veganism enters certain countries. I feel like there are a handful of reasons that dominate most shifts: financial cost, health, or considerations for the environment (animal welfare included), and sometimes religion.

Though most of Argentina is moving to save money, something like this means more people could be trying vegan food for the first time and will hopefully become more interested. Maybe they’ll try to adapt family recipes or try new dishes — both which open a new way of approaching food to them. Hopefully it’s enough to keep them coming back periodically for plant-based foods once they can afford beef again.