Posts tagged ‘Food’

Burning the World's Food in Our Cars

It is good that doom mongers like Paul Ehrlich have been so thoroughly discredited.  But could anyone have imagined that not only are we not facing "Population Bomb" style famines, but we are in fact spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to promote burning food in cars?

I am not sure how anyone thought this was a good idea, since

  1. Every scientific study in the world not conducted by an institution in Iowa have shown that corn-based ethanol uses more energy than it produces, does not reduce CO2, and creates new environmental problems in terms of land and water use.
  2. Sixty seconds of math would have shown that even diverting ALL of US corn production to ethanol would only replace a fraction of our transportation fuel use.

Apparently, Nebraska has reached a milestone of sorts: (HT Tom Nelson)

With three new plants
added in November, annual corn demand for ethanol production in
Nebraska passed the 500-million-bushel mark for the first time, using
37% of Nebraska's corn.

How much fuel has this produced?

"Today, that ambitious
directive has become a reality." Sneller says "At current rates,
Nebraska plants will use 514 million bushels of corn annually to
produce 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol. By the end of 2008, Nebraska
plants will process 860 million bushels into 2.3 billion gallons of
ethanol. Distillers grain, a co-product of ethanol production, is
widely accepted and marketed as a superior livestock feed."

This is enough ethanol to replace about a billion gallons of gasoline (since ethanol has less energy content than gasoline).  This represents about  0.7% of US gasoline usage.  The cost?  Well, I don't know how many billions of subsidy dollars have flowed to Nebraska, but there is also this:

Corn prices have
remained virtually unchanged since World War II. Increased demand from
ethanol production has raised average corn prices by 70% and is driving
an economic resurgence in rural Nebraska, according to Todd Sneller,
administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

So we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars, have diverted about 40% of Nebraska's corn output, and we've raised prices on corn 70% all to replace less than a percent of US gasoline usage.  If we could really do the fuel balance on the whole system, we would likely find that total fossil fuel usage actually went up rather than down through these actions.

Never have I seen an issue where so many thoughtful people on both sides of the political aisle united in agreement that a program makes no sense since... well, since farm subsidies.  Which, illustratively, have not gone away despite 80 years of trying.  As I wrote here:

Companies are currently building massive subsidy-magnets
biofuel plants.  Once these investments are in place, there is going to
be a huge entrenched base of investors and workers who are going to
wield every bit of political power they can to retain subsidies forever
to protect their jobs and their investment.  Biofuel subsidies will be
as intractable as peanut and sugar subsidies and protections.

LA Proposes to Institutionalize Red-Lining Poor Neighborhoods

For years, banks have been sued for "red-lining" poor neighborhoods, meaning they were accused of purposefully avoiding doing business in these poor areas.  National retail chains have been accused of something similar, causing poorer the oft-commented-on irony that poorer neighborhoods often have the highest retail prices.

The City of Los Angeles seems to like this practice and wants to pass new legislation aimed at further limiting retail choices in poorer neighborhoods:

"Amid worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses,
including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, Los Angeles
officials, among others around the country, are proposing to limit new
fast-food restaurants -- a tactic that could be called health zoning."
Zoning restrictions on fast-food outlets in towns such as Concord,
Mass. and Calistoga, Calif. are typically based on traffic or aesthetic
concerns, rather than a determination to second-guess what residents
choose to eat. The proposed L.A. restrictions would not be city-wide
but would instead be specifically targeted to the city's poorest
sections in and around South Central. Mark Vallianatos, director of
something called the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College (more about it), says "bringing health policy and environmental policy together with land-use planning" is "the wave of the future."

Jesus, the Center for Food and Justice?  Another clear leading edge of health care as the Trojan Horse for fascism, which I have been warning against for years.

Food Miles Stupidity

Via the New York Times:

THE term "food miles" "” how far food has traveled before you buy it "” has entered the enlightened lexicon.

Which should tell you all you need to know about the "enlightened."

There are many good reasons for eating local "” freshness, purity,
taste, community cohesion and preserving open space "” but none of these
benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces
fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling,
biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.

Actually, most recycling, with the exception of aluminum which takes tons of electricity to manufacture in the first place, does nothing to reduce our carbon footprint.  And I must say that I often enjoy buying from farmers markets and such.  But does "food miles" mean anything?  And should we really care?  Well, here is an early hint:  The ultimate reduction in food miles, the big winner on this enlightened metric, is subsistence farming.  Anyone ready to go there yet?  These are the economics Ghandi promoted in India, and it set that country back generations.

Well, lets go back to economics 101.  The reason we do not all grow our own food, make our own clothes, etc. is because the global division of labor allows food and clothing and everything else to be produced more efficiently by people who specialize and invest in those activities than by all of us alone in our homes.  So instead of each of us growing our own corn, in whatever quality soil we happen to have around our house, some guy in Iowa grows it for thousands of us, and because he specialized and grows a lot, he invests in equipment and knowledge to do it better every year.  The cost of fuel to move the corn or corn products to Phoenix from Iowa are trivial compared to the difference in efficiency that guy in Iowa has over me trying to grow corn in my back yard.  Back to the New York Times:

On its face, the connection between lowering food miles and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a no-brainer.

Sure, if you look at complex systems as single-variable linear equations.  Those of us who don't immediately treated the food mile concept as suspect.  It turns out, for good reason:

It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of
measuring a product's carbon footprint through food miles alone, the
Lincoln University scientists expanded their equations to include other
energy-consuming aspects of production "” what economists call "factor
inputs and externalities" "” like water use, harvesting techniques,
fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of
transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon
dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage
procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.

these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached
surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on
New Zealand's clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat
to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton
while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in
part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In
other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to
buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from
a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy
products and fruit.

All I can say is just how frightening it is that the paper of record could find this result "surprising."  The price mechanism does a pretty good job of sorting this stuff out.  If fuel prices rise a lot, then agriculture might move more local, but probably not by much.  The economies to scale and location just dwarf the price of fuel. 

By the way, one reason this food-mile thing is not going away, no matter how stupid it is, has to do with the history of the global warming movement.  Remember all those anti-globalization folks who rampaged in Seattle?  Where did they all go?  Well, they did not get sensible all of a sudden.  They joined the environmental movement.  One reason a core group of folks in the catastrophic man-made global warming camp react so poorly to any criticism of the science is that they need and want it to be true that man is causing catastrophic warming -- anti-corporate and anti-globalization activists jumped into the global warming environmental movement, seeing in it a vehicle to achieve their aims of rolling back economic growth, global trade, and capitalism in general.  Food miles appeals to their disdain for world trade, and global warming and carbon footprints are just a convenient excuse for trying to sell the concept to other people.

A little while back, I posted a similar finding in regards to packaging, that is worth repeating here for comparison.

Contrary to current wisdom, packaging can reduce total rubbish
produced. The average household in the United States generates one
less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico,
partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste. Turning a
live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are
processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products
(such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing
of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also
recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products.

More victories for the worldwide division of labor.  So has the NY Times seen the light and accepted the benefits of capitalism?  Of course not.  With the New Zealand example in hand, the writer ... suggests we need more state action to compel similar situations.

Given these problems, wouldn't it make more sense to stop obsessing
over food miles and work to strengthen comparative geographical
advantages? And what if we did this while streamlining transportation
services according to fuel-efficient standards? Shouldn't we create
development incentives for regional nodes of food production that can
provide sustainable produce for the less sustainable parts of the
nation and the world as a whole? Might it be more logical to
conceptualize a hub-and-spoke system of food production and
distribution, with the hubs in a food system's naturally fertile hot
spots and the spokes, which travel through the arid zones, connecting
them while using hybrid engines and alternative sources of energy?

Does anyone even know what this crap means?  You gotta love technocratic statists -- they just never give up.  Every one of them thinks they are smarter than the the sum of billions of individual minds working together of their own free will to create our current world production patterns.

Postscript: There is one thing the government could do tomorrow to promote even more worldwide agricultural efficiency:  Drop subsidies and protections on agriculture.   You would immediately get more of this kind of activity, for example with Latin America and the Caribbean supplying more/all of the US's sugar and other parts of Asia providing more/all of Japan's rice.

Update on the Macular Degerneration Drug

After the post below, several have written to ask about the procedure itself.  My dad wrote with details, which I believe are from Science magazine:

The drug for treating macular degenerations is ranibizumab, sold under the brand name "lucentis" by genetech, its developer and manufacturer.

It is "a monoclonal antibody - made by using biotech methods, from genetically engineered bacteria that attacks a protein responsible for the leading cause of blindness in seniors.  In clinical trials with Lucentis, the eyesight of about 95 per cent of AMD patients either improved or stopped getting worse."

Lucentis was created by tweaking the molecular structure of another, older drug Avastin, which itself was originally approved for colorectal cancer but now has been approved for certain kinds of lung cancer, and has been submitted to Food and Drug Administration to be used against breast cancer and possible kidney cancer as well.

The editors of Science magazine, the widely respected journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, selected ten "breakthrough" discoveries of the year last December.  No. 6 on the list was the results of the clinical trial results for Lucentis.

PS:  My son and I often joke that they have run out of car names.  With a name like ranibizumab, they seem to have run out of drug names too.  I can must see the ad campaign:  "With a name like ranibizumab, it's got to be good."

This is Typical

The left was rightly ticked off a while back when the Bush FDA went against the scientific panel's recommendation and refused to approve the Plan B morning after pill for over-the-counter-sales.  But as I discussed here, the typical political response of our two political parties to such abuses of government power is NOT to reduce the government's power, but to try to redirect the abuses for their own ends. 

So, in this case, the left now is not necessarily upset that the FDA is using non-scientific criteria for approving drugs, they are just upset the FDA is not using their pet non-scientific criteria:

Now an interesting article in the Baltimore Sun
suggests that some left-wingers are also hinting that ethical concerns
should be included in FDA regulatory decisions. In a poll last fall,
the Pew Initiative on Food and Agriculture found
"a strong majority (63 percent) of Americans believe government
agencies should include moral and ethical considerations when making
regulatory decisions about cloning and genetically modifying animals,
with 53 percent feeling that way strongly."

Liberal bioethicist, Daniel Callahan, co-founder of the
Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., says that he is leery of having the
FDA rule on moral issues, but thinks that it might want to consider the
financial impact of approving new drugs on the health care system.
Presumably, the regulators might decide that a drug is too expensive
and refuse to approve it although it is safe and effective. The problem
is that deciding to withhold a drug from patients because regulators
think it's "too expensive" is a moral judgment. If the government
doesn't want to pay for an expensive drug that's OK, but why should
regulators forbid consumers, who might want to pay for it on their own,
access to drugs that are safe and effective?

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer
Federation of America, points out that the FDA has already taken into
account non-scientific concerns in some of its regulatory system. For
example, she notes that the FDA requires that irradiated food be
labeled even though there is no scientific evidence that irradiation harms human health. The reason for the labels is that activist groups like Public Citizen
managed to scare some consumers into demanding them in the early 1990s.
Now the question is should the FDA be pushed further down this slippery
slope of non-scientific regulation?

The labeling for irradiated foods is stupid but fairly harmless, but the suggestion to hold life-saving drugs off the market if they are deemed too expensive by some bureaucrats is obscene.  I would suggest you run away screaming from anyone who suggests that this is a "moral" decision.

Gerry Thomas, RIP

Gerry Thomas, inventor of the TV dinner, died here in Phoenix at the age of 83.  Though decried by the intelligentsia of this country, the TV dinner opened the door for a huge influx of products aimed at letting people who don't want to or can't cook create a decent meal.  As a kid, it never ceased to be a treat to get one of these for our evening meal, and looking back, Mr. Thomas and his successors probably cooked for me more than my mom.  Mr. Thomas is a member of the Frozen Food Hall of Fame (I kid you not) in Orlando.  This strikes me as a story that James Lileks should be all over.


  According to CNN, James Doohan, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, has died as well.  How many times have you asked this guy to get you out of a tough spot?  Beam me up, Scotty.


Food Nazis Get Fact-Checked

Apparently, the mortality rates from obesity that the media has been breathlessly lecturing us with were overestimated by at least 1500%:

But in a study released this week by the CDC
and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association ("Excess Deaths
Associated with Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity"), the public health
community has finally owned up to their massive fib by acknowledging that the
number of deaths due to obesity in the US is closer to 26,000 not 400,000 as
previously reported.

The part of the earlier study that really got people's attention was the fact that even those slightly overweight but well short of obese had a significantly increased risk of death.  Now, the CDC channels Emily Littella in saying "never mind":

for the merely overweight with BMI's from 25-30 there is no excess mortality. In
fact, being overweight was "associated with a slight reduction in mortality
relative to the normal weight category." Being overweight not only does not lead
to premature death, something that dozens of other studies from around the world
have been saying for the last 30 years, but it also carries less risk from
premature death than being "normal" weight. In other words the overweight=early death "fact" proclaimed
by the public health community is simply not true.

In fact, the study argues, the risks from being underweight are greater than overweight, something that resonates with me having known two women who died due to complications from anorexia.

Other studies will have to replicate these findings, but this study does seem to have taken a more careful approach than previous approaches.  One thing you can be sure about, is that this will not stop lawsuits against fast food companies, since overwhelming medical evidence of the safety of breast implants has not stopped litigation in that arena.  Heck, the fact that most people who are suing asbestos companies admits they are not even sick has not stopped litigation in that arena.


Walmart Litigation How-To

Like a smoker trying to quit for the twenty-seventh time, I have tried really, really hard to limit the number tort-related rants in my blog lately.  I sometimes go for weeks without falling off the wagon,and then something comes along that is so insane, I can't resist.

Via comes this site from attorney Lewis Laska dedicated to outlining all the ways people too bored or incompetent to make money the old fashion way can try to support their lifestyles by suing Walmart.  Don't miss this page, where the attorney will sell you packets of information for how to sue for various occurrences, such as:

Parking Lots- Uneven Surface and Protrusions (16 items, $135)

Parking Lots- Improper Parking Lot Design or Marking (11 items, $90)

Entering the Store - Entranceway Floors and Floormats (21 items, $160)

Entering the Store - Doors and Doorways - Tracked-in Water (32 items,

Aisle Ways - In-Store Consumable Food on Floor (18 items, $160)

Aisle Ways - Out-of-Store Consumable Food on Floor (14 items, $120)

Aisle Ways - Unknown Substance on Floor (59 items, $200)

Aisle Ways - Packaged Product on Floor (14 items, $110)

Aisle Ways - Unpackaged Product on Floor (13 items, $100)

Merchandise - Merchandise Protruding (1 item, $15)

Shelving and Racks and Displays - Vegetable Produce Displays (1 item,

Shelving and Racks and Displays - Water/Condensation From
Vegetable/Refrigeration/Freezer Displays (6 items, $55)

Shopping Carts - Overloaded (4 items, $45)

Shopping Carts - Defective (4 items, $45)

This is only a very short sample of the whole list.  I especially like the packaged product on floor.  Get your friend to drop a box of Wheaties on the floor, and then you follow him and sue.  And how the heck is Wal-Mart at fault if you overload your own shopping cart?  Anyway, I am going to order one to see what I get.

By the way, I especially liked this whopper, I guess because he is trying to portray himself as the brave man taking on huge odds:

Most lawyers are not interested in filing suits against Wal-Mart.
The company is reluctant to settle cases promptly and fairly and almost
seems eager to take cases to trial. One of the goals of the Wal-Mart Litigation
Project is to identify lawyers who are ready, willing and able to sue the
company where a case has merit.

I hardly know where to start.  First, if lawyers are so reluctant to sue Wal-Mart, why does Wal-Mart have like 20,000 suits pending against it? (note the numbers in this article, and it is 4 years old) Second, you gotta love the part about the attorney put out because Wal-Mart won't play the part of the victim like other companies and actually demands their right to a trial.  In this one statement, you see exactly how the plaintiff's bar works - they don't really want to go to a trial.  They want to force a fast settlement that requires little of their own time and move on with their 30+% of the take.


Respecting Individual Decision-Making

As a capitalist and believer in individual rights, one of the things I notice a lot today is just how many people do not trust individual decision-making.  Now, I do not mean that they criticize other people's decisions or disagree with them -- in a free society, you can disagree with anybody about anything.  I mean that they distrust other people's free, private decision-making so much that they want the government to intervene.

Interestingly, most people don't think of themselves as advocating government interference with people's private decisions.  However, if you ask them the right questions, you will find that they tend to fall into one of several categories that all want the government to intervene in individual decision-making in some way:  nannies, moralists, technocrats, and progressive/socialists.  Though the categories tend to overlap, they are useful in thinking about some of the reasons people want to call in the government to take over parts of people's lives.

By the way, before I get started, just to avoid straw-man arguments like "well, you just want 12-year-olds to have sex with dogs", there are three philosophical limitations that apply to decisions made by individuals or between individuals:

  • The decisions or agreements are made without fraud or physical coersion
  • The decisions are made by adults (the very definition of adulthood is the legal ability to make decisions for oneself)
  • Decisions and areements don't violate the constitutional rights of others

That being said, here are examples of the government interventionism of  nannies, moralists, technocrats, and progressive/socialists.

Continue reading ‘Respecting Individual Decision-Making’ »

The First Health Nazis were, uh, Nazis

For years I have called groups like the Center for Science and the Public Interest the health or food Nazis for their continuing desire for the government to interfere with all of our individual decision-making.  They have even been google bombed with that term, it appears, so I will help -- Food Nazis!

Anyway, Reason has an interesting post linking to a study of Nazi Germany:

In a brief BMJ article, George Davey Smith describes Nazi Germany's pioneering campaigns against smoking, drinking, overeating, and other unhealthy habits. (Robert N. Proctor's 1999 book The Nazi War on Cancer explores this topic in more detail.) "It may seem paradoxical that the robust identification of one of the most important environmental causes of disease of the 20th century occurred in a totalitarian state," Smith writes, referring to Nazi research on the link between smoking and lung cancer.

Uh, no it doesn't seem paradoxical at all that totalitarians would try to micro-manage individual decision-making.

Carnival of the Vanities #113

COTV #113 is up Food Basics, yet another on the growing list of Arizona Blogs.  This site has its article on Meyer's Law featured.