This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.
Out of office. In a series of tweets, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday provided insight into the state of food safety inspections during the government shutdown. According to Gottlieb, about 200 inspectors from the agency’s Office of Human and Animal Food Operations—down from 550 when the office is fully functional—are still on the job. In a follow-up tweet on Monday, Gottlieb clarified that “dedicated, unpaid staff” are fulfilling some of FDA’s most “critical” duties, including “high-risk domestic food surveillance inspections,” “foodborne illness surveillance and outbreak investigations,” and “execution of high-risk food recalls.” What proportion of FDA’s staff is still getting paid during the partial shutdown, and how many are fulfilling key roles out of the goodness of their hearts? FDA couldn’t be reached for comment (probably because its comms people are taking a long lunch).
Isn’t it ironic? Virginia’s State Senate this week overwhelmingly approved up to $750 million in subsidies for Amazon’s new headquarters, The Washington Post reports. At the same time, it narrowly struck down a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15. We seem to remember something about Amazon promising to lobby in favor of a $15 federal minimum when it raised its own wages last year…. Guess the company’s lobbyists can’t be bothered to make the two-hour trek from D.C. to Richmond to stump. Why spend your political capital pushing for a statewide minimum when you can just nab tax breaks for yourself?
Not easy being green. The Green New Deal—the term broadly used to describe pending progressive legislative efforts to address climate change and unemployment through an ambitious green jobs program—has hit one of its first snags, The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer reports. Last week, a group of about 600 environmental groups including 350.org and Friends of the Earth signed a letter to Congress outlining its desired legislative program, including a new power grid amped up by renewable energy, an end to fossil-fuel exports, and a ban on gas-powered cars by 2040. But most notable was what the consortium pledged not to support: market-based mechanisms like carbon credits, as well as technologies like nuclear power and carbon capture. That idealistic platform, Meyer writes, has deeply concerned scientists and other climate advocates who believe that the planet-saving goals outlined by the International Panel on Climate Change will not actually be possible without those technologies.
Side-of-beef hustle. For ranchers who make the cut, the biomedical supply industry may prove to be even more profitable than beef. In a text-and-audio package co-published by the Food and Environmental Reporting Network (FERN) and KQED’s The California Report, Lisa Morehouse tells the story of Prather Ranch, a cattle operation with standards so exacting that FDA has given it license to sell to medical companies. These animals aren’t just for food, though their meat is still sold to local restaurants and wholesalers. Their hides are turned into collagen for cancer research and 3-D bioprinting, their bones are ground for dental fillings, and parts “from pituitary glands to eyeballs to uteri to pericardium” find all kinds of uses for research and the drug trade. Some years, the Prather makes more money selling medical byproducts than it does selling beef. Talk about “whole animal.”