FERN’s Friday Feed: The Codfather goes down; the Poison Squad; and heroin on the farm

The Poison Squad: Taking civic duty to a whole new level

Mental Floss

In 1902, Harvey Washington Wiley, “the brusque and determined leader of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Chemistry in Washington, D.C.,” recruited 12 men who agreed to be poisoned in the name of science, says Mental Floss. Wiley was concerned about common food preservatives like borax and sulfuric acid. But food-industry lobbyists had so far thwarted his attempts to reveal the chemicals’ health effects. The volunteers agreed to eat all their meals from the research kitchen for an entire year, while carrying a bag at all times to catch their excrement for analysis. Borax made the men depressed and gave them headaches, while formaldehyde had to be discontinued early because the symptoms were so severe. Inspired in part by Wiley’s investigations, in 1906 Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, to regulate food additives and preservatives. In the 1930s, the Bureau of Chemistry became the Food and Drug Administration.

When two of a farmer’s kids die from heroin, what happens to the third — and the farm?

The New York Times

Roger Winemiller would like to give his farm to his son, but he says he doesn’t trust him to stay off heroin. He’s only been clean for two months, and Winemiller’s two other children both died last year of overdoses. In Ohio, where the Winemillers grow corn and soybeans — when they aren’t at weekly probation meetings for the surviving son — 2,106 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014. Drug use in rural America has almost tripled since 1999. “Farm bureaus’ attention to seed, fertilizer and subsidies has been diverted to discussions of overdoses,” says The New York Times. And yet access to support groups and treatment centers is often far away or nonexistent in small farming communities, making many addicts feel like there is no help to be found.

How the Codfather exploited catch shares to get rich and undercut New England’s fishing industry

FERN and Mother Jones

By the time federal agents posing as Russian mobsters arrested the Codfather last year, he owned one-fifth of the fleet in New Bedford, Mass., and was running an operation worth $175 million, eight times what he had reported to the IRS. Carlos Rafael’s “fraud, which he termed ‘the dance,’ was a triumph of vertical integration,” writes Ben Goldfarb in FERN’s latest story, co-produced with Mother Jones. He owned the boats and a seafood dealership, so he could safely manipulate the numbers of what he actually caught. “I’m a pirate,” he once told regulators. “It’s your job to catch me.”

When New England regulators implemented a catch-share system in 2010, it was supposed to make the industry more equitable by dividing up the fishing rights among all the boats. But because they failed to include caps on how many shares one operator could own, it actually accelerated consolidation, as bigger companies — and none was bigger than the Codfather’s — bought or leased the shares owned by smaller boats. The larger operators, “accumulate fishing power like agribusinesses devouring family farms,” explains Goldfarb. And that’s how a man like the Codfather got made.

The next generation of salmon farms will be on land

Fast Company

Aquaculture has its problems: deadly sea lice, leftover waste that turns into algal blooms, and the need for heavy doses of antibiotics to keep stressed fish alive — to name just a few. But a new wave of fish farming based on a “recirculating aquaculture system” is entirely land-based, produces fish with more omega-3s than industrial ocean pens, converts waste to compost, and is sea-lice free. “The fish live their entire lives here, starting out as eggs in water-filled, temperature-controlled trays the size of desk drawers that are stacked nearby, moving on to a series of smaller adolescent-stage tanks before reaching the simulated ocean, and, eventually, being run through a stunner and placed on ice in another room before ending up on your plate,” says Fast Company. Already, a dozen such land-based systems are raising salmon around the world. More are slated to come online soon, no ocean necessary.

Try this tea, but not too much — you can’t afford it


Think of pu’er as the Dom Pérignon of tea, complete with prized vintages, coveted labels, and Chinese plutocrats willing to pay $725 a kilogram. While some varieties go for just a few dollars, in 2005, 500 grams of a 64-year-old variety sold for $150,000. “To be considered true pu’er, the leaves must be grown in Yunnan Province, dried in the sun, come from the plant Camellia sinensis var. assamica, and allowed to ferment over weeks, months, years or even decades,” says NPR. But that’s just the start. Collectors know to use just a small sliver of the potent stuff and to brew it in short bursts (15 to 60 seconds) in boiling water as many as a dozen times until the taste is just right. “Gentle, elegant and comforting, like an embrace from a parent. I save it for really soft, snowy days now. It’s my reset button,” says Max Falkowitz, executive digital editor of Saveur.

Photo courtesy of: FDA Via FLICKR // U.S. GOVERNMENT WORKS

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