FERN’s Friday Feed: How Trump is crippling the USDA

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Trump’s war on science at the USDA

Vanity Fair

“The big show Trump has made of removing regulations by executive order has done far less than he suggests, as there is a formal rule-changing process: you must solicit outside opinion, wait a certain amount of time for those opinions to arrive, and then deal with the inevitable legal challenges to your rule change,” writes Michael Lewis. But there are plenty of other ways — cutting budgets, canceling research, and appointing unqualified employees like long-haul truck drivers and AT&T clerks to scientific posts — for the current administration to wreak havoc at the USDA. Lewis sat down with past undersecretaries who previously ran some of the agency’s most important programs, from food stamps to rural development, in order to find out what worries them most about the work that is not getting done.

Opposing Big Soda in Colombia will get you death threats

The New York Times

One day last December, Dr. Esperanza Cerón “noticed two strange men on motorcycles trailing her Chevy sedan as she headed home from work,” write Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel. “She tried to lose them in Bogotá’s rush-hour traffic, but they edged up to her car and pounded on the windows. ‘If you don’t keep your mouth shut,’ one man shouted, according to Cerón, ‘you know what the consequences will be.’” Cerón is the head of Educar Consumidores, the most visible advocate for a 20-percent tax on sugary drinks in Colombia, where soda is often cheaper than bottled water. But the two thugs were only the beginning of a much larger and more menacing campaign led by Postobón, the country’s largest soda company — and potentially other multinational soda manufacturers — to silence public-health officials. It’s part of a global fight that is increasingly dirty, as more than 30 countries have adopted soda levies.

The good, bad, and ugly of a 17th-century sailor’s diet

Atlas Obscura

In August, a team of nautical archaeologists stocked an English galleon, modeled after a 1619 boat that sunk off the coast of Bermuda, with all the foods that sailors ate in that era: salted beef, ship biscuits (a.k.a. hardtack), peas and beer. They wanted to see just how gnarly the menu would get after sitting on board for two months. The beef eventually smelled rotten, but it remained edible soaking in brine. The hardtack, true to its name, held up the best. But it all was covered with extremely healthy bacteria, suggesting that the seafaring diet might have made some sailors sick, but also could have helped voyagers develop immunity to disease through good gut bacteria.

Whither the turkey tail?

The Conversation

The U.S. will produce about 245 million turkeys this year, but few Americans ever think to eat turkey tails. Which is why the poultry industry started shipping turkey tails to Samoa in the 1950s. The extremely fatty meat is now considered a national staple. “By 2007 the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year — a food that had been unknown there less than a century earlier,” writes Michael Carolan. In fact, the government of Samoa became so concerned that turkey tails were contributing to the nation’s rise in obesity that it banned their import for several years, before being forced to let tails back in by the World Trade Organization.

The Amazon’s trippy fight against deforestation

Climate Home News

In Brazil, members of the 1,000-strong Yawanawá indigenous group are hoping ayahuasca, the psychedelic drink used for spiritual journeys, can help them save the rainforest. Tourists come from around the world to experience ayahuasca, and the money they spend is supporting the Yawanawá, and the many nonprofit groups that have partnered with them, in their fight against encroaching cattle ranches.

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