Thinly sliced: Cranberry advocates spar with FDA over UTI claims, “local” isn’t as local as you think, and more

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.

Moving on. There should be some sort of doomsday clock for the 2018 farm bill (hey, innovators!) but barring that, here’s your crib sheet: negotiations stalled last week. Sure enough, the holdup is, in part, due to a Democratic rebellion over potential cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, widely known as food stamps). We thought this might happen (tbf, everyone else did, too).

Pork, pulled. “Decades before Uber, American hog farming was a forerunner of the gig economy,” writes Doug Bock Clark in a story for Rolling Stone on hog farming in North Carolina. Smithfield Foods, which was recently acquired by Chinese conglomerate WH Group, raises hogs in the state for about 50 percent less than it would cost to raise them overseas.

Local enough. A new investigation by reporters in the USA Today network has found that state-funded “local” seals on food products don’t necessarily ensure that the ingredients are locally grown. Take coffee grown abroad but roasted in Utah and branded “Utah’s Own,” for instance (because coffee beans don’t grow in Utah, natch). The investigation revealed that 20 states allow companies to use seals like “Made in Oklahoma” and “Ohio Proud” without having to meet a minimum percentage of locally-sourced ingredients. As we reported in 2016, agricultural marketing programs are meant to bolster farmers and food producers alike. But if the USA Today story is any indication, only about seven states actually enforce their own labeling standards.

Burning corn. The ongoing squabble over the Renewable Fuel Standard continues to churn in Washington, Axios reports. The 10-year-old regulations have pitted corn farmers—who benefit from the RFS because it guarantees them a gigantic market—against oil refiners, who argue that renewable fuel technologies haven’t advanced as quickly as anticipated and create an unreasonable burden on their business activities. To complicate matters, columnist Amy Harder writes, the issue divides Republicans in Congress.

Buy you a drank. In an attempt to bring in some research dough, scientists and federal health officials buttered up alcohol industry executives by suggesting that favorable results were likely to come from a 10-year study on whether moderate drinking has health benefits. The study began in February of this year, the New York Times reports, and is being funded by donations from some of the biggest liquor corporations in the world, including ABInbev, the world’s largest brewer. Here’s how: The donations were made to a private foundation that provides funding support to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federal agency. The NIH then disbursed grants to scientists running the study. An easier, less contentious liquor-study scheme might’ve been to just donate some beers to us, ABInBev. We could’ve told you about their health benefits. Next time.

Let’s taco ‘bout school, baby. Fast-food jobs don’t have a high retention rate, says Bloomberg. (Is that news to you?) Though, now it’s apparently worse than ever: the industry is staring down a 150-percent turnover rate—its highest since 1995. To keep its workers from jumping ship, Taco Bell is expanding its continuing-education program, which provides tuition discounts to employees, reports QSR Magazine. Previously the program was limited to employees of corporate-owned locations only. Those, in turn, reported higher retention rates than franchises. The program is now available to employees company-wide. It’s almost as though people like to work where their aspirations are valued, or something.

Bad news berry. The FDA is not here for Ocean Spray’s official request to put a label on its products that claims they may prevent UTIs. The cranberry cooperative is currently shelling out millions for research that has already produced conclusions about the benefits of cranberries, but such industry-funded studies leave lots of room for criticism that they are driven by profitability over science. One critique? The research Ocean Spray funded didn’t include doctor-diagnosed cases of UTI, just patients who had UTI symptoms. Scientists and researchers say the cooperative is attempting to bait shoppers with unfounded health claims that help boost sales. Ocean Spray says it’s merely dedicated to “painting a full picture of what the cranberry can do.” Either way, maybe leave our bodies out of it?

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