Thinly sliced: Will Perdue’s new “humane” slaughter process hurt producers?

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.

Fed fat. Last week, USDA announced the twenty-person committee that will help shape the 2020 dietary guidelines. Politico’s Morning Agriculture reports that the American Beverage Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association both succeeded in placing their nominees on the panel (while noting that the nomination process isn’t all that transparent). Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel asks: Did the dietary guidelines nudge us toward obesity?

For the birds? Perdue has announced a $20 million investment in a “more humane” form of chicken slaughter, Bloomberg reports, which never requires the birds to be touched by human hands. The company will start using “catching machines,” which nudge chickens from barns to conveyor belts and into crates, which are then stacked on a trailer. From there, the birds are shunted into a chamber called a “controlled atmosphere stunning system,” which essentially knocks them out with a combination of carbon dioxide and oxygen. No word yet on whether Perdue or its contract growers will foot the bill if these improvements roll out nationwide—but some chicken producers say that expensive technological upgrades at the farm level can put them out of business.

Roundup roundup. A consequential Roundup trial began on Monday at a federal court in San Francisco, the Associated Press reports. Jurors will decide whether the controversial, ubiquitous weedkiller once made by Monsanto caused cancer to Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old who used it for decades, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. (Monsanto has since been absorbed by Bayer, and its brand retired.) The judge overseeing Hardeman’s case has deemed this a “bellwether trial,” meaning it could have implications for hundreds of similar lawsuits across the country. This case isn’t unprecedented, though: In August of 2018, a jury found Monsanto liable for causing a groundskeeper’s cancer as a result of Roundup—a verdict that Monsanto has appealed.

Return of the “Harvest Box”? The Trump administration is once again attempting to reduce federal spending by 5 percent—an arbitrary-seeming amount purportedly intended to reduce the budget deficit. This initiative failed to take hold for the 2019 fiscal year, but Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said upcoming USDA budget proposals would be “conservative,” Chuck Abbott reports for FERN Ag Insider (paywall). Perdue was vague about how a reduced budget would impact the food stamps program. In the past, he has campaigned for replacing part of SNAP with pre-packed, Blue Apron-style “Harvest Boxes,” a measure that proponents say would save the federal government billions—and critics say is a terrible idea for financial and logistical reasons. Are we about to see this much-derided policy proposal come back from the dead, like the villain at the end of a horror movie?

Yes. No. Maybe so? Woozy over the countless claims and counter-claims about coffee’s effect on health, including whether or not to worry about acrylamide? The latest issue of TASTE, entirely devoted to coffee, also aims to clear up some of the confusion about whether coffee can be linked to cancer, anxiety, heart disease or weight loss. TLDR: It’s complicated. So sit back, grab a cup, read some good articles about Philly’s Gritty-themed latte art, the instant coffee renaissance, and the under-valued wonder of Ethiopian coffee—and RELAX.

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