Thinly sliced: USDA eliminates the agency responsible for antitrust enforcement in meatpacking

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Vanishing act. On Thursday, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) was officially eliminated. Its functions will now be nested under the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This has been on the horizon since Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the agency’s reorganization last year. Among other things, GIPSA was responsible for enforcing antitrust law in the meatpacking business. Critics have long advocated for strengthening GIPSA’s power to regulate Big Meat, but the Trump administration killed a set of rules that would impose modest reforms. The new move will likely weaken GIPSA even further. Meanwhile, a different part of the federal government has started paying attention to the meat industry’s consolidation: It’s the Small Business Administration, and we wrote about it today here.

Comminuted messages. After clearing a Senate hearing, Mindy Brashears is expected to be confirmed as the head of food safety for the Department of Agriculture, and be placed in charge of the country’s supply of dairy, meat, and eggs. Ethics filings, however, show that she’s earned huge paychecks from trade associations and meat companies—which she’ll now have to regulate—for years. They include $100,000 from a South Dakota beef processor to testify, on trial, that “pink slime” is in fact “lean, finely-textured beef.” In September, The Texas Observer reported that those conflicts of interest were worrisome to consumer advocates.

♫ Fee-ee-eed the wo-o-o-rld. ♫ The Nobel Peace Prize committee doesn’t release the names of nominees. And it discourages nominators from tipping the press. That didn’t stop Maryland’s Democratic Congressman John Delaney from telling The Washington Post that he did, in fact, nominate Chef José Andrés for the 2019 award, for feeding Puerto Ricans after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. What was the chef’s response? First, humility: “Oh, wow.” And then, a recognition of food’s ever-increasing stage presence when it comes to issues of national security, public health, and immigration.

Plastic makes perfect. Ever ponder the purpose of the plastic “grass” lining in your to-go sushi? (Ever ponder your own purpose in this world while you’re at it?) It actually has a use beyond botanical decoration, and that’s to prevent disparate smells in a container from mixing. Historically, lily or orchid petals were used for that purpose. Now, bamboo leaves and—in the case of less bougie sushi—plastic have taken over. Graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton has the story for The New York Times, rendered in beautiful cartooning.

The Counter Stories by our editors.