Web Excursions 2021-11-14

The Great Organic-Food Fraud

  • The real difference, then, between a ton of organic soybeans and a ton of conventional soybeans is the story you can tell about them.

    • The test, at the point of sale, is merely a question: Was this grown organically?

    • That’s not like asking if a cup of coffee is decaffeinated.

    • It’s more like buying sports memorabilia—is this really the ball?—

    • or like trying to establish if a used car has had more than a single, careful owner.

  • “It’s a huge flaw in the organic industry that the farmers pay the certifier—sometimes many thousands of dollars.

    • The certifier has a conflict of interest,

    • because they really don’t want to blow the whistle on a fraud.”

  • Constant was, in fact, passing off non-organic grain as organic grain.

    • The scheme, in which at least half a dozen associates were involved, is the largest-known fraud in the history of American organic agriculture:

    • prosecutors accused him of causing customers to spend at least a quarter of a billion dollars on products falsely labelled with organic seals.

  • Constant evidently saw fish farming as an opportunity to reproduce his achievement in grain—exploit a market willing to pay premium prices for qualities that are hard to detect at the point of sale.

    • There’s currently no such thing as an American organic fish: a wild-caught fish is not an agricultural product,

    • so the U.S.D.A. has no standing to judge it, and there’s resistance to certifying farmed fish.

    • So Constant tried to position his product as unusually wholesome, and “sustainable,”

    • in part by describing himself as an organic-industry pioneer.

  • it seems like when [the inspector] report things, they’re looking for reasons not to have to investigate

    • as long as someone is covered with paper documentation you don’t go after them


The World’s Most Professional Whistleblower

  • Haugen's relationship with Reset,

    • an anti-tech lobbying shop with operations across the EU, U.K., U.S. and Australia,

    • also raises concerns about who is driving her push to rewrite Europe's online content rules

  • For Ben Scott,

    • Reset's founder and

      • an outside technology adviser to Clinton’s failed 2016 U.S. presidential campaign,

    • there is no conspiracy in his group's help in guiding Haugen through the complex world of European policymaking.

  • His team has spent the last 18 months lobbying EU officials

    • to impose outside oversight on social media companies' opaque operations.

  • Where his team stepped in was

    • to offer suggestions about who she should meet

    • and pay for logistical support, such as flights and hotel rooms.

  • She has prioritized meetings with lawmakers in countries already mulling online content rules that could make a difference,

    • though is open to meeting with politicians from the Global South where online hate can have real-world impact.

  • Scott, Reset's founder, said she often had rejected his group's suggestions and already had her own views on what she wanted to do.

    • Some officials, including the likes of European

  • Three European Commission officials who met with the Facebook whistleblower were less than impressed by her take

    • on the bloc's Digital Services Act, or online content proposals,

    • as what she suggested, including efforts to boost transparency,

    • were ideas that had been debated in Europe for years.

  • Despite ongoing differences between EU lawmakers about how to pass social media rules,

    • politicians aren't divided along partisan lines

      • over claims companies like Facebook either censor right wing voices or

      • do too little to keep such divisive political speech off these networks.

    • This contrasts to the U.S.


How I Found Comfort in Volunteer Firefighting

  • Firefighting is not unlike being a parent in some ways.

  • People call us with problems they can’t solve,

    • which is to say there’s a wall of flame coming toward their house or a giant tree has come down on their roof in a storm.

  • The problems then become ours, and we do our best to take care of them.

  • Sometimes we try and fail.

  • But what I’ve come to learn is that it is better to have stood up for a community, for a child,

    • than to have stood by and done nothing at all.