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March 21st, 2012:

Interview with Rep. Borris Miles

State Rep. Borris Miles

State Rep. Borris Miles is in his second term representing HD146, though his terms were not consecutive. He knocked off longtime Rep. Al Edwards in 2006, lost a rematch in 2008, then won again in 2010. He will face Edwards for a fourth time this May. Miles is a former police officer who owns an insurance agency in the Third Ward. In the 2011 session he championed criminal justice issues, among other things, and asked to serve on the Ag Committee so he could work on bills pertaining to urban agriculture. He succeeded in getting three such bills passed, though one was vetoed by Governor Perry. We talked about that and many other topics:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Hold it right there on the homeless feeding ordinance

This is the right call.

After a community outcry protesting what opponents call the criminalization of charity, Mayor Annise Parker announced this afternoon that she will not seek a vote Wednesday on her proposed regulation of the feeding of homeless people in Houston.

Parker’s original proposed regulations would require charities to register with the city, have a member take a food safety class, prepare food in city-approved kitchens and limit feedings to three public parks and on private property only with the owner’s written permission.

Spokeswoman Janice Evans said the mayor already has a revised ordinance ready to present to Council tomorrow and will ask Council to delay consideration of it until after she returns from a trade mission to Brazil at the end of the month.

“This is exactly how the process should work,” Parker said in a released statement.

See here for some background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. I think we can all agree that ensuring that public spaces are cleaned up and that food is handled safely are worthwhile goals. Let’s focus on those things, and on getting all of the people who will be affected by this involved and in agreement with any ordinance that gets proposed. Neil has more.

Pink slime

I don’t know if you’ve been following the “pink slime” debate, but Bettina Siegel, who is one of the main catalysts behind it, had an op-ed in the Chron that summarized the main arguments.

Last week, the online publication The Daily set off a media firestorm when it reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing ground meat for use in school food which contains, collectively, 7 million pounds of “Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings” (BLBT) – popularly known as “pink slime.”

In the past, slaughterhouse waste – fatty scraps and bits of connective tissue left over from beef processing – was used only for pet food or rendering into cooking oil. People didn’t eat it and, indeed, such waste is banned in Britain for human consumption. But in 2001, a South Dakota company called Beef Products Inc. (BPI) received USDA approval for a new process which extracts fat from the scraps and treats the remaining tissue with ammonium hydroxide to inhibit pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. The resulting gelatinous pink mass, nicknamed “pink slime” by a horrified government micro­biologist, is mixed into ground beef as cheap filler (up to 15 percent in school lunches), reportedly shaving three cents off every pound that contains it.

Meat industry lobbyists maintain that BLBT is nothing more than “lean, nutritious” beef, but two former microbiologists at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service have vociferously protested the agency’s controversial decision to classify BLBT as “meat.” In a 2002 email to colleagues, one of these scientists wrote, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”


It’s notable that three leading fast food giants – McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell – all recently discontinued their use of BLBT. Though they haven’t said so explicitly, it’s likely that growing consumer concern over pink slime led to their change in practice. But while fast-food customers can vote with their dollars, our nation’s schoolchildren, particularly those whose lower economic status forces them to rely on federal school meals, lack any voice in the matter.

I recently started a petition on asking the USDA to reconsider the use of BLBT in meat destined for school meals. In a week and a half, the petition garnered more than 230,000 signatures – and on Thursday, the USDA announced that starting in the fall, schools will be able to opt out of pink slime, choosing between 95 percent lean patties made with the filler, or fattier ground beef made without it, sold in bulk.

This is a good first step. But we need to make sure that schools can actually afford the meat without slime which, because it is sold in bulk, will require labor to form into patties. And we need to insist that pink slime is labeled in grocery-store ground beef. Consumers have a right to know what’s in their burgers.

Seems to me that accurate labeling is a pretty reasonable thing to demand. You can see all of Siegel’s blogging on the subject here, and if you really want to know what difference pink slime makes in terms of taste and edibility, read this intrepid reporter’s taste test. Actually, the taste test is almost an anti-climax. The ordeal he had to go through just to ascertain that he had one sample with pink slime and one without is what’s really eye-opening, and a fine example of Siegel’s point that we deserve to know what we’re eating. The Daily did some legwork on that as well. Check their list and see if you’ve been inadvertently eating this stuff. Then go sign the petition if you agree that you should have known all along.

Hens for Houston

Looking for a new cause to get involved in? Here’s a movement to allow people to raise hens in Houston.


“Hens for Houston” is working to promote a sustainable and progressive Houston in which city dwellers can keep 4-6 hens on the small city lots such as those found inside the Beltway and the 610 loop.


The current ordinance is outdated and based on the idea that chickens do not belong in an urban setting. This view is at odds with our current understanding of the necessity of green living to make our cities more sustainable, combat food deserts, and reacquaint our children with the food cycle. Plus, hens make great pets!

Many urban cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Dallas have progressive, forward-thinking ordinances permitting the keeping of 4-6 hens on city lots. Even Bellaire, TX has chickens!

You can learn more about their mission on the Why Hens? page and at their FAQ. This is still a work in progress, as they do not yet have a proposed ordinance prepared. If you want to support the effort, they’ve got a petition at to sign.