Here are this week’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly.
Food is the oil of the 21st century, and China is going on a global buying spree. Chinese nationals owned $81 million worth of U.S. farmland in 2011. A year later, that number jumped to $900 million. Another Chinese company then bought Smithfield Foods—a Virginia-based company that processes 32 million pigs a year. That purchase included enough farmland to bring the value of Chinese-owned U.S. farmland to $1.4 billion. The country now owns 1 in 4 pigs raised in the U.S. Why has China positioned itself to own a significant chunk of food production in the U.S.? The Center for Investigative Reporting investigates the country’s aggressive push for pork.—The Center for Investigative Reporting via @Brizzyc
Heroin treatment is stuck in a “dark age.” Standard treatment for heroin addicts is not all that different today than it was decades ago: willpower over chemistry. It’s a 12-step program. It’s a rigid 30-day drug detox center. And the majority of the time it’s not successful, according to a yearlong investigation by the Huffington Post. Researchers say they have found a treatment that works in the form of Suboxone, a newer alternative to the controversial methadone detox method—but few doctors are using it. Meanwhile, things are getting worse. The CDC reports heroin related deaths doubled between 2010 and 2012. — The Huffington Post via @amzam
California is getting old, polluting trucks off the road—by selling them to other states. The state is phasing out diesel engines built before 2010, but the old trucks are still on the road, as they are being sold to dealers in Oregon, Washington, Mexico, and other states that have less stringent environmental regulations.—The Oregonian via @robwdavid
“American legs are being lost while Cuban legs are being saved.” While Americans may soon be able to travel back and forth to Cuba, the trade blockade is making it difficult for pharmaceuticals to get trials here. Importantly, the diabetes drug Heberprot is still in limbo. The 9-year-old, “much-heralded, limb-saving” drug developed by a Havana firm is currently forbidden in the U.S.. The two countries are scheduled to talk about issues like travel, immigration and commercial ventures, but talk of the drug has been noncommittal.—FairWarning via @lathropd
Mexico’s response to billions in potential fraud: look the other way. Between 2003 and 2012, a Reuters investigation into the state-owned petroleum giant Pemex found $11.7 billion in contracts that Mexico’s Federal Audit Office cited as having serious problems. From 2008 to 2012, auditors recommended action in 274 cases. Pemex acted on three of them, and a handful of employees were suspended. Further insulating Pemex and the Mexican government from addressing these fraud allegations, the auditors—seemingly independent employees of a separate federal agency—were found to collect paychecks from Pemex and work in the company’s offices. “In Mexico, no one gets punished,” said the former head of Mexico’s Federal Audit Office.—Reuters via @micarosenberg