Meredith Niles

Meredith Niles is a PhD student in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her research examines the variables that influence the adoption of climate change mitigation and adaptation practices in agriculture. Her work focuses in California at the farm level and New Zealand with agricultural processors, which is implementing the world's first greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme to include agriculture. At UC Davis she is a board member of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and on the Executive Board of the Russell Ranch Long-Term Agricultural Research Center. She is the former coordinator of the Cool Foods campaign at the Center for Food Safety.

The organic times are a changin'

New data show that 2008 organic food sales will reach $32.9 billion

As people from Haiti to Ethiopia are tragically struggling to cope with rising food prices, many are piecing together the reasons behind our recent price spikes. The culprits lie in everything from the switch to growing crops for biofuels to market speculation. The situation is complex and involves multiple factors. But as economists tally up the numbers and politicians scramble for solutions, others are beginning to wonder if this is the end for organic food as we know it. For years, the organic industry has seen sales growth in the double digits, far outpacing any other sector of food products. …

A side of gamma rays with my salad, please

Starting today the FDA will allow producers to use irradiation on lettuce and spinach

The better part of this summer seemed to be dotted with stories of continued salmonella and E. coli outbreaks. First, the FDA thought the problem was with tomatoes; but, it turns out peppers were the culprits that caused more than 1,400 people in 43 states to become sick with salmonella Saintpaul. This marks yet another incident where the FDA has failed to ensure the safety of the American public and our food supply. Now, the FDA has decided to allow use of a controversial method to combat microbial contamination of foods: irradiation. Starting Friday, the FDA will allow producers to …

A prince's dream: Far-fetched fairytale or a real future of food?

Prince Charles sparked controversy when he expressed doubt in GM crops

The British royal family is no stranger to controversy and media attention, but Prince Charles caused a new kind of worldwide media flurry on Tuesday when he sat down for an exclusive interview with the Telegraph (U.K.). This time around, though, it seems unlikely the media story will be covered by the British tabloids since the Prince of Wales didn’t discuss his sons, his love life, or even his future reign as king. Instead, the Prince talked about genetically modified organisms, our food supply, and the future of food security for the globe. Simple enough, it seems: A soon-to-be global …

Sustainable biotech crops -- solution or oxymoron?

Industry report touts potential for biotech crops to combat climate change

I am always a sucker for a catchy sounding report -- like the one the World Business Council for Sustainable Development released last week: "Agricultural Ecosystems: Facts and Trends." It had it all: the noble sounding "Council," the association between agriculture and ecosystems, and the appeal to my inner science-geek with words like "facts" and "trends." I printed it out enthusiastically and got out my highlighter, ready to read all of the fascinating new insights into agriculture, food, and the environment. I was intrigued by the beginning section on consumer patterns which detailed the increased demand for meat in developing countries and the impact this might have worldwide. One section focused on the role of animal production in climate change. I skipped along to the climate section nodding my head in agreement the entire time: converting grasslands to agriculture is a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions; conventional agriculture can threaten biodiversity; and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated by integrated crop management and minimum tillage. I balked a bit when they cited that agriculture produced 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2000 (since then the United Nations has stated that animal production alone produces 18 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions), but I still felt confident that the report might be worth something. Maybe I set my expectations a bit high.

Down on the factory farm

California’s Prop 2 could end the worst farm-animal abuses and set a national precedent

When Californians go to the polls in November they can set a precedent for the rest of the country by ending the worst animal and environmental abuses and simultaneously increasing the safety of our national food supply. It's an election year and we all know what that means -- big money, big events, and big promises. As the rest of the country listens endlessly to the political propaganda of the last few desperate months before November, California voters are being fed an entirely different mouthful of issues -- the living conditions of the billions of farm animals slaughtered in this country every year. This weekend the Humane Society of the United States will hold a series of cross-country parties to mark the celebration of their historical ballot initiative in California: the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act or Proposition 2.

A whole new kind of local

Urban homesteading in Washington, D.C.

Today's slow yet steady movement towards sustainable foods has a decidedly urban feel to it. This morning, sitting at my backyard patio table and drinking my morning coffee, I looked appreciatively out into my backyard and took a satisfying breath. The highway behind my house roared with the morning rush hour traffic, the high rise apartments across the street were bustling with people hurrying off to school and work, and I was sitting in my own piece of urban heaven. In the past three months, my small yet robust rhombus-shaped backyard has turned into a garden oasis rarely found in even the fertile soils of rural areas. Three raised beds and several fence-side beds later, I was staring at the most satisfying seeds I had ever sowed -- and all of this in the middle of Washington, D.C.

Milking sustainability

Sustainability goals for the U.S. dairy industry

Last week, we witnessed the dairy industry hold their first ever Sustainability Summit for U.S. Dairy. The week long conference culminated in the announcement of an industry-wide commitment and action plan to reduce milk's "carbon footprint" while simultaneously increasing business value (translation: profit) from farm to consumer. But how truly "green" are their efforts?

Amazin' maize

Corn tries to look a little too sweet

This week's $4.8 billion merger of Corn Products International and Bunge Ltd. probably didn't catch your eye, but with revenues projected to increase 29 percent this year to $4 billion, you might consider paying attention -- for the sake of your belly and the environment. Corn syrup manufacturers are going on the offensive -- and that includes a charm offensive. The Corn Refiners Association -- an industry trade group -- launched a new marketing campaign yesterday that coincided with the announcement of the multi-billion dollar merger.

Rotten tomatoes

Latest health scare exposes a frayed food-safety net

Salmonella-infected tomatoes have made headlines over the course of the last week, but there's nothing new about the problem that tainted tomatoes reveal.This outbreak has put more than 25 people in the hospital and sickened hundreds, but it is just the latest in a long line of sickness and recalls. Salmonella in tomatoes, spinach, and lettuce, eColi in peanut butter, beef from downer cows; all throw into question the legitimacy of agency claims that the U.S. has the best food safety apparatus in the world. The facts are clear: after years of budget and staffing cuts, America's food safety net is frayed past the point of effectiveness.