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Tom Laskawy's Posts

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Resistance grows to increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline

The ethanol lobby may still be reeling in the subsidies, but it doesn't seem to be having any luck dealing with their other obsession, the so-called "blend wall," i.e. the legally prescribed limit to the amount of ethanol that can be mixed into gasoline. The NYT has a nice summary of the mounting scientific and industry backlash against ethanol lobbyist Growth Energy's EPA petition to raise the blend wall from 10% to 15%. The NYT lays out some of the objections this way: Approving E15 would have a huge impact on consumers, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center …

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Vilsack’s USDA shakes things up

I know some are still reeling from the recent Obama administration announcement on biofuels and its implication that it remains a bit too much in thrall to the concerns of Big Ag. And Tom Vilsack's continued pimping for Monsanto and other biotech companies seems both unsustainable and uninformed. But a slew of positive decisions have come down from the USDA in recent days that merit attention and suggest that business is very much not as usual at ag's end of the Mall. First up was USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's announcement of $50 million in funding from the USDA's Environmental …

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Barack gives biofuels the big thumbs up

[Update: While some may think this decision was a win for corn ethanol, House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson clearly does not. In fact, he is seriously ticked off about it. According to CongressDaily, Peterson responded to the indirect land use ruling as follows:  "You are going to kill the biofuels industry. You are in bed with the oil industry. I won't support any climate change bill even if you fix it because I don't trust anybody," Peterson told administration witnesses at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the renewable fuel standard's impact on land use. Ouch.] The Obama administration …

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Now is not the time for timidity

I agree with the calls for some amount of caution in the search for a smoking gun in the swine flu pandemic. There's always the danger of over-reaching and turning your target into an object of sympathy. But really, the science IS behind us on this one. The head virologist of the CDC has indeed identified the core strain of this outbreak as one that arose in a North Carolina CAFO.  Meanwhile, another voice, this time Johann Hari of the London Independent (via HuffPo) convincingly touts the idea that our desire for cheap meat is a cause of the current …

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Smithfield is listening!

What's that you say? Smithfield claims that they are awaiting the results of "additional" tests on the pigs at their Veracruz, Mexico, CAFO -- the facility at the heart of speculation here on Grist and elsewhere as the source of the current swine flu outbreak -- to determine if any pigs are infected. And just in case you were wondering, Smithfield is fully aware of who's "driving" the CAFO/swine flu meme, if their CEO is to be believed (reg req'd): In a letter to employees, [CEO C. Larry] Pope wrote that the results of those independent laboratory tests will be …

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CDC chief confirms U.S. origin of flu strain

H/t to Fair Food Fight for this one. In a Q&A with ScienceInsider, the CDC's chief virologist Ruben Donis confirms what Columbia researchers declared: the current H1N1 swine flu virus is "all swine" in origin, the human and avian components present in the current virus date to the 1998 swine flu outbreak, and that this is not a recent triple reassortment of swine/human/avian, as has been reported: Q: How does it tie to the current outbreak? R.D.: Where does all this talk about avian and human genes come from? I was describing a fully swine virus. For [the] last 10 …

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Current flu virus may be 100% swine in origin

Everything swine and dandy?This intriguing notice posted to the International Society for Infectious Diseases by Columbia University researchers suggests that the current swine flu outbreak may be a "reassortment" (i.e. rearrangement) of existing swine flu viruses and not a swine, avian, and human influenza combo: The preliminary analysis using all the sequences in public databases (NCBI) suggests that all segments are of swine origin. NA and MP seem related to Asian/European swine and the rest to North American swine (H1N2 and H3N2 swine viruses isolated since 1998). There is also interesting substratification between these groups, suggesting a multiple reassortment. We …

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Corn ethanol approaches a moment of truth

Courtesy Randy Wick via Flickr [UPDATED 4/24] As expected, California's Air Resources Board passed the LCFS with the indirect land use component intact. That's the good news. The bad news is that the actual model to be used in the calculation (including to what extent gasoline will incur an indirect land use penalty) won't be finalized until 2011, a year before the rule actually goes into effect. The badder news is that Reuters reported that CARB's chair, Mary Nichols, sent a to letter for Fmr. Gen. Wesley Clark, CEO of Growth Energy, the main ethanol lobbying group, declaring "that corn …

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Biotech’s history of overpromising and underdelivering may be catching up with it

GMOs: false promise?km6xoTom Philpott's post on USDA chief Tom Vilsack's comments regarding biotech deserves a bit more attention. Vilsack was speaking at the first ever meeting of the Group of Eight agricultural ministers. I guess we have to consider it progress that the top ag officials from the eight largest industrialized nations finally decided it was worth getting together despite the fact that there's no consensus on what to do about food. It doesn't help that when Tom Vilsack leaves the country -- the meeting was held in Italy -- he goes from being "Farmer Tom" to "Salesman Tom." His …

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Vilsack names former head of Iowa’s Health and Human Services as new USDA nutrition chief

Phil Brasher at the Des Moines Register is reporting that USDA chief Tom Vilsack has named Kevin Concannon the new Undersecretary of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, i.e. the head of the federal food and nutrition programs -- which include food stamps and the national school lunch program. Concannon ran Iowa's Department of Health and Human Services -- responsibile for administering the state's Medicaid and nutrition programs -- from 2003-2008. The USDA post is typically held by a former state health department administrator -- the main question will be what, if any, reformist credentials Concannon has. According to Brasher, …

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