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Tom Laskawy's Posts

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Stop the environmental subsidy for factory farms

  North Catolina hog-waste lagoon: Smells like CAFO spiritDefMoIn one of the most deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) twists in our deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) system that is US agricultural policy, the prime beneficiaries of one of the USDA's main environmental programs are beef, pork, and poultry factory farms. This money, of course, comes on top of the monetary benefit that these vast (literal) cesspools of industry reap from an almost total lack of government oversight (a benefit which the GAO has estimated to be in the billions of dollars). Even subsidies to corn and soy farmers …

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Adventures in the FUD-osphere

Don't FUD it upImage: psdFDR must have been talking about the Internet when he famously said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Everywhere you turn there is another study raising some new hazard and questioning some baseline assumption about how our society lives, eats or fuels itself. And then in short order, another study appears questioning the conclusions of the first -- leaving us all full of nothing but FUD. FUD, of course, stands for the bedrock principles of a depressingly large segment of corporations (and politicians) -- Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. The concept may go back as …

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Is ethanol’s Congressional free ride coming to an end?

The Congressional Budget Office just released a paper looking critically at the relationship between ethanol, food prices and carbon emissions. But it gets better. The CBO blogged about it!Bedtime for corn ethanol?Photo: Big Grey Mare Most ethanol in the United States is produced from domestically grown corn, and the rapid rise in the fuel's production and usage means that roughly one-quarter of all corn grown in the U.S. (nearly 3 billion bushels) is now used to produce ethanol. The demand for corn for ethanol production has exerted upward pressure on corn prices and on food prices in general. CBO estimates …

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NYC’s attack on salt misses the forest for the trees

Diet dilemmas Photo: George D Thompson In his most recent column the NYT's John Tierney -- a conservative political columnist turned "skeptical" science columnist -- objects to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to reduce New Yorkers' salt intake. He compares the proposed new policy to a mandatory experiment in which residents are unwitting (and possibly unwilling) participants. ...Why bother with consent forms when you can automatically enroll everyone in the experiment? And why bother with a control group when you already know the experiment’s outcome? The city’s health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, has enumerated the results. If the food industry …

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Did Obama screw up ag subsidy reform?

Over the weekend, the NYT detailed the trials and tribulations of the Obama administration's attempts to trim farm subsidy payments of a certain size: Among the audacious proposals in President Obama’s budget was a plan to save more than $9.7 billion over a decade by putting strict limits on farm subsidies that are disbursed regardless of market conditions or even whether the land is actively farmed. But Mr. Obama’s grand ambitions have run into political reality. The budget outlines approved by the House and Senate on Thursday night do not include limits on farm subsidies at all, and even champions …

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EPA to Ethanol Lobby: Drop Dead!

It's good to know the EPA has a sense of humor. For a while, I was afraid the EPA might actually bow to political pressure and raise the so-called blend wall for ethanol, i.e. the amount of ethanol that can currently be mixed into gasoline and sold at the pump. Right now, it's set at 10%, but USDA chief Tom Vilsack, many farm-state representatives and the entire biofuel industry have been lobbying the EPA hard to raise it to 15%. On the one hand, I couldn't see how the EPA, on the verge of making the momentous "endangerment" finding on …

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The food movement needs to hone its political skills

I haven't had a chance to weigh in on the issues raised by Andrew Martin's recent NYT feature on the food movement. Despite the giddiness that comes with hearing that "a prominent food industry lobbyist... said he was amazed at how many members of Congress were carrying copies of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma,'" some felt that the article, with its focus on Alice Waters -- who becomes more controversial by the day -- and Michael Pollan as food movement "leaders," was a hit piece. Personally, I think of it as a reality check. Obamafoodorama is on to something in seeing that …

Read more: Food, Politics

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The DOE’s annual biofuels conference doesn’t inspire confidence

Team Ethanol got together recently at the Department of Energy for Biomass 2009: Fueling Our Future -- a conference on all things biofuel. Needless to say, they're still singing the same old song. More subsidies, a higher blend wall (a cheer that USDA Chief Tom Vilsack knows well) and much crowing over the promise of cellulosic ethanol, which uses "non-food crops" such as switchgrass and wood waste rather than corn. They all clearly got the memo about carbon neutrality, which explains why Richard Hamilton, CEO of Ceres, one of the ethanol bigwigs, was saying things like this: [L]arge increases expected …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Following USDA dietary guidelines can be hazardous to your health

Jill Richardson flagged this op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle co-authored by a nutritional biochemist and a doctor. In their commentary, they indicate that current government dietary guidelines might be an eensy bit flawed: Here is a daily diet that meets those nutrition guidelines: Breakfast: 1 cup Fruit Loops; 1 cup skim milk; 1 package M&M milk chocolate candies; fiber and vitamin supplements. Lunch: Grilled cheddar cheeseburger. Dinner: 3 slices pepperoni pizza, with a 16-ounce soda and 1 serving Archway sugar cookies. This helps explain why 12-year-old schoolchildren develop thickening of their carotid arteries to the brain, and 80 percent …

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Farmers markets need rules if we want them to help the food system

Daniel Duane in Mother Jones warns you about farmers markets becoming "farmers markets": In 1994, there were 1,755 farmers markets in the United States; by 2008, there were 4,685. In the big scheme of things, this is terrific news; it means Americans are learning to feed themselves properly. But not all parts of the country have seen commensurate explosions in the number of small-scale local organic farmers. And the driving force in opening a farmers market is less often the organic revolution than it is economic revitalization, maybe a local chamber of commerce hoping to tempt people back to Main …

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