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Tom Laskawy's Posts

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The city that ended hunger did it by going local

What struck me in Frances Moore Lappé's piece at Yes! on Belo Horizonte, Brazil -- the city that ended hunger -- was how simple the solution was: [The city] offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce -- which often reached 100 percent -- to consumers and the farmers. Farmers' profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food. In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs …

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The National Pork Board tries to spin Nick Kristof's MRSA column

In the wake of Nick Kristof's column on MRSA infections among hog farmers, Obamafoodorama found evidence of Big Pig (the National Pork Board) conspiring with the CDC in prepping its response. And after all that, this is the best they could come up with: "They are making a huge leap attributing MRSA in these people to hogs," says Angela DeMirjyn, science communications manager for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The pork organization has been researching MRSA for some time, says DeMirjyn, and supports the CDC's statement that most community acquired MRSA infections are caused by a different bacteria than …

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The EPA announces its plan for a national greenhouse-gas reporting system

As Kate reported, the EPA is moving forward with its long-delayed national reporting system for greenhouse gas emissions. They estimate that it will cover 85 to 90 percent of total U.S. emissions. The agency set the reporting threshold at 25,000 tons of carbon, which will exempt individuals and small businesses, but will apply to all other industrial and commercial sources of GHG emissions. That includes ethanol factories, by the way, which should provide further proof that the whole ethanol boondoggle won't play a meaningful role in addressing climate change. Also included in the survey will be Confined Animal Feeding Operations …

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Using less fertilizer has no meaningful effect on yield

Speaking of limiting the use of synthetic fertilizer, allow me to throw a little science your way courtesy of Science Daily and the USDA's Argriculural Research Service: From 1998 to 2008, the researchers evaluated and compared potential management strategies for reducing nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen levels in soil and groundwater. The first study showed that onions used only about 12 to 15 percent of the fertilizer nitrogen applied to the crop. Much of the remainder stayed in the top six feet of soil. The next year, Halvorson and his colleagues planted corn on the same land and found that it …

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With water supplies at risk, hydrologists are in high demand

From a NYT weekly jobs column, we learn of one employment area experiencing high growth: [D]emand for hydrologists has been predicted to grow 24 percent from 2006 to 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hydrologists study the distribution, circulation and physical properties of water, with hydrogeologists focusing specifically on groundwater. After creation of the Environmental Protection Agency..., hydrologists' work was largely focused on water quality. Today, however, "an increasing percentage of hydrologists are interested in water quantity and supply, which is an emerging issue and where global climate change plays …

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Paul Roberts' MoJo article on farming gets big idea right and details wrong

I like Paul Roberts. I liked his book The End of Food. But I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by his recent article on sustainable farming in Mother Jones, "Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008." That's not to say there's nothing to recommend it. His central premise -- that we way we're farming today isn't sustainable and that no large-scale model of what sustainable agriculture would look like currently exists -- is valid and important (as anyone who hangs out around here is well aware). And any article that gets its money quote from sustainable ag …

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Who put the food companies in charge of food safety? We did.

Here's my plan to reform the food safety system -- take the asylum keys away from the inmates. The New York Times documents the absolute unmitigated disaster of our privatized, volunteer food safety system. But the first three paragraphs sum up the entirety of the problem: When food industry giants like Kellogg want to ensure that American consumers are being protected from contaminated products, they rely on private inspectors like Eugene A. Hatfield. So last spring Mr. Hatfield headed to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in southwest Georgia to make sure its chopped nuts, paste and peanut butter were …

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Is a payment cut real reform or just tweaking with the numbers?

Tom Vilsack has certainly got farm-state legislators talking. The buzz generated by the Obama administration's proposal to cut "direct payments" to farmers continues to grow. Unfortunately, all the sturm and drang may be for naught. And not necessarily because the cut to this particular agricultural subsidy will fail, but because it's not really reform. The original budget language certainly seemed promising as it linked the cut in government subsidies to a new market in "ecological services." Farmers could use this new revenue to offset the losses from the subsidy cut (and would also have a new incentive to farm more …

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Alice Waters' move into the political sphere is hitting some bumps

I'm hesitant to step in the middle of any debate over Alice Waters' contributions to food policy. But suffice it to say that, as she moves more and more aggressively into politics, she is taking some hits. Ezra Klein sums up the Alice Waters paradox this way: Good food -- the sort Waters features at her restaurant -- is considered a luxury of the rich rather than a social justice issue. As Waters frequently argues, no one is worse served by our current food policy than a low-income family using food stamps to purchase rotted produce at the marked-up convenience …

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Don't treat the budget like a bill

There's been some amount of disgruntlement regarding President Barack Obama's proposed carbon cap-and-trade system, as laid out in the budget he just submitted to Congress. David really doesn't like the way the administration proposes to handle proceeds from the auction of emissions permits. Brad Plumer objects both to the "timid" emissions cuts baked into the plan as well as to the low estimate for the price of carbon under the proposed system. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum wonders why the revenue estimates are so low. But Ezra explains it all to you: "this really seems a case where the administration is on …

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