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Tom Philpott's Posts

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Why the Bush Administration looks set to jettison the farm-subsidy program, beloved of industry and

Long the bane of environmentalists and sustainable-agriculture proponents, the U.S. agriculture-subsidy system has drawn some unlikely new critics: top Bush administration officials. Speaking before a food-industry trade group last week, USDA chief Mike Johanns, the reliably pro-Big Ag former governer of subsidy-rich Nebraska, complained that in fiscal year 2005: 92 percent of commodity program spending was paid on five crops -- corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice. The farmers who raise other crops -- two thirds of all farmers -- received little support from current farm programs. Later, he deplored what he called "trade-distorting subsidies. " And Monday, U.S. Trade …

Read more: Food, Politics

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The dirty truth about Canada’s famed oil sands.

[W]hen Canada announced in 2004 that it has more recoverable oil from tar sands than there is oil in Saudi Arabia, the world yawned. There is estimated to be about as much oil recoverable from the shale rocks in Colorado and other western states as in all the oil fields of OPEC nations. Yes, the cost of getting that oil is still prohibitively expensive, but the combination of today's high fuel prices and improved extraction techniques means that the break-even point for exploiting it is getting ever closer. --From "The Oil Bubble," Wall Street Journal editorial, Oct. 8, 2005 Actually, …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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A small farmer ruminates on consolidation in the global seed market.

According to a recent study by ETC Group, the world's ten largest seed vendors control about half the global seed market. By current standards, that's a modest concentration level. In the U.S., for example, the top four beef packers pack more than 80 percent of the nation's beef. Microsoft famously owns more than 90 percent of the world's computer operating system market. Consolidation of markets is as American as the SUV and the Apache helicopter. Nevertheless, seeds lie at the heart of all organized food production, and thus at the heart of human culture for the past 10,000 years. Perhaps …

Read more: Uncategorized

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Why the environmentalists shouldn’t ignore the ground beneath their feet

"Common as dirt," goes the old insult. Despite its antique nature, the saying may sum up industrial (and post-industrial) society's take on soil: low, squalid, filthy, annoyingly abundant, beneath dignity and respect. Consider the zeal to clean, to wash, to sterilize and scrub. Claudia Hemphill, a doctoral student in environmental science at the University of Idaho, has been doing some interesting work on the recent social history of soil. As U.S. society mutated from primarily rural to overwhelmingly urban and suburban in the span of less than a century -- today less than 3 percent of the population engages directly …

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‘Naked Chef’ dresses down U.S. school lunches, demands ‘real food,

Ten years after sustainable-food doyenne Alice Waters launched her innovative Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley, U.S. school lunches remain abysmal. In cafeteria kitchens throughout the land, de-skilled workers busy themselves opening cans and zapping pre-made meals in giant microwaves. Out on the floor, kids swill soda and dig their little hands into bags of fried stuff that may have, somewhere far way, once resembled food. Waters' effort remains laudable, but it's limited to one school. No public figure, no celebrity chef riding the waves of a Food Network show and the opening of an eponymous restaurant in Vegas, has bothered …

Read more: Food