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Business & Technology


Meat Wagon: Beef behemoth

If deals go through, three firms will own 90 percent of the U.S. beef market

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. You'd be hard-pressed to find an industry more consolidated than beef-packing. Just four companies slaughter 83.5 percent of cows consumed in the United States. In standard antitrust theory, a market stops being competive when the four biggest players control 40 percent. The beef industry's extraordinary concentration gives the Big Four massive leverage to dictate how beef is raised and sold. Their economies of scale give them power to squeeze their smaller competitors, who have to scramble to keep costs down to survive. Their suppliers, known …


Brit's Eye View: Young, gifted, and green?

New survey of U.K. youth reveals mixed attitudes about the future of the planet

Ben Tuxworth, communications director at Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Debates about how we should save the planet tend to explore the impossibility of almost every approach until someone says, "We need to change the education system," at which point it is deemed churlish to snigger. Catch 'em young, and it's job done seems to be the hope. Well, with only 100 months of planet-saving time left, according to Greenpeace, this approach has worked as much as it is ever likely to. So, are the young going to …


New company wants to seed ocean with iron to sequester carbon

Weeks after ocean-seeding company Planktos bit the iron dust, a startup called Climos is plowing ahead with a similar business plan: seed the ocean with iron dust to stimulate the growth of CO2-gobbling plankton, then sell offsets for the sequestered carbon. Climos has announced $3.5 million in venture capital and is backed by reputable investors: Tesla Chair (née Pay-Pal cofounder) Elon Musk and venture-capital firm Braemar Energy Ventures. Climos CEO Dan Whaley says his company differs from Planktos in that it will have a science-oriented approach, expert managerial team, and "all-star cast" of experienced scientists. Whether it can avoid the …


Federal loan program for coal-fired power plants suspended amid climate, cost concerns

A federal loan program for coal-fired power plants in rural areas has been suspended due to concerns over climate change and the costs of the program. The Rural Utilities Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued $1.3 billion in loans to coal plants since 2001 under the program. However, RUS officials said costs for new coal-fired power plants have been rising at about 30 percent a year. The White House Office of Management and Budget asked for the suspension following congressional inquiries last month. "This is a big decision," said Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice. "It says new coal …


Internal combustion news

Volkswagen’s new entry to the clean diesel fleet

Enough election talk, it's time to put some honest-to-goodness car news in the Gristmill (so this one's for you, JMG!). Volkswagen is about to unveil a new Golf hybrid, said to feature an all-electric mode at low speed and regenerative braking to compete with the Prius and its ilk. The difference is that this is a diesel-electric hybrid, which VW says will get 69 mpg and exceed Europe's (and California's) tough emissions standards. The point is somewhat moot, as this internal-combusion-perpetuating monster will not be for sale in the U.S. But is this just another indicator that clean diesel cars …


Company creates global map of wind patterns

Any way the wind blows, weather-consulting service 3Tier wants to map it. The company has created a global map of weather patterns that's available free on the internet, allowing anyone to check whether there's strong enough air movement -- and transmission capacity -- to power property in a certain area. 3Tier plans to do a similar project to show the potential of solar energy, to keep the renewable-energy industry from stickin' panels where the sun don't shine.


EPA attempt to ban bird-killing pesticide runs into opposition

The U.S. EPA has proposed a ban on a pesticide lethal to birds, but is running into resistance from the company that produces the chemical. The pesticide, carbofuran, is typically used on crops such as corn, alfalfa, and potatoes, and has been linked to the dieoff of 558 separate bird flocks since 1972. A manager with pesticide manufacturer FMC Corp. says carbofuran, "when used according to its label, can be used without causing adverse effects." But the EPA says the chemical poses an avian threat even when used as directed, and that safer alternatives exist. Nonetheless, Congressfolk from agricultural states …


Vicious life cycles

Can we trust carbon labeling?

About a year ago, I was cautiously bullish on British supermarket giant Tesco's pledge to start putting carbon labels on its food. But I think that their progress so far -- which I'll get to in a minute -- suggests an important lesson about the policy risks of treating a fuzzy exercise as if it were completely reliable. Tesco's idea was that the chain and its suppliers would pay for objective, comprehensive reviews of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the foods on the store's shelves. The analyses would cover all major steps in bringing food from farms to the checkout line …


One hell of a company

Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields

Photo: iStockphoto Monsanto dominates the global seed industry and churns out $1 billion a year in profit. Investors are so enamored of its market power and profitability that they've bid up its share price by nearly 1500 percent since 2004. So why does Monsanto rely on farms that use child labor to cultivate its genetically modified cotton seeds in India? From Forbes Magazine: Yothi Ramulla Naga is 4 feet tall. From sunup to sundown she is hunched over in the fields of a cottonseed farm in southern India, earning 20 cents an hour. Farmers in the Uyyalawada region process high-tech …


Zipcar merges with Flexcar, effs it all up

Has the east coast car-sharing company screwed up the west coast car-sharing company?

Late last year, the country's two major car-sharing companies, west-coast Flexcar and its larger east-coast cousin Zipcar, merged and became, um, Zipcar. Flexcar fans were concerned about the effects of the merger. Sadly, Flexcar fangirl Erica Barnett reports that they were decidedly negative: more expensive, fewer cars, less friendly service, etc. Zipcar, what hath thou wrought? Any Gristians have car-sharing experiences to share?