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Farm Bill update: Fewer secrets, more hard work

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is one of two bills sustainable ag advocates will be rallying around this spring. (Photo by fieldsbh.)

Now that we're beyond all the intrigue and behind-closed-doors shenanigans of the failed Secret Farm Bill, the good food movement is tasked with something even more daunting: staying awake and engaged as the 2012 Farm Bill moves through a more traditional process of hearings, committees, and amendments. I have my party hat on -- do you?

The clock is ticking

Because we’re in an election year, the bill would essentially have to be ready to go by the beginning of this summer for it to pass before the 2008 bill expires in September. And while Tom Laskawy and others think that’s unlikely, it’s not impossible, either. In a recent, super-in-depth rundown of the logistical and political factors effecting the process, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) wrote:

… The Food, Energy, and Conservation Act of 2008 was, in fact, passed in the presidential election year of 2008.  But unlike the current situation, both the House and the Senate had already passed their versions of a farm bill in 2007. The work in 2008 was focused on reconciling the differences in the two bills through a conference committee and then passing the compromise.

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Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’

BeePhoto: Pesticide Action Network North AmericaAnyone who's been stung by a bee knows they can inflict an outsized pain for such tiny insects. It makes a strange kind of sense, then, that their demise would create an outsized problem for the food system by placing the more than 70 crops they pollinate -- from almonds to apples to blueberries -- in peril.

Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.

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Sports enthusiasts urge you to ditch sports drinks

Professional snowboarders Bryan Fox and Austin Smith have started a "Drink Water" campaign, urging people to stop drinking the $20-a-gallon sugar-juice that props up their industry. Biting the hand that sponsors you is a ballsy move, but it's also the right thing to do, not just for your body but also the environment.

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Bourbon of proof: Is Kentucky’s heritage spirit compromised by GMO corn?

Aging bourbon at the Wild Turkey distillery.Photo: Michael KellstrandIn 2007, Grist writer David Roberts wrote about his less-than-successful hunt for an organic bourbon. Five years of boom-like growth in the organic sector later and -- go figure -- there's still no organic bourbon on the U.S. market. In fact, finding any bourbon free of genetically engineered corn (as all certified organic products must be) has become increasingly difficult. Bourbon gives us an interesting window into GMO grain, because the spirit must by definition be made with at least 51 percent corn. Consider the fact that 85 percent of the corn …

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Can the 2012 Farm Bill protect the Ogallala Aquifer?

Kansas wheat.Photo: Brian McGuirkMy father farmed in Kansas and envied those lucky farmers in the wetter states to the east of us, who could grow 200-bushel corn and other lucrative crops like soy beans and sugar beets. He had to satisfy himself with wheat, a drought-tolerant crop first brought to the States from a place in Russia much like ours. There, they called such arid places "steppes." Here, we called them "plains." To look at the pale-green buffalo grass that covered the High Plains, you would never suspect that an aquifer holding as much water as Lake Huron lay beneath. …

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Pepsi spends $3 million a year so laws don’t come between corn syrup and your kids

Ironically-named food hero Marion Nestle just calculated that PepsiCo, which pumps enough high fructose corn syrup into the American public to turn out one Ghostbusters-size Stay Puft marshmallow man every 18 hours (I made that up; you get the idea), spends $3 million a year lobbying Congress. So what is Pepsi doing dumping all that loot on 1-percenters who supposedly represent the American public on Capital Hill? One motivation, according to the Sunlight Foundation, is the company's effort to stop the government's Interagency Working Group from proposing guidelines on food marketing aimed at kids. As Nestle explains (emphasis mine): As …

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Critical List: Funding for climate research drops; USDA approves drought-resistant corn

The federal budget crisis is turning climate denialism into a vicious cycle: Skepticism contributes to lower funding, which means less research, which means less information, which means more skepticism. The USDA approved a drought-resistant corn, developed by Monsanto. Congress is cutting a federal program that helps low-income people with heating costs by about 25 percent. One more piece of evidence that Alberta is entirely in thrall to oil sands: the Canadian province's premier thinks personal vehicular emissions are a bigger problem than the oil industry. The new federal solar project in Arizona will have one-hundredth of the water usage projected …

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The bugs that ate Monsanto

The corn rootworm.Photo: Jimmy SmithNow that 94 percent of the soy and 70 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, Monsanto -- one of the companies that dominates the GMO seed market  -- might look to some like it's winning. But if we look a little closer, I'd say they're holding on by a thread. Their current success is due in large part to brilliant marketing. The company's approach was both compelling -- their products were sold as the key to making large-scale farming far simpler and more predictable -- and aggressive: Monsanto made it virtually …

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Ethanol is making crap food more expensive than ever

If you're a fan of Uno's pizza, O'Charley's, White Castle, or, god forbid, P.F. Chang's, you have only our government's stubborn love of ethanol subsidies to blame for the increasing cost of your favorite meals, report the gumshoes at Nation's Restaurant News. If you’re not a fan, though, don’t go celebrating with a delicious home-cooked meal just yet. It's actually even worse if you're buying your food at the grocery store and cooking at home. But even though the diversion of corn for ethanol use is contributing to higher food costs throughout the country, the restaurant industry is not passing …

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America uses more corn for fuel than for food

In America, most corn is no longer meant for eating, at least by humans. Only 20 percent of all the gazillions of ears of corn the United States grows make it into a person's mouth as corn. The rest goes to feed animals (which do make it into people's mouth as beef and other meats) and to brew corn ethanol. In one year, we used more than 5 billion bushels of corn for ethanol, which we don't even use that much of! But it's our corn, and we can do what we want with it, right? Well, a new report …