Corn

Food Safety

What we know — and don’t know — about the safety of eating GMOs

GMOs ahead: Proceed at your own risk.Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? The conventional answer is “yes,” and it’s not hard to see why. Since their introduction in 1996, genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy seeds quickly conquered U.S. farm fields. Today, upwards of 70 percent of corn and 90 percent of soy are genetically modified, and these two crops form the basis of the conventional U.S. diet. Nor are they GM technology’s only pathway onto our plates. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. cotton is now genetically engineered, and cottonseed oil has emerged as a …

Critical List: Oil industry clinging to subsidies, Monsanto continues world takeover

Oil industry leaders will testify before Congress today. Their message: Cutting oil subsidies is discrimination! Expand oil and gas production, instead, because that’s somehow good for everybody. And, anyway, oil companies pay more than enough taxes, if you ask the oil companies. If you ask anyone else, they pay a lower rate than the average American. The U.S. is already expanding offshore oil production: Shell just received permission to start a new drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing could possibly go wrong with offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, right? Renewable energy projects, on the other hand, …

Corn

Government-backed corn ethanol lurches on, paving a road to nowhere

During the Bush II administration, I used to groan that the closest thing we had to a concerted policy response to climate change was the federal government’s slew of goodies for corn-based ethanol. It was a monumentally depressing situation, because propping up corn-derived fuel is expensive and (despite industry hype) doesn’t actually do much, if anything at all, to mitigate climate change — but contributes actively to ecological disasters like the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.” Now, two years into the Obama administration, we still have no concerted policy response to climate change, and the corn ethanol program abides, sucking …

Corn

Gary Taubes’ sugar article makes an excellent case for diversifying agriculture

In last week’s New York Times Magazine, the science writer Gary Taubes argues forcefully that a range of chronic health problems — heightened rates of obesity, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer — can be blamed on overconsumption of refined sweetener. It isn’t just the surge of empty calories that sweeteners provide that’s making us sick, Taubes argues; it’s also — and mainly — the way our bodies process them. Taubes acknowledges that the science around sugar metabolism isn’t fully settled. But he brings highly suggestive evidence to bear, and I find it convincing, with a couple of …

How some Iowa farmers keep the land fertile, while others salt the earth

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a new study out about the sexiest subject ever — soil erosion! Wait, don't go, this is important: Topsoil takes forever to make, so as it washes off of fields, it's literally taking our ability to feed ourselves with it. Previously, scientists had estimated that Iowa fields were losing five tons of topsoil per acre per year — little enough, it was thought, that it could be replenished naturally. But the EWG's new study suggests that in some single storm events, as many as 100 tons of topsoil per acre are washing off of …

Industrial Agriculture

Should some pesticides be banned to protect bees? A USDA scientist dances around the question

Photo: Maury McCownAs I reported in January, the USDA’s top bee researcher, Jeffrey Pettis, has publicly revealed that he has completed research showing that Bayer’s blockbuster neonicotinoid pesticides, used on million of acres of crops across the country, harm honeybees even at extremely low doses. The revelation was significant because a growing number of U.S. beekeepers are worried that Bayer’s pesticides might be the key culprit in colony collapse disorder — the strange annual die-off of significant portions of the U.S. honeybee population. In December, a leaked document showed that EPA scientists had declared insufficient a previously accepted Bayer-funded study …

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