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Factory Farms

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‘Ag-gag’ bills face tough row to hoe

As you were saying?Big Ag is having trouble installing its Iron Curtain. I am referring, of course, to the various "ag-gag" laws proposed in Florida, Minnesota, and Iowa that would make it illegal to produce (and, in some cases, possess) undercover videos from within factory livestock farms. The latest state legislature to pursue this dubious goal is New York's -- but the fate of ag-gaggery in other states makes success in the Empire State seem unlikely. Florida's bill died a few weeks ago when legislators withdrew the bill from consideration as the legislative session ended. And now the Humane Society …

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How industrial agriculture makes us vulnerable to climate change, Mississippi floods edition

An "ephemeral gulley" that carried soil and agrichemicals from an Iowa farm toward the Gulf of Mexico during a 2010 storm. Photo: Environmental Working GroupNancy Rabalais, marine scientist and executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is probably our foremost authority on the vast, oxygen-depleted "dead zone" that rears up annually in the Gulf of Mexico, fed by fertilizer runoff from large Corn Belt farms. (I interviewed her for my podcast last year.) In a report on the PBS Newshour blog, Rabelais delivers some bad news: Floods in the Mississippi River watershed this spring are washing tremendous amounts of …

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Forget rice, think meat and yogurt: ‘Chinese food’ looking more and more like Western diet

Meating demand: Workers at an industrial meatpacking house in China try to keep up with their nation's soaring appetite for animal products.Photo: Shreyans BhansaliIt's Monday, which for many is now a meatless day, so it's appropriate I think to highlight Howard Schneider's Washington Post article on the long-anticipated Chinese meat-eating explosion: For China, the world's most populous country and now its second-largest economy, changes in food consumption are happening fast. In a nation where the word for rice is synonymous with food, people are eating less rice and other grains, preferring pork, fish and, to [chicken farmer] Liu's delight, chicken. …

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Two percent of U.S. energy goes to wasted food

The U.S. wastes a stunning amount of food -- 40 percent of what we produce, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland. That’s way above the already-staggering global average of one third. That means that 40 percent of the energy, water, and fuel we put into farming goes straight into the trash. All in all, Bloom says, “2 percent of all U.S. energy goes to food we’re throwing away.” And this waste is built into the system. Farmers are forced to toss crops that aren’t up to aesthetic standards, and often have to plow under whole fields if the …

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Digging deeper into that NYT Room for Debate on farm-animal cruelty

A horrific scene from a Humane Society undercover video.Photo: Humane Society of the United StatesI was privileged this week to participate in a New York Times Room for Debate discussion on the government's vs. consumer's role in "Preventing Cruelty on the Farm," inspired by the paper's coverage of the spate of ag-gag laws pending in several states (although it appears Florida's ag-gag bill is now dead). Our discussion featured an excellent lineup of experts including Nicolette Hahn Niman, Temple Grandin, Joel Salatin, law professor Joseph Vining, the Cato Institute's Walter Olson, economist Daniel Sumner, and Wayne Pacelle, president of the …

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Factory farms the only way to ‘feed the world’? Not so, argues Science paper

To "feed the world" by 2050, we'll need a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. At least that's the conventional wisdom. Even progressive journalists trumpet the idea (see here, here, and here, plus my ripostes here and here). The public-radio show Marketplace reported it as fact last week, earning a knuckle rap from Tom Laskway. At least one major strain of President Obama's (rather inconsistent) agricultural policy is predicated on it. And surely most agricultural scientists and development specialists toe that line ... right? Well, not really. Back in 2009, Seed Magazine organized a forum predicated on the idea …

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Is Walmart our best hope for food policy reform?

Photo: Code PoetTwo years into the Obama administration, most of the energy around food-policy reform resides in the East Wing, in the form of the first lady's Let's Move! campaign. So far, Let's Move has been about Michelle Obama pursuing what I have called a "soft power" campaign -- that is, using her stature to nudge private companies to reform their ways in the absence of real policy change. So far, the centerpiece of Let's Move! has been a non-binding deal the first lady and her staff worked out with Walmart in January, in which the retail giant vowed to …

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Little piggies, crawling in the dirt: Minnesota reps behind ag-gag bill have factory-farm ties

Hogs lined up at a trough on a factory farm -- behaving not unlike certain lawmakers using their power to defend their business interests.

Now that The New York Times editorial page has come out against what are now known as "Ag-gag" laws (thanks, Mark Bittman!), I think we can say this story has truly gone national. These laws, on the books in a few states already and quickly moving through legislatures in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota, would attempt to make it illegal to produce -- and in Minnesota to possess -- undercover videos of livestock factory farms.

But a blogger has offered a whole new twist on this story. In Minnesota, at least, it's not the massive factory farms that reek to high heaven. So too does the legislative process around this bill. According to Shari Danielson at Simple, Good and Tasty, several of the cosponsors of the bill in the Minnesota House and Senate are themselves farmers.

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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 …

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Meat Wagon: Undercover video shows sick calves getting brains bashed in with pickax, and more

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. ------------------- A grim ending awaits sick dairy calves on factory farms.Photo: Garrett ZieglerAs I've written so many times before, much of the dysfunction in our food system stems from its hyper-consolidation: It's controlled by a handful of companies whose business models hinge on selling huge volumes of cheap food. When you make money by selling cheap, the whole game is about cutting costs. A system hinged on slashing costs can be counted on to produce a shoddy product, as well as all manner of unintended …

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