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How to feed 7 billion of us without ruining the planet

bulldozerIt turns out converted rainforest land is neither particularly productive as farmland nor climate smart, since creating it releases huge amounts of carbon sequestered in trees. (Photo by Lawrence Baulc.)

Now that we're surrounded by 7 billion of our closest friends, it's probably a good time to talk about how we're going to feed them. The government, along with corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, and others who are part of our current industrial agriculture system, will tell you that feeding the world is all about more. More yield from crops, more chemicals, more fertilizer, more genetically engineered seeds. More, more, more!

Of course, it's easy to say that when you're willing, as they are, to ignore the health effects, climate and environmental impacts, resource constraints, and every other real world consequence of large-scale industrial agriculture.

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Pesticides are good for you

Conventionally grown apples topped the EWG's list of the 12 fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides. For years now, I have been hearing about the food industry's influence on the annual conference of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) -- the nation's largest gathering of nutrition professionals -- with some 7,000 registered dietitians in attendance. Last month, I witnessed it for myself and discovered the corporate takeover by Big Food was worse than I even imagined.  While Grist previously covered much of this cooptation, one industry front group deserves special attention: the International Food and Information Council (IFIC). It certainly …

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Cantaloupe food poisoning outbreak is now the deadliest in 12 years

Don't tell Michele Bachmann, but it turns out that when food isn't adequately regulated, you can get giant deadly food poisoning outbreaks. Most recently, a crop of listeria-tainted cantaloupe has now killed 13 people officially, and possibly as many as 16 -- shooting right past the salmonella episode three years ago that killed nine. This is the most deaths from contaminated food since a 1998 listeria outbreak that killed 21. Listeria is no joke: It can kill as many as one in five of the people who fall ill from it. (The elderly and immune-compromised are more likely to be …

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Michele Bachmann thinks food regulation is 'overkill'

Let nobody say Michele Bachmann isn't consistent, at least in this one particular sense. The woman just doesn't like regulation. Even the kind that's meant to keep you from chowing down on E. coli casserole. Bachmann told reporters that testing for multiple harmful pathogens is "overkill," and will make the food production process too expensive and difficult. After all, what matters more to food producers -- selling food that doesn't sicken and kill people, or not being inconvenienced? "We want to have safety," Bachmann said, "but we also want to have common sense." "Common sense," for those of you who …

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Fukushima farmers keep calm and carry on [VIDEO]

Round, rough-skinned pears fill our Fukushima City apartment. Before the pears it was enormous, impossibly succulent peaches. Apples will be next. Prior to the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant six months ago, people all across Japan would send seasonal Fukushima-grown fruit to their relatives and neighbors. But now those outside Fukushima are too wary of possible radioactive contamination in produce grown here -- and the fruit piles up. The locals live with the risk. With a surplus of crops growing in the adjacent countryside, the fruits circulate in Fukushima like proverbial American fruitcakes at Christmas. We conspired …

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Food safety breakthrough: USDA declares 'Big Six' E. coli strains illegal

E. coliPhoto: Microbe WorldAbout a month ago, Food Safety News broke the story that the government was on the verge of action on a much-delayed rule to make several toxic forms of E. coli illegal in meat. And today, the USDA, in particular the director of its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Dr. Elizabeth Hagan, came through. You heard that right. Before today, the only form of E. coli that had been banned was H7:O157 -- the strain behind the infamous Jack in the Box outbreak of 1994. There are several other highly toxic forms of E. coli that …

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European farmers spend millions on knock-off pesticides

Buying a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag is one thing, but in Europe, farmers are buying knock-off pesticides. Counterfeit pesticides have become a multimillion industry over there, and if that sounds like bad news, it is: According to the Wall Street Journal, these knock-offs contain a solvent that the European Union banned because it's a huge problem for pregnant women. The WSJ's article also makes the E.U.'s efforts to deal with the problem sound like a giant clusterf*ck. There are loopholes in counterfeiting laws that mean customs can't seize the fake pesticides. The company that's been ripped off has to deal …

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Does this wind turbine make McDonald's ass look green?

If you saw this on top of your local McDonald's, would it make you more likely to pull over for a burger and fries? I have to admit that it would work on me. Not enough to actually buy a salmonella puck and a cup of corn sugar, but maybe I'd try a salad. Or, you know, one of those new "healthy" Happy Meals. This wind turbine sits atop an experimental "green" McDonald's in Achim, Germany. On the one hand, it's a cynical ploy to make us feel all right about eating some of the least sustainable food on the …

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Honey laundering: tainted and counterfeit Chinese honey floods into the U.S.

Mo' honey, mo' problems.Photo: Kathryn HarperIf it's possible to write a blockbuster story about honey, Food Safety News has done it: A third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities. ... Experts interviewed by Food Safety News say some of the largest and most long-established U.S. honey packers are …

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Organic chicken farms have fewer drug-resistant bacteria

When poultry farms switch from conventional to organic farming practices, they almost immediately start seeing way fewer drug-resistant bacteria. A new study looked at two types of enterococcus, a bacterium commonly found in poultry excrement that can also lead to drug-resistant infections in humans. All the farms tested positive for Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium, which the researchers expected. But on farms that had switched to organic practices, 10 percent of E. faecalis was resistant to multiple antibiotics, versus 42 percent of the bacteria from conventional farms. And on conventional farms, a stomach-troubling 84 percent of E. faecium was multi-drug-resistant, …