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Feeding the food-for-fuel debate

USDA defends America’s fuel supply

Vinod Khosla. Photo: brettwayn via Flickr. Much of what Vinod Khosla had to say in his latest post, and my responses to that post here, have been covered in previous posts. So, if some of this sounds eerily familiar, now you know why. Admittedly, I have an advantage in this debate because he can't respond directly to my arguments. Remember the West Wing episode where the Josh Lyman character makes the mistake of responding to a blogger? On the other hand, I'm not an independent blogger with my own website. Thus, the fine line between courage and stupidity. May I …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Climate change doing a number on U.S. West, says USDA report

Climate change is having "profound impacts" on the U.S. West and will continue to do so in coming decades, says a new report spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Titled "The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity," the report focuses on Western rangelands, arid lands, forests, and fisheries. Its predictions are numerous and invariably grim, including extinction of desert species such as the Joshua tree, significant economic losses for the livestock industry, invasion of nonnative plant life, salmon dieoffs in too-warm streams, and increases in such diverse and unwelcome phenomena as drought, heat …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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The best thing I’ve had all month

Odwalla strawberry lemonade. Mmm ...

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The farm bill ups the cellulosic ethanol ante

Lost amid the crop-subsidy battle, a new biofuel regime

Amid all the thunder and lightening about subsidies in the new farm bill -- which officially became law Thursday -- Congress made a major policy shift with regard to the goodies lavished on ethanol makers. Under previous policy, biofuel makers -- whether conventional or cellulosic -- benefit from a 51 cent a gallon tax credit conferred on gasoline blenders. No any more. According to a recent Environmental Law & Policy Center memorandum [PDF] summing up the farm bill's energy title, legislation creates "new cellulosic biofuels production tax credit for up to $1.01 per gallon, available through 2012." Meanwhile, it also …

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USDA: What pesticide use?

The agency cravenly stops measuring the poisons used in U.S. farming

The USDA's "Agricultural Chemical Use Database" is a wonderful thing. With a few clicks, consumers, researchers, and anyone else kind find all manner of information on pesticides, broken down by crop and by state. As an agriculture writer, I have an interest in industrial corn, by far our biggest crop. With a simple search, I find that corn farmers have increased applications of glyphosphate -- Monsanto's broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup -- by a factor of eight since Monsanto rolled out its Roundup Ready corn seeds in 1995. I also follow farm-worker justice issues. I find that in strawberry fields, use of …

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Organically killed

Are ‘organic pesticides’ the way forward for organic agriculture?

How are proponents of regenerative agriculture supposed to respond to news like this? Green pesticide and herbicide developer Marrone Organic Innovations is nearly done raising $7 million in a second round of funding, CEO Pamela Marrone said Wednesday. Wow, somebody's investing in organic agriculture -- millions, no less. That's news. But does it have to involve pesticides? Pesticides aren't just problematic because they're derived synthetically. They're also troubling because what's toxic to plants and insects also harms people. Plant-based substances, in concentrated form, can of course be quite toxic. Moreover, using them usually means entering a "pesticide treadmill." Say a …

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Downer and out?

The USDA’s new ban won’t keep sick cows out of the food supply

Months after the downer-cow scandal of last winter, USDA chief Ed Schafer announced plans to ban all downer cows from the food supply. The rule involves cows that get sick after an initial inspection by veterinarians before slaughter. Under old rules, such cows could be reinspected by vets and then cleared for slaughter if the vet decided they posed no threat. In the press release announcing the proposed new rules, Shafer had this to say: Last year, of the nearly 34 million cattle that were slaughtered, under 1,000 cattle that were re-inspected were actually approved by the veterinarian for slaughter. …

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Night of the living farm bill

After blunder, the legislation slouches back to limbo

For the first time in its long process, the 2008 -- née 2007 -- farm bill was going according to script. Congress finally came up with a final version. Bush vetoed it, just as he had promised. The House overrode the veto, just as everyone knew it would. Next stop: the Senate, where Bush's veto was due meet another overwhelming override. And after that, law. Remember at the end of Chinatown, when everything gets hopelessly screwed up? Leading away a stunned and speechless Jack Nicholson, his old friend says, "It's Chinatown, Jake." Because, you know, Chinatown is where all sorts …

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Certified organic, fair-trade free riders

If you support the standards but not the certifiers, then what?

At my local Saturday farmers market, I stopped to buy some coffee at the local roaster's booth. I was eying the wares when I noticed that the spendy bags of coffee ($9 for 12 oz.) labeled "Fair Trade" didn't have the any independent certification of that fact. I asked the guy behind the booth, and he said, "Well, it is fair trade coffee, and the owners pay the fair trade price, but they don't want to pay for the label mark because it just pays people here in the U.S. -- it just raises the price of a bag of …

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Profit Actually

Monsanto execs make millions off farmers’ backs

Hugh Grant -- Monsanto chair, CEO, and president -- probably won't notice the increased price of a loaf of bread. And if he does, it will be with a smile. Grant is $13-million-and-change wealthier today than he was on Monday, as he choose to exercise stock options -- 116,000 shares worth -- that netted him a profit of over $114 per share. Like many of us, I wouldn't mind paying the extra dollar per loaf of bread if I knew the majority of that dollar was going back into the hands of farmers. Instead, the higher prices at the checkout …