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President hails cellulosic ethanol as a panacea

I'm offended: President Bush evidently hasn't been following my string of posts about how cellulosic ethanol probably won't ever be viable. Addressing a renewable-energy conference, the president fretted that the ethanol boom he set in motion is "beginning to affect the price of food." He added: "So we got to do something about it." And what we "got to do," evidently, is throw more cash at cellulosic ethanol. Here's how The New York Times summed up his statement: [Bush said] the solution was not to back away from ethanol, but to develop ways to make ethanol from agricultural wastes, wood …

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If deals go through, three firms will own 90 percent of the U.S. beef market

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. You'd be hard-pressed to find an industry more consolidated than beef-packing. Just four companies slaughter 83.5 percent of cows consumed in the United States. In standard antitrust theory, a market stops being competive when the four biggest players control 40 percent. The beef industry's extraordinary concentration gives the Big Four massive leverage to dictate how beef is raised and sold. Their economies of scale give them power to squeeze their smaller competitors, who have to scramble to keep costs down to survive. Their suppliers, known …

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Umbra on organic honey

Dear Umbra, I was looking for a nice, local, organic honey to use in reworking some recipes so that they didn't use sugar. So I headed to Whole Foods, and was stuck looking at a honey in a plastic container labeled organic from Brazil, and a local product in a glass container but not labeled organic. And I started wondering -- what makes honey organic? I mean, bees fly. How do you know what plants they ate or pollinated unless you've caged them somehow. And that led right to the free-range bee question ... Help! It's too much for my …

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Norway says whale consumption is good for the planet

Eating whale meat is better for the planet than eating beef, pork, or chicken, according to a comparative carbon-emissions calculation by Norwegian lobbying group the High North Alliance. Says the alliance's Rune Froevik, in what may be a bit of an exaggeration, "Basically it turns out that the best thing you can do for the planet is to eat whale meat compared to other types of meat." Points out Greepeace's Truls Gulowsen, "The survival of a species is more important than lower greenhouse-gas emissions from eating it." Meanwhile, Australian activists clashed yet again with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. …

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Why the disaster trust fund is bad news

The following is a guest essay by Britt Lundgren and Jason Funk. Britt Lundgren is an agricultural policy fellow at Environmental Defense Fund. Jason Funk is a Lokey Fellow in the Land, Water and Wildlife program at Environmental Defense Fund. ----- The recent fires in California and the severe drought in the Southeast are just two of the litany of disasters that have hit agriculture in recent memory. When natural disasters happen, members of Congress (at least those who want to get reelected) want to respond quickly, with cash for those that are affected. Currently they must go through the …

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EPA attempt to ban bird-killing pesticide runs into opposition

The U.S. EPA has proposed a ban on a pesticide lethal to birds, but is running into resistance from the company that produces the chemical. The pesticide, carbofuran, is typically used on crops such as corn, alfalfa, and potatoes, and has been linked to the dieoff of 558 separate bird flocks since 1972. A manager with pesticide manufacturer FMC Corp. says carbofuran, "when used according to its label, can be used without causing adverse effects." But the EPA says the chemical poses an avian threat even when used as directed, and that safer alternatives exist. Nonetheless, Congressfolk from agricultural states …

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New study from mainstream ag economists at Iowa State

Cellulosic ethanol represents a beacon on the horizon -- the justification cited by wiseguys like Vinod Khosla for dropping billions per year in public cash to prop up corn ethanol production. Corn ethanol, you see, is a bridge to a bright cellulosic future. But the beacon is looking more and more like a mirage, a ghost, a specter; the bridge we're hurtling down may well lead to a chasm. A quiet consensus seems to be forming among people you'd think would know the facts on the ground: cellulosic ethanol, touted as five years away from viability for decades now, may …

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Alcohol refinery may enhance tourist industry

Tourists, bird watchers, and native cattle herders in Kenya's Tana River delta may soon have a spanking-new alcohol refinery in the middle of their wetland. Granted, the wetland will be slightly less wet because a third of its water will be diverted to cropland. Always one to look for a silver lining, I would hope that this refinery will include an air-conditioned bar where tourists and herders alike can gather for happy hour after a long, hot day of wildlife viewing and cattle herding. Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (and might I add, a real pessimist) claims: Large …

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Why the USDA wants to stop local food

This is one of those "in case you missed it" kind of posts. In yesterday's New York Times, Minnesota farmer Jack Hedin wrote an op-ed that shows very clearly how the federal deck is stacked against small, sustainable, local farms and in favor of Earl Butz's "get-big-or-get-out" mentality. The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on "corn base" acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with …

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Can words describe how bad corn ethanol is?

Well, maybe my words can't describe how bad corn ethanol is, or Mayor Bloomberg's, or those of top scientists, but I think I have found someone's words that do: Opus's from Bloom Country. First, however, the lastest grim news from Fortune: "The ethanol boom is running out of gas as corn prices spike." Yes, "plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months." Why? Spurred by an ethanol plant construction binge, corn prices have gone stratospheric, soaring from below $2 a bushel in 2006 to over $5.25 a bushel today. As a result, it's …

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