Follow the herd

Another symptom of swine flu: instant amnesia

Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / Grist Swine flu: how very two weeks ago. Sure, H1N1 transmission is “still on the upswing” in the United States, and the World Health Organization warned that as much of a third of the globe’s population could eventually catch it, Reuters reported last week. But the disease is turning out to be little more virulent than the common flu. It resists older anti-viral treatments, but fortunately, new ones like Tamiflu have its number. For now, anyway. “We all pray this remains sensitive to antivirals,” CDC chief virologist Rubin Donis recently told Science — not …

the view from the blend wall

Resistance grows to increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline

The ethanol lobby may still be reeling in the subsidies, but it doesn’t seem to be having any luck dealing with their other obsession, the so-called “blend wall,” i.e. the legally prescribed limit to the amount of ethanol that can be mixed into gasoline. The NYT has a nice summary of the mounting scientific and industry backlash against ethanol lobbyist Growth Energy’s EPA petition to raise the blend wall from 10% to 15%. The NYT lays out some of the objections this way: Approving E15 would have a huge impact on consumers, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center …

Hog wild

Uncomfortable facts about the swine flu outbreak

You’re testing my patienceDon’t associate U.S. pork with the swine flu outbreak — you can’t catch it through pork. Plus, no pigs on U.S. CAFOs are infected with it. That’s message the industry and the USDA are straining  to get across, anyway. Except … you can catch swine flu from pork, according to the World Health Organization. Here is the Reuters: Meat from pigs infected with the new H1N1 virus shouldn’t be used for human consumption, the World Health Organisation cautioned on Wednesday, adding it was drawing up guidelines to protect workers handling pigs. … The WHO … said it …

Don't be corny

A bad idea, plus lots of cash

What’s that in your gas tank?This is a blog post about the intersection of a bad idea and lots of cash–your cash. The bad idea is this: growing crops to ferment and distill them into ethanol for internal combustion engines. A few days ago, the EPA revealed that by its calculations, use of corn-based ethanol will actually raise greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years compared to gasoline. And then Friday, Science published a paper by Stanford academics claiming that it makes much more sense to burn corn to produce energy for electric cars than it does to convert …

Larder starter

The non-survivalist’s guide to stocking up for hard times

Dear Lou,As a resident of South Mississippi, I think it is officially time to stock my swine flu/tornado/hurricane/foreign invasion pantry. How do I do this without filling it with a bunch of processed crap, but still manage to stock away flavorful and nutritious staples? Kelly S. Dear Kelly,This particular swine flu pandemic–which may or may not be linked to factory farms–doesn’t appear to pose much of a public-health menace. But it reminds us of an old lesson: chaos happens. Regarding pandemics, our very own government advises people to keep two weeks’ worth of supplies on hand, which is truly the …

Change we can devour

Vilsack’s USDA shakes things up

I know some are still reeling from the recent Obama administration announcement on biofuels and its implication that it remains a bit too much in thrall to the concerns of Big Ag. And Tom Vilsack’s continued pimping for Monsanto and other biotech companies seems both unsustainable and uninformed. But a slew of positive decisions have come down from the USDA in recent days that merit attention and suggest that business is very much not as usual at ag’s end of the Mall. First up was USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s announcement of $50 million in funding from the USDA’s Environmental …

Farm team

In the lush dirt of Iowa, community grows alongside veggies

ZJ Farms: Everyone’s a farmhandI had the pleasure the other day of visiting ZJ Farms, the anchor of Local Harvest CSA, which is one of the biggest in the area. Farmer (and pillar of the local food scene hereabouts) Susan Jutz has been running this organic farm for all the years I’ve been buying food around here. A walk on her farm gives you an understanding of the paintings of Grant Wood. In case you’re unfamiliar, CSA means community-supported agriculture –a new name for what family-scale farming used to be. These days it works very much like a magazine subscription. …

Swine flew

A terrific NYT piece on Smithfield and the globalization of pork

On Wednesday, The New York Times ran a terrific, long article — one that reporters had clearly worked on for a long time — on Smithfield Foods’ rapid transformation of hog farming in Eastern Europe. The article documents how the Virginia-based pork giant has squashed small-scale hog farming in Romania and Poland, just as it did in the United States in the 1990s. In Romania, the number of hog farmers has declined 90 percent – to 52,100 in 2007 from 477,030 in 2003 – according to European Union statistics, with ex-farmers, overwhelmed by Smithfield’s lower prices, often emigrating or shifting …

The genius of self-regulation

Smithfield: don’t worry, we’re testing our Mexican hogs for swine flu

For a lobbyist working the Hill on behalf of an industry, the gold standard is self-regulation. No need to send in inspectors — we’ll test our process to ensure that it doesn’t pollute. Trust us! Astonishingly, pork giant Smithfield Foods has evidently managed to arrange just such a testing regime with regard to its hog-rearing operations in Vera Cruz, Mexico — some of which lie just a few miles from the village where the swine flu outbreak first manifested itself. Here is Wednesday’s Richmond [Va.] Times-Dispatch: The company has voluntarily submitted 30 blood samples from pigs at its facility near …

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