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Umbra on organic vs. natural foods

Dear Umbra, I'm trying to convince my sister that there is a difference between all-natural and organic products, and she doesn't think there is. I'm pretty sure there is a difference, I just don't know what it is. I look at the ingredients of some of the food she buys that she says are "natural" and I wonder how these products are able to claim that! What are the qualifications for something to be labeled all-natural, and how are these products different from organics? Julie Yorkville, Ill. Dearest Julie, You are correct, there is a difference. To speak broadly and …

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More signs of the Apocalypse?

Soy, corn, and wheat prices puzzling economists

Just in case you weren't worried about rising food prices, The New York Times has an article out that makes the food markets seem even more volatile. Apparently, identical bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans are selling for two different prices on the derivatives and cash markets. Now, I'm not an economist, but the first line of the article makes the whole thing sound freakish. From the article: Economists note there should not be two prices for one thing at the same place and time. Could a drugstore sell two identical tubes of toothpaste, and charge 50 cents more for …

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'The Clean Energy Scam'

Biofuel boom leveling rainforest, Time reports

From an excellent article in Time: Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world's top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third according to a report by Wetlands International. Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that it's running out of uncultivated land. But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious. In Brazil, for instance, only a tiny portion of the Amazon is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. More …

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Farm subsidies: beyond simplistic outrage

Gourmet magazine points the way toward a green and smart farm policy

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, there's a detailed article about the farm-subsidy mess. It can be summarized as follows: 1) the government-engineered ethanol boom has driven up farm-commodity prices; 2) farm incomes are sharply up; yet 3) the government still makes subsidy payments in the billions per year; and thus 4) it's time to cut the subsidies. The logic is impeccable. And surely, payment caps should be much lower and blocked from going to high-income farmers and Rockefeller heirs, as the article implies. The Journal piece comes at a key juncture: the president and Congress are locked in contentious negotiations …

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My Brightest Diamond is the earth's best friend

Shara chats about animals, organics, and recycling

Check out this video of indie artist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond at South by Southwest as she chats about her love for animals, organic foods, and recycling: My Brightest Diamond at SXSWUploaded by NRDC

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Trash likely the source of dioxin tainting Italy’s mozzarella

Some batches of Italy's famous buffalo mozzarella cheese have been tainted with dioxin, leading to alarm in the nation's $500 million mozzarella industry. The source of the contamination? Buffalo near Naples are likely grazing in soil tainted with dioxin from piles of toxic garbage that the mafia-controlled trash business can't, or won't, get under control.

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Chipotle Mexican Grill goes green (i.e., local)!

The burrito giant buys pork from celebrity farmer Joel Salatin

Chipotle Mexican Grill used to be, but no longer is, partly owned by McDonald's. It runs 700 restaurants nationwide -- with plans to roll out 125 more this year -- and is considered one of the nation's fastest-growing "casual dining" chains. And it seems earnestly interested in sourcing ingredients from small- and mid-sized farmers near its outlets. At its shop in Charlottesville, Va., the Washington Post reports, it's been buying pork from Polyface Farm, an operation legendary in sustainable-ag circles for its innovative multi-species rotational grazing system. Polyface and its farmer, Joel Salatin, were immortalized in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. …

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Aspen Env't Forum: Big ideas

Thinkers and doers exchange grand visions in the scenic Rockies

The first full day of the first-ever Aspen Environment Forum kicked off Thursday morning with a handful of the impressive invitees taking a couple minutes each to share a "big idea." Throughout the day, others tossed their sizeable thoughts into the ring. A sampling: Majora Carter. Majora Carter, founder and head of Sustainable South Bronx: "Make the invisible places visible." Carter talked about how her home borough and other low-income or minority communities all around the country have become "regional sacrifice zones" where the dirtiest business of our dirty economy is done -- landfills, incinerators, sewage plants, hog farms. She …

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Chilean salmon-farming industry in a sad state

A virus called infectious salmon anemia is sweeping through Chile's fisheries, bringing attention to the condition of the country's third-largest export industry. On expansive salmon farms, fish are bred in crowded underwater pens. Fish poop and food pellets contaminate the water. As many as 1 million nonnative salmon escape each year, gobbling native species and traveling as far as Argentina. The fish are treated liberally with antibiotics, some of which are prohibited for use on animals in the U.S. -- but 29 percent of Chilean exports end up in American grocery stores. Salmon farming was welcomed as an economy-booster two …

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The case for organic builds

Recent studies: organic ag is just as productive, and better for you

For years, industrial-food enthusiasts such as Norman Borlaug have attacked organic farming on two grounds: 1) it produces essentially the same nutritional results as chemical-intensive farming, and 2) it's less productive. Both of those criticisms are crumbling. This month, the Organic Center released a "state of science" analysis of peer-reviewed studies comparing the nutritional content of organically and conventionally grown veggies. Organic wins by a substantial margin. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have published a study (abstract here; press release here) that compared organic and chemical-intensive cropping systems for growing grain and forage (animal feed) crops. The Organic …

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