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U-boat sightings

European biodiesel industry being bankrupted by loophole

They call them U-boats because they pull into a port just long enough to do a U-turn and head off to Europe. They stop just long enough to blend a touch of fuel into the tank so they can claim the government subsidy. Let's say you have a million gallons on board from, say, a palm oil plantation in Indonesia, or a soybean operation in South America. An hour or two after your arrival, your pockets are bulging with just short of a million U.S. taxpayer dollars. From the Guardian: ... the European Biodiesel Board, has uncovered the trade as …

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Got food?

Farmworker Awareness Week is a chance to recognize the people whose labor means we can eat

This is Farmworker Awareness Week, a time to support the millions of farmworkers whose labor puts food on every American table, and who work and live in some of the worst environmental conditions in our nation. It's estimated that 2 to 3 million farmworkers plant, tend, and harvest American crops every year. Many farmworkers in the U.S. are migrants who move from place to place following the harvest. Where I live, in North Carolina, migrant farmworkers are the majority. The average annual income for a farmworker in the United States is about $11,000, or about $16,000 for a farmworking family …

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Birds do it; bees do it

NYT op-ed: pesticides wiping out songbirds

When the little bluebird Who has never said a word Starts to sing Spring ... It is nature, that is all, Simply telling us to fall in love. -- Cole Porter, "Let's Do It" The immortal refrain of an old Cole Porter chestnut -- "birds do it; bees do it" -- has taken on an ominous ring. Evidently, songbirds have followed honeybees by engaging in a massive die-off. (Bats, whose mating rituals evidently didn't capture Porter's fancy, are dying off as well.) According to a New York Times op-ed by biologist Bridget Stutchbury: Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, …

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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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