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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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How the Monterey Bay Aquarium makes its safe-seafood list

When it comes to safe seafood, the list-makers don't horse around. Photo: SqueakyMarmot Back in the late 1990s, I happened to attend an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California called "Fishing for Solutions." The experience profoundly changed my attitude toward seafood and the supposedly limitless abundance of the sea. The exhibit focused not only on the precariousness of the fish stocks that have been reduced by overfishing, but also on the environmental degradation caused by using heavy-handed harvesting techniques and slapdash fish farming. I remember feeling stunned and shell-shocked after seeing the exhibit -- and my mood sunk …

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Savor the irony

‘Heart-healthy’ pork from pigs with bad hearts

I live for this sort of stuff: Guys in white lab coats got to tinkering with pig DNA, hoping to conjure up pork rich in "heart-healthy" omega-3 fatty acids. Here's what they did: A team from the University of Pittsburgh a first transferred the roundworm gene--fat-1--to pig foetal cells. After that, a team from the University of Missouri cloned those cells and transferred them into 14 pig mothers. Great teamwork, guys. Success! 12 pigs were born. Six of them tested positive for the gene and its ability to synthesise omega-3 fatty acids. Except there was a catch: Three of the …

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Meat Wagon: Waste makes haste

Canada says no to ethanol waste as cow feed, and more

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat industry. Back in January, a high USDA official made a pair of statements that say a lot about how we regulate industrial food production here in the United States. On the one hand, he admitted to a journalist that feeding cows high levels of distillers grains -- a the mush leftover from corn ethanol production -- had probably contributed to a spike in cases of beef tainted with the deadly E. coli 0157 bacteria. On the other hand, the official insisted that his agency had no intention of …

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Edible Media: Farmers make the fashion page

The NYT hails the era of the hipster farmer

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. Hey, hipster! Wipe that smirk off your face and put that can of PBR down. It's time to get your hands -- and those stiff Carhardts -- dirty. We don't care how many obscure bands you have on your iPod, or how you found that vintage shirt. Can you handle a hoe? (And no, that's not a reference to the gangster rap of your suburban youth.) The inevitable has happened: small-scale organic farming has been declared hip by The New York Times. In a recent …

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Plans for Indiana BioTown face obstacles, but sputter on

In 2005, Reynolds, Ind., was deemed the world's first "BioTown," as agricultural officials unveiled a plan to power the 550-person burg entirely with corn, hog waste, sewage, and other energy sources in ready local supply. Three years and many obstacles later, the ambitious proposal is far off track. A significant private investor dropped out; construction on a planned ethanol plant was suspended; work has not yet begun on a planned anaerobic digester. Officials have downgraded their ambition, but say the project will sputter on.

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Meat wagon: pork superbug!

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria thrives in CAFO pork, and Wall Street gobbles up Big Meat shares

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat industry. Back in December, Michael Pollan wrote a important article about the antibiotic resistant bacteria MSRA, which Pollan decsribed like this: ... the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS -- 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Pollan writes that such strains have been around for a while, emanating from hospitals, where our medical experts quixotically drench patients with antibiotics, inevitably incubating resistant -- and …

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Biodiesel in the dumps

To survive, producers wanly import feedstock and export fuel

At this point, serious greens still promoting biofuels are in a tight corner. Global grain stocks are at all-time lows and prices at all-time highs. That means heavy incentives to clear new land to plant crops -- in precious rainforest regions in South America and Southeast Asia that sustain indigenous peoples and store titanic amounts of carbon. These lands are also concentrated centers of biodiversity. Sacrificing them for car fuel is a heinous crime. Anyone who wants to argue that such efforts amount to "economic development in the Third World" will have to account for a stark fact: transnational agribusiness …