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A storm is brewing

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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Cellulosic ethanol: not likely to be viable

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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Biofuel blight: tastes great, less filling

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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Forbidden fruits (and vegetables)

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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It's bloomin' idiotic

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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Genetically modified fruits and veggies in U.S.?

Forbes says that Frankenfruits are already here

In the mid-'90s, amid much fuss, a biotech firm called Calgene introduced the Flav'r Saver tomato. Genetically engineered to last longer on the shelf, the Flav'r Saver didn't turn out to have much "flav'r" to save. To make a long story short, consumers generally steered clear of it; farmers had trouble growing it; Calgene burned hundreds of millions developing and marketing it; and eventually ended up tossing it on history's compost pile. In the end, Monsanto ended up buying Calgene at a fire-sale price. Not many people ever ate a Flav'r Saver tomato; but the tomato in effect ate a …

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One hell of a company

Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields

Photo: iStockphoto Monsanto dominates the global seed industry and churns out $1 billion a year in profit. Investors are so enamored of its market power and profitability that they've bid up its share price by nearly 1500 percent since 2004. So why does Monsanto rely on farms that use child labor to cultivate its genetically modified cotton seeds in India? From Forbes Magazine: Yothi Ramulla Naga is 4 feet tall. From sunup to sundown she is hunched over in the fields of a cottonseed farm in southern India, earning 20 cents an hour. Farmers in the Uyyalawada region process high-tech …

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There will be ethanol

Archer Daniels Midland will squeeze out competition, says Fortune

Record corn prices aren't just squeezing consumers. They're also hurting the ethanol industry -- yes, the very folks whose ravenous appetite for corn drove up prices in the first place. From Fortune Magazine: Cargill announces it's scrapping plans for a $200 million ethanol plant near Topeka, Kan. A judge approves the bankruptcy sale of an unfinished ethanol plant in Canton, Ill.. And that was just Tuesday. Indeed, plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months, as Wall Street pulls back from the sector. What's up? Didn't the government recently bail out the industry …

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Fishing for hope at a seafood-industry trade show

Photo: Chris Seufert Viewed from a distance, the Boston Convention Center looks a bit like a great white whale -- an appropriate setting for the annual International Boston Seafood Show. The building's vast interior offers great vistas for people-watching, often through huge glass windows. People move through the hallways and aisles in large groups; watching them was a bit like gawking at schools of fish through the glass pane of the giant tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. What sort of species were on display in this human fishbowl? Academic and NGO types darted about here and there, but industry …

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