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There's sh*t in the meat

NYT on the surge in E. coli outbreaks

"There's shit in the meat," declared a harried fast-food exec in the Richard Linklater / Eric Schlosser film Fast Food Nation. Well, yes, there is -- and more this year than in past years, judging from the number of recalls of beef tainted with the deadly E. coli strain 0157. In an article in yesterday's New York Times, Andrew Martin reports that the USDA has had occasion to issue 20 such recalls this year -- "one recall shy of a record set in 2000 and matched in 2002." Worse, recalls are up sharply from six in 2005 and eight in …

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Farm bill: Stick it to Big Meat

Back under debate in the Senate, the farm bill lurches ahead

The farm bill has been languishing in the Senate for weeks, buried under the weight of hundreds of specious, unrelated amendments. But the chamber reached a deal Thursday; each party agreed to float only 20 amendments. That means the bill is back on track. Majority leader Harry Reid vowed the Senate would hammer out a version by holiday break, meaning it would go to reconciliation and then to the president's desk early in the new year. So now it's crunch time. The agribiz giants will be hauling out the big guns, trying to shoot down anything that conflicts with their …

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How will we feed ourselves?

What a fossil-fuel free agriculture might look like

At some point in the future, humanity will have to produce its food without the help of fossil fuels and without destroying the soil. In a well-researched and succinct new essay, "What will we eat as the oil runs out?", Richard Heinberg analyzes the main problems with the global agricultural system, and proposes a solution: a global organic food system. Heinberg lays out four major dilemmas of the current system: The direct impacts on agriculture of higher oil prices: increased costs for tractor fuel, agricultural chemicals, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs ... the increased demand for biofuels …

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An EPA-approved pesticide is worse than the one it’s replacing

"The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass." -- Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947 Strawberry fields poisoned forever? Photo: iStockphoto In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted temporary approval for use of methyl iodide, a highly toxic fumigant favored by large-scale strawberry and other fruit growers to sterilize soil ahead of planting. The move generated outrage among scientists, though it didn't get much play in a news cycle dominated by the presidential election and …

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Get your No-Doz out

The neverending debate on corn ethanol continues

This is my response to Brooke Coleman's response to, uh, this response ... Welcome back, Brooke. I do think ethanol is better than oil ... Hundreds of millions of Americans do not "think" that the theory of evolution is valid. What you or I want to believe is largely irrelevant. The arguments we bring to the table to back up what we "think" is what matters. The following graphic is an attempt to explain a concept called leakage -- the fatal flaw in any attempt to divert food crops to gas tanks: Pop in to visit Biofuel Bob while you're …

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Umbra on Jell-O shots

Greetings, A very important discussion among my colleagues this week: is it better to purchase reusable, petroleum-based products (plastic) or to use paper disposables? Specifically, we're talking about Jell-O shot cups. A recent (and brilliant) invention is this little plastic shot cup with a twistable ring inside. Ostensibly, a flick of the wrist will free even the most stubborn Jell-O shot and allow hours of fun. Some of my friends have argued that the traditional sucking method is more green (and more fun) because the paper Dixie cups are renewable, unlike plastic. But the plastic ones can be reused time …

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Ethanol and <em>E. coli</em>, part II

Use of distiller grains in livestock rations has exploded

Yesterday, I posted about how feeding cattle distillers grains -- the leftover from the corn-based ethanol process -- seems to raise the incidence of E. coli 0157. I was a bit vague on precisely how much of the stuff was making it into the livestock-feed supply. Thanks to the indefatigable Ray Wallace, I now know. The answer is: a boatload, and growing. Ray pointed me to an account of a letter sent by the National Corn Growers Association to the USDA. In it, NCGA Chairman Ken McCauley argues that the USDA should continue its practice of barely regulating the distillers …

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The school-lunch dog fight

In the clash over school lunches, who’s watching out for the kids?

The following is a guest essay by Kate Adamick, a New York-based consultant and lecturer on matters relating to school food reform and an advisor to the Orfalea Fund in Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Ann Cooper, the "Renegade Lunch Lady" and director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District. ----- A friend of ours often says, when alluding to a person's motives, "What dog do they have in the fight?" We've spent the weekend discussing this as we try to wrap our heads around the stories from the New York Times and the Associated Press this week that …

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Humor fails

Saddening video report on Indonesian palm oil plantations

Here is a short, painful four-minute news report about palm oil plantations -- watch it and weep:

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Maybe not such a great idea after all?

Feeding ethanol waste to cows

Perhaps the most persistent debate around corn ethanol involves its "net energy balance" -- that is, whether it consumes more energy in production than it delivers as a fuel. Even the studies that credit the fuel with a robust energy balance, like this one from the USDA, acknowledge that it's pretty much a wash unless you account for the "co-product" of the ethanol-making process. The ethanol process consumes only the starch component of corn, leaving behind nearly a third of the input corn as a high-protein, high-fat substance called "distillers grains." According to ethanol boosters, this stuff makes a high-quality …

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