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Radiation breeding of plants is way better than it sounds

Think two wrongs don't make a right? Meet radiation breeding, a method of modifying crops by zapping them with gamma rays. While "radiation" and "modify" are unpleasant words to many, "I'm not doing anything different from what nature does. I'm not using anything that was not in the genetic material itself," says plant breeder Pierre Lagoda. The practice -- which is to be thanked for red grapefruit, black currants, and whiskey-bound premium barley -- leaves no residual radiation and is an entirely different process than genetic modification, which splices foreign genetic material into plants. Radiation breeding is widely used in …

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How to stick it to the ice-cream Man

I've written a lot about the consolidation of U.S. food markets, and have become jaded to facts such as: just four firms slaughter 83.5 percent of cows, and so on. But I actually gagged on my ice cream when I read this bit in BusinessWeek: The days of mom-and-pop parlors and local brands are fading fast. Today, the $59 billion ice cream industry is dominated by two global giants: Switzerland's Nestlé (NESN.DE) and Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever (UN). Together, they control more than one-third of the worldwide market -- and half of ice cream sales in the U.S. -- and they're …

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Urban agriculture does more than provide healthy food for those who need it

Phoebe Connelly and Chelsea Ross have a detailed and incredibly heartening story on urban agriculture in In These Times. It focuses on urban ag projects that target inner city "food deserts," where liquor stores outnumber groceries 20-to-1 and the most easily available food is fried. It's not just about food, though: "We are what most folks would consider organic, but we're not certified," the Food Project's Burns says. "That's not as important to us. We're in the community; folks can just come by and see our practices. It's about transparency." Accessibility is at the heart of what these groups call …

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Starbucks vows to make 100 percent of its milk rBGH-free

If you haven't been ordering that double whipped Frappuccino at your local Starbucks with soy milk, you've likely been gulping down Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). It makes cows produce more milk, but it's thought to increase the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancer in humans (if only they could come up with something to make cows squirt machiatto directly from their udders). But now, after two years of pressure from the organization Food and Water Watch, Starbucks has announced that it's going to go rBGH free by December 31, 2007. Moo-chas gracias, Starbucks! (photo: Tami Witschger) Whew! Now …

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A small grocery chain uses food mileage as an advertising tactic

Roth's, a tiny (11 store) grocery chain in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley, is promoting a "Go Local" campaign that's interesting in many respects, including its "Support our Northwest food system" slogan and ads: "Go Local" products are grown, caught, or produced in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, or Northern California. Look for the "Go Local" icon on products in your weekly Roth's ad. Buying these products will help build a regional food economy, ensuring farms in our community [sic] and protecting our food security for years to come. Where does your food come from? If it's a "Go Local" product from Roth's, then …

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Haiku Times on community gardens (with gorgeous photos)

There is a really nice issue of Haiku Times devoted to community gardens. The haikus are variously lovely, funny, and insightful, and the photos are absolutely beautiful.

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On summer’s end and salad dressing

It's mid-August and the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts is filled with crops that are making their final push to ripeness and fruition. On a warm day, the air feels like it is practically vibrating with all that energy. As I drive to the Hampshire College campus for the annual Northeast Organic Farmers' Association conference, I pass fields of corn that seem to have reached their peak. The corn is so tall, I am amazed to think that each stalk was a mere seed just a few short months ago. It's mind-boggling to think of the amount of energy -- …

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The vexed question of exactly how far our food travels.

Update [2007-8-24 9:4:33 by Tom Philpott]: Now this is really getting vexed. As Gristmill blogger JMG comments below, the Department of Energy did not exist in 1969. (Jimmy Carter started it in '77.) Hmmm. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center, mentioned below the fold, emailed me with his source on the 1969 study: a paper by John Hendrickson, naming the Department of Energy as the source. Rich is going to try to get to the bottom of this annoying mix-up. Meanwhile, I'm going to try to get my hands on the paper, regardless of which bureaucracy produced it. ******* In …

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We Like Piña Coladas (and Getting Caught in the Rain)

Dole will make some tropical-fruit distribution carbon-neutral U.S. residents have a heckuva hard time finding a local pineapple (Hawaiians respectfully excluded, of course). But now you can nosh your tropical fruit with less guilt; Dole Food Co. has pledged to work toward offsetting 100 percent of the CO2 emissions that its subsidiary produces from growing bananas and pineapples in Costa Rica. Working with government agencies, the company plans to carbon-neutralize its entire supply chain, from growing the fruit to packing, transporting, and distributing it in North America and Europe. And those emissions are far from insignificant: Dole ships some 31 …

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Economists say that only the largest ethanol producers will survive

Of all the arguments in favor of government backing for corn-based ethanol, only one seems even remotely reasonable to me: that it could lead to real economic development in depressed areas of the Midwest. The theory goes like this: When farmers pool resources and build their own ethanol plants, they'll capture much higher profits than by merely selling corn to big buyers like ADM and Cargill. According to an article in today's Wisconsin State Journal, that rationale for corn-based ethanol may be about to unravel. For about two generations, the Midwest's farmers have seen the price for corn and other …