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Why gutting subsidies shouldn’t be the focus of Farm Bill reform efforts

A lot of people, myself among them, have spent substantial time this year trying to demystify the 2007 Farm Bill. But as it lurches into its stretch run -- with passage possible by year-end -- I fear that the bill is more shrouded in mystery than ever, even among sustainable-agriculture advocates. The answer ain't blowin' in the wind. Photo: iStockphoto Here's what we can all agree on: Late last month, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a version of the bill that would generally preserve the crop subsidies that have become so infamous. It would also add funding to some important …

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Food companies damaging climate through deforestation, says new report

The makers of such familiar products as Pringles, KitKat, and Philadelphia cream cheese are contributing to deforestation and climate change, says a new report from Greenpeace. Companies like Unilever, Kraft, and Nestle use palm oil from Indonesia in their products. And guess what happens in Indonesia when the palm-oil peddlers come calling? Virgin forests are cut down, valuable peatlands are drained, and all hell breaks loose. Such deforestation and drainage releases carbon dioxide -- in fact, Indonesia now ranks third in human-made carbon emissions, behind the U.S. and China. Demand for palm oil for cosmetics and biofuels is only upping …

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Fiji Water announces plan to become carbon negative

A bold new plan to bypass carbon neutrality and become carbon negative has been announced by, of all things, a bottled-water company. Fiji Water has announced specific goals to pursue renewable energy, forest preservation, and water conservation, and will buy carbon offsets to cover 120 percent of its greenhouse-gas emissions. Which is good and all, says Jon Coifman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, but "it's still hard to justify shipping over a million plastic bottles of water a day from the middle of the South Pacific, when turning on your faucet at home would do just as good a …

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Send your best Thanksgiving recipe

Cranberries? Tofurky? We’ll eat it all up

It's that time of year again. In between taking down Halloween decorations, excavating coats, hats, and mittens from last year's pile of never-quite-got-washed-or-put-away outerwear, and putting up holiday lights, Thanksgiving sneaks up on us. Once I smell the smoke from my neighbor's woodstoves and hear the crunch of leaves under my feet, I know that the time to savor pumpkin, squash, and sage is just around the corner. This year we're asking readers to send us your own recipes, suitable for a Thanksgiving dinner. We are looking for recipes in three categories in particular: vegetarian entrées, vegan entrées, and side …

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Six farmworkers compensated for pesticide exposure, six cases dismissed

Six farmworkers who became sterile after working on a Nicaraguan banana plantation three decades ago were awarded a total $3.3 million from Dole Food Co. and Dow Chemical, after a judge agreed that the corporations "actively suppressed information about" the "reproductive toxicity" of now-banned pesticide DBCP. Six other plaintiffs with a similar claim had their cases dismissed, allowing a Dow lawyer to look on the bright side: "Dow Chemical is pleased that this jury concluded that six out of 12 plaintiffs were entitled to no recovery whatsoever." Dole's not-quite-so-diplomatic vice president declared his company will appeal: "Dole will not be …

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Farm Bill: Support Dorgan-Grassley

Call your senator today

As most people following the story know by now, the 2007 Farm Bill is looking pretty grim with respect to fundamental reform. The U.S. government seems hell-bent on pushing a policy that on balance rewards farmers for gross output at all costs -- environmental considerations be damned. However, as the Senate debates the ag committee's version of the bill, a chance remains to make meaningful reform at the margins. My friends in the sustainable-ag lobbying world tell me that the last, best hope lies with the Dorgan-Grassley Amendment, which would cap subsidy payments to farmers at $250,000. The move would …

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Farming and climate change

More evidence that industrial ag is destroying the planet

From an ecological standpoint, the fundamental problem with U.S. farm policy dating back to the '70s is that it rewards farmers for maximizing yield at all cost. Encouraged to produce as much as possible, all the time, farmers have few incentives to conserve resources or protect water, air, or soil quality. The federal government's dizzying array of biofuel subsidies -- which have propped up crop prices and encouraged yet more production -- only exacerbates the situation. I don't think greens fully appreciate the ecological troubles associated with these policies. Peter Donovan's recent post showed how agriculture has vast -- and …

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An unseasonably warm night and a doomed-to-melt dessert

November is the new September. -- Aladdin Ossorio I've been itching to make a Baked Alaska. In 1989, the year the Exxon Valdez spilled oil all over Prince William Sound, my friends and I had several Baked Alaska parties featuring a whiskey-laced "Exxon Valdez Fudge Sauce" that I concocted to recreate the oil slick -- and to commemorate the fact that Captain Hazelwood reputedly imbibed a great deal before the tanker ran aground. Do try this at home. Photo: iStockphoto So what, exactly, is Baked Alaska? I'm glad you asked. When I mentioned it to someone I recently met, he …

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Bush names a new USDA chief

The former governor of North Dakota loves biofuel and GMOs

Speaking yesterday at a gathering of the Grocery Manufacturers Association -- a trade group whose member list reads like a directory of multinational food corporations -- President Bush waxed coy about his new choice for USDA secretary. This afternoon I'm going to name a new Secretary of Agriculture. I'm not going to tell you who it is, because I'm trying to -- [laughter] -- but I think you'll like him. He understands agriculture, of course, and he'll be a good follow-on to Mike Johanns, who did a superb job as the Secretary of Agriculture. And I'm going to ask the …

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High crop prices, more chemicals

All hail the biofuel boom

A UN official recently declared biofuels a "crime against humanity," because they leach agricultural resources from feeding people and direct them to feeding cars. But one man's crime is another's boon. Surging biofuel use encourages farmers to maximize yield over all other considerations -- and they do so by lashing the earth with all manner of chemicals. That's why shareholders in agrochemical companies are celebrating the explosive growth of biofuel use. Syngenta -- the Swiss-based maker of herbicides, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds -- has seen its shares more than double since the biofuel boom began. Here's how one Wall …