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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 …

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Former N.D. governor nominated as Agriculture Secretary

George W. Bush has nominated Edward Schafer, a former North Dakota governor (and Republican, natch) to replace resigning Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. The mustachioed Schafer must be confirmed by the Senate. Schafer's nomination was unexpected by Big Ag -- said one farm lobbyist, "Who's that?"

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Bali burning

Amazing helicopter footage of Greenpeace in the Indonesian peat bogs

In the lead-up to the international Bali Climate summit, Greenpeace has launched a major direct action in Sumatra, Indonesia, to stop the nefarious PT Duta Palma corporation from destroying a pristine tropical forest (and the habitat for highly endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and oh-so-cute orangutans) and replacing it with a palm oil plantation. Click on the picture to the right to watch the extraordinary video of their action, including amazing helicopter footage of both the glorious and denuded Indonesian landscape. Torching tropical forests is bad enough, but this one lies atop a peat bog and the Duta Palma's henchmen are …

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The Whole Foods behemoth

Trade consultancy: Whole Foods will ‘consolidate supply chains’

Apparently, I'm not the only one who worries about what the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger will mean for organic-foods suppliers. In a report published by Organic Monitor, a European-based consultancy working on contract for Decision News Media, analyst Amarjit Sahota has sounded an alarm about Whole Foods' growing power. Organic Monitor calls itself a "business research & consulting company that specializes on organic & related industries." You can read Sahota's full analysis here on the Decision News site, but here is some of what he had to say: Following the approval of its acquisition of rival Wild Oats, Whole Foods …

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Scientists and rats agree

Organic food is better for you

For years, studies showed no nutritional difference between organic and conventionally grown food. That's because scientists were looking at macronutrients -- vitamins A, B, C, and so on. But they've since learned that macronutrients are only part of the nutrition story. It turns out that there are all sorts of compounds like antioxidants and phytonutrients -- known collectively as micronutrients -- that fight cancer, impede aging, and maintain heart health. And if organic and conventional food are roughly identical in macronutrient content, organic appears to be far superior in terms of micronutrients. The latest evidence comes from a four-year study …

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Global warming's Halloween horror

Extreme weather wipes out pumpkin crop

Global warming threatens our 4th of July celebrations with droughts that have forced communities to scrap plans for fireworks displays. And it threatens our White Christmases with winter heat waves. And our Arbor Days with record wildfires. Now it imperils our Halloweens. In a story headlined, "Rain, Drought, Wipe Out Pumpkin Crops Across U.S.," Fox News reports the frightening news: Scorching weather and lack of rain this summer wiped out some pumpkin crops from western New York to Illinois, leaving fields dotted with undersized fruit. Other fields got too much rain and their crops rotted. Pumpkin production is predicted to …

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Organic food healthier than non-organic, research finds

Who woulda thunk: Organic food is healthier than pesticide-ridden food, according to preliminary results of a four-year study funded by the European Union. Researchers found that organic nosh contained more antioxidants (yum!) and less fatty acids (ew!) than non-organic. Organic milk was found to have up to 80 percent more antioxidants than conventional cow juice, as well as higher amounts of vitamin E. Organic wheat, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and lettuce had up to 40 percent more antioxidants than their conventional counterparts, and potatoes, kiwi fruit, and carrots were found to have higher levels of vitamin C. The research has yet …

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