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News from the Farm Bill front

Democracy in jeopardy

In a recent post about the timing of the Farm Bill, I talked about when things related to farm and food policy are likely to move in Congress. There is new information available now, and it's becoming increasingly clear that we all could be in serious trouble if we don't act now to voice our opinion about the state of our food system. Though pressure to consider major reforms in the bill is as strong as ever, events of this week are leaving me with much less hope that new leadership will lead to any positive change without a fierce …

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Mongabay highlights for May '07

Good reading on Mongabay

There is so much good stuff over there I hardly know where to start. You might consider subscribing to the weekly email. Top of the list is an interview with Luke Hunter (the same biologist I pissed off with my pincushion post). Coincidentally, roughly a fifth of the interview dealt with that topic: ... does conservation of the species require radio-tagging? There are many, many cases where it does not. I often read proposals by graduate students who are wishing to radio-collar cats to address a conservation issue when they could far better achieve their goal by some other means. …

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Biofuels and the poor

The former: Not good for the latter

How climate change will disproportionately affect the world's poor is a message making the rounds of late, after the publication of the second IPCC report earlier this year. How climate change policies, such as carbon taxes, will either help or hurt the poor is also a topic we've been discussing of late. Now researchers at the University of Minnesota have assessed the impact of an increased dependence on biofuels on the developing world ... and the outlook isn't good. In short, conflating food and energy lands us in a quagmire in which corn (and ethanol) prices are still tethered to …

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Ungreening the Farm Bill

Stop House ag czar Peterson before he kills the conservation title

Any lingering illusions that Democratic control of the House would automatically lead to more enlightened agriculture policy crumbled last Thursday, when Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, released the conservation section of his 2007 Farm Bill proposal. Peterson kicked off the 2007 Farm Bill reauthorization process -- and in the process, kicked the legs out from under one of the country's best agri-environmental programs. By cutting funding for the Conservation Security Program in his proposal and freezing any new sign-ups until 2012, Chairman Peterson would essentially kill an innovative, green, and forward-looking program that has been …

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Charcoal agriculture: not ready for prime time

We haven’t quite figured it out yet

JMG and I were both too optimistic. We both thought charcoal agriculture was ready to play a limited but real role in controlling global warming. Burn some high carbon biomass, turning it into charcoal that will stay stable for thousands of years; add it to soil, which builds tilth and structure; you have just sequestered some carbon and improved agriculture at the same time. We know it can be done. Pre-Columbian Indians covered much of Brazil with terra preta (black earth) built up through "slash-and-char" agriculture over thousands of years. Terra preta is not just dead, well-structured soil. It hosts …

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Organic lite

‘Organic’ beer with conventional hops, and other USDA wishes

It's happening again -- the USDA is scheming to water down organic standards for key products. This time, the targets are that sacred duo, beer and sausage. Beer is composed essentially of two agricultural products: barley and hops. If the USDA gets its way, makers of "organic" beer will be able to use conventionally grown hops. And sausage is made up essentially of ground meat stuffed into casing made of animal intestines. The USDA would like manufacturers to be able to use intestines from conventionally raised animals. According to Food Navigator, the USDA hopes to add 38 substances to the …

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On slow food, communal eating, and Reubenesque sandwiches

This is the last in a series of articles about connecting with people over spring meals. Read others on setting up a dining co-op, celebrating Passover, hosting an Earth Dinner, and appreciating slow food. In my last column, I wrote about the slow-food movement, which unites people interested in flavors, food preservation, and, of course, eating. The movement is international in its scope and impact, but it is active on the local level; there are currently 140 Slow Food chapters in the U.S. Known as convivia, these groups often feature speakers or tastings -- or both. In Boston, for example, …

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An interview with underground foodie hero Sandor Katz

Sandor Katz. Like a well-made batch of kefir, the ancient cultured milk drink, Sandor Katz has an effervescent quality. Spend time with him or read his classic Wild Fermentation, and you'll see your food in a new light. Bread, cheese, cured meats, chocolate, beer, wine, vinegar -- all are products of fermentation, he points out: "Virtually all of the compelling, strong flavors that people are passionate about -- they might passionately hate them, or they might passionately love them -- it's fermentation that creates those flavors." Fermentation is the process of preserving food and transforming its flavor by subjecting it …

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Influencing the Farm Bill

Now is the time to harangue your reps about farm and food policy.

As debate over the 2007 Farm Bill heats up, more people than ever are realizing that the five-year omnibus legislation, due to expire this year, directly influences what crops are produced in this country, who gets paid for them and how much, the manner in which they are produced, what kind of product they become, and who eats what. They're also connecting the dots and realizing that our current farm and food policy is making us overweight and unhealthy while lining the pockets of multinational corporations and polluting the environment. Though the increased attention is exciting, the Farm Bill is …

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Umbra on fighting pests with pests

Dear Umbra, I have a pest problem in my backyard -- specifically, some tiny (but apparently hungry) insect is making lace out of my basil leaves. I do not want to use pesticides for many reasons, not the least of which is that I cook with the herbs I grow. I think I have found a "natural" solution, but I wanted to consult you first. My garden-supply store sells praying-mantis egg cases ("The natural pest control solution! Over 200 insects inside! Hang on a tree and eggs will hatch when temperatures stay above 70 degrees for three weeks!") The store …

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