Fumes from Minn. dairy force neighbors to evacuate

A giant dairy farm in Thief River Falls, Minn., is producing such noxious fumes that the state health department has advised nearby residents to evacuate. Excel Dairy’s emissions of hydrogen sulfide have been calculated at 200 times the standard allowed by Minnesota law; neighbors’ complaints include headaches, nausea, blurred vision, shortness of breath, and fatigue. “It’s so strong and so sour and so potent that it takes your breath right away,” says Jeff Brouse, who evacuated last week. “It’s so nauseous we’ve had neighbors throw up in their driveways.” Excel, which wants to add another 500 cows to its 1,500-cow …

Attack of the killer tomatoes, national edition

Tomato salmonella scare hits the big time

Insert everything I said in this post, except now the salmonella-tainted tomato scare has gone nationwide, whereas before, the FDA had been limiting its warning to Texas and New Mexico. Here is Associated Press: Federal officials hunted for the source of a salmonella outbreak in Connecticut and 16 other states linked to three types of raw tomatoes, while the list of supermarkets and restaurants yanking those varieties from shelves and menus grew. Meanwhile, over on Ethicurean, blogger Mental Masala points us to Safeway’s interesting new ad campaign promoting industrially produced tomatoes. The supermarket chain is hyping what it calls “ridiculously …

Vaccine, nut oil may cut cow belching’s contribution to climate change

The worldwide race to quell livestock belching is on! Earlier this month, New Zealand researchers came one step closer to developing a vaccine that would reduce the methane emitted from belching livestock. Ruminant livestock burp and fart significant quantities of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. “Our agricultural research organization … was able to map the genome … that causes methane in ruminant animals and we believe we can vaccinate against [that],” said New Zealand’s trade minister. On Tuesday, Japanese scientists said they demonstrated that oil from the shell of the cashew nut may cut …

Climate change, deforestation, erosion take toll on African landscape

A new United Nations atlas depicts alarming changes to Africa’s landscape. On a continent that produces a mere 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, significant landmarks are taking a hit from climate change: Lake Chad and Lake Victoria are shrinking each year, and Mt. Kilimanjaro could be snow-free by 2020. The deforestation rate in Africa is twice the world average, and the continent each year loses enough forest to cover the state of Maryland. Sixty-five percent of African farmlands are threatened by chemical damage and/or erosion; some areas are losing more than 22 tons of soil per acre each …

Cuba's urban-ag miracle

The U.S. media discover how food production works without access to cheap oil

The story is legendary in peak-oil circles: Twenty years ago, the Soviet Union pulled the plug on Cuba’s cheap-energy, cheap-food era. (See Bill McKibben’s feature piece on the subject here.) No longer would the fading superpower accept the tiny island nation’s sugar as payment for crude oil. From then on, only hard currency would do. It also halted food aid. In short order, gas and food prices spiked and people’s living standards tumbled. Next, a widespread shift from cars to bikes, and an explosion in community gardening. Recently, as our own cheap-energy era appears to be lurching toward its end, …

Meat Wagon: Filthy swine

U.S. officials dither while antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains creep into our pork supply

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries. The good news is that people are earnestly trying to figure out if a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria strain is infecting our nation’s vast supply of pork. The bad news is, they don’t work for a government regulator with the power to do something about it. Rather, they’re university researchers and journalists, whose only real power is the public outrage they can generate through their work. Prepare to be outraged by the work of University of Iowa professor Tara Smith and veteran Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Andrew …

One mother’s tips for managing summer eco-dilemmas

It’s painful for you both, but still better than a day inside with SpongeBob. Photo: Tom Twigg When the last school bell rings and summer gets into full swing, we modern parents simply can’t do as the previous generation did: turn our kids loose onto the chemically manicured neighborhood lawns for unsupervised games of kick-the-can, calling them inside only for the occasional application of Solarcaine or snack of tuna melts and Kool-Aid. These days, thanks to growing awareness of the dangers of everything from pesticides to high-fructose corn syrup, parents of my ilk (anxious to the point of bruxism) face …

Garden variety

Why mow the grass when you can harvest salad greens?

Lawn grass is the largest irrigated U.S. crop. “Even conservatively,” notes NASA researcher Cristina Milesi, “I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn.” Wow, that’s a lot of ornamental grass — about 128,000 square kilometers worth, roughly equal in size to the state of Wisconsin. According Milesi, keeping all of that grass green requires about 200 gallons of fresh, typically drinking-quality water per person per day. (Interestingly, Milesi does find that lawns are net carbon sinks, but she doesn’t mention emissions associated with mowing.) Happily, people are increasingly finding more productive — …

All hail Monsanto!

When the benevolent seed giant declares it’s going to save the world, why be skeptical?

Do you worry about where your food comes from? Are you concerned that farmers might use too many toxic chemicals, or that health and safety agencies of the U.S. government might not be looking out for your best interests? Well then, you suffer from too much skepticism. You probably need to learn to trust what you are told more often. Maybe you should consider some pharmacological support for your worry problem. I know. My name is Claire and I'm a skeptic. I thought all you other skeptics out there might like to know that the latest word on our problem comes from a company who knows a lot about food, farming, and chemicals. This week, the CEO of Monsanto Corporation, Hugh Grant, told Public Radio International's Marketplace that he expects people to be skeptical about what Monsanto says but also, given the food problems the world is facing, "skepticism is a commodity the world can't afford right now."

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.