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Like Blight on Rice

U.S. commercial rice crop contaminated with GM strain The U.S. government admitted last week that its commercial supply of long-grain rice has been contaminated by an illegal, untested, genetically modified strain with the warm-and-fuzzy name of LLRICE 601. The European Union, the biggest importer of U.S. long-grain rice, may decide to delay or ban imports; Japan, which buys very little U.S. long-grain rice, will now be buying none. LLRICE 601, engineered by German biotech company Bayer CropScience to withstand an herbicide, has not been approved for human consumption. U.S. rice supplies from the 2005 harvest were contaminated, even though field …

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Do the Hempty Hemp

Hemp farming could be legalized in California Farmers could legally grow industrial hemp under a bill approved by the state Senate of, obviously, California. But isn't hemp, like, totally marijuana? Didn't Nancy Reagan warn us about this? No, no, says (Republican!) state Sen. Tom McClintock, in the best analogy we've ever heard: Hemp "bears no more resemblance to marijuana than a poodle bears to a wolf." The legislation would require that hemp be tested before harvesting to make sure it has only a trace amount of THC, the intoxicant in marijuana. Hemp-growing is illegal in the U.S., for all kinds …

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Why “the market” alone can’t save local agriculture

The local-food movement has reached an interesting juncture. Through one lens, things are looking better than ever. According to a USDA report (PDF), the number of farmers' markets leapt 79 percent to 3,100 between 1994 and 2002. Community-supported agriculture programs -- wherein consumers buy a share of a farm's output before the season starts, sharing the risks and rewards of the harvest -- have followed a similar trajectory. According to one source, North America boasts 1,200 CSAs. Just 25 years ago, the concept didn't exist in these parts. Tastes great, less shipping. Photo: iStockphoto All that growth aside, though, the …

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I’d like to buy the world a Coke … er, maybe not

The Times reports: INDIA'S highest court yesterday demanded that Coca-Cola should reveal its secret formula for the first time in 120 years. Why? The Supreme Court ordered the US soft drinks maker, along with its rival PepsiCo, to supply details of the chemical composition and ingredients of their products after a study released this week claimed that they contained unacceptable levels of insecticides. [emphasis added] ... The court order followed the release of a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-government body, which contended that 11 brands sold by the two soft drinks makers contained high levels …

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While demand for frozen food booms, processing plants head to China and Mexico

Farmers markets may be fashionable, but the U.S. appetite for convenience food remains insatiable. "Retail sales of frozen foods in the U.S. in 2005 reached a record $29 billion, up from nearly $26 billion in 2001," declares a news report. Meanwhile, the U.S. food-processing giants are shuttering domestic plants and heading to Mexico and China, where labor and produce costs are cheaper than California's central coast, once the U.S. frozen food capital. In an age of broad energy and climate uncertainty, market forces are conspiring to make our food system ever more energy intensive. How can this be? How can …

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Words Fail Us

Hummer propaganda aimed at kids through McDonald's Happy Meals Sometimes a story comes along that so perfectly captures a culture's pathologies that it should be put in a time capsule, so future generations ... oh, right, there won't be any future generations. It seems that, according to fast-food behemoth McDonald's, this is a "Hummer of a Summer." A new series of TV and radio ads depict happy families on their way to fatten their children and clog their arteries at McDonald's in GM's gas-guzzling Hummer. When they arrive, soon-to-be-obese boys can choose from eight different toy Hummers with their Happy …

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Why the late, lamented Doha round wasn’t really the answer for ag policy.

Harvesting a bit of vintage Reagan-era rhetoric, L.A. Times columnist Jonah Goldberg recently denounced what he called "welfare queens on tractors." The right-winger's target was clear: The U.S. farm subsidy program, which doles out around $14.5 billion per year (depending on market fluctuations), mainly to large producers of corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, and rice. As Congress opens debate on the 2007 Farm Bill -- the omnibus five-year legislation that governs agricultural support -- the subsidy program has drawn a chorus of critics. Goldberg gets it about right when he lists the program's opponents: "Right-wing economists, left-wing environmentalists and almost anybody …

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As China’s exports boom, its farmland shrinks and food imports rise. Coincidence?

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek once remarked that the United States does still have a working class -- it's simply in China. With the U.S. manufacturing base shriveling (Ford Explorer, anyone?) and imports from China booming (set to surpass a quarter trillion dollars this year), it's hard to contradict that trendy Slovenian academic. China's manufacturing miracle means (among many other things) that even in a period of stagnant wage growth, U.S. consumers can march into Wal-Mart and fill their carts with lots and lots of stuff. The most famous environmental impact of China's boom has to do with crude oil: As …

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The case for boycotting factory-farmed ‘organic’ milk

Of all the environmental gaffes the species homo sapien commits in the process of feeding itself, the practice of cramming megafauna into huge pens and plying them with corn may rank as the most imbecilic. The excellent web site Eat Wild documents the environmental ills of confinement dairy and meat production; here are a few. Cows evolved to eat prairie grass, not grain, which makes them sick. Huge concentrations of large ravenous animals create huge concentrations of shit -- which is a critical resource for maintaining soil health in reasonable amounts, but a fetid nightmare when produced at mountainous levels. …

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Workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts

When Elena Ortiz found a job on an organic raspberry farm after working for nine years in conventionally farmed fields, she was glad for the change. The best part about her new job was that she no longer had to work just feet away from tractors spraying chemical herbicides and pesticides. An added bonus was the fruit itself -- "prettier," she said, and firmer, which made it easier to pick. Better living without chemicals? Photos: iStockphoto But when it came to how Ortiz was treated by her employers, little was different. Her pay remained meager: $500 a week at peak …

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