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A look at the impacts of biofuels production, in the U.S. and the world

Nothing but blue skies from now on? Photo: house.gov Great news! We can finally scratch "driving less" off our list of ways to curb global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil! Biofuels will soon not only replace much of our petroleum, but improve soil fertility and save the American farmer as well! Sound too good to be true? Well, yes. But you could be excused for buying the hype. Ethanol and biodiesel are being promoted as cures for our energy and environmental woes not just by flacks for corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, BP, and DuPont, but by …

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How now, hormonal cow?

Group lobbies Starbucks to cut the rBGH

Tired of being cowed into drinking milk laced with artificial growth hormones simply because you can't kick the latte habit? Find it udderly disgusting that the largest food and beverage retailers in the world proliferate antibiotics? Wish Grist would stop milking the cow-related puns? Well, today you can join in with Food and Water Watch's Hold the Hormones campaign by calling Starbucks and asking them to stop buying milk from dairies that use artificial growth hormones. The D.C.-based nonprofit offers up 10 good reasons to get involved. With 6,000 stores nationwide, Starbucks buys a lot of milk. And as per …

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Cut the crap: The Meatrix 2.5

Moopheus and the gang partner with ‘Fast Food Nation’

They've seen the family farm become a factory farm. They've learned the truth about industrial dairy facilities. And now they're trying to escape the perils of a meatpacking plant. They are Leo, Moopheus, and Chickity, the animated stars of a series of short films by Free Range Studios and nonprof Sustainable Table. This latest version of the Matrix spoofs is Meatrix II½, and this time, they've partnered with Fast Food Nation to promote the film and help raise awareness about the production of fast food. Unfortunately, it looks like Fast Food Nation hasn't done too well in theaters. Opening weekend, …

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The numbers behind ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel in the U.S.

America devours oil like no other country in the world. Representing 5 percent of the global population, the country consumes fully a quarter of the world's oil. Every year, to move ourselves and our goods around, we burn 140 billion gallons of gasoline and 40 billion gallons of diesel -- enough to propel the average U.S. car around the world 1.6 billion times. But rising prices, climate change, and seemingly endless crises in the Middle East have sparked a reckoning. We love to pump, and it shows. Photo: hawaii.gov While there is plenty of disagreement about how best to end …

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Till There Was You

Researchers hope new crops, methods will help farmers fight climate effects Agricultural researchers are joining the legions who are working to help the world respond to climate change. A coalition called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (which goes by the just-shy-of-delicious acronym CGIAR) is launching an initiative today that will pour money into developing crops that can withstand floods, droughts, and other extreme events. The group is also looking at farming methods, like no-till or low-till, that can minimize the release of greenhouse gases. "We're talking about a major challenge here," says Louis Verchot of Kenya's World Agroforestry …

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Do Not Giggle

Livestock sector spews a fifth of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, says U.N. The U.N. has issued fresh content on a vital cause of global warming: cow farts. It seems that 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases stem from farm animals and the livestock industry, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Besides poots, agriculture-related deforestation and energy use contribute to the total. When all the carbon-equivalent math is said and done, livestock produce more of the world's human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions than cars, says the U.N.: about 9 percent of carbon dioxide, up to 40 percent of methane, and nearly two-thirds …

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Locally grown food shouldn’t be just for those with cash to spare

As a critic of the globalized industrial food system, I often face charges of elitism -- in part, likely, because I neglect to acknowledge the system's clear achievements. So here goes. In the mood for good food? Look no further than your backyard. Photo: iStockphoto In human history, few pampered Roman emperors or African kings had as easy access to a broad variety of foods as the present-day U.S. consumer. At least since the rise of agriculture, a primary problem for most people has been how to capture enough calories every day to keep our bodies functioning. Today, for about …

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Umbra on sustainable sushi

Dear Umbra, My wife and I love sushi, but we're increasingly concerned about sustainable harvesting. Although we treat ourselves to sushi only once or twice a month, it adds up, and we can't help but wonder about the impact. There's no sensation in the world like letting a slab of sashimi salmon dissolve in your mouth, but can my wife and I continue to enjoy sushi without feeling guilty? What can people like us -- environmentally conscious, politically aware but inactive -- do to support more sustainable fishing practices through our sushi-bar purchases? Geoff MannHowell, Mich. Dearest Geoff, Sushi. Yum. …

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It ain't natural

But it could be organic

It's a good question, really: When is a fish really organic? The New York Times mulled this question in the business section yesterday. If the organic label hinges upon a vegetative diet and not using antibiotics or growth hormones, then farmed fish can be organic. But what's natural about confining thousands of fish in nets? And what's unnatural about carnivorous fish like salmon that feed upon other fish born in the wild? Ponders the Times: [A] proposed guideline at the Agriculture Department for calling certain farmed fish "organic" is controversial on all sides. Environmentalists argue that many farm-raised fish live …

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Salad daze

Winter veggies served with a labor shortage and a side of rocket fuel

Last summer, plenty of drama emanated from California's Salinas Valley, epicenter of industrial vegetable production (organic and otherwise) and self-proclaimed "nation's salad bowl." The season began amid grumbles among growers about a labor shortage. To paraphrase their complaint: Not enough Mexican workers are sneaking across the border, and ones who are are drawn into higher-paying construction jobs. The season ended in an ignominious nationwide E. coli outbreak that killed three people and sickened hundreds of others. About this time each year, industrial vegetable production shifts to Arizona's Yuma County, source of 90 percent of winter vegetables in the U.S. and …

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