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Umbra on fruit sprays and organic food

Dear Umbra, The tangerines I bought recently had this on the label: "Thiabendazole and/or orthopenylphenol and/or imazalil used as fungicides, and coated with food-grade shellac based wax or resin to maintain freshness." Presumably the shellac stays on the skin and does not affect the fruit, but what about the other products? What are these products and do we know what the impact of spraying or putting them on the fruit is, as well as the overall effect on the environment? Is organic better, as far as these chemicals are concerned? BruceKansas City, Mo. Dearest Bruce, Organic is better, as far …

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Umbra on vegetarianism

Dear Umbra, I have been a vegetarian for a pretty long time, but my uncle told me that if the human is not supposed to eat meat then why do we have teeth. He left me a little confused. Is the human being naturally vegetarian? LaidaSomerville, Mass. Dearest Laida, Your uncle is unkindly denigrating your ideas, and using his authority to confuse you. His comment reminds me of a long-ago MAD Magazine spoof -- to paraphrase, "If the Lord had meant us to have telephones, he would have given us telephones instead of an appendix." If you want my opinion, …

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I Double Dairy You

Got pollution controls? Five dairy farms in California soon will -- and environmentalists hope the new rules will eventually apply to dairies nationwide. To avoid legal action by environmental groups, the five farms in the Inland Empire region of the state have agreed to modernize their operations by developing greener plans for manure lagoons and other pollution sources. Enviros say pollution from the farms was rushing downstream, leading to nitrate levels 10 times the California safety threshold.

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It’s time to end the race to the bottom

Here's a simple game that makes a not-so-simple point. Stand in a line, with several friends. Each of you hold your right index finger out in front of your body. Now place a long stick across all of your fingers, balanced upon them. Your collective goal is to lower the stick to the ground. There is only one rule. Each finger must remain in contact with the stick at all times. If anyone's finger loses contact with the stick, you must raise the stick back to the starting level and begin again. According to Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeney, …

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Corn at the Right Time

The activist-friendly town of Takoma Park, Md., unveiled an inspiring (albeit funny-looking) monument to the clean energy movement yesterday: A silo that holds 21 tons of organic corn. The corn will be used as an alternative fuel to heat a dozen homes in the town's Save Our Sky Home-Heating Cooperative, keeping more than 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. The cooperative started with Mike Tidwell, who recently became an alt-energy fanatic. He helped convince officials to let the silo be erected on public grounds, so that townspeople could fuel up with ease. Takoma Park is …

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Prairie Dogged

Faced with drought and plunging profits, Colorado farmers are under growing financial pressure to hawk their land to developers. Between 1993 and 2001, about 1.5 million acres of farmland in the state were put on the market and developed; 300,000 of the acres were sold in 2001 as a drought began to take hold. State officials are scrambling to come up with solutions that will slow the loss of agricultural lands. Trouble is, some of the solutions -- including more dams and logging to increase water resources for farmers -- won't be to the liking of environmentalists. So far, water …

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Sweet Child of Mine?

After forcing a mining operation to leave town in 1997, the 46 families of Junin, a remote village in northern Ecuador, decided to have a go at ecotourism to protect the rainforest around them -- and to earn a living. But now a growing number of the residents are questioning that choice. The paradise of orchids, hummingbirds, and jaguars is no consolation to residents who aren't happy about the village's continued lack of electricity, telephones, running water, and paved roads. Only about three families are able to earn a living through ecotourism, while the rest are subsistence farmers. "The ecologists …

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Jews for Cheeses

Seven ultra-Orthodox Jewish families have signed on to create what is likely the world's first organic, kosher, communal farm. Following the tenets of the Torah and Talmud, the farmers will not pick fruit from their orchards for the first three years; they will let their land lie fallow every seventh year and will only plant certain vegetables next to certain fruits. The man behind the plan, Lubavitcher Rabbi Chaim Adelman, hopes that 18 more families will join the 70-acre farm, which is just north of Amherst, Mass. The families expect to feed themselves and sell products such as goat cheese. …

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You Will Live a GM-free Life … in Bed

Until recently, China seemed to be positioning itself as a world leader in bioengineered foods, spending tens of millions of dollars on new technologies and touting the benefits of genetically modified rice, soybeans, and other crops. Now, though, the nation has imposed tough restrictions on domestic planting of genetically modified (GM) crops and strict labeling rules for GM imports. Observers say the sea-change reflects a growing concern on the part of Beijing that small-scale Chinese farmers won't be able to compete with imports from U.S. agribusiness (many of them genetically modified) and a realization that GM restrictions could essentially serve …

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Cream of the Crop

Jonna Higgins-Freese reviews The Farm as Natural Habitat by Dana and Laura Jackson

You'll have to forgive the staid title: Right from the start, The Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems is thoroughly Midwestern in tone -- reserved, practical, and down-to-earth. Edited by long-time sustainable-agriculture advocates Dana and Laura Jackson, a mother-daughter team, the essays collected here describe farming practices that mimic and protect natural systems. But if the voice is mild, the message is urgent: Environmentalists must build ties with farmers if we are to grow food without destroying topsoil, poisoning our air and water, and killing wildlife. The Farm as Natural Habitat By Dana and Laura Jackson Island …

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