Gulf Dead Zone: Bigger than ever

Thanks in part to that ‘green’ fuel, corn-based ethanol

U.S. farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn this spring, a 15 percent-plus jump from last year. If you lumped all that land together — not too hard to imagine, given that corn ag is highly concentrated in the Midwest — you’d have a monocropped land mass nearly equal in size to the state of California. The jump in corn acreage is excellent news if you own shares in mega meat-processing firms like Tyson and Smithfield. These firms have been complaining bitterly that the price of corn, driven up by the government-induced ethanol boom, will eat into their profits. (Corn …

Restoring rural roots

How legislators can help the rural

In a recent trip through the small town of Walthill, Nebraska, the phrase "rural revitalization" took on a whole new meaning. In this case, it was the lack of any kind of prosperity that made it obvious to me why rural communities are in need of revitalization. Main Street looked painfully deserted, with two recent arsons adding fresh scars to the once-active storefronts. As we drove around the residential area, most houses looked to be in some state of disrepair -- so much so that it was difficult to really tell which were homes and which had already been abandoned. If ever there was a town that needed some life breathed back into it, this was it.

Airing on the Side of Caution

Chemical dangers to air-breathing animals overlooked, researchers say A new study in Science says regulators have overlooked the effects that thousands of chemicals could have on air-breathing organisms. Such as, for instance, people. In general, regulators study how chemicals accumulate in aquatic-based food chains; they look at how toxics dissolve in water and fat, but not at how easily they’re expelled from lungs. Canadian researchers say that’s a problemo: as many as a third of the roughly 12,000 chemicals under review in Canada could accumulate in air-breathing animals. The pesticide lindane, for example, doesn’t build up in fish — but …

Myth: Subsidies keep food prices low

A guest essay from ED’s Scott Faber

The following is a guest post from Scott Faber, Farm Bill campaign director for Environmental Defense. (Scott also has a blog.) — Congress is in serious negotiations over the next version of the Farm Bill. The debate is fertile ground for food policy myths and misconceptions. Perhaps the best (or worst) example is that old chestnut that farm subsidies keep food prices low. Here’s why that’s just a myth. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in America end up in either a pig (as pig food) or a pump (as biofuel). So if farm subsidies really lead to cheaper …

All you need for summer seafood splendor

As you might imagine, people often ask me what species of fish are the best to eat in terms of environmental and health concerns. I usually respond by saying, “OK, how much free time do you have? Are you sitting down? Do you have access to the internet? Do you have a cold compress for your forehead? Are next-of-kin present and available to care for you if you keel over from information overload and/or frustration?” Grills just wanna have fun. Photo: iStockphoto If the answer to all of the above questions is yes, then it’s time to play “Do You …

Organic farming can't feed the world: a myth debunked

A new study puts the old canard to rest

One of the most common arguments against organic farming is that it can't possibly provide enough food to feed the planet's burgeoning population. Low yields and lack of organically acceptable nitrogen sources, it's been said, will always confine its production scale to the realms of specialty groceries and farmer's markets. Now researchers at the University of Michigan have decided to examine these claims with some scientific scrutiny. Their findings? "Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land." If this is surprising, the authors say it's because many people in developing countries can't afford to buy the fertilizers that hybrid seeds require in order to produce top yields. So they're better off bypassing the biotech system altogether, instead using traditional seeds and so-called "green manures." These manures are cover crops planted in-between harvests and then plowed back into the soil. The authors found that this method provided sufficient nitrogen to farm without using any synthetic fertilizers. Said one of the study's lead authors, "Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies -- all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food."

Sounds Perfecto to Us

Organic farming can yield more food than conventional ag, says analysis In developed countries, organic farming can yield nearly as much food as pesticide-heavy agriculture, and in developing countries can produce up to three times as much chow, says a new analysis of 293 published studies on organic yields. “My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” says researcher Ivette Perfecto. Let us get this straight: Organic farming is efficient. Organic food doesn’t have poisons on it. Organic fruits and veggies could be …

Mackey's wacky stock tips

Whole Foods CEO secretly hearts Wal-Mart

In January 2005, a poster on a Yahoo message board made a bold prediction on how Whole Foods stock would fare. “13 years from now Whole Foods will be a $800+ stock,” he insisted, adding that “the company is going to keep on strongly growing for another 10+ years.” Looking at the company’s stock chart (and adjusting for splits), we can see he was calling for ninefold increase by 2018. So far, the prediction looks shaky. Today, Whole Foods stock trades at a lower price than it did in January 2005. There’s nothing unusual about a message-board enthusiast making wild …

Think They’ll A-Peel?

Latin American banana farmers sue U.S. companies over pesticides A pesticide designed to eradicate worms from Latin American banana trees may have had a detrimental effect on workers’ … oh, how to put it … bananas. At least 5,000 agricultural laborers from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama have filed five lawsuits in the U.S., claiming that exposure to the pesticide DBCP in the 1970s left them sterile. Jury selection began yesterday for the first lawsuit, which was filed by dozens of Nicaraguan farmers in 2004 against multinational companies Dole, Dow, and Amvac. The trial, held in Los Angeles, …