Industrial Agriculture

Industrial Agriculture

Groups sue FDA to stop Big Ag antibiotic abuse — and it just might work

A growing weight of research links routine antibiotic use on factory farms to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria — which are showing up in more and more places worldwide (including, according to recent studies, in your local supermarket). Doctor groups, from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology, have appealed to the government and industry to restrict the practice, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments. Over the past couple of years, the FDA changed its tune and has finally begun to respond to the threat. Top officials at the FDA have testified of the dangers …

Industrial Agriculture

How industrial agriculture makes us vulnerable to climate change, Mississippi floods edition

An “ephemeral gulley” that carried soil and agrichemicals from an Iowa farm toward the Gulf of Mexico during a 2010 storm. Photo: Environmental Working GroupNancy Rabalais, marine scientist and executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is probably our foremost authority on the vast, oxygen-depleted “dead zone” that rears up annually in the Gulf of Mexico, fed by fertilizer runoff from large Corn Belt farms. (I interviewed her for my podcast last year.) In a report on the PBS Newshour blog, Rabelais delivers some bad news: Floods in the Mississippi River watershed this spring are washing tremendous amounts of …

Industrial Agriculture

Forget rice, think meat and yogurt: ‘Chinese food’ looking more and more like Western diet

Meating demand: Workers at an industrial meatpacking house in China try to keep up with their nation’s soaring appetite for animal products.Photo: Shreyans BhansaliIt’s Monday, which for many is now a meatless day, so it’s appropriate I think to highlight Howard Schneider’s Washington Post article on the long-anticipated Chinese meat-eating explosion: For China, the world’s most populous country and now its second-largest economy, changes in food consumption are happening fast. In a nation where the word for rice is synonymous with food, people are eating less rice and other grains, preferring pork, fish and, to [chicken farmer] Liu’s delight, chicken. …

Two percent of U.S. energy goes to wasted food

The U.S. wastes a stunning amount of food — 40 percent of what we produce, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland. That’s way above the already-staggering global average of one third. That means that 40 percent of the energy, water, and fuel we put into farming goes straight into the trash. All in all, Bloom says, “2 percent of all U.S. energy goes to food we’re throwing away.” And this waste is built into the system. Farmers are forced to toss crops that aren’t up to aesthetic standards, and often have to plow under whole fields if the …

How the Feds saved enough water for a whole city with just a little bit of cash

The Department of the Interior's WaterSMART program will save enough water for a smallish city — 400,000 people — yet it cost only $24 million. As Tina Casey reports at CleanTechnica, the program works by going for the low-hanging fruit: 54 separate programs that address everything from farm irrigation to water distribution infrastructure. At $60 per person, the programs are way cheaper than finding an equivalent amount of water by pretty much any other means except dowsing — especially in the arid Southwest where there isn't any more water to be had. One of the grants simply helps defray the …

Industrial Agriculture

Not just the facts, ma’am: Why science alone can’t defeat Big Food’s policy stranglehold

Put ‘em up, Pepsi.Food-reform advocates like to stick to the facts, believing that if they can just construct a rational, air-tight argument, they’ll convince the public and transform policy around food. But that’s a bit like bringing a butter knife to a sword fight. As Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, declared at the May 4 Future of Food conference in Washington D.C., “We need to bring as much rigor to the fight [for a healthy, sustainable food system] as we have to the science.” (Hat tip to Marion Nestle for highlighting Dr. Ross’ speech in …

Another danger of non-organic farming: Exploding watermelons

People opt for organically-farmed food for all different reasons, but here's one of the more compelling ones we've seen: Agricultural chemicals can make watermelons explode.  Chinese watermelon crops just had an unfortunate run-in with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, which makes plants' cells divide faster to pump up growth rates. Supposedly forchlorfenuron can bump up harvest schedules by two weeks and increase fruit size by 20 percent. But if farmers spray too late or in the wrong conditions, acres of melons explode like "land mines" in a scene of carnage that one farmer said haunted his dreams. This is, of course, …

Food Safety

What we know — and don’t know — about the safety of eating GMOs

GMOs ahead: Proceed at your own risk.Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? The conventional answer is “yes,” and it’s not hard to see why. Since their introduction in 1996, genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy seeds quickly conquered U.S. farm fields. Today, upwards of 70 percent of corn and 90 percent of soy are genetically modified, and these two crops form the basis of the conventional U.S. diet. Nor are they GM technology’s only pathway onto our plates. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. cotton is now genetically engineered, and cottonseed oil has emerged as a …

Industrial Agriculture

Big Ag doesn’t want you to care about pesticides

Power to the people pesticide industry!The produce lobby is livid that consumers might be concerned about pesticides. They are taking their fury out on the USDA for its annual report on pesticide use (via The Washington Post): In a recent letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 18 produce trade associations complained that the data have “been subject to misinterpretation by activists, which publicize their distorted findings through national media outlets in a way that is misleading for consumers and can be highly detrimental to the growers of these commodities.” This report happens also to be the basis for the Environmental …

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