Industrial Agriculture

Disappearing American bats are worth up to $53 billion

Bats eat a lot of bugs. Here are some living under a bridge in Austin, Texas that eat millions of pounds of pests every season. What happens if those bats are wiped out in a few years — as it looks like they could be — by a combination of wind turbines and a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome? A lot more bug bites, and between $3 billion and $53 billion in losses to agriculture in the U.S. Ecosystem services — everything nature takes care of so we don't have to — are easy to forget about until they're gone. …

Industrial Agriculture

Should some pesticides be banned to protect bees? A USDA scientist dances around the question

Photo: Maury McCownAs I reported in January, the USDA’s top bee researcher, Jeffrey Pettis, has publicly revealed that he has completed research showing that Bayer’s blockbuster neonicotinoid pesticides, used on million of acres of crops across the country, harm honeybees even at extremely low doses. The revelation was significant because a growing number of U.S. beekeepers are worried that Bayer’s pesticides might be the key culprit in colony collapse disorder — the strange annual die-off of significant portions of the U.S. honeybee population. In December, a leaked document showed that EPA scientists had declared insufficient a previously accepted Bayer-funded study …

Industrial Agriculture

Monsanto cash helped fund bill to stifle whistleblowers in Iowa

Monsanto: See no evil, speak no evil in Iowa’s factory farms.Speaking of Monsanto, it turns out they are playing a role in Iowa’s proposed anti-whistleblower bill — a bill focused primarily on agriculture. Should the bill pass, it will become illegal to produce undercover videos at various types of agricultural facilities (as well as to get a job at a facility with the express intent of producing a video). Sarah Damian of the Government Accountability Project, a “whistleblower advocacy organization,” observes over at the Food Integrity Campaign’s blog that Monsanto has been throwing lobbying dollars behind Iowa’s effort to draw a steel …

Industrial Agriculture

The American diet in one chart, with lots of fats and sugars

This is a non-interactive version of the chart. Also check out the interactive version, by Civil Eats and the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course.Over on Civil Eats, Andrea Jezovit has put together a terrific interactive chart on the U.S. diet. Using USDA data for “average daily calories available per capita, adjusted for spoilage and waste,” it tracks our eating habits since 1970, separating our foodstuffs into basic categories: grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, proteins (“meat, eggs, and nuts”), added sugars, and added fats. For me, the most interesting categories are the latter two. They represent what could be called …

Industrial Agriculture

Will the U.S. hog industry ever kick its reliance on low-dose antibiotics?

The editors of Scientific American recently encouraged U.S. hog farmers to “follow Denmark and stop giving farm animals low-dose antibiotics.” Sixteen years ago, in order to reduce the threat of increased development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their food system and the environment, Denmark phased in an antibiotic growth promotant ban in food animal production. Guess what? According to Denmark’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries the ban is working and the industry has continued to thrive. The government agency found that Danish livestock and poultry farmers used 37 percent less antibiotics in 2009 than in 1994, leading to overall …

Farm Bill

Budget fight threatens to turn Farm Bill into Industrial Ag Bill

Will eco-friendly and people-friendly farm programs get steamrolled?Will the next Farm Bill, scheduled for passage in 2012, put public policy in service of a food system that works for farmers, eaters, and the environment? Well, optimism over federal food-policy reform never runs very high in sustainable-ag circles. The agrichemical lobby is flush with cash and friends in Congress and the White House. But the current budget fight is making a bleak situation look downright disastrous. It’s looking like the looming budget deal will slash funding for the few programs that currently counteract the Big Ag policy agenda. And while the …

Industrial Agriculture

Startling new report shines light on farm labor conditions — and they ain’t good

Like a factory in the field, except for the wage protections, benefits, and union. Photo: Vera ChangMost corporations involved in the food business quietly benefit from the invisibility of U.S. farmworkers. Bon Appetit Management Co., a U.S. subsidiary of the U.K.-based, transnational catering giant Compass Group, has done something odd: It has partnered with the nation’s leading farm worker’s union, the United Farm Workers of America, to produce a blunt, important report on the conditions of farm labor in the United States [PDF]. How weird is that? Well, most of Bon Appetit’s peers in the food industry prefer not to …

Pollution

Anti-EPA House votes to let agribusiness dump pesticides in our water

Cross-posted from Wonk Room. The Tea Party Congress doesn’t just hate EPA rules that protect against industry destroying our country with greenhouse-gas pollution, mercury, coal ash, and mountaintop removal. By a veto-proof margin, the U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to prohibit Clean Water Act limits on pesticide pollution of lakes, streams, and rivers. Lobbyists for industrial agriculture polluters cheered the 292-130 vote for H.R. 872, which “will amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act to clarify Congressional intent and eliminate the requirement for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for applications of …

Farmers in U.S. running out of land

Despite planting record amounts of corn and soybeans this year, U.S. farmers are sitting on unexpectedly small stockpiles of both crops. Meanwhile, the demand for corn is crowding out use of land for other crops, including cotton. The USDA reports underscored that U.S. farmers are reaching the limits of arable land in the world's biggest crop exporter … Spring wheat sowing, while among the biggest in decades, could yet shrink. A Reuters analysis suggests that this year could see the largest corn harvest in U.S. history, and yet food prices are forecast to rise 3.5 percent, threatening unrest in countries …

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