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Industrial Agriculture

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Incredible NASA images of Saudi Arabia’s careless use of water

Last week, NASA released satellite images showing that the Saudis are irrigating the desert in order to grow food -- with fossil water that accumulated during the last Ice Age and will be gone completely in 50 years. It's the very definition of unsustainable.

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Beekeepers to EPA: We’re running out of time

Beekeepers have seen average population losses of around 30 percent every year since 2006. (Photo by Enrique Lara.)

Beekeepers have been concerned that pesticides are to blame for the bee die-offs devastating their industry for a while now. As we reported recently, their losses have spiraled out of control, putting not just the beekeepers but our entire agricultural system in peril.

The concern centers around a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed to be marketed and sold even after the agency’s own scientists’ put up red flags. And now some in the industry have decided it’s time to formally challenge EPA’s negligence. On March 21, 27 beekeepers and four environmental groups filed a petition [PDF] with the agency asking it to take clothianidin -- the neonicotinoid causing the most trouble -- off the market until a long-overdue, scientifically sound review is completed.

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Farmers to use spider venom to protect crops

Farmers and bugs typically have a hate-hate relationship. Insects eat up valuable wheat, barley, and soybeans, and farmers slay them dead using an arsenal of chemical weapons (a.k.a. pesticides). But no longer. Australian growers may soon form an alliance with their new best buggy friends: spiders.

Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience found that tarantula, orb spider, and funnel web spider venom actually makes a super-effective, all-natural pesticide. Not only that, but scientists envision using the earth-friendly spider venom to control agricultural pests and wipe out disease vectors like mosquitoes.

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Strawberry lovers rejoice: Methyl iodide off the market for now

Strawberry lovers: Consider yourself berry, berry lucky. (Photo by Sarah Cady.)

We hear a lot about recalls these days. But last night it wasn’t ground turkey, cantaloupes, or peanut butter that was taken off the market. It was one of the most hotly contested pesticides in recent memory: methyl iodide. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Arysta Lifescience, the makers of the fumigant, announced on Tuesday evening that they’d be suspending sales of the product (also known as Midas) in all U.S. markets.

In California, where methyl iodide was being slowly phased into use as a replacement for the ozone-depleting methyl bromide, farming communities have spent the year protesting. Several Central Coast counties even banned the chemical, which is used to sterilize the soil before strawberries and other high-dollar row crops are planted. Amy Yoder, head of Arysta LifeScience North American, was sufficiently vague when speaking to the San Jose Mercury News about the company's withdrawal, and she said the company's decision was based "on its economic viability in the U.S. marketplace."

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Pig ears and donkey butts: 5 foods that could save the world

Photo by Laura Billings.

Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, eats some pretty strange dishes. Now, he wants you to do the same in the name of saving the world:

You can change the world one plate at a time. If we can take better advantage of the global pantry and eat from a wider variety of choices we would do more to combat food poverty, our damaged food production system, obesity and other systemic health and wellness issues than any one single act I can imagine. Here are some suggestions, but be creative. It works.

Here are the five foods he suggests we all start stuffing our faces with:

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Study: GMO crops are killing butterflies

Photo by David Slater.

We’re all familiar with Big Ag’s bad reputation of picking on small-scale and organic farmers. Now Monsanto and its cronies are beating up an even more innocuous set of victims: beautiful, defenseless monarch butterflies.

A new study from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University fingers Monsanto’s genetically modified corn and soybean crops as the culprit behind monarch butterflies’ declining populations.

Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which so-called GMO crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch eggs declined by an estimated 81 percent across the Midwest, the researchers say.

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Tapped out: Water in California’s farm country is dangerously polluted

Photo by Anders Andermark.

There is ample evidence that nitrates from synthetic fertilizer pollute the water in California’s farm communities. (We’ve reported on the impact this pollution has on the state’s rural communities here, here, and here). But a new report released by the University of California-Davis proves the problem is much worse than anyone may have suspected.

The report's scientists measured the nitrate pollution in the water in two parts of California’s Central Valley (the Tulare Lake Basin, which includes Fresno and Bakersfield, and the Salinas Valley). Not surprisingly, it's an area that’s home to four of the nation’s five biggest farming counties. UC Davis is under contract with the California State Water Resources Control Board to conduct an independent investigation and report on the findings and potential solutions.

The water table in the area is so polluted with nitrates that Thomas Harter, the report’s lead scientist, doesn’t think cleaning it up (or "remediation," as they say in scientific circles) would be practical.

“Its never been done and it’s hugely costly,” says Harter. “Remediation in the traditional sense has been done at sites that are the size of a football field, and we spend large amounts of money to do that,” he says. Even hypothetically, he adds, bringing the levels of nitrate down to acceptable levels for human consumption “would cost tens of billions of dollars and would take us a long time.”

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‘Ag-gag’ rules choke off supply of livestock snuff films

Rather than deal with the inhumane, superbug-spawning conditions in factory farms, the Iowa state legislature would prefer to stifle one of activists' primary weapons of dissent, reports NPR.

Just this week, the Iowa legislature passed a bill that would make it a crime to use false pretenses to gain access to a livestock operation to engage in activities not authorized by the owner.

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Beetlemania: Invasive insect could become our billion-dollar problem

In the corner of a large, dim warehouse inside the Port of Oakland, Edel Gaingalas swings a hammer into a piece of wood. She’s looking for larvae -- the wood, pried off a shipping crate, is riddled with holes bored by insects who chewed their way inside looking for a home, but every one she's found so far is dead -- killed by the mandatory fumigation at the port of origin. Before the day is out, she'll find a live longhorned beetle larva, and the whole shipment will be sent back to China.

Like many of the people in this warehouse, Gaingalas used to work at the airport, in the international terminal of San Francisco-Oakland (SFO). She went through people’s luggage all day. Now, as a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agricultural specialist, she mostly hunts for bugs, though she finds the occasional plant as well -- like the time she found two rare orchids hidden inside a piece of furniture being imported from Asia. But she and CBP chief supervisory officer and public relations liaison Edward Low aren't strangers to bizarre customs discoveries: Low rattles off a list of things found in SFO Airport luggage with the practiced air of a man who gets asked this question a great deal. “A cow intestine with the grass still in it,” says Low. “A human hand stuffed with straw. Penises galore. Pick an animal -- we’ve found its penis in someone’s luggage."

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Dr. Vandana Shiva: Occupy our food supply!

Photo by Ajay Tallam.

Today, Feb. 27, is an Occupy Our Food Supply day of action. The following essay is just one of several related posts that will be appearing around the internet to mark the day.

The biggest corporate takeover on the planet is the hijacking of the food system, the cost of which has had huge and irreversible consequences for the Earth and people everywhere.

From the seed to the farm to the store to your table, corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land, and water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed, and distributed. And in seeking this total control, they are destroying the Earth’s ecological processes, our farmers, our health, and our freedoms.