Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Smithfield Threatens Documentary makers Over ‘Pig Business”

A documentary about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations-CAFO’s due to be shown this coming Sunday at the Guardian Hay festival in London England is facing legal action by the company it criticizes, Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield denies its alleged responsibility for environmental pollution and health problems among residents near its factories.

The film was due to be broadcast on Channel 4 in February but was cancelled because of legal fears. A planned screening at the Frontline Club in London earlier this year was also called off.

Each cancellation emboldens Smithfield to keep fighting to keep it from the public. Residents near the factories could come forward and either validate or discredit the film.

Pig Business shows the cramped conditions in which pigs are reared, similar to those of battery hens, and claims that waste is inadequately disposed off, leaking into the surrounding environment.

Filmmaker Tracy Worcester, pictured here, interviewed people who live near Smithfield farms in the US, where the company started out, who complain of health problems including asthma and digestive illnesses, and fishermen who report that stocks have been destroyed.

The film documents the company's move to Poland, where locals claim to experience similar health problems.

Worcester, who spent four years making the film, said: "It's crucial that consumers are able to watch this so they know what is being done to their food."

Smithfield's poor environmental record was documented in Felicity Lawrence's book Eat Your Heart Out, where she notes that the company was fined $12.6m for illegally discharging pollutants into the Pagan river in Virginia. There is no reason to believe the company ‘cleaned up its ways’.

Since Smithfield is fighting this so arduously, there is probably some truth to what the documentary is trying to get out to us. The funny thing, those of us who have followed CAFO’s already now how damaging they are to our environment. So why is Smithfield fighting so hard to keep it from us? They think the general public is too easily swayed by whatever someone puts in front of them. They don’t give the public credit for thinking for themselves.

The thing Smithfield needs to learn is that the internet can spread the truth without any of their lawyers interfering.

Facts about CAFO’s:
Facts about CAFOs, Local Control, and Health Ordinances
Facts about CAFOs by Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter
CAFOs – Economics, emotion and passion

Photo credit: Guardian News and Media Limited

Saturday, May 30, 2009

17 Arrested in West Virginia Protesting Mountaintop Mining

Protesters left a banner on top of 7 billion gallons of toxic waste and were fined for littering. The irony of this is over the top.

We think nothing of flipping a switch to light our homes, to turn on a computer, or a TV, or keep food in a refrigerator. We pay our electrical bill and think nothing of it. These people are paying for our convenience with more than money.

They live downstream from a dam holding back billions of gallons of toxic sludge. The fear they live with day and night worrying when that dam will break must be overwhelming.

I wonder, if we were to trade places with these people and let them flip an electrical switch for the sake of convenience, what they would think of us protesting against what coal companies are doing to our surroundings, to our homes, to our sanity.

Remember, all their protests are falling on deaf ears at every level of government. Their representatives turn their backs on them and have them arrested for exercising their right to protest.

Protest photo by Chris Irwin, Margaret Killjoy

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama gives biofuels the big thumbs up

clipped from www.whitehouse.gov
President Obama
announced steps to further his Administration’s commitment to advance biofuels research and commercialization
a Biofuels Interagency Working Group, to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
This Working Group will work with the National Science and Technology Council's Biomass Research and Development Board in undertaking its work
Develop the nation’s first comprehensive biofuel market development program
The President also announced that $786.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be provided to accelerate advanced biofuels research and development and expand commercialization by providing additional funding for commercial biorefineries
The new categories include:

  • Cellulosic biofuels;

  • Biomass-based diesel;

  • Advanced biofuels; and

  • Total renewable fuel.

  • blog it
    On the surface this may seem like a good idea, but the mandate to, by 2022, have up to 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol counted toward the 36 billion gallon biofuel production level will only worsen its effect on food production. We’re at 6-9 billion gallons of corn ethanol now and with all the havoc that has wreaked on agriculture worldwide, the concept of almost tripling that amount over the next 20-odd years is terrifying. What may yet save us is the fact that it will likely prove a simply impossible standard to meet.

    And the fact that the administration’s rationale for expanding the use of biofuels continues to be the misplaced desire “to reduce our dependence on foreign oil” is just ludicrous. Addressing climate change WILL reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But simply reducing dependence on foreign oil won’t save the planet—only zeroing out our carbon emissions will do that. So energy policy in this country must be seen through that one, single lens.

    Hog Giant Smithfield Transforms Eastern Europe

    clipped from www.nytimes.com
    Smithfield Foods.
    Almost unnoticed by the rest of the Continent, the agribusiness giant has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them for every bit of meat and muscle that can be squeezed into a sausage.
    The upheaval in the hog farm belts of Poland and Romania, the two largest E.U. members in Eastern Europe, ranks among the Continent’s biggest agricultural transformations.
    Smithfield’s global approach is clear
    Smithfield enlisted politicians in Poland and Romania, tapped into hefty European Union farm subsidies and fended off local opposition groups to create a conglomerate of feed mills, slaughterhouses and climate-controlled barns housing thousands of hogs
    It moved with such speed that sometimes it failed to secure environmental permits or inform the authorities about pig deaths
    blog it
    The Virginia-based pork giant has squashed small-scale hog farming in Romania and Poland, just as it did in the United States in the 1990s.

    Smithfield says pork prices dropped by about one-fifth, saving consumers about $29 per year. While this is good news for us, farmers are run out of business forced to seek employment elsewhere and the new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are creating vast open disease ridden cesspools. Unbearable stenches, and wrecked communities.

    They used high-level cronyism to move through the maze of the Romanian political system.

    This is a prime example of the poisonous downside of corporate globalization.

    Cheaper More Efficient Solar Tech

    clipped from www.popsci.com
    The next frontier in traditional solar panels is concentrators - devices, usually lenses, that concentrate solar power onto the most expensive part of a solar panel - the silicon. Skyline Solar's "solar trough" design concentrates sunlight without using expensive lenses or complicated robotic armatures for tracking the sun as it crosses the sky.
    The entire system is built from commodity parts in an effort to make it cheap and scalable – the ultimate goal being 'grid parity,' or a system that is competitive with fossil fuels as a means of generating electricity. That's why the Department of Energy gave Skyline a $3 million grant as part of its Solar Energy Technologies Program. (Investors have plunked down another $25 million.)
    blog it
    Next evolutionary step in solar panels. Anything that increases efficiency and lowers costs is alright in my book.

    These things will be everywhere within the next couple of years.

    Microbe-powered ‘fart’ machine stores energy

    clipped from www.msnbc.msn.com

    It sounds like a gag gift instead of serious science, but a new electrical farting machine could improve fuel cell technology by turning C02 in the atmosphere into methane.

    The technique won't combat global warming directly, since both CO2 and methane are potent greenhouse gases, but it could help store alternative energies such as wind and solar more efficiently.

    It works like this: giving small jolts of electricity to single-celled microorganisms known as archea prompts them to remove C02 from the air and turn it into methane, released as tiny "farts." The methane, in turn, can be used to power fuel cells or to store the electrical energy chemically until its needed.

    Archea are older, and more primitive, than bacteria, lacking a nucleus and other cellular machinery.

    methane-producing archea
    team up with termites to digest wood pulp. With other microorganisms, they help decompose organic matter.
     blog it
    A device that can both improve fuel cell technology and entertain 12-year-old boys. That's what I call the modern biathlon.

    All in all a very ingenious and creative way to use micro organisms for our benefit.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Greenwash of the Week: Monsanto "Imagine"

    Yea, “imagine” is right…Monsanto seems to think they can pledge more sustainable agriculture and we won’t notice all the harm they have done to the worlds food supply. “That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto seeds are all about.” Um, no - it’s not.

    Talk about greenwashing. There is a great campaign called Millions Against Monsanto, which details a few important things that can highlight just how concerned they are with sustainability…

  • Monsanto’s Agent Orange: The Corporation Continues to Refuse Compensation to Veterans and Families for Exposure to the Toxic Chemical
  • Monsanto Hid PCB Pollution for Decades
  • Monsanto Brings Small Family Dairy to Court
  • Taxpayers Forced to Fund Monsanto’s Poisoning of Third World
  • Yep, sounds like they are concerned with the environment…

     blog it
    Right now, there is probably no other company that is doing more to endanger the health of this planet, and it's inhabitants, than Monsanto.

    With Nazi-like attitude, they are leading the world in shear destructive evil greed. First they were a drug company, and then they expanded to become a drugs and genetic engineering company, and now Monsanto is attempting to acquire water rights in countries with water shortages in a move to control the people's basic means of survival, and production of the global food supply.

    Giant transnational corporations like Monsanto, in collusion with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, seek to commodify and privatize the world's water and put it on the open market for sale to the highest bidder.

    Millions of the world's citizens are being deprived of this fundamental human right, and vast ecological damage is being wrought as massive industry claims water once used to sustain communities and replenish nature.

    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France

    clipped from www.telegraph.co.uk

    There are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the world's
    oceans, killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year.
    Worse still, there seems to be nothing we can do to clean it up. So how do
    we turn the tide?

    A shark carcase on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii; Drowning in plastic

    Way out in the Pacific Ocean, in an area once known as the doldrums, an
    enormous, accidental monument to modern society has formed. Invisible to
    satellites, poorly understood by scientists and perhaps twice the size of
    France, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a solid mass, as is sometimes
    imagined, but a kind of marine soup whose main ingredient is floating
    plastic debris.

    Floating beneath the surface of the water, to a depth of 10 metres, was a
    multitude of small plastic flecks and particles, in many colours, swirling
    like snowflakes or fish food
    The world's navies and commercial shipping fleets make a significant
    throwing some 639,000 plastic containers
    overboard every day, along with their other litter
     blog it
    I know this is an old story, but like the plastic and trash we keep throwing away, it just won’t go away.

    Measurements show there is six times more plastic than plankton in this area.

    Plastic does not biodegrade; no microbe has yet evolved that can feed on it.

    Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes polymer chains to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process accelerated by physical friction, such as being blown across a beach or rolled by waves.

    Worldwide, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, plastic is killing a million seabirds a year, and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles.

    Bottle caps, pocket combs, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, cottonbud shafts, toothbrushes, toys, syringes and plastic shopping bags are routinely found in the stomachs of dead seabirds and turtles.

    Every single molecule of plastic that has ever been manufactured is still somewhere in the environment, and some 100 million tons of it are floating in the oceans.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Global Cooling: An Inconvenient Fact

    clipped from rfdamerica.com
    For the last decade or so, we’ve had to listen the the apocalyptic ravings of leftwing eco-nuts warning that the planet is growing warmer. They warn we are standing on the ledge of an abyss which would swallow the light of the world.
    The mainstream media has followed this irrational fear- mongering like a band of scared puppies.
    The Obama Administration is so sure that we are facing complete annihilation by our own hand, that they are moving a cap-and-trade policy through Congress at the speed of light. Global warming is an emergency; don’t you know?
    climate change is as natural as night and day
    Daniel Greenstein over at StormX, points to scientific evidence that the eruption of Mt. Redoubt in Alaska will result in a cooler than normal growing season for those of us in the Midwest
    The ash cloud, which is comprised of the same nasty chemicals as the smog in L.A. or Beijing, blocked the sunlight
    how are we to believe that smog over the world’s largest cities is somehow making the world warmer
    blog it
    Crisis. What Crisis?

    The fact is, the planet is cooling.

    Earth has gone through this cycle of cooling and warming many times, long before mankind ever showed up.

    True we are adding to the problem but nature will make adjustments.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Your Milk on Drugs

    clipped from www.youtube.com
     blog it
    This is my favorite beverage. I am very distressed over the thought of giving this up.

    I am growing tired of Corporafascist destroying my favorite foods just so they can make more money. Monsanto is an evil organization and should be heavily restricted with the ultimate goal of disbanding them.

    They just keeping repeating their party line hoping consumers will continue to buy into it despite scientific evidence contrary to their findings.

    Saving the World From Death by Coal

    Right in the heart of our nation's capitol is a coal fired power plant which kills. This is not unusual, all coal power plants kill. They are the largest anthropogenic source of the CO2 emissions (over 40%) which have now reached high enough levels of concentration in our atmosphere that many of the world's leading experts in climate change fear the tipping point may have already been reached and catastrophic climate change may now be inevitable.
    There is no such thing as clean coal
    The is no such thing as safe coal
    Coal may very well end life on this planet as we know it. We absolutely must stop burning coal and we must do it yesterday
    We are now creating a world vastly different from the one which has been so conducive to the biological diversity and global ecosystem which allowed the human species to evolve and human civilization to flourish
    In the last twelve months the number of climate change lobbyists on the Hill has increased 300%
    So what's a person to do
    blog it
    I know this is a bit dated, but it bears repeating for those who missed it.

    A group of over 2,500 people from all across the country marched on the coal fired power plant in our nation's capitol which for over 100 years has supplied heat and electricity to Congress by burning coal.

    More actions in the form of civil disobedience directed against coal power plants are planned in the near future. As the world prepares for the UN COP15 Conference in Copenhagen this December, it is a critical year for, as Bill McKibben said, "creating a political space for a climate treaty to be finalized."

    Time's up.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    ALERT!! HR1105….Another Bill to Force NAIS

    Every Thursday for the past 6 Months, Government Officials have raided homes and businesses. Sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes with a warrant, and sometimes with nothing more then the burly bodies that intimidate those about to be oppressed.

    The intent of these raids is to gain control of the distribution of such seemingly innocuous ‘weapons’ as raw milk, vegetable seed, cattle and other farm animals. It is nothing more than collusion between the FDA, Department of Agriculture and Monsanto to force small farmers out and to stifle organic farming. The result so far is to terrorize small farm owners and their families. It has also alerted those of us who are sensitive to any attempt by our federal government to control our actions and to force compliance with laws attempting to give up control of time-honored family-owned farming traditions. Once the family-run farm is ‘under control’ they will next cone after backyard gardeners.

    Here in the US, Monsanto goon squads routinely trespass onto privately owned land, take samples of privately owned crops and then claim Monsanto’s frankenseed crops are being grown illegally, their patents have been violated. According to Monsanto, these are “unauthorized seeds”. Those two words are a harbinger of things to come and should give you an idea where all of this is headed.

    Courts have ruled that if Monsanto’s seeds sprout in a ditch near the uncontaminated natural crops of a farmer who refuses to grow gmo, the crop belongs to Monsanto along with fines and penalties.

    The following is a list of those at the vanguard of this very under-reported war:
    John Stowers Farm LaGrange, Ohio. Crime: They run a private, members-only food co-op.

    Greg Niewendorp, Michigan. Crime: refusing to participate in the NAIS

    Steve Hixon, Illinois. Crime: cleaning seeds

    Paul-Martin Griepentrog, Wisconsin. Crime: refusing to participate in the NAIS

    Democrats are submitting one bill after another in the House and Senate in response to the massive backlash against the National Animal Identification System, making sure that as one bill is exposed and opposed, another quickly takes its place. As farm and ranch groups respond angrily to the overt attempts to end family farming and ranching in favor of industrialized frankenfood factory farms, as Monsanto and other GMO developers gain ever greater ownership of food production and supply, USDA and FDA acting in concert with local law enforcement are raiding farms and ranches.

    It was discovered that funding for these bills which have not even been passed, is already underway.

    Today, Thursday of course, H.R. 1105 is awaiting assignment to Committee in the Senate. It stands poised to allocate $289 million to APHIS for the implementation of the National Animal Identification System. It also outlines the time frame to implement in 2009 the tracking of 33 species.

    We as voters do not go to the polls to elect officials to represent Multi-National Corporations or Lobbyists paid by groups attempting to get their piece of the pie. We elect officials to protect us, the consumer.

    If a dozen or more terrorists held two women, 10 children, toddlers and a baby hostage for six hours, the event would be televised nationwide and on the front pages of newspapers the next day. Unless, of course, the perpetrators are members of our federal government.

    I find it very disturbing that our main-stream-media has chosen not to report these raids. The only way to learn of them is through blogs, websites, and word of mouth.

    I write about this topic from time to time in an attempt to do my part in keeping as many people as possible aware of the progress that Monsanto and other GMO advocates are making toward owning all seed companies. In 2005 Monsanto’s seed/genetic trait holdings were primarily in corn, cotton, soybean, and canola. That year they purchased Seminis, the world’s largest vegetable seed company (see And We Have the Seed) specializing in seed for vegetable field crops.

    Now their takeover of the vegetable seed sector continues, as they have announced the intent to purchase the Dutch breeding and seed company, De Ruiter Seeds. This purchase diversifies Monsanto’s seed holdings in vegetable field crops (Seminis) to “protected culture” fruits and vegetables (primarily tomatoes and cucurbits produced greenhouse, hothouse, etc). Analysts from Bank of America say that this gives Monsanto 25% of the world vegetable seed market, but I believe that this is a low estimate.

    Meanwhile, Monsanto is taking many other steps to keep farmers and everyone else from having any access at all to buying, collecting, and saving of normal seeds:
    1. They’ve bought up the seed companies across the Midwest.
    2. They’ve written Monsanto seed laws and gotten legislators to put them through, that make cleaning, collecting and storing of seeds so onerous in terms of fees and paperwork that having normal seed becomes almost impossible.
    3. Monsanto is pushing laws that ensure farmers and citizens can’t block the planting of GMO crops even if they can contaminate other crops.
    4. There are Monsanto regulations buried in the FDA rules that make a farmer’s seed cleaning equipment illegal because it’s now considered a “source of seed contamination.”

    Monsanto has sued more than 1,500 farmers whose fields had simply been contaminated by GM crops.

    Still think they don’t have a plan to own every seed in the world?

    Further Reading:
    Everything you need to know about NAIS

    No NAIS

    Monsanto’s Position on Seed Patent Infringement

    Who Own’s Your Tomato?

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Cellulosic Ethanol Gets a Boost

    Range Fuels of Colorado has partnered with Emerson Process Management to form one of the first commercial cellulosic biofuels plants in the U.S. The plant is capable of producing more than 100 million gallons of ethanol and methane annually at its Soperton Georgia plant. The target date for production is 2010 and will beat the goal of 2012 by two years of producing a commercialized basis from non-corn or non-food based sources.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded Range Fuels an US $80 million loan guarantee, the first ever for a cellulosic ethanol plant.

    Cellulosic ethanol is referred to as advanced biofuels or second-generation biofuels because it does not use corn as its feedstock. The base is made up of switch grass, corn stover, forest waste, fast-growing trees, wood chips and other plant material.

    The first demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S. opened in 2008 in Jennings, Louisiana. The verenium biorefinery produces 1.4 million gallons a year with agricultural waste left over after sugarcane production.

    Existing corn ethanol plants should be converted into second generation biofuel plants as soon as possible. This may be difficult on a technical level, but it can be done. The major stumbling block toward making this happen has to do with politics. The farm lobby is very good at hanging onto subsidies even after they have outlived there usefulness. When food prices are low, they ask for subsidies, when prices are high (as now), they ask for more. So who knows if the fat corn ethanol subsidies will ever be repealed?

    Here’s a list of Cellulosic Ethanol plants either opersting or under construction in the U.S.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Improved Purification Method for Hydrogen

    Hydrogen has been labeled by some as the ‘perfect fuel alternative’. It is considered the best pollution-free alternative to batteries and hydrogen-powered fuel cells hold enormous promise as a power source for a future generation of cars.

    The biggest hurdle in using hydrogen as a fuel source is it’s purification.

    Northwestern University chemist Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, together with postdoctoral research associate Gerasimos S. Armatas, has developed a solution. A new porous material shaped like a honeycomb. This porous honeycombed like structure is very effective at separating hydrogen from gas mixtures. The materials used in constructing hydrogen purification structure are a new family of germanium-rich chalcogenides.

    The typical approach to ‘purifying’ hydrogen, i.e., separating the molecules from carbon dioxide and methane, has been based on the size of the molecules. Hydrogen is smaller than these other two gases and while that fact alone allows hydrogen to be separated, the process involves several steps as all three molecules do eventually pass through the same membrane.

    Kanatzidis and Armatas have decided to skip the membrane filtration method in favor of a polarization method. Hydrogen molecules have a less affinity to the honeycomb material than do other gases and therefore pass through more readily. This process involves fewer steps therefore making the process more efficient.

    According to Kanatzidis, another advantage of the process is “convenient temperature range.” which varies from zero degrees Celsius to room temperature!

    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Eat Less, Enjoy Life More

    It seems, despite Barack Obama’s best intentions, the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. This means we may have to all tighten our belts a little tighter. But the up side is that we should all come through this a little healthier.

    The reason I feel so upbeat about this is that we have to admit we have collectively been eating just a little too much these past few years and eating less is going to have several benefits for us humans as well as for the planet. It might even put people in a frame of mind to find more ways in which we can be a little more considerate of our planet’s needs.

    One of the best things we can do for ourselves that always translates to better health for Earth is to eat smaller portions. Not only will you see a decrease in your grocery bill, your body will reward you with better health and you will find that we are throwing less food away. The latest studies confirm that it's not carbs or proteins so much as the number of calories we consume that influences our waist lines most. Slimming down and keeping the weight off relieves all kinds of stress on vital organs, prolonging life.

    Eating processed and refined foods also adds not only extra calories but unnecessary chemical additives and industrialized oils that are used for various non-nutrient purposes such as to color foods, making it taste better, and adding shelf life. These extras are not needed by the human body so why consume them? The extras I refer to are corn oil, soybean oil and too much sodium, which all contribute to high blood pressure. Refined grains raise glycemic levels, a cause of diabetes. Despite these health consequences, corporations such as General Mills and Pepsi think of all kinds of ways to persuade you to buy their products. Not because they are such staunch supporters of a healthier life style, but because the extra money you pay for them earns profits for their shareholders.

    If at all possible, buy whatever you can in bulk. If you shun processed foods you will already be on your way to lessening the impact that packaging has on the planet. Many processed foods come in individual, or at least smaller, servings. Think about it, how much packaging does it take to wrap individual items to feed ten people as opposed to the amount of packaging required for one package that feeds those same ten people? Also, much of the packaging is made from plastic or plastic coated paper which comes from petroleum, and it all ends up in the landfill. Even if you are one of the conscientious few who recycle everything, it's far more environmentally friendly to purchase foods that don't have any packaging at all. Plus, you pay extra for the packaging.

    Another way that will greatly help our physical health as well as financial health is to buy whole foods. The produce section provides the best source of nutrition in any grocery store and yet it is the most expensive. Many people don’t stop to think about how much the federal government subsidizes (with our tax dollars) the growing of corn and soybeans. These two items provide the lease amount of nutrition for the bulk they provide and they are the cheapest. What this means is that we may spend less but we are not getting any real nutrition for our dollar which leads to higher medical costs. Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, carrots and parsnips are all loaded with good nutrition. So are of kinds of whole grains and dried beans. If you can afford it, start buying your produce from the local farmers market. Not only will you know exactly where your food is coming from, you will be helping to support your local agricultural economy, not some giant agribusiness a thousand miles away that uses far too much fuel and time to get your so called ‘fresh’ produce to you.

    Anyone who has visited this site regularly knows, this next topic is a favorite rant of mine. I promise I won’t rant this time, but we really do need to eat less meat. The biggest reason is that feeding beef cows, pigs and chickens is expensive, both financially and to the environment. Corn is one of the major sources of food for cows and they are not even built for it. Corn is used because it is more profitable for farmers to grow rather than the grass that cows naturally eat. Corn requires an extremely high amount of nitrogen fertilizer and this comes from chemicals which is based in petroleum. Simply because we have used so much chemically based fertilizers in the past, the natural state of our soils in the Midwest is depleted. Excess nitrogen fertilizer gets washed into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and is killing off a large portion of the sea life.

    In addition to the dangers of using petroleum-based chemical fertilizers to raise the food for these animals, most animals for consumption are now raised on huge feedlots that produce tons of pollution that ends up in our waters and in our air. They and all the fuels used to feed and transport them contribute mightily to global warming.

    Hopefully, that rant wasn’t too bad. Trust me, I could go on for pages.

    The bottom line is to try to get more of your protein from eggs and beans. Search out eggs produced on pastures instead of giant hen houses. Eggs are still a nutritional bargain, even when they're $4.75 a dozen at the farmers market. Also work more dried beans and whole grains into your diet. Together they make a complete protein and they are much cheaper than meat. The next step up would be chicken. Chickens (look for "pasture raised") are much more efficient producers of protein than cows or pigs.

    Fish, while being one my favorite foods, is becoming more and more expensive because there are fewer and fewer fish to be caught. Humans are rapidly destroying the oceans. If you must buy wild-caught fish, check first with a reputable rating agency such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch program to make sure you are buying only fish that has been sustainably harvested. Otherwise, look for fish raised on farms in the U.S., such as catfish, tilapia, striped bass or shrimp. These have the further advantage of being cheaper than most wild-caught fish. Another excellent protein source is farmed shell fish such as clams, oyster and mussels. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or otherwise concerned about having enough Omega 3 in your diet, be assured that there are other sources besides fish.

    Bottled water, this is a touchy subject too. If you are fortunate to live in an area of the country where tap water tastes good and is thoroughly tested then by all means don’t buy bottled water. For those of us whose city tap water does not taste good, sorry, but we are going to buy bottled water. End of story. It is true that bottled water is outrageously expensive and Americans throw away something on the order of 80 million plastic water bottles every day, to say nothing of all the fuel being used to make the bottles and transport them from factory to store. But I need water and my tap water is salty.

    Stop drinking soft drinks. These drinks, Coca Cola, Pepsi, etc, are loaded with sugar that rots teeth and helps make people (especially children) fat. Americans consume way too much soda. Plus, sodas are a major contributor to our plastic bottle and aluminum can nightmare. Diet sodas are only marginally better, in that you eliminate the sugar. But in the process you consume industrialized chemicals posing as sweeteners. Learn to like water again and watch how everyday foods begin to taste better and your weight begins to drop. I have been there and I know.

    Eat out less. Restaurants may not want to hear this but they are a contributing factor to our weight problem. Their portions are way too big. Plus, food from restaurants and especially fast food joints is not particularly good for you. If you are using whole ingredients and healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil, just about anything you make at home is bound to be more nutritious and likely cheaper than what you get eating out. Making food at home and sitting down to a meal at the dinner table also teaches valuable lessons to children and helps strengthen the family unit. Get your kids out from in front of the TV and into the kitchen helping you make dinner.

    The final topic of our discussion today is gardening. There is a rise in the number of people starting their own gardens. At first is was attributed to higher gasoline prices of last summer which lead to higher food prices. Now that we are entering our second year of the economic downturn, your garden should be ready to start producing, provided you added plenty of composted kitchen scraps, animal manure and no chemical fertilizers last year. But it is never too late to get started. Keep feeding the soil and your plants will reward you with a much healthier diet than what you have been eating.

    A kitchen garden will solve many of your budget and nutritional issues. Most vegetable seed packets cost less than $3 and typically contains more seeds than the typical home gardener will ever use. There is very little in the produce section or at the farmers market that you cannot grow yourself, including all your most expensive favorites: strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, artichokes. Some of these items will not grow as well in some parts of the country as in others. You need to learn things such as ‘Last Frost Date’, ‘First Frost Date’, your soil type, etc. All of these and many other questions that arise can be answered by following several of the myriad of gardening blogs on the internet. There are many passionate gardeners who are will to answer any question you may have.

    It is amazingly easy to grow your own potatoes, beans, peas, and tomatoes. You can fill your pantry and your freezer with enough food for the whole year provided you have the space for enough plants. But even if you can’t grow enough to get through the winter you will have at least added healthful foods to your diet and you will have learned how to grow your own. If you don’t have room to grow anything, there are community gardens in almost any city. And if not in yours, then start one. You will be sure to find neighbors who are just waiting for someone to bring up the possibility.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Food Safety Program Needs Restructuring, Not Another Agency

    In the wake of the recent salmonella outbreak that killed 9 people and sickened over 600 others, food safety concerns have become a pressing issue.

    The Food and Drug Administration takes the brunt of the responsibility and is the most pressured to find the cause and correct it.

    However, at least 15 agencies are involved in making sure food is safe under at least 30 different laws, some of which date back to the early 1900s. it doesn’t matter how old a law is as long as it works. And if those 30 laws work then they should remain in place. However, it seems there needs to be some re-thinking as to how often food gets inspected and by whom.

    Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been proposing an overhaul of the nation's food safety structure for more than a decade. Food safety advocates agree.

    I don’t believe we need another bureaucratic agency to add to the convoluted maze, just shore up practices already in place. The system will work if given enough inspectors with the proper guidelines and abilities.

    The Department of Agriculture should inspect anything grown or raised on a farm, domestic and imported. The FDA should cover everything else that enters the human body (drugs, etc), domestic and imported. They need to agree on a schedule of inspections and they both need the ability to shutdown operations if a threat is discovered.

    Obviously, an alert system needs to be in place to notify the general public of a possible contamination of food, possible source(s), and where the product was shipped. And this alert needs to take place within days of the discovery not months as is currently the case.

    It seems reasonable that if any manufacturer has to face the possibility of a shutdown (cutting into their profits) then it would be in their best interest to ensure their product is safe.

    Raw food inspections covered by USDA, this covers growers. Processed foods covered by FDA, this covers processors.

    An additional safety net would be provided by the health department to inspect facilities and ensure workers are following safe food-handling procedures.

    This means that some foods will be inspected more than once. The bottom line is that all possible sources of contamination needs to be inspected, as the source of all tainted food has come from mis-handling of food and/or contamination of facilities.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Global Warming Equals More Snow?

    I need new clothes. But first I need to know, do I stock up on shorts, sandals and t-shirts? Or, sweaters, overcoats, mukluks and gloves?

    Stories of record snow falls and melting ice-caps. Stories of record droughts. Damn it, I’m confused.

    Snow in Las Vegas? Snow in Houston? Snow in New Orleans?

    Just a few months ago we were all told that our coast lines will dramatically change due to rapidly melting ice caps. And we are adding more carbon to the atmosphere at a faster rate than ever before thus heating up our planet.

    Now we find out Mars is experiencing global warming as well. Has our behavior gotten so bad and far-reaching that we have affected a planets weather patterns over 55 million km away?

    Here’s how some scientist try to cover the scientific community’s collective butts, the surprise with which we have greeted the extreme conditions only reinforces how our climate has changed over the years. Huh? They are telling us that such extreme weather as record snowfall in places that always gets snow and snowfall in places that usually never gets snow now only occurs every 20 years. When these occurrences used to occur every 5 years or so.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying it. I used to put more faith in science that I have of late. But putting too much stock in that old expression 'too cold to snow' may show a crack in their logic.

    In the meantime, while scientist try to figure out what our future is going to look like, my garden is showing new life a full month ahead of schedule. Apparently, I am not the only one confused.

    If this Global Warming trend keeps up, we are all going to freeze to death.

    Excuse me, I need to shovel some Global Warming snow from my driveway. I wonder if there will be a market for fur-lined t-shirts.

    Humor: Snow – Global Warming Alert!
    Global Snow Job: Global Warming Plot to Take Over the World?
    Global Warming Caused by Shoveling

    Global Warming – Idling Cars Add to Air Pollution

    Millions of people do it everyday. Sitting at a traffic light. Warming up in the drive way. Waiting for your order at a fast food restaurant. Idling cars add tons of pollution to the air we breathe.

    About 30 states and dozens of municipalities have measures in place to limit the amount a vehicle can be left idling, typically around three to five minutes.

    New York City has had a three-minute law in place citywide since 1971, but advocates say it is rarely enforced or advertised.

    A new measure signed into law this month cuts the allowed idling time from three minutes to one minute around schools, and gives more city agencies the power to issue violations. It also requires an annual violations report so officials can track enforcement.

    A new report by the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that idling cars and trucks produce 130,000 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide each year in New York City, contributing to global warming. The group believes the one-minute idling limit next to schools is the toughest such law in the United States.

    This is one of many ‘little’ thoughtless action’s we do everyday that if halted could prevent tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides from entering the atmosphere, not to mention the millions of gallons of gasoline we could collectively save.

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Food Safety: How Serious Are We?

    Part of being green involves how our food is grown. Agricultural practices are being increasingly scrutinized. How food is processed, what additional ingredients are involved for preserving and coloring are of great concern. Also, the marketing of food, especially to children, has come under fire.

    The single most powerful force to express consumers concern over these matters comes from consumers themselves.

    The Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture are tasked with protecting Americas food supply through inspections but are over burdened with the sheer amount of food to be inspected. There simply are not enough inspectors to do an adequate job. So, when salmonella or E. Coli are discovered it is usually by hospital personnel after the consumer has been sickened and widespread notifications typically only reach the nation’s consumers after deaths have been reported.

    This mode of operation may be acceptable to bureaucrats who don’t want to budget money for more inspectors but it is not acceptable to the families of those people who died because some product inspections fell through the cracks of an overburdened system.

    It is problematic to have food producers inspect themselves. One would think that reputation alone would be enough to prevent these companies from selling tainted products. But, as evidenced in the recent Peanut Corporation of America case, some companies appear to be more concerned with protecting their near-term bottom-line than the safety of the customers or the future of their business. This fact alone should disqualify them from having the final say as to whether or not their own processes and products are safe for the consumer.

    Our current inspection system in America is broken and not enough is being done to correct it. Having a complex set of laws to govern food safety, as with everything else, is just ridiculously burdensome. But, since conscience is obviously not a powerful enough incentive for some corporate heads to protect consumers, we are forced to spend even more tax payer dollars to regulate and inspect them.

    The problem is not limited to American grown and processed food. More than130 countries ship food to the United States. According to the FDA, the volume of food imports has been growing steadily – about 15 percent on average per year since 1991. Imported food now makes up more than 10 percent of the food Americans consume, according to the USDA.

    The FDA was able to inspect only 0.7 percent of all imported food products in 2007, down from 1.1 percent the previous year. In 2006, that means the FDA inspected just 20,662 shipments out of more than 8.9 million that arrived in US ports – employing about 1,750 food inspectors for ports and domestic food-production plants.

    The Safe Food Act, reintroduced by Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D) of Connecticut and Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, calls for a single food safety agency and standardized procedures to govern American food safety. The bill requests $650 million more in appropriations for the FDA's food inspection program.

    The bottom line is that we can continue to write laws, but all that does is make Congress feel they are needed. What the consumer needs is for corporate America to give a damn about the health of the very people who keep them in business, the consumer. Short of placing the full attention to and protection of food safety above profit we need more inspectors. Inspectors with the ability to immediately shutdown production, inspectors that will not be paid off for favorable reports, inspectors with the integrity and attention to their duties in order to regain consumers faith in the food that we buy.

    Do we need something on the scale of an “amber alert system” for food warnings? If more food could be inspected then we would not need to rely on hospital staff or mass media to warn the general public of food contamination.

    A new national food safety and labeling poll conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center reveals that, by a huge margin, consumers are concerned about food safety, and they want the government to inspect the food supply more frequently and to publicly disclose where food safety problems arise.

    While 73% polled currently regard the overall food supply as safe, nearly half (48%) said their confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply has decreased. A bare majority of Americans feel the government is doing all it can to ensure food safety (54%). Eighty-three percent of respondents are concerned with harmful bacteria or chemicals in food and 81% are concerned with the safety of imported food.

    It is clear, something needs to change. We cannot force people to adopt healthier eating habits, and short of forcing people to stay abreast of current events we cannot warn people quickly enough about tainted food to prevent more illnesses and death. We can however beef up our inspection system.

    Our very lives could depend on it.

    Further Reading:
    Food Safety.gov
    Food Safety and Inspection Service
    Preparing food safely in your home
    Food Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Vilsack Laying Groundwork for USDA Reform

    In his speech this week before National Association of Wheat Growers, Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture chief, told farmers to start developing other sources of income because the era of crop subsidies may be nearing an end.

    Part of his plans for the new USDA Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets (USDA-OESM) is to promote a far more diversified income base for the farm sector while at the same time promoting more agriculturally-sustainable practices. This could mean that windmills and biofuels will eventually be a part of their income. Also, he alluded to organic agriculture playing an increasing role.

    I am all for any plan that would promote food- and fiber-producing activities that are more climate-friendly. OESM Head Sally Collins says, "Where we go from here will alter the discussion of how the country thinks about natural resources."

    As an indication that his plan is in the works, the USDA just announced a pilot project that will let wheat, corn and soy farmers who receive subsidies to plant vegetables on their so-called "base acreage," a practice that is currently illegal -- to set the stage for this kind of transition.

    Tom Vilsack is a strong proponent of renewable energy and developing the nation’s alternative fuel industry, particularly ethanol and other bio-fuels as a way to reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil. He is also a staunch supporter of rural growth.

    It seems this re-direction of the USDA just may be the answer we are looking for.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Monsanto, You Are Striping Away Our Roots

    Monsanto is in the process of cleansing rural America of non-corporate farming. But they are not alone. Corporate livestock production is doing their share to purge rural families of their livelihoods and funnel any remaining pennies into their multi-national coffers. Through the leverage of big money, rural people are losing control of their local public institutions as corporations gain influence over local economies and local governments.

    I would really like to believe that these over-zealous and blindly self-serving corporate interests do not realize the effect their corporate creep is having on rural America, but I suspect I would be wrong.

    The imposition of corporate control over these precious irreplaceable rural resources, including rural people and rural culture, has but one purpose, and that is to feed the wealth of corporate investors. Investors, by reducing rural America to an accounting balance sheet, has created several irrefutable side-effects: we are losing our diversity and our independence.

    This phenomena is not unique to America. It is taking place around the world. Outside investment, badly needed in many parts of the world, is the enticement that allows corporations to buy their way into a community promising to stimulate the local economy and expand the tax base. Then slowly, like a cancer, guts it out, sucking the local economy dry by sending all the profits back to a corporate headquarters.

    Corporations like to boil things down to its lowest common denominator making their product more easily manageable. For Monsanto’s part in ‘bringing the rural farmer into the fold’ is to use genetic engineering of food crops to create seeds that will guarantee better results while making the seed immune to their own herbicidal formula. In order to buy this seed, farmers are required to sign a contract that states no seed from this years crop can be collected and used for next years crop. This ‘intellectual property rights’ contract ensures Monsanto will sell the farmer more seed next year.

    They are serious enough to take farmers to court. One farmer in Covington, Tennessee is believed to be the first farmer to have gone to jail for saving and replanting Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy seed in 1998. Ralph spent four months behind bars and must also pay the company 1.8 million dollars in penalties.

    In total, U.S. courts have awarded Monsanto more than 15 million dollars, according to a new report by the Washington-based Centre for Food Safety (CFS) called "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers".

    According to the report, court awards are just a fraction of the money the company has extracted from farmers. Hundreds of farmers are believed to have been coerced into secret settlements over the past eight years to avoid going to court.

    In 2004, nearly 85 percent of all soy and canola were GE varieties. Three-quarters of U.S. cotton and nearly half of corn is also GE. Monsanto controls roughly 90 percent of GE soy, cotton and canola seed markets and has a large piece of the corn seed market.

    So why don't farmers just buy non-GE seed? North Dakota farmer Rodney Nelson says there is actually very little conventional seed left to buy anymore because seed dealers don't make nearly as much money from them.

    Monsanto sued Nelson and his family in 1999 for patent infringement, charging they had saved Roundup Ready soybean seeds on their 8,000-acre farm. Two years of legal hell ensued, Nelson said. The matter ended with an out of court settlement that he is forbidden to talk about. "We won, but we feel forever tainted."

    The report contains a number of similar individual stories that often end in bankruptcy for the farmer. Even if a farmer decides to stop using Monsanto seeds, the GE plants self-seed and some will spring up of their own accord the following year. These unwanted "volunteers" can keep popping up for five or more years after a farmer stops using the patented seeds. Under U.S. patent law, a farmer commits an offense even if they unknowingly plant Monsanto's seeds without purchasing them from the company. Other countries have similar laws.

    In the well-known case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, pollen from a neighbor's GE canola fields and seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a processing plant ended up contaminating his fields with Monsanto's genetics. The trial court ruled that no matter how the GE plants got there, Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto's legal rights when he harvested and sold his crop. After a six-year legal battle, Canada's Supreme Court ruled that while Schmeiser had technically infringed on Monsanto's patent, he did not have to pay any penalties. Schmeiser, who spoke at last year's World Social Forum in India, says it cost 400,000 dollars to defend himself.

    Another North Dakota farmer, Tom Wiley, explains the situation this way: "Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell."

    "It's a corporation out of control," says Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director of CFS. Unfortunately, he adds, there will be no help for farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration as key positions are occupied by former Monsanto employees and the company has a powerful lobby in Washington.

    In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states. Even more significant, in the Center's opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don't have the money or the time to fight Monsanto.

    In the latest phase in Monsanto’s grand plan to control the use of seed, police officers in Illinois, on January 9, 2009, served notices to several farmers on behalf of Monsanto citing that they were illegally saving seeds that belonged to Monsanto. One of those cited is Steve Hixon. Mr. Hixon provides a seed cleaning service to surrounding farmers. His equipment takes plant material and separates the seed to save for the next years crop.

    Monsanto got its start making saccharin. In 1948, the company started making a powerful herbicide; a by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin. On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked a Monsanto herbicide plant. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers fell ill. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, which later became the focus of lawsuits by Vietnam veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure.

    During the 1990s, Monsanto alone spent nearly $8 billion acquiring leading commercial seed suppliers in the United States and internationally; DuPont and others quickly followed suit, leading to today's widespread proliferation of genetically engineered food crops."

    Monsanto's pledge is "We want to make the world a better place for future generations. As an agricultural company, Monsanto can do this best by providing value through the products and systems we offer to farmers. With the growth of modern agricultural practices and crops that generate ever-increasing yields, we are helping farmers around the world to create a better future for human beings, the environment, and local economies."

    I doubt that many farmers would agree.

    Do they know the effect they are having on our farming heritage? I think they know and I also think they don’t have any regrets.

    Further reading:
    Monsanto’s Seed Police Keep Harassing U.S. Farmers

    Building a World Free of Monsanto

    Genetically Modified crops reach 9% of global crop production