Agriculture

Can urban gardeners benefit ecosystems while keeping food traditions alive?

April 6, 2016

When conjuring up an image of a healthy ecosystem, few of us would think of a modern city. But scientists are increasingly recognizing that the majority of ecosystems are now influenced by humans, and even home gardens in urban landscapes can contribute important ecosystem services. “Ecosystem services are the benefits that ecosystems provide to humans. In a natural ecosystem, these are things like natural medicinal products or carbon that’s sequestered by forest trees. In an urban context, it would be similar types of things. For example, shade from trees provides microclimate control to keep us more comfortable,” explains University of Illinois landscape agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell. Lovell and her colleagues investigated the ecosystem services and disservices provided by home food gardens in Chicago, adding a cultural dimension by looking at gardening practices in specific ethnic communities. In an earlier study, they found a high density of food gardens in Chicago were in African American, Chinese-origin, and Mexican-origin communities. Read

Andrew J. Bacevich – Writing a Blank Check on War for the President

April 6, 2016

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off. The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote. Read

Global shift in farmed fish feed may impact nutritional benefits ascribed to seafood

March 17, 2016

The fish-farming industry is increasing its use of plant-based ingredients in its feed and moving away from traditional feed made from fish, which could impact some of the health benefits of eating certain types of seafood, suggests a new analysis from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are published March 11 in the journal Environment International. Half of the seafood consumed by Americans is farmed. Fish farming, also known as aquaculture, is the fastest-growing food animal sector, outpacing the beef and poultry industries. While wild fish find their own food — which includes smaller fish for carnivorous species — intensively farmed fish are fed a manufactured aquaculture feed. Until recently, this manufactured feed was typically composed of high levels of fishmeal and fish oil derived from wild fish — but it has become unsustainable to catch more wild fish to feed growing numbers of farmed fish, so the industry has shifted the makeup of the feed. For example, twice as much soybean meal was used in commercial aquaculture feed in 2008 as compared to fishmeal, and the use of crop-based ingredients is projected to increase 124 percent

Bee flower choices altered by exposure to pesticides

March 15, 2016

Low levels of pesticides can impact the foraging behaviour of bumblebees on wildflowers, changing their floral preferences and hindering their ability to learn the skills needed to extract nectar and pollen, according to a study co-authored by a University of Guelph professor. The study, published March 14 in Functional Ecology, is the first to explore how pesticides may impact the ability of bumblebees to forage from common wildflowers that have complex shapes such as white clover and bird’s foot trefoil. Bees and other insects pollinate many of the world’s important food crops and wild plants, raising serious concerns about the impacts of reported global pollinator declines for food security and biodiversity. The researchers found that bumblebees exposed to a realistic level of a neonicotinoid insecticide (thiamethoxam) collected more pollen but took longer to do so than control bees. Pesticide-exposed bees also chose to forage from different flowers than control bees. “Bees rely on learning to locate flowers, track their profitability and work out how best to efficiently extract nectar and pollen,” said environmental sciences professor Nigel Raine, the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation at U of G and senior author of the paper. “If exposure to low levels of pesticide

Kelly Patricia O’Meara – FDA Looks to Expand Electroshock Use Despite Significant Risks and No Proven Benefit

March 15, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has initiated a proposal that would reclassify Electroconvulsive Therapy Devices (ECT) from its highest risk category III to allow electric shock machines to be utilized in the treatment of specific alleged mental illnesses with less regulatory controls.[1] This is despite the federal agency’s admission that the ECT device has not been proven safe and effective. To date, nearly five million Americans have received ECT “treatment” without ECT manufacturers being required to submit valid scientific evidence, such as clinical trials, of the device’s safety or effectiveness.[2] The proposal has reignited a firestorm that the FDA has colluded with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to promote a dangerous treatment and protect the fiscal concerns of APA members rather than protect patient lives. It is no secret that the FDA has procrastinated for more than five years over this proposal after first entertaining the idea of reducing the device’s risk category in 2009, when it requested public input on this. At a public hearing in January 2011, it was heard that nearly 80 percent of the respondents and a further 92 group submissions representing more than 6000 individuals, were against reclassification.[3] Read

Wenonah Hauter – The United States of Monsanto?

March 14, 2016

This week thousands of Americans took time out of their busy days to call their Senators to demand that they vote against the DARK Act, a bill sponsored by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, which would prevent consumers from knowing if the food they eat and feed their families contains genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients. Their support for GMO labeling was echoed by more than 600 organizations, including farming and fishing groups and food companies, representing tens of millions of members and customers who this week also urged the Senate to reject this troubling bill. GMO crops are created by transferring genetic material from one organism into another to create specific traits, such as resistance to treatment with herbicides, or to make a plant produce its own pesticide to repel insects. Unlike traditional plant and animal breeding, which tries to develop better varieties by selecting traits from the same species, genetic engineering techniques can insert specific genes from any plant, animal or microorganism into the DNA of a different species. The DARK Act passed out of committee last week by a 14-6 vote and is expected to hit the Senate floor any day now. The House already passed a similar bill in July. If

COLIN TODHUNTER – Violence on the Factory Farm: How Not to Feed the World

March 10, 2016

The amount of meat humans eat is immense. In 1965, 10 billion livestock animals were slaughtered each year. That number is now over 55 billion. Factory farming is the fastest growing method of animal production worldwide. While industrialised nations dominate this form of farming, developing countries are rapidly expanding and intensifying their production systems. Violence on the farm A new virtual reality film project by Animal Equality shows the public how a factory farm operates. The film focuses on how pigs live out their lives from birth to death – from the perspective of a pig. It is clear that it is not just the pig’s final death that is brutal but its whole life Read

Eric Zuesse – This Is How Corruption Works: A Hillary Clinton Example

March 9, 2016

Hillary Clinton approved the construction in South Africa of the world’s two largest coal-fired power-plants, and helped them get Export-Import Bank financing (U.S. taxpayer backing); then, some of her friends received construction contracts to build them. This was revealed by Itai Vardi in a terrific investigative news report at the desmog blog, on March 7th. Here’s an abbreviated version of it, courtesy of that extraordinary fine news-site: The plants – named Medupi and Kusile – were set to each emit a staggering 25 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere a year. To help finance the Medupi plant, the South African government turned to The World Bank, requesting a $3.5 billion loan. Read

Mushroom Beehives Could Be The Solution To Colony Collapse

March 8, 2016

Life without bees isn’t life at all. Seriously, have you considered just how empty supermarkets would be if the tiny, bumbling insects went extinct? Since the 1980s, bee populations have diminished dramatically. At least 61 culprits – from viruses to pesticides – have been blamed, but scientists are still groping for answers. One culprit in particular – the mite – is thought to be a major contributor to colony collapse. Because the varroa destructor mite’s life is so short-lived, it has been able to evolve and develop resistance to pesticides that have been previously able to control it. Thankfully, a solution to the catastrophe may already exist. It just took a mushroom expert and a scientist to discover it. Remember Paul Stamets, the guy who holds the patent that could destroy Monsanto? After partnering with an entomologist, he discovered that a certain type of mushroom can protect bees from viruses, pesticides, AND mites! Read

Consumers have huge environmental impact

February 25, 2016

The world’s workshop — China — surpassed the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on Earth in 2007. But if you consider that nearly all of the products that China produces, from iPhones to tee-shirts, are exported to the rest of the world, the picture looks very different. “If you look at China’s per capita consumption-based (environmental) footprint, it is small,” says Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Industrial Ecology Programme. “They produce a lot of products but they export them. It’s different if you put the responsibility for those impacts on the consumer, as opposed to the producer.” That’s exactly what Ivanova and her colleagues did when they looked at the environmental impact from a consumer perspective in 43 different countries and 5 rest-of-the-world regions. Their analysis, recently published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, showed that consumers are responsible for more than 60 per cent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80 per cent of the world’s water use. Read
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