Factory Farms for Cattle, Hogs, Dairy, and Chickens

I live north of Atlanta, GA. Riding through the countryside on a hot day, I’ll hit a patch of bad air, downwind from some large chicken houses. The stench is unbearable.

Factory farms pollute the surrounding air and water. Hog farms may be the worst polluters.

Click on the map to go to the interactive website.Factory farms hogs 

States with Most Factory Farms

Cattle: Nebraska 644

Hogs: Iowa 3,876

Dairy: California 1,075

Broilers (chickens): Georgia 959

Layers (chickens): Pennsylvania 75

Source: Food & Water Watch

I Love California Almonds, but…


California-grown raw almonds may soon no longer be available. A new USDA mandate requires raw almonds to be sanitized through treatment processes that the industry generously describes as “pasteurization.” The rule requires “pasteurization” of almonds with a toxic fumigant or treatment with high-temperature heat.

Why is this an all or nothing ruling? Let the free market decide: farmers could specify whether or not their almonds were “pasteurized” on the packaging. This smells like influence by big agriculture and their lawyers.

The Cornucopia Institute is working with almond farmers and handlers, retailers, and farm and consumer groups for a full re-evaluation of the USDA’s plan. Click on the Save almonds campaign link for more background information and steps you can take to help out.

Link: The Cornucopia Institute » Blog Archive » USDA Plan to “Pasteurize” Almonds Has Consumers Going Nuts.

Small-scale farmers, retailers, and consumers are renewing their call to the USDA to reassess the plan to “pasteurize” all California almonds with a toxic fumigant or high-temperature sterilization process. All domestic almonds will be mandated to have the treatments by early next year. The plan was quietly developed by the USDA in response to outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 that were traced to raw almonds.

“The almond ‘pasteurization’ plan will have many harmful impacts on consumers and the agricultural community,” said Will Fantle, research director for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. “Only 18 public comments from the entire U.S.—and all from the almond industry insiders—were received on the proposal. The logic behind both the necessity and safety of the treatments processes has not been fully or adequately analyzed—as well as the economic costs to small-scale growers and the loss of consumer choices.”

Last Wednesday, the California Almond Board suddenly requested that USDA delay the treatment mandate until March, 2008—it had been scheduled to take effect on September 1. “We support this request for a delay,” said Fantle, “but a delay, due to the industry being unprepared, isn’t enough. The USDA must also re-open the rule for public review and comment so that those who have been shut out of the decision-making process can have input into any almond treatment plan.”

Although foodborne illnesses have garnered headlines in recent years, including contamination of California-grown spinach and lettuce, raw produce and nuts are not inherently risky foods. Contamination occurs when livestock manure or other fecal matter is inadvertently transferred to food through contaminated water, soil, or transportation and handling equipment. Raw foods can also be infected by poor employee hygiene and sanitation practices either on the farm or in processing facilities.

“All fresh foods carry some chance of risk,” notes Bruce Lampinen, a scientist at University of California, Davis, who studies almonds, “but there is no more risk now than there was thirty years ago.”

And the fear in the farming community is that this will competitively injure smaller sustainable and organic growers. “This will put American farmers at a distinct disadvantage in the U.S. and abroad,” says organic almond farmer Mark McAfee. Fumigated almonds are banned in the EU and many other countries. McAfee worries about the impact of the rule on his business. Seventy percent of California’s crop is exported.

Some companies that use California almonds are already investigating foreign sources for their needs. After buying almonds from local producers for over 25 years, Living Tree Community Foods, a Berkeley-based natural foods supplier, will soon begin buying almonds from Italy and Spain. Dr. Jesse Schwartz, the president of the specialty retailer, believes the rule, if implemented, will be a travesty for American agriculture. “California almonds are the heritage of the American people,” he says, “they are superior in every way.”

Jason Mahon owns Premier Organics, a company that produces raw almond butter in Oakland, CA. Mahon is also looking to foreign suppliers and believes the rule is an unnecessary “fear-based decision of the Almond Board, that is clearly trying to protect itself from bad press and lawsuits.”

The equipment to meet the new USDA mandate is very expensive, ranging from $500,000 to $2,500,000. Farms can outsource the pasteurization process, but Hendrik Feenstra, a small-scale handler of organic almonds, believes that to do so will still be prohibitively expensive for small-scale growers and handlers. “Because pasteurization companies often charge a flat rate no matter the quantity of almonds, it could be four or five times more expensive for small-scale almond producers to pasteurize almonds than it will be for industrial-scale producers,” Feenstra says. And modest-size marketers are concerned that increased transportation costs will also add to their burden

Organic farmers also question the science behind the rule. They believe that the sustainable farming methods they use, such as mowing and mulching, rather than controlling weeds by chemical herbicide applications, naturally prevent the spread of harmful bacteria more effectively than treatment after the fact. According to almond grower Glenn Anderson, “An organic farming system fosters biodiversity and creates an environment where Salmonella cannot survive. This rule ignores the root causes of food contamination—the unnatural, dangerous, and unsustainable farming practices on industrial farms.”

An important segment of the agricultural community feels that requiring small-scale and organic farms to comply with this rule is unwarranted and premature, as Salmonella outbreaks have only been traced to very large industrial farms, and there is currently no published research pinpointing the causes of the harmful bacteria. “With the costs involved, and the implications on trade, they are recklessly experimenting with the livelihood of farmers,” Fantle added.

Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence supporting the use of propylene oxide (PPO) and steam as the only effective treatments to reduce risk of Salmonella. The most common method of sterilizing almonds is by PPO fumigation, a genotoxic chemical recognized as a possible carcinogen that is banned in the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and most other countries. Many chemical-free and heat-free alternatives are being researched. “The Almond Board has not released any of the scientific research justifying their treatment choices,” asserts Eli Penberthy, a policy analyst at Cornucopia. “This rule should not be implemented until alternative technologies are thoroughly explored.”

The Cornucopia Institute also contends labeling treated almonds as “raw” is misleading and deceptive to consumers. “People choose to buy raw almonds for a variety of personal reasons, including health, nutrition, and even religious beliefs,” Cornucopia’s Fantle said. “This rule denies them the right to control their food choices by making informed decisions in the marketplace.”

In fact, some strict vegetarians who consume only raw foods rely on almonds to provide as much as 30% of their caloric intake, believing that they are a nutritionally superior alternative to meat in the diet. “Raw almonds are increasingly popular for their health benefits,” said Goldie Caughlan, the Nutrition Education Manager at Puget Community Cooperative in Seattle, who estimates that the co-op sells 28,000 pounds of raw almonds every year. She said customers are already confused and angered by the implications of the rule, and worries how it will affect sales.

Fantle charges that the rule could very well establish a precedent for more governmental control of fresh foods. Says Fantle, “If almonds require pasteurization, what foods will be next on the list of mandatory sterilization, heat treatment, and irradiation? Truly raw, untreated nuts, fruits, and vegetables might no longer be legally available in the marketplace.”

Public concern about the almond treatment plan has been growing. Over 1,000 comments opposing almond pasteurization have been submitted to the USDA since the plan was approved on March 31, and an online petition to stop the implementation of the rule has garnered over 15,000 signatures.

The only exemption to the almond treatment regulations will be an allowance for growers to sell truly raw almonds directly to the public from farmstead stands. Unfortunately, this will give only a limited number of consumers in specific areas of California, the only state in the nation that produces almonds, access to untreated nuts.

Diets based on raw foods are integral to some religious denominations, such as Seventh-Day Adventism, so the rule poses a threat not only to consumer choice, but to religious freedom as well.

The State of the Nation

David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the US Government Accountability Office, made a speech on August 7, 2007, about transforming government. He concludes his speech with the following:

America is a great nation, probably the greatest in history. But if we want to keep America great, we have to recognize reality and make needed changes. As I mentioned earlier, there are striking similarities between America’s current situation and that of another great power from the past: Rome. The Roman Empire lasted 1,000 years, but only about half that time as a republic. The Roman Republic fell for many reasons, but three reasons are worth remembering: declining moral values and political civility at home, an overconfident and overextended military in foreign lands, and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government. Sound familiar? In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.

Please don’t misunderstand my message today. Things are far from hopeless. Yes, it’s going to take some difficult choices on a range of issues. But I’m convinced America will rise to the challenge, just as we did during World War II and other difficult times.

What’s needed now is leadership. The kind of leadership that leads to meaningful and lasting change has to be bipartisan and broad-based. Character also counts. We need men and women with courage, integrity, and creativity. Leaders who can partner for progress and are committed to truly and properly discharging their stewardship responsibilities.

But leadership can’t just come from Capitol Hill or the White House. Leadership also needs to come from Main Street

It’s time for the three most powerful words in our Constitution—“We the people”—to come alive. As I said earlier, the American people are going to have to become better informed and involved as we head toward the 2008 elections. And the next President, whoever he or she may be, and whichever party he or she represents, should be prepared to use the bully pulpit of the Oval Office to push needed reforms. If these things happen, we have a real chance to turn things around and better position ourselves for the future.

via John Michael Greer

How To Get Your Home Ready For Renewable Energy

Shane Jordan at Green Options offers some sound advice for reducing energy usage. Excerpts below.

Link: How To Get Your Home Ready For Renewable Energy | Green Options.

People get so caught up in the image of “free” power from the sun or the wind, that they forget that the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t buy. For every dollar you spend on home efficiency you will take three to five dollars off the cost of your renewable energy system. It is that simple. Use less energy; buy fewer solar panels to supply that energy..

Here is a quick check list of things you should have done before you even think about installing a renewable energy system on your home. In fact, these steps will save you money even if you don’t intend to install a renewable energy system on your home.

Lighting and appliances: Make sure you are using the most efficient lighting you can. That most often means compact fluorescent and perhaps LED lighting.

Insulation and weather sealing: You want your home to be as sealed as possible against both the cold and the heat. This means weather sealing windows and doors, or even replacing them if you have the money to more insulated ones. … I recommend that you get an energy audit. Many utilities or municipalities offer then for free or for a low fee. Even if you have to pay for one, it is money well-spent.

Roofing: If properly installed, a solar system will last at least 25 years. How old is your roof? If your roof is in need of new shingles, or needs other repair, there is no point in putting a solar system on the roof that is going to need to be removed in five years to re-shingle. It is much cheaper to install the solar system while you install the new shingles, than to do the two separately

Home owner’s associations and neighbors:
Do you live in a historic district? What is your HOA’s policy on wind turbines? Before you spend your money on the solar panels, invest in a little research and neighborly friendliness. Many historic districts were made in the 70’s during the first oil crisis, and many have bylaws dealing with renewable energy prompted by that crisis. Some only apply if your home is visible from the street. Some require a permit. Research is usually a lot cheaper than fines, or having to take down the system.

Heating system: Electric heat is not the way to go. That goes for electric water heaters as well. If money was no object, I would suggest you switch to radiant floor solar thermal heating. Not only will the bathroom floor be nice and warm in the middle of winter, but your cats will love it as well. If you can’t go with radiant floor, gas heat is the second best. One thing for sure: you want to have your heating system as efficient as money and resources will allow.

Once you have tackled all of these issues, THEN you are ready to call up your handy renewable energy installer and get those super-cool solar panels. Spending a significant amount of money on home efficiency improvements will radically reduce the size (number of solar panels, size of wind turbine etc) and therefore the cost of your renewable energy system. It will also lower your monthly bills, making the payback time on your investment that much quicker.

Beautiful Image: A Song at Dusk

A Song at Dusk by W B Skinner on deviantART.

A Song at Dusk

W B Skinner says:

When I travel to different areas of North America to fight forest fires, I often stay in basecamps and travel to the fireline every morning by truck, bus, or helicopter.

Ontario is the last province in Canada to require its forest fire fighters to actually live on the fireline for weeks on end until the fire is out. This means we camp where we initially land to action the fire and are serviced by helicopter thereafter. We almost always land in a small flat wetlands where we are able to set up a pump and lay a hoseline to the fire edge.

In the 17 years I’ve done this job, I’ve calculated that just over two entire years (700-800 days) of my life has been spent living in a tent. There have been good campsites and bad ones, but mostly in bug-infested wetlands.

After the pump is shut down and we’ve eaten a good meal in the bug tent, I like to relax, have a smoke, and listen to the cacaphony of crickets, waterbugs, frogs, black flies, and mosquitoes. The sounds of a boreal forest wetland at dusk in the deep of summer are almost deafening.

Then all at once they stop… in almost perfect concord all the sound just ends.

…and the song at dusk is over.

Fast Internet: Stuck in Traffic

In 1997, we got DSL from Bellsouth. The jump from dial-up to DSL was exhilarating. It changed our world. Now, in 2007, we still have the same connection speed with our DSL as we did in 1997. I’m weighing changing to a faster cable internet connection, which has a reputation for poor service quality (we have two home businesses that cannot function without a fast connection), versus staying with Bellsouth/AT&T, who provide excellent repair service.

In the excerpts below, Bob Cringely explains why the United States is stuck in the slow lane on the Internet.

Link: I, Cringely . The Pulpit . The $200 Billion Rip-Off | PBS

Misguided and incompetent regulation combined with utilities that found ways to game the system resulted in what had been the best communication system in the world becoming just so-so, though very profitable. We as consumers were consistently sold ideas that were impractical only to have those be replaced later by less-ambitious technologies that, in turn, were still under-delivered. Congress set mandates then provided little or no oversight. The FCC was (and probably still is) managed for the benefit of the companies and their lobbyists, not for you and me. And the upshot is that I could move to Japan and pay $14 per month for 100-megabit-per-second Internet service but I can’t do that here and will probably never be able to.

Despite this, the FCC says America has the highest broadband deployment rate in the world and President Bush has set a goal of having broadband available to every U.S. home by the end of this year. What have these guys been smoking? Nothing, actually, they simply redefined "broadband" as any Internet service with a download speed of 200 kilobits per second or better. That’s less than one percent the target speed set in 1994 that we were supposed to have achieved by 2000 under regulations that still remain in place.

Ten Hybrid Vehicle Myths

From EarthCars.com, some good information about hybrid vehicles. Click on the link for more detail.

Link: Article | Earthcars

Ten hybrid vehicle myths:

1) Hybrid cars are slow and underpowered.

2) Hybrid vehicles lack space, luxury amenities and alternate-terrain capabilities.

3) Hybrids are not cost effective when compared to their non-hybrid counterparts.

4) Hybrids are much more practical for city driving, where better fuel economy is observed.

5) Hybrid vehicles will become too costly as they age and repairs are required.

6) Hybrids need to be plugged in.

7) Diesel powered vehicles match the efficiency of hybrid gas/electric vehicles.

8) Hybrids function more as fashion statements and status symbols.

9) Manufacturers waste money and energy investing in hybrid technology.

10) Hybrid-electric vehicles are the end-all solution to the world’s energy concerns.

100 Interesting Websites

When you need more information to consume…. From TED.org.

Link: TED | TEDBlog: 100 Websites You Should Know and Use

Julius Wiedemann, editor in charge at Taschen GmbH, offers an ultra-fast-moving ride through sites in many different areas, from art, design and illustration, to daily news, blogs and curiosity. … here’s his list of 100 websites you should know and use.


headbangers.tv *