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Food & agriculture - Feb 17


Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning in France

Catherine Lagrange and Marion Douet, Reuters
A French court on Monday declared U.S. biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, grain grower Paul Francois, 47, says he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, southeast France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois's losses to establish the amount of damages.

"It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a (pesticide) maker is found guilty of such a poisoning," François Lafforgue, Francois's lawyer, told Reuters....
(13 February 2012)



The Corn Ethanol Lobby’s Land Grab

Brett Lorenzen, Environmental Working Group
December 31 marked the overdue demise of one of the government subsidies that has long propped up the corn ethanol industry. But if you think corn ethanol is now standing on its own in the energy marketplace, take another look. Yes, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) is gone and will no longer pay oil companies for every gallon of ethanol they mix with gasoline. But ethanol still has massive federal backing for corn production as well as lavish state level support. The industry, meanwhile, keeps trotting out spurious “data” as it tries to deny the reality that the ethanol boom is chewing up millions of acres of grassland and forest in order to plant more corn fields, with serious consequences for the climate-altering buildup of carbon in the atmosphere.

A little history: In an effort to encourage the oil industry to accept mandatory ethanol production requirements in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) introduced in 2007, Congress created the now-dead VEETC tax credit to reward oil companies for buying the ethanol that they were already required by law to use. The ethanol industry was handed a guaranteed market that ensured they could charge 45 cents more for every gallon – while benefiting from a tacit agreement to ignore ethanol’s poor engine performance and destructive side effects.

Continued subsidies mean continued scrutiny, and corn ethanol lobbyists are worried that the industry could lose the RFS crutch as well. The standard sets a 36 billion gallon target for mixing renewables into vehicle fuel, and it currently limits corn ethanol to no more than 15 billion gallons of that. The remaining 21 billion gallons are supposed to come from “advanced biofuels” that would substantially reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, but unfortunately, they don’t exist – at least not yet. Corn doesn’t qualify as an advanced biofuel because of a provision called “International Land Use Conversion,” which penalizes corn ethanol for the greenhouse gas impact of converting millions of acres of carbon-sequestering grassland and forest to cornfields. With cellulosic ethanol still largely a pipe dream and corn ethanol long overdue to stand on its own, many are beginning to question the logic of the renewable standard. But not the ethanol industry: Its goal is to increase the amount of corn ethanol required under the RFS. And they will lobby hard for it in 2012...
(9 February 2012)



Ohio could get specialized middle, high schools on farming

Jim Siegle, Columbus Dispatch
While Gov. John Kasich stressed in his State of the State speech last week the need to match work-force training to Ohio’s available jobs, three Republican senators are already working on a plan to get students, particularly from urban and suburban areas, motivated to join the state’s largest industry.

They stress that the $107 billion-a-year industry is all-but-guaranteed to continue growing, with expanded job opportunities in high-tech fields that will require hands-on training along with a strong education in science, math and technology.

They think that, if they market the field properly, students can get pumped up about making a long-term career in agriculture.

“ The agriculture industry is different than most people think,” said Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, noting that only 10 percent of jobs are on the farm. The world is projected to grow from 7 billion people to 9billion by 2050, opening more opportunities in crop and livestock production, air- and water-quality research, bioproducts and biofuels, including energy from waste.

But Widener said that much of the curriculum taught in high-school vocational agriculture programs is 80 years old, and the number of agriculture teachers has dropped by 5 percent since 2005.
(12 February 2012)



Composting For Kids Is More Fun With Wrigglers

Nicola Temple, EcoVillage Green
Let’s face it, composting for kids comes down to taking smelly food scraps out to the back garden where you put it in a bigger pile of smelly food scraps, probably swarming with flies. Not exactly something they’re likely to tell their friends about at school.

However, add into the mix thousands of wriggling writhing worms and suddenly you have something news-worthy for the playground.

Worm composting is a great family project and an easy way to get kids excited about composting. Suddenly it’s not about composting, it’s about feeding worms!

Done well, vermiculture can offer a fantastic learning opportunity for your children as well as help turn kitchen scraps into fantastic worm compost that is invaluable in the garden or as a topping for houseplants. You’ll never need to buy organic fertilizer again!...
(8 February 2012)

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: flickr/jarsyl

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