Category Archives: Agriculture

Threats to crop pollinators imperil billions


That’s just the humans, and not the hundreds of billions of earth’s herbivores and the carnivores dependent on them.

It’s a threat directly resulting from the massive agricultural use of pesticides and other chemicals.

From Agence France Presse:

About 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops depend on pollinators, researchers said Monday warning of a dire threat to human welfare if the falls in bee and butterfly numbers are not halted.

“World food supplies and jobs are at risk unless urgent action is taken to stop global declines of pollinators,” said a statement from the University of Reading, whose researchers took part in the global review.

Animal pollination directly affects about three-quarters of important crop types, including most fruits, seeds and nuts and high-value products such as coffee, cocoa and oilseed rape.

>snip<

There are some 20,000 species of bees responsible for fertilising more than 90 percent of the world’s 107 major crops.

Bee populations have been hit in Europe, North America and elsewhere by a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder”, which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides, or a combination of factors.

The authors of the review called for measures to protect pollinators against farming’s worst side-effects.

Agroecology, anyone?

Fidel Castro is gone, the man the U.S. tried to kill


In the end, the killer was one that awaits us all, humanity’s finite lifespan.

From the New York Times:

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

More from the Guardian:

Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.

“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.

“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”

Raúl Castro concluded his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”

On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on 4 December. The cemetery is the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Martí and numerous other leading figures in the country’s torrid history.

Hundreds of assassination attempts foiled

Castro lived a charmed life, surviving hundreds of would-be assassins, many of them dispatched by a U.S. government outraged that a revolutionary regime could challenge its hegemony and flourish just 90 miles off its shore.

Powerful U.S. corporations had seen their lucrative Cuban assets nationalized, and the mob lost its casinos, infuriating syndicate heads in Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as notorious money launderer Meyer Lansky, who lost his own casino.

Other governments as well loathed Castro for his backing of revolutuonary regimes and dispatched their own killers.

And all of their attempts failed, as documented in this 2013 report from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

638 Ways To Kill Castro

A noteworthy legacy

So we bid farewell to Fidel, who created a national healthcare system that’s one of the world’s best [the island nation’s infant mortality rates are much lower than those of the U.S., a fact the CIA acknowledges], and where the U.S. sends troops to maintain its dominance over the globe, Cuba sends doctors to heal folks in some of the world’s poorest lands and assist when disaster strikes.

Barred by a trade embargo from importing food from the U.S., Cuba developed the world’s best system of agroecology, raising crops without pesticides and an over-reliance on synthetic fertilizers, while turning vacant lots into rich urban farms.

While the American right has long demonized Castro as a despot, the truth is that he accomplished much good for the Cuban people and countless numbers of the sick and the afflicted in other lands.

And now we bid him farewell, a man whose legacy is — like that of all of us — mixed, but one that is far better than so often portrayed in the U.S. media.

Rightist populism finds fertile soil in rural Austria


The same sort of xenophobic populism that brought Britain out of the European Union and installed Donald Trump in the White house is taking root in Austria, where a Trump-like presidential candidate is finding an increasingly friendly reception.

And much as Trump found his support strongest in America’s agricultural heartland, so is Norbert Hofer finding his most fervent followers down on the farm.

From TheLocal.at:

Prosperous, pretty and almost migrant-free — rural Austria paradoxically offers a happy hunting ground for far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer and his populist Freedom Party.

Ask the people of Pinkafeld what makes them proud of their pastel-coloured town set amid pine-strewn hills and many will reply “Our flowers”, followed by “…and our Norbert”.

Like elsewhere in the countryside, the 45-year-old swept most of the votes in Pinkafeld in the first runoff in May, which was annulled over procedural irregularities.

Back then, he lost by a paper-thin margin to the Greens-backed Alexander Van der Bellen.

Now many Pinkafelders hope “Norbert”, as he’s affectionately known, will finally emerge victorious on December 4 — and not just because he’s a local resident.

Drug-resistant staph plagues hog farm workers


From Chartbin, a look a the world’s carnivorous habits using the latest available data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

From Chartbin, a look a the world’s carnivorous habits using the latest available data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Factory farmed meat has become the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to the food we eat at home and in most restaurants. Called Intensive animal farming by Big Agra, factory farming uses dense populations of animals, confined in shed or pens, forced to stands surrounded ankle deep in their own feces and urine,

Because bodily waste serves as a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, beef, poultry, and hog farmers feed or inject their livestock with ongoing doses of antibiotics.

But the combination of dense populations, rampant bacterial growth in waste-soaked soil, and the process of natural selection virtually guarantees that bacteria, with their reproductive rates thousands of times faster than that of humans, will evolve to resist the drugs designed to kill them.

The result is a panoply of organisms like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurea, or MRSA, better known to the mass media as flesh-eating bacteria capable of standing off what has been the antibiotic of last resort when all others have failed.

One of the meats most intensively factory-farmed is pork, asn thius image from Farm Sanctuary is an example of the origins of your morning bacon and evening pork chops:

blog-hogs

So the next logical question is this: Does working on a factory farm, the perfect storm of conditions for breeding MRSA, result in higher rates of MRSA infections for workers?

A new study looks at that question, using hog farm workers, and the answers are just what you’d expect.

From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

New Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests that some workers at industrial hog production facilities are not only carrying livestock-associated, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses, but may also be developing skin infections from these bacteria.

The findings are published Nov. 16 in PLOS ONE [open access].

“Before this study, we knew that many hog workers were carrying livestock-associated and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains in their noses, but we didn’t know what that meant in terms of worker health,” says study leader Christopher D. Heaney, PhD, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School’s departments of Environmental Health and Engineering, and Epidemiology. “It wasn’t clear whether hog workers carrying these bacteria might be at increased risk of infection. This study suggests that carrying these bacteria may not always be harmless to humans.”

Because the study was small, the researchers say there is a need to confirm the findings, but the results highlight the need to identify ways to protect workers from being exposed to these bacteria on the job, and to take a fresh look at antibiotic use and resistance in food animal production. Hogs are given antibiotics in order to grow them more quickly for sale, and the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of bacteria that are resistant to many of the drugs used to treat staph infections.

The researchers, involving collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help in Warsaw, NC, and the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, enrolled 103 hog workers in North Carolina and 80 members of their households (either children or other adults) to have their noses swabbed to determine whether they were carrying strains of S. aureus in their nasal passages. Each person was also shown pictures of skin and soft tissue infections caused by S. aureus and asked if they had developed those symptoms in the previous three months.

The researchers found that 45 of 103 hog workers (44 percent) and 31 of 80 household members (39 percent) carried S. aureus in their noses. Nearly half of the S. aureus strains being carried by hog workers were mutidrug-resistant and nearly a third of S. aureus strains being carried by household members were. Six percent of the hog workers and 11 percent of the children who lived with them reported a recent skin and soft tissue infection (no adult household members reported such infections).

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Trump’s Ag Secretary pick? Yet another genius


We are effin doomed. . .

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Rick Perry is being considered for energy secretary, a position he wanted to eliminate

  • The former Texas governor and two-time presidential candidate is reportedly in the running to serve as secretary of energy in Trump’s administration, a position he wanted to get rid of while making his own run for president, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Perry famously forgot to name the Department of Energy as one of the three agencies he wanted to disband as president during a presidential debate in 2011.
  • “It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see… The third one. I can’t,” Perry said, adding “Oops.”

World temperature records as Trump heads to office


Americans elected the nation’s most vocal denier of global climate change in a years scientists say is nearly certain to be the hottest ever recorded.

Trump, whose frequent and crudely misinformed denials that humans are making the world hotter, stands to go do in history as a modern-day Nero, fiddling and diddling while the whole planet, rathrer than an Italian city, burns.

From the World Meteorological Organization:

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015. Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to an assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Global temperatures for January to September 2016 have been about 0.88° Celsius (1.58°F) above the average (14°C) for the 1961-1990 reference period, which is used by WMO as a baseline. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event of 2015-16. Preliminary data for October indicate that they are at a sufficiently high level for 2016 to remain on track for the title of hottest year on record. This would mean that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century (1998 was the other one).

Long-term climate change indicators are also record breaking. Concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase to new records. Arctic sea ice remained at very low levels, especially during early 2016 and the October re-freezing period, and there was significant and very early melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

blog-temps

Ocean heat was boosted by the El Niño event, contributing to coral reef bleaching, and above-average sea-level rise.

The deadliest event so far in 2016 has been Hurricane Matthew, which was Haiti’s worst humanitarian emergency since the 2010 earthquake. Throughout the year, extreme weather led to considerable socio-economic losses in all regions of the world.

“Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.  The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue,” he said.

“In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different,” said Mr Taalas.

“Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.  Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones,” he said.

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The environmental cost of your guacamole dip


Back when esnl was a wee tad growing up on the Kansas plains in the early 1950s, nobody ate Mexican food. [We ate our first enchiladas on a vacation to Disneyland the year it opened and were immediately hooked.]

Back then avocados rarely appeared in supermarket, and when they did, they were often labeled Alligator Pears.

But America has changed and Mexican food has become a staple, often accompanied by guacamole. [The first time we saw it in print, our fourth grade self struggled to pronounce the word, coming up with goo-a-kay-mole.]

Avocados are now a frequent food, with guacamole dip a treat often served at parties.

But the nation’s growing avocado addiction carries a price, as the Associated Press reports:

Authorities in Mexico say deforestation caused by the expansion of avocado orchards is much higher than previously thought.

The attorney general’s office for environmental protection says that almost 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of forest land are converted to agricultural uses each year in the western state of Michoacan, the world’s top producer of the fruit.

The head of the Michoacan office said Monday that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the forest-land loss is due to avocados, or 15,000 to 20,000 acres (6,000 to 8,000 hectares) annually.

Authorities began meetings last week with avocado producers to address the problem.

Avocado trees flourish at about the same altitude and climate as the pine and fir forests in the mountains of Michoacan.