Category Archives: Agriculture

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.


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:


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.


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.

GMO corn contamination spreads rapidly in Spain

When UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela and David Quist discovered evidence that genes from commercially engineered crops had invaded native maize strains in the Mexican heartland where native peoples have first bred the grass-like teosinte into modern corn, Monsanto began a smear campaign that cost Chapela his professorship. [Previously, and here’s a story we wrote for the Berkeley Daily Planet at the time.]

It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure at Cal, but the corporate muscle displayed by the Big Agra nearly destroyed a promising career and sent a powerful message to other researchers about the dangers of challenging Monsanto’s hunger to control the world’s crops.

Subsequent research has confirmed the migration of engineered genes into a variety of crops — including Mexican maize strains.

And now comes word that Spanish organic farmers are discovering that a plague of GMO contamination is sweeping through crops on the Iberian peninsula.

Here’s a brief report on the growing Spain from Deutsche Welle:

Spain: GM corn spreading unchecked

Program notes:

Genetically modified corn appears to be contaminating non-GMO varieties through cross-pollination. It’s a disaster for organic farmers as the insect-resistant GM corn can spread unchecked. Environmentalists want to stop its cultivation immediately.

Transgenic corn ancestor could become Spanish superweed

Pesticide resistant genes inserted into GMO crops have produced a new class of invasive plants called superweeds, plants just as tolerant of corporate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup as the Roundup Ready crops the company peddles.

In the ultimate ironic twist, a new weed is invading Spain, the Mexican grass-like plant from which ancient Mexicans bred the plant that was to become modern maize, or corn.

And now the fear is that a genetic flow between GMO corn and teosinte could produce a superweed threatening to the region’s entire corn crop.

Sustainable Pulse reported on the crisis in February:

Teosinte and maize have the potential to interbreed and form hybrids. This applies equally to genetically engineered maize MON810, produced by Monsanto and grown on more than 100,000 hectares in Spain. Due to the risks of appearance of an invasive, transgenic teosinte species, the organisations have asked the Commission and the Spanish government to ban the cultivation of MON810 in 2016.

Teosinte was discovered in Spain for the first time in 2009, but has never been reported to the Commission by the Spanish authorities nor by Monsanto. However, Monsanto is legally obliged to publish annual monitoring reports about the cultivation of MON810 in the EU and potential environmental hazards, including crossbreeding. That maize is not supposed to cross and interbreed with any other species in the EU was an important precondition for allowing genetically engineered maize to be cultivated in the EU.


“Thousands of hectares of transgenic maize producing an insecticide Bt toxin are being grown in areas affected by the spread of teosinte. If gene flow takes place from MON810 to the teosinte, it could become even more invasive”, said Blanca Ruibal, responsible for Food and Agriculture at Amigos de la Tierra. “We are highly concerned that neither the Spanish government nor Monsanto has officially informed the Commission about this major threat to agriculture and the environment. Europe could soon find itself in a situation with transgenic plants persisting and spreading not only in Spain but also in other maize growing regions in countries such as France, Italy and Portugal.”

More from Critical Scientists Switzerland:

The wild ancestor of commercial maize, teosinte, has been detected in Aragon, Catalonia and Navarra, Spain and is spreading as an invasive species in maize growing areas. In one region where growing maize is the main source of income for farmers, the teosinte population has already reached such a high density, that the local governments has issued and enacted a ban on maize cultivation to prevent teosinte from spreading further.

Since in Spain the transgenic maize MON810 is grown on more than 100’000 hectares, it is feared that teosinte could interbreed with MON810, potentially resulting in an invasive transgenic teosinte species. If the hybrids between MON810 and teosinte inherit the insect resistant trait from MON810 they are likely to show higher fitness compared to the native teosinte plants, thereby increasing the invasive potential.

The fact that maize has no wild relatives in Europe to cross and interbreed with, was an important precondition for allowing genetically modified maize to be cultivated in the EU. Thirteen civil society organisations have now asked the EU Commission and the Spanish government to ban the cultivation of MON810 in 2016.

Big  Agra has opened Pandora’s Box, and there’s no going back.

Chart of the day: European organic farming


From Eurostat:

With more than 11 million hectares of certified area or area under conversion in 2015, organic farming made up 6.2% of the European Union’s (EU) total utilised agricultural area (UAA). Since 2010, the area devoted to organic farming has grown by almost two million hectares. Similarly, an upward trend can be observed for the number of registered organic producers. At the end of 2015, 271,500 organic agricultural producers were registered in the EU, an increase of 5.4% compared with 2014.

Among Member States, Spain, Italy, France and Germany registered the largest organic areas as well as the largest numbers of organic producers in 2015, accounting together for over half (52%) of both total EU organic crop area and organic producers in the EU.

Austria, Sweden and Estonia on top for organic farming

The part of agricultural land farmed organically differs widely between EU Member States. The highest share of crop area dedicated to organic farming was registered in Austria, with one fifth (20%, or 552 thousand hectares) of its total agricultural area farmed organically in 2015. It was followed by Sweden (17%, or 519 thousand hectares) and Estonia (16%, or 156 thousand hectares). Alongside these top performers, the Czech Republic (14%, or 478 thousand hectares), Italy (12%, or 1,493 thousand hectares) and Latvia (12%, or 232 thousand hectares) also reported over 10% of agricultural land farmed organically.

In contrast, organic farming was not strongly developed in three Member States with the area under organic farming below 2% of agricultural land: in Malta (0.3 %, or 30 hectares), Ireland (1.6%, or 73 thousand hectares) and Romania (1.8%, or 246 thousand hectares).

It should be noted that the importance of the organic sector is generally lower in regions with plains where more intensive production systems prevail.