Category: sustainable health


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A new report offers compelling evidence that fracking for natural gas is killing domestic animals like horses, cattle, goats, and sheep. The dead animals provide a strong warning that fracking can harm humans — something the fracking industry has consistently denied.

“Fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing” — a well-drilling process that pumps water, sand and numerous toxic chemicals a mile or so below ground to release natural gas trapped in rocks. If all goes well, the deep rocks shatter, releasing gas, which is piped directly to the surface where it becomes part of the nation’s energy supply or is exported. If all doesn’t go so well, some of the fracked gas and toxic chemicals start moving around through cracks and fissures below ground, where they sometimes mix with underground water supplies, perhaps ruining a valuable aquifer forever.The new report, “Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health,” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald appeared in New Solutions (Jan. 2012). Bamberger is a practicing veterinarian and Oswald a professor of pharmacology in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. The two spent a year evaluating all available fracking-related reports on sick or dying animals. Secrecy surrounds the fracking industry, but a few “natural experiments” have provided powerful evidence that fracking can harm animals. On one farm, 60 cows were pastured near a creek where fracking fluids had reportedly been dumped; another 36 cattle were pastured without access to the creek. Of the 60 cows, 21 died and 16 more failed to produce calves the following spring. Among the 36 not exposed, health problems were absent.A second natural experiment occurred on another farm where 140 cows were exposed to fracking wastewater after an impoundment liner failed. Of the 140 exposed cows, about 70 died and there was a high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves. Some 60 other cows from the same herd were held in a separate pasture free from toxicants. None of them developed any health or reproductive problems.

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress gave fracking a green light by exempting it from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. At the bidding of the oil and gas industry, Congress basically said, “We want this gas out of the ground by any means necessary.” Now, six years later, some 450,000 fracking wells have been drilled in 31 states. Already 30 percent of all U.S. natural gas comes from fracking. The practice started in the west — Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming. Then it went south — Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana. Now it’s moving east to Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. If the fracking industry continues to have its way, tens of thousands more fracking wells will be drilled and billions of gallons of water mixed with industrial poisons will be pumped underground.

If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated documentary film Gasland, you’ll never forget those flames shooting out of Marsha Mendenhall’s kitchen faucet in Weld County, Colorado. Or the Fox-31 News report on KDVR-TV (Denver) showing flames shooting from a faucet inside the home of Jesse and Amee Ellsworth in Fort Lupton, Colo. — accompanied by gas frackers offering straight-faced denials that they’ve ever seen any proof that fracking has contaminated water.

That’s the root of the problem. The fracking industry claims there’s no scientific proof (only “anecdotal evidence”) that their technology has ever caused “unreasonable” harm, and until such proof exists, they have a legal right to frack away. To ordinary people, flaming faucets and dead animals make it obvious that fracking can contaminate water with chemicals that can kill. Indeed, in December, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft report concluding that fracking has contaminated underground drinking water supplies in Wyoming. It looks like an open-and-shut case, but it’s not because of the way our laws work.

As legal scholar Joseph Guth has shown, the U.S. legal system is strongly biased in favor of economic growth — even growth that is acknowledged to harm human health and the natural environment. This is why the environmental movement, despite decades of really hard work, has not been able to turn back the tide of destruction. U.S. environmental law commonly presumes that all economic growth is safe and that it is “reasonable” until someone can prove otherwise. Citizens who file a lawsuit to prevent harm from frackers typically must prove that 1) a chemical or activity will cause harm; and 2) the harm is “unreasonable.” The test of what’s “reasonable” is a cost-benefit analysis to show that the costs (harms) outweigh any benefits to society.

Government regulators face exactly the same hurdle. Before they can regulate an activity like fracking they must show that the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs. Proving that fracking causes harm is just the beginning for plaintiffs and regulators. Even if the law acknowledges that substantial harm is caused by fracking, that horses and cattle and sheep are getting sick, and very likely humans too, the economic benefits are still assumed to outweigh the costs. As far as the law is concerned, such costs may be regrettable, but they are a “reasonable” price to pay for economic activity until a cost-benefit analysis shows otherwise. There are three bed-rock legal principles at work here:

(1) The fracking industry does not have to prove that fracking is safe or that its benefits outweigh its harms — the law presumes that both are true and it’s up to the public to prove otherwise. This means that considerable damage must occur before anyone can prove causation and then begin to ask whether the harm is “reasonable” by a cost-benefit test. This is especially true if the activity is exempt from federal statutes and people who are harmed must rely on the courts.

(2) Industry is not required to provide information that might enable the public to prove that fracking causes harm or that the harms of fracking outweigh the benefits. Claiming “trade secrets,” industry can stonewall, and it does. In 2011, a government investigation found that, between 2005 and 2009, fracking companies pumped at least 94 million gallons of 279 products into the ground containing at least one chemical that the manufacturers deemed proprietary or a trade secret.

(3) The industry (and any agencies that regulate the industry) do not have to show that frackers are fulfilling the nation’s energy needs in the least-harmful way possible — that question simply never comes up. The law presumes that economic activity has a net social benefit and therefore should continue as-is, unquestioned. That legal presumption prevents society from searching for the least damaging way to live on the earth. As a result, harms multiply.

Given these three legal principles, it’s obvious that a few simple changes in the law could turn things upside down and finally make it possible to protect the environment and people’s health. The law could be changed to:

(1) require energy companies to produce full information about their operations;

(2) make them show that their energy production methods are safe and that they are meeting the nation’s energy needs in the least harmful way possible (thus forcing a detailed comparison to biofuels, coal, geothermal, oil, nuclear, solar, tidal, and wind); and

(3) at the very least make them offer proof that the benefits they provide outweigh the harms they cause. No data, no fracking. No safest method, no fracking. No maximum net benefit, no fracking.

These kinds of legal reforms are not pie in the sky. They are happening in the real world, especially in Europe. In the United States, these simple but revolutionary changes are unthinkable so long as private money is sloshing around in our elections. Therefore, getting private money out of elections is the necessary first reform — the reform that would make all other reforms possible.

Until then, we’ll have the best Congress that money can buy and the frackers will continue to have their way with us.

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An earlier version of this article appeared on Alternet Jan. 19, 2012.

Peter Montague is a journalist, historian and science writer living in New Brunswick, N.J. From 1986-2009, he edited and published Rachel’s Democracy & Health News. Currently he serves as executive director of Environmental Research Foundation. He (more…)
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The Food and Drug Administration’s latest moveconcerning the use of antibiotics in farm animals garnered a good deal of praise last week, but public health advocates say much more is needed.

While such advocates welcome the FDA’s proposed partial ban on farm use for one family of drugs important in treating human bacterial infections, they warn that it would do little to combat the overall rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

And they were skeptical of the administration’s commitment to this larger concern. Avinash Kar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, went so far as to suggest the agency’s announcement was “meant to distract attention from its effort to sweep the broader issue under the rug.”

Cattle, swine, chickens and other livestock receive an estimated 80 percent of the nation’s antibiotics, according to the FDA. Whether used to treat our future food, prevent the spread of disease in cramped conditions or simply to promote growth, animal antibiotics are thought to affect human health via multiple pathways: direct or indirect contact with food, water, air or anywhere manure goes.

Kar points out that the targeted drugs, cephalosporins, make up just a fraction of 1 percent of total antibiotic use in livestock — and only a fraction of these drugs are used in ways that would be prohibited if the rule goes into effect as planned this April. What’s more, as noted by Steve Roach, public health program director for the advocacy group Food Animal Concerns Trust, producers could simply replace cephalosporins with gentamicin, another class of antibiotics that is also critical for human medicine.

As with any antibiotic, misuse and overuse of the drug could speed up the development of resistance: Bacteria that can withstand the drugs will survive and reproduce, while their antibiotic-susceptible counterparts will evolve out of the picture.

Compounding the issue is the ability of bacteria to share their drug-evasion secrets with one another. In other words, the use of any one antibiotic can yield resistance to multiple antibiotics.

Fortunately, evidence also suggests the drugs can be redeemed. “For many classes of antibiotics, if we stop using them, the less powerful bacteria will refill that void,” said Gail Hansen, senior officer with the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. “That is the good news. But we have to be very serious about trimming use.”

As Tom Philpott reported for Mother Jones, it appears that the use of cephalosporins in livestock is already on the decline, while treatment with other common classes important for human medicine such as tetracyclines and penicillins is steadily rising. Between 2009 and 2010, use of cephalosporins in food-producing animals dropped by 41 percent; use of penicillins and tetracycline meanwhile rose by 43 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Turns out, these two burgeoning drug classes were central to a decades-old promise retracted by the FDA last month. As HuffPost reported, the agency committed in 1977 to limit the use of antibiotics in animals but never took any action.

In contrast to the FDA’s current “fanfare about protecting public health,” said Roach, the agency simply slipped a notice into the federal register regarding the withdrawal — right before Christmas.

Cephalosporins, a young class of antibiotics, are already only approved for certain treatments in livestock, and only with a veterinarian’s prescription, said Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner at the FDA. Under the new rule, his agency would have authority to prohibit off-label uses that pose a risk to public health, as well as to restrict changes to the dosing or route of administration.

Tetracyclines and penicillins pose a completely different challenge and regulatory process, Taylor said. The antibiotics have been approved since the 1950s for relatively broad uses without need for veterinarian supervision. In fact, the majority of these antibiotics are given to the animals through their feed or water — usually at very low doses — to promote the animal’s growth.

Taylor noted that addressing such old drugs, with their grandfathered-in approvals, is difficult. “Frankly, the FDA has struggled with this for a long time,” he said, pointing to a “very lawyer-intensive” regulatory process that has “historically taken years to complete.”

The agency’s new strategy is simply to ask industry to discontinue use of antibiotics as growth promoters. “We haven’t taken regulation off the table, but we think we can make progress more rapidly working through a voluntary process,” Taylor said. “The FDA is very committed to addressing the resistance issue in a number of different settings, and addressing the fact that older approved uses may be presenting resistance problems.”

Taylor added that the voluntary guidance drafted in June 2010 will be finalized in the “not too distant future,” though the NRDC notes that a year ago he said the finalization would be coming by last June.

Stuart Levy, a Tufts University microbiology professor who focuses on antibiotic resistance, is optimistic. “I believe that we are seeing a movement of the FDA toward improving antibiotic use in animal husbandry,” he said. Levy called the cephalosporins decision an “important and monumental first step” and said he thinks that the United States will “follow Europe with a ban of antibiotics as growth promotants.”

Members of the food animal industry, on the other hand, continue to refute the need for such regulation. “The impression out there of our use of antibiotics at low levels is pretty overstated,” said Michael Apley, a professor at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“There is no conclusive scientific evidence indicating the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle leads to antimicrobial resistance in humans,” Mary Geiger, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement last week.

“It’s sometimes difficult — and part of what makes the regulatory process difficult — to link any particular application to a particular disease outcome,” Taylor acknowledged, adding that data is also lacking regarding how producers use the antibiotics. But as for the dire issue of antibiotic resistance and the role played by use in livestock overall, he said, “there is little doubt in the scientific community.”

According to a report published by the Government Accountability Office in September, federal inaction has hindered scientists studying the connection between bacterial resistance to antibiotics and the use of drugs on livestock.

Industry representatives also suggest that eliminating further approvals for non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics would make it hard for producers to keep animals healthy. “The judicious use of antibiotics is just one of the important tools cattlemen use to provide a comprehensive herd-health plan to prevent problems and treat animal health issues,” said Geiger.

But even if a producer doesn’t have an alternate antibiotic available, prominent organic veterinarian Hubert Karreman suggested that they could keep animals healthy simply through better sanitation, a high forage diet and exercise.

“As far as antibiotics go, you don’t need them as much in the first place in organics,” said Karreman, who also uses a range of alternative treatments, including botanicals, to treat infectious diseases and other ailments.

If a conventional herd converts to organic, he said, his vet bill is typically cut by between 70 and 75 percent: “The closer you can mimic mother nature, the fewer problems you will have.”

“Time is running out,” said Hansen of the Pew Campaign. “The longer we wait, the closer we come to the end of being able to use antibiotics.”

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  • By Will Allen, Cedar Circle Farm, Vermont, and Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
    December 20, 2011

Take Action to Tell Congress that Organic Agriculture is the Solution to Climate Change!In the wake of the failed climate talks in Durban, South Africa; a record-breaking 5.9% increase in greenhouse gas pollution in 2010; and recent, extremely alarming reports by scientists of plumes of methane gas gushing up from the thawing sea beds of the Siberian Arctic, we find ourselves standing at the end of the road. 1 vegetarian

If we allow the infamous “one percent” to continue with business as usual, we will soon be arriving at civilization’s last stop, climate hell. If we allow the U.S. and global fossil fuel/military industrial/corporate agribusiness economy to keep turning up the planet’s delicately balanced thermostat, raising average global temperatures by two degrees Celsius or more, we will soon pass the point of no return, detonating runaway global warming. Among the catastrophic consequences of runaway global warming will be the release of a significant portion of the 1.7 trillion tons of deadly methane now sequestered in the shallow Arctic seabeds and permafrost (equivalent to twice the amount of total greenhouse gas pollution currently in the atmosphere). As the International Energy Agency warned on November 9, the world is accelerating toward irreversible climate change. We will lose the chance to avert catastrophic warming if we don’t take bold action in the next five years to sharply reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; drastically increase energy efficiency in the food, transportation, utilities, and housing sectors; and safely sequester billions of tons of greenhouse gases in our soils, plants, and forests through organic soil management and permaculture practices. In other words we have approximately 1800 days left to avert catastrophe.

One of our major tasks as farmers or food consumers is to educate the public to the heretofore-undisclosed fact that the world’s energy and chemical- intensive industrial food system is the major cause of global warming. That is the central message of this rather detailed essay. We go into depth and explain the details of this deadly state of affairs, because our fate and the fate of the human species depends upon rapidly changing what we farm and what we eat. The good news is that we can stop and reverse this suicidal food and farming system by taking decisive action, not only in the political policy realm and through our growing street protests and occupations; but also by voting with our farms, gardens, and forks for an organic, sustainable, and re-localized food and farming system. This new agro-ecological system will drastically reduce GHG emissions, and at the same time naturally sequester billions of tons of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, in our soils, plants, and trees. But the hour is late. We must jumpstart this great transition immediately.

Millions of Americans are still in denial about global warming or else waiting vainly for Washington to pass laws and regulations to alleviate the problem. Many of those aware of the crisis are calling for cap and trade, or a carbon tax, or a ban on coal and tar sands, or stronger emissions standards, and energy efficiency. A large part of the agenda for reversing global warming involves reducing fossil fuels use by 90% over the next 40 years. But with non-stop advertising from the polluters and a do-nothing, indentured congress, that gets millions from the fossil fuel industry, the likelihood of federal legislation, at least in the near future, to solve the problem appears remote. Only persistent campaigning and the encircling of the White House by 15,000 demonstrators finally got the President’s attention about the dangers of the Keystone tar sands pipeline.

Of course we must stop the coal industry, natural gas fracking, the nuclear industry, and the tar sands juggernaught. We must unite a critical mass of the 99% to cut Wall Street and the corporate elite down to size and implement a 21st century New Deal that not only brings about full employment and economic justice, but also environmental and climate sustainability. But there’s something else we can do, immediately, and it’s as close as our back yard, our farm field, or the knife and fork in our hands.

The failed climate conferences in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban have concentrated most of their energy and effort on fossil fuel emissions, but very little on emissions from industrial agriculture, and the demonstrated ability of organic food and farming to cool the planet and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. Recent research and reports, however, conclude that factory farming in the U.S. is responsible for more GHG emissions than the entire transportation and industrial sector combined; including cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, trains, boats, and factories.

The main climate and health issues with the U.S. industrial farming system are:

a) Enormous quantities of greenhouse gasses emitted from fertilizers, animals, animal feed production, animal processing, and the shipping, cooling, and freezing of all food products;

b) Huge subsidies to the wealthiest, chemical and energy-intensive farmers for growing unhealthy food;

c) Too much emphasis on meat production and other harmful, fatty foods.

Despite these serious problems, the U.S. government and big agriculture aggressively promote our factory farming system to developing countries as a solution to their hunger problems.

Factory Farming’s Real Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In studies done from 2004 to 2009, the United Nations (FAO) Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all estimated that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture were relatively low, ranging from 7% (USDA) to 18% (FAO). 2

Unfortunately, all three agencies repeatedly underestimated emissions from billions of factory-farmed animals (burps, farts and defecations) and from fertilization. They also completely neglected to include greenhouse gasses emitted from petroleum-fueled vehicles (trucks, tractors, combines, etc.), freezing, cooling and heating foods, or shipping the foods to market. The fact that transportation and storage emissions were not counted is especially deceptive, since food in the U.S. travels from 1500 to 3000 miles and food must be either cooled or frozen in transit or storage. They also largely ignored nitrous oxide emissions, which are likely the most destructive greenhouse gasses emitted from farming.

In contrast, recent research by scientists at the normally conservative World Bank, concluded that the FAO, U.S. EPA and the USDA greatly underestimated the dangerous emissions from industrial farming. They concluded that animal agriculture alone was responsible for 51% of the world’s greenhouse gasses. 3 Although factory farming apologists argue that 51% is a ridiculously high estimate, significantly more than 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to livestock, and hundreds of millions of acres are growing livestock feed. 4

In fact, when we analyze the numbers on land devoted to animals versus land devoted to all other human foods, we find that 92.5% of farm and ranch land in the U.S. is used to grow food for or pasture animals. Clearly, the U.S. form of agricultural land-use is heavily skewed toward animals. Only 7.5% of total U.S. farmland, and only 14% of our cropland, is devoted to non-animal based foods. This data leads us to contend that half of the greenhouse gases in the U.S. are attributable to agriculture and that 80 to 90% of these GHGs come from factory farms that primarily produce meat and other animal products.

Many non-government scientists estimate that from 30% to 40% of U.S. greenhouse gases are emitted from factory farms. This is still the highest for any industrial sector and dramatically higher than the 7% to 18% that the federal agencies and the UN estimate for farming. 5

In fact, even these numbers vastly underestimate the deadly impact of industrial agriculture and factory farms on the environment and climate because they leave out the predominate role of industrial agriculture in global deforestation and wetlands destruction. Industrial agriculture, genetically engineered soybeans, biofuels, and cattle grazing-including whacking down the last remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for animal feed and biofuels-are the main driving forces in global deforestation and wetlands destruction, which generate, according to scientific consensus, 20% of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.

In other words the direct and indirect impacts of industrial agriculture and factory-farmed food are the major cause of global warming. No strategy for reducing excess greenhouse gases back to the “safe” level of 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere (or 393 ppm of all GHGs including methane and nitrous oxide) can be successful without drastically reducing emissions from industrial agriculture and sequestering billions of tons of greenhouse gases in the soil through organic and sustainable farming, ranching, land restoration, and forestry practices. And of course this “Great Transition” in agriculture will have to be driven by mass consumer demand for farm products that are organic, locally or regionally-produced, and climate friendly.

Whether agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions hover at 40%, 51%, or more we can be sure after looking at these numbers that most GHGs in the U.S. are attributable to livestock production, at levels much higher than our federal agencies and the UN estimate.

U.S. factory farming emits three greenhouse gases that are especially destructive to the environment and the climate. These three gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Since a significant portion of the carbon dioxide emitted by industrial farming comes from long distance transportation, heating, freezing, and processing; consumers can greatly reduce the CO2 emissions they are responsible for by purchasing their food from local organic growers.

While CO2 receives most of the attention and analysis, scientists have concluded that methane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide when measured over a one hundred year period and 72 times more destructive when measured over a 20 year period. 6 Part of the reason for the enormous impact of methane in the first 20 years is that it has a shorter life span in the atmosphere than CO2 or nitrous oxide. Most of the methane largely dissipates in 12 years whereas CO2 lasts for longer than five hundred years.

The dramatic increase in confinement animal practices since 1995 greatly increased methane emissions. In 1995, 75% of U.S. hogs were raised in outside pens or on pasture. In 2010, more than 95% of hogs, 96% of broiler chickens, 95% of laying hens, 99% of turkeys, and 78% of beef cows were raised on confinement farms. Since more than eighty percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing food for and managing closely caged animals, the changes that are needed to reduce methane emissions obviously need to focus on animal production and consumption.

Nitrous oxide emissions, obviously are much more damaging per ton than either methane or carbon dioxide. When measured over a one hundred year period, nitrous oxide is 298 times more damaging than carbon dioxide, and is still more than half as damaging 500 years after being emitted, and 153 times more damaging than CO2.

Most of the nitrous oxide emissions come from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the billions of tons of animal manure from cattle herds and poultry flocks, and the billions of tons of sewage sludge applied to farmland.

Industrial fertilizer manufacture alone is estimated to emit 6.6 pounds of nitrous oxide for each pound of nitrogen produced. But, these emissions are not attributable to agriculture by any government agencies; instead they are listed under manufacturing.

Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizer

The National agriculture statistical service (NASS) of the USDA reported that U.S. farmers used an average of 24 billion, 661 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per year from 1998 to 2007. 7 So, they must know (if they bothered to connect the dots) that chemical corporations emitted 162 billion, 769 million pounds of nitrous oxide related green house gasses just to manufacture the nitrogen that NASS claimed farmers used every year. In addition to the greenhouse gasses emitted in manufacture, we must also include those attributable to the transportation and application of this mountain of fertilizer every year.  (24,661,000,000 pounds of fertilizer is equal to 12,330,000 one-ton pallets, which would cover 10,960 football fields-that is almost half of the football fields in the U.S.).

UN (FAO), EPA, and USDA estimates don’t include emissions from producing, shipping, or applying synthetic nitrogen, yet as these numbers illustrate, emissions of the most damaging gases are huge, and contribute to making factory farming the largest single polluter. Obviously, something is wrong with the government number crunching. Why don’t the regulators make these connections and act to stop these destructive practices? Because our regulatory agencies work to protect the elite 1%, the polluters, not us, the environment or climate stability.

The currently excessive, but largely ignored, level of our agricultural emissions must be reduced. If our agricultural sector does not change the way they farm, process, and ship food the U.S. will fail to significantly reduce emissions and curb the climate chaos that they produce. The changes necessary require major paradigm shifts in farming practices, food handling, and food consumption.

Since so much of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing confined meat (beef, dairy, hogs, poultry), any reduction in the amount of factory-farmed meat eaten is going to reduce the amount of methane and nitrous oxide released and indirectly reduce the amount of CO2 required to ship these expensive foods to markets.

Besides synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, and environmentally destructive meat, a serious problem in the U.S. is the increasing use of sludge from sewage treatment plants to fertilize farmland. Currently, about 100 billion pounds of sewage sludge is applied to U.S. farmland each year. 8 Sewage sludge often contains all manner of industrial chemicals, medical waste, resistant bacteria, resistant viruses, and flame-retardants. Sludge is also an increasingly worrisome greenhouse gas emitter. Sixty percent of all the sludge produced in the U.S. is applied to millions of acres of farmland. This is a cheap but dangerous way to reduce the cost of increasingly expensive fertilizers.

Sludge applications continue to increase because the powerful Carlisle Group controls the hauling. And the U.S. regulation of sludge is near the worst in the world. Unless we stop this practice we could render millions of acres sterile because of heavy metal concentrations and high resistant bacteria and viral populations. A majority of the sewage-sludged land is used to grow cattle feed or to graze animals, which is another reason to avoid factory-farmed meat.

The new insurgent movement in the U.S. must demand a progressively elevated carbon tax imposed on all these pollutants! In the meantime consumers must boycott them. These are dire realities. The future will be bleak if we do not act.

Fixing the Problem

If we do act, farmers know from our experience that we can address these problems readily and rapidly with sustainable organic techniques, and more locally focused production and marketing strategies. If farmers do change, farmland could become a significant sequester pool for greenhouse gasses and provide carbon credits to farmers who convert.

If raising animals for human food creates more greenhouse gasses than fossil fueled vehicles and industry combined, we better reduce our meat consumption. Since 90% of meat comes from CAFOs and confinement operations, this means boycotting all factory-farmed meat, eggs, and dairy. Nearly all scientists agree with that conclusion! While we rail about coal, and gasoline, and diesel, and jet fuel, the biggest part of the problem is sitting at our dinner tables. Our diets, our habits, our excesses are a major part of the problem, and a major part of the solution. Our bad food choices, our food over-consumption, and our enormous food waste (we throw away more than a third of our food, most of which ends up non-composted in municipal landfills, releasing enormous amounts of methane) are the elephants in the room!

Meat Consumption

If U.S. consumers cut their meat consumption from the current 12 ounces to 6 ounces per day it would be the equivalent of taking almost 50 million cars off the road. Six ounces of meat is still more than twice the world average, so cutting our consumption in half would give consumers their meat, while cutting in half the environmental damage. We especially must stop eating factory-farmed meat, because it is the most damaging to both the environment and our bodies. 9

Even meat advocates like Simon Fairlie recommend that we cut our consumption by half:

Now if you are a privileged white middle class Briton like myself,…then halving the amount of meat and dairy in one’s diet seems quite tolerable, generous even. 10

Fairlie argues for this reduction even though Brits only eat 8 ounces of meat and animal products per day, which would cut Fairlie’s daily portion to 4 ounces. Fairlie also argues that our meat should come from herds and flocks that are rotationally grazed on organically managed land that is not arable enough for vegetable, grain, and fruit production. 11 Meat grown like Fairlie proposes is a much better food choice, both for the environment and for customers.

Since meat production uses so many billions of acres around the world, we need to adopt herd management strategies that replicate wild herd habits. This involves large or small herds rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil and staying on the grasses for short periods of time. After the grasses recover then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again.

Our current cow-calf system of management leaves the animals on the pastures too long, which inhibits the pasture’s ability to rebound and lowers the quality of the grasses. It also takes the calves off to finish them in enormous feedlots with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows are not grain or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.

It is not just factory-farmed meat that we need to reduce in our diets; we also need to cut out the majority of overly processed carbohydrates that we habitually consume. That means white bread, white flour pastas, corn, cane, beet syrups and sugars, and fake sugars (Aspartame-Equil, Saccharin, Splenda, etc.), colas, and other soft and power drinks. The U.S. diet currently consists of more than 80% processed, junk, and fake foods. That is not a sustainable food system. While it is profitable for the food processing giants, it is devastating for the environment and our health!

So, the issue isn’t between meat eating and veganism. The issue is about what kind of food you eat and what the consequences are. Don’t eat meat, vegetables, and fruit from factory farms. Eat organic, fresh, and environmentally friendly fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy and reduce the fattening and unhealthy crap in your diet. In general, try to eat more vegetables and fruit than meat, fish, or dairy products. We don’t abhor meat, but it takes a lot of energy to digest, so, we restrict our occasional meat dishes to fish and shellfish and an occasional bite of a fabulous range-fed organic ham, poultry, or beef cut. Think about your diet and the diet of your kids. Most importantly, your wise food choices will protect yourself as well as the soil that grows your food and the environment your kids will inherit.

Our Delicately Balanced World

We have five major carbon pools on the planet, they are: farmland, oceans, forests, atmosphere, and fossilized carbon. Currently, both the forests and the farmland soils are degraded so seriously that they are not capable of sequestering more carbon than they are already doing. Consequently, the atmosphere and the ocean pools are nearly maxed in their capacity to accept carbon without even more serious disruptions in climate and sea life.  This is a long festering problem, which unfortunately has come due on our watch.

Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana has pointed out how small changes in numbers can have huge consequences. Miss a free throw and lose the championship. If the economy goes into a few percentage point dip, millions will lose their jobs and houses. A three-degree rise in body temperature will make you very sick.

Sharpless adds that:

Nowhere, however, are the big consequences of little numbers becoming clearer than in the health of our oceans. There, a chemical shift of just 0.1 – that’s right, just one tenth of a point – is already causing ocean acidification.

Since the 1830s we have been sending massive clouds of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other industrial aromatics into the atmosphere and the oceans. The oceans have absorbed at least 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every day for the last several decades. When carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases enter the ocean they promote chemical reactions that make the water more acidic, thus lowering the pH.

Before industrialization the average pH was 8.2, mildly alkaline on the acid-alkaline pH scale. Now it is about 8.1. No big deal, right? After 180 years of industrial and fossil fuel pollution it only dropped a 10th of a percentage point. If you thought this slight rise was ok, you would be wrong! Because of the way the pH scale works, this drop of only 0.1 represents a 26% increase in ocean acidity.

Oceanic scientists estimate that the ocean pH will fall to 7.8 by 2100. The four tenths of a point drop from 1830 to 2100 will cause the oceans to experience a 150% increase in acidity, unless we act to curb the emissions! 12

The damage to the oceans and the atmosphere is long-standing, and did not begin with industrialization. It began in the U.S. with agricultural and forestry mining operations by Europeans along the entire east coast. As early as 1800 the eastern seaboard had been so badly farmed and logged that 30% to 50% of the carbon was lost from the soil, and formerly forested land had been clear-cut and devoted to sheep farms. By the early 1800s, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut were all 80% deforested sheep farms.

As early as 1813, John Taylor lamented the loss of soil organic matter.

Our country is nearly ruined. We certainly have drawn out of the earth three-fourths of the vegetable matter it contained, within reach of the plow. 13

In 1852, David Wells at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard analyzed soils to determine whether the mineral content of the soil was more important or the humus content (organic matter). Wells found that the amount of humus or organic matter determined how fertile or infertile the soil was. On soils with identical mineral content, the soils with high organic matter had high fertility; those with low organic matter had poor fertility and yield. Those soils abused the longest usually had little or no organic matter left, with consequent low fertility and yield. 14

For nearly 200 years, since John Taylor’s time, U.S. farmers knew about the need for high soil organic matter. Before the Second World War only 5% of the nitrogen used in the U.S. was synthetic nitrogen. But, after the Green Revolution of the 1950s most of the farmers in the U.S. stopped feeding the soil with fertilizer crops and composts and switched to using synthetic nitrogen and triple phosphate to feed the plants.

In the U.S., the soil pool’s lack of capability in sequestering carbon deteriorated due to land abuse during and after the 1950s and the enormous increase in the use of nitrogen mostly to raise grains for meat and milk animals. The soil pool should be a sink for excess carbon but since it has lost about 50% of its organic matter it is less than half as effective as a sink or pool for sequestering greenhouse gasses. Many of our most productive agricultural lands have been degraded or desertified because of industrial production.

Recent studies on the University of Illinois Morrow plots (the oldest continuously farmed experimental plots in the U.S.) have shown that since 1955, when synthetic nitrogen was first used, from 40% to 190% too much nitrogen was applied and yet yields dropped and organic matter declined dramatically. These problems on the Morrow plots are writ large on millions of acres of agricultural soils that have been degraded by synthetic fertilizer all over this country. 15

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is also responsible for the nitrate poisoning of two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is the major cause of the 405 oceanic dead zones around the world (including the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and the coasts of California and Oregon). Synthetic Nitrogen fertilizer is a killer of soil life, including earthworms and microorganisms, such as: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and actinomicetes. 16

The forest pool’s lack of capacity for sequestering carbon is similar to the decline in agricultural lands and the declining capacities of other plant communities. Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions here are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the micorrhizal and other forest fungi, replant clear-cut areas with high-density plantings. Manage the reforestation, including thinning and pest control. Avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests would be able to sequester many more millions of tons of carbon.

If we convert our acreage to organic we can reverse this long-term decline in the agricultural and forest soil pools and sequester enough carbon to reverse the global trajectory toward increasingly chaotic weather patterns. Initially this involves building up the soil organic matter and eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Damaged land can usually be restored rapidly, eroded land is more difficult and a longer-term project, but it is very doable organically. Wherever fertilizer crops and animal manure composts replace synthetic fertilizer, organic agriculture reduces carbon emissions and becomes much more effective as a sink for sequestering CO2 equivalents.

In the organic systems, soil carbon increased 15 to 28%, demonstrating the ability of the organic systems to sequester significant quantities of atmospheric carbon. Specifically, the Rodale organic manure system showed an average increase of soil carbon of about 1000 lbs per acre-foot of soil per year, or about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre-ft per year sequestered. When multiplied over the 165 million acres of corn /soybeans that are produced nationally, a potential of an increase of 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year would be sequestered by farmers switching from conventional chemically based farming systems to organic grain farming methods. Over the 23 year lifespan of the Rodale test, the conventional system showed no significant increases in either soil carbon or nitrogen. 17

Of course, the organic conversion and significant changes in our eating habits seems herculean, since only about 5% of U.S. acreage is organic at this point in time and only 7.5% of our agricultural lands produce non animal crops. But, don’t forget that as late as the mid-1970s more than 40% of the U.S. population smoked tobacco, now, less than 17% smoke, a drop of 57.5% in 35 years.

If we can have such success on this hardest to cure habit in such a short time, we should be able to do something about our excessive consumption of factory-farmed meat and junk food. Just as it was in the public’s best health interest to quit smoking, it is in the public’s health interest to reduce our consumption of meat and other products that are destroying public health, the environment, and climate stability.

We all know that it is going to take radical policy changes to change our fossil fuel and coal addictions. The organic food and farming movement must join ranks with the climate justice movement and the Occupy movement to bring about fundamental change, a shift of political and economic power from the corporatocracy, the 1%, to the grassroots majority, followed by huge infrastructure investment and development. In the meantime, let’s take action with our farms and forks.

With food, as with tobacco, we don’t need a massive infrastructure development to change our consumer habits. There is an abundance of safe organic food on the market today, and thousands of growers willing to grow it if the demand increases. As with tobacco, the public and especially the kids need to be educated about the relationship between chemically produced food and climate change, and the direct relationship between factory-farmed food and cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

If the U.S. population could reduce its addiction to unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and climate destabilizing foods by 57.5% in the next 35 years, (the same way we’ve reduced smoking) we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the same way we reduced the incidence of lung cancer, emphysema, osteoporosis, and chronic bronchitis when tobacco habits were broken. Sure, we need more environmentally responsible energy choices and we should push for those choices as soon as possible. But, we can change a lot, before we ever get the new fuels or the infrastructure they require, by changing our eating habits.

The government, energy, and automobile corporations, at least for now, still dictate the pace on how fast we convert to cleaner fuels. But, we make the decisions about which types of food we eat, just like we control whether we smoke or not. We must begin a national safe eating campaign, similar to the national non-smoking effort that has been so successful. We look forward to the day when the surviving McDonald Big-Mac addicts have to eat their burgers in the alley with the cigarette addicts still smoking tobacco.

We need to demonize factory farm food just like tobacco was demonized. Why? Because factory farmed meat is sick meat that is full of antibiotics and hormones to keep the sick and abused animals alive until slaughter time. It is ironic that we as a society are upset over athletes dosing themselves with sex hormones but are uncritical of our beef and milk products that are full of sex and growth hormones – which we and our kids eat and drink!

Beyond hormones, all non-organic meat and milk products from factory farms are dosed with antibiotics from the day they are born until just prior to being slaughtered. And all of the confined animals are routinely abused, including beef, milk cows, chickens for eggs or meat, and especially turkeys. Factory farmed turkeys can’t even reproduce themselves, they are all artificially inseminated. They are so delicate, since they are enormous, crippled, and vulnerable to dozens of ailments, that they require the most antibiotics of all the factory farmed meats just to keep most of them alive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse. Turkey sandwich, anyone?

Factory farmed chickens are not much safer or less abused than turkeys. Their illness rates are extremely high. In January 2007 Consumer Reports published their study of bacterial contamination of chicken sold in the US. They purchased 525 broiler chickens from various kinds of food stores in 23 states and tested them for types of bacteria that caused food-borne illnesses. Laboratory results indicated that 83% of these chickens were infected with campylobacter and 15% were also infected with salmonella. That means that maybe 17 out of one hundred chickens were safe. In 2009, Consumer Reports again tested chicken broilers and found that 68% were infected with campylobacter, an improvement, but hardly a badge of safety. Chicken wings, yum!

Vegetables and fruits are no different than meats. Apples are often sprayed 20 times a year, artichokes 26, grapes are sprayed weekly during the growing season, sweet corn every five days for the last 5 weeks before harvest, and strawberries get about 300 pounds of pesticides and 300 pounds of synthetic fertilizer per acre – every year!

We have an agriculture system that is both abusive and bankrupt, but is kept on life support with government subsidies and corporate handouts. This government funding and corporate dominance enables the U.S. food system to cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes, obesity, water pollution, oceanic dead zones, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, and soil and water degeneration.

One of the critical elements in the fight against tobacco was the damage caused by second hand smoke. The second hand smoke of industrial farming is the damage caused by land and water abuse, pesticides and pesticide drift, toxic fertilizers, hormones, excessive use of antibiotics, genetic manipulation, and, most deadly of all, greenhouse gas emissions. As with second hand smoke, the victims have no control over the source of the pollution, or when or where the polluter “lights-up”. Protect yourself and your family.

For the first time in history, the entire human species are confronted with a deadly universal threat: climate catastrophe. The good news is that this common threat gives us the potential, for the first time ever, to unite the world’s population in a cooperative effort to save the human species. Farmers and gardeners: vote with your farming and gardening practices to save the Earth and the climate. Consumers: vote with your fork and knife to stop this destructive form of food production and distribution!

Will Allen is an organic farmer, author, rural community activist, and a civil rights and anti-war activist. He serves on the Policy Advisory board of Organic Consumers Association, and the board of Willing Hands.

Ronnie Cummins is the co-founder and National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Original Article here

Citations:

1. Gillis, Justin, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks, The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2011, p. A1

See also the more alarming story: Connor, Steve, Shock as Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice Releases Deadly Greenhouse Gas, The Independent (UK) Dec. 13, 2011

2. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, November, 2006 and Climate Change: Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Global Change Program Office, Office of the Chief
Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Technical Bulletin No. 1907. 163 pp. March 2004.

3. Goodland, Robert and Jeffery Anhang, Livestock and Climate Change. World Watch Magazine, November 1, 2009.

4. USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, Acreage Distributions per crop, 2002, and 2008.

5. Shiva, Vandana, 2008 Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security. Published and co-authored by the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture and LaSalle, Tim, 2008 Paper delivered to the Eco Expo East Conference and Trade Show.

6. International Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Table 2-14. Chapter 2, p. 212. Excerpt.

7. USDA, National Agricultural Statistical Service. Fertilizer Use Statistics, 1998-2007.

8. The Carlisle Group, which is the largest U.S. distributor of sludge, contends that about 135 billion pounds of sludge are applied to farmland each year.

9. Carus, Felicity, 2010. “UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy Free Diet. The Guardian

10. Fairlie, Simon 2010. Meat: A Benign Extravagance. pg. 39. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont.

11. ibid., pp. 35-43

12. Andrew Sharpless. January 21, 2011 Ocean acidity: Small Change, Catastrophic Results. McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

13.Taylor, John 1813, The Arator.

14. Wells, David 1852,

15. Mulvaney, Richard, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth, 2009  “Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production,” Journal of Environmental Quality,

16. Diaz, R.J. and R. Rosenberg. 2008. Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems. Science 321:926-928.

17. Hepperly, Paul. 2003, “Organic farming sequesters atmospheric carbon and nutrients in soils.” New Farm Trials, The Rodale Institute

 

Let’s Move Salad to Schools!

Posted on January 17, 2012

 

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools

JANUARY 16, 2012 BY  1 COMMENT

School Nutrition

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program is putting salad bars in schools. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools will put 6000 salad bars in schools across the U.S. by 2013.

WHY SALAD BARS?

Academic performance improves when children are well-nourished and well-fed. School children increase their intake of fruits and vegetables when given a variety of choices. Experience making choices in the school cafeteria can carry over into the rest of a kid’s life, promoting good health and reducing the chances of obesity.

Salad bars can help these goals by providing a place to serve fruits and vegetables and keeping them fresh during the lunch hours. The problem is that salad bars can be expensive to purchase and set up.

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is helping to overcome the initial expense by granting 6000 schools a complete insulated salad bar with trays and utensils. So far, 1066 salad bars have been given to schools, serving 533,000 kids.

Who is Eligible for a Salad Bar?

Any K-12 school district participating in the National School Lunch Program is eligible to apply. A school must be willing to commit to using the salad bar every day in school lunch.

The Food Service Director of the school district must approve the application and the application must be submitted online.

School districts approved to receive a salad bar must then wait for the salad bar to be funded. School districts are not required to fundraise in order to receive the salad bar, but it can speed the process along.

A salad bar can go a long way toward improving school nutrition.

Fruit salad photo via Shutterstock

Read the original article here