Environment

Organic marketing may like to portray itself as small mom-and-pop farmers standing up to Big Agriculture and corporate food, but they have a business juggernaut that would be the envy of anyone in any business. 

And it's going to get better.

Ebola: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, CC BY-SA

By Richard Kock, Royal Veterinary College

The still growing Ebola virus outbreak not only highlights the tragedy enveloping the areas most affected but also offers a commentary on they way in which the political ecology in West Africa allowed this disease to become established.

Damage assessments from environmental hazards are always a challenge because of the competing constituencies pulling on science and the fuzzy nature of estimates. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration was editing science reports to reflect its goals, environmentalists were raising money claiming earth was ruined and using wild guesses for damage, and BP lobbyists were mitigating penalties behind the scenes by claiming it wasn't so bad.

What about possibly 2 million barrels of oil that are still down there? Are they a hazard? Where did they go?


In the 1960s and '70s, population bomb reality was said to be as settled as climate change is today. No less than Dr. John Holdren, current Obama administration Science Czar, co-authored a book called Ecoscience, which argued that forced sterilization and mass abortions might  be necessary, and even viable under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.


No-till farming is prized by organic and conservation-minded farmers alike because it seeks a chemical-free management practice, avoiding conventional plowing and otherwise disturbing the soil.

It sounds terrific but a new meta-analysis finds it is a lot more limited in value than believed.

As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand. Results from 610 peer-reviewed studies say it isn't so. Instead, no-till often leads to yield declines compared to conventional tillage systems.



The Ord River dam, completed in 1971, formed Australia's largest artificial lake in the far north west. Graeme Churchard/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By Willem Vervoort, University of Sydney

Some 27 irrigation and dam projects are highlighted in the green paper for agricultural competitiveness released this week by agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce.

New geochemical tracers can identify any hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that could have spilled into the environment, according to field tests at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania. 


Modern food science has meant a lot fewer people starving, but there has also been an increase in products designed to keep animals and fish healthy, like antibiotics.

Antibiotics do not just disappear. Even in trace amounts, over time they can build up in the environment and that gives bacteria another path to developing resistance.

In a new study, PhD candidate Hansa Done and Dr. Rolf Halden, PhD of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, examine antibiotic use in the rapidly expanding world of global aquaculture. They measured the presence of antibiotics in shrimp, salmon, catfish, trout, tilapia and swai, originating from 11 countries. Data showed traces of 5 of the 47 antibiotics evaluated.


80 years ago, America was going through The Dust Bowl and farmers got a lot of the blame. They didn't let land lay fallow, or used monocultures. Now we know it was the worst drought of the last 1,000 years, 7X larger than other comparable intensity droughts that struck North America since 1000 A.D. 75 percent of the country was affected, 27 states severely, and farming had very little to do with it.

But farmers have gotten a lot more scientific since then anyway. They know monocultures can be cultivated efficiently but they are not sustainable so crops are often rotated. Monocultures remain the principal crop form in some regions because it is believed that is the only way to get higher yields in plant production.