Environment


Puffed rice with a bit of poison. Shutterstock

By Andy Meharg, Queen's University Belfast

There are two sides to rice: the grain that feeds half the world – and the primary carcinogenic source of inorganic arsenic in our diet.

Arsenic is a natural occurring element that is ubiquitous in the environment. It is present primarily as inorganic arsenic, which is highly toxic.


Rabbits can strip grasslands bare and chew through young woody trees. John Schilling/Flickr, CC BY-ND

By Andrew Bengsen, University of New England

On Christmas Day 1859, the Victoria Acclimatisation Society released 24 rabbits for hunting, to help settlers feel more at home.

An oil palm system model based on the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) framework and called APSIM Oil Palm is aimed at helping growers of the crop maximize the yields of their plantations, while minimizing detrimental environmental impacts.  

"Oil palm has become a major crop in the tropics, cultivated on more than 39 million acres of land," co-author Dr Paul Nelson of James Cook University said. "Demand for the product continues to grow, and the industry is expected to keep expanding in the foreseeable future. At the same time, there is significant concern about the industry's environmental impacts, with many purchasers wanting only certified sustainable palm oil.


Climate change impacts could mean uncertain transformations of global agriculture systems by 2050, according to a new paper from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. 


Why did the earliest farmers in the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land in western Asia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, domesticate some cereal crops 10,000 years ago and not others?


The Roman empire stretched over three continents, had 70 million people, and had a logistics and infrastructure system that kept them going for centuries.

They had smart agricultural practices and an extensive grain-trade network that enabled them to thrive even where water was scarce - but they knew their limits according to a paper in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.


The European Food Safety Authority, most famous for declaring that water does not cure thirst, is now thinking about how to ban acrylamide, which is a chemical that can form in some foods during frying, roasting, or baking. No, it is not due to BPA, it has been present for as long as mankind has cooked food, but it was only discovered in 2002 and then in 2010 a paper was written showing it could be harmful to rats in extremely high doses.

The $105 billion organic food industry is not terribly worried about yields. Their customers are primarily wealthy and concerned more about the perception of benefit than they are cost.

But to the real evangelists, who insist that the organic process can feed the world, yield differences are a substantial hurdle to overcome. The low hanging fruit in food has already been picked, as it were, wealthy people educated by advertising are already buying organic food, and the rest of the marketplace thinks about price. So yields are a killer.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) found in flame retardant cloth, paint, adhesives and electrical transformers, have been banned since 1979, but if you live on top of a waste disposal site or you have a 40 year old couch, you could still be exposed to them.



Honeybees pollinate a third of Australia's food crops. Losing them due to varroa might would cost the economy billions of dollars. David McClenaghan, Author provided

By Gary Fitt, CSIRO

A nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease; an invasion of a devastating wheat disease; our honeybees completely wiped out. These are just three possible disastrous scenarios facing Australia; they’re considered in the Australia’s Biosecurity Future report published today by CSIRO and its partners.