Tuesday, May 29, 2007

COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER

Before everyone jumps on the bandwagon of laying the blame for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) on modern agriculture and transgenic food, lets look at some recent research on the issue. From the University of Ilinois Extension service I found a great commentary on the likelihood of the much used Gaucho (imidacloprid) product being the culprit.

“However, even though imidacloprid is systemic and moves through the plant, it is known to not get into the flowers of a number of plants. With bees primarily visiting flowers, there are questions as to how the bees would pick up the imidacloprid. Another question is when the honey bees pick up the imidacloprid. Many imidacloprid-treated crops finish flowering by midsummer, allowing time for seed or fruit to be produced and ripen before frost. Honey bees tend to feed in late summer and fall on late-season flowers such as goldenrod and native asters. These plants tend to be most numerous in noncrop areas where insecticides are unlikely to be applied. If the bees died earlier in the season from visiting flowering crops, beekeepers surely would have noticed this when they collected honey from the hives.”

If you recall the refuted study that came from Cornell Univeristy a few years ago you will remember Bt genetics have already been prematurely blamed for killing monarch butterfly. Now some are suspecting that Bt corn is the culprit in CDD. Let’s see what the experts from the University of Maryland have to say:

“The endotoxins currently expressed in Bt corn (Cry1 types against caterpillars; Cry3 types against beetles) are not biologically active against hymenopteran insects such as the honey bee, nor do the CCD symptoms resemble those expected in Bt intoxicated organisms. Exposure is also very low because the expression of endotoxins in pollen is barely detectable in most Bt corn hybrids and corn does not produce nectar. For these reasons, bees are not commonly found foraging in corn fields.’

Note, imidacloprid is one of the safest products introduced in decades. To restrict its use would either mean a switch to more lethal chemistries or organic methods that also may have questionable effects on the environment- recall organic producers broadcast the Bt toxin over their crops and kill all insects whether they are pests or not. The environmental benefits from Bt genetics are numerous as indicated in many of my previous entries. Restricting its use would be detrimental to the environment and public health as well. Let’s get to the bottom of CCD instead of trying to push an anti biotech or anti-agricultural agenda.

SOURCES:Illinois Pesticide Review, http://www.pesticidesafety.uiuc.edu/newsletter/newsletter.htmlGALEN P. DIVELY.Extension Pest Management Specialist, University of Maryland http://www.americanfarm.com/TopStory5.01.07f.html

Thursday, May 24, 2007

WHITE HOUSE MAKES THE CALL ON GAS PRICES

http://www.washingtontimes.com/business/20070524-121323-8807r.htm

As the Washington Times reports, yesterday the house passed a bill to make price gouging a federal crime. This is an example of 'doing something and accomplishing nothing.' The enforcement mechanisms would only kick in if there was a national emergency such as hurricane Katrina. Of course, during times like this ,that is when price rationing is most crucial. As I mentioned last year ( November 9, 2005-Gas Prices II-Unspoken Miracle), it was a miracle that we got through that crisis and were still able to find gas at the local station.

Correctly reasoning, the White House claimed this would "bring back long gas lines reminiscent of the 1970s." If you know your history and economics you will recall that those lines were created by governement regulation. They were not the direct result of an energy crisis. The Federal Trade Commission has found little evidence of price gouging and also testified against the legislation. President Bush vowed to veto the legilsation if it passes in the Senate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

GAS/TRAVEL IS STILL CHEAPER?

http://agoraphilia.blogspot.com/2007/05/affordability-of-gasoline-2-combustion.html

The above link should take you to a related intersting blog link that I found at the Knowledge Problem blog. We've all observed the tremendous increase in 'nominal' gas prices recently, and nominally they have reached an all time high. Adjusting for inflation, however, gas still is not as expensive as it was in the early 80's. If you look at the percentage of household income spent on transportation- miles traveled- ( a factor that even inflation adjustment does not account for) you will find that even for the lowest income earners, travel is still cheaper today than it was in 1981.

It is amazing what advances in technological progress and economic growth can do to cushion the effects of major problems. Although travel costs have not reached a historical peak, they may be on their way if increasing 'nominal' prices are any indication, and as I have said before, the problem deals mainly with the failure to increase refining capacity in over 30 years.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

SHOULD SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING?

This excerpt by Tim Haab was taken from the environmental economics blog- see link under 'environmental blogs.'

"Supplies are decreasing--both temporarily through unexpected refinery shut-downs and permanently through stock depletion. Demand is increasing--both in the U.S. and worldwide. Both of these will cause gas prices to rise and that's good. If gas prices don't rise, we will consume gas even faster and run out sooner. "

He describes the situation well. But what should be done about it. Windfall profit taxes as some of our presidential candidates are proposing would only discourage more refining ( and may actually even discourage investment in alterantive fuels). Setting price caps would counter the rationing effect of prices, and generate longer lines, violence, or closed gas stations like in the 70's. In the short run, the only relief for consumers that makes sense is repealing gas taxes. In the long run we have to focus on decreasing demand- via alternatives- and we should focus on increasing supply by buidling more refineries.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

WAL-MART- ORGANIC COTTON?

I recently watched an infomercial featuring Wal-Mart and the contributions that it is making to society. This was obviously a corporate produced marketing film, but it did point out many good things about Wal-Mart that were true. I do have an issue with one aspect dealing with sustainability.

Apparently in some stores Wal-Mart is introducing lines of clothing produced from Organic Cotton. From the corporate web site:

“So, we expanded our organic practice to include select bath, bed and baby products. From just these few orders in a limited number of stores, the Organic Exchange has informed us we will have saved 50,000 – 60,000 lbs of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals from being used, and have become the largest single purchaser of 100% organic cotton products in the world.”

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart does not have all the facts about agricultural sustainability. They may have saved 50,000-60,00 pounds of synthetic pesticides, but what about the toxic biological controls used in organic production such as pyrethrum, neem, sabadilla, and rotenone that government regulators don’t even track data for. In citing this data, is Wal-Mart comparing only conventional cotton to organic? What about the environmentally superior biotech varieties of Bt and Roundup Ready cotton?

All of the advantages that Wal-Mart is seeking to exploit from organic food are available via biotech cotton. As noted in previous biotech entries there are many advantages to these technologies in relation to environmental sustainability that organic production cannot provide. ( See 7 reasons why you should support GM food, May1, 2007, Bt Cotton & Environmental Health, or click on biotech label at the end of this entry). While organic product promotion is most likely just a marketing and PR ploy by Wal-Mart, and involves just a limited array of the products they have to offer, they are now the single largest purchaser of 100% organic cotton products.

As a result, because Wal-Mart deals in such large volume, Wal-Mart may be doing more harm than good when it comes to the environment in their decision to buy and sell organic.

Friday, May 11, 2007

ECONOMIES OF SCOPE IN BEEF AND ETHANOL PRODUCTION?

In a previous entry I noted that research seems to be mixed with regards to the energy balance of ethanol production. That may turn out to be dependent on the layout and location of the particular facility with relation to the users of by-products.

Currently in Meade Nebraska an ethanol plant has started production in conjunction with a cattle feedlot. In this operation 30,000 head of cattle will supply manure that will be used to create methane gas via an anaerobic digester.
Methane is 21 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to heating the atmosphere. So instead of being released into the atmosphere this gas will be used to operate the ethanol plant instead of using natural gas. The residual of the grain used for ethanol would then be used as cattle feed and the residual from the manure digestion could be used as fertilizer for the supplying corn crop. All of this implies less petroleum use in ethanol production, swaying the energy balance to the positive, and perhaps indicating economies of scope in corn, beef and ethanol production.


SOURCES:
http://www.epa.gov/methane/scientific.html
www.iowafarmertoday.com

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ETHANOL AND ENERGY BALANCE

According to David Pimental of Cornell University, the production of ethanol requires almost 30% more energy to produce than it provides as a fuel. Another study from UC Berkeley concluded that ethanol is less fossil fuel intensive that gasoling production, but has greenhouse emisisions similar to gasoline. Finally a researcher at MIT reports a slight advantage for gasoline, but one that can easily be overcome via technological breakthroughs in the near future. According to research from a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study ethanol yields 25% more energy than the energy invested in its production, whereas biodiesel yields 93% more.


So it seems the jury is still out on the energy balance of ethanol, with a slight advantage on the positive side.

SOURCES:
http://environment.newscientist.com/
Natural Resources Research, vol 14 p65
Science, vol 311 p 506
Tiffany Goode, MIT (Graduate Student)
PNAS July 25, 2006 vol. 103 no. 30

Thursday, May 03, 2007

BEEF PRODUCTION NOT ALL WET

The latest publication of BG-Green-Zine ( a local mag about making Bowling Green more sustainable) just reported that it takes 5200 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of beef, and encouraged a reduction in ( at least factory farmed) beef. It encouraged the use of organic, family farmed, local beef. This was among a number of tips for every day conservation. No evidence was offered that would indicate less water use in the case of organic or local beef production, so I’m not sure why it would be superior with regards to water usage.

Green-Zine is not the first to cite the 5200 gallon figure. Many groups have used it, making such claims as people consume enough beef to float a battleship in terms of the associated water input required to produce it. I did find a 1978 study on my own that corroborated the 5200 figure, but also found studies with numbers 2500, 840, and UC Davis research citing 441 gallons of water per pound of beef. The NCBA ‘National Cattleman’s Beef Association lists 435 gallons as the official estimate. (one group criticized this research because one of the researchers wore a cowboy hat-indicating industry connections). As indicated in my previous entries on beef, beef production is more environmentally friendly than ever before.( see 'beef ' label at end) If it is true in 1978 that it required 5200 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, then in a worse case scenario where it would require 2500 gallons of water, beef production is about 200% more water-use-efficient than 28 years ago. If the NCBA figures are correct, then beef production is 12 times more water efficient than 28 years ago.

These numbers should only improve with the introduction biotech feed crops that are more drought tolerant and require less water. I doubt that the improvements in organic production will keep pace with the recent advancements we’ve seen. So, if there ever was a time to eat beef, now is it! The environmental foot print is smaller than ever.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

7 reasons why you should support the production of genetically modified food:

1) Safer Chemical Use than Conventional Synthetic and Organic Biological Controls
2) Improved Soil Conservation
3) Improved Nutrient Profiles
4) Carbons Sequestration - Carbon Credits
5) Improved Biodiversity
6) Decreased Dependence on Fossil Fuel
7) Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Explanatory Notes:
Roundup Ready technology has allowed for glyphosate herbicide to substitute for 7.2 million pounds of other chemicals that are more toxic and persistent in the environment. Bt expressed in plants is much safer than organic broadcast Bt, sulfur, copper, or conventional synthetics. Bt and glyphosate resistant varieties make strip tillage, no- till, and reduced tillage practices, as well as crop rotation more viable and profitable. These practices improve soil conservation, require less fossil fuel use, reduce greenhouse gas production, and complement carbon sequestration efforts as opposed to tillage practices of organic and conventional agriculture. By using safer more precise chemicals combined with better genetics, crop yields are optimized disturbing less land and maintaining more diversity among both pest and non pest populations. The complementary relationship between reduced tillage, carbon sequestration, and the ability to produce carbon credits is certainly something to consider if we are to ever implement Kyoto style emissions standards.
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Sources:
Agricultural Outlook ERS/USDA Aug 2000
Leonard, Roger, LSU Agricultural Center and Dr. Ronald Smith, Auburn University.
Nelson, Gerald C. “Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics.” San Diego Academic Press 2001. Preston, Christopher. “Peer Reviewed Publications on the Safety of GM Foods. Results of a search of the PubMed database for publications on feeding studies for GM crops.” Senior Lecturer in Weed Management,