Archive for the ‘Soil’ Category

Our Pink Slime Food System

April 12, 2012

Finally one small aspect of our failed Industrial Food Production System has gotten some attention as the Wall Street Journal, the Nations leading business publication, the NY Times and others began reporting on “Pink Slime”. The Industry formerly used the meat scraps ligaments, bone particles, etc. left after butchering for dog food. Some time in the mid two thousands the industry with USDA approval began  high speed blending of this material for use as a cheap hamburger filler. Among other advantages was the reduction in cost to the Federal school lunch program by 3 cents a pound. They also added ammonia hydroxide to kill the e-coli, which was becoming an increased Public Health risk. The e-coli bacteria develop as a result of feeding corn in lieu of grass to cattle and destroying their rumen’s natural digestive ability to kill bacteria. Ground meat is particularly vulnerable to extensive contamination because the e-coli on the surface become mixed throughout. The mixture was dubbed pink slime by employees because of its appearance. Tyson’s CEO said the controversy is hurting beef sales but he thought it to be a short-term event. History suggests he is right.

Since 2009 the three major world cancer organizations have been reporting a strong connection between high corn fed red meat consumption and both cancer and heart disease without any significant affect on meat sales. For decades environmental groups have been reporting the connection between corn production used primarily for feeding farm animals and the destruction of our soil and water resources including the Chesapeake Bay without any adverse effect on meat sales.

In a few weeks grain farmers will again start the yearly cycle of destruction by tilling vast acres and applying 3 times more fertilizer to corn than it can utilize to produce corn the raw material for sugar and meat. The consumed volume of sugar is primarily responsible for our obesity and diabetes epidemics and the consumed volume of red meat both beef and pork is the primary cause of heart disease and cancer. The tillage and the excess fertilizer are primarily responsible for massive erosion and the nutrient and sediment contamination of our rivers and estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay. This cycle of destruction receives modest attention and certainly has not affected meat sales. What is it about Pink Slime that has raised such a public outcry and will it cause changes in the way we produce food? History indicates that it will be a two-week event as the Industry expects.

NO MEAT-NO CANCER

December 27, 2011

Since early 2009 when the National Cancer Institute published their dietary study     of 500,000 older Americans (our reference #16) we have had many research studies showing the strong connection between red meat consumption and early death caused by cancer and heart disease, including the American Cancer Research Institute’s study of the Worlds Cancer research and long term epidemiological studies published by Harvard University. Last night on 60 minutes we were introduced to direct physical evidence of this strong connection. The 2000 plus monks who have lived isolated in the monasteries on Mount Athos in Southern Grease for nearly 2000 years have never had cancer nor heart disease. They grow their own food, tend their own vineyards, consume plenty of their own wine, and eat a lot of fish from the Aegean Sea. They have two 10-minute meals per day and do a lot of physical work. They eat no red or white meat.

But corn fed meat consumers in addition to exposing themselves to cancer and heart disease also bear the major responsibility for loss of our topsoil, water quality and species loss in all the rivers and estuaries East of the Rockies, caused mostly by short cuts in soil management, overuse of fertilizer to grow corn feed and the glut of manure from CAFO’s. Maybe realization of the real cost of meat will cause consumers to think twice before ordering their next fast food bacon burger, hot dog, sausage, or Philly cheese steak. We can only hope the consumer will wake up to this reality because government agencies responsible for protecting our natural resources and our health have abdicated their responsibility under pressure from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Fertilizer Institute, The Corn Growers Association and some Academic Institutions who still support our failed Industrial Agricultural Production System.

HARVARD FOOD DEBATE

November 9, 2011

The Harvard School of Public Health Debate held Oct. 20, 2011 on the health impact of the US food system plus environmental Impact notes in bold added by the writer.

SUMMARY BY PARTICIPANTS:

Walter Willett the Chair of the Nutrition Department at The Harvard School of Public Health. –  Judging by its impact on human health the American grain based food supply is a disaster with 75% of supermarket food unhealthy. We have too much refined grain, too much sugar and too much red meat in the American diet.

Barry Popkins Professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. – We did it to ourselves. In the 50’s we ate healthy food and the American people were healthy. We believed that animal protein was healthy. The science changed but the grain based food system and the lobbies that support it remained. Today 75% of the food supply has too much sugar, too much fat, too much salt and is unhealthy. Also in the 50’s, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico. Pamlico Sound, and all Eastern Estuaries began to suffer from hypoxia and sedimentation due to excess fertilizer applications particularly to nitrogen uptake inefficient corn and mismanagement of tilled farming systems. By the 70’s the underwater grass (SAV’s), which provided habitat and food for Bay species, disappeared. Today all species have declined substantially and the system is facing ecological collapse. Record Oxygen dead zones and record sediment intrusion occurred in both the Gulf and Chesapeake Bay in 2011. These Eastern Estuaries are thermometers for the ecological health of nearly 50% of the US. Land area. 

David Ludwig Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. – The mother of an 8 year old girl patient who weighs 200 pounds caused by diet not genetics tells me the child is influenced by icons on the food at the supermarket due to clever marketing by children’s TV programs. We evolved from a diverse system of many foods to a food system using four grain based raw materials: corn, soy beans, wheat, rice and the animals which eat these raw materials. We eat a lot of high calorie food, which has little nutrient value. Example: nuts are high in calories but are of value because they are also high in protein and other nutrients.

Gary Williams Agricultural Economist at Texas A&M and a defender of the status quo. – He was dead wrong in his theory that low income causes poor food habits. Many studies including China studies by Barry Popkin and Cornell University’s China Study show that increased consumption of grain based meat and sugar causing poor health increases with affluence. His assertion that unhealthy food tastes better than healthy food is again not true. We eat a lot at a Northern Italian restaurant in Easton MD. owned by a world-class chef formerly of Harry’s Bar in Venice and Paris. This food makes the steak and potatoes based food at Ruth Chris Steak House seem like the junk food served by MacDonald’s. He made two valid points (1) can we produce sufficient healthy plant food in the climate and soil of the US corn belt which requires research into the ultimate capacity of greenhouse production now in its infancy in the US but showing great promise? And (2) will China step in and produce bad food if we do not? Judging by the number of Countries involved in the ongoing world cancer study including China and the recent move by Denmark to tax pizza and other unhealthy Western foods, I believe a world agreement on restricting unhealthy food production is possible.

CONCLUSION;

Rather than taxing unhealthy food an approach being tried in New York and Denmark, which concerns some people. I believe a better approach is public education (see the HSPH My Plate recommendations) combined with nationwide regulation of fertilizer application rates, mandated cover crops, and the many public health and environmental issues associated with CAFO food animal production. These actions will make unhealthy food more expensive. Everyone on the panel agreed that price has an affect on food choices. 

Notes

Opinions of the writer are in bold                                                                                    Clik on Harvard Debate to see the full video debate

Possible Good News for the Chesapeake Bay?

October 4, 2011

Environmentalist including those at The University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, The Chesapeake Bay Program, and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation all expressed enthusiasm for a USDA $850,000 grant to install experimental Combustion and or Gasification systems to treat chicken manure on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in an article published in the Star Democrat on October 4. The grant is administered by The Fish and Wildlife Foundation who will decide where to install the systems in the next few months.

This is an important development for Bay restoration since chicken manure is second only to fertilizer application as a source of Eastern Shore nutrient pollution. According to USGS chicken manure is 35% of nitrogen pollution, while CBF states that it is 26% of Phosphorous pollution. This grant comes in a year when record oxygen dead zones were recorded in The Chesapeake Bay. These technologies produce not only needed green energy but also biochar a soil supplement that can improve soil tilth and reduce erosion. March of 2011 also saw record sediment intrusion into the Chesapeake Bay.

Scientist Debate Food System

September 23, 2011

PARTICIPANTS:

SCIENTISTS:

Ken Cassman- Department Head Agronomy and Soils University of Nebraska

Don Boesch- President of The University of Maryland’s Horns Point Environmental Lab.

Dean Hively- USDA ARS Research Scientist

Tom Fisher- Horn Point Scientist and 25 year monitor of the Choptank watershed

Francis Thicke- Author, Iowa organic pasture dairy farmer and soils scientist

Russell Brinsfield- President of the University of Maryland’s Wye Agro-Ecology Center

Walter Willett- Nutrition Dept. Head- leader of Harvard’s long-term epidemiology studies

INITIATOR

DONALD KERSTETTER- Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary

CONCLUSIONS: Submitted by DRK for comments

It is important that we reach a consensus on the actions required to stop the nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries and the excess production of food responsible for causing our epidemics of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This year 2011 we experienced near record oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay caused mostly by application of fertilizer particularly to corn and a glut of CAFO manure. We also experienced record sediment intrusion from unprotected farm fields into Chesapeake Bay. Also much has been written about the poor health of Americans and out of control health care cost. It is important that the scientific community including nutritionists and environmental scientists work together to find a strategy that works for all including the farmer who starts the food growing process in May of each year. The solution would be much simpler if we left out nutrition and the health of the American people. As Ken Cassman of the University of Nebraska points out improvement in nitrogen uptake efficiency of 20% has been achieved and with more research there is promise of further improvement. Cover crops will help uptake of excess nitrogen and will also help mitigate erosion and sediment intrusion. But as Walter Willett points out these environmental improvements will not solve the health issues which require a substantial reduction in corn based products including sugar and red meat and increases in fruits and vegetable consumption. A healthy American diet is outlined by Harvard’s “Healthy Plate” shown on their website http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/. This provides further definition of the USDA’s “My Plate” initiative. I hope we can all agree that healthy food produced in a way that protects the environment is the goal. Ken Cassman expressed concern that developing Countries will fill the void if the U.S. reduces its corn output and they will have less concern for world ecology, I believe many of these countries are equally concerned and will follow our lead. I base this opinion on the active involvement of China India and other developing Countries who our part of the World cancer study. This dialog points to the need for environmental and health scientists to work together to reach conclusions and recommendations. In my view the following mandatory actions implemented worldwide are required based on these discussions. May I have your comments please!

  1. Reduce nitrogen application rates to corn and beans by 50%.
  2. Require winter cover crops on all tilled farm fields
  3. Require the pyrolysis of all CAFO manure
  4. Ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in CAFO production
  5. *Require a representative of the Humane Society to monitor all CAFO and slaughterhouse operations to verify humane treatment of food animals.

*While we have not discussed #5, I believe that you would agree if you view a video of the horrible conditions in America’s CAFO’s and slaughterhouses. If you wish I will forward the video to you.

The primary objection to these Government actions will be corn yield loss. This will force farmers to seek revenues from higher value crops including a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts. This will make these healthier products more available and help the USDA’s effort to increase consumption of these healthier foods as proposed by their “my plate “ initiative. Americans are suffering from an addiction to the very foods that are destroying their health. Demand for these unhealthy products will increase until the cost goes up which will happen as supply goes down and price goes up. The USDA must also implement an educational campaign to sell consumption of healthy food in addition to the 5 recommended actions. It has taken us decades to create this environmental and health disaster. It will likely take decades to correct.

 

I thank all who participated in this discussion.

DON KERSTETTER

The Entitlement Dilema

August 27, 2011

We now see more and more evidence of the failure of Central Planning as proposed by Karl Marx. The failure of the Soviet Union is the outstanding National example. But the failure is now also apparent in many of the social entitlement programs started in the 1930’s. One outstanding regulatory failure is U.S. agriculture and food production.  The inherent diversity provided by small farms who produced food was destroyed by the USDA under Earl Butz in the 1960’s. Mr. Butz decided to subsidize grain farming which produces raw material for sugar, refined grains, and meat. Now 50 years later we have a food production system dominated by unhealthy food widely recognized as responsible for our epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and pathogen exposure plus a production system based on overuse of chemicals and short cuts in soil management and animal manure management responsible for the destruction of our soil, our rivers, and our estuaries including the Chesapeake Bay. Every regulation initiated by Government creates an entitlement constituency that invariably becomes all-powerful. The ultimate result of failed social entitlements is now evidenced by street violence in England, Grease, and Wisconsin. In the case of agriculture the American Farm Bureau, the Fertilizer Institute and the Corn Growers Association supported by captive educational institutions, have successfully resisted all efforts for change suggested by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force, environmental organizations, schools of public health, and now the USDA’s “My Plate” healthy food initiative. We must learn from these entitlement disasters and establish an automatic sunset on every regulation. We must also elect leaders who are strong enough to overcome the pressure of special interest entitlement support groups in the public interest.

Support for Healthy Food

August 23, 2011

The USDA has a history of giving lip service to sustainable farming and healthy food production while giving cash subsidy and more importantly ignoring the soil management short cuts and overuse of chemicals, which are destroying our natural resources.

In 2000 the USDA/ SARE Program published a pamphlet titled “Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture” describing 10 profitable farms, which demonstrated the 8 elements of sustainability developed, by Cornell University’s Food and Nutrition Center. While this and other efforts did encourage many young farmers to adopt sustainable farming methods, older farmers which dominate agriculture supported by land Grant educational institutions refuse to acknowledge that their much touted industrial model has no ability to sustain itself longterm.

In 2008 three major Cancer Institutes, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health published studies connecting overconsumption of Industrial Food products to many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and antibiotic immunity. We have recently sent letters to 70 Senators, and Congressman asking them to stop supporting grain subsidies and more importantly the bad practices that support overproduction of unhealthy food. Please reinforce this effort by calling your representatives and ask them to support America’s health and natural resources. If you need names and phone numbers of key representatives please advise.

 

Big Chicken & Pollution-Pew Commission

August 2, 2011

The Pew Commission report on “Big Chicken and Pollution” was published on July 27, 2011 in the same week that near record oxygen dead zones were reported in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These two watersheds along with other adjacent Coastal Plain watersheds drain almost half of the U.S. land area. Chicken production dominates 15 States including 6 Gulf States and 3 C. Bay States. We have long recognized that both corn fed CAFO red meat and CAFO chicken production including over fertilization of corn used as CAFO feed is by far the Countries largest source of pollution but there were several surprises in this report. Both beef and pork consumption were reported as being down slightly over the last 20 years while chicken consumption was up substantially. With the exception of antibiotics, growth hormones, arsenic, and atrazine contamination this is good news for consumer health. It is bad news for water quality because chicken waste contains up to four times more nitrogen and phosphorous the leading elements causing pollution. While chicken CAFOs are only 15% of CAFO sites Nationwide they produce 60% of the manure pollution (see pg 13). The report is disappointing because it did not mention pyrolysis of animal waste nor pasture raised animals as  solutions not only for nutrient pollution but also for helping restore the Nations soil. Biochar, a product of pyrolysis, is an excellent soil supplement, which can help, sequester carbon, restore fertility and effectively reduce soil erosion. A recent report by the Soil and Water Conservation Society pointed to the planet’s soil as the largest sink of the world’s carbon. S.A. Khan (ref #50) pointed out that poor soil management practice is causing almost every Corn Belt State to leak soil carbon while scientists at Iowa State University and others report that half our corn belt soil has been lost. (See a new Vision for Iowa Agriculture by Francis Thicke PhD.)

Chesapeake Bay Sediment All time Record

July 18, 2011

Last March 2011 sediment intrusion into Chesapeake Bay reached an all time high as shown on the attached (click to see the aerial photograph and accompanying dialog). The dialog supplied by The Chesapeake Bay Foundation implies that urban storm runoff is relatively equal to farm fields as the cause and that the latter can be alleviated with buffer strips.  A little common sense coupled with our experience with sediment runoff alleviation success at the headwaters of LaTrappe Creek causes us to disagree with the alleged source and buffers as a proposed fix.

USGS calculates the area of farming in the Susquehanna watershed as 2% of land use versus 29% of land use for farming. Urban development has been required to retain impervious surface runoff on site for  60 to 100 year storms for decades. The same picture shows the Delaware Bay, a primary urban watershed, with very little sediment runoff. So it is likely that unprotected farm fields are the primary source of  sediment. We have found that winter cover crops (roots in the ground) are the only effective solution to farm field sediment runoff. We have also found that buffer strips of any width do not drop out significant amounts of sediment in stream flow. Grassed field trenches are effective in eliminating trench erosion but will not do much to remove sediment already in suspension. An adjacent farmer simply stopped retrenching field trenches. He lost some yield but slowed sediment runoff considerably. We have also found that installing a small retention pond at the end of every field trench is somewhat effective for small rain events but is no match for the amount of water we had last Spring. An aerial survey of unprotected tilled farm field trenches in the Susquehanna watershed would confirm the true source.

Poor Choices Primary Obesity Cause

June 27, 2011

A study based on 20 years of monitoring eating habits, other lifestyle habits and the health change (all started healthy) of 121,000 professional men and women who  participated thru the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Supplementary Study, was published last week by Harvard University Department of Public Health. The conclusions cite poor food choices, not calories, not aging, not other popular myths as the primary cause of overweight and obesity. For example, the foods associated with the greatest weight gain included potato chips (for each one increased daily serving, (+1.69 lb) more weight gain every 4 years), other potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb). Of note, several foods associated with less weight gain when their consumption was actually increased, including vegetables (−0.22 lb), whole grains (−0.37 lb), fruits (−0.49 lb), nuts (−0.57 lb) and yogurt (−0.82 lb). Other factors such as sedentary activities including watching TV and two little or too much sleep were also factors. While each factor was a small contributor to weight gain or loss the combinations added up to an average weight gain of one pound per year, which is about the National average. An excellent video presented by the co-author and professor of epidemiology and medicine is currently available. The full report is summarized on the School of Nutrition website.

Once again as with colon cancer and heart disease we see red meat and processed meat consumption, as significant factors. CAFO red meat production including corn feed production is the primary cause of massive soil loss and nutrient pollution in the Mississippi, and Pamlico Sound watersheds and is about half of Chesapeake Bay Watershed nutrient pollution.