Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Karl Tupper's blog

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Strawberries & ammonia? The folly of chemical farming

My colleague Susan Kegley alerted me to a new study in Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) that illustrates the absurdity of chemically-dependent agriculture — particularly the lengths we'll apparently go to keep the needle in. Scientists are actually studying injecting up to 32,000 lbs/acre of concentrated ammonia into the soil to counteract a fumigant pesticide's ozone-depleting effects.

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Lawn care industry quashes screening of "A Chemical Reaction"

A couple months ago, corporate industrial ag interests in Minnesota attempted to pull the plug on the premier of Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story, a documentary about the impacts of input intensive agriculture on the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. It backfired, resulting a huge public outcry and a bigger audience for the film than it otherwise would have had. This week history appears to be repeating itself in Canada.

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DDT can make malaria worse

DDT ceased being the "go to" tool in the malaria fighter's tool box more than 50 years ago when mosquito populations started developing resistance and when better, safer tools began to come online. It's still available today, but the chemical's usefulness is extremely limited. Now, new research shows that in some circumstances spraying DDT is not only ineffective, but it may actually increase malaria transmission.

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Thanksgiving math: the false calculus of pesticide residues

In my family Thanksgiving means cranberries, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole. So I decided to check these foods out on WhatsOnMyFood.org. The results weren’t exactly appetizing. Here’s what the USDA found, after washing:

Green beans: 44 different pesticides with the most commonly detected being acephate, a highly neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide. One sample had 200 micrograms of it per 100 gram serving (slightly more than one cup). That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice the EPA's level of concern for children. 

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Former EPA head joins Scotts Miracle-Gro board

The New York Times is reporting that Stephen Johnson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Bush, has joined the board of directors of Scotts Miracle-Gro. The company is the world's largest producer of chemicals for the lawn care and garden sectors.

Not that this should come as a shock — we've long noted the cozy relationships between agencies like EPA and the companies they're supposed to regulate. And the EPA under Johnson was particularly friendly to the pesticide industry. Some examples:

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"Troubled Waters" update: Public institutions compromised by private interests

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the controversy surrounding the premier of Troubled Waters, a documentary about the dead zone in Gulf of Mexico. To recap: the University of Minnesota, one the film's main sponsors, cancelled its debut at the last minute, apparently out of concern that it might offend Big Ag interests in the state. You see, the deadzone forms each year when the Mississippi River delivers nutrient pollution from industrial farm fields in the Midwest to the Gulf. It's a problem that can't be solved without significant changes to our food system, and the film highlights innovative farmers on the cutting edge of that transformation.

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Pressure mounts in India for endosulfan ban

India has the unique distinction of being the world's largest user and producer of endosulfan as well as the site of world's most notorious endosulfan poisoning, in the state of Kerala. In 1979, the Plantation Company of Kerala began spraying endosulfan by helicopter over the cashew trees near the town of Padre. The highly toxic, endocrine disrupting insecticide regularly drifted over the village and contaminated its water supply for twenty-plus years.

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Scarborough moves to protect kids from pesticides

After sweeping across Canada, the movement to end the cosmetic use of pesticides is gaining a foothold in New England. Last week, the town council of Scarborough, Maine, held a public debate on a proposed ordinance that would restrict the use of pesticides on town property, including parks, sports fields, and school playgrounds. Homeowners would still be free to apply chemicals to their lawns and gardens, but the sponsors of the measure hope that many citizens would be inspired to follow the town's lead.

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Like "Food, Inc." for environmental health

On my way back from the Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva, I stopped for a few days in Illinois to attend the Peoria and Springfield screenings of the documentary film Living Downstream. PAN was a co-sponsor of the five-city screening tour, and I had the honor of moderating the post-film Q&A sessions with filmmaker Chanda Chevannes and Sandra Steingraber, the author of the book that the documentary is based on.

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