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Missouri’s “Right to Farm” Amendment has Family Farmers Worried

New measure aims to preempt potential animal welfare and environmental regulations in the state

The right to farm. It sounds innocuous enough. Shouldn’t we all have some right to farm if we want to? Probably, but that isn’t exactly what Missourians were getting at when they passed a constitutional amendment this summer to protect the right to farm.

Spring Corn PlantingPhoto by CAFNR Spring corn planting in Missouri. Amendment 1 opponents worry that measure will ease the way for large-scale farms to dominate Missouri’s landscape.

The amendment, known as Amendment 1, or the “right to farm” amendment, guarantees Missouri citizens the right to “engage in farming and ranching practices.” It seeks to protect farming operations from new laws, such as anti-GMO legislation or animal welfare regulations, that would change or ban practices that Missouri farmers currently used.

Amendment 1 passed by a slim margin; so slim that there was a vote recount in September. After all the ballots were counted, and recounted, the measure passed by 2,375 votes out of nearly a million ballots cast. As the tight margin suggests, the amendment stirred up quite a bit of controversy, not to mention confusion, in the state, embroiling family farmers, big ag, animals’ rights advocates, and GMO activists.

Amendment 1 opponents worry that the vaguely worded law will give industrial agriculture the upper hand when it comes to farming policy and regulation in the state, easing the way for large-scale farms to dominate Missouri’s landscape. They are also particularly concerned that the measure will be used to challenge existing and future animal welfare regulations and environmental measures, including confinement conditions for hogs and poultry, limitations on puppy farms, pollution controls, and potential GMO labeling laws. The amendment, they say, will hurt smaller-scale family farms.

photonamePhoto by CAFNR The right to farm amendment may be used to challenge animal welfare regulations.

“What I expect is that this sort of greases the shoot for corporate agriculture in Missouri,” says Richard Oswald, President of the Missouri Farmers Union. “It’s not going to be a dramatic change, it’s just going to more of the same, with more and more takeover of what used to be things that independent family farmers did.” Oswald believes it will also “nullify those family farmer friendly statutes that we already had on the books that did help protect agriculture,” …more

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Protecting the “Last Ocean”

Delegates from 24 countries and EU to debate massive marine preserve in the Antarctic

Earlier this fall, the Associated Press reported that a remarkable creature had been pulled from Antarctica’s Ross Sea. According to the article, the colossal squid was “as long as a minibus” with “tentacles like fire hoses and eyes like dinner plates,” and was still clinging to its dinner when fishermen on the San Aspiring toothfish boat, from New Zealand, hauled it from the water this January. The unfortunate cephalopod was then transferred to Wellington, New Zealand, some 2,000 miles north, and tucked into a freezer for later scientific examination.

PenguinsPhoto by John B. Weller Penguins walking in a line in Antarctica. This week and next, delegates from 24 countries and the EU will try to permanently protect the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica.

It was a fitting find for the icy waters that are often called the world’s “Last Ocean.” Located adjacent to Earth’s most remote continent and shut in by ice for 10 months of the year, the Ross Sea has so far escaped the grim fate of overfishing, pollution, and invasive species decimating Earth’s other oceans. Its frozen shores and crystal-clear waters teem with species adapted to the harsh climate: Adélie and emperor penguins, Weddell seals, killer whales, Antarctic petrels, and many more. It’s the sort of place that reassures us wilderness still exists, beyond our reach and full of mysterious creatures.

penguin mom and baby Photo by John B. WellerAn adult penguin with a chick. The Ross Sea teems with species adapted to the harsh climate,
including Adélie and emperor penguins.

As the presence of the San Aspiring suggests, however, that image is no longer entirely accurate.

“With increased technology over the last 10 years, more and more fishing vessels are looking towards the Antarctic oceans,” says Mark Epstein, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, a network of conservation NGOs focused on the region.

This week and next, government representatives from 24 countries plus the EU will attempt to permanently protect the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica from fishing and other threats by creating two huge marine protected areas (MPAs). Three times in the past three years, Russia, Ukraine, and China have blocked attempts to do the same. This time around, Russia’s troubled relationship with America and Europe could more

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Monitoring Environmental Destruction From the Sky

SkyTruth uses satellite imagery and data-crunching to track fracking, mountaintop removal, and oil spills around the world

The twenty-first century has been dubbed the "surveillance society," a culture where police departments increasingly deploy drones to spy from above, smart phones precisely track their owners' locations, and government agencies routinely record our emails and phone calls. In this new milieu, environmentalists have started to do some watch-dogging of their own, documenting industry's misdeeds by adapting newly available technology and tactics to fit their needs. 

Jonah Field, WyomingPhoto by EcoFlight.Wellpads, access roads, pipeline corridors and other natural-gas infrastructure in western Wyoming’s Jonah Field. High-altitude imagery allows SkyTruth to reveal the sheer scope of development as well as changes over time.

Leading the pack is a small outfit, SkyTruth, run by seven staffers and a handful of volunteers and interns from a single-story building tucked behind a small craft store in Sheperdstown, West Virginia (population 1,700). From this small-town setting, SkyTruth does big-data work, aggregating massive amounts of open source information about some of the world's most damaging and polluting industries.

SkyTruth was the first organization to fully map the mountains in Appalachia decimated by mountaintop removal, showing that over 2,700 ridgetops had been flattened across five states. This work, accomplished by comparing satellite images from the 1970s to 2009 and using digital elevation information to isolate mountaintop removal from other strip mining, helped prove that one out of every five streams in West Virginia had been harmed by mountaintop removal.

SkyTruth's operations extend far beyond Appalachia, reaching into the supply chains of some of the world's most globalized industries, such as deep-sea fishing in international waters. In the Kermadecs, an island chain more than 600 miles off the northeast coast of New Zealand labeled one of “last pristine sites left in the ocean” by National Geographic Society and Census Marine Life in 2010, fishing is strictly regulated. While most boats use beacons that transmit their location as part of a system to prevent ship collisions, illegal fishers often do not participate in this warning system or disable their beacons when they near protected waters. SkyTruth tracks ships to the edges of protected areas like the Kermadecs, then uses satellite radar to find fishing boats that have attempted to conceal their entry into the exclusion zone. They've also discovered fleets of boats from Spain, Ukraine, and China trawling the perimeter of the zone, creating a …more

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Protecting Wild Salmon and Wild Rivers

US Forest Service should place a mineral withdrawal on critical Smith River watershed

The Smith River, which originates in the wilds of southwest Oregon and flows through northwest California, is the only major undammed river remaining in California. Its free-flowing waters still provide the rare opportunity for wild salmon to make the epic journey from the ocean to the Smith’s headwaters to spawn, as salmon once did in rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife describes the Smith River as “irreplaceable” with respect to salmon population resiliency and biodiversity.

So it came as welcome news last week that Oregon’s Water Resources Department denied an application from a mining company — Red Flat Nickel Corporation — to withdraw water for mining exploration in the Smith River headwaters.  The Department concluded that the withdrawal wasn’t in the public’s interest, and that there wasn’t enough data to develop mitigation strategies to protect threatened and endangered fish species from likely harm.

White Pines National ParkPhoto by Zachary Collier The Smith River is the only major undammed river remaining in California.

Despite this initial victory, the issue is far from over. Red Flat Nickel — owned by a British investment firm — still seeks to develop a nickel strip mine on 2,900 acres of mining claims on public lands in the Baldface Creek drainage in Oregon, a key tributary of the Smith River. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Baldface Creek watershed provides near-pristine spawning and rearing habitat and high quality water on which the anadromous fishery of the Smith River depends. But while the Smith River is protected from mining in California as part of the Smith River National Recreation Area, the headwaters in Oregon are not.

"It's a major concern in every possible way: a threat to drinking water, salmon runs and the recreation-based travel and tourism industry that is the single largest part of our economy," says Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance in Crescent City.

Here’s the kicker. Under the federal 1872 Mining Law, a 140-year old law which still governs hardrock mining today, mining is prioritized over all other land uses, leaving federal land managers little authority to deny a project, regardless of a region’s value as a fishery, drinking water aquifer, or other important land uses. What’s more, under the outdated law, companies can stake an unlimited number of …more

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EPA’s Approval of Toxic Pesticide Ignores Health and Safety Risks

Dow Chemical's new line of GE seeds will drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical

It's official. Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved Dow AgroSciences’ new pesticide product Enlist Duo, a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate. Given that the US Department of Agriculture has already cleared the way for Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybean crops, this pesticide and seed combination can now be sold commercially.

Danger in the Cornphoto by Roger Smith, on FlickrDow Chemical’s Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry.

The move is bound to drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical linked to reproductive harms and cancer.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but also for food production in the US and across the world. The introduction of Enlist corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line, will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and control of our food system.

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly. And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant crops – one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will hit their farms once the Enlist crops are introduced, it is time for us to look forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values small farmers as much as industrial agriculture – and public health as much as corporate profit.

It's a set up

Dow Chemical's Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry from farmers, health professionals and communities across the country.

Dow, and the other "Big 6" global pesticide corporations, would have us believe that this was a drawn-out, rigorous approval process that once again proves the safety and necessity of genetically engineered crops. The reality is that the whole process was a tricky sleight-of-hand: Enlist passed the test because the test itself was set up to be a cakewalk.

From the beginning, opponents of 2,4-D-resistant crops have focused on three main objections:

    by Linda Wells – October 16, 2014

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    Will National Forests Be Sacrificed to the Biomass Industry?

    The US Forest Service wants to sell our forests for fuel in the name of wildfire reduction

    If we’re to believe the biomass energy industry, the US Forest Service, and a chorus of politicians from both sides of the aisle, we can solve the energy crisis, cure climate change, and eradicate wildfire by logging and chipping our national forests and burning them up in biomass power facilities.

    The plotline of their story goes something like this: Years of taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression in federal forests (at the behest of the timber industry) has resulted in “overgrown” forests crawling with icky bugs, ticking time bombs ready to burst into flames. And the fix, it just so happens, involves even more taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression, with the trees forked over to the biomass industry to burn in their incinerators and then the “green” electricity sold to utilities and eventually the public — at a premium.  

    White Pines National ParkPhoto by Josh Schlossberg 1,600 acres of White River National Forest are being clear-cut. All of the trees are fueling the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass facility.

    This “burn the forest before it burns you” propaganda is most prevalent throughout the West, but it’s present anywhere there’s public land, with a total of 45.6 million acres across  94 national forests in 35 states qualifying as “Insect and Disease Area Designations” under the 2014 Farm Bill — money on the stump for the biomass industry.

    Saving the Forest from Itself

    The Forest Service’s logging-for-biomass agenda has “nothing to do with public welfare or the economy,” according to Carl Ross, executive director of Save America’s Forests, an organization that works to protect US forests. Instead, it is simply a way to justify the existence of an agency whose “multi-billion dollar budget is dependent on cutting trees.” With the lumber industry in contraction due to a dismal housing market and tanked economy, the Forest Service focuses on “sick” forests that can only be “cured” through chainsaw surgery to fuel biomass incinerators.

    The concept of logging a forest to “save” it is nothing new. It dates back to President George W. Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003. However, a recent uptick in national forest logging has accompanied a rash of new biomass incinerator proposals, with politicians and even some environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, cheering the industry on.

    Currently, the majority …more

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    Nature Needs Half

    Conservation group promoting an ambitious new proposal for wilderness protection

    During the last half century conservationists around the world have won some impressive victories to protect wild places. Here in the US, the Wilderness Act preserves some 110 million acres of public land. Private holdings by groups like The Nature Conservancy safeguard tens of millions of additional acres. The idea of protecting ecosystems from industrial development has spread around the world. There’s the Mavuradonha Wilderness in Zimbabwe, the El Carmen ecosystem in northern Mexico, Kissama National Park in Angola, and the Tasmanian Wilderness in Australia, to name just a few stunning parks and preserves; UNESCO’s world heritage list includes 197 sites of special beauty and/or biodiversity.

    Patagonia AlivePhoto by Trey RatcliffNature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

    But conservation biologists now recognize that these sanctuaries are limited in what they can accomplish precisely because they are special — which is to say, rare. Parks and preserves are all too often islands of biological integrity in a sea of human development. To really protect natural systems, healthy biomes need to be the rule, not the exception.

    To achieve that vision, The WILD Foundation, a multinational NGO based in Boulder, Colorado, is pushing a bold concept called “Nature Needs Half.” In a world in which even the wealthiest governments routinely abdicate their responsibilities toward future generations and the environment, Nature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

    This is, of course, a hugely ambitious endeavor, opposing as it does the assumption that Earth’s resources are here to be exploited solely by humans. We live in what some have called the “Anthropocene,” the Age of Man, a world in which every aspect of physical being, from the oceanic depths to the troposphere, has been radically altered by humankind. Rivers are being dammed, forests leveled, oceans emptied and wildlife eradicated. It’s not a pretty picture, but as an empiric truth it’s difficult to refute. Consider a few facts:

    • The long-term acidification of the oceans by our ongoing buildup of industrial carbon dioxide is killing off coral reefs around the world, resulting in the loss of a critical …more

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