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As Idaho moves to criminalize undercover video with 'ag-gag' law, clip of dairy worker sexually abusing cow surfaces


A still from the video shot undercover at an Idaho dairy by animal rights group Mercy For Animals. Under a proposed law, filming scenes like this would become a crime.

In Idaho, the dairy industry has successfully lobbied lawmakers to propose a new law that would make it a crime for animal rights advocates or journalists to lie about their backgrounds to applications at dairy farms, for the purpose of documenting criminal activity or animal abuse.

Striking back at this proposed legislation that would curb free speech, Los Angeles-based nonprofit Mercy for Animals today released video of a dairy worker sexually abusing a cow at Dry Creek Dairy (owned by Bettencourt Dairies) in Idaho.

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Why is a corn-based agriculture system problematic? Look at the numbers

The average Iowa farm has the potential to feed 14 people per acre, writes Jon Foley at Ensia. But planted with nothing but corn — and with almost all of that corn going to ethanol production and the feeding of animals — the same land can only feed 3 people per acre. Corn isn't a bad plant. But the corn system is a big problem. Maggie 19

Tokyo's "unmanned stores" - honor-system sheds where farmers sell their surplus produce


In Japan, farmers sell their blemished, surplus and otherwise unmarketable vegetables in unstaffed, honor-system roadside stalls called "Unmanned stores" ("mujin hanbai"). Produce is set out in trays with an anchored cashbox and a note inviting passers-by to take what they please and leave payment in the box. Farmers sometimes add recipes and other serving suggestions. Here's a map of 120+ mujin hanbais, in Nerima ward -- part of greater Tokyo (a city whose sprawl encompasses a surprising amount of farmland). A fascinating, lavishly illustrated article on PingMag explores the use and practice of these stores, including the growing trend to coin-operated lockers.

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The case for flowers on the farm

South African mango farms that added patches of native, flowering plants not only attracted more pollinators than traditional, monoculture mango farms — they also produced more mangoes.

Image: Flowers Under Attack, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from suckamc's photostream

Shell's racist pesticide ad, 1957


From 1957, a disturbing, patronizing, racist Shell ad for pesticides, selling the superiority of big agribusiness.

Weekend Event - White

Bee deaths and historical context

We've talked before here at BoingBoing about how "Colony Collapse Disorder" is probably more than one thing, with more than one cause. Another important detail to keep in mind as you read media reports on bee deaths — the collection of symptoms that we call Colony Collapse Disorder is also probably a lot older than you think. In a guest post at Bug Girl's blog, bee expert Doug Yanega explains that CCD didn't start in 2006. In fact, periods of mass bee die-offs with the same collection of symptoms have been recorded at least 18 times, dating back to 1869. Maggie

An unbiased view of what the meat industry looks like from the inside

Most of the time, when somebody goes undercover inside a meat processing facility, it's done with the express goal of convincing other people to stop eating meat. But that wasn't what journalist Ted Conover had in mind. He was more just curious, especially given the growing trend of state laws preventing undercover infiltration of agribusiness facilities. So, using his real name and address, Conover got a job as a USDA meat inspector at a Cargill plant.

What's fascinating here is that the problems he finds have less to do with animal abuse (Maryn McKenna reports that Conover was surprised to find himself in a clean, safe, humane facility) and more to do with the abuse of antibiotics — a trend that is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance.

You can't read the full story for free, unfortunately. Such is the way of Harpers. But Maryn McKenna has a summary, Conover has a blog post on agribusiness gag laws, and you can buy access to the full story with a Harper's subscription.

Why the most horrible apple in the world is also the most grown

Despite almost universal agreement that basically defines "so boring as to become disgusting", the Red Delicious apple continues to be the most-grown variety in the US. More than 50,000 bushels of the vile things are turned out every year. This story by Rowan Jacobsen in Mother Jones explains the Red Delicious' undeserved success and follows the stories of entrepreneurs who are trying to bring back varieties of apple long lost to the consumer market. Maggie

A reasonable and fair breakdown of the facts on GM food

There's no reliable evidence that GM crops are dangerous to eat. On the other hand, they aren't the best way to reduce world hunger, and you can basically roll your eyes at anybody claiming GM crops are environmentally sustainable. Greg Jaffe cuts through the myths of GM food at The Atlantic. Maggie

The art and science of searching for water

The United States Geological Survey has an interesting FAQ report on dowsing — the practice of attempting to locate underground water with divining rods. It's got some interesting history and comparisons between dowsing and modern hydrology. The part on evidence for and against dowsing, though, is pretty sparse. If you want more on that, The Skeptic's Dictionary has some deeper analysis. The basic gist — what little research there has been suggests the successes of dowsing aren't any better than chance. (Via an interesting piece by Mary Brock at Skepchick about dowsing in the wine industry.) Maggie

Got questions about agricultural science? Get answers!

Sense About Science is a UK non-profit aimed at making science more understandable to the public. Right now, they're hosting a virtual plant science panel, where you can submit questions directly to scientists and see them answered on the Sense About Science website. What topics are fair game? Just about anything plant-related, from "Ash Dieback disease, to GM crops, bees to pesticides, mycotoxins in food to biofuels." Some answers are up already! (Via Mark Lynas) Maggie

Great moments in pedantry: How do you grow wine in a land without predictable seasons?

Winter is here. Which means it's time once again to start science-wanking the climate of George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" series. Back in May, i09 had a great piece on possible astronomical explanations for Westeros' weird seasons, where Summer and Winter can each last a decade. The hard part (which prompted lots of great conversations here) is that the lengths of the seasons are apparently totally unpredictable. Here's an eight-year-long Summer. There's a Winter that lasts five years and another that lasts a generation. The implications for food storage, alone, are enough to drive one batty.

Word of Martin says this is magic. But it presents so many science-related questions that it's really, really fun to speculate about how you might explain the differences between that world and ours in purely naturalistic terms.

Now, at The Last Word on Nothing, Sean Treacy brings up a different sort of food-related problem that I'd not even considered while I was busy trying to figure out the volume of the average Westerosi grain silo. How do you grow wine grapes without predictable seasons?

... grapevines have a life cycle that depends on regular seasons. In winter, grapevines are dormant. Come spring they sprout leaves. As summer begins, they flower and tiny little grapes appear. Throughout the summer the grapes fill up with water, sugar and acid. The grapes are finally ready for picking in early autumn, then go back to sleep in winter. This cycle is why wineries can rely on a yearly grape yield. Obviously, in Westeros, something must be different about how grapes work.

But it turns out there is a real-world way to produce wine throughout an endless summer. São Francisco Valley is a wine-growing region in tropical Brazil that is only about 600 to 700 miles south of equator. Despite the constant warmth, they pump out two and sometimes three grape harvests a year. How? By depriving the vines of water and removing their leaves after every harvest, which forces them to hibernate. “They trick the plant into thinking it’s wintertime,” Busalacchi said.

The whole post is really interesting and you should read it. Who knew that the Arbor would lead me to be more educated about real-world booze?

Image: Wine, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from isante's photostream

GMO foods and Prop 37's defeat: an animated infographic video

Jess Bachman, whose infographics we've featured on Boing Boing before, recently started getting into animation as a way to tell data-intensive stories. This video on food labeling, and why so many big businesses donated so many millions to defeat California's Proposition 37, is his first experiment.

"I opened After Effects for the first time last monday and finished this video on GMO labeling last Friday," Jess says. "It's nothing too special, but I'm excited about this new story telling medium for me, so if you have any stories to tell, let me know."

Your suggestions for future videos welcome in the comments!

Insane CGI disco-video for teat-cup liners

Ray sez, "I was looking for teat cups to build a simple hand vacuum pump milking machine for our new pet goat. And I found this website for milking machine teat cup liners, with the associated disco dancing promotional video.

ClassicPro - Silicone Liners (Thanks, Ray!)

How to make corn more sustainable? Grow less of it.

I wrote a story about the future of crop science that's printed in the June issue of Popular Science. When I was doing the research, the big question I wanted to ask was this: "How can we take the most important agricultural crops and make them more sustainable and adapted to climate change?"

I suppose there are a lot of ways to define "most important", but I went with the crops that feed the most people. Wheat, rice, and corn account for more than 50% of all the calories consumed on Earth. So those are the plants I looked at. And that's where I ran into a surprise. Scientists had some really interesting, concrete suggestions for how to prepare wheat and rice for a changing world. But with corn, they took a different tack. Basically, the scientists said the best thing to do with corn was use less corn.

Large yields and high calorie content have made corn the most popular and most heavily subsidized crop in America. That’s an increasingly urgent problem. In 2010, corn production consumed nine million tons of fertilizer and led to greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to 42 million tons of CO2—and corn isn’t even something we can easily eat. “The digestibility of unprocessed corn to humans isn’t very high,” says Jerry Hatfield, a plant physiologist with the USDA. “We have to put it through processing of some sort, whether that happens in a factory or an animal.” Set those problems aside, and a deal-breaker remains: modern corn is more sensitive to heat than any other major crop, and attempts to create drought- and heat-resistant corn through genetic modification are still unproven. A recent study found that a 3.6°F increase in global temperatures could make corn prices twice as volatile.

All of which is why many experts advocate replacing corn with a portfolio of hardier, more nutritious and more efficient food sources. Wheat production generates less than half the fossil-fuel emissions of corn and returns 63 percent more protein. Other crops actually give back to the land. Chickpeas and peanuts contain twice as much protein as corn, and they increase the nutrient content of soil.

Read about the other suggestions for adapting major food crops to climate change.

Image via WATTAgNet