agriculture * food * energy * environment
By Robert Pore
The nation’s meat and food industry is coming out with both fist flailing as Congress, under Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., leadership, is seriously considering increasing the amount of ethanol allowed in motor fuel from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Nelson had introduced legislation encouraging Congress to make that move to 15 percent ethanol blend.
But meat and poultry trade groups are telling the EPA that changes to Renewable Fuel Standard could substantially effect commodity prices and hurt animal agriculture.
And in Nebraska, we are right in the middle of this debate of the state is the nation’s second leading ethanol producer behind Iowa, one of the top five states in cattle production, one of the top 10 states in pork production and the leading state in red meat production.
Opposing Nelson’s amendment are the American Meat Institute (AMI), National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council and FarmEcon LLC. They have sharply criticized EPA’s proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), citing inadequate analysis of the proposed rule’s impact on agricultural commodity prices.
What the meat industry is saying is that EPA’s proposed regulations have not considered the risks associated with variability of grain crop or other biomass production, which would have serious consequences on food and fuel production costs in years of reduced crop production.
“Increasing the level of biofuel production in the current RFS has already resulted in a strong link between energy prices and agriculture prices,” the groups said in their correspondence with EPA. “Energy prices are highly volatile, and the link between that volatility and increased volatility of agriculture commodity prices has become a major issue facing commodity producers and users.”
According to the meat industry, that volatility has very real consequences for food producers that go beyond the increased cost levels already seen. The said that until EPA performs a risk assessment that takes into account not only average prices, but also variations around average prices, the real costs of the RFS are unknown.
AMI’s President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle said that increasing the RFS would divert even more animal feed into this nation’s fuel tanks and put continued upward pressure on corn prices.
“Further increasing the RFS will have a direct impact on the ability of livestock and poultry producers to effectively predict future annual budgets and costs due to volatility in the markets because feed is the largest single input cost associated with raising food producing animals,” said Boyle. “The net result is further disruption in the meat and poultry business and higher food prices for consumers.”
According to Farm Econ LLC, if the RFS is increased to 20 billion gallons of grain-based ethanol per year, consumers could see almost a 5 percent increase in average food costs. This estimate is based on $3,778 in food spending per capita. The impact on retail food costs as a result of higher farm commodity prices was clearly evident in 2008. Last year, one of substantial increases in grain and soybean prices, the Consumer Price Index for food increased by 5.9 percent.
Like in the cap and trade argument, that wildly inflates the cost of energy to agriculture, the argument that increasing the amount of ethanol in the fuel mix will dramatically increase the cost of food doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
The example of the increase in grain and soybean prices in 2008 was more of a result of wildly inflated commodity prices all up and down the board from food to precious metals to oil.
Oil prices were approaching $140 per barrel at the time and consumers were paying more than $4 per gallon for gasoline. It had very little to do with the amount of corn being used for ethanol production as there was no dramatic shortage of corn to drive prices up as high as they were last year when a bushel of corn hovered around $7 per bushel.
It all revolved around the cost of a barrel of oil. The whole food production industry, from agriculture to food processing to transportation, is heavily reliant of fossil fuel. That’s why food prices were so high.
The same is true with the exaggerated modeling example for cap and trade. What’s more of a danger for rising energy costs is the world’s dependence on fossil fuel not its efforts to combat greenhouse gases, which the United States contribute 25 percent of the greenhouse gas load to the atmosphere annually.
Here’s why cap and trade will make a difference in actually lowering energy costs in the long run. Less dependent we become on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and the more we rely on a diversified mix of energy sources, such as wind, biofuel, solar and even natural gas and nuclear energy, the cheaper energy becomes.
Same logic for ethanol, which is a transitional fuel between gasoline and future energy sources of vehicles, such as a diversified mix of biofuel, hydrogen fuel, natural gas, electrical and the list goes on. Diversify the fuel mix and increase the competition and prices will go down. That’s what the critics are saying about health insurance isn’t it. Cap and trade will increase the competition between alternative energy sources and more traditional energy sources, such as oil and coal.
Here’s the good news: According to the latest issue of the “Monthly Energy Review” by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy sources (i.e., biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, wind) provided 11.37 percent of domestic U.S. energy production in June 2009 – the latest month for which data has been published.
And according to EIA’s latest “Electric Power Monthly,” renewable energy sources provided 11.18 percent of net U.S. electrical generation for the first six months of 2009.
That’s according to Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.
He said this continues the steady growth trend for renewable energy. Renewable energy sources accounted for 9.89 percent of domestic energy production during the first half of 2007. That increased to 10.20 percent for the first half of 2008. For the first six months of 2009, Bossong said renewables totaled 10.67 percent of domestic energy production, rising to 11.32 percent for the second quarter of this year, and edging up to 11.37 percent in June 2009.
Likewise, he said, the 11.18 percent share of net U.S. electrical generation provided by renewable energy sources for the first six months of 2009 represents a significant increase over the 9.90 percent share provided during the first half of 2008.
Moreover, Bossong said renewable energy’s contribution to the nation’s energy production is now almost equal to that provided by nuclear power, which has been holding steady in recent years at about 11 percent (11.38 percent for the first half of 2009, 11.24 percent for the first half of 2008, and 11.66 percent for the first half of 2007).
And here’s a prediction: Cap and trade will not only continue that trend, but it will accelerate it.
“As Congress debates energy funding priorities and climate legislation, it would do well to take note of the clear trends in the nation’s changing energy mix,” Bossong said. “Renewable energy has become a major player – growing rapidly and nipping at the heels of nuclear power – while fossil fuel use continues to drop.”
The unintended consequences of those fighting against increasing ethanol use and cap and trade is the fact we will become even more dependent on fossil fuels, which will dramatically increase of the price of those finite fuels, and continue to increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accelerating global warming and climate change.
And guess what, increasing the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix and a reasonable designed cap and trade bill will only keep that alternative fuel momentum going strong and, in the long run, lower energy cost and make the U.S. more economically sound and defensively strong.
The cost of obesity in the United States is as high as $147 billion annually.
This figure from the new study from RTI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also stated persons who are obese spent $1,429, or 42 percent, more for medical care in 2006 than those of healthy weight.
Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, said obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases including heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.
“To reverse the obesity epidemic there has to be change to promote healthy lifestyle choices for all people,” Hermann said. “It’s important we educate people about living healthy lifestyles so we can become a healthier society.”
The report, Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States, includes strategies to promote the availability of affordable healthy food and beverages, encourage breastfeeding, encourage physical activity and limit sedentary activity, support safe communities that support physical activity and encourage communities to organize change.
Hermann said the USDA’s MyPyramid and Dietary Guidelines provide dietary and physical activity recommendations for health as well as weight loss. The MyPyramid’s Web site is www.mypyramid.gov.
“The amount of food a person needs from each MyPyramid food group will depend on age, gender and level of physical activity. The MyPyramid’s Web site will also provide dietary recommendations to help with weight loss,” she said.
In addition to good nutrition, physical activity is important. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most if not all days of the week is important for health benefits. To prevent weight gain it recommends 60 minutes and 60-90 minutes each day to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
“Develop an eating plan for lifelong health,” Hermann said. “It’s important to stay with the basics of healthy eating and physical activity for a healthy lifestyle.”
By Robert Pore
When the country of origin meat labeling campaign began back in the 1990s, a key point the proponents emphasized was that the American people deserved to know where the meat they fed their families originated from.
After years of battling the meat industry, country of origin labeling is now the law of the land. Now, proponents of alternative energy are proposing using the same tactics but instead of focusing on food, it’s all about the origin of where the fuel you put in your car comes from.
According to Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, American citizens want to know where “their hard-earned dollars ultimately go every time they fill up their cars and trucks.”
“Most Americans don’t want their paychecks going to Venezuela and other regimes that don’t agree with and support the U.S.,” Clark said. “Requiring country of origin labeling of our fuel supply will empower consumers with the knowledge and ability to make informed decisions.”
Well, Clark isn’t that far off, as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is the second leading supplier of oil to the United States.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, imports in June 2009 three countries exported more than 1.00 million barrels per day to the United States
.The top five exporting countries accounted for 64 percent of United States crude oil imports in June while the top ten sources accounted for approximately 82 percent of all U.S. crude oil imports.
The top sources of US crude oil imports for June were Canada (2.001 million barrels per day), Venezuela (1.119 million barrels per day), Mexico (1.099 million barrels per day), Saudi Arabia (0.902 million barrels per day), and Nigeria (0.769 million barrels per day).
The rest of the top ten sources, in order, were Angola (0.435 million barrels per day), Iraq (0.374 million barrels per day), Russia (0.305 million barrels per day), Columbia (0.286 million barrels per day), and Brazil (0.269 million barrels per day). Total crude oil imports averaged 9.172 million barrels per day in June, which is an increase of (0.241) million barrels per day from May 2009.
EIA reports that Canada remained the largest exporter of total petroleum in June, exporting 2.529 million barrels per day to the United States, which is an increase from last month (2.206 thousand barrels per day). The second largest exporter of total petroleum was Venezuela with 1.237 million barrels per day.
Clark is calling on the United States Congress and the White House to take action to dramatically enhance the market transparency of the nation’s fuel supply by requiring a national standard of country of origin labeling (COOL) for fuel.
According to Growth Energy, the Label My Fuel initiative would create a COOL standard similar to requirements already in place for common consumer items, including apples, beef, cars and coffee. The goal is to help create consumer awareness of the costs and national security implications of the nation’s addiction to foreign oil.
Growth Energy also has a website promoting the cause, labelmyfuel.com,, which showcases the costs
of American dependence on foreign oil, and serves to rally grassroots support for Congressional action on COOL for fuel legislation.
“America’s dependence on foreign oil has a staggering impact on both our national and economic security,” Clark said. “Supply disruptions and sudden price hikes have shocked the wallets and pocketbooks of everyday Americans one too many times.
According to Growth Energy, the economic implications of America’s dependence on foreign oil are
— The U.S. Department of Energy found that America’s dependence on foreign oil has cost our country more than $7 trillion dollars over the last 30 years.
— The United States has sent as much as $500 billion a year overseas for oil — a massive transfer of wealth.
— The Center for Forensic Economic Studies estimates that for every dollar spent on foreign crude oil, an additional $1.55 is removed from the U.S. economy.
— According to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, American taxpayers foot a $50 billion-a-year bill to secure petroleum shipping lanes.
“American ethanol is the only existing alternative to gasoline today that is creating jobs, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO. “Country of origin labeling for fuel will let consumers know if they are pumping a domestic-made fuel, like ethanol, or fuel from a foreign source.”
The campaign, if successful, could be a boom to Nebraska’s ethanol industry which is recovering from its economic doldrums it faced last year.
The Renewable Fuels Association reported last week that U.S. ethanol producers continued setting new records for production, as demand for renewable alternatives to gasoline grow. They point to a recent report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) that said American ethanol facilities produced 694,000 barrels per day (b/d) in June 2009. That is up 109,000 b/d from a year ago.
Ethanol demand, as calculated by the Renewable Fuels Association, continues to outpace production. According to RFA calculations, demand was 721,000 b/d in June, up from 633,000 b/d a year ago. EIA also reports fuel ethanol imports of 29.5 million gallons in June.
The news is good for the nation’s growing alternative fuel industry, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. EIA reported that renewable energy sources (i.e., biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, wind) provided 11.6 percent of domestic U.S. energy production in May 2009 – the latest month for which data has been published.
For the first five months of 2009, EIA reported that renewable energy production was 5.5 percent higher compared to the same time period in 2008, and 9.7 percent higher than the same period in 2007. Comparing the first five months of 2009 to the first five months of 2008, wind increased by 29.9 percent, hydropower increased by 8.7 percent, geothermal increased by 0.7 percent, and biomass + biofuels increased by 0.5 percent, while solar remained largely unchanged.
For the first five months of 2009, EIA reported that U.S. renewable energy production was comprised of hydropower (35.9%), wood + wood wastes (30.2%), biofuels (19.1%), wind (9.0%), geothermal (4.5%), and solar (1.1%).
On the other hand, domestic energy production from fossil fuels dropped by one percent during the first five months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008 while nuclear power’s contribution increased by 1.9 percent.
“As Congress continues to debate energy funding priorities and climate legislation, it would do well to take note of the clear trends in the nation’s changing energy mix,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Fossil fuel use is dropping sharply while month-after-month the mix of renewable energy sources continues to set ever-higher records and is now even outpacing nuclear power.”
A good post in answering some of those organic vs. local questions people have when it comes to buying their fruits and veggies.
ST. PAUL, MN—The emerging trend toward healthier, fresher foods that are also gentle on the environment presents new dilemmas for conscientious consumers. Marketers tout the attributes of “organic” food, while the “local foods movement” is gaining popularity throughout the world. The “organic-or-local” debate is particularly interesting when it comes to fruits and vegetables; proponents of each system offer strong evidence to support their cause. Consumers frequent local farmers’ markets because they expect higher quality, freshness and taste, and lower prices. Organically grown produce is considered to be healthy and environmentally friendly because of the use of less-damaging pesticides. But do consumers really understand the difference between “organic” and “local” produce? And what price are we willing to pay for these fresh, premium products? These questions present challenges for growers, retailers, and ultimately, savvy consumers.
Understanding consumer preferences and willingness to pay for organically grown and locally grown fresh produce helps producers and retailers determine what type of fresh produce to grow and sell, what to emphasize in marketing efforts, and what prices to charge. Intense competition from large-scale growers has forced small-scale farmers to find new niche markets for their commodities through value-added marketing. But information related to consumer preference and willingness to pay for both organically and locally grown fresh produce is sparse, presenting a fertile field for researchers.
Chengyan Yue, the Bachman Endowed Chair in Horticultural Marketing at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and colleague Cindy Tong published the results of a research study in HortScience that investigated consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) for organically grown and locally grown fresh produce. The research team combined hypothetical and nonhypothetical experiments for the study, which was conducted with 365 volunteer participants at the Minnesota State Fair in August 2008.
The researchers found that consumers’ willingness to pay for organic produce was about the same as they would pay for local produce. But the frequency of purchases was different for organic and local produce. Participants were asked “When you buy fruits and vegetables, how often do you buy locally grown (or organically grown) fresh produce when it is available?”. For locally grown produce, 14% of participants chose “always”, 40% chose “most times”, 38% chose “sometimes”, and 8% chose “seldom” or “never”. For organic produce, 6% chose “always”, 15% chose “most times”, 39% chose “sometimes”, and 40% chose “seldom” or “never”.
Additionally, the team determined that consumers consider ”freshness” and ”safe to eat” as ”very important” attributes when purchasing locally grown produce, and recommended that these attributes be stressed by local growers when promoting their products. Consumers considered ”good for health” and ”safe to eat” as their main reasons for purchasing organic produce, implying that these selling points be emphasized in promotional materials.
Yue explained that the study showed consumers’ demographics affected their choice between organically grown and locally grown produce. For instance, older consumers were less likely than younger consumers to choose organic tomatoes, while females were more likely than males to purchase locally grown tomatoes.
Stated Yue, “Furthermore, we found that consumers patronized different retail venues to purchase fresh produce with different attributes. The results of this research are very important for small-scale farmers, market organizers, and sponsoring agencies in making their production and marketing decisions.”