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Animal protection groups rescued piglets from a flood at the "Big Ditch" levee in Oakville, Iowa in 2008. Farm Sanctuary / Flickr

On Thursday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment. In 2017, a coalition of animal, environmental and community advocacy groups, including Center for Food Safety, challenged the law's constitutionality. Federal courts have similarly struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

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Wind power in rural Iowa, one of four states that gets 30 to 37 percent of its electricity from wind power. Voice of America

Four U.S. states generated 30 to 37 percent of their energy from wind power in 2017. That's just one of the findings of the Department of Energy (DOE)'s annual Wind Technologies Market Report, released August 22.

Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota were the leaders in terms of how much wind contributed to their state's overall electricity generation, but 14 states got more than 10 percent of their in-state energy from wind power last year. Texas took the lead in added wind capacity, installing 2,305 megawatts worth.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A swine facility in North Carolina. Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sacoby Wilson

As U.S. livestock farming becomes more industrial, it is changing rural life. Many people now live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—large facilities that can house thousands of animals in close quarters. Neighbors have to contend with noxious odors, toxic emissions and swarms of insects, and have had little success in obtaining relief—but this could be changing.

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Heavy seas engulf the Block Island Wind Farm—the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / National Renewable Energy Lab / Flickr

By John Hall

The wind industry is growing quickly around the world, especially in China and the U.S., where the total amount of electricity generated by wind turbines nearly doubled between 2011 and 2017.

All told, about 25 percent of global electricity now comes from renewable sources like hydropower, wind and solar energy.

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Tim Geers / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

More than 50 groups are demanding that Iowa lawmakers urgently pass landmark legislation to enact a moratorium on factory farm expansion in a state that is home to more than 10,000 of them.

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By Steve Horn

The Iowa Senate has advanced a bill which critics say could lead to the criminalization of pipeline protests, which are being cast as "terrorist activities." Dakota Access pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners and other companies have lobbied for the bill, Senate Study Bill 3062, which opens up the possibility of prison time and a hefty fine for those who commit "sabotage" of critical infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines.

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By Brett Walton

State of the State speeches are where governors sketch their legislative priorities and report on the overall health of their dominions. The state of the state is almost always "strong" and water issues are occasionally mentioned.

Below are summaries of the governors' references to water, climate and the environment.

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Wikimedia

Iowa is already a wind energy superstar, and now, the state's largest utility is looking to completely transition to renewable energy sources.

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The Leopold Center

By Andrea Basche

There has been unsettling news out of my former home over the last week, as the Iowa legislature plays politics with critical scientific research in the state.

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iStock

By Julie M. Rodriguez

It's no secret that bee populations have declined in recent years. Last year, beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing a staggering 44 percent of their colonies over the course of the winter and summer.

The causes of bee decline vary—exposure to a variety of pesticides, fungus, parasites and rising temperatures being just some of the potential issues—but there's only one really effective way to fight back against the problem. Bees need open spaces to roam and collect pollen without being disturbed.

One city in Iowa has decided to do just that, in a major way: Cedar Rapids is planning to set aside 1,000 acres of bee-friendly open space. (Eventually, it's hoped, the project may expand to as many as 10,000 acres). This spring, they'll start by seeding a modest 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, plants that will both nourish pollinators and prevent invasive weeds from spreading. So far, the initiative has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the Monarch Research Project, an organization dedicated to restoring monarch butterfly populations and pollinator habitats.

Cedar Rapids isn't going to convert land used for other purposes for the project. Instead, they're simply repurposes public lands that are currently going unused, seeding them with 39 species of native wildflowers and seven species of native grass. The flowers will serve as an attractor for bees and butterflies, while the grasses will keep noxious weeds from invading the area. Some of the spaces that are being used for the initiative include far-off corners of public parks, golf courses, open areas near the local airport, sewage ditches, water retention basins and green space along roadways.

The project was proposed by Daniel Gibbons, the park superintendent of Cedar Rapids. According to Gibbons, over the past 100 years, Iowa's agriculture boom has resulted a loss of 99.9 percent of the state's native habitats. Converting these unused public areas back to their original state will do more than simply help bees—it's also going to help birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals who rely on native vegetation.

Converting these spaces back to native prairie isn't going to be a simple process. Right now, many of them are choked with undesirable vegetation that isn't bee-friendly. The invasive plants present in these areas need to be mowed down, burned and in some cases hit with doses of herbicide before the native seed mixture can be planted.

You Can Replicate The Cedar Rapids Experiment In Your Own Backyard

Most of us don't have 1,000 acres of unused space lying around, but if you want to do your part to help bees in the same way as Cedar Rapids, there's plenty you can do. If you have a garden or a place to leave outdoor planters, just a few square feet of wildflowers native to your area can help boost local bee populations. In Popular Science, pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann suggests planting a diverse mix of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer and fall.

If you do plant a pollinator garden, it's best not to use any herbicides or insecticides at all, as these are known to correlate with poor health in honey bees. If you must use these products, do it at night when bees are inactive.

Of course, simply providing a food source for bees does no good if they have no place to rest at the end of the day. You can also create nesting sites for native bees, if you can stomach the idea of a hive on your property. The Xerces society has compiled a helpful guide with information on how to provide nesting sites that allow bees to thrive. In many ways, the approach you'll need to take depends on the species of bees that live in your area—some prefer to nest in hollow wood, while others dig their nests in the dirt.

If we all make a small effort to create bee-friendly spaces, it's completely possible to replicate Cedar Rapids' experiment collectively in our own communities.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has been nominated to serve as U .S. Ambassador to China in Donald Trump's Administration, a pick that has some of Big Ag's biggest players celebrating.

Donald Trump has chosen Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. Twitter

Branstad is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history with 22 non-consecutive years and going under his belt. During his tenure, he has built significant relationships with Iowa's agribusinesses and has helped spur trade of the state's beef, pork and soy products to Asian consumers, and once struck a $4.3 billion deal with Chinese officials for Iowa's exports.

This past October, China signed a $2.1 billion deal for Iowa soybeans to feed Chinese livestock. In November, less than a week after Trump's presidential win, Branstad traveled to China to promote Iowa beef and pork. It was his seventh such trip to China as governor.

The Republican governor's friendship with Chinese president Xi Jinping goes back three decades after Xi visited rural Iowa in 1985.

"Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever," Branstad said after Trump's announcement.

At a Wednesday meeting in St. Louis with United Soybean Board and the American Soybean Association, Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley praised the president-elect's latest top-level pick.

"[Fraley] said Branstad's past work on behalf of biotech acceptance and advocacy for U.S. agriculture makes him an excellent choice for the role," according to Farm Journal editor Susan Luke.

China, Monsanto and Iowa are all linked by the humble soybean. Monsanto controls 90 percent of soybean production in the U.S. and Iowa happens to be a top soybean grower, with 97 percent of the state's soybeans grown from genetically modified (GMO) seeds. China is the world's largest soybean consumer, importing about 25 percent of all U.S. soy produced.

Soybeans sold to China are "the largest U.S. agricultural export as their value rose from about $400,000 annually during 1996-97 to as high as $14.5 billion in 2014," Fred Gale, U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural economist told ChinaDaily USA.

China's booming population is driving increased meat consumption and increased imports of corn and soybeans to feed livestock. Incidentally, China has banned the cultivation of GMO crops, as Chinese consumers are generally fearful of the food's perceived health risks. Rather, the country buys GMO soy for cooking oil or animal feed. But in recent years, China has pushed for the domestic commercialization of GMO soybeans, spending billions on research. President Xi himself called for the domestic cultivation of GMO crops in 2014.

Branstad's nomination was also praised by Iowa Corn Growers Association president Kurt Hora, noting that China does not just buy corn to feed its animals, it's also a large buyer of U.S. ethanol.

"China is an important market for U.S. corn in all forms including the second-largest purchaser of U.S. ethanol last marketing year; and a critical buyer of U.S. distiller's dried grains (DDGS). The China/Hong Kong market is also the third largest customer for both U.S. pork and beef exports," Hora said.

Corn ethanol has been touted as an energy alternative, but the biofuel "might be worse than petroleum when total greenhouse gas emissions are considered," Scientific American explained.

Mother Jones's Tom Philpott called Trump's choice of Branstad a "gift" to Big Ag, highlighting the governor's close ties to Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of Summit Agriculture Group, a major Iowa pork and ethanol producer, who contributed $164,875 towards Branstad's run for governor in 2010. Eldon Roth, CEO of Beef Products International, contributed another $152,000.

Not only that, "back in 2011, the governor also tapped Rastetter's brother Brent, who then ran a business constructing industrial-scale hog-rearing facilities, to the state's Environmental Protection Commission. Branstad also signed into law one of those infamous "ag gag" bills, championed by Big Ag, that make it a crime to secretly document conditions inside livestock farms," Philpott wrote.

Ronnie Cummins, the director of the Organic Consumers Association, criticized Trump's latest pick.

"[The selection of] Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for U.S. Ambassador to China is good news for the factory farm cartel, the ethanol lobby, Big Pharma Bayer and Monsanto, but very bad news for organic consumers and farmers, as well as everyone in the world who cares about justice, healthy food and soils, the environment, humane treatment of animals and re-stabilizing our dangerously out-of-control climate," Cummins told EcoWatch.

Ken Roseboro, the editor and publisher of the Organic & Non-GMO Report, agreed.

"As an Iowan, I've seen that Governor Terry Branstad has been a big supporter of factory farms in Iowa, which threaten the environment, human health and quality of life for Iowans," Roseboro told EcoWatch. "His appointment as Ambassador to China is likely to accelerate that unsustainable trend since China is deeply involved in Iowa's pork production and factory farms."

Health and environmental advocates have been very critical of Trump's recent slew of nominations for his incoming administration. Just yesterday, the president-elect announced his pick of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 350.org's Executive Director May Boeve called Pruitt a fossil fuel "puppet."

"Donald Trump appears destined for the Guinness Book of Records for appointing the most corrupt and dangerous administration officials in U.S. history," Cummins told EcoWatch. "If I were a Reality TV host, my message to Donald and his cronies would be clear: You're fired."

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