By Meredith Ayan
While pet foster and adoption rates have soared in New York and many parts of the United States, globally, the situation is much direr.
In the face of COVID-19, these shelters are continually facing critical challenges, including food shortages, spikes in pet abandonment with a plummeting and near-zero rate of adoptions, overcrowding, and fears of culling. Thanks to our work with partners all over the world, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International has a direct line of communication with these international shelters and a unique insight into their experiences during the pandemic. What we've been hearing is harrowing.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
When I call Chef Q. Ibraheem to discuss urban farming in her own cooking career, she's in the middle of placing an order for microgreens from a small farm in Lake Forest, a ritzy suburb just north of downtown Chicago. Now's a great time for her to chat, actually, because the Chicago-based chef is immersed in what she loves, sourcing ingredients as locally as possible.
Urban Farming as a Social Practice<p>In her work, Chef Q has helped turn empty lots and abandoned buildings into urban farms, which allows neighbors to "take ownership in their communities" and also become educated consumers. In neighborhoods where the fancy grocery store is referred to as "<a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/04/01/whole-foods-prices-amazon-announces-cuts-and-more-prime-benefits/3335214002/" target="_blank">Whole Paycheck</a>," Chef Q has seen seed exchanges help folks start growing new produce, and regain agency over their food budgets and eating habits. Programs like the <a href="https://www.eventbrite.com/e/15th-annual-chicago-food-policy-summit-registration-89317576275" target="_blank">Chicago Food Policy Summit</a>, a free annual event on Chicago's South Side, help popularize urban farming and education and help provide Chicagoans with grants to start growing their own food. Though <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/dining/urban-farming-kids-healthy-food-new-york-city.html" target="_blank">gentrification may bring relief</a> to previously dubbed <a href="https://truthout.org/articles/how-do-people-living-in-a-food-desert-feed-themselves-amid-a-pandemic/" target="_blank">food deserts</a> — neighborhoods without a nearby source of fresh food — the slew of problems attached to gentrification, including higher costs of living, can easily make these new, more nutritious food options completely unaffordable to residents of the neighborhood.</p><p>As seen in smaller cities, urban farming may be the key for cities to be less reliant on rural areas, and also help <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-urban-agriculture-can-improve-food-security-in-us-cities-106435" target="_blank">achieve food security</a>. As Dr. Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley, has shown, diversified gardens in urban areas can yield a large range of produce and efficiently feed nearby residents.</p><p>Of course, land in cities is often at a premium, with many people living in little space. Shifting public land use to incorporate food growth and getting creative with rooftops, basements and unused buildings can seriously change the way cities consume fresh ingredients.</p><p>In fact, renewed efforts by the conservation organization <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">World Wildlife Fund</a> to <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90505222/why-the-world-wildlife-fund-is-trying-to-spark-an-indoor-farming-revolution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">boost indoor farming</a> may revolutionize some sources of produce, particularly in cities. Repurposing unused indoor space, such as warehouses, can create direct sources of ingredients for restaurants or community-supported agriculture for neighbors. Indoor farming, while potentially more expensive, also allows urbanites from all walks of life to connect to the food system, repurpose food waste into compost and expand knowledge on growing food. <a href="https://www.gothamgreens.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greenhouses like Gotham Greens</a>' rooftop spaces can supplement indoor and outdoor spaces, adding even more potential healthy food to local ecosystems.</p>
Urban Gardening With Neighbors in Mind<p>When she's not hosting pop-up dinners with culinarily curious Chicagoans, Chef Q volunteers with <a href="https://www.facebook.com/fosterstreetgarden/" target="_blank">Foster Street Urban Agriculture</a>, a nonprofit garden that aims to help end food insecurity in Evanston, the Chicago suburb home to Northwestern University. In the garden, Chef Q teaches kids how to water, plant, weed and grow produce. She'll notice a multigenerational interest: "Once kids taste zucchini, it's over," she jokes, of little ones bringing in parents and grandparents to learn to cook with more fresh produce. "They'll start [the program] eating hot Cheetos, and they're eating something green and leafy and won't go back."</p><p>Kids also just love being able to eat something that comes out of the ground and will take their passion back home, growing tomatoes in their windowsills or trying other small gardening projects in spaces available to them near home. Harvests from Foster Street are donated to food pantries and also sold at a local farmers market, where kids learn community-based entrepreneurial skills.</p><p>"Everyone eats, it's a common denominator," she says. "When food is on the table, people will have conversations."</p>
- Urban Farming Is Revolutionizing Our Cities - EcoWatch ›
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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
Charlotte's Web<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDcwMjk3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ0NjM4N30.SaQ85SK10-MWjN3PwHo2RqpiUBdjhD0IRnHKTqKaU7Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="84700" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2174067dcc0c4094be25b3472ce08c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="charlottes web cbd oil" /><p>Perhaps one of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for several years. The company is currently in the process of achieving official USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts. Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavor options such as chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist.</p>
- Best CBD Oils of 2020: Reviews & Buying Guide - EcoWatch ›
- Best CBD Oil for Pain Management - Top 10 CBD Oil Review 2020 ... ›
- Best CBD for Dogs 2020 - Organic CBD Oil for Pets - EcoWatch ›
Coronavirus Shines Light on Zoos as Danger Zones for Deadly Disease Transmission Between Humans and Animals
By Marilyn Kroplick
The term "zoonotic disease" wasn't a hot topic of conversation before the novel coronavirus started spreading across the globe and upending lives. Now, people are discovering how devastating viruses that transfer from animals to humans can be. But the threat can go both ways — animals can also get sick from humans. There is no better time to reconsider the repercussions of keeping animals captive at zoos, for the sake of everyone's health.
- Can Your Pets Get and Transmit Coronavirus? - EcoWatch ›
- Jane Goodall: COVID-19 Is Result of Our Unhealthy Relationship ... ›
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By Daniel Ross
The wildfires that tore across Australia were as devastating as they were overwhelming, scorching some 15 million hectares of land, killing 34 people and more than 1 billion animals. In terms of its apocalyptic imagery — sweeping infernos torching great swaths with unerring speed — Australia's wildfires were hauntingly reminiscent of the fires that roared through the Amazon rainforest over the past year. Indeed, more than 80,000 fires hit the region during 2019, according to the Brazilian government.
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- The Pope Makes Plea to Save the Amazon — Will the World Listen ... ›
- 'This is a Sick Statement': Brazil's Bolsonaro, Under Pressure for Anti ... ›
By April M. Short
The world's wildlife is in danger of dying off, and inevitably taking humanity out with it. Humans have destroyed enormous portions of the planet's natural spaces, and caused a climate disaster as well as the unprecedented acceleration of mass extinction events. Among the many species struggling to stay afloat are the butterflies, birds, bats, bees and other pollinators we depend upon in order to grow basic food crops. People cannot live without the earth's diverse wild plants and animals.
- How to Turn Your Yard Into an Ecological Oasis - EcoWatch ›
- How to Turn Your Patch of Earth From Barren to Bountiful - EcoWatch ›
- What Is Regenerative Agriculture? - EcoWatch ›
- Humans Destroyed Intact Ecosystem Land the Size of Mexico in Just 13 Years - EcoWatch ›
- 23% of Earth's Natural Habitats Could Be Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Elizabeth Henderson
Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:
Changes to H-2A<p>From the farmer perspective, Title Two of H.R. 5038 improves the <a href="https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2a-temporary-agricultural-workers" target="_blank">H-2A program</a>. Instead of sequential filings via snail mail with three different government agencies, it consolidates the application process into one online filing, allows farmers to stagger labor requests and post their workers wanted listings in a single electronic registry. (<a href="https://thepryingmantis.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/time-to-replace-h2a-the-us-guestworker-program/" target="_blank">See my blog for a detailed description of how H-2A functions.</a>) Title Two changes the formula for calculating H-2A pay in a way estimated to reduce wages slightly while allowing more flexibility for differentiating among different work assignments, freezes the rate for a year and then caps the percentage increase per year, and allows alternatives to inspected on-farm housing. It sets up a limited number of three-year visas for year-round workers, thus opening the program to dairies and other livestock farms and a pilot program for 10,000 workers who will be allowed to change employers.</p><p>On balance for H-2A workers, H.R. 5038 does extend coverage by the <a href="https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/laws-and-regulations/laws/mspa" target="_blank">Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act to H-2A workers</a>. This act regulates labor contractors, requires full disclosure of wages, hours and work assignments, and provides workers with some protection from retaliation for raising grievances. Section 505(a) of MSPA states that it is a violation for any person to "intimidate, threaten, restrain, coerce, blacklist, discharge, or in any manner discriminate against any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker because such worker has, with just cause, filed any complaint or instituted, or caused to be instituted, any proceeding under or related to this Act, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceedings, or because of the exercise, with just cause, by such worker on behalf of himself or others of any right or protection afforded by this Act." While section 505(a) sounds good, it is hard to see how the timing of the grievance process could work for short-term seasonal workers who would probably have to return home before the wheels of justice start turning.</p><p>From the perspective of both H-2A and undocumented workers, most of the changes to H-2A do not look like improvements. Except for those in the pilot program, H-2A workers are still locked in to the employer who invited them and cannot switch jobs unless the employer is a multi-farm association, and they are left without the legal right to organize. <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">According to USDA statistics,</a> the number of H-2A positions has increased "from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 243,000 in fiscal 2018." By making it easier for farmers to hire "guestworkers," the bill threatens the job security of farmworkers already working on U.S. farms.</p><p>The members of <a href="https://cata-farmworkers.org/cata-statement-on-the-proposed-farm-workforce-modernization-act-h-r-5038/" target="_blank">CATA denounce the H-2A program</a> for leaving all the power in the hands of the employer. In CATA's words: "If a worker loses their job, they lose their visa and must return immediately to their home country. We have documented extensive lack of compliance with the workers' rights regulations included in the current H-2A program. Despite this, workers in the program are extremely reluctant to report issues with their job orders and problems in the workplace because their status and their ability to return through the program depends on their employers."</p>
Mandatory E-Verify<p>The final title makes electronic verification of employment eligibility, known as "e-verify," mandatory for the entire agricultural sector. No other industry sectors are saddled in this way. The goal is to close all pathways to farm work for undocumented people and to provide due process for authorized workers who are unfairly rejected by the system. However, despite the bill's assurances of fairness and accuracy, so far, the <a href="https://www.aclu.org/other/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify?redirect=technology-and-liberty/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">e-verify system has not reached that high bar</a>, and in its current form makes many misidentifications thus disqualifying qualified workers and the reverse. <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/serious-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">Contested cases take days to straighten out</a>, threatening new hires. A large farm would have office staff assigned to sort this out, but for small farms, appealing a mistaken finding can turn into a lengthy and expensive legal tangle. According to USDA, close to <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">50 percent</a> of all farmworkers are still undocumented.</p><p>I have combed UFW public statements for an explanation for the compromises in H.R. 5038, but I have not been able to find a UFW analysis of the details of the bill, and none of the UFW staffers I have reached out to have responded to my queries. Their press releases crow about a victory and urge supporters to contact the Senate to pass the same bill. By contrast, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which includes all the smaller farmworker organizations, urges calls and letters to the Senate in <a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">opposition to H.R. 5038</a>: "<a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxy8k6h9" target="_blank">As an Alliance,</a> we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farmworkers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize…we should oppose <em>any</em> legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions."</p><p>A close reading of H.R. 5038 leads me to the same conclusion. If we want to end this country's dependence on desperate people who are willing to do hard physical labor at machine speeds for poverty wages, we need to transform farm work into a respected vocation with living wages, the right to organize, full benefits, health coverage and a pension plan. When we replace giant farms with integrated, biodiverse family-scale organic and <a href="https://tinyurl.com/vhoq22o" target="_blank">agroecological farms</a>, no one will need to work like a machine.</p><p><strong>Take action: </strong><a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">Urge your senators to oppose H.R. 5038 — The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019</a>.</p>
By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.
Sustainability Is Subjective<p>Sustainability isn't an absolute, meaning that wine and its agricultural counterparts can be sustainable in some ways, and not so much in other facets. While winemaking may be hyper eco-conscious, bottling and shipping may harm the planet beyond what less sustainable vineyard habits could ever lay claim to. Sustainability is rosé; neither white nor red, not necessarily organic or inorganic, but somewhere in between. And that limbo of sustainability can be, like a nicely chilled pink wine, complex and delicious, though nowhere near as easy to sip.</p><p>For instance, organically grown and made wine is not necessarily considered to be organic wine. "In the wine industry, many growers farm organically, but to be certified as an organic farm, the grower must keep records of practices for several years and submit them to one of the certifying organizations, like <a href="https://www.ccof.org/" target="_blank">California Certified Organic Farmers</a>," explained Vanessa Conlin, head of wine at online wine store <a href="https://www.wineaccess.com/" target="_blank">Wine Access</a>.</p><p>These etymological (and bureaucratic) hurdles make it difficult for a wine to become officially organic certified, and therefore the organic practices of omitting synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other toxins from the wine-growing and making process, though better for the environment and the consumer's health, typically go unseen on a wine bottle's label. In France, however, a special European Union regulated label, <a href="https://www.winetourbooking.com/en/what-is-actually-a-biological-wine/" target="_blank">the Ecocert</a>, marks biological (that is, wines free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer) wines, proving that such an indicator can be successfully utilized with a little government interest.</p><p>In the United States, organic is the most popular label to identify a biological wine, but wines that are labeled organic also cannot contain any added sulfites. Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, but many winemakers add sulfur dioxide as antimicrobial and an antioxidative agent, stabilizing wines to best ensure the bottle tastes as good as expected once uncorked.</p><p>"The key difference between sustainable and organic farming is that while sustainability is meant to protect the environment for future generations, it does not have to include organic practices, although many do," Conlin explained. "Sustainability takes into account the health of the entire business, in ways like water preservation, energy efficiency, and even the well-being of the employees." <a href="https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog-posts/whats-the-difference-between-sustainable-organic-and-biodynamic-wine" target="_blank">Biodynamic wine</a>, which utilizes a closed ecosystem, that is, no outside fertilizers or alternative products, is just one example of a type of sustainable wine.</p><p>"Every winery and farm can do it," <a href="https://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/hunt-country-vineyards-wins-award/" target="_blank">said</a> Art Hunt, who, along with his wife Joyce, founded and owns Hunt Country Vineyards, located near Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes AVA ("American Viticultural Area," a federally designated wine grape-growing region) in upstate New York. The Hunts regard their vineyard as a total, biodiverse ecosystem that supports bees, birds and other wildlife.</p><p>"It's not all or nothing," Hunt said about running a sustainable winery. "You can work at it every year without it impacting your bottom line too much, and gradually increase your profitability."</p>
Sipping Wine Sustainably<p>The carbon footprint of global winemaking and global wine consumption is nothing to scoff at. The latter, which requires cases of wine be shipped from California to Spain, France to China, Australia to South Africa or perhaps back to Oregon or Alaska and everywhere in between, imprints a deep carbon footprint. Because wine is so region-specific, and only so many regions can create drinkable bottles, ground and air transportation is <a href="https://www.livescience.com/3041-carbon-footprint-wine.html" target="_blank">responsible for nearly all of the wine industry's CO2 emissions</a>.</p><p>Pesticides may fall out of favor, but a craving for an excellent Napa Cabernet in Singapore may not. The solution? Better packaging. "Many sustainable producers are making a concerted effort to lessen their carbon footprint by moving to lighter-weight glass bottles, or are trying alternative packaging, as the actual production of glass is energy-intensive," Conlin explained. "Cans, kegs, and other alternative types of packaging are lighter to ship and, in the case of kegs, are often reusable." Wine on tap? Great for the planet!</p><p>Unless you're a hyper-knowledgeable wine consumer, actually understanding how to purchase a bottle of wine sustainably can be befuddling. Beyond the physical packaging, labels like Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, additional local certifications, and the universal <a href="https://www.demeter.de/verbraucher/landwirtschaft/weinbau/weltweit/faq" target="_blank">Demeter</a> qualification, only for biodynamic wines, can address environmental concerns. "Look for key terms like sustainable or integrated pest management or even biodynamic," Wallace suggested. "They mean a wine was made with the goal to protect and maintain the natural ecosphere."</p><p>Also, winemakers use <a href="https://vegansbaby.com/theres-what-in-my-wine-the-gross-ingredients-in-wine-no-one-talks-about/" target="_blank">animal-derived products</a> to clarify the wine in a process called "fining." Some fining agents include casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Since animal agriculture is the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/vnf53gy" target="_blank">second largest contributor</a> to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels and a <a href="https://tinyurl.com/r27g4eo" target="_blank">leading cause</a> of biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water and air pollution, eco-minded, animal-friendly wine drinkers may want to seek out vegan wines, which use mineral-based fining agents like activated charcoal or bentonite, a type of clay.</p><p>Wine is a dialogue, and there's no shame in asking a sommelier or wine store professional questions about wine and its sustainable bragging points. Ask which bottles (or cans!) are <a href="https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/sustainable-wines-and-spirits" target="_blank">sustainable</a> or <a href="https://vegnews.com/food-recipes/vegan-food-guides/wine" target="_blank">vegan</a>, which winemakers prioritize protecting the environment and if there are any local alternatives to a more faraway favorite.</p><p>"Industry buyers and restaurants are there to serve the demands of the consumer, so as interest in sustainability grows, savvy merchants are responding to that demand and often notate sustainably farmed wines on shelf-talkers or as symbols on wine lists," Conlin said. Don't see sustainable notations at your local wine shop or happy hour spot? Speak up!</p>
- Climate Crisis Could Destroy Most Vineyards - EcoWatch ›
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By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
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Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
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By Tia Schwab
It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs.
The Public Health Menace No One Knows About<p>The health and environmental impact of CAFOs is indeed enormous. "CAFOs are large-scale facilities that house thousands if not tens of thousands of animals in very small spaces," said Ho. "One CAFO can produce as much manure as a medium-size city in the United States" — with one critical difference: A medium-size city in the U.S. is required under the Clean Water Act to have a municipal wastewater treatment plant. CAFOs have no such treatment plant.<br></p><p>When animal manure escapes from CAFOs into nearby water sources, it can have devastating <a href="https://stonepierpress.org/goodfoodnews/factory-farms-public-health" target="_blank">health consequences</a> for people and ecosystems. Manure can contain nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as <em>E. coli</em>, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood and silage leachate from corn feed, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">reports</a> the National Association of Local Boards of Health. Ammonia is also often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. When exposed to air, ammonium converts into nitrate, and elevated nitrate levels in drinking water have been connected to poor general health, birth defects and miscarriages. For infants, it can mean blue baby syndrome and even death.</p><p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/us/california-central-valley-tainted-water.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share" target="_blank">The New York Times</a> recently exposed the devastating effects of nitrate contamination from animal manure in low-income farmworker communities in California's Central Valley. The widespread application of chemical fertilizers and dairy cow manure has made the water unsafe for drinking, cooking and even showering. Camille Pannu, the director of the Aoki Water Justice Clinic at the University of California, Davis, likens the situation to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/us/flint-water-crisis.html?module=inline" target="_blank">water crisis</a> in Flint, Michigan. "Flint is everywhere here."</p>
Tying Data Patterns to Factory Farms<p>To put factory farms on the map, the Stanford team figured out how to teach a computer algorithm to analyze data patterns. They got <a href="https://woods.stanford.edu/news/machine-learning-environmental-enforcer" target="_blank">help</a> from Google's advances in image learning, the USDA's National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP), and the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/" target="_blank">EWG</a> and <a href="https://waterkeeper.org/" target="_blank">Waterkeeper Alliance</a>.<br></p><p>The environmental groups supplied locations of CAFOs they had collected manually. The researchers matched those locations to NAIP satellite images, hand-validating the presence of CAFOs using these same processes. Once CAFOs were confirmed, the team combined this information with open-source image-recognition tools released by Google, which were already trained to identify different types of objects, buildings, people and animals in photos.</p><p>In receiving this information, the algorithm was retrained to identify CAFOs by looking for certain visual cues. "Swine farms were identifiable by compact rectangular barns abutted by large liquid manure pits, and poultry by long rectangular barns and dry manure storage," noted the researchers in their report. The algorithm could then be applied to unscanned locations to identify unseen CAFOs.</p><p>Handan-Nader explained this process as the retraining of an existing technology. "Instead of working with a baby, we got a toddler, who knows what an arm is, but maybe doesn't know what an entire person looks like," said Handan-Nader. In this case, the arm is a building, and an entire person is a CAFO.</p><p>To improve the tool's accuracy, the team also fed the algorithm photos of stadium bleachers, airplane hangars and mobile home parks, which only appear to match the CAFO visual cues. "Just as humans learn from being tricked, so does a computer," said Handan-Nader.</p><p>There's another way to look at the research effort, she added. They were "very unglamorously looking at poop for months and months."</p><p>It paid off. Ho and Handan-Nader identified 15 percent more poultry farms than what was found through a manual census. The researchers <a href="https://woods.stanford.edu/news/machine-learning-environmental-enforcer" target="_blank">estimated</a> their algorithm could identify 95 percent of existing large-scale facilities using fewer than 10 percent of the resources required for a manual census.</p><p>"Dr. Ho's work makes my job much easier," said Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis at the EWG. "While humans will always need to validate and quality check computer-generated results, any innovation for locating CAFOs will make the process much more efficient. This is paramount when keeping up with an industry that can grow quickly, having an immediate impact on the environment and public health."</p>
Replacing Guesswork With Evidence<p>The tool works with conventional satellite imagery, but future iterations could be trained to identify new spectral signatures, like building materials, lagoons, or actual discharges into waterways. The tool could also help detect other forms of environmental degradation, like oil spills. Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, is already using a similar technology to track brick kilns, a huge source of air pollution.</p><p>Katie Cantrell envisions using the tool to provide solid evidence of the harm done by factory farming. "This mapping project provides an invaluable resource for advocates at the local, state, and national level," she said. "They can use it to document correlations between the location and density of CAFOs and socioeconomic data, health data such as asthma and mortality rates, and air and water pollution data, that can hopefully help drive better regulation and protection of front-line communities." Added EWG's Rundquist, "The need for this utility is becoming more important as public information around these operations becomes more opaque and unavailable."</p><p>In the meantime, Missouri voted last month to prevent counties from passing more stringent laws regulating CAFOs. Now, local standards for health and environmental protection cannot be tougher than those of the state. In doing so, Missouri joins <a href="https://psmag.com/news/missouri-outlaws-rural-residents-last-line-of-protection-against-cafos" target="_blank">seven</a> other states this year who have considered strengthening protections for CAFOs, which raises the question: Who is strengthening protections for our environment and local communities?</p>
By Christy Spees
On March 1, Denny's stopped purchasing chicken treated with medically important antibiotics for its U.S. restaurants. Many consumers might expect to see such promises at Whole Foods or their local farm-to-table restaurant, but why is a chain like Denny's (i.e., one that is enjoyed more for its assortment of inexpensive breakfast foods than its moral standards) joining the trend to reduce antibiotics in meat?
By Valerie Vande Panne
In February, the voters of Toledo, Ohio, passed a ballot initiative that gives Lake Erie and those who rely on the lake's ecosystem a bill of rights. The idea is to protect and preserve the ecosystem so that the life that depends on it — humans included — can have access to safe, fresh drinking water.