ISU helps determine best hen-housing system

Photo by jamesmorton, Flickr

Iowa State University is working with agricultural groups around the nation to determine the most sustainable hen-housing system. Joining ISU are groups from Michigan State University, University of California, Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Coalition For Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) funded this $6 million study in order to assess the environmental impact, food safety, worker safety, animal health and well-being and food affordability of three popular systems of hen-housing.

These systems are conventional cage housing (the most popular method in the U.S.), enriched cage housing (larger cages than the conventional cages, with perches and nesting areas) and cage-free aviary (hens are free to move on the building’s floor).

This study will occur over three years, and the CSES hopes their results will lead to egg production companies adopting improved practices:

This research will help food companies and other organizations make independent, informed purchasing decisions that are ethically grounded, scientifically verified, economically viable and ultimately in alignment with the desires of consumers.

EPA moves to clean up coal plants nationwide

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The Environmental Protection Agency is gaining ground in its battle against polution emitted from coal plants.  It hopes to finish two measures this week that would help the power plants cut back on their emissions.

McClatchy Newspapers reports:

After years of delays and false starts under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the Environmental Protection Agency is close to finishing two measures to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Health experts say the pollution reductions will save thousands of lives every year by sparing people asthma attacks, heart attacks and other health problems. Coal-dependent power companies that face big bills for new equipment in response to the EPA rules are calling for more time, arguing that electric rates will rise, harming households and industries.

One of the rules, expected in final form as early as Wednesday, would force states in the eastern half of the country to reduce pollutants that travel hundreds of miles to create dangerously bad air days in other states. The other rule, due in November and the subject of much wrangling, will be the first national requirement to reduce mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Continue reading

Muscatine residents frustrated by pollution

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Muscatine’s Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) is undergoing a $100 million initiative to reduce emissions – but this isn’t enough for many nearby residents. In order to cut down on emissions, the GPC will create new facilities and get rid of old equipment responsible for much of the harmful pollution. While the residents endorse this change, the Muscatine Journal reports that they’re frustrated by both the amount of time it took for this project to begin, and the amount of time it will take for GPC to complete it. Current estimates anticipate three more years of work before all the changes are in place:

Several GPC neighbors voiced their opinions.

“My dad died last summer of stomach cancer,” said Wanda Mansaray, who lives on Schley Avenue. “In the end, death wins the battle. How many are going to die? How many more are going to suffer for the rest of their lives? I’m not a smoker, but I’m dying of GPC’s second- hand smoke. Some people can hardly take a breath because of that great factory next door.”

“My mother died of emphysema. My father died of emphysema. I have emphysema,” said another South End resident. “When I go outside, I’m coughing so bad within two hours I have to go back in where I have three expensive air filters.”

“We can’t even open our windows because the pollution enters the house,” said another person who lives across Baker Street from the plant. “There’s people that live around me that have cancer or lung problems. My son has asthma.” Continue reading

DuPont to bring ‘next-generation’ ethanol plant to Nevada

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Nevada, Iowa will soon be home to a new kind of ethanol plant.  DuPont’s new plant will use corncobs, leaves and stalks as feedstock instead of corn in its production.

Read more of the Des Moines Register’s coverage here:

Nevada will be the site of one of the world’s few next-generation ethanol plants, DuPont announced Monday.

The biorefinery will use corncobs, leaves and stalks as feedstock rather than corn. It will join a proposed Poet plant in Emmetsburg as Iowa’s two next-generation refineries, to go along with 40 corn-fed ethanol plants in the state.

To remain a leader in ethanol production, Iowa must find an efficient, cost-effective way to harvest the tons of biomass left on fields and turn it into biofuel. Federal renewable-energy goals will require refiners to use 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022, and much of it from sources other than cornstarch. Continue reading

New co-op in West Des Moines

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Strong community interest succeeded in bringing a new co-op to West Des Moines. The Tallgrass Grocery Co-op, located in the Valley Junction neighborhood, opens in the fall and offers locally grown and produced foods. The Des Moines Register reports that the financial support of locals ensured the co-op’s opening:

Organizers put out a call for supporters on June 6 with the stipulation that they would launch the market only if 200 people committed $100 each to the cause by the end of the month. Unlike a traditional store, co-ops are member-owned, and the Tallgrass founders wanted to ensure the market had the community support it would need to be successful.

The group hit its target number in two weeks with checks coming from across the metro area, said charter member Carlyn Crowe.

This co-op offers peace of mind to those in the Wes Des Moines area concerned with the quality of food available on the market.

“With a co-op, there’s no wondering what is or what might not be in your food,” said Shanen Ebersole, whose family sells grass-fed, hormone-free beef. “Local food going to local people was a system that worked for centuries, and it’s something that a lot of people want to get back to.”

UI hosts workshop for middle school teachers

UI Professor Scott Spak demonstrates a potential classroom experiment for the 24 teachers in attendance. Photo by Brynne Schweigel.

The University of Iowa is doing their part in preparing science teachers to cover environmental issues in the classroom. Professor Charlie Stanier and PhD candidate Morgan Yarker recently led a workshop helping middle school teachers develop curricula covering climate, weather and energy. While Professor Stanier was required to conduct an outreach activity as part of a grant, Yarker explained that the workshop went beyond the call of duty:

“Charlie Stanier received a National Science Foundation grant given to scientist who aren’t tenured yet, so that they’ll have money to do research,” said Yarker. “Like almost all NSF grants, you have to have an outreach component. I don’t know what most scientists do, but you don’t usually go to the extent of starting a workshop for teachers.”

Stanier and Yarker decided to focus their efforts on middle school teachers in order to help them adapt to Iowa’s upcoming education changes. Iowa is going to implement new state education standards called Iowa Core, whose goals include making middle school students more informed on Earth science topics, such as weather and climate. Continue reading

Animal waste regulations eliminated

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Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission recently retracted permitting requirements for large-scale animal farms. These requirements used to mandate that farmers in charge of confined animal feeding operations receive a permit from the Department of Natural Resources before discharging animal waste.  The Sioux City Journal reports that this decision caused outrage among local environmentalists, including members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI):

The ICCI representatives, several dressed in T-shirts promoting their organization, didn’t stay for the vote. “The fix is in anyway,” Goodner said as he and other members left the conference room.

Their comments before the vote included several points, not in the least that they thought the board was stacked in favor of agribusiness and hostile to environmental regulation.

Several of the speakers singled out commissioners Brent Ratsetter and Delores Mertz, saying they should rescue themselves from the vote, if not the commission entirely. Continue reading