On the Radio: Environmental impacts of egg production


Free-range broiler breeder chickens outside on grass (Compassion in World Farming / Flickr).
Free-range broiler breeder chickens outside on grass (Compassion in World Farming / Flickr).
May 12, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an Iowa State University study on the environmental impact of different practices used in egg production. The study is especially salient now, as farmers and operators across the Midwest scramble to contain the avian influenza epidemic. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Researchers at Iowa State University are studying the environmental impact of different practices used in egg production.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study looked at two alternatives to the conventional egg production model which involves placing six laying hens in a single cage. One alternative – the “enriched colony system” – places roughly 60 birds in a large enclosure and provides them with access to perches, nest boxes and scratch pads. The second alternative model – known as an “aviary” – allows hundreds of birds to roam freely in a large space for much of the day.

The study found that these methods contribute to poorer air quality and increased ammonia levels in the area. Additionally, the larger roaming areas mean that the birds require more feed and therefore leads to an increase in carbon emissions associated with feed production. Despite the environmental concerns, these methods are seen as better for the welfare of the animals.

The findings were published in March’s issue of the journal Poultry Science. The researchers will now shift their focus to other topics such as economics, hen physiology and welfare.

For more information on this study, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2015/03/12/eggindustry2015

On the Radio: Bee-harming pesticide may be ineffective


A bee lands on a flower during pollination (Cristian Bernardo Velasco Valdez / Flickr)
A bee lands on a flower during pollination (Cristian Bernardo Velasco Valdez / Flickr)
March 16, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a popular pesticide thought to harm bees, which may not be as effective at warding off pests as previously thought. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bee pesticide

A pesticide thought to harm bee populations may be less effective for pest control than previously thought.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The effectiveness of neonicotinoid, a class of pesticides used on nearly half of soybean crops nationwide, is being called into question by a recent EPA analysis. The study concludes that the treatment provides “little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”

The pesticide is one of the factors researchers like Mary Harris, of Iowa State University, suspect may be responsible for dramatically falling bee populations over the last ten years. While the pesticide can’t kill bees directly, it can contaminate pollen and contribute to loss of bees over winter. Farmers depend on bees and other insects to pollinate their crops.

For more information about pesticides and other crop treatments, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www2.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/benefits-neonicotinoid-seed-treatments-soybean-production

http://netnebraska.org/article/news/955118/ag-industry-odds-over-pesticide-studied-bee-deaths

On the Radio: New app helps find sustainable groceries


Items from a typical produce aisle ( katiescrapbooklady / Flickr)
Items from a typical produce aisle ( katiescrapbooklady / Flickr)
December 22, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new app that looks to help consumers identify healthy and sustainable foods in the grocery aisle. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

A new mobile app aims to help consumers find the healthiest and most sustainably-grown foods at the grocery store.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In October, the Environmental Working Group – a non-profit that advocates for environmental and public health issues – launched “Food Scores,” a food ratings database and mobile app. The database has rated more than 80,000 products using three criteria: nutrition such as caloric and fat content, ingredient concerns like hormones and antibiotics, and processing which includes the amount of artificial ingredients a product contains.

With the most emphasis placed on the food’s nutritional content and the least on processing, the app compiles these factors, then gives each product a rating between 1 and 10, with 1 being the healthiest and 10 the least nutritional foods.

The Environmental Working Group is headquartered in Washington D.C. and has a regional office in Ames, Iowa.

For more information about the mobile app and a link to the database, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerrry Schnoor.

sources: http://iowapublicradio.org/post/apps-aim-guide-you-sustainable-food-whatever-means; http://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/user-guide

Iowa grocery shoppers have varied views on GMOs


 

The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)
The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)

The use of genetically modified organisms ranks low in the list of factors Iowans consider when buying groceries, according to a new survey from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The study, conducted online by Harris Poll, surveyed around 500 Iowans who buy groceries, focusing on the factors that influence packaged food purchases. It found that while 95 percent of Iowa’s corn is genetically modified, only 18 percent of consumers said a GMO label would cause them to choose one product over another, falling well behind “Natural” (30%) and “Organic” (25%) and just ahead of “Gluten free” (13%), according to a Des Moines Register infographic. Taste and price were listed among the most important factors behind packaged food purchases.

The study found confusion around the usefulness of GMO labels on packaged products. While 36 percent of those surveyed believe a non-GMO label denotes a safer product, 32 percent think the label is meaningless. Faced with the option of paying more for food with a GMO-free label, 38 percent opted for the lower price, while 26 percent preferred the non-GMO product and 36 percent were unsure.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that genetically modified plants must meet the same safety requirements for human consumption as traditionally bred plants, the World Health Organization has highlighted some environmental concerns of the technology, like decreased crop rotation, harm to beneficial insects and the potential for new plant pathogens.

Apples and Diphenylamine (DPA)


Photo by Brian Y.; Flickr.
Photo by Brian Y.; Flickr.

The Environmental Working Group recently blogged about apples and DPA, the pesticide applied to apples once they’re harvested to protect them during storage.

DPA is an antioxidant that slows the development of black patches on the skins of picked apples in storage.

This chemical has caused a debate in both the US and EU on whether or not DPA should continue to be used on our produce.

The EU recently restricted DPA to 0.1 part per million, because people would not be at risk with concentrations that low, but some apples, although not sprayed with DPA, can have trace amounts of the pesticide if stored in a warehouse that once used it.

Although the EPA must review pesticides every 15 years to make sure there is no harm to humans, they haven’t reviewed DPA in 16 years.

Purchasing organic apples, organic apple juice, or organic apple sauce, is an easy change to make to reduce the risk of ingesting potentially harmful chemicals.

To read the full story on apples and DPA, click here.

Photos: a “beyond-organic” farm


Barney Bahrenfuse and his wife Suzanne Castello run a small farm in Grinnell, Iowa. They raise livestock, including hogs, sheep and cattle. The couple practices sustainability with their farming. They strive to preserve their topsoil, and they try and stay away from using chemicals on their land.

Additionally, Barney and Suzanne take a humane approach toward their animals; all of their livestock are given lots of room to roam. They also avoid giving their animals hormones and antibiotics, opting instead for a more natural approach to farming.

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Pitfalls of organic food’s popularization


Photo by suzettesuzette, Flickr

The organic food market continues its boom, but does this rise in popularity come at the expense of “organic principles”? Eastern Iowa Health recently reported that organic food has become a mainstream industry:

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