Nick Kristof on Chicken; Cubans Are Very Green Farmers

Nicholas Kristof on arsenic in chicken, Slate on ecologically friendly farming in Cuba, Mother Jones on the low cost of stopping climate change, Good on not buying leather, and NPR on the end of the Ice Age.

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Nicholas Kristof on the chemicals fed to chicken Following the "pink slime" scandal, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof turns his attention to another irksome substance in our food: arsenic in chicken. Citing a pair of new studies testing for chemicals found in chicken feathers, he runs down a list of seemingly unnatural chemicals being fed to the birds we eat. Often these substances are added for reasons other than human or chicken health. The active ingredient of Benadryl is given to reduce chickens' anxiety; caffeine, to keep them wake to eat more; and arsenic, to make meat a pleasant pink color. While no unsafe levels of these chemicals have been found in the meat itself, Kristof is concerned. "To me, this underscores the pitfalls of industrial farming," he writes. "When I was growing up on our hopelessly inefficient family farm, we didn’t routinely drug animals." Update, 3:17 PM EST: The National Chicken Council posted a response to the John Hopkins Center study that reads, in part, "Chickens in the United States produced for meat are not given 'arsenic' as an additive in chicken feed, or any of the other compounds mentioned in this study."

Slate on what Cuba teaches us about green farming The online magazine's Raj Patel describes how Cuba has become an unlikely incubator for inventing and testing ecologically friendly farming practices after the fall of the USSR. During the 1990s, with the Soviet government no longer around for financial support, Cuban farmers couldn't afford the fertilizers and pesticides that make modern factory-farming possible. Accordingly, they turned to nature for help: "Nitrogen-fixing beans are grown instead of inorganic fertilizer; flowers are used to attract beneficial insects to manage pests; weeds are crowded out with more intensive planting." Patel argues that as fertilizer costs rise and weather patterns become more erratic with climate change, Cuba's heartier "agro-ecology" approach to farming should be a model for another countries.

Mother Jones on the low cost of being green According to an independent government committee in the United Kingdom, the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emission to environmental sustainable levels by 2050 is much lower than previously thought. A new report pegs the number at 1 to 2 percent of GDP in Britain -- or about how much is spent on public housing. Mother Jones' James West looks for lessons for the U.S., where politicians frequently cite the heavy economic cost of environmental regulations as reason to not adopt them. "As president, George W. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, calling it a job killer that placed unfair economic burdens on the US while letting poorer countries off the hook," West writes. "And in Congress, the ill-fated cap-and-trade bill of 2009 fell victim, in part, to arguments that consumers would foot the bill by paying more for electricity."

Good on dumping leather Leather may seem like an efficient way of using the entire cow, but Good magazine's Tabea Kay says the ecological impact is more insidious. Besides the entire cow-farming industry accounting for 18 percent of humans' greenhouse gas emissions, leather production harms the environment by releasing toxic chemicals and using inordinate amount of water. Even faux leather is problematic since it's made of plastics derived from fossil fuels. Good's suggestion? "Another option is real leather, done better. Cultivating hides from organically farmed cattle, and vegetable tanning it cuts down on both the ecological damage and cruelty concerns of the mainstream leather process."

NPR on what ended the Ice Age  According to a new study, which was the subject of a segment on Thursday's Morning Edition on NPR, a wobble in the Earth's axis may have set off a chain of events that warmed the globe and ended the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago. Published in this week's Nature, the new research says that after the Earth tilted millennia ago, more sunlight hit the North Pole, melting sheets of ice into the Arctic and altering ocean currents such that the seas released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The details of the end of the last Ice Age may offer clues to the effects of global warming today, since the same sort of ice melting is happening at an accelerated rate now.

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