U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

May 22, 2020 by  
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Wildlife  officials recently announced outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) ravaging Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California. The  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  deems RHDV2 as seriously contagious and nearly always fatal amongst domestic and wild rabbit species and their close relatives, hares and pikas. RHDV2 is not zoonotic, so it won’t infect livestock, pets or humans, asserts the  California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) . Still,  Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW)  advise against pets consuming rabbit carcasses. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is the viral agent causing rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD).  Science Direct  says RHDV belongs in the calicivirus family, which infects many  animals  including pigs, cattle, cats and even humans. Norovirus, for example, is a human calicivirus. But humans seem unaffected by RHDV.  Related:  What’s causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations? There are two worrisome strains of RHDV — RHDV1 and RHDV2.  House Rabbit Society ,  Veterinary Practice , as well as both the Vaccine and Veterinary Research  journals document RHDV1 as first emerging in China back in 1984, when, in just one year, 140 million rabbits were decimated. China claims that the outbreak started in Angora rabbits imported from Europe. Eventually, RHDV1 spread to over 40 countries and hit the U.S. in 2000. Given its estimated 95% mortality rate, Australia and New Zealand notoriously introduced RHDV1 into their wild rabbit populations as pest biocontrol. RHDV1 mutated, begetting RHDV2, which was first identified in 2010 when domesticated rabbits in France showed clinical signs of RHD despite being already vaccinated against RHDV1. By September 2018, RHDV2 reached the U.S., manifesting among domestic rabbits in a rural Ohio farm, documents the  Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service . The USDA considers both RHDV1 and RHDV2 invasive pathogens, as they are not native to North America. A  joint paper  put forth by the Center for Food Security & Public Health , Institute for International Cooperation in Animal Biologics, Iowa State University, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the USDA revealed RHD can be difficult to eradicate. Not only can the virus strains survive over seven months on rabbit carcasses, but they also withstand temperatures below freezing and above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  House Rabbit Society  cites several differences between RHDV1 and RHDV2. Incubation is two to 10 days for RHDV1, but three to nine days for RHDV2. Rabbits with RHDV2 can be asymptomatic yet spread the virus for up to two months. There is no known cure for either strain. While a vaccine exists for RHDV1, there are currently no USDA -licensed vaccines for RHDV2. That RHDV2 can “potentially surviv[e] more than 3 months without a host” has prompted some U.S. veterinarians to import RHDV2 vaccines despite a convoluted process. The  USDA  and  VIN News Service  warn RHD is highly contagious, spreading easily by direct contact with rabbit excretions and secretions — saliva, sweat and biowaste. Sharing food, water, bedding, fomites and vehicles spreads RHD. Other vectors are infected rabbit meat, pelts, even insects. Besides farmers and pet owners, biologists and  conservationists  are worried about this virus. As declining rabbit populations have repercussions in  habitat  food chains, RHDV2 could cause severe consequences down the line. + Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service Via USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and House Rabbit Society Images via Pexels

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U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

Farmworkers are deemed ‘essential’ but are not protected from COVID-19

April 23, 2020 by  
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As many people in the U.S. shelter-in-place in their homes, farmworkers are at risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus as they continue to support the country’s food supply chain.

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Farmworkers are deemed ‘essential’ but are not protected from COVID-19

Addressing the social impacts of our food system

April 16, 2020 by  
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U.S. farmworkers face a slew of social, economic and political challenges that have caused a decades-long farmworker shortage. Here’s how brands such as Alter Ego, Clif Bar, Driscoll’s, Kuli Kuli and Philz Coffee are stepping in.

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Addressing the social impacts of our food system

Addressing the social impacts of our food system

April 16, 2020 by  
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U.S. farmworkers face a slew of social, economic and political challenges that have caused a decades-long farmworker shortage. Here’s how brands such as Alter Ego, Clif Bar, Driscoll’s, Kuli Kuli and Philz Coffee are stepping in.

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Addressing the social impacts of our food system

A defense of geoengineering

April 16, 2020 by  
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Fantasy or nightmare? If you look beyond extreme ideas such as space shades, there’s much to like about this fast-evolving category of climate tech.

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A defense of geoengineering

Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

April 9, 2020 by  
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Dairy farmers are suffering from pandemic-related kinks in the supply chain. Even as consumers face limits on how many dairy products they can buy at their local stores, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk, which can also contaminate groundwater. Dairy cooperatives have asked members to start dumping milk , and Wisconsin-based Foremost Farms USA even suggested that members cull their herds. The cooperatives will reimburse members for at least part of the cost of the milk. But that barely soothes farmers’ feelings as they watch hard work go down the drain. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Since restaurants, schools and other wholesale food buyers have temporarily closed, processing plants have lost customers for their milk, cheese and butter. The dairy export market has tanked, and trucking companies have trouble finding enough drivers to get fresh milk to stores. Texas-based dairy food manufacturer Dean Foods Co. is offering new drivers $1,000 sign-on bonuses if they have experience hauling dairy, according to Reuters. As restaurant sales plummet, home cooking has soared. “About half of U.S. consumers’ food budget was spent on restaurants, and we’ve shut that spigot off,” said Matt Gould, editor at trade publication Dairy & Food Market Analyst. But dairy processing factories lack agility. Switching from manufacturing quantities of fast-food slices or bulk bags of shredded cheddar for commercial use to small bags for home use is too costly. Dairy isn’t the only industry to face supply chain problems. But because milk is highly perishable and raw milk needs to be processed before drinking, farmers can’t just donate it to food banks for later use. States expect farmers to follow certain guidelines to properly dispose of milk. In Ohio, “direct land application or transfer to on-site liquid manure storage structures” is allowed. Improper disposal of milk can contaminate groundwater. Milk has an even higher content of nutrients than manure, so dumping milk into bodies of water is even worse than discharging manure into it. Fish could be in danger if farmers fail to follow the proper protocols, and the smell of rotting milk won’t help lake recreation and tourism rebound when the coronavirus pandemic is finally over. Via ABC WISN 12 and Reuters Image via Pixabay

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Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

In semi-arid Africa, farmers are transforming the ‘underground forest’ into life-giving trees

April 9, 2020 by  
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Revitalization of a traditional agricultural practice known as farmer managed natural regeneration is bringing new life to millions of acres of degraded land while boosting food, fuel, habitat and carbon storage.

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In semi-arid Africa, farmers are transforming the ‘underground forest’ into life-giving trees

Why protecting soil carbon is a win-win for farmers and the planet

April 2, 2020 by  
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The benefits of protecting and restoring soil carbon go well beyond any one farm or any one year. But not enough people are taking these steps.

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Why protecting soil carbon is a win-win for farmers and the planet

The growing movement to help farmers reduce pollution and make a profit

April 2, 2020 by  
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In Pennsylvania, an innovative program is showing farmers how to plant cash crops in buffer zones to help stabilize stream banks and clean up waterways.

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The growing movement to help farmers reduce pollution and make a profit

Is almond milk bad for the environment?

March 30, 2020 by  
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Almonds are a nutritious and satisfying food source. Not only are the munchable nuts a popular snack , but they are also used in a variety of other consumable products, such as almond butter and almond flour, and can be used in a milk alternative for people with dairy allergies or vegan preferences. Almond milk, a supermarket staple, is used in everything from coffee to baking. But like many other crops, the spotlight has been on whether almonds and the increased demand for almond milk are damaging the environment. How is almond milk produced? It’s important to first understand that almond production is a regional issue. In the United States, California grows nearly every almond in the country and also provides more than 80% of almonds shipped around the world. Needless to say, that level of production affects a significant part of the state’s land, economy and resources. The result is an industry criticized for extreme water consumption and pesticide use. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Water use in the almond industry The main headline on almonds echoes fears regarding excessive water use. The truth is that farming uses water and a lot of it; almonds are no exception. In fact, a single almond takes about 1.1 gallons of water to produce. However, to put this in perspective, a single pound of beef requires a whopping 1,800 gallons of water , proving that raising cattle is much more resource-intensive than growing almonds. Collectively, meat and dairy production in California uses more water than that of all homes, businesses and government buildings in the entire state. Those figures make choosing almond milk over dairy milk much easier. Farmers realize water is a precious resource, and it’s been a topic of conversation for decades. As a result, California almond producers have spent two decades reducing the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33%. Additionally, they are dedicated to further cutting water usage by another 20% by 2025. Farmers achieve this by targeting water usage where it is needed rather than spraying large areas. Technology is helping, too, with computer-programmed water probes that measure moisture levels in the soil and respond accordingly. Pesticides for growing almonds Another concern centers around the use of pesticides in almond production, as pesticides then end up in the soil and water supply. The answer to this problem is a basic one; simply buy organic . Although the transition has been gradual, an increasing number of almond farmers in California are converting to organic growing methods.  Is our obsession with almond milk killing bees? Then there are the claims that almond milk is killing bees , but almonds are important to bees. Not only is almond nectar the first feast bees have early in the year, but the almond groves support roughly 2 million hives from across the country, making it the world’s largest managed pollination event. With the good comes the bad — pesticides are indeed credited with contributing to colony collapse, enforcing the need to grow and buy organic almonds along with other nuts, fruits and vegetables. Almonds and the economy While California remains cognitive of the potential negative impacts of almond production, the benefits appear to outpace those concerns. As far as the economy goes, The California Agricultural Issues Center says the California almond community delivers significant economic value to the state, including providing 104,000 jobs in the state and boosting GDP by $11 billion. Almond milk’s overall impact on the environment While the discussion of almond production is important to whether almond milk is bad for the environment or not, it’s also critical to realize that most almond milk uses very few almonds. Most almond milks are high in added ingredients, like sugars, artificial flavors and thickeners. Almond milk packaging and transport both have a negative impact, and all of the added ingredients make the nutrition benefits of almond milk questionable at best. You can curb the environmental impact of prepackaged almond milk by making your own at home. There are recipes all over the internet that explain how to do so and even offer twists on the traditional almond flavor by using spices and natural flavorings. So to address the question, “Is almond milk bad for the environment?” the answer is somewhat, but the benefits of a healthy snack producing a healthy economy and a healthy bee population outweigh the water consumption issues. Also remember that almonds offer the same environmental benefits of any other tree, cleaning the air by removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Plus, the branches offer shade to the soil allowing for better water retention and less evaporation. When the leaves drop, they add nutrients to the soil through natural composting. In all, the carbon footprint is somewhat small, especially compared to conventional dairy, while the economic, nutritional and environmental rewards are high. Images via Pixabay

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