In what Greenpeace is calling a major victory for the oceans, Amsterdam based supermarket owner Royal Ahold, which owns U.S. supermarkets Stop & Shop and Giant Food, announced that they are suspending sales of three overfished "red list" species: shark, orange roughy and the oh-so-delicious Chilean seabass.
Last month Greenpeace issued a report on how we're emptying the seas, and included a challenge to the top 20 U.S. supermarkets to change the way they purchase and sell seafood. Royal Ahold was rated number two on that report, in terms of their purchasing practices, although this move will improve their score considerably.
The list was interesting. All of the supermarkets, even #1 Whole Foods, totally fail in terms of sustainable seafood. Surprisingly, Wal-Mart way outscored feel good Trader Joe's. In fact, Costco and Winn-Dixie were also better! But it's splitting hairs because they all sell fish on the red list. Bad!
Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have just staged the largest known field trial for Miscanthus, a giant perennial grass. Their results indicate that using Miscanthus as an ethanol feedstock could significantly boost biofuel production in the U.S. while greatly reducing the acreage devoted to them.
Offsetting 20% of gas use with 9.3% of agricultural land
According to Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences at UIUC, it would be possible to produce enough cellulosic ethanol with 9.3% of agricultural land to offset a fifth of our current gasoline consumption. By comparison, it would take 25% of current cropland to produce an equivalent amount of corn-based ethanol. Similar field trials conducted for switchgrass were disappointing: producing roughly the same amount of ethanol per acre as corn -- a result that glaringly contradicts the results I cited above.
A longer growing season and superior photosynthetic efficiency contribute to Miscanthus' high yield
The two principal reasons why Miscanthus yields more ethanol per acre than corn, Long explains, are that it makes green leaves 6 weeks earlier in the growing season and keeps them until late October. Corn leaves typically wither by the end of August. While it shares a similar growing season, switchgrass is much less efficient at photosynthesis; Miscanthus has a conversion efficiency of around 1% (1% of sunlight gets turned into biomass).
The main slogan of the program is: "Organic farming: Good for nature, good for you." However, even with that slogan the commission insists it is not claiming any health benefits for organics but rather supporting the growth of the organic sector. It’s an interesting concept that a government agency might try and support two different approaches to providing the same product in one sector — conventional and organic produce. Is there a conflict of interest here when these two products are competing for the same consumer monies?
The commission also has an established program supporting farmers who want to change from conventional to organic farming methods. And with projections such as those from The UK Soil Association - a 10% growth for sales of organic products this year, which it says is four to five times higher than for the general food market in a good year — it would seem to make good business sense for farmers to switch over.
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