Ancient peoples believed that ladybugs (also known as ladybird beetles) were signs of good fortune and good harvest. Not just cute and colorful, ladybugs are important allies in the organic farmer’s battle against crop-destroying pests. Did you know that just one adult ladybug can eat as many as 5,000 aphids in her lifetime?


Get ready to get sick

August 1, 2008

Our (not so good) food system:

76 million Americans – one person in four – will be sickened by something they eat this year. Of those, 325,000 will be hospitalized and 5,000 will die.

Add up the portion of agricultural fuel use that is paid for with our taxes ($22 billion), direct Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat ($3 billion), treatment of food-related illnesses ($10 billion), agricultural chemical clean-up costs ($17 billion), collateral costs of pesticide use ($8 billion), and costs of nutrients lost to erosion ($20 billion).  At minimum that’s a national subsidy of at least $80 billion,  or about $725 per household per year. And that’s on top of our already sky-high grocery bill.

Massive quantities of antibiotics are used in animal agriculture, contributing to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that increasingly threaten human health. An estimated 55-70% of the antibiotics used in the United States each year are used as feed additives for chickens, hogs, and beef cattle not to treat disease, but rather to promote growth and to compensate for crowded, stressful, and often unhygienic conditions on industrial-scale farms.

Many of the drugs used for these “nontherapeutic” purposes are identical or related to those used in human medicine, but their use as feed additives requires no prescription. Growing evidence links use of these antibiotic feed additives to the development and spread of resistant bacteria in our food supply and environment, making it harder for physicians to treat people suffering from bacterial disease.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public-health problem; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control regards it as one of the agency’s “top concerns.” The National Academy of Sciences estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria generate a minimum of $4 billion to $5 billion in costs to U.S. society and individuals yearly.

Plastic bags are made from oil: it takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags, and the U.S. goes through 380 billion of them a year.

A statistics class at Indiana U did the math: more than 1.6 billion gallons of oil are used each year for plastic bags alone. The more we use plastic bags, the more we waste oil.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, not only do we make tons of plastic bags (and use lots of oil in the process) we only recycle 1 percent. One lousy percent. It’s pitiful.

But the plastic problem gets worse. Under perfect conditions a bag takes a thousand years to biodegrade, and in a landfill, plastic bags decompose even slower. If buried, they block the natural flow of oxygen and water through the soil. If burned, they release dangerous toxins and carcinogens into the air. The damage is even more severe when the bags end up in the ocean, where thousands of sea turtles and other marine life die each year after mistaking plastic bags for food. Read the rest of this entry »

In 2007, an estimated 194 million Americans (2/3 of the total population) consumed products sweetened with sugar substitutes, according to the Calorie Control Council, an industry group. That’s 14 million more than in 2004. The council reports that the most popular are sugar-free or reduced-sugar beverages, ice cream and desserts, chewing gum and sugar substitutes spooned into coffee or tea.

Five artificial sweeteners – acesulfame K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose – are approved for use in the U.S. All are chemically manufactured molecules – molecules that do not exist in nature.

More info at

  • From 1967 to 2003, average household income (adjusted dollars) grew from $7.589 to 9,996 for those in the bottom 20%, and grew from $83,758 to $147,078 for those in the top 20%.1
  • In 2003, California had a poverty rate of 13.4%, compared to 9% in Virginia, 19.9% in Washington D.C., and 12.7% for the U.S. 1
  • For those living in poverty, the poverty gap per family member (defined as the total dollar amount short of the poverty line) grew from $1,873 to $3,018 (adjusted dollars) between 1975-2003. 1
  • From the years 1980-2000, average net income (adjusted dollars) for households with children grew by $876,300 for the top 1%, and grew by $2,000 for those in the bottom 20%. 1
  • While the number of persons at poverty level declined from 13.4% to 12.5% from 1987-2003, the number of persons on Medicaid grew from 8.4% to 12.4%1
  • Approximately 7.5 million workers (6% of the U.S. workforce) earn at or near the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.2
  • If the federal minimum wage had maintained its 1968 peak value, it would be $8.69 an hour today. 2
  • From 1956 to 1981, the minimum wage was approximately half of the average American workers wage; today it is about 30%. 2
  • Read the rest of this entry »