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News for April 24, 2010

'Green' becomes more than just a marketing pitch

CINCINNATI — Going green has become good business.

Just look at store shelves: Sales of "green" products, such as organic foods and natural personal care items, have jumped 15 percent since 2006, according to research firm Mintel International.

A wave of promotion is hitting consumers during this week's 40th anniversary Earth Day observances: Hanes says it can put you in eco-friendly underwear, Frito-Lay offers Sun Chips from a bag you can toss in a compost pile, and Target stores invite you to use their recycling bins.

Some promotions sound more like image-buffing than Earth-saving, and big companies still have a long way to go to significantly reduce their impacts on air, water and other resources. But environmentalists say the drivers of American consumer culture are starting to make real strides.

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The Problem with Factory Farms

If you eat meat, the odds are high that you've enjoyed a meal made from an animal raised on a factory farm (also known as a CAFO). According to the USDA, 2% of U.S. livestock facilities raise an estimated 40% of all farm animals. This means that pigs, chickens and cows are concentrated in a small number of very large farms. But even if you're a vegetarian, the health and environmental repercussions of these facilities may affect you. In his book Animal Factory, journalist David Kirby explores the problems of factory farms, from untreated animal waste to polluted waterways. Kirby talks to TIME about large-scale industrial farming, the lack of government oversight and the terrible fate of a North Carolina river.

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The Raw Milk Ruckus

When 13 people in Michigan were stricken with illness last month, debate flared up once again over laws restricting the sale of raw milk.

It is a "particularly American" debate, say Chicago Tribune reporters Julie Deardorff and Tim Jones—one that pits "passionate defenders of personal choice" against "health officials who warn that drinking farm-fresh milk can be life-threatening."

Well, more people than that are involved. Joining those health officials are many nutritionists, scientists, and public-health advocates. It's true, though, that the debate is particularly American. In America, it seems that every debate—from health care to Apple's decision to control which apps it will allow on the iPad to whether General Mills (GIS) should be allowed to market Cheerios as a disease preventative—is framed in terms of how our "freedom" is being curtailed. There are some people I think would greatly benefit from a year of living in Iran. It would give them perspective. 

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Doyle likely to sign raw milk bill

Madison — Gov. Jim Doyle said he will likely sign a bill allowing farmers to sell untreated milk at their farms after the Assembly passed it early Friday.

"Unless there is something that's going to surprise me when I really get into the bill, I would assume I will sign it," Doyle told reporters.

In other comments, the Democratic governor said he was unlikely to call the Legislature into special session to deal with unfinished business such as bills to limit greenhouse gas emissions and create or expand regional transit authorities. Doyle also said he would sign a bill that would limit the use of Indian mascots and team names by Wisconsin schools.

The raw milk issue has struck a chord with many consumers and segments of the farm community who tout milk - straight from the udder - as a safe product with many healthful properties. The bill had already passed the Senate when the Assembly approved it Friday 60-35.

The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau), said the bill would offer choices for consumers and a better living for small farmers.

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