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This Nationwide Drought: Bad for Food Prices and Good for Insects

With drought-tied U.S. corn prices at a record high, the effects will ripple far and wide.

The worst drought in half a century will cause food prices to skyrocket, according to the latest figures released by the USDA. More than 60 percent of the country is currently in some state of drought, and week by week, it has worsened. In the past month, the price of corn has climbed 50 percent to an all time high of $8.24 per bushel and is expected to continue upward.

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New Microloans Could Give Young Farmers the Capital They Need

Beginning farmers don’t need much money to get started. But until now, the USDA had no way of giving them any loans at all.


Farmers are not a good investment risk. Their business requires substantial influxes of capital to erect barns, buy tractors, and plant seeds, with little guarantee of return. When a river floods or a heat wave hits, it can throw the best business plan off course. One of the best ways for farmers to borrow money is to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in financing. (Unfortunately, there’s a huge amount of paperwork involved in these loan programs.)

But young and beginning farmers don’t need all that. Starting out, a farmer might need a few thousand to buy a truck, some tools, or a round of seed. Young farmers who want to start small, often organic farms have had trouble getting access to that kind of money. When the National Young Farmers Coalition asked beginning farmers last year to list the challenges they faced, lack of capital came out on top.

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Nearly 50 Million Americans Have Difficulty Obtaining Food

New USDA research reveals the huge number of people struggling to eat, the reason our welfare programs are so necessary right now.


Fresh on the heels of a study that showed 15 percent of Americans use food stamps, a new USDA survey has found that more than 17 million U.S. households (PDF) had at least some trouble putting food on the table in 2010. Those 17 million homes account for nearly 50 million people, or more than 16 percent of the American population. Of the millions of households struggling to get enough to eat, almost 60 percent relied on one or more of the nation's three largest nutritional assistance programs: food stamps, the National School Lunch Program, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

These numbers make conservatives' attempts to cut nutrition benefits for America's neediest all the more worrisome, and, in some cases, offensive. South Carolina's Republican Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer last year compared people receiving food benefits to "stray animals" that "don't know any better": "My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals," he said "They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better."

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Before MyPlates and Pyramids There Was the 1943 "Food Wheel" Before MyPlates and Pyramids There Was the 1943 "Food Wheel"

The war-era food wheel shows just how dramatically the government's approach to food guidelines has changed.

Before there were food plates and food pyramids, the federal government advised us to eat from a food wheel featuring the "Basic Seven." Butter and fortified margarine had their own food group.

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Behold MyPlate, the USDA's New Food Icon

Meet the food pyramid's replacement, MyPlate, a simple schematic that's designed to show parents what dinner should actually look like.

This morning, Michelle Obama and the United States Department of Agriculture unveiled the food pyramid's long-awaited replacement: MyPlate.

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Spider Webs and the Battle Over Federal Caffeine Limits

One hundred years ago, the predecessor of the FDA had no data on how caffeine affects humans. Unbelievably, the same is pretty much true today.


A fascinating article in Monday's New York Times looks at the long debate over safe limits for caffeine consumption in the United States. "Long" in this instance means 100 years—journalist Murray Carpenter tells the story of the USDA vs. Coca-Cola, which went to trial a century ago this month.

At the time, Coke contained 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving, as much as a Red Bull today. To defend themselves against the government's charge that caffeine was a harmful ingredient, they hired a scientist to look at the effects of the stimulant on the mental and motor skills of both abstainers, occasional, and heavy users. No one had gathered this kind of data before.

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