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Fertilizer prices are soaring – and that’s an opportunity to promote more sustainable ways of growing crops

Farmers are contending with huge spikes in fertilizer prices. The Biden administration is paying US companies to boost synthetic fertilizer production,…

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A farmer spreads fertilizer on a field in Berks County, Pa. Harold Hoch/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Farmers are coping with a fertilizer crisis brought on by soaring fossil fuel prices and industry consolidation. The price of synthetic fertilizer has more than doubled since 2021, causing great stress in farm country.

This crunch is particularly tough on those who grow corn, which accounts for half of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use. The National Corn Growers Association predicts that its members will spend 80% more in 2022 on synthetic fertilizers than they did in 2021. A recent study estimates that on average, this will represent US$128,000 in added costs per farm.

In response, the Biden administration announced a new grant program on March 11, 2022, “to support innovative American-made fertilizer to give U.S. farmers more choices in the marketplace.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $500 million to try to lower fertilizer costs by increasing production. But since this probably isn’t enough money to construct new fertilizer plants, it’s not clear how the money will be spent.

I direct the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University and have held senior positions at the USDA, including serving as deputy secretary of agriculture from 2009 to 2013. In my view, producing more synthetic fertilizer should not be the only answer to this serious challenge. The U.S. should also provide support for nature-based solutions, including farming practices that help farmers reduce or forgo synthetic fertilizers, and biological products that substitute for harsher chemical inputs.

Peas, beans and clover add nitrogen to soil naturally and can supplement or substitute for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

Too much fertilizer in the wrong places

All plants need nutrients to grow, especially the “big three” macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Farmers can fertilize their fields by planting crops that add nitrogen to soil naturally or by applying animal manure and compost to soil.

Since World War II, however, farmers have relied mainly on manufactured synthetic fertilizers that contain various ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, along with secondary nutrients and micronutrients. That shift happened because manufacturers produced huge quantities of ammonium nitrate, the main ingredient in explosives, during the war; when the conflict ended, they switched to making nitrogen fertilizer.

Synthetic fertilizers have greatly enhanced crop yields and are rightly credited with helping to feed the world. But they aren’t used evenly around the world. In poor regions like sub-Saharan Africa, too little fertilizer is available. In wealthier areas, abundant synthetic fertilizers have contributed to overapplication and serious environmental harm.

Excess fertilizer washes off of fields during storms and runs into rivers and lakes. There, it fertilizes huge blooms of algae that die and decompose, depleting oxygen in the water and creating “dead zones” that can’t support fish or other aquatic life. This process, eutrophication, is a major problem in the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and many other U.S. water bodies.

Excess nitrogen can also contaminate drinking water and threaten human health. And fertilizers, whether animal-sourced or synthetic, are a significant source of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

Green scum covers water around a dock.
Heavy nutrient runoff from farmlands produces chronic blooms of algae in Lake Erie, the smallest Great Lake by volume. NOAA

What’s causing the crisis

One reason U.S. fertilizer prices have spiked is that farmers are beholden to imports. COVID-19 disrupted supply chains, especially from China, a major fertilizer producer. And the war in Ukraine has cut off access to potash, an important potassium source, from Russia and Belarus.

Another factor is that the fertilizer industry is highly concentrated. There is little competition, so farmers have no choice but to buy fertilizer at the market price. Several U.S. state attorneys general have called on economists to study anti-competitive practices in the fertilizer industry.

The USDA is seeking information on competition and supply chain concerns in fertilizer markets with a public comment deadline of June 15, 2022. But out of 66 specific questions the department posed with this request, only one addresses what I believe is the key issue: “How might USDA better support modes of production that rely less on fertilizer, or support access to markets that may pay a premium for products relying on less fertilizer?”

Rethinking how to grow crops

I see an opportunity for the Biden administration to take a fresh look at biological products as substitutes for synthetic fertilizers. This category includes biofertilizers and bionutrients – natural materials that provide crop nutrition. Examples include microorganisms that extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into forms that plants can use, and fertilizers converted from manure, food and other plant and wood wastes.

Another category, biostimulants, comprises natural materials that enhance uptake of plant nutrients, reduce crop stress and increase crop growth and quality. Examples include algae and other plant extracts, microorganisms and humic acids – complex molecules produced naturally in soil when organic material breaks down.

In the past, critics dismissed natural products like these as “snake oil,” with little scientific evidence to show that they worked. Now, however, most experts believe that while much remains to be learned, current biofertilizers “offer huge potential in terms of new and more sustainable crop management practices.”

Studies have demonstrated many benefits from these products. They include less need for fertilizer, larger crop yields, enhanced soil health and fewer carbon emissions.

Large synthetic fertilizer companies like Mosaic, OCP and Nutrien are distributing, acquiring or investing in these biological technologies. Agribusiness giant Bayer has partnered with Ginkgo Bioworks in a joint venture called Joyn whose mission is creating “sustainable ag biologicals for crop protection and fertility that meet or exceed the performance of their chemical counterparts.”

A hand spreads pellets and crushed rock over dirt.
A farmer spreads two types of organic fertilizers – bone meal pellets and rock phosphate – before planting spinach in Golden, Colo. Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Offering more choices

Panicked U.S. farmers facing daunting fertilizer prices are looking for options. In public comments on USDA’s fertilizer initiative, the Illinois Corn Growers Association urged the department to investigate why farmers apply fertilizers at levels higher than necessary, while others noted a shortage of agronomists sufficiently trained to guide farmers on how best to sustainably fertilize their crops.

I believe now is an opportune time for USDA to offer incentives for adopting biologicals, as well as practices that organic farmers use to replace synthetic fertilizers, such as crop rotation, composting and raising crops and livestock together. A first step would be to deploy technicians who can advise farmers about sustainable practices and biological products. The department recently announced a new $300 million initiative to help farmers transition to organic production; this is the right idea, but more help is needed.

The agency could also provide one-time payments to farmers in exchange for reducing their use of synthetic fertilizers, which would help to compensate them as they shift their production methods. In the longer term, I believe the USDA should develop new crop insurance tools to protect farmers from the risks of transitioning to more sustainable options. In my view, this kind of broad response would yield more value than a taxpayer-funded, status quo approach to synthetic fertilizers.

Kathleen Merrigan worked for six years at the US Department of Agriculture, most recently serving as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009-2013. She is a venture partner at Astanor Ventures, a European-based agtech firm that invests in a wide range of innovations, including in the biocontrol/biostiumulant sector. She previously served on the board of directors of Marrone Bio Innovations and holds stock in the company.

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Undeniable Toxic Ingredients In HPV Vaccines

Undeniable Toxic Ingredients In HPV Vaccines

Authored by Yuhong Dong via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

In the series, "The HPV Vaccine:…

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Undeniable Toxic Ingredients In HPV Vaccines

Authored by Yuhong Dong via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

In the series, "The HPV Vaccine: A Double-Edged Sword?" we will provide documented evidence of death and severe injuries linked with Gardasil, analyze the root cause of its harm, and offer solutions.

The Gardasil vaccine is linked to undeniable death and undeniable severe injuries as previously reported in this series of reports. An ingredient in Gardasil may contribute to these harms.

Let's shift the lens to the beautiful Pyrenees in Europe where sheep were cherished for their wool, nourishment, and companionship. However, a mysterious sheep illness occurred around a decade ago.

Mysterious Post-Vaccine Sheep Illness

In August 2006, an outbreak of bluetongue disease quickly spread to European countries causing a state of emergency.

Bluetongue disease, caused by bluetongue virus (BTV), affects ruminants, mainly sheep, with symptoms of fever, hemorrhages, depression, edemas, and generalized cyanosis, easily observed on the tongue, which explains the disease name.

The totally unexpected outbreak caused by a newly emerged BTV serotype led to a massive compulsory European vaccination campaign implemented between 2007 and 2010. The administered vaccine contained a new ingredient not used in previous BTV vaccines—aluminum (Al)—with 2.08 milligrams per milliliter as the adjuvant, in addition to inactivated BTV.

Bluetongue vaccination campaign administered in a sheep farm in Normandy, France, 2008. (Leitenberger Photography/Shutterstock)

The campaign seemed to effectively halt viral spreading, however, during the same vaccination period, a series of previously unreported severe diseases emerged in France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and Spain, featuring weakness and various neurological symptoms. Veterinarians were stumped, as no known disease explained the tragedy.

Sheep Study Identifies the Problem

Dr. Lluis Lujan, an associate professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, conducted a sheep study to determine the cause of the unusual diseases.

A total of 21 sheep were assigned into three groups (red, yellow, and green) with seven in each group as follows:

  1. The red group received commercial sheep vaccines containing aluminum hydroxide.
  2. The yellow group received the equivalent dose of aluminum dissolved in water (Alhydrogel®, an aluminum-based adjuvant).
  3. The green group was administered a neutral saltwater solution.

Surprisingly, both the animals from the red and yellow groups became significantly more aggressive and showed more stereotypes and higher stress.

Sheep from the red and yellow groups became significantly more aggressive. (Illustration by The Epoch Times, Shutterstock)

The detected level of aluminum found in the lymph nodes in the lumbar spinal cord was much higher in both the aluminum-only (yellow) and the vaccine group (red) compared with the control group, indicating that aluminum created an extra burden needing to be processed by the sheep.

This explained the phenomenon that the sheep illness occurred only after the aluminum was added to the vaccine as an adjuvant. "So for me, yes—the reason why the animals get sick after vaccination is how the body deals with aluminum," Dr. Lujan stated in a documentary film "Under the Skin," available on Epoch TV.

The idea is not only about sheep. We are looking for something that could be happening in humans.

'Placebo' Trial Participant Had 40+ Symptoms

The Phase 3 clinical trial for Gardasil (FUTURE II study) began in 2002. A particularly large number of participants were recruited in Denmark.

Gardasil clinical trial participant, Sesilje Petersen, developed severe fatigue and a total of 40 symptoms after the second and third shots.

"It was the biggest problem because I was a student at the university and it was very difficult for me to attend the classes as I fell asleep almost daily," Sesilje said. "I wrote a list with all my symptoms—there were more than 40 symptoms, and some of them had been severe. I had a tumor on my pituitary gland."

"I received a letter and was invited to this study and it sounded very interesting. So I decided to participate," recalled Sesilje.

Sesilje kept the information brochure that the participants received at the beginning of the study. It said that the vaccination had already been carefully tested for safety and did not have any serious side effects.

The information about the placebo turned out to be a lie. "It says here that the placebo was saline—the Danish word for saltwater," she said.

Aluminum: A Toxin in Vaccines for 90 Years

Sesilje's "saline" placebo contained something highly unusual—aluminum (Al), an adjuvant commonly used in modern vaccines.

She was obviously misinformed about the study design and was unaware of what she was receiving. Prior to participating in the Gardasil study, Sesilje knew that she could not tolerate deodorants containing aluminum.

"We were not informed about the use of aluminum. The word aluminum was not given to us either in the procedure or in their phone consent form." Sesilje said.

In fact, a study by Doshi et al. found that participants in the Gardasil trials were not adequately informed that the placebo was amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate (AAHS). The trial participants were told they could receive a "placebo" without being informed of noninert ingredients (AAHS). This raises serious ethical concerns about the trial conduct.

Aluminum was first used in human vaccines in 1932 and was the only adjuvant used in licensed vaccines for approximately 70 years. This controversial compound is still used as an adjuvant in vaccines, however, what is its actual role?

Aluminum is the third most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and is widely present in the environment—in plants, soil, water, air, food, and pharmaceuticals. It is present in an ionic form as Al3+.

The absorption of aluminum depends on several factors such as the pH level and the presence of organic acids (citrate, lactate).  It is absorbed in a proportion of only 0.1 to 0.3 percent by the gastrointestinal tract in the upper intestine.

However, when aluminum is injected into our muscles in the formulation of a vaccine, it is nearly 100 percent absorbed. It then travels and crosses the blood-brain barrier and accumulates in our brain and other organs.

Aluminum is especially harmful to our brain and nerves, as it plays multiple roles in the clumping of harmful substances (β-amyloid, tau protein) in the brain, leads to the death of brain-protective cells called astrocytes, and disrupts the "protective wall" around the brain resulting in more vulnerability to harmful substances.

Christopher Exley, an English professor of bioinorganic chemistry, is one of the most knowledgeable and widely-cited aluminum researchers in the world, with over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers published on aluminum and over 12,000 citations.

Renal failure patients dialyzed have developed encephalitis linked to excessive brain buildup of aluminum. Those who passed away had a tenfold higher level of aluminum in gray matter, leading to fatal brain diseases in 30 to 50 percent of cases. Their brain symptoms were correlated with their blood aluminum levels, including issues of speech, coordination, cognition, and fatal seizures.

As a potent toxin, aluminum can severely harm multiple human body systems. Aluminum's toxic effects on our nerves, lungs, muscles, gut, kidneys, and liver have been well documented.

Dietary absorbed ionic aluminum can leave our body through the kidneys, however, most antigen-aluminum mixtures in vaccines are too large for the kidneys to expel out of our body. Accordingly, vaccine aluminum exposure poses a much higher safety risk than dietary aluminum.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a placebo is defined as "an inactive pill, liquid, or powder that has no treatment value." The well-established toxic properties of aluminum therefore suggest that aluminum cannot constitute a valid placebo.

Toxicity Makes Aluminum an Adjuvant

Almost all modern diseases have their origin in a disturbed immune system. No other drug intervenes in the immune system as intensively as vaccines. The role of vaccine components in human immunity is discussed without taboos in the scientific community.

The gold standard to evaluate the effectiveness of a vaccine is based on the antibody level generated. In the beginning, people were not satisfied with a pure inactivated virus to provoke an immune response and wanted to find a substance to help boost immunity and generate a more robust response with longer-sustained antibodies—that is the adjuvant.

Aluminum was found to be a strong adjuvant.

According to Mr. Exley, "The known toxicity of aluminum is almost certainly a contributor to the success of aluminum-based salts as adjuvants."

A 2016 Nature study provided insight into the cellular toxicity induced by aluminum used as an adjuvant in clinically-approved human vaccinations.

When we inject a vaccine with aluminum into the muscle, we can only imagine what physical and chemical reactions will be triggered. At the very beginning, there may be little response at the injection site. The only reaction may be due to the damage caused by the needle.

"When the vaccine is injected deeply into the muscle tissue, aluminum ions begin to dissolve and start attacking the surrounding cells," Mr. Exley stated in the documentary "Under the Skin."

"So depending upon that rate of dissolution, you will get the degree of cytotoxicity—cell toxicity," he said.

The aluminum ions kill our normal healthy cells and as those cells die, they release chemical messengers, which call for help from the other immune cells.

Immune cells react immediately and start to attack anything suspicious at the vaccination site. A fierce battle takes place.

It is only in the course of this inflammation triggered by aluminum that the silent antigens are now also taken seriously and are transported away by specialized immune cells. Those silent viral proteins are also identified by immune cells as enemies and specific antibodies are produced to bind them.

Dr. Lluis Lujan in the "Under the Skin" HPV documentary. (Screenshot via The Epoch Times, courtesy of Ehgartner & Moll Filmproduktion GmbH & Co.)
Tyler Durden Sat, 10/14/2023 - 08:10

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This new McDonald’s China menu item is a meat lover’s dream

The fast-food giant has delivered a new sandwich, and you might want to ask your doctor about it before you eat it.

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While the Big Mac has the word "big" in it, McDonald's hasn't really staked a major claim as the fast-food chain for people looking for the meatiest sandwiches.

Arguably, at least in the U.S., Burger King and Wendy's (WEN) - Get Free Report have stronger claims to that dubious title. 

Wendy's, for example, has the Dave's Triple and the Big Bacon Classic Triple on its menu while it also lets customers order a burger with a total of four hamburger patties if they so choose.

The menu at Restaurant Brands International's  (QSR) - Get Free Report Burger King features a Triple Whopper, which actually contains fewer calories (1,170) than the two-patty Bacon King. Burger King will also sell you a four-patty burger, but you have to make that order in person, not through the chain's app or website.

Wendy's does not appear to limit how many patties you can add to your sandwich, at least when you order through Uber Eats. In theory, if you want 25, or maybe 50, burger patties on your Baconator, the chain will allow it — although at some point wrapping the burger will become a problem.

For its part, McDonald's features a triple cheeseburger on its regular menu, but that's made from three regular-size (1.6-ounce or 45-gram) patties. The biggest item by meat weight is the Double Quarter Pounder, which offers a full half-pound of beef. 

Like its rivals, MCD (probably) will sell you more burger patties if you ask at its counter. It allows extra patty sales through its app on some sandwiches, but not others. The chain also maxes out at three patties (although customers could likely order more in-person as there does not appear to be a policy preventing that). 

All these burgers, however, pale in comparison to a massive sandwich the chain has been selling in China.

A regular Big Mac seems modest compared to some hamburgers.

Image source: Cate Gillon/Getty Images

McDonald's builds a bigger Mac

McDonald's locations around the world — especially in Japan and China — seem to equate the American brand with massive burgers. A new burger from the chain's locations in China sets a new standard when it comes to massive sandwiches, although the burger patties do get some help/

"McDonald's China's Bu Su Zhi Ba Double Layer Beef Burger is a mouthful of meat that puts U.S. patties to shame. True to its name, which translates to German Sausage Double Beef Burger, this item packs two burger patties and two sausages between its buns. This gives customers a protein-heavy dish, with little more than a layer of mustard to round it out — it doesn't contain any of the more traditional McDonald's toppings like lettuce, tomato, or pickles," Mashed shared.

The fast-food giant has never offered sausages in its U.S. restaurants and it has only sold hot dogs on a very limited basis in the U.S. McDonald's founder was famously against the chain selling hot dogs because people would not know what was inside them.

China shows McDonald's the way

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski actually visited some of his chain's locations in China this year. He talked about what he learned during the company's second-quarter earnings call.

"Visiting China truly brought to life the power of a highly digitized economy and our potential for global growth moving forward. With about 90% of our business currently coming through digital channels in that market, it was remarkable to see how the market has forged digital relationships with customers," he said.

Kempczinski was also impressed with other aspects of the company's operations in China.

"China is also making tremendous progress in running the restaurants more efficiently, all with the use of data and technology. This will provide great learnings for the rest of our system," he added.

The chain is also innovating in the delivery space in the market.

"Another recent example of innovation I was able to see firsthand during my visit to China is the use of food lockers at busy locations with high in-store traffic. Upon arrival, delivery couriers can quickly unlock the designated locker and grab the customer's order without even entering the restaurant, removing friction for both the kitchen and the courier," Kempczinski said.

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Coca-Cola surprisingly ending most sales of Aha sparkling water

The beverage giant has decided to mostly walk away from one of its biggest bets in recent years.

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Coca-Cola sells some of the most popular beverages in the world and it generally has the muscle to make any new products it sells successful. 

Of course, there have been some pretty big Coca-Cola (KO) - Get Free Report failures in recent years where the company has tried to capitalize on a trend. Few people remember Vault, an effort to compete with rival PepsiCo's (PEP) - Get Free Report Mountain Dew. And 2009's Green Tea Coke never got enough attention to be remembered or forgotten.

Related: Coca-Cola adds new Coke and Sprite flavors that could be big hits

The company's biggest recent failure, however, might be Coca-Cola Energy, an attempt to take on Monster and Red Bull. That drink lasted less than a year before the company pulled the plug.

It was a surprising move because the idea of Coca-Cola Energy made sense. It was an attempt by the No. 1 beverage company to leverage its namesake brand to get into the exploding energy-drink market.

Consumers, however, were never that interested. They may have sampled it, but the product was never popular enough to win enough market share for Coke to commit to the product long term.

That same script has repeated in another explosively growing market. Coca-Cola launched its Aha sparkling-water brand to compete with market leaders LaCroix and Pepsi's Bubly. It was a massive launch — Coca-Cola's first brand debut since 2006 — that simply never captured the public's attention.

Coca-Cola has had some high-profile failures.

Image source: Shutterstock

Coca-Cola is largely winding down Aha        

Sparkling water has been a growing category led by the massive success of LaCroix. It makes sense that Coca-Cola wanted to get in on the trend, but Aha has not made a significant market impact. The company thus has decided to wind down, but not fully eliminate, the brand. 

"In 2024, the beverages will only be available in 'focused channels' and in Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, and will continue to be sold in Canada," the beverage giant told Food Dive.

Coca-Cola isn't giving up on sparkling water. The company intends to focus its attention on growing its premium Topo Chico brand in the same space. 

Sales have fallen for Aha, which replaced Coca-Cola's previous effort in the sparkling-water space, Dasani Sparkling. The brand has less than a 2% share of the total market.

Coca-Cola executives have said that they believe Topo Chico can become the company's next billion-dollar brand. The company recently launched a hard-seltzer, an alcoholic version of the popular brand. 

Coca-Cola sees some headwinds

Coca-Cola sales were flat by volume in the second quarter. Chief Executive James Quincey explained why in the company's Q2-earnings call.

"We have seen some willingness to switch to private-label brands in certain categories," he said. "Across the sector, consumers are increasingly cost-conscious. They're looking for value and stocking up on items on sale." 

Quincey believes that Coca-Cola is well-positioned to handle the current market.

"Our pricing is largely in place and is expected to moderate as we cycle pricing initiatives from the prior year. It's more important than ever to be consumer-centric and to partner with customers to provide affordable and premium propositions, which deliver value through basket and incidence growth," he added.

And, while the company has been focused on growing sales outside soda, its namesake beverage continues to be a major driver.

"During the quarter, we gained volume and value share by linking Coca-Cola to consumption occasions and engaging consumers through local experiences. A great example is our Recipe for Magic, which was activated in more than 50 markets and celebrates consuming Coca-Cola with meals," he said.

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