We’re partnering with agricultural communities to measure pesticide drift

If you live in central Illinois, you may have spotted a small, dome-like device that resembles a flying saucer along a fence or in a neighbor’s backyard. Those devices are air samplers, specifically designed to measure pesticide drift. We’ve placed four samplers in agricultural communities to learn more about what chemicals, if any, might be drifting from corn and soybean fields onto nearby backyards, school grounds and parks as spraying gets underway this spring. We have also placed a sampler near our office in Champaign to serve as a control. Below, you will find more information about how this project will contribute to our reporting, how the community helped determine the locations of the samplers and exactly how the samplers work.

Report: U.S. Department of Agriculture can do more to keep pathogens out of meat and poultry supply

A new report released today from a congressional watchdog agency says the U.S. Department of Agriculture can do more to keep foodborne illness-causing pathogens out of meat and poultry products. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the agriculture department, inspects approximately 6,500 meat and poultry processing plants nationwide. The inspectors test meat to ensure that salmonella and campylobacter bacteria, two common pathogens that cause roughly 2 million Americans to fall ill and each year, aren’t present in the food supply at unsafe levels. The new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the process the USDA uses to determine safety standards for pathogens in meat is outdated. The standards for ground beef, for example, have not been updated in more than 20 years, the report said.

Off-target: A community conversation about dicamba

Join us for a panel discussion featuring weed scientists, industry leaders and community members as we delve into the issues that arose with dicamba. There will be time after the moderated panel for an audience Q & A session.

The event is free but RSVP required. Light refreshments will be served.

We've also put together a fact sheet so you can ask questions, too.

Join our community conversation about dicamba

For farming communities in the Midwest, the herbicide dicamba did more than damage crops – it created tensions between friends and neighbors and raised questions about how state officials and makers of dicamba - Monsanto and BASF - responded to the problem. Join us for a panel discussion featuring weed scientists, industry leaders and community members as we delve deeper into the issues that arose with dicamba. There will be time after the moderated panel for an audience Q & A session.

Pesticide buffer zones crop up in other states but none in Midwest

Hundreds of rural schools in Midwest states nestle against fields of corn and soybeans that are routinely sprayed with pesticides that could drift onto school grounds.

Health experts say those pesticides might pose risks to children, and nine states in other regions of the country have been concerned enough to pass laws requiring buffer zones. But states in the Midwest do not require any kind of buffer zone between schools and crop fields and seldom require any notification that pesticides are about to be sprayed, a review of laws by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

How did the soybean become such a common crop in the U.S.?

This story was inspired by a question submitted at a Listening Post the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting held in August. Stuart Levy in Urbana, Illinois, asked us what would be needed for row crop farmers to switch from corn and soybeans to “something more sustainable.” We dug into that question, which starts with the unlikely circumstances that turned the soybean into a multi-billion dollar industry, and what this history might reveal about the future of U.S. agriculture. 

Report highlights fears among workers in the meat processing industry

Repetitive motion injuries, amputations and cuts continue to be common dangers that workers in the meat processing industry face, according to a Government Accountability Office report released this month. The GAO also found workers suffer respiratory illnesses from peracetic acid – an antimicrobial chemical – sprayed on meat in processing facilities. In addition, investigators from GAO identified a lack of bathroom access as a major concern among workers – one that workers were afraid to mention to federal labor inspectors at plants for fear of retribution from their employer. The report reviewed the government’s efforts – specifically the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) – to protect the health and safety of workers in the nation’s animal slaughtering and processing industry, one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S.

Approximately 72 workers were interviewed in Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia. Workers in three of those states said they had suffered negative health effects, such as kidney problems, from delayed or denied bathroom breaks.