Bits and Pieces: Soy Bean Oil Fuel, Migratory Farm Workers, and Runaways

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Migratory farm workers picking lettuce.

SCIENTISTS ARGUE THAT TALC USED TO COAT SHORT-GRAIN RICE may contain asbestos: a known carcinogen. Major rice growers, on the other hand, contend their product’s coating is perfectly safe, and comes off when washed. The Food and Drug Administration is right in the middle, of course, and can’t seem to decide one way or the other. It’s an interesting debate, don’t you think? (Pass the brown rice, please.)

THE NETHERLANDS IS NUMBER ONE when it comes to recycling paper, says the National Association of Recycling Industries. The country reuses 40% of all the paper it manufactures — a phenomenal accomplishment — as compared to the United States, which manages a mere 19%. And we’re the nation with a fetish for being “first” . . .

FILL ‘ER UP WITH SOYBEAN SUPER! Iowa State University agricultural engineers recently staged a demonstration in which they successfully ran an engine on — yep, it’s true — pure soybean oil. The researchers say they’ve also accomplished the same feat using corn oil, and point to the fact that some of Rudolph Diesel’s earlier inventions were palm-oil powered. So if you’re determined to drive a car while large sections of the world’s population starve to death . . . modern technology is on your side.

IF CITY LIFE DOESN’T AGREE WITH YOU, you’d best find an alternative fast. A Stanford Research Institute study indicates that people in the United States will continue to concentrate in an increasingly large number of metropolitan districts of one million people or more (there were 12 such areas in 1940 . . . 29 five years ago . . . and the number is expected to jump to 44 in twenty-five more years). By the end of this century, says the report, two-thirds of the U.S. population will be residing in such regions . . . even though “an absolute majority of Americans would prefer living at a much smaller scale of community.”

COULD YOU (COUGH) RUN THAT BY ME ONE MORE TIME? Dr. Fred T. Mackenzie — Chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences at Northwestern University — says pollution from fossil fuels is a regular godsend to plant life. In a recent speech before the American Chemical Society, Dr. Mackenzie calmly explained that the carbon dioxide produced by burning such substances is what plants breathe and convert to oxygen . . . which, obviously, makes plants greener, and Earth fresher. Of course, the good doctor’s basic botany lesson apparently neglected any mention of those other nasty particulates belching forth from soot-stained smokestacks . . .

APPROXIMATELY 203,000 MIGRATORY FARM WORKERS were employed in U.S. agriculture during 1974, according to a recent report by the National Sharecroppers Fund, at an average individual annual income of only $2,276 for migrant farm workers. “It is estimated”, the report observes, “that agribusiness saves itself $3 billion a year in labor costs as a result of low wages, the lack of collective bargaining, and non-enforcement of the laws to protect migrant labor.”

COULD YOU USE AN EXTRA THOUSAND DOLLARS? Donald W. Mann, president of Negative Population Growth, Inc., has announced a $ 1,000 bonus for the first person to write a major article (of 2,000 words or more) about NPG and its principles and get the piece accepted for publication by a national magazine with a circulation of 300,000 or more. For additional info — and to see if you’re not too late to enter — write the organization in New York, N.Y.

U.S. ATLANTIC COASTAL WATERS MAY BE DEAD BY THE YEAR 2000, says environmental scientist Dr. James Carpenter, if large eastern seaboard cities do not find a better place or method for disposing of industrial and sewer sludge. The researcher’s studies show that the Atlantic Ocean from Long Island, New York to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina is nearing its capacity to accept nutrients and heavy metals and is on the verge of “serious and irreparable damage” . . . this, while many coastal cities continue to reject effective land-based disposal alternatives as being “too costly”.

GORDON C.“SQUARE TOMATO” HANNA — the man we can all thank for developing the famous VF145 variety (those red, tasteless “tennis balls” mass-produced and marketed in nearly every supermarket produce department in the country) has been inducted into the California Canners Hall of Fame. “Better they should have canned him,” quipped Ellen Goodman of the San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle. . . and to that we can only add: Amen.

SO YOU THINK YOU’RE A FARMER, DO YOU? If new federal guidelines for determining what constitutes a “farm” are approved as expected, you may find you’re just another welfare case. The USDA and the Bureau of Census are quietly planning to raise the amount of produce you must sell in order to qualify as a bona fide farmer — a figure which is currently $50.00 for units of ten acres or more, or $250 for spreads of less than ten acres — to around $1,000. As a result, nearly a quarter million low-income growers will be coldly eliminated from federal rolls . . . and thus from farm assistance programs.

IF YOU’RE A RUNAWAY and would like to let your folks know you’re OK, “Operation Peace of Mind” in Houston, Texas will relay your exact message to your parents at no cost, and with no prying questions asked. Call 1-800-98-YOUTH. The number is toll-free, and the service is hassle-free. Do it.