Researchers say there’s plenty the beef industry can do to use less land and water and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But producers may need to charge a premium to make those changes. iStockphoto.com

“If you’ve got decisions to make at the meat counter (or at a burger joint) and want to do right by the environment, you have a couple of options,” writes NPR’s Eliza Barclay.

“You could skip the beef entirely, which is what some environmental groups say you should do. Or you could go for meat with a ‘grass-fed’ or ‘organic’ label.

“But a handful of researchers allied with the meat industry say that that those labels don’t actually tell you much about how a producer is raising animals, nor are they really representative of the best environmental practices in the industry.”

Jude Capper, an animal sciences researcher-turned-consultant, has written that “niche production systems” like grass-fed or organic aren’t nearly as efficient as conventional, intensive systems. She says that’s mainly because conventional producers now know how to get more meat out of fewer cows, which ultimately means using less water and land per pound of meat than smaller, niche producers.

That’s a controversial point of view, of course. A lot of environmental (and animal welfare) advocates have railed against industrial beef production as dirty, resource-intensive and inhumane. It’s a huge industry, and even if it’s a lot more efficient than it used to be, its impact on the planet is still massive. Livestock producers have also lately been accused of ignoring pleas to better manage their waste and curb antibiotic use.

But since the beef industry isn’t going to vaporize any time soon — the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef in 2013 alone — there’s a growing movement around the idea of “sustainable” industrial beef. [Read more]

Today’s Question: Should beef carry an ‘environmental impact’ label?

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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Legal scholars and courts have been wrangling for more than a year over whether the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records — a program first disclosed to the public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 — violates those protections. Some legal experts disagree over whether the record collection even qualifies as a search or seizure, and, if it does, whether collecting those records is “unreasonable” or requires a warrant.

In a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, two teams of constitutional law experts faced off on the motion “Mass Collection of U.S. Phone Records Violates The Fourth Amendment.” In these Oxford-style debates, the team that sways the most people to its side by the end is the winner.

Today’s Question: Does the mass collection of phone records violate the Fourth Amendment?

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A former Minnesota nurse on Wednesday was sentenced to jail for assisting and attempting to assist a suicide, MPR reports.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville ruled that the state proved that William Melchert-Dinkel, 52, of Faribault, assisted in the suicide of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England.

He said the state failed to prove Melchert-Dinkel’s assistance was a direct cause of the suicide of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, but found him guilty on a lesser charge of attempting to help her take her life, MPR reported earlier this week.

In this case Melchert-Dinkel posed as a female suicide nurse and encouraged depressed individuals online to commit suicide, MPR reported. Assisted suicide typically refers to when a person who is terminally ill asks a physician for a way to end their life.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Minnesota, as well as most states. Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington are the only states that allow assisted suicide, according to ProCon. For the most part, each of these states has strict regulations for when a doctor can legally help.

Brittany Maynard, 29, who is currently suffering from brain cancer, decided that she would like to use death with dignity to end her life. She explains in an opinion article she wrote for CNN:

[Death with dignity] is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable.

She also adds:

Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.

This has caused a huge discussion on the internet. One particular critique is Kara Tippets, a mother, wife and Christian who is fighting breast cancer. She wrote a letter to Brittany urging her not to take the pill that will end her life.

Dear heart, we simply disagree. Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.

In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.

Today’s Question: Should assisted suicide be legal for those who are terminally ill?

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For the first time Minneapolis is celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. In April, the city renamed the holiday commonly known as Columbus Day: “We discovered Columbus, lost on our shores, sick, destitute, and wrapped in rags. We nourished him to health, and the rest is history,” said Lakota activist Bill Means. “He represents the mascot of American colonialism in Read more