tagged w/ industrial agriculture
The grassroots March Against Monsanto movement is spreading across the nation, and the initiative spells out an increasingly massive number of activists and concerned citizens who will ultimately be responsible for ending the GMO juggernaut through peaceful protest and the spread of information.
It really comes down to the basic understanding that what we want is real food — not chemical-laden junk that is riddled with genetically modified organisms. And of course Monsanto is responsible for the majority of such junk, holding a monopoly over the GM seed market with 90% of staple crop seeds under Monsanto control. Seeds that are sold to ignorant farmers who oftentimes end up killing themselves after they find that the seeds produce decreased yields and milk the farmers financially dry through the enforceable patents that come along with the seeds. Patents that Monsanto goons carefully enforce, preying upon small farmers through devious lawsuits and farm stakeouts.
Even organic and natural farmers are subject to such legal attacks, since it’s possible for the patented seeds (which India calls biopiracy) to blow over to such farms and begin to grow. This is also how widespread GMO contamination begins, to which the USDA simply responds ‘get insurance’. We can even go back decades to find that Monsanto was integral in the creation of the infamous Agent Orange, a Vietnam-era chemical warfare weapon which estimates say killed or maimed around 400,000 people and caused a startling 500,000 birth defects.
But the days where this information could hide as footnotes within the media are over.
More at the linkThe grassroots March Against Monsanto movement is spreading across the nation, and the... more
Some US farmers are considering returning to conventional seed after increased pest resistance and crop failures meant GM crops saw smaller yields globally than their non-GM counterparts.
Farmers in the USA pay about an extra $100 per acre for GM seed, and many are questioning whether they will continue to see benefits from using GMs.
"It's all about cost benefit analysis," said economist Dan Basse, president of American agricultural research company AgResource.
"Farmers are paying extra for the technology but have seen yields which are no better than 10 years ago. They're starting to wonder why they're spending extra money on the technology."
One of the biggest problems the USA has seen with GM seed is resistance. While it was expected to be 40 years before resistance began to develop pests such as corn rootworm have formed a resistance to GM crops in as few as 14 years.
More at the linkSome US farmers are considering returning to conventional seed after increased pest... more
By Tom Philpott
In a recent piece, I fretted about one problem with our reliance on industrially produced fertilizers: They come from scarce and non-renewable sources, meaning we'll eventually run out of them. But there's another, much more immediate downside to the synthetic nitrogen and mined phosphorus that drives industrial agriculture: They tend to leach out of soil and foul up water: both for drinking and recreation.
Environmental Working Group has just released an excellent report (available here) ON the impact of that pollution on water quality in Iowa, ground zero of US industrial agriculture. The condition of that state's water is, in short dismal. EWG looked at data kept by Iowa's Department of Natural Resources on 72 free-flowing streams across the state, comparing the 1999-2002 period and the 2008-2011 period. In the chart, right, note that the majority of streams are rated either "poor" or "very poor"-and that the situation has improved little if at all over time. The main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus. Here's EWG:
The two pollutants most responsible for poor water quality ratings in the Index are nitrogen and phosphorus. In 55 percent of the monthly samples across all sites, nitrogen was the single worst pollutant, followed by phosphorus in 30 percent. Together, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus set off a cascade of pollution problems that contaminate drinking water and damage the health of Iowa's streams and rivers.
The health consequences are dire. Even at low levels, nitrates can cause reproductive and thyroid problems; while phosphorus, along with nitrogen, feeds toxic blue green algae blooms in lakes.
Now, Big Ag would like you to believe that much of the nutrient load in streams comes from municipal sewage and industrial runoff. That's absurd. Citing Iowa DNR numbers, EWG debunks that claim. reporting that just 8 percent of the nitrogen and 20 percent of the phosphorus polluting Iowa's streams comes from those sources. The rest comes from "non-point sources"-mostly agriculture. And whereas runoff from sewage and industrial operations is heavily regulated by the state of Iowa, EWG points out, water pollution from crop production isn't.
>>> Read the Full ArticleBy Tom Philpott
In a recent piece, I fretted about one problem with our reliance... more
A widely publicized study claiming that there is no demonstrated difference in nutritional value between organically and conventionally grown foods just appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Broad mainstream media coverage produced headlines like Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce. The media failed to mention one point that may be of major interest.
The study relied on a statistical technique called meta-analysis. Over 200 plus scientific journal articles were combined as the data set for the study. The article co-author with recognized expertise in meta-analysis, Ingram Olkin, applied for a grant from Council of Tobacco Research (CTR) in 1976.
CTR was part of the infamous Tobacco Institute, an industry group of cigarette manufacturers. Ingram was on the faculty of Stanford University at the time. The authors of the current study diminishing the value of organic foods are also from Stanford University, with Olkin listed as a professor emeritus.
Olkin applied to the CTR to conduct a project on the statistical methods used in the Framingham Heart Study, the landmark project linking cigarette smoking with increased risk of heart disease. From publicly available tobacco industry documents, we find this from cigarette manufacturer lawyers:
“I met with Dr. Olkin and Dr. Marvin Kastenbaum [Tobacco Institute Statistics Director] on December 17, 1975, .at which time we discussed Dr. Olkin’s interest in multivariate analysis statistical models. Dr. Olkin is well qualified and is very articulate. I learned, in visiting with Dr. Olkin, that he would like to examine the theoretical structure of the “multivariate logistic risk function.”
The Tobacco Documents describe Katzenbaum as knowledgeable of “the tobacco industry’s participation in the public disinformation regarding the health hazards of tobacco use …”
According to internal tobacco company documents from cigarette manufacturers, Olkin received a grant from CRT and submitted a final paper in 1979. The paper could not be found online.
Olkin’s work for the Tobacco Institute was originally discussed by Robert N. Proctor in his January 2012 Google eBook, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, University of California Press. Columbia University professor Andrew Gelman cited Olkin’s work in his September article in the journal Statistics and Ethics, which discusses the ethical challenges of statisticians when working for big business.
Objective statistical analysis was central to this study
Professor Olkin’s specialty, meta-analysis, was the research technique employed to generate the findings for the study designed to debunk the value of organic foods. Contrary to the conclusion that there’s little evidence of a difference in nutritional value, the article notes that “Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets.” The researchers say that they “did not identify clinically meaningful differences” in measures among adults. That’s a statistical inference. The study found “phosphorus levels were significantly higher than in conventional produce, although this difference is not clinically significant.” Again, the statistical analysis negated a finding in favor of organic produce based on statistical analysis.
The researchers concluded::
“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
The mainstream media picked up and ran with this relatively obscure research. The New York Times headline reads, Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce. Fox News had this to say: Study says organic food may not be worth the money. Bucking the tide, the Los Angeles Times editorialized against the study’s significance in a major editorial, the case for organic food.
Studies like the one out of Stanford are less about the quality of the research than they are about the headlines when mainstream media gets involved. In this case, the findings prop up conventional foods at the expense of organics by the mere mention of Stanford researchers claiming there’s no nutritional difference.
More at the linkA widely publicized study claiming that there is no demonstrated difference in... more
Monsanto Fails at Improving Agriculture
UCS'S New Ad Campaign
Set the Record Straight on Monsanto
We don't have Monsanto's advertising budget - that's where you come in!
Eight Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture
Monsanto Improves its Bottom Line…But Not Agriculture
Karen Stillerman, senior analyst, Food and Environment
Union of Concerned Scientists (blog), July 3 2012
The Monsanto Company is raking it in—last week they reported third quarter profits of $937 million. Yes, you read that right: Monsanto's profit for the three-month period ending May 31 amounted to nearly a billion dollars, up a whopping 35% from the same quarter last year. That raging river of cash flowing in must make it easy for the company to finance a flurry of advertising and lobbying extolling the virtues its products. According to Monsanto’s PR, the company is feeding a growing population, protecting natural resources, and promoting biodiversity.
But the truth is decidedly less impressive, and now UCS is setting the record straight with an ad campaign of our own.
More Herbicide + Fewer Butterflies = Better Seeds?
With a series of three new ads you can see on our website, we're taking on Monsanto's claims directly.
One of the company's ads (coincidentally, the one that appeared across the street from UCS's Washington, DC, office earlier in this year) says their "better seeds can help meet the needs of our rapidly growing population, while protecting the earth’s natural resources." In response, our ad points out that the company's Roundup Ready crops have increased herbicide use by an estimated 383 million pounds and have been associated with an estimated 81 percent fewer monarch butterfly eggs in the Midwest—critical ground along the spectacular annual migration route of these butterflies to and from Mexico.
We're also using our campaign to take issue with Monsanto's suggestions that its genetic engineering technology is improving U.S. crop yields (nope, not much) and conserving water (not at all). Instead, as our ads and our analysis behind them show, the company's products are spawning an epidemic of "superweeds" and crowding out more sustainable alternatives.
Fighting Fire with Facts
We have no illusions that Monsanto's spin machine will let up anytime soon. After all, as Mother Jones' Tom Philpott lays out, the company’s combination of glossy ads, high-powered lobbying, and big-time political contributions is paying off with favorable results (at least from Monsanto’s perspective) in Congress. But we expect policy-makers here in Washington to take note of our ads—which will be up all this month on city buses and in transit stations near the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s headquarters, the U.S. EPA, and Capitol Hill. And we hope those decision-makers—who are accountable to farmers and the public to really improve agriculture—will look more skeptically at Monsanto's claims in the future and give sustainable alternatives a fair shot.
UCS still believes that the truth can be powerful, and you can help us tell it far and wide.Monsanto Fails at Improving Agriculture
UCS'S New Ad Campaign... more
Markets will not solve this. People will and giving indigenous people and local farmers the tools they need. Put a price on carbon and use that money to give it back to consumers. Giving corporations the ability to continue to pollute while pushing people off their land and using climate change as a way to profit (geoengineering is one way) while continuing to pollute will take us nowhere but back.Markets will not solve this. People will and giving indigenous people and local... more
At the UN conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa last December, representatives of developed nations presented a plan to combat climate change through sustainable agricultural techniques in Africa. This plan, dubbed “climate smart agriculture,” would purportedly reduce and sequester carbon emissions while conserving soils and feeding a continent. It seemed that developed countries had at last listened to the growing concern and criticism of industrial agriculture’s disastrous ecological effects.
International social movements like La Via Campesina had argued compellingly for years that “small farmers cool the planet,” relying on many studies that ecological agriculture can reduce climate change. Ecological agriculture or “agroecology” uses no chemicals like fertilizers or pesticides derived from fossil fuels, and biodiverse agriculture systems greatly reduce carbon in the atmosphere while maintaining local resilience in the face of climate change. Researchers estimate that the global food system emits 30% of all greenhouse gases, meaning that a global transition to agroecology would have a significant impact. What’s more, labor-intensive ecological techniques do not sacrifice quality or farming livelihoods.
Unfortunately, while world leaders may have listened, they had completely misunderstood.
What they heard was that food plants absorb carbon. Thus world leaders understood the promise of agroecology as a carbon offset: corporations would treat farms adopting “climate smart” techniques as offsets, meaning small farmers throughout the continent of Africa would become dependent on polluting corporations whose bottom line was still profit-making and increasing market-share. “Climate smart agriculture” would be a tool for corporations to keep polluting as usual while also expanding their reach and production into Africa. Many critics in Durban charged that “climate smart agriculture” was the first step to a land grab, or in effect, a “soil grab.”
And because the developed nations’ representatives focused only on how plants could sequester carbon, they missed the fundamental strength of agroecology: agrochemicals are the problem, and we don’t need them.
“Climate smart agriculture” still uses fossil fuel-based chemicals. A UN-commissioned panel of experts issued a report again touting the climate change reduction potential of sustainable agriculture. The Montpellier Commission report advocated a transition to agroecology, but defined it as a technique that can be used with existing industrial practices like “transgenic crops, conservation farming, microdosing of fertilizers and herbicides, and integrated pest management.”
But as prominent agroecology scholar Miguel Altieri has recently written, “Agroecology does not need to be combined with other approaches… it has consistently proven capable of sustainably increasing productivity and has far greater potential for fighting hunger [than industrial agriculture].”
Small farmers do well working agroecologically: they produce the same yield or better, they build soil, and they save money on chemical inputs. So agroecology is very profitable. But the profit is decentralized, meaning corporations can’t access it. This would explain why corporations are attempting to disguise a resource grab like “climate smart agriculture” as something ecological, because of its greater potential for consolidating profits.
There are renewed calls at Rio+20 by these same developed nations for “climate smart agriculture,” but as Pat Mooney of the Canadian advocacy organization ETC Group said at an opening workshop of the Peoples’ Summit on Friday, “This is not an issue of whether or not it is nicer to have organic farms and local food systems. This is an issue of whether we will eat.”
More at the linkAt the UN conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa last December,... more
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would let states require that any food or beverage containing genetically-engineered ingredients be clearly labeled.
The Vermont Legislature earlier this year considered a bill that would have required labels on foods that contain genetically-engineered ingredients. The House Agriculture Committee heard testimony from 111 citizens and hundreds more crowded the Statehouse to show their support. Despite passing by a lopsided 9-1 vote in committee, the bill languished after Monsanto threatened to sue the state.
Similar strong-arm tactics by one of the world's leading producers of genetically-engineered foods and herbicides have been employed elsewhere by Monsanto, the multi-national company that posted $1.6 billion in profits last year. "It's no mystery why Monsanto would fight people's right to know," Sanders said "Business is booming for the chemical company. Clearly, they have a lot to protect."
The Sanders Amendment, cosponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), acknowledges that states have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.
The measure also would require the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically-engineered ingredients.
"All over this country, people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids, and this is certainly true for genetically-engineered foods," Sanders said. "I believe that when a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her child."
In the United States, Sanders said, food labels already must list more than 3,000 ingredients ranging from gluten, aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or MSG, but not genetically-altered ingredients. Around the world, by contrast, 49 countries require labels on foods that contain genetically-engineered ingredients.
In the 1990s, there was consensus among scientists and doctors at the FDA that genetically-altered foods could have new and different risks such as hidden allergens, increased plant-toxin levels and the potential to hasten the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease. Those concerns are mounting. In just three days, the American Medical Association will consider resolutions calling for new studies on the impact of genetically-altered foods. The American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association already passed similar resolutions.
Sanders stressed that labeling genetically-altered foods will not increase costs to shoppers. He also disputed claims that genetically-engineered crops are better for the environment. Instead, he said, the use of Monsanto Roundup-ready soybeans engineered to withstand exposure to the herbicide Roundup has caused the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds, which now infest 10 million acres in 22 states with predictions of 40 million acres or more by mid-decade. Resistant weeds increase the use of herbicides and the use of older and more toxic herbicides.
The Sanders Amendment is about allowing states to honor the wishes of their residents and allowing consumers' to know what they're eating. "Monsanto and other major corporations should not get to decide this, the people and their elected representatives should," Sanders said.Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would... more
Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system.The film highlights the extent to which the industrial agricultural system, and genetically modified (GM) seeds in particular, has impacted on the enormous agro -biodiversity evolved by farmers and communities around the world, since the beginning of agriculture.
Seeds of Freedom seeks to challenge the mantra that large-scale, industrial agriculture is the only means by which we can feed the world, promoted by the pro-GM lobby. In tracking the story of seed it becomes clear how corporate agenda has driven the take over of seed in order to make vast profit and control of the food global system.
Through interviews with leading international experts such as Dr Vandana Shiva and Henk Hobbelink, and through the voices of a number of African farmers, the film highlights how the loss of indigenous seed goes hand in hand with loss of biodiversity and related knowledge; the loss of cultural traditions and practices; the loss of livelihoods; and the loss of food sovereignty. The pressure is growing to replace the diverse, nutritional, locally adapted and resilient seed crops which have been bred by small-scale farmers for millenia, by monocultures of GM seed.
Alongside speakers from indigenous farming communities, the film features global experts and activists Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN, Zac Goldsmith MP (UK Conservative party), Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, Gathuru Mburu of the African Biodiversity Network, Liz Hosken of The Gaia Foundation and Caroline Lucas MP (UK Green party).
This film is co-produced by The Gaia Foundation and the African Biodiversity Network. In collaboration with GRAIN, Navdanya International and MELCA Ethiopia .
Narrated by Jeremy Irons
You can watch the thirty minute film at the link.Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional,... more
Today President Barack Obama will return to Iowa for an official “grassroots event” at the Iowa State Fair in an effort to fire up his base in the state where he unexpectedly won the first in the nation caucus in 2008, launching him on the road to the White House. Right now, Iowa is considered a crucial battleground state and one of the 12 that six months from the election is too close to call. The doors at the event open in the next few hours, but President Obama isn’t scheduled to appear until 7 pm.
Even though Obama’s campaign stop in Iowa may seem routine, for many Iowans, especially family farmers, environmentalists, animal welfare advocates and rural residents, the location of the visit, at the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center is certain to cause real alarm.
While the name of the building on the Iowa state fairgrounds sounds fairly innocuous, during the famous state fair, the building is transformed into a major propaganda set piece for industrial agriculture, complete with life-size gestation crates, full of sows with newborn baby pigs, dioramas of factory farms and posters full of factory farm PR platitudes. See the slideshow below for the real story of where Obama will speak to voters today in Iowa.
Ironically, President Obama’s visit to the factory farm propaganda site comes at a time when major food companies such as Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Denny’s and Safeway are responding to consumer pressure to dump gestation crates. Now it seems that the practices of locking sows in cages for much of their adult life as advocated by Iowa’s factory farm pork producers and the Big Ag money behind this nasty effort to whitewash the factory farm industry, will get what they paid for - the Presidential seal of approval. The Paul R. Knapp building is also sponsored by Christensen Farms, a Minnesota-based factory farm operation that boasts on its website as being “one of the top three producers in the United States”. Last year, Christensen Farms featured banners with the soft porn feel-good-themed motto: “Farming Feels Good”.Guess they’ve never asked a sow in a gestation crate for her opinion.
For many family farmers and rural Iowans, who helped pushed Obama to a first place finish during the 2008 caucus, Obama’s appearance in this building is an outrage and a major misstep by the campaign. Four years ago, such a mistake would have likely cost Obama the Iowa caucus and thus the election. And many, including myself, have written that a similar gaff by Hillary Clinton, cost her more than first place in 2008. While factory farms may seem to be an odd issue to outsiders, the ungodly stench of pig shit from factory hog confinements and the political collusion in Iowa’s state capital have been leading hot button issues during state and presidential campaigns since the mid 1990s.
The issue was so important for progressive farmers, environmentalists and rural residents that John Edwards paraded a cart with hogs in it through Des Moines and onto the state fairgrounds that said, Edwards for Local Control and Hogs for Edwards. Not to be outdone, then Senator Barack Obama challenged Edward’s commitment on factory farms in front of an audience of Iowa farmers and rural advocates who knew the issue best. On November 10, 2007, speaking at the Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit, an event that I organized where 5 of the 6 Democratic presidential candidates spoke, Obama boasted about his record on factory farms or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).
Said Obama: “So when I hear other candidates say they’ll stand up to the special interests on the issues that matter to you – like CAFO’s – I’m reminded that the test of leadership isn’t what you say, it’s what you do. Voting records matter. And unlike other candidates who have changed their position on CAFO’s, I look at this issue as a matter of principle, not politics. That’s why I have always stood for tougher environmental regulations and local control over whether a CAFO can be built in your neighborhood, and that’s why we need to limit EQIP funding to giant CAFO’s so they are forced to pay for their own pollution. And that’s what I’ll do as President.” Clearly President Obama’s advance staff this time around is either so clueless about the state’s farm, environmental and rural issues or so arrogant that they just don’t care to get it right.
To the more than 22,000 family hog farmers that have been forced out of business in Iowa in the past 15 years and the tens of thousands of rural Iowans who have seen their property value drop precipitously and their quality of life ruined by the stench of nearby factory hog confinements, the appearance by the Obama campaign is just another sign of how far his administration has moved away from the progressive, family farm agenda that helped him win the 2008 Iowa caucus.
In the past nearly four years, Obama’s family farm and rural supporters have watched as his administration has caved on nearly every major campaign promise he made in his now famous shrinking rural agenda. While President Obama planted a garden on the White House lawn and his wife launched a major healthy food initiative called Let’s Move, the Obama USDA, FDA and EPA have gone out of their way to favor agribusiness in their rule making and review processes, including the failure to ban subtherapeutic antibiotics for livestock used for treatment of human diseases, the White House’s caving to agribusiness on GIPSA (or fair market livestock reforms for family farmers) to their rampant approval of genetically engineered crops and Obama’s failure to follow through on his campaign promise to label GMOs.
At the same time, President Obama and his administration is failing on even his most basic campaign promises, the factory farm fight in Iowa is heating once up once again, with more new factory farms being proposed as the spring planting finishes. Last week, the application for a 5,000 hog confinement facility was withdrawn by the farmer after public outcry.
More at the link
How is this different from what Mitt Romney would do? Politics is bs.Today President Barack Obama will return to Iowa for an official “grassroots... more
Following years of intense pressure from the agribusiness sector, Brazil's parliament has approved destructive reforms to the country's forest protection. President Dilma has just 9 remaining days to veto this hatchet job before it becomes law. With the world watching, which side of history will she choose to be on? Will her legacy be Amazon ruin? Or, will she demonstrate courage and act on behalf of future generations?
This article appeared in the New York Times today.
YOU can urge President Dilma to do the right thing for Brazil, the Amazon and the planet.
Take action now by signing this petition, tell her to veto the new Forest Code!
More at the linkFollowing years of intense pressure from the agribusiness sector, Brazil's... more
I made a career of sorts writing about the "big six" agrichemical companies—Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF—that produce the great bulk of the world's pesticides and, increasingly, seeds. But last week, I did something different. Rather than investigate and critique these companies in print, I broke bread with some of their executives. And then, in a public forum live-cast on the internet from DC's Newseum, I told them bluntly what I thought of their industry.
They seemed a bit stunned by the spectacle, rapt in attention but increasingly silent as my critique went on. From my perspective, I was looking into a sea of dark suits, red ties, and wide eyes, with only the stray vigorous shake of the head to register open dissent from my critique.
The event was the annual policy summit held in Washington, DC, by CropLife America, the trade group representing Big Agrichem/Biotech and the suppliers and retailers that sell their goods throughout farm country. The group had invited me to speak at the behest of my friend, green-business journalist Marc Gunther, who has an annual gig moderating the event.
My foray into agrichem-exec shoulder-rubbing began the night before the conference, when I attended the pre-event speakers' dinner in a private dining hall of a DC hotel.
The CropLife event planners greeted me warmly when I arrived—to my delight, as one of them handed me a goodie bag, she joked, "And it's not pesticides!" What was in there delighted me, too—a coffee mug and a baseball jersey emblazoned with CropLife's slogan: "Modern Agriculture."
As I pulled down my name tag and made my way into the dining hall, I quickly spied the bearded, stout figure of Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which calls itself the "voice of agriculture" but is more accurately described as the "voice of industrial agriculture." He is a zealous evangelist of chemical-intensive farming, preaching the virtues of GMOs, biofuels, factory-scale animal farms, and minimal regulation. I walked right up to him and shook his hand, declaring that it was great to finally meet someone whom I had been reading about for years. He accepted my greeting cordially—and seemed genuinely nonplussed as to who I was: a deflating experience.
Soon I was shuffled to a table featuring some Dow and DuPont execs and a man who owned an input supply company in the Midwest. It was a small gathering—maybe eight tables, each with around five people. The dress code was strictly business—I was one of the few men not in a dark suit and tie. Again, none of them seemed to have the foggiest idea as to who I was. The input guy and I sparred cordially through dinner about the viability of organic ag—he was open to my ideas and listened to me; I returned the favor.
How was the food? That was a major point of curiosity for me when I accepted the gig. What does the agrichemical industry eat at its feasts? Not surprisingly, fancy—and generally passable—hotel fare. The night's menu included a reasonably fresh salad, some competently cooked mixed vegetables, and a filet mignon cooked medium. Normally I don't eat meat whose origin is mysterious to me, but that night I was famished from travel and work. As I laid into the filet mignon, I thought of the specter of meat glue and how it's commonly used to fabricate filet-mignon-like beef cuts in institutional settings. I remembered the vow, in my recent piece on meat glue, to "eat around" filet mignon if I'm ever—"God forbid"—served it "at some cursed banquet." Shaking off my vow, I ate about half of it. As with all filet mignon dishes, it was tender but didn't taste like much.
At the next day's conference, I appeared on a panel of food bloggers, along with Danielle Gould of Food + Tech Connect and Hemi Weingarten of Fooducate.
The mood darkened considerably at other points in my remarks. Gunther asked me what role I thought I played as a blogger. I said, to explain, that we had to back up a bit. The agrichemical industry had become extremely consolidated, which meant that a vast amount of profits had become concentrated into the coffers of a handful of companies. That effect gave these companies the resources to invest millions of dollars in research and marketing. I noted a report that I had seen that very week showing Monsanto has already spent $1.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2012 alone.
In that context, I said, I see my work as a counterweight. I'm a journalist on the ground digging into the industry's claims, looking critically at how its technologies play out for people and ecosystems. I pointed to the example of ubiquitous neonicotinoid pesticides and the growing weight of science linking them to declining honeybee health, as well as to the failure of Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology and the gusher of toxic herbicides now hitting US farmland as a result. These were the kind of stories I fixate on on from my modest perch at a nonprofit publication while a steady blitz of marketing and lobbying held those very products in place.
And so it went on for a while, the room feeling both highly charged and dead silent as I spoke bluntly and from the heart.
The tension reached a dramatic crescendo during the Q&A period. A distinguished older gentleman took the mic, declared his name was Charlie Stenholm and had been a US representative from Texas for many years and was now a lobbyist—though his wife prefer he call himself an educator.(Stenholm serves as senior policy adviser to Olsson, Frank & Weeda, the powerhouse lobbying firm). How, he demanded to know in his slow and charming Texas drawl, looking me in the eye, could I possibly question GMO technology when it was so clearly needed to feed the world?
That gave me the opportunity to deliver my critique of GMOs. After 25 years of R&D and 16 years in the field, the industry has so far delivered precisely two widely used traits: herbicide resistance (Roundup Ready) and pesticide expression (Bt). The first has already failed, and the second is showing signs of coming undone. Meanwhile, the so-called complex traits—crops that use less water or nitrogen—clearly aren't working. Moreover, despite all the "feed the world" rhetoric, GMOs have so far succeeded in boosting crop yields only marginally. GMOs have been a magnificent success in the marketplace, I declared, but what had they succeeded at? Mainly, I charged, at generating profits for a few big companies in the form of licensing fees and herbicide sales.
I have to say, it felt cathartic to face down a man who had unapologetically barreled through the revolving door between government and agribusiness.
When the panel ended, I was greeted immediately by reps from Syngenta and Dow.
More at the linkI made a career of sorts writing about the "big six" agrichemical... more
Well well, President Obama is rubbing elbows with Hugh Grant CEO of Monsanto today at this symposium as well as other chemical polluters like Syngenta. If you read the list of sponsors it reads like a who's who of biotech/pesticide pushers (including Dupont, Syngenta and Walmart.) And of course, sponsored by the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation as well, which like their counterparts are salivating to push these poison seeds onto the people of Africa against their will for profit. Now, what distracting bit of news is the media concentrating on today to hide this? This administration is in bed fully with these corporations intent on a contaminated monoculture world where nature itself is patented and farmers are indebted to them for LIFE. I can only hope resistance to this gets even stronger.Well well, President Obama is rubbing elbows with Hugh Grant CEO of Monsanto today at... more
Here’s what happens when corporations begin to control education.
"When I approached professors to discuss research projects addressing organic agriculture in farmer's markets, the first one told me that 'no one cares about people selling food in parking lots on the other side of the train tracks,’” said a PhD student at a large land-grant university who did not wish to be identified. “My academic adviser told me my best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer's markets were stocked with 'black market vegetables' that 'are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.' It was communicated to me on more than one occasion throughout my education that I should just study something Monsanto would fund rather than ideas to which I was deeply committed. I ended up studying what I wanted, but received no financial support, and paid for my education out of pocket."
Unfortunately, she's not alone. Conducting research requires funding, and today's research follows the golden rule: The one with the gold makes the rules.
A report just released by Food and Water Watch examines the role of corporate funding of agricultural research at land grant universities, of which there are more than 100. “You hear again and again Congress and regulators clamoring for science-based rules, policies, regulations,” says Food and Water Watch researcher Tim
Schwab, explaining why he began investigating corporate influence in agricultural research. “So if the rules and regulations and policies are based on science that is industry-biased, then the fallout goes beyond academic articles. It really trickles down to farmer livelihoods and consumer choice.”
The report found that nearly one quarter of research funding at land grant universities now comes from corporations, compared to less than 15 percent from the USDA. Although corporate funding of research surpassed USDA funding at these universities in the mid-1990s, the gap is now larger than ever. What's more, a broader look at all corporate agricultural research, $7.4 billion in 2006, dwarfs the mere $5.7 billion in all public funding of agricultural research spent the same year.
Influence does not end with research funding, however. In 2005, nearly one third of agricultural scientists reported consulting for private industry. Corporations endow professorships and donate money to universities in return for having buildings, labs and wings named for them. Purdue University's Department of Nutrition Science blatantly offers corporate affiliates “corporate visibility with students and faculty” and “commitment by faculty and administration to address [corporate] members' needs,” in return for the $6,000 each corporate affiliate pays annually.
In perhaps the most egregious cases, corporate boards and college leadership overlap. In 2009, South Dakota State's president, for example, joined the board of directors of Monsanto, where he earns six figures each year. Bruce Rastetter is simultaneously the co-founder and managing director of a company called AgriSol Energy and a member of the Iowa Board of Regents. Under his influence, Iowa State joined AgriSol in a venture in Tanzania that would have forcefully removed 162,000 people from their land, but the university later pulled out of the project after public outcry.
What is the impact of the flood of corporate cash? “We know from a number of meta-analyses, that corporate funding leads to results that are favorable to the corporate funder,” says Schwab.
More at the linkHere’s what happens when corporations begin to control education.
Every five years, the federal farm bill sets our nation's food policies -- it's the single biggest factor in determining what ends up on your plate.
Right now Congress is only providing minimal support for healthy, local and organic foods while expanding wasteful subsidies and giveaways that support the wealthiest agribusinesses -- at the expense of family farmers. This year's bill could be even worse.
The Senate Agriculture Committee just released a draft version of the 2012 Farm Bill which preserves these handouts while cutting vital conservation programs. The House version of the bill be even worse.2
It's incredibly important that Congress get this right -- so CREDO Action is teaming up with Environmental Working Group to stop the giveaway to Big Ag and support food and farm policies that protect our environment and expand access to healthy food.
Tell the Senate: Stop the giveaway to Big Ag. Pass a Farm Bill that supports local, healthy and organic food.
The Farm Bill affects everything from the food you eat to conservation and nutrition programs. And right now, vital nutrition programs that help feed low-income children and decades-old conservation programs that protect wetlands, grasslands and soil health could be on the chopping block.2
Meanwhile, Big Ag is working hard to keep open the spigot that sends billions of dollars a year in subsidies to growers of commodity crops like corn, soy and cotton. More than 74 percent of that money goes to wealthy agribusinesses, not to small-scale family farmers who need them.
The bill that emerges from the Senate Agriculture Committee will likely be the best version we can hope for right now -- as it will only get more unbalanced in negotiations with the House. It's vital that the committee members hear from you now.
Tell the Senate: Stop the giveaway to Big Ag. Pass a Farm Bill that supports local, healthy and organic food.
Thanks for supporting a healthy food system.Every five years, the federal farm bill sets our nation's food policies --... more
A detailed analysis of global nitrogen cycles shows without a doubt that a spike in atmospheric nitrous oxide can be traced to increased fertilizer use during the past 50 years.
Since 1970, nitrous oxide concentrations have increased by 20 percent, from below 270 parts per billion to more than 320 ppb. After carbon dioxide and methane, nitrous oxide (N2O) is the most potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. It also destroys stratospheric ozone, which protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Climate scientists have assumed that the cause of the increased nitrous oxide was nitrogen-based fertilizer, which stimulates microbes in the soil to convert nitrogen to nitrous oxide at a faster rate than normal.
The new study, reported in the April issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, uses nitrogen isotope data to identify the unmistakable fingerprint of fertilizer use in archived air samples from Antarctica and Tasmania.
“Our study is the first to show empirically from the data at hand alone that the nitrogen isotope ratio in the atmosphere and how it has changed over time is a fingerprint of fertilizer use,” said study leader Kristie Boering, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and of earth and planetary science.
“We are not vilifying fertilizer. We can’t just stop using fertilizer,” she said. “But we hope this study will contribute to changes in fertilizer use and agricultural practices that will help to mitigate the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.”
The steep rise in atmospheric nitrous oxide coincided with the green revolution of the 1960s, when inexpensive, synthetic fertilizer and other developments boosted food production worldwide, feeding a burgeoning global population.
Tracking the origin of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, however, is difficult because a molecule from a fertilized field looks identical to one from a natural forest or the ocean if you only measure total concentration. But a quirk of microbial metabolism affects the isotope ratio of the nitrogen the N2O microbes give off, producing a telltale fingerprint that can be detected with sensitive techniques.
Global warming impacts
Limiting nitrous oxide emissions could be part of a first step toward reducing all greenhouse gases, Boering said. In particular, reducing nitrous oxide emissions can initially offset more than its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions overall, since N2O traps heat at a different wavelength than CO2 and clogs a “window” that allows Earth to cool off independent of CO2 levels.
“On a pound for pound basis, it is really worthwhile to figure how to limit our emissions of N2O and methane,” she said. “Limiting N2O emissions can buy us a little more time in figuring out how to reduce CO2 emissions.”
One approach, for example, is to time fertilizer application to avoid rain, because wet and happy soil microbes can produce sudden bursts of nitrous oxide. Changes in the way fields are tilled, when they are fertilized and how much is used can reduce N2O production.
Boering’s studies, which involve analyzing the isotopic fingerprints of nitrous oxide from different sources, could help farmers determine which strategies are most effective. It could also help assess the potential negative impacts of growing crops for biofuels, since some feedstocks may require fertilizer that will generate N2O that offsets their carbon neutrality.
“This new evidence of the budget of nitrous oxide allows us to better predict its future changes– and therefore its impacts on climate and stratospheric ozone depletion – for different scenarios of fertilizer use in support of rising populations and increased production for bio-energy,” said coauthor David Etheridge of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Aspendale, Victoria.
More at the linkA detailed analysis of global nitrogen cycles shows without a doubt that a spike in... more
Beautifully shot and interweaving interviews with scenes from soy fields in Paraguay, Raising Resistance explores Latin American farmers’ struggle against the expanding production of genetically modified soy in South America. Biotechnology, mechanisation, and herbicides have radically changed the lives of small farmers in Latin America. For farmers in Paraguay this means displacement from their land, loss of basic food supplies, and a veritable fight for survival. Geronimo Arevelos and a group of small farmers stand defiantly in a corporate-owned soy field adjacent to his own, blocking a tractor from spraying herbicides that will decimate his crops and expose nearby families to toxic chemicals. As corporate farms seize farmland and rapidly expand production of genetically modified soy, Geronimo and the campesinos find themselves in a life and death struggle. Raising Resistance illustrates the mechanisms of a global economy that relies on ‘monocrop’ agriculture and corporate ownership of land. In telling the story of Paraguay, Raising Resistance poses the larger question of whether the global community wants to go on living with a system that allows one crop to prosper at the expense of all others.
(Official Selection International Documentary Festival Amsterdam 2011)Beautifully shot and interweaving interviews with scenes from soy fields in Paraguay,... more
The Just Label It (JLI) Campaign announced today that a record-breaking one million Americans of all political persuasions have called on the FDA to label genetically engineered (GE) foods. Today, March 27, is the date that the FDA is required to respond to the petition. It took JLI and its more than 500 partner organizations less than 180 days to accumulate a record breaking number of public comments--a testament to the power of collective voices to demand our right to know what's in our food. (I've written about the campaign before here, here, and here.)
The campaign also announced today a new national survey revealing that more than nine out of 10 Americans across the political spectrum supports labeling food that has been genetically engineered. This new infographic is a compelling visual that shares the results of the survey.
New Survey Results: Motherhood, Apple Pie and GE Food Labeling
Voter support for GE-foods labeling in the U.S. is nearly unanimous, according to the political opinion survey on GE food labeling conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of JLI. Explained pollster Mark Mellman, "Few topics other than motherhood and apple pie can muster over 90 percent support, but labeling GE-foods is one of those few views held almost unanimously." The survey found nearly all Democrats (93% favor, 2% oppose), Independents (90% favor, 5% oppose) and Republicans (89% favor, 5% oppose) in favor of labeling. The study also revealed that support for labeling is robust and arguments against it have little sway.
In the era of pink slime, BPA in our soup and deadly melons, we have a right more than ever to know about what's in our food. The FDA needs to restore confidence in our food and our right to know about the food we eat and feed our families. It's time for the FDA to give Americans the same rights held by citizens in over 40 nations, including all of our major trade partners, to know whether our foods have been genetically modified.
Stay tuned as the campaign now works to make sure that the FDA and Washington knows that one million Americans are watching to make sure they deliver.
More at the linkThe Just Label It (JLI) Campaign announced today that a record-breaking one million... more
Willie Nelson, Anna Lappe, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Marion Nestle and Many Others Join 60+ Occupy Groups and 30+ Environmental and Food Groups for Global Day of Action
Monsanto and Cargill rise to top of food movement’s ire
SAN FRANCISCO (Thursday, February 23): On February 27, an unprecedented alliance of more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food and corporate accountability organizations have joined together for Occupy our Food Supply, a global day of action resisting the corporate control of food systems.
The call to Occupy our Food Supply, facilitated by Rainforest Action Network, is being echoed by prominent thought leaders, authors, farmers and activists including the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Food Inc.’s Robert Kenner, music legend Willie Nelson, actor Woody Harrelson, and authors Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Anna Lappe, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Marion Nestle, among others. (See quotes in release below). The central theme uniting this diverse coalition is a shared sense of urgency to resist the corporate consolidation of food systems and create socially and environmentally just local solutions.
"Nothing is more important than the food we eat and the family farmers who grow it," said Willie Nelson, Founder and President of Farm Aid. "Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil, pollution of our water and health epidemics of obesity and diabetes. We simply cannot afford it. Our food system belongs in the hands of many family farmers, not under the control of a handful of corporations."
From Brazil, Hungary, Ireland, and Argentina to dozens of states in the US, thousands of people will be participating in the February 27 global day of action. Participants will be reclaiming unused bank-owned lots to create community gardens; hosting seed exchanges in front of stock exchanges; labeling products on grocery store shelves that have genetically engineered ingredients; building community alliances to support locally owned grocery stores and resist Walmart megastores; and protesting food giants Monsanto and Cargill.
“Occupy our Food Supply is a day to reclaim our most basic life support system – our food – from corporate control. It is an unprecedented day of solidarity to create local, just solutions that steer our society away from the stranglehold of industrial food giants like Cargill and Monsanto,” said Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Agribusiness campaigner with Rainforest Action Network (RAN), of the day of action,
Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical US grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than ninety percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.
The overwhelming support for Occupy our Food Supply underscores the unity between farmers, parents, health care professionals, human rights activists, food justice advocates and food lovers around the world who are increasingly viewing their concerns as different manifestations of the same underlying problem: a food system structured for short term profit instead of the long term health of people and the planet.
Supporting groups include: Bay Localize, Berkeley Association for Animal Advocacy, Biosafety Alliance, California Food and Justice Coalition, Chiapas Support Committee, Family Farm Defenders, Food Democracy Now, Food First, National Family Farms Coalition, PAN (Pesticide Action Network), Pesticide Watch, Planting Justice, Organic Consumers Association, Occupy Big Food, Occupy Claremont, Occupy Cargill, Occupy DC, Occupy Delaware, Occupy Denver, Occupy Farms, Occupy for Animal Rights, Occupy Fort Lauderdale, Occupy Food, Occupy Gardens Toronto, Occupy Jacksonville, Occupy Maine, Occupy MN/Seeds of Change, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy Philly (Occupy Vacant Lots), Occupy Portland, OWS-Food Justice, OWS Puppets, OWS Sustainability, Occupy Santa Cruz, Occupy SF Environmental Justice Working Group, and Occupy the Food System- Oakland, among many others.
For the full list of supporters and more information on the events planned for Occupy our Food Supply, visit www.occupyourfoodsupply.org.
Read more: The Food Movement Speaks With one Voice: Occupy our Food Supply | Rainforest Action Network http://ran.org/food-movement-speaks-one-voice-occupy-our-food-supply#ixzz1nPEJHWmI
More at the linkWillie Nelson, Anna Lappe, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Marion Nestle and... more