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Archive for the ‘agribusiness’ tag

How Vermont Got Big Food Companies To Label GMOs

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Non GMO Project
Non GMO Project

If you hadn’t heard, Vermont recently passed a GMO labeling law, and Congress, since it is so dysfunctional, could not muster a response. Thus Vermont’s law will become the de facto law of the nation, at least for a while…

You’ll soon know whether many of the packaged foods you buy contain ingredients derived from genetically modified plants, such as soybeans and corn.

Over the past week or so, big companies including General Mills, Mars and Kellogg have announced plans to label such products – even though they still don’t think it’s a good idea.

The reason, in a word, is Vermont. The tiny state has boxed big food companies into a corner. Two years ago, the state passed legislation requiring mandatory labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has fought back against the law, both in court and in Congress, but so far it’s been unsuccessful.

Last week, as we reported, Congress failed to pass an industry-supported measure that would have created a voluntary national standard for labeling — and also would have preempted Vermont’s law. Which means for now, food industry giants still face a July 1 deadline to comply with the state’s labeling mandate.

And since food companies can’t create different packaging just for Vermont, it appears that the tiniest of states has created a labeling standard that will go into effect nationwide.

This statement, from General Mills’ Jeff Harmening, sums it up:

“Vermont state law requires us to start labeling certain grocery store food packages that contain GMO ingredients or face significant fines,” Harmening wrote on the General Mills blogs.

“We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that,” explains Harmening.

So, as a result: “Consumers all over the U.S. will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills products,” he concludes.

Chocolate giant Mars struck a similar tone in its announcement: “To comply with [the Vermont] law, Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide,” the company statement says.

(click here to continue reading How Little Vermont Got Big Food Companies To Label GMOs : The Salt : NPR.)

All Your Bonnie Plants Come from Non-GMO Seeds, and All Your Base are Belong to Us
All Your Bonnie Plants Come from Non-GMO Seeds, and All Your Base are Belong to Us

For the record, I’m ok with the Vermont labeling law. I don’t know if genetically modified food is good or bad, but truthfully, nobody really does. The American government’s regulatory agencies are permanently tilted towards the interests of corporations, always, and nearly without exception; the FDA cannot be trusted to protect the health of consumers. Do we really know if gene splicing pesticide resistance into apples or wheat is going to alter our bodies? The corporations pinky-swear GMOs won’t have long-term effects on cancer rates and other health-related concerns, and maybe they are right.

But maybe they are not.

Last spring, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization declared glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide on GMO crops, to be a probable carcinogen. And just last month, the FDA announced it would begin testing food products sold in the U.S. for glyphosate residue.

State legislators across the nation introduced 101 bills last year pertaining to GMOs. Of the 15 that passed, four had to do with labeling, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A bill introduced by Illinois state Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, requiring disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients stalled in committee.

More than 90 percent of corn and soybeans grown in Illinois is genetically modified, said Adam Nielsen, director of national legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

The GMO crop movement took off in 1996, when Monsanto Co. introduced Roundup Ready soybean seeds, genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide. Similarly marketed cotton, canola, corn and sugar beet seeds soon followed.

For farmers, glyphosate represented a safer, cheaper, more effective way of controlling weeds, thwarting pests and growing crops, Moose said. It’s since become the standard in large-scale agriculture.

The general public and the scientific community don’t tend to agree when it comes to GMO safety, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey conducted before the World Health Organization finding. Most consumers surveyed, 57 percent, said they considered GMOs to be generally unsafe to eat, whereas 88 percent of scientists surveyed, all of them connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said GMOs were generally safe.

Genetically modified crops don’t present a health risk, but the herbicides used on them are “a big problem,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and an expert on environmental health concerns and children.

As GMO crops have become more common over the years, weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, which has led to heavier use of the herbicide, he said.

Landrigan is among scientists and health experts calling on the EPA to “urgently review the safety risk of glyphosate” and says it’s time for GMO labeling. “Not because I think genetic rearrangement is bad, but because I think consumers have a right to know what they’re eating,” he said.

(click here to continue reading GMO labeling debate puts food industry on defensive – Chicago Tribune.)

The agribusinesses are not being banned from using GMO products, only being required to be transparent if they are. Does this mean General Mills has to change their packaging? Yep. So what? They can’t be complaining about the extra ink required, only that they are being forced to alter their packaging by dictate of the people. Boo hoo. Packaging changes all the time anyway, I don’t see the harm in adding a few words to a package.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 27th, 2016 at 8:29 am

Welfare for the Wealthy, Corn Cobs for the Poor

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Sprang from Shame and Pride
Sprang from Shame and Pride

As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…

The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2

(click here to continue reading Welfare for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Exposed and Juicy
Exposed and Juicy

Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:

This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.

Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.

This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.

For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) [4]

Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.

If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.

Dance of the Devil Corn
Dance of the Devil Corn

From USA Today last year:

Who gets food stamps?

The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.

••8% were age 60 or older.

••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”

••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.

••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.

Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.

For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:

•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).

Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.

(click here to continue reading Fact check: Gingrich’s faulty food-stamp claim – USATODAY.com.)

and then there’s this little bit of trickery:

Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”

You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.

Footnotes:
  1. This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. []
  2. “People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 6th, 2013 at 9:28 am

The Misguided War Against Food Stamps

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Snappy Snaps
Snappy Snaps

Dr. Paul Krugman writes about the latest Republican culture war: against Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a/k/a food stamps. First, some reasons why SNAP is good for our nation:

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

(click here to continue reading From the Mouths of Babes – NYTimes.com.)

I’d add that a fabulously wealthy nation such as ours should be able to feed everyone. We have the food, frequently rotting in warehouses, or shipped away to underdeveloped nations. Why not feed our own people in need? The truth is most people don’t want to have to depend upon hand-outs, and would rather be able to earn their own bread.1 Sure, now and again people will abuse the system, but so what? Bankers abused our capitalist economy, we didn’t collectively decide to eliminate banks. 

Jerk City
Jerk City

More Krugman:

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program [WIC] that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

…and the saddest part is Rep Fincher could continue to slurp at the lobbyist trough of agribusinesses without a hint of shame.

Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said that Mr. Fincher was being hypocritical. “Not only is he advocating deep cuts to other people’s money while he is getting subsidies, he also voted to increase the subsidies that he benefits from,” Mr. Faber said.

So you say

So you say 

I don’t like corporations getting free cheese, but if agribusinesses excess products were purchased by the government and incorporated into SNAP and WIC, wouldn’t we all benefit? Even slugs like Rep. Fincher?

Footnotes:
  1. I speak from experience; my family was poor enough to qualify for free federally-subsidized lunches when I was in grades 7-11. But once we didn’t need that assistance, we stopped taking it. []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 31st, 2013 at 7:13 am

Congress to Face Angry Farmers

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A Little Sigh
A Little Sigh

What a surprise! The anti-American GOP Congress has decided farmers are not a core constituency, or at least are not as important as defense contractors. Since the GOP doesn’t believe in climate change, the drought is just god’s will, and farmers should pray for rain, avoid asking for government assistance. 

When Congress returns to business this week, it will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill that lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.

That unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation. But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.

When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership is also considering yet another vote on Representative Paul D. Ryan’s budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.

In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They also want Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one already passed by the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The military cuts were set in motion by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, and they became automatic when a special select committee failed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee’s sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.

Mr. Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee’s bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts over all in the measure.

 

(click here to continue reading Congress to Face Angry Farmers – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2012 at 8:04 am

Drought-Driven Voters Vent Anger Over Farm Bill

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More Immaculate Syllables
More Immaculate Syllables

Tea Party-led GOP is concerned about any government assistance for non-oil company entities, thus no help for farmers, despite the fact that farmers lean Republican, usually. The only way the farmers are going to get drought relief is if fracking is allowed on their land, or oil is discovered…

House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who popped into Iowa on Friday night to promote Mr. Latham’s re-election campaign, have been unable to muster the votes.

A summer drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock and sent feed prices soaring is now extracting a political price from members of Congress, who failed to agree on a comprehensive agriculture bill or even limited emergency relief before leaving Washington for five weeks.

Farmers are complaining loudly to their representatives, editorial boards across the heartland are hammering Congress over its inaction, and incumbents from both parties are sparring with their challengers over agricultural policy.

In Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar and her Republican Party-endorsed opponent, Kurt Bills, disagreed sharply in their first face-to-face debate over what a farm bill should contain. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin, defended their positions before the state farm bureau’s political unit.

Representative Leonard L. Boswell, Mr. Latham’s Democratic opponent in a newly drawn district, said, “Every time I get out there, people keep asking me: ‘What happened to the farm bill? Why don’t we have a farm bill?’ ”

In Arkansas, the Democratic Party paid for an automated call by a farmer imploring rural voters to pester Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican, about the unfinished farm business. Representative Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, took heat back home for backing away from a petition sponsored by Democrats that would have forced the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor.

“We would have much preferred they pass the House bill,” said Michael Held, the chief executive of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “I think the attitude here is this is typical Washington, D.C., not getting its work done.”

But in a dynamic that has roiled the 112th Congress, this year’s farm bill was unlike any before it. While the House Agriculture Committee signed off on a measure, its substantial cuts to food programs alienated too many Democrats. And its cuts to those programs, as well as to some forms of farm aid, were not enough to appease the chamber’s most conservative members.

 …

Representative Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and newly anointed vice-presidential candidate, has recommended cutting $134 billion from food stamps over the next decade…“This bill is being held up by the same people who held up the debt ceiling last year,” said Bob Kerrey, who is seeking to regain a Senate seat he once held in Nebraska, where he joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday for a drought meeting and news conference. “They don’t want a farm bill.”

(click here to continue reading Drought-Driven Voters Vent Anger Over Farm Bill – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 13th, 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

The Worst Farm Bill Ever

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Summer Squash
Summer Squash

The so-called Farm Bill is a five year plan for American agriculture policy, and as usual, rewards food corporations instead of consumers, and is adverse to encouraging sustainable food production.

For decades, groups like Fred Hoefner’s [National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition] have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy’s tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce  costs for farms to transition to organic.

Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. “These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill’s budget, but they’ve had a large impact on communities nationwide,” Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.

Corn and Cornier
Corn and Cornier

and of course having lots of money to hire lobbyists always pays off for food corporations:

Big Ag continues to get support for monster corn and soy crops. Large commodity growers will take a nominal hit in the next farm bill. For years, farmers in a few chosen crops—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—have received $5 billion per year in so-called “direct payments” based on the acreage under production. In order to receive direct payments, farmers had to sign so called “conservation-compliance” agreements, which obligated them to create conservation plans for highly erodible land and agree not to drain wetlands for planting. The conservation-compliance agreements were far from perfect, Hoefner says, but they did help slow soil erosion in the Corn Belt for years.

In the next farm bill, direct payments will almost certainly be scrapped, Hoefner says, and replaced by a revenue-insurance scheme that is projected to cost $3.5 billion per year, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. Sounds like a step forward, right? Wrong. First of all, in current negotiations, there is no conservation-compliance requirement for revenue insurance—meaning that farmers will have incentive to drain wetlands to grow crops, as well as expand crops onto erosion-prone land. Moreover, the new scheme will likely insure prices at high levels—meaning that relatively small price dips could cost taxpayers serious money, potentially wiping out that promised $1.5 billion in savings.

The switch to revenue insurance, Hoefner says, will “further reduce the risk of putting the pedal to the metal on commodity production, [with] no incentive whatsoever to diversify crops or leave any ground unplanted.” All of that, of course, is manna to the companies that supply inputs to industrial-scale farmers: seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Syngenta; and to the companies that buy corn and soy and transform them into a range of low-quality, profitable foods.

(click here to continue reading The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones.)

Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com
Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com

Lobbyists won’t like this suggestion:

The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors due to be released on Thursday.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending.

Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.

The crop insurance subsidy, according to the G.A.O. report, ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation. A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.

Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms.

(click here to continue reading Cap on Farm Insurance Subsidy Could Save Billions, Report Says – NYTimes.com.)

City Farm
City Farm

and we ignore climate change at our peril:

One of the biggest challenges facing this planet isn’t simply feeding a growing population — perhaps as many as 10 billion by the year 2100. The challenge is feeding all those people as the climate changes in ways we can barely project. A new report called “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change” (PDF) illustrates the complexity of the problem and makes clear that action must be taken soon to address it.

Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.

It is tempting to assume that expanding agricultural acreage and using new technology, like genetically engineered crops, will somehow save the day. The report says that efficiency and sustainability will also require fundamental changes in how we grow and consume food: reducing waste in production and distribution and finding ways to farm that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other “negative environmental impacts of agriculture,” like soil loss and water pollution. The report also calls for better dietary habits in wealthy countries, which have a disproportionately and unsustainably high calorie intake, and targeted aid to populations whose farming is most at risk.

(click here to continue reading Sustainably Feeding a Changing World – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 12th, 2012 at 8:28 am

USDA suggests Monsanto police itself

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Bounty from @FreshPicks

Lovely. What’s next? Asking ExxonMobile to conduct its own environmental studies for the EPA? Asking G.E. to do its own tax audits for the IRS? We expected better than this from Obama’s administration.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced a pilot project in the Federal Register this month which would allow biotech seed companies to perform their own environmental impact studies of novel seed varieties before deregulation. The USDA’s move seems to be a response to a decision last August by Federal Judge Jeffrey White which banned the planting of genetically modified sugar beets until an environmental study assessed the impact of commercial cultivation. White ruled that the USDA’s approval of the beets violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Proponents of the USDA’s project believe the decision will make the biotech industry less vulnerable to legal challenges and speed the registration process of new GE crops. “A big deterrent to future lawsuits would be if the USDA were to win some of them,” said Karen Batra, director of communications at Biotechnology Industry Organization, to Capital Press. “The more information the department has, the better case they can make.”

Most recently The Center for Food Safety challenged the USDA’s unregulated approval of GE-alfalfa saying the decision puts organic and conventional farmers at risk. The case is pending.

Organic advocates believe the USDA’s pilot will slow what they believe to be an already ineffective process and encourage more legal challenges.

“There’s virtually no chance, in the current political climate, that the idea of expanding the role of biotech is going to speed up approval,” said Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center.  “The fact of the matter is there are many good reasons not to trust science from Monsanto.  Almost inevitably the first assessments carried out under this pilot program will be challenged in court—probably successfully.”

Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said the USDA’s proposal would make an already poor process worse.

“This decision would give us additional incentive to challenge a seed up for deregulation, subject to other factors,” he said. “We might actually challenge the process itself. This decision seems to go against some pretty basic scientific integrity guidelines. Letting a company do its own assessment is a pretty obvious conflict of interest.”

 

(click here to continue reading USDA suggests Monsanto do its own environmental impact studies | Farming content from New Hope 360.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 27th, 2011 at 11:48 am

F.D.A and Dairy Industry Spar Over Testing of Milk

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R. J. Rous Wholesale Milk and Cream

Yet again, a federal agency chooses to let a regulated business make the decisions. Too bad there isn’t a consumer advocate that could demand the FDA be firm with industry.

Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing

(click to continue reading F.D.A and Dairy Industry Spar Over Testing of Milk – NYTimes.com.)

The FDA even says, bluntly, that they don’t give a shit about consumers:

The F.D.A. said that it would confer with the industry before deciding how to proceed. “The agency remains committed to gathering the information necessary to address its concern with respect to this important potential public health issue,” it said in a statement.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 27th, 2011 at 10:15 am

links for 2010-12-29

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  • As business models go, there are currently two dominant ones: either people like your product enough to purchase it or they don’t care enough to buy it but will overlook its deficiencies if it’s “free” in exchange for their personal browsing and purchasing info sold to advertisers. The former model is Apple’s, the latter is Google’s. Apple sells emotional experiences. The price is what users pay to be delighted by Apple’s stream of innovations and to be free of the lowest common denominator burdens and the pervasive harvesting of their personal info. Google sells eyeballs. To be more precise, the clickstream attached to those eyeballs. Thus scale, indeed dominance, is absolutely crucial to Google’s model.
    phone+heads.jpg
    (tags: google iPhone Apple)
  • Even for someone who follows sustainable agriculture and animal welfare issues, this is pretty astounding: New analysis by the Center for a Livable Future shows that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States go to farm animals (Wired). The last time that stat was calculated, a decade ago by the Union of Concerned Scientists, it stood at 70%.
    all-you-can-eat_25.jpg
  • In recent weeks, NPR hosts, reporters and guests have incorrectly said or implied that WikiLeaks recently has disclosed or released roughly 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. Although the website has vowed to publish “251,287 leaked United States embassy cables,” as of Dec. 28, 2010, only 1,942 of the cables had been released.
    anti propaganda hemp anslinger marijuana-girl-reefer-madness-poster.jpg

Written by swanksalot

December 29th, 2010 at 7:01 am

House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws – Devil in the Details

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Carrots in Soho square

So the House finally passed the food safety bill that we’ve discussed dozens of times previously, but

The House of Representatives gave final approval on Tuesday to a long-awaited modernization of the nation’s food safety laws, voting 215 to 144 to grant the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over food production.

(click to continue reading House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws – NYTimes.com.)

…the devil is in the details1. For instance, some of the implementation doesn’t start until five years from now, some not until 18 months from now, and with the risk that the whole thing will get changed by then since our country inexplicably elected Republicans to be the majority party in the 112th Congress

Meth Leaves

“The F.D.A. asked for and was given a very long lead time for implementation,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “But it’s still a vast improvement over what we have today.”

Ultimately, the agency’s ability to carry out and enforce the law will depend on how much money it has available to pay inspectors and maintain or increase its staff. Republicans will gain control of the House next year and have vowed to cut spending on many domestic programs. Deep cuts could hobble the F.D.A. just as it gains the new authority.

“It’s going to be crucial for the next Congress to recognize that F.D.A. can’t fulfill the promise of this new law without the resources it needs to do the job,” said Erik D. Olson, who heads food policy for the Pew Health Group, an advocacy organization.

Footnotes:
  1. whatever the frack that means []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 22nd, 2010 at 3:36 pm

High-fructose corn syrup is the Devil

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Well, you know what I mean.

corn_porn.jpg

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

[Click to continue reading Princeton University – A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain]

Curious as to why that is. Also, isn’t it nice that the federal government subsidizes high-fructose corn syrup, keeping its price artificially low? Low price means high fructose corn syrup is used as an ingredient more often than if was a specialty ingredient.

Corn

Written by Seth Anderson

March 23rd, 2010 at 8:56 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , , , ,

USDA Organic inspectors lame excuses

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Elections do matter, part the 8497th. Under the Bush administration, topics like food safety and compliance with organic regulations were deemed not important, and thus not enforced. Listen to some of these excuses the USDA made for why they couldn’t bother to do their jobs:

Peppers and Hues

Under normal circumstances, the program gives preliminary accreditation to certifying agents based on a review of paperwork they submit. That allows them to begin certifying and inspecting organic producers and processors. But the program is supposed to follow up with a site visit to inspect a certifier’s operations before making accreditation permanent.

In five cases, the inspector general found, officials failed to make the follow-up visits, allowing the certifiers to operate for as long as seven years with only preliminary accreditation.

Officials at the program said that in three cases, involving certifiers operating in Bolivia, Israel and Turkey, they did not send staff members to make the inspections because the State Department had issued travel warnings about potentially dangerous conditions in those countries.

In two other cases, involving certifying agents in Australia and Canada, officials said that scheduling problems blocked them from arranging visits — in one instance for as long as five years.

[Click to continue reading U.S. to Ensure Spot Tests of Organic Foods – NYTimes.com]

A joke, in other words.

Theoretically, the USDA is going to change its mission, and actually figure out how to make sure organic items in the grocery store are what they say they are, but since the USDA’s mission has been to support agribusinesses for most of its tenure, I’m skeptical until I see some actual results.

The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the organic food industry.

Spot testing is required by a 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but in a report released on Thursday by the office of Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of agriculture, investigators wrote that regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.

The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.

Lemon Cucumbers

At least they are increasing the budget, a bit. In the federal budget, these still are afterthought numbers, less than the cost of one day in Iraq, but it is a step in the right direction at least. Perhaps the producers of organic products could contribute a fraction of their sales?

The organic program’s budget increased to $6.9 million for the current fiscal year, from $3.9 million the previous year, Mr. McEvoy said, while its staff is slated to nearly double, to 31 from 16. The Obama administration is seeking to increase the budget to $10 million in the next fiscal year and allow the program to expand to about 40 employees.

Sales of organic products reached $26 billion last year and, until the recession hit, had been growing by double-digit percentages each year.

$6,900,000 ÷ $26,000,000,000 = 0.02653846153846155%, give or take, and still seems like a pittance to me.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 20th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Agribusiness Spreading Superbugs

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Agribusinesses have all sorts of negative effects on our society (pollution, poor health, corruption); add superbugs to the list.

Long Cycle of Redemption

If ESBL E. coli is frightening, there are even more potent superbugs emerging, like Acinetobacter.

“We are seeing infections caused by Acinetobacter and special bacteria called KPC Klebsiella that are literally resistant to every antibiotic that is F.D.A. approved,” Dr. Spellberg said. “These are untreatable infections. This is the first time since 1936, the year that sulfa hit the market in the U.S., that we have had this problem.”

The Infectious Diseases Society of America, an organization of doctors and scientists, has been bellowing alarms. It fears that we could slip back to a world in which we’re defenseless against bacterial diseases.

There’s broad agreement that doctors themselves overprescribe antibiotics — but also that a big part of the problem is factory farms. They feed low doses of antibiotics to hogs, cattle and poultry to make them grow faster.

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in the United States, 70 percent of antibiotics are used to feed healthy livestock, with 14 percent more used to treat sick livestock. Only about 16 percent are used to treat humans and their pets, the study found.

More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America. It concluded that antibiotics in livestock feed were “a major component” in the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Legislation introduced by Louise Slaughter, a New Yorker who is the only microbiologist in the House of Representatives, would curb the routine use of antibiotics in farming. The bill has 104 co-sponsors, but agribusiness interests have blocked it in committee — and the Obama administration and the Senate have dodged the issue.

[Click to continue reading Op-Ed Columnist – The Spread of Superbugs – NYTimes.com]

FDA and Washington diddle why people die, sounds like business as usual.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 7th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

Florida Tomato Shortage

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Was wondering why there was such a dearth of good tomatoes in the grocery store. At least the shortage can’t be linked to corruption in the FDA and food corporations

Heirloom Tomatoes

A shortage of tomatoes from weather-battered Florida is forcing restaurants and supermarkets to ration supplies amid soaring prices for America’s most popular fresh vegetable.

Fast-food restaurant chains such as Wendy’s have stopped automatically including tomatoes in sandwiches; now customers have to know to ask.

Even then, consumers might not get what they usually do. At Lloyd’s, a white-tablecloth restaurant across the street from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, signs went up this week warning that only plum tomatoes are available.

“People love having tomatoes in their salad and in sandwiches but we want people to know ahead of time that the quality just isn’t what they are used to,” said Sam Berngard, president of Taste America Restaurant Group LLC, which operates Lloyd’s and two Chicago seafood restaurants.

Fresh tomatoes are in short supply because of the unusual spell of freezing temperatures that hugged Florida in January. The cold temperatures that dented citrus production also destroyed roughly 70% of the tomato crop in Florida, which is the largest source of U.S.-grown fresh tomatoes this time of year.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a Maitland, Fla., trade group, said Tuesday that a 25-pound box of tomatoes is trading for $30, compared with $6.45 a year ago.

[Click to continue reading Florida Tomato Shortage Hits Restaurants, Supermarkets – WSJ.com]

Cream Sausage Tomatoes

Winter tomatoes kind of suck anyway, I can wait until locally grown varieties start appearing again. And climate change is thankfully not refuted in this article1.

Footnotes:
  1. since it isn’t relevant, probably []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 2nd, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Tagged with , ,

Soda tax and Corn Subsidy

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There is talk of soda and other sugary drinks being publicly identified as being a culprit in our nation’s worsening health

Storing Corn - Agfa Scala 200

In their critics’ eyes, producers of sugar-sweetened drinks are acting a lot like the tobacco industry of old: marketing heavily to children, claiming their products are healthy or at worst benign, and lobbying to prevent change. The industry says there are critical differences: in moderate quantities soda isn’t harmful, nor is it addictive.

The problem is that at roughly 50 gallons per person per year, our consumption of soda, not to mention other sugar-sweetened beverages, is far from moderate, and appears to be an important factor in the rise in childhood obesity. This increase is at least partly responsible for a rise in what can no longer be called “adult onset” diabetes — because more and more children are now developing it.

[Click to continue reading Is Soda the New Tobacco? – NYTimes.com]

Dance of the Devil Corn

So what to do? Well, in the best Washington manner, the answer is to tax the offending party and hope this changes behavior:

A tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform (the Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that a 3-cent tax on each 12-ounce sugared soda would raise $51.6 billion over a decade), and President Obama told Men’s Health magazine last fall that such a tax is “an idea that we should be exploring. There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.”

Small excise taxes on soda are already in place in Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, and Chicago imposes a 3 percent retail tax on soft drinks. Soda taxes were proposed in at least 12 other states in 2009, though none were approved. Mississippi is considering legislation that would tax the syrup used to sweeten soda; the mayor of Philadelphia is weighing a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, and Gov. David Paterson of New York has indicated that he will recommend a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages in his 2011 budget.

The penny-per-ounce tax, favored by Dr. Brownell and others, would produce a significant increase in retail costs: the 12-pack of Coke on sale for $2.99 would go for $4.43 and a 75-cent can would rise to 87 cents. These increases, Dr. Brownell estimates, would reduce the annual per capita consumption of soda by more than 11 gallons, to 38.5 gallons. “And the revenue,” he says, “could be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, fund obesity prevention programs for children and home economic classes in schools, and more.”

corn_porn.jpg

A couple of points in response. One, I’ve heard the 50 gallons per person a year claim before. That’s a hell of a lot of soda. Especially when household’s like my own are considered. Even if you add in cocktail ingredients like tonic water, ginger ale and tomato juice, we probably drink ten 12 ounce containers, which is 1 gallon a year in our entire household. But the oft cited average is 500 12 ounce containers annually, or nearly 1.5 cans a day. That’s a lot, and of course, this is only the average person.

Two, Mark Bittman’s article doesn’t mention a topic that Michael Pollan and others have argued quite compellingly, namely that the US Government is complicit in soda remaining so cheap because of the Federal Farm Subsidies to high fructose corn syrup producers like ADM and Cargill. On the one hand, the government gives tax money to agribusinesses to grow corn, and on the other, the government taxes products like soda made with the byproduct. Of course, PepsiCo and other cpgs1 depend upon cheap ingredients as part of their business model, so they cannot talk too loudly about the injustice of it all.

Footnotes:
  1. consumer package goods []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 14th, 2010 at 9:55 am