Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two Things

   First, this is an excellent article from the October 3rd edition of The Nation. The article is called The Food Movement: It's Power and Possibilities and was written by Frances Moore Lappe', author of the 1971  book, Diet For A Small Planet.

   A couple highlights from the article, which covers issues concerning farm workers, land, seed, culture, and economics:

"Fueling the consolidation were three Supreme Court rulings since 1980—including one in 2002, with an opinion written by former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas—making it possible to patent life forms, including seeds. And in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration released its policy on genetically modified organisms, claiming that 'the agency is not aware of any information showing that [GMO] foods…differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.'

"The government’s green light fueled the rapid spread of GMOs and monopolies—so now most US corn and soybeans are GMO, with genes patented largely by one company: Monsanto. The FDA position helped make GMOs’ spread so invisible that most Americans still don’t believe they’ve ever eaten them—even though the grocery industry says they could be in 75 percent of processed food.

"Even fewer Americans are aware that in 1999 attorney Steven Druker reported that in 40,000 pages of FDA files secured via a lawsuit, he found 'memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,' including the possibility that they could contain 'unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.'

"Yet at the same time, public education campaigns have succeeded in confining almost 80 percent of GMO planting to just three countries: the United States, Brazil and Argentina. In more than two dozen countries and in the European Union they’ve helped pass mandatory GMO labeling. Even China requires it."


"In all these ways and more, the global food movement challenges a failing frame: one that defines successful agriculture and the solution to hunger as better technologies increasing yields of specific crops. This is typically called 'industrial agriculture,' but a better description might be 'productivist,' because it fixates on production, or 'reductivist,' because it narrows our focus to a single element.

"Its near obsession with the yield of a monoculture is anti-ecological. It not only pollutes, diminishes and disrupts nature; it misses ecology’s first lesson: relationships. Productivism isolates agriculture from its relational context—from its culture.

"In 2008 a singular report helped crack the productivist frame. This report, 'The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development' (known simply as IAASTD), explained that solutions to poverty, hunger and the climate crisis require agriculture that promotes producers’ livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping to balance the carbon cycle. Painstakingly developed over four years by 400 experts, the report has gained the support of more than fifty-nine governments, and even productivist strongholds like the World Bank."

   I recommend reading the article. It contains a lot of good information and some hope.

   Also, I came across this documentary, Back to Eden. There's a lot of Christian religion in it which is a topic for a different forum, but the premise of food production in harmony with nature is one I really get behind. The film is an hour forty six minutes and you can watch it right at the link above.

   There are exciting things to talk about regarding the garden, resolutions, and such. Right now I'm busy with harvest-canning-hunting season. Hopefully I will find time to post something soon!


Friday, September 9, 2011

What if Solar Energy Received The Same Subsidies as Fossil Fuels?

   I copied this directly from Roger Ebert's Journal on the Sun Times website. All credit goes to him and his sources, but I could not resist sharing this.

   It's just that good:

What if solar energy received the same subsidies as fossil fuels?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

GMO Labeling

   This article came out yesterday on Western Farm Press's website. It amazes me how it makes the argument of why we need genetically modified labeling and just how far gone our food system really is. I don't see a reasonable argument anywhere in the article that we shouldn't have labeling so we can know whether our food is natural or not. The idea that we need to do these things to feed starving people would have some weight if we were actually feeding starving people, but the fact is we are not. As I have said before, we have plenty of food and the means to transport it all over the world, the only thing we need to feed hungry people is the will to do it.

   The message I get from this article is exactly what I have been saying: We desperately need a food system that is more concerned with health and ecology than money. As long as money is the top priority, big-business will continue to manipulate our food supply at the expense of our heath, the health and well-being of farm animals, and the planet.

   Here's the article:

Time to take on anti-biotech crowd over GMO labeling
by Harry Cline

The California anti-biotech/anti-genetically modified/anti-science crowd is at it again.
This time around they are calling themselves “advocates for truth in food labeling” and are gathering signatures to get another infamous California voter initiative on the 2012 California electoral ballot. If passed, it would mandate that GMO foods be labeled with some kind of warning.

Bring it on.

It is about time this GMO labeling issue be tackled head-on so the public can be told the truth. Truth is, everything we eat today has been genetically modified, using either conventional plant and animal breeding or biotech technology.

For example, a team of scientists at the University of California has identified no less than 14 so-called genetically modified feedstuffs that are fed to dairy cattle. These are just the biotech products. Of course conventionally genetically modified feedstuff is also fed to milk-producing dairy cows.

These include Roundup Ready corn, Bt grain and silage corn as well as distillers grain; Roundup Ready soybeans, Roundup Ready cottonseed, Bt cottonseed, Roundup Ready alfalfa, Roundup Ready canola, BST used to increase milk production, genetically-engineered Renet used in 90 percent of commercial cheese production, Roundup Ready sugar beets, glufosinate-resistant corn grain and silage, glufosinate-resistant cotton, glufosinate-resistant canola and imidazalione-tolerant corn.

Not all dairy cows are fed this complete list, but enough to dare say if you buy milk in California, it will have to be labeled GMO under the hopefully ill-fated initiative. I suspect organic milk has some of the same ingredients since the overwhelming majority of corn, cotton and soybeans are biotech crops. If not, it would most certainly be conventionally genetically modified.

Of course a lot of those feeds are also fed to poultry and beef cattle.

And we could go on and on, right into the heart of the organic/anti biotech movement - the notorious Organic Trade Association - where one of its board members is a vice president and general manager of Smuckers Natural Foods. Smuckers uses high fructose corn syrup and other GMO ingredients in various jams and jellies. There are other food producing companies represented on the OTA board that also sell biotech foods.

The absurdity of this anti-biotech movement becomes more apparent each day as people realize that the world needs increasingly more food to head off starvation by millions. The most logical way to meet this challenge is with scientific advancement, including biotechnology.

The cost of food continues to go up with the growing scarcity of products as the world competes for food. The public is growing more aware of this each day.

It is time agriculture and food processors take on this anti-biotech crowd straight out with the facts and put a stop to this mandatory GMO labeling nonsense. It is time consumers are told the truth and put this anti-biotech initiative in the same category as the ludicrous anti-circumcision ban initiative a bunch of amazingly arrogant whackos in San Francisco tried to get on a city election ballot. A superior court recently tossed the initiative off the ballot, even though enough signatures were collected to put it on a San Francisco city election ballot. Even the ACLU supported its removal from the ballot because it violated constitutional and religious freedoms.

The mandatory GMO labeling proposal is going nowhere in Washington. Maybe it is time to bury it in California. It would be expensive to defeat. However, the time is right to stop this nonsense where it all started, in California.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Report: Eating Animals

   I just finished listening to Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer on audiobook (I checked out the audiobook version for a recent trip to Portland). In summary, would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. I think everyone should know the information contained in this book. Do I agree with Mr. Foer? No, not entirely. Despite the author's very many attempts to bully the reader into sharing his conclusions I do not.

   I agree with most of what the book has to say. The factory farming that takes place in the U.S. is horrific, wholly unsustainable, and needs to stop. The fact that we have a food system whose economic concerns are primary and whose ecological concerns are nonexistent is not just unhealthy, it's insane. I agree that meat is not a required part of a healthy diet and Americans tend to eat too much of it. So, why did I not come to the same conclusions as Jonathan Safran Foer?

   Let me first talk some about the book itself. I am interested to look through a copy of the book to see if the way it is presented on paper makes more sense. My experience listening to the audiobook was similar to watching Pulp Fiction the first time; I spent much of the book wondering where we were, where we were going, and trying to connect the dots. The book seems to bounce around a lot, at times trying to make a point, at other times seeming to try to present a variety of ideas and opinions so as to let the reader decide for themselves, and at times preaching from so high atop a vegan soapbox it is difficult to hear the message.

   The book includes this excerpt from rancher Bill Niman, but never adequately addresses it:

   "But what about the argument that we humans should choose not to eat meat, regardless of natural norms, because meat is inherently wasteful of resources? This claim is also flawed. Those figures assume that livestock is raised in intensive confinement facilities and fed grains and soy from fertilized crop fields. Such data is inapplicable to grazing animals kept entirely on pasture, like grass-fed cattle, goats, sheep, and deer.
   "The leading scientist investigating energy usage in food production has long been David Pimentel of Cornell University. Pimentel is not an advocate of vegetarianism. He even notes that 'all available evidence suggests that humans are omnivores.' He frequently writes of livestock's important role in world food production. For example, in his seminal work Food, Energy, and Society, he notes that livestock plays 'an important role… in providing food for humans.' He goes on to elaborate as follows: 'First, the livestock effectively convert forage growing in the marginal habitat into food suitable for humans. Second, the herds serve as stored food resources. Third, the cattle can be traded for… grain during years of inadequate rainfall and poor crop yields.'
   "Moreover, asserting that animal farming is inherently bad for the environment fails to comprehend national and world food production from a holistic perspective. Plowing and planting land for crops is inherently environmentally damaging. In fact, many ecosystems have evolved with grazing animals as integral components over tens of thousands of years. Grazing animals are the most ecologically sound way to maintain the integrity of those prairies and grasslands.
   "As Wendell Berry has eloquently explained in his writings, the most ecologically sound farms raise plants and animals together. They are modeled on natural ecosystems, with their continual and complex interplay of flora and fauna. Many (probably most) organic fruit and vegetable farmers depend on manure from livestock and poultry for fertilizer."

   I agree that we (Americans, and more recently, peoples of the developed world) should generally eat less meat and I agree that we should not support factory farming in any way. Note I did not say factory ranching or feedlot operations because farming covers more than animals. Mr. Foer fails to point out the industrial mono-cropping of fruits and vegetables as being a problem to the health of us and our planet. He does not talk about genetically modified produce that raises questions of if our fruits and vegetables are really vegan at all. He doesn't talk about pest and pesticide resistant crops, the chemicals that are sprayed on them, or the resistant "super" bugs and bacteria that are being created as a result. My point is that I believe the author's intent is true, but his focus may be a little off target. I fear the book maybe missed the bigger point in favor of an emotional response.

   In the end, Eating Animals provides a lot of really good information and, as I said, I would (and will) recommend it to anyone, but with a caveat. Our entire food system in this country -- not just the meat -- is broken. What we really need is an ecological food system, not an industrial one. On that, I believe the author and I would agree.