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Strawberry Fields or Killing Fields?

Dec 26, 2010
There will be no more California strawberries in this house. Their Department of Pesticide Regulation recently (at the tail end of Republican Schwarzenegger’s last term as governor) approved the use of methyl iodide as a pesticide for their state’s strawberry fields. California’s own Scientific Review Panel stated that “methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical” whose use “would have a significant adverse impact on public health.”1

But this is how it happens in a corporate-dominated society. If Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the largest private pesticide company in the world according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN),1 wants to spray a carcinogen all over your strawberries, infecting the workers who plant and pick them and, potentially, the groundwater which millions of Californians depend on, then by god Arysta will do it. They will get the Bush administration’s EPA to sign off on its use, they will hire PR and lobbying firms to buy off our elected representatives, and they will convince you, with lower prices and massive advertising campaigns, to ignore your and your children’s best interests and buy their poison by the truckload.

The Scientific Review Panel’s findings and other documents related to this scandal, may be found at the PAN link below. Read them and weep. Then write the new governor and the EPA, both of whom have indicated they may reverse the decisions allowing this travesty in public health.
1 Pesticide Action Network North America
tags: Food and Agriculture

No Child Left Hungry

Dec 06, 2008
One of the themes emerging from All Together Now is the pragmatic basis of the Golden Rule. It is to our advantage that we treat others as we would be treated. To treat them less well, to refrain from relieving them of their poverty, ignorance, or disease when it is within our power to do so, works to our immediate, ongoing, and serious disadvantage.

The Progressive Policy Institute knows whereof we speak. In one of their latest “Memos to the President,” Ending Child Hunger in America (.pdf), by Joel Berg and Tom Freedman, their recommendations are firmly grounded in the logic of our first paragraph. The bad news:

  • One in six children in America live below the poverty line.
  • Food prices increased four percent in 2007, over one and one-half times the annual average in the previous 15 years.
  • Eighty-four percent of food banks were unable to meet demand in 2007, with increases in clientele as high as 20 percent.
  • Food insecurity costs us $90 billion a year in lost productivity, health care costs, and substandard educational performance.
Their five recommendations to end child hunger in America:
Provide all children with a free school breakfast
Only one in five children eligible for free school breakfasts actually receive them, for a variety of reasons. Feed all the children instead. The benefits are many and the results (already tried in some districts) are astounding.
Improve program efficiency and accountability
There is a plethora of food-related federal programs that could be combined, resulting in a more efficient and inexpensive system that would reach more eligible families.
Support working families
“One of the best ways government can help working families is to make sure that work pays a decent wage.” Hear, hear!!
Reward best practices in the states
Reward these testing grounds with cash bonuses for the most effective programs to reduce child hunger, prompting a competition across all 50 of them.
Provide real ammo to the armies of compassion
They are out there, in the trenches, and in touch with where the need is highest. Partner with these secular and religious-based groups; they will be the soldiers who will win your war against childhood hunger.
An admirable goal: No hungry child in America ever again following an Obama administration.

Admirable and eminently achievable.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Reefer Madness, 2008

Aug 18, 2008
The Office of National Drug Council Policy, a component of the Executive Office of the President, has published its latest jeremiad against the civilization-threatening evils of weed, “2008 Marijuana Sourcebook—Marijuana: The Greatest Cause of Illegal Drug Abuse,” a report so fearsome, and fear-mongering, they had to name it twice. Their numbers come from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services, another component answerable to the executive branch, and so—these days—are advisedly taken with a grain of salt.

For instance, they say that in 2006 14.8 million Americans smoked marijuana in the month preceding their poll. That’s about 4.8 percent of the population and I can’t believe so few tokers were abroad. Perhaps that’s because I live in Vermont, the only state that shows the consistently highest usage rate (greater than 7.51 percent) across all its counties. Most of the rest of the country shows a usage rate between 4.76 percent and greater than 7.51 percent, which also casts doubt on that 14.8 million/4.8 percent number. Then, of course, there’s the problem of the undercount. I mean, if you were high, would you admit it to some buttoned-down government type with a clipboard?

Usage peaks at age 20 (20 percent), then declines rapidly to the 55-59 set (about 2 percent), takes a slight bubble-up in the 60-64 age group (where I am happily ensconced at present), then drops to a negligible number thereafter (among the oldsters who really know how to keep their mouths shut).

The graphs and figures go on (and on), but the picture isn’t much different than it was in 1936, when the movie came out (“Women Cry For It—Men Die For It”). Meanwhile anyone who’s ever smoked a joint knows it’s a puppy dog compared to alcohol addiction.

So why is marijuana so demonized by the establishment? There are a number of arguments for this. The liquor lobby is the one most often cited. They are aware of the threat posed by marijuana. Stoners are much more likely to crack open a package of chocolate chip cookies than a beer. The travel industry can’t be happy about all those heads tripping out right in their own living rooms. The truth may be less related to economics, however, and a good deal less admirable. And it is to be found in those usage numbers, showing it peaking at age 20. Marijuana is, largely, kids’ stuff, and children are not well-loved, trusted, or cherished in America. In fact, they are more often feared and loathed, and so the long legal arm of the establishment falls most fiercely on them.

Meanwhile, Canada, not a nation known for its predilection for whoopee, has been inching toward full legalization of marijuana for some time now. Ontario started the ball rolling in 2000 by overturning the statute containing a blanket prohibition of marijuana, because it did not make an exemption for medical marijuana uses.1 Since then, public use of marijuana has been increasingly tolerated (as it is in many other countries) and other legal cases have upheld that first one. A Canadian Senate committee on illegal drugs has called for its legalization.2

That is the same Canada which opted out of Bush’s mideast adventure when it failed to gain U.N. sanction. And I’ll drink to that—if I have to.
1R. v. Parker, 2000 CanLII 5762 (ON C.A.) (Accessed August 9, 2008)
2“Legalize Marijuana Now Says Canadian Senate” (Accessed August 9, 2008)
tags: Food and Agriculture

Read the Press Release and Download the Report

Food Fight

Jul 19, 2008
Forget space. Food is the final frontier.

I picture the last cornfield in Kansas. In its center, the last stalk of corn stands forlornly bearing its last shrunken cob. From the south comes a four-year-old sub-Saharan African, due, in 3.6 seconds, to be the next statistic to die of starvation. From the west comes Dick Cheney’s chauffeur. If he can get his hands on that cob and get it over to the Halliburton Ethanol Refinery in Dubai he’ll be able to transport his boss another 30 yards before they have to abandon their stretch limo. From the east come the billion people who have gone to sleep hungry every night of their lives and who will never enjoy an 18-course meal such as the G-8 “leaders” had on the last night of their recent junket. And from the north, on a tall hill, sit I, sit you, as in our dreams of apocalypse we are the only ones spared, so now we recline on a woolen blanket, a chicken leg in one hand and a cold brewski in the other, witnessing the gala scene playing out below.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its latest report on world hunger, “Food Security Assessment, 2007.” The food and fuel price hikes we’ve experienced lately are the worst of bad news for the 70 lower income countries, where the number of “food insecure” people—those consuming less than the nutritional target of 2,100 calories a day—rose from 849 million in 2006 to 982 million. It is expected that the next decade will bring even worse news.

Largely owing to the U.S.’s efforts, through its surrogate “international” bodies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, indigenous agriculture in many developing countries has been radically altered, and all capacity for self-sustaining food growth subsumed in an economy devoted to mining or the cultivation of one or a few luxury exportables. Expensive imports of basics, especially grain, must then be purchased merely to feed the people in a substandard manner.

From January 2007 to January 2008, global food prices increased 33% and petroleum 70%. Meanwhile the price of minerals—often the principal export of developing countries—actually went down a few percentage points.

We’re looking at massive starvation worldwide in the next ten years, with the accompanying social unrest—even here—that it will bring. We can sit on our hilltops and watch the show, or we can find it in our hearts, and in our self-interest, to do something about it.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Read the Summary and Download the Report

The Matter of the Meat

Jul 09, 2008
Animal agriculture—the raising of animals for human consumption—has experienced “warp speed” growth over the last 50 years. From a former paradigm of small family farms with a few animals housed in traditional barns and stables, we've morphed to a system of “industrial farm animal production (IFAP)” where thousands of animals are warehoused in factorylike structures, force fed, heavily medicated, and rushed to market after a life that can only be characterized, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, as “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

As Daniel Quinn has persuasively argued in Ishmael and other books, our problems began 10,000 years ago when we stopped hunting and gathering and settled down to planting. That ingenious move on the part of the species enabled rapid population growth, and subsequent improvements in agriculture encouraged additional population growth which brought additional improvements which brought additional growth, until we're so overpopulated we're running out of space to plant all those improved agricultural products. Enter the industrial farm animal production, and the unintended and dire consequences set forth in the report from the Pew Charitable Trusts Commission on Farm Animal Production, “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.”

As usual, we are only getting around to counting the costs of “progress” after we've begun paying them. The lengthy (124 pp.) and comprehensive Pew report covers just what those costs consist of, in terms of threats to our health; the impact on our poor, bedraggled environment; and the horrific consequences visited upon our fellow creatures in the cause of maximizing profits at both ends of the supply and demand chain. It summarizes a vast literature of research and the news it delivers is not good news. However, its recommendations to fix the system are as reasonable as they are thorough.

What I can do. What you can do.
First of all, we must elect representatives who will implement, through the passage of new laws, the recommendations set forth in the report. In the meanwhile, however, we can vote with our feet (and our mouths) by refraining from purchasing and eating animals and animal products which have not been produced in a humane manner. I believe only reputable third-party certification organizations may be trusted to provide standards that assure the humane treatment of farm animals. Thankfully, there are a number of them identified in the Pew report. (If you know of others, please tell me about them and I will add them to this list.) In future, I intend to require my retail providers (groceries and restaurants) to subscribe to one or more of these standards-defining and labeling bodies and will refrain from purchasing and consuming their products until they do so.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled
An International Standards Organization (ISO) certified third-party labeling program which provides detailed standards for egg-laying hens, broilers, turkeys, beef, dairy, sheep, and swine.
American Humane Certified farm animal program (formerly Free Farmed)
A third-party domestic labeling program that traces its roots to the formation in 1877 of the American Humane Association. It provides standards for egg-laying hens, broilers, turkeys, beef, dairy, sheep, and swine.
United Egg Producers' UEP Certified Program
A third-party auditing and labeling program for caged layers.
It is interesting to note that on the Pew list of major US Animal Welfare Standards, where the three organizations noted above were found, all the entities that have been approved by a consortium of grocers and restaurants for the development of retail auditing programs are those whose standards are characterized as “guidelines” or “voluntary.” None of the third-party certifying organizations noted above is among that list.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Read the Press Release and Download the Report

Getting the Job Done. Not.

Jun 15, 2008
In 1996, the U.S. and more than 180 world leaders pledged to cut hunger in half in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which "supports the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and helps improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people," reports that the 170 million suffering from hunger there in 1990 grew to over 200 million by 2003. The reasons are many, some of which are noted in the Highlights (.pdf) of the GAO’s report, and some of which, including the U.S./World Bank/International Monetary Fund’s predatory practices that are destroying indigenous agriculture the world over, are not.

Whatever the reasons, it would seem 180 world leaders are insufficient to get the job done. Which doesn’t surprise me. They’re all very well fed, and probably haven’t the capacity to imagine what it feels like to miss a meal. Nor have I, for that matter. However, I am told that starving to death is one of the worst ways to go, and we visit it upon the little children of the world with a crassness and an obliviousness that is incredible to behold in a sentient species. Someone starves to death every 3.6 seconds, and three-quarters of them are children under the age of five. Who can say that one of the ten who died while I was writing that last sentence did not harbor in her young brain the secret to unlocking cheap, clean energy that could electrify the world; did not possess the special combination of knowledge, skill, and intuition to finally develop a cure for cancer; or was not blessed with the voice of a Shakespeare, the eye and hand of a Michelangelo, or the compassion of Christ. We cannot afford to do without these people. We cannot afford to waste one young human life. They are our salvation. We must—somehow—become theirs.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Read the Full Report (.pdf)

The World Food Crisis

Jun 03, 2008
Avaaz.org is "a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want."

I've been a member of Avaaz for some time now (no cost to join), and they communicate various initiatives via email. Their latest is a petition drive for a statement to be presented to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon at the emergency Rome Summit which the U.N. is convening on Wednesday. The petition calls on him to address the world food crisis by "mobiliizing emergency funding to prevent starvation, removing perverse incentives to turn food into biofuels and managing financial speculation, and to tackle the underlying causes by ending harmful trade policies and investing massively in sustainable agricultural productivity in developing nations."

You can join Avaaz and/or sign the petition by clicking the link below.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Sign the Petition

Peak Fish?

Jun 02, 2008
Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world's oceans. Their latest report finds that more than 80% of the world's fisheries are in danger of overfishing. From the report:

The upward trend in global marine fish catch since 1950 has now ended, and indeed appears to have begun to decline, suggesting that the maximum long term potential of the world marine capture fisheries has been reached.
tags: Food and Agriculture

Go to Report (.pdf)

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