Tag Archives: food policy

Crane drain?

sandhill crane migration

Sandhill cranes in hiding.

(Reposted from last year.  I meant to be there this weekend, but alas, snow.)

I had it planned like a cat burglar: where would the Sandhill cranes be? when would they be where? how should I get there? when should I leave the house?  This was overkill.  It was like plotting out where in the city  I might find the rare and exotic pigeon.

I traveled out into the Sandhill crane flyway this week and realized I’d over thought it.  My first clue?  I pulled up at a highway rest stop to use the facilities and gather my bearings, and there were 30 or so in the farm field beside the rest stop.  Another twenty across the highway.

The migration paths of somewhere on the order of 500,000 cranes intersect for about a month every spring along the Platte River in central Nebraska.  The flat farm fields are littered with spilled Continue reading

GMO Labeling in the US

GMO labeling in the United States USA

I continue to see debates about labeling GMO products in the US devolve into debates about the safety, necessity, or science behind GMOs, frequently all three.

These concerns are marginally connected, yes, but labeling a product so that I can have a choice is fundamental. It doesn’t matter if you and I agree, it doesn’t matter if you think I’m wrong. I don’t want to eat GMO foods and I have a right to know what I’m eating.

After this much back and forth with no progress, I have to believe labeling is being thwarted because people with money invested in the issue understand that more people agree with me than not.

Judge dismisses Monsanto suit. Argh.

These folks wrote it up so well (and so first person- it’s them in the suit against Monsanto) that I’ll let them tell this latest chapter.  I expect they’ll appeal.  Will keep you posted.  Grrr.  Boooo.

Land of the Lost: biodiversity in our food supply

I posted a series a while back on the history behind the biodiversity offered in our mainstream food supply (the dawn of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, the “Green” Revolution, and the local food movement), but I stumbled across the image below while following the current Monsanto case, and I think it deserves a closer look.

losing food crop diversity

(graphic by John Tomanio, National Geographic magazine)

It’s a powerful graphic, eh?  Can you imagine if it were upside-down, so that all that diversity looked like roots and then there was this paltry shrub up top?  Either way, clearly there’s been a bottle neck.

Amongst the moderately common responses, “what would I do with 544 varieties of cabbage? Which one goes with corned-beef?” sums up humorously the fundamental conceptual block that thwarts folks being able to grasp the enormity of the situation.

The +544 varieties of cabbage (and the 2,500 varieties of rice in India) are not necessarily distinguished by kitchen function.  Instead, a big chunk of what’s going on are field-functional distinctions.

I remember the story of an agronomist meeting with up with a farmer.  Together, Continue reading

The crux of the case against Monsanto

Monsanto is being sued by a consortium of organic seed growers, organic farmers, and trade groups associated with these folks; the fuss is over the genetically modified (aka transgenic) seeds that Monsanto is releasing.  Here’s the gist of the case (you can read the full filing here).

The urgency: 

Monsanto has been suing farmers, including organic farmers, whose crops test positive for the gene for glyphosate-resistance (“Round-Up Ready”).  These fields are not being planted but are being contaminated by genetic drift.  Organic canola has already become largely extinct since the release of transgenic rapeseed, and other crops are similarly vulnerable as more varieties of genetically engineered seeds come onto the market.

The methodology:

Monsanto’s goal is profit.  Their profit is held in the ability to corner a market by holding a patent on the product.  The groups are seeking a declaratory judgment Continue reading

“Dear Monsanto, piss off. Love, the People’s Rally”

(photo source: Cort Kinker. Thanks Cort!)

Mad props to the farmers and seed growers and dozens of other supporters that gathered in New York City today to give physical witness to the sincerity of their lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment against Monsanto.

I plan to write more about this case in the morning, but I scratched my eye while touring a local dairy farm today and it hurts to look at this screen.


Worlds apart: the soils and souls of temperate and tropical forests

The difference between tropical and temperate forests is vast. And crucial.  I’m not talking about the number of trees or the number of species of trees or the height of trees or any of that.  I’m talking about how nutrients cycle through a forest, how the forest eats and grows and dies and rots and grows and eats and grows and dies and rots and rots and rots.

Temperate Forests

temperate forests hold carbon in the soils

The large roots from that tree are a good 10 feet long (+3m), the feeder roots would be longer.

In a temperate forest, where I live and have lived my whole life, the trees take up the nutrients, including the carbon.  Folks extol the carbon sequestration capacities of a tree, but although the tree picks carbon up and forms it into wood, it’s not the wood itself that is valuable to the temperate forests. The two vital bits are that the tree forms the carbon into roots and that a tree rots very slowly.

The roots stay in the ground.  Yes, the root ball itself will tip up with the tree when it falls, snapping off somewhere in the zone of rapid taper (where transport roots turn into buttress Continue reading

Tunisia to Maine to Occupy Wall Street: Tracing Food Sovereignty in the News

mohamed bouazizi vegetable cart seller who lit himself on fire Tunisia self-imolationDid you know that food sovereignty issues were the spark that lit off Arab Spring?  When Tunisian vegetable cart owner Mohammed Bouazizi was slapped and fined, and his cart confiscated for failure to have a permit (he, like many others in unemployment stricken Tunisia, did not have the money for a permit), he lost the ability to feed his family.  Pleas for restitution ignored, Mr. Bouazizi sat down in front of the Sidi Bouzid town hall and lit himself on fire. Though he died from the burns, the resulting tumult has and still is reshaping countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.

maine town food sovereignty independence A month after Mr. Bouazizi’s drastic actions, when the little town of Sedgwick on the rocky coast of Maine gathered for their annual town meeting- a direct democracy tradition held annually in the same Town Hall building since 1794- they unanimously passed the Food Sovereignty & Community Self-Governance Ordinance.  Four other Maine towns passed similar items in their town meetings during the weeks that followed.  The state is, of course, nonplused.  A polite “you don’t have that kind of authority” letter in April was followed with discussions and then in November, a lawsuit against a local farmer. (see below)

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave…  it was nary a full-term baby later that Occupy Wall Street popped up tents in Zuccotti Park and said “if Continue reading

Occupied Pantry: the intersection of agribusiness, finance, and regulatory practices.

This post is in response to last Friday’s Mother Jones article “Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street” 

Tom Philpott’s article on the consolidation of wealth and political clout in the food/ agribusiness sector has incredibly valuable information in it, but I’d like to make clearer his somewhat buried premise: the banking/finance and food/agribusiness industries have a comparable grip on public policy.  Further, while Mr. Philpott spends time arguing (not without reason) that the agribusiness situation is worse than the banking sector situation, I focus my vision slightly differently: rather fussing about the hierarchy of horror, the parallels between these industries points out that food and finance are two enormous symptoms of the same larger problem.

If we in the Occupy Movement focus solely on the banking industry without attending to how it impacts (and self perpetuates through this impact) public policy, then we will not uncover the mechanisms that allow industry in general to create imbalanced access to and influence over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.  Looking at agribusiness is one way to keep our vision sufficiently broad.

Some background: How consolidated is agribusiness?

Start with the inputs (seeds, fertilizers, biocides [the combination of herbicides and pesticides]) (I’m using 2007 numbers)

Seeds:  Four companies own half the world’s seeds. Continue reading