Monday, August 24, 2009

Food News Round-Up: August 22, 2009

A little late - here are some interesting food news stories from the past week. Especially encouraging - the story in Time magazine about the true cost of cheap food. Critique of CAFOs goes mainstream!

LOCAL (Midwest; Wisconsin)
The Fight Against Factory Farms in Wisconsin
John Peck, only half-joking, suggests Wisconsin's longtime slogan, "America's Dairyland," may need to be updated. The new slogan: "The Land of 10,000 Animal-Waste Lagoons". . .

Peck says Dane County, which leads the state in agricultural production, with more than $70 million in sales annually and about 400 farms and 50,000 cattle, faces the specter of an increasingly corporatized and globally based food system.

The emerging food system is based increasingly on factory farms or "confined animal feeding operations" (CAFOs). These often entail the heavy use of antibiotics to ward off the diseases that proliferate when thousands of animals are penned up in confined spaces.

Critics say the system produces vast lagoons of animal waste and sometimes toxic gases. It displaces small family farms with food produced under industrial conditions. And it relies on legions of low-wage laborers.

In 2003, the state of Wisconsin passed a bill that limited the ability of local communities to oppose large farms. But since then, local fights against CAFO siting or expansion have become considerably larger as family farmers, neighbors of CAFO operations and environmental groups have formed sizable coalitions around the state . . .

Got Pus?
Despite over two decades of farmer, consumer, and student protest, UW-Madison’s Babcock Hall continues to serve rBGH-induced dairy products to those on campus without their knowledge or consent. (See page 16 of the PDF file.)

Why Urban Farming is the Future
The first odd thing about Cam Macdonald's Mt. Pleasant lawn is that it isn't a lawn. It's a farm.

Standing out amid the typical suburban sea of grass patches are his potatoes, carrots, beats, peas, shallots, squash, parsnips and more -- enough to have given food to 70 people by the beginning of July.

The second odd thing is that it isn't even Cam's yard. It belongs to Heidi Gigler and Jug Sidhu, a non-gardening couple who heard about Cam's soul search for right livelihood last year and agreed to let him pursue it by turning their turf into food.

Empty car parks to sprout vegetable plots
A London council is converting its disused spaces into areas for local people to grow produce in an attempt to make its food supply sustainable by 2050.

Hundreds of unused and abandoned spaces in Enfield are to be converted into fruit and vegetable plots in the hope of the area becoming "London's breadbasket". . .

Informal growing spaces around the borough, such as car parks, disused garages and empty spaces around blocks of flats, are to be converted into vegetable plots, while two of its rundown parks will become community orchards. The scheme is part of a borough-wide strategy announced today with the aim of reinvigorating food networks and improving sustainability.

Paris rooftops swarm with bees as urban honey industry takes off
Tourists are not the only species swarming on the Champs Élysées this August. Also enjoying the sunshine are squadrons of bees, part of a fast-multiplying population that is making honey a new Parisian industry.

Two Acres of Hope for Recovering Addicts
The farm is run by recovering addicts and alcoholics from New York City, men whose various addictions, and repeated relapses, have left them sickened and homeless. Called Renewal Farm, the patch of land boasts neat rows of vegetables and bright flowers, as well as two greenhouses fashioned out of thick sheets of plastic.

The men’s days are split into two very different parts. They tend the farm, lacing the air with locker-room banter and gentle ribbing. And then they exorcise their worries and voice their hopes at
St. Christopher’s Inn, a hilltop rehabilitation center nearby where they sleep.

Bolivians look to ancient farming
Poor farmers in the heart of Bolivia's Amazon are being encouraged to embrace the annual floods - by using a centuries-old irrigation system for their crops.

They are experimenting with a sustainable way of growing food crops that their ancestors used.

It could provide them with better protection against the extremes of climate change, reduce deforestation, improve food security and even promise a better diet.

Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food
Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of your bacon — circa 2009.

Pesticides in your peaches: Tribune and USDA studies find pesticides, some in excess of EPA rules, in the fragrant fruit
Preliminary 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture tests obtained by the Chicago Tribune show that more than 50 pesticide compounds showed up on domestic and imported peaches headed for U.S. stores. Five of the compounds exceeded the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and six of the pesticide compounds present are not approved for use on peaches in the United States.These are the types of findings that have landed peaches on one environmental group's "Dirty Dozen" list -- 12 fruits and vegetables that retain the highest levels of pesticide residues -- and give many consumers pause as they shop grocery aisles. It seems that peaches' delicate constitutions, fuzzy skins and susceptibility to mold and pests cause them to both need and retain pesticides at impressive rates.

The obvious advantage of organic food over conventional
In a recent chat with readers, Washington Post food politics columnist (and general policy writer) Ezra Klein engaged in the following exchange:

Santa Fe, N.M.: I saw a report today on a study finding that organic food isn’t any healthier than conventional food. Is buying organic a waste of money, in your opinion?

Ezra Klein: Honestly? Yes. It’s definitely not healthier, at least not according to any study I’ve seen. There’s some argument that it’s more environmentally friendly. But it’s not something that I’m convinced is worth a premium. I’d rather buy from a local farm that uses some pesticides than a major producers who has gone organic.

Whoa—lots going on there. Let’s stick to the “definitely not healthier” bit for now. (As for the idea that there’s just “some argument” for the environmental benefits of not dousing fields of food with synthetic poisons and greenhouse-gas-spewing fertilizer, I’m not sure what to say.) Well, Ezra,
here is a study, released last year by the U.S.-based Organic Center, that comes to a conclusion quite different from the U.K. agency’s findings. It’s called “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods.” The Organic Center recently released a cogent rebuttal to the U.K. findings as well.

Urban agriculture key to alleviating world hunger
The urban poor have been hit the hardest by the global hunger epidemic, which has been fueled by the ongoing food, economic, financial, and environmental crises.

Getting healthy food into cities in sufficient quantities is an extremely difficult task. For the first time in the history of mankind, over half the world's population lives in cities. Reached in 2007, that portion is projected to increase dramatically in the next few decades. About a third of all city dwellers, about one billion people worldwide, live in slums. The cost of importing food from rural areas is too much for many of the urban poor to bear.

For much of this population, growing food is the only way to survive and make a living. The practice of growing plants and raising livestock in empty lots, in pots in homes and on stairways and rooftops, on community land in parks or near water sources, or on small plots of land owned by families makes up a half or more of the food required in some cities in the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Drought stalks India
The first reports of drought-related suicides have begun filtering in from the district press. Farmers in the eastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh are taking their own lives - the toll is said to be 20 farmers over the last 40 days. The state is one amongst many which has so far been forsaken by the South-West monsoon in 2009. Its parched districts have received only 153 mm of rain as against a monsoon normal, till mid-August, of 624 mm. An official with the state agriculture department has called the conditions the worst in 50 years.

Monsanto to Charge as Much as 42% More for New Seeds
Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed maker, plans to charge as much as 42 percent more for new genetically modified seeds next year than older offerings because they increase farmers’ output.

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