Sunday, August 30, 2009

Food News Round-Up: August 30, 2009

Dane County Potato Blight Confirmed
Potato blight was confirmed this week in a Dane County home garden, the third place the disease was found in potatoes in Wisconsin, a state official said Tuesday.

Cases of the fungus-like plant disease were also found on tomatoes in Waukesha, Waupaca and Racine counties, bringing the number of counties experiencing an outbreak to 13.

The Dane County case was found near Oregon in a garden that also had diseased tomatoes. The home is near an organic tomato operation that had been infected, UW-Madison plant pathologist Amanda Gevens said.

The disease, also known as late blight, caused the 19th century Irish potato famine and hasn't been reported in Wisconsin since 2002. The state is cautioning farmers to be on the lookout for the blight and maintain their fungicide spraying programs.

Gardening from the couch: Michael Pollan
Uber food writer Michael Pollan, the New York Times reporter who has written such in-depth and unsettling books about agribusiness and our food chain, was asked in an interview with NPR's Fresh Air what he thought of Michelle Obama's vegetable garden and President Obama's food policies in general.

In this interview with host Dave Davies, Pollan says Obama hasn't done much to take on the toxic health and environment effects of agribusiness, but he expressed surprise at the magnitude of the impact of Michelle Obama's garden.

The vegetable gardeners of Havana
With no petrol for tractors, oxen had to plough the land. With no oil-based fertilizers or pesticides, farmers had to turn to natural and organic replacements.

Today, about 300,000 oxen work on farms across the country and there are now more than 200 biological control centres which produce a whole host of biological agents in fungi, bacteria and beneficial insects.

Havana has almost 200 urban allotments - known as organiponicos - providing four million tons of vegetables every year - helping the country to become 90% self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables.

Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass
The E.P.A. has not cautioned pregnant women about the potential risks of atrazine so that they can consider using inexpensive home filtration systems. And though the agency is aware of new research suggesting risks, it will not formally review those studies until next year at the earliest. Federal scientists who have worked on atrazine say the agency has largely shifted its focus to other compounds.

Dying on the Vine
A century ago, much of the San Joaquin Valley was an undeveloped dust bowl, its few small farming communities clustered around natural water sources. Today, it is a green expanse of agricultural empires. Most of the water that has irrigated these seemingly endless fields comes from northern California, diverted by an epic system of dams and canals born from New Deal funds. It was one of the most ambitious water systems ever built, and the San Joaquin Valley became, in the words of historian Kevin Starr, "the most productive unnatural environment on Earth."

The valley is home to a $20 billion crop industry; the San Joaquin region alone produces more in farm sales than any other individual state in the country.

U.S. Crop Yields Could Wilt in Heat
Yields of three of the most important crops produced in the United States – corn, soybeans and cotton – are predicted to fall off a cliff if temperatures rise due to climate change.

Mexico water body warns of risk of 'critical' shortage
MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexico's water commission warned Monday of the risk of a "critical" water shortage at the start of 2010 and called on state governments to act now to save water.

"El Nino (seasonal warming), climate change and low rainfall could increase drought in the country, and cause a critical situation in the first quarter of 2010," a Conagua statement said.

Farming and some water supplies across the country have already been hard hit by this year's drought.

Driving new changes in Asian irrigation
Without major reforms and innovations in the way water is used in agriculture, many developing countries will face severe food shortages in future, warns a new report Revitalizing Asia’s Irrigation: To Sustainably Meet Tomorrow’s Food Needs. It suggests the shift to a more economically viable approach.

Lots of Food, but for How Long?
In the city where I live, Vancouver, British Columbia, it has never been so easy to get food, any kind of food. You want a watermelon in January? Walk into the nearest supermarket. Complain about the prices if you must, but North Americans typically pay less than 15 per cent of their income to eat. That's half the percentage of some European nations. In poorer places, food often takes up more than 50 per cent of the family income.

But this glut of cheap food won't last if it's based on a false economy. Industrial agriculture doesn't pay the bills for the subsidized transportation network, to clean up its toxic runoff from fertilizers and chemicals, to bring life back into the topsoil it's stripping away, or to treat people for ill health from a dubious diet of "food products."

India to import food amid drought
India will import food to make up for shortages caused by a drought thought to be affecting 700 million people, the finance minister has said.
...The farm minister, Sharad Pawar, said the government would take action to ensure prices remained stable.

He added: "[The] situation is grim, not just for the crop sowing and the crop health but also for sustaining animal health, providing drinking water, livelihood and food, particularly for the small and marginal farmers and landless labourers."

Extended drought threatens China farmland
The extended drought in China's north and northeast regions now threatens over 8 million hectares of farmland. Heeding requests from the country's drought-fighting authority that more be done to alleviate the situation, the oil and power industries have joined the campaign to bring some relief to parched villagers.

Zhangjiakou city, in Hebei Province, is experiencing its worst drought in half a century.

Over half of the arable land will not produce a harvest this year. Hundreds of thousand of people and livestock face a desperate shortage of drinking water.

River that supports Australia's bread basket replaced with desert and toxic algae
Farmer Mazzareno Bisogni fights back tears as he stands among the remains of trees he planted 35 years ago, victims of a drought hitting "Australia's Mississippi".

Bisogni's orchard lies in the heart of the once-mighty Murray-Darling river system which irrigates Australia's food bowl, the vast southeastern corner responsible for 40 percent of agricultural output.

The eight-year 'big dry', the worst drought in a century, has devastated the region, an area covering 1.06 million square kilometres (410,000 square miles) -- the size of France and Spain combined.

Lack of water this year meant the fruit on Bisogni's apple and pear trees in Victoria state literally cooked on their branches under the furious Australian sun, making them suitable only for jam.

Desperate Food Industry Tries to Tar Michael Pollan and Organic Produce
With growing numbers of food-conscious consumers, big corporations are trying to sully the reputation of alternatives to their style of agriculture.

You may have noticed an uptick this year in
news reporting that organic food isn’t really better for you, opinion pieces by conventional farmers saying that they are tired of being demonized by “agri-intellectuals”, and guilt-inducing ads by Monsanto in highbrow publications like the New Yorker touting the company’s ability to feed the world through technology.

Though all of this could be disturbing to those of us committed to sustainable agriculture and food that is fair to eaters, animals, workers and farmers, I’m choosing to see this as a good sign. I think it means we might be winning.

The turning point was when First Lady Michelle Obama planted an
organic garden on the White House lawn only to receive a letter from The American CropLife Association telling her that they hoped she recognized the value of conventional agriculture in American life. The letter can be read here. Then, there were false allegations that the garden was contaminated with lead. In the face of all this, the first lady stuck with her commitment to keeping the garden organic.

The U.S. versus Monsanto?
On Aug. 7, Philip Weiser, a newly appointed deputy assistant attorney general in the antitrust division, gave an important speech in St. Louis, which just happens to be where Monsanto is based. The title of the speech: "Toward a Competition Policy Agenda for Agriculture Markets . . ."

I have written before about how
Monsanto's growing control of the seed business is ripe for trust-busting treatment. Either by direct ownership or through licensing of its genetically modified traits, Monsanto may dominate as much as 90 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean seed market, to the point that farmers are complaining about the difficulties involved in simply locating non-GMO seed.

A storm brews over food, water & power
But it is not Ukrainian money and know-how which is driving this agricultural revolution. It is foreign governments and companies.

The Libyans are negotiating for land here, as are the Russians and others.

Many governments are looking to secure land overseas as a way to ensure the food supply to their country does not fail.

In this part of Ukraine it is the British, in the form of the company Landkom, who are making moves which are transforming the landscape, investing millions in machinery and infrastructure.

South Asia hit by sugar shortages
Global sugar prices have been pushed up by growing demand in Brazil for sugar to be turned into ethanol for vehicle fuel, and a sharp fall in production in India, the world's largest sugar consumer.

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