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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Et Tu, Obama?

from the December 26, 2008 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/1226/p09s02-coop.html
A food agenda for Obama
Now's the time to reinvent America's farm and food policies.
By Christopher D. Cook

San Francisco

Within hours of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's nomination last week as Agriculture secretary, websites were humming with well-documented critiques of his affinity for genetically engineered crops, agribusiness giant Monsanto, heavily polluting factory farms, and other Big Farm interests.

Some critics expressed outrage, others surprise, especially since they had mounted a vigorous, 55,000-plus strong online petition to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to nominate someone more progressive who would promote sustainable food and farming.

The need for sweeping change could not be clearer when it comes to our food: At taxpayer expense, current policy subsidizes large corporate farms and destructive industrial agriculture, which rob the countryside of economic diversity and precious environmental resources, such as water and topsoil.

These same subsidies, and anemic regulatory enforcement, encourage an increasingly monopolized food system, and a "cheap food" policy that lards us with fatty, processed foods – the cost of which is ultimately dear, more than $100 billion annually for obesity and diet-related diseases. Today's food system also generates a sizable portion of America's greenhouse gases, and rests on fast-dwindling and volatile oil supplies.

Now is the time for something different – change we can eat.

As Mr. Obama weighs a massive stimulus package, he should include new funding streams that promote sustainable food – to build up alternatives such as farmer's markets, local "foodshed" programs that promote consumption of local produce, and farm-to-institution projects that encourage schools, hospitals, and other large buyers to purchase local organic foods when possible.

The change we need in food is as urgent as any we face – changes that affect national health, energy security, global warming, and more. Here, then, is a not-so-modest nine-point platform for food reform, some of which could be included in Obama's stimulus package. Other elements may require a lengthier policy push:

1. New public investments targeting sustainable agriculture, defined as organic, small- to mid-sized, diversified farming.

2. New investments in local/regional food networks and foodsheds – to help build up the connections between farmers and consumers, to open up and expand new markets for organic farmers and those considering the transition; for more farmer's markets and food stores that feature local produce.

3. A moratorium on agribusiness mergers, and strenuous antitrust provisions and enforcement to protect what little is left of diversity in the food economy.

4. A moratorium on all new genetically modified (GMO) products, and an expansion of existing ones, and appointment of a blue-ribbon panel/commission to assess the impact of GMO foods on our environment and our health.

5. A moratorium on – and gradual phasing out of – concentrated animal feeding operations, aka factory farms, which are among the nation's top polluters of water and air, and breeders of widespread and virulent bacterial strains.

6. Dramatically expanded regulatory enforcement and staffing in the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to protect food safety and meat industry labor and environmental practices.

7. Slowing the hazardously fast meatpacking (and poultry) assembly line, to protect workers and consumers.

8. Incentives for small-scale urban, suburban, and rural farming ventures oriented toward diversified local food systems.

9. Bold public investment in a raft of public awareness campaigns that build support, and expand markets and demand, for sustainable alternatives such as urban agriculture and gardening, and reducing fast-food consumption.

10. Fill in the blank, and send me your thoughts at www.christopherdcook.com.

Food is a vital cornerstone of both individual life and civil society, and our current system is making us fatter, churning out greenhouse gases, and abusing workers and animals.

With a new administration elected on a "change" agenda, it's a timely moment to press for the most basic change of all: change in the food that ends up on our plates and in our bodies.

• Christopher D. Cook is a journalist and the author of "Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis."


Letters to the Editor

(From MetroActive)

How Can This Bee

Thank you for Colleen Watson's well researched article "Bee Afraid," Cover Story, Dec. 17).

Several years ago, Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta acquired patents to coat some crop seeds with neonicotinoids. David Hackenburg, former president of the American Beekeeping Federation, told Sierra Club, "Look at what's time based. The massive bee decimation started when regulatory agencies rubber stamped the use of neonicotinoid spraying and coating."

There are holes in the science. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to evaluate the risks from sub-lethal effects due to low-level exposures of the neonicotinoids on honeybees. Neonicotinoids have been quantified in the nectar and pollen and even corn syrup fed to honeybees. These pesticides can affect their navigational skills and ability to fight off infections.

Sierra Club urged the EPA to protect honeybees and the food supply over the bottom line of multinational corporations. In light of the mounting evidence that the neonicotinoids are deadly to bees, Sierra Club called for a precautionary moratorium on these powerful crop treatments, until more study can be done.

The EPA refused. It's unfortunate that regulatory agencies are using doublespeak. They claim to protect our food supply, yet they aren't doing the proper studies.

Laurel Hopwood
Chair, Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Action Team
Cleveland, Ohio

Bugging Me

Re Honeybee Colony Collapse: Is there anything a backyard gardener can do to help? Would a hive in my own small yard (one-third acre) help the overall honeybee population? I'm not really interested in the bee products, but would like to help the problem if possible.

Mary Ann Lahann

See below for one possibility.—Editor

Backyard Bees

This letter is in response to the excellent article "Bee Afraid."

Not only are nicotine-based pesticides used commercially, but many natural gardening recipes advocate the use of tobacco to repel insects. If organic gardeners used such a recipe the world over—and if this is, in fact, the cause of honeybee decline—there could be a significant impact even from backyard users.

Since tobacco can harm tomatoes, it's often avoided where fruits and veggies are grown. But, flower enthusiasts may use it in place of synthetics, believing they are using a safer alternative for their families, pets and the environment. I bet if they knew they maybe risking the health of honeybees, they'd rethink the application.

Lisa Bracken
Silt, Colo.

Monster-to Corp. Sqeaks by Environmental Laws

TUESDAY JANUARY 6, 2009 :: Last modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 6:05 PM MST

Idaho miners won't have to restore groundwater; Site is near Wyoming border

Associated Press writer

BOISE, Idaho -- Monsanto Co., Agrium Inc., and J.R. Simplot Co. will be able to mine phosphate without being forced to restore groundwater beneath their operations to its natural condition, according to a new rule awaiting approval by the 2009 Legislature.

The rule is backed by industry but opposed by environmentalists including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Idaho Conservation League, who say it gives mining companies near the Idaho-Wyoming border license to pollute forever.

It stops short of a 2007 draft proposal developed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality but never formalized. That would have required companies to clean up groundwater below their mines within eight years of ceasing activities.

According to the new rule, mining companies could pollute groundwater below their extraction, reclamation and tailing activities with high concentrations of naturally occurring elements such as selenium. They would be required to monitor groundwater at so-called "points of compliance" as close as possible to the mining area, to make sure the pollution stayed put.

Jack Lyman, a lobbyist with the Idaho Mining Association, said the new rule would protect groundwater outside mining areas without saddling companies aiming to build new mines or expand existing ones with onerous, unrealistic cleanup mandates.

"We have never asked for the right to mess up someone else's beneficial use of the groundwater," Lyman told The Associated Press this week. "The department came up with a rule they think is workable, without putting our industry into a difficult situation where we'd be unable to comply."

Efforts to revise Idaho's 16-year-old Groundwater Quality Plan began in 2007 after the Department of Environmental Quality, the mining industry and environmentalists agreed the exemption allowing mines to pollute groundwater in some instances was ambiguous. Mining companies feared uncertainty over cleanup requirements could stifle new projects; environmentalists said vagueness made it easier for companies to pollute.

After more than a year of wrangling, the proposed rule was approved by the Department of Environmental Quality Board earlier this year. It will be taken up by the 2009 Legislature when the session starts Jan. 12. Such rules are rarely rejected, especially after securing board support.

Justin Hayes, with the Idaho Conservation League, contends the state agency "caved in" to industry pressure. Environmental groups are fearful of mining pollution in eastern Idaho, especially after at least four horses and hundreds of sheep died in the late 1990s after drinking selenium-contaminated water from defunct phosphate mines and their waste piles near Soda Springs.

"By its very nature, groundwater doesn't stay in one place," Hayes said. "An aquifer is recharged by rain and snow water, then it moves somewhere else. Aquifers are in motion. Eventually, the contamination is going to move off site."

Lyman insists environmentalists are exaggerating the danger that mining pollution will migrate. He drew a comparison between the septic tank at his home near Caldwell and open-pit phosphate mines.

"I've never worried about anything I put in my sink showing up a quarter of a mile away on my neighbor's property," Lyman said, adding that just because groundwater below a mine is polluted "does not mean that's going to flow down into Soda Springs, Idaho."


"The World According to Monsanto" - video powered by Metacafe

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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