Two starkly different reports have come out recently on the future of farming. A recent series in the Economist touts industrialized farming as the only way to feed the world as our population swells beyond nine billion people by 2050. But a new report from the United Nations says farmers can meet growing demand using ecologically sound agricultural methods. The world body has released a study that calls for a fundamental shift towards what it calls agroecology as a way to boost production. “To feed nine billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live --especially in unfavorable environments.” De Schutter is right. Farming that relies on inputs that destroy the atmosphere, pollute our drinking water, make our antibiotics ineffective and treat workers, communities and animals as garbage, is not a viable option for the future.
Many people are unaware that 80% of all antimicrobial drugs are administered to animals. Unfortunately, this fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; the Union of Concerned Scientists provided the same stat ten years ago in the 2001 report, Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Use in Livestock. Of course, industry has since ignored and/or rejected this figure every chance they’ve had. But despite the best efforts of Agribiz, as this week’s press release from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter reports, the FDA has officially confirmed the 80% figure; check it out. I should note that our friend Ralph Loglisci of the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future contacted the FDA back in December and was given the same numbers (he wrote an excellent post about this, which is absolutely worth reading). Nonetheless, it seems significant that the antibiotics stats have been released to and publicized by a congressperson. Very official, we think – and hopefully capable of capturing the nation’s attention.
As director of the Animal Welfare Approved program, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Arapaho Ranch, in north-central Wyoming. At 580,000 acres, it is the largest USDA certified organic ranch in the U.S. - and one of the most inspiring ranches that I have ever seen. Arapaho Ranch is actually part of its environment, working in harmony with nature, rather than trying to control it. My visit began at the front of the local high school in the town of Thermopolis, where I met with David Stoner, who manages the Arapaho Ranch on behalf of the Tribal Council of the Northern Arapaho Nation. David is one of those people who can say a huge amount with very few words, and as we drove out to the first pasture it quickly became clear that the Arapaho Tribe had struck gold by appointing him to manage their ranch.
Reprinted by permission from the Organic Consumers Association In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack. In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.
Watching James Bond films is for some of us a family tradition over the Christmas holiday, mostly because the stories are so big and farfetched. You know, where the bad guys are found to be secretly coercing governments – and even entire countries – to aid and abet corporate global domination, and where good old Felix from the CIA saves the day and helps Mr. Bond defeat the evildoers. But in a bizarre twist to the plot, it now looks like the real-life Felix may have actually been working for Monsanto and the Big Ag lobby all along. An article in The Guardian newspaper this week on the latest batch of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveals that the U.S. embassy in Paris advised Washington in 2007 to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified (GM) crops. It’s exactly the kind of plot that you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie. One of cables is from Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France from 2005-2009. In that cable, Stapleton expresses his concern that France might soon pass laws that could hamper the expansion of GM crops in Europe, and calls on Washington to punish the EU – particularly countries not supporting the use of GM crops. “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits… "
Recently John Stossel of FOX Business Channel has aired a number of segments disparaging sustainable agriculture. His issues have included the use of herbicides and pesticides, grainfed vs. grassfed beef, genetically modified salmon and food safety. Is Stossel going out of his way to be outrageously provocative? To what end? And for whose benefit? Certainly we are not the only ones to condemn these reports as being inaccurate, unbalanced and biased, as the many comments to the reports attest. Stossel would no doubt accuse me of being unrealistic and only supporting small scale farms. However, the reality is that to keep the planet healthy and fed we will need to employ a wide range of solutions. Sadly, the last 40 years of ”big ag’s” version of the solution has shown chronic failure in the form of antibiotic resistance, tainted water and some of the largest food recalls in history. Too bad Stossel doesn’t recognize that we have to stop using the planet – a finite resource – as “big ag’s” test tube.
Animal Welfare Approved program director Andrew Gunther is pleased to announce that AWA has partnered with the U.K.'s Soil Association to publish a new report, "Lies, Damn Lies." This report casts doubt on two frequently quoted statistics that say that globally we need to increase food production by 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050. Lies, Damn Lies CoverAnimal Welfare Approved program director Andrew Gunther is pleased to announce that AWA has partnered with the U.K.'s Soil Association to publish a new report, "Lies, Damn Lies." This report casts doubt on two frequently quoted statistics that say that globally we need to increase food production by 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050. "This report clearly demonstrates that the figure currently used to illustrate future demand for food is inaccurate. Many of those using these inflated claims are justifying the need for more intensive agricultural practices and, in particular, the need for further expansion of GM crops," remarked Andrew Gunther. He continued, "At AWA we believe that it is possible to feed the world without confining animals and destroying the very planet we rely on to nourish us. The AWA program represents a very real option to feed the world without making medicines redundant and making our rivers and oceans dead zones." The report is available for download.
What if our newest invasive species is one that started in the lab and was unleashed on an unsuspecting world despite abundant warnings from scientists and others? And what if it is not even really “natural” to begin with? And what if this new invasive species, once liberated from a controlled setting, became even more potent and more persistent in the wild? Then you would be talking about genetically modified (GM) canola, which according to a report presented Friday at the Ecological Society of America, is now growing in the wild and is busily evolving into a plant that will outstrip our best efforts to contain it. It also has the potential to cross-pollinate and swap genes with other non-GM wild plants. More than 83% of the wild canola tested by researchers traveling through North Dakota tested positive for GM genes. But this is what’s really terrifying: some of the plants tested positive for resistance to both glyphosphate (Roundup) and glusfosinate (Liberty). Commercial GM canola is resistant to either Roundup or Liberty, not both. The dual resistance evolved in the wild, after the plants had escaped. The wild canola is doing what living things do—mutating and selecting for traits that will best ensure its survival. And all without our help.
I don’t often find much to cheer about when I read the food and farming news. But a new report from the influential National Research Council (NRC) on the future of U.S. farming had me reaching for my pom-poms. On the face of it, the NRC’s report, “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century,” might not seem like headline-grabbing stuff. But this report really is big news for anyone interested in a sustainable future for farming—and not just because its conclusions represent another damning indictment of industrialized farming. You see, the NRC is a prestigious, independent U.S. scientific body, established in 1916 “to provide elected leaders, policy makers, and the public with expert advice based on sound scientific evidence.” And in publishing this report, the NRC joins a growing number of leading global scientific organizations in effectively throwing down the gauntlet to Big Ag, publicly criticizing the negative consequences of industrialized farming and calling for a more holistic approach to food production in the face of increasingly scarce natural resources and the growing threat of climate change.
In response to Facebook Fan Lisa’s questions regarding the source of the bison burgers she purchased and also about the USDA rule regarding feedlots for Certified Organic bison and cattle, we emailed her the following information: Unfortunately, Superior Midwest Foods said they wouldn’t be able to tell us the names of the bison farms for their burgers. They said they get the bison meat from several different farms, make it into burgers and ship them off to the retailers. This means the bison could have been raised on pasture or on a feedlot, no one really knows. Regarding Certified Organic, sadly, this certification does not guarantee that the animals didn’t come from feedlots. While certified organic does require that the animals have access to the outdoors, and ruminants must have access to pasture with exception of the “finishing phase”, this doesn’t mean they actually have to go outdoors and graze on pasture to be considered organic or not be on a feedlot. To avoid this issue buy only from AWA or AGA farms as they are the only two labels that prohibit feedlots. A good source of advice would be http://www.organicconsumers.org/.