The devastating drought in California, home to much of the country’s fruit and vegetable production, is spurring discussions about the future of food production in a new age of climate change. When broaching the topic of solving the future food dilemma – feeding a growing population while using the same amount of land and facing more volatile weather events – the arguments typically fall into one of two camps: 1.) produce more food on less land through the use of technology, chemicals, and genetically modified seeds, or 2.) turn to decentralized and diversified farming practices that naturally boost soil health and farm resilience, such as diverse crop rotations, cover crops, reducing tillage where it makes sense, and building local food systems.
Feedstuffs, a weekly newspaper for agribusiness, recently ran an article on the topic of solving the future food dilemma that included results from an Oklahoma State University study called FooDS (Food Demand Survey). FooDS is a national online survey which includes at least 1,000 individuals each month, measuring consumers’ priorities, expectations, and awareness and concern about various food and agriculture issues, among other topics.
When such studies appear in an agribusiness publication, one might expect them to highlight the benefits of technological fixes to farming problems. However, the FooDS results found that “more than three-quarters of the consumers polled said adopting a more ‘natural’ agricultural production system – that includes additional local, organic and unprocessed foods – would be most effective at addressing the future food challenges rather than adopting a more ‘technological’ agricultural system.”
High tunnels—also known as hoop houses or passive solar greenhouses—are an increasingly common feature on farms through the Upper Midwest, where their use provides valuable extension to the region’s short growing season. Local food markets—including farm to school—stand to benefit from the increased availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year produced by the increased use of high tunnels. IATP’s new report, Extending the Growing Season: High Tunnels Use and Farm to School in the Upper Midwest, explores this relationship further. By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively. Such innovative ideas drive recommendations for more comprehensive support for increased on-farm implementation of high tunnels and for farm to school activities throughout the Upper Midwest.
We finally know what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will and will not do about regulating the use of nanomaterials in pesticides. It has taken seven years and a lawsuit to force the EPA to act. And unfortunately, its action leaves much to be desired: there are still no requirements to protect nano-pesticide manufacturer workers, farmer workers and those living downwind from nano-pesticide drift. (A 2014 General Accountability Office report stated that the EPA’s oversight of pesticide residue testing laboratories was inadequate. Nano-pesticide residue testing standards have yet to be developed.)
Atomic to molecular sized particles of silver (nano-silver) are a biocide, which is incorporated into pesticide products to increase toxicity while reducing the volume of pesticide applied. The exponentially greater surface to mass ratio of nano-silver (and nanomaterials in general) enables the toxins to attack more effectively the nanoscale pores of plant pests. The EPA relies on the toxicity and biosafety data supplied by the commercialization applicant in deciding whether to approve a pesticide for commercial use.
A massive global increase in factory-farmed meat production by 2030 will increase antibiotic use by 67 percent, posing a “public health threat,” predicts a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS). Rampant antibiotic use in factory farms, required by global meat corporations, is already resulting in an antibiotic-resistance crisis in the U.S. (over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year due to resistant bacteria) and in the European Union (25,000 deaths annually). For the first time, scientists have mapped out the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to global antibiotic use in the feed of animals packed tightly in confined conditions.
Antibiotic use is projected to double in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS countries) given their shift towards “vertically integrated intensive livestock production systems” to meet rising demand for animal protein. Two-thirds of the global increase in antibiotics is predicted to come from a net increase in the number of animals used in factory farms and the remaining third will come from a shift in agricultural practices leading to new factory farms.
According to the study, 46 percent of Asia’s shift will come from switching traditional animal agricultural practices to factory farming. By 2030, antibiotic use in Asia will be close to 52,000 tons, roughly representing 82 percent of the total global use of antibiotics in meat production in 2010. China, US, Brazil, Germany and India ranked as the top five users of antibiotics in 2010.
IATP’s research on industrial livestock production in China found that:
The North American Meat Institute, national beef and pork associations and other corporate lobbies of the powerful meat industry are seething at the historic new scientific report by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Why historic? Because the committee takes on the meat industry head to head in a scientific report intended to help set five year national guidelines on nutrition and because for the first time, the recommendations take into account the environmental footprint of our food (production) choices. If these recommendations are accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the report will not only help set national nutrition policy but will also likely impact the $16 billion school lunch program. The USDA and HHS will jointly release the National Dietary Guidelines later this year.
Based on their research, the Committee came to the conclusion that, “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”[i]
It is the emphasis on lower red and processed meat consumption that has the meat industry up in arms, particularly so because the Committee integrates environmental impacts in its approach to dietary guidelines:[ii]
The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule is headed for a showdown at the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB) on February 16-17. At stake are not just the economic interests of those affected by the WTO ruling on COOL and the right of consumers to know the origin of their food, but also the capacity of WTO jurisprudence to reverse a ruling when new evidence emerges. In this instance, the AB will be presented with evidence that thoroughly rebuts the facts upon which a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel based its ruling against COOL.
COOL for a broad array of horticultural, nut, fish, shellfish and meat products was first mandated in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill. Only the application of COOL to meat products has been challenged in court. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy first supported COOL’s regulatory implementation at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hearing in 2003. In successive Farm Bills, global meatpackers have sought to “reform” COOL by making the labeling rules so confusing as to be meaningless. COOL proponents have defended the labeling law successfully four times in U.S. Courts.
What does it mean to participate in a democracy? Does the answer change when it comes to the food system? After all, as IATP’s latest report, Deepening Food Democracy, illustrates, for every corporate lobbyist exercising control in Washington, there is a food movement participant changing the food landscape in their local community.
This past November was in many ways a typical one for American politics—although the turnout rate of just 36 percent of eligible voters was a low not reached since 1942, it was only five points lower than the 2010 midterm elections, and totally in line with the fact that the last time at least half of eligible Americans went to the polls outside of a presidential election year was literally 100 years ago: 50.4 percent in 1914. Happy 100th b-day, minimally adequate participation in American democracy!
IATP’s commitment to take on the big issues and important fights was what first drew me to the organization many years ago. Now, as IATP’s president, I’m honored to continue that commitment. And in 2015, we are taking on big agribusiness and fighting for the kind of food and farm systems we want—now and for our children and grandchildren. 2015 is a pivotal year for many of the issues we’ve been working on for nearly 30 years, and we need your support.
In 2015, IATP will ramp up its work with allies to oppose two of the largest free trade agreements in history, TTIP and TPP, that are being negotiated in secret and Fast Track, which are projected to come to Congress in 2015. We are also working closely with European partners opposing these trade deals that put corporate interests above those of consumers, farmers, the environment and democracy.
The amazingly terrible new spending agreement reached by the House and Senate this week illustrates the heavy price we all pay for a government increasingly influenced by big corporate and financial industry donors.
This backroom deal has been marketed by some in Congress as a “monumental achievement” demonstrating how Washington can get things done. Instead, it’s really a stocking full of early Christmas gifts for corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. Here are just a few examples relevant to food and agriculture issues:
New research shows that production from organic agriculture shapes up better against input-heavy conventional agriculture than previously thought; meanwhile, evidence for the benefits of agroecology continues to accumulate
A new study was released today examining that evergreen chestnut (to mix metaphors): does “organic agriculture” have lower yields than “conventional agriculture”? Published in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the study found that some previous estimates comparing organic agriculture’s productivity were too low. What’s more, they found that there was a bias in the data in favor of conventional agriculture, which means even their updated estimate may still overestimate in favor of the current resource-intensive, high-input systems that dominate much of agriculture today.