farming

BT Cotton: Cultivating Farmer Distress in India

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 8:00am in

Colin Todhunter This month, India’s Supreme Court will hold a lengthy hearing on the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) mustard, which would be the country’s first GM food crop. The court has asked the chair of the Technical Expert Committee to be present and says that the decision on GM mustard cannot be kept pending. …

Why Food Systems Are Breaking Down Across The World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/02/2020 - 3:00pm in

Colin Todhunter Fast food nations and global nutrition Daniel Maingi works with small farmers in Kenya and belongs to the organisation Growth Partners for Africa. He remembers a time when his family would grow and eat a diversity of crops, such as mung beans, green grams, pigeon peas and a variety of fruits now considered …

Gone Fishing? No Fish, but Plenty of Pesticides & a Public Health Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 6:00am in

Colin Todhunter There is mounting evidence that a healthy soil microbiome protects plants from pests and diseases. One of the greatest natural assets that humankind has is soil. But when you drench it with proprietary synthetic chemicals or continuously monocrop as part of a corporate-controlled industrial farming system, you can kill essential microbes, upset soil …

Saving Our Bacon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 5:48pm in

Tags 

farming, Food

Farmfree foods might be the only thing that gets us – and much of the rest of the living world – through this century.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th January 2020

It sounds
like a miracle, but no great technological leaps were required. In a commercial
lab on the outskirts of Helsinki, I watched scientists turning water into food.
Through a porthole in a metal tank, I could see a yellow froth churning. It’s a
primordial soup of bacteria, taken from the soil, using hydrogen extracted from
water as its energy source. When the froth was siphoned through a tangle of
pipes, and squirted onto heated rollers, it turned into a rich yellow flour.

This flour
is not yet licensed for sale. But the scientists, working for a company called Solar
Foods
, were
allowed to give me some. I asked them, filming our documentary Apocalypse Cow, to make me a pancake: I would be the first
person on Earth, beyond the lab staff, to eat such a thing. They set up a
frying pan in the lab, mixed the flour with oat milk, and I took my small step
for man. It tasted … just like a pancake.

But
pancakes are not the intended product. Such flours are likely soon to become
the feedstock for almost everything. In their raw state, they can replace the
fillers now used in thousands of food products. When the bacteria are modified,
they will create the specific proteins needed for cultured meat, milk and eggs.
Other tweaks will produce lauric acid – goodbye palm oil – and long-chain omega-3
fatty acids: hello cultured fish. The carbohydrates that remain when proteins
and fats have been extracted could replace everything from pasta flour to
potato crisps. The first commercial factory built by Solar Foods should be
running next year.

The
hydrogen pathway is around ten times as efficient as photosynthesis. But
because only part of a plant can be eaten, while the bacterial flour is
mangetout, you can multiply that efficiency several times. And because it will
be brewed in giant vats, the land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly
20,000 times greater. Everyone on Earth could be handsomely fed, using a tiny
fraction of its surface. If, as the company intends, the water is electrolysed
with solar power, the best places to build these plants will be deserts.

We are on
the cusp of the biggest economic transformation, of any kind, for 200 years.
While arguments rage about plant- versus meat-based diets, new technologies
will soon make them irrelevant. Before long, most of our food will come neither
from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life. After 12,000 years of
feeding humankind, all farming except fruit and veg production is likely to be
replaced by ferming: brewing microbes through precision fermentation. I know
some people will be horrified by this prospect. I can see some drawbacks. But I
believe it comes in the nick of time.

Several impending
disasters are converging on our food supply, any of which could be
catastrophic. Climate breakdown threatens to cause what scientists call “multiple breadbasket failures”, through synchronous heatwaves and other impacts. The UN forecasts that by
2050 feeding the world will require a 20% expansion in global water use. But water use is already maxed out in many
places: aquifers are vanishing, rivers are failing to reach the sea. The
glaciers that supply half the population of Asia are rapidly retreating.
Inevitable global heating – due to greenhouse gases already released – is
likely to reduce dry season rainfall in critical areas, turning fertile plains into dustbowls.

A global soil crisis threatens the very basis of our subsistence,
as great tracts of arable land lose their fertility through erosion, compaction
and contamination. Phosphate supplies, crucial for agriculture, are dwindling fast. Insectageddon threatens catastrophic pollination failures.
It is hard to see how farming can feed us all even until 2050, let alone to the
end of the century and beyond.

Food
production is ripping the living world apart. Fishing and farming are, by a
long way, the greatest cause of extinction and loss of the diversity and
abundance of wildlife. Farming is a major cause of climate breakdown, the biggest cause of river pollution and a hefty source of air pollution. Across vast tracts of the world’s surface,
it has replaced complex wild ecosystems with simplified human food chains.
Industrial fishing is driving cascading ecological collapse in seas around the
world. Eating is now a moral minefield, as almost everything we put in our mouths
– from beef to avocados, cheese to chocolate, almonds to tortilla chips, salmon
to peanut butter – has an insupportable environmental cost. But just as hope
appeared to be evaporating, the new technologies I call “farmfree food” create
astonishing possibilities to save both people and planet. 

Farmfree
food will allow us to hand back vast areas of land and sea to nature,
permitting rewilding and carbon drawdown on a massive scale. It means an end to the
exploitation of animals, an end to most deforestation, a massive reduction in
the use of pesticides and fertiliser, the end of trawlers and longliners. It’s
our best hope of stopping the Great Extermination. And, if it’s done right, it means cheap and
abundant food for everyone.

Research
by the thinktank RethinkX suggests that proteins from precision fermentation
will be around ten times cheaper than animal protein by 2035. The result, it
says, will be the near-complete collapse of the livestock industry. The new
food economy will “replace an extravagantly inefficient system that requires
enormous quantities of inputs and produces huge amounts of waste with one that
is precise, targeted, and tractable.” Using tiny areas of land, with a
massively reduced requirement for water and nutrients, it “presents the
greatest opportunity for environmental restoration in human history.”

Not only
will food be cheaper, it will also be healthier. Because farmfree foods will be
built up from simple ingredients, rather than broken down from complex ones,
allergens, hard fats and other unhealthy components can be screened out. Meat
will still be meat, though it will be grown in factories on collagen scaffolds, rather than in the bodies of animals. Starch
will still be starch, fats will still be fats. But food is likely to be better,
cheaper and much less damaging to the living planet.

It might
seem odd for someone who has spent his life calling for political change to
enthuse about a technological shift. But nowhere on earth can I see sensible
farm policies developing. Governments provide an astonishing £560 billion a
year in farm subsidies, and almost all of them are perverse and destructive,
driving deforestation, pollution and the killing of wildlife. Research by the Food and Land Use Coalition found that only 1% of the money is used to
protect the living world. It failed to find “any examples of governments using
their fiscal instruments to directly support the expansion of supply of
healthier and more nutritious food.”

Nor is the
mainstream debate about farming taking us anywhere, except towards further
catastrophe. There’s a widespread belief that the problem is intensive farming,
and the answer is extensification (producing less food per hectare). It’s true
that intensive farming is highly damaging, but extensive farming is even worse. Many people are rightly concerned about
urban sprawl. But agricultural sprawl – which covers a much wider area – is a
far greater threat to the natural world. Every hectare of land used by farming
is a hectare not used for wildlife and complex living systems.

A paper in Nature suggests that, per kilo of food produced,
extensive farming causes greater greenhouse gas emissions, soil loss, water use
and nitrogen and phosphate pollution than intensive farming. If everyone ate
pasture-fed meat, we would need several new planets on which to produce it.

Farmfree
production promises a far more stable and reliable food supply, that can be
grown anywhere, even in countries without farmland. It could be crucial to
ending world hunger. But there is a hitch: a clash between consumer and
producer interests. Many millions of people, working in farming and food
processing, will eventually lose their jobs. Because the new processes are so
efficient, the employment they create won’t match the employment they destroy.

RethinkX
envisages an extremely rapid “death spiral” in the livestock industry. Only a few
components, such as the milk proteins casein and whey, need to be produced
through fermentation for profit margins across an entire sector to collapse.
Dairy farming in the United States, it claims, will be “all but bankrupt by
2030”. It believes that the US beef industry’s revenues will fall 90% by 2035.

While I doubt the collapse will be quite that fast, in one respect the thinktank underestimates the scale of the transformation. It fails to mention the extraordinary shift taking place in feedstock production, of the kind pioneered in Helsinki. This is likely to hit arable farming as hard as cultured milk and meat production will hit livestock farming. Solar Foods could reach cost parity with the world’s cheapest form of protein (soya from South America) within five years.

Instead of
pumping ever more subsidies into a dying industry, governments should be
investing in a crash programme to help farmers into other forms of employment,
while providing relief funds for those who will suddenly lose their
livelihoods.

Another
hazard is the potential concentration of the farmfree food industry. We should
strongly oppose the patenting of key technologies, to ensure the widest
possible distribution of ownership. If governments regulate this properly, they
could break the hegemony of the massive companies that now control global food commodities. If they don’t, they could reinforce it. In
this sector, as in all others, we need strong anti-trust laws. We must also
ensure that the new foods always have lower carbon footprints than the old
ones: farmfree producers should power their operations entirely from low-carbon
sources. This is a time of momentous choices, and we should make them together.

We can’t
afford to wait passively for technology to save us. Over the next few years, we
could lose almost everything, as magnificent habitats such as the rainforests
of Madagascar, West Papua and Brazil are felled to produce cattle, soya or palm
oil. By temporarily shifting towards a plant-based diet with the lowest
possible impacts (no avocados or out-of-season asparagus), we can help buy the
necessary time to save magnificent species and places, while the new
technologies mature. But farmfree food offers hope where hope was missing. We
will soon be able to feed the world without devouring it.

George Monbiot’s film Apocalypse Cow is free to view on Channel 4

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

The Fixer: Turning Farm Workers into Farm Owners

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/12/2019 - 4:47am in

Welcome back to The Fixer, our weekly briefing of solutions reported elsewhere. This week: an incubator gives agricultural workers space to grow their own crops. Plus, carbon offsets start surging, and one of America’s first stormwater farms reports on the soggy success of its first rain-soaked spring.

Room to grow

Farming is a tough business in America. There are 162,572 fewer farms today than there were just 12 years ago, in part because starting a new farm is such a heavy lift. It requires not just costly machinery and land, but business savvy and connections. To help turn the tide, incubator farms are helping field workers overcome these hurdles and start their own farms.

Nearly 200 farm incubators are now active in the U.S. One is the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), which offers a 10-month course in agribusiness management. Tuition is income-based, and most enrollees pay only about $300 to learn everything from marketing strategies to meeting organics standards. Graduates of the program pitch their farm concept to the incubator, and those selected are rented plots on ALBA’s 100-acre farm for as little as $130 per quarter acre. As the participants’ farms profit and grow, ALBA rents them more and more land, until their farms have reliable enough revenues to be spun off and sustain themselves.

Nearly half of ALBA’s 104 graduates own their own farm today, an impressive success rate by startup standards. “They’re doing something right,” one industry rep told the New York Times. And most of those who decided not to start their own farm still work in the agriculture industry, but report increases in their incomes thanks to the business training they received from the incubator.

“I came a long way,” one graduate who now owns an organic broccoli farm told the Times. “They taught me a lot—not just how to grow, but the business part.”

Read more at the New York Times

Carbon offsets hit their stride

The Guardian reports that public pressure is driving “huge increases” in carbon offsetting, in which companies invest in carbon-reducing efforts elsewhere to offset their own emissions.

According to ClimateCare, a company that helps large corporations offset their emissions, the amount of carbon offset during the last 18 months increased from two tons to 20. Regular folks appear to be investing more heavily, too—the NGO Climate Stewards told the paper that carbon offsetting by individuals and small companies had increased by 156 percent and 80 percent year on year, respectively. 

Credit: International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance

Some industry observers chalk up the shift to what they call the “Greta Effect,” named for the 16-year-old Swede who has led a series of massive global climate protests. These protests have increased the pressure on businesses to mitigate their effects on the environment. “We are seeing the Greta effect, the impact of Extinction Rebellion, the impact of the words of David Attenborough, the school strikes, all of these coming together,” said one carbon offset advocate.

The offset model has its critics, who say it’s simply a way for those with money to shift responsibility onto those who can’t afford to pass the buck. But global carbon and renewable energy markets have become far better regulated over the last decade, and participants are held to tougher standards than they used to be, according to advocates. 

“People are willing to take action and are looking for ways to take action,” said the director of Gold Standard, which monitors the integrity of carbon offsetting schemes. “We see it as a way that someone can feel empowered and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Read more at the Guardian

Going with the flow

Last year, one of America’s first stormwater farms opened in Peoria, Illinois, a bucolic swathe of poplar trees and planting beds smack in the middle of the city. Known as the Well Farm, its beds of lettuce, kale and other vegetables capture runoff from a one-and-a-half acre section of the city when it rains. Now well on its way to maturity, Peoria’s stormwater farm got its first test this year.

It was an especially wet spring for the city—14 inches of rain fell from May through July. Normally, much of that rain would have flowed directly into the Illinois River. According to a report recently released by the city, however, 1.1 million gallons of this stormwater was diverted to the farm, which absorbed 98 percent of it. 

Posted by The Well Farm at Voris Field on Friday, July 6, 2018

 

As one of the engineers working on the project put it, “This area of the country has a hydrology… so that in the past, most of the rainwater that fell actually soaked into the ground. So now we’re looking at some of nature’s wisdom to exploit some of that capacity of plants and soil to keep [the rainwater] from getting into the combined sewer system.”

The farm does double-duty as a revenue generator for the city. An impact assessment found that the jobs and harvestable crops from the farm generated $2.8 million in economic activity, or $1.50 for every dollar invested. And there’s plenty of room to scale—the EPA has identified 860 other cities where overflow from combined sewer systems is a water pollution priority.

Read more at Next City

The post The Fixer: Turning Farm Workers into Farm Owners appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Don’t Look, Don’t See: Pesticides in the MSM

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 4:00pm in

Colin Todhunter The UK-based Independent online newspaper recently published an article about a potential link between air pollution from vehicles and glaucoma. It stated that according to a new study air pollution is linked to the eye condition that causes blindness. The report explained that researchers had looked at vision tests carried out on more …

Hunger Games: Food Abundance and Twisted Truths

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 3:00pm in

Colin Todhunter The world already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018). However, supporters of genetic engineering (GE) crops continually push the narrative that GE technology is required if we are to feed the world and properly support farmers. …

Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/11/2019 - 3:00pm in

Colin Todhunter M.S. Swaminathan is often referred to as the ‘father’ of India’s Green Revolution. In 2009, he said that  no scientific evidence had emerged to justify concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops, often regarded as stage two of the Green Revolution. In a December 2018 paper in the journal Current Science, however, it was argued that Bt …

Agrochemical Apocalypse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/11/2019 - 2:00pm in

Colin Todhunter The renowned author and whistleblower Evaggelos Vallianatos describes British environmentalist and campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason as a “defender of the natural world and public health.” I first came across her work a few years ago. It was in the form of an open letter she had sent to an official about the devastating environmental …

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